Eternal Empress: Okay, the 4 days turned into 4 (or 5) months. Sorry about that. I have to put academics first. I want to graduate high school, okay XD. However, since that is all in the past now, and I am a college freshman student, no more procrastinating :3 Anyway, I am so sorry for the delay, especially the USB incident. That was unprofessional, so I apologize. In compensation, I wrote a very, very long chapter. I hope you guys enjoy. :)

P.S. Excuse me for the grammar errors or missing spacing. It's my fault for the grammatical errors, but the missing spaces, it's MS words fault. I guess it can't handle that much words :p

P.S.S The symbolism are scattered - meaning it does not only pertain to the relationship of one brother, but to a whole lot more. So, enjoy deciphering :)

Summary: Kuroko dreams to marry his stepbrothers. As they grew up, Kuroko realized it was impossible. But it didn't stop him from loving them in a way it is forbidden. He knows it's wrong and he wants closure. But, what if his brothers were as confused as he is? GOM+Kaga/Kuro AU


Chapter 6

When all things were just well, this had to happen.

Kuroko remained an impassive face as he searched for the particular item, though he was panicking inside. It was already 20 minutes after the teacher dismissed the class, yet, Kuroko remained inside the classroom premises, searching inside his bag for the missing item. His classmates were already gone, attending their club activities or walking home already. Kuroko knew he should also make his way to the gym; Akashi never liked anyone skipping or being late for the practice session, most especially if a practice game was nearing. Akashi always wanted his players in top condition, even if the red-haired sees the next opponent as four steps lower than the Teiko team. Nevertheless, he has to endure Akashi's wrath later on because that missing object was more important than the practice itself. Kuroko wasn't even able to read it yet!

Yes, Kuroko's letter from Bakangaroo is missing.

If Midorima, who Kuroko was able to convince to go to the gyms without him, was to know about this, he would face-palm and rant about Aquariuses being unlucky and some Oha-Asa nonsense.

Well, today, Aquarius is placed last at the horoscope ranking. Kuroko didn't understand quite well on how Aquariuses are supposed to be unlucky today when Kuroko's day, overall, is absolutely fine. There was no need to bring a lucky item today – thank goodness, Kuroko didn't agree to bring his lucky item for the day: a stun gun. Wherever Midorima finds this stuff, Kuroko might not be able to know.

Kuroko sighed. His letter wasn't here, nor could Kuroko remember if he did place it in his bag. All Kuroko remembered was Hotaru giving it to him at lunch, Aomine insisting he join with the former at lunch today on the r –

Kuroko's eyes widened as he remembered where he last saw his letter. At the rooftop.

The bluenet quickly packed his things. Why in all places did he forget his letter on the rooftop! Who knows what could happen to it! The letter might have been blown off by the wind, picked by some random cleaning lady and thrown in the trash, or opened by some student who likes to skip classes and takes it for himself. Kuroko wasn't able to open that letter yet – much more did he even write a reply. He should check if his letter is there, snatch it and hurry back to practice. Who knows what could happen to that letter, and Kuroko wasn't taking a chance that something or someone takes that letter.

Before Kuroko could open the doors and take a run to the rooftop, the door slid open and something came from it, hit Kuroko on the forehead, and sent the bluenet two rows of chairs away from the door to land on his bottom. The impact made his head hurt and his bottom ache. He didn't know what kind of thing could send him flying like that, but all he could feel was pain and shock. He wasn't able to see what hit him with the spur of the moment!

"Oi, Tetsu! Are you alright?" a familiar voice asked him, and at a same time, a figure casted over his smaller one.

Dark blue eyes met soft turquoise ones. The smaller bluenet blinked in confusion as he stared upon a familiar face he didn't expect he would meet in this moment.

"Aomine-kun?" Kuroko's voice hitched, surprised that his light was here, and wearing the latter's practice attire. Aomine was also slightly sweaty and panting a little, like the former went jogging for more than six laps. "W-what are you doing here?"

Aomine rolled his eyes, like Kuroko could answer the question the latter asked. "Fetching you to practice, duh. Akashi's wondering where you've been."

Kuroko blinked a multiple times before realizing the connotation behind those words. … "Oh." The bluenet murmured. Akashi will surely give him one hell of a punishment for being tardy. "It looks like I'm going to be carried home on someone's back...again…"

Aomine narrowed his eyes. "Hey! That was just one time, and it wasn't technically my fault! Taikawa was making fun of me for not believing I could do one song in the extreme level of DDR. We were just in the arcade for a few minutes! Then Akashi acted hysterical and gave us three times the training menu." Aomine said, pointing an accusing finger at Kuroko.

In response, Kuroko stared at Aomine. "Aomine-kun, we were at the arcade for two hours. Practice already ended three minutes ago when we came back and you showed up by gloating your achievement at Taikawa-san. It was our first time skipping practice. It isn't a surprise that Akashi-kun will be absolutely furious, considering it's his first day as a Captain back at that time…"

Aomine pursed his lips and scratched the back of his head. "Well, if you put it that way, I…was kinda silly back then."

Seeing this side of Aomine, Kuroko couldn't help but release a small chuckle. "Aomine-kun will always be an aho."

Aomine grinned and gave Kuroko a playful nudge at the shoulder. "What's that supposed to mean, huh?"

"Aomine-kun might not be the sharpest crayon in the box, but that doesn't make you an aho." Kuroko said. "You're a basketball idiot – your mind is always on basketball, which makes you an aho in the first place."

This time, it was Aomine's turn to chuckle. The tanned teen ruffled Kuroko's hair. But, despite the amusement Aomine portrayed, Kuroko could see the dullness of Aomine's beautiful eyes, like the tanned teen once loved basketball and remembering him of those times made him feel nostalgia. Which made Kuroko think: Did Aomine come back to him or was he just getting delusional?

Then, in a blink of an eye, that dullness had disappeared. "Hey! Let's go. Don't want to keep Akashi waiting right?"

Kuroko hesitantly nodded, the missing letter still stuck in his mind. But, before Kuroko could explain the impending situation of his penpal letter, Aomine had grabbed the younger bluenet's wrist and led the way to the gym. Kuroko could tell something was off by how tight Aomine's grip was, or how frisk Aomine's walk was. It seemed that Aomine was troubled by something. Kuroko could guess what it was, but he didn't want to hear it, at least, not from his lips.

"Aomine-kun, is something wrong?" Kuroko asked. By the younger bluenet's question, Aomine stopped on his tracks, took a big breath and faced the younger bluenet.

"You're good at reading me, aren't you?" the older brother said as he leaned on the wall, still facing the phantom sixth man.

Kuroko nodded; it isn't seen from his impassive expression but Aomine could tell that Kuroko was taking pride for this ability. "Of course, Aomine-kun reading is my specialty."

Aomine let out a small chuckle before he sighed. His dark eyes focused on the window opposite them, which overlooked the track field. Loneliness and nostalgia flashed in those midnight blue orbs. "When you said you promised that you would make me happy, you gave me the courage to confront Satsuki, so I did…well, tried. Whenever I try to approach Satsuki, she gives me this stare…like she's afraid or disappointed of me. Kise would interfere in moments when I actually tried to talk to her. I couldn't focus, especially if that stare of hers just pops into my mind. I promised I'd move on, but I can't if that means our friendship would be…over." Aomine narrated. "Then, there's another thing that's bugging me. Even if I apologize, how do I know if she accepts the apology? I know she's basically mad or disappointed at me. It's really…frustrating."

Even though you sound like you are more concerned on your friendship with Momoi-san, Kuroko thought as he looked at Aomine's solemn expression Even though, you sound like you are ready to give up on her, I know you wouldn't. It's in your nature, after all. The younger bluenet took hold of Aomine's clenched fists and gave them a gentle but reassuring squeeze.

"I think she feels the same way. I may not be friends with Momoi-san as long as you have been, but I know that she's…like you, sometimes. I think Momoi-san was trying to figure out a way to apologize for her actions towards you, but she doesn't have the courage enough to confront you or make the first move. Knowing her, she might think you are angry at her and not the other way around." Kuroko said in a cool and soothing voice, like a mother's. "Are you angry at Momoi-san?"

Aomine snapped from his depressive trance. "O-Of course not! I would never! I mean…she's annoying sometimes, but I'll never be actually mad at her or anything…"

Kuroko let out a small smile. "Then, you should clarify that fact to her. Miscommunication doesn't necessarily involve actual communication for both parties to have the wrong idea." Kuroko stated. "And another thing, Momoi-san will forgive you, I'm sure of it. Although you might be rash and insensitive sometimes, but that enough wouldn't break your friendship for good. If that were the case, then you and Momoi-san wouldn't be friends until high school."

Aomine let out a smile. "You're right, Tetsu. Thanks." Aomine said as he gave Kuroko a warm and friendly hug. The embrace caught Kuroko by surprise because Aomine wasn't the touchy type of person. He wouldn't hug someone out of blue, like Kise. But, Kuroko didn't say he didn't like it.

Kuroko could describe the hug as warm, sensational, meaningful and comfortable. The embrace was like Kise's – with both arms wrapped around the younger bluenet's form and chin rested on the younger one's shoulder – but with more emotion. Kuroko could feel the thousands of 'thank you's given and expressed by this warm embrace. The younger bluenet smiled as he closed his eyes, feeling the warmth and emotion Aomine was spurring at him; Kuroko felt accepted, appreciated and loved, loved so much that Kuroko couldn't expect from the Aomine. For a moment, he was imagining that Aomine was hugging Kuroko to say 'I love you', not as a brother but as a lover, Aomine'sTetsu, a partner outside basketball. Kuroko absent-mindedly looped his arms around Aomine, as if reciprocating that 'I love you' which was born from a fantasy, to confess to the older teen that he loves Aomine more than how Momoi loves him. But, before he could even touch Aomine's figure, to reply to those feelings, Aomine had pulled away and held the younger bluenet by the shoulders.

"I have to go and find Satsuki," Aomine spoke. "See ya at the gym!" And with that, Aomine sprinted away.

A part of Kuroko wanted to yell 'Wait' and chase the older teen, but another part of Kuroko – the rational one – knew that even if Kuroko gave it all and spent hours and hours of running, he could never catch up to Aomine. Even if Kuroko tried to run as far as his legs could carry, he could never catch up with his brothers. His brothers of his had walked miles and miles away from Kuroko, to the light leading to their dreams and future. However, Kuroko kept running and chasing them. He knows he shouldn't, because the chase would never bear fruit.

But, Kuroko knew he would never give up the chase. He was that persistent about something that would never come true.

Kuroko touched the shoulders that Aomine had touched.

He wanted to feel accepted, appreciated and loved over and over again, even in the briefest moments with them. It was like a drug; you couldn't get enough.

But, for the mean time, all he could feel was the lost feeling of acceptance, appreciation and love from Aomine, which he would chase and chase for.

'What a foolish boy' would Kuroko's rational side would just utter before the bluenet would rush and chase Aomine once again.

When Kuroko had reached the gym, an eerie and loud creak echoed at the whole gym as Kuroko opened the door. But, that wasn't what made Kuroko caught off guard. It was how the players noticed the bluenet when Kuroko had opened the doors. It wasn't as if Kuroko's low presence had gotten higher, or his misdirection was malfunctioning – if ever that could happen – but Kuroko knew that everyone was expecting the bluenet. This kind of thing happens when one player was very, very late and Akashi was…

"Ah! There you are Tetsuya! I would've thought that you'd skipped practice." Akashi said, in a cheerful voice that everyone knows that's wrong, so wrong.

A sweat trickled down Kuroko's nape. Kuroko bowed. "I apologize for being tardy, Akashi-kun. It won't happen again."

Akashi hummed, like he was enjoying everyone stutter and pity the poor bluenet. The players started murmuring on how many times Kuroko's training menu will be multiplied or on how Akashi would finally put a shooting quota at Kuroko's tab. But, what Akashi had said surprised everyone.

"Alright. Go change and stretch."

A brief moment of silence resonated in the gym. Then, "EHHHH!" shouted everyone. Kuroko almost fell on the floor when Akashi had sentenced him with nothing.

"But, don't expect that you don't have a punishment. That would be discussed in private at the locker rooms." Akashi continued.

A sighs of relief followed, with Hotaru shouting at the background ("What you relieved for?"). Kuroko almost thought that he could get away with it, but if he did, what kind of leader Akashi would make? And if Akashi wasn't giving him any punishment for his tardiness, then something worse must've happened earlier.

"I-I'll go now…" Kuroko muttered, before he slipped away and into the locker rooms. With the whole 1st string staring at Akashi and Kuroko, the red-haired captain faced the audience with a dashing, killer smile. "Who told you to slack off? Do you want your training menu tripled?"

The players immediately – if not frantically – went back to their training regimes.

Back at the locker rooms, Kuroko was just unbuttoning his Teiko uniform vest when Akashi had walked in. The sinister and cunning smile the red-haired displayed earlier was gone, replaced with a normal and sweet smile. Kuroko had breathed normally once again because the dark aura that accompanied the same sinister smile disappeared as well. Akashi sat on the benches at the middle of the room.

"I like you when you're calm, Akashi-kun." Kuroko boldly commented as Kuroko took the vest off.

"Is that so?" Akashi replied. "You make me worry too much, Tetsuya. I thought you had decided to act like your big brother, Aomine, and started skipping. Or perhaps he had involved you into one of his stupid antics…like last time."

