not your typical annihilatrix (furiosity) wrote,
not your typical annihilatrix
furiosity

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Fic: [KnB] Softer than Before (All the Second Chances) (Aomine/Kagami/Kuroko; NC-17) [4/5]

Title: Softer than Before (All the Second Chances)
Chapter: 4 - Don't Say My Name Any More
Author: furiosity
Fandom: Kuroko no Basket (The Basketball Which Kuroko Plays)
Genre: Romance/Drama
Rating: NC-17 overall; this part a moderate PG-13 with a chance of light R
Characters: Kagami Taiga, Kuroko Tetsuya, Aomine Daiki
Pairings: Kagami/Kuroko; Aomine/Kagami; Aomine/Kuroko; Aomine/Kagami/Kuroko (pairings in order of appearance, the name order is alphabetical)
Warnings: None.
Disclaimer: Fujimaki owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Length: 5800 words (this part)
Summary: In which Kagami's brain is a much stranger place than he thinks, Kuroko is not as mature as everyone thinks, and Aomine is Aomine. Featuring no lovey-dovey crap, a lament about peanut butter, an attack of the dango, a conversation about game strategy, New Year postcards, a fantasy of watching the sunrise, Nigou's bath, Aomine's slow evolution, a late essay, unusual CPR, a new array of study subjects, an improbably cold late April, kind of a steady thing, Kuroko's poetry assignment, a lesson in kanji readings, a critique of root beer, a lunch invitation, a ruined afternoon at the shopping arcade, Kagami's downward spiral, and the very long way home.
Beta: None. u_u
Note: This story is about a polyamorous (triad) relationship. If you enjoy the seme/uke dynamic or have strict seme/uke preferences based on whatever criteria, this is not the fic for you. Placebo's Ask for Answers inspired the title.
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
Previous Parts: 1 - I'd Rather Tame a Velociraptor | 2 - Don't Act Like I'm on Your Side | 3 - How Do You Even Keep That Thing Upright?

Softer than Before (All the Second Chances)
Part 4: Don't Say My Name Any More


-

Taiga wakes to his phone alarm buzzing under his pillow. He's halfway to the bathroom before yesterday's events reassert themselves in memory.

He freezes in mid-step, glances around his shoulder. Aomine's stretched out on his futon by the window, and Kuroko's buried under his bedding in the middle of the room. Last night, they went to the Maji Burger down the street, talked about everything except what happened, came home. By the time Taiga came out of the shower, Aomine was asleep and Kuroko was out walking Nigou. Taking this as a sign Kuroko didn't want company -- he usually asked if Taiga wanted to walk with them -- Taiga went to bed. And here we are.

He continues into the bathroom and shuts the door. Three years of bedtime fantasies and it never occurred to him that even if the three of them did start having sex, they'd have to continue living normal lives -- morning boners, pissing, brushing teeth, clean underwear, clothes, meals, classes, basketball practice, showers, video games, festivals, exams, training camps. Life. In retrospect, the relationship with Aomine and Kuroko in Taiga's head could only be real in some remote asylum for incorrigible nymphomaniacs. Fuck, he's not even sure if last night won't be the only time. And he doesn't just want sex, though Aomine has hinted clearly that's how he wants it.

It happened when Kuroko leaned sideways against Aomine after they sat down at the table with their food.

"Hey, no lovey-dovey crap, okay?" he said. Kuroko's face fell, and Taiga lost his appetite.

"Not in public?" Kuroko murmured, hand tightening on his vanilla milkshake cup.

"Just don't," Aomine said, glaring out the window. "Think it's gonna rain?"

As they walked back, Taiga tried to take Kuroko's hand, but Kuroko shook him off, though he did smile.


The doorknob rattles, and Taiga's staring at Aomine's groggy face in the mirror.

"Morning," Aomine says.

Taiga nods at him, spits out the toothpaste, rinses his mouth. What should I do?

Aomine sidles up to him, slings an arm around his shoulders, draws him in for a lazy, sloppy kiss.

"You taste like a toilet," Taiga remarks, pulling away.

Aomine breathes a shaky laugh. "Didn't know you went around licking toilets."

