The knock at the door has something familiar to it. It’s what makes Aomine get up to answer instead of simply yelling; he realizes, a split second before seeing the visitor, who it is. Tetsu. Tetsu, who’s standing before him, face unreadable, a bag in each of his hands. For a brief moment, he’s unable to breathe, but it goes away soon enough, swept by an incommensurable joy, a bit of fear and a slice of anxiety. The other hasn’t given him any news since his visit, ten days ago. He has heard some – rumors, of course (Satsuki’s network definitely has its use), but not allowed himself to think about it, even less hope. There had been his whispered confessions, his forcefulness, his despair, Tetsu’s apology and staying the night, crouched on the bed next to him, not really staring but something close, not really believing. Not believing at all.
When morning had come, Aomine had left with his friend new cell number in his pocket and a “See you soon, Aomine-kun”. He couldn’t imagine wishing for anything more, so he didn’t – when you don’t want, you cannot be disappointed, he thought.
Tetsu is at his door, a bag in each of his hands.
After that, it’s a whirlwind with a bit of everything in it. There’s happiness in coming back to how things were before, when all was good and right in the world (save maybe for Shougo, but that’s a story nobody ever brings up – never), and happiness in slowly becoming a bit more; happiness in watching the pieces of the puzzle come in place, at last, and happiness in finding a new purpose, a new love, even though what caused the issues in the first place didn’t magically disappear. They have time, Aomine thinks, and they’re together now.
“You failed him,” he still hears Akashi whispering sometimes.
He doesn’t intend to do that again, so Daiki puts everything he has in the sport, gets involved in the team, helps them progress, and even though he literally hates, hates, fucking hates it at first, with each second passed on the court with Tetsu, he retrieves a bit of what he had before. What Teikou stripped him of – no, that’s not right – what he left behind, what he gave up, what he forgot. It’s painful, twisted and more than one time, he just wants to run, far away, to never come back. Some nights, he even seriously considers the idea, but the sight of Tetsu, fast asleep in the bed across the room, makes it all disappear. And so at some point it becomes easy again, as is breathing.
“We trusted you. I trusted you.”
He doesn’t even twitch. There’s nothing in Tetsu's body language that betrays any kind of discomfort, of regret, of wanting to go back and do things differently. He’s as unreadable as ever, as well hidden, as secret and discreet. Aomine knows better. Aomine knows better, so he pushes when he can and pulls when it becomes unbearable, takes him to drown at his side and doesn’t let him go until he’s paralyzed with fear, unable to inspire correctly, unable to look at Tetsu without feeling anger and hurt and despair all over again. It’s for its own good, he says to himself, some mornings when he realizes that he doesn’t recognize the boy in the mirror. This is for him, to allow him to have more – more than me, even if it means Seirin and that red-haired kid: they trusted him once, he reasons, they’ll do it again.
(“You failed him.”)
Satsuki says that their playing is a thing a beauty. He laughs it off while Tetsu doesn’t say anything (he never did), and he remembers the way his face was when the bird-like Seirin’s member talked to him. Expressionless. Expressionless, as usual. He knows better. There is a difference between a face who has no expression and a face where anything that could've shown has been wiped off, and now Aomine knows it. He learned that the hard way, so yes, he pushes and pulls and tries Tetsu’s patience and makes himself sick with guilt and self-hate at the idea of losing him again (but this is for him), but if it’s what it takes, he’ll pay the price. Gladly. There is no point keeping to your side someone who doesn’t want to be there anyway, isn’t it?
Tetsu hasn’t even finished to say his name that he already has all of Aomine’s attention. The boy, his roommate, his teammate, his friend, his light, looks at him with intensity. He is an intense kind of person, but these days, there’s more. There’s lateness to training and not near enough homework to keep his grades above the limits set by the school to be allowed to be in a club, clothing staying in the way when it didn’t before, skipping enough classes to make him worry about attendance and – and it’s probably the worst, grimaces of disgust, when he enters the court, scores, passes, runs. Plays. Sometimes everything is good and normal (more than that), but often enough, Tetsuya feels as if he turned back in time, before leaving Teikou, before Seirin, before –
He doesn’t understand until the match.
“Why would you do something like that?!”
He remembers clearly the day Tetsu went again Atsushi. The latter had pushed, taunted, told him to go away, but Tetsu hadn’t yielded an inch, consequences be damned. He had known, deep down, that there was a lot more to his friend than what was on the outside, but knowing and seeing were two different things, and experimenting it... was another one altogether. For weeks, he had waited; he had thought the storm would come sooner, but Tetsu was, apparently, more lenient with him than with anyone else. Abusing this – kindness hurt him all the more, but it was for him, and for him, Aomine would have done a lot worst. Like falling, fumbling, missing, giving the ball away and consciously (but discreetly) disturb the flow of the team, because if Aomine cannot play… if they cannot win…
He’s afraid. Fucking terrified as it is, heart clenched in fear and there’s a bitter taste in his mouth, like blood and vomit, but this is what he needs to do, because now he knows better. So if, one way or another, they lose to Seirin this time –
Of course Tetsu has realized. He knew it could, would happen, and somehow it was part of the plan too, though not a part he cared to dwell on. He couldn’t. Despair swallows him as he lifts his chin and looks his teammate in the eye. There’s him, and, in the background, there’s the red-haired kid. The other one, the one who almost replaced him, who didn’t deserve Tetsu but somehow deserved him more than himself, still does, the one – who will have him, he’ll make sure of it. Because he remembers his face as the kid from Seirin talked to him, the way he stood, still as death, the way he didn’t look at him for a long time after that, the way his mouth became a thin line a moment after, the way –
“Because you have – you – you – you’re regretting it, and I don’t want to – I don’t –” he tries to say, but much like some months ago, the words won’t come out easily,
“I don’t want you to stay –” he starts again, and it’s the hardest thing he has ever done in his life,
“If you don’t want to be here, then – I don’t want you to be, to –” and there’s fury in Tetsu’s eyes, but he has dug his grave long ago, and it’s too late anyway, so he continues,
“I don’t want to fail you again, so if you have to go, if you want to go, then –” oxygen is - failing him and he feels trapped, in this locker room where Tetsu took him during the half-time break –
“I never wanted to.”
Aomine sits on a bench near, and looks at Tetsu. Stares.
“And I don’t intend to.”
Inspires. Expires. Doesn't believe –
“When you talked to – this kid from Seirin, I saw – I saw, Tetsu, you were –” he tries to put it into words, but it has never been his forte.
“I’m here. And I’m not going anywhere,” the other answers while approaching him.
A moment later, Aomine cannot help but look at the hand that took his. It’s strange. Foreign, but it feels good. There’s never been anything since the day he went to Tetsu – never been anything since the – he kisses him now, and it’s as slow and gentle as the first time, and, much like that time, he clings to the other, almost punishing in his embrace, and that conveys more than many words could have. When they separate, there’s a gleam in both their eyes, a bit of uncertainty, of not-knowing (for a change), of apprehension – a bit of everything, a bit of the other in them both. A bit of despair in Tetsu, at not having been able to see what was happening to Aomine –
“I failed you, didn’t I?”
It feels like a punch in the stomach.
“I did!” Aomine answers quickly, disbelief etched on his face.
There’s silence, for a long time, and then they don’t laugh, but still. It feels as if they’ve crossed an invisible obstacle, and it's exhilarating and worrying at the same time (because if it has been taken from them before, it could be taken again); and they stay like that, calm, not talking and not really thinking, until Satsuki comes to get them. The match isn't finished, after all.
Seirin loses 103 to 35.