the rain in your heart
After his full court shot, there was a two minute break with 21-14 for Shutoku.
"Kuroko-kun...Could he shoot that... from a long time ago ?" Riko-san was struggling to find words. It was perfectly understandable though, it was so unbelievable it wasn't even fun anymore.
"No. The distance that I knew he could shoot was only from the half-line. That's the first time I've seen him shoot from that distance."
"I've seen videos of LeBron doing doing that during training session but it's unthinkable doing it during a match ..."
As a shooting guard, Hyuuga-senpai was the most shaken of all. It was understandable, after all "Such a bad joke... 'Generation of Miracles'"
"More importantly... How to stop that ?"
"... Sure, it's an impossible shot but the game's not over yet ! We'll stop Midorima-kun ! Kuroko-kun ! You might be tired, but please, I need you a little bit more !" She knew Riko-san hated letting play a member when he wasn't fully in shape but she knew she had no choice.
"Coach, may I speak ?"
"Of course Masuko-chan, just drop the politeness already !"
"Gomen ne", she replied with a sheepish smile, continuating "I think Kuroko-kun has to find a solution about Takao-kun... Because they're expecting us to try to stop Midorima-kun but Takao-kun will be there too."
"Did you find something, Kuroko-kun ?"
"No... But I think what Masuko-san told me will help me."
She had something in her mind but she knew it would not please the rookie duo "I... I have a suggestion."
"What is it ?"
"I think – I think we should focus the game on the outside with Hyuga-senpai and Izuki-senpai until Kuroko-kun finds a solution. The other should be on defense."
"WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT ?" She almost jumped in surprise. Taiga who was strangely calm during the whole exchange suddenly snapped it out and it just made her feel uneasy.
"They're expecting from us to only focus on stopping Midorima-kun but the thing we need to do first is to catch up the gap. And then, we will find a solution !"
"You can't be se-
"I hate to say it, but that's the best solution for now" Riko-san casted a glance at Kuroko-kun. "Kuroko-kun, we're counting on you."
The sound announcing the end of the break cut their exchange, obliging them to go on the court without complaining.
Although it started back badly with two baskets in a row, Seirin scored back, following her plan. But the main issue was still there: Midorima-kun's three pointers seemed unstoppable and at this rate, she feared their spirits would break.
"Wha – what's this..." The feeling of uneasiness strikes back with more strengh.
"What's happening, Masuko-chan is it alright ?"
"Taiga's face. He's laughing." Her hands were shaking and she could feel Furihata-kun's gaze on her.
At the end of the second quarter, the score was 27-45 for Shutoku. The locker room was so quiet and everyone's face reflected concern. Riko-san seemed to be looking for something to cheer them up while Miyuki threw brief looks at Taiga. The trembling of her hands hadn't stop.
"Hey guys –
"It's alright, Coach !" Thankfully, Hyuuga-senpai reacted quickly enough.
"We know whatever you're going to say will be dumb, so quit that !"
The rest of the team noticed Kuroko-kun holding a camera and looking at its content "What are you watching, Kuroko ?"
"Watching the video I took now. Checking Takao-kun."
"You found his weakness ?"
"Kuroko-kun, could you show it to me please ?"
"Hai." She watched again his actions at a closer angle this time thanks to the camera. This gave her an idea.
"Kuroko-kun, I think I've found something !"
Riko-san was eager to hear any new suggestion "What's on your mind ?"
"The angle... The point of view... It's like the camera here it only focus on a precise point. So maybe -
"I see what you mean, Masuko-san." The fact that the ever so polite Kuroko Tetsuya cut her seemed to have convinced Riko-san enough.
"What is it ?", asked Izuki-senpai.
"Imagine Takao-kun's eyes are like a camera. Without any zoom, he can see the whole court but if he's focused on a certain part, then his field of view will be reduced. So...
"Manager, you're a genius !"
She slightly blushed at his praise, "I just want you to win before going to do my surgery, after all."
"Ah, that's right your surgery !"
"How long will you stay at the hospital ?"
"What are you gonna do after that ?"
Questions gushed and Miyuki was just glad the heavy silence disappeared "I'll explain you everything after the match but for now, do your best !"
Hyuuga-senpai also found back his smile "Right, just go after the ball... And don't think about what happens at rhe end !"
"Seirin, fight !"
The third quarter started, with Kuroko-kun on the bench to preserve his strengh and to find exactly what to do to reduce Takao-kun and his full court vision.
