A/N: So as a super belated Christmas present...ANGST.
Once upon a time, Aomine had loved basketball. Loved the competition, the camaraderie, pushing his limits and playing until exhaustion, he had loved all of it and more. At that time, basketball had been the only love of his life and for a long time, he had thought it would always be the greatest.
"Hey," he says, because he's not sure what else to say, what else he can say without making a fool of himself (before the 'please come back's and 'I miss you's come spilling out).
"It has been a while, Aomine-kun," Tetsu replies, inclining his head slightly in a polite nod (like they're strangers, like they hadn't gone through middle school together and played on the same team together, like they hadn't been partners for three goddamn years).
"So what's up?" he bites out, voice sounding unnatural and tinny in his own ears, "I wasn't expecting a confession from you of all people." Which was true enough, and the irony makes him laugh, bitter and grating, cutting through the air.
Tetsu purses his lips into a thin line (and a year ago he would have rolled his eyes, but they're not the same as they were back then not the same at all) before replying. "That is not the reason I asked you to meet with me."
"Why then?" It comes out colder and harsher than he had meant it to, and he feels chagrin upon seeing the minute flinch in those ice blue eyes (if it was anyone else they wouldn't have noticed, but he's been watching for so long, so damn long). "Why?" he repeats softly, and it's the closest thing to an apology he can do.
The smaller boy turns to face him fully, squaring his shoulders, "Seirin is going to the Winter Cup."
"Hah? Is that all?" he digs a calloused pinky into his ear in irritation, "I already knew that."
"We are going to win." And those eyes burn with intensity he hasn't seen since middle school. Pinned under that clear gaze the scoff dies in his throat and he can only stare back like a bug trapped under a microscope (how much of his own feelings are displayed in his eyes? How much is displayed, laid bare to that piercing stare?). "We will win," Tetsu repeats. "I would like Aomine-kun to see us."
He turns, running a hand through short-cropped hair and sighing heavily. "What a pain."
"Aomine-kun," Tetsu repeats with the same dull patience he used to use to cajole his partner into attending practice.
"Yeah, yeah, I know," he grumbles (and it's still so easy for him to fall into this routine, and he wonders if it is for Tetsu too), flapping a hand dismissively. "I'll be there."
Tetsu's eyes go light (with what? Relief? Happiness? He doesn't know the reason and isn't sure if he even wants to). "Thank you very much," he bows from the waist at a proper 45-degree angle, and Aomine chuckles a little and reaches out a hand to ruffle those light blue locks in reflex before he catches himself, fingertips only centimeters away. The impulse comes up and catches him by the throat, choking him until he can't breathe with the pure want of it, and he turns quickly and walks away before he crosses a line (the one he's been dancing since middle school and it hurts, it hurts, the frustration boiling in his stomach like magma, red hot and burning).
When he glances back over his shoulder, Tetsu is still standing there, watching him. The other boy is too far for him to make out his expression but he flicks his fingers in a careless goodbye anyway and turns his head back before he can see the others reaction.
There are few things that Aomine Daiki holds dear to him. One, his very first basketball, gifted to him in grade school and worn completely smooth. Two, a picture from his first year in middle school, taken at the time of their first championship win kept in a frame on his barely used desk. It is not the formal team picture taken with their advisor and the trophy, no that stands on the mantle, hidden behind other accolades he has stopped counting. This picture is the team as he best remembers it, as he wants to keep forever preserved in memory, before winning became assumed, when basketball was still exciting and there were tough opponents to challenge. They are smiling, still sweaty and flushed, hoisting the trophy over their heads in triumph. Even Murasakibara is giving an odd spacey grin as Midorima smirks into the camera. The captain is behind them, his normally sardonic grin with a bit of the edge off it. He and Tetsu are in the foreground, there is a tanned arm slung around a pale neck, and even as the other is being pulled off balance by the force of the embrace, there is a small smile on his face.
And three, another picture from the same day, taken by someone he can't even remember, of just the two of them. They are still in the same position, his arm around Tetsu's neck but they are not posing for the camera, he is laughing, eyes arched in crescents, and Tetsu is so close to him their heads are almost touching and his face is split in a smile. It is not a particularly wide smile by normal standards, but it is the most emotion he has ever seen from the deadpan boy, whose ice blue eyes are radiant with joy and whose cheeks are flushed with happiness.
Aomine thinks that it might be the most beautiful thing he's ever seen.
He can still remember that day, and when he closes his eyes he can almost feel the sweat slick skin beneath his arm, the brush of damp hair against his cheek, the closeness of Tetsu pressed into his side. When he opens his eyes though, he is slammed back into reality at the sight of the Touou uniform hanging off the back of his chair, the black uniform with a different number, and the photograph, creased and greasy with fingerprints from having traced the details of it countless times, goes back from whence it came, shoved into the back of his desk drawer. Each time, he puts the picture out of sight, hoping to forget, but for every time he tries, he finds himself reaching back into the drawer a few nights later.
