whooo an update at last ;faksjdasd

I'm sorry guys it's exam season again and there's not much time for me to really sit down and attempt to brainstorm for ideas. You can tell that I'm struggling quite a bit from the way I've been beating around the bush for the previous chapters OTL

I guess I've finally started to get the gears going for the plot and all that. though I have to admit that I'm still not very sure myself on what's going to happen later lol

I'll try to speed things up a bit after my exams and perhaps shorten the coming chapters a little so that it won't be just words and words and words? I've got to admit: a heap of text is a pain to read OTL

thanks so much for all the responses everyone! you guys are the best ;;u;;

KuroBasu does not belong to me. Feel free to point out my mistakes.

Happy reading! :D


Things escalated quickly after that; with Kagami spluttering in surprise and Nijimura's deadpanned assurance that he wasn't joking and Kuroko's all-too polite repeated self introductions.

Kagami was in the middle of trying to let the sudden information sink in and make itself feel real when a lady popped her head out from the entrance of the kitchen, friendly smile on her face. Kagami never knew how it felt like to have a person whom he could call his mother, since his parents divorced as soon as he was born. But seeing the lady, he figured that was how all mothers should look like; warm, gentle, loving. Kagami was convinced that she was the matron without having to ask.

"Ah, you must be Shuuzo-kun's friend," the lady said, moving to greet him properly. "The kids call me Matron here, but you can just call me Hisako."

Kagami bowed slightly in response, remembering his manners. He had this strange tendency to be extra polite with aged women. "I'm Kagami Taiga. It's a pleasure to meet you."

"Formalities aside," Matron clasped his hands in hers, moving faster than Kagami thought she could. Her gaze shifted back and forth from Kagami to Nijimura, her eyes twinkling. "Would you boys be as kind to join us for dinner?" Noticing the two boys' looks of reluctance, she added quickly in assurance, "Everything will be done in around ten minutes, so don't worry. You'll both still manage to catch the last bus or train home."

Kagami wasn't even sure how he was supposed to go home, but he decided not to mention that at the moment. He figured he could always ask later.

"I don't think-" Nijimura was just starting to decline offer when a chorus of protests sounded in the background. He resisted the urge to click his tongue. Those brats actually had the nerve to eavesdrop! Though, he had to admit, they weren't exactly making their conversation private either. He chewed his lip as he considered his choices. Knowing the guys in the orphanage, things are sure to drag on forever and it'll probably be very late by the time they're willing to let him go. But then again, it has been a while since he met up with everyone, and he was a little curious to know how everyone was doing. He didn't have any homework that day and he'd studied earlier with the rest of the team, so he supposed he'd be okay.

"I guess we can stay," Nijimura muttered, glancing at his redheaded junior. Kagami looked surprisingly calm for someone who was practically stranded in a place he'd never been to. For once, Nijimura felt himself worrying for him. Wouldn't want him to be in the papers the next day for being missing in action.

"Or at least I can," he corrected himself, clearing his throat. "What about you, Kagami?"

"I should be fine..?" Kagami scratched his cheek. Before he could say anything else, his stomach let out a very loud, very undignified growl, and he felt heat rising to his face. Now that he thought of it, he hadn't ate since break in school, and that was hours ago. He doubted he could make it back home without having his stomach eat itself in hunger. He needed food.

"That settles it then." Matron clapped her hands together in satisfaction. "Now why don't you boys settle down somewhere first? I'll ask one of the kids to call everyone when the food's ready."

"I'm leaving you guys to discuss about the tutoring stuff," Nijimura announced once Matron had disappeared back into the kitchen area. When all he received from the two younger boys were blank stares, he added in a mutter, his mouth set into a slightly sadistic twist Kagami had seen somewhere before; "I've got a conversation to share with Shige and the other guys."

He then proceeded to head toward where the mentioned boy was, leaving the pair on their own. Kagami shifted his weight from foot to foot as silence started to form between him and the shorter boy by his side. So what was he supposed to do now? He felt someone tugging the sleeve of his shirt and looked down, only to see a pair of large blue eyes staring up at him.

