characters: Shirube-centric (Tokyo B Shonen member Sato Ryuga's character in Zero: Ikkaku Senkin Game)
warnings: Mentions of child abuse. The abuse in the fic is not described in detail, not sexual in nature, and not presented as a good thing in the context of the story, but it still might be upsetting to some, so please read with discretion. Additionally, this contains spoilers for episodes 5 and 9.
word count: 3,266
author’s note: After watching this drama a zillion times and developing a lot of theories about the characters and their backstories, I started liking Shirube’s character a lot more than expected. This was the backstory that I came up with for me. Originally written for Shiritori @ writetomyheart
summary: A barrier-- that's what intelligence has been for Shirube's entire life.
A barrier-- that's what intelligence has been for Shirube's entire life, a barrier that has, without fail, kept him from being able to live whatever one might call a "normal" existence. He's not even sure what that would be at this point; he can remember wishing that he would be allowed to play with toys when he was young, rather than shipped from one research institution to another and forced to take test after test. He used to cry when he was really young, cry that he was hungry or he was tired or that he wanted to go home, but it was so ineffective that he'd already learned to stop by the time he was old enough for elementary school. "You're a genius," his parents used to say, "Geniuses don't cry," and while at the time, he was too young to understand what that meant, he supposed it had come true.
He didn't spend much time around other children anyway, not with all the testing and studies his parents forced him to participate in, but it was hard to make connections, anyway, when he was a "genius" who didn't cry and he was suddenly surrounded by a bunch of imbeciles who could barely count to 10. He didn't understand why other children constantly begged for breaks and play time when the daily schedule was posted plain as day on the blackboard, why they asked over and over what time it was when there was a clock clearly displayed on the wall, when they cried at times that they couldn't do what they wanted to do no matter how logically the teacher explained. And conversely, he didn't understand, either, why the teachers put up with these behaviors, why they indulged kids who cried over the stupidest little things and tried to comfort anyone who missed his or her mom by the end of the day. He knew it didn't really matter anyway-- he wasn't expected to participate in any of the lessons or classwork being done and instead sat by himself in the corner completing kanji workbooks intended for fourth grade students and finishing three-digit arithmetic with ease-- but just being in the same environment with them was enough to make him frustrated, especially when he was never afforded the same treatment, never comforted when he was hurt or upset. "You have an extraordinarily high IQ," he was told by his parents, "Depending on the test, around 180. You're not like other kids, so stop whining." And he hadn't known at the time what that number meant, but it stuck in his head-- something his mother and father seemed to wear like a badge of honor but felt more like shackles to Shirube.
But it didn't matter that much, he can remember telling himself even at the time, because he wasn't even in school very often with how much of his week he spent at research centers taking tests. He learned, over the course of time, that having a 180 IQ meant that he was very smart. It wasn't normal, he gleaned through the conversations adults always seemed to have as if children weren't in the room, to have a 180 IQ, and most people's was much lower, and because of that, it seemed, everyone wanted to know why he was so smart. Taking the tests wasn't always so bad-- they were stupid and easy, so despite how boring it was to sit at a desk writing answers or replying to someone's questions all day, it wasn't really worse than having to sit in a stupid elementary school classroom surrounded by idiots all day, but the experiments and scans and other medical tests were another story. By age six, he'd learned not to be scared, per se, though he had been at first, by the various machines and devices and the wires that the doctors and specialists stuck to his skin, but no matter how used to it he got, it's never been pleasant. Just one more brain scan, just one more test, they're always saying, but he had known even by that age that it wasn't just going to be one more. He'd been in and out of that sort of facility as long as he could remember, and the fact that adults always lied to him about how much longer the tests are going to go on, always had and always would for as long as he was in test facilities, was a part of why he hated it so much. It was through these tests that he had first begun to learn that adults were just as bad if not worse than the other children, a fact that would only get more clear with time.
Because things had only gotten worse when, around age seven, his parents had announced one day that he wouldn't have to go to school anymore; instead, he would go to live at a brain development research institution and study subjects that were much more interesting and relevant to him than at elementary school while also participating in testing and being studied himself. At first, it had sounded somewhat promising to live away from his parents, whose half-truths and lack of interest in his welfare so long as his abnormal intelligence was making them look good among their social circle had not endeared them to him over the course of his lifetime. But once he was moved in to the little dorm room afforded him in the university research institute and all the paperwork had been signed by his parents, he'd quickly learned that his hopes had been in vain. Regardless of what his parents had signed off on, he was forced into medical tests and experiments at all hours of the day and night, not to mention the individual abuse he suffered at the hands of the various specialists assigned to study him, who seemed to take their frustrations out on him when their tests weren't going as planned, and who seemed to be more scrupulous about their studies than their treatment of a child in their care. Shirube had put up with it for as long as he could, but after several years of enduring, he had had enough, and when he was given time to visit his parents (a chance he had about once a month but that he rarely looked forward to, all things considered), he'd informed them of exactly what was going on, in detail, and asked them to take him home.
