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What You Leave Behind

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Kagami can remember the exact moment he first met Aomine.

That kind of stuff usually fades. He’s at that age where it can become difficult to remember how exactly you came across people, even one’s closest friends. Even his brother Tatsuya, near and dear to his heart and inextricably linked to his greatest passions, although the memory is precious, the exact details have gone fuzzy with time.

What you said to each other, how you walked down the road that would eventually lead you here— brought to the person you’ve come to care about and know so well, it doesn’t stay, eventually buried under the weight of the countless other memories that follow.

That’s just how it is. Day to day interactions come and go, repeat and blur together, no matter how fondly you hold them in your heart, and at some point the first day gets lost.

It’s not like that with Aomine. But he’s never been like most people.

With Aomine, all of it, the first day, the first moment he’d seen him, even down to the first time he’d heard his name, the first time Kuroko had told him about Aomine, the sad story of a jaded prodigy, the flare of irritation at his purported arrogance— too good to lose? The only one who can beat me is me? What a joke—

Coming across him on the court in the dark. Making eye contact with these lazy hooded eyes, the surprise and awe at the speed and grace with which he broke past him, the instant recognition that even in his excellence, he was barely trying. Realizing at once it was him: Aomine Daiki. Who else could it be.

It’s all as clear in his mind as if he could relive it again.

Their first game. The utter excitement at butting heads with such an extraordinary opponent, streetball moves that could make the kids back in the states cry, movements too quick to follow, outrageous stunts Kagami hadn’t even thought possible guided with a lazy fluid hand. It’s like when he plays, he leaves things like gravity behind.

And he doesn’t even look like he’s having fun.

The worst thing is that even given all that, it’s clear that he’s still barely even trying. He dribbles around them like their efforts are cute, and not worth putting up a real fight against. Because he so clearly doesn’t need to— and it’s that cool dismissal that boils Kagami’s blood.

Excitement had turned to frustration at being a step behind, pitifully impotent, barely able to keep up. Rage at the loss— absolute fucking rage at the way Aomine’s steely eyes and smug but resigned smirk pierced into him. An expression that said he knew from the start that they couldn’t stand up to him, known all along that there was no point in this charade. It aggravates Kagami to no end, a fury that burnt so hot that he didn’t think he unclenched his teeth until he swore to himself that he’d whoop that smirk off his sorry face one day. He swore to himself that Aomine would be forced to actually try. No matter what that takes.

He remembers that day too. Their first Winter Cup match, back in freshman year. Aomine’s face, slack with defeat, looking almost lost, but fixated on him.

     And you know what else he remembers?

He remembers a ferocious brilliant thing, lighting up his heart from the inside in a sudden burst like fuel breathed onto a simmering coal. Something he recognized at once.

Aomine’s gaze and the way it pierced him straight through to the heart, electrified him. Tension that radiates and crackles in the air around them plain as day, gearing him up.

His basketball— Obnoxious and impractical, all at once far too lazy and yet, pulling off moves that were unbelievable mostly because of how they had obviously taken way too much effort to learn— disgustingly elaborate shots that he was making with ease.

And when he went all out, when Kagami finally drove Aomine to the edge, when Kagami truly saw Aomine in the zone, he was absolutely captivated, he couldn’t pull his eyes away.

It’s beautiful. Wild. Perfect—

Off the court, he isn’t much different, but he’s captivating for an entirely different reason, and it doesn’t take long to realize that. Aomine is confident. Cocky. Demands attention at all times. Dismisses and ignores anything that can’t hold his interest. His aloof and selfish attitude is infuriating, and reconciling that side of him with the respect and amazement Kagami had felt upon seeing him play that first time, it’s difficult. Obviously Kagami can’t let a guy like that know he was impressed by him, no matter how incredible he is.

Intense volcanic crush the size of the fucking sun or not, the guy’s also kind of an ass.

He would get unbearably smug if he knew what Kagami thought of his skill, and if there’s one thing Kagami can’t stand, it’s a pretentious jackass. He doesn’t get any less irksome with time, even as they start seeing more of each other, especially since he’s seemed to make it his life’s mission to annoy the shit out of Kagami. However, he does seem undeniably… different, after their match at the Winter Cup.

True to his word, Kagami meets Aomine every once in a while for a match and puts up his best fight— ‘entertains’ him for a while, even though that still sounds unbearably pretentious. Smug bastard though he may be, Kagami puts up with his rotten annoying attitude, because Aomine’s basketball gets no less amazing, no less captivating with time. He can’t find a pattern in it, often can’t keep up with the intense, unplanned, but somehow coordinated whirl of movement as Aomine engages him— drives him to the zone. The more he sees his play, the more it draws him in.

And the same thing happens with Aomine himself.

Even though Aomine beats him again and again on the street court, the resigned somber look in his eyes is like a bad memory. Larger than life, obnoxious, aloof and self-absorbed, there’s a boyish glint that crosses his face that Kagami can’t look away from. For the life of him, no matter how much he infuriates Kagami, he can’t look away—

For a while that’s how it was. An uncontrollable blinding light in his chest that he didn’t dwell on much other than the utter elation it brought when they were on the court together. A crush at the least, and at the most—

Aomine’s always been kind of an dick, the kind of guy that pushes all his buttons and knows just how to irk him, but there’s more to him. There’s always more. The closer he gets, the brightness just increases in intensity.

It’s after the Vorpal Swords game. He’s pretty sure that’s when it really ramped up. It was there before of course, but the intensity spiked to a peak he couldn’t ignore.

By that point they’d settled into their relationship: an antagonistic but ultimately friendly rivalry.