"Let's find a quiet corner first," Kuroko suggested, his voice a monotone. Kagami shrugged and let himself be led to a less crowded spot in the living room. He could still feel those curious glances trained at him as they both sat down, and he had half a mind to glare back. He decided not to at the last minute, instead turning to face the smaller boy that had seated himself cross-legged on the spot opposite him.

Kuroko was just as thin and frail-looking as Kagami remembered him to be (not that he'd always been thinking about him, mind you). The clothes he was wearing looked ridiculously loose on him, but since the guy himself didn't seem to pay that any heed, Kagami made no comments. He had better things to do than to make pointless remarks about every little thing that did not concern him.

"How would you like our schedule to be like, Kagami-kun?" Kuroko spoke up once they'd made themselves comfortable enough. He had his hands tucked between the folds of his legs, probably because the temperature was really beginning to drop and the heater had yet to be turned on. Kagami was silently glad he'd neglected to remove his cardigan like a normal person would when he entered the house.

"I'll be free as soon as school's over since there's no practice," Kagami said, feeling his shoulders slouch forward at the reminder that he wouldn't be playing much basketball for the next fortnight or so. "And my dad doesn't care what time I return as long as I'm already home by the next morning, so I guess I can stay a little while longer?"

Kuroko nodded, staring at a spot on the floor in thought. "I have chores to do as soon as I come home so we'll have to start a little later - around four or so. And you can stay until dinnertime, if you want."

"I'm not sure that'll be a good idea," Kagami muttered, his gaze flickering towards the kitchen entrance. "I wouldn't want to bother Matron. She looks like she's got enough on her hands as it is already." He looked back at the pale boy before him. "And come to think of it, I don't suppose you only work on weekends?"

Kuroko shook his head, moving to rub his bare arms in an attempt to warm himself up a little. "I go before school every morning."

"Then wouldn't you need some rest or something?" Kagami sounded almost incredulous. There was no way Kuroko could endure all that accumulated exhaustion. Even now as he sat across him, Kagami could see from the other boy's posture that he needed his rest. He knew he wasn't exactly in the place to say anything, but the guy shouldn't be pushing himself like that! There'll be no point if he broke halfway through.

"I'll manage," Kuroko dismissed the question with a slight wave of his hand, sounding like he'd been repeating those two words for many, many times now. Kagami looked at him doubtfully, otherwise left the topic alone. He was about to conclude their discussion when he heard a yelp, followed by a loud, boisterous laugh. He turned towards the source, realizing that the noise had come from the person Kagami had come to identify as Shige. Nijimura had him in a headlock, his knuckle twisting into the younger boy's temples. It looked painful as anything, but the latter wasn't showing any signs of hurt, so Kagami guessed his senior must be holding back.

"So was he from here too? Nijimura-senpai, I mean," Kagami failed to refrain from asking.

"He used to come here all the time to play before he moved," Kuroko said, not taking his eyes away from the scene. There was a strange look on his face; a look Kagami could not figure out. "But he wasn't orphaned like us. His father is one of Matron's close friends from her younger days."

"You're all pretty close to him," Kagami observed.

"He's like family," Kuroko agreed, a certain tinge of fondness in his tone. The corners of his mouth were twitched upwards in a small amused smile as he continued watching the scene of Ogiwara messing around with the older raven-haired boy.

"Ehh." Kagami placed his elbow on the side of his knee and rested his cheek on his palm. "I wonder how it feels like, to have an actual family," he mused, unintentionally saying the words loud enough for his companion to hear. Kuroko turned his attention back to him, his eyebrows raised slightly.

"Doesn't Kagami-kun live with yours?" he sounded slightly surprised at the revelation.

"Unlike your typical father, my dad isn't the exactly the type to spend much bonding time with me or do anything of that sort. And I've never even seen my mum before." Kagami's tone sounded bitter to his own ears, and he hoped with all his might that it wasn't too obvious to the other boy. "So yeah."

"It must've been lonely for you," Kuroko sympathized. Kagami shrugged, praying that he was able to portray his indifference well. Because it was the truth. He had been lonely. He used to hate going home when he was younger because it was so much more colder in there compared to the outside world. There had never been anyone to wish him a loving "welcome home" when he got back. There had never been anyone whom he could share his stories, doubts or happiness with. There had never been anyone whom he could sit down and have a nice, hot meal with. There had never been anyone whom he could come to love as part of his family.

