Of Scars and Memorials
(In a world where life experiences mar people literally, Kuroko notes the progression of his marks.)
His first mark, faded in the distant recess of his mind, was a seed.
Tetsuya doesn't remember it, but the awe in his parents' eyes each time he asked was enough to make him wonder.
From a tiny dark seed at the base of his spine, dark roots curled downwards and leaves blossomed. In time, the seedling which had avoided his eyes was quick to sprout outwards, growing into the shadow of a tree that spanned the entirety of his back.
Perhaps, he remember thinking once, this was evidence of his progression to invisibility.
But when he was safe at home, wrapped up in the gentle laughter of his modest parents, he thinks it might be a sign of his love for his parents.
Tetsuya doesn't know, but by the time he was ten, the tree was long in fullbloom.
He meets Ogiwara-kun on a neighbourhood basketball court.
"Hey! You there! You wanna play with me?" Ogiwara laughed, dribbling a ball absently. "You came at a perfect time; the other players just left the court!"
It's the first time someone has noticed him and invited him out. Tetsuya fiddled with his fingers nervously.
"I've never played basketball, but is that okay?"
"Of course it is!" Ogiwara beamed. "It doesn't matter if you're suckish! I'll teach you!"
With a hesitant smile, Tetsuya ran onto the court.
Above them, the descending sun painted the sky in a mix of orange and browns, draining into an indigo full of stars. Clouds drifted lazily about, reflecting soft hues of pink and purple.
When he checked his back that night, the skies that evening was inked onto the backdrop of the tree.
Separation doesn't come easy.
"Ogiwara-kun, let's play one last game." He said resolutely, holding up the ball as he adjusted his stance. They were both panting at this point, but he wanted one more game. "One last game before we go."
Ogiwara wiped the sweat away with the sleeve of his shirt. He grinned.
'One last game' was repeated many times, before night descended and their parents came to pick them up.
Ogiwara was beaming up till that point, the edges of his eyes squinted as his face flushed with the effort of their games. It wasn't until Tetsuya sniffled, feeling the sting in his eyes, and violently wiped at his eyes that Ogiwara teared up. The brown haired boy smacked his shoulder, wiping his tears away too.
"Don't cry, Kuroko…Look! You're making me cry now too…" The brown haired boy wailed, covering his eyes obstinately.
"But…we're parting now." Tetsuya never took separation well. Not when few people cared enough to bond with him.
Together they wailed, under the amused looks of their parents.
The sky was as beautiful as the one etched onto his back when Ogiwara-kun reached out, offering his pinky finger.
"Let's make a promise, Kuroko!" He exclaimed boldly, teary eyes shining orange in the glint of the light. "Even if we are separated and far apart…Let's promise to reunite one day! And when we do, we'll be playing on the same court." Ogiwara grinned. "Is that fine with you?"
Tetsuya was invisible and he sucked terribly at basketball, but-
He reached out and hooked his finger over Ogiwara's.
A basketball appeared over his heart the next morning. Although its size was small in comparison to the shadowy tree and vibrant sunset on his back, seeing it brought a fond smile to his face.
He entered Teiko Middle School and joined their basketball team.
Shoved into the third string and harshly reminded of reality, Tetsuya looks at the basketball on his heart every day and struggles to improve.
When Aomine-kun appeared by his side and decided to guide him, the ball seemed to shine a bit brighter, its edges more defined.
"Come to think of it, I've never really been in the same changing room as you, Tetsu." Aomine laughed one day after their extra practice.
"That's because we always have to look out for the teachers." They wouldn't want to be locked in, would they?
"That's right." Aomine yawned. "Thankfully, Shimizu-sensei's on sick leave today. We don't need to take turns changing."
"It's not good to enjoy the misery of another, Aomine-kun." Tetsuya pulled his shirt over his head. "I'm sure Shimizu-sensei is-"
Hm? Tetsuya blinked, turning around in confusion. Aomine had dropped his own shirt, eyes wide and lips gaping as he stared at Tetsuya. Why was he- Oh. His back was exposed.
"It's nothing to be surprised about." He stated blandly, pulling his undershirt over his back. "I'm sure you have your own marks like everyone else."
"Not everyone's marks are as gorgeous as yours." Aomine scratched his head.
"…Are you teasing me?" Tetsuya's voice goes flat as he stared at the other teen.
"I'm not! I'm serious!" Aomine jerked under his stare, lifting his still bare arm for emphasis. "Just look at my marks! They're nothing like yours."
Tetsuya took in the sakura blossoms that circled around Aomine's upper right arm like an arm band, and the list of words that etched his upperbody throughout – almost like those girlish gothic wrapping paper, with newspaper clippings everywhere. 'Meikou', '89-90', 'Alley oop', and so on…And in light blue, the kanji of 'Teiko' marked on the base of his neck like a brand.
Aomine is a true basketball idiot, in every meaning of that phrase. But at the same time, his earnesty makes him endearing almost.
"…I find your marks exotic-looking." Tetsuya admitted.
"What? You're lying!"
"I have no incentive for lying, Aomine-kun."
"You have a point…" The power forward quickly got dressed, speaking languidly. "But still, I think your marks are prettier. What with the sunset, tree, bird, and all…"
Tetsuya stilled at the description.
"…A bird?" He asked.
"Yeah. That sky blue bird flying around the tree?" Aomine clarified, grinning lazily. "It suits you in a way. Like you're free to do whatever ya want with your invisibility?" The tan teen snorted.
But it represents you, Tetsuya wanted to reply.
He held his fondness back nonetheless and jabbed Aomine in the side.
"Gck-! What was that for?!"
"It is for not according a mark to me." He stated blandly. "I didn't realize I left that vague an impression on you."
"But I do have it!" Aomine grunted, pulling his sleeve up. "Look! These creepy-looking shadows behind Satsuki's mark? They're you!"
"Is that so." If he says so.
"…Are you doubting me? Hey, Tetsu…You believe me, right?"
The basketball over his heart cracked into two halves when he was told frankly there was no hope for him in the team. Tetsuya didn't want to believe that his love for the sport could so easily be diminished…and yet, the evidence was right there before his eyes.
Aomine clenched his teeth when he informed him of his decision to quit.
"I don't believe a member who stays till for extra practice would be useless to this team." The first-string player said, amongst many other things. "I won't say that you'd definitely find a solution if you stay, but I can at least say that you definitely wouldn't be able to find it if you do quit!"
His words took Tetsuya aback, jolting him from the nightmare he was in.
Then, came the other first-year first-string players, trotting in the gym like they owed the place.
Akashi-kun offered him a bet, and he took it.
Aomine-kun left for the book shop with him, offering a solution that was quickly proven feasible by a book.
Tetsuya was weak.
Tetsuya was weak and he sucked at basketball, but even then, he found hope that he would be able to help the team somehow.
The next time he looked, the ball on his heart had grown slightly larger, the dark creases within it sprouting out like roots away from the ball itself.
If this means that basketball has grown to become just a little more precious to him, then Tetsuya didn't mind in the slightest.
He was invited to join a match.
When he failed and found Aomine-kun bargaining with the coach, it took all Tetsuya had to hold onto the remaining pieces of himself which had been ready to scatter from the coach's harsh words.
Because right then and there, his heart felt so full, it was almost impossible to breathe.
"…Aomine-kun. Why did you have to say something like that?" He asked after handing the wallet over.
"…You overheard?" Aomine asked, grunting in surprise.
Looking pensive for a moment, Tetsuya was stunned when Aomine explained his actions.
"Well, it just isn't fair, ya know?" The power forward dropped his head. "If a guy like you can't seize your chance. I'm sure opportunities present themselves to everyone. Hardworking guys, guys who don't work at all…basically anyone." He smiled. "But in the end, I think the one who should be able to seize those opportunities are the hardworking ones."
"…Even so, I can't let Aomine-kun be demoted too." It wouldn't be fair to Aomine-kun that way.
"What're you saying? All you gotta do is prove yourself in the next match, right? It's really simple!" Aomine-kun said it as if the act of winning a match was really that easy… "You've still got a chance."
The tan player beamed, extending a fist to him.
"It it's Tetsu, you have the strength to grasp it. You can do it!"
Tetsuya stared, wide-eyed, because never in his life had he ever had someone who believed in him more than he did himself. Even Ogiwara-kun, who had brought him into this sport, tried and gave up on teaching him certain tricks. …And now, that Ogiwara-kun was waiting for him on that dream court of theirs, alongside Aomine-kun.
Tetsuya inhaled deeply and lifted his fist to the other teen's.
For the first time, he played an official match.
After listening to Akashi-kun's words, he was able to mash his play with the others. He was able to win his first official match and prove Aomine-kun right.
Tetsuya's eyes were almost filled with tears when he stepped off the court.
Aomine-kun offered his fist once again, and Tetsuya bumped it with his own, smiling brighter than he had ever done so.
Later that day, when he took off his wristbands to wash, Tetsuya was unsurprised to find certain words etched into his right wrist.
'I believe you can definitely do it, Tetsu! Don't give up!' Dark blue words scribbled out lazily, the same shade of colour as Aomine-kun.
