The Runaway Empress

Chapter 9

Himuro suddenly stopped walking, causing the purple giant to bump into his back. The ravenhaired man ignored it but stood frozen on the spot.

Murasakibara continued munching on his newly-bought snacks — a new flavor of his beloved potato chips had come out and he had dragged Himuro with him to Tokyo since that flavor is still unavailable in Akita. When his partner still hadn't moved or spoke, he stepped to the side and said in his usual lazy drawl.

"Muro-chin, what's wrong?"

"Atsushi, we have to help!"

"~Haah? What are you saying, Muro-chin? Help who?"

Himuro turned to him, pointing at the the court across the street. "We have to help her!" And without waiting for an answer, Himuro was sprinting across the street, leaving a wondering Murasakibara behind.


Okay, so when did it get like this? Kimiko sighed inwardly as she tightened her grip on the wrist of Takaki — one of the Teiko freshmen that she'd met and trained — and pulled him to the side. She found out that out of the six boys, he was the most rash and violent, which was fine with her, boys are not supposed to be cowards after all, but unfortunately, they were dealing with gangsters here, a group of juveniles used to dirty street fighting, and there is no way she's going to send a pup to face a lion, now will she?

She'll have to deal with them by herself.

"Now you boys stay put and leave it to me. You get that?" she ordered them with a teasing smile.

Takaki protested. "But, Kimiko-senpai—!"

"Oh, shut it. I told you to stay put, and you're going to stay put, unless they're gonna lay a hand on you, you all will stay put." All mirth was gone from her person. The boys gulped at the sudden 180 of her mood. She smiled again, a wicked sadistic smile. "Are we clear?"

"H-HAI!"

"Good," and she turned to face the group of six high school delinquents that had the nerve to barge in the court in the middle of her weekend training session with the her kouhais. She snorted when their leader looked at her with a lecherous smile. She put a hand on her waist, and some of them whistled when she raised an eyebrow at them.

"Like what you see?"

She was wearing normal sportswear — red shirt, black jersey shorts, black varsity jacket, and her favorite pair of black basketball shoes. Her hair was tied in a high ponytail, with her sidebangs framing her delicate face. A ball was under her other arm.

"Very. Say, what do you think? Ditch those brat and have fun with us — you'll enjoy more than hanging out with those wimps."

She put on a bored expression and lazily dribbled the ball a few times, then spun it on the tip of her slender finger. "No thanks. I don't associate myself with trash."

"What did you say?"

She gasped in mock surprise. "Oh, so you have a defective eardrum to go with your rotten brain."

"Bitch—!" He lunged at her, intending to grab her wrist, but she moved before he did, slamming the ball in his face hard enough to knock him backwards. He fell to the ground, and he sat there cradling his bloody face. Kimiko had broken his nose.

"Oops, my hand slipped." She smiled sheepishly, then ducked as a fist came swinging at her.

"Mind the face, dear. I don't want it when my face gets dirty," she taunted as two of them came at her while the rest helped their fallen leader up. She saw Takaki about to plunge into the fight, but she sent him a glare that could probably make a plant wither, and he meekly obeyed her unspoken command.

One of the delinquents got ahold of her jacket and was pulling her towards him. Thinking quickly, she slid her arms out and with the sleeves in her hand, she spun around and managed to choke the guy with the garment. The other one aimed a kick at her, and instinctively, she hauled the choking guy up and used him as a shield for the incoming blow. There was a sickening crack as the guy's foot connected with his comrade's face, who fell unconscious to the ground as Kimiko released him from her grip.

"Hey, what are you doing? I thought you were friends?" she pointed at the guy at her feet.

The man growled at her, and came at her with another punch. Seriously? They're gonna punch me? The hell with these morons?

She tossed the jacket in his face, blocking his vision for a split second allowing her to move in and kick him where the it hurts the most. He crumpled to the ground, joining his friend that he had kicked in the face.

"She's a feisty one, alright." The leader of the gang had now recovered, and was grinning at her, then grimaced at the sight of the two lying face down on the cement. "But there's only one of you, and four of us. Not even the brats can help you even if they did join in."

"Don't get them involved here." She hissed as the four approached her on all sides. They surrounded her.

"Any last words to your beloved senpai, brats?" He called over his shoulder. "You better say them now, she'll nev —Oww!"

He groaned in pain and fell on his knees, clutching his stomach where the girl had shoved her knee. Kimiko flipped over his figure (A/N: like how Hayama flipped over Kagami on the stairs — Season 3), making use of the opening he'd created. He spat a mouthful of blood. "Get her, you fools!" he screamed at his three minions.

Mizuki turned, and lost her balance as she dodged another blow at her face thanks to her quick reflexes. When she thought that she was sure to fall on her butt, her back collided with someone's chest and a strong arm wrapped around her waist, steadying her on her feet. At the same time, a male voice spoke out, raging with cold anger.

"It's not right to hurt girls. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves."

She saw the three men and then their leader glare at the person behind her, then shot her a menacing glance, which she returned with fake innocence.

