Chapter 1: Prologue
“Hey, Shin-chan~!” Takao called out, catching up with his new teammate after parking the rickshaw outside the school. His steely blue eyes noticed Midorima’s empty hands. “Eh? Where’s your—what’s it… aren’t you always carrying some random object around?”
“They’re called lucky items, fool,” Midorima stated as they headed toward the building. “And today’s isn’t an object, but a person.”
Takao tilted his head curiously. “What kind of person?”
“A Scorpio, nanodayo.”
“Oh!” He grinned. “Well, I’ve got you covered!”
Midorima glanced at the shorter male.
“Heh, maybe I’ll get you to acknowledge me sooner than I thought!” Takao continued with a determined smirk. “I’ll make sure to bring you all the luck in the—”
The shooting guard stepped right into a rather deep puddle and stumbled forward.
Takao’s eyes widened as he quickly turned away in an attempt to stifle his laughter.
Cursing under his breath and trying to shake the water off his now soaked shoe, Midorima shot an irritated glare at his teammate. “No wonder it isn’t you,” he grumbled.
“W-Wait, what’re you talking about?” Takao asked, still grinning. “Maybe the puddle was just a coincidence.”
“Today, Oha Asa said…” Midorima’s voice faltered.
The other boy continued to stare, expecting a full answer as they entered the school and began heading toward their classroom. “What’d it say?”
Midorima flushed slightly as he opened his mouth again. “I-It said… Cancers and Scorpios are extremely compatible… romantically…”
Takao doubled over and burst out laughing, not even trying to hold it in this time.
The tsundere rolled his eyes and sighed. “Shut up…”
“All right, sorry~” Takao straightened up, catching his breath. “So, what’s your point?”
“The person I’m looking for is… a girl, most likely.”
“Oh… well, that isn’t a lot to go off of.” The point guard raised an eyebrow. “You aren’t just gonna ask every girl you see what her sign is, are you? That could take forever… and it might creep them out.“
“Do you have any better ideas?”
“Maybe your lucky item—uh, person—is someone from our class.” He shrugged. “Let’s just wait and see how today goes.”
Someone bumped into Midorima while trying to pass by from behind. “Ah—sorry!” She glanced briefly at the tall boy before hurrying away, leaving him with little more than a glimpse of long, dark hair.
Takao, on the other hand, blinked. Is it just me… or was that a new face?
The two basketball players soon reached their classroom and sat down at their desks, Takao in front of Midorima.
As more students trickled inside, Midorima wondered if there was indeed any Scorpio besides Takao in the room who would prevent him from experiencing any more misfortune today.
He was snapped out of his thoughts when the teacher announced, “We have a new student joining us today. She recently transferred from America.”
“My name is Rika Akimoto. It’s a pleasure to meet you all.”
Both Midorima and Takao looked to the front of the room, the latter raising his eyebrows when he recognized the new student as the one who had brushed past Midorima earlier.
She had a small smile on her face as her brown gaze skimmed the room, lingering for a moment on Midorima.
Afterward, she went to sit at the last remaining desk, directly to Midorima’s left, and then the teacher proceeded with the lesson.
The morning was uneventful, going by as it usually did. When the bell rang for lunch, Midorima and Takao got up to start making their way to the rooftop.
But just a few moments after they left the classroom, a locker swung open and slammed into the taller male’s face, causing him to recoil in pain.
“O-Ow…” he groaned, bringing a hand up to his face.
“ACK! S-Sorry, Midorima-san!” a student apologized while trying to catch the books and papers spilling from the locker.
“Yikes…” Takao clicked his tongue and turned around to drag Midorima back to the classroom. “I guess this is the only safe place for you for now.”
The green-haired boy returned to his desk, setting his lunch down on top of it and sitting down with an exasperated sigh.
Just before he could open his bento, he heard a gentle voice say, “Um, you’re bleeding a little…”
Surprised, Midorima turned to face the speaker and found the transfer student with a concerned look in her eyes and offering him a tissue. He took it and dabbed his bottom lip, leaving a small red speck on the otherwise white material. “Ah… thank you,” he said with a nod.
“No problem. Are you okay?”
“Yes, I’ll be fine.”
“He was attacked by a locker is all,” Takao joked, turning in his seat to face her and smiling. “So you’re new here, huh? Are you liking the place?”
She looked at him, smiling back. “Yeah, it’s good so far. I think I’ll like it here.”
“That’s good!” He held out his hand. “I’m Kazunari Takao, by the way. And you said your name’s… Rika Akimoto?”
“That’s right.” She shook his hand. “Nice to meet you, Takao-san.”
“Hey, no need to be so formal!” he laughed, glancing at the other male. “We’re all friends here. Right, Shin-chan?”
Midorima, who had been about to take a bite from his food, froze for a moment and gave Takao a blank stare.
The second Midorima opened his mouth to respond, though, Takao returned his gaze to their new classmate and spoke again, his tone still cheerful. “My friend here’s Shintarō Midorima. He’s a bit of a tsundere, so don’t take it personally if he comes off as rude at first.”
“I am not a tsundere.” Midorima crossed his arms and turned his head away, a slight scowl on his face.
Takao snickered and leaned toward the girl. “See what I mean?” he whispered.
She giggled and nodded, and then she stood up. “I’m going to my locker real quick, but I’ll be right back.”
When she left the room, Midorima glared at Takao. “I could’ve introduced myself, thank you very much.” He then took a bite from his lunch, only to hiss in shock at how hot the food was.
Takao’s jaw dropped. “STILL?!”
“I-It was in a thermos,” Midorima rasped, fanning at his mouth to cool off his burned tongue, “but I didn’t expect it to still be this hot, nanodayo…”
“That’s not what I meant! You’re still having bad luck—” Then his mind instantly pieced it together, and an excited grin crossed his face. “Hey, I wanna test something. Pack up. Let’s try going to the roof again.”
“I’m quite certain that this classroom is the safest place for me to be in right now, as you said earlier.”
“But it should be fine if you’re with your lucky person, right?”
“Hey, Rika-chan!” Takao suddenly sprang up and ran to the door. “Oh, it’s okay if I call you that, right?”
She stared in confusion for a moment, having only just returned, before she realized what he was asking. “I-I don’t mind,” she answered with a smile.
“Cool! So, me and Shin-chan usually eat on the roof. Wanna join us up there for the rest of this lunch period? There’s a pretty nice view up there.”
“Oh!” She raised her eyebrows. “I—that would be great! Thank you.”
Midorima widened his eyes, beginning to understand what Takao was on about. Hopefully, the dark-haired boy was right.
The three of them got their things, and then Takao led them to the rooftop. As hoped, they arrived without a hitch, despite having to go through a crowded hallway and up a few flights of stairs.
Midorima, almost in disbelief that perhaps Takao had guessed correctly earlier, decided not to beat around the bush. “…Akimoto, was it?” he asked as they sat down to continue eating.
“Yes?” She looked up at him.
He narrowed his eyes. “What’s your sign…?”
“Shin-chan!” Takao whined, closing his eyes and facepalming. “I told you, you shouldn’t just randomly ask people straight up what their—”
“I’m a Scorpio,” she replied.
“Oh, she’s a Scorpio…” Then his blue eyes flew open as he whirled around to gawk at her. “YOU’RE A SCORPIO?!”
“Y-Yeah.” She tilted her head. “Why?”
Takao glanced at Midorima, who was now wide-eyed and blushing, and grinned. “Because Shin-chan’s luck—!” His head received a sudden smack.
“I-It’s nothing,” the taller male said, bringing his hand back down and avoiding eye contact. “I was… only curious.”
Takao straightened up, rubbing his head. “But I’m a Scorpio, too! Isn’t that neat? And Shin-chan’s a Cancer. Oh! And did you know~? Those two signs are—”
“Th-They’re both water signs,” Midorima interrupted, giving his teammate a death stare.
The girl chuckled, oblivious to Takao’s antics. “Yes, I knew that.”
Takao briefly side-eyed Midorima and smirked before proceeding to ask, “Anyway, Rika-chan… are you gonna join any clubs, maybe?”
“I was thinking about it, but I don’t think the school has any that I’m interested in, unfortunately.” She shrugged. “What about you two?”
“We’re on the basketball team. You should come and watch us practice sometime! Shin-chan’s even from the Generation of Miracles, so he’s really good~! He can shoot the ball from anywhere on the court!”
“Oh! I’ve heard of those guys.” She looked at Midorima. “So you’re… a long-range shooter, basically?”
Midorima felt his face heat up even more when his gaze met hers. “That’s… one way of putting it.”
She smiled and let her gaze wander a bit. “…I am, too.”
“Huh?!” Takao exclaimed, while his teammate’s green eyes widened curiously. “And you’re not interested in joining? We do have a girls team, in case you didn’t know!”
She laughed. “I don’t play basketball. I do archery.”
The shorter boy’s eyes began to sparkle. “Whoa, that’s so cool~! Ah, but… you’re right about the school not having a club for it…” He scratched his chin. “Maybe you could start up an archery club yourself! You’d just need to find a few other people willing to join, and I think there’s a form for creating a new club.”
“I could…?” She thought about his suggestion for a moment before nodding eagerly. “I guess I’ll do that, then!”
They continued to chat while having lunch, although Midorima ate mostly in silence, too flustered to speak to this girl who was clearly his lucky item—or “lucky person,” as Takao called her—and who was implied to be his ideal significant other.
After lunch, the three of them returned to the classroom, and then a few hours later, school ended for the day.
There was no basketball practice that afternoon, so Takao took them to a vending machine to get drinks before going home. “What would you like, Rika-chan?” he asked.
“I’ll have a peach soda,” she answered, taking out some coins from her bag. “And actually, I can pay for all three of us!”
“Eh? Are you sure?” Takao raised his eyebrows and looked at her in surprise.
“It’s fine! One of my relatives sent some money over to sort of… wish me well this school year,” she explained, inserting some yen into the machine and selecting her drink. “It’s also… the least I can do to thank you guys.” She obtained her soda and looked back at the boys, handing each of them enough money to buy their own drinks. “I thought it would be a lot harder to make friends, being the new student and all…”
“You’re always welcome to hang out with us!” the black-haired boy assured her.
She smiled warmly and looked up at Midorima.
It took him a moment to notice her eyes on him. When he did, he gave a small nod, hesitantly agreeing with his teammate, before turning away in slight embarrassment.
Once they all had drinks, they went to where Takao’s rickshaw was. “This is how we get to school!” the hawk-eyed male explained. He glanced briefly at Midorima before returning his gaze to the transfer student and adding, “We could give you a ride home today, if you want!”
She seemed surprised for a moment, and then she smiled. “Sure, if it’s not a problem.”
“Nope, it’s totally fine!” Takao left his drink in the cart before going to mount the bicycle. “Hop in! Just let me know where to go to get to your house.”
The other two got into the cart, and then Takao began pedaling away.
To everyone’s surprise, no directions were given as Takao took the usual route home.
Eventually, he stopped the rickshaw right in front of his own house. “Hey, Rika-chan, how much farther is your house?” he asked over his shoulder. “‘Cause this is actually my place.”
“Oh, my house is just right there!” She pointed to one of the houses just a little farther away.
“Really?!” Takao whirled his head around. “Then we’re all pretty much neighbors! Shin-chan’s is one of the houses between yours and mine. Hey, this means we can go to school and come home together every day!”
She let out a light laugh and stepped off the cart. “That’s awesome.” She started walking toward her house, but looked back at her new friends before leaving. “Thanks again… Takao-kun and Midorima-kun.”
While Takao grinned and gave her a thumbs-up, Midorima’s face turned red from hearing her say his name for the first time.
“I’ll… see you guys tomorrow morning, then?” she asked.
“Yeah, we’ll wait for you,” Takao replied. “See you tomorrow!”
She smiled and waved before heading home.
Once she had disappeared inside, Takao got off the bike and turned to face Midorima, who was still seated in the cart. Pouting and putting his hands on his hips, the shorter boy whined, “How come you barely talked to her today? She was your lucky person!”
“Because you would not stop talking,” Midorima retorted, pushing his glasses up.
“Pfft, you were just being a tsundere again.”
“But I was right, wasn’t I?” He grinned proudly. “She was the Scorpio you needed today.”
Midorima stared for a moment. “…How did you figure that out?”
“Eh?! I mean, it was pretty obvious! When we first tried going to the roof, she was still in the classroom, and then the locker hit your face. When she left the room while you stayed, you burned your tongue. But nothing bad ever happened as long as you two were, like… no more than ten feet away from each other. You even got a free drink thanks to her.” Takao’s gaze wandered momentarily as he thought back to that morning. “I’m kind of surprised you didn’t notice first. You’re the one who believes in fate, aren’t you?”
“What about that?”
“Oha Asa said your lucky item today would be a person instead of an object, and you were sure that it had to be a girl. Then our class got a new student—and a girl at that. It was almost like destiny, if you think about it.” Takao giggled and took a backward glance. “She’s nice, don’t you think?”
Midorima tried not to blush again. “I… I suppose.”
“Hey, Oha Asa said something about romance between Cancers and Scorpios, right?”
He smirked. “So~? When’re you gonna ask her out~?”
Chapter 2: WALK
Throughout the fic, line breaks will of course be used for time skips, while ellipses (…) on their own will indicate POV changes.
I walk toward the gym to wait for two certain friends of mine, thinking back to the first time we met.
Quite a bit has happened ever since I transferred to Shūtoku and befriended Midorima and Takao. I’ve hung out with them every day, easily becoming closer to them and not minding whether or not they’re my only friends at school. In addition, I managed to form an archery club, as Takao had suggested.
A few harmless rumors eventually rose saying that Takao and I were dating, probably because of how open we’ve always been with each other in conversation. In reality, Takao is just outgoing and optimistic, and he can get along with anyone. While I do appreciate that about him, I think of him only as a brother.
It was Midorima I ended up developing a crush on. He never really said that much to me when our friendship was just beginning, but during the few initial conversations that we did have, he proved to be mature, serious, and intelligent—as well as shy and kind (with me at least), though I doubt he would ever admit this.
Thankfully, I wasn’t left in the dark for very long—the green-haired tsundere was, surprisingly, able to muster the courage to ask me out one day. While I deemed it a miracle, Takao explained in between laughs that Midorima had had his sights set on me from the day we met, thanks to Oha Asa.
We’ve been together for several weeks now, and the aforementioned rumors involving Takao and me have long been dispatched. And now, I’m on a first-name basis with both of them.
Ever since Midorima and I started dating, the usual routine has been either for me to wait for the boys to finish basketball practice or for them to wait for me to finish archery practice. Then, just as Takao said we would do, we go home together since we live so close to one another.
Today, it’s my turn to wait for the two. The rest of the team has gotten used to my visits, having quickly learned of my relationship with their shooting guard.
As I approach the gym, I see several players leave, including the third-year starters. When those three notice me, they stop to greet me, nodding in acknowledgment.
“Waiting for your boyfriend?” Miyaji asks.
I smile and nod. “Is he still inside?”
“Yes. He and Takao should be ready to leave soon,” Kimura answers.
“Okay, thanks.” I continue making my way to the door.
“Hey… if those two ever give you trouble, let us know,” Ōtsubo then says. “I’ll be sure to up their training.”
I turn to face the third-years again. “They really aren’t that bad,” I giggle.
Kimura raises an eyebrow while Miyaji rolls his eyes in a somewhat annoyed but also joking manner. “We’re surprised you even see anything in Midorima,” the latter says. “I mean, the guy’s so… full of himself.”
“And his arrogance cost us our latest game against Seirin,” the captain mutters.
I furrow my brow. “Maybe… he’ll change after that loss. I don’t think he’s ever been that prideful around me, so… maybe he’ll start acting better around everyone?”
The basketball players glance at one another and shrug after a moment. “Well, as long as you’re happy with him…” the power forward says.
“Of course I am.” I tilt my head slightly, smiling innocently.
“…Can Midorima say the same about you, though?” Ōtsubo asks.
My smile fades. “What…?”
“I’m not saying this is the case, but… what if he’s dating you only because of that horoscope?” he continues.
“Does he ever show you affection, even in private?” Miyaji adds. “Have you two actually kissed yet? And I mean for more than half a second.”
I blink, processing what he just asked before frowning silently.
“Oi, that’s getting a bit too personal,” the tallest player whispers to the blond.
“No, it… it’s fine. I understand what you're trying to tell me,” I assure them. But even so, I feel my stomach drop at the thought of Midorima not having the same feelings for me that I have for him. No, that can’t be it. He’s just… a tsundere, so of course he won’t want to be affectionate in public. Maybe if I can find some alone time with him, though, then I can see if—
Ōtsubo sighs. “We’re only trying to help. Take it from your senpai—you’ll be much happier if you can find out exactly how he feels and then sort out your relationship from there.”
