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Pigeon Blood

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It had been raining relentlessly since the five of them set out for an ill-advised excursion into the woodlands in the name of “bonding for reunited best friends” by “getting in touch with nature.”

 

“Kise, your ideas suck.”

 

“Shut up, Aomine! The forecast was clear when I checked yesterday evening -”

 

Midorima tsk’d irritably. “Regardless, we should’ve arrived at the lodges a while ago. Our route listed only a four-hour travel time along the main road before the base of the mountain, but we’ve been driving for the better part of the day now...Akashi, has the GPS returned a signal yet?”

 

The redhead glanced at Midorima through the rearview mirror and shook his head. “Though we expected this - the website mentioned that connections usually cut out around this area of the forest - but you’re right, we should’ve seen signs for the cabins by now.”

 

A sigh and some rustling, as Kise dug out his map yet again. “There’s only been a single path so far, so it’s not like we could’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere, Akashicchi,” he murmured, leaning forward to flash the brightly colored pamphlet to Akashi, careful not to disturb a peacefully slumbering Murasakibara in the passenger seat. “Is it possible we didn’t see the markers because of the fog, and drove past?” Kise squinted at the notes a tourism guide had scrawled on their map - straight shot, impossible to miss!

 

Aomine groaned, “We would’ve hit the mountain by now, at least. This van is getting cramped and the weather’s so shit, it’s not even good to stop…” He pulled his hood over and slouched further down the backseat, tracking the blurry silhouettes of the treeline through rain-marbled glass. “The sky’s getting darker too, and it’ll be a bitch to drive in the evening if it keeps pouring like this.”

 

Midorima made a noise of agreement, “We run the risk of encountering large nocturnal animals, too.”

 

Kise spun around excitedly, “Like bears and werewolves?” Aomine perked up slightly.

 

“No, I meant bucks.”

 

The tires squelched through muddied gravel, and Akashi frowned as he gazed at heavy grey clouds. “We should start thinking of some contingencies, then. I’m hesitant to suggest setting up camp for a night given the weather, but backtracking may not be an option since we’re fast approaching nighttime. It’s troubling that the we didn’t cross the campgrounds, but I think we’ll have to assume we missed it.” He rolled his shoulders slowly, “To be honest, I’m getting a bit tired as well.”

 

“How the hell do you still have perfect driving posture, Akashi?”

 

“Ten and two or perish, Daiki.”

 

Reaching over, Midorima plucked the map from Kise’s lap and unfolded it fully. The diagrams were minimalistic and descriptions brief, most of the detailing devoted to the marked roads and trails that came before the lodge grounds, spawning off of a single central road that was, indeed, nearly a straight cut through the woods. The line for the main road ended at the entrance of the cabin site, its northernmost side enclosed by a dark green dotted line denoting the forest edge. Highlighter streaks covered the area between the campgrounds and the mountain base, another messy note: unexplored grounds, visitors not allowed! Midorima pursed his lips. That’s certainly not foreboding.

 

“What do you think, Midorimacchi?” Kise crossed his arms behind his head and huffed a small laugh, “Should we brave the elements and sleep with the wolves tonight?”

 

“It won’t be braving the elements if we’re sleeping in the car, idiot -”

 

“It may be our only option at this point,” Midorima passed the pamphlet back to Kise, who tucked it in the pocket behind the passenger seat. “Maybe we should keep our eyes out for a small clearing or somewhere we can stop the van. Most likely we won’t be setting up the tents tonight, and a fire is probably out of the question. Good thing I packed wraps,” he clasped his hands and stretched his arms, wincing slightly at the stiffness. Aomine groaned again, “I wanna eat something hot -”

 

Suddenly, the car lurched to a stop, sending its passengers jostling forward - “Ah fuck,” Aomine swore as he thumped off the backseat and Kise yelped as he caught himself against a headrest. Midorima raised an eyebrow from his seat-belt-secured position while Murasakibara jerked awake. “Oh, have we arrived?” he mumbled blearily, large hands crinkling the edge of a chip bag that rested by his leg.

 

“No…” Akashi said slowly, hunching over the wheel. “I apologize about that, but...is that - a river?”

 

Startled, Midorima scooted forward and peered through the windshield, barely making out shadowed waves in the pelting rain and silvery fog. He shared a look with Kise, who said incredulously, “That wasn’t marked on the map at all -”

 

“Does the road end here?” Murasakibara questioned, “Did we miss the lodges? Are we lost?”

 

“What,” Aomine started flatly, “do you mean, the road ends? I thought the mountain blocked off the path.”

 

Akashi looked concernedly through the window as the beating wipers accentuated the surrealness of the situation. “It’s impossible to see the other side of the river. I almost drove into the water. The trees don’t even thin out and I can’t make out anything through this terrible mist.” Twisting to look back at his passengers, he continued, “We definitely need to turn back. If we’ve accidentally ventured into the unexplored areas, then it’s doubtless we overshot. I’m sorry that I got us lost.”

 

Murasakibara patted his shoulder comfortingly. “There’s no worry, Akachin. We packed enough food for the night, so let’s just head back a little bit and then rest.”

 

“Murasakibara’s right, “ Midorima nodded, “It’s best to call it a day. The cards were stacked against us from the beginning with the rain.” Turning to squint through the window, he added, “The road is wide enough for you to do a three-point turn, Akashi. It seems we’re close to the edge of the river, so careful.”

 

Akashi hummed in confirmation and began to reverse the car. Kise sighed, “Man, how did things turn out like this? At least it’s an adventure, I guess!”

 

Uncharacteristically, Aomine stayed silent in the back. Then, “Yo, Kise, pass me that map.”

 

As Kise handed it over, Midorima pulled out his cellphone. Of course, no reception, he thought as he adjusted his glasses, technology is useless to us right now. Murasakibara passed the bag of chips back, and Midorima stole a few, chewing slowly. It was exceedingly strange that what seemed like a large body of water was unmarked, even in supposedly unexplored territory. At least, rangers would have spotted it by helicopter if they were surveying the mountain…

 

“Hey,” his thoughts were interrupted by a scowling Aomine, “What kind of shit map is this? It’s got barely anything!”

 

Sighing annoyedly, Midorima took the map back, “Well yes, it’s a rather simple map, but -”

 

He stopped, eyes wide as he stared at the paper. Its bright, digitally-colored icons and labels were gone, replaced with the desaturated greyscale of what appeared to be reprinted versions of hand-drawn illustrations. The notes from the guide were absent as well, and the paper mysteriously unlaminated. Though the line of the main road was unchanged, the many periphery trails that populated the entrance of the woods were missing, along with the names of minor campsites and most notably, the entire lodge area. Instead, a clearing near the base of the mountain was named in cursive, Blackwater Glades. The section north of it, a scribbled line demarcated, The Edge.

 

Midorima looked up to find Kise also staring at the map, jaw dropped in shock. He pulled open the passenger seat’s back pocket, showing it empty. “What in the world,” Kise hissed, “I put the map right in here! It’s the same map, isn’t it? How did that - what -”

 

“That’s seriously trippy,” Aomine said helpfully. “Kise, this is all your fault -”

 

“What, screw you, Aomine -”

 

“Seriously, please shut up,” Midorima said as he flipped the map over and back again. He passed it to Murasakibara, who showed it to a bewildered Akashi. “There’s no way that’s the same map, “ Akashi agreed, “but at least it looks like it shows the same area. Maybe we can follow another route?”

 

Midorima shook his head, “Unfortunately, there’s no added information about areas north of the campgrounds, which we most definitely are at the moment. That map is even more useless than the first one. We don’t have much of a choice right now but to stop somewhere and rest for the night.”

 

Kise began to munch on the chips in an increasingly stressed manner, so Murasakibara deftly stole back the bag and resealed it. Aomine sighed from the back, again. “Damn, that’s some weird shit. Akashi, it’s your call when we stop. It doesn’t seem like there’s much of a difference between going back farther or calling it now. We gotta eat, too, I’m getting pretty fucking hungry.”

 

Murasakibara nodded earnestly, and Akashi gave a small smile. “Alright, let’s drive for another half-hour then -”

 

He was interrupted by the radio loudly blaring to life, startling everyone in the car. Warbling static spilled through the air, pierced by a high-pitched, wiry tone as a man’s voice, speaking unintelligibly, faded in and out. What sounded like an old-timey burlesque melody filtered through on crackling piano notes.

 

“The fuck!” Aomine barked. Murasakibara was quick to turn the volume dial down, to no effect. “Ah, the radio isn’t even turned on…”

 

Kise grabbed Midorima’s arm. “This is super creepy, right? Everyone agrees this is creepy?”

 

“How is there a radio signal out here?” Midorima made eye contact with Akashi through the rearview mirror again. “We lost that miles ago…”

 

“Dude, the radio’s turned off,” Aomine stressed over the sounds of static swallowing up an orchestra tune, “Is our radio fucking possessed? Are we getting a message from aliens?”

 

“It’s probably just the car’s speakers picking up some AM signal,” Akashi quieted Aomine’s speculations, “Though that does seem improbable - I assume the wiring’s shielding would’ve prevented that. And there shouldn’t be a radio signal out here at all. Maybe it’s a ghost transmission?”

 

“Please don’t say ghost, Akashicchi.”

 

Through the radio, a woman began to laugh. Under the static and the pounding rain, it sounded phlegmatic and sinister.

 

“Can’t we turn that off?” Kise whined plaintively. Aomine scoffed, “Can’t turn off what isn’t on, dumbass.”

 

“It’s giving me the creeps, too, Kisechin,” Murasakibara said gravely. “Let’s stress-eat now.”

 

“We’ll have dinner soon, Atsushi,” Akashi levelled a look at the rest of the passengers through the mirror. “Nothing’s too far out of the ordinary right now. We’ll stop shortly.”

 

Midorima cleared his throat. “The fog’s gotten denser, Akashi. It’s well dark now, also. Let’s stop after this copse ahead.”

 

The van’s passengers fell silent, listening to the rain drumming against the windows, the crunching of wet rock beneath the wheels, and the muffled ‘shlick’ of the wipers on wet glass. Mellow clarinet music twittered through the speakers, a constant sprinkling of static frying the higher notes. Then, just as suddenly as it began, the song fell silent on an unfinished eight-count.

 

Kise gave a sigh of relief that seemed to express the collective feelings of the group. “I was going to suggest eviscerating your radio, Akashicchi. Thank god.”

 

“Geez, Kise, don’t say eviscerating.”

 

“Is that word too big for you, Aominecchi?”

 

“Stop,” Midorima interjected, before Aomine could retort. “No, Akashi, stop. Stop the car!”

 

As he slowed the van to a park, Akashi turned worriedly to the man sat behind his seat. “What’s wrong, Shintarou?” Tracking his gaze to the rearview mirror, Akashi narrowed his eyes at a blurry reflection. “Is that -”

 

“Oh shit!” Aomine was raised off his seat, pointing out the rear window. “There’s a fucking guy out there!”

 

Murasakibara and Kise made identical noises of fright. Midorima looked considering, “Maybe he’s a park ranger, someone at the lodge who noticed us drive past? He might be able to help us find the way back.”

