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Black Book

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Mayuzumi is not and never has been a people person. In fact, most people would probably call him a recluse...or an asshole.

It's really a fifty-fifty thing.

Regardless, social situations just aren't his calling, and he's not afraid to admit the amount of times he's purposely behaved like a scoundrel in order to remove himself from said situations. Telling inappropriate jokes, rolling his eyes and sighing every time someone else speaks, and sometimes just insulting everyone around him have worked pretty well.

It was a reliable strategy until that bastard Akashi 'found' him and dragged him to his stupid club. Now the people he has to deal with on a daily basis are so inept they don't even bat an eyelash at his deepest and most scathing insults, which honestly pisses him off to no end.

But God, Akashi. He was by far his least favorite person on the planet, always talking like he's got a gold-plated stick up his ass. Sometimes Mayuzumi wonders how a snarky shrimp like him has never been beat up before, but then he remembers that annoyingly terrifying look he's got in his creepy eyes and he has to roll his eyes at his own stupidity.

Of course he's never been beat up, he looks like the physical manifestation of Satan himself.

Mayuzumi might actually become the religious type if Akashi were the devil, though. He'd make sure to go to heaven so as not to be stuck with him for all eternity.

Though, he supposes with a grimace. In a way, the basketball club is sort of like hell already. Akashi's the devil, and his cronies are the demons conducting and observing his daily torture. He can almost feel them cackling at his misery every time he steps foot in that damned gym.

But in a way, it might be good that it's that way. It makes his at-home relaxation time that much more effective.

Despite living alone for most of his life, he's always seen home as a welcoming and safe environment. It's the one place where he can just sit down and do nothing for hours on end, and maybe even immerse himself in the many 2-D fictional worlds within the pages of his manga collection.

Plus, the demon Akashi can't enter the door without being invited, and he's sure as hell not inviting that nutjob into his house.

(For fuck's sake, he vowed to gouge his eyes out if he lost a high school basketball match. He's definitely got some issues upstairs.)

So, after yet another tumultuous day in the devil's lair, he breathes a massive sigh of relief upon returning home for the day. Immediately he flops down on his couch and groans, long and loud, into the nearest soft surface. Today's screaming-into item happens to be a pillow.

He lays there for a few minutes before deciding he's not feeling self-loathing enough to sleep from 5 pm to 7 am. He pushes himself up and stretches, dropping his body back onto the couch to glare at the ceiling. He looks at it as though it has committed a personal offense, and then rolls off the side of the couch and falls onto the floor, still glaring.

It takes a solid thirty minutes to get onto his feet. When he does, he's unsteady and has to keep his balance with his arms stretched out, and he somehow feels like he's being laughed at.

Shuffling into the kitchen, he heats up some leftover food and eats it with the blankest stare he can muster. He's not sure exactly how old the food is, but he figures if he gets sick from it he'll at least be away from the basketball club for a while. Afterwards, he cleans up and sits down to contemplate mindless topics for a while. Finally, he retires to his room for the night.

On any given night, Mayuzumi spends about as much time reading manga as he does sleeping. It's definitely not healthy, but he's always had a hard time keeping track of time.

That, and the characters are just so cute he can't put his books down until he physically cannot hold his eyelids open.

He scans his shelf for something to read, skimming over titles in colorful block lettering and issue numbers. Suddenly, he remembers that he recently picked up a new series that he has not yet started. He quickly looks over the entirety of the bookshelf and it doesn't take long for him to find what he was looking for. He pulls the book from its place and inspects the cover.

It's a bit different from the other series Mayuzumi has been interested in, but for some reason he found himself drawn to it when he first came across it. The cover is mostly black in color, with the occasional checkered pattern peeking out from a deep fog. There's a few symbols in glowing white that he can only assume are magic sigils, given that he found the book in the same place as all his magical girl novels. A figure's silhouette stands in the middle, featureless and completely idle.

There's also some Latin lettering scattered about, but he can't be bothered to pull up Google Translate at the moment. Maybe they'll come up in the story somewhere.

He lays on his stomach and gives the cover one last considering look before opening it up.

The story starts off like any other magical girl manga, though he can't deny that the tone feels a little strange. Some of the things the characters are saying don't make a lot of sense, but for some reason he keeps reading.

It's almost as if something is telling his brain to keep turning the pages.

Finally, about halfway through the book, he's introduced to the main character. He doesn't know exactly what makes him so sure that this is the protagonist, given that he's showed up so late in the story, but he's completely sure that he's supposed to be focusing on him.

