It all started when Maji Burger discontinued their vanilla milkshake. They took it off the menu due to a lack of public interest, in favor of strawberry milkshakes instead. Kagami ate a giant stack of burgers as usual, chatting idly with his teammate, and only noticed in the middle of his seventh burger that he was talking to an empty chair. Kuroko had disappeared without warning. He grunted in annoyance, but wasn’t too bothered because at least it was better for his nerves than appearing without warning. After he finished eating, he balled the wrappers up and threw them in the trash, then went home and didn’t think anything more about it.
When he arrived at basketball practice the next day, a little late due to his history teacher holding him back to yell at him for sleeping in class, Kagami was surprised to find all the Seirin regulars huddled together on one side of the room. He wondered if he was missing out on a strategy session or something. Shrugging, he wandered over to them, only to step back in surprise and no little fear when they all turned on him at once.
“You,” Riko snarled. “What have you done, you Bakagami?!”
“W-what?” Kagami spluttered, only to cower back as Hyuuga in full-on clutch mode loomed over him.
“You’re making life difficult for your seniors again,” he snarled with a sinister grin. “I think we should teach you a lesson this time.”
A desperate glance towards the other regulars showed their would be no support coming from that direction – Izuki, Mitobe, Koganei, and Tsuchida all frowned at him, and even Kiyoshi looked disappointed. Kagami desperately whirled around, looking for Kuroko – surely his ‘shadow’ would be on his side or at least explain why everyone else wasn’t – only to blink in surprise. He instantly realized the problem.
Kuroko was on the other side of the court, practicing some passes with the reserve first-year players. That in itself wasn’t unusual – he was a good teacher, so long as his students didn’t forget he was there. And passes were of course his specialty. But the aura that surrounded him was extremely abnormal; Kuroko seemed to be radiating a deep displeasure. Even his usual deadpan expression didn’t conceal it at all. He didn’t appear to be angry, exactly, but he was clearly far from happy.
“I didn’t do that!” Kagami protested, a little annoyed that everyone’s first thought seemed to be that he had done something wrong. “We hardly even talked yesterday! He ditched me and went home.”
“Why did he ditch you, then?” Riko asked doubtingly, crossing her arms.
Kagami snorted. “Who the hell knows? All I know is, we went to the Maji Burger and found out they’ve stopped selling the vanilla shakes he usually gets. Maybe he went home since he couldn’t get –”
He was cut off as a basketball zoomed just past his head, rebounding violently off the wall behind him. Kagami totally didn’t shriek like a girl. He did jump about three feet into the air, though.
“What the hell, Kuroko?” he screeched. He’d been able to feel heat coming off that ball. He’d heard it whistling less than an inch away from his ear. It might have taken out a few of his hairs. He might be permanently traumatized.
Across the room, Kuroko gave a polite bow, completely ignoring the way everyone in the gym was staring at him as though he’d just attempted homicide on a fellow teammate… which it looked like he very well might have done.
“I apologize for the lack of warning,” Kuroko said in his usual calm voice. “I was demonstrating the ignite pass. Kagami-kun, please catch the ball next time.”
Then he turned back to the three terrified first-years, and resumed his coaching.
Across the room, the regulars watched Kuroko with wide eyes for a long, long minute. Finally, Koganei broke the silence. “I always thought Kuroko was the most normal one out of the Generation of Miracles.”
Riko swallowed hard, but tried to affect a cheery laugh. “So what if he’s in a bad mood? He’ll just go get a shake at a different store, and then he’ll be back to normal again! Nothing to worry about!”
There was no reason why she shouldn’t be right. And yet somehow, as the Seiren team watch their pass specialist continue his instruction with a dangerous aura almost visibly darkening the room, none of them could quite believe it would be that easy.
It was a good thing they didn’t get their hopes up. The next three days passed much the same as the first had. Kuroko no longer accompanied Kagami home past the Maji Burger, but he didn’t seem to be getting his daily milkshakes anywhere else, judging by his continuing bad mood. By the time Friday came around and nothing had improved, Riko declared that something had to be done.
“We can’t be an effective team if you’re all jumping in fear whenever Kuroko passes you a ball! He’s our passing specialist!” she snapped. “Quit thinking he’s going to murder you!”
“But Coach,” Izuki protested in a very sensible voice, even forgoing puns for once, “He really might. Look at him.”
