Fandom: Kuroko no Basuke
Pairing: Kagami & Kise
Summary: It’s been four weeks. With every day that goes by that Kise doesn’t wake, the chances of a full recovery decrease. Kagami has every intention of continuing his tireless efforts, but when Kise’s doctor tells him that he’s in the way, he doesn’t take it so well. Mired in feelings of guilt and confusion… How will Kagami cope?
- Circumstances: Future AU; 30ish; Japan
- Cast (Appearances by/Mentions of): Kise, Kagami, Aomine, Kiyoshi, Mitobe, Kuroko, and the rest.
- Genre: Drama/Angst/Romance?
- Rating: Teen
- Warnings: Controlling behavior.
- Word Count: One: 14,900~ | Two: 9200~ | Three: 16,800~ | Four: ??
This story, Volume One, in particular, is told in reference to three points in time:
- the past – Before (the letter)
- the letter
- the present – After (the letter)
- Volume One: COMPLETE
- Volume Two: COMPLETE
- Volume Three: COMPLETE
- Volume Four: BEING WRITTEN
Kagami paced the hallway like an expectant father from an era long since passed. Kise was under the knife for his third skin graft. His doctor said it’s pretty routine to have multiple grafts, but because Kise’s burn is shaped the way it is and because of the areas of the body it covers, he’ll probably ended up having more grafts than most cases.
Aomine returned from his second check-in just in time to be there when Kise was wheeled back in. He was face down, but they had a full-length wedge cushion tucked under his left side. His long black hair was tied up in a bun; even though Aomine had seen it for four days now, he still couldn’t get used to it, especially since his eyebrows were dyed, too. With his hair out of the way, his whole back was exposed and it was the first time Aomine had seen the burn–well, it was partially bandaged, but he could make out the general shape of it. He cringed. “It kind of looks like an unfinished irezumi.”
The doctor’s head whipped in Aomine’s direction and Kagami side-eyed him. However true, all things considered, he shouldn’t have expected that to go over well.
“I know, I know. But…well…” Aomine turned his hands palms up and pushed them toward Kise as if to say, “see for yourself.” He wasn’t offended when they didn’t oblige him.
Before the doctor left, she told Aomine and Kagami that Kise’s cast would be removed the following week to see how things were coming along, but that there was a possibility that it would be recast for another week or so.
Even though Kise only ate with the staff on Sundays, Obaa-chan made Aomine and Kagami eat dinner with them every day.
Obaa-chan smiled as she placed a bowl in front of Kagami. “This was Ryou-chan’s favorite.”
Kagami looked at the bowl of onion gratin that was placed in front of him. He wanted to mention something about what Kise wrote in the email, but he wasn’t sure about bringing it up. “Thanks, I’ll enjoy it for him, too.”
Once all the staff was seated and the various dishes had been set on the table, Aomine noticed that he, Kagami, and Ojii-chan were the only ones with the favored dish.
A grateful but slightly somber appreciation rolled down the table. “Itadakimasu.”
“How was Ryou-chan today?” Obaa-chan’s tone was full of concern, a very intimate concern, the honest kind reserved for those close to your heart.
He ignored it the first time, but Aomine almost choked as he tried to stifle his laugh this time around. The idea of Kise going by Ryou was already weird, but knowing someone called him Ryou-chan was almost too much to take. Even though Kise was fine with calling people by nicknames, he wasn’t so keen on the idea when it was turned on him. Aomine wondered if Kise just endured it or if it, like the place he was staying, was a reflection of how much he’d changed since they last spoke.
Kagami’s thoughts weren’t too far off from Aomine’s, but he’d gotten used to Kise by other names. Maybe “used to” wasn’t quite it, but the sound of those name no longer made him itch, so he had at least gotten to a point where internal growls and resentful comments at their mention had boiled down to a barely noticeable pause that prefixed his audible thoughts. “…Not much change, really, but his surgery went well.”
“Of course, of course,” Ojii-chan said, offering his dismissal of anything to the contrary. “Things always work out for that boy.”
“Somehow…,” Obaa-chan agreed, though her participation felt incomplete.
Aomine and Kagami caught each other’s glance and silently acknowledged that some things must have occurred during Kise stay.
Obaa-chan settled on somehow because that’s all that could really be said at the moment. When she saw Aomine and Kagami exchange looks, she tried to move past the moment. “It’s busy right now, but soon we’ll visit. In the mean time you tell Ryou-chan that his break is over and he needs to get back to work.”
Aomine snickered. Kagami wanted to, but he was annoyed by the idea of that waking Kise up when nothing he’d done so far had.
“You laugh,” she said, plucking her words at Aomine, “but you watch. I don’t know what he’s waiting for, but he’ll wake up soon enough.” She elbowed her husband. “What you think?”
“A week– No! Ten days,” Ojii-chan declared with all confidence. “No more than ten days. He’s already lazed about long enough!”
“See? I would have said in two or three weeks, but he’s always right when it comes to this kind of thing.”
Kagami and Aomine exchanged looks. They certainly hoped so, it had already been a month and with each passing day lessening the chance of a full recovery, they knew they needed more than odds in their favor.
Aomine answered for both of them. “Well let’s hope he’s as sure about it as you are.”
Obaa-chan looked up from her bowl. “You’ll see.”
Aomine stayed long enough to witness Kagami Ryou officially be acknowledged as Kise Ryouta with no repercussions for the real Kagami. Before he left he made sure that the assumed yakuza threat to Kise’s life was cleared. It was a relief to Kagami, especially since he could now let Kise’s mother know it was safe to come. Due to space limitations, it was another few days before Kise could be transferred to the regular ICU, but that gave Kise’s mother time to get used to the situation in a relatively quiet space.
Kise-san looked over and up at Kagami who was escorting her to hr son’s room. “I still haven’t forgiven you for keeping me away.”