He would say looking back, he’d thought he already knew what there was to know about Aomine Daiki, a jackass that you eventually grow fond of, no matter how irritating he inevitably remains, because the guy just grows on you if you let him— and having a crush on him was just the burden he had to bear, but Kagami really got to know him last year over the summer. The one between first and second year.

He’s not sure how to describe it exactly, because soft side doesn’t seem to cover it. Needless to say, that summer, Kagami thinks he finally got to understand what Kuroko had meant when he’d said Aomine-kun wasn’t always like this…

Aomine has another side to him. One he’d only gotten a few glimpses of until then. And when he got close enough to really see it, it’s like closing a circuit.

All the feelings that already existed inside him coalesced like static to a lightning rod. Shooting through his body and into his bones, aglow and vibrating blue and white, clamping his teeth together in his skull, too much to be contained and yet his hand stays clasped there despite the incredible pain and intensity, unable to release its grip. It feels like far too much emotion for one boy’s body, and yet he thrums with the energy of it all. It’s a beautiful feeling.

Falling in love. Feet first and plummeting, shoes spread to meet the court.

That’s something that never gets forgotten.

 

. . .

 

     Kagami’s gay.

He’s known that since he was in middle school. Puberty was kind of like hell for him to be honest. He can still think back to the first day he woke up stiff and with damp sheets, and the panic of trying to hide his underwear from his dad by doing his laundry alone. He thinks he was around twelve or thirteen, and he distinctly remembers waking up and the immediate devastating shame that I’ve wet the bed—

Of course, he soon realizes that he had in fact, not peed his bed. Sex ed cleared up a lot, needless to say.

He can still remember the blessed relief. Twelve years old, twelve or thirteen, he’s not exactly sure, but the weight taken off his mind felt like a million pounds. It’s not just him. It’s happening to everyone. He’s not the only one waking up with crust on their sheets that they don’t want to show their moms.

What followed that relief was probably some of the lowest moments he’s ever experienced. Things he doesn’t like to remember because he’s moved on from them long ago and doesn’t let it bother him anymore.

Knowing why it happened and what it was didn’t make it easier to cope with unfortunately. Learning about it was like a self fulfilling prophecy, because after that it didn’t just happen at night. It happened during the day. In school. At basketball practice. In the gym. In the cafeteria. In class. Completely out of his control and usually completely unprovoked.

He still remembers the first time it just happened. In class, out of his control. He could feel it coming, but there was nothing to do to stop it. One second he was at his desk doing schoolwork and the next, it was there, hot and sensitive, pressing on the line of his zipper. It was really embarrassing, but thankfully no one noticed and it went away before the end of class.

He isn’t always that lucky.

If Kagami thinks back, he knows he must have been aware of gay people by that age. He’d been raised in California, so of course he had. They’d learned about same-sex relationships and feelings in health class during sex education. Not terribly much, but some.

He’d had a vague understanding of it, but he doesn’t think he really knew. Not before then.

As a little boy, he’d had crushes on the girls in his class. His first year in America, he’d been absolutely goony over this girl named Daisy with two blonde ponytails and missing her front teeth. He’d ran around the playground after her and kissed her on both cheeks, and next year it was Charlotte. And the next year it was Gracie. Pretty and funny, catching cooties from girls was the thrill that kept on giving for all of third grade—

By age eight, his new fixation was sports. Gym class was his favorite part of school. He spent all day outside playing kickball with the neighbourhood kids. Once he met Tatsuya at age nine, Kagami spent time almost exclusively with boys, barring Alex. Maybe he should have known then.

In fifth grade, his favorite teacher was Mr. Miller, who didn’t mind that Kagami couldn’t pronounce his name like the other kids. He was tall and handsome, with the nicest teeth Kagami can ever remember seeing, even to this day. It was the year after his mom died and he hadn’t been doing well in school, but that became one of the classes he tried the hardest in. Looking back, maybe he should have known, but he didn’t.

In sixth grade, Kagami spent a lot of time at after school programs and community sports days. Gym class was his favorite period, especially when it was time to teach some basketball to the class. The gym teacher’s son, Josh, was always there helping out, and Kagami swears he’s never felt such elation than he did when Josh, a high schooler, was impressed that he could make a basket with such ease.

Kagami’s played with older kids before on the street courts, but he idolized Josh. He was handsome. Cool. All the boys liked him, and the girls probably did too. Kagami looked up to him, wanted to be like him and to be liked by him, wanted it so bad it was probably pitifully obvious. He probably squirmed like a puppy dog when Josh wanted him, a mere eleven year old, on his basketball team, even though the other high schoolers were around. A teenager that the other sixth graders respected liking Kagami helped boost his image in the eyes of his peers. He started to make friends, outside of Tatsuya and the other foreign students and outside of just basketball, and for probably the first time, Kagami didn’t feel like he was just being humored. It was a great year while it lasted, trailing along at Josh’s heels with starry eyes, feeling like one of the big kids.

Maybe he should have known by then, but he doesn’t think he did. Not until the day in the locker room in seventh grade.

It might have been more obvious if not for Daisy. If not for all the pretty girls in fifth grade, and sixth, and seventh— The long hair and the pretty lips and the hands that seemed to grow tinier and daintier the older he got. If not for the way he knows his heart fluttered and sang and the way his cheeks warmed— If not for that, he might have known sooner.

He might have recognized the same feeling in himself when his math teacher expressed pride in his accomplishments. When Josh treated him like a buddy and preferred him to his own friends when it came to basketball. An innocent, fluttering, light-hearted excitement in his heart, the first loves of a boy—  He might have known it before he had to learn about it in sex ed. Same sex attraction. Might have heard it and thought, hey, that’s me, before it happened.

