It was the end of summer. Not that end of summer vacation garbage but real summer. The time of year when the trees started to fade to yellow and the winds got a little colder. How some mornings you woke up shivering only to have the day be warm and sunny. The time of year where people were starting to have sales on their summer lines and advertising fall's low, low prices.
That's where Aomine Daiki stood now. Before a sign in a shop window, advertising running shoes for 50% off. He gazed at them in envy through the glass before looking down at his own tattered pair. The soles were barely hanging on anymore and the laces had long since been shredded. Even if he wanted to tie them tighter, he wouldn't be able to get the laces through those tiny loops anymore. The inside where he wiggled his toes was so worn down that he could feel the sharp edges of the checkered underside.
There was no chance that these were going to last another winter. They barely managed to make it through the last one. Aomine was lucky to still have all his toes after how much frostbite he'd suffered. He'd have to start looking early if he stood any chance of finding replacements.
His eyes slide back to the window and a weight settled into his stomach.
But what he wouldn't give to be able to afford a new pair. The laces in mint condition, the leather still crisp and black and not a single damaging fray on the entire shoe. He bet it fit like a dream. He couldn't remember the last time every step didn't cause him pain. Though he supposed at this point, his feet were so calloused and numb to the abuse that it would matter little. The thought made the weight in his stomach heavier.
He adjusted his jacket around his collar as a particularly chilling breeze graced his neck and he grumbled softly to himself. He hated the cold.
Hurrying away from the window before the owner noticed and decided to chase him away, Aomine ditched into the nearest back alley and continued on his way. There was no sense on pining for something he had no chance of getting. He needed supper.
It had been three years since Aomine had run away from home. At age 13, he'd given his father the finger to the sound of glass shattering inches from his face and never looked back. Honestly, he hadn't even been back to the same section of the city since then. He didn't want to risk running into the son of a bitch. Not that he doubted he left the apartment. He certainly didn't when Aomine was around. He only ever left for trips to the liquor store. Some twisted part in the back of his head hoped the old man had drank himself to death already. The world could do with a few less of his type.
In the three years of sleeping in backstreet corners and fishing pop cans out of the trash bins for what little money was currently jingling in his pocket, Aomine had gained the right street smarts. He'd learned how to dodge the cops, stay out of sight and keep to himself. He'd learned the safest places to sleep without getting mugged, the warmest areas during the winter and which restaurants he could rummage through the trash to find some half decent food when he couldn't afford anything. Not only food but people threw out so many things that were still useful. Aomine even knew the exact part of town to go hunting about in if he hoped to find a half decent pair of shoes. It was a classier side of town though so he'd have to be careful when he finally went about it.
Today, however, was a decent day. Although he didn't have nearly the coin to get those sneakers, he did have just the right amount of change to get himself a bag of chips. Just a small one but he could afford it all the same.
If there was one rule that Aomine had stuck to in all these years, it was to never steal. The rule had been bent quickly over the years and his lenience of going into people's yard to shift through their unwanted junk had wavered but he never stole from stores. Not once. Despite how difficult things had gotten some times, despite how hungry he had been some weeks, he couldn't bring himself to do it.
There was still a part of him - a small part - that believed this was all only temporary. That once he hit the right stride or made the right connections or finally turned the legal age, this would all turn around. That if he had any hope of a future, comfortable life, he had to keep his record clean. So far, he had. Never once had he been taken into the police station and his name in the system was still a crisp, clean blank slate. If he could help it, he planned to keep it that way for as long as possible. He wasn't stupid; he had wanted to be a police officer himself since he was a kid. He knew how things worked.
Now he was just hoping to make it to see 17.
He passed a woman as he entered the store who shied away from him as he passed like he was made of something toxic. He looked back at her with a blank, bored expression. It was always the same. Nobody showed courtesy to the homeless - especially not one so young. Everyone always assumed he was some sort of crazed junkie or acted like he was packing some sort of weapon. The bitterness of walking into a store like he was going to stand the place up with a gun had faded over the years but it didn't stop it from being an annoyance. At the very least, he knew he wasn't up to no good and that was all he had come to rely on.
It was just him now. One single kid. He trusted in himself, believed in himself and that was what he relied on to get him through every day.