"She's not a girl! She's a warfreak! She took down two of my companions and she broke my nose!" The leader raged, then pointed at her. "You call that a girl?"

He removed his arms around her, and she turned her head to look at him. A lone black eye peeked out under raven locks. He smiled gently at her. "You alright, miss?"

She nodded. "Uhm. Thanks."

She smiled back, and he patted her shoulder before going in front of her and faced the gang leader.

She saw him shrug his shoulders. "That only shows how weak you are compared to her."

"You're asking for it!"

All four came at him in all directions, and for a split second, Kimiko was thinking of joining the fray to help him, only to stop herself and just watch as he evaded all their attacks gracefully, before knocking them out cold with a punch to the side of the face or to the stomach. She winced as his fist connected with their bodies, then whistled as they all dropped down like flies around him.

Himuro fixed himself up, and ran a hand through his inky locks, then went over and picked up a discarded jacket draped over one of the gangsters. He dusted it off, then walked back to the lime-haired girl standing at the edge of the court, looking at him with an appreciative look. Six middle-schoolers were standing around her, looking worried and relieved. They looked up at his approach.

"Here, I think this is yours."

She took the offered jacket. "Thanks again." She peered behind him, then chuckled. "Nice job, by the way. You have a mean uppercut, not to mention a deadly right hook, too. Pretty used to fighting, aren't you?"

"Used to do that a lot back in the States."

"Eh?" Her gold eyes widened. Now that he noticed it, she was quite the looker — beautiful, he might say. Beautiful not in a cute way, but in a gorgeous and elegant way. Her hair was of a unique color, too. Which reminds him —

"You lived in the States before?" she asked, curious.

"Aa. Los Angeles. I grew up there, then returned back here in high school."

"I see. What year are you in?"

"Second year. How about you? And them?" He gestured at the boys behind her.

"Kimiko-senpai's training us in basketball!"

"You should see her play, mister! She's awesome!"

"Hey, she's awesome earlier too, right? She totally whipped their asses off!"

The boys ranted excitedly about their senpai's 'awesomeness' and he saw her pouting a little. He laughed silently, then when the noise died down, he asked her.

"Kimiko...?"

"Pft. Great — we totally skipped the introductions." She stuck out a pale hand to him. "Kimiko Akumi, nice to meet you."

He took it and gave the soft hand a firm shake. "Himuro Tatsuya. Hisashiburi."


"And that's what happened."

Kimiko put a spoonful of the delicious ice cream in her mouth. Since the court was littered with bodies, the boys decided to postpone their training, then left her alone with Himuro, whispering and chuckling on their way home as they look back now and then at the two of them standing side by side by the court's entrance. They laughed at the boys' childishness, knowing perfectly well what they were thinking with all those waggling eyebrows and conspiratorial looks directed at them. When they were out of sight, Himuro's phone rang with an incoming message. He stared at his phone, blinked, then let out a laugh.

"Hm?"

"My companion decided to go back to Akita by himself after I ditched him to go here."

"Oh..."

"Don't worry about it. Say, how about lunch?"

"Sure. My treat."

"No. I invited you, so I should be the one paying."

She stopped walking. "But you helped me!"

He chuckled then led her by the arm to the nearby diner. "You already thanked me earlier. So allow me to play gentleman and treat you for lunch."

She giggled at the word 'gentleman', and relented anyways.

And that's how they ended up eating lunch together, and her telling him about the cause of the fight.

"Well, they surely made a mistake for underestimating you." Himuro replied thoughfully. Then he remembered, "The jacket trick was indeed awesome, though. I never thought that it can really work in real life — or to use it in a middle of a gang fight. I only saw that in movies."

"I thank Jackie Chan for that. Watching action movies with lots of martial arts and flashy stunts has its uses, after all."

"Who were those boys anyway? And why were you training them?"

She made a small silent "hmm" at his question, mouth still full of ice cream. "Ah, about that... They were freshmen students at my middle school. I was assistant coach back then, and not to boast or whatever, but I am good with my job. I met them couple weeks ago, and they recognized me and begged me to train them. I obliged them, more like I missed basketball itself and I love my school, so yeah."

It struck Himuro then. Why didn't he realized it earlier? "You're middle school doesn't happen to be Teiko, ne?"

She looked at him, surprised. "You're pretty knowledgeable for a returnee. How come you know Teiko? Got a sibling or a girlfriend from there?"

"Nope. I'm an only child, and no, I don't have a girlfriend," he said, chuckling. "I have a friend in high school who used to go there."

"Aa. I see. But, really?"

"Really what?"

"That you don't have a girlfriend?"

Himuro was confused. "I don't have one."

She placed her elbow on the table, and leaned her face on her hand. The other one was pointing the spoon at Himuro. "A nice pretty guy like you and no girlfriend — seriously..."

He felt the back of his neck grew warm. Is he blushing? Ridiculous. Himuro had been complimented about his looks more often than not, and he is not the type to get carried away with such praises, but a word from this girl and he gets affected.

