Cross-post from my archive.
Fandom/Arc: Kuroko no Basuke, Singing in the Dead of Night
Characters/Pairings: Aida Riko, Aomine Daiki, Kagami Taiga, Kuroko Tetsuya, Momoi Satsuki
Summary: Momoi knows that the problems between Aomine and Kuroko and Kagami have to be ironed out before they start the Interhigh preliminaries, and she has a plan. That doesn't make it easy, though.
Meta: Drama, Angst, I-3
Momoi Satsuki liked Seirin. They were a challenge, and she liked a challenge to her skills just as much as any of the boys did.
This Moment to Arise - Preparations
Momoi Satsuki liked Seirin. They were a challenge, and she liked a challenge to her skills just as much as any of the boys did. Seirin had a coach she could talk with about skin care and cute mascot animals, and Riko-san blushed kind of adorably whenever Satsuki teased her over the captain. (Who totally was her boyfriend, even if neither of them admitted it.) And their captain paid close attention to her, listened to her analysis of what teams were strongest, asked her to scout upcoming competition.
The results of her first scouting expedition after she’d gotten ahold of the Tokyo preliminary bracket, had made him look pained. Her tentative solution had made him look downright dyspeptic. He’d agreed to her plan, though, and she liked the feeling of that trust.
“Gather up!” Hyuuga-san called across the gym, as the club filtered in from the locker room. “Briefing time for the Interhigh preliminaries!”
All the boys perked up and promptly gathered around, watching her attentively, and Satsuki sparkled at them just a little, enjoying the thread of excitement and tension in the air. It was the start of tournament season, and Seirin was about to put her analysis and their skills to the test. “The preliminary bracket is oddly shaped for us, this year,” she started, tapping a finger on the edge of her clipboard. “For the most part, we shouldn’t have trouble until we get to the final match of our block, where we’ll most likely face Shinsenkan. Our very first match, though, has something unexpected.” She turned the board around to show them her stats sheet on Shinkyou’s new player. “Shinkyou has a foreign student playing this season. Papa Mbaye Siki of Senegal.”
There was a moment of silence.
“…Momoi-chan, are those figures real?” Koganei-senpai finally asked weakly.
“Two hundred centimeters,” she confirmed. “His arms add almost another meter.”
“He won’t even have to jump for the basket,” Izuki-senpai said, appalled.
“Which is why Mitobe-san will be the key of the defense,” Satsuki agreed, and smiled a little as all the second-years relaxed. She liked this about Seirin, too, that they knew each other’s strengths and trusted each other so well. “If he manages to break away from Mitobe-san, the second line of defense will be Kagami-kun, to block the shot, or Aomine-kun to steal the ball. Be ready, you two.”
Those two exchanged curled lips over Tetsu-kun’s head and Satsuki exchanged a resigned look with Riko-kantoku. They’d talked about the edginess between Kagamin and Dai-chan, and about how to bring the boys around. Riko-kantoku had made even worse faces than Hyuuga-san over Satsuki’s plan, but in the end she’d agreed also. It was Satsuki, after all, who knew Dai-chan and Tetsu-kun the best, and could project their responses most accurately.
The trust warmed her, but the responsibility made adrenaline tingle through her veins.
“Offense will actually have much the same problem,” she went on. “Siki-san is tall enough to block many of Aomine-kun’s shots, and even Hyuuga-san’s, and catch Kagami-kun’s dunks if he just stays under the basket. We have to count on Shikyou’s coach and captain spotting that. So!” She clasped her board to her chest and smiled sweetly at Kagamin and Dai-chan. “The two of you will need to work as a pair. Whoever doesn’t have the ball will need to screen whoever does and keep Siki-san away from the basket. Let Tetsu-kun decide who takes the ball,” she added warningly as Kagamin and Dai-chan eyed each other with an instant flare of competitiveness. She swore it was spinal reflex for both of them. “He has a better sense of the flow of the game than either of you will probably ever have.”
