Chrysanthemum Tea

Aomine reflects a bit on on the effect Kuroko’s had on him, and where Kuroko has brought him to by the season’s end. Spoilers for anime-only fans. Character Sketch with Drama and Fluff, I-3

Looking back, he’d felt it first during the Interhigh preliminaries when he’d seen, when he’d experienced, Tetsu’s fierce rejection of despair. He’d seen a whole team lock together around Tetsu’s unwillingness to give up no matter how they lost, and a flicker, just a flicker, of something like hope had brushed over that court.

It had reminded him, for an instant, of the lightness he used to feel playing with Tetsu. At least until he saw that Tetsu had understood the difference between their games, and had to wonder whether even Tetsu would be coming back after that.

When he’d been dragged to the Winter Cup preliminaries though, to see Seirin play that bastard Hanamiya, he’d remembered again. Watching Tetsu’s new senpai put their game and all their chances in Tetsu’s hands, watching them accept pass after twisting, unpredictable pass, he’d remembered doing that himself, trusting like that. Remembered a time it had seemed necessary. Remembered how good it had felt. To win, of course, when that had still been in doubt.

He missed that.

So he pushed them, pushed Satsuki to convince their captain to challenge Seirin directly, as soon as they knew the bracket for the Winter Cup. Pushed Kagami to understand what he had to do, if he really wanted to be a challenge. And if he also left Tetsu with his water bottle, well it wasn’t like he’d forgotten they were friends just because they were enemies.

And when he’d seen them on the court, he’d known he’d been right to push. Kagami had advanced, and that was enough to please him for a while right there. But he’d also felt something at the start of the game that he’d never felt before. Tetsu’s presence. Not just his determination, not just unsupported spirit, but the weight in his sense of the court created by a player who had his own strength. He wanted to taste that strength, to push against it and feel it push back, and it was a thrill just like he’d expected. Not hope, he wasn’t stupid enough to hope, he told himself firmly, but a thrill. That was the best he had, these days, and the ache of knowing that made him angry and rough, even with Tetsu.

Kagami, though, Kagami was a nice surprise.

Actually, Kagami was a shock. A delicious shock. To push and find, not air, not even just resistance, but an unmoving wall, a wall that he could strain against and still not move, a wall he had to break himself open to knock down… he felt like he needed to scream with how good that was.

Just a little, he could relax against that.

And against Tetsu’s ferocity, when he turned his presence outward like an explosion no one could ignore, not even him. Just a little.

Against Seirin’s strength, he could relax just a little, just enough to feel it again. The need that would drive him to where the game opened up. Opened up into brilliance. Into the fire of fighting to win, burning away the numb weight of too many opponents giving up, disappearing, leaving him alone on a cold court. Now he felt the heat again, now he could fight with everything in him, push himself past his limits and feel the wildness of fire, not just of rage.

When that fire burned as high as it could go and that still wasn’t enough, the shock was like glass breaking all around him. Smoked glass, and now he was squinting in sunlight. He felt like he could see again, and what he saw was Tetsu. The reason he had lost. Tetsu… and his partner, who trusted each other so much they burned like the sun.

Their assurance that it wasn’t over yet was warmth to go with the light, another shock but a different kind—not just unexpected but impossible, like landing softly after a long, long fall. Such a long fall he’d long since given himself up for dead, let himself die before he even got to the bottom. Well, here was the bottom, and thanks to those two he’d bounced. The hope he’d first felt a flicker of at the start of the year, even if he hadn’t been able to name it then, and the pain of losing that he’d never expected to feel again both itched at him after that, prodding him to repay them.

Which was, he told himself, why he agreed to coach Tetsu’s shooting. Why he didn’t want Tetsu to lose. Why it stirred something sharp in him, when he wondered whether Akashi had deliberately reduced Tetsu’s strength.

Quarter-finals, at least, he could blame on Satsuki. He had less excuse for cold-cocking that idiot Shougo, after, but at least Shougo was the only one who actually heard his reasons. And it was clearly Satsuki’s fault that he wound up bringing Kagami shoes for the semi-finals. But he couldn’t really pretend that his brief match with Kagami, then, was anything other than a deliberate teaching game; not under the calm knowing of Tetsu’s eyes, and his tiny smile. Still, he knew he owed them, and it was easy enough to tell himself that was why.

He didn’t really break until the final match. Watching them on the court, the way they held each other up and drove each other forward, he knew that he wanted to touch that again. Wanted to taste that kind of trust again. Wanted the light that his shadow brought with him. That was why he laughed, no matter how strange a look Satsuki gave him. It was Tetsu’s victory, all right, complete and inescapable.

When the match ended, maybe he’d find Tetsu and tell him so.

End

A/N: In hanakotoba, chrysanthemum indicate truth (saving gold chrysanthemum, which are the crest of the imperial family). In Chinese traditional medicine, chrysanthemum is also used for clarifying vision or reducing eye-strain.