"Who is it from?" Himuro asked, walking over to his partner. He wiped the sweat from his face with a towel given to him by one of the blushing managers of Yosen's basketball club.
The purple-haired Miracle looked at the notification message flashing on the phone's screen with a pair of lazy eyes. "It's from—"
Violet eyes widened in surprise.
"From?" Himuro prompted, not seeing Murasakibara's surprised expression.
Himuro stopped and stared at Murasakibara in confusion. Murasakibara sounded serious all of a sudden.
Murasakibara shoved the phone in his face abruptly, causing him to step backward. Himuro looked at his partner's irritated face then to the screen of his phone.
One message from Kimiko Akumi.
"Muro-chin, how long have you known Kumi-chin?"
"You can go with us tomorrow, if you want. Kimiko wouldn't mind," Himuro offered. He had just told Murasakibara about his meeting with Teiko's former first-string coach, and Murasakibara, fortunately, understood Himuro's reason for not telling him about it immediately afterwards. He can't blame the ravenhead anyway for feeling hesitant at opening this topic to either Kimiko or Murasakibara, what with all the drama involved in their past. It's their problem, not Himuro's — he doesn't have anything to do with it, and he doesn't want to stick his nose where it doesn't belong.
But if one of them asks for his help, he wouldn't refuse. That is, they have to ask him first.
"I can't," Murasakibara said with a frown.
"You have something to do tomorrow?" Practice was moved to Sunday instead since their coach had some business to attend to, and they don't have class either. In short, tomorrow was a free day for Yosen's basketball team.
"No~," Murasakibara replied. "But I don't know if Kumi-chin would like to see me..."
Himuro raised an eyebrow hidden under his bangs. "Why would you say that, Atsushi?"
Murasakibara's face expressed guilt and remorse, very unusual for the childish giant who never seemed to care much about the people around him. He hung his head and stared at his feet. "It wasn't only Aka-chin who hurt Kumi-chin back then..." He met Himuro's shocked gaze. "I did, too."
"Honestly, what's with them? Making Aominecchi play in games regardless of him coming to practice..."
Club practice was already over for the day, and the members were doing clean-up. Murasakibara passed by, pushing the scoreboard off to one side. Midorima and Akashi was in charge of the balls, gathering and wiping them up before putting them back to the crate. Kise leaned on his mop as he thought as he thought about Coach Sanada's decision on Aomine's case.
"I don't know the head coach's true intent, but I cannot agree with it," Akashi said, handing a ball to Midorima.
Lost in his musings, the blonde didn't notice Kimiko approaching him with a clipboard in hand, which she promptly used to smack him on the head.
"Itai! Akumicchi, what was that for?!" he wailed, rubbing the back of his head.
"Stop yapping and do your mopping..." she muttered, before tossing a ball she carried on her other hand to Akashi. Without another word, she turned and returned to her seat on the bench, working on the training menu for the third-string in an effort to help them improve their skills in time for the next promotional exam.
The members stared at her for a while. Lately, Kimiko had been quick to get irritated. She'd been like this ever since they won the Nationals, which was around the time Aomine started slacking off. The third years have already retired by then, but still Nijimura drops by once in a while, talking with the moody chartreusette.
And then there was Coach Shirogane's unexpected illness, making Coach Sanada as the head coach and Kimiko taking up his responsibility to the first-string.
"Akumi, is there a problem?" Akashi asked. He walked to where she was seated when Murasakibara suddenly commented on Kise's statement.
"About that... If it's okay to not practice as long as we win the games, I don't wanna practice either."
Akashi stopped and turned sharply at him. "Don't be stupid. I can't possibly allow that."
Murasakibara looked down on Akashi as the redhead approached him. "I mean, I don't feel like I'm going to lose at all. Besides," he drawled, "I at least listened to you till now, Aka-chin because I felt like I'd never be able to win against you." Murasakibara's gaze turned into a mocking one. "But lately, it feels like that's no longer the case." He lifted his chin in defiance as Akashi gritted his teeth at the insult hurled at him by the taller boy. "I don't wanna follow directions from people weaker than me."
Akashi's eyes narrowed dangerously. "What was that?"
Momoi, who had been watching the argument between their captain and their center along with the rest of the first-string members, went to intervene before things got worse.