"We got the -
"Argh ?! It's in Midorima's hand...!" As he jumped to score, Taiga also jumped, higher than previously but not enough to catch nor touch the ball.
After Koganei-senpai's 'goal from anywhere shot', Shutoku's point guard got the ball back and passed it their ace who jumped to score. Taiga did the same but this time, he went even higher, enough to touch the ball which nearly failed to go into the hoop.
"We've found our chance to stop him !"
But who's gonna stop Taiga, she darkly thought.
Shutoku's duo went with a two on one attack, with Takao-kun screening but with her indication, Taiga found the weakness of this play, making him able to touch the ball again.
Riko-kun understood as well "The farther Midorima-kun shoots from the basket, the longer it takes for him to iniate the shot !"
The arc was unlike the usual one, meaning... "wow ! We finally stopped Midorima ?!"
"No" His presence was so overwhelming she no, they almost forgot Shutoku still had strong players, such as their captain who dunked.
After Seirin's two points, the same thing happened again: Taiga blocked the shoot, as well as Shutoku's captain who was blocked once again by him.
"Foul ! Black number 10 !"
"Kagami's great ! As long as we have him..."
She was livid. His face, his way of playing "No, please don't..."
"If we let this go on... I sense danger." Kuroko-kun was right. And that moment was only the one where she realized he had already lived that as well. She pushed the thought, focusing her attention on her best friend.
Taiga was scoring again and again, making the game a single digit score difference. It was against a new one-on-one that Taiga showed signs of exhaustion. As she had feared, it only upseted him more, making him do rash and careless actions permitting Shutoku a counter-attack.
"END OF THIRD QUARTER"
"Shit ! Damn !" He was on the verge on screaming and the trembling in her hands increased. Her head was spinning and she could barely hear Izuki-senpai saying "Kagami, don't get worked up like that ! Cool down !"
"Yeah, you should've seen that wasn't the time to attack ! You should've turned the ball back and...
"So what if I don't pass !" This time she heard it. Too clearly, too loudly.
"Look – Right now, I'm the only one on par with Shutoku ! What we need right now isn't teamwork, it's the scoring !"
"WHAT'S THAT ?! THERE'S NO REASON FOR YOU TO GET SELF-CENTERED HERE !" Hyuuga-senpai screamed, probably half confused half enraged by his kohai's words. He was going to slap his head to clear his clear but she expected to have Kuroko-kun throwing a fist across Taiga's cheek. The punch was strong enough to make him fall on the floor.
She felt panic gaining more and more and body, "Kuroko-kun ?!"
Taiga grabbed his friend's shirt, making his feet leave the floor "Kuroko you...!"
"Basketball is not a one-man sport !"
"You mean you'll let it rest if you lose as long as everyone enjoys playing ?! There no meaning unless we win !"
Kuroko-kun was defying Kagami's angry stare with a glance "But there's no meaning if you win alone ! You said you wanted to defeat the Generation of Miracles but you just think like them ! And even if we defeat Shutoku 'your way' no one will be happy !"
"Don't talk high minded like this !" Taiga him let go with the clear intent to throw his fist but she rolled her wheelchair to be on the course of his punch. She saw him trying to stop himself but it was already too late. "EMILIE ! Emilie, are you okay ?"
She felt her cheek burning from pain and the taste of blood on the corner of her lips but she didn't care "Didn't you start basketball because it was fun ? To make new friends ? So tell me, where's the fun in winning alone... If there's no one happy, is it 'victory' ?" She lowered the tone, gaining back her calm. Her hands weren't shaking anymore, "I'm sure Kuroko-kun is sharing my thoughts."
"Hai. What is 'victory' if you do this alone ? Basketball is not a sport that can be played alone !"
Taiga had this light back in his eyes telling her their speech had been recieved correctly. He turned his back and told a sincere "I'm sorry everyone. Emilie, I'm –
She knew how horrible he felt now. Taiga was hot headed but he was also someone really caring (maybe even too caring, to her taste) "Cheer up Taiga ! I'll fully forgive you if you make me breakfast before accompying me to the hospital tomorrow."
"It'll be so much better if we win this together.", he said a grin on his face. She smiled and patted his hand.
"Okay, fine... Kagami's cooled down thanks to Manager and Kuroko, but our situation on court hasn't changed !... Any ideas ?"
"Here, I... have one way that may work, I can only pass around, but there's one more level on top of that."
