The Runaway Empress

Chapter 16

It was four o'clock in the morning when Kimiko's phone rang.

"Akumicchi! We have an emergency!"

The girl almost dropped her phone at the loud voice that greeted her from the other end of the line. Glaring at the device, she put it back to her ear and yawned.

"...What...?"

"I said, we have an emergency!"

Kimiko rubbed her eyes sleepily. "...Okay..."

"Akumicchi, you have to help!"

"...Hmmm..."

At her answer, Kise wailed. "Akumicchi, this is a matter of importance!"

"...Try again later..." Kimiko buried her face in her pillow, muffling the last part of her sentence.

"NOOO! Akumicchi, you can't —"

She shot up in bed and muttered angrily. "The hell, Ryou-kun... Don't you know what time is it?"

"It's — seven minutes past four in the morning..." Kise replied slowly, before shouting once again. "But Akumicchi, this is really, really, really, really, really, really important!"

Kami, shut him up, please. The girl sighed, massaging her temples with her free hand. I think I'm going to get a headache.

"And just what is this 'matter of importance' that you're talking about?"

"It's about Kurokocchi's birthday tomorrow!"

I should've guessed, what with the others already bugging me about it.

The day before, Momoi had told her the reason why she asked to have a sleepover at Kimiko's — the pinkette was asking Kimiko to help her bake a vanilla cake for her beloved Tetsu-kun. Midorima came by with Takao in the afternoon asking her about the said event, insisting that he is just asking.

Not that I'm interested, nanodayo. As his previous teammate, I feel responsible to give him a birthday gift, that's all.

Murasakibara had sent her a message asking if it's alright to buy Kuroko lots of vanilla-flavored food as a gift, while Aomine was wondering if the phantom would be interested in Mai-chan as well, to which Kimiko threatened him that she will kill Aomine personally if he dare to influence Kuroko with his perverseness.

At their hopelessness, it was Kimiko's job to ensure that everything turns out well tomorrow. That means, she'll mostly plan their activities for said celebration and organize everything —the food, the drinks, the games, music, etc.

"Ryou-kun?"

"...H-hai, Akumicchi?"

"I'm going back to sleep."

"W-wait, Aku—"

"Come to my apartment after lunch. I'll tell the others. Then we can talk about it properly, not when it's so early in the morning when my brain is still not functioning properly. Got that?"

"Okay! Thanks a lot, Akumicchi! You're the best!"

"Yeah, yeah... Now let me sleep..."

"Okay! I'm hanging up now! See you later, Akumicchi!"

As if I can still sleep after that, she thought as she stared at the ceiling for a few minutes. Getting up from her bed, the chartreusette washed her face and changed into sports attire. Grabbing her iPod, she went out into the chilly January morning, jogging the route which she and the rest of the first string members of Teikou's basketball club used to follow during their early morning practices.


"Sei-chan? Are you alright?" Mibuchi asked the redhead as they jogged around the old city. The black-haired shooting guard was worried about his captain, who had shown up that Saturday morning at their meeting place looking unusually disgruntled and a bit disheveled, as if he hadn't slept the previous night. Akashi had started acting like this since Thursday morning, and it bothered Mibuchi to no end whenever he sees the redhead's eyes lose their focus once in a while, looking at something that Mibuchi cannot see, or whenever he hears the redhead sigh quietly, then checking his phone as if waiting for an important call or message.

But what alarmed Mibuchi the most was when he saw Akashi alone in the council room, working on some documents, when without warning, he slammed his hands on the desk in a sudden fit of anger, and then resting his elbows on the surface and burying his face in his hands in frustration.

Never had he seen Akashi in such state.

That is, until that day. Yesterday, to be exact.

"...Everything's fine, Mibuchi. Why do you ask?"

He didn't miss the way Akashi's answer was a bit late in coming, and that made him frown.

Something was really wrong with Sei-chan.

But the question is, what is it exactly?

When their classes ended for the day, Akashi was waiting for Mibuchi by the door of Rakuzan's gym. He had his school bag slung on his shoulders, and he looks ready to go home.

"Mibuchi, tell everyone that there will be no formal practice this afternoon, but if they want to, they are free to use the gym. I'll be going to Tokyo on business."

Mibuchi blinked. No practice? "Sure. I'll deliver your message to the club members."

"Thank you," the redhead said, nodding, before turning to leave the wondering Yaksha by himself.


