Daiki had thought he’d gotten used to just how ridiculous it was that Tetsu had dragged him to this no-name school and dropped him into a basketball club that apparently had nothing going for it but enthusiasm. But this was where he put his foot down. The very idea of ‘announcing his intentions’ during morning assembly in order to ‘prove’ himself for this new team was laughable. He was the ace of Teikou, he didn’t have a damn thing to prove to a team that couldn’t even get to the Interhigh.
On the other hand, good entertainment was hard to come by, and he didn’t have any objections to watching other people make fools of themselves, so he’d let Tetsu haul him up to the roof to watch the fun. Watching the other first years was good for a snicker as they stepped up to the rail, one after another, and managed to stammer and shout at the same time. He wondered idly if it would be more of the same when the red-head he’d noticed yesterday stepped up for his turn. He was the only one of the club here that actually looked like he might be worth something on the court, tall and powerful. Good reflexes, too, Daiki thought, watching him jump up to balance on the rail.
And then the guy pulled in a lungful of air and yelled, loud enough that it echoed off the school buildings, “Class 1-B, seat 8, Kagami Taiga! I will defeat the Generation of Miracles and become the number one in Japan!”
That was when it stopped being funny.
That was when Daiki stepped in front of Tetsu, as he stirred toward the edge, stepped up and braced a foot against the rail and leaned out into the morning wind. “I’m Aomine Daiki,” he called over the lines of assembled students. “And I am number one in Japan.” He pushed back and turned on his heel to meet Kagami’s hot eyes. “And if you think you’re good enough, then come on,” he finished.
For a few seconds he thought he might have some light entertainment for the morning, because Kagami looked more than willing, but then the door slammed open and teachers spilled onto the roof. The lecture they made everyone sit for broke the mood. By the time they got to practice that afternoon, he was bored again, and when their little slip of a coach divided the players for a mini-game, he volunteered to be the first-year who sat out.
“Won’t be much use in it, otherwise,” he pointed out, which was only the truth. She’d said she wanted to evaluate the new players. If he was in, the only one she’d see was him.
“We’ll do two games,” she decided. “You’ll sit out the first one. Kagami will sit out the second.”
Annoyance flicked at him again, being equated with that guy, but he shrugged and slid down cross-legged on the side-lines. At least he could watch Tetsu.
It wasn’t long, though, before he was frowning a little. “Tetsu, what the hell?” he muttered as Tetsu went to dribble and promptly had the ball stolen by the second-years’ point guard. Kagami was the only one scoring, and he was pretty much playing solo. The moment the second-years got serious and put three men on marking him, the other two blew past whole rest of the first-year team. Including Tetsu.
He couldn’t actually blame Aida-san that much when she asked Satsuki, “He was a Teikou starter? Really?”
Satsuki gave Tetsu a positively doting look. “Tetsu-kun is so responsible,” she cooed. “You said you wanted to evaluate everyone, Riko-kantoku. Tetsu-kun is a specialist; this isn’t how he normally plays. But he’s showing you everything, so you know.”
“So I know how bad he is at every move?” Aida-san muttered. Before Satsuki could sing more of Tetsu’s praises, though, there was a scuffle on the court where Kagami was yelling at one of the other first-years. Daiki felt a sneaking bit of sympathy, because the other guys were exactly the kind of losers who kept giving up on him. They deserved a bit of yelling.
And then Tetsu stepped up behind Kagami and knocked his knees out, facing the resulting snarling without turning a hair and gesturing back down the court. Daiki sat up straighter, eyes narrowing. He knew that expression on Tetsu’s face. He recognized that action.
Tetsu liked this Kagami guy. He was treating him like a teammate.
And when the first-year team spread back out, Tetsu started passing. He’d obviously been watching everyone, himself, evaluating who could do what, because even with this team of losers he always got the ball to the one who was open enough to gather up his guts for a few seconds and take a shot. As the second-years pulled back from their triple-mark on Kagami, Tetsu shot the ball to him, and in three plays the points were almost level again.
Okay, Kagami wasn’t terrible, Daiki admitted grudgingly. He shouldn’t be mouthing off about beating Teikou’s first string, but he wasn’t bad. That still didn’t give him any right to be getting chummy with Daiki’s partner! He watched like a hawk as Tetsu got the ball for a final play and moved it down the court himself. He couldn’t really be meaning to shoot…
Daiki’s jaw tightened as Kagami started to move.
Tetsu tossed the ball up, with almost as little regard for form as Daiki had, and Daiki gritted his teeth as Kagami dunked it with perfect timing. But, as much as it pissed him off to see satisfaction flicker over Tetsu’s face, there was also a little tingle of excitement. Kagami might just be good enough to be interesting. For a little while, at least. So, while the first-years were cheering over actually winning against their senpai, Daiki went and picked up one of the balls out of the cart, tossing it a little in his hand to get the feel of it.
“Hey, Kagami,” he called, bouncing the ball a few times, and bared his teeth when Kagami turned around. “Let’s see what you’re really made of.”