This is the Tetsu who comes to him on the edges of sleep, smiling at him gently and calling his name. This Tetsu, his Tetsu, plays endless rounds of basketball at his side, each game more thrilling than the last, each opponent more challenging. But no matter how difficult, how close the score, they always manage to win by a hairs breadth, the ball sinking into the basket with bated breath and cheers. Then Tetsu turns to him, flushed and sweating and god so beautiful and holds out a pale hand for him to take. So he does, takes it and holds it like he never wants to let go, like he wants to go on forever feeling the other boys pulse beat beneath his fingers, the roughness of his callouses abrading his palm. And because this is a dream, he pulls Tetsu into a kiss without hesitation.
Once upon a time, Aomine had found someone that he loved even more than basketball. And even more than that, a partner that he loved playing with, and who held as much passion for the sport as he did. Once upon a time, Aomine had believed that this was their happy ending.
Back in elementary school, no, even before then, when he was just a little brat bouncing a ball around a block of cement trying to pass as a court, back then his only desire was to play basketball. And then when he entered middle school and became a starter on the basketball team, his goal had been to win basketball matches. And it seemed like time would pass forever like that, game after game, making point after point, an endless thing that he couldn't even imagine ending how it did.
And because they were partners, he had thought that he had understood Tetsu the best. He had taken for granted their future together, games upon games of flawless victories, training camps, last minute cramming sessions, from high school through college, hell even going pro together. Because they had grown up together, had gone from being a bunch of kids with a common passion and drive to becoming champions with a triple crown and skills that no others could hope to match, he had thought somehow their future together was assured.
So when they graduated, when Tetsu went missing, when they found out later where he's enrolled at some school they haven't even heard of, it came as an even greater shock. This, this was an unexpected betrayal, something he couldn't even begin to comprehend. Sometime after that, after a single match against a group of cocky no names at the public courts, after waiting a half second too long for an invisible pass that never came (and never would now), after turning to a presence that wasn't there to comment on the utter lack of competition once he had devastated them, he had realized that somewhere along the line all he wanted, all he desired, had turned into playing basketball with Tetsu, and the ball had felt heavy as lead in his hands and the victory tasted like ash.
So seeing Tetsu again for the first time in so long (weeks? Months? God, they hadn't been apart that long since they had first met) is like the world has been dyed in blazing Technicolor and he is almost blinded by the other boys brightness. And even though the boy himself had always professed himself to be a shadow, one more suited to standing in the darkness than in the spotlight, right now, standing on the same basketball court, he burns with a quiet flame, white hot and blinding.
When Tetsu makes the Ignite Pass, for a second it almost feels like they are on the same team again, and the familiar feeling of the ball rushing at him from the other side of the court fills him with such want (comebackcomebackcomeback) he almost misses seeing the red haired kid catch it. Tetsu's normal passes are nothing, but the Ignite Pass, the Ignite Pass was something only he could catch, something developed between the two of them, something only they could use just because they were partners, a bond between the two of them so that every time the opportunity arose to use it but he couldn't he would think of him. And seeing it again, seeing Tetsu use it with someone else, fills him with a feeling of betrayal that's like a knife through his bruised ego. So he intercepts the next pass, and as he savors the feeling of the ball spinning in his palms he almost feels whole again and the momentum from catching Tetsu's pass, from working with Tetsu, from being on the same team as Tetsu propels him to flit through the other team like water and dunk effortlessly.
"Tetsu, your basketball can't beat mine," he tells him, face carefully expressionless, because if he lets himself go, if he's not careful, he knows he won't be able to control himself. He'll kill the red haired kid and take back Tetsu, whatever it takes, whatever the cost. But at the end, even when he's crushed them into the ground, when he's killed their chance of winning the tournament (because he can recognize after all these years, the look of a team whose hope has been crushed), Tetsu still will not yield. At the end of the game as they walk past each other, their shoulders barely brushing, "Join up with me again" is on the tip of his tongue, but he cannot say it. And Tetsu does not say anything to him either, and he hates himself for it.
And he is reminded of the time when Akashi had said, "The rest of you are replaceable, except for Tetsuya." The others, even Tetsu, had taken it as their captains' way of reassuring the blue haired boy of his skills, but Aomine recognized it for what it was. A threat. Tetsu's basketball might go well with yours now, but if there is ever someone whose skills mesh better with his, if there is ever someone better, then you will lose your place as his partner. At that time, it had seemed impossible that anything would ever come between them and he had scoffed at the possibility. But now he sees that kid, Kaga-something, standing next to Tetsu like he belonged there, as he stands by himself and watches and the jealousy and hatehatehate must be painted all over his face just like a lovesick fool. The victory had been sweet at the time, the delusion of Tetsu coming back and playing with him just like the old days deluding his senses and melting sweetly on his tongue, but once the illusion had vanished and his euphoria had evaporated all that was left is a bitter aftertaste coating his insides.
Once upon a time, a little boy named Aomine had believed in happy endings. But then he grew up, and he realized that in real life, happy endings are never guaranteed.
