Nighthunters

Fragments of Memories

"This is the story of Midorima Shintaro, and this is how it will end." - Midorima Shintaro


There was a flurry of activity almost immediately the moment when Tamaki, Shigehiro, Haizaki and Takao have returned to their base with the real Crown Prince in tow—only with Shigehiro almost carrying the redhead with him just because of how weak that the prince is.

Clearly, Nijimura had informed all the others about the circumstances and the truth regarding the Red King, though more than one of them had eyed Akashi uneasily even as Sakurai fussed over him. There is a reason after all why the Red King could impersonate the real Crown Prince for years without anyone realising that it's an imposter. They just look that much alike.

The only differences between the two is that the real Crown Prince had two red eyes, and he doesn't look evil or even vulgar like the Red King does, and he had a soft expression in his eyes and facial expression.

Even so, as far as anyone knows, Tamaki is the only one who could tell the two apart, save for Nijimura. And that had been only because the two have grown up with the royal twins and knew them well.

Sakurai had headed out of the infirmary two hours after Tamaki had brought Akashi in, telling the worried crowd that the prince is all right now, and that he needs some rest. He wasn't really tortured or even starved. The only thing even remotely wrong with him are just the few bruises and abrasions that he had gotten when the Red King had decided to mess with his twin brother a little.

Everyone had heaved a sigh of relief at that. As it was close to two in the morning by then, Shigehiro had shooed them all to bed. No one noticed Tamaki slipping away, heading towards the entrance of the sewers where the one on guard duty that night always sits.

No one but Takao, that is.

Takao had hesitated for several moments, wondering if he should go after her—knowing what he might and would find. The euphoria of having rescued the Crown Prince had everyone forgetting that a certain someone had given his life just so that the prince could be rescued.

Protect her, Takao. Watch over her.

Takao's eyes closed briefly in grief, recalling Midorima's last words to him with his final breath before he'd gone onto the next life.

Finally, the raven head walked towards the entrance of the sewers silently, his boots not making a single sound at all—all members of the Royal Guard were trained to not make a single sound whenever they walked and moved. It could often mean their undoing if so.

And sure enough, even as Takao neared the entrance of the sewers, he could hear the sounds of light sniffles, and he winced. Right. His guess is spot on.

Finally, Takao decided to throw caution to the wind and rounded around the corner, clearing his throat to announce his presence.

Kuroko Tamaki looked up at him from where she'd been sitting on the crates where she always sat whenever she is the one taking guard duty. Her eyes were slightly red-rimmed—indicating that she'd been crying, and clutched in her hands is Midorima's sword.

Takao said nothing—not even making a mention that he'd just seen Kuroko Tamaki of all people crying even as he leaned against the wall opposite Tamaki, both saying nothing for several moments.

He'd known Kuroko Tamaki for years—almost as long as he'd known Midorima, and had been in the Royal Guard for just as long. Just like the rest of the commanders, Tamaki is stubborn and obstinate, having a will of iron steel. She is pretty tough, and will never let anyone see her weaknesses.

She has to be to be the only female commander amongst the five, and being the head of the Intelligence Division furthermore.

"…Was it painless?" Tamaki asked at last, not looking at Takao, her voice hoarse. The raven head looked at Tamaki in slight confusion before the teal haired girl looked up to look at him. "Shin… Was his death painless?"

Takao hesitated. What is he going to tell her? There is no way that Midorima didn't die in agony. Having your windpipe cut is painful enough as it is, as there is no way that he can breathe. The Red King is sure sadistic, wanting him to die as painful as possible as punishment for his betrayal.

"…He died knowing that we'll carry on for him. He has never forgotten his duty to the kingdom. He died…a hero's death." Takao said, expertly averting Tamaki's question.

"…I…see…" Tamaki murmured, pulling her knees up to her chest, and wrapping her arms around it. "I…" Her voice almost cracked. "If only I'd convinced him to come with me then…!" Takao felt his own eyes getting wet as he heard Tamaki's broken voice. "Why didn't I take him with me when I'd left?"

