The faint smell of disinfectant filled Kuroko's nose as he flinched at every little touch that the nurse made.
"Just a little more, Kuroko-san and I'll be able to bandage you up." The nurse spoke as she cringed in guilt at the necessary pain she had to do. She then dabbed the clean towel into some sort of strong smelling liquid before lightly pressing it against Kuroko's shoulder wound. The nurse saw Kuroko's face twist in pain as she hurriedly tried to do all she could to disinfect the wound before neatly and carefully bandaging the stinging area. She soon left the room, leaving Kuroko to sit alone atop the examination bed. His breathing was shaky as his eyes remained tightly shut. His skin was heated as all the limbs in his body trembled. His mind forgot the ordeal, but his body sure remembered every detail of it. He let out a light sigh just as a knock surfaced.
"Kuroko, I'm coming in." Spoke a voice beyond the door. It slid open, revealing a young doctor—Midorima to be exact.
"Ah, yes…" Kuroko replied in a way to let the fate follower acknowledge his entrance.
"How are you feeling?" Midorima asked which was rather unusual of him but he did since this was his profession.
"I'm fine." The Shadow replied softly, looking at the green-haired male with no signs of hesitation. Midorima gritted his teeth—he absolutely hated it when Kuroko hid behind his perfectly mastered façade of showing no emotion whatsoever. It irked him, especially if his job requires him to understand others and their situation. Tsking, Midorima leant against a nearby bench top before crossing his arms over his chest.
"Are you sure you're fine?" The fate follower soon pressed on, unsatisfied with Kuroko's answer. But the older one stood his ground and nodded without actually confirming anything with words. Sighing, Midorima found it pointless to question on since Kuroko had always been this way. The blue-haired male, even if he was putting on a brave face, was devastated at his weakness. He may have done something heroic but he felt the burden of responsibility weigh down on him. All knew that Kuroko wasn't to blame and that he shouldn't state that this was his fault, but he thought that if he had been there, things might've changed—if he had called earlier, things might've changed.
Midorima pressed his lips into a thin line as his eyebrows narrowed. He saw that Kuroko was thinking of something, but he couldn't pin point what it was exactly. Suddenly, the door slid open once more. Both Kuroko and Midorima turned their heads to catch a more than a glimpse of the new intruder.
"Tetsu," A deep voice called, followed the door sliding shut, "How foolish have you become over the last couple of years?"
"Aomine-kun…" Kuroko's voice shrunk as tension built itself into the atmosphere.
"I'll be taking my leave, then." Midorima announced, not looking back as he exited the room. Silence immediately filled their ears as their different shades of blue locked onto each other's. The only sound that could really be heard was the faint breathing of the two which gave off an eerie feeling.
"Tch…" Aomine, unable to take the silence, broke it as he took a few steps closer to Kuroko before wrapping his arm around the Shadow's head, pulling him close to his chest, "You're so stupid and that's coming from me. I've always wanted to see you, but not under these circumstances."
Kuroko could hear the steady beat of Aomine's heart pound against his ear as he lingered against him to feel the warmth he lacked, "I'm sorry."
"That's not gonna cut it." The younger one immediately replied, gritting his teeth a little, "You could've died. You knew that there were—"
"If I hadn't done what I've did, then she would've died." Kuroko interrupted, without meaning to. He felt Aomine's arm tighten across his head for just a brief second before taking a step back. Kuroko was quick to miss the younger one's gentle touch but showed no signs of it across his face.
"Anyways…" Aomine stood up straight with a hand running through the front of his hair before it drop back down to his side, "Personal feelings aside, I need to ask you a couple of questions pertaining to the incident." Aomine, accompanied by his police uniform looked and seemed very professional which made Kuroko realise the drastic changes he went through all these years.
"I understand." The Shadow replied with lifeless eyes.
"Firstly, what caused all of this?"
Two hours earlier
He swallowed deeply as his throat grew dry. Nigou was faster but Kuroko could just manage to stay on the same page as the canine as they dashed back over to the pre-school. His phone that remained in his pocket still recorded his conversation with Alex, given that the blond hadn't disconnected from him or vice versa. A sudden loud bang was soon heard, causing the Shadow's heart to freeze on the spot for a sheer second—that sound had erupted in the direction of his destination. Ridding his mind from all things bad, he continued to dash forward before he felt his body halt.
Orange flickers of flames coloured the windows as smoke polluted the air above the preschool. Innocent bystanders watched in horror as most had already called the ambulance, fire brigade and possibly the police. Shrieks and screams could be heard from inside and out of the area as Kuroko watched on helplessly. He knew he had to do something but what? He felt weak. And he knew that he was. If he were to go in there, would he change the outcome or just be a casualty?
A barking Nigou broke the Shadow's train of thought as Kuroko saw the canine dash into the entrance of the preschool.
"Nigou!" Kuroko called out in a voice he's never used, let alone heard before in his entire life. Shamelessly using his companion as an excuse, Kuroko pursued the canine into the burning premises. Before he even entered it though, he could feel the intense heat. It was so strong that his skin began to sweat. Opening the front door, he heard and saw the fire greedily devouring the room as it fuelled itself with oxygen.
In the back corner, he saw all the children—they were all covered in blankets with Alex shielding them with her arms.
"Alex-san!" Kuroko spoke out, covering his mouth as the fire licked the walls and carpet, "Are you okay?"