Kuroko chuckled. "You are a worry wart, Akashi-kun. You should trust me a bit more."

"I do. I don't trust the people influencing you." Akashi replied. He patted the space next to him. "Sit." The red-haired ordered, which Kuroko obliged. Akashi, then, slumped on Kuroko's figure. The bluenet let out a small but unnoticeable squeak and four shades of red on his cheeks, but Akashi paid no mind to them – to his relief.

"Are you alright, Akashi-kun?" Kuroko asked, though he wanted to squeal right now because Akashi was in one of those moments right now.

"Stressed." Akashi spoke. "That petty exchange program makes headaches for Sanada-Kantoku and I. The association amps their standards and requests for all aces of the top 15 schools of last year's Interhigh to be exchanged. Sanada-kantoku refused."

"I thought that I was the one to be exchanged?" Kuroko said. "Now, they want Aomine-kun?"

Akashi nodded. "Besides for team matters, I couldn't let Aomine be exchanged because, as much as possible, I don't want him to be shipped into a different region," the red-haired said as he played with the bluenet's locks. "I don't want you to go either. I don't trust the people you'd spend time with in the other school. I'd volunteer but – "

"I wouldn't let that either, Akashi-kun." Kuroko immediately responded. "You are the Captain of this team, and the acting father of the household. If you go – "

"I know, I know." Akashi said, smiling on how protective Kuroko was becoming. "You'd be very upset if I go. You're such a selfless brat [1], aren't you?"

"And you need to go, Akashi-kun." Kuroko stated, pointing out that the bluenet needed space. "As much as I'd like to sate your energy drain…I really need to change. Furthermore, I think if someone walks on us like this, they would misinterpret it as something else…"

Akashi cocked an eyebrow at the bluenet and simply chuckled. He released the bluenet from his grasps, but didn't make a move further. Kuroko stood up from his spot, started unbuttoning his polo shirt, but froze. Kuroko could feel Akashi's stare, dominating but not intimidating. Why was Akashi watching him like a cat (Akashi) to prey (Kuroko)? Kuroko took a quick glance, but that quick glance lasted for about three seconds. Kuroko was taken by the temptation and beauty of Akashi's cat like eyes. They were like two jewels: a bloody ruby and eerie amber. Those two eyes, alluring and seductive, focused their sights on Kuroko, which made the bluenet shiver with pleasure. Kuroko looked away, his face flushed. Suddenly, everything became too warm. Kuroko closed his eyes and tried to stop the shivers that were caused by Akashi's gaze. But, to no avail. The electrifying feeling just kept running along his spine, and somehow, the bluenet liked to be watched while undressing – wait, what?!

"Akashi-kun, can I ask you to leave for a while?" Kuroko asked, avoiding eye contact.

"I never heard you request for that before," Akashi replied, sounding amused. "And why would I?"

Akashi's silky voice was just making Kuroko melt! "B-Because I feel uncomfortable with you watching me undress…" The bluenet said with a mild force as he turned around to meet Akashi's gaze. However, he didn't expect that gaze would come closer to him.

Once Kuroko uttered those words, Akashi cornered the bluenet, with Kuroko leaning on the lockers while Akashi had his left arm at Kuroko's side and the red-haired's body eliminating any personal space between them. Their noses touched and their warm breath mingled. In normal circumstances, Kuroko would've acted on impulse and kissed his brother right then and there; With Akashi's alluring heterochromatic eyes that had the hint of softness and seductive properties, Kuroko wouldn't be able to resist the temptation. But, right now, all Kuroko could feel was pressure and intimidation. The once soft and alluring eyes turned into perceptive and devilish, like when Akashi was staring at his opponents on court to intimidate them. But, Kuroko got more of that. The bluenet felt like a cornered mice, with the predator glaring daggers at him, ready to kill and eat him. Kuroko leaned further back, in attempt to merge with locker door – just to escape here. Fear started coursing at Kuroko's body once the bluenet heard that silky and sensual voice turn dark and venomous.

"Why would you be uncomfortable, Tetsuya?" Akashi asked, in an interrogative tone – a tone that demanded the answers as quick as possible. "You've seen me naked, I've seen you naked. Why would you start being uncomfortable around my presence and everyone else's? It seems like you're not comfortable with your own brothers being with you."

Kuroko's lips froze. He couldn't utter a single word. What was Akashi getting at?

"A-Akashi-kun…" the bluenet stuttered once he had gained the courage to. Only one thing coursed into his mind right now, which made him more cautious, wary and afraid of the red-haired. Does Akashi-kun know? Kuroko asked himself, fearing the answer might be yes. The bluenet could already imagine the looks of disgust his brothers sported for him and how they rejected him one by one, because of these accursed feelings that plagued his entire life.

Kuroko's knees threatened to buckle. He gulped.

"Speak, Tetsuya. I don't have all day."

Kuroko clenched his fists. He didn't want to admit it. He didn't want to say it. He didn't want to confirm that it was true. He didn't want his brothers to reject him. He didn't want his brothers to hate him. He didn't want his brothers to leave him alone!

"…Akashi-kun, please stop…You're scaring me." Kuroko murmured, in a soft and weak voice that was almost unheard. But, Akashi caught wind of it. The red-haired suddenly froze. The Captain pulled himself out of Kuroko's personal space and took a few steps backward.

"…I'm sorry." Akashi said. He took a few steps back. "Meet with Hotaru after practice is over. There is three-on-three practice game, 30 minutes. Once you've changed, start stretching and head to the gym. Satsuki will announce the teams."

Kuroko nodded, although his body felt numb with the adrenaline rush in his body. Kuroko felt that Akashi had taken few more steps back, before the red-haired had turned and walked away. Kuroko stared at Akashi's back, wondering what he had done to drive his eldest brother away. Without thinking, Kuroko stretched his hand and tried to catch Akashi. But, Akashi kept walking away, until he was not in sight. Kuroko clenched his fists, feeling guilty of what he had said. He should've said that, anything but that. Kuroko knew how sensitive Akashi was, being called like that, which is the reason why Akashi was so gentle in taking care of the bluenet.

Once Kuroko fell in his chase, no one was there to help him up. So, Kuroko helped himself up, ran and started the endless chase once again.

The rational part of Kuroko's mind told the younger bluenet to give up the chase because the former knew the dangers ahead.


Once Kuroko had finished changing, he headed at the gym. The first thing that greeted him was…unexpectedly no one. This was one of those signs that something was off. Terribly off.

Kuroko slipped through the players, looking for the blonde blur of cheerfulness that regularly ambushes him when he enters the gym. But, that blonde blur was just…undetected. Kise wasn't the type of person to skip practice; the blonde would rather skip one session of work than skip a practice session. Kise wasn't also the type of person that would leave his youngest brother alone; Kise was very clingy, especially around the bluenet. Kuroko believed it has something to do with having little time with Kurokocchi, which Kuroko couldn't help but agree willingly.

But, Kise was just…not here by his side. Kise was just standing at the far distance, shooting hoops constantly, like a machine. Kuroko could already feel the lost cheerfulness of the blonde, which was replaced with an unnoticeable gloom. Something was definitely wrong; something happened that caused Kise's luster to fade. Kuroko pursed his lips, gathered his courage and approached the blonde. But, before he could take a few steps, a familiar high-pitched voice had resonated in the gym.

"Bend harder, Dai-chan!" The rosette manager, Momoi Satsuki, shouted as she helped Aomine Daiki stretch. Aomine looked like he was at his limit, but Momoi wouldn't have any of it. "What's wrong with your muscles? They've become so stiff!" At that word, she squeezed Aomine's biceps so hard that Aomine winced in pain. "This is what you get for skipping practice. You lose your flexibility!"

"Hey! That doesn't work that way!" Aomine countered, resisting Momoi's push. "And for your information, my muscles are not stiff! Even though I don't attend practice, I still exercise!"

"Just shut up, Dai-chan."Momoi scolded. She gave Aomine a skeptical look when she noticed that the dark haired-teen was sweaty. "Wait a minute, did you run in the field without even stretching? What is the matter with you, Dai-chan? You know protocol requires you to stretch before you start your training menu! You'll pull a muscle if you continue that!"

Aomine rolled his eyes. "But, I didn't, did I? And this wouldn't have happened if you keep an eye at me like you usually do."

The rosette pouted. "You need to learn to be independent! What would happen if I'm not there to make sure you don't do stupid things?" she asked. "…And get innocent people – TETSU-KUN – involved in your antics?"

Aomine pondered for a moment. "Dai-chan would probably be dead," Aomine said, mocking Momoi's high pitched voice. "Then again, if I wouldn't be forced to eat your horrendous cooking, maybe I'd live a few years more?" the tanned teen said jokingly.

Momoi turned red out of embarrassment and smacked the tanned teen. "You are so insensitive Dai-chan! You should know that I prepare lunches for you every single day! That takes a lot of effort!"

"…And it takes a lot of effort to make food into dark matter…" Aomine grumbled, which earned him another smack. Thus, another famous argument from the childhood friends began.

"They're friends again…" One of the players near Kuroko commented. "That's good. The tension was killing me."

"You couldn't have said it better." Another player replied. "How do you Kise would react to this? I never really pinpointed him as a jealous type, but anyone would get jealous after seeing them so close."

"Yeah. If I was Momoi'sboyfriend, I would totally tell Aomine to keep his hands away from my girlfriend…"

Listening to other players comments, Kuroko glanced at the pair. Jealousy swelled into his heart, causing ache, pain and frustration. It was true – they were definitely too close. The pair's argument suddenly turned into a fit of laughter, with Momoi's arms around Aomine's shoulder and Aomine holding those arms to keep them in place. They looked like they were in their own world, just being happy together. Whenever Aomine would flash those beautiful eyes of his in a meaningful way and curl his lips to a rare and dazzling smile that – once – was only reserved for Kuroko to Momoi, the bluenet couldn't help but flare with jealousy and anger. Kuroko was the only person who was able to wrap his arms on Aomine like that; Kuroko was the only person who would Aomine would smile like that! But, the younger bluenet felt like Momoi had stolen that spotlight away from him, that Momoi became nearer to Aomine's heart like Kuroko never had been. All the years Kuroko had laughed and cried together with Aomine were nothing compared to this. Aomine was won over by Momoi; Kuroko lost. His memories were just a second-rate compared to Momoi's; Kuroko was just a second-best companion compared to Momoi is.

But, what can he do about it? Nothing.

Aside from the fact that he didn't want Aomine to know his true feelings for the tanned teen, Kuroko didn't want to separate the two. Kuroko knew that Aomine was happier with Momoi than the latter was with him. Kuroko knew that Aomine would live a comfortable life with someone who doesn't think or harbor vile thoughts and feelings for him. Kuroko knew that with the feelings he has for Aomine, he knew that he can never be with Aomine. Times had changed and Aomine has his own life now. What does Kuroko have now? Just his , aside from that nothing. What would Aomine benefit from a person who has nothing but his brothers, who would someday leave him, live for?

The rational part of Kuroko's mind nodded in agreement. 'Break it off' he said. 'End this chase.'

But, the irrational part of Kuroko's mind would continue the chase, even though he said that he can't, not anymore, not when somebody else had won the race.

So, all Kuroko can do now was smile, be happy for this reunited and rekindled friendship, because that's what he promised to do. Support Aomine. After all, Kuroko lives for his brothers' happiness.

'Pathetic.' Kuroko's rational part of his mind commented.

Suddenly, two hands blocked Kuroko's line of vision. Kuroko touched the hands that blocked his eyes; Kuroko could already tell whose these hands were just by the action itself – only one person, with this size of hands, would do these childish acts.

"Kise-kun, what're you doing?" Kuroko asked as he gently removed the hands and turned around to face the blonde. The bluenet pursed his lips when he noticed the lost brilliance in those golden orbs and the strained smile.

"Surprising you."Kise answered, with a forced enthusiasm. The blonde glanced at the pair who bickered once again, this time, involving an unfortunate player – Midorima – into their argument. "I'm really happy that they're together again! Some players said that I was jealous of them, but that's not true! In fact, I'm relieved that they're friends again. Momoicchi won't shut up about being so sorry of her actions towards Aominecchi."

"Is that so?" Kuroko said, when he wanted to say was 'I didn't say you were jealous or anything…'. Kuroko's heart ached once again when the bluenet was reminded that Kise was also snared into Momoi. Momoi was practically holding two hearts in her palms, while harboring the power to accept one and crush the other. She was currently crushing Kise's heart here. He clenched his fists. "I'm glad that you understand."

"Yeah, yeah."Kise replied. He stood behind the bluenet and gently pushed Kuroko to the far side of court, away from the pair. "Hey! I'll help you stretch Kurokochi! You haven't stretched, right?"

Kuroko only nodded as he followed Kise's whims.

As Kise helped Kuroko stretch, Kuroko couldn't help but notice that the blonde was chattier than usual. When Kise wasn't careful, he'd pushed Kuroko too hard as the bluenet stretch, making the younger bluenet wince. Kise would apologize and continue on his chat, but Kuroko would notice that Kise would try to be gentler – like he was holding a porcelain doll. Once Kuroko was done stretching, Kise helped the bluenet on his two feet. When Kuroko stumbled, Kise had caught the bluenet.

"You alright, Kurokocchi?"Kise asked, which Kuroko could only nod because he was afraid that he'll worsen Kise's mood.

The reason Kuroko stumbled was because Kise grabbed Kuroko's hand abruptly and forced the bluenet to stand up. But, Kuroko would never mention that to Kise, because he knows the blonde didn't intentionally do it.

