Chapter 1: 01 - Prologue
The night had been much like any other. A call came into the firehouse, the alarm blaring and the reaction time between the men sitting around, enjoying their coffee and stupid jokes and piling into the firetruck fully equip ran as smoothly as always. It was to be expected, after all. They ran drills for this sort of thing almost daily.
Every little second counted when you were fighting one of the nastiest elements in the world.
But this is what kept Kagami Taiga to this sort of job. He enjoyed the thrill of it. The constant need for stamina and energy. The ability to go from 0 to 50 the moment that alarm went off. Of course, like with any job, there were dull moments. Getting cats from trees or helping put out minor garbage bin fires that frankly anyone could have done with a fire extinguisher. The lulls in the job were necessary though. The long periods of menial victories helped soften the blows when he and the men had to face the bitter reality that they'd arrived a few minutes too late.
Much like the house they stood in front of now.
It was an older home, damage to the outside clear even before noticing the beating it was taking from the flames. Glass shattered and glittered across the lawn as the house moaned under the abuse. Fire burned brightly through what was left of the windows and smoke poured out of every possible opening. If it hadn't been for his equipment, Kagami was sure he could have felt the heat the moment he'd leaped out of the truck.
"Kagami!" He heard a shout from behind himself as one of the men followed after him. He pointed a gloved hand to the driveway where a single car sat parked but relatively undamaged. "Quit trying to run in by yourself - that's how firemen get killed." When he caught up, he grabbed Kagami's upper arm with his large hands and pulled him forward. "Let's go!"
Kagami spared a quick glance behind them as he watched the other men bust the hoses out of the truck and work fast. They'd take care of the flames.
It was Kiyoshi Teppei's job and his to make sure nobody was left inside.
Getting through the front door was the easy part. The structure was holding up fairly well but one quick look to the ceiling as they passed under it gave an ill twist to Kagami's stomach. Kiyoshi looked back at him and gestured two fingers off to a set of stairs. The hand railing wasn't holding up very well but the stairs thus far seemed relatively untouched. "You take top. Get in and out, Kagami. That floor is coming down any minute." Kiyoshi shouted and took off down the main floor hall before he even waited for an answer.
Kagami didn't waste any time. Every second counted in a house fire. Too many factors played into how things held up and frankly that was too much luck than Kagami was comfortable relying on. He took the stairs two at a time and shielded his face when part of the ceiling came crashing down at his feet. Luckily, it was just plaster and Kagami stepped over it as it continued to cinder.
The smoke was thick up here and the fire reflecting through the clouds of white made it hard to gauge exactly where he was going. The sound of the flames was loud and the cracking of the house around himself was almost overpowering. Even through his equipment, this deep into the heat, he could feel it and he was thankful once again for his gear. Pressing his oxygen mask to his face out of habit, he managed to get to the top of the stairs without issue and headed down the hall.
There were three rooms up here from what he could see. One was absolutely consumed by flames that seemed to pulse out of the doorway. As much as Kagami tried, he couldn't get close enough to it to inspect the inside. However, he could manage to see the edge where the floor had sagged and given in and he had to assume that whatever (and hopefully not whoever) fell through, Kiyoshi would deal with.
Backpedaling, he turned to head back down the hall. Edging around a linen closet that was currently helping to assist the life of the flames, Kagami poked into the second room. A bathroom, relatively untouched by the flames but what was once likely white was black from smoke damage and was barely discernible if it hadn't been for the few flammable items in there to be lighting up the room.
But it was a single space area and easily viewed for all its corners. Kagami passed it only a quick look. Nobody was in there.
As he stepped back out and turned to the last room, that's when he caught a sharp sound. It was barely noticeable over the heavy groans of the house and the crackling of the flames but.... as he moved closer through the smoke, he could have sworn that he could hear a dog barking.
A mix of hope and desperation that he wasn't too late sunk into his veins as he stepped over a hunk of wood that had fallen from the ceiling and into the last room.
Sure enough, the barking was louder here but the room was a mess of chaos. The smoke was too thick and Kagami had to focus hard to find the source of the noise. Half the room floor had sunk under the poor structure the house was now undergoing and it was evident that more of it was soon to follow.
But the barking continued and Kagami's eyes were drawn to the other side of the room. Through the flare of orange light and rippled of heat, he could make out something moving in the corner which could only have been a puppy. It seemed to pace back and forth in front of something, making a ruckus with every step.
Now Kagami wasn't a big fan of the tiny hairy creatures but when you were dealing life versus death, it tended to prioritize things in an instant manner. Besides, Kagami wasn't about to let something so young die just because he didn't care for it.
The room was relatively light with flame compared to the previous bedroom he'd tried to enter so he didn't think twice about carefully maneuvering into it. He kept to the wall however, not wanting to help that floor cave in anymore than his presence already would. "Hang on, buddy. I'm coming." He mumbled to himself as the dog continued its frenzy as he got closer.
That was when Kagami's stomach dropped out entirely and his body stiffened for a brief second. Finally able to see it close and without the flame blocking his view, Kagami could clearly see that the thing the puppy had been pacing in front of was in fact the unmoving body of a little kid. He couldn't have been older than five. He was face down, a blanket over himself in what Kagami could only assume had been the kids attempt to save himself from any of the flames.
That moment of shock didn't slow him down however; in fact, it helped spur him into action. His movement was quicker this time and automatic. All his training came into play as he moved over and turned the kid over. He was unconscious, a burn he noticed immediately creeping up the side of his little neck and Kagami's stomach clenched in fear of the worst.
Nothing was worse than losing a kid in a fire; absolutely nothing.
Bundling the blanket around the boy quickly in a weak attempt to try and block off the severity of some of the heat on his bare skin, Kagami grabbed the puppy too and bundled them both up against his chest. Once secure in his arms, even the dog grew still as it lay against the boy and Kagami started to follow the wall back out to the door. Nearly back at the doorway, the floor gave a sickening moan as it caved and a large chunk of it broke off. It crashed to the floor below and up came the flames through the opening. They were thick and heavy in movement and Kagami took extra care to finally get back into the hallway.
Luck seemed in his favour today, however, as he headed to the stairs which still appeared to be relatively untouched. At the very least, they were sturdy enough to hold their combined weight as Kagami ran down them.
That was when a sliver of dread crawled its way into his spine.
The front door was blocked. The part of the floor that had just come down upstairs must have been right over it because pieces of the kid's room were littered everywhere and adding kindling to the chaos.
His sense of survival kicked in and it was time to start looking for another way out. He saw no signs of Kiyoshi and he could only hope that the man got out.
He clutched the kid and his dog to his chest more, bringing an arm up more to try and keep the heat and smoke away from his face.
Kagami hurried into one area to the next, coming up empty handed until finally he found himself in the kitchen. There was a patio door leading out onto a deck that the windows had long since been blown out of. Taking the opportunity while he still had the chance, he hurried over and stepped through it backwards so as to avoid having the lives in his arms cut by the shards of glass still sticking out menacingly.
The stillness of the night from the backyard came into view and Kagami hurried them down the stairs and onto the lawn. He passed a quick look up at the house and could see that one entire side of the roof was sagging in a dangerous manner. He wouldn't want to be near this place when that came down.
Picking up his feet, he ran around the house and came into view of the street lined with people, his fellow firefighters and now police and ambulance. There were two ambulance waiting and one was currently being filled with a stretcher. As Kagami drew closer, he could see the vague shape under the white sheet was clearly adult and his stomach gave a little twist.
It didn't take a genius to figure out whoever it was didn't make it out alive.
From around the ambulance, he could see Kiyoshi come into view and he felt a small sense of relief amongst all this turmoil. At the very least, he was thankful to see his partner was going to live to see another day. However, he took off to help the rest of the men manage the flames and Kagami had no chance to say anything to him.
Instead, he hurried to the second ambulance where an emergency medic was waiting with a second but empty stretcher. The man waved an arm at him, an oxygen mask and tank at the ready as Kagami laid the kid down and tossed the blanket down on the ground. The puppy hopped out of his arms as he did so but quickly laid himself down beside the kid. It was only now that Kagami noticed the sickening red singe across the dog's right ear as he pressed his muzzle tenderly into the boy's arm with a whine.
The kid didn't move as the medic placed the mask around his face and pressed two gloved fingers under his jaw.
Kagami held his breath.
"He's got a pulse!" The medic shouted into the van and it was like a switch with how quickly the medic went to work then.
Kagami took a step back, his knees trembling slightly in relief from the words and watched as they packed the unconscious kid into the back of the van.
The puppy looked back at him with a soft whine and the last thing Kagami saw before the doors shut and the sirens went off was the light blue hair of the kid whose life was now altered forever.
As the ambulance peeled away and he heard his supervisor shout for him, Kagami made a quick note to make it his personal mission to see that that kid was taken complete care of.
No kid should ever have to deal with what he was going to have to once he woke up.
If Kagami could help it, he was going to make sure the boy who had been almost too light in his arms would never have to go through this alone.
Kagami had visited the hospital every day for the next week. He visited on his days off and he visited when he was off duty. He even dropped in once with Kiyoshi when they were out on a run to grab the firehouse coffee.
The first day had probably been the hardest.
He'd gone to the hospital the very night after they'd managed to subdue the flames and his role in the matter was dwindled out until he could write his report in the morning. However, upon trying to see the kid, he was refused on sight.
Apparently the kid's name was Kuroko Tetsuya and defenseless little Tetsuya had inhaled too much smoke and suffered multiple third degree burns to his neck, right leg and foot.
He was in critical care and honestly, the doctor had told him with an almost apologetic look, they weren't entirely sure he was going to last the night. The damage to his lungs was severe and even if he did survive, most of the damage would be permanent.
Kagami had stayed at the hospital the entire night.
Kiyoshi showed up somewhere around 5 in the morning with a large cup of coffee for him and to sit. They didn't speak much at first. They sipped at their coffees and watched doctors and patients alike walk around as they sat in the waiting room. It was still and quiet and the longer Kagami sat there, the more restless he got.
"It's not your fault, you know."
Kagami startled, looking over at Kiyoshi who was busy staring up at the ceiling. When Kagami looked at him, he glanced at him from the corner of his eye before he tilted his head down and gave him an easy smile. "It's not your fault." He repeated.
Kagami looked stubbornly back down at his coffee. "If I'd have checked that room first, he might have been fine."
