Habits are a very interesting thing.
The first time you do something, it takes all your effort, focus and a considerable amount of time to get it right. You feel as though it will be an eternity before you can actually pull it off right without needing to spend an ungodly amount of time trying and concentrating and just how hard can something so minor feel, anyway?
After the fourth or fifth time that you do it right, you start feeling like you're finally getting the hang of it. You start thinking that you're doing quite well. So you continue doing it, improving with every subsequent success.
By the time you realize it, you've already become so proficient at it, you can also do a bunch of other things, or you do it with so much ease that you don't even to pay conscious attention to your actions while you do something out of habit.
For a lot of people, driving is a habit. Going to work on the bus is a habit. Doing routine work is habit.
There are many things people do out of habit. Some people take less time to form habits, but the inner workings of their habitual actions are pretty much the same as those of others.
Habits are also interesting in the fact you don't pay attention to doing them when everything goes how it always does. A habit isn't broken as long as nothing out of the ordinary happens while you're doing your habitual actions. You don't pay attention to a habitual quirk until something disrupts it.
You don't pay conscious heed to habits until something happens that prevents your habitual outcome from coming true.
For Satsuki, going to work with Daiki by car was a habit.
Before they had a car, however, going to work on the bus was a habit as well.
Switching from one routine to another took her a bit of time. But by the fifth day, it was as normal as breathing to her. She didn't even need to pay attention to the places they passed while she daydreamed on her way to work.
That's how her mornings on the bus always went. How they'd always gone. Hitch-free, normal, everyday mornings.
Until the morning that broke her habit.
And shook her life from its very foundations.
Daiki was just on his way back from lunch with the guys from the company when his office phone started ringing. He had forgotten his cell on his desk when he was leaving earlier because he had been late.
So while he languidly made his way towards his office with Takao and the rest of them, laughing at that ridiculous joke someone had cracked on their way up the elevator, he didn't spare much thought to the familiar melody of his office phone going off.
He decided to enjoy his lunch break to the fullest, leaving his secretary take the call for him instead, while he finished his conversation with the guys.
Takao bunched up the paper wrap of his sandwich in a neat little ball and shot it towards the nearby trashcan with impressive precision. All the other guys from the office went into a chorus of approval, of course—except for Daiki, who merely shook his head in disbelief and crumpled the paper wrap of his own sandwich while his secretary was picking up the phone in that pleasant, business tone of hers.
The former Touou ace was just telling the rest of them that they knew nothing about the history behind Takao and his acquaintance before they got hired for the same company, giving the group his back right before he threw the little paper ball right over his shoulder and straight into the trashcan, without sparing it as much as a glance.
The renewed (and louder) chorus of approval and wowed reactions was why Daiki was pretty busy daydreaming about high school and college and how easy life used to be when his secretary told him he should take this call from his office.
He thanked her for her effort in a cheery tone, a small smile still playing on his lips. He didn't notice the grimness of the woman's expression, or the graveness of her tone.
Only once he was safely in his office, seated in his chair, and picking up the phone's receiver did he realize that this was not one of his superiors or clients calling about routine work.
"Aomine Daiki?" asked an unfamiliar, emotionally detached voice from the receiver.
"Speaking," Daiki said, traces of his earlier mirth still on his face and in his voice.
"You have been listed as 'first of kin', so we've been trying to get in touch with you, sir."
And just as quickly as it had come, all feelings of amusement and lightness left Daiki completely. His blood ran cold in his veins and he felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach even before the woman on the other end of the line began explaining to him.
"There has been an accident…"
When she finally cracked her eyes open, she honestly felt like her lids weighted a ton each.
Just opening her eyes felt like a huge effort. Especially when her mind felt like it was surrounded by this thick fog, which clouded her very thinking process.
It took her a few shallow intakes and exhales of breath—her only way of measuring time with the heavy disorientation she was currently bogged down with—to realize that there was an impressive flurry of activity around her.
