The Runaway Empress

Chapter 22

"Akumi," he spoke into her ear, rolling her name off his tongue like velvet, voice saccharinely sweet, "tell me, what am I to do with you?"

"Seijuurou, cut it out," Kimiko managed to bit out. "This is not funny anymore."

"My point, exactly," came his voice by her ear. "What gave you the idea that I am trying to be funny?" He had trapped her in the armchair, his hands pinning her wrists on the armrests. Struggling is futile. "What did I tell you about consorting with Ryouta?"

And then it all clicked into place. The photo shoot. She had the urge to facepalm. "Seijuurou, get off me." He remained in place. "Now."

"Not until you explain everything."

"I'm not explaining with you like this."

Akashi shrugged. "Suit yourself."

To his surprise, the girl relaxed against the chair, making herself comfortable, ignoring him completely when he fully expected her to lash out at him. He had been fully prepared if she decided to use her 'ninja-moves' on him, but this—this was something that he did not see coming.

His hands loosened a bit around her wrists as he pulled away to look her in the face.

Wrong move.

Pain erupted at the center of his forehead as the girl gave him a vicious headbutt.

He released her in favor of rubbing the sore spot that was now throbbing with pain. Taking a few steps back, he stopped when the back of his legs made contact with the coffee table, and proceeded to glare at the devilishly smirking female in front of him, seemingly unaffected with her own actions.

It was supposed to hurt her too, right?

They spent a few minutes in a staredown before she arched one fine eyebrow at him.

"So, have you finally regained your senses?"

When he refused to answer, she continued in an amused tone. "I guess I hit you too hard..." She then stood up and went to the kitchen. Akashi had taken over the armchair in her absence, palm still pressed on his forehead. Perching herself on the armrest, she brushed away his hand and his crimson bangs and replaced them with the ice pack that she had gone to retrieve. They stayed that way in complete silence until Akashi decided to speak.

"You didn't answer my question."

The chartreusette had been spacing off that she blinked a few times before she replied with a very intelligent, "Huh?"

Akashi clicked his tongue, crossing his arms in front of his chest as he stared straight at the TV screen across him. "What were you doing with Kise?"

At the change in the way that he referred to the blonde, Kimiko relaxed considerably. Letting out a sigh of relief, she began explaining the whole 'modeling thing' to the annoyed redhead. "Ryou-kun invited —" She had barely begun when he cut her off with another annoyed question.

"'Ryou-kun'?" The way he said it was full of disgust. "Last I heard, Kise was 'Ryouta' to you. When and how and why did —"

Her free hand covered Akashi's mouth none too gently. Heterochromatic eyes flickered upwards to meet her amused golden ones.

"Now, you're quiet. One question at a time, Your Majesty." Her hand remained in place as she continued with her narration. "As I was saying, Ryou-kun—" she emphasized the name as if teasing Akashi with it, "—invited me to one of his photoshoots because I asked him that back when we were still in middle school. I was supposed to be only watching him do his job, but then his—What now?" she asked in irritation at having been interrupted again when he tried to remove her hand by shaking his head. Akashi glared at her before letting out a sigh. His hand shot up and covered Kimiko's face the way she was doing to him just moments ago and smirked when she swatted his hand away, huffing as she did so.

"Are you planning to suffocate me?" she asked, this time glaring openly at him.

His mouth twitched. "That was payback."

"Oh." She bit back a giggle. "Why didn't you speak up then?"

"If I remember correctly, you were covering my nose and my mouth."

"Right," she said, inwardly kicking herself for being stupid. "It's your fault, though. You kept interrupting me."

"Fine, then. Continue with your story," Akashi said with a wave of his hand.

She rolled her golden eyes at him but complied anyway. "Where was I? Oh, yeah, the female model didn't make it. The plan was to postpone the shoot but then the photographer noticed me and well, you know what happened next."

"Why did you agree to it?"

"Because I was curious."

"Curiousity killed the cat," he retorted, quoting the famous adage.

"Do I look like a cat to you?" she shot back, irritation bubbling up inside her.

"It's not meant to be taken literally," he explained.

