Aida Riko didn’t like Momoi Satsuki. The girl was far too presumptuous, for one thing, and for another all of Riko’s idiot boys were too busy ogling Momoi every time they met to remember that this was a scout, this was a spy, this was the enemy, with a better analytical head on her shoulders than even Teppei. It wasn’t better than Riko’s, though, which was why she had the sense to be wary. So when her phone chimed in the middle of practice, and the name at the top of the message was Momoi’s, Riko was instantly on guard.
And then she read it and was just puzzled.
Send dai-chan back pls. Captain very upset.
“Who on earth…?” Riko muttered to herself, frowning. It took a minute to connect Dai-chan with Aomine Daiki, and then she rolled her eyes.
Middle of practice. she sent back. Why would he be he
“You guys are still going? Jeez, take a break already.”
Riko glanced up at the unfamiliar voice, and her thumb skidded across her phone when she saw Aomine Daiki leaning around the outside door, eyeing Seirin’s practice with disgruntlement.
“Aomine-kun,” Kuroko greeted him, a little breathless where he was chinning himself up on the bars set into the wall, as per Riko’s orders. “Are you skipping practice again?”
“Yes, he is,” Riko snapped. “And apparently his captain is angry about it, which I can completely understand.”
Aomine just flicked his fingers carelessly, downright lounging in the door frame. “He gets pissed off over everything.” Then he paused and cocked his head at her. “How do you know?”
Riko waved her phone. “Your keeper texted, asking us to send you back.” Then she saw her screen and paused to glare at it. She’d hit send when Aomine startled her, and now Momoi had replied, Told you so.
“Satsuki’s always interfering,” Aomine said, watching her under his lashes. “No reason to do her errands for her, right?”
Riko hesitated, torn between not wanting to do Momoi’s errands and being a responsible coach, and also being annoyed that this too-tall, too-talented brat had seen exactly how she was feeling.
“Aomine!” Kagami had finally noticed their visitor, and stopped noticing anything else including the formation he was supposed to be practicing. The ball flew straight past him as he stepped toward the doors, showing his teeth. “Here for a rematch?”
“Isn’t that supposed to be for the one who lost?” Aomine shot back with a lazy, equally toothy, smile. “Last I checked, that was you.”
“Try me again!”
Riko rubbed her forehead. “Both of you shut up!” she barked. “Kagami, get back to work or I’ll triple your training drills! And you,” she rounded on Aomine, who had the good sense to look just a little uneasy as she marched towards him. “If you want a match with any of my players, you can just get your coach to set it up with me. Now out!” She body-checked him out the door, ignoring his squawk of protest. “You have your own practice to be at.”
“But the drills are boring.” He gave her a downright pleading look that nearly made her doubt her own memory of him on the court, as dark and sharp there as he was open and entreating now. “Just one match?”
She could hear Kagami, inside, asking Hyuuga the same thing, and scrubbed a hand over her face. “If you wait quietly out here and don’t interfere,” she said, irresistibly reminded of certain small cousins she’d babysat for, and negotiations over bedtime, “you can have a one-on-one after practice ends. A short one.”
He grinned at her, bright and happy and wicked around the edges. “Okay!” He hopped up to sit on the edge of the tall planters that lined the walk around the building.
Riko shook her head and went back in, closing the door firmly behind her. Maybe Momoi deserved more credit than she’d thought, if she had to manage that one every day. She looked up to see Kagami, Kagami of all people! giving her puppy-dog eyes.
“Kantoku?” he asked, hopefully.
“You really are like a pair of little kids,” she sighed. “After practice. If you pay attention.”
Kagami brightened up just like Aomine had. “Yes, ma’am!” He bounded back to his place on the court, and Riko exchanged a look of helpless amusement with Hyuuga.
At least Kuroko was still calmly working through his repetitions on the bars, even if there was a tiny smile playing around the corners of his mouth.
Not coming back, Riko texted Momoi. Promised 121 later to stop him interfering. Cptn should put leash on him.