I manage a small smile. “Thanks. I’ll consider your advice.”
The three of them nod before continuing to head home, and then I step into the gym.
“Rika-chan~!” a cheerful voice then calls out.
I look in the direction of the locker room. Takao’s waving at me, and Midorima is walking right behind him (while, of course, holding today’s lucky item: a paper map). It seems that they’re the last two to leave.
For now, I decide to just act how I always do. “Hey, guys. How was practice?”
“We’re practicing harder than ever. Next time, we’ll defeat Seirin for sure!” Takao says with a determined look on his face.
”Is that so?” I chuckle, glancing at Midorima.
He bends down slightly while I stand on my toes for a quick kiss. “It would be inconceivable to lose to them again,” he says as the three of us head toward the school gate. “We will defeat them this winter, nanodayo.”
I smile. “I look forward to your victory.”
We soon reach Takao’s house. The hawk-eyed boy parks the rickshaw, and then Midorima and I get off, since we can simply walk the rest of the way to each of our own houses.
“I’ll see you tomorrow!” Takao chimes while waving goodbye and going to his door.
“Bye, Kazu-kun!” I reply before walking away with the green-haired male.
Moments later, we’re in front of Midorima’s house. At this point, I would normally give him another quick kiss and then go to my own house.
But I change my mind. “Hey, Shin-kun,” I begin, “would you… like to come over today?”
He glances at me, his eyes widened in slight confusion.
“I-I mean, we don’t get to hang out like this often,” I point out, “and it is the weekend…”
Midorima frowns. “Sorry. I have homework that I need to complete, nanodayo.”
“Then… we could study together?” I suggest.
“I study better on my own…”
I give him a blank stare. Now that it has been pointed out to me, I can sort of see what the third-years mean when they call him arrogant.
I begin to doubt whether his attitude actually will change, but then I notice what looks like a hint of realization in his eyes.
Still, he probably won’t say anything else on the matter.
“Um… okay,” I reply, forcing a smile before wrapping my arms around his neck, turning his face red as I gently pull him down. “See you tomorrow, then.”
“A-All right. See you tomorrow.”
I then press my lips against his, causing him to freeze up in surprise.
But after a moment, he relaxes and kisses me back.
“Wow, Shin-chan, I didn’t know you could be so romantic~!” Takao’s voice suddenly calls out.
Midorima’s eyes fly open, and he whirls around to see that Takao’s head is poking out of the doorway. “DIE, TAKAO!”
I laugh along with Takao as he shuts his door to avoid more of Midorima’s wrath.
“Wh-What’s so funny…?” my boyfriend mutters, his face flushing.
“What’s wrong with being a little romantic?” I giggle. “I mean, we’re dating, aren’t we?”
“N-Nobody else needs to see it…”
“You really are a tsundere.”
“I am not, nanodayo!”
I stifle another laugh. “Whatever you say,” I tell him as I start backing away. “I love you, Shin-kun.”
His lips quiver for a moment. “I-I… I love you too, Rika.”
As I turn away to walk home, I say over my shoulder, “For a tsundere, you’ve gotten pretty good at not hesitating to tell me that.”
“I told you, I’m not a tsundere, you idiot!”
I laugh. “I still love you for it!”
He sighs and heads inside, his face still red as he does so.
Once he’s gone, my smile disappears. I still have some lingering doubts in my mind.
I get to my own house quietly, and then I set my things down and pull out my phone to call Takao.
I go to lie in my bed while waiting for him to pick up.
“Hey, Rika-chan!” he soon answers. “What’s up?”
“Hey. Um…” I hesitate, unsure of how to begin.
“Wait, is this about me catching you and Shin-chan kissing?” he asks teasingly.
I smile, but only for a second. “No. It’s just… you said that Shin-kun asked me to be his girlfriend because of Oha Asa, right…?”
“Yep! He—wait… is something wrong?” His usual outgoing tone is gone. “I can tell from your voice.”
“Well…” I frown. “I’m just… kind of worried that he might be dating me only because of the horoscope, and that he… might not actually have feelings for me.”
“Rika-chan…” I can hear the concern in his voice. “Sure, he might’ve asked you out just ‘cause Oha Asa told him to date a Scorpio, but… since then, I’m pretty sure he’s developed genuine feelings for you just by spending so much time with you. I can tell from the way he looks at you and all that. And trust me, with my Hawk Eye, I never overlook a single thing.”
“If he really loves me, then… why doesn’t he show it?” I ask, staring at my ceiling. “I know he’s a tsundere, and I hope his lack of affection is just due to his personality, but… it’s like he doesn’t trust me any more than he trusts anyone else. And one would think that he’d be a little more open with me since I’m his girlfriend…” I sigh. “Sorry. I must sound super clingy right now.”
“It’s okay. I get where you’re coming from,” he assures me. “Um… did that kiss outside his house feel off, perhaps…?”
“A little, but that’s probably because I took him by surprise.”
“So you kissed him, huh…? Has it ever been the other way around?”
“He’s given me a few pecks here and there, but that’s it. It’s almost always me who has to make a move.” I roll over so that I’m lying on my stomach. “You don’t think he’s… ashamed of his relationship with me, do you?”
“There’s no way! Whether or not he has actual feelings for you, you know how strongly he believes in fate. He must be trying his hardest to make this relationship work.” He pauses. “Are you… thinking of breaking up with him?”
“No, I’m too in love with him to even think about that. I… I just want to understand exactly how he feels about us.”
“…Okay, I’ll see if I can talk to him for you. How does that sound?”
“Sure, that sounds great. Let me know what you find out.”
“I will. Later, Rika-chan!”
After hanging up, I take a deep breath and plop my face into the pillow. All I can do is hope that things between Midorima and me don’t get even more awkward.
Chapter 3: CATALRHYTHM
I have archery practice today. A few new members have joined in the last week, but there aren’t enough bows to go around.
Thankfully, there’s a forest right by the school, so I decided to collect some wood from it. I know how to craft bows from scratch and insist on doing so in order to save money. The other club members were somewhat surprised when I first brought this up, but they don’t seem to mind.
I think I’ve collected enough. I start walking back to the school.
“Hm…? Where’re you going, little lady?” a gruff voice asks just before I reach the edge of the forest.
I jump slightly and turn my head. An unfamiliar, intimidating but young man is leaning against one of the trees.
Is… is he a student? I don’t think I’ve seen him before… “I… I’m just taking these back for the archery club,” I answer curtly.
The stranger stands upright. “Your club can wait, I’m sure,” he smirks, motioning with a finger for me to come to him and biting his lip. “How about you stay out here and… play with me a little?”
My eyes widen as I begin to realize what he’s after, and I find myself momentarily frozen.
“Well?” He takes a few steps toward me, and then I notice the lustful look in his eyes and feel a chill go down my spine.
“…N-No, I have to go,” I finally say, shivering as I return my gaze to the school gate, which suddenly seems more distant than usual.
“What was that…?” There’s a hint of aggression in his tone now. “Why so rude? Come on, I’ll make sure you enjoy yourself…”
I ignore him and try to speed up, but it doesn’t help that the amount of wood that I’m carrying is a bit heavy.
I can hear him following me.
My breathing becomes rapid. If only I had brought a bow—!
I yelp as the stranger grabs my arm. “Look, I get what I want when I want it, and right now, I want you,” he hisses into my ear, dragging me back into the forest.
“Maybe if I wasn’t on the basketball team, I’d join Rika-chan’s archery club,” Takao contemplates aloud with his hands behind his head. He and Midorima have just left the school’s main building. “What about you, Shin-chan?”
“Basketball is the only sport I know, nanodayo,” Midorima answers, pushing his glasses up with one hand and holding a dictionary in the other.
Takao rolls his eyes. “As if you wouldn’t do it to at least support your girlfriend. Besides, it’s just a hypothetical question.” Then he looks up at the taller boy and frowns slightly. “…You do think of her as your girlfriend, right?”
“What are you talking about? Of course I do, you fool.”
“Well, do you… you know, take the time to show her how you feel? Even if it’s as simple as holding her hand—or, better yet, giving her a hug or a kiss…”
“Sh-She already knows how I feel!”
Takao sighs. “I wouldn’t be so sure, Shin-chan. Communication is key in a relationship. If you don’t express your love for her, she might… misunderstand and think you don’t—!”
Something catches his Hawk Eye. He turns his head toward the nearby forest, and a look of terror appears on his face. “RIKA-CHAN!” he shrieks.
Midorima thrusts his head up in shock, and Takao is suddenly sprinting to the woods. The shooting guard’s green gaze darts to where his teammate is running. Amongst the trees, he sees the silhouettes of two people struggling.
His eyes widen as he realizes who one of those people is. “RIKA!”
I’m trying to scream, but the stranger is muffling any sound I try to make with one of his large hands. I writhe and kick, trying to escape his grasp, but nothing is working.
The school seems to be getting farther away, and I realize that I’m being taken deeper into the woods. In the corner of my eye, I notice a car hidden in the underbrush.
If this man gets me inside it, I know I’ll be done for.
Terrified and desperate to escape, I throw my head back hard, hitting the man’s mouth and forcing him to let go.
But I’ve barely taken two steps toward the school when he catches me again.
“You little—now you’ve really done it…!” He pins me to the ground and begins to strangle me.
Tears stream from my eyes as I struggle to breathe. PLEASE, SOMEBODY HELP!
Just as my vision starts to blur, the grip around my throat loosens. I cough and catch my breath before noticing that my attacker is lying on the ground next to me, seemingly dazed. Nearby, I notice a heavy book.
I look up to see my two best friends rushing toward me—Takao was coming first, but Midorima soon ran past him to get to me.
I fling my arms around my boyfriend and bury my face in his shirt, completely forgetting the doubts I’ve had about our relationship. “Shin-kun…!” I breathe out, still shivering in fear.
“Are you hurt?!” he asks urgently.
“I… I think I’m okay now…” I try to calm down as he helps me back onto my feet and picks his lucky item back up. Midorima must have used his shooting range to throw it at the man’s head. “Th-Thank you…”
“Takao, find a teacher! Or call the police!” Midorima orders, keeping his arm wrapped around me as we walk away.
“Hell, I’ll do both,” Takao hisses, whipping out his phone and starting to turn around to lead Midorima and me back to the school.
When I glance at Takao, his gaze suddenly flickers to our direction. He’s looking past us, presumably at my attacker.
His eyes widen in horror, and one word leaves his mouth.
It’s enough to make me react. I spin around and see the weapon pointed toward us.
In the next instant, I shove Midorima away.
There’s a loud bang. Midorima, Takao, and I flinch in alarm.
For a moment afterward, my friends stare at me in total shock, and I stare back at each of them in turn.
Then I feel the burning pain in my side.
I crumple to the ground and scream, clutching the wound.
Midorima clenches his teeth and shoots a furious glare at my attacker. “YOU PIECE OF SHIT!” he roars while curling his taped fingers into a fist and swinging it at the attacker too quickly for him to even react.
Midorima kicks the gun away and, seeing that the attacker is unconscious, rushes back to me. “Rika?!”
I’m in too much pain and shock to respond, and my vision is darkening.
“An ambulance is on its way!” Takao kneels beside me with worry and desperation in his eyes.
Midorima takes one of my bloody hands in his. “Please, hold on, Rika…!”
His words are the last thing I hear before I black out.
Chapter 4: Lantana
I open my eyes. It takes me a moment to realize that I’m in a hospital room. I hear a steady beeping indicating my heartbeat and notice that I’m hooked to several machines. I groan, trying to remember how I ended up here.
My brown eyes widen once I remember. I tremble, wondering if Midorima and Takao are okay.
A boy enters the hospital. “Good evening. I’m here to see Rika Akimoto,” he states at the front desk.
The receptionist nods almost against her own will, the boy’s domineering presence practically forcing her to agree to his demands.
She slowly fills out a visitor’s pass and hands it to him. He takes it without another word and makes his way toward the elevator, expensive boots taking quick and purposeful steps across the sterile white floor as he clutches the slip of paper.
He presses a button, and a few seconds later, he hears a ding and the doors slide open. He hurries in quietly, the few seconds having felt like several minutes to him, before selecting his floor and waiting impatiently for the elevator to reach his destination.
There’s only one thought on his mind. This cannot go unpunished.
I’m lost in thought when the door to my room opens and a boy enters. He’s relatively short, and he has red hair and different-colored eyes. Apart from the eyes, I recognize him almost instantly. “Aka-kun…?”
“It’s been a while, Rika.” He closes the door.
I tilt my head in slight confusion. What ever happened to… that nickname you always used to call me…? I push this thought aside and dismiss his calling me by my first name as a simple indication of how much older he’s gotten since I last saw him. “Yeah, it has,” I answer with a smile.
He sits in the chair next to my bed and places a hand on mine. “Who did this to you…?”
“I didn’t know who he was…” I sigh.
He frowns and hisses ominously, “He’ll pay for what he’s done.”
I don’t recall him being so aggressive. I suppose years of growth really have changed him. Is that really it, though?
“Um… r-right,” I murmur. “Thanks for coming. How did you know I was here?”
“News travels fast.”
“I-I see…” I furrow my brow. “Hey, do you know if there were… any other victims…?”
He gives me a questioning look. “I don’t believe so. Why do you ask?”
I sigh in relief. “I was just worried about my boyfriend. He was there when…”
I realize that his mismatched eyes have widened. “Rika, whoever this boyfriend of yours is, you’re probably too good for him.”
“Heh, it’s fine, Aka-kun. He treats me well. He saved me when the guy tried to strangle me.”
He narrows his eyes. “Why didn’t he save you from the bullet?”
“I… pushed him out of the way.”
He sighs. “Rika…”
The door opens, and Midorima walks in with a frying pan in one hand. He freezes when he notices the boy next to me. “Akashi…?”
“Huh?” My eyes widen. “Shin-kun, you know my cousin?”
Midorima thrusts his head back. “Akashi is your cousin?!”
Akashi blinks. “Shintarō is your boyfriend?”
“Y-Yeah…” I respond. “But how do you two know each other?”
“H-He was the captain of the basketball team back in Teikō,” Midorima explains.
My jaw lowers, and I stare at Akashi. “Does that mean… you’re another one of the Generation of Miracles?”
“You didn’t know that about your own cousin?” Midorima asks.
“We haven’t spoken since childhood,” I explain, glancing down sheepishly. “And since I’ve been in America until this year, I had only heard about the Generation of Miracles playing here in Japan, but I didn’t look into who the members actually were…”
Midorima raises an eyebrow and glances at his former teammate.
“What of the man who attacked her?” Akashi asks him.
“He was arrested.”
The red-haired boy nods after a moment and shifts his gaze to me. “It would seem that I may have misspoken. I’ll leave you two alone now.”
I look up at him. “Misspoken?”
“About your boyfriend. I can trust that you are indeed in good hands.” He stands up and walks toward the door. “But if you break her heart, Shintarō…” he adds, a dark aura seemingly emanating from him as he passes by the taller boy. “…I’ll kill you.”
“Tch, I would never even dream of doing such a thing,” Midorima calmly replies, turning his head to watch Akashi leave.
Now it’s just Midorima and me in the room. He takes a seat where Akashi was just sitting, and then his gaze falls. “I’m sorry about all of this, Rika…”
“It wasn’t your fault, Shin-kun. I’m just glad you’re okay. How’s Kazu-kun?”
His eyes return to me. “He’s just as well. What about you?”
“I’m just a little tired, I think.”
“How is your injury?”
I feel my side where the bullet hit, wincing slightly. “W-Wait, is it still…?”
“They removed the bullet. You’ve been asleep for a whole day, nanodayo.”
“A-A whole day…?!”
“And you will have to stay here for a while to recover. The bullet caused some internal damage…”
I hang my head. “Dammit…”
He gazes sadly at me for a few moments, and then he slowly wraps his arms around me and pulls me close. “I will come to visit you as often as I can,” he assures me.
I look up at him in surprise and smile weakly. “Thank you…” I kiss his cheek, making him blush slightly. Then I straighten up and continue, “So… you and Aka-kun must be pretty close, huh?”
“You can say that.”
“What was he like in Teikō?”
Midorima narrows his eyes. “…You aren’t just curious, are you?”
“I…” I frown. “I just think that he’s… changed. It’s been several years, but something seemed off when he came today. I don’t think… he’s the same Aka-kun that I always played with as a child…”
He sighs. “You’re right.” He glances at the door, waiting for a few moments to ensure that no one is listening in on our conversation. Then he leans toward me and murmurs, “There are two Seijūrō Akashis.”
“Two Seijūrō Akashis?!”
He jolts and frantically hushes me.
“S-Sorry,” I whisper, “but… what do you mean?”