"I'm gonna start breakfast," Taiga says, escaping to the kitchen. His dick has zero misgivings about Aomine being a total jerk to Kuroko, and Taiga's not sure how he feels about that.

He decides on scrambled eggs and gets busy at the stove. What he wouldn't give for an honest-to-goodness peanut butter and jelly sandwich, though -- the Japanese peanut butter spreads just don't taste the same, and he still hasn't found an import store nearby. Plus, the others would probably vote him out of the apartment for eating something like that.

Aomine walks in, sniffs the air, saunters up behind Taiga and loops his arms around his torso. "What's with the cold shoulder?"

"You hurt Kuroko's feelings."

"What, because I don't want to cuddle? Come off it; Tetsu knows me well enough not to care."

"You didn't see his face."

"Don't be like that." Aomine kisses his neck, reaches down to fondle his dick through his jeans; his other hand comes up to Taiga's face, fingers smelling of soap, warm against his lips. Taiga kisses them; he can't help himself -- Aomine's closeness fries all of his mental circuits responsible for good and wholesome life decisions. He draws Aomine's middle finger into his mouth, tongues it, bites it gently, shivers at Aomine's hiss against his neck.

"Kiss me," Aomine demands, tugging at his belt. Taiga drops the spatula and turns to obey.

"Aomine-kun, you'll cause our breakfast to burn," Kuroko says, opening the refrigerator door to get the milk. Sometimes I'm sure he uses alternate dimensions to travel between points A and B.

"Fuck breakfast, Tetsu, come over here," Aomine growls.

"We'll be late for class, so no."

The rice cooker beeps.

They eat breakfast.

-

It doesn't get easier. At least, not right away. Taiga walks around with his head half in a sexually explicit daydream -- he's usually able to snap out of it by lunchtime, but he still keeps thinking about what's going to happen when he gets home. Neither Aomine nor Kuroko have any shame when it comes to sex, and they work very hard at divesting Taiga of all embarrassment.

He can focus at practice, at least -- his failure on the blacktop was probably because they were alone; the presence of the rest of the team curbs his response to Aomine's and Kuroko's physical presence. Now that he knows that whatever it is they're doing is at least partially mutual, his mind no longer gets trapped in it.

Besides, Aomine's started working with a new player development coach, which keeps him out of the regular drills. He refuses to talk about it until well into November.

The three of them are eating dango at the School Foundation Festival when Aomine pokes Taiga in the shoulder with the blunt end of a skewer and says, "You guys are supposed to help me with my play style."

Kuroko's eyebrow twitches. "Supposed to?"

"Kaneda said I should ask you," Aomine amends, picking up another skewer.

"If you want to learn the foundations of team play quickly, try game strategy," Taiga says. "That's what Alex always said."

"I like it," Kuroko says. "But you can't create a game plan without two teams."

"We could see if the coach will let us put together a couple of teams from the second and third strings," Taiga suggests. "Mix up the drills some."

"Forget it, they all think I'm an asshole," Aomine says.

"You are an asshole," Taiga says with a smirk, earning a fist to the ribs. "Besides, you wouldn't be playing."

Aomine cocks his head to the side. "If I'm not playing, what's the point?"

"Psychology," Kuroko says, tapping Aomine's forehead with a finger. "Strategy is a lot like playing, only the game's in your head. If you think about it, the strategist is the most important player, because in a way he controls what all the players do."

Taiga has objections to this philosophy, but Aomine likes being the most important player, so that's what they go with.

-

Taiga stands at the window, watching snow drift on wind currents. It's not cold enough to settle, but it's wet enough to make the blacktop court unusable. "I hope this doesn't stick around," he says, turning away from the dreary grey blur. "I don't wanna have to go on campus while you guys are gone."

Next to him, Nigou thumps the floor with his tail, as if to remind Taiga that at least he'll have dog company this time around.

Kuroko's at the study table, writing New Year's postcards. Taiga thought about sending some, but his penmanship's crap. He'll just send e-mails as always.

"Ten full days that we could be alone," Aomine says from the couch. "What a waste."

"Aomine-kun, your mother must be crying right now," Kuroko remarks, placing another postcard in the done pile.

