"Sei, what the hell is wrong with his eye?" Aomine said with a shaky voice.
Kuroko was still weeping as he writhed in pain, oblivious to the two ghouls staring at him.
"I don't know. We'll deal with it when we're far from here and he's feeling better. It's going to be difficult to carry him out discreetly but we need to get him out of this place now."
The sight and smell of Kuroko's blood made both Akashi and Aomine feel sick. The metallic scent clung to the walls as a reminder of how long Kuroko had been left there. The thought that the smaller man had been in this wretched place for weeks horrified them both. But there was something particularly off about the smell of the blood, but neither ghoul could quite identify what.
Suddenly, Kuroko's body fell limp onto the ground as the convulsions ground to a halt. However his body continued to tremble violently. Kuroko was unconscious once again, though this time Akashi suspected it was due to exhaustion rather than the drugs. Akashi thought it was almost fortunate: The man would not have to feel the physical agony his body was undergoing for a while and the two brothers could get him out more easily.
The crimson haired ghoul scooped the shaking male up in his arms carefully. Akashi noted how incredibly light Kuroko was as he lifted him with ease before looking to Aomine. "I'll carry him, let's go."
The two walked out of the claustrophobic room to see Kise and Murasakibara finishing the last Kirisaki Daichi member who had yet to run away or be defeated. Both the blond and purple haired ghouls were looking fairly worn out, but they had avoided receiving any serious injuries.
Silence fell as the baristas who had been fighting all this time looked to see Aomine and Akashi leaving the room. Kise was relieved to see the teal haired human in Akashi's arms however he was also concerned by the vast amount of blood covering his body and the violent tremors he was going through.
"Is Kuro-chin okay?" The giant ghoul asked.
Both Aomine and Akashi grimaced at the question before the shorter replied with a "No." not wanting to lie. Kise looked at them sadly before asking "Shall we go to the hospital then?"
That had been their initial plan. They had all guessed that on finding the human he would likely require medical attention, but after seeing the bluenette's ghoulish eye Akashi reconsidered the idea of taking the man to the hospital. If somehow Kuroko had become some sort of ghoul there was no way they could possibly take him there as the general tests carried out by the doctors would immediately reveal Kuroko's species, whatever it may be. They would kill him or experiment on him. Neither of which Akashi could allow.
"We can't take him to the hospital. We will take him back to our apartment and get Miyaji-san and Shintaro to help him heal."
This caused Kise to become rather confused, ignorant to the fact that Kuroko may no longer be one hundred percent human. "Why aren't we just taking him to the-"
"We're just not okay Kise. Let's get the hell out of here." Aomine said grumpily, eyes still tinged red from crying as he walked down the corridor, making haste towards the exit. The others followed him. Kise and Murasakibara trailed behind, baffled as to why they would not take the clearly injured human to a hospital and Akashi walked directly behind his younger sibling as he carried his loved one in his arms.
Once they arrived back at the café, Akashi carried Kuroko out from the back of the van and into the store. Fortunately it was still dark out, preventing any suspicious looks from passer-bys.
The four ghouls entered the establishment and were quickly greeted by Midorima who had heard them approaching. Upon seeing the bloody, quivering mess in Akashi's arms, Midorima made way so that the red head could ascend the stairs to a bedroom.
Remembering that Takao was still residing in his room, Akashi headed to Aomine's bedroom instead, lying the teal head down on the messy double bed. The four other multi-coloured haired ghouls followed Akashi into the rather small room.
"Shintaro, could you please check his injuries. Atushi, go call Miyaji-san and ask that he visits here as soon as possible with medical supplies."
The two tall ghouls moved to do as Akashi had asked them. Whilst doing so, Midorima asked "Kise, could you please watch over Kazunari for me while I'm busy." In all honesty, the ravenette did not require some sort of babysitter, but Midorima would be happier knowing someone was there for him if he wasn't feeling well. The bespectacled ghoul also wanted less people in the room whilst he worked, but knew that the blond would not leave without a reason to.
Soon it was just Aomine, Akashi and Midorima left with the still passed out Kuroko.
"Shintaro…" Akashi spoke up as the make-shift doctor checked Kuroko's wounds and began stitching up the knife wounds.
"I don't know how to put this, but when Daiki and I found him…obviously he was not well and in a lot of pain but…his eye…one of them was like a ghoul's."
"I thought it was odd that his wounds were starting to heal themselves already. He also smells…off. Not quite human, not quite ghoul. I'm not quite sure, but can he really be…" Midorima trailed off.
