Warning: Possible spoilers for people who only follow the anime. Not overly important details, but I felt I should give you a heads-up, just in case.

The Touou Academy basketball team trickled slowly, player after player, into their changing room.

Their black jerseys were drenched with sweat from the effort they'd put into playing the final. Already several minutes had passed since the final signal for the match, but most of the boys had yet to settle their breaths and heart rates.

Their captain heaved a great sigh as he eased himself onto one of the benches. Wakamatsu Kousuke had never really thought much of himself as a person suited for leadership. It suited him ill, in his humble opinion.

Still, all things considered, to have led this team to the final of the Winter Cup—something that even Imayoshi-san hadn't managed to do last year—was a big enough stroke for the ego and considerable pat on the back for a job well done.

Their loss in the final match just a couple of minutes ago notwithstanding.

Touou Academy wasn't generally a place where people were satisfied with being second place. And, as such, he took it upon himself to impart some of his "wisdom" he had gathered over the years, in order to cheer them on for their next game as a team.

Touou Academy also wasn't generally a place where the word "team play" had much value—or meaning, for that matter. Considering how the team was brought to existence, that wasn't much of a surprise. Rallying a great number of aces from all over the country—each with his own huge ego and style of play which generally worked in his favour—would do that to any team.

Still, the last step Touou needed to make in order to seize the first place next year, Wakamatsu believed, was to somehow make this disorganized bunch of egomaniacs work together, for the sake of the common goal—and not as disharmonized as they had been the past couple of years.

"Another matter that needs to be made clear now is the appointing of the next captain for the team," Wakamatsu began, making some first-years start whispering amongst themselves.

He gave them a moment to figure out why it was that this had to happen now—especially considering that there was still another trimester left to go before the third-years would graduate. He didn't begrudge them their obliviousness, for he remembered being equally clueless—and much more vociferous about it—when he'd been a first-year himself.

Once he estimated that clarity should've settled over the team, Wakamatsu cleared his throat meaningfully before continuing with his previous thought.

"Considering which people are going to continue the club in next year, I would estimate that the wisest choice in appointing as captain would be…" he paused as he let his eyes scan the faces of all the first- and second-years which (mostly) returned his gaze in wide-eyed wonder and with bated breaths. "Making Momoi the captain—that would definitely be the wisest and safest choice."

The murmurs and noises of surprise that broke out in the Touou locker room after his claim were almost an uproarious thing in and of themselves, without being overly high volume-wise.

"Can he do that?" one of the first-years queried another.

"Is that even allowed?" a second-year cocked a curious eyebrow.

"Fair enough as it is, not sure how well that would work out in practice…" a more daring second-year allowed himself a glance in the general direction of the girl in question.

The manager, in turn, had a look of delighted surprise and a somewhat crooked smile on her pretty face.

"You flatter me so, Wakamatsu-senpai!" she chirped merrily, putting a dainty hand to her cheek. "Still, I'm afraid it's a title I can't really carry, considering I am neither a boy, nor someone who can set foot on the actual court."

At her words, Wakamatsu nodded sagely, much to the surprise of his younger teammates.

"Yes, I am well aware of that."

"He is?!" one of the first-years exclaimed a bit too loudly.

"Why bother saying it, then?" another couldn't understand.

Wakamatsu gave them a somewhat sinister smile before continuing. His expression made several of the fainter of heart boys eye him suspiciously.

"That's why, since I can't make Momoi my successor, I'll have to pass the title to the only person who can be her proxy on the field," and as he turned his head in direction of the man in question—who was completely oblivious as he kept drinking large gulps of water to quench his thirst brought on by the vigorous game he'd played—Wakamatsu smiled in a very sadistic way. "So I'm proclaiming Aomine Daiki as the next captain of Touou Academy's basketball club."

He didn't even get to finish the sentence before the silence in the room was rent by the sounds of a certain navy-haired teen's coughing and wheezing as he had choked on his water.

It took him a good minute to get himself together—with some help from Sakurai, his classmate and teammate whom he loved to push around—before he could finally breathe normally again.

"Shit, I thought I'd die," he muttered ill-temperedly before turning his intense gaze to his (now former) captain. "The hell are you trying to pull, Wakamatsu-san? Are you trying to kill me or something? Even for a bad joke, this one is way too extreme," he grumbled irately as he stood up from his seat on the bench.

"Sorry—I didn't expect such strong a reaction from you. But I guess the joke's on you, since I'm pretty serious about what I'm saying here."

Daiki's eye twitched spastically at this last claim.

The murmurs among the other players started circulating almost immediately. Their coach watched with that typical enigmatic smirk on his face the events that were transpiring in the Touou changing room.

Aomine Daiki's teammates knew very well the kind of player he was. The ones that had been in the team since last year even more so—they had seen him at his most selfish, at his most arrogant. They had seen him when all there was to be seen was darkness and the twistedness that was becoming his personality.

Admittedly, Daiki had changed significantly over the past year, but essentially his basketball hadn't undergone much change. He was still a one-man-army on the court, and he was becoming better than ever in all of his areas of expertise. He was Touou's ace, and without a doubt, in a team of winners and scorers, he was still the best of the best.

What he wasn't, though, was a team-player in any sense of the word, and everything he had shown to the guys in the room around him made them severely doubt Wakamatsu's sanity for supposedly saying with a straight face that he was planning to pass the captaincy title to Aomine of all people.

Still, none of his classmates and underclassmen dared to say anything to the guy in question—for fear of their well-being, most of all.

"Wakamatsu-senpai, did you fall and hit your head during the match or something?" Satsuki said with a deep sigh, shaking her head in dejection. "You can't be seriously saying you want to make that irresponsible, lazy, egomaniacal pervert a captain!"

With every subsequent epithet out of her mouth, the glower said egomaniac was sending her way only intensified until people started feeling grateful that looks couldn't kill. It would've been a total waste to have such a beautiful and wonderful girl like their manager suffer an end like that.

The former captain nodded thoughtfully and crossed his arms over his chest.

"I can see where all of you guys' concerns come from. After all, out of all of us here, I am the one who dislikes Aomine the most." Daiki's eyes widened slightly at this unusually direct confession. The first- and second-years' reactions were a lot more comical, compared to his reserved one. "This is why I think you people should trust my judgement on this one: if even I say that there is no one better suited for the task, then there's a good chance that's true."

There was another wave of murmurs among the teammates, most of their faces betraying the fact they were not entirely convinced, even after all that. Wakamatsu exhaled slowly through his nose. He had known this wouldn't be a walk in the park, but they were making it a lot more difficult than it needed to be.

Not that he could blame them. It had taken him a very long and very thorough evaluation of the situation before he arrived at his decision. Expecting people to understand at once was unreasonable at best.

"Be that as it may, senpai," Momoi began sassily, "I still think your reasoning is faulty. Dai-chan is definitely this team's ace, and the best scorer. That doesn't make him suitable for leading the team—not that he even knows how to begin with."

Her words seemed to make even Aomine himself avert his eyes to the lockers, as the realization that she was completely right sank into his mind.

Looking at him now, Wakamatsu knew that his decision had been correct.

A slow smile spread on his face.

"Maybe he doesn't now. But I didn't either, and I think we did pretty well this year." He gave the team a chance to think a little on that before continuing. "I think that there are types of people who are suitable for leadership, and types of people who are not. Then there are those people who would never really follow anyone else, unless you put them in position of making others follow them."

His words seemed to confuse further instead of clarify his convoluted thought-process to his teammates. So he decided to simplify.

"I don't think there is any single one of you underclassmen that can make a Touou in which Aomine can play the role he should. The only chance of him becoming fully a part of this team is by putting him in charge of it."

Satsuki sighed theatrically loudly, shaking her head in disapproval.

"That doesn't mean that he'll care to even try, Wakamatsu-senpai. You can't ask the team to seriously believe that, can you?"

"I do believe it, though," Wakamatsu rectified, and a slow smirk spread on his face before he continued, "and so do you, Momoi, so please drop the act."

At this, the first- and second-years looked on in surprise at their manager, who grinned sheepishly and poked her tongue out at her former captain.

"Oh, you found out already—what a shame! I was really looking forward to yanking the guys' chain a little more." Cold sweat started rolling down the boys' necks, and they realized—some of them for the first time—the fearsomeness of their manager. "Still, I have to say I'm surprised that you would ever arrive at this decision on your own, senpai," she surmised honestly for the first time since the conversation had begun.

"For me it's harder to believe that someone like you would have such unwavering trust in a guy like him, Momoi," Wakamatsu said with a shrug. He then took a few steps until he was standing in front of the obviously conflicted Aomine Daiki. "So that's that. You're the next captain of Touou, Aomine." He made a pause, before he clapped the ace on the shoulder. "Don't betray my trust."