He'd outgrown that childish yearning of his for years now, but the feelings still lingered in his heart. If given the choice, Kagami was still willing to give away his fortune just to feel the warmth of having others by his side. He was willing to give up anything just to be accepted and held dear for who he was and not just because he was the son of some important guy.

"Dinner's ready, everyone!"

Kagami felt a tiny smile tugging his lips as he watched a group of younger children cheer and rush enthusiastically into the back of the house at the sound of the announcement, a few older ones yelling after them to be careful not to trip. He wasn't particularly fond of kids, but looking at the lively lot, he couldn't help feeling that familiar sting in his heart; something he'd always felt whenever he used to see other kids hanging out with their parents or siblings in the streets. He was happy for them - he really was. He was glad that they needn't experience the same coldness as he had when he was younger, despite all that'd happened to them. He was glad that although they'd lost their parents, they still had each other's company. They still had someone for them.

Kagami would be lying if he was to say that he wasn't a little jealous. It was stupid, yes, but there were some things that even he couldn't control. Some feelings are just too difficult to forget, no matter how hard he tried.

"Kagami-kun."

Kagami blinked out of his reverie, realizing with a slight start that Kuroko was already on his feet. The latter stared down at him with an expression close to worry, his hand outstretched to him.

"We should go too," Kuroko said once he was sure he'd gotten the redhead's attention. "Before all the good seats are taken."

Kagami could only numbly take his hand before heaving himself up, stretching his legs. Now that he thought of it, it was his first time dining with a group of potentially noisy and overly sociable people, and he had to admit: he wasn't very sure what he was supposed to do. Was it the same thing as eating with his classmates in class during recess? What was he supposed to say? Ask about the weather, perhaps? Talk about futile things? And was he supposed to laugh at jokes that weren't funny to him? How much should he eat so that the others will have enough? Was he supposed to take the last piece if it came to that?

The dining area was connected to the kitchen, and it was spacious enough to fit two long wooden tables and approximately thirty people. Apparently, the place wasn't as cramped up as Kagami initially thought it was when he first saw the size of the house from the outside. As soon as the two boys entered, they were greeted by the mouthwatering smell of freshly cooked food, and it was all Kagami could do to keep himself from drooling grossly. Half a dozen filled platters were served on each table, the dishes ranging from prawn tempuras to beef patties - all enough to satisfy the hunger of a large group of growing children.

Kuroko paused in his tracks for a moment to look for a pair of untaken chairs when Ogiwara stood up from his spot and waved them over, gesturing that he'd saved them both a couple of seats at the very end of their side of the table. Kagami had just barely sat down himself when the cheerful raven leaned over, and said;

"By the way, I'm Ogiwara Shigehiro." He grinned at Kagami's blank response. "Though just Shige's fine."

"Shigehiro-kun," Kuroko chided lightly, gently pushing the said boy back to his seat. "At least let Kagami-kun eat first before you start your questions."

"Ehhh, but didn't you say once before that it wasn't polite to-"

The rest of his sentence was drowned out by the sound of thirty people yelling a hearty "Let's eat!" at the top of their voices. Ogiwara flinched at the loud noise before shrinking back to his place, the remorse in his face disappearing as soon as he picked up his pair of chopsticks and dug in.

The first thing Kagami discovered about eating with a large group of people was that it didn't matter if you were a guest or not, you'd need to be swift and ruthless if you're aiming for any particular piece of food. Kagami learnt that the hard way after losing a total of three patties, a drumstick, two tempuras and several pieces of potatoes to the hands of his tablemates. The second thing he learnt was that if you shout out your reservations loud enough, that piece was unofficially yours - though it was still free to be taken by others if you're not quick enough.

And finally, the third thing he learnt was that dining with a group consisting of mainly children and teenagers was nothing without the chaos. The first ten minutes had been utterly deafening. Kids hollered at one another to not touch that piece of egg, or to pass them the soy sauce, or to shove off so they can stand up to reach that biggest mushroom. Cutlery clattered on rims of bowls and plates. Somehow, Kagami wasn't surprised by the fact that Matron did not even bother trying asking them to quiet down a second time. Nobody would've heard her, anyway.