Soon, Taikawa Hotaru whistled, catching the attention of everyone. Every player gathered around her.

"Today, we will have a brief practice game, one round, 30 minutes, and no point limit. Only three members are allowed to be in each team. No substitutions. Those who will not be participating are expected to watch carefully – you'll never know that you're observations would help you in the actual games. For those who will participate, remember that this is only a game to assess how much you've progressed and if you're development is in track of Momoi's predictions. However, even though this is a practice game, you should give it your best shot." Taikawa said.

Momoi appeared by Hotaru's side, looking at her clip board. "Team Blue – Akashi Daiki, Akashi Tetsuya, [2], and Takeno Yuuri – Yellow – Akashi Ryouta, Onodera Haruki and Osaka Shigeno. Please proceed to the court."

The respective players went to their sides of the court, stretching as they did so. Kise, who was alongside Kuroko before, frowned when the former learned they were on different teams again.

"When will you be my shadow again?" Kise asked. "It's not fair that Aominecchi gets you all the time."

"He's my partner." Aomine spoke, who appeared beside the phantom player and patted Kuroko's shoulder. "He's supposed to be at my side."

With Aomine's comment, Kise glared. The blonde looked like he was seething with anger, but seeing Momoi look so worried, the blonde scoffed before he turned back. He glanced at the bluenet, who sported a worried expression. Kise smiled at him, as if nothing was wrong, and went to his team.

Taikawa went to the court, holding a basketball. Each player went into their positions. Seeing that everyone was ready, she tossed the back up and whistled, signaling the start of the game. She backed away as soon as Kise and Aomine jumped into the air, reaching for the ball to pass it. Kise had the upper hand and tapped it to Onodera. Since Onodera was just a new addition to the first string, he was nervous. He froze the moment he realized that the ball was coming for him, but he was absolutely petrified when the ball suddenly curved and reached for Takeno, who was as surprised as he is. Onodera blinked to see that the rumored phantom player, Kuroko Tetsuya, was next to him. Onodera growled and went for the ball. Takeno passed it again to Aomine, who dashed forward the moment he got the ball. Aomine easily slipped past Onodera by turning around him in maximum speed, confusing Onodera. Aomine was headed to the basket; he smirked when Osaka, one of the senior players, was guarding it. Before he could even get passed the three pointer line, Kise had blocked him, forcing him to stop. The look that Kise gave Aomine meant one thing.

A One-on-one.

Aomine took his time, before he bounced the ball backwards, slipping the ball between his legs. Kise, taking this opportunity, reached for the ball, but he was too slow. Aomine backed, grabbed the ball and dashed for it. Kise side-stepped to the right, trying to block Aomine, but the tanned teen saw through Kise's act. Aomine side-stepped once again, and dashed to the left. Kise tried to keep up, but he couldn't. Kise stumbled.

"You won't get past me easily!" Osaka shouted as he jumped, blocking Aomine's shot as the tanned teen jumped. But, that wasn't Aomine's goal. Osaka widened his eyes as Aomine didn't shoot the ball. Since Aomine jumped lower than Osaka, Aomine was the first one to land on his feet, dashed to the side of the hoop and jumped. Osaka charged and tried to block Aomine's shot, but he was too late. The formless shot caused the ball to move into an arc and through the hoop.

Takeno, Osaka, and the audience watched Aomine with admiration. Aomine was such an agile player, which makes the tanned teen such a hard opponent to begin with. Also, Aomine's street basketball style makes his moves so unpredictable. Combined with his agility and style, it was almost impossible for anyone to keep up.

Even Kise.

"Another one!"Kise shouted as he stood up. "One-on-one!"

Aomine looked at Kise and sighed. He picked the ball up and gave it to the blonde. "Alright. Give me your best shot."

Kuroko frowned. "Aomine-kun! This is a three-on-three game, you can't just – "

"You heard him Tetsu," Aomine said, cutting Kuroko off. "It's best if you get out of our way. Keep the ball from Takeno's, Onodera's or Osaka's hands. I'll be the one shooting for the team."

Kuroko watched Aomine in shock as the tanned teen walked away and stationed himself near Kise. The tanned teen had a wild look in his eyes, but not the wild look he has when he sees a formidable opponent. It was the wild look Aomine has when he found a player to crush.

Aomine-kun…you… Kuroko thought as he gave Aomine a worried glance.

Aomine was such a strong contender, so strong his light was so bright. Too bright. The problem with Aomine's style was it was independent. His style doesn't need to rely on a team; thus, Aomine was uncooperative with others. He was a rogue.

Kuroko tried to reach for Aomine, but he hesitated. Aomine was too far gone, too high to reach. He was like the night sky and Kuroko was the ocean.

Kuroko just can't keep up.

Once the ball was passed, Kuroko felt so useless. All he can do was watch.

He knew Aomine was going to win. Everyone does. But, Kise still kept trying hard. His efforts wouldn't pay off, though. Kuroko looked away as Aomine would effortlessly crush his enemies, because 'it had become something to do.'

The blonde glanced at Kuroko, his eyes had this little spark of brilliance as he searched if Kuroko was watching this game, his game, like he always do.

He wasn't.

Kise's eyes darkened and dulled. It became an easy victory. Too easy, in fact.

Team Blue won. 39-13. It was expected after all, Kise had no chance of winning. If ever Kise did cooperate with his team, he would've had a chance against Aomine.

Then again, Teiko's trump card, Kuroko Tetsuya was at the other team, so that chance of victory would've been slim.

"You did your best Ki-chan!" Momoi said, trying to compliment the defeated blonde. "Your copying skills have greatly improved. Sooner or later, you'll be able to perform a perfect copy of a player's signature skill!"

Kise let out a weak smile before he took the water bottle Momoi had given him and drank from it. The other players around him just patted the blonde at the shoulder and told that he'd win next time. Kuroko, who was at the other side of the court, frowned as Kise just nodded, almost robotically. It wasn't the gloom that surrounded the blonde that bothered Kuroko, it was how Kise didn't do his best at the court – it was like Kise had thrown the towel since the beginning.

What prompted Kise to do such a thing? Kise would never, ever give Aomine an easy victory even if the former knows Aomine will just win every single time.

Next to Kuroko, Aomine took a big breath before he walked to the other side of the court, his eyes fixated on Momoi. Kuroko frowned. His heart ached once again.

"Wait, Aomine-kun!" Kuroko called, reaching out for the tanned teen. But, Kuroko's cry was unheard. He helplessly watched as Aomine caught Momoi's attention. Kise gave the tanned teen a glare, but Aomine ignored it, or remained oblivious to it.

"Hey Satsuki! Wanna go to the arcade? For old time's sake."Aomine said as casually as possible, but Kuroko saw how Aomine's fidgeted – he was definitely nervous. Who would? When you're asking Momoi to go out with you while her boyfriend was right by her side.

Momoi's cheeks reddened and her pink eyes sparkled, like she was flattered that Aomine invited her to an old time's sake arcade night out and she was going to say yes. But, her lips suddenly curled to a frown as she took a quick glance at Kise, who was behind her. She, then, flashed an apologetic smile at Aomine.

"I'm sorry, but Ki- chan and I – "

"The date is canceled." Kise suddenly said, silencing Momoi and surprising Aomine. The blonde had his head hung low, with his bangs covering his eyes. His ugly frown was visible and fists clenched. Aomine didn't need to ask to know that Kise was really, really upset, and somehow the former had made it worse for the blonde. However, after a brief moment, Kise flashed his signature, bright smile at the two, confusing the pair. Kise raised his hand and scratched the back of his head. "I'm sorry, Satsukicchi, but my dinner reservations for today were moved next week and Kasamatsu-senpai called me to talk about some job matters. I'm really, really sorry!"

Momoi and Aomine looked surprised for a moment, but their surprise were replace with a mild wariness. It was Aomine that spoke up. "Well…I'll take her for the night-out…I guess?"

"No problem. Treat her right, okay?" Kise said, in a too cheerful tone.

Aomine cringed, but nodded. Kise gave Momoi a peck on the cheek before he patted her head. "I'm going to come back, just going to refill my water bottle." And with that, the blonde left.

Aomine sighed, having a tensed atmosphere wasn't doing well for him. Momoi frowned as she watched Kise exit the gym. She had a guilty expression on her face.

Kuroko sported a worried expression for Kise. Knowing what Kise was feeling inside, Kuroko knew he was the only one that Kise would talk to in these situations. Without a moment to lose, he chased the blonde.


Kuroko went to the water fountains near the gyms. Kise would usually refill his water bottles in these stations rather than going to the canteen to buy a bottle of mineral water. Kise didn't like how the cafeteria servers looked at him dreamily while the middle school students, who use the cafeteria as a hang-out after dismissal, took pictures of him. The water fountains were a secluded place, so it didn't bring Kise trouble.

Kise said he was going to refill his water bottle, but Kise was nowhere to be found at the water fountains near the gym.

Where could he be? Kuroko thought as he looked side by side, back and forth, just to spot Kise. Seriously, why couldn't someone like Kuroko couldn't find Kise who was as popular as the idol AsahinoFuuto? Kise didn't have a weak presence like Kuroko, quite the opposite of that! Kuroko found that searching for Kise was a lot harder than searching for himself.

As Kuroko jogged towards the open pathway that led to the main building, Kuroko's left eye spotted a shining object at the far left. Kuroko stopped at his tracks and turned to his left. At the outdoor faucets, Kise was standing there, drenching his whole head with water. Kuroko could feel that the cheerfulness and enthusiasm he used at Momoi and Aomine were gone, replaced with a strong sense of eeriness.

Kuroko frowned. Kise-kun…

"Kise-kun?"Kuroko called as he approached the blonde, but the latter didn't make any movement. The bluenet called Kise louder but Kise just didn't notice! Kuroko frowned.

"Kise-kun!" Kuroko called, tapping Kise's shoulder as he did so. The reaction made Kise jump, though it was fortunate his head didn't hit the faucet. Kise immediately stood up and stared at the person who had tapped him, saying incoherent things. Kuroko couldn't understand what the blonde had said, but he was able to get the gist of what Kise was telling: saying excuses that he wasn't depressed or something. Kuroko grabbed Kise's wrist and stared at the blonde directly. Kise calmed down when he realized it was only Kuroko. Kise's surprised expression melted into a warm smile.

"Thank goodness it was only you, Kurokocchi," Kise spoke as he turned the faucet off. "I thought it was someone else."

Kuroko only nodded as he tilted his head enough to hide the pink tint on his cheeks. The way Kise's wet blonde locks that shimmered under the sunlight and stuck on Kise's face made the blonde a hundred times more attractive. Kuroko remembered the edition in Zunon magazine where Kise made a beach photo-shoot with him just raised from the water. Kuroko could remember how Kise laughed at him when he caught Kuroko blushing that day…

Kise's image was multiplied by a thousand-fold when those amber eyes and dazzling smile was fixated on him.

"So, what brings you here, Kurokocchi?" Kise asked as he tried to search for his towel. Kise sighed when he realized he had forgotten to bring one. Seeing Kise's predicament, Kuroko took the towel that hung around his shoulders and gave it to the blonde. Kise thanked Kuroko and took the towel to wipe himself and dry his hair.

"You looked saddened and depressed." Kuroko answered. "Is there anything I can help with?"

Kise shook his head as he placed the towel over his shoulders. He sighed. "No, it's okay," Kise answered. "I'm just getting pissed off from Aominecchi, that's all…"

Kuroko narrowed his eyes. "What do you mean, Kise-kun?"

Kise remained oblivious to Kuroko's change of mood. "He's practically trying to make a move on Momoicchi. I'm basically annoyed on how bold he is, thinking that he has a chance on her like that. Even our teammates didn't beg to differ."

The bluenet clenched his fists. His cold, blue eyes stared at the blonde, making Kise cringe and stop speaking. "It's because Aomine-kun loves Momoi-san. And Aomine-kun isn't doing anything to ruin the relationship of the two of you. He just wants to fix and rekindle his and Momoi-san's friendship. That's all that he needs. And for your information, Aomine-kun said that he is ready to move on from Momoi-san, so you and she would be happier together without him interfering. Aomine-kun is just doing what his heart is telling him what to do, and he is doing that because he cares, for both you and Momoi-san." Kuroko spoke, surprising the blonde. Kise backed off a few steps, his eyes widened as Kuroko relentlessly defended Aomine without considering how Kise felt. "Kise-kun, you aren't even sure that you love Momoi-san, and yet you keep her by your side and act as if she is your property. What would happen if she finds out about your feelings? She would get hurt. And Aomine-kun too, because you are keeping that person he fell in love and you don't even reciprocate the feelings! And now, you are blaming Aomine-kun for things he didn't do to you. The truth is, he is still thinking of you. And yet, you are bad-mouthing Aomine-kun. Please don't forget that you are brothers. The 10 years you have been brothers living in the same house is not nothing."

First, Kise was rendered speechless. He tried explaining himself but Kuroko's mad and disappointed gaze kept him from doing that. The blonde bowed his head; his bangs covering his eyes. Kuroko pursed his lips as he looked at Kise, who seemed to be feeling worse than ever before. Maybe Kuroko shouldn't have told Kise that; he just made Kise feel worse and that wouldn't help Kise at all. But, Kuroko couldn't help it. Kise has the wrong idea about Aomine; Aomine deserves to tell his side of the story too – even though he doesn't know exactly what Aomine's side of the story really is. Kuroko glanced at Kise's sullen form and sighed. The bluenet calmed himself down, thinking that it isn't Kise's fault. Kise wouldn't talk about Aomine like this, maybe the blonde was just frustrated. Kuroko was about to apologized when Kise sighed, raised his head, and fixated the blonde's cold gaze at the bluenet, his amber eyes losing its warmth and compassion.

