I realize that I'm really going slow with the timeflow of the story so this chappie might be a little boring? I don't know. I tried ;u;

uhhh I guess I'll be making things pretty mellow for the rest of the story. Perhaps with a sprinkle of drama and angst and all that ouo.

uehe.

and in case some are wondering, I probably won't make this BL, as much of a shipper I am. There might be some bromance moments, though. We'll see when the time comes ouo

also, thank you all so much for the faves/follows/reviews! ;;A;;. I didn't think I could get that many f;aksdjf;aksd

KuroBasu isn't mine. Feel free to point out my mistakes.

Thanks in advance for reading!


Kagami was most humbly declined.

The reason was simple. Kuroko's old bike could barely hold him without letting out some not-so assuring creaks. There was just no way it could carry two people at the same time. Besides, his bicycle was made for a single passenger. Kagami wouldn't fit even if he wanted to.

Also, Kuroko wasn't keen on being slowed down in his job. His boss might not yell at him, but the customers certainly would. He'd been ticked off by so many impatient customers over the years that he'd lost count. Kagami reasoned that he'd just tail him from behind, but Kuroko stood his ground. He knew he wouldn't be able be concentrate on his work with a boy he'd just met practically stalking him wherever he went.

"And what if Kagami-kun loses sight of me halfway through? Would you know the way back? Or would you be utterly lost?" Kuroko asked after spending precious minutes to reason with the redhead, intent on not letting him follow. It wasn't just for his own sake, but for Kagami's sake too. He wanted to save as much trouble as he could. He needed to get everything done and return home so that he could help take care of the younger children. He didn't want to waste time doing meaningless things. If Kagami was to be stranded on the other side of town, 1) it would bother his family 2) it will bother Kuroko because he will probably be the one responsible to look for him.

"Well, it depends on where you'll be going," Kagami shrugged, trying to sound casual when inside he was already getting ready to sprint away at the first sight of a car. When Kuroko told him where his last stop would be (a self-owned shop almost half a town away), Kagami's hopes to go back by himself vanished on the spot. He wasn't even sure where he was now, much less where he'll be that far off. Last he checked, he didn't even have enough on him for a taxi ride either. If he went, he'll probably be lost like a very, very pathetic puppy.

Yeah. His dad would be so proud.

Kagami had yet to make up his mind when he abruptly realized that Kuroko was missing from beside him. He glanced around almost frantically before finally noticed the latter mounting his bike. In a sudden rush of unexplainable panic, he let out a yelp. How the heck did he even do that? Kuroko paused for a second, balancing himself on one leg before glancing over his shoulder, shooting the redhead a weird look. Kagami felt himself blush in self-consciousness. That yelp was a bad move.

There was a short moment of silence in which Kagami was busy thinking of an excuse to explain his not-so manliness while Kuroko continued staring at him with a single eyebrow raised. Kagami was about to start fidgeting when the latter's expression softened suddenly, as if he'd came to some sort of understanding.

"Just walk straight down that road until you reach the third junction," Kuroko started, raising a finger towards the path where Kagami had came from. His gesture successfully earned himself several blank blinks from the taller boy. It took exactly ten seconds for Kagami to realize that he was actually giving him directions.

Which meant he knew who he was.

"How did you-" Kagami trailed off when he saw the tiny, almost mysterious smile on the other boy's face. Kuroko continued talking as though he'd never spoken up at all.

"Then turn right and walk a little further down. You should be able to see the side gate of your home at some point."

"But how-" Kagami started, but stopped himself. He decided not to question how Kuroko recognized him. He'd probably seen him in papers or in the streets or during his deliveries or what not. Heck, his name probably gave everything away like he'd initially thought it would. No big deal.

"You need to find your way back home, right?" Kuroko said, the small smile still plastered on his features. Kagami couldn't help but notice how much warmer he looked without that totally emotionless face of his.

"Uh, yeah," Kagami managed to blurt out after realizing that he'd probably been staring. Hard. "Thanks."

"Anyway, I'll be going now." Kuroko turned back and adjusted himself for a more comfortable position on his bike. "It was nice meeting you, Kagami-kun."

Without even waiting for Kagami's reply, he pedaled off, leaving the said boy too stunned to process most of the events that'd just happened. Wait. Kagami did a mental rewind. Was he just dumped? He knew Kuroko had never agreed to let him follow in the first place, but still. It was practically "oh hi I'm Kuroko and I know who you are and where you live no you can't follow me I'm on a job here's how you get back home goodbye". Come on. You have to admit that's a little mean, as whiny as that made Kagami sound.