"There is nothing that you could have done." Takao said earnestly.

He already had a feeling that Tamaki is going to blame herself for Midorima's death. In a way, she did cause his death, as it is because of her that Midorima had agreed to be their spy. And then again, even if she didn't ask Midorima to, the green head would have done it anyway, if so that he can keep them safe.

Right from the start, when they've all started taking part in the civil war, all of them knew that there are going to be casualties, and that they might die. Midorima isn't the only death that had occurred ever since the civil war had begun a little over four years ago. His death is just one of the many that is going to happen from now on.

"You know that." Takao sighed. "You know Shin-chan. He's stubborn to the point of obstinate. The only way that you'll get him to leave the palace at that time is to knock him out."

Tamaki cracked a small smile before the smile slid off her face even as she stared at the sword in her hand. "Shin…" she whispered.

"Can you tell me?" Takao asked. "How did you meet Shin-chan?" He asked curiously, having wanted to ask this question since day one. "His entire division knew that you both had something going on between you. But that seemed to have fallen apart about a year after the Red King had ascended to the throne."

Tamaki fell silent, her eyes closing briefly.

Pink petals from the tree overhead rained down on their heads as the wind blew through the tree, with the pink petals from the cherry blossoms acting like pink snow. And beneath that large tree stood two figures.

The green head smiled a small smile at the teal haired girl who is at least two heads shorter than he is, both of them still dressed in their graduation cadet uniforms—marking their new statuses as apprentices.

"Be my girlfriend."

"If I think about it, that was when it all started…" Tamaki said at last, a small sad smile gracing her features as she leaned her head back against the wall behind her, tightening her arms around her legs. When had things gotten so wrong? "Shin and myself… We met in the military Academy. That had been about a year or so after the war had ended. We were nine when we first met in the military Academy. Due to our advanced scores in the entrance exams, Shin and myself were placed in the advanced classes whilst the others like Aomine-kun and Murasakibara-kun were in a lower class for classes like politics, dancing and riding and all that. But they were with us in the Advanced Combat Classes like Swordsmanship and Firearms. I didn't take the Swordsmanship classes, as my family has their own personal swordsmanship style. The military Academy has rules about that—if a clan have their own swordsmanship style, they are exempted from those classes, and I did. And at that time, it had been Shu-nii who had trained me in the Kuroko style of swordsmanship. Nijimura-san." Tamaki added upon seeing the confused look on Takao's face.

"Shu-nii is kind of my third cousin twice removed from my father's side—only related through marriage. I'm from the main family of my clan whilst he hails from the branch family—though it's not like my clan really places much stock in blood lineage anyway." Tamaki shrugged. "My father had been Shu-nii's teacher when he had been an apprentice, and like all members of my clan, he had been trained in the Kuroko swordsmanship style. And with how the last war had turned out and such, as far as I know, myself and Shu-nii are the last surviving members of the Kuroko clan."

"So that's why you said that you owe him a great deal." Takao nodded slowly, fully understanding everything now—and why out of everyone, it had been Nijimura who knew the truth about the Red King even without Tamaki telling him. If he had been part of Tamaki's clan as well, then he is bound to know.

Tamaki nodded. "He's the closest thing to a brother that I have," she admitted. "He looked after me when I was in the Academy—having been the Captain of the Royal Guard at that time." She looked at Takao. "Shin and myself… We shared most of our classes together—having been in most of the Advanced Classes. Kise wasn't in the Academy then. He only joined when we were in our graduating year. I used to share the spot of top student of our year with Shin most of the time." Tamaki smiled to herself, remembering how indignant that Midorima always looked whenever they saw the class rankings on the wall.

"Shin-chan probably isn't very happy." Takao grinned, knowing that the green head is a rather sore loser.

