The problem was, when they put together the team for the Global Cup, the coaches (in their infinite wisdom) left Kuroko off the roster.
This was the first mistake.
The second was that the coaches did not even think to invite Momoi Satsuki to join the entourage, either.
Kuroko did his best to forestall problems before the plane left for Orlando by collaring Kagami and making him promise to look out for Aomine. "Don't do anything stupid," he said, pinning Kagami with one of his deeply creepy thousand-yard stares. "Don't let Aomine-kun do anything stupid. Or illegal. Don't get arrested. Don't beat anyone up. Or kill them."
Kagami found these instructions a little disconcerting. "It's just a basketball tournament," he pointed out. "A chaperoned basketball tournament. We're going to Disney World after it's over. It'll be fine."
For some reason, Kuroko did not appear to be convinced by this logic. "It's never just a basketball tournament with him," he said, tone dark. "Never."
Which, okay, Kagami could kind of see his point. Still. "It'll be fine," he said. "I'll keep an eye on him. What could possibly go wrong?"
And that was the third mistake.
The tournament went pretty much exactly the way Kagami had privately expected it to, what with the whole generation of miracles, plus him, minus Kuroko, gathered together on one team. They swept the 18 and Under bracket, which seemed to startle just about everyone else but came perfectly naturally to the five assholes he was hanging out with. (That was the really irritating thing about the lot of them; they still took winning as the natural course of things. The worst part was how it wasn't entirely unjustified on their parts.) After that, well, the package had included a three-day pass to Disney World, since it was right there and all, and that was where things started to go wrong.
For the one thing, their chaperones were not as interested in watching out for them as a good set of chaperones should have been. For another, the first thing that happened once they were released to explore the park was that everyone split up. Kise twirled off in a giddy sort of whirl, damn near trailing sparkles and hearts in his wake. Midorima immediately set off for Epcot, intent on bettering his mind. Murasakibara made for the nearest food cart and seemed determined to sample everything edible on the Disney campus.
Kagami didn't have a damned clue what Akashi was doing, but he wandered off with that creepy little smile of his, and basically, Kagami felt that it was better for his sanity to not know what that meant.
Which left him with Aomine, the world's biggest man-child, and his promise to Kuroko that he would look after him and keep him out of trouble.
At first it didn't seem so bad. There were all the rides, and Aomine was definitely interested in those. Kagami didn't mind either, even though he'd done Disney Land when he was younger. Hell, a roller coaster was a roller coaster regardless of which coast it was located on.
The problem was, to get to the rides, there were the lines. Lots of lines. Epic lines.
Kagami couldn't have been less surprised that Aomine did not handle waiting in line very well. "I thought you said you wanted to go on this one?" he said when Aomine began bitching about the wait for Space Mountain.
"I think I changed my mind," Aomine sulked. "I'm hungry, how much longer until we get to the ride?"
Kagami thought about pointing out the helpful sign just a few feet ahead of them, the one that told them that it would be just another hour from this point, but decided that he didn't want to put up with whatever whining that would provoke. "I dunno," he said, while the whole line moved and they were able to shuffle forward another few paces.
"This sucks," Aomine whined. "Why are we here again?"
Kagami rolled his eyes heavenward and wondered why and how Momoi and Kuroko put up with Aomine at all. Clearly they both had the patience of utter saints.
They were standing in yet another line, probably the third epic line of the afternoon, in the full sun and muggy Florida heat, when one of the park mascots wandered through to entertain the kids standing in line. Kagami wasn't paying attention, which was probably why it all went wrong. He was too busy eyeing the stand selling overpriced bottles of soda and wondering whether he could make a quick run over to get himself a drink without losing his place in line—the lady standing behind him had a grimly determined sort of look about her, one that said she would claim it for an act of line-jumping even if he let Aomine hold his place.
He was almost to the point where he was willing to take that risk, just for the sake of getting something to drink, when he realized two things: the tenor of Aomine's fairly constant whining had changed, turned irritable, and that Aomine was talking to someone who wasn't him. Kagami turned away from the drink cart, just in time to see Aomine cock a fist and punch Mickey Mouse.
He never did get his soda.
"You punched Mickey Mouse," he said later, after they had been escorted off the park premises to the sounds of an entire line full of wailing, traumatized children and been told not to come back. He gazed at Aomine, bewildered. "Why did you punch Mickey Mouse?"
"The mouse had it coming," Aomine said, tone dark. Then he grinned and socked Kagami's shoulder. "Just be glad it wasn't Minnie."
"What the fuck is wrong with you?" Kagami groaned.
Aomine just shrugged. "So, hey," he said, "what should we do with ourselves now?"
"Go back to the hotel?" Kagami suggested. That was the course of reason and sanity and hotel swimming pools populated by pretty girls wearing bikinis.
"Boring," Aomine said. He pondered something for a moment, then grinned again. "Hey, I have an idea."
"No," Kagami said, instantly suspicious. "Hotel."
"Booooorrrrrring," Aomine told him. "We should go to New Orleans. It's near here, right?"
"No, it's not, it's like two states away," Kagami said, "And also, what the fuck would we even do in New Orleans, we're only seventeen."
Aomine waved these objections aside. "Details, details. C'mon, it'll be fun! When are we going to have another chance?"
"I dunno," Kagami said, which was mistake number four. Showing any lack of resolution only encouraged Aomine to redouble his efforts, which he now did.
He slung an arm over Kagami's shoulder. "That's right," he said. "You don't know! This could be your last chance to ever see New Orleans! You owe it to yourself to go."
"No, I really think I don't," Kagami said. "There'll be other chances."
Aomine sniffed and released him. "Fine," he said. "I'll just go myself."
"What? What, no, you can't do that," Kagami said, but Aomine had already set off at a determined clip, heading—God only knew where he was heading, because Kagami didn't, but he seemed very set about getting there quickly. "Seriously, Aomine, no, we can't do this."
Aomine just turned that cocky asshole grin on him. "Sure we can," he said. "Watch me."
And because Kagami had promised Kuroko he would, and because Aomine was weirdly, bizarrely charismatic in his own dickheaded kind of way, and because their chaperones frankly sucked at their jobs, it was slightly less than twenty hours later that Kagami found himself standing on Bourbon Street, strung out and disoriented after being caught up in Hurricane Aomine's wake.
"Okay," he said, weary from not sleeping and with all the traveling. "We're in New Orleans, just like you wanted." By his reckoning, they had about twelve hours before they were going to need to turn around and head back to Orlando in order to catch their flight home. "Now what?"
Aomine barely bothered to glance his way, since he was busy looking around himself, drinking in the architecture and the crowds of people. "I dunno."
Kagami stared at him. "What do you mean, you don't know? This was your idea." It was only because he'd promised Kuroko that he wouldn't kill anyone that he did not wrap his hands around Aomine's throat and begin squeezing right there on the spot. "Why are we even here then?"
Aomine blinked. "I dunno, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Hey!" He grabbed Kagami's hand and began dragging him down the street. "Come on, I'm starving, let's find something to eat."
"I hate you so fucking much," Kagami said. On the other hand, food was never a bad idea, so he permitted himself to be towed along.
Not only was Aomine a bizarrely charismatic asshole, he was a charmed one; somehow he found a little hole in the wall that served up basically the best food Kagami had consumed in at least seventy-two hours, and for relatively cheap, to boot. Kagami eyed the prices on the menu chalked on the wall, stacked them up against the money they'd spent to get here and the money they'd have to spend to get back, and thought he'd probably break just about even as long as he wasn't extravagant.
So naturally, Aomine immediately found a way to spend more money, this time by dragging him off to another hole in the wall, a bar this time. Kagami wanted to know just where the bouncers were and why they weren't checking IDs—but then, the place was full of people who all looked too young to be drinking, having a good time listening to the music and dancing with one another and—huh, well. Those were, uh, very nice breasts, the nicest he'd seen in real life in fact, and—
Well, maybe this wasn't a completely horrible idea after all.
He was busy enough enjoying the scenery that he forgot to pay attention to Aomine. He only realized that Aomine had disappeared when Aomine returned again, bearing two red plastic cups. He plunked one down in front of Kagami and toasted him with the other. "To New Orleans!" he said grandly.
Kagami peered into the cup; he wasn't sure what the drink was, but he could smell that there was alcohol in it. A lot of alcohol. "This is a terrible idea," he said, taking a drink of it anyway.
Aomine grinned at him. "That's the point," he said. "Isn't it great?"
When Kagami finally clawed his way out of unconsciousness, his head ached like he'd been pounding it against a wall, his eyelids were gritty and gummed together, and his mouth tasted like he imagined a sewer would. Aomine was sprawled across him, all dead weight and drooling on his shoulder, and his mouth smelled like a sewer.
They were in a vehicle. A moving vehicle. One with tinted windows that showed a flat landscape that was covered in grass and low scrub and didn't look anything like Louisiana. Or the Gulf Coast. Or anything at all like central Florida.
"What the hell," Kagami rasped, deeply, profoundly confused by his present circumstances.
"Oh, hey, you're awake!"
Kagami turned his bleary eyes forward—an SUV, they were in an SUV. There were two men sitting up front that he would have sworn he'd never seen before in his life. One was on the slight side, he thought. It was difficult to tell much, since he was sitting in the passenger seat in front of Kagami. The driver, the one who'd spoken and was now grinning over his shoulder at Kagami, was taller, with short hair and a scar on his chin.
"Oh God," Kagami said. "Are we being kidnapped?" Not that he could figure out any reason why someone would want to kidnap Aomine, since it was more likely that they'd have to be paid to take Aomine away. But—
The driver laughed, loud enough that it hurt Kagami's head. "Haha, no, of course not!" He grinned again, amiable, and turned his eyes back to the road, which was a relief on one front.
Didn't do a damned thing to clear up what the heck was going on. Kagami shoved at Aomine until at least he wasn't getting a faceful of Aomine-breath and struggled to sit up. Yep, that was definitely landscape outside the windows. Flat, grassy landscape with not a lot on it but cows. Kagami rubbed his eyes, trying to clear the grit out of them and remember what was going on. The last thing he really remembered was a bar, a different bar, this one darker and with fewer drunken college students in it, bumping into someone who actually spoke Japanese...
"I give up," he said a few miles down the road when his brain had refused to tell him what had happened after that. "What's going on?"
He thought that the smaller guy might have snorted softly. It was the driver who answered him. "Don't remember, huh?" He cast another of those grins over his shoulder. "We're headed the same direction, so we agreed to give you two a ride."
That was... probably good. There had been a lot of drinking, which had cost... much more than seemed reasonable now, in the cold light of day. A ride back to Orlando... that was good, much better for his wallet than the alternatives.
"Okay," Kagami said, resting his forehead against the marginally cooler glass of the window. "That's... thank you. This is going to sound awful, but who are you?"
