Returned to Take Twice
what do you do when your tomorrow has been stolen
what do you do when your yesterday has been shattered - ?
Author note(s) - I was obsessed with this fandom in mid-2010. Now, I've gone back to this manga in a fit of nostalgia, and decided to finish a trio of fics that a friend had started. She (dreamsofdestiny) obliged me to finish where she could not, so this is the end product. The main pairing is Aomine / Kuroko and there are spoilers and sex and swearing. Other characters are mentioned, but only in passing. Enjoy.
( o1 )
to steal a shadow
The first time they kiss, it is not as magical or innocent as the comic books would make it out to be.
They're sweating, both of them, and panting, and Kuroko's face-normally pale as a ghost-is all flushed and red and Aomine cannot help but think of how beautiful he looks then and there. Kuroko is washing his face, scrubbing lightly, and it's like the normal routine, until he glances over at Aomine and then-
It's quick; nothing long, nothing too personal.
He doesn't even both to go for tongue, figures that this is Kuroko's first time and all, so there's really no need.
They part, and Kuroko doesn't make any motion at all. No blush, no girly scream, no nothing. He simply places attention on the sink and faucet in front of him. Aomine smirks, because the other really doesn't let anything get to him, now does he? (He likes that in a person.) The faucet is calmly turned, face rinsed for yet another time, and then Kuroko simply turns and leaves the now-empty locker room.
Aomine Daiki would be lying if he said he did not feel his heart beating.
The next time he catches Kuroko in a non-basketball moment is in the showers. The other is just washing up, about to get out and scrub himself dry, really. But those sort of things have little bearing with either of them.
(That-or, he just wanted to taste Kuroko again.)
One way or another, they meet, and he notes that Kuroko has learned to arch up, and in, and it's glorious because the other is that much smaller than him and they're only in middle school so there's nothing more they know to do.
The second time they kiss, both of them are breathless from the encounter, and Kuroko does not make the first motion to leave. Aomine would like to say something, if only because it feels right; this is the second time after all, not the first, and he knows that this will not be the last. Kuroko gives a little sigh, turns off the running water, and grabs two towels, tossing one over to Aomine.
Sooner or later, they're both dry and away from the past-except for one of them.
"Tetsu-" he starts, and the other turns, chest bare and a loose towel painstakingly wrapped about his waist, "Well-" he starts, scratching his head awkwardly, because how does one begin these things? They are only in middle school, after all.
But Kuroko understands, or at least, he thinks he does, because he comes over, goes closer, and gives Aomine a quick squeeze of his hand. Aomine refuses to think himself capable of blushing, he is already in middle school, after all. But there is a surprising amount of blood racing to his head, and he would be quick to defend-except there are no accusations.
The other only smiles, just barely, and then walks on off.
The two of them eat lunch together and laugh and talk with their fellow teammates and follow their normal strategy of pass-through-pass during the practice game.
In other words: nothing and everything has changed.
After a while, they fall into the rhythm, the method, of being together. Of being closer.
The shower is still running when he approaches Kuroko, and Aomine doesn't even allow the other enough time to turn off the water before encircling him with arms that easily loop around his waist. They're kissing, and one of them-or maybe both-is moaning, low and soft and just barely over the pitter-patter of the water drops. He finds that he likes it-likes doing things this way.
Kuroko, red and sweaty and still reeking of the court; completely defenseless and pressed straight up against the shower room walls.
Somewhere in the middle of the initial kiss and the final one, Aomine finds that his hands have slid higher and higher, until he's practically clutching at Kuroko's back, and like that-like that, the other is whispering his name. Over and over, he would like to hear it-if only like that. His body is moving of its own accord, and he feels like the delighted spectator, watching Kuroko squirm under his kisses and bites. A nip here, a nibble there; he knows not to go anywhere near the neck, because of decency (this is middle school, after all), and then forgoes rationality because he likes the contrast their skins make.
The shower is still running, even as he comes-shortly after Kuroko.
The next day, Kise is curious, as usual, and the reason for his interest is the scarf Kuroko has been adamant about wearing for the whole of the day. Aomine laughs, tells Kise to lay off his partner, and Midorima agrees in privacy being privacy.
