The Runaway Empress

Chapter 20

Akashi walked down the hallways of Rakuzan High with a smile on his face, phone in hand. Since Kuroko's birthday, he had been smiling more than usual, more carefree, his shoulders less tense, his steps lighter. However, it can be said that only the observant ones — those who knew Akashi well enough — are able to notice the slight change in his demeanor.

Mibuchi and Mayuzumi, for example.

He entered his classroom silently like always, and went straight to his seat in the front row, next to the window overlooking Rakuzan's courtyard. Normally, Akashi would have chosen the one near the center aisle, but then he remembered that Kimiko had always claimed that particular position, and he was curious as to the reason why. Staring through the glass, Akashi still can't find the answer to his question.

Unless Kimiko was just looking for an escape from boring lessons. Unlike Akashi who always pay attention to class despite the fact that he already knows each and every one of their lessons, Kimiko, who was seated beside him, was his complete opposite. More often than not, the chartreusette can be seen with her chin on her hand, head tilted up to the blue sky, watching the clouds with interest. Other times she was doodling away on her sketchbook instead of taking notes, or flipping through the pages of her black notebook, analysing the stats of the basketball team. Despite all that, her grades were second to his — she participates in class discussions although she has a habit of annoying the teachers to a degree (though they love her anyway), do boardwork, and volunteers for classroom duties.

She'll fit perfectly in Rakuzan, he thought. Maybe I'll invite her here sometime after the Nationals.

He fished his phone out of his pocket and typed a message addressed to a certain chartreusette. Just as he pressed 'Send', the teacher entered the room. With his classmates, Akashi stood up to greet him, though his mind was clearly somewhere. Had he allowed it to show, everyone would have seen sparkles and flowers around his person.

"Do you think Sei-chan is alright?" Mibuchi whispered to Mayuzumi as their captain entered the gym for for their afternoon practice. The tall shooting guard cannot understand why the redhead was acting so light and carefree when it was but a week ago when Akashi was clearly frustrated with something — enough to make him snap and lash out in anger at some club members who were being talkative while they were jogging.

"Why do you ask?" Mayuzumi replied warily, his voice low in fear that Akashi might hear. Who knows what kind of punishment they'll get from him.

Mibuchi gestured slightly at the person in question, who was currently conversing with their coach. "I just — it just doesn't look normal. Last week he was all sad and angry, and then he comes back from Tokyo and it looks like he just had an overdose of endorphins! It doesn't make sense!"

"If he went to Tokyo, chances are he met up with the Kiseki and they managed to cheer him up. You know," Mayuzumi shrugged, catching a ball that Hayama threw to him from the side of the court. "Akashi does not always make perfect sense to me."

"But still!" Mibuchi protested, not quite accepting Mayuzumi's theory. "Why didn't he say anything? To me? I could've —"

"You're beginning to sound like his girlfriend or something," Rakuzan's phantom interrupted his rant, his tone dry. "Akashi can look after himself well enough without anybody's help."

Tsundere, Mibuchi thought as he chuckled lightly. He nudged Mayuzumi with his shoulder. "C'mon, Mayu-chan," he purred, "I know that you were worried about Sei-chan, too. What with your eyes following his every move..."

"I did not."

"Yes, you did," Mibuchi insisted with a grin. "You were so restless last week, as if you would rush to Sei-chan's side any minute."

"As if you weren't," Mayuzumi shot back. "All your 'Sei-chan this, Sei-chan that' is definitely getting on my nerves. Tsk."

"Well..." Mibuchi wiggled his eyebrows. "I love Sei-chan, that's why."

"Is that a confession?" Akashi suddenly appeared behind him, wearing an indiscernable expression. Mibuchi froze, not daring to look behind him, while Mayuzumi was slowly retreating from the two, hoping to miraculously evade the Emperor Eye and make his escape. At Mibuchi's silence, Akashi turned to him with a raised brow. "And I heard that you were concerned about me."

Mayuzumi choked. "I —"

"I apologize if I worried the two of you," Akashi said sincerely as he moved to Mibuchi's side. "Although I certainly did not expect your declaration of love to me."

His light teasing tone made Mibuchi to turn and look at him. "Sei-chan!"

"Unfortunately, I can't return your feelings," Akashi continued as he walked away from them. A smirk crept up to his lips. "I appreciate the sentiment, though." Saying, Akashi strode gracefully to the center of the gym, wordlessly calling everyone's attention.

"I'm going to faint," Mibuchi whispered as he and Mayuzumi took their places beside Hayama and Nebuya who was giving them weird looks.

"What happened to the two of you?" Rakuzan's muscled center asked, rolling off the sleeves of his shirt out of habit. Hayama suggested once that he should just wear sleeveless shirts if he's going to roll them anyway, but Nebuya was adamant about his decision.

"Right," Hayama quipped. "Reo-nee looks pale."

Mibuchi muttered something under his breath. Hayama looked at Mayuzumi for an explanation to the Yaksha's odd behavior and the phantom sighed. He glanced at Akashi, all serious and calm as he discussed today's training menu. In his mind's eye, he can see sparkles surrounding their redhaired captain. He shook his head and they vanished. Returning his gaze to the bewildered Hayama, he ran a hand through his silver mane.