Even when he put his potato chip selection on the counter and dumped his handful of coin on the glass for the clerk to count out, he didn't flinch at the nervous look she kept giving him. His gaze slid out the window and he let himself enjoy the brief warmth of sheltered walls.
These short moments were going to become treasures soon. He wanted to enjoy them while shop owners were less on alert for loiterers.
He accepted his single coin of change from the clerk and tossed it into her tip jar. It wasn't exactly like he could use it and even though every yen counted, he saw no reason not to thank her for letting him buy his chips. Most convenient stores he went to chased him out on principal, even if he was a paying customer. It was nice to have ones that still accepted his change like he was a human being instead of some stray cat.
He wasted no time in popping the bag open as he left and held it up to his nose, taking in the crisp scent of them. His mouth watered and he happily popped one into his mouth. He felt himself warm over the simple joy as he chewed and continued on his way.
His feet took him nowhere in particular, simply walking for the sake of activity as he ate. The only moment he spared was when he finished the bag and he crunched it up to stuff into his pocket. The chips may have been gone but if he got hungry later, he could still lick the bag clean of flavour. Something so savoury would be needed if he had to eat something a little less than flavourful.
He passed by another back alley, intent on crossing the street when the sudden sickening yelp of a dog struck his ears. He stiffened, the sound settling uneasily into his spine almost instantly. He back peddled, peeking into the back alley he had just passed. It was a surprisingly dark one, thin in size compared to most and was really just a gap between the old buildings that cradled it. As such, there were no dumpsters or trash bins to obscure his sight and he could witness it perfect.
Fire set itself loose in Aomine's veins instantly.
It only took a second to take in the scene. There were two men looming over a kid half their size - in both height and build. Aomine couldn't see their face but that was of little importance. One of the men was currently yanking the kid back and the other tore something from his arms. It was small and quivering and when a head popped out of the ball, Aomine saw it was a puppy. Just a tiny thing, too thin to have been loved and fur too ratted to have been anything but a stray.
"Please leave him alone!" Aomine's ear perked when the kid shouted and he quickly realised it was a boy. It was strange, really, to hear such distress in a tone but still hear him be polite. "He didn't do anything!" The kid struggled but it was clear he stood no chance.
He had no opportunity to contemplate it, though. The word bubbled to his throat before he could stop himself.
"Hey!" He shouted so loudly into the small alley that his voice echoed off the walls. The men looked up and around, confused for a moment until their eyes landed on Aomine. On rare occasions, even the prospect of getting caught in the act was enough to scare some people off.
Perhaps today wasn't such a lucky day after all.
"Why don't you mind your own business, kid?" One of them sneered, grabbing the puppy by the scruff of the neck so hard that the poor thing gave a sickening cry. "Go back to mommy and leave the men to their work."
Aomine's stomach gave a dangerous twist as he ran into the alleyway. "You consider picking on a helpless animal work?" He questioned through gritted teeth, his eyes sharp as he ran up to him.
The man saw that Aomine wasn't stopping and he smirked widely, showing crooked and rotting teeth. Without a thought, he threw the dog hard against the brick wall to free his hands and the poor thing gave another piercing whimper.
Something inside Aomine snapped.
When the man threw his punch, it was in vain. Aomine sidestepped it and planted his fist with surprising force into his nose. He felt it break under his knuckles and watched as the man was thrown back in surprise. Clearly, he hadn't thought some kid would be packing such a punch. The man cursed loudly as he fell on his ass and Aomine glared down at him with venom in his gaze. As the offender held his now broken nose, the blood practically pouring down his face, Aomine felt a large hand grab onto his shoulder. He turned in time to catch a fist on his jaw. His teeth ached at being grazed but Aomine had been in his fair share of fights before and he ignored the pain. He threw the man's arm off him and noticed from the corner of his eye as the boy he'd been holding back rushed past him. He thought nothing of it then as he threw punch after punch into the man's teeth. His knuckles split against them and he could feel the ache settling deep into his wrist but he did not stop. He threw a knee into the man's stomach and when he caved to his knees, Aomine threw one final slug across his cheek with a sickening thud as the man's head snapped to the side and he hit the concrete.
He didn't want to stick around and wait for him to get back up.
