A/N: Hi! So I haven't posted in a long time, but I have a good explanation for that. I ended up working on a lot of separate projects at once and making progress on all of them, but because things have been so spread out, this is the first one to actually get finished. But! More should be coming soon, since I now have a lot written in general, so keep a lookout! Enjoy!
IMPORTANT TW! Kuroko has an anxiety attack at the beginning of this fic, so if that is something that could trigger you, PLEASE be careful when reading this!
"Well, I guess we'd better get going," Hyuuga finally sighed, standing up from the bench in the locker room. He looked over at the rest of the team, his own upset at losing to Touou piercing through him again at the sight of their own downcast mood. Slowly, the team rose to their feet, their game faces beginning to be put on again now that they would have to face the public. With one final sigh and a single moment to harden his mask, Hyuuga pushed open the door to the locker room, leading his team out into the open.
They walked down the hallway, and were pleasantly surprised to find it empty despite the distant sounds of the crowd still within the building. It made it easier to keep moving, no longer having to worry about interacting with the public. Kagami breathed out quietly in relief at the lack of crowds, his gaze tipping downwards as he stuffed his hands in his pockets. If he was feeling upset, then he had no idea how Kuroko must be feeling. The look on his face after Aomine won . . .
"Hey, Kuroko . . ." He glanced over only to find his partner missing from his side. Blinking in surprise, he scanned the surrounding area carefully only to find the other teen standing still several paces back. "Hey, what are you doi – Kuroko?!" His question cut off abruptly in alarm as he looked closer.
His friend was standing far too still to be normal, and although his expression was as blank as ever, there was an overwhelming amount of fear shining in his eyes. Now that Kagami was looking closer, he was also able to see that Kuroko was trembling, his chest heaving as he gasped for breath. As he watched, Kuroko's hand slowly came up to clench his jacket directly above his heart. He took several stumbling steps off to the side, collapsing on the ground in the corner of the turn they had just gone around, eyes wide and unseeing.
"Kuroko?!" The shouts of alarm from the rest of the team came, apparently their attention having been drawn to the scene by Kagami's earlier explanation. They all looked a little frantic as they tried to figure out what to do, and Kagami was right there along with them. Maybe he could snap Kuroko out of it? Apparently they all had the same idea, because the entire team began moving forward at once.
An outstretched arm halted Kagami's movement, and from the sound of stuttering steps behind him, he guessed that the others had stopped in their surprise as well. Following the hand holding him back to its owner, Kagami was surprised to see that Kise had materialized out of seemingly nowhere, and that his eyes were locked on Kuroko.
"No, stay here." Kise's eyes held none of the playful mirth they usually did, instead looking more solemn than Kagami had ever seen them. "Let me. I know how to bring him down from this." A glance at Kuroko's shaking form was all it took for Kagami to hand the reins over to the blond copy-cat, who immediately moved forward towards the shadow, though at a much slower pace than the others had.
"Hey, Kurokocchi, it's alright," he said quietly, crouching down to his ex-teammate's level and reaching out slowly to grasp his shoulder. "You're okay, I promise. You lost, but you are part of Seirin's team now, so it's okay. Just breathe. You'll be okay, you can still play basketball, you will always be able to play basketball while at Seirin. Feel how I'm breathing? Try to match that if you can. It's alright, you're okay. You still have a team."
Kise's voice remained quiet but firm as he spoke, lightly pressing one of Kuroko's hands to his diaphragm to let the blue-haired teen feel the steady breaths he was taking. He also kept repeating what he had said before over and over as if trying to cement those words into Kuroko's mind, and little by little, the panicked look in Kuroko's eyes faded away, leaving behind exhaustion. When the last of his shaking had stopped and all of the fear had left his eyes, he slumped forward to rest his forehead on Kise's shoulder. Because of that, Kagami was fairly certain he had missed the relief that flashed across Kise's features – the only sign that he hadn't been as calm as he had seemed throughout the ordeal.
They stayed like that for several minutes, the team gathered around Kuroko who was being supported by Kise. Kise had sat all the way down on the floor, and had wrapped both his arms around his ex-teammate, with one hand running through his hair and the other moving slowly up and down his back. After a while, Kise glanced down at Kuroko and let out a quiet sigh.
