◄◄ | REWIND
The last of Aomine
the choking smoke gathers in the air, burning his lungs. everywhere he looks, crimson curls lick the darkness, shrieks and cries piercing the dense forest silence. dusts rise from the hard earth, a misty blanket melding with the charred remnants of what he recognises as aunt Shige’s house. the startling fiery sea coats his playground, smouldering everything in its path—the air is hot, too hot, sweat’s dripping from his neck but he’s cold and petrified, just standing there, clutching his father’s tome of spells and a blunt iron knife.
“Tetsu—I’m sorry—the Dark Artes, they went crazy with my blood—!“
“This isn’t gonna end, you gotta run, they’re gonna come for you—“
Was not the one I knew
“Come with me, Tetsu, we gotta get somewhere safe!”
Until that fateful night.
There’s no saving anyone anymore.
Not even myself.
► | PLAY
They’re lucky they got an inn for the night.
Kuroko’s been careful to pinch his coins well, never one to overspend on trifle things, and their rationing paid off for warm tatami and fluffy futon instead of cold, windy nights on grassy plains. Half-buried underneath thick quilted bedcover, pale blue locks peep through pillow stuffings and sheets. A sleeping man would have a peaceful expression after a day’s work, tired to the bones. But Kuroko’s not a man, yet not a child. He sleeps with his brows crinkled, face stewed into a grimace, and his lashes tremble once every passing second.
Just a few scant maters away, sitting at the table, Akashi takes everything in.
How Kuroko’s hunched over in his sleep, cheeks pressed into his pillow like he’s trying to suffocate himself, with the covers pulled all the way up until it swallows him whole. Even in his sleep, he’s hiding from something. As someone who’s lived through the years of Kuroko Akihito who married Tachibana Hanae and gave birth to Kuroko Hironari, and lived to see Hironari wedded safely to Kohaku Kakeru, right down to when Kuroko Rokujo together with Himemiya Minori graced the house with Kuroko Tetsuya, Akashi Seijuro knows when humans are consumed with fear.
The fear of reliving a nightmare.
This is an unseen battle that Akashi can’t take hits for Kuroko. He can’t bite the demons plaguing Kuroko’s dreams, turning flowers to fires and laughters to tears, nor can he dive into Kuroko’s mind to provide him solace from his eternally waged inner war. The most that Akashi can do is to watch over the teen when he trembles in his sleep and cries out in pain, mouthing names of the deceased, yearning for his grandmother to take him in her arms again as she patiently goes over the craft circle he drew.
How can an omnipotent red dragon be rendered helpless in the face of such agonising event?
A muffled gasp comes from the futon and Akashi lifts his head to peer at Kuroko, curious. The young exorcist has broken free from the nightmarish spiral, eyes wide open with unshed tears, teeth biting into his lower lip to mute himself, but he can’t hide how his knuckles have gone bone white from gripping the covers tightly. Kuroko’s always been pale, too pale for a boy his age, but bathed underneath the silver moonlight falling into their room, he’s ghostly faint. Just lying there in silence, wracked by shivers, Kuroko stays in the safety of his futon, but his blue eyes—they’re empty inside.
Frowning, Akashi props his head up against his palm. “Are you all right, Kuroko?”
It takes a while for the teen to steady himself, breathing harshly through his nostrils, but he’s still eons away from deceiving Akashi. He knows Kuroko’s not all right. But Kuroko never says so. He never breathes a word of the vivid replays haunting him. His small shoulders still wanted to bear everything the world has to offer without realising the crushing weight that’ll ensue.
“I’m fine, Akashi-san,” Kuroko finally breathes out, slow. The sheets rustle with his movement as he shifts to adjust, lifting his arm to blot away the tears pooling his eyes. Lying on his back, he’s quiet, but far from subdued. Only his voice carries through with soft undertones. “Let’s go back to sleep, shall we?”
The matter is dropped, just as soon as it was introduced.
Humans never cease to mystify Akashi; why would they pretend to be fine as a whole when they’re obviously chipped under the pressure?
With a sigh, the dragon uncoils himself from his seat, crossing over to the other side in a heartbeat. Under his feet, Kuroko’s futon lies warm, awaiting his weight. He bends over, hooking a finger underneath the thick quilt, and watches as Kuroko willingly scoots to the side. “It can’t be helped,” he mutters, slipping in to join the teen.
It’s an unspoken routine for rainy days like this, with no words exchanged, except for the warmth they shared. Akashi makes himself comfortable, nestled in the narrow futon obviously not made for two, and sleeps on his side so that Kuroko can have the rest of the space for himself.
They’re eye-to-eye now; Kuroko’s resting beside him, hand on the shared pillow between them, watching him. Akashi doesn’t offer a smile, not when he’s scrutinising the dark lines etched on Kuroko’s sallow face as he closes his eyes once again. This isn’t how contentment should be, not when their future isn’t set in stone and there’s no end in sight. Not when cold nights threaten them with bug bites and thinning pockets, rice balls for lunch and pickles for dinner. But this, this is as far as they can go together, and as long as they keep going, they’ll reach the end.
Absently, Akashi reaches out to place his hand over Kuroko’s arm. Sickly green veins charted a pathway to his tendon, bones jutting out in places where his skin stretches too thin, and his fingers dig into the unblemished palm, etching reddened half-moons onto the canvas.
If he stares harder, he can pick out the white scratches left behind.
Akashi’s nails are sharp, his thumb caressing the faded lines scattered on Kuroko’s wrist, tracing over the unspoken history mapped on his skin. Over and over again, like he can erase them with his touch. With just a simple press, he can make Kuroko bleed for him just like how Kuroko bled for the spirits to feast on him that night, upending holiness to sins, tipping the scales to send it smashing on the floor.
Man should not partake in the Dark Artes without fully knowing the consequences, that is the rule Akashi made as the Kuroko family’s contracted Su Ho Shin, the guardian god. He’s served three successful generations with the promise of protecting the lasts of the Kuroko bloodline if they ensure only one in return: the practice of good, clean and Holy Arte to help not only themselves, but everyone else around them.
But after Kuroko’s shaky finger dipped into the thick blood to draw one pentagram after another to complete the unholy union between man and spirit, the seed of contamination planted itself in Kuroko’s soul. He’s no longer the practitioner of Holy Arte, a Twemasa, like what his grandmother prized him for; he accidentally traded his purity while thinking that he could save his family.
Now, nightmares plague his sleep, and if not for Akashi, he never would’ve survived this far.
Deep shadows cross their sheets as the clouds obscure the dimming moonlight. It takes only a few minutes for Kuroko’s shoulders to sag as he becomes lax at the familiar touch, letting his head droop further into the pillow. When his breathing evens out, no more hitched gasps or broken sobs mar the silence. It’s only him, and the other. Nightmares no longer lie between them.
Curling his hand around Kuroko’s wrist, Akashi closes his eyes and tries to sleep.
“Good night, Kuroko.”
▇ | STOP