The Runaway Empress

Chapter 26

"Why are we even here?" Hayama muttered from behind a bush where he was huddled along with the rest of Rakuzan's basketball team.

"Because we're going to see Sei-chan's girlfriend. Now shut up," came Mibuchi's irritated reply.

Mayuzumi clicked his tongue in annoyance as he glanced at his wristwatch. They'd been crouching in the same position for over an hour, and his legs were already killing him. His eyes strayed to where Akashi sat, his back to them, sipping coffee. He'd arrived thirty minutes ago, and had been calmly waiting in that cafe ever since. Now, that piqued the grayhead's interest. Unless it was for formal business, Akashi has this annoying habit of showing up last on meetings (something to do with making a grand entrance, probably). Akashi showing up half an hour early just to pick up a girl at the train station was somehow... well, disconcerting, to say the least.

"It's about time," Nebuya announced, just as Akashi stood up, eyes on the passengers' exit up ahead. Mismatched eyes scanned the crowd for that bright lime-green hair.

Akashi spotted her first. She was carrying a small duffel bag containing her clothes and other things she'll possibly need for her week-long stay in Wakayama. Her hair was down, and she was wearing a black tank top under a cropped denim jacket, pleated skirt and black boots. He strode over to her, and her eyes finally met his. She gave him a bright, mischievous smile, which he returned with a small smirk of his own. Moving beside her, he took her luggage and slung it on his shoulder.

"You're on time," Kimiko teased.

"I'm never late on any of our meetings," Akashi replied as he led her out of the station, where a limousine was waiting for them to take them to the manor. He sneaked a glance at the girl beside him.

She's still the same, he noticed. He was expecting some sort of awkwardness between them because of what had happened but thankfully, there was nothing of the sort. But for some reason he was a bit disappointed that Kimiko didn't even have any reaction.

Did it not affect her in the very least?

"I'll be watching the middle school matches as well — Teikou will be there," Kimiko said.

"Hardly surprising," he commented.

"Indeed," she said cheerfully. She then turned her head and saw Akashi suppressing a yawn.

"Didn't have enough sleep?" she asked quietly, her expression subdued.

Akashi blinked, feeling guilty for being caught. He laced his hand with hers. "I'm fine."

Kimiko was unconvinced but didn't comment on it. She tightened her grip on his hand instead.

If she only knew why.


It was late at night — 11:52 PM on the clock hanging on the wall — but Akashi Seijuurou was still up and awake, poring over his thicker-than-usual stack of paperwork. He was working overtime in order to free his schedule for Saturday, as he had other plans for that certain date, which do not certainly include being holed up in his study doing reports and whatnot.

After a while, Akashi decided to get himself some tea downstairs. Of course, he can just call a maid and have it delivered to him in his room, but he figured he needed the short walk after sitting down for hours.

The large hallways of the manor were all brightly lit, yet as Akashi walked through them, they felt cold and sterile, hostile even, none of that comforting warmth that was to be expected from the place that one calls their home.

Why was that?

This place ceased to be my home the day mother died.

"Home" is something the grand Akashi manor was not. Akashi felt more at ease in his middle school apartment in Tokyo. As he reminisced the better years of his life, another place came to mind — Kimiko's residence. Her apartment was larger than his, given that his place was more of a studio-type, while hers was intended for a family. He — and the rest of the Kiseki no Sedai — had spent many nights in her home as it was their default overnight venue whenever they have to study together or have some team-bonding exercises (any excuse to hang out in there to eat Kimiko's home-made meals). It is also where most of them had celebrated their birthdays – the exceptions being Nijimura (whose birthday party was held on the school's rooftop), Kise (who had invited them to some restaurant), and Murasakibara (who had invited them to his home instead).

What the others didn't know is that Akashi had been spending the night at Kimiko's at least thrice a week when he became the captain in his second year. It was only meant to last for a few weeks at most - as they struggled to adjust with their newly-appointed positions. Now that Kimiko is their coach, she had to make their plays, step up their training menus, scout for potential club members, arrange for practice matches with other schools, plan for their summer camps... The list goes on and on. Akashi, well, as captain, his duty lies on looking after the players when they were on the court — it's his duty to lead them to victory. His workload was probably lighter than hers; he was thankful that Momoi was there to take care of the information gathering duties.