"A ghoul? But he's covered in stab wounds made by knives. You can't stab a ghoul with something as weak as steel." Aomine finished the green head's question.
"Yes, but if he's some sort of converted ghoul perhaps he does not share all the same traits as us." Akashi suggested. "Furthermore, I've heard that the CCG developed a drug to supress RC cells, allowing a ghouls skin to be pierced. It would not surprise me if Hanamiya had somehow got his hands on some to allow him to play his sick games."
Midorima interrupted Akashi's ramblings. "Regardless, there is little I can do for the drug induced convulsions and trembling. We shall have to leave him until the drug passes through his system. He should wake up sometime tomorrow and he'll be able to explain more about what happened to him. I'll watch over him for the rest of the night, you guys get some rest."
Aomine scoffed. "Like I'm gunna sleep tonight. I'll stay in here and wait for Tetsu to wake up."
"I shall also stay with him." Akashi added.
Knowing better than to argue with those two, Midorima agreed. "Very well, if you two aren't going to rest then I shall. Come get me if he wakes up or his condition changes."
With that, Midorima left the room to join Kise in Takao's room. The emerald haired man had been sleeping beside the raven haired ghoul in Akashi's bed ever since Takao's condition exited the critical status. On Midorima's arrival to the room, Kise left the two alone and went to sleep on one of the sofas in the living room, where he discovered Murasakibara to also be resting.
Aomine and Akashi sat on pillows on the floor of the navy head's untidy room in silence as they watched over Kuroko sleeping. An undeterminable amount of time had passed when Akashi found himself becoming frustrated at his lack of knowledge about what had happened to Kuroko. He decided to make a quick call to Himuro to enquire about the possibility of ghouls with only one kakugan.
Leaving the room, he entered the hallway and dialled Himuro's number. The red head was almost surprised when the mask-maker actually picked up at 2am.
"Hello Akashi-san, what do you need at such a late hour?" He asks sleepily.
"I'm sorry for calling so late Himuro-san, but I wanted to enquire about ghouls who only have one kakugan. I've never heard of such a thing happening and I was wondering if perhaps you had."
"Well, I've never met one myself so I can't verify this information, but I have heard of such a thing occurring in extremely rare cases. People call them 'one-eyed ghouls', though most say that they are only an urban legend. There are only two ways to create one from what I know. The first is that a ghoul and a human have a child together who is born half-ghoul, half-human."
Well I'm guessing it's not that Akashi thought to himself. Kuroko had definitely been human upon their previous meetings. Something had changed.
"And the second is to transplant the kakuhou from a ghoul into a human. If the rumours are correct, there are a handful of doctors in the world interested in such experiments as one-eyed ghouls are supposedly much stronger than your average ghoul. Although I heard the success rate isn't particularly high."
Akashi's eyes widened. Could Hanamiya really have performed surgery on Kuroko or have gotten someone else to perform it in his place? Why the hell would he do that? Akashi thought before a voice in the back of his mind answered his own question. To get back at you. Yes, Kuroko would now be strong, but God knows what his mental state would be. Not to mention, being a half ghoul may require some major lifestyle changes for Kuroko. It may even make the pale bluenette hate Akashi for bringing such horrific events upon him.
It angered Akashi that Hanamiya had made out to get some sort of revenge against his friends and family. That he had decided to play these messed up mind games. Akashi had done the ghoul no wrong, no one from the coffeehouse had. All they did was defend their own when the maniac almost killed Kiyoshi and had threatened the rest of the baristas.
Why the hell did he have to target us and play this vile game dammit? Akashi thought bitterly. They were a peaceful group who sought to be as little of a nuisance as possible, yet Hanamiya seemed to have sworn some sort of vow to make their lives hell.
"Akashi-san, are you okay?" Himuro asked after Akashi did not respond to his information.
"Yes, thank you Himuro-san. I apologise for interrupting your sleep, but would you mind looking further into this one-eyed ghoul business tomorrow? It would be very helpful to me and I'll pay you for it of course."
"If it will help you, of course I'll do it. There's no need to pay me Akashi-san. I owe you and Atushi my life after all."
"Still, I appreciate the help. I have only one more question for tonight."
"Mm? And what's that?"
"Do you know if these so called 'one-eyed ghouls' can eat human food? Or are they like us in that sense." The idea had crossed Akashi's mind the moment Himuro confirmed the possibility of a human-ghoul hybrid. Whether the answer to his question was 'yes' or 'no' would have great impact on Kuroko's future, if it turned out he was indeed a one-eyed ghoul that is.
