One shots are awesome because that means I don't fail at finishing them. They're just already done. Not that I plan on leaving my other Kurobasu stories unfinished ...
The Puppeteer's Shadow Master
Teikou's basketball team draws upon an unquantifiable reservoir of potential, like dropping a stone in a bottomless pit, the rock whistles down but there's no accompanying impact. Akashi knows this undeniably after the first day of Teikou's physical evaluations. The upper years are good, talented even. All skilled enough to justify the golden glory that is their trophy display. It's just that they're ultimately incapable of rocking the very foundation of the sport.
Instead, Akashi finds that quality in the first years. Three first years to be precise: Aomine Daiki, Midorima Shintarou, and Murasakibara Atsushi.
They're unrefined gems that make everyone else garbage by comparison. They're worthy of Akashi's respect (and so few are), and Akashi is going to make them his like so one else's.
Within the first week of basketball training Akashi succeeds in gaining their attention. He puts on a masterful performance, displaying his vast knowledge and skill. He undermines their captain, Yamamoto, by besting him in strategy. He parades his natural ability to utilize the maximum abilities of the players. He dictates with perfect clarity what he has to offer through his every action; every movement, smile, word, and calculated silence.
Daiki and Shintarou can recognize skill easily enough, like calls to like, and Atsushi who looks bored for most of the week cracks up at all the ruffled feathers of the upper years.
Their coach adores him, because he brings insight never before explored.
Their captain loathes him, but uses him regardless, because he loves winning with the title of 'captain' more than he understands the importance of neutralizing threats.
This is a mistake, because when Akashi plays, he makes sure he is victorious in all aspects of his life and not just one.
"I haven't seen Daiki in awhile. What's he been up to?" Akashi rifles through Yamamoto's school records, grin stretching at what he sees. It's laughable how many assignments Yamamoto's failed to hand in or just completed poorly.
"Dai-chin? Dunno." Atsushi is too busy sifting through the goodies Akashi stole for him from the school secretary's secret stash to pay much attention to anything. His eyes light up at the bag of Kasugai gummies.
"Aomine's been practicing in the fourth gym for the last while." Oh Shintarou. It's adorable how hard he tries to feign indifference in his team mates.
"Fourth gym, huh?" That's strange to Akashi, very strange. "That's the smallest and oldest gym. What's he doing there?"
Pity that Shintarou has enough ethical integrity to never cross that line and just spies out of personal worry and curiosity for those he respects. One day Akashi will find someone that'll chuck ethics aside and cross to the immoral side, the side that collects information with the sole purpose of future manipulation.
Shintarou peers over his shoulder and blinks, stunned. "There's no way that was given to you along the proper routes. Where did you get that?"
Akashi hums demurely. "Who knows."
It's a rush of exhilaration, the elation of freefalling into darker depths. Akashi predicts great things the moment Tetsuya's existence transitions from a trick of the eye to fact. Akashi's gaze sweeps over every inch of him, accurately noting every detail until there's a perfect replica of Tetsuya in his mind (moving, breathing, living, amongst all the others he's absorbed and filed away). Teikou has offered Akashi exceptional talent to commandeer and shape, but there's a magnetic quality to Tetsuya. All you can do is hold your breath while you allow yourself to get pulled into his quiet calm.
Tetsuya doesn't live feebly in the shadows like much of the populace: fearful, confused, too spineless and unskillful to obtain their desires. Tetsuya doesn't dip into the darker folds of shadows like Akashi does; taking what he pleases, shaping the world under the cover of darkness. That's not Tetsuya at all. While not novel in the concepts of fiction, Tetsuya's unheard of when placed in the realm of reality.
Tetsuya is a shadow. A perfect shadow. Most of the promising players shine blazing radiance like Daiki, but Tetsuya just fades away from light's grace, he exists somewhere untouchable, in between the cracks. All Akashi needs to do is teach him how to absorb that light, how to take in all that colour and life, how to twist it like clay to his whims.
Kuroko Tetsuya. When Akashi plays this chess piece the opponent's sure to startle into despair. It's a chess piece that's unseen until it's too late; it's a piece that will guarantee checkmate.
Akashi takes care to dull the sharp edge of his smile. "Daiki, it appears you've found someone promising."
"Tetsu? What're you talking about Akashi?"
"Your friend. He has an unusual talent." A precise twist of his neck and Akashi locks eyes with Tetsuya. "Would you mind if the two of us had a quick chat?"
Tetsuya's face is perfectly blank. The barest hint of a thrill tingles along Akashi's spine at Tetsuya's equally unreadable voice, "I don't mind."
It's beautiful the way Tetsuya and Daiki play together on the court, liquid grace working in perfect tandem with coiled muscle and synchronized smiles. Tetsuya enhances all of Daiki's natural abilities with his own as if it's an involuntary function, like the beat of one's heart.
It's as if their meeting was predestined.
Basketball practice hasn't started yet. The Locker room reeks viciously of flowers; the caretaker's hopeless attempt of flushing out the smell of body odours, unfailingly, concocts a mixture positively unbreathable. The sharp floral aroma equips the stink with an edge that deals an almighty blow to the olfactory senses.
"I'm curious how the two of you met." How you found him beforeI did. Akashi poses it as a passing inquiry to Daiki, folding his school uniform and putting it away. They're often the first to arrive at the locker room; Daiki because he's eager for the raised texture of the ball, the squeak of his trainers as he breaks away to score; Akashi because he leads the pack, because he has careful plans and trails victory along any path he travels.
"Who? Tetsu?" Daiki tugs on a T-shirt, still in his school uniform slacks, shoeless but not sockless. "Met him in the fourth gym. All the others were way too overcrowded. The fourth gym was empty 'cause it was thought to be haunted." Daiki chuckles. "Just ended up just being Tetsu."
"So you wouldn't have met if it hadn't been for those rumours then?" Akashi has already finished changing, but he pretends to fiddle with the laces on his shoes.
"Don't know about that." Daiki scratches thoughtfully at his jaw before shrugging. "According to him he practiced every night until 'bout the same time I did. I'm sure I would've run into him eventually. Kind of like we were meant to be best buds."