Tetsu-kun nodded calm agreement, completely ignoring the way both his current partners shifted their glowers to him. Satsuki stifled a sigh. She couldn’t exactly blame Tetsu-kun for using Kagamin to make Dai-chan jealous. It seemed to be the only way to get Dai-chan’s attention at all, lately. But the unspoken competition over Tetsu-kun was starting to get serious. It had been heating up ever since the Kaijou game, when Tetsu-kun had come off the court with that little smile on his face, head cocked up to listen to Kagamin with the tolerant affection Tetsu-kun always showed his partners—and no one but his partners. He didn’t look like that at anyone who didn’t understand and value his style, who couldn’t play with him. By that measure, Kagamin was overtaking Dai-chan fast, and Satsuki thought Dai-chan knew it even if Kagamin maybe didn’t quite yet. He’d certainly noticed the fresh edge on Dai-chan’s jibes at him, though. The tension was starting to interfere with their play.
Which was why the next thing she said was, “In order to help the two of you work as a team, you’re going to be spending time together outside training. You’ll go for late dinner together every night after practice, from now on, along with Tetsu-kun and me.”
Satsuki wondered ruefully if she should consider it progress that they yelped that in perfect unison.
“I am damn well not—” Dai-chan started, heatedly, and Satsuki gave him her sweetest smile and cut him off.
“Dai-chan,” she lilted, and he shut up at once, eyeing her warily. He knew what that tone meant, and had ever since they were seven and she’d hit him over the head with a toy train when he wouldn’t stop stealing her barrettes.
“We don’t really need…” Kagamin tried in turn, looking appealingly at Riko-kantoku. She gave him a gleaming smile back.
“Quadruple drills?” she suggested, and Kagamin gulped and shut up too.
Satsuki wasn’t particularly surprised, though, that that evening’s Battle of the Bento was especially fierce. Dai-chan came away with skinned knuckles but also with three of Kagamin’s meatballs while Kagamin clutched the remainder to his chest and held his chopsticks like he’d stab the next hand that came close. She’d have to remember to make Dai-chan buy Kagamin an extra hamburger tonight.
Tetsu-kun nibbled on the last of his vegetables and watched Dai-chan smirk over his spoils with a distance in his eyes that Satsuki didn’t like. They weren’t doing this a moment too soon. In fact, she was starting to hope they weren’t too late. If Tetsu-kun ever really did turn away from Dai-chan to partner with Kagamin alone, she didn’t want to think what that would do to Dai-chan.
Or to Tetsu-kun.
Dai-chan leaned his chin in his hands, watching with some fascination as Kagamin decimated a tray full of hamburgers. “How have you not exploded yet, seriously?” He reached over to poke at Kagamin’s stomach, and Satsuki slapped his hand.
“Be nice,” she ordered sternly. “This is a team bonding exercise. Besides, it’s your fault if Kagamin is extra hungry tonight.”
“I’ve always stolen my teammates food,” Dai-chan defended himself. “So if the point is team bonding then you shouldn’t stop me.”
“The point is for you and Kagami-kun to work together and support each other,” Tetsu-kun put in while Satsuki was making frustrated sounds over Dai-chan’s personal version of logic. “Maybe you should just ask if Kagami-kun will make extra for you.”
Kagamin paused in the process of inhaling another burger and glared at both Tetsu-kun and Dai-chan. “Like hell I will.”
Dai-chan leaned back in his chair, hooking an arm over the back, mouth twisted in a sardonic smile. “Yeah, seriously Tetsu, that was kind of obvious.”
Tetsu-kun took another sip of the shake he’d been working on, eyes level on Dai-chan, and Satsuki winced. She’d seen that look too often in the past week, and it wasn’t one Tetsu-kun gave people he was happy with.
“Then it looks like the way you usually act with teammates doesn’t work very well.”
Dai-chan’s face darkened. “Tetsu…”
“Stop,” Satsuki said flatly, and sighed when all three of them looked at her. This was exactly why she’d made sure Tetsu-kun came along; they needed to get all the problems out in the open before they blew up, and these problems were rooted too far in the past for their new captain or coach to deal with easily. So it was down to her. “Tetsu-kun. I know you’re angry over what happened last year. You have a right to be. But it’s affecting your teamwork with Dai-chan badly enough that I’m not sure we can actually put the two of you in as partners in a demanding game. Is that what you want?” She clasped her hands tight, under the table, hoping the answer was still ‘no’.
“Oh for god’s sake, Tetsu,” Dai-chan exploded before Tetsu-kun could answer. “I told you, didn’t I? Yes, you’re right! You’re the one in the right! But I can’t do it, I can’t play all out, not when it just makes people give up!” He jerked his head away to scowl out the window.
