Kuroko watched the other boy, standing unobtrusively in the corner as Aomine scored another basket. He doubted that his presence had gone unnoticed by the taller boy – he was even sharper than Kagami in some respects – but the other boy hadn't approached him, so he contented himself with watching as Aomine played by himself, his body lean and flexible. Since nobody could beat Aomine, he rarely bothered to practice with the rest of his teammates, but for all that he hated it, he couldn't give up his passion for the sport, either. Kuroko understood that feeling, the conflict caused when you both hated and loved something, and couldn't find a way to turn your emotions one way or the other. Aomine would never be able to give up basketball, no matter how much he hated it, because there would always be that slender spider-thread of hope that perhaps, someday, he'd meet somebody who could actually beat him.
Kise had come close, but the outcome of that particular game had been decided the moment Kise had chosen to imitate Aomine Daiki's style. While the blond could certainly make another player's moves his own, and adapt it to a style to suit him, Aomine was way out of his league, and the strain of keeping up with the dark-skinned boy had taken its toll on his body. Even if Kise were to improve drastically, Aomine would still win, because he'd be improving, too, even without a suitable opponent. It was just natural for him.
Blue eyes observed the lean form as it darted and spun, and Kuroko smiled at the memories watching him now brought back. He had once told Aomine that if he wasn't flying, then he must be dancing. The other boy had just laughed and cuffed him on the back of the head. That had been back before things had changed, before they had started to push forward individual talents, before "team" had ceased to exist.
Another movement that was nearly impossible to follow and the ball swished through the net again, not so much as tapping the hoop. Aomine stopped, one hand reaching up to brush his hair out of his eyes, and Kuroko was almost jealous; the other boy wasn't even breathing hard! Then again, it's not like he really had to push himself without an opponent.
Dark eyes turned to stare at him, and Kuroko stared back calmly, his head tilted slightly to the left as he watched his former teammate. "Why're you here, Tetsu?" Aomine asked, the familiar name tripping easily off his tongue. "Shouldn't you be helping that other guy? Kagami? After all, you did say you were going to beat the Generation of Miracles and make him the best, didn't you?" The words were sharp and bitter, and Kuroko chose to ignore the tone.
He nodded. "Yes. And we will. Kise and Midorima. You. Murasakibara and Akashi. We'll beat you all." He spoke it sincerely, with no trace of uncertainty. It was his resolve, and even if he forgot it, Taiga Kagami would never allow him to give up. Not after he had promised to be the other boy's shadow."
"Oh?" Aomine said, and his eyes grew hard, his lips curving up in a superior smirk. "Then you are here to try and see if you can find a way to beat me? I've told you, haven't I? Nobody can beat me but me." Kuroko finished the last two words with him, but it wasn't mocking. It was simply acceptance that thus far, Aomine's words had held true. Not even Kise had beaten him, and that had been the closest anybody had ever come.
Kuroko stepped out onto the court, stopping in front of Aomine so that he had to look up to meet his eyes. "And that is why you will lose," he said. "I promised you, too, didn't I? That we'd beat you. I held him back last time," he admitted, "but I won't make the same mistake twice. I'll make myself stronger, so that I can keep my promise to you both."
He remembered a previous conversation, the one that had changed everything for him. It wasn't that his way of thinking was completely wrong; it was that he hadn't understood that even though they worked as a team, the team itself was made up of the strength of its players. If even one player was too weak, the whole team was weak. Kuroko finally understood that, and he vowed that the Winter Cup would be different. This time, he would not be responsible for holding Kagami back. Seirin High would win the Winter Cup.
Aomine chuckled darkly, bringing Kuroko's focus back to him. "You really have changed, haven't you, Tetsu?" he asked. The smaller boy shrugged; hadn't they all? Without warning, Aomine tossed the ball at him, and Kuroko caught it instinctively, his hands wrapping easily around the ball as he pulled it towards his chest, watching the other boy warily. But Aomine just turned away and walked off the court. "Then prove it to me," he called back over his shoulder. "Beat me at the Winter Cup. If Kagami's as good as you seem to think he is, now's your chance to show everybody else that your way is the better way."
Kuroko nodded. "Very well," he replied softly. "The Winter Cup will decide everything." Turning, he stared at the hoop from the center of the court, eyeing it carefully. Before Aomine had a chance to ask him what the hell he thought he was doing, he shifted backwards, leaping as he threw the ball. It hit the rim and bounced off the backboard before falling…through the net.
Aomine's laughter was sincere this time, his eyes sparkling. "Maybe you do have what it takes," he conceded. "You're still far too weak, but you've never before made that shot, have you?" he asked. It wasn't really a question, but Kuroko shook his head. As he watched, Aomine's face grew more animated, and a flicker of something that Kuroko wanted to call hope flashed through dark eyes.
Kuroko wanted to preen a little bit, but he knew better. What he had just done wasn't something that he could do regularly, or under pressure, so it would be a futile move in a real game as thing stood now. But he had made his point; he hadn't given up. He wouldn't give up. Not until he had made Kagami the best basketball player in Japan. Seirin would stand at the top in the Winter Cup, and he would give everything he had to see it happen.
Grabbing a ball from its container outside the court, Aomine didn't even bother to turn his body before shooting the ball, and they both watched as it shot through the net, another clean hoop. Kuroko just blinked, then shrugged. It looked like Kagami might want to work on his long-distance shots, because dunking wasn't going to get him far if he couldn't break away from Aomine, and if the dark-skinned boy could shoot from a distance, he'd be at a serious disadvantage.
Bright blue eyes met dark blue, and Kuroko nodded his acceptance at the challenge. Aomine smiled, and Kuroko answered his smile with one of his own. Game on.