It started small. Only one person actually knew what Kuroko was doing, at the beginning, and that person was Kuroko himself. And yes, he did announce his intentions of defeating the Generation of Miracles with Kagami, and never made a secret of that. No, his secret was why he was doing it.
Mochida, former captain of Meiko, final victim of the Generation of Miracles, figured it out first.
He'd given up basketball after what the Generation of Miracles did to his team. At the time he thought he never even wanted to hear the word again. Everything about basketball was painful and humiliating, and a painful reminder that despite how hard his whole team had tried, and how much effort they put into it, everything they did was disgracefully futile.
Then Ogiwara's friend paid a visit.
Mochida didn't know at first why he even bothered to talk to Kuroko. He was a member of the hated Generation of Miracles. He should have been considered an enemy. But standing there with that sad look in his eyes, it was hard to see him as anything more than a lost child.
Helping him find his way was one thing Mochida could be proud about. By doing so, he proved to himself that he wasn't as broken as he'd thought. And he unknowingly blew life back into the embers of a dying flame that would go on to blaze more brightly than anyone could have foreseen.
Mochida didn't realize what Kuroko was up to until Seirin's win over Shutoku. He hadn't intended to watch the match, but was in a restaurant with some friends and happened to glance at the TV. The moment his eyes fell on Kuroko squaring off against Midorima Shintaro, Mochida knew it was a lost cause, and that there was no way he was taking his eyes off the screen until the game was over.
And what a game it was. Nonstop action and so many heart stopping moments, magic passes and a newcomer fresh out of middle school but able to dunk like a college player. And of course Kuroko, wearing the beat up old sweatband that used to belong to Ogiwara, that Mochida gave to him.
Mochida couldn't describe how it felt, seeing Kuroko's new team win. Or more accurately, seeing Kuroko win. Against Midorima. The Generation of Miracles sharpshooter. It made him feel warm in a way he hadn't felt in a very long time. The buzz that it sent running through his nerves was just how he felt when his own team won, back when he played.
"You like basketball, Mochida-kun?" asked his new friend Tanaka, who stayed at the restaurant with him until the games end.
"Yes." And at that moment it was true again. Mochida realized that he did like basketball. Somehow he felt like playing again, for the first time in a long time.
"So do I," confessed Tanaka. "I played on my middle school team, but . . ."
There was a look in Tanaka's eyes that Mochida was very familiar with. He'd seen it on the faces of all his teammates, and every time he looked into the mirror.
"You played against the Generation of Miracles," he guessed.
Tanaka was shocked. "How did you know?"
Mochida smiled bitterly. "They crushed my team too. We were their opponents in the last championship."
"Eh?" Tanaka stared at him. "Oi, I saw that game! That was your team?"
"It was. I was the captain."
Pity. That's the look Tanaka gave him. "What they did to you was just plain wrong. Those guys are monsters. I'm glad we got to watch the great Generation of Miracles sharpshooter get knocked off his high horse by a newbie team. Wanna know something else that's rich?"
"This same team beat Kaijou in a practice match. That's where another Generation of Miracles member went."
"What?" asked Mochida in shock. "Really?"
"Really. I saw the tape. My cousin's the manager for her high school and went there to do some spying. She sent me a copy, thinking it would cheer me up."
Mochida grabbed Tanaka's arm to get him to stop walking. "Show me."
It was after watching that tape that Mochida knew for sure. Kuroko was wearing Ogiwara's sweatband in the match against Kaijou too. That was all the proof he had, and it was hardly concrete evidence of Kuroko taking up a self appointed mission to defeat the entire Generation of Miracles, but Mochida needed to believe it was true. So he told Tanaka all about Kuroko, and how he was the one member of the Generation of Miracles who never trampled on his opponents' love of basketball.
Tanaka was a romantic at heart. He loved that story, and got on board with Mochida's enthusiasm as well. "You know what his next stop is, right? It's Touo! The next Generation of Miracles member he'll be toppling is Aomine Daiki of Touo at Interhigh. We've got to watch that match! Let's go there and watch it in person!"
