The Runaway Empress

Chapter 7

Akumi decided one day to drop by her former school. She entered the gym in the middle of their afternoon practice. They were having their water break when she made her appearance. Apparently, today was one of those promotion exams, and Coach Shirogane was busy discussing things with the captain and manager of the team. She caught the eye of one of the boys she had trained a week ago. Waving a hand at him, she simply said, "Ya."

The boy almost choked on his water. "It's Kimiko-senpai!"

His cry drew the attention of the coach and his companions. The old man's eyes were warm as he gazed at the familiar face. "If it isn't Akumi-chan."

"Kantoku!" she hugged her former coach. He was in better shape than he last saw her. "Things are going well, I presume?"

The man chuckled happily. "Of course, Akumi-chan. Although I never found someone to take your place as assistant coach." He then patted her head. "I heard that you've taken some young ones under your wing."

"Oh, them? Well, they were so eager that I don't have the heart to refuse them. Quite a bunch — not a single complaint, even if I did ran them ragged. And look," she showed her wrist to the old man, "they gave me a thank you gift."

"Well, let's see if they've improved. Since you're here, how about lending me a hand? We're having the promotional exams after all."

"Of course." Then to the six boys, she looked at them expectantly. They grinned back. They were confident that they would make it.

"It seems that you haven't lost your touch, Akumi-chan," Shirogane said as he looked at the results. The six boys had all made it to the first string, two of which are good enough to be able to play in games.

"Told ya," she replied smugly. She praised the boys for a job well done, and for not disappointing her. "Not that I doubted you."

She went to Maji Burger after that, too hungry to wait to get back home to have dinner. As she waited in line, she noticed that Maji's was a bit crowded. And noisy, too. As she made her order, she heard a loud voice exclaim, "What the hell was that, Kuroko!"

Her head snapped to the direction of the voice. There, behind her, was a group of boys in their school's varsity jackets of red, white, and black. The label printed on the left breast read, "Seirin".

Being immune to Kuroko's lack of presence, she spied the bluenette quickly, standing beside a tall male with dark red hair. He turned just then, and their eyes met. Kuroko's usual blank eyes widened in surprise.

"A-Akumi-san…?"

"Hmm? You saying, Kuroko?" The redhead asked, following the phantom's line of sight. The rest of the team did the same, and their gaze landed on the lime-haired girl at the front of their line, a tray with burgers and milkshake in her hands.

"Ya. It's been a while, Tetsuya."

"Kuroko! Is she your girlfriend?"

"I thought you had Momoi already!"

"How come Kuroko gets all the beautiful girls?"

Akumi raised an eyebrow as Kuroko sighed at his team's antics. He remembered their reactions when they first met Momoi before their game with Tōō. Why do they assume that every girl who knows him was his girlfriend?

"Ara, Tetsuya... What's this? Have you been seeing another while I was gone?"

Kuroko gave her a half-hearted glare as his teammates gasped at her words. "Akumi-san, we know that's not true. Please don't give my team any ideas."

She chuckled at his politeness. "Kidding. I'm Kimiko Akumi, by the way, Tetsuya's coach back in Teiko."

"Akumi-san, can we join your table?" Kuroko asked.

"Sure. I'll be waiting over there." She replied, before walking away from them. She sighed in relief. Kuroko is an easy person to deal with, and she didn't have any animosity towards the phantom, so it was more or less a normal reunion. But how about the rest of the Kiseki?

"That was the Akumi you told me about, Kuroko?" Kagami Taiga asked.

"Hai. But please do not mention any of it to her. It's a sensitive subject."

They joined her at the table, and Kuroko had them introduce themselves one by one. The Seirin team shifted uneasily under her gaze.

"It feels like we're facing Akashi Seijuurou once again," Hyuuga Junpei thought. Kagami was thinking of the same thing.

Especially with the way she addresses them by their first names.

"Tetsuya has really nice teammates. I'm honored to meet the team that Tetsuya had chosen."

"Akumi-san, I was wondering where have you been for the past year… We didn't hear anything from you since you left." Kuroko said carefully, the way he seemed to tread around his words when he spoke to Akashi.

"I was in France," was her simple reply. Her gaze turned sharp and piercing, as if she was searching something in Kuroko's skyblue eyes. "Anything you want to tell me, Tetsuya?"

The words were vague, and the rest of the team do not know what she meant. But apparently, Kuroko did. They have an understanding, and Kuroko nodded, and to their surprise, he gave her a rare smile of his.

"I did it, Akumi-san. With the help of my teammates. And Kagami-kun. We did it. We've brought them back."

Her lips curved in a small smile and her eyes softened like that of a mother that was proud of her child's accomplishment. "I knew you would, Tetsuya. I knew you would."

"When will you meet the others, Akumi-san?"

"Saa, who knows. I'll meet them when I meet 's no hurry. No word of this to anyone, though. I won't have Ryouta banging at my door at midnight."

"As you wish, Akumi-san."

Kuroko informed her of the things she had missed in her absence, like where the rest of the Kiseki went to school, and all that. She was interested with that incident with Haizaki and Aomine, and commented:

"Shougo had always been a troublesome guy. But to think that Ryouta could copy the moves of the others... Well, he's a genius alright. Not in academics, though. You have Seijuurou, Shintarou, and Satsuki for that."

"He tried borrowing Midorima-kun's rolling pencil once."

"Did he now?" Seirin team shivered at her tone. "Did you or Shintarou lent it to him?"

"No, we didn't. But I let Kagami-kun borrow mine."

Kagami blushed. "Oi, Kuroko! You don't have to mention that!"

The chartreusette turned her attention to the grumbling tiger. "Taiga, isn't it? Do study harder, so you will no longer rely on Shintarou's pencil in the future."

"As if I would use that thing again…" he said.

"Such hatred," she said, and chuckled lightly. "But I'm sure it helped you greatly. At least show some gratitude."

They talked for a bit more, this time with Kuroko's teammates joining the conversation. She was amused at Izuki's puns, no matter how lame, and laughed when they told her about "Tou-san":

"Seriously, Tetsuya? I thought you can do better than that!"

And on Papa's comment that the Kiseki no Sedai was a bunch of kids:

"Oh, I wonder what Seijuurou will do if he gets wind of that. You two were the short ones after all."

When they'd exhausted their stories, it was already eight in the evening, and Akumi decided that it was time to go. She stood up, ruffled Kuroko's hair, and bid everyone a good night. The phantom offered to walk her home, which she declined, saying she'll be fine and all. With one last wave, she went out of Maji's, happy and contented.

They've come back.

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