"Yeah, what kind of a son are you?" Taiga asks, plopping down on the couch and making Aomine's feet bounce off the cushion. He thought about going to LA, but his folks are busy: America doesn't shut down for New Year's. Taiga would miss a regular practice if he goes at Christmas.

"Don't even give me that," Aomine grouses. "I'm going, aren't I? All we do is watch TV anyway; I'm just saying I could do that here."

"My mom wants to drive out to watch the sunrise this year," Kuroko says. "That will be nice."

Taiga leans his head back against the couch back, lets Aomine stick his feet under his thigh, closes his eyes and daydreams about the three of them going to the sea to watch the year's first sun greet the day. He's been having so much sex that bedtime fantasies have morphed into family-friendly daytime ones, all starring Aomine and Kuroko. It's pretty embarrassing; he's never considered himself a romantic type.

Aomine comes back on January second. They race German cars around South American tracks for three hours, eat leftover curry, talk very little. Taiga takes Nigou out for a walk along the rain-drenched riverbank and thinks about how strange it is to be alone with Aomine. He thought that he would feel less drawn to Aomine without Kuroko there, but that's not the case. Yet he feels it would be a betrayal if he tried to do anything in Kuroko's absence, even if it's just a kiss. He shepherds Nigou home, winces as the dog shakes his fur out all over their shoes.

"Tetsu just mailed me, said he's on his way back," Aomine calls over the sounds of the newscast.

"That's good," Taiga says, hauling the dog into the bathtub to wash his filthy paws.

Aomine joins him, though not to help with Nigou; Taiga's ass, high in the air as he bends over the tub, is his target. Both hands, firm and strong. Taiga says a prayer for strength from above.

"I keep thinking about fucking you," Aomine confides. "The way you and Tetsu fuck me, I mean."

"Is that so?" Taiga mumbles. Nigou keeps trying to play with his soapy hands and making an awful mess.

"I think maybe it's time to stop thinking and start doing," Aomine says, leaning on top of him, covering Taiga with his body. Nigou wags his tail, spraying water everywhere.

"I thought you said it was boring," Taiga says, lifting Nigou's hind paw and rinsing it under the bath faucet.

"Yeah, well, maybe I was wrong about that," Aomine says, and his voice in Taiga's ear is as hypnotising as it's ever been.

Taiga rinses Nigou's last paw, swipes a hand across his fuzzy belly. "You plan on doing it right here while I wash the dog?"

Aomine backs off and readies Nigou's towel as Taiga lifts him out. "I'll do it any way you let me," he says.

Taiga hands him Nigou. "Dry the beast. You can fuck me any time you want."

When Kuroko arrives an hour later, they're on the couch, playing video games.

-

At the end of January, Tokai loses miserably to Kansai U and is out of the tournament for the season. Not even Kuroko, called to court in the last quarter, can do much about it: his Ignite passes earn them sixteen points, but that just means they lose with a forty-point difference. Taiga has never experienced watching from the sidelines for an entire game while his team got creamed. He spends so much of the time clenching his fists that his hands hurt by the end of it.

"Fucking Akashi." That's all Aomine says about it.

The second- and third-stringers have played several dozen practice games under Aomine's supervision by now, and he's developing a real understanding of team play, though he's yet to prove it on the court. For all that Coach Tsunematsu criticises Aomine's attitude, he seems pleased -- and a lot fewer of their teammates think Aomine's an irredeemable jerk. Even Taiga's coming around on that one.

Then finals are upon them -- a week of sleepless nights and no sex, which turns Aomine into a grouchy bear, Kuroko into a vicious tanuki, and Taiga into a zombie. Taiga thinks they'll be catching up on sex for hours when it's over, but after his last final he drags himself home and sleeps for sixteen hours.

Aomine and Kuroko aren't going back to Tokyo for the semester break; their time in the tournament might be over but regular team selection will still happen this year, and they all want to start next season.

Taiga rubs his eyes, checks his phone: noon. Talk about catching up on sleep. He brushes his teeth, contemplates a shower. Now that finals are over, he feels kind of lost -- having only basketball to focus on feels like a dream. Maybe I should concentrate on going pro. I'll still graduate, mom and dad will like that, but it's my life, right?

