Fandom: Kuroko no Basket (The Basketball Which Kuroko Plays)
Characters: Kise Ryouta, Aomine Daiki, Kuroko Tetsuya
Pairing: Aomine/Kuroko, Aomine/Kise, Aomine/Kagami/Kuroko
Disclaimer: Fujimaki owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Length: 2000 words
Summary: In which Kise Ryouta demonstrates a proactive approach to international relations.
Beta: None. u_u
Note: This story takes place in the setting established by Softer than Before (All the Second Chances) (though it can maybe work as standalone if you have really low setting-establishment standards ^^;;).
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
Ryouta knew something was off as soon as Aomine and Kuroko walked onto the court.
For one thing, Kagami wasn't with them.
For another thing, they kept at least two metres' distance between them, which was not at all what Ryouta had been picturing. They'd been on the same team for nearly a year -- why weren't they back to how they had been at Teikou? In those days, Aomine would hover near Kuroko whenever they weren't actually playing, like an anxious, overprotective older brother. Though of course the nature of Aomine and Kuroko's relationship had been different from brotherly.
As secrets went, that had been one of the worst-kept.
"Hey!" Ryouta called, waving. "Kurokocchi, Aominecchi -- over here!"
Aomine favoured him with a suspicious glare; Kuroko simply waved back and came closer. "Kise-kun," he said. "Long time no see. How come you're here?"
"I came to visit you, obviously. Tsunematsu-san is going to let me watch today's practice. After that maybe we can go out for a bite to eat? Catch up?"
"Why the hell would that asshole let some outsider watch our practice?" Aomine, who had approached in the meantime, wanted to know.
He was still glaring, but Ryouta had known him long enough to discern the I-don't-know-how-I-should-react-to-this-d
"His daughter's a fan, you see," Ryouta said, giving Aomine his best photo op smile. "He noticed me loitering outside the building and invited me to come in."
"You could've sent a mail or something," Kuroko said. "You're such a flake, Kise-kun."
"You're so mean, Kurokocchi," Ryouta whined. Out of all the people he had ever known, Kuroko was the only one immune to Ryouta's charm. Even Aomine-- ah, but that was in the past. "Speaking of flakes, where's Kagamicchi? Isn't he at Tokai too?"
"He's in America," Kuroko said, his expression flat. "It's summer after all." He took a step further away from Aomine and began a hamstring stretch.
"Stupid idiot, missing practices to hang out with his American buddies," Aomine said. "Guess he doesn't want to be a regular next season."
One of Kuroko's eyebrows twitched. "These don't count as regular practices, so he'll be fine."
Kise shifted on the bench. "I don't really understand what you're talking about, but if Kagamicchi's in trouble with the coach, I could just--"
"Don't," Aomine said. "That guy would never forgive you if you tried to meddle on his behalf."
"Besides, Ta-- er, Kagami-kun isn't in trouble in the first place, so nothing is needed," Kuroko said, his eyes fierce. "Lots of team members are gone for the summer."
Ryouta frowned. Had Kuroko been about to say Tagami instead of Kagami? That didn't make any sense. Surely he'd said Kagami's name enough times over the years not to stumble over the first syllable? He was kind of agitated, too: a rare event for Kuroko. Both of them were sure keyed up over Kagami's absence while trying to look like they were anything but.
"That may be so, but Tsunematsu's a total hardass, so he shouldn't take chances," Aomine said.
The whistle went, signalling the start of practice.
"Let's meet outside after, Kise-kun," Kuroko said, running off towards the rest of the team. Aomine sauntered after him without another word or glance at Ryouta.
So it was true: living together could change even the best of friends into near-strangers. Ryouta said a little prayer of thanks for his manager arranging a single-person dormitory at Hokkaido.
"Man, watching you guys practice really made me miss basketball," Ryouta said, poking at the fried shrimp on his side plate. They were at a self-serve udon joint just off the main drag; the place had been empty when they sat down but was filling up quickly with the lunch crowd.
"How come you didn't join the team at your school?" Kuroko asked between slurps.
Ryouta shrugged. "My manager said it was time for an image change. Basketball isn't that popular, and there's a lot more competition for models in this age bracket."
Aomine scoffed. "So what's your image now -- Random University Campus Man? Wouldn't basketball make you stand out more instead of less?"
Ryouta pushed his empty bowl aside. "In high school, that was the case. But women our age tend to care less about men's hobbies and more about our social standing, you know?"
"So you've given up something you like over what other people think of you?"
"Who said Kise-kun didn't like modelling?" Kuroko remarked, not looking at Aomine. "Thank you for the food."
"I do like modelling," Ryouta said, adding every last bit of cheer into his tone. "I can't do it for the rest of my life, but it's the same with basketball. Once you hit thirty, thirty-five, you're old news -- you can last a bit longer with modelling, but not by much. I want a career that will last until I am an old man. So you could say modelling is my hobby." He knew he was babbling, but he hated uncomfortable silences and could tell that if he didn't fill the space, none of them would.
"You've really matured a lot, Kise-kun," Kuroko said. "Appearances can be deceiving, it seems. We should leave so someone else can have our table."
"How mean," Ryouta said with a sigh, following him through the now-crowded restaurant and past the line of people waiting to order. "But Kurokocchi, you haven't praised me in a long time so even a backhanded compliment from you makes me happy."
"Compliments of any kind make you happy, dumbass," Aomine said as they re-emerged into sticky late summer haze.
"I need to walk the dog, so I'm going ahead," Kuroko said. "Keep in touch, Kise-kun."
"You too, Kurokocchi. At least reply to my mails now and again."
"If you stop sending me stories about how cute your girlfriend is, maybe I will," Kuroko said. As Ryouta turned to him to defend Kaya's honour, Kuroko was already gone.
