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lucid /ˈluːsɪd/

  • (psychology)
  • (of a dream) experienced with the dreamer feeling awake, aware of dreaming, and able to control events consciously.

 


 

Those first days back in Teikou—even before Kise joined—were like a wonderful dream to Daiki.

 

He had felt like he was soaring every single day.

 

He went to bed happy and giddy about the upcoming practice the next day. At night he dreamt of facing off against strong opponents that pushed him and the rest of the soon-to-be-dubbed Generation of Miracles to their limits.

 

He would wake up before his alarm went off and get ready for school in record time.

 

During classes the whole day he’d pretty much space out and tune out everything his teachers were trying to teach him. He would bounce on the balls of his feet all day just for those precious hours after school.

 

During those times he would get to play with the people who infallibly made basketball even more fun.

 

Something he’d thought physically impossible. Yet there it had been.

 

And Satsuki would watch in awe of how quickly he’d improve his game—beyond her wildest expectations. There was little doubt in her mind that this improvement was owing largely to the fact that Daiki had finally found people matching his talent. Not only that, he had found friends who potentiated his plays and style.

 

She had loved watching them—watching Dai-chan play with his friends in the first string—to a degree she would never be able to express with words.

 

It had felt like a dream to them both—one that was incomparable to anything else. A wonderful dream where everyone was happy and smiling and one.

 

That was why when the cracks in their idyll started appearing, everyone tried to ignore them as long as possible.

 

Regardless of the fact they were only fourteen years old, they realized well that nothing lasted forever in life. There was no such thing as forever. No matter how great something was, eventually it would start to fall apart.

 

But for the sake of their fragile selves—for the sake of that happiness they’d won with difficulty—they pretended like they didn’t see it all coming apart at the seams.

 

However, it did. Slowly but surely it started coming undone.

 

It had all been a very painful affair for everyone concerned… yet Satsuki felt like the people most deeply affected by the ordeal were the ones whose hearts were the most vested in the Generation of Miracles utopia.

 

Namely Tetsu-kun and Dai-chan.

 

She could never pretend to understand how Tetsu-kun must’ve felt during those days. When he started feeling that something was off. When winning games no longer brought those blinding smiles to everyone’s faces.

 

No longer brought a smile to their ace’s face.

 

When the faces they showed during quarters and breaks in matches turned into grimaces.

 

When they no longer bore expressions shown by normal boys enjoying a sport they loved in one another’s company.

 

She adored Tetsu-kun and that was perhaps the furthest one could get from understanding another.

 

Nevertheless, from having watched him and interacted with him, she knew enough to be certain that slowly losing his closest friend on the court to his unfair amount of budding talent couldn’t have been easy.

 

Especially when it was at a sport that Tetsu-kun was almost talentless at, regardless how much he loved it.

 

But the finishing blow had been dealt personally by none other than Dai-chan, she knew.

 

She knew because she saw Dai-chan that day.

 


 

As if it wasn’t enough that he just up and left practice that day. Out of nowhere, he just took his things and ran off.

 

Satsuki heard from the coach that the head coach ran into him and didn’t even grill the idiot into coming back to practice.

 

Then that… weird showdown between Mukkun and Akashi-kun happened. It felt like something in Akashi-kun snapped in that moment.

 

To top it all off, despite having won the power struggle, Akashi-kun said some outrageous stuff about everyone from the recently dubbed Generation of Miracles being free to do as they pleased as long as they won their games. Something he had been more than reluctant to allow now even ten minutes earlier.

 

What would become of their team if they stopped trying to work together? Somehow, she couldn’t imagine a favorable outcome of that scenario.

 

After it was all said and done, Satsuki headed home that day with an unsettling feeling in the pit of her stomach.

 

That’s when she saw Dai-chan, listlessly dragging his feet on the wet sidewalk, no umbrella or anything to shield him from the pouring rain.

 

She rushed over to him, holding her umbrella up over him and starting to dutifully chew him out for disappearing in a hissy fit earlier.

 

When he fixed his eyes on her, her words died on her tongue. His expression and the look in his cobalt eyes worked as though someone had driven a stake through her heart.

 

She didn’t know why but it was suddenly hard to breathe.

 

“Ah… Satsuki…” he’d muttered eloquently, blinking slowly at her. The short spikes of hair were sticking to his forehead because of the rain. There were droplets of water in his eyelashes from having been out in the downpour too long. “Where did you come from?”

 

Satsuki swallowed hard around the lump in her throat.

 

“Practice, of course!” she said without any fervor in her reproach. Nevertheless, she felt it a small victory to have been able to compose herself as to say that much. “The same place you should’ve come back from!”

 

At this, Daiki’s eyes shifted away from her, pinning to their feet and the small rivers running along the streets of the city. He was so listless that he could best be described as lifeless.

 

She shuddered.

 

The shiver that raked her being had nothing to do with the chill from the cold rain.

 

“Look at you, all soaked to the bone.” She huffed to herself and started fishing in her pocket with her free hand. When she found what she was looking for—a handkerchief—she turned her attention back to Daiki to see him just as emotionlessly surveying her without having moved a muscle. “Come here, Dai-chan. Let’s undo at least some of the damage that pesky rain did, eh?”

 

She started dabbing at his face and neck and then soaked up as much of the water in his hair as she could with the small piece of cloth.

 

It unnerved her that he never complained once during the whole two minutes she busied herself with that task. He didn’t say anything, for that matter. He didn’t even move. It caused her uneasiness to intensify.

 

“Come on, Dai-chan. Let’s go home.”

 

Satsuki didn’t know why, but she had a feeling that hearing her call him by the same nickname she had for over ten years (until they entered Teikou) seemed to have some kind of jump-start effect on him.

 

If even a tiny one.

 

If even just enough to get him out of his catatonia enough to do as she asked.

 

He started trudging down the road with her, his soaked shoes and practice slacks making a sloppy sound that made her cringe. She could only imagine how it felt to be walking in shoes full of water and having a second—freezing—skin.

 

She tried to strike a conversation with him clumsily as they headed home. But Dai-chan wouldn’t respond to anything she asked. Not regarding what he’d been up to, not about why he’d stormed off like that. Not even whether he’d been out in the rain the entire time, or if he’d met with Tetsu-kun.

 

It was all starting to become very unsettling until they finally arrived at their houses.

 

Seeing as Satsuki was the person with the umbrella, she escorted Daiki to his place.

 

“We’re back, Auntie!” she called out loudly when it seemed like her childhood friend wouldn’t.

 

They had been standing at the entrance to the Aomine’s house for a good minute in complete silence until she had decided to take it upon herself to announce their arrival.

 

She swallowed thickly again when Daiki just stared at nothing in particular while toeing off his ridiculously wet shoes. He was just in the process of dumping his equally wet school bag near the entrance when his mother poked her head from the living room.

 

“Welcome back, you two! You sure are late today—did you have some fun after practice?” the woman started cheerily. That was when the sight of her son drenched from the rain registered with her and she let out horrified shriek when he made to enter the house. “Good lord, Daiki! What the hell happened to you?!”

 

It set Satsuki even more on edge that he didn’t even utter a word of explanation to his mother.

 

“Sacchan, what is this?!” The woman who was like a second mother to her demanded of Satsuki next. It was a tactic that she often opted for through the years whenever her son was too pouty or moody to give her the time of day.

 

Before Satsuki could explain, Daiki finally opened his mouth.

 

“I forgot my umbrella, mother.”

 

This piece of information made his parent’s eye twitch spastically. This tells me nothing, young man! It was conveyed loud and clear to Satsuki, even if the older woman hadn’t breathed a word.

 

“I offered to take him home with my umbrella but he was already soaked when we met up, so…” Satsuki offered in an attempt to assuage the possible clash that could occur lest she intervened.

 

Somehow, she knew that it was the last thing Dai-chan needed that day. To get in an argument with his mother over this.

 

It seemed enough to placate the Aomine female to let the matter go, but not enough to let go of another.

 

She crossed her arms as she surveyed her offspring at the entrance.

 

“Well, whatever, but you’re not getting inside my house like that!” She huffed loudly as she turned around and headed for the cupboard where Satsuki knew they kept clean towels. “Take off your soaked clothes at the entrance and go take a shower.”

 

Daiki took a moment, then two to process the information. He proceeded to unceremoniously peel off his t-shirt from himself, dropping the cloth with a wet plop next to his feet—atop the tiles of the entrance.

 

Satsuki watched him with that same nervous tension as he went on to do the same with his slacks.

 

Then there was a towel shoved under his nose by his unamused mother.

 

“Dry your feet and legs. Oh, and your hair.” She basically ordered him when he took the proffered object.

 

The blue haired youth proceeded to mechanically do as told, until he received his mother’s nod of approval.

 

He was clad only in his wet underwear that still stuck to him in an obscene way, but he was no longer dripping rivers of rainwater on the wooden floorboards of the house.

 

“Okay then. Into the bathroom with you—chop chop!”

 

His mother shoved the boy with a testy huff. He shuffled his feet in the designated direction without a word.

 

“Make it a long and hot shower, Daiki!” his mother called after him.

 

Neither woman at the entrance understood whether he’d heard or not, because he gave no response—verbal or otherwise.

 

Satsuki watched him with a worried lip as he disappeared around the corner.

 

“Seriously, what’s got into that boy? He’s like a walking corpse.” The Aomine matron huffed in annoyance, placing her hands on her hips. Then she turned her attention to Satsuki. “Sacchan, did you guys have a fight or something?”

 

The pink-haired girl simply shook her head in response.

 

“He was like this already when we met up after practice.”

 

Her auntie let out a loud and long sigh.

 

“Jeez. What goes on in the head of that boy…”

 

After a brief interaction, Satsuki bowed and excused herself to go home.

 

It wasn’t like Dai-chan would be out of the bathroom anytime too soon.

 

Not if his mother had anything to say about it.

 

Yet even as she ate dinner with her parents, she still couldn’t focus on the conversation over supper thanks to the sickening feeling that had nested itself deeply in her heart that day.

 

The unease itself wasn’t news. It had been steadily growing over the last few weeks. The first time she’d felt it was when she realized that the cracks had started forming. It was the same time as their ace noticing it himself.

 

The first time when his opponents stopped even trying to play against him in that qualifier game for the nationals.

 

Teikou had been winning by a landslide and Daiki had been on fire. Something that she always looked forward to in a game. Yet, instead of that driving his opponents to try harder in order to stop him, instead those boys had simply adopted that deadened look and stopped trying altogether.

 

That was the day that the ace’s talents had started to blossom. And what that unease signified for Satsuki was just that it had been the tip of the iceberg.

 

The events from practice today were simply proof for exactly that. What was worse, now it wasn’t only Dai-chan whose growth she feared.

 

There was now Mukkun, too.

 

Not to mention the change that Akashi-kun had gone through during that short showdown with the tall center.

 

Just thinking about the situation made Satsuki’s skin crawl.

 

She couldn’t shake the notion that she shouldn’t leave Daiki alone that day.

 

So, after quickly scuffling down her dinner, she told her parents she’d be at Dai-chan’s and raced off towards the neighboring house.

 

Thankfully, the rain had stopped.

 

But the lack of rain did nothing to disperse the murky feeling Satsuki was drowning in.

 

She found her childhood friend sitting on the couch, watching his favorite comedy show. When she maneuvered herself so that she could sit on the couch next to him, her worst suspicions were confirmed.

 

Saying he was “watching” anything on TV was a stretch. From the listless expression on his face and the deadened look in his eyes, she could tell he was seeing right through the television set.

 

Satsuki exhaled slowly through her nose. Even though she liked this show normally as well, she couldn’t focus at all on any of the jokes.

 

She opened her mouth to say something but no words came forth. She’d already asked him everything she could think of on the trek home and none of it had earned her an answer from him.

 

Making small talk didn’t seem right either.

 

Trying to cheer him up when she had no clue what got him in this state to begin with was just stupid. It would just be empty words.

 

She was sure it had something to do with Tetsu-kun because he seemed to stiffen whenever Satsuki mentioned him. But everything beyond that was simply conjecture on her part. Seeing as Daiki refused to give her any information to work with.

 

She wished she could help, but she had no idea how.

 

So she clamped her mouth shut and curled her fingers into fists on the couch.

 

“Where are Auntie and Uncle?” she thought to ask at last, when the show ended. Neither of Dai-chan’s parents was in sight, which was rare in itself.