Will go shopping today, came back, and even in a text message Riko could tell she was exasperated. She sympathized.
Can put him in your practice? Momoi sent, hopefully, two weeks (and three more visits) later.
Riko stabbed at her phone in aggravation. Show opponent all our tactics, sure right.
Trade. Will put kagamin in our practice when he comes.
Riko blinked at the text in disbelief. “What is this supposed to be, foreign exchange?” Why would kagami be at touou?
All Momoi sent back was: …
Riko pursed her lips, looking up at her court, where Kagami and Aomine were dodging around each other, ball flashing through their hands almost faster than the eye could follow. Finally Aomine broke past Kagami and made a clean shot. “I win,” he said, as he landed. “Again.”
“Once more!” Kagami shot back, teeth bared at Aomine even though his eyes were practically sparkling.
Aomine smirked. “You’re way more than one down, you know.”
“Either say no, or gimme the damn ball.”
Aomine bounced the ball across to Kagami, laughing.
Hyuuga, the only one who had stayed late with her to watch, shook his head in disbelief. “I think I love basketball as much as the next person…”
“The next basketball idiot anyway,” she agreed, flipping her phone closed with a sigh.
He ignored that, or maybe just accepted it; Hyuuga was a smart guy sometimes. “…but those two are something else. I think Kagami has actually skipped a meal for this.”
Riko thought about that, and looked down at her phone, and turned around to bang her head against the gymnasium stage a few times. “Why does she have to be right about this?” she asked, muffled. If Kagami was willing to skip meals to play Aomine it wouldn’t take long at all before he really was sneaking off to Touou for more.
“Momoi-san predicted it?” a quiet voice asked from right beside her, and Riko jumped. Right. Of course Kuroko had also stayed behind to watch. It was her own fault for not paying attention, the way she’d learned to during practice itself. She took a long breath to slow her heart rate back down, and managed not to glare when she looked up. Kuroko was perched on the edge of the stage, looking down at her with wide, steady eyes. “Momoi-san knows Aomine-kun very well. And Kagami-kun is a lot like him.”
“I noticed.” Riko turned around again, letting her shoulders thump back against the stage, and accepted the silent support of Hyuuga’s arm pressed against hers. “So, yes, he probably will be sneaking off to Touou pretty soon, now.” How was she going to manage this? It wouldn’t be an entirely bad thing if it weren’t for Kagami’s strategic obliviousness…
“We have a leash for the dog, we can get one for Kagami too,” Hyuuga said darkly, and Riko grinned up at him. Great minds thought alike.
After a long moment, Kuroko spoke up again. “Aomine-kun is a better analyst than Kagami-kun, right now.”
Kuroko saw the real problem too. “Mm. That’s what I’m really concerned about, yes.” Riko watched Kagami finally out-leap Aomine’s guard to slam the ball home. Both of them went immediately for another point, this time, and Riko sighed, exasperated. Enough was enough, and she didn’t want Kagami to over-strain himself. “Kuroko-kun, go stop them.”
Kuroko hopped down from the stage and trotted obediently out onto the court. Riko watched him watch the flow of the match for a moment before stepping into it and effortlessly stealing the ball, holding it while both his current and previous partner protested the interruption loudly. Kuroko really did have an amazing eye for the game, and she swore by the time she graduated she and Hyuuga were going to get him to use that eye for more than his own plays. He waited out Kagami and Aomine’s complaints and said a few quiet words, pointing to the clock on the wall. Eventually, they both gave in and made for their bags against the wall by the door. Kuroko, responsible as ever, put the ball away neatly in the bin before following after. The three of them pushed through the outside door, Kagami and Aomine still arguing over their match while Kuroko, between them, listened with silent amusement.
“Momoi suggests we can just trade them off, incorporate them both into both practices, wherever they happen to be,” she said quietly, once they were gone. “But that won’t be an even trade when it comes to what they pick up about an opponent’s team. If it weren’t for that, I might consider it. It would certainly help Kagami a great deal to train against Aomine with any regularity.”
