BACK FROM THE DEAD WHOOO!

I apologize to everyone for leaving this hanging for as long as I have. Unfortunately, this chapter isn't very long. But it's ended at a point I am happy with, so I can only say sorry for the lack of Kuroko badassery and Midorima sassing Aomine. I can't say that I'm back on the writing boat completely, but it felt amazing to be able to write again!

Thank you to every single one of you who have been on this (unnecessarily long) journey with me, and for all the love and support you've given me. Your reviews still make me excited till this day, and for everyone who PMed me and never got a reply, I am so very sorry.

I'm not even sure if any of you still remember what goes on in this story hahaha. I hope you do!

So here you go, the long overdue full stop to the story that's haunted me for, literally, years, and thank you all again!

As always, enjoy, and let me know what you think!


The strange thing about blood was that it didn't really have an odour.

It had a sort of metallic taste, as anyone who'd ever accidentally bitten their tongue would know. But it didn't smell very much unless you got up close and personal with it. A small part of his mind, the part that managed to stay calm even when he wanted to scream wondered why he was making this mental note when there was a body bleeding out before him.

Kou stood there, his face shrouded in malicious shadows, thick, warm blood dripping off the end of the blade he held in erratic strands. He could practically hear the drops hit the ground.

He was frozen, his mind ripping itself apart as it tried to reconcile what was before him with what he'd just seen happen – it had happened in barely a flash – while he struggled to smother the urge, the need to hurt, to lash out, to give the bastard what was long overdue.

The rage that was always bubbling below the surface had found its outlet, and he heard the snarl, barely recognizing it as his own as he propelled himself over the pale, crumpled body that lay between him and Kou, his arm outstretched –

xx

Aomine woke up with a start, the machine by his bed beeping loudly as a warning that his heart rate was spiking. He unclenched his fists, and distractedly wiped his sweaty palms on the bed sheet. His eyes focused hard on the darkened ceiling, in the vain hope that the shadows that stared back at him could erase the horror he'd seen on Kuroko's face in the split second before his eyes had rolled back and he'd hit the ground with a thump that had been too vivid to be real.

"I heard that those experimental drugs they used had some interesting side effects," Aomine's attention whipped towards the window, where the voice had come from. "I must confess that I wasn't expecting nightmares, however."

"What are you doing here?" He rasped. His heart beat had slowed down considerably, but was still a few beats above normal. Sharp eyes turned away from the bright moon outside to the bedridden man. They flickered momentarily to the bleeping monitor connected to Aomine's heart.

"Would you believe me if I said that I came to kill you?" Akashi asked, voice a bit too pleasant to be, well, pleasant.

The detective barely gave the words a thought. "We wouldn't be having this conversation if that were true."

Akashi hummed, looking pleased as he pushed away from the window sill and out of the reach of the moon's beam. "You're a quick learner. I like that."

He settled into the seat by Aomine's bed that was usually reserved for Kuroko, leaning forward. "Let's see if you've learned enough. What was your nightmare about?"

Biting his tongue, he'd only just stopped himself from telling Akashi to stick it where the sun didn't shine. He also had to swallow the automatic lie that he was inclined to tell. Something about the way Akashi was watching him told Aomine that the redhead knew what the answer was. He turned his gaze towards the moonlight filtering through the window.

"Kuroko," he murmured. He paused for a second. "I couldn't protect him."

Aomine expected Akashi to gloat, to sit back in the chair and grin wider than the Cheshire cat and tell him that he was absolutely right. What he did instead was as unexpected as snow in summer.

"What makes you think he needs protecting?" Akashi did lean back in the seat, and maybe that was a smirk that Aomine detected, swimming somewhere in between the words he spoke. He'd gotten part of it right, at least.

The blue-haired man raised his shoulder in a vague shrug. "Everyone needs protecting. That's why you have cops and the like."

Akashi huffed out something that sounded suspiciously like a chuckle. "That's a surprisingly romantic notion coming from a man like yourself."

"All though," Akashi continued thoughtfully. "I'm not entirely sure Tetsuya would be pleased to know that you think he's helpless."

Aomine remained silent, suddenly feeling too tired to argue. You needed all your wits about you when you took on Akashi Seijuurou, and right now he knew he barely had a spoonful's worth.

Seeming to sense Aomine's unusually resigned manner, Akashi rose from the seat. "It pains me to say something so absurdly ambiguous, but for lack of a term that a simple man would understand; have more faith, Daiki. You are, unfortunately, more worthy than you believe."

xx

"Akashi-kun," Kuroko greeted, looking up in surprise from his book. "I thought you'd left for Tokyo?"