As one, their heads swiveled around to Kuroko, once again aiding his fellow freshman. Though he looked as calm as ever, the basketball he was dribbling was making a strange sound as it kept hitting the floor very hard. Hyuuga winced. “I… think those juniors have learned enough lately.”
It was true; the first-years had been receiving lots of passing lessons the past few days, as none of the regulars felt very safe receiving Kuroko’s passes right now. It wasn’t really fair to them, but… none of the regulars wanted to deal with Kuroko right now either…
Riko was silent for a moment, before rallying. “Fine then! We’ve got to get him his milkshakes again! This is ridiculous!”
Then, immediately ensuring that no one would ever dare to call her a coward as long as she lived, Riko called Kuroko over and asked him, point-blank, why he was not just getting his vanilla milkshakes from another store.
Kuroko blinked. “Eh. How did you know that was bothering me?”
Everyone gaped. Riko coughed. “Um. I’m very observant. So?”
Kuroko’s expression, of course, remained the same. “I have been getting Maji vanilla shakes for the past five years. They are the best in this area that are not too expensive. I don’t intend to get them from anywhere else.”
Everyone gaped – again. Was this really Kuroko speaking? Since when had he been so childishly stubborn? Even Riko was lost for words, just staring blankly at the deadpan boy.
Luckily, an unexpected visitor saved her from having to think of a response to that. Kise Ryouta slipped into the gym to the tune of shrieking girls, and slammed the doors shut behind him. After panting quietly for a moment, he looked up a wide grin.
“Kurokocchi~!” He sang as he made his way across the court. “Let’s go have fun today! We can – uwah! What’s wrong?!”
Kuroko turned to face his old teammate, radiating doom. “Hello, Kise-kun. Maji Burger has taken vanilla milkshakes off the menu.”
Kise’s face paled instantly. Somehow, he seemed to already know what this lack of vanilla milkshakes entailed, judging by the pitying glance he cast toward the Seirin team. But he brightened quickly enough. “Then you have to come with me! There’s this place near my house – it’s a little expensive but I’ll treat you – they make the best milkshakes!”
Kuroko was silent for a long, considering moment. The aura of destruction around him seemed to be considering retreat. “…Do they have vanilla?”
Kise laughed, and threw an arm around Kuroko’s shoulders. Everyone flinched in fear of what would happen to him. “Of course!”
Kuroko was quiet for another time. Then he turned his head up towards Kise, and without even removing the boy’s arm from his shoulders, spoke. “I will go with you after practice, then. Thank you, Kise-kun.”
The corners of his lips curved up the tiniest amount.
His aura of doom disappeared instantly, replaced with something that seemed to radiate puppies and kittens and rainbows and sparkles and pheromones or something, because was that a (microscopic) smile on Kuroko’s face?!
Kise fainted. No one could blame him. Riko found herself drooling slightly, for once not because of anyone’s athletic prowess. Kagami looked to be blushing. Everyone had to fight down a sudden urge to hug Kuroko, or worse.
The smile disappeared, but the happiness surrounding Kuroko did not fade as he crouched to the floor, quietly inquiring, “Kise-kun? Are you okay?”
Kise gurgled a little.
Riko shook herself out of her trance first. She quickly wiped the drool from her mouth, and cleared her throat loudly until the rest of her team had also snapped out of it. They looked very shaken.
“The fuck was that?” Kagami muttered, placing a hand on his – no doubt pounding – heart.
Riko smiled. “It seems Kuroko has yet another hidden ability…” she murmured.
Kuroko poked Kise several times, finally succeeding in waking the model up. He instantly latched on to the stoic boy, enveloping him in a clingy hug and weeping loudly: “Oh, Kurokocchiiiiii!”
Kuroko stared across the room. “Kise-kun,” he said after a moment. “This is quite uncomfortable. Please release me.”
…And just like that, he was back to normal. Seirin breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Of course, it didn’t last long. Kise’s gourmet vanilla milkshake date (as he called it) seemed to tide Kuroko over through the weekend and even partially into the next week, but at that point, his dark mood returned as if it had never left. Once more, his passes were fast and hard, and players receiving them could’ve sworn the basketballs Kuroko sent their way looked more like grinning skulls than any sports equipment. Once more, Kuroko’s silence became ominous rather than just matter-of-course. It was lucky they didn’t have any matches coming up, because Riko seriously doubted that Kuroko’s misdirection would even be possible like this.
