The Runaway Empress

Chapter 18

"Akumi," Akashi said, a hint of twisted amusement in his voice as he approached the chartreusette who was openly glaring at him. "I truly appreciate the things you do for the team, but what I said still stands. No one can possibly defeat us — not at this level." He looked at her pointedly. "What the first string needs from you is to construct plays, not more training menus. That's for the other strings to do."

Kimiko answered between gritted teeth. "You can mess up your opponents' minds well enough without my help."

Her words elicited a short laugh from the redhead. "I've always been a good student," he said. "Especially since I learned from the best."

The girl visibly flinched as Akashi continued nonchalantly, "I remember you having no qualms about it before. As always, you were brilliant in thinking such strategy — fear is always useful when it comes to manipulating people, don't you think so, dear coach?"

He took a step forward. "I don't know why you hesitate now. You were once eager to share your game plans with me. Don't tell me that you're actually feeling guilty about it?"

"Akashi, go away. If this was your way to somehow convince me to cooperate with you and your sick mindgames, well, it's not working." With a shaky breath, she stood up from her seat on the bench, the papers in her hand almost getting crumpled from being held too tightly. She handed it to him, who raised an eyebrow before accepting it. She watched as his face turned sour upon reading the document. She continued in a deadpan voice, "In fact, I was just about to take my leave. I'm done with this pathetic excuse for a team."

"Coward," Akashi hissed after a moment's silence. "So you're just going to run away?"

"It's not called 'running away'. It's —"

She stopped midsentence when the redhead abruptly grabbed her wrist and pulled her towards him. Kimiko was too shocked to try to pull away. Holding her chin, he brought their faces close — too close for her comfort. His lone golden eye glinted ominously as he murmured against the shell of her ear. "A-ku-mi...," he drawled, breaking up her name in syllables, "I don't want to hear anything about leaving or something remotely close to that. Is that clear?"

There was an unspoken 'Or else...", and although the threat was vague, it was enough to shake her conviction. Who knows what the redhaired captain will do to the club members. Akashi narrowed his eyes at her lack of response. Pulling away, he looked at her face and smirked when he saw doubt and fear cloud her pretty features.

Her answer was clear.

"Good thing that you understand the situation, Akumi," he purred in satisfaction, caressing her knuckles with his thumb. Her resignation letter lies on the floor, now rendered useless by the redhead. "Besides, where else should the empress be, if not by the emperor's side?"

Midorima woke early the next day, but it seems that he wasn't early enough. Already he could hear the hissing of oil coming from the open kitchen door, and the occasional faint bits of conversation from the two people manning the stove.

Maybe he shouldn't have worried too much.

He couldn't sleep well last night, as he couldn't stop worrying about Akashi and Kimiko. Not that he was worried for Kimiko's chastity — Kami, no (but if it was the other Akashi, he wouldn't trust him to go near the chartreusette much less let him be with Kimiko alone in a closed room). He just doesn't know what to expect from the two — thinking of today's events, he certainly didn't expect them to reconcile that quickly. Not that he doesn't want them to, but somehow, Midorima was expecting some yelling and tears, and he inwardly cursed Takao for giving him such ideas. They once had a discussion about how Akashi and Kimiko's reunion will turn out, and this was just one of the hawk-eyed boy's outrageous theories. Akashi was many things, but a drama actor he was not.

He fixed up his futon, careful not to wake up the others. Midorima decided to go to the kitchen to somehow help out in setting the table, which is the least he can do as he has absolutely no talent in cooking, only to stop short at the door upon seeing the scene before him.

Akashi and Kimiko were standing side by side in front of the stove, with the chartreusette stirring the soup that she was cooking while the redhead was taking his time in observing her up close for the first time in a year.

"So, how have you been?"

At Akashi's question, Kimiko turned her head quickly, causing her side bangs to fall on her face, getting in the way of her sight. On reflex, Akashi reached out and brushed them away, tucking them carefully behind a pale ear. His fingers brushed her cheek lightly as he did so, and the contact sent a shiver down her spine. Kimiko blinked at their close proximity. Midorima was suddenly reminded how Akashi used to do that for her whenever she is too busy scribbling on her clipboard and can't be bothered to take a second to fix her hair, leaving Akashi to do it for her.