"You don't understand anything at all, Kurokocchi," Kise spoke, his voice intimidating and cold. "You don't understand the situation at hand."

"It's true that I'm confused at my feelings for Momoicchi, it's true that I'm keeping her away from Aominecchi who loves her, it's true that I'm being ungrateful towards Aominecchi, but I'm not the only one who is at fault here! Do you think he also has feelings for her? Are you fooled by Aominecchi's sweet words that he truly does love Momoicchi? Are you even sure that a person like Aominecchi, who is lax, carefree, oblivious and dense person, would understand his own feelings even if it bit him in the eye? No. I've known Aominecchi better than you ever did, Kurokocchi, and that is the truth. I know that Aominecchi's feelings for Momoicchi are as shallow as mine. Did you ever find it weird when Aominecchi spent 10 years with Momoicchi and didn't even had the slightest crush on her? Did you ever find it weird that he started having "feelings" for her when she started liking you – and that was when he tried courting this girl from another school? Did you ever find it "off" when Momoicchi confessed her feelings for him three times when they were six grade and first-year middle school students and he rejected each and every one of them? Of course you don't, because you always think that Aominecchi is 'cool and good' when in truth his flaws and faults are as many as mine, and yet, you kept being oblivious to it even though it's right there staring at you."

This time around, it was Kuroko who was rendered speechless. Kise's cold gaze made Kuroko feel inferior and guilty about the bluenet's previous actions, and Kise's words were like two hands punching him.

They hurt.

Kise made his voice louder. "I don't like Momoicchi as she likes me, but at least, I'm trying to like her. I'm not trying to act like an idiot or fooling around because I don't understand my feelings. At least I know how I feel, at least, I'm trying. And yet, you come here and defend Aominecchi like he's the victim around here!" the blonde shouted. "You don't understand me at all. I thought you did, but I was wrong, so terribly wrong. I thought you'd see through what I've been through, understand that pain I have dealt with, feel how I feel when Aominecchi gets everything more than what he deserves and be ungrateful about it. But, I was wrong. I thought I know you, because he's ungrateful to you, but I guess I don't. You're like them. "

Kuroko felt he had been stabbed over and over again. How could Kise, the happy-go-lucky, cheerful and kind older brother of his, tell such hurtful words? He didn't expect that Kise could say these things but more importantly, he didn't know Kise felt this way. Aside from feeling hurt and shock, Kuroko also felt guilty for being so oblivious to Kise's feelings. If this was what Kise was feeling every day, why couldn't Kuroko, the brother who understands Kise most, unable to know that?

Kise, seeing the flash of hurt and shock in Kuroko's usually impassive expression, stopped and took a deep breath. "…I just wished that you would treat us all equally. And stop being such an oblivious idiot, especially towards Aominecchi," Kise murmured as he slid the towel off his shoulders. He threw it on Kuroko's head. "I'm going back to the gym…you should too." And with that, Kise left.

Kuroko was left at the outdoor sinks, feeling hurt and mad at himself. He didn't know if what Kise had said was true, but there is no way Kise could ever lie if he was revealing his feelings. Kuroko felt so mad at himself for being an irresponsible brother and for making Kise feel bad at himself once again. He felt that he was ruining his relationship with Kise but saving his with Aomine – even though Aomine looked like he appreciated fixing his relationship with Momoi more than with his. Kuroko whimpered. He was leaving Kise out, he was so fixated with Aomine he never noticed what Kise really felt. How could he? Kise was the one who was dependent on him. Knowing that Kise felt so betrayed made Kuroko feel like an idiot.

It hurt – he felt Kise hated him, rejected him. The feeling of rejection and hatred hurt more than seeing Kise with Momoi. It hurt than being run over by a train. It hurt than losing your own father.

Kuroko sobbed as he quietly stood there, wallowing in his own flaws and despair.

The towel slid down his head and dropped into the muddy floor. Kuroko had stumbled in his chase, blocked by a large obstacle called 'hurt'.

The rational part of Kuroko's mind kept quiet.

When Kuroko had arrived back at the gym, only few people were left. Without making a sound or making his presence known, he slipped in at the benches and retrieved his bags. He watched helplessly as Kise bid Midorima and Murasakibara good-bye and told them he would be able to arrive before dinner. Midorima just sighed while Murasakibara seemed to be unusually quiet. Kise exited the gym while Kuroko noticed the sullen and impassive expression on Kise's face as the blonde faced away from his brothers. Kuroko clutched his chest.

The words hurt. Tears were threatening to swell on his eyes, but Kuroko resisted the urge to cry. Not here, when his brothers would notice.

As Kuroko packed his belongings, Midorima, who had put on a sharp eye for Kuroko, detected the blunet's presence and hit the bluenet's head with a rolled magazine.

"Where were you? And why were you late at practice? If I had known that you were going to be late, I shouldn't have let you on your own!" Midorima scolded. Kuroko numbly nodded. The green-haired noticed the indifference Kuroko's expression harbored; Usually, Kuroko would sport an annoyed or impassive expression, but right now, Kuroko looked like he was sulking. Midorima raised an eyebrow. He let the tone of his voice down and more mellow and gentle. "Is everything alright? You look…different. Not that I care or anything…" Midorima said, trying to mask his absolute worry over his younger brother.

Kuroko stared at Midorima with dull blue eyes. Midorima was taken back on how emptier Kuroko's eyes are, how lifeless they were. It was the first time that Midorima saw Kuroko like this, and he wasn't sure he wanted to see it again, ever. Midorima glanced at the gym doorway, where Kise had been earlier. Kise was acting a little off – a little too cheerful…Something clicked in his mind. "Is that so?" Kuroko answered. "It must just be your imagination…"

Midorima sighed. "You're acting different, 'off' if I may say. Kise is also acting a little out of character as well," the green haired said. "Did something happen between the two of you?"

Kuroko visibly froze. Midorima shifted his glasses, knowing he had hit the mark – as usual of him. "Well?" Midorima asked. "What had happened?"

Kuroko pursed his lips and avoided eye contact. The bluenet clenched and unclenched his fists, as if he wasn't sure what to say. Actually, Kuroko doesn't really know if he should tell or not. With Kise's words, Kuroko was convinced that his relationship with Kise was going to go into ruin if he invited other people into the situation. Furthermore, Kuroko was convinced that he was a bad brother, and he was ashamed to tell his tales to his brothers when he wasn't doing a good job as their siblings. Kise was a proof of that.

Kuroko took a deep breath. "…Am I a bad brother, Midorima-kun?" Kuroko asked, resisting the urge to sob. He didn't want Midorima to say yes, but Kuroko knew that the answer to that question should be yes. If he wasn't a bad brother, then why would he make Kise feel inferior?

Midorima's left eye twitched before he hit Kuroko with his roll of magazine. "I do not know what has come over you to make you ask stupid things. I do not know what had happened between you and Kise, and I don't know if I have to knock some sense into you, or Kise, or both, but I would rather not. It seems that this pointless chatter has become too sensitive for you to even think the stupidest thoughts, and I'd rather have you settle this problem you both started." Midorima said, his voice loud and pounding. He took a deep breath and stared at Kuroko with gentle and serene emerald eyes that made Kuroko's cheeks tint and his blue eyes sparkle with life. The green-haired shooter patted Kuroko's head, although hesitantly. He shifted his glasses with his other hand. "The word 'bad' is such a broad term, but let me say this – and I'll only say this once… You are very selfless and caring, a bit stubborn, but kind and thoughtful. You may not be the best – because no one has ever really clarified the criteria for the 'best brother', but you're not that bad, either. You're alright, and I'd never trade you away for anyone else. Not even Takao."

In an instant, Kuroko's eyes widened and brightened with such life and emotion. The pink tint on Kuroko's cheeks brightened and turned cherry red. Midorima avoided eye contact from Kuroko, his own cheeks pink as well but with a scowl on his lips. Kuroko smiled at Midorima and further snuggled into Midorima's hand.

"Thank you Midorima-kun. You are always very reliable." Kuroko said, but what he wanted to do was hug Midorima and never let go. He had never heard Midorima speak those words before, and Kuroko wished Midorima would say those words every day. Kuroko felt significant, important, to Midorima's life, and hearing Midorima say he'd never trade Kuroko for Takao make the bluenet's heart soar.

Kuroko was more important for Midorima than Takao. Kuroko had a closer piece of Midorima's heart than Takao. Kuroko was irreplaceable to Midorima's heart. Kuroko was a good brother to Midorima.

Although it didn't erase the pain of Kise's words, it helped lessen the pain. Kuroko was given hope that he could still reverse the situation, apologize and take things back to the way they always were.

Midorima hit Kuroko again with the magazine. "Whatever. Akashi said he would be busy with a meeting with the Student Council Committee so he would be home late. He'd talk to you first thing in the morning about your punishment – " at the word, Kuroko cringed " – so he said that you should better be prepared. Also, I've heard from Taikawa that you've received your letter – " at the word, Kuroko froze. He totally forgot about it… " I'd be home late as well, I have a … get-together with Takao, so if you want help with writing the reply again, go ahead in my room when I'm back home. You're not the only in the house that needed help with letters…especially letters that require proper etiquette and correct English grammar and vocabulary."

Kuroko blinked. There was also another person who enlisted in the penpal program?

Midorima coughed, his cheeks having this pale pink tint. He looked away, trying to avoid eye contact with Kuroko. "…Before I forget, thank you for your help…for my anniversary with Takao…" Midorima murmured "…If you don't mind – which I do – he'd like to meet you some time…"

Kuroko smiled, but in the inside, he felt a pang of jealousy when Midorima blushed by the mention of Takao's name, but Kuroko kept quiet about it. "It's fine. I'm available at any time."

Midorima nodded. "Fine. But, remember, you're not forced here; I did not force you, got that?"

Kuroko nodded, resisting the urge to chuckle. Midorima was such a tsundere.

"Go ahead and change. We're locking the gym in ten minutes." Midorima said. He turned behind him. "Murasakibara, when are you going to – " When the green-haired turned back, the tall teen was gone, like dust. Midorima blinked, but groaned. He doesn't have time to worry about Murasakibara, when the tall teen can handle himself.

Kuroko frowned and stared at the gym doorway. How can a gigantic childish teen able to slip away unnoticed?

Kuroko just shrugged before he went to the locker rooms to change. He needed to find that letter, else Midorima would just be disappointed at Kuroko for wasting the green-haired's time.

'Desperate.' The rational part of Kuroko's mind stated. He knew who Midorima is. Although family comes first, Midorima will always love Takao more. Even if Midorima was ready to give up anything – and anyone – for Kuroko, it doesn't mean Midorima would start loving Kuroko the way he loves Takao.


It was gone. When Kuroko reached the rooftop, his letter was gone.

Kuroko fell on his knees. What was he going to do now? He can't write a reply letter to Bakangaroo without reading its contents! He also can't write to Bakangaroo saying he lost the latter's letter and ask for a new one! That would be awful. But, most importantly, he can't tell anything about this to Akashi or Midorima because they'll be both so disappointed of him. Kuroko knew how frustrated Akashi and Midorima can be when Aomine and Kise would ask help of searching for their lost belongings. Kuroko doesn't want to be the new subject of that frustration and impatience. He promised them that he would give them happiness, and part of that happiness is reducing the stress Akashi and Midorima felt.

Kuroko sighed as he sat on the rooftop, the breeze brushing past him.

What should he do now? Should he call Taikawa for help? Or admit his errors and come clean? Kuroko, once again, sighed. He should've brought his lucky item; maybe that would keep him from the bad luck he has been receiving lately…

Suddenly, Kuroko heard a rustle of paper. Kuroko followed the noise up to the steel fencing of the school's rooftop, only to find an enveloped letter stuck on a metal railing. Kuroko's eyes widened and sparkled. At last, he had found it! At the outside, Kuroko calmly picked it up and sighed in relief, but in the inside, Kuroko was celebrating. Now, he won't be in trouble anymore! He would be able to read the letter, write a reply with Midorima's help and properly communicate with Bakangaroo, with the latter not know that Kuroko almost lost the latter's letter.

Kuroko was about to open it when the bluenet noticed something. First of all, the envelope was pale lavender, which was odd because Kuroko was sure that his letter from Bakangaroo was in a white envelop. Second, it smelled…very sweet, like the letter had bathe in candy-aroma perfume or something. Bakangaroo's letters did not even have this slightest bit of aroma from a perfume. And third, Kuroko saw a lump that was alike from a candy's figure. Kuroko felt it with his hands. It was candy!

Kuroko sported an indifferent expression as he flipped the letter to the back. It said:

Yosen High school, Akita Prefecture, Japan

From: Hitotsume-nyudo
To: CandyLoverTitan

The bluenet put a palm over his face as he felt nothing but disappointment. What he had picked up was a different letter; it was not from Bakangaroo – which meant that his letter was still missing, and it might be missing…forever. Kuroko felt frustrated and upset at himself; why did he have to lose such an important document! When he finds that letter, he'd never lose anything ever again, if it meant not feeling this stressed anymore.