Hyuuga was looking a little alarmed. “Kantoku. You’re talking about Seirin and Touou playing tournament matches when we already know what the other team is capable of. What kind of game would that be?”
“A challenging one. You like that, right?” Riko’s mouth tilted in a crooked smile. “Momoi seems to have a lot of that information on her books already. It might be very useful to equalize that advantage.” Hyuuga paused, obviously just as caught by the notion as she’d been. If only it could work. She was almost regretting that Kagami couldn’t analyze his opponents on anything but an instinctive level, yet, not like…
Slowly Riko straightened, eyes widening.
“Kantoku?” Hyuuga asked, warily.
Riko snapped her phone open with a flick of her wrist, and her thumb danced over it as she wrote out, Kagami and kuroko both to touou and I agree.
There was a long pause before the answer came back, and when it finally did Riko let herself giggle with wicked satisfaction.
Hyuuga paled. “Kantoku, what are you going to do?”
"I’m going to send Kuroko along." She held up the phone for him to see.
It took another few days before Aomine snuck off to visit them again, and Riko couldn’t quite restrain herself from skipping now and then. Her club kept giving her nervous looks, though she was sure she had no idea why they should. She supposed, on reflection, she might have hummed a little, too.
When Aomine finally showed up, peeking in the outside doors to wave at Kagami and Kuroko, she pounced on him. “There you are! Get in here, Aomine-kun, you’re taking part in drills today!”
“Oh, she has plans for him,” Furihata whispered, in a tone of relief. “Whew!”
“Don’t relax yet, they might still be plans for us too!” Kawahara hissed back.
Riko smiled serenely. It was good to keep her boys on their toes.
“Drills?” Aomine blinked at her as she strolled up to him. “Oh come on, I came here to get away from drill–ow!”
Riko marched him into the gym, fingers locked firmly on his ear. “Too bad. You’re here. You’re practicing.” Her boys were looking at her with a bit of awe, and she gave them a sunny smile. “Now.” She let Aomine go and folded her arms. “Take off your shirt and let me get a look at you.”
“What?!” Aomine looked faintly scandalized. Hyuuga was clearly stifling a laugh as he came and patted Aomine reassuringly on the shoulder.
“She’s our trainer; she wants to get a look at what kind of condition you’re in. Go on.”
“But…” Aomine gave her a rather wide-eyed look. “No, seriously…”
“Aomine-kun.” Kuroko, in the middle of the rotating line for lay-up practice runs, looked over at them with an ever so faintly admonishing expression. He didn’t say anything else, but Aomine grimaced a little, breath sighing out. Riko chalked up another example of Kuroko’s ability to manage his teammates; she was starting to wonder if they should make him the captain, year after next.
“Oh all right.” Aomine stripped off his shirt and stood giving her a suspicious look.
Riko took a good look at his body, frowning, pushing aside her eternal amazement over his sheer strength and potential to study the whole picture instead. “Hmm.” She hadn’t been sure, just watching him slouching around, and it was hard to see very well in the middle of one of his wild matches with Kagami, but her suspicion had been right. Aomine wasn’t standing quite square. She walked around him, studying his back. “Hmmmm.” Finally, she came around in front of him again, studying the curve of his spine and ribs as she went, and nodded sharply. “All right. Get dressed.” As soon as Aomine’s head emerged from the neck of his T-shirt again, she gave him a stern look. “I’m not surprised Momoi-kun wanted me to take a look at you. You’re right on the edge of some acute injuries, especially if you keep playing the way you are with Kagami-kun.”
Aomine shot her a skeptical glance, running his hands through his hair. “You can tell that just by looking?”