Kimiko turned back to her cooking. "...I was fine. Have you ever been to France?"

However, instead of answering, Akashi lifted his hand and traced the red choker round her neck, making her freeze in her spot.

"I apologize," Akashi bit out, shoving his hand in his pocket. His eyes darkened for a moment before resuming their calm gaze.

"Seijuurou, there's no need to say—"

He cut her off with an apologetic gaze. "I am truly sorry for everything I've done to you in our last year in Teiko. I know I have treated you cruelly and as such, I don't even deserve your forgiveness." Akashi sighed, and looked away.

"Seijuurou," Kimiko paused, trying to find the words to say to him. "We've been over this last night, right?"

Akashi blinked, then lowered his head a bit. He chuckled a little. His gaze slid past her to the far wall behind her, then shrugged his shoulders as if in resignation. Kimiko gestured at something on the kitchen counter.

"...Why can't you at least be mad at me?" he said quietly, before moving to walk away.

Kimiko followed him with a confused gaze and caught his sleeve in her hand, stopping Akashi from leaving. "Seijuurou —!"

Akashi was facing away from her, and so she didn't see his pained expression. She opened her mouth, then closed it again, not sure on what to say. Akashi shifted to face her, and Kimiko released her hold on his shirt. Another moment of staring in each other's eyes and Kimiko was forced to drop her gaze.

"Akumi…" she heard him say softly. "I really am sorry. For everything."

She looked up then, and she saw Akashi staring at her with a hurt expression, regret clear in his mismatched orbs. It's not something that she expected to see or ever witness, and it made her feel uneasy.

Kimiko couldn't help but to sigh in frustration. "Seijuurou, just — I've already forgiven you! It's — It's..." She shook her head, mustering the courage to meet his bewildered gaze at her sudden outburst. She glared at him then. "Just accept that fact, okay?"

It was Akashi's turn to be surprised. "Akumi, if you don't remember, I..." Akashi felt his throat tighten. "I choked you and left you lying unconscious on the floor of Teikou's first string gym. Surely you haven't forgotten about that?" he asked, not quite understanding how Kimiko can just forgive that kind of action so easily. "It's why you resigned, isn't it?"

Her look became one of annoyance as she huffed at him. "Well, yes, it is. But it's not the sole reason why I left — it's one of many reasons I'd rather not emumerate. And it's not the main reason, either." She exhaled wearily. "So can we just drop that topic, already? I already accepted your apology — no matter how unnecessary it is — so can we just get over it? Like, really..."

"Then, why didn't you tell me that you were back here in Japan?" he asked.

"I didn't tell anyone!" Kimiko protested hotly. "I met them all by pure coincidence!"

"So you weren't planning to see us again?"

"I didn't say anything like that! Don't go putting words in my mouth!"

Akashi snorted. "It doesn't explain why I wasn't invited to this party planning session, though."

"It was supposed to be a surprise — for you and for Tetsuya! But no, you just have to go waltzing into my apartment and — wait," Kimiko stopped ranting, ignoring Akashi whose eyes widened the slightest bit when she mentioned that she was supposed to surprise him, and narrowed her eyes at him. "Seijuurou," she began, her voice tinged with suspicion. "Are you... Are you sulking?!"

Gotcha, she thought as Akashi pursed his lips and averted his gaze from her.

"I am not," he scoffed, though his tone suggests otherwise.

I thought Shintarou was the only tsundere we have.

"I wanted to see you," he continued. "Is that so bad?"

Or maybe not.

The way he said it brought memories of their first year in Teikou, memories of their petty arguments and nonsense fights, only his voice was a bit deeper, smoother.

"How did you know I'm back?" she asked in an accusing tone.

"Does that even matter?" Akashi shot back none too gently, a frown on his lips. Is his presence really that unwelcomed now?

"...Seijuurou..." And the next thing he knew, pain erupted in his face as the girl mercilessly pinched his nose between her thumb and forefinger. He glared as the chartreusette let go, and he stepped back, rubbing his throbbing nose with the back of his hand. He doesn't have to look in the mirror to know that it was now bright red. Rudolph, anyone?