'It's fine to have fighting spirit, but keep it hidden.' Akashi-kun's scarlet markings scrawled in neat little kanji's, kept under the large bold marks of Aomine-kun's. They were words that made it possible for him to push past that wall, words that he had to take to heart.
Tetsuya breathed and closed his eyes, taking a moment to etch the marks into his memory.
Yes, he thought in a whisper. Yes, he would do just that.
A faint pinkish cat appeared, curled around the nape of his neck the same day he gave his winning ice-cream stick to Momoi-san.
It was comical almost, he thinks, how Momoi-san changed her opinion of him so quickly. If he didn't know that Momoi-san was sharper than most people, he might even have thought her to be shallow. She must have some other reason for liking him.
But at the same time, beside a curious sense of wariness reflected in the very posture of the cat (claws hanging over the base of his neck, ready to dig in), Tetsuya also found her endearing.
"Tetsu-kun, here! A bottle for you~!" Momoi sang.
"Tetsu-kun, shall we go home together today?" She cheered, almost glomping him.
"Tetsu-kuuuun~! Aomine-kun is bullying me again!" She whined.
"Hah?! Who's bullying who?!" Aomine grumbled.
"You, obviously!" Momoi-san pouted. "And even though I lent you my notes to copy too!"
"T-That's-" Aomine spluttered.
Now, Tetsuya knew he wasn't very manly, but one rule of being a man was to always be a gentleman and treat ladies right.
"Momoi-san is right." Tetsuya agreed. Momoi made a pleased sound. "You ought to be grateful to her for lending you notes, Aomine-kun."
"Tetsu-kun~!" Momoi pressed her palms to her face, squealing.
"Gh-! Why're you taking her side, Tetsu?!"
"It's a matter of basic courtesy."
"That's right! You should learn a bit from Tetsu-kun, Ahomine!" Momoi huffed.
"Who's showing courtesy to me now?" Aomine grumbled, and Tetsuya shook his head fondly at their antics.
"That's not how we define courtesy."
Even if he couldn't tell if Momoi-san sincerely liked him, he would like to believe that the cyan ribbon that had appeared around her wrist was a sign that she didn't mind him badly, not in a negative way anyways. Afterall, she had a dark blue ribbon wrapped around her other hand, the same colour as the words scrawled beneath his wristband.
Numerous games, they played and won.
With time, Tetsuya grew used to new marks appearing on him everyday.
"The lucky item for Aquarius today is a roll of bandages nanodayo." Midorima-kun sighed, adjusting his glasses when he still didn't get it.
"Is that so…" Tetsuya uttered, still befuddled as he stared down at the white bandages Midorima had dropped in his outstretched hands. Was there some reason why Midorima-kun was handing this to him? Or why Midorima-kun cared about his horoscope today?
"Don't read too much into this." Midorima stated, turning away. "This is just thanks for getting me my Shirakuma lucky item the other day. While I do acknowledge your skills, Oha-Asa predicted that Aquarius' luck would be worst today and we do not need you to drag down the team with your luck."
"I see." He didn't, not really.
"Hmph." Midorima scoffed and walked away to change.
Still staring down at the bandages blankly, Tetsuya jumped when the locker behind him closed.
It was Akashi-kun, who smiled at him in amusement.
"Don't mind him, Kuroko." The vice-captain said knowingly. "Midorima simply wanted to wish you a happy birthday and did it in the least conspicuous way."
"Don't mislead him, Akashi!" Midorima snapped irritably on his other side.
The shooting guard sighed when Tetsuya turned to him.
"I did not have such intentions at all."
"It's okay, Midorima-kun. I don't doubt you in the least." He stated bluntly, hoping to convey his sarcasm without offending the other party. "Nevertheless, I will treasure your gift and keep it on hand for whenever I may need it."
"Could you please don't say it in that way."
White bandages appeared on his other wrist, which he obscured with another wristband. To his light amusement, the bandages were bound by clips the same shade of green Midorima-kun's hair was, words bled into them with the same colour.
'I acknowledge your skills.'
It was the most Tetsuya could ever get out of the tsundere shooting guard, but it was more than he ever wished for.
"Kuro-chin, you're really giving these to me?" Murasakibara-kun was wide-eyed as he was handed the snacks Tetsuya had won from the other stalls around the school – alongside the runner-up prize for that disastorous game the Poetry club had organized.
"Yes." He replied blandly.
"It's to satisfy you until the school festival ends." Momoi beamed beside him. "Then, we can all go for crepes outside school and I can treat you to that good crepe I promised!"
There was no words spoken, but the parted lips of Murasakibara emphasized his appreciation for them.
"…Mukkun?" Momoi tilted her head.
"Please don't be reserved. Help yourself to the snacks." Tetsuya said.
Immediately, a potato bag was opened and the 'crunch crunch' of chips started.
Tetsuya allowed the two of them to rest before turning around, planning to help with the cleaning for the school festival.
"Kuro-chin~" Murasakibara called, to his surprise.
He turned around.
"…Would you like a chip?"
And Tetsuya's eyes widened, because here was Murasakibara-kun, resident trash bin and food hoarder, who was extending not just a single chip but the whole bag to him, asking if he wanted it. Momoi seemed to get the meaning as well, turning around to chase after Aomine-kun in an attempt to give them some privacy-
"You too, Sa-chin. Chips?"
She froze in shock.
The significance of this event hadn't yet sunk in, but Tetsuya accepted a single chip, if only out of respect for the purple giant.
"Thank you very much, Murasakibara-kun." He said.
"You're welcome, Kuro-chin~ Sa-chin?" Murasakibara shook the bag, making crumpling sounds.
"Thanks, Mukkun, but no thanks! Aomine-kun's been calling me fat lately, not to mention I already ate curry rice just now at Tetsu-kun's stall!" She huffed, sulking slightly.
"Don't mind Mine-chin. He's just mean like that." Murasakibara retracted the bag.
"That's right, Momoi-san. I think you are fine the way you are." Tetsuya added, hoping to boost her lowered confidence. How could Aomine-kun always be so insensitive?
"! Thanks, Tetsu-kun!" She glomped him.
Later, when he checked, Tetsuya would find a small violet rose bud blossoming over his right shoulder. Unlike the other marks, he doesn't cover it, revealing it to the world to see. Gradually, as time went, the violet rose grew bigger and more vibrant, as if to reflect how appealling Murasakibara-kun's simple attitude grew over time.
They got along well in everything besides basketball.
It did not take long for Akashi-kun to make his mark on him, like the rest.
In fact, it simply took a lunch break for it to happen.
"You are much too small, Kuroko, and I deemed it necessary for myself to monitor your nutritional intake to optimize your performance." The point guard stated merely, lifting his face ever so slightly to the air while scarlet locks fall around his face elegantly.
"What do you mea- Mpfh." A spoonful of rice. Tetsuya chewed and swallowed it, furrowing his brows.
"Akashi-ku-Mpf." Another one.
"You should do well to learn to stop arguing." Akashi said, entertained.
"Give it up, Tetsu. Akashi's always right." Aomine-kun, the traitor, laughed as he leaned back in his seat.
"I'm still in a state of disbelief over how you honestly thought a vanilla shake could suffice you for a day." Midorima shifted his glasses.
"That's why Kuro-chin is this small?" Murasakibara suggested.
Mouthfuls of food went into him. Before he knew it, a meal had been finished. Tetsuya covered his lips, feeling too eager to puke it all out when Akashi handed a cup of vanilla shake over, a smile on his face.
"You deserve a reward, I suppose."
How can he finish that when a vanilla shake was almost as equally filling to him?
"You're such a mother hen, Akashi." Aomine laughed again.
Tetsuya wanted to claim that he was exasperated over Akashi-kun's concern, but for the first time, having someone other than his parents concerned about his portion intake made him emotional in a new way.
A line of scarlet baby chicks made their way to his ankles.
Tetsuya prudently covered them up with his socks and blamed it on Aomine-kun.
Kise-kun appeared initially as two plain white masks – one smiling, one frowning – on his lower left hip.
No sooner had he been labelled 'Kurokocchi', to his partial annoyance, the masks disappeared and a large golden retriever appeared on his right calf instead, the mark so large it was entirely uncoverable.
"Eh~?! You consider me a turning point in your life, Kurokocchi?!" Kise-kun was too pleased about that.
"Shut up already, Kise!" Aomine-kun snapped.
"Get ready for practice already, nanodayo." Midorima sighed.
"You're mean, Aominecchi, Midorimacchi~!" Kise whined. "And you too, Kurokocchi! Why am I denoted by a golden retriever?!"
"For the same reason why you thought the mark was made by you, Kise-kun."
"Mean! Everyone here is too mean~!"
"Kise, we're gonna start playing without you." Aomine deadpanned.
In the changing rooms, everyone saw everyone's marks.
Aomine-kun's had an addition of a green frog, purple jellybeans, red chains hanging loosely around his neck, and a yellow spark (much like a firework) near his lower right abdomen. Tetsuya also noticed that his mark – the dark shadows under Momoi-san's – had turned cyan sometime when he hadn't noticed.
Midorima-kun was often hushed about his own markings, which included some scalptels, bandages, and numbers. Tetsuya had seen once, when Midorima-kun took off his tapes during the match, their colours which dotted his fingertips – the area which Midorima-kun treasured most. He didn't see the exact image though.