"You had no way of knowing that." Kiyoshi balanced his coffee on his lap. "You can't do this to yourself, Kagami. If you blame yourself for every person who gets hurt under your watch, it'll start to eat at you."
Kagami ran a hand through his hair, a frustrated expression crossing his face. "He's just a kid, Kiyoshi."
Reaching a hand over, Kiyoshi patted Kagami's back softly. "I know but kids are resilient. He's probably a fighter."
"You can't possibly know that." Kagami retorted, sitting up more so that Kiyoshi's hand falls away and he can slump back against the chair. His back was stiff. Hospital chairs were not meant to be sat in all night.
"You're right. I can't." Kiyoshi smiled all the same. "But I know you did everything you could and now he's gonna have to do everything he can to survive."
Kagami watched his expression for a long moment before he looks away with a sigh. "How do you do it?"
"Stay so optimistic about all of this. Didn't someone die under your watch?" He looks back at Kiyoshi and his chest tightens in guilt when he sees Kiyoshi cast a quiet smile down at his cup. "Wait, that's not--"
"It's alright. It's the truth." Kiyoshi takes a long sip from his coffee then and gets it back to balance on his thigh. "But according to the coroner report, she had passed away from inhaling the smoke long before I got to her. She was gone before we even got the call. In all likelihood, she probably didn't wake up at all."
Kagami remained silent, unsure what to say. The news didn't sit well with him and the guilt still lingered from having spoken without thinking again. It was a bad habit he had never been able to kick but at least now he had more clarity in what he said. Slightly.
His mind re-played that sentence. "Wait, she?"
"Kuroko Tetsuya's legal guardian. She was his grandmother."
"Grandmother? What about his parents?"
"They died in a car accident shortly after he was born. His grandmother was his only living relative so she formally adopted him shortly after." Kiyoshi relayed the information but then looked at Kagami with slight confusion. "I thought you'd have heard about this already. Isn't Himuro working the case?"
"Tatsuya?" Kagami blinks in equal surprise. "What's the police department got to do with this case? Wasn't it just faulty wiring?"
"That's what we concluded but apparently there is something fishy about the contractor who built the place. I only overheard our supervisor talking to the Chief about putting out a warning to anybody else who had gotten their houses built by the same contractor." Kiyoshi rubbed the back of his neck. "This was the first house fire that resulted in a fatality though so they're treating it pretty seriously. I just got finished giving my official statement to the police about my findings before I came here."
".... The Fire Chief is pissed I took off, isn't he?" Kagami paled.
"Yep." Kiyoshi replied simply and Kagami put his head in his hands with a groan. Kiyoshi grinned and clapped him on the back with a chuckle. "Hey, you had bigger priorities. Just write your report before you go talk to him and maybe he'll be less likely to bury you in the river bank."
"This sucks.." He mumbled into his fingers, his mind already playing out the scolding he was going to get.
There were a distinct set of footsteps that strode down the hall then and Kagami saw a pair of dress shoes through the gaps in his fingers.
He sat up quickly then and looked up just as the doctor pushed up his glasses and said, "You've multiplied. Didn't I tell you to go home?"
Kagami stood up immediately and Kiyoshi followed a little more slowly. "Is he okay?!"
"Keep your voice down. This is a hospital." He replied simply before looking over to where Kiyoshi had extended his hand. He stared at it a moment.
Kiyoshi grinned. "I take it your Kuroko's attending doctor?"
"I am." He finally extended a hand and graced Kiyoshi with a single shake before retracting it. "I'm Dr. Midorima. I'm the Head of Emergency. And you're...?" His eyes slide between the two.
"Kiyoshi Teppei. I'm Kagami's partner." He replies simply and feeling Kagami's annoyance growing, he adds, "How is he?"
Midorima glanced between the two and then turned his gaze down to his clipboard. "He's showing surprising progress. He's still in surgery but his heart rate has remained relatively steady and he's being treated for his burns. They're fairly severe but it seems he was lucky that the burn didn't damage his common carotid artery."
"His what?" Kagami asked, feeling slightly lame when Midorima looked over at him with a look he was certain was calling him stupid.
"It's an artery in your neck. Since it was undamaged, he won't require surgery for his neck but the placement is going to cause him a lot of pain as it heals. We've put him on a low dose of pain killers - considerate for his age, of course."
"So he's awake?" Kagami asked, hopeful.
"No, not yet." Midorima shock his head. "That's the least of his worries."
Kagami's expression dropped and Kiyoshi gave him a sympathetic look. "What do you mean? What else is wrong?"
"The damage to his lungs and leg are irreversible. His lungs are currently working at half capacity. We have him on oxygen and we'll have to see how he does off of it when he wakes up but it's not looking good."
Kiyoshi continued to do the talking as Kagami seemed to be struggling to take all this in. "But he's still young. What are the chances of his lungs repairing themselves as he gets older?"
Midorima pushes up his glasses as he lets the clipboard rest on his side. "It's a possibility but the scaring may cause complications as he grows. In any case, we aren't relying too heavily on it and it's looking like he will have to be on oxygen. At least until we start to see some improvement."
"What about his leg?" Kagami cuts in. One of his hands is bundled into a fist at his side while the other gestures absently. "You said his lungs and his leg."
"The burn Kuroko Tetsuya received on his leg consumes his entire right foot and extends so far as mid thigh. The most severe damage is to his calve. Most of the muscle there has been consumed."
"Consumed?" Kagami question for clarification and clenched his jaw when Midorima gave him that look again.
"It's dead. The muscle there won't simply grow back or repair itself. Surgery is currently in the process of removing it."
Kagami looked a bit panicked and Kiyoshi put a hand on his shoulder in an attempt to relax him. "They're removing his leg?! But he's just a kid!"
This time when Midorima looked at him, he scowled. "They're removing the muscle, not the leg. The damage done to it is beyond help and the best we can hope to do is make sure he will still be able to use it to some extent through rehabilitation and corrective surgery. His age has nothing to do with it. Trauma doesn't pick by age, Mr. Kagami, and this is the last time I will be telling you to keep your voice down. Kuroko Tetsuya is not my only critical care patient and you would do well to mind the others."
Kagami bit the inside of his cheek then to keep from retorting. He knew Midorima was right on multiple accounts but the frustration he felt was building too rapidly.
"Kagami, go take a walk."
"What?" He turned to look at Kiyoshi who, for once, had a stern expression.
"You've been up all night but I know you won't go home and rest so take a walk. Even just a short one. Take a tour of the hospital. You need to cool down." Kiyoshi smiled then. "Kuroko will still be here when you get back."
Kagami had reluctantly obliged and his walk turned into a repeated action as the next two days progressed.
Day two, he had been denied seeing the kid because he was still recovering from surgery. It had gone well but Dr. Midorima had told him that they'd had to take more of the muscle than they had originally planned. However, with rehabilitation, he should still be able to walk - but not without some sort of aid. They'd know the severity of it all once Kuroko was awake and healthy enough to start.
Day three, Kuroko woke up. Kagami had felt such relief when he got the news but for a third time, he was denied entry. Midorima told him it was too soon and that the kid needed time to adjust. It wasn't that Kagami didn't understand but he wanted to be there for the kid when he got all of his news. All he could think about was that little blue haired bundle sitting in a giant hospital bed, surrounded by strangers five times his size and being told that his grandmother was dead and that he'd never walk or breath normally ever again.
But there had been nothing he could do so against his own judgement, he let himself out of the hospital with a few choice curses.
He had almost considered not coming on the fourth day - simply having calling in this time to see if that jerk doctor would let him see the kid - but Kiyoshi had other plans. It had been their turn to make the run for coffee for the overnight shift but instead of hitting up their usual coffee shop, Kiyoshi had taken the highway.
"Wait, where are we going? You just missed the turn off." Kagami exclaimed, pointing a finger out the window and watching the intersection fall away from sight.
Kiyoshi grinned. "You still have an hour left before visiting hours are over. Don't you want to check in?"
"I called this morning. I'm still 'not permitted'." Kagami retorted, the last two words coming out in a mocking tone as he pictured the jerk doctor's stupid face.
Drumming his fingers lightly on the steering wheel, Kiyoshi hummed. "Well, it's been hours since then. Maybe you'll be allowed now."
Kagami watched Kiyoshi a moment before he leaned his head back against the chair. His gaze lingered out the window as he watched streetlamps starting to flicker to life. "...Yeah. Maybe."
"Ah!" A voice called out before Kagami as he entered the emergency room with Kiyoshi and he stiffens in surprise. "The fireman!"
Kagami looked around for the source of the voice but it soon trotted up to him with a smile. The man settled his stethoscope around his neck and made a low whistle. "You're pretty brave to show up here after Shin-chan said no."
"Shin-chan?" Kagami repeated, giving the man a strange look.
It took a few moments of staring at his face before it started to overlap with his memory and finally clicked. He pointed a finger at him. "Wait! You're that EMT I gave Kuroko to the night of the fire!"
"That's me!" He grinned in response. "Takao Kazunari. I'm a paramedic, actually."
"What's the difference?" Kagami questions before thinking about it.
Takao grins. "It means I'm higher up the food chain than a basic EMT. It's also why I've been assigned to Kuroko Tetsuya."
Kagami blinked. "Wait, I thought that jerk was Kuroko's doctor?"
"Jerk?" Takao repeats, a little smirk tugging at the corner of his lips and his hands settle on his hips, his face turning down as he giggles a little.
Kiyoshi steps in then. "He means Dr. Midorima."
"I know who he means. Although he's been called much worse names before. Emergency patients are pretty mouthy people when they're in pain." He waves a finger. "Anyway, Shin-chan just signs the paperwork because he's the head of the department. I'm the one who does all the dirty work and checks in on him."
"How is he? Do you think I can see him finally?" Kagami questions, taking a step forward.
Takao watches him curiously for a moment before he shrugs a shoulder. "Honestly, you could have seen him yesterday if you had just come talk to me. All you had to do was ask who was handling Kuroko's case."
Takao looks thoughtful, knuckles pressed to his chin. "You must have done something to really piss off Shin-chan."
Kagami can practically feel a vein popping in his forehead as his fist clenches at his side. "I'm gonna kill him!"
Waving a hand at him, Takao chuckled. "Just relax; Shin-chan has that effect on a lot of people. He has terrible bedside manner. Regarding Kuroko, I don't mind letting you in to see him but he's probably asleep by now.... and I've heard you have a problem with keeping quiet."