“I mean that another side of him took over during our time at Teikō—a side that has known nothing but victory.”
I’m speechless. Aka-kun…
Midorima notices my worried expression. “A taste of defeat may bring the old Akashi back…” he theorizes. “His team will be playing in the Winter Cup, nanodayo.”
I look up at him. “Then, please… defeat Aka-kun this winter… and bring my childhood friend back.”
He nods. “That is my intention.”
It’s been a few hours since Midorima left to go home. I close my eyes, ready to fall asleep.
But something feels off.
I feel lightheaded, and breathing feels difficult. When I open my eyes, my vision clouds. The only thing I know is that the room is way darker than before. How… how long was I out…? Didn’t I just close my eyes a few seconds—
Then I find that I can’t even think straight.
I don’t know what’s happening anymore. I can’t even call for help.
But I can hear seemingly distant, frantic voices. Unfortunately, I can’t figure out what they’re saying.
Then, before I know it, the voices are gone.
Both Midorima and Takao head toward the hospital after basketball practice the next day, the former with a glass bird in hand.
“Takao…” the taller boy begins. “Let’s stop by a flower shop before we visit her.”
“You’re… actually gonna buy her flowers?” The point guard’s jaw drops. “Well, this is quite unexpected coming from you~”
“I-It’s normal to buy flowers for a patient in the hospital!” Midorima points out, his face flushing. “A-And… a bouquet is the lucky item for Scorpio today.”
Takao smiles. He’s still a tsundere, but this is a good start. “Yeah. We can do that, then. She’ll definitely feel better when—”
Midorima’s phone rings, and he promptly answers it. “Yes?”
“Is this Shintarō Midorima?”
He stops walking, a sinking feeling in his stomach. “…Y-Yes, it is.”
“I’m calling from the hospital. It’s about your girlfriend…”
His breath catches in his throat as he listens to the other person’s voice for a few more seconds.
Then his eyes widen in horror and his lips quiver, and he doesn’t realize that he’s dropped his lucky item until it shatters on the ground, startling both him and Takao.
“Shin-chan, what’s wrong?!” the shorter boy asks worriedly.
Ignoring him, Midorima hangs up and sprints away.
“Hey, wait!” Takao runs after him. What was that call about…?!
Within minutes, they reach the hospital.
When Takao enters the building, he sees that Midorima is already being led down the hallway. “W-Wait up…!” he pants, catching his breath for a moment before hurrying after his teammate. “Shin-chan, what… what happened?!”
The nurse turns her head. “Are you also here for Rika Akimoto?”
“Yes. I’m a friend of hers,” Takao answers.
She frowns. “The internal bleeding got worse. The needed surgery was performed on time, but… her only chance of survival was an induced coma.”
Takao stares in shock and disbelief. “Oh, no…”
“Whether or not she recovers is up to her,” she continues. “All we can do is wait and… hope she makes it.”
Midorima clenches his teeth. “Please… take us to her…!”
The woman nods and continues to lead the two boys to a certain room. “Good luck in there,” she murmurs with a bow before leaving.
Trembling, Midorima reaches for the door handle.
Before he opens it, he turns to Takao. “Can I see her alone…?”
“Yeah… of course,” the other boy answers with a frown. “I’ll wait right here.”
Then Midorima enters the room and closes the door behind him. When he sees the comatose body, tears immediately form in his eyes. “R-Rika…?” he whispers, taking a seat beside the bed and gazing at the calm, unmoving face. “Rika, I… I don’t know if you can hear me, but… th-the doctors have done everything they can, and now… only you can heal yourself. So please… h-hold on…” He pauses, having to sniffle as his tears start falling. “Please… d-don’t leave me…! Don’t… don’t die…!”
He sobs quietly and shakily places his hand on hers, unable to say anything else for a few minutes.
“I… I’m so sorry…” he eventually continues. “I was… so stubborn, and I could never bring myself to… to tell you how much you truly mean to me…!” He tries to wipe his tears away, staying silent for another few seconds, and then he takes a deep breath. “I… I can say it with certainty now. I love you… and I want to say it to you one day, with the confidence that I have now, while I gaze into your beautiful eyes…” He leans over to place a gentle kiss on her forehead. “I… I don’t want to lose you…! Please… come back to me…! Come back, and I… I promise to make you feel loved…” He hangs his head, wanting to stay by her side for as long as he possibly can.
But he knows that he’ll just have to leave eventually.
Slowly, he stands up and trudges to the door, exiting the room.
Takao looks up, having been leaning against the wall. “Um… can I…?”
Midorima nods, permitting his teammate to enter the room.
While he waits outside, he hears some of what Takao is saying. “You’re an amazing person, you know that…? You and Shin-chan are really lucky to have each other. He, uh… he really does love you. I hope… you understand that—”
Midorima hears Takao’s voice crack, and then he can hear soft crying.
“N-Nothing is… the same without you, Rika-chan…!” the dark-haired male sobs. “I know… y-you can make it through this…! Please, we need you… especially Shin-chan…!”
Dammit…! Midorima takes a few steps away and falls to his knees, leaning his head against the wall and feeling on the verge of tears again. He takes deep breaths, trying not to let any more tears out.
A few minutes later, Takao emerges from the room, his face tear-streaked. “Let’s go, Shin-chan…” he murmurs. “Let’s hope… our words reached her…”
The green-haired boy stands up silently, and then the two of them make their way to the exit while staring at the floor, overcome with so much sorrow that they don’t notice the redhead rushing by.
Akashi quickly enters his cousin’s room, first feeling shocked and anxious when he sees her lying still on the bed.
But it doesn’t take long for these emotions to be replaced by anger—not toward the girl, but toward the one who hurt her.
Rika… Akashi thinks while gritting his teeth, a raging fury in his eyes. I have never lost… and I am NOT going to lose you. He turns away, glowering lividly and fiddling with a pair of scissors in his gloved hands. Do not worry… I will make sure that pathetic excuse of a human being never hurts you again.
He leaves the hospital and flees swiftly through the city, practically vanishing into the night until he arrives at his destination: the prison.
He stays hidden in the darkness outside and watches one of the jailed criminals.This is undoubtedly the man who attacked his cousin.
Akashi lifts up his scissors, bringing them behind his head.
Then he hurls them forward, and they fly through the window.
The fiery-colored leaves of autumn float gently down as Midorima walks toward the hospital while holding a gift bag with one hand. With the other, he catches one of the falling leaves to hold on to as his lucky item today.
He soon arrives and goes straight to the room that he’s been frequently visiting for the last few months. Once inside, his eyes land on the unconscious patient, and despite her current state, he finds that she looks as beautiful as ever.
“Happy birthday, Rika,” he murmurs as he sits beside the bed, setting the gift bag down. “I brought you a present. An orange sweater is the lucky item for Scorpio today. I would… really like to see you in it one day.” He sighs quietly, gazing at her innocent face. “I know you’ll wake up soon. I refuse to believe otherwise. You’ve come this far, and the doctors say that your condition is slowly improving. But still… it has been quite lonely without you. Please… just keep fighting and come back to me when you can. I believe in you.”
He then pauses and recalls that the leaves outside are now falling. “You know… the Winter Cup is just around the corner. So… I will fight as well.” He manages a weak smile. “It would mean the world to me if you could come and watch… but I won’t blame you if you can’t. Either way… I will defeat Akashi and win for you. I won’t lose. So you had better not lose your own battle, either.”
Chapter 5: Glorious Days
“It’s really frustrating… losing.” Tears roll down Midorima’s face as his team walks back to the locker room, having just lost against Rakuzan in the Winter Cup semifinals.
Nobody says a word in the locker room. Some players continue to cry because of the team’s defeat.
“…You all fought your hardest.”
Everyone’s eyes dart to the doorway after hearing the familiar voice.
I’m standing just outside the room, alive and well.
Midorima stares in disbelief for a moment when he notices me.
“Akimoto?!” some players exclaim.
“Rika-chan!” Takao scrambles to his feet and tackle-hugs me, now sobbing from the joy of reuniting with me. “Y-You’re okay…!”
“Yes… I am,” I assure him with a smile.
Midorima runs toward me, having regained his composure after the shock of seeing me. Takao makes way for him.
“R-Rika…!” Midorima breathes out, embracing me tightly.
“I missed you, Shin-kun…”
“When did you…?!”
“I was discharged yesterday. I found out the Winter Cup was still going on, so of course I had to come and watch.”
Midorima pulls away, his green eyes widening in realization. Trembling, he falls to his knees.
“Shin-kun?” I kneel in front of him.
“I… I’m sorry, Rika… I couldn’t…!” He flops against me and cries into my shoulder. “I-I couldn’t… bring him back for you…!”
I hush him gently and rub his back to soothe him. “It’s okay… I’m still proud of you and the team.”
The others manage to smile weakly through their tears.
“Anyway, you’ll ruin my birthday present if you keep crying into it…” I joke.
Midorima opens his eyes and straightens up, realizing that I’m wearing the orange sweater he gave me while I was unconscious. The corners of his mouth turn upward despite his quivering.
Then he frames my face with his hands and locks his lips with mine.
The other Shūtoku players’ jaws drop momentarily, and then some of them begin cheering and clapping. I hear a few wolf whistles, and my face turns a bit red. I almost can’t believe that Midorima is kissing me like this.
I smile when I draw away. “That reminds me… I heard everything. Whenever you visited me… even if I couldn’t respond, I could hear your voice loud and clear.”
My boyfriend blushes for a moment before smiling back. “Well… I meant everything I said. I love you, Rika.”
I giggle and nearly tear up. “I love you too, Shin-kun.” I kiss him again for a few seconds before looking up at Takao.
“H-Hey, don’t look at me!” the point guard laughs. “I brought up your concerns with him once, but that was it. Everything he said at the hospital… that was all him.”
I return my gaze to Midorima. “I knew you’d change for the better. I could tell during the game… you’ve learned to trust your team.”
Then I glance at the third-years and find them smiling rather nervously. “You were right, Akimoto,” Miyaji admits.
Midorima looks at them curiously.
“They’re kind of the reason I started doubting your feelings for me,” I explain, averting my gaze sheepishly.
“Yeah… sorry about that,” Ōtsubo says.
The shooting guard smiles and shakes his head. “Don’t apologize.” His gaze shifts back to me. “It was my fault for not playing my part well enough in this relationship…”
“Shin-kun…” I wrap my arms around his neck.
“And as for trusting my team,” he continues, “I don’t think I could’ve learned to do it without… my former teammate.”
“Kuroko sure is something,” Takao adds.
“Speaking of Kuroko… there’s still hope for… that situation with my cousin.” I smile at Midorima. “Rakuzan will have to face one more team tomorrow, and that team could be Seirin.”
Midorima takes a deep breath and nods. “…You’re right. There is still hope, nanodayo.”
I watch the final match with Midorima and his team. Rakuzan is facing off against Seirin. The players of the latter team have all regained their confidence and determination to win after being cheered on by all those whom they’ve previously defeated, including Midorima.
There are only a few seconds left. My heart begins to race, practically jumping up to my throat.
I gulp. Please… please win, Seirin…!
Akashi jumps to block what appears to be Kuroko’s Phantom Shot. But the ball bypasses Rakuzan’s captain, making its way just in front of the hoop for Kagami to dunk it just before the buzzer goes off.
The crowd cheers as Seirin is announced the winner of the Winter Cup.
I grin, happy for the victorious team. Seirin is certainly something else.
After the excitement dies down, people start to head home.
“What a game,” I comment, glancing up at the night sky as Midorima and I walk hand in hand.
“I’ll admit… I have never seen a match quite like this last one,” he replies.
Somebody taps my shoulder. I turn around to see my cousin standing behind me. Both of his eyes are red, and in them I see a soft, familiar gaze. My heart leaps to my throat again, but this time in hopefulness.
“It’s been a while… Aki-chan,” he greets me with a smile.
My jaw drops when I hear my old nickname from our childhood. “Aka-kun…!”
Midorima releases my hand so that I can embrace Akashi.
“It’s wonderful to be back,” Akashi says as he returns the hug.
Tears of joy well up in my eyes. This is the Akashi I remember.
“It’s great to see you again as well, Midorima,” Akashi adds after drawing away.
Midorima’s jaw lowers slightly after hearing Akashi call him by his last name. “L-Likewise… Akashi,” he answers, smiling slowly.
Akashi returns his gaze to me, a caring expression on his face. “I’m glad that you’re okay. Your spirit is just as strong as it was back when we were younger. You really are a fighter.”
I smile, somewhat embarrassed from the compliment. “Th-Thanks.”
Akashi takes a deep breath and looks up at the stars. “It’s getting late, and my team and I have a train to catch.” He looks back at me. “I wish we could catch up more, but I’m afraid that will have to wait.”
“Don’t worry about it.” I smile. “Seeing you again has been more than enough for me. Why don’t we exchange numbers while we’re still here?”
My cousin smiles back and hands me his phone while I give him mine. After returning each other’s phones, Akashi looks up at my boyfriend. “Midorima, promise you’ll continue to look after her for me.”
Midorima nods and pushes his glasses up. “I promise.”
Akashi smiles and embraces me once more. “I’ll see you later, Aki-chan.”
“See you later, Aka-kun.”
I watch as my cousin leaves with the other Rakuzan players. Then I look back at Midorima. “Let’s go home, Shin-kun.”
Chapter 6: GLITTER DAYS
I help Midorima pack his bag. He’s been invited to play streetball with the other Miracles for Kuroko’s birthday.
On the television, Oha Asa announces that Cancers are the unluckiest today. Oh, boy. I notice Midorima’s startled reaction.
“Shin-kun, don’t even think about bailing now,” I smirk, crossing my arms.
I glare at him, albeit playfully and with one eyebrow raised.
He heaves a defeated sigh and slings his bag over his shoulder. When we leave his house, he jumps back after seeing a black cat across the street. I’m trying not to laugh at my poor boyfriend’s situation. It’s probably going to be a long day for him, but I’ll make sure to help him through it.
“Thanks, Kazu-kun!” I wave at Takao, who has just dropped Midorima and me off at the streetball court. Midorima, though still shaken from this morning, gives Kuroko a chick keychain as a birthday present since it’s the lucky item for Aquarius today.
I look around at the others who are here. It’s… quite a colorful bunch, I observe, suddenly feeling like the odd one out with my dark hair.
I see Akashi approaching shortly after.
“Aka-kun!” I beam and run toward my cousin to give him a hug.
“Hello, Aki-chan,” Akashi greets me warmly.
I pull away so that he can greet his other friends and wish Kuroko a happy birthday. Moments later, a tall male with longish purple hair arrives.
I look around and smile, feeling a heartwarming and fuzzy feeling from seeing these people together.
“By the way, may I ask who you are?”
I realize that Kuroko is staring at me.
“Oh, sorry I haven’t introduced myself,” I say. “I’m Rika Akimoto. I’m Shin—um, Midorima’s girlfriend.”
“Eh?! Midorimacchi has a girlfriend?!” the yellow-haired boy exclaims.
“Shut up, Kise,” Midorima mutters.
My cousin smiles and motions to each of the people I haven’t met yet. “Aki-chan, these are my friends and former teammates: Ryōta Kise, Daiki Aomine, Atsushi Murasakibara, our former manager Satsuki Momoi, and—”
“Tetsuya Kuroko,” I finish for him, smiling at the Seirin player. “I wanted to thank you for bringing Aka-kun back.”
Kuroko smiles back and nods.
The boys play streetball for the rest of the day, while I watch from the side with Momoi and, later, Akashi.
When the sun sets, the others take a group photo together. Afterward, we all walk together to Kagami’s apartment, where the Seirin team has apparently been preparing a party for Kuroko.
One of Seirin’s first-years opens the door when we arrive. “Good evening!” he tries to greet Kuroko, only to freeze up in terror at the sight of Akashi.
“Hello, you must be Furihata-kun,” my cousin says with a calm smile.
“A-Akashi?!” Furihata’s legs practically turn to jelly.
I stifle a chuckle, remembering that he went up against Akashi during the Winter Cup’s final match.
“I brought my friends,” Kuroko tells his teammate, who then lets out a panicked scream.
We enter the apartment, Murasakibara having to drag in the petrified Furihata (whose soul has quite possibly left his body, considering how limp he’s gone), and our appearance surprises the people already inside.
I look around at the gathering, seeing that most of the players from Seirin are here. There’s one person I don’t recognize, but Murasakibara seems to know him. Takao is also here, and he grins excitedly when he sees us.
“Wait, who are you?” someone asks.
I’m sure that the question is directed at me, so I look for the person who asked. One of Seirin’s second-years is looking at me. When my brown eyes meet his gray ones, I raise my eyebrows in slight surprise. His eyes… kind of look like Kazu-kun’s…?