But, Kuroko felt a little relieved when he realized that someone was also at the same predicament. Kuroko felt that he wasn't alone in this hard mission because he knew that CandyLoverTitan is missing a letter from Hitotsume-nyudo.

Somehow, this penname seemed familiar…

Kuroko stood up and dusted himself. He'd start at the rooftop once again, then down to his classroom then to the gym. But, before he could even start another search, he heard a familiar wail from below. Kuroko hurried to the railings, trying to search for the person at the horizon who had wailed.

Kuroko blinked when he saw Murasakibara, who was crouching under a tree and shaking his head frantically.

"Wahhh!"Murasakibara wailed. "This is not my letter! Where is my candy? Where did I put it?!"

Kuroko blinked once again. Murasakibara was missing a letter? His letter has candy inside? Kuroko glanced at the letter he was holding. Could this be Murasakibara's letter? Which means, he is CandyLoverTitan? Well, that explains the penname…But he didn't expect it was Murasakibara who had lost this letter. But, he was more surprised when Murasakibara enlisted to the penpal program.

Kuroko, once again, looked at Murasakibara who was at the verge of crying. Kuroko sighed.

He was going to hold onto this letter for a little while longer, right until he finds his, but looking at the giant's state, Kuroko felt hewas just bullying Murasakibara. Plus, he promised he'd help his brothers and keep them happy, right? It was for the cause.

(Even if Kuroko wasn't able to find his letter anymore, it was alright as long as Murasakibara has his.)

Without further ado, Kuroko hurried downstairs so he could give Murasakibara's letter back, even though Kuroko may never find his. Murasakibara was more important than some letter. In addition, Kuroko couldn't stay and watch Murasakibara panic and suffer.

When Kuroko had reached the place where Murasakibara was, the purple-haired teen had stood up, his figure slumped, and started walking away slowly. Kuroko sprinted faster and blocked Murasakibara's path. But, Murasakibara didn't notice Kuroko standing in front of him and calling his name, so the former had bumped to the bluenet, causing the bluenet to stumble.

Murasakibarafrowned at the person who bumped him. "Watch where you are going you – Kuro-chin?!" The purple-haired teen exclaimed as Kuroko rubbed his bottom. Muraskibara's strained and frustrated expression turned into a gentle and lax one. He bent down to Kuroko's level. "Sorry, Kuro-chin, I didn't see you there."

"It's alright." Kuroko said as he stood up with the help of the tall teen. He dusted himself.

"What're you doing here? You seem to be in a rush…" Murasakibara murmured. Kuroko gave his a small smile and took an envelope from his pocket. Murasakibara's eyes widened.

"I'm actually looking for you. I found this at the rooftop. I think it belongs to you." Kuroko said as he handed the letter to his older brother. Murasakibara flipped the envelope and read the letters inscribed at the back. In an instant, Murasakibara's defeated expression brightened.

"This is…"

"Your penpal letter."

The purple-haired giant, then, scooped the thebluenet, raise him and hugged him while swirling. "Thank you, thank you, thank you Kuro-chin! You're the best!" the tall teen said as he nuzzled his nose with Kuroko's. Kuroko blushed at the contact, melting into the tall teen's embrace, even though Kuroko's feet didn't even touch the ground. When Murasakibara put Kuroko down, the bluenet felt a little dazed. Murasakibara was humming happily. Kuroko let out a small smile even though he hasn't found his. letter

"Well, I'll see you later Murasakibara-kun…" Kuroko spoke as he turned and left, but Murasakibara caught Kuroko's wrists.

"Wait a moment, Kuro-chin…How did you know that I was looking for this? Have you been stalking me? How naughty of you, Kuro-chin~" Murasakibara teased, making Kuroko sport a bewildered expression and a pink tint on his cheeks. Kuroko looked away.

"Please do not joke about it. I merely overhead your wail at the rooftop. I was also looking for my letter at the rooftop, but I found yours instead." Kuroko smiled sadly. "I guess I may never have it back."

Murasakibara pondered as he hummed. He took the letter that rested in his pocket and gave it to Kuroko. "I also found a letter as well. Maybe it's yours?"

Kuroko took the letter and flipped it. Kuroko's eyes widened. He bit his lower lip from smiling, but Kuroko was dying happily inside.

Seirin High school, Tokyo

From: Bakangaroo
To: PhantomHakuryuu

He looked at Murasakibara with sparkling and doe eyes, which made Murasakibara mutter cute under his breath. "Thank you Murasakibara-kun. You've found it. I can't thank you enough." The bluenet said. Murasakibara just replied with a smile. He ruffled Kuroko's head.

Kuroko replied by letting the purple-haired giant ruffle and pat his head. But, when Murasakibara mentioned how Kuroko was like a dog, Kuroko demanded the purple-haired giant to stop. The tall teen did as he was told.

"I'm very surprise Murasakibara-kun is participating in this program. Why is that?" Kuroko asked as he placed his letter in his bag so it won't get lost again.

Murasakibara hummed, pondering for a moment. "I guess it's because I have no one to talk to besides Aka-chin and the others. I don't like the people here; they're crude and selfish."

Kuroko pursed his lips. Out of all the brothers in the Akashi family, Murasakibara is unexpectedly aloof. Though Midorima and Murasakibara are almost alike, the reason why Midorima had 'friends' – which Midorima the tsundere denies – is because of Midorima's cute tsundere personality, his talent and skills in academics and sports, and his active participation in out-reach activities and clubs. Murasakibara, however, had no friends in his class because of his intimidating height and judgmental personality. The purple-haired giant was very popular among the middle school students; however, other people think twice before talking to him. It was always Muraskibara's nature to judge people – it was rooted from Murasakibara's childhood where he was always bullied because of his height. This judgmental personality was a manifestation of his distrust to people.

Maybe, the reason why Murasakibara chose to indulge in this program is because he would be able to talk to a person who he wouldn't be able to judge (because he wouldn't be able to him face to face) and vice versa.

"…I see…" Kuroko simply replied. Silence enveloped them after that.

The evening breeze brushed past them. Kuroko shivered in the cold; the evening breezes became unusually colder after all despite it was still spring.

Murasakibara noticed this and suddenly hugged Kuroko. The bluenet blushed in contact.

"W-What are you doing Murasakibara-kun?" Kuroko asked, fidgeting in the tall teen's embrace. "Please let go."

"No. You'll get sick if I don't share my body heat," Murasakibara simply replied, placing his chin on top of Kuroko's head, which made the bluenet blush redder. "Besides, you've been really lonely for the past few days…so, I thought you needed a hug. You looked very sad when you came in the gym earlier…Kise-chin was too, you know…"

"Oh." Was the only thing he could answer. Kuroko's eyes began to water once again as he remembered everything that happened today – the jealousy over Momoi, Aomine's happiness with Momoi, Kise's anger and hurtful words, Midorima's relationship with Takao, and Akashi's gradual change. Kuroko felt like everything was not going as it should be, not going back to the today it was before. Instead, everything was moving forward, to a future where Kuroko has met his failure to live up to his brothers' expectations and his brothers leaving him for the future. He snuggled into Murasakibara's embrace, seeking the warmth and comfort to soothe the stinging pain of the realization.

In response, Murasakibara rubbed Kuroko's back.

Although Aomine was the person who understands Kuroko the most, it was Murasakibara who comforts the bluenet more often than the others. Aomine wasn't a touchy person, and he'd always be confused about the feelings of himself and the other people, so he wasn't the perfect person to console Kuroko whenever the younger bluenet was depressed. Midorima'stsundere and distant personality makes him a good listener and giver of advice, but he was the type of person to remain quiet when one was crying. Before, Akashi would consolidate Kuroko, but now, the red-haired would just pat Kuroko on the back, tell everything will be alright and leave. Kise was a crybaby and would feel so much empathy for Kuroko, the bluenet has to stop being depressed so Kise won't be depressed as well. Unexpectedly, the insensitive and immature purple-haired giant was the one perfect to consolidate Kuroko's feelings with a warm embrace, a sweet treat and a soothing company. This was the trait that made Murasakibara the second-eldest brother in the family.

"It's alright, Kuro-chin…" Murasakibara said. "Don't hesitate to cry, okay?"

Kuroko sniffed, but the bluenet was persistent not to cry. He doesn't want to embarrass himself and he doesn't want Murasakibara to view him as a weak person. He wanted to prove to himself that he was strong, that he could take anything life throws back at him and be able to give his brothers the happiness they deserve – even if they don't want to.

Murasakibara stared at his younger brother, whose face had been buried on his chest. The purple-haired giant frowned as he felt no wet tears staining his shirt. Kuroko must be bottling his emotions again; Kuroko was so good at that. Murasakibara knew that bottling your emotions would just cause nothing but trouble; it was what happened to Akashi and look what he had done to himself now.

The purple-haired giant shook that thought away. He needs to think of something to relieve Kuroko with his loneliness; if crying doesn't work, then something else will. Muraskibara hummed as he pondered. What does he do when he was lonely?

The purple-haired teen's eyes widen as he had a brilliant idea.

"Kuro-chin, do you want to do a tiramisu together right now? I know it's not baking or cooking, but a tiramisu is one of my favorite desserts and I plan on making one for dinner~!" Murasakibara offered, snuggling the bluenet more.

Kuroko, who felt that Murasakibara's hands looped around his waist, instinctively backed away. Murasakibara's touch was very warm and mildly electrifying, especially with the feeling of large and course hands running around your body. Kuroko mentally slapped himself at the thought and willed his blush down. He titled his head to the left, expecting that Murasakibara won't notice Kuroko's flush cheeks. "…Okay, Murasakibara-kun. That sounds nice, actually…"

Upon hearing Kuroko agree, Murasakibara flashed his goofy smiile. "Yay~! I promise that you'll have so much fun!" Murasakibara said as he playfully tugged Kuroko's wrists. "But, first, we have to buy some ingredients that we don't have at home…Let's go the convenience store!"

Before Kuroko could even react, Murasakibara already pulled Kuroko down the rooftop, into the school grounds and to the train station.

When the train left for Tokyo mainland, Akashi was done with his meeting with the Student Council. He exited the room with his other peers, but stopped at the staircase to wait for Hotaru. The orange-haired girl froze when he sense that some crazy interrogation was going to happen just by looking at Akashi's devilish smile.

"Is there something wrong, Seijuro-san?" Hotaru asked.

"Nothing really. But, have you noticed that Tetsuya's been acting a little strange for these past few years, and in these past few days, he's acting even more strange…" Akashi said. "You told me the other day that Tetsuya was just fine since he was acting on his own age, but I nurtured him to be very competent in achieving his goals in life. But, my intuition says that he might not even have a definite goal in life."

Hotaru placed her bag on her chest, gripping it tightly. "What do you mean, Seijuro-san?"

Out of nowhere, two shogi pieces appeared in Akashi's hand – one king, one knight. Akashi tossed them in the air, caught them, and flicked the other piece to the wall while keeping the other one safely in his hands. The movement was so fast that Hotaru didn't know that Akashi had thrown the other piece until she heard the sound of it hitting the wall.

Hotaru's dark orange eyes landed on the piece. She looked back at Akashi, whose eyes were glowing under the evening light. Instead of being mesmerized by them, Hotaru was more inclined to look away.

Those eyes were like a predator's, but Hotaru wasn't the prey.

But, she might be the key to the prey.

"Do you think something is wrong with Tetsuya, or is it just an imagination?"

The orange-haired girl could only answer one, and Akashi expects her to tell the answer he is expecting to hear.

Hotaru gulped and flashed a bright smile. "I don't think something is wrong with Kuroko-kun," she said. "Though, if you want to know, you should talk to him. He is good in hiding his feelings and secrets."

Akashi's eyes narrowed, but he made no movement but that. Then, he sighed and walked towards the staircase. "Alright. Let's go, Hotaru. I'll escort you until the train station."

Hotaru stiffly nodded and approached the red-haired, who had come down at the bottom level of the staircase. When Hotaru was at the top most level of the stair case, Akashi flicked the remaining piece at her. The orange haired teen was surprised by the action but was able to catch the piece with both of her hands. She opened her hands.

It was the King.

Hotaru furrowed her eyebrows in confusion and looked back at Akashi. Akashi just smirked before he went down the staircase. Hotaru glanced at the piece Akashi threw on the wall.

It was the Knight, but the piece was chipped and the letter on the wooden piece was fading.

Throwing such a once beautiful shogi piece was a waste. But, it was nearing its end.

It was almost seven pm. Kuroko and Murasakibara were walking together in the rural streets of Tokyo. Kuroko didn't know what Murasakibara was shopping for or where the convenience store was located, but Kuroko didn't mind this at all.

This quiet stroll in the busy streets of Tokyo when the sun has come down and the stars were appearing kept Kuroko's mind focused on the trip rather than the events that transpired before. Kuroko kept his mind busy as his eyes wandered around the roads, trips and buildings, keeping his mind as busy as possible. He didn't want to think complicated things anymore. If he did, he might break down like earlier and he would cause an embarrassing scene.

He was already feeling bad enough. Kise's words inflicted such pain that felt like he was being stoned by society, being called names, or being shunned by the whole world. Kuroko felt like he was alone in dealing with these feelings of pain and guilt, with no one to comfort him. He had no one to talk to about, no one to cry on, or no one to tell that everything was going to be okay.