"I don't--!" Kagami starts, his tone a little too loud but he clenches his jaw and physically struggles to keep his temper down. He has to remind himself that Midorima is helping look after Kuroko to resist the urge to punch him in the face next time he saw him. That jerk knew how badly Kagami had wanted to see him and deliberately messed with him.
It took a few large, slow inhales before Kagami could feel the blood cooling in his veins again and a couple more before he felt himself calm enough to open his mouth again. "I'm fine. I can keep quiet. I just want to see that he's okay."
Takao watched him a moment longer before a quiet smile appeared on his face. "You're pretty dedicated to this little stranger, huh?"
"I won't wake him up." Kagami insists instead of replying. His gaze was firm and his tone stubborn. "Please."
There is a lingering silence there as Takao studies him and Kagami does his best to look dedicated before Takao turns on his heels and waves for them to follow. "He's this way."
Such a huge sensation of relief washes over Kagami at the words and he gives Kiyoshi a victorious grin before trotting after Takao. Kiyoshi simply gave them a wave, saying he'd be in the waiting room and Kagami gave him a quick wave over his own shoulder to show that he'd heard him.
Kuroko's room was in a separate wing from the emergency room and as Takao swiped his card key, Kagami noticed the 'critical care unit' sign painted onto the door. He kept close to Takao as they passed nurses and their footsteps echoed softly down the halls.
"I gave him something to help him sleep earlier," Takao started, startling Kagami. "so it should have kicked in by now. The healing process for these kind of injuries is painful and because of his age, we can't give him anymore painkillers. He'd have been up all night crying and he's already tired as it is. He's been having a hard time dealing with the fact that half his leg is gone."
"So.. they did remove it?" Kagami asked, feeling slightly ill.
"No; but they might as well have. They removed most of the muscle from his calve and they they had to use skin from his thigh to make up the skin grafts. They tried to minimize the damage so the grafts are a bit on the thin side. They'll take longer to heal because of it."
Kagami remained silent as he let the news sink in. He tried to picture what the kid would look like by the description but he just couldn't. All the could think of was something that resembled a twisted mass of flesh and bone and he felt ill all over again.
"But there is some good news with all of this." Takao turned back to face Kagami as he stands in front of a door. Kagami glances at it and then back at Takao with a confused look. "His left leg is perfectly fine. Minor burns that have already almost healed. He still has full use of it. The burn to his neck is healing nicely and at most, he'll have a scar. So long as he keeps up with not touching or scratching at it while it heals, it should scar nicely as well."
"And his lungs?"
"I ran a bunch of tests for them and although he will still need to be on oxygen, his lung capacity is higher than what we expected it to be. His oxygen levels have risen by a few points from when he was admitted." Takao holds Kagami's gaze. "They're currently our top priority. You can't live without your lungs, after all."
"That doesn't sound like very good news." Kagami frowns.
Takao smiles. "You don't think? Mr. Fireman, if you hadn't pulled Kuroko out of that house when you did, I'd have already had to sign his death certificate." He shifts toward the door and turns the handle. "Give yourself a little more credit. Kuroko is going to make it. He's a fighter."
Hearing those same words again from someone else seemed to settle nicely into Kagami's ears. "Wait, don't call me Mr. Fireman. I have a name! It's Kagami Taiga."
He watched the door open and saw that the room was dark; save for a dull but steady light coming from the monitors. He poked his head in and, at first, saw nothing but equipment and furniture. Even the bed looked relatively empty until he saw a small lump closer to the pillow. The blanket was pulled up and the only indication that someone was actually there were the little tufts of light blue hair that poked out the edge.
Kagami felt a strange sense of relief at the sight.
"Well, Kagami Taiga," Takao spoke softly and Kagami jumped a little. He'd been focusing on the room that he almost forgot Takao was there. "You wanted to see him, right? You can't very well do that from the doorway."
Kagami looked back and forth between Takao and the bed before he hesitantly took a step into the room. His feet felt unexpectedly heavy.
He'd been so desperate all this time to see Kuroko with his own two eyes, but he had never thought about passed that until right that moment.
What would he do if Kuroko woke up? What would he say to him? What could he say to him? Kuroko would have absolutely no idea who he even was. He was just another strange adult in uniform.
His feet halted somewhere between the door and the bed, his eyes lingering on the little lump. He could see a little of his ear from there and part of his cheek. It looked like he was attempting to curl into a ball but one of his legs was still sticking out. Kagami could only assume that to be his injured one. His eyes traced the perfect outline of it and tried once again to imagine what it could possibly look like underneath. He was so small already; how much thinner could it be?
Kagami was reminded of how light the kid had weighed in his arms with his little mutt and--
Wait. The mutt.
Kagami looked around the room, leaning to and fro.
"What's wrong?" Takao's voice whispered from the doorway and Kagami turned back to see him leaning against the door frame, blinking in confusion.
Kagami's head tilted. "Where's the dog? The one who was with Kuroko?"
"Ahh, you mean Nigou?" He questioned.
"Nigou?" Kagami blinked, making sure to keep his voice low.
Takao raised a finger and pointed at his own face. "He didn't have a name and Kuroko hasn't told me what it is yet so I had to call him something. It's kind of cute, actually. They have the same eyes."
"Kuroko and his puppy." Takao grinned. "So I named him Nigou."
"Nigou." Kagami repeated slowly. That seemed... like the lamest name he had ever heard.
"Yeah, Nigou. Anyway, he's still at the vet. I took him in while Kuroko was still in surgery, hoping he'd be bandaged up by the time Kuroko woke up." He gestures his thumb to his ear then. "But it turns out he needed surgery too to remove his ear. I'm picking him back up tomorrow morning." Takao grinned. "I'm sure it'll make Kuroko happy to see him again."
"Are pets even allowed in a hospital?"
Takao waves a hand. "Technically no but that dog is the only thing Kuroko still has left. I don't care how many times Shin-chan tries to tell me no - as far as I'm concerned, Nigou is family now."
Kagami looked back over at Kuroko and made a face. He supposed that meant he would have to see that dog again if he was going to be visiting Kuroko again. Frankly, he wasn't too fond of the idea but maybe if he kept his distance, the mutt would leave him alone. He'd be injured too, right? Maybe it'll just sit in one spot and not move. That would be okay. Kagami could probably deal with that.
"What are you waiting for?" Takao spoke up once more. "Didn't you want to see him?"
Kagami stiffened at the words. He went to glance back over his shoulder but then decided against it. Taking a deep breath, he let it out slowly.. and finally walked forward. He tried his best to walk slow so that his boots didn't make much sound against the tiled floor as he crept around the bed.
His eyes never left the little bundle though. He watched as Kuroko's little sleeping face came into view, draped in the shadows of the room but illuminated just enough by the light of the hallway for Kagami to make out his features.
He moved around the bed until he was finally standing directly beside it, looking down at the little lump.
He looked so calm; peaceful, even. Kagami never would have guessed that the kid was in any sort of pain. He was still and small and the sound of the heart monitor beeping steadily gave the sight a sudden bitter taste. Kagami took in the plastic wiring tucked under his little nose - oxygen, he assumed, and he couldn't help feeling guilty anew.
If he'd just checked that room first....
His gaze traveled and he could see the bandaged that poked out from under the blanket as it lay flat against him neck. That was the injury Kagami remembered - the one that accompanied this little kid's face in his memory. Even if it just scarred, the size of the bandage and how much he'd seen that burn crawl up the expanse of his neck, there was no way it would be a subtle scar. It wouldn't be something Kuroko would be able to cover up.
His hand had reached out before he realised it and halted halfway through the movement. He hesitated, weary of waking him. By the sound of what Takao told him, he would need every second of sleep he could manage... but...
He was right there. He was right in front of him. He was stable and healing and alive. The kid Kagami had been obsessing about over these past few days was alive.
The reality of that was almost too much to handle. The relief alone was already crushing him.
Soon his fingers were touching his hair before he fully registered it and he brushed at a piece that was sticking up awkwardly. However, when he tried to pet it down, it sprung back up stubbornly. A couple more tried proved fruitless... but it managed to bring a small smile to his face.
He bent down at the edge of the bed so that he was on eye level with him. He kept his touch light so as to not rouse the kid but he showed absolutely no signs of waking. It was then that Kagami noticed the size of his own hand compared to Kuroko's head and his little smile grew more.
A vague sense of a paternal connection swelled softly in the pits of Kagami's stomach and he placed his hand full against his little head. He ran his long fingers through his hair and watched as that single stubborn strand sprung back into awkward place once more.
"It'll be okay, Kuroko Tetsuya." He whispered as softly as he could manage. When he didn't move, Kagami retracted his hand and continued, his eyes lingering on his sleeping face. "The doctors here are going to take good care of you and I'll make sure to come visit you every day until you can get out of here. I'll come back tomorrow. Maybe you'll be awake when I come and I'll know what to say to you by then." Kagami stood up slowly, his fingers lingering on the sheets as he continued to stare down at him.
He is silent for a moment before he turns to leave. He knows Kuroko can't hear him but something is lingering heavily on his tongue. Words he isn't sure how to form yet or what they'll say when he figures them out. Even his throat seems to be stuck and frozen in the absence.
"Don't--" He started but the word felt false on his lips; like he'd read the weight on his tongue all wrong.
He sighed. Guess he still needed another night to figure it out. That was alright, though. He'd gotten his main wish. He got to see that Kuroko was alright.
Now it was just going to be a matter of fulfilling the promise he'd made for him. The promise to make sure Kuroko didn't have to go through this alone.
As he strode out of the room and Takao shut the door quietly behind him, Takao spoke up, "Don't forget what you just said."
"Hmm?" Kagami looked over at him as Takao turned to face him.
"About visiting. You're the only person that's come to visit him so far that hasn't come to give him more bad news." Takao nods toward the door. "Even if he didn't hear you make that promise, I did. I'm holding you to it, Kagami Taiga."
And despite the fact that the words almost sounded like a threat, a wide grin broke out onto Kagami's face for the first time in days.
"What are you worried about? I've been here every day so far, haven't I?" He turned to head back to hall, feeling that his steps seemed lighter as he walked away. He waves a hand over his shoulder as he goes. "I'll bring him something tomorrow so make sure he's awake when I come."
"Don't come too late." Takao replies, a small smile creeping onto his face again and he looks over to Kuroko's door.
"You've made quite the ally, Kuroko Tetsuya." He mumbles softly to it.