"It's okay guys, I think he's asleep. That was one of the worst ones I've seen; facing Aominecchi must have been hard for him already, and that combined with losing . . . Well, I'm surprised he made it as far as he did without having this happen sooner. It just goes to show how strong his willpower is when he has a reason to use it." Kise's eyes held admiration as he looked at the teen in his arms, but from where he was Kagami thought he could see a bit of sadness there too.
"That was a panic attack, wasn't it?" Riko's voice was quiet as she broke the silence that had fallen over the group since Kise had stopped talking. "And he's had them before – for a while from the sound of it, given that you have other times to compare it to." Kise looked up at her, studying her with an unusual sharpness that gave away the intelligence behind his over-emotional personality. After a moment of scrutinizing her and the rest of Seirin's team, he slumped with a bit of a sigh.
"Close, but not quite right. Kurokocchi had an anxiety attack, not a panic attack." He hesitated, glancing at his friend for a moment before continuing. "It's not really my place to tell you, since Kurokocchi didn't, but I think I need to so that you know how to handle it in the future, if nothing else. He started getting them somewhere around the end of the first year of middle school, according to the others, maybe the beginning of the second." Kise paused, mulling over his next words. Before he could continue, Hyuuga spoke up, clearing his throat.
"What started them? If you know, that is, and it's not too personal." Kise gave a wry grin in response, his eyes containing some foreign emotion.
"Teikou did. Well," he corrected, his voice losing some of its bitterness as he responded to the team's surprised expressions, "not exactly. Teikou's policies . . . they don't allow for failure, as I'm sure all of you know. Not only do they not lose, they don't give you a chance to lose – especially when it comes to basketball. For the rest of us, that meant if a non-regular could beat us, we would be demoted to first string and have to reclaim our place as a regular by beating them in return. That thought was scary for us, but we knew that we could easily get back to the regulars with more practice if it somehow happened. Kurokocchi though . . . before being a part of the regulars, he had been in the third string, and had been encouraged to quit altogether only hours before Akashi discovered him. If he failed, there was no doubt that would be it for him. What was a scary threat for us was terrifying for him, and I think that's why it started."
Seirin let his words sink in, their eyes going to their passing specialist still completely out of it in Kise's hold. They had heard that Teikou was cutthroat, but to the extent that the Generation of Miracles was afraid that they might be kicked off their basketball team? That gave a whole new meaning to their policy of 'Winning is everything' now that they knew the context.
They were drawn out of their thoughts as Kuroko shifted slightly in Kise's arms, his face turning further into the crease between Kise's neck and shoulder as he let out a sigh. Kise looked torn between being ecstaticly flustered and being sad that Kuroko had even come to the point where he was falling asleep on Kise. It was several moments of emotional turbulence before his expression finally settled into something that could only be described as fond. Seirin felt a little awkward witnessing such a private exchange of emotion between the two, but knew that they couldn't just leave.
"You handled that really well, Kise," Izuki finally commented from off to the side, no hint of a pun for once. "If you couldn't tell, we were kind of at a loss about what to do. I'm actually really glad you came along when you did, so, you know, thanks."
"Well, it's not like I could just walk away when he's helped me so many times before. Besides, it wasn't all that special; we all just got used to helping each other out whenever one hit. It's not a skill, just practice, unfortunately."
Kise continued to look at Kuroko as he spoke, seemingly unaware of the reaction the rest of Seirin had to his words. As the team gaped at him in shock, he was focused on carefully rearranging his ex-teammate into a more comfortable position. Seirin watched him, thinking over what could cause a group of teenagers, even the Generation of Miracles apparently, to have anxiety attacks on a semi-regular basis. Between the school's policy of always winning and the immense amount of pressure that came from being a regular, they could see how easily that might wear on someone. Add the incredible amount of pressure that came from being part of a group called the Generation of Miracles and being expected to win every game by large margins . . . well, it was no wonder they broke down from time to time.
At the voice, the entire group turned to look down the hall. Midorima was making his way to them, looking the most ruffled Seirin had ever seen him. "Did you find – ah. How bad was it? I assume he wouldn't be sleeping if it wasn't worse than normal." Kise hissed out a breath.
"It was pretty bad. I wasn't sure I would be able to bring him down with the usual methods." He turned back to Seirin. "Every person is different with this sort of thing – what might calm one person down could make someone else even worse, so don't try this on anyone else without checking first. What we found worked best with Kurokocchi is having him feel someone else breathing as well as giving a gentle but firm pressure on his shoulder while talking quietly and calmly to him. That way he has something else to focus on."