"Kagami-kun."

Taiga takes a flying leap and bumps his hip on the sink. "Quit doing that!"

Kuroko gives him a look eerily similar to Nigou's best food-begging technique. "Aomine-kun has a late essay to finish and he won't play with me."

Taiga opens his arms. "I'll play with you, so come here." Wait, they were doing stuff without me? The thought isn't appalling, which throws him.

"You look troubled," Kuroko says, stepping up to Taiga and linking his arms behind his back.

"Surprised," Taiga says. "I thought I'd be pissed that you were being sexy without me."

Kuroko tilts his face up. "You aren't? It's just you were sleeping and I was really horny."

Taiga shakes his head. "I don't care. Weird, right?"

"I don't think so," Kuroko says. "It doesn't bother me either. If it's the two of you, I mean."

"What about Aomine?"

Kuroko tugs Taiga out of the bathroom and towards Taiga's futon. "We'll have to ask him after he finishes his dumb essay."

-

"Whose idea was this again?" Taiga asks, wincing as Kuroko slams into him.

Kuroko gives him a glazed, vacant look. "Yours, Kagami-kun. Want to stop?"

"Nah," Taiga says, patting his back. Getting fucked doesn't feel as special as Aomine makes it out to be, though watching Kuroko dissolve into incoherence by Taiga's will alone more than makes up for it. Mostly though, my ass just hurts.

Taiga raises his legs higher and notices movement out of the corner of his eye. Aomine's leaning against the closed bedroom door, which was open when they started.

Kuroko cries out, buries his face in the space between Taiga's neck and shoulder, and comes. "Sorry," he mumbles, after. "I got a little too excited when I saw Aomine-kun watching us."

"What about your paper?" Taiga asks Aomine. Because obviously that's the most important thing right now -- am I an idiot?

"Who the hell can concentrate on a paper with all the noise you're making?" Aomine says, undoing the buttons on his jeans as he approaches them. Kuroko has flopped off to the side, next to Taiga, and is tying a knot at the top of the used condom.

"I didn't manage to make Kagami-kun come," Kuroko informs Aomine.

Taiga cuffs him lightly on the top of his head. "You sound like an apprentice."

Aomine snorts, settling between Taiga's legs. "This guy has some pretty deep misunderstanding about which one of us is the apprentice, Tetsu."

Aomine doesn't manage to make him come, either -- at least not until after he gets out of Taiga and double-teams with Kuroko to perform CPR on Taiga's dick. But if either of them wanted to do it again, Taiga wouldn't say no.

-

Halfway through the term break, Kuroko starts laying his futon out next to Taiga's, and more often than not, Taiga wakes with Kuroko in his arms. One morning, Taiga notices Aomine staring at them from the bathroom doorway. He pats the space next to him, but Aomine shakes his head.

"I told you, I don't like that kind of stuff," he says, looking away.

"Suit yourself," Taiga says, rolling closer to Kuroko and shutting his eyes again. He's not sure what bothers him. Maybe the fact that if Kuroko were to invite him, he would come. Taiga doesn't know where he stands with Aomine. He tries not to think about it. Trying to ask Aomine about it would only cause an argument, and Taiga hates it when the three of them argue about anything; it always feels like all the sun's gone out of his life.

April brings a new year and an expanded array of course choices. Taiga takes basketball for a phys ed credit and English as an elective -- never an easier decision. The rest is microeconomics, macroeconomics, statistics, and other subjects whose end goals he only vaguely understands. He's really got no head for this stuff, but passing has turned out easier than he thought. The exams he expected to fail, he passed -- there must be an insane grading curve.

One Saturday, Taiga wakes to a large muscular arm resting on top of his shoulder. He's never noticed the eighteen-dotted BCG scar on Aomine's deltoid before. Kuroko stirs against Taiga's chest, and Aomine's eyes open. He and Taiga stare at each other for a long moment, and then Aomine turns aside.

"It's warmer like this," he mumbles into the pillow.

"It's the end of April," Kuroko says, turning to lie on his back between them.

"Shut up," Aomine says. "I was cold."