The driver glanced sideways at the other guy and took a little too long to answer that. "I'm... Bill," he said, finally. "And this is Ted."
This time, the snort was clearly audible.
Kagami blinked. "Bill... and Ted," he said carefully. "I... see." So he was in the car with two strange men using terrible pseudonyms, he was hungover, and Aomine was drooling on him. Great. "Nice to meet you, I guess."
"There's water in the cooler," Bill said, helpful. "Right by your feet."
"...thanks," Kagami said, and shoved Aomine off his shoulder. Aomine grumbled in his sleep, but did not wake up as Kagami fished a bottle of water out of the cooler. It was still sealed, so Kagami felt okay about drinking it.
It was a silent sort of car, passing over a completely unfamiliar landscape; Kagami drank his water slowly and stared out the window. Eventually he dozed off again.
When he woke, Aomine was awake and talking to—Bill—and Kagami's head ached much less. On the other hand, he really needed to take a leak, and the afternoon sun was piercing right through the windshield to drill into his eyes.
"Hnngh," he said, struggling upright, mostly succeeding.
Aomine broke off what sounded like an avid conversation about Japanese baseball to make a face at him. "I thought you were going to sleep all day," he said. "Dumbass."
"Shut up." Kagami scrubbed his hands over his face and checked the time. Five in the evening, great. "How much longer till we get there?"
"Oh, I dunno," Bill said. "Ky—Ted, how much longer?"
Ted, who was probably not named Ted at all, stirred in the passenger seat. "Sixteen more hours," he said, tone sour.
Kagami blinked. "Wait," he said. "What?" Sixteen hours—that wasn't—what the fuck, it wasn't even sixteen hours between Orlando and New Orleans, he'd checked it on the internet while Aomine had been throwing a change of clothes and his passport into a bag. "What the fuck?"
Aomine grinned at him. "Dude, don't you remember? We're going to Vegas."
Kagami maintained ever after that he was fully justified in attempting to smother Aomine at that point, promises to Kuroko be damned. He made a good-faith effort to do it, too, at least until Ted snapped at them to stop being idiots before he bit them to death.
"You may as well bite Aomine," Kagami said, enraged beyond human endurance. "He's idiot all the way through."
"You're one to talk, Bakagami."
"Ahomine," Kagami shot back.
"Now, now, children," Bill chuckled. Then he glanced at Ted, in the passenger's seat. "Oh man, I've always wanted to say that. This is like my dream, you know? Married with kids, on a road trip..."
"Shut up," said Ted.
"Are you guys together?" Aomine interjected.
Kagami elbowed him violently in the side, making him exhale a whoosh of air that sounded like a balloon rapidly deflating.
"What?" he snapped, once he had gotten his breath back. "I was just curious." He faced the front of the car once more. "Well?"
"Yeah," said Bill at the same time that Ted said, "No."
"Ah, K—Ted, you're such a kidder. Isn't he such a kidder?" said Bill.
"And why are you guys using those shitty fake names?" said Aomine, who apparently lacked any sort of filter between his stupid empty brain and his mouth, or any kind of self-preservation instinct, at that. Kagami tried not to scream out loud. "Can't you just use your real ones?"
Bill chuckled again, tolerantly. "Nah, 'fraid I can't, kiddo."
"Well, 'cause if I did, I'd probably have to kill you." He was smiling, Kagami saw, but it was a very different kind of smile from before. Even Aomine seemed to get the hint, or at least the change in atmosphere penetrated his thick head enough to make him stop shoving his foot in his mouth for two seconds.
"So, no more probing questions," Kagami said, hastily.
"You got it," said Bill, reverting to his previous cheerful manner.
Once more, Ted snorted softly.
For supper they stopped at a diner which was little more than a hole in the wall—a place with neon signs in the front window advertising CIGARETTES and also, most helpfully, DINER, in flickering letters. Kagami nipped off to take a piss while the others picked a booth, and came back to find Aomine bouncing on the old-fashioned leatherette seat in fascination, across from Ted, who looked as though he was about to snap.
"Quit that," Kagami snapped, punching Aomine's shoulder.
Bill chuckled, good-naturedly. "You're his keeper, huh?"
Kagami made a face. "Something like that. Promised a friend I'd look out for him."
The waitress who'd been standing next to the table for half a minute cleared her throat.
"Shoot, sorry—uh, get this guy a burger," Bill said, jerking a thumb at Ted. "As for me, I'll have a salad."
She scrawled something illegible on her notepad, then turned to them with a look of perfect boredom.
He'd had a chance to check his wallet, which had turned out to be empty, and didn't expect that Aomine's finances were in any better shape. "Um," said Kagami. "We're kinda—"
"We're broke," Aomine broke in, without a shred of shame.
"Don't sweat it," said Bill, cheerfully. "I'm not surprised, after seeing how much you two were drinking. It's on me, all right?"
Kagami tried not to see the disgusted look Ted was favoring his companion with.
"Uh, thanks. Two more burgers, then," he said to the waitress.
"Make that four," said Aomine, who had fewer good manners than the pack of wolves that must have raised him did.
"Boys with big appetites," Bill said, indulgent. Ted snorted again.
Aomine smirked. "You got something stuck in your nose?"
Ted fixed him with a withering look which would probably have sent a lesser man running away screaming at the top of his lungs, but had no visible effect on Aomine. Thankfully, Kagami stomped on Aomine's foot just as he was opening his mouth, replacing whatever stupid thing Aomine was about to say next with a yelp of pain.
Bill, apparently deeply invested in his fantasy of having a dysfunctional, all-male family, simply beamed at them.
Kagami reluctantly concluded that he and Aomine were probably going to end up dead in a ditch somewhere. When it happened, it was probably going to be Aomine's fault for getting them mixed up with two shady characters with shitty taste in pseudonyms. Or his fault for pissing off Ted, if that was his real name, until Ted decided to do something about it. Or maybe Bill would get tired of playing happy families and decide he was more interested in wearing a fashionable new suit made out of Japan's best rising young power forwards.
Kagami rubbed his head and wished to heaven that they'd brought Kuroko along. Kuroko would have never let this happen.
"So," he said when the waitress had come back with their drinks. He directed it at Aomine, slouched in the corner of the booth next to him, looking dangerously bored again. "Should I even ask why we're going to Vegas?" Especially since, if he hadn't gotten his days mixed up, or lost a day in there somewhere, this was supposed to have been the last day they spent in the States. Tomorrow morning they were supposed to board a flight back to Japan.
Even though he was pretty well expecting it, when Aomine shrugged and said, "I dunno, it seemed like a good idea at the time," Kagami's vision hazed over with red again. He did his best to punch Aomine in the head.
"Boys, boys, come on now, settle down," Bill said, laughing, as Aomine attempted to defend himself and hooked an arm around Kagami's neck, either trying to put him in a headlock or cut off his breathing. "Don't make me put you in time-out."
"I'm going to kill him," Kagami snarled, trying to get an elbow into Aomine's kidneys. "I'm going to kill him and no jury in the world will convict me."
"Just try it, asshole, I dare you," Aomine growled back, struggling viciously as the leatherette squeaked alarmingly beneath them.
"I did warn you," Bill told them, sliding out of his seat. "Ky—Ted, do you mind?"
Ted smiled for the first time that Kagami had seen, but by the time his hindbrain sent up an alarm that this was not good at all, it was too late. Ted had moved and was gripping them by their collars, and—ow, fucking fuck, what the fuck, who actually knocked people's heads together in this day and age?
"Shut. Up." He glared down at them while Aomine whined and Kagami clutched his head. "Behave yourselves."
Then he resumed his seat while Bill continued to laugh at them like this was the best thing he'd seen all week long and the other denizens of the diner stared at them in open curiosity.
Kagami rested his aching head in his hands and groaned. "Did you at least call someone to tell them that we're going to Vegas and are going to be missing our flight?" he asked.
Aomine rubbed his chin next to him. "Huh. No. Guess that would have been a good idea."
Kagami groaned again, despairing. "I hate you so, so much."
"Your flight?" Bill says, a shade too casual about it.
"Yes, our flight," Kagami says. "With our teammates and our coaches and our chaperones. The ones who are probably freaking out over where we are right this very instant."
In fact... in fact, that reminded him. He was an idiot.
Kagami dug into his pocket, rummaging around and pretending that neither Bill nor Ted were currently giving him sharp looks, and produced the cheap prepaid phone that he had almost, almost not bothered to purchase. (It was only a week in the States, what could possibly go wrong, right?) The battery was nearly drained and it was full of text messages, a whole long list of them.
Kagami began scrolling through them. Most were from Kise, variations on KAGAMICCHI WHERE ARE YOU and NO REALLY WHERE ARE YOU and WHAT ARE YOU DOING and WHY DIDN'T YOU TAKE MEEEEEE, punctuated with weeping emoticons. There were at least ten of those for every other text. Midorima had restrained himself to a handful of texts that mostly consisted of I DON'T KNOW WHERE YOU ARE BUT HERE ARE YOUR HOROSCOPES, USE THEM WISELY, DON'T DIE.
Murasakibara hadn't texted anything at all, which failed to surprise Kagami. Akashi had sent one very simple text: I'M SURE YOU'RE ALIVE OUT THERE. IF YOU ARE NOT, I WILL HUNT DOWN YOUR RESTLESS SPIRITS AND KILL YOU AGAIN.
Kagami scrolled through these messages in mounting disbelief—didn't any of the so-called generation of miracles have any common sense? Oh, right, they'd left Kuroko in Japan, never mind—and absent-mindedly elbowed Aomine when he opened his mouth to speak. "Shut up," he said, preemptively.
"I didn't even say anything," Aomine said, sulky.
"Yet," Kagami muttered. He had probably just enough battery for one message—who would be the best to contact? Aside from Kuroko, who couldn't do anything much from Japan, and besides, it was like a twelve-hour time difference between wherever this diner was and home.
It was going to have to be Akashi, wasn't it? Damn. Kagami took a deep breath, thumb hovering over the keys, and finally typed a reply: NOT DEAD, SOMEWHERE IN TEXAS, GOING TO MISS OUR FLIGHT. WILL TRY TO GET TO LA, I HAVE FRIENDS THERE.
"Who are you texting?" Bill inquired as the waitress came back, bearing a tray heavy with food.
Kagami closed his phone and stuffed it into his pocket. "Akashi," he said. "A teammate."
Aomine left off staring hard at Ted and stared at him instead. "Dude," he said, and Kagami didn't know whether that was supposed to be impressed or just afraid. "Are you serious?"
"Someone needs to know where we are," Kagami muttered, passing him a plate and pretending that Bill and Ted were not exchanging glances. "I figured he was the one who could handle—whatever—the best." Even the coaches and the chaperones were intimidated by Akashi.
Who could blame them?