“But–” Kagami started.
“I know,” Kise-san said with an almost smile, “but, still… Anyway, I’m here now, so maybe I’ll forgive you..” her brow furrowed, “a little bit.”
Kagami held open the door to Kise’s room to let Kise-san enter. He meant to give her a moment, but when her steps faltered, he rushed in to catch her. “Are you okay?!”
“Ye-Yes…” Kise -san said, her tone soft and uncertain. “I just… It’s been so long and…”
Kagami helped her over to one of the chairs next to Kise’s bed.
“…I thought that…” She took a moment then huffed as if chastising herself. “I really thought that I would be angry when I saw him–all I got for years was pictures; just him, the Shimbun and a wall…that’s all-–but I-I just missed him… I missed my boy.”
Once Kise-san settled in, they tended to her son. Kagami showed her how he talked to him and helped out with Kise’s morning therapy, bathing, and turning–when necessary. “And that’s pretty much it.”
“That doesn’t seem like much.”
“Well, he can’t participate and because of his various conditions, we’re kind of limited in what we can do.”
“…I…I understand that,” Kise-san said, measuring her words, “but I guess what I mean is, is this all you do?”
Kagami stared at her; he wasn’t sure what he should or even could say.
“I am grateful that you’ve been here for him, but…why? Are you and my son…?”
Kagami’s jaw unhinged slightly and a low stuttering sound made its way out.
“I’m already aware of his pref– his…” She thought for a moment, remembering that Kise said that it’s not a preference. “…I’m aware of the variety of people he’s attracted to.”
Kagami sighed. “…No. …Rather, I don’t know for sure what he thought and I don’t know what to think anymore.”
Kise-san looked at Kagami and he could see pity in her eyes. He didn’t know what to do with that. And so they fell into silence.
While Kise-san spent time alone with her son–granted to her after Kagami was “urged” by Kuroko to give them space at least once a day–Kagami used the time to check-in back home, talking to Kiyoshi and Kuroko the most. When lunch came around during the first two days of Kise-san’s visit, they hopped a ferry back from Ishigaki to Kohama to assist with odds and ends as the onsen rebuilt and to dine with the staff. On the first day, everything was delayed about an hour while Kise’s mother cried in Obaa-chan’s arms, showering her with unceasing thanks for watching over her baby boy. Afterwards, they headed back to spend the remainder of the day at Kise’s side.
When Kise’s cast was removed, the doctor was surprised at how quickly and nicely his hand healed and deemed recasting unnecessary. Kagami and Kise-san consulted with the physical therapist and added hand therapy to their routine. They remained hopeful. Kise’s mother was only there for 5 days before she had to return to Kanagawa for a funeral. Kagami saw her off.
“Call me immediately if anything develops,” Kise-san said as Kagami walked her to the terminal. “No matter the hour. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“I will, I promise.”
Kise-san stared up at Kagami. “Ugh, you’re too tall…”
Kagami looked confused, wondering why that mattered now.
Kise-san waved him down to her height. “Okay, that’s better.” She kissed Kagami on his forehead and ruffled his hair. “Please take care of yourself as well, it won’t do any of us any good if you get admitted, too.”
Kagami smiled. “I’ll try.”
Kagami, vigilant in his efforts, continued helping with and tending to Kise, doing everything he could as Ojii-chan’s 10th day loomed a mere 17 hours away. Not that he’d put much stock in it, but he couldn’t deny the small hope. Every so often he would squeeze Kise’s hands as a preface to asking him to squeeze back. When the nurse made his rounds to check Kise’s vitals, he would always ask if there had been any change; sadly, Kagami’s answer was always “no.”
“I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Kagami started as he worked his massage up the length of Kise’s arm,
“did you really read all of those books? Some of them are in Spanish…do you know Spanish?” He was not a conversationalist and he didn’t feel right talking about their past when Kise couldn’t respond, but he’d so many other things on his mind, so many questions about Kise’s new life, that there’d rarely been a quite moment between them. Having reached Kise’s shoulder, Kagami worked his way back down Kise’s arm. “…Okay, don’t be shy; tell me if this hurts…”
A week or so ago, the doctor suggested that he try pressing his thumb nail into Kise’s cuticle, but Kagami told her that he’d have to work up to deliberately causing Kise that kind of pain and wanted to avoid it if possible. Instead, Kagami opted for holding Kise’s right hand in his and pressing hard into his palm with his thumbs. On this day, he was particularly focused and didn’t hear when the door opened and the nurse backed into the room, pulling the cart that contained Kise’s refills.
“Kagami-san, how are you today? And how’s the star of our show, any change?” There was no response. When the nurse turned to see if Kagami was actually there–he had just assumed because Kagami was always there–he saw a look of apprehension on his face…or was that elation? “Kagami-san?”
“He-He…He squeezed back…” Kagami looked up at the nurse, still distracted. “He squeezed back!”
Even though the prognosis had been favorable, the nurse knew not to get a caretaker’s hopes up too high, but he did not want to dash them either. “That’s wonderful Kagami-san! Is he still squeezing?”
Kagami looked down. “Uh…yes…?”
It wasn’t Kise’s left hand–the one that had suffered from the non-congenital myotonia–but the nurse was still concerned since initial responses weren’t usually persistent. “Let’s take his vitals to see what else is going on. …Oh, good, 120/90–“
“Remember what we’ve been talking about,: the nurse said, affecting a positive yet cautionary tone, “things start out slow; today a squeeze and next week a head turn.”
“Or…next week, nothing.” He didn’t mean to be so pessimistic, but he felt that if he said it out loud, it would be easier for him to accept if it ever cam to pass.
