“So,” Tooru starts.
“So…?” Kuroo repeats, eyebrows raised.
The swaying of the train make Tooru bump shoulders with Kuroo. Flashing lights as they rush past fields of grass run across their faces. For the first ten minutes of the train ride, Tooru had strained to look outside and see the rest of the landscape. He wasn’t sure what to expect — purple trees? Weird animals? But disappointingly enough, there wasn’t much difference in scenery than there was back at home. With only a few others on the train (it was much less crowded than the bustling trains in Tokyo), the duo settled against cold, plastic seats quickly.
“Tell me about everyone.”
Kuroo looks over, eyebrows raised in question. The swaying of the train sends shadows across his face, making his eyes almost glow. “Mmm? What about them? I already told you what everyone is—”
“No, no. Like. I want to know more about them, besides all that technical stuff. If i’m going to work with them next time, I want to have an idea of what kind of person they are. And besides, how else do you want to pass the time?”
I usually try to figure things like this out myself, but I can’t quite put my finger on one of them.
He smiles at that. “Sure, sure. Who do you want to hear about first?”
Tooru pauses and thinks — thinks about how boisterous Bokuto is. Wonders how someone like him met and stayed with the others, wonders if he’s always been so bright and vibrant. His personality and good mood are almost infectious, and Tooru can tell he has a good heart. There’s also Kenma, how he tries to stay hidden and yet every time Tooru looks at him there seems to be something special about the way he moves. He’s an introvert for sure, but the occasional smiles and jabs he gives show that he’s not completely cold.
But he’s most curious about Akaashi. He’s even quieter than Kenma, but somehow to Tooru he’s the loudest of them all, graceful and mysterious in the way his eyes are always moving, glowing, body littered with shining scales. And he has no idea what he might be thinking, and it bothers him.
(And it makes him feel something else as well, although he doesn’t know what that is either).
“Akaashi. Akaashi Keiji.”
“Hmm? Ah, Akaashi. He’s a bit of an interesting character. Tragic backstory too, although that’s not my place to tell. I’m not sure where to start with him…”
“Just tell me anything you can.” Anything to help me figure out what kind of a person he is.
“Weeellll…” Kuroo starts, dragging his syllables while in thought, “have you ever heard a siren sing?”
Tooru snorts at that. “Kuroo, I hope you realize you’re the first other magical creature I met that wasn’t me.”
“I don’t know, thought you might have heard it on the radio or something! There are a couple of part-siren singers in your world, so…”
“Wait, what?” Tooru flinches when the words come out too loudly, and they get a few stares. Oops.
“Yeah. Why do you think people are so drawn to some people? There’s more mixed magic than the government likes to admit.”
“Okay, whatever, i’ll have my existential crisis about this later. We were talking about Akaashi?”
“Oh yeah. Well, we told you Akaashi doesn’t talk, and to respect that, right?” Tooru nods.
“I’m sure you guessed it, but he really doesn’t like how his voice can affect people’s actions, even if it’s unintentional. His powers are… more powerful than your average siren, so he’s had cases where he’s not even singing and he puts people under a spell.”
Kuroo lets out a sigh. “But damn, when he sings it’s an experience. He only does it in emergencies, or to calm people down. If you ever get to know him better, you should ask. It’s something you have to hear yourself.”
“Why would I want to hear Akaashi sing?” Tooru wonders what it’s like, wonders if the rumors and stories are true — how their voices can make men drown, how they can make people do things they would never do against their own will. He remembers the scales, and wonders if he has a tail, wonders what he would look like under the moonlight.
Startled at his own thoughts, Tooru shakes them away when he sees Kuroo looking at him strangely.
“Exactly for that reason,” he says mysteriously.
“I didn’t even say anything.”
“Your face said all I needed to know.”
