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Akashi was concerned. The doctor's had added insomnia to the list of symptoms that had come with Kuroko's brain damage. He could fall asleep alright, but he couldn't stay asleep very well. It was something that he could possibly heal from on his own in time. Or, like the epilepsy, it could be another permanent part of his life. Akashi hoped not. Kuroko had suffered enough. More than enough. Akashi worried. Some of his worries were selfish. How many sleepless nights could Kuroko spend, knowing exactly who had caused his problems, before he started to hate those people?
Kuroko drifted off and woke up several times during the night. Akashi was there and awake each one of those times. Aomine and Kagami remained asleep. Kiyoshi, like Akashi, stayed awake, with the aid of coffee.
Finally, Aomine and Kagami woke up, around seven. Aomine woke up first, and woke Kagami up when he yelped in surprise at seeing Kuroko awake.
"What's going on? Kuroko?" Kagami was surprised too. "Weren't you supposed to be sedated until . . . wait, what time is it now?"
"About breakfast time," said Kiyoshi. "Still a little before regular visiting hours."
"Regular visiting hours are for the common masses," said Akashi.
"So, shouldn't you still be sleeping?" asked Aomine.
"The drugs they gave me don't seem to work well on me," Kuroko said, completely deadpan. He glanced quickly at Akashi and Kiyoshi then back at his two best friends. "The doctors thought I was fine without any different ones as long as I don't go wandering around anymore."
Kagami accepted this explanation and sat up, wincing. Sleeping in such an awkward position didn't seem to have done his back any favors. Aomine looked a little more skeptical. Then he looked at Akashi. Akashi kept his face blank. Kuroko didn't seem to want the others to know about this latest development in his condition, so Akashi would not force the issue now. The others needed to know, of course, and they would definitely find out anyway if the situation was left alone. So Akashi would tell them at a better time, when it wouldn't cause any overly guilty or emotional displays in front of Kuroko.
Kagami then looked to Kiyoshi. "Have you told him about . . . y'know?"
"About Ogiwara? Yes. He knows. He's looking forward to seeing his childhood friend again," said Kiyoshi.
Akashi couldn't help but look away then. He knew Aomine was doing the same. There were some things that would take a long time for them to stop feeling guilty about. How they'd ruined Kuroko's and Ogiwara's friendship was one of those things. Even if both of the wronged parties forgave them, which Akashi believed they had, that didn't magically erase the guilt.
"I need to take a leak," said Aomine, making an excuse to flee. "I'll be back in a few minutes."
Aomine didn't need to take a leak. What he really needed was some air. When he got a glimpse of rainbow colored hair in the waiting room where they'd all been waiting yesterday, he turned around and took another route. He didn't feel up to dealing with Kise right now, or being interrogated by Midorima about Kuroko's condition. The only good thing about that waiting room was that it didn't seem to have Ogiwara in it. Aomine felt guilty just thinking about the guy. He did want Kuroko and that guy to be friends again. And he hoped that would happen sooner rather than later. Because every time he thought about what they'd done, he felt like crap. And every time he realized that Ogiwara should be in Kuroko's room there with him, but couldn't, because they were worried about the shock of his appearance giving Kuroko a seizure, that made Aomine feel even worse.
But if he wanted to stop thinking about Ogiwara, it turned out that going outside was the wrong thing to do. He spotted the other boy almost immediately, sitting on a bench, his back to the door and walkway. So Ogiwara hadn't seen him. Aomine considered sneaking away, but stopped himself, realizing that Kuroko had been prepared to meet his friend again. There was no reason they shouldn't get the reunion taken care of as quickly as possible. Then maybe Aomine could stop feeling so damn horrible about what he'd done.
"Hey," he said, striding forward. "Ogiwara."
Ogiwara jumped and twisted around, an expression of surprise on his face. And a little bit of guilt too. Aomine thought that was weird. Until he saw what Ogiwara was holding in his hand. A lit cigarette.
