EDIT: okay friends, I hecked up with the crediting the last time. The song 'Pierrot' is actually composed by KEI and the MV which this story is based on is drawn by the talented RAHWIA! I'm really sorry it took me such a long while to realize and find the initiative to actually fix it OTL
Thank you so much to Silverleaf Ishtar for reminding and pushing me into finally getting this edited!
Also, since the online doc to this story has expired long ago, I'm reuploading the original msword file to fix the crediting. as such, there might be some mistakes here and there because i tended to fix stuff in the online doc itself and not the original one OTL feel free to point out my mistakes if you spot any, guys! :D
He sat at the side of the busy street, curled up into a ball.
The sun was not showing him any mercy. His exposed skin hurt. The little shade from the shadow of the building behind him was not enough. It was hot. He was hungry. He was weak.
And he was alone.
Kise Ryouta had been abandoned in the streets by his parents for three years now. He'd never understood why. He'd been too young, too innocent to understand the cruelness of the world. He never knew that his birth was something unwelcomed by both his parents. He never knew he wasn't supposed to exist. He never knew why his parents always looked at him with eyes hardened with hate and loathing.
But Kise did know that his mother and father disliked him. He was a smart child, despite being deprived of the education he deserved. He knew he was the reason why Mum was always grumpy, and why Dad always hit him as soon as he got home from work.
So he made it a habit to apologize. He apologized for every little thing; bumping his mother's arm, accidently shifting the initial placing of his father's newspaper, accidentally wetting the floor a little while washing the dishes, dirtying the bathroom with his dusty footsteps. Kise had always been careful not to annoy his parents. He never complained once, but his father's beatings left painful bruises on his body. His mother's scolding made his ears ring for hours. His heart ached from being treated like some kind of outcast.
All he wanted was the love he would never get.
Then just a random day three years ago, he found himself surrounded by people, people, and more people in the town square, his parents nowhere in sight. The panic he felt then was indescribable. Kise couldn't breathe as he frantically turned in countless circles in search for a familiar face in the mass of humans before him. He was only ten then, so people towered over him like the monsters he'd read so much about from the little picture books his parents had grudgingly bought for him.
His memories of that day was mostly a blur. He remembered screaming, screaming for a Mum and Dad that won't come. He remembered running, running towards through roads that led from nowhere to nowhere. And he remembered how he'd finally given up after what seemed to be hours of pointless searching, and how he'd ended up blacking out from exhaustion in a dark lane between two brick buildings.
Most people will think that the chances of a ten-year old boy surviving in the streets alone would be low, but Kise wasn't exactly a normal boy. He spent no time crying over his fate, instead choosing to get on his feet and try to work things out. But no matter how positive he was, he was tempted to give up after his first few days. Nothing worked out. No one took any notice of the thinly boy at the corner of the streets, offering to polish their shoes for a few pennies. No one noticed how fragile he looked, how desperate he was to keep on living.
Kise wouldn't have survived the year if the old kindly baker from across the street hadn't decided to take him in and offer him a job of helping out in the bakery. The man had held out his hand to the insignificant half-dead blonde boy in the streets, and spoke in a voice full of gentleness.
"You must be tired and hungry, my dear boy," he'd said. "Come. Let's get you some good food and a warm bed."
Kise had stared up at the baker, tears unconsciously spilling from his amber eyes right after the man had finished speaking. Oh, how he'd longed to be spoken to with such tenderness and care. For the first time since he was abandoned, he let himself feel self-pity. He'd wailed and wailed, hating everything that'd happened to him. He wasn't able to stop crying, but the constant squeeze in his heart gradually faded away, carried away by the many tears he'd shed.
The next eighteen months were the best days of his life. Kise easily warmed up to the customers, and many found him adorable in that cute, innocent blonde kind of way, and promised to come again for his sake. Kise found himself no longer having the need to apologize over small things. He smiled a lot instead, through busy days, boring days. It felt better. It felt better than having to keep a neutral face like he always did in front of his parents. They hated his smile.
But Kise's happiness did not last. The kind man that had taken him in and treated him as his own son, died from a sudden heart attack one night. He had no children, and none of his relatives were keen on inheriting such a small business that had an uneven income. Kise once again found himself in the streets; homeless, alone. Broken on the inside. He knew he was far too young to keep the shop going on by himself, so he didn't even care when he was left out of the bicker on who would be the legal inheritor of the old man's possessions, though he knew he was included in the will.
But once again, Kise did not give in to fate. He was unprepared the last time, but he had money now. He'd saved up the little earnings he had in case something like this would ever happen (not that he wanted it to happen). He'd carefully counted his savings, wandered into a toy shop in the next street, and bought a colorful box of items.
The one thing that gave Kise the most happiness, are the smiles of the people around him. Kise was willing to do anything, just anything, to make everyone happy.