Their disappointment at the match's outcome was too great for words. Mochida might have given up then and gone back to hating basketball, if not for some words from an unexpected new friend.
"You guys look like someone ran over your dog," said a raven haired, steely eyed boy wearing the jacket of Shutoku. "Cheer up. Seirin may have been beaten, but they're not broken."
The smile he gave them was a bit unsettling, like he knew more than he should have.
"He's not broken either, by the way."
"Who's not?" Tanaka asked.
"Kuroko, of course. He's the one you came all this way to see, ne?"
Mochida and Tanaka looked at each other then back at the stranger. "Yes, but how did you know?"
"Eh? Well, I guess you could say, I'm cheering for him deep down too," said the raven. "Not that I'm saying at all that I didn't try to beat him as hard as I could when I was playing against him. I guess what I'm saying is he's only my enemy when we're both on the same court. Other than that, I'm on his side. Or do you think you're the only ones who've got a grudge against the Generation of Miracles?"
Mochida and Tanaka stared at him in surprise.
"The name's Takao, by the way. And yeah, they crushed my team in middle school. They didn't give us any regard at all. They toyed with us like they were cats and we were the mice, and didn't take us seriously at all," said Takao. "But you know how that is. Captain Mochida of Meiko and Power Forward Tanaka of Iwatobi. Don't look at me like that, I'm not stalking you. I just happen to remember your faces. I've got good eyes, see."
"That's pretty amazing for you to remember people you've never even talked to –"
"What are you talking about? I did so talk to you! We told each other 'good game!' Dude, I'm hurt." But Takao was grinning good naturedly, so they knew he wasn't serious. "Anyway, I gotsta to catch up with my sempai or they'll leave me behind again. I just wanted you guys to wipe those depressing looks off your faces. If Kuroko was going to give up, I think he would have done it after the middle school championship. He'll be back for Winter Cup, so make sure you cheer him on then too. Oh hay! If you come to Tokyo again to cheer him on, call me, and I'll join you, if I'm not busy beating him."
And so they traded numbers with a kindred spirit.
From there things only escalated. People talked. Specifically Mochida and Tanaka talked. Mostly to their old teams, and to a few other friends they made at their high school who'd tasted bitter defeat at the Generation of Miracles' hands. The story of Kuroko, the Sixth Phantom Member of the Generation of Miracles, who rejected his comrades' hurtful ways, and wore the sweatband of his defeated friend to avenge all the teams who'd been carelessly crushed by the Generation of Miracles began to spread, from friend to friend, teammate to teammate, and beyond. Before Mochida knew it, he seemed to have turned Kuroko into something of a folk hero.
Takao's prediction turned out to be right. Seirin came back for Winter Cup, after managing two wins and a tie in their qualifying rounds. The number of fans they had at that point had more than quadrupled since they were knocked out of Interhigh. No one knew it at that point, not even Mochida, but the number of people who knew Kuroko's story by then numbered over six hundred.
When it became clear that Winter Cup was going to be an all out war between members of the Generation of Miracles, excitement only got higher. That was when Tanaka made the website.
Mochida was against it when he first found out. Kuroko's story might not be personal anymore, with the number of people who'd been told it, but it still felt odd to him to have it put out there publicly, especially without his permission.
"I don't think he'll mind, if he ever finds out about it," Tanaka said when Mochida voiced his apprehensions.
"But we've just posted the story about what he might think is the biggest mistake of his life online for all of Japan to read."
"I posted it, and I'll take responsibility if he wants it taken down. But I think it's important the people he's avenging know that he's fighting for them," said Tanaka. "Besides . . . I don't think he just wants to avenge us. I think that if he had the choice between avenging us and healing us, he'd pick healing us, don't you? Well look."
Mochida looked at where Tanaka was pointing, to the comments people had posted on the site.
BBALLPHOENIX: I never knew there was someone like that on my side. I'd given basketball up after the GoM humiliated my team, but now for some reason I just want to play again!