He's a small-looking boy, probably not too far off from his age. His skin is pale, contrasting against the dark background he's been presented on, and his hair is unkempt and almost frizzy. He's wearing a fairly common rendition of a magical girl's outfit, but colored in black as if he were an antagonist. He's facing forward, not doing much of anything besides standing.

But all of that seems small and insignificant when compared to his eyes.

Wide, blank eyes stare directly forward on the page, and Mayuzumi swears that he's really looking at him. They look so real, and he's not sure if it's his mind playing tricks on him, but his pupils seem to follow him whenever he shifts.

Uneasy, he turns another page.

The boy conforms to the story like any other protagonist, and is not named despite clearly being the focal point of the manga. He'd be lying if he said this didn't make him a little apprehensive about continuing on, but his hands have a mind of their own, turning page after page after page as though in a hurry to get to the end.

Then, something strange happens.

In one of the panels, the boy is looking straight forward again. As he's already seen this previously, it doesn't freak him out like it did the first time, but when he reads the speech bubble above his head he almost drops the book on the spot.

Can you hear me?

A chill runs down his spine. He quickly looks around his room, and suddenly he's uncomfortable to be alone. Cautiously, he turns back to the panel and stares back at the boy with the blank eyes. His eyes look over the rest of the panels, and he's startled to find that all of them are blank save for the first one. Swallowing hard, he looks at the only finished panel.

"Uh...yeah, I...think so."

He feels insane. What kind of freaky weirdo talks back to manga characters alone in his room at night? He does, apparently. Maybe he shouldn't judge Akashi so much for being crazy when he's obviously on the cusp himself.

He catches something in his peripherals, and realizes the second panel has filled itself out. The boy is looking at him still, though he's now turned his body to face him as well. The speech bubble hasn't changed much either, but now it says something different.

Hello. My name is Kuroko. Who might you be?

Okay, what the fuck. He talked to a manga character and got a response?

Yeah. He's definitely going crazy.

"...Mayuzumi."

Why the hell is he still responding?!

The third panel fills itself out, as well as the fourth and fifth, completing the page. Mayuzumi rubs his temples before reading the speech bubbles.

Hello, Mayuzumi-san. It has been a long time since someone has found me. I'm glad-it's very lonely here by myself.

I know this must be overwhelming for you, but I promise I am not a threat in any way. I will explain the situation when I have more panels, but right now, all of them are full, so I have to say what's important first.

You must close this book and re-open it in the morning. By that time I will have scrubbed the rest of them clean, and I will be able to tell you more.

Mayuzumi's head spins. What the fuck is happening? All he wanted was to read some manga before bed, and now he's not sure he'll be able to sleep ever again. As far as he knew it was impossible for manga characters to animate themselves, but here it is, right in front of him. He nods dumbly.

"Ah, well...that's...okay..."

The final few panels fill themselves out. The boy has the barest hint of a smile now.

Mayuzumi-san, there is no reason to be so skittish. I can not manifest myself physically, as I am bound to these pages and these pages alone.

Please be patient and try to relax. It will not do you any good to give yourself over to your thoughts. That never ends well.

We will speak further in the morning. Until then.

Mayuzumi stares at the finished pages with a completely dumbfounded expression. "How the hell am I supposed to sleep when you're being all weird and cryptic..."

When no more panels appear, he finally closes the book. When the back cover hits the final page, he can pretty reliably convince himself that none of that just happened. That there was no strange boy named Kuroko talking to him through paper, and that his brain is definitely wired correctly for proper functionality.

He picks the book up as though it were radioactive, and sets it down on his nightstand. He eyes it like it's about to bite him, and scoots as far away from it as he can.

He doesn't get much sleep that night.

Chapter Text

Mayuzumi wakes up without food poisoning, unfortunately. He internally curses his horrible luck before realizing that he's never really cared about actually having a valid reason to be home from school, and calling in fake sick.

He's all settled in for a day of relaxation without Akashi or anyone else to bother him when he remembers the incident the night before. The wide-eyed boy appears in his mind again, and he suddenly jolts out of bed and turns to stare at the book which contains him.

But something is strange about it.

Last night he could've sworn the cover was black and white and lacking a title, but the book he's currently fixated on is pink and blue, with the title "Mayuyu-chan" in bright bubble letters at the top. Kuroko is in the middle, wearing a pink version of his black magical girl outfit and holding up two peace signs with a dull expression on his face. He blinks, and suddenly he wonders if he really is losing his sanity, because that is definitely not the book he had set down last night.

