lysapadin: pen & ink painting of bamboo against a full moon (Default)
[personal profile] lysapadin
Title: Bird on a Wire
Characters/Pairings: Aomine/Kuroko; Kuroko/Kagami; Aomine/Kise; Momoi Satsuki; Midorima Shintarou; Murasakibara Atsushi
Summary: Aomine's very bad day, and what happened after. Or, it takes a village to raise Aomine.
Notes: Alternate careers AU; adult for smut; pining and bittersweetness. 41,169 words.

This fic has its own theme song, "Bird on a Wire," which is also the source of the epigraph and (obviously) the title.

With deepest appreciation for [personal profile] branchandroot, who always helps me untangle the thorniest plot tangles, and [personal profile] andreaphobia, whose unrelenting enthusiasm for this fic made it particularly easy to keep up the writing momentum.

Additional pertinent information: #terrible things I have done to Aomine #beware of Feels #Aomine logic is not earth logic #Aomine needs therapy #I like to hurt the ones I love #I love Aomine an awful lot #Kise too #but trust me anyway #I know what I'm doing #I promise #besides #Kagami is a pure-hearted shounen hero

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five


~~~~~~~~~~


Bird on a Wire

Part One

Like a baby, stillborn,
Like a beast with his horn
I have torn everyone who reached out for me.


There was one point on which Kagami Taiga and Aomine Daiki were in full and absolute agreement, and it was this: it was all Tetsuya's fault. Oh, there were certainly contributing factors in play, neither of them could or would have bothered to deny it, but the beginning of it was definitely Tetsuya's doing. Daiki might have antagonized his boss a time or two too many by submitting half-assed paperwork (what, he was a busy guy, and besides, who cared as long as the bad guys ended up behind bars where they belonged, geez) and Taiga might have been a little too slow about paying back the favors he owed the other guys at the firehouse (he was gonna return the favors, seriously, except that nothing had really come up lately; otherwise he wouldn't have owed so many of the guys all at the same time, honest), but it was definitely Tetsuya who had gone to his principal and pitched the idea to him with heartfelt sincerity beaming from every pore (Tetsuya had never claimed not to be evil).

"It's a safety issue," he had said, calm and collected, hands folded neatly in front of him and eyes beaming earnest concern for the welfare of his charges. "The students should know that if they're ever in trouble, they can trust the police and the fire department and other emergency personnel to help them. Don't you think?"

And because the idea came from Kuroko Tetsuya, who was a ninja when it came to getting his own way about things, his principal had agreed with whole-hearted enthusiasm. Not that Kiyoshi Teppei ever agreed to ideas without wholehearted enthusiasm, of course, especially when they had to do with getting students involved in the community and promised the excuse for holding a carnival to boot. His vice-principal kicked up more of a fuss, mostly on the principle that organizing the darn event was going to land on his shoulders, but then, as Kiyoshi pointed out, clapping him on the back, wasn't that what vice-principals were for? And Hyuuga Junpei could not disagree.

And that was how the first annual Seirin Elementary Academy Donuts with the Departments festival had its genesis.

And it was all definitely Tetsuya's fault.

*

The thing was, and Daiki had argued this point strenuously to anyone who would stand still long enough to listen, the thing was, he wasn't good with kids. Like, at all. Like, he didn't understand the little monsters, who (as monsters did) excreted various sticky and/or smelly fluids and operated on baffling, incomprehensible agendas of their own devising.

Not that anyone had listened to him—not his partner, who had rolled her eyes at him and told him to suck it up (and since it was Satsuki, had gotten away with so doing) and definitely not his boss, either. Imayoshi-keishi had listened to Daiki's itemized list of reasons why he shouldn't be assigned to go to some elementary school or another's festival to fingerprint rugrats and make nice with the little brats while he was at it, had smiled sweetly the whole time, and then, once Daiki had wound up with his triumphant conclusion, said, "I'm sorry, at what point was I unclear? This wasn't a request. It was an order."

So that was a bust.

And so Daiki rolled himself out of bed on what should have been his day off, had the world been a just place, pulled on his uniform, and made the commute across town to the frou-frou elementary school that wanted to acquaint its students with various members of the emergency services. Or something like that; Satsuki had been the one paying attention, not him.

She was waiting for him at the school's front gates, at least, every inch of her neatly pressed, and holding two cups of coffee. Daiki appropriated the one on the left—black, two sugars, definitely his—and grimaced in acknowledgment of her greeting. "No booze in this?" he asked after tasting it, brandishing the cup.

Satsuki rolled her eyes. "It's not even eight in the morning yet. Also, you're supposed to be setting a good example for the children."

"Which is why there ought to be whiskey in here," Daiki told her as she retrieved the box at her feet and took off at a brisk clip. He followed after her, since she seemed to know where she was going and all. "I need something to fortify myself."

"Then you should have gotten your own damn coffee," Satsuki told him, cruel and unforgiving to the core.

Daiki accepted this philosophically, because Satsuki pretty much was the ideal partner on most other points, and cradled his unadulterated coffee close to his chest while she led them to the school's office and greeted the guys there. Principal and vice-principal, by the sounds of it, one beaming and cheerful and the other harassed and on the cranky side. Good-cop/bad-cop, Daiki figured, sort of amused by it now that he was starting to wake up properly. Well, if it worked for them.

Good cop, Kiyoshi, was the one who finally clapped his hands together and said, "But let me show you where you'll be spending the day!"

"Great," Daiki muttered, and followed the man and Satsuki through the halls of the school—bright with primary colors and children's artwork and lined with classrooms filled with half-sized desks—while Satsuki and Kiyoshi babbled back and forth cheerfully with each other about the heavens only knew what—how splendid an idea this little festival was, by the sounds of it, Satsuki complimenting him on the brilliance of the idea and Kiyoshi demurring, palming off the credit to one of the teaching staff instead.

Daiki listened with half an ear for a name, in case the teacher in question had any kind of outstanding parking tickets or something (Daiki would be the first to admit that he wasn't always above being petty), but it wasn't until Kiyoshi was ushering them back outside that he dropped a name. "As you can see, Kuroko-kun has put a lot of work into preparing for today!"

Daiki tripped on the step and whipped an incredulous look at the guy, who was gesturing with evident pride at the banner floating in the morning breeze, emblazoned with the school's name and the festival title (Donuts with the Departments, what the hell). It waved over the school's athletic field, where there were not only tables already set up with cheerful signs promising "Fingerprinting here!" and "Free donuts!" among other things, but also a fire truck and an ambulance in living color.

"Oh!" Satsuki said, sounding worried. "Should we have brought a police cruiser? I didn't even think of that."

"Satsuki," Daiki hissed, because who cared about a stupid police cruiser when there were more important issues at stake. "Did he just say Kuroko?"

It was still too early in the morning to even think of being stealthy, which was probably why Kiyoshi turned that beaming smile on Daiki and said, "Yes, Kuroko Tetsuya! He's one of my best teachers. Do you know him? Oh, wait, here he is now!"

And indeed, that was definitely Kuroko Tetsuya breaking away from the cluster of firefighters and EMTs and approaching them, still slim and fair-skinned and imperturbable.

"What the fuck," Daiki said, blank with shock, and so the first thing Tetsu said to him after five years was "I'm sorry, but please don't use language like that on school grounds."

Not surprisingly, Daiki's day went downhill from there.

*

"Don't you ever listen to anything Imayoshi-keishi says?" Satsuki demanded after Kiyoshi had given him a sad-puppy look over Daiki's bad language and Tetsu had politely ushered them over to the table that was going to be their station for the day. "He said where we were going to be working at least ten times! I can't believe you missed that."

"Of course I wasn't listening. That's what you're for," Daiki said, exasperated, keeping one eye on Satsuki and the other on Tetsu, who had drifted over to the little cluster of firefighters and the EMTs, who were all standing around and shooting the shit like they were fucking overjoyed to be here. He looked good, Tetsu. Like he hadn't changed a bit. "Besides, why would knowing the school's name make any difference?"

Satsuki heaved a sigh of mingled pity and despair. "You mean you honestly didn't keep up with Tetsu-kun at all?" she asked, unpacking the box she'd brought along with her efficiently enough despite her sorrow at his personal failings in life. "Oh, Dai-chan."

Daiki watched her lay out inkpads and forms and the cheerful, friendly pamphlets that usually sat forgotten and forlorn at the station's front desk, and the awful truth dawned on him. "You mean you did?" Lucky for him, outrage at this betrayal strangled his voice enough that he didn't shout it. "You knew?"

"Of course I knew," Satsuki said, calmly enough that even in his outrage Daiki could tell that the ice beneath his feet was getting thin. "I assumed you did, too, and that was why you were whining so much." She glanced away from their table to where Tetsu stood talking to one of the firefighters, head tilted back to look up at him, smiling faintly. She bit her lip. "Oh, dear."

Daiki didn't have to know what that meant to know it wasn't good. "What?"

He knew the smile she turned on him then, because he'd seen her deploy it when talking with victims, all gentle sympathy and understanding. "Nothing, never mind. Call the station, would you? Maybe we can get someone out here with a cruiser before the kids show up. We don't want to be outshone!"

"Satsuki." The flatness of it made her wince. "What is it?"

It worked on her just about as well as it did on perps. Satsuki darted her eyes away from his and knotted her hands together. "Not now, Dai-chan," she said. "I'll tell you later, I promise. First we have today's festival to get through." She smiled at him again, bright and fake. "Think of the children!"

"Oh, fuck," Daiki said, but quietly, since they were on school grounds and all.

"The cruiser," she said, which was obviously a distraction from whatever the fuck it is she didn't want to tell him. Daiki took it anyway, digging his phone out of his pocket and turning his back on the whole cluster of them while he dialed the station. Admittedly, Satsuki did know him pretty well—having something concrete to do, even if all it was consisted of yelling at Sakurai until he agreed to send someone over post-haste, settled him down again. So the mastermind behind this infernal school festival was Tetsu. So what? Wasn't like it meant anything now. Five years was a lot of time, and everything from back then was over and done with. Yeah. Over and done. Ancient history.

He was just exhaling and squaring himself for the day and the trials it promised when Tetsu said, right at his elbow, "Excuse me, Aomine-kun, but we're going to go over the day's agenda now." As Daiki yelped—fuck's sake, how had he forgotten the way Tetsu could move like a cat?—Tetsu blinked up at him, completely straight-faced (which had always used to mean he was cracking up inside) and raised the white bakery box he held. "Donut?"

"Tetsu," Daiki started, only to find that he didn't know what he wanted to say. He stared at Tetsu, and finally plucked a donut out of the box and said, "Yeah, sure. Thanks."

Tetsu nodded and turned. "Over here," he said and led him back over to the gathered cluster of people—the meeting, Daiki guessed, munching on his donut and trying not to get too many crumbs on himself. There were more teacher-looking types now, and he recognized some of the faces of the firefighters and EMTs, even if he couldn't put names to them all—he'd seen them on emergency calls, probably, though it was maybe a little strange seeing them all looking relaxed and cheerful instead of—well. That figured.

Tetsu handed around sheets of paper and nametags printed in round, friendly type. Daiki started to protest that he didn't need a nametag, not when his uniform had his name on it, but Satsuki drove her elbow into his side with the precision honed of years' experience, so he sulkily peeled the damn thing off its backing and applied it to his shirt while Tetsu launched into a little speech. "Thank you all for volunteering your time and effort today," he said, eyes wide and earnest as he swept them around the loose ring of them. (Volunteered, hah!) "We absolutely could not do this without you."

Daiki dropped his eyes from Tetsu's face and studied the agenda instead, and got another nasty shock for his pains. There was damn near a full day's activities scheduled—well, he'd already known about that—but the agenda had him and Satsuki split up for the day, which he hadn't counted on at all. But there it was, in plain terms: Fingerprinting booth, Aomine Daiki + volunteer. Who was "volunteer" and more importantly, why wasn't it Satsuki? But she was down on the schedule for the "Why Police Officers Are Your Friends" talk at three different points over the course of the day, which suggested that whoever had put the schedule together had never seen her in riot gear or tearing up a partner in the dojo. (Or that whoever had put the schedule together had a subtly evil sense of humor—stop it, Daiki.)

"As you can see, we'll have the children coming through in several waves by age groups, and our parent volunteers will be on hand to assist you in any way they can," Tetsu was telling them when Daiki tuned back in. "We'll have a break at noon for lunch, and we'll also buy dinner for the survivors at the end of the day." He paused delicately and added, "Within reason, of course."

The firefighters snickered; one of them nudged another. "Hey, Kagami, I think he's talking about you."

But the guy in question—tall, red-haired, the same one Tetsu had been talking to before—was frowning. "Oi, what do you mean, the survivors?"

Oh, Daiki knew what that faintly embarrassed aura of apology meant when Tetsu adopted it; seeing it now sent a shiver down his spine. "Well," he said, "working with young children can be a bit tiring if you're not used to it."

"Oh my god, we're all going to die," Daiki told Satsuki, who merely swatted his shoulder and told him to stop whining. But Daiki looked at the way Tetsu was carefully not smiling and knew he was absolutely right.

*

Four hours later, Daiki watched the last meter-tall hellion wander away with its keepers, looked around to be sure none of its companions had lingered behind, and then put his head down on the table in front of him and moaned quietly in despair. He'd been wrong: death would have been a mercy.

Also, there was something sticky underneath his forehead. He thought about that, but decided that he neither wanted to know what it was he had planted his face in nor cared that that it was probably getting all over him.

"I think that went rather well, don't you?" his volunteer parent chirped next to him. "You're really wonderful with children, aren't you? Do you have any of your own?"

"Not that I'm aware of," he said, not lifting his head, and wondered whether their medical plan covered vasectomies. He'd have to ask Satsuki; she would know.

"Well, not to worry, dear, I'm sure you'll have them someday." She patted his shoulder. "How's your hand feeling?"

Thus reminded, it began to throb again where the one brat—"I don't want my fingerprints taken," he'd said, adamant, and then "I'm going to bite you now"—had tried to take a chunk out of him. Daiki grimaced against the table and rubbed it. "It'll be fine," he said, even though last time he'd looked there had been a perfect circle of teeth-shaped bruises purpling up there.

She practically cooed. "So good with them! But come along, dear, I think they have our lunches ready for us."

Heaven only knew that he'd need all the strength he could muster to survive the afternoon onslaught without attempting to murder a small child. Daiki permitted himself another moment of resting his head in whatever-it-was and then peeled himself away from the table.

Looked like jam from one of the donuts that another of the rugrats had dropped during his fingerprinting. Daiki grimaced at it and reached for the wet wipes they were using to clean the brats up after they'd been printed and did what he could to scrub it off his forehead, then rose and went over to where Kiyoshi and his grumpy vice-principal were handing out boxed lunches to the adults.

Satsuki looked just as fresh now as she had earlier that morning and was deep in conversation with one of the EMTs—his nametag said Izuki. She broke off whatever it was when Daiki joined her, but that was because she was laughing at him. "You look like you've been through the wars."

"I hate children," Daiki told her, sullen. "Hate them so much."

Satsuki didn't actually seem to believe him and merely dimpled at him. "You'll feel better when you've had something to eat." She then turned her dimples on Izuki, who reeled back from them like a man stunned, and told him, "We'll have to talk more later!" as she steered Daiki in the direction of food.

"Are you seriously trying to pick up dudes at an elementary school festival?" Daiki demanded of her once they were out of Izuki's earshot.

Satsuki tossed her head. "I refuse to let myself be judged by someone who has made as many poor life decisions as I know you have." Which was, Daiki noted, not a denial, and was the real problem with working with his childhood best friend. She knew where all his bodies were buried (usually because she had been the one to help him bury them).

"I'm still judging you," Daiki informed her as they joined the scrum for their lunches and a pair of bottled sodas.

"And I'm ignoring you," she said airily, hooking her arm in his and holding on like a lamprey. "Oh, look! There's Tetsu-kun. I promised him I'd eat lunch with him. Come on."

"What? No!" Daiki protested, but all that got him was Satsuki's nails digging into his arm while she dragged him over to where Tetsu had claimed a shady spot beneath a tree and was surveying his festival with placid eyes. He had some of his fellow teacher types with him, plus a couple of the firefighters, who were lolling on the grass and evidently relieved to be able to strip out of the outer layer of their gear for a little while.

Not that Daiki felt particularly in charity with them at the moment. They'd been demonstrating their truck's siren and lights at regular intervals all morning. The headache from all that racket was still pinching his temples.

There was still plenty of room under the tree for both of them, unfortunately, so Satsuki plopped herself down next to Tetsu and Daiki had no choice but to follow her of his own volition or risk being pulled down willy-nilly. He gave the others a vague nod of greeting and turned his attention to his lunch to save himself having to interact with—anyone. Yeah. Anyway, Satsuki could be counted on to do the talking. She was already introducing herself to the people sitting around Tetsu she hadn't already met, which was pretty much a couple of the teachers and the firefighters. Kagami and Mitobe, the latter of whom was apparently the quiet type.

Daiki approved. The world could always use more people in it who knew how to keep their mouths shut. Not that there wasn't some virtue in Satsuki's ability to make conversation with a rock—she had barely gotten comfortable before she was off and running, chattering with the teachers and then Kiyoshi when he joined their little luncheon—all about the festival and the school. Really was a frou-frou kind of a place, Daiki gathered, listening to them—the kind of place that had real money behind it, clear in the way everything was nice and shiny-new, not to mention the fact that every parent volunteer was wearing far nicer clothes than Daiki would have chosen for a day of working with packs of grubby knee-biters.

Just beyond Satsuki, Tetsu sat and ate his lunch quietly, picking through it and choosing the bits that he wanted—no change there, either. Tetsu never had eaten enough to keep a bird alive. Daiki couldn't remember the number of times Tetsu had left half the food on his plate and said, when challenged on it, "But I'm not hungry any more. You can have the rest if you want it."

Daiki would have sworn that sometimes Tetsu had deliberately ordered more than he'd cared to eat, just to be able to push his plate across the table and let Daiki have the rest. It was the kind of thing Tetsu tended to do, all without raising any fuss over it.

Damn. He was gonna have to get Satsuki for springing this on him, seriously. There was no call at all to drop a man into the kind of situation that called up ancient history without warning him first.

As Daiki munched steadily through his own meal and Satsuki chattered away with Kiyoshi (really, they were expecting more kids in the afternoon? Damn), Tetsu picked one last bite out of his lunch, eyed it thoughtfully before consuming it, and set his chopsticks down, clearly finished. Daiki snorted softly, tempted to say something about unchanged habits—no, that was a terrible idea. Not that an idea's being terrible had ever stopped him before.

He was just opening his mouth to say something when Tetsu passed what remained of his lunch to Kagami without ceremony, and Kagami—already done with his own lunch—grinned and began demolishing the remainder of Tetsu's lunch with all the zest in the world.

What the fucking fuck, Daiki thought and—barely—did not say out loud. What the fuck was that?

There was a buzzing in his ears, loud enough to drown out Satsuki's conversation, and the food in his mouth suddenly tasted like concrete. He swallowed it mechanically, worrying it down out of habit as he watched Tetsu watch Kagami, seeing all the pieces of evidence laid out in front of him, all but labeled for his convenience, and not wanting to fit them together to see the pattern they made. They were wrong, they had to be wrong, didn't they?

He was staring too hard; Tetsu felt it. (Tetsu had said, once, without a breath of laughter in his voice, "I always know when you're looking at me.") He glanced at Daiki and raised one eyebrow slightly, Tetsu-speak for Was there something? When Daiki continued to stare, he glanced away again, like it didn't matter. Like it didn't matter at all.

Daiki belatedly realized that he was squeezing his fingers around his chopsticks too hard when one of them snapped in half and drove a splinter right into the ball of his thumb. He swore, dropping them and his lunch, and Satsuki broke off what she was saying to look at him in surprise—Kiyoshi, too, again with the disappointed puppy look—fuck being on school grounds, Daiki thought savagely, sucking on his injured thumb, unaccountably furious with everything. Fuck school grounds and fuck not swearing and fuck little kids who bit like piranhas and most of all, fuck this day.

"Are you all right?" Satsuki asked while everyone, even Tetsu, stared at him like he was some kind of bizarre sideshow brought here for their amusement. "What happened? Let me see."

"It's nothing, it's fine," Daiki growled. Not that doing so stopped her from grabbing his hand and peering at it. "Seriously, Satsuki, it's fine—"

"It's not fine," she said, unshakable. "I think you have half a tree stuck in here—good grief, what's this?" She'd noticed the bite marks.

"One of the little—" He barely stopped himself before the word bastards crossed his lips, thought about substituting brats, and decided discretion was the better part of valor. "—kids bit me."

"Kyouya," Tetsu sighed, full of resignation. "He's going through a biting phase."

"Obviously." Satsuki set her own lunch down. "Come on, Dai-chan, you need to get this looked at."

Daiki would have argued with that, normally—really he would have—but at that point, it was a clear-cut reason to get up and away from Tetsu and Kagami, who had continued to stuff his face with Tetsu's leftovers during the dramatics. So why the hell not let Satsuki drag him off and dragoon the EMT guy, whatsisname, Izuki, into digging the splinter back out of his thumb and peering at the bite marks with a critical eye. At least Izuki didn't laugh at him (out loud) and he had a bottle of aspirin and was willing to share, which at least helped with Daiki's headache.

Satsuki glanced at him, sidelong, when he headed for his booth instead of the circle of people sitting under that damned tree, and probably had no trouble seeing that he was avoiding looking at Tetsu and his—friend. She was almost subdued. "So—"

"So I'm trying to figure how—how many of the brats I've taken prints of this morning are gonna show up in juvvy in a few more years?" Daiki said, because there was nothing he wanted to talk about with just then. Nothing. "I figure smart money's on the brat with the teeth for sure. Kid's gonna be a menace to society, just wait and see."

Satsuki sighed and tucked a wisp of stray hair behind her ear. "Have it your way, then." She fixed a look on him. "For now. This really isn't the right time anyway."

"There is never going to be a right time," Daiki assured her. "Never ever." He shooed a hand at her. "Go away, let me get this crap cleaned up before the next wave of little monsters comes out." He even began shuffling piles of papers, clean forms still awaiting knee-biter prints and discarded ones covered in smudges and the neat ones that had been discarded by their disinterested owners. The jam was still drying in the sun, so he grabbed another wipe and began scrubbing at it.

Satsuki watched him in silence, judging him, and finally just shook her head. "These coping skills you have are what make you such a prize, you know. It amazes me that no one has snapped you up yet."

"Who wants that?" Daiki snorted. "Commitment is boring—stop me if I'm quoting you wrong, by the way."

Satsuki scowled at him. "What I may or may not have said after a breakup has nothing to do with you, and you know it." She looked away, searching something out—yeah, she was looking at Tetsu again. Of course. "You know, back then—"

"Oh, would you look at the time," Daiki said loudly. "Excuse me, would you? I got something to take care of before the kids come back." And he beat a hasty retreat to the men's room. (Not that Satsuki was above following him there, but the present circumstances were neither dire nor alcohol-soaked enough for that, and thank fuck for small mercies.) God, women. Why did they always want to talk about things?

That was unfair to Satsuki and he felt vaguely guilty even thinking it, like somewhere Satsuki was balling up her fist to punch him and she didn't even know why, but he shoved that aside. He wasn't going to think about that, either.

At least there was a modicum of peace to be found in the restroom, enough to let him take a deep breath and square his shoulders and remind himself that it didn't matter, none of it mattered, and besides, Tetsu had been the one to leave back then, anyway. So fuck it, nothing had really changed. Not really.

With things thus settled inside his skull, Daiki was therefore in the perfect frame of mind to discover that he'd spent at least the past hour or more walking around with some kid's inky handprint marked out on his chin and no one had said anything about it. He stared at his reflection in disbelief, hissed, "Seriously, fuck today," and did what he could to scrub his face clean before it was time to go back to his booth for the afternoon shift.

He had a different parent volunteer for the afternoon—more like a grandparent volunteer, given the neat coil of iron-grey hair at her nape. Daiki couldn't actually decide whether this was a good thing or not—one the one hand, she seemed to be far less impressed with him than the lady from the morning shift had been. Actually, she put Daiki in mind of a particular dragon of an instructor from his academy days, the one who'd made all their lives a living hell. On the other hand, she didn't seem to be particularly inclined to fawn and coo over the hordes of little brats (not so little now, these were older students, but a brat was a brat was a brat) or let them run wild. When she said, tone stern, "No, we don't grab," and stopped the first hellion who wanted to snatch Daiki's badge with inky fingers and the brat listened to her, Daiki decided he didn't mind being terrified of her as long as the kids were, too.