Then again, he might just scare all the opposing players away…
No. It wasn’t worth it, not when Kuroko’s own teammates were just as terrified. Even #2 was keeping a distance, cuddling close to Riko (not that she minded). Something must be done. Again. But what?
After witnessing for themselves the remarkable power offering vanilla milkshakes to Kuroko currently had, few on the team had been able to resist suggesting it themselves. Kagami in particular seemed vulnerable to this temptation, and nearly every day he would ‘casually’ suggest that Kuroko go check out some other local diners and stores with him for a good vanilla milkshake. None of these attempts succeeded, however. Kuroko was apparently holding fast to his stubborn decision not to seek out vanilla milkshakes from any regular store except Maji Burger.
Nor did he accept Kise’s offer to take him back to the store near his house. This came as a surprise at first, until Kuroko quietly mentioned just what sort of price range vanilla milkshakes were in at this ‘gourmet’ dessert store. The knowledge that Kise had been able to casually pay that left several Seirin players grumbling about stupid famous rich models who didn’t appreciate their money, and cleared up nicely the issue of why Kuroko had refused to accept the offer a second time.
Still, even if Kise and Kagami’s best efforts weren’t good enough, apparently the rest of the Generation of Miracles was exempt from this stonewalling. At least, just as he had with Kise, Kuroko allowed his ex-teammates to treat him to one vanilla milkshake each.
The way this ended up happening was rather odd, and smelled suspiciously of some kind of competition or possibly ritual amongst the Teiko graduates. One day, just as the Seirin team was leaving the school together before splitting up and heading home in different directions, a rickshaw pulled up in front of them. The person riding the bike, Takao, slumped over the handlebars, panting and breathing heavily. The person in the cart sat calmly, holding a small cooler in his left hand. He glanced at the startled team as if surprised.
“Ah, Kuroko. What a coincidence seeing you here.” Midorima remarked.
Takao stopped panting like a dog long enough to laugh derisively. “Coincidence… my ass! Shin-chan, you jerk – you told me… this was urgent!”
Midorima adjusted his glasses, but didn’t reply. Instead, he completely ignored his current teammate and instead turned back to Kuroko. “I have my lucky item for the day here,” he said, lifting the bag. “A chilled beverage. Of course I got only the best.”
He paused. Kuroko stared at him, along with the rest of the Seirin team. Midorima sighed harshly, as if he’d been giving some clue that they had all chosen to ignore.
“Aquarius has very bad luck today,” he said. “Kuroko, I suggest you join me for a milkshake in order to make up for your negative horoscope.” He unzipped the cooler and lifted a familiar drink out of it. “They’re vanilla.”
There was another silence.
Then Kuroko calmly turned to Kagami and set his sports bag on top of his partner’s. “Please carry this home for me,” he said, before joining Midorima in the rickshaw, accepting the glass his former teammate handed to him.
Kagami wasn’t pleased by this turn of events. “Why should I carry this? It’s heavy, and stinks like sweat! Carry it yourself!”
Kuroko paused just before taking a sip. “Kagami-kun,” he scolded, “can’t you see that such a heavy bag would add too much weight for Takao-kun to pedal?”
Takao made a noise very much like a sob. What about your weight, Kuroko?! he wanted to scream, but he was too tired to get the words out.
Kagami wasn’t thus hampered, however. He opened his mouth to demand Kuroko get down from that stupid rickshaw right this minute and carry his own damn bag –
But then Kuroko took a sip of his milkshake. His lips twitched up around the straw.
Flowers and hearts and sparkles and those mysterious Kuroko smile pheromones burst out in every direction, somehow even more intense than last time. Pulses raced. Cheeks flushed. Brains temporarily shut down.
The tiny expression was gone the next moment, as if a dream. Kuroko took another thoughtful sip. “This is quite good, Midorima-kun,” he said. “Thank you.”
Midorima’s hand shook a little as he adjusted his glasses. “I-it was merely coincidence,” he declared.
Kuroko was busy taking another sip, so he wasn’t able to respond verbally. His quiet hum sent shivers down the back of every person present.