It was only a few months after he’d started getting erections, after the relief of the biology lessons in sex ed, the weight off his back. It was two years after meeting Josh. Five after coming to America—

After gym class in the lockers, everyone was changing and getting out of their gym clothes. He can remember it being a good day. He was whipping towels at the backs of bare legs with some classmates, horsing around before lunch period, and Josh came in.

He came right next to Kagami and flashed him a smile. Kagami immediately quit fooling around, trying as always to look cool and mature around his teen buddy. He chatted mildly and got to changing while Josh shoved his stuff in his locker. Then he strips his shirt.

Kagami can remember the smell of sweat that the air circulation caused, sent straight towards him by the swift movement. And the span of Josh’s back, bare and taught with lean muscle, gold and peppered with acne, slightly damp. He turns, his sharp hip bones standing out from his stomach.

It’s immediate. Like a water balloon attached to a sink faucet. Blood rushes between his legs, and there’s no disguising it in basketball shorts. There isn’t even time to hide it. He thinks a couple of the boys nearest him were even facing him when it happens.

For a second, Kagami doesn’t know what to do, because it feels just like every other time that it’s happened out of nowhere, for no reason, but this time he knows. He knows it’s not for no reason.

And a second later, there’s laughter.

Now that he’s older, he knows it wasn’t particularly malicious. Mostly just thoughtless. Preteen boys being mean to each other, but not cruel. He’d presented an easy target and it had been impossible to resist. He’s not even sure most of them had realized why— They’d just seen their classmate pop an unwanted erection, but hadn’t put two and two together. At least not yet.

Kagami remembers snapping his hands over his crotch and hunching his shoulders in, but most of it became a blur after he started to get shoved around and teased. He clammed up stubbornly, head down, and for a few minutes he’s a big joke for the rest of the boys in his class.

The worst came when he thought it was over, when most of them charged out of the locker room, the incident already largely forgotten. Worst of all was Josh’s face, and it must be because in tenth grade he was old enough to really know. His eyes pierced into Kagami’s, and all of a sudden he was struck with a vicious bolt of shame at the disgust he found there.

He thinks he welled up at some point during the hazing. He isn’t sure. The room spun, face hot, brow tight with rage and embarrassment. He knows he went to the office for hitting Thomas Owens in the mouth when he wouldn't shut up. But he doesn’t remember crying. He almost wishes he had.

After that, Josh doesn’t want him on his team anymore. And he doesn’t change next to Kagami anymore. And the next time he unintentionally pops a boner in the lockers, Josh tells him to get his stuff and go change in the toilet stall in the corner where he can be alone.

The teasing picks up. Not immediately. A slow thing over the next week or so. But one high school boy knowing is enough, and whatever Josh’s intentions were, whether fear at something he didn’t understand yet, instinctual disgust, whether it was mean-spirited or not, it spread to Kagami’s middle school class within a week, and Kagami came to a devastating realization.

His immature body, not even having discovered masturbation for a full month yet. The spontaneous erections, the ‘wetting the bed,’ the thing he’d only just learned was completely normal, if inconvenient. The humiliation every boy has to go through on their journey to becoming a man, this—

Josh. His middle school math teacher. The sports magazines. Getting hard around other boys with no provocation—

         This is not happening to everyone.

And so, Kagami learned that he was gay almost the same time his classmates did.

The teasing wasn’t the worst in the world. Kagami never got called bad names, not by his own classmates at least. No one tried to hurt him. No one excluded him. But they teased relentlessly. And his self esteem, the self esteem that learning to play basketball had brought him as a nine year old kid who couldn’t speak English well enough to make any American friends yet, that self esteem plummeted.

It was hard. He still had his father, Alex and Tatsuya, and the friends basketball had brought him, but it didn’t help him during school. Sometimes he thinks basketball was the only thing that got him through it, because those weeks were rough for him.

The teacher tried to interfere when he caught on, but it didn’t do any good. Kagami used to love gym class. It became something he dreaded overnight. He can remember sitting at home and trying to think what he could do to avoid that embarrassment happening again, two pairs of underwear, wearing a cup—

The details of the teasing has faded with time. The word fag lost its meaning almost immediately through immense repetition. Whether they really knew what it even meant or not, whether they really meant it with cruelty or not, they could see it bothered him that they knew, so they teased and teased him like little boys do. They made jokes about him and would pretend they didn’t want to even use a urinal next to him in case he looked. They even teased each other sometimes for touching something Kagami had touched, or getting too close to him, like he left gay cooties behind wherever he went.

It could’ve been worse, probably. He knows that. But to a twelve year old who already felt too often like the outsider of the class, thick accent, slanted eyes, hot head— to Kagami, at that moment, it felt like the end of the world. Sometimes he’d wanted to cry so bad that he’d felt like he’d burst.

That shame and that humiliation was unbearable.

He lasted a week. After that Kagami begged his dad to let him change schools. He wouldn’t tell him why when he asked. I thought you were finally settling in? Making some friends— Why do you want to move, son?

He didn’t tell his dad that he was being bullied. He wasn’t the kind of kid that got bullied. At most, since he’d come to America, he’d been isolated and ignored at times, but not bullied. Usually the other kids were too intimidated to do that. And somehow inside himself, Kagami didn’t want to lose the pride of his father. Didn’t want to admit that when he came home from school, he felt like crying every day. Didn’t want to tell him that his big strong son, his basketball player son, his gay son, couldn’t take a little teasing.

He felt like he couldn’t tell anybody. Too many people know already. It felt like it could only get worse. So for those few weeks, he bottled it up.

