Nine days, four hours, and twenty-eight minutes.
That's how long Kuroko Tetsuya has officially become one of the Imperial Consorts of the Akashi Household.
That's how long Kuroko finds himself clad and draped with multiple layers of posh brocade, crafted silks with embroidered landscapes of preening peahens and winter plum blossoms, eyes highlighted with red eye shadows and lips slicked with glossy paint, thin wrists shackled by pearl encrusted bangles, and ankles fastened with a stack of white jadeite anklets, which rattle like finely made wind chimes whenever he moves his feet. Everything about him exudes royalty, grandeur, luxury that nobody else can attain, as he's one of the three hundred faces that represents Japan, that represents the woven threads of tradition, that represents the name of His Majesty Akashi Seijūrō himself.
That's how long he has become one of the omegas responsible for carrying the future lineage of the emperor's bloodline.
That's how long he's been imprisoned by this foreign fate.
the vindictive paradise
a rose bride
"I've come to collect you, Kuroko Tetsuya-sama."
The blonde who sits with his legs folded underneath him takes the chance to stare at the teen with his bright golden eyes, but there's an unmistakable twinge of weariness slowly corroding him from within. Dressed in an obviously tailored suit with silver cufflinks and a single hoop earring, he introduces himself as the model-turned-minister of Japan, Kise Ryota, and he wastes no time in making the details explicit to Kuroko's caretakers. He does everything primly; straight-faced and not missing a single heartbeat from the way he answers their questions as though he's practiced doing this for all of his life.
It's a futile attempt, but Kuroko tries it anyway.
"Can't I stay with my parents and grandmother?" the teen asks, lowering his eyes respectfully. "I know it's a bit too much to ask from you—"
"—and you're completely right, it's a bit too much to ask for, Kuroko-sama," Kise interjects with a thin smile, and his voice is brittle. "You know that you're an omega, right? People like you are already so rare in Japan and we're sent everywhere to scout for the remaining ones from time to time. Well," he chuckles, rubbing his nape, "Omegas have a unique scent anyway so it's not so hard for us to find them."
Kuroko doesn't miss the way Kise has his ears and tail out, fluffy and swaying steadily in the small confines of Kuroko's cramped living room. It's a way for the blonde to say that he's a full-fledged lethal alpha, domineering predators with an animalistic trait that are tiers higher than the boilerplate betas, and betas are the ones with the typical animal traits. Alphas are popularly recognized as proud creatures who won't hesitate to show their masculinity despite having the ability to conceal their animalistic features, and if that means they have to live with their tail, ears, wings or horns jutting out all the time, then so be it.
And then there's Kuroko, one of the blank omegas, one who's blessed with the ability to receive the traits of the alphas or betas who mate with him.
That's why omegas are so precious to the emperor.
That's why Kuroko has to go.
That's why they're crying.
"What happens if… if we don't want to let Tecchan go…?" his grandmother croaks feebly, her sparse eyelashes fluttering with unshed tears that threaten to rain down her cheeks. Chopstick thin fingers dig deeper into the worn material of her kimono and strands of her greying hair fall over her face. "Our Tecchan is so important to us—"
"—and even more important to the country, ma'am," Kise swiftly cuts her off, point blank. He makes a show of adjusting his tie and ensuring that everything's in place, but Kuroko knows that he's just trying to waste time, to let them teeter over the edge of expectation, and letting them crash down from the mounting hope. "I hope you know that the punishment for refusing to hand over your omega child to the emperor is lynching at the public square." He pauses and a look of mock contemplation crosses over his face. "For everyone." And his bright eyes flicker over to meet Kuroko's own. "Including you."
The most heartbreaking sound of his mother sobbing echoes in the house, and Kuroko couldn't sleep that night.
It isn't a secret that the 104th emperor of the Akashi Empire needed a wife to continue their lineage.
Their dynasty always stood out from the rest of the other rulers from the neighboring countries, since the ones bearing the name Akashi have inherently bloodied crimson hair, murderous eyes, fair skin and a sharp tongue. In the past, thousands of omegas were gathered inside the royal court—strictly omegas only, no betas allowed, execution on the spot is permissible if one is exposed—but they were barely touched by the emperors and so, they lived and died futilely without even achieving their true purpose. Needless to say, this makes the number of omegas wandering outside the palace grounds gradually decline over the years, and the ones who've presented as omegas are quickly substituted inside the palace within merely a couple of days.
So Kuroko can't say that he's surprised to be absorbed into the imperial ranks so soon.
It's only been two days after he came into his inheritance as an omega: His knees gave way while he was in the midst of the bustling city with his mother, finalizing their checklist for the week's groceries, and suddenly everything becomes a wet blur to him as his skin gets overly sensitive from a mere graze of cloth, and he reeks of pheromones for miles around. Sticky thighs dripping with strange liquid that he isn’t sure of, peaked nipples and harsh whines—and there're faces, faces of hungry alphas and curious betas who see him as fresh meat, and his only saving grace is his mother, who tugs him by the arm and starts running. The heat's horribly unbearable when he reaches home, and he locks himself inside his room to stifle lewd moans against a pillow while rutting against the coarseness of his bed sheets.
Just as soon as the torture's over and he finally gains a semblance of what day it is, Kise Ryota came for him.