Kise-kun flaunted his body where nobody wanted to see it, and Tetsuya did think once, how tragic it was that his body was painted mostly monochrome. Pictures of black-and-white (did Kise-kun have a photographic memory?) were slowly, however gradually, replaced with colours inked onto his body. They formed a colourful montage, which appeared as swirls and curls of numerous flowers. The display aided Kise-kun in his modelling work.
Murasakibara-kun on the other hand had unmakable lumps over his heart. Some were prickly, some were fuzzy, others were smooth and rounded, but all of them had eyes and colours resembling their own. A senior once mentioned that it must be because Murasakibara was simple, but Tetsuya thought it was because Murasakibara didn't care about symbolism or appearances. He simply liked them for who they were on the inside.
And then, there was Akashi-kun.
There were no marks save for three gigantic claw marks on his back, as scarlet as his hair.
It was rare for people their age to be so unmarred…as if they hadn't yet experienced the good or the bad. Akashi-kun was like a newborn baby in that sense.
And yet, it was that one mark on his back that scared Tetsuya off.
Still, they were happy.
And that was enough for Tetsuya.
Until it wasn't.
Aomine was the one who first broke.
In that rainy day, with water droplets pelting them like stones hurled down from the heavens, Tetsuya heard those words as Aomine-kun smiled at him brokenly, hand lifted into mid-air.
"Pass? Who will you pass to, Tetsu?"
He couldn't believe his ears.
Tetsuya knew he was weak and he sucked at basketball for everything except passing, but the Aomine-kun who believed in him, whose words were still scribbled on his wrist under his wristband – 'I believe you can do it, Tetsu! Don't give up!' – wouldn't say this.
The rain drops sliding down Aomine-kun's face looked like tears.
"I…don't even remember how to receive your passes anymore."
Tetsuya widened his eyes and slumped, stunned, because those words pierced through him and hurt, more than anything else.
He watched Aomine turn away, strolling away from him with his shoulders hunched and hands stuffed deep within his pocket.
Tetsuya couldn't bring himself to chase, couldn't bring himself to even lift his hand up in the bump they've been doing all this time because-
-because it just hurts so badly.
Akashi-kun was there when he returned, except it was not the Akashi-kun they've known and were fond of.
"Give up on Aomine." At that point, there was still some pretense in his voice, but it was the very meaning of those words that jolted Tetsuya into awareness. "A plate that has been cracked will never be whole again. Even so, you can use it if you repair it, and if it was necessary, I'd expend the effort, but…"
"There's no need for that anymore. He's still perfectly usable as it is. Good work."
"Akashi-kun…" Tetsuya whispered, shocked, because this wasn't their Akashi-kun. Their Akashi-kun would never talk like this, as if they were just expendable pieces on the Shogi board. Not when he cared about them… "What are you saying…? No…Who are…you?"
This is a dream, right?
There's no way Akashi-kun would talk like that.
"I'm Akashi Seijuro, of course." Akashi lifted a hand to his chest, and as the ominous moonlight shone over them, Tetsuya saw amber peeking out at him from one of Akashi's eyes. "Te…tsu…ya."
Tetsuya went to sleep that night, hoping this was a dream.
He woke up to the realization that it really happened.
'I don't even remember how to receive your passes anymore.' remained etched to his right wrist, cancelling the now grey words that were once dark blue and optimistic. The words looked as if they were carved there by a knife, instead of the messy scrawl still present.
'Give up on Aomine.' -Was written side-by-side with those carved words, these ones flaring blood red instead of the expired scarlet and now greys.
When he turned to look at his back, the once free blue bird had dropped to the ground, its wings chained by something.
The little chicklings that he once found adorable on his ankles were scratched out, wound-like scars painted in scarlet and ugly amber yellows replacing them.
Tetsuya grabbed his ankles and his wrist and remained frozen in pain, until his parents called him to wake up.
Still, he hadn't yet awoken from this nightmarish reality.
Momoi-san secretly divulged to him that Murasakibara-kun had challenged Akashi-kun that rainy day.
The result had been the awakening of the stranger who took Akashi-kun's place.
With the change of the ace and the captain, his other teammates followed suit.
Midorima no longer needed passing, simply throwing three pointers from the opposite end of the court. Murasakibara also grew stronger, easily overwhelming foes with his size and speed alone, with no need for Tetsuya any longer. And Kise was more often skipping for his modelling jobs.
Tetsuya wondered if they had really been that fragile of a team, that easily shakable.
He thought they had something more, something that was stronger bonding them besides that.
'Teamwork is not needed in this team.' More and more of Akashi-kun's words have made their way to his wrists and front lately, cancelling out the marks he used to be so fond of. 'Teiko's philosophy has always been to 'Always win'. You only accepted it back then because you were in a good mood.'
'A vague question like yours will not change anything.'
'If you want to stay on this team as the phantom sixth player, then accept reality.'
'If you want to leave the club, I won't stop you.'
'It all depends entirely on you.'
They were carved to his front like scars, scarlet red almost blinding in its intensity.
Lately, Midorima's marks had become faded.
Murasakibara's ever increasing number of food varieties on his body covered up the fussy, prickly and unmakeable animals, showing his priority.
Kise-kun's marks begun dulling again.
His marks alone refused to fade.
Even though the tapes that belonged to Midorima-kun were now tainted with Teiko's philosophy in Akashi-kun's bloody colour, they were still there, however yellowish and worn they may be. Even though the wild rose on his right shoulder had grown prickly dark thorns that wrapped around his shoulder, it still bloomed. And even though the golden retriever on his leg adopted a more pensive expression…it was still there.
And even though Aomine-kun and Akashi-kun's dark indigo blue and scarlet red had faded, even though the bird and chicks were replaced with something reminiscent of the things bounding them…they were still there, acting as a reminder that they had occurred and those days weren't a dream.
"…Hey, Tetsu-kun. Do you still remember what I said back then…?" Momoi-san asked him one day.
He paused, remembering her words, her question about whether it's possible to go back to before.
He had answered that it's possible so long as they believed.
But that was back when Aomine-kun's words were still vibrant under his wristbands.
"I'm sorry. No…No, I don't remember." He pursued his lips as he lied.
Momoi was crying as he left ahead of her.
Tetsuya hated himself just a little more, and the pink furball that had been cradling his head curled in more on itself with a baby blue droplet, a constant reminder of Momoi's tears.
Still, Tetsuya breathed and continued playing.
The final match wasn't what ruined him.
What ruined him was Ogiwara-kun's betrayed look as he turned over to look at him.
What had he done?
What had all of them done?
Sliding down to his knees, Tetsuya felt the onslaught of tears prinking his eyes.
Why? Why did Akashi-kun do this even though he promised to give it their all? Why didn't he stop them before it escalate to this extent? Why was he so selfish?
Just what is victory?
The coloured scenery all over him dulled instantly overnight.
The basketball over his heart shattered into a million pieces and vanished entirely, leaving mere cracks over his heart with blood-like liquid seeping out and trickling down into a single drop.
Tetsuya sobbed all night.
Even the memories of those days only served to enhance the pain.
…And yet, because it retained the colour in his marks, he grasped onto them, not wanting to let them go in the slightest.
When he visited Ogiwara-kun's school, he was informed Ogiwara had quit basketball.
With a single wristband as his reminder of their oath, Tetsuya took up basketball again despite the pain. He would take Ogiwara to the court with him and fight to regain his teammates…even if he hated basketball.
The ball that used to hang over his heart did not return.
The Coach of Seirin was straightforward.
At once, she had told them all to strip.
Tetsuya took all of their marks in, curiously imprinting the image of Kagami-kun's into his mind.
The redhead's marks were similar to Aomine-kun's in a way that hurts, covered entirely by English words and basketball slangs. The only things which stood out amidst that remarkable montage was a grey cross mark over his heart, as if a wolf had clawed him right out in the heart, and a tiny gold wisp at the back of his ear, like a caress of sorts.
It was straightforward, telling him of the teen's earnesty, and despite himself, Tetsuya liked him at once.
"Is Kuroko Tetsuya not here?" The Coach called out, again missing him.
"Erm, I am here."
Commence the usual jump and startle and 'since when were you here?!' discussion.
"A-Anyways, strip and let me see your body structure!" The Coach stuttered.
"…I would really rather we do this in private." He stated.
"Either do it here or leave the team." Coach had a menacing gleam in her eyes, as if to say 'Just because you came from Teiko, you think you can command me, huh?' That really wasn't what he intended though. "Now, strip!"
Tetsuya furrowed his brows. If it was between those two options…Well…
At once, sharp breaths were drawn and gasps were politely muffled, though still obvious in the deafening silence that befell the gym.
Both seniors and juniors were staring at his marks in wide-eyed disbelief, taking in the words that were bled in by blood red ('Teamwork is not needed in this team' 'If you want to leave, I won't stop you'), the cracks in his heart, the faint masks that had reappeared over his lower right hip, the thorny vines wrapped around a violet rose that drew blood, the bound bird, near monochrome backdrop against a blacker than abyss shadow of a tree – and the two large strokes, almost like a knife, that slashed across his back in sharp cyan.