It was because no one truthfully understands his feelings and love for his brothers. Even though Momoi and Hotaru knew, they didn't understand. Kuroko had conveyed his feelings to them before their second participation in the Winter Cup, one winter evening, thinking that they wouldn't discriminate him or tell his brothers about it. Momoi thought it was a joke and brushed it off, while Hotaru just patted him on the shoulder because she didn't know what to do.

They knew but didn't understand. Seeking comfort to them gave Kuroko nothing but the heavy feeling of carrying the same burden, the same feelings, but much heavier.

Kuroko clenched his fists and his eyes. He didn't need to think about this now, just when Murasakibara had consoled him.

When Kuroko opened his eyes to the road, he was pushed back, causing him to land on the concrete pavement. The person who bumped and pushed him tsked and glared at him.

"Hey, watch where you are going, twerp!" the man shouted. He brushed his leather jacket that was adorned with spikes and chains. He looked like some middle-age man dressed like a rock star to ease his middle-life crisis. He glanced at his jacket. Suddenly, his glare at Kuroko intensified. "You fucking midget! Look at what you did to my expensive jacket! You have to pay for it , kid! 50, 000 yen!"

Kuroko kept an impassive and calm face, though in the inside, he was a little bit intimidated with the situation. "I'm sorry, sir, but I don't think there is a smudge on your jacket," he explained as he gave the jacket a careful look. There wasn't really a stain on it at all; maybe the man was just imagining things.

The man's left eye twitched. "You liar!" he shouted. "Pay for it or else!"

Before the man could even make his next move, Murasakibara towered on the man, his purple eyes full of anger. Since the man was shorter than the teen, the man was easily intimidated by the teen. To intimidate the man further, Murasakibara gave the man a slight push, which made the man back away and stumble onto the road.

"Kuro-chin apologized. He doesn't need to pay for your ugly jacket." Murasakibara said in such a intimidating voice that the man winced in fear. The other bystanders cringed as they tried to avoid the recurring scene. Kuroko helped himself up.

The man, gathering his composure, growled and charged. The man tried to land a punch at Murasakibara, but the tall teen easily caught it. His grip moved to the man's wrists and easily lifted the man 10 inches from the ground. Murasakibara gave the man an intimidating glare. "Do you want me to crush you?" Murasakibaraasked, his voice low and louder than usual. Murasakibara's grip on the man's wrist tightened, causing the man to get hysterical and demand the former to let him go.

Seeing that this scene was gathering too much attention, Kuroko squeezed Murasakibara free arm, catching the giant's attention. Kuroko looked at Murasakibara with his wide and large, soft azure eyes, pleading that Murasakibarato let go of the man. Murasakibara's glare softened as his purple orbs met with blue ones, but hardened once again when he looked at the cowering man. He dropped the man as if he was a rag doll, which made the man land on his bottom.

"Good thin Kuro-chin is very kind, else I would've crushed you." Murasakibara said. Then he turned to Kuroko. "Let's go, Kuro-chin~" he said in his usual merry and sweet voice. Before the two brothers left, Kuroko gave the man a bow to signify Kuroko's apology over the whole matter.

They left the man, who had stood up from his spot, shouting and cursing at them. The two brothers ignored it as they melted into the crowd. Kuroko glanced at the man, who was now out of sight.

Suddenly, Murasakibara grabbed Kuroko's smaller hands and interwined his fingers with the bluenet. The bluenet jumped at contact, but melted into Murasakibara's warmth. Kuroko didn't expect that his hands were this cold, but Murasakibara's larger hands did the trick. Kuroko let out a small smile and a pale blush when he thought themselves as a couple. But, Kuroko dismissed the idea, keeping his mind in check that they were brothers and nothing more.

"You should be careful, Kuro-chin. Aka-chin would get mad at me if something ever happened to you." Murasakibara said as he swung their joined hands together in a rather childish way.

Kuroko looked at Murasakibara in slight disbelief. He pursed his lips. "…Are you doing this because Akashi-kun told you to do so?"

Murasakibara hummed, pondering what to answer. "Yes." The tall teen answered. "I'd do anything for Aka-chin."

"Though…" Murasakibara continued. "There are things I'd not do for Aka-chin."

Kuroko blinked and looked at Murasakibara. "Like what?"

"Things that would make Mido-chin and Kuro-chin sad, things that would make Aka-chin a bad brother, stuff like that." Murasakibara answered. "Aka-chin once told me that I should leave you on your own, so you would learn how to take care of yourself…but, I can't, since Kuro-chin's been very lonely lately. I don't like it if you're sad. You would look weaker that way."

Kuroko frowned but sighed. This was Murasakibara' s nature after all. Murasakibara's devotion for Akashi was like a monk to the scriptures. It was like this since Murasakibara and Midorima had a fall-out when they were still children; however, Kuroko never understood how Murasakibara became so devoted and trustful to Akashi. Kuroko also wondered if Murasakibara ever did something for him, not because Akashi told the tall teen to but because Murasakibara sincerely cared. Back when they were children, Murasakibara often played and read together with Kuroko because the tall teen sees Kuroko like a 'caring mother', but now, Kuroko feels like Murasakibara keeps Kuroko at company because Akashi told him to or Akashi would get sad. It was saddening to learn that if Akashi didn't tell Murasakibara to be with him, he wouldn't be with Kuroko at all.

They kept walking in silence, swinging their arms together like some child as they ventured the Tokyo streets together. While Murasakibara was humming the song Midorima's mother used to sing, Kuroko kept glancing at Murasakibara. Does Murasakibara care, at all? Could Murasakibara push his selfish nature aside and sympathize for the bluenet, even just as brothers? Did Murasakibara change or is he still the loving brother Kuroko loved?

"…Murasakibara-kun…" Kuroko called, catching the tall teen's attention. "If you were to choose between Akashi-kun and I, if you were to make a decision that would leave one of us happy, but the other sad, who would you pick?"

Murasakibara stopped on his tracks as he looked at Kuroko with dilated eyes. The tall teen looked surprised that Kuroko would ask that kind of question out of blue, but Murasakibara looked as if he was going to answer it nonetheless.

"That's impossible, Kuro-chin," Murasakibara said. "Because Aka-chin has been lonely for some time now."

Kuroko's eyes widened at Murasakibara's answer. But, before Kuroko could ask about it, Murasakibara spotted a store and pointed at it.

"I found it~!" he said. He took Kuroko's wrists. "Let's go, Kuro-chin, before it closes!" And with that, they ran to the store.


Kuroko blinked as he stared at the sign that said: 'Winery and Confectionaries'. Kuroko understood the confectionaries part, but not the winery. What were they doing shopping for wine?

When they had entered, Kuroko's nose was attacked with the musky scent of fermented alcohol and the fruity and sweet aroma of candy and sweets. The cashier – the only employee in the store – greeted them with a vibrant smile on his face.

Kuroko wished he could smile like that, but people would just be irked or surprised when Kuroko, the normally impassive, calm and perceptive phantom of the Teiko basketball team, would smile so brightly like that. Kise would be more suited with a smile like that.

Kuroko's heart clenched when he remembered the blonde staring at him with amber eyes full of betrayal and disappointment flashed in his mind. Murasakibara noticed the tensed expression on the bluenet's face and patted the bluenet's head.

"Cheer up, Kuro-chin! Do you want a vanilla candy?" Murasakibara asked.

Hearing the word vanilla, Kuroko smiled though he didn't feel less saddened from the mention of sweets.

"Tatara-san, can we get five pieces of vanilla candy?" Mruasakibara asked the employee, who was still smiling at them.

'Tatara-san' smiled and happily nodded. He opened a glass jar and took five pieces of candy inside it. He handed them to Kuroko, who nodded in thanks. Kuroko blinked as he stared Tatara stared at him, the bruentte's head tilted in confusion. When Tatara noticed that Kuroko had caught the brunette staring, Tatara immediately apologized.

"I'm so sorry, it's just…I thought I saw you before!" The employee said.

Kuroko nodded in understand. "It's alright."

Then Tatara fixated his gaze at the two. "Well then gentlemen, what can I do for you today?'

"Do you have coffee liquor?" Murasakibara asked.

Kuroko stiffened while Tatara stared at the giant, dumb-founded, as he tried processing the question.

"Is there something wrong?" Murasakibara asked in confusion. Kuroko gave his brother a glare.

"Murasakibara-kun, we can't buy wine. We're underage. We would need an ID for that." Kuroko said.

"Eh? But, we're not going to drink it! Alcohol tastes awful unless you put it in a dessert. I was going to use it in the tiramisu!"

The employee chuckled. "Oh, why didn't you say so! I thought that you were going to drink it or something! If that was the case, I would have to speak to my manager about it. But, if you're going to make a delicious dessert, then why not!" Tatara left the counter and headed to a wall-like chamber at the far side of the store, where all kinds of wine were placed there. Tatara scanned the alphabetically arranged bottle and a wine bottle that corresponded to Murasakibara's demands. "Here is our finest coffee liquor!" He said proudly as he placed it in the counter. "That would be 3, 000 yen please." Kuroko was about to mention the vanilla candies but Tatara just smiled at him and continued. "The vanilla candies are on the house~!"

After Murasakibara paid with the corresponded amount, Murasakibara exited the shop with the liquor carefully wrapped and placed in a paper bag. Kuroko followed suit after thanking Tatara for the free candies. They fetched a bus that would ride them home to Akasaka. Kuroko made himself comfortable, sitting next to Murasakibara. The bus ride was ridden in silence.

"Tatara-san seems very nice." Kuroko mentioned out of blue. Murasakibara nodded in response as he popped a vanilla candy inside his mouth.

"He's very good at reading people. But, he's very weak and he has no good friends." Murasakibara commented. "I think he's the type that smiles to people, but he actually tells mean things about people behind their back…"

Kuroko frowned and gave Murasakibara a glare. "What makes you say that?"

Murasakibara responded by giving Kuroko a glare as well, as if Kuroko knew the answer to that already. "Tatara-san is always alone, Kuro-chin. I saw him getting bullied by some kids and he didn't even fight back. He is very kind, but he is weak. Anyone who gets bullied would keep grudges behind their back…"

"Haven't you considered that Tatara-san might not be that kind of person? If it is true that he gets bullied often times, he might not be keeping grudges at them and may just let his frustrations at them go."

Murasakibara snorted. "I don't believe that. Those people who get bullied will always remain mad at their bullies. I'm 16 years old and I'm still mad at my bullies 8 years ago. Peoples' actions reflect their personalities. You don't need to learn more about them to actually know them. And all people think the same way. Each every one of us is unique but we were born in the same civil society." He answered. "For example, Misa-san always acts like she runs the whole Teiko management, so she's just as bossy as she is in class and her social life. Some people say that she was a terrible bully during middle school and people saw her hanging with street thugs the other day. By the looks of it, I think she's continuing her bullying to the club to dominate it. That's why I don't trust her."

Kuroko frowned. "But, Misa-san can also be kind and thoughtful. She is also a good friend with Momoi-san and Taikawa-san. I don't think she's bullying anyone in the club. I think it's just in her personality to be bossy."

"But, that doesn't change that she was a bully. My bullies in elementary were like her – sly and cunning. She could just be using Momoi-chi and Taika-chin for her evil schemes."

Kuroko sighed. "You're just saying that because you haven't known her that much yet," Kuroko said. "You know, Murasakbiara-kun, you shouldn't judge people without knowing them more on what they convey. It's wrong. It's like not letting them explain what's going on."

Murasakibara scoffed. "So, they could just make excuses. I don't trust those kind of people, Kuro-chin. They're just waiting for something they want from you and leave you like that. I can't trust people like Misa-san. She's a bully."

"I don't think this is about Misa-san's personality anymore…" Kuroko muttered. Kuroko knew that Murasakibara's bullies left the tall teen a wound that never healed. When Murasakibara was a child, he always came home sad because his bullies stole his lunch money or called him names. There was also a time when Murasakibara didn't want to go to school because of his bullies. Though Murasakibara grew into a talented and smart basketball player, his grudge against his bullies never faded. He became so distrustful of people because of his experience with bullies that he criticized others because they remind him of the people who made fun of him. Kuroko was worried that Murasakibara wouldn't be liked by the people around him for who he actually was, but only for his talents and skills. Kuroko wanted Murasakibara to socialize with others, to prove to Murasakibara that not all people were like that, to make people realize that Murasakibara is a kind person – a caring brother.

Then it him – the reason why Murasakibara was so loyal and devoted to Akashi, it was because Akashi was the only person Murasakibara trusts. Was there even a possibility that…if Murasakibara was so dependent and trustful to Akashi, would Murasakibara be distrustful or unreliable to his brothers? Does he criticize his own family the way he criticizes other people? "Murasakibara-kun…" Kuroko started, "…Do you also judge us like that?"

Murasakibara furrowed his eyebrows at Kuroko. "What do you mean?"

"Do you also judge as the way you judge Misa-san and the others you don't like?"