Undaunted, the nurse responded, “That’s also a possibility, but we won’t know until we get there. We’re counting on you to keep the atmosphere positive; Kise-san needs all the support he can get. He’s already breathing on his own, his hand has healed, we’re nearly out of the woods with the burn recovery…and
,” he glanced at the monitor, “just now, his blood pressure was 120/90; it has been trending around there for five days, now. See? There’s been so much progress. Now that his body doesn’t have to focus so much on mending itself, it can start diverting its resources back to their regular functions.” The nurse return his stethoscope to his neck. “I’m going to put a call into the doctor so that she can take a look as well. Alright?”
Kagami took a deep breath in an attempt to stave off the tears he felt forming. This was why he didn’t want to think about anything else. It was already too much to deal with what was at hand. But, keeping his promise, he immediately called Kise-san and then sent out a brief email blast to all other concerned parties. The responses were immediate.
Kise’s mother was already preparing for her return the day after the next, so it wasn’t too much to push up her departure. She was followed by Kise’s sisters, the staff of the onsen, Kaijo alum, and a stream of friends and Kohama-jima acquaintances. The doctor encouraged them to have normal conversations in Kise’s presence–the more entertaining, the better. In no time, Kise’s room turned in to a reunion venue. There was much talk about everyone’s day-to-day, future plans and, entertainment news–Kise showed the greatest response in the presence of lively auditory stimuli. But the day that Kagami, Aomine, Kasamatsu, Midorima, Kiyoshi, Kuroko, and Takao managed to pack themselves in the room with some long overdue smack talk in tow, Kise had a breakthrough.
Most of the guys were situated around the foot of Kise’s bed. But Aomine and Kagami stood sentry closer to the head. Aomine turned to say something to Kagami, but was quickly distracted. “Do you see that?!”
The room hushed instantly and everyone’s eyes turned toward Kise.
“If that idiot can smirk,” Midorima’s voice cut through the lull, “he should join the conversation.”
Suddenly, a deeper silence covered the room, because, even more than the corner of Kise’s mouth curling up, they were stunned by the sight of Kagami holding Kise’s hand to his lips trying to coax another response out of him. Their heads whipped to stare down Aomine who threw his hands up, acquitting himself of the onus of providing an explanation.
“Should we…give them a minute?” Takao asked even as he could sense Midorima’s hand open in preparation to meet some unprotected part of his body. He ducked quickly, but not quickly enough. He snickered while rubbing the sting out of the back of his head. Aomine tried to break the tension
“Yo, is he doing anything else?” Aomine called out to Kagami who, in turn, looked up, completely oblivious to the spectacle he had become. Aomine just couldn’t… “Well?”
Kagami returned his attention to Kise just in time to see the smirk fade. It took a considerable amount of effort, but Kiyoshi was eventually able to resume the interrupted conversation, drawing everyone’s gaze away from the anxious puppy that Kagami had become.
The smirk was just the beginning. The first few days Kise’s mother was there, she and Kagami resumed their shared bedside duties. Then…Kuroko arrived.
“If you want to follow that logic,” Kuroko continued as he grew more weary from Kagami’s stubborness and idiocy, “then you are in even less of a position to be there.”
“But–” Kagami didn’t had a sound argument, but he didn’t want to back down either.
“Kagami-kun, your relationship with Kise-kun remains undefined–“
“Huh? We’re friends.”
“…Undefined.” Kuroko glared at Kagami in that way that he does that very few people can read the annoyance behind it, but for those who can, stepping away is usually the safe response. “But she is his mother, ” he continued. “You have been here all this time and although it was for her own safety, you kept her away. Give them more time.” Kuroko wasn’t giving up, but this was his last non-aggressive attempt. “I cannot make you do this, but it is also something no one should have to tell you to do.”
Kagami still had not argument, but he was still hanging on.
Kuroko changed tactics. “Why are you going this far? Have you thought about it? You are not in a relationship with him. He is not your kin…”
Kagami sighed. ” feel…responsible..for…all of this.”
Is that how you really feel,” Kiyoshi interrupted. He’d just arrived and was stopping by on his way to the onsen. “…Or is that what you think makes sense under these circumstances?”
Kuroko and Kagami turned to acknowledge their senpai.
“What does that mean?” Kagami asked, cutting Kuroko off. “What’s the difference?”
Kiyoshi ignored the offense in Kagami’s tone. “It’s a simple question, right? One is the truth and the other is not.” Kiyoshi didn’t wait for an answer. He walked by them and into the room to greet Kise-san.
Ever on-task, Kuroko returned his attention to Kagami. “Give her time.”
Kagami was stubborn and a hard sell, but Kuroko eventually managed to get Kagami to hand over two whole days.
Kise made the most progress in Kagami’s absence–Kagami didn’t take this too well. The first morning without him, Kise’s head turned in response to his name being called. The next day he began squeezing in response to being asked and not just in return for being squeezed first. The day after, the strength of his grip seemed stronger and he exhibited just a fraction of resistance to his assisted therapy. Though there were days that just maintained the status quo, they mostly continued with moderate improvements in quick succession.
Even with the varying levels of responsiveness, Kise had still not managed to open his eyes on his own–the doctor was concerned, but since none of the tests suggested any damage to the occipital lobe nor the extraocular muscles and such, she could only take a wait and see approach–unintentional puns were her favorite.
Kiyoshi and old folks go hand-in-hand like sake and sashimi, so it was to no one’s surprise that he fell in with Ojii-chan and Obaa-chan. When he returned to Tokyo after his first two-day visit, he left with an open invitation and no shortage of Obaa-chan’s nudgings to get married. And he took them up on it. The invitation, not the marriage.
As one of the three owners of The Key, he got 60 days off each calendar year. His habit was to take six weeks all at once and his scheduled sojourn was coming up. Even considering the situation at hand, he had no intention of cancelling or postponing his time off. If he thought Kagami’s impromptu caretaker role was rooted in something other than denial or selfishness, he would have considered postponing his time off. However, Kiyoshi knew that wasn’t the case. Add to that, that Kagami would be maxing out his own 60 days in a week’s time, that Kise was well into recovery, and that Kagami was no longer his only support, and Kiyoshi had every reason to get things back to normal. He made a point of confronting Kagami on his second visit, but to no one’s surprise, Kagami was not entirely willing. “Among other things, it might do you good to take a step back.”