What's hardest, he realizes, isn't having to play without Tetsu. No, what's hardest is watching Tetsu play with a new team, watching him win, watching him flush uncharacteristically red with excitement and exertion, watch him bump fists with someone else (someone nothimnothimnothim) and give that smile that only Tetsu can, small and wide at the same time, a beautifully memorable shining crescent in the blue-silver of his face. The creased photo in his desk drawer comes back to him, and he thinks, "I had that. That used to be mine. How could I have lost that?" And he laughs, if only because if he doesn't, he thinks he might cry.
'God,' he thinks, 'this is wrong. This is wrongwrongwrong.' Because somewhere between their dreams and their reality, they had lost what was most important to them. They had the chance to be something, something more than what they were, something bigger something better, but it slipped through their fingers like a fumbled ball. And now, watching, it hurts, hurts like a crushing defeat, like a two point score difference in the last few moments of the second half, and knowing, if only we had done things a little differently, if I had tried a little harder, then we could have made it.
But they hadn't made it, and now, now as he watches that loser (at least he has Tetsu if he's a loser what does that make you?) hoist Tetsu onto his shoulders as the blue haired boy laughs and almost falls, he remembers their first game and how ecstatic they were, how everyone was, and how simpler the world was back then, how brighter, how better and he wishes, god how he wishes he could go back and start over. But he can't. It's too late for him, for both of them, hell for any of them. They'd split apart, each person building themselves back up, a new team, new friends, a new life and they could never go back.
He can see Satsuki eying him nervously as he lumbers to his feet, but he ignores her, deliberately looking away from her, refusing to see the pity in her stare. He stares down the stands at Tetsu instead. 'So this is how it ends,' he thinks, 'if only, if only,' and his mouth twists into a bitter smile. He's never been very good at losing gracefully; even more so now that he's used to flawless victories and crushed opponents for over three years straight now. But he'd give up those wins in a heartbeat if it meant that just once, just this once, he could win when it mattered. 'This is how it ends,' he thinks again, and walks down the steps of the stands to meet the future head on.
"Aomine-kun," Kuroko acknowledges with a slight nod. Kagami is standing next to him, adrenaline from the victory making him smile with an almost savage intensity, but he watches Aomine closely like the eager watchdog he is, just waiting for an excuse to attack.
"You finally did it, huh Tetsu?" Aomine pounces on the boy, ruffling sweaty blue strands into disarray and grinning like a loon. Kuroko is still riding the high from their victory, and smiles back in answer before knocking away Aomine's hands.
"Stop that Aomine-kun," he replies in good-natured irritation.
Aomine chortles and locks Kuroko into a headlock with one arm, "Getting kinda full of yourself eh?" He teases, wildly knuckling the other boy's skull.
Kuroko tears himself out of his former teammate's grip roughly, smoothing down his hair absentmindedly and giving a small scowl that belies the extent of his annoyance. He opens his mouth to reprimand Aomine in exasperation, but before he can even get a syllable out the other boy sticks out a tan hand. "Congratulations Tetsu," he says with a small smile. Kuroko blinks at him, once, twice, before smiling in return (Aomine swears that his heart stops in his chest at the sight, God how is he so beautiful) and clasping the proffered limb.
"Thank you, Aomine-kun," he says as they shake hands, and Aomine has half a mind to confess everything, right here right now, but he sees Kagami grinning as he watches them while the rest of the Seirin team celebrates in the background, and the entirety of the picture shines in his sight until he can't bear to look anymore.
He breaks the handshake with a rueful smile, and teases "Won't be as easy next year. Touou's gonna bring that trophy home."
Kagami butts in at that, bristling "Oh yeah? Bring it on." He begins to surge forward, but is stopped by Kuroko, who blows his breath out in a soft puff.
"Do not be rude, Kagami-kun." He cuts off protests from his partner with a well-placed elbow, "I look forward to any competition you might provide us with next season. However we have no intention of losing." Ice blue eyes glitter with seriousness and Aomine throws back his head and laughs, full and throatily.
"See you around, Tetsu." He gives the other one last grin before he turns on his heel and strides out of the gym and into the sunlight, shoulders square and head held high.
Kagami begins to walk back to the team, muttering darkly about cocky bastards and starts spewing ideas for new plays. "Oi, Kuroko. You coming?" he calls back to his unmoving partner, still facing the open doorway streaming with sunlight.
"Yes. My apologies," Kuroko answers distractedly, and as he begins to walk back to his teammates he pauses and looks back at the empty doorway. "Sayonara," he murmurs, before running to his place in the victory huddle.
Once upon a time, two boys fell in love, but somehow passed each other by completely. The happy ending they always thought they could reach suddenly seemed unattainable, so they gave up on it entirely. They followed their own paths and built different endings for themselves. It wasn't perfect, but real life rarely is.
A/N: So I really hate language crossing in fics. It's one of my major pet peeves, but I really couldn't get away from it in this and for that I am eternally sorry orz. There's not really a satisfactory equivalent to sayonara in English that has the same sense of finality.
This was inspired from the song+MV for Tohoshinki's "Why Have I Fallen in Love With You" which is pretty much the AoKuro theme song in my opinion.