It wasn't that he necessarily thought that his parents would be moved by his suffering, or that they particularly cared about his well-being, but seeing as he was the main asset, he supposes, looking back, that he'd at least assumed that they'd care how badly he was being treated. And so, even with his superior intelligence, Shirube had been startled when they'd showed no signs of emotion whatsoever at his situation, and flatly told him that they didn't care, and he needed to suck it up, because his participation in this medical study was more important than his physical health and happiness. He supposes now, looking back, that he should have seen it coming, but he can still remember the feeling of dread in his chest as they'd taken him back to the facility and told him to stop whining.
Of course, he knew he had other options-- it would take more effort and more time, probably, but it wasn't impossible-- but it was that day that Shirube had realized that humans, no matter what age, no matter what profession, no matter what walk of life-- were inherently corrupt, and that society as a whole was meaningless. Perhaps there were protections in place to attempt to protect humans from harm at the hands of other humans, but clearly, they were failing... something made even more clear when, after his parents told him clearly that they would not help him, he contacted child protective services on his own behalf and asked them to investigate his case... only to have the investigation drag on for over a year before he was finally liberated from the research institute and from his parents' custody.
By the time all the paperwork was completed and the red tape cleared and finally, he was placed in an orphanage, Shirube was exhausted. By the time most children are preparing for their final year of elementary school and gearing up for the stress of junior high school entrance exams, Shirube has already completed most of the coursework required to graduate senior high school and is mostly stressed by being forced to interact with other humans who, as a rule, he has come to contempt. He's come to realize that besides superior intelligence when it comes to mathematics and literature, outside of the fact that his brain just seems to work faster than those around him such that working out answers to everyday problems that take others hours takes seconds for Shirube, he also seems to have a higher understanding of human psychology than those around him that allows him to be able to tell easily when people around him are happy, upset, worried, confused. It's useful, he supposes, to get what he wants-- he's learned with time that the only way to protect himself and advance his position in life is to use those around him; that there's no one he can trust-- but it's exhausting being constantly surrounded by the waves of anxiety and insecurity of those around him. He can't turn it off, he can't just stop essentially reading people's minds, no matter how much he doesn't want to know what they're thinking, and it's especially bad in an institution where he's surrounded by dozens of other unhappy children. Still, the orphanage had been better than any other stage of his life, and so he'd kept his complaints to himself as he aced his way into the junior high school of his choice and, along the way, began to formulate plans to change the world himself.
It had started small at first-- wanting to change policies, wanting to change laws to protect people like himself-- but as time had gone on, he'd realized just how impossible that goal was. Adults told him it was impossible, classmates laughed at him, even those most victimized by the system around him seemed to have no desire to change things for the better. And so, now that he was out of his parent's grasp, he took full advantage of his freedom to spend the first two years of his junior high school career formulating and then meticulously preparing his plan to overthrow the government.
But as time went on, it became more and more clear-- while he had the intelligence and the drive, one thing that he was lacking was the money. No matter how smart he was, it was basically impossible for him to gain any large sum of money as a junior high school student besides through illegal measures, and as much contempt as he had for the law, he simply couldn't wrap his mind around the concept of stealing money from others without knowing for sure that he wasn't hurting someone innocent. And so, he was stumped, until, as he entered his final year of junior high, he noticed an online advertisement for a competition to "get rich quick" that struck him as different than the regular online scams that popped up so frequently. Perhaps it was designed to be subtle, but to Shirube, at a second glance, it was clear as day-- there was something different about the event that this little online banner was advertising, and so, determined to make his plan a success or at least die trying, Shirube found himself sneaking on a ferry surrounded by a large crowd of idiots heading towards a small island in Tokyo Bay labeled as "Dream Kingdom" one hot night in early September.
He has to admit that he hadn't necessary expected the scope of the competition-- that there was a company out there willing to spend so much money to create games with murderous results for losers was frankly surprising-- but he also doesn't really care. The games are easy enough to figure out for someone with his intelligence, and at this point in his life, he really couldn't care less if he does die while he's here. There's nothing to live for if he can't change the world, no point in spending the rest of his life existing in a system that victimizes and breaks the weak and innocent within it. And so, it's with calm self-assurance that he makes his way systematically through the qualifier round and another two games after, mildly irritated by both the incredibly stupid majority and the few others in the competition who at least possess a minimum of intelligence. Still, he knows that if he doesn't use the people around him as best as he can, he won't be able to make it to the end alone, and so he creates a small following of those who realize their own incompetence early on and are willing to do his bidding in exchange for his protection and castoffs. Those with some minimal intelligence are harder to use for his own purposes, and at first, he mostly hopes to ignore them, but when the pretty boy with the inferiority complex that he hides behind a sloppily-crafted villain persona asks him to join a game together, he figures that he might as well see if he can't use that to his advantage as well.