"What did you tell them?" Aomine asked, in between scooping up a hamburger and taking an enormous bite. (Ted looked horrified by his lack of table manners; Kagami wondered why the man had expected any better.)
"That we're not dead and that we're going to miss our flight," Kagami said. "And that we're going to try to get to L.A." How, he did not yet know, but Alex was in L.A. and would probably help rescue him from this mess once she'd stopped laughing. Aomine blinked at him and Kagami sighed. "I've got friends there," he said. "They can probably help us get home again."
Bill looked somewhat relieved by that, which really didn't set Kagami's mind at ease. "L.A., huh?" he said. "Well, that seems completely doable, don't you think?"
Ted grunted something unintelligible and Kagami did his best to look like someone who didn't want to find the nearest police station and report himself as a missing person. Or like someone who would make a nice suit.
"I've never been to Los Angeles," Aomine said around a mouthful of greasy burger. "Cool."
"Shut up," Kagami told him again and dug into his meal.
"I should call Tetsu," Aomine said a few minutes later, after he'd cleaned his plate and Kagami had smacked his hand away from his own plate. "I wonder what he's doing."
Kagami glared at him. "How are you going to do that, genius?" he asked. "Do you have a phone? Do you have money? No? Then good luck with that."
Aomine gave him a look that was probably supposed to be appealing or something. Maybe a person's name had to be Kuroko or Momoi to see it. "Can't I use your phone?"
"No," Kagami said. "And for good measure, no. I don't have any battery left and it's only got a few minutes on it. I'm going to need those to call Alex."
Aomine sulked, at least until he remembered something. "Alex," he said. "She's the one with the enormous boobs, right?"
Kagami stared at him in horror, because, just, no. Alex was like his sister, Jesus. She'd practically raised him. "What the fuck does Kuroko even see in you?"
Bill broke in then. "So," he said, smiling at them broadly, eyes twinkling. "Who wants pie?"
Aomine did not make a good passenger. This utterly failed to surprise Kagami, though it probably surprised Bill and Ted.
"Why is this country so damn big?" Aomine complained, staring out the passenger window at the countryside (flat, very flat, and kind of deserty). "Are we there yet?"
"There's duct tape in the trunk," Ted said, quiet and flat.
"Can we use it?" Kagami asked, carefully not thinking about why they had duct tape. It was in case the SUV broke down. Duct tape was good for fixing things. Yeah. That was good.
"...no," Bill said after a moment of eyeing Ted. "We had better save that for when we need it, right?"
"Sooooooooo booooooooored," Aomine said, dragging out the syllables.
Ted muttered something that sounded like need it now to Kagami's ears. Jesus.
"So what the hell do you even want to talk to Kuroko for?" Someone had to save Aomine from himself and he was apparently it.
"I've never had phone sex," Aomine announced.
Kagami stared at him, appalled, while Bill hunched over the steering wheel, laughing. "And you were going to use my phone to do it with?" he demanded. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
Aomine shrugged. "I dunno, what's wrong with you? Prudish or something?"
"Like hell," Kagami retorted. "I'm not prudish at all! But there are some things that are just not okay, and using someone else's phone to have phone sex is one of them!" He paused, common sense pointing something out. "Besides, Kuroko would probably just hang up on you if you suggested it."
"And this is why you're wrong," Aomine said, smug as a cat. "Tetsu's not a prude like you."
"Oh my god, I don't even want to know," Kagami said. "Oh my god, don't tell me these things, I have to play basketball with him."
He'd expected Aomine to snap something back at him, something filthy-minded and provoking. Instead he scowled, slinking lower in his seat, and resumed staring out the window.
"So Kuroko's your teammate and his, ah, friend?" Bill asked, all good cheer. "I was wondering how you all knew each other."
"They used to play on the same team together," Kagami said, when it didn't seem like Aomine was going to say anything. "In junior high. Now Kuroko plays on the same team as me."
He thought Bill might have glanced at them by way of the rearview mirror; it certainly looked like he'd turned thoughtful. "That sounds like an interesting story."
Ted snorted again.
Kagami considered it. "Only if you like basketball," he said.
"Mm," Bill said, carefully noncommittal. With that the car lapsed into silence, at least until Bill began yawning approximately once every half mile and Ted said, abrupt, "Pull over before you crash the car and we all die."
"I can keep going!" Bill protested. It would have been more believable if he hadn't had to yawn in the middle of it.
Ted said, "Pull over." He did not sound inclined to negotiate.
Bill laughed. "Hah, are you going to drive? You remember what happened the last time you decided to do the driving, don't you?"
"Never speak of that again," Ted commanded.
Another mile rolled by. Then Bill said, "Okay, fine. There's an exit coming up in another few miles. There'll be a hotel or something there."
"That would be acceptable," Ted agreed, settling back into his seat with a distinct air of satisfaction.
Kagami would not have called the place they ended up a hotel, precisely. Hotels did not advertise that they had hourly rates.
"This looks like a lovely place to be murdered and turned into a suit," Kagami muttered under his breath when they finally pulled around the back of the shabby little motel and parked in front of room 5. Mostly under his breath. Aomine pulled out of his sullen silence long enough to give him a funny look.
Whatever. Kagami was done caring what Aomine thought of that. Or of anything, really, as long as there was a chance of getting a hot shower before he died.
And the less he had to think about the argument Bill and Ted had had over one room or two, the better. It had been a strange argument, conducted in half-phrases and grunts.
"Two rooms," Ted had said.
"But—" Bill protested, glancing at the back seat.
"Eh," Ted retorted.
"But," Bill said again.
Ted raised his eyebrows.
Bill sighed. "Two rooms," he agreed, and went to go negotiate for the rooms with the motel clerk.
Kagami couldn't help noticing that he paid cash for them, just like he had their meal at the diner, and when they'd stopped to fill up the gas tank.
"Here's your keys, boys," Bill called when they'd piled out of the SUV. He tossed it to Kagami. "Sleep well, we're going to want to get an early start."
"...right," Kagami said, "Gotcha."
Somehow they had managed to hold onto the bags they'd packed before leaving Orlando, god, had it only been two days ago? Which wasn't much, a change of clothes and a toothbrush and his phone charger in Kagami's bag, heaven only knew what in Aomine's. Kagami didn't care. He unlocked the door to their shabby little room, dropped his bag on the bed farthest from the door, and said, "Dibs on the first shower." He stopped then and fixed a look on Aomine. "For god's sake, sit down and watch television and don't do anything stupid until I get back."
Aomine sulked. "You're not my mom."
"Thank god for that," Kagami told him. "I can't wait till we're home and you're Momoi-san's responsibility again."
He had almost made a clean escape to the bathroom when Aomine said, "You realize that if you ever manage to hook up with her, you'll never escape me, right?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Kagami lied and slammed the bathroom door behind him.
The water was closer to tepid than hot, but there was plenty of it; given the heat of the room, Kagami was okay with tepid. He took the opportunity to rinse out his clothes while he was at it, in hopes that they'd be dry by the time morning rolled around, and surrendered the bathroom to Aomine, who was suspiciously quiet when he emerged.
Kagami eyed him, but Aomine did not seem to have done anything horrible in the half hour it had taken Kagami to get clean. Which was fine by Kagami, at least until after he'd spread out his clothes to dry and dug into his bag to charge the phone.
Which now appeared to be out of minutes.
"Motherfucker," Kagami said, with great feeling.
As he stared at his phone, which had been his only hope that they would get out of this mess alive, a rhythmic thumping noise began emanating from the wall behind the beds.
Kagami planted himself in his chosen bed and did his best to stifle himself in the pillows.
Eventually the thumping next door tapered off; Aomine emerged in time to hear the last of it. He paused in the act of toweling off his hair and squinted. "I give 'em a 7 from the Russian judge."
"Who did you even call?" Kagami said, without taking his eyes away from the cracked and stained ceiling.
"Tetsu, of course!" Aomine said, too cheerful by half. "But he didn't pick up."
"My phone is out of minutes," Kagami said slowly. "I don't think I have enough money to buy any more. We don't have any way to call for help now, do you understand that? We're stuck with Bill and Ted and whatever they choose to do with this. Do you even get how serious this is?"
Aomine dropped himself onto the other bed and bounced a couple of times, experimentally. "They seem like okay guys to me. You're taking this way too seriously."
"I promised Kuroko that I would take care of you," Kagami said. "But right now, I hope they make you into a suit first."
"You're really weird," Aomine said. Then he brightened. "Hey, do you think there's anything good on TV? Maybe we can get the porn channels."
"What the hell does Kuroko even see in you?" Kagami asked in despair.
"Prude," Aomine said, reaching for the remote and beginning to surf through the channels. "I gotta tell you, you're never going to get anywhere with Satsuki until you get the stick out of your ass."
"Shut the fuck up," Kagami told him, as Aomine made an interested sound and settled on one of the scrambled porno channels.
"I'm just saying." Aomine turned his head sideways and squinted at the screen. "Does that look like boobs to you?"
"Why do you even care, you've got a boyfriend," Kagami said.
"Shut up, man, boobs are awesome," Aomine retorted, but after a minute, he began flipping channels again.
Kagami had to agree that this was, in fact, true, but would have rather died than admit to agreeing with Aomine on anything whatsoever. "Whatever," he said, trying to decide whether it was safe to sleep beneath the blankets or not.
Aomine glanced away from him. "What, like you're into Satsuki for her mind? Right."
Kagami watched his hands curl into fists in something like detachment. "Don't," he said, distant from the sudden spike of real anger. "Don't you dare start with her. You and Kuroko, whatever, that's your business. But she's supposed to be your friend. Maybe you could try to act like it? Maybe not, I don't give a shit, but don't you dare imagine like I'm like you. You hear me?"
Aomine gave him a long look, then snorted. "I've never made that mistake," he said and went back to flipping channels.
But he didn't say anything else about Momoi, which was probably as good as it was going to get. After a moment, Kagami peeled the blankets back and got into bed, trying to think of what he could do without a phone. Maybe Alex would take a collect call? If he could find a public phone or something, that might work. Or maybe he could beg Bill for a quick loan, or barter Aomine for money. Desperate times called for desperate measures.
He was still making plans to keep himself alive and not skinned as he began to drift to sleep, sometime after the point Aomine had gotten bored with the television and turned it and the lamp off. He jolted awake again when Aomine said, sudden, "Hey, are you asleep?"
Kagami squeezed his eyes shut and did not answer.
Not that this seemed to deter Aomine. "Hey," he said. "Hey. I know you're awake. Hey, are you listening to me?"
"No," Kagami growled.
"Liar," Aomine said. And then, "What are you even talking about, of course Satsuki's my friend. She's my best friend, after Tetsu. Before Tetsu, maybe."
"I'll send her a letter of condolence when we get home," Kagami muttered. "Nominate them for medals. Something."