His only solace, basketball on the courts with Alex and Tatsuya and the neighbourhood college kids, even that couldn’t stay a sacred escape forever. Because of course it got around.

He can’t even remember if he told Tatsuya first, if he crumbled under the weight of the loneliness, or if Tatsuya had confronted him about it himself. But he remembers the sharp and paralyzing bolt of fear when it was laid out, he remembers how Alex’s face had pinched with surprise— and he can remember, for one moment, feeling like all he wanted to do was run away.

And hide. Before they could tease him too.

When the surprise wore off, Alex seized him and hugged his head into her boobs, smushing him in to be healed by her bosom. He wasn’t nine years old anymore, so of course he put up a fight like he didn’t want to be hugged, but the weight of it all did feel just a little less horrible afterwards. 

Tatsuya's nice about it too.

For a while, having them was enough.

It wasn’t until a later incident, when he was humiliated by some older boys in front of Kelly, the girl Kagami had liked before this whole gay debacle, that Kagami really broke for a while there.

Josh was one of the bullies. Even now, thinking back on it, it still causes a twinge of pain. He knows now that Josh had probably acted the way he did out of insecurity, some fear that he might be shunned by his peers, or that because Kagami had a crush on him, others might think he was like that too. Whatever it was, it didn’t matter at the time. That rejection from someone he’d looked up to and liked so much, it hurt more than words could say.

He’s proud to say that twelve year old Kagami had gotten through the rest of the day, not speaking to anyone. Probably to avoid crying the second he opened his mouth. That was the only thought he could hang onto, he can’t cry here in front of everyone, instinctively knowing that if he lets the tears fall, the teasing will only get stirred back up again. It will only give them all new material. He has to hold it until he’s at home, at least until he’s at home, just a few hours more—

He got through the rest of his classes, and then when school let out, he skipped basketball with Alex and Tatsuya and went straight home on the bus. When he got home and shut the door, for a second he stands there and waits, figuring it would all just come bursting out right away. He'd only barely held it at bay until now, but suddenly, it got stuck.

He’s been waiting for this moment so that he didn’t have to hold it in anymore, so he could lay on his bed and let it out where no one could see him. But nothing… happens.

So he sits on the couch in the front room and waits alone for his dad to come home.

It’s half past six when the door opens and Kagami hasn’t eaten dinner. He hasn’t put his backpack away. He hasn’t moved from the sofa, and when his dad comes in the door, Kagami gets up to greet him and then it happens.

His dad makes eye contact with him and his face pinches in a frown. He thinks his dad asks him if he’s okay or something, he’s not exactly sure. He opened his mouth, maybe to tell him everything that’s happened. To tell him everything he’s wanted so badly to tell him for a month straight. Being made fun of, feeling alone in America, his realization that something inside him isn’t like the other kids.

Maybe even to tell him he’s fine.

But the second he opens his mouth, he starts to bawl.

He blubbers like he hasn’t since Mom died. Snot shoots out of his nose and tears dribble down and his shoulders shake. It’s embarrassingly loud, his face is wet and red. It’s like all the crying he’s wanted to do for the last month just pours out of him, and he bawls and sobs and blubbers like a fucking baby and he tells his dad everything, stands there and feels like dirt, feels pathetic—

When he can’t talk anymore, when he’s said all he can say through his crying fit, his dad puts a hand on his shoulder and squeezes. He’s twelve, and old enough to be ashamed to cry in front of someone that he wants to see him as a man. His dad side hugs him and grips his arm. He comforts him, he’s calm about it, patting him on the back, and Kagami’s lip wobbles and snot drips as he rubs at his eyes, sulking and pouting, utterly humiliated.

He’s not upset. He tells him that more than once, he’s not upset— He loves Kagami, and nothing will change the pride he feels in him as his son. But he is also not going to let Kagami change schools.

His dad’s never talked much, and he’s been much more serious since Mom died, devoting himself to his work, which caused him to require a lot of independence from his growing son. They don’t get to spend a lot of time together usually, but he’s always seemed pleased to know Kagami was making friends at school, finding activities that he liked that occupied him when he couldn’t be around. It was still kind of a bummer sometimes that even when they’re both home at the same time, usually Dad is in his home office on his computer. But when it really mattered, like at class graduation, or his middle school basketball games, the really important ones, Kagami could rely on him to make time.

He puts his work calls on hold for the rest of the night, and once Kagami’s cried himself out and washed his face, he takes him out for burgers. They take the food home and watch the Punisher, and his dad talks to him. About life. About family. About keeping your back straight in front of bullies— He says a couple things that embarrass Kagami too, but still cause an indescribable wave of relief.

     Kagami doesn’t want to change schools as much after that.

The bullying from his classmates dwindles within a week, only occasionally coming from the upperclassmen, and by the summer Kagami turned fourteen, it had completely stopped. There’s a plethora of reasons why that could be.

Basketball had helped him immensely. It’s always been the easiest way he’s made friends since coming to America, and a lot of those friends ended up being much older than him. Gaining the respect of high school seniors and college students got the respect of his peers too. Having older kids that had your back made people wary of picking shit with him.

There’s also the fact that in turning fourteen, he had just hit his first of three growth spurts that he’d go through each summer after. After hitting five foot eleven, no one wanted to mess with him anymore. Who knows why that could be.

It could also have to do with the fact that he was more handsome at fourteen. Being good looking and good at sports will always win you points.

And really what Kagami thinks is most likely is that… he hadn’t actually cared anymore. The teasing just stopped bothering him, almost overnight.

It seems stupid to say, but that release of howling and wailing it all out at his dad, that moment of naked fear, the terrifying vulnerability of the truth being known, afterwards, he felt a sense of relief. It felt like nothing could ever be as scary or as humiliating as that moment had been, and in a way, that was comforting. Because to Alex, and Tatsuya, and Dad, he’s still Kagami, and that’s fine.

