Strong as Freesia

After the finals of the Winter cup, Kuroko finds Aomine waiting for him. They finally have a long-overdue discussion about what happened in their third year. Implied spoilers for anime-only fans. Drama with Minor Angst, I-3

Kuroko Tetsuya walked the last bit of his way home alone, after Kagami turned off onto his own street, letting the quiet settle over him. As the echoes of his team’s voices, of exultation and disbelief and, really, quite a lot of screaming died away, they left one thing behind.

They had won.

He had won. Not alone, of course, but… that had been his point all along. It was Tetsuya’s game, and the team he had chosen, that had won through to the end. And it felt good, it felt… warm. Not like the icy, isolated victories of his third year. No, this reminded him of something further back—their second year, when Kise had just joined them and Aomine still laughed and bounced gleefully at winning, when Midorima’s calm had still had a little humor in it and Murasakibara’s temper had still had a playful edge. When Akashi still smiled at them like he really saw who was in front of him.

Tetsuya tipped his head back and looked up at the sky, past the intermittent glow of his neighborhood’s streetlights and door lamps. It didn’t hurt as much to think about that time, now.

When he turned in at his house and saw who was waiting, though, perched on the low front wall with his breath showing white in the chill air, it was still a shock.

“Aomine-kun.”

“Tetsu.” He didn’t say anything more, and after a long moment Tetsuya moved to unlock the door.

“Come in. Please excuse the mess.”

Aomine kicked his shoes off in the entry, glancing around the dark lower floor. “Your mom isn’t home yet?”

“She’s traveling for work, this week.” Tetsu hung his jacket neatly, reaching out by reflex to take Aomine’s before he could toss it over the shoe rack. Then he had to take a slow breath before he could go on. “She sent me a good luck message earlier today.”

Aomine’s mouth tilted up on one side. “Yeah, that’s oba-san.” He wandered through to the living room and stood at the wide front window while Tetsuya busied himself with pouring them both water in the kitchen. Aomine didn’t like tea, even on cold nights.

“Congratulations,” Aomine called from the next room. “It was a good game.”

Tetsuya paused in the doorway, glasses in his hands, watching Aomine across the room. “Do you really think so?”

“Oh come on.” Aomine hunched his shoulders a little, hands shoved in the pockets of his jeans. “I always liked your game.” He leaned one shoulder against the window frame, still looking out. “That’s why I got so pissed off when you left.”

Tetsuya set the glasses down on the low table a bit harder than he’d meant to, water splashing up against the sides. “You were the one who left first,” he answered shortly. He sat down on the couch, closing his hands on his knees, as Aomine finally turned away from the window looking startled.

“I didn’t go anywhere! You were the one who vanished after the final match and dropped your resignation off without seeing a single one of us!”

“I’m surprised you noticed.” Tetsuya could hear his own voice turning sharp and didn’t bother to stop it. “You spent most of that year acting like I wasn’t there on the court at all. Even this year… you kept saying I was your shadow, but it was like you’d forgotten how to see me until we played at the Winter Cup.” And now, now after all this, Aomine wanted to scold him for leaving? He looked back at his old partner flatly, mouth tight.

Aomine hesitated that that, and finally sighed, coming to thump down cross-legged on the floor by the couch. “Sorry,” he said, low, reaching out to curl long fingers around one of the glasses, though he didn’t drink, just ran his fingertips through the condensation on the sides. “I just… I couldn’t, Tetsu. That whole year, it was like… like there was nothing under me any more and I was falling. Everyone just gave up, and there was nothing there, nothing to stand on or lean against, everything I loved best just gone! And when we played together… our game together is so strong, Tetsu, it just made it worse.” He took a drink and set the glass back down with a restless clack. “I hated the way you left, but I was almost glad when the rest of the team split up. Where else was I going to get a decent game any more?” He propped an elbow on the cushion beside Tetsuya, still looking down. “And even then… I figured once I’d actually played them seriously, they’d give up too, you know? Like everyone else did, and that would be it.”

One part of Tetsuya’s mind turned that over, thinking that now Aomine’s distant look during the preliminary matches in the spring, and his harshness during the the winter match, made much more sense. He’d expected Tetsuya and Kagami to give up, too, and he’d been angry over it. The bigger part of him, though, was buzzing, whiting out into the slow rise of memory and anger.

Aomine still hadn’t seen. Hadn’t understood what he’d done, that last year at Teikou.

“You didn’t give up, though,” Aomine went on, quieter. “Kise either.” He flashed a lopsided grin up at Tetsuya. “I’m glad.”

“No,” Tetsuya said softly, “we never gave up. But you did.”

Aomine blinked up at him, eyes widening a little. “What?”