Kagami, face as red as his hair, shut his mouth. Then he opened it, then shut it again. Finally, he spoke, sounding a little faint. “I’ll just carry this, then.”
Kuroko nodded at him, then turned his impassive gaze to Takao. The poor exhausted boy had already been overheated from his exertions; at this point he looked ready to keel over from a fever.
“Will you be able to take us to my house?” Kuroko inquired politely. “I can give you directions.”
Takao didn’t even consider refusing. “Sure,” he panted, before straining to start pedaling once more. At first the rickshaw moved slowly, but it began to pick up speed soon enough, and by the time it rounded the corner, it was going at a respectable jogging pace. Takao’s stamina was admirable.
The Seirin basketball team watched it go in silence, unable to process what exactly had just happened. As if to make things even more confusing for them, Kise sprinted around the opposite corner and skidded to a halt in front of them less than a minute after the rickshaw had disappeared. The sound of screaming girls drifted up the street from whence he had come.
“Where’s Kurokocchi?” he demanded.
Mitobe pointed silently in the direction he’d gone. Kise growled, clearly very frustrated. “It was Midorimacchi, wasn’t it?!” He received a nod, and actually stomped his foot angrily, like a small child.
“Aaargh! Stupid Midorimacchi!” Kise shouted, before crumpling in on himself and mumbling pitifully, “I wanted to be the one to see that face again…”
The Seirin team stared at him. None of them were really capable of producing words yet. Eventually Kise straightened, and pointed an accusing finger at Kagami. “Kagamicchi! Why didn’t you stop him?”
Kagami reared back, insulted. “Oi! I did! I – I mean, I was going to! But then he took a drink and he – and he smiled and… I forgot.”
Kise moaned envyingly. “Not fair,” he whimpered. Before he could say anything further, the female screams in the background suddenly got much louder. The fangirls had rounded the corner and spotted the famous model.
“There he is!” One of them yelled. Kise yelped and took off running. The fangirls thundered past, hot on his heels.
The street cleared once more.
“…I guess we should go home, then,” Kiyoshi finally said. Dazedly, his teammates agreed, and they wandered off vacantly towards their respective destinations, still not quite coherent.
The same pattern continued for the next several days. Kuroko seemed normal at first, but slowly began showing withdrawal symptoms by way of impersonating the incarnation of Death itself (at least to his teammate’s eyes). This time, taking pity on the first-years, Riko told Kuroko that he should build up his stamina by running laps around the gym. There wasn’t really any way to describe how it felt being constantly circled by such a menacing vibe… it was akin to being tied up, doused in honey, and left right in front of a colony of fire ants. Only maybe worse.
Kuroko, should he suddenly go insane and decide to murder everyone, would not laugh evilly. He wouldn’t seem angry or mental or happy or anything – he’d appear as calm and rational as ever, while he matter-of-factly stabbed you to death with a pen (Riko decided not to ask him to help her with managerial tasks any longer).
The package from Murasakibara could not have arrived too soon. It was addressed to the Seirin basketball club, and Riko tore it open with mild interest, confused as to why anyone would need to send them anything, from Akita no less. Upon seeing the contents, her eyebrows raised up high, and she called Kuroko over.
“I think this is for you,” she told him, handing over the short note that had sat on top of the other contents of the package.
This isn’t a milkshake, it read in large, lazy handwriting, but it’s vanilla and it tastes pretty good. Sorry I can’t feed it to you myself, but it’s a long trip.
There was no signature, but Kuroko nodded in recognition. “Ah, this is from Murasakibara-kun.”
The rest of the team had been eavesdropping. As soon as they heard the sender was from the Generation of Miracles, they fell all over themselves to gather around Kuroko in hopes of seeing his smiling expression (the first they’d ever seen from him yet). Kagami in particular used his large build to his advantage, blatantly shoving teammates out of his way, and finally peering over their heads when that didn’t work.
Kuroko did not seem to notice his rapt audience. Instead, he neatly folded Murasakibara’s note and tucked it into his pocket. Then he reached inside the box and withdrew its remaining contents: a single bag of vanilla-flavored hard milk candies. Kuroko opened it, withdrew a candy, unwrapped that, and placed it in his mouth. The Seirin team waited with bated breath, not daring to blink.
“…As I thought, Murasakibara-kun knows snacks best,” Kuroko said, the milk candy clicking slightly against his teeth. His mouth didn’t twitch this time – the movement was infinitesimally slower, just barely too gradual to be called a twitch.