That relief completely brought back his self confidence— and confidence makes friends.

When he’d get teased, thirteen year old Kagami would let it roll off his back, easy-going, or retaliate with good-natured roughhousing. No denial, no keeping it a secret, but also no shouting it from the rooftop either; it’s just him. And as he continued working his hardest at basketball and getting through eighth grade, he actually found that the other kids liked the new him. Maybe even more than they had before.

And if anyone still gave him the side-eye, the tiniest bit suspicious, being athletic has a way of overriding that, gay or not. At least that’s how the brains of his teenage peers work. Some of them even seemed to think it was kind of cool, to know a gay person in real life. One boy actually said that his own parents were a same sex couple, so he knows that it’s not a big deal for Kagami to be like that too.

Kagami likes America. Has for a while. But by the end of eighth grade, that’s when he actually feels for the first time, like he can be accepted here. Especially on the courts. Different races play together, different ages, and girls can come and expect to be allowed to play, not just watch — Alex makes sure of that one.

It’s a great place to be. All that matters is your basketball.

It’s not all good though. That summer is the summer he and Tatsuya fought and parted ways.

Kagami’s still young, but he can tell you little is more painful than feeling the person closest to you drift away.

 

Kagami enters ninth grade at age fourteen, and going into high school meant leaving behind almost all of the kids who’d known him during puberty. It’s a fresh start, and with it, he let go of the anger and hurt of that humiliating experience, any that was left. He moved on from it to the point that even at fourteen, he didn’t feel ashamed for his new classmates to know he was gay. If it came up in conversation, which it rarely did, he even felt comfortable to tell them on his own.

It’s a completely different environment than the one he’d known in middle school. It could be that he’s in a diverse school, with surprisingly accepting students. It could be that he speaks English much better. Whatever it is, there’s a marked maturity difference among his peers, even in a matter of two years— and again, there’s the fact that he can play sports well and is pretty good-looking for his age. The other boys in his phys ed class like him and want him on their teams right off the bat. The revelation that he’s gay is an afterthought. His classmates shower next to him, share towels and water bottles, and no one looks at him funny. He could hardly even call that traumatic memory of his first coming out a scar anymore. The pain is behind him, something he rarely thinks about.

It’s a good year, other than the burden of the ring around his neck and the regret of the previous summer. Intentionally throwing a game because he couldn’t bear to let go of the first friend he’d made in America. In retrospect, he’d coped with the separation surprisingly well, but then, they’ve always said that about him: that he’s coped well with loss for his age.

The summer before tenth grade, his dad talks about moving back home— but Kagami ends up flying to Tokyo alone.

All of that being said, by the time he was in Japan again, he’d already had the hard lessons and worked through them and learned from them. He’d already come to terms with the initial struggle realizing who he was, and had since matured, become stronger after his sensitive and emotional heart had gotten a few years to grow. He’s already gone through the hard parts and come out with self-confidence. At sixteen, he already knew himself and his heart remarkably well for his age.

     And so he knew what it was when he saw Aomine. There’s only one thing to call it.

 

. . .

 

It’s not that Kagami had ever had hope of reciprocation. It’s part of why he’d never planned to tell him.

He didn’t weep and mourn over it, it didn’t feel like a heartbreak, or even something to be sad over, but it was something he immediately locked away, a quiet secret to be kept in his heart. The blaze, burning out of control, battering against him from the inside.

At the time, it seemed like the obvious choice.

Having resolve like that, however— Having self confidence does not and has never meant a life without fear and suffering.

Letting that thing live, no matter how quietly and how privately, meant that hope was alive with it, even if he thought it had never been there to begin with. But there must have been something, because when Aomine found out about him and reacted the way he did, it had absolutely crushed him.

Really did. Maybe even worse than Josh had crushed his twelve-year old self.

And that’s when he came upon the bitter realization that self-confidence or not, rejection from someone you respect, someone you love, it doesn’t get any easier. Walking away doesn’t get any easier.

Even though he’d never had hopes that they would get together anyways, it had sucked to hear that, you fucking fag—  because it had meant that they couldn’t even be friends. It took him right back to that aghast moment, horrified and ashamed.

But he survives it. He straightens his back and walks off and moves on, because that’s what he does. And in the following weeks in his new life without Aomine, he thinks he made the right decision, keeping it secret. It’s probably better that he hadn’t told him. Imagine if he’d confessed to a guy like that, laid his heart out to be slaughtered.

Something else he learned over that month on his own was that walking away, rising above a struggle so that it can’t bother you anymore, it won’t leave him unaffected. Not completely. Just as it does locking away his secret feelings, hope survives— It always does. Even when you think it can’t have possibly made it.

Tatsuya’s always told him he’s too impulsive. Led around by his emotions, big-hearted and dumb and quick to anger because he’s got too much passion— and it must be true. Maybe that’s why he gave Aomine another chance when he decided to shape up. He isn’t sure he would have been so forgiving with anyone else. Maybe he would have, but he’s not sure.

Maybe it was the hope still alive in his heart, even after he’s cut all his ties and kept going on with life no worse for wear. A candle wick waiting for just a single spark to breathe life to that flame of hope again—

And in the coming months, as Aomine’s behavior started to change, Kagami had felt so relieved to have back the person he’d come to know last summer, the one he’d been so disappointed and confused had turned on him, because he’d though surely, this couldn’t be him? He knew Aomine and this just wasn’t like him—

Seeing a person who usually was self-absorbed and lazy, seeing Aomine put in effort to change the way he acted and talked around him, simply because he cared about Kagami just that much, Kagami had felt so grateful to have a friend like him, to have that friend back. Someone that he knew from now on would always be there to rely on, just like before.