A defeated sigh escaped his lips. He couldn't blame Kuroko for reacting like that though. His request did sound rather stalker-ish. Face the fact; no one would be that trusting to let a person he'd just met follow him around - and while he was on a job, no less. Kagami had to admit that he was being inconsiderate.

Might as well go home, Kagami decided and got on his feet, taking a deep breath of fresh cold winter air. His urge to go further away had crumbled to nothing anyway. He crumpled the empty paper cup in his hands and took aim before throwing it squarely into the metal trash can nearby. He figured that if he was lucky, he'd somehow manage to slip back into his home without being noticed. He hoped the family staff wouldn't have thought of watching out for him to return.

With that in mind, Kagami began walking again, following the directions that Kuroko had given him earlier. He was glad that his back was facing the rising sun now. It would save him the trouble of covering his eyes as he walked. One thing about winters: when its dark, its dark. When its bright, it's the 'Ow my eyes I can't see anything other than yellow' kind of bright. It had probably been only fifteen minutes or so since Kagami saw the sunrise, but there was already enough light for the street lamps to be turned off.

Most parts of the neighborhood were definitely awake now. Kagami was occasionally greeted by the household members (usually ladies, regardless of age) who were watering the plants in their compact gardens whenever he walked passed them. He'd nodded politely back at them, out of courtesy. He might be rebellious, but at least he still had manners. He'd gotten himself more than one "what a nice young man" comment in the process. He's just popular with the ladies like that.

Though most of them were way out of his age preference, but that's besides the point.

Kagami casted his gaze around when he reached the junction. There were still no signs of his father's men looking for him. Were they even trying? Kagami thought not. He wasn't sure if he should be glad or offended. Or both. He decided not to dwell on in. Kagami let the breeze caress his cheeks as he recalled what Kuroko had told him. Which way was he supposed to go again? He wasn't really paying attention when the guy told him. Was he supposed to go right? Or left? Kagami scratched the back of his head. It's left, right? He was pretty sure it was left.

But a nagging feeling at the back of his mind told him it wasn't. Maybe it was right after all? Kagami exhaled in frustration. He might be wanting to escape the chides he was bound to get when he gets home, but he wasn't looking forward to ending up wandering aimlessly around the world either. Kagami wanted to punch himself in the face for being a nincompoop. Why didn't he listen properly earlier?

Kagami looked to his left, then his right. He did remember Kuroko telling him that he would eventually see the side gate of his home if he walked straight after turning at the junction. Maybe he should try both? It sounded like the safest try. All he had to do was walk down one road to see if he was going the right way and turn back if he was not. It seemed like a pretty fair risk to take. Some extra exercise wouldn't kill him. Probably.

Kagami decided to let his instincts take over. He didn't think; only let his legs take him wherever they wanted.

And he went right.

xXx

By the time Kuroko made his final delivery, it was almost eight.

The day was completely bright by then, and it was also starting to warm up. Kuroko removed his cap from his head as he took a break at a old unused bus stop, exposing his hair to the gentle heat of the morning sun. It felt nice. The top of his head was already starting to feel damp from the stuffiness of his cap. He raked his fingers through the flattened locks of blue, feeling the breeze drying the sweat that had somehow accumulated there despite the cold. He wasn't sure how it worked, but doing that seemed to lessen his exhaustion by a fraction. Other than the yawn that escaped his lips right after, Kuroko felt energized again.

Kuroko spent several more minutes watching the occasional cars that passed by the road before him, enjoying the serenity of it all. The town he stayed in wasn't exactly the busiest one around, but it could still get pretty rowdy on weekdays. On weekends and holidays, on the other hand, the people barely ever got out of their houses. There weren't much to do outside, and the good shows are usually on air in TV during off days.

Kuroko took in a deep breath, and exhaled slowly through his mouth. The down side about his weekends was that it was usually more tiring than his schooling days. Not the physical sort of tiring; more to the mental sort. Without school occupying half his day, Kuroko would have to help out in the orphanage along with the other older children. He'd be running around cleaning up the mess that the younger ones would sometimes make, hanging the laundry, cleaning the house, all that. He'd never complained once, and he really liked children; but sometimes - just sometimes, Kuroko wanted a breather. He needed some space and time to spend alone. He'd always been the type to prefer sitting down in a corner and read in peace rather than joining others in games and conversations. It wasn't that the younger children were loud, whiny brats. They just had this strange affection towards the pale boy, as well as a tendency to stick to him wherever he went. Unfortunately, toilet breaks were included.