"Kuroko's new pass ?"
"...Why did you keep that until now ?"
"Only a very selected few can catch it... However, I think Kagami-kun maybe one of those."
"But we can't rely on Kuroko's pass if the only one who can receive it is Kagami. To undo Takao's marking, they has to be normal passes."
"I think thanks to Masuko-san hint, Takao-kun can be countered."
With this and the double marking on Shutoku's captain, things were doing fine "That makes it easier... Kagami-kun ! How many more times do you think you can jump ?"
"That super-jump he used on Midorima ?"
"While it's Kagami-kun's talent, it uses a proportionate amount of strengh ! Kagami-kun's body is not that developed; that level of jump comes with a limited number in a match ! You should have instinctively known this, right ?"
"WHAT THE – I can jump as long as the match requires me to !"
"Don't put up a brave act !"
She felt the need to defend him "Coach, don't blame him, he just doesn't know himself enough yet."
"Oi, Emilie !"
Riko-san used her eyes, "Twice... At most" Her eyes widened. Two jumps were clearly not enough to hold 10 minutes against them. "From what I predict from your muscle, that should be the max. After two more jumps, I think... It'll take a lot of effort for you to just stand in the court."
"Only twice... Can we stop Midorima with that...?"
"One chance to be used for an important shot ! The second... Just stop the first fourth quarter shot from Midorima !"
The team had finally found their spirit back and her best friend finally understood how important the team was. A smile escaped from her mouth at this thought "Ouch, that hurts a little" she didn't notice it until she moved her mouth.
"Are you okay, Masuko-chan ?"
"Hai. I just need a bag of ice, please."
Preparing to go back on the court, she saw Taiga apologizing to his captain "Senpai. Just now... Well, I'm sorry."
"Hmmm, it's okay..." she thought that was it but his face darkened "...was just I wanted to say, but it's hard to shallow that from a freshman... Yeah, punishments later."
"Hyuuga's clutch time again !" Oh, of course.
"We've got ten minutes left. Everything else can wait ! CHARGE !"
"START OF FOURTH QUARTER"
Seirin was now back to its teammwork, resulting a two point from Mitobe-senpai and making the score 49-61 for Shutoku. Taiga jumped and stole the ball, permiting Izuki-senpai to score on the outside, just as they planned.
"Coach ! Is it fine to use one chance away right at the start ?!"
"We're doing a front ! After that, Kagami will just try to keep his mark on Midorima-kun. If he shoots, he won't stop him !"
She lifted her head "I think I've understood Coach. Midorima-kun's never shoots when he isn't certain he will score. If Taiga in a way that exceeded his expectation, he'll think 'there's more to Taiga'... And refrain from shooting unless the chance in clear."
"To be clear: we're using psychological impact to reduce Shutoku's scoring chances and... Scoring ourselves ! So... We have to bet on... Kuroko-kun !" Riko-san patted her head "Do you know how amazing it is to have you with us ? Boys can be so stupid, I'm glad somebody finally understands me."
Cries of protest from the benchers gushed out "HEY !"
She laughed "Hahah-ouch ! My cheek still hurts a little..." now she had to avoid abrupt moves with her mouth.
Furihata-kun pointed out, "Look, Takao finally lost Kuroko !"
"Now that Takao-kun is confused, Kuroko-kun will be able to do his new pass !" She watched with amazement the ball blow away at an impressive speed and Taiga catching it. The other ace, was determinated to stop him but...
"Taiga is gonna use his last jump now."
Cheers from the public echoed in the building "Not only Midorima-kun is shocked but the dunk brings energy to the whole's team play... That's a fine play that score alone can't bring."
"Right now, the team will rely on Kuroko-kun."
The team was quickly catching up and at the last three minutes, the score was 74-78.
"Mitobe-senpai scored ! That makes us only two points apart from them !"
"SHUTOKU HIGH TIME OUT !"
"Alright guys ! The momentum is with us right now so we have to keep this flow. They'll try to make all their passes to Midorima-kun... So Kuroko-kun, I'm counting on you."
She had nothing in particular to add so she just encouraged them "You guys are going good, keep going on until the end !"
"Come on guys !"
She watched them going back on the court to have a three pointer landed for Shutoku but Seirin reacted perfectly by returning with a three pointer as well.
"THERE NO TIME LEFT ! YOU HAVE TO GET IN !"
"We have the ball ! 15 seconds left !"
The match was on its climax and the benchers did their best to encourage their team "GO SEIRIN !"