 

A long moment of silence stretched between them, filled only with the nonsensical music and plots of the TV commercials.

 

“No clue,” Dai-chan finally said.

 

It was the first time she had heard him speak since coming back to him that night. She disliked how his voice was scratchy and quiet.

 

They stayed like that, not breathing a word to each other for a good fifteen minutes or more. Just sitting next to one another without even acknowledging the other’s presence for what felt like an eternity.

 

The equilibrium was broken when Daiki keeled sideways without any preamble. His head fell right across Satsuki’s thighs.

 

She stiffened at once. Her immediate instinct was to smack him or push him off—or both—and demand what in the world he thought he was up to.

 

But then, during her moment of indecision, she saw that he still had that stony, listless look. She could only half of his face but his profile was still set in that worrisome expression. She realized it was definitely no ploy that he had read in any of his idiotic magazines. He probably hadn’t even done it on purpose.

 

This realization made her edginess syphon right out of her system and instead she relaxed back into the couch, allowing Dai-chan to use her lap as a pillow without complaint.

 

The next show started—some kind of history drama. She found herself unwittingly following what the characters on screen were doing for lack of anything else to busy herself with.

 

She was loath to admit it, but feeling Dai-chan physically closer did make her clenched heart ease up a bit.

 

When she shifted her magenta eyes to study his profile from above, Satsuki let out another long sigh. She had never seen Dai-chan like this and it was tearing her apart. She had no clue what had happened but she could bet it had something to do with Tetsu-kun and whatever had made Daiki snap during practice.

 

She had been feeling this unease about the team for a while now. With Dai-chan’s steep improvement, that anxiety had deepened exponentially. She saw earlier that day that this tension had not been something she imagined. Not when the normally docile Mukkun had ended up talking back and even challenged Akashi-kun.

 

Satsuki hated to think that it was possible that Dai-chan and Tetsu-kun had had a falling out. Yet all the facts pointed to it. Tetsu-kun had taken off in search for Dai-chan and then he hadn’t come back for a long time. That’s why she had rushed off to look for both of them after practice was over.

 

The pink-haired girl bit her lip hard to keep any more disconcerting thoughts at bay. She could only imagine how hard a blow it would be for Dai-chan—having a falling out with Tetsu-kun at a time that was already hard for him.

 

Before she could start pondering if it was a good or bad idea to allow Dai-chan to continue using her lap as a pillow, her left hand acted as though with a mind of its own.

 

It unclenched from her side and set itself gently upon Daiki’s freshly washed hair.

 

She turned her attention back to the show on the TV, content to just pet Dai-chan’s hair while he lay on her lap. Like an overgrown pet cat. Or a small worrisome child.

 

When the commercial break came around, she heard him speak for the second time since dinner.

 

“I was very cruel earlier.”

 

It was an admission.

 

Whether to her or to himself, Satsuki didn’t know. All she did know was that she had never heard Dai-chan speak in such a voice before. Ever. And she’d spent almost every waking moment with him for over ten years.

 

“But that’s okay,” he murmured forlornly. “Because that guy was cruel to me before that. So I just…” The navy-haired boy’s voice trailed off slowly, never finishing the thought.

 

Satsuki held her tongue, forcing herself to keep her innate curiosity at bay. She wanted to know what happened between them, but more than that, she wanted Dai-chan to get over whatever it was.

 

So she just hummed in agreement and continued petting Dai-chan’s spiky hair until he closed his eyes and fell asleep.

 


 

That was how the dream came to an end.

 

It was abrupt, and painful. Like a car crash or a train wreck.

 

It wasn’t something anyone had wished for, but it came all the same.

 

Their bonds grew cold and then slowly began to unwind. The basketball that they had so loved playing together turned into a vile competition thanks to all the swirling twisted emotions of the first stringers.

 

It was painful to even look at.

 

Satsuki was sure that it was even more painful to be in the middle of it.

 

She couldn’t even imagine how the fall out had hurt Tetsu-kun, because she saw him more and more rarely after that.

 

Perhaps he got even better at his misdirection if he was under the weather—or he was simply avoiding her. She wasn’t sure which of those it was… nor which was worse.

 

Dai-chan, however—Dai-chan she knew and she could see how this all was twisting him beyond belief. She hated seeing him like this—hurt and broody, standoffish and listless all the time.

 

He dropped the catatonic thing the very next day but in exchange, there was zero luster in everything he did. No spirit. No fire. Not even a spark.

 

What was even worse was that it felt like Daiki started avoiding her, too. They started to very rarely spend any time together anymore—something she would’ve never wished for.

 

The shittiest part was that sometimes, she felt relieved to be away from him. She did, because on the rare occasions they headed home at the same time, or accidentally met up at Maji Burger after school, she was at a loss what to talk to him about. The atmosphere between them was strained and stifling. Something that had never happened to them before—or, at least, not to this extent.

 

Satsuki was a smart girl, so she could come up with plenty of neutral topics to talk about. Non-painful ones. Non-taboo ones.

 

However, that was beside the point when her childhood friend wasn’t even paying attention to the conversation. He was always wistfully staring at some patch of nothing in the distance, refusing to meet her eye.

 

Once, he even told her that it was enough. That she didn’t need to try so hard. Not when he couldn’t reciprocate the effort.

 

That was the last time she could remember heading home with him in the past month or longer.

 

He didn’t attend even a single practice after that, yet infallibly showed to all the games. He played and he steamrolled through his opponents as though they weren’t even there. He won without cracking even a single smirk, not to mention the blinding smile that he used to wear permanently when he played before.

 

The basketball that he had so loved for years became something of a mundane chore.

 

It was unbelievable. It was excruciating to witness.

 

Yet just like the good times they had enjoyed, Satsuki convinced herself that the bad times would pass as well.

 

She just had to brave through it. As long as it took. She would brave through it and pray that both Dai-chan and their friendship would make it through this trial in one piece as well.

 

She was starting to worry that the sarcastic lackluster was beginning to get ingrained into her childhood friend’s character.

 

Worse still, she had a sinking feeling that both of them were starting to get used to being away from one another.

 

That would be all fine and dandy with Satsuki if either of them was the better for it, but that was not the case. Daiki was becoming increasingly listless at school and playing hooky more often as a result of that. She felt like she hadn’t heard him laugh in ages.

 

She, on the other hand, felt like her whole being was clenched twenty-four seven. Like she was bracing for an impact that was yet to come. Like she couldn’t relax for even a second.

 

Seeing him the way he was pained Satsuki greatly. So she stuck with his plan of avoiding her for her own sake as well.

 

Yet nothing about school was fun anymore. Not classes, not gathering basketball data that she seemed to have a penchant for. Daiki always arrived just before a game started so he never cared to listen to her strategies. He claimed he didn’t need an additional edge against opponents who were already too weak for him to begin with.

 

It hurt her, but she understood. And although she could understand his reasoning, that didn’t make it any less painful. She couldn’t share her own blossoming talent with the person she most cared to share it with. It felt like yet another large gash in their already bleeding bond.

 

Every day at Teikou after the second year nationals felt to Satsuki like she was drowning in tar. Heavy, sticky, disgusting, yet weighing you down and making it impossible to surface.

 

The only positive thing about the situation was that Auntie didn’t seem remotely as worried about her son as the pink-haired girl was.

 

The elder female dismissed it simply as Dai-chan hitting his “rebellious age” and didn’t fret over it further.

 

Of course, that didn’t stop the woman from loudly lamenting in her son’s presence how un-cute he had become with this permanent chip on his shoulder and eternally wrinkled brow.

 

Something that never failed to elicit an angry reaction from said teen.

 

When it did, Satsuki almost felt they would all be okay, regardless how grim things seemed in the moment.

 


 

lucid

/ˈluːsɪd/

showing or having the ability to think clearly, especially in intervals between periods of confusion or insanity.

 


 

In wake of the heartbreak that was Teikou basketball—and the rift it opened between Satsuki and her closest friend—the pink-haired manager ended up with too much time to herself.

 

This granted her the perfect opportunity to observe anything and everything that she so pleased. She could see how many scouts came from schools all over the country, striving to grab one of the graduating Miracles for themselves and their own teams.

 

And although they were competing for the boys, the scouts all approached different players.

 

She was impressed with how meticulous they were, especially with how several of the schools had come to know that Mukkun and Akashi-kun were moving out of Tokyo to different locations. Only the Akita schools approached Mukkun, while only the Kyoto-situated ones approached their captain.

 

She could also see the myriad of schools that tried to nab her childhood friend—yet somehow never managed to.

 

The pink-haired teen researched a lot of them even before their coaches dropped by Teikou to speak to Dai-chan. She had considered joining some of those schools herself for reasons other than basketball.

 

The girl was always endlessly surprised when all the scouts infallibly went home with sour expressions conveying their failure to accomplish the goal of their trip to Teikou.

 

When the tenth set of scouts left in a tiff after talking to the ace, Satsuki couldn’t help herself anymore. She sought him out and—with some relief at how quickly she’d managed it—found him in his favorite spot: the school rooftop.

 

Where students were normally not allowed to be loitering.

 

Not that that had ever stopped her troublemaking companion.

 

She asked him why he had denied yet another set of scouts, only to be taken aback by his response.

 

It wasn’t that he had said no. He had simply posed a condition that no team in its right mind would agree to.

 

He told every single scout so far that he would follow the current Teikou policy. In other words, he’d attend games, but not practice. Something that Akashi and the rest of the management condoned. Something that was perhaps okay in the world of middle school basketball.

 

Yet Satsuki couldn’t imagine how it could ever be acceptable in high school.

 

Thus, choosing a school became the last of her priorities for much longer than it should have.

 

What with graduation being in just over a month worth of time and Satsuki not having selected any schools that were worth her trouble.

 

“So, Sacchan, have you decided what school you’re going to attend?” her mother asked her over dinner one day, about a month before graduation.

 

Satsuki sucked on her chopsticks thoughtfully.

 

“I’ve been considering it, but there haven’t been any contenders that caught my eye yet.” She tapped the sticks to her bottom lip, momentarily reminded of said schools. All of them were basketball powerhouses that were yet to reject Dai-chan’s stupid condition.

 

Nevertheless, it wasn’t like she had all that much time to make her choice.

 

“Hmmm, really?” her mother pondered. The older woman’s retort grabbed her daughter’s attention anew. “I’m just surprised because I thought you guys had come up with this together.”

 

Satsuki cocked a confused brow at that. Her head tilted sideways with the effort of understanding what was being said.

 

“I’m sorry, mom—I don’t think I follow this conversation at all,” the pink-haired girl admitted at length.

 

“I heard from the Aomines that Dai-chan is going on to Touou Academy,” her mother explained.

 

This surprised Satsuki.

 

“What?” She hadn’t heard anything about this from the guy himself.

 

Not overly surprising considering how little time they spent together nowadays. But still. This was the kind of thing you shared with your friend of a lifetime who is a lifetime, wasn’t it?!

 

“Who said that?” she demanded—only slightly defensively.

 

“Dai-chan told his mother himself, a week ago,” the elder Momoi elaborated, placing her chin atop her hand. She leant her weight into her elbow propped upon the dining table. “Apparently he met with the coach and the current captain of the basketball team. It’s some kind of ambitious soon-to-be powerhouse for basketball or something. They scouted him personally because of how well you guys are doing in Teikou.”

 

Her mother waved her other hand as though dismissing the matter.

 

“Anyway, apparently they want him in their team and Dai-chan decided he’d accept their offer. It’s pretty nice, since Touou is closer to us than Teikou. I was just wondering if you’d go to the same school again.”

 

For some reason, Satsuki’s blood was pumping in her ears. Her heart was thrumming uncomfortably in her chest. Her vision was blurring and things weren’t making sense anymore.

 

She was hearing about Daiki’s high school of choice from her mother.

 

Who had heard about it from Daiki’s mother.

 

What the hell?

 

Was he even planning of telling her himself?

 

How big had the rift between them become without her knowledge?

 

Was he perhaps thinking of shunning her and going on to school on his own for the next three years?

 

What the hell was this?

 

Any team that would agree to her friend’s ludicrous demand would be clinically insane. Satsuki was convinced that no such team existed.

 

If anything, she had believed that after he ran all of the scouts off with his idiocy, he would have to face the truth of the matter. Perhaps even get set straight by a stronger, better, team-oriented school club in high school.