Akashi was glaring at her, but this was not a murderous one. "Was that necessary?" he complained, and as Kimiko's smile turned impish, something about his posture relaxed. It was in the slight movement of his shoulders and the way his eyes became a little softer, as if a great weight was lifted off from him.

In answer, Kimiko threw herself at him and hugged him tightly. "I missed you, Seijuurou," she said, resting her chin on his shoulder.

"Aa," the redhead replied, returning her embrace, ignoring the pain in his nose. He pressed his face in her lime-green tresses and smiled, inhaling her familiar scent. "It seems that I've missed you, too."

"Akumicchi, I want milk! Do you have milk?" It was breakfast time, and everyone was gathered in the dining table. Even in early morning, Kise was as hyperactive as usual as he trailed behind the chartreusette who was carrying the plates of onigiri to the table. "Ah, I haven't greeted Kasamatsu-senpai a good morning!" He whipped out his phone and typed away.

Is it just me, or Kise looks like a puppy? Kagami thought. The trio had arrived at six in the morning — during which time Aomine and Murasakibara were still snoring their way in dreamland.

"Shin-chan, did you sleep well?" Takao asked the ever-sullen Midorima, before handing him his lucky item for the day, which was a carrot plushie, by the way. Midorima's mood visibly brightened, even though his response to Takao was not.

"I didn't ask you to get this for me." Which in Midorima-speak can be translated along the lines of 'Thank you.'

To which the hawk-eyed boy laughed and said cheerily, "You're welcome, Shin-chan!"

"Dai-chan, don't sleep on the dining table!"



"Shut up."

"Why, you —" and Momoi whacked him hard on the back of the head — hard enough to bang his forehead on the wooden surface. "ITAI!"

"Mine-chin, you're too noisy~" Munch, munch. "Muro-chin, where are my snacks?"

"Atsushi, it's too early for snacks. Besides, we are about to eat breakfast," the darkhaired beauty chided.

"Hmm, if Muro-chin says so~"

Kimiko, who was just about to sit down, was surprised at Himuro's ability to keep Murasakibara in line without bribing him with snacks. Akashi, who was seated beside her, saw her looking at the pair curiously. A small smile that was oddly happy and sad at the same time graced her lips.

"You look like a proud mother watching her child making its first steps of independence into the world," Akashi murmured beside her.

Kimiko broke out of her musings and shook her head at the redhead in disbelief. "You say the oddest things sometimes."

Akashi glanced at the rest of their friends and allowed a tiny smile to show on his face. He remembered a conversation he once had with the chartreusette during their second year in Teiko before they won their second Nationals championship.

"What are you frowning about, Akumi?" Akashi asked the girl on their way to the gates of Teiko Middle School. The rest of the team had gone home earlier, leaving the two of them behind as they had to attend the monthly meeting of all the clubs in Teiko. "Is this about the incident with Kise earlier?"

"Partly," she replied with a sigh. It had been a week since Kise's promotion as a regular, yet a lot of members still find it hard to accept the blonde into the club. As she had explained to them countless of times, Kise was given the starting position not because of his skill, but because of his potential. Right now, the blonde model was like a diamond in the rough, just waiting to be polished.

Sadly, they fail to see it like she and Akashi did.

Akashi waited for her to elaborate on her one-word reply. They walked in silence and she suggested that they take a detour and go to a nearby park, to which Akashi agreed. When Kimiko decided to stop and sit on the grass beside the central pond in the park, the redhead tried to refuse at first, but a tug on his hand had him kneeling on the spot beside her. She tossed a few stones in the water, creating small ripples that gradually vanished to nothing.

"Ne, Seijuurou..."


"Have you ever thought about high school?"

Akashi's answer was immediate in coming, although the way he said it lacks any form of joy or excitement. "Of course. I'm headed for Rakuzan High."

"...So you're going back to Kyoto..."


However, the girl continued talking as if she didn't hear his question. "I guess yours was expected, after all, Rakuzan is an elite school... Nothing to be worried about, but as for the others..."

"You're worried for their future."

She rolled her golden eyes at him for stating the obvious. "Of course I am. Aren't you as well?"