But things felt different somehow.

He’d find Aomine looking at him, eyes deep and dark and piercing into his soul, something that seemed far too probing, intimate almost, and Kagami would feel the light of hope flare in his heart, bright and alive.

It takes him a long time to accept that just maybe, hope can never be entirely extinguished.

 

       That’s also probably the thing that had kept him with Hitoshi for so long. He realizes that in the fallout of his breakup, and it’s a horrible ugly thing to admit. Maybe that’s why he’d gotten so scared.

It reminded him of bottling it up for a month straight when he was in middle school and then finally falling to pieces in front of his dad, because it was kind of how he had felt then.

Standing on the basketball court, practically trembling and choking back tears because he doesn't understand why Aomine won't stop picking at him. Won’t leave him alone when all Kagami wants in the world is to find a place where he can hide.

Even at his most battered and pathetic moment, hope is alive, and no matter how he flinches away, when Aomine comes around and tells him he’s glad he waited— however weak and sputtering, hope gleams and glows within him like a candle.

Foolish or not, that hope wears him down, melts through his defenses, and a sad scared part of him thought that this had to be a fluke— has to be, Aomine must have deluded himself into wanting him because he’s just that type of person, jealous and selfish and can’t stand someone else having what he wants.

A fluke, or a prank, something Aomine didn’t really mean and was saying it, why, to be nice? To make him feel better? Or even to do something fucking awful like try to destroy him when he was at his lowest— All of this races through his mind, but when Aomine opens his arms to him and beckons him in, Kagami’s helpless to resist. Captivated.

Just like he’s always been.

The following days, weeks together, are like a dream. Something he hasn’t even let himself fantasize about. The hope that he’d kept locked in his heart, glowing in the dark, never to be acted upon.

He’d never thought… he’d never thought something like this could happen to him. Aomine, forever out of reach, holding his hand in the summer rain.

Running home together in the storm, it’s like a lightning rod for all his love and excitement, and all of a sudden, at the sight of Aomine sopping wet, looking somehow younger underneath his soggy bangs— it just burst out of him.

Aomine soaked to the skin, his forehead smooth and uncreased, water running out of his hair and between his brows, eyes so open and dark, reflecting a flash of lightning above them. He can’t hold it in, not even for a second.

“I love you. So damn much.”

They spun and spun under the blanket of a thunderstorm. The rain drumming on his head is cold, but Aomine’s hands are warm.

He stays awake as long as he can, trying his hardest to make this last, but he drifts off in the night. And when he wakes up in the morning, all the memories of the day before snapping back in rapid succession, Aomine is there, eyes open, quietly looking at him from his futon across the floor.

All those times he’s gazed into Kagami’s face and he’s wondered why— it’s the same gaze. And this time he knows. He just knows.

Kagami’s so unbelievably happy, and incredibly excited. The sorrow and humiliation and the exhaustion of his ordeal, the pain he’s been struggling under for weeks now, even so recently as the previous day, all of that seems to dissipate like magic, or at least is soothed and settles into the background underneath the blinding weight of the joy at the realization, it wasn’t a dream after all— Aomine is his boyfriend. Aomine loves him back.

The immense ache brought on by the turmoil of the past weeks lifts from his shoulders, impossible to locate or focus on. After Aomine has held his hand, what are the hurts of the past other than memories that can’t touch him anymore.

"G'morning," Kagami whispers, maybe just to make sure that he's real, laying over there, so quiet, looking as though he's holding his breath for this bubble to burst too.

"Is now," Aomine says, flashing his teeth tentatively, like he can't believe his own daring. Kagami's heart leaps, his legs squirm, he wants to jump for joy, go out on the balcony and crow at the sky. Aomine grins wide.

Their first day as boyfriends starts as any other day would. The next one is the same. And the next. Something big has happened, yes, but nothing special is different.

But he doesn’t need special. Aomine as he is, to him, that’s already brilliant, a dazzling precious thing, like a diamond.

Whatever happens now, however they grow and change as they go on from here, making their start together, all of Kagami’s wildest hopes could never have held a candle to the way he’s feeling now.

. . .

 

Slow to change or not, he and Aomine have already gone on their first date together.

Out of the blue, Aomine had asked him to go to the arcade with him. Not much different than their usual hang-out activities, but the roundabout hesitant way he asked was what told him it was meant as a date.

Kagami had been so surprised, not only at the reminder that yes, this is actually real, they’d confessed to each other and that agreement to become boyfriends wasn’t his imagination, they’re really… doing this— but it also came as a surprise that Aomine had once again, taken it on himself to initiate.

It’s not that Kagami had exactly been planning to make the ‘first move’ either, as it were, one last part of him in disbelief that this could possibly be happening to him, and any direct show of affection, anything that crossed the line their friendship has always known, that would somehow wake them up out of this wonderful, wonderful dream.

But there Aomine was, hand on the back of his neck, scratching his hair and muttering out an invitation, expression and body language casual enough, but his eyes look hopeful. Somehow, Kagami hadn’t expected that.

He’d been so excited that he couldn’t sleep the night before, his restless mind keeping him wide awake.

Part of him had wondered if it would be awkward, trying to be romantic with Aomine, after they’ve known each other as friends for so long. The change might feel jarring and forced, or as if they had to fake it. Kagami’s terrified that it might turn out like that, that it might not feel right, and the last thing he wants to do is let go right at the beginning. The last thing he wants is to see Aomine realize it’s not like he’d imagined it would be and decide to back away.