"You should make sure you write her a love letter," Aomine snapped. Kagami heard him take a deep breath. "No, wait, forget it. Never mind. That's not important."
Kagami rolled over and peered through the darkness of the room. He could just about make out Aomine's silhouette against the light coming in from the neon outside their window; he was sitting up, god only knew why. "What the fuck do you want?"
"The fuck did you mean, before?" Aomine asked. "About me and Tetsu?"
Kagami stared through the darkness. "What?" he said, baffled and not sure what bug had gotten into Aomine's head this time.
"When you got all pissy about Satsuki," Aomine said. "All caveman and shit. What did you mean when you started talking about me and Tetsu?" He sounded curiously intent about it.
"What the hell do you think I meant?" Kagami asked. "I swear, sometimes I think we need to sit Kuroko down and hold an intervention."
"Oh, fuck you," Aomine said; the other bed creaked as he flung himself down and began rooting around in the blankets, making some kind of nest for himself. "Forget I said anything."
"Yeah, well, he's my friend, too," Kagami said. "Excuse me for wanting him to be happy."
"Who said he isn't?" Aomine retorted. He paused. "Has he ever said he isn't?"
Kagami stopped himself before he answered, mostly because the question had sounded unusually urgent, at least by Aomine's standards. "He's got you, I guess," he said finally. "Sort of. He seems to think that's good enough."
"Damn right it's good enough," Aomine said, muffled beneath his blankets and pillows. "Asshole."
Kagami opened his mouth to say that Kuroko probably deserved better than good enough, changed his mind, and rolled over to put his back to Aomine. "Whatever," he said. "You asked."
But Aomine didn't say anything else, at least not before Kagami fell asleep.
Bill seemed to have seriously meant it when he'd said that they'd get an early start; Kagami woke up at the crack of dawn to a thunderous knocking on the door. The bedside clock radio said it was barely seven a.m., hardly a civilized hour, when Bill called through the door, "Up and at 'em, boys!"
"He's way too cheerful," Kagami groaned.
Aomine grunted something that might have been an agreement.
Kagami contemplated staying right where he was, then remembered that Bill and Ted were probably not the kinds of guys who would be sympathetic to a teenager's need to sleep late in the morning, and hauled himself out of bed. It took a little bit of doing to persuade Aomine to do the same thing, but eventually Kagami managed to get him up and mostly vertical, and they presented themselves outside their motel room by seven-thirty.
Ted looked grudgingly impressed by their promptitude; he shoved a pair of coffees and a sack of breakfast sandwiches at them in reward and told them to get in the car.
"He's in a good mood this morning," Aomine said in something that sort of sounded like it was an attempt at an undertone. "Guess he got a 10 from the Japanese judge."
"Oh my god, why do you ever open your mouth," Kagami said, and got in the SUV before Ted could do more than glare at them.
But, he began to notice as the morning wore on and the coffee began to work, Ted was not the only one in a good mood. Aomine was also amazingly—good-natured, Kagami supposed, that was the only way he could describe it. He peered out the windows of the SUV, studying the passing New Mexico landscape, and let Kagami have the last of the breakfast sandwiches without argument, and didn't whine at all.
Huh, Kagami thought, listening to him talking with Bill—again with the discussion of baseball, they were obsessed—huh. Maybe all Aomine had really needed was a nap, just like a cranky toddler or something.
For that matter, he'd sort of needed a nap himself. He felt a little more at peace with the world and Aomine's idiocy this morning, probably thanks to having gotten a full night's sleep and gotten rid of the last remnants of his hangover. Or maybe that was just the resignation kicking in. He and Aomine were pretty much completely screwed at this point, so there was no point in doing anything but sitting back and enjoying the ride.
Except, of course, there was an awful lot of ride to enjoy. Not that Kagami had anything against Texas or New Mexico, but there sure was a lot of them. He didn't give much of a damn about baseball—too boring and slow-moving for his tastes—so he stared out the window until he got bored with that.
Since they were still talking about baseball—how could there be that much baseball to talk about in the world?—Kagami dug out his phone again. Even if it was out of minutes, the full charge meant he had the time and luxury to read through the text messages from the past few days, which was something to pass the time.
Akashi had replied to him, which was faintly nerve-wracking and reassuring all at once: NOTED; WE WILL SEE YOU IN JAPAN. I'VE DEALT WITH THE ADULTS.
Did that mean he'd talked the coaches and chaperones down from the edge? Or that he'd taken them out into the swamps and fed them to the alligators?
Kagami couldn't help being disturbed by how plausible the alligator theory seemed.
"Hey, Aomine," he said. "Akashi wouldn't feed anyone to alligators, would he?"
Aomine glanced at him and frowned, thoughtful. "Probably not," he said. "Unless they really annoyed him. Why do you ask?"
"He said that he dealt with the adults," Kagami said. "What does 'dealt with' mean in this context?"
"Hell if I know," Aomine said. "Probably not with alligators, though. He prefers a hands-on approach."
That was reassuring; Kagami settled into his seat. In the front, Bill laughed. "Your teammates sound interesting."
"They're something, all right," Kagami said, scrolling through the messages. "Midorima sent us our horoscopes. And our lucky items, I guess."
Aomine made a rude noise. "He does that, yeah. What's it supposed to be?"
"The other day, it was a paper fan. Then a toy rabbit. Then, um..." Kagami squinted at the screen. "Where the hell does a person even get one of those on short notice?"
"One of what?" Aomine asked, grinning.
Kagami squinted at the screen. "I think it probably isn't supposed to be a dildo," he said doubtfully. "Maybe autocorrect got him?"
Aomine hooted with laughter, sliding sideways in his seat and laughing openly enough that Kagami was a little surprised by it. "I dunno, maybe it was," he gasped. "One time, we managed to persuade him that the lucky item for the day was supposed to be a set of Hello Kitty underpants."
Kagami stared at him. No way. "You did not."
Aomine grinned at him. "We did. It was awesome. He carried them around for at least an hour before Kise cracked and told him the truth."
"How did you even do that?" Kagami demanded, trying to imagine Midorima—prissy, cranky, uptight Midorima, of all people—carrying around a set of Hello Kitty underwear as a lucky item.
Aomine shrugged. "It was a training camp, so he didn't have time to get ready in the morning and listen to that stupid show of his. We promised we'd do it for him. After a couple of days, we told him that it was the underpants, and he didn't have any reason to doubt us." He grinned, all nostalgic. "Man, you should have seen the look on his face when he figured it out. It was almost as good as the look on Tetsu's face the morning Kise slapped him in the face with his cock."
"What," Kagami said, a little blankly, because what the fuck, seriously.
"Your training camps sound much more exciting than any training camp I ever went to," Bill observed, which was pretty much what Kagami was thinking himself.
"Wait, no, seriously," Kagami said, "what the hell?"
Aomine laughed again and shrugged. "So Tetsu's a cuddler," he explained. "And the room they had us all sleeping in was kind of small, so we were all crammed in there, right? And Kise insisted on sleeping next to Tetsu, because he's a dork like that."
Kagami nodded, intimately familiar with how clingy and demonstrative Kise could be, especially when it came to Kuroko.
"So anyway, Tetsu ended up migrating while they were asleep," Aomine continued. He paused to snicker over the memory. "And Kise woke up with morning wood, but Tetsu was all over him like a cuddly octopus. So he's trying to get free, right? And he gets the idea that if he can just wriggle, like, kind of up Tetsu, then he can get away and go beat off in private or something, I dunno, but it doesn't exactly work out like he planned it to. Just as he's almost there, Tetsu starts waking up. Kise's cock makes a break for it, so the first thing Tetsu knows is that he's got a face full of that, and, well." He shrugged, laughing. "All hell broke loose."
Kagami could picture it, since it wasn't like Kuroko tried to hide how evil he was, and Kise was prone to histrionics. He gave in and laughed, and Bill snickered over the steering wheel, and Ted sat in stony silence that proclaimed how profoundly he hated sharing a vehicle with the three of them. Finally Bill said, slow and thoughtful, "I guess I've heard of alarm clocks before, but not alarm cocks."
For the next five miles, Ted was the only one who wasn't laughing.
"Kuroko's never told that story, for some reason," Kagami said, eventually, when his sides hurt from laughing too much. "I wonder why."
Aomine grinned. "I dunno, the rest of us think it's great." He reached down and rooted around in the cooler, digging out a bottle of water. "All the best stories involve Kise, though, I can tell you that much."
Kagami considered that and weighed it against the mile marker that said Arizona was still a solid hour away, and said, "You don't say."
"Oh, yeah," Aomine said, cracking the seal on the bottle and taking a long drink. "So okay, let me tell you about the time one of his fangirls got the bright idea that she was going to give him a love potion..."
"Oh my god," Kagami said, horrified and entertained already. "Go on."
Aomine did, at great length, and segued from the story of the love potion to the story about Murasakibara and Momoi's ill-fated attempt to make Valentine's Day chocolates, which led Kagami to tell about trying to teach Riko-kantoku to make curry. Then Bill pitched in with a story about a guy named Bob and his attempts at trying to cook a nice dinner for their boss, Tim, one night when Tim had worked late. "Only," he said, "Bob's not exactly gifted in the kitchen, it kind of runs in the family, I dunno, so he didn't realize that leaving the meat out to thaw on the counter wasn't a great idea, and he ended up giving Ts—Tim food poisoning." He paused for a moment, thinking about that. "We were all after him to take a break anyway, so I guess that was just as well? But maybe he would have rather not done it while puking, I dunno."
"He should have let you do it," Ted muttered, his first contribution to the conversation in about fifty miles.
Bill laughed. "Well, you know how Bob is. Anything for the—Tim, he's gotta try to do it himself." Ted snorted. "What, am I wrong?"
"No, not wrong," Ted said.
"My point exactly," Bill said, satisfied, and then, "Okay, does anyone else want to stop and see what The Thing is? Because if I see one more sign for this Thing, I am going to die of curiosity."
Aomine perked up immediately. "Me too," he said. "I gotta know."
Kagami, who'd also been paying attention to the string of roadside signs inviting people to come and see The Thing ever since San Antonio, wasn't quite as sure, but on the other hand, it sounded like an excuse to get out of the SUV and walk around for a while. "Sure," he said, "Why not?"
"You must be joking," Ted told them, tone flat.
Bill shot him a startled glance. "What would I do that for?" he asked. "We might as well."
"We have work to do," Ted said, flat.
"I think I missed the part where we were on a tight schedule," Bill said, smiling, warm and friendly and somehow edged nonetheless. "C'mon, what would it hurt if we stopped in and poked around?"
"I don't want to."
"Now you're just being stubborn for the sake of being stubborn," Bill said, lightly enough. "C'mon, just think of it. We could get souvenirs! Tim loves it when we bring him souvenirs."
"Hey, that's a good idea," Aomine said. "We should get Midorima a stuffed armadillo. He can add it to his collection of lucky items."