When she tried to move one of her limbs, every muscle in her body shrieked in protest, sending sharp pangs of searing pain coursing through her every nerve ending. She tried to groan in discomfort, but her vocal cords refused to comply as well.
In a short moment of dimmed consciousness and crippling discomfort, she felt the horrifying notion that her body was giving out on her sink its way into her mind.
The longer time she spent awake, the more her awareness started to truly kick in.
The formless figures moving around her in a hectic pace started taking shapes. She noticed that she was surrounded by doctors and nurses, and that the blinding whiteness of her surroundings was probably because she was currently in a hospital—judging by the sheer amount of medical folk bustling around her.
She also noticed that the unpleasant throb and the thick fog clinging to her mind were actually quite painful and unsettling.
"Doctor," one of the nurses spoke up, voice laced with trepidation. "She's awake."
The nurse's barely contained excitement seemed to draw the attention of the addressed specialist, who turned to look at her lying almost motionlessly in her bed, blinking her bleary eyes up at them.
When their gazes met, she realized that she was looking at a familiar face. Recognition came a bit slowly to her as the dull throb in her head made thinking especially difficult.
Her green-haired doctor took a step towards her, taking her chin gently in hand while he took a small flashlight out of his breast pocket, holding it in her eyes.
She squinted at the glare of the light, managing to make a successful sound of protest this time. When she tried to shift in the bed so she could sit up, she noticed that there was an oxygen mask on her mouth, preventing her from speaking.
Not that she probably had the energy to, anyway.
"She's conscious," the familiar doctor confirmed, removing the mask from her face.
Its presence had been next to non-existent while there, but once the mask was removed, she realized how much more difficult taking fulfilling breaths of her own actually was.
"Madam," one of the nurses began as she sat on a chair next to her bed, "I need to ask you a couple of questions. Can you nod for me if you understand me?"
It took the woman in the bed a few seconds to wrap her mind around the question before she could agree with a barely perceivable nod. The nurse smiled at her reassuringly, and it was probably cheesy of her to feel that way, but she could almost swear that the kind expression of the woman in white made some of the unpleasant discomfort disappear from her bedridden frame.
"Do you know where you are right now?"
Her eyes shifted ever so slowly towards the familiar tall silhouette further by her room's window. The man looked tense and untypically uptight even for himself.
She cracked a tiny smile—or at least tried to—as she looked at him, before moving her gaze back to the nurse talking to her.
"Can you try to tell me your name, please?" the kind healthcare worker queried patiently, jotting down something on the clipboard in her hands.
"Sa—" she began, but her voice gave out on her before she could articulate.
She swallowed thickly, took in a deeper breath—which made her chest hurt in a mind-numbing way—and tried again.
"Satsuki," she rasped out. Her voice was scratchy and barely existent. It scared her. "Momoi Satsuki."
Truthfully, Satsuki felt a bit apprehensive when there was that look that all the medical staff shared amongst themselves after she spoke. A quiet chorus of something she didn't quite catch, but which sounded oddly like 'maiden name' passed among the nurses and her doctor, before the one interviewing her continued.
"How old are you?"
"Twenty-seven," Satsuki said as her gaze slid down to her body. There were multiple tubes going into her arms and several machines monitoring many of her vital signs.
"All right," the nurse said as she continued writing something on her paper. "What's the last thing that you remember?"
Satsuki let her eyes wander to the ceiling, a glazed over look taking over them as she tried to recall. The thick fog that had just started to lift on her present was much thicker on her last memories. Drawing them out felt like an incredible effort to her.
"I was… on the bus, on my way to work. I was staring out of the window, thinking about something… And then… I don't know, something happened." Her brows furrowed and she made a grimace when her throat started hurting. Since when was talking such a burdensome task? "Why am I in Midorin's hospital?"
The man in question pushed his glasses a bit higher on the bridge of his nose while he made a gesture towards the nurses. They checked that she was attended to and accounted for anything she might need before making themselves scarce.