Kiyoshi, Mitobe, the bar staff, and occasionally Koganei had been holding down the fort in Kagami’s absence, but as one of the three owners of The Key, Kagami knew he should be there. Of course he didn’t want to return yet, but how could he even think to refuse when they’d already put up with so much?
“I get what you’re doing, but I don’t think you do.” Kiyoshi had already joined the ranks of the frustrated and wasn’t into going easy on Kagami just because he was heartbroken and didn’t even know it.
Kagami thought Kiyoshi was being weirdly cryptic as usual.
“So let me know.” Kiyoshi clapped Kagami on the shoulder as he left the room.
Kagami tried to digest it all. At first he hesitated, but then he turned to follow Kiyoshi–not knowing exactly what he was going to say, but knowing he had to say something. However, Kiyoshi had one last bit to add and turned back and Kagami nearly collided with him.
“Whoa!” They echoed each other’s surprise.
“My bad,” Kagami said as he stepped back.
“It’s cool.” Kiyoshi wasn’t going to go easy on Kagami, but he knew that his partner was out of his element, so he wasn’t completely unsympathetic. “…Look, I’m not saying you need to return to your 6-day week right away, but your presence should be felt.”
“I get…I get what you’re saying.”
The resignation in Kagami’s voice told Kiyoshi that Kagami meant that he got everything, but Kiyoshi doubted that.
“…I’ll go back this weekend.” So two days became five and his body reluctantly spent those back in Tokyo, while his mind remained anchored in Okinawa.
It was during Kagami’s first week back in Tokyo that Kise first opened his eyes on his own. It was only the day before Kagami left that Kise’s eyes responded to light and approaching threats like someone trying to touch them, but nothing much beyond what the doctor considered involuntary actions had happened since then. The doctor was performing her regular checks when, after she allowed Kise’s eyes to close after being propped open, they blinked a few times and opened on their own.
“Kise-san?” the doctor asked. Her tone was monitored and practiced. She watched Kise look up and turn his head slowly to the right. Although that was where she could be seen, she believed that only her voice registered and that he could not actually see her. The doctor jotted on her tablet, noting how his eyes darted back and forth and how his lids fluttered for a moment, and then closed. She tried again. “Kise-san.”
She called him once more and while his head stayed still, his eyes opened. She watched as his eyes looked left and right a few times before closing again. Even with the three days during the previous week that they could not elicit any reaction at all from Kise, she felt that his recovery was on track and that, very soon, she would be able to declare him to officially be out of the coma.
However, when she considered that those three days as well as Kise’s sporadic lapses into dormancy all coincided with the presence of Kagami, she knew she had an easy decision to make, but hard news to break. She considered Kise as he lay there, his mind and body trying to its way back to the ways it was accustomed to. “I think you’ll be just fine.”
She tidied up her things and waited patiently for Kise’s mother who wold be returning any minute. Just two days later, Kise woke up.
Aomine was done for the day and just like most days, he headed straight to The Key–leave it to three basketball idiots to name their bar that. He’d only been there for 20 minutes, but somewhere behind a closed door, the sound of the third glass shattering against the floor rang out. His curiosity finally peaked. Although Mitobe was right in front of him, he hadn’t figured out how to have a proper conversation with him yet, so he yelled over to Kiyoshi who was counting out a drawer early–they’d been extremely busy that day. “What’s up with butterfingers back there?”
“Hmm…?” Kiyoshi sounded like he was actually considering the question, but the truth was that he didn’t want to talk about it and was choosing a non-committal answer. “Good question.”
Aomine had been hanging out at The Key since it opened a little over four years ago and during that time he had plenty of time to get to know Kiyoshi. But, well, although he chose him over Mitobe, his ability to have a conversation with Kiyoshi wasn’t that much better. He didn’t talk in riddles, but sometimes his quick logic was hard to follow. But, despite that, Kiyoshi had proved himself to be the man with all the answers, so Aomine kept trying. “Did something happen?”
Just as Aomine asked, Kuroko and Ogiwara walked in and took a seat beside him at the bar.
Ogiwara paused a moment before settling into his seat. “What’s with the atmosphere?”
The fourth glass. Aomine chucked his thumb over his shoulder. “That.”
Kuroko looked over his shoulder and then looked back at Aomine. Aomine looked at Kiyoshi and Kiyoshi continued looking at the mirrored wall behind the bar and cleaning glasses.
It was obvious that topic wasn’t going to go away, so Kiyoshi figured he’d steer the conversation to something vaguely resembling his liking. “Anyone who knows what’s going on thinks he’s obsessed and in love with Kise…”
Aomine lowered his double Old Fashioned to the bar top. “Isn’t he?”
“There’s that and that he’s the only one who doesn’t know is really troublesome,” Kiyoshi paused to pick up another glass, “but mixed up in that, or rather, compounding that, is the fact that he now knows for certain that Kise left because of him, but he still has no clue why.” He paused again, but this time for cheesy dramatic effect. “Guilt and confusion make a terrible cocktail.”
No one said anything, but everyone was thinking, “lame.” Kiyoshi could even feel Mitobe at the other end of the bar silently judging him, but Kiyoshi just went on cleaning the glasses.
“S0, what, did he just realize that today and now he’s sulking?” Aomine asked, half annoyed, half amused.
“No,” Kiyoshi said. The word was flat and finite, but somehow gave the impression that, if poked, more would be revealed. But not waiting for anyone to play along, he put the glass in his hand down, turned to face his audience, and spoke to them with a level of nonchalance that was just below that of someone sharing that steaks were on sale, buy one, get one half off. “Kise’s doctor called and told him he was a hindrance to Kise’s recovery and that he should stay away.”
