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Aomine was very reluctant to leave the room in the morning. It was almost noon by the time he wandered out. He was hoping the house would be empty, but no such luck. When he entered the kitchen Touma was in his normal place, a book in hand.

At least Kayura was no where to be seen.

Touma looked up as he entered. He smiled, “I’m glad you’re up, we were concerned your injuries were more severe than we originally thought.”

“No, I’m fine.” Aomine said, not quite meeting Touma’s eye. He was feeling strange and awkward and didn’t know what to do about it.

“Please, sit down and have some lunch.” Touma said, “Now that I know you’re okay, I can leave without worrying.”

“Thank you,” Aomine said, before grabbing a sandwich from the pile on the table. In his effort to avoid looking at Touma, his eyes landed on an object Touma was rolling back and forth with a foot. Aomine stopped eating to stare.

Touma followed his gaze, “Do you like basketball?”

Aomine completely forgot about his previous intentions and looked at Touma with a grin, “Oh Yeah.”

“Why don’t you come with me? My team is practicing this afternoon. I’m sure they would be happy to meet you.”

Touma stood tucking the ball under his arm.

Aomine hesitated, “Are you sure? I don’t have the best reputation in town now.”

Touma put a hand on Aomine’s shoulder. “Trust me, they want to meet you.”

“Okay.” Aomine inhaled a few sandwiches and followed Touma.

——————–

It felt amazing to hold a ball in his hands again. Aomine dribbled and shot, feeling his muscles loosing with each second. He’d really missed this; the sound of the ball hitting wood, the feel of leather against his palm, the thrill of the net swishing after a shot. At no time in his life had he felt freer than when playing basketball. Part of his spirit soared as he flowed over the court. It was like an amazing energy burned inside him and this was the only outlet. Here his body and soul truly became one.

He was so engrossed in the feeling that he missed the arrival of Touma’s friends. A red haired man picked up the ball he just dunked, tossing it back to him.

“Aomine,” Touma called, waving him over, “I’d like you to meet my friends. Shin, Ryou, and Seiji.”

Shin was the red head, with a soft smile and gentle sea green eyes. Seiji was blonde with a bang more annoying than Touma. It covered a full quarter of his face, completely blocking one lavender eye. He put off a cool reserve that didn’t really invite you to get close. Ryou had a mane of black hair pulled sloppily back in a pony tail. His blue eyes were bright and welcoming, matching the smile on his face. The men were all about the same height, except for Ryou who was several inches shorter than the rest.

They were looking at him expectantly, but he didn’t know what they were waiting for.

Then a loud voice filled the room. “All Right!” Arms were thrown around Ryou’s and Seiji’s necks. Ryou laughed and Seiji looked completely offended at being squeezed to the big man’s chest. “I’ve been waiting for this for weeks.”

“Shuu!” Seiji said with stiff anger.

“Oh, don’t give me that tone. You can’t fool me Blondie; you’ve been just as excited as me for the season to start.” He released his two friends just to hug the other two as well. He turned to Aomine, his hand out. “Hey Aomine, nice to see you again.”

Shuu’s grip was firm and confident; Aomine imagined he would handle a ball very well. The warm genuine welcome put Aomine at ease.

With Shuu’s arrival something clicked into place and the atmosphere changed. There was a relaxation or natural rhythm. It was like they were five pieces of one unit, so only when they were together did everything become right.

“So,” Ryou said, “we have six players, that is enough for a game.”

It sounded great to Aomine, but he hadn’t seen any of them play before and three of them were complete strangers. It would be difficult to be on a team with them.

Shuu moved to stand between Aomine and Touma. “I say we do team “ao” versus team “Ryou”. That should give each of us a Center, Shooter, and Power forward.”

Seiji’s eyes were cool and mocking, “Sounds good, we can beat team “aho” anytime.”

Shuu grinned, “Bring it on Blondie.”

Everyone was smiling and relaxed, so Aomine assumed that this was normal interaction for the two teammates.

————–

Each team moved to an opposite side of the court to warm up. He soon found out that Touma and Seiji were the shooters. Not like Shintaro, but impressive none the less.

