Kuroko no Basuke belongs to Fujimaki Tadatoshi.
before, now, and after
Satsuki hadn't expected basketball to be so ingrained into her daily life when she signed up to be manager. It isn't like she hadn't known that it would be as time-consuming as it had become, but she hadn't anticipated the sheer thrill of it all, even just standing by ―observing the boys as they trained and attending to seemingly trivial matters that the team couldn't go without― even those.
It's an amplified version of what she used to feel in her younger years, when she had watched Dai-chan play ball against adults on the outdoor courts after school; he would zigzag around, doing crossovers with uncanny movements, speedily driving through the defense to do lay-up after lay-up.
The grin that appeared on his features whenever older players praised his skills spurred on Satsuki's own excitement, her own smile making her facial muscles ache. So when Dai-chan decided to join the basketball team at Teikou, where the club's prestigious history was maintained and consistent throughout all the years gone by, she'd naturally be giddy enough to tag along.
It was obvious that Dai-chan wouldn't be the only good player, but never did she have a glimmer of an idea that their first-years would defy Teikou's carefully woven traditions ― and slowly wear it to threads for students in the years to come to barely hold onto.
They start by ripping out the neatly stitched seams of basic order, leaving a small messy pile of strings in their wake. The new members proved themselves fast, enough to have them ―all five of them― elevated to the first string, enough to replace the regulars. Satsuki wonder if she'd ever find out what had gathered all this raw talent together, at a school more than capable of polishing their rough edges to give them a shine unparalleled in all of Japan's middle school basketball teams.
In games, Satsuki's eyes occasionally wanders to Nijimura and the others on the bench where at the beginning they would be charged up with energy, giving moral support like good teammates do; however, the volume of their cheering does not mute the small sighs of disappointment that Satsuki sometimes picks up when one of their seniors are off-guard, or when the captain isn't around.
Still, she can't suppress the bubbling pride rising up in her chest when Dai-chan is named the ace in this school of never losing and always winning in every single battle they've ever involved themselves in. Surpassing Nijimura, who surpassed Teikou's third-years; knocking their seniors over like a file of dominoes, one after the next, only there is no one to tip Dai-chan over.
They win the nationals without much of a bump in the road to victory, and if not for the general lack of stamina and strength in the first-years, everyone and anyone would have known that they would've dominated the game all by themselves, with no help what-so-ever from the upperclassmen. The only thing restricting them and holding them back are themselves, bodies that are still developing and growing.
"My left side lay-ups are getting better," Dai-chan grins cheekily as the two of them walk home together, his hand flopping up and down as if he is dribbling an invisible ball. "I'm getting pretty good at coming up with new tricks, too."
Satsuki dodges a flailing arm as he tries to imitate the particularly impressive lay-up he'd done in practice that day, failing a bit miserably. She smiles fondly when they reach her house and Dai-chan waves goodbye like he has always done since their walks home from the first day of kindergarten.
Soon, Dai-chan stops going home at the same time as her, gesturing her on as he stays for extra practice. It isn't an uncommon thing for players to linger, but when Satsuki pokes her head back into the first-string gymnasium to remind Dai-chan that her parents wants to invite his family over for dinner that night and that he'd better show up, she realizes he isn't there. She checks the second string gym, then the third.
With rumours of the haunted fourth gymnasium swirling around inside her head, Satsuki hesitantly heads towards the said building. As she nears, the distinct bouncing of basketballs rang clearer and clearer. The fourth gym wasn't used often, and she ponders over if whether it is simply a more ideal location to practice in isolation, and that whoever had started the whole story of a basketball playing ghost just needed to get their eyes checked.
However, as her palm rests on the door handle, she blanches at the reverberating sound, thumping in sync with her own heartbeats. Satsuki backs away from the door slowly, and decides to text Dai-chan about dinner plans instead.
She asks him about the extra hours he stays at school for on a lazy weekend afternoon, and his answer takes her by surprise.
"I met this guy," Dai-chan's eyes are positively twinkling, and Satsuki blinks as she watches him take a huge bite out of his ice cream. It bothers her a bit; ice cream is meant to be licked. "He's amazing."