Teiko's captain chuckled lightly. "What are we — their parents?" This prompted the girl beside him to punch him lightly on the shoulder.


He turned serious. "Of course, I am. I admit, everyone of us is quite...special, and dealing with each requires understanding of said person, which is quite a hard task given each individual's...unique personalities."

She nodded in agreement. "It's not that they are that bad — it's just..."

"It's just?" he prodded as the chartreusette trailed off.

"You know how they are... When we go our separate ways...," she said, letting herself fall back to the grass beneath her, not caring if she will get dirty or what. Her bag served as her pillow. She held up a hand to the darkening sky. "Shintarou and his obsession with Oha-Asa is sure to make him the object of ridicule in the worst case scenario. He's tendency to be a tsundere is a problem also — what if his teammates are total jerks who don't know how to read between the lines? Daiki — he is too good for his age... What if he strike his teammates as too arrogant? God knows how insensitive he becomes to other people's feelings when he's on the court... Atsushi — you know what happens when he doesn't get his daily dose of sweets and — what if his teammates find out about his weakness to food? What if they bribe him just to make fun of him or order him around? Tetsuya — well, you know Tetsuya — he's our sixth man, our phantom player... He has no game record, and only we knows of his existence. What if his teammates are idiots who can't utilize his abilities properly? What if he can't find a proper light? Worse, what if they can't 'see' him? And Ryouta — his overly cheerful nature makes it hard to take him seriously at times... His being a model also makes matters worse — girls might use him as some sort of a status symbol or what... And there's that damn insecurity of his; he always sees himself as inferior to the rest of you guys..." She sighed, closing her hand into a fist and bringing it down to her stomach. To her surprise, Akashi laid himself beside her. "Hey, your clothes will —!"

"No one is going to complain," he said, totally unconcerned about the state of his uniform. His father has no way of knowing about it anyway, what with him staying in Kyoto. Here in Tokyo, he can have all the freedom he want — but still within the acceptable limits for an Akashi heir like him. Steering the comversation back to their original topic, he said, "I've thought about it too. It is inevitable but that doesn't mean that I'm fine with it."

Kimiko's tone was wistful. "It would've been great if we can go to the same high school together. No doubt about it — we will be the best team in all of Japan!"

It was a future that can never be. Akashi knows that. And so, as the two waited for the night to set in, he consoled her by saying that instead of thinking of the future, they should focus on the present and make the most of it.

"Aa, you're right, Seijuurou."

"Of course."

"Everyone had found a new family in their present teams. It seems that our worrying was unnecessary."

"Hmm...? Akashicchi, Akumicchi, what are you talking about?" Kise suddenly asked, and the two was made aware that everyone was waiting for them to start breakfast.

"Nothing, Ryou-kun..." crooned the chartreusette. "Let's eat — itadakimasu!"

The rest followed suit. "Itadakimasu!" they chorused before digging in, eating their breakfast enthusiastically as they prepared for the day ahead of them.

Akashi had gone to many parties before, but not to this particular kind of party, though. It was only in Teiko that the young heir first experienced such an informal party — one that was organized by Kimiko for their then captain Nijimura. It was loud, it was messy, but it was undoubtedly an enjoyable one. It was nothing compared to what he was used to, where people wore expensive suits and dresses, trying to impress everyone with all their fancy jewelries and boring talks of their riches and accomplisments, where money was the constant topic, with people talking behind other's backs to secure their place in the hierarchy, and the list goes on and on. Compare that to Kimiko's version of party which involved some loud music and icing thrown all over the floor of the school's rooftop, and the difference is as plain as night and day.

So it was those things that drifted in Akashi's mind as he leaned against the railing of Kimiko's balcony, a glass of harmless fruit juice in his hand instead of his usual goblet of wine. He took a sip of the cold pineapple drink, staring at the darkening streets below. Inside, loud music blared amidst the laughter and chatter of his friends.