"Here you go," Kuroko said as he placed a piece of egg roll into Kagami's lowered bowl after seeing his numerous failed attempts to obtain the food he wanted. Kagami muttered his thanks, feeling himself blush slightly in embarrassment.

Seeing the red tint on his cheeks, the brunette seated opposite him let out a chuckle and said, "Hey, don't worry about it. It's normal for us older ones to lose to the brats when it comes to snatching food."

"Riko-nee always manages to get what she wants," Ogiwara pointed out with his mouth full. "But that's only because she threatens to hit us if we defy her."

"That's because you boys are spineless wimps," Riko snorted, a somewhat superior ring in her voice. Ogiwara sighed into his bowl.

"She's so uncute."

"What did you say?"

"Children," Matron called over from the other table, sounding too amused for her own good. "Don't just take everything for yourselves, okay? Leave some for Kagami-kun too."

"It's a little too late for that!" A boy from Kagami's table pointed out, noting the nearly empty plates on the table.

"My, my," Matron huffed, shaking her head. "You doing alright over there, Kagami-kun? Are you eating enough?"

"Y-Yes!" Kagami answered. He decided not to admit that he usually needed at least ten burgers from Maji Burgers to satisfy his hunger, and that this amount could only last until he got back. The fact that they let him eat there was enough. "I'm fine."

"Don't be shy to ask for more, okay?"

Kagami was more than surprised later when a little girl walked over and placed a small plate of chicken cutlets before him, having to stand on her tiptoes to reach the top of the table. When the redhead shot her a questioning look, she only beamed and told him, "Onii-san's so tall and looks so strong, so you must eat a lot. There won't be enough for you to eat, especially when you're sharing a table with Shige nii-chan."

In the background, there was an indignant "Hey!" from the mentioned boy.

"Y-You didn't have to-" Kagami started to protest when he found his voice, but stopped himself at the last moment. He knew it wasn't nice to reject an act of kindness like that. If the little girl was willing to bring it over, then he should be willing to accept it. So he let a smile spread across his features before reaching out with his free hand, and gently ruffling the girl's soft hair. "On second thought, thanks."

His gesture brought a happy blush to the girl's cheeks, and Kagami swore she was practically glowing at that moment. He watched as she bounded back to her table, laughing in childish elation at her success in handing Kagami some extra food.

And it was at that moment when he felt it: the spark of warmth at the base of his chest, slowly spreading with every beat of his heart. Kagami wasn't sure what it was at first; it wasn't painful or anything. It was, if he was to describe it in a word, pleasant. Comfortable. It gave him this strange sense of joy; this feeling of acceptance. What the girl did for him was unexpected, and it was his first time. It was Kagami's first time of being willingly given food that wasn't his share. It was his first time of being shown a glimpse of consideration by a stranger he didn't even know.

Kagami couldn't pinpoint the feeling even when it was time for him to leave. He eventually decided that he shouldn't think too much about it - he needed to conserve his brain capacity for more important things. Like the way home, for instance.

"Just take the XX bus and get down on the second stop," Kuroko was telling him, reciting completely from memory. Kagami noted the directions down on a piece of paper he'd somehow found in his bag, refusing to take any chances of getting lost. He might not like his own empty home, but he wasn't quite keen to freeze to death outside, either. "You'll see a zebra-crossing a little further down the road from the stop. Cross the road there and walk to the right until you see a park." Kuroko paused for a moment and looked up. "How do you feel about wandering alone through a thick growth of trees in the darkness at night?"

He figured he felt terrified, judging from how he paled at his words.

"No shortcuts, then," Kuroko dismissed with a short wave of his hand. He tried not to smile in amusement when Kagami heaved a breath of relief. "There should be a lighted path at the other end of the park. Go through there and keep walking until you reach a junction. You'll eventually see your home after turning left."

Kagami nodded, jotting down the last of the directions in an extra messy penmanship. He shoved his stationary into his pocket for easy access when he was done. He straightened up and cleared his throat. "So I'll be here by four?"