"Akashi." He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Akashi happened."

"This Saturday, then," Akashi said, phone held to his ear as he buttoned his shirt deftly with one hand. "I'll meet you at the station. What time will you be — I see." He nodded to himself and slung his bag on his shoulder. He paused as the person on the other end of the line said something. He chuckled and resumed walking towards the door of the locker room. "I'm sure Yukimaru is excited to see you again." He reached for the doorknob. His hand stilled, eyes narrowing as he stared at the door. Pulling the door open, he sidestepped quickly as three figures came stumbling inside, cursing and scrambling as they tried to get up from the tangle of limbs.

"Oi, Gorilla, get off me! Owww!"

"Mibuchi, stop moving — your elbow is digging in my stomach!"

Raven locks parted as Mibuchi looked up and saw Akashi staring down at them flatly.


At his one-worded order, the three sat up, all in seiza position, nudging one another to make one of them speak up. Mibuchi had his hands on his lap, Hayama was twiddling his thumbs, Nebuya was playing thumb-wrestling by himself, while Mayuzumi —

Said person pulled himself from the wall where he was leaning on, armed with a light novel, as always. He gave the others on the floor a sweeping glance, then met Akashi's questioning gaze.

"They were —"

He stopped as Akashi held a hand to silence him. Mayuzumi forgot that he had been talking on the phone. "Ah, just my teammates being annoying." Akashi huffed as the person on the other end of the line said something. "Well, yes. I'll call you later after I —" he glanced at them "—sort this out."

He pocketed his phone. "You were saying, Mayuzumi?"

"They were eavesdropping on you," Mayuzumi said. "Mibuchi was curious."

He looked at the pouting Mibuchi. "And why is that, Mibuchi?"

"I'm curious about the person who can make you laugh easily like that. And not your evil laugh, but a real, genuine, happy, cheerful laugh — like really laugh."

Akashi raised an eyebrow. "You're being redundant with your words, Mibuchi. Or is that for emphasis?"

"Mou, Sei-chan...!" Mibuchi's eyes gleamed. "It's not Kuro-chan, is it?"

Akashi shook his head. "No."

"Then who is it?"

The redhead smiled — a gentle smile that left everyone surprised and wondering. His heterochromatic eyes shined with something akin to anticipation as he said, "You'll see her soon."

"It's a girl!" Mibuchi exclaimed for what seemed like the nth time to Mayuzumi. It was the day after the locker room incident. The four of them were walking to their classrooms together — Akashi, of course, was headed to the first-years' building by himself. He exchanged looks with Hayama, who then turned to Nebuya, only to frown on displeasure on seeing him munching on a burger that appeared out of nowhere.

"Oi, Gorilla, pay attention!" Hayama said in exasperation. Seriously, this person has the attention span of a five-year old. Not to mention that they'd just eaten lunch — does he have a black hole for a stomach?

"Don't involve me anymore — don't wanna die early," Nebuya muttered between bites.

"This is about Sei-chan's lovelife!"

"I don't care — I love my own life, thank you very much."

Mibuchi turned to Mayuzumi for back-up.

"Look. Akashi said we're meeting her soon — can't we just wait until then?"

"I can't!" Mibuchi wailed. He gazed at them with imploring eyes. "What do you think she looks like?"

The three gave it a moment's thought. Now that they thought about it, they've never seen their fearless captain express any form of interest towards the fairer sex — not that the female students of Rakuzan were unattractive. It's quite the opposite. Given that, how were they to guess Akashi's ideal girl?

"Dunno," Hayama and Nebuya chorused, their minds drawing up a blank.

Mayuzumi closed his novel and looked skyward. "She's probably someone unexpected."

"Why do you say that?"

He clicked his tongue. "It's Akashi, what do you expect?" At their silence, he smiled inwardly. "She's not one of those rich, snobbish heiresses, for sure. Akashi hates their kind with passion." Akashi never did flaunt his wealth, despite being the heir to the richest corporation in Japan and among the top corporations worldwide, so it's safe to say that he hates people who are guilty of such act.

"She must be a very interesting person, indeed."

Somewhere in Tokyo, a certain chartreusette sneezed.

"Here," Midorima handed her a tissue.

"Thanks," she muttered. "I wonder who was talking about me..."

Rather, the question should be 'Who was thinking about you?' because I can name quite a few, Midorima thought to himself. Me included, a traitorious part of his mind added. Beside him, Kimiko sneezed again.

"So why were you here again?" she asked him when she had recovered. It was a Tuesday, and the two of them were seated on a park bench, drinking hot chocolate purchased from a nearby Maji Burger store. Midorima was still in his school uniform, a green scarf around his neck, while Kimiko was dressed warmly in a black fur-lined coat and boots, making her lime-green hair to stand out.

"Classes were canceled for the rest of the afternoon. No practice, either."

"And Kazunari?"