"What is this? Mukkun, this is a joke, right?"
Suddenly, there was a loud clatter from behind them. Everyone turned to where Kimiko stood, head bowed, hands clenched into fists at her sides. Her clipboard lay shattered in pieces on the gym's floor, where she had hurled it in her anger.
"Enough." She raised her head and her eyes were murderous. "I've had enough of all your egoistic talk. Everyone out of the gym this instant." No one moved. " I said, OUT!"
At her shout, everyone present, except Akashi and Murasakibara, jumped in surprise. Feeling her glare on them, they hastened to follow her command. They were about to make a run for the locker room when Murasakibara shifted his attention to the enraged girl.
"I won't listen to you, too, Kumi-chin. I don't need to do your training menus — I can still win without your help~"
The silence in the gym after Murasakibara said those words was defeaning.
"Stand aside," Akashi said, pushing Momoi out of his way. He then said to Murasakibara, "You're going too far with your words, Murasakibara. You are being ungrateful to Akumi. I simply cannot let this pass."
"And what are you going to do, ne, Aka-chin?"
Akashi looked up at the giant. "If I have to pin you down by force, then that is what I will do." He bent over to pick a ball lying near his feet. "One-on-one. Five scores to win. I'll make sure you'll never skip practice nor talk to me or Akumi that way."
"No!" Kimiko ran to where they stood, knocking the ball from Akashi's hands. "Seijuurou, back off! And you, Atsushi, if I hear —"
"I refuse, Akumi." Akashi had gone and retrieved the ball. Kimiko froze at the cold stare that the redhead fixed on Murasakibara. "He needs to know his place."
"Kuso..." Kimiko cursed as she gripped the marker in her hand as Murasakibara blocked Akashi's attempt to make a lay-up. She looked at the score.
4-0. In favor of Murasakibara.
"Impossible..." Midorima muttered. "To think it would be this one-sided..."
On the court, Murasakibara stood in front of Akashi, who was panting slightly from exertion. This time, Akashi was on defense. Murasakibara looked down at his form and said, " Honestly, this is a bit... No, quite...disappointing. It's like impossible to listen to someone who can only go so far... Oh well," he backed away and dribbled the ball, preparing for his attack. "I make this shot, and I'll do whatever I want as promised, anyway."
I, Akashi Seijuurou, am going to lose? This cannot be. Such a thing must not happen. I must win... No matter who it is against... No matter what happens... Victory is everything in this world. The victor is acknowledged, and the vanquished is disavowed.
Just as Murasakibara was about to drive past him, Akashi said, "Since I always win, I am always right." Suddenly, the ball flew out of Murasakibara's hands, and out of the court.
No one can fully comprehend what or how it happened.
"Hold it," Kise said in confusion. "What happened just now?"
Midorima felt a chill run down his spine. "..I have no idea."
Momoi watched in horror. "Something's different... This isn't the Akashi-kun we've known until now..."
Calmly, Akashi went to get the ball. He had his back to the others. "You're getting a bit too carried away, Atsushi. Don't get me too angry. Anyone who acts against me is never forgiven." He turned, and his left eye flashed golden. "Even if they are my parents."
Akashi won, 5-4.
Murasakibara kicked the water bottles on his way out. "Well, I'm done for the day. Good work,' he said with a careless wave of the hand.
Murasakibara brushed Momoi's concern. "I'm telling you, it's fine if I show up to practice like usual tomorrow, right? And Kumi-chin, I'm sorry. Ja~"
"No. I am calling that off." Akashi stepped forward as Murasakibara turned with a glare at his captain.
"Do as you like. As long as we win our games."
Midorima raised a cry of protest. "What are you talking about, Akashi? You just said—"
"The same goes for both Midorima and Kise. All actions will be glossed over as long as we win our games."
"Are you saying that—"
Akashi cut Kimiko off. "Exactly what it is, Akumi. You don't have to improve our training menus. At our level, it's more of a waste of time to force everyone to get in step. It is more efficient to stop adjusting. In fact, it's better if you can focus on improving the members of the second and third-string. They're the ones who need it, not us."
Kimiko leveled her eyes fearlessly into Akashi's. She clenched her hands at her side so tight that her fingernails bit into the flesh of her palm. "Are you saying that from now on, we'll be doing away with teamplay?"
