Disclaimer: I do not own anything from Kuroko no Basket.

Chapter 6

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"

"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to."

"I don't much care where-"

"Then it doesn't matter which way you go."

"-so long as I get somewhere."

"Oh, you're sure to do that, if you only walk long enough."

~ Alice and the Cheshire Cat, Alice in Wonderland

17. Cops and Robbers, a Pervert and a Fox

Tetsuya bided his time. He was nothing if not patient.

"Oi, Kuroko, you coming?" Kagami looked impatient again, as he always was when it came to food. And basketball. "You're slow! The team's waiting outside; we're going to Maji Burger for dinner."

Tetsuya shook his head minutely, face blank as he gestured for his partner to go on ahead. "I have an appointment with one of the teachers about an assignment. Please tell the team to go without me. I will see you tomorrow, Kagami-kun."

Kagami frowned, looking slightly disgruntled at this news, and it almost made Tetsuya smile, but the taller basketball player nodded in acquiescence and headed out the door with a wave. "See ya tomorrow then."

Tetsuya waited until the muffled sounds of his team's voices faded into the distance. It was a good thing that Kagami wasn't particularly perceptive when it came to anything outside of basketball so Tetsuya hadn't needed to lie. Someone more observant might enquire as to why he had said 'one of the teachers' instead of 'one of my teachers', or the fact that Tetsuya hadn't specified which assignment he needed to see a teacher about. The other first-years had all the same homework he did, and barring Kagami, they would probably have been curious or at least offered to help if they had assumed that Tetsuya didn't understand something.

Reopening his locker door, Tetsuya stashed his bags back inside. Better not to carry around anything unnecessary when he was about to go sneaking around the school. The only thing he did take was a small duffel bag. He shucked his team jacket as well, and crammed a cap on his head, making sure his hair was hidden away; on the very, very small chance that he was spotted, he didn't want anyone connecting him back to Kuroko Tetsuya of the Seirin Basketball Team.

Then again, they probably wouldn't even recognize him as a student of Seirin in the first place.

Checking himself over in one of the mirrors on the wall, Tetsuya mentally nodded his approval before slipping out of the changing room and heading towards the girls' locker room.

He'd been monitoring his senpai's homeroom teacher's daily routine for several months now, and he knew that the pervert wouldn't make his way down to the girls' changing room until six-thirty, give or take. It was a few minutes before six right now so Tetsuya would give himself until six-twenty to set everything up before he scarpered.

Reaching the girls' locker room, he pulled on a pair of gloves, tried the doorknob, found it locked (as he had expected since the girls' Tennis Club normally let out at five, and then the janitor would come to clean and lock up), and retrieved his lock-picking tools from his bag.

What could he say? He was an only child who had spent most of his childhood alone. He had gotten curious about some things.

Twenty seconds later, Tetsuya had the door open wide enough for him to duck inside, and without further ado, he tugged open his duffel bag and got to work.

All in all, except for the lack of urinals and a few extra stalls in their place, the girls' changing room wasn't all that different from the boys' so, from his own examination of the boys' changing room, Tetsuya had already mapped out all the places that the homeroom teacher – Aoba Jurou – could possibly place his camcorder in the room and still have a good view of semi-naked and probably fully naked girls. Therefore, he also knew how to avoid getting caught on camera.

As he had thought, he found Aoba's video camera placed in an obscure corner on top of a set of lockers, far back enough so that no one would see it unless they were looking for it but angled in a way that would give the lens a perfect view from above of the inside of at least half a dozen stalls where the girls would usually strip.

Tetsuya wrinkled his nose in revulsion as he evaded the camera's line of sight. What bad taste. He wouldn't feel any guilt when he ultimately got this man arrested.

Choosing an opposite corner so that he would have a clear view of both the clock on the wall and Aoba entering the locker room to retrieve his video camera, Tetsuya methodically began setting up his own camcorder. The piece of equipment would not be able to be traced back to him even in the event of someone else finding it before he could return for it. It was one he had found in the basement of his house, all but brand-new but bought ten years ago from a different country by one of his parents and probably used only once or twice at the beginning. Any records of the purchase would be long buried.