 

When he ran out of schools to get scouted by, he would have to apply himself.

 

And then he wouldn’t be able to choose because he would be left with nothing of worth.

 

He would have to realize that what was going on at Teikou was abnormal and intolerable by any other school.

 

So where the hell did that Touou Academy come from? And how exactly were they okay with Daiki’s complete disinterest in becoming part of a team?

 

No matter how good he got, basketball was still a team-oriented sport.

 

A team was something that he would never be able to become part of if he never attended practice.

 

It was mind-boggling.

 

And why in the world had the navy-haired ace not told her about his decision himself? Damn it! He had had an entire week to come out with it.

 

And she had had to learn it from her mother.

 

Satsuki realized that she was acting weirdly when her parent lifted her brows at her, urging the girl for a response to her earlier question.

 

“No, this is the first I hear about this,” Satsuki confessed, setting her rice bowl and chopsticks down. Her appetite had suddenly disappeared. “So, no, we haven’t discussed it.”

 

They hadn’t discussed anything for the past two weeks, which was when she’d asked him about the scouts last.

 

The realization that the gulf between them may have been significantly larger than Satsuki believed initially chilled the girl to the bone. She had believed this to have been merely an unpleasant phase that their friendship was undergoing—something they would shake off by the time graduation rolled about.

 

Now, the pink-haired youth had to face the fact that perhaps she was mistaken.

 

Perhaps what her friend of a lifetime wanted was something else altogether.

 

Satsuki was no fool. She had never been able to lie to her mother, nor mislead her about her emotional state. In fact, on too many occasions in the past year she had cried herself to sleep in her mother’s embrace because of the stupid shit happening in Teikou.

 

Thus there was no way that the woman was oblivious to the play of emotions on her offspring’s face. Nor was she blind to the taut line her lips had become.

 

And, like a true Momoi woman, Mrs. Momoi pressed right to the heart of the matter.

 

“Do you not want to go to the same school as Daiki anymore, dear?”

 

This made Satsuki’s father look up from the TV he was watching across the dining table to fix his child with a level look.

 

The pink-haired girl pondered her answer—did she want to go to a different school?

 

Did she no longer want to go to the same school as Dai-chan?

 

If she wasn’t there every day, she wouldn’t have to feel this pain. If she didn’t see him as much, she wouldn’t have to feel so hurt all the time. She could put some more distance between them and find something other than basketball to fill her time with.

 

She wouldn’t have to be avoided and to avoid somebody for weeks on end. She wouldn’t have this stifling feeling that something was fundamentally wrong with the world because of what happened to her on a daily basis.

 

She wouldn’t have to keep nagging a certain someone to keep doing his duties. She wouldn’t have to explain to the new people around them why he called her familiarly by just her given name without any honorifics. She wouldn’t have to keep clearing misunderstandings all the time.

 

She would be able to enjoy just a normal high school life on her own.

 

On her own… Did she really want that though?

 

Satsuki wasn’t sure anymore.

 

These past couple of years had taken their toll on her, too. If you had asked her when she started attending Teikou, she would’ve answered without hesitation that she wanted to be together with everyone: with Dai-chan, and Tetsu-kun, and Midorin, and Mukkun, and Akashi-kun, and Ki-chan…

 

But now… Now she wasn’t certain if she wanted to be together with any of them.

 

The more staggering realization was that she was no longer sure if the person she had shared her school life with for the past nine years wanted her to be in his any longer or not.

 

Attending the same school as Tetsu-kun did hold a certain appeal though. Was he also going to Touou, she wondered. That would really be awesome. Maybe in high school those two would be able to reconcile their issues, whatever they were.

 

Yet, somehow, that seemed unlikely. Both the idea of the boys working out their differences, and that Tetsu-kun would go to the same high school as Dai-chan.

 

Not after that rainy afternoon when everything fell apart.

 

Not after the dream ended.

 

“I don’t know,” Satsuki said out loud after some careful deliberation. “I have to think about it.” She got up from her chair. It made a screeching sound as it slid against the floor. “And I’m angry that he didn’t tell me about it himself.”

 

She bowed and excused herself from the dinner table under her parents’ understanding gazes.

 


 

“Satsuki,” her best friend drawled as they arrived at the destination he had had in mind when he fetched her from class.

 

The rooftop, where he spent most of his time over the past year.

 

“What?” she retorted sharply.

 

“I’m gonna go to Touou Academy in spring.” He said it evenly, in a monotone that betrayed nothing. His expression did much the same. “I got scouted. The coach and the captain agreed to my conditions. So I’ve decided to enroll there.”

 

She gave him an even stare, not yet saying a word.

 

“From what I hear, all of the Generation of Miracles are getting picked up by different schools.” His gaze broke from hers then. His azure eyes rolled to the side, pinning to a particularly uninteresting cloud to the right. “I’m sure Tetsu is going a separate way as well.”

 

Not that he would know for certain. He hadn’t spoken—or even tried to—with Tetsu-kun in weeks.

 

The cretin!

 

Not that for all her trying to get a hold of the elusive boy, Satsuki had had much success.

 

If the phantom sixth man wanted to not be found, he wouldn’t be found.

 

She’d discovered that the hard way.

 

“So, I guess, what I’m saying is,” the navy-haired ace started again as he folded his arms behind his head, “you should also choose what school you want to go to.”

 

This made her raise her eyebrows in surprise.

 

She couldn’t gauge his expression any further, though, because the next moment he laid on his back on the rooftop again, returning to his cloud gazing.

 

It pissed Satsuki right off.

 

Who the hell died and made Dai-chan king, huh?

 

Where did he get off playing it like he was so cool as all that?!

 

So, was this how it was: what he was saying was that everyone was going their way, and she should choose her own. Right?!

 

And since all of the Generation of Miracles were going all over the place, as their little “satellite”, she should, too?

 

Right?!

 

That was what he was saying here, wasn’t he?

 

It was like he was deliberately trying to push her away.

 

The little ingrate!

 

As if he would have the faintest chance of getting through high school he kept up his present act. If she wasn’t there to pull him through the classes, no matter how good of a ball player he was, should he get expelled from school it would be over.

 

Not to mention how hopeless he was at the motions of actually showing up for classes or practice.

 

Or matches.

 

Who did he think he was?!

 

He was just idiot Dai-chan, who couldn’t do a damn thing for himself lately when it came to school and the like!

 

And now he had the gall to all but tell her to hit the road.

 

Ungrateful bastard!

 

“Ahhh, is that so? Everyone is going wherever, so I should do the same, ehh?” she ground out between her clenched teeth. The pink-haired manager stomped over to where Daiki was laying and she glared down at him with her arms still crossed under her chest. “The Generation of Miracles is breaking apart, so I should take the hint and run for the woods, too. Is that it?”

 

Her closest friend blinked a few times in confusion at her, then shrugged.

 

“Not really. Just do whatever you want. That’s what we’re all doing, so why shouldn’t you?”

 

The listlessness in his eyes was what got to her. It was both like a cry for help and a shove on her back towards the door.

 

It confused the shit out of her.

 

And it rendered her incapable of being angry anymore.

 

“Is that why you didn’t tell me about the Touou scout?” she demanded, anger still lacing her voice. “So I could decide for myself?”

 

He merely shrugged and refused to elaborate any further.

 

She didn’t know where this attitude was coming from, but she wasn’t caring for it. If this was some elaborate scheme to push her away, it wasn’t working now that she could see through it.

 

But other than the cynicism and pretend carelessness, she could see in his face that he meant it. She could do what she pleased, without any account for anybody else.

 

She was free. Free of him, free from basketball, free to choose whatever her heart desired. He wouldn’t hold it against her if she decided to walk away now.

 

Not after all they’d been through these past couple of years.

 

Satsuki sucked on a breath and held it in for a long time.

 

She was free to do as she wanted.

 

But would going to a school where no one knew her and she knew nobody something that she wanted? Did she want to start going out on a limb now?

 

No longer even a satellite of any of the Generation of Miracles? No longer part of a childhood duo that did everything together.

 

She wouldn’t have to make regimens and plan the improvement of high school boys’ basketball capabilities. Not unless she decided she wanted to join a basketball club in high school that did not feature Dai-chan, for once. Not unless she wanted to be making regimens and improvement plans for boys who would play against her childhood friend, eventually.

 

A chilling idea.

 

A school without Dai-chan.

 

She’d no longer see him slouching in his seat that would fit him less and less the older and sturdier he got. She would no longer have to drag him to class every morning. She’d no longer hunt through the entire school building to find where he had hidden from her in order not to go to practice.

 

She’d no longer get to see him in the corridor if they got thrown in separate classes.

 

She’d no longer get to see him play his own kind of basketball that she’d grown attached to over the years. Even if it had become deformed in the past two years at Teikou.

 

She’d no longer know if he had been crying on his own in the rain for hours next time.

 

Because she wouldn’t know where to find him, nor would she know whether he’s going through some kind of painful experience in Touou Academy, should she choose to go elsewhere.

 

She would grow apart from him, no longer knowing the secret places he went to hide from the rest of the world. No longer needing to be there for him when he was down.

 

No longer needing to worry if he was down at all.

 

It would no longer be her concern.

 

But would it become anyone else’s? Or would Daiki end up crying on his own all afternoon next time, with no one finding him? Without anyone to pick him up in rain?

 

Without a soul at school caring if he was carrying a heavy burden or not?

 

She exhaled the air she had been holding on to as she pictured that mental scape.

 

A school without Dai-chan in it.

 

A school where Dai-chan would be without her, too.

 

What fun would that ever be?

 

Daiki opened one eye to glimpse at her when she said nothing for the longest time. She righted her posture and turned her face away from him. The navy-haired boy on the concrete cocked an eyebrow at her.

 

Not that she saw his quizzical look.

 

“I see then,” she allowed slowly, cryptically. “I am free to do as I please then. That’s great.”

 

She pointedly ignored the searching glance of her childhood friend from her side.

 

“Thank you so much for your consideration. I shall proceed to do just that!” she announced before waltzing off towards the door that led back inside the school.

 

If Daiki wanted to know what her decision had been, he didn’t ask.

 

And if he wouldn’t ask, she wasn’t going to tell him.

 

Let him roast a bit, the idiot, she thought to herself with a petty huff.

 

She didn’t have time to deal with her troublesome childhood friend right now anyway. She had a lot of research and data compilation to do. So it was a good thing he didn’t ask.

 

Right then, Satsuki had a rising basketball powerhouse to impress!

 


 

The next day offered a very rare experience to Satsuki.

 

For once, she was the one sought out by her childhood friend during lunch break.

 

He was leaning against the wall just outside the girls’ bathroom in school when she came out from it.

 

“Hey, Satsuki?” Daiki piped up when she came out.

 

She eyed him indifferently, smoothing down her skirt.

 

“What is it, Aomine-kun?” she humored him with a reply, striding off in direction of their classroom without pause.

 

He followed after her, hands in his pockets and loose posture. He was the picture of nonchalance itself.

 

But he wasn’t fooling her.

 

She was certain—without room for any doubt—that it was gnawing at him.

 

She had specifically instructed both of her parents to not tell Auntie or Uncle so the information wouldn’t leak back to him.

 

All Dai-chan knew was that she’d gone to an interview with some high school.

 

He was none the wiser which one it was.

 

She smirked to herself. Serves you right. Roast some more!

 

“So where are you going to go for high school?” he asked, his tone sounding uninterested. It wasn’t going to work, though. “You must’ve decided already, right? There’s less than a month to graduation.”

 

Satsuki was a proper and diligent student. There was no way that she hadn’t made arrangements for her next step in education.

 

She gave him a saccharine smile.

 

“Of course I have, Aomine-kun! Not having taken steps by now would be irresponsible of me!”

 

“So where are you going?” he urged her on, his façade of nonchalance slipping slightly.

 

The pink-haired girl’s smile widened until she was grinning like a Cheshire cat.

 

“Well, you’ll just have to find out when the time comes, won’t you?”

 

Daiki stopped in his tracks, staring at her back in disbelief.

 

“You won’t tell me?”

 

“And ruin the surprise? Why in the world would I do that?” Satsuki shot back without pausing her step.

 

The sliding door to their third year class room opened to the befuddled face of one Aomine Daiki. The latter looked like a mystical creature had just smacked him in the face.

 

And then the sliding door closed with an air of finality.

