The afternoon was bright and chill, and winter sunlight slanted in the high windows of the Seirin gymnasium to glow on the floor. The Winter Cup was over and Seirin’s basketball club had settled into their off-season training schedule, which was…
“Again, faster this time!”
…not actually very different. Tetsuya scrubbed his sleeve over his forehead and trotted back to the starting line for today’s sprints. The squeak of shoes and the hoarse draw of each wave’s breathing echoed off the walls, and Tetsuya settled himself into position for the next sprint with a warm sense of familiarity. The sounds, the feel of the air on his skin, the flex of muscles pushing to the limit, all of this whispered to him that he was right where he should be.
“Furihata, your ankles are wobbling all over the place, twenty scissors hops!” their coach barked, watching the dash with a predatory gleam in her eye. “Kuroko, I didn’t see your sprint at all, do another!”
A tiny smile curved Tetsuya’s mouth despite the slow burn in his calves. “Yes, Kantoku.” He liked how easily his senpai took his habit of concealment in stride, lately. He felt like he belonged, again.
“All right,” she called, when he’d finished. “That’s enough drills, let’s loosen up a little. Five against five, twenty minute match!”
The other first-years were starting to have the endurance to play for longer, mixed in among the regulars, and Tetsuya was starting to feel like he could give them harder passes. That was good. He didn’t know what the team would look like by their third year, but he was starting to hope that they wouldn’t shame their senpai’s determination, following after them. He felt a quick thrill of pressure, even here in practice, as Izuki-senpai dodged straight into his pass route, obviously knowing where the ball should go next.
“Fukuda, mark Kagami!” Izuki-senpai called, and Tetsuya could feel the shrinking possibilities of the next move, like a band tightening around his arms. Fukuda had fallen back to guard Kagami along with Mitobe-senpai, Izuki-senpai was staying between Tetsuya and Kawahara, Hyuuga-senpai was between him and the basket and Koganei-senpai wouldn’t be able to stop him from interfering if Tetsuya tried to make his own drive. Tetsuya abandoned his planned play and passed backwards to Furihata instead; if he could get further inside the defense and draw Hyuuga-senpai’s attention, he could pass to Koganei-senpai and let him shoot from up close.
Perhaps, he thought later, he had taken his senpai’s words about focusing more on his individual game a little too much to heart. For a moment, he forgot just how much it frustrated Kagami to be kept out of the action.
Even Tetsuya almost didn’t see it happen. In the moment Tetsuya passed the ball, Kagami ducked back, away from his two markers, and spun around them, impossibly graceful, deadly fast, to intercept the ball himself. He drove for the basket like there was nothing else on the court, and Hyuuga-senpai feinted around Koganei-senpai to lunge for Kagami. Kagami leaped from yards out, and Tetsuya’s breath caught; it was a beautiful move, calculated to make any attempt to stop him into a foul. It was also a big risk for a player whose accuracy was still shaky at longer ranges. Tsuchida-senpai was running to support, to catch any rebound, but Tetsuya could see he wouldn’t be in time. Neither would Tetsuya himself. Koganei-senpai had even worse accuracy than Kagami and was at a bad angle.
It was all up to Kagami.
Tetsuya felt like the court was holding its breath as the ball flew, and he let his breath out along with Kawahara’s cheer when it went in. There was a shaky feeling in his stomach, though.
“Kagami!” Hyuuga-senpai bellowed, hands on his hips. “What the hell was that? You completely outran your team, what were you thinking making a risky shot like that, unsupported, when the other side’s outside scorer was near the basket? If it hadn’t gone in, and I’d gotten the ball, you’d have been screwed!”
Kagami blinked at the lecture. “Well, I had to, didn’t I? None of you can keep up with me.”
The simple, matter-of-fact tone made Tetsuya’s hand flinch into a fist. It was true, and that was the worst part. The feeling of familiarity was back, but it wasn’t pleasant this time. It felt more like something smothering him. Was this always how it had to go, even with Kagami, even after the balance they’d found this season? Had Kise been right after all? Would Tetsuya have to go through this with every partner?
Hyuuga-senpai smacked Kagami briskly across the back of the head.