"I decided to extend my stay," the redhead waved his hand dismissively. "There is a reason I employ some of the sharpest minds in the country."

"Finally coming to your senses, I see," Kuroko replied with a small smile. He'd been after his brother for years, trying to get him to take days off more frequently. Despite his words, Akashi looked like he had been up all night. As though reading his mind, Akashi shook his head with a wry tilt to his lips.

"I had some thinking to do."

"Oh?" Kuroko's tone was teasing. "What could possibly keep a crime lord up at night, I wonder."

Akashi studied him for a few seconds. "Are you sure about the choices you've made, Tetsuya?"

Kuroko shut the book he had been reading and placed it on the bed next to him. He looked directly at Akashi when he next spoke. "I have no regrets."

"He will not give up what he does for you," Akashi said, the warning loud and clear. "There might come a day when his luck runs out."

Kuroko squashed the panic that his brother's words incited. The feeling was nothing new. The voices in his head had told him the same thing hundreds of times, and the memory of Aomine lying in a puddle of blood was as fresh in his mind as if it had happened seconds ago.

His smile was forlorn, and yet, somehow, Akashi noticed, hopeful.

"All the more reason for me to make it count."

xx

"Everything looks good," the doctor said, straightening from his examination of Aomine's wound. He busied himself with applying fresh bandages. "Looks like you'll be out of here in a couple of weeks."

Aomine's groan was heartfelt. "C'mon doc, it's been nearly a month already! I'm going out of my mind stuck here!"

"Shouldn't have gotten yourself shot, then," Midorima said mildly from the foot of his bed. Aomine shot him a poisonous glare while the doctor smiled slightly.

"Will you stop making it sound like I just stood there and let myself get shot, geez!"

"Why?" The green-eyed man retorted, tone still mild. "It sounds like that was exactly what you did."

"How about I point a gun at you and we see how quickly you bleed out." Aomine muttered darkly.

Midorima nudged his glasses higher on his nose bridge. "You can't kill a person just by pointing a gun at them – doctor, are you sure he isn't suffering from any brain damage?"

"Calm down, you two," Momoi broke in, stopping the fight before it happened. She shifted in the chair beside Aomine's bed and levelled him with a reproachful look. "You shouldn't be picking fights in your condition, Dai-kun."

"He started it!" Aomine exploded. God, he wanted to throw something at the man's smug face.

"If you can keep your temper under control," the doctor began, looking at him pointedly. "And you don't injure yourself again, you might be discharged by the end of the week."

That made Aomine pause, and with one last withering glare at his detested partner, he settled back against the pillows.

"Have you heard from Kuroko-san?" Midorima asked abruptly.

Aomine shook his head. "He's been busy with work and the trial."

Kuroko had volunteered to testify against Kou, as he had been the only witness to the shooting. This made Aomine nervous, because not only were they going to be in the same room, but Aomine wouldn't be there to protect Kuroko if anything happened. He knew he was being ridiculous. The chances of Kou attacking Kuroko in a room full of law enforcement officers were slim to none. But still, he mused, all sorts of things could go wrong.

"You shouldn't worry so much," Momoi said quietly. "He can take care of himself."

Aomine shot her a wry smile. "Yeah, I know."

xx

"I've never seen him so worried." Momoi said as soon as the door to Aomine's room shut behind them.

Midorima hummed in thoughtful agreement and started towards the carpark. Momoi fell into step beside him. "Don't you think we should tell him?"

"No," he replied. "It would only stress him out further."

xx

Kuroko was ushered into the office by a smiling secretary. The room was spacious, sparsely furnished, but tastefully so. He walked across the carpeted floor to the large desk that stood against a background of tall windows that looked out onto Tokyo. Raised as he was, though, he was unruffled by the show of grandeur, and sat down in one of the two chairs before the desk. The man seated in the large, plush leather chair finally looked up when he did.

"Ah, Kuroko-san," he said, slipping off the glasses that had been balancing precariously on the tip of his nose while he studied the documents strewn around the table. "Thank you for agreeing to meet me on such short notice."

"Your men didn't give me much of a chance to consider the offer," Kuroko responded politely, his voice flat. Dark blue eyes crinkled at the corners in a familiar way as the older man smiled.

"I can see why Daiki was so taken with you," the mentioned man's father said, leaning back. He studied Kuroko thoughtfully for a few silent seconds. "I am fully aware of the nature of your relationship with Daiki, by the way."

Kuroko responded by blinking slowly, tilting his head forward and raising and eyebrow in a nonverbal request for the man to get to the point. The older Aomine chuckled slightly.