"I wonder." Tamaki mused. "We got paired up a lot for sparring sessions—with the both of us being the best students of our year. I almost always won. In a way, I drive him to get stronger and to improve himself. In fact, Firearms is about the only class when Shin would beat me. He always looked really satisfied whenever he beat me at firearms. His accuracy is top notched, even as a first year. No matter how far away that the target is—be it a moving or a still target, he could always manage to hit it, no matter what type of gun that he uses." Tamaki seemed almost lost in her own memories, smiling to herself at the mere memory of it—and how Midorima always looked really pleased and proud of himself whenever he managed to set a new record. "After that, we spent a lot of our time together with Shige-kun and Shogo-kun. I met Satsuki about six months into our first year when I was selected to take Strategy Planning classes. And through her, I met Aomine-kun, and then Murasakibara-kun. Even back then, Shige-kun and Shogo-kun didn't like them much." She admitted. "Shin can't really stand them either. But maybe… They put up with them because of me." Tamaki smiled sadly to herself. "All of us… We were good friends." She whispered forlornly.

There was silence for a long time.

"That must be nice…" Takao said absently, trying to imagine the feared Generation of Miracles as young students.

He had never seen a photo of them when they were students—not even before the late king and queen have still been alive. After the Red King had came into power however… Well, Takao wouldn't be surprised if both Midorima and Tamaki have burned every single photo that they ever had of the Generation of Miracles who have once been their friends.

Tamaki nodded slowly. In the end, what had changed? What made them change? "It isn't until our graduation when Shin asked me to be his girlfriend under the sakura tree," she admitted, and Takao's ears pricked up at that.

Midorima always either avoided the subject or ignored Takao completely whenever he tried to prod the green head about his relationship with Tamaki, and who confessed. Miyaji had loudly proclaimed at one time that it must be Tamaki who had confessed, because honestly, none of them could see Midorima saying 'I love you' to someone.

"Sakura tree?" Takao questioned.

Tamaki nodded. "All those that attends the military Academy would know about it, so it isn't that much of a surprise that you wouldn't know," she smiled sadly at Takao. "There's this huge weeping sakura tree in the Academy's grounds." She gestured with her hands as she spoke. "That tree is always blooming all year around, no matter what season it is. We used to have night picnics or even study sessions beneath that tree during our Academy days. There is even some rumour that said that if you confess to your true love beneath that tree, that love would be eternal. Thus, it is a pretty popular place for love confessions."

Takao was silent for a long while. "What changed?" he asked at last. "It seems to me like the both of you had shared a pretty good relationship, and you balanced each other out."

After all, if Midorima is the Fire, then Tamaki is the Ice. She is the cool headed one, always able to make people think rationally while Midorima sometimes tend to let his heart rule his head—especially during his early days as a soldier.

Tamaki didn't answer for a long while. "Relationships between soldiers, particularly those of the Royal Guard aren't explicitly forbidden, but it is discouraged," she said at last, skilfully avoiding Takao's question. "To some of the older soldiers, they feel that a soldier's duty should be to the kingdom and the royal family first, our own family and personal feelings second. At that time, as most of those in high positions are pretty relaxed about such things, they don't really care. And as neither Shin nor myself neither confirmed or denied our relationship, there isn't anything much that some of the close-minded folk could do. Things were…great for a few years after we finished our apprenticeship, and entered the Royal Guard, even becoming the commanders after Shu-nii stepped down. It was great…in the beginning."

Takao knew where this is going, and his eyes darkened. "…The Red King."

Tamaki nodded. "After he ascended to the throne, the kingdom changed, as you already know," she said, and Takao nodded. "Due to what we were often forced to do as a result of his orders, it changed us as a result. I was lucky; I was head of Intelligence. That means that mainly, my responsibilities are to crack down on spies and deserters, as well as to conduct investigations. For some of the others like Aomine-kun, Kise-kun and maybe even Shin… They weren't so lucky." She admitted. "Aomine-kun had been the head of the Covert Ops, and Kise-kun had been head of the Self Defense Forces. They are the ones often sent to 'execute' those who go against the king. To the Royal Guard, what the king says is law. We can't go against it." She admitted. "To do so is an immediate death sentence—as it is as good as treason. Shin and myself are probably the only ones out of the five of us who could see that what we're doing is wrong, but neither one of us have the courage to speak out."