 

“Or he could be a fucking axe murderer!” Aomine crowed as Kise made another wounded sound. “Get us the fuck out of here, Akashi!”

 

Akashi shook his head. “If he means us harm, we would be in trouble regardless when we stopped later. We should see if he has anything to tell us, or if he also requires help. Shintarou, do you agree?”

 

“It’s the reasonable choice,” Midorima pushed up his glasses, “Let’s pull over by the road here, then -”

 

A solid ‘THWAK’ wracked the car. Midorima jumped, glanced back at Akashi -

 

-and was met with his utterly stricken expression. Midorima felt a sudden pain as Kise latched onto his wrist in a vice grip, making a choked sound, and Aomine exclaimed, “Holy SHIT -”

 

Whirling back around, Midorima saw a hulking shadow pressed against the rear of the van, two gruesomely clawed hands palmed flat against the glass, framing a near-featureless face. A long, black tongue lolled out of a grinning maw lined with wicked teeth and slimed a trail across the glass. Its hands clenched, claws splintering the window surface, and Aomine shouted again -

 

“Akachin,” Murasakibara urged, “drive.”

 

Akashi almost snapped the gear shift off in his haste. The van jolted backward first, cracking the creature’s skull against the window, before Akashi pushed it back forward and accelerated madly, heart beating rabbit-fast, Murasakibara’s hand fisted in the cloth on his shoulder. Though the creature was no longer latched on, its hands left imprints of some congealing liquid that remained stuck despite the pouring rain. Tiny fractures feathered from the punctures, webbing across streaking rainwater.

 

“What the fuck was that shit!” Aomine voiced all of their thoughts.

 

“Oh my god,” Kise whimpered, “This is like a horror movie. We’re gonna get eaten by a wolfman.”

 

“Nobody’s getting eaten,” Midorima tried to keep his voice steady, noticing the tense set of Akashi’s shoulders, Murasakibara’s pale face. “We can outpace anything as long as we keep driving.”

 

With a pop of static, music returned to the speakers. A brassy horn drawled over the jaunty hum of fiddles, and a man sang.

 

Children, have you ever met the boogeyman before?

 

“Aw, come on!” Kise wailed.

 

“You gotta be fucking kidding me,” Aomine voice had risen several pitches. “For the love of all that is holy, don’t stop this car Akashi. Just drive until we reach Canada, Jesus Christ -”

 

“Akashi,” Midorima’s entire posture was tight, his expression strained. His eyes were still glued onto the rearview mirror. “It’s keeping up.”

 

A darting look confirmed that the beast’s shadowy reflection had not left their field of vision, and instead seemed to be getting larger. Akashi drove the pedal into the floor.

 

“Look! Oh god,” Kise exclaimed, “There’s more than one! Oh my god, look -”

 

A solid thud connected against Midorima’s car door, a clawed print drooling molasses as evidence. Both Kise and Aomine cursed loudly as another thump hit against the back of the van. A wild scream screeched through the night, the pounding sounds of monstrous limbs against wet gravel punctuating the rhythmic battering of rain -

 

Hush, hush, hush - here comes the boogeyman!

 

Something landed on the roof of the van with a heart-stopping bang, and Kise outright yelled. Aomine was swearing nonstop, and Midorima didn’t know whether to unbelt his seatbelt or grab onto the arms of his seat for dear life. Murasakibara’s entire spine was curved like a spooked cat, and Akashi gripped the wheel with bloodless hands as he drove faster than he had ever driven in his life.

 

Ear-splitting shrieks sounded from above as the creature scratched along the metal. Akashi steeled himself, “I’m going to try to shake him off - Ryouta, Daiki, buckle up.”

 

He swerved the vehicle to the left, tires slipping through mud dangerously, putting on the brakes as the car slid sideways before spinning out to the right. Something crunched satisfyingly under the wheels of the car, while another impacted solidly against the back. Wasting no time, Akashi whipped the van straight and revved forward, punching through the fog. Aomine whooped, “Nice one, Akashi! Fucking Tokyo drift on these fuckers -”

 

“This is still a bad situation,” Midorima’s hands were shaking, “The minute we stop, we’re doomed. I don’t know what kind of animal that was -”

 

“Don’t be delusional man, that’s some demonic shit!”

 

“- but I doubt they’re herbivores.” Midorima finished testily, trying to regain composure. “It’s too dark outside for us to even tell if they’re still trailing us. I don’t know what else we can do but drive until the car gives out.”

 

“How’s our gas, Akashicchi?” Kise asked, “Do we have enough to make it back to the lodges?”

 

Still grasping the steering wheel tightly, Akashi kept his breathing even, but his tone was disconcerting. “We have perhaps another hour of driving left for this tank, but we can’t even make use of our extra gas can. We’d be mauled as we tried to refuel.”

 

“I can still hear them, Akachin, “ Murasakibara said quietly, “Do you think they’re wendigos?”

 

Hearing Murasakibara speak in such a small voice seemed to snap everyone to attention. “We’re going to be fine, Atsushi,” Akashi smoothed on a reassuring smile, though his eyes never left the road. “Whatever those things are, they wouldn’t follow us near the campgrounds. We shouldn’t be too far.”

 

“I just graduated med school, Murasakibara, “ Midorima intoned solemnly, “I’m not going to die here.”

 

“Plus, we’ve got lighters and five gallons of gas in the back,” Aomine seemed to convert from being petrified to bloodthirsty with ease. “Worst comes, we light these bastards up.”

 

“We could always use the chicken wraps as bait as we run away!” Kise nodded earnestly.

 

“Ah,” Murasakibara seemed conflicted on that suggestion.

 

“Hey, I think we might’ve actually shook them off,” Aomine peered through the rear window, trying to make out shapes in the wet darkness. “I don’t hear anymore of their fucking screaming, at least.”

 

This time, Midorima was the first to breathe an audible sigh of relief. The man on the radio, faithfully crooning throughout their terrified panic, sang cheerily, Just pretend he isn’t really there, you will find that boogeyman will vanish in thin air!

 

Akashi said wearily. “I’m not even mad at the song, anymore -”

 

Just keep a little salt with you -

 

But Akashi was unable to say anything else, as a deafening crash splintered from the front of the van, the car careening past sounds of heavy metal clanging to the ground, hazards activated and chirping angrily. Akashi had braked automatically, and he turned around to slowly meet everyone’s wide eyes, similarly frozen expressions lit by the half dozen maintenance icons that blinked from the dashboard.

 

For a moment, nobody moved or spoke. Then, Akashi put the car in park and unlocked his driver-side door.

 

“No, Akashicchi!” Kise said, alarmed. “We don’t know if it’s safe yet!”

 

“Regardless, the car may be significantly damaged. I need to check it out,” Akashi said with resolve, “Shintarou, switch to the driver’s seat, just in case. Don’t close the side door all the way.”

 

He stepped out of the van and into the rain. To his surprise, damp grass rustled beneath his feet, and he spotted the remains of a wrought-iron gate a few feet away from the van. The car itself sustained a slightly crumpled hood, though the bender was decently crushed. A single headlight sputtered frailly.

 

“Ah,” Akashi said as he walked around the front. “That is a problem.”

 

The tire’s rubber seemed to slump morosely off the rim. Akashi felt, in that moment, a kindred spirit. He looked at Midorima through the windshield and shook his head before climbing back into the van.

 

“We have a flat,” Akashi announced. “It seems we crashed through a gate of some sort. We’ve no choice but to park the car here.”

 

“We can probably roll it off the road and cover it,” Aomine suggested.

 

“No need, actually, “ Akashi started, as Midorima stepped out and made a noise of surprise. “We’ve already gone off the road. For a ways, it seems. I don’t remember the road ending, but we must have been lucky enough to follow a clear path out of the woods.”

 

Murasakibara climbed out as well, slinging the strap of the cooler bag over his shoulder, and opened the door for Kise, who wore a look of immense wariness. Aomine gave his shoulder a soft push, “C’mon man, I gotta stretch my legs before I fucking calcify -”

 

“Hey,” Midorima called softly, “There’s a light out there.”

 

“The lodges, perhaps?” Akashi had brought the umbrellas, and handed one over. “How fortunate we are to have made it.”

 

“Nothing else to do but head towards it,” Aomine grabbed a backpack and walked under Murasakibara’s umbrella, while Kise quickly huddled under Midorima’s. He gave Akashi an apologetic look, “Sorry, Akashicchi. Out of all of us you’re probably the safest by yourself…”

 

“No offense taken, Ryouta,” Akashi shouldered his pack and squinted forward. “Ah, that light’s coming towards us, isn’t it.”

 

Aomine groaned. “This better be a friendly spirit then.” He cupped his hands around his mouth, “YO! You gonna eat us?”

 

Aomine, is that wise -”

 

“What?” a masculine and decidedly human voice floated back, “The fuck?”

 

“Nice,” Aomine grinned, tugging Murasakibara forward with him, and yelling again, “We need some fucking help! Our car’s fucked!”

 

“Honestly, you should swear less at strangers,” Midorima grumbled as he also set a brisk pace, Kise hurrying to keep up. Akashi locked the vehicle and followed behind.

 

The group could make out the silhouette of the approaching stranger, tall and bulky under the rain. Coming closer showed him carrying a kerosene lantern in one hand and a sturdy-looking umbrella in the other. The man raised the lantern to his eye-level, illuminating copper hair and aggressive-looking brows. “About five of you? You guys look like you’ve made a run of it, huh?”

 

“Just about,” Aomine seemed to have embraced a ready camaraderie with the man, clapping him on the shoulder, “There’s some shit in that forest, yeah?”

 

The man gave a small smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “You guys got pretty lucky, then.”

 

“Will you be taking us to the lodges?” Midorima asked. “Unfortunately, we’ll have to find a way to repair our vehicle, as well…”

 

“Lodges?” The man quirked a brow at the group confusedly, “There’s only the manor here, this close to the mountain. The only place to build lodges would be in the Glades, but that’s quite a ways south of here. Further than the river, even.”

 

Akashi paused his stride. They had dedicatedly followed the main road, which traversed south to north, reversing only at the river. How was it possible that they had travelled even further north? And past the river as well? He frowned at their newfound guide but held his tongue. Something’s really not right here…

 

Midorima seemed to share his thoughts, though the others seemed unfazed. The stranger, seeming to sense a slight tension, brightened his expression a bit. “Anyways, you’ll be able to figure everything out after you’ve had a good rest at the Manor. The young master keeps the place furnished comfortably, and he’s always happy to have guests. You’ll be able to be at ease.”

 

“That would be very much appreciated,” Kise said sincerely, as Murasakibara’s stomach rumbled. The stranger laughed now, “Perfect! We’ve had too much leftover tonight yet again, the young master will be pleased.”

 

Aomine whooped, but Akashi felt a tugging feeling of dissonance. As the mien of the manor came into view, his suspicion was stamped down by the estate’s impressiveness. Despite the darkness, the opulence of the courtyard was apparent; a marble fountain of spindly herons and serpentine fish introduced an expansive set of shallow stairs that led to an elegantly detailed door. Stone hunting dogs guided the steps and stalked along the entryway columns. Climbing up quickly, the stranger knocked twice on the heavy wooden doors before cracking them gently open. He gestured to the rest of them.