"Take the game, Hyuuga !" Hyuuga-senpai scored a beautiful three pointer giving Seirin advantage. Everyone was smiling but she and Riko-san saw the smirk on Shutoku's point guard.
He made the pass to their ace, who was aiming to make a buzzer beater and everyone on the team was exhausted. Miyuki knew there still was a light of hope... No, rather a light and its shadow "No we'll win, I believe in them ! In both of them !" Because no matter how tired they were, they would do something. Especially her best friend.
And of course Taiga did so after superhuman efforts... Midorima-kun saw through this and faked but he wasn't the only one who knew he would do this. She let a smirk appearing on her face "I know Kuroko-kun believed in him too."
One second before the final buzz and intercepted the ball to the two aces' surprise.
"END OF THE MATCH !"
She raised her hands up as she tenderly watched the players jump with joy. Like the rest of the team, she casted a glance at Shutoku and particularly at Midorima-kun who just lost for the first time in basketball. As the players gathered to bow and thank each other for game game, she felt nostalgia. The thrill of the game, the happiness shared with teammates... It made her want to return to her old level – no, to be better at football as fast as she could.
The ringtone of her mobile stopped her thoughts.
"Excuse me, Coach I have to take this call, I'll be back in a few minutes."
"Find us in the locker room !"
Taiga waved at her "Emilie, I can go with you !" She would have said yes if he didn't look this miserable.
She laughed quietly "It's fine Taiga, just rest !" She began to roll her wheelchair to go somewhere more peaceful as she took the call.
"Alors tu es vraiment au Japon, hein ?" She froze, unsure about how to react. Anger ? Happiness ? Confusion ? Maybe of mix of all these feelings. The only thing she could say was "How did you get my number ?"
"From your highschool friends of course. All I had to say was I missed my friend from middle school !" She didn't know if the girl was saying this seriously or not.
"I see... But to answer to your question, yes I'm in Japan now."
"So you did told us the truth back then. You'll stay there now."
"Yes. But I didn't forget the promise we made, don't worry."
"Oh, I'm not worried about that, I know you never forget your promises. But the question is, will you make it ?"
That was the question that deep down inside her, she couldn't answer because she didn't know if she could gain back the level she had before her injury. "I'll make it !"
"We'll see... But you didn't ask me, isn't it a bit rude ?"
A sardonic laugh escaped from her lips "I don't need to ask. You won."
"Isn't it wonderful ? I'm a national champion, just like you ! Or should I say I'm women's football champion and you're men's football champion, E-MI-LE"
"Don't call me like that !"
"Why ? Your male teammates called you like that."
It was better to avoid that topic "But you're not my teammate. Not anymore."
"If you don't make it, it will not be the case indeed."
Losing her patience, she sighed "So, you just called me for that ?"
"I just wanted to check on you."
"As you can hear, I'm perfectly content."
"Apparently, yes. Bye, Emilie."
"Goodbye... Lisa." She hang up, now upset. And conflicted. She didn't plan to talk to her until she fullfilled her promise but her old teammate wasn't that patient. She sighed again. This call was only a reminder of the surgery coming the next day and she was getting more and more nervous.
She needed to clear her mind. She decided to take the umbrella hooked on her wheelchair and go outside.
Midorima Shintaro didn't know how long he stood in the rain alone, pathetically crying like he would say.
A few weeks ago, he was mocking Kise for losing against Seirin and now, there he was.
"You should never look down on your opponent.. because sometimes, those who you thought to be at your feets would take you down."
Those words from Seirin's manager couldn't leave his mind. Maybe that was why he lost. Maybe he could've won if he had taken Kagami seriously. He couldn't see another reason. He did his best like always and he had his lucky item...
"Do you need an umbrella ?"
He looked around then lowered his head to see the girl from Seirin offering her own umbrella with a polite smile. He frozed, confused to see her there and unsure to either feel embarassed or not, depending on the fact she had seen his tears or not.
He hesitantly took the umbrella from her hands "What are you doing here ?"
"I needed some air..."
He coudn't help but snort "Why ? Aren't you happy your team won ?"
"Of course I'm happy. I just needed time to think about other... things." Her tone was surprisingly softer than before. He didn't know if it was because she pitied him or because she was really preoccupied by something. He would say the latter one though after having seen her gaze lost somewhere else.