The one downside of this arrangement was that less screaming chaos at the fingerprinting booth meant that he had more time to watch what was going on around him. Satsuki was delivering talks to rapt audiences of brats, all charm and good cheer while she showed off the cruiser, and the guys giving guided tours of the ambulances were having an apparently awesome time triaging volunteer casualties. There were little kids climbing all over the fire truck and hanging off that red-haired idiot like he was some kind of laughing jungle gym, and no matter what he was doing, Tetsu was always at the heart of a cluster of kids, half-stooping to listen to them and guide them around the little festival with an apparently bottomless supply of patience.

(Every time he caught sight of the red-haired idiot, who acted like an overgrown kid himself, Daiki wanted to grab Tetsu and demand of him That guy? Really? But every time the thought occurred to him, he crushed it ruthlessly. Wasn't his problem. Wasn't his concern.)

Even the most horrifyingly awful of experiences couldn't last forever (thank fuck). Eventually the last of the brats wandered off into the hazy summer afternoon with its parents, and Daiki was finally able to heave a sigh of relief and sag in his seat. "Thanks for helping out this afternoon," he told his assistant, actually meaning it this time.

She accepted his thanks with the perfect assurance of a woman who knew precisely what she was due. "Kuroko-kun did say you were in over your head," she said, serene. "I had thought that he might be exaggerating, but I should have known better." She looked over the rims of her glasses, pursing her lips as she stared at him. "I trust that you are a better police officer than you are a child-care worker."

"I'd almost have to be," Daiki said, too caught off-guard to be anything but honest. Then what she'd said caught up with him. "Wait, Tetsu sent you to help me?"

"Of course he did," she said. "He said that you needed the help."

Daiki had no idea what to do with that. So he didn't try to make anything of it at all—simply nodded his acknowledgment and moved on.

Besides, Satsuki had come over and propped her hip up on the corner of the table to look down at him (one of her great joys in life, though she didn't need the literal benefit of a superior vantage point to do that; the woman had skills). "I see you survived after all," she said, which made his volunteer snort as she collected her handbag and took her leave.

"I am going to drink so much tonight that this entire day will be blotted from my memory forever," Daiki told her. "I mean that."

Satsuki rolled her eyes at him. "No you're not, we have work tomorrow, and I'm not dealing with that and one of your hangovers. I positively refuse to do it."

Daiki tried to look put-upon and pathetic, but that only worked on Satsuki when she chose to allow it. Instead she kicked his knee. "Come on, let's get this stuff packed up. The sooner we break this booth down, the sooner we get to eat. Tetsu-kun said so."

"Wait, we're doing manual labor for this festival, too?" Daiki objected, though he did retrieve Satsuki's box from beneath the table, which he cleared by dint of sweeping his arm across the surface and pushing everything into the box.

"I see now why Tetsu-kun chose to go into elementary education," Satsuki said. "Dealing with you must have made kindergarteners look like a step up." She hopped down from her perch while Daiki sputtered in outrage. "Besides, all the other volunteers are helping."

It was true: everyone seemed to be pitching in, all the firefighters like a pack of loud-mouthed, overly good-natured assholes cheerfully helping take down banners and disassemble booths and stack the components under the direction of the school staff. Fine, it was absolutely transparent manipulation on Satsuki's part, sure, but that didn't mean it wasn't effective. No way was Daiki going to let himself be outdone by that red-haired loudmouth.

"Fine," Daiki said, "whatever," because at least manual labor was simple enough and didn't involve dealing with children. The day was already improving. "But this is only because it means we can get the hell out of here that much faster. I want to go home."

"You can't do that yet." Satsuki helped him turn the table on its side and fold the legs down. "There's dinner."

"Fuck dinner," Daiki told her.

It was, of course, at precisely that moment that Tetsu chose to show up out of nowhere and say, chiding, "Language, please." He gazed up at Daiki, wearing an expression Daiki didn't know how to parse, and added, "You're not coming to dinner?"

Daiki neither yelped nor dropped his end of the table on his foot, no matter what Satsuki claimed later. "Damn it, Tetsu, give a man a little warning, would you?"

Tetsu never did anything so unsubtle as frown, but nevertheless Daiki got the distinct impression that he was dissatisfied—it was all in the faint tightening of his lips and the narrowing of his eyes. "Swearing is a bad habit," he said, full of disappointment, and forestalled Daiki's objections by saying, "Even if all the children have gone home."

"Well," Daiki said, lifting his end of the table again, "I'm just a creature of bad habits, aren't I?"

Tetsu elected not to answer that and instead moved down to Satsuki's end of the table. "Why don't you get the chairs?" he suggested, which was practically gallant of him. Satsuki smiled at him fondly and let him have the weight of the table without question even though she was far better equipped for it than Tetsu was. "You're coming to dinner, aren't you?"

"Of course I am." Satsuki folded the chairs and tucked them under her arm and kept pace with them as they began manhandling it over to the pallet of other tables. "So is Dai-chan! He just isn't any good at agreeing to things gracefully. But you already knew that."

"Yes," Tetsu said, thoughtful. "I suppose I did, at that."

What was that supposed to mean?

But there were more important things than that to deal with. "I'm not going to dinner," Daiki said. "I've got drinking to do! Serious drinking!" Nothing they said was going to keep him from it, either, damn it.

*

Daiki slunk lower in his seat and glared at Satsuki and Tetsu and Kagami mostly impartially. "I'm not hungry," he told the server. "Do you people serve beer? Bring me all the beer."

Satsuki sighed and told the lady, "He'll have the teriyaki beef. And one beer." She glanced at the menu again and added, "Just bring me the gyoza, please." She took no apparent notice of Daiki's scowl but managed to kick him right in the ankle with distressing accuracy.

That could have been enough to occupy him for at least a little while, except that Kagami started ordering, rattling off a list of items from the menu while their server scrambled to keep up and her eyes went round—at least until Tetsu coughed and Kagami stopped, looking a trifle embarrassed. "I'll just share with him," Tetsu told her, nodding at Kagami, who did not object to that plan.

Daiki slouched lower in his seat and thought longingly of his apartment and the bar just down the street from it, of sitting at any other table in the restaurant, of his and Satsuki's phones ringing and it being Imayoshi-keishi demanding they come in to handle an emergency—anything at all to not have to be sitting here, next to Tetsu and watching Kagami eye him as suspiciously as Daiki was eyeing him in return. Subtle the man was not: Daiki had seen the not-at-all surreptitious look Kagami had given him, then Tetsu, eyebrows rocketing up as if to say What, really, Tetsu? As if Kagami had any room to talk; Daiki was not impressed.

"So!" Satsuki said after the uncomfortable silence threatened to keep rolling along, even after the server had come back with their drinks. Daiki left off pondering whether it was better to bolt the beer at once or to make it last against the very real possibility that Satsuki wasn't going to let him order another. "I think today went well, don't you?"

She would think so, of course. That EMT she'd been chatting with and at least a couple of the other firefighters had all clamored for her to sit at their tables and had been very disappointed that she hadn't.

"It did," Tetsu agreed, all quiet satisfaction over it, the kind of genuine warm happiness in his voice that always had made Daiki feel like a heel for complaining around him. Regrettably, it still did, so he took refuge behind his mug of beer to keep himself from saying anything to ruin it for Tetsu. "I would like to make it an annual event."

"Well, you know Alex is on board with it," Kagami said, pulling a face that was the bastard offspring of a smile and grimace. Whoever Alex was.

"Imayoshi-keishi liked it too," Satsuki agreed, then wrinkled her nose. "Though maybe that was because he liked the idea of fingerprinting them early." She shrugged, dismissing that. "But it was a lot of fun! You work with cute kids, Tetsu-kun." She kicked Daiki again before he could editorialize on that.

Tetsu smiled—actually smiled, and not one of the ones where the corners of his eyes just crinkled up a bit, either. "They do have a way about them," he agreed, and reflected for a moment. "Every class does, though. They all leave their marks."

"Especially the biters," Daiki muttered sourly.

"Especially them," Tetsu agreed, all solemn gravity with laughter lurking beneath it. "I've been working with Kyouya and more constructive ways of expressing his feelings, but it's been slow going. He's very stubborn."

"Have you tried a muzzle?" Daiki asked.

"No," Tetsu said, still serious. "I can't imagine that his parents would like that very much." He took a sip of his tea and added, measured, "But the idea has crossed my mind once or twice."

"More often than that," Kagami said. "Wasn't it just last week you were talking about putting the kid on a leash if he didn't learn some manners soon?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Tetsu said, prim and proper but for the laughter in his eyes.

Kagami just snorted. "Yeah, sure, must have been some other kindergarten teacher I was talking to."

"Must have been," Tetsu said, bland.

Daiki retreated into his beer again rather than look at Tetsu and Kagami smiling at each other, all cozy and intimate. Wasn't anything he cared to see, wasn't any of his damn business, except that Satsuki had to go and say, "So, how did the two of you meet, Tetsu-kun? I've been wondering."

Fuck it, Daiki decided, draining his beer. He signaled the server for another despite the fact that he was going to be limping out of the restaurant if Satsuki kept kicking him like that. Satsuki would have to be way more ruthless with him than she generally cared to be in public if she expected him to sit through this without a beer or three to cushion the experience.

He caught Kagami giving him and Satsuki both a startled, wary sort of look and rolled his eyes. What, did the guy really think they were that stupid? Though he knew better than to ask that out loud with Tetsu sitting at the table; Tetsu's answers to silly questions were so rarely flattering.

"We live in the same apartment complex," Tetsu said, calm. "We often ran into each other when we were running in the mornings." He lifted a casual shoulder. "We struck up a conversation one morning."

"Mostly because I couldn't believe what a slow runner this guy was, even for a beginner," Kagami said. He made a face and laughed. "Only it turned out that he wasn't actually a beginner."

"Sometimes it's better to have endurance instead of speed," Daiki said before it clicked for him that Kagami was laughing more at himself than at Tetsu.

Kagami bristled at him, maybe reflexively for all Daiki knew or cared, not that it mattered. Daiki glared back in lieu of being embarrassed and Satsuki rolled her eyes to the heavens, clearly praying for patience. But Tetsu, who looked obscurely pleased about something, simply changed the subject. "Do you hear much from Akashi these days?"

Daiki left off glaring at Kagami, but that was because he was surprised by the question and also because the server had brought him his new beer. (He had to seize it and hold it protectively before Satsuki could poach it away from him.) "What, that guy? No, I don't think I've spoken with him since graduation." That was when they'd all taken their diplomas and scattered to the four winds, more or less.

Tetsu made a dissatisfied sound. "I thought that might be the case. I don't think he keeps in touch with anybody."

"Well. Akashi." Sum-up and explanation all in one tidy word. It wasn't like Akashi Seijuurou had ever walked on the same earth as the rest of them except by choice.

Satsuki made another try for his beer; he held it out of her reach and took a healthy drink, just to make sure he got to enjoy some of it. She huffed at him and folded her arms on the table in front of her. "He's been busy building his career, of course," she said. "It's not like being a professional shougi player is easy, you know. Even when you're as good as he is."

"He might have at least tried," Tetsu said, unmoved. "It's not that difficult to keep in touch."

Guilt made Daiki cringe in spite of himself. "Please," he scoffed, moving on briskly. "It's not like I've heard from Midorima or Murasakibara in ages, either."

Tetsu glanced up at him, solemn and definitely a little bit judgmental there. "Midorima finished up med school a couple years ago and is working at Shuutoku." Yes, definitely getting judgey. "We have coffee every month, usually at Murasakibara's bakery."

"…oh," Daiki said, choosing the route of meekness. "I didn't know that."

"Obviously." Tetsu sipped his tea and glanced at him. "You do keep up with Kise, though?"

Daiki leapt for the refuge of safer topics. "You can't get rid of Kise. Guy's like a bad rash, he just keeps coming back."

Kagami snorted. When Tetsu glanced at him, he shrugged. "What? He's not wrong."

"There will be no making fun of Ki-chan at this table," Satsuki declared in tones the promised dire consequences if she were disobeyed. "I will not have him insulted."

"And yet you still won't sleep with him," Daiki muttered.

Satsuki tossed her head. "Our love is too pure and transcendent for those kinds of goings on." She considered it. "Not that you would have any idea what that means, of course."

"Wouldn't want to," Daiki said. "It sounds pretty goddamn boring." It wasn't until after the words were out of his mouth and Tetsu had gone stiff and still next to him and Kagami had gone back to glaring at him that it occurred to him that maybe that hadn't been the right thing to say. Well, fuck it, it did sound boring. Or something. Definitely not his style at any rate.

Daiki toasted all three of them with his beer, defiant, and drank to that.

*

Some time later, Daiki became drowsily aware of the presence of someone's shoulder beneath his chin and the peculiar jolting rhythm that came of being carried and conversation going on around him. "A lot heavier than he looks, isn't he?"

"I'm sorry." Tetsu's voice, not sounding very sorry at all. "That's why we had to ask you to carry him."

"If you weren't here, we'd have to drag him." Satsuki, not actually joking.

Hey, Satsuki and Tetsu were both here. That was great! Daiki smiled without bothering to open his eyes, since if the two of them were around, everything was just fine.

(But that wasn't quite right, said the voice of his common sense, but it was immediately shouted down by too many beers and the warm, fuzzy feelings of Daiki's contentment.)

"At least it's not very much further." The third voice, the one right in Daiki's ear, was one he didn't quite recognize. Whoever it was sounded more resigned than anything else, which was too bad. It was too good a night to be unhappy.

They jolted along in silence for a little while longer, the guy's steady tread nearly lulling Daiki back to sleep, before he said, "Don't take this the wrong way, Tetsuya, but…this guy? Really?"

Daiki had heard that one before, more times than he cared to remember. He wrinkled his nose, ready to deliver a withering retort just as soon as he could figure out how to string one together. Tetsu beat him to it while he was piecing the words into the right sequence. "You're not seeing him at his best." He sounded sad, which was absolutely, positively all kinds of wrong.

"This is definitely his worst," Satsuki agreed. "You don't think I'd put up with him if he was like this all the time, do you?"

"I'd hope not," the guy, whoever it was, said. "Hey, is this it? Awesome." He hitched Daiki up a little higher—Daiki left off puzzling over Tetsu and Satsuki's comments to be rather impressed with how casually he did that—and the jolting rhythm changed—oh, right. Steps. Walk-up apartment. Yeah.

The guy was only a little out of breath by the time his gait evened out again, which, yeah. Daiki could admit when he was impressed.

"Hang on, I've got a key around here somewhere," Satsuki said. "Just let me—there it is." The jingle of a ring of keys followed, and the rattle of a doorknob. "Okay, just help me get him inside here—"

The world spun, turning gold with the glow of the overhead light when Daiki opened his eyes, and there were two or maybe three sets of hands on him, easing him down onto his bed, and hey, there was Tetsu—long-suffering Tetsu. Daiki laughed and caught his hand and held onto it.

(Don't let go, his common sense yelled, don't let go of him again, you idiot. Whatever that meant.)

"Tetsu," Daiki said, smiling at him.

Tetsu sighed. "Go back to sleep, Daiki," he said, and he looked—tired. Yeah. Tired.

"If you say so," Daiki said, still holding onto him, because whatever it was that was making Tetsu look that sad and tired, he could figure it out and fix it in the morning. There'd be plenty of time in the morning.

He closed his eyes again. The last thing he heard before he fell back asleep was whatsisname, the red-headed guy who'd just manhandled him into bed, that guy, saying, "I hope you're sure about this," and Tetsu's quiet murmur, cool as his fingers against Daiki's, saying, "Yes, I think I am."

So that was all right, Daiki thought, and slept.

Part Two

Satsuki was annoyed with him when he dragged himself into work—she hadn't bothered to get him coffee, and her general willingness to feed his caffeine habit, or not, was his preferred barometer for gauging her mood. But then, Daiki wasn't precisely in perfect sympathy with her, either, so it pretty well evened out. He got his own damn coffee and hunkered over his desk, annoyed with the pulsing headache that hovered just behind his eyebrows and the eternal necessity of paperwork, and got on with it in silence. Across the way, Satsuki did the same at her desk, and at least there was this: however annoyed about it she was this morning, at least she'd made sure he'd gotten home in one piece last night and had left the ibuprofen and water on the nightstand for him.

Presumably she'd also tell him what it was he'd done last night to piss her off in loving detail. One more thing to look forward to—Daiki could hardly wait.

The thing that got to him, really got to him, was that she'd known before going into that whole mess with the knee-biters from hell, that she'd let him walk into that without any warning. He could deal with the fact that apparently she and Tetsu were still buddies and that she just hadn't said anything about that, but not giving him a little bit of warning—it wasn't fair, springing that kind of thing on a guy. He'd been going along just fine until then, perfectly content with his lot in life, working a job he was actually pretty damn good at, thanks, and please note the list of positive citations in his personnel file, and a personal life that had variety to commend it. He'd been doing well, and it wasn't right for her to go throwing him into situations that only served to remind him of the past. The past was supposed to stay where it belonged, which was why it was called the past.

(He'd woken up and reached for Tetsu first thing, convinced for some reason that Tetsu would be there, drowsing warm and sleepy next to him. It had been a long and thoroughly disoriented minute before he'd managed to recall when and where he was, and why his bed was empty but for him.)

Besides, it wasn't like Daiki went around with Satsuki, pointing out all her exes who'd gone and hooked up with someone new, was it? Of course not. That wasn't buddies.

At least Tetsu had looked like he was doing well. Happy. Wasn't much Daiki could say for his taste in men, but then, that had always been true, hadn't it?

Sheer irritation fueled his work ethic pretty efficiently: by the time the end of his shift rolled around, he'd made considerable progress on the backlog of cases sitting on his desk. He hadn't said more than ten words to Satsuki either, but that was fine. Wasn't like she was talking to him either.

Another night's sleep helped; Daiki still had to get his own coffee the next morning, but Satsuki gave him a nod of greeting that he returned after a half-second of deliberation. He even got a chance to drink some of his coffee before Imayoshi-keishi sent them out to go, in his words, get some actual police work done.

In this case, that meant responding to a call about some vandalism—overturned trashcans on a residential street, a long string of them that had been knocked over to create a mess strewn across the pavement and a whole passel of annoyed residents, all of whom wanted to speak their minds to the designated representatives of the law. Daiki's money was on the culprits being a kid or kids out too late, feeling a little rowdy and lacking the common sense to have any kind of impulse control. He listened and took statements anyway—from the irritated older gentleman who insisted it was those young hoodlums who'd just started tearing up the neighborhood lately and ruining it for decent folks, and from the frightened grandmother who was absolutely certain that she was going to be murdered in her very bed, and from the housewife who was mostly just annoyed at having to clean up the damn mess. He made a dozen promises that the matter would receive the police's fullest attention and made sure to watch where he put his feet down as they made their progress from house to house.

"And to think I was afraid being a cop was going to be too glamorous," he muttered to Satsuki, who muffled her giggle behind her hand as they ambled down to the next house in search of someone who might have heard or witnessed the vandalism.

"Can't all be car chases and shootouts," she said. It wasn't exactly a peace offering, but wasn't nothing, either.

They were getting towards the end of the block when the person who answered the door at their knock turned out to be a kid, old enough to maybe be late high school or early university, sleepy-eyed and looking like he was feeling the morning pretty hard. His eyes went gratifyingly wide when he saw Daiki and Satsuki standing there, looking all uniformed and official, and Satsuki automatically took half a step back and let Daiki take the lead.

Daiki sized the kid up while going through the introductory spiel—someone had called in a complaint about some vandalism, they were making some routine inquiries and just needed to ask some questions—and watched the kid go paler with each point he made. Yep, he thought, leading off with, "Can you tell me where you were last night between the hours of ten p.m. and five a.m?"

"I was at home, here I mean, sleeping of course," the kid stuttered. "Would you like to ask my parents?"

Bingo. "We might," Daiki said, biting down on the inside of his cheek to keep from snickering, while Satsuki shifted on her feet a bit and looked very serious and professional at the kid. "Since you were home, can you tell us whether you saw or heard anything suspicious during that time?"

Indecision wavered across the kid's face—he was clearly dithering over whether to point the finger of blame elsewhere or deny everything. Daiki waited patiently until the kid went with a long, drawn-out, "Nooo?"

He made a point of recording that very carefully in his notebook. "I see," he said, seriously, giving the kid a version of Imayoshi-keishi's all-citizens-are-criminals-in-potentia stare. The kid wilted visibly. "Are you sure?"

"Yes?" the kid quavered.

"Mmhm." Daiki wrote some more, scribbling down some of the things he needed to pick up at the store, since nothing unnerved people like a police officer writing things down at them, and then shot a glance with Satsuki, who gazed back impassively. He nodded at her as though they'd exchanged some secret communication and returned his attention to the kid. "Have you noticed any suspicious characters in the neighborhood lately?" He flipped through his notebook and selected a page at random. "Some of your neighbors have suggested that there has been a rise in criminal activity in the area these past few months." Of course, that particular neighbor had been the type who reported anything he didn't like as suspicious criminal activity, up to and including the kinds of flowers a neighbor had planted ("To antagonize me," he'd said fiercely, jabbing a gnarled finger at Daiki. "That woman knows those begonias clash with her geraniums. She does it just to annoy me!").

Either way, it got the job done. "Criminals?" the kid squeaked, clearly seeing a future behind bars flashing before his eyes.

Daiki nodded as seriously as he could manage. "It's a terrible thing to see a nice neighborhood go to hell," he said. "We'd like to stop that from happening here, of course. If we can catch the people who did this, perhaps we can stop that downward spiral." He looked up and down the street at the people cleaning up the mess. "I would like to catch the people who did this," he added. "I'd like to give them a piece of my mind."

The kid actually whimpered.

"Let me take down your contact information so that we can get in touch with you if we need to as we pursue our inquiries," Daiki said, and jotted down some more things he needed—groceries, he definitely needed groceries, and more beer—while the kid stuttered out his entire biography for him. "Thank you for your time this morning. It's been most illuminating." He touched the brim of his hat. "But don't let us keep you any longer. I'm sure you want to get started on the clean-up."

Daiki and Satsuki politely stood aside to let the kid scurry down the sidewalk—still in his pajamas, even!—to start picking up garbage while they moved on to the next house. Daiki managed not to crack up, at least until he caught Satsuki eyeing him. Then he had to pretend to be coughing to cover up his snickers.

"That kid is going to have nightmares about going to jail for knocking over trash cans for the rest of his life," Satsuki said, severe. "I hope you're proud of yourself." Then she grinned.

"Damn straight he is," Daiki said, grinning back. "I'm just that good."

"You're something, all right," she said, and yeah, if she hadn't forgiven him yet, she was on the fast track to doing it.

So hey, at least going door-to-door to solve the mystery of the overturned trashcans wasn't a complete waste of the morning.

By the end of the day, things were pretty well back to normal, enough so that Daiki didn't see any reason not to grab dinner with Satsuki (takeout, of course, because Satsuki insisted that she had far better things to do with her time than cook, and the absolute lack of skills to make Daiki perfectly okay with shelling out for his half of the bill just to keep her from trying). It was a tactical error on his part, because no sooner was he comfortably ensconced on her couch and digging into his share of the vindaloo than she said, "So about Tetsu-kun—"

Daiki howled a protest that came out garbled by the food in his mouth. "No, no, no, we are not talking about this!"

"Dai-chan, I will cuff you and sit on you, don't think I won't," Satsuki said. Damn it, he'd let her get herself between him and the door. "You can't keep doing this, it's not healthy."

"First, I have no idea what you're talking about, and second, shut up, I'm perfectly healthy. I am a model of good health." Daiki studied her and the distance to the door, wondering whether he could make a break for it anyway, and then realized that she honestly was fingering her handcuffs like she meant it. He shelved that idea for the time being. "Seriously, there's nothing to talk about. So hey, let's not, and watch television instead. There's gotta be a game on."

"For pity's sake, I think we both know better than to believe that." Satsuki frowned at him, eyes dark and unhappy. "Honestly, even for you, what happened the other day was really dysfunctional."

"Hey!" Daiki drew himself up, affronted. "What do you mean, even for me?" She fixed him with one of her most exasperated looks, one that he had to hunch his shoulders against in defense. "I'm perfectly functional."

"I love you like a brother, so please believe me when I tell you that you're really, really not." Satsuki shook her head. "I knew you didn't want to talk about it when you and Tetsu-kun split up, but—"

Daiki pointed his fork at her and she stopped. "He left." That didn't count as talking about it. Getting the facts straight, though, that was necessary. "We didn't split up. He left."