"I'm afraid I do not know. I'll look into it some more for you though."
"I'll call you sometime tomorrow then. Goodnight Himuro-san."
"Talk to you then Akashi-san, goodnight."
And with that the dark haired male hung up on Akashi.
The burgundy haired manager sighed. He knew it was stupid of him, but he had been hoping that maybe, just maybe, he had misinterpreted the situation and perhaps the strange colour of Kuroko's eye had simply been a side effect of the drugs Hanamiya had forced into the younger male's system. But, having spoken to Himuro, Akashi now realised that it was entirely possible that Kuroko was no longer the delicate human whom he had kissed over a fortnight ago.
The ghoul slumped against the wall of the hallway before slowly sliding down it so that he was sat on the floor facing away from the door to Aomine's room. Thoughts of the teal haired human filled Akashi's head. His beautiful smile and gentle nature. The way he always seemed happy to see Akashi and how he had so graciously accepted Akashi as a ghoul and even invited him over to his home. Now those memories were tainted. Corrupted with the image of Kuroko's body convulsing and bleeding, covered in cuts and bruises. The blood curdling sound of what Akashi now knew to be his screams played over and over again in the red head's mind, overwriting the memory of the kindergarten teacher's angelic voice.
Tears began to run down Akashi's face, though no sobs accompanied them. The full impact of the night's events hitting him all at once. No matter how many times Aomine had told him it was not his fault that this had happened, but Hanamiya's, he still could not shake the feeling of guilt. Of course he loved Kuroko and was truly glad to have had the privilege of getting to know the man, but he still questioned whether their meeting was truly a positive event. Hanamiya had only attacked Kuroko after acknowledging him as a weak spot for Akashi. Maybe I really am cursed. Akashi thought glumly.
It was during this self-blaming session that Aomine walked out into the hall to check on his brother. As he did so, the older moved to try and hide the tears welling in and falling from his eyes. Akashi very rarely cried, but on the occasions that he did Aomine knew that he did not like to be discovered. But Aomine wanted to be able to comfort his brother.
The taller ghoul sat down next to the red head. Akashi kept his head bowed and his face buried in his hands, refusing to let Aomine see his tears, so the younger ghoul placed his hand on the shorter's head, lightly massaging Akashi's scalp in an attempt to soothe his sadness and to let him know Aomine was there for him.
The two just sat quietly like that for a few minutes. An eerie silence settled over the house, only interrupted by soft whimpers from Kuroko. But Akashi noticed that Kuroko's breaths were becoming heavier and then they were becoming something more. He slowly stood, surprising Aomine, and went back into the room in which Kuroko was resting. The man in the bed had started to murmur quietly in his sleep.
"Onii-san….please…I'm sorry." Kuroko whimpered with distress.
Aomine walked up behind Akashi and noticed the concerned look on the red eyed ghoul's face.
"I assume he has a brother then." Akashi directed the statement at Aomine though he was staring at Kuroko.
"Yeah. Although 'has' might not be the right word."
"He's not around anymore?"
Akashi could tell that whatever happened between Kuroko and his brother must have had quite the impact on the young male seeing as it was haunting his dreams. "What happened to him?"
Aomine gulped, obviously looking agitated. "His…His brother disappeared. When Tetsu was younger he and his family were attacked by a group of ghouls. His parents were killed and they never found his brother's body. The ghouls probably kidnapped him in order to…torture him or keep the meat fresh. Tetsu managed to get out of there though thank God." Aomine said quietly.
The story took Akashi by surprise. Of course quite a number of humans have lost family or friends to ghouls, it was only natural in this twisted world, but Kuroko had lost his whole family to ghouls and was damn near killed himself, yet he had still accepted Akashi? The thought made the manager's head spin. He trusted me so, so much and yet this is what I brought upon him? He thought to himself with disgust. Tears were once again brimming in his eyes.
Aomine could tell the gist of his brother's thoughts just by looking at his reaction. "Sei, I already told you to cut the self-blaming shit."
"I would if I were not at least partially to blame Daiki." His voice shook with emotion with anger leaking into his tone. "It's bad enough that I put him in danger in the first place but I should have taken better care, kept watch over him or made sure no-one knew we were close. I could have done something to prevent this."