"Kise," Midorima warned, drawing the blond's attention back to him. "You know the rules." Kise's eyes flashed as he stiffened, unconsciously drawing Kuroko closer to him as if trying to protect him from some unknown threat.
"The rules don't exactly do us much good if we never see each other!" He shot back, something bitter and slightly angry making its way into his tone. Seirin was surprised, given Kise's usual nature, and it seemed like Midorima was taken aback as well based on his expression. "Kurokocchi has a new team now, and they need to know what to do in this kind of situation! Maybe this wouldn't be necessary if things were different, but the way things are now Momoicchi can't do anything, Aominecchi can't be bothered or doesn't notice, Murasakibaracchi doesn't care, and Akashicchi won't do anything! Don't you see that everything's changed? That everything has fallen apart?"
Kise was panting slightly by the end of his rant, and it seemed to Seirin that it was something that he'd been wanting to say for a while now. Midorima looked at him, eyes wide, for several long moments. Then he tipped his head down and adjusted his glasses, breaking eye contact with the other Miracle.
"I will admit that things haven't been . . . ideal for a while now," he finally stated, causing Kise to snort slightly at the understatement. "However I have been doing my best to believe that while things may be cracked, they are not shattered. It has been preferable to the alternative, and I have only just recently begun to see that the cracks run deeper than I had previously realized." Kise seems to settle at that, glancing down at the blue-haired boy still leaning against him with the same respect and fondness he always has in abundance when it comes to Kuroko.
"He does seem to have a habit of opening our eyes to the obvious, doesn't he?" he comments quietly. Kagami is feeling a bit like an intruder by now, as is most of his team, a glance shows him, but their collective loyalty to one of their own keeps them awkwardly in place. This is clearly a conversation that has needed to happen for a while now, because god knows those Miragens have issues that need to be worked out.
"Shin-chan, there you are! I've been looking all over for – oh." Takao broke off when he realized what a tense and solemn atmosphere he'd come running into. "Er, is everything alright?"
"You should leave, Takao, this isn't for you to witness," Midorima said, his tone returning to normal as he stiffened back into his usual persona. His eyes flicked meaningfully at Seirin before returning to Kise. "It isn't for any outsiders to witness. Akashi hasn't rescinded the rules, regardless of the circumstances. I for one do not intend to invoke his anger."
"Forget Akashicchi," Kise hissed. "I refuse to abandon Kurokocchi again, even if you –"
"Kise-kun." At Kuroko's quiet voice, everything froze. The blond looked down at his ex-teammate in surprise, looking reluctant to let go but willing to help as Kuroko slowly sat up. "Do not get involved with my fight against Akashi-kun. It has nothing to do with that. It is not Akashi-kun's fault, but Teikou's that things are the way they are, and before today the rules have not been a problem. Please do not fight him over something so trivial."
The pair engaged in a brief stare-off, communicating silently for several moments. Eventually Kise sighed, lowering his head slightly as he both gave in and showed mild respect to Kuroko, his gaze drifting off to one side.
"Fine. I don't like it, but I trust your judgment, Kurokocchi." He paused, then his eyes widened in realization, darting back to Kuroko with slight apprehension. "Er, while you were asleep I ended up telling your team about . . . you know. Just in case you ever needed their help in the future. I'm sorry if you are angry at me because of it, but I won't apologize for looking out for you. After all, that is rule number one."
At his last comment, he made a pointed glance at Midorima, who huffed but said nothing. Kuroko blinked, before the faintest hint of a smile crossed his features. He reached out to rest a hand on Kise's shoulder before it fell back to his side and he slowly stood.
"Thank you, Kise-kun," he stated quietly, the praise making Kise light up a little, despite the serious atmosphere. "I should have done it myself a while ago, I apologize." He bowed slightly to both Kise and the rest of Seirin as they watched him with wide eyes.
"Why didn't you?" Takao piped up. "If you don't mind me asking. I know, I'm not really a part of this more than the fact that I'm Shin-chan's shadow, but, well, we shadows should stick together, right?" He ended with a grin and a wink, but it was with an underlying sense of uncertainty. Kuroko blinked again as he considered the other boy.