Satsuki opened her mouth, but seemed to change her mind about what she was going to say. While she was visibly taking a deep breath and rethinking her approach, Daiki stole the pakoras and helped himself to her share. Anyone who used food as bait to lure an innocent man into conversations about feelings didn't deserve a share of the pakoras, and he was clearly going to need fortification if he was going to survive this. "Fine," she said. "If that's the way you want to spin it." She shook her head again and set that aside. "It doesn't matter, I guess. But whatever happened, you're a mess now, Dai-chan. And you have been ever since then, and I'm afraid you're going to keep on being a mess, and I don't know how much longer I can stand to watch you do this to yourself."

Daiki stopped in the act of shoving the next pakora into his mouth halfway through that; by the time she got to the end, they were sitting uneasily in his stomach. Satsuki looked perilously close to crying, and that was no good at all. That was so far from good that it landed on the level of world-ending catastrophes on the not-good spectrum. "Satsuki," he said, uncomfortable. "Really, I'm fine."

Satsuki shook her head, and if anything, the attempt at reassurance made her look like she felt worse. "You're really not," she insisted. "You won't talk about Tetsu-kun and you haven't dated since back then, and—"

"I date!" Daiki protested.

The smile Satsuki gave him was distressingly watery. "Taking people home from the bars and sleeping with them isn't dating, and you know it."

"...okay, I feel like you are so not the person who gets to be judgmental about that," Daiki argued, because like hell was he going to let her pretend that she didn't do the same damn thing—hell, half the time they helped each other pick out likely candidates.

"But the difference between you and me is that I have relationships," Satsuki said, doing that thing where she read his mind for him. "I've had several relationships since we graduated."

Daiki thought fast. "I've had relationships."

Satsuki gave him a long, somewhat damp look. "Keeping someone around and sleeping with them several times over a long weekend doesn't count." She reflected on that. "And neither does Kise."

Damn. Though maybe he could see where she was coming from on the Kise front, since it wasn't like Kise was really ever in town enough to count as anything but a pretty reliable drinking buddy and hookup. "Well, maybe I don't really want to get into a relationship, huh? Did you ever think of that? I know you know there's a lot of fun in meaningless sex."

"Stop trying to distract me," she said, suddenly fierce. "This isn't about me, it's about you. If I thought you were happy just sleeping around, that would be one thing, but you're not happy and I know it's because you're too afraid to let yourself try for anything that even looks like it's a relationship, and maybe if you'd just deal with what happened between you and Tetsu-kun, then maybe you could stop going around in circles like this and maybe you'd actually let yourself be happy!"

He wanted to argue with her—he was so happy, why did Satsuki think that she knew him better than he knew himself, for fuck's sake—but being irritated and combative fell by the wayside when Satsuki reached up and dashed the tears off her cheek. Fuck. "Hey." He put the forgotten container of pakoras down and slid down the couch. "Hey, please don't do that, Satsuki, c'mon, it's not worth crying over—" And because it was Satsuki, it was easy and not awkward to put his arms around her and pull her against him.

Satsuki made a sound between a hiccup and—something else. "Why are you so stupid?"

Daiki patted her back. "Can't be this good-looking and have brains, too. That just wouldn't be fair." It made her sock him one on the shoulder, but the bruise was worth it for the way the next sound she made sounded more like a cross between a hiccup and a giggle. He tucked her under his chin and patted her back gently. "Seriously, Satsuki, it's okay. I'm okay. I promise I am. I've got a great best friend and I'm not gonna date anyone who isn't at least as awesome as she is. Since I'm pretty sure that's impossible, I'll just have to make do with all the meaningless sex I can stand. It's a hard life, but I'll soldier on somehow. I'm just all noble that way."

Satsuki drew a shuddering breath and let it out slowly. "You're an idiot," she said again, very softly. "You really are."

"Yeah, maybe, but it's worked out pretty well for me so far." He patted her shoulder. "Try not to worry so much, huh? You're just gonna wear yourself out."

Satsuki sighed again and pulled away from him. She wiped her eyes and didn't look at him. "If you change your mind about talking about this..."

"I'm not going to change my mind, because there's not anything to talk about." Daiki said it firmly and hoped that she'd take it to heart, but when she bit her lip, he relented. "I know where to find you," he said as gently as he knew how.

"I guess that'll have to do," she said, wiping her eyes one last time and straightening her shoulders. She looked at the array of takeout cartons on her coffee table and frowned. "Dai-chan, you jerk, did you eat all my pakoras?"

"You were so busy talking, I figured you didn't want them." Daiki grinned at her outrage and dove into the wrangling over the food, letting it wash the uneasy feeling of that conversation away, and told himself that Satsuki was just hypersensitive about some things.

*

Daiki wanted nothing more than to put the whole thing out of his head—Tetsu, that red-haired asshole, Satsuki's tears, the whole shebang, all locked up in a mental box and dropped down the memory hole. If it hadn't been for the part about Satsuki, he would have, but Satsuki was Satsuki and even he knew a good thing when he saw it. So he kept an eye on her, did his best to show her that there was absolutely no call for her to keep giving him those worried looks, because he was Aomine Daiki, officer of the law, twenty-seven years old, a functional and contented adult.

He didn't have the slightest idea what that was supposed to look like, of course, but hell, when had he ever let that stop him before? So he improvised: brought her refills for her coffee without being asked and bit back his complaints at work at least half the time (except for when they were really truly necessary, damn it, some people were just that obnoxious and Wakamatsu had clearly been put on this planet to test him) and even refrained from filching food out of Sakurai's lunches, which was a heroic damn effort on Daiki's part (stolen food was always the most delicious, especially when seasoned with Sakurai's wails that he would just make extra if only Daiki would ask him to). Of course, Sakurai did immediately go to Satsuki and tearfully ask what he had done wrong and why Aomine-san was angry at him, and it all ended up in Daiki having to reassure Sakurai that nothing was wrong and Sakurai giving him a little pile of croquettes like an offering to appease an angry god. Clearly, Daiki mused as he munched on them, behaving like a mature, well-adjusted adult had its compensations.

He had no idea whether his campaign to convince Satsuki not to stress herself out over him was working or not—mostly Satsuki just looked at his efforts and then him like she could see right through him to his motivations, which in full justice she probably could, and did not seem all that reassured.

Fortunately for him and Project Make Satsuki Stop Freaking Out, Kise breezed back into town at the end of the week and demanded their attention. He'd been halfway around the world this time and showed up at Satsuki's apartment Friday night ("I just don't feel like going out to the bars," Daiki had said, piling all the earnestness he had at his disposal into it, and Satsuki had narrowed her eyes at him but accepted that excuse). He brought gifts with him, as was his wont, a filmy little scarf wrapped around a bottle of perfume for Satsuki and a box of chocolates wrapped in gold foil for Daiki.

"We are totally in the wrong line of work," Daiki said, investigating his chocolates while Satsuki tried the perfume on her wrist and Kise hovered over them, beaming anxiously and waiting to see whether he'd chosen well or not. As if there was any question that he had picked out just the right things; Kise always had been the best at reading other people, getting inside their heads and making them tick. (Sometimes Daiki thought of Kise's lost potential as a criminal profiler and wanted to gnash his teeth.)

"You'd just get bored," Satsuki said absently. "Also, you get air-sick." She stuck her wrist under his nose. "Here, what do you think?"

Daiki sniffed to oblige her. "Um. It's nice?" Something sweet and kind of floral, far as he could tell.

"You're a barbarian, Aominecchi," Kise said, not unkindly, and bent his bright head over Satsuki's wrist. He promptly went into raptures. "Ah, I knew it would be perfect! I told the shopkeeper that it was for a very special, beautiful lady, strong but feminine. She did not let me down." He clasped his hands in front of his chest and gazed at Satsuki with soulful eyes. "I swoon at your feet, Momoicchi. I must have you. Let me take you away from all this and make you mine."

Satsuki reached up and patted him on the head like a particularly sweet dog. "You shouldn't read so many bad novels, Ki-chan," she told him. "They're rotting your brain." He gave her a mournful look and she laughed then. "You're making me blush," she said, playing along and fluttering her eyelashes at him. "But I couldn't possibly go away with you. I have my duties here and I must not abandon them."

The sigh Kise heaved must have come up all the way from his toes. "You're so cruel," he said. "So cold. My heart will never recover from this blighting."

Daiki rolled his eyes and decided they'd had enough time to be ridiculous at each other. "These are pretty good," he said, licking chocolate, rich and bittersweet, off his fingers. "Get me more of these next time you visit wherever the hell you've been."

"Ghent," Kise said automatically, then did a double-take when he saw the depredations Daiki had already committed on the box's contents. "Aominecchi! You're supposed to savor those!"

Daiki blinked at him, glanced at the box, and said, "Who says I'm not?"

"No one appreciates good things when they see them," Kise moaned. He cast himself full-length upon Satsuki's couch and covered his face with his arm.

"You're ridiculous," Daiki told him, handing the chocolates off to Satsuki so she could try them herself. "We're ordering Chinese. You want anything?"

Kise uncovered his face and smiled, all sunshine again. "Yes, please," he said, and "I brought beer."

"Of course you did," Satsuki said, resigned, and went to go get the takeout menus.

They ordered enough food to feed a good chunk of the metropolitan area and put in a movie that they promptly ignored in favor of breaking into the beer instead, something with a label on it in a language Daiki couldn't read. It was cool and complicated on the tongue and good to drink while Kise rattled on about the places he'd been and seen while he'd been away. Daiki didn't think it sounded like much of a life, flying a corporate jet around and then having to sit around and wait for the boss-types to decide whether they were done or ready to go to the next place or whatever, but he guessed it wasn't his problem. Kise was the one who had to put up with all that, and he seemed to be doing well enough with it. He was the restless one, anyway, the one who couldn't ever sit still for very long at all.

Huh, Daiki thought, struck by that thought halfway through the evening. Huh. Why shouldn't Kise count?

The thought bounced around inside his skull for the rest of the night, at least until Satsuki smothered a yawn and then waved her hand at them. "Go away," she said. "I need to get some sleep."

By that point, Daiki had managed to sprawl halfway across Kise—it had happened during a scuffle over the last of the chicken a while ago, when he'd planted himself on top of Kise to keep him from getting away, and then just hadn't moved after—and they were all yawning. "But your couch is so comfortable."

Kise nodded. "It's true! I don't think I'll ever move again. I'll just stay here instead."

"Yes, you will," Satsuki said, not the least bit impressed by them. "You're both going to go home now. I don't need the two of you cluttering up my apartment all weekend."

Huh, one of the firefighters or that EMT guy must have panned out for her. Daiki grinned and opened his mouth, but stopped himself. Sure as he mentioned them, Kise would want to know all about it, and somehow they had managed not to tell him anything about that stupid festival. Daiki would just as soon keep it that way. "But how could you possibly object to having us around?" he asked instead, even as he sat up. "We're so decorative."

"And like many decorative items, totally useless," she retorted.

"Momoicchi," Kise whined, giving her a huge-eyed, hurt look even as he took the hand Daiki held down to him and let himself be hauled to his feet.

"You're less useless," Satsuki conceded. "You do bring me pretty things." She got up to see them out and stood on her tiptoes to kiss Kise's cheek and murmur something in his ear. "It's good to see you," she said before smacking Daiki's shoulder. "You I'll see Monday. Stay out of trouble until then."

"Yeah, yeah." Daiki made a face at her. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

Kise hummed behind his teeth. "But does that actually restrict her from doing anything?"

"More than you might think." Satsuki pointed at the door. "Out."

Laughing, they went, and wandered down the sidewalk together. Daiki glanced sidelong at Kise as they did and thought, well, why not? He bumped his shoulder against Kise's. "You wanna come over?"

Kise glanced back. When he smiled, it was a different kind of smile from the ones he wore when he was fooling around. Beneath the streetlamps, his eyes were dark. "Sure," he said, easy enough. "Sounds good."

This side of Kise was different, but Daiki liked it—liked seeing the things Kise covered up with that silly, laughing act that he liked to put on, liked how different Kise looked when he was intent on something, even if that something was only following Daiki home and pressing him up against the inside of the door for a kiss, long and hot and hungry. Daiki kissed back just as intently and reached down to close his hands on Kise's ass and pull him close, a part of him thinking about this, how easy and familiar it was. That thought didn't quite leave him even after he'd pulled Kise into his bed and they were busy stripping each other out of their clothes, even after Kise had settled against his mattress, bare-skinned and unashamed, all long slim limbs and fair skin. Daiki prowled over him, seeking out the places where he knew his fingers and mouth would make Kise arch and hiss at him and the ones that made him groan—the side of his throat and the tender skin at the jut of his hipbone, his chest sleek under Daiki's palms and the hardness of his cock sliding against Daiki's stomach. He knew Kise like this, knew him as well as anyone and far better than nearly all the lovers he'd ever taken. It was always good with Kise, whatever they did, whether it was like this, Daiki spreading Kise's knees wide and holding him there while he slid in and out of him, fucking him slowly while Kise tossed his head against the pillow and moaned for it, or something else altogether. (They'd had each other every way imaginable, hadn't they? And even come up with a few things themselves.) Daiki liked Kise and he liked this, it was good and it worked, and he liked how Kise looked under him, arching against the sheets and coming undone, flushed and wanton with his pleasure, and he liked how Kise caught him and held him when he finally came apart himself, pleasure rippling through him, warm and comfortable.

And it might make Satsuki happy. So really, why the hell not?

After he caught his breath and they'd had a moment to rearrange themselves, dealing with the condom and the clean-up, Daiki curled on his side and looked at the lazy, satisfied curl of Kise's mouth. Kise turned his head after a moment and glanced at him, lifting his eyebrows in silent inquiry.

"We should date," Daiki said, for lack of any better way to put it, a little annoyed to realize that he had no idea how one went about launching a relationship. (Not that he wanted to even think about admitting that maybe Satsuki had had a point there.)

Kise's reaction was not everything that Daiki might have hoped it would be. He gave Daiki an utterly blank look, uncomprehending. "Why would we do that?"

The key to life as Daiki understood it was not to admit embarrassment or the probability of having made a miscalculation. He forged ahead. "Because. That's what people do, right? When they—you know. Are together."

Kise blinked at him. "But, Aominecchi," he said. "We're not together."

"Well, why not?" Daiki said, fully committed now. "We could be."

Kise stared at him for a bit and then—laughed. And then didn't stop laughing, full-throated and helpless, like he'd never heard anything quite that funny. "Oh my God," he wheezed eventually, long after Daiki had stopped being surprised and moved straight into being pissed off. "Oh my God, where do I even begin?"

"If you're not interested, you could have just said no," Daiki growled, just about ready to find Kise's clothes for him and throw him out. "You don't have to be an asshole about it."

Kise pretty much giggled at him and reached out to him, smiling at him, something warm and soft and fond, maybe a little regretful. "No, Aomine," he said, resting his fingers against Daiki's cheek. "I like you and you like me, and we have an awful lot of fun together, but you're still so stupid in love with Kuroko that you don't even know which way is up."

Daiki sat bolt-upright so fast that it made his head spin. "I am not!" he yelled. It was going to earn him an unfriendly note from the neighbors, but who cared about that. "What the fuck, Kise?"

Kise only propped himself up on his elbow and raised his eyebrows again. "You really are that much in denial, huh?" he said, conversational. "Honestly, don't you think it's about time you got over that?"

"I don't know what you're even talking about," Daiki said from between gritted teeth. Fuck's sake, first Satsuki and now Kise, what was wrong with everyone he knew, anyway?

Kise sighed. "Should I use small words as I explain?" He went on without waiting for an answer. "You've been in love with Kurokocchi since we were, like, nineteen. And you've got all the emotional intelligence of a piece of soggy tissue and have never figured out how to deal with that." He waved his hand through the air. "I know you were kind of messed up back then and all, which probably explains some of the shit you got up to, but even so. I've never been able to decide whether you just thought it was better to drive him away yourself before he decided to go, or you just didn't realize what a good thing you had going until after you pissed it away. I guess it doesn't matter now, though, right? Since you've figured it out since then." He shrugged. "What really baffles me, though, is why you don't do something about it already. Stewing in your own misery isn't doing anyone any good."

"Why doesn't anyone actually believe that I might honestly be happy?" Daiki demanded, since that was the easiest part of what Kise had said to deal with.

"Because we know you?" Kise suggested. "And we're not actually stupid, no matter what you think of us." He rubbed his chin. "Also, I hate to break this to you, but you're not really that good an actor."

"I'm fine," Daiki insisted. "I'm fine, and all that was a long time ago, okay? Even if I were upset about—what happened—it was over a long time ago, and I'm just fine."

Kise sat up and set his hand on Daiki's shoulder, warm and friendly. "You keep saying that," he said. "But the thing is, you don't act like it."

Daiki tried to pull away from Kise, but Kise could be amazingly persistent when he wanted to be and stuck close. "For fuck's sake, what does that even mean?" he asked, exasperated and more than ready to be done with his friends' overinvestment in what had happened a long time ago.

"It means that we were around when you and Kurokocchi were together and know what you look and act like when you're actually happy," Kise said, like it was the simplest, most self-evident thing in the world. "The difference between you now and you then is like night and day." He squeezed Daiki's shoulder while Daiki was still trying to come up with a decent response for that. "I know you were too proud for it back then, but you could have gone after him and apologized. You still could, right?"

Oh, fuck it. "No, I couldn't," Daiki said. "He's with someone else now." Which shouldn't have been the nasty shock it had ended up being, because hello, this was Tetsu they were talking about, right? Tetsu was just good with people, liked them and wanted to be around them, even if Daiki had spent all this time stupidly thinking of him as though he'd been frozen in time since they'd parted ways.

"Well, yes," Kise said, after a moment. He sounded startled, as though he hadn't expected Daiki to say that. "That doesn't mean you can't apologize to him for being a jerk. You guys could even make up and be friends again." He smiled, proud of himself and his clever solution.

Daiki tried to imagine that, being friends again, just friends with Tetsu and watching him with someone else, and shuddered back from that. No. Fuck no. "No," he said, shaking his head, shaking Kise's hand off his shoulder. "No, I'm not going to, I don't want to—"

"Aomine," Kise said, suddenly serious, suddenly sharp, startling Daiki enough to arrest him mid-protest. Daiki looked at him, not entirely of his own free will, and Kise frowned. "Honestly, what do you have to lose by talking to him? You can't change what happened, yeah, but if nothing else, you can apologize for it and finally move on with your life. You deserve better than this, you know?" He waved a hand that was apparently supposed to encompass Daiki's tiny apartment that usually only needed to give him a place to sleep, or a place to spend a little time with a hook-up, or maybe the gesture was supposed to indicate Kise himself and their standing arrangement, who the fuck even knew.

Daiki stared at him, a hundred half-formed thoughts hovering on his lips, just waiting for him to finally figure out how to say them to another human being. But in the end, all he could do was shake his head at Kise, silent. "It's not that simple," he said. "It's never that simple."

Kise rolled his eyes. "I didn't say it was simple. I'm just saying—it would be a place to start. A way to break yourself out of this holding pattern you're in." He smiled then, bright and offensively optimistic. "And you never know! Good things might come of it."

Wait, why was Kise treating this like it was a foregone conclusion that he was going to agree? "No," Daiki said, injecting all the finality in the world into that. "No, I'm not going to. This conversation is over."

Kise smiled at him kindly. "That's what you think, Aominecchi."

*

"What the hell is wrong with you?" Daiki asked despairingly when he had failed to dislodge Kise from his apartment by the middle of the next afternoon. "Don't you have anything better to do with yourself than sit around and harass me?"

Kise had cheerfully raided his closet for clothes and hadn't really let the question of going to talk to Tetsu alone for more than thirty minutes at a stretch at any point when Daiki had been awake to listen. (Even then, once he'd finally caught his breath again, he'd looked down at Daiki and said, "So, what about brunch on Sunday? We could make an outing of it, you and me and Kurokocchi—" He had looked very hurt when Daiki had tried to pitch him back out of bed.) He considered the question carefully now. "Nope," he said after Daiki had just begun to get his hopes up and beamed up at Daiki, the light of pure obstinacy shining in his eyes. "Don't you think you're making this harder than it has to be?"

"Fuck you," Daiki said. "Fuck you so very much."

Kise merely smiled at him and shrugged. "Maybe later," he suggested. "Or after you go see Kurokocchi. Victory sex is always fun."

Daiki put his head in his hands and groaned.

Satsuki didn't answer any of Daiki's increasingly desperate texts begging her to help him evict Kise from his apartment, except for the one where he threatened to shoot someone—himself, Kise, Daiki wasn't feeling picky at that point. Her response to that was unequivocal: IF YOU SHOOT KI-CHAN I WON'T VISIT YOU IN PRISON. So that was right out.

Daiki was only human. When he woke up Sunday morning and Kise was still there, and the first thing out of Kise's mouth was, "Wouldn't it be a lovely day to go talk to Kurokocchi?" Daiki surrendered.

Sort of. He pulled the pillow over his face and groaned into it. "I don't even know what to say to him."

Kise plucked the pillow off his face and practically sparkled at him. "You can start with 'I'm sorry' and improvise from there. It always works for me." He paused then, seeming to consider that, and tipped his head to the side. "You are sorry, right?"

"I am sorry for everything right now," Daiki told him, though he was pretty sure Kise was ignoring all the meaning he'd poured into that. "So very sorry."

"That's fine, then." Kise bounced out of bed. "Let me go see what time Kurokocchi wants us to come over."

"Wait, what?" Daiki lifted his head while Kise dug into the pile of his clothes and found his phone. "Wait, what does that mean?" Why did he smell collusion hanging in the air?

Kise ignored him, scrolling through the messages on his phone, and executed a little shimmy of excitement. "Eleven o'clock!" He looked at the time and clapped his hands. "Right! We'd better get you cleaned up, Aominecchi, you want to make a good impression."

Daiki also looked at the time, saw that it was nine-thirty, and experienced a sudden sharp shock of dismay. "Eleven? Today?" he asked, because—no, surely Kise didn't mean to make him go talk to Tetsu right away—

"No time like the present," Kise sang as he seized the blankets and dragged them off Daiki. "Up, up, you need to clean up!"

He ruthlessly bullied Daiki into the bathroom and stood over him to make sure he did not try to make a break for it or cut himself shaving, picked through Daiki's closet again and made horrified noises at the apparently paltry range of clothes therein ("I wear a uniform five days a week," Daiki told him, aggravated, "What the fuck do you want from me?") and finally picked out a blue shirt that Satsuki had bought him a while back, and finally kept a firm grip on Daiki's arm for the entire journey over to Tetsu's apartment.

Daiki was gloomily certain that Kise would have frog-marched him there, if he'd thought it was necessary. "You've spent way too much time with Satsuki, I hope you know that."

Kise's smile was bright. "She is the world's leading expert on Aominecchi-wrangling," he said. "I can only dream of aspiring to her level of greatness." He tipped his head back, studying the numbers on the buildings, and nodded. "There, that's Kurokocchi's place. Come on, we don't want to be late."

"Speak for yourself." Daiki's feet felt like lead as Kise propelled him up the flight of stairs to an apartment that looked perfectly ordinary. His stomach roiled with something tense and uneasy, and he wished suddenly that he'd stood firm against all Kise's harassment."

Kise only tightened his grip on Daiki's shoulder, knocked on the door with his free hand, and beamed when Tetsu finally opened the door. "Kurokocchi, I have a special delivery for you!" he lilted as he pushed Daiki forward, just about shoving him into Tetsu's arms. "Aominecchi, remember what I said! Good luck! I'll see you all later!"

And then he turned around and walked away, whistling a jaunty tune.

"I'm going to kill him," Daiki said. "I am absolutely going to kill him." For getting him into this mess, for abandoning him, for being a smug fucker about it—hell, why limit himself to just one reason?

Then he remembered that he was standing in Tetsu's door, the man himself looking up at him silently, and didn't know what else to say. Or do. Or even where to look.

Tetsu didn't seem at all surprised to see him (but then, Kise had implied that Tetsu was expecting to see them). After a moment, as Kise's whistling faded with distance, he inclined his head just a bit. "Would you like to come in?"

Daiki wasn't sure that he would, but when Tetsu stepped aside, clearing the way for him, he said, "Yeah, sure. Thanks."

He stepped inside and exchanged his shoes for a pair of waiting guest slippers, looking around at Tetsu's place while he did. It was nice, warm and comfortable the way Satsuki's place was, with furniture that all matched and art all over the walls. There wasn't any evidence of the red-haired idiot around that Daiki could see, so hey, that was—something. A small mercy, maybe.

