The Runaway Empress

Chapter 5

Kasamatsu Yukio was in the process of tuning his guitar when his annoying kouhai with the name of Kise Ryouta decided to bother him. He was currently staying in one of the vacant classrooms in the upper floors of Kaijou's academic buildings. His class for the fourth period was a freecut, and all of his yearmates were loitering around in the campus, savouring their last months in high school. Graduation is fast approaching and even though it's still a good two months away, Kasamatsu can already feel it in his bones. Soon, he will be leaving all this behind him as he heads to another chapter of his life – University. The upcoming Nationals, which was much delayed due to the Winter Cup, will be his last tournament as the captain of Kaijou's basketball team. Being the fourth placer in last month's tournament, they were chosen to represent their prefecture – Kanagawa – where they will go against 46 other teams from all over Japan.

Having said that, Kasamatsu was hoping for some peace and quiet with his guitar before he goes back to the noisy world inside the gym later this afternoon. However, he did not expect this.

"What do you want, Kise?" he asked, perched on the edge of the teacher's table, legs crossed, the waist of his guitar resting on his right thigh as he adjusted the pitch of the strings until they seemed right to his ear. Kise, who, fortunately (or was it unfortunately?), was being his uncharacteristic self today, sat on one of the chairs on the first row, off to Kasamatsu's right. The blonde was frighteningly quiet as he seemed to be content with just watching his former captain do his work. This unnerved Kasamatsu, though, as he was unused to seeing Kise with a serious expression, and so he asked in his usual brash voice:

"Oi, Kise, did you eat something bad?"

Amber eyes blinked at his sudden question. "Eh? What do you mean, Kasamatsu-senpai?"

Kasamatsu's eyes narrowed even as he strummed a couple of chords. Even the cheer was gone from Kise's normally chirpy voice. What happened?

Kise seemed to caught on, as he tried to act his normal bubbly personality but failing horribly. Every laugh, every smile was all fake to Kasamatsu's eye.

"If you don't feel like it, then don't do it," he scolded his kouhai. "I'm not telling you to pretend that you're happy if you're not, and don't act in a certain way just because society dictates you to." Kise was shocked at his sudden outburst. "What I'm trying to see here is why you're being quiet today is all. What's your problem?"

Kise chuckled, a genuine one this time. "Ah, senpai, it's nothing. You see, one of my fans —"

"You're lying. If you're going to lie, then just get the hell out of here," he growled.

There was a few moments of tense silence, with both males watching the other's movements. Then Kise let out a breath of frustration, and raised his hands in surrender.

"Fine. I just remembered something, okay?"

Kasamatsu raised an eyebrow at that.

Kise began to elaborate. "You know, graduation and all... The upcoming Nationals... This is about Teiko, sure you wanna listen, senpai?"

Kasamatsu had forbidden Kise from mentioning any Teiko-related things whenever they were on the court, but the raven-haired point guard deduced from Kise's behavior that the blonde, no matter how carefree and idiotic he may seem, also has his own problems and that somehow, he needs to let this one out. Giving him his go-ahead signal, the copycat continued.

"You probably has seen the rest of the Kiseki, ne?" He counted them on his fingers. "There's Kurokocchi, Midorimacchi, Aominecchi, Momoicchi, Murasakibaracchi, and Akashicchi. Well, Kurokocchi and Momoicchi are not really part of it, but I consider them as part of us, so yeah. But there's one more that you haven't seen yet."

"And why is that? And where does she fit in your group?"

"Akumicchi was our assistant coach. She was the one who taught Akashicchi on how to devise personal training menus that are necessary for each individual. When Coach Shirogane was hospitalized, she was the one who took over and took care of the team. Akumicchi is amazing like that. Then we began to change, and eventually, there's no longer a need for her intel as we can just use our brute strength in crushing our opponents. And so, like Kurokocchi, Akumicchi faded into the background. And then, she and Akashicchi had an argument, almost died, so she resigned the club just after our first game in the Nationals, and we never saw her again." Kise fell silent once again.

Truth be told, Kasamatsu was only half-listening to Kise but then the blonde said something unexpected that he thought he had heard differently. "Come again? She had an argument with Akashi and...?" He looked at the blonde to continue where he left off.

"Almost died, so she resigned the club just after our first game in the Nationals, and we never saw her again." Kise finished without missing a beat.

Kasamatsu swore that something was wrong with his hearing. "Come again?"

Kise pouted but repeated his words earlier. "Almost died, so she resigned the club just after our first game in the Nationals, and we never saw her again." And then, he complained. "Senpai, are you even listening?"

"Well, I kept hearing 'almost died'! Speak clearly, you baka!" Kasamatsu yelled.

"But that's exactly what I said! Akumicchi almost died because of Akashicchi!"

The older male stopped plucking the strings, surprised. "What?! Just how crazy is that short captain of yours?!"

Kise looked around them frantically. There's no knowing if Akashi had some sort of a bug planted somewhere that can relay this conversation to him. "Don't call him that, senpai! That's a taboo word!"