After turning the thing on, Tetsuya made his way back across the room again, skirting around the stalls and clambering onto a bench just to make sure that Aoba wouldn't even be able to accidentally catch sight of the camera.

Satisfied with his work, Tetsuya checked his phone. Six-fifteen. Early was always best in his book so it was time to scram.

Giving the room one more thorough scan, Tetsuya slung his duffel bag over one shoulder and left the changing room, locking the door behind him once more. The locks on every locker room in the entire school used the same key; it was the only reason that Aoba had such an easy time getting in and out since all teachers had a set of keys assigned to them.

Now that that was done, Tetsuya settled himself in the shadows of a tree about a dozen feet away. A group of students walked by without even glancing in his direction, the janitor rounded the corner a few minutes later, pushing his cart as he headed for the boys' locker room, and finally, Aoba Jurou slunk casually into view about five minutes after that, glancing left and right but, having gotten away with it so many times already, couldn't be bothered to do a more careful job.

Tetsuya allowed a flicker of a mirthless smirk twist his lips before settling his expression back into its usual neutrality.

He waited until the teacher was inside before taking off for the school's main building. He knew Aoba would head back to his classroom to pack up for the day before swinging by the staffroom to drop off the camcorder in his desk drawer. Tetsuya would wait until after Aoba had left the school entirely before stealing everything in it. He thought it was pretty stupid of Aoba for leaving most of the tapes in the school but he'd also seen a wedding band on the man's hand so he figured that Aoba didn't want his wife finding out. Tetsuya might've felt a little bad for the woman if it wasn't for the fact that he was probably doing her a favour here. What she was thinking when she married the pervert was beyond him.

It took exactly thirty-six minutes of waiting patiently from the seat he had taken right across the staffroom before Aoba finally left. Another two janitors, a bunch of teachers, and Aoba himself had walked right in front of Tetsuya during that time, and none of them had seen him.

Not bad at all for a phantom.

From his position though, Tetsuya could see the parking lot through the window, and as soon as he had seen Aoba driving out the school gates, he was up and moving once more.

Even though there were no more teachers inside, the staffroom wasn't locked yet, most likely left open for the janitors to do their cleaning. Tetsuya ghosted inside, falling onto his hands and knees and sticking to the protection that the desks provided even as he crawled silently towards Aoba's. Seirin was a fairly old school despite still being in relatively good condition, and there was every chance that there might be a surveillance camera or two situated in the room. Tetsuya rather doubted it but it was better safe than sorry.

Twelve minutes later, he had Aoba's bottom right drawer unlocked and cleaned out, everything swept into a couple of Ziploc bags from his duffel. Swiftly, he closed and locked it again, made sure everything looked undisturbed, and then crawled back out of the room once more without anyone the wiser.

Now he had to move quickly. Speeding back down to the girls' changing room, he broke in again, retrieved his camcorder, reviewed the tape, and then stuffed it into a separate Ziploc bag before hurrying out again, this time to the boys' locker room to grab his belongings, put away his cap but not his gloves, and then jogged directly out of the school and straight to the police station.

Though there wasn't too much of a need to get the investigation started as soon as possible, it was what Tetsuya wanted since he knew that Aoba would be panicking the minute the teacher discovered the empty drawer. While there wasn't much Aoba could do about it, Tetsuya didn't want to give the pedophile any time to create an alibi, no matter how flimsy.

If Tetsuya had his way (and he wasn't the son of an uncompromising lawyer and a merciless business tycoon for nothing), then the school would be swarming with police by morning, and Aoba fired, arrested, and carted off to prison before noon.

By the time he arrived at the station, dusk had fallen and Tetsuya was shivering a little from the nipping cold. November's bout of early snowfall had been washed away by rain but the wind itself still carried the bite of winter and the promise of a white Christmas.

There was only one officer on duty at the front desk, reading a newspaper behind the window that separated the office from the outside. There was even a speak hole in it for people to simply walk up and ask for assistance or enquire of a lost item.