Midorima Shintaro then heaved a great sigh once he was alone with Satsuki in her room.
"You were in an accident earlier today," he told her, his tone worn and the only clue she got that he had actually been worried for the past few hours. "The bus you remember taking to work—a truck went out of control and rammed into it. We had to make some emergency surgery because of all the internal bleeding into your stomach, but for the most part—you'll be fine."
He removed his glasses to massage the bridge of his nose before turning to look at her again once he repositioned them on his face. Satsuki gave a thoughtful hum at his claim.
"That explains why I feel like I've been run over by a truck," she said with a tiny curl of her lips but Midorima's expression remained stony. "Oh, come on—it's a classic."
The former shooter pushed the glasses up his nose again, still as unamused.
"Not funny. You could've died." His deadpan expression and the seriousness of his tone chased out all desire she might have had for making light of the situation. "You have no idea how lucky you are to walk out of that car crash with just the injuries you had. You'll need to stay in here for a couple of days maximum, when there were several fatalities from that accident."
Satsuki shifted her gaze guiltily to her hands lying motionlessly next to her sides, a metal clip stuck to her left index finger where her arm lay atop the covers.
"I'm sorry," she croaked out sincerely. She had no idea that it had been such a serious situation. "I didn't mean to be insensitive."
Midorima shook his head and turned his face away from her.
"That's not at all what I meant," he told her while he got up from his seat next to her bed. "I know you must be feeling really down right now—the crash, the drugs we used to put you under and the stress from the surgery must be taking their toll on your body—but the good news is that everything will be okay. You don't seem to be suffering from any head injuries and cognitive setbacks, which were our greatest worry in your case, so you'll be fine and good to leave here in a few days."
She sent him the best smile she could manage while he manoeuvred his way around her bed and headed for the door to her room.
"Thanks, Midorin," she told him sincerely. "Sorry for worrying you."
He grumbled something under his breath (it sounded somewhat like 'Who was worried' or another thing in the same spirits, but she could've just been hearing things, too) before he cleared his throat and spoke to her again.
"We called your family. They should all be on their way now. You should get some rest before they arrive," he advised as he opened the door.
"Thanks, Midorin," she called after him again while he closed the door to her room, leaving her to drift off to fitful sleep while she waited for her mom and dad to arrive.
What she couldn't understand, though, was why Midorima would refer to her two parents as "they are all on their way"—since when were two people enough to quantify as "all"?
Then again, Midorin had always been kind of quirky, so she supposed she could let this one slide.
After all, he was the one who had saved her life today.
When he first heard on the phone that she had been in an accident, Daiki had felt panic unlike any other seize him. The nurse proceeded to tell him that they had Satsuki in the emergency room and that they were operating on her to make sure she wouldn't die on them and he felt like the room started spinning. He was grateful for having been seated when picking up the phone because the more the woman on the other end of the line told him, the fainter he felt.
He didn't even manage to let the 'She is stable for now' comment fully sink in before he was racing out the door of his office, grabbing his suit jacket on the way and bolting for the elevator on their floor.
He pressed the button several times before he realized he didn't have the presence of mind to wait for the tardy contraption to reach his floor. He opted to make a run for the stairs just when Takao noticed the haste he was in.
"Where's the fire, champ?" the raven-haired man said jokingly, hoping to make his friend feel a bit better.
"Satsuki's in the hospital. Her bus got in an accident. Talk to the chief from me, okay? I need to go, now," Daiki told the much shorter guy while passing by him on the way to the stairwell.
It took Kazunari a moment of vacuous blinking after his friend for his words to finally sink in. If he could've thought that Daiki was just making stuff up to skip on work just from his expression, the way he took the steps three or four at a time while making impressive leaps down them made the dark haired man very much aware that this was no joke nor ruse.
He was on the phone, talking to their branch manager within the next minute, explaining to their superior the reason behind the sudden absence of one of their main financial consultants.