"Well, it's the truth."

Kimiko resumed eating while Himuro calmed himself.

"He told me Teiko has the strongest basketball team back in our days..."

Kimiko burst out laughing. Himuro blinked. Did he said anything funny?

"...'Back in our days', you say... Kami, you sound like my grandfather!" She had tears in her eyes. Himuro was thinking how good her laughter sounded. She looked at him, then asked, "How old were you again?"

Himuro's lone visible eye crinkled in amusement. "I dunno. Eighty-seven, I think."

She laughed some more, then when she had had enough, she said with a bit of a teasing lilt,"Well, yeah, 'back in our days,' Teiko dominated the middle school basketball scene. Interhigh, Nationals, Winter Cup — the results were always the same. 'A hundred battles, a hundred victories,' a bit grand for a school motto, but well, they are good at upholding it."

"So that means you know the Kiseki no Sedai?"

"You're either a basketball fan or a basketball player yourself. I'm guessing it's the latter. I bet you played some of them in either of the three major tournaments." Himuro nodded. "Well, I..." she trailed for a moment, and her eyes had this distant look in them like she was looking back at the past. Then it vanished. "I knew them — used to, I mean."

Her tone clearly tells Himuro that she does not like talking about her time in Teiko, the reason why he had an idea of it — Kagami and Murasakibara had told him already. So he changed topics — not really, just to steer them away from Teiko itself.

"I'm curious, though. How did you became interested in basketball? I'm not being a sexist here, but girls would rather watch than to actually learn the sport, and from observation, girls prefer volleyball than basketball..."

"I don't know." Her answer was immediate. "I just love it. Or maybe, since I'm an assistant coach back then, I enjoy torturing the club members with my special training menus."

Himuro sweatdropped as Kimiko grinned. "You're a bit of a sadist."

"A little."

They returned to the court after that, planning to play some basketball, but seeing the blood and spit on it made them to decide otherwise. Kimiko had an idea, though.

"There's another court here, but it's a bit farther ahead. Want to go there?"

And so they walked, tossing the ball back and forth to one another as they talked like long lost friends. Himuro told her about his childhood in Los Angeles, and Kimiko surprised him by telling him that she spent the first half of her first year in high school in France, and was having online lessons as of the present. When Himuro asked her where she'll enroll in second year, she said she had not thought of that yet. He wished she'd go to Yosen.

And in all of their conversation, no one mentioned Teiko and everything related to it.


Kimiko drank the Pocari that Himuro had graciously gotten her. They sat on the bench, nursing their drinks, the basketball lying near her feet. They had been playing for three hours straight, and neither noticed until the ball rolled near the bench and Kimiko was able to get a glance at the time on her cellphone's screen when she went to retrieve the ball. When she mentioned it to Himuro, the guy was surprised as well.

"We've been playing for three hours? I didn't notice..."

They were probably having too much fun to pay attention to it. Kimiko challenged him to a one-on-one, and although he was skeptical about it, he agreed. He has to give it to her, the girl was pretty skilled, and gave him a bit of a challenge. She was light and fast on her feet, with excellent reflexes that makes it easy for her to make and avoid skills. But Himuro was good too, and he won their match, with Kimiko a close six points behind. She was also able to figure out the secret behind his Mirage Shot, but fortunately for him, she lacks the height to stop it.

"Hey, you gonna take the train home, right?" Kimiko asked.

"Hai."

"Not gonna go yet? It's getting late. I wouldn't want you traveling at night."

Was she concerned? Himuro was surprised, and touched. "How about you? You're not going back yet?"

"I live nearby. I can go home anytime I want."

They both stood up. Kimiko hung her jacket on one arm and carried the ball with another.

"I'll go after I walk you home." Himuro finally said. Kimiko looked doubtful for a bit, then sighed.

"Still the gentleman, aren't you?"

"Well, I've always been the gentleman pretty much the entire time."

They both laughed at that, and they headed on to Kimiko's house.

"Well, I enjoyed today very much. Again, thanks for helping me. I was able to escape unscathed."

Himuro smiled. He had enjoyed today too. Even if he had to punch a couple faces first. Is this really the Kimiko that Murasakibara and Kagami had told him? She's very different, though.

"Aa. Me too. Ja, see you around," he turned to go.

"Hey, wait! Give me your number," Kimiko suddenly said. She tossed him her cellphone without hesisltation — he can catch a ball well enough, a phone won't be much of a difference. He wordlessly added his number and email address to her contacts, and tossed it back to her without thought. Same logic applies.

She grinned at him, then waved her phone at him. "I'll send you mine, later. See you around, Tatsuya-kun."

Himuro felt his heart skip a beat when she said his name. It was the first time she did that the whole day. He felt happier. He waved his hand.

"I'll be waiting for it. Well, gotta go now, wouldn't want to go home late." She bit back a laugh.

As Himuro walked away, he thought, maybe it's not a bad thing to accompany Atsushi to Tokyo now and then.

He can't wait for next time.

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