"Things are looking up for you already."
This is the first half (of two) of hospital bound!Kuroko - the second half will be of Kagami and Kuroko finally meeting. I hope you enjoyed the chapter and reviews/constructive critique are welcome!
Chapter 3: 03 - First Week (Part Two)
This story is set in Japan so imagine that when Takao calls Kagami "Mr. Fireman", he's saying it in English.
That night, Kagami hadn't slept a wink.
How could he?
He was going through the most emotional whiplash he had ever experienced.
One minute, he was excited. He was finally going to see Tetsuya face to face. He was going to be able to talk with him. He wasn't sure what they'd talk about but he was sure it would be good. He could let the kid know that he was going to be visiting every day. He could maybe even bring little gifts to help keep his spirits up. He was going to be able to watch the kid grow healthier and stronger and Kagami thought that was pretty great.
Then the next minute, he was overcome with paralyzing terror. What if the kid asked him why his Grandma wasn't around anymore? What if he asked why Kagami didn't save her? He could even just as easily blame Kagami for his leg or for being on oxygen. The kid could turn out to be completely resentful toward him for everything.
That thought quickly sank him into a deep depression. What if the kid didn't want to see him at all? What if he just ignored him entirely? Would he even care that Kagami had been stressing over him these past few days? He was only five, after all. Maybe he wouldn't even understand any of it.
He wasn't sure he could take it if the kid started crying in front of him.
Then he would remind himself that everything would be fine, that he was worrying too much and he was back to square one.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
By the time his phone rang around 9 AM, Kagami was sure he'd worn out a new groove in his couch with all the flipping around he'd done.
Thinking was exhausting sometimes.
"Yeah?" Kagami asked into his cellphone without bothering to look at it before he answered.
There was a familiar sigh on the other end, "Is that how you greet everyone, Kagami?"
He sat up quickly; stiff. "Riko! What are you calling me for?"
"Well that's rude." She scoffed at him. "Can't you at least pretend to be happy to hear from me?"
"Uhh, well, it's just that you don't--" Kagami started.
Riko cut him off. "Don't bother. I know your head is somewhere else. Today is the big day, right?"
Kagami blinked. "Kiyoshi told you."
"Of course Teppei told me. He tells us everything." Riko replied and she sounded exhausted at the words.
Kagami didn't doubt that for a minute.
"That's why I'm calling you, actually." Riko added and Kagami could hear the smile in her voice. "I wanted to wish you good luck."
"What do I need good luck for?"
"Have you thought of what you're going to say to him yet?"
There was an awkward silence then as Kagami stared across at the wall with a blank expression, and then a loud smack as he fell back onto the couch and gave a frustrated groan.
"I didn't think so." Riko hummed. "Alright, Kagami. Listen up! I'm about to give you some advice on dealing with kids that could change your life."
"I know how to deal with kids!" Kagami retorted.
Riko didn't seem to hear him though. "The number one rule is to remain calm. Especially with a kid that's been through everything he has been. If you're yourself, you'll probably scare him."
"Are you calling me scary?!"
"You have a scary face. You made Shigehiro cry the first time you met him, remember?"
"He wasn't even two months old! You're never going to let that go, are you?"
"I'll make sure 'terrified small children' is written somewhere on your gravestone." She quipped and Kagami had one terrifying moment where he knew she probably would. "Rule number two is to never talk down to them. Don't treat them like they're stupid. They just don't know any better yet. You have to be gentle."
"I can be gentle." Kagami replied in annoyance because he was pretty sure this advice was an offhanded way of calling him stupid.
There was a lingering silence on the other end and Kagami bit back, "I can!"
"Rule number three," She continued and Kagami gritted his teeth again at being blatantly disregarded. "and this is important, Kagami. Act normal."
"What? I thought you said I shouldn't be myself." He grumbled.
"That's not what she means, idiot." A new voice spoke up and Kagami blinked.
"Hyuuga? Wait, am I on speakerphone again?"
"What else is new? Anyway, she means that you shouldn't act any differently around the kid than you would if he was perfectly healthy. You have to let him know that he's still a kid. Don't blatantly stare at his injuries or give him special treatment. Kids aren't stupid - he's going to know you're pitying him." Hyuuga explained with a sigh. His tone was firm, though. The words stuck to Kagami. The last thing he wanted was for Tetsuya to think he was just pitying him.
Kagami rubbed a hand over his face as he sat up again. "You're both telling me stuff I already knew. When are you going to stop treating me like a moron?"
"When you stop being one. Oh and kids like sweets; you should bring him some." Hyuuga added and Kagami felt a pulse of annoyance.
"I'm not an idiot!" He shouted into his phone before he hung up without another word. He scowled down at the device before he finally pulled himself up off the couch.
Stretching his arms high above himself, feeling his spine crack from the uncomfortable positions he'd been rolling around in all night, he gave a heavy sigh.
Well, time to put on his game face.
Kagami likely spent more time than he had intended lingering around the hospital gift shop. He hadn't known where else to go and somehow wound up there. A flower shop would have been useless and a toy store was out of the question since he didn't exactly know what kind of things Tetsuya liked. In fact, the indecision was what was eating at him now. It was the entire reason he was standing before a display of balloons and was completely unable to decide which was more appropriate - get well soon with a widely smiling face or so I heard you're feeling blue with a generic blue dog.
Rubbing the back of his neck, Kagami finally settled for the smiling face. As he was paying for it, he noted a white stuffed bear with a pink heart stitched onto its breast and slid that across the counter as well.
All kids liked stuffed animals, didn't they?
As cash was exchanged and he left the gift shop with the balloon floating apathetically above him, his gut reminded him of the nerves he'd been trying to ignore all morning.
He looked down at himself and tugged softly on his collar. He'd tried to look as casual as possible when he'd dressed this morning. He had on simple jeans, a plain white t-shirt and a red plaid button up that hung open over his torso. His fingers grazed the chain that had long held the ring he cherished so dear and gave it a soft touch for a bit of extra courage. He suddenly wished Tatsuya had been available to come with him. He'd always been the cooler head of the two. He'd probably have no problem knowing what to say to Tetsuya.
Taking a deep breath, he let his fingers go back to grasping the string of the balloon firmly. Setting one sneaker ahead of the other, he held his head high and strolled forward with his usual stubbornness.
Everything would be fine.
"Good. You did come." He heard from behind himself and he jumped in surprise, scooting a couple steps to the side from shock.
He stared wide eyed at Takao who was looking over at him with a soft but tired smile. He appeared fairly worn and one look at his uniform told Kagami that he'd been there all night. "I wasn't sure," Takao continued. "if you'd be coming so early."
Kagami stood fuller and tugged at his collar again, trying to look dignified and not at all like he'd been spooked moments earlier. He cleared his throat. "Is Tetsuya awake?"
"He's been up for hours." Takao responded, walking past Kagami to the nurse’s station and the taller man had no choice but to follow. "I picked up Nigou first thing this morning so they haven't left each other's side."
Kagami stiffened. Damn. He'd hoped that by coming early, he could have avoided the dog all together.
"I told him he was going to have a visitor today. He's expecting you." Takao said, his attention elsewhere as he slid a clipboard over to the attending nurse and took the two that she handed back to him. He flipped through the papers briefly before drawing his attention back to Kagami. "I can let you into the ward but I'm afraid you're on your own after that." He rounded the desk and started to lead Kagami down the route they'd walked last night. "I'm on the end of a double shift and I want to get out of here to get some sleep before Shin-chan comes in. I think he's under the impression that I do less work than I actually do."
He swiped his security card to let the doors open and Kagami fell into step with him.
Takao gave him a side glance and looked above him. "A balloon, huh?" He looked suddenly amused.
Kagami followed his gaze and watched the smiling face bounce along aimlessly. "Is it too much?"
"I think he'll be happy." Takao nodded absently. "It's the first gift anyone has brought him."
"Really?" Kagami blinked.
Takao only smiled when they reached Tetsuya's door and he gestured. "Time to fulfill that promise, Mr. Fireman."
"My name is Kagami Taiga." He said a little more annoyed than intended but Takao didn't seem to notice - or care.
"You're welcome to stay as long as you want but I've been trying to have him nap about mid-day. It makes things easier on him. If he falls asleep, don't try to wake him." Takao instructed.
Kagami nodded firmly in response.
Takao took a step back and waved at him with his two clipboards. "Don't look so stiff, Mr. Fireman. He'll be happy to see you."
"Ka-ga-mi." He retorted in reply to Takao's back. The paramedic gave no response as he continued on his way and Kagami turned to face the door at long last.
This was it.
He was finally going to see little Tetsuya conscious and healing.
As he reached forward for the handle, he found he still didn't know what to say. Then again, how often did he?
Opening the door, the first thing he noticed was how bright the room was. The window was facing the sun and the curtains were drawn back to let the light in. It would have been blinding if Kagami wasn't just tall enough to miss the glaring sun peeking under the window frame. The room was just as open as it had been before, a sole bed in the center with a mess of cords and tubes bundled about. Instead, this time, the patron wasn't laying down... and he wasn't alone.
The first thing that struck Kagami was that the kid was sitting up at all. When he had only ever seen him limp or lifeless, the simple act of sitting up was enough to fill Kagami's chest with relief. He was staring forward, not even glancing at the door upon Kagami's entry and looking down at his legs. Kagami's stomach gave a little twist. It was strange, really, feeling relief and pity at the same time.
The next thing he noticed was the tiny ball of fur that he remembered rather vividly. Much to Kagami's delight, it didn't seem to take notice of his presence either and was instead content to wiggle itself under the boy's arm. He had a cone around his neck, preventing him from scratching and when the pup turned, Kagami could see the gaping, swollen skin where a matching furry ear used to be. As Kagami drew closer, he noticed how the skin was partially covering the hole and he had seen enough melted skin in his lifetime to know exactly how that happened. He didn't want to think about it.
He wasn't necessarily scared of dogs - they just made him nervous. He could pet them and play with them if they didn't make any unnecessary movements but honestly, he would most often like to just ignore them entirely. However, it was very clear from what he already knew to what he could see right now that interacting with Tetsuya would mean seeing Nigou all the time.
But as he finally got more into the room - and the puppy looked up at him finally - the thing he noticed most of all was how small Tetsuya looked in that hospital bed.
Kids didn't deserve to spend their lives in hospital beds.
He should have been out playing and living a carefree life.