Turning on his heels quickly to retrieve the puppy, he came face to face with the kid. He had no chance to even get a good look at his face though. All he noted was that the kid had the dog cradled into his arms and hugged close to his chest and that was good enough for him.
"Come on, let's get out of here." Aomine spoke with urgency, grabbing the kid’s upper arm and dragging him in a run out of the alley, leaving the men groaning and cursing as they left.
He didn't stop running, even as he felt the kid stumbling to keep up with him until they were at least two blocks away. He then ducked them in behind an apartment building and forced the kid to crouch down behind a dumpster with him.
He took only a single moment to take a deep breath before he finally looked over at him. "Are you okay?" He was breathing heavily as he finally let go of the kid's arm and now that he was looking at him properly, he could see the boy was as well.
He was a tiny thing, alright. At the very least, he looked small from where Aomine was crouching. Vibrant blue hair poked out from a tattered toque secured around his ears and a scarf that was likely too thin to be useful was draped around his neck. He pulled it from his neck then to wipe the fur of the shaking puppy in his arms. He was pale, thin and dressed too badly for the weather for it not to be obvious.
He was just a kid alright - a kid exactly like Aomine.
"I'm fine." He spoke up, finally. "Thank you."
Aomine's eyes slid from the boy to the puppy. His bloody fingers reached out to touch the poor thing but it recoiled and he hesitated. "...Is he okay?"
"He doesn't appear to be bleeding but I'm not sure what they did to him before I showed up." He spoke, his gaze hard as he looked down at the dog. The distaste of it was written all over his face; his blank stare only seeming to add to the effect. "They were taking turns kicking him across the alley when I arrived."
Aomine bit the inside of his lip to keep his temper at bay. "I should have broken their legs." He says, the vile tone might have shaken anyone else but the kid seemed unfazed. He actually seemed to agree.
"I think he'll be okay now. It's probably just bruising. At least, nothing seems broken." He holds the creature closer to his chest but the tiny husky continued to shiver.
Aomine unzipped his jacket then and kneeled down beside them. He opened it and gestured. "Here, give him here. I'll warm him up."
The boy looked over at him then. It was in that moment that Aomine got the full gaze of those blue eyes and he felt his spine still. It was the sort of gaze that felt like it was looking right through you.
It made Aomine uncomfortable.
After a long moment, the kid got up onto his knees as well and slowly handed the creature over to him. Very carefully, Aomine bundled the injured pup against his breast and zipped his jacket up around it until only its little head was poking out of his collar. He put his arm around his front to ensure the puppy stayed in place and he felt the creature squirm. For a moment, he thought the dog might try and bite him or escape but as the warmth started to settle into his sore little bones, he grew still. Finally, he settled completely and looked up at Aomine through his jacket.
He blinked. He looked from the puppy to the kid and back again. It was exactly like he was being stared at with the same pair of eyes. It was sort of unsettling but as the puppy soon rested his tired head against his chest, he felt his insides soften. "There you go, boy." He mumbled softly to it. "See, we're not going to hurt you. You're safe now."
He reached his bloody hand up to pet the puppy reassuringly but had his hand taken instead. Pale fingers took his and drew his hand away from the puppy to settle into the boy's palm. Not only was the white of his skin a sharp contrast to the tan of his but his touch was like ice. The kid must have been freezing.
"You're bleeding." He said after a moment, looking up at Aomine.
Aomine felt a warmth at the base of his spine upon meeting that gaze again and the second time around, it felt less unsettling. Accompanied with the worried tone, it almost felt... soft. "Uh, yeah, I caught that one guy's teeth when I hit him. It's fine. I get injured a lot and I'm quick to heal."
"It'll get infected if you don't do something about it." The boy retorted.
"It's fine, really. I've had much worse and I'm still perfectly healthy. It'll start to-- wait, what are you doing?" He questioned, his eyes a little wide in surprise as the boy took his tattered scarf and started to wrap his hand.
"Thank you." He repeated softly, his touch light as he secured the cloth around his hand. "For helping us."
Aomine felt embarrassed heat creep up his neck but it never hit his face. He pulled his hand back when the boy was done and turned his hand over. The wrapping was... actually pretty good. He flexed his fingers and saw that the scarf didn't slip.
"... What's your name, kid?" He asked after a moment, looking up at him. Honestly, he had quite a few more questions to ask him before his name but he held himself back. It wasn't every day that he met kids like himself, in the same situation. He knew from his own backstory that most had their own demons and reasons for thinking a dirty street corner was a better place to be than in a warm home with a proper bed. He'd learned to keep his mouth shut. He'd learned to not ask.
The boy tilted his head, looking thoughtful before, "....Kuroko." He said after a moment and then added, "just Kuroko."
Blinking at that answer, he supposed he shouldn't be surprised. Most people didn't exactly give up their names while on the street. He'd met plenty of people who gave themselves nicknames. Kuroko, however, Kuroko sounded like a last name.
"Aomine." He introduced himself, finding himself smiling before he intended to.
The kid blinked up at him, expression still blank and gave a soft nod. "It's nice to meet you, Aomine-kun."
And that was how he met him. His little partner in crime. If Aomine believed in things like fate, he would have recognised that moment as such. As it was, he believed the world happened with the choices you made and upon meeting this kid, he chose to stick around him.
So that's what he did.
From that first moment, without ever intending to, they'd wound up staying at each other’s sides. It was something that had never been outright mentioned or acknowledged. It had just felt natural to be side by side. To spend days walking around the streets without destination or purpose, simply in each other’s company and talking about nothing. They collected bottles and cans together and sought out food and shelter that was good enough for two. Well, three really. The tiny tattered pup they'd rescued together that day had been dubbed Nigou by Aomine for the striking resemblance between the two. He followed them around obediently, slept together with them and happily munched on what scrapes he either found himself or they'd given to him.
Even as the weeks faded into the cold and the summer days were long gone, the three of them lingered together.
But there was a sort of intimacy that always seemed to be there. It was hard not to when you spent every day with someone, trying to survive to greet the next few sunrises. Aomine noticed it in the way Kuroko looked at him sometimes when they'd come across something useful. He noticed it in the way Kuroko would play with Nigou and look over to Aomine to see if he was following. He noticed it in the way that on particularly cold nights, Kuroko would burrow himself closer and closer to his chest.
It was a night exactly like that that Aomine had ever heard Kuroko speak about himself. Usually he dodged Aomine's questions or found some way to have Aomine answering his own questions with his own answers. He'd long since confessed his history to Kuroko but the boy had yet to give up anything about himself.
But that night, the night of the first snowfall, he'd opened up.
Curled up together on a park bench and covered by a dirty old blanket that frankly smelled heavily of cat piss, Kuroko faced him. They were close, given the small space of the bench and when Kuroko looked up at him, his nose had brushed Aomine's chin. Nigou was burrowed under the blanket, nestled between their stomachs and kicked at Aomine's stomach as he got comfortable.
It was warm like this. Even as the snow started to fall over them, Aomine didn't mind.
Kuroko had reached up out of the blanket and pulled off his toque then. Blinking, Aomine watched as he lifted it up and tugged it over Aomine's bare ears. They'd yet to come across any headgear for Aomine and he had just been using his hood on his jacket. So the cloth over his frozen ears felt like such a relief.
But it was short lived as he reached up to take it off. "You idiot, don't give me your things. You need it more than I do."
Kuroko stopped him though. His hand grabbed Aomine's elbow under the blanket before the larger boy could even reach his face. He watched then as Kuroko tucked his head under the blanket, disappearing from sight and felt his face press against his chest. Aomine felt his neck warm at the feeling. Kuroko curled his fingers into his jacket and shifted himself a little closer. Aomine drew an arm around his torso without needing to think about it.
"I'm okay like this." Kuroko spoke up, his voice muffled by the blanket and Aomine noticed he was speaking against his chest.
He'd normally curse his pounding heart but right now, the flush of joy was currently spreading warmth throughout his entire body and he let the traitor do as he would this time. Kuroko often had that effect on him. Tonight seemed like a particularly bad one. He even felt the warmth reach his toes, his feet now nestled in a new used pair of running shoes. Feet he now settled between Kuroko's.
"Fine but you better not leave the blanket. If you got sick, I don't know what I'll do." He confesses, his voice quiet as he lets his eyes close.
