The Runaway Empress

Chapter 24

Kimiko looked at them with a weary look. "I was kinda expecting you, you know..." she said to Kise, then glanced at Kuroko and Midorima behind him, "...but I never thought you'd bring an army."

Kise gave her an apologetic smile. "Sorry, Akumicchi..."

She sighed in reply, then stepped aside to let them in. Raking a hand through her slightly messy hair, she led them to the kitchen after they deposited their bags in the couch in the living room.

"Fortunately, I made enough dinner for all of us," she said, her back to them as she got them plates and stuff. She told Kise to go make some juice for all of them while Kuroko went to get glasses. Midorima set the table.

Dinner was silent and awkward, to say the least. Kimiko kept spacing out, Kise for some reason kept squirming in his seat, Midorima looks unusually disturbed, while Kuroko kept his mouth shut while giving pointed looks at Kise, who was doing his best to ignore said phantom's looks.

By some unspoken agreement, Kise stayed behind with Kimiko while Kuroko and Midorima made themselves scarce by fleeing to the living room almost immediately, ignoring the panicked look on Kise's face when he saw them leave. Before they were totally out the kitchen, Kise could've sworn that Kuroko had indeed flashed him a thumbs-up and a slightly encouraging smile.

And then they were gone.

Leaving him and Kimiko alone.

Why do I have to be the one to do this?! he yelled in his mind.

"Because Kise-kun is the only one who can pull it off," Kuroko said, Midorima nodding beside him. For once, the two were actually agreeing with each other.

"Do it for Kimiko's sake, Kise," Midorima added when Kise looked like he was about to argue further.

"B-b-but Akumicchi might get mad at me!" he wailed. Unfortunately, his protests fell on deaf ears.

"I'm sure she will understand after we explain it to her," Midorima countered.

"Are you sure that this plan will really work?" Kise turned to the blue-haired mastermind. "Is there really no other way?!"

"No, there isn't" was the deadpan response.

Just what did I get myself into? Kise stared at Kimiko, who had her back to him as she wiped the table with a piece of cloth. He gritted his teeth and apologized to her in his head. Sorry, Akumicchi. You can blame Kurokocchi afterwards.

"Ano, Akumicchi," he began awkwardly, and the girl turned to face him with an inquisitive look on her face.

"Yes, Ryou-kun?" For some reason, he felt a twinge of pain when she called him that.

He inhaled deeply, then let it out slowly. "That—that thing you mentioned in your call... Did it...Did it really happen?"

Kise had always imagined the chartreusette blushing, but even his imagination can't even compare to the actual thing. At the recollection of last night's incident, a beautiful shade of red graced the girl's porcelain cheeks as she struggled to remain her composure in front of him.

Red definitely suits Akumicchi, was what came to Kise's mind.

"W-well, y-yes," Kimiko stuttered, averting her eyes as she fiddled with the cloth in her hands. She sighed then continued in a small voice, so unlike the cool and composed yet slighly mischievous and demonic girl that Kise had come to know, "I don't know why Seijuurou did that, though..."

A part of Kise was screaming "So cuuuuuuuuuteee!" while another part of him was bitterly telling him that Kimiko was acting like that not because of him but because of someone else — specifically a certain short redhaired captain who was currently in Kyoto.

The gods really hate me, Kise thought, willing himself to get back on doing his mission appointed to him by Kuroko.

"You don't know?" Kise asked in fake wonder, Midorima's theory echoing clearly in his ears. He felt his chest tighten as he waited for her answer.

Kimiko bit her lower lip nervously, perfectly unaware of its effect on Kise. With eyes fixed on an imaginary spot on the kitchen floor, she murmured just loud enough for the blonde to hear, "...I...I don't..."

...they just haven't realized it yet...

There was a moment of silence, and in that period, Kimiko was able to regain some of her composure.

"Ha!" she exhaled loudly, then straightened her shoulders as she went over to the sink. As he watched, Kise was reminded of how she seemed to glide rather than walk — her movements were just too refined and elegant, and the fact that it seemed to come naturally to her amazed him to no end — an aspect she shares with Akashi. Although unlike him, Kimiko also had her moments when her behavior can rival Aomine's in its roughness.

Wordlessly, she started washing the dishes while Kise remained standing awkwardly by the table. Suddenly, Kimiko called him out to her.

"Ryou-kun, could you—" she gestured to her hair with her soapy hands "—tie my hair? It gets in the way..."

"S-sure, Akumicchi!" Anything for you. "Uh, where's your hair tie?" he asked as he approached her.

Kimiko held out her arm to him, where a black hair tie was rolled up to her elbow so that it won't get wet. Kise carefully took it off and stood behind her, carefully gathering her long chartreuse hair in his hands. He marveled at the silkiness of her hair, how soft and how fragrant it was, and he couldn't help but to bring his face close to her head to take a sniff of her citrus-scented shampoo. Kimiko, who was soaping the dishes, noticed his actions and without turning her head, she asked him what he was doing sniffing her hair.