It was more of a threat than an encouragement, when taking into account the look in Wakamatsu's eyes. Not that Daiki had ever been one to be galled by threats anyway, but the weight of the crown the idiot was trying to give him was too great for him.

He opened his mouth to voice his doubts, but Wakamatsu didn't give him the chance.

"Don't think about what you can't do, Aomine. It's not like you, and to be honest, it's kind of disgusting coming from a haughty son of a bitch like you." Daiki's eye twitched in annoyance and he had to control the urge to grab his captain by the jersey and smack him once for speaking out of line. "Instead, focus on the fact that next year, all the uncrowned kings will have already graduated. All the people you're used to seeing making up the other teams will have changed. It will be mostly a scuffle between the Generation of Miracles and their underclassmen."

The ace's eyes widened as he was made aware for the first time of this simple, important fact. Wakamatsu smirked as his hold on the navy haired guy's shoulder strengthened.

"It will be your last chance to play them, Aomine. Last year is the last year before everyone scatters all over the country. So make the most of it, and turn this team into one that can give your middle-school teammates a run for their money."

Wakamatsu's smirk grew as he watched the immobile Aomine still appearing rather dumbstruck to his teammates—who were, incidentally, equally dumbstruck by the whole exchange.

"I'm formally passing you the torch, underclassman," he announced rather theatrically. "Do you have any questions?" Aomine shook his head numbly, making Wakamatsu clap him once more on the shoulder before relinquishing his hold of him. "Good then! Do your best from now on then, captain. Break a leg, guys!"

And with that a rather confusing and worrying exchange was brought to an end.

It took Daiki some time to realize that Satsuki had put on an act of "opposing" Wakamatsu's decision to elect him as his successor just in order to dispel all of his teammate's lack of conviction that he was the right choice. He appreciated her trust but he wasn't entirely sure it was really that well-grounded.

The Touou boys left one after another, leaving Daiki all by himself as he showered in the stalls of the room given to them. He stood under the water for some time, contemplating everything that had transpired, and everything he would expect to happen from then on.

He got so caught up in his thoughts that his skin was starting to shrivel up without his notice—from being under the water for so long.

"Dai-chan," a familiar voice came from around the corner of his stall, "how long do you plan on staying there? It's getting kind of late, you know," she added in a sing-song tone.

Aomine rolled his eyes in mock-exasperation before putting his head under the water again.

"You were still lingering around?" he called out over the sound of the water pelting the tiles underneath him. "And what are you doing in the men's showers, you perverted woman?"

"Ehh, who cares? It's just the two of us left in here anyway," she reasoned nonsensically, making Daiki shake his head in disbelief at her. Not that she could see—and not that he cared if she could anyway. "So did you get carried away fantasizing in there?"

The Touou ace's eyebrows knitted together, as he rinsed the soap off of his body while deciding whether she was trying to goad him into something or if she was genuinely concerned for him.

"Most probably not in the way you're insinuating, you vulgar girl," he said with a sigh, lamenting the fact that all the idiots who were running after her like puppies couldn't see her now for the fiend she was.

"So you're actually going to take this seriously, right?" The hopeful note in her voice was impossible not to pick up on, and Daiki heaved another sigh. This girl, honestly… Sometimes she never ceased to amaze him. How she could continue to believe in him even after he himself had stopped believing was beyond him—but here she was, doing it again.

How she ever found the strength to do that was beyond him.

"Yeah…" he muttered, as he stared down at his feet on the tiled floor. "Yeah, I think I am."

Satsuki's face stretched into the widest grin she'd worn in years as she leaned against the wall of the neighbouring stall.

"Next year is really going to be so exciting! I can't wait to see how the other guys are going to go about their tactics against our team! It's definitely going to be a great season!"

Daiki replied only with a thoughtful grunt to her exclamation.

"What's that? Don't tell me you're actually scared or something," she called out in a taunting tone, yelling over the sound of the water hitting the tiles.

The sound in question was suddenly brought to a halt, and the stark contrast of the previous loudness reverberating in the almost-empty shower room when compared to the sudden stillness of the premise was staggering. It made of even greater impact of Daiki's response, which came after he wrapped a towel around his waist before venturing out of the stall, a wolfish grin splitting his face.

"Like hell I am—I'm so excited I can barely wait for next season!"

Satsuki's face melted into a beaming smile the moment he said it.

"I thought you'd say that!" she chirped merrily as she followed after him to the changing rooms.

"Damn right I would."

To any casual observer, the situation would've probably seemed extremely odd—maybe even borderline criminal. Especially in the way the 190 cm tall basketball player was completely unfazed by the girl's presence as he took the towel off his waist and rubbed himself dry with it, continuing to be equally unimpressed with her presence as he proceeded to procure his clothes from his locker while in the nude.

Possibly even more unsettling to said observer might be the girl's total casualness as she continued prattling on and on about tactics and strategy and responsibility to said completely naked basketball player, as he proceeded to put on some underwear, pants and shirt, throughout which she didn't even bat an eyelash.

She didn't make any comment about his state of undress or his dishevelled appearance—or at least not until he put his bag around his shoulders, looking about ready to leave while his hair was still dripping wet.

Her eyebrows narrowed over her sharp gaze, and she pushed him back down to sit on the bench by putting her hands on his shoulders. He managed to throw her an irked look before she made any further glaring impossible by rubbing a dry towel over his hair.

"Dai-chan, it's cold out, you know! You can't just go out with your hair drenched like that—you'll get sick!"

He sighed deeply, feeling already tired of this argument before it even started.

"Lay off it already…" he said without any real fervour in it.

"No! Auntie would never forgive me if I let you walk around like that! So you're not going anywhere until your hair is dry!" she announced imperiously, making an effort to bring about that time faster by rubbing the towel gently but firmly against his scalp as she stood in front of him.

"Yeah, right, whatever you say," he said his line—the usual, really, whenever he couldn't be arsed to argue with her—and figuratively waved the white flag, giving her unspoken freedom to do as she wanted until she was pleased.

And to the aforementioned casual observer, it would be impossible not to notice the fact that there was no real exasperation in the boy's form as he let his childhood friend and manager blow-dry his hair with the drier in her changing room (and the barely perceptible way he leaned into the touch of her fingers lacing in his hair as she dried the navy tresses of his hair).

There were only a few weeks left before entrance exams. All the third-years were busy feverishly preparing for the hell that was expecting them.

Although Wakamatsu was the type of guy who got things done when it was necessary, the fact he had never really been the studious kind of guy eventually caught up to him and made him feel an almost physical need for a break.

So in order to freshen up from weeks upon weeks of exam preparations, he decided to drop by the guys having basketball practice, to see how things were going with the third-years gone.

When he arrived in the gym, he cast a quick glance around the place. His arrival made several heads turn, and most of the boy barked out dutifully a chorus of 'hello, senpai!' at him as he made his way into their midst.

"How's exam preparation going, senpai?" a second-year asked him, making Wakamatsu visibly face-fault.

"Please, don't remind me," he deadpanned, shoving his hands in his pockets. He'd come here to take a break, not to keep brooding about his imminent, inevitable doom.

Speaking of doom, he couldn't help but be reminded of a certain someone, whom he couldn't see amidst all the players. Wakamatsu's brows narrowed over his eyes, his lips forming a taut line while he scanned the familiar faces for the person he had in mind.

Not that it was surprising at all not to see him here. In fact, it was to be expected. He wasn't sure what he was thinking when he'd believed he'd come here and find him, of all people, diligently attending practice.

Wakamatsu heaved a sigh and turned to Sakurai, who was shooting hoops from the three point line next to him.

"Hey, Sakurai!" The senior wasn't sure if he had spoken loudly or suddenly, or if Sakurai was just being himself, but it seemed the third-year's voice made the younger boy visibly flinch. "Any idea where Aomine is?"

"I-I'm sorry!" the boy exclaimed suddenly, and bowed his head.

What was he apologizing for? Wakamatsu could never really figure this part out, and he had a sneaking suspicion that the few weeks of high school left for him weren't going to be enough time to find out.

"He's actually on the other end of the court, showing something to a first-year who seemed to be struggling with his play."

The younger boy's explanation took the former captain completely by surprise. He whipped his head around to face in the direction Sakurai had pointed out, before quickly approaching the scene that was unfolding there.

Truthfully, Wakamatsu himself wasn't sure which part of the whole thing was more shocking: the fact that Aomine, that same Aomine, was actually making an effort to teach someone something, or the fact that he was so caught up in doing it—so focused in it—that he didn't notice Wakamatsu's approach.