The two of them-himself and Kuroko, of course-lock eyes then and there, if only because the statement in itself is nothing odd.
The first time Kuroko denies him anything is during their third and final year of middle school.
The Small Forward of their opponent team was laughable to say the least-he had not even remembered the other's name. But he did remember the player's face; bruised black and blue and beautiful, courtesy of himself, of course. The ball had only slipped from his hand for so many times, it wasn't really his fault of course. It was mainly the other player's fault-for being so boring, so easy to toy with.
(That-and-they had had the nerve to look at Kuroko like that.)
Kuroko understands, or at very least, he will, Aomine reasons, because he knows the other condones senseless violence. It's a bit violent, he'll have to agree, but certainly not senseless. How he manages to think this while laughing and shoving the other player's face into the dirt does not strike him as odd.
Teikou-their brilliant and beautiful team-has won again, and they are the champions for the third straight year. All the other schools cower in their prescence. First year was awe, and perhaps disbelief. Second year was hope, which was shortly crushed. And now? The only spot the other schools understand they can hope to reach is second place.
Of course their team is celebrating, in their own terrifyingly messed-up manner. Their players are around a table, hastily ordering plate after plate, because Momoi has said that she's treating, which really means that the school has felt that their skills were worth paying for, just this once.
Basketball is boring to him; has been boring for so long. He knows that his fellow teammates feel it as well, but it is the elephant in the room, the one which they must not speak of-ever. There are higher stakes here than mere passion, and he's thankful that no one has yet to bring it up. So he shrugs, because Kise and Midorima have just challenged their point guard and center-which includes their earth-shattering captain, of course, to a game of Mah-Jong, and there's no conversation that steers anywhere near basketball, which is a relief.
He tugs on Kuroko's hand, in a manner which his high-school self will acknowledge as childish. But that's not the real problem.
They're kissing again, and Momoi knows it (and she knows that he knows as well) with that smile she's giving the two of them as Kuroko politely bows and excuses himself. It's an empty room-his empty room-and Kuroko declines the suggestion to dip in the hot springs; though, knowing him, he would be likely to drown in one of those things. So Aomine grins, ferally, he'll remember, and presses against Kuroko; taut and hard and closecloseclose.
Finger through hair, and flighty breathes here and there. Kuroko's closing his eyes, even before Aomine has managed to shed both their yukatas. His own hands are running up and down Kuroko's chest; still lithe and childish, a stark contrast to Aomine's toned body.
(He does not need to imagine doing this with a girl-because a girl would never be able to be Tetsu.)
Right when he's prepared himself; they're only three months from middle school graduation, after all, and surely Kuroko would be ready-face red and breathes shallow and repeatedly saying his name like that again-and-again, Kuroko laces both of their hands together, intertwining their fingers.
In the light from the hallway, he still sees the difference in skin color, and marvels at it long enough to be unable to catch the next words out of his partner's mouth.
(That, or, he's simply too caught up in this moment.)
"What?" he asks, unwilling to comprehend.
"No more," Kuroko says, devoid of any emotion, resentment or affection or otherwise. Aomine is so shocked that he stops what he is doing. He is in middle school after all, and graduation seems like a lifetime away. Kuroko does not make any motion to get away from him, and he takes this to be a 'good' sign. Slowly, cautiously he wraps his arms around the other, relaxing only when sleep comes (because he does not quite believe that this may still be some horrible dream).
Only later does he realize that there are other methods of 'running'.
There were signs, he thinks later, that he simply refused to see, refused to believe.
Largest of which being Kuroko's refusal to tell him which high school he would be going to. Midorima was going to go to Shuutoku and Kise had already decided upon Kaijou. Their captain had been recruited to the best of the best early on, and their point guard had long since chosen to go to a school completely outside of Tokyo. Only he and Kuroko had yet to decide on their future schools.
Aomine Daiki does not consider himself to be desperate-ever-but that was what he was during that period of time.
He had tried asking nonchalantly, had tried demanding, had tried getting the other in a corner of the shower stalls and refusing him any form of release. Kuroko was good, but he wasn't that good, he had reckoned. Wrongfully so, of course.