Tetsu was still watching him when Daiki chanced a glance his way. The only thing he could get from Tetsu's expression, even as it was, was that Tetsu was feeling—careful, maybe. Well, weren't they all?

They looked at each other in silence for a moment before Tetsu said, "Would you like some coffee?"

"Yeah," Daiki said, uncomfortable and awkward, and followed Tetsu into the kitchen. He didn't say anything as Tetsu put water on to heat and took things down from a cabinet, a coffee press and a tightly sealed canister and a coffee grinder. Once it wouldn't have been strange to be silent while Tetsu measured coffee beans and ground them—once it would have been comfortable and friendly—but those days were long gone. Daiki distracted himself from that thought by wondering a little about the precision with which Tetsu was preparing the coffee, trying to guess when Tetsu had turned into a coffee person, before he saw Tetsu reach for a teapot and realized that Tetsu still wasn't a coffee person.

Oh, he thought, looking aside. So it was the red-haired idiot who was the coffee person. The thought made him cringe inside, just a bit.

"You can sit down," Tetsu said, not looking out from the tea he was measuring out, his voice very calm and quiet, so Daiki pulled one of the chairs out from the kitchen table and sat and quietly cursed Kise for getting him into this mess. Who cared about getting a fresh start, anyway? That shit only worked in stupid sappy movies, the kind Satsuki liked to force him to watch with her when she'd decided to break up with someone. It never worked out in real life (well, he had to assume, that's why they were movies).

Tetsu actually got out a tray for the coffee and tea and stuff, even though it was maybe two steps from the counter where he was working and the table. He carried all that over and sat, facing Daiki across the table, reminding him uncomfortably of an interrogation setup. Tetsu looked at him, and for the life of him, Daiki couldn't read the things moving behind Tetsu's eyes.

Daiki looked away and drew the coffee press to him, busying himself with pouring himself a cup of coffee and doctoring it with sugar, though he didn't really want it, not if it was the coffee Tetsu probably kept around for—that guy. But it was something to do with his hands.

The silence stretched out, and out some more, and eventually Daiki had to acknowledge the fact that no, Tetsu wasn't even going to try to make this easy for him. And he didn't know how to begin. He had a sudden mental image of them sitting there all afternoon, not saying anything to each other, and felt the sudden urge to laugh. Or yell. Something.

He didn't, mostly in the faint hope that there might still be something he could do that would keep Tetsu from thinking any worse of him, and cursed Kise again for being a meddling, useless jerk who'd gotten him into this without so much as even a plan for what he ought to do next. Remember what Kise had said. Yeah. Sure. Kise had said plenty, but none of it had been useful—wait.

Without anything better to say or any alternatives, Daiki took a deep breath, raised his eyes from his coffee cup at least far enough to look at Tetsu's chin, and said, "I'm sorry."

Tetsu raised his tea and sipped it; it took every fiber of Daiki's being not to look away again. Eventually Tetsu said, quietly, "Do you know what for?"

Daiki wrapped his hands around the coffee mug and risked a glance up at Tetsu's eyes; all he could really see there was his own reflection. He swallowed. "Everything."

Tetsu's faint frown knit his eyebrows together. "Really. Everything?"

"Everything," Daiki said, somehow not quite able to get a full breath of air. "Do you want the full list? Alphabetical or by order of when I did it or itemized or something else?" It wasn't that he'd ever wanted to dwell on it, far from it, but what else could a man think about on a sleepless night but old mistakes? Daiki had had plenty of sleepless nights since then, more than enough to have figured it all out and wish like hell he'd been even a little bit less stupid with Tetsu.

Tetsu looked at him, tilting his head to the side just a bit, his evaluating-things pose. Then he nodded, a tiny dip of his chin. "All right."

Okay, fuck, fine. Daiki ran his hand over his face and said, "You were pretty much the best thing that ever happened to me, except for Satsuki, and it wasn't that I didn't know that, it was that I knew it too well. I looked at you and I couldn't believe how lucky I was, how fucking lucky I was and how I didn't deserve it, and I knew that no one ever gets to be that lucky twice. And I already had Satsuki." Satsuki, who'd already seen him at his worst and hadn't ever wavered, not even once.

Tetsu blinked, slow. "I meant that it was all right, I accept the apology." He pursed his lips just a bit. "But I appreciate the explanation. It clarifies some things."

Daiki stared at him, face hot, and realized that he'd fallen for one of Tetsu's favorite tricks. "...what things?"

Tetsu shrugged. "Things," he said, cryptic.

Daiki opened his mouth, halfway to demanding a better explanation than that, before he recalled that he really wasn't in any position to make those kinds of demands of Tetsu. "...fine," he said, slouching in his seat. "Good." Tetsu accepted his apology, which was not at all the same as forgiving him. Semantics always, always mattered when it was Tetsu.

Tetsu watched him toy with his coffee mug for a moment (it had a teddy bear on it; Daiki suspected that Tetsu had picked it out on purpose). "Why are you here?" When Daiki looked at him, confused by the question—wasn't it obvious?—he sighed. "What do you want to accomplish?"

The question still didn't make sense. What was there to accomplish? "Nothing, I guess." Daiki swirled the coffee around in his mug, watching it wash around the porcelain. "An apology, I guess." Which he'd done, and all Kise's assurances notwithstanding, he didn't feel particularly at peace or ready to move on.

Tetsu made a sound, something quiet and thoughtful and absolutely indecipherable. "And there's nothing else you can think of?"

Daiki snorted, almost in spite of himself. "What else is there? Seriously, Tetsu."

"I wonder," Tetsu said quietly. When Daiki glanced at him, he looked pensive. Troubled, even. He tapped his finger against his teacup, ticking out an irregular rhythm while Daiki tried to figure out what that meant. "I suppose it makes sense," he said, drawing some conclusion or another and (of course) not sharing it with Daiki.

"What makes sense?" Daiki asked, even though he didn't particularly expect Tetsu to say.

But Tetsu did. "I really expected that you would come after me," he said, perfectly calm about it, too, even as he upended all the things Daiki had thought he'd known. "Maybe not right away, of course, but after you'd finished being angry. Pretty much everyone did. None of us could understand why you didn't, and of course Satsuki-san wouldn't talk about it. Now it makes sense." He nodded, apparently satisfied, which left Daiki torn between indignation and embarrassment. Fuck.

"Everyone?" he said, though he didn't quite want to.

Tetsu nodded, apparently unconcerned by this. "Except Satsuki-san. Since she had been your friend first."

Embarrassment won out; Daiki put his head down and groaned at the thought of everyone—Kise and Midorima and Murasakibara and even fucking Akashi—discussing the end of his and Tetsu's relationship like a pack of gossiping grandmothers. "Fuck, really?"

"We were your friends," Tetsu said after a moment. "We were worried about you."

Daiki closed his eyes against that and stayed where he was. It was easier this way, easier to just say, "You thought I would come after you."

"I have my pride, too." Tetsu's voice was quiet. "That's what I thought at the time." He sighed. "Now I see that it wasn't the best way to have handled things."

"I thought about it," Daiki admitted, content to rest his forehead against Tetsu's table and not willing to see what kind of reaction Tetsu might show him. Better not to know. Much better. "I thought about it lots of times. But I always talked myself out of it." Because really, who was as big an idiot as he was?

Tetsu didn't say anything at all to that, but it wasn't like there was anything he could say, was there? Of course not. Tetsu might have waited for him for a while, maybe, but he'd clearly given up on that, and—

The touch, when it came, shocked Daiki out of the relentless spiral of his thoughts. Tetsu's fingers felt cool where they rested against his hair, cool and gentle like his voice when he said, "You really are the biggest idiot I've ever known."

Daiki didn't quite dare to move or even breathe, which was of course why it came out breathless, airless, when he agreed with Tetsu. "I probably am."

Tetsu didn't say anything to that and Daiki didn't want to move, couldn't bring himself to do it, even knowing that there was the damned firefighter to consider. He stayed right where he was and let Tetsu rub his fingers back and forth through his hair, probably making it stick up all over the place. If that made him a bad person, well, it wasn't the worst thing he'd ever done in his life, not by a long shot.

At last, too soon, Tetsu sighed. "What are we going to do with you, Daiki?"

"Don't think there's much you can do," Daiki said, against the tabletop. "Satsuki always says I'm a hopeless case."

"And she is so rarely wrong." Tetsu stilled his fingers; after a moment, he drew them away.

Even he knew a hint when it was that broad. Daiki took a moment longer to school his face, as much as was possible, and slowly straightened up. At least Tetsu wasn't wearing that carefully bland, expressionless face any more, was willing to show some of what he was thinking (at least for someone who knew how to read the subtle cues of Tetsu's expressions, someone who had made a study of those things). Just now he looked—worried, perhaps. At a loss over something. He said, "One of the things I've missed the most was my friend. I'd like to get to know him again."

Daiki took a breath, one that felt as uncertain as the faint tilt of Tetsu's mouth, the shadow of Tetsu's smile. "I—miss my friend, too." It wasn't—everything he might have hoped for, everything he might have had once, but a guy didn't need to be a genius to know when he was getting away with far more than he deserved.

Tetsu's smile lifted the corners of his mouth a bit further. "All right," he said, pouring himself some more tea. "We can start there. I hear some things through Kise and Satsuki-san, but..." He shrugged. "How have you been?"

Daiki took a drink of stone-cold coffee to give himself a moment to pull himself together, and said, "What do you want to know?"

Tetsu blinked at him and said, "Everything," so Daiki told him.

*

Satsuki took one look at him when he dragged himself into work the next morning, narrowed her eyes, and yanked him bodily into the observation room behind the one-way mirror of Interrogation One. "What on earth happened to you?" she demanded. "You had two days, Dai-chan! What kind of trouble did you get yourself into in two days? I was counting on you keeping too busy with Kise for anything bad to happen!"

"Kise made me go see Tetsu," Daiki said, simplest explanations being the easiest. "And he stole one of my favorite shirts," he added, since Kise had long since cleared out of his apartment by the time Daiki had left Tetsu's place, clutching an afternoon's talking and their fragile truce like the prize they were.

Satsuki looked as genuinely gobsmacked as Daiki had ever seen her; her mouth made nearly a perfect O as she stared at him. "You went to see Tetsu-kun?" she said. "You actually went to see him?"

"Kise made me," Daiki said, since it pretty well summed the matter up.

Satsuki peered at him for a moment before reaching for him, curling a hand around his bicep and holding on. "How did it go?"

"We talked." Daiki shrugged and hoped it looked casual. "About things. And caught up with each other." All that missed time and history and the sharing of it, the way Tetsu's talk of his own history had included casual, unthinking references to "Taiga"—yeah. They'd caught up. "I think—maybe we're friends again?" Or were trying to be, however that worked. Tetsu wanted it, so.

"Oh," Satsuki said, very quietly, worlds of comprehension crammed into a single eloquent syllable. "Dai-chan." She grabbed him and wrapped her arms around him, delivering one of her surprise Momoi Special hugs, the kind that Daiki usually tried to escape at any cost.

This one he let happen and—maybe—leaned into just a bit. "I'm really stupid, Satsuki," he said against her hair. "Really stupid."

"Tell me something I don't already know," she muttered back, but didn't let go of him. "Don't worry, it'll all be all right."

Daiki wasn't sure how, exactly, but he thought it might be nice to let himself believe her, at least for a bit—until Wakamatsu pounded on the door and yelled at them that Imayoshi-keishi wanted them to get some work done already, and Satsuki reluctantly released him from her clutches.

Part Three

Then began a very strange period in Daiki's life, which to that point had been arranged on straightforward lines, the way he preferred it. Or, at least, routine lines of work and hanging out with Satsuki and going out to the bars when he was feeling like getting laid, and Kise drifting in and out of his life like an errant cloud who gave really great head. Then, suddenly, there was Tetsu again, showing up at dinner some nights and joining forces with Satsuki to guilt Daiki into eating his vegetables, or wandering along in Kise's wake like a quietly amused shadow as Kise distributed presents and described whichever new, exciting place they'd come from. Or there was the weekend when Tetsu told him to come meet him for coffee and Daiki did, because what was he going to do, say no? Of course not. Only instead of Tetsu, it was Midorima sitting bolt upright at the table, distressingly proper and giving him an old-fashioned look from behind his glasses.

"The hell," Daiki said, dropping himself into the chair across from Midorima and wondering what he was supposed to do now.

Midorima pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and sighed. "Good morning to you as well."

"Yeah, yeah." Daiki waved that aside. "Where the hell is Tetsu?"

"Where indeed." Midorima's tone was sour enough to have curdled milk. "I thought I was meeting him. Am I to understand that you are his proxy?" Daiki was a damned insufficient proxy, at least as far as Midorima seemed to be concerned.

Daiki dredged up a hazy memory of Tetsu telling him, at some point, that he and Midorima met for coffee regularly and blinked. "Huh." Well. If that was what Tetsu wanted... He leaned back in his chair, hooked an arm over the back, and looked Midorima over. Didn't much look like the man had changed in the past few years. "So. They managed to get that stick out of your ass yet?"

Midorima's smile was thin and sharp and very like what Daiki remembered it being. "I see that time hasn't sharpened the edge of your wit or increased your charm in the slightest."

Daiki smiled back, not the least bit fazed. "Even time can't improve on perfection."

"It certainly doesn't seem to have made you any more tolerable," Midorima retorted.

"Or you any less uptight," Daiki said, starting to get back into the ebb and flow of it. He eyed the precise creases of Midorima's slacks and the careful knot of his tie. "You still starching your underwear?"

"Are you still tomcatting your way across the countryside?" Midorima inquired.

The next logical insult would have been to inquire after Midorima's long-term and committed relationship with his own hand, but Daiki stumbled over the question—tomcatting? Really? And also the realization that he hadn't slept with anyone since Kise had dragged him over to Tetsu's place, weeks ago now.

He was saved from having to think about that by Tetsu's arrival. "I see that the two of you are getting along as well as ever," he noted, setting a cup of coffee and a pastry in front of Daiki and another pastry down in front of Midorima.

Daiki and Midorima exchanged grimaces across the table—if pressed, maybe Daiki would have admitted that Midorima had his good points buried somewhere beneath all the anal retentiveness, but there was no call for Tetsu to go announcing that out loud. "You can't give a guy a little warning, Tetsu?"

"But then you might not have come." Tetsu pulled up a third chair and made himself comfortable, and it honestly wasn't clear whether he meant that for Daiki or Midorima or both of them. Either way, Daiki couldn't really argue the point.

So, whatever. Daiki tried the coffee, which wasn't bad, and accepted that his apparent lot for the morning was to spend it with Tetsu and Midorima. There were worse ways to spend his time, especially when Midorima was right there for the needling. Still. "Should have invited Satsuki."

"Maybe next time," Tetsu said, looking rather pleased by the suggestion.

Daiki congratulated himself silently and then nearly choked on the first bite of his danish when Midorima said, "Congratulations, Kuroko. Your boyfriend managed to survive another full month without setting himself on fire again."

"And we're all very proud of him for it," Tetsu said gravely, while Daiki did his best not to spray danish crumbs all over the table.

"He set himself on fire?" he said when he could breathe again, more of Midorima than Tetsu because Midorima was much more reliable about delivering the dirt.

Even if he did it while wearing a distinctly sardonic expression. "More than once."

"He's a firefighter." Tetsu's tone was dangerously mild. "It's a hazard of the job."

"Firefighters put fires out," Daiki said, filled with wicked glee. "They're not supposed to set themselves on fire."

"I suppose that, in fairness, I should note that both times, the building was on fire around him," Midorima said, clearly grudging every word of it, too. "Nonetheless. He does seem to make a habit of it."

"I've been working on it." Tetsu sipped his tea, looking thoughtful, then shrugged. "He's made progress."

On the one hand, Daiki really didn't want to know anything about the red-headed idiot and his relationship with Tetsu. On the other hand, this promised to be all kinds of comedy gold. "I know that tone," he said, because impulse control was for other people. "Satsuki uses it a lot when she's talking about me."

"There are distinct similarities," Midorima agreed, apparently not the least bit bothered by how Tetsu was frowning at the both of them and perfectly willing to pitch in for the cause of stirring up trouble. "Kuroko has consistent tastes, at least."

Augh, no, no, he didn't want to hear that. Daiki scowled at Midorima, trying to communicate that he should be delivering the goods on Kagami, not making horrible slanders regarding Daiki's own character. (There were plenty of legitimate points Midorima could make there; he didn't need to go and invoke that idiot for his pains.) Midorima ignored him, of course, and looked at Kuroko. He made a visible decision to move on to other topics. "I see that none of your germ factories have given you the plague yet."

"Astonishingly enough, everyone is healthy at the moment." Tetsu frowned. "I suppose I should be grateful for that, as long as it lasts."

"Probably, yes," Midorima said. "They say that it's probably going to be a bad flu season." Because it was Midorima, he looked entirely too pleased by that prospect.

The mention of Tetsu's students reminded him of something. "Did you ever get that brat tested for rabies?" Daiki rubbed his hand, even though the bruises had long since faded.

"Kyouya isn't rabid," Tetsu said, still way too amused by that for Daiki's peace of mind. "He's just very opinionated."

"You want rabid, you should have heard about the student he had a year or two ago," Midorima said.

It must have been bad; Tetsu actually winced a little at the reminder. "He wasn't bad. He just had... behavioral issues." His expression went distant. "Anger issues, I suppose."

Midorima rolled his eyes. "You always want to see the good in everybody." He finally took notice of the danish Tetsu had brought him and poked it, investigating its contents. "I don't know why you don't just give up. It's much easier."

"Because it's worth it not to," Tetsu told him. "And I do get results."

"That's true enough." Midorima apparently decided the thing was acceptable and tried a bite. After he'd swallowed, he added, "I still think you should have taken up his father's offer to sign you on as the kid's private tutor."

"But I didn't want to leave the country." Tetsu paused. "Or my other students."

"Too bad." Midorima glanced at Daiki, who'd missed most of the substance of the exchange but was listening anyway (hey, it was something new about Tetsu that didn't involve the firefighter idiot, so not a loss). "I hear that they actually let you become a police officer."

Daiki grinned at him. "I know, right? What is the world coming to?"

"One does wonder," Midorima murmured. "I suppose they must have had their reasons."

"Satsuki-san said that Daiki graduated at the top of his class at the academy," Tetsu said, very calmly indeed. "And scored very high on his sergeant's exam."

Daiki looked at Tetsu, surprised that he knew those things, surprised that Tetsu was—defending him, maybe?—against Midorima's snark. He didn't quite know what he was supposed to do with that, so he drained his coffee and said, "I need a refill, you guys want anything?"

By the time he'd collected their cups and gone to the counter and come back, Midorima and Tetsu had moved on to other topics, safer ones—Midorima's roommate, Tetsu's students again, stupid criminals Daiki had known and booked—and the strange moment had been forgotten.

Midorima was the one who eventually checked the time and said, showing more regret than Daiki would have expected of him, "I'm afraid I have to get going."

"So do I," Tetsu said. "My lesson plans for the week won't write themselves."

"Because it takes so much work to plan out a week's worth of coloring and biting people," Daiki said, since he didn't have any real reason to clear out. But the party was pretty well over, so it didn't matter. He shrugged at the face Tetsu made, waved a goodbye at him, and found himself heading out in the same general direction as Midorima, at least for the first couple of blocks.

Midorima didn't say anything, typically enough, at least until they reached the intersection where Daiki turned off and he headed straight on. He stopped there and looked at Daiki. "I suppose I'll be seeing more of you from now on." His mouth was all prim and scrunched up as he eyed Daiki. He sighed and shook his head. "At least until you get bored and leave again."

Daiki stuffed his hands in his pockets and lifted his chin. "Who's going to get bored?" Like fuck was he going anywhere while Tetsu was willing to let him stick around.

"I suppose we'll see." Midorima paused, perhaps a bit hesitantly. "I guess I'm glad you didn't end up dead or anything in the past few years."

For Midorima, that was downright sentimental. Daiki huffed out a breath. "Feeling's mutual, buddy." He punched Midorima's shoulder, pulling most of it since the man could get pretty damn pissy about a few little bruises. "See you around."

He made his escape while Midorima was still rubbing his shoulder resentfully, before it could get any soppier, and went on home, feeling pretty satisfied with himself.

*

He didn't realize that the coffee shop where Tetsu had ambushed him with Midorima was Murasakibara's place for a few weeks after that. It took walking in one morning and catching Murasakibara himself behind the counter for it to click. He stared, feeling like he ought to have been less surprised than this.

Murasakibara only looked back at him, weird and disinterested, and said, "Oh, it really is you. Kuro-chin said you were around again."

Classic Murasakibara all over: Daiki was pretty sure the only thing the guy ever really got excited about was cooking. Baking. Whatever. (There was apparently a difference: Murasakibara had gotten exercised enough once to lecture him on the finer nuances of the two terms.) "Guess I am."

Murasakibara gazed at him, sleepy-eyed and strangely intense beneath that, and nodded. "All right." He left the counter without asking Daiki whether he wanted to order something or not. He came back after a few minutes with something on a plate and a piece of paper, some kind of form, to go with it. "Taste this," he said. "Then tell me what you think."

And that was how Murasakibara welcomed him back into the fold—by drafting Daiki into his selection of human guinea pigs and not giving a shit about anything but Daiki's willingness to taste the things he concocted.

Murasakibara really was pretty strange, Daiki mused, and dug into the little pastry shell with its creamy fruit-and-custard filling. Really strange.

But hey, free food, so there was that. Come to think of it, Daiki was pretty sure that was why they'd all started hanging around Murasakibara in the first place. The more things changed, he thought, and got busy recording his impressions on the provided form.

*

Later he realized that he should have really known better. Should have used his trained investigative skills to pay attention to what was happening around him and seen the moves Tetsu was making and used them to predict what was going to happen next and brace himself for it. But Daiki didn't. Didn't think about it, didn't worry about it, didn't really care about it at all beyond the fact that Tetsu was around again, they nearly all were, and sometimes, schedules permitting, hanging out was almost like hanging out in school had been: Kise making a brilliant, sparkling spectacle of himself and Midorima quietly making acid commentary and Murasakibara like a radio tuned to a slightly different frequency than the rest of them, Satsuki standing back and rolling her eyes at the lot of them and Tetsu the quiet, solid presence threading through their conversations. The only one missing was Akashi, and sometimes, Daiki paused in the middle of arguing with Midorima or laughing at Kise's antics with Satsuki, seeing the faintly dissatisfied look on Tetsu's face, and wondered how long Akashi was going to be left to go his own way after all. But that was Akashi and Tetsu's concern, so he didn't worry too much about it. Didn't worry too much about anything, really, because worrying about the future had never led to anything good in his experience.

Not paying attention meant that it caught him flat-footed the first time he showed up to Satsuki's place for movie night and found that Tetsu was there with the red-haired idiot in tow. They were already installed on Satsuki's couch, Tetsu fitted up against the guy's side like it was the most natural place in the world to be, the idiot with his arm stretched along the back of the couch and resting against Tetsu's shoulders, and they were holding an animated discussion with Kise over what to order for dinner. It took a lot for Daiki to keep himself from turning right around and leaving, and the rest of what he had to keep a straight face when they looked up and Kise cried, "Aominecchi! Tell Kagamicchi that we want Chinese for dinner, Chinese!"

"Burgers," the idiot said, firmly. "I say it should be burgers."

"Uh," Daiki said, still stuck on the fact that the man was in Satsuki's apartment, acting like he belonged there, and conflicted over whether to side with Kise against him or strike out for a third option, since Kise was clearly a traitor. (Kagamicchi, really? Seriously?)

"I was in the mood for ramen," Tetsu said, touching off protests from both of them and clearing the way for Daiki, at least.

He managed to pull together a grin, said, "Hey, actually, ramen sounds pretty good to me, too." Then he beat a retreat to Satsuki's kitchen to put the beer in the refrigerator with the other offerings while Kise and the idiot—actually, his brain wanted to correct that and call him the interloper—protested even more.

The kitchen was where Satsuki was, too, and made a good place to look at her and say, quiet so only she would hear, "Why is he here?"

Satsuki didn't bother to pretend that she didn't know what he meant by that. "He's off duty, just like the rest of us," she said, perfectly calm about it. "We can't invite Tetsu-kun over and not invite Kagamin, too."