SEIRINFAN: Reading that story made me tear up a little. I don't have words to tell you what it means to me, but I'm cheering for you Kuroko! Thank you for fighting for me!
CHIBIFORWARD: Thank you so much for sharing this story. My team got crushed by the GoM too, and I quit basketball, even though I used to love it more than anything. But after reading this, some of my old teammates and I organized an impromptu streetball game and now we remember how much we love it. Please win, Kuroko! We'll be there to cheer you on!
There were dozens of comments like that. Reading them made Mochida's eyes water with emotion.
"I think you're right," he finally said, and his voice was hoarse. "But maybe . . . the chibi-fied icons of the Generation of Miracles members he's beaten . . . putting those up there with their heads cut off might be a little much."
One by one, the Miracles were toppled, mostly by Kuroko's team. Aomine, the ace, fell first, followed by Murasakibara, the unstoppable ogre who'd taken delight in breaking his opponents' spirits. Midorima, who had been defeated by Kuroko in Interhigh was stopped this time by his former captain. Then Kise, who'd already been beaten once by Kuroko fell too, after making a valiant showing. And then only one remained. Akashi, the Generation of Miracles' former captain. He would clash with Kuroko in the finals.
Mochida was stunned at the number of familiar faces he saw entering the stadium. Honestly, he didn't know most of their names, but he remembered seeing them in middle school. It helped that they were wearing their old team's jackets, if they could still fit into them. Someone on the website had given a call to arms, encouraging everyone whose team had been crushed by the Generation of Miracles to wear their old school colors and go to the final match with their old teammates. "Let's let Kuroko-san see clearly how many people he's fighting for! And let's show the evil ex-captain that even though his team crushed ours down, Kuroko-san gave us the strength to get back up!" was what the post said.
"I think we're confusing people," one of Mochida's old teammates named Ryuzaki said, "with all of us coming here in our old middle school team jackets. They're wondering where all these teams have come from, and why all our jackets are so tight. By the way, you haven't heard from him, have you?"
"You mean . . ."
"No," Mochida said regretfully. "I had no way of getting in contact with him."
He and Tanaka went their separate ways for the match. Tanaka's old team was sitting further up in the stands, but Mochida had managed to secure some seats nearer the court for Meiko's team. He wasn't surprised that all but one of his old teammates from last year had turned up. Even the ones who were still attending middle school, and the ones who'd been in the second and third strings. All of them were there . . . except Ogiwara. But that couldn't be helped.
"It feels good," Ryuzaki said, "being with everyone again. But maaaaan. I really wish it was us down there playing. I really want to play again now! When I get back home, I'm joining the basketball club!"
Then the match began and everyone's mood. With three Uncrowned Kings, a wildcard, and the captain of the Generation of Miracles, Rakuzan seemed unstoppable. It just seemed so hopeless for Seirin. But Seirin didn't give up. And neither did their fans. Not this time.
Not ever again, Mochida vowed to himself and he screamed at the top of his lungs. "GO KUROKOOOOOOOOOOO! GO SEIRIN! FIGHT!"
And Seirin fought. They threw out everything they had, and played until they were drenched to the bone in sweat. And little by little, they clawed their way toward Rakuzan and closed the point gap.
Every time they fell, they got back up. And their spirits never once wavered. It was the kind of match that was worthy of being turned into a Disney movie, the kind of game that would be talked about for decades to come. But no one could believe what it all came down to in the end, even though it somehow seemed so fitting.
In the last few seconds of the last quarter, right when Rakuzan's lead had been cut down to only one point, Kuroko managed to get the ball. And he managed to break away. He drove toward the basket and quickly lined up for a shot. Then he was struck from behind and sent flying as the referee blew the whistle.
"Foul! Seirin's ball! Two free throws for Number 11."
There were two seconds left on the clock.
"Did I make? I made it! It's not over yet!" a familiar voice huffed right beside Mochida. 'Tell me you guys saved me a seat!"