Finally, he finds out, the school, that is. Seirin High; some no-name school that was, like all other schools, detemined to make a name of itself. Naturally, he had asked when sign-ups were over, and Kuroko had told him with a straight face that they had ended the week before.
Anger was not the first thing that he had felt, but it was definitely quite close to it. Later, he'll realize those chaotic emotions to be something along the lines of pain, of rejection, but for the time being, he had been angry. Not at Kuroko, of course, he had managed to rationalize all those thoughts away. In fact, he could've argued that he had never doubted his partner in the beginning.
Even when Kuroko, when Tetsu, left school a week prematurely (to the point where he wasn't even their for their middle school graduation ceremony), he had not though anything of it. After all, the other was prone to sudden bouts of illness, however unbelievable they happened to be. When Kise had suggested to him that the two of them pay their sickly friend a visit, he had shrugged, and made the necessary 'changes' in his schedule to allow it.
When they were confronted with the empty apartment room and the 'Sold' sign-emblazened in red letters, as if more attention could possibly be drawn to it that way, it is Kise that is panicking and Aomine that is trying to keep himself calm.
Later-he'll realize. For now, rationalizing will make everything alright.
He does not see Kuroko until half a year later, when the basketball season is starting up. In a daze, he had managed to enroll himself in Touou (it really did not matter at that point in time), and had come to the conclusion that he would never see Kuroko again.
It's not as if the idea bothered him, of course.
But Midorima and Kise-and of course, the ever-annoying Satsuki as well-those people, he had kept in relatively-well touch with. And through some bizarre chance of fate or another, Kise had called him one day. Assuming that it would be the never-ending ramble on girls and their disturbing methods of stalking their most favorite idol ever, Aomine was not prepared for the single sentence on the other end of the line.
"Kurokocchi has found another 'Light'."
His world does not stop, but the godforsaken thing comes pretty damn close to it.
Of course he's angry-angry at being replaced, angry at not having been told, angry at not having found out sooner. All the pieces fall into place, and even then, he still finds himself talking into the phone. He wants to ask a million and one questions. 'How do you know?' and 'Why do you care?' and 'How is Testu doing?' come to mind, but he doesn't say any of them.
"When is his next match?"
Kise tells him, and he can practically see the grin on the other player's face, especially when he's asking "So will you go steal him back? Kurokocchi, that is?" but he disconnects him before his traitor of a mouth will issue a reply.
For the first time in half a year, Aomine is not late, nor on time, but actually early, to a basketball match. The only problem is that that match is not his own.
During the game, he stands in the back, observes the players and how they arrange themselves. Immediately, he sees Kuroko's new 'Light'-called Kagami or Yagami or something along those lines. He's tall, relatively good at basketball, and Aomine will be damned if the 'new' Light can beat him, even with one arm tied behind his back. He sees nothing special, nothing in particular, about the player.
(What-why; he wants to know what Kuroko sees in him.)
And then the match is over and he's about to turn and walk away, in disgust (and jealousy and shame), except Kuroko's team has won and they're all up and about in congratulatory cheer and whatnot. Curiously, he notes that Kuroko purposely distances himself from them in this moment. He smiles-smirks, really-because it's just proof of how deeply those years from Teikou have been ingrained in him and-
Kagami, his 'new' Light, comes forth, claps him on the back and gives Kuroko a rough shaking.
-will never be forgotten.
Kuroko, in turn, actually gives something along the lines of a smile, and the two of them bump fists.
(Just like how the two of them used to do-back, way back.)
Aomine stalks out of the stadium in something of a blinded rage. His team has a practice today, he knows, but he finds that he has even less motivation for practicing, especially seeing a debacle such as that. Kuroko-no, Tetsu, the player that he knew-he wouldn't act like that. He would not participate in the merriment of victory, would not be able to slow down the speed on his passes so that the 'ordinary' and 'normal' players would be able to take them.
Yet, that hair, those eyes, that posture, that style.
It is still the same person.
And then, he answers Kise's question, from before.
"There was never anything to take back."
(After all, Kuroko has always been 'his'.)
( o2 )
to steal an ocean
"Stop..." Kuroko manages to gasp out, right before Aomine hooks an arm around his waist, shoving their bodies together until Kuroko can feel the ice-cold concrete, right under his back.