“Moron,” Hyuuga-senpai said calmly. “The whole point of being on the same team is that we know your moves and you know ours. We don’t have to be as fast as you, we just have to know what you might do so we can make coherent plays. So.” He glanced around, beckoning everyone closer. “If Kagami is double marked, we can assume he’ll get free, as long as he’s not right up against the boundary. Work with that thought in mind.” He glanced at the other first-years in particular. “Just like you keep in mind that I can make outside shots and that you watch Izuki for cues and that if the ball is suddenly in your hands you don’t bother wondering why, just assume Kuroko thinks you’re clear.” A laugh ran through the club and Hyuuga-senpai smiled faintly. “All right, then, let’s go. It’s Black side’s ball!”
Tetsuya nearly floated through the rest of practice on the warm wave of his relief.
Kagami seemed to take the whole episode in stride, and think nothing of it, either during the rest of the mini-game or during their captain’s dissection of it after. He was no more or less impatient and mannerless than always, made the usual faces at the partnered training exercises the coach heaped on him and still did exactly as she said. Tetsuya thought about that, as he rolled his towel into his bag, and decided it was a good sign.
“Hey.” Kagami nudged his shoulder as Tetsuya fished out his shoes. “Hurry up or I’m going without you.”
Just like always, when Kagami was hungry. “Go ahead, I’ll catch up,” Tetsuya told him, and smiled inwardly at the way Kagami rolled his eyes and slouched out the door on the trail of obscene amounts of food, hands jammed into his pockets. Just as always, but not quite familiar. Not yet. Maybe that was a good sign, too, for their team, that so many things about it were still unfamiliar to him. It could have been a lot worse, certainly, with a coach or captain who couldn’t handle Kagami, or who just wouldn’t; he’d seen what kind of team that made, too often this past season, and at Teikou before that. If he hadn’t chosen Seirin… if Kagami hadn’t chosen Seirin… Tetsuya remembered what the Fukuda Sougou team had become, what the Kirisaki Daiichi team had let themselves be, how wild Touou had let Aomine run, and a shudder shook his whole body. The laces of his shoe snapped as his fingers tightened hard, and he put his head down on his knees to breathe through the sick jolt of those might-have-beens, nightmares riding the remains of the scare he’d had earlier.
“You all right?” Hyuuga-senpai’s hand came down on his shoulder. “If you’ve been over-training outside of practice, you know Kantoku will skin you…”
“I’m fine,” Tetsuya said, a little breathless still. “I’m not worn out. It’s just…” He swallowed down the last of that fear, pushing it back with the memory of this captain’s steady hand on the team. “Thank you.”
“What for?” There was a bit of a laugh in Hyuuga-senpai’s voice, though he left his hand where it was as Tetsuya straightened again. “It’s my job to look after all of you, isn’t it?”
“For doing that, then,” Tetsuya said quietly to his hands as he knotted the broken lace of his shoe. “It isn’t easy, is it? Especially sometimes.” Especially for Kagami.
“Ah. That.” Hyuuga-senpai shook him a little. “First-years shouldn’t worry so much. No matter what kind of monster I wind up with on my team, I won’t let him run away with himself.” His hand tightened. “Just like I won’t let you stand still. Still going to thank me?”
Hyuuga-senpai was teasing, but Kuroko could hear that he was also serious. He meant what he said, and the thought of being pushed like that, pushed by someone of Hyuuga-senpai’s integrity, made excitement and trepidation and hope tangle together in his chest. He needed to keep finding new parts of his game, things he’d never thought he could do, things he’d never been encouraged to try; Hyuuga-senpai would make sure he kept going, the way Akashi never had.
Tetsuya knew other people had a hard time reading his expression, but he hoped that his gratitude showed at least a little, as he looked up. “Yes, Captain. I will.”
Hyuuga-senpai’s smile was crooked. “Thought you might. That’s why you belong here. Remember it.”
Tetsuya lowered his eyes and nodded. “Yes, Captain.” It wasn’t familiar, what he felt now. Not exactly. But that was all right.
He was happy.
A/N: In hanakotoba, Zinnias/Hyakunichisou indicate loyalty.