He smiled at her then, but not the smile that he used to give her back then. "As expected, you catch on very quickly, Akumi. That's right. For the Kiseki no Sedai, team play is nothing but a hindrance. But you don't have to worry about that. It's my responsibility as a team captain after all." Kimiko barely managed to stop herself from flinching as Akashi strode over and patted her on the head. "As long as you and I holds the team, nothing will go wrong. Victory will always be ours."
"And you haven't apologized to her properly after that?" Himuro sighed. To be honest, he wanted to give Murasakibara some serious beating, but then again, Murasakibara and the rest were all kids back then — immature, impulsive, careless — and thus, he couldn't really blame the purplehead for that. So not only was Murasakibara the one who triggered Akashi's awakening of his Emperor Eye, he was also the one to make the first of the many wounds to the chartreusette's heart.
"It wasn't that simple, Muro-chin..." Murasakibara replied, his face sullen. "We... The team was always at war after that, and Kumi-chin was already avoiding me..."
"Well, I wouldn't blame her for doing that. You told her such hurtful words — what would you someone just disregards all your hard work? I think, her training was part of how you managed to get as skilled as you are now. And as you have said to me before, Kimiko makes sure that you were all in perfect condition and even gives you snacks, right? She's probably disappointed at how ungrateful you were to all of her efforts, even though she might not be asking for something in return."
"Muro-chin, what should I do?" Murasakibara whined.
"Obviously you have to go and say sorry to her. It's probably overdelayed, but it's better than nothing, right?"
In the end, Murasakibara didn't come with him to Tokyo. After getting off at the station, Himuro went straight to Kagami's apartment where he would be staying for the night. Alex greeted him at the door.
"Tatsuya!" She leaned forward to give him a kiss but Himuro was quick to evade. He chuckled as Alex pouted, letting him in through the door.
"So Tatsuya, what brings you to Tokyo?" she asked once everything was settled. The trio sat on couch, sipping juice that Kagami had prepared.
"I'm meeting a friend."
"A friend?" Kagami turned to Himuro. "I didn't know you had a friend here in Tokyo..."
"She's someone I met just recently."
Alex grinned. "A girl, Tatsuya?"
"Alex, we're just friends," Himuro clarified, seeing the wheels in the blonde's turning and chucking out assumptions.
"Really?" Alex wiggled her eyebrows mischievously.
Himuro couldn't help but sigh. Trust Alex to exagerrate things. "Yes, just friends."
"If you say so..." she said in a singsong voice, obviously not believing him. Himuro then checked the time and excused himself. He still has to pick Kimiko up from her house, after all. When he was gone, Alex turned to Kagami with a playful smile.
"Taiga, come on. We have some spying to do."
"Uh, Tatsuya, why do you keep looking behind us?" The two were simply wandering around after seeing a movie, killing time until dinner. They had a good hour and a half to while away, and their feet led them to a park in central Tokyo.
"Nothing. It's just that —"
"Eh? Was that Taiga?" Kimiko's sharp eyes had caught sight of Seirin's ace who was trying to act insconspiciously while being dragged by a blonde foreigner behind a lamp post. Himuro facepalmed at their epic efforts of hiding themselves when they were clearly in plain sight no matter what they do.
"How come you know Taiga?"
"I was about to ask you that. Tetsuya introduced me to him when I ran into his team at Maji's before."
Himuro nodded. "Taiga is my brother in all but blood. The woman with him is Alex, the one who taught us basketball in the States."
"Whoa, really? Awesome!" Then she frowned. "Though why are they following us?"
Himuro shrugged his shoulders in defeat. "That I do not know. Probably Alex's idea."
"Hey, I have an idea." The smile on Kimiko's lips was a sly one. She motioned Himuro to lean closer and she whispered her plan to him.
Himuro smiled in agreement. Oh, Alex, you don't know who you were up against.
"Taiga, faster! We're losing them!" Alex said impatiently. Kagami sighed but complied anyway — not that he have a choice. And truth be told, he was curious as to how Himuro had known Kuroko's former coach back in Teiko. Well, he'll just ask his brother about that later. For now, he's obliged to follow his mentor's orders and he quickened his steps.