"Why should I?" Aomine asks, petulantly, Kuroko would think. His fingers are still coated with Kuroko's saliva and sweat, and perhaps a small amount of it is his own as well. "After all," he continues, matter-of-factly inserting a single sweat-and-spit coated finger into Kuroko, "You've been touched by your new light, right? So there's no room in your heart for me anymore, right?"
"That's not it at all," Kuroko hisses in reply, biting his bottom lip as Aomine curls his finger; long and dirty and cut girlishly at the ends.
"I don't understand why the world feels the need to lie to me," Aomine responds, inserting another finger and releasing his hold on Kuroko's waist, only to thumb a pert nipple. Kuroko stiffens, but doesn't moan. At a different place and time, Aomine would've shrugged, because it's inconsequential, really. "If you don't like him, why don't you come over to Touou then?" he puts forth, knowing what Kuroko's response will be. "Or Kaijou, or Shuutoku even-I know Ryou and Tarou would probably appreciate the company, right?"
"You don't understand," Kuroko says, steady and unrushed, even though Aomine can see his body reacting to the ministrations.
"I understand perfectly," Aomine responds, lowering his head to suck and nibble and ever-so-gently mark the swelling nub. Kuroko arches up, gives a little whimper, but otherwise, doesn't respond. "You like him better than me. You got bored and decided to go find a new 'light'-him," his tone is accusatory, and while Kuroko can still focus his eyes, he cannot properly reply because Aomine is digging those two fingers deep into him and-
He moans, aloud because-
Aomine knows just the way he likes it.
"I don't appreciate being second place," Aomine says, even while he is marvelling at how their bodies look; light on dark on light on dark. "Did you eat lunch with him in the beginning? Did you tell him about your place as a shadow? Did you promise to make him number one in Japan?" His hands, dark and large yet lithe and limber, roam across the smaller athlete's body. If he wishes; he could make every single hair stand on end. For him.
Kuroko turns away, a flush rising in his cheeks, and it only serves to make Aomine angrier than before.
"You liar," he whispers, and then repeats it, because he believes it to be so. "You traitor."
"I..." and Kuroko's breathe hitches here, probably because Aomine has planted a kiss-wet and warm, a stark contrast to the tiles underneath-right underneath his leftmost rib; right where that one scar is. "I made you the number one player in Japan," Kuroko says.
"Liar," Aomine repeats, and he thrills in feeling the other stiffen, harden, because of that word. "You left before I was made number one. You didn't stay until the end."
"That wasn't..." Kuroko stumbles, again, this time because Aomine has started on his member, squeezing and massaging it gently with both his hands, "That wasn't the end that I had hoped for," he defends himself.
"Oh?" is his reply, with feigned surprise, "So is this any better?"
It's strange-something foreign to him, actually. This isn't the first time he's done this, and he's surprised (if that's the right word) because Kuroko is hardly protesting, much less actively putting up a fight. It's as obvious as hell that the other doesn't want it, and all the same, he can't find himself any less turned off. Kuroko, for his part, says nothing; flushes and squirms and arches-like that, just like before-and Aomine knows he can still talk, just doesn't.
They might be in different schools.
They might be wearing different shirts.
They might be on different sides of the court.
Contrary to his demeanor, he doesn't roughly shove himself in or through; it's actually laughably gentle, for someone like him. Kuroko's face is uncharacteristically filled with emotions; heat, embarrassment, something that Aomine can't describe.
Something he refuses to see.
One-two; in-out; again-and-again. They fall into a tandem, like the steps on the court they just played on. Midorima told him not to be foolish, not to let the past affect the present affect the future. Kuroko clenches, twists, and tightens, and he remembers the days of Teikou, when they were on the same team and playing the same game and being best friends for no other reason than having that shared interest of basketball.
He wants to hear his name, whispered out, like a prayer; just one more time.
Instead of that, he hears a single consonant, and Kuroko is burying his face in the crook of his neck and biting down hard but the humiliation of losing-to him-like this-is still seared in Aomine's mind.
"Hah," he grinds out, cold blood running through his veins, because he's already heard the sharpness of the 'k' and he knows that that's not his name. "Even now, even like this, you won't give me what I want, will you?" And he laughs, bitterly, because that seems to be his life story: one game after another after another-and he never wins the ones that matter.