Oh yes they could, Daiki wanted to say, but couldn't quite bring himself to it. Because, in justice, she was right. Fucking justice. He made a brief, abortive move toward the refrigerator, where the beer was, and Satsuki caught his wrist. "Don't, Dai-chan," she said, very softly. "Please don't."

Daiki cast a gaze over his shoulder, back to where the other three were. Where Tetsu and his firefighting interloper were. "Satsuki," he said, close as he ever came to begging.

Her grip didn't waver. "You know it won't really help," she said, softly. "Please, Dai-chan. For my sake, if nothing else."

Damn it. The woman knew that he wouldn't, couldn't, say no when she actually went ahead and asked him for something like that. "All right," he said, giving in. "You got any pop in there?"

Satsuki looked so relieved that it made him feel like a jerk. "Yes, of course," she said, releasing him and finding him a soda in lieu of the beer he really would have preferred.

He let her have the remaining space on the couch and took the floor since Kise had already laid claim to her armchair, and hey, that was better, anyway. Gave him plenty of room to stretch out his legs and stuff, and once the food showed up (ramen, just like Tetsu wanted), put him in the perfect place to snipe all the best bits for himself. He leaned against Satsuki's knee and let the angle of the couch keep him from having to look too directly at the way Tetsu and the interloper fit together and stuck to his soda even after the rest of them had gotten into the beer for themselves.

Satsuki stroked his hair like she was proud of him, so that was all right.

The good thing about movie night was that it didn't really require much in the way of conversation, at least once they put the movies in and things started exploding on the screen. A lack of real conversation—heckling the idiots on the screen didn't count as conversation—meant that Daiki could get away with keeping his mouth shut and letting Satsuki pet his hair. Would have been better if the stupid interloper hadn't been there, laughing that stupid big laugh of his and objecting to the mechanics of the explosions on-screen ("That's not how fire works, geez!") just like they all did. It would have been better if it had just been the four of them, but there wasn't anything to be done about that.

At the end of the night, Tetsu gave him a quick, approving sort of look while he and his interloper collected themselves and their jackets, like he thought Daiki had done well or something. The interloper didn't really say anything—hadn't said anything to Daiki all night, just like Daiki had managed not to say anything to him—but he did glance at Daiki once, thoughtful or something, before they left.

"You two have to leave, too," Satsuki told Daiki and Kise, absolutely ruthless, and prodded Daiki with her foot until he finally crawled to his feet. Kise had to be evicted from where he'd curled up in her armchair like a snail in its shell, and Daiki wondered why she was so keen to get rid of them. Maybe it meant that this latest fling of hers—he still didn't know anything about the guy—was turning into something more consistent. If that were the case, it meant it was time to do his best friend duty and look into the guy to make sure he knew how to treat Satsuki right and all that.

That was something actually worth thinking about, as opposed to all the other things in Daiki's skull that he didn't want to think about, so he focused on how best to misappropriate police resources in pursuit of protecting Satsuki as he wandered homeward. Kise ambled along at his side, yawning and loose-limbed with the beer he'd had, and didn't say much, not until they came to the corner where their routes diverged. "See you later," Daiki told him, waving a little.

The streetlights cast most of Kise's face into shadow, but Daiki could see enough by them to see the quick, crooked flash of Kise's smile. "After I get back," he said, some kind of laughter, the heavens only knew what about, bubbling under his tone. "Yeah, I'll see you then. Later, Aominecchi."

It was a little weird, even for Kise, though Daiki couldn't tell what he was supposed to make of it. "Yeah, sure," he said. "Have fun, or whatever." He watched Kise wander on down the street, heading for his apartment, and it wasn't until later, after he'd gotten home himself, that it occurred to Daiki that maybe Kise had been waiting for an invitation to come over. But if that was the case, then it didn't make much sense that Kise hadn't extended an invitation of his own or just... invited himself over or whatever, so Daiki didn't worry about it.

*

"Satsuki," Daiki said a few weeks after that, "does that guy have to come to everything?" He was sitting on her couch, well, sprawled across it, indifferent to the meaningful way she kept saying go home, Dai-chan. Everyone else, in this case Midorima and his roommate and Tetsu and the interloper, had already shuffled out.

Satsuki left off sorting the aftermath of the evening into the recycling and garbage and rolled her eyes to the ceiling. "He's Tetsu-kun's boyfriend," she said. "So, yes."

Daiki flopped onto his back and stared at the ceiling. "But he's not—"

"Dai-chan," Satsuki said before he could even think about finishing that statement. Her voice was a little sharp. "Do me a favor and think very carefully about whatever it is you're about to say. Very carefully."

Daiki shut his mouth, since it was much, much better not to tempt Satsuki when she was in the mood to haul someone up short. Even if it was true—the interloper wasn't one of them. He wasn't. (Neither was Midorima's roommate, his conscience noted belatedly. So hey, there was that, too.) "I don't like him," he said, knowing it was sulky and not really caring.

"I am shocked to hear you say that. Shocked and surprised," Satsuki said, tone utterly flat. "I thought the way you glared at him and never talked to him meant that you were in too much awe of him to speak in his presence." She came to stand over the couch, hands planted on her hips. "You don't even know him well enough to dislike him, Dai-chan. You ignore him whenever he's around."

"I don't ignore him," Daiki protested. It was true; the interloper interacted with Tetsu and therefore could not be ignored. "I've got eyes, don't I? I can so dislike him if I want."

"Give me one good reason for disliking Kagamin," Satsuki said. "One solid reason. Go on, I dare you."

Daiki looked up at the way her eyes were narrow, watching him, and saw that Because he's breathing wasn't going to go over well. "He's obnoxious," he tried instead. Satsuki raised a single, unimpressed eyebrow. "He is! All... all loud and cheerful and shit. And his face is stupid."

Satsuki continued to be unimpressed by his efforts. "Those aren't good reasons," she said. "Kagamin is outgoing and friendly. And perfectly acceptable, aesthetically speaking. Try harder."

"He eats too much. He's like some kind of human garbage disposal."

"So are you." Her mouth didn't even twitch. "I'm still waiting."

Daiki looked away from her. "I just don't like him," he said. "Okay? I don't like him and I don't like that he's always around." Which he was, now, like Daiki's attempt to behave himself in order to please Satsuki at that first movie night had been the signal that it was okay for that guy to just show up whenever Tetsu did.

Satsuki demonstrated her terrifying mind-reading prowess again. "Okay, fine. You don't like him. I guess I can stop inviting you to things Tetsu-kun will be attending again. But you can be the one who explains that to Tetsu-kun. If he asks. He probably won't, all things considered."

Daiki flinched from the uncompromising edge of that. "Fuck, Satsuki—"

"They're together, Dai-chan. If you can't handle that like an adult, maybe it would be good to just own up to that now and stop torturing yourself." Satsuki gentled her tone a little for that last, at least. "Not everyone can be friends with their exes. It's okay if you're not one who can."

"I can be!" Daiki sat up and frowned at her. "I can handle it. I'm not going to—" What had Midorima said? "I'm not going to get bored or give up. Or whatever." Not when he finally had Tetsu back. Sort of.

"Then you need to deal with Kagamin," Satsuki said. "Really deal with him, not ignore him or glare at him any time he touches Tetsu-kun." When Daiki twitched, she nodded. "Oh, yes, Dai-chan. I noticed you doing that." Judging by the way she said it, everyone had. "You don't have to be best friends with him, but you should at least try to interact with him. Without fighting, please."

Daiki slumped against her couch. "Do I have to?"

Satsuki sighed. "If you were Tetsu-kun or Kagamin, how long would you put up with hanging out with someone being unfriendly at you before you gave up and found something better to do with your time?"

Daiki didn't have an answer for that. Not one he liked, anyway. He looked away from her again. "...damn it."

Satsuki set her hand on his head and ruffled his hair. "Just try," she said. "That's all anyone can ask. Try... try to be polite to him. No one will expect more from you than that."

Maybe because they knew better, or maybe because that was the standard of civil behavior. Daiki didn't know which it was and Satsuki didn't clarify it for him. "All right," he said. "I'll try."

"Good." Satsuki petted his hair smooth. "Now, if you're going to keep moping around here, at least get up and help me finish cleaning up while you do it."

"Yeah, yeah," he sighed, but he got up and pitched in anyway. Wasn't like he was that stupid. If Satsuki wanted to keep him from running off another cliff, helping her tidy up her apartment was the least he could do in return.

*

Some things were much easier said than done, and making nice with the interloper—no, he had to stop thinking of the guy like that, he really did—making nice with Kagami Taiga was at the very top of that list. Didn't help that his first effort—nodding at him and even saying hello the next time they ran into each other—left the inter—left that guy looking obviously surprised. "Hello," he said, "nice to see you too, I guess."

It wasn't the best of starts, but Satsuki gave him a surreptitious thumbs-up and Tetsu looked pleased, so Daiki guessed it counted. Then Kise swooped down on them and did his best to convince them that they really, really wanted to get up and sing karaoke with him (Kise never had had a sense of shame that any of the rest of them had been able to uncover, and was relentless about dragging other people down with him) and escaping from that peril relieved Daiki of having to figure out what else he could say to—that guy—aside from the things that were clearly out of bounds.

The time after that, it was marginally easier to say hello and even to ask him to pass the tray of potstickers down to Daiki's end of the coffee table while aliens blew up New York City on Satsuki's television, and say, "See you around," at the end of the night.

He could do this, Daiki told himself after a few more episodes like that, with Satsuki's approval apparent and Tetsu's satisfied look every time he and that guy exchanged words putting a warm glow inside his chest. Hell, he was doing it, just fine.

That sense of confidence was probably why it all went to hell, or something like it, the next time. And by hell, Daiki meant that Satsuki decided that she wanted to go dancing and would not be dissuaded, which meant that of course Daiki had to go along as chief holder of Satsuki's keys, wallet, and lipstick. ("Why can't this boyfriend of yours do it?" he asked at the start of the night. "This should be his job." But Satsuki only said, "He had to work," and refused to volunteer any further information about the mysterious boyfriend.) Satsuki had timed her urge to go dancing extremely poorly. Kise was out of the country again and frankly the idea of Midorima at a club was a little terrifying, even if he were that way inclined, and the thought of Murasakibara dancing was even worse. Fortunately Midorima declined the invitation, citing their apparent insanity and also an early shift at the hospital, and Daiki didn't know whether Murasakibara even returned Satsuki's call.

But Tetsu and—that guy—were both free and apparently willing to tolerate Satsuki's whims. Daiki didn't even realize that it was all a trap until Satsuki shrugged out of her coat, handed it to him, and seized on Tetsu. "Come and dance with me." She hauled Tetsu out onto the dance floor without waiting for his reply.

But Tetsu didn't protest, which was when Daiki realized two things: one, that this had been a setup, and two, that he and that guy had been left to one another's devices. Fuck.

Daiki looked at him and saw that he was looking back, the same kind of trepidation on his face that Daiki felt himself—man, did the guy just not understand the concept of a poker face?—at least until Daiki nodded in the direction of the bar in the universal gesture of We're too sober for this shit. The guy looked more relieved than anything else, so they wove their way through the crowd—lots of young women out to dance and even more guys who were looking to score—squeezed in at the bar, and paid too much for the privilege of receiving a pair of beers. Daiki wrapped his fingers around the bottle, cool glass clammy against his palm, leaned against the bar, and checked the dance floor for Satsuki. There she was, out in the thick of things, smiling and having a good time. Tetsu was sticking close, like a shadow, and didn't look like he hated it. It was scenic, or would have been if that guy hadn't been right there at his elbow.

So Satsuki clearly wanted him to do something here, badly enough that she was in cahoots with Tetsu over it, and the only problem was that Daiki didn't quite know what she wanted from him.

So he improvised.

"I hear you like to set yourself on fire," he said, raising his voice enough to be heard over the din of the music and the people talking around them. Might as well see what the guy was made of when he wasn't hanging all over Tetsu and getting sap all over the scenery, yeah? Yeah.

The guy made a whole series of faces, confusion and bafflement shading into disbelief and then irritation before finally settling on resignation. "I do not," he said, frowning at Daiki.

"That's not the way I hear it," Daiki told him, more to see how he took it than because he really cared. "I hear it's a recurring problem."

"Twice is not a problem!" the guy growled. "And both times were accidents."

"Hell of an accident," Daiki said, sipping his beer.

The guy's scowl deepened. "It wasn't like I could help it," he said. "Both times, the buildings were coming down, for crying out loud."

Daiki felt his eyebrows going up in spite of himself. Neither Tetsu nor Midorima had mentioned that part. "You don't say."

The guy scowled and took a long pull off his beer. "Well, what else was I supposed to do, let them burn down without making sure they were clear?" he demanded, chin set at a distinctly pugnacious angle.

But Daiki wasn't much interested in an actual fight, since he was far more concerned with the horrifying suspicion that not only did Tetsu's interloper dote on Tetsu endlessly, not only was he good with the ankle-biters that Tetsu worked with, he might also be terribly, horribly upright as a human being. "Making sure the places were clear?" he repeated, testing this hypothesis like he might test a sore tooth.

"Of course." The you idiot was implied in the tone and the eyeroll. "Gotta make sure no one's trapped inside."

He said it so calmly, too. Damn.

Daiki took a long drink to wash the taste out of his mouth and checked on Satsuki again—yeah, still having fun, not least with the hearts—okay, be honest, libidos—of at least half a dozen guys who weren't the least bit subtle about how they wanted to get up close and personal with her. "Midorima didn't mention that part."

Daiki only sort of mumbled it into his drink out of a sense of fair play—Satsuki wanted him to try, sure, but she hadn't said how hard—but the guy had ears like a bat's or something. "Yeah, well. That guy's convinced anyone who willingly goes into a burning building is already crazy." Kagami shrugged, clearly used to that.

"Midorima thinks everyone is crazy but him," Daiki said, more or less automatically, because it was true. "No one's ever had the heart to tell him that it's the other way around."

"Like he'd even listen," Kagami said.

Daiki snorted, amused, and then caught himself, realizing that he was laughing with Tetsu's new boyfriend of all people and really not sure what to make of that fact. He looked down at his beer, picking at the label, and tried to find his balance again. Not that peeling the label off the bottle had any kind of wisdom to offer him or changed the fact that when he looked up again, the guy was watching him, his forehead creased just a bit.

Whatever that meant. Daiki didn't want to know. He flailed around for something to say and was saved, briefly, when somebody slid up against the bar on the other side of him and nudged up against his shoulder, warm and soft and smiling in a distinctly friendly fashion when he glanced down at her. "Hey," she said, peeping at him from beneath long lashes, and didn't seem to mind that Daiki had pretty much a straight shot down the front of her dress. (It was a very nice shot, too, he had to hand it to her.)

On the one hand, Daiki couldn't remember the last time he'd gotten laid (well, that time with Kise before Kise dragged him off to see Tetsu didn't count) and that was a good sign that he was due. On the other, she looked like she was still a baby, maybe all of twenty or so, and nice as the view was, it didn't really move him much.

He tipped her a smile, polite and noncommittal, and turned his attention back to Kagami, who was way less cute and was still wearing that faintly puzzled look. The hell with it, he decided. Satsuki wanted him to be friendly and shit? Fine. They might as well start with the basics. "So," he said, casting about for a nice, safe topic. "What kind of sports do you like?"

An hour and another beer later, Daiki was seriously considering asking Tetsu how he could be sleeping with a man who insisted that basketball—basketball!—was the one true sport, the king of sports, superior to all other sports including both football and baseball, and no, he did not care that Kagami had grown up in the fucking States, that did not exempt him from being wrong, wrong, wrong beyond all belief. "So very wrong," he said, glaring at Kagami, "There should be monuments built to commemorate the wrongness of you—stop laughing, goddammit." This wasn't a laughing matter in the slightest. Not that it was stopping Tetsu's idiot.

Kagami grinned at him and shook his head. "At least you like a real sport and not something stupid like soccer," he said, entirely too kind about it for Daiki's tastes.

"Fuck you, it's called football, and fuck you again, football is great, even if it's not baseball," Daiki said, jabbing him in the shoulder with a finger and thus recapitulating the early part of their conversation just in time for Satsuki, glowing with exertion, to come over and appropriate what was left of his beer.

"I see that the two of you are getting along," she noted, fanning herself with a hand. It shut Daiki up pretty efficiently, which had probably been her intent in saying it. She drained what remained of his beer and flagged the bartender for another, which was a good idea except that her wallet was still in his pocket.

Daiki paid for her beer anyway, since they were years past the point of keeping score.

Meanwhile, Kagami was complaining to Tetsu. "Can you believe this guy? He doesn't even watch basketball."

Daiki just rolled his eyes and averted them from the easy way that Kagami had dropped his arm around Tetsu, which was why he happened to be looking in the right direction to see the guy down at the other end of the bar, a tall fucker who was broad across the shoulders and leaning over a girl, caging her into the corner with his bulk. She was leaning back, away from him, trying to put as much space between herself and him as she could. And she looked scared, which was all Daiki needed to see. He slid off his stool. "Be right back," he told Satsuki, setting off without waiting for her answer.

By the time he threaded his way through the crowd, Tall Fucker had his hand on her wrist and was starting to look ugly, and she was looking around for help. Where the hell were the bouncers, anyway? Daiki wondered, annoyed. At least the bartenders had the excuse of being busy down at the other end of the bar, where the crowd was.

Whatever. He eeled in between the cluster of girls who were doing their best to ignore what was happening right there in front of them, smiled at the girl reassuringly, and said, "Hey, there you are! I've been looking all over for you." He looked at Tall Fucker—sneering, slicked-back hair, no, those were braids, a few centimeters shorter than he was, jeans and grey shirt, yeah, he'd be able to pick this fucker out of a line-up, no problem—and let the smile slide off his face. "This guy bothering you?"

She had the brains to draw away from Tall Fucker and closer to him and say, "Yes, yes he is."

Tall Fucker drew himself up to his full height, like he thought that was going to impress Daiki or something, and said, "Back off, man, I got here first. The lady and I were just getting to know each other."

"That's not how the lady tells it," Daiki said, wrinkling his nose at the beer breath—Tall Fucker must have been drinking hard. Looked like the angry drunk type, too. Fantastic. "I think she'd rather not get to know you, so maybe you want to move along, huh?"

"Maybe you want to butt the fuck out," Tall Fucker growled, apparently not of a mind to be accommodating. "Find your own piece of action and step off mine before I make you."

"I really don't think so," Daiki said, conscious of the slowly widening space around them and, still halfway across the room, the first bouncers beginning to notice that there was trouble stirring at the bar. "C'mon, dude, she's not interested. Leave her alone."

"Fuck you," Tall Fucker said and swung.

It glanced off Daiki's jaw, too wild to be very effective when Tall Fucker had all but taken out a billboard announcing that he was gonna fight, but there wasn't much room to duck with the girl pressed up against his side. That was fine; Daiki moved with it, ducked the next punch while he was pushing the girl out of the way, and said, loud and clear, "Hey, man, I don't want to fight with you, you don't want to do this—"

Except that Tall Fucker really, really did, and came at him snarling. Honestly, that was just fine with Daiki, even if it did mean splitting his knuckles on the bastard's jaw. Tall Fucker went reeling back, spitting out a curse and possibly also a tooth, and bumped into someone else who reached out and tried to steady him. Tall Fucker came up swinging, apparently ready to take out his rage on anyone convenient.

Too bad for him, the only person handy was Kagami, who broke Tall Fucker's nose with a fucking beautiful right hook just before the bouncers finally got their asses in gear and waded in to take charge of the situation.

*

"I can't take you anywhere," Satsuki moaned later, well after the club manager had indicated in no uncertain terms that they should leave and not come back and they had regrouped in her living room. "Honestly, Dai-chan."

"That was so not my fault," Daiki said, a little offended. "I didn't do anything wrong back there."

She didn't seem to be buying it. "Of course you didn't. That guy just walked into your fist, right?" The one that she was currently cleaning off, in fact.

"He didn't start it," Kagami said, unexpectedly enough. "The other guy definitely threw the first punch."

"That's right," Daiki said, after a moment of being startled. "He did. And he was hassling that girl. I was just trying to help her out." Which he had, so hey, there was his good deed for the month all taken care of.

Satsuki didn't seem to be particularly impressed by either of them. "You're just lucky that guy didn't want to press charges," she said, swabbing out the last split in Daiki's knuckles with extra viciousness.

"He swung first and I very clearly announced that I didn't want to fight him," Daiki said. "Just like all my witnesses said. It was clear self-defense on my part. Kagami's too."

She began slapping ointment on his knuckles, ignoring the way he hissed. "At least you've learned something after all this time."

"You don't have to be so rough, geez," Daiki said. "The guy was an asshole, he totally deserved it." He sighed, thinking about how beautifully the fucker had gone down, dribbling blood and missing at least one tooth. "Totally deserved it."

"Yeah," Kagami agreed, looking about as fondly reminiscent as Daiki felt. "Too bad we couldn't have gotten him out back to really make the point."

"Yeah," Daiki sighed, not even minding that he was agreeing with Kagami. "That is too bad—ow! Satsuki, have a little mercy!"

"There are two of them now," Satsuki told Tetsu, ignoring Daiki's pleas entirely. "Two of them, Tetsu-kun. You realize we have to deal with that, right? I hope you're happy."

"I'm sorry," Tetsu said, smiling faintly, and didn't sound sorry at all.

Part Four

It wasn't like he and Kagami became best buddies overnight or anything, but punching out a creep together, hell, it was practically like bonding. Made it difficult to make himself dislike the guy completely after that, anyway. "Because you're a barbarian," Satsuki said, exasperated, when Daiki mentioned the general weirdness of that to her. "You're a complete barbarian and Kagamin has a few rough edges of his own."

"Whatever," Daiki said, dismissing that. "You're just mad I didn't ask you to help."

She huffed at him but did not deny it. Good old Satsuki, who put up a pretty good front of being sweet and friendly and civilized, and was just as bloodthirsty as he was underneath all that. Was why they got on so well, seriously.

Either way it was easier after that to deal with the fact that Kagami showed up at things with Tetsu, easier to take it when he laughed that loud laugh of his and easier to hold a conversation with him, something more complicated than hi, how are you and would you pass the chips please. Daiki still didn't like him, hell no, but it was—maybe it was just about possible that he didn't hate him, either.

Whatever, though. He didn't have time for introspective shit like that. Satsuki was satisfied with him and Tetsu seemed to be, too, and it didn't matter what Wakamatsu and Sakurai thought, he and Satsuki were totally on track to beat the two of them for highest solve rate inside the department this year, too.

He'd just about talked Satsuki into introducing her new boy to him, too. "It's been, like, five months," he told her one afternoon while they were sitting in the car, watching a building for signs of their perp. "You're gonna have to tell me who he is eventually."

"Emphasis on the eventually," Satsuki said. "I want to be sure he's properly braced for how batshit crazy you are."

"I am not batshit," Daiki objected, more on the principle of the thing than because he thought he was actually sane.

Satsuki gave him a pointed look. "Kite-kun," she said.

"Whatever," Daiki said. "That guy wasn't even good enough to look at you. That's not a fair one. He deserved everything he got."

Even Satsuki had to admit the justice of that, though she said, "I knew that, but he was amazing in bed, and I wasn't done with him yet when you got involved."

Augh, no, argh, he tried to avoid having to know things like that. "Satsuki...!"

She tossed her head, smiling a secretive little smile. "Grow up, Dai-chan. I mean, really."

"I am grown up," he muttered, glaring at her.

"No." She shook her head. "You're probably never going to grow up. Not completely." She pondered it for a moment. "Though I suppose you're making some progress on that front."

Daiki didn't even want to know what that was supposed to mean. "Anyway. When are we gonna meet this guy? The fact that you're not bringing him around does not fill me with confidence."

"You worry too much," Satsuki said. "He's a perfectly nice guy. Lots going for him." She paused and her tone went a little dreamy. "Really. Lots."

"Fuck's sake, Satsuki, stop it," Daiki said, appalled.

She laughed, bright, and then came to attention. "Hey, I think this is our guy."

Daiki peered in the direction of the building. "Huh. I think you're right." He raised the camera and started taking pictures, getting as many clear shots of their perp going in to speak with the manager of the shell company he'd sworn up and down and sideways that he'd never heard of in his life, no sir. "Wakamatsu and Sakurai are going down."

"They totally are," Satsuki agreed, grinning.

So all in all, Daiki felt like he had things under control. Work was going well, he was hanging out with the people he still liked best, and if he still woke up some mornings with the other side of the bed empty when his half-asleep brain thought it should be occupied, well, whose life was perfect?

