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Aomine walked through the village.  It was bustling and alive this morning.  All the businesses were open, he could smell bread baking and the smoke from a forge.  It really looked like most any town.  Except for the color.  Now he understood, Riko had not been surprised by his appearance.  The people of this village came in all sorts of colors, shapes, and sizes.  Hell, he practically blended in.

Everyone was nice if unhelpful.  Most who saw him smiled politely and he did his best not to glare too much.  They seemed happy to see him.

A little girl with pink pigtails ran by him.  She stopped, turned to him, pulling her eyelid down and sticking out her tongue.  Then she was running away.  He frowned after her, okay, not everyone.

Still, that was far better than how his own people treated him.  He was a fucking knight for the crown.  He served the king personally, but the people of Touou looked at him like a freak.  They did everything short of spit on him.  These people didn’t know him, but he was welcome.  In his home he was a leper.

He spotted Riko standing in front of the butchers.

“Yo, Riko.”

She looked up at him with a smile.  “Hello, Aomine.”

“Watcha’ doin’?”

“Just some shopping for my cook.”

Aomine looked around with interest, hoping to catch a glimpse.  “Oh yeah, is she here?  I’d like to meet her.”

Riko laughed, covering her mouth.  “I don’t think the two of you would get along.  You both have very strong personalities.”

“Hmph,” Aomine said, “I like a girl with some fire.”

“Well, you have the fire part right at least.” Riko’s eye twinkled merrily.  “Stop by for dinner, I’ll save a stool for you.”  She grabbed her package and headed for the bar.

————————-

That evening Aomine found himself back in the bar, on the same stool.  He kept a wary eye on the kitchen door, but otherwise enjoyed himself.  Riko and Junpei ran the bar, serving drinks and entertaining their clients with their snarky conversation.  The guy sitting next to him, a big guy with huge hands, said the two of them had been dancing around being a couple for years.  Everyone knew they would end up together, except the two of them of course.

Food again seemed to appear out of nowhere, but he didn’t pay it any mind.  It was good, but not the same as the night before.  He mentally shrugged.  Last night he had been dying of hunger, anything might have tasted like mana at that moment.

Riko noticed Aomine’s glances at the kitchen.

“Don’t worry,” she said, when she saw him look for the hundredth time.

“About what?  I’m not worried about anything.”

She shook her head, but didn’t argue.  “Tiaga isn’t working tonight.”

“Good for him.” Aomine said.

Junpei walked over and handed him an envelope.  “You forgot these last night.”

Aomine opened it and saw the three leaves Shintaro had given him.  “Thanks.”  Maybe he could use them to get some sleep in the haunted house.

He stayed until “Seirin” closed for the night.  It was probably rude to stay away all day and most of the night, but he really wasn’t looking forward to another night staring at that crib.

When he finally made it back to Touma’s house, he was half hoping the door would be locked.  Unfortunately, it opened quietly.  He made his way to his room determined to chew a leaf and sleep as quickly as possible.

He stepped into the room and was disoriented for a moment.  The chest and crib were gone, the shelf cleaned off.

Aomine felt a little bad.  He was relieved to not have the reminders of who this room had been intended for, but at the same time sorry that they had to remove their child’s things.  How long ago had it been?  Was the wound still fresh or had they been holding on to the items for a while?

Shaking of the morbid thoughts he stripped down, grabbed a leaf and climbed between the clean sheets.

Biting down on the leaf, Aomine had been expecting a bitter flavor, something that always seemed to accompany medicine, but the taste was almost sweet.  He sucked a the plant, hands behind his head, staring at the ceiling.

He’d spent the day exploring the forest to the north of the village.  It was small, but had plenty of game.  Which was ironic considering he had no need to hunt now.  He would head farther up the valley to the east tomorrow.  It was steeper and had its own array of hills and mountains.

————-

Aomine’s days settled into a routine.  He spent the day out hunting and his evenings at “Seirin”.  The crowd now welcomed him as one of the regulars.  Often he sat at the bar talking with Riko, but occasionally he would be at a table with Teppei (the dude with big hands).  He was a farmer; Kouki, Hiroshi, Koichi (who worked for him), tended to sit with them too.  Shun was in charge of wait staff, but always brought their ale personally.