Kuroko doesn't bother to play ignorant; he's still flushed, redder than ever, and clutching onto Aomine's shoulders.
He also doesn't apologize.
After they're both relatively settled, and the paleness has returned to Kuroko's cheeks, Aomine abruptly stands up, brushes off, and roughly yanks boxers, pants, shirt, and jacket back on. Kuroko only stares, halfway-swathed in the thickness of his own jacket; the only thing his still-trembling hands have allowed him to put on. It's only polite to ask if the other will alright, and it's only completely out-of-character for him to think of doing so.
Kuroko doesn't say thank-you, doesn't say sorry, doesn't get mad or indignant or anything like that; he just says something ten times worse.
"You were the first."
And like that-Aomine loses all composure, has to sprint out of the gym locker, Seirin's gym locker, and run a couple blocks in what he knows already to be the wrong direction. His breathe is short from that run, and he knows it's not because of that run.
He has everything; the game, the points, the school-hell, even the girl.
(And somehow, Tetsu manages to make his heart beat like middle school all over again.)
( o3 )
to give back a heart
The two of them meet, completely and utterly by chance, a short time after the match between Touou and Kaijou.
...Kise, of course, is a miserable - albeit proud wreck, and Aomine wonders, only now, if there was anything he should have done to help the other up after his fall.
But then again, even Kise, with his smiles and grins and inherent competitiveness and absolute devotion to being the best, has found friends and a new nook to fit in - a place in the world which does not involve Aomine or Kuroko or Midorima or any of the prestige that Teikou had had. So Aomine turns his back, lets Kise's trash-talking teammate-come-captain give him a hand, pick him up on his feet, and it takes every step to keep him concentrated on not turning around.
He's getting senile - getting soft - like Kise, like Midorima.
It was not a good match, he knows. He was forced out of the remaining games due to penalties - due to injuries - he had let Kise copy one too many moves. And all the same, he cannot stop his eyes from scanning the leaving crowds (even before the two opposing teams stood to give thanks for a 'good game'), still looking for that mop of blue hair.
It should not surprise him - Kuroko's team (if not Kuroko himself) views his school as a rival team, it is only natural that they come watch. All the same, his palms are a bit drier, and his back is a bit straighter, and he does not feel the need to grind out 'Thanks for a good game!' this time around. He should not feel happy - should not feel anything, because Kuroko is just another weak opponent (who he has beat and who he will beat again). Nonetheless, he chances another look in the direction of Seirin's team, sees the light-blue tussle, and, of course, with it - the defiant bright-red hair of Kuroko's new light.
It is twelve days and a couple hours in - and the only reason why he's kept track is because he's counting up to the next match (counting up to the next team he can hit once, twice, again and again, until they do not want to play anymore and they feel just a tenth of his sadness).
It's really rather simple logic, albeit childish: Here is the game that I once loved, until all the people that I was playing against refused to get any better. Here is the game that I gave everything up to continue playing - while countless others gave up at the smallest sign of loss. Here is the game that people like you made me learn to hate - made me learn to hate that I used love - and for that, I'll make you hate this game too.
He's listlessly in line at a McDonald's, Momoi is taking preparatory classes that her parents delusionally believe she needs. Not that he minds, the girl is too loud at times (though he would not hesitate to beat the first person to say that aloud into the ground), and it's not as if he has a bad sense of direction. So the cashier takes his long order of fries, drinks, fries, drinks, and some insane amount-or-another of cheeseburgers, and he hands her a wad of cash, and waits for his order.
Minutes - restlessly - slip through his fingers, slip under his notice, and the number fifteen - it was Kuroko's jersey number, when they were on Teikou... - called out over and over again.
"Excuse me?" the previous cashier is reaching over his counter to gently tap Aomine on the shoulder. Aomine blinks, pulls back, and looks at the now-crumpled piece of paper in his too-big hands. Order number 15. He grabs the overflowing tray of fast food, making his way to a window seat. It's such a far-away city, and Teikou is still so close - but their middle school years are farther away than ever before.