If only he'd checked that room first....
"Umm." He started before he'd even thought of what to say. It wasn't much of a first impression but he almost immediately got a short bark from the pup.
He flinched in surprise and gave a nervous chuckle. "Hi, uh, boy. I heard you'd be here too."
He cleared his throat and looked back up to the child who was still staring down at his legs. If Kagami didn't know better, he would have thought the boy still unconscious. He still blinked. He could see him swallow occasionally. He was clearly breathing - even with difficulty.
Yet he didn't seem to notice Kagami was there. He didn't seem to notice anything else was there.
"Uhh, it's nice to finally see you awake, Kuroko Tetsuya." He tried again, this time offering a small smile.
The boy still didn't respond.
Biting his lip, he moved over to the side of the bed and pulled up a chair. He looked at the items in his hands and then up at the boy. "I, uh, bought you a balloon." He stated, holding the string out to the boy but wasn't entirely surprised when he didn't take it. Instead, since his gaze was still low, he tugged down on the string until the balloon was in his hands. He then presented it to Tetsuya with a quiet smile. "I know, it's not the coolest present but it was all I could think of since I don't know what you like." He looked around and then reached over, tying off the string on his bedside. "Here, I'll just put it here so you can look at it later, okay?"
When he looked over again, he could see a little more of Tetsuya's face and he could see firsthand the distant look in his gaze. Almost as if a fog had rolled over the natural childish glow. He supposed it was to be expected but it didn't help from feeling his spirits plummet at the sight.
No, okay, this wasn't the time to be depressed about things he could no longer prevent. He was here to cheer up Tetsuya, to show him that he wasn't alone and to prove to him that somebody cared and that was damn well what he was going to do.
Even if he had to - for once - do all the talking.
He clears his throat loudly. "My name is Kagami Taiga. I was one of the firemen who helped put out the fire at your home." He finally introduced himself. "I think maybe Takao told you I was coming? I've been trying to get in to see you for a while now. I wanted to make sure you were okay with my own eyes."
He grinned widely but of course, it seemed to fall on deaf ears. Taking a deep breath, he didn't let that dampen his spirits. "Oh, here, I bought you this too. I don't know if you're into this sort of thing or if maybe you feel you're too old for them but…" He trailed off, lifting the little plush bear out of his lap and very purposefully placing it within Tetsuya's line of sight. He rested it gently on his legs and retracted his hand.
However, the movement he got wasn't what he expected. It wasn't Tetsuya that moved but Nigou. The little pup crawled from Tetsuya's side and went up to sniff at the toy, pawing at it curiously.
Kagami waved a hand. "Ahh, wait, that's for Tetsuya!"
When Kagami tried to grab at the toy again, Nigou happily yanked it away from him. He sat there, face and paws pressed down with his hind legs in the air and tail wagging happily. When Kagami tried for it again, the pup snatched it and happily pounced away with it, hiding it at Tetsuya's side.
Kagami sighed. "You're not giving that back, are you?"
Nigou happily chewed on the toy and growled softly as he began to play.
Kagami sighed once more but this time, his lips carried a smile. "Fine, keep it. Now you both have a present."
The red head looked back over to Tetsuya and resisted the urge to sigh. He knew, realistically, that the chances of Tetsuya having been active and spirited were nonexistent but it was hard to deal with the fact that sat before him. He just… wanted to fix him; to make it all better. He wanted to bundle Tetsuya up in his arms, take him outside and go get the kid ice cream. He wanted to bring him to a park so he could go play with kids his age. He wanted to see what he looked like when he smiled.
He didn’t understand sometimes how people could do this job for years. He found himself wondering how many times Kiyoshi had gone to see the families of people that had been lost in fires. He wondered how many funerals he had attended just to deal with the inevitable guilt that came with this job.
He wondered how many ghosts still haunted his senior partner – and how many were eventually going to haunt Kagami as well.
“Hey,” he started, his expression serious. “I know you don’t know me yet and that right now, I’m just some weird stranger to you…. But that’s going to change. I’m going to be here for you, okay? I promise to come every day, if I can. I’ll visit you when I get off work or when I have a day off. I’ll….. I’ll bring things. You could maybe tell me stuff that you like later and I could bring them for you. I imagine you’re going to be here for a while and I know hospitals can get pretty boring.” He rambled, letting his worries pour out. “But you’re not going to be alone anymore, Kuroko Tetsuya. I’m going to be here.”
He draws an X over his heart, expression firm. “Cross my heart.”
Kagami held his breath then, awaiting a reaction of some sort… but naturally, nothing came.
That didn’t matter though. From that first meeting, Kagami kept his promise.
For the following two days, he showed up with a bag of miscellaneous treasures in a shopping bag and sat beside Tetsuya’s bedside until the sun disappeared from the sky outside. Tetsuya still didn’t speak or even look at him but by the third day of Kagami’s promised appearance, he at the very least began to move. His gaze was still blank, a lost look in them that killed Kagami, that he was unable to fix.
Tetsuya would pet his puppy and bundle him up in his arms and hold him to his chest. Nigou was always simply happy for the affection, licking at Tetsuya’s face and wagging his tail. It would have been pretty cute – if it were any other situation. From where Kagami was sitting, it looked more like Tetsuya was desperate to keep him close; like he was scared that if he let the puppy go, he would disappear.
So Kagami made sure to bring treats for Nigou as well. A bit of beef jerky here, a new toy there and even once gracing him with a pet – although he’d retracted his hand the moment Nigou tried to lick him because he thought the pup had gone in for a bite.
Hey, he might have been putting up with Nigou for Tetsuya’s sake but that still didn’t mean he was suddenly cured of his weariness toward dogs! Even if the pup was pretty much the size of his foot.
It was fun, sort of. These quiet moments of sitting in that hospital room. It was only a couple days but Kagami was already attached. With each passing hour, he felt more and more inclined to make sure nothing bad ever happened to Tetsuya ever again. He wanted to erase that blank look on his face and fill it with life. He wanted to see Tetsuya out in a different setting instead of stuck in that hospital bed which was far too large for him. He wanted those wires gone, that breathing tube out, those bandages off, those inevitable scars erased and that leg he had yet to see to be fully mended and functioning. He wanted none of this to have happened to him. He wanted his house to not be a pile of collapsed rumble. He wanted his Grandmother to still be around to hold his hand and tell him everything was going to be okay.
He wanted Tetsuya to never have had to experience that kind of loneliness.
“What’s going on?”
Kagami blinked upon entering the critical care ward thanks to the help of a nurse. He had his usual bag of treasures in hand but as he got closer to the room, there was a familiar face talking to someone with a briefcase and a suit.
The police officer turned with a startled look, standing upright and looking over at Kagami. Immediately, the man in the suit entered Kuroko’s room and something began to fester in the pit of Kagami’s stomach. A long-buried anxiety suddenly resurfaced.
“Taiga, you’re here earlier than I thought you’d be.” Himuro spoke, being sure to step in front of Kagami when the man tried to walk past him.
“What’s going on?! Who was that guy?” He pressed, pointing toward the door.
Himuro waved his hands down, his expression quite serious. “Taiga, lower your voice. Remember where you are. We need to—Taiga.” He snaps when the redhead’s attention was pulled back toward the door. Upon hearing his name again, he looked down. “Taiga, we need to talk.”
“Let’s go sit down.”
“Why? Just tell me what’s going on!”
“You need to sit down, Taiga. It’s important.” Himuro tried to insist but it was clear by Kagami’s ever obvious body language that the man was getting more and more agitated and he wasn’t going anywhere. He sighed, reaching up to adjust his police hat and looked back up at his stubborn, younger sibling.
“That man was the local representative of an all-boys orphanage.” He finally admitted, and he watched the colour drain from Kagami’s face. “He’s here to talk to Kuroko Tetsuya.”
“Orphanage?!” Kagami shouted.
Himuro sighed, pressing two fingers to his temple. “This is why I wanted to go sit somewhere…. Taiga, lower your voice. This is the critical care ward.”
“I’ve got to get in the—!“ Kagami started, meaning to move past him but Himuro was quick to plant his palm into Kagami’s chest and push him back.
“Taiga, listen to me. What did you think was going to happen? Kuroko Tetsuya is without a legal guardian and well below the age to be out on his own. He has to go into the system; there is no other way.” Himuro tried to explain. “This is how this part of the process works; you know that.”
“But he can’t go into an orphanage, Tatsuya!” Kagami gestured to the door, visibly furious at the idea. “There has to be something else!”
However, Himuro stood his ground, hand still firmly pressed to Kagami’s chest. “Kuroko Tetsuya has no other living relatives or close family friends capable of taking him in. I know this, Taiga; I checked it out personally during my investigations of the house fire.” He sighed softly. “I’m sorry, Taiga, but this is how it has to be. Once Kuroko-kun is healed enough to leave the hospital, he will be going to the Tokyo Orphanage for Boys where he will be well taken care of.”
“Well taken care of? Are you kidding me?! That’s not good enough!” Kagami protested, trying to move forward once more but Himuro planted his foot down, steadied his gaze and smacked his hand against Kagami’s chest to make sure he had his attention.
“This is reality! Face it, Taiga. What were you expecting?” He snapped, his voice firm but even in volume. It was at the very least enough to make Kagami focus. “This isn’t some movie plot where a long lost relative comes out of nowhere to save the day! Kids without guardians need someone to take care of them and when there is no other option, that’s when the government has to get involved. It’s how it worked with us and it’s how it’s going to work with Kuroko Tetsuya!”
“He can’t go into the system, Tatsuya. Do you remember how those orphanages were? Do you remember the foster families?!” He gestured again. “Nobody is going to want to take in a boy like him! People only ever want those perfect children that they can mold into their own. That hasn’t changed. There aren’t good people like that.”
“There was Alex.” Himuro intervened… and Kagami visibly quieted. He relaxed slightly, looking almost guilty and Himuro was so glad for the sudden silence so he decided to keep talking. “Alex took us both in, even with our track records. I went through four different homes before Alex came along. Four, Taiga. That’s four families who told me they didn’t want me. Nobody wanted a bratty preteen who got into constant fights. I was angry at everyone and everything. Nobody wanted to deal with that; but Alex did.”