Shirube knows that the invitation is a poorly hidden attempt to get him out of the way; his potential murderer-- Hikawa, if Shirube recalls correctly-- probably thinks he's being subtle but most certainly isn't, but Shirube doesn't really care. What's important is knowing his motive and using it to his advantage, so when Hikawa offers Shirube the chance to choose the third team member required for the Meikyuu no Triangle Game, Shirube quickly calculates the odds for a person who seems mostly likely to balance out Hikawa: someone naive, selfless, and who values human life. It's a tall order anywhere in this corrupt world, really, but especially in this murderous competition fueled by greed, and it takes a moment for Shirube to scroll through the options in his brain before coming upon the best option.
Shirube is generally unimpressed by Ukai Zero; those who claim to be champions of justice rarely are, and while he doesn't have much time for the people running the competition either, he has to agree that he's not much more than a hypocrite. His companions, however, are a different story; as far as Shirube can tell, the three of them are some of the most pure, well-intentioned people in this whole competition, especially the tall blonde one. And so, he chooses him-- Saotome, was it?-- and enters the game without too much concern about how things will turn out. Certainly, Hikawa will try to kill him, but he's incompetent, just like everyone else, and having someone with both a large physical stature and better morals than the majority of contestants in this competition who is too stupid to make any plans of his own will buffer Hikawa as much as necessary while Shirube solves whatever the puzzle is. And if not, maybe it's better off if Shirube dies without having to suffer through any more of this horrible world, anyway.
Thirty-four minutes later, Shirube lays on the floor, staring up at the sky through the glass ceiling of the triangular room in which he's spent the past twenty-eight minutes. He's wet, his lungs burn, and his chest hurts as if someone has been putting an incredible amount of pressure on it-- which only makes sense, as certainly the only reason he's here at all is that Saotome has used CPR to revive him after he'd drowned. It's a little surreal; everything feels vague and cloudy, which is unusual for Shirube, and for a moment, he grapples with his brain and his surroundings to figure out what's going on. Somewhere in the fog, Hikawa makes some cowardly excuses about how he wasn't really trying to kill Shirube, though Shirube isn't really sure who he's trying to impress, he really couldn't care less, and he feels an odd sense of relief when he leaves the room.
Saotome helps Shirube into a sitting position before rubbing his shoulders gently, and that sensation is surreal, too, though if it's because his brain is still lacking oxygen from his brief brush with death or for some other reason, he's having trouble figuring out. He doesn't think he can recall a time in his life when anyone has been so kind, so gentle to him, and... no matter how much Shirube wants to think he's hardened to the realities of the world, it feels nice, he can't help but think despite himself.
"Shirube-kun, are you all right?" Saotome is asking him, though it feels sort of far away and like it's going on in slow motion, and when Shirube looks at him, the expression on his face is one that Shirube has never seen before. It's not a question of guessing; Shirube can tell that it's genuine, that for some reason, this utter stranger was worried about his welfare, and the situation is so new and foreign to him that Shirube has no idea what he's feeling.
"...choosing you was the right choice," he says at length, because somehow, he wants to express what he's feeling, but yet despite the fact that he can tell what everyone else in the world is thinking and feeling, he can't figure out what's going on inside his own chest right now. Perhaps it's because he's never felt thankful for another person before, never had this sort of interaction in his whole 14 years of life, but he feels clumsy for the first time ever.
But somehow, that seems to please Saotome, and he smiles a little bit as he continues to rub Shirube's back comfortingly. "Because I'm an idiot?" he asks warmly, referencing what Shirube had said earlier, during the game, though he doesn't seem offended by what would normally be considered an insult.
And so, "In a variety of ways," Shirube replies almost unthinkingly, and that in and of itself makes the feeling in his chest get even more complex. That he could be inspired to do anything without thinking is, well, unthinkable, and he's left reeling in the wake of being shown genuine kindness for the sake of kindness for the first time in his life. Of course, he thinks as his senses come back to him more and more with each passing minute, perhaps the existence of people like Saotome in the world, helpless, stupid, kind people who need protecting, is the reason he'd started on this quest in the first place... but yet, looking at his warm smile, face to face with the first person to whom Shirube's intelligence hasn't been a barrier, it's hard to find the will to want to destroy the government using cyberterrorism as he'd planned.
Once he's out of this room, he thinks, it will be easy to put this behind him. But yet, as he lays in his tent that night, planning how to get the last ring he needs to win this depraved competition, he can't get the sight of that warm smile out of his mind when he closes his eyes.