Tetsuya hesitated, and then quietly removed all the evidence he had from his duffel, choosing to leave it outside on the ground before scooting back, picking up a rock, and pelting it at the window.

Embarrassingly enough, the first one fell short, and Tetsuya had to throw another stone to catch the officer's attention.

The policeman jerked a little at the clink of rock on glass, putting his paper aside as he peered out into the night. "Who's there?"

Tetsuya cautiously moved to a different spot even further away from the bags of cassette tapes and camcorder, with a clear route of escape behind him, before throwing a third rock. The officer got to his feet, one hand dropping to the holster at his hip as he came around the desk and headed outside. From the man's point of view, and with both Tetsuya's lack of presence and the cover of the night, the rocks had probably seemed like it came from out of nowhere.

"Who's there?" The policeman asked once more, sharper this time as he kept a hand on his gun. Tetsuya remained silent, and a few seconds later, he saw the officer's gaze fall onto the pile of evidence on the ground. Lingering only long enough to ensure that the man had scooped everything up with a puzzled expression, Tetsuya turned on his heel and walked away.

That was his part done. Now he had himself and his dogs to feed, and homework to complete before-


Tetsuya stiffened imperceptibly before turning calmly to face the direction where the familiar voice had come from. Kiyoshi peered down at him with open curiosity. It figured that one of the few people who could pick him out of a crowd – or no crowd – would bump into him tonight. "Good evening, Kiyoshi-senpai."

Kiyoshi sighed a little, looking exasperated at the rather formal greeting but forging on nonetheless. "Hey, I didn't expect to see you again today, especially not here. You don't usually go this way to get home, do you?"

Tetsuya shook his head, not giving anything away. "I took the long way around. I am heading straight home now."

"Oh," Kiyoshi's gaze flitted over Tetsuya's head, scanning the empty street behind him with a perfunctory once-over (and undoubtedly catching sight of the lights coming from the police station half a block down) before smiling down at Tetsuya. "Come on then; we can walk together part of the way. Kagami said you were meeting a teacher for an assignment; how did that go?"

"Fine," Tetsuya answered blandly. It had gone fine. More than fine.

Kiyoshi sweatdropped. "Okay, well, have you eaten yet?"

"No," Tetsuya figured he should clarify this time. "Nigou and Sangou are waiting for me at my house so I will eat with them when I get back."

This earned him an odd look from Kiyoshi so Tetsuya reviewed his reply but couldn't figure out what he had said to garner that expression.

"Er, what about your mum and dad, Kuroko?" Kiyoshi's voice had gentled, and Tetsuya almost hated him for it in that split second.

He shrugged instead, eyes fixed on the road ahead as they walked on. "They're at work."

A long silence followed until they reached an intersection where Tetsuya knew that Kiyoshi would have to turn off. He almost jumped when a something soft was draped around his neck.

"Family's never just about blood, Kuroko," Kiyoshi said, strangely sombre even as he wrapped the blue scarf he had been wearing around Tetsuya's neck to ward off the chill. "They help each other when times call for it, and it's perfectly okay to ask for help without worrying about being selfish or anything stupid like that. I hope you can understand that one day. You don't quite get it yet right now."

And with those cryptic words, the second-year grinned again and waved, calling out a cheery 'see you tomorrow' before walking off down the street, now scarf-less.

Tetsuya watched him go, one hand coming up to absently tangle his fingers into the soft wool of the scarf he'd been given. Kiyoshi was so weird sometimes, doing random things and spouting random jokes and pieces of... advice? at random times.

Ah well. Kiyoshi was Kiyoshi, and Tetsuya liked him the way he was. Seirin just wouldn't be the same without him.

Tetsuya headed home, burrowing his cold nose into the scarf. It was very warm.


In the morning, as Tetsuya had predicted, two police cars could be seen out front, the school was in an uproar as a white-faced protesting Aoba was roughly cuffed and taken into custody, and a classroom had been set aside for a few police officers to interview the schoolteachers as well as all the girls that had appeared on the tapes in addition to the man's entire homeroom class.