She cannot help it any longer. This time, it was her who snapped. Letting the ice pack drop to his lap, she slid off her seat and fixed Akashi with a hard gaze. On instinct, Akashi rose to face her, not letting her to look down on him. He took a step toward her, but that only prompted her to narrow her eyes at him as she took a step back.

"Tell me, Seijuurou," she asked in a cold voice, "tell me, why are you being like this?"

"Like what, Akumi?"

"You don't know? Seriously, Seijuurou? You don't know?"

"I don't —"

"Possessive! You're acting possessive over me!" Her sudden outburst made Akashi freeze midstep. "Questioning my choices on who I hang out with and what I do with them and what I call them — that's being possessive, Seijuurou — in case you missed that certain fact despite your humongous IQ! Geez," she exhaled loudly. She raked a hand through her lime-green hair in frustration, trying to calm herself.

The redhead was silent as he reflected on her words, eyes closed. Inside his head, he watched as his 'other self' emerged from the shadows. Possessive, huh. Why should I? When you already belong to me?

Be quiet, he ordered his 'other self'. I don't need you scaring her like you did earlier.

We can't have her associating with other people. It's like what Shintarou said. Someone is out to take her away from us.

She's not going anywhere. She promised.

His 'other self' sneered at him. And you believe her?

Yes.

Why?

Because I trust her.

He slowly opened his eyes and the first thing he saw was Kimiko's face. She looked sad and weary, when just a while ago, she had been laughing and teasing him merrily.

"I'm sorry. I was out of line." This time when he reached out to her, she didn't flinch or move away. He held her hand and she gave him a reassuring squeeze, a silent gesture of accepting his apology.

A mischievous smile replaced her tired expression and it pleased — and relieved — Akashi to see that Kimiko was back to her impish self. It always baffles him to see her change moods in a heartbeat — from happy to angry to sad — and each time she switches her disposition for another, there won't be a trace of the previous one. If Kimiko is happy, then she is truly and absolutely happy. If Kimiko is angry, then she is truly and absolutely angry. She is that black-and-white when it comes to her emotions. Although, when she's just acting is another matter altogether. However, Akashi knows when she is being sincere and when she's just merely faking them.

"So, Seijuurou-sama was jealous?" she said as they resumed their previous positions on the armchair. Kimiko was facing him, her right hand holding the ice pack in place over his forehead.

"What gave you the idea?" he murmured, eyes closed as he let her tend to him.

"Hmm, well, that's how jealous people tend to act."

He cracked one eye open. "Is that so?"

"Usually."

He nodded thoughtfully, and they lapsed to comfortable silence once more.

Suddenly Akashi remembered something important. "How about your forehead, Akumi?" If mine was hurting as much, then it stands to reason that she was in just as much pain as I do...

"What about it?" she asked, clearly puzzled at his question.

"Aren't you hurt as well?"

"...Hurt? Oh, no, I'm not," she replied happily, proudly even. "I guess I'm used to it..."

This time, Akashi gazed up at her with a bemused look. "Used to it? You mean to say, you're used to bashing other people's skulls with your own?" His tone was sarcastic.

"Che. Does it really hurt that much?" she asked out of pure curiosity.

"What do you think?" was Akashi's flat reply.

"Heh... Aww, poor Seijuurou-kun," and she moved to pinch his cheek. Akashi saw through her actions and his reaction was to move his face away from her. However that single movement caused Kimiko to lose her balance as she slid off her perch on the narrow armrest and into Akashi's lap. She yelped as she realized their new position and hurriedly tried to get off by throwing herself backward.

"...!..."

Before she could end up hurting herself though, Akashi's arms wrapped around her slender frame, pulling her close to him — too close, for when she looked up at him, their noses were almost touching, their lips mere centimeters apart.

She drew back her chin nervously. Akashi was looking down at her intently, and for some reason, she found it hard to breath. Her heart was pounding in her chest, its beating like thunder in her ears.

She squirmed under his gaze, yet his hold on her did not loosened.

"Akumi," Akashi whispered, his warm breath fanning over her lips as he spoke her name. She met his gaze, and found herself trapped under his mismatched eyes of liquid crimson and raw sienna.

"Hai...?" she whispered back as they stared at each other unblinkingly, though why the hell they were whispering to one another, Kimiko has no idea.