Satsuki scrunches her eyebrows, swallowing a spoonful of shaved ice before asking, "what? Amazing at what?"
She doesn't think that Dai-chan had ever been as happy as this, and if it isn't something related to basketball, then she didn't know what it is. So it blows her mind when he simply says, "at being a person. He's an amazing person."
"Huh?" At this point, she is getting a bit scared. More than a bit scared.
"He's in the third string, and he's not all that good at basketball," he finishes eating the waffle cone with a look of satisfaction on his face to match a child of six receiving a birthday present. Satsuki doesn't see how those are good news, though judging by how delighted Dai-chan looks, there has to be more to it than just that. "His name is Kuroko Tetsuya. Well, actually, he really, really sucks at basketball."
Dai-chan was never very adept at communication through words, so Satsuki doesn't probe any further, but thoughts of someone so admired by Dai-chan being in the third-stringof all places does keep her awake that night. He must be someone impressive in one aspect or another.
"Where do you guys practice, anyways?" Satsuki questions the next day on the way to school. "I looked for you once and you weren't in any of the gyms."
Dai-chan yawns, tears gathering at the corner of his eyes. "You didn't check all of them, then. I was in the fourth gym with Tetsu."
Satsuki gives him a sidelong glance. "...fourth? Tetsu?"
Dai-chan stares back at her like there was nothing unusual about the intimate nickname. "Yeah."
During one particular practice, Satsuki notices Akashi's attention pique about Dai-chan's whereabouts, and it's on a day that she can practically feel disappointment rolling off of Dai-chan in waves for whatever reason that Akashi finally takes action.
After she sends him off with two Pocari's, one for him and one for Kuroko, Akashi inquires, "where is Aomine practicing?"
"Fourth gym," she reports dutifully, and with a wistful nod Akashi follows Dai-chan's path out the doors.
For the next few days, Dai-chan is nothing except thoughtful, which pricks at one of Satsuki's senses that something is off or something important is about to happen. Dai-chan is intelligent, sure, he just doesn't like using his brain much aside from basketball, which is where she comes in ― to do the job his head is supposed to do for him.
Occasionally he mentions things about Tetsu starting to find a style of play suitable for him in basketball, and weeks later says that the team might have found their sixth man, according to Akashi.
She starts hearing stories about this Tetsu ―unnoticeable and tends to pop out of nowhere― and with her curiosity, she's eager to meet Kuroko in the spring of their second year when she hears that he's been promoted straight from third-string to the first. But all her enthusiasm ebbs and is replaced with terror, which then descends into pure confusion when she is scared by the boy, about the same height as her and very weak looking. All the players scoff at him openly, and Satsuki can't think of a method in which to defend him. However, Dai-chan and Akashi welcomes him so warmly that she sweeps logic to the side as best as she can, and watches his lips curve up into a small smile, lighting up his slightly plain features. Not that there's anything wrong with his face; it's just that he lacks something, the very quality that attracts people around him like Akashi or Nijimura or even Dai-chan does.
Another student joins, also rising up in ranks with peculiar speed. Kise Ryouta, the outgoing boy possessing cheeriness that radiates from every inch of his body, although he is a bit too arrogant at times. She hears from the other managers' incessant squealing that he's a model (but then they squeal about absolutely anyone and anything). He quickly gains the attributes of an earnest puppy, pestering Dai-chan every chance he gets for one-on-one matches. His talent is eerily similar to Haizaki's, although his skills are still undeveloped as of yet, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out that something is up, especially with a troublemaker like Haizaki around and the speed in which Kise was promoted. She knows that he is expected to become strong; stronger than Haizaki at the very least.
It's during the match Kise plays with Kuroko that she finally discerns the reason why the absence of magnetizing characteristics in Kuroko is an advantage all on its own. For the first time she really looks at him and sees him glowing with life and his eyes are bright with love for basketball, and Satsuki at last understands why Dai-chan respects him so much.