Seeing as Tetsuya was both male and a first-year, he didn't have much to do with the proceedings. However, every other teacher in the school were too distracted (or maybe too distraught and alarmed that one of their own had turned out to be perving on the female population) to teach, and most of the students weren't paying attention anyway, much more enthusiastic about the rumours of pedophile and Aoba-sensei is going to the slammer and even the wilder whispered gossip of sexual abuse and rape.

Needless to say, not much educating was being done that day if you didn't count all the new terminology related to pedophilia that some of the more gung-ho students were looking up just for the heck of it. The teachers basically let them have study periods throughout the entire day since no one was allowed to leave until the police was finished with the investigation anyway.

Tetsuya merely pulled out a book to read as he waited for the hours to pass, keeping an ear out just to make sure that the interrogations were going smoothly. Apparently, the police was doing a proper job of it, and several female students had already come forward to confess that there had been times where Aoba had touched them longer than absolutely necessary but that there had been nothing too bad which was why none of them had reported anything.

An announcement had been made at noon as well about the mysterious person who had left the bags of evidence in front of the police station yesterday night, and that anyone who knew anything should step forward about it.

Tetsuya kept his head down and his mouth shut, unseen and forgotten as always. Coach was now safe, the pervert would be going to jail, and as far as Tetsuya was concerned, that was all that mattered.

The only thing that did surprise him was when he heard two girls talking in hushed disgusted voices about the information revealed to them during each of their interviews with the officers. Apparently, a stack of photos had been found in the man's house after the police had conducted a search, and every girl in every class that Aoba had taught had been in that stack.

Tetsuya probably would have crushed the full bottle of water he had been holding at the time if he had been strong enough. As it was, he chose to walk away instead, swallowing his anger while keeping his features void of anything he was feeling.

He had been too lenient with Aoba. He should have planted something even more incriminating on the man. Drugs, maybe? He was sure he could've gotten his hands on some if he talked to that girl from his class who sold drugs for a pretty yen. It wasn't as if Tetsuya didn't have enough money or anything.

"That appointment with the teacher about an assignment yesterday went pretty well, huh?"

Tetsuya stilled for a fraction of a second before turning around to watch Kiyoshi approach, a disarming smile on his face. "Hello, Senpai. I told you last night that it went fine."

Kiyoshi stopped a foot in front of him, cocking his head and studying Tetsuya with knowing eyes. Tetsuya just gazed back indifferently, and after several long seconds, the second-year huffed a half-laugh, half-sigh and reached out to ruffle Tetsuya's hair.

Tetsuya inwardly twitched with irritation. Kiyoshi was picking up Murasakibara's habits. At least the former didn't pat him on the head like the latter did.

"Kuroko," Kiyoshi remarked with a rueful smile. "You can be... kinda terrifying."

Tetsuya blinked, hiding his annoyance. He had known, ever since Kiyoshi had caught him a mere half block away from the police station yesterday, that if anyone would figure out what he had done, it would be the brown-haired second-year. "I don't understand what you mean, Senpai."

Kiyoshi just chuckled, shaking his head as if he didn't really care whether or not Tetsuya admitted his hand in all this. "You did it for Riko, right? Thank you. Neither Hyuuga nor I saw anything, and if that... man had done anything to her..."

For a second, something frighteningly close to uncontrolled rage flitted across Kiyoshi's face before it was suppressed and tucked away again.

Tetsuya figured that he wasn't the only terrifying one here.

"Oi, Kiyoshi! You're up soon! What are you even doing out here? Riko's still a bit shaken up and I don't want to leave her alone for too long."

Kiyoshi was instantly all smiles again, turning to wave Hyuuga over. Tetsuya quickly sketched a short bow. "Good afternoon, Captain."

A slight smile tugged at Hyuuga's lips, though it was shadowed by the lingering pissed off look today. "Hey, Kuroko. You first-years getting a free day today?"

Tetsuya inclined his head. "Basically, yes. The teachers are too worried to teach." He paused, and then enquired, "How is Aida-kantoku?"