Two weeks later, they buy a bed that takes up half the bedroom.

Nigou is very cross that he's not allowed on it like he is on the couch.

-

Near the end of May, Taiga's in the law library looking helplessly through stacks of books on corporate governance reform when he hears Aomine's voice.

"...been a while. What have you been up to?"

"This and that, you know, working a lot. My dad got downsized." A girl's voice. "You haven't called in forever, are you trying to graduate early or something?"

"Like hell I am."

"It's just as I thought -- I was no good in bed, right?"

"It's not that," Aomine says. "I've just kind of got a steady thing going now."

"Who's the lucky girl?"

"No one you know."

The girl laughs softly. "Must be a very special person, to tame Aomine-kun."

"Yeah, something like that."

Taiga's eyes find the book he was looking for and he steals away, feeling vaguely guilty but extremely happy.

Later that week, he's digging through the pen collection on his bookshelf to find a working one when he notices a couple of papers coming loose from a folder on Kuroko's shelf.

Creative Poetry Assignment
Kuroko Tetsuya, Group C

Curious, Taiga pulls the stapled pages out. Kuroko doesn't talk about his classes much, and Taiga's always wondered what kinds of things creative writing majors do. The poem is only a few lines, printed neatly in the middle of the page.

Tempest

I am a pond
serene and calm
a calm that even lilies scorn

They're surging waves
in battle, rage
together they ignite my soul

One a typhoon
the other, storm
with them I am the sea.

The grade is 90. The professor's comments:

A fresh take on marital problems from the grown-up child's point of view. You've captured the vaguely incestuous nature of the parent-child relationship without resorting to base crudity; a truly excellent effort, though I encourage you to incorporate more modern elements instead of relying on nature imagery alone.

Taiga's face feels hot as he replaces the assignment in the blue plastic folder. Parents' marital problems? Incest? Professors are so weird. He understands the poem; he even knows which one is the storm and which one the typhoon.

-

At the start of the rainy season, Kuroko asks Taiga to call him the way Aomine does, Tetsu.

"Only if you use my first name too," Taiga says. "I know it's a thing here but in America everybody uses first names, so I'd feel weird if I used your first name and you kept calling me by my last name. It's, I dunno. Unequal."

Kuroko taps the side of his face with his pen. "May I call you Tai-kun, then?"

"Why a honorific?"

Kuroko writes on a scrap piece of paper, shows it to Taiga: the first kanji of his given name and the kanji for -kun.

"The kanji for -kun is the same one as the kanji for the casual "you", but it also has an older meaning: "master". Because of the contradiction, I really like it. It makes a good shape in my mind. It kind of fits my feelings."

"I don't really understand," Taiga says. Since sneaking that look at Kuroko's writing, he's developed a new appreciation for the depth of Kuroko's analysis of just about anything. "But that's what family calls me so of course you can use it. Uh. Tetsu."

When Aomine gets home an hour later, he immediately demands that if Tetsu's going to use Taiga's first name, he has to do the same with Aomine's.

"You should've been using it to begin with," he says. "How many times have I told you to?"

Tetsu looks at the paper where he'd written for Taiga before. "It looks the same," he says with childlike delight. "Dai-kun and Tai-kun look the same."

Taiga and Aomine exchange looks. "No we don't," Taiga says.

"I mean in written form," Tetsu says. "But I won't use either of them unless you two use first names with each other."

"Why?" Aomine demands. "It's not like me and this guy have known each other that long."

Taiga rolls his eyes. "You let me stick my dick up your ass but won't let me use your first name? Only in Japan."

"I don't wanna hear that from some Americanised Japanese," Aomine snaps. "You drink root beer. Voluntarily."

"If you ever get to play for the NBA, everybody will use your first name," Tetsu says. "Think of it as practice."

-

A few days later, Taiga's on his way to grab something to eat at the central cafeteria before his microeconomics lecture. The weather is dreadful, so he'll have to eat indoors again.

"Psst."

He turns around and sees Daiki beckoning to him from behind a column on the covered walkway that connects the two neighbouring lecture hall buildings.

"What are you doing here?" Taiga asks, walking over to him across the wet grass.