He snorted. "He's not here!"

"It'd better to be safe!"

"Fine!" He gave up. Logic and reason just seems to fly out the window when one Akashi Seijuurou comes into the mix. Back to the original issue. "What do you mean 'almost died'?"

Kise was pulling on the cuffs of his shirt. "Oh you know," he drew a line across his neck with his finger, then tilted it to one side as if it was broken, "that."

It was all Kasamatsu could do to keep himself from smashing his guitar on Kise's head. Instead, he resorted to a piece of chalk he found on the table and threw it hard at the blonde.

"Itai!" the blonde wailed. "What did I do this time?"

"I know what that means, I'm not an idiot!" Okay, so they were being noisy, realizing that they'd been yelling at each other for quite some time now, but hey, this was Kise that he was talking to, who was probably the most infuriating being on earth, so who won't find themselves yelling at this idiot? "What I mean is how that happened!"

Kise winced at Kasamatsu's voice. He covered his ears with his hands, then yelled back, "You don't have to shout, senpai!"

"Says the one who wasn't yelling either!"

"Fine!" So Kasamatsu-senpai wants to shout. Fine. "He choked her! Because she got mad at Akashicchi when he said that he will demote Kurokocchi to third string! She won't obey his orders and Akashicchi got mad and he choked her until she fainted! And then, and then she resigned the following day and we can't find her up to this day! And I want to see her and — Oww! What now!"

Kasamatsu had thrown the eraser at him out of the blue. Thankfully, it was not fully covered in chalk dust. He stood up, dusting off his hair. He sat back down.

Seeing as Kise had finally quieted down, Kasamatsu spoke normally. "So why did you suddenly remember her?"

A melancholy look passed on Kise's handsome face. He stared at the the instrument in his former captain's hands. "I remembered, you'll be graduating a few weeks from now, ne? Akumicchi, we didn't see her during grad. The school just mailed her her diploma. I went to her apartment but it was already vacated weeks before, that's what the landlady told me. I wasn't able to say sorry nor thank her for everything. She was the one who introduced me to basketball, after all. I haven't even fulfilled my promise to her that I would take her to one of my shoots and let her experience what it's like being a model. She plays the guitar, too. She's really good too!" Kise was smiling now. Chin on his hand, he looked up at Kasamatsu. "Ne, senpai, how about a song?"

Kasamatsu was taken aback by the sudden request. "The hell! Why would I sing for you?" And why did it ended up this way?

"Please senpai? Just this once?" Kise had on his best puppy eyes.

"Okay, okay, now quit making those eyes!" At his agreement, Kise straightened up, watching him excitedly with those sienna orbs of his. Just add in some ears, and a wagging tail, and Kise is your perfect dog, Kasamatsu muttered in his mind. Reaching for his capo, he put it on the first fret and pluck the first notes. It rang clearly in the empty room save for its two occupants.

"Shinpakusu #0822," he said, and he saw that Kise recognized the song as well. Taking a deep breath, he began to sing.

You know, when my heart stops beating

I'm sure it must have fully enjoyed this world

I want to continue smiling by your side

So that I won't have any regret when the time comes

As long as my heart is still beating, I want to

protect you

That's enough of a reason for me to live

As we count the same tear over and over

again,

We will understand each other a little more

My racing heartbeats tell me

Of these synchronizing sounds and streaming thoughts

Let me promise never to leave you

So that you won't ever have to feel lonely

You know, every minute

My heart shouts "I'm living" 70 times

But when I'm with you, it's in just a little

hurry

And shouts "I love you" 110 times

As long as my heart is still beating, I want to protect you

That's enough of a reason for me to live

As we bring our feelings together, over and over again

We will understand each other a little more

If there has to be a reason

For us to have met each other

Then I don't know if it's fate or not

But that doesn't change the fact that we're

happy about it

Until the time I can no longer be myself

I wonder just how many times I can still say "I love you"

So let me be grateful for the fact that I can be here

Thank you, simply for the fact that I'm alive

My racing heartbeats tell me

Of these synchronizing sounds and streaming thoughts

Let me promise to love you forever and ever

Until my heartbeat completely stops

"Kasamatsu-senpai is amazing," Kise said, just after the last note died out into silence once more. Their eyes locked. Just then, the bell rang, signalling the end of lunch time.

And the spell was broken.

Kise stood up to go. Kasamatsu dismissed him with a curt nod.

"Hurry up or you'll be late for your class!" He yelled, as usual.

"Hai, hai!" Kise answered cheerfully before dashing out of the room. But not before one final wave. Pausing in the doorway, he said in his normal self, "That was amazing, senpai! You have a very good voice even though you always yell at me everytime!" He ran away before Kasamatsu could speak.

"Why, you—!" His former captain roared from inside the room.

Kise's laughter echoed in the hallways in response. And then, that too, faded away to nothing.

Alone now, Kasamatsu smiled. What a day.

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