*

The year was winding down, a chilly November bleeding into a colder, greyer December, when Satsuki finally gave in and said, "Okay, fine, I think I can introduce him to the rest of you lunatics and he won't run screaming."

Kise jumped on the idea like a starving dog on meat. But then, Kise loved any excuse for a party, especially if he could finagle it so that people felt obliged to get dressed up for it.

"A dinner party, really?" Daiki whined at him when the invitation showed up in his mail—an actual invitation on real paper, who even did that anymore?

Besides Kise, who clearly still did, and whose voice on the phone was steely. "Yes, a dinner party. We want to make a good impression on Satsuki's gentleman friend, don't we?"

"I don't know, did you invite Midorima and Murasakibara?" Daiki countered.

Kise covered up his laughter by turning it into a coughing fit. "Wear something nice, Aominecchi," he said, tone brooking no argument. "Have Momoicchi take you shopping, if you have to," he added, just slowly enough to really make it insulting.

"Oh, fuck you," Daiki said, mostly good-natured. Satsuki didn't pick out all his clothes for him, and Kise knew it.

None of them actually had an apartment big enough to hold everyone Kise badgered into agreeing to attend, but that apparently wasn't a problem. Kise just coaxed Murasakibara into letting them use the space in his bakery instead. Daiki hated to admit it, but Kise did occasionally have his ways, even if they mostly consisted of bribery. Because it was for Satsuki, he went ahead and put on a nice shirt and even a tie and showed up at the appointed hour with a bottle of wine.

After all the secrecy, it was pretty anticlimactic to walk in, see Satsuki standing with her hand in the crook of a vaguely-familiar guy's arm, and have to ask himself where he knew the guy from—shit, no, he remembered that face now, from that horrible school festival of knee-biter doom. "Really, Satsuki?" Daiki blurted, mostly exasperated. "He's already met me. What were you so worried about?"

"I had my reasons," Satsuki said, cryptic, leaning against whatsisname's, Mitobe, yeah, that was it, leaning against Mitobe's shoulder while Kise snickered into his sleeve.

"Whatever." Daiki handed the wine off to Kise and sized Mitobe up. Fuck knew why everyone in his life felt the need to get all tangled up with the firefighting types, but maybe they had their charms or something. Who knew? (He would, once he had a chance to log into his work computer and do a background check.) In the meantime, he just offered the guy his hand. "Nice to see you again. Fuck with Satsuki and I'll make you sorry you were ever born."

"And that would be one of my reasons right there," Satsuki sighed. Mitobe simply shook Daiki's hand without turning a hair, which, hey. Point in his favor.

"Be fair, Satsuki-san," Tetsu said, appearing at Daiki's elbow like a ghost and making Daiki glad he'd already given someone else the wine to hold. "He's only saying it out loud so the rest of us don't have to."

"This is why you're my favorite." Daiki smiled down at Tetsu. "You understand me the best."

"I doubt that," Tetsu said, but he was smiling when he said it, so he was only joking. Meanwhile, Kagami and Mitobe were having a one-sided conversation—Mitobe really didn't talk much, huh?—mostly consisting of Kagami giving him a hard time about not having just said something, geez. Then Murasakibara wandered through with a tray of appetizers and Midorima came in, his roommate chattering in his wake, which pretty well completed the party, didn't it?

That was what Daiki was thinking just before the door opened one last time and Akashi fucking Seijuurou drifted in, cool and untouchable, and surveyed the room with a faint smile. "I hope I'm not too late?"

Guy always had known how to make an entrance.

After that, the party really was complete—all of them in one place again, first time since graduation if a person wanted to be technical about it, or before that if he wanted to be accurate. (Official ceremonies that required them all to show up didn't really count, did they?) Daiki tried not to feel all warm and fuzzy about it, really he did, but hell, it was hard not to when everyone was making happy conversation and exchanging all the news and gossip they could stand and Kise was preening in clear self-satisfaction and Tetsu was smiling with open pleasure any time he looked around the room and saw them all together.

Well. Maybe it was kind of nice. Daiki leaned back in his chair and looked around at his friends, and thought, Okay, yeah, this is just about perfect.

He should have known better, because Kise drafted Daiki to help bring in the dessert course from the kitchen, just like he'd drafted most of the rest of them to serve as ad hoc waiters through the meal. When Daiki came back from the kitchen, carrying a tray full of fussy little tarts (definitely Murasakibara's work, even if Kise'd gotten someone else to cater the rest of the meal), Tetsu and Kagami were leaning into each other—whispering a secret to each other? No, they weren't talking, Tetsu's hand was on Kagami's jaw and they were—oh, fuck.

"Someone get that tray before he drops it," he heard someone say, as from a great distance, and the tray disappeared from his hands like magic as Tetsu and Kagami broke apart and looked around.

Someone else—Satsuki, it was Satsuki—she said, "Dai-chan, are you all right?"

He snapped out of it, forcibly pulled himself together, because like fuck was he going to mess up Satsuki's party for her.

Daiki scraped together a smile, summoning it up from the heavens only knew where, and cast it round the room. "Sorry," he said. "Sorry, I don't know what—I think I'd better lay off the wine, huh?" It came out sounding disjointed in his head, jerky, but the important part was that it was an excuse, a plausible one, so hey. That worked. He let—huh, Murasakibara, who knew the guy could move so fast when he was that big?—he let Murasakibara keep on fielding the dessert tray and wobbled to his seat, more or less, trying his best to focus on acting—normal. Whatever normal was. Hell, it didn't matter, long as he didn't—let on. Yeah. Boy, that would be embarrassing.

Daiki lifted his chin a little higher and smiled around the table, doing his best to avoid meeting anyone's eyes or notice the way they were looking at him, embarrassed for him or sorry for him, or, in Satsuki's case, just plain worried for him. Well, fuck that. Like he'd give any of them the satisfaction. He settled back in his chair, reached for his water glass, and toasted them all. "You gonna hand those things out, man? Because, not gonna lie, I thought about making a break out the back door with that tray instead of sharing."

Murasakibara, who alone of the lot of them didn't look particularly embarrassed or worried, maybe just moderately interested in the drama at best, just said, "Kise-chin would have hunted you down." He began passing out the little plates and the frozen, strained quality of the atmosphere began to ease with the clinking of the dishes going around.

"Of course I would have," Kise said, breezing in just in time to have heard that. He smiled around the room, holding the coffee tray and absolutely clueless. "What would I have done?"

"Hunted Aomine down for stealing dessert," Midorima volunteered.

Kise couldn't have missed the awkwardness hanging in the air, but he was probably the best of them at covering over that kind of thing. "Damn right I would have. Hunted him down and used his skull for my lattes, in fact."

Midorima's roommate wrinkled his nose. "That doesn't seem very practical," he said. "The lattes would drain right out, don't you think?"

"Not if you plugged up the eye sockets," Akashi said, more assured about that than was entirely comfortable. "Or you could just turn it upside down and use the brain pan and not worry about the rest."

"...right, so I don't want my dessert any more." Satsuki pushed her plate away, looking a little queasy. "Honestly, Akashi-kun."

He blinked at her, apparently okay with being completely creepy. Daiki was almost grateful for that, even if he did have to wonder, vaguely, whether they were all going to show up on the evening news someday, saying things like, But he was such a quiet guy. "It's merely a matter of logistics."

"But think about the aesthetics," Kise said. "An upside-down skull doesn't have the same effect, does it?"

"It's not too late, you know," Daiki told Mitobe, who was listening to this conversation with a commendable calm. "You start running now, none of us'll be able to catch you." There, he even made all that come out sounding normal. Mostly.

He gave Mitobe extra credit for just smiling and shaking his head.

Then Kise finally sat down and got a forkful of his dessert and went into raptures over it that were over the top and verged on the pornographic, and that was it, things were practically normal again, their collective attention diverted by the dessert and Kise's antics and the general conversational drift. Daiki relaxed, sort of, and threw himself into pretending everything was just fine—that was easy. Hadn't he been doing that for five years or so? He very carefully did not let himself catch Tetsu or Kagami's eyes. Better, much better, not to know what they might have seen on his face. Better not to know whether they felt good or bad or indifferent about it. Better just not to know at all.

What he would have really liked to do was just get up and leave—make an escape to his apartment or maybe just the nearest bar and find a way not to have to think about the way Tetsu and Kagami had leaned into each other, the casual, open intimacy of Tetsu's fingers on Kagami's jaw and the way Kagami had been smiling when their mouths had finally parted. But that would have given away more than Daiki cared to—more than he wanted to show anyone, even Satsuki—so he toughed it out to the bitter end, sticking conspicuously to his glass of water and talking idly about whatever the rest of them wanted. If there was anything at all remotely good about the turn the night had taken, it was that—that—hadn't happened until dessert, when the night was already winding down. Thank fuck for small mercies and for the fact that none of his friends seemed particularly inclined to linger late, and thank fuck for Murasakibara, who disdained their offers to help with the clean-up. "This is why I have employees," he said, which would have been a joke from anyone else. "Go home. It's fine."

Daiki timed it to perfection and announced his goodbyes for the night while Satsuki was still busy trying to pin Akashi down about something or another—probably his poor communication skills—and while Tetsu and Midorima were still wrangling over their next coffee date or something. He escaped into the chilly night and heaved a sigh of relief—a clean getaway, thank goodness.

"Aominecchi, wait up!"

Or not.

Daiki gripped the bridge of his nose, trying to hold onto his temper and wondering why the hell their putative host was chasing after him and not closing down his party like Daiki had been counting on him doing. When Kise caught up with him, he was still struggling into his coat and trailing his scarf like a banner behind him. "We can walk home together," he said, breathless with dashing down the street.

Daiki didn't really want to walk home with anyone, but when he opened his mouth to say so, all that came out was, "Fine." He stuffed his hands into his pockets and buried his chin in his scarf and set off at a determined clip, fast enough that Kise had to work a little to keep up. That, or the fact that Kise wasn't dumb, kept Kise from trying to say anything. They went along in silence, at least until Kise didn't turn off when he should have and followed Daiki right to his door.

Daiki wouldn't have put it past him not to just invite himself in. "What are you doing?" he asked, looking down at his key ring and not Kise.

"Making sure you don't do anything stupid," Kise said, no lilt to his voice at all.

The bark of his laugh scraped against the inside of Daiki's throat. "You're a few years too late for that." He unlocked the door, and Kise followed him in, shuffling off his coat and shoes without saying anything.

Daiki didn't know how he felt about that, but on the other hand, throwing Kise out sounded like more trouble than it was likely to be worth. He undid his tie and the top button of his shirt and ducked into his kitchen nook to get into the cabinet over the sink, where he kept all his worst ideas.

"Yeah, that looks like something pretty damn stupid," Kise said when Daiki pulled down the bottle of whiskey.

Daiki held it up, demonstrating the level of booze left in the bottle. "There's two drinks here," he said. "You want one or not?"

"The things I do for you." Kise sighed. "Okay, hit me."

Daiki snorted and found a pair of clean glasses and split the whiskey between them. He carried them out to the living room; Kise had already switched the kotatsu on and settled there, propping his chin against his fist. He looked serious. Worried.

Great.

Daiki eased himself down and toasted him with one of the glasses. "Bottoms up." The whiskey burned all the way down, smoke and oak and caramel, scouring some of the taste of the evening out of his mouth.

Kise eyed the generous two fingers of whiskey in his own glass and screwed up his face. "Never doubt that I love you." He tossed the drink back. Then he coughed and gasped and gave a full-body shudder as he wheezed. "Fuck, how can you stand that stuff?"

"Practice," Daiki said, grim. "Lots of practice."

Kise wiped the water from his eyes and looked at him. "Yeah, because that's not going to make me worry."

Daiki didn't bother saying anything to that; wasn't like there was anything he could say to it, anyway.

After a moment of getting his breath back, as the kotatsu began to warm up properly, Kise said, quiet, "So I was out of the room for, what, maybe two minutes? But when I came back, you looked like the world had ended. What happened?"

"Nothing." Daiki grimaced. Maybe Kise was the one who knew him too well. "Nothing important."

"Aomine," Kise said and that was all.

Daiki looked away from him, rolling the glass between his palms, back and forth. "It was nothing, really." He studied the water stain on the wall opposite him. "Tetsu and Kagami were just—kissing. That was all."

He heard Kise take a breath, sudden and sharp. "...that would be enough."

Yeah, didn't he just know it? "Stupid, really." Was it worth it to call the landlord over that stain? Probably not. "They're—together. They can do that if they want." They could, even if he didn't really want to see it. What was it people said? Oh yeah. Seeing was definitely believing.

Kise, mercifully, didn't try to say anything to make him feel better. Thank goodness for that. "I'm sorry," he said, quiet, which was maybe just enough.

Daiki raised his hand and ground the heel of his palm against his eyes until he could see fireworks behind his eyelids. "Yeah, thanks." He let his hand drop and chanced a glance at Kise, who was watching him and chewing on his bottom lip. "You don't have to stick around. I'm going to be pretty shitty company tonight."

"Don't worry about it." Kise met his eyes, steady enough. "I don't mind staying if you want me." He lifted a shoulder in a lopsided shrug. "I can listen or be distracting. You know I'm good at that."

Yeah, he did know, come to think of it, and was more than a little bit tempted to take Kise up on that tacit offer. Between the whiskey and Kise, at least he'd be able to forget for a little while. Or maybe not forget, but at least not think. He opened his mouth, ready to say Yeah, sure, distract me, and stopped himself on the brink of it. There was something about the steady, patient way Kise looked at him, something in the faintly rueful edge to the way he described it—good at being distracting—that gave Daiki pause.

Kise raised his eyebrows just a bit and Daiki shook his head, no. "I don't think... I don't think that would be very good," he said, slow and careful, feeling his way through it like picking a path over uncertain ground. "For me or for you. More for you than me, maybe."

Kise was good, Daiki had to hand it to him. He barely showed any reaction except for the faint widening of his eyes. "You shouldn't be so hard on yourself, Aominecchi."

"I'm not, exactly," Daiki said, the certainty growing as he watched Kise and began to actually think about—a lot of things that he should have considered sooner, really, except that he always had been good at not thinking about anything he didn't really want to know, hence sitting here with Kise and drinking whiskey. Why should this be any different? Especially when Kise was damn good at showing only what he wanted to have seen. "But this... really isn't good for us." He stopped and corrected himself. "For you." He met Kise's gaze as squarely as he could. "Is it?"

Kise was the one who looked away this time. "I'm a big boy now," he said lightly. "I can make my own decisions about what's good for me, you know."

Daiki studied the way Kise wouldn't quite meet his eyes and the way he fidgeted with his empty glass and knew. "You deserve better than this," he said. "You really do."

Kise shifted restless in his seat and began pleating the edge of the kotatsu's blanket between his fingers. "Maybe I don't care about that." He still wasn't quite looking at Daiki, and his mouth was tense. Unhappy. "Maybe I don't care at all."

"You should," Daiki said, the words coming slow. "You really should. You can't—keep waiting. I'm not—it's been five years and some already. I'm not—gonna be able to walk away from that." It had been part of him for too long, the thing that had marked him harder and deeper than anything else in his life, and he was going to die someday still missing Tetsu desperately.

Kise twisted the cloth in his hands, gripping it tightly enough that the skin turned white over his knuckles. "You don't know that."

"No," Daiki said, hating the way it made Kise twitch and having to say it anyway. "I do know. And you—really. You deserve better." That was the very least of what Kise deserved to hear from him, but it would have to do for now.

"Don't you?" Kise looked up, his tone going harder and his mouth twisting around the words. "Don't you deserve better too?"

"I already had my better," Daiki said. "And I let it walk out the door and didn't—didn't even try to stop it." He shrugged, though it was hard to do. Hard to be even a little dismissive of that. "You haven't. Not really."

Kise's whole expression went dark. "Oh, fuck you." That was good, anger was better than any of the alternatives that Daiki could think of. Considering. "Fuck you, you of all people don't get to sit there and tell me what to do with myself, you asshole. You don't get to make that call."

Fuck. Daiki rubbed his face, starting to regret the heavy dinner and the wine and the whiskey on top of that, and a tiny, selfish part of him especially regretted not having just accepted the offer when Kise had extended it. "No," he said, trying to channel Satsuki, who was the most sensible person he knew when it came to things like this. "No, I don't get to do that. You're right. But I don't have to enable you, either."

"But I don't mind being enabled," Kise said, one part pissed off to two parts hurt. "I really don't." He stopped and made a face. "Except for right now, maybe, because you're really being an asshole."

"You'd think you'd be used to that part by now," Daiki said in spite of himself.

Although he laughed, Kise didn't sound particularly amused. "You would think, wouldn't you?" He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "You're not going to change your mind. Are you."

Daiki made himself look at Kise, eye to eye, and shook his head. "No," he said, regretting it. "No. I'm sorry."

"Fuck." Kise dragged a hand over his face, though that didn't do anything to ease the tight, unhappy set of his expression. "Fuck, now I feel—really damn stupid."

"You shouldn't." Daiki tried for a smile or something close to it. "I think we have conclusive evidence that the idiot is me. Definitely me."

Kise opened his mouth and then stopped, closed it, and shook his head. "So do you still want me to stick around, or should I clear out?" The question sounded abrupt. A little forced. Not that Daiki could blame him for that.

"Stick around if you want," Daiki told him. "The company would be nice, I guess. We can be miserable together or something." It wasn't even a lie; maybe it was selfish of him, but at least he was pretty sure Kise knew what kind of miserable he was right now, wanting something that he wasn't gonna ever get. "I think I still have some vodka in the freezer."

Kise shuddered. "What did your liver ever do to you?" he asked, almost like normal. "Honestly, you ought to be a little nicer to it."

"Yeah, yeah. Now you sound like Satsuki." Daiki lifted a hand and held it out, palm open. "Up to you."

Kise looked away again. "I—don't think I can stay. I just—sorry."

"Don't," Daiki said, surprising himself with how fiercely it came out. "Don't apologize to me. Not about this."

Kise closed his eyes and laughed soundlessly. "Sure," he said. "Whatever you say, Aominecchi." He opened his eyes and clambered to his feet and held a hand down to Daiki to help him up, too. "I'm just gonna take what's left of my dignity and go, okay? Just—do me a favor?"

Daiki had too much experience to say yes without asking for more details first. "What?"

Kise held onto his wrist and looked at him, serious. "Don't drink anything else tonight, okay? Please?"

"...sure. If it'll make you feel better," Daiki said, since—well, that was the route of common sense.

He was pretty sure that it didn't say anything good about him when Kise looked relieved. "Okay, good, I'll just—" He let go of Daiki's hand and made a gesture at the door.

Daiki got out of his way and let him get back into his coat and shoes. "I guess I'll see you later," he said while Kise was settling his scarf into place.

"Yeah, of course." Kise's smile looked practically normal as long as Daiki didn't look at his eyes, too. "Definitely." He paused, lingering, and then reached out to reel Daiki in and embrace him. "If you change your mind—" he said, soft against Daiki's ear.

"I know where to find you," Daiki told him. "You'll be the first person I call."

"I'll look forward to it." Kise turned him loose then, fast and abrupt, and stepped back, color running high on his face. "Later, I guess."

"Yeah," Daiki said. "I'll see you later."

Kise gave him a quick, uncertain smile and let himself out.

Once the door was safely shut behind him, Daiki permitted himself to slump.

Fuck
.

*

Daiki entirely failed to be surprised when Satsuki let herself into his apartment first thing the next morning, bright and early, and saluted her from where he was sprawled over the kotatsu and watching shitty educational shows for little kids. "Morning," Daiki told her. "There's coffee on in the kitchen if you want it."

Satsuki looked down at him, not even bothering to hide her surprise. "Thanks," she said, recovering fast, and picked up his coffee cup before she ducked into the kitchen nook to get a cup for herself. Daiki pushed himself to a mostly upright position by the time she came back and sat down. She gave him a long, thoughtful look. "You're surprisingly un-hungover."

"Go figure, right?" Daiki added sugar to his coffee and shrugged at her. "Kise made me promise I wouldn't drink."

"Thank goodness for Ki-chan." Satsuki glanced around and surely missed nothing. "He already go home?"

"He didn't stay over." Daiki curled his hands around the coffee, warming his fingers and not looking at her. "I wish you would have told me that he, uh. Had a thing for me."

Satsuki made a startled sound; it was a morning for surprises, huh? "I was waiting for him to man up and tell you himself. I wasn't expecting him to do it last night, though."

"He didn't." Daiki watched her from the corner of his eye and saw the flash of her startlement. "I just—finally caught a clue." Had caught a lot of clues, actually.

"Oh," Satsuki said, softly. "I guess it didn't go very well." Daiki gave her the look that deserved and she grimaced. "Okay, yeah. Stupid question. Sorry." She sipped her coffee, frowning into the cup. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"Not really." Not that he thought that he was going to have much say about that. Daiki slouched lower and gave the commercial playing on the television far more attention than it deserved.

"Why am I not surprised?" Satsuki sounded more resigned than anything else. "Did you fight?"

Daiki had to think about that one, actually. "I dunno." He shrugged and hunched over his coffee a little more—man, some mornings, verticality just wasn't worth it. "Not like a fight fight. But he wasn't exactly happy when he left." Big surprise, that.

"How come he left?" Satsuki asked, gently ruthless. She was treating him just like a fragile witness, and was going to drag the whole thing out of him in pieces, probably.

He considered making it easy and just telling her the whole thing, but no. A guy deserved whatever dignity he could hold onto. So Daiki shrugged at her. "I clued in," he said, eyes on the screen even though he wasn't registering anything but bright colors and movement. "I said we shouldn't keep on sleeping together, and he didn't agree. So, you know." He took a drink of coffee. "Eventually he left."

She didn't push for more, not until he was halfway through the cup of coffee. When she did, it was from a direction he hadn't expected. "Well, why not? You and Ki-chan—well. You get along, don't you?"

There she went, right for the throat. Fuck, she was merciless. Daiki put his coffee down and scrubbed his hands through his hair. "He's not Tetsu. He deserves someone who's going to want him like I want Tetsu."

Satsuki made a pained noise. "But Tetsu is—"

"I know," Daiki said fast, because knowing it didn't mean he had to want to hear it again. "I saw. It doesn't—that doesn't matter. It doesn't change anything that matters. And that's why Kise and I—that's why we can't any more." Because that was the trick, wasn't it? Kise had pushed for him to talk to Tetsu, had pushed for him to deal with it and make a fresh start, and that—well. Maybe Kise knew now not to wait for that to happen.

Daiki hoped he did.

Satsuki didn't say anything. On the television, one show ended and another began, virtually indistinguishable from the one that preceded it. Daiki snuck a look at her and saw that she was frowning. Disappointed or something. "Maybe you're being hasty."

Daiki dropped his eyes to his coffee and traced his fingertip along the rim of the cup. "You think?" And she is so rarely wrong, Tetsu's voice murmured, dry, in his memory.

"Sometimes you are," she said. "Even with the best of intentions." Satsuki reached over and laid a hand over his. "I just don't want to watch you make another mistake, Dai-chan."

"I'm trying not to," he told her. "I really am." There was no good reason to drag Kise down with him, none that Daiki could see, and Kise wasn't like him—Kise knew how to let things go.

Daiki envied him that talent.

"That's what worries me the most." She squeezed his hand. "Just—think about it. Last night was—not good, right?" Understatement of the century, that. "Maybe after a few days, things won't seem so—so—"

"So stupendously fucked up?" Daiki suggested when she stopped to search for the right way to put it. "Yeah. Maybe not. I guess we'll see." He took a drink of his coffee and elected to change the subject. "So. Mitobe. He gonna stick around, or did we scare him off after all?"

Satsuki's whole attitude changed, going soft-eyed and positively gooey. "You guys didn't scare him off," she said, smiling over something soft and private.

So. It was more serious than she'd been letting on. "Gotcha." Daiki saluted her. "Well, good for you. Seems like an okay guy, I guess.... not much of a talker, though."

"I know," Satsuki said. "But he knows how to listen." She smiled, small and wry. "I find it an extremely pleasant change from what I'm used to."

"Hey," Daiki protested, just like he always did when it came to jabs like that one. "I listen."

"Only when you don't have any other choice."

...yeah, he had to give her that one. "Yeah, yeah." He finished the last of his coffee and sat up again. "Anyway. Congratulations. You look happy." She dimpled, proving the point. "So tell me about him, now that he's not a secret any more."

Satsuki was only too happy to oblige him, but hey, that was fine. Daiki cared a lot more about her than he did what was on television, which only made it easier to concentrate on her instead of the glorious fucking mess he'd made of his personal life. Really, from that perspective, they both won.