An uncomfortable silence settled, mostly due to his own refusal to make the discussion. He just lost to her team, after all. She apparently wasn't the type to begin a talk neither but somehow, she began to speak.
"You know... you truly are a wonderful player. I rarely saw someone with such talent in sports but... I think you lacked something important."
He was now looking at her "Wha –
She locked her gaze on him. Comforting blue eyes on confused green eyes. "Team work. You need to let go your pride and consider the fact you can count on people in your team." She smiled at him again but this time, it was... different. Warmer. "You'll understand someday."
The girl looked at her phone and raised her face to look at him again, "Well, I have to leave. I hope we'll talk to each other soon."
He gave her back her umbrella, unable to find words "Ha."
She refused the umbrella, her umbrella, confusing him. "Please, keep it. I would not like Midorima-kun to catch a cold."
He wanted to tell her that he didn't need her pity, he didn't want to keep this umbrella but he said nothing of that. She wasn't pitying him because she was leaving like she said. She was being polite, that was all. And he realized that he was wet and cold and he was somehow thankful for this gesture but he still didn't say anything, as he watched her leave.
"Wait !" He didn't mean to say it outloud, but he wanted to ask. The girl turned her head after stopping her wheelchair "What is your sign ?"
"Libra." After this simple word, she went back to the building.
He remembered about Oha Asa's horoscope of the day "Today, Libras will lead you to a significant change"
How strange, he thought.
"Masuko-chan, you're finally back ! Now, let's go home !" She was relieved to see that Riko-san was so delighted by their victory that she didn't scold her.
"No wait.. Please, wait up for me..." Hyuuga-senpai was trembling as he raised him hand to tell her to stop "We just played two matches. Against the Kings no less !"
"Like we could go back immediately."
She looked at them, only to see they were as good as zombies "Fine, sorry for asking."
"We'll be fine in a bit. Kagami though..."
She looked at her best friend who couldn't even stand. Literally.
"But we can't stay here forever ! Let's go to the nearest restaurant ! Someone carry Kagami-kun !"
Everyone sighed "Okay, let's decide by rock-paper-scissors"
The road to the restaurant wasn't too long but as expected Taiga fell flat on the ground, giving her the amusing sight of him covered of mud. Finally taking pity, she told him to sit on the wheelchair with her, with Kuroko-kun leading them.
They entered in the restaurant and she was just so happy the smell food everywhere. "Welcome !"
"I won't forget this Kuroko...!" Taiga was still highly unhappy (understandable).
"Sumimasen, Kagami-kun is just too heavy for me." as usual, he didn't really look sorry.
"Hmm ?" Taiga's glance was now focused somewhere else. She looked at what had caught his attention, or more like who, to be more precise.
It was two young men, probably in a prestigious highschool judging by their uniform, or at least a private one. The blond one had a pretty face and he was blond, a thing she thought she would never see her and the other one had black hair and seemed a bit older.
"Kise and Kasamatsu !" These two names were familiar to her...
"Call me Senpai !"
Her presence was seemingly forgotten until she greeted them "Konbanwa. I'm Masuko Miyuki."
There was a few seconds of silence before the blond one decided to speak "Um, Masuko-san... What are you doing on a wheelchair with Kagamicchi ?"
Kagamicchi ?! Oh, he's talking about Taiga, "That's my wheelchair, I allowed him to sit on it because he was feeling weak after the game."
The other one appeared to be troubled by her presence but he seemed like someone good so she deduced he was probably feeling uneasy around females "If yo- you nee- need more tables you can share with u...us"
"Arigatō gozaimasu" She didn't even need to watch to know Taiga was rolling his eyes because of her her abusive sense of politeness.
As went to share the table with them, she felt a certain... awkwardness between them, especially Taiga and pretty face -she still didn't eactly know his name-.
"What's with this seating plan... And what's with you Kagamicchi ! What's with that mud !" He was being familiar with Taiga, a strange thing considering Taiga didn't do friends except in basketball.
"I was carried here. Just don't ask – and don't call me 'cchi' !"
She turned her head to the two males "Who are you, may I ask ?"
"Ah, sumimasen I forgot ! I'm Kise Ryota and this is Kasamatsu Yukio-senpai, my captain !"
"So you're from a basketball team too !" That explained things. Now that her mind was clear again, she remembered she already heard his name from Taiga. 'I hope Kise won't be idiot enough to lose' or 'how the hell someone like Kise can be this good at basketball ?', he had said.
"Let's just order drinks now !"