In the back of his mind, while he was making the necessary calls, Takao prayed that everything would be all right with Satsuki-chan.
She was a great woman and all, but most of all, if anything were to happen to her, he really couldn't picture how Daiki would take it—and, honestly, those two didn't need shit like that disrupting their life like that right now.
If asked how he got from the office to the hospital, Daiki wouldn't be able to answer.
The whole trip there was a complete blur to him.
Actually, from the moment he'd heard the hospital staff woman tell him that Satsuki has been in an accident, a very loud buzz had started ringing in his ears, drowning out all the rest of the sounds and noises around him. It felt to him like the whole world got muffled. He couldn't see, couldn't hear, couldn't think about anything but how in the world such nonsense could happen to her, the light of his life, the only person who could put up with all his bullshit and still love him through it all.
So how he managed to get himself bodily from the office building to the hospital was an enigma to him. He couldn't have taken the car—because it was in for repairs, which was why she had to take the bus to work today in the first place, oh God, this was his entire fault—so he must've taken a taxi because he couldn't be arsed with the public transportation, or how unacceptably slow it was in getting him from point A to point B.
The whole way there was an immemorial trance, during which the only thing he could hear was the loud buzz in his ears and the dull throb of his heart in his chest, clenching tightly and uncomfortably at the thought of what kind of state he was going to find her in when he eventually did arrive.
The first moment of clarity he finally experienced was when he slammed his hands on the information desk, demanding immediate information about where she was.
To her credit, if the nurse behind the desk was ruffled by his roughness and imperiousness, she kept her comments to herself. Instead, she took one look at his face—at the urgency, panic and desperation contorting his features—and gave him the number of the room right away.
Years of basketball practice and being one of the Generation of Miracles made it possible for Daiki to get from the front desk, up four flights of stairs and rushing down the long corridor of the hospital until he was standing in front of room 306. He took only a moment to breathe in and ignore the scowling nurses along the hospital hallway scolding him for running in the halls.
It took all his self-control not to burst into the room, possibly taking down the door along with himself, but when he did enter—as normally as physically possible in this situation—the wave of relief that washed over every fibre of his being at the sight that greeted him beyond was indescribable.
He had been so scared that he'd find her all bandaged up, beaten and broken and then he would break down, too, because seeing her in any kind of pain just destroyed him every time. He'd been so worried because the nurse on the phone had told him it had been a very serious crash, and that she was operated on in the emergency room—the emergency room—and he had been so, so horrified that her beautiful face and body would've been twisted beyond belief.
But instead, as he went into her hospital room, he found her there—sitting in bed, reading a book in her hospital gown, a calm look on her face as her eyes skimmed the page. There was a myriad of machines hooked up to her form, monitoring her vitals, and her head was wrapped in bandages at her forehead. Her arms and collar were littered with bruises, but considering the kind of impact it must've been, he guessed it was only to be expected. Other than that, she looked unscathed and surprisingly well.
Not to mention awake.
"Oh, God, Satsuki, you're okay," he breathed out and she seemed to notice him for the first time after he had entered. "I'm so glad you seem fine."
He closed the door behind him and took the several strides into her room until he was at the side of her bed. His hands took one of hers in his grasp and he kissed her fingers, her knuckles and the back of her palm repeatedly before burying his face against her dainty hand.
"I was so worried when they called. I thought my heart would stop." He swallowed dryly, through the morbid thoughts of what else had popped into his mind when he had heard she was rushed to an emergency room. "I thought I was going to lose you, and I got so scared."
He put her hand down and gave her a thorough once-over from up close. When he was sure that he wouldn't be doing her any harm with it, he pulled her into his embrace, pressing her up against his frame and burying his nose into the crook of her neck.
She smelled like hospital, disinfectant and medicine, and not at all like the Satsuki he knew and adored, but he'd let that slide for now because it was thanks to the hard work of the people in this establishment that he was able to hold her now like this—bruised, disorientated, but not all that worse for wear overall.