"Sei!" Aomine shouted sternly. "Cut the crap with the 'should have, could have, would have's! I already told you, and you even told me, that this isn't your fault and we can't just think about the 'if's and the 'could have been's. Right now we need to think about the future and how we're going to help Tetsu, so stop looking at the past. Tetsu's hurting and he needs you to be strong for him dammit. It's clear you love him like hell, so act like it and do everything you can to help him now."
Akashi was dumbfounded by Aomine's sudden outburst. But he knew his brother was right. He was being selfish and stupid by thinking only about the past. Perhaps he simply didn't want to think about the things that were to come – Kuroko's mental state would surely be shattered after weeks of torture, not to mention he may actually have been turned into a one-eyed ghoul. The thought of how broken his boyfriend would be terrified him. What if he's realised that Hanamiya only hurt him because of me? What if he hates me? Akashi thought. But Kuroko's agony was the very reason Akashi needed to be strong. Whatever pain Akashi felt right now was nothing in comparison to the physical and mental anguish the cerulean haired man was in. Akashi needed to do whatever he could to fix the wrongs that had been done to Kuroko.
"You're right Daiki. I'm sorry for being so foolish." The red head said quietly to Aomine, all the frustration in his voice and body language dissipating.
"Maybe we should try and rest for a bit. Midorima doesn't seem to think he's gunna wake up until tomorrow anyway and Miyaji's out of town at the moment so he won't be arriving 'til morning."
"Tet-chan~ are you ready?"
It was his voice. The one that belonged to the man who had been using him as a punching bag and as a source of entertainment.
"No." Kuroko whimpered, his voice muffled by the gag as he felt the razor sharp edges of a saw grazing along the skin just above his left knee. "Please don't." He tried to plead.
"It'll be fine Tet-chan, it'll grow right back just like it did last time."
But it hurts. It hurts so much. Kuroko thought to himself.
The jagged blade of the saw began to cut through the flesh of Kuroko's upper leg, burrowing its way through to the bone at a horrifying rate. A choked sob came from Kuroko as it did so.
"Glad to see that pain still affects you just as much as it did when we first met Tet-chan. It would be such a shame if I didn't get to hear your adorable cries every time I hurt you." Hanamiya mocked.
The blade began grinding against the bone as Hanamiya spoke, causing Kuroko to cry and shout out at the burning agony.
"There's no need to be so loud Tet-chan, no-ones coming to save you I'm afraid. Akashi-kun is probably far too busy for that. To be honest he's probably already forgotten all about you, but it's okay because I can keep you company in his place can't I Tet-chan."
As the sadistic man finished his final sentence, the saw finally emerged from the other side of Kuroko's leg, leaving his lower leg to fall to the ground with a thump.
"Hey Tet-chan, do you hate him? Imagine if you'd have never met him, you definitely wouldn't be here with me right now. Your left leg would probably still be intact too."
Kuroko made no attempt to reply. Not only could he not due to the cloth tied through his mouth, but he did not want to. On multiple occasions he could remember his torturer taunting him about Akashi. Whilst a part of Kuroko did indeed fear that perhaps Akashi would make no attempt to rescue him, that perhaps Kuroko had misinterpreted their closeness and in reality he did not mean as much to Akashi as Akashi did to him, not even for a second did Kuroko blame the red head. He knew that the barista had never shown any malicious intent. Had he wanted to hurt Kuroko, he'd had plenty of opportunities to do so, but instead Akashi had always been affectionate, gentle and polite to him. Additionally, had it not been for Akashi, Kuroko would have been eaten by the binge eater a month ago. Kuroko owed Akashi his life, but Akashi owed Kuroko nothing, at least in the bluenette's opinion.
"Oh right, you're still gagged. Well anyway, time for the next one Tet-chan."
The baby blue haired man cried harder as he now felt the saw rest on his right kneecap. However what he had feared was coming never happened.
Suddenly he could feel his whole left leg again and rather than Hanamiya's taunting voice he could now hear a more concerned voice calling out to him in the darkness.
His mind was still too dazed from the fear of what he was beginning to realise was actually a vivid memory, though it had greatly resembled a nightmare, and so he was unable to identify the voice but it made his heart stutter for some reason.
"Please Tetsuya…Wake up" It was but a whisper now. Kuroko began to open his eyes, expecting the nothingness he was used to. He was surprised when light actually filtered into his eyes as he took a moment to adjust to the contrasting brightness.
Someone by his side once again murmured his first name, now more hopeful.
Kuroko's vision began to focus more and he could finally make out ruby red hair and eyes.
With a raspy voice he asked, "S-Seijuro-kun?"
END OF CHAPTER