"I was on my way back from lunch and saw you," Daiki says. "Come here."

"What do you think I'm doing, stupid?" Taiga mutters, irritated, and then he's being dragged behind the column and kissed.

"Wha--"

"Shut up," Daiki advises, moving his knees apart with one hand. His other hand's under Taiga's shirt, undoing his belt.

"Daiki, are you insane?" Taiga protests. "Someone will see us--"

"Relax," Daiki murmurs in his ear. "I'm just teasing you a little." Then he's gone.

Taiga stares after him in bewilderment.

When he tells Tetsu about what happened as they walk home after classes, Tetsu looks up with a start. "He did the same thing to me yesterday. My first afternoon class was a seminar so I felt really uncomfortable until my boner went away."

"Think he's lonely?"

"Dai-kun? I don't think that's possible; he always has people around him."

"Maybe we should ask him out to lunch tomorrow."

They do, and then again the next day, and by the time the rains depart the region, they're having lunch together every day.

-

Though the humidity is especially bad today, breathing's easier than ever, and that's before Taiga walks into the air-conditioned shopping arcade.

Midterms are over, and Tetsu and Daiki have decided to stay at the apartment for the summer break -- both have found temp jobs nearby. Tetsu's going to be helping out in the graduate students' daycare facility, and Daiki's been asked to assist in coaching a nearby middle school's basketball team. His team-play development training has brought out a side of him that really loves teaching basketball fundamentals.

Taiga doesn't need a job, strictly speaking, but he figures he'll look around the shopping arcade to see if anyone's hiring, though midterms are already over and all the student jobs have probably been snapped up.

He spots Tatsuya walking out of Daiso and does a double take. "Tatsuya?" In a suit?

"Taiga? Holy crap!"

They slap hands and walk aside so as not to block the shop exit.

"What are you doing here?" Taiga asks. "And thanks for ignoring my messages, jerk."

"Sorry," Tatsuya says, ducking a little. "I had to change my number -- it's complicated. I thought I sent you the new one but I guess not."

"You still at UCLA?"

"Yeah -- engineering, back in September. I'm doing a little work on a project at Kanagawa U. How about you, still at Tokai?"

Taiga grins. "Obviously, or why would I be looking for part time work in a hole like this?"

Tatsuya grins back. "Sounds serious. What about basketball?" He reaches out to lift the chain around Taiga's neck with one finger.

Taiga flushes slightly, but he can see Tatsuya's chain under his collar. "Second string, now. Do you remember Aomine, from Touou?"

Tatsuya's eyes widen. "No way, are you on the same team as that monster?"

"Yeah, and neither of us is a starter."

Tatsuya finally releases Taiga's chain. "Oh, that must have fucked him right up. He's kind of an arrogant prick, isn't he?"

"Nah, he's changed a lot. We're actually roommates. Kuroko, too."

"Your little shadow partner with the killer pass? No way. That sounds really cool. Well, tell them both I said hi. Listen, I gotta run back to work, but here's my new number," -- he hands Taiga a business card with a practiced movement -- "give me a call later, we'll go out for drinks."

"Perfect timing, I turn twenty next week," Taiga says.

Tatsuya gives him a one-armed hug and walks out onto the street. Taiga stares after him, running his thumb over the embossing on the business card. Himuro Tatsuya, Junior Research Partner, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Kanagawa University. How quickly things change. He realises he forgot to ask if Tatsuya still played basketball.

He takes a breath and looks around, wondering where to start looking for a job in a place like this. Then he gets another surprise as he sees Daiki looking at him from the men's bathroom entrance across the walkway.

"Hey," Taiga says, approaching him. Daiki grabs his arm and drags him into the bathroom.

Taiga's expecting another surprise kiss, but his smile slides off when he sees the fury in Daiki's eyes.

"What's wrong?" He reaches up to touch Daiki's hand, still clutching his upper arm, but Daiki lets go of him roughly, and Taiga stumbles back against a urinal.

"How long?" Daiki demands. "How long have you been fucking that guy?"

Taiga blinks. "Tatsuya? What the hell are you talking about -- I haven't seen him in years. We just met by accident--"

Daiki grabs the chain around Taiga's neck and yanks it with so much force that it breaks. The ring falls to the floor with a horrible metallic clink.