 

“Come on now, get out of the rain,” he said congenially, “I’ll prepare the master for introductions as you guys settle in by the fireplace.”

 

Kise sighed happily, “That sounds really great right now.” As the group stepped into the foyer, he whistled in appreciation. Their wet shoes squeaked on richly dark, polished wood, and the walls seemed dressed in navy velour. Lamps illuminated from arched hallways the gilded accents on painting frames, and the faceted crystals of an unlit chandelier reflected patterns like fish scales across the floor. The group removed their shoes and wet jackets conscientiously, hooking them on a rack decorated with iron lilies.

 

“Thank you,” Akashi spoke finally, locking gazes with the man, “My apologies, but who should we be thanking?”

 

The man smirked as he folded his umbrella, setting down his lamp on a granite console. “You guys can call me Kagami. You’ll be introduced to the young master in short order, once I rouse him -”

 

“Surely,” a soft voice floated down from atop the staircase, “You didn’t think I would sleep through all of that racket?” The words seemed murmured through a smile.

 

“Oh,” Kagami seemed sheepish, “Sorry about that, Kuroko.”

 

“No apologies necessary,” A figure clad in a pale nightgown descended the stairs, footsteps making barely any noise against carpet-muffled wood. As he ghosted almost fluidly under the foyer light, Akashi was struck with the sight of the most beautiful boy he had ever seen. Hair the colour of blushing moonlight and round eyes like a river reflecting the sky - Akashi heard a sharp intake of breath from Aomine and a small ‘oh’ from Kise. Midorima suddenly had an incredibly unguarded expression on his face, and Murasakibara had a look that he normally reserved for particularly beautiful desserts, ones that he would revere through bakery windows. Akashi blinked deliberately and smiled. Lucky, indeed.

 

“I’m pleased to welcome you all to this estate,” the boy straightened up from a bow and returned a small but warm smile. “I am Kuroko Tetsuya, the master of Blackwater Manor. I hope you will all find your stay here comfortable. Taiga and I will endeavor to make it so.”

 

Akashi inclined his head in a gracious nod. “We are incredibly grateful for your hospitality, Master Kuroko.”

 

“Please, Tetsuya is fine,” Kuroko strode to Kagami and lightly attached himself to his jacket sleeve by two fingers. “Let’s continue the introductions by the fire, shall we? Taiga, could you prepare the leftovers into a hearty late meal, please? And bring out some rolls and cheese?”

 

“Sure, Kuroko,” Kagami gave him a smile that Akashi noticed was truly genuine. He rested a hand on Kuroko’s lower back and guided the group into a lush sitting room outfitted with velvet armchairs and tufted ottomans. A crackling orange fire bled warmth into the room, and Kuroko puttered forward, fluffing a few pillows.

 

“Please, be comfortable,” he endeared, “You’ll feel better after eating and resting. It looks as if you all had a long journey.”

 

“Don’t mind if I do, Tetsu,” Aomine reclined on a couch, pulling a furred throw around his legs. He missed the irked look Kagami threw at him for the nickname. “This is great, seriously, thanks.”

 

Midorima and Murasakibara settled in as well, murmuring their compliments, while Kise gushed about the furniture. Akashi caught Kuroko’s eye and sat in an ornate armchair close to the fireplace, with legs shaped after a griffon’s limbs and a lionshead motif along the frame. Kuroko tilted his head slightly and seemed to give him a considering look before he sat primly on a padded stool carved like a coiled mermaid’s tail.

 

Moving his gaze from Kuroko’s porcelain-like face, Akashi traced his delicately folded hands, the slender ankles peeking out under the nightgown’s modest lace trim. The wooden scales of the stool, caught in the golden light of the fire, seemed to bubble in movement. Suddenly, Akashi was reminded of the lyrics of the song transmitted through their radio.

 

Here’s one way to catch him without fail. Just keep a little salt with you, and put it on his tail!

 

Here comes the boogeyman, he thought morbidly, and leaned back in his chair.

 

 

Chapter Text

Spiced stew and hot rolls warmed their hands and bodies as the travel-weary group ate eagerly, basking in the dry warmth of the hearth. Kagami, who had stationed himself by the fire irons, looked torn between feeling bemused or gratified by the appreciative rumbling from both Murasakibara and Aomine. Kuroko merely continued to sit quietly, eyes half-lidded in a serene expression, passing a soft gaze over his guests in turn.

 

Akashi cupped his bowl in both hands, allowing aromatic steam to moisten his face. He saw, in his periphery, Midorima pause chewing several times, mouth opening as if to speak before closing in a frown. Finally, he seemed to force his hands to relax and cleared his throat, “Kuroko...we were chased by something in the forest. Many things, actually. Are there - do you know...if you had perhaps seen or heard of anything like this before?”

 

The bluehaired boy cocked his head, silent. “It was humanoid, with claws, maybe as tall as a bear,” Kise added, “We thought it might’ve been a werewolf or something…” He trailed off at Kuroko’s blank stare.

 

“There’s plenty of dangerous things in the woods,” Kagami grunted, crossing his arms. “You guys were lucky to escape with this little harm. It’s safer to stay in the manor, especially at night.” He shrugged, looking down at his ward, who breathed a small sigh.

 

“We’ve had many travellers come through this area with similar stories of fanged creatures and other nightmarish visions,” Kuroko murmured. “Though I haven’t yet encountered them myself. Nonetheless, it is truly best for all of you to remain inside, especially in this dreadful weather.”

 

Aomine finished the last of his bread and sprawled leisurely. “We weren’t getting anywhere in that damned rain anyways, and we’re dead lost,” he chuckled a bit, “Lucky us to have found your place, Tetsu. It’s a real nice establishment you got going on here.”

 

“I like to house travellers whenever I can,” Kuroko smiled. Kagami grunted again, in mild annoyance.

 

“Well, we thank you for your hospitality, Tetsuya,” Akashi said, smiling as well. He was a little too tired and comfortable, the rich meal relaxing his muscles and suspicions. At another time, he may have been perturbed by his own buzzed leniency; Midorima’s jaw was still tense, and Murasakibara had notably spoken very little. But the furs on the floor were lush against his socked feet, and he welcomed the flickering hypnosis of sparking reflections in pale blue eyes…

 

Aomine barked a laugh. “Akashi’s about to pass out!” Kise’s eyes crinkled as he looked over, “Akashicchi has been driving the whole day…”

 

“Please, let us retire, then,” Kuroko rose gracefully to his feet, smoothing the front of his gown. “I’ll show you to your rooms for the night - are the guest suites prepared, Taiga?”

 

“Of course,” Kagami straightened as well, “The furnaces should still be heated, should our guests wish for a bath. Follow me now,” he gestured toward a narrow gallery lit by rose-tinted lamps, “we’ll take this way to the west stairs.”

 

“The west wing is most beautiful,” Kuroko said, “Please rest well tonight, and think little of your troubles.”

 

“Good night to you as well, Tetsuya,” Akashi reluctantly vacated his chair, setting his bowl carefully against its legs. The boy gave another small bow to the company before retreating through an opposite door. Akashi watched him leave.

 

“Hey,” Midorima clasped his arm lightly. “Akashi, are you alright? You seem kind of...relaxed.”

 

“Ain’t nothing wrong with that, man,” Aomine swung an arm around Murasakibara’s shoulders. “Alright, brows, lead us to our boudoirs -”

 

As Kagami made an indignant sound and Kise’s easy laughter joined in, Midorima leaned closer to Akashi as they walked, “Akashi, seriously, is everything okay?”

 

The redhead closed his eyes for a prolonged blink, “I think I’m just tired, Shintarou,” he said, “I need to rest. We’re fortunate to have this estate’s generosity.”

 

Midorima gave him a dubious look. “Don’t you think there’s something strange about this manor? With that butler and his master?” he whispered urgently, “Not to mention, the question of how we even ended up here.”

 

Akashi seemed to remain frustratingly unconcerned. “We can retrieve the map from the van tomorrow morning,” he tracked the swirling floral patterns of the wallpaper, adding as an afterthought, “Tetsuya is very beautiful.”

 

Midorima sighed. They had reached the base of a dark cherrywood staircase, Kagami lifting another large lantern off a hook and lighting their ascent. Midorima could make out the twisting shapes of iron bannisters, vines accented with delicately shaped leaves. He followed behind the group and noticed that the lamps from the hallway they exited had been quietly extinguished.

 

“There are six suites in this first section of the west wing,” Kagami described as they reached the landing. “Further sections are on higher floors, with staircases at the end of each hallway. I wouldn’t suggest wandering the halls at night, however. Some areas of the manor are understandably cluttered, and it’s easy to get lost.”

 

“Big house you got here,” Aomine stretched his arms in a yawn, “I call the room with the largest bed.”

 

“The three suites on the right are connected through doors in their siderooms,” Kagami continued, “While the first two rooms on the left share an adjoining bathroom. Their windows overlook a garden.”

 

“Is the last room for Kurokocchi?” Kise inquired.

 

Kagami squinted at him. “The young master resides in the east wing, away from the guest quarters.”

 

“Murasakibara and I will take the rooms on the right, along with Akashi,” Midorima decided. “Aomine and Kise, you’ll stay across the hall.”

 

“Fine,” Aomine yawned again, “C’mon, you blonde idiot, you better not use up all the hot water…”

 

“That’s redundant, Aominecchi,” Kise retorted, then paused. “Aw, I just insulted myself.”

 

“There should be a rope bell beside each door,” Kagami ignored them, “Ring it if you need anything. They connect directly to my quarters, so don’t worry about disturbing the young master.” He tilted his head in a final nod and bid them good evening before returning down the staircase, the orange halo of his lantern disappearing into a shadowed hallway.

 

The group mumbled their goodnights as they went to their respective rooms. Kise whistled from his suite entrance, “Nice,” and Midorima had to admit he was impressed by the lavish styling of the guest quarters. Blue and yellow glass sconces adorned the walls, filling the space with a watery green glow. Closing the door behind him, he walked toward a large four-poster bed with an emerald-colored canopy, boasting silk sheets and an obscene amount of pillows. Resting his pack on the carpet, he unzipped his jacket and sat on the edge of the bed, hearing the clicks of Murasakibara and Akashi’s doors shutting on either side of his room. Midorima wearily removed his glasses and massaged the bridge of his nose. He didn’t have to wait long before a knock sounded from the right.

 

“Midochin,” Murasakibara’s voice was muffled through the oak door. He creaked it open gently, “I don’t think I can sleep yet.”

 

“Me neither, Murasakibara,” Midorima sighed, “There’s something disturbing me about this place, and our situation. Something’s not right about that boy and his butler.”

 

“The food was good, but it’s gone, Midochin,” Murasakibara said, “I’m so full but I don’t even remember what I ate. I never forget what was in a good meal.”