That day, Kise joins her, and Dai-chan and Kuroko, on the trip to the convenience store to buy ice cream. He's found admiration for Kuroko, and keeps bugging him like he does with Dai-chan. Midorima and Murasakibara also show up, as usual, and she feels a tinge of loneliness when she watches them chat and laugh, a little out of place among the boys who're bond together by a mutual trust created on the courts. And then Kuroko offers her a popsicle stick, which at first twists her face in puzzlement, but when she reads the words engraved on the wood, she thinks that her heart drops all the way down to her stomach and then lurches up again like one of those amusement park rides.
She can't see what's coming with him, can't ever accurately guess what he's about to do next, but that's the part of his charm that makes her fall hard for him. Dai-chan is a bit disgusted by the fact at first, but eventually overlooks it when Kuroko ―who becomes Tetsu-kun― doesn't reciprocate her feelings one bit. However, she's adamant enough and it isn't a shallow crush ― besides, he likes basketball just as much as both her and Dai-chan, and that can't be a disadvantage.
She admires his graceful movements from the spot where she stands with Akashi, scribbling down notes while analyzing everyone's condition in the first-string, keeping a careful eye out for Tetsu-kun at the same time. He vanishes from her peripherals routinely, but nevertheless, she knows he's always there, though she doesn't know him like Dai-chan does, and knows she never will. They were like halves of each other, their relationship more complex than just partners in basketball, extending beyond best friends and it's something she can't really put a name to.
Time flies by, and it really begins to feel like what people call the golden days of youth. The position of captain is handed to Akashi, as if wasn't extraordinary enough until there existed second-year captains two years in a row.
Haizaki quits the club, for what reasons she can only guess, but tension drops considerably, as if everyone is thinking 'good riddance'.
Dai-chan and Tetsu-kun meld together into one being, moving in sync with one another so perfectly on the court that it earned the two a nickname: Teikou's light and shadow. Tetsu-kun receives his own title, becoming known as the team's phantom sixth man.
The joy of watching Dai-chan playing basketball transforms into the joy of watching Dai-chan playing basketball with Tetsu-kun, and Satsuki smiles at the very idea that a duo of childhood friends has just become a trio.
During one match, though, she takes heed of a Dai-chan who stumbles slightly, gaze faltering, and Satsuki hopes that it's just her eyes playing tricks on her. After school, she catches up to him, meaning to ask if there was anything wrong, only to be distracted by Tetsu-kun instead. As she clings to him, he talks, and she is reminded of her original intentions when he answers Dai-chan's question of, "do you know my habits, too?", in the discussion where he tells them how he'd been observing people lately and has come to be good at reading people's actions.
"You look away when you lie."
Tetsu-kun can fathom the inner workings of Dai-chan's mind as well as Satsuki does, and her breath hitches, because Dai-chan doesn't like to lie.
"But just because I know you're lying doesn't mean you have to tell me. If you ever feel like talking, just know that I'll be here," he adds on afterwards, and then they say goodnight as Satsuki skips their post-game ritual of eating ice cream to finish up manager tasks, watching the boys playfully shove each other as they head their way out the school gates.
As the group turns the corner of the entrance gates, Dai-chan brings Tetsu-kun into a headlock, making the latter sock him lightly in the jaw, and she feels reassured that there's another person watching out for Dai-chan and that they'll have each other one way or the other if life decides to throw obstacles at them.
The belief that nothing will go wrong wavers, but everything seems alright, until their second national championships.
Teikou's absolute doctrine is once more demonstrated in all seriousness when the coach selects the second-years for the final match, barely given brief two-to-three minute breaks, with the exception of Tetsu-kun. The same thoughts from their first national tournament flies through Satsuki's consciousness, thoughts of what everyone on the bench must feel like to have all their hard work thrown right into a ditch when compared to insane talent.
She has a nagging fear in the furthest corner of her mind that Teikou had smoothed out their jagged imperfections too much; they are just kids. Kids shouldn't be taught something so outrageous, that losing is unacceptable and deserving of punishment. As far as the coach and director and the audience are concerned, failure was never an option.
Burdens that kids never should have been responsible for carrying now rests on their shoulders as they continue to wreck Teikou basketball's very fabric of existence, unravelling every bit of the past and cutting the pieces up and dropping it somewhere to be forgotten, overwriting it with their own accomplishments.