(More than ever, he knows that they - the entire, amazing, unbelievable and immortalized Generation of Miracles - will never go back to being like they used to. Will never be able to go back to 'before'.)
"Aomine-kun," Kuroko says, and his eyes snap up from his cheeseburger because even though his ears would not lie to him (they know that voice too, too, too well) and even though his eyes are perfectly fine, he still cannot believe that it is Kuroko who is sitting down. Who has already pulled himself a chair from some empty table or another, and has placed down his just-purchased drink.
Aomine finds himself at a loss for words - and what is this dull pain that will not stop his throbbing heart? He childishly wants to go back to yesterday, but he cannot even notice Kuroko anymore - will probably (and this hurts more than knowing that Kuroko has replaced him) will never be able to play basketball on the same team as Kuroko again.
"Tetsu," is what he says instead, as Kuroko blinks, slurping a bit from his drink.
"What are you doing here?" - it's supposed to come off careless, perhaps even sardonic. It turns out flat, until Aomine's voice cracks on the last syllable. Kuroko blinks again, putting down his drink and looking Aomine straight in the eye.
"We need to talk," he says, and Aomine scoffs, ready to forget about his fifteen thousand yen purchase in cheeseburgers and fries, in order to push his chair out and turn his back on the teammate that abandoned them all. But Tetsu has no reaction - at all - to Aomine pushing his chair away from the table, only raises up his cup and straw (he still refuses to use a cap, Aomine notes) to sip from the drink once more.
"There's nothing to talk about," Aomine retorts - hating the emotion that manages to wriggle its way into his speech whenever anyone from Teikou is nearby. "Seirin lost that match against Touou - your new light is nothing" - what he means is: your new light is nothing compared to me - "and Kise alone was no match for our team." He roughly shoves the other half of his hamburger into his mouth, ignoring the bitter taste of the pickles he forgot to take out, knowing that this Kuroko is not the one he believes to know.
(And yet - he still wants.)
"All the same," Kuroko starts, a tightened grip on his drink - an uncharacteristic display of emotion - of weakness - for him. "All the same, I think that it is Aomine-kun, before everyone else in Teikou, who probably would like to know my reasons for leaving - for deciding to leave - immediately after our finals match."
The hitch in his throat can be explained away later, because Aomine is busy schooling his features into one of nonchalance, as opposed to infantile outrage; We were the best, and you were the one to break all of that - all of our records, all of our promises, all of our - all of my - dreams. He refrains from shouting any of this, however, simply clenches his fists tighter and hopes the nails will not dig in to the point of drawing blood.
"Well?" is all he can say - and even then, he feels some of the anger towards Kuroko wash away.
"I started playing basketball because I loved it," Kuroko begins, hand still ever-so-tightly around his drink, "I'm pretty sure... no, I'm certain, that all of us in the Generation of Miracles started playing the game because we genuinely enjoyed it."
"Alright," Aomine concedes, unwrapping yet another cheeseburger, jabbing a handful of fries into his mouth; trying to keep his hands occupied, "So we all started out loving the game - what's the problem with that?"
"Nothing at all," Kuroko replies, "Except for the fact that - at the very end of our third year in middle school - I can safely say that absolutely no one loved playing basketball anymore." His verdict is calm, measured, and the weight of truth rings louder in Aomine's silence. "I... I do not know about the rest of the Generation of Miracles, but I could not play under those conditions."
"The only reason why we hated playing was because no one was strong enough," Aomine argues, "We could've gone to high school together" - like we had all promised - "and we... we could've been a team still."
"That was already impossible," the player that Aomine has known - has only ever known - as his 'shadow' confidently states. "The way we were playing - the way Kise delighted in humiliating the opponents, the way Midorima enjoyed watching their faces of terror and disbelief... and the way you - and I - completely dismantled the opposition..." Kuroko purses his lips, and Aomine looks away, because it is the truth, and what can he say to that? "We all enjoyed breaking down other teams, making them writhe on the floor in agony and misery - making them hate basketball as much as we did."
"That doesn't mean - " Aomine tries - but there is no point and they both know it.
"And..." Kuroko adds, closing his eyes and clutching the already-empty cup, "And I knew that if I left, the rest of Teikou would be scattered to the winds."