He smiled, remembering the day's events. It started out as a simple invitation to an after-lunch game of streetball — Kimiko emailed Kuroko to go to the court near her apartment, to which the tealhead unknowingly followed, only to be surprised when he saw everyone gathered there. Being the basketball-loving idiots they are, the boys played basketball until dusk. Momoi served as the referee while Kimiko filled as the tenth member, completing the two five-man teams. Akashi, Kimiko, Murasakibara, Himuro, and Midorima is Team One; Kuroko, Kagami, Aomine, Kise, and Takao as Team Two. After a series of matches, Team One emerged as the victor, but it doesn't matter much as they just wanted to enjoy playing the sport that they all loved with everybody. Kimiko also took a lot of pictures and had Momoi in charge to get them printed. When Kuroko thought that it was the end of their birthday surprise for him, Aomine whipped out a piece of cloth and with Kise and Kagami's help, they blindfolded the phantom player and led him to Kimiko's apartment, where a party awaits him. As Kuroko took off the blindfold, popping noises rang out and a shower of rainbow confettis greeted his wide skyblue eyes as Momoi presented the vanilla cake that she had baked under the careful eyes of Kimiko and Murasakibara, with the words "Happy Birthday, Kuroko Tetsuya" written in Akashi's flowing cursive. Everyone sang the birthday song, with a certain chartreusette playing the guitar in the background. After Kuroko blew out all the sixteen candles, the cake was set aside for a moment as everyone gathered their gifts to give them to him.

Kise gave Kuroko a skyblue sweater that matched his hair, while Aomine's gift was a pair of basketball shoes with blue designs. Murasakibara gave him several coupons to a famous pattiserie downtown that serves delicious vanilla-flavored cakes (and vanilla milkshakes as well), while Midorima gave him a gift certificate to a bookstore. Kagami's gift was a pair of shoes as well, resulting in a glaring contest with Kuroko's former light. Himuro and Takao each gave him shirts that fitted him nicely. Kimiko presented him with the complete collection of Natsume Soseki's books, knowing that Soseki was Kuroko's favorite Japanese author, while Akashi decided that a yukata in a rich indigo color with koi fish designs is a fitting birthday gift to the phantom. And last but not the least, Momoi came quietly forward with her gift, which upon opening revealed a long blue scarf that she had personally handknit for Kuroko. Her cheeks blushed a beautiful shade of pink when the tealhead thanked her for it, and even went as far as wrapping it around his neck just to try it out. Momoi couldn't have been more happier.

Dinner followed, and it was loud and noisy, but Akashi wouldn't have it any other way. After that, the games followed, facilitated by none other than Kise himself. On Kimiko's insistence, Akashi participated in a some of them, but most of the time he was content with just watching them from the sidelines. However, Akashi's ears can only tolerate as much noise so here he was, cooling off in the balcony while the others continued with their merrymaking.

"Akashi-kun," a voice said behind him and he turned to see the birthday celebrant approaching him, a childish birthday hat perched atop his head. "Why don't you join us inside?"

Akashi moved over, prompting Kuroko to come over to the spot beside him. With his back to the cold metal, he took a sip of his pineapple juice. "Kuroko," he said in acknowledgment. "I was just taking a break. The music is too loud for my preference."

"Kise-kun turned up the volume too much," Kuroko said in agreement.


The bluenette then smiled at him. "Akashi-kun, thank you for celebrating today with everyone. I know that you have a very busy schedule, not to mention that you had to come all the way from Kyoto, so I just want you to know that I really appreciate your coming here for my birthday."

"You didn't have to thank me that much," Akashi remarked calmly after Kuroko finished his heartfelt expression of his gratitude. "I hope you liked my gift."

The bluenette shifted uneasily. "Ah, about that..."

Akashi raised an eyebrow at him. "Yes?"

"Akashi-kun shouldn't have bothered giving me such an extravagant gift. Judging by the yukata's quality, I'm sure that it must have cost a lot."

Akashi only smirked. "It would look very nice on you, anyway."

Kuroko can only sigh, and smile lightly at his former captain. He has to admit, the yukata's colors compliments his hair and his pale skin tone very well. "Thank you for your gift, Akashi-kun. I really liked it, though you don't have to spend a fortune just for a mere gift."

"You're welcome, Kuroko."

"You're going to stay here a little longer?" Kuroko asked after a moment of comfortable silence between them. He gestured inside.