The former captain's arrival didn't go unnoticed by everyone, though, and he soon felt a familiar presence next to him.

Satsuki had her trusty clipboard in hand, her ever-present Cheshire-cat-like grin secure in place as she took some notes in silence next to Wakamatsu.

"Listen up now, freshman," Daiki's voice carried to them as he spoke to the poor bastard who had the misfortune to perform unwell in front of him. "I'm going to be nice enough to show you how it should be done. So make sure to keep your eyes wide open. Got that?!" he barked out, his annoyance see-through in his tone.

"Yes, sir! Thank you, sir!" the semi-horrified freshman responded lively, standing perfectly straight.

Daiki proceeded to show him how one was supposed to make a textbook-like hook shot. When the ball went through the net, bouncing a couple of times before he picked it up again, the navy-haired teen towards the younger boy.

"Did you get that?" he inquired tersely, making the first-year stand to attention once again.

"Not at all, sir!"

The boy's unwise response made Daiki's eye twitch spastically in his dangerously mounting ire.


"I have no idea how what you did was any different from what I do!" the freshman added, deciding it would be wise to do so when he saw the anger filtering into Aomine's face.

His amendment made Daiki halt in his tracks before he could get any more pissed than he already was. He sighed as he slapped his palm to his forehead, shaking his head in dejection.

"Show me, then, how it's not different," he provoked, crossing his arms over his chest, an expectant look on his features.

When the first-year did as told, and shot a rather tragically inaccurate hook shot, Daiki kept shaking his head.

"Your timing in releasing the ball is way off. Do it again," he commanded steely. The freshman swallowed thickly, picking up the ball again.

He did as told, but this time Daiki found something else that was wrong with his shot.

"Again!" he ordered.

Another miss.

"Again!" the ace barked out.

Another miss.

"Do it over!"

This went on in front of the unbelieving gaze of Wakamatsu and Satsuki's careful scrutiny, until the first-year made so many repetitions of the shot he actually managed to get one in. He looked so accomplished, but Daiki didn't give him much time to relish in the moment, as he told him not to get ahead of himself and to keep doing it, instead of getting hyped up about one success among many failures.

So they kept shooting hook shots, until the boy had scored almost every time he shot.

"That Aomine… is actually teaching something to someone?" Wakamatsu said at last, breaking the silence that had stretched for so long between him and the manager.

The girl's soft smile grew, becoming slightly slier the wider it became.

"Fascinating, isn't it?"

He didn't respond. He didn't need to, either. He didn't say anything after that, just continuing the watch the scene unfold before him. After making sure the freshman could actually make a proper hook shot, Aomine went on to stress the fact that in an actual game, a hook shot was something you usually do while someone is covering you. So he proceeded to try and get the boy to make his play while being under pressure as well.

Satsuki grinned from behind her clipboard as she threw Wakamatsu a knowing look out of the corner of her eye.

"Makes one's mind feel at ease, doesn't it?" she said cryptically, continuing to scribble something in her notes.

Wakamatsu allowed a small smile to play across his face.

"It sure does," he acquiesced, and if it was physically possible, he could swear Momoi's grin widened at his response.

And it truly was reassuring. Now he really needn't worry at all about leaving Touou's basketball team, and he could make sure to fully focus on his studies for the exams.

The truth of the matter was that even in second year, Daiki had attended most of the basketball practices in Touou.

Most of them.

However, ever since Wakamatsu had passed the captaincy to him, he hadn't missed even a single practice.

Not one.

It was an afternoon in early February—a day just like any other, really—so she did like she would on any other day.

It was a weekend, so she spent the morning helping her mother do some chores, having some lunch and then decided she'd go pay the Aomines next door a visit.

When she ventured into the Aomine household, she had to spend some time looking for Daiki before she finally found him.

She had expected him to be in his room, sleeping or just lazing around on a day like this. Either that, or she would've believed him to be under the kotatsu, stuffing his face happily with junk food while mindlessly watching something pointless on TV.

Unimaginable was her surprise when she did find him in the living room, but contrary to her expectations, he wasn't safely tucked under the warm blanket of the kotatsu. Instead, he was watching whatever pointless show he was curious to see while he was running on the treadmill.

She greeted him off-handily, receiving a quick salute in return as well, while Daiki continued running. She noticed that he had the treadmill on a medium speed, because he wasn't being too leisurely as he put one foot in front of the other, but it wasn't overly fast so as to distract him from whatever he was watching.

"You're running on your mom's treadmill?" she couldn't help the comment at long last.

It was met with chagrin and disdain on her childhood friend's part. He rolled his eyes almost theatrically, before letting the TV show have the entirety of his focus.

"My mother threatened to sign me up for cram school if I so much as set foot outside to run in this weather—her exact words." He shook his head, the air of exasperation around him betraying exactly how he felt about his mother's (legitimate, considering the temperatures outside) worry. "Then again, I guess this isn't so bad. I get to watch my show while I run, so it will be a while until I get bored of this."

His phrasing made a part of Satsuki's mind feel alerted. It made her ponder—just how long was he planning on continuing this? She shrugged and decided that this was Dai-chan: he never spent a very long time exercising – what with his paranoia with getting too strong and getting too far out of everyone's reach and being unable to find worthy opponents on court anymore. She was sure he'd give up before long, so she decided not to dwell on it.

After all, the flight of his fancy was incredible, and next to impossible to hold for more than a few minutes to half an hour.

"Hmm, that so?" she muttered noncommittally, sparing only a glance in direction of the TV. Then she remembered why she had come over in the first place—she wasn't here to make idle chatter with Dai-chan; she came with a mission! "Any idea where your mom keeps her cookie forms?"

Daiki threw her an incredulous look before shaking his head.

"Try the upper cupboard – that's where all the stuff she rarely uses goes."

So Satsuki helped herself to the forms before calling loudly goodbye to Daiki from the front door of his house.

An hour and a half—and a full oven of cookies—later, the pink-haired girl ventured into the Aomine house again, this time bringing an offering with her.

She went into the living room, and greeted heartily her Auntie who seemed to be back from her Saturday shopping. Being a girl with good manners, Satsuki made sure to thank the elder woman for using her cookie forms, and telling her she'd bring them over as soon as they were washed clean.

Mrs Aomine simply waved a hand in dismissal at that—it was a tradition between their families to help each other out whenever it was needed, and the truth was that pretty much anything of the Aomines' belonged to the Momois too, and vice versa.

"So you made cookies, dear?" Mrs Momoi prompted conversationally, making room for Satsuki to sit next to her under the kotatsu.

The girl smiled brilliantly in response.

"That's right! They came out great—just look at them!" she chirped happily, putting the cookies in the bag on top of the table for Mrs Aomine's eyes to feast on.

"Oh, impressive!" the elder woman said. "Daiki, knock it off with all that huff and puff and come over here to try out Sacchan's cookies!"

Only after she'd said it, did it occur to Satsuki. She'd noticed him when she'd come in, of course, how could she not? He was an almost two meters tall man—there was no way not to spot him wherever he went. But she hadn't realized it until Mrs Aomine had practically pointed it out to her.

An hour and a half after she'd visited, Daiki was still running at the same pace on the treadmill. If the amount of perspiration was anything to go by, he hadn't stopped even for a minute since she had left him there, doing the same thing, ninety minutes ago.

He clicked some button on the machine, and it slowed to a stop. He made sure to wipe his forehead, hair and neck with a towel before he eased himself in a seat across from Satsuki. He eyed the cookies warily, then sent her a doubtful look.

Satsuki clicked her tongue and crossed her arms over her ample bosom.

"Don't make such a face! Mom's the one who made them—I was just helping out a bit."

This bit of information seemed to put him in a much more agreeable state in regards to the cookies, and he immediately reached out to take one from the bag. His mother had paid only vague attention to their exchange, since it wasn't really anything new; she had long ago forsaken any hope that any amount of chiding on her part would make her uncultured son behave any better with lovely Sacchan, so instead she had directed her attention to the show that was currently aired.

Satsuki, however, couldn't help but feel slighted by the way Dai-chan seemed to act with such distrust towards anything and everything made by her—or suspected of being made by her, as it turned out.

"How rude!" she exclaimed with a huff. "That's no way to act in regards of the food someone has made for you, and charitably brought to you even though you don't deserve it!"

"Oh, please," Daiki rolled his eyes in turn. "Make something that can classify as real food before you can make comments like that."

They proceeded to bicker and throw their usual comments at each other for the remainder of the afternoon, creating the perfect idyll for Mrs Aomine to spend her day off. But, if she had to be honest, Satsuki's heart wasn't really in it when she was picking on Daiki that day.