It's a pity that Tetsuya hid himself away in gym four, the least used of all the gyms. Basketball is still a team sport. You can't hope to get better unless you learn to work in synch with others. But then, with Tetsuya's lack of presence, no one would have noticed him enough to train with him in the first place.
Only a basketball loving idiot like Daiki would recognize another basketball loving idiot with admiration, no matter how unskillful.
"Hello Aomine-kun, Akashi-kun," greets Tetsuya tonelessly, shuffling out from behind another set of lockers, practice bag securely over one shoulder. His nose twitches. "I see we've been paid a visit by the caretakers."
"Tetsu!" Daiki grins. "Didn't hear you come in."
Akashi hadn't heard him come in either, unusual considering that while the caretaker choose to wage war with the reek of the locker room, they never bother fixing the shrill creek of the door.
"We were just talking about you," Daiki continues, swinging an arm around Tetsu and leading him back to where their lockers reside side by side. "Akashi was wondering how we met. I was just saying it was like fate. We just clicked. We're the perfect partners." Daiki beams boyishly at Tetsuya.
Tetsuya returns Daiki's smile. Akashi would've thought that the two of them had forgotten about him entirely if it weren't for the fleeting flick of Tetsuya's eyes in Akashi's direction.
"I don't think anyone would've appreciated you the way I do, you know?"
There's a flash of amusement that strikes a momentary sharpness to Tetsuya's face.
"I know," says Tetsuya.
Frigid anger and a terrible disappointment fill him, a flash flood that brings a whetstone to his tongue and mind, transcending his wrath to something tangible.
Akashi should have realised it sooner. The last game had been unacceptably close and it'd all been because that stupid girl let notions of romance rot her brain. Akashi had never liked Imada Sakura as Teikou's basketball manager. Too flighty, too emotionally driven for having the wisdom of an infant. Her only redeeming quality is (was his mind corrects) her ability to accurately assess a player's strengths and weaknesses. A talent used against them because of her crush (emotional reliance, weak, trash) on Yomi's team captain.
Satoshi must have loved that, dragging each of Teikou's weaknesses out of her mouth after kissing it pliable. Stripping her of all her secrets while he stripped her until nude, every part of her bare. He must have savoured taking her deep while the fantasy of taking Teikou's glory carried him to orgasm.
Sakura's a lucky girl. If she hadn't decided (fear, guilt, no choice) to skip town to live with her ailing grandmother in the middle of nowhere, Akashi would've ruined her. It's simple to shred the world of a girl that facilitates her heart as conduit and obsesses every aspect of her image into near hysterics.
Scratch that; change of heart. Akashi decides he will tarnish her anyway. The digital age is laughably convenient for those destroying the lives of others from afar. He's just gathered all of her dirty secrets. It'd be an awful shame not to use them
Akashi sends a final withering glance at Sakura's best friend, Watanabe. She kneels before him, dyed auburn hair a disaster under distress, and cries ugly with blotchy red cheeks and a runny nose. Watanabe whimpers and pleads, grabs at the hem of his pants.
Akashi kicks her off with a tut of disgust, and leaves her alone to sob herself insensate. He's finished with her now that he's collected all the sordid details of Sakura's life.
The gym is his next destination. Yamamoto's called a last minute meeting among the first string to discuss the available space for team manager. Akashi doesn't even care if the new one is a drooling fool, as long as they can hold their tongue and is competent enough refill their water bottles.
Everyone's already there when he arrives, bickering while mindlessly passing a ball around.
"Took you long enough," complains Daiki. "Me and Tetsu wanted to go play some street ball after this." Akashi doesn't see where Tetsuya is, but he's here somewhere.
"I ran out of snacks," Atsushi mutters miserably nearest to him, cheeks puffing out in a pout. "Andhe," Atsushi glares at Yamamoto, "won't let me leave to get more." When he slouches dejected like that he's almost the same height as the others, his sleepy eyes sullen and his large hands stuffed into his pockets.
Shintarou's hidden in the back, clutching a rubber duck in his hand. His taped fingers pushing his glasses up belay his impatience.
Those four hold the most potential out of everyone on the team, and yet Yamamoto favourites the upper years. Yamamoto focuses his efforts on Akashi's sempai, those that have clawed and sweat their way to first string. Yamamoto's too blind to see real promise, and instead focuses on those who dedicate themselves like he did; believing hard work can conquer talent. Which is stupid, because the talented can work just as hard and leave the talentless hard worker's behind.
Akashi hears one of his less talented sempai mutter about late cocky first years, and he makes a mental note to give him special attention when he becomes captain.
With everyone present the arguing begins. Teikou's name when accompanied with basketball carries prestige, and so the number willing to take on the new manager position is inordinately high.
Akashi just wishes for it to end so he can get on with a background check. Because if the same betrayal happens twice Akashi is going to have to do something dramatic. And only Atsushi appreciates it when he does something dramatic. He'd rather spare the dramatics until after he's snatched the title of captain away from Yamamoto, which will happen approximately three weeks from now, when he flunks math because he can't balance athletic and academic responsibility.
Akashi waits for that day like a desert plant waits for rain. The amount of idiocy he will cut away will be momentous.
The babbling ceases as the doors creak open and a pretty face peers in. Akashi recognizes her instantly; Momoi Satsuki, Daiki's childhood friend and Tetsuya's most recent stalker.
"Oh," she says, eyes wide in surprise. "Sorry! I didn't know you were having a meeting. I have something I need to give to T-Tetsu-kun." Her blush reminds Akashi of the Sakura incident. It sickens him.
"My apologies Momoi-san." Tetsuya speaking startles everyone around him to undignified yelping sounds. It never fails to brighten Akashi's day. "I won't be too long. We're just discussing the potential candidates for basketball manager."
Daiki exaggerates a yawn. "Why don't we just get Satsuki to do it," he suggests. He's clearly reached his limit for bullshit team discussions. Akashi also knows that Daiki is much fonder of Momoi than he lets on, she's like the sister he doesn't have and tries to keep her close without seeming needy.
Tetsuya smiles at her warmly, and she melts like a chocolate bar in its wrapper. "I think you'd do an admirable job." Momoi looks like she's going to faint if Tetsuya says anymore, whether it's a compliment or a casual comment on the weather.