"With what money?" Kagami asked him, resigned, while Bill and Ted wrangled in the front seat over whether they were going to stop and see The Thing, whatever it was. "We're broke, remember?"
"I'll think of something," Aomine said vaguely. "Just think of the look on his face."
Kagami considered this and had to admit that it might be a worthwhile endeavor.
In the front seat, Bill said, exasperated, "Okay, if we're not going to go see The Thing, how about we go see the ostrich farm. You like birds."
"Wait, ostrich farm?" Kagami said, confused, while Ted make a thoughtful sound. "What ostrich farm?"
Bill read the name off grandly. "The Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch," he proclaimed. "We've been passing signs for it for a while now."
"You're making this up," Kagami said.
"He's not that smart," Ted said.
"Hey," Bill protested. "Just for that, I'm taking two off the tally of what I owe you."
Tally of what, Kagami wondered—then he remembered the banging headboard on the other side of the wall and decided he really didn't want to know.
Ted sniffed. "It's still the truth."
Bill grumbled quietly and drummed his fingers against the wheel. "We'll stop at the ostrich ranch and see the birds, it'll be great."
"I don't recall agreeing to that," Ted pointed out.
Bill flashed him a grin. "You don't have to. I'm the one who's driving, remember?"
And really, who could argue with that?
Rooster Cogburn, as a ranch hand cheerfully informed them, was a family-owned and operated working ostrich ranch, with a couple of extra attractions thrown in—goats, fallow deer, miniature Sicilian donkeys, rather incongruous educational monster truck tours, and a rainbow lorikeet forest. This last one Ted gravitated to instantly, floating across the sand in a weirdly untouchable way that reminded Kagami strongly of Akashi and dragging Bill in his wake. That left Kagami and Aomine clutching their ostrich feed and staring at each other blankly.
After a moment, Kagami shrugged. "Shall we go?"
Aomine watched as a guy in a tourist's corny ten-gallon hat held a handful of feed up to an ostrich and let it eat out of his palm, and grinned.
"Fuck yes," he said, and pushed his way up next to the tourist to wait for his turn.
Kagami rolled his eyes as he joined Aomine, muttering under his breath about having to babysit someone taller than him. He had to admit, though, after a while of watching the ostriches hook their long necks over the fence to snuffle feed out of their hands, that this was actually kind of fun. Unique, at least; he'd certainly never get the chance to do this in Japan. Not that he was grateful to Aomine for dragging him on this damn train wreck, because he wasn't that, not at all. It's just—if he had to be stuck on a week-long impromptu coast-to-coast adventure with the teammate who caused him the most grief, then at the very least he could enjoy himself along the way.
Speaking of Aomine, he seemed to be having the time of his life. Given the slightly-awkward conversation they'd had the night before, Kagami couldn't say he'd been expecting that. It was unusual to see him barreling around enjoying himself in such a—he made himself think it, no matter how little he wanted to—harmless way. Was this was what Aomine had been like, way back when Kuroko got to know him—Kagami immediately nipped that line of thought in the bud.
"Oi, Bakagami!" Aomine called, but he was grinning from ear to ear and he didn't even sound like he was making fun of him. "Check it out! Goats!"
There were indeed goats; ten of their brindled floppy-eared heads jutting out of a wall and looking eagerly at the hands of every passer-by just in case they happened to hold food in them. He and Aomine ran into Bill, who seemed to have finally escaped the lorikeet forest, there; he was clutching a disposable camera he'd wrangled up from somewhere like a trophy.
"You have feathers in your hair," Kagami pointed out.
"Never mind that," said Bill, breezily. He seemed to have grown younger in the half hour since they'd last seen him; Kagami took a moment to marvel at the elasticity of his disposition. "Let's take pictures!"
In a rare moment of clarity, Aomine said, "You sure that's okay?"
"Oh yeah," Bill said. "Dead sure." His choice of words did not ease Kagami's anxieties, but he found himself and Aomine bullied into several pictures with ostriches, and the goats, and even with Ted, who was covered in brightly-colored parrots and had, for the first time since they'd met him, stopped looking so furiously constipated.
The last picture in that roll of film contained all four of them—Bill had not only roped another tourist into helping them out, but also convinced Ted to stand within sight of the viewfinder long enough for something like his image to be captured. Bill was beaming as they made their way back to the car and still beaming as they pulled back onto the road. Even though Kagami was exhausted and still vaguely afraid of being turned into a suit, he found the guy's relentless cheer kind of infectious.
"Have fun?" Bill said, over his shoulder, to the two of them.
"Yeah," Kagami said, and was kind of surprised to find that he even meant it. He looked over at Aomine, expecting him to butt in with something obnoxious, but as it turned out, he'd drifted right off. Well, okay. It'd been a long day, and they had been up at seven. Catching a nap wasn't the worst idea in the world.
Kagami yawned, shut his eyes, and leaned back against the headrest; before he knew it, he was gone, too.
Some time later, Kagami woke up to find his forehead resting lightly against the window and that he had a severe case of cottonmouth. As had become typical for him on this trip, he had absolutely no sense of what time it was or where on earth they might be, and thought of clawing out his phone to at least fix one of those problems. Just as he was going to, though, a voice stopped him. Apparently, Aomine had woken up before him and started a conversation with one of their two benefactors, and this time it didn't even seem to be about baseball.
He wasn't sure why, but something told him to keep his eyes closed and listen, so he did.
"...so you're saying I should talk to him or something? Is that it?" A pause. "But I talk to him all the time."
Someone in the front seat sighed.
"Worse than Gokudera, this one," said Ted.
"Bob, you mean," said Bill, cheerfully, although he seemed to have given up on the pretense that their names were not completely and utterly made up. "Look, that's not really all there is to communication, all right? It's not just about shooting the breeze. You have to express, like, your needs and desires and fears and stuff. Be involved in your relationship. Trust each other and everything."
Oh god, he'd heard enough. Kagami yawned casually, smacking his lips as though he was just about to wake up, and felt Aomine freeze in the seat next to him. Luckily, Bill had a save for them.
"Mornin', sleepyhead," he said, brightly. "Sleep well?"
Kagami thought of saying Not too bad for a guy who's been involuntarily hauled on a whirlwind adventure with the world's biggest asshole, but decided his throat was too dry for it. Anyway, he'd had enough of bitching about a situation that he would continue to be stuck in for at least another day.
So, instead, he said, "Yeah."
Bill grinned at him in the rearview mirror. "Glad to hear it. I hope you guys are hungry, 'cause this'll be our last pit stop for this trip," he said, turning off the highway.
Dinner was as greasy and unhealthy as it'd been the day before, with the exception of Bill, who seemed to err on the side of eating healthy. Aomine was unusually quiet—almost pensive, Kagami would've said, if he'd been far gone enough to actually use that word to describe Aomine. That made for a pleasant dinner. If nothing else, Ted seemed marginally less inclined to knock them over the head and leave them by the side of the road.
Then it was back in the car, and back on the road.
"Only a couple more hours out," Bill said to them, as they were strapping themselves in. Kagami nodded, and dozed most of the way, waking every now and then to hear Bill and Ted exchanging a few quiet words in the front seat before drifting off again.
He woke again when Bill cleared his throat. "Hey," he said, loud enough to jar Kagami out of his doze. "You guys probably wanna wake up for this."
"Nnngh." Kagami pushed himself up, yawning and rubbing his eyes; the clock on the dashboard said that it was going on ten-thirty. He didn't pay attention to that for more than a second, though, because they were coming over the crest of a hill and there was a glittering city spread out across the valley floor ahead of them, and, huh. Wow. The movies really didn't do it justice.
"Holy shit," Aomine said, leaning forward to peer between Bill and Ted for a better view. Kagami would have been annoyed, except that he was doing precisely the same thing, staring at the neon and the outlandish shapes of the casinos, glowing bright enough to light up the night sky.
"It's something, isn't it?" Bill asked, voice almost hushed, as they drove down into the city. He didn't seem to expect a response, which was just as well. Kagami was too busy looking to come up with any kind of answer. He thought Ted kind of sighed a little, though, like he was tired or just bored. Hard to say with that guy.
Whatever. Kagami laughed a little in disbelief and awe. They were in Vegas, where they had no business whatsoever being, and it was amazing.
Bill drove like he knew precisely where he was going, navigating the SUV along brilliantly lit streets that were still filled with traffic despite the lateness of the hour. "Do you boys know where you want to go?" he asked while they idled at a stoplight and Kagami stared in fascination at a billboard advertising GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS, with illustrations that emphasized the point rather clearly.
Aomine beat him to answering. "The Strip, of course," he said, sounding as excited about that as he had been about the goats, earlier.
Bill chuckled. "Right, of course. I should have known." He and Ted exchanged another of those glances with each other, the ones that were full of unfathomable meaning. "We'll be staying at the Bellagio, so I guess we can just let you out there. Sound good?"
"Sounds great," Aomine said, gleeful as a little kid, so Kagami guessed that was that.
It reminded him to be uneasy, though, and distracted him from the show of neon and the crowds of people. It sounded like Bill and Ted were really planning on just—letting them go, which, hey, great, fantastic, so much better than being turned into suits, but did sort of mean that they were about to be stranded in Vegas without any cash or way of making contact with the people who might care enough to rescue him.
He chewed on the inside of his cheek for the rest of the ride, while Aomine bounced around in his seat, peering ahead of them and stretching across Kagami to get a view out the passenger side of the SUV before bouncing back over to get a look out his own window, twisting around to watch things as they disappeared behind them and chattering a mile a minute about the things they were passing, at least until they came in sight of the Bellagio fountains and he fell silent, too.
"Here we are," Bill said, cheery, turning in and bringing the SUV to a halt. "Everybody out of the boat."
Kagami took a deep breath, found his bag, and stepped out of the SUV. It was full dark and had been for at least a couple of hours, but the heat still slammed down on him like a fist. "Good grief," he said, even as a valet sprinted forward to take the keys from Bill's hand, and another trotted out with a cart for Bill and Ted's luggage.
Aomine was spinning around, apparently trying to look at everything at once, so it was Kagami who caught Bill looking at them and smiling, small and wry. "Um," he said, watching Bill and Ted, who was standing back and looking impatient. No, no, he really didn't have the guts for it, they could—panhandle or something, they'd figure something out, right? Right. "Thanks for the ride, I guess. And the food. And everything."
"No problem!" Bill grinned. "It was fun, wasn't it?"
Ted rolled his eyes.
"It was something," Kagami agreed, which seemed like the most diplomatic possible reply. "I guess, um, well, we won't see you around. So, uh, goodbye?"
Bill laughed then and shook his head. "Before you go," he said. "Hang on a second."
Ted rolled his eyes again, muttered something that sounded like herbivores, shook his head, and stalked away, making for the hotel lobby.