It wasn't, because her heart was too busy nervously and excitedly skipping in her chest, fluttering in exhilaration and anticipation, as she allowed herself to feel a little dreamy.

Could it be possible that Dai-chan was actually taking the whole captaincy business more seriously than she believed he was? Could it be that he was more bent than ever on being the best on court for the last matches they would play in high school?

Could it be that he actually—finallywanted to win?

It still seemed a bit too good to be true—for her to be able to see the old Dai-chan, who loved playing basketball, on court again and soon—so she didn't let her imagination take flight just yet.

But there was that tiny, little 'maybe' that was wandering in the air, brought to life by the small beads of sweat that rolled off the side of his face and tickled him until he brushed them away with an almost vexed movement.

"Satsuki," he started, with an unusual air of seriousness.

His tone was so alien to her, the force in it so strong, that she stopped in her tracks just as they were heading off to the gym together from the Touou locker rooms. They were the last two people in there—and she had made sure to give a careful look over to all the new additions to the team—and it was almost time for the first practice of their third year in Touou to start.

Yet the expression on Daiki's face made her shove all thoughts of the upcoming games aside, and wait patiently for what he had to say to her before they went out.

"When we go there, with all the guys on court, I want you to refer to me only as Captain. Do you understand?"

She blinked several times, tilting her head to the side. She didn't. She had no clue, in fact.

She opened her mouth to say something, but when she was met with the steely expression on his face, she swallowed her comment and pondered some more on his plea instead.

"Well… okay, I guess. It doesn't really matter that much to me," she relented, putting a thoughtful index finger to her cheek. "If it matters to you, I'll do as you ask, Dai-chan," she told him with a shrug.

"Yes, it does matter to me. So make sure you do that, understand?" She nodded absent-mindedly as she watched him fasten the laces of his basketball shoes. "Good, then. Let's go to practice."

Before he could open the door that led to the gym, she couldn't help asking; it was tearing her up from inside, the curiosity.

"Why does it matter? You've never cared how I talked to you before."

The fact that they both knew that statement wasn't entirely true hung in the air, but neither of them wanted to dwell upon it, nor discuss it at length. Instead, Daiki faced away from her as he fastened the laces of his other shoe as well.

"It matters, because some of those guys will have never played with me at all. Some of them have only seen me last year, when we played together. But what they all will know is that I am the captain of this team. What they will know is that I am the former ace of the Generation of Miracles."

He stood up to his impressive height, and she felt a certain teasing tug in her stomach as she listened to him and looked at his unreadable expression from the side.

"As their captain, it will be important for them to do as I say. And for my orders to be absolute, they need to have some respect."

And they wouldn't do that if the person who was practically 'second in command' turned to their captain with a pet name as ridiculous as she did. He didn't say it, but she heard it. It made her smile coyly, a knowing look twisting her face.

"If this team is going to become good enough to face against theirs, I will need these guys to do exactly as I say."

Satsuki's smile grew into an honest to God grin then.

"So you're saying you have a plan, captain?"

The earlier tug she'd felt in her tummy was back again, stronger this time, when Daiki's eyes fell upon her, a feral grin on his lips as well.

"We'll just have to see about it, won't we, vice-captain?"

Their first game of the season, with Dai-chan as the captain, was a practice game against Shuutoku.

It was a game they barely made into a draw, with Daiki exerting a lot more effort than he usually did when he played on court. The fearsome light-and-shadow duo of Shuutoku had been impressive since year one, but as time had passed, they had become a formidable force. Their dynamics had improved so greatly, with both of them relying not only on each other, but the rest of the team as well, that it was all Daiki could do to subdue them as much as he could when he put his all into playing.

But ending with an even score was far from what Touou stood for. The match was a good one, but despite all his teammates' sighs of relief and impressed expressions, their captain did not feel content with the end result.

Watching him from afar, Satsuki smiled to herself and made sure to linger behind together with him while everyone else trickled away from the court.

She stood next to his seated form on the bench, his back hunched and his hands clasped together while he rested the weight of his upper body on his elbows upon his thighs. She stood next to him silently, giving him a chance to mull things over before she interrupted his train of thought.

"You did great in the match, captain," she told him earnestly, a small smile tugging on the corners of her lips. "But the truth is our team was lacking something that our opponent wasn't."

Daiki clicked his tongue in annoyance, and she allowed herself a short moment to gloat at how perfectly well she had poured salt onto the wound.

"Don't you think I know that?"

She made another long pause before speaking out again.

"Do you know what it is?" she prompted shortly, giving him time to respond after she did.

When he never said a thing, she allowed herself another mental pat on the shoulder for having pushed almighty Captain Aomine into a corner.

"Strategy," she told him at last, making him turn to look at her curiously out of the corner of his eye.

The amazed and Eureka-like expression on his face made her realize that he'd never given this much of a thought. She smiled to herself some more. Of course he hadn't. It had never been any of his business to give these things any thought. All that had been necessary for him these past two years was to be his usual, unstoppable self on the court. What the rest of the team did was not his problem, regardless of how reliable they all actually were if he gave them a chance to show him.

The past couple of years, Touou had worked. They had worked in a way they hadn't today. And all of this was because of one simple, little truth.

"You know, captain, I am aware of your dislike of my methods, because you believe it to be some kind of scheming and cheating, perhaps. But, I'll have you know, one of the reasons why this team has been almost unmatched for the past couple of years is because all the previous captains of it had me lend them a hand in making the matches' strategy—the 'battle plans', so to say."

She extended her hand to him in an ambiguous gesture, offering to help him up.

He looked at her dainty fingers, before letting his gaze wander to her face again.

"So, now that you're taking this captaining thing so seriously—will you allow me to help you out like I've always done for your predecessors? Or will you choose to do this your way entirely?"

If she had to be completely honest with herself, Satsuki would never believe that Dai-chan would agree to accept her help on court. He had always thought her rather amazing to be able to collect so much data just by knowing the simplest things about people. He had always thought her kind of fearsome to be able to deduce such grand truths about others just from their simplest traits and habits. He had always acknowledged her talent and prowess, yet had never once relied on her when it actually came to playing ball.

So when she made that offer, she was better prepared to have him scoff at her and look away.

For this reason, she almost staggered a little when he actually took her hand with a smirk and allowed her to help him up to his feet.

"I see. I guess that was a little self-confident of me."

He towered over her, and the feeling that ran down the length of her spine as she craned her neck to meet his gaze as he stood next to her—hand still holding hers—made her feel an unusual elation.

"I look forward to hearing your input on our matches in the future, vice-captain," Dai-chan told her with the most devious smirk she had seen on his face in a long time. It was an expression she couldn't help but reciprocate.

She also couldn't help but wonder if he realized how big a step she believed he was making in finally deciding to rely on her a little in his matches.

Another thing she wondered about was just how important was it really for him to make this team into a suitable successor to its former glory from the past couple of years, to have him go as far as to even accept her help in making strategies with which to face their future court opponents.

Although Daiki agreed to have her help out with strategizing, what he did was mostly give her the green light to inform the boys of their next opponents' strengths and weaknesses and how to counteract those.

The truth was that there were few teams that could really hold a candle to Touou now that the Generation of miracles were in their third year of high school. Of course, there were talented newcomers everywhere, but as long as those seven people were still in high school in their respective teams, there was really hardly anyone who could be a match for them.

Which was why the only times when Daiki took part of the strategy meetings and actually listened to what Satsuki had to say as well was when they were playing against one of those five other teams, where the rest of his worthy opponents were.

Their first 'tough' game to win is against Yousen. Both Daiki and Satsuki spend a large portion of their time and effort into honing the current Touou into a team that can deal with both Murasakibara and Himuro, shutting down their play while making sure to be good point-scorers in return at the same time.

It was a tough battle. Especially when Murasakibara ended up feeling so wilful he somehow managed to force his way into the zone again. But that was a game Daiki was used to playing since way before Atsushi even knew there was such a state of mind, so the captain of the black jerseys took it upon himself to deal with the tall center of the while and purple team.

When the final signal sounds and the match ends, it does so with a single-digit advance for Touou Academy. It was the result of a strenuous game, which milked the energy out of pretty much every player on the court. So it is with wide, disbelieving eyes that ten boys stare at the board when the match is ended.

Once the truth of the fact sunk in, Daiki turned with his eyes widened with wonder and disbelief to throw a look at Satsuki who stood on the side-lines at the edge of the court. She beamed brightly at him, and gave him her thumbs up, clipboard tightly grasped in one hand. As he looked at her, it appeared almost as though the truth of the matter finally made sense in Dai-chan's mind. His expression morphed into the hugest, most innocent and contagious grin she had ever seen in her life.