"He's running an errand for —" he stopped midsentence and glared at the smirking Kimiko. "What does he got to do with anything?!"

She giggled quietly. "You can't be seen without that hawk-eyed boy since you went to Shutoku. Is he your bestfriend?"

"He's my slave," said Midorima, sipping from his cup.

"Riiiiiight," and Kimiko rolled her eyes.

After draining their styro cups of the sweet, warm liquid, Kimiko asked Midorima to dispose of them by shooting them in the trash bin a few feet from where they sat. The greenhaired boy obliged, albeit a bit grumpily at having to use his skill in such a manner, but seeing Kimiko cheering and urging him to do it made him decide that it was worth it.

Her smiles, her laughter.

It was definitely worth it.

"I want to go to Akita," she suddenly said, on their way to an antique store that sells weird items. She suggested it to Midorima given his obsession with horoscopes and lucky items — it might prove helpful someday.

"Why?" Midorima asked.

"Snow," she said cheerily. "Lots and lots of it."

"You really love snowball fights."

She grinned up at him. "Only when you're on my side." Midorima's skill in shooting three-pointers is also applicable to balled-up snow. Back in middle school, the park across their campus was witness to their snowball wars, and Kimiko always make sure that she had Midorima on her team no matter what.

They reached the shop that Kimiko had only found out through her daily strolls. The chimes rang as they pushed the door open, and the same old woman greeted them at the counter.

She let Midorima browse freely around the store, while she leaned on the counter, watching him from where she stood. The shop was small, so no matter Midorima went, she can still see him quite well. A few minutes passed until the old woman went up to her.

"Beware the flamehaired one," the old woman murmured, and Kimiko turned her head and saw that she was looking at Midorima who was inspecting some dreamcatchers on display.


But the old woman was already shaking her head and retreating to her seat. Kimiko stared at her for a while, then shrugged to herself. She pushed herself off the wooden counter and headed to where her companion was, and she could see that he already had chosen a good amount of items.

She laughed. "Are you planning to buy everything?" She pointed at his purchases. "You can just come back here tomorrow or whenever you like. It's not like this store is going to vanish overnight."

After some persuasion, Midorima went up to the counter to pay for them, and they exited the store to the sound of the windchimes. He offered to walk her home then, and Kimiko allowed him to, and they talked about random things along the way. On her doorstep, just as she was about to go in, Midorima pulled out something from the plastic bag that he was carrying and shoved it in her hands. Before she could respond, Midorima was already gone, leaving her without even saying goodbye.

Akashi lovingly ran his hands through Yukimaru's mane as he watched his horse munched on an apple from his hand. Alone in the stables, Akashi smiled softly, a smile that, had anyone seen it, would've described as an innocent smile with a splash of sadness and hope at the same time, and they would've had difficulty in accepting that it is coming from the Emperor himself.

Not once did Akashi let down his walls in front of others.

But he once did.

For her.

"Mother would've been glad to know her," he murmured, and Yukimaru whinnied, as if voicing his agreement, making Akashi chuckle as he looked his dear horse in the eye.

"Do you know who is it that I'm referring earlier?"

Yukimaru tossed his head.

"Aa. It's Akumi, you remember?" Heterochromatic eyes stared at the far wall, lost in the sea of memories. He and Akumi, in this room, brushing Yukimaru's mane, feeding him, flopping on the hay, laughters...

He led the white stallion back to his corral and gave it one last pat on its head. As he walked the path leading to the back entrance of the manor, he gazed up at the slowly darkening skies and smiled to himself.

"Seijuurou-sama!" The voice of his butler broke the silence. He paused in his steps as the older man ran up to him. "Your father wants to talk to you."

His eyes immediately narrowed in annoyance. "I see." This is probably about the upcoming Nationals. "I'll go to his study after I make myself presentable. You may go. Thank you."

"Father," Akashi addressed the man at the table and took his seat across him. The senior Akashi continued with his work for a few tense minutes before putting down his pen. Ruby eyes seemed to drink in Akashi, eyes searching. When he spoke, his voice was calm.

Akashi knew better.


"Yes, father," he replied, polite as ever.

"Your team will be participating in the Nationals." It was more of a statement than a question.

"Yes, father." Going through this tiresome routine once more, he can already hear Kimiko say, You sound like a robot. But what else can he possibly say?

"You must win the championship. Anything less, and I'll be sending you off to America. That single loss during the Winter Cup is enough. Do that again and you'll be saying goodbye to basketball. For good."

Akashi clenched his hands under the table, though his face betrayed none of his emotions. In a dead, cold voice, he answered his sirr with another "Yes, Father."

Akashi Masaomi looked at his son with a deadly glint in his ruby red eyes. He scoffed. "Good. Remember that we Akashis are absolute. Do not disappoint me again," and with an imperceptible nod of his head, he dismissed his son from the room and resumed doing his work. Akashi promptly rose from his seat and bowed to his father before going out the door. Closing it silently, he stopped and exhaled, releasing the breath that he had been holding in. He counted up to three, then shook his head before going on his way.

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