Murasakibara hummed, pondering the question for a moment. "Well, sometimes. Our brothers make their personalities and feelings way too obvious. They're bad sides show and they make me feel that they are the people I can't trust. But, it's not just our brothers, I can't completely trust some of our friends as well. I can't trust Taika-chin as the great listener she considers herself as because I think she's just those type of people who wants to know everything about everyone so she could feel she's powerful and she can use that information to other people. I saw her once trying to pry the personal life of Nijimura-san, and at some point Nijimura-san got mad at her for blurting one of his secrets or something. I'm not sure, but I know it's kind of related to that. I can't also trust Momo-chin because I think she's the type of person who would defend you in an argument, but would leave you at some point with whatever reason. That's what she's doing to Ki-chin and Mine-chin. Ki-chin seems to be the type to keep grudges against people because that's what he's doing to Mine-chin because he's jealous of him. Mine-chin is also like Momoi-chin. I think you already know why, Kuro-chin," at that part of Murasakibara's statement, he flashed a pitiful glance at the bluenet. "I relied and trusted on Mido-chin, but Mido-chin is just full of words. He'd say family is more important, but the truth is, his self is more important. Before, he was always tutoring me, but when he got a grade of 70 on a test that he was supposed to study for on the night before but didn't because he was helping me, he stopped helping me altogether. Mido-chin is just mean and he's not a good brother anymore. Aka-chin may have done some bad and mean things to other people, but I know Aka-chin does that because he means them well or he wants to protect us. Just like what he's doing to you. So, Aka-chin is the person I trust the most, because he always means well."

Kuroko would've been amazed on how observant Murasakibara was if not that he was judging them so critically without any concrete evidence. It was like Murasakibara was criticizing them with the scarce evidence and opinions he gathered from his observations, and his observations were very one-sided. Hotaru may have acted like she was prying to the personal lives of the players, but she was doing that so the players could relieve their emotional stress. And whatever happened between Hotaru and Nijimura, no one knew what it is exactly, so Murasakibara did not have any validity in his opinion. Kuroko knew Momoi liked Aomine once, but she would never divert her attention from anyone else because Momoi loves Kise. Midorima cares for each and every one of his brothers, and maybe Midorima works so hard in his studies because he wants to be a doctor and make his family proud. Kise may feel a little inferior because of Aomine but Kise would never hate or dislike Aomine. Sure, they may have had a rocky relationship, but Kise will always be Aomine's younger brother and those two, whatever may have happened between them, would always cherish each other because they're brothers.

And yes, it is true that Akashi always meant well, but the rest always meant well for the purple-haired teen. Kuroko knows that because they were family. Kuroko's comments were a little opinionated like Murasakibara's – he didn't really know what exactly was going on but he believes they were all meaning well – but…Murasakibara should never speak those kinds of comments if he doesn't know the full picture.

Kuroko stared at Murasakibara, his blue eyes meeting purple ones. "Do you also judge me like that?" Kuroko suddenly asked, directly. Murasakibara's eyes widened a little, before he decided to look away.

"You're weak," Murasakibara simply said. "But, I can't say you can't protect me. I know that the weak cannot protect anyone, but…I think you're an exception. You're just weird Kuro-chin. I know you're weak, and I shouldn't trust you because you can't really protect me from anything, but I do trust you."

Kuroko blinked, surprised by Murasakibara's answer. He let out a small smile, relieved that Mruasakibara thinks him of that way. "Why is that?"

"I think it's because you're just special…" Murasakibara answered as he playfully leaned on the bluenet. "Or I just really, really like you because you're a kind person."

Kuroko's cheeks started to warm up as a noticeable blush gradually appeared on his cheeks. He looked away, so Murasakibara wouldn't notice. Kuroko wasn't just glad Murasakibara trusts him, he was also flattered that Murasakibara thinks of him that way. He knew that he shouldn't be this happy when Murasakibara was distrustful of his own family, but still!

With the flattery he was feeling right now; Kuroko almost forgot the reason why he was feeling bad in the first place.

The bus had dropped them off at the bus stop near the entrance of the small suburban neighborhood of Akasaka. Since there house was just a few blocks away and no modes of transportation were available, they decided to set on foot. Their walk towards home was a silent one; it would be rude if they made noise or ruckus when the neighborhood was already asleep. Besides, it would be a shame to ruin this pleasant silence when the atmosphere was tranquil and the night was beautiful.

When they had reached home, dinner was already prepared by the maids and butlers. Murasakibara placed the newly bought goods at the kitchen counter while Kuroko, who was holding both of their bags, gave it to the maids who placed it to their respective rooms. Murasakibara started unloading the ingredients he had bought a couple of days ago.

"Kuro-chin, can you wear an apron and wash your hands? Aka-chin and the others would be arriving soon." The tall teen commanded, looking serious. Kuroko blinked but proceeded to the tall teen's commands. It was amusing on how Murasakibara was serious about food; it was very delightful to know Murasakibara has a very enlightened passion for food – that was one of the things that made Kuroko fall in love with Murasakibara, after all. His passion for food was intense and fiery that it reveals Murasakibara's wise, straight-forward, serious and competent side.

Kuroko rolled up his sleeves, washed his hands and tied a pale-blue apron that reached his ankles. Seeing Murasakibara was almost done preparing and bringing out the ingredients, Kuroko helped by bringing out the necessary equipment that they would need. Murasakibara also helped on preparing those tools.

"Ne, Kuro-chin, that apron looks like a dress on you." Murasakibara snickered as he took a good look at the bluenet. Kuroko pouted.

"I'm just thankful that I move comfortably in this apron." Kuroko retorted.

"But, it does look cute on you." Murasakibara responded, making Kuroko blush. The tall teen proceeded to combine six egg yolks, which were already prepared beforehand, and sugar in a saucepan. "Kuro-chin, can you open the coffee liqueur and soak the lady fingers?"

Kuroko nodded in response as Murasakibara prepared the cream. Kuroko carefully opened the coffee liqueur and stiffened at the strong smell of alcohol and coffee. Nonetheless, he poured a generous amount in a bowl, capped the wine and soaked the lady fingers in the there. Once they were thoroughly soaked, he placed the soaked lady fingers in a pan sheet and repeated the process again. Meanwhile, Murasakibara was working on the egg yolk mixture. He noticed how irked Kuroko was as the bluenet soaked the lady fingers, as if the bluenet was really bothered by the strong scent of alcohol. Murasakibara cocked an eyebrow. The coffee liqueur shouldn't be that bad. It's just alcohol with espresso.

Murasakibara took a spoon, scooped a generous amount and placed it inside his mouth. At the very moment that liquid touched his tongue, Murasakibara's face had scrunched up as the bitter and strong flavor of the liqueur invaded his took the spoon away and stuck his tongue out. "Ew! Gross! This isn't sweet at all!" Murasakibara complained, earning a light chuckle from Kuroko.

"It is coffee liqueur. It's supposed to be bitter." Kuroko said. Murasakibara pouted at him until a brilliant idea came to mind. The tall teen sported a sly grin as he took the spoon, scooped a rather generous amount and place it in front of Kuroko. Kuroko backed away a little, his head tilting to avoid the strong scent.

"What are you doing, Murasakibara-kun?" Kuroko asked.

"Come on, taste it! It's good!" Murasakibara joked.

Kuroko gave the tall teen a glare. "You just said it was b – " Without warning Murasakibara placed the spoon inside Kuroko's mouth, pouring the contents onto the bluenet's tongue and pulling it out. Kuroko's eyes closed shut and his lips puckered the moment that bitter liquid went down on his throat. The strong, musky flavor of the liqueur had caused the bluenet to cough uncontrollably, small tear droplets forming at the corner of his eyes. Once his coughing subdued, he gave Murasakibara a glare.

"Why did you do that?" Kuroko asked, slightly coughing. Murasakibara just smiled at him.

"Kuro-chin made a face~" Murasakibara commented as he clicked the stove off and poured the mixture in a bowl. "It's rare to see Kuro-chin with a different expression besides your normal one. You shouldn't be emotionless that much – in that way, Kuro-chin would be very cute."

Kuroko looked away. "I am not cute, Murasakibara-kun."

"I disagree~ Kuro-chin is very cute."

"Please shut up."

"Is Kuro-chin still mad at me because I force fed you alcohol?"


"Well, at least, think of it as sweet because it went in my mouth first~" [3]

Suddenly, Kuroko coughed, shocked at what Murasakibara had just said. He turned his back from the tall teen, so the latter wouldn't notice the blush on his cheeks. Murasakibara tilted his head in confusion.

"Eh! Kuro-chin, are you drunk already!?"


Kuroko covered his face with his palms, trying to hide his embarrassment. Kuroko wanted to tell Murasakibara that he wasn't blushing like this because he was drunk; it was because of the indirect kiss!

Why do I have to act like this in times like these? Kuroko thought, but the memory of the indirect kiss he and Murasakibara shared made him more disoriented than a drunk.

Well, at least it erased the bitter memory of that liqueur.


"And it's done~" Murasakibara declared in a sing-song voice as he powdered the layered tiramisu with cocoa powder, ensuring that the whole white top of the tiramisu is covered with the chocolate goodness. Then, he placed the tiramisu in the freezer to cool. Kuroko, who was placing the tools in the sink, cocked an eye brow at him. Normally, tiramisus were not placed in the freezer, but since dinner was just 30 minutes away and the tiramisu needed to cool fist before eaten, the freezer was the best option there is. As Kuroko started washing the tools in the sink, Murasakibara noticed that the bowl of mascarpone and fresh cream with vanilla extract still had a decent amount of cream in it.

"We made too much cream. It would be a waste to throw it away…" Murasakibara sadly stated. Then, he blinked his eyes and gave Kuroko a grin. "Want to eat cream with me, Kuro-chin~?" Murasakibara waved the bowl of whipped cream that had vanilla flavoring to it. Since Kuroko wasn't able to have a vanilla milkshake this week, the cream was a very, very tempting offer. After all, Kuroko loves vanilla. After much decision, Kuroko sighed.

" soon as I finish washing these, though." Kuroko stated as he pointed at the mountain of dirty tools he had to wash.

Murasakibara gave the bluenet a wide smile before he dove in and helped Kuroko with the dishes. Once they were done washing, drying and placing them in the cupboards, the two settled comfortably in the dining seats while wearing their stained aprons and dirty school uniforms. Murasakibara held the mascarpone cream next to him, moaning delightfully everytime he takes a bite of that heavenly fluffy cream. Next to him, Kuroko was contented with the vanilla cream even though it didn't hold as much flavor as mascarpone cream. The tall teen offered the mascarpone cream to the bluenet, which the bluenet couldn't decline. Kuroko took a small portion of the cream and placed it inside his mouth. His eyes widened as he was surprised by the flavor and texture it gave to his tongue.

"It's delicious, Murasakibara-kun." Kuroko said.

"Thank you, Kuro-chin~" the tall teen responded as he took a spoonful of vanilla cream and ate it. "Hmm… Smooth and fluffy… Its light flavor cuts decently through the powerful and sweet flavor of mascarpone cream. Plus, the vanilla flavor gives this bland cream a nice flavor…" Murasakibara muttered. Kuroko chuckled.

Murasakibara tilted his head. "Is there something wrong?"

"No," Kuroko answered. "You're always peculiar about food. I think Murasakibara-kun will make a good chef one day."

Murasakibara hummed as he pondered the thought of making thousands and thousands of pastries to eat. "Sounds like a good idea…but, I'm also interested in being an engineer though…"

Kuroko blinked – he didn't expect that from the tall teen. "I didn't expect that from you. Murasakibara-kun is full of surprises."

Both of them chuckled at each other before they went back to indulge to the creams they made. Murasakibara took a spoonful inside his mouth before he placed his spoon at the side and looked at the bluenet. "Kuro-chin," he called, catching Kuroko's attention. "Do you think I'm selfish if I go about my own ambitions?"

Kuroko froze, his spoon dropping from mid-air and landing messily on the bowl of cream, staining Kuroko's apron. Kuroko was just…really surprised that a question like that would come from his brothers, especially from Murasakibara who seemed lax in his activities and would do what he wants in a given moment. His brothers had, with no further question, went and pursued their own ambitions, in basketball, career or academics. They didn't bother to be considerate to their family and friends because they know latter would support them along the way no matter what. Kuroko, however, chose to support his brothers than pursue his own ambitions, instead of following to the footsteps of his brothers and never expecting anything in return. Some would say this was an act of selfishness, but Kuroko, it was the act of pursuing dreams.

For years on supporting his brothers, he had never encountered any of them disheartened or wary of their actions and how it affects their family. They knew it was okay for their family and friends, and no one says that they were being selfish and inconsiderate. So, this kind of question coming from one of his brothers was…just… astonishing, but quite very thoughtful. At least, Murasakibara was being considerate of those who support him.

"W-why do you ask such thing, anyway?" Kuroko asked.

Murasakibara started stirring the cream. "People say I'm immature and inconsiderate because I never listen to them, but I just ignore them because I've done a ton of things for Aka-chin and the others without expecting anything in return. It's just…sometimes, it's just unfair if Aka-chin would get to do his thing and I don't. I want to do my own thing and pursue my ambitions, so I try to do my own thing…. but, Aka-chin said that I should be more considerate."Murasakibara said. "I don't want to be called inconsiderate by Aka-chin…though, I'd say he is to since he's just doing his own thing. I really want to fulfill my dreams like Aka-chin does every time, but I can't do that with people calling me inconsiderate – Aka-chin would get mad at me if I did. It's really frustrating, Kuro-chin…not being able to do what you want because of people's opinions towards you…"

"But, you are considerate. Maybe a little stubborn, but never inconsiderate," Kuroko said, immediately defending the tall teen. "You've done so many things for this family and your friends because you really care for them. You're also very considerate of Akashi-kun because you always prioritize him over yourself. It's more than enough, I suppose," Kuroko paused and took a deep breath. He then looked at the tall teen sincerely. "You shouldn't be affected by what the people say, but try to heed it. Why do people say you're immature and inconsiderate? You should know so you could do things that won't make them tell you mean things. Maybe try listening to them? They'll understand you more that way, so they'll know the reasons behind your actions. And, Murasakibara-kun, what you want to do is your own business. Nobody has the right to tell you that you can't do this, even Akashi-kun. It's your ambition after all; no one can ever stop you from reaching your dreams. Whatever you do, I'll always be right behind you to support you."