The boys crowded him, congratulating the regulars and the captain for a game well played, celebrating their first hard-earned win in the Inter-High. The patted his back, shook his hand and nudged his sides, each and every one of them genuinely impressed with the good work Touou had pulled off in the first real match of the year.

But, for Satsuki, what was more priceless than their triumph over Yousen was the fact that she had seen that grin—that one grin—that could brighten up the world on any day.

Seeing Dai-chan smiling like that again made her believe that all would be right with the world from then on.

In their third year of high school, the Inter-High basketball tournament ended with Touou Academy placing second—just like they did in their first year. The difference was that in their third year, the team which placed first was not Rakuzan, but Seirin.

Truthfully, Satsuki had been a bit worried when they'd lost against Seirin. She knew this kind of development was probably what Dai-chan truly wanted—finding opponents that were worth his while, people who make the game he loves worth playing with all he got—but she wasn't sure if it was a good idea for things like this to happen while Daiki was still new to this captaincy business.

The day after their loss, she found him running on the treadmill again. The first thing he asked her when she entered the room was if she had any plans on where their summer camp as a club should be, because he already had some ideas of his own.

She found with relief that instead of dashing his hopes, his loss had only fuelled his fire, and made him even more bent on becoming a captain suitable of his team than ever before.

That summer, Satsuki realizes and wonders if Dai-chan does as well; all the years of them being on court together had held a certain thrill, and had a certain vigour to them. She had enjoyed every single one of those matches, in her own way.

But she had never had as great a time being part of Touou Academy's basketball team as she did in her third year of high school.

She wondered if he knew that the reason why she was enjoying the games they played now was because, for the first time in four years, Daiki was actually relying on her talents and allowing her to be part of the team—his team.

After Wakamatsu passed Dai-chan the torch, a lot of tiny things about him changed.

He still didn't care much about class, but at least he attended them instead of barely making enough attendance throughout the year to be able to pass. She was impressed that even when the weather was great and perfect by Dai-chan's standards to be cloud-gazing and just idling on the roof, instead of doing that he was half-asleep on his desk while listening to the droning voices of their teachers.

He still never took notes—because that would require extra effort—but at least when there was homework to be done, he didn't ask her about every second thing she had written like he did before. Because he had actually heard something like that in class, or because he had solved a similar problem while more awake than asleep in class, or something to the same effect.

She was impressed, because while still continuing to be his lazy, unimpressed with conventional smarts self, he still maintained an air of respect for the things that were expect of him to know and do. He didn't like most of the classes he was forced to attend, but he did so anyway.

If she didn't know any better, she would decide that he was accepting the things he didn't enjoy doing as part of life.

And as such, he was effectively allowing himself to actually grow up.

Dai-chan's attempts at maturing, in themselves, were miraculous and wondrous enough.

What was even more shocking, though, was how those small changes were perceived by all the people around them.

All the boys who had been part of Touou's basketball team in their previous years, seemed to have a completely new perspective on Daiki as a person. They seemed to believe that his nonchalant and devil-may-care attitude from before had been a fluke, and this person now, their captain now, was the real Aomine Daiki – the way he had always been, and the way he was always meant to be.

In a sense, Satsuki felt a bit sorry for them. Poor boys were just scammed without knowing it. By that same "captain Aomine" that they so admired and so raptly listened to whenever things needed to get done.

At the same time, she was grateful that they no longer questioned Dai-chan—like they did when Wakamatsu was appointing him captain. She had had to work hard to help him earn their trust, so she was grateful that her effort hadn't gone to waste.

What was even more impressive than the boys' trust and admiration for their captain, however, was the reaction of the normal people around them in Touou towards the 'new' Aomine Daiki.

The girls in particular were a topic of certain interest to Satsuki, without her being overly aware of that fact.

Still, she did notice how most of the girls in class looked on at Daiki's half-asleep profile, how they whispered to one other about him, how they discussed him over lunch. She wondered if he realized how much attention his sudden decision to be a responsible person was garnering him, and then she wondered if he would care even if he did know.

He was the kind of single-minded guy who could only focus on one goal at a time. And for the time being, she was certain that the goal was to make Touou number one; to make it a team that could utilize his endless talent and the excellent players that had poured into the school after graduating from middle school.

She knew that this right there was the guy who impressed the girl. His single-mindedness and his ambitiousness was what made the female heads turn his way.

For the first time in his life, Dai-chan had become a person who was revered, admired and desired by many, regardless of how vocal or not those girls were about it. She'd always known that Dai-chan wasn't too bad on the eyes, but he was also never a conventional type of handsome. Yes, he was tall, yes, he was flawlessly built, but his eyes were a bit too sharp, his words a little too biting, his expressions a little too unforgiving for him to be popular among the opposite gender.

And yet, in his third year of high school, it's like Dai-chan is experiencing his real high school debut.

This was why Satsuki watched uninterestedly out of the school window that had a view of the backyard, as a girl confessed—blushing and pretty, her face adorable and her chest size impressive and just the right size to catch a certain idiot's fancy—to Dai-chan during lunch break.

This was a girl out of a slew of others who had tried to become Dai-chan's girlfriend in the past few weeks. In a sense, she was grateful, because their committed offense meant that the misunderstanding that she and Dai-chan had something going on—the sort of thing she was trying to escape since middle school—it was probably losing its convincing force.

And while that was an occasion for rejoice (in a sense), how come she felt so incredibly relieved when he shook his head or somehow ended up sending away all the girls that went to confess their feelings to him?

The days were growing shorter as summer slowly moved into autumn. They spent their days like they always had, with only the slight alterations of him actually going to practice with the guys, and actually listening to what she had to say when they were making strategic meetings.

The team had not forgotten how close they had come to taking the crown at the Inter-High, and if anything they were more driven than ever to triumph for sure at the Winter Cup.

And so the days passed, with Touou dominating over every other opponent they got to play, until the Winter Cup was right around the corner again.

It was their last chance, she knew. It was Dai-chan's last chance to play against the guys who had made his high school life worthwhile. Their last chance to battle for dominance against the boys who had brought the smile and vigour back to Dai-chan's face. So she would be damned if she didn't give those matches her all, just like all the boys on the court were ready to.

So, on a day just like any other, she went over to Dai-chan's, to discuss some strategy with him.

She found him in the kitchen, fresh out of the bathroom. He was walking around only with his slacks on, his hair dripping wet and a towel draped over his muscular shoulders.

She blinked once, then twice, as her inability to decide how to react dissipated. He was rubbing the towel against his wet locks so he didn't hear her come in.

When he looked up and his sapphire eyes met hers, he gave her a little nod of acknowledgement before moving to sidestep her.

"I came by to talk about our next opponent with you," she told him when she remembered what she was there to do.

And it certainly wasn't staring at a certain someone dumbfounded.

"I figured as much, judging by the clipboard," Daiki said smartly, a smirk tugging on his lips while he rummaged for something in the fridge.

Satsuki barely suppressed a shiver when she imagined how cold the air from the refrigerator must feel against his moist skin, especially considering that winter was already approaching and the temperatures were dropping accordingly.

She repressed the urge to reproach him, though, and moved on to talking business with him. He seemed absent-minded, though, so she couldn't help an aggravated sigh when she realized that he wasn't even hearing half of the things she was telling him.

And he was still half-naked. In winter.

"How long do you plan to walk around like that?" she asked him, somewhat irked by the fact he seemed to be totally unfazed by his state of undress. "Put some clothes on already—I'm freezing just by looking at you!"

Daiki threw her an incredulous look over the can of soda he had procured from the fridge.

"Who cares?"

"You'll catch a cold at this rate!" she preached, crossing her arms over her chest.

"What? This shit again? You sound like my mother…" he grumbled. "I won't catch any colds anyway. Besides, isn't there a saying or something? Too stupid to even catch a cold? I would believe you thought it applies perfectly to me, too." He told her so with a smirk, while taking a hefty sip from the soda.

Satsuki's eyes narrowed dangerously. She shook her head in dejection. This seriously had nothing to do with what she thought of him and what she didn't.

"Stop being such a big baby and dry yourself properly, you idiot!" she chastised mercilessly.

Her tone of voice and her expression were so stormy, but when she grabbed the towel on his shoulders and made sure he actually did as she told him, there wasn't even a hint of her anger in her ministrations as she rubbed the terry cloth against his moist skin.

She was way beyond the point when his state of undress would impress her, or throw her off-balance. But she didn't feel comfortable knowing that he could very well catch a cold indeed—a situation she could have prevented if only she'd been a bit more pushy, a bit more insistent.