Midorima nudges me, and I realize that the Seirin members and Murasakibara’s friend are looking at me curiously. The one who asked me who I was seems to be blushing. He probably caught me staring. Oops.
“U-Uh…” I clear my throat and smile. “I’m Rika Akimoto. I’m Midorima’s girlfriend.”
“NANI?!” a lot of people exclaim simultaneously.
“S-Since when has Midorima had a girlfriend?!” Kagami asks, obviously and understandably not recognizing me.
“Wait, Midorima has a girlfriend?” I hear a new voice ask from behind.
When I turn around, I see that the missing Seirin members have arrived. I think Tsuchida was the one who asked.
“Never mind that! Everyone from the Generation of Miracles is here?!” the coach exclaims.
“Oh? And who might you be?” Kiyoshi asks me when he sees me.
“That’s Midorima’s girlfriend!” Koganei figures it out.
“Arf!” Mitobe holds up a small blue-eyed dog that sends Kagami scrambling to one corner of the room.
Now, all I can think is, I WANT TO PET HIM.
Eventually, things settle down, and everyone goes to get food. I sit between Midorima and Takao after getting food for myself.
As everyone chats with one another, Kiyoshi asks me with a friendly smile, “So, you’re Midorima’s girlfriend? I don’t think I caught your name…”
“Oh, yes. My name’s Rika Akimoto,” I answer.
“How long have you two been dating…?” Kagami asks me.
I smile. “Pretty much since I transferred here in the spring.”
“Eh? How come we haven’t met you until today?” Kise wonders.
“I was kind of… absent for a while.”
“What do you mean by that?” Kuroko asks curiously.
“Ah, well…” I take a deep breath before briefly explaining how I was shot and had to be put in a coma that lasted until the Winter Cup.
“That’s crazy…!” Aida exclaims.
“It’s a relief that you survived, though,” adds Izuki, the one who first saw me with the Generation of Miracles. I notice that his eyes are black now.
“So, the attacker’s in jail now?” Hyūga asks.
“I heard that he was killed, actually,” Akashi says.
My brown eyes widen. “H-He was…?”
“Yes. Police only found a pair of scissors and a stab wound in the man’s side from which he had bled to death. There were no fingerprints, though, so they have no idea who killed him.” Akashi gazes at me as if trying to communicate with me telepathically.
I stare back for a second, and then I realize who the killer was.
My stomach drops.
“Um… e-excuse me, I’ll… be right back.” I stand up, shooting another quick glance at Akashi before I hurry out of the room.
I hear someone following me as I leave, and I’m certain that it’s my cousin.
After we step outside the apartment, I turn to look at him.
His expression has done a one-eighty—only a few moments ago, he managed to stay calm and collected while we were eating with the others, but now he’s trembling anxiously and on the verge of tears.
“Aki-chan, I’m so sorry…!”
My gaze falls. I know that it’s not his fault and that it was the other Akashi that killed the criminal, but I’m still having a hard time believing that my own cousin is a murderer.
“I—all I ask is that you forgive me…” He hangs his head. “Now that you’re safe, I should… turn myself in.”
“NO!” I snap without thinking, throwing my arms around him. “It wasn’t you! You don’t have to do that!”
“But it was me…!”
“It was the other you!” I hug him more tightly as my own tears start falling. “I-I forgive you, okay?! Please, don’t…!”
He frowns and pulls me closer. “You’ll be fine. Midorima will look after—!” He gasps as I tighten my embrace even more, virtually suffocating him.
“No…” My voice is barely above a whisper at this point. “I-I know it’s horrible, what the other you did, but… you don’t deserve the punishment. If they can’t accuse anyone, then… j-just leave it. Please…”
He doesn’t say anything.
“Please promise you’ll just forget about it!” I beg, pulling away to look at him.
“It’s impossible to forget…”
“Then… pretend it never happened. We don’t have to say a word about this to anyone else.” I wipe some of my tears away. “If you ever need to get anything off your chest, just talk to me. But I’m not letting you confess. You’re innocent, okay?”
After a moment, he lets out a resigned sigh and nods. “You always have been one to protect those you love…”
I bury my face in his chest, relieved that I’ve changed his mind, and then we return inside shortly after.
When I sit back down, Takao notices my tear-streaked face. “Rika-chan, what happened…?”
“Oh.” I hesitate. “I, uh…”
“She’s fine,” Akashi quickly covers for me with a smile, sounding unperturbed once again. It’s almost scary how good he is at putting on a mask. “She’s just a little… sensitive to the subject of murder.”
“Sorry about that,” l laugh.
Kagami raises an eyebrow as he watches my cousin and me, and then he turns to Midorima. “Hey, uh… you might wanna keep a closer eye on your girlfriend,” the power forward whispers. “She and Akashi look… really friendly with each other.”
“Obviously,” Midorima replies with a matter-of-fact tone. “They’re cousins.”
Kagami almost jumps back from the shock. “AKIMOTO AND AKASHI ARE COUSINS?!”
Once again, surprised voices fill the room.
“Wait, they’re cousins?!”
I can’t help but laugh at the reactions. Here we go again.
“You two look nothing alike, though…?” Aomine comments, tilting his head in confusion.
“We used to get that a lot,” I say with a smile, “but it’s true.”
“That explains… so much.” Kise laughs nervously. “I thought it was weird that you introduced yourself as Midorimacchi’s girlfriend right after hugging Akashicchi…”
“Hm? I didn’t see them hugging,” Murasakibara says. “Why didn’t you just ask about it when you saw it, Kisechin?”
“I didn’t want to assume anything!” the Kaijō player pouts.
“Okay, guys. Enough about my relationships,” I laugh. “This is Kuroko-kun’s party, remember?”
“Then,” Aida says while smiling, “let’s celebrate the man of the hour.”
The rest of us turn toward the birthday boy and hold up party poppers.
Kise grins. “Ready! Set!”
“KUROKO, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” we all shout at once.
An angelic smile crosses Kuroko’s face. “Thank you very much, everyone!”
The fun birthday party is just about finished.
“It’s a shame we couldn’t celebrate Rika-chan’s birthday like this,” Takao pouts as he begins packing his things.
“Oh, i-it’s okay,” I tell him. “I mean, the circumstances were out of our control. And there’s always my next birthday, you know.” I glance at Midorima, who seems lost in thought. “Shin-kun? What are you thinking about?”
Midorima blinks. “I-I… I was just…” He blushes. “…I was thinking about… how we could… compensate for your missed birthday…”
“Huh?” It’s my turn to blush. “But… wouldn’t that be a bit awkward? It’s been a few months since my actual birthday…”
“Hang on, Rika-chan. A makeup birthday party doesn’t sound too bad,” Takao says while grinning. “Shin-chan, what did you have in mind~?”
Midorima lets his gaze wander in slight embarrassment. “N-Not a birthday party, exactly. It would be more like… a welcome-back party… since Rika returned to us recently…”
“A welcome-back party for Akimoto-san?!” Kise butts in.
I smile nervously. “R-Really, there’s no need—”
“It would be nice to get to know Akimoto-san better,” Kuroko adds.
His sudden appearance startles me. “EH?!”
“When is this welcome-back party, Midorima?” Akashi asks with a smile.
Both Midorima and I are blushing hard at this point. “I-I was thinking that… it should be in April,” Midorima says. “It would also mark one year since Rika transferred here, nanodayo…”
My eyes widen. Something tells me that he’s been planning this the whole time.
“It’s settled, then~!” Takao says.
I turn away in embarrassment.
“Accept it, idiot,” Midorima murmurs, wrapping one arm around my waist.
“F-Fine…” I glance up at him and try to smile. “Thanks, I guess.”
The welcome-back party is at my house. Takao is preparing food with me, while Midorima is out to get something.
“I don’t have to wear anything too fancy, do I?” I wonder aloud.
“Nah, what you normally wear should be fine,” Takao says.
I hear the door to my house open. A few moments later, Midorima enters the kitchen with a novel in one hand and a red ribbon in the other.
“Welcome back,” I greet him.
“Hm? What are those, Shin-chan?” Takao asks.
“They’re the lucky items for Cancer and Scorpio, nanodayo,” Midorima states.
“Oh, how thoughtful of you~! Thank—”
“The ribbon is for Rika, you fool.”
“Huh?” I blush and glance at my boyfriend.
“H-Heh, I knew that…” Takao chuckles weakly.
“I wouldn’t want anything bad happening to you tonight,” Midorima says to me, coming up behind me and gently tying my hair back with the ribbon.
When he’s done, I turn around to kiss his cheek. “Thanks, Shin-kun,” I say while smiling sweetly.
“I-I’m just ensuring your safety…” He blushes and looks away.
“Still a tsundere even after a whole year, eh?” Takao teases.
“Shut up, Takao!”
I stifle a laugh. “In Shin-kun’s defense, I think he’s opened up quite a bit since last year.”
“Yeah, I think so, too,” Takao answers, patting Midorima’s shoulder.
The taller boy sighs and pushes his glasses up.
“So, the guests should be coming soon, right?” I ask as I start setting the table. “Remind me who’s invited…?”
“Shūtoku’s regulars will come,” Midorima replies. “So will the other Miracles, each of them with a plus-one, nanodayo.”
“That makes… sixteen people, including us three.” Takao grins. “Sounds like it’ll be a fun party~!”
The doorbell rings, indicating that the first guests are here. I go to open the door and see the third-years from the team with friendly smiles on their faces.
“Ōtsubo-senpai, Miyaji-senpai, and Kimura-senpai,” I greet them warmly. “Come on in, all of you.”
“Thanks, Akimoto,” Ōtsubo answers as he and the other two remove their shoes.
Takao pokes his head out of the living room. “Oh! The team made it~”
“Of course. What do you take us for?” Miyaji glares at the raven-haired boy for a moment before shifting his gaze to me and softening his expression. “Akimoto, do you have a pineapple?” he jokes.
“If you count the one that’s already chopped and on the fruit platter,” I giggle, leaving the door open so that the other guests can come in on their own when they arrive.
Then I lead the third-years to the living room. Midorima and Takao are sitting on the floor at one end of a table on the other side of the room, with enough space between them for myself. Three sofas surround the sides of the table that my two friends aren’t sitting at. There are also some extra cushions on the floor around the table.
“Feel free to sit wherever you’d like,” I say.
As the third-years take their seats on one of the sofas, I sit between my two best friends. “Thank you all for coming,” I say.
“It’s no problem at all,” Kimura replies.
“You’re practically part of the team at this point,” Ōtsubo adds.
“Say, why don’t you become the team’s manager starting this coming school year?” Miyaji suggests.
“She has to focus on her archery club, nanodayo…” Midorima points out.
“Actually… it’s okay,” I say. “I think I’ll do it.”
“Nani?” Midorima and Takao stare at me, surprised.
“I can do archery whenever I want, but I only have two more years to spend with you guys,” I explain with a smile.
“You’re sure about this…?” Midorima asks.
I nod. “It’s really okay. I’ll pass the leadership duties on to somebody else.”
“Well, in that case… me and Shin-chan look forward to having you as our manager,” Takao says, playfully throwing his arm around Midorima’s shoulders.
I turn my head, recognizing the voice. “Oh, Kise-kun?”
Kise enters the room along with his plus-one. “Hey, everyone~!” the yellow-haired boy greets Shūtoku’s team.
“Hello,” I respond with a smile. “Make yourselves comfortable.”
“Thanks!” Kise turns to his teammate. “Kasamatsu-senpai, this is the girl I was talking about-ssu!”
“Oh, I—er, i-it’s a pleasure,” Kise’s friend stammers. “Uh, I-I’m… Yukio Kasamatsu, Kaijō’s captain.”
“The pleasure’s all mine,” I answer.
“Please excuse Kasamatsu-senpai,” Kise whispers with a chuckle as he walks by to take a seat. “He’s not exactly the best at talking to girls.”
“Oi, I heard that!” Kasamatsu swiftly kicks his teammate.
“Heh, don’t worry about it,” I tell the third-year. “Thank you both for coming.”
“Ah… i-it’s no problem,” Kasamatsu replies.
“Eh?! You’re not gonna ask if I’m okay?!” Kise whines, sitting up.
I hear more approaching footsteps and turn my head again. Aomine and Momoi have just arrived. “Ricchan!” the latter greets me while waving.
“Momoi-chan and Aomine-kun.” I smile warmly and motion for them to sit.
Just as they take their seats, I hear even more people enter. “Akimoto-san?” a soft male voice calls out.
I glance backward again. “Kuroko-kun, is that—ACK!” I nearly jump, realizing that the light-blue-haired boy is already right behind me instead of still by the door.
“Yes, it’s me,” Kuroko says.
“Tetsu-kun~!” Momoi tackle-hugs him, knocking him over.
I relax. “Is there someone else with you? Kagami-kun, maybe?”
Izuki then enters the room. “Nope, it’s me,” he says, smiling.
“Kagami-kun is busy today,” Kuroko explains as he sits back up. “Izuki-senpai happened to be free today and offered to come instead.”
“I-I see…” I glance down for a moment, a bit embarrassed. “Sorry for making assumptions.”
“It’s fine! Was I at least your second guess for the second guest?” Izuki’s black eyes suddenly turn gray in excitement, and he whips out a notepad and a pen. “Kitakore!” he whispers to himself as he jots something down.
“U-Uh… nani…?” I tilt my head, wondering what Seirin’s second-year is doing.
“He has an unusually strong passion for puns,” Kuroko informs me.
“Oh.” I sweatdrop as the two Seirin members take their seats.
“Aren’t Murasakibaracchi and Akashicchi coming?” Kise wonders.
“It’s only natural for them to arrive last since they live farther away,” Midorima points out.
“Is this the address, Murochin? The food smells good~” a voice says from near the entrance.
“Speak of the devil…” I smile as Murasakibara comes in with his friend from Kuroko’s birthday party. “Hello, Murasakibara-kun and Himuro-san.”
“Hello, Akimoto!” Himuro replies. “Sorry if we’re late to the party.”
“Not at all!” I answer. “Everyone’s been coming a few at a time in the last few minutes.”
“This just leaves Akashi, right?” Takao asks.
“Even Akashi’s normal self shows up last to these things?” Aomine sighs.
“You called for me?”
Everyone shifts their gaze to the source of the voice.
I grin when I see my cousin. “Aka-kun!” I stand up to give him a hug.
“It’s lovely to see you again, Aki-chan.” I can tell that he’s smiling. But when he pulls away, he frowns slightly and lets his red gaze fall to the floor. “I apologize for how late I am. I’ve been looking forward to today, and as your cousin, I should’ve made plans to arrive much sooner.”
“It’s really no problem,” I assure him with a smile. “We’re just getting started, honestly.”
He looks back up at me and smiles again. “We’re relieved to hear that.”
“Good! Now, come on and—” I abruptly stop speaking, doing a double take. “Eh? What do you mean ‘we’re’?”
“I’m also here.”
Akashi covers my mouth with his hand and chuckles, glancing at the person who spoke. “This is Chihiro Mayuzumi.”
I look at the gray-haired third-year. Right… the one who’s just like Kuroko-kun, I remind myself, internally facepalming while my cousin removes his hand.
Then I turn to look at the rest of the group. “Well, everyone’s here now. Please, help yourselves!”
Everyone grins and stands up to get dinner.
“Is it okay to eat on the sofa?” someone asks.
“Yeah! I don’t mind,” I answer.
“All of this looks delicious!” somebody else comments.
“Thanks!” I reply. “Oh, and there’s more to choose from in the kitchen, just so everyone knows!”
Some people head to the kitchen after my announcement, including myself. My stomach has been growling ever since I started cooking.
After I finish getting food, I turn around to head back to the living room but end up bumping into someone. “Oh!” I look up and see Mayuzumi. “M-Mayuzumi-san! Sorry, I-I didn’t see you there…” I stammer.
For a moment, he stares blankly at me. It’s almost intimidating how cold his gray eyes look.
“…It’s okay,” he then says.
“I’m used to it,” he continues. “A lot of people don’t notice me. Usually, I don’t even come to gatherings like this.”
“I’m not that good at talking to others, after all.”
“But… you’re okay coming here? If my cousin forced you to come, I can scold him for you.”
“There’s no need for that. If this party were for anyone else, I probably would’ve declined, but… an innocent high school student doesn’t deserve to get shot and have to be put into a coma.”
I smile slightly. “Thank you for taking the time to come, then. I hope the number of people isn’t making you too uncomfortable…”
“It’s fine. Besides…” Mayuzumi puts some dried fish on his plate, and I realize that he’s actually smiling. “I don’t mind staying for the kusaya.”
“Akimoto-san?! Is this onion gratin soup?!” Kise asks excitedly from across the kitchen, his yellow gaze fixed on one of the pots. “This is my favorite-ssu~!”