Not much has changed yet day to day, and whether they hung out all the time or not, the first date felt like a milestone. He wondered if there would be pressure to behave differently now that they’ve decided to try something new, if it would be hard to talk and horse around as usual now that feelings are involved.

When they meet up, the look of apprehension on Aomine’s face tells him he’s been wondering the same thing. But he also looks just as excited to give it a try—

After some initial nerves, they settle in and have a great time. It’s not that they fall into their usual routine exactly, or forget that it’s a date and not just hang-out time. Aomine’s usual teasing does get a little flirty at times when he looks like he’s feeling brave and Kagami feels a sense of relief to know that the usual bickering doesn’t have to stop.

In his last relationship, he’d felt this immense pressure to be perfect, to quash his harmless bouts of hot temper and his boyish impulses to screw around. He’d always felt like he was trying to be more grown up than he is, cooler-headed, quieter, more openly affectionate but also not as sensitive—

But with Aomine it’s just him as he is, just like always, and Aomine still gives him that look, the one with the deep eyes, a degree of softness in his face that Kagami’s grown to love— Aomine still looks at him with an element of tenderness even when he’s being his loud slobby American self, just like he’s always been during their time as friends.

The realization that things will be the same, but better— just as they’ve always been, but with the added benefits of requited love— there comes with it a humongous wave of relief and contentment. It feels like freedom. The freedom to be in the moment and to take their time.

The important things will fall into place.

Reluctant to go home once they’re done, they walk around through the city afterwards, aimlessly wandering as they chat. Aomine's got his hands stuffed in his pants pockets but Kagami can see him glancing down at his hand once in a while, like he thinks he’s being discreet.

Aomine clears his throat and comes to a stop, and Kagami blinks, and comes to the sudden realization that they weren’t just wandering around. Aomine’s brought him to his house. He shifts, looking away, and asks, "You wanna' come up?" and Kagami thinks all his hair stands on end.

He sounds casual enough, but it’s plain as day that he’s a little nervous and uncertain. He’s got his hands deep in his pockets and is glaring at nothing, chewing on the inside of his cheek, and Kagami doesn’t know how he’d ever doubted that Aomine liked him back. Part of him still can’t believe it. Can’t believe something this amazing could be happening to him. But it is. It’s plain as day.

He’s never seen Aomine’s house before. In fact, he doesn’t think he’s ever even imagined what kind of place Aomine lived, or who his family was. To him, sometimes it's almost as if Aomine was dropped into the world on the court the day they met, there at the right time to find him.

It’s two stories, in a row of similar homes in a sunny neighborhood not far from the train station. The inside is homey and warm, and even though Aomine’s parents weren’t home, Kagami takes care to walk slowly and calmly, not touching anything.

Aomine leads him to his room and shows him his shoe collection with this eager look on his face that he can’t hide. He lets Kagami rifle through them, proud and smug, but only a little. Aomine gets together some stuff and they take a bus back to Kagami’s neighborhood and play basketball until sunset.

It was a fun first date, and a great day overall, the best he’s had in a while, and Kagami thinks his heart has wings.

The exhilaration of a one-on-one, burning off all the jittery excitement that had built up. And the happiness, pure and strong— It heals the pain of the last month. The love in his heart, the love that’s always been there, outshining everything else.

He and Aomine, just starting out. What a wonderful thing to be happening.

. . .


Kagami squats in his living room by his metal rack shelf, squinting at the round fish bowl he’d set up next to his mini potted cactus. He rests his chin on his fist and watches the little guy swim, and then taps some fish flakes in there for him.

He’d read up on what to do to take care of it, and it’s survived the last couple weeks since he’d gotten it at the fair. It hadn’t been his intention to keep it, but Hitoshi hadn’t taken it home with him, so Kagami had ended up hanging onto it. Now that he thinks about it, he doesn’t know why he hadn’t thought to get a little pet to spruce up his apartment before. He doesn’t spend a lot of time indoors given his many daily activities, but it is just him here. A low maintenance pet seemed like a good idea.

If he’s going to keep it long term though, he should probably get more than this half-measure glass bowl.

Kagami takes his phone out absently.

“Hey, Aomine?” He switches ears with his phone and puts it between his cheek and shoulder as he reaches out to rearrange some stuff on his shelf, carefully sliding the goldfish bowl so as not to jostle his little buddy.

“Yeah what’s up.” His voice sounds slow and lazy, but he’d picked up on the second ring. Kagami takes a breath, corner of his mouth lifting in an involuntary smile.

“Come over, I need help with my fish.”

“Fish?” he hums boredly.

“Yeah, you know, from the fair,” Kagami clarifies as he moves some things to the bottom shelf. He doesn’t realize Aomine’s gone quiet for a long beat until he talks again.

“... You kept that?” His voice is soft, almost.

Kagami quirks a brow. “Well yeah. What was I gonna’ do, flush him?” He holds the phone tight with his cheek and then picks the bowl up with both hands, moving it slowly so the water doesn’t slosh as he moves it to the kitchen counter.

Aomine’s quiet for another beat, but he seems happy. He even starts to brag like the shit that he is. “Heh’,” he snorts. “Obviously you need my help.”

“Obviously,” Kagami mutters dubiously, because boyfriend or not, Aomine being a cocky shit sure hasn’t stopped annoying him.

“Be there soon—” Kagami can hear rustling and clattering on the other end, but Aomine still sounds smooth and lazy. “To help your hopeless ass.”

He scoffs, rolling his eyes. “Yeah yeah.”

Aomine comes over within an hour and the two of them go out to the shopping district. It’s a nice day, so they walk most of the way to the arcade, enjoying the sunshine and the breeze. The door jingles when they crowd into a tiny pet store.