“You aren’t standing square,” Riko pointed out. “You’re pulling up just a little short on your right leg, and that’s contracting your core muscles on the left, trying to compensate. Your lower back, especially, is weaker than it should be, and you’re putting extra strain on your shoulders and chest. That’s heading straight for a torn pectoral, and your knees will be in danger, too, if you don’t strengthen your hip and lower back muscles again.” Aomine’s eyes had been widening all through the lecture, turning uncertain as he tried reflexively to adjust his stance and probably felt the muscles pulling. Riko set her hands on her hips, scolding. “You can’t let yourself get out of condition like that, Aomine-kun! You should know better!”
“It’s never been a problem,” Aomine protested, looking shifty even as he said it.
Riko narrowed her eyes at him. “No excuses! You’re going to train properly whenever you’re here, and that’s final! I’m not having any injuries happening in my gym.”
“What kind of training properly?” Aomine hedged, though Riko could tell he was weakening. She smiled at him, sweet as honey.
“Oh, dreadfully boring ones.” She stepped up nose-to-nose, or at least nose-to-chest, and he edged back. “Which will keep you from having all the wonderful excitement of a serious injury, you idiot.” She folded her arms and delivered the finishing stroke. “And no games with Kagami unless I’m satisfied you’re making sufficient progress in your re-conditioning.”
He finally gave in with a sigh, shoulders slumping. “Yeah, yeah, all right.”
One last push. Riko glared at him again. “What was that, Aomine-kun? I didn’t quite catch it.”
One corner of his mouth quirked up. “Yes, Kantoku.”
“Better!” She patted his arm. “Now, don’t worry, we’ll start easy. Give me fifty side planks, twenty seconds each, and then you can join in the sprints.”
Someone on the court, where they had all been eavesdropping shamelessly, squeaked with shock. Aomine, on the other hand, just grinned, eyes lighting up with a little spark. “No problem.”
Riko smiled with satisfaction that she’d struck the right note with him, presented this training as both a benefit and a challenge. She kept an eye on him as he went to pull down a mat to work on, and took out her phone.
Could have just said you wanted evaluation of him.
Wheres the fun in that? Momoi sent back a minute later, and Riko rolled her eyes. Dai-chan okay? came a moment later.
Will be, Riko typed back. Close thing. Watch him.
Can have kagamin for bait pls? Riko could almost see Momoi batting her lashes innocently, and snorted.
Will send next week. Kuroko too. Better keep them in shape.
Been doing that for years.
For the first time since the Winter Cup, Riko thought about what it might have been like to manage a team like Teikou while the captain and coach let the whole lot of them run wild in the name of victory.
Not you alone, she texted back. Will be okay now.
It wasn’t until five minutes later that her phone chimed with a reply, and Riko fished it out while calling to Koganei to set his feet better before his next sprint.
She closed the phone again and went back to her job, and if she carried a little smile with her, well, none of the boys needed to know why.
One of the things Satsuki had most looked forward to, about Kagami and Tetsu-kun visiting Touou, was watching Wakamatsu-senpai try to deal with Tetsu-kun.
“So try to keep up!”
“Of course.” Tetsu-kun stood perfectly calm and attentive, watching Wakamatsu-senpai.
“And… and don’t get in anyone’s way!”
“Understood.” Tetsu-kun waited politely.
Wakamatsu-senpai ran a hand through his hair, clearly bewildered by all the relentless courtesy. “Yeah, well. Just… go get changed.”
Tetsu-kun bobbed an agreeable and unflappable bow and herded Kagami off to the side while Touou’s captain stalked back to practice, shaking his head. Dai-chan finally stopped laughing long enough lead them to the changing room, and came back still grinning. “That was beautiful,” he said, lounging against the edge of the stage beside her.
“Just remember, you’re supposed to train properly today or no game with Kagamin later,” she reminded him. Dai-chan made a face.
“Yeah, yeah, fine.” He muttered some further uncomplimentary things under his breath, but they were mostly directed at Riko-san, so Satsuki let him complain. If Dai-chan didn’t realize who had really started this plan, that was actually fine with her. She didn’t like having to fight with him. That reminded her, though, and she pulled out her phone to text Riko-san.
Both here. Everything fine. Have a nice day!