And so it was that despite her initial protests — Kimiko was against Akashi helping her with her duties since Akashi was already busy with his own as the Akashi heir — they finally managed a compromise between them. Knowing that both of them tend to be workaholics — staying up late to finish everything at once (in Akashi's case) or to make unnecessary improvements (in Kimiko's case), they agreed to watch over each other as they work, so that someone will tell the other to stop working and get to bed already. Kimiko would sometimes tell Akashi about her game plans and all, asking for his feedback. At first, it was only her asking questions, then Akashi once asked for her input for a certain proposal that he was working on, and Kimiko managed to find a hole in it. Thus started her job as playing the devil's advocate for the redhead's ideas, her outlandish remarks making actual sense to him as he polished his reports and proposals to perfection that not even the Akashi head can find a single thing to complain about.

Akashi brought his tea with him upstairs, the aroma of which soothed his exhausted mind. Though his eyes were begging for sleep, he simply could not — not until he finished his workload for two days. He was going to meet Kimiko in the station at Saturday morning and bring her to the manor where she will stay until Sunday morning, when they will meet up with the Rakuzan team to head off to Wakayama (thankfully his father was going to be in Tokyo until Monday, by which time he and Kimiko would be well away from him). Of course, Akashi cannot leave Kimiko by herself in the manor while he go and spend time with his laptop and stacks of papers, now, could he?

And he's not going to pass the opportunity to enjoy her company, either. It still irritates him to no end knowing that Kuroko, Aomine, Momoi, Kise, and Midorima can go see her anytime they want — heck, even Kagami was probably seeing her more often than him!

Then there was that magazine article.

He won't allow Kimiko to meet his father — definitely not happening, not if he can help it. The results of them meeting one another would prove to be totally problematic and annoying to Akashi. Especially since the Akashi head had made it clear that he's interested in the "new" model.

Now, what better way to punish Kise for all this mess?

The sheer knowledge of other people laying their eyes on Kimiko is completely unforgivable.

Only Akashi and Akashi alone is allowed to do so.

She's mine.

The moment he made the claim in his mind, her words echoed in his head.

"Possessive! You're acting possessive over me!"

I'm not, he denied, taking back the words immediately, knowing that it would make her angry if she heard him saying that.

His 'other' self snickered.

I thought I'm the only one to declare her as my possession.

She has not given you the privilege to do so. There are proper steps to be followed in order to earn that right, Akashi retorted, feeling a bit annoyed at himself for the little slip.

'Proper steps?' What do you mean? The moment you asked her to be by your side forever is the same as chaining her to you, wasn't it? She'd already consented to it without even realizing it.

Akashi's steps faltered slightly at that.

The two of you are quite slow, don't you think? his 'other' self said mockingly.

Hn, was all he could offer in defense. He could feel the other feeling smug.

But she can keep her promise even if we remain friends. She doesn't have to —

His line of thought was interrupted by But is that what you really meant when you asked her that?

At this, Akashi frowned.

If you want someone to remain by your side forever, then you better possess their heart and mind before someone else does. Because by then, regardless of any promises that you made between the two of you, you'll never be her priority and sooner or later, that will create a gap between the two of you. Do you get what I mean?


His phone was ringing when he returned to his study. With narrowed eyes, he gingerly picked up the glowing device. An ominous feeling came to him as he read the caller's name on the bright screen. Somehow, he felt that whatever this person was going to tell him, it was bound to be anything but good news. Experience had taught him that phone calls this late at night is sure to bring something unpleasant.

Could it be —

Akashi's shoulders dropped in disappointment — or relief — he's not really sure.

The caller ID read: Midorima Shintarou.

The sinking feeling in his stomach worsened. Now, what could Shutoku's ace possibly want from Akashi at this time of night?