Shuu came to stand next to him as Touma shot. “Let me warn you about Ryou. He may be a little shorter, but he is full of fire. Once he gets warmed up, he’s really hard to stop, so don’t under-estimate him. Shin may look all nice and sweet, but once we get under the basket, he’ll dig in and fight hard.” Aomine watched the other team, trying to determine how they would play. Comparing it to the comments by Shuu. “Seiji is a good shooter, but Touma is better. I tend to use brute strength to make my plays, while Shin will use finesse. He is usually our point guard, but he can play the center position just fine. We don’t get to play each other very often, so it should be interesting.”

Aomine could tell Shuu was pumped to play the game. “What did you mean when you said you were waiting for the season to start?”

“The year is broken into two seasons, three man teams and five man teams. The three man team season just ended. The Miracles had an exhibition match last week to close the season. During the three man season, none of the five man teams can practice or play games. Now we get two months of practice, then there will be a tournament. The winner gets to play a game against The Miracles.”

“What’s the big deal about The Mir-” Aomine was cut off by a call from the other team.

“Hey,” Ryou yelled, “are we going to play or stand around chatting all afternoon?”

“Well, if you are in that much of a hurry to lose,” Touma replied.

————-

The battle was fierce. They knew each other really well and had no compunction of taking advantage of every weakness. No one pulled any punches going for the win.

Shuu really did use raw power as his primary weapon. Once he got a hand on the ball, it was like a vice, it wasn’t going anywhere. Unfortunately, he was slower than Shin, so the red head did his best to beat Shuu to the jump. Most of Shuu’s rebounds went to Touma for three pointers. Touma’s air-time was amazing; Seiji could complete a full jump and land while Touma was in the air.

Aomine admired the other player’s plays, but he kept most of his attention on Ryou. Shuu had been right, Ryou burned hotter and hotter the longer the game went. It was a thrill to play and have someone push him to try. He was much less experienced than the other men, but he made up for it with pure skill.

The first time he made his formless shot, they stopped and stared. Ryou turned back to him grinning “show me that again.”

Ryou stuck tight to him and it took some tricky stepping to get free. He was a little faster and taller, so he used them to his advantage. But Ryou played very aggressive and put a lot of pressure on him. He was surprised at how good a job Ryou did of shutting him down.

The game was close, Aomine’s team lost, but it was a great game.

The next afternoon found them again at the court; the Ronin Warriors (the name of Touma’s team) had time reserved for a couple hours in the afternoon for their practices.

This time they changed up the teams, but Ryou’s team still managed to win. The third day in a row Ryou’s team won, Aomine had been lucky enough to be on his team this time.

“Hey Touma,” Aomine asked as they walked home after practice, “what is with Ryou? How does he keep pulling out the wins?”

Touma smiled. “Ryou is special and has power to burn.” Touma chuckled to himself, Aomine didn’t get the joke. “Ryou is a rare type of Kyokubu; he has the blood of multiple dragons in him.”

“Wow, that’s amazing.”

Touma nodded a special smile on his face, “he really is.”

Aomine slowed down as he saw Kayura standing at the door of the house.

“Touma,” he said coming to a stop.

The man turned back look at him questioningly. “Yes?”

Aomine had decided it was time to confront the issue. He couldn’t continue living in that house without doing something about the situation. “I heard you and Kayura arguing the other night.”

The expression on Touma’s face became wary. “Okay.”

“She called me her son.”

Touma’s mouth opened in surprise, worry filled his eyes. “Aomine-”

“I’ve decided I don’t mind.” Aomine continued quickly.

“What?”

“You see I don’t remember my mother and it’s kind of nice to have someone care about me.” Aomine rubbed the back of his head, “But I don’t know how to act around her.”

Touma looked both sad and relieved. “Well,” he said gently, “you should just be yourself. Do what feels naturally to you. But if you start to feel uncomfortable or unhappy, you should say something. We don’t want to be a burden to you.”

Aomine nodded, “But I want something from you too.”

Touma frowned, “I’ll do what I can, what do you want?”

“Introduce me to a dragon.”

 

Chapter 7

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