So he became a street performer; a little pierrot that would do all kinds of tricks to entertain for a small fee. Every day, three times a day, Kise would pick his venue, set up the little things he owned, put on the plastic mask that came with the kit he bought from the toy shop, and start his act. It was measly, but it was his way to keep on living. The money he earned would be used to feed himself, to replace the clothes he wore to rags, and occasionally, to buy new things that could improve his act.
And it went on for another year and a half.
Kise raised his head slightly from his knees, and heaved a small sigh. It was one of his bad days. His performance in the morning did not attract much people, and he had little money left - not enough to even buy himself a packet of biscuits. His hands moved to clutch his stomach. He was so hungry! At this rate, he might not have the energy for his next show. That wouldn't do. He needed money to get himself some food or it'll all end up in a chain that would go on and on and-
Without a warning, someone bumped hard into him and he fell sideways onto the ground. The heated ground burnt his skin, and Kise immediately jerked himself upright, cradling his affected arm. He was too surprised to let his temper fly, so he could only look curiously at the person who'd ran into him.
The boy at his side was no older than him - perhaps even younger, though it was hard to tell. He had pale blue hair, and a very thin frame. Kise wondered if he was homeless too, but the clothes the boy was wearing soon proved him otherwise. Unlike Kise, he wasn't wearing rags.
"I'm sorry." The boy straightened, rubbing the base of his spine. He was toneless as he spoke. When he looked up, Kise realized that his eyes were also a pale blue. A beautiful pale blue.
Like the sky, Kise couldn't help thinking.
"Are you okay?" the boy asked him. It took a few seconds for Kise to register the question.
Not that he answered it, anyway.
"You're so cuteeee~!" he swooned, lifting his hands to pinch the stranger's pale, soft cheeks affectionately. He didn't mean to do that, really. But he couldn't help himself. This boy was just so adorable! His eyes were so big! His skin was so smooth!
"E-Eh?" Blue eyes widened a fraction in surprise. "Um.."
"Ah, sorry, sorry!" Belatedly, Kise realized he was probably freaking him out. He let go, and scratched the back of his neck sheepishly, laughing awkwardly as he did so. "I'm fine." He noticed the other wincing. "You? Are you hurt somewhere?"
The boy shook his head. "I'll be alright."
Kise was about to voice out a torrent of other concerns when a voice called; "Kuroko!"
A bespectacled young man was making his way towards them, weaving his way through the crowd of people. He had short black hair, and was tall. The blue-haired boy stood up and regarded the man.
"Ringmaster," he greeted.
Ringmaster? Kise thought. He looked at the man. He certainly didn't look any different from everyone else. He didn't dress strangely either; only wearing a white shirt with a pair of brown trousers. Kise couldn't remember what kind of people had that title. He swore he read the word somewhere before.
"Don't run off like that again, sheesh," the man knelt down before the boy, his eyebrows drawn worriedly. "Aomine and Kagami were freaking out, you know."
The man heaved a weary sigh. "It's fine," he said. "Just don't do it again, alright?" His eyes flickered towards the blonde, and he blinked. He seemed surprised to see Kise there, as if he'd just noticed his presence.
"Um.. hi." Kise wriggled his fingers in an awkward wave.
"Hello," the man greeted back. His intense stare made Kise feel slightly self-conscious at the difference in their appearance. Did he look dirty and suspicious? Did he look like he was going to mug them or something?
"You.. don't happen to be Kise Ryouta, do you?"
"Eh?" Kise blinked, taken aback by the sudden mention of his own name in a question directed to him.
"That's you, right?" the man asked, an eyebrow raised. "You fit the description I received from the locals. You're that homeless blonde kid that goes around doing clown tricks to earn a living."
His description was a little biting, but Kise supposed it fitted him well. He didn't feel offended, so he let that pass. He adjusted his position, and got on his legs. He was startled to find out that he was almost half a head taller than the blue-haired boy that bumped into him - Kuroko, was it? - earlier. He wasn't sure if he was tall, or the latter was just short.
"I'm him," he said. "Is there anything you want with me?"
But the man wasn't listening anymore after the first two words. He let out a huge sigh of relief that drowned out the rest of Kise's sentence. Kise couldn't help noticing the fact that he sighed a lot.
"And I thought it'll take me forever to look for him in this big place," the man breathed. Kise kept on looking at him uncomprehendingly.
"We heard that there was this talented street performer boy around here," the young man said. "We're currently short on people, so I thought I'd give it a try." He shrugged, then held out his hand towards the blonde. "I'm Hyuuga Junpei, by the way."
Kise shook his hand, still feeling hopelessly clueless. "Wait. What do you mean 'give it a try'? And what does it have to do with me?"
Hyuuga looked at him skeptically, like he couldn't believe he was still asking this. "Still can't figure it out even with all the hints?"
"Well." Kise thought back. That Kuroko boy called Hyuuga 'ringmaster' earlier. They were talking about performers and him being a boy who was being a clown to earn a living. Kise joined the dots; ringmaster, performance, clown. He blinked, realization finally settling in. He resisted the urge to slap his forehead. How could he not have known?