"Truly an Akashi," he marvelled. He sighed, the tension seemed to go out of his shoulders, and suddenly, he was no longer the imposing persona that appeared bigger than the room. Kuroko saw him for what he was; an overworked man who had made choices that could not be unravelled, regardless of how much he regretted them. "I had hoped that my son would someday settle down with a woman he could love and accept the responsibilities of fatherhood in a way I was unable to."

"Perhaps it is selfish of me to wish for his happiness when I was the source of much of his unhappiness," he continued, a wistful smile playing about his lips as he watched the unmoving features of Kuroko's face. His gaze shifted to something beyond Kuroko's shoulder. Kuroko knew what he was looking at. As he walked in, he had caught sight of a small shelf in the corner of the room that housed a row of framed pictures of a woman and her child – his child. "Maybe it is too late for me to atone for my mistakes – "

"With all due respect, Sir," Kuroko interrupted. "It is only too late when you stop trying."

Aomine Senior looked at him. "I suppose you are right."

"Nonetheless," he went on, straightening himself, assuming the previous persona again. "While I wish for a normal life for Daiki, I am aware that it may not be possible at this point in time. Therefore, until you both tire of each other, know that you have my blessing, whatever it is worth."

Kuroko didn't bother to correct him. They both knew the day that he wished for was nowhere in the near future. "Thank you. It means a lot to me."

Standing, he bowed to the older man and left.

xx

It was a week later when Kuroko had enough time to travel. He was in Aomine's room before visiting hours began, watching him sleep. He'd missed being able to watch the mesmerizing rise and fall of Aomine's breathing as he slept peacefully. Akashi's words rang in his ears again, and he wondered – for the millionth time – if he would be able to survive the day Aomine's breaths stopped, if it ever came.

"Hey," Kuroko looked up from where his eyes had been fixated on Aomine's chest, too lost in his thoughts to realize that the other man had woken up. His sleepy smile drove Kuroko's fears to the back of his mind. They would rear their ugly heads some other time. But today, Aomine was alive and well, and that was enough.

"Hey," Kuroko echoed with a smile of his own. "How are you feeling?"

Aomine grimaced. "Like they should let me out."

Kuroko laughed. "I'm sure the doctor's sick of hearing you say that by now."

"Yeah, well," Aomine shrugged. "I don't think he's gotten the memo yet."

"He saved your life," Kuroko retorted. "At least show some gratitude."

"Hey, at least I don't complain when they make me take a billion pills every day!"

"Shame on them," Kuroko said drolly, rolling his eyes. He blinked in surprise when Aomine didn't respond immediately.

The blue-haired man was staring at a spot on the wall. His voice was quiet when he spoke. "How was it?"

Kuroko gave his words some thought. "I managed to stop myself from trying to kill him. So I guess it went well."

Aomine's response was a quick flash of a smile. "Too bad, then. He deserves it."

Kuroko thought back to the trial for Kou Shougo. The man he had sat across the courtroom from was a broken man, small and frail. He'd flinched when Kuroko's eyes had found his, and the memory still gave the blue-eyed man a sense of satisfaction.

"Death would be too easy," Kuroko muttered savagely. He looked up to see Aomine watching him, a curious smile on his lips. "What?"

Aomine chuckled with a shake of his head. "I'm glad I'm in your good books."

"I don't know about that," Kuroko mused. Aomine looked surprised. "When I saw you bleeding out, I wanted to kill you."

"Yeah?" Aomine flashed him a crooked smile that made his heart stutter. "Am I supposed to apologize?"

Kuroko nodded sagely. "You owe me a lot of vanilla milkshakes for this."

"Y'know," Aomine said quietly. "I'm going to be owing you a lot of milkshakes if you stick around."

There, he'd said it. Or, well, sort of said it. He was a coward, he knew, for not being able to do what was right. His nightmare still haunted him, but the reality of not having Kuroko in his life was beyond consideration. He'd finally come to terms with that. And maybe, if Kuroko took the high road out, he'd come to terms with that too. Someday.

Kuroko bit his lip, searching Aomine's face for something he wasn't sure was there to be found. Aomine prayed, to a God he'd never had a conversation with before.

He had thought about it long and hard. Life, he'd realized, had been something else completely with Kuroko there. He had someone to return to. Someone who made him want to try. And he'd be damned if he wasn't trying his best right now; letting Kuroko choose, because he'd already made his choice.

Please, he thought, directing it at any cosmic power that would be bothered to listen to a non-believer. Please.

Finally, after what felt like an eon, Kuroko's lips curved upwards in the gentle smile that he'd grown to cherish. Maybe he'd found what he'd been looking for.

"That sounds like a promise."