"I can't have you taking any unnecessary breaks when the winter season is just around the corner for Touou, Captain," she informed him in a taut tone.

She didn't let up until she dragged him back to his room and found him a clean shirt in his wardrobe to toss his way so he could get dressed.

Daiki merely chuckled at her antics, but donned the garment on.

"Yes, madam," he told her, amused, before picking up the conversation about the next match's strategy from a place she was sure he hadn't been listening to her for.

The revelation took her aback. It almost caught her as off-guard as the scandalously unusual thought she had had earlier; she'd known Daiki for years, and he was the kind of guy who wouldn't think twice before taking a clothing garment off with no warning, or walking around half-naked without a care in the world, so she was very much used to seeing him like that.

What she wasn't used was having herself—even fleetingly, and very, very vaguely—noting that he actually looked better without a shirt on, and she wouldn't particularly mind having him walk around like that a bit longer.

It had been one of her main reasons for her insistence on him getting into a proper outfit before she could continue their discussion.

But when they finished talking about what she had in mind, and silence settled between them—one neither of them could never feel uncomfortable enough to be trying to desperately break like they would if they were talking to any other person in the entire world—she can't help letting her mind wander a bit.

Soon, they would graduate from high school. Life was starting to knock on the door to their futures—real life—and soon they would have to graduate from their carefreeness as well. Gone would be the days when she could so happily discuss basketball strategies with him, enjoying youth to her fullest.

And that got her thinking.

"Dai-chan?" she spoke up suddenly, puncturing the silence. Daiki didn't look up from the game he was playing on his cell phone when he made a grunt to make her aware that he was listening. "What are you going to do after graduation?"

Her question would seem innocent, simply curious to a person who wasn't privy to their long-lasting acquaintance. Just one childhood friend asking their childhood friend what they were planning to do with their life—just curiosity.

Daiki didn't pause for a moment, didn't bat an eyelash before responding half a minute later.

"I don't know, I haven't thought about it yet." A small smirk tugged on the corner of his lips. "I'm too busy playing captain and pretending to be busy with a certain scheming manager to give much of a damn about those things right now."

Satsuki let a small, coy smile play upon her features as well. This was so like Dai-chan she couldn't even put it into words.

"Beside yourself with anticipation to have your revenge for the Inter-High, aren't you?" she asked knowingly, her expression becoming rather foxy.

Daiki snickered.

"Oh, please. As if you aren't, too."

Her grin made him aware of just how well he'd hit the nail on the head.

He could only hope, though, that observant, almost ominously intelligent when it came to figuring people out Satsuki didn't notice that the reason he'd given her was only a half-truth.

Not a very big half, either.

The Winter Cup was progressing smoothly. The qualification matches were finally over and done with, and the games that Daiki gave a good goddamn about were at last right around the corner.

Not that qualifications mattered to Touou—they had earned their right to participate in the worthwhile matches of the Cup by becoming second in the Inter-High anyway.

So, on a rather chilly winter day before the championship evolved into a full-blown power struggle to be the top, Daiki was left to his own devices at home alone, his parents having to go on an urgent business trip out of town.

And there was really so much one could enjoy of one's own company, when the best things to do to keep oneself amused were watching TV and playing pointless indoor games.

Instead of moping around at home and being bored out of his mind, Daiki opted for the choice he always did when he could no longer amuse himself.

He decided he'd drop by the Momois and see if he could bother Satsuki instead. If he irked her enough, maybe she'd provide at least some sort of entertainment so that the time otherwise spent in impatient waiting wouldn't seem so unbearable.

He let himself into the Momoi household with only an excuse of a knock on the door. When he didn't see anyone in the living room, he ventured to the kitchen, where he found Mrs Momoi washing dishes.

"Hey, Auntie," he greeted almost cordially.

His voice gave the woman a fright—she hadn't heard him come in, but she still smiled brightly at him when she realized who the newcomer was.

"Oh, Dai-chan! I didn't hear you come in," she told him with a chuckle, continuing to deal with the undertaken chore.

Dai-chan. No matter how tall he grew, or how old he became, he was quite certain he would always remain 'Dai-chan' to this woman. And the pet name made him feel at home, really. In the same way, no matter how old he grew, or how he changed, Mrs and Mr Momoi would forever remain 'auntie' and 'uncle' to him.

"Is Satsuki around? I wanted to talk to her about something for school."

"Oh, I'm sorry, dear – she's not at home right now. I sent her grocery shopping." The woman paused only briefly to take a glance at the wall clock behind her. "She should be back soon, though, so you can wait her here, if you like."

The last piece of information considerably brightened Daiki's countenance, and he made himself comfortable by the dinner table as he did as invited.

They spent a few moments of silence, in which Mrs Momoi simply kept swabbing, washing, rinsing and drying dishes. This was until she remembered something rather important.

"Speaking of which, aren't your parents out of town for a couple of days?" she queried, throwing him a look over her shoulder.

"Yeah, they are. They went this morning to some important business trip or whatever—I'm not entirely sure, I wasn't listening to my mother after she mentioned they were leaving."

Mrs Momoi shook her head, unsurprised by Dai-chan's usual nonchalance and somewhat disrespectful way of dealing with his parents—whom Mrs Momoi thought to be wonderful people – most certainly a couple who didn't deserve the act their son used to deal with them.

"Well, if you're on your own today, you should come over for dinner. No, by all means, please come for dinner—I'm sure your mother will be overjoyed to know you didn't live on junk food while she was out of town." This was truly the least Mrs Momoi could do in return for all of Mrs Aomine's kindness to her and her daughter – especially since Satsuki was a very frequent guest over at the Aomines'.

The elder woman's invite made Daiki's brows rise in surprise.

"Eh? It's fine, you don't need to worry about me—" he tried, thinking he'd be able to get out of this with some finesse, but the woman didn't give him a chance.

"Nonsense, boy!" she chastised half-heartedly, washing the dish in her hands with a bit more vigour than absolutely necessary. "Just make sure you're in time for dinner, all right? We always love having you."

She kept her dishwashing while Daiki spent a moment, then two, considering her offer. It got him thinking about things that were more on his mind than the imminent dinner, though.



"Isn't it a real bother? Having to constantly look after me and whatnot?"

Mrs Momoi was so very surprised at his question that she stopped her ministrations in the sink and turned to give him a puzzled look over her shoulder. A moment later, she blinked her surprise away, waving a dismissive hand at him.

"Nonsense! It's no bother at all! Dai-chan, you're practically a son to me, so what are you saying all of a sudden?"

She shrugged his illogical concern off. Still, she couldn't help but wonder—since when did Dai-chan give things such thorough thought to arrive at such… deep conclusions and dilemmas? How atypical of the carefree, devil-may-care Dai-chan that she'd always known her whole life.

Her earnest response made him smile. It was a gentle expression, full of endearment, which—honestly—she had never even known he was capable of showing.

She briefly pondered if he'd ever shown this smile to her daughter, and, if he had, was she really as indifferent to him as she liked to make everyone to believe.

And, in all seriousness, if she truly had seen this expression on the handsome face Dai-chan had grown into, Mrs Momoi would be truly worried about the sanity and quality of the eyesight of her daughter.

Meanwhile, as he considered her words, Daiki realized that there was one more person who would say something in exactly the same manner. It got him wondering.

"Auntie, have you heard anything from Satsuki about what she plans to do after high school?" he asked, hands placed atop the chair's backrest and leaning his weight against it.

The elder Momoi woman blinked her nonplus at him again. He sure asked her some curious things today, this boy. She couldn't help but marvel at the things he kept coming out with.

"She hasn't said a word to me," she confessed earnestly, turning back to the task at hand waiting for her in the kitchen sink. "I thought that if she'd talked about it to anyone, it would be you, Dai-chan."

Thus, Daiki's worst suspicions were confirmed. He sighed and looked away.

Mrs Momoi was somewhat surprised at the seriousness of his demeanour.

"Even if you do feel me like a son, Auntie, aren't you kinda upset?"

"About what, dear?" Really, Mrs Momoi thought to herself as she said that, the most curious things today.

"It's not just you, but Satsuki too—always looking after me, making sure I don't get into trouble. Don't you think she can do a lot better than that—being tied to a guy like me, and getting nothing in return for all her effort?"

This time, the woman who had always been like a second mother to him, stilled her hands completely. Mrs Momoi turned to him and simply smiled serenely, ambiguously and then said nothing for a long time while she continued doing her chores at home.

Daiki believed that she had opted to leave his query rhetoric, so he let it go for the time being.