 

“Come to think of it, I can’t exactly recall what was in the stew, either,” Midorima contemplated. Was it beef? It had seemed fatty, so perhaps pork? He suddenly noticed that the lingering flavor of hearty spices was conspicuously absent from his mouth as well. He ran his tongue over his molars uneasily, the weight of food in his stomach belying the completely missing memory of its taste.

 

Murasakibara took a seat on the other side of the bed, crossing his long legs and wearing a worried expression. “Isn’t it unusual for this heavy rain to be continuing, too?”

 

The wet pounding of pouring rain, barely audible through the manor walls, had failed to cease since they arrived. With its watery ambiance, the dim washes of ocean-like color from the sconces seemed to cast the room in an underwater haze. Midorima felt a sudden, fierce distaste for water. It all started with that damned river...

 

“There’s nothing we can do now but to try and get some sleep,” Midorima said aloud instead, reaching down to remove his socks. He felt a lack of movement from behind him, and sighed, “Yes, Murasakibara, you can sleep here…”

 

He didn’t need to look to know that the purple-haired man was smiling. “Thanks, Midochin,” Murasakibara’s tone was grateful as he clambered under the covers. Luckily, the bed had ample room for two large men.

 

“Goodnight then, Murasakibara.”

 

He blew out the candle on the bedside table, the smell of smoke wilting in damp air.

 

+

 

Akashi was surrounded by warmth and wetness. He languished in it, eyes closed, feeling sticky liquid drip along his collarbone and chest. He thrust upward into a heated body, groaning as he felt muscles tighten and clench around his cock. Small whimpers escaped from the person above him, the clinking of something metal in two-step with the squeaks of the mattress beneath him.

 

There was a heavy instrument clenched in his right fist, a handle of some sort. With his other hand, he grasped at a soft hip, roving across the sweaty body, finding more hot wetness flowering from the skin of the stomach. He plunged the tips of his fingers into the cuts, hearing sharp gasps of pain, feeling liquid ooze around his hand and trail past his wrist, his forearm. Pushing deeper, he could feel moist abdominal muscles convulsing under his palm, the sounds above becoming tortured cries, spurring his arousal.

 

He felt as if he was being sucked into the most pleasurable heat, tightness on his cock and hand. His mind was drowning in a haze of pleasure, the scent of candlewax and sex and blood polluting the humid air -

 

Akashi slowed in his thrusting. Blood? He squinted his eyes open -

 

They widened further in shock, as his blurry vision focused on the body that was strung up above him. The slender form was pulled upright, a head of blue hair hanging limply between bony shoulders speckled with blood. To his dawning horror, Akashi realized that the boy was suspended from his back by hooked chains attached to the ceiling, arms stretched above his head, hands pierced cruelly through the palms by wicked-looking hooks.

 

Blood drooled from the boy’s wounds and dyed his pale hair a brackish crimson, and blank blue eyes, glazed over in pain, stared unseeing before him. Akashi opened his mouth as if to shout, but felt his facial muscles fail to respond. His eyes tracked lower, down a trembling chest, seeing his hand enveloped by torn, red-raw flesh, his other hand closed around a bloodstained cleaver. His arousal had not abated, even as his mind began to fill with a horrified static -

 

Akashi felt his body move by its own volition, increasing the speed of his thrusts, thighs and abdominals clenching in excitement. Dropping the knife, he clawed both hands through the boy’s stomach and up his torso, smearing blood and bits of gore in its trail, coming to wrap around the boy’s neck in a strangelehold.

 

The boy made a pitiful noise, fresh tears springing to his eyes. His mouth moved around stilted, wheezing gasps, Akashi saw the shape of its syllables, “Brother...brother, please…

 

Mindlessly, Akashi’s body chased its climax, and he crushed the throat underneath his palms viciously. As if from far away, he heard a lusting groan spill from his mouth, breaking his own pants of arousal. He came at the sight of the boy’s face contorted in pain, a wild buzzing in his ears drowning out the squelching sounds of his cock moving through blood and semen - he felt his own expression twisted in a wide, satisfied grin -

 

Akashi jolted off the bed, nearly bumping heads with the bloodied boy in his lap, his mind screaming through a prickling numbness in his limbs. The smell of blood was thick and sickening in the air, and his thoughts felt just as sticky and heavy. Dimly, he became aware of the fact that his cock was still spent inside an almost-dead body, from where pained panting echoed after his own louder, panicked breathing. He removed himself roughly, the chains above clanging angrily, shoving himself away from his own perverted, murderous wreck -

 

The boy suddenly lifted his head, gazing straight at Akashi with clear, sharp eyes. Akashi looked at Kuroko Tetsuya in no little amount of terror and shock, and opened his mouth to scream.

 

+

 

Midorima was awakened by a bloodcurdling shout, followed by the sound of something crashing against the floor. He bolted upright, Murasakibara already sitting up and tense beside him, staring at the door on the opposite side of the room. “That came from Akachin’s room,” he whispered urgently, his hands fisted in the comforter, an unreadable expression on his face.

 

“Akashi!” Midorima grabbed his glasses and crossed the distance in a few strides, knocking briskly on the door before trying the handle. “It’s locked,” he realized, “Did Akashi lock it from his side?”

 

“Look, Midochin!” Murasakibara was suddenly behind him, pulling him backwards by the arm. The surface of the door seemed to be sweating a dark liquid, pulsing out slowly through the grain of the wood. Midorima was reminded of the molasses-like slime left behind by the clawed creatures. He backed away further, unable to make sense of what he was seeing.

 

The liquid oozed like blood onto the floor, pooling towards their feet. A rotting stench filtered into the room. Murasakibara clamped a hand over his nose and Midorima coughed, eyes watering from the sickly-sweet, putrid smell. The drumming of rain seemed to get louder, drowning out their pounding heartbeats. Midorima cursed, “What is going on -”

 

Murasakibara cut him off with a gasp and began to drag him backwards in earnest. Midorima heard a sound like many splintering cracks and saw portions of the wallpaper began to bleed dampness and peel off the walls like decaying skin. The cloying scent of death was almost unbearable now; Midorima felt as if his own body was dying, surrounded by sour wetness -

 

“Move, Midochin!” Murasakibara dragged them both behind the bed, his face a greenish pallor, a shaking hand still clenched onto Midorima’s arm. Snapping out of his frozen state, Midorima shook his head to clear it, hissing, “Fuck, we need to get out of here. We need to get Aomine and Kise -”

 

A deafening crack split the air, the whole foundations of the manor seeming to groan with it. With no warning, the ceiling near the door collapsed inward, leaking dark mire. The walls started to crumble, sconces shattering to the ground, oil paintings disintegrating within their frames. The two men watched in abject horror as, all around them, their surroundings decayed and began to weep the same black, bloody substance, travelling like tendrils across the floor.

 

Midorima cursed again, stumbling backward. The door to the hallways was melted inward, covered in rot. Murasakibara’s frightened expression mirrored his own. “Let’s go,” the larger man urged, and they ran for the open door leading to the third suite.

 

Slamming it shut behind them, Midorima bolted the lock with terrified efficiency and panted towards an armchair, chest heaving. Murasakibara still looked shell-shocked, staring at the secured door with wide eyes. Their heavy breathing drew clouds of dust into their lungs, and they both wheezed, nasty coughs wracking their bodies.

 

Midorima finally registered the sight of the area before him in confused shock. Gone were the luxurious surfaces of plush furniture and smooth leather; instead, broken wooden pieces littered the floor, the once-vibrant fabrics moth-eaten and faded, tables and chairs in disarray. The frame of a giant canopy bed was wilted, a ripped mattress sliding off its splintered box, leaking downy feathers. The armchair he was resting against looked aged by at least decades, the violet colors of its velvet blanched into a deadened grey covered with a sheen of cobwebs and dust. It was as if the whole room had rotted in neglect for a century.

 

Suddenly, Murasakibara collapsed to his knees, retching violently. Midorima gave a shout of concern, clambering over to crouch beside his friend. Shit , he thought, I left my pack in the other room!

 

Murasakibara heaved up bile and stomach acid, coughing through mucus-filled lungs. He was hunched and sweating - another shuddering lurch, and he threw up thick, dark liquid onto the ground. Midorima’s eyes widened, That’s blood!

 

“Mido - Midochin,” the man rasped, clutching at his middle. More bloodied chunks joined the puddle of gore below him as he gasped in pain, “Midochin, this tastes...it’s horrible -”

 

“Don’t speak,” Midorima tried to keep his voice steady, rubbing Murasakibara’s back, “Just let it out, hang in there.”

 

Pieces of meat splattered to the ground as Murasakibara continued to vomit, saliva coating his lips, looking utterly sickened. He began to cough again, choking, hacking things that jerked his entire frame. Breaths coming in shorter and faster, he brought his hands to his face, into his mouth, as if trying to clear the passageway forcefully. Midorima grabbed his wrist, “Murasakibara, don’t -”

 

Another body-bruising cough, and Murasakibara seemed to clear something from his throat. He pulled strands of something, slowly, out of his mouth, squinting at it in the dim lamplight. Midorima narrowed his eyes, not comprehending what was in those hands -

 

Murasakibara gave a strangled cry, throwing the object onto the floor. Heart stopping, Midorima realized, It’s hair. Long hair. Human hair.

 

Fuck no,” Murasakibara swore with feeling, “...what did we eat, Midochin? What have we eaten?


Looking back at the gore on the ground with a new sense of cold, bone-deep dread, stomach churning and legs having gone numb beneath him, Midorima had no words left to say.

 

 

Chapter Text

Aomine was a simple man. He had a simple life, he made simple decisions. When his four best friends from high school called him up for a camping trip in some bygone woods, he only had to think about whether he had enough clean socks before breezing out of his office in the middle of the day. The precinct could survive without him for a week, despite his junior officer’s apologetic protests behind piles of unfinished paperwork.

It was hard for him to fight apathy these days. A deep sense of boredom had permeated his life outside of work as he threw himself into increasingly dangerous cases, trying to scratch some unseen itch. He took hits of adrenaline to chase away irritating feelings of restlessness, something he recognized wasn’t totally conducive to a sane and healthy lifestyle.

So, if he were to be honest, Aomine wasn’t as troubled by their current predicament as he could tell Midorima and Murasakibara were. He remembered how icy fear had thrilled through him as they were chased in the van, the roar of panic around his pounding heart, how his entire body was tensed instinctively in a fight-or-flight response. The sudden relief of finding the manor, creepy and mysterious as it was with its grumpy, old-fashioned butler and his - pretty damned sexy - ward, while their ruined vehicle left them effectively stranded in a monster-infested woods...

To Aomine, it felt a little like coming alive again. And for now, his stomach was full, there was a roof over his head, and he had a warm place to sleep. Freaky shit aside, he and his friends were still in one piece and they were all about to get some much-needed rest in a fancy mansion at the behest of a boy who looked like an angel. Getting lost in the woods could have gone much worse, all things considered.

He heard the sound of a faucet turning and water filling a tub. Golden light leaked through the slight crack at the bottom of the door and Kise called from the other room, “I’m going first, Aominecchi!”