They squat in front of the different animal tanks, looking at the pet mice and hamsters one by one and picking their favorites, stopping at each cage and trying not to block the whole aisle, big as they are.

“When I was a kid, I never had a pet,” Kagami notes when they get to the fish at the back of the store. It’s darker back here and he can almost feel the hum of the filters buzzing on the surface of his skin.

“I begged for one when I was younger but my parents said no," Aomine tells him with his lips twisted. Kagami squats next to him, snickering.

“So you stuck with bugs and critters, huh.” Aomine looks at him and cracks a smirk.

“Yeah. I’ve got the touch.” He teasingly pokes Kagami in the side, grinning, and Kagami accepts it with an obligatory grimace and a pleased squirm, helplessly amazed as always that he's being flirted with.

Aomine seems just as thrilled with his reaction every time, enough so that he keeps pushing his luck like that and chasing Kagami's skirt, prodding and teasing and flirting with him, even though part of him seems scared shitless for a second every single time, amazed and horrified that he had the balls to actually do it. Kagami letting him get away with it must be reward enough for that moment of terror.

Kagami knows his ears are probably glowing worse than Rudolph's nose. Aomine keeps tickling him a little, looking positively gleeful, pinching and poking him in his sides, goading him with a big grin, ear to ear. Kagami pretends to ignore it, shuffles around with hot ears, and tries to change the subject.

“Think my guy’ll want a buddy?” Kagami hums. “Look at that one.” They crouch together in front of the tanks and look.

It’s kind of peaceful back here, the two of them alone watching the fish swim. “That one’s cool too.” Aomine hums, pointing at a bright yellow one, almost fluorescent. Kagami looks into the glowing blue fish tanks for some time, and when he glances up, he finds Aomine gazing at him with this expression, who knows how long he's been like that, all big-eyed and—

Feeling flustered suddenly, Kagami blurts, “Hey, focus!”

Aomine starts, and clears his throat sharply, looking away.

They spend another twenty minutes or so picking out some fish stuff. A little tank and filter set, and some decorations, and then they go back to set it all up at his apartment.

“I think this goes here,” Aomine says, standing at his side next to the fish bowl. When Kagami looks where he’s pointing, Aomine flicks him on the nose, and the ensuing brawl derails them for some time.

“I’m sick of you!” Kagami shouted, aggravated, and Aomine cackled.

Aomine's laughter goes high-pitched, almost a giggle, a breathless wheeze escaping his grinning mouth as Kagami half-heartedly punched and wrestled him around in a headlock. It's hard to keep his temper when listening to such a ridiculous noise, something he hadn't imagined Aomine could even make.

Once they were done fucking around and Aomine was sprawled on the floor, disheveled and panting, and Kagami was satisfied that he’d learned his lesson, they got to business. Sort of.

“So how have you kept it alive this long?” Aomine pried, a little winded. His hair looks funny like that, his bangs pushed up.

“I keep changing the water when it gets cloudy.” Aomine’s already scooped the fish into a plastic bag to stop the temperature shock when they move it to the new tank. Kagami hadn't known about that, and Aomine was baffled and aggrieved when he heard he'd just dumped it in the bowl and held it under the faucet, and it had somehow survived. “And I fed it.”

“Slow your roll, he's getting fat.”

“Fat fish deserve food too.”

“Sure, chubby-cheeks,” Aomine teases, flashing a grin. Kagami groans and rolls his eyes, and then gets back to what he was doing. He tries to discretely touch a hand to his face, poking his fingertips into his cheek.

Kagami quickly stops when he hears a clatter, and glances over. Aomine’s screwing around, trying to get the filter working. “Fuck, I can’t get this,” he mutters, squinting at the instructions, squatting on the floor in the mess. Kagami has something to say about Aomine not having an excuse to not know how to read Japanese, but he keeps it to himself.

Kagami pours out a bag of rocks into the bottom of the square tank they picked out, watching them rattle on the glass and form a pile. He sets up the little skull and fake seaweed in the bottom, smoothing the multi-colored pebbles out. “Lemme’ see.”

Aomine flings the instructions over to him, picking at the back of the filter unit with a glare, tongue in his teeth. Kagami feels almost unbearably endeared by that.

He squints at the paper booklet for a little while and Aomine crawls over next to him, laying on his stomach, propped on his elbows, peeking at it as he reads. “Tetra power filter,” he tells him after a lot of squinting.

“Yeah, Kagami, I got that part,” he sasses. “How do I hook it up, it said it wasn’t battery-powered, but I don’t see a cord. There's no way it would be... like... bluetooth or something, right?”

“The fuck,” Kagami agrees, and they glare at it for a minute. He squints more and tries to make it out. “Tetra… power filter.” He pauses.  “... Tetra, like the car?”

“It’s a fish.”

“Ohhh.”

Eventually Aomine gets it on his own and looks way too proud of himself. They fill the tank with water and the filter is running, spitting bubbles and humming, and then Aomine sinks the fish into the water, still in the bag for now.

Satisfied, they admire their good work for a minute. “What’s a good name,” Kagami muses eventually, and Aomine looks up.

“You didn’t name it yet?”

“I dunno, I didn’t think to.” He didn’t intend to bring it home at first, after all. It had been meant for someone else.

They think for a while, throwing out names for the rest of the afternoon. On the court, over dinner—   Skippy. Goku. Destroyer of Worlds. Kagami settles on Cheep-cheep, like from Super Mario Brothers. Since Cheeper is already taken.

You know what’s interesting? Even with that dark skin, if Aomine’s really blushing, you can totally still tell.