A minute later, the reply came back, dryness rising almost visibly off the screen. Good luck. Middle of practice here. Shoo.
Satsuki grinned to herself as she closed the phone again. She was finding that she liked teasing Riko-san, and she thought just maybe Riko-san was finding the whole thing funny too.
“Floor work!” Wakamatsu-senpai yelled as Kagami and Tetsu-kun emerged again. “Break out the mats!”
Dai-chan sighed like it was dragged up from his toes, and slouched over to follow Tetsu-kun as he led both Kagami and Dai-chan promptly over to the stack of rough, blue mats against the wall. Dai-chan and Kagami eyed each other narrowly as they grabbed the same mat, and Satsuki rolled her eyes. She did it extra hard, because she was pretty sure she was doing it for Tetsu-kun also, though he never showed it.
It was an odd day of practice, full of hesitations as people paused to watch Dai-chan breezing through every exercise, or Kagami bursting through them, or Tetsu-kun working his way patiently and sometimes awkwardly through them. It was that last that Satsuki heard murmurs starting over, among little knots of players waiting to shoot or sprint or get one of the baskets for guard practice.
“…really from Teikou?”
“…different in a game, but seriously…”
As yet another of Tetsu-kun’s lay-ups bounced off the rim, Yoshita-senpai finally said, a little more loudly, “This is a regular from the championship team?”
Yoshita-senpai should, Satsuki thought dispassionately, have remembered who he was currently on a three-man team with. Kagami made a long arm without moving from where he stood, wrapped his fingers in the front of Yoshita-senpai’s shirt, and dragged him in close.
“When you can play the way he does,” Kagami’s growl nearly echoed, “and keep going the way he does, then you can talk. Until then, shut your ignorant face.”
Yoshita-senpai, nearly hauled up off his feet, held up placating hands. “Right, sure, whatever you say.”
Tetsu-kun slipped back into line for another run, apparently oblivious to the whole thing, and to Dai-chan looming on the other side of the court with a nasty look in his eye.
“Kagami and Aomine really are two of a kind, aren’t they?” someone said in Satsuki’s ear, and she turned her head to smile ruefully up at Imayoshi-senpai.
“In some ways. Shouldn’t you be studying, senpai?”
He gave her an innocent look, leaning crossed arms on the back of her chair. “I heard you’d gotten Aomine-kun to come to practice, and wanted to witness the historic event for myself.”
“He’s complained the whole time, but he’s stayed.” Satsuki shrugged. “It’s a start. I think he took Riko-san seriously, too.”
The teasing smile slid off Imayoshi-senpai’s face. “Good. Kantoku was getting worried about that.”
“He was right to be.” Satsuki wrapped her arms around herself for a moment, pushing away the thought of how much danger Dai-chan had been putting himself in. “But I think this approach will work out.”
Out on the court, Tetsu-kun paused abruptly in the middle of shooting. “Aomine-kun. Kagami-kun,” he said, firm and clear, not taking his eyes off the hoop.
Satsuki looked around sharply, and scowled to see both Dai-chan and Kagami frozen in the act of sidling toward the outside door, Dai-chan with a ball under one arm.
“Have you got eyes in the back of your head or what?” Kagami snapped, looking guilty.
Dai-chan just sighed. “Yeah, he does,” he muttered.
Tetsu-kun finished his shot and turned to look at them expectantly. Dai-chan and Kagami gave in and trudged back toward the court. Satsuki had to bite back a giggle when Tetsu-kun smiled, small and approving, because Aomine lightened up a little and Kagami scowled off to the side, coloring faintly.
No one said a single word about Tetsu-kun’s performance in the day’s exercises after that.
“I don’t suppose we can keep him?” Imayoshi-senpai asked her, just a little wistful.
Satsuki imagined Riko-san’s reply, if she texted to ask that, and laughed some more. “Probably not. But this should be enough.” She smiled softly as Kagami and Dai-chan argued over who got to have Tetsu-kun on his side for the next mini-game, watching how Dai-chan’s eyes turned bright and alive as he leaned toward Kagami and how Tetsu-kun let them argue, tolerant and amused. “It’ll be enough, now.”