Akashi was about to nod his head when he caught a glimpse of lime-green through the door. Kuroko followed his gaze.

"Akumi-san and Himuro-kun seems to be quite close," he stated, carefully watching Akashi's reactions.

Akashi made a vague nodding gesture to the door, through which he could see the chartreusette laughing merrily at something the darkhaired boy told her. Himuro leaned forward to whisper in her ear, and he saw her eyes widen for a moment before elbowing him lightly.

"Does she know him well?" he asked Kuroko casually, his eyes watching them intently with an almost predatory gaze.

"I don't know but Akumi-san seems to be quite fond of Himuro-kun," Kuroko replied. "Apparently, Himuro-kun helped Akumi-san beat a couple of thugs who tried messing with her."

"I see," was all the redhead said in response, eyes narrowing even more.

"I'm sure that Akumi-san only sees Himuro-kun as a friend," Kuroko said in his usual deadpan way, and Akashi closed his eyes briefly, and when he next opened them, he turned to the bluenette with a mild glare. That small twinkle of mischief in those skyblue orbs made him feel slightly irritated.

"Akumi-san has always been a popular one," Kuroko continued, eyes lighting up at the memory. "Her terrible temper and sadistic nature aside, she is an extremely likeable person. She may be quite intimidating at times, but it's different once you get to know her. She's so outgoing and cheerful, but she knows when to get serious. She's extremely loyal and protective of her friends, and once you gained her approval, she'll be your friend for life."

Akashi found himself agreeing with Kuroko's words. He wasn't surprised though; Kuroko has always been perceptive when it comes to such matters. He swirled the juice in his cup, and was about to make his own remark about Kimiko when Momoi approached them — Kuroko, to be exact.

"Tetsu-kun! There you are!" The pinkette exclaimed with a pout on her lips. "Come on, the next game is starting and I need a partner!"

"Momoi-san," Kuroko said, then pointed at the redhead beside him, "I was just talking to Akashi-kun here."

Momoi blinked, having not noticed Akashi, which was mainly because she was too focused on Kuroko to see anyone else. "Oh, Akashi-kun! Sorry for not seeing you right away!"

"It's alright, Momoi."

"Hmm, you want to join the Tomato Dance, Akashi-kun?" Momoi asked.

He shook his head. "I think I'll pass."

Momoi nodded before walking over and snaking her arm around Kuroko's arm and leading him back inside. He watched them vanish through the door before turning back to look down on the streets below.

A few minutes passed and another presence made its way to Akashi's refuge.


"Midorima," Akashi replied, not even turning to face the greenhead. When Midorima didn't say anything else, he asked, "Why are you here?"

Midorima mirrored Akashi's position and gazed downwards. There was nothing interesting to look at, and so he shifted his gaze upwards to the sky, where stars are slowly appearing one by one. "I got eliminated from the game."

Akashi raised an eyebrow at him. "You joined the Tomato Dance?"

"Takao forced me to."

Akashi did not believe him, though.

Midorima paused for a minute, a scowl on his face at Akashi's flat look. "The idiot doesn't stop until he gets what he wants," he complained, trying to defend himself.

"Is that so," Akashi remarked smoothly, making Midorima click his tongue in annoyance.

"Why are you out here, though?" Midorima asked then, changing the topic immediately. "Kise has been looking for you to make Kimiko persuade you to join in his stupid games."

At the mention of the chartreusette, Akashi's eye twitched slightly, which Midorima had unfortunately noticed. The greenhaired shooting guard furrowed his eyebrows in suspicion. Even more so when all Akashi said was a slightly sarcastic "Really."

Midorima turned and looked over to the people inside. There was Kimiko standing close to Himuro as they balanced a tomato between their foreheads as they danced carefully to a random pop song. Now that he thought about it, since Murasakibara was too lazy to play, Himuro had been asking for either Kimiko or Kagami to be his partner when it came to pair games. Ever since Akashi had left the room, Himuro had been staying close to their former coach-slash-manager.

"She's playing with Murasakibara's teammate," Midorima commented offhandedly.