Kagami looked increasingly uncomfortable at that. He knew exactly what Himuro was getting at. They’d both been put into the system at young ages; Himuro after he was just dropped off in front of an orphanage when he was a baby and Kagami after his folks had been ruled unfit for raising a child. He’d been too young to remember anything about them but he’d been told later that they’d been pretty heavy into alcohol and narcotics. They’d both gone through multiple foster families, all of which returned them when they found out just how awful the both were. Kagami himself was an unruly child; he did everything in his power to cause chaos. He was loud and obnoxious, he broke everything he touched, he got into fights with any kid he was tall enough to punch in the teeth and had just been overall a true terror.
Yet the shining light to both of them had been a former WNBA player named Alexandra Garcia who took them both under her wing, knowing full well their track records. Kagami remembered his pretty well; the man had flat out told Alex not to adopt him because he was a danger to society. She’d only laughed. Turns out, she was more of a parent than anyone. She didn’t put up with either of their rebellions and no matter how many times they’d gotten into trouble, no matter how much they strained her trust, no matter how many times they’d both wound up in the principal’s office or the police station, she always brought them back home. She made dinner for them. She’d scolded them properly, told them she loved them and grounded them into eternity.
The system might have been awful but they’d been lucky enough to find Alex; or rather, for Alex to find them.
“…. There aren’t people like Alex on the regular, Tatsuya. We got lucky. We were just brats; Tetsuya is genuinely sick. Adopting him comes with hospital bills and lifelong disadvantages; nobody is going to adopt him. You just said to face reality and that’s the truth. You know it’s the truth. Please, don’t do that to him. I’m begging you.” Kagami pleaded, his voice lowering.
Himuro frowned, an obvious displeasure written across his face. “You know I have nothing to do with it, Taiga. I’m just here to make sure the paperwork goes through.”
“There has to be something else.” Kagami pleaded again.
Himuro sighs and drops his hand from Kagami’s chest. “I don’t know what else to tell you, Taiga. Unless someone randomly bursts in through those doors, willing to adopt him, it’s how things have to be.”
That anxiety burned a hole right through Kagami’s stomach. The thought of little Tetsuya having to sit inside that building while all the other kids played outside didn’t sit with him. The thought of little Tetsuya having to watch kid after kid get adopted before him, watching people look over him like he didn’t even exist……
He couldn’t do it.
He wouldn’t do it.
“I won’t accept that.” He says firmly, his gaze steady and shoved past Himuro.
The smaller man panicked and grabbed for Kagami’s arm but he missed and the redhead had already burst into the room. “Taiga, wait-!”
“Hey!!” Kagami shouted, standing tall and with his hands at his hips. He saw then the man from before, as well as Doctor Midorima standing at Tetsuya’s beside. Both looked up when Kagami entered and although Midorima’s presence caught Kagami a little off guard, it didn’t stop him from stating clear and loud what came next.
“Get lost. I’m adopting him.”
There was an instant silence that filled the room. Everyone seemed to hold their breath.
The first person to move was Himuro, who stood in the doorway with his hand pressed to his forehead, a very clear look of distress as he sighed. Next seemed to be the representative, startled by the sudden outburst; he began to adjust his tie as he fumbled for a response toward Kagami’s obvious hostility.
What was surprising was that the next person to come to life… was Kuroko Tetsuya.
The little boy turned his head and, for the first time since Kagami had met him, he looked up at him. There was an odd look to his eyes, still blank but… there was a flick. A flicker of something Kagami didn’t quite catch but he knows he saw. The boy looked up at him with such a blank expression but there was just something about it that brought a smile to Kagami’s face.
There was a pause.
Bringing a hand up to his chest, he drew an X over his heart and grinned.
‘Cross my heart.’ He thought to himself, hoping Kuroko would get the message.
Judging by the way his tiny little fingers curled into the hospital blanket, even as his expression remained blank, Kagami was sure the message had been received.
Chapter 4: 04 - Homecoming
Y'all probably thought I was dead, huh? That's fair. I haven't written in a long while (so many stressful things in this past year) so I apologize for any gaps in quality. I hope to be able to pick this story back up more regularly. I appreciate all your support in my absence from this story and nothing would make me happier than to see those expectations fulfilled. Now, onward...
When Kagami had burst into that room and made his proclamation, he hadn't expected things to be this difficult. He figured it would be much like in the movies. The big reveal, cut to the happy ending and that would be the end of that.
What he hadn't expected was the mass amount of paperwork and people you have to deal with in order to actually become a foster parent. He didn't realize you needed background checks and for someone to look into your entire history. He didn't know that the interviewer would have to pick apart your lifestyle to make sure you had the suitable qualities to maintain a healthy household. He didn't know his apartment was so dangerous and non-kid friendly until the lady had written him a list of everything that needed fixing before she would even consider a follow up inspection. He hadn't thought of the fact that the room that contained all his exercise equipment was now going to have to be moved into the living room or storage because little Tetsuya would need a room of his own.
Now having faced down all those difficulties and headaches after an agonizing three month period, he knew full well why the movies cut to the happy ending. He had a new found respect for his own adoptive mother. If Alex had put up with all of this, adopting both him and Tatsuya when they were problem children, she must have really loved them.
Now, however, with his apartment fixed, his exercise room now sporting the hollow makings of a kid's room and his pen now lingering over the last line on the official government document, he felt like it was all worth it.
Kuroko's leg had finally healed up enough for him to be released from the hospital and the kid had been waiting for Kagami to get everything ready.
He was already working on rehabilitation and Kagami had been briefed (although he figured it was more of a lecture) by the jerk doctor about the risks involved in home-care. He now knew the full, detailed list of all of Kuroko's medication and side effects which Midorima had conveniently printed out for him. Kagami was certain he only did it to be condescending because he figured Kagami wouldn't be able to remember any of it. He was probably right. There was just too much information; too many conflicting side effects.
However, Kagami had taken that sheet home and stuck it to his kitchen wall with tape so it would never run the risk of getting lost. He made sure to stick it right beside the calendar too so it would all be easy to find. He had already gotten the calendar and filled it out with all of Kuroko's future appointments and check ups. It had been Tatsuya's idea and a good one - Kagami would never have to worry about whether or not that rehab appointment had been at six or seven.
He'd moved everything around in his apartment so having a wheelchair in there would be no problem. He wanted to make sure that little Tetsuya could move around where ever he wanted to go and would encounter as little trouble as possible. It was also convenient that his apartment had a ramp to get into the building and an elevator to get to his floor. So long as that didn't break down, Tetsuya would have full range of the area for when he was well enough to move around on his own.
Kagami couldn't wait for that. Midorima had warned him that that could take months - or even years - but Kagami didn't care.
He'd visited that kid every day for these past three months, even if he could only drop in for five minutes every day. He'd watched him go from that blank eyed stare aimed only at his knees, to his gaze being lifted and looking around the room freely.
He still hadn't said a word to Kagami or anyone else for that matter but it was a small detail. He could see on those visits - and Takao confirmed it for the times when he wasn't there - that Tetsuya had regained some of his life. His appetite had come back, even if he did eat like a bird. His complexion wasn't as tired and was even a little pink sometimes. His cheeks were fuller. He didn't smile but there were times when Kagami was sure he would have been.
He just needed more time.
If Kagami had learned anything in his past ten years after high school, it was more patience. Although he wasn't exactly a poster boy, dealing with all of the adoption service politics and waiting for that kid to be well enough to come home had managed to give him a sense of humility.
Besides, he wasn't alone. Kiyoshi and his family had already offered their support if he ever needed help and Tatsuya had made it very clear that if Kagami ever felt overwhelmed, he was to call him immediately. Even Takao had been supportive, saying he wouldn't mind taking Tetsuya and Nigou off his hands some weekends. Kagami didn't mind - Tetsuya seemed to like him. At least, Takao had been the only person to get him to do anything - from taking his medicine to actually eating.
Kagami figured Takao was pretty okay in his books.
His pen pressed down to the paper and he scratched out his signature before printing his name on the bottom. He then set the pen down on the stack and slid it across the table.
"Very well, Mr. Kagami Taiga." The woman smiled at him, taking the papers and placing them into a binder. "We will contact you again in six months time, after your probation period, to talk about formal adoption." She stood and Kagami followed, offering his hand when she extended hers.
The handshake was firm. "It's been a pleasure working with you, Mr. Kagami. I look forward to seeing you again. Take good care of him; I'm sure you'll do a good job."
"I'll keep a good eye on him, don't worry." He nodded simply and followed her out.
She gave him one last wave before heading on her way and Kagami sighed loudly. The sheer relief from finally being able to take Tetsuya home was overwhelming. He only hoped he was ready. He deserved somebody who could take care of him properly.
Once in the hall, he looked over to Himuro who had been waiting for him to finish up with the adoption agency. Kagami found himself thankful that Tatsuya hadn't shot down his choice. He had been uncertain at first, worried that Kagami would wind up stretching himself too thin but after they'd both talked with their mother over the phone, those worries had more or less faded out. Alex had been absolutely thrilled at the idea, even going so far as to tell Kagami that he always had the makings of a great dad. He didn't entirely believe her but he'd be lying if he said it didn't give him a confidence boost.
Himuro stood at the sight of Kagami and gave a quiet smile. It was odd to see him out of uniform these days but he'd taken a personal day to help Kagami get everything settled. "Everything set?"
Kagami rubbed a hand down the front of his shirt and sighed. "Yeah. Yeah, it's official."
"You look calmer than I thought you'd be." Himuro nodded as he fell into step with Kagami, heading for the exit.
Kagami rubbed the back of his neck. "Really? I feel pretty nervous."
"You'll be fine." He replied simply and Kagami noted how there was absolute faith in that tone. He glanced at him from the corner of his eye as Himuro smiled quietly at the ground. "You've got your heart in the right place. Now all that's left is to take the kid home and prove it."
"Easy for you to say." Kagami ran a hand through his hair as the sun shined down on them. He looked up into the sky and noted how it was a flawless blue and even as his gaze lowered to the city, he noted how everything seemed to vibrate colour.
That was good. A perfect day to bring little Tetsuya home.
"Taiga." Himuro spoke up and Kagami realized he spaced out a moment.
"Ah, right. Sorry. Let's go."
"Today is the big day, Kuroko. Are you excited?" Takao grinned, helping him stuff his little arms through the striped t-shirt.
Naturally, he got no response. Simply a blank stare and a neutral expression. Little oval blue eyes watched at his arm popped out the other side and then lowered when Takao went about fitting the collar over his head.
That never stopped Takao from trying, though.
