The Runaway Empress

Chapter 10

Kimiko had just finished taking a shower after a very tiring day and was about to head to the kitchen to prepare dinner since she doesn't particularly like eating take-outs, preferring to cook her own food; that way she'll know what kinds of things goes inside her mouth.

Clad in a fresh shirt and skirt, she made her way downstairs when her phone rang in her pocket. At the same time, the doorbell rang.

Now, who would be barging in at her house at — she took out her phone and checked the time, at the same time reading her email from Himuro confirming that he had received her message earlier and that he had arrived in Akita — exactly 6:58 in the evening?

Her eyes narrowed as she approached the door, whose doorbell was being abused by whoever it is on the other side of the wooden entrance.

'It couldn't be —'

She swung the door open with a sigh. Sure enough, a blonde guy with extremely good locks stood outside her house, with a smile too it hurts her eyes just looking at the overly cheerful model.

"Ryou-kun," she said flatly, in contrast to the guy's obvious excitement. Aren't our roles exchanged? I mean the girls should be the bubbly ones while the guys are the composed ones? Or maybe I'm stereotyping...

"Kimikocchi~!" The blonde attacked her with a hug. Kimiko found herself squeezed by the ever hyperactive male, his face buried at the crook of her neck, where he was nuzzling her like a dog. He was saying her name repeatedly like a child with a toy dangling in front of him.

It seems that the Kise Ryouta I left behind a year ago is still the same childish and vain brat back then. And his instinct to hug people regardless who they are has still not changed too.

Maybe it's not bad to indulge Kise once in a while. And so Kimiko sighed, wrapped one arm around Kise, and the other reached up to muss up his hair. She felt Kise stiffen in surprise at her actions, simply because he was expecting her to push him away already. It was already a miracle that she didn't shut the door in his face, even more that she didn't evade his hug — honestly, Kise had a higher chance of hugging Kuroko than Kimiko — and now, she's actually reciprocating his embrace. Kise doesn't know whether to cry or to laugh.

"Kimikocchi, I really, really, really, really, really, really, really miss you so so so so so so so muuuuuuch~!"

She laughed, and messed up his hair even more. "It's glaringly obvious, Ryou-kun. One has to be blind not to notice that."

"Ne, Kimikocchi, did you miss me?" He asked her as he followed her into the kitchen. His tone was like that of a child seeking attention from his mother.

"Of course, I did. I still have a heart, you know," she replied with a snort. The blonde looked over her shoulder as she checked the contents of her fridge.

"Eh? Kimikocchi hasn't eaten dinner yet?" he asked.

"Hmm-mmm." She tapped a finger at her chin, figuring out what dish to cook with the available vegetables on hand.

Kise had been looking inside her fridge also, and without warning, he said with a matching fist pump, "I know!"

Before him, Kimiko jumped in surprise. She turned to look at Kise with a wary eye. Now, what is he up to?

"You know what?"

"I know what to cook!" He flashed a smile at Kimiko, then puffed out his chest as he said confidently, "Yosh! Leave dinner to me, Kimikocchi! I, Kise Ryouta, will cook you the best dinner in the world!"

She closed her eyes then made a shooing motion with her hand. "Who said I'm gonna set you loose in my own kitchen? And honestly, I didn't know you could cook. I have every right to doubt you, you know."

Kise stopped short. "Eh?" And then, fully comprehending the girl's words, Kise's ego visibly deflated. "EH?!" He almost shouted as he took a step back. His shoulders slumped. "Kimikocchi didn't trust me... I just wanted to cook you dinner but it seems that you won't let me..."

Kimiko looked at him with a mixture of emotions that she cannot quite discern what she's exactly feeling at the moment. Kise looked really dejected right now, and this was their first meeting for over a year of separation. Ever since she met Kise, the seemingly immature blonde had that special spot in her heart — she always sees him as a kid brother she never had, especially when he always gets bullied by the other Kiseki no Sedai members because out of all of them, Kise is by far the weakest, but then his full potential was still untapped by then. And she finds Kise's cheerfulness quite contagious, thus it really bothers her seeing a very downcast copycat in front of her.

Did I sounded too harsh?

She bit her lip, then made her decision. She backed down, stepped away from the fridge, then sat down at the dining table. She called out to the sulking blonde.

"I'm hungry. You better make dinner now, else I'm eating out. And do close the fridge, the bill's gonna take a hike."

From a whipped dog look, Kise turned to a very happy one, amber eyes sparkling with joy. "Really, Kimikocchi? You're gonna let me prepare your food? Really, really?"

"Say 'really' one more time and I'll kick you out of the kitchen. Start cooking already."

"—H-hai! I assure you, you'll like the food I'm going to serve you later, Kimikocchi!"

She laughed at Kise's excitement. He really gets happy with the smallest of things. "That remains to be proven." She sat back and just observed the blonde busy himself in her kitchen, telling him where certain things are kept whenever she sensed him wondering about the whereabouts of the knives, chopping boards, frying pans, and all that. The third time she spoke behind him, he turned to her and asked her.

"Seriously, Kimikocchi? Are you a mind reader, a clairvoyant? How can you tell that I am looking for this kind of knife without me saying it out loud?"

"Secret," she said, and stuck her tongue out at him. Kise huffed at his former coach's childishness and resumed his cooking.

"Need help slicing the veggies?" Kimiko said after a while.

"Nope! I can handle this, Kimikocchi!" Kise replied without turning to face her. "This should be done in ten minutes... Is that okay with you?"