Daiki laughs, attaching himself to Tetsuya's side in an instant. "Might as well. You're always hanging around the basketball club these days hoping to run into a certain someone."
She's about the bite back a reply, Akashi can tell, her face full of scorn and her mouth ready to lecture, but Yamamoto interrupts with, "That's enough," and there's jealousy sharpening his words. "You can't just decide these things on your own." Having his authority undermined sets Yamamoto to seething mode. It's as if he knows just how short-lived and fleeting his power is, and he has to maximize its usage before it slips away.
"Might as well use her for now. Trail run or something." Daiki is unconcerned by Yamamoto's ruffled pride. And true to Daiki's nature, the whole team turns towards him like the sun, in a way Yamamoto will never experience. "Satsuki knows the game well enough. Just don't let her cook though, because if we eat her cooking before a game we'll definitely lose."
Akashi sees an opening to end this mockery of a meeting. "I agree as well. With her childhood friend Daiki here, I doubt that Momoi will be betraying us any time soon. She always ranks amongst the top in her class, and her knowledge of basketball is more than adequate." Akashi levels a stare at Yamamoto. He's well aware that people find his dichromatic eyes unsettling, and he finds he enjoys that advantage. "Unless you'd rather keep us here unnecessarily until dinner time?"
Yamamoto flushes as blood heats his cheeks. It's a thing of beauty. "Fine," he grinds out, jaw clenched achingly tight. "We'll try her out. But if she doesn't perform I'm cutting her, no matter what you say."
"I expect nothing less." From his peripheral vision he sees the pink blur of Momoi's form crash into Tetsuya. Akashi grins, imagining Yamamoto's face when his academic failure crashes into his basketball career. "This is Teikou. Winning is the only option."
Akashi knows Yamamoto is waiting for Momoi to fail; he's even got the 'you're fired' speech and a girl (his crush, emotionally driven, pathetic) lined up to take the spot.
That's why it's satisfying, so satisfyingwhen Momoi comes to practice a couple days later, invoking her inner middle school basketball encyclopedia, and unleashes a mad torrent of details so rapidly and succinctly it's terrifying.
What makes it even better is that it's positively horrifying how precise, voyeuristic, and borderline illegal her scouting methods must be to produce this caliber of information.
"Their number four, Kariya Kazuo, since he's started playing at age ten he's always been terrible at quick passing under pressure, mostly due to self-esteem and confidence issues. But recently he's been training with his older brother and his friends, all decent basketball players at Seihou high. He only started the training a couple days ago, but he's planning on asking his childhood crush out in a couple days, she's going to say yes, and that will give him the confidence boost he needs to pull off most of the moves he's currently having problems with. By next week's game he'll have improved enough that I recommend using Tetsu-kun as a counter. He has low stamina like Tetsu-kun, so you can always have Tetsu-kun on the court the same time as Kazuo."
Momoi doesn't even pull out a notebook, just tosses her glossy pink hair over one shoulder and recites the data on their every player like some sort of feminine, rose smelling robot. Whatever ethical qualms Shintarou has Momoi clearly never possessed.
It's magnificent. And while it's true she doesn't have the mental facilities to manoeuvre people to her whims, or the mental steel to crush those in her way (not a lifetime winner, too kind, too emotional), her brilliance is undeniable, to the point that she's now his like the others.
"Well," she flashes a confident grin at Yamamoto's slack jaw face, "is that good enough for you? Or do you want to know the athletic ability of everyone in their family tree's history?"
She loses her composure a moment later when she glances shyly to the side to see Tetsuya smiling warmly at her, nearly swooning at his quiet nod of approval. But she's made her point, declared her intent to stay with a performance impossible to match.
Later, Yamamoto sports a smarting red from where his crush physically demonstrated her disappointment at being denied her promised team manager position.
Momoi fits into his future plans so well that he doesn't even mind that she never actually gets around to refilling the water bottles.
Just shy of three weeks later, Akashi triumphantly accepts the position for captain. In order to live up to the gossip that declares him the youngest captain in the history of Teikou, he starts his reign by listing off every single flaw he's observed in all the first string players. Akashi observes with unconcealed glee as all the upper year's egos spit hatred in his direction, only to cower as Akashi meticulously cuts them down, pries into their every weakness, and stretches their wounds until they're broken messes.
Only Atsushi, Shintarou, Daiki, and Tetsuya remain unscathed. There's work to be done on them, but their regiment is different. Akashi doesn't need to enlist in demolition first in order to build them into something great. They each have something special at the core that needs to remain intact; all they need is careful guidance and plenty of room to breathe, plenty of space to fill with every molecule of their talent.
Most people need to be broken and pliable before being forced into a mould, to hold their shape and succeed in their function. Then there are those that are great, that consume everything in their paths only to produce something greater.
At times, Akashi doesn't know where Tetsuya lies, somewhere between greatness and nonexistence, but he knows very well that Tetsuya isn't ordinary.
He's always hated the ordinary.
It's half time in the quarter finals. They're winning, but not by much, and Akashi is feeling so hateful he could push a small child off a cliff just out of spite.
Momoi appears by his side.
"I found Midorin." She's frowning. "He's holed himself under the stairwell in the northeast entrance of the school. He won't tell me what happened, but after asking around it sounds like someone stole his lucky item for today. I haven't figured out yet who, but I will."
"It's a teddy bear," says a soft voice behind him. "I'm sure we can manage to find one before the game ends."
"Tetsu-kun," Momoi squeals. She gazes at him adoringly. "You always know what to do."
Tetsuya's breathing is laboured from playing all game. His cheeks are rosy and damp with sweat, but his gaze is steady and calm. "I'm sitting the next round out. Between Momoi-san and I, I'm sure we can find a replacement item for Midorima-kun."
Akashi grits his teeth. "Do it."
They return at the end of the third quarter with Shintarou in tow, a tiny teddy bear they borrowed from the arts and crafts club clutched to his chest.
"So good of you to finally show up." There's bite to Akashi's tone, but it's not directed at Shintarou, he's thinking of what he's going to do when Momoi finds out who the culprits are. They're to be destroyed. "You know the rules, twenty points per player for every match. You don't have much time left to fulfill your quota."