She doesn't know what to do when the game ends and Dai-chan is standing with a terrified expression on his face, afraid of the murmuring from the crowd and from everyone watching, saying that he's a monster. And then there's something akin to betrayal in his features, his eyes flitting to Tetsu-kun who stares back with unmasked shock and that's all it takes to break him.
They no longer smile at each other or bump fists or even say hi, and when Tetsu-kun looks at Dai-chan there is only inexplicable sadness, because Dai-chan doesn't look back at him at all.
Dai-chan begins to skip practice, much like Haizaki had, but no one cares, because as long as his performance in games doesn't deter Teikou from keeping their place of achieved supremacy, it doesn't matter. It's been drilled into their heads ― why else would Haizaki have been allowed to stay in the club for so long with his inappropriate behaviour?
With Dai-chan's absence, everything that made Tetsu-kun Tetsu-kun begins to fade, much like the lightening of a shadow when the sun gets partially hidden behind clouds. He becomes more and more invisible, more and more unneeded by the team to the point when even Kise no longer looks for his pass. Satsuki wonders why it had to happen, if there's a good and valid reason for all this, and she's come to dread practices and games and seeing the club members.
Of course there's still Tetsu-kun, who must be feeling the something similar, but she knows she's not getting the worst of it, not even half. He is Dai-chan's shadow, and Dai-chan was always his light, and Satsuki wants to believe that whatever had broken their bond can still be mended, if not by Dai-chan then by him. She finds her only solace in him ― only to be left by alone when he inputs his resignation letter right before their last national tournament.
Satsuki finds herself running after him when he exits the director's office, dropping the basket full of laundry she's supposed to be folding. He's clad in school uniform and she wonders briefly if she'd ever see him in his shorts and t-shirt again, whizzing about around the gym in a scrimmage and displaying the skill that is uniquely his.
"H-hey!" The words stick to her throat, an arm reaching out as if to touch him as he steps out of the building into the afternoon sunlight. "Tetsu-kun, what's―"
Her feet stops their shuffling when he turns, his blank features nothing too out of place, but it's his eyes that gets to her ― the precious blue falling flat, like his soul had been sucked out to leave an empty shell of its true brilliance.
"My apologies, Momoi-san," he rotates so that he faces her fully, and bends at a ninety degree bow. Satsuki watches, petrified of being abandoned, as he pivots back around without any more explanations, his strides carrying him further and further away from her until her arms go limp, until his back is just a part of the landscape, fading into the background, until she can't reach him anymore.
She doesn't know what he'd apologized for, because she should be the one who's sorry; he isn't the one who stood by uselessly while his best friend descended into an abyss of loneliness during the climb to the very top, where the kings stood and no one below can reach him, not unless they decide to scale up to his level themselves.
She should be saying sorry to him.
And to Dai-chan, who is so far ahead that it seems that it had been a lifetime ago when they ran together beside the other.
But he isn't the sort to give up so easily, especially when it involves Dai-chan. He's her ―their― rock, the one she can lean against and isn't afraid of breaking, the rock that neither water or wind can erode no matter how many thousands of years passes.
She still sees him around at school, but only for fleeting seconds before he blends back into the crowd again, leaving her eyes aching as they keep trying to spot and separate his blue locks from the sea of black and brown.
Dai-chan makes it a routine to miss practice, and she falls into the chore of finding him, trying to irritate him enough to get him to go train with everyone else, and then getting shooed away as if she is a nuisance, which she supposes she is.
With Tetsu-kun's going, the will of the other regulars also vanishes. It's like his leaving is a cue for everything to fall apart; she knows, though, how everything had already begun to shatter to pieces long before, tiny fissures and cracks only those carefully watching can detect.
Her attention had strayed, and this is what she pays for it. (But then, all this time, where was the coach, the director?)
She wants to do something to keep the remaining four from tearing larger gaps from the stories they've woven, everything that they'd been sweating and tasting blood in the back of their throats for in the last few years, mangling all that they had shared and all their memories and she can't do anything because she is scared of failing and that instead of fixing things, she would be making it worse.
On the last day of middle school, after the graduation ceremony, Satsuki wanders around the hallways, peeking into certain classrooms but to no avail of finding Tetsu-kun. He has to be around somewhere, she knows, and it is pure instinct that leads her to the fourth gymnasium building.