"What do you think you're doing?" Taiga shouts, looking around for the ring. He can't see it; it must have rolled away.

Daiki's laugh is derisive, mocking. "That's right, that thing's so important to you, you don't even take it off when we fuck. I always wondered why, but I guess I know now."

"Like I told you, I just ran into him by chance. What the hell's gotten into you?"

"Is that what you're gonna tell Tetsu, too? You're gonna look in his eyes and tell him you just met by chance. You're gonna deny being all touchy-feely with him, huh?" Taiga's chain is still in Daiki's clenched fist, and he shakes it in front of Taiga's face.

Taiga's done trying to restrain his anger. "Why the hell are you bringing Tetsu into it?" he yells. "You're the one who's flipping your shit over me having a conversation with a guy I've known longer than either of you--"

"See? You even admit he's more important to you!"

"I'm admitting nothing! Tatsuya is like my brother, that's all he ever was. It's like you're accusing me of wanting to sleep with my old man, listen to yourself."

"You once said that Tetsu was like a brother to you."

"Why are you so determined make this about Tetsu? He's not even here." Suddenly Taiga remembers what Daiki had started to say on the day the three of them started their relationship.

Tetsu's the one I--

At the time, Taiga thought that Daiki was trying to save face, but that was just his own arrogance, wasn't it? He wanted so badly to believe that Daiki felt anything other than animal lust for him that he rushed to confess his own feelings, and of course Daiki was left with no choice but accept Taiga's feelings if he wanted Tetsu. That was Tetsu's condition, after all.

From the start, Daiki resisted anything non-sexual from Taiga. From the start, Daiki always insisted that Tetsu sit either next to him or in the middle whenever they went out together, be it a basketball game or the movies. Tetsu always sleeps in the middle, too; Daiki has never lain down next to Taiga. Trying to keep a distance.

Taiga has noticed all of these things, every time, but he never confronted what they meant, because it was easier to think he had Daiki's affection the same way Tetsu did. It would have hurt to think otherwise, and Taiga put too much of himself on the line as it was.

I'm just the necessary evil to him. He can't have Tetsu without me but really I'm just in his way.

"I see how it is," Taiga says. His chest feels really cold and tight. "It must have pissed you off real bad to force yourself to play along with Tetsu all this time."

"What the fuck are you babbling about?" Daiki asks, but Taiga can barely hear him.

"You want me gone, I'll get myself gone. I never meant to be in your way, believe me. I only thought -- I only wanted-- no, forget it, this is just sad, you don't even care."

"Taiga--"

"Don't you fucking dare say my name any more. I'll die happy if I never see your smug face again."

Taiga tears out of the bathroom and ducks into the ceramic shop next to Daiso, across the way. With his brain so messed up, he needs a few minutes to compose himself. Part of him hopes that Daiki will come running after him, that it's all some kind of misunderstanding, but Daiki doesn't emerge until a good five minutes later. He hangs a left without so much as a look around, and then he's lost in the afternoon crowd. It figures that the last I see of him is his back.

"Is there anything in particular you're looking for, young man?"

The diminutive shopkeeper is looking up at him with a slightly fearful expression. Taiga looks around, sees all the delicate bowls and glasses, catches a glimpse of his face in a sliver of vitrine. An angry large man in this shop is probably her worst nightmare.

"I'm sorry," he says, bowing himself out. "I entered by mistake."

He heads out of the shopping arcade and to the riverbank, where he finds shelter from the sun under a bridge, spooking a covey of middle-school girls seated on the grass nearby. He wants to apologise to them, too, but they're gone before he can open his mouth.

Taiga turns off his phone and huddles under the bridge, looking out at the river as the day ebbs.

Could he be wrong?

He didn't come after me.

But only last month, Daiki chased him down on campus just to kiss him, get him all excited, and run off; that kind of juvenile thing was exactly what passed for romance in Daiki's brain.

He did that to Tetsu first. He probably only did it with me for Tetsu's benefit.

When they were alone, Daiki never kissed him for no reason. He sometimes wanted to fuck, but usually he just ignored Taiga or condescended to play video games together. They didn't have conversations the way Taiga and Tetsu did, not outside basketball.