But his lips curved up slightly for a moment, and oh dear lord the candy was stretching his cheek slightly and that shouldn’t be so cute but nothing had ever been cuter and the sparkles and the freaking pheromones were just completely overwhelming and there weren’t even any distractions this time, they could just bask in the glow.
So they did.
Kuroko finished his milk candy, and swallowed. The team swallowed with him, mouths dry.
A thought occurred to Riko – her first since Kuroko had opened the candy. “W-what did he mean, sorry he can’t feed it to you?”
Kuroko glanced at her, then quietly opened a second candy. He reached out and placed it in Furihata (who was closest)’s palm. “Please toss that to me.”
Furihata did so, looking a little glassy-eyed. Kuroko watched the candy’s trajectory, then positioned himself under it and opened his mouth. He caught the candy on his tongue before closing his mouth once more. Everyone saw the flash of pink. Everyone experienced palpitations.
“Murasakibara-kun often used to feed me like that,” Kuroko remarked casually. “He liked the way I didn’t miss his passes.”
Kagami spoke hoarsely. “I want to do that.”
“There’s no need,” Kuroko pointed out. “I already have a candy right now.”
“After, then,” Kagami insisted, a little desperately. “I’m your ‘light’, right? I should be the one to send you passes!”
“You rarely ever pass to me,” Kuroko said. “I send passes to you. In any case, I am fully capable of feeding myself. But for now, we should resume practice. If you would like to pass to me, Kagami-kun, you can do so with basketballs.”
He set the bag of milk candies back into their box, placed that against the wall, and walked away to retrieve a basketball. The rest of the team gaped after him for a time before they remembered that they were supposed to be practicing too, and trailed behind him to the court. Luckily, it took Riko just as long to recall this fact, so she didn’t bother to scold them.
As welcome as these moments were, both in general and in comparison to the doom and gloom that had been surrounding Kuroko lately, the Seirin basketball team began to wonder if they weren’t slightly unhealthy.
…Not to mention addictive.
By the time Murasakibara’s candies had run out – which didn’t take long – Seirin was already dreading the return of Kuroko’s death aura. They were also anticipating the return of his smile when the next member of the Generation of Miracles came by. Kiyoshi remarked that it was a lot like being booted back and forth between heaven and hell; terrifying and rapturous in turns. No one could disagree, but despite hating the way their lives had become more about Kuroko’s mood than basketball of late, no one was quite able to want to give this painful pleasure up. They were all becoming masochists or something, simply because of the power of Kuroko’s smallest smile and vanilla milkshake addiction.
So they suffered his displeasure fairly well, just waiting until it lifted. Of course, they attempted to lift his mood themselves, as much as they were able; but to no avail. Kagami even brought some vanilla-flavored chips to practice one day, and offered them to Kuroko, but the quiet boy showed absolutely no interest in the snack. Apparently, unless it came from Murasakibara, the king of snacks himself, nothing less than a proper vanilla milkshake was acceptable. Kuroko’s mood – along with the rest of whatever room he was in, it began to seem – remained black.
Thus the arrival of Aomine and Momoi was strongly welcomed, despite the way they disturbed practice by coming almost exactly halfway through it. They sauntered in through the doors of the gym as if they owned it, and captured everyone’s attention instantly.
Both of them reeled back visibly when they encountered Kuroko’s death aura. Aomine winced, and ran a hand through his hair with a mutter of, “Shit, he really wasn’t kidding.”
Momoi, on the other hand, nearly burst out crying. “Tetsu-kun!” she wailed, snatching him up in a hug, “Don’t be so sad, it breaks my heart to see you sad!”
Normally everyone would be jealous of Kuroko, given the way Momoi was flattening him against her F-cup breasts. Recent events, however, meant that they were almost all as equally jealous of her.
Kuroko’s voice sounded mildly pleased when he spoke, though the way it was muffled against Momoi’s ample chest made it hard to tell, and the menace surrounding him didn’t really disappear. “Momoi-san, Aomine-kun. What are you doing here?”
Kagami stepped forward eagerly, glaring at Aomine. “Come for a rematch? I’ll beat your ass into the ground!”