“Sure, man,” he sent back, toeing off his socks and climbing onto the excessively extravagant bed, “I’ll probably wash in the morning, anyways.”

He heard a hum of acknowledgment, and with a huff, fell backward against silk-faced pillows. He spread his arms and legs out wide, revelling in the feeling of cool, soft sheets. Aomine sighed contentedly, letting his eyes fall close. Steady rainfall drummed against the window glass as his breathing deepened and slowed.

He must have dozed off, as he came to at the sound of quiet knocking. Belatedly, he realized he had forgotten to blow out the candle; the wick had melted through its entire length and the room was now swallowed in blue darkness. He lifted his head - or, tried to. He groggily became aware of his body feeling unusually heavy, as if it would exhaust him to lift even a finger. He found he couldn’t even turn his head, much less move his limbs.

Come in,” someone said from beside him, voice alarmingly close to his ear. Aomine was immediately on guard, fully awake now. He didn’t recognize that voice, and he was currently immobilized with a stranger scant inches away from him on the bed.

The door creaked open and someone entered, bringing orange light into the room. Aomine heard soft padding footsteps approach the bed and saw Kuroko come into the corner of his vision. He wore a changed nightdress, a shorter, nearly transparent chemise with straps that joined around his neck. His head was lowered demurely, beautiful face illuminated by the glow of a single candle on a plate. Aomine felt his mouth go dry as Kuroko glanced up at him from under thick lashes before his gaze travelled past, settling on the stranger next to Aomine. The boy placed the holder next to the depleted candlestick and climbed onto the bed, over Aomine’s numbed body, crawling towards the other man.

I’ve brought a playmate for you tonight, little brother,” the stranger said in a low voice. Aomine heard the wet sounds of kissing and quiet gasps emitting from Kuroko; from his position, he could barely make out the other man’s larger frame, arms wrapped possessively around Kuroko’s waist. Kuroko had arched his back for the man’s benefit, hands fisted at his sides. Aomine tried to think around his fastly growing unease, This must be some paralyzing agent, there’s a fucking psycho in the house -

A throaty moan escaped from the bluehaired boy, and Aomine couldn’t help his own attention.  He cursed his growing arousal; somewhat to his chagrin, the dangerous uncertainty of his situation was working with, rather than against, his erection. In another situation, he may have felt eased by Kuroko’s presence, but he could sense the other boy’s reluctance, even fear, in the tense, even movements he made. The man beside him seemed to have the aura of a predator about to play with his prey until they broke.

Aomine still couldn’t move or speak. He watched as hands trailed down the curve of Kuroko’s spine to grope underneath the sheer chemise, playing with something Aomine couldn’t see, drawing louder moans from the bluehaired boy. The man chuckled, “Such a slut for it, aren’t you, Tetsuya?

Well, I’ll give you what you want,” he reached up to grab at the nape of Kuroko’s neck, twisting him around to guide his face toward the tent in Aomine’s pants, “Suck on him, little insatiable whore.”

Aomine felt his breathing speed up. He tried to strain the muscles in his neck, to move, to do anything, but he was totally deprived of movement. Neither Kuroko nor the stranger were in his field of view anymore. He heard the sound of his belt and zipper being undone before hot, wet suction enveloped his cock. Aomine wanted to buck him off - It’s obvious he doesn’t want this! - but he could only lay and wait in trepidation, grudgingly accepting the pleasure being forced upon him as the stranger moved off of the bed.

The click of a latch being opened, creaks of a lid being raised and lowered - something made a strange, smooth sound, like a coil unravelling. Aomine heard sounds of cloth ripping and felt Kuroko break in his rhythm; then, the unmistakable crack of a whip split the air, followed by the unforgiving sound of leather hitting flesh. Kuroko made a small, pained cry, muffled by the cock in his mouth, and Aomine could envision his thin body jerking away, trying to shield itself from the strikes. Another crack, another whimper - but the boy diligently serviced Aomine’s cock throughout his torture with deft tongue and vibrating moans of pain.

"You’ve been a bad boy lately, haven’t you, Tetsuya? ” the stranger drawled, never pausing in his strikes, “I watched you thirst after this peasant, you filthy slut - you’d suck the cock of the stableboy and all of his horses, wouldn’t you, whore? ” He landed a particularly vicious strike, and Aomine could feel hot tears drip down his length, collecting at the base. He felt incensed, and horrified, by both his helplessness and the violence being inflicted onto the boy above him; he felt guilt, at being a part of that brutality. Aomine couldn’t even grit his teeth in frustration.

This is your punishment, my love,” the man continued, “I'll show you how worthless this scum you so lusted after really is.” Thankfully, the whipping ceased, footsteps moving from around the end of the bed to Aomine’s left side. The man grabbed the back of Aomine’s head roughly, lifting it off the pillows and bending his neck, bringing bobbing blue hair into view. Aomine saw angry red streaks crisscrossing the slender, pale back, some of the wounds bleeding sluggishly onto Aomine’s jeans and the bedsheets. He noticed the base of a thick wooden plug protruding from behind Kuroko, the torn fabric of a ruined nightdress pooled around his trembling limbs.

Look at him, Tetsuya, see the disgust in his eyes,” Aomine made eye contact with the boy between his legs, who had on a blank expression, still moving on his cock. He hadn’t even realized that Kuroko’s small hands had been curled on his hips, resting just underneath his belt loops. The stranger gripped Aomine’s hair tighter, shaking it, “All he sees is a pathetic, beaten whore. You’re disgusting to him, to all of them...you could never hide yourself. Only I can love you.

Make him come, Tetsuya,” the stranger said, “Let him see the slut you really are.

Kuroko’s gaze lowered again as he sucked dutifully. Aomine couldn’t help his building arousal, overcome by deliriously pleasurable suction and tightness, Kuroko’s mouth hot and slippery. Fuck...this is bad... His breath panted over his loosely hanging jaw, drool travelling down his chin. Feebly, his tried to lick at dry lips, tongue feeling as if it were wrapped in cotton -

Aomine stuttered on a breath. I can move! Trying not to draw the attention of his captor, he experimentally twitched his fingers. He could feel minute muscle control returning to his face, enough for him to make subtle expressions without the stranger holding him noticing. He tried to grunt to get Kuroko’s attention, though it came out as little more than a slight gurgle, but the boy’s eyes flashed up -

Pocket, Aomine mouthed, trying to make it as clear as possible. His lips were still fuzzy with numbness, Pocket, pocket

His switchblade was in his right pocket, its weight resting on his thigh. Aomine wasn’t sure if he was strong enough yet to fight off the stranger, but at least Kuroko would have something to defend himself with. He didn’t know how long the boy had been kept here and tortured by this psycho, but they were getting the hell out as soon as possible.

Kuroko had taken him all the way, throat massaging his length relentlessly, his cheeks sunken in with effort. Heated pleasure had concentrated into a white-hot point of sensation, and Aomine squeezed his eyes shut as his orgasm felt punched out of him. Kuroko swallowed him down as he came, choking around him. Concern cut through his post-orgasmic haze of pleasure, but then Aomine felt something being removed from his pocket. He snapped his eyes back open to catch Kuroko staring at him fully with a dumbfounded look, come still drying on his lips -

Suddenly, the presence of the stranger at his side disappeared, and the heavy numbness which had seemed to pin him to the bed was lifted, as if washed away. Aomine immediately sat upright, bringing his hands to clutch at Kuroko’s wrists and steady his shaking body. Making sure to gentle his grip on the boy, Aomine drew him close and scanned the room, still lit by the single candle, finding it empty of any other persons. He growled in anger, “Where is that fucker? What the fuck is he doing to you, Tetsu?”

Aomine felt small hands on his own wrist. Wordlessly, Kuroko passed the blade into his palm, his gaze still locked onto Aomine’s face. Trying to calm his breathing, Aomine started, “We need to get something for your back -”

A scream and a crash sounded from beyond the door, coming from the other side of the hallway. That’s where Akashi and the others are, Aomine thought in alarm, Did that psycho get over there already?

He jumped to his feet, leaving Kuroko on the bed. Feet still bare, he ran over to yank the door open, only to find that it was stuck closed. Fuck! He whirled back around, Maybe through the other room -

Aomine’s jaw dropped, on purpose this time, as he was met with the sight of a completely empty bed. Slowly, he walked around the bed, noting that the whip and ripped chemise were missing, the bedsheets clean of bloodstains. If it wasn’t for the extra candle holder on the nightstand, still burning its flame, it would have been as if the violent activities had never occurred in this room at all.

The pace of his heartbeats began to speed up. Despite confusion warring with his fear and disgust, Aomine found a little solace in the familiar rush of adrenaline, a liveliness from his instincts screaming at him to get out, get moving. His small switchblade was a reassuring weight in his fist, the feeling of his own cooling sweat helping him to focus on reality. He had felt off-kilter, unbalanced - trapped in some violent, unexplainable event, assaulted by panic and frustration - and now he breathed, the discipline from years as a police officer hardening like armor around him. All he felt now, was anger.

Surprising himself, Aomine stretched his face into a grin. It must have looked a pretty bloodthirsty expression, he thought. Gripping his knife tighter, he came to a decision. He was going to get to the others, one way or another, save Tetsu from that sick, possessive psycho - maybe pick up that butler on the way - and get everyone the fuck out this unholy mansion. Fuck the monsters in the woods; an estate of this size in the middle of a forest had to have hunting rifles somewhere, and they could still grab the extra gas can.  

Putting his socks back on and fixing his pants, Aomine took a calming breath and shouldered his pack after putting the used up candle holder inside. He lit the other lamps and searched the room to see if there was anything else useful to take - a small refill bottle of kerosene, a box of matches, a metal flask already full with something pungent and appropriately destructive. If that bastard and Tetsu were able to sneak out so quickly, there must some hidden entrances and passageways in here, Aomine thought, scrutinizing his surroundings.

He still didn’t know what was going on, who that stranger was, what was confining the young master and his butler to the manor. But those things were irrelevant to the very clear and very simple path before him, which was to get the fuck out and happily fuck shit up along the way. But first , he remembered, I have to collect a certain blonde idiot…

Little did he know, that single imperative was going to complicate things quite a bit.

 

+

 

-ther...Brother, wake up...brother…

There was water around him, Kise realized slowly. His back was resting against a cool surface, a slight ache in his neck from a hard edge. Peeling his eyes open, he found himself still reclining in the bathtub, its water having cooled to just under lukewarm. He saw the reflection of blue hair - surprised, he looked up to see Kuroko gazing down at him, a soft expression on his face.

You’ve been working too hard, lately, ” Kuroko murmured. He kneeled so that his chin was level with the lip of the tub, dainty hands coming to rest on the porcelain. Kise felt his own arm move, splashing lightly through the water, a wet hand rising to caress at the boy’s face.

The renovations won’t take care of themselves,” Kise said, in a voice that was not his own, “I’ve got great plans for this estate, Tetsuya. All for you,” he added, “It’s all for you, my love…

Is this a dream?  Kise thought woozily, watching his hand run through Kuroko’s blue locks, That’s nice...