"Shige?" a dozen voices chorused in disbelief.
Ogiwara Shigehiro gave them a grin even though he was bent over, with his hands on his knees, panting. "Hey guys. It's been awhile."
"Too long," Mochida agreed. "But how are you here?"
"Huh? Well, there's this website telling all about . . . everything," Ogiwara continued huffing as he spoke. "I only just found out about it this morning, but I knew I had to come. Thanks, by the way, Captain."
"You know what," Ogiwara said, slumping into the seat next to Mochida's. "He's wearing it right now. It suits him."
Mochida clapped his old friend on the back. "It's good to see you again, Shige. Even if you do have crumbs on your face."
By that time Kuroko had stepped up to the free throw line and all eyes turned back to him despite the surprise of the reunion.
"What's happening? Ah! The score. And Kuroko . . ." Ogiwara needed a few moments to catch up.
"He's got two free throws. And there's two seconds left in the game. If he can get them both in, Seirin wins."
Ogiwara looked pale. "But Kuroko . . . . he can't shoot."
"He couldn't shoot," said Ryuzaki. "But now he can. You've missed a few things, Shige."
"Eh? Well, that's great."
Except Kuroko didn't look great. They were close enough to see that. Kuroko was drenched in sweat. His clothes were all stuck to his body making him look smaller and skinnier than usual, and he was shaking slightly, either from shivers or exhaustion. His skin was unnaturally pale, though his cheeks were flushed. The small boy had put every ounce of strength he had into this final match. And now, in the last two seconds, it was clear that he had almost nothing left.
"Well, even if he misses both, there's just enough time for a rebound," said Ogiwara. "And if he just gets one in, Seirin still has a chance. There will be overtime."
"Seirin's at their limit. If it goes into overtime . . ."
"Seirin doesn't know how to give up. If it goes into overtime, it's still anyone's game."
Kuroko lined up his first shot. The audience went uncharacteristically silent. Everyone watched with bated breath.
"MISS!" shouted a Rakuzan fan, right as Kuroko released the ball.
Mochida couldn't tell if the ill-timed shout had affected Kuroko's form, or if the small boy was just so exhausted that it hadn't mattered either way, but the ball fell short of the hoop.
A sense of doom started to settle over them all. Seirin's chance of ending it with a quick win had just slipped away. The best they could hope for now was overtime. Or maybe not even that.
Kuroko was visibly trembling, from head to foot as he caught the ball that was thrown back to him for his second free throw, and fumbled it. The passing expert actually fumbled the ball.
"He's got nothing," said a nearby Rakuzan fan. "This match is over."
"Time for Seirin to throw in the towel," one of his friends agreed.
Mochida burned with anger and started trying to locate those voices so he could tell them to shut up, when Ogiwara suddenly jumped up onto his seat.
The auditorium had gone silent again in preparation for Kuroko's final free throw. Ogiwara's voice had absolutely no competition. There wasn't a person in the whole amphitheater who didn't hear him. And Kuroko certainly heard him. He almost dropped the ball and actually stumbled, trying to find his old friend's voice.
"KUROKO! YOU CAN DO IT! I KNOW YOU CAN DO IT! I CAN SEE IT IN YOUR EYES! THEY'RE BURNING WITH LIGHT!"
"Give it up!" someone rebuted, but their voice was drowned out by another shout.
"I BELIEVE IN YOU! KUROKOCCHI!"
Now someone else was on their feet too. Mochida's eyes caught a flash of gold and blue and realized that the shout had come from where Kaijou was sitting. But could it really be Kise, of the Generation of Miracles? He couldn't tell, because suddenly all of Kaijou was standing as well, and it was impossible to pick out which one of them had shouted.
"DO IT, TETSU!"
"DON'T GIVE UP, TETSU-KUN!"
"YOU CAN DO IT!"
More and more people were standing. Mochida was one of them, and all his former teammates from Meiko as well. Kaijou was all on their feet, which was a surprise. No less since Shutoku, Yosen, and Touo all were too. And other high schools. Mochida recognized the colors of Seiho, Josei, and many others. And needless to say that by now everyone wearing their old middle school colors was on their feet.