“You gave up on me. You gave up on our team. You gave up on the game.” Tetsuya looked down at his old partner, recognizing his alarm at Tetsuya’s anger and not caring. “I was there to lean against. So was our team, until you turned away from them. And you turned away from me just like your opponents turned away from you. The one thing I loved most, Aomine-kun, the game I could play as part of that team. Gone, just like you said.” Feeling that simmering hurt and frustration well up again, he drove home the point with brutal bluntness. “You gave up, and you took that away from me, and you left me behind in the same place you were trying to escape. You climbed over me, trying to get out, and pushed me down deeper, and didn’t even notice.”

Aomine was pale by the time he was done, one hand clenched on the edge of the couch so tight Tetsuya wondered distantly whether the fabric would tear. “I… did that to you?” he whispered. "Really?"

Tetsuya nodded silently, waiting.

“I…” A shudder ran through Aomine, and he bent his head abruptly, pressing his forehead against Tetsuya’s leg. “I… Tetsu…” Tetsuya could see his throat move as he swallowed convulsively, see the gleam of his eyes, wide open and staring blindly at nothing. “I’m sorry,” he finally choked. “I’m sorry, Tetsu. I never…”

Tetsuya felt a little shaky himself. His mother had told him, years ago when his parents first separated, that he could let anger drive him but never rule him. He hadn’t known until now, he thought, what she’d meant.

He’d hurt, yes. For a long time. But he didn’t want to hurt Aomine in return; he wanted his friend back. That was what he’d fought for all this year. So he took another breath to loosen the tightness in his chest, and rested his hand on Aomine’s back. “It’s better now,” he said more gently. “I found a team and a partner. You came back. You saw me on the court, again. It’s all right now. Just don’t go away like that again.”

Slowly Aomine quieted, shaking tension easing back out of his shoulders and neck under Tetsuya’s hand. Finally he said, low, “You brought me back. You and Kagami.” A soft snort of laughter, a little pained. “He didn’t give up, either. Maybe he really is stronger, some ways at least.”

“Mmm.” Tetsuya rubbed his fingers over the line of Aomine’s shoulder. “I knew better, this time, how to keep him away from the edge.” How to hold his partner steady in the storm of talent and challenge and pride and frustration and eagerness that was tournament season. After a long, quiet moment, he finally added. “I bet this wasn’t why you came to see me tonight, though.” He felt Aomine wince under his hand.

“I… I was remembering. Sometimes, after a game, I’d go home with you. And we’d wind down from the match, and if your mom was here she’d listen and cheer us on, and sometimes, if it was still early, we’d go find a court and play around.” He was quiet for a long moment, and Tetsuya waited for him. Finally he said, very low, “I’d like to play with you again, some time.”

That warm feeling of a happy victory bloomed through Tetsuya again, easing the last edge of his anger, and he smiled. “Yes. I’d like that too.”

Aomine finally lifted his head, eyes dark. “Even though?”

Even though he’d done such a painful thing to Tetsuya. The very thing that had driven Aomine to such wildness.

Tetsuya thought about it, letting his hand rest where it was. “Yes,” he said finally, very sure. “Even though.”

Aomine leaned against his knees, not speaking, but relief was in every line of his body. Tetsuya finally leaned forward for his water glass, to take a drink. He felt wrung out, inside, and very in need of it. As he settled back, Aomine folded his arms on Tetsuya’s knees and rested his chin on them. “Kagami too, you think?” he asked, speculatively.

Tetsuya regarded his friend tolerantly. “Yes, you can play Kagami-kun too.”

Aomine grinned up at him, with a shadow of his old, confiding air. “You’re gonna regret saying we could.”

Tetsuya took a composed sip of his water. “If our coach and captain agree, of course,” he specified. Aomine gave him a sulky look and he added, “Momoi-san too.”

“Okay, I’ll be good about it, I give up, I give up!” Aomine declared dramatically, throwing himself back to sprawl over the couch cushion beside Tetsuya. “Except not, of course,” he added.

A familiar bubble of laughter burst in Tetsuya’s chest. “I know.”

Aomine smiled up at him, upside down and crooked. “Tetsu… I didn’t say it earlier, but… thanks.”

Tetsuya rested a hand on his shoulder again, and they sat together quietly for a long moment.

“So, hey, what’s to eat around here?” Aomine finally asked.

“You sound just like Kagami-kun,” Tetsuya told him, straight-faced. The resulting protests took them most of the way through the the instant noodles that Tetsuya made, and that Aomine ate two thirds of.

He supposed there was some justice in Aomine’s indignation. Kagami would have eaten at least three quarters of it. On the other hand, he’d probably have done the cooking himself, and made something besides just noodles.

Tetsuya watched his friend across the small kitchen table, drinking in all the little things he remembered: the wide gestures and the way Aomine talked through a mouthful of food and the flicker of light in his eyes, still fitful but getting stronger again as they talked over Seirin’s match against Rakuzan. This was what he had fought for, and the fight had brought him a new team, good senpai, a new partner, and finally his old partner back again. This had turned out to be a good road.

He would keep going down it.

End

A/N: In hanakotoba, freesia indicate immaturity or childishness, but also the purity of innocence.