*

The last time—how sad was it that he could even string those words together, anyway?—the last time Daiki had realized that Tetsu was definitely gone, he'd lost his head a little bit. A lot. Whatever. He'd done his best to self-destruct the rest of his life, like a funeral pyre for everything he'd ruined. He would have accomplished that if Satsuki hadn't enlisted Kise to drag him home and sober him up in time for his finals so he could actually graduate instead of pissing away years of hard work (just like everyone who'd ever known him, barring Satsuki and Tetsu and the friends that had come after them, had predicted he would).

This time he was a grown man and Satsuki was preoccupied, just a little, with her new boyfriend, and Kise was—no, Kise probably would come and help keep Daiki from self-destructing again, if the situation warranted it. That, more than anything else, kept Daiki from doing anything stupid with himself.

Maybe that was what they meant when they talked about growing up. If it was, Daiki couldn't say he was very impressed with it.

At least Satsuki took the hint that he really didn't want to talk about it, not after the first awful morning after, and left him alone during the week, though she kept a close, careful eye on him—some days it seemed like he couldn't turn around without catching her looking at him, her forehead puckered by her frown.

At the end of the week, she said, very carefully, "So. Are you coming to movie night?" It was her neutral tone, the one she pulled out when she wanted to be very clear with someone that no matter which way they jumped, she was going to be supportive. (Daiki had become intimately familiar with that tone over the years.)

Daiki carefully straightened the edges of the files he was holding, wanted desperately to say fuck no, and made himself say, "Yeah, sure, why wouldn't I?"

Satsuki frowned up at him, her eyes worried, but said, "Okay, I was just checking. I guess Midorima is coming, too—he's at loose ends this weekend or something."

"Oh, hell," Daiki said. "He's going to try and get us to watch those awful medical dramas again, isn't he?"

"They're not that bad," Satsuki said.

"They are when he starts complaining about bad medicine." Daiki made a face. "With the descriptive examples and stuff."

Satsuki was willing to concede him that one. Some of Midorima's descriptions could get downright visceral. "That can be a little unsettling. Well. We can all have a vote or something."

"Midorima has his ways," Daiki said, not holding a lot of faith in any hypothetical vote. Great, now he was committed to an evening of movies with people he really didn't want to see right now, with a side of overwrought medical drama and clinical descriptions of what an actual cardio-limbic-infarc-whatsis would really do to a person on top of that. Sounded like a fantastic way to start the weekend, really.

There was no backing out of it after giving his word—okay, that wasn't strictly true, Satsuki wouldn't have held it against him if he had, but she'd know that he'd chickened out, so effectively speaking, there was no backing out—so Daiki sucked it up, picked up some soft drinks on the way over to her place so that he'd have an alternative to doing anything really stupid, and let himself in after psyching himself up to pretend that everything was perfectly normal and just fine.

"Fuck's sake, Satsuki, you have got to get a bigger place," he said while he was kicking off his shoes and putting on his slippers. "You don't have enough room for this kind of crowd." Because Midorima was there, and Mitobe too, and Kise (laughing like he was fine, not that that meant very much), plus Tetsu and—that guy.

"By all means, feel free to take over hosting duties any time you like, Dai-chan," Satsuki said, tart, and took his coat from him to go toss over the pile in her bedroom. "I don't know why my apartment is the only place we ever do these things," she added when she'd returned.

"It's the nicest," Kise told her, cheerful. "And the biggest, except for Midorimacchi's place, and he won't ask us over because he's practically a hermit."

"I have boundaries," Midorima corrected him. "Clear boundaries and enough discipline to enforce them." He frowned at them all when they laughed. "Also, my roommate keeps irregular hours."

At some point, Daiki really was going to have to get to the bottom of the thing between Midorima and that roommate of his, whom Midorima seemed barely to tolerate and yet continued to keep around. But that wasn't pressing. For the time being, he went to put his sodas in the refrigerator. When he came back out, Tetsu was saying, "If you like, Satsuki-san, we can have movie night at my place next week."

Satsuki pounced on the offer. "That would be lovely," she said, beaming at Tetsu.

Great.

Daiki pasted a smile on his face, cracked his soda open, and said, "So what are we watching tonight?"

Midorima pushed the glasses up the bridge of his nose and produced a pair of DVD cases like magic. "I took the liberty of bringing a few things with me—"

Yep, that's pretty much what he'd expected. Daiki sipped his soda and did his best to pretend that everything was normal (that there weren't several pairs of eyes watching his every move) and did his best to argue down the medical drama about the plucky young doctor versus the corrupt board of hospital directors and their foul conspiracies, and the one about the rapid spread of a deadly disease and the plucky young doctor racing against time to find a way to stop it, not that it did much good. Midorima did have his ways.

He opted out of the food argument altogether and dealt with the issue of where to sit instead, because whatever else he could say about the evening, he'd been right about one thing: there really were too many people in the place to be completely comfortable.

Midorima ruthlessly turfed Kise out of the armchair and the two couples crammed themselves onto the couch, mostly by dint of the fact that Satsuki was willing to just about sit on Mitobe's lap and that Tetsu and Kagami knew how to negotiate each other's spaces—yeah, enough of that thought.

Kise and Daiki eyed each other and came to a silent accord: Kise took the floor next to Midorima and Daiki took the spot at the far end of Satsuki's couch, where he could mostly not see anything he didn't want to.

It could have been worse. It could have been a lot worse. Aside from the way everyone kept watching him, apart from the way that Kise was practically scintillating in his efforts to be cheerful, it was almost normal. Almost like everyone was doing what Daiki had hoped they would and were pretending that the previous weekend had never ever happened.

Yeah. It definitely could have been worse.

Somehow, at the end of the night, after the second of Midorima's movies had left Daiki feeling the profound need to bleach and disinfect everything he owned and then never ever come within breathing distance of another human being ever again, he found himself heading out at the same time as Midorima himself. It was almost as good as walking alone, since Midorima wasn't the talkative sort. Or so Daiki thought, right up until the moment the guy said, "I'm surprised you joined us this evening."

Aw, fuck. Daiki exhaled a long plume of foggy breath. "The world's just full of surprises, isn't it?"

"I suppose so." Midorima frowned, Daiki guessed because he disliked the untidiness of that fact. "I thought you'd withdraw after you realized that Kuroko was not going to be tempted away from Kagami." Only it came out sounding like Why haven't you given up already?

They walked half a block together before Daiki trusted himself to answer that. "If it was anyone else but you who'd said that to me, I would have punched them. Just so you know." Only Midorima was an exception to the ordinary rules of conversation, and always had been.

Midorima snorted softly but then said, "I suppose so." It was practically an apology by his standards. "But the point stands."

Damn him and his stupid, prying ways. Daiki scowled at him, but Midorima waited, imperturbable. "I already knew that," Daiki said, just to shut him up. (Midorima's silences could get fucking loud.) "I knew from the start." From the moment he'd seen Tetsu hand off his lunch to Kagami, a silent, casual intimacy on display for the whole world to see, if only it had the eyes. Yeah. He'd known. He'd just needed not to acknowledge it.

So much for that. At least he'd managed to arrange it such that he hadn't had to give Tetsu up completely, this time.

"I find that difficult to believe," Midorima said, judging him with every step they took.

What could he say? He was a fucking genius at not paying attention to the things he didn't want to know. Daiki blew another stream of foggy breath out to hang in the air, exasperated. "Tetsu wanted to be friends again."

"Ah," Midorima said, sounding peculiarly satisfied. "Now I see."

"Congratu-fucking-lations," Daiki told him, because seriously, fuck Midorima and his obsessive need to know everything.

Midorima paced along beside him in silence for another block, then said, "I would offer advice, but I'm not qualified to give it. Not for this." He nudged his glasses up his nose. "I'm sorry."

"Forget it," Daiki said. "I'm shit at taking advice anyway."

"So I've heard." Midorima lapsed back into silence until their ways parted, and all he did then was nod to Daiki and wish him a good night before heading home, a tall, upright figure in the glow of the streetlamps. Daiki watched him go and wondered what it was like to be so untouchable and fucking sure of everything.

Part Five

It took all of Daiki's nerve to finally knock on Tetsu's door a week after that, because seriously, just looking at it made him think about the last time he'd been here and all the ways it had hammered home just how big a fuck-up he could be. When Kagami opened the door, he instantly regretted it. "Hey," he said, refusing to show awkwardness in the face of the enemy—no, damn it, man up—in the face of Tetsu's boyfriend. "Sorry I'm running late. There was a line at the store."

Mostly because he'd left it to the last minute, absolutely not wanting to be the first person to show up at Tetsu's place for movie night. Sometimes he was stupid, but not that stupid.

"Don't worry about it." Kagami stood aside to let him into the apartment, which smelled amazing, actually, like food that wasn't takeout, what the hell, and was also weirdly empty of people. "Not like there's a schedule."

"No." Daiki let Kagami take the six-pack—what, he was only human—out of his hands so he could exchange his shoes for guest slippers. "Where is everyone?"

"Tetsuya scorched the garlic bread and ran out to get another loaf." Kagami moved into the kitchen as Daiki stripped out of his coat. "He'll be back soon. I guess Kise's boss decided to take a long weekend somewhere warm, and Midorima is doing whatever it is he does when he's not feeling like being social."

"But where's Satsuki?" Daiki said as he hung up his coat and realized that he was currently alone with Tetsu's boyfriend. He promptly reached for his phone to text Satsuki the very same question.

Her reply came back even faster than Kagami's did, so fast that she must have been waiting for him to text her. Rin-chan traded for the night off and we're staying in blinked up at him from his phone as Kagami said, casual, "Oh, I guess she couldn't make it," as he picked up a spoon and stirred something on the stove.

"Oh, fuck me," Daiki said as all the implications of that sank home for him.

Kagami glanced up at him, a half smile kicking up the corner of his mouth. "Think you're gonna want to wait for Tetsuya to get back for that one."

The response exploded out of Daiki before he could even think about it, because seriously, like hell was he gonna stand there and let that fucking asshole laugh at him. "Fuck you," he said, grabbing for his coat with hands shaking with his fury. "Fuck you, fuck you so much, you son of a bitch—"

"Aw, Jesus." Kagami dropped his spoon and took the two long steps away from the stove to where Daiki was struggling with his coat and everything else, shame and rage and the sick realization that Kagami knew, which was somehow the worst part of all, and if Kagami knew, then—Kagami caught Daiki's shoulder. "Hang on, calm down, I didn't mean anything by that—"

It was somehow far less gratifying than Daiki had thought it would be to finally throw a punch at Kagami's stupid face, possibly because Kagami staggered back a step and didn't actually let go of him. "Okay," he said, making a face as Daiki's brain finally caught up with his instincts and said, horrified, You just punched Tetsu's boyfriend. "Okay, you got that out of your system now?"

"Shit," Daiki said, staring at him, still stuck on the fact that he'd punched Tetsu's boyfriend. Tetsu was never going to speak to him again. "Oh, shit."

Kagami gripped his shoulder more tightly. "Yeah, okay, come on, sit down. Breathe, that'll help." He dragged Daiki over to the table and pressed him down into one of the chairs. "Come on, take a deep breath for me, you don't want to pass out, do you? Of course you don't, that'd just be stupid, right? Yeah, good, now take another for me—"

"You don't have to tell me how to fucking breathe," Daiki snapped.

"Not any more," Kagami agreed, straightening up and dropping himself in the chair next to Daiki's. "Was touch and go there for a minute."

Daiki dropped his face into his hands and just groaned. "I hate you so fucking much."

"Do you really?" He couldn't see Kagami's face, but his voice—he sounded like he was genuinely curious. Daiki couldn't help the sound he made, sheer disbelief that Kagami could honestly be for real. "I've been wondering about that, to be honest."

Daiki lifted his face from his hands, and yeah, Kagami looked just as—big and dumb and honestly curious as he'd sounded. "Why?"

Kagami shrugged. "I figured you did at first. Then you warmed up, and then you got really weird, and just now you punched me." He rubbed his jaw. "Mixed signals all over the place."

So he was an amateur psychologist, too. Great. Daiki looked away from him, at the stack of plates and silverware waiting at the corner of the table, ready to be set out for a meal. "Fucked if I know what I think of you," he said. "Be easiest if I could just go ahead and hate you."

"Yeah," Kagami said, bizarrely good-natured about it. "That's what I thought for a while, too."

"The fuck is that supposed to mean?" Daiki asked, wary of everything that was coming out of Kagami's mouth at this point.

Kagami blinked at him like it was supposed to have been self-evident. "I figured that it'd be easier to just hate you for a while," he said, clarifying some things and rendering others more confusing. "I mean, honestly. You make everything a lot more complicated." When Daiki stared at him, baffled, he grimaced again and shook his head. "Crap. Okay. Sorry. I'm doing this all backwards." He sat up straighter and said, very solemn and grave, "You and me, we need to talk."

Oh, fuck. Oh, fuckety fuck. Daiki tried to think, to cudgel his brain into finding some way to escape this conversation, or failing that, find some way of persuading Kagami that really, his being around Tetsu was innocent. Honorable, anyway. Whatever Kagami needed to hear to keep him from telling Daiki to back off. But his brain was still stuck on the fact that he'd punched Tetsu's boyfriend, so all he could come up with was, "I don't see why."

"Knowing you has made so many things make more sense," Kagami said, apparently not particularly moved by this response. "So many things, you have no idea." He snorted. "None of you do, far as I can tell."

Daiki left off trying to find a way to escape the conversation in order to give Kagami a suspicious look. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Kagami rolled his eyes. "What do you think it means?" He gestured, waving a broad hand through the air. "Some of the stuff Tetsuya does. The group of you. All the history you guys have together. The way you people act doesn't even make sense sometimes until after a guy's had a chance to see you together as a group. " He shrugged. "It all makes a lot more sense now that I've met you."

Nope, Daiki did not want to sit here any more or listen to Kagami talking about Tetsu, and Tetsu and his histories, or any of that. "Okay, I'm done." He pushed his chair back from the table.

"You still love him, don't you?" Kagami asked, straight to the point. Daiki froze, too alarmed to react any other way, and Kagami studied him. He nodded. "Yeah, I thought so. I wasn't sure at first, what with the stories Momoi told about you, you and Kise, but yeah. You really do, don't you?"

"I should have punched you harder," Daiki said, still frozen in his seat. He couldn't tell where Kagami was going with this, not when Kagami said those things so calmly. Casually, like he was discussing the fucking weather and not Daiki's feelings for Tetsu.

The bastard just laughed. "You punched plenty hard enough, thanks." He rubbed his jaw again, probing it gently. "Trust me on that one." He dropped his hand, resting it against the table, and looked at Daiki. "So, do you?"

Daiki looked away from him, studying the pictures Tetsu had hanging on his refrigerator, scribbles in crayon that probably represented some ankle-biter's finest artistic endeavors. Anything was better than looking at Kagami and his steady eyes. "What does it even matter?"

Kagami didn't respond right away, not until Daiki snuck an unwilling peek at him. He was frowning a little, the corners of his mouth tucked down. "It matters," he said. "I don't know what I'm gonna say next until you tell me what's going on with you and Tetsuya."

Oh, fuck, no. No. "Nothing," Daiki said instantly, in the faint, futile hope that he might somehow be able to salvage this yet. "There's not anything, we're just friends, I promise—please, you have to believe me, I wouldn't—I would never—he's with you, I know that—"

Kagami blinked and shook his head, looking a little stunned by the onslaught of Daiki's denials. "No," he said, slow, like he was trying to be careful. "No, I know that. Just tell me, for Chrissakes—do you love him or not?"

"I won't do anything about it," Daiki said, panic clawing the inside of his ribcage, since he couldn't tell whether Kagami was buying it or not. "I swear, I won't—I won't try anything, I just want to stay his friend. Please." He was on the verge of begging and the worst part was that he wasn't even ashamed of it. "Please, I promise—please, let me have that much."

Kagami's eyes went wider and wider the faster Daiki babbled, until he looked stunned. "Jesus," he said after a moment, when Daiki was fighting to get a decent breath and trying not to be terrified that he was going to lose Tetsu again. "Jesus, Aomine. Is that all you really want?"

"It's enough." Daiki tucked his hands under his elbows and looked down, away from him. "I can make it be enough." His throat felt tight, just saying it. "It's better than not having Tetsu around at all." That much he could say with absolute authority.

"Jesus," Kagami said again, quietly. "You poor bastard. You're twenty kinds of fucked up, aren't you?"

Daiki was already hanging onto his elbows; that was good. It kept him from launching another swing at Kagami for the edge of pity in his tone. "Fuck you," he snarled. "Fuck you, I'm just fine, I don't want your pity—" He stopped himself, even though the anger felt better than the sick feeling in his gut, and forced himself to take a breath and look Kagami in the eye again. "If you're going to tell me to stop hanging around Tetsu, then just do it and get it the fuck over with."

Kagami looked at him and said, "I'm not going to do that."

Daiki couldn't decide whether he believed that. "No?"

Kagami shook his head. "No." He laughed then, short and rueful. "For one thing, that's not my call, is it? I mean, Tetsuya's the one who gets to decide who his friends are, right? I'm his boyfriend, not his keeper."

Daiki tried to make that make sense—well, okay, he supposed that there was a point there, Tetsu was definitely the one who ought to get to decide who he wanted his friends to be, but even so, surely there were some lines that shouldn't be crossed. Being friends with the ex-boyfriend who was still—still hung up on him, that had to be one of those lines. But Kagami was smiling just a bit, like he really meant that, so—"What the fuck did you want to talk about, then?" Was the bastard just dredging all this up for his own amusement?

Kagami drummed his fingers against the table, screwing up his face as he thought. "Tetsuya gets to decide who his friends are," he said once more, for effect or emphasis or something. Then he switched gears abruptly. "My dad worked in the States for about a decade when I was growing up," he said, which wasn't news—Daiki already knew that—and had nothing to do with anything as far as Daiki could see. "We lived on the west coast while he did. L.A. San Francisco."

He said it like it was supposed to mean something to Daiki. "So the fuck what?"

Kagami sighed like a man tested to the limits of his patience. "So I'm saying that maybe I don't see these things the way most people do." He squinted at Daiki and seemed to give up on trying to be subtle, or whatever it was he thought he was doing. "If Tetsuya wants you to be his other boyfriend, okay. I'm cool with that."

"What?" Daiki said, blank, because he had to have missed something in there that would have made that make sense. "What the fuck?"

Kagami rolled his eyes to the ceiling, toward the heavens, like he was asking for just a little more patience or something. "I can't use smaller words than that," he said when he looked down again. "I'm trying to tell you that I don't mind you being my boyfriend's other boyfriend." He made a face. "I wasn't too sure about you at first, but you grow on a person, kind of like a fungus or something."

Daiki let the insult pass by, too stunned to get properly exercised about it. "You're—you're not serious," he said. "You can't be, you wouldn't—is this supposed to be some kind of joke?" Because if it was—if it was, he could already feel the first stirrings of absolute fury at the thought that Kagami might be toying with him, and the next time, he was going to fucking break the bastard's jaw.

The smile left Kagami's face. "No joke," he said. "I mean it. If Tetsuya and you want to try and work something out and give it a second shot..." He shrugged. "Okay by me. All I wanted was to make sure you could own up to caring while you were sober, too. The rest of it is up to the two of you."

Daiki focused on the one point of that he could actually comprehend. "What do you mean, while I'm sober, too?"

Kagami gave him a very kind, patient sort of look, like one did with particularly stupid children. "The very first time we met, you remember that? And how you got blind, stinking drunk?" He paused to let that sink in. "You're a chatty drunk."

"Oh, fuck," Daiki said, thinking about sliding under the table and hiding there, or reaching for one of the butter knives and stabbing himself, or something—because all he really remembered about that night was that he had gotten drunk. "Oh, no." What had he said, fuck.

Kagami smiled, small and a little evil. "It was an illuminating evening," he said. "I thought Tetsuya was crazy at first, but like I said, it makes more sense now." He settled back in his chair, like he'd said all he wanted to say. "It's not like the two of you need my permission, exactly, but if you want to try, that's okay by me. Or not, if you don't."

"How?" Daiki said, dazed with embarrassment and disbelief and—no, no, he wasn't going to hope, he wasn't going to let himself want, he'd never survive the disappointment. "How could you possibly be okay with that?"

Kagami got serious again. "Because it's Tetsuya," he said. "He never lets go of what he loves. Not ever." His smile then was something different, something tender, something Daiki had seen before, the night of that awful dinner party. "And I know he loves me. Just like he loves you." He shrugged again, comfortable with the impossibilities spilling out of his mouth. "The rest is just logistics."

"You must be crazy," Daiki said helplessly. "Completely crazy. You can't know—why would Tetsu want—he's already got you. Why would he possibly have anything to do with me after—after—fuck." He scrubbed his hands over his face.

Kagami's voice was kind again as he said, "That's something you'll have to ask him, not me." The table shook as he pushed his chair back. He was standing when Daiki looked. "Which is my cue, I guess." He dropped a hand on Daiki's shoulder, squeezing it briefly as he went past, and—

Tetsu was leaning in the doorway of the kitchen, a bag in his hand, until Kagami stopped and stooped to kiss him, resting his hand on Tetsu's hip as he did and Tetsu lifting his free hand to hook around the back of Kagami's neck. "Let me know," Kagami said when he lifted his mouth away from Tetsu's.

Tetsu smiled up at him and said, "Of course."

Daiki watched the performance in a numb kind of horror, because—how long had Tetsu been standing there?

Kagami went on out; after a moment, Daiki heard the bang of the front door closing as Tetsu came into the kitchen and dropped the bag on the counter. He leaned over the stove to turn down the heat, then looked at Daiki and smiled, small and quiet.

"How long were you there?" Daiki asked, nausea churning his gut.

"Long enough." Tetsu came away from the stove and took Kagami's abandoned seat. He rested his gaze on Daiki, clear and calm. "Not entirely fair of me, I know. But I needed to hear."

Hear what? Not that it mattered. "You could have just asked."

Tetsu looked at him. "I wasn't sure whether you would answer," he said. "And there were things Taiga needed to be sure of himself." He paused and added, "From now on, I'll just ask."

What else could he possibly need to know? They'd already had everything from him, one way or another.

Daiki nodded anyway and looked down, studying the grain of the table so he wouldn't have to see Tetsu watching him, until Tetsu said, quietly, "Daiki, do you have anything you want to ask me?"

Daiki flinched in spite of himself, wincing back from the absolute gentleness of Tetsu's tone and the question itself. "No," he said, tightening his hands on his elbows. "No, I'm—I'm fine."

Tetsu was silent and for a moment, the only sound was the low bubbling of whatever was on the stove, until Tetsu said, voice sharp, "I trust that you don't actually expect me to believe that." Daiki jerked his head up—no, Tetsu did look irritated now. "I know better," Tetsu continued, glaring at him. "You know better. Talk to me."

"I—" Daiki swallowed hard. "I don't—what am I supposed to say?" What could he possibly say to Tetsu after all that he'd done?

Tetsu pressed his lips together, flat and frustrated. "Tell me what you want," he said—ordered.

Daiki hunched his shoulders against that, against the uncertainty of—everything. "Whatever—whatever you want," he said, groping for the right way to say it. "That's—whatever you like. That's fine by me." Whatever would let him salvage something of them.

They weren't the right words; Tetsu gripped the bridge of his nose and sighed. "That's not what you want," he said. "That's what you're willing to settle for." He lowered his hand and fixed an intent look on Daiki, one that stilled the breath in Daiki's throat. "Now. Tell me what you want."

"You," Daiki said, helpless before that. "You, like we used to be, before I fucked it up—however I can have you. I don't care. If I can just be close to you, that's. That's more than I deserve, I know."

The irritation melted out of Tetsu's eyes. "That's better," he said. "Don't try to tell me what you think I want to hear. That won't work. It can't work."

Daiki nodded, guilty. "Sorry," he said. "I'm sorry."

"It's all right," Tetsu said, gentler now. "This kind of thing... never was your strongest suit. Maybe that's why it went so wrong back then. This time, too, maybe." He sighed again while Daiki tried to figure out what that meant. "What are we going to do with you?"

"I have no idea," Daiki confessed, since hell, it wasn't like he had anything left to hold back anymore. "I'm so confused."

"I know." There was the faintest, rueful edge to that. "That part is... very clear. I'm sorry. I'd hoped it would be as obvious for you as it was for us. I should have known better."