Shintarou glances at the digital clock on the wall. All that remains is the final quarter. "There's plenty of time left," he sniffs and adjusts his glasses. "All my shots are worth three, I don't need to score as often as the rest of you to achieve the same results."
When the game ends with victory chanting from the mouths of Teikou's students, Shintarou's surpassed the quota by seven points.
Akashi pulls Momoi aside during the festivities. "Did you find out who did it? I'm assuming that's why you were missing in the final quarter."
"I did," she says, but she sounds unsure, bewildered. "They turned themselves in to the principal. No idea why. They confessed to being paid to sabotage Midorin. They also confessed to driving a student to transfer because they bullied them so much. He's dealing with them now."
Akashi's eyes narrow. There's another force playing around in his domain, a free agent that's crafty and equally committed in achieving their goals. He loves the challenge of a threat, but he enjoys obliterating those threats more than he does entertaining them.
They win the championships in their first year of middle school without a hitch. Akashi's challenger has gone back to hiding, simmering in quiet for now, and he's content to let the current balance be.
Everyone wears elated smiles at the post game celebration, an easy depiction of being high on the invincibility of youth.
Tetsuya catches his eye, and the smile that blooms on Tetsuya's face is so warm and tender that it makes the ice blue of his eyes so frigid in comparison.
Second year invites fresh naive faces and retires the ex-third years destined for a future of dull white collar jobs. Everything solidifies closer to Akashi's ideal. Every game they win by a larger margin.
When Kise Ryouta first comes along with his club form in hand, confident and excited, there's a victory bell that goes off in Akashi's head. Ryouta knows so little about basketball, but with his arrival Akashi feels like the final player has finally arrived. Their current regular Haizaki Shougo is good, but he's a loose cannon who's growing increasingly problematic.
Without once confronting Ryouta, Akashi catalogues his progress through the ranks. It takes a short, shockingly short time for Ryouta, who's never even played basketball leisurely, to breach the boundary to the painfully sought after world of first string. The burning molten gold of Ryouta's eyes as he tracks Daiki's form across the court mirrors his desire to be a regular.
It's easy to tell that Ryouta isn't pleased when Tetsuya is assigned as his mentor, but that's alright. Tetsuya's strengths are hidden until he decides to display them, secretive and incomprehensible; it's all a question of when.
Ryouta will learn, and then he will be in awe.
In fact, Akashi decides he'll learn by the end of the week. It's a simple matter of getting the coach to send the two in a show of helping the second string players in their training match against Komagi. Komagi is weak, but their regulars are stronger than Teikou's second string.
Ryouta won't be able to understand Tetsuya's potential like Akashi does, but it'll be more than enough to gain his respect.
There's an eerie calm as Tetsuya stands before the second string players Shougo's terrorizing. He speaks words too soft to hear, body as unmoving as a wave breaker, as he stares Shougo straight in the face.
Shougo finally snaps and shoves Tetsuya, violent and wild, fingers spastic, itching to tear him apart. Atsushi and Ryouta move to hold Shougo back. More first string players join and assist them in forcing Shougo out of the gym. Ryouta yells angrily before dashing to Tetsuya's side. Tetsuya is just beginning to gather himself together from where he's bruised on the floor.
Someone informs Daiki of the incident. Five minutes later he storms into the room and goes absolutely ballistic. Momoi trails on Daiki's heels and fawns over Tetsuya's every bruise and scrape. This continues until Tetsuya convinces the two of them that he's just fine, and please (please) stop worrying so much, they're scaring everyone away.
The conclusion for Akashi is simple. Shougo has to go.
This is an awkward age for most boys. Growth spurts, where you suddenly gain length but no mass, and your body doesn't know which way to move and stumbles instead. The body suddenly isn't yours anymore, transforming into something else and you're left to follow and try to make sense of it again.
Akashi watches, hawk-like, as Daiki's body transgresses into adolescence the past couple months. There's a consistency to his movements that hadn't been quite so fluid before. An extra edge to his strength, bold and knowing. And his speed, taut muscles that he's finally growing used to, letting him spring just that much quicker, like a feline ready to pounce.
His progress takes off like a man cliff diving, Akashi's just waiting for the inevitable fall.
Daiki shows up for all the games if not the practices though. And even though Akashi can see the terrible disappointment in Tetsuya's eye, it's enough for now.
Some people would deny these series of actions as spying: leaning against the wall beside the slit gym doors, tilting your head at an angle for optimal hearing, keeping your breathing even and quiet. Many people would call it a terrible coincidence of circumstance. That it hadn't been intentional, that they'd just stumbled across the scenario that seemed too important to intrude on, and that they're so awfully sorry.
Akashi doesn't deny it at all. He comes to the fourth gym specifically to spy on Tetsuya and Daiki. Daiki's come to practice for once, and Tetsuya got that look in his eyes that indicated that there would be words.
"Aomine-kun, thank you for coming to practice."
"Pfft. Yeah well, I don't know if I'll come for awhile. It' so boring. There's no point in getting better if it'll just means playing games will be boring. I've had it Tetsu, you know that."
"Just because a rival hasn't appeared yet, it doesn't mean you'll never find a team worth competing against."
"Yeah right. No one's even close to me."
The quiet squeak of sneakers. The gentle rustle of fabric. "I'd like to believe I'm close to you."
A soft sigh. "You know what I mean. You're free to skip practice with me, you know."
"I won't do that." Gentle. Firm. Tetsuya always knows where he stands.
"It can't be fun for you like this Tetsu. We're a team, but we aren't needed as a team. All we need is me. The better I am the less fun it is for both of us."
"I can't think the same way as you, Aomine-kun."
"And I can't be the way you want me to be."
A moment of silence. "I know, but I can always hope you can be once more."
"Whatever," Daiki mutters, angry but resigned. "Let's just finish this up and go for some food."
"If you'd like, since I don't see you much anymore."
"Don't be like that, Tetsu. You can ditch practice with me whenever you like."
"If missing practice means I'll be less than my best, then that's something I can't do."
"Doesn't matter, we always win anyway. Why do you think Akashi doesn't care what I do?"
There's a pause that has Akashi picturing Tetsuya wearing a complicated expression.
"Because he only focuses on the victory."
Winning the championships this year is easier than the last. Less exhilaration from the team and more smug satisfaction, like they're reasserting the status quo.