“Then don’t,” Tetsu-kun told him, soft and harsh. “If you want to break your own game, fine. Do it. But don’t break mine!”
Satsuki was biting her lip hard, fingers wound white-knuckled around each other; she’d seen the problem and she’d brought them here, and now the very most she could do to help was to nudge them. The rest, they had to do for themselves. It was the one thing she hated about her own speciality. “Is that why you’ve been working more with Kagamin, Tetsu-kun?”
“Of course.” Tetsu-kun set his cup down and sat back with sharp, precise movements. “Kagami-kun trusts me. Aomine-kun doesn’t.”
Dai-chan jerked back at that, eyes wide, and whatever he’d been about to say cut off. Kagamin made a startled sound, one hand full of hamburger still halfway to his mouth where he’d stopped short to stare at the sudden argument.
“What… what do you mean I don’t trust you?” Dai-chan asked, half laughing and unsettled. “You’re my shadow, of course I trust you. Our combination is still tighter than what you have with Kagami.”
“That’s practice, not trust,” Tetsu-kun said sharply. “You play on your own and just assume I’ll follow, if you think about it at all. You don’t care any more what choices I might make for the game. If we were in a tight situation again, you’d do what you did last year and keep the ball yourself instead of trusting me with it.”
“So you’d rather play with him?” Dai-chan demanded, pointing at Kagamin, who was watching them intently, now, like they were a question he couldn’t quite remember the answer to. “If I’m not trusting you enough, then he’s leaning on you too much! He won’t be able to advance, that way, and then where are you? You’re a shadow, Tetsu; to be strong you need a strong light. He won’t make you strong enough!”
Finally, Kagamin spoke up. “Don’t go making decisions for other people. How strong I can get is up to me. And how strong Kuroko can get is up to him.” He finished off his burger and folded his arms, eyeing them.
Tetsu-kun’s shoulders fell a little out of their fiercely straight line. “That’s why,” he said quietly, looking up at Dai-chan. “Didn’t you think that, too, when you told me I should stay in the club, in middle school?” He looked down at the table, jaw tight. “I want my partner back, Aomine-kun. But I’m your partner, not your equipment.”
Dai-chan opened his mouth and closed it again, eyes dark. Finally, he pushed up from the table and stalked out the doors, head down.
“You okay with just letting him go?” Kagamin asked, dubious.
Satsuki had to take a deep breath to keep her voice from shaking, but she was smiling. “Yes. I think so. When Dai-chan stalks off in a huff like that, it usually means you got him to think and now he wants to do it in private.”
“Hm.” Kagamin made another burger disappear. “Seems like it’s their teamwork you want to work on, not his and mine.”
Satsuki pulled herself together and shook a finger at him. “We’ll get to yours, don’t worry. The two of you really do need to figure out how to work together, or what use is it to the team to have both of you around?” She shot a look at Tetsu-kun, who was staring at his half-melted shake and not drinking. “But it’s true that a lot of the problems between you come out of the problems between Tetsu-kun and Dai-chan.”
Tetsu-kun looked up at her, brows pinched in a little, and she reached over to rest her hand on his. “I think he heard you, this time, Tetsu-kun. It’ll be all right.”
Kagamin snorted, standing up with his empty tray. "So that’s why you’ve been pushing us against each other." He looked down at Tetsu-kun, steadily. "You could have just said so, instead of hoping I’d rub off on him or something." He went back to the counter for another five burgers while Tetsu-kun winced faintly.
When he came back, he dumped a fresh shake in front of Tetsu-kun and wouldn’t look at either of them while he finished off the rest of his snack. Tetsu-kun watched him for a long moment, eyes just that bit wider than usual that meant he was startled, and finally took the shake. "Thank you," he said, low, sipping quietly.
"Mm," Kagami acknowledged around a full mouth, still not looking at them.
Satsuki was starting to think that they’d all gotten luckier than they deserved, finding Kagamin at Seirin.
Dai-chan stalked through practice the next day, silent and preoccupied, constantly watching Tetsu-kun out of the corner of his eye.
“Do I need to keep those two separated?” Riko-kantoku asked quietly.