Everyone complied and as they raised their glasses to cheer and restaurant's doors open again "Excuse me, table for two -
She turned her head to see Shutoku's duo standing at the door and a defeating silence went before everyone screamed "WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE ! AND JUST THE TWO OF YOU ?"
"Well, our senpais left when Shin-chan went off crying, so I'm eating with him !"
"Oi !" He quickly turned his back "Let's go elsewhere, Takao."
Both went outside but came back a few seconds later, soaked with water. Typical.
"Oh, Seirin's manager's here too !"
The blond looked at her, visibly surprised "You're Seirin's manager ?!"
Takao-kun watched her, curious "What's Kagami doing on your wheelchair ?"
She remembered how Kise-kun asked the same thing and now understood why. Japanese people were not into physical contact, especially between a male and a female in public but until now, nobody seemed to bother because the team knew how Taiga and her were like siblings though it wasn't exactly like this neither "He was feeling too weak to stand after the game, so I let him sit with me !"
Of course Taiga immediately snapped out "Oi ! Stop saying that to everyone !"
"I'm just stating the truth." Okay, maybe she was enjoying it a little.
"Stop it or I'm gonna drop you on the floor !"
She pouted childishly, "So mean."
Takao-kun interrupted their bickering, "You're Kaijo's Kasamatsu-san ?"
"You know me ?"
"I saw you in Basketball Monthly ! You're a nationally reputed point guard ! Wait... Wow ! It'd be awesome to talk to a famous senior who plays the same position as me ! Let's have dinner together !"
"Huh...? But Seirin's in celebration mood, is that okay for you two ?"
"I don't mind ! Come Kasamatsu-san ! Here !" He led him to another table where part of the team was sitting.
It left the five of them on the same table with the previous awkwardness intensified and she could swear Riko-san exclaimed with excitement "But aren't you all feeling excited about what's going to happen ?!"
Kuroko-kun didn't noticed or rather purposefully ignored the tension at the table "Anyway, let's order."
"You're right Kuroko, I'm hungry."
"I'm almost full. Just let me finish what I have on hand."
"You just love food that looks like vomit, nanodayo !"
"Must you take every opportunity to insult me ?!" the blond haired dramatically cried, offended. He looked really... overdramatic.
As the rest of them ordered, she turned her head to have her best friend's attention "I don't know most the plates on the card and now that I think about it, it's the first time I go to a japanese restaurant."
This statement earned her screams from everyone "WHAT !"
She rapidly tried to defend herself "I just arrived to Japan recently and the only restaurant where I go is Maji Burger !"
"I'll just order for you" He continued, perfectly unfazed, "-squid eggs, scrambled eggs, octopus with eggs, eggs with Kimchi pork..."
"What spell are you chanting !" "You ordered too much !"
"It's okay – Kagami-kun will finish it all. And Masuko-san will help."
"Are you human-ssu ?"
Waiting what they had ordered to arrive, Kise-kun made discussion with her "So Masuko-san, how did you become Seirin's manager ? You weren't there at the practice match."
"I arrived to Japan three weeks ago. I became manager because Taiga is my best friend and I followed him."
She was amused to see that nobody in Japan seemed to know his first name "The idiot I'm sitting on."
It took a few seconds to make them realize who she was talking about "HEH ? YOU'RE BEST FRIEND WITH HIM ?!"
"Everyone in the club had the same reaction when Masuko-san told them."
"Oi, I don't like the way you said it, Kuroko. I don't understand why it's that hard to believe !"
She gave him an amused look "Do I need to remind you why ?"
He gulped, probably remembering when the team laughed the first time they met her. She knew he had his pride and didn't want to get embarrassed again, and in front of his rivals futhermore "I get it..."
"Does Masuko-san still need ice for the bruise ?"
She touched her cheek, having completely forgotten it "No thanks Kuroko-kun, I'm fine. It doesn't hurt anymore."
He scratched his head "Yeah about that... I'm so so sorry again.", he finished in english so only she could understand.
"I told you it was fine Taiga."
"What happened ?"
"Masuko-san took Kagami-kun's punch that was meant for me."
The two males stared at her with widened eyes, she shrugged "That was nothing, he just needed to cool down and understand he needed his team."
She saw how Midorima-kun slightly tensed and she recalled the words she gave him in the middle of the rain. She touched the chain around her neck.
Taiga saw it, he knew why she did that so he gently tapped her head "Oi, you sure you're okay ?!"