"KUROKO! KUROKO! KUROKO!"
The pale boy spun in a full circle, looking bewildered. The boy who'd lived his whole life overlooked and in the shadows, was now being cheered by an audience of thousands. Mochida could understand how it must be overwhelming. But he could also see the effect it was having on the boy. It was like he was drinking in strength from the crowd's cheers. His trembling had stopped. He gave a final look in Ogiwara's direction as he lined up his shot. The cheers for him didn't stop, and didn't die down at all. Anyone who might have wanted to try to shout a discouragement at him didn't have a snowball's chance in hell. Kuroko took his final free throw to the sound of thousands of people cheering his name.
No one could hear the swish of the net as the ball sunk into the basket. The screams of approval were far too earsplitting.
Rakuzan made a desperate last ditch effort play, hoping to get one more basket and break the tie, but Seirin knew better than to relax even for the game's final two seconds. They shut down Rakuzan's attempt. Then the buzzer sounded.
The crowd was screaming, still amped up by Kuroko's tying point. The teams began making their way back to their benches, for a short break before overtime. But Kuroko didn't start back immediately. He turned toward Ogiwara, who had gotten down off his seat, but was still standing, along with most of the Seirin's other fans.
For a moment, it seemed to Mochida like the two childhood friends were the only ones in the entire auditorium. That's certainly what it must have seemed like to them. Their eyes met and filled with tears as they stared at each other. It was only for a second, but it seemed so much longer.
Then Kuroko raised his fist in the air. The gesture was probably meant for Ogiwara alone, but it brought the entire crowd back to their feet.
Mochida slung an arm around Ogiwara's shoulders, just as, on the court, Seirin's Number 10 did the same thing to Kuroko and began leading him toward the bench. "Your childhood friend's amazing, Shige."
"Congratulations, Captain. You win for understatement of the year."
Seirin won in an intense, nerve grating overtime session. Just as Mochida knew they would. After all that, how could they not? The cheers for them were so loud that no one could even hear the announcements being made to announce their win. But no one cared about that.
Down on the court, half the players on both teams seemed to have collapsed where they stood, unable to stay on their feet even a second longer. Even the powerhouses, like Seirin's Number 10 were exhausted. He was bent over panting, his hands on his knees. Rakuzan's Uncrowned Generals weren't any better. Even Rakuzan's captain. Mochida's eyes widened as he realized that Akashi, cruel captain of the Generation of Miracles, was now . . . on his knees . . . sobbing.
His eyes were then drawn to a flash of pale blue, on Akashi's level. Kuroko no longer had the strength to stand, it seemed. He had collapsed several meters away from Akashi. And now he was crawling determinedly toward his former captain . . . who might have at one time, been his friend.
"Oh, Kuroko," Ogiwara said beside Mochida. "You really are unbelievably amazing."
They watched as Kuroko finally reached Akashi, and pulled his former friend into his arms. Akashi tensed and jerked in surprise and stared at Kuroko with two pure crimson eyes. At least that was how his eyes looked to Mochida, but maybe it was a trick of the light, because he'd been sure Akashi was heterochromic. Akashi stared at Kuroko for several seconds, shaking all the while. Then he collapsed against Kuroko, sobbing again. Wordlessly, Kuroko hugged him and rubbed his back.
Strength comes in many forms. Mochida knew that. He was also pretty sure that Kuroko Tetsuya was the embodiment of all those different forms of strength. How could he not be, when you looked at everything he had overcome, and everything he had gone through to get to this point, combined with his reasons for going this distance . . . and then to be able to show compassion to the enemy he'd been striving to bring down this whole time. If that wasn't strength, Mochida didn't know what was.
Mochida was privileged enough to be present at the two childhood friends' reunion. It didn't pan out the way he thought it would. They expected they'd have to go through a ton of red tape to get anywhere near Kuroko. The winning team was always swamped by journalists and reporters, so they expected to have to wait a long time for the reunion too.