"—and Aominecchi's a bit dangerous if you're not careful with him," the blonde babbles, more like talking to himself if anything. "But it's really great to play basketball with him when he's not busy reading those gravure magazines! Ah, but I don't think you'll see Murasakibaracchi anytime soon because he's always stuck in the kitchen—Midorimacchi's the same too, married to his work and his office is his house—"
Kuroko drowns out his voice like how you drown a cat.
By letting it wail and screech until there's nothing left but silence.
His eyes are already weary of his pavilion's magnificence and he just wants to crawl back into one of his old t-shirts and shorts, sitting in front of a whirring fan in the humidity of his room instead of getting all dolled up in glamorous designer kimonos and air-conditioned living areas. The fancy, high windows that encompasses the entirety of the wall in order to give him the perfect view of his own garden shines with slivers of sunlight falling onto the carpet, and there are barely any dust particles that float around in the space, but everything, just everything makes him sick to his stomach and all he ever wants is to go home.
"—it's a bit scary if you go there by yourself; I really don't recommend it because the ones who live there are loonies, I tell you," his keeper prattles on, rolling his eyes and shaking his head in disagreement. "The palace is already gracious enough to let them stay there even when they're not useful, not to mention that they're a bunch of ingrates," he adds with a mumble, "So avoiding that area is definitely the best way to go—"
There are heavily blossoming silk cotton trees grown extensively in his courtyard, littered here and there amidst bushes of azaleas, and it paints a charming scene of greens and pinks nestled between stone lanterns. A nearby fish pond with a classical bamboo waterfall mouthpiece serves its purpose to provide some tranquilizing sound for lonesome days, which is almost every day, but even then, there's a lingering emptiness in his heart that can't be nursed. When nightfall comes, it gets worse as servants would fill up the granite containers with some gasoline and put them inside these decorative pieces, washing away the darkness with somber amber glows, before retreating to remove themselves from his presence. His now venerable presence. Left to entertain his own thoughts, his own needs.
Kuroko wants to go home.
"—summer days are especially nice because you get the chance to walk around the courts, but you definitely can't enter them unless you're on some official business," Kise, ceaselessly, drones into other topics within the span of a few minutes. "And then if you feel like it, I can take you to the orchard if you want to eat these delicious summer melons! They have this golden flesh inside," he mimicks their roundness with his hands, squeezing what seemed to be an imaginary fruit, "And it's so sweet you won't even believe that—"
The teen palms his cheek and stares at his bodyguard under half-lidded lashes.
Kise Ryota, 23-years-old. To say that he's a bodyguard is probably an understatement, but officially, that's the title bestowed upon him. Since he found Kuroko, it's his task to guide and take care of him as much as he could before he leaves, whilst juggling in his duties as a minister—of what? Kuroko wonders—and ensuring that no harm will befall one of the emperor's courtesans. He sits in the corner of the room on a particularly unique piece of an armchair, dressed in his customary suit of dreary grey and a pale blue tie, with his cheerful golden eyes trained on Kuroko as though he's the most important person on Earth, and his lips just won't. stop. moving.
Honestly speaking, Kise can be a bit tiring to handle, especially when he gets all chatty like this. It's one of the first things Kuroko learned within the span of nine days, of course.
"—and I thought that I was lazy! Aominecchi is even lazier than me, but somehow, he always gets his clothes torn up! So Momocchi always scolds him for it because, well, Momocchi is one of the royal designers so she really takes care of her creations and then Aominecchi, the big idiot, always ends up tearing his suit a new hole or two because—"
Kuroko's eyes lazily drift over to the man's bushy tail that peeked from behind him.
A wolf. Peaked white ears and ashen tail.
As an alpha male, Kuroko thinks that it's rather disconcerting to see a childlike, happy-go-lucky adult like Kise. Perhaps it's owing to the fact that Kise was previously a model so he needed to maintain a good rapport. And then somehow, he vanished from the magazine covers and reappeared on the television screen months later during an official ceremony at the palace, and nobody questioned his disappearance. Kise, too, didn't bother offering explanations for it. From the way his silken hair falls over his eyes in carefully trimmed layers, to the way he beams at every glance Kuroko took, he doesn't seem possible enough to exude an air of hostility and authority, unlike the average alphas he's used to seeing on the city roads. If anything, Kise radiates a warming glow of bliss, like melted sunshine and springy marshmallows, and that's how he carries himself around others too.
How very strange.
The pale boy perks up when he hears his name being called.
Within five quick leaps, Kise breaches Kuroko's comfort zone and peers downwards to stare at him curiously, worry lacing his eyes. "Is the heat getting to you? Should I lower the temperature?" His nimble hands make a quick grab for the remote controller and there are a few beeps echoing in the emptiness of the room before he slides the device back on the table again. "There." He sounds accomplished, very much pleased of himself, and has his hands on his hips. "Thank god we're not outside today. Getting a heatstroke would be terrible!"
"Yes, getting a heatstroke would be terrible," Kuroko echoes, and leaves it at that.
If Kise noticed Kuroko's lack of participation in his conversations, he doesn't make an effort to show it. Rather, the blonde allows his eyes to trail after the teen's line of sight, and settles on the plain wall adjacent to them. It's empty, just like his voice.
And then an uncanny smile flits across Kise's lips.
"Yeah, it is."