Tooru stays silent for a minute. Kuroo just keeps staring at him, as if searching, but for what Tooru will never know. “Is that all you have to tell me about him? That he’s a good singer? Seems kinda obvious, if you ask me," he says, rather than responding to Kuroo's weird jabs.
“What else do you want me to say? That he prefers jam over butter on toast? Just go talk to him yourself if you’re that curious,” Kuroo says with a sneer.
“Oh, fine, shut up. How long until we get… to wherever we’re going?” Tooru says, crossing his arms and pouting.
“Five minutes. Any other questions you have?”
Tooru closes his eyes and thinks — sure, he has a lot of questions. So many he doesn't even know where to start, what to say.
So he prefers jam over butter…? The thought, the idea, that someone as mythical and strange as Akaashi has something so… normal about them has Tooru feeling all sorts of things.
But there’s no fear. He’s not sure when it faded — maybe when he first boarded the train, and sat next to Kuroo. Maybe when he became just another face in the crowd, saw that everyone else was just that: a stranger he doesn’t know. A stranger with a life of their own.
He cracks his eyes open, and looks at the people around him.
There, a humanoid figure with wings that are tucked neatly behind her, thin and translucent. To his right, a tall man with a rubbery cape draped over his shoulders. In front, a woman with a beak instead of a mouth, fiery-red feathers lining her hair and arms.
But also, he sees a mother calming her child. He sees a tired worker scrolling through his phone. A couple watching the rolling plains pass together.
And there’s also them. A cat-humanoid creature with glowing eyes and a hidden tail. A part human, part whatever who has daisies wrapping around his arm. And then, a smirk, coupled with a terrible sense of humor. His eye-rolls, a light shoves when the other tells a bad joke.
Tooru blinks, and he realizes that he is no longer afraid.
“Plenty more,” Tooru says to answer, shutting his eyes again.
He doesn’t elaborate, and Kuroo doesn’t ask him to either. The rest of the train ride is silent, and it seems almost too easy to pretend that he’s back home, back on his side of the world.
Or maybe, i’m not playing pretend anymore.
His thoughts stir around, jumping and fizzing until Tooru feels enveloped by warm grass.
While collecting these ‘fire blossoms,’ Tooru learns that Kuroo’s magic is exactly like its user.
Cunning. Playful. Full of tricks and quirks that could easily be used to annoy somebody.
When they exit the train station, Tooru is met with the sight of what seems to a wide nature reserve, or something similar. The landscape is closer to a desert than a forest, and the unfamiliar, dry plants makes him feel like he’s entered another world (and he’s had recent experience of what that feels like).
“Didn’t know there was something like this so close to your city…” Tooru says in awe as a tumbleweed passes by. He had been too enraptured by Kuroo’s story to look out the window for the latter half of the train ride, which is when the greenery must have faded away.
“Of course there is. Welcome to the desert!” Kuroo makes a gesture with his hands. “Where you can explore mother nature and most importantly, find rare herbs and ingredients that can’t be grown in other climates.”
“Like fire blossom?”
“Like fire blossom. Come on, I have a seasonal pass.”
Seasonal pass? Tooru isn’t sure whether to laugh or ask about it.
If Tooru could, he would spend an entire day here. Once they pass through a ticket booth, the expanse opens up to stone pathways that twist off, a large map with the typical you are here! message pasted onto a board at the center of a miniature field.
“Now if you go right this way, sire, we’ll take a short five minute walk to go to the public gardens,” Kuroo says in an exaggerated voice. “Hopefully, you’ll pick up a trick or two as well.”
Tooru sighs and crosses his arms, but doesn’t bother to reply. The walk truly feels short — there are so many things to look at that he can’t help want to walk around, but Kuroo always drags him back to the path.
There are purple cactuses. New life forms of flowers, brown vines growing out of the ground. Surprisingly, there are no animals around. Just plants and different flora that color the sandy earth.
But the little plants along the side of the road seem like mere weeds on the side of the road once he sees the public gardens.