Akashi went home to eat lunch and change his clothes before heading off to the station, where he boarded the train bound for Tokyo. He tried to ignore the fact that his heart is beating faster than normal and that he is actually feeling uneasy as he read Midorima's message to him. Earlier that day, he had sent the rest of the Kiseki no Sedai, with the exception of Kuroko (since he's the birthday boy) and Kimiko, his summons to gather at a certain branch of Maji Burger where they would talk and plan about Kuroko's birthday party. Akashi would not admit it, but not including Kimiko in his summons was due to his childish side — he was actually sulking due to the fact that Kimiko did not inform him of his presence when she had already met the others — and this hurt Akashi greatly, and for the first time in his life, Akashi felt unimportant and unsignificant, making him wonder if this was how Kuroko felt, being forgotten, only mentioned as an afterthought and partly because he'd not sure if she'd already changed her number and email address.

However, it seemed that someone had beaten him in taking charge for the party planning.

[From: Midorima Shintarou]

[About that... someone is already taking care of it.]

Akashi didn't miss that Midorima had intentionally avoided mentioning any names — perhaps thinking that Akashi will mistook that 'someone' as Kuroko's present teammates, most especially Kagami Taiga. It was possible, had not Akashi learned from his phone call to Aomine last Thursday that the chartreusette was already back. It seems that the rest had probably known about that fact, and most probably met or seen her in person, yet no one bothered to inform him about it.

Akashi hates not knowing something.

[To: Midorima Shintarou]

[And who exactly is that 'someone', Midorima?]

Five minutes had passed and still no reply from Midorima. Akashi smiled bitterly. The greenhaired boy was probably debating with himself if he should tell Akashi or not. And that kinda... hurt. To think that the others would feel the need to protect Kimiko to the point of keeping her away from him — from someone that is and always have been a part of their group... But he could not blame them for acting as such. After all, it was his action that served as the last straw — the one that convinced the chartreusette to ditch everything and leave.

[To: Midorima Shintarou]

[Is it Akumi?]

He could almost imagine Midorima staring at his phone in shock, and running through the possibilities in his mind on who could have been responsible for leaking such information to Akashi in the first place. No one would do that, of course, and it would come as no surprise to the redhead if they would consider his name as a taboo word when they are with the chartreusette, even though Kimiko wouldn't think of it that way — well, Akashi hopes so. He was never able to predict her accurately as he could with the others. Kimiko can be impulsive at times, depending on her mood.

He gave up waiting for Midorima's reply, letting him try to figure out how the hell Akashi managed to know that piece of information, knowing perfectly that Midorima would never expect that Akashi had actually found out by pure accident. He doubts that Aomine would even notice — well, he would if he would just look at the duration of their last phone call — but Aomine was an idiot and he wouldn't be able to figure it out. The ganguro had forgotten all about Akashi the moment he saw Kimiko.

It was already half past four in the afternoon when Akashi arrived in Tokyo. He had taken back his orders for the Kiseki no Sedai to meet up, and had merely told them that he will attend Kuroko's birthday party that coming Sunday.

No one would be expecting him today.

I wonder how she will react at seeing me again.

And with that thought in mind, Akashi headed off to his next destination in mind.

Which happened to be a certain chartrusette's apartment.


"Oi, Shintarou, is something wrong? You seem agitated for some reason — is there something you don't approve of?" Kimiko asked, looking at Midorima in curiousity.

Midorima exhaled, then pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. Pocketing his phone, he said, "...No, it's nothing, nanodayo."

Kimiko doesn't look entirely convinced, but decided to let it pass. They were now on the final stages of their preparation — the only things to do would be to go and buy whatever needs to be bought and set up what needs to be set up. It was agreed that Kimiko, Kise, and Kagami would be the ones manning the kitchen (yes, Kagami was invited, so was Himuro and Takao — no one subjected to it, and Kuroko was more or less a friend of theirs, as well), Momoi, Takao, and Midorima would take care of the decorations (party hats, party poppers, etc), while Aomine, Himuro, and Murasakibara would be in charge of the games (with Kimiko's approval, of course). She glanced at the clock — it's already nearing four o'clock. She stood up and stretched her arms; sitting down for a long period of time makes her feel lazy.

"Okay, sooo... Time to go the grocery! Who wants to come with me? I need two people to carry everything."

"Me, me, me!" Kise raised his hand and waved it in the air enthusiastically.

"I'll go with you as well," Himuro offered.

Kimiko clapped her hands. "Good! Now, Shintarou, Kazunari, you go to the mall and buy these things." She handed them a list. "To those who will remain here, I expect you to behave. Taiga, Daiki, you can be as loud as you like but if one of you creates a mess in my apartment, I'll kick you out." The two shivered at the threat. "Atsushi, there are some snacks in the cupboard and ice cream in the fridge. Satsuki, keep an eye on things, will you? We need the apartment in one piece if we are to use it for the party tomorrow. Got that?" A chorus of 'Hai' was their answer. Satisfied that they listened to her reminders and warnings, she turned to her two companions. "Ryou-kun, Tatsuya, let's go."

"Ne, Akumicchi, you and Himurocchi seems pretty close..." Kise said on their way to the grocery store.

"Hmm? Well, Tatsuya is a pretty nice person and he helped me out when some idiots tried to mess up with me," Kimiko replied.

"Eh? Someone tried to hurt you?" Kise asked in surprise.

Himuro chuckled. "Well, they 'tried'. Kimiko broke a few noses and knocked out two people when I arrived at the scene."

Kise pouted at that then turned to Kimiko, who was smiling sheepishly. "Akumicchi, you really are a magnet for trouble..."

Entering the store, the three earned a lot of stares from the other customers. As they passed a group of girls who were whispering and giggling while looking at them, Kimiko sighed.

"Maybe I shouldn't have brought you two along with me..." she muttered, picking up several packs of pasta and dropping them on Himuro's basket.

"Hmmm? Why so, Kimiko?" the ravenhead asked as he and Kise followed her to another aisle.

"Because you two attract too much attention." She pointed at a group of six girls that had been following them around for a while now.

"Isn't that Kise-kun? Kyaaa! He's so handsome in real life!" one of them said.

"Who's the other guy with him? He looks cool and mysterious... Is he also a model?" another whispered not too quietly to her friend.

Kise waved at them, causing a few to faint at being acknowledge by their idol, while Himuro only gave a polite smile to them.

"Ne, who's that girl with them?"

"How dare she treat Kise-sama as her slave!"

Kimiko snorted at their words. "Tsk. Seriously. See what I mean, Tatsuya?"

"Eh? But the same thing happens when I'm with Akumicchi — other guys would stare at you and would try to hit on you whenever I leave your side for a short moment!" Kise complained.

"Ugh. Whatever. When will they stop following us?"

"Just don't mind them, Kimiko," Himuro said. His lone eye shone with amusement. "I'm sure they'll get tired sooner or later."

Well, they didn't, and Kimiko got a lot of glares everytime she drops something in either of the baskets that the boys were carrying, or whenever she scolds Kise for putting in random things that were not included in their shopping list.

"Ryou-kun! What in the world are we going to do with natto?"

"But, Akumicchi, it looks interesting — see?" Kise held it up for her to see.

"Shintarou hates natto, you know..."

"Kimiko, what are we having for drinks? Can we have cola?"

"Uh, no. Tetsuya doesn't drink cola. We'll just have juice — healthier, too." She caught Kise putting in a pack of wakame into his basket. She automatically said, "Ryou-kun, put that back! Se—" And then she stopped.

Seijuurou hates wakame.


In the mall, Midorima allowed himself to be led by Takao as they looked for the items on Kimiko's list.

How did Akashi knew about Kimiko? Midorima had worn out his brain thinking about the answer to that question. Well, Akashi always seem to know everything — down to the most trivial matters. One of the reasons why you shouldn't mess up with the redhead. He's got plenty of possible blackmail material. But Akashi is certainly no clairvoyant. He needs something to derive his conclusions. He can't simply say that he knows about Kimiko's return just because he felt it or something as absurd as that. There has to be a logical cause behind it. Akashi was a person of logic.

What will happen tomorrow then? Akashi was sure to be there, as well as Kimiko (it's her apartment we'll be using, after all) and Midorima cannot for the life of him imagine how their reunion will turn out.

He just hope that the two will not do anything stupid, if their little arguments in middle school (before Akashi changed) were anything to go by. They will never admit it, and would probably die before they do, but Teikou's captain and first-string coach can be pretty immature when it comes to arguing with one another. Hearing them fight is like listening to some twisted childish fight with lots of big words and references to scientific or philosophical ideas, though how they managed to fit those things over an argument on petty issues Midorima has simply no idea.

And if a squabbling Akashi and Kimiko was bad enough — enough to give everyone withing hearing range massive headaches — the two agreeing on something was even worse. Especially if that something involves scheming or plotting of some sort. Once those pairs of gold and crimson eyes meet in concurrence, expect them to concoct the most ridiculously brilliant plan ever. Midorima still shivers whenever he remembers that time when they, with the addition of Kuroko (who can be a little devil too when it comes to revenge, thanks to Akashi and Kimiko's influence), set the whole population of Teikou Middle School after him, Kise, Aomine and Murasakibara when they failed to be cooperative.

"...Shin-chan? Shin-chan?" Takao waved a party hat in front of his face.

Midorima swatted it away. "Stop that, Takao."

"I was asking you if this design was fine. Kimi-chan told us to get something that's basketball-themed." He pointed to several hats on the shelves. "Which do you like?"

Shutoku's ace pointed to the one that Takao also preferred, making the shorter boy to smile at him brightly. "Good choice, Shin-chan!" Grabbing a dozen of them, he hooked his arm around Midorima's own and dragged him off to their next item. "Let's go get some party poppers!"

Unfortunately, Midorima did not remember that Leo and Sagittarius have the worst luck that day.


"Whatever you say, Bakagami... I'm still stronger than you."

"You saying, Ahomine?"

Aomine sneered as he ducked a flying throw pillow. "Want proof? I'll take you on a one-on-one tomorrow. Then you'll see that I am better than you."

"Hah! Bring it on!"

Off to the side, Midorima, who had just arrived back from the mall, sighed at the two idiots. "Kagami, stop throwing those pi —"

FWAP!

Aomine smirked as the pillow hit its target, which happened to be Midorima's face.

"AOMINE...!"

At Midorima's angry face, Aomine sweatdropped. Uh-oh. I forgot that this guy has deadly accuracy wheb it comes to throwing things. The enraged three-pointer grabbed a couple of pillows and threw them at Aomine, hitting him square in the face. When he ran out of ammunition, Takao tossed him more pillows.

"Here you go, Shin-chan!"

"Oi, Takao, don't help that four-eyed freak!"

"And why wouldn't he?" Midorima said, accepting another pillow from the grinning hawk-eyed boy and chucking it at Aomine, who was trying his best to avoid them if not for Kagami who was blocking his way.

"Oi, Bakagami, move!"

The redhead smirked and laughed at him. "Why would I?"

"You—"

The doorbell rang, interrupting their argument. Remembering the chartreusette's words, the four scrambled to pick up the pillows strewn all over the floor and return them back to their original positions. Momoi was the one who answered the door.

However, the one who came in was not Kimiko.

"Akashi?!" Aomine, Kagami, and Midorima exclaimed as one. The emperor only gave them a small smile as their eyes followed him as he sat on the only loveseat in the living room.

"Why are you so surprised? Of course I will be here for Kuroko's birthday." He placed the paper bag with his gift to the phantom on the table before him. Leaning back on his seat, he crossed his legs and looked each of them in the eye. "Now," he said, looking around the room as the rest of the occupants sweatdropped, "why am I not informed of this gathering?"


Kimiko opened the door to her apartment, leading Kise and Himuro inside, loaded with grocery bags. They were chatting a bit noisily about something when Kimiko suddenly held up her hand, shutting the two up. They paused in the entryway.

"Akumicchi...?" Kise asked, confused.

"Can you hear that?" she asked softly, and the two boys cocked their heads to listen.

"...I don't hear anything..."

"Me, too."

Kimiko snapped her fingers. "Exactly!"

"Well, that's certainly weird," Himuro agreed. "Taiga and Aomine can never stay quiet for long, and Takao should be bugging Midorima — if they had already returned from their own shopping."

Kise thought for a moment. "Maybe they left or they fell asleep?"

"I don't think so," the girl murmured as they headed quietly to the living room area. Why do I get a bad feeling over this?

"Maybe Momoicchi cooked something and made them eat it?" Kise suddenly said just as they reached the end of the entryway. His statement made Kimiko laugh as she visualized the others fainting at the dining table, with Momoi looking at them innocently wondering why the guys suddenly lose their consciousness.

"Ryou-kun, Satsuki will surely get mad if she hears that!"

Kimiko turned her gaze to the living room area. On the couch, she could see the myriad of hair colors from the persons sitting there, gathered all together as if they were holding a conference over her coffee table, and they all turned to her when she and her two companions made their entrance. Everyone looked tense and nervous — even Murasakibara was not eating his snacks.

She tilted her head slightly as she stared back at them. "What's wrong with you, guys?"

She then heard Kise gasp behind her, and she was about to ask him what was his problem also when her brain registered the fact that there are two redheads in the room.

There, in the gap between Aomine and Kagami's heads, sitting across them was one Akashi Seijuurou, with his heterochromatic eyes, calmly looking straight at her.


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