"He still does that, huh?" Ryouta mumbled.
Aomine slipped an arm around his shoulders. "Some things never change. So you got yourself a girlfriend, huh?"
"Yeah, Kaya-chan. Wanna see a photo?"
"I don't wanna look at some girl I'll never get to sleep with," Aomine said.
Ryouta snorted. Aomine's arm felt too heavy, too hot against the back of his neck. "Like those gravure idols would ever sleep with you."
"That's different," Aomine said. "After I join the NBA, idols will line up to sleep with me. Your girlfriend is your girlfriend."
"I see both of us have matured a little," Ryouta said, moving out from under Aomine's arm. "That's too hot."
"Your place has air conditioning, right? Where was it, two stops from here?"
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying let's go back to your place and fuck, what do you think I'm saying?"
Ryouta had forgotten how hypnotising Aomine's eyes could be when he wanted something.
"Why don't you ever want to be on top, Aominecchi?"
Aomine scratches his neck lazily and regards Ryouta through half-closed eyelids. "That would just look like I'm taking advantage of you, since you're the kouhai."
"You're taking advantage of me either way."
"Would you really think so if you were some unrelated party?"
"I can hardly look at this as an unrelated party, senpai."
"Don't get smart. We're just helping each other out. A senpai has to look out for his kouhai, right?"
"What a reliable senpai I've got."
Outside, dusk is falling across the Teikou grounds. Ryouta starts to search the changing room for his underpants. How Aomine flings them somewhere improbable every time, he'll never know.
Ryouta dispelled the memory and laughed. "I just told you about my adorable girlfriend and you want me to cheat on her? No can do, Aominecchi."
Aomine rolled his eyes. "It's not cheating if you don't feel anything."
"Is that what you're planning on telling Kurokocchi when he finds out?"
"Why would Tetsu find-- wait, how does Tetsu even enter into this conversation?"
"Quitting basketball didn't dull my powers of observation," Ryouta replied with disdain. "How do you think I learned to copy people's moves if not by watching them very carefully? You broke Kurokocchi's heart again."
"Again?" Aomine demanded. "He was the one who dumped me at Teikou -- like you don't know that."
"He did that because you broke his heart."
"Why does everyone always side with someone other than me?" Aomine mumbled, leaning against the decorative marble slab next to the shop's door.
"It's your sparkling good will towards people," Ryouta said. "Listen, I'm not sure what's going on, but you should stop trying to make things even worse. You went after me at Teikou to make Kurokocchi jealous, because you knew he would notice, but that didn't work out so well. What are you doing, trying to pull that again? Do you want Kurokocchi to hate you?"
"Don't lecture me," Aomine said. His voice was low, but his glare wasn't dangerous.
Ryouta looked at his watch. "Oh, shit, I gotta catch the train. Got a shoot in the city."
"All right, Mr Random University Campus Man," Aomine said, clapping him on the back. "Tell your cute girlfriend I said hi." He waggled his eyebrows.
Ryouta snorted. "Your personality is really terrible, Aominecchi."
"Don't call me, I'll call you," Aomine said over his shoulder, smirked, and was gone.
Ryouta went in the opposite direction, towards the station. As he passed through a small warren of street vendors, he touched the nape of his neck, where the heat of Aomine's bare skin still lingered, and wondered about the other secret Aomine had just walked away with. Ryouta had seen it in the triumph of his parting grin: a little boy who confessed to breaking a treasured bowl rejoicing in glee that no one's noticed the missing daifuku. What was it?
He hurried down the stairs into the station, through the ticket gate, up to the platform, and right onto a train about to depart for Tokyo. His mind felt like a small animal worrying a plastic package of chikuwa open with its teeth: Aomine's other secret. Ryouta had never been the cerebral type, but he liked unravelling knots.
Ta-- Kagami-kun, Kuroko had said.
Tagami? No. Taiga. Kagami Taiga.
The Ta from Taiga. Kuroko had been about to use Kagami's first name with Aomine, but he had caught himself because Ryouta was there. Kuroko would never use someone's first name unless it was a very special person.
The distance between Aomine and Kuroko. How easily Aomine had backed off when Ryouta told him he wasn't interested. That fleeting instant of panic when Ryouta asked if Aomine wanted Kuroko to hate him.
The way Aomine kept on about Kagami missing practices -- the same way he had carried on about Kuroko's disappearance from the team in their middle-school days. Affecting the injured air of an offended teammate when really he just missed Kuroko, missed whatever it was they had back then.
The first syllable of Kagami's first name in Kuroko's mouth.
Kuroko wouldn't make the mistake of calling Kagami by his first name to Aomine unless Aomine knew of and accepted their relationship.
And if that was the case, why would Aomine be so easily deterred? Shouldn't he be desperate to try and get away from Kuroko? Why would he care about losing Kuroko?
Ryouta fished a bottle of sports drink out of his bag, drank lukewarm electrolytes, and continued to worry the mind-knot.
The way Aomine didn't say Kagami's name even once.
Aomine and Kuroko. Aomine and Kagami. Kuroko and Kagami.
Aomine's other secret.
An unbidden image flashed in Ryouta's mind, and a faint flush went through his face at the audacity of it. Seriously? All three?
But it made perfect sense. The ends of the knot hung slack and loose.
"Well, then," Ryouta murmured, absently groping for his phone. "Guess I'll try my hand at some international relations, huh?"
He scrolled through the names in his secondary address book until he found Kagami's mail address, typed a light-hearted little note, and then attached the video he'd recorded earlier. A little reminder of who was waiting in Japan; that was all.
After all, sometimes a kouhai had to look out for his senpai, too.