"She'll be fine, though if I ever see that perverted bastard out of jail again, I'll wring his neck," Hyuuga muttered darkly before nudging at Kiyoshi. "Hurry up; they'll be calling your name soon. The questions are pretty standard. Don't act like an idiot in front of the police, okay?"

Kiyoshi rubbed the back of his head sheepishly but Tetsuya caught the look they exchanged, one that lasted only a few seconds but held the depth of an entire conversation.

"Don't worry, Hyuuga," Kiyoshi assured before smiling one last time at Tetsuya. "See you later, Kuroko. I'm off to have my brain picked."

Hyuuga rolled his eyes and slapped Kiyoshi on the shoulder but chose to nod at Tetsuya instead of berating the second-year further. "Practice is cancelled this afternoon and tomorrow morning, Kuroko, so don't show up by accident. Could you let the other first-years know?"

Tetsuya nodded agreeably, and as the two second-years walked away, he managed to overhear Hyuuga asking, "What were you talking to Kuroko about anyway?"

"Oh, this and that," Kiyoshi replied breezily. "Hey, you know, Kuroko's sort of like a fox, don't you think?"

"Huh? What are you going on about?"

"You know, he can be really clever and sneaky, and I heard that a fox's pelt can help them blend in with their surroundings too, just like Kuroko!"

"Where are you getting this stuff? Nevermind, I don't wanna hear it. My brain's hurting enough today as it is. And when Riko's dad hears about this, he is gonna flip..."

The two rounded a corner, their voices fading away, and Tetsuya relaxed minutely. So Kiyoshi would keep quiet then. Not that Tetsuya would've done anything to his... older brother figure if he had decided to tell someone, but he preferred remaining anonymous, and it looked like Kiyoshi would respect that decision.

It was still odd though, Tetsuya mused to himself as he headed back to his classroom. He had thought that if anyone ever discovered his more... underhanded side, they'd at least be a little more guarded with him.

Kiyoshi had been wholly unconcerned though, which was just...

Tetsuya shook his head. He was surrounded by quirky people, and even just for the handful of months that he had known the second-year, Kiyoshi had always been someone who took everything in stride.

18. Listen

"Satsuki-chan, I wasn't aware that the team was recruiting from other schools today."

Satsuki started a little before turning to smile at Touou's former basketball captain. Imayoshi had retired from the team after losing against Seirin in the Winter Cup but he still came around a few times a week to make sure that everything was running smoothly. Satsuki suspected that the third-year just missed the team.

"He just showed up, Imayoshi-senpai," Satsuki sighed, secretly anxious because these two were always a volatile mix. "But don't worry; I've called backup."

Imayoshi arched an eyebrow at her but said nothing more as they both turned their focus onto the court in front of them where a one-sided argument was taking place at the same time as a high-speed one-on-one.


Satsuki sighed again at the way Wakamatsu's face was getting redder and redder. His shouting was doing absolutely no good since Aomine Daiki and Kagami Taiga's furious battle with the ball was raging at its peak, each of them fully focused on one-upping the other as they dunked and shoved and raced each other up and down the length of the court, spewing insults and swearwords all the while. In this state, Satsuki knew neither of them was paying the least bit attention on anything else, least of all the other people standing outside the court. Not even Wakamatsu was crazy enough to physically cut in while they were like this for fear of being run over, though he had no problem with yelling at them.

"When's this backup coming?" Imayoshi enquired with tolerant amusement. "And what is it? I'm thinking something along the lines of the Japanese militia. It'd take nothing less to break those two apart."

Satsuki rolled her eyes, quirking an unbidden smile. "No, nothing like that. What I've got is much more effective. I have faith in him."

"Thank you, Momoi-san."

This time, Satsuki jumped a foot in the air before whirling around, while Imayoshi only twitched to show his own surprise at the unexpected appearance of yet another Seirin player behind them.

Satsuki beamed, tossing her clipboard aside as she lunged forward and enveloped her first love with a hug. "Tetsu-kun! You're here! I've missed you!"

As usual, Tetsu didn't return the hug but Satsuki didn't mind; she would hug him enough for both of them.