Murasakibara stared at the bluenet for a moment. The tall teen's purple eyes widened and sparkled, before Murasakibara flashed the bluenet a meaningful smile. He reached his hand and ruffled Kuroko's locks. "Thank you Kuro-chin~ you really made me feel better…"

Kuroko let out a small smile as he let Murasakibara gently ruffle his locks. "It's no problem." He said. "But, what do you want to pursue, Murasakibara-kun?"

"I want to pursue culinary, but I want to study science too, so I figure that I'd go to a science-oriented school – since baking is like science too…" Murasakibara said. "But, the dream school I want to go is located at Akita. I'd really want to request a transfer, but it's already the start of the semester, so I thought that I'd drop-out from Teiko Academy at the second semester or year and move to Akita and get a scholarship for my dream school. Though, I haven't done the paperwork yet, the academy said that I can drop-out from Teiko Academy and enroll to Yosen High school at the middle of the second semester. Won't it be great~ Most schools don't allow students to enroll at the middle of the year, but Yosen high school does~! They also give athletic scholarships~!"

The moment that Murasakibara mentioned the word moving, Kuroko's eyes widened. Despite the happiness that radiated from Murasakibara, the smile Kuroko has had turned into a frown and his heart had plummeted into the darkest abyss of his body. The thought of Murasakibara leaving and not seeing him often times as much didn't appeal to him. "…Y-You're moving?"

"I need to, since Yosen High school is at Akita. I can't go to the dream college school of mine if I didn't go to a science high school…Yosen High school is the best science-oriented high school in Japan; it would be a shame if I won't be able to study there…" Murasakibara murmured. "Is there something wrong Kuro-chin? I thought you'd support me on this…"

"I-I would!" Kuroko interjected. "But…you'll…you'll be leaving…"

Murasakibara nodded. "That's the sad part. I'd really miss you, Kuro-chin. But, sacrifices had to be made – that's what Aka-chin says, right~ But, I'll come home at the weekends though…"

Kuroko forced himself to smile as Murasakibara looked at him expectantly. "Of course…"

But, Kuroko didn't want Murasakibara to go. He didn't know that pursuing the tall teen's ambitions would mean moving to Akita. It was too far from Tokyo and Murasakibara would be able to visit home one every week at most. On the other hand, he wanted the tall teen's happiness; he wanted Murasakibara to pursue his own dreams and make himself happy by accomplishing those dreams. And it was his job as Murasakibara's supporter even if the whole world doesn't like what Murasakibara wants to become because that was what Kuroko promised to himself. He promised to make Murasakibara and his other brothers happy and contented in life.

However, Kuroko was just a man. Despite how selfless he was, he was selfish too. He wanted Murasakibara to stay here by his side. He wanted Murasakibara to study in the same school as him. He wanted Murasakibara to play with him in the same team. He didn't want Murasakibara to leave. He loves him after all, so much, too much.

There was nothing that would hold Murasakibara off to pursue the latter's ambitions – Kuroko doesn't have the strength to hold the tall teen to this post since he loves Murasakibara too much. It was conflicting; Kuroko loves him so much that he couldn't bear the thought of being separated from him, but he couldn't bear Murasakibara lonely with his life.

"Young masters?" A maid, who appeared at the doorway, called, catching the attention of the two brothers. "Midorima-sama, Akashi-sama, Aomine-sama and Kise-sama have returned."

Murasakibara stood up from his seat and placed the two bowls in the sink. "Well, they're back. Let's get cleaned up before Aka-chin scolds us for being dirty."

Kuroko only nodded before he went to help Murasakibara clean the dishes. Though Murasakibara was happy – finally he had someone supporting him, Kuroko wasn't. He was conflicted. And Kise was home too.

"Kuro-chin," Murasakibara called as he washed his bowl. "Thank you…Now, I'm motivated on telling Aka-chin about this~! I can always rely on you Kuro-chin."

Though Kuroko should be happy that Murasakibara felt the same way, he can't. He felt like he was just worsening the situation, giving himself more conflicted emotions.

Murasakibara was prepared to leave; Kuroko wasn't.

Murasakibara was moving further and further away; the tall teen wasn't slowing down, and Kuroko wasn't getting faster either.

Dinner was served exactly 8:10 pm. Every one – Akashi, Midorima, Kise and Aomine – arrived just in time. Kuroko and Murasakibara had cleaned up and changed, so they'll be ready for dinner. Once everyone was seated on their designated chairs, Kuroko knew everyone wasn't acting normally – even Murasakibara and Aomine, who was overly-cheery than usual. It was obvious some had a good time, but the others didn't – and it might be because of the people who had a wonderful day today. Aomine was oblivious on how unusually silent and impassive Kise was. Though Kuroko knew that Kise wasn't exactly mad at Aomine for leeching his girlfriend away, he wanted to deny the fact that he was to blame with the blonde's eeriness. But, he can't because Kise's words circulated repeatedly in his mind, blaming him continuously for being a bad sibling. Even though this was one of those few moments where they were able to eat dinner together, Kuroko felt he wanted to disappear at this moment.

He can't – he wasn't able – to confront the blonde, to apologize to the latter, because he was overcome by the guilt. He was afraid that Kise won't forgive him. He didn't know what to do. He glanced at Aomine, who was nonchalantly eating his portion of his food as he argued with Midorima about academic concerns. Would Aomine help him like he helped Aomine with Momoi?

"I told you that my grades are fine!" Aomine snapped. "Coach is just being hysterical."

"No, he's not." Midorima replied. "Would Sanada-kantoku joke about your grades being as red as Akashi's hair?"

"Well, Akashi's a genius, so that must be a compliment."

Midorima placed his palm on his face. "…I'm not sure if you're in denial or just plain stupid."


When Aomine was about to retort, he noticed that Kuroko was staring at him. He tilted his head in confusion. "Hey, are you alright, Tetsu?" he asked.

"Huh? Ah, yes...N-nothing is wrong…" Kuroko murmured, clenching and unclenching his fist. Aomine always knew when Kuroko was acting a little different from his usual self. He also knew that things had gone wrong when Kuroko was acting different. The navy haired teen would instantly try to know what had gone wrong from the younger bluenet. Although Aomine would usually offer to solve it using force, Kuroko would say that it was alright because seeing Aomine being concerned of him was able to uplift his spirits.

Aomine's eyes narrowed at the younger bluenet, as if inspecting Kuroko's actions and gestures. Kuroko met Aomine's eyes, trying to convey his problems and feelings with just a stare. Kuroko was confident, really confident, that Aomine would notice because the two can understand each other without speaking to each other. Kuroko believed in Aomine. He trusted in Aomine. He knew Aomine would reciprocate what he had given him – his sacrifices.

But, Aomine just shrugged. "Alright then." He said. Then, he refocused his attention to Midorima, as if nothing had happened.

Kuroko was shocked. But, he didn't express it. He couldn't.

Did Aomine just shrug him off?

Akashi coughed, catching everyone's attention. "May I have your attention?" he stated, making everyone quiet. The red-haired didn't need to say please because he knew everyone would listen when he said so. "This hasn't been announced by Hotaru and Satsuki to the basketball club because of the changes the Junior Basketball Association demanded, but if everything is settled, then we will announce it to the other members. But, I'll have to tell you in advance since this concerns all of us." He looked at the phantom player, his heterochromatic eyes glinting. Kuroko knew what it meant.

"The Junior Basketball Association has initiated a program in which the chosen schools will exchange students, who are part of their school's main basketball team. However, the Junior Basketball Association had given us different circumstances since we have won three consecutive championships in the InterHigh and Winter Cup. One of the Generation of Miracles must be exchanged to the other schools."

"What?!" everyone shouted, except for Akashi and Kuroko who already knew of the situation.

"That's very unfair." Midorima stated, shifting his glasses. "The Teiko Basketball team would have to receive a more inferior player and learn our ways? That's highly unfeasible."

"Yes, it is. Sanada-kantoku haggled with the Association. Instead of persuasing the Association to accept the first-string players as compensation, the Association insisted for the top 15 schools of last year's Winter Cup to exchange their aces." Akashi continued. Aomine widened his eyes in shock, but didn't say a word. "However, Sanada-kantoku and I talked to the Association once again. They dismissed the idea of exchanging the aces of the top 15 schools, but they still require us to give away one of the members of the Generation of Miracles. If we won't comply, then we might not be able to participate in the Winter Cup. As we all know, none of us can afford to be defeated, most especially if it was because of disqualification. However, Each and every one of us can't comply with this program, but one of us can."

Akashi smiled as he looked at the younger bluenet with gentle, loving and a prideful gaze. Instead of feeling so loved by that beautiful gaze of those heterochromatic eyes, he can't help but feel lonely. Lonely that Akashi looked at him like that because he was willing to go, to leave. He thought Akashi would be sad if Kuroko left? Would he?

"Tetsuya is willing to be our replacement in this program. He will be exchanged to a school that the Association has chosen. Sadly, another player would have to replace our phantom sixth man. We could only hope that that player wouldn't bring our team down." Akashi continued. "I have to thank Tetsuya for his sacrifice. Without him, we may have to be separated."

But, aren't we going to be separated anyway, if I leave? Kuroko thought as he let out a small smile. Am I not part of your team, your family?

"Wait a minute Akashi," Midorima interjected. "Are you willing to let Kuroko go to some school? What if it was located in another region? Then, he would have to rent a dorm and live without us."

"Sacrifices need to be made." Akashi replied. "And besides, Tetsuya is alright with this."

Midorima narrowed his eyes. Seeing that there was no arguing with Akashi, he turned to Aomine. "Are you alright with this?"

Aomine took a piece of the tiramisu onto his plate. "If Tetsu's okay with it, then I'm also okay with it. Tetsu can live on his own y'know; he's very independent. Besides, I can play basketball without him. I've defeated several opponents without his help." He narrated. "Although, I won't like it if Tetsu's new school would be some place far."

Kuroko clenched his fists. Instead of defending Kuroko's stay here, Aomine was alright with it. He was alright with Kuroko leaving; he was okay with his brother living in a dorm and studying in a different school. I don't want to leave, Kuroko thought. I want to stay; I'm just doing this all for you.

Midorima glared at the tanned teen, but just sighed. He then turned to Kise and Murasakibara. "Are you okay with this?"

Kise looked at Midorima, then at the younger bluenet. Kuroko could still see the contempt in Kise's amber eyes, making the former look away. He didn't need to see those eyes to know what Kise would say. "I don't want Kurokocchi to leave," Kise replied. "But, I don't want someone to leave the team either."

Kuroko felt a little relieved that Kise still felt that way, that he still cares for the bluenet, but that may never be if he didn't fix his relationship as soon as possible. I'm so sorry, Kise-kun. Kuroko thought, trying to gather the courage to apologize to the blonde, to thank that Kise was concerned.

"Kuro-chin would be just fine. He might even have new friends besides us." Murasakibara stated. "Kuro-chin is always with us, and never with others. This would be a good chance for him to socialize with others. Kuro-chin should stop relying to us that much."

Kuroko bit his lip, surprised on what Murasakibara had just said. Murasakibara had just consoled him, comforted him, and now, he was saying such things to bring Kuroko's self esteem down. Kuroko knew he had no friends besides his brothers, Momoi and Hotaru. He had cut off ties from others just for the needs and wants of his family. He didn't say he was blaming his brothers for his choice, but he wished that they appreciated Kuroko's sacrifices. Every day, every time, Kuroko was chasing them, sacrificing things important to him to chase them. He knew that there wasn't a prize to this chase. He knew that nothing good would come for this chase. But, he loves his brothers, he loves them so much he still continued his chase for them; he sacrificed almost everything for them. But, they were saying things that made Kuroko think that maybe they weren't worth it anymore.

They didn't know. Kuroko convinced himself. They didn't know, if they did, they wouldn't say such things. So, throughout the evening, Kuroko remained his usual self, trying to act that nothing had happened bad to him, that he hadn't heard hurtful words, that he hadn't seen hurtful things.

Kuroko's chase for his brothers will never end because they keep going to farther and farther away.

The rational part of Kuroko's mind sighed. There was no rational approach to convince this irrational mind that he needed to give up…

…Before his legs give away.

He really needs something to jolt him back to reality.

Eternal Empress: Oh my glob, it's done! XD 45 pages and 20, 000 + words. Good luck reading it in one seating. XD Anyway, since I'm going to college now, my updates would be irregular (as always) but not as irregular as before. I won't be able to update at the last week of the month, since that's exam week. Also, my university follows the trimester curriculum, so it's less vacation for me, and less time to write. Not to worry, because I'm always free on Friday, Saturday and Sunday since I have no classes on Friday :D Hallelujah!

So, for the mean time, I'm going to rest. And work on a new story for KnB. :)

[1]: This is a compliment or term for endearment from Akashi.
[2]: In the school records or in formal occasions, the surname 'Akashi' is used. However, in calling them or for informal purposes, they're known for their original surnames (Aomine, Kise, etc.)
[3]: Murasakibara is saying that it was sweet because it came from his mouth, and we all know Murasakibara loves eating sweets :3