Meanwhile Bill had taken his wallet out and was extracting the whole money clip from it. "Here," he said, flipping it to Kagami. "Try not to spend it all in one place, okay?"
Kagami caught it on instinct, torn between relief and shock. "What," he said, staring at the thick wad of bills, and "You're joking, right?"
He didn't seem to be. "See you around, guys," Bill said, tossing them a wave and following Ted inside.
"Sweet, is that money?" Aomine slung his arm around Kagami's shoulder and propped his chin on Kagami's shoulder, digging the point of it in. "That's amazing, let's—"
Kagami immediately yanked it out of his reach. "No," he said. "No, you do not get to touch the money, you are not allowed to have anything to do with the money from now on."
"Hey, that's not fair," Aomine protested.
"I don't care," Kagami said. There were a couple of twenties on the outside of the clip; he peeled them away and thrust them in Aomine's direction. Holy shit, was that a Benjamin beneath them? It was. Kagami swallowed and swore to himself that Aomine was not going to touch the money clip. "Here. You can play with this. I'm keeping the rest so that when we're done here, we can still have a chance to get home. Got it?"
Aomine plucked the twenties out of his hand and made a face at him. "Man, you never let me have any fun."
Kagami didn't actually have words fit to address the scope of that statement, so he shoved the money clip to the bottom of his pocket, made sure there were no holes in it, and shrugged at him. "Whatever," he said. "We're in Vegas like you wanted. Now what?"
"I dunno," Aomine said.
Kagami groaned. "Why did I not see that answer coming?" he asked, and turned to head down the sidewalk. Might as well go look at the fountains while Aomine figured out what he wanted to do with himself.
Aomine immediately fell into step next to him, grinning. "You have got to lighten up," he said. "You're taking this all way too seriously."
"Someone has to," Kagami said. "You do realize that we probably just spent the last twenty-four hours with the mob, right?"
"Naw, yakuza, surely," Aomine said. "I mean, they were Japanese, right?"
"That's not my point and you know it," Kagami growled at him. He shouldered his way through the crowds of people standing around, staring at the fountain. There were also people in costumes, just standing around and offering to take pictures with the tourists (for a modest fee, of course). Okay. That was—whatever. Hopefully that wouldn't end up being their job, thanks to Bill's generosity.
"So what?" Aomine sounded entirely casual about it. "They were decent guys, weren't they? It all worked out in the end."
"We haven't even reached the end yet," Kagami reminded him.
Aomine waved that aside. "Yeah, yeah. Details." He stuck his hands in his pockets and stared out at the fountain, watching the patterns of the spray. Looking at him, Kagami had no idea what he was even thinking.
They watched the fountain through two full iterations of its pattern, then Aomine rolled his shoulders and sighed. "Okay, enough of that. Let's get a camera and then hit the casinos, huh?"
"You get a camera," Kagami said. "You've got money."
"That's for playing with," Aomine pointed out. "A camera is for posterity. Who's going to believe that we were in Vegas without proof?"
"Why do we want to prove that we were in Vegas?" Kagami asked as they turned away from the fountains and sidestepped a clown.
"I dunno, maybe Tetsu will want to see the pictures or something."
Kagami eyed him, because that sounded casual, but... somehow not, at the same time. "...I need a new phone anyway," he said. "But you have to promise not to use it to try and call Kuroko, okay? Please?"
"You could buy me a phone too," Aomine suggested.
"You could have bought your own phone when we first got here," Kagami argued. "Why should I buy you a phone now?"
"Because it would be the right thing to do, of course."
"Says who?" Kagami wanted to know.
They bickered all the way down the sidewalk, until they came to some kind of—it looked like a shopping arcade, maybe? Kagami couldn't tell whether it was part of the Bellagio or part of another casino or was its own thing. All the buildings seemed to run into each other. Maybe it didn't matter; Aomine followed him inside and seemed just as happy to look into the shops at designer clothes and overpriced handbags while Kagami searched for a place to buy a phone. And, yes, a disposable camera, too.
God knew he didn't want to have to listen to Aomine whining about needing a camera, anyway.
He was just beginning to think that maybe Aomine was going to be satisfied with this—wandering around and ogling the crazy buildings and the crazier people outside the casinos—when Aomine said, "Okay, this is boring. Let's hit Caesars Palace."
"Do we have to?" Kagami asked, resigned, and followed after Aomine as he made a determined line for the casino with the vaguely Roman-looking architecture and the columns and statues. And stuff. (It was starting to be a little overwhelming, and they'd only been wandering around for half an hour or so, maybe an hour tops.)
Aomine just laughed at him and plunged right into the thick of the crowd with a grin. Kagami had to stretch his legs to keep up. Even so he almost lost Aomine in the whirling din of the casino floor. There were people and machines everywhere, lights flashing and people sitting planted in front of the ranks of slot machines, grimly pressing the buttons and watching the slots whirl beneath the haze of cigarette smoke. Everything was electronic, except where it wasn't; Kagami didn't know a damn thing about gambling, but there were tables covered in green felt and crowds of people around them, cards being dealt and dice sent tumbling across the felt. Normally, he had a good sense of direction, but the whole place was so confusing that after a few minutes, he wasn't honestly certain which way they'd come from or how to get back to the street.
He fetched up against Aomine's back, which was almost reassuring—or, at least, familiar—and Aomine turned to grin at him. "This one," he proclaimed, pointing at one of the slot machines.
Kagami looked. "It's." He tilted his head. "A basketball-themed slot machine?"
"This is the one," Aomine said firmly. "Take a picture, okay?"
Kagami sighed and raised the camera to take the picture as Aomine dropped himself into the chair, cracked his knuckles, peered at the little electronic display and deciphered its instructions, and fed his first twenty into the machine.
Later—much later, though Kagami had lost sense of the passage of time along with his sense of direction—Aomine finally slumped in front of the slot machine, turning a woeful, betrayed look on it. "I didn't win anything," he said, disappointed.
"That's not true," Kagami pointed out. "You were up by sixty dollars at one point, remember?" And he'd decided to try for even more. Of course. "Guess you can't win them all, huh?"
Aomine shot him a dark look, frowned, and drained the last of his drink. His latest drink. (The staff were... very eager to make sure people had whatever they wanted.) "Okay," he said. "Either give me more money, or let's go get drunk."
Kagami squinted at him. "Drunker, you mean?"
Aomine held his hand out and snapped his fingers. "Money or booze, you decide."
Kagami rubbed his eyes. "Booze," he said. "At least you get something for your money that way." Also, they were underage. If they got carded in a bar, then hey, no harm no foul, they could go on their way and maybe start talking about how to get to L.A. from here, right? Right.
He should have known better.
Aomine immediately launched himself back into motion, weaving through the crowds like he knew where he was going. Kagami, knowing better, followed after him anyway, keeping an eye out for—he didn't know what, exactly, but maybe there would be something he could use to divert Aomine from the drinking project?
A man could dream, anyway.
He lost sight of Aomine briefly when a crowd of people, maybe college-aged or thereabouts, wandered right in front of him, all of them leaning on one another and moving too slowly by half. By the time they got out of his way, Aomine had disappeared from sight.
"Oh fuck," Kagami said out loud, trying to figure out what Kuroko would do to him if he'd actually managed to misplace Aomine. Then his imagination supplied several possible scenarios, and he had to stop thinking about it and dedicate himself to hunting Aomine down. It was difficult—the light was bad, even with plenty of time to get used to the dimness and the glow of the slot machines—and there were too many people all over the place.
He really should have gotten Aomine that stupid cellphone.
He was just beginning to wonder how slowly Kuroko was going to kill him for losing his boyfriend when he caught sight of a familiar head, bowed over someone, and heard a beautifully, wonderfully familiar laugh. "Oh thank fuck," Kagami muttered, and made a beeline straight for Aomine.
"There you are," Aomine said when Kagami finally got a hand on his shoulder and gripped it. "About time you showed up." He flashed a smile at Kagami. "This is Amber. And Lauren."
Aomine had found friends. Kagami found himself staring down at two—girls? young women?—who were more or less identical, between their black dresses and the deep tans and the blond highlights. "Oh my god," Kagami said, horrified. "I can't take my eyes off you for a minute."
"I'm pretty sure he was dropped on his head as a child," Aomine told the girls, smiling at them both. "Don't mind him too much." He then flagged down a waiter and waved a hand. "Drinks for all four of us. Tequila shots. He's paying."
Any hope that Kagami had that someone would notice that they were clearly not old enough to be gambling or drinking bounced right off the Aomine Daiki Reality Deflection Field. The harried waiter just glanced at them, nodded, and hustled off.
So much for that, Kagami thought in despair, seating himself with the bane of his existence and his two new friends. The shots arrived in short order; Aomine handed them out and then proceeded to entertain the girls with his charming alternate personality. He could be pretty smooth when he wanted to be, Kagami noted sourly, downing his tequila. To be fair, they were easy on the eye, and busty to boot, but in Kagami's not-at-all-biased opinion, neither of them held a candle to Momoi. Nor were they anything like Kuroko, although this didn't seem to dampen Aomine's enthusiasm for them—or their chests.
He sighed, shrugging noncommittally as Aomine asked him a question he wasn't remotely interested in, and turned his attention away, letting their conversation wash over him and only parsing fragments of it here and there.
"...so I told him to get lost, can you believe that guy?..."
"...and then there was that other slut who tried to steal my boyfriend..."
"...we're catching the bus back to L.A. tomorrow afternoon!"
Kagami blinked. The words 'bus', 'tomorrow afternoon', and especially 'back to L.A.' had shaken him out of his trance. He put his shot glass, long since emptied, back on the table and sat up straight.
"Did you say 'bus back to L.A.'?" he asked, as politely as he could, to make up for—or maybe just mask—the way he'd been ignoring them for the past fifteen minutes.
"Weren't you listening, Bakagami?" Aomine grinned. ("Bakagami, that's so cute!" one of them exclaimed—Amber or Lauren, he couldn't be sure which) "These girls are from your hometown."
Kagami thought of pointing out that actually, his hometown was in Saitama, but decided against it. "Ah, yeah, right," he said, with a laugh that he hoped didn't sound as fake to them as it did to him. "So—this bus you mentioned..."
"Oh, that?" one of them said, chirpily. "Yeah, they leave from stops all over the city. You can get to downtown L.A. in, like, under six hours."
If Kagami wasn't still on his self-righteous trip, he could've kissed her. Instead he mumbled something grateful while Aomine shot him a look like See? It all worked out, didn't it? and resumed hitting on them relentlessly. It was impossible to tell whether Aomine was serious or not, or if he was just doing it for the thrill of it—Kagami hoped the latter, for Kuroko's sake if nothing else. Maybe it was just that Aomine was like a dog chasing a car: if he ever caught one, he wouldn't know what to do with it. He patted his pocket, just to make sure the money was still in it, and then decided he was ready to call it a night.