"Please let go, Momoi-san. You're choking me," Tetsu said, adorably polite as ever, and Satsuki pouted but grudgingly released him.

"I'm glad you got here so quickly, Tetsu-kun!" Satsuki smiled brightly, lighting up when Tetsu glanced at her with a poker face but soft eyes. Most people were unobservant like that so they missed all the tiny signs, and while Satsuki understood that Tetsu – for now – didn't return her feelings, she also knew that he liked her as a friend, even after... everything.

Tetsu nodded stoically in acknowledgement before dipping his head courteously in Imayoshi's direction. "Good afternoon, Imayoshi-san. Please pardon my intrusion."

Imayoshi waved a dismissive hand, close-eyed and smiling inquisitively at Tetsu. "Don't worry about it. You're not half as disruptive as your teammate over there."

A near indiscernible frown passed over Tetsu's brow, though Satsuki wasn't sure whether that was because of Kagami's invasion into Touou or seeing Daiki.

Satsuki tensed, fingers tangling nervously together as her gaze flicked between Tetsu and Daiki. Her favourite boys, torn apart, and she herself had indirectly sided with the latter. She remembered the fist-bump they had shared after Touou had lost but...

Tetsu strode forward, not stopping until he was level with Wakamatsu, who stopped mid-yell and did a double-take. Satsuki followed behind him, and Imayoshi trailed lazily after her.

"Good afternoon, Wakamatsu-san," Tetsu greeted respectfully. "I apologize for the intrusion of both myself and Kagami-kun. I will have him out of here shortly."

Satsuki bit back a giggle at Wakamatsu's gobsmacked expression, jaw flapping for a moment before he snapped it shut and crossed his arms. "Good luck with that. Both those bastards might as well be deaf."

Tetsu nodded once before stepping forward just as Kagami and Daiki came charging up the court again, glaring and still hollering abuse at each other.

"You couldn't dunk properly if the basket was right in front of your face!"

"Says the guy who lost in the first round!"

Tetsu took another step forward.

Satsuki smiled.

"Kagami-kun. Aomine-kun. Stop."

This time, they heard.

Both boys shut up at the same time, heads jerking up to stare wide-eyed at Tetsu, and then the chain reaction began.

Kagami yelped as he tripped over thin air, staggering sideways and losing the ball as he crashed to the ground in a heap of limbs. Daiki on the other hand, having been in the process of attempting to steal the ball, suddenly tilted sideways, thrown off-balance by both Tetsu's unexpected appearance and Kagami's abrupt washout. Arms wind-milling ridiculously through the air, Daiki careened away, covering about half a dozen feet of court before colliding with the goal post like an out-of-control juggernaut and collapsing at its base with a loud smack.

And without hands guiding it, the basketball they had been playing with dribbled itself to a stop, right in front of Tetsu.

Satsuki choked back a spluttering laugh. Well, even she hadn't expected that.

Three heartbeats later, both boys were picking themselves up off the ground, all but straightening to attention as their eyes zeroed in on the easily overlooked blue-haired teen currently watching them with an impassive and implacable stare.

"Kuroko!" "Tetsu!"

The entire gym was utterly silent, stunned into a stupor as they watched the two monster players shift from foot to foot like guilty five-year-olds who had just been caught raiding the cookie jar.

Out of the corner of her eye, Satsuki caught sight of the coach leaning against the far wall, eyebrows raised as he surveyed the situation.

"Kagami-kun," Tetsu began in a monotone voice, and Kagami winced. "You are supposed to be at practice. Kantoku and Captain are not happy."

The I'm not particularly happy either went unspoken but not unheard despite how flat Tetsu's voice was.

"Uh, yeah, I was just-" Kagami scratched his head and motioned weakly at his surroundings in general. "I wanted to play a game, and Kantoku's always sticking us with a million practice sets."

"You're still missing practice," Tetsu admonished quietly, and this time, even Satsuki cringed while, several feet away, Daiki glanced off to the side with a stony expression.