Kuroko nodded. "It's fine if you're early too. Just try not to be too late."

Kagami made sure to say his thanks to Matron for the meal before bidding the occupants of the orphanage farewell and moving to join Nijimura outside. They were both sent off with lots of waves from the orphans after lots of pestering for the older boy to visit more often and some friendly "see you tomorrow"-s to Kagami.

And when he was staring up at the ceiling while lying flat on his back on his bed long after he'd successfully found his way home, Kagami was surprised to find himself actually looking forward to his tutoring lessons to come.

xXx

Kuroko was hanging the laundry on the clothes line with Ogiwara when he heard the kids yelling from the house.

It didn't exactly startle the paler, shorter boy, but it did nearly scare the other out of his skin. Ogiwara flinched so hard at the noise, he almost upset the basket of washed clothes and sheets by his feet. He took a couple of quick deep breaths before regaining his composure, stepping a little further away from the cleaned laundry, and turning to glare at the direction of the noise.

"I swear to god," he grumbled after a while of staring futilely at the wall. "Those brats will seriously be the death of me one day."

"They are a little loud at times," Kuroko agreed, clipping the last of his share of laundry on the line. "I'm surprised Shigehiro-kun hasn't got used to it yet even after so long."

"That's not exactly the problem." Ogiwara let out a weary sigh. He yelped when he abruptly realized that his companion had already finished his part and was lifting the empty basket to return indoors. "You're done already?"

Kuroko nodded. "I'm going in to greet Kagami-kun now."

"How do you even know that's him just now, anyway?" Ogiwara asked as he turned back to his chore. There was a sulky tone in his voice, for some reason. Kuroko couldn't exactly figure out why.

"The kids only get that excited when we have guests," the shorter boy pointed out. "And Kagami-kun's the only person whom we're expecting today."

Ogiwara looked over his shoulder, his eyebrows raised. "Now that I think of it, isn't it more mainstream for the tutor to go to the student's home or something? Not that I'm complaining."

Kuroko pursed his lips for a moment, thinking of a way to explain the redhead's situation without revealing too much. Nijimura had personally asked him not to reveal Kagami's identity in case it'd cause a big fuss. Who knows how Matron and the rest of the kids in the orphanage would react if they knew? Kuroko wanted everything to be as normal as possible for Kagami. He knew from their first encounter that the latter was tired of his rich, isolated life. Kuroko never knew how it felt like to have enough of almost everything, but he did understand that being alone was a very painful and depressing thing. Maybe that's why Nijimura asked him of all people to be the redhead's tutor despite knowing that his grades were just barely good enough for a half-scholarship. The older boy must have wanted to do his junior a favor, in more than one way.

When Kuroko made his way inside again, he was greeted by a sight unusual enough to catch even him off guard. He paused abruptly in his tracks and stared blankly ahead, his brain trying to process what his eyes were seeing.

Kagami stood in the middle of the living room, practically weighed down by the younger children who were hanging off his arms like he was a walking monkey-bar. Kuroko honestly wasn't sure if he should be amazed, amused, or worried. Kagami could still hold his arms up even with three kids hanging on each. Kuroko was sure the children weren't that heavy, but he figured that supporting the weight of so many of them probably wouldn't be too good for the redhead's muscles and bones and all that.

Kagami's gaze flickered towards the pale boy standing at the entryway, and he shot him a pleading look; as pathetic as he had to admit that was. Finally someone to save him from this torture! This was why he wasn't a big fan of kids. He could never figure out where their guts to bully older people came from. Weren't brats supposed to be intimidated by taller, bigger people?

Apparently not this lot.

"Ah, it's Tetsu-nii!"

Kuroko braced himself as the group of children abandoned Kagami and ran towards him. Thankfully, they did not attempt to climb on him as they did with the redhead. They only gathered around him and stared up with those huge, innocent eyes of theirs, full of adoration.

"Nee, nee, you know what? Kagami's really strong!" A boy told him excitedly, bouncing on his feet. A few others muttered assent, all just as worked up about the matter as the first boy. It took a few minutes before Kuroko could calm them down enough to ask them to make way for him.

"It's not polite to call your elders without honorifics, Akira-kun," he chided lightly as he placed his empty laundry basket aside, meaning to keep it later together with Ogiwara's when the latter was done. He tried not to let out a weary sigh when the young boy showed no signs of remorse, instead choosing to look up and regard his guest with a pokerface.

"Hello, Kagami-kun," he said, as if he was acknowledging the redhead's presence in the room for the first time in the last ten minutes. Not that he could deny that, exactly.

"'Sup." Honestly, Kagami wasn't sure if he should be offended or not.

"Have a seat somewhere first," Kuroko told him, motioning to the children around him to leave them. "I'll go get the table."

With that said, the children gathered around him obediently scattered, and he hurried upstairs to fetch the necessary items. Still quite unsure on what he should do, Kagami trudged to a corner that looked warm and comfortable and settled down there. He leaned his back against the wall as he waited for his tutor, belatedly noticing that only the younger ones were hanging around in the living room. Other than Kuroko and Ogiwara outside (he swore he heard him scream a little while ago), the few older orphans were nowhere to be seen. Club activities? Kagami suspected so. If it wasn't for the stupid exams, he would've been training and playing basketball by that time too.

"Sorry for the wait."

Kagami bit back a yelp. It happened again. Kagami vaguely remembered experiencing the same thing the first time he met the pale boy. How was it even possible for one to have such a weak presence? He didn't even hear him returning downstairs, dammit! He was sure he was going to die from shock one day if it went on like that. Not an honorable death, if you ask him. He'd rather die heroically than to be accidentally killed by a guy who didn't even mean it.

"It's fine." Kagami silently congratulated himself on successfully keeping the stutter away from his voice as he shifted his position so that his side was now facing the wall. He had to preserve his manliness. If Kuroko noticed his efforts, he didn't comment. He silently unfolded the portable table he'd retrieved from one of the bedrooms and positioned it on the floor before taking a seat himself.

"Shuuzo nii-san told me that you're a returnee from the States?" he asked for confirmation as Kagami dug into his bag to pull out the books that Kuroko had asked him to bring via text message early that morning. At the redhead's nod, he continued; "In that case, we'll focus mainly on your Japanese first. We'll spend around two hours on that today and use the rest of our remaining time to brush up on your Mathematics." He reached for one of the books Kagami took out and absently leafed through the pages. "First things first, what is it that you mainly fail to understand other than the kanji characters?"

"Ehh." Kagami scratched the back of his head. "Everything, I guess?"

Kuroko's gaze flickered thoughtfully to the side, shutting the book in his hands with a snap. "Let's briefly go over the basics first, then," he decided, willing himself to refrain from sighing. He was secretly glad that all he had to do was help Kagami pass, as guilty as he was over the thought. He'd seen a copy of the latter's most recent examination results from Nijimura, and even with all the optimism he could muster, he knew there was nothing much he could do in such a short period of time.

But Kuroko was determined to help make a difference, even by a little. Three to four hours a day should be enough to raise Kagami's grades to the passing mark.

Unless Kagami was really that slow.

"Goodness, aren't you boys cold sitting on the floor without a blanket with the heater off?" Matron approached them and asked when Kuroko had just left Kagami sweating after ordering him to complete five pages of Japanese grammar exercises in fifteen minutes.

"We're fine like this," Kuroko replied, stifling a yawn. He wasn't going to mention that he was relying solely on the temperature to keep himself awake. He'd been up and around since five in the morning and tutoring someone was unexpectedly draining. If Matron were to pass him a blanket or turn the heater on, he was sure he was going to fall asleep right there and then - which, was something he couldn't afford to do.

"Nonsense!" The lady began dragging the portable heater over and plugging it into the nearest socket. "You'll both catch a cold if you go on like this. Now hold on while I get you boys something hot to drink."

Matron you're not doing me any favors, Kuroko desperately wanted to tell her before she hurried off, but he kept his mouth shut. Almost nothing could stop his mother figure when she's in her doting mode. He could only hope he had enough willpower to pull through.

This was going to be a long day and he knew it.

xXx

Kuroko was a demon.