"What the heck?" Aomine asked.
"What, this?" the guilt vanished from Ogiwara's face, replaced by a little bit of defiance. "I'm sure you know what it is. I know you've seen them before."
"Yeah, but you're underaged," said Aomine.
"I know," said Ogiwara. He took a deep drag on his cigarette. "Stop looking at me like that. I'm sure you've got your vices too."
"You're an athlete," said Aomine. Then he felt like biting his tongue. He'd said that in the present tense. Now he waited for Ogiwara to throw it in his face that he wasn't an athlete anymore. And Aomine knew perfectly well whose fault that was.
"I'll stop by the time I officially transfer in to Seirin," said Ogiwara. "But after the weekend I've had, I need a nicotine fix. If you had any kind of addiction, you'd probably be feeling the same right now too."
Aomine stood silent as he processed what Ogiwara had said. Two things seemed particularly important. Ogiwara was addicted. Not just smoking on a lark or trying to look cool. Aomine wondered if this was another thing that could be laid at the feet of the Generation of Miracles. Not only did they make people quit the sport they loved, and make a few of them try to kill themselves, but they also made others turn to drug use? Would this nightmare never end?
But the second thing was that Ogiwara just said he was transferring into Seirin. He was going to get back into basketball. That was a good thing. A great thing. Aomine wondered when that had been decided, and whether or not the others knew yet.
"You're going to Seirin?" he asked, just to make sure he hadn't understood wrong.
"Huh? Yeah. Your friends didn't tell you?" asked Ogiwara.
"I haven't talked with them yet today."
"Oh." Ogiwara said. "Well, my clubmates in the Cooking Club burnt down my school yesterday."
"What?" asked Aomine incredulously.
"Yeah. That's what I thought too." Ogiwara blew a smoke ring, then put out his cigarette, even though it looked to Aomine like he'd only burned through half of it. "I decided that the universe was trying to tell me something. So I'm listening. And transferring to Seirin."
"Oh. Well . . . that's good. And good that you're quitting too," said Aomine. "Smoking! Quitting smoking. Not basketball. Er . . ."
Why was everything that he said wrong around Ogiwara?
"But you're starting basketball? Again? Right?"
Ogiwara looked like he actually found Aomine's awkwardness amusing. Well, that was better than him finding it offensive. "Yeah. I'm starting basketball again. I need to talk with Kuroko about making a new promise."
"Yeah. Since the old one failed."
Aomine hesitated. "Just . . . exactly what promise did you guys make?"
"You really never knew?" Ogiwara looked down at his cigarette like he was contemplating lighting it again. "When I moved away before sixth grade we promised each other to join basketball clubs in middle school and to someday play a game against each other, facing each other on the same court."
Aomine winced. He couldn't help it. "This probably doesn't mean anything to you, but I am sorry –"
"Not yet you're not. But you will be." Ogiwara's tone was light, and a mischievous smile was on his face. "When Kuroko and I kick your butt next year. That's what our new promise is going to be. Not kicking your butt specifically. But playing together on the same team. Kicking a lot of peoples' butts. Then going out for milkshakes."
Aomine found himself smiling. Something ached a little bit, because he was starting to find that he actually liked Ogiwara. But it was probably too late to ever be friends. He didn't know if that would ever be an option now.
"How is Kuroko?" asked Ogiwara. "No problems last night?"
"No. Well, the drugs the docs gave him to keep him asleep didn't seem to work. He was awake when I left."
"Akashi and Iron Heart told him you were here. He wants to see you," said Aomine. "How about going now?"
Ogiwara toyed with his cigarette. A look of dread crossed his face. Dread and fear.
"Hey. He wants to see you," said Aomine, trying to sound nice and not like a jerk. It was harder than it sounded.
"I want to see him too."
A lighter appeared in Ogiwara's hand and he relit his cigarette. "I can't."