The mouths of the trio on the patron’s side of the bar opened wide as if their jaws had come unhinged.
Kuroko recovered from the unexpected report before his drinking buddies. “Oh…,” he said as he swiveled his stool about 90°. “Ogiwara-kun, we should go.”
“Eh? We just got here.” Ogiwara had barely touched his drink.
“We had a really good day and I want to have a really good night, but I that will be possible if I have to deal with him,” Kuroko explained. “So, if you would…?” And he shot an almost undetectable glance at Ogiwara.
“Well, guys, it’s been real.” Ogiwara said as he slapped the money for their drinks down on the bar top.
Aomine watched them leave. “Damn that little nympho, abandoning me for sex!”
“Well, if Momoi-san wasn’t away on assignment, I doubt you’d stay here either,” Kiyoshi said, glad for the company. Glad to have something to distract him from Kagami now they’d hit a lull in business.
“Yeah, well…,” Aomine agreed with reluctance.
If he was being honest, Kagami would say that it pissed him off that he wasn’t the first face Kise saw when he began registering his environment visually. But he wasn’t being honest, at least not with himself. Kise’s mother delivered the news along with everything else that happened the first week Kagami stayed away. And more the following week. He remembered her saying to him:
“He’s still not sure who I am, but everyday he keeps his eyes open longer and longer and just this morning, he was awake for an hour.”
Then, when Kiyoshi was visiting the onsen in the third week, he told him:
“I was there when he first woke up and when I came back four hours later, he was still up. He went back to sleep not too long after that, though. Anyway, that’s a record. And his mom told me that he even managed to move his arms and legs a bit on his own.”
And the reports continued. Though he didn’t realize it, something pulled at him a little more each time, but he never stopped listening. Week four didn’t see any ground gained, but neither were there any relapses, however, the doctor did express concern about Kise’s lack of speech. He’d been able to communicate some things with hand, head, and eye movements, and he was getting better at mouthing words when prompted, but he had yet to utter even a single word and not even so much as whisper was carried on his breath during his speech therapy. Then, he finally noticed the pull because it had developed a faint sense of urgency behind when Kise’s progress resumed in week five, and Kise-san, with more hope in her voice than he’d heard before, shared:
“He was finally able to take food by mouth without gagging. I think I was happier than he was. Oh! And he scratched his leg! Now that, he was excited about. His grip has improved tremendously over the last few days. Four hours is still the record to beat, but he does more each time he wakes up.”
Kagami could only listen. He could only hold the phone to his ear and listen. They were his only connection now–she and Kiyoshi–and yet, he wanted to shut them up so that they couldn’t talk about the things he didn’t know. He wanted to close their eyes so that they couldn’t see the things he couldn’t see. Nothing made sense to him. Not Kise’s reaction to him, not Kise’s letter, not even his own feelings. The only thing he understood was that every time he thought about not being there for Kise, something distant but pressing dragged at him, causing him to twist and tense up inside. He’d blamed it on guilt, but he honestly didn’t know what he should have felt guilty for. It certainly didn’t help matters that the person who could set him straight seemed to be better off without him around and even if he could be there, Kise wasn’t exactly in a position to communicate complex thoughts and concepts to him. Every day passing day, an emptiness that he thought he’d appeased by moving back to Japan grew.
It was the sixth week when Aomine and Momoi witnessed Kise’s second major breakthrough: recognition. Momoi and Aomine were chatting with Kise’s mother and Obaa-chan who had taken to bringing Kise onion gratin once a week. While Aomine was reminiscing about when he and Kise first met, Kise woke and slowly looked around. He always looked at his mother like she was familiar but couldn’t place her and Obaa-chan was just the nice lady that tried to feed him something that he could almost taste, but couldn’t smell at all. When he first saw Aomine and Momoi, he looked them over but in a way that sort of resembled someone carelessly choosing between two ties because he didn’t want to wear a suit in the first place. Before he even completed his second pass, his eyes were closed again, but about five minutes later, they opened with a start and as he turned toward Aomine and Momoi again, his face lit up.
Aomine pointed to himself and Momoi. “Do you recognize us?!”
Momoi elbowed him and shot her eyes in the direction of Kise-san.
“Satsuki-chan,” Kise-san said as she smiled to lend assurance to her words, “it’s fine…he has to start somewhere.”
Momoi smiled back in apology. Meanwhile, although Kise had taken in the whole exchange, he couldn’t take his eyes off of Aomine.
“Hey.” It was all Aomine could work out at the moment. He couldn’t figure out how to “meet” his best friend again.
“Ki-chan–” Momoi stopped abruptly when Kise’s face twisted in mild disgust. The room could not hold back its laughter and though it was something of a jab at her, Momoi was not immune. Regaining her composure, she tried again. “I’m Momoi Satsuki…,” she said, hoping to further fan the flame of familiarity by using her maiden name, “and this guy here is Aomine Daiki. I managed the basketball team–” Momoi watched as Kise nodded in affirmation, but it was the left tilt of his head that interrupted her and clued her in that he was actually rushing her along.
Aomine caught on as well and was quite amused. “Ha! First time talking to him in such a long time and he tells you you talk to much!”
Momoi elbowed Aomine. “Oh, shut up, Dai-chan! That’s not what he meant!”
Aomine muffled a laugh.
Kise smiled. Then, with great intent, he looked back and forth between his former schoolmates. He remembered them being close, but…
“Oh!” Momoi nudged Aomine as she presented her hand.
“What?” Aomine looked down to see what Momoi was doing and was slow to catch on. When she exaggerated a flick of her wrist, he understood. They exchanged a glance of agreement to hold off on filling in what they had just come to see was at least a seven-year tear in the fabric of Kise’s memory. “Oh, yeah! We got hitched.”