It must've showed pretty obviously on his face, because Hyuuga broke into a wry smile. "I see that you've figured it out at last," he said. "So, Kise-kun. What do you think about joining our circus?"
Kise rubbed his sore butt as he glared at the big bright red ball before him.
He was running out of time. Their next show was due in four days, and the ball still refused to let him balance himself and stand upright on it. Kise had been trying again and again and again for the last two weeks, and he figured his butt was already out of shape from all that falling. If only someone would show me how it's done, he'd thought more than once in frustration. The thing is, Kise discovered some time ago that he was insanely good at copying actions he'd seen. He could stand on his hands the moment he saw someone else doing it. He learnt how to juggle right after he saw a video tutorial of it.
Kise had never hated a ball so much in his life. He knew he was doing it wrong somewhere - he just wasn't sure what. Was it the way he stood on it? The position of his centre of gravity?
Kise breathed in. There was only one way to find out, and that was to injure himself until he got it right. Habitually, he pressed his fingers gently on the surface of the ball, making sure it was firm and inflated enough. Next came another difficult part: to climb up. The ball reached all the way up to his chest, and it wasn't exactly easy to lift his legs too high without cramping his inner thighs. Kise exhaled slowly, lifting one foot and digging his toes into the surface of the ball. Then in one swift movement, he hoisted himself up on top.
"Still not done yet?"
Kise had almost - almost gotten it right at last, but the voice startled him out of his concentration, and he ended up falling on his face this time. He lifted himself up from the ground, and fighting the urge to burst into tears, he turned to the direction of the voice.
To his left stood a trio of the strangest people he'd ever met. Aomine Daiki and Kagami Taiga were the circus's most skilled tamers, and they were the same age as Kise. Aomine had dark blue hair, tanned skin, and was tall for his age; towering over Kise by half a head (Kise considered himself tall enough). Kagami was just an inch shorter, with slightly fairer skin and dark red hair. Both were extremely talented when handling the circus animals, and always vied to be the better than each other. They often argued over stupid little things, which Kise found mostly amusing rather than annoying. Hey, if you're dumped in the streets for years with no one to befriend you, you tend to appreciate all these little things.
And there was him, standing between the two boys with his constantly deadpanned face. Kuroko Tetsuya was the boy who'd bumped into him in the streets a year ago, starting an encounter that changed Kise's life for good. He was the circus's main magician, and could do thousands of amazing tricks (especially those that involved him disappearing). Kise adored him and would always try to glomp him at the first chance he got, but Kuroko would always just brush him off with his emotionless demeanor. The shorter boy was often cold towards him, but Kise knew; he was actually a really really nice person deep down. Kuroko was always putting other's need before his own. He was selfless, kind and gentle; despite his strange nature.
Kise liked him a lot. Probably more than he thought he should.
"Kurokochiiiii!" All his pain and disappointment vanished as he launched himself on the smaller boy, spreading his arms wide to give him a hug. Kuroko and the others casually stepped aside, and Kise nearly ended up kissing the ground again.
"So mean!" he protested, playful tears forming in his eyes when he whirled around to face them.
"It's your fault for always neglecting his personal space, Kise," Kagami said, putting an arm across Kuroko's shoulders. There was one more thing. Kise wasn't the only one who treasured Kuroko more than his life. Kagami and Aomine were two of the few people who were fiercely protective towards the smaller, paler boy. Kise understood how they felt, but he couldn't help being a little jealous. He wanted to be closer with Kuroko too; but with those two always by the latter's side, it wasn't exactly an easy feat.
But Kise did not sulk, rant, or complain about it. Not once during those twelve months he'd spent as a member of the circus. He only kept quiet - constantly telling himself that Kuroko belonged to everyone and that he had no right to monopolize him - and put up an act that was him, yet wasn't really him. He'd just laugh sarcastic remarks off, and pretend that his feelings weren't hurt at all. Pretend that his companions' words and actions did not hurt him.
It's okay, he'd always think. As long as everyone else is happy.
Kuroko had been staring at him unnoticed for a while now. The smaller remained silent as he studied him, his gaze focusing on the various bruises that had accumulated on Kise's body from all those falls. Kise didn't really spend the time to stare at himself before a mirror, but he knew he was practically covered with black and blue spots from head to toe. It didn't matter to him. His costume would cover everything, anyway.
"Kise-kun," Kuroko said, just when the blonde was about to retort that he couldn't help swooning over him (again). "Are you okay?"
Kise's sentence got cut off midway. He stared at his pale companion, his eyebrows raised. "Hn?"
"Are you okay?" Kuroko repeated. He reached out, and brushed his fingers gently against a bruise on Kise's arm. "Does it.. hurt?"
It took all of Kise's willpower not to wince from the touch. He didn't realize just how he was aching all over until Kuroko mentioned it. But he can't let them know. He can't worry them. So he breathed, and easily putting on a smile, he said cheerily; "Hurt? Of course it doesn't! These are nothing."
Unfortunately, the hitch in his breath that he'd failed to hide in time gave his pain away. Even Aomine and Kagami, who were usually ignorant towards things like these, could see that he was not telling the truth.