“Y-You made nikujaga, too?” Kasamatsu asks, a hint of excitement in his tone.
“Akimoto, you prepared deep-fried oysters?!” Miyaji calls from the living room.
“And salmon roe!” Kimura adds.
“Apple pie?!” Ōtsubo exclaims.
“Cherries~!” Momoi squeals, gazing at the fruit platter.
“Satsuki, you won’t get full off of just cherries,” Aomine tells the pink-haired girl before hungrily shifting his dark blue gaze to the teriyaki burgers.
“Cream stew…?!” Even Murasakibara sounds more eager than usual.
“D-Did you make everyone’s favorite foods…?!” Takao asks in slight disbelief, getting some kimchi.
“Even I’ll be surprised if I did,” I chuckle, looking around at all of the smiling faces.
I turn to see Akashi staring at one of the pots.
“Is this… tofu soup…?” he asks.
I smile. “I remember it being your favorite when we were younger.”
He spoons some into a bowl and takes a sip. Then his eyes widen, and tears start to well up in them.
“Aka-kun…” I place a hand on his shoulder.
“I… haven’t had this since… my mother…” He trails off and smiles, a few tears rolling down his face. “Thank you, Aki-chan…”
No time skip between this chapter and the next one. :)
Chapter 8: Phantasmagoric Magical Star
As we have dinner, I get to know some of the guests better, and vice versa. I find out that Izuki has Eagle Eye, an ability similar to but not as effective as Hawk Eye that explains why his eyes remind me of Takao’s as well as why he was the first to notice me at Kuroko’s party. Kasamatsu plans to continue playing basketball while attending college, along with Miyaji and a few other graduating third-years. Himuro grew up and played basketball in America with Kagami. Mayuzumi likes to read light novels and wander off at unfamiliar train stations.
When I see that most people have finished eating, I stand up. “I prepared a special dessert to thank you all for coming,” I announce.
Everyone watches as I go to the kitchen and come back with a rectangular tray of strawberry cheesecake from the refrigerator.
“Th-That looks so good!” Takao comments just before seeming to realize something, a subtle look of fear appearing on his face.
I set the dessert down on the table and pick up a knife to cut it into sixteen pieces. “Um… after lining the edges, I only had four more strawberries to place on top,” I say with an apologetic smile, “so four people will only get one…”
“M-My bad,” Takao says with a nervous grin. “I guess I should’ve gotten more… oh, I know! As my punishment, I’ll take one of the middle pieces~!”
”Huh? I was planning to give you one of the corners,” I tell him, tilting my head to one side.
Takao’s eyes widen. “Oh, y-you were?”
“Of… course?” I raise an eyebrow. Is it just me, or is he acting strangely…? I dismiss this thought. “Actually, I was also thinking of getting one of the middle pieces myself, so that—”
“Aki-chan, this party is for you,” Akashi reminds me with a smile. “If anything, you deserve one of the corners.”
I glance at him, opening my mouth as if to protest before deciding that there’s really no point in arguing with someone like Akashi, even if it’s his normal self speaking. “O-Okay… but you and Shin-kun get the other two corners,” I reply while smiling back.
“Can I have a middle piece?” Murasakibara asks. “Strawberries are too sour for me sometimes~ I’ll just give mine to Murochin.”
“I don’t mind a middle piece, either! I need to watch my figure as a model, after all,” Kise pipes up with a grin.
“You’re more worried about the strawberries than the cake itself?” Kasamatsu sighs.
Kuroko raises his hand slightly. “I’m okay with a middle piece as well.”
“I’ll take the last middle piece, since I can always get strawberries from our pickup truck,” Kimura says.
Everyone else gets a piece from the edges.
Takao takes a deep breath. “It can’t be that bad, right…?” he mutters quietly to himself. “Heh, it’s just cheesecake, you know…”
“Hm? Did you say something?” I glance at him.
“Oh, nothing!” he answers with a seemingly nervous smile.
I blink, but then decide to shrug off his odd behavior.
“Thanks for the food!” everyone says before trying the dessert.
I wait for their reactions…
“IT’S DELICIOUS~!” Takao squeals with joy, forgetting his worries.
Other compliments follow.
“I’ve never tried anything like this!”
“The sweetness is perfect!”
“I’m in heaven!”
Pleased with everyone’s reactions, I then take a bite from my own cheesecake.
My eyes widen. Wow… I can see what they all mean!
It isn’t long before everyone finishes eating the dessert.
Afterward, Takao flings an arm around my shoulders playfully. “Rika-chan~ why haven’t you made this before~?!”
“This was actually my first time trying to make it…” I admit with an embarrassed chuckle.
“You should make this more often for me and Shin-chan~!”
“Heh, I’d be happy to, now that I know I can do it!” I glance at Midorima, who’s staring at me with wide eyes and blushing. My own eyes widen in confusion. “Shin-kun, why are you staring…?”
“Y-You’re… you’re incredible, Rika…!” the green-haired male breathes out, a grin forming on his face.
Now, I’m the one blushing. “Th-Thank you, Shin—”
The distance between us suddenly disappears as he leans toward me, his lips crashing against mine and his hands on either side of my face.
“Midorima, kiss the cheesecake chick’s cheek for kicks! Oh, that was a nice—no, it was cheesy…!” Izuki pulls out his notepad again, although he finds himself fumbling with the pen when he tries to write.
“Aki-chan~! I wasn’t aware that you could bake something so fantastic~” Akashi praises me with a nearly singsong voice.
I draw away slightly and glance at my cousin. His face looks somewhat flush, and he has the happiest expression I’ve ever seen him with.
I smile in embarrassment. “Y-You all really think it’s that amazing…?”
“Nothing is as amazing as you, nanodayo~” Midorima says huskily, wrapping his arms around me and resting his head on mine.
I look up and let out a dreamy sigh almost without realizing it. Somehow, I’m finding Midorima even more attractive than he already is. “Sh-Shin-kun… you’re so sweet~”
He raises his eyebrows and blushes at the compliment just before my lips connect with his again.
“Oi, g-get a room, you two…” Aomine says, although he realizes that he’s breathing a little more heavily than usual and that his face feels a bit warm.
“Let them be, Aomine~” Akashi says, still with a carefree expression.
“A-Akashi, do… don’t you feel a bit strange…?” Mayuzumi whispers to his teammate, his own face feeling flush.
“Hm?” The red-haired male folds his hands over his lap. “I don’t know what you’re talking about~ I am fine~” No, I… I feel… also—it, but… admitting would—humiliating, be—WHY CAN’T I STINK THRAIGHT? Wait, that’s not right… good thing—out loud, not saying…
The third-year wipes some sweat from his brow. “Are… are you sure it’s not… getting hot in here…?”
Akashi feels himself blush at the word “hot” and subtly turns his head away.
I overhear the Rakuzan players’ exchange and pull away from Midorima again to look around.
I realize that almost everyone is seemingly blushing, panting, sweating, and/or lying on the floor.
And the atmosphere feels… steamy.
“Damn… wh-what the hell’s going on…?” Ōtsubo wonders, leaning back against the sofa so as not to fall over.
“T-Tell me about it…” Miyaji breathes out while on his hands and knees. “Where’s my… Miyu-Miyu fan…?!” Then his arms give out beneath him, and he face-plants.
Murasakibara looks around in confusion. “Is everyone sick? Murochin, what—hah? Your face is red, too?”
Himuro glances up at his teammate, breathing heavily. “I… I don’t get… what’s happening… but I want to—!” His eyes widen as he shakes his head. “N-No, I can’t…!”
Kise has also noticed everyone’s strange behavior. He looks at Kasamatsu, who’s on the floor. “Kasamatsu-senpai! What’s wrong?!”
Kaijō’s captain tries to push himself up. “Wh-Why do I—i-is this—I want… to…”
Kise stares in total confusion at Kasamatsu’s reddened face.
“Kise… h-help me… meet s-some girls later…!”
“EH?!” Kise’s jaw drops. “K-Kasamatsu-senpai, you’re acting like Moriyama-senpai now?!”
“Need… m-my… magazines…!” Aomine pants through clenched teeth, wiping his face. When he lifts his head, he finds himself looking at a woman’s chest. Almost instinctively, he reaches out.
“D-DAI-CHAN, STOP!” Momoi smacks his hand away, her face turning redder than it already is.
“S-SATSUKI?!” He forgot that Momoi is the one beside him.
“Y-You can’t… do that…! Only… T-Tetsu-kun…!” She stands up shakily and starts stumbling toward her light-blue-haired crush.
Kuroko, feeling unusually weak, has collapsed against a panting Izuki. But when he hears Tōō’s manager saying his name, he lifts his head. “W-Wait, Momoi-san…!” he murmurs, his cheeks pink. “I don’t think… you’re yourself… i-in fact, most of us… aren’t…”
“Do we need to call an ambulance…?” Kimura wonders, appearing to be the only Shūtoku player who feels normal.
“I’ll… I’ll call—!” Izuki perks up. “Alcohol! K-Kita… kore…!”
Kuroko, Kise, Murasakibara, and Kimura shoot glances at Izuki in realization.
“A-Alcohol…?!” Kise looks at me. “Akimoto-san, did you…?!”
“Huh…? N-No, I… I promise I didn’t…!” I answer, leaning against Midorima for support.
“Rika would… never do such a thing, nanodayo…!” Midorima defends me, embracing me tightly.
“Then… why…?” Kuroko asks.
“I-I don’t… understand, either—ah…!” I let out a startled moan when Midorima starts kissing my neck. “Shin-kun, h-hold on…! We need to figure…” I can’t finish speaking. I give in to Midorima’s affections and wrap my arms around him, wanting nothing but his touch.
“Uh, R-Rika-chan, there—hic!—s-something I should prob—hic!—tell you,” Takao manages to say while he struggles somewhat to stay sitting up.
I glance at him. “Mm, wh-what is it…?”
“It, uh… might be my fault—hic!—a-alcohol in the cheese—hic!—cake…” Takao scratches his head.
My eyes widen, his words being enough to snap me out of my daze. “W-Wait, there really is alcohol…?!”
Shūtoku’s point guard glances down. “Well… from—hic!—strawberries, at least…”
The room goes silent. Everyone turns to Takao, able to comprehend his words despite most people still being apparently tipsy.
“That would explain why those of us who ate middle pieces are okay,” Kimura mutters. “Murasakibara didn’t even eat one strawberry.”
“What about Kurokocchi?” Kise asks. “His face is red, even though he only had one-ssu!”
“His body is too small to handle even one,” I sigh. Then I glare at Takao, a shadow looming over my forehead and eyes. “Kazu-kun… care to explain?!”
“Huh?! Uh, w-well…” Takao laughs nervously and looks away. “I-I kind of bumped into a random stranger while bringing the strawberries here…”
I narrow my eyes. “And?”
“Well, h-he… kind of tripped…”
“…with a bottle of sake…”
“…th-that was… open…?” He slowly looks up to find me on my feet and radiating a blazing aura. “R-RIKA-CHAN?!”
“It’s your fault my cheesecake is an aphrodisiac?!” I hiss.
“B-B-But I washed them!” Takao protests. “I-I-I thought I r-removed it all…! I-I guess… s-some of the smell stayed…?!”
I snarl and whirl around, causing everyone to shrink back in terror.
“AH!” Kise and Murasakibara instinctively hug Kasamatsu and Himuro respectively.
Those sitting on the sofas sink into the cushions and lean back as much as they can.
Kuroko and Mayuzumi quickly slip away behind the sofa that’s farthest away from me, both of them shivering.
My demonic gaze lands on Shūtoku’s small forward. “Miyaji. Pineapple. Now.”
“W-Wait, you’re asking me for one?!” the blond asks in shock.
“Do I look like I’m merely asking?”
He cowers. “I-I-I swear, I don’t have one!”
I scowl for a moment before my gaze darts to my cousin. “Akashi, give me your scissors.”
Even the feared emperor of Rakuzan is now quaking in fright. “A-Aki-chan, l-let’s not be rash…!”
I give up on relying on the others and face Takao again, stepping toward him.
“R-Rika-chan, I-I can explain! P-Please, forgive me!” he begs, crawling backward while watching in fear as I tower over him.
“Weren’t you saying something about ‘punishment’ earlier…?” I recall while cornering the hawk-eyed boy.
“W-Wait, I’m sorry!” he wails. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, SH-SHIN-CHAN, GIVE ME A HAND HERE!”
Midorima looks on, pitying his teammate. “The only thing I’ll ‘give’ you is my condolences, nanodayo…”
Takao sees his life flash before his eyes.
“I’m really sorry about all this.” I bow to everyone humbly before sitting beside Midorima again.
Everyone sweatdrops. I can practically hear them thinking, She’s back to her usual self, right…?
“It wasn’t your fault, Akimoto-san,” Kuroko says.
“Besides, side effects aside—oh!” Izuki pauses to write in his notepad. “As I was saying, the cheesecake on its own really was delicious!”
Everyone nods in agreement.
I smile. “Thanks, guys.”
“Anyway, no harm done-ssu~” Kise points out.
Takao, who has been lying motionlessly in one corner of the room, lifts his head. “N-No harm done?! What do you—”
“Lower your head, Bakao,” I snap.
“‘B-Bakao’…?!” The point guard groans and lowers his head to the floor again.
“Takao, please, do not ever, under any circumstances, infuriate Rika again,” Midorima sighs. “In that state, she is even more frightening than the second Akashi, nanodayo…”
“I am not sure whether to be proud or terrified…” Akashi murmurs.
“There’s no doubt she really is your cousin…” Aomine says under his breath.
“And to think that she called me ‘Akashi’…” Rakuzan’s captain continues, pouting slightly.
“I didn’t want to risk reminding her to use ‘senpai’ when talking to me…” Miyaji adds with a shudder.
“Rikachin is scary when she’s mad…” Murasakibara says. “But, her cheesecake was good~”
“Remind us not to get on your bad side, Akimoto,” Himuro chuckles.
“We can resume the party now, yes?” Akashi asks. “Now that we have recovered from the effects of the… laced strawberries, before we do anything else, I’d like to propose a toast…” He picks up his drink from the table. “To Rika Akimoto, my wonderful cousin.”
Midorima smiles and holds up his own drink. “To my beautiful girlfriend.”
Takao has cautiously crawled back to my side to follow suit. Everyone tenses as he shakily raises his glass. “T-To my sister from another mister,” he adds, trying to grin.
I smile to indicate that everyone else can relax. Nevertheless, I feel a vein pop, and I slowly scoot closer to Midorima, away from Takao.
“To a good friend to us all,” Kuroko says as he and the others prepare for the toast.
Akashi finishes, “To a survivor whose strength of heart and spirit is sure to get her far in life.”
Midorima smiles at me. “Happy one year in Japan, Rika.”
I smile back, feeling the urge to tear up. “Thank you so much, everyone.”
Chapter 9: ZERO
Midorima, Takao, and I are officially second-years. I’m now the manager for Shūtoku’s basketball team. Nowadays, using the red ribbon that Midorima gave me, I wear my dark hair in a braid that usually falls over my right shoulder. Midorima had his hair cut, while Takao looks pretty much the same.
Before I know it, summer rolls around.
After some practice one day, I walk up to Takao. “…Hey.”
He whirls around and scrambles to stand at attention. “R-Rika-chan! H-Hi, wh-what is it?”
I roll my eyes. “First of all, I’ve already told you, I’m over that incident… mostly.”
“Ah… r-right.” He chuckles nervously.
I sigh. “Anyway, do you want to really redeem yourself?”
He raises his eyebrows. “You’re giving me that chance…?! Y-Yeah, I’ll do it! What do I have to do?”
“Well… Shin-kun’s birthday is coming up, and I want to throw a surprise party for him…” I blush. “I mean, he went through the trouble of throwing me a welcome-back party, so… will you help me plan it out?”
He grins with determination. “Of course! I won’t let you down this time!”
On Midorima’s birthday, I take the liberty of inviting myself into his house fairly early in the morning. When I find him still sleeping, I kiss his cheek, causing him to stir. “Good morning, sleepyhead,” I chuckle.
“Rika…? What are you doing here?”
I get into the bed beside him, wrapping an arm around him. “Happy birthday, Shin-kun~”
His green eyes widen, and he blushes.
“I want to take you out today,” I tell him, handing him a bamboo leaf. “Here’s your lucky item.”
He takes the bamboo leaf and sits up. “Th-Thank you, Rika,” he says, smiling.
“It’s no problem~” I smile back. “Now, come on! Get dressed.”
He nods and gets out of bed, taking his shirt off right in front of me.
Oh, hot damn… I stare at his toned body for a moment before glancing away while blushing, pulling out my phone so that I’m not tempted to look again.
As I pretend to check my texts, two strong arms suddenly embrace me from behind.