"You know, Dai-chan, I hear a lot from Satsuki lately. About your matches. About how well you're doing as the captain of your team, despite how reckless and irresponsible you made all your teammates believe you are since day one."

He listened raptly to what she was saying, wondering where she was going with all of this, and even more importantly where it had come from.

"She's been coming home to bury herself in her little planning and data analysing every day for a while now."

A very small and obscure part of Daiki disliked the condescending note in Mrs Momoi's voice when it came to what her daughter did for the team out of the court.

He'd always respected Satsuki's effort—even when he didn't care enough to be part of it or involved with it in any way—but now that he knew it intimately, he couldn't help but be even more awed with her. So the fact her own, (much kinder and loving than his) mother could talk so dismissively about it made a pang of irritation rise in his gut, but he quelled it before it could show on his face.

As much of a wildcard as he could be, there was no way he could be outright rude to the woman that was always taking care of him when his parents weren't around.

"She's been grinning from ear to ear lately, when she's not buried in her mountains of charts and papers and staying up until the wee hours of the morning working on schedules and weighing possibilities and whatnot." Mrs Momoi paused, her smile becoming much like that of her daughter. "I can't remember if I've ever seen her this happy before."

She turned to look at him then, and the kindness and softness of her gaze made Daiki blink a couple of times in nonplus, unprepared to receive such a look.

"Do you believe that is how someone who feels bothered and bogged down with an unpleasant duty acts?"

He merely kept blinking for a while, unable to make a comeback. He shifted his gaze from Mrs Momoi's, unable to hold eye contact after the revelation she'd shared with him.

The elder woman's face blooms into a grin as she relinquished him from her scrutiny. She turned back to the dishes, that heart-warming smile still plastered on her face.

"Yes, that's what I think, too," she said softly, letting what she'd told Daiki sink in properly.

Satsuki came home several minutes later, a small bag of groceries in hand—ingredients for tonight's dinner.

When she entered the kitchen and was met with the sight of their guest, she merely sighed as she placed the grocery bag on the table.

"What are you doing here so early?" the pink-haired manager queried, exhaustion that had nothing to do with carrying the bag home surfacing on her face.

"I got bored at home so I came here for you to entertain me," Daiki told her seriously, and Satsuki's head hung low against her collar in defeat. And there it was, so soon after she'd come in, too.

"The least you could do is pretend to feel a little sorry for saying stuff like that," she all but whined out as she crashed on the chair next to him.

Daiki's grin was unrepentant.

Satsuki knew a lost cause when she saw one.

And, speaking of seeing things, she couldn't help but be curious about something else.

"What's got you in such a good mood, mom?" she prompted, leaning against her elbow on the table.

The elder Momoi tittered to herself—making Satsuki's intrigued brow rise even further—before she turned to give her back to her daughter again.

"Oh, it's nothing, dear, don't mind me."

The pink-haired adolescent couldn't help but find her matron's response even more intriguing because of its ambiguousness and how tight-lipped it was. Before she could make any further inquiry about it, Daiki's drawl derailed her train of thought.

"Satsuki, I'm bored. Do something."

A vein popped into visibility on her forehead.

"What am I, a circus animal or something?" The fact he dared look like he was deliberating it made her smack him none too lightly on the shoulder. "Jerk!"

Suppressing her laughter at the children's usual banter proved to be something rather trying for Mrs Momoi today.

After all, how could she not be amused? Not even ten minutes ago Dai-chan had made her realize that he was actually growing up, that he was maturing in regards to many matters, only to have him act like a kid once her daughter showed up.

There were several matches in the final rounds of the Winter Cup that everyone in Touou knew would be particularly hard to win. However, they were all aware that the hardest ones—by far—would be versus Rakuzan and Seirin – the previous champions.

And, certainly, the match against Rakuzan didn't fail to meet everyone's expectations.

The game was a rather well-paced one, but the tension could be sliced through with a knife. All the players on court were strained to a breaking point, their nerves tried mercilessly in a game of back and forth outwitting that they weren't used to dealing with.

What Touou excelled at was using brute force and talent to win their matches. But that was a gameplay they couldn't use when their opponent was Rakuzan.

Even with the uncrowned kings no longer a part of the team, Daiki was no fool. He knew Rakuzan was not to be underestimated as long as Akashi was still its captain.

Truth told, what made Touou's captain the most uneasy was exactly the fact that he was new at this leading business—he was clumsy at best, even if his leadership did yield satisfying results.

But satisfying would not do this time. Not in the Winter Cup semi-final in his last year of high school. It was his last chance to play against all of them—his last chance to one-up Seirin for the loss at the Inter-High.

He couldn't afford to let his team down now. He couldn't afford to have his clumsiness stop Touou's momentum to success.

Even though Rakuzan's image as the indomitable, omnipotent power in the world of high school basketball to have been slightly shaken with their two losses—at the Inter-High this year and the Winter Cup last year—Daiki made no delusions that Akashi would take it easy in this match or underestimate them.

Quite the contrary, and this was what worried Aomine the most—he was sure that it was exactly the fact that Akashi was more seasoned in being a team's captain that would probably affect the end result of this match.

He only realized that his teammates were trying to get his attention when Tougu used his named to bring him out of his reverie.

"Captain, what do we do?" the boy next to him asked, looking on at Daiki with expectation, trepidation, excitement and a myriad of other complex emotions someone as simple-minded as Daiki couldn't entirely differentiate in another's face.

The underclassman's expression, though, made the captain's eyes widen slightly. It caused him to briefly scan the looks on all his teammate's faces, stopping on Satsuki's unusually still and completely unreadable mask. Doing so made him realize a very important thing he hadn't given much consideration before.

All these boys were looking to him for support, reliance and trust. They believed he knew the right answers—even when he didn't—and they believed that he would somehow pull them through this predicament – like he always had.

They believed in him in a way people hadn't on court for a long, long time.

They didn't care how inexperienced he was, compared to Akashi. They didn't think it mattered. Maybe they hadn't even considered it. What mattered to them was that he—not the coach, not Satsuki, not anyone else—knew what they should do. To win. To triumph.

This thought fuelled the fire of his ever-blazing confidence, erasing any and all doubt he may have had about the outcome of the match. So what if Rakuzan was leading them by a double-digit score? So what if Akashi had been doing this for five years, when he had been stumbling through it for one?

If the guys and Satsuki believed he could lead them to victory, then he would damn well do so.

He launched into a lengthy explanation of a change of battle plan with the rest of the team, asking for his vice-captain's approval when he was done. When she nodded with a beaming grin, he smirked and stretched his limbs, just as the signal for getting back on the court sounded.

That day, when he carried his team through a very hard-earned win, Daiki felt the full weight of the title he had inherited from Wakamatsu.

She had noticed it first in the game against Akashi-kun's team. But when she was sitting right next to him on the bench after practice the next day, the flick of his neck—almost like a tic now—made it impossible to ignore.

Dai-chan had let his hair grow out a lot, as compared to what she was used to seeing him like for years.

For once, he actually had fringe to speak of, and the navy spikes were long enough for him to be able to run his fingers through. Now, after a rather strenuous practice, the tresses of his hair stuck to his temples and forehead, tickling him and making him brush his fingers against his hair annoyed.

"You've really let your hair get long, huh?" she couldn't help commenting, drawing his attention to her.

He considered it for a moment, before sighing in aggravation. He ran a hand much more forcefully than she thought he should through his dampened by perspiration locks. He rolled his eyes.

"I've let this get out of hand, seriously," he said, ire simmering in his voice. "I should go get it cut sometime soon."

The Touou captain was surprised at the almost remorseful sigh his comment elicited from his manager. What catches him even more unprepared was the light way she ran her fingers through his hair—and he couldn't for a moment forget how slickened with sweat he was right then, and that she should be disgusted and not running her dainty, pretty fingers through the disgusting state in which his hair was—and the gentleness of the ministration made him turn his head to set his gaze on her face.

His eyes widened a fraction when he took in the crestfallen look in her expression.

"Really? That would be such a shame, though."

She said nothing else after that, unabashedly retracting her hand and letting it rest in her lap as she started jotting down some notes on her clipboard.

It took Daiki some time to compose himself again—although no change in his expression had ever come throughout their entire exchange. He sighed heavily, stretching his legs out in front of him while the boys finished up practice on the court.

They spent some time in silence, the only sounds that flitted to them those of the several basketballs bouncing off the surface of the gym's floor.



When he didn't continue, she looked up from her writing to see that he was facing away from her, his gaze strangely elusive.

"What? I can't read minds, you know," she deadpanned, her lips forming a tight line.

And thank God for that, Daiki remarked to himself before returning back to present time.