A ginormous glass dome covers what seems to be fields and field of overflowing greenery, purples and oranges and blues popping as petals and leaves. Silvery ivy hangs from wooden beams overhead, mixing with other vines and roots. Succulents of all shapes and sizes line the floor like rocks making a pathway, and Tooru feels like he’s walked into some sort of botanist’s paradise.
All hand-picked flora can be paid for at the front of the park, reads a sign.
“Amazing, right?” Kuroo says softly, giving Tooru some time. “Fire blossoms this way.”
With a little push, and a few turns, the reach a part of the clearing that has Tooru’s jaw dropping.
Kuroo lets out a laugh. “They’re called fire blossoms for a reason, mate,” he says as he walks towards a patch of ignited flowers.
The actual petals are black, curled into tiny star-like shapes — the beautiful color that radiates from them are from the flames that dance around, vibrant blue that fades upwards into a pure white, constantly shifting and moving and never burning.
“ How,” Is all he manages to say.
“They’re not actually on fire. I wish I knew the magic behind these petals, but all I know is that it’s a different from mine.”
Tooru wrinkles his nose and gets on his knees to get close, not even caring that his pants are getting dirt over them. “Why would it even be similar to yours in the first place?
At that, Kuroo looks hurt. “I’m offended . You ask about Akaashi this, Akaashi that, but don’t even know about my magic, the once you’ve interacted with the most!”
“What?! I’ve only asked about him, like, twice. And it’s your fault for not explaining your magic to me, other than you being half nekomata half witch.
Kuroo looks as if he wants to argue more, but just crosses his arms and continues with an explanation. “Well you see, the combination of my genes give me… a sort of, illusion magic, if you will. Although it’s also kinda like shapeshifting, but not…? Because I’m not actually changing form, it just looks like I do.”
Tooru blinks. “I’m not sure I quite get you.”
Kuroo sighs. “Okay, here. Magic… is different for everyone.” Kuroo kneels down next to Oikawa and opens up his palms. Shadowy figures dance around until they form little human-shaped figures. “That means it can be connected to different aspects of a person. Think of it as a part of your body — you don’t learn how to think or breathe, right? It’s just programmed into you. The same way, magic can be programmed into different things, depending on the person. Like you, for example. Your magic is connected to your emotions.”
One of the figures changes, a bit of shadow clearing to show a heart-shaped hole on its chest.
“You channel your magic through how you feel. The more you feel, or maybe if you feel something specific, something grows. Right?”
“Me? My magic is connected to my being. My state of mind and body, I guess you could say. It’s hard to explain in words…? When I was younger, I had a hard time keeping my image consistent because I was constantly changing. If my physical and mental connection are in a good state, or a bad state, my magic reacts by changing my outer appearance to fit my current condition.
But after learning and training, I’ve not only managed to get almost-perfect control over my appearance when need-be, I’ve also learned how to change the appearance of outside objects, although those illusions don’t last for long, and work better on small objects.
“These flowers? They have their own magic, connected to something of their own. And apparently it creates the strange illusion that they’re on fire, but in reality…”
The shadowy figures on his palm vanish and Kuroo reaches into the flowerbed, but as his fingers lightly skim the petals the flames flicker, like a defective hologram, “... they’re not.”
“Yeah,” Tooru says breathlessly, touching the flowers himself. The petals are cold against his fingers. “Well actually, I was going to say beautiful, but amazing works too.”
“Just shut up and start picking. You just grab them from the base — like that, just follow after me — and gently pull upwards. You want to keep the roots for these they have a lot of good value, and there. Just do that about a dozen more times and we can start heading back.”
For a while, they simply sit and pick, the terrarium almost silent, save for distant voices from other visitors far, far away. It’s peaceful, nice, calming, as the flames lick his skin, leaving nothing but a slight chill. Being so close to nature, in a natural way, makes him feel… good. Dare he even say... happy, happy that he found this little gem, in this forbidden world.