"Kuroko! You shouldn't be here!" Alex's glasses were fogged as she looked in the direction where she heard Kuroko's voice come from, "Get out! This place will collapse!" She warned, not moving her extended arms out to wipe the fog from her eyes in fears that the children might get hurt.
"No, we need to get the out right now!" Kuroko pleaded, trudging through the fire and smoke into the direction Alex and the children were. His vision was blurred as the heat was intense.
"The fire brigade will be here soon but for now we need to reduce any risks." The Shadow informed as he heard glass begin to crack. The ceiling's fans were also handing by mere wires and threatened to fall as well as parts of the cracked concrete roof. Kuroko, with all those hazards in mind, tried to rush them all out whilst they posed no harm at the moment. He finally reached them as Alex stood up.
"We can't take them all at once though. What if one gets caught up—"
"Then I'll stay while you take them." Kuroko cut off Alex, suggesting something courageous. Alex hesitated before nodding.
And with that, Alex had one child on her back, two pairs of children holding each other's hands by her own and one child in front of her as she hurried over to the entrance. When fresh air was breathed into her lungs, it appears that news had already spread fast. Anxious parents cried tears of joy as Alex brought out their child as the other parents waited in fear. There was a news van with a news reporter capturing the horrific scene as the fire brigade and ambulance reached the pre-school.
"I stayed with the remaining children as Alex took more than half of the kids to safety… The fans and the walls soon began to cave in as the glass wall shattered, gashing my shoulder open. Two fire fighters came in and took the children and at that time, I refused to leave. I didn't know where Nigou went so I stayed as they placed the children's safety as their utmost priority and took them outside… I searched for Nigou and it turns out… Hyuga-sempai's daughter had passed out and Nigou sensed her weak presence. She was under the blanket and the first spark of smoke triggered her asthma. She had her puffer on her but it ran out. A fighter came back in and I told him her situation and rushed him out, telling him that I'd be able to make it out and that she needed fresher air or she'd…" Kuroko recalled as fast as he could as if he feared forgetting the details.
Aomine had his notepad, scribbling down any details he deemed as relevant. His face remained calm but deep down inside, he was really hurt. He was upset that he'd almost lost someone special to him and he was troubled that Kuroko had to go through such an ordeal. He didn't dare to interrupt as Kuroko continued to tell his series of events.
"I grabbed a hold of Nigou, but I don't know… I think I might've fainted soon after. I could hear Nigou barking loudly but his voice faded as did my vision."
Aomine closed his notepad, causing Kuroko to look up from his lap. He seemed ashamed as he recounted the events of that afternoon before Aomine parted his lips to speak, "Was there any sign of the arsonist?" Idiot—you should've just asked him if he was alright! Aomine thought, mentally beating himself. The Shadow sighed, shaking his head. Aomine nodded in a way to say that it's alright that there weren't any signs, "Main thing is that no one was badly injured or you know…" Aomine said in a light and somewhat uplifting voice. Kuroko smiled at the effort the officer tried to make.
"I'm sorry that I'm not much of a help." The Shadow apologised, pressing his lips into a thin line.
"Don't be. It isn't your fault." Aomine reassured, placing a hand on the shoulder that wasn't injured. Kuroko's line of sight drifted off to where Aomine's hand was before looking at the officer himself. Their eyes met but neither retreated away as they stationed themselves in silence. For the next few moments, no words broke the silence but so much was said. Kuroko subconsciously placed his hand atop Aomine's and felt the warmth he did when the younger one held him closer earlier.
"Tetsu…" Aomine sighed sweetly as he took the initiative and actually held the smaller one's hand. He felt Kuroko jolt in surprise but he showed no signs of rejecting the gesture. Aomine wasn't sure why he did what he did but lately he wasn't sure why he did anything anymore. Maybe it was that talk with Kagami's sempai the other night that made him change how he acts around certain people. And Kuroko was obviously no exception.
Aomine's life as it is now was definitely not how he had planned. He thought that he'd go on to do great things in the world of basketball but somehow along the line, he ended up being a police officer living with someone who's just like him in almost every aspect. In all honesty, he had actually planned his life with either Momoi or his beloved ex-shadow. Sure, he wasn't the type to look like he'd plan something like that, but when graduation drew near he knew he'd have to think about what he'd do after his high school life ended.
"Hey…" Aomine's grip on Kuroko's hand tightened, "Don't disappear on me like you did last time…" The officer spoke in a low and fearful voice.
"Aomine-kun," The Shadow started, tightening his own grip around the taller one's hand, "My existence in your life has no more value."
"You may think that but you've done a lot for me—more than you'll ever know." Aomine spoke words that he thought he'd never say in this lifetime of twenty-five years. Kuroko smiled genuinely with his eyes closed. He then heard a snap, causing him to flutter his eyes back open.
"Eh..? Aomine-kun…?" Kuroko spoke absentmindedly as he was faced with a phone right near his face.
"Sorry… I just had to capture that smile." Aomine innocently said, flashing the image at Kuroko before putting his phone into his back pocket.
"Is my smile worth capturing?" Kuroko asked, laughing breathlessly at how strangely cute Aomine sounded.
"Everything about you is worth capturing, c'mon Tetsu. What are you even saying?" Aomine joked, nudging him playfully.
黒子のバスケ © 藤巻 忠俊
Kuroko No Basuke