Kagami’s eyes lit instantly in answer, which was nice. They’d see how long it lasted. Daiki slid down the court, weaving casually around the rest of the bodies on it, too fast for any of them move. Kagami moved, at least, came to meet him with a sharp, sure step that didn’t waver even when Daiki cut around him, past him, leaped to drop the ball in. He looked back, as he landed, to see Kagami frozen and shocked, and sighed. Fuck. Another one. He scooped up the ball on the bounce and turned away, reaching for the familiar blanket of boredom to throw over the disappointment.
“Where the hell do you think you’re going!?”
Daiki blinked and turned back. Kagami was pointing at him, indignant. “Get your ass back here and do that again!”
Daiki blinked some more. “…what, you like losing or something?”
Kagami snorted kind of impressively, folding his arms. “Don’t be an idiot. Do it again, so I can figure out how to beat you.”
Daiki was trying to put words to his feeling that he was not the idiot in this equation, when an earsplitting blast of the whistle made them both wince.
“Aomine-kun!” Aida-kantoku glowered from right next to them. “I told you no full speed plays!”
“That wasn’t full speed!” Daiki protested, stung by the injustice. Not that he’d actually been thinking about her orders at the time, but he still hadn’t broken them!
Everyone fell silent, staring, and Daiki huffed out an annoyed breath; did these people honestly not know what they’d signed up for their own damn club?
“How much of your top speed was that, then?” Aida-san asked at last, quietly, folding her arms.
Daiki considered. “Seventy percent, maybe.” Kagami made an outraged sound, beside him, and Daiki paused to smirk at him. “What was that about beating the Generation of Miracles?” he needled.
“Cut that out, you two,” the coach directed absently. “All right. Don’t go above sixty until I tell you you can. Your style puts even more strain on your body than I’d realized, and we’re going to have to make sure to build up your lateral movement muscles. And you!” she added, turning on Kagami. “Don’t you go along with him like that! You can train together when I say you can!”
“Yes, Kantoku,” Kagami agreed, glumly, giving Daiki a look that said he was pissed off over being held back like that. That he wanted to play again.
Daiki smiled slowly, spinning the ball lightly on his fingers. Lighter than he’d felt for a while, now. “We can take our time, I guess, yeah,” he purred.
Maybe there was some fun to be had, here, after all.
Of course, then she made them play another mini-game with Daiki switched in for Kagami. But at least Tetsu had stopped demonstrating his weaknesses. Daiki didn’t actually object to the chance to show Kagami how a real partnership with Tetsu looked, and even holding down his speed to sixty percent the ball sang between them and scorched down the court. The second-years weren’t total slouches, either. They gave up on defense after about four minutes of total disbelief and concentrated on offense to even the score.
And they were staying close, because Tetsu kept passing to the other first years. Daiki finally straightened up from blocking yet another shot from Hyuuga-san, who really was a pretty good outside shooter, and jammed his hands on his hips. “Tetsu, what the hell are you doing?”
Tetsu got the set to his jaw that meant he was feeling stubborn. “This isn’t a tournament match, Aomine-kun. It’s practice. It’s training.”
Daiki ran an unimpressed eye over their panting ‘teammates’. “You telling me you think you can train them up to win with a few passes? Don’t be ridiculous, Tetsu. You’re a shadow. You make any player stronger, yeah, but your own strength depends on the strength of your light.” Quieter, he finished, “No one else here can make you stronger than me. There’s no one here you can make shine brighter than me.”
Tetsu looked deliberately over at Kagami, fidgeting on the sidelines. “I think there is.”
It took Daiki a few seconds to put his jaw back where it belonged. “What the fuck, are you serious?” Tetsu’s eyes narrowed, and Daiki rocked back a step. Tetsu really was serious. “Tetsu…”
“Why should I settle for being the shadow of someone who’s given up, Aomine-kun?” Tetsu asked, low enough that Daiki didn’t think anyone else heard.
Daiki set his own teeth and spun back to the game. He knew Tetsu was right, in absolute terms. But what else was he supposed to do?!
They won the game, just like they always won, no matter what else happened. And the stunned look on Kagami’s face was satisfying. But the walk home that night was almost as silent as they’d been yesterday. And when Daiki came in to his classroom the next morning and saw everyone at the windows, chattering, and looked out to see what was written on the assembly ground in boundary chalk, he knew who had put it there.
My strength will make my team number one.
Satsuki slipped up beside him and leaned against his arm. “You know, Tetsu-kun has a point. He’s as strong as any of you, in his own way. He deserves a partner who will work for his game.”
Daiki turned away sharply from the window. He didn’t go to practice that day, either, retreating up to the roof instead, to think. Tetsu had caught him in the trap of this school, this team. If Daiki didn’t work hard enough for him, and maybe for the coach, Daiki wouldn’t be able to play. Even if he could, he’d still have to watch Tetsu working with Kagami unless he agreed to keep hoping, keep pushing for nothing. And he couldn’t do that any more. Part of him wanted to say fuck it all and just let the game go; it usually only hurt, these days, going out to play and having every opponent give up and turn away. But…
Well. There was still that ‘but’.
And there was Kagami himself.
And there was Tetsu.
Daiki rolled over onto his stomach, chin on his crossed arms, and sighed. No. He knew he wouldn’t actually leave. He supposed he’d just have to hang in there until he could play a team one of the others had gone to. That thought was a pleasant one, and he smiled, contemplating it until he dozed off in the spring sunlight.