"Midorima."

"Akashi."

"What do you want?" he asked as he sat back in his chair. He took a sip of his tea as he waited for the other to state his business.

"Why—"

"My personal affairs are none of your business," Akashi cut him off with a warning tone in his voice. The moment Midorima asked "Why", he had already completed the rest of the question in his mind.

"Kimiko is involved. Of course, we will be worried."

"'We'?" Akashi asked. "Who else did Kise —?"

Midorima cut him off. "What makes you say that it is Kise —?"

"Because Kise is the first person that Akumi could probably ask about it, and because all this mess is his fault," Akashi cuts in smoothly. "You know I hate it when someone interrupts me while I am still speaking, Midorima."

"Tch," Midorima replied in annoyance.

"If you don't have anything more to say, I'm going to hang up. Unlike you, I am actually quite busy right now."

"Actually, the three of us — Kise, Kuroko, and I — visited Kimiko earlier. Kise learned about your—" here, Midorima paused, not wanting to say the word — "with Kimiko during lunch. Kimiko called him."

"...And?"

"Kuroko came up with this plan to see Kimiko's true feelings about you."

Akashi sat up in his seat. "What?" he growled. The hell these idiots are doing?

Kimiko's true feelings?

About me?

Should I have a punishment ready for Kuroko as well?

These meddling idiots...

"Kimiko had been trying to find out why you did that and how she was supposed to react to it. Obviously, she's confused with her feelings for you since you're her friend. Kuroko decided to help her out."

That's it. Midorima's going to join as well.

Akashi's eyes narrowed once more in irritation.

"Talkative tonight, aren't you, Midorima?" he asked pleasantly, although the look in his mismatched orbs is anything but that.

Akashi allowed a satisfied smirk when he heard the greenhaired boy clear his throat after an awkward silence.

When Midorima spoke, he was now serious. "You're not the only person vying for Kimiko's affection."

"I know."

"Kise is one of them."

The redhead snorted at this. It's nothing new to him. After all, he'd been watching the blonde's interactions with the chartreusette and he's perfectly aware of Kise's feelings for Kimiko.

Then there's that ravenhaired mirage shooter from Yosen — Murasakibara's teammate and Kagami's surrogate brother. He's absolutely smitten with Kimiko, although he's doing a good job at hiding it behind a smile. However, Akashi's sharp eyes saw through his facade. Besides, his actions during Kuroko's birthday party was a dead giveaway.

"They are insignificant."

"It's not impossible for Kimiko to return their feelings. This kind of thing is not the same as basketball or shogi."

"Of course, it' s not. It's not a game," Akashi agreed. "However, I am not going to lose to any of them. I am absolute, after all."


"That's her?!" Mibuchi exclaimed, eyes glued on Akashi and Mizuki's joined hands once the pair was a safe distance away from their hiding place. "That's HER?!"

Nebuya whistled in appreciation. "Akashi sure knows how to pick them..."

"So they're in a long-distance relationship?" Hayama wondered aloud. They haven't seen the girl before and it was only recently that Akashi had dropped hints about her existence.

"Maybe?"

Suddenly, Mibuchi's phone vibrated in his pocket, indicating a message. At first, he didn't bother checking it, but when the rest of them received a message one after the other, well...

"I told you he's going to find out," Mayuzumi commented drily as he opened the message from no other than their all-seeing captain.

[From: Akashi Seijuurou]

[To: Hayama Kotarou, Mayuzumi Chihiro, Mibuchi Reo, Nebuya Eikichi]

[Be ready for tomorrow.]

The four high schoolers gulped.

We're doomed.


Takao hurried on his way home after seeing his parents and his sister at the airport. They were off to a weekend stay in Hiroshima to attend a wedding of his aunt. He would've liked to come along as well, but he was busy with school and besides, he didn't think he'd survive a day without playing basketball.

"There will be a streetball court there, too," his mother reasoned, trying to persuade him to go with them.