“SH-SHIN-KUN!” I whine, blushing hard as his muscular body presses against my petite one.
“You’re allowed to look, nanodayo,” he purrs into my ear before kissing my cheek.
“J-Just get dressed already, you idiot!” I cover my face with my hands in embarrassment.
Midorima chuckles and leaves to get dressed.
I stealthily read a text from Takao: “Ready when you are~”
I type a reply: “Will be on the move soon!”
After a moment, I decide to send another text just to mess with the hawk-eyed male: “Screw this up and you’re dead~”
“Where are you taking me?” Midorima asks after getting dressed, holding the bamboo leaf I gave him.
“On a date.” I wink at him, causing him to blush.
We spend the morning eating ice cream, walking in a park, and watching a movie. For lunch, I take him to a rather fancy restaurant, where he insists on splitting the bill, claiming that I’m spoiling him too much.
“Where are we going now?” Midorima curiously asks me afterward.
“Well… I was thinking an archery range,” I tell him, “but only if you want to. I’d like to teach you how to shoot, but if you’d rather do something else, I have a few other ideas for what we can do this afternoon.”
“You want to teach me archery…?” He blushes.
“L-Like I said, it’s only a suggestion,” I say, also blushing.
“Well, I don’t mind.” He smiles. “But you must let me teach you basketball later.”
“Okay, it’s a deal!”
We spend the whole afternoon at an archery range. It turns out that Midorima’s excellent accuracy can extend to sports other than basketball.
“I’m amazed at how many bullseyes you hit today,” I compliment my boyfriend as we start walking home hand in hand.
“You’re still much better than I am, nanodayo,” he responds while blushing.
“Still, you’d make a decent archer.” I smile sweetly. “Actually, even that’s an understatement.”
He blushes harder.
“Anyway… I hope you’ve had a fun birthday.”
He stops walking and looks at me with a smile. “I have, thanks to you.”
I chuckle. “I’m glad.”
He bends down, his lips meeting mine in a gentle kiss.
Afterward, we continue walking back to his house. When we reach it, he asks, “Do you want to stay with me longer…?”
“Yeah, if that’s okay,” I answer while blushing.
Midorima smiles and nods before opening the door. I follow him inside, a sneaky grin on my face.
Suddenly, the lights turn on, party horns go off, and confetti rains down.
“NANI?!” Midorima exclaims in shock.
“MIDORIMA, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” several voices greet him in unison.
Midorima gapes, surprised to see Takao, Kuroko, Kagami, Kise, Aomine, Momoi, Murasakibara, Akashi, and the other Shūtoku players—including those who graduated a few months ago—in his house.
“S-So, how did it go?” Takao asks me while grinning.
“Everything went according to plan. Looks like everything went smoothly on your end as well. Nice to see that everyone could make it!” I smile at Takao and hold up my hand, my palm facing him. “Well done, Kazu-kun. I think it’s safe to say you’ve gone from zero to hero.”
Takao’s face lights up, and he gives me a high five.
“Y-You two planned all of this?” Midorima asks while blushing, his eyes still wide.
I give him a sweet smile as affirmation.
Th-Thank you…” He looks away in embarrassment.
“It’s nothing, Shin-kun.” I walk up to him. “I just wanted to make today special for you, since you’re so special to me~”
He glances at me with his eyebrows raised and smiles softly.
“Hey, can we bring out the cake now~?” Takao asks.
“Sure thing!” I reply.
“You got a birthday cake for me…?” Midorima wonders.
I giggle. “No, I made one. And I made sure to get all the ingredients myself.”
Murasakibara brings out a cake with a lit candle on it that’s shaped like the number 17. When Midorima realizes that it’s strawberry cheesecake, his green eyes sparkle in excitement and delight.
After we sing and Midorima (hesitantly) blows out the candle, Takao cuts the cake.
“I know this one is safe, but thinking about what happened the first time still gives me chills…” Miyaji laughs somewhat nervously as he starts to dig in.
His brother Yūya and Kagami glance at him curiously. “What happened the first time…?” the former asks.
“Akimoto baked this same kind of cheesecake for her welcome-back party, but…” Ōtsubo begins.
“Takao sort of… added an ingredient,” Kimura finishes.
“Uh… do we want to know what that ingredient was…?” Kagami asks.
“Let’s just say that the side effects weren’t too pleasant,” Kuroko answers.
Those who were at my party, including myself, exchange glances with one another, implicitly agreeing that it’s best not to say anything too specific about what went down.
Midorima takes a bite from his slice of cake. “Thank you for today, Rika,” he tells me with a smile.
I smile back and rest my head on his shoulder. “I’m glad you had a fun birthday.”
I heave a sigh of relief as I exit the building, looking for my cousin. The Vorpal Swords have just defeated the Jabberwocks, and I can still feel some adrenaline pumping through my veins just from watching the intense match. Now, most of the Vorpal Swords are celebrating their victory inside, but Akashi seems to have slipped away.
My gaze lands on the red-haired boy standing outside with his face lifted to the sky, and I grin, walking quickly over to him.
“Hey,” I greet him with a smile, standing beside him. “What are you doing here? Don’t you want to celebrate with your teammates?”
He looks at me and smiles back. “I just wanted some air. I told them I would be back in a few minutes.”
I notice his smile slowly fading. “…What’s wrong?”
“Well… you saw what happened, yes?” my cousin asks. “When I… started to use Emperor Eye again?”
“Yes, I—” My eyes widen in realization. “Wait, was that… the other you…?!”
He nods. “He changed… and was willing to play for the team.”
I raise my eyebrows. “Wow… I can barely believe it. He didn’t play like that at all at the Winter Cup last year…”
“What do you think of him now?”
I smile. “That’s… great that he changed.”
“…I’m sure he would’ve been glad to hear that.” He manages to smile back again, but only for a moment. “But… now he’s gone… forever this time…”
“Huh? What do you mean…?”
“I mean that he vanished and returned everything to me… for the sake of victory. Had he not done so, I might never have been able to stop Nash and his Demon Eye.”
“He… he was never meant to exist, and yet… he was almost like… a brother…”
I see tears welling up in his eyes and embrace him to comfort him. “We’ll never forget what he’s done for us today.”
He hugs me back quietly.
“Hey, if you need anything… I’m here for you,” I add.
He pulls away. “There’s… one thing…”
“What is it?”
“He might never know now, but he wanted me to ask you if… you forgive him for what he did last year.”
My eyes widen as I remember what he’s talking about.
“He came to understand that he had been wrong to do it,” he continues. “And… he only did it because he loved you as much as I do and was afraid to lose you.”
My gaze falls. “I never really thought about it that way…”
“Would you have forgiven him the same way you forgave me earlier this year…?”
I look back up at him and give him an assuring smile. “I forgave him when I forgave you. He is you, after all.”
He sighs quietly in relief. “Thank you…”
There’s an announcement posted on the bulletin board inside the school’s entrance.
To celebrate our victory over Team Jabberwock, officials from the six high schools whose players competed in the revenge match are hosting a dance—all basketball players from said six schools are automatically invited, while all other students from these schools can purchase tickets to the event. While a school dance in Japan is unusual, because we won against an American streetball team, the officials have chosen to adopt this aspect of American culture just this once.
“Ooh! A dance, eh?! You’re gonna ask Rika-chan to it, right?” Takao asks, teasingly elbowing Midorima. The two of them are standing behind the other gathered students around the bulletin board.
“I do not dance, nanodayo,” Midorima states, closing his eyes and pushing his glasses up.
“I’ve always wanted to go to a high school dance~!” I squeal in delight several feet in front of them, blissfully unaware of their presence.
A startled grunt escapes Midorima as his green eyes fly open. He almost drops the small houseplant that he’s holding.
Takao has to hold in his laughter as he whispers, “Man, Shin-chan, you’re not gonna deprive your own girlfriend of this chance now, are you~?”
“Sh-Shut up, Takao…!” Midorima grumbles. “I-I’ll think about it, nanodayo…!”
He then feels his phone vibrate. When he checks it, a shadow creeps over his forehead.
It’s a text from Akashi: “I look forward to seeing you and Aki-chan at the dance.”
While Midorima, Takao, and I eat lunch on the rooftop, I notice the tsundere trembling. “What’s the matter, Shin-kun?”
He glances at me and blushes. “U-Uh…” He hesitates. “N-Nothing is wrong, nanodayo…”
“Oh. That’s good, then.” I smile innocently and continue eating.
In my peripheral vision, I see Takao facepalm and Midorima give him a death stare. I’m pretty sure I know what’s going on. I’ll just let Midorima take his time.
“…R-Rika…” Midorima says a few minutes later.
Laughing internally, I answer, “Yes?”
“I-I…” He blushes. “W-Will y—w-would you… like… t-to…”
Inside, I’m dying at how awkwardly cute he is.
He whispers something out of my hearing range.
“Um… could you please repeat that…?” I ask, smiling sweetly.
He blushes harder and takes a deep breath. “W-Would you… like to go… to th-the dance… with me…?”
Takao and I giggle as Midorima then glances down in embarrassment.
I lean over to kiss his cheek. “Of course I’ll go to the dance with you, Shin-kun~”
Takao claps. “I knew you could do it, Shin-chan~!”
“Die, Takao…” my boyfriend mumbles.
It’s the day of the dance. I went shopping yesterday and picked out a simple green dress that goes down to my knees.
I’m now in my room, getting ready for tonight.
I’ve just put on the dress I bought when my doorbell rings. Huh? Is Shin-kun already here?
I go to open the door and find my red-haired cousin standing outside. “Aka-kun?!” I exclaim in surprise.
“Good afternoon, Aki-chan,” he greets me with a smile, entering my house.
I give him a once-over and see that he’s wearing a black tuxedo, a red dress shirt, and a black necktie. “Wow, you look dashing,” I compliment him.
“Thank you. You look quite lovely yourself,” he replies.
“I-I haven’t even done my hair or makeup yet,” I chuckle sheepishly.
“Let me help you with those, then,” Akashi offers with a caring smile. “But first…”
I tilt my head to one side as he holds up a garment bag. “Um, what’s that…?” I wonder. It can’t be for him, since he’s already in his suit.
“I purchased it for you,” he says, removing an emerald-green sequin dress from the bag. “Don’t worry. I’ll pay you back for the one you bought. A wonderful young woman like you deserves to look as stunning as possible tonight.”
My brown eyes sparkle as I gaze at the beautiful dress that he got for me. “Th-Thank you…!” I breathe out as he hands the dress to me.
I return to my room to switch dresses. My new dress almost reaches the floor. The fabric from the chest up and on my back is partially see-through.
“Aka-kun, I love it!” I call out.
He chuckles from outside my room. “I’m happy that you do. May I come in now?”
“Yes, you may!”
Akashi enters my room and holds up a pair of heels that match the dress.
“Aw, this is too much!” I laugh.
“You haven’t even seen the jewelry I selected for you,” he answers while smiling, giving me the shoes.
I smile back and take the heels from him, setting them down. “I’ll put them on when we’re ready to go.”
He nods and picks up the curling iron from my desk, motioning for me to sit down.
As he does my hair, I proceed to put on makeup.
In a while, he has styled most of my hair into a bun, leaving alone a few strands on each side of my head. Then he pulls out a small box from his pocket and takes out an emerald necklace and a pair of emerald earrings. He fastens the necklace around my neck while I put the earrings on.
“Midorima will fall in love with you all over again,” Akashi assures me, smiling gently.
I stand up and hug my cousin tightly. “Thank you so much…!”
Afterward, I put on the heels, and then we link elbows and head to the door.
“Don’t tell me you got a limo,” I joke.
”I came to Tokyo in one, but to go to the dance, I have a more… personal ride,” Akashi answers, opening the door and revealing a horse-drawn carriage, causing my jaw to drop.
“I-Is that Yukimaru?!” I exclaim when I see that a white horse is pulling the carriage.
“Indeed,” Akashi replies. “I was able to bring him here in a trailer.”
I approach the horse and outstretch my hand, stroking his neck. The equine gives me a calm and trusting look.
“It looks as if he also remembers you,” Akashi notes with a smile. He then leads me to the backseat before heading to the front seat to drive.
“Ready to go?” Takao, who’s in Midorima’s house, asks while adjusting his orange bow tie. His tux is black while his shirt is white.
Midorima nods while looking at himself in the mirror. Like Akashi (and the other Miracles), he’s wearing a black tux and necktie as well as a shirt that matches his hair. He’s holding a rose corsage and boutonnière, this particular kind of flower being his lucky item today.
“All right!” Takao goes to open the door. “Let’s go pick up Ri—EH?!”
Midorima follows Takao to see what the latter reacted to, and then his green eyes widen.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” Akashi greets the two boys, who can only stare in awe. “Picking up Aki-chan will not be necessary.”
The Shūtoku students shift their gazes to me. “R-Rika-chan, you’re gorgeous~!” Takao compliments me.
“Thanks, Kazu-kun!” I respond before glancing at Midorima.
The green-haired male stares speechlessly at me while blushing.
“Oi, Shin-chan, say something!” Takao whispers, nudging his awestruck teammate.
Midorima blinks. “Y-You’re… you’re so beautiful, Rika,” he breathes out.
I give a small smile and blush. “Th-Thank you, Shin-kun.”
“Please, climb aboard,” Akashi tells them. “We have a dance to attend.”
Midorima and Takao sit on either side of me, and then Yukimaru pulls the carriage away.
Everything from this point up until the end of chapter 12 all happens in one night, so no major time skips during this time. :)
Chapter 11: FANTASTIC TUNE
The dance is being held at the stadium where the revenge match took place.
Akashi has Yukimaru stop at the end of the parking lot. We all get off the carriage, and Akashi leaves a bucket of hay for his horse to feed on while we’re gone.
Midorima puts the corsage on my wrist, and then I pin the boutonnière to his lapel.
“Shall we?” my cousin then says, motioning for us to follow him to the building.
Midorima glances at me and somewhat nervously holds out his arm so that we can link elbows. We then proceed to follow Akashi along with Takao.
When we arrive at the basketball-court-turned-dance-floor, the main lights are already off. Colorful party lights rapidly flicker around the room, and catchy, danceable music is already playing.
“I knew all six schools were invited, but I didn’t expect there to be this many people…!” I breathe out.
Akashi turns to look at us with a smile. “I have found the table with the Rakuzan team, so I shall go to them now,” he informs us. “Enjoy the night, Aki-chan and Midorima.”
“You too, Aka-kun!” I reply.
“Oi, what about me?!” Takao whines humorously before sighing and looking around. “Oh, there’s the Shūtoku team!” He points to one of the tables.
The three of us head to the Shūtoku table. I realize that some familiar graduates are here.
“Ōtsubo-senpai, Miyaji-senpai, and Kimura-senpai?” I greet them in surprise.
“Huh? I thought this was a high school dance,” Takao says.
Miyaji looks at me with a smile. “Akimoto, do you have a pineapple?” he asks before giving the hawk-eyed boy a death stare.
I laugh. “Still the same old Miyaji-senpai.”
“W-Wait, I’m serious, though!” Takao says. “I thought only current students from the six high schools were invited!”
“Anyone who’s played on the same team as any of the Vorpal Swords is welcome to attend,” Ōtsubo explains. “Our universities informed us of this fact. Some former Teikō students are apparently here for the same reason.”
“Then it’s thanks to Shin-chan that you all could come?” Takao asks.
The former Shūtoku students nod in reply.
“It is nice to see the old team together again,” I comment with a smile as Midorima, Takao, and I take our seats.
The team chats for a little while before a slow song starts playing. A few moments later, I realize that everyone at the table is staring expectantly at Midorima and me.
“A lot of couples are slow-dancing now…!” Takao points out.
I blush and glance at my boyfriend, who’s also blushing.
“Midorimacchi…!” a voice calls out in a whisper.
Midorima and I turn our heads and see that Kaijō’s team is sitting at a table next to ours.
“Aren’t you gonna ask her to dance?” Kise asks with a grin.
Midorima widens his eyes. “W-Well… I…”
“Um… we don’t have to if it makes you too uncomfortable, Shin-kun,” I tell him.
“Eh?! But Akimoto-san, the point of a dance is… well, to dance-ssu!” Kise points out.
“Even I know that at times like these, guys should be asking their dates to dance,” Kasamatsu mutters.
“Midorima, do you need some dating advice?” Moriyama offers.
Midorima shakes his head. “N-No, I just—”
“Oi, Midorima, don’t chicken out on your girl now,” Aomine says as he approaches the Shūtoku table with Momoi, who’s wearing a dark blue dress and has her curled hair in a braided half updo.
“Shut up, Aomine…!” Midorima says through clenched teeth as he starts to sweat nervously.