"Ogiwara . . ." Aomine didn't know what to say. Or do. Especially when, after only taking one drag on it, Ogiwara put out his cigarette again.
"I don't know. What to do, I mean. I don't know what to do." Ogiwara met Aomine's eyes and looked like he was fighting off a flinch. "I must seem really pathetic, I know. I'll blame it on lack of sleep. Do me a solid and pretend you believe it's from lack of sleep."
"I don't think you're pathetic," said Aomine quickly. He gritted his teeth. He was terrible at emotional stuff like this, but . . . "I was actually just feeling regretful that I screwed up any chance of us ever being friends, before I even knew you."
Ogiwara's head snapped up. "Huh?"
"But, whatever. I won't try to –"
"Why would you want to be friends with me?" Ogiwara asked. "I'm nowhere near your level in basketball. And you saw how I treated my best friend from elementary school . . . cutting ties with him and completely abandoning him."
"But you came back when he needed you," said Aomine. "Isn't it more like you were angry for awhile and just needed some space? Not that you abandoned him?"
"Uhh, I guess you could look at it that way."
"And you beat up Haizaki. Or made a good start of it," said Aomine. "That makes you cool in my book. But I know what we did – what I did was unforgivable, so I won't bug you to –"
"I forgave you for all that," said Ogiwara. "All of you. I thought I was clear on that yesterday. I mean, I didn't say it in that many words, because awkward much? But I thought you got it."
"Well, kind of, but . . . it's one thing to forgive someone for doing something horrible. It's another to want to be friends with someone who you know has not just done something horrible, but done it to you . . ."
Ogiwara stared at Aomine with an unreadable expression. Then he lit his cigarette again.
"You'd really want to be friends with someone like me?" he asked, taking a deep drag. "After seeing the worst of me?"
The worst of him? Was that supposed to be a joke? Aomine knew it wasn't. But it was almost funny.
"Well," said Ogiwara, when Aomine didn't respond. "I'm going to be forward and take your very awkward silence as acceptance. So . . . why the hell not?"
"What?" Aomine blinked at him.
Ogiwara put out his cigarette again. "Let's start over. I'm Ogiwara Shigehiro. Shige for short. Nice to meet you."
It was corny. Maybe even clichéd. But somehow, it felt right.
"Aomine Daiki. Let's get along." He found himself returning the nervous smile Ogiwara was giving him. Then he scowled at the remains of the cigarette in Ogiwara's hand. "And will you throw that away already?"
Ogiwara took three steps to a nearby trashcan and tossed the rest of his cigarette away.
"Good," Aomine said and grabbed his shoulder to pull him back toward the hospital. "Now let's go see Tetsu."
Ogiwara was so nervous, he actually felt like throwing up. He stood waiting in the hallway a few meters back while Aomine went into Kuroko's room to warn him that Ogiwara was here. So Ogiwara wouldn't shock him into passing out again. Or having a seizure, which would be worse.
His hands were sweaty and shaking, and his mouth was dry. He didn't know why he felt like this. He knew that the only thing waiting for him was forgiveness. Forgiveness that he still didn't think he necessarily deserved. But he was still so damn nervous that he wanted to cry.
But the thought of chickening out never even crossed his mind. He'd come this far. It was time to make things right with his friend.
Kiyoshi, Akashi, Kagami and Aomine entered the hall. Kiyoshi gave him an encouraging smile. Akashi's expression was neutral. He was the one to speak to Ogiwara.
"He asked if he could speak with you in private. Naturally, we agreed."
"Just to double check, no one's going to come running in to karate chop me this time, right?" quipped Ogiwara, trying to smile so they knew he was joking around. Or trying to joke around.
"No. I think we've moved past that," said Aomine.
"There's a button on the panel by his bed that will call the doctors in case of an emergency," said Kagami. "In case . . . he has a seizure or fit."
"Have the doctors given him any medicine for that yet?" asked Ogiwara.
"No. They feel it best to wait for his brain to heal more before that," Akashi said.