Momoi moved her arms away from her body and looked down, confused when Kise’s eyes traveled to her stomach.
Aomine looked at Kise and then looked at his wife. He quickly swung his arm out to block the view of her breasts. “Cut it out, you perv!”
As his eyes drifted to Aomine, Kise’s expression went blank.
“Wha–? Huh? Oh, gross, Dai-chan!” Momoi looked at Kise once more. “Ah!” She patted her belly. “No kids!” Momoi’s tone hinted at the peace of mind that fact brought her.
Aomine was slightly less enthusiastic. “Oh…yeah, not yet.”
Kise laid back, exhausted from the exchange; it was a bit much to take all at once. Up ’til now, illusory glimpses of his life had flashed and faded in his mind, sometimes leaving without a trace, but seeing Aomine and Momoi brought to him fixed memories and feelings that lingered longer and, in some cases, instigated the awakening of others. The miasma of now and not now that he had been trudging through since he regained consciousness was beginning to dissipate and though this recovered piece of his life made the weight of uncertainty ease just the tiniest bit, there was still a hollowness that he could not define and something told him it wasn’t entirely due to the absence of memories.
Kise-san sat in an upholstered armchair as she waited for a response. With Kise’s birthday approaching and his awareness increasing at a rapid pace, she asked the doctor if Kagami would be permitted to attend the planned celebration.
“For a time,” the doctor considered her words as she addressed the woman on the other side of her desk, “Kagami-san was a great help and the staff really appreciated that. I also know that he cares for your son, but circumstances change and it is your son who is my patient, my first priority, so it is his best interest that I am looking out for.” She waited for some form of acknowledgement from Kise-san before continuing.
Kise-san picked up on the doctor’s cue and answered, “Yes, of course.”
“But…” the doctor continued, “since there will be other people there who can serve as a buffer, I will allow it.”
“Oh!” Kise-san said; it was practically a squeak as she was sure the doctor was going to deny the request.
“However, we will ease your son into it. Just an hour to start. Kagami-san will need to come in with the flow of visitors. He can be neither the first nor the last to arrive.”
“I will not be on that day, but I will be assigning an additional attendant to monitor his mood and vitals.” She paused to jot something down. “If your son becomes agitated or exhibits any sign of stress,” the doctor said with a warning tone, “Kagami-san, or anyone, for that matter, will be asked to excuse themselves.”
“Understood. Thank you.” With that, Kise-san stood and took her leave. She hadn’t informed Kagami of her intentions before hand, so it wasn’t as if he was waiting for an answer, but she wanted to relay the news and conditions to Kagami as soon as possible. But before she could, she had to figure out how to tell him. Although she saw it as a small step, it still seemed to be something of a slap in the face, so she didn’t have the heart to do it. When she spoke to Kiyoshi who had been spending extended periods of time at the onsen and hospital during his six weeks off, he told her he was more than happy to deliver the slash of the double edged sword.
Kise had come so far. He still slept most of the day, but when he was awake he had been spending about 30 minutes to an hour in a wheelchair two to three times each day and his level of awareness had improved to the point that he was able to mark the passing of time. From minutes to days, time had meaning for him once again.
“So, those are the names I got from Satsuki-chan,” Kise-san said as she handed her tablet to her son. “What do you think?”
With his face scrunched and his head tilted, Kise considered the names. He was happy to hear who was coming for his birthday–his 35th, he understood. He didn’t recognize everyone’s name and of some of the ones he did, he couldn’t fully place them; it was exciting, nonetheless.
“Are most of them familiar or unfamiliar?”
Kise thought a moment and then slowly raised his index finger to indicate the first choice was correct. He figured, for those that he didn’t know, there was always a chance that he’d know them on sight and that made him hopeful.
“Well that’s good, right?”
“Good,” she said as she gestured for the tablet. Before she closed the list app, she looked over the list once more and wondered which group Kagami fell into. Kise-san closed the app and looked around the room. “It’s a good thing you were finally able to change rooms. There’s no way even half of that list would fit in the other one.”
Unsteadily, Kise pulled at his hair, studying it. His natural color had grown out to a decent length, but not nearly as long as he saw it in the scrapbooks of his shoots, mag covers, and runways that had been shipped over by his sisters. It was strange to see himself like that–even though he had begun to recover some of those days, none of it seemed to connect to the rest of his life that he’d been re-introduced to. In and of itself, that detachment wasn’t an issue; his doctor told him that even seemingly significant memories could remain isolated from the other events in his life, so that was something he knew he’d have to deal with. What bothered him was that the crowds, the colors, the lights, the locations, they all resonated with that hollowness he’d been experiencing.
He continued inspecting this locks, holding them taut at their ultimate length; the black now looking wrong somehow. His arms and hands trembled as he gathered the bulk into a ponytail and tried to imagine what the length in the photos felt like.
Kise-san looked up from her tablet. “It took me some time to get used to that…the black.” She watched as her son tried to pull the ponytail higher on his head. He’d already been up for six straight hours, so she knew he’d probably reached the limits of his mobility and coordination. She set her now sleeping tablet on the table and moved to assist him. “Do you want it cut?”
Kise had to process the question. He understood the concept itself, but when he thought about his hair and why he would have let it grow that long or why he dyed it, the hollowness vibrated within him.
“We could do it before the party…?”
He nodded. He wasn’t sure that he should, but he didn’t have an exact reason not to.
“I spoke with Teppei-kun while you were in therapy and he said he’ll come up the night before and bring Hyuuga-kun with him,” Kise-san said as she massaged her son’s calf. “Do you know him?”
Therapy ended a little less than an hour ago and he was trying to fight the fatigue, but it wasn’t working, so he only managed a shrug.