“For once, I agree with Dai-chan!” Momoi begrudgingly adds.
“Y-You, too…?!” Midorima asks in disbelief.
“Would you rather somebody else dance with Aki-chan?”
Midorima jolts at the sound of Akashi’s voice. “…No,” he says to my cousin.
“As Kise said, we’re at a dance. You should at least try to enjoy yourself.” Akashi glances at me and smiles.
Midorima stares at Akashi for a moment before sighing in defeat. He slowly stands up and offers his hand to me, which I take while giving Akashi an embarrassed but grateful glance.
Midorima escorts me to a space on the dance floor that isn’t too crowded before placing one hand on my waist and using his other hand to gently lift one of mine. I place my free hand on his shoulder, and we begin to sway with the slow music.
“…I’m sorry, Rika,” my boyfriend murmurs.
“F-For being a coward…” He glances down.
“Hey, it’s okay,” I assure him.
He returns his gaze to me.
“You were just nervous. It’s your first high school dance, after all.” I smile softly. “Just forget about everyone else in the room and keep your eyes on me. For now, it’s just us two, okay?”
He raises his eyebrows for a moment. Then he takes a deep breath and nods, a small smile forming on his face.
Soon, he seems to be comfortable with the slow dance. Not long after, the music starts getting louder, indicating a climactic point in the song.
I smile. “Hey… try twirling me, will you?”
His eyes widen. “T-Twirling you…?”
“It’s easy. Just let my waist go and raise your other hand higher. I’ll take care of the rest.”
He stares, unsure of himself.
The music is about to reach the loudest part.
“Now,” I whisper.
He inhales and does what I told him to. At the same time, I release his shoulder and spin around a few times.
I hear a few people murmur in amazement as we return to our previous positions. I smile at Midorima, who is evidently much more relaxed than before.
“See? It isn’t so bad,” I tell him.
“It… it isn’t bad at all, nanodayo…” He smiles back.
When the music ends, Midorima steps away to bow to me. Then we return to the Shūtoku table while holding hands.
“That was fantastic, Shin-chan~!” Takao praises his friend, playfully slapping his back.
“You two are so adorable dancing together-ssu~!” Kise chimes from the Kaijō table.
Midorima blushes. “I-I suppose dancing isn’t so difficult.”
“Now you just have to dance normally to faster, catchier songs!” Takao says.
Midorima stares blankly for a moment before gritting his teeth in slight fear. Then he looks at me for a response.
“I think you should at least try,” I say with a smile. “Trust me. Nobody will judge. Everyone’s here to have fun. But, we can take a quick break first.”
After a moment, Midorima nods.
We sit down and watch as others dance energetically to some upbeat songs.
Soon, one of my favorite songs begins playing, and I excitedly let out a small yelp. Midorima glances at me with an eyebrow raised.
“Sorry, I just really love this song,” I admit with a grin.
“I… I see…” he murmurs.
“What she means is that it’s time for you to hit the dance floor again~” Takao elbows his friend.
“It’s okay if you aren’t ready yet, though,” I say.
Midorima glances around, and then he sighs and stands up. “L-Let’s get it over with, then…”
“Wait, really?!” I exclaim, standing up to follow him.
Takao and the other Shūtoku players also accompany us. We form a small circle near the edge of the crowd. I briefly look around and see that the other Miracles have all gotten up to dance, which is probably why Midorima chose to return to the dance floor as well.
Takao is the first to start jovially dancing to the beat. The rest of us, besides Midorima, soon follow suit.
“Just let all your thoughts go and have fun, Shin-chan~!” Takao says, stylishly pivoting on his heels.
I smile and take Midorima’s hands. “Just follow me,” I tell him, gently but eagerly pulling him closer to the rest of our group. I continue to hold his hands, guiding his movements. He feels a bit tense and clumsy at first, but with my help, he is soon able to keep up with the song’s relatively fast tempo about as well as the rest of us. He still feels a bit stiff and nervous, though.
“You’re getting the hang of it!” I tell him with a grin to boost his confidence. “Remember to relax and have fun.”
He blushes and manages a weak smile. Soon, his movements are becoming smoother and less erratic.
I increase the energy and complexity of our movements slightly, laughing as I have fun. “Ready to try twirling me again?” I then challenge him.
He smiles determinedly. During a suitable moment in the song, Midorima lets one of my hands go and spins me around with his hand that’s still holding mine.
“You’re doing it!” Takao exclaims to Midorima with joy.
Time to take it up a notch, I think to myself with a sly smile.
When Midorima twirls me again a few moments later, I let my hand slip from his and take several steps away. I look back at him, and he seems a bit surprised that I let him go. Narrowing my eyes and smiling, I motion for him to come to me.
He smiles back and approaches me. But instead of simply walking, he’s tactically shifting his weight, turning his body and stepping in time with the song’s beat.
When he’s one step away from me, he dashingly spins around before reaching out for me. Anticipating this, I gracefully evade him and step to where he just was. He looks back at me with a grin and steps back in another attempt to catch me. Again, I dodge his reach to keep him going. We keep at this for a few seconds.
He’s finally able to embrace me during the bridge of the song. I see a motivated and excited look in his green eyes as he gazes at me with a grin. I grin back in satisfaction, knowing that he can dance on his own now and is perhaps even eager to do so.
He takes my hands to dance with me again, but this time, he doesn’t do so for my help. In fact, he’s practically leading me now. We’re each able to do our own thing while still complementing the other’s moves.
Before we know it, the song comes to an end. I notice that Midorima is having to catch his breath slightly.
“See? It’s fun, isn’t it?” I say.
“Admittedly, I didn’t think I would find it this amusing,” he answers with a smile.
“And now you can say you’ve tried,” I chuckle. “I’m proud of you, Shin-kun.”
He blushes. “Th-Thank you.”
“So, what do you want to do now?” I ask. “It’s fine if you want to return to the table.”
Midorima confidently pushes his glasses up. “Actually, I believe I can go on, nanodayo.”
The rest of us are a bit surprised to hear this.
“Heh, if you say so!” I reply with a smile.
Another upbeat song begins to play, and our group carries on dancing. Midorima blends in with us perfectly now.
“Midochin, you’re not that bad at this,” someone says not long after the song begins. We all turn to see that Murasakibara has shown up beside our group. On top of that, the other Miracles are approaching us.
“Right?! Midorimacchi can actually dance!” Kise chimes.
“Midorima, how about a dance-off? One-on-one,” Aomine teasingly challenges the shooting guard with a grin.
“Just how many one-on-ones do you plan on doing?!” Kagami exclaims.
“Aomine, we’re here to celebrate our victory as teammates and to have fun as friends, not to compete as rivals,” Akashi reprimands the Tōō player, albeit with a smile. To Midorima, my cousin adds, “I’m glad to see that you have warmed up to dancing, Midorima.”
Midorima smiles back. “I have realized something. There’s no shame in dancing. True shame is to stand still and look like a fool while everyone else is having fun.”
“That’s the spirit, Midorima-kun.” Kuroko suddenly appears, momentarily startling everyone in our group besides Takao.
I chuckle after regaining my composure, seeing that there are now six people in our circle whose shirts match their hair colors.
“Aomine, perhaps I’ll take you up on that one-on-one at a later time,” Midorima says.
The Generation of Miracles and the Shūtoku team continue to dance together as the music goes on, having implicitly merged into one group.
Midorima gently pulls me aside. “Rika, is it okay if we take a break?” he asks. “Not that I want to stop, but it can get rather exhausting after a while, nanodayo…”
I laugh lightly, noticing that both he and I are perspiring quite a bit. “Of course,” I answer. “We have the whole night anyway.”
We hold hands and return to the Shūtoku table. “I’ll get us drinks,” I offer with a smile as Midorima sits down.
I walk over to a long table with a variety of finger foods and soft drinks. Picking up two clean glasses, I head to the punch bowl and set the glasses down before reaching for the ladle.
Just as I grasp it, somebody else’s hand lands on mine from the left.
“Huh?” My brown gaze quickly travels up the person’s sleeve. I see a black tux and shirt as well as a red necktie. When my gaze reaches the person’s face, I realize that Seirin’s eagle-eyed player is the one beside me. “Oh, Izuki-san!”
“A-Akimoto!” he says in surprise, his eyes changing from black to gray. “I…” He realizes that his hand is still on mine and promptly removes it, his face flushing. “S-Sorry! I didn’t—”
“N-No, it’s okay! I didn’t realize you were going to get some.”
“I-I was, but you beat me to the punch.” He draws a sharp breath in realization. “Kitakore!” he praises himself while writing in his notepad.
My hand suddenly comes over my mouth as I have to stifle a laugh. “That actually was a pretty clever one…”
The Seirin player raises his eyebrows and grins, his gray eyes seeming to sparkle. “Th-Thanks…!”
I give him a friendly smile in return and begin filling one of my glasses with punch.
“…S-So, uh, how’ve you been?” Izuki asks.
I glance at him. “Oh, I’ve been well, thanks. I manage Shūtoku’s team now.”
“Ah, that’s cool!”
“What about you?”
“I’ve been well, too. Our Interhigh results weren’t too great, but we’re training now for this year’s Winter Cup!” He smiles with determination.
“Heh, I see. Is the whole Seirin team here?”
“Yep! Kagami doesn’t fly to America for another few days, and even Kiyoshi came back with his crutches just to join us tonight.”
I look around and see the Seirin table. “Hm? Are Hyūga-san and Aida-san…?”
“Hyūga asked Coach to the dance,” Izuki confirms. “Tsuchida came with his girlfriend, of course. Even Furihata managed to bring his crush along as his date.”
I return my gaze to Izuki. “What about you?”
“Did you come with a date?”
“N-No, unfortunately. I’m a single pringle here to mingle. Kitakore…!”
I’m not sure I’d classify that as a pun, I think, rolling my eyes while smiling.
“But, yeah. Nobody else from Seirin brought a date.” Izuki glances at the Shūtoku table. “Naturally, you came with Midorima, huh? I’m kind of surprised he can dance.”
“It took a little persuading, but we got him out of his comfort zone.”
Izuki smiles and lowers his voice. “The only zone he’s ever been in…? Kita—”
“Izuki-san!” I shove him playfully, having heard him murmuring to himself.
“H-Hey, I’m just kidding!” he laughs and returns his gaze to me. “Anyway, I was going to say… y-you two dance really well together.”
“Oh! Thank you.”
“A-And… that dress looks… great on you…”
My brown eyes widen. “Huh? Y-You think so…?”
“I-I mean…!” He blushes. “I-It looks cool when you dance! Like, when you twirl, it reflects a ton of light because it’s so sparkly, you know…? E-Everyone watches when you do it, I think.”
“Oh, I see…” I chuckle and look down at my dress. Seeing its color reminds me that I’m supposed to be getting punch for Midorima and myself. “I-Izuki-san! I almost forgot, I came to get drinks…” I smile apologetically and quickly fill up the glasses I got.
“R-Right…” Izuki glances away for a moment. “W-Well, it was nice talking to you again, Akimoto!”
“Nice talking to you, too. Um… enjoy the rest of the dance!” I begin to step away.
“Thanks, you too!” He fills his own glass with punch now that I have mine.
I turn around with a full glass in each hand only to bump into someone.
I begin to fall forward. Oh, crap! I’m about to ruin someone’s outfit…!
But the person steadies my hands with his, preventing any punch from spilling, and steps forward so that I lean against his body instead of fall to the floor.
I slowly look up, seeing a dark gray tux, a light gray shirt, a maroon necktie, and Mayuzumi’s face. “Mayuzumi-san?!”
“S-Sorry! I didn’t see—”
“I know. It’s okay.”
I step back, relieved that I didn’t make a mess. “Th-Thanks for catching me…”
“Don’t mention it,” he murmurs in response, his gray gaze flickering elsewhere. “It would’ve been a waste if you had spilled those.”
I give a nervous chuckle in agreement before asking, “So, what are you doing here?”
“I was on Akashi’s team at one point, wasn’t I? So I received an invitation as well. Although, I’m… quite surprised they even remembered to give me one.”
“You came, though!” I laugh. “That’s pretty surprising in and of itself.”
He shrugs. “It was a victory for all of Japan. Even I would’ve hated to see Team Vorpal Swords lose to those American assholes.”
“Well, I hope you’re enjoying yourself.”
“It’s nice to see everyone coming together to celebrate, I suppose.”
“It is.” I glance at the Rakuzan table. “Are you sitting with your old teammates?”
“No. I’ve been on my own since I arrived.”
“Huh? Are you sure you don’t want to at least say hi?”
“I don’t mind either way.”
I raise an eyebrow. “Well, I obviously can’t force you, but… I think you should at least stop by and greet Aka-kun and the others. You could even dance with them.”
He blinks. “…Wh-Why do you say that?”
“Because this may be the only dance you’ll ever get to attend.” I smile. “I’m just saying, you should try to enjoy this experience to the fullest since you’re here anyway.”
He stares for a moment before closing his eyes and sighing. “Okay,” he says, turning toward the Rakuzan table. “Thank you for the advice…”
“It’s no problem.” I nod and turn toward the Shūtoku table again. “Later, Mayuzumi-san.”
He smiles. “Bye, Akimoto.”
I breathe a sigh of relief as I’m finally able to return to the Shūtoku table and set the drinks down.
“Thank you, Rika,” Midorima says, sipping his punch.
“Anytime,” I reply with a smile as I take my seat beside him and start drinking my own beverage.
“…You were there for a little while, nanodayo. Was it that crowded?”
I freeze and nearly gag. “Eh?” I say after swallowing. “Y-Yeah, kind of…”
“Well, I think I’ll already be set to resume dancing after I finish this,” Midorima tells me with a confident smile.
“O-Oh! Okay.” I’m relieved that he doesn’t suspect a thing. For that matter, nobody else at the table seems to, either.
When we’ve both finished our punch, we stay seated for a little bit to wait for a new song to start.
A slow song begins to play. Midorima stands up and confidently offers his hand to me. Smiling, I take it and follow him to the dance floor.
Instead of our positions from our first slow dance, we’re in a much more intimate and romantic position now. Midorima has both of his arms around my waist while mine are around his neck. I’m having to crane my neck to look into his eyes, but it’s okay. I feel safe and loved being this close to him.
Okay, if Midorima can ask Akimoto to dance, then I should have no problem…!
Hyūga stands up and turns to his date, extending his hand. “May I?”
Seirin’s coach, who’s wearing a red dress, blushes for a moment before nodding and taking Hyūga’s hand. As they walk away, Hyūga glances backward to find Seirin’s other third-years grinning and giving him thumbs-ups.
Shortly after the two of them head to the dance floor, Tsuchida and Furihata follow suit with their respective dates.
Izuki watches his slow-dancing teammates for a moment, but he can’t help but return his gaze to the couple from Shūtoku.
He almost jumps out of his seat. Turning his head, he finds Kuroko standing behind him.
“Is something wrong?” the light-blue-haired boy asks.
“N-No, I’m all right, Kuroko!” Izuki answers, faking a smile.
“You keep staring at Akimoto-san…”
Izuki widens his eyes and blushes. “Y-You saw—I-I mean, am I really—I…!”
“Nani? You have a thing for Midorima’s girlfriend?” Koganei asks.
“Keep it down, Koga…!” Izuki blushes harder and begins to sweat nervously.
“Izuki-senpai, I get that she’s pretty cute, but if Midorima catches you trying to hit on her, he’ll probably shoot your ass into next Thursday,” Kagami says.
“I-I know that already…!” Izuki sinks into his chair, comically weeping.
“Don’t worry, Izuki! There are plenty of fish in the sea,” Kiyoshi tells him cheerfully.
“Yeah, but… Akimoto’s a catch…!” Izuki then perks up at his own pun. “Kitakore!”
Each person left at the Seirin table sweatdrops.
A faster song plays next. The combined group consisting of the Shūtoku team and the Generation of Miracles rejoins us, and we all continue to dance together for a while.
“Rika-chan! Me and Shin-chan are gonna use the restroom for a bit,” Takao tells me sometime later.
“Okay!” I reply with a nod, turning my head to watch as my two best friends leave.
After they exit the room, I turn to face the others again and realize that Akashi has shown up beside me. “Are you enjoying the dance?” he asks me.
“Definitely! What about you?”
His gaze flickers to the others, who are having fun dancing and seem unaware that we’re conversing. Then he gently takes my arm and pulls me aside.
“A-Aka-kun…? Is something wrong?”
He looks at me, surprised. “N-No! Certainly not,” he says, smiling to assure me. “In fact, I am enjoying the dance as well.”
“Oh, well… that’s great.” I smile back. “What are we doing here, then?”
“There’s something I wish to say… but only to someone I can trust.”