This - this arguably careless admittance in breaking their plans (his plans), their dreams (his dreams) of 'together' and 'tomorrow' - this Aomine will refuse to believe.
"There's no way you could have - " he starts, and Kuroko cuts him off, still forever polite, still forever unyielding.
"It was quite a gamble I took," the other player admits, finally setting down the empty cup. "But... regardless of what came of it - I was certain that I had made the right decision." Aomine starts - instinctively wanting to interrupt - but Kuroko continues - regardless, "Teikou was amazing; Teikou was the best of the best... and even then, we weren't a team. Just a collection of individually strong players."
"But that's what a good team is," Aomine presses.
Kuroko shakes his head - a sad smile still in place.
"We didn't need each other to win - we didn't need each other to play the game... we didn't even like playing with one another."
"That's - " It's the truth, and Aomine refuses to believe it. "We could have changed in high school," he protests - because 'tomorrow' is still so clear in his mind: going to high school with the rest of the Generation of Miracles, winning game after game after game, with Momoi to congratulate them every round, Kise mimicking shot after shot... and Tetsu - Tetsu passing to no one but him.
"You see it too," Kuroko notes, interrupting Aomine's 'tomorrow'. "You see it... but..." a level of sadness that Aomine can almost sympathize with takes a haze over Kuroko's eyes. A second later, and the other blinks, and it's gone (like their team) - like it was never there in the first place. "Nevermind," Kuroko says abruptly, movements jerky as he grabs his cup to throw away.
Aomine watches him - what can he say; what can he do? They have seen the same 'tomorrow'; and Kurokor - and Tetsu - is the one who rejected it.
(Is the one who rejected him.)
He's mechanical as well, gets up and completely ignores the ever-so-helpful cashier's comment about his leftover pile of burgers and fries.
Kuroko is hard to find, so Aomine takes pride in guessing the right location on the first try: the basketball courts, the empty abandoned ones that they (that Teikou) would always go to play at whenever anyone else was playing. Any opportunity to win, after all. Tetsu is not facing him, looking with a hidden expression up at the basket - noticeably taller than himself, taller even, than Aomine.
He refrains from speeding up, slowly opening and closing the door to one of the many gated courts, making sure to make enough noise for Kuroko to notice his presence.
"Wait," Aomine says, refusing to hold out his hand, refusing to touch the other (he remembers Teikou - the two of them - and how there was no one else in the world; this was his 'tomorrow') for fear that Tetsu will, once again, pull away. Kuroko, for his part, does not immediately turn around, but stops all the same.
"Tetsu - I..." he tries - tries to find the words, tries to find the humility - come back to Teikou (but there is no more 'Teikou'); come with me to Touou (but the admissions have long since closed); come with me - come with me - come with me (but - but there is no longer any hope of the 'tomorrow' he had wanted).
"Aomine-kun, we cannot keep doing this," Kuroko says, turning around to face his old 'light', "You are not a student at Seirin, I am not a student at Touou - I will not see you anywhere else but in matches." It's this declaration, out of all the possible things that Tetsu could've said, that really hits straight towards the center. And Tetsu (no, no, no, he's not your Tetsu anymore; he's Seirin's Kuroko now) can continue, does continue, "The Generation of Miracles is gone - I am gone."
'No you're not, no you're not!' - Aomine does not say.
"What about Ryou and Tarou?" he counters instead, "Even though they're on separate teams, you let them come visit you - you let them come with you to outside games!" He cannot keep the accusation from his voice anymore - can barely keep the hurt out.
"They don't..." Kuroko starts, and trails off, something like a blush making its way up his face. "In the locker room," he starts, "Kise-kun and Midorima-kun would have never - "
"So that's how it is," Aomine snaps - understand and still doesn't want to - and Kuroko turns his face as if he had been the one to be humiliated. "But you wanted it," he insists, "You didn't even try to stop me."
"That's beside the point," Kuroko replies, and Aomine notices his clenched fists, his slowly-paling face. "It doesn't matter - " he starts, looking straight at Aomine, defiantly, definitively, "It doesn't matter how much I wanted that - or how much I miss you - "
"You always - " Aomine tries to start, but his brain short-circuits as Kuroko's words catch up to him, and he's the one with a redder face and this is so stupid because they're in high school and where is that damn 'tomorrow' he had seen so clear - so few months ago? I miss you; I miss you; I miss you - Kuroko's words are racing through his mind and he refuses to believe them. "You don't mean that," he says immediately, as he has to turn away, feeling the blood rushing past his ears.