"A-ah! Akumicchi smells like oranges!" Kise said, laughing, though his heartbeat was probably going a mile a minute.

He heard her giggle. "Sometimes, you remind me of a dog..."

"Akumicchi, that's mean..."

"I don't mean it in a bad way, though," she said as Kise resumed to tying her hair into a high ponytail. When he was done, he moved to her side and proceeded to help dry the dishes.

"Then what does Akashicchi remind you of?"

Her hands stilled for a second, making Kise to look at her face. Kimiko had a fond expression on her face, and her eyes look like she was staring at something far away.

The pain in Kise's chest came again.

"Seijuurou reminds me of a cat."

The plate in Kise's hands almost slipped out from hia shock. He was expecting her to say "lion" or a "dragon" or some other intimidating creature but—

"A c-cat...?!" he exclaimed in disbelief. The only thing that his former captain shares with said creature was probably their sizes.

The girl nodded, smiling. "Yep, a cat."

"But why a cat? Why not a lion? Or a dragon?"

"Because Seijuurou definitely acts and looks like one," she explained cheerfully. "All graceful and light on their feet... Proud, aristocratic creatures... Perfectly adorable, affectionate beings. Don't you think so?"

"Erm..." Kise couldn't quite see Akashi as adorable and affectionate, though. But if it's with Akumicchi, well, anything's possible...

Kimiko laughed at Kise's reaction.

They finished washing the dishes and she had just closed the door of the refrigerator after placing the rest of the food in there when all of a sudden, Kise grabbed her wrists and pinned them above her head, her back to the refrigerator.

Golden eyes met amber ones.

"Ryou-kun, what are you—"

Kise's eyes darkened as he stared at her, his grip tightening as she struggled to free herself.

"Why...?" he trailed off, unable to continue further lest he say something he shouldn't.

"Why what...?" Kimiko questioned, feeling uneasy at the blonde's unnerving gaze. She'd never seen Kise act like this, and she was close to freaking out.

She gasped as he pressed his body against hers, pushing her back into the cold metal.


"Akumicchi...," he muttered in a pained whisper.

Despite her confusion, she managed to say a shaky, "Yes...?"

With one hand, Kise cupped the side of her face, trailing his fingers down her cheek, stopping at her chin. He tilted her face upwards to bring it closer to his, locking his gaze with hers.

"Do you love Akashicchi...?"

Her mouth flew open at the sudden question.

"—What?" she choked out.

Her eyes widened as he brought his face to hers.

"Do you love Akashicchi, Akumicchi?" Kise whispered slowly at the corner of her lips.

She didn't see the pained look on his face.

"I... I don't... I don't know!" The last word was stated rather forcefully, meant to drive the blonde away from her. "Ryou-kun, let me go! Just what are you doing?!"

Kise heaved a sigh, his breath warm against the side of her face.

"Ne, Akumicchi, what if Akashicchi is the one doing this to you?" he asked, pulling away, his voice so soft that if not for their close proximity, she wouldn't have been able to hear him.

If Kimiko was confused at Akashi's actions, then Kise's had her completely bewildered. She could hear the pure anger in his voice. She could feel his body shaking since it was pressed against hers so tightly.

"Why would you ask something like that?"

In response, Kise pressed his forehead to hers, imitating Akashi's actions during the night of Kuroko's birthday. He watched her reaction as he ran a hand down her arm in a featherlight caress.

"Just answer the question, Akumi," he murmured, copying Akashi's way of speaking.

Effectively making Kimiko to do what he wanted her to do.

In her muddled head, it was not Kise's voice that spoke to her, but Akashi's.

Her blush returned to her face.

A reaction that Kise knows was due to the fact that she was seeing Akashi instead of him.

Kise couldn't take it any more. Cursing his feelings for the chartreusette — feelings that he had tried hard to forget — he pursed his lips to prevent himself from confessing right then and there. Bringing an end to his act, he released her and reverted back to his hyper and cheerful self despite feeling the exact opposite at the moment.

"You're blushing!" Kise laughed, pointing at her face. "There's your answer!"

Kimiko blinked at his sudden change, then slapped him playfully on the arm.

"You baka!" she growled. "I was close to freaking out, you know! And what do you mean... Answer to what?"

Kise painted a smile on his face. "Why don't we go to the living room so that Kurokocchi and Midorimacchi can explain it themselves?"

"So, Tetsuya, Shintarou, anything to say?"

Two heads snapped up at the sound of her voice. She saw Kuroko gulp nervously while Midorima was fiddling nervously with his lucky item, which happened to be a Pikachu doll.

Kimiko sat on the loveseat while Kise joined the two on the couch. She crossed her arms and waited for someone to answer her question. "Well?"

"Kise, what was her reaction?" Midorima asked the blonde quietly.

Instead of answering his question, Kise said almost lifelessly, "Your theory was right, Midorimacchi."

He stood up. To Kimiko, he said, "Ano, Akumicchi, I have to go — appointment with my manager and stuff. So, Kurokocchi, Midorimacchi, you know what to do! Ja ne!"