"Liar," Kuroko said, his blue eyes staring right into Kise's amber ones. This was one thing he hated about him. He'd always just force on that stupid smile of his and lie even though it was obvious how much pain he was in. Kuroko hated how Kise had never realized that besides hurting himself, he was hurting those around him too. Kuroko was already starting to feel that familiar sore ache somewhere near his heart just by looking at the blonde's bruises.
"I-I'm not lying!" Kise said, quite unconvincingly. "I'm really fine."
"You don't have to do it if you really can't, you know," Kagami said, a tinge concern in his voice. "It's better than permanently injuring yourself and end up not being able to perform for the rest of your life."
"I'm okay!" Kise insisted. "I'll rest and let the bruises heal when after I finally get it right." His eyes flickered towards the red ball, gazing at it absentmindedly. His hands slowly clenched into fists. "I..I just have to do it, you know. The whole act depends on it. I can't disappoint the Ringmaster."
"I'll help you then," Aomine said out of the blue, a finger in his ear. When Kise stared at him like he'd grown another head, he added indignantly; "What? I'm done with my parts. Any more practice and I swear I'll puke."
"You just need to be able to stand on the ball, right?" Kagami asked, scratching his cheek. "Then I guess I'll help out too."
Kise looked at the two of them, his gaze shifting back and forth from Aomine to Kagami. These two were offering to help him? Did he really look that bad? Kise considered it silently. Every movement sent waves of dull ache through his whole body. He was tired, and he was running out of time. Help didn't sound like a bad idea at all.
But should he really bother them? He was sure his friends had went through hours of practice too. Should he really make them sacrifice their rest to help him?
He eventually decided that he shouldn't bother his friends after all. It'll be tormenting, but if he worked hard enough, Kise figured he could get it right in a few more tries. He was so close the last time, anyway. There's no need for assistance.
"I don't think-"
"Oi, Tetsu. Hold the ball in place, will ya?"
Kise didn't even have the time to process it all when he felt a pair of strong hands grabbing hold of his waist. Aomine lifted him off the ground, making it seem as if he weighted nothing, and with a soft grunt, placed him on top of the ball which Kuroko had rolled over.
"A-Aominecchi?" Kise stammered, still surprised and unable to comprehend. What's going on? What are they doing? He looked down. Kuroko was holding the ball still for him, and Kagami was standing close, probably so that he could catch him if he fell. He was probably unconsciously wiggling around more than he should, but Aomine kept a firm hold on his waist to keep him steady.
"Stop moving, sheesh!" Aomine chided, dodging Kise's hand that flew his way in a fit of agitation. He waited for the blonde to calm down a bit before he spoke again. "You ready?"
"No," Kise admitted.
"We'll be here to catch you," Kagami assured. "So go ahead and fall all you want."
"I still don't think I should make you guys-"
"I'm letting go, okay?" Aomine said flatly, cutting off Kise's protest. Before the blonde could react (again), he released his grip, and stepped back. At the same time, Kuroko stopped holding the ball.
Kise promptly panicked and fell forward. He shut his eyes tight, waiting for the impact to come and the familiar jolts of pain to course through his body. But all that didn't happen. He hit something just slightly softer than the ground, and there was no pain at all.
"Damn you're heavy," Kagami huffed as he helped Kise straighten up on the ground.
"Gravity is an amazing thing, Kagami-kun," Kuroko pointed out helpfully.
"I told you guys this isn't a good idea," Kise pouted.
"It's your fault for not focusing," Aomine deadpanned, crossing his arms.
"That's not the point, Aominecchi." Kise sighed wearily, raking his hand through his tangled hair. "Look. The way we're doing it is wrong. I don't think it's a matter of just being able to stand in the centre of the ball. It's not that simple."
His companions stared at him blankly, clearly not really getting it. Kise heaved another sigh.
"What I'm saying is," he started. "I don't need help getting up. Since you're all insisting, just catch me when I fall."
Before the trio had anything to say, Kise turned towards the ball, and repeating the procedure that he'd carried out hundreds of times, hoisted himself up.
Concentrate, he told himself. There's something I've never noticed all this while that's making me fail again and again. What is it?
As soon as Kise got to the top, the ball rolled, bringing his legs opposite the direction his body - kind of like what happens to a cartoon character when he or she slips on a banana peel and falls. It all happened too fast for him to even think of a way to react. That's it, he thought as he fell into Aomine's arms. That's what he'd been doing wrong.
"I got it!" Kise exclaimed in excitement, clambering out of the tanned boy's grasp. "I know what I was doing wrong!"
He didn't even bother to look at his companions' reactions. They were all probably pokerfacing, anyway. Kise approached the ball again, visualizing what he should do in order to get it right.
It's the way I was standing, he thought as he prepared to climb up once more. I don't think I'm suppose to stand still…
Kise took in a deep breath, and gathering his guts, got to the top. Immediately, the ball started to move again. Kise shut his eyes, forcing himself not to panic. He moved his legs, slowly, right then left. Right then left. Like he was walking backward and forward. He had to be successful this time. He just had to.