It was far too many scars for any person his age, he realizes, taking in their stunned looks.
The only solace he has is that Momoi-san's cat was still draped affectionately over his neck, even if it curled slightly in on itself with a teardrop.
Even then, it takes a quivering moment before he could recollect himself.
The Coach inhaled sharply, nodding once after appraising his body.
"You can get dressed already." It was a subtle attempt at sensitivity, and Tetsuya appreciated it. "Well, with that, I've gained all the data I need from you guys. I'm gonna start giving you guys a menu each, so remember to carry them out for the next few days."
Discomforted stares were still shot in his direction.
Only one pair of eyes stared straight ahead, unabashedly at him.
Tetsuya sighed miserably.
And he hadn't even showed them what's under his socks and wristbands.
To his surprise, Kagami-kun treats him as if he's never seen his scars, almost like he's ignoring all his accumulated, so-called 'life experiences'.
"You smell of nothing." Kagami-kun tells him, ignoring the long history he's just seen inked on his body today. "Even though I can normally get a hint of how strong others are, you smell of nothing."
Tetsuya hid his amusement.
Was this guy a dog of some sort?
They played one-on-one, and thereafter, they played against the seniors.
The seniors are strong. Tetsuya is satisfied. And Tetsuya decides Kagami-kun would be his new light, because he was going to need him to defeat the others.
Kagami-kun accepts it with a few disgruntled comments here and there, but nothing more.
The ball still hadn't returned yet.
Kise-kun heads towards him, demanding him 'back' without giving regards to the rest of Seirin.
Tetsuya respectfully rejects him and pretends to not notice the marginal narrowing of amber eyes in the direction of the now faded golden retriever on his right calf.
"…It's alright. I'll show Kurokocchi who's better between the two of us." Kise-kun says to Kagami-kun, though he didn't truly believe it's necessary.
Why was he still getting possessive over him when their bond was already broken?
They played, and Seirin won.
During the steak torture, Tetsuya was picked up by Kise-kun, and he accepted the blonde's tacit apology. He tried to shrug off the question about why he left their final match (because truly, he still didn't know even now), and calmly accepted the tip about Kagami-kun being just like the miracles. As he thought, Kagami-kun does have some innate talent like the rest of them…
Sometime in the midst of all that, they ended up playing a match and beating a bunch of delinquents.
"…Well then, it's about time I go back." Kise-kun said suddenly, picking up his bag.
Kagami-kun gasped. Tetsuya only stared as Kise-kun grinned at him.
"I was even able to play with Kurokocchi in the end!" The model cheered.
For a moment, his expression seemed so much like back then, before he changed, Tetsuya could only watch.
"And I won't forget about that revenge, Kagamicchi! You better not lose in the preliminaries!"
"Kagamicchi?!" Kagami-kun quoted, shocked and irritated.
"Kise-kun adds 'cchi' to the name of the people he acknowledges." Tetsuya explained. "That's good for you, isn't it?"
"I don't want that!" Kagami snapped.
He wondered if he should inform Kagami-kun that not even teachers gain that term of respect.
"More importantly, Kagami-kun…Did you hear what we were talking about?" He asked.
"About whether we'll have to part or not? Before that, it's not like I even get along with you." Kagami scoffed. "You're the one who said it'd be impossible alone, right? So I think it's pointless for you to worry. On top of that, being always with the light…It's what your basketball is about, right?"
In other words, neither of them have any reason to part…for now anyways.
But, the way Kagami said it…how certain he seemed that it would remain that state for a while ahead…It discomforted him.
"Kagami-kun…talks big as well."
The golden retriever returns, a cheery look on its face once again, and the masks disappear.
Against his wishes, a fierce red figure appears behind the shadowy tree on his back, the form of the tiger peering up at the skies.
He wondered if that tiger will be bound to the ground, like the blue bird was.
They beat Shutoku, but it was there that he had a glimpse of Kagami-kun's talent.
Jumping ability…that was what rivals Midorima-kun.
And yet simultaneously, he saw a glimpse of what Kagami-kun could be.
The sound reverberated in their side of the court.
"Kuroko-kun?!" The seniors yelped.
"Kuroko, you…!" Kagami-kun grabbed the collar of his shirt, lifting him up.
And yet…this violent side of him only summoned memories of Aomine-kun.
"Basketball is not a one-man sport!" He blurted out, partly to the Aomine-kun in his mind. Many times he had thought it over. How much better would it have been if he had just reached out to Aomine-kun back then and told him he would support him?
"You mean you'll let it rest if you lose as long as everyone enjoys playing?!" Kagami yelled. "There's no meaning unless we win!"
"But there's no meaning if you win alone!" Tetsuya narrowed his eyes pertulantly at the larger teen. As he thought, his concerns had been correct. "You said you wanted to defeat the generation of miracles. But…you think just like them!"
This is a bet. A bet to see if Kagami-kun would be receptive to him and prove his words back then…or abandon their bond and become just like the others.
"And even if we defeat Shuutoku your way, no one will be happy!" He stressed.
"Don't talk high minded like this!" Tetsuya grunted as he was tossed to the ground. "If we lose here, that'll just be some feel-good trash!"
"In that case, what's victory?" He spat back. In his mind, he saw them again, panting figures shining so brightly on the court…yet so devestatingly tragic as each and every single one of them lost their love for basketball. Ogiwara-kun flashed behind his eyes. "If you have a higher score than the opponent when the final whistle blows…If there's no one happy, is it victory?"
Kagami-kun's eyes widened, staring straight at him through his win-obsessed haze for the first time.
"…Not that we want to lose, but basketball is a sport that can't be played alone!" Koganei-sempai smiled, supporting his words brilliantly.
"You have anything more to say?" Hyuuga-sempai added sternly.
"Well…not…no…" Tetsuya narrowed his eyes, waiting to see Kagami-kun's decision. "…I'm sorry."
"It'd be so much better if we win this together."
His eyes widened and he felt a soothing calmness spread within himself.
Kagami-kun wasn't like the rest. He was still salvageable even now, receptive to him and his passes. Tetsuya could still get through to him.
With blinding clarity now that his emotions were kicked out of his way, Tetsuya divulged the second level of his abilities to the team. They returned to the match, and they won, believing in both Kagami-kun and Midorima-kun. ("Man proposes, God disposes." Even now, it seemed he still understood Midorima-kun well. The bandages on his left wrist throb.) Before leaving, Tetsuya took a look at the mirror.
The tiger on his back was dashing out from behind the tree, readying itself for a jump at the skies.
The bandages that had went yellowish on his left wrist was slightly paler, cleaner.
In the other areas, white words outlined with the inky black and bold red of the Seirin school's colours covered the bloody red of Akashi-kun's.
'Listen to your sempais, idiots!' – The captain.
'Don't you dare underestimate us! We are the team that went to the nationals last year!' - The Coach
A translucent net was now laid over the rest of his front, under the captain and coach's words, as if to protect him from the scars that were at the very bottom.
Tetsuya smiled in spite of himself.
Beating both Seiho and Shutoku had taken a lot out of them, more than they could muster perhaps, but it was definitely worth every ounce of effort. Just a little…he feel like he could focus more on making Seirin No. 1, instead of just making Kagami-kun the No. 1 player.
Just a little, he felt like it's possible for that ball to return to his heart.
He notices Midorima-kun's markings as the shooting guard began to replace his taping around his fingers.
"What is it?" Midorima questioned impatiently under his stare.
"No…It's just I've never seen Midorimacchi's markings closely before." Kise-kun replied, surprising him.
"Indeed." Tetsuya nodded in agreement.
"Give others some privacy. And learn to take a hint nanodayo." Midorima shifted his fingers such that they were obscured while he was taping them. "To begin with, the markings are said to be sacred representations of our life experiences. There's no reason why they ought to be displayed to each and every person that passes by-"
"Why not?" Kagami asked around a mouthful of okonomiyaki.
"Huh? Were you listening to what I was saying?!" Midorima-kun asked, irked.
"Of course, I already knew those things. I mean, who doesn't?" Kagami was surprisingly good at irritating Midorima-kun.
"Then as I've said, learn to take a hint!"
"I don't understand why you don't want to show your marks though." Kagami stated, blatantly ignoring the shooting guard's seething protests. "Sure, they're some sign of our history and all, but in the end, what's in the past stays in the past. They can't possibly affect your future unless you let them to."
That's…Tetsuya exchanged a look with Kise, who appeared surprised at the redhead's opinion.
"Well~ That makes sense." Kise grinned, leaning on a palm. "Kagamicchi is surprisingly realistic."
"Am I?" The redhead looked like a squirrel with his cheek pouches full like that. "I was just stating the obvious."
"And in the mean time, our Shin-chan here is still a romantist at heart, what with the horoscope signs on his fingers and stuffs~!" Takao-san sighed.
"Don't eavesdrop on our conversation, Takao!"
Horoscope signs on his fingers…Supposedly each with their respective colours.
He sighed, exchanging another look with Kise, who smiled knowingly.
He should have known.
The following day, he receives a message from Midorima-kun talking about the lucky item of Aquarius today.