Satsuki shook her head. “No, I think we actually got somewhere. Let Aomine-kun play with Tetsu-kun in today’s mini-game, and we’ll know for sure.”
Riko-kantoku patted her shoulder. “Good work. I’ll see to it.”
Sure enough, Riko-kantoku had a quiet word with Hyuuga-san, and when they divided up players for a mini-game Dai-chan and Tetsu-kun were on the same team. Satsuki watched Tetsu-kun stop in front of Dai-chan, looking up at him without speaking. After a long moment, Dai-chan closed his eyes and nodded. They turned away to their positions, still without speaking, and Satsuki noted ruefully how wary Tsuchida and Furihata seemed of their current teammates. She couldn’t entirely blame them; there’d practically been a storm cloud hanging over Dai-chan’s head all day. She was having to restrain herself strenuously from biting her nails, or possibly her clipboard, waiting for this game to start.
When they did, her breath caught.
Dai-chan moved like she hadn’t seen him move in over a year. Like he and Tetsu-kun were thinking the same thoughts, breathing the same breath. Tetsu-kun didn’t need to signal, barely needed to glance at Dai-chan, for Dai-chan to be in motion. Again and again, he hit the perfect mark to receive Tetsu-kun’s passes, so cleanly no one could break the route. Again and again, Tetsu-kun sent the perfect pass to match Dai-chan’s movement. At the end of twenty minutes, the score was fifty to thirty, in favor of Dai-chan and Tetsu-kun’s side.
When they all finished tossing their numbers back in the basket, Tetsu-kun stopped and stood looking at Dai-chan with a smile on his face, faint and true, and Dai-chan smiled back, a little tilted. He held out his fist casually, and after a very still moment Tetsu reached out and touched it with his own, light as though he thought it was an illusion that might burst on contact. Satsuki thought about how long it had been since the last time she had seen them do that, and had to swallow hard to get the lump out of her throat, and nearly lost it anyway when Riko-san wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “Shh, it’s okay,” Riko-san told her softly. “They’re okay, now, aren’t they?” Satsuki nodded wordlessly, blinking back tears.
“Aomine, you asshole,” Kagamin panted, swiping back sweat-soaked hair. “You’ve been holding out on me.” Dai-chan started to smirk, and then both he and Kagamin yelped as Hyuuga-san fetched them brisk, matching swats across the back of the head.
“Okay,” he snapped, giving Dai-chan a hard look, “what the hell kind of play was that? I have never seen anyone hog the ball that badly in my life!”
Tetsu-kun looked abashed and bobbed a bow. “I apologize, senpai. I should have paid more attention to that.”
Dai-chan looked back and forth between them, utterly blank. “Why should you? I mean, there’s no one else here strong enough to deal with him,” he jerked his thumb at Kagamin, “obviously you’d get the ball to me. What?” he added, as everyone stared at him.
Tetsu-kun sighed, shoulders slumping a bit, even though his smile still hovered around the corners of his mouth. Hyuuga-san just rubbed his forehead and muttered under his breath, “Why did I let that guy talk me into running this team, again?” He stabbed a finger at Dai-chan. “We are going to talk about why there are other players on a team. Later. Right now, we have shooting drills to get through; everyone get to it!”
Dai-chan gave their captain a baffled look and shrugged at Tetsu-kun before going to fetch them both balls from the bin.
Satsuki couldn’t help herself. She turned and buried her head against Riko-san’s shoulder, giggling helplessly and as silently as she could manage. Riko-san patted her back with a rueful sigh. “I guess we still have a ways to go, huh?”
Satsuki finally got a hold of herself and straightened up, brushing back her hair and smiling encouragingly for her coach. “Yes, but at least it’s a start. If we can get him to work with Kagamin, that will be another step.”
Listening to the conversation over late dinner that night, though, Satsuki thought that it might be kind of a big step from Kagamin to everyone else.
“I mean!” Dai-chan gestured vigorously with his cup of soda. “It’s just the plain truth, isn’t it? It’s not like I’m saying they’re totally weak, but none of them is up to our level. I think Hyuuga-senpai is the only one who even starts to come close.”
She smacked his shoulder with the back of her hand. “Quit being such a snob, Dai-chan. Hyuuga-senpai would probably have been first-string at Teikou.”