Even now as he listened to the distant cheerful chirping of birds, Kuroko couldn't help slightly dreading the moment when he had to return and entertain the others. Peace was something he seldom experienced, and he was reluctant to let it go. But Kuroko had always put duty ahead of his own selfish needs. As long as others are contented, he figured he'll be okay. He could always get peace and rest when he went to sleep every night.

He had a role to play as a 'big brother' when he gets back.

Cycling without three hundred newspapers tied to the back of his bike was much less draining. It felt a lot lighter, and it required a lot less energy to move. Kuroko sped along the mostly deserted streets, careful to keep to the bicycle lane in case there were any incoming cars. He'd kept his cap off and tucked safely in his coat pocket so there wasn't a need for him to worry about losing the garment as he relished the feeling of fresh dry winter air whipping his hair back and prickling the exposed skin of his face and hands. There was only one thing Kuroko truly enjoyed about his job; and that was the journeys back after his final deliveries. The combination of the feeling of accomplishment and the thrill of racing himself in empty streets after being released from the burden of dozens of newspapers was perhaps one of the best feelings ever.

Kuroko had to slow down, however, when he arrived at the busier area of that particular side of town where the newspaper company was located. As he waited for the traffic lights to change at one point, he took the chance to cast his gaze skywards. It had not snowed in the area for the last three years, and Kuroko had no complains about that. It was cold enough as it was already. Kuroko squinted at little at the bright blue that flooded his vision; a blue, he was often told, that mirrored the color of his eyes. At that moment, he knew that had to be a lie. Nothing in a person's appearance would be able to compare to something that beautiful at all.

The sky was cloudless, which meant there'll be lots of sunlight. Which also meant it'll be a little warmer later on. That was good. If things went well, the children might just be allowed to run around outside a little and play.

Kuroko made sure to return the hot water bottle to his boss when he got back to the office to sign out. It might've been just a mere act of kindness or pity from the man, but to Kuroko, it made a huge difference. He wasn't sure if he'd have the willpower to keep going on in the freezing environment without that little extra heat. He said his thanks again to his boss when he gave the item back, and the big man only replied him with a sunny grin.

"Good work today!" he'd told him, handing him the brown envelope containing his salary before hurrying off to greet the customers that'd personally went there themselves to get their papers. Kuroko pocketed his pay in a special compartment in his coat, heading towards the thick logbook at the corner. He proceeded to leaf through the pages, looking for his own record in the morning. He found it after several tries, going ahead to sign his name in neat, tiny penmanship. He then set down the pen and closed the book, and made his way outside again.

The way back home was actually more exhausting than the way out; with all the slopes he had to go up on and all that. The muscles in Kuroko's calves burnt with his effort to drag himself uphill, but the feeling was more familiar than painful. The dry air stung his throat whenever he took in deep inhales of air. Kuroko made a mental note to drink lots of water when he gets back. He didn't want to be getting sick because of a sore throat anytime soon.

With the sun fully up, Kuroko could see the orphanage from all the way down the street. It wasn't very big, but compared to the houses of an average Japanese, it wasn't very small either; considering the fact that it could fit over thirty people. Its walls were painted a cheery yellow, but had long faded over the years. The older orphans had yet to decide on a date to do the repainting. There was a good-sized lawn stretching out all the way toward the metal gate; a marble tea table set at one side, small shed at another.

Kuroko came to a stop right outside the gate and proceeded to get off his bicycle. He reached out toward the metal grating and pushed, making enough space for him and his bicycle to pass through. As he returned his bike to where he'd retrieved it in the morning, he noticed that the number of bicycles there had decreased. It seems that some of them are still out.

Arriving home after even a short while of absence was never a quiet affair for Kuroko if the younger children were awake and around. As soon as he stepped into the entryway, he was immediately greeted by dozens of high-pitched voices screaming his name. Kuroko could never actually figure out why, but kids really liked him. Some said it was because he had this kind, gentle aura around him, but he was never sure.

"Tetsu nii-chan! Welcome back!"

Kuroko closed the door behind him before turning to face the eager children, unwinding the scarf from his neck as he did so.