"Hey," he said, to catch Aomine's attention. "You want me to get you that prepaid phone?"
Aomine blinked, finally taking his eyes off the girls' assets. "Huh? Sure... but why now?" he asked, suspiciously (and rightfully so).
"So you can call your boyfriend, like you've been whining about all week," said Kagami.
The girls looked up at Aomine, expecting a laugh; things turned awkward, then, when the look on Aomine's face ended up being more of a mix between annoyed and stricken, particularly when he failed to deny anything Kagami had said. The conversation dried up pretty quickly then—Kagami picked up the tab, and the two of them said their goodbyes and made their way back out onto the street. They had more than enough to get a room somewhere, probably, if it was just for one night. He could use a shower after their desert expedition with the ostriches, and maybe even catch a couple hours of shuteye before they worked on booking that bus ride home.
Aomine punched his shoulder and jarred him out of his thoughts. "That was a shitty move," he complained. "What'd you have to go and bring Tetsu up for? I was making friends."
Kagami stared at him in disbelief. "Friends?" he echoed. "That didn't look all that friendly to me."
Aomine's grin was more of a leer, blurred a bit by the second (or was it the third?) shot he'd had. "Temporary friends. Short-term friends. A place to rest my head for a bit."
Ugh. "Honestly, I have no fucking idea what Kuroko sees in you," Kagami said, conversationally. He'd meant it mostly as a joke, maybe one with a point to it; after all, he'd been asking the same question for several days now and it hadn't seemed to penetrate Aomine's thick skull once. The last thing he expected was for Aomine to respond to him seriously. But this time he did.
"Yeah," said Aomine, swaying a little as his leer melted away. "Me neither."
Kagami stopped and stared at him; Aomine, oblivious, kept going.
"Been wondering that myself, actually," he went on, in a voice quite unlike the one he'd been using to sweet-talk those girls, something raw and ugly. "What Tetsu sees in me, I mean." He laughed mirthlessly. "And you know what? I got squat."
Oh god. Kagami couldn't help staring at Aomine in outright horror. He'd wondered a few times just what went on inside Aomine's head, sure, but this was not what he'd signed up for, not even a little bit.
Aomine glanced his way and smirked, one of the crooked, mocking expressions that made hanging out with him such a pain in the ass. "I know, right?" he said, still swaying gently, though his progress down the sidewalk was steady enough. "You can't think of anything either, can you? Not like that's a surprise."
"You're joking, right?" Kagami said, wishing he believed that Aomine was, wishing that they weren't holding this conversation right in the middle of a crowd of tourists on a baking-hot sidewalk in Vegas, wishing that Kuroko was here and not him—might as well wish for the moon while he was at it. "You've got to be kidding. Kuroko's—he's crazy about you." Sort of literally, in the way that all the generation of miracles were crazy about each other. For each other. The way they all only ever made sense in the composite, taken together.
Aomine laughed again, nothing funny about it or the way it made something cold and unpleasant creep down Kagami's spine. "Crazy, sure. I knew that. He'd pretty much have to be."
"I am in no way qualified to be having this conversation with you," Kagami said, even as he cast around for somewhere they could—sit down, talk, something. There were tables along the arcade in front of Caesars Palace, so he dropped a hand on Aomine's shoulder and did what he could to propel him in the direction of one of the few empty ones. A gaggle of drunken tourists made for it at about the same time, but something about the way Kagami glared at them made them change their minds about sniping the table out from under him and Aomine, so that was okay.
Aomine dropped himself into one of the chairs, sprawling bonelessly, unusually graceless, and began picking at the edge of the table. "What's there to talk about?" His smile then was sharp, like the edge of a razor. "We both know it's true."
"Holy shit, you are so drunk," Kagami told him. "So drunk that you aren't even making sense any more. Kuroko likes you, moron. Loves you, probably." How were these words even coming out of his mouth? He felt a sudden retroactive stab of pity for Bill's fumbling attempts to offer advice to Aomine earlier.
"Shut up," Aomine said, the glitter of his smile turning sharper, more dangerous—the edge of the razor angled outward now, defensive. "Like you would even know. You're his best friend now. He traded up, remember? He's the shadow to your light now." And really, there was no call to make the air quotes on that so fucking heavy and ironical, but Kagami let that go when Aomine looked away and added, "Not mine. Not any more."
Oh, for fucksake. Kagami scraped a hand through his hair, thought longingly of showers and central air, and tried to figure out what Kuroko would say if he were here to listen to this. When he put it like that, though, he had to discard that plan. Punching Aomine right in the middle of a bunch of tourists probably wasn't the best of ideas.
Maybe as a Plan B, if he needed one.
"Maybe him and me are partners now," he said, finally. "So what? That first year—everything up to the Interhigh—he did all that for you, you idiot. Because he wanted to see you play with a smile, just one more time. I was—I dunno, at first I was a means to that end." And Kuroko had been the means to his own end, becoming the best in Japan, so it had all sort of evened out.
Aomine's smile just tilted further from true. "Yeah," he said, heavy and mocking. "At first, sure. Now you're all—" He stopped and gestured, vague. "You're what we were supposed to be." He slumped lower in his seat. "We were—but—yeah. So much for that."
"Wait," Kagami said, now so deep into the confused jumble of Aomine's love life that he thought he might actually see the shores of enlightenment. "Wait, did you and Kuroko break up at some point and I didn't notice? Because I'm pretty sure you and him are still dating, right?" Dating. Hahah. That was the nice way of putting it, the one that didn't involve soul-searing memories of catching the two of them with their hands down each other's shorts.
Aomine just looked away from him and didn't answer that. For a long, horrible minute, Kagami wondered whether they really had broken up and forgotten to tell him, but—no, no way that was possible. Kuroko had specifically pulled him aside and charged him with taking care of Aomine's stupid ass. Kuroko went all quietly gooey over Aomine any time the idiot was in sight or even when he came up in conversation. Kuroko had helped lead Seirin all the way through the Winter Cup just to make a point for Aomine (and, yeah, okay, the rest of the generation of miracles too, but mostly Aomine). So that was right out.
"Seriously," Kagami said, having worked through that one and reassured himself that it was okay. "I'm pretty sure that Kuroko is with you because he wants to be with you."
He watched Aomine's jaw work, the muscles in it flexing and tensing, before Aomine said, "Kuroko's too nice for his own good."
What? Huh? "...are we even speaking the same language?" Kagami asked. "Talking about the same Kuroko? Short, quiet, likes to terrorize innocent people with horrible hellhounds? That guy? The evil one? Punches people in the ribs to get their attention? That Kuroko? The one who helped you persuade Midorima to carry Hello Kitty underpants around? Seriously, I'm sorry, I know he's your boyfriend and all, but really. Kuroko is many things, but too nice is not one of those things."
He was getting really tired of that bitter, self-loathing smirk of Aomine's. "Shows what you know."
Kagami stared at him for a minute, thought really hard about resorting to Plan B, but—no. Wait. Better plan. "You know what, fuck this," he said, loud and clear, and dug his new phone out, making the mental calculations—yeah, it ought to have been about six in the evening back home. That might work. Was worth a shot, and—hot damn, the thing even had speakerphone.
He dialed Kuroko's number pretty much from memory, while Aomine squinted at him, maybe trying to figure out what the hell Kagami was doing. That was fine, long as he stayed put long enough for this, and if Kuroko would just pick up—
He counted off two rings, three, then—Kuroko answered, careful and polite. "Hello?"
"Hey, Kuroko, it's me," Kagami said, thumbing the speakerphone button and hauling himself around the table so that Aomine would be sure to hear loud and clear. Aomine started to open his mouth; Kagami immediately wrapped his hand around Aomine's stupid face to muffle him, because seriously, one thing the past week had taught him was that nothing good happened when Aomine opened his mouth.
"Kagami-kun?" Kuroko sounded startled. He immediately switched modes into irritation. "Where are you? Do you have any idea how worried everyone is?"
"Yeah, yeah," Kagami said, maintaining his grip on Aomine as he began to struggle. "Sorry, I really didn't have a lot of choice in all this. Anyway, forget about that, I have a question for you. It's really important, so I need you to think about it very carefully and be completely honest with me when you answer it. Okay?"
The connection was pretty bad and there was a lot of noise from the crowds around him, but even so, Kagami was pretty sure that had been a sigh he'd just heard from Kuroko's end of the line. "Of course," he said. "What is it?"
"Okay, great," Kagami said. "Here goes. Why on earth do you put up with Aomine?"
Aomine froze for a second and immediately began struggling harder against the hand and arm Kagami had wrapped around his head. Kagami ignored that and held the phone close, so when Kuroko said, clear and simple, "Because I love him," they both heard it perfectly.
Aomine froze again and went still, and that was pretty good, maybe he got it now, but—naw, better make sure. "Okay, yeah, that's great, but why?"
Kuroko made an irritable noise that carried through despite the connection. "Because he's Aomine-kun," he said after a moment. "Because he's amazing. Because he kept me from giving up when I wanted to, back then. Because of the way he smiles when he's playing, and because he respected me as a player, even though he knew I was never going to be as good as him." His voice changed, turned meditative. "Because he's really very attractive, and he's also really good at—"
"Okay, okay," Kagami said hastily, because he was a supportive friend and all, but there were some things a man just did not need to know about his best friend's private life. "That's enough, okay?"
"Are you sure?" Kuroko asked. "I could go on, if you want."
Aomine was still sitting frozen, like he'd forgotten that Kagami had him in a headlock, and his eyes were wide. "Yeah," Kagami said, after studying him for a moment. "I'm sure."
"Well," Kuroko said. "All right. Tell Aomine-kun that I miss him, and that I hope the two of you come home soon." His voice went severe again. "That is going to be soon, right?"
"Believe me," Kagami said, fervent, "I want out of here as soon as possible, you have no idea."
"I certainly hope so," Kuroko said. Then his voice softened a little again. "It's not the same without the two of you around. Momoi-san is getting bored, and that's never good."
No, it probably wasn't, come to think of it. "Yeah, well, I'm working on it," Kagami promised him. "Anything else you want me to tell him before I let you go?"
Kuroko made another sound, thoughtful. "No," he said. "I'll just wait for him, that's all. I'll be here whenever he gets home."
"Right," Kagami said. "Well, see you soon." He ended the call and turned loose of Aomine, who still looked stunned. "So," he said. "Your boyfriend loves you and misses you and wants you to get your stupid ass home to him. Are you ready to get on that or what?"
Kagami watched Aomine swallow hard and look away again, though that didn't really hide the soft, amazed look in his eyes. "Yeah," he said, gone a little hoarse. "I guess so."
"Thank god," Kagami said, shoving the phone back into his pocket. "Let's find a place to crash for the night, and tomorrow we can find one of those buses to L.A."