The impact didn't come. Kise dared himself to open his eyes.
"Ah." Kuroko actually sounded a little impressed. "Kise-kun did it."
Kise looked down, and an excited laugh escaped his lips. Kuroko was right: he did it! He wasn't falling!
"Look at me, Kurokocchi! I-" He lost his balance before he could finish what he wanted to say. He'd taken one step forward more than he should. But even as he hit the ground, Kise's spirits wasn't crushed. It didn't matter if he fell again. The fact that Aomine and Kagami didn't catch him didn't bother him.
He'd did it at last, and that's all that mattered.
There were sneers and jeers all around him, most of it coming from the group of boys to his left. Kise struggled to get up from where he'd fallen from his unicycle from the impact of the stone flying his way. His head hurt like anything, and he couldn't see straight. He lifted his hand, and tentatively felt the spot on his forehead where the stone had hit him. He winced. His fingers came up wet and sticky. He was bleeding.
Kise had been assigned to do a special outdoor performance at the town square of a small, secluded area that day. Truthfully, it brought back memories of his younger days - minus the blood and the potential hole on his head. Kise personally preferred being outside rather than being cooped up in a stuffy tent, as spacious as theirs was. He felt freer like that, though he was aware of the violent tendencies of some people who held some kind of unfair grudge against clowns. He made a mental note to think up of a better reason for his wound when he gets back. Hyuuga would release the tigers at them if he knew the truth. Nobody was allowed to hurt a member of his circus. Kise wasn't going to risk putting the lives of those ignorant fools in danger, as much as he wanted to.
Eh? Is someone crying? Kise turned his head a fraction of a centimeter, glancing out the corner of his eye. It was difficult. He silently cursed his mask. It can be such a freaking bother sometimes!
The soft sniffles he'd heard came from a little boy somewhere to his back. The boy's mother was whispering to him, trying to get him to stop before he could cause a ruckus. Well crap, Kise thought. Someone really is crying. That can't do. His job was to make someone laugh, not otherwise! He had to do something.
Kise took in a deep breath, willing his head to stop spinning. His legs were wobbly, but he figured he would survive. The show must go on, as they say in movies. He stood up, and after making sure he wouldn't fall in the next step he takes, started jumping lightly from foot to foot - just to get his rhythm. He then approached the kid in a silly dizzy clown sort of way (it wasn't hard to do), and bent down so he was eye to eye with him.
The little boy stopped crying as soon as he saw Kise coming his way. He clutched the sleeve of his mother's shirt tighter, looking at the little pierrot with those big, teary eyes. He didn't look scared; just.. sad? Kise knew nothing could be seen through his mask, but he felt a smile tugging his lips. Sometimes he wished he could talk when he was working. It'd made everything so much easier. He would be able to thank the boy for his concern, and tell him that he's okay. He could tell him to please stop crying for him. But he couldn't, so he had to make do with sign language instead.
Kise pointed to himself, shook his head slightly, and made a thumbs up sign. He then spread his gloved hands on either side of his face as if to tell the boy "Watch me!" and reached up to tap the edge of his mask right where the wound is. As soon as he touched it, several red roses bloomed on the spot, completely covering the visible blood. It was a simple trick Kuroko had taught him in case situations like this happened. Kise made another mental note to properly thank the pale boy later.
The kid stared at him in amazement. Kise tilted his head, as if to ask "So how was it?" and waited. He watched as the tearful expression of the boy morphed into a look of awe, then something a lot happier. Kise once again found himself beaming under his mask as he reached out and ruffled the boy's hair. When he pulled back, he gestured a dipping arc with his two index fingers, tracing the design of the lower part of his mask.
And then without staying so see if the boy understood or not, he spun off, and continued the rest of his act.
Kuroko did not believe Kise's story one bit.
Even without all the scientific explanations, Kuroko was certain that the wound on the blonde's head was definitely not a result of falling down. He knew Kise wasn't stupid enough to actually fall on his face and hurt himself like that, even if it was part of his act. Kise knew how to trip and fall properly without injuring himself. Something must have happened during his outdoor act.
Kise was lying on his bunk, the injury on his head patched up and a damp cloth over his eyes. Kuroko remembered how he'd returned to their temporary camp, barely able to keep himself upright and walk. He remembered the panic he'd felt when Kise took off his mask to reveal a completely bloodied side of his face. He remembered the blazing anger he'd felt towards whoever who did it to the blonde, the bitter resentment towards the people who'd only continued standing there to watch as a droplets of Kise's blood splattered on the ground with every trick he did.
It wasn't fair, Kuroko couldn't help feeling. It was never fair for Kise. Kise was just so innocent, so eager to please everyone around him. He'd do anything for the sake of bringing joy to others. His intentions were always so pure. He was, needless to say, always just a little bundle of sunshine. Yet, he was always the one being hurt. Kuroko knew. Kuroko knew of Kise's difficult childhood, his unloving parents. He knew from the flashes of hurt in the blonde's amber eyes that sometimes the things they said offended him. He knew that sometimes even he himself broke Kise's heart by frequently ignoring his words and gestures of endearment.