He takes it 'with a pinch of salt', indulgently agreeing that Cancers would get great luck from helping out an Aquarius, even though Oha-Asa most certainly didn't say that part.
The bandages on his left wrist brighten, making the blood red fade out.
Momoi-san comes to visit, and something seemed to register in Seirin's minds when they matched her shade of pink to the cat that constantly curled around his neck.
The Coach was surprisingly tolerant to Momoi-san despite her cheeky taunts.
"Kuroko-kun, we'll give you guys a moment alone, okay?" The Coach waved them over to a bench, sharply shouting out orders for the other teens to leave for a run now. "Take all the time you need. Though…don't you let yourself unravel too much."
It's clear what the coach was referring to, though Tetsuya didn't appreciate the suspicion of him doing that to a lady by the side of a pool. He wasn't Haizaki.
"It hurts, Coach…" Tetsuya grunted at the hand squeezing his skull. "I get it."
And they were left alone.
"That Coach…she's nice. She left us alone despite knowing our history together." Momoi-san smiled, a tinge of exhaustion lingering in her eyes and shoulders.
"I think…Most likely, it is because our past together." He eyed the light blue ribbon on her right wrist pointedly.
Her mark was the only one that refused to fade even now, vibrant compared to the bandages and golden retriever.
"That's right. Most people do tend to think that way." Momoi lifted her left wrist, where a dark blue ribbon still vibrant with its colour hung. Tetsuya didn't like the sad smile that was printed on the once cheerful girl's face. "Even now…It seems like some things remain unchanged."
"…Momoi-san," He called out without thinking. "If I win and stop him…Do you think Aomine-kun will change?"
"I know Aomine-kun is strong." Tetsuya is weak, and he sucks at basketball for everything except passing, but… He thought about the net that had appeared over his front and the edges of a wavering tiger in the midst of a monochrome sunset. "I don't intend to fight this battle alone."
Momoi looked at him from the corner of her eyes, face pinched with both hope and sadness.
"Perhaps…I don't know."
Wandering pink eyes shifted and landed on his front, where Seirin's marks were – and hadn't their eyes beamed with pride when they saw his marks that morning?
"But…I'm glad you found a good team, Tetsu-kun."
"I feel the same."
Momoi giggled at his words and they sat in comforting silence.
With Kagami-kun subbed out mid-game and with Aomine-kun crushing him soundly, they lost against Touou.
In the locker room, Tetsuya crouched over his knees, repeating the scenes in his eyes and wondering how he could have gone about every move in a different way – how he might have been able to defeat Aomine-kun.
'The only one who can defeat me, is me.'
Tetsuya tried not to be hurt at those dark indigo blue words etched around his neck, like a necklace trying to suffocate him.
Aomine-kun proved himself right.
But Tetsuya still didn't want to give up on his friend.
'I believe that you can do it, Tetsu! Don't give up!' The words of the past Aomine-kun seemed to be cheering him on almost.
"Let's go, Kuroko…" Kagami-kun called out to him.
"I guess this is our limit." His eyes widened, body tensing at those sudden words. "Honestly, I thought we'd play pretty well…But in the end, it was still shit."
It was reminiscent of Aomine-kun and that rainy day. A pained smile as he lifted his hand to his sight, and –
'I don't even remember how to receive your passes anymore.' The words were still on his wrist.
"I guess…Against sheer skill…Just cooperation isn't enough to win, eh?"
And it felt like his world was blurring before his eyes, descending back to the darkness of those days.
'I promise you…we'll defeat Aomine-kun.'
'Let's do it. Let's wake him up from his dreams.'
'We'll talk about it after you beat me.'
What right did he have to talk big all this time when he was merely relying on others' skills?
Even Kagami-kun didn't want him anymore. Just like with the miracles, because he was too weak…because the shadow was too faded…Kagami-kun has decided to forsake him to grow stronger for the team. Just like the rest, who were forced to grow too quickly because he couldn't make up for their lack of strength.
Tetsuya bit his lip and followed after Kagami, swallowing the tears in his eyes.
The tiger on his back disappeared the following morning. To where, Tetsuya didn't know.
The new player who had showed himself was full of marks.
With a large basketball on his right hand which covered the entire palm and back, a shoot sprouted from the ball, extending all the way up to his neck like a tree. Unlike Tetsuya's shadowy one, his was vibrant and lush with flowers and apples. On left arm, however, metal gears and wrenches extended down his entire arm, creating a conflicting contrast with his right side.
Then, there was a needle and thread that had wrapped itself several times around his neck, more loving in a manner similar to his own cat, the needle ending at the centre of his chest like a necklace.
And his left leg bled moss green and poisonous purple, exotic ominous looking butterflies of that array of colours fluttering around the knee.
"This tree…What kind of tree is it~?" The teen sang.
Tetsuya blinked, confused.
"Written with the kanji for 'tree', and the kanji from 'great luck'…Kiyoshi!"
They stood in awkward silence.
That certainly explains the tree sprouting from his arm.
"Also…The 'tep' from 'iron barbell' and the 'pei' from 'common employee'…makes Teppei!"
That explains the metal on his other half of the body.
Kiyoshi Teppei is a strange man, Tetsuya decided. When the larger teen said that he decided his own limits though, he decided that however cryptic the teen was, he only meant well. Taking his words into account, Tetsuya fumbled, thinking it through that night. Finally, he decided to talk to the captain, who only immediately rejected his request to be put off as a starter.
"If you really wanna quit, then at least talk with Kagami." The Captain sighed. "He's at the park. With a ball."
Typical Kagami-kun, even when he was depressed.
"We talked after the match today…Seems like he has done some thinking. 'Till now, I was saved by Kuroko countless times', he said, so he wanted to take a bit of distance for now." Hyuuga-sempai paused, looking at his face before he continued. " 'Kuroko won't let it end like this, and I also want to get stronger no matter what.' …He said."
Tetsuya's eyes widened, and he stiffened at the familiarity of the meaning of those words, because how long has it been since someone believed in him like that? Ever since…Aomine-kun turned his back on him?
Aomine-kun's long faded marks twitched under the cuff of his dress shirt.
The tiger was gone from his back…but it was ultimately only his perception of things.
"He believes in you." Hyuuga-sempai summarized with an exasperated sigh, picking up a ball. "But he's really clumsy. Especially with his words."
And suddenly, Tetsuya wanted to talk with Kagami-kun…because how could he have thought Kagami-kun abandoned him when he was in fact waiting for him? How could he turn his back on Kagami-kun without consulting him first?
"…Excuse me…And thank you."
He ran and he panted and he ran again, to that court where they had first recognized each other's abilities.
He told Kagami-kun he had been making use of him; that he had been using him to make the Generation of Miracles recognize his own style. But Kagami-kun already knew. He said he always wondered why Tetsuya would pair up with him…and Kagami-kun said he accepted it, even knowing that Tetsuya-kun was 'using' him.
"No." Tetsuya interrupted before this misunderstanding could get worst. "You're already wrong."
"In all the games until now, you always believed in me." If there was anyone who doubted anyone else, it was Tetsuya himself. "Also your imaginative training earlier was for the purpose of playing together with everyone. Your words after our loss weren't words of farewell…But words of short separation, to get stronger individually."
He pursued his lips, voicing his realization for the first time.
"To match two even greater forces; To ascertain our victory."
Tetsuya felt an incomprehensible emotion well up within him, choking him up, because how could Kagami-kun believe in him this much? When he knew how manipulative Tetsuya was and when he didn't even know what laid behind Tetsuya's reason for his actions?
"Hyuuga-sempai told me." He breathed. "…So, let me correct myself now."
"I'm glad I came to Seirin." The words of the captain and coach that are on his chest…
"All the seniors are nice. My classmates, who try hard together, are also nice." The monochrome sunset that was slowly gaining colour on his back…
"You believed in me." The bold red tiger that remained fierce on his back.
"I'm no longer Kuroko Tetsuya of Teiko. I'm Kuroko Tetsuya of Seirin High School." He declared to the world, hoping even they would hear him from somewhere beyond this court. "I want to become, with you…with everyone, Japan's number one. Not just for the sake of making someone else Japan's number one. And for that purpose, I'll get stronger."
Stronger…stronger than even them…
A moon appeared on his right palm the next day, crescent and glowing like the moon that night.
It wasn't large, just barely fitting into the span beneath his fingers, but as modest as it was, anyone who played him would be able to see it.
It was his promise to Seirin, one which never bore any marks till now.
The tiger returned to his back, and it was roaring ferociously to the sky as it leapt from the tree roots.
Summer training camp brought with it new marks.
He hadn't quite noticed the progression of his marks until Kiyoshi-sempai pointed it out.
"Are those seeds, Kuroko?"
"…No, if you don't get it, then it doesn't matter." Kiyoshi smiled as he looked away.
"I never really got it, those marks of yours." Kagami-kun said, squinting down at his back. "Unlike mine and the rest, yours seem kinda complex, filled with many things. How did you get it that way?"
"I just experienced life." He answered honestly.
"Kuroko's life does seem to be full of hot babes and passionate guys." Koganei-sempai sighed, slumped against the bath.
"I don't think he means it that way, Koga." Tsuchida-sempai intervened.
"Kuroko's life is not filled with kuro (black/darkness). This is it!"