And I thought. I thought. I thought nothing, that's what; I thought I could trust him because Tetsu trusts him.

Daiki never wanted to walk the dog alone with Taiga, but he always went if Tetsu asked him.

I need to leave.

When he gets to the apartment, it's dark -- no one is home: Tetsu must be walking Nigou, and Daiki's got work tonight. A hopeful part of him did imagine Daiki skipping work and coming home, but he knows that's silly. Daiki would do that in a heartbeat for Tetsu, but Taiga's just a needless fixture in Daiki's sex life.

He turns his phone back on and hates himself for hoping for a mail from Daiki. There isn't one. Tetsu sent one to both of them earlier asking if he should pick up milk or if one of them's on it already. Daiki didn't reply to that one, either, but for all Taiga knows he did after removing Taiga's address from the recipient field.

Taiga makes three calls -- one to his father's voice mail in LA, one to the landlord, and one to a cab company. He gathers clothes and bathroom bric-a-brac into his battered suitcase but leaves all the textbooks and binders and stationery detritus alone -- he'll worry about school later. He's got two months to figure it out. He leaves all his basketball gear behind too; too many memories. He'll just buy all new stuff when he gets home.

Here was home just this morning.

The front door creaks, and Nigou's nails click across the hallway floor. "I'm home," Tetsu calls.

Taiga winces but doesn't reply. This isn't fair to Tetsu, he knows that, but it would not be fair to any of them if he stayed.

"Tai-kun, what are you doing?" Tetsu asks, walking in.

Nigou bounds up to the couch and plants himself in the suitcase, anxiously nosing at Taiga's hands.

"I'm going to LA," Taiga says, ignoring Nigou. "Aomine doesn't want me here." I can't even say his name.

Tetsu makes a face, as though Daiki's surname out of Taiga's mouth hurts him. "He said that to you?"

Taiga shoos the dog out of the suitcase and flips it shut. "He didn't need to."

"Are you sure you're not overreacting? I don't understand what happened, but shouldn't all three of us talk about it?"

Taiga can't look at him. "You're right, we should, but we won't, because I'm not stepping on the same rake twice." Not even for your sake.

"So it's all about you and Dai-kun. What am I? The family cat?" Tetsu asks. Oh, fuck, he's really angry.

"I love you, Tetsu," Taiga says. "You're not a cat. So don't ask me to make you choose."

"Aren't you already doing that by leaving? Making me choose."

Taiga's eyes begin to hurt. "If me walking away lets you see your way to a clear choice then I guess that's how it is." Was I wrong about both of them? Was I just an amusing sideshow for them, a freak in love with two people at once?

If he starts thinking about it, he'll break the fuck down. Taiga walks out into the hallway. The suitcase is heavy, probably overweight, but that shouldn't matter if he buys a first-class ticket.

"Here," he says, holding out the apartment keys from his pocket towards Tetsu. "You can live here as long as you need to. I've squared it with Ueda. We can talk about the money later."

Tetsu doesn't make a move for the keys, so Taiga lets them drop to the floor. It's a different sound from the one Tatsuya's ring made on the bathroom tiles, but both are like doors slamming shut forever.

Tetsu does move then, closer to Taiga, still ignoring the keys. "Don't leave."

He twines his arms around Taiga's neck and kisses him, and it's so sweet and real and reassuring that Taiga's ready to throw the suitcase down and stay, but he won't. Something like this can't be fixed, not with kisses, not with talking. Nobody can force themselves to feel a certain way, and even though Taiga no longer doubts Tetsu, Daiki made his feelings clear from the beginning.

Taiga pulls away and shoulders past Tetsu, who sighs with resignation.

"I'm sorry," Taiga says in the doorway, not looking back. Tetsu does not respond.

He lets the door close. Click.

Behind it, Nigou whines.

Taiga doesn't bother waiting for the elevator; he flees down the stairs and into the waiting taxi.

He doesn't look up at the balcony; Nigou is up there, barking furiously in a hurt voice.

[concluded in Part 5]
Tags: fic:knb:softer than before
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