He held her in his embrace for what felt to him like an eternity, but he couldn't help it—he needed to feel her with his body, to know that she was there, that she was real, that there was no reason to shake with fear and anxiety anymore because she would be fine. He held her until his shoulders stopped shaking with emotion, reassured by the soft press of her tiny hand against his much larger shoulder blade.
"I'm really sorry for worrying you," she said quietly, her voice muffled against his chest.
He shook his head. He didn't trust his voice to say another word, so instead he just held onto her a bit longer.
When he eventually pulled away from her with a sigh, taking a look at her face from up close, he gave her a tiny smile. His thumb ran along the side of her face, gently rubbing against her skin—his touch made even lighter by the ugliness of the bruise just on the side of her cheek.
"How are you feeling?" he asked her at last, finally settling down enough to be able to have a normal conversation.
He was also calm enough to notice that she was unusually detached when she was staring into his face, and it could just be him but he could almost swear that she was leaning away from his touch.
But that was ridiculous. There was no way Satsuki would be uncomfortable with him being so close to her and holding her like that.
"Um," she began uncertainly, sitting back until her body was securely resting against the pillows. Daiki didn't pay much heed to the way she pried her fingers away from his—carefully, uncertainly—as she looked back up to him. "I was feeling really disoriented and out of it when I woke up. But Midorin said I'd be fine if I just had some rest and nutrients, and I really feel much better after taking a nap."
He smiled at her again, and the air he exhaled should've been calming, reassuring then. She was fine, she was doing great, and even Midorima had told her that everything would be all right.
So what was with this anxiety creeping up on him?
And just why was she looking at him like that.
Her gaze shifted away from him, and she looked uncomfortable as she fidgeted under his scrutiny. Daiki's brows furrowed.
"Are you all right? Should I go get you anything?" he asked her, inching a bit closer towards her from his seat on her bed.
She shook her head slowly with a polite smile—and the formality of her expression threw him off.
"What's wrong, Satsuki? Why are you acting so weird?" he demanded at length, his tone coming out a bit harsher than he absolutely intended.
Then again, considering the kind of noon he'd had, he did believe he was entitled to some snappiness today.
The pink-haired woman in the bed slowly turned her gaze to look at him, blinking profusely at him from under pretty, thick eyelashes. He quirked his brow expectantly as she sized him up—her pink eyes cold as they studied his face—and waited for her to say what was going on.
"I've been… wondering for a while since you came in here, but… Who are you?"
He stared vacantly back at her, vaguely expecting her to burst out laughing any moment and tell him that he should've seen his face when she'd said that.
She didn't. Instead, she continued looking at him with that uncertain, skittish look of a scared forest animal whom a kid is trying to trick to come closer.
He blinked several times, waiting for the punch line to come. But it never did.
"If this is some kind of joke, I don't find it funny. So drop it, okay?" he told her in a tense tone, truly miffed by the poor taste of her humour.
She threw him a quizzical look—still just as detached as when he'd first walked in through the door.
"Why would I be joking?" she demanded, not understanding him the least.
Daiki's face contorted in a grimace.
"Are you serious asking me this?" He shook his head in disbelief, while pinching the bridge of his nose. "Look, I don't get what elaborate ruse you're pulling off here, but you need to stop it, because I'm gonna start getting angry soon."
"What ruse?" she emphasized, pushing herself back into her pillow. "There is no ruse. I just want to know who you are, because from the moment you walked in this room you've been talking as though you know me, and I felt uncomfortable saying I have no idea who you are because it seemed like I should have at least a clue. But I don't, and I'm sorry. So, I'll ask again—who are you? How do we know each other?"
Of all the things Daiki never wanted to hear in his life, these particular words coming from that particular mouth had to rank the highest.
And as he sat back on her bed, looking at her with a deadpan expression on his face, he finally made sense of the distant look on her face, of the inching away from him, of the awkwardness in his presence.
She had no idea who he was.