"Just as long as you make it edible," she replied with a laugh.

"Give me some credit, Kimikocchi... I promise you'll like my cooking!" Kimiko only laughed as the blonde pouted.

Kimiko contented herself with watching a very focused Kise as he went on cooking, his back to her. He worked with quick, nimble movements, handling no fewer than four cooking procedures at once. Over here he tasted a boiled dish, and the next second he was at the cutting board, chopping something, then he took something out of the fridge and piled it in a bowl, and before she knew it he had washed a pot he had finished using. In all honesty, Kimiko was pretty much in awe.

Twelve minutes and forty-eight seconds later — Kimiko had actually timed it, not that she mentioned it to Kise, though — and an impressive array of dishes was laid out on her dining table. She eyed each one with an appreciative look.

Kise's cooking was far better than she had expected: an amazing assortment of fried, pickled, boiled, and roasted dishes using eggs, mackerel, fresh greens, aubergine, mushrooms, radishes, and sesame seeds, all cooked in the delicate Kyoto-style he remembered that she liked a lot.

"You practically emptied my fridge, didn't you?" she said. "Don't you think this is a bit overboard for a simple dinner?"

Kise laid the bowl of soup at the center of the table and took the seat across Kimiko with a proud smile on his face. "Nah, Kimikocchi deserves only the best, of course. Go on, take a bite, Kimikocchi!"

The chartreusette selected a few dishes to taste while the blonde observed her a bit nervously.

"So, how does it taste...?" he asked, as the girl's chopsticks went from bowl to bowl taking a bit of this and that, stuffing her mouth.

"This is great," she said, nodding after she swallowed her food.

"Really? You liked it, like really?" he exclaimed happily, relief and pride washing over him.

"Yup! I liked it, really," she said, giggling slightly. She looked at him in admiration. "You're really full of surprises, Ryou-kun! Where did you learn to make all this? This is just awesome!"

"That's a secret, Kimikocchi!" The blonde teased, remembering how the chartreusette had done the same to him earlier.

"Fine!" The girl huffed, and the two began to stuff themselves. Even Kise himself was surprised at how good it tasted — his copying skill is really useful, he concluded.

"Say, how did you know I was back already?" she said as she bit a piece of fried egg.

"I overheard Takaocchi teasing Midorimacchi about you when I ran into them at a shoe shop. I can't believe it at first and thought that maybe Takaocchi was talking about someone else but then Midorimacchi said your name and so I just have to go and confirm it with Midorimacchi and he said that you're really back and I don't know what to do so I went home but I got restless so I decided to visit you."

Kimiko was only able to catch the words "Takaocchi", "Midorimacchi", "shop", and "visit you" — the rest was incomprehensible at the speed in which Kise ratted them off.

"Aa," was the only reply she can give. "What?"

Kise looked liked he wants to say something but hesitation was reflected in his warm amber orbs.

"Ano, Kimikocchi... When will you decide to face..." he trailed off, not sure if he can mention the name to her. He looked down on his plate.

She sighed, and Kise jumped, scared that he might have ruined her mood. If memory serves right, Kimiko was quite a moody one back then, capable of switching from happy to pissed in three seconds flat.

"Sooner or later, we'll gonna cross paths one day. It's inevitable, and I'm prepared for that when I decided to come back here." Her voice grew quieter. "Tetsuya had fulfilled his promise to me, and I have to do my part as well. It's not like I planned to be separated from you guys forever, but I need to take a breather. I am choked — figuratively and literally. I had to leave."

He nodded in understanding, and decided to drop the topic altogether. He was just worried about how their meeting will end up. Given their personalities, it might end up into another full-blown war...

But Akashicchi's changed, right? He thought. Kimikocchi, too. Hopefully, they'll get things settled between them — Kise misses the times when everyone was gathered and would just fool around.

Those were the good old times.

Kimiko then asked him about his present team, and Kise immediately launched into a lively narration about his experience in Kaijou, to which the girl listened intently, making comments and inquiries once in a while.

Kise was happy as he talked about his new team, even though he's disappointed with losing to Seirin during the Winter Cup. More so since it will be Kasamatsu's last year with them.

"Kimikocchi, can you help me with something?" Kise asked when they had already finished dinner and had moved into the living room where Kimiko sat on the couch, strumming a random melody on her guitar. Kise had pretty much informed her of everything that had happened to him during her absence, and was now contented with hearing the girl's singing.

"What is it about, Ryou-kun?"

"It's a — it's a gift."

"Oh?" Kimiko grinned at him mischievously. "So who's the lucky girl?"

"Eh?! Kimikocchi, it's not like that!"

"So it's a boy?"

"Hai..." He looked at the floor.

Kimiko's jaw dropped upon hearing Kise's admission. She blinked, once, twice, thrice. At her silence, Kise looked up, then the conversation replayed itself in his head, and that's when he realized his mistake. He gasped.

"Nooooo, it's not what you think, Kimikocchi! I mean, yes, it's for a boy but we're not related like the way you think!" he screamed, and the girl burst into laughter once again until her eyes teared up, as Kise pouted at her actions.

"Mou, Kimikocchi... Are you thinking that I'm gay?"

"You're the one who put the idea in my head in the first place!" She retorted. "So, who's it for?"

"It's for my captain, Kasamatsu-senpai. I want to give him a graduation gift."

"I see. So, he's going off to University, then." His captain must have mattered much to Kise if he wants to give him a gift that he seriously gave thought to it.

At Kise's nod, she smiled. "How about we go gift-hunting tomorrow?"

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