A reporter asks him if it's everything he's ever wanted; if there is anything else he wants beyond the horizon.
Akashi gives a generic answer as charming and refined as any good politician. The lies are easy. Thoughtless questions deserve thoughtless answers. The real reason should be obvious.
It's everything, because victory is everything. Victory is necessary. Want has nothing to do with it.
Their final year of middle school begins and Akashi wouldn't use the word domination to describe their style of victory; destruction is much closer to the truth. Teikou doesn't merely defeat their opponents; they devastate, crumble all hope until everyone hates basketball a little more, absolutely everyone.
The regular's natural skills take fruit and sweeten; they start to catch up with Daiki, learning the proper way to work their adolescent bodies beyond normal. Pregame they're already smug, no challenge or anticipation, just a mild curiosity of how many pieces the opposition will break into.
End game bares a field of carnage, the taste of victory tiresome and obvious on their tongues.
Every battle has the same results.
Generation of Miracles, the words are reverent and quiet with awe when spoken.
Generation of Miracles, that's what they call the regulars of Teikou, classifying them as a separate entity from the populace.
Generation of Miracles, so overwhelming a force they have a ghost, a phantom player in their arsenal.
Generation of Miracles, the stuff of legends.
Tales are often built around those that wish and succeed in conquering legends, and so those stories create ambitions in the hearts of people. To defeat Teikou would stamp your name into the history books, trumpets would sound to the champion's victory.
Akashi snorts at those that challenge Teikou, challenge him. This isn't a fairy tale, it's real life, where fairy tale endings are delusional dreams believed by the weak. In any case, the protagonists in those stories are supposed to be pure of heart, full of love and endless kindness. In reality, those closest to succeeding Teikou's throne use the methods of villains, they're ambitious antagonists that cut their dreams though ruthless precision.
If they only wouldn't go about it in such an idiotic fashion, then Akashi could at least acknowledge them.
It's a fallacy of Yomi middle school to believe that as long as Daiki doesn't play, they have a chance.. Akashi almost pities them for relying on a notion so flawed. It's downright embarrassing.
That miniscule ounce of pity doesn't prevent Akashi from feeling murderous once he discovers that one of Yomi's members is responsible for Daiki's sprained ankle. If Daiki's reflexes weren't so quick the damage could have been disastrous when they shoved down that long flight of stairs.
Teikou wins the game regardless, and if they're edging closer to a vicious style of play, they're only responding to the first punch they've thrown.
Akashi doesn't have a chance to deal with the culprit until the next day.
It's like a splash of ice water to find out he's already been dealt with, and in an act so brutal Akashi's mind immediately thinks of first year and Shintarou's bullies.
The mystery in question never surfaced since. Akashi eventually believed it to have been an upper year, gone and graduated. It's easy to rationalize that someone else had accidently discovered the bullies' list of sins, and threatened them before Akashi had a chance.
This act is different, done by someone with no compunction to ethics, a gaping lack of morals Akashi hasn't detected from anyone on the team.
The act is whispered about, all hush hush, fleeting lines of gossip to be pieced together.
"... in the hospital."
"They say it's haunted, ever since ten years back when ..."
"... he was called out."
"... never heard? The girl got pushed off by a loved one and now forever hates men. They say ..."
"... letter of challenge."
"... terrible, he had so much life ahead of him."
"... letter of love."
"... else K'splat!"
"No stupid! They were seeking help. You know how he's so reliable and ..."
"... an ass. Had it coming."
"... by himself. No one was around."
"Ghost! A ghost did it! I heard ..."
"... terrible. You know I had the biggest crush on him."
"... lucky there was water ... deep ..."
"Unlucky bastard. No one knows who ..."
"...lucky it's summer ... would've frozen."
"He fell you know, it's strange ..."
"Oh god, I'd die if it was me. That bridge ..."
"Phantom? Bullshit! You know ... no oxygen ... brain damage ..."
"... swore he was pushed."
"... saw no one."
The picture in Akashi's mind snaps perfectly into place, then shatters to shambles that refuse to come together anymore. The fragments distort as Akashi remembers a mouth that frowns in concern, knuckles that clench white, ice blue eyes that seek blood.
Teeth clench, and suddenly Akashi's face feels tight and constricted. He hisses out one name even as the living version in his mind cracks and cuts into Akashi with every broken edge.
It's inconceivable how Akashi never saw it before. It's inexplicable how he'd been strung along to believe that Tetsuya's defining traits are being straightforward and painfully honest. Too honest to understand and fully utilize his abilities as a shadow. That's a myth, apparently, as much as his existence had thought to have been before. Not only a shadow existing in reality, but one that epitomizes the darkest essence of a shadow.
Tetsuya knows exactly what he's doing. Every twist, every fine tuned tweak. He's weaved his shadow into every nook and cranny.
It's so painfully obvious now.
During the regular's practice Akashi watches Tetsuya watching the others. Tetsuya's smile is older than the others, indulgent even. His gaze lazily following his fellow team mates like he's observing a hamster after placing a wheel in its cage; watching them run predictably like the gears in a clock, not knowing what exists beyond the thrill of the wheel, and only stopping to indulge in the primal instincts (eating, drinking, sleeping in safety) provided by his own hand.
It's not the way someone looks at people.
Something cloys at Akashi's chest, a thread of shadow of constricting it tight.
Akashi wonders how deep the darkness goes.
The sun burns bright but the wind whips cold, cutting through Akashi's skin and chilling his bones. The chain links of the rooftop fence press into his spine, keeping him grounded, innumerable skinny intertwining fingers holding him up.
He squares himself to face the door. All his focus on that one point. He wants to know the exact moment Tetsuya arrives
He doesn't keep Akashi waiting long. The door opens in an act so normal that Akashi almost expects for a cloud to engulf the sun and the wind to multiply to a gale, if only to match the feeling in his gut.
The door closes behind Tetsuya with a gentle but definite click. Akashi feigns disinterest.
"Akashi-kun, this is all a bit dramatic, don't you think?" Tetsuya's mouth quirks up at the corner, somehow both amused and disappointed. "A rooftop showdown? I know you like dramatics, but this is awfully cliché, even for you."
"And what would you have chosen?"