Akashi turned quickly and glared at him, before searching for the chartreusette, who was currently in Himuro's arms. To his irritation, Kise had changed the song from a pop song to a ballad, whose lyrics was about a guy eventually falling in love with his girl bestfriend, and Akashi had to watch his closest friend having a slow dance with Himuro. The scene would have been totally romantic if not for that red fruit between their faces.

"Seems like Kimiko is getting closer with that Himuro," Midorima said. "They've been pairing up in the games more often."

Akashi felt a slight twinge of irritation once again. "Kuroko told me the same thing earlier," he replied casually. "Akumi can befriend anyone she wants — it's not our business to intervene."

"Aren't you worried?" Midorima asked, expecting a different answer from his former captain.

Akashi looked at him with dangerously narrowed eyes. "Why should I, Midorima?"

"You already know why," Midorima answered, looking at him with an uncharacteristically perceptive look, "We've known each other for three years — there's no way we wouldn't notice."

Akashi didn't answer.

"To be honest, I am still hesitant to let her near you — after what you did to her, I can't help but feel that way. However, there is no denying that you are an important person to Kimiko; maybe even more than we thought." Midorima shrugged. "It would only be fair if you treat her the way she treats you."

"Is that a threat?" Akashi asked with a bit of venom in his words.

"Only a warning, Akashi, and not from me. People tend to know the value of something only after it is gone." Midorima looked at the pair before them. "You wouldn't want that to happen a second time."

It was getting late in the evening, and Kimiko was starting to feel exhausted. After going toe-to-toe with the guys in a basketball game earlier, then joining in all of Kise's minigames, there was no way that she wouldn't feel tired. The Tomato Dance had been the last game, and the people around her were just walking around, casually chatting with one another or in Murasakibara's case, was busy finishing the rest of the food. Aomine and Kagami was also at the table stuffing their mouths with her homemade spaghetti.

She hummed along to the tune of Matsushita Yuya's "See You" as she scanned the room for that familiar shade of crimson. She saw Kise and Takao huddled in a corner, seemingly planning a prank on someone based on the looks on their faces, Kuroko and Momoi talking about something pleasant given the smiles on their lips, Midorima sitting quietly on the couch sipping his favorite oshiruko, and Himuro manning the sound system, giving her a wink when he saw her looking at him, then played the next song, which happened to be One Ok Rock's "Wherever You Are."

She approached Midorima on the couch. "Hey, you know where Seijuurou is?"

"Out there," he replied, gesturing to her balcony.

Kimiko sighed as she went outside, immediately spotting Akashi who was looking up at the starry skies above. Music flowed through her open balcony door. She smiled to herself as she observed his figure that was almost a silhouette in the darkness outside. Inwardly, she was wondering how the redhead can make something like lazily leaning on the railings of her balcony look so regal and elegant. Akashi always had that aura of perfection around him, and it was one of those traits that Kimiko had always admired in him.

"Hey," she called out to him, and when Akashi didn't so much as look at her or gave indication that he heard her, Kimiko frowned and went over beside him. "Seijuurou," she said, poking his arm with every syllable of his name.

"What do you want, Akumi?" he asked, still looking at something in the distance.

She crossed her arms and huffed, slightly miffed at his cold answer. "Why are you so grouchy?"

"I'm not grouchy," he retorted, and Kimiko raised an eyebrow in disbelief.

"Really," she remarked, rolling her golden eyes at him. "You're worse than Uncle Scrooge. So who did something to you this time?"

"Try asking that to yourself," Akashi said sarcastically, surprising Kimiko.

"What? What did I do to you this time?!"

This time, Akashi faced her and met her gaze. He raised a finger as if to enumerate. "You've been ignoring me all evening. That's reason number one."

"I'm not ignoring you! It was you who was ignoring me!"

"...Hmm?" He crossed his arms across his chest.

"Ugh, you're soooo unbelievable," Kimiko sighed, shoulders slumping in defeat. "Come on, let's — Seijuurou, what do you think you're doing?"

Akashi had suddenly grabbed her towards him, and she ended falling forward, her face meeting his solid chest. She noted absently that he was still using the same perfume, and then blushed when Akashi laughed lightly when he caught her sniffing his clothes. She looked up at him and Akashi smirked and said, "Dance with me."

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