Aomine totally ignored Kuroko’s current ‘light’. “Yo, Tetsu. It’s been a while since we’ve gone out for ice-cream, right? We can play some streetball, too. Whaddaya say?”
Kuroko gently extracted himself from Momoi’s hug. His dark mood and menacing aura seemed to have, once again, vanished. “That sounds very pleasant,” he said. “Will Momoi-san be accompanying us?”
Aomine scratched the back of his head. “Eh, yeah, she won’t stop nagging me otherwise. Going on and on about how the girlfriend should be the one going out on dates, and crap like that.”
Momoi pouted, hugging Kuroko’s arm. “Well, it’s true! You’re the one that shouldn’t come on our date!”
Aomine rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, whatever, you delusional freak. Anyway, at least it’s like old times I guess.”
Kuroko nodded thoughtfully. “That’s true. Then, please take a seat. I will join you after practice is over.”
At this point, Kagami’s anger grew too strong to hold back. “No way! I’m not gonna let that guy spy on me during practice!” He pointed at Aomine. “Either play a match against me or leave!”
Aomine snarled a little. “Like I’d ever need to spy on you, you weakling. I still don’t get what Tetsu sees in you. Maybe I should play you; you need a reality check.”
The two ‘lights’ faced off, glaring fiercely at each other. Tension bubbled in the air. Momoi stepped between the two of them, with her arms crossed in an ‘X’. “No!” she snapped. “Quit it! We didn’t come here to interrupt their practice, Dai-chan, so leave him alone. And you –” she eyed Kagami up and down quickly, then shook her head. “Right now, you’d just lose again. Go train some more.”
Kagami growled dangerously, and Aomine grumbled, but both of them backed down. For Kagami, at least half of the reason for that was Riko’s furious expression behind Momoi. Apparently, she didn’t take well to his attempt to interrupt team practice for a second time by challenging a member of the Generation of Miracles.
“Triple practice for you,” she intoned in a low voice, then clapped her hands together briskly. “All right everyone, let’s get back to it!”
The team separated, heading back to their practice. Momoi and Aomine sat down in the bleachers, idly watching the practice. Aomine got bored shortly into it, and rolled over to take a nap. Momoi, however, focused her full attention on the players – everyone, not just Kuroko. It was always useful to have the most current data, after all.
Riko knew what she was doing, but let her get away with it. Their schools wouldn’t be facing each other again anytime soon after all, and besides, she felt like bragging a little. Seirin had improved a lot.
After practice had finished, Kuroko emerged from the changing room in street clothes and headed over to join his ex-teammates. His current teammates sort of trailed after him – though he was no longer terrifying, he still hadn’t smiled and they wanted to see it. They were currently in the process of realizing that he might not smile until he actually tasted the ice-cream – in which case they’d have to join the outing in order to see it. Most of them were willing to give up before going that far, if only for reasons of rapidly dwindling self-respect, but not all. Kagami was still determined to see the one expression anyone had ever provoked out of Kuroko. That smile would be adequate repayment for the indignity of having been forced to see Aomine’s stupid face outside of a match. It was only fair, he told himself. And in the interest of fairness, he would stalk Kuroko for the rest of the damn evening if he had to!
Luckily, this didn’t turn out to be necessary. As he was lifting the strap of his sports bag over his neck, Kuroko asked, “Where would you like to go for the ice-cream?”
Aomine, only just having woken from his nap, suppressed a yawn. He shrugged. “I dunno, I was thinking that place we used to go, near Teiko? It’s kinda far, but there’s a free court there, and it’s the only place I really know off the top of my head anyway.”
And Kuroko said, in an almost nostalgic tone: “That place is excellent.”
And Kuroko finally adjusted his strap correctly, and he lifted his head.
And Kuroko was smiling.
It was a wider, more defined smile than any of the others had been. Still nowhere close to being a grin or even the kind of smile a normal person would make, but this time it would have been clear even to a stranger that this was a smile, not just some beautiful muscle spasm. It lasted longer, too – a good three beats of silence, during which all of the previous cute imagery that had ever come to anyone’s mind in their entire life was completely obliterated by the sheer power of this symmetrical little upward curve, and it was like they couldn’t even see for the sparkles, and the pheromones were absolutely overpowering, no one could resist, no one wanted to resist, no one wanted anything but Kuroko Tetsuya –
Momoi lurched forward, hearts in her eyes, moaning incoherently. Clearly all higher thought had completely abandoned her. Aomine reacted quickly, grabbing the back of her shirt and restraining her, though even he seemed a little off-balance.