Kagami flinched guiltily, and Satsuki knew that he also knew. For Tetsu, practice was never just practice because the last time Tetsu's partner had started skipping them, everything had unravelled, everything had broken, their bonds shattered almost beyond repair.

"I-" Kagami cleared his throat. "Yeah, I'll come back now. ...Sorry. I won't do it again."

The last bit was almost inaudible, would've been if it hadn't been for the fact that everyone else was barely breathing as their collective interest remained riveted on the exchange, but the apology was genuine, and the faintest of smiles graced Tetsu's features for the briefest of moments, nearly making Satsuki squeal with the cuteness of it.

It was enough to make Kagami relax and breathe a sigh of relief, guilt now replaced by childish sheepishness. Of course, that was wiped off a moment later as a horrified scowl scrunched his face in reaction to Tetsu's next words.

"Kantoku also told me to tell you that for every minute you miss practice, you will have to add one extra practice set to your usual training menu," Tetsu informed his fellow teammate, blank blue eyes turning to check the clock on one of the gym walls. "You have already missed fourteen minutes, Kagami-ku-"

"WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME SOONER?!" Kagami bellowed, thundering towards the doors like the hounds of hell were snapping at his heels, all thoughts of challenging Daiki forgotten. "IT TAKES AT LEAST HALF AN HOUR TO GET BACK TO SCHOOL FROM HERE! SHE'S GONNA KILL ME!"

The power forward zoomed out of the gym, kicking up dust as he sprinted in the general direction of the nearest bus station. Satsuki wondered if he was just going to forego the bus and run all the way back to Seirin once he figured out that the next bus wasn't going to arrive for at least another twenty minutes.

"Then I'll also be going now, Momoi-san," Tetsu stated, and Satsuki hastily spun back to face him and glomped him again, clinging tightly to the taciturn teen.

"We should meet up sometime, Tetsu-kun!" Satsuki suggested hopefully, pulling back only far enough to meet Tetsu's gaze while keeping a tight hold of his hand. "Um, maybe... Dai-chan too? And you can bring Kagami-kun along."

An awkward silence followed. Satsuki cursed herself for opening her mouth at all.

"...Kagami-kun will come so long as there's food," Tetsu responded at last, gaze flitting over her shoulder. "So it would depend on Aomine-kun."

Satsuki's eyes widened. Tetsu was willing to give it a chance?

And for a fraction of a second, she felt Tetsu's hand squeeze hers back in a reassuring gesture.

It had never ever just been Tetsu's looks or basketball or surface personality that Satsuki had fallen in love with. It had always been all the little things instead.

She craned her head around, shooting a 'if you screw this up, I'll kill you' look at Daiki. "Dai-chan?"

Aomine shrugged uncomfortably and rubbed the back of his neck, glancing pensively at Tetsu. "Yeah, sure, whatever."

Satsuki smiled and turned back to Tetsu. "Sometime this weekend? I'll call you!"

"I'm busy Sunday morning but free any other time," Tetsu acquiesced, and Satsuki gave him one last hug before letting him go.

"Okay, Tetsu-kun!" She agreed, reluctantly stepping away. "It'll probably be Saturday night. We can go for sushi or something."

Tetsu almost smiled again, Satsuki was certain. Instead though, he only nodded before turning to Wakamatsu and Imayoshi, bowing politely once more. "I apologize for taking up your practice time. It shouldn't happen again."

Wakamatsu still looked like he wasn't quite sure how to handle Tetsu (Touou either had Sakurai who apologized for so many things that even Wakamatsu tried not to shout at him, or Aomine who could be difficult and rebellious on the best of days), but at the blue-haired teen's bow, the Touou captain grunted noncommittally and told him gruffly, "It's fine; just keep your teammate in line."

Imayoshi just shrugged freely, still smiling away, though his eyes had slitted open to scrutinize Tetsu with undisguised intrigue. "It's not my team anymore, and today ended up rather interesting anyway."

If Tetsu understood the implication, he didn't show it, merely nodding again before scooting around them and heading for the doors, heedless of all the eyes on him.