"Something simple. Over a vanilla shake? I enjoy a good vanilla shake. Nothing like this. Nothing so gaudy."
"Gaudy? Something simple?" Akashi arches a brow. His body thrums with a dance of electricity, the potential for lightning amassing. So this is what it's like to finally meet a real competitor. "Because you're above dramatics? You threw a boy off a bridge for causing Daiki a minor injury."
"Don't act like you wouldn't have ruined him if I didn't get to him first." Tetsuya smiles, no teeth, just pleased and calm as the eye of a storm, and then states as a simple fact, "Aomine-kun is mine. Like all of you are mine. I admit that I let my feelings slip a bit. I knew you'd piece it all together before I did my business at the bridge, but I didn't care. Still don't in fact. This changes nothing."
"This," Akashi hisses, outraged at Tetsuya's gull, "changes everything."
Tetsuya shrugs, minimal movement, unconcerned. "Maybe for you. For me, this is nothing."
"You may think swooping around like a vengeful phantom, pretending to be calm and kind while being a vigilante behind the scenes isnothing, but for me it means I have to recalculate everything."
Tetsuya's face brightens in understanding. "Ah, it appears you're upset that you've misread me."
"A miscalculation that I won't repeat." Akashi refuses.
"But your recalculation is already so entirely misguided, Akashi-kun." A chuckle, light and dark at once, without any shade of grey in-between. "Ahh, aren't you precious." He sounds irritatingly fond.
Akashi's world distorts. There's something burning in him, a simmer heating to an angry boil, the fumes clouding his lungs until there's a blackened haze so dark in him he wants to twist everything until it breaks. It bubbles and sizzles until nothing remains, until a cold calm seizes through him. Everything in his mind crystallizes.
"You think I won't destroy you?" Akashi's tone is ironed flat, all crisp edges and immaculately smooth. He stands ramrod straight. "You think you're so vital to my plan that I won't cast you aside? I'll kill anything that stands in my way, never mistake that. I respect you, so I'll give you a warning. My only and final warning to you, Tetsuya: back off.You can't compete with me."
Tetsuya takes a step forward, then another, and another, with the perfect ease of taking a stroll on a sunny day, but then it shifts. It's just subtle extension of the spine, the lazy but purposeful motion of his strides, and, when he stops a mere foot away from Akashi, he stands like royalty at the very centre of the enemy's kingdom, newly conquered after an overwhelming bloodbath of a victory.
"Seijuro," Tetsuya breathes, and Akashi can't help the dread that slides down his spine, oozes something vile. "You really are precious. You really think I'm only good for playing 'vengeful phantom', don't you? You believe everything was done to your plan, every little thing. Only you're convinced I'm a statistical outlier, not conforming and that you only need to snap me back into place. A vigilante ghost that just needs a teaching smack on the wrists."
Akashi stares back with unimpressed mismatching eyes. "Aren't you being dramatic for someone that claims to prefer simplicity? Your persona was always straight to the point. Don't lose it now; I've always liked that about you."
Tetsuya grins infuriatingly, insinuating that all of Akashi's lifelines have been used. "Let me tell you this," he speaks, voice neither raised nor lowered. "Every plan you think was yours was mine.All the plans you haven't yet recognized as plans are mine.I've calculated everything andeveryone.Believe me when I say your finding out changes nothing."
Akashi tilts his chin up. "Don't bullshit me. The results are never pretty for the other party."
Tetsuya sighs, eyes closing in remembrance, or perhaps contemplating how to take him apart. "I decided that I'd make you captain that first week you undermined ex-captain Yamamoto-san. Midorima-kun, Aomine-kun, and you I could count on playing basketball for the full three years. Unfortunately, Murasakibara-kun was on the verge of quitting. He would've grown bored. You though," Tetsuya smiles at him, "you he took a shone to. You were interesting. He'd follow you forever. You hadto be the captain."
Tetsuya stays rooted in place. He doesn't need to physically breach that final foot between them in order to infiltrate Akashi's personal space. Akashi feels completely violated.
"Seijuro." The mildly amused smile surfaces, the one that looks at people like they're not people. "Did you know that Yamamoto has always been careless on the whereabouts of his belongings? Don't you think it's unfortunate that so many of Yamamoto-sans assignments disappeared? That the notes for his worst subject, math, were often missing pages. He believed that the late nights he spent pouring over basketball tactics made him extra careless. It's funny that no one notices me, even while I help myself to their things."
Tetsuya's damning words continue to flow, monotonous, stating simple facts released secrets that have remained hidden for so long. With good reason.
"I had to make you believe you discovered me. Aomine-kun," and he softens at the name. "Only the old Aomine-kun would recognize someone as apparently worthless as me, one basketball loving idiot to another. You'd wonder why Aomine-kun would be in the fourth gym, the least used, the oldest, and smallest. You'd investigate and find me, and I'd intrigue you ..."
Click, click, click, goes Akashi's memories, realigning to Tetsuya's words like there's been a shift in the world's magnetic field.
"... amazing. Momoi-san was able to judge who would place in the school rankings without trying. It was easy to let it slip into the rumour mill that Imada-san fancied Yomi's captain. Getting her removed was necessary to bring Momoi-san in as team manager. I asked her to bring me her notes that day at the gym and I knew Aomine-kun would ..."
"... showed you a glimmer of myself when Midorima-kin was bullied. No one ever notices when I'm around. It's so easy to gain blackmail material ..."
"... threw the ball off the mark enough that Aomine-kun didn't catch it, went after it into the hall and encountered Kise-kun. He's been bored and Aomine-kun with lead Kise-kun like the pied piper ..."
"... allowed myself to get injured to remove Shougo ..."
"... he dared to hurt Aomine-kun, when I've been working hard to restore his love for basketball. Now he'll never play again, bit too brain damaged for that now ..."
This is what it must feel like to be normal, Akashi thinks as he watches that mouth move with ruthless casualty. Normal, talentless people that are available to be picked up and used like cannon fodder. Akashi's world is ruined, taken a dive into the abyss.
Winner, he's a winner. He's always the winner. His place is on the very top of the world, iron clad and inarguable. Alone and gloriously above the rest. Now his kneecaps have been hacked away. He's fallen, defeated before it's even begun. It feels crowded to be where the masses are.