 


 

The clapping filled the entire gymnasium. There were a lot of girls crying.

 

Among them were Satsuki’s two fellow managers of the basketball club—the second and third string managers.

 

She understood why for them it was a sad thing to be graduating from Teikou. Yet she had a hard time sharing the sentiment.

 

If anything, she felt a bit of relief.

 

Starting next semester, she wouldn’t have to live within the suffocating atmosphere of this school.

 

The pink-haired girl looked around quickly to locate Dai-chan in the crowd of students lining up to leave the gymnasium.

 

“Congratulations on graduating, Aomine-kun!” she chirped merrily, saluting him with her rolled up diploma case.

 

“Yeah, yeah. Congratulations, I guess,” her childhood friend agreed, rubbing his neck with a wide yawn. “I thought I’d die from the principle’s long ass speech.”

 

Satsuki laughed. She could relate, but she would never say so to him.

 

“He has a tendency to go off on tangents, doesn’t he?” She grinned at her taller friend in a sly manner. “However, when I say congratulations to you, it’s not just common courtesy.” When she was met with the questioning look on Dai-chan’s face, she couldn’t stop herself from giggling. “After all, you played hooky so many times I started wondering if they won’t hold you back a year. I was starting to plan what to do if you ended up being my underclassman in two years at Touou.”

 

This earned her a hardened glare from her companion.

 

“Stop mouthing off however you please, idiot!” he reprimanded her as she merrily tittered to herself.

 

She ran ahead of him before he could swat at her with his diploma case.

 

“If you were going to go to Touou, too, you should’ve just said so from the start!” Dai-chan all but whined from behind her, making her stop running from him. Instead, she turned around and gave him the widest grin she could.

 

“No way. This was so much more fun!”

 

“Kise-kun! I want to take a parting photo with you!”

 

“Me too!”

 

Satsuki’s attention was briefly derailed as she looked at the mob of girls surrounding Ki-chan.

 

“Oh wow…” was all she could manage.

 

“Jeez…” Dai-chan said with a sigh next to her, not pausing his stride as he walked past the scene.

 

She could only imagine that this mob of girls would only continue to expand in Kaijou. After all, Ki-chan wasn’t even done growing yet and he was already this handsome. She’d seen him on several covers of fashion magazines over the past year. And the more he matured, the more magazines would want to have a piece of him.

 

His fan base, surely, would grow exponentially to reflect that.

 

Thinking of the Generation of Miracles, she remembered with relief something from the graduation ceremony.

 

“By the way… He came, didn’t he,” she started. She knew full well that Dai-chan would follow her train of thought perfectly even if she didn’t say whom she meant. “I was wondering what I’d do if he didn’t show up to graduation either…” she muttered, throwing a cursory glance at Dai-chan’s profile. “I’m so glad…”

 

“Huh…” was the only thing Dai-chan said in response as he kept trudging away from the gymnasium and the mad throngs of girls surrounding Kise and several other of the “popular boys and girls” from their school.

 

He had indeed seen Kuroko’s teal-haired head sticking out in the rows of boys in front of him.

 

Daiki refused to admit to feeling relieved, though.

 

“Y’know, I thought for sure you’d go to the same school as Tetsu,” he said loudly as he picked up the pace of his strides. “Cause it’s you, Satsuki.”

 

His pink-haired companion seemed to falter in her step behind him a bit before jogging to catch up with him.

 

“W-what?! I couldn’t, because I couldn’t leave my idiotic childhood friend on his own!” she all but shrieked at him in her embarrassment.

 

In being unable to catch up with his pace, the former Teikou manager missed the sincere smile that stretched on the ex-ace’s face.

 

“Yeah, yeah,” he grumbled, waving off her mother hen act.

 

Stifling the grin that threatened to erupt on his face proved one of the hardest things Daiki had had to do in a while.

 

After all, Satsuki had chosen to continue her school life alongside him, not Tetsu. If that wasn’t the best victory all year, he didn’t know what was.

 

Nevertheless, he still had to get back at her for grilling him with suspense until the last moment.

 

He’d be damned before he allowed her to see him celebrate the fact they’d be classmates next year (and the two after them), too.

 


 

lucid

/ˈluːsɪd/

expressed clearly; easy to understand.

 


 

Daiki honestly couldn’t understand why his mother and Satsuki’s mother loved doing this.

 

Every single time.

 

Every time they joined a new school, the two women would just keep pestering them to take pictures at the front gate after the entrance ceremony ended.

 

They would always arrange the picture in the same way, positioning both him and Satsuki in the same manner next to the school nameplate. They would keep taking picture after picture, until he stopped making a grimace and just went along with their nonsense.

 

Until he “stopped spoiling their fun”, as they would say.

 

Daiki huffed as he took his rehearsed position to Satsuki’s right and to the left of the school nameplate. He was amazed how his childhood friend didn’t find this bothersome to no end as well. It seemed terribly stupid to him.

 

Yet… Daiki felt incredibly grateful to be able to do this again with her and her family this year.

 

He’d come so close to being unable to share this moment—and the next three years’ worth of any moments—with her that even the stupid nonsense their mothers did seemed like a great initiative to him now.

 

So they managed to take the picture properly on the first try, without any grumbling and complaining on his part.

 

“Oh? Dai-chan seems to be in an agreeable mood today!” Mrs. Momoi enthused with a wide smile after taking the picture.

 

Mrs. Aomine chuckled next to her.

 

“Maybe he just learned the futility of his efforts,” she suggested evilly, sharing a mean little giggle with her friend.

 

Daiki eyed them dispassionately, wishing he could silence them with just a look and lamenting his inability to do so.

 

“Wow, so this is the school we’re going to be attending from tomorrow on, huh?” Satsuki said reverently, pulling Daiki out of his daydream.

 

He looked towards the building that had her undivided attention. Then he shifted his cerulean gaze to her face instead.

 

There was a small breeze, which ruffled her hair and made it billow around her like she was some sort of spring mirage. The cherry blossom petals fell like snow around them. Some of them got stuck in her hair, which in turn framed her face beautifully. She didn’t mind any of those details while she looked on towards a future he could not picture.

 

Daiki had known that his childhood friend was an exquisite girl in more ways than one. He’d known that for a long time.

 

Yet, standing next to her amidst the cherry blossoms in spring, he couldn’t help but realize anew how much she had grown.

 

How she’d matured from a cute kid to a dashingly pretty girl.

 

This was not some great epiphany for Daiki. Neither was it the first time he’d caught himself thinking of his childhood friend as something more than that.

 

No. He’d known it for years.

 

He was in love with her and there wasn’t anything he could do about it.

 

He’d gone through some awkward phases in his day—back in elementary school when he realized it first—but since then he’d learnt to accept the fact.

 

He was in love with his best friend and it wasn’t something he could consciously change.

 

Not while she continued being herself. Not when they continued to be inseparable.

 

This didn’t cause Daiki any heartache. Neither did the fact he was aware she didn’t feel the same way.

 

Nor that she likely never would.

 

It was something he had always known. Satsuki was in love with Tetsu—or she would finally realize it was pointless, and fall in love with someone else—while he would continue to sport his one-sided feelings for her.

 

It was the inevitable truth of the matter. But it was fine – he’d long since made his peace with it. He no longer attempted to fight it.

 

So what if she didn’t return his feelings? So what if she would grow to love someone else soon enough?

 

He wasn’t going to fight it, nor suffer because of it. He refused to.

 

Instead he lived with what he got.

 

A girl too good for him, who—by some insane luck—somehow still wanted to stay with him.

 

Even if she didn’t feel the same, it didn’t matter. Because she stayed with him.

 

Not with her crush, Tetsu.

 

Not with any of her friends from Teikou.

 

She chose him.

 

For that, he would always be grateful to her.

 

He wished he could feel happy about it, but his soul felt too blackened.

 

She deserved better, but she still stayed.

 

And that was all that mattered to him.

 

Even if he could no longer laugh with her the way he used to. Even if he would never allow to breathe a word of his feelings to her—not when he had become this ugly, twisted version of himself that he hated in wake of Teikou.

 

Even if he was empty inside, he could always find her within himself.

 

She defined him in a way that he would never be able to put into words.

 

And for that, he was grateful.

 

Satsuki turned her face to him, noticing he was staring at her whilst she had been lost in thought. Her expression softened, her head tilting to the side a bit.

 

“What is it?” she asked him. “Is there something on my face?” she queried with mirth bubbling in her voice.

 

Daiki shook his head.

 

“No.” He then continued after a heartbeat of pause, “In your hair.”

 

“Oh,” Satsuki reached a hand up to her hair to shake off whatever it was. “Did I get it out?”

 

Daiki threw a quick sideways glance to see his parents and Satsuki’s huddled over their cameras and phones. Knowing the lot of them, they were probably debating where all six of them should go in order to celebrate the kids’ formal entry into Touou.

 

“No, you didn’t,” he said truthfully, moving to reach around her. “Let me.”

 

His arm circled around her shoulders and his fingers detangled the cherry blossom petals with care and gentleness that Satsuki had not expected to receive. The way his arm was angled it almost felt like an embrace rather than him just doing her a simple favor.

 

She looked up into Daiki’s face which was suddenly very close to her own. She blinked her keen magenta eyes at him as he studiously removed all the wayward petals that had woven themselves in her hair.

 

The pink-haired girl wondered how an action so mundane and ordinary could suddenly feel so strangely intimate. Especially between them, who had known each other forever.

 

“There,” Dai-chan then said, pulling her attention back to present time. “All gone.”

 

“Thanks, Dai-chan,” she retorted softly with a smile.

 

Instead of retrieving his arm, he placed his palm atop her head in a tender pat.

 

He proceeded to pull her closer, until her forehead was all but pressed against the shoulder of the arm that was keeping her to him. He bowed his head to bring his mouth as close to her ear as he could without actually touching his lips to her lobe.

 

“Thank you, Satsuki.”

 

He said it quietly, so that no one could overhear. He said it like a sacred prayer, meant only for her ears to behold.

 

“Thank you,” he repeated in the same disarming way before relinquishing his hold on her.

 

She would’ve laughed and asked him what he was being so polite for. She would’ve asked what was with him, being so random all of a sudden and creeping her out with it.

 

But the look in his eyes when he let go of her prevented her from acting like her usual self.

 

There was something so tender in his expression that she couldn’t bring herself to dismiss what had just happened.

 

Whatever it was.

 

She wasn’t sure what she’d done to warrant his thanks—especially since he had been the one doing something for her not even a minute prior.

 

But she couldn’t find her words in order to ask.

 

Just as quickly as it had come, the inscrutable moment and Dai-chan’s uncharacteristic expression were gone. He pivoted on his heel, turning his back to her and stalking off in direction of their parents.

 

“I’ll be in your care this year as well,” he called out loudly over his shoulder, lifting his hand in idle greeting. “Thanks in advance.”

 

It took Satsuki a moment longer to shake off the disorientation from… whatever happened between them just then. She grinned and ran after him.

 

“Looking forward to being in your care this year as well!”

 

If only Dai-chan could continue to be in such a good mood the whole year, she thought, that would be truly grand.

 


 

Of course, as Satsuki’s rotten luck would have it, there was no way that navy-haired boy’s good mood could stretch enough to cover his basketball activities.

 

True to their word, Touou’s team didn’t force him to attend practice if he didn’t want to. They had attached a nonsensical “you can skip practice if you have a good reason” rule, but that was less than pointless.

 

Not when Dai-chan kept coming up with idiotic ways to dodge by claiming he was sick, or needing to run errands for his family, or whatever.

 

He was still prancing around the court, undefeated. He acted all high and mighty and did as he pleased, because no one could really talk back to him as long as he won them games. That had been the agreement, after all. He was holding up his end of the deal, so there was no need to Touou to lay down the law as long as things went smoothly.

 

No matter how many practices he skipped out on, his performance on the court didn’t suffer for it. Or rather, even if it did, there was no opponent for which Dai-chan couldn’t take his sweet time, getting into gear for one or two quarters.

 

And once he did get up to speed, he’d plough through any and all opponents. No defense would be able to stop him from taking point after point from them until Touou ended with an overwhelming, crushing victory.

 

He still kept spouting that bullshit about being the only one who could defeat himself.

 

Did he even listen to himself before he said shit like that? Satsuki couldn’t help but wonder. He probably didn’t, she surmised, because if he did, he would realize how he was embarrassing himself with lines like that.