"Aomine-kun," Kuroko starts once more, "there seems to be a leftover basketball." Aomine blinks, and then follows the line that Kuroko's finger makes. So there is, indeed, a leftover basketball. Perhaps someone had left it there (though the neighborhood knows better than to come to these courts if they expect to continue loving basketball).
"We should play a game," Kuroko amends, picking up the ball and giving it a light spin. Aomine snickers as the ball - as per usual - falls off of Kuroko's finger.
"Alright," Aomine says, fire in his veins even though he should know better. "Half-court or full-court?"
"Full-court," Kuroko replies - a smile in-place.
And they are off.
"You didn't - how could you - I don't - " Aomine tries to start, because even though Kuroko is still a good two heads below him, even though Kuroko's hair is still the same odd shade of blue (as if he's one to talk), even though Kuroko's eyes are still the unflinching, unjudging shade of night - this is not the person he once knew.
"You still won," Kuroko notes, shrugging nonchalantly and reciting the score, "25 to 2... the gap would have been even larger had you not stopped halfway through the game."
"How - " Aomine starts, because he thinks the world of Kuroko - knows that he was the one essential to the Generation of Miracles, where everyone else - yes, even himself - was replaceable, Kuroko, because of his passes, because of his consistency and ability to keep them together - Kuroko was not. Because as much as he respects Kuroko, as much as he wants to think of the other as a 'normal' rival...
- He had always (always, always) classified his former teammate as 'different', as 'special'.
"You're not supposed to - "
"Be able to score?" Kuroko finishes for him. Aomine, flat on the ground, sweat and heavy breaths and excitement for the first time in forever, looks up at the shorter boy, as Kuroko grins - grimaces - wryly. "That's what I've been trying to explain for the whole of this afternoon," he scratches, embarrassed, at his head, "Although I thought I would be able to do a little better than this."
"Tetsu - you're amazing," is the only thing Aomine finds himself capable of saying, flopping a not-at-all-tired arm limply over his face. He can still feel the ache and groan (he's in high school - not a nursing home - damn that Kise) of his limbs, but the anticipation, the excitement, the love of basketball - he's at the brink of it - at the edge of rediscovering it.
"Aomine-kun," he starts once more, "It is my sincere goal to defeat the Generation of Miracles. You may not believe me but I... I want to be better, I want to be stronger, even if I am a shadow. Even if I will always be a supporting player in the game." He reaches forth his hand, and although it's wavering, Aomine knows that Kuroko's resolve is not - will never. "This is my basketball," Kuroko concludes, as Aomine - slowly - extends his hand to meet Kuroko's.
'You are still everything I want,' Aomine refrains from saying - because he's in high school and he and Kuroko have not been 'together' in months and Kuroko has still helped him up nonetheless, has still managed to score a point against him - against Aomine.
"I'll take you down," Aomine promises instead, "You and that stupid new light of your's," he repeats, as Kuroko pulls himself up, a warm grip - a foreign touch - and an amused smile on his face all the same.
The sun has somehow managed to sneak its way way to the center line - the divide between day and dusk, and only then does Kuroko say that he needs to be going home, as his parents will surely be worried.
"Tetsu!" Aomine calls out - knowing this will be the last time they meet before - not if, but when - they meet up for the Winter Championship. Kuroko, as per usual, turns around, and Aomine jogs to catch up, the bang of the basketball court's gate echoing in the air. "Why did you... what was your end reason for quitting the Teikou Basketball Club?"
Kuroko blinks - most likely surprised and then -
Aomine refuses to believe what his nerves are telling him - that Kuroko has tugged his loosely-buttoned shirt collar down to his own level - that Kuroko is pressing his lips, ever so melancholic, against his own.
"More than anything... I want to see an Aomine-kun who loves to play basketball," Tetsu - no, Kuroko - replies, giving Aomine a half-smile before running off.
Aomine Daiki does not wash his face for weeks.