Daiki dropped his gaze to the table again at the reminder that Tetsu and Kagami were in this—whatever the fuck it was—together. "I don't understand what you're trying to do."

"I suppose I'm trying to create a chance for you and me to try again." Tetsu's voice was quiet and steady—steady like he meant every word of what he was saying. "Only this time we'd be older, perhaps a little wiser, and might be able to get it right."

"You're with him now," Daiki said, not daring to look up—not yet. If he looked up, Tetsu would be able to see his face. Tetsu had always been good at reading his expressions. Too good. "How can you—how can we—when there's him?"

"I would like to have you both," Tetsu said. He paused, reflecting on that perhaps. "I always have been greedy." There was the tiniest hint of laughter threading through those words. "It wouldn't be the same as before," he added, sober again. "I hope that this time, it might be better."

"You want both of us?" Tetsu had to be—but he sounded so serious. Daiki risked a look at him, and yes, he looked as serious as he sounded, as serious as he'd ever been.

"I do." Tetsu smiled at him then, small and wry. "But I have to tell you, it was Taiga's idea to try. In case you were wondering." Daiki felt his jaw drop, but couldn't quite bring himself to care. "I know. I was surprised, too." His expression changed, turning almost—wistful. "But I like the idea very much. As he said—I don't let go very easily."

That wasn't all that Kagami had said. Daiki reeled back, rocked by that implicit admission. Tetsu couldn't possibly mean—

"I wasn't sure you'd be interested, even," Tetsu continued on, more briskly. "When we talked, you were very careful with the things you said. And there were the things Satsuki-san said about the ways you passed your spare time, and Kise—well. It was difficult to say, really. And even once I thought that perhaps you hadn't let go either—" He lifted his hands, holding them open and empty. "It isn't a very normal kind of arrangement, is it?" Tetsu stopped then and looked at Daiki, eyes calm and dark. "So. Would you like to try?"

"I told you," Daiki said, barely able to find the air to give the words voice—that had to be why they sounded so breathless in his own ears. "I told you. I want—however I can have you. However you'll let me." However impossible that might be.

Tetsu relaxed, so subtly that Daiki barely saw it. "All right," he said, smiling, and reached out for Daiki to rest his hand on Daiki's elbow. "Good. I'm glad. Thank you, Daiki."

He had to laugh, he had to, because—"You're thanking me?" he said, shaky. "Really, Tetsu? Really?"

Tetsu frowned and didn't answer—he moved instead, slipping to his feet and stepping forward, and all of a sudden, Daiki's vision was full of the soft blue of Tetsu's shirt as Tetsu wrapped his arms around Daiki's shoulders, pulling Daiki against him. He slid his fingers around Daiki's head, cradling it against his chest and stroking his hair. "It's all right," he said while Daiki inhaled sharply and got a lungful of air that smelled of Tetsu's laundry detergent and the warm scent of his skin beneath that. "It's all right, Daiki. I have you now. I'm not going to let go of you again."

Daiki shuddered, trying to get a breath of air, trying to somehow deal with the things Tetsu was saying—no, promising, when Tetsu adopted that particular tone, it was always a promise. He couldn't quite manage it, not when Tetsu was promising him impossible things, things that couldn't possibly be—"I'm going to fuck up again," he gasped against Tetsu's chest. "You have to know I'm going to, this is me we're talking about, I mean, I just punched Kagami for fuck's sake, you can't say that—you can't say you won't let go—"

"I'm not going to let go of you," Tetsu said, steadfast. "If we fuck up, then we'll figure out how to fix it. And I already know you punched Taiga, I heard you mention it before." He stroked his fingers through Daiki's hair steadily. "I promise. I'm not going to change my mind now that I have you again. We're going to make this work."

Another shudder shook Daiki. "Tetsu," he said, hoarse, wanting that more than he knew how to put into words and hardly daring to believe that he might get it.

Tetsu tightened his arms around Daiki. "We're going to make it work this time," he said quietly, absolutely determined. "I'm not going to give up again. Not if you don't. Okay?"

Daiki closed his eyes and slowly uncurled his arms from around himself, turning in his chair a little, just enough to be able to raise his arms and wrap them around Tetsu's waist. "Okay," he whispered into Tetsu's shirt. "I'll do—anything. Anything at all. I promise."

"I know I can count on you," Tetsu said, and only held him closer when the sureness of that made Daiki shake. He curled his fingers around Daiki's nape, holding him gently. "Shh. I have you, Daiki. I have you now. It's going to be all right."

Daiki pressed his forehead against Tetsu's chest and exhaled raggedly. "Want you to be right," he said, muffled by his shirt. "I want—I would give anything—to make sure that you're right."

"I am, love," Tetsu said, soft and sure and oh—oh.

Daiki lifted his face out of Tetsu's shirt and looked up at him, incredulous, only to find that Tetsu was smiling down at him, quiet and certain. "Tetsu," he said, shaken to the core. "Tetsu, I—" He stopped, unable to go on.

Tetsu only cupped his hand around Daiki's cheek and stroked his thumb against his cheekbone. "I know," he said. "I know." He bent down and pressed his mouth against Daiki's, soft and sure. He didn't seem to mind the way Daiki clutched at him, hanging onto him, desperately afraid to let go and discover that none of this was real, and only tightened his hold on Daiki in return.

*

Daiki woke slowly, consciousness filtering back to him by gradual degrees—cool air on the bits of his skin that were not safely tucked into the warm nest of blankets, the comfortable embrace of the mattress and pillows, dim grey light outside his eyelids and the quiet hiss of rain against glass. He rolled over and burrowed closer to Tetsu, wrapping an arm around him and tucking his face against Tetsu's shoulder, sighing with barely conscious contentment. Tetsu made a sleepy noise back at him, but let him press his nose against the warm curve where Tetsu's neck and shoulder met. Daiki smiled and stayed there, half-dozing and soaking in the contentment of that, resisting the faint niggling sense that something was peculiar about this situation. Everything was fine. It sounded like a cold, wet morning, perfect for sleeping late, and it wasn't like there was work to worry about. Tetsu was right there, curled up against Daiki, so nothing could be all that wrong—

Tetsu was curled up with him?

Daiki stumbled against that thought, the conviction that there was something not-quite-right about it sending him lurching the rest of the way awake. Tetsu couldn't be in his bed, that wasn't possible, they weren't—but there Tetsu was, tucked against him, hair rumpled into a crazy mess, and this wasn't Daiki's bed after all. It was Tetsu's bed, where he'd brought Daiki after a long evening of talking, of figuring out—figuring out how to make this work, him and Tetsu, Tetsu and Kagami—Tetsu's bed, where Daiki had lain awake for a long time, sure that if he fell asleep, he'd wake up in his own bed, alone again.

And yet he hadn't. Tetsu was right there, breathing soft and deep, reassuringly solid beneath Daiki's hand when he curled it around Tetsu's hip.

Daiki had no idea how long he lay perfectly still, watching Tetsu and hardly daring to believe even now that this was real, that he had honestly gotten this lucky twice over, but eventually Tetsu said, not opening his eyes, "You're staring, Daiki." His voice was still fuzzy with sleep, but his eyes were clear enough when he opened them.

"Yeah," Daiki said. What else was he going to do, pretend he wasn't? "Guess so."

Tetsu's mouth quirked just a bit. He flailed a hand free of the sheets and blankets to curve it around Daiki's cheek. He didn't say anything else, but his hand was warm against Daiki's cheek—against his lips when Daiki turned his face to nuzzle Tetsu's palm and kiss his fingertips, one by one. Maybe he was waiting for Tetsu to stop him or pull him up short, tell him no or we can't, but Tetsu didn't, not even when Daiki kissed the inside of his wrist, too, flicking his tongue against the skin there. He didn't stop Daiki, so Daiki kept going, following the tender skin up the inside of Tetsu's forearm and tasting the crease of his elbow and the smooth skin along his shoulder. By that time Tetsu's breath was beginning to come faster in his throat, soft and light as Daiki pressed his lips against Tetsu's collarbone, tracing the fine sweep of it, relearning its shape with lips and tongue. Tetsu leaned his head back when Daiki kissed his throat and gasped when Daiki mouthed the tendon that ran down the side of it, just like he always did.

And he still hadn't told Daiki to stop.

Tetsu's skin was warm under his fingers as he spread them against Tetsu's chest—warm the way he only ever was when they were curled together in bed, when Tetsu could steal all the blankets and leech the heat right out of Daiki to make up for the way his own body ran cool. But he still felt the same, deceptively slim, and Daiki still knew the best places to touch him, the places that made Tetsu gasp as the color began to spread up his throat, the right places to put his mouth to draw soft sounds from between Tetsu's parted lips. Daiki filled the hollow of Tetsu's throat with his tongue and trailed his mouth down Tetsu's breastbone, fanned his fingers over Tetsu's ribs and fitted his palms over Tetsu's hips, listening to the sounds Tetsu made and watching the shapes Tetsu's mouth formed as he sighed, and waited for Tetsu to stop him when he slid his fingertips under the waistband of Tetsu's shorts. But Tetsu only lifted his hips a little, letting Daiki slide them down, and when Daiki finally managed to tear his eyes away from the sight of Tetsu all bare and hard, he saw that Tetsu was smiling at him.

Daiki's hands shook when he set them on Tetsu's hips again, smooth under his palms, and he had to take a breath to steady himself when Tetsu spread his knees wider, making room for Daiki to settle between them, and another before he could bend his head over Tetsu and stroke his mouth over the head of his cock. Tetsu gasped again, soft and open, leaning his head back against his pillow and closing his eyes when Daiki wrapped his mouth around him, slipping his tongue over and around the soft, hot skin of him, tasting him salt and flat in his mouth as he sucked. Tetsu was breathing harder now, taking breaths that made his chest heave as Daiki lowered his head over him, taking him in. He groaned when Daiki let his mouth turn harder, groaned outright, husky with pleasure.

Daiki kept going, sliding his mouth down, swallowing Tetsu and making a satisfied sound at the feeling of Tetsu's cock on his tongue. Tetsu groaned again, his name, and rocked his hips against Daiki's hands. Daiki groaned too, then, and let Tetsu do it, let him roll his hips up and fuck his mouth as he stroked his fingers over Tetsu's stomach and hips and thighs, watching Tetsu abandon himself to this moment and listening to the way Tetsu gasped his name over and over, until the syllables of it bled together into a jumble of incoherent sounds as Tetsu flexed against him, shaking as pleasure caught up with him and swept him down under its wave.

Daiki groaned just from watching him and lapped at him until Tetsu stilled again. It dazed him, the fact that Tetsu had permitted this from him, had even welcomed it. Then Tetsu opened his eyes, still flushed pink and nearly glowing with satisfaction, and smiled at him. "Daiki," he said, reaching down to him.

Daiki swallowed hard and went to him, letting Tetsu draw him back up the bed and down to him, and opened his mouth to Tetsu's when Tetsu cupped a hand around his nape and kissed him. Tetsu rubbed his fingers against Daiki's hairline, slow and cool, and licked his way into Daiki's mouth until Daiki shuddered and closed his eyes and whispered, begging, "Tetsu, please..."

Tetsu squeezed his nape. "Shh," he said. "I have you." He set his other hand against Daiki's chest, pressing it flat and pushing until Daiki rolled onto his back and lay against the sheets, tension suddenly singing through him, counterpoint to his hunger for Tetsu, for anything—anything at all—that Tetsu was willing to let him have.

"Shh," Tetsu said again, leaning over him to press another kiss against Daiki's mouth, soothing some of the edge of that tension away again—no, he wasn't done with Daiki, not yet, okay, good.

Daiki lifted a hand and stroked it against Tetsu's shoulder, following the shapes of the muscles beneath Tetsu's skin, holding onto that as Tetsu kissed him again and again, at least until it dawned on him that Tetsu was reaching for something, rattling the things sitting on his nightstand.

"What...?" he said, breathless, against Tetsu's mouth.

Tetsu smiled at him and ran his hands down Daiki's chest, down to his shorts, and drew them down, pushing them down Daiki's legs until Daiki could kick them the rest of the way off, and then—Daiki's breath caught in his throat as Tetsu moved to kneel right over his hips and smile down at him again, soft and full of Tetsu's silent version of bright laughter, until Tetsu bent down to kiss him again.

Daiki couldn't help the sound he made against Tetsu's mouth or the way his hips rolled up, seeking heat and friction and something, anything, to relieve the aching hardness of his cock, but Tetsu said, "Wait," against his mouth. Daiki shuddered and tried to still himself again. He did fairly well until he heard the click of a cap and Tetsu shifted over him, making a quiet sound against Daiki's mouth. He broke away from Tetsu's slow, insistent kisses and saw that Tetsu had an arm twisted behind himself and a little furrow of concentration drawn between his eyebrows, and groaned breathlessly when he realized what that meant. "Fuck, Tetsu," he said, shuddering on the edge of coming just from that. "Holy fuck."

"That is the general idea," Tetsu said, a breathless hitch in his voice and his eyes gleaming beneath the sweep of his lashes. He ducked his head again to kiss Daiki, slow and hungry, like he wanted to devour Daiki and taste the very heart of him.

Daiki closed his eyes and offered everything he had up to the quiet demand of Tetsu's mouth as Tetsu reached for him, smoothing a condom over him, fingers cool against the fever heat of Daiki's skin. "Please," he whispered, hoarse against Tetsu's mouth. "Please, Tetsu, I want—I want—"

"You have it," Tetsu said, very sure. "I promise."

Daiki had to set his teeth against his lip then, because Tetsu was lifting himself up and settling over him, around him, working himself down onto Daiki's cock with slow, rocking shifts of his hips, his expression gone half-abstracted with concentration and his lips parted for the barely voiced sounds he made, until Daiki was inside him, seated deep and panting with the tightness of it and the way Tetsu looked, spread across his hips over him. "Tetsu," he gasped, shaking with the effort of not moving, not driving his hips up against Tetsu.

Tetsu opened his eyes again and looked down at him, smiling. "Yes," he said and began to move, fucking himself against Daiki, slow and hard, and oh, Daiki remembered this, remembered how Tetsu liked to feel the sharpest edge of things, had liked to ride him and work himself open on Daiki's cock while Daiki held onto his hips and watched him move. This time Tetsu caught his hands and laced their fingers together, gripping his hands and rocking himself up and down, never once looking away from Daiki as he did. "Yes," he murmured over and over, while Daiki groaned with each shift of Tetsu's hips. "Yes, Daiki. Yes, I have you, I won't let you go, never again—"

Daiki came undone, bucking against Tetsu and crying out with the surety of that, the promise of it closing around him and sweeping away the last vestiges of his self-control. He lost himself in the rush of pleasure as it raked him open, merciless, and left him stunned and helpless in its wake, trembling as Tetsu released his hand and reached down to finish himself off. Daiki groaned when the quick, sure movements of Tetsu's fingers against himself made him arch over Daiki and his body seized even tighter around Daiki, shaking him with another rush of pleasure. When Tetsu relaxed again, sprawling against Daiki's chest and breathing hard, the words came easily, the most natural thing in the world. "I never stopped loving you."

Tetsu lifted his head and smiled at him. "I know," he said softly. He kissed Daiki again, lingering against his mouth. "Neither did I." He stroked his fingers along Daiki's jaw, gentle with him. "This time, we'll do better."

Daiki swallowed hard and wrapped his arms around Tetsu, pulling him close. "Yes," he said, finally letting himself begin to believe that. "Yes, we will."

*

Satsuki must not have had any idea what to expect from him first thing Monday morning, because when Daiki sat down at his desk, there was already a large coffee, doctored precisely to his tastes, steaming gently next to a breakfast sandwich, and Satsuki herself was poised at her own desk, eyeing him from behind a concealing veil of hair.

Huh.

Daiki unwrapped the sandwich and dug in silently as he booted up his computer, getting down to business without any more fanfare than that, more out of curiosity about what Satsuki would do next than because he was inclined to be grouchy—very grouchy, anyway, since it wasn't like Satsuki hadn't been maneuvering him for his own good for almost as long as he could remember.

He got through his breakfast and his coffee and his email without interruption, Satsuki an increasingly loudly silent presence the next desk over, and launched right into the Miyamoto case without pause. He worked right up until the point Imayoshi-keishi wandered past, stopped at his and Satsuki's desks, and squinted down at them. "Okay," he said, genial enough, "both of you, Interrogation Three, and don't come back until you have it sorted out. And stop bringing your personal lives to the office, it's annoying." He pointed in the general direction of Interrogation Three. "Now scoot."

That put the kibosh on waiting Satsuki out, so Daiki put the Miyamoto files down and shrugged at Imayoshi-keishi, who looked entirely unimpressed by that, and headed over to Interrogation Three with Satsuki. He perched himself on one of the chairs in the observation room, balancing on the back of it and ignoring the way that made Satsuki grimace, and said, "So, hey, you and Rin-chan have a nice evening in?"

"Yes, actually," Satsuki said, right before she narrowed her eyes at him. She planted herself in front of him, folded her arms across her chest, and stared at him like he was some kind of bug beneath a microscope. "You didn't," she said after several seconds of severe scrutiny. "Dai-chan, tell me you didn't—how could you?" She seized his shoulders and shook him, honestly, genuinely as angry as Daiki had ever seen her. "How could you, what about Kagamin, you know better than this, you—you—"

Daiki caught her wrists before she could knock him off his seat. "It was Kagami's idea," he said, which stopped her mid-sputter. "That's how." Which meant he owed that guy—an awful lot. More than he had any idea how to repay, but that was a problem to solve later, assuming that Tetsu was right and this really was gonna work. (Please, that Tetsu was right, and this was gonna work.) "Give me some credit, would you?"

Satsuki's stare went wide with disbelief. "What?" she said. "What? You're—are you—Dai-chan, so help me, if you're lying to me—"

"Fuck's sake, Satsuki," Daiki said, annoyed. "Do you honestly think I'd lie about anything to do with Tetsu?"

She blinked several times and broke out of his grip so she could sit down. She looked up at him, and he'd never seen her at such a loss. "No," she said, "no, you wouldn't—" Satsuki worried her lip between her teeth, gone silent. "Did—did Kagamin step aside?" she asked after a moment, with a vague gesture to illustrate the point. "For you and Tetsu-kun?"

"No," Daiki said, leaning forward to balance his elbows on his knees and let his hands dangle between them.

Satsuki frowned then, worry sweeping down to replace her confusion. "I don't think this is the way to get over Tetsu-kun—"

"It's not that, either," Daiki said, taking pity on her. "It's—we're trying something else. Tetsu and me, and Tetsu and him."

Satsuki looked up at him, a carefully blank look smoothing out her expression. "You and Tetsu-kun and Kagamin," she said slowly. "How's that supposed to work?"

"I dunno," Daiki said, since she deserved honesty from him. "We're going to figure it out as we go."

Satsuki pressed her lips together at that. "And this. Is this what you want, Dai-chan?"

He thought about it, not least because it was Satsuki and she had stood in for his common sense more times than he could count. But—no. Even if she thought it was a bad idea—"Yeah. Yeah, it is. I do."

"But what about—" Satsuki stopped and chewed on her lip some more, her eyes guarded and unsure as she looked at him. "This—do you think you're going to be happy like this? Sharing him with Kagamin?"

"Yeah," Daiki said. "I really do." He glanced aside. "Already am. Happier than I've been in—well. Since school." Since Tetsu had left, trying to get him to decide what he really wanted. What was really important.

He heard her sigh. "I hope you boys know what it is you're doing."

Daiki couldn't help his laugh. "Tetsu seems to. That's good enough for me."

"That's what worries me," she said. She stayed quiet for a moment longer. "Okay. If you're sure. Just—be careful, Dai-chan. Please."

Daiki grinned down at her. "This is me we're talking about."

"Yes," she said. Her smile didn't quite reach her eyes. "I know." Then she clapped her hands together. "Come on, there's work to do."

"Yep," Daiki said. "Always is." He hopped down from his chair and dropped an arm around her, and kissed the top of her head before she could get to the door. "Don't worry," he said against the flower-sweet scent of her hair. "It's going to be fine, you'll see."

"I hope so," she said quietly. "I really hope so."

*

With Satsuki at least provisionally in his corner, even if she did have her misgivings, it would have been easiest to just proceed without giving a damn what anyone else might think. Daiki couldn't deny that there was at least a small part of him tempted to do exactly that. But he couldn't. Not quite.

When he called, Kise agreed to meet him with distressing alacrity, though some of that faded when Daiki set the meeting for a little dive bar he knew, one where a person had to be bleeding out on the floor before any of the other patrons would be bothered to pay attention to something other than their drinks. He showed up looking determinedly cheerful, nose and ears pink with the cold, and Daiki was pretty sure that he already had an idea about what kind of talk this was going to be before he ever slid into the booth across from Daiki.

"So how's it going?" Kise asked him when they'd exchanged greetings and complaints about the cold and their jobs. He toyed with his bottle of beer as he asked, sliding it back and forth in its puddle of condensation.

"Good," Daiki said. "Really good." There was nothing for it but to dive right in. "There's something I have to tell you—"

Kise looked up, fast, his smile too bright. "You and Kurokocchi figured something out," he said. "Didn't you?"

Daiki stared at him, off-balance. "Yeah, that—we did. How did you—"

Kise laughed, the sound of it brittle. "Didn't I tell you? I know what you look like when you're happy." He sobered and looked down, his smile slipping a bit. "It's all over your face right now. I saw it when I walked in."

"Oh," Daiki said. "Oh. I'm—sorry." And he really was, for the way Kise's eyes looked just then and the way he gripped his beer and for the fact that there wasn't anything he could do to fix it.

"Yeah, well." Kise smiled again, tired around the edges. "Guess I should have seen it coming. Kurokocchi is—when there's something he wants, well." He shrugged. "It's only a matter of time, right? Especially when you want what he wants, too."

"I'm sorry," Daiki said again, not knowing what else he could possibly say.

"...me too." Kise looked away, his shoulders slumping. After a moment he cleared his throat. "I guess I have some news, too. They offered me a promotion at work. I'm going to take it, since the timing's... the timing's pretty convenient."

"Congratulations," Daiki said, uncertain, wondering what Kise hadn't said yet. "That's—great. Isn't it?"

"Thanks. It is." At least this time Kise's smile looked a little more genuine. "Thing is, it means I'll be... gone for a while." And there it was, that was the other shoe dropping. "About a year, all told. Training, you know? I wasn't sure about that when they offered it, but—" He took a drink. "Seems like a pretty good idea now, don't you think?"

"Maybe," Daiki said, "if you're sure that's—what you want."

"I think it is," Kise said. "I think I need some space. To clear my head. You know?"

Daiki reached across the table and gripped his hand. "Don't clear it too much," he said. "Don't do like me. We're still your friends. And if things were different, I—"

"But they aren't different." Kise quietly slid his hand out of Daiki's and smiled again. "So what can you do? I'm glad for you, I really am. But—I can't be around you guys right now, you understand? I just—I can't." He took a final drink of his beer and set it down. "I'll be back when I can again."

Daiki looked at him and the bleak determination under the edge of his smile and nodded. "All right," he said. "Take care of yourself till then. And stay in touch. With Satsuki, if nothing else." Satsuki wouldn't let him drift too far away from them.

"Sure," Kise said, his smile tilted like he knew exactly what Daiki meant by invoking Satsuki. He stood. "Goodbye, Aomine."

Daiki looked up at him and refused to accept that. "I'll see you around," he said firmly.

Kise huffed just a bit. "I guess," he said, dipping his chin at Daiki, and went.

Daiki stayed where he was a while longer, finishing his beer and thinking about all the ways things could have gone, all the things he could have done differently if he'd been someone else. If there hadn't been Tetsu. But he wasn't anyone else, and there was Tetsu, and that's all there was to it. And—he checked the time—Tetsu was waiting, so Daiki left those thoughts where they were and went to go meet him.

But I swear by this song
And all that I have done wrong
I will make it all up to thee.


- end -

Comments are always, always lovely!

Date: 16 September 2012 05:00 (UTC)
branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)
From: [personal profile] branchandroot
*sniffling into her kleenex* Oh god. They're such /idiots/, the whole lot of them.

(Also, those lyrics are just unfair.)

Okay, now I'm really, honestly going to bed.

Date: 22 September 2012 03:17 (UTC)
From: [personal profile] lexicology
Man, it is absolutely no fair to write something so wonderful it makes me need to go read/watch an entire new series, especially when I'm in the middle of prepping for a trip and home renovations at the same time. No fair at all.

Which is, of course, my way of saying that I love this and I want to roll around in this and hug all the characters.

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lysapadin: pen & ink painting of bamboo against a full moon (Default)
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