Lucky for him “Seirin” was the perfect place to collect gossip.  He was starting to learn about the more colorful characters in Nijitani.  The giant Atushi and Tatsuya ran the bakery.  Ryouta and Ayame had a barbershop Boutique.  His host Touma was a teacher/Astrologer and his best friend Shuu was the blacksmith.  He hadn’t seen Shintaro since the first evening. According to Riko, the doctor rarely left his office unless drug.

So, when he showed up at his usual time, he was surprised to see “Seirin” empty.  He stepped back outside and noticed the street was acutally a little busy for this late.

Fortunately he saw Kouki hurrying by.  “Yo! Kouki!”

Kouki stopped, “Hey Aomine.”

“Where is everyone?”

Kouki tilted his head in confusion, “Its Saturday.”

Aomine raised his eyebrows questioningly, “So?”

“Everyone is at the game.”

“What game?”

Kouki grinned, “Come on, you’ll see.  I’m already late and don’t want to miss anymore.”

Aomine easily kept pace with the shorter man.  What in the world could have the entire town gathered together?

They came to a large barn in the center of town.  Aomine had passed it several times, but just thought it was for storage, since no one seemed to come or go from it.

Outside had been quiet, but once they entered the sound was amazing.  People were cheering enthusiastically for the men on the court.  He followed Kouki almost blindly as they made their way to an empty seat on a raised bench.  Aomine couldn’t take his eyes off the action.  No one had to tell him what was going on.

Basketball.

Aomine recognized most of the players.  The bastard Taiga and another red head he didn’t know, faced off against Ryouta, Shintaro, and Atushi.  The play was amazing, he’d never seen anything like it.  Atushi was a massive wall under the net.  Shintaro seemed to make shots from anywhere.  Ryouta was crazy fast, but Taiga was right with him the whole way.

Aomine had to cheer for Ryouta’s team (he didn’t really appreciate the squealing blonde), since The Bastard Taiga was on the other team.  It did seem a little unfair, to have three such amazing players against two, but the way the smaller red head made the ball move was insane.  The damn thing turned corners and always found its way to Taiga at the net.

As he watched the ball fly around the court, all he wanted was to be down there.  His fingers itched to wrap around the ball.  The fuckers at Touou should see this.  They constantly belittled his love of ‘a child’s game’.  No child ever played like that.  The play was intense and over way too soon for Aomine.

Somehow the red heads managed to pull it out, winning by a single basket.

Kouki cheered turning to Aomine.  “Wasn’t Kuroko amazing?”

“Is Kuroko the shorter red-head?”

“No!” Kouki said horrified.  “That is Seijuro-sama”  Aomine didn’t understand why Kouki blushed saying that.  “Kuroko was the one doing the passing between Taiga and Seijuro-sama”

Aomine looked back on the court, but the players had already left.

“I didn’t see anyone else on the court.”

“That’s okay,” Kouki said, “ I’ve known Kuroko so long, sometimes I forget that not everyone can see him like we do.”

“Is the guy invisible?” Aomine asked as they left the arena.

Kouki laughed, “When he wants to be.”

“Point him out to me som-”  Aomine was cut of by a mud-ball in the face.

“Hiro!” Kouki yelled.

Aomine barely saw through the mud a blonde haired kid run off down the street.  He spit mud, and wiped furiously at his face.  “Son of a Bitch!  What the hell is wrong with the kids in this town?!”  It wasn’t first time he’d had a run in with a child.  Usually they just exchanged nasty faces.  This was the first one to attack him.

“I’m sorry Aomine,” Kouki apologized.  “There a little mad at you right now.”

“What the hell did I do?”  Stupid kids, he hadn’t liked them when he was one and he didn’t see his opinion changing any time soon.

“Um…” Kouki scratched at the back of his head and looked around for help.  Luckily, Riko and Junpei chose that moment to show up.

“Since you started hunting, we are keeping everyone close to town.” Junpei said matter-of-factly.

Riko nodded in agreement.  “The kids are getting restless, they are used to having the run of the valley.”

Aomine was pissed, mostly at himself.  It hurt that everyone was just waiting for him to leave.  He’d been getting comfortable here, but this wasn’t his home, he needed to get back to Touou.  Who knew how long the king had left.  When had he started fooling himself that he was wanted anywhere?  People only wanted what they could get out him.

“All I need is one fucking dragon and I’m out of your hair.”  Aomine said, stomping off toward Touma’s.

Starting tomorrow, he wasn’t coming back to town.  There were dragons out there and he was going to find them.

 

Chapter 4

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