At first, she doesn't see him, sitting quietly on the floor and leaning his back against the wall with an unfocused stare aimed at the ceiling. He shows no sign of stirring even when the door thuds loudly to a close behind her as she hesitantly moves to his side with heaviness in each step.
Tetsu-kun is the type of person who knows to always look ahead, but Satsuki gets the feeling that recently he, much like the other starters, no longer sees the place he's heading and doesn't know which direction he's walking.
"Tetsu-kun?" Satsuki whispers when her shadow falls over his form and sees that his eyes had closed. At the sound of her voice, it prompts him open one of his blue eyes to look up at her.
"Momoi-san," he acknowledges, the flat tone as good as any bullet through the guts as his other lid flutters open to reveal matching cerulean. She swallows the lump in her throat, thorns of guilt scratching its linings as it travels down to the cavity of her chest, only to keep tormenting her with every throb of her heart. Searching the depth of his eyes, he is just as indecipherable and mysterious as always. The azure glimmer of it hides all his emotions, whatever it may be.
She sinks down next to him, and listens to his soft breathing and her cheeks heat up like it always does when she's close to him. She still doesn't know how to read him, although she's improving, but Dai-chan still does. Dai-chan knows Tetsu-kun the way he knows basketball, how he thinks and what he would do in every imaginable situation, and that won't ever change, and it's just so wrong that the light and shadow duo of Teikou Middle School can't even meet each others' eyes without hurt present in them.
Tetsu-kun turns his gaze towards one end of the court as he speaks, voice permeating the stiff silence. "I really hate basketball right now, Momoi-san," he pulls his knees up to his chest, resting a cheek on them. Satsuki doesn't blame him for it, though she can't help the clenching of her heart, and is this what betrayal feels like? Although there's no point in basketball if all they do is win, if there's nothing to strive for anymore, and Satsuki can't find a response.
He doesn't hate Dai-chan. He just hates basketball.
But when he continues in his unpredictable way, a hint of his old determination threading its presence into his words, Satsuki realizes once more that he's the one person that'll always be there, the same way a shadow would always be around so long as there is an object between it and a light, and she places all her hope into his hands as he says, "but don't worry, you'll see. I'll make Aomine-kun like basketball again. I swear."
Maybe Tetsu-kun's just lost sense of which way to go, but he knows where he wants to go. And that's where Momoi finds her greatest comfort.
She waits, and waits, a month, two months, three months. Dai-chan keeps playing basketball, but keeps skipping practices. A small thought in the back of Satsuki's mind speculates if it's because Dai-chan knows what Tetsu-kun would try to do the way that only he does, because all this time Dai-chan had always had faith in Tetsu-kun.
She doesn't give up; the light still exists, and the object that creates a shadow still exists ― basketball still exists.
Kaijou fails, then Shuutoku fails, and Seirin does too. When Interhigh ends, when Winter Cup comes around, she still believes in him, because he's Tetsu-kun, and if anyone is competent enough to heal the self-inflicted pain of the last year and a half in middle school, it's him.
So when he carries out his promise and Seirin overtakes Touou by just one single point, she holds her breath while she watches from the sidelines as Tetsu-kun ―leaning heavily on Kagamin for support― offers his curled fist to Dai-chan, who blinks dazedly at it for a split second. Satsuki feels her own heart skip a beat, before tranquility settles over his features and he raises his fist with a ghost of his former grin; weak, but it's still there. Their knuckles bump against each other, and tears of relief spills from Satsuki's lashes because finally, after so long.
A/N: lolol so anyways, i had this other aokuro thing majig ready ever since may but then it got too long so i started on a shorter one and ended up with this because of the teikou arc ;-; CH 216 BOOM I'M A CRYING MESS.
But anyways if something's not cannon enough in here it's either because I forgot about what happened and can't find the pages to refer to in the manga or I just didn't want to know. (i did not plan this very well so it turned out very AoKuroMomo o-o)
(my excuse is that i had my piano exam which i screwed up very badly yesterday as well as graduation so ahaha.)
thank you for reading x'D happy Teikou!AoKuro Day ^^ and thanks Sharry for reading over this (: