The sharp, earthy smell of the basketball. The sound of heavy, hollow rubber hitting the concrete and rebounding. The taste of sweat. The slap of leather against his palm. The smile of his friend.
Tetsu stood on the court and breathed it in. He was shaky and off-balance. Random flashes of fear still invaded his mind at strange moments and for no cause that he could understand. Aomine waited for him, bouncing the ball from hand to hand, left and right and back again, the sound on the concrete steady and resounding as the beat of a drum.
It had been eighteen days since the last time Tetsu's father beat him. Seventeen days since Taiga-nii rescued him from the terrible place his home had become. Nine days since Hiroshi-san saved him a second time. Four days since he woke from his fever feeling reborn, feeling new and hopeful and alive.
It hadn't even been three weeks, then, since he'd been trapped in that place of fear. Maybe it made sense that he was still having problems. His body needed more time to recover—he could tell that the instant he tried to take a step on a flat surface. No doubt his mind and heart needed more time, too.
Tetsu was impatient, though. He wanted to feel renewed and wholly himself. He wanted to be confident and unafraid. He wanted to play basketball with his friends.
"Tetsu, check!" Aomine called. He threw the ball in a long bounce pass from half the court away. His aim was effortless and true, as always. Tetsu's hands rose without thought, and the ball smacked into them. His fingers gripped the ball. He threw it back and watched it bounce against the concrete, back into Aomine's hands.
Maybe he could do this. Maybe everything would be okay. Eventually. How long would it take?
After he'd finished writing the letter to his father that morning, Tetsu had been unsettled and restless. He gave the letter to Akashi and ignored his sympathetic look, then wandered back down the hall to the bedrooms. He didn't know what he was looking for. He stopped in the doorway of the room they called Hiroshi-san's "office," though it was really everything for Hiroshi-san right now—bedroom, study, sanctuary, workroom.
Hiroshi-san looked up from his laptop and gave Tetsu a smile. "Hello, Tetsu-chan. Are you all right? Do you need something?"
Tetsu shook his head, shifting from foot to foot. "Are you working on something important?"
Hiroshi-san smiled and turned his laptop so Tetsu could see the screen. His voice was light and humorous. "It's an email from Saeki Toshiko. She's telling me not to be alarmed when we receive a package from Kuroko-san. He doesn't know our address. He gave her the box, asking her to send it on as a favor, and after she inspected the contents, she agreed. We could have avoided a lot of fear and consternation yesterday if I'd just thought to check my messages, but I didn't."
Something in Tetsu relaxed. He had wondered about that, but his mind had been too full to really consider the implications. He'd read his father's letter late last night, sitting on his bed with Taiga on one side and Akashi on the other, Murasakibara already snoring in a futon on the floor. The letter had been reassuring and disturbing, almost in equal measure. His father loved him. So he said, and so he was trying to show by his actions, by his gifts and by his words. He loved him, and yet he had still...he had still done...he had still done that.
Tetsu's hand curled into a fist against the door jamb. He didn't know why he'd stopped here. He wanted to ask for a hug, wanted to hold out his arms the way he would with Taiga, knowing that his big brother would instantly understand and draw him in, strong and warm and infinitely comforting. But he didn't know how to say it. Maybe he should just go find Taiga, instead.
Hiroshi-san seemed to understand, somehow. His face softened, and he stood up from the desk and moved over to Tetsu at the door. He laid a hand on his shoulder, first, warm and large, giving Tetsu time to pull back or refuse. Then he wrapped him up in a hug, and it was every bit as good as Tetsu had thought it would be. Hiroshi-san was even taller than Taiga, though not as muscular, and his arms were firm, his chest broad. Tetsu leaned into the embrace and closed his eyes, his hands clenching in the back of Hiroshi-san's shirt.
"Did you finish writing your letter?" Hiroshi-san asked. His voice rumbled in his chest against Tetsu's ear, soft and deep. It tugged at Tetsu's memories of his illness. He remembered leaning into this chest, this man, and wanting to be nowhere else.
Tetsu nodded. His fists clenched even tighter, trembling with the strength of his grip. "Hiroshi-san, do you love me?"
Hiroshi-san didn't hesitate. "So much that it takes my breath away."
"Hmm." Hiroshi-san went still. He tilted his head to rest his cheek on Tetsu's hair. "That's a much harder question. It's not because you are smart and skilled and adorable and sweet, though all of those things are true. And I don't love Taiga because he'd strong and kind and a good cook and amazing at basketball, though all of those things are true, too. I am proud of both of you and very happy to get to call you my sons, but if you weren't any of those things, I would still love you. You don't earn love. It just is.
"So I guess the truest answer is that I don't know. I just know that the first time I held Taiga at the hospital where he was born, my heart almost burst, and I knew right away that I would give my life to protect this tiny person in my arms. And the first time you looked in my eyes through that computer screen and called me 'Hiroshi-san,' then started to cry, I felt the same thing for you. Why does a father love his child? You might as well ask why the sun outshines the moon. Because it does. Because it is made to do it. That's all."
Tetsu nodded. He wasn't sure why, but this seemed like the best answer possible.
"And you'll never hurt me, will you?"
Hiroshi-san caught his breath. "No. Never." He tried to pull back to look at Tetsu's face, but Tetsu clutched him harder and pressed his face into Hiroshi-san's chest. So Hiroshi-san tightened his arms in return, holding him secure. Tetsu was glad his back didn't hurt him anymore, since Taiga and Hiroshi-san weren't as tentative when they hugged him now. Tetsu liked all of their hugs, but these strong, tight ones were the best.
"I can't promise I'll never make a mistake with you, Tetsu-chan. I might hurt your feelings, or misunderstand you, or accidentally neglect you when I get caught up in something. I am not a perfect man, and I have made many mistakes in the past. If that ever happens, of course, I want you and Taiga to stop me and tell me what I did wrong. I will apologize and do everything in my power to make it up to you. But I can promise that I will never hit you. I will never beat you. I will never degrade you or mock you or treat you as anything other than the precious young man you are."
Tetsu nodded into his chest. He didn't know why he had needed to hear all of this so explicitly—he truly had already known it on a gut level, and believed it, too—but he liked hearing it aloud. Hiroshi-san's voice was deep and rich and certain, and he made it all seem not just true, but obvious.
"My father said he loved me, too," Tetsu said softly. "I believe that he did. And he hurt me so much. He...he said... He said sometimes love isn't enough."
"I see." Hiroshi-san's voice was almost a whisper. "That might be true. But sometimes it is. Sometimes love is enough. I think it depends on the people."
That made sense. It made so much sense. Tetsu pulled in a deep breath for the first time in what seemed like hours and made a decision.
He would trust Hiroshi-san. He would trust Taiga-nii. He would trust his new family to take care of him. Love would be enough, with these particular people. It would be more than enough.
"Tetsu-kun, check!" Akashi's voice. Tetsu raised his head. The ball flew down the court, a beautiful bounce pass. His hands rose to meet it, and the basketball hit his palms so perfectly that they seemed to sing. Akashi smiled at him, and Tetsu passed the ball back. When had he changed partners? He couldn't remember. The ball struck the concrete and rebounded, back to Akashi.
After he talked to Hiroshi-san, Tetsu had sought out Taiga, too. He wasn't sure why he felt the need to talk to him, but he did. He found Taiga and Himuro in Taiga's room. Taiga lay face-up on his bed, staring at the ceiling, while Himuro sat beside the bed, his head tilted back on Taiga's knee while he also stared at the ceiling. They had been talking about something in English before Tetsu got there, but they went quiet as soon as he knocked his knuckles on the doorframe.
"Hey, Tetsu-chan." Taiga sat up and stretched his arms across his chest with an enormous yawn. "You finished your letter?"
Tetsu nodded and moved over to Taiga's desk chair to sit down. He pressed his feet against the floor and rocked himself back and forth, still restless. He looked between Taiga and Himuro, who still sat against the bed, utterly relaxed. Himuro hadn't even lifted his head when Tetsu came in.
"Am I bothering you?" Tetsu asked. "You look like you're enjoying each other's company."
Taiga shook his head. "Of course you aren't bothering us. You're welcome anytime."
Tetsu hesitated, then looked to Himuro. "I have to thank you, Himuro-san, for everything you did. You were a very important support to Taiga-nii, and I know you do a lot for Mura-nii, too. I'm grateful."
Himuro raised a hand and gave him a lazy wave. "It was nothing. Family doesn't have to thank family. You're Taiga's little brother now, so you're my little brother too."
Tetsu settled back into the chair with a small smile. "Should I call you Aniki?"
To his surprise, Himuro's cheeks flushed. "Sure," he muttered. "If you want to."
Taiga looked at him, his eyebrows bent in concern.
Tetsu nodded serenely. "I want to."
Taiga bounced his knee, making Himuro's head flop up and down. "What's with the face, Aniki?"
"I just..." Himuro lifted his head and ran a hand through his hair, staring away at nothing in particular. "I wasn't a good brother, you know. I was shocked when you said you wanted to call me Aniki from now on. Happy, of course, I was really happy, but...shocked."
Taiga frowned. "I don't think the past matters as much as you think it does. I'm more concerned about the future. Yeah, you were a jerk for a while, but that's done now. I'm happy that we're brothers again and I don't want it any other way."
Tetsu smiled softly at this. Taiga was so forgiving. Why did he have such trouble getting over his dispute with Akashi and the rest of the Generation of Miracles?
Well, because that was about Tetsu, of course. Taiga forgave injuries to himself without hesitation, overjoyed to move forward, to mend the relationships he found precious to him. But injuries to Tetsu, well... That was another matter.
Himuro sighed and let his head fall back down on Taiga's knee. "Fine, fine. Call me Aniki." He lifted a hand to Tetsu. "I will do my best to be a better brother in the future."
Tetsu still wasn't sure why he had felt compelled to come here. He hadn't asked any questions, but he felt like he'd gotten an answer, anyway.
"Tetsu-chin, check!" The ball sped down the court, low and powerful. Tetsu shifted slightly to catch it, only a small step to the side. Murasakibara wasn't particularly known for his accuracy. The basketball stung his palms, but it felt good. They were only bounce passes. Why did they feel so good? Every single one seemed to ground him to the court. He felt like he was digging down roots, strong and deep, steadying him and anchoring him to the sport he loved.
Tetsu didn't hold the ball while he pondered this. He threw it back.
After he talked to Taiga and Hiroshi-san, Tetsu went back to his room. He put away the writing materials that had been setting on the desk, abandoned when he finished the letter, then went to his bed and sat down. He looked around at the basketball posters on the wall, the bookcases stacked full of the novels and manga he had collected over many years. He looked at the closet.
He knew there was no strap hanging on the wall in that closet. Still, he stood and walked over to the open door. He pushed aside his uniform shirts and looked. No belt. No hook. Nothing. The wall was blank and innocent. He wondered how many times he would need to check before he was sure it would stay that way.
Tetsu went back to his bed and lay down, curling up on his side with his knees drawn to his chest. He stared sightlessly at the doorway. He should take a nap. They were going to go play basketball this afternoon, and he needed to be rested. He wanted to play with his friends. He wanted to practice his sport and enjoy himself.
Two weeks ago, Tetsu had felt his inner landscape shatter apart with the consideration of one question: Would you still think it was normal? Imayoshi had given him that gift, the gift of questioning, of seeing himself and his relationships in a new light. It had been a harsh thing, a breaking thing, but it had also been necessary. Since then, Tetsu had had to work very hard to reconstruct himself. He was still a work in progress, and he thought he might be for a long time. But he had a foundation now. He knew where he was and he knew where he stood. The building ahead would be a joy and not a burden, and many hands would share the load with him.
"Tetsuyacchi, check!" The basketball blew down the court, easy as a fresh wind. Kise's smile on the other side was a brilliant thing. Kise loved playing basketball. He loved playing with Tetsu, which was more miraculous. Tetsu raised his hands and let the ball thud into them. He felt light on his feet, free as the air. In this moment, he wasn't afraid at all. His friends were with him. The sun was high. Summer was just around the corner.
Tetsu threw the ball.
What would happen tomorrow? He was going back to school after more than a week away. He was going back changed, a new person with a new name. It might be hard to hide in the shadows, now. It might be very hard indeed, since his brother and his dad shone so brightly, and he spent every waking moment with them. Hadn't he caught some of their brilliance in himself? He thought it must have collected in his hair like stardust.
How could the sun outshine the moon? The moon was a reflection. The sun had no choice but to outshine the moon. But the moon shone, too. The moon gathered radiance and dispersed it across the heavens. It was bright because it was close. Tetsu could be bright, if he wanted to.
He might not want to. The shadows could be good to him, too. They were a shelter and a comfort when the world was too bright, too overwhelming. But it would be nice to have a choice. Maybe he would.
"Kagami, check!" The ball tripped across the court. Midorima's bounce passes were a bit awkward, since he was so used to throwing the basketball in the other direction, up instead of down. It made Tetsu smile, and he stepped forward to meet the ball. Midorima, correct and proper he, preferred to call both Tetsu and Taiga by their family name. He didn't care that they both responded when he used it.
Tetsu didn't mind. He felt warm whenever someone called him by his new name. He threw the ball back to Midorima.
Basketball was so much fun. Why had Tetsu ever been afraid of it? How had his life become so wrenched up, so twisted? He shuddered to remember how bad it had been, even though he'd had no understanding of it at the time. While it was happening, it was all he could do to keep his head down and survive each day. It was only now, healthy and happy and surrounded by people who loved him, that he was able to look back and recognize just how awful it had been.
It was a blessing, probably, that he hadn't been able to comprehend just how much agony he was suffering, both body and mind. It might have killed him. Instead, somehow, by some miracle, he had been found and saved and brought home. He had been redeemed out of darkness, and the light was very good to him.
"Tetsu-chan, check!" The ball tore down the court. Taiga was grinning the whole time. He was inexpressibly glad to be playing basketball with Tetsu again, even if it was just bounce passes. Taiga was too strong, but the ball went exactly where he wanted it to go, and Tetsu caught it with ease. He couldn't imagine missing one of Taiga's passes. It didn't seem possible.
His fingers tightened on the ball, pressing it between his palms in welcome. Then he threw it back.
He was home. Later, he would join in some of the three-on-threes that had been going on this whole time. Everyone wanted to play with him—Kise and Kagami had almost come to blows over the question of who would get to be on his team first. Seirin was going to come by later, too, and they would probably have to expand to take over all of the courts in the park.
And maybe, maybe, later tonight when he was warm and exhausted and panting from the fun, so tired that he couldn't stop himself anymore, he would gather up the courage to send a text to Ogiwara and ask if they could meet.
But for now, Kagami Tetsuya was happy. He was on the court, playing basketball with his brother, his friends all standing near. There was nowhere else he wanted to be.
Tetsu was home.
AN: Thank you for reading. Thank you for reviewing. Thank you for caring. This writing has been magical.