"Why?" Takao wanted to know. "They… The Generation of Miracles are the Crown Prince's most loyal soldiers, aren't they? You have been his guards since he had been a child and when you were apprentices! Why couldn't they see that something is different? Why are you the only one who could see that something is wrong?"

"I don't know." Tamaki admitted. "Trust me, I've asked myself that countless times, but I never had an answer. Murasakibara-kun had always followed the prince's orders without question. I think that Sei had saved him when he was very young. He wasn't originally a Teiko citizen, from what I know. He had been originally from the Kamata West Kingdom. He was found left on the battlefield during the war, and Sei took him into protective custody, even sponsoring him into the military Academy like he did for Shige-kun, Shogo-kun and myself. He owes Sei his life. That's why Murasakibara-kun had been so fiercely loyal to Sei." She told a shocked Takao. After all, the fact that Murasakibara isn't originally from Teiko isn't widely known. The only ones who do apart from the royal family have just been Tamaki and Nijimura. "I think that if Sei ever asks him to die, he will do so without question."

"…I see now why he is amongst the most feared and hated now." Takao muttered. "Blind loyalty… And the others?"

Tamaki shrugged. "I don't know about Kise-kun, but Aomine-kun…" she trailed off slowly. "That guy… He'd always lived for the thrill of battle. All of us knew that—even back during our Academy days. That's why Shige-kun and Shogo-kun didn't like him. Those two have seen war for the truth that it really is, just like myself and Sei did, and they hated war with a passion. If possible, they would rather resolve everything peacefully rather than fighting. During our Academy days, they often got into a lot of conflicts with Aomine-kun over this matter, since Aomine-kun is… Well, for the lack of a better word, he is more of the brawn than the brain. All there is in his simple minded brain is 'attack attack attack'." Takao sweat dropped at this. "I'm honestly not all that surprised that he changed so drastically—both in skill and character when the Red King came into power, and he is given free reign to show his power the way that he had never been allowed to. Aomine-kun always had this dark aura about him—even during our Academy days." Tamaki admitted. "As for Kise-kun, I'm honestly not sure. It could be various factors—that he is easily influenced by what he had been forced to do, or that he idolised Aomine-kun too much and desired to be like him so much that it changed him even without him realising it."

Takao was silent. Were the Generation of Miracles really this weak in character? That out of the five of them, it had been only Midorima and Tamaki who could see that what they're doing is wrong? He can understand Murasakibara. But Kise and Aomine too?

"Even Shin start to change when even we were ordered to clam down on those who goes against the Red King." Tamaki admitted, not wanting to recall that one dark day when she'd reported to work and found a mission missive waiting for her in her office, and what she had to order her soldiers to do. "Bear in mind that this is around that time when rebellions were happening left, right and center. Thus, even our units were called in to help curb those rebellions. I've lost count of the number of villages that we were sent to raze, and even the people whom we'd killed just because we're acting on the Red King's orders." Tamaki admitted. "If people hate me as well, I won't blame them. They have every right to do so. I've betrayed them as much as the rest of my…former friends did." She admitted.

Takao's heart almost broke at how broken that Tamaki sounds. How long had she kept that guilt inside her? Knowing that she had caused the deaths of hundreds of civilians. It is true that Tamaki had saved plenty of lives, but she had also killed many. Her hands were as dirty as the rest of them.

"You did as much as you could. No one blames you." Takao said gently. "The kingdom loves you, Tamaki. You just don't know how much."

Tamaki said nothing for several moments. "…That had just been the start when Shin and myself start to drift apart when even our units were dragged into the chaos that is the Teiko Kingdom four years ago," she said at last. "It was never stated officially, but we broke up about a year after the Red King came into power."

Takao didn't know what to say to that. "I think Shin-chan was as affected as you, Tamaki," he said at last. "He just had a problem at expressing his emotions. But you knew that, of course."