Nonetheless, he hesitantly reaches for it and opens the front cover.

The panels are different now. It seems as if the beginning story before Kuroko had appeared had continued on the first two pages. He reads through them, not really focusing all the way on the strange dialogue and SFX cues, and he soon comes to another set of blank panels following another instance of Kuroko asking if he was there.

"What the fuck did you do to the cover."

A couple panels fill themselves out. Kuroko gives him a tiny, teasing smile.

I redecorated. I figured that something like this would be more in-character for you.

What do you think? Should I decorate the inside as well?

What the absolute hell? So this guy is not only aware of others' existence as well as the fact that he's trapped within a manga book, but he's also aware of Mayuzumi's outside interests and is able to modify what is essentially a prison made of dead tree slices?

"You're terrifying. You are actually, legitimately terrifying."

I wouldn't say terrifying. Just look at how cute I am in this pink dress. There's nothing scary about a pretty pink dress.

"The scary part is the fact that you are in said dress. And what's up with the title? Is that supposed to be you making fun of me?"

Perhaps. It is what you make it. Personally, I think it's adorable.

"Nothing about this situation is adorable!" Mayuzumi sits up straight and holds the book in a tighter grip. "Speaking of which, you were supposed to tell me what the hell is happening today. So spill it."

Kuroko looks at him with crossed arms and a somewhat judgmental stare. Aren't you supposed to be in school?

"Thanks to you I didn't get any damn sleep last night! There's no way I could've gone to school when I'm practically dead on my feet! Akashi would probably be a dick about it, too. No way was I going to school today."

There's a short stretch of time when Kuroko doesn't fill in any more panels, and Mayuzumi wonders if he said something wrong. After five minutes of silence, he decides he doesn't want to sit and wait anymore and gets up to brush his teeth and maybe shower.

Thirty minutes later he's completely fresh and clean, and also wearing pants.

(Normally he would not be wearing pants at this time of day in his own damn house, but knowing the creepy kid in his magic manga book can probably see him is more than enough coercion to cover his lower half.)

Speaking of creepy magic manga boy, he sits down on his bed and turns to the last page he'd been on before Kuroko froze up, hoping to find some kind of continuation.

Mayuzumi is great at ignoring people and he does it quite often, but somehow being ignored himself is quite irritating. Luckily for him, the manga boy seems to have rediscovered his voice and left a few panels filled in for him.

...Akashi, you say? That's...

Nevermind, forget I said anything. Let the past be the past.

I apologize for getting off-track. I will explain what this book is and what it means as soon as you are ready.

Mayuzumi sort of feels bad for making him wait, but then he remembers how long he sat there waiting for a reply without getting one and it's all gone. He settles in on his bed, making a blanket nest for himself and setting Kuroko's book on his pillow, slightly elevated so he doesn't need to look down.

"Alright, I'm good. What's the deal?"

The wait this time is considerably shorter than before, and within a minute's time the entire page has been filled. All of them show Kuroko facing forward, with various slight changes in his expression.

I once lived in the outside world, just like you. But my world was a little different. There was magic and wonder, and just about every sort of horror you could imagine. I myself was a shadow mage. I could manipulate any shadow into anything I wanted, and I could blend in just about anywhere without any effort.

I was not very well known, and I didn't have any family. So of course I latched onto the first people who saw me and recognized my abilities.

But I was foolish. I fell in with the wrong people...or perhaps fell out is more accurate. I angered the wrong people, and I paid the price. I was cursed by a mage who sought revenge. Whether the revenge was directed towards myself or those I once considered close to me, I may never know.

Now this book is my eternal prison. I can make it bend to my will, but I can never leave. I have drifted between many realities-so many that I have lost count of all the worlds I have been to and people who have owned me.

Life here is far less than ideal, I will admit. When the book is open there's at least some light, but when it's closed there is nothing but darkness.

...what does he even say to that? Sure, it sounds like a cliche manga plot, but he can't bring himself to laugh because of how genuine Kuroko looks while explaining his past life. He can't go off of tone, obviously, but he just doesn't look like a liar.

He shakes his head. "That...really sucks. I really don't know what to say."

What's done is done, there is no need for consoling words.

Mayuzumi nods to himself and tries to think of something to say that isn't offensive. As if sent at his very request, he realizes a few odd things about Kuroko's explanation.

"You said you were cursed, right? Cursed to be in the book for eternity?" He frowns. "Then how come you take the form of a manga book?"