However, he did halt just inside the doorway, evidently weighing something in his mind before he turned back and looked directly at – in Satsuki's opinion – a pathetically miserable-looking Daiki. To anyone else (besides Tetsu), the power forward looked mildly murderous.

"It was nice seeing you again, Aomine-kun," Tetsu intoned, and Daiki stiffened. "Until Saturday."

And then he was gone, slipping away with all the efficiency of a ghost.

Another long silence permeated the air, one in which Daiki spent staring after Tetsu and looking somewhat lost, and then his expression firmed, and while he grimaced unhappily, he turned to look at Wakamatsu and called out belligerently, "Well? Aren't we gonna practice?"

Satsuki hid a smile at Wakamatsu's incredulous expression. On the occasion that Daiki actually showed up for practice, a lot of nagging, shouting, and arguments would have to take place just to make the power forward go through his crunches. Daiki had never really voluntarily trained with them.

Wakamatsu threw up his hands, scooped up the basketball, and began ordering everyone to do their laps. Under his breath, after even Daiki had started running, Satsuki heard him mutter, "I give up. This world went crazy the second we brought that bastard into the team."

Satsuki just smiled fondly before going to retrieve her clipboard.

"Your boyfriend's something else," Imayoshi remarked once they were both seated on the bench.

Satsuki thought of Kuroko Tetsuya, plain and disregarded and absolutely amazing. She outright grinned, startling even Imayoshi for a split second.

"Yes," Satsuki agreed wholeheartedly. "Yes he is."

19. Invitation

"Good morning, Tet-chan!"

Tetsuya stifled a yawn as he held his phone against his ear with one hand while the other reached for his toothbrush. Sangou was twining around his ankles like a cat that morning for some reason while Nigou was still asleep. "Good morning, Takao-kun. What can I do for you today?"

"Oh my god, do you have to sound so formal all the time? You sound like my grandpa!"

Tetsuya ignored this comment and busied himself with putting toothpaste on his toothbrush one-handed. It didn't work so he put his phone on speaker before using both his hands.

"Anyway, I bet you're wondering why I'm calling!"

"No, I'm wondering when I can hang up," Tetsuya deadpanned dutifully before sticking his toothbrush in his mouth.

"So mean! You're just like Shin-chan sometimes!"

"Miwowima-kun wouldn' wike wu hwear wat," Tetsuya said through a mouthful of toothpaste.

"Probably not; Aquariuses and Cancers don't get along, yaddy-yaddy-yah. I can hear him now. But I'm getting off topic. Next week! Are you busy?"

"Depends," Tetsuya turned on the water and rinsed out his mouth. "If I'm not busy, what will I have to do?"

"It's my birthday next week, Tet-chan, and I'm holding a small party at my house. I've invited my team so Shin-chan will be there, and then you'll both have someone to talk to if I'm busy. How about it?"

Tetsuya stared at his cell, inwardly bewildered. He had never been... "...Do I have to bring anything?" He paused. "Besides a present?" He knew that one at least.

"No, no, just yourself, and you don't even have to bring a gift if you don't want to. Shin-chan will probably get me my item of the day so that doesn't even count but don't tell him I said that 'cause then he'll mope and ignore me for the rest of the week. The rest of the team will most likely pool their money together to get me something but that's it. Don't feel like you have to, okay Tet-chan?"

As if I can feel like anything else after you said all that, Tetsuya thought dryly. Out loud, he sighed, "Fine. When and where?"

Takao whooped happily on the other end of the line before rattling off his address and the date and time, and then ending the call with a hurried talk-to-you-later when a woman – probably Takao's mother – called him for breakfast.

Tetsuya squinted at the 'Call Ended' flashing back at him.

He'd never been invited to a birthday party before. He had once had Aomine and Momoi to celebrate all their respective birthdays with by going out for a meal together, and the other Generation of Miracles to some extent but they had usually just given small gifts before basketball practice or something, and all of that had stopped in their final year at Teikou before they had even graduated.

He stuck his cell back in his pocket before going about fixing his bed hair.

He'd have to find a good gift at the very least.

Though that was something he could worry about after the dinner with Aomine and Momoi on Saturday.

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