"I'm back," he said softly, letting a tiny smile grace his lips. He heard several swoons in the distance, and he decided it was better for him not to find out who that was. He hung his coat and scarf before bending down to remove his shoes. The kids parted to make way for him when he stepped in, all staring up at him with those big, big eyes.

"Welcome back, Tetsuya!"

Kuroko's gaze snapped back up at the familiar voice. A boy with short, messy dark gray hair and bright eyes of the same color was popping his head out from the kitchen area, a grin spread across his face. He waved elaborately as if he was afraid he wouldn't be noticed despite being only a short distance away from where the other stood.

Kuroko noticed him, of course. How could he not? Ogiwara Shigehiro was practically the closest friend/brother he'd ever had in his life. They used to be an inseparable pair when they were younger. Wherever Kuroko was, Ogiwara was there too. There had even been rumors going around once that they were both abandoned on the same day or something - Matron had never confirmed it, so no one actually knew.

"Shigehiro-kun," Kuroko greeted, nodding towards the mentioned boy's direction in case his voice was drowned out by the noisy children all around him. Ogiwara's grin got a fraction wider before his whole body emerged from the kitchen. He wore a t-shirt with track bottoms, slippers on his feet, and a flowery apron around his waist. Knowing him, he was probably helping out with the cooking in his pajamas. Almost nothing could make the guy change out of his sleeping clothes before a bath during holidays.

Ogiwara carefully stepped around a mound of toys left on the floor as he made his way over, yelling at whoever who'd left it there to clean the thing up before it hurt someone. Again. There were groans of unwillingness all around, but he ignored them.

"So," he started, stopping right in front of Kuroko with the smile still plastered on his face. Being more or less a head taller, he had to tilt his head slightly downwards when he talked to him. "Do you need anything? A hot drink? A hot bath? A rest?"

Ogiwara was like a doting wife and he knew it. Even so, he couldn't help it. He was the only one among the orphans aged thirteen and above who didn't have a job. He couldn't find a decent one even after years of searching. He figured the least he could do to lessen his lack of usefulness was by being the one who fusses over those who'd just returned from work.

Kuroko was always the one who got special attention though.

"I'm -" Kuroko was just about to tell him that he was okay when Ogiwara grabbed his hands.

"Whoa." Ogiwara's eyes widened dramatically. He was exceptionally good at overreacting. "Is it really that cold outside?"

Kuroko shrugged. Ogiwara shook his head, as if he couldn't believe how stupid people like Kuroko were going out into the open in freezing temperatures. Without another word, he dragged the shorter boy deeper into the living room, to where the single kotatsu they had was placed. He shooed off several of the kids who were already there to make some space before coaxing the latter to tuck his legs under the warm blanket. Some might think of Ogiwara's actions as a form of bully, but in that particular house, the occurrence had long became normal. The younger children were more than happy to oblige, anyway. Kuroko was really treasured by everyone around him.

"Now you sit there while I go get you something warm to drink," Ogiwara told him before looking over his shoulder. "Oi, Kouki!" he called out to one of the older young ones (older young ones? Whatever) who was peacefully watching TV nearby. The mentioned boy had longish light brown hair, and constantly looked fidgety. He practically jumped when his name was called.

"Y-Yes?" His voice came in something dangerously resembling a squeak. He looked at Ogiwara like he was afraid the latter would eat him or something.

Ogiwara only let out a good natured laugh at his reaction, though that somehow contradicted with what he was about to do. "Would you do me a favor?"

"Umm.. sure?" The younger boy was wary of Ogiwara's occasional impossible favors.

"Would you be as kind to draw a bath for our precious Tetsuya here while I go get him something hot to drink?" Ogiwara asked, his tone hinting an order rather than a normal question. Kouki didn't even stay to argue. He just stood up, and made his way upstairs to get the bath ready. Satisfied, Ogiwara turned on his heels and disappeared back into the kitchen.

Kuroko would've stopped Kouki if the urge to soak himself in warm water wasn't so great. He slipped his hands under the thick sheets of the kotatsu and wriggled his fingers, feeling the blood flow slowly returning to them. His hands felt like they were being defrosted, and it felt good. Kuroko couldn't help but let out a soft sigh of contentment as he felt the gentle warmth spread up his arms and towards the rest of his body.

"Here you go." A blue plastic mug was placed on the table before him. Kuroko retracted his arms from under the blanket and wrapped his hands around the mug.

"Thank you, Shigehiro-kun," he told the taller boy before bringing the item towards his lips to take a sip.