"Gah! Shuddap already, Izuki!" Hyuuga-sempai deadpanned, sighing in exasperation. "Or rather, spending three years of your life with those arrogant miracles…Kuroko, you must have it hard too."
"Ah…No. It wasn't hard at all." He couldn't fault the captain for getting that impression though.
Looking down at the water, he lifted his head to see Seirin around him and decided to explain.
"In the beginning, before they are miracles, we were just ordinary teens who just liked basketball." He glanced at Kagami out of the corner of his eyes, pursuing his lips. "Aomine-kun was a basketball idiot, not unlike Kagami-kun."
"Who're you calling an idiot, you idiot!"
"Kagami, keep it down." The captain drawled.
With a ghost of a smile at their antics, Tetsuya eyed the cracks that were on Izuki-sempai, the captain, and even Kiyoshi-sempai's hearts. Some of them had shards of glass piercing them. Others looked like thin paper dug out mercilessly. They were faded, mostly healed, but even now, they still existed to date.
"Midorima-kun has always been a maniac with horoscopes, for as long as I knew him." He divulged to their curious though wary eyes. "Although Kise-kun joined us only in his second year, he has always been showy like the way he was now."
"I sympathize with their teams, getting such troublesome members. Not that you aren't one too." The captain narrowed his eyes at him and Tetsuya tried not to feel affronted.
"Heh. You're right about that-"
"Who are you to talk?" Izuki deadpanned, staring at Kagami-kun too.
Kuroko didn't describe the other two, but thankfully, the players did not prod.
"But," He said, his words catching the attention of all. "Even though they were strange and our personalities were all over the place, they always meant well."
"They fought for the team." He added, looking at Seirin. "And if it was to satisfy Teiko's philosophy of 'Always Win', they threw part of themselves away."
He eyed Kagami-kun, who jolted as if he finally understood that match with Shutoku.
"What makes the difference between the past and the present is not simply their skills, but how they feel as well. The so-called mentioned Generation of Miracles…Though I can't speak for them, they were my friends back then."
He looked down at the marks on his hands, at the words that were etched into his wrists – which Kagami stared at more intensely now than ever – and the bandages, and even the gold on his leg that was blur through the water.
"And I loved them as much, if not more than Seirin." He confessed.
"…Why're you telling that to us now, stupid?" Kagami sighed, kicking him in the waters. Tetsuya tossed him a dirty look.
"Kagami-kun was the one who asked." He retorted, miffed.
"I didn't. It was the captain who started trashtalking the miracles."
"Don't pull me into this, freshmen combi."
"Now, now," Kiyoshi laughed. "Hyuga, I'm sure Kagami didn't mean anything by that."
"I don't feel guilty!" The captain grumbled. "I don't, at all!"
Tetsuya wondered if all shooting guards were as tsundere as Midorima-kun.
"I really don't!"
He blinked as Kagami leaned back against the tub.
"With all that said, right now, like it or not, Seirin's your team and not the Generation of Miracles." The redhead said, shooting him a look. "We're gonna defeat them and bring back those friends of yours, aren't we? Even though each and every single one of them still pisses me off."
"Well said, Kagami!" Koganei slung his arm over the redhead's shoulder.
"Don't take it too personally, Kuroko, but we all want to defeat them regardless how you feel about it." Izuki-sempai added beside him. "Whether they were your friends or not. Your words don't change a thing about how we feel."
Izuki-sempai seemed almost cool in that instance until Kagami-kun broke the atmosphere again.
"Wait, sempai, are you naked under the waters-"
"Woah! Kagami's brought a towel in and it's floating up!"
"What the heck, Kagami?! You scared you'd drown or something?!"
"I just- I'm just not used to the customs here!"
Tetsuya blinked at the chaos that had abruptly burst out and sighed, the edge of his lips lifting up. Even if it was no longer possible to bring back his middle school friends and be in the same team again, he thinks he would be happy still with Seirin, who are all kind and accomodating.
Unbeknownst to him, the brown seeds beneath the tree took residence and sprouted into seedlings.
With the defeat of Kirisaki Daichi saw sunflowers blossoming beneath the shadowy tree.
Tetsuya thinks he might cry with the Seirin-coloured words that made its way to his chest.
'I'll sacrifice myself any day to protect everyone. That's why I came back!'
Kiyoshi-sempai felt like a big brother even though he didn't have one, and in that instance, he was as much a part of the team as everyone else.
"Woah! Your back, Kuroko!" Kagami-kun pointed out the practice after that match.
"Hm? Oooh! It's grown even prettier! What do the sunflowers represent?!" Koganei-sempai bounced over to look down at the bright flowers.
Tetsuya smiled and looked at them fondly.
His words made a deafening silence fall over the room, eyes widening and breaths hitching in surprise.
Before he knew it, bodies were thrown onto him and he was given suffocating hugs here and there by first-years and the more touchy second-years alike.
"I never knew you treasured our team so much, Kuroko~!" Koganei sobbed.
Mitobe-sempai nodded into the crook of his neck, squeezing him gently.
"I'm so glad you finally moved on, Kuroko!" Furihata and the other first-years wailed.
"You too." The captain suddenly pointed out, making heads swivel in his line of sight.
Kiyoshi-sempai smiled, and they all noticed the ugly exotic butterflies on his knee had turned into a metal kneeguard. Scars transformed into a shield for the future…Just like the iron heart that had taken the place of a gaping wound in his chest.
"Kiyoshi-sempai~~~!" The first-years cried, attacking him this time with their affection.
Kiyoshi made a grunt as he was glomped from all directions.
"What's up with that?" Kagami-kun grinned beside him, but Tetsuya couldn't help but eye the vivid 'Seirin' that had made its way onto his left shoulder above his heart above the claw marks. Kagami-kun was an idiot who took things way too literally, but it was obvious what that meant.
"The same for you." Captain deadpanned, eyeing him too.
"Huh? What do you mean?"
Kagami-kun turned to the captain, and Tetsuya blinked, rubbing his eyes.
For a second there, he saw a flicker of a shadow standing on Kagami-kun's back.
Was it his imagination…?
"Time's up!" The referee whistled.
101-100, the score read.
Then, the captain was yelling, Kagami-kun was screaming, and everyone was crying while shouting in joy.
Tetsuya could hardly breathe as he shouted as one with them, tears slipping out of the corners of his eyes wihtout permission.
They won…! After that gruelling long match so filled with plays and sacrifices…they finally won!
"We…lost…?" Aomine-kun's voice made its way to him.
He looked up, and he saw Aomine looking just like his past self for an instance, eyes no longer so narrow or full of hatred or jaded.
What followed was Kagami-kun dragging him when his legs gave out from underneath him.
"It has only just started." Kagami-kun stole his words right out from his mouth. "Let's play again. I'll be waiting for you."
Then, Aomine-kun was laughing – the sound clear and resounding and not mocking in the least and-
Tetsuya breathed, extending his fist.
"Back then…We didn't bump fists." It's funny, maybe, but that was what bothered him the most.
"Hah?! Does that even matter?!"
"It does! Don't ignore me this time…" He insisted.
"…Sure." Aomine seemed to understand his attachment somehow. "But only this time."
Their fists met, and all the dark blue marks on his skin seemed to throb with tenderness.
Even now, the cyan marks were still under the bright pink of Momoi-san's…He still mattered to the power forward.
"Next time, I'll win."
The next he checked, all the dark blue marks that had swallowed his body had faded into grey scars, obscured by the more vibrant colours. The bird on his back was no longer bound.
"It changed." Kagami-kun commented wryly as he was changing.
"Indeed." Tetsuya took off his wristband, peering down at the words with a fond look in his eyes.
"What does it say?" On Kagami-kun's front, in the midst of the many words in different sizes, the large dark blue 'TOOU' was crossed out and 'Aomine Daiki' was now scrawled messily beside an ugly basketball drawing. It was just the same with Midorima-kun and Kise-kun, but somehow in one way or another, Toou and Aomine-kun were just larger than them.
'Thank you, Tetsu.' The words beside the now coloured words of faith made him smile.
"Soul marks are private, Kagami-kun." He hid it behind his wristband.
"Gck-! Now you're sounding like that bastard Midorima."
Later that day, Momoi-san's message also made it to his wrist in sakura pink kanji.
[Thank you, Tetsu-kun.]
Tetsuya beamed and tried his best not to cry at their words.
'Welcome back.' The cyan words etched onto the same wrist were words he wanted to say to them but never got the chance to.
Next time he sees them, perhaps he'll tell them.
The match with Murasakibara-kun saw the etchings on Kagami-kun's body transforming throughout.
The grey claw marks of a wolf had by now grown to become larger, almost inverse in proportionality to the distance they were from Himuro Tatsuya, Kagami-kun's sworn brother.
Kagami-kun told him to discard the ring, but even then, when he pocketted it, he couldn't help but notice the grey shadow of a ring that made it to Kagami-kun's neck. The rest of Seirin wisely kept quiet about it, not wanting to disturb their Ace's heart now that he set the ball rolling.
An outburst on the opposing bench later, Murasakibara-kun had tied up his hair and walked onto the court.