"Part of it is that these things simply aren't talked about much here in Japan," he said, finally. Head tipping to the side slightly in thought. "Most of it was also that I thought it wouldn't be likely to happen again away from Teikou and its policies. But . . . I guess there was also a small part of me that didn't want to think about it more than I had to. Things hadn't been – things had been rough for months before I met all of you, and I didn't want reminders of that time in my life any more than I was already getting."
The others in the hall slowly absorbed the information, putting together the pieces of what he'd said, as well as what he hadn't about his last bit of time with the Miracles as well as the time immediately after his split from them. Clearing her throat, Riko finally stepped forward, her hands on her hips and a determined look on her face.
"Well, now that we know, let us know if you ever need us to help. And, if you're okay with it, we can now help you if you experience one again. I'm guessing Kagami would probably be one of the best choices, huh?"
For the first time, Kuroko looked truly taken aback, and he simply stared at them for several long moments, his eyes wide. Kise eventually nudged him slightly, causing him to blink as his blank expression fell back into place, though it seemed almost a little warmer than before.
"Thank you," he responded, glancing around the group. "I would appreciate it, so long as none of you feel burdened by it." At that statement, he glanced at Kagami, who shrugged at the look.
"You might need to tell me more about it one of these days to make sure I know what to do, but I don't mind." A slight bit of tension that had gone previously unnoticed seemed to fall from Kuroko's shoulders at the statement.
The chirp of Kise's phone broke the tension, and they all turned to look at the part-time model as he dug his phone out of his pocket. Seeing whatever notification was on screen, Kise winced slightly, scrambling to his feet.
"Ah, that's the captain." He grinned sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head. "I'd better get going before he gets too mad, hehe!" He turned to go, hand in the air to wave goodbye already, when a hand reached out to his jacket, holding him in place.
"Kise-kun." Kuroko's deadpan stare seemed to look straight through Kise. "Is Kaijou good to you?"
Kise blinked in surprise, and Seirin exchanged looks at the question, as did Midorima and Takao. There was a moment of silent communication between the blond and bluenet, before Kise's grin returned, less dazzling but far more genuine.
"They're a lot of fun to rile up," he grinned. "I'm going to have a lot of fun with them, I think." Nodding, Kuroko released his grip from the other's jacket, taking a step back, glancing at Midorima next, who suddenly stiffened a bit from beside Takao.
"I find Shuutoku to be acceptable thus far," he said stiffly, readjusting his glasses before shooting a short glare at Takao when he laughed.
"Good," Kuroko responded, glancing between the two before his eyes came to rest on Takao. "Make sure that it stays acceptable for the foreseeable future."
"No worries, Kuroko," Takao beamed, slinging an arm over Midorima's shoulders as his friend sputtered beside him. "I'll take care of Shin-chan for you!"
Kuroko's nod was lost as Takao's phone pinged too. Fishing it out and glancing at the screen, he nodded, glancing back to the rest of the group.
"That was our cue to go too!" Tugging an indignantly protesting Midorima along behind him, he made his way down the hall with a final wave goodbye. "Don't lose again until the next game!"
The pair disappeared around a corner, Kise was the only non-Seirin player left with them. His phone chirped again, and Kise looked at it, wincing further this time but looking uncertainly back at Kuroko.
"Go ahead," Kuroko said softly. "Don't make your team worry."
Kise hovered a moment more before nodding and starting back the way he came. Kuroko turned away as well, towards the rest of his team, to follow them back to the bus. A sudden call from Kise made him glance back over his shoulder at the teen, who now had a challenging glint in his eyes. Kuroko felt himself straighten automatically in response.
"Just as a reminder, Kurokocchi, you're not the only one who wants to beat Aominecchi," Kise called out, a daring smirk splayed across his lips. "So be sure not to lose before we meet at the finals, yeah?"
A hint of responding challenge and determination made its way into Kuroko's stance, and he felt the rest of Seirin straighten behind him, a unified front of solidarity at his back.
"We won't," he promised. Kise grinned at that, before waving again and running off. Kuroko suppressed his urge to smile at the sight as he turned back to his team.
His eyes trailed over every one of their faces. Some looked determined, others a little concerned still. A few others looked thoughtful or curious. A sense of peace settled over him at the sight of their acceptance of everything that had happened, and the clear hunger for victory he knew resided in each of them. Taking a step forward, Kuroko spoke, an extra hint of warmth in his voice.
"Let's go home."