"Sure," Aomine said. "Sounds good."
"Great." Kagami pushed himself to his feet. Aomine followed him, a little slower, moving like he wasn't quite connected to this reality, and trailed after him almost obediently. (It was a little creepy, given his normal behavior, but whatever; he'd just had some kind of emotional breakthrough; Kagami could make allowances.)
It wasn't until later, after they'd found their way off the strip and had persuaded the night manager of yet another cheap motel to give them a room for the night, that Aomine said anything about that whole touchy-feely conversation. "Hey," he said, while Kagami was studying the sheets of his chosen bed with great misgivings. Kagami grunted at him, acknowledging him, and then had to look up sharply when Aomine said, "Thanks."
Kagami stared, surprised, at least until Aomine grumbled and sniffed and pointedly looked away from him. Then he recovered the manners Alex and then Kuroko had drilled into him. "Yeah, well. Don't mention it."
Aomine snorted. "I won't," he said, ducking into the bathroom to take his shower.
Kagami shook his head; yeah, that figured. Then he gave up worrying about the sheets and got into bed, and was asleep before Aomine came back out.
Maybe, Kagami reflected later, maybe he should have just given up and called Tetsu at the start of this whole mess, because traveling with Aomine after his little emotional revelation was approximately a million times easier than it had been before. Which was just fine by Kagami; it made the business of tracking down the buses that Amber and Lauren had so helpfully mentioned a lot easier, and the ride fairly smooth. Aomine claimed the window seat (of course) but spent most of the trip staring out at the passing landscape. Kagami got a good picture of him with his chin propped against his palm, lost in thought and looking—very much not his usual smirking, jeering self—and figured that one was for Kuroko, if it turned out.
He'd never been so glad to see Alex in his life, either, when she turned up at the bus station to pick them up.
Even if her first response was to smack them both upside the head, hard, because Alex never pulled her punches. "You idiots," she said. "What in the hell were you thinking?" Kagami opened his mouth. "Never mind, don't tell me, you clearly weren't thinking, otherwise you never would have done anything this completely boneheaded."
Aomine stared at her, rubbing the back of his head absently. "Yeah," he said to Kagami, grinning just a little, but sort of weirdly friendly about it. "If this is what you imprinted on, I see why you would go for Satsuki."
"Oh my god, shut up," Kagami hissed, but it was too late. The joke had been made and the die cast.
Alex raised her eyebrows. "Satsuki?" she said, interested. "Taiga, could it be that you're finally growing up?"
"Oh fuck," Kagami said, horrified. "Oh my god, can we please not talk about this?" But Aomine was already grinning at Alex, and Alex always had been able to smell when there was blood in the water. So much for any hopes he'd had of surviving their meeting with his dignity intact. "Please can we not talk about this?"
Alex ignored him, as was her wont. "So," she said, cheerful. "You can tell me all about this Satsuki while we find you some clothes." She wrinkled her nose. "The two of you smell like a pair of hobos." She clapped her hands on their shoulders and began propelling them toward her beat-up Cavalier. "And you can tell me all about where you've been and what on earth you thought you were doing, running off like that. And I will tell you all about how much hell you're going to catch when you get home."
Oh, damn. He'd been doing his best not to think about how much trouble they were going to be in if they survived their adventure. Kagami looked at Aomine, who was looking back, about as disconcerted by that as he was. Alex just grinned at them ruthlessly. "I hope it was worth it," she said, still cheerful. "Considering."
"Well," Aomine said finally, "I did think the goats were pretty cool."
"Goats," Alex echoed as they belted themselves in and she turned the key in the ignition.
"Yeah, goats," Kagami said. "We stopped at an ostrich ranch along the way."
"I guess yakuza guys like birds or something," Aomine explained.
"I still think they were with the mob," Kagami told him. From the corner of his eye, he could see Alex's forehead beginning to crease. "What would the yakuza be doing in New Orleans?"
Aomine shrugged. "I dunno. I didn't ask."
Alex drummed her fingers against the steering wheel; she hadn't actually put the car in gear yet. "You don't really think you crossed the country with gangsters, do you?"
Kagami glanced at Aomine, who shrugged, clearly foisting this one off on him. Well. "I dunno," Kagami told her, truthfully. "We didn't ask. But I'm pretty sure their names weren't Bill or Ted, I can tell you that much."
Alex's mouth twitched like she wanted to laugh but felt like she shouldn't. "I... see. Well. Why don't you start at the beginning, okay?"
"Yeah, sure," Kagami said, settling into his seat. "So the first thing that happened was when Aomine decided to punch Mickey Mouse..."
"I still say he had it coming," Aomine put in.
That was when Alex gave in and began laughing, and she didn't stop until long after Kagami said, "And then you showed up and smacked us."
He supposed he couldn't blame her for that.
Akashi was sincerely pretty much the most intimidating person Kagami knew. Somehow, the heavens only knew how, he'd dealt with the adults and had persuaded them to arrange a pair of tickets to be held at LAX. That was good, since even though Bill's money clip had actually held more cash money than Kagami had ever seen in his life, it still wouldn't have covered the cost of two tickets to Japan. It was also creepy, because Akashi had somehow contrived to get them both a flight for the next day.
"He can't actually see the future, right?" Kagami asked Aomine, unnerved by this.
Aomine just shrugged. "I never could bring myself to ask."
Alex dragged out a set of air mattresses and made up a bed for them on her living room floor, refused to let them out of her sight for anything longer than a trip to the bathroom, and took the next day off in order to convey them to the airport herself. Kagami couldn't blame her for that, either, even though Aomine was still in a fairly tractable mood and had only made one half-hearted suggestion that they make a run up to see San Francisco instead of catching their flight.
After the adventure of crossing the country, the flight home was quiet and anticlimactic; Kagami did his best to sleep through it. Aomine stayed quiet, not talkative at all—well. If things had been reversed, Kagami wasn't sure that he would have wanted to talk much either. So much the better if they were going to silently and mutually agree never to speak of that conversation again. God knew that Kagami didn't want to ever play therapist again, if he could help it.
If the fates were kind, he wouldn't ever have to.
It wasn't until they'd disembarked from the plane and were heading down the concourse that Aomine broke his silence. "So, hey," he said, as Kagami caught sight of a crowd of bright heads in the distance—was that the entire rest of the generation of miracles stampeding to meet them? He regretfully concluded that it was. "About Satsuki."
Kagami blinked and glanced away from the oncoming horde of Japanese basketball's best and brightest. "What about her?"
Aomine pursed his lips and said, "You should probably go for it. I think that would be okay."
"What?" Kagami said, confused—what was Aomine trying to say by that? Before he could demand clarification, the rest of the generation of miracles swept down on him, and he had to fend off Kise and his wail of "I can't believe you didn't invite meeeee!" And, well, there was no way to ask then, not when Momoi herself was right there in the crush of them, scolding Aomine at the top of her lungs and hanging off him and Kuroko both like she was never going to let go of either of them.
Then she did, and shoved Kise out of the way so she could throw her arms around Kagami and hug him—Kagami went still, startled, and couldn't react before she'd said, "Thank you for looking after him," and whirled away again.
He caught just the edge of Aomine's grin in his direction, before Aomine looked away and ruffled a hand through Kuroko's hair.
Huh, Kagami thought, a little dazed by the sudden burst of possibilities. How about that.
He tucked that thought away for later, because the rest of them were demanding information—where had they gone, what had they done, why did they think that was a good idea, why hadn't they waited for the rest of them (and that seemed to be the bulk of the objections right there, because the generation of miracles were all crazy people). Aomine was already laughing, describing their adventure in grand terms (and had not once let go of Kuroko, not that Kuroko seemed to be objecting to that).
Kagami opened his mouth to add his own explanations to that, since there was no sense in letting Aomine get away with his tall tales. Then Aomine said, "Next time I think we should go to New York."
"Oh fuck no," Kagami said, horrified. "No way in hell."
Aomine threw his head back and laughed, and slung his other arm across Kagami's shoulder. "C'mon," he said. "It'll be awesome and you know it."
"You're out of your mind," Kagami told him, but he was grinning as he said it.
Riko-kantoku eyed the wad of cash that Kagami was holding out to her. "Do I want to know where you got that?" she asked him. She was opening and closing her hands like she wanted to reach out and snatch it from his fingers and was only restraining herself by the bare grace of her principles.
Kagami thought about that. "No," he said. "Probably not."
"Well," she said. "I suppose the club could use it..."
"You could put it toward another training camp, maybe?" Kagami suggested.
That did the trick; she grabbed it and immediately began counting it up. Her eyebrows climbed as the total did; finally she looked up at Kagami and said, "No, really, where did you get this?"
Kagami shrugged. "Vegas," he said, since that much was true.
"Huh," she said, thoughtful. "And here I thought You-nii was pulling my leg when he told me that Vegas was good for raising funds."
Kagami gave her thoughtful expression a long look and decided that it was better not to ask.
Kuroko took a long pull off his milkshake and set the cup down. "I'm not going to ask what you did to Aomine-kun," he said, finally, after the silence had begun to make Kagami squirm a little. "But. I was wondering."
"Yeah?" Kagami said, with all the hesitation a thoughtful Kuroko could inspire.
Kuroko folded his hands under his chin and stared across the table intently. "Would you consider taking on Akashi-kun for your next project?"
Kagami choked on his burger.
When Kagami brought the mail in, there was one large envelope in among the flyers and the bills and the other junk mail that he spent a couple of minutes puzzling over. The postmarks and postage were impressive—who the heck was sending him things from Italy?—but there was no return address.
Staring at the envelope wasn't going to tell him much, so eventually he ripped it open.
A stack of photographs spilled out into his hands—pictures of goats and ostriches, Aomine laughing as a goat pushed against his fingers, Ted covered in brightly-colored birds, Bill with feathers in his hair, the four of them standing together in front of the sign that welcomed visitors to the Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch, and half a dozen others he remembered taking, sweating under the hot Arizona sun and laughing.
There was a slip of paper, too, with a couple of scrawled lines of writing: Glad you made it home safe. Enjoy the pictures! -Bill and Ted
"Huh," Kagami said out loud, staring at the note and the pictures for a moment longer. He'd been surprised when he'd gotten home and checked his email, and found a couple of emails from people he couldn't even remember meeting in New Orleans, but yeah, this—this he hadn't really expected.
He sorted through them again, thoughtful, and dropped them back in the envelope, making a mental note to go and get duplicates made. Kuroko would want a copy of the one with Aomine and the goats, for sure.
Kagami took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and, okay, he could do this. He practically had the blessing to do it, even. Yeah.
Momoi blinked up at him, expression patient as she waited for him to finish dithering. "Yes?" she said, tone encouraging.
Kagami exhaled. "I was wondering. Do you want to, uh. Hang out sometime?"
She smiled. "I was beginning to think you were never going to ask."