Tamaki nodded solemnly. "I do," she said. "But at that time, there were just so many problems at hand that I just…couldn't see it." She admitted. "My eyes were blinded to the truth because of how angry I had been…and the guilt that I felt because of what I was ordered to do. I accused Shin to his face of being a monster, just like the rest of them…like the rest of us." Tamaki whispered, trying to blink away tears as she recalled the cruel words that she had shouted at Midorima that night, and he never did or said anything to defend himself, with dead eyes staring straight at the floor. She never did get the opportunity to apologise for her words either. "That had been the last time that I actually spoke to him. At least until he came to me, begging me to save you."

"I remember that." Takao said, nodding his head. "That had been when I was ordered to be executed by the Red King just for speaking out against some of his orders. I saw just how Shin-chan had been hurting and I didn't like it. Then before I even knew what is going on, I was sentenced to death."

"Shin literally begged me on his knees that night." Tamaki told Takao. "He thought of you as a brother. Apart from myself, you are probably the only one whom he'll trust with his life. Not even the others had that privilege. He trusted them as comrades and fellow soldiers. But not more than that. After that, you know what happened."

Takao said nothing for several moments. Not for the first time, he cursed the Red King to eternal Hell for what he had done to so many people. The lives he had ruined. The lives that have ended as a result of his orders and the things that he had done… Can they even rebuild? Could Teiko still be salvaged? Can he…can he really fulfil his promise to Midorima?

After a long while, Tamaki got to her feet. "…I think I'm going to sit with Sei," she announced.

She was surprised however when Takao took her by the arm, shaking his head. "Not today," he said firmly. "Shige said that he's willing to watch over the prince tonight. You on the other hand need some sleep."

"I'm fine—"

"I promised Shin-chan to watch over you." Takao interrupted, and Tamaki fell silent. "You don't want to make me a liar now, do you? And do you honestly want the prince to wake up tomorrow and see you looking like death warmed over? I doubt that he would be pleased." Tamaki said nothing. "Thought so. Get some sleep. The prince will still be here once you wake up. You did your part. Now let us help you."

Tamaki nodded hesitantly. "Wake me if he wakes up or something," she told Takao who nodded, and he then watched as she shuffled off towards the direction of the small 'house' that she shared with Shige and Haizaki. Takao was silent for a long while before he sighed. "Satisfied now, Shige?"

From within the shadows, Ogiwara Shigehiro stepped out, smiling sheepishly at him. "Sorry. But I want to at least make sure that Tamaki is doing all right," he admitted. "She had this bad habit to bottle up everything that she's feeling and pretend to everyone else that everything is all right. She's still human after all. She had her limits."

"And are you satisfied?"

"Yeah." Shigehiro nodded. He said nothing for several moments. "Do you still like her, Takao?" He asked suddenly.

Takao said nothing for several moments, staring at the opposite wall like there's something fascinating there. He felt a lump form in his throat. How long had he kept this mask up, pretending that he's fine? At first, it was just a crush that he had on Kuroko Tamaki—an infatuation.

For the one simple reason that she had saved him. Then it had developed into a crush when she always took the time to make sure that he's settling in properly, and it only got worse when Midorima got Tamaki to help him with Takao's training, and she had also been the one to stop Midorima when he took his 'abuse' a little too far.

And who knows when it had even begun, but that infatuation soon became love. And that pain in his heart whenever he sees Tamaki smiling at his best friend only grew—making him feel as if a knife had just stabbed into his heart. Hence why he had always teased Midorima about Tamaki. It helped to lessen his pain and his guilt—for falling for his best friend's girlfriend.

Takao had no idea if Midorima even knew about his feelings for Tamaki, but Takao is sure that he had at least suspected it. Probably why Midorima had asked him to watch over Tamaki with his dying words.

I can't be the man that she wants anymore. I can't protect her any longer.

"…How long have you known?" Takao asked at last, leaning against the wall behind him, and looking at Shigehiro in the eye.