"Nee, Kurokocchi." Kise's weak voice snapped the smaller boy out of his thoughts. "Can you.. get me some water?"
He looks so pale, Kuroko thought to himself as he poured some lukewarm water into a yellow plastic mug. Midorima, the circus's medic, had said that the wound wasn't really deep, but Kise had moved around a lot and let it bleed for some time, so he'd lost quite an amount of blood. "He'll probably feel really lightheaded because of that, so he'll need several full days of rest," Midorima had said after Kuroko and the rest had looked at him blankly after a very complicated, very long, and very unnecessary explanation.
"Thanks so much," Kise said as Kuroko returned to his side with his request, removing the cloth over his eyes. Kuroko gently guided him slightly upright to avoid choking him, but even that small movement was enough to make Kise's head spin. Kise took in a deep breath and shut his eyes tight, willing it to stop. He resisted the urge to throw up.
"Kise-kun?" Kuroko paused at once, his voice laced with concern.
"I'm… fine," Kise managed, smiling as he reached for the mug in Kuroko's hands. Kuroko didn't let go; he knew the blonde had barely enough strength to lift a finger. He helped hold the mug steady as Kise brought it to his lips and took a careful sip. The water felt good on his dry, chapped lips, and he was suddenly overwhelmed with thirst. When was the last time he drank? It took all of Kise's willpower to not down the thing in several big gulps. He knew that would be bad for him, especially when he's in his current condition. Small sips, he kept on telling himself as he slowly tilted the mug higher and higher. Small sips.
The pillow was like a god-sent item afterwards. The way his head stopped spinning as soon as he plopped himself down was like a miracle. Kise failed to stop the sigh of relief from escaping his lips when Kuroko placed a fresh damp cloth over his eyes. He wasn't sure if there was any medical reasons for it, but the cloth really made a lot of difference.
Also, the fact that Kuroko was there nursing and spoiling him was enough to make any pain go away. If it wasn't for the throb in his head every once in a while, Kise was sure he was in heaven.
"Does it still hurt a lot, Kise-kun?" Kuroko asked once he'd put the mug away, breaking the silence that had gradually formed. His voice was soft, as if he was afraid Kise would break if it was any louder.
"Hmm?" It took Kise several seconds to register the question. He peered at his companion through the small space below his eyes that was not covered by the cloth. Kuroko had settled down at his bedside, staring at him with those big, mesmerizing blue eyes that he still found beautiful until this day.
"It's not so bad now," Kise answered, breaking into a smile that was a little more energetic that the previous ones. He'd been asked the same question so many times that smiling had became a natural response. It's okay. As long as he could still put on a happy face, everyone will know he's okay. "It still aches from time to time, but I'll be fine."
"I'm not talking about your wounds," Kuroko said quietly.
"What do you mean?"
Kuroko stretched out, and placed his hand on Kise's chest. He could feel the blonde's heartbeat accelerating from his touch. "Here. Does hurt a lot here?"
Kise blinked in confusion. Does his chest hurt? He thought about it. No, Kuroko's words usually had a deeper meaning behind them. He probably wasn't asking about his chest or heart.
He was asking about his feelings. Yeah. That was it. Was he sad? Was he angry? Was he just tired of it all? Tired of every darned thing that had happened to him? Kise had always worked hard to suppress those feelings with a grin or smile, just like how he hides his face behind a mask. He'd refused to let those feelings surface because he knew they would break him apart. In fact, he'd actually gotten so good that he'd almost forgotten how they felt like.
Kise was certain he wasn't sad. He wasn't angry. He wasn't tired of anything at all. Yet, why did it feel like a knot was forming right under where Kuroko's hand was? Breathing suddenly seemed so difficult and painful. His throat felt oddly dry even though he'd just drank five minutes ago.
"It doesn't hurt at all, Kurokocchi." Kise said with as much cheeriness as he could muster as Kuroko retracted his hand. "As long as you're here, I'm the finest feeling person in the world!"
He silently congratulated himself for doing a good job. His voice didn't sound different. His smile didn't feel too forced. Half his face was covered with a cloth. Nothing about his sudden urge to sob was hinted.
"Hey, Kurokocchi?" Kise continued when his companion did not respond. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He had to stop the tears from flowing out. "I'm a little tired, so I'll sleep a bit okay?"
He did not say anything more after that.
Kuroko stayed by Kise's side, watching the steady rise and fall of his chest. There were so many things he wanted to say to the blonde; namely a straightforward statement on exactly how stupid he was denying his own feelings. Sometimes, Kuroko wished he was like Kagami or Aomine. They'd never have trouble doing it. Really, if he wasn't such a quiet person in the first place, he would've long yelled at Kise for being an idiot.
But Kuroko was glad. He was glad the conversation did not continue this time.