“Geez, Tetsu,” he said in a voice that was only slightly strangled. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you so happy.”
This echoed throughout everyone’s heads for a moment.
A long time.
…A long time?
“You’ve seen him this happy before?!” Kagami yelled, still bracing himself on Fukuda and Tsuchida’s shoulders – his knees had started feeling a little weak a moment ago. Totally the result of all his jumping practice.
Aomine’s glance was at once dismissive, unconcerned, and vastly superior. “Of course I have. Tetsu’s been my best friend for five years.”
Apparently he had developed quite the immunity to Kuroko’s smile in that time, as he was able to casually hoist the still-gibbering Momoi over his shoulder and turn back to Kuroko, who appeared to be politely confused as to why everyone was acting so odd. “Good job, Tetsu – she’ll be out of it all night now. We won’t have to worry about her going on about dating you the whole time. C’mon, let’s head out.”
Kuroko sighed very gently. “I don’t understand, but if we want to get ice-cream, play basketball, and arrive home at a reasonable hour, then we should leave now.”
Aomine grunted his agreement, and the two casually walked out of the gym together, chatting nonchalantly. This, more than any skills he had ever demonstrated on the basketball court, convinced the Seirin team that Aomine well deserved the title of ace for the Generation of Miracles.
They had been all but destroyed by the thing Aomine had managed to almost completely shrug off. Even Kagami was impressed. Of course that didn’t mean he was happy; he was still really pissed off and if he could be certain that any attempts to walk wouldn’t end in his legs giving out completely, then he would have chased after that smug bastard and attacked him without another thought. As it was, however, he just stared vacantly at the place where Kuroko had been standing, clinging to his teammates for support.
“I think,” Hyuuga said in a slightly shaky voice, “that this is getting out of hand.”
Unfortunately, there wasn’t really anything they could do. They were all but powerless, and knew it quite well at this point. The crazy cycle of near-homicide and near-heart-attack would just keep happening. There wasn’t a single thing they could do to change that. And, despite fear for their lives, sanity, basketball abilities, and (with the exception of Riko) sexual orientation, none of them were entirely sure that they wanted it to stop. Kiyoshi had been right – it was a whiplash-inducing trip from hell to heaven and back again, but somehow so very, very preferable to purgatory.
Given this faltering resolve, perhaps it was a good thing that Riko soon realized there was only one more member of the Generation of Miracles left. Kuroko had only allowed each of his previous teammates to treat him once – actually, after Kise was refused so many times, none of the others had even made a second attempt. Perhaps once was too much for them. Or maybe they were all too acquainted with just exactly the emotional rollercoaster Team Seirin was on, and had no desire to experience it again. Or maybe there was some other reason altogether. In the end, it didn’t really make much difference. The fact was, with only Akashi left, there would only be one more smile. After that, nothing less than a lifetime of Kuroko the Reaper awaited them. At least it would probably be a very short lifetime. Even so, none of them were looking forward to it.
So when Kuroko answered his cell-phone with the words, “Hello? Akashi-kun?” one afternoon, there were some very mixed feelings regarding the call. On the one hand, this would probably mean a brief respite from the way his stare seemed to beckon his teammates’ souls out of their bodies, and his passes hurt to catch. They’d get to see his smile again, and at this point the mere thought was almost enough to start Kagami blushing and Riko drooling.
On the other hand… after this smile, there wouldn’t be any more. Unless something drastic happened, the terror of Kuroko-without-vanilla-milkshakes would continue on, unending. The team would fall apart, no doubt about it – the only question was whether someone would get physically injured first, or just have a mental breakdown. This call, in a sense, signaled the end of the Seirin basketball team.
Thus the mixed feelings.
Kuroko did not speak for a long time after answering the phone. He stood in silence, holding it carefully up to his ear, oddly unaware of the way he was the focus of the room. Then again, that had held true for the past two weeks, and he hadn’t seemed to notice yet the way no one forgot him anymore.
Finally, Kuroko spoke. “The captain is effective as always,” he said, then replied to some comment with, “Yes. Thank you. Well, until next time.”