Suffocating. Smothering. Smoldering.
Tetsuya does not care for mercy. He continues to stomp every corner of Akashi flat. "Tell me how this changes anything. You say you'll destroy me?" Expression mildly incredulous. "Please don't be stupid, Seijuro. We both know you're anything but. You know I made you, I control you. Your mind is mine. You'll never know if the plans in your mind are your own or what I what I've planted into you."
Every time Akashi had dipped into the shadows to bend reality, Tetsuya had slithered a little deeper inside, filling every part of him.
Touch. Gentle. Fingers ghosting down Akashi's cheek. Tetsuya's face softens. "Just accept reality Seijuro. Trust me when I say you'll be much happier when you do. I take care of what's mine."
Akashi eyes close, and he shudders under the touch, hating it with every part of his being; his every cell, his every particle recoils.
The pressure vanishes, his eyes open, and Tetsuya is further back, wearing his usual blank but good natured persona.
"Lunch break ends soon, Akashi-kun. I'm afraid I won't see you at practice this week. I'm going to try to convince Aomine-kun one last time to come back to practice." He nods his head politely and quietly leaves the way he came.
The click of the door on his way inside is just as ordinary as the click when he arrived at the rooftop.
Akashi feels his legs give out. He falls, then slides down the chain link fence.
Composure, he just needs to find himself again and everything will be fine.
Just needs to search deep within and weed out Tetsuya's influence. Akashi's always been good with pruning shears, scissors, knives. It should've been easy.
He looks deep, and deeper, and deepest. Then he goes beneath that.
Parts that are him, parts that are Tetsuya. Akashi's mind races through all his memories, investigating every moment in order to find himself. Just a glimmer.
He searches everlasting and forever, and he still can't determine where he begins and where he ends; every part has seamlessly infused itself with Tetsuya.
Akashi's heart pounds with adrenaline, and it's the first time he's hated it.
Being absent from practice isn't unusual for Akashi. He decides strategy and training regimes, many things that involve his mental facilities that don't require his physical presence. When his physical presence is absent, his mental presence more than makes up for it.
This week he does nothing of the sort.
He focuses all his attention on Tetsuya as he spends every moment after school with Daiki.
Tetsuya smiles, warmly, genuinely at something Daiki says, eyes bright without any trace of shadow. It's nothing like his eyes on the rooftop, so blue but so dark and deep that to fall in would mean tumbling into madness.
It's fake, Akashi thinks, believes, violently. They don't see Tetsuya at all. They can't even begin to understand Tetsuya. They don't see how he's wormed his way inside them all, rooted into their foundation, how he owns them.
Akashi watches Daiki sigh with a smile, take the basketball Tetsuya offers up to him, and head in the direction of the local street courts. Quick to grab his school bag, Tetsuya chases after him and accepts the arm Daiki swings around his shoulder, content that there's nowhere else he'd rather be.
That night when Akashi goes home he flies into a rage and meticulously destroys his basketball medals.
It takes some time to find Tetsuya alone, but when Akashi does, he corners him in the equipment room. He traps Tetsuya between the worn brown leathered pommel horse and a towering stack of thin blue tumble mats. Tetsuya stares at him curiously, like a cat watching a bird getting ready to land.
"Daiki." The name spills messy from Akashi's lips before he can help it, a declaration and a question.
Tetsuya doesn't so much as flinch, face still and pale like it's been carved from marble.
"He's your weakness. You act like you own us all, like it's a one way thing. But he owns you, too. If just a little bit. If you think you can control me with such an obvious flaw than I've overestimated you these last couple days. Worried for nothing." The omission was painful to admit. How his heart burned with anxiety.
Akashi had thought Tetsuya would falter, if only a little bit, but he just quirks a razor half smile, eases into and goes boneless against the wood paneled wall.
"It's true that I'm fond of him," he acknowledges.
"You're in lovewith him." Admit it! Admit you have a weakness, that you—
A huff of amusement, as if it just escaped and there's more of it hiding in Tetsuya's belly. "Ummm, no, not quite. But I see how you could mistake my affection for him as love." A look of wonder possesses his face. "Aomine-kun is fascinating, you know? Pure. So pure and bright. My exact opposite, my perfect partner. Too bright and pure for this world, and now it's tainting him." He smiles the smile of a dreamer, but he stares through Akashi with eyes of frosted glass.
"I still don't see how this warrants special attention."
"Before he broke, before basketball broke his heart and left him wanting, I couldn't touch him. I couldn't truly own him. No." Tetsuya shakes his head in a barely noticeable sway. "He was too bright. An untalented basketball player like me? No one would spare a glance at me. No one would willingly make time for me unless they had nothing better to do. To him, all that mattered was that I loved this sport as much as him. Someone like that, with that much talent? He'll change the basketball scene of Japan, if only he's nurtured the right way. He's perfect for my plan."
Akashi despises the way Tetsuya acts like the rest of them are less important. It's like an itch he can't scratch, even after digging deep enough produce blood.
"Your plan?" Akashi's voice falls flat.
Tetsuya tilts his head a fraction. "You want it too, don't you? To own the basketball world? Victory is the only thing that matters to you, right?" The lilt to his tone is mocking. "You only know how to sacrifice others, you don't know how to sacrifice yourself to get what you really want. Sometimes you need to lose to win."
"Losing means forfeiting all rights to the victor. Losing means death."
"You're still not thinking outside the box yet." Tetsuya looks sad for him. "You have to stop following the rules of this world, Seijuro."
"It's a mistake to confuse reality with fantasy."
"You need to believe in the impossible to truly revolutionize the world. Sometimes you need to sacrifice yourself to win. Sometimes you need to sacrifice yourself to lose temporarily, but when that happens, you just need to break the laws of this world and resurrect yourself. You just need to perform a miracle." Tetsuya pushes off the wall to become perfectly vertical. "I plan to perform a miracle in high school, Seijuro. I hope you'll join me."
"You're pretty confident for someone that speaks of miracles. Confident big time gamblers always fall the hardest. You have no insurance." Akashi holds ground as Tetsuya pushing towards him.
"Don't be like that," Tetsuya says, pityingly. "You know better than that. Shadows can perform miracles better than the light, you know. It might not be flashy and lime lit in glory, but it produces results without anyone knowing of its involvement."