“Well, he said he’s a good stylist. He sent a few pictures. One of them was the girl you used to work with all the time… What was her name? Miki-chan? Misa-chan?” As Kise-san considered the names, she finished her massaged and rolled Kise’s sweat pant leg down. “Either way, it seems that he works with her on a regular basis. I didn’t think you’d want a regular barber, so I hope that’s alright…?”
Kise shrugged again. He got that he led a rather glamorous life at one time, but even with the perforated memories, he just had no clue what it was all about–what was the draw? The life he was told of by Obaa-chan seemed more his speed. He couldn’t wait to see those bookshelves in person. He had to stop looking at the pictures one of the triplets sent to his mother because he would get anxious and frustrated with his–though improving, still–incapacitated state.
The night before the party, Kiyoshi and Hyuuga arrived. Kise was confused when Hyuuga mentioned slightly more detailed information regarding their high school connection. Up until now, Kiyoshi had just been “some guy he knew from high school.” The notion of a rivalry made them seem more familiar, but still not familiar enough.
Kise-san watched Hyuuga rake softly through her son’r hair. “Can you do anything with it?”
“Yeah,” Hyuuga responded as he studied the ends. “There’s some split ends, but it’s surprisingly healthy otherwise.”
Kise stared at Hyuuga trying to imagine what he looked like on the court, but he got nothing.
Kiyoshi traded places with Hyuuga and looked down at Kise. He lifted his chin and looked him over. “You’ll be good as new.”
Kise felt himself blush. It was strange. Though he still could not place Kiyoshi, Kise had gotten used to him and really liked him.
Kise-san observed the exchange. She knew they got along and that her son seemed really fond of Kiyoshi, but she wondered exactly how much.
The morning of the party, Kise achieved one of his most recent goals of walking the length of the 3 meter parallel bars without assistance.
“Alright! You look like you could go again,” the physical therapist cheered. “But I think that’s enough for today. We don’t want you sleeping through your party.”
Kise couldn’t help but agree. For a split second he considered trying to walk back, but the idea of sleep appealed to him so much more.
After waking from his six-hour nap, Kise sat in his wheelchair at the left end of the table in his room. He was awake and ready. And with his hair cut, he felt good and thought that maybe he felt like himself, but he couldn’t be sure about that. Around quarter to four, guests began filing into Kise’s room in groups of twos and threes. He noticed his mother off to the side with the additional attendant that was assigned by the doctor and the main attendant stood in the hall to brief people before their turn. Kise briefly wondered what it would be like to not be watched all hours of the day.
Kise greeted the groups. Aomine and Momoi. Kasamatsu, Nakamura, and Moriyama. Obaa-chan and Ojii-chan. The triplets. Kagami and Kuroko. Midorima, Takao, and Murasakibara. Kise’s sisters. And bringing up the rear was Hyuuga and Kiyoshi. It took about an hour for each group to get their five or so minutes in before they went off to place their gifts and envelopes at the other end of the table and mingle. When Aomine and Momoi’s turn was up, Aomine went into the hall and Momoi stayed behind to help introduce everyone else.
There was an immediate, palpable tension in the room when Kuroko and Kagami’s turn came. Kise sensed it, but wasn’t sure what to make of it.
Momoi did he best to keep the tremor out of her voice. “This is K–” She stopped when she noticed the glow on Kise’s face as he set his eyes upon Kuroko.
“It’s good to see you, Kise-kun.” Kuroko offered a rare smile.
Momoi first saw that look in Kise’s eyes when he recognized her and Aomine. As a matter of formality, she made the introduction anyway. “Tetsu-kun played with you at Teikou. When we all went our separate ways, he ended up at Seirin, the same school as Kiyoshi-san, Hyuuga-san, and the guy next to him, Seirin’s Ace, Kagami Taiga.”
Though Kagami’s position could be considered as next to Kuroko, he actually stood nervously at a small distance in his wake. “Hey,” he said as he fidgeted with the presents he held behind him.
Kise looked him over and then a small, polite smile formed on his face. It was the smile of unfamiliarity. Kagami returned the smile, though anyone could tell it was forced. Kise’s attention returned to Kuroko.
For his part, Kuroko tried to ease the tension by talking about what he’d been up to for the last five years. “Ogiwara also runs a kendo dojo over our sporting goods shop. Occasionally I contribute short stories to magazines–“
“He’s even received a bunch of awards,” Kagami interjected.
“Don’t exaggerate, Kagami-kun. There have only been three.”
Kise looked at the guy who came with Kuroko with interest. The way his head was cocked suggested that he wanted to know what he had been up to as well.
Rather than being happy, Kagami was unsettled by Kise’s interest. Upon Kise’s awakening, though she didn’t outright ban it, his doctor requested that detailed discussions of Kagami be limited until it had been proven that they could interact without Kise becoming agitated or unresponsive. So, while Kise new he’d lived in LA for a while, he remained ignorant to the actual circumstances. It was easy enough for everyone to get away with as they were all back in Japan and once he moved in with Kagami, and stopped modelling, he never left the states until that day. Aware of this, Kagami proceeded with caution. “I…run a bar with Kiyoshi and my other senpai, Mitobe.” Kagami looked at Kuroko, unsure of what to say next.
“Kagami-kun also collects sneakers,” Kuroko added, thinking that it was specific without going too deep.
“Huh?” Kagami was caught off guard by Kuroko’s choice of topic. “Oh, yeah. I collect sneakers and occasionally supply them for…special events.”
Kuroko looked at Momoi who was discreetly signaling him. “It looks like our turn is up. We’ll come back once you greeted everyone.” Kuroko turned to add his gift to the growing pile.
Kagami, on the other hand, gave on of his gifts to Kise. “For when you get out.”
Kise looked at the basketball in his lap. As he ran his hands over the nubby surface he could feel the lingering heat the guy left behind.
Kagami nodded in conclusion and made his way to place his second gift with the others.