There was a lull then, a silence that lingered so Aomine assumed they were done for the day and it was time to get some much deserved rest. He was relaxed, comfortable even against the stiff wood of the park bench. The two most precious lives to him currently curled up at his side. As he slowly dozed into sleep, he couldn't help thinking that these past few months might have honestly been the happiest time of his life.
And then the warmth of his slumber was cut short by a soft sound at his chest - a sniffle. His eyes opened at that, glancing down at the blanket and strained his ears. Another quiet sniffle and now there were hints of labored breathing. Aomine's gaze softened. It didn't take a genius to figure it out.
"Kuroko." He said quietly, drawing his arm more around the boy crying silently into his chest. "It's okay."
"I'm fine." He hears as a response and honestly, his voice truly does sound normal. If Aomine didn't feel he knew the kid, he probably would have taken his word for it.
He curls down some, pressing his faze against the blanket that protected Kuroko's head and spoke softly against it. "No, you're not. What's wrong?" He waits for a response but receives none. "...Come on, you can tell me."
The silence lingers after his words but Aomine doesn't speak. He'd been used to this. Sometimes when Aomine would ask Kuroko about himself, the kid would just go completely quiet. So he didn't push; instead he just remained still and waited hopefully.
"... Why?" Kuroko practically whispered finally.
Aomine blinked. "What do you mean why?"
"Why would you care?" He asks after another moment. Aomine feels fingers curl into his jacket. "I'm just a stranger."
Aomine rolls his eyes. "Of course I would care. I like you, you idiot. You mean something to me."
"But you don't know anything about me."
"What do I need to know? You're a good guy, Kuroko. You stepped into a fight to save a dog you had no chance of taking proper care of against two guys you said yourself had no chance of winning against just because it was the right thing to do." He speaks, quoting the boy from a conversation they'd had during their first meeting. "If that alone doesn't say everything I need to know about you, I don't know what does."
He's quiet in response - quiet so long that Aomine wonders if maybe he is ignoring him again. "Hey." He tries again, this time his tone a little softer. "I don't need to know anything else about you than what I've already learned. I don't buy into that past crap. All I care about is who you are right now. That's good enough. You don't have to feel like you're hiding something."
It was those words and a few persuasive little kisses to the top of his head that finally launched Kuroko into giving up those details Aomine had been curious to hear.
Apparently, Kuroko had been out on the street for about two years prior to meeting Aomine. He had been an only child, living with his parents. His mother had been sick. Mentally. She had been diagnosed with some illness that Aomine couldn't remember the name of seconds after Kuroko had said it. Basically, it meant that she was on a whole mess of medication. Apparently it had started because she couldn't even look at Kuroko without launching into violent episodes. Kuroko said any time that he would cry or speak or even be in the same room as her, it would cause her to snap. So he always had to be very careful to stay out of sight from her. He learned to blend into the background and keep quiet and out of sight.
Eventually, the violent episodes stopped when she became medicated... but then she completely forgot about Kuroko's existence. He said that he didn't know if she was just in denial or if it was a side effect of the medication but she soon talked like she had never even had a kid, even when Kuroko was standing right beside her. If she ever caught sight of him, he said it was like she was looking right through him. Her eyes were dead, like she was just looking at an inanimate object.
His father had tried to help. He had tried to mediate between them and even pointed Kuroko out a few times to her, only to have her give the man a sweet smile and say the words that grew to haunt Kuroko: "I have no son."
It had been that that originally caused Kuroko to run away from home. He thought about how it wouldn't matter if he disappeared. If he was gone, maybe she could finally be happy. Maybe his father could finally stop stressing over his broken little family.
He never said it but Aomine suspected he also thought running away from home would stop him believing he didn't need to be born. The words never left his lip but the tone had been there. It had been there in the way he pressed closer and closer to Aomine as he told his story.
It was in those moments of hearing how someone could do something so cruel to someone so precious that Aomine decided he wasn’t going to let Kuroko out of his sight ever again.
As he curled his arms more around the boy and lulled him to sleep finally with such promises, Aomine found every word he spoke to be truth.
He believed them and for the first time since he was on his own, he thought maybe he finally found someone else he could believe in too.