 

What an idiot.

 

Couldn’t someone please save him from himself instead?

 

Satsuki pleaded for that every day.

 

She didn’t know in what form salvation could possibly come.

 

A lifetime together had proven that having people talk sense into Dai-chan was physically impossible. Knocking sense into him physically would only result in a brawl that—she was loath to admit—Dai-chan would probably win. (On top of which nothing productive would result, because he would get suspended from club activities—something that he probably would love.)

 

So Satsuki couldn’t help but think that the only way to knock sense into the idiot was to actually beat him in a game.

 

Then again it was hard to imagine anyone being able to do so.

 

This, of course, didn’t stop her from praying.

 

Praying that Tetsu-kun’s new team could beat Dai-chan.

 

Praying that Ki-chan’s new team could beat Dai-chan.

 

Praying that if all else failed, Akashi-kun crushing them in a final or semi-final would wake him up.

 

Praying that any of them could beat him, yet coming up empty-handed time and time again. For almost an entire year.

 

Until the Winter Cup official games came around… and her wishes got granted.

 


 

After their loss at the Winter Cup, it was truly amazing how quickly that affected Dai-chan.

 

What Satsuki meant, of course, was his desire to practice and the once before compulsive need to buy new basketball shoes.

 

Two lines she hadn’t heard for years and which, for a very long time, had very much defined her childhood friend.

 

Of course, the fact that he felt the need to practice didn’t mean that he actually came to school basketball practice all the time.

 

In fact, Satsuki wasn’t quite sure what practice he had meant, because his appearances to club practice were just as sparse after their loss at the Winter Cup official games as before that. It made her feel cheated and more disappointed than she would ever let on.

 

That had been before she found out that Dai-chan had been unable to sleep for a week after their loss to Seirin.

 

Once he started getting some sleep, he did show up to practice more often.

 

After Seirin won the championship, though, (regardless of the fact she had had to twist his arm into it once or twice) Dai-chan started to attend almost every practice.

 

She wondered if his realization about the true Zone had anything to do with it. Or if he simply had finally settled back into a comfortable state of wanting to improve once again.

 

Satsuki didn’t particularly blame him. She had expected a loss—especially one at the hands of Tetsu-kun—to work well, but not as if it were a magic trick. She had believed it would take time for habits that had become second nature to be uprooted and turned on their head. This was why she didn’t begrudge Dai-chan the times he was late for practice or went up to the roof on instinct.

 

However, after the captain told him to just show up to practice, even if he didn’t play, things started changing very rapidly.

 

It was just like Dai-chan to be unable to help himself whenever there were so many basketballs dribbling and flying about.

 

It was just like Dai-chan to stay away from the gym on habit but then be unable to keep himself from playing on instinct.

 

If he had had qualms about practicing before, those quickly melted away with all of the captain’s quips about Kagami and a second loss at the hands of Seirin.

 

Satsuki had been a bit worried about Wakamatsu-san taking over leadership—what with his Dai-chan hate and all.

 

It came as a huge relief for the manager to see that the blonde had discovered the perfect way to manage their team’s whimsical ace.

 

She hadn’t expected too much immediately after the Winter Cup, yet the results were apparent.

 

By the time January came and went, the changes in Dai-chan were so vast and so rapid, she felt like her heart would burst with joy.

 


 

As if it wasn’t enough that Satsuki got what she had been praying for so fast, even greater changes came about with their second year of high school.

 

More specifically, with the addition of new recruits to the ranks of the Touou basketball team.

 

Everyone who came to Touou’s basketball club that following spring knew of the legend of Aomine Daiki.

 

The unstoppable scorer, the best ace the team had ever had. Aomine Daiki and his formless shooting, infallibly scoring from incredible positions. Aomine Daiki and his immense agility and indomitable drive to always win. Aomine Daiki, who hadn’t needed to practice to win in order to get his team in second place at the Inter High.

 

Aomine Daiki and the permanently bored and/or exasperated expression on his face as he did attend every single practice in second year. Aomine Daiki and his disinterest in listening to his captain’s orders, which in turn would become insubordination in carrying out those same. Which, subsequently, would become a shouting match for Wakamatsu-san, who believed that Dai-chan was simply doing these things to spite him.

 

Satsuki had been worried when the first years joined them that Dai-chan’s insubordination and penchant for truancy and mischief might put him on the freshmen’s bad side. What with his ability to get himself special treatment and get away with doing things that were inexcusable for any other player…

 

Let’s just say she could see how people who didn’t know the ace well enough might find him something of an eyesore.

 

And at first it did seem like her premonition had been spot on.

 

The first years did look weirdly at Daiki and strayed from having to team up with him for stretches and team exercises. They seemed to be intimidated both by stories of his exploits and unwilling to be subjected to his behavior, lest they start catching onto it as well.

 

At least that’s how it seemed in the beginning.

 

Only with the addition of enough encounters between the freshmen and Dai-chan did Satsuki come to realize that the boys looked up to her childhood friend like some kind of deity. They knew better than to try to talk back to coach Harasawa or the captain the way Dai-chan did, but they admired him for it all the same.

 

Once they got over their self-consciousness around him, they even started looking Dai-chan up for some basketball advice as well. Like how to improve their scoring ratio when shooting. Or how to become faster runners. Or better jumpers.

 

Satsuki giggled against her hand, which was currently holding her chopsticks. Daiki lazily opened up one eye and threw her a confused look.

 

“What are you laughing at like a crazy person for?” he drawled out, making his childhood friend face fault at once with his rude query.

 

“Don’t be an ass, Dai-chan,” she reprimanded him levelly, digging into her lunch box with renewed determination.

 

Her companion, who lay on the floor of the school roof next to her seated form, scoffed demonstratively and closed his eyes again.

 

“I’m not the one who just stands there and then bursts out laughing out of the blue,” he grumbled aloud before deciding to ignore the pink-haired girl.

 

His team’s manager glared at him from above and opted for giving him a slight shove in the shoulder with her foot as punishment.

 

“I didn’t just ‘burst out laughing out of the blue’, for your information.” Satsuki huffed to herself and popped an octopus-shaped wiener in her mouth. God bless her mother, an amazing cook—a talent Satsuki had (sadly) not inherited even a little. “I just remembered the look on the freshmen’s faces yesterday when they asked you to show them how to shoot better at the basket.”

 

She shook her head to herself in mirth as she once again gazed upon that scene in her mind’s eye.

 

“You’re a terrible teacher, Dai-chan!”

 

“Hey!” Daiki opened his eyes and threw his childhood friend an affronted glare. “It’s not my fault they can’t understand what I’m trying to teach them.”

 

“I guess you and basketball are proof of the proverb that a genius doesn’t understand how the incompetent feel.” She chuckled to herself again upon recalling the flabbergasted expressions on the freshmen’s faces when Daiki had attempted to show them the best ways to aim at the basket.

 

…A small lecture from which they seemed to have understood nothing.

 

Instead of trying to refute her in vain, the navy-haired teen simply grumbled back that if they manage to see any improvement in the boys’ scoring, then that would mean that he’s not as bad a teacher as she was making him out to be.

 

It took the freshmen another two meetings with Daiki after practice hours were over in order to improve their scoring ratios.

 

But when the improvement became evident, it was already drastic.

 

And from the fact that Dai-chan had been doggedly determined to help the boys out in their endeavor, it had only resulted in additional points in his favor in their eyes.

 

So they started looking him up for advice on non-basketball related matters as well. At first only during practice or breaks during practice.

 

Then it was during any recess that they cared to venture to the sophomores’ floor.

 

…Which was almost every recess, as long as they didn’t have other duties.

 

The boys asked his help, and sought out his opinion on all sorts of matters. From what kind of bread was best at their cafeteria, through what kind of underwear was most comfortable to wear, to what kind of gravure models they liked.

 

The fact they had Dai-chan mentoring their basketball growth meant that, of course, results were rife for the boys’ playstyles and improvement on the court.

 

But a by-product that came from them idolizing the ace and not letting him be ostracized by their class was that Dai-chan himself, in turn, started opening up more during practice towards team play.

 

Even though he has realized by the end of the last Winter Cup that there was no way to win some teams on his own, that hadn’t made it any easier for Daiki to work with the current Touou lineup. He felt awkward and possibly a bit repentant. He had promised Imayoshi-san that he was ready to become the best when he had joined Touou but the weakness in his heart had paved the way for the team’s loss at the very beginning of the Winter Cup games.

 

Knowing he had to restyle his basketball play in order to make it possible to incorporate into a team effort didn’t mean that it felt easy for the ace to finally start working with the players wearing the same jersey as him.

 

If anything, he had felt slightly self-conscious playing along with the second-years who had the potential of filling in the vacated positions by Susa-san and Imayoshi-san in the Touou starting lineup. This made for some clunky attempts at team play on Daiki’s side, which was awkward to witness.

 

Thus, when she saw the ace easily passing the ball back and forth between Sakurai-kun, Wakamatsu-san and the freshmen that were on his team during the five on five scramble, Satsuki’s eyes welled up with tears without warning.

 

Coach Harasawa, who was right next to her at the time, was quick to panic when the droplets started trailing down her cheeks unchecked. The pink-haired manager was even quicker to hush the man and wipe away the tears. The last thing she needed was for Dai-chan to see her fussing over him or crying over this inconsequential skirmish of theirs.

 

However, that was not why Satsuki was crying.

 

She was crying because she could see the last vestiges of his middle school trauma coming free—like shackles coming undone at her childhood friend’s hands and feet, making him even more lithe and quick on the court.

 

She could see him enjoying the team play that school basketball was supposed to entail for the first time in 3 years.

 

She could see him laughing and running around with his teammates who were striving hard to meet his expectations and surpass him—to be his equal on the court and show him that he’d taught them well.

 

Satsuki was crying because it had been years since she herself had enjoyed their high school basketball as much.

 

It was the first time in 3 years that she could see an immeasurable amount of potential blooming before her eyes.

 

If Dai-chan became a team player again, with a team not so much forced into having him at its center—but with teammates who revered him and wanted to maximize his potential for all their sakes…!

 

There was nothing that would be able to stop Touou from winning the Inter High by a landslide.

 

The possibilities were so enormous and off the charts that she couldn’t even wrap her mind around them at first.

 

But she definitely looked forward to seeing how Dai-chan and his teammates employed this newfound strength to their advantage.

 

And Satsuki would have the best seat in the house to witness it all – right next to Daiki, through it all.

 


 

The most unforeseen side effect of Daiki starting to enjoy school and basketball again came in the form of his newfound friendships with his teammates.

 

She was a fool for not having put two and two together to begin with. It wasn’t anything that should have caught her unawares. After all, the biggest reason for Dai-chan spending his every waking moment with her and only her was because he was in a very fragile place emotionally and she was his best friend.

 

His only friend at Touou.

 

The only person he’d let inside his heart. The only one he listened to and respected in any way. However miniscule it looked whenever he felt especially rebellious and stubborn.

 

He had treated everyone else like an enemy for the good part of a year. Now he was only just starting to learn how to act like a normal person, so of course he was clumsy at the beginning.

 

But his teammates around him – the people who wanted to bond with him – were durable and forgiving. They didn’t mind Dai-chan’s clumsiness when it came to forging new bonds. They didn’t mind his brashness or unexpected crudeness every now and then. Instead, they found it charming in the same way that the team’s manager did.

 

Subsequently, this led to Daiki having less opportunity to have his lunch alone with Satsuki atop the school roof—something they had done since sixth grade together. Something that had been their adventure to partake in while at school.

 

Instead, he was now frequently ambushed by the freshmen boys from the basketball club whenever the bell rang signaling the start of their lunch break. The three new additions to their team seemed to make a sport of racing to Daiki and Satsuki’s classroom, competing to see who got to convince her childhood friend to join them for lunch.

 

At first, all four of the boys had begun this tradition by asking Satsuki along with them. All five of them eating lunch together in the courtyard.

 

A wonderful sentiment, she had thought, yet decided against taking them up on it. She had wanted to let Dai-chan connect with the boys better – to be able to say anything he wanted to them and, what was more important, for the boys to be able to talk to him freely as well.

 

Something which, she realized very clearly, they wouldn’t be able to with her standing there among them.

 

That was how, more often than not, during the larger part of the first semester of second year, Satsuki ended up having lunch separately of Daiki and her teammates.