"It'll be nice to finally get out of the hospital and see the world again. You can go to stores and buy ice cream and take Nigou out to play."
As if he understood the words perfectly, Nigou weaseled himself onto Kuroko's lap and looked up at Takao with a happily wagging tail. Takao reached down with a grin and scratched behind his remaining ear with a chuckle. "That's right, buddy. You'll be getting some freedom too. Try not to terrorize the fireman too much, okay? He'll be the one keeping your food dish full now. Keep the tormenting to a minimum."
Nigou let out a single bark and tried to lick Takao's retreating hand before it returned to Kuroko.
The boy had already pulled his second arm through his shirt without issue and was tugging on the ends to make sure it was properly in place. He reached up to grab at his breathing tube, which was now stuck under his shirt but Takao stopped him.
"Not yet, bud. We have to get you into your wheelchair first. You'll be using that oxygen tank to help with your breathing now, remember?"
Kuroko didn't look up at him but instead down at Nigou. The puppy exchanged the look, tail continuing to wag before he nuzzled into Kuroko's side. Little fingers reached and pet his fur softly, rubbing at his side. Nigou attempted to roll over, in hopes of a belly rub but the position was too awkward and he settled for laying against his side.
"He's gonna get big before you know it. Soon enough, you'll be able to rope him to your chair and he could just pull you around." Takao grinned. "You could probably even ride him."
No reaction was given and Kuroko simply continued to pet Nigou. Takao got up then and reached his hands under Kuroko's armpits. "Alright, come on, Kuroko. Time to get you to your new home."
"You're right on time, Mr. Fireman."
"Kagami." He repeated, annoyed. Takao had never fully broken the habit of calling him that and somehow it never failed to grate. He'd never figured out why either. It wasn't like it wasn't true.
Takao simply grinned, his fingers wrapped around the handles of the wheelchair. Kuroko sat in it, both feet settled on their rests but his legs were covered in the blanket Kiyoshi had brought for him. On top of it, Nigou was happily curled up and resting his head on Kuroko's lap. Kagami hoped he stayed that way.
Kuroko looked up at Kagami when he saw him and simply stared. His eyes slid from him to Himuro and then back to Kagami.
The redhead bent down then so he was on eye level with him. He gave Kuroko a subtle smile - one just enough to lighten the usual grumpy expression on his face. "Are you ready to see your new home, Tetsuya?"
He was awarded with a blink in response before he looked over to the police van lingering in the patient pick up space. Kagami followed his gaze and rubbed the back of his neck. "Uhh, yeah. Tatsuya is going to drive us there. My truck is still in the shop. Besides, the van is bigger. It'll be easier for you to fit."
"You could at least introduce me first." Himuro breathed a laugh through his nose before he gave Kuroko a smile. "It's nice to finally meet you face to face, Kuroko Tetsuya. I'm Taiga's big brother - Himuro Tatsuya. I'll be around a lot so if you ever need anything, don't be scared to ask me, okay?" Himuro nodded politely at him and Kuroko, after a long moment, simply nodded his own head in return.
Kagami looked up at Takao then. "So can we just put him in with the chair or does it collapse?"
"It folds, yeah. Here, I'll show you."
Ten minutes later, Kagami now had a perfect understanding of how the wheelchair worked and it was tucked in safely to the back of the van. Kagami buckled Kuroko up in the backseat and inched away as Nigou hopped into the van after them and curled back up on Kuroko's lap. He wagged his tail as he watched Kagami adjust the seat belt and decided very quickly that that dog was never allowed in his room.
He buckled the oxygen tank into the seat as well for lack of a current place for it and finally ducked out of the backseat.
A few minutes more and they were on their way. Takao lingers on the sidewalk and waved at Kuroko through the window with a small wiggle of his fingers as the van pulled out. Kuroko watched him for a long moment and just before the van turned to cut off their view of each other, Kuroko reached up to place his hand softly on the window.
It wasn't a wave but Takao would take it.
He was going to miss that kid.
The entire trip from the hospital to Kagami's apartment had been a mass of his nervous babbling. His nerves had been building up in his throat and he wanted so badly to have Tetsuya feel welcome that he just couldn't stop talking. He talked about the apartment, about the stuff around the apartment, about what was in his fridge, about how the place was set up and he would have kept going if Himuro hadn't reached over and yanked on his ear.
"Oww!" Kagami yelped, reaching up his rub his ear and scowling over at him. "What was that for?"
"Stop talking; you're just making yourself more nervous. Besides, Tetsuya is five." Himuro rolled his eyes.
Kagami blinked. "What? You think he doesn't understand?"
"No, stupid, it means he doesn't care. He's five. Kids his age like cartoons and toy cars, not the floor layout of your apartment." Himuro snorted, clearly amused.
"Oh." Kagami glanced up in the rear-view mirror to see Tetsuya was looking out the window anyway. Guess he'd managed to bore him instead of relax him. Off to a great start...
"Making that face. You're gonna be fine. We're all here to support you on your first day." Himuro nods.
Kagami nods in agreement, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. "Right. Right, sorry. I know. I'll be- wait, whose we?"
"Surprise! Welcome home!"
Kagami blinked in shock as he stared into the front entrance of his apartment. Where he had come home, expecting to show Tetsuya his new home, he found a few familiar faces instead. There was a colourful banner tacked on the wall, stating the same welcome home message and there were balloons and streamers to make the place look more lively.
Standing before him was Kiyoshi and his family - his husband Hyuuga and wife Riko - and at their feet was their 10 year old son Shigehiro. They were all sporting smiles and Shigehiro even had a little confetti popper which he unleashed the moment they stepped in the door. The confetti fell to the ground and even managed to land a bit on Tetsuya. He only blinked, otherwise void of a reaction, but Nigou immediately barked in reply to the greeting and tried to catch one of the confetti pieces with his mouth. He was ultimately unsuccessful.
"Eh? What are you guys doing here? ... How did you get in my apartment?!" Kagami questioned.
"Is that any way to react to a surprise?" Riko scowled him, gesturing to the walls. "We spent all morning on decorations, you know!"
Kiyoshi only chuckled and looked down at Tetsuya with a smile. His voice was gentle as usual. "It's a welcoming party for you, Kuroko. We wanted to welcome you to your new home."
"It was my idea!" Shigehiro grinned widely, pointing fingers on either of his hands at himself. "I made the banner too! See?"
Hyuuga crossed his arms. "Well? Come on; we brought a cake too."
Kagami blinked, seeming to take a minute to process all of this before he looked over his shoulder at Himuro. "... You gave them keys, didn't you?"
"Guilty. Now get inside already; this party is for you guys." He smiled, gesturing in.
Kagami blinked.. but then a grin found its way to his face once the shock had worn off. Turning back to the family that awaited inside, he laughed. "Thanks, guys! You hear that, Tetsuya? This party is just for you! I'll introduce you to everybody, okay? They're friends of mine."
"I'm Shigehiro!" The boy grinned widely, moving over to the wheelchair. "What's your name?"
"Ahh, Tetsuya doesn't talk much, Hiro." Kagami tried but the boy seemed to ignore him entirely.
"Is this your dog? He's cute! What's his name? I love dogs!" He grinned, reaching out to pet Nigou, who was all too happy to soak up the attention. "I always wanted a dog too but Pops says the house is too full already."
"It is too full." Hyuuga retorted, moving over and grabbing Shigehiro around the middle. The kid gave a shout of protest as he was suddenly thrown over the man's shoulder. "Quit crowding the kid, Shigehiro. You'll have plenty of time to visit once they get in the house."
"I wasn't crowding him!" He protested, trying to wiggle out of Hyuuga's hold but he wasn't having any of it. "Gah, Dad! Help!"
Kiyoshi only laughed, following after them as they all slowly made their way into the apartment. "You have to take it easy, Shigehiro. We told you to be calm."
The boy frowned up at him. "I am calm!"
"Oh, let him down, Junpei." Riko waved a hand. "He's just excited."
"Fine but you better keep your voice down, Shigehiro." Hyuuga moved over to the couch as they all poured into the kitchen and casually flipped Shigehiro from over his shoulder and onto the couch. The kid bounced a little but laughed any way as he straightened out his hair. He made his way back around the couch and over to Tetsuya.
"So your name's Tetsuya, huh? That's cool! Tetsuya, from today on, you can consider me your big brother!" He grinned widely, poking his thumb into his chest and looking particularly proud. "Your senpai! Your... your..." He looks a bit lost and then looks up at Riko. "What's another word for big brother?"
"How about you just stick with big brother, huh?" She smiled, ruffling his hair. Bending down so that she was eye level with Kuroko, she gave the boy a soft smile as she hugged her knees.
"It's nice to finally meet you, Kuroko Tetsuya. Kagami has been telling us a lot about you. Sorry I never got the chance to come visit you myself. I'm Aida Riko but you can just call me Aunty Riko!" She grinned. "You know the giant over there already. That's my husband." She pointed up at Kiyoshi who frowned slightly. "And the scowling one is my other husband Hyuuga Junpei. Don't mind his face; he's not nearly as scary as he looks."
"Oi." Hyuuga protested, hands on his hips.
Riko ignored him, however, as she wrapped her arms around Shigehiro with a smile. "And this is our son, Shigehiro. He's not quite your age, he's 10, but hopefully you two can become good friends."
"No, mom, we're gonna be brothers!" Shigehiro protested before looking over at Tetsuya with a grin. "I always wanted a little brother!"
There was a pause then as everyone looks over at Tetsuya. Where normally one would fill the silence with with words, Tetsuya simply stared up at all of them. He seemed to acknowledge them all, taking the time to look at each of them... but that was all. His gaze fell down to Nigou again and he pet the puppy instead.
"Guess it's a lot to take in at once." Kagami chuckled, leaning over the wheelchair with a smile. "Don't worry, Tetsuya. You'll see all these guys quite a lot. We've known each other for a long time. How about I show you around the apartment first, huh?"
"Perfect; that will give me time to cut the cake!" Riko grinned widely.
Hyuuga immediately took a step forward to the table where various plates of treats sat out and picked up the knife nestled beside said cake. It was a small, simple strawberry shortcake, the icing decorated with chunks of strawberry and sprinkles with nuts. Upon seeing that, Riko scowled him. "Hey! I just said I was going to do that!"
"You're not allowed near food when small children are involved." Hyuuga replied.
Riko's eyebrow visibly twitched. "How am I possibly supposed to harm somebody by cutting a cake, Junpei?"