He wasn't sure if he could hide the fact that he was crying any longer if it did.
He shouldn't have let him do it.
Kuroko blamed himself again and again and again. He shouldn't have stayed quiet when Kise voiced his decision to carry out that risky act. He should've told him it was too dangerous. He should've told him to stop as soon as he saw how high above ground he would be when balancing on a flimsy piece of string while riding a unicycle. He should've ran out to him and took his hand and held him back when it was time for him to begin his act.
He should've done so many things.
But it was too late now.
Any normal person falling from approximately three stories above the ground would've died. But Kise wasn't dead. No, not yet. He was still struggling, holding on. Breathing. Just barely.
Everything had started out perfectly. Kise had no trouble balancing himself on the string. He was doing a good job bringing out the Ohhs and Ahhs from the audience. Everything was going fine.
Until the string snapped.
It could've been their careless maintenance. It could've been sabotage. Kuroko didn't know. He didn't care. All that mattered at that moment was the blonde he was holding in his arms, rapidly bleeding to death. The equipment that they'd set up had broken his fall, but that didn't make things much better. Kise didn't break his neck - thank goodness - but the stream of blood gushing out from the back of his head hadn't been exactly assuring either.
Kuroko sighed and opened his eyes, absently gazing out the window. Kise had been immediately sent to the local hospital as soon as the incident took place. Kuroko was told that his blonde friend had been extremely lucky. Despite falling from such a height, Kise suffered no serious physical damage other than several broken bones. His brain wasn't affected at all, despite the amount of blood he'd lost. He would not be disabled in any way.
Kuroko had to admit: he was relieved beyond words. The fear of losing Kise at that point in time had almost made him hysterical. He could not even describe how it had felt like; to see a friend on the verge of dying right in front of you.
Kuroko's gaze flickered downwards, his eyes widening as he felt a finger brush against his cheek. Kise had been unconscious for several days, and the doctors had even admitted that there was a chance he would not wake up again. But he's awake, Kuroko thought to himself, almost as self assurance. He's finally awake.
Still, the sight of Kise covered in bandages made his heart sink. A white strip of bandage wound tightly around the top of his head, and his broken arm and leg were held up by slings. His face was paler than it ever was, and the usual sparkle in his eyes seemed to have dimmed. Yet, as Kuroko stared down at him, he was smiling as if he didn't even know how close to leaving their world he'd been .
"Kise-kun." Kuroko breathed, trying to fight back that stupid growing ache in his chest. "You woke up."
Kise's grin widened. "Mornin'."
Kuroko stood up, feeling as if he was in some sort of a trance. Somewhere at the back of his mind, a man's voice echoed. "Hang on. I should go get the doctor."
"Kurokocchi." Kise grabbed his arm with his good hand. The motion was too sudden on his broken limbs, and he winced, taking in a sharp breath. "Don't.. go yet. There's nothing wrong with me right now, anyway. I'm okay."
Kuroko looked at him, a flash of pain across his usually emotionless expression. Slowly, his hand crept up to hold the blonde's wrist. "You're not, Kise-kun," he said, tightening his hold slightly. "You're not okay."
"What are you saying, Kurokocchi?" Kise asked innocently. "Of course I-"
"Kise-kun," Kuroko interrupted, his voice a barest whisper. His gaze locked with the blonde's. He took in a deep, shaky breath. The lump in his throat threatened to choke him. "It's alright to say it hurts."
Kise trailed off, and looked at him uncomprehendingly. "..Huh?"
"You don't need to worry if you can't always put on a good smile, you know," Kuroko continued softly as he sat down again. His voice quavered, and his eyes looked unusually bright. "Just stop lying to us already."
"But I wasn't lying," Kise protested weakly.
"You're doing it right now."
"It's fine, Kise-kun. You don't have to bear it alone." If Kuroko's voice could get any softer, it just did. Gently, he pried Kise's fingers off his arm, and took his hand in his. Kise realized with a start that the smaller boy's hands were shaking ever so slightly. "I'm here. I'll cry.. with you."
Amber eyes widen as Kise watched the clear stream of tears began to overflow from those blue, blue orbs. Kise felt as if that constant clamping feeling around his heart had just abruptly got ten times tighter. Oh, dear. Kise realized his own eyes was starting to sting uncomfortably.
Kise lightly pulled his hand away from Kuroko's grasp, reaching up to brush away his friend's tears with his forefinger. "Don't put on such a face, Kurokocchi," he said. He averted his gaze and hesitated for a slight moment before adding; "Nee, is it.. is it really okay for me to cry now?"
Kuroko sniffled, and slowly, he nodded.
"Just this once, okay?" Kise said, and tried to laugh; but it came out as a really loud sob instead. He bit his lip, trying hard to control himself as the first clear droplets escaped from his eyes. "I'm.. sorry, Kurokocchi..."
It did not work. The dam that had held his many years worth of tears broke that instant, a wave of long suppressed emotions crashing forth. The pain from all those years of misery, all those times of trying his hardest to stay strong were all let out in his loud wails. Sobs wracked his body, cutting of his oxygen supply. Kise did not remember crying so much in his life, not even all those years ago when he first met the baker that had taken him in.