I widen my eyes. “You just said nothing’s wrong. Now you’re making it sound like you have a deep, dark secret…”
He stares at me for a moment before shaking his head. “It’s nothing of that sort.”
I sweatdrop. Please, stop confusing me.
“I apologize for confusing you.”
DID HE JUST READ MY MIND?!
“It’s just that there’s…”
I furrow my brow. “There’s… what…?”
He leans toward me and whispers into my ear, “There’s… a girl…”
My face lights up immediately. “AH—”
His hand comes over my mouth. “P-Please, lower your voice, Aki-chan…”
I take his hand off, noticing a pink tinge on his cheeks. “Aka-kun~!” I squeal in a whisper. “That’s so cute! Who is she? Where is she?“
He turns my body until I’m facing the Rakuzan team’s table across the room. “Three tables to the left…” he whispers. “The one with… the black and silver dress…”
My gaze lands on a blonde, blue-eyed girl. I cover my mouth with my hands to conceal my wide grin. “She’s so pretty! Does she go to Rakuzan?”
“Do you actually know her?”
“Somewhat. Her name is Sora Natsumi. She’s a first-year, so I unfortunately don’t have that many opportunities to see her. In addition, she is quite timid… but…”
I glance at Akashi. He has a shy smile on his face, and his red gaze is fixed on Natsumi.
“Despite that, she is well-known at school and has the highest grades in her class.”
“Well, you’ll ask her to dance with you during one of the slow songs, right?!” I nudge him teasingly.
He looks at me. “That’s the problem,” he murmurs. “I’m… not sure how to go about doing so…”
I gape speechlessly for a moment. “…But you—I-I thought—NANI?! SINCE WHEN—”
He frantically puts a finger to his lips, wanting me to quiet down.
I bring my voice back down to a whisper. “Since when do you get flustered when it comes to girls…?!”
“I don’t! I mean, I don’t… usually.” He blushes. “But it’s different when I’m… genuinely interested…”
“How does that make a difference?! With your charm, you could probably attract all of Kise-kun’s fan girls and then some, if you put your mind to it!”
He smiles nervously. “There’s no need to exaggerate.”
He returns his gaze to the object of his affection. “Even if what you say is true… I’ve never spoken to her before…”
“Then this is your chance to make a good first impression!” I place my hands on his shoulders. “Trust me. Just be yourself. Introduce yourself, and then when a slow song starts playing, make your move and ask her to dance with you!”
He raises his eyebrows and stares at me. “Do you truly believe that I can do it…?”
I smile. “You’re Seijūrō Akashi. Of course you can do it!”
After a moment, he smiles back. “Thank you, Aki-chan.”
I glance at Natsumi, who has stood up and is walking toward the snack table on her own.
Fate is certainly with Akashi tonight. Ah, crap. Is Shin-kun’s superstition rubbing off on me? Heh.
I point her out to my cousin and pat his back. “Go get ‘em, tiger!”
Akashi takes a deep breath and starts approaching the blonde, although he keeps his distance until she turns around so that he doesn’t startle her.
When Natsumi notices the red-haired male, she tenses slightly. “A-Akashi-san…?”
Akashi widens his eyes, somewhat surprised to hear her say his name. “I… I don’t believe we have met…”
“Oh! U-Uh, no, we haven’t…” She glances down. “But, everyone at school knows you.”
He smiles. “The same can be said about you, Natsumi.”
She looks back up at him. “That’s just—I-I mean, I don’t really—i-it makes sense with you, but I’m just—”
“Diligent, studious, and bright?”
“Well… y-yes, but…”
“You don’t have to doubt yourself. You should feel honored to be known as the top student in your class.”
Her eyes widen, and she blushes. “…Thanks,” she murmurs with a tiny smile. “I-I’m sorry. This is just… sort of new to me.”
“Even with my high grades, most people don’t ever really talk to me. Or, maybe it’s the other way around… but either way, to actually be talking to someone like you… is, uh…”
He takes a step closer to her, keeping a friendly smile on his face. “There’s always a first time for everything.”
She blushes harder, unable to respond as his gaze captivates her.
Then a slow song starts playing.
This is the moment Akashi has been waiting for. Holding out his hand, he asks, “How would you like to feel like an empress tonight?”
I’ve been eagerly watching Akashi and Natsumi from the Shūtoku table. I’m now practically shivering with anticipation, waiting to see if she’ll dance with him.
After a few seconds, she smiles and takes his hand.
YES! I have to resist the urge to actually scream the word out loud.
I whirl around, slightly startled. Since I’ve been so focused on my cousin and the girl he fancies, I didn’t realize that Midorima and Takao had returned.
Midorima starts to ask, “What are you looking—”
“Is that Akashi with… a girl?!” Takao interrupts, gawking at the red-haired boy and his new dancing partner.
“Yes, and I’m so happy for him!” I reply.
Midorima raises his eyebrows. “Sagittarius does rank second today…” He and Takao sit down beside me to watch the two Rakuzan students slow-dance.
I wonder what they’re talking about… I think with a smile, seeing that Akashi and Natsumi are having a quiet conversation with each other as they dance.
But at some point during the song, the girl says something that causes a shocked expression to momentarily appear on the boy’s face.
My own smile disappears as I suddenly become concerned.
At the end of the song, he kisses her hand. She blushes, smiles, and waves as she returns to her table. I take this to mean that they’re at the very least still on friendly terms.
Akashi walks toward our table, and I stand up. “So… how was it…?” I ask.
“It was by far one of the best experiences I have ever had,” he answers with a smile, suddenly embracing me.
“W-Wait! If she sees us like this, she might get the wrong—”
“She won’t. I already informed her that you’re my cousin.” He pulls away. “I simply had to express my gratitude. Without you, I may never have had the courage to approach her.”
“Oh…” I smile. “Well, I’m really glad I could help. But I have to ask… what exactly were you two talking about?”
“Ah…” His gaze falls. “She will be moving soon to study abroad…”
I draw in a rather sharp breath. Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten his hopes too high up…
Akashi notices my expression. “Don’t worry about me,” he says with an assuring smile. “She intends to return after completing her studies. And… she wishes to spend as much time with me as possible before she leaves.”
My eyes widen. “She said that?”
I give him a warm smile. “Stay with her for the rest of the dance, then. If she has a limited amount of time left here, then you should make the most of it.”
His eyes light up as he smiles back.
I turn him around so that he’s facing Natsumi and gently nudge him in her direction. He gives me a nod before striding away.
“Hey, Rika-chan…” Takao murmurs after my cousin leaves. “Did… did Akashi actually come to you for advice…?!”
“That would be a first…” Midorima remarks.
“He just needed a little encouragement is all.” I smile and gesture for the two boys to stand up. “Come on. Let’s dance.”
We spend the rest of the night dancing with all our friends and having the time of our lives.
Another upbeat song just started. It already sounds super catchy, even though I’ve never heard this song before. Wait… have I? I’m pretty sure the music is new to me, but there’s something familiar about the singers…
♫Chirabatte iru tenn to tenn ga♫
The Miracles glance at one another in confusion. It seems that they’re thinking the same thing.
♫Tashika na omoi de soko ni aru youni♫
Actually, they don’t think. They know.
♫Massugu kono purei de♫
“Isn’t this the song Kurokocchi taught us a while back…?” Kise wonders, his eyes wide.
♫Toushi o kawasu Sou nan domo♫
“Th-This can’t be us singing…” Midorima answers.
♫Hitotsu zutsu no deai o tsurete♫
“HAHA!” Takao doubles over. “THAT WAS TOTALLY YOUR VOICE, SHIN-CHAN!”
♫Kyou ni tadoritsuita kiseki♫
“Midorima should be right, though…” Akashi says. “We’ve never gotten together to record a song like this…”
♫Goujou datta ano hi no unmei goto♫
He then sweatdrops, recognizing his own voice.
♫Tsunagatte itan da♫
“We are indeed hearing our own voices,” Kuroko explains. “I secretly recorded each of you individually in your own homes.”
♫Wakariaeta (We are, we are, we are)♫
The Miracles and Kagami shoot shocked looks at Kuroko. “NANIIIIIIII?!” They all start to turn red in embarrassment, especially my poor tsundere of a boyfriend.
♫Ima da kara (We go, we go, we go)♫
“G-Guys, you all sound amazing!” I tell them with a sincere smile to put their minds at ease. “You have nothing to be ashamed of!”
♫Ikuze kono chiimu de♫
My cousin gives me a hopeful glance. “Do you mean it…?”
I laugh. “Of course!”
♫tsukande miserun da♫
My words seem to work on them as they smile at one another and carry on dancing.
♫Kokoro ga shunkan zenkai kyoumei shiaeru We are VORPAL SWORDS
Karada ga genkai toppa nenshou shiaeru We are VORPAL SWORDS
We gotta win (Can't stop fighting)
We gotta win (Can't stop fighting) ...together
Mou hitori janai issho ni shouri o shinjiau yorokobi de♫
♫Zenryoku butsukeru Passion sarani ageteku Tension
Kako saikyou hade ni sore demo madamada abareru Situation
Moeten da hoeten da koetein da Never give up!
Hirumu yatsu nado zenzen inai tamashii de... Next Zone♫
My jaw drops. “Aomine-kun and Kagami-kun can rap?!”
Kagami puffs his chest out proudly, his hands on his hips. “HELL YEAH, WE CAN!”
“Ha! But the only one who can rap better than me is me!” Aomine boasts.
Vorpal Swords Group Chat
(ThePrettyCopycat signed in)
ThePrettyCopycat: Guys tonight was soooo much fun!!!!! (((o(*ﾟ▽ﾟ*)o)))
(TeenTitan signed in)
(Invisiboy signed in)
(EmperorScissorhands signed in)
(SleepingBeauty signed in)
(MajiBurgerKing signed in)
TeenTitan: It was fun but all that dancing made me tired so I’m having some midnight snacks before bed lol
Invisiboy: I’m very happy that we all could spend the night hanging out and dancing together.
EmperorScissorhands: Agreed. However, as entertaining as it was, I must ask you something important, Kuroko.
Invisiboy: What is it?
EmperorScissorhands: You said you secretly recorded us in our own homes?
SleepingBeauty: oh shit i forgot about that
Invisiboy: Yes. And then I put the individual recordings together and added the music so that the full song could be played at the dance.
MajiBurgerKing: Since when did you know how to use sound programs and stuff??
EmperorScissorhands: More importantly…
EmperorScissorhands: did you get
EmperorScissorhands: into my mansion
Invisiboy: This is just like the fan discs. We can do whatever we want.
MajiBurgerKing: SRSLY WHO CAME UP WITH THAT RULE
MajiBurgerKing: THIS ISNT EVEN A FAN DISC WTF
Invisiboy: Hence, “like” the fan discs.
TeenTitan: But how did Kurochin get the recordings if none of us sing
TeenTitan: Or at least I never sing, not even at my own place
TeenTitan: Except in the shower
ThePrettyCopycat: KUROKOCCHI THAT’S AN INVASION OF PRIVACY-SSU (ꐦ°᷄д°᷅)
SleepingBeauty: OI TETSU THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN RECORD ME SINGING IN THE SHOWER IS ME
MajiBurgerKing: I HAVE TO AGREE WITH AHOMINE ON THIS ONE
SleepingBeauty: BAKAGAMI DONT CALL ME AHOMINE
TeenTitan: Kurochiiiin I’ll crush you
Invisiboy: Thank you for not yelling at me through text, Murasakibara-kun.
MajiBurgerKing: OI! DONT IGNORE THE REST OF US
EmperorScissorhands: Kuroko, the point is that you shouldn’t record people without permission, let alone in the shower…
Invisiboy: I did try to ask permission whenever one of you entered your shower. But none of you noticed that I was in your bathroom the whole time.
ThePrettyCopycat: Why didn’t you just invite us to a studio or something to record together? (」°ロ°)」
Invisiboy: Not everyone would’ve agreed to it.
Invisiboy: *cough* Murasakibara-kun.
Invisiboy: *cough* Aomine-kun.
Invisiboy: *cough* Midorima-kun.
EmperorScissorhands: Has Midorima signed in since the dance ended?
Invisiboy: I don’t think so.
(SuperstitiousCarrot signed in)
SleepingBeauty: there he is
SuperstitiousCarrot: Hey guys!
TeenTitan: Ehh? Midochin sounds awfully happy
SuperstitiousCarrot: It’s Akimoto. I’m checking Shin-kun’s phone for him.
EmperorScissorhands: AKI-CHAAAAN :D
SuperstitiousCarrot: AKA-KUN IS THAT YOU?
EmperorScissorhands: YES ^_^
MajiBurgerKing: Wtf… he’s using emoticons…
Invisiboy: I’m… slightly creeped out.
SuperstitiousCarrot: Kagami-kun and Kuroko-kun??
Invisiboy: Yes. Hello, Akimoto-san.
MajiBurgerKing: Hey, Akimoto!
ThePrettyCopycat: Akicchi!!!! ヾ(＾∇＾)
SleepingBeauty: Yo, Akimoto!
TeenTitan: Hi Rikachin
SuperstitiousCarrot: Hello Kise-kun, Aomine-kun, and Murasakibara-kun!
Invisiboy: Kise-kun, you aren’t supposed to call her “Akicchi” for another two chapters.
ThePrettyCopycat: EH????!!!! Σ(゜ロ゜;)
Invisiboy: And Aomine-kun, you know how to capitalize and punctuate all of a sudden?
SleepingBeauty: Im trying to sound proper now that theres a girl in the chat
Invisiboy: And you forgot a period.
SleepingBeauty: Tetsu u bastard
EmperorScissorhands: Please refrain from using foul language in front of my cousin.
SuperstitiousCarrot: Hey Aka-kun, about your name on here…
EmperorScissorhands: You’re going to ask me why I haven’t changed it to something that pertains more to my current self, yes?
SuperstitiousCarrot: Er… yeah, hehe. Was it that obvious or are you just reading my mind again?
EmperorScissorhands: Who knows? Anything is possible here when it is just like the fan discs. ;)
EmperorScissorhands: To answer your question, I’m just not entirely sure what I could change it to.
(SuperstitiousCarrot changed EmperorScissorhands’s name to AbsoluteCinnamonRoll)
ThePrettyCopycat: ‧˚₊*̥(* ⁰̷̴͈꒨⁰̷̴͈)‧˚₊*̥
Invisiboy: She’s not wrong.
AbsoluteCinnamonRoll: You’re too kind…
AbsoluteCinnamonRoll: But I suppose I can get used to this, so thank you. :)
TeenTitan: So where’s Midochin if this is Rikachin on his phone?
SuperstitiousCarrot: Oh, he’s already in bed.
Invisiboy: He does seem like an early riser.
SuperstitiousCarrot: It’s not just that. He’s… too embarrassed to talk to anyone right now.
SleepingBeauty: what happened?
SuperstitiousCarrot: On our way home, I think Kazu-kun teased him a bit too much about the fact that he can sing…
SuperstitiousCarrot: His face was basically pure red by the time we got here, and he was burning up too. I would’ve thought he had a fever or something if I didn’t know he was just embarrassed about his singing voice being exposed to everyone he knows.
ThePrettyCopycat: We all know how he feels… (´-﹏-`；)
ThePrettyCopycat: …But I’m also laughing, sorry!! ꉂ(σ▰˃̶̀ꇴ˂̶́)σ
SuperstitiousCarrot: Hehe it’s fine! I’m actually laughing too on the inside.
SuperstitiousCarrot: I tried to convince him (again) that he has nothing to worry about and that he sounded amazing!
SuperstitiousCarrot: All of you did, honestly. :)
Invisiboy: We’re glad you think so.
TeenTitan: That makes me feel better about getting recorded without knowing lol
ThePrettyCopycat: It’s a really good song when you think about it-ssu!!! (*＾v＾*)
AbsoluteCinnamonRoll: Indeed. After all, it is about us united as one team and winning together—the very thing Kuroko taught the rest of us last year. I can see why he wanted to record it.
SleepingBeauty: Satsuki was almost in tears when she heard it
SuperstitiousCarrot: Same here, tbh. :’)
MajiBurgerKing: How about we actually get together and sing it? For fun I mean
ThePrettyCopycat: YES great idea!!! o((*^▽^*))o
Invisiboy: Kagami-kun, that’s unfortunately impossible… because you’re leaving soon.
MajiBurgerKing: Oh… right.
Invisiboy: That’s another reason I recorded everyone when I did. There wouldn’t be any more chances…
SleepingBeauty: dammit kagami
TeenTitan: Kagami I’ll crush you
ThePrettyCopycat: Kagamicchi nooo!!!! ˚‧º·(˚ ˃̣̣̥᷄⌓˂̣̣̥᷅ )‧º·˚
MajiBurgerKing: WE ALREADY WENT OVER THIS! Why’s everