The Runaway Empress

Chapter 17

Akashi slowly opened his eyes as the last person, Aomine, finished his narration of his meeting with Kimiko. Kagami had been the one who told Kuroko's meeting with Kimiko, and Murasakibara was the one who relayed Himuro's encounter with the chartreusette. After hearing everything, except Kise's, Akashi had more or less drawn a rough timeline of what Kimiko had been up to all this time, which was simply wandering around Tokyo and bumping into old — and new – friends along the way.

And she had been doing that for about a month now.

What irked the redhead was that she didn't bother telling him. Does she hate me, then?

Okay, so he was in Kyoto — that's pretty far from Tokyo — and with the upcoming Nationals, not to mention his several other duties, there's no way that Akashi would have the time to be taking a trip to Tokyo (today, of course, was an exception). There's no way that they would meet by coincidence on the streets.

Besides, Akashi does not believe in coincidence.

From what the others had told him, Kimiko had treated them just as she always had when they were still in Teikou. That's understandable — aside from Murasakibara's display of ingratitude, none of them really hurt Kimiko the way he did. Kuroko, Midorima, and Momoi were all blameless, Kise not-so because he and Aomine, together with Murasakibara, always create trouble in and out of the court. Out of them all, he was the one who committed the worst crime against her.

Everyone around him was quiet as he contemplated on how he should face Kimiko. He knows perfectly well that he has no right to feel angry at her nor is he in the position to make demands, but the act of keeping him out of their planning for Kuroko's birthday makes Akashi want to throw a tantrum. He was like a kid that was denied his favorite toy.

This is ridiculous, he thought, pinching the bridge of his nose. Of all the times to be childish.

Midorima watched Akashi from the corner of his eyes. The redhead was deep in thought, and looks unusually troubled.

Just don't do anything stupid, Akashi, Midorima wanted to say, but Akashi would definitely give him hell for calling him 'stupid'. Akashi was anything but that.

Unless a certain chartreusette was involved, and Akashi's intellect seems to go into hiding.

After all, Kimiko Akumi was the only person that can taunt the calm and composed Akashi to do something that's totally undignifed, such as a food fight in the school's rooftop, for example.

A few minutes later, they heard the door open and voices can be heard from the entryway. Everyone froze, Akashi included. He unconsciously clenched his fists.

The voices became louder, and he could hear Kise's cheerful voice, Himuro's calm one...

And then a feminine voice joined in.

Akashi clenched his fists tighter. On the outside, he looks as he normally does — calm, composed, confident, undaunted. However, inside was a completely different story.

He's slowy becoming a nervous, psychotic mess.

So maybe coming here was not a good idea. At all.

Their footsteps were louder now.

"Ryou-kun, Satsuki will surely get mad if she hears that!" And then she laughed — the sound crystal-clear like wind chimes in the lazy spring breeze. Akashi gritted his teeth at the memories it brought, and without his consent, his eyes flickered to the entryway just as Kimiko stepped into the main room.

His breath caught in his throat.

She was just as he remembered her to be — golden eyes bright and shining with happiness, lime-green hair swaying with her every movement, pink lips curved in that sweetly mischievous smile of hers. She then turned, looking at their huddled group curiously, and Akashi found his own eyes gravitating to her golden orbs.

She must have not seen him yet, as he was partially hidden from view by Aomine and Kagami who was sitting on the couch in front of him. She asked, then, "What's wrong with you, guys?"

He remained utterly motionless, absolutely no idea how to proceed at this point. He schooled his features to his default detached expression. Someone gasped, and at that moment, the two made eye contact for the first time in a year.


Kimiko stared back at the redhead. I'm not ready for this! she screamed in her mind. She panicked and without thinking, she looked past Akashi as if not seeing him and made a beeline to the kitchen, which was thankfully separated from the living room. Alone, Kimiko took several deep breaths as she leaned on the kitchen counter, trying her best to calm her wildly beating heart.

Seijuurou is here.

"...Akumicchi..."

Kise entered the kitchen, followed by a silent Himuro. They both eyed her worriedly. Noticing that, Kimiko smiled at them to ease their worries and told them to just put the grocery there and she will just take care of it.

"Kagamicchi and I can help you for dinner," the blonde offered. Kimiko shook her head.

"No, no, I'll... I'll be fine by myself, Ryou-kun."

Kise knew better than to say anymore. Nodding at Himuro, they left the kitchen to allow her to gather her thoughts.

This is a disaster, she thought as she busied herself with arranging the groceries. It's not that she wasn't anticipating him. She did. In fact, she'd already thought it over — from the moment Akashi steps in through her apartment door down to their goodbyes... She had it already planned.

But then again, she was talking about tomorrow — when she would be the one to surprise Akashi and not the other way around.

She gasped, almost dropping the bottle of oil as she realized what she had done: she just ignored Akashi Seijuurou back at the living room!

"Idiote!" she hissed at herself. "Baka baka baka baka! Argh, why do you have to be so stupid?!"

One thing is for sure: Kimiko does not hate Akashi — that's for certain. It's just that he was a different person when she left, and even though Kuroko said that the original Akashi had returned, those heterochromatic eyes remained like a mark of some sort, a constant reminder of Akashi's other self.

It took her ten minutes to find the strength to show herself back at the living room, just in time to see Akashi and Midorima talking near the entryway. Kise was there, too. The rest occupied the sofas, silent and stiff.

"Give her time, Akashi. She's just probably surprised to see you, nanodayo."

"It was rude of me to come here uninvited. I'll just come back tomorrow for the party," she heard Akashi say, his voice a bit strained.

"B-but Akashicchi! Kyoto is two hours away! Why don't you just stay here? Akumicchi won't mind... Besides, we're all going to stay here for tonight — it'll be just like old times!"

"I don't want to impose. And I didn't bring anything with me. I intend to stay in a hotel for tonight."

Midorima adjusted his glasses as he replied. "Kimiko can surely lend you some pillows and blankets. She probably has an extra futon as well."

"Midorimacchi's right! You don't ha—" he stopped when Akashi glared at him. Probably. Akashi has his back to Kimiko so she couldn't exactly see his facial expression, but she could see that he is tense.

"Don't go deciding what's alright and what's not with Akumi, Kise. This is her home." Akashi paused. "I'll be taking my leave now."

At that statement, Kimiko cleared her throat a bit loudly, making them jump at the sudden sound. Akashi didn't turn around. "Uhm, Taiga, Ryouta, can you help me in the kitchen? And.. Seijuurou..." Kimiko hesitated, then continued in a small voice, "Can you... can you at least stay... for dinner?"

Akashi gave a small sigh. "I was just about to leave, Akumi. I'll be back tomorrow. I apologize for my intrusion," he answered, totally ignoring her question. He headed to the entryway, moving past Kise and Midorima.


Akashi walks away slowly, hoping that she would call him back to her, to just let him know that she needed him, still welcomed him in some way or another. However, as he nears the end of the hall that leads to the front door, he realizes that she is NOT going to call him back.

So that's how it is.

But, then maybe he was jumping too much ahead, for there was a rush of footsteps and suddenly he hears her call out his name loud and clear.

"Se-Seijuurou!"

He stops, hand on the doorknob. "...Yes?"

Tell me to stay, Akumi.

And as if hearing his wish, Kimiko did just that.

"C-can you stay?"

Akashi bit his lip. "...I —"

"...Please?" he hears her say, and... was that a sob?

He turns slowly, willing the inner voice in his head to calm down from its excited dancing and ignores the growing dread in his chest.

"Akumi..." and then he saw her misty eyes gazing back at him almost pleadingly. "Akumi!"

He berated himself sarcastically. Nice going, Seijuurou. Less than thirty minutes and you already managed to make her cry.

He didn't know when and how but the next thing he knew, he already was embracing her gently, a hand on top of her head as he whispered to her in a soft voice, "I'll stay, Akumi. I'll stay... Just... Don't cry." He hugged her tighter as she clutched at the front of his shirt, burying her face in his chest. "I never meant to make you cry."

Midorima, who heard him say those words to the sniffling chartreusette, was the one getting stressed over this whole affair.

Akashi really has a penchant for theatrics.

But then again, why is it that he seem to care so much about those two, anyway?


When everything calmed down, Akashi ended up helping in the kitchen as well. Everything was fine, except for the fact that Kimiko was a bit jumpy around him.

"What do you guys want for dinner?" she asked the people at the dining table. When everyone answered a different dish, Akashi stared at them blankly.

"What drinks would you prefer to go with those, pray tell?"

"Uh, maybe we can just have curry..." Takao said, laughing nervously.

"Curry it is," Kagami said, taking out the needed ingredients. Being the two most skilled with knives, the task of chopping up the vegetables fell to Kimiko and Akashi, while Kagami and Kise did their best in peeling those that need to be peeled and handing it over to the two.

By the dining table, Aomine whistled at the pro-level speed of their chopping. "One of the reasons why you should never mess with those two," he mused.

"It's very nostalgic, ne?" Momoi said with a smile. The sight of them standing side by side at the chartreusette's kitchen counter... Back then, Kise was with them at the table, content at watching their two leaders handle the cooking. The only thing missing would be the childish bickering between them. Akumi-chan is still nervous with Akashi-kun, though.

"You're slicing the potatoes incorrectly," Akashi suddenly said beside Kimiko after a few minutes in their chopping. "Yours were too big." He gestured at the girl's work with his knife.

Or maybe not.

Here they go again, and there came a collective sigh from the Kiseki no Sedai.

In three, two, one —

"Oh, shut up, Seijuurou," Kimiko huffed indignantly. "Unlike you, I don't have a built-in caliper in my eye, okay?"

The redhead raised an eyebrow at her, then gave her a sliced potato. "They should be this big."

She looked at the offered potato as if it was a strange object. "What's the difference? We're just gonna eat them, anyway. No one's gonna complain if they were not of the same size or what. They can be as big or small as I want to."

Akashi then stopped slicing and set his knife down. "Then we can just cook them as they are," he said, eyeing the remaining vegetables. "We'll have curry with whole onions, whole cloves of garlic, whole potatoes, and whole carrots. Looks appetizing to me." He smirked as the chartreusette looked at him in irritation. Pure horror was written on her face as she conjured in her mind the image of Akashi's 'curry'.

"Argh! You — tsk, fine! Fine!" She shoved the container containing all the peeled potatoes to him. "Slice them yourself! I'll mind the carrots!"

"The carrots should be this big, Akumi," and Akashi gestured with his thumb and index finger a certain length, earning a glare from the girl.

"You don't know how to give up, do you?" she sighed.

Akashi went back to his chopping. He replied innocently, "I'm afraid I don't know what you mean."

"Hmp," Kimiko rolled her eyes at him. "Whatever you say, Seijuurou, whatever you say."


After a very delicious dinner and another round of argument about the uniformity of the sizes of the ingredients of said dinner, Momoi roped Aomine into washing the dishes with her, giving him the task of drying them while Murasakibara arranged them in their proper storage areas. Himuro and Takao were with Kagami, and Kimiko was just sending them off after resting a while after their meal. The two would be sleeping over at Kagami's apartment, not wanting to get in the way with the Teiko group and their reunion-slash-sleepover. When they had already left, Kimiko found Kise and Aomine arguing about who should take the spot near the wall. By then, the couches and the table were moved to one side of the living room to make space for the five teens who will be sleeping on the floor in their futons that they had carried with them.

While the two teens argued about that particular spot, they didn't notice a yawning Murasakibara dragging his beddings with him and placing them on that spot. By the time they realized that, the purplehead was already settled in and there's no way that would make him budge from it.

Staring at the scene in front of her, Kimiko smiled. They haven't changed, after all those things. They're still the same funny idiots that loves basketball just as they care for one another, even though some won't admit it.

"Akumi," Akashi said, joining her in watching the noisy group just like they always did in the past.

"Hmm?"

"I'm going.

She turned to him so fast Akashi feared for her neck. "What? Why?" she asked, confused.

"I did say I'm staying at a hotel tonight, didn't I?"

Kimiko was about to offer to lend him beddings when she remembered that she doesn't have an extra futon. The couch was out of the question — it would be too uncomfortable and she doubt Akashi would accept that offer. A hotel room is probably much, much ideal for the redhead.

Seeing Momoi though, she had an idea. "Momoi and I can share my bed, and then you can use her futon for tonight!"

"How about you two share instead?" Midorima suddenly appeared beside them.

"Why so, Midorima?" Akashi turned to the greenhead, who refused to meet his gaze and instead fixed his stare on the spot above Akashi's head.

Kimiko, on the other hand, didn't see anything wrong with it, though. "Why not?" she replied for Midorima, then continued. "You never liked sleeping on the floor — not without your super-comfy futon anyway."

Akashi has no choice to agree. He doesn't want to leave anyway.

"You're fine with this?" he asked as Kimiko led him to the bedroom. He sat at the edge of the king-sized bed as she rummaged in her closet for another blanket and additional pillows, which she tossed to him unceremoniously.

"Unless you prefer a hotel room," she replied. They'd already changed into their bedclothes already, she in her nightgown and pajamas, he in a gray shirt and black jersey shorts.

He shrugged, and she told him that she'll check on the ones outside. When she returned, Akashi was already lying down, tucked under his own blanket, staring at the ceiling, her bedside lamp the only source of light in the dim room. As Kimiko herself settled on her king-sized bed, she noticed one thing.

"Seijuurou," she said, looking at the large space that the redhead had left for her on her side of the bed.

"Hm?" he hummed quietly.

"I'm not fat, I hope you know that."

"I don't think I understand where you're getting with that statement."

Kimiko then edged closer to him and Akashi almost fell off the bed when he tried to maintain their distance. He heard her laugh. "Akumi."

She replied with a saccharine voice. "Yes?"

"Move."

"Why?"

Akashi leveled his gaze at the smirking girl hugging a pillow to her chest. "I'm about to fall off, if you don't notice it by now."

"Really?" Golden eyes widened in mock surprise.

"I thought you said that we're going to share the bed."

"I did."

"And by share, I thought 'equally'."

Kimiko pretended to think it over. "I don't remember saying such a thing — 'equally', I mean."

"Akumi," Akashi said again.

"...Yes?"

"Just do as I say."

"Why?" she moved even closer, knowing full well that Akashi has nowhere to move further, unless he gets off the bed. "Afraid of cooties?"

Akashi snorted lightly. "I embraced you earlier, didn't I?"

Any witty retort died on her lips as she blushed at the sudden reminder of their hug earlier. To Akashi's amusement, Kimiko went back to her side of the bed faster than the eye could blink. As he too moved over to his original spot, he couldn't help teasing the now quiet chartreusette. "Afraid of cooties?" he asked, using her own words against her.

"Shut up," she said, burying her face in her pillow, thankful that it was too dim for her blush to be seen.

"Akumi."

"What?" she replied, raising her head slightly to look at him. Akashi's expression is serious.

"I'm sorry." Kimiko blinked at the sudden apology. "For hurting you that time. I didn't —" A flick at the forehead stopped him from going further.

"Bakashi." It was his turn to be surprised. He ignored the nickname she used — Akashi doesn't mind as long as she was the one calling him that.

"Akumi," Akashi wanted to argue but she shook her head.

"Get over it, Seijuurou. I know you're feeling responsible over it, and yes, I was hurt deeply by it — but it's all in the past. There's no undoing the damage, and I'm talking about all of us here, not just me. All of us have our own scars from that incident, and honestly, I find it annoying that everyone's focus was me or Tetsuya. I mean, we were all at fault here; we've been victims and perpetrators at some point or so. That being said, there's no point in finding someone on whom to pin the blame. Why not just focus on making up for all our lost time? On renewing our friendships? On strengthening our bonds? On creating new memories?" She looked him straight in the eye. "Don't you think so?"

It was a few moments until Akashi smiled warmly at her. No wonder everyone in their circle treated Kimiko as they do. "Yes, I agree."

"Good."

However, he was not yet done. "But still, I —"

"Seijuurou." Kimiko imitated his tone earlier when he said her name.

"Yes?"

"Go to sleep."

Akashi sighed softly. How can Kimiko forgive everything and everyone so easily? As if reading his thoughts, Kimiko added, "You're one of my precious people, okay? And I know you won't do that again, right?" He nodded. "Then, good night, Seijuurou. We've a busy day tomorrow."

"Aa." Kuroko would be here tomorrow, and they would be complete. Kimiko had turned her back to him, but he knows she's still awake. As he closed his eyes, he murmured in a voice just loud enough for her to hear.

"Good night, Akumi."


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