Kagami would've preferred not to have discovered that. He swore his basketball training was less exhausting compared to the amount of torture the shorter boy put him through. By the first hour mark, Kagami had went through enough worksheets, tips, formulas, and passively painful comments to give him the start of a mental and emotional trauma. He was pretty sure all those listed were bad for his health.

Kagami sighed into his mug as he took a sip of the hot chocolate that had long gone cold after being allowed a ten-minute break. One thing about Kuroko's style of tutoring: there will be no time for you to think about things other than what's been assigned to you. Kagami was still vaguely aware of his surroundings at the start; he saw the children quietly watching them from the kotatsu area out of the corner of his eye, trying hard to mind their own business. He heard the opening and closing of the front door when Ogiwara returned inside after completing whatever chores he'd been doing outside. But after a while, all Kagami had in his mind was Japanese grammar, kanji, and sentence construction. One hour shouldn't be enough to do so much damage to his brain, but Kuroko made it possible.

He found himself silently developing a healthy fear of another person yet again.

Kagami couldn't bear to look at the papers Kuroko was marking; he was expecting to get only about ten percent of it right, anyway. Instead, he let his gaze travel around, actually taking in the sight of the living room for the first time. Other than the obvious kotatsu and television and the sofas at the center, the place was pretty much bare. There was a shelf of books not far from where he was, right next to the entrance of the kitchen. There was a box of toys at the opposite corner. The flight of stairs leading upstairs was just a small distance to the right of the entryway. Kagami focused on the small display-cabinet beside the bookshelf. Various items ranging from pottery to handcrafts were arranged neatly on the glass plate that separated the cabinet into two compartments: one above, one below.

But what caught Kagami's attention weren't the miniature tea-sets nor the pieces of origami animals. It was the pictures. Kagami could tell at first glance that those were photos of the orphans. Who else would they be? Most faces were familiar to him, more or less. He recognized a much, much younger Ogiwara from one of them; a less tired-looking Matron and a grinning Nijimura in another. The photos were mostly candid shots, taken in random moments like when they were playing (or possibly beating each other up - it was difficult to tell), but there were quite a few formal ones too; pictures of graduation or award ceremonies and all that.

Kagami's eyes paused at one of the larger framed photos. It was a group photo; probably the only one that featured every single person of the orphanage as far as he could see. It was the only one which Kuroko was in. It was probably taken many years ago, judging from the appearance of the children there. The boy in question stood behind Matron at the very center, smiling softly at the camera while doing a double peace sign. A group of kids his age including Ogiwara were surrounding him, looking as if they were still arguing over who would get to stand next to the pale boy even when the camera timer went off.

Kagami blinked. Except for the raven, the other guys around Kuroko were unfamiliar to him. There were around five of them, all of them having unusual hair colors that made not recognizing them a difficulty. And seeing the affection that Kuroko's blue eyes showed in that photo, Kagami knew at once that they were some of the few people who held a special place in his heart. They were the people whom he loved with all he had.

"Most of them are not here anymore."

Kagami turned back to the source of the voice, raising his eyebrows at the smaller boy. "Huh?"

Kuroko nodded towards the picture Kagami had been staring at, his pen hovering an inch above the papers he was marking and evaluating. "The children in that photo. Most of them have either moved out on their own, or have been adopted."

"Who are they?" Kagami blurted out before he could stop himself. "The guys around you, I mean."

"People important to me," was all Kuroko answered after a short pause, his tone indicating that he will refuse to answer any further questions regarding the matter. His gaze was casted sideways, his grip on his pen tightening slightly. There was a tinge of tension in his voice, a flash of barely recognizable emotion in his eyes. Maybe something happened between them in the past? Kagami decided that it was probably best for him not to ask. He was only there for his tutoring lessons, nothing more. Other people's business were not of his concern. He was only a guest, a stranger. He had no rights to pry.

That was what he kept telling himself. Over and over and over again.

But even as he was dragged into the dining area to join the orphans for dinner once more a little while after the clock in the living room struck seven, he still couldn't stop wondering.

He couldn't stop wondering what could have happened to be able to bring that flash of pain to Kuroko's eyes.