They stayed like that for a few minutes; two boys crying, one for himself, one for the other. Both not even bothering to tell the other to stop. Finally at one point when the tears had almost ran out and they'd calmed down a little, their eyes met, and Kise - with his face still blotchy with tears - managed a chuckle.
"Kurokocchi looks so cute when he's crying," he commented, wiping his eyes with his good hand. He was surprised. His chest felt lighter, as if the invisible weight that had been there all along had disappeared. His breathing no longer felt constricted. The dull ache in his heart was still there, but somehow, it wasn't as stinging anymore.
"Your crying face looks gross, Kise-kun," Kuroko said, drying his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt. His sniffle betraying his stoic tone. His lips twitched into a tiny smile.
"Pfft. I guess it does, huh?" Kise could imagine it; his normally handsome face all scrunched up with the sides of his mouth turned down to an upside-down U, combined with his not very dignified sobbing. He probably looked ridiculous, and that image of himself seemed so hilarious that despite everything, Kise started laughing; a hearty, contagious guffaw. He couldn't help it. Also, it dawned him all of the sudden; how silly he'd been all this time, always hiding his true feelings in fear of burdening the people around him. He realized belatedly that maybe he really should have trusted his friends more. It could've hurt a lot less, both for him and for them.
"Thank you so much, Kurokocchi," Kise wiped the tears that had started pouring out from his eyes again - this time from laughing too much - and grinned. "I love you!"
"Kise, stop crying or I'll punch you."
"B-But it's just so sad! I mean, how can you not-"
As Kise launched himself into a potentially long sermon about how heartbreaking the movie they were watching was, Aomine heaved a long, weary sigh. The vein throbbing at his left temple betrayed his calm tone. He decided to give the blonde exactly three minutes. If he doesn't stop by then, he'll really, really punch him. His fingers were already itching to do it.
"You used to hold everything back like a man last time," Kagami pointed out, looking almost as tired of Kise's tears as Aomine. He pinched the bridge of his nose, warding off the headache that was threatening to make an appearance. "So what the hell happened?"
Kise broke into a watery grin. "Kurokocchi told me not to hold anything back and cry whenever I feel like it."
Kuroko did not even look when the accusing glares were sent his way. "I don't remember saying anything of that sort, Kise-kun," he said calmly, letting the book balanced on his lap fall shut. He glanced at the said boy through the corner of his eye. "Are you sure you didn't imagine that when you hit your head?"
"Aww you don't need to be shy!" Kise said, throwing himself on the smaller boy. To his mild surprise, Kuroko did not dodge away like he usually did. "Kurokocchi was there cr-"
"Kise-kun." Kuroko's tone was warning, and steely cold. Kise could practically see the dark aura he was emitting. "Shut up."
Kise obediently shut his mouth. But not for long.
"So cuteee!" Kise squealed as soon as he got over the shock of seeing Kuroko's killer intent, playfully enveloping the smaller boy in a bone-crushing hug. "Kurokocchi's embarassed!"
"Oi, Kise!" Aomine growled, reaching over to yank the blonde off Kuroko. "You're choking him!"
"Ehh, Aominecchi's just jealous that Kurokocchi's letting me hug him!"
"Jealous, my ass! I'm just worried that you'll kill him." Without releasing his grip on Kise, Aomine turned to Kagami. "Help me out here, Bakagami!"
"B-Bakagami?" Kagami sputtered indignantly. "Who the hell are you calling 'Bakagami', Ahomine!"
"I don't care!" Aomine snapped. "Tetsu's dying here!"
"I'm not as fragile as you think, Aomine-kun." Kuroko did not even bother to try shaking the blonde off him.
Kise laughed, even though he was the one who was in danger of being strangled to death by the tanned bluenette. He'd never experience such pure fun in a long time. He was glad. He was glad his friends had never once minded the fact that he was indirectly lying to them all this while. He was glad he was blessed to meet such amiable people - though he had to admit that there had been times when he wanted to ask 'Why me?' when Aomine's teasing goes too far, but that's not the point.
"Anyway." Aomine abruptly stopped pulling Kise's shirt. He leaned forward, his eyebrows raised. "Now that I think of it, did you just say Tetsu was embarrassed about something?"
"Eh?" It took exactly three seconds for Kise to register the question. "Yeah. What about it?"
Overhearing everything, Kagami whistled. "For him of all people to be embarrassed, something hardcore must've happened."
Aomine released his grip on Kise shirt and patted his back, suddenly being all friendly. "Say Kise. I don't suppose you can tell me what happened?"
"Hmm." Kise closed his eyes and knitted his brows. "I don't think I can. Kurokocchi will kill me."
"I'll treat you ice-cream later," Aomine offered.
"Nope." Kise glanced over his shoulder and winked teasingly. "It's a secret~"
Because some moments are just more precious if they're not shared, right?