"I'm just..." She didn't want to talk about the call she got from her middle school friend so she told him the half truth "...really nervous about tomorrow."
He tried to reassure her, "Don't worry idiot, it'll be fine because I'll be there !" She lowered her eyes to look at her chain and smiled.
She knew the other people on the table -except Kuroko-kun, who was in their class- were surprised to see Taiga being able to cheer up her. Taiga didn't look like the type to be able to cheer up a girl, so she could understand.
Kuroko-kun shamelessly said what everyone thought outloud "Kagami-kun can be tender sometimes."
"SHUT UP !"
Food arrived on the table, cutting them for a short moment. Pretty face – she knew his name now, but she actually really like using this nickname in her head – filled the silence with questions "What do you have tomorrow Masuko-san, if I may ask."
"It's okay Kise-kun, you can ask me. I'm having my surgery for my injury tomorrow and then I'll have my re-education."
"Don't worry Masuko-san, Coach will be a good therapist."
She shivered as she watched Riko-san happily talking with Hyuuga-senpai about the training she would go through "That's what I'm scared for She seems a little too happy about this..."
Taiga grumbled, "Serves you right for doubling my menu everytime..." and she turned her head to face him
"I heard that Taiga. I'll tell Coach to triple your menu while I won't be there." ... Once he would be healed, of course.
Everyone around the table flinched and she didn't even care. Serves YOU right.
"So you play sports too, right ?" Pretty face had to be a keen observer to know that.
She nodded "I'm playing football."
"I'm sure Masuko-san is talented." The fact he said it as a statement awaken her curiosity.
"Hai. Masuko-san is highschool national champion of her home country."
"Wow, Masuko-san really is amazing !" She could feel the politeness he used to her was a façade, just like her but she blushed slightly at the compliment.
"Arigatō ! I hope I'll be able to play like I used to in a few months."
They all started to eat at the exception of Midorima-kun. He was still moping and refusing to took at anyone.
"Midorimacchi, your food's burning."
The said 'Midorimacchi' grumpily replied "I don't feel like eating."
"I know you feel bad but... Hey ! You'll get another chance someday !"
"We were just beaten a few seconds ago, nanodayo !" He paused, trying to calm himself "I fact – I find you're the hard one to understand ! Hanging around and joking with them like that. They're the ones who defeated you !"
"Well... It's because I'm gonna get revenge ! At the Inter-High competition, of course. I won't lose next time !"
"Ha ! Bring it on !", Taiga did consider him as a true rival.
She saw Midorima-kun scrutinizing what it appeared to be his former teammate with a mildly perplexed look "Kise, you seem different."
"Your eyes... Look weird."
"Weird ?!" His eyes changed as if he finally understood what he meant "After the match with them, I went back to practice more. Recently I've started to think... It's fun playing basketball with everyone in Kaijo-ssu."
"...I was wrong. You haven't changed a bit. You just went back to your old self. Before we were triple champions."
"But... So has everyone, right ? What you want is freedom. But I do play basketball for fun."
"You're all thinking too much ! Basketball is something people do because they like it !"
"You...!" Midorima-kun's glance was now threatening "Don't tell us what to think when you don't even know us !"
She could feel the tension around the table at its climax making her shifting uncomfortably until food went on Midorima-kun's head.
"Anyway, we'll talk later. Come here, Takao." He stood up, food still on his hair and dragged him forcefully outside where his voice can still be heard "Hey I'm sorry, no I mean it... I don't know how that Okonomiyaki could fly – OUCH !"
"It's just as Kagami-kun said. I've thought about it since the match. We'll never get any better if we don't find basketball fun !"
The two Shutoku players came back like nothing happened while everyone – including her – sweat dropped at this unusual at this display of childish behavior by Midorima Shintaro. It was her friend and classmate who broke the tension once again.
"Does Masuko-san want to sit on me ?"
She saw the other blushing at this blunt question Kuroko-kunasked to her. It was highly unlike him to ask something like that. Taiga didn't care, too preoccupied with food, leaving her confused.
"Kagami-kun has only eaten half of his meal and I think Kagami-kun will need space when his stomach will be full."
He was right. It was actually difficult to eat with someone moving non stop to put as much as he can in his mouth.
"If if doesn't bother you, I'll accept."
"It doesn't bother me, Masuko-san. Kagami-kun can be bad-mannered when he eats."
"OI ! ARE YOU TWO PLOTTING TOGETHER TO BE RUDE TO ME ?!"