"You could slip and accidentally stab somebody." Hyuuga replied without missing a beat.
"Or yourself." Kiyoshi added, looking worried.
"Or poison the cake!" Shigehiro added, far more cheerfully than anyone should probably say such a sentence.
Kagami chuckled nervously as Riko glared at all of them and started to go off, steam practically spouting out her ears. "Best to escape while we can." Kagami mumbled to Tetsuya, grabbing the handles on the back of his wheelchair and scooting them away.
"Well," He started, speaking a little louder so he could be heard over Riko's yelling. "As you could probably guess, this is the dining area and the living room. I moved everything around so you should be able to get around the apartment without any trouble later on. Alright, this here is the kitchen. I put a couple bowls here in the corner for Nigou; I figured it would make it easier for us to feed him."
Upon hearing his name, Nigou barked happily, wagging his tail as he looked up at Kagami. A slightly weary look, Kagami reached a hesitant hand down. Nigou nudged at his fingers a moment before Kagami picked him up with one hand and set him down quickly beside the bowls. He then rubbed his hand on his leg as if wiping off the germs. Nigou sniffed around the area then, happily trotting around the kitchen and investigating every corner he could stick his nose into.
"There, we'll let him do his own thing." Kagami replied, turning Tetsuya'a wheelchair around and exiting into the short hallway. Glancing down, Tetsuya continued to show no sign of his approval for the place so Kagami could only hope that Tetsuya would come to feel comfortable there. Continuing down the hall, he pushed open the door to the next room and flicked the light on.
He had an apologetic smile. "Unfortunately, I couldn't really rearrange the bathroom but I measured it and it's wide enough to fit your chair so there shouldn't be any problem. There are special pieces I could get for you later so you could bathe on your own but the jerk doctor-" Kagami's voice hitched and he made a face. Probably shouldn't call him that anymore... he did apparently sign off on this whole thing. "But Doctor Midorima," He corrected himself but the name sounded awkward on this tongue. "said if your rehab continues and you do really well on it, you probably won't need it. That'll be great, right?" He smiles down at Tetsuya but Tetsuya only continues to look forward, gazing at the bathroom in what Kagami can only hope is curiosity.
Well, he supposed a house tour wasn't the most exciting thing for a five year old. He'd make it quick.
"And this room down here is my room." He continued on. "My door is always open, okay? I'm always gonna be here to help."
He grinned finally, turning Tetsuya's chair around and pushing it toward the last door. Upon it hung a small sign that had his name with a tiny dog printed beside it. "And this is going to be your room, Tetsuya."
Opening the door and turning on the light, he pushed Tetsuya into the center of the room and came to kneel down beside him. Inside, the room was rather plain. There was a child sized bed pushed up against the wall, a small bookshelf with a few books on the opposing wall to a dresser and there was a desk in the corner with no chair but a single table lamp rested on top. There were no decorations or extras around the room but Kagami didn't look deterred.
"I know it looks a little boring right now," He confessed, looking over at Tetsuya. "but I thought we could go shopping together and get you some clothes and toys." Reaching over, he placed a hand on top of his tiny head and ruffled his hair softly. Tetsuya turned, looking over at him with a blank stare. Although the emotion wasn't there, Kagami was simply happy that Tetsuya was giving him his attention. His grin grew.
"I wasn't sure what you liked or wanted now that you're out of the hospital. I thought we could go to a bookstore too - you liked those books that Kiyoshi visited with, right?" He pointed toward the bookshelf where a couple volumes sat amongst the empty shelves. "They were actually Shigehiro's books but he doesn't read them anymore so Kiyoshi said they're all yours."
"Oh!" He suddenly snapped his fingers and got up. Moving over to the beside table, he picked up a small silver bell that had a long handle. Grinning, he moved back and kneeled in front of Tetsuya. "This is for you, Tetsuya." He handed him the bell, urging him to take it. After a long moment, Tetsuya reached forward a little hesitantly and wrapped his fingers around the handle. A soft chime sounded as he shook it.
"Takao said there wasn't anything physical that was preventing you from talking; he said it's from the trauma," Kagami smiled softly. "and that's okay. You don't have to talk until you're ready." He pointed to the bell. "But if we're going to make this work, we have to talk somehow so that's what the bell if going to be for. Whenever you need me, even if it's in the middle of the night, I want you to ring that bell. Whenever you ring that bell, I'll come check up on you."
He raised his hands then, wiggling his fingers. "And I thought we could make up some signs for what you might need. Like," He makes a fist with one hand and raises a finger. "This could mean that you need to go to the bathroom." He then started listing things off, raising an additional finger as he went. "And this could mean you're hungry or want to watch TV or want to go outside or even that you want to go to bed."
He smiled over at Tetsuya. "We can work on those later, though. I got the idea from my mom; she's really excited to meet you. Her name is Alex and she lives all the way in the United States. She's planning to come visit next month so you'll meet her then. She's great; she's the one who raised Tatsuya and me."
"So?" He nodded toward the bell. "Do you think that would be okay? Do you like the bell? We could try something else if you don't."
There was a quiet moment then as Tetsuya looked down at the tiny silver bell and then back up at Kagami. He seemed to contemplate it, staring back down at the object before he suddenly shook it. The chime sounded throughout the room and he looked back up at Kagami as the sound slowly faded.
Kagami's face light up, his grin wide and he laughed. "That's great! Now that's yours to keep so make sure you don't lose it, okay?"
Tetsuya looked back to the bell held in his fingers and soon let it come to rest in his lap. Kagami watched him, curious before his smile grew a little fond.
"Actually," He confesses. "I have one thing left to show you but I wanted to make sure we were alone before I did. It's just for you, Tetsuya. You can fix it up however you want later but..."
He trails off, standing up and slowly rolling his wheelchair over to a corner of the room where a small cabinet sat. Making sure that Tetsuya was able to see it properly, Kagami knelt back down and carefully opened the little doors. Inside, there was a tall candle, unlit and waiting with a bowl on its opposite side. A couple pieces of incense sat within it; they too remained untouched. At the center of the small shrine was a beautiful white vase, gold trimming along the edges and a delicate pattern of sakura flowers that seemed to be blowing in a wind captured along the ceramic. Placed in front of it was a small brooch that was a simple gold colour, the metalwork slightly warped in the shape of a sparrow that was perched upon a leafy branch. It had a few scratches along the metal but it appeared to be in rather decent condition.
Kagami sat back on his heels then, remaining silent a moment so that Tetsuya could come to his own conclusion about exactly what it was.
When he looked over at him, it was the most emotion he had seen from the boy since the moment he'd brought him home. His eyes were wide, fingers curled into the blanket that covered his legs and he was leaning just the slightest bit forward in his seat.
He couldn't imagine any way in which this conversation would be easy... but he was prepared for it all the same.
"I know you couldn't attend her funeral since you were recovering in the hospital..." He starts, his voice low as he shifts over to place his hand against his back. Even with the brief contact, he can feel the beginnings of tremours. "But I made sure that your grandmother would be here when you came. I'm sorry there is no picture; we couldn't recovery any. The brooch was in pretty bad shape too but I managed to clean it up. I'm sorry I couldn't find anything better..."
Kagami watched slowly as the tears began to trickle into Tetsuya's eyes. A slow flood of fluid that built up along the edges of his eyes and swelled with each passing moment. He watched at how his mouth started to open, like he wanted to say something as the grief overtook him. The sorrow filled his own throat as he watched the sight unfold. Shifting forward, Kagami soon curled an arm around his shaking frame as a stuttered gasp choked him.
Those tears broke free from their hold and slid painfully down his cheeks. His little jaw clenched and soon his eyes squeezed shut.. and yet the tears did not cease.
Kagami couldn't imagine having to deal with that much sorrow so young. Tetsuya had already experienced so much loss of life and he wasn't even 6 yet. That was too much. No kid should ever have to deal with that. He wanted to mend everything, to make it right and ensure that Tetsuya would never again have to endure such hardship...
...but Kagami had never been very good with words, let alone gentle ones.
So, instead, Kagami shifted to the front of the wheelchair and wrapped his arms around the kid. The shaking hadn't stopped and the gasping between sobs was the most Kagami had ever heard of his voice. It was heartbreaking. His arms curled around him further until he had him buried against his chest and he could press his nose into his hair.
"...Everything is going to be okay, Tetsuya." He mumbled, unable to think of anything other than cliches to say. "Where ever your grandmother is now, I'm sure she's looking out for you. You never really lose the people you love; she'll be here for you whenever you need her." Reaching a hand up, he pet the back of his head softly.
He knew he shouldn't have said what left his mouth next but it was gone before he could stop it. He knew there was no way to genuinely uphold that promise; life was just too unpredictable. There were no guarantees.
But with a trembling, grieving child buried so deeply in his arms, what else could he possibly have said?
"I'm not going anywhere, Tetsuya. I'll be here whenever you need me too, no matter what."
The words fell into the silence of the room then, only broken up by laboured breathing. Kagami could hear chatter outside the room but it was only a vague hum by then. He let his eyes close. He had always known Tetsuya was small but it seemed like now, more than ever, he came to fully realize just how much. He'd been so tiny when he'd first picked him up off the floor in that burning wreckage. He'd been struck with the horror of what would happen if something so precious hadn't made it through that night. He could remember seeing how small his hands were at the hospital; how childish his features were. He'd seemed so thin, so breakable... such a quiet soul.
Now Kagami had the opportunity to ensure all those thoughts and doubts and worries could be put on the back burner to make way for a hopefully prosperous future.
It wasn't going to be a fast forward to the happy ending... but Kagami had never been one to take shortcuts.
Somewhere in the midst of his thoughts, he heard the light chime of the bell and blinked his eyes open. He shifted to pull away, to see what Tetsuya might want but was instead distracted by the soft tug of his shirt. Tiny fingers had curled into the material, pulling on it as if in quiet insistence for those words to remain true.
Kagami stilled... then smiled softly. He curled back around him, giving him another squeeze before he began to rub at his back. "Shh, shh... it's okay, Tetsuya... everything is going to be okay now... everything will be fine... I promise."
It would take time but Kagami was ready for whatever job this new responsibility would demand of him. There was no way he could betray Tetsuya's expectations of him. Whatever Tetsuya would need of him, he'd be sure to fulfill that wish.
They'd manage just fine.
TBC | Constructive critique is always welcome!