"But it won't be the same," Takao found himself retorting. There will be no Otsubo-san to yell out directives, no Kimura-san telling them to run faster, no Miyaji-san to complain about their sloppiness.

Worse, there'll be no Shin-chan to pass the ball to.

"Why am I even thinking of that selfish — Oof!"

His train of thought was cut off when he bumped into someone. Luckily, that person was quick to react and had grabbed his arm, steadying him on his feet and preventing him from falling on his butt. One glance at the taped fingers wrapped around his arm was enough confirmation to the hawk-eyed boy, although he was a bit surprised.

Speaking of the devil... "Shin-chan!"

"Tsk. I told you not to call me that." His grip remained in place and the two stood in that manner for a short while until Takao cleared his throat.

"Ano, Shin-chan—"

"You're annoying, Takao."

Midorima freed him then and they continued walking, although Takao found it weird that it was the greenhead who was leading the way, but he decided not to comment on that.

"Ne, Shin-chan, you can always call me by my first name," he said with a laugh, bumping him slightly in the arm with his shoulder.

"I told you —" Midorima began but Takao cut him off with a raised hand.

"—'that I should not call you that—it's not like we're close with each other, nanodayo.'" He chuckled at his partner's glare, then fixed his eyes on the road ahead of them. "Really, Shin-chan, you must come up with another reason. That one's getting old already."

"Hn."

Midorima is not exactly the most talkative person on earth, but Takao was able to interpret most of his words and even his silence. Takao is quite the chatterbox, but he knows Midorima is listening, even though he may not look like it.

"So, where are you headed, Shin-chan?" he asked. There was a silent pause before Midorima answered with a muttered, "I don't know."

"Eh?" He shifted the grocery bags in his hand as hr stared up at Midorima's unusually troubled face. He almost asked him if he has a problem, but decided against it after the many times that Midorima had brushed that question many times in the past with a surly "It's nothing, nanodayo." And so, he shrugged his shoulders and continued on with his chatter.

"If Shin-chan has nowhere to go, then maybe you can drop by my house!" Midorima glanced at him and he explained before the greenhead would get any weird ideas. Takao gestured at the bags in his hand. "I'm cooking dinner. My parents and Kazuha-chan had gone to Hiroshima for the week."

"Why are you cooking dinner so early?" It was only four in the afternoon.

"What's wrong with eating early?" He wouldn't say the real reason, though. He'll get an earful from Midorima if he ever finds out. Too late to hope for that though, as he heard Midorima click his tongue in annoyance.

"Tsk."

"Shi-shin-chan! I-i forgot, okay? I had to send them to the station and all, and it was already two o'clock when I realized that I haven't eaten lunch yet!" Sheesh, why do I even have to explain myself to him?

"It's not healthy, Takao. You should take better care of yourself."

Ha, Takao thought. "Anyway, let's just hurry home so I can eat already..."

"Who said I was going with you?"

"Awww, c'mon, Shin-chan! You know I never liked eating alone! Besides, you've got nothing to do anyway, right?"

Takao didn't miss the fact that despite Midorima's earlier question, he did not stop walking with him. It made him laugh inwardly.

"Hmp."

"Thanks a lot, Shin-chan!"

Midorima huffed, then turned to look at his right. "I'm only going to make sure that you would actually eat and not starve yourself, you idiot."

"Of course, of course," Takao replied with an eyeroll. Tsundere.

"Hn."


"You hold the egg like this, then you hit it with the side of the fork hard enough for it to crack, then you pull them apart and tada!" Kimiko showed him her work with a flourish. "Now, you do it," she encouraged him with a nod.

On his first try, he had hit the egg too hard that it shattered in his hand. On the second try, it was too weak. And on the third, the fork only hit the end of the egg.

"I can even do it with one hand," said another voice, and did just what he had said. Using the edge of the bowl, he cracked the egg nicely and spilled its contents in the bowl.

Midorima looked up from his own work and glared at the speaker. "Why are you even here, Akashi?"

"Hm? I didn't know I wasn't allowed to visit Akumi," he replied with light sarcasm.