He saw Kuroko’s beautiful face pull into a small frown, eyes downcast. Instead of responding, the boy lifted a set of plush-looking towels. “Let’s get you dry, brother,” he said,”You’ll catch a cold.”

Kise rose from the tub, wetness sluicing off his body. His head still felt muddled, his limbs felt at once both heavy and floating, as Kuroko gently wrapped the warm cotton around him. His breath sighed out, hands coming to rest on the silk tie of Kuroko’s robe at the small of his back. He brought the smaller body closer, leaning his head down for the bluehaired boy to pat at his damp hair, taking in the scent of vanilla soap and fresh linen…

I want you, Tetsuya,” his voice was raspier, deeper. Whoa, Kise started, Didn’t Kuroko call me his brother?  His hands roamed lower, cupping a full, soft bottom, and a quiet groan rumbled through his chest. The boy in his arms answered with quicker breaths, tilting his face upward to receive a kiss.

Kise felt sinfully pliable lips beneath his. Okay, this is a pretty weird sex dream...but I’m not complaining...

Slowly, Kuroko undid the sash of his robe, letting it fall open and droop off creamy shoulders. Kise couldn’t take his eyes away from the smooth expanse of bared skin, as unblemished as new snow. His heart thudded against his ribcage as Kuroko dropped gracefully to his knees, coming to nuzzle at Kise’s plumping cock. Afraid his legs would buckle, Kise leaned against the side of the bathtub, and Kuroko began to lick kittenishly at his erection, small hands wrapping around the base as he pleasured the tip with his hot, hot mouth.

Kise moaned in satisfaction. His hands gripped blue hair, “Such a good boy, Tetsuya…” He began to thrust into that welcoming warmth, feeling tightness as he sank deeper into Kuroko’s throat, hearing cut-off sounds of gagging. He thumbed the tears that sprang to blue eyes, smearing them across his temples and keeping a firm hold despite the boy’s tiny abortive movements. He pumped into the mouth carelessly, watching a sheen of glistening tears cloud those lovely, sky-coloured eyes. Kuroko’s face was flushed, saliva leaking out from around his stretched lips, hands uselessly curled on Kise’s hips.

Inwardly, Kise felt a slight guilt at treating the boy so roughly, even if in a dream. His body kept moving of its own accord, however, commanded by the entrancing sight of this beautiful boy on his knees, utterly at his mercy. Kise pulled out suddenly, crouching down as well, and manhandled Kuroko against the cold tub, positioning himself behind him. He took a moment to admire the sensuous curve of the boy’s spine, the lush swell of his hips and ass; he spread Kuroko’s cheeks, revealing a blushing, furled hole, before lining himself up, erection already slicked with spit and precum -

Kuroko gasped, “Please, brother, go - go slow, ah -”

Ignoring him, Kise shoved the entirety of his length in with one brutal thrust, hearing Kuroko’s cry of pain echo off of tile and porcelain. He immediately set a punishing pace, hips snapping relentlessly forward, hands clawed around a narrow waist hard enough to bruise, to break skin. Kuroko’s body was jostled mercilessly as he scrabbled to find purchase on the slippery face of the tub, trying to steady himself against the man fucking his body limp like a ragdoll. With each violent thrust, Kise pushed the boy further over the edge of the tub, bearing down with his weight and caging him in with his limbs, so that Kuroko could move nowhere else but into the water.

Kuroko’s hands must have slipped, as, with a stuttering yelp, he lost his balance and splashed into the bathwater. He had been bent so far forward that only the hinge of his hips, caught at the edge of the tub, prevented him from falling in entirely. Kise’s body kept fucking into him uncaringly, even as he heard sounds of choking and panicked sputtering, saw the slender set of shoulders scrunched tight, Kuroko’s torso twisting as he tried to press himself upright with his arms -

God, Kise’s thoughts were blaring in alarm, What am I doing? Is this really a dream? This feels too real, it’s too intense -

The sounds of splashing got louder as Kise heard Kuroko’s gurgling scream become muffled by water. Horrified, he realized that his hands had travelled upward to clench around the back of the boy’s throat, holding his thrashing head and chest underwater. Kuroko’s whimpering cries bubbled from below the surface, his entire body convulsing as he began to cough, trying to find relief. Kise dimly registered his own continued thrusting, the pleasure building in his groin - he felt horrified and disgusted that he was turned on by the feeling on a drowning boy on his cock. Why can’t I move my own body?

Kise caught the reflection of his own wide-eyed face in the water, and he came suddenly, violently, with a strangled shout. Fuck , he thought, still panicking in earnest, Fuck, Kuroko, no! He closed his eyes with effort, trying to control the muscles in his body, to pull back, move away, anything -

With a final yell of frustration, Kise managed to wrench himself backwards, feeling as if he had thrown off a great, draining weight. With frenzied movements, he dragged a still-choking Kuroko out of the tub, hugging the chilled body around the torso as the boy continued to hack up water. Kise saw that his eyes were red and puffed, likely stinging from both tears and bathwater; Kuroko’s mouth gaped open as he panted desperately for air, his hands clutched onto Kise’s forearms.

“Oh my god, Kuro - Kurokocchi,” Kise whispered, “I’m - I’m so sorry, I don’t know what - how - what’s going on -”

Wildly, Kise grabbed at the abandoned towels on the ground and pulled them towards himself, trying to dry off the shivering boy as quickly as he could. His thoughts were still in turmoil, a constant wail of confusion and shame and terror at almost having fucking murdered somebody -

A sharp crack split the air from behind them, and Kise jumped, turning to see that the surface of the large bathroom mirror had splintered through the middle, a few small glass shards falling onto the sink below it, some sprinkling down to the floor. Kise yelped, scrambling to his feet, making sure to support the boy in his arms. He could see in the fractured reflections his own pale, shell-shocked face and Kuroko’s wide, blue eyes, both their bare chests heaving, damp with water. The sounds of their ragged breathing layered over the tinkling pops of the mirror continuing to feather apart and break, the plinks of bathwater dripping onto tile, the ever-constant drone of rain from outside. Kise felt Kuroko’s hand tighten in his grip, watched Kuroko’s eyes seek out his through the mirror -

He felt that piercing, clear gaze wrack through his entire body; he could only stare back, defenseless. Then, Kuroko opened his mouth, and spoke a single word on the ghost of a breath: “Go .”

The remaining faces of the mirror shattered in spectacular fashion, taking Kuroko’s image along with it. Kise stumbled backward, completely alone in the bathroom, as sharp pieces of glass shaved off the hanging mirror and crashed onto the ground, the sound like a thousand jewels spilling. The walls began to shake and the candlelights were suddenly extinguished by an unfelt gust of wind. Kise yelped as he felt a sticky dampness beneath his feet, and he watched in fright as some dark liquid bubbled through the grout of the tiles. An unmistakable coppery stench began to permeate the air, and Kise realized, as the back of his knees hit the edge of the tub and he turned to look, that the porcelain tub, now covered in a sickly green mold, was filled near to the brim with thick, murky blood.

Kise didn’t even try to stifle his scream. He ran for the door leading to his suite before skidding to a stop, almost faceplanting onto the bloody floor - the same vile substance was leaking around the doorframe, beading on the surface of the wood and dripping down like demented tears. His breathing coming in panicked gasps, he wheeled around to the exit leading to Aomine’s suite, before realizing that the other door was in a similar state. Blackness has begun to spread up the walls now, eating across the once-pristine wallpaper like diseased veins; the small window behind him had also become clouded, condemning the bathroom to greater darkness. Spinning, Kise felt trapped, a deadening feeling of hopelessness beginning to rise up and choke his throat -

Squashing his fear, at least by enough for him to actually think, Kise took deliberate, measured breaths. So this is probably not a dream, he conceded wryly, determinedly latching onto a more cavalier attitude lest he collapse completely into a terrified wreck. Doesn’t seem like there’s many options for getting out of here…

He suddenly remembered the image of crystalline blue eyes, that face like a spectre in the glass, the singular command. He slowly turned until he was facing the mirror, which looked irreparably demolished, barely enough jagged pieces surviving to still remain hanging on the wall. In the mirror, he could see the rest of the room become slowly corrupted with that oozing, evil blackness, his own frightened figure a single beacon throughout it. Kise shook his head and swallowed.

This isn’t going to work, He bent down to wrap his feet in the discarded towels, protecting them from the fallen glass, and began to step towards the broken mirror. As his face came into sharper focus, Kise heard, to his disbelief, the sound of wind and rainwater coming from past the mirror, as if it were the window on the other side. Then, heart lurching, Kise heard the faint sounds of a man’s voice, yelling, or calling out something -

“Aominecchi!” Kise shouted, “Aominecchi, can you hear me?”

An indistinct sound, and then, from a closer distance, “Fuck, Kise! Where are you?”

Absurdly, Kise shouted back, “In the mirror!” Then he almost smacked himself, Well, I guess this room hardly qualifies as a bathroom anymore…

He heard Aomine curse, the sound getting fainter. “Wait!” Kise called, “Come back!” He didn’t know what he was asking for, or what yelling at a cracked mirror could possibly accomplish, but -

“Oh fuck,” Aomine’s voice filtered through, clearer than ever, “How the hell are you out there, Kise?”

I don’t know what that means , Kise thought in frustration. “Where are you, Aominecchi?”

“Where I’ve been this whole time,” was the disgruntled answer. Kise heard sounds of pounding, and something like glass breaking. Startled, he recoiled from the mirror slightly, but realized that the pieces of glass in front of him were still unchanged, no less intact than before.

“What the fuck ?” Aomine’s frustrated voice was clearly audible, even under the cacophony of crashing glass and drumming rainfall. “Kise, I can’t get to you. Ow, shit -”

Kise took a deep breath. He still couldn’t believe what he was about to try. Wrapping another bloodied towel around his shoulders and torso, he climbed gingerly onto the bathroom counter, wincing as shards of glass bit into his knees and hands. His face was close enough to the broken mirror for his breath to fog up his own reflection.

“Aominecchi, I’m about to do something very stupid, “ he braced himself.

“There’s too many things I could say in response to that,” despite his retort, Aomine’s tone was worried.

It hurts to laugh , Kise thought, and, rearing his whole body back, smashed through the glass.

 

+

 

Finding no obvious escape routes, and also striking out on some of the less obvious ones, Aomine tried the handles to both of the doors in his room for the umpteenth time, to no avail. He had tried to open the window, only to find the latches and hinges seemed glued stuck as well.

Goddammit, he swore with feeling, I’m all geared up with nowhere to go . He had added a large umbrella with a sturdy wooden handle - that he found leaning inside a wardrobe which happened to not have a false back - along with some cloth that he had cut into strips to use as makeshift bandages, as part of his inventory. Now that he knew there was an unhinged, sadistic creep in this manor, Aomine was going to make sure he was prepared for anything.

He contemplated running at the doors or kicking them down. Ten minutes later he returned to his seat on the bed with bruised shoulders and throbbing legs.