She’d been afraid, for a long time, that her boys were broken beyond repair, but she wasn’t afraid any more. Watching them catch fire off each other, she couldn’t be afraid of anything. If she’d loved Tetsu-kun before, for his kindness, it was nothing to what she felt now, knowing he’d seen what had to be done and made it happen. It was enough to inspire anyone, and she smiled secretly at the thought, because she’d finally realized something. Her plan didn’t have to stop here. Her hand snuck down to touch her phone, and her smile widened.
Riko tapped her toe, arms folded, as she waited for Momoi under the awning of Kaijou’s sports complex, feeling conspicuous in another school’s uniform. Momoi, nearly skipping up the walk, seemed to feel no such thing, arriving at Riko’s side with a bounce in her step and smiling down at her cheerily. Riko was irritated all over again by the girl’s height and finally asked what she’d been thinking for months. “Why are you hanging around the boy’s basketball team instead of playing on the girl’s like you obviously could?”
Momoi widened her eyes. “Well, I suppose could, yes, but I really think I’m just not built for it. All the jumping would make things bounce an awful lot.”
Riko wanted to be annoyed by that dig, too, but there was such a sparkle of mischief in Momoi’s eyes, so much happier than the girl had been in the spring and summer, that it tugged an unwilling smile out of her. “Speaking of the problems with natural talent,” she murmured instead, and took some satisfaction in the peal of laughter she surprised out of Momoi. “Are you sure we need to take things this far?” she asked, more seriously.
Momoi sobered and nodded. “Yes, Riko-san. I’m sure. Midorin has his new partner to look after him, and I think Himuro-san will keep an eye on Muk-kun. But the one who looked after Ki-chan was Kasamatsu-san. And he’s retired from the club, now.”
“I don’t know whether I should call you an amazing scout or an amazing stalker,” Riko sighed, and twitched her uniform cuffs down, straightening. “All right, let’s do it.”
Kaijou’s coach glowered at them as soon as they appeared in the door of the gymnasium. “You again,” he said, eyeing Riko in particular, and she couldn’t help beaming back at him, immensely cheered by the professional vote of enmity. “What do you want now? Wasn’t twice enough for you?”
“Actually, Takeuchi-kantoku, we were hoping we could offer a little help with a potential problem.” Riko smoothed her smile into something a little more serious, and opened her hand at Momoi.
Momoi nearly sparkled at the poor man. “I think we can all agree that managing an ex-regular from Teikou sometimes takes unusual measure, yes? There’s an arrangement that’s been working out very well so far…”
“This is something I never expected to see.”
Riko looked around to find Kise smiling down at her. “What are you and Satsuki-chan both doing here?” he asked, tossing sweat-soaked hair back off his face.
Riko looked him critically up and down, and nodded to herself; Momoi had been right on target. “You’ve been pushing your training too hard, Kise-kun,” she said, loud enough for Takeuchi-san to hear. “You’re going to over-train, at this rate.” She really didn’t like the twitch in his calf muscles; that suggested he’d been working far too repetitively.
“It isn’t that bad, Aida-san!” Kise waved her concern off, laughing, but she thought there was a brittle edge to it. “I haven’t been doing that much…”
“Kise,” Takeuchi-san cut him off, frowning. “Exactly how much after-hours training have you been doing?”
Now Kise definitely looked guilty. “Not that much, really,” he offered, but his eyes fell away from his coach’s.
“I think you can see our concern, Takeuchi-kantoku,” Momoi murmured, utterly unmoved by the tragically betrayed look Kise gave her.
Takeuchi-san growled under his breath, arms folded grumpily, and Riko caught, “…bad as her damn father…” That made something in her glow, warm and happy, and she waited with her best copy of Kuroko’s attentive expression while he thought it over. Finally Takeuchi-san sighed. “All right, fine. You made your point, and I suppose we can risk a little experimenting during the off-season. I’ll give you a month to convince me this isn’t as insane as it sounds.”