Their lack of answer betrayed the accuracy of this statement. It had become an unspoken rule to tease him at every accasion they got. Before anyone asked her if she needed help, she stood up and hopped (it was easy to do it now that her leg didn't hurt anymore).
"Masuko-san is doing well with only one leg, even better than Kagami-kun."
"YOU BASTARD !"
She ignored his outburst, "Taiga can be airheaded sometimes, it's not his fault... That makes me think that you two need to repass for the upcoming review test. I warned every senseis about my absence and they told me the review test is in a week. I already did mine two days ago though."
She was sure Taiga would feel more concerned after her next sentences, "I don't know how japanese schools work exactly so I asked Coach about the review test and she said although the score doesn't count, the test will be used to draw up rankings. And... the problem is that the bottom 100 will be made to do a remedial class every Saturday... It means-
Taiga was now choking and Kise-kun was beginning to panic "The final league is on saturday !"
"I forgot Kaijo had this too." Oh, is he as bad as Taiga at school ?
"Coach was panicking so I told her the marks Kuroko-kun have are okay but that your are poor..."
"Taiga, I know you don't care about marks but at least do care now or you won't be able to play the final league !"
She was beggining to get exasperated "You are so bad you even failed english test ! How could you only have 41 ?"
Kuroko-kun asked even though he knew "Kagami-kun, didn't you live in America ?"
He tried a half-hearted defense "Japan's english is too formal ! No one there cares about precise grammar ! I got just fine with feelings and instinct." Oh God. He was probably the only one who could live in an English speaking country for years and still fail an English test.
"Coach planned an entiere week of unstoppable revisions, but I told her to only make it for two days. I'd be your teacher for the other days !"
He still tried to protest "But you'll be at the hospital !"
"You'll entertain me, then."
"Masuko-san, will you be able to teach him ?"
She turned her head and nodded "Of course ! When I was with him in the States, I helped him."
"We were in elementary !" What a stubborn child...
"And I'm still first in class... With Hisao-san but I think he won't be able to keep going on."
"Uh, why ?"
"He's currently heartbroken."
"How do you know ?"
"I noticed of course !" Only her classmate and fellow friend in the 'observer squad' like she called it knew what she meant, giving her a small smile.
"I talked to Kasamatsu-senpai and he told me Kaijo would keep me on the bench if I don't do good enough !"
"If Kise-kun wants, I can help."
"Really ? You would do that ?"
"Of course" she gave him a piece of paper and wrote her number on it. "Just send me a text and I'll tell you where to find me."
Taiga was surely annoyed by her 'overwhelming kindness' like Riko-san would say but she knew he was grateful at the same time because he didn't want his rival to be benched because of poor marks.
"Oh, the rain stopped."
"It's getting late, let's go back."
To everyone's horror, Taiga really had finished his dinner. He had now enough strengh to walk again and thankfully her wheelchair went back to her and her alon.
"Kagami, some advice to you. There are two of the Generation of Miracles in the Tokyo district. I am one and the other is Aomine Daiki. You'll definitely see him in the final league. And, he's the same type of player as you."
Taiga was confused. So was she. He asked to his partner, "Huh ? I don't get what you mean but, he's strong, right ?"
"...Yes he is. But his style of play... I don't like it."
She didn't like it. Midorima-kun's warning tone. Kuroko-kun's dark look. Kise-kun's unusual seriousness.
"Just work hard."
Kuroko-kun stopped him, saying "Midorima-kun ! Let's... compete again." And she saw that tiny, small smile he had when he was talking about books, about things that were important to him.
"...Of course. And next time I'll be the winner !"
Finally leaving, Shintaro saw Takao waiting for him, already ready to drive the rickshaw.
"Don't worry about rock-paper-scissors. I'll take you, okay ?"
He looked at his teammate, surprised and inexplicably remembered Seirin's manager word. "... You need to let go your pride and consider the fact you can count on people in your team." Maybe she's not wrong, he thought. So he just smirked and let out a 'Hm.'
He had a very straining day. He had two games and he lost the final. He lost for the first time in basketball and he had to admit to himself this first defeat did saddened him. He had this strange moment with this girl... Masuko Miyuki. He still didn't completely understand her words but he felt they were important. "You'll understand someday." Someday... he thought.
And as Takao and him started to discuss, he may liked this sport after all. It was the first time since years he felt passion for basketball. And just like the night sky, the rain in his heart stopped.