“Yeah, but there’s first-string, and then there’s us, is all I’m saying.” He shrugged and sucked on his straw.
“And every single one of you is annoying as all fuck.” Kagamin unwrapped another burger, giving Dai-chan a dark look. “Kise isn’t as bad, and Kuroko’s fine when he’s not scaring the life out of you for fun, but it’s been too damn long since you lost, is what.”
Satsuki winced as Dai-chan’s face turned still and distant. “No one can beat me,” he stated, flat and harsh. “No one but myself.”
“Aomine-kun,” Tetsu-kun said quietly, with a shadow of something entreating in the way he looked at his partner. Dai-chan sighed and shook the moment off.
“I know, Tetsu, but facts are facts. The best I can hope for is people like him,” he flicked his fingers at Kagamin, “who are at least a little entertaining and don’t give up too fast.” Kagamin growled around a mouthful of food, and Dai-chan smirked at him, humor restored. “So quit letting Tetsu pull your nuts out of the fire for you; it’ll make you soft.”
“Kagami-kun is my partner also.” Tetsu-kun’s tone made Dai-chan hold up his hands in surrender and Kagamin settle back in his chair, though his glare still promised the argument wasn’t over yet. Just postponed. Satsuki quite deliberately sparkled at them and leaned her chin delicately on her laced hands.
“You can be so commanding when you want to be, Tetsu-kun.”
That, at least, got Dai-chan and Kagamin snickering together, and the amused glance Tetsu-kun gave her over his shake suggested he knew why she’d said it. But Satsuki couldn’t help worrying that it wouldn’t be enough. They only had four days left before the first match of preliminaries, and Kagamin and Dai-chan were still treating each other far more like rivals than like teammates.
Satsuki gave Tetsu-kun a considering look; he had already set them on track to competing with each other. She didn’t think Kagamin understood all of why, yet, but she did. She knew already that Kagamin could grow strong enough to make it work, to make Dai-chan respect him and break through that bleak core in his game. He was closing in on Dai-chan already, and all her projections said he could do it. That was yet to happen, though. Maybe, for now, instead of trying to make them work together the best thing to do was to make use of their competition.
Four days later, Riko-kantoku winced a little as Kagamin nearly ran Siki down trying to slam in another dunk. Not because Seirin was behind in points, which they weren’t. No, it was because Kagamin was two baskets behind Dai-chan in their personal contest. “Are you sure this was a good idea, Satsuki-chan?”
“I’m afraid it’s the best we’re going to get for now,” Satsuki murmured, watching the second-years and weighing her captain’s fast eroding patience. Hyuuga-san was going to smack both of them any moment now, unless… yes, Izuki-senpai saw it too and sent the ball to the outside to let both the team’s aces settle down a bit. Satsuki sighed. “I’ll keep working on it.”
“We’ll all keep working on it,” Riko-san corrected firmly. “If both of them were raised by wolves before now, it’s up to us to civilize them.”
Satsuki smiled down at her coach, sweet and warm with the unaccustomed feeling of a senpai’s support. “Yes, Kantoku.”
She really did like being at Seirin very much.
A/N: So, here’s the thing. Fujimaki’s Interhigh tournament brackets are incredibly screwed up. The only preliminary we see, for Interhigh, is prefect-level. This is made very clear by the fact that Kaijou, the Kanagawa champions, do not appear in the preliminary finals. Kanagawa is a prefect of the Kantou region, just like Tokyo is, and if the preliminary had been regional (as Kiyoshi suggests it is much later in the series by calling it the Kantou tournament) then Kaijou would have been in the finals. So, apparently the regional preliminary doesn’t exist, fine, whatever. But on top of that, Fujimaki puts two of the three Kings into the same block of preliminaries. This is completely counter to usual practice in any kind of preliminary elimination; three schools as widely geographically divided as those are shown to be should not be in the same block. Over and above that, though, these three are said to always be the three who win the preliminary finals, which means they must never have shared a block before or one of them would have eliminated the other before the finals. In short, Fujimaki decided that Drama > Logic. Fine, whatever, but I’m a little allergic to that kind of thing, and hereby declare that the three Kings are each in a different block, and that Shinsenkan is the only one in Seirin’s block. The preliminary finals will, therefore, feature Seirin, Seihou, Shuutoku, and Touou.