“Hey Oikawa,” Kuroo says after a while. “Do you think you could try growing one of these yourself?”
A pause. “I’ve… actually never tried to grow something specific. Usually, when i’m really stressed, random things start popping up.
Kuroo makes a tut tut sound. “Magic is never random. Try focusing on how you’re feeling right now — and really focus on just that emotion — and try to pull on it. Trust me, there’ll be something else there. Imagine the flower flowing and sprouting from your palms. You’ve been plucking for a while now, right? You know how the stem feels against your skin, how the petals are, how the fire dances.”
“So, what you’re trying to say is… just feel it out.”
“Gee, thanks for the really clear instructions. I’m really feeling ready now.”
“Hey, hey, be nice. I did my best,” Kuroo pouts. “Magic is hard to explain. How would you explain something like thinking to someone else, huh? It’s like that. Just shut up and close your eyes or something. We’re not leaving until you get this down.”
Tooru grumbles, but does as Kuroo says, head tilted back, palms gathered on his lap.
He isn’t sure how he knows what to do — one minute he’s patiently just sitting there, trying not to let Kuroo’s stares bother him, and then the next minute, he just does. Maybe it’s because this is the first time he’s trying to call on his magic, rather than suppress it.
He imagines the flower first. The thin stem, and how it branches outward like a tree. The white roots that take firm hold of the soil around. The tiny five-petaled flowers that sprout, charcoal black with yellow pollen dotting the wrinkles of the petals. And of course, the flames that start near the branching, a deep ocean-blue that fades into a white close to nothingness.
He thinks of how he was feeling earlier while picking the flowers, how he’s feeling now. Serene, peaceful, surprisingly not afraid — the fear melted away with the beauty of the park, the place, the garden. The emotions pound from his chest, the emotions feel warm and full of life.
Tooru shudders as the warm feeling spreads, all around until it feels like his entire body is buzzing. He starts to shake a bit, a sudden breeze reveals the thought — what if this makes my magic worse? — but a comforting hand blows it away again.
Focus. Focus. Let it out. Let it out.
(Trapped, the magic is trapped under his skin, struggling to be set free. But not yet, not yet.)
He tries to direct the feeling to his cupped hands. Tries to envision the roots taking place along the veins in his palm, slowly spreading upwards.
“Holy shit Tooru, you’re doing it! You’re actually doing it!”
He opens his eyes, then. Tooru can’t help but watch in wonder as his body does the rest of the work — as a tiny stem goes upward and upward and suddenly starts to spread, spread until little dark buds begin to sprout and a small fire starts, dancing around the tips of his fingers. And sudden it’s there, his very own fire blossom, growing and peaceful and altogether beautiful.
(It scares him, suddenly. Scares him to have this power in his hands, scares him that he’s actually enjoying it. He should hate it, right? He should hate it, but he doesn’t).
And then, the flower and flames disappear, and that’s when Tooru realizes how tired and sweaty he is. How cramped his legs feel for kneeling for so long.
“I did it,” he repeats weaky at Kuroo, giving a thumbs up.
“I’m proud of you, my young grasshopper.” Tooru protests weakly at the nickname, but Kuroo just laughs it off. “Anyways, we did a lot of work today. We should start heading back. Everyone will be thrilled to hear what I managed to teach you."
And oh, Tooru wonders what this means for him. Will he be able to grow anything at his will, in the future? How much more can he do with himself? He feels dizzy with the idea of discovering a part of himself that was always kept in the dark. That's right. I should be terrified right now.
But Tooru has always been somewhat of an egotistical person, and he can't help but feel delighted that he has some semblance of control — that a small portion of his forbidden life is full of something as wonderful as the fireblossoms.
Kuroo extends his hand. The sun shines through the glass, through the foliage, and illuminates Kuroo's hair. It almost seems to go through him.
Tooru takes it.
And it’s as simple as that.