"Don't move," and before she could ask why, Akashi closed his eyes, dipped his head down and captured her lips with his.

Gold eyes widened in shock as she felt the softness of Akashi's lips against hers, that she lay there unmoving in his arms while he kissed her. However, it wasn't long before she felt herself giving in, her eyelids fluttering close as she responded to the kiss. It was only instinct that was guiding her, for this was her first, but then Akashi was skillful enough to guide them both. They were soft, feathering kisses, but the moment she clutched his shoulders, Akashi pressed harder, one of his hands finding its way at the back of her head, chartreuse hair fisted in it. She felt him pull her head lightly downwards, but she was too lost to do anything but to oblige, even when Akashi tugged at her lower lip, asking for more. Deepening their kiss, Akashi pulled her closer, and they were so caught up in the moment that they only broke the kiss for lack of air. Kimiko was panting lightly, her cheeks flushed a beautiful red, while Akashi was simply breathless over what had just happened.

She was the first to recover. Carefully disentangling herself from his arms, she stood up shakily, followed by an equally dazed Akashi, whose mind was still reeling over his impulsive action.

"Akumi, I—"

She was staring at the floor as she spoke in a quiet voice. "Seijuurou, I think it's time for you to leave. You—you still have a train to catch... Right?"

Akashi swallowed. Is she angry at him? He cannot decipher anything from her tone, and her face was hidden from view. He took a lungful of air and exhaled slowly. "Aa. You're right."

He headed for the door, pausing to turn and look at her one last time. She remained frozen in place, but he saw her fingers touching her lips — the ones that he had kissed. He sighed, then murmured in a voice just loud enough for her to hear.

"See you on Saturday, Akumi."

And with that, he went out the door and into the cold February night. Inside the cab headed to the train station, Akashi nibbled at his lower lip. A smirk tugged at the corner of his mouth as he recalled their kiss.

Now, that was something that he wouldn't mind doing again in the near future.

He suddenly had an idea. Fishing out his phone from his pocket, he sent a short message to the girl.

[To: Kimiko Akumi]

[Good night, Akumi.]


The moment the redhead was out of her apartment, Kimiko's knees gave in and she sank to the floor. Covering her face with both of her hands, she mentally screamed, What have I done?!

How did that even happen? They were just having their usual banter when she fell into him and the next thing she knew was that he was kissing her senseless. And how good Akashi is when it comes to kissing.

On that note, her eyes narrowed. Does that mean that he has experience? No one told her that he had a girlfriend before, right?

Right?

Kimiko just hoped that the answer to that was NO. Because she'll be damned if she let anyone who had kissed another girl before to just steal a kiss from her unscathed — Akashi Seijuurou or not.

It was my first kiss, damn it.

But hey, it was a damn good one.

Kimiko groaned. What am I even thinking? I just shared a kiss with Seijuurou, of all people! Why him? Why?!

She turned to the coffee table and banged her head on the glass surface, only to regret it afterwards.

"Owww," she whimpered, feeling a bit lightheaded. I wonder if his forehead hurt as much as mine does right now.

And then she giggled. "I guess that's enough punishment for stealing my first kiss, Bakashi."

That night, Kimiko went to bed oddly satisfied and pleased with herself. As she burrowed into her pillows, all she thought before she fell asleep was this.

I'll just worry about it in the morning. Right now, I need to sleep.


He can't sleep.

In the darkness of the lavish bedroom, the only thing that's visible was the LED display of the clock his bedside table, flashing the numbers 1:27 AM in bright red light.

Why did I kiss her? Friends don't kiss each other on the lips, no matter how close they are to one another — physically, mentally, emotionally. Friends don't do that.

But boyfriends do that to their girlfriends all the time.

That's a different matter.

She doesn't seem to be angry at us, his other self mused. Contrary to what the others believed, his second persona did not vanish, but had merely switched places with him, so that this time, his 'other self' is now part of the audience instead of taking the center stage. Oh, he has his moments when he tries to steal the spotlight, just like when he cornered Kimiko the moment she entered the apartment, but good thing is that he wasn't as vicious and reckless as before. However there are times when the line dividing the two of them becomes blurred that there seemed to be only one of them, which only happens whenever a certain chartreusette joins the picture.