"I think you should follow the path you like after graduation," he told her bluntly, while not saying a lot of the things he actually wanted to.

He didn't say them because he couldn't voice them aloud. He couldn't, because she was Satsuki and he was himself, and there were just some things he couldn't put into words.

He had no words to offer her for her continued support through all the years. He had no words to give her in return for her unwavering trust in him, even when he himself had been left with none. He had no right words to express his stance on her decision to follow him—him, and not Tetsu—when she had to choose a high school. Words like gratitude, reverence, adoration—they failed to capture what he wanted to say, and he was not good at using complex verbal structures like that anyway.

He'd never been good with words, but he knew that even with his vagueness, she'd understand. She always did.

"Of course I will," Satsuki responded a minute later, her tone almost flippant. "When haven't I done as I pleased?"

She was doing her best to downplay it—and he appreciated that—but she couldn't fool him. He could hear the nervousness in her supposedly calm tone, the uneasiness behind her mock-playfulness.

And all of that was fine. He could understand it. He was so used to having her around that it was hard to imagine what a future with a lot less of her would be like.

Still, he knew that it was for the best. He'd shown her and he'd continue to show her that he would be fine even without her guidance, without her care and looking after him, so she would be able to move on with her life like she had wanted to ever since middle school. He knew she had been burdened by her duty to watch after him, and no matter how much her mother tried to sugar-coat it, he knew there was no denying it.

Even if she found good sides to her situation right now, that didn't mean it was in her best interest.

And he'd be damned before he let himself be the reason that she regretted anything else in her life anymore.

The final of the Winter Cup ended with the last signal. When it did, the Touou boys, coach and manager—who had all been almost literally hanging on the edge of their seats—stared disbelievingly at the numbers on the board. From the silence of the audience, it was easy to tell that they were just as winded and still unable to react as both teams on court were.

But then—then.

The crowd erupted in the loudest cheers the gym had ever been witness to. It was no wonder either—especially after such a nerve-wracking and exciting match.

But what was even more incredible was that all those people were screaming, whistling and cheering for them—for this year's winner; congratulating them on a beautiful and amazing game.

For the first time in a few years, the winner of the Winter Cup was Touou Academy.

As he stared at the results on the board, Daiki's eyes were wide as saucers and completely unblinking. He could barely feel the excited pats of his teammates on his back and shoulders, the way some of the guys were hugging him in excruciating holds, a smaller one even almost trying to clamber on him in his jubilation.

He stared and stared at the board, his jaw slightly ajar in amazement—part of him still slow on the uptake with the fact that the match was over, it was finally over and he could relax because he had won, he had brought the team to a successful end of the season at the very end of his 'career'—while he slowly shifted his gaze to fixate it upon Satsuki's face.

She was squealing to herself in joy, her palms cupping her nose and cheeks, the hints of tears of joy gleaming in the corners of her eyes. She looked to happy, so exultant, so triumphant—so proud—that his mind finally—slowly—starts catching up. They had won. They won.

The grin that erupts on his face then, as he supports the boy on his back and ruffles the hair of the smaller guy hugging him from the side, the excited cheers and high-fives he shares with the team—it overwhelmed him. It was all so amazing, so incredible, yet so right and expected and deserved…!

He couldn't stop grinning for the rest of the day.

He knew that after the match and the award ceremony and all the pleasantries were over and done with, he would have to pass the torch—just like Wakamatsu had passed it to him.

But for just one more evening, he wanted to bask in the joy that he was the captain of the Touou that had won the Winter Cup ever after the Generation of Miracles had all gone their separate ways and played for their own different teams.

And as he grinned like a lunatic, laughing and joking and poking fun at his boys—their captain for one last day—Satsuki could no longer ignore the fact that she knew what she had to do.

No. Rather – she knew what she wanted—yearned—to be doing.

She hated the cold. She always had. Winter was her least favourite season of the year. Snow was diabolic, in her opinion. It was cold, wet and treacherous. One wrong judgement and it could send you flying to land on your ass in the most disgraceful of ways.

She found it especially unpleasant when she was wearing her slightly high-heeled boots.

Shrine visiting on the Eve of the first day of the New Year was also the most ridiculous tradition ever. Especially when there was piles of snow everywhere, and the temperatures were so low there could very well be polar bears roaming around.

But still, traditions were traditions, and there was no way to say no when both her parents and her Auntie and Uncle were ushering both her and Daiki to join them for the first shrine visit of the year.

As they made a slow ascent towards the largest shrine in their vicinity, Satsuki took great care to hold onto Daiki's arm for dear life. She refused to start the year by falling on her ass, and besides, Daiki was a reliable guy when it came to keeping her balance—even if he looked like he could care less about her dignity, while she clung to his arm the hand of which he had securely in his jacket pocket.

She had always found Dai-chan's ability to withstand the cold amazing. She had no idea how his body regulated his temperature, but she had always been in awe how he could be warm like a furnace even when it was below zero Celsius outside.

She grumbled on the whole way up the hill towards the shrine, and he yawned the entire time while they waited in line for their turn. Their parents were a little ways behind, Satsuki noticed, so she was sure they'd end up staying outside a lot longer than she would've liked if it was up to her.

Once they were in front of the shrine, they threw a couple of coins, pulled the large string and clapped their hands together in silent prayer. As she peered at Daiki's profile from the side, she briefly wondered what he was wishing for while he prayed, before she made up her mind what her wish for this year was going to be.

A small, gentle smile played across her face as they stood side to side at the shrine's altar.

"Dai-chan?" she started carefully once they were walking away, letting other people make their wishes.


"I know what I want to do this April."

It took him a moment to wonder at first what was happening in April, until he caught up what she was trying to say. When he did, he threw her a quizzical look, veiling perfectly well his interest in what she was going to say—the late (or early, depending on how you viewed it) hour aided him greatly in that.

"Oh, yea? And what's that?"

She smiled mysteriously, tucking a strand of her flowing rose-coloured hair behind an ear.

"First, I'll make sure that a certain troublemaking person isn't actually up to no good while trying to get rid of me." Her comment made his brows rise in surprise.

When she continued, her grin morphed into a more mischievous look.

"Then, … then…" she paused, her mirth subsiding. She refused to let the nervousness simmer in her voice, so she slowed her feet's pace as she tried to still the ramming of her heart against her ribcage.

"Then?" Daiki prompted her curiously—mercilessly—a small complacent grin tugging on the corner of his lips. He was enjoying watching her feeling excruciated under his scrutiny, damn him!

"Then," she started again, inhaling deeply the mind-numbingly cold air, "I will continue being and doing as I always have."

The former ace and captain of Touou face-faulted slightly at that.

"How uninteresting. And here I thought you had something cool to say," he commented off-handily. It earned him an elbow to the ribs that made him double over slightly. "Starting off the year with violence—not quite model behaviour, is it, Ms Manager?"

"Oh, shut up," she said as severely as she could, but the effect was somehow lost because of the laughter bubbling in her voice.

When she composed herself again, she laced her arm around Daiki's and continued trudging onward through the snow towards the refreshment stalls.

"Until there is someone to take the torch from me—until there's someone to relieve me from my post," she had intended to say the word with a heavy dose of exasperation, but instead choked around the lump that formed in her throat at the mere notion, "I'll continue holding the role of your keeper. You know, to make sure you don't wreck anything important, or that you don't hurt yourself while being your usual idiot self. It's a very responsible task."

He smiled in a way that would've made her heart hammer loud in her chest if it wasn't already skipping.

Daiki exhaled deeply, his breath becoming a small cloud of steam in the cold air, while he made his hand more comfortable.

"I see. I look forward to your hard work this year too, then, kind miss."

She wanted to have the last say—to make a smart comment. But somehow no words came to mind. She was drawing blank after blank, so after a brief struggle to get her vocal cords to cooperate, she gave up and burrowed her nose into her scarf instead.

As they made the slow descent towards their houses, Satsuki wondered if it was possible that the heat in her cheeks and neck was the result of a transfer from Daiki's warm fingers, which were now carefully—intimately—intertwined with hers.

A/N: It's done! Finally! Wow, I'm so relieved. xD I'm not sure the end is to my taste, but it was the best I could come up with, so, voila!

The exchange between Daiki and Mrs Momoi—which I believe is fully possible in canon universe—is one of the reasons I fell in love with the pairing to begin with. It's also one of my rarest strokes of genius in a while (if I may be so immodest to say so myself), so I am disproportionately proud of it and would be incredibly sad if it didn't come across as impressive as I intended it.

I hope you enjoyed! I know I certainly did, regardless of the fact it went out of control, like everything I write usually does. *crying*