“Fuck!” he shouted. I’m sure the others can handle themselves...but I hate feeling like a sitting duck in here…

A particularly strong gust slammed rain into the windows, and, all at once, the walls of the room appeared to shudder from some unseen onslaught. The candle flames blew out, even though Aomine was sure that no wind had actually seeped into the room. Standing now, in the darkness, posture tight and ready to spring in any direction, Aomine quieted his breathing and strained his ears to hear over the wailing of the storm.

He didn’t have to wait long - the crash of shattering glass sang from beyond his walls, and though the sound was scattered enough he couldn’t pinpoint the exact location, Aomine had a pretty good hunch on where it came from, anyways.

“Kise!” he yelled, pounding on his side door. “Kise, are you there?”

Faintly, he heard back, “Aominecchi? Can you hear me?”

To his surprise, Kise’s voice wasn’t coming from behind the bathroom door. The hallway, then? He bounded over, pressing his ear against the wood. Fuck, that’s not the right way, he swept the room for entrances once more, coming to stop in front of the window, “Fuck, Kise, where are you -”

His froze - the window, which was now covered in a thick, dark liquid instead of grey-tinged rainwater, looking like the inside of an ink bottle. But, without a doubt, Kise’s voice came from the other side.

“Oh fuck,” Aomine said, “How the hell are you out there, Kise?”

“Where are you, Aominecchi?”

“Where I’ve been this whole time,” he muttered. He quickly tore the face of a pillowcase off - sorry, Tetsu - and wrapped it around his knuckles before swinging a punch against the glass.

The window cracked, and another impact shattered it, but to Aomine’s shock there seemed to be another sheet of glass behind it. He swung again, sending more glass flying to the floor, but was faced with the same bizarre result.

“What the fuck?” Is this some kind of oldschool mansion thing? Aomine took out the heavy wrought-iron candlestick now, winding it up like a bat. Crashing through layers of glass was cathartic, if nothing else. “Kise, I can’t get to you!” His socked feet stumbled over a piece of glass, “Ow, shit!”

He heard Kise’s voice, sounding close and clear through the blackened window. “Aominecchi...I’m about to do something very stupid…”

Panting in exertion, Aomine huffed, “There’s too many things I could say in response to that.”

But he definitely didn’t expect Kise to come hurtling through from the other side of the window in a spray of glass and what looked like - blood? On reflex, Aomine bent his legs and braced himself to catch Kise’s fall, his breath getting punched out of him by the impact. He purposely sustained unbalance for a couple paces backward, so that both he and Kise could land on ground that wasn’t covered in broken glass.

“Jesus fuck!” Kise shouted right into his face. He rolled off of Aomine and practically screeched, “I can’t believe that worked!”

“What the hell was that!” Aomine yelled back. A disbelieving laugh wrenched itself out of him. “Were you - the fuck - outside?” He then realized, “Holy shit, you’re covered in blood! Did that psycho get to you too? Oh fuck, why are you naked?”

Kise yelped and pulled the towel closer around his body. Then, noticing it was decently drenched in blood, seemed to have thought better of it. Aomine was too busy scanning Kise’s body for wounds to give much of a shit about averting his eyes to preserve Kise’s modesty.

“It’s not my blood, Aominecchi,” Kise assured him. His face blanched, “Actually, I don’t know whose blood this is. Or if it’s even just one person’s. Or even if it’s blood. But it’s probably blood. Oh fuck…”

Seeming satisfied with his checkover that Kise wasn’t mortally injured, Aomine dragged his pack over. “I, uh, have some Lysol wipes. And hand sanitizer. You should probably get that shit off of you.”

There was a sort of deranged hilarity about a man nearly covered head to toe in drying blood holding a tiny travel-sized bottle of sanitizer. Kise made a noise that was between a laugh and a cry, “Thanks, Aominecchi. I’m gonna need your help getting some glass out of my knees, though…”

Settling on the floor, using the flashlight on his cellphone and a pair of tweezers from his trusty nature’s-man personal care kit, Aomine carefully extracted the pieces from Kise’s skin as Kise wiped himself down. “So what the fuck happened?” he asked, cleaning the area with a cotton ball.

Kise was silent at first. He opened his mouth a few times, blushing. Aomine wasn’t a patient guy.

“Ouch! Shit, okay!” Kise conceded as Aomine pulled out a particularly long piece without warning. “I...uh, I had a...sex dream? About...Kurokocchi?”

“Are you asking me or telling me?” Aomine grunted.

“Uh, but it was really weird,” Kise continued, “Actually, it was super fucked up. Hey, is that alcohol?” He gestured to the flask peeking through the front pouch of Aomine’s pack. “I could really use a shot right now, Aominecchi.”

“No can do, dude, that’s some strong shit,” Aomine traded Kise’s legs for his palms, “We gotta save it in case we need to amputate or cauterize something -”

“What the fuck are you expecting to have to do, Aominecchi?!”

Sighing, Kise ran his fingers through his bangs. “No, but it was really...strange. I thought it was a dream at first, because Kuroko kept calling me his brother, and I wasn’t - me - it was like someone else was moving my body. I don’t know how to explain it. And I was saying things I knew nothing about either. But I was talking like - like I really loved Kurokocchi -”

“But it was a fucked up kind of love, right?” Aomine interrupted, thinking about the way the stranger in the room had talked to Kuroko, the possessive way he held him.

“Yeah...I felt, it felt, cruel almost,” Kise trailed off slightly, then cleared his throat, “Well, then we had sex -”

“Excuse me?” Aomine glared at him, “You fucked Tetsu?”

“No! I mean, yes?” Kise sighed in frustration, again. “It was my body, but I couldn’t control it myself. I was watching as someone else used my body, like in a dream.”

That sounds familiar, Aomine thought. He noticed Kise looked awfully pale and had a sick expression on his face. “I was...doing horrible things to Kurokocchi,” Kise whispered, “It was like I was possessed. I think I almost killed him.

“But afterwards, the mirror broke, and Kurokocchi disappeared,” Kise look as if he was pondering something, “Kurokocchi told me to ‘go,’ in the mirror. I wonder…” he shook his head, “And then the room started to - get corrupted or something. The floors and walls were bleeding, and the tub was full of blood -”

Speaking of which, Kise thought, eyes widening, It’s still coming in!

“Aominecchi!” he barked, scrambling to his feet. Aomine followed his gaze, and then hurriedly hunched over his pack, pulling out his extra change of clothes. He tossed them at Kise before efficiently packing up. “Shit!” he clambered onto the bed as they watched tendrils of black liquid travel across the walls and floor, wallpaper curling away and peeling on contact as if scorched, “How did we not notice that?”

“I was telling you about my sex dream!” Kise’s voice was muffled through the shirt fabric, tumbling onto the bed as well, “This better be clean underwear, Aominecchi!”

“That is the very least of our problems right now!” Aomine would never describe his voice as being shrill , but - “What the fuck is that shit?”

Dressed now, Kise grabbed Aomine’s arm, “We need to get out of here, Aominecchi. We gotta meet up with Akashicchi and the others -”

“Yeah, slight issue,” Aomine couldn’t care less if his arms were flailing, “The doors out of this room are totally stuck. I almost gave myself a concussion trying to break them down -”

They heard a quiet creak come from behind them. Simultaneously, Aomine and Kise felt a chill travel up their spines, and they slowly turned to look around. On the third wall of the room, furthest from the bed, a door had materialized, and it had swung open.

Aomine tried very hard not to lose his shit. “That door wasn’t there before, Kise,” he said in a low voice.

“Well, we have uncertain doom out there and certain doom in here,” Kise said reasonably, though he was unable to stop his voice from shaking,  “What do you wanna do, Aominecchi?”

It took less than a second. Aomine was a simple man, after all.

Slinging on his pack, Kise right by his side, Aomine barreled through the open door, hearing it latch close behind them, sending the two friends plunging into complete darkness.

 

 

Chapter Text

All at once, the chains detached from the ceiling, links gnashing against each other as they fell onto and around the boy in the bed. Kuroko didn’t wince when the bolts hit his skin. He lowered his freed arms, hands still run through by iron hooks, and leaned towards Akashi. The redhaired man had screamed in shock or horror, Kuroko didn’t care to distinguish the difference; what had shocked - and frightened - himself, however, was another issue, and one that may prove to be utterly damning.

Akashi stared back at him with an open expression, some unbridled emotion in his eyes. Kuroko could only wonder at what he must be feeling right now, the kinds of thoughts running rabid through his mind. He was sure his own face betrayed his unease and disbelief. Nobody has ever broken out before.

He contemplated the panting man in front of him, tracking the rise and fall of his chest as he valiantly tried to slow his breathing, the shape of the eyes framing bloody-red irises. Ever since Akashi Seijurou had stepped into the manor - no, even before then, from his first footfall onto the rain-drenched courtyard beyond the gate - Kuroko had felt as if an irreversible shift had occurred, like the peculiar feeling of something missing become returned, as though time was moving forward again and bringing him to his deliverance. There was something unmistakeable about the man’s presence, something both dark and bright, familiar and strange. Kuroko knew Kagami had felt it also; he dared to hope, to place his faith in a man who scented of something once-wild-become-tame, who reminded him so much of another man he had loved and then come to fear -

-regardless, Akashi had snapped the chains. Kuroko wished for this man to raze his castle to the ground.

A mighty crash sounded from behind him. Kuroko didn’t flinch, didn’t blink. The room will have begun eating itself, raging at being deprived its serving of gluttony. Urgently, Kuroko crawled forward until he could feel the warmth of Akashi’s breath, raising mutilated hands to cup gently at his face. “Don’t look away,” he pleaded, his eyes searching red orbs for something of the truth -  

Tears began to flow, unbidden, down his cheeks. Kuroko didn’t know if these were tears of elation or utter anguish. “The shape of your soul is the same,” he whispered brokenly, afraid to taste salvation, or its ashes, on his tongue.

Kuroko realized what it was that had unsettled him about Akashi Seijurou, what had frightened and exhilarated him from the moment he laid eyes on the redhaired man. He could feel the vibrations in the wood, purring through the walls, crackling like static across the grounds, as surely as if it were in his own bones. Blackwater Manor was welcoming its old master home.

 

+

 

Akashi did not know why, but the instant Kuroko had touched him with his shaking, bloodied hands, expression looking caught between the deepest sorrow and wildest hope, he felt like he wanted to sink to the floor and cry. Something had been set ablaze behind his eyes, as if illuminating his reality from the place of his dreams and nightmares.

He didn’t understand the meaning behind Kuroko’s whispered words, but the boy had said them like a prayer and a curse. He saw the structures of the bedroom begin to crumble and fall to ruin around them, liquid decay ravaging the once-luxurious furnishings, turning beauty into wreckage. Akashi felt a sudden, profound understanding of intent in that moment, a jolt of empathy with something unknown that both confused and terrified him. He saw a madness that, somehow, he had intimately known , in the past and in the future, always and never before -

Kuroko brought the tips of his fingers to rest onto Akashi’s eyelids; involuntarily, he blinked them close. Akashi felt Kuroko’s own breath on his ear, the heat from his broken, naked body on his skin, strands of blue hair kissing along his jaw.