"Okay. Alright. I . . . I'm going to see him now. I just . . ." Ogiwara simultaneously wished that he'd finished that last cigarette, and that he hadn't smoked at all that morning. He'd actually been cutting back and planning to quit on his own, though he hadn't told Aomine that because it would have sounded fake. But after all the stress of the weekend, he was aching for some nicotine to calm his nerves. But Kuroko would be able to smell the smoke on him. Probably. It wasn't something he could keep hidden forever, but he didn't want to senselessly upset Kuroko now. Well, if Kuroko asked, he'd lie, just this once. Say he sat beside someone smoking at the bus stop. Then when Kuroko was out of the hospital he'd go cold turkey.
A hand patted him on the back. Kiyoshi gave him another reassuring smile. "You're going to be fine. Both of you are."
"Yeah. Yeah, we are."
"Tetsu's waiting," said Aomine.
Ogiwara nodded then made his feet start to move. It was difficult. But he did it. He just had to remember to breathe.
Slowly but surely he moved toward the door and crossed its threshold.
His eyes immediately met Kuroko's. A smile came to his face unbidden. Kuroko's eyes were warm. They were weary and betrayed that their owner was in a little bit of physical pain, but they were warm like a summer's day. Not frozen and numb like they'd been the last time the two friends' eyes had met.
"Kuroko. Hi. How're you feeling?" asked Ogiwara.
"Alright. My injuries only hurt a little."
There was more that they both wanted to say. And they both knew it. But the words were difficult to find.
Ogiwara came closer, so they were within easy speaking distance. "You . . . you feel alright seeing me again? No dizziness or . . . whatever kind of feeling you get before you have a seizure?"
"No. I feel alright. Thank you for coming to see me." Kuroko's voice wavered a little bit. "How did you even find out I was here?"
"Your parents called me."
Kuroko's eyes widened and he looked guilty. Ogiwara knew why. He must not have ever told his parents that they were no longer friends. Kuroko and his parents didn't have what you'd call a healthy relationship. They were almost never around, so Kuroko didn't get to talk much to them. He never took his problems to them.
"I'm glad they called me," said Ogiwara, breaking the stressful silence.
"Thank you for coming," said Kuroko. "And, Ogiwara-kun, I am very, very sor –"
"I'm sorry," said Ogiwara cutting him off. "I was angry, and hurt, and I acted like a child. I still believe you should never let the sun set on an argument, but I turned my back and walked away from you without even trying to talk to you about what happened. So . . . I am so sorry for that."
"I'm sorry I let it happen to begin with," said Kuroko. He looked at Ogiwara with watery eyes.
"It wasn't your fault, Kuroko. You've got to know that," said Ogiwara. "You didn't have anything to do with what your teammates did. I know that. I always knew that. So, more fool me for holding it against you."
"I should have found a way to stop them." Kuroko blinked and tears spilled from his eyes. "There hasn't been a day that's gone by that I haven't thought about it.
"I'm telling you, it wasn't your fault. And I'm apologizing for letting you think it was for so long. Please forgive me."
"There's nothing to forgive," said Kuroko, looking a little baffled. "Do . . . does this mean you forgive me?"
"Of course. There was nothing for me to forgive either," said Ogiwara. He grinned, even though his eyes were watering now, and held out his hand. "Friends?"
Kuroko clapped his hand against Ogiwara's giving him five like they'd used to as kids. "Always."
Instead of letting Kuroko retract his hand, Ogiwara grabbed onto it and held on as he moved closer and carefully draped his other arm around Kuroko in a gentle hug. He felt Kuroko return the hug and lean against him, resting his face against Ogiwara's chest. Then he felt Kuroko shaking with sobs.
"Shh. Stop. Please stop. The doctors say you're not supposed to get too emotional," said Ogiwara.
"Sorry." Amazing. Kuroko's voice was still deadpan even though he was crying. That took some serious skill, in Ogiwara's opinion.