"Just tell me if you need anything else." Ogiwara huffed and placed his hands on his hips. "I think the bath should be ready soon," he mused aloud in a mutter.

Silence followed soon after. Raising an eyebrow, Ogiwara bent over slightly, wondering what was wrong. Kuroko wasn't the type to directly ignore someone like that. Ogiwara's confusion only increased further when he realized that the former was staring at the drink before him with a strange look on his stoic face.

"What's wrong?" he asked, feeling slightly worried that maybe he'd messed up when he made the drink. Maybe it tasted funny or something? Or maybe it was too hot?

But Kuroko only shook his head, wrapping his fingers a little tighter around the smooth surface of the plastic.

"It's.. nothing," he said, staring at the dark drink in his hands like it was the weirdest thing in the world. "I just remembered that I'd drank hot chocolate too earlier this morning."

xXx

It turns out that Kuroko's 'a little further' was a lot further than it sounded.

If the journey to the afterlife was this far, Kagami would've preferred staying on earth as a malevolent ghost instead when he dies. The road was a straight stretch - as Kuroko had said - and it lasted forever. Kagami kicked a pebble with the tip of his sneaker as he trudged on, wondering if he'd really gotten the directions wrong and was actually wasting his time looking for something that wasn't there. It was hard to tell. His guts were normally never wrong. His instincts told him he was going the right way (literally), despite the doubts in his mind.

He was the only one using the road. Kagami stopped in his tracks every once in a while to look around just to make sure he didn't walk right past his own home or something, and he did not see another person there once. The place was deserted, but not in an eerie way. A stray cat observed silently from its perch on top of a wall as Kagami walked by it, its feline eyes shining in curiosity. Kagami stared back, his face set in a near-permanent scowl. He wasn't sure if his expression was really that fierce at that moment, but the cat hissed at him once and disappeared to the other side of the wall.

A tired sigh escaped Kagami's lips, and he continued walking. For how long had he been going down this road? His legs were beginning to hurt, and his breathing was turning ragged. He figured he must really be out of shape to tire out so easily. Kagami halfheartedly considered waking up a little earlier on other mornings to go for walks to make himself fit again. Or at least as fit as he ever was.

Kagami finally arrived at the end of the road after god knows how long of walking. He once again looked around, looking for signs of his home. Maybe he did go the wrong way after all? No, wait. That wall there on the opposite side of the road stretching out to his left - it seemed familiar. Kagami thought for a moment. It had the same color scheme of those surrounding his home. Even the metal spikes lining the top had the same theme and design.

Despite his earlier insistent refusal to return, Kagami felt the grin of relief spreading across his face. He did it. He managed to find his way home.

And he was so going to hit Kuroko upside the head for not giving him the proper information when he sees him again. If he sees him again. Ever.

Now there was the second problem: sneaking his way back inside. Kagami hung back as he tried to visualize the set up of his father's mansion. He'd been there long enough to easily picture everything there is in his mind. Through the gate into the back lawn. Past the gardens. Then two options: up the tricky footholds on the pipe fastened on the wall or risk going in through the kitchen door. The pipe would be faster, but more dangerous. Kagami wasn't sure if he could handle hauling himself up the thing even when the window leading into his room was right next to it.

He was going to get nagged at either way, so Kagami figured it didn't matter. He decided to use the kitchen door.

Compared to the main gate, the in the back garden was much easier to climb over. Kagami winced involuntarily when he landed on the grass, the pull of his momentum and weight burdening his already aching legs more. He spared a moment to let the pain fade before carefully straightening up to survey his surroundings. There was no one around. So far so good. He headed past the thick growth of well cared-for plants toward the building that loomed ahead.

The door leading into the kitchen was plainly colored with suspicious dark spots splashed here and there. Kagami prayed with all his might for it to be unlocked as he reached for the handle. If it was locked, he would rather climb the pipe than go in through the main entrance. He was sure his father's men were probably stupidly standing there waiting for him to come home or something.

Very slowly, Kagami pulled the handle and pushed, his heart pounding frantically in his chest. He almost let out a cheer of victory when the door parted from its frame.

His moment of triumph, however, ended when a gruff voice sounded from the inside.

"Who goes there?"

Kagami blanched. Uh-oh.


Regarding the first name basis: I guess I made them call each other by their given names because let's just consider this: they're orphans. Calling each other by family names in an orphanage is just.. illogical? Or to the very least, unsuitable. So if you have a problem with that, then I guess I'll be losing some readers lol /shot