Shigehiro shrugged. "Since we were in the Royal Guard together," he admitted. "I'm not in the Intelligence Division for nothing, you know? I don't think that Tamaki suspects though. Even back during our Academy days, it took her a long time before she can even admit to herself that she likes Midorima."

"It doesn't really matter to me if she doesn't return my feelings." Takao shrugged with a small sad smile. "It might sound cliché, but as long as I can see her, and know that she's doing all right, and that she's happy, I'm fine with it."

Shigehiro looked at him shrewdly. "Are you sure?" he asked. "Is that really all right for you?"

Takao nodded. "…Yes." He sighed, turning to look at Shigehiro. "Can we pretend that this conversation never took place? I don't think Tamaki needs more to worry about."

Shigehiro nodded solemnly. "You have my word," he promised. "I think that I'll go and keep an eye on the prince. Get some proper rest, Takao, once the next shift arrives."

Takao nodded silently even as he listened to the soft footsteps of Shigehiro fading away until he could hear nothing. He stood leaning with his back against the wall for several moments without doing anything before he reached his hand into his back pocket and pulled out a crumpled letter slightly stained with blood—the last thing that Midorima had left him.

Takao,

By the time that you read this, I will be long gone. So know that I have no regrets, no matter how I'd died. My only regret is that I can't be with Tamaki. I can't be there to watch as she revives the kingdom to what it had once been. If she asks, know that I will love her.

Always.

Sometimes, I do worry about her. And you too.

This civil war had changed all of us without a doubt. Aomine, Murasakibara and Kise have changed. They are not who they used to be when we were still in the Academy. As for Tamaki… I honestly can't remember when is the last time when I've seen her smile. Probably, I'm as much to blame for taking away her smile.

Do one thing for me, Takao. Please watch over her. I know that you love her. I can tell. You look at her the same way that I look at her. Your jokes and your teasing for all these years… It is to cover up that pain. I'm sorry for the pain that I'd put you through.

But if I can make one last selfish request of you, my friend, it is that I want you to be there for Tamaki whenever she needs you.

I want you to protect Tamaki. To watch over her. And I think that you might be good for Tamaki. You can be for her what I can never be. You can make her laugh. Make her smile. I was the one that took away her laughter and her smile—I can never stand by her side again. And she is going to need a lot of laughter and hope from now on.

Protect her smile for me, Takao. Bring her back for me—the old Tamaki before she'd forgotten how to smile and forget what it means to live. Protect her. Save this kingdom. Protect the Prince.

I can't do that anymore.

Thus, I have to ask the both of you to do for me what I can no longer do, along with Ogiwara, Haizaki, and all the others.

Live on for me, Takao. Tell the others that I'm sorry. That I am proud to be able to serve as the commander of such valiant men. Tell Tamaki that this is how I wanted to go, and I have no regrets.

Everyone has to die someday after all. Some just have longer to wait than others.

After all, this is the story of Midorima Shintaro, and this is how it will end.

Thank you, my friend, and I'm sorry for asking this last selfish request of you. When I see you again in the next life, I promise that I'll make it up to you.

Thank you for everything, Takao.

Takao didn't even realise when he'd started tearing up. He only realised it when he saw droplets of water on his hands, and when tears had started dropping onto the letter that he had been clutching in shaking hands.

He slide down the wall slowly, almost landing on his behind on the ground, barely able to read the words of the letter through his blurry vision as he tried hard to comprehend what Midorima had asked him to do.

I want you to protect Tamaki. To watch over her.

Protect her smile for me, Takao.

Takao closed his eyes in grief, covering his eyes with his right hand, his left clutching the last letter that his best friend had left him.

"Shin-chan, you idiot…!" Takao choked, trying to choke down the lump in his throat. 'Why must you tell me this? Why can't you fucking stay alive for Tamaki's sake? If you really love her… If you really love her, why couldn't you stay alive for her sake? Why can't you face her like the man that you really are?' "…You thrice damned idiot…"

I'm sorry.

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