 

Granted, this led to the girls in her class to open up more toward her. Perhaps they had been too intimidated to approach Satsuki when she’d been spending all her time with her overlarge dark-skinned childhood friend. Or perhaps they found her more interesting now that she spent more time around the classroom than she had the entire first year of high school.

 

Satsuki wasn’t entirely sure which of those it was, but she was grateful for the female company for once in her life nonetheless.

 

It was a breath of fresh air to be able to discuss more feminine matters with fellow classmates for once. It was engaging to be able to bond with other girls about her other interests besides basketball.

 

The novelty of the experience started wearing off, though, around the middle of June. She did appreciate all the positive changes in their day to day lives for the small miracles that they were, but it wasn’t like she had ever wished for everything to change completely.

 

It took her yet another failed attempt in order to realize her true feelings with the changes that had taken place.

 

The shift had been so gradual that even she hadn’t been able to wrap her mind around it.

 

“Dai-chan,” she started in a chipper mood, tapping her best friend on his shoulder. She had sauntered over to him the minute the lunch break bell rang, trying to shake him awake from his nap induced by the monotone voice of their teacher. “Wake up, Dai-chan!”

 

She gave him a firm shake that helped rouse him from his (impressively deep, considering the circumstances of them being at school) sleep.

 

“Stop shaking me, Satsuki!” Daiki complained dispassionately, swatting her hand away from his shoulder. “You’re making my brain rattle in my head with that.”

 

He stretched his arms and legs out like a gigantic cat, making Satsuki giggle to his side.

 

“You damn sadist,” the navy-haired ace added as an afterthought.

 

“Never mind that, Dai-chan!” Satsuki enthused, ignoring Daiki’s indignant squawk in response to her last statement. “Let’s go have lunch on the roof together, like we used to! Weather is supposed to be great and I got up extra early to prepare these lunch boxes for us today!”

 

The pink-haired youth procured the aforementioned offensive objects from under her desk, placing them upon Daiki’s desk. The latter swallowed thickly at the sight of them, a thin sheen of cold sweat beading on his forehead.

 

“Aomine-senpai!” a familiar voice called from the direction of the classroom entrance. Satsuki’s heart sank at the sound of it. “Let’s have lunch, Aomine-senpai!” the first boy said before the other two chimed in merrily as well.

 

Before Daiki could open his mouth to turn them down, Satsuki patted his shoulder again.

 

“On second thought, you should go have lunch with the boys. I have some information I’d like to go over before practice with the Inter High nearly knocking on the door, so you guys have fun while I do that.”

 

Her navy-haired companion gave her an odd look.

 

“What? I thought you wanted to have lunch together today.”

 

Satsuki shook her head.

 

“It’s fine. They came here especially for you, so it would be rude to send them off.” Daiki made a face at her that conveyed exactly how disinterested he was with how rude he’d be to their underclassmen. Satsuki gave him a smile that was more reassuring than she felt, and waved him off. “Don’t worry about it—maybe some other time. Oh!” She suddenly remembered and gave Daiki his own boxed lunch. “Here you go! I wish we could eat them together, but I still did my best with this for you, so enjoy!”

 

She didn’t miss the deadened look on his face upon gingerly receiving her gifted lunch for him. Dutifully, she punched his shoulder none too gently.

 

“Shut up!”

 

“I didn’t say anything!” Daiki protested loudly, massaging his shoulder.

 

“You didn’t have to! It was written all over your face!” Satsuki all but shouted at him. “I’ve gotten better – you’ll see!” she promised before shooing the ace off towards the freshmen boys who were starting to get antsy from waiting for him.

 

As he lumbered off in their direction, the pink-haired girl couldn’t quite quell the sharp stab of disappointment that speared her heart.

 

This was going to be yet another lunch break that she would be spending with people other than the one she came to the school to spend her time with.

 


 

A month later the preliminaries for the Inter High would begin.

 

That did not seem to impress Daiki in the least, though, because he continued doggedly pestering Kagami for one-on-one games despite the fact that they had had a practice match not even a couple of weeks earlier.

 

Satsuki suspected that Wakamatsu-san’s constant teasing had hit a nerve for Daiki. Now he felt more paranoid about the possibility of the blond being right. All things considered, the Touou ace did not want to suffer another loss from Seirin. Not if he could help it any.

 

Checking on the redhead’s growth from time to time, thus, was almost imperative.

 

The navy-haired boy was so simple it was endearing at times like these, Satsuki thought with a secretive smile.

 

Still, being easily goaded (or tricked) into things, Kagami ended up agreeing to Dai-chan’s propositions more often than not.

 

Which was why two weeks later on a nice, sunny Sunday in the beginning of July, found the two lights of Touou and Seirin playing one another on a street court. Their two closest companions were just outside the court, keeping a close, doting eye on them as they scuffled for the ball and scored against each other at the sole basket they used.

 

“Aomine-kun seems to be in great form,” Kuroko surveyed with something akin to pride in his quiet voice. Satsuki couldn’t help grinning back at him at that.

 

“He’s at his best ever!” she confirmed and turned her attention back to the two lights steadily entering into the zone as they played.

 

…Despite both of them agreeing beforehand that it was tiresome and they wouldn’t do any zone play that day.

 

The teal-headed phantom sixth man chuckled to himself before he noticed how Satsuki’s smile slowly slid off her face to be replaced with a much tenser expression. Clear cerulean eyes fixed upon her worriedly.

 

“Why does this seem to bring unhappiness to you, Momoi-san?” Kuroko asked evenly, his expression open and encouraging.

 

Satsuki shook her head in response.

 

“That’s ridiculous, Tetsu-kun!” she denied vehemently, turning away from her junior high crush. Try as she might, she couldn’t fool him, and the fact she avoided eye contact with him only proved his suspicions. “It’s not like Dai-chan being at his best ever is making me unhappy. Quite the contrary! I’m happy for him!”

 

While he had no doubt of the fact that Aomine-kun’s happiness was Momoi-san’s happiness, Kuroko Tetsuya couldn’t quite place the sudden contradiction on his former manager’s face.

 

His two Teikou friends were his closest people from back in those days that were much like a wonderful dream.

 

Usually, they were also the most self-sufficient ones out of the entire gang – what with Momoi-san being the voice of reason while Aomine-kun being the solid and never-changing one among them. (At least as far as personality and interests were concerned.)

 

Thus, this kind of hesitation coming from either of them regarding their long-standing bond made Kuroko rather wary.

 

“Are you concerned what will happen if no one manages to win against Touou this year?” Tetsuya queried knowingly, believing to have hit the nail on the head.

 

His guess was a very good one.

 

After all, the one thing that had perturbed Satsuki the most for the past three years had been the way Dai-chan had completely lost himself due to how unattainable heights his basketball play had reached.

 

Was there a risk of him relapsing into that again should he go on long enough undefeated? If Satsuki had to be honest, she would say yes. Yes, there was. But did she think it could possibly be any time before the end of third year’s Winter Cup?

 

No. Certainly not.

 

After failing to win the last Winter Cup, Satsuki was sure that Daiki would do everything in his power to make sure that Touou would be standing at the top. He would do what he could with all his impressive might to make that happen. Be it the Inter High or the Winter Cup this year, he would want to take them both.

 

As repentance for breaking his promise to Imayoshi-san in their first year.

 

Besides, it hadn’t been the fact that he was constantly winning that had slain Dai-chan’s spirit before. It was the fact that no one ever seemed to give a damn to compete with him anymore.

 

That was not something she could see happening with Ki-chan, Midorin or Kagamin. Not to mention Akashi-kun who may have somewhat recovered from the temporary lapse of sanity he had suffered for a few years, but that didn’t make him any less victory-starved.

 

So at least for the next two years, Satsuki wouldn’t have any need to worry about her childhood friend relapsing to his previous state of mind.

 

In wake of this thorough contemplation, Satsuki shook her head with a small curve of her lips.

 

“No, I think Dai-chan will be fine for the time being.” She turned to give Tetsu a brilliant smile. “After all, he has you and Kagamin, if all else fails!”

 

Kuroko reciprocated her smile with a demure one of his own.

 

“I think you underestimate your importance for Aomine-kun, Momoi-san,” he told her quietly, causing Satsuki to give a complacent little giggle in return. The upturned corners of his mouth slowly settled back into the taut line from earlier. “If that’s not it, then what’s bothering you, Momoi-san?”

 

“Nothing’s bothering me, Tetsu-kun!” she insisted without much gusto. “You are such a worrywart sometimes.”

 

It was not an untrue statement by any means, but Kuroko was certain there was more to the situation than Momoi-san was willing to let on.

 

Instead of pressuring her into answering – because perhaps she didn’t want to share, or disliked the thought of sharing whatever it was with him. He couldn’t be sure but he hated the thought of imposing himself on his former teammate so he stopped asking her.

 

He focused on the couple of idiots on the court, whose one on one had taken on ridiculous speed and proportions. They were supposed to have played only up to twenty-one points for one side. Nevertheless, seeing how hard it was for either of them to score—what with being constantly blocked while shooting, dribbling and trying to dodge one another for minutes at a time, zapping around the small area of half the court all the time—it was no wonder that their little showdown was taking longer than usual.

 

Kuroko wouldn’t be surprised if they were still stuck in the single digits.

 

“It’s not that… Dai-chan being at his best ever is making me unhappy or anything…” she mumbled at last. Her magenta gaze pinned to the pair duking it out at the court. Her fingers closed around the metal wires of the fence and she held onto it as though for dear life. “I’m just… feeling a bit lonely, I guess.”

 

“How come?” Kuroko cocked a puzzled eyebrow. “I thought you guys got to be in the same class again this year.”

 

He put a thoughtful hand to his chin, pondering if he was remembering incorrectly. Satsuki shook her head.

 

“We are. It’s just that…” She shrugged noncommittally, her whole being seeming to shrink with the movement. “I feel like we’re slowly drifting apart.”

 

Kuroko’s eyes widened a fraction at that.

 

“I find that really hard to picture,” he confessed at length.

 

Satsuki snorted.

 

“Well, it’s true.” She turned around and slumped back-first into the wire fence. “We don’t go out together as much anymore. We don’t have lunch together anymore. He doesn’t play hooky from practice anymore so I don’t have to go looking for him. Which is great!” she enthused, but it sounded hollow. “It’s a relief… yet at the same time I feel like I’m losing something much more important than a few minutes every day from having to hunt him down to get him to come to practice.”

 

Kuroko surveyed her calmly with his deep cerulean gaze that had the quality of making everything better.

 

But this time it wasn’t working.

 

Satsuki didn’t feel better.

 

So she continued talking, in hopes that vocalizing these feelings would help get the load off her chest.

 

“I’m happy that he made friends with the Touou team – I really am!” she insisted but her voice broke mid-sentence. “I’m really glad that the underclassmen started seeing Dai-chan for who he is – a charming idiot who’s a lot of fun to have around. Someone to learn from. Someone to lean on. I’m really happy for them and I’m even happier for Dai-chan because he deserves to have some friends again, just like back in elementary and junior high.”

 

Satsuki slid down against the wire fence until she was sitting on the asphalt with her back facing the two aces playing on the court.

 

“I’m glad but at the same time it hurts.”

 

She pulled her legs up to her chest and embraced them with both arms, burying her face in her knees.

 

“It hurts because it feels like it’s been an eternity since the last time I had lunch with Dai-chan. It feels like forever since we were last going home just the two of us, without all the freshman hanging off him every step of the way. It hurts because I want to go back and smack myself for agreeing to let them have lunch on their own that first time, because now it feels awkward to ask to eat with them, too. They’ll think I’m weird—and it is weird. But I was the first one to know that Dai-chan is someone you can count on. I was the first one who was leaning on him.”

 

Kuroko listened to Momoi’s tirade patiently, allowing her to say everything she wanted before he could speak his mind on the topic.

 

“He finally started acting like a normal human being and started getting up for school on time. I don’t have to kick him out of bed every morning. Sometimes he even comes to pick me up first whenever I start running late. And that’s great but it’s also horrifying—you know, Tetsu-kun?” She sought out his face for the first time since she started spilling his guts. What she saw in his expression, Tetsuya didn’t know, but whatever it was, it caused her to look away quickly.

 

Instead of burying her face in her knees as she had before, she merely fixed her dark stare in the distance, her face tense.