Where did they go? he asked, scanning the crowd around them. He should have no trouble spotting them, what with Kimiko's bright hair and Himuro's height, but it's as if they suddenly gained Kuroko's misdirection and vanished into thin air.
"Can you see them?" Alex asked, standing on tiptoes and peering at the sea of people. After some time of fruitless search and wandering about in the weekend crowd of Tokyo, Kagami gave up.
"No, they suddenly vanished —"
A new voice cut him off. "People don't vanish — unless their name is Kuroko Tetsuya, right, Taiga?"
Alex and Kagami turned to find that the very people that they were searching for were standing right behind them — Kimiko with hands on her hips, Himuro beside her with a smug smirk at having outsmarted the two who were stalking them during his 'date' with the chartreusette.
"We were behind you all the time," Himuro said at Alex and Kagami's guilty faces.
"So this is your friend, Tatsuya?" Alex stared at the pretty girl before her, and smiled brightly at her to introduce herself. "Hi, I'm Alexandra Garcia, mentor to these two guys. Nice to meet you—?"
"Kimiko, Kimiko Akumi."
"Nice to meet you, Kimiko-chan~"
Kimiko smiled back. "Nice to meet you too, Alex-san—Eh?!"
Himuro had grabbed her arm and pulled her to the side just as Alex was about to give her welcome kiss to the unknowing chartreusette. The two males cannot help but facepalm at this habit of their mentor.
"Alex, how many times do we have to tell you that you just can't kiss someone like that!"
Kimiko blinked. Kiss? She's trying to kiss me? "Huh?"
"Ah, you see, Alex has this annoying habit of kissing people as a way of greeting," Himuro explained.
"Well, it's just a kiss, right?" she asked innocently, only to be confused by the looks on Himuro's and Kagami's faces.
"You don't know Alex yet, Kimiko," Kagami said flatly. Himuro continued it for him.
"Alex likes to kiss people on the lips."
"Wh-what — Kyaa!" Kimiko hid behind Himuro as the blonde grinned at her and pursed her lips.
"Nooo! Tatsuya, get her away from me! I don't want to be violated!"
"Royal Flush," Kimiko said proudly as she laid her cards on the table.
It was five in the afternoon, and Kimiko found herself in Kagami's apartment playing poker with them on the low table in the center of the room. A bunch of make-up from Alex's stuff was laid on one side, which they used as a form of punishment to the loser.
"Damn," Kagami grumbled as the three turned to him with evil smiles. He stared in horror as they picked their choice of make-up on the table. Alex was holding a blush-on, Himuro an eyeliner, and Kimiko a bright red lipstick.
"Taiga, look here!" and before he could protest, the chartreusette had already snapped a picture of him with her phone after they were done with his face.
"How come you haven't lost even once?!" Out of the four of them, only Kimiko's face remained unmarked. Kagami, who lost the most number of times, looked horrendous with his multicolored lips, cheeks painted red with multiple layers of blush-on, and circles drawn around his eyes. Himuro looked like a goth with his black lips, overly thick foundation, and a black line running from under his eye down to his cheek. Alex looked comical with her red nose, pink lips, darkened eyebrows, and whisker marks. Their faces were like a product of one messed-up make-up artist.
"I have lots of practice," Kimiko replied, shuffling the cards with expertise. "Try playing poker with a mind reader, and you'll know why."
"But you're like a mind reader yourself," Himuro said as he gathered his cards. Good thing he was good at maintaining a poker face, or else everyone would see that his cards were bad ones.
Kimiko, on the other hand, looked at her cards with a smirk. No doubt she's gonna win this round again — the question is, who will end up last?
A few more rounds, and still, Kimiko was undefeated. When the clock struck six, Kagami stood up and said that he has to prepare dinner.
"Hey, let's have a group picture first!"
"Heh. You only want that because you looked decent..."
"Come on, Taiga," and Alex put an arm around Himuro's and Kagami's shoulder, pulling them close as Kimiko stood in front of her, knees slightly bent so as not to cover Alex.
"Say cheese!" Kimiko clicked the button, and when it was done, everyone huddled around her to see the final photo. Everyone was smiling, even Kagami. "I'll post this on Facebook and Instagram!"
"What—No! You can't do that!" Kagami yelled, and Kimiko danced away from him as he tried to grab her phone. "Oi, Kimiko!"