Instead Kuroko found them. They didn't even realize it until he appeared out of nowhere right in their path.
"What the – oh! Kuroko!" Ogiwara sounded delighted. "But what are you doing here? Aren't there reporters who want to talk to you and stuff?"
"Are there?" Kuroko looked perplexed. "Then they should have said something as I was walking by."
"I don't get how they could not see you, after all that," Ogiwara said. "Are you sure you're not hiding the One Ring in your sweatbands or something?"
Kuroko glanced at Mochida then back at Ogiwara. "It's . . . actually your sweatband. One of them is."
Ogiwara grinned. "I know."
"Do you want it back?"
"You keep it. It looks good on you."
"Thank you. And . . . I . . . am so sorry. For what happened." Kuroko's eyes were glassy. "I broke our promise when I got injured. And then my team –"
Ogiwara laid a finger over Kuroko's lips, shushing him. "You have nothing to apologize for. Not after all you've done."
Kuroko's shoulders started to shake, ever so slightly. "Ogiwara-kun."
"Hey, former Meiko team," Mochida said in his Captain's voice. "We're giving these two some privacy. Let's pack it up and go to . . . uh . . ."
"On the Kuroko no Basuke website someone has proposed we all get take out and take it to the park. They're organizing an imprompt tournament of streetball mini matches," said Ryuzaki, looking at his phone. "Who wants to be on my team?"
That sent the old Meiko team into a flurry of chaos as they tried to put together a couple teams, and get in contact with old and new friends who had also been attending the game, to see if they were playing, or had teams yet. Mochida managed to herd them away from the two childhood friends as they attempted to organize their chaos, but he hung back for a quick word with them. It was his privilege as captain.
"Shige. We'd love it if you'd meet us at the park when you're done here. It's been too long, and we've all really missed you. Should we pick you up something at Maji burger and take it there for you?"
"Yes," Ogiwara said, "and put me on one of the teams you're making if you don't mind. I wanna play! I wanna play again so bad!"
Mochida laughed and clapped his shoulder. "I'll see you there soon then. And Kuroko . . . you should come too. You should see all the players you've inspired to start playing again."
Kuroko blinked. "I'm sorry, but I don't understand. What's going on?"
"Ah, right. You don't know about the website, do you?"
"I'm sorry, no. What website?"
"You'll show him, Shige?" Mochida asked.
Ogiwara gave a thumbs up. "You can count on me!"
"I'll take my leave then, but Kuroko, in case I don't see you again for awhile . . . thank you," said Mochida, and his voice cracked on the words. "Thank you so much for all you've done."
He bowed to Kuroko and hurried after his team before he got too emotional and started crying right there. He did glance back once. Then he saw Ogiwara showing Kuroko his phone, and he thought he caught a glimpse of the logo Tanaka had designed for the Kuroko no Basuke website on the phone's screen. Kuroko was staring at it with a blank expression, but his shoulders were shaking violently, and tears were streaming freely from his face as he read the posts of everyone who'd been inspired by his struggle. Mochida turned away when Ogiwara gathered Kuroko in his arms, and Kuroko started openly sobbing. But not because he was sad, Mochida knew. Rather because he was so happy.
Somehow it felt like with that, everything had come full circle. That now it was Kuroko's turn to break down in the arms of an old friend, and be reassured that they definitely were still friends and that everything was going to be okay.
Mochida smiled as he hurried after his team. Kuroko definitely deserved this happy ending.
In case anyone was wondering, it was Midorima who shouted Kuroko's name after Momoi cheered for him, and before Murasakibara.
And I wrote this because my headcanon was demanding a reason for that part of the third anime opening where Kuroko is standing in front of a crowd and raises his fist, then the crowd just erupts into cheers and comes to its feet. Since Kuroko's usually, y'know, invisible to the crowd at large, and everyone else. I wanted there to be a reason why all eyes were on him, so I wrote one into a fic.