 

“He also doesn’t need to be forced in order to attend practice. More often than not, I don’t even need to mention it in order for him to immediately head to the gym. And that’s just amazing, you know? He hasn’t been like this for three years, so it should be a blessing!”

 

Kuroko was starting to believe that Momoi was nearing hysterics. At least that’s what the sharp edge of her voice was telling him.

 

“But it doesn’t feel like a blessing. It feels like… I’m no longer needed. He has friends, he has people who recognize him and appreciate him. He’s content enough to go to school without being told. He’s happy enough to want to play basketball again and to want to improve. He smiles when he plays with the boys who adore him, and his basketball style is changing to accommodate their addition to his life. And that’s fantastic, but it means he no longer needs a caretaker. Now that he no longer needs one, it feels like there’s no space for me in his everyday life anymore.”

 

She buried her face in her knees again at that.

 

“I hate that. I hate thinking like this. I hate feeling like this. But I feel so lonely and powerless to change the direction where things are heading. I just… don’t know what to do with myself anymore.”

 

Her voice became smaller and smaller until it felt like she herself would disappear. From the way her shoulders were shaking, Kuroko feared that she may have broken down crying—a situation that he’d rather avoid.

 

Especially with Aomine-kun less than 20 meters away and his penchant to misunderstand whenever Momoi-san was involved.

 

However, what had drawn his attention the most was the meaning behind what his former teammate had rambled about.

 

A small smile spread on his face. It was about time that both of them started to be more conscious of the other’s importance in their life. And their stance on the matter.

 

“I am sad to hear that you have come to feel like this, Momoi-san,” Kuroko said with a lamenting lilt to his voice. “Have you tried talking to Aomine-kun about this?” He couldn’t help but ponder.

 

Satsuki lifted her face and shook her head. The corners of Tetsuya’s mouth curved upwards at this nonverbal admission.

 

That explained everything for him.

 

“Since you’re feeling like your back’s pressed against the wall, I think your best course of action is to talk to Aomine-kun about all these things that bother you.” He laughed quietly at the comically appalled expression that seized his companion’s face. “There’s no need to dread it so much, I believe. Aomine-kun has potential to be more understanding than you give him credit.”

 

“When it comes to such complex matters?” Satsuki sniffed testily and pulled herself up to a standing position again. “I deeply doubt it.”

 

Tetsuya allowed himself a private grin at that.

 

“You’d be surprised.” He turned to Satsuki with a serene expression. “Besides, you guys have been together through that nightmare that was Teikou—taking on this small hurdle should be a piece of cake. You shouldn’t allow this rift you feel between you to widen.”

 

Satsuki smiled earnestly in response. This was why whenever she needed some good advice, she came to Tetsu-kun. He always knew the best way to convey his thoughts and the right words she needed to hear. He always knew how to convince her of the best course of action.

 

He was so painfully right she couldn’t believe she hadn’t come to this obvious conclusion herself. Of course she had to speak up. Dai-chan was an idiot, and he was denser than most. He probably didn’t even know she was feeling this way. He was just having the time of his life while she wallowed in her self-induced misery.

 

Instead, she should have put her foot down and laid down the facts. She should’ve told him the minute she started feeling this way that she hated the way things stood between them. She should’ve told him that it was ridiculous how the freshmen couldn’t seem to get enough of him to the point that she barely got to spend any time with him.

 

She would let him know first thing after they parted ways with Kagamin and Tetsu-kun.

 

“I see you have found your answer,” Tetsuya said with a small smile. Satsuki beamed back at him before giving a vigorous nod. “I just want to add one last thing.”

 

This piqued the pink-haired Touou student’s attention and she turned to raptly listen to what Tetsu-kun would tell her.

 

“You said you believe that Aomine-kun no longer needs a caretaker. However, I don’t think he ever considered you such. That’s a role that you decided for yourself in regards to him. This is why I firmly believe Aomine-kun sees you in a different capacity altogether. After all, when we go out to play, you are the one who he tells and brings along, Momoi-san. Not any of his new friends or admirers. If you really believe us to be as important to Aomine-kun as you mentioned earlier, that should speak plenty of what he thinks about you as well. Please consider that.”

 

Consider it she did. Quietly, determinedly, until Dai-chan triumphed over Kagamin in their one on one.

 


 

Half an hour later, on their way home from the basketball court, Daiki threw a cursory glance at the girl walking beside him.

 

“Satsuki?”

 

“Mm?” The addressed hummed in return to show she was listening.

 

A helpful cue, seeing as how her nose was buried in her phone, fiddling with her data as always after he played a game with someone.

 

“What were you talking to Tetsu about?”

 

She may have believed him terribly dense throughout their lives, but Daiki was not an idiot. He saw her still completely at his question. Even her fingers stopped their rhythmical tapping on the touch screen.

 

“I can’t recall,” she retorted breezily. An obvious attempt to deflect if he ever saw one. “Why do you ask?”

 

He shrugged with one shoulder, turning his gaze away from her searching one.

 

“It just looked like you were pretty upset at one point. So I was wondering if Tetsu needed to be taught a lesson maybe.”

 

This earned him a harsh smack in the shoulder. He yelped and complained at her immediate choice to resort to violence.

 

“You are doing no such thing, Dai-chan!” Satsuki hissed back at him, outraged that he could even utter such blasphemous words. “Tetsu-kun was just being helpful earlier. There’s no need to start threatening him like that!”

 

“If you say so,” Daiki grumbled his assent. “Not like I could hurt Tetsu ever. I was just asking…” he continued mumbling to himself as he trudged along towards his house.

 

Satsuki peered at him out of the corner of her eye as they walked in brief silence.

 

“I’m surprised that you even noticed. You and Kagamin seemed to be very engrossed in your game. I thought you were in the zone,” she pointed out curiously.

 

Her navy-haired companion shrugged casually again.

 

“I don’t know about Kagami but I was kind of in the zone. I wasn’t so far gone not to notice you going emo mode outside the court.”

 

His phrasing gave Satsuki pause. She wasn’t certain how to interpret what he had said without misunderstanding what he had meant. Did seeing her distraught have such importance to him that it could even distract him from an ongoing match (however inconsequential of a match it may be)? Or was he simply not as focused on his game with Kagami as she and Kuroko had believed?

 

She decided not to dwell on this minute detail and instead nip her problem in the bud.

 

Dai-chan had done her the service of bringing up the topic and all – it would be rude not to take this chance to have her say.

 

And have her say she did.

 

She shared with him everything that bothered her with their current situation.

 

She told him how she felt that there was a gulf opening between them that she didn’t understand. She told him how she thought he no longer needed her and how this wounded her. She told him how disappointing it was that they no longer could have their lunch together—even if it was just so he could mock her latest attempt at cooking something.

 

She told him how their dwindling time together made her feel like she was lost at sea. She told him how she was incredibly happy for him finding other friends but how she felt her position as his best friend threatened.

 

She told him how she was glad he spent more time with other people, but wished he would spend some time with just her, too.

 

Throughout her entire soliloquy, Daiki had this dumbfounded look on his face that made her want to smack him. Slap the idiot, and herself too, for trusting Tetsu on this one.

 

Tetsu-kun was wrong to believe that her telling everything to Dai-chan was a good idea. All she had achieved was to completely confuse him, without a doubt.

 

After a heartbeat though, the navy-haired ace came out of his stupor and his usually stoic features twisted into a pensive look instead.

 

“If this had been bothering you for weeks… why not say something earlier, Satsuki? I don’t get you.” He shook his head in disbelief. “Why wait until the feeling festers to take action against it? Doesn’t sound like you at all.”

 

Only when he said it like that did she realize he was completely right.

 

It wasn’t like her at all.

 

Why had she allowed it? She didn’t know. She had acted completely out of character. She didn’t understand her own behavior and that didn’t sit well with her. She had never had trouble understanding herself before, so starting now was nothing short of disconcerting.

 

Before she could go into full blown analysis mode, Dai-chan adopted a wolfish grin.

 

“But wow, that really was quite the confession, Satsuki. From where I stand, it really sounded like you don’t like the idea of sharing me with others.”

 

He gave a short guffaw of a laugh before taking a step closer to her. Once his mirth subsided, he graced her with his widest and sliest grin ever.

 

“If I didn’t know better, I would say it was almost like you were telling me you love me and want me to pay more attention only to you.”

 

He fixed her with a wide grin while his eyes had mischief dancing in them. Even if it hadn’t been for what he’d said, his mere countenance would’ve made her sputter for a rebuttal.

 

“It’s not like that—That’s not what I was saying—!” she started grappling for the right thing to say in a way that was almost adorable.

 

Before she could get any more embarrassed, Daiki quelled her panic with the way his expression softened—waned—and the soft set of his large hand atop her shoulder.

 

“Relax, Satsuki—I was just kidding you. There’s no need to explain.”

 

Try as she might, the pink-haired manager couldn’t bring herself to look away from her much taller companion at this. Craning her neck from so close to him was painful, but the look on his face was just so impossible to place she couldn’t turn away from it.

 

The smile was still securely in place, but there was a forlorn twist in it. It felt slightly forced and not at all belonging on Dai-chan’s idiotically confident persona.

 

It was heart-wrenching and beautiful at the same time.

 

She wished she could understand what had caused that look to steal across his face. She wanted to understand because she had no clue what had brought it on.

 

One moment he was teasing her, laughing at her expense, then the next he was looking like he was slowly dying inside but pretending it was all in good humor.

 

Since when was Dai-chan capable of such complex emotion? She felt mind-boggled.

 

“I know that’s not what you meant. Don’t worry. I know that your heart is set on someone, and I’m rooting for you to find your happiness with him. Or, you know, the next best guy. My dad says a woman’s heart is as fickle as the autumn sky, so who knows. Maybe Tetsu won’t be the lucky guy after all.”

 

His hand slid down her shoulder until he was holding her hand in his own. That inexplicable smile was still on his face when he started leading her away.

 

“Until you do, I would be grateful to be the one standing next to you.”

 

They walked on in a brief silence while Satsuki was still in shock over what she had just heard from her childhood friend.

 

She had never had him openly encouraging her feelings for Tetsu-kun. Nor had he ever spoken to her of her love life or her interests in general. It wasn’t like they didn’t talk about matters of the heart on principle, but… they just didn’t talk about these things.

 

She would be hard pressed to say why that was. She didn’t feel awkward talking to Dai-chan about her love life—or lack thereof, despite her most fervent prayers. But perhaps he felt self-conscious to share, which was why they never openly discussed the matter.

 

They didn’t talk about these things. If they did, it was always Satsuki one-sidedly oversharing about her latest mishap when she attempted to woo Tetsu-kun or some such.

 

Daiki always astutely kept quiet.

 

She had been grateful, because she believed that if he were to share, it would be some kind of lewd comment about Horikita Mai-chan or something – his favorite gravure model. She was one hundred percent certain that if he were to overshare regarding his thoughts on Mai-chan, it would be details she did not want to have knowledge of.

 

But now Satsuki couldn’t help but wonder—did Dai-chan also have interests like a normal person?

 

The thought felt foreign in her mind. The idea of a girl Dai-chan could be pining after ridiculous. Was there even a human female in existence that could possibly sway that alien’s fancy? She was hard pressed to imagine what kind of girl that could be. Her mind reeled at the thought.

 

She chose to push that notion out of her mind at once. Thinking about Daiki holding interest in girls made something clench in her gut and twist in the most revolting way. It was an abhorrent feeling and she would rather not pay it any heed lest she discover something she didn’t want the answer to.

 

Still.

 

“Wow, Dai-chan.” Her voice sounded as awe-struck as she felt while they walked home, her hand still limply in his hold. “Where did that come from?”

 

He turned his head partially to throw her a smirk she could only describe as disarming. An expression that most certainly did not belong on the face of someone you had known your whole life.

 

An expression she had never witnessed before on a face more familiar than her own.

 

“From the heart, of course.”

 

There it was again. She knew that this feeling was familiar, and she had finally placed it.

 

It was the same feeling she had had from him as when they took their first pictures in front of Touou Academy.

 

He had thanked her then, too.

 

And he had given her that cryptic smile that held so many more layers of meaning to it than she believed him capable of.

 

Her lips parted in order to say something—a thought that hadn’t properly formed yet—but before she had a chance to do so, he interjected.

 

“And, before you say it, yes, I do have one.”