However, the chartreusette was already on it. With a few clicks, the photo was posted on her Instagram account. "Too late, Taiga!" and she laughed as Himuro sidled over to Kagami's side and gave him a comforting pat on the shoulder.
"It's okay, Taiga..." Himuro said.
"No, it's not! Oi, you! Get back here!"
"What will you cook?" Kimiko asked Kagami, who was peering inside his refrigerator, deciding on what to do for dinner.
"I'm still thinking..." he replied. At his sulking tone, the girl chuckled.
"Still sore about that? It was a good picture, though..."
"Shut up... Tsk." Beside her, Himuro laughed lightly.
"Pft." She stood up from the couch and walked to where Kagami is. Looking at the available ingredients, a thought struck her. "How about grilled dried mackerel, then miso soup?"
Kagami stared at her. "You can cook?"
"What's with that question? Of course I can cook!"
"Hmp. All the other girls I've known are all horrible cooks... Oww!"
Kimiko had yanked his earlobe down. "Why the hell are you comparing me to them?!"
"Sheesh... Fine, fine, you can cook, I get it! Now let go of my ear!"
From his seat, Himuro watched as the two bickered in the kitchen as they prepared dinner. He was thinking of taking her out to some restaurant or something, but today's events seemed much better and more enjoyable. Kimiko clearly enjoyed being with them as well, and Himuro guessed that it was a good thing.
Just then, Alex emerged from her room after cleaning her face, and saw him watching the two.
"She's an interesting person, Tatsuya," she said. "Where did you meet her?"
Himuro turned to face her, and smiled at the memory of his first meeting with the chartreusette. Alex laughed as he told her the story, including parts of Kimiko's past as part of the famed Kiseki no Sedai in Teiko.
"So she plays basketball as well, eh?" Alex looked at Kimiko thoughfully. It was hard to believe though, with a face like that, who would think that a girl like her would be engaged in such a sport?
"You should play with her sometime," Himuro said. "I did once, and I tell you, she's good."
"Maybe I will."
"Taiga, go grate some daikon raddish to go with the mackerel, and slice some cucumbers as well. And check the rice, will you?"
"Why am I the one getting ordered around in my own kitchen?!"
Kimiko didn't look at Kagami as she busied herself with cooking the miso soup. "What was that, Taiga?"
"N-nothing!" Geez, this girl is indeed like that scissors guy...
"Good. I thought I heard something."
"That was good," Alex said after they had finished their dinner. He and Himuro were in charge of the dishes, and the ravenhead was already gathering the plates and bringing them to the sink. At her comment, Kimiko shot Kagami a triumphant look that says, I told you.
"Kimiko-chan, are you going to watch the Nationals?" Alex asked her while drying the dishes.
"Of course," she replied, thumbing through one of Kagami's basketball magazines. "How about you?"
"Wouldn't miss it for the world," she said. "Tatsuya and Taiga would be playing for their prefectures, after all."
After resting for a while, Kimiko had to go. Himuro, of course, would be the one to accompany her. Standing in the door of Kagami's apartment, she bid goodbye to Alex with a hug.
"See you around! And thanks for having me over, Taiga!"
"Ja, we'll be going then."
Himuro hailed a cab to Kimiko's house. It was within walking distance from Kagami's house, but it was late in the evening and they had just dinner so he decided against going by foot.
"That was fun," she said with a smile as they arrived at her house. Himuro agreed — he really enjoyed today. As he walked her to the front door, he suddenly remembered his conversation with his teammate. However, he hesitated in bringing it up because it might ruin Kimiko's mood.
"Thanks for today, Tatsuya," Kimiko said, pausing at the door that was already opened halfway.
"I'm glad that you enjoyed it, even though my plans got thrown out the window the moment Alex and Taiga appeared," Himuro said with a smile.
"They say that unplanned moments are the best ones, don't you think so?"
Himuro gave it some thought, then nodded at her in agreement. "Maybe so."
"Sooo, I'm going in... Thanks for sending me home!"
"Aa." He shoved his hands into his pants' pocket. "Good night, Kimiko."
"Good night to you, too. And take care on the way home!"
One last wave, and Himuro turned to go. Inside, Kimiko watched him walked away through her second-floor window.