I guess it hasn't sunk in yet, Akashi replied. He wondered what she was doing right now... Hopefully Kimiko won't start making a voodoo doll or something.

His other self snickered at his thoughts. A voodoo doll is fine as long as she tucks it in with her to bed and kisses it goodnight.

Be quiet, Akashi snapped. Has Aomine gotten to you? His other self sobered up, muttering something about him having no sense of humor. As an afterthought, he added, Oh well, I'd rather have the real thing.

Akashi's eyes flew open, sending his other self back under. He looked at the time. Deciding that it was too late for him to try and get some sleep, Akashi rose from his bed and went to continue the game of go that had been sitting in the corner of his room for a week now.

Later during their morning training, Rakuzan's basketball club would wonder why their captain looked like he had other thoughts in his head other than the very important Nationals which by the way was only days away. And they would have killed their lovely shooting guard for asking Akashi about it, for he only tripled their training for the day for an answer. He was actually going to quintuple it — but was spared since he won't have his soldiers be worn out already before they got to the actual battle.

Their punishment can wait.


It was eight o'clock when Kimiko awoke from her slumber. She stayed in bed for about five minutes, stretching her arms out as she yawned.

"What a weird dream," she said out loud to the four walls of her bedroom. Still in her wine-red nightgown, she ambled out of her room, heading for the kitchen where she made herself some toast to go with her morning coffee, which she brought with her to the living room. Turning to the coffee table, she hummed in question at the magzine innocently lying there, its pages opened to the part featuring Kise and her.

She stared at it as she bit down on a piece of toast. "That's odd... Did I unknowingly carried it home with me?" she wondered. Kise said his manager had lent it to him — or was it given? She shrugged as she continued with her eating. "I'll just return it to him later then," finding the perfect excuse to visit Kanagawa later that day.

Out of nowhere, she remembered Kasamatsu whacking Kise on the back of the head with a rolled-up duplicate of the thing on her table on their way to the station yesterday.

She nodded to herself. Kasamatsu have Kise's copy of the magazine. He must have returned it to him before they went to their own homes.

Then, where did this come from...?

"Think, Akumi, think."

Aside from Kise who is a model and thus privy to such things, who else among her friends has the capability to get their hands on an unreleased copy of a reknowned magazine in Japan?

The answer came to her in a split-second. She choked on her coffee, followed by an ungraceful shriek of "NOOOOOOOO!" as she realized that THE dream was not really a dream, but as real as the material evidence before her.

Oh, and there's the ice pack lying carelessly beside her foot. Her eyes went to the wall where she remembered placing the bat that she was supposed to use as a weapon.

There it is.

She was starting to panic. The bat, the magazine, the ice pack.

"So, so that means Se-Seijuurou was he-here last night?" she stuttered in disbelief.

"The headbutt—"

—her hand went to her forehead which was a little sore from being bashed on the table—

"—the kiss—"

—her hand dropped to her trembling lips—

"...it... it REALLY HAPPENED?!"


It was lunch break when Kise's phone rang with Kimiko's ringtone. Kise had this habit of assigning a different ringtone to each of his contacts. Putting down his chopsticks, he excused himself from his companions — his teammates — and answered the call with a cheerful "Heya, Akumicchi! Howdy do?" He then paused, "Akumicchi, are you—are you crying?!" When she sniffed, he panicked, "A-AKUMICCHI, WHA-WHAT HAPP—"

"Ryou-kun, you left your magazine with me yesterday, didn't you?"

"Ha?" The magazine? Kise looked around and saw Moriyama admiring her pictures in it. "Ah, no... It's here with me right now... Why do you ask, Akumicchi?"

Her strangled voice came after a few seconds. "...So it was really true..."

Kise was growing even more bewildered. "What was 'true', Akumicchi? Akumicchi?"

"...He really kissed me..."

...KISS?!

"Who—who kissed you, Akumicchi?!"

However, Kimiko seemed to have forgotten about as she continued with her dazed mumble.

"...Seijuurou really did kissed me..."

Kise almost fell out of his chair in shock. His teammates were looking at him oddly.

"AKASHICCHI DID WHAAAAAAAT?!"


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