 

And just like that, the moment was gone. His well-intentioned joke dashing whatever atmosphere they had been unwittingly sharing. She blinked profusely, suddenly disoriented from the rapid change in her train of thought.

 

“You know? A heart,” Dai-chan clarified with a small chuckle. “I am still human, regardless what some people are claiming around here.”

 

Satsuki had to exert considerable effort to stomp out the feeling of profound disappointment that bled through her being. It had risen in response to his denial of allowing her to study whatever that moment had been about, what it meant or how it had come about.

 

But once she had squashed it out, she reciprocated her navy-haired companion’s mischievous smile.

 

“Oh, I’m still not quite sure. Maybe at some point the Dai-chan I knew in kindergarten got replaced by this alien who simply looks like Dai-chan.” He threw her a sardonic look over his shoulder. She shrugged innocently in return. This made him hasten his pace until she had to jog after him in order not to trip over her feet. He was still holding her hand captive after all. “What? How could I be sure? The scientists still haven’t disproven that theory, so it’s as good as yours.”

 

As they relapsed into their familiar playful banter the closer they got to their houses, Satsuki curled her fingers around his to make the hold more comfortable.

 

She told herself she would have plenty of time later on to analyze what had transpired today. She would have all the time in the world to consider all the things said—and those that had not been voiced aloud—when she was in the company of her own thoughts later.

 

For now, Dai-chan had a shower to take and she had basketball data to analyze.

 

Considering that Imayoshi-san and the third years weren’t around for this year’s Inter High, the stakes would be high. The importance of her counterplans for their opposing teams all the more crucial.

 


 

The very next day—and the week that followed—saw a substantial change in Satsuki’s day to day life at school.

 

The first came in the form of her childhood friend insisting on her having lunch with him and the freshmen. He potentiated her ease in settling among all the boys, and kept steering the conversation to topics in which she could offer her spot-on input.

 

This brought about a newfound sense of reverence among the new small forward and point guard in regard to Satsuki. They had known that their manager was not only very clever and mastered in intelligence gathering, but to get to spend time in her presence and share in her knowledge was something else altogether.

 

Only after speaking with them for a few days over lunch did Satsuki realize that she had been placed on a pedestal similar to Daiki’s in the freshman boys’ minds. Or perhaps it differed slightly, seeing as how she was a girl with the assets that Mother Nature had given Satsuki generously.

 

Other days still, Daiki would stay to play with the boys three-on-three (with the addition of Sakurai-kun and Wakamatsu-san or another third year) after practice was over while Satsuki fiddled with her data for the Inter High. Once she was finished, he would tell the guys they were heading home, only to grab the pink-haired manager’s hand and run off with her alone before the boys could catch up.

 

The first time he did that, he dashed into a corner where the light from the setting sun didn’t hit, dragging Satsuki after himself with enviable determination.

 

His innate agility allowed him to go from sprint to standstill without issue. However, the pink-haired girl did not boast such skill. She was sure she was going to be run face-first into the wall to Daiki’s side and break her nose much to his great amusement.

 

Instead of that, she ran into his larger figure, which he placed between her and the wall, cushioning her sudden deceleration. He grabbed her by the sides and pulled her further into the shadowy niche before their pursuers could notice them.

 

To keep Satsuki from making any noise of protest or disgruntlement at being manhandled like that, Daiki put his hand over her mouth and pulled her further into his embrace until she was practically enveloped by his being in the dark niche.

 

The unexpected closeness made the girl’s skin burn wherever it was in contact with her friend’s. She reasoned with herself that being pulled into a sprint was the fault for that. But as she listened more raptly to his slightly erratic breath rather than whether their pursuers were close, Satsuki realized she was enjoying this game more than she should.

 

“Come on, they missed us,” Daiki reassured her with a chuckle right next to her ear. The vibration of the sound transferred into her ribcage in a not at all displeasing way. “Let’s go, before they come back!”

 

He pulled Satsuki into another run, this time a quieter, stealthier one.

 

“Dai-chan, you’re such a kid!” Satsuki reprimanded with no real bite as they sneaked out of the school building.

 

They could see the boys running around the sophomore floor from just outside their vantage point at the school gate.

 

Daiki laughed raucously in response.

 

“You’re one to talk. You’re having just as much of a blast as I am with pulling their leg.”

 

She couldn’t deny the truth of his statement as she laughed happily, her heart feeling full and content as they slipped unnoticed by their pursuers.

 

After doing this a few times, predictably, the boys started complaining to Dai-chan.

 

“Aomine-senpai!” the new small forward of Touou started with a whine in his voice. “Why did you ditch us again yesterday?”

 

The boy slouched over Daiki’s desk like a limp noodle. His body conveyed perfectly all the disdain he felt.

 

“I thought we were going to eat at Maji burger yesterday so you could tell us more about the other Generation of Miracles guys we will fight in the official games in the Inter High.”

 

The team’s ace laughed mercilessly at the younger boys’ misery.

 

“It’s not my fault you guys suck at catching me. Maybe if you get better at this game, next time we will eat together at Maji before going home,” Daiki teased them with a wide grin.

 

“If you don’t want to go home with us, you just have to say so!” the new point guard exclaimed vehemently, tears of indignation prickling the corners of his eyes. “We will understand! But baiting us like that and then bailing is not nice, Aomine-senpai! You are a cruel man! Cruel indeed!”

 

Satsuki was returning from the bathroom around the same time as the boys’ passionate banter was reaching ridiculous heights. She could tell that someone was being rowdy in the classroom even before she was in earshot to hear what was being said.

 

“Nonsense. I didn’t bail. We were playing cops and robbers, and you guys failed miserably at catching your robbers. We should all be grateful none of you are planning to go on to do police work. You’d suck terribly at it.” The navy-haired youth sniggered at the thought.

 

The new small forward of Touou slammed his hands on Daiki’s desk and stood up to his full impressive height. The action made the chair he was sitting on screech in protest as it slid back to accommodate the movement.

 

“Why do you always choose Momoi-san over us, senpai! Shouldn’t the philosophy here be bros over hoes?” he boy implored loudly enough for Satsuki to hear him through the closed sliding door of the classroom.

 

His question made her hand hang in front of the door without touching it.

 

Her childhood friend’s response came smoothly and easily.

 

“Do you have to ask? I’ll choose Satsuki over anyone else every time.”

 

“But why?!” the point guard demanded, outrage lacing his tone.

 

“Because she stayed and believed in me when no one else did.”

 

As true and frank as Dai-chan’s response was, Satsuki couldn’t help feeling a bit self-conscious at the way he had put it.

 

It seemed that the boys beyond the door had similar reactions to the reply, because no one said anything for almost a full minute afterwards.

 

“Uh…” the small forward started, sounding awkward. “I was just making fun, but this suddenly got a bit too real for me.”

 

“Ditto,” the point guard agreed.

 

Daiki laughed at them.

 

“Don’t ask questions if you’re not ready to hear the answers.” His tone took on a smug quality next. “Here’s a better question though. When will you guys finally start landing your three pointers?”

 

The boys blanched at this. Daiki burst into laughter at their reactions.

 

“That’s the real question. One might even call it one of the mysteries of Touou Academy.”

 

Satsuki smiled to herself and slid the door to her classroom open, making to join their fun just as Dai-chan pulled Sakurai-kun into the conversation.

 

Something about teaching the freshmen how it’s done properly.

 


 

 lucid

/ˈluːsɪd/

shining or bright; luminous.

 


 

In first year of high school—during his first encounter face to face with Kagami, Daiki had told the redhead that his light was dim.

 

As it had been indeed.

 

However, only once he had completely shaken off the shackles of Teikou basketball did the Touou ace realize how dim his own light had become over the years.

 

Of course, not in the sense he had vested in the words when saying them to Kagami.

 

As an absolute quality, Daiki’s light shone brighter than any other on the court. He outshined almost every other Miracle on the court whenever he matched up against them.

 

Nevertheless, Daiki’s light had become dim in comparison to what it should have been by the time he was a second year in high school—if only Teikou hadn’t broken his spirit, that is.

 

But thanks to the Miracles disbanding and scattering all over the country, and thanks to Kagami’s appearance, the navy-haired teen had finally rediscovered himself in the sport he loved.

 

By the time the Inter High official games came around in second year, Daiki’s basketball style had been completely reworked.

 

Now it didn’t simply accommodate the fact he had teammates, but he shaped it in particular ways exactly because of his teammates’ strengths and weaknesses. It was thanks to his lightning-fast reflexes and quick decision making in the split second that made it possible for Touou to play their best possible game against anyone, with Daiki at the core of the team.

 

That was one aspect.

 

Another aspect was that the ace possessed a very peculiar skillset outside of his basketball prowess. One he had reacquired over the past half year, so to say.

 

A very charming quality about Daiki before Teikou had been his ability to make friends quickly with just about anyone.

 

This helped him greatly in getting to know his new teammates and shaping his play around them, and around his blossoming talents.

 

He had never understood how people were so easily opening up to him, but he wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

 

Satsuki, on the other hand, didn’t need to ponder to understand how come those first years were so drawn to him and so profoundly affected by him.

 

Dai-chan shone brighter than the sun on the court, dazzling any and all who bothered to look. He had always worn his heart on his sleeve, being the simpleton that he was.

 

It was just that Teikou had crushed and stomped on said heart, and given it back to him in shambles. It had made it impossible for him to be himself for a long while.

 

But now, half a year after his first defeat in what felt like forever, Daiki was back to his normal self, playing the game he adored alongside teammates he trusted and who trusted him even more. He was playing equals, against whom he had to be careful and not let his guard down at any point in time.

 

His light shone brighter than any other while he zipped back and forth the lengths of the court, his fakes and formless shots five times more effective with the addition of the possibility he could pass the ball at any point as well.

 

His stealthy passes were nothing like Tetsu-kun’s because they did not disappear through the merits of misdirection.

 

If she had to compare them, Dai-chan’s passes were the exact opposite of Tetsu’s. Since all the eyes of everyone on the court—and around it—were always pinned on him whenever he had the ball, following his every movement, every action, it was impossible to direct the attention away from himself.

 

Yet Dai-chan’s passes were unseen by his opponents all the same.

 

He passed the ball masterfully during speedy crossovers, or when he dribbled the ball behind his back, or when he pretended to shoot for the hoop but instead passed it over to Sakurai-kun. He passed when the opposing team thought he would go for scoring himself, because it caught them unawares when the points were taken by another member of Touou instead.

 

The best part of all was that high school basketball was nothing like middle school basketball.

 

Even when he triumphed over his opponents in an overwhelming victory, none of the boys on the court ever lost hope until the final buzzer. They struggled and struggled, and if Daiki or his team let up, they caught up, one basket at a time, until Touou’s dominance was not as well asserted anymore.

 

High school boys were not as mentally fragile as middle school ones. They did not lose heart as easily, and they did not get so crushed even if they did lose.

 

If anything, losses made them doubly more ferocious in subsequent matches—something Touou’s basketball team had found out the hard way.

 

That thought alone fueled Daiki’s fire and made him burn brighter than a star when hustling with them on the court.

 

Of course, having a good fight with anyone was pointless unless he won.

 

Having already had a taste of defeat recently, Daiki was not thrilled at the thought of repeating the experience.

 

Plus, as long as he was around, he was unwilling to let his first year friends be subjected to the bitterness of sleepless nights and restlessness that infallibly came with losing a great match.

 

Daiki had adopted a somewhat guardian-esque mentality when it came to his underclassmen after learning why they had enrolled to Touou. And that was because they’d watched his every game in first year of high school and decided they wanted to play alongside the force of nature that was Aomine Daiki for the next couple of years of their lives.

 

So he attended practice dutifully, sometimes just watching for half an hour before idling about made him too antsy—or seeing his teammates repeating the same stupid mistakes over and over tired him out and he just had to set them straight.

 

This led to his gameplay improving massively—in a way that riveted the attention of almost any audience entirely on his form and his fluid play.

 

Sometimes Satsuki wondered if he even realized how close the proverbial spotlight always followed him whenever he played in any game. Then she came to think that he probably didn’t even give a damn if it was or not, because it didn’t change at all the way he played.

 

It wouldn’t be for half year or so that Satsuki would come to realize that her eyes were instinctively following his every move—not just on the court but off it, too—in a manner that had nothing to do with basketball.

 

She couldn’t be blamed for becoming enthralled by him, though.

 

That was just the effect his lucidity had on everyone.