I shift between realities with a simple step to the side. I have taken many forms, each with their own reality-appropriate appearance. In this reality, I happen to take the form of your 'manga book', though originally I was sealed within a summoning tome.

"Not going to lie. That's pretty creepy." Mayuzumi taps his cheek searching for more questions. "Oh. Just out of curiosity, what does it look like there? You know...in the book...thing."

It takes a moment for the panels to fill out.

Dark. And quiet. When you are here, there is a bright light before me, and I can hear your voice and any sounds that are nearby. But when you are not here...there is nothing. Nothing at all."

"...shit, uh. Should I keep the book open when I go to bed or something? Didn't you say it depends on if the book's open or something?"

It does. I would appreciate the cover being left open whenever possible. It gets very lonely in here.

"Yeah, I can imagine." He can't imagine, of course, but despite being a jerk at least 75% of the time he doesn't want to make Kuroko feel worse about his situation. "Hey, have you ever tried going back to your original reality? You know, to see if maybe the curse could be lifted?"

I have been looking for my original plane for what feels like centuries, but I have never found it.

Realities are the size of a thread each, and this prison of mine is an infinite expanse of darkness. Finding any specific reality would be impossible.

It just keeps getting worse, doesn't it? Suddenly Mayuzumi kind of feels like a jackass for complaining about school so much, because clearly other people have bigger problems than he does. I mean hell, this kid isn't even from his plane of reality. That's a problem and a half, at least.

Mayuzumi sighs and rests his chin on his hand. A couple of panels suddenly fill themselves out and he looks at them with curiosity.

Would you mind telling me about your reality? I would like to know where exactly I am at the moment.

"Oh...sure. Uh. Where...should I start?"

Tell me about yourself. Where are you from, where do you go to school, who do you go to school with. Like that.

"Ah. Okay. Well, uh...I go to school at Rakuzan. I guess it's a pretty prestigious one, most people who go here are really rich and snooty like Akashi. Speaking of, he's my captain. I really hate to say that, though, because he's a big time jackass. He's the devil himself, I swear."

That is quite the statement. What makes you say that?

"Well for one he keeps saying he 'found' me like some kind of stray, he forced me to join the basketball club to be his pet, and he works me like a damn dog. It's always Chihiro do 500 more laps, Chihiro go to this bullshit training camp, Chihiro stop calling me a jerkoff midget. It gets annoying but no one else seems to agree with me that he's a total asshole. I think he's got everyone brainwashed."

He sounds quite arrogant. I can see how that would become frustrating.

"God, thank you so much for actually seeing what I see. Sometimes I swear I'm delusional. The fact that I'm talking to a book isn't helping either."

Kuroko's face is laughing sheepishly.

I apologize for that. If I could take a less bothersome form I would, but alas I am stuck this way.

He pauses. Mayuzumi isn't sure how he knows he's about to talk, but he does, and thus keeps quiet.

So Mayuzumi-san. Have you played against a team called Seirin by any chance?

"Hnn...Seirin...I can't say I remember playing a team called Seirin. Then again I haven't been paying much attention. The last game we played for the winter cup was against Shutoku. Akashi and the big green dude were glaring at each other the whole time, it was really uncomfortable."

I see. I was just curious.

Ah. Mayuzumi-san, it would seem that I am running out of panels.

"Oh...right, I forgot. You only have a set number of things you can say at a time." He pauses awkwardly. "So, uh...how long does it take for you to...scrub them clean, as you called it?"

I am not sure, but it is not a short amount of time. It also takes quite a lot of effort so I need time to rest as well.

"Alright, well...I'll set you on my nightstand again, I guess. But I'll leave it open because now I feel like if I close it I'll suffocate you."

It does not work that way but I appreciate the thought.

I will take my leave now to restore the panels. Feel free to come by and check my progress whenever you feel like it. I will be here.

"See you later, then."

Mayuzumi picks the book up and sets it on his nightstand. He reaches for a pen to prop the cover open, and sets it between the pages to keep them apart. He hopes that's enough to make Kuroko feel less lonely, but he can't exactly ask him to make sure so he's left to speculate.

He plops himself back down on his bed and surrounds himself with his blankets in a big burrito.

Going into this he thought he would be dealing with some weird 2D AI project or something, but the reality of it was much more depressing than he'd expected. Knowing Kuroko's backstory has made him feel a little bit useless, though. Here he is curling up in a pile of blankets instead of going to school while Kuroko is forced to suffer in silence, trapped within the pages of a book he can never escape from.

He sighs and buries his face.

What the hell am I getting myself into...