Next up was Midorima with Kise’s lucky item for the day, Takao with their actual birthday/get well gift, and Murasakibara with his signature limited edition confections from his cake shop even though he’d also supplied the cake for the occasion.
Kise-san looked on. She couldn’t help but notice how Kise’s attention began wandering after Kuroko and Kagami moved on. He was definitely engaged with his visitors, but every so often his eyes would search the room as his hands absentmindedly examined the ball.
When the last group moved on, Kise earnestly searched the small crowd for the guy who gave him the basketball. Something stirred in him–it was like an extremely low droning sound and rather than vibrations, he felt something pulsate deep with in him. He looked over all the faces, but the guy was nowhere to be seen.
Kagami remained in the hall after Aomine went back into the room. He started walking towards the stairwell as he pulled out his phone to send a text to Kuroko letting him know that he was heading back. Before he reached the door or finished the text, he heard Kiyoshi call out to him.
“Where are you going?” Kiyoshi walked halfway up the hall to avoid yelling. “We’re getting ready to bring out the cake.”
Still facing the door, Kagami answered, “I’m…uh…nowhere…”
“You’re a terrible liar,” Kiyoshi said as he folded his arms across his chest, annoyed. “So, you’re just gonna leave?”
Kagami didn’t even know why he tried. Even if he was a great liar, Kiyoshi would still see through it. He turned to look over his shoulder. “Well, there’s not much for me to do here.”
“Stop being so selfish.” Kiyoshi stepped closer.
Kagami turned all the way around at the accusation. “Huh? How is that selfish?” But he was altogether clueless.
Kiyoshi sighed. “I thought you left that bad habit back at Seirin.”
“What’s the point of me being here?” His shoulders shrugged and his arms opened in emphasis. “He has no idea who I am. It’s not like he’s gonna miss me”
“Like I said, “selfish.” Kiyoshi eliminated the distance between them to make sure he had Kagami’s full attention. “It’s not about you. Nobody gives a damn that your feelings are hurt. It’s his day. We came to celebrate him and wish him well.”
Kagami averted his gaze and was relieved when Kiyoshi took a step back.
He really want to shake Kagami. “You stayed by his side for weeks while he was completely unreachable, now you want to abandon him because he didn’t recognize you at first glance? Man, get over yourself!”
Kagami’s shoulders slumped, but his full attention snapped back to Kiyoshi when he felt his finger jab into the middle of his chest.
“Acting like that,” Kiyoshi jabbed again, “you don’t deserve to be acknowledged by him.” Kiyoshi relaxed, shoved his hands in his pockets, and rocked back on his heels. “Yeah. So…cake? I can’t say much for the man himself, but Mursakibara’s cakes are good, and I want to make sure I get a good slice.”
Kagami had known him long enough, but it was always weird when Kiyoshi switched gears. He stared as Kiyoshi turned to leave. “…S-Sorry.”
Kiyoshi paused but didn’t turn around. “You sure are, but even sorry asses like you should be able to put their idiocy aside long enough to enjoy some cake. But you should come now, because I’m not saving you a slice.”
The crowd had gathered around Kise and Kagami found himself in what could be considered the third row. Everyone stepped aside to allow the main attendant to make his way to the front with the cake. All the guests marveled at the book stack cake that was suggested my Aomine. The attendant advanced carefully, shielding the flame of the single candle that looked like a ribbon being used for a bookmark.
Everything happened so fast, but Kagami saw it first. He shouted as he pushed his way to the front. “THE FLAME!”
Kise went ghostly pale. His posture stiffened, then slackened.
Kagami quickly extinguished the candle, but it was too late, Kise had already fainted. The secondary attendant cleared the room of everyone except Kise’s mother as the main attendant stored the cake and Kagami carried Kise to his bed.
“Even though they said Kobe didn’t press for Phil’s termination, I think he did and I agree with Shaq on that.” Two hours had passed and Kise had not stirred. The nurse had come and said that he was fine, just significantly overwhelmed. Kise-san stepped out to see the onsen family off. In the meantime, Kagami sat under the only light on in the dim room as he read Kise’s second present–Phil Jackson’s biography–to him and added in his own commentary along the way. “…Never thought I’d say that.”
Finally some of the tension from Kise’s earlier panic had begun to subside and Kagami felt like he might doze off–it’d be a blessing. He stopped reading for a bit and let his thoughts wander, trying to decide if he should offer his apology–one that he hadn’t fully formed, but felt like it was owed–to someone who didn’t even know who he was. It was probably better to wait. Also, that would give him more time to figure out what he was apologizing for. Kagami slouched in the chair and sighed, he thought it’d be fine if he let sleep take him for a bit.
Kise let out a low gravelly moan as he opened his eyes. His throat felt weird, like he hadn’t spoken in ages. But that wasn’t all. He ached. Everywhere. He turned his head a few degrees one way and then the next to take in his surroundings. His eyes shut quickly. Nothing was moving but his head was pounding and he felt like the room–a hospital room?–was spinning. A jumble of memories flooded him. Kise opened his eyes once more. Yup. A hospital room. With that acknowledgement, ideas and dreams and memories began to unshuffle themselves and dots began to connect. Though, not all of them. He looked down and read the name of the hospital on the edge of the sheet that bunched at his waist. Okinawa…? Oh…right.
Suddenly the room was noisy. Or, rather, he’d just realized there were sounds to hear. Outside his door, there were people talking and milling about, carts rolling and elevators dinging. But in his room he could hear the hum of his support machines, the light droning of heating and cooling system, and low…snore? Kise look around the whole room and finally saw someone napping in the corner. “Kagamicchi?”
Kagami was startled to attention at the sound of his name… that name.
“You’re a long way from home,” Kise said as he settled back into bed and closed his eyes without making contact with Kagami. His throat still felt weird. “Heh… You must be lost.”