And on his neck was the very first makeable mark – that of a grey wolf wrapped tenderly around his body like a scarf (not unlike himself and his cat).
"I won't hold back, Kuro-chin."
"That's exactly what I want."
The rose on his arm twitches and throbs as they played.
They won, and when he looked at the opposite bench, he found Murasakibara-kun bending over, tears plopping down despite the towel hiding his head. Through it all, Himuro-kun remained right by his side.
The thorns of the rose on his upper right arm stop drawing blood, and instead, grey leaves blossomed around the violet petals, cradling Murasakibara-kun with its gentle yet firm hold.
He was glad Murasakibara-kun wasn't alone now.
He returned the ring to Kagami-kun thereafter, and while the scars over Kagami-kun's heart refused to fade, the afterimages of that ring did.
"I think Himuro-kun sees you as much of a brother as you do him, with or without the ring." Tetsuya informed him.
"Yeah…But I just wanted to hold onto it." Kagami-kun replied, a smile on his face.
And that was that.
"There are two Akashi's."
Midorima's words drew him to share his story to Seirin that night.
Seated with the members of Seirin surrounding him, he recalled the tale of how they had met, how each and everyone of them somehow just made their marks on everyone else in their group.
Tetsuya didn't tell them about the marks on the others.
It was private.
He also didn't tell them about how ridiculously endearing Midorima-kun has always been whenever he did a favour for the green haired teen; He didn't tell them about how Kise-kun originally had two faces until he earned his respect; He didn't tell them about how Aomine-kun would always banter with Momoi-san, asking for her notes and sharing ice-cream with him; It of course went unspoken that Murasakibara-kun's sweet offers of food was not divulged;
But. He did tell them about how Akashi-kun was different.
How the first Akashi-kun was like a mother hen (red and amber peeked out from the edges of his socks) and how the second Akashi-kun viewed them objectively as pieces on the board.
Kagami-kun smacked his head that night.
"You were rambling on and on, and I was about to fall asleep in the midst of your story!" The redhead grumbled. "In other words, you failed to support those idiots properly and they grew into the arrogant little shits they are today, right?"
"Yes…" Put bluntly, he supposed.
"Then, we'll defeat them for you. Ya don't have to worry about it."
Those words brightened something in him even though that wasn't the point.
"Stuuupid. You're not even addressing the main point!" Captain scolded.
"Huh?! Main point?" Kagami blinked.
"The fact that Akashi has two abilities! Where you even listening all this time?!"
Tetsuya blinked, dumbfounded at how stupid Kagami was, and despite himself, he snorted at Seirin's antics as they fooled around, bickering again. Slowly, he snickered, and then, he was full out chuckling, ignoring their weirded out stares.
"No, it's just-" He smiled. It's just like Seirin to ignore his past. "I'm really glad I came to Seirin Basketball Team."
Kagami blinked and smirked, smacking him on the head.
"Of course you are!"
They beat Akashi-kun, but in the midst of that, something greater happened.
"It's been a long time, Kuroko."
The sudden change in address of his name took him aback.
In that moment, as Akashi-kun dribbled past him with a smile directed up at him, Tetsuya blinked at the two scarlet eyes that bored out at him, warmth and nostalgia in his eyes where there had only been a cold analytical gleam before.
A familiar pass was directed at one of the uncrowned kings…The same pass they all used to receive on a daily basis.
Akashi-kun…Akashi-kun has returned!
Despite how full his heart was at the knowledge, part of him that was still Seirin through and through lamented at the fact.
He made it known that Akashi-kun has returned, and they continued playing, hearts stuttering into frightening silence when they realized Akashi-kun's second ability was to put the others into zone. Limbs were heavy, pants drawn out. They had all surpassed their limits since a while ago. Worn away both inside and out by the numerous ridiculous moves tossed at them.
It was then that another miracle happened.
"YOU CAN DO IT, SEIRIN…! DON'T GIVE UP YET!"
The voice which resounded through the deafening silence and dark abyss was vaguely familiar.
"YOU CAN DO IT! KUROKO!"
He looked up, and in that instance, when he saw Ogiwara-kun standing at the back of the stadium, Tetsuya felt like his legs were almost about to give out from shock.
Ogiwara blinked, taking in his frozen body, and he grinned, lifting a basketball.
"Ogiwara-kun…" He said weakly, because-
Ogiwara-kun was really…here…?
With a basketball in hand? Even though his wrist band was still covering the colourful words still imprinted on his right wrist? Even though he said he would quit and his sunset sky had lost almost all of its colours?
"HEY, TETSU! KAGAMI!" A second too-familiar voice shouted, sending throbs down the dark blue markings on pale skin. "YOU BASTARDS WON AGAINST US, YA KNOW! SO IF YOU CAN'T BEAT SOMEONE LIKE RAKUZAN, I'M GONNA BEAT YOU BOTH UP!"
He's tired, and his focus was wavering, yet he couldn't help but find it amusing.
That comment…it was just like his old light.
"THAT GOES FOR KAIJOU TOO!" A cheerful voice cried. Kise-kun… "WIN THIS, SEIRIN!"
"DEFEAT THEM! AKASHI, AND RAKUZAN!" Midorima-kun…
"DON'T GIVE UP, SEIRIN!" Seiho…
The constant cheers that started with one voice blended into each other, creating a cacophony where everyone was just screaming down at them, telling them to win in one way or another.
He couldn't make out any of those words.
He couldn't hear Ogiwara-kun's voice, but…
"Hey Kuroko." Kagami-kun called out. "All of that cheering…was so heartfelt." The cacophony was music to their ears. "You feeling more energized too?"
"We aren't done with this match just yet!" Captain shouted, a response to the cheers pouring down on them. "LET'S GO, RAKUZAN!"
They played, and they won using the same alley oop that started out the bond between himself and Kagami-kun.
"TIME'S UP! At the end of this fierce battle…the ones who have finally taken down the strongest kings, who have reigned since the very beginning of the winter cup…"
The seniors were yelling, tears blooming in their eyes.
Tetsuya was yelling along with them, crying in joy.
"…The miraculous new stars who were established but two years ago…"
They threw their hands in the air.
"SEIRIN HIGH SCHOOL! ARE THIS YEAR'S WINTER CUP CHAMPIONS!"
"Ooooooh!" They screamed.
"We did it!" The guys at the bench too, leapt for joy.
Through the cheers of joy and the claps that the audience were showering on them, through the celebrations which were already starting, Akashi-kun walked over to him, eyes scarlet and a smile on his face despite the tears which dotted the corner of his eyes.
"It's your…No, it's your team's win." Akashi-kun extended his hand. "Congratulations."
Even though he wasn't seeing it, Tetsuya could feel the blood red of the scars that marred his body fading away, sinking into his skin and replaced by Akashi-kun's single word. 'Congratulations.' Tetsuya breathed as Akashi extended his challenge for next year, and he stretched out his hand to take the other's hand in his own.
"…All right. Let's play again." He smiled through the tears stinging his eyes. "Again, and again…As many times you want."
The sunflowers on his back were in full bloom, like the tree that seemed so lonely back then. The cyan cross mark he etched onto his back had fully vanished when they returned to the locker room, replaced by the mesmerizing orange of that evening, as vivid as before. And…Akashi-kun's whispered words before they parted were added onto Midorima-kun's clean white bandages.
'Thank you for bringing me back, Kuroko.'
Tetsuya allowed himself to cry, because with this, they were all back. Each and every single one of his precious teammates.
He sent the message to the long expired group chat they had.
[Hmph. You're several months too late nanodayo. – Midorima]
[Don't get too sentimental, Tetsu. We'll drag Seirin off that throne soon. – Aomine]
[What Aomine-kun means is, we're back! – Momoi]
[Don't go saying whatever you want, Satsuki. – Aomine]
[II'm happy for you, Kurokocchi~! – Kise]
[Congratz. – Murasakibara]
[We're back. – Akashi]
"Stop crying already. What are the others gonna think of me if they see this?" Kagami scowled as he took off his shirt.
They were changing later than the others since the Coach had abandoned them to the doves of reporters after the match. Now, the others were waiting for them outside (and dealing with the reporters, hopefully).
"It's okay. They will only see you talking to yourself." He sniffed, wiping away his tears.
"Is that supposed to make me feel better?!" Kagami scratched the back of his neck and sighed. "Let's get changed already. I'm starving after that match."
"Kagami-kun only ever thinks about his stomach, doesn't he?"
Tetsuya turned and froze when he caught sight of the other's back.
Because there, in the exact same place where he had seen flickers of a shadow before, there was a painting of a grand-looking door, opened by a shadowy figure obscured by the light that rained through the doors. Beyond those doors, he had no doubt the ones who stood there were Seirin. And the shadow that was there…
"…I stand corrected." He amended, turning his back to the other.
"Kagami-kun, I don't feel up to braving the journey to the washroom, so could you please tell me what my back looks like now?"
Kiyoshi-sempai had been vague when he pointed out the most obvious details – being the colour and the cross. But he wanted to know about the finer details as soon as possible.
"Hah?" Kagami scowled but did so, squinting. "Well…There's our sunflowers-" Tetsuya hid a smile at the use of 'our'. "-And there's the usual tree. The sky's painted a sunset orange and whatnot now, like sempai said. And there's a blue bird flying through it."