She really, honestly, had forgotten who Aomine Daiki was in her life.
The moment he realized it was also the moment his mind rejected the notion.
"You really don't remember me?" he somehow managed to ask, his voice strangled in his throat.
She shifted her magenta eyes to him, looking at him with a guilty expression in her features as she studied his face closely. He waited as she did, hoping that maybe looking at him better, longer, would make her answer change, and that she'd relent and tell him she had actually been kidding all along like he'd thought.
She shook her head slowly.
"I'm sorry, I really don't."
Her words made him feel like a bucket of ice cold water was poured all over him. The chill that ran through his whole body was horrifying.
"Were we close?" she asked tentatively, with a small smile.
He didn't hear her. The roar of his pulse in his ears was too loud. He couldn't make sense of anything but the panic and terror that seized him in that very moment.
How could she not remember him? How was it physically possible to forget him completely?
He had been there her entire life! They had gone to the same schools, the same kindergarten, they had the same after-school activities for the most part, all their trips for holidays had been together—even if she had forgotten the past few years of their life together, there was no way she could've forgotten a lifetime worth of memories, right?
He refused to accept this.
He wouldn't take this standing down.
"Aomine Daiki. That's my name. We were friends our whole lives—we know each other practically since the crib. We went to the same schools, you were the manager of all the basketball teams I played in. Does it ring any bells?"
He was leaning in closer to her as the anxiety seized a firmer hold on him. He needed to remind himself repeatedly to rein in some of his emotions because he didn't want nor mean to scare her.
And the way she was subtly inching away from him on her bed spoke to him in volumes of how poorly he was doing so far.
She gave his comment some thought—trying to recall what he was trying to remind her of—but coming up short-handed. She shook her head.
"I'm sorry, I don't remember."
Her words stabbed him right through the heart. She couldn't honestly mean that, right? There's no way!
"Come on, there's no way you can really not remember anything – we've known each other forever, we were always together. We got married two years ago—don't you remember that? The wedding and all the preparations? You and our moms were so excited. Seriously, nothing?"
He had placed his hand over hers in his eagerness, but the moment she shook her head again, looking increasingly more discomforted by his closeness, he finally snapped back to reality thanks to the gravity of the situation.
"I know this must be really horrible to you, Aomine-san—"
'Aomine-san?!' his mind echoed in incredulousness and disgust.
"—But I honestly can't remember anything about you. I'm really, really sorry."
It was like she had placed a huge, heavy boulder on his chest with those words and that overly formal address of his name. Over the years he'd been a lot of things to her—Dai-chan, Aomine-kun, Daiki, 'jerk', 'bastard'—but never, in their entire lives, had she been so cold and distant to call him something as impersonal as Aomine-san.
His own wife, the woman who had known him his entire life, was talking to him with last name—the last name she shared, nonetheless—and a '-san'.
He sat back and put some distance between them, and he tried to ignore how that seemed to set her a bit more at ease. He turned his head to stare out the window, incredulous, disbelieving how such a thing could be happening to him.
His heart was hammering in his chest, going at what felt a thousand beats per minute. His pulse had gone insane when anxiety and fear had seized him, when hopelessness dawned upon him once again.
She didn't remember him.
He ran his hands up from his chin to his cheeks and up his forehead, until they buried in his hair. Daiki grabbed his head with both hands, the elbows of which he propped up on his knees, as he stared at the tiled floor of the hospital with vehement disbelief.
"Are you all right, Aomine-san? You look like you're in pain," Satsuki said and the twinge of worry in her voice really got to Daiki.
How was it possible that she could recognize something as complex as his emotional state just by watching his expressions and gestures, but she couldn't do something as elementary as recognize the face of her life-long friend and husband of two years.
"No," he told her grimly at last, taking his head out of his hands' hold but refusing to look at her as he let it loll against his collarbone. "I'm not fine."
There wasn't a word, nor phrase, in any human language that could accurately express just how far from fine he actually was.