And before anyone can stop him, Kise was out the door without even waiting for them to say their goodbyes.

Knowing blue eyes followed him until he was out of their sight.

"Ryou-kun told you," Kimiko stated humorlessly.

"Hai. We just wanted to help," Kuroko said.

"And it was just about time you realize it, nanodayo," Midorima muttered.

She narrowed her eyes at the greenhaired boy. "Realize what, Shintarou?"

"Akashi-kun and Akumi-san are surprisingly dense."

"What was that, Tetsuya?" She raised a fine brow at the phantom's blunt statement.

Midorima pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. He could already sense Kimiko's growing irritation. "We didn't mean to meddle with you and Akashi's personal affairs. We were merely worried for the two of you. Has Akashi already talked to you about it?"

Kimiko stared at him. Everyone was suddenly acting out of character. Akashi kissing her, Kise almost doing the same as Akashi, Midorima talking more than usual... What's next? Kuroko laughing like a madman?

"Akumi-san, has Akashi-kun called you already?"

"Huh?" A hand passing in front of her face shook her out of her thoughts. The question finally registered in her head, and she shook her head in reply.

"He's probably figuring it out himself as well," Midorima stated.

"If it's Akashi-kun, he's probably done figuring it out," Kuroko said with a hint of a smile.

At this, Kimiko groaned inwardly.

Just what is happening with the people around me?

"Ryouta, what are you doing out late?" his older sister said as he passed her in the living room on the way to his bedroom.

"Nothing," he mumbled, eager to go to his room already. He wanted to be alone right now.

His sister saw his depressed state and she was instantly worried. For her brother to act so down like this, something major must have happened.

"Ryouta, come here," she ordered, and when he looked like he was about to argue, she gave him The Look.

Wearily, Kise trudged to the couch and sat beside his sister (because that's where she told him to sit) and muttered uncharacteristically, "Reika-neechan, I told you it was nothing..."

One look at his downcast features, she replied with a sarcastic "Really..." Putting an arm around his shoulders, she asked, "Now, can you tell Nee-chan what's bothering her beloved otouto?"

The reason he bolted out of Kimiko's apartment was due to the fact that he needs to calm down for his heart would never stop palpitating. Being that close with the chatrtreusette, seeing her bright golden eyes, hearing her laughter — seeing her blush so beautifully because of Akashi... It was simply too much to handle.

And the fact that he had just helped her to come to terms with her feelings for someone else just made it worse.

Like taking a knife in your own hands and stabbing yourself with it.

Since when did I became a masochist?

Oh, right.

Ever since I realized that I have feelings for Akumicchi.

"Ryouta, what's the problem?" his sister asked once again.

He wondered if he should confide in her, tell her everything that has been happening lately. Because if he didn't let it out, he's not sure if he'll be able to bear it anymore.

"Nee-chan... It hurts... It hurts so much.." he said, clutching at his chest as the pain came back, more intense this time.

"Why is that?" she asked, although she had a feeling she knew the answer, what with Kise clutching at the place where his heart is.

The blonde inwardly growled at himself, cursing himself for not having the courage to tell her when they were still in middle school, for even trying to forget about his feelings for her...

Kise shook his head in frustration, these thoughts were getting him nowhere. Even if he did do something, it wouldn't matter — not in the very least.

Because from the very start, he'd already known.

"Nee-chan, I don't know what to do anymore..." he closed his eyes in a vain effort to stop the tears from falling. "I still love Akumicchi, but she... Her heart already belongs to someone else..."

And that person was someone that Kise cannot even dream of defeating.

Not when it was Kimiko's heart on the line.

Reika laced her hand with her younger brother's own, and made him lean his head on her shoulder.

"So it's Kimiko-chan, eh?" She hadn't met the girl personally, but from what Kise had told her, she was an exceptional person. And after seeing her with Kise in that latest Valentines article, she could clearly see that her brother is very much infatuated with the chartreusette.

Unfortunately, it seems that the feeling was not mutual.

"Tell me what happened," she coaxed, and after much hesitation, Kise opened up, and in a rush of words, he narrated what had happened that day, starting from Kimiko's phone call during lunch up to the part where he left her apartment all of a sudden. Reika listened with rapt attention, and when he finally finished, she gave her brother a big, warm hug.

"Oh, Ryouta," was all she could say. She never thought that Kise was hiding such pain for a long time...

Kise returned the hug, for he was very much in need of one.

"Nee-chan," he asked after some time, his head now lying on his sister's lap while she played with his hair.

"Yes, Ryouta?"

"I always wanted Akumicchi to do this to me, you know..." he said softly, a trace of sleepiness in his voice. "Akumicchi has gentle fingers, just like you, nee-chan..."

"Is that so?" Reika replied, a sad smile on her lips as she threaded her fingers through his blonde locks.

"Hmmm-mmm," Kise hummed contentedly, his eyes closed. Then, his expression turned sorrowful. "But her hands are only for Akashicchi... And so is her heart."

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