"Hey, this kind of reminds me of that time you fell down and skinned both knees all the way to the bone," said Ogiwara, trying to keep his voice light even though he was only a short step away from starting to sob as well. Stopping his tears from falling was already a lost cause. "Does this remind you of that too?"
"I didn't cry then," said Kuroko, with only a very slight waver to his voice from attempting a longer sentence while crying.
"I'm pretty sure you did," lied Ogiwara.
"No. I did not."
"I seem to remember you begging me to carry you."
"That never happened," Kuroko deadpanned.
"Oh, right. It was the other way around, that time I sprained my ankle. I was the one begging you to carry me."
"That never happened either," said Kuroko. His voice was getting stronger now. Less shaky from crying. Ogiwara was pulling him slowly but surely back to a stable frame of mind.
"Oh, right. Well, it should have happened," Ogiwara said.
"You should have begged me to carry you?" asked Kuroko. He pulled his face away from Ogiwara's chest and looked up at him.
"Definitely. That would have been hilarious. Can you imagine how ridiculous we would have looked?"
Kuroko almost laughed. Ogiwara was sure of it. His eyes crinkled around the edges and filled with warmth. But he didn't laugh. Ogiwara would be lying if he said he wasn't disappointed. But he knew it wouldn't be that easy. It never was.
Oh well, Ogiwara thought. There was a limit to the number of times he was able to make Kuroko laugh in the course of any set period of time. It was probably better to wait until the Miragens were around, so he could keep his promise to them. Or not. Ogiwara realized at that moment how much he'd missed Kuroko's laugh. He hadn't seen it in years. He wanted to see it now. Even if he was the only one there . . . well, he felt like if he could make Kuroko laugh, then he'd earned it.
"Hey, I have an idea," said Ogiwara conspiratorially. "I'll pretend to sprain my ankle here, and get one of your old teammates to carry me, piggyback style. I think the green haired one. Midorima's his name, right? He seemed like the biggest stick in the mud amongst them. Or maybe I should go with Akashi. He's almost as tiny as you, so it would look ridiculous."
"You're not serious," said Kuroko, but Ogiwara heard a little bit of uncertainty in his voice.
"I am completely serious! Okay, maybe only eighty percent serious."
"They wouldn't carry you piggyback," said Kuroko. "I don't advise asking."
"I think I could con them into it," said Ogiwara. "Run into them. Fall dramatically. Cry out. Demand a piggy back ride. I'm pretty sure I can pull it off."
"The best that you would get is that they might call Murasakibara-kun and make him carry you."
"Even if I give them puppydog eyes?" Ogiwara tried giving Kuroko a demonstration. He might as well have been giving them to a wall for all they affected Kuroko's demeanor.
"Even then." Perfectly deadpan.
"Well, then I'll just make sure the purple head's not around," said Ogiwara.
"That won't –"
"But wait, you haven't heard the best part," said Ogiwara. "Then, while they're carrying me piggyback . . . I'll kick them like you would a horse and shout Giddy up! Can you imagine the look on Midorima's face if someone did that to him? Can you imagine the look on Akashi's face?"
Kuroko gaped at him. Then he started laughing helplessly.
"That . . . that would . . ." Kuroko couldn't form a coherent sentence. "You . . . might . . die!"
"I think it would be worth it if someone was standing by with a camera."
Laughter had replaced sobs, shaking Kuroko's whole body, and leaving him breathless. He slumped against Ogiwara's chest again, fighting to get himself under control, and failing hopelessly. Yet through his laughter, he wrapped his arms around Ogiwara again, hugging him again. A gesture Ogiwara returned gladly.
He held on while Kuroko's laughter slowly turned to mere giggles, which he eventually managed to stifle as well. Then he held on for awhile longer, letting Kuroko rest against him. A minute or two later, he realized Kuroko had fallen asleep. So Ogiwara kept holding on.
At least for a little while, he could believe that everything was right in the world.