Kagami paused, choking on his spit.
"Are you okay, Kagami-kun?"
"Shudda- I'm- *Cough*" Kagami-kun was looking away, flustered, when he looked over his shoulder. Fierce eyes met his and flicked away. "Hey, Kuroko. Is that tiger meant to be me? It's playing with a ball."
"I see." He looked down at his front, filled with words of Seirin and a single new addition. "I'm disappointed in you, Kagami-kun. I thought it was obvious to begin with."
"How's it obvious?" Kagami's brow twitched.
"Your name. You need to have more self-awareness." Tetsuya sighed.
"I don't wanna hear that from you!"
"Is that supposed to be an insult?"
"ARGH! You're infuriating!"
"Thank you, Kagami-kun." He said, rubbing his wrists. "Thank you for coming to Seirin and partnering with me. Otherwise…I would never have been able to bring any of them back."
The blue bird would still have been bounded.
The pink cat on his shoulders would still be crying blue tears.
Blood red would still engulf him.
The golden retriever on his leg would still be fading.
The bandages would still be yellow.
The purple rose would still be digging thorns into his skin.
He would never have a tiger on his back.
And most of all, he would never have had the sunflowers on his back – or the single large sunflower that was now blossoming from the cracks in his heart, a sign that he was Seirin through and through.
"You're the one who did whatever you want. I have nothing to do with that." Kagami scratched his head.
"No need to be so modest." He deadpanned.
"Ano…Is it really okay?" He asked. "For us to barge in on Rakuzan and Yosen's practice match."
"Of course." Akashi-kun, the one that was always by their side and caring for them, smiled. "If anything, I'm sure Araki-san would appreciate the presence of the winter high champions, Toou, and Shutoku with the challenge they pose. Not to mention, Kaijo was the school that lent its gym out to us. They will not protest."
"Thanks to that, we need to take turns using the changing room though." Kise smiled.
"Honestly. To not even be aware of what your school is doing." Midorima sighed, adjusting his glasses.
"How would I know they were planning to practice over the holidays?!" Kise protested.
"Kise. You're noisy." Aomine complained.
"You're mean, Aominecchi~!" The model sobbed.
"You guys…You all have soul marks of each other, huh." Kagami pointed out, looking left and right between the coloured gang in the room.
The conversation (more like bickering) faltered, as the generation of miracles turned to each other, taking in the naked skin that they had hardly took notice of back in their middle school period.
Aomine-kun still had the same marks as back then, the colour no longer quite as faded. There was a black cat crawling up his left calf though, with eyes the shade of red that was Toou's uniform. Then over his right wrist, bold red and dark brown – the two shades that made up Kagami-kun's hair – interchanged in a series of tribal patterns, forming a wristband.
Midorima-kun had his fingers taped, but he didn't doubt that Takao-kun and Kagami-kun's horoscope was there too.
Kise-kun's body was montage of colours, and just as cyan, green, gold, pink, scarlet, purple and dark blue had been in there, there was a new addition of bold red and the navy blue of Kaijo, along with a silverish hue like the Kaijo Captain's eyes.
Murasakibara-kun's wolf was still draped around his neck, with the sometimes fuzzy, sometimes prickly dango-looking figures with their eyes stacked atop each other on the left side of his abdomen. There was a new addition with split eyebrows and irritated look.
And Kagami-kun, too, had their colours carved onto him, the names of their school and their names etched into his front amongst bold words, with Seirin plastered over his heart and the regal painting still on his back.
Then, there was…
"You're the same, Kagamicchi!" Kise quickly tried to change the topic. "Isn't that a sign that you like us?!"
"Huh, no. It's mainly because you're all major annoyances."
"Mean! You're just like the rest afterall~!" Kise wailed.
"Kuro-chin, your marks have increased." Murasakibara stated bluntly.
"Ah! Mursakibara, even though I've tried so hard too-!" Kise exclaimed in exasperation, clenching his fists in frustration.
"But it's obvious." The giant frowned.
"We're not supposed to point that out so simply!" Kise snapped back.
"Ah. Is that so? I'm sorry, Kuro-chin." Murasakibara looked down.
"Don't be." He shook his head, looking at all the occupants of the room so they knew it was addressed to all of them. "I don't mind carrying the marks made by you. Even if they are heavy, they're worth the effort."
The teens stiffened before they either looked away or teared up.
"Kurokocchi~" Kise sniffed.
"Please do not cling to me like that, Kise-kun." He stated.
"Or rather, you're the only one who doesn't have many marks, right?" Kagami-kun asked Akashi-kun to his face, now rather unreserved after having seen Akashi-kun's new demeanor at his birthday party yesterday.
"Kagamicchi?!" Kise did a spit take.
"Haven't a single word that I said gone into your head?" Midorima-kun commented, looking panicked. "Soul marks are things meant to be private unless their owners desire to reveal them nanodayo!"
"Yeah. I know." Kagami-kun answered.
"Then why take interest in it?" Aomine-kun drawled, slanking up to his side.
"No. Just curious why Akashi's different from you all. He doesn't have any of your colours in him afterall." Kagami tilted his head back to the smaller redhead, red eyes blinking as if he hadn't just pointed out the elephant in the room which they all wanted to avoid. He looked down at Akashi-kun, cocking his head. "Do you know why?"
Scarlet eyes stared back for a moment, reading Kagami-kun's intentions. Tetsuya knew Akashi liked what he found when pale lips curled up and scarlet eyes flashed to him, nodding in understanding.
Kagami-kun was just naturally and stupidly earnest that way.
"I do not differ much from the rest afterall, Kagami." The point guard plopped himself down on the bench and took off his shoes.
The rest of them blinked, confused.
"Not differing much from us?" Kise parroted, furrowing his brows.
"What do you mean, Akashi?" Aomine drawled.
"Ah~ That's right." Murasakibara suddenly said, as if remembering something he hadn't thought to be important till now. "Aka-chin does have those marks afterall."
Just as he said that, Akashi-kun pulled down his socks, revealing the bands of colour wrapped around his ankles, forming rainbow colours.
Bold red, Cyan, Pink, Dark blue-
-Yellow, Purple, Green-
-Grey, Dark brown, Onyx, Yellow Orange.
If Tetsuya doesn't know what – who – each of them signifies, he wouldn't be moved.
But the fact is, he does, and he found himself inhaling sharply at the rainbow of colours on one of Akashi-kun's ankle and the seemingly unrelated bands on the other, each and every single one of them clinging onto Akashi's legs as if to root him to the ground.
"Akashicchi…." Kise-kun looks a second away from glomping the redhead.
"Don't." Aomine held him back by the back of his shirt.
Midorima made a disgruntled sound, uncomfortable with the obvious meaning of those lines, and turned away, wiping his misty glasses.
"You have more now." And Murasakibara merely commented, munching on a chip.
"Rakuzan is full of interesting personalities." Was Akashi-kun's bland response, even if the fond smile across his face conflicted it. He drew his socks back up. "I hope that satisfies you, Kagami."
"Oh? Yeah, I guess." Kagami smirked cheekily. "In the end, despite how you look, you treasure them, don't you?"
Their breaths hitched in surprise when Akashi smirked back.
"I am human nonetheless, so attachments are only normal." Akashi retorted.
"Normal wouldn't be a word I would associate with you, Akashi-kun." Tetsuya deadpanned, and the captain only huffed.
"Come on already!" A kick at the door from outside took them aback by surprise. The Kaijo Captain's voice boomed in. "You guys've been there long enough! How long are you guys gonna take to change?!"
"Captain! Let's give them some time to sort their issues out!" Another voice cried out outside.
"Right, right~! Don't lose your patience, Kasamatsu-sempai!" Kise sang all too cheerfully.
"Cheeky as always, Kise." Aomine sighed and grinned.
"Come on out, Kise! I'm gonna teach you a lesson on respect!" There were no more kicks. Kasamatsu must be held back by some poor soul who's accompanying him on the other side.
"Let's go." Akashi shook his head, heading towards the door. He stopped just as Tetsuya followed, turning back with a smile as if he forgot to mention something. "I'm sure we must have caused you a lot of grief, Kuroko, with those marks of yours. But we appreciate you for pulling us out of our own."
The Generation of Miracles were peering back at him with their various smiles and frowns or even laidback yawns, but their eyes seem to agree with Akashi-kun's words.
Akashi smiled wider, and he seemed brighter than ever to Tetsuya.
For an instance as he blinked, the light took over his vision and he saw them as they were before, clad in the uniform of their glory days.
When he blinked again, they were all wearing separate uniforms, the smiles on their faces not paling in the slightest to those blinding days.
"I'm glad you found a good team to play with."
With those words, he could almost see the backdrop of the sunset skies behind the miracles and a field of sunflowers surrounding them – hear the laughter as he played – with Akashi, Kise, Aomine, Momoi, Murasakibara, Midorima – with Kagami-kun and with Seirin.
Kagami flanked him, and Tetsuya smiled, holding back his tears at the heart rending image.
"I feel the same." He took a deep breath and released it. "I'm glad I chose Seirin."
A/N: Please fav if you liked this story. It would mean a lot to me.