Don’t look away,” Kuroko repeated, a spell, a benediction. “You'll seek the truth, with sight unclouded. Burn away all else.

Open your eyes, Akashi Seijurou.”

He did, and felt the wings of something awaken and take flight.

Kuroko was gone now, but Akashi did not feel alone or abandoned. He breathed once, twice, quieting the storm of fear that had been building within him, ignoring the rising scent of rot and blood. He stood on steady legs, plucked his shirt off of a torn cushion and grabbed his backpack, and scanned the rapidly collapsing room with clear eyes. Gaze coming to rest on a large vanity mirror, cracked but otherwise oddly untouched by the bloody liquid that sloughed off the walls, Akashi saw his path. His instincts hummed as if in resonance with something pure, an unwavering focus pinpointed on his course of action.

Don’t be afraid, he thought of the words that Kuroko may have spoken to him, in this moment.

He set off in a dead sprint and took a running jump into and through the glass, ready to face oblivion but wanting, desperately, to see triumph.

 

+

 

It was hard to try to stay optimistic. Midorima could already feel his palms become clammy and cold sweat break out across the back of his neck. He had pulled Murasakibara away from the puddle of bile and gore on the floor, coming to rest against the side of a dilapidated couch on the far side of the room. Murasakibara wiped his face gingerly with Midorima’s handkerchief; his lucky item had come in handy.

Midorima grimaced as he remembered yet another source of consternation. He had packed his lucky items for the week, along with his cell phone, bandages, and glasses cloth, away in his bag, which was currently unretrievable on the other side of the cracked wooden door that separated them from some warped, nightmarish landscape. He felt antsy and anxious; they were without their things, stranded in an unexplainably decrepit room that seemed detached from reality or even time itself, unsure of where the others were or how they were doing. Midorima rubbed at his temples, determined to not panic. Beside him, Murasakibara let out a breath, bracingly.

“I think this mansion is haunted, Midochin,” he said, somewhat wryly. Midorima could only nod dumbly; then, he forcefully blinked, trying to clear his head.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” Midorima said quietly. He looked at the room around him, breathing in stale air. This must be a different room from the guest suites, he thought. The only door in the room was the one they had come from, and they certainly weren’t returning through it.

Abruptly, he stood to his feet, pacing around the room. Murasakibara seemed to have caught on, and he walked the perimeter opposite of Midorima, pressing his hands lightly on the portrait frames that remained hanging, rapping on parts of the wood, tugging on the arms of cracked sconces and unlit lamps. Midorima scrutinized a bookshelf that looked nearly imploded, some of the dusty volumes scorched to charcoal, the other tomes in ruin, ripped pages scattered on the floor.

Bending to look more closely at the papers, Midorima studied blotched, water-damaged notes and illustrations, barely able to make out the writing in the unlit room. He heard Murasakibara’s padding footsteps behind him, a tiny click - bright, white electric light beamed from behind him, casting the sheaves into stark relief.

“Thanks,” he muttered gratefully, glad that Murasakibara had managed to keep his phone on him. Murasakibara hummed, crouching down beside him.

“These look like plans, or blueprints, don’t they?” he said, tracing the edges of a few pages.

Midorima nodded, picking up a stack of notes, squinting at the writing. They were designs for instruments of some sort - a few modifications on scientific measurement tools, cross-section images of a series of odd-looking containers, notes on the composition of complex toys and puzzle boxes. He picked up another set of papers, the drawings on which were of more malicious contraptions - bear traps outfitted with jagged teeth, complex snares and weighted nets - and what seemed like devices of torture - a rack, an iron maiden, even a sensory deprivation chamber.

Midorima felt Murasakibara shudder. Someone had some morbid hobbies...

His eyes widened; besides him, Murasakibara stiffened. The next volume held what seemed to be extremely detailed notes and sketches on different forms of predicament bondage, pictures of ornamented cages and strapped benches with wicked-looking protrusions, intricate anatomical diagrams, diligently annotated - pressure point here, sensitive nerve, good for sustained pain - designs for a variety of cruel bondage frames and swings, for whips and crops embellished with blades, for brutally large or invasively long phalluses and other painful accessories. Hands shaking, Midorima flipped to the next set of sheets, which contained only sketches of a single person, adorned with the rings and chains and braces of his bondage, stretched or curled or arched or bowed into different positions. The images were clearly drawn with reverential attention to detail, the form of the body immaculately rendered in ink, the expressions of pain on a familiar face depicted with lifelike realism.

There was no mistaking it, however. The sketches were of the young master of the manor, Kuroko Tetsuya bound and strung up at the mercy of his dominator.

Midorima quickly placed the book back onto the floor, sharing an uncomfortable look with Murasakibara. It seemed they had stumbled upon one of the darker, more perverse secrets of the inhabitants of the manor. It begged the question of who the books belonged to, and the possible danger of an unknown, sadistic person being in the manor with them.

“Here, Midochin,” Murasakibara cleared his throat, passing him another set of papers. “These look like they’re on the mansion. There’s a weird kind of map…”

Midorima studied the new diagrams intently. The ink was smeared in many places, blotted out in others, some of the pages torn or disintegrated. The designs themselves were complicated, most of the notes unreadable - drawings of rooms and passageways layered upon each other, some of the constructions seeming impossible or just pointlessly fanciful, like staircases that twisted impotently, leading to nowhere. Midorima wanted to scream in frustration. I’m getting tired of these useless maps!

Murasakibara sensed his distress. He turned his phone’s flashlight off, returning the room to darkness. Blinking to adjust his eyes, he placed a hand on Midorima’s shoulder. “Let’s just try to get out of here ourselves, Midochin. We still have to find the others.”

Sighing, Midorima adjusted his glasses uselessly in the dark. “You’re right,” he said, “We’ll walk until we find something.” Dusting off his pants, he helped Murasakibara to his feet.

“Are you feeling okay?” he asked, still concerned from the incident earlier. He had checked that Murasakibara wasn’t having any untoward symptoms and that nothing was swollen or discoloured, but given the improbably supernatural events that had already happened, Midorima was wary of taking any chances. Especially without his lucky items. 

Murasakibara hummed an affirmative. “We shouldn’t waste time,” the purple-haired man replied. “We need to make sure Akachin is safe. Minechin can take of himself, but Kisechin will be scared.” His brow furrowed, “Let’s hurry.”

Nodding, Midorima went back to feeling along the walls, Murasakibara at his back. He dragged his fingers along the bottom of a large shelf, hearing something latch. Energized, he pressed again, feeling something move underneath his hand, and then the entire shelf detached from the wall.

Murasakibara’s quick reflexes saved the shelf from crashing to the ground. In a surprised voice, he noted, “It’s lighter than it looks.” Turning it over, he realized, “Midochin, the shelf is hollow! Something’s inside.” He tilted the wood, and something small and metallic clinked onto his palm - a key.

Midorima felt a glimmer of hope. “Find a keyhole! Quickly.” They split their paths again, coating their hands in dust and cobwebs as they brushed along every surface they could touch. Midorima determinedly did not think about bacteria. His fingers caught on the edge of something, and he scratched at it, clearing away a layer of debris, “Here, Murasakibara!”

In no time, Murasakibara had lined up the key to the hole, pushing it in and turning until a resounding click sounded. The two men held their breaths, and then nearly jumped out of their skin as a door swung down from the ceiling, spilling light into the room.

“Damn!” Midorima cursed in shock. I didn’t even think to look above!

Murasakibara was already dragging a table of dubious sturdiness over. “I’ll boost you up,” he offered, holding a ruined bedsheet in one hand. He tossed it to Midorima, who started twisting it into something like a rope. He tied it around his waist and wrapped the remainder around his trunk, stepping onto the table with Murasakibara, ignoring the groaning creak it made.

“Let’s get the hell out,” he said, reaching for the edge of the opening with Murasakibara’s help. He heaved himself up and over, and then leaned back down to throw the makeshift rope to Murasakibara.

The purple-haired man jumped right as the table collapsed below him, grabbing onto the rope. Midorima felt his breath punched out of him as he braced against the floor; thankfully, he only had to sustain Murasakibara’s weight briefly, as the man deftly swung and latched onto the edge, pulling himself up with truly admirable upper body strength. As he climbed through fully, Murasakibara gave a short whoop of accomplishment. “That was awesome, Midochin!”

Midorima couldn’t help his smile. He extended a palm to his friend, “Come on, Murasakibara. We’ve got some idiots to rescue, probably.”

Smiling in return, Murasakibara walked to stand by Midorima’s side. The two turned to face down a long hallway dimly lit with lamps. This hall, at least, was not in decaying ruin and seemed to be closer to normal - or what they had come to accept as a flimsy approximation of normal, anyways.

Midorima noticed that the opening of the trapdoor had disappeared from behind him, leaving only smooth hardwood and uninterrupted carpet. He wasn’t even surprised anymore.

“No way to go but forward,” he intoned dryly, and began walking.

The two strode in silence down the hall, past shadowed paintings that looked smeared in their frames and a seemingly endless series of frustratingly locked doors. As they reached the end of the hallway, with two pathways extending left and right, Murasakibara turned to look at Midorima, “Which way, Midochin?”

“You know, in the movies, this is usually where someone suggests splitting up, and then everyone starts to die,” Midorima snorted an answer, feeling macabre. “Well, we are definitely not splitting up. Let’s go this way.” He gestured to the right.

“Roger,” Murasakibara followed behind him as he led the way

Suddenly, they heard a deep rumble, the noise groaning through the floors and rattling the pictureframes. A loud crash sounded from behind them, and they whirled around to see the walls from further back in the hall collapse inward, the ground looking as if it was melting away. Well hell, Midorima thought, Good thing we went to the right.

“Not again!” Murasakibara shouted, pushing them both forward. The ceiling above them started to cave in, lamplights on the wall extinguishing. The wail of some torrential wind blasted through as everything became swallowed in blackness, the sounds of sloshing, frothing liquid slapping thickly against ruinous surfaces.

Midorima and Murasakibara broke into a wild sprint, trying to outrun the darkness on sagging floorplanks. Midorima’s foot punched through a floorboard and he swore as he tripped; Murasakibara hastily wound an arm under Midorima’s armpit and bodily wrenched him up, sending them both stumbling forward. They noticed a set of large double doors, unlatched and open just ajar, at the end of the hallway.  

If this matches the pattern of things so far, that’s our way out! Midorima realized frantically. Out loud, he yelled, “The doors! Murasakibara -”

They were close, so close; Midorima grabbed blindly for the handle of the door, feeling coolness on his hand, Yes! Finally -

“Midochin!” came a panicked shout from right behind him. Midorima turned to look, catching the terrified look on Murasakibara’s face -

-and the man was falling, the floor eating him from underneath, his arms outstretched, hands grasping at empty air futilely. Midorima felt his heart crash against his ribcage as it dropped through his stomach, and he screamed, “NO! Murasakibara -!”

He felt two large palms push against his back, knocking him forward, past the doors and away from his friend. The last thing he saw was his own horror reflected in violet eyes, before he was falling, down and down, descending into an everlasting darkness.