"Hn." He picked his fourth egg, brows slightly furrowed in concentration. Hit the middle, not too hard, not too light, just the right amount of force, and —

*crack*

"I made it," Midorima murmured as he succesfully cracked the egg.

"Congratulations," Akashi stated with a smirk.

"Che."

Kimiko went beside him and looked at his work. "You did it! Good job, Shintarou!" She gave him a smile and a thumbs-up, then handed him a pair of chopsticks. "Now I'll teach you how to cook a basic tamagoyaki!"

"That's too much," Akashi commented at Midorima who was putting salt on his egg mixture. "The recipe calls for one-fourth teaspoon of salt."

"Listen to Seijuurou, Shintarou," Kimiko said while she was preparing the pan. "He may not look like it, but he knows what he's doing."

Akashi shot her an indignant look. "What was that supposed to mean, Akumi?"

An amused giggle was all he got for a response.


"Earth to Shin-chan!"

Midorima blinked as Takao passed a hand in front of his face. He was helping Takao prepare dinner, and had been doing things on autopilot as he got lost in his musings.

"Are you okay, Shin-chan? You seem —"

"It's nothing, nanodayo." Midorima passed him by as he placed the bowl in the sink. If he remembered correctly, Kimiko should be in Kyoto by now. She would be watching the Nationals — at Akashi's side, most probaby. Unless the girl refuses, the redhead would probably find a way to have Kimiko at their bench during their matches. If it's Akashi, nothing would be impossible.

Kise would be there, and so is that mirage shooter... I wonder how Akashi would deal with them.


"Muro-chin," Murasakibara said slowly, watching as the mirage shooter dried his hair with a towel. "You seem a little..." He eyed the gleam in his teammate's eyes warily. "...happy, lately."

Himuro glanced up at the purplehead. "Huh?"

Murasakibara shoved a pocky stick in his mouth. "It's creepy."

Onyx eyes narrowed. "What are you saying, Atsushi?"

Murasakibara sat at the foot of his bed in their shared room in a hotel in Wakayama. "And you ask too much about Kumi-chin."

Himuro stared at him. Was I being too obvious? "I'm just curious about her." He hung the towel around his neck. "She's very interesting."

Murasakibara turned a lazy eye on him. "Muro-chin is a liar."

The mirage shooter's eyes widened dangerously and he glared at his teammate. He folded his arms sternly. "I'm not lying about anything."

Murasakibara frowned. "Aka-chin will get angry."

"Why would he?" he asked. "It's not like they are a couple."

"Aka-chin will still get angry."

Himuro stood up to hang his towel to let it dry. He was well aware of the relationship between Akashi and Kimiko. Murasakibara had told him of the redhead's possessiveness over the chartreusette. However, Himuro was no coward. Ever since their first meeting, she had already captivated him.

He had already fallen in love with Kimiko Akumi.

And he was going to confess to her, that's for sure.

"What are you going to do, Muro-chin?"

"What do you think?" Himuro retorted calmly.

Murasakibara sighed. Muro-chin is so troublesome. "Don't say I didn't warn you, though~"

Himuro, hearing his Murasakibara's words, felt a small smile on his lips.

"Of course, Atsushi," Himuro said slowly. "But that's not going to stop me." The smile wiped off his face. "Go to sleep, Atsushi."

Murasakibara pouted at Himuro's coldness. Oh well. He clambered on his bed and slipped between the warm sheets, his back turned to Himuro. Sure, Murasakibara likes Himuro but when it comes to Kimiko, the purplehaired boy prefers to have a certain redhead to be with her always. And as much as he had seen Himuro's interactions with Kimiko, he still preferred her moments with his former captain.

They look cuter together, he thought.

Himuro went to bed after a while, thinking of how he was going to propose to the golden-eyed girl. He was a bit annoyed at Murasakibara's lack of faith in him, but perhaps, a part of him argued, perhaps, Murasakibara was right. He might be fighting a losing battle all along. But then again, it won't hurt to try, right?

Right?


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