"What does this have to do with me? You knew I was watching you both. You knew I'd pick up on your —your affection, for him. You could've hidden it if you wanted."
"True, but I wanted to see for myself."
His eyes narrow. "See what?"
"Your jealousy. You move towards power like a flower moves towards sunlight. Your need for victory does this to you. Did you know that? Your very reason for existence is your downfall." It's not a grin, but it's something close on Tetsuya's face, wicked and far more dangerous. "It's your weakness; it's why you're mine."
Tetsuya moves to brush by Akashi, brushing his lips against just below Akashi's right cheekbone.
It burns Akashi's skin like poison.
The words Tetsuya breathes in his ear are no less parasitic. "Hurry and realise this, you'll be happier for it."
There's a story he remembers his grandmother had told him once. He'd been young enough to still listen to tales of fantasy, and she'd been life weathered enough that it'd been the last story she'd ever told him. She'd spoke it to him in a soft sagging voice, her eyes milky, and her hands so spotty she seemed diseased.
It'd been about a girl so beautiful some thought she wasn't entirely of this world. Lavished upon so often, the girl soon believed it. The girl journeyed to the mortal home of an ancient, dark, and powerful god, believing it would accept her otherworldliness with open arms.
The Dark God laughed, shaking the shadows with its laughter, like thousands of spiders scattering at his boom; for she was but a mere human. But the girl was proud and asked the Dark God to fix her, to make her more than a normal girl whose beauty will fade with the passing of the summers. The Dark God gave her two options: she could acquire knowledge surpassing humans, she could understand the makings of the universe; Or, he could consume her, and she'd become part of something greater, something not from this world, and that she could ask this of the Dark God at any time.
The beautiful girl of course picked the first option, the second sounded horrid, and with that she started to scream. All that knowledge was not meant to fit into her mind. She couldn't bare it. She didn't know where she existed anymore, something so insignificant in something so huge, a world that kept sliding like sand through an hourglass.
She pleaded for it to be undone. And the Dark God told her that the madness is forever to stay unless she wished for the second option. Then she would live on in the Dark God, with it, and its immortal body would give her balance, would give her purpose. She agreed, and so the Dark God consumed.
She went with a smile on her face.
Akashi goes to practice the next day feeling strung out like he wasn't given enough rope to properly build a bridge cross the chasm of his confusion. And he's left dangling his way across, dangerously swaying with every crude tug Tetsuya's words cause as the memory pulses through him.
He glances at Atsushi; thinks of his growing disinterest in basketball and his thoughts of bored, bored, bored, while Yamamoto bores him hollow, bores him to quitting.
He spots Shintarou; thinks of how his belief in horoscopes is his kryptonite for bullies to exploit, how he can only stand strong when he's holding something ridiculous in his hands.
He hears Momoi talking to the coach; thinks of having someone unreliable like Imada betraying them at a much more crucial time, thinks of the gaping holes in their database.
He detects Ryouta; thinks of him having a life without the challenge of basketball, disinterested in everything and modelling without ever knowing the meaning of working hard for something.
He analyses Daiki; thinks of the miracle Tetsuya is planning to rekindle his love for basketball, to take away the sting betrayal leaves when you learn that loving something isn't always enough.
He spies himself in the window glass; notices Tetsuya is behind him and obscuring his reflection; thinks, no, realizes how things have to be, because if not he'd go mad never knowing his mind from Tetsuya's (agonizing forever on where he begins and ends).
When Tetsuya ghosts by him to join the others, he feels the flat of Tetsuya's hand against his back, spinning his shadow threads along his spine and into his nervous system.
Akashi raises his hand up to his face, wags his fingers and tests out this modified motor system.
Oddly enough, he feels he can live with it.
Tetsuya hadn't lied when he told Akashi he takes care of what's his. He takes all of Akashi's worries and concerns, takes away the challenge but replaces it with the sensation that he's part of something greater. Something he should feel grateful for.
Tetsuya takes a ruined Akashi, finds him and builds him again with his hands. Fingers trailing through his blood red hair, reconnecting them to dichromatic eyes, fine cheek bones, aristocratic nose, and small but full lips. Tetsuya's hands continue to venture lower, the tiniest bit of nail finding jugular arteries (and isn't that something, the scrape of nails against his wind pipe, Akashi unable to breathe), to the smooth dip and prominent protrusion of collarbone. His hands piece Akashi together with purpose and intent, finding hips, and knee, and toes, and all the shadows in between that give him depth and shape and angles.
He takes his desire, takes him to bed instead; let's himself hurt and get hurt with teeth, nails, and bruising force, because he understands that Akashi can't just take but needs to lash out as well. Tetsuya takes all his anger when he fucks him, leaves Akashi to slumber after catharsis while he lies awake to use the energy absorbed to shape the world.
"Championships are tomorrow," Tetsuya says quietly into the darkness of Akashi's bedroom. Tetsuya lies half on top of him, a leg curling around Akashi's calf while his hand glides up his chest to catch his cheek. "After we win tomorrow I'm leaving. This will prompt everyone to go to different high schools. Moving together as one or not at all, is the kind of group we are."
"Going to create a miracle for the Generation of Miracles?"
Tetsuya hums. "Yes. They're far too complacent in their superiority. You're going to be very important during this time, Seijuro."
Akashi turns tiredly but attentively to bury his face into the crown of Tetsuya's head.
"They all take your word as authority," Tetsuya continues, shifting his thigh more securely against Akashi's hip bone. "Murasakibara-kun especially."
"Whatever you need."
"I need you to be your naturally intelligent self, now that I can't be with you all the time. You know my methods enough by now."
"Like I said, whatever you need. I'll burn brighter so your shadow can be blacker, I'll become darker so your shadow can hide within mine."
Tetsuya curls further into Akashi's side, smiles something less than human into Akashi's bared neck, and says, "You're so good to me Seijuro, such a good boy," in a tone that most mistake as sincere.
Akashi knows all this and doesn't mind.
He's happier this way.
I wrote this because I don't see enough badass Kuroko. He is such a bamf in my mind. And I thought I'd try and humanize Akashi a bit while I dehumanized Kuroko. Just for fun.