He hung up and set down his phone. Everyone stared at him, torn between eagerness and depression. But Kuroko didn’t smile. In fact, even as they watched, his extreme aura was fading away. He no longer exuded anger; nor did he seem particularly joyful. He didn’t seem much of anything at all, actually, and it was only when Riko said, “Ah, Kuroko, where’d you go?” when the team realized what was going on.
Kuroko was back to normal. Even though they had all been looking right at him, Riko had still lost track of him. He was like a ghost. They couldn’t tell what he was thinking or feeling; he was as unreadable as he had ever been. The basketball in his hands was held in a loose, normal grasp – not the death-grip he’d been using these past two weeks. Somehow, Akashi had done what Seirin had at this point believed to be impossible – in the space of a two-minute phone conversation, he had completely reverted Kuroko to normal to an extent they instinctively recognized to be permanent.
They rejoiced. They laughed and basked in the lack of deadly intent aimed their way. They enjoyed being able to look at Kuroko without wanting to either run away from him or sexually harass him. They celebrated the return of their team’s future, their dreams, their easy companionship. They were just too happy to even care what Akashi had even said (and perhaps a little terrified to wonder – much as Aomine had proved himself the ace, Akashi had just proved beyond doubt why he was captain by the Generation of Miracles).
In short, they were having such a good time that they forgot Kuroko was even there. It was a full half-hour before they realized he had left practice; and even then it was only because a certain redheaded basketball idiot had gone missing as well.
Kagami munched his way through the usual stack of burgers. It was kind of nice, having Kuroko back. After he’d gotten used to the companionship, it had felt weird to come here and eat alone every day. Plus sometimes he forgot Kuroko wasn’t there and ended up talking to himself and freaking people out (though that happened when Kuroko was there too, sometimes). He was a little surprised that Kuroko had skipped out on the latter half of practice though, much less asked him to come with.
Then again, this was a special occasion. Kagami eyed the vanilla milkshake Kuroko was calmly drinking. Apparently, Maji Burger had suddenly decided the demand for the beverage was high enough after all. Less than three weeks after they’d discontinued it. Despite all the customers even now complaining at the register that they had preferred the strawberry flavor. Immediately after Akashi had called Kuroko.
He wasn’t even going to question that. A lot of people thought he was stupid, but Kagami wasn’t that dumb. He would never wonder what Akashi had done. Some things were better off not even speculated about.
He did have one question, however.
“Kuroko?” Kagami asked, frowning thoughtfully and trying to act like he didn’t care about whatever answer he might receive. “Why didn’t you smile when you found out Maji Burger brought your shakes back?”
Kuroko took a long sip, before answering quietly. “I am currently so happy that my face has frozen, Kagami-kun.”
“But…” Kagami cleared his throat awkwardly, “but you’ve gone back to normal, right? No more…” he waggled his fingers around his face, trying in vain to physically represent Kuroko’s smile pheromones. “No one is all obsessed with you anymore.”
Kuroko blinked, uncomprehending. “Were they ever?”
“…No. Never mind.” Kagami shook his head much more emphatically than was necessary. He blamed the wind this created for the red spreading over his cheeks. Obviously that was the reason.
After all, another customer had just asked if they could take the chair opposite Kagami since no one was using it. The chair which Kuroko was sitting in. The heaven had vanished as surely as the hell had. Kuroko was completely back to normal, even if he was apparently happier than he’d ever been.
There weren’t any pheromones anymore. They had gone when the smiles had.
So there was absolutely no reason for Kagami’s brain to be slowly emptying of all coherent thought, or for his blush to be getting darker and darker, or for his eyes to not want to drag away from the shape of Kuroko’s lips around his straw, or for his ears to be so attuned to that slow, steady slurping that all other sound seemed to vanish. Because Kuroko was back to normal. He was invisible. Even if Kagami was staring straight at him, he would probably forget he was even there within the next two minutes. And he’d prove it, by staring straight at Kuroko until he forgot him, which he would because Kuroko was back to normal.
Ten minutes passed. Kuroko set his empty cup down on the table and exhaled slightly. “Kagami-kun, I think that was the best thing I have ever tasted,” he said blandly.
Kagami didn’t reply at first. He was still staring at Kuroko, face completely flushed and pupils blown out wide. He looked psychotic.
He opened his jaw creakily, and in a low, rough voice, said, “…Shit.”