Riko bowed smoothly. “Thank you, Takeuchi-kantoku. We’ll contact you about scheduling.”
He harumphed and turned back to his team’s practice while Kise looked at Riko and Momoi warily. “What is this all about?”
Momoi attached herself to his arm, smiling up at him. “It’s about trading you and Dai-chan and Kagamin around, to let you play each other more. Tetsu-kun, too, mostly to make Dai-chan and Kagamin behave.”
Riko had thought Kise seemed brittle. She hadn’t realized just how well he was hiding it until he lit up at Momoi’s words, shoulders falling open and easy all at once. “Trading…? You mean, officially, we’d be allowed?”
Momoi’s smile had turned gentle, and her voice matched it. “Yes. All above-board and everything. We’ll make it work.”
Kise covered her hand on his arm with his own, taking a slow breath, just a little shaky. “Thanks, Satsuki-chan.” After a moment, he remembered Riko too and bobbed a nod to her. “Aida-san.”
“If you’re going to be showing up at my team’s practices, you should get used to calling me Aida-kantoku,” she told him wryly. “You’d better get back to your own practice, now, before your coach gets annoyed.” She held up a stern finger. “And no more than one hour extra practice after! Don’t think I won’t ask Momoi whether you’re going over time!”
Kise ducked his head, rueful. “Yes, Aida-kantoku.”
“Better.” She slung her bag over her shoulder and cocked her head at Momoi. “Ready?”
Momoi gave Kise one last hug, and joined her. “Ready.”
They were almost at the school gates before Riko said, quietly, “They’re still a unit, aren’t they? Even now they’re separated.”
“Mm.” Momoi fiddled with the strap of her phone. “They’re… special to each other. Sometimes I think they only became what they are because they were all together at Teikou, and pushed each other forward. Well,” she smiled ruefully, “you’ve seen how Dai-chan and Kagamin are.”
Always pushing each other, and loving every second of it, Riko filled in. Almost obsessed with each other, and they probably would be if Kuroko weren’t there to rein them in a little.
When she caught herself thinking that, Riko stopped dead in the middle of the sidewalk and scrubbed both hands through her hair. “Argh!”
Momoi stepped back a pace, blinking. “Riko-san…?”
What the hell was she thinking, relying on another first-year to manage her own players?! She was losing her mind, falling prey to the insanity that seemed to strike every coach who had to deal with a Miracle Generation player. Well nuts to that! Riko straightened her shoulders, glaring at the air in front of her. “Satsuki-san,” she rapped out, “I am not leaving them to muddle through this on their own. They have senpai, now, and we will take care of them.” She jammed her hands on her hips and spun on her heel to face Satsuki, seeing with new eyes the fear and stress at the corners of her teasing smiles. “And you have senpai, now, too, got that? We’re in this together, and we’ll keep them together.”
Satsuki stared at her for a long, blank moment before a different smile crept over her lips, a little shaky as it went. “Yes, Riko-san.” She was laughing a bit as she answered, but Riko didn’t miss the liquid flash of brightness in her eyes.
“Good,” she said, gentler, and held out a hand. “Don’t worry. We’ll make sure it’s all right. Right?”
Satsuki reached out and shook her hand firmly, smile steadying. “Right.”
“Let’s get going, then.”
They talked, all the way home, about how to best schedule rotations, considering that one of their problem children was a captain now, and how to handle things once tournament season started and they faced each other as opponents. It wasn’t until later that night that Riko got a text about the other things that had been said.
Thank you, Riko-senpai.
Riko smiled down at her phone, shaking her head. “Way too long without senpai, the whole lot of you,” she whispered, and tapped a text back before putting the phone away and getting ready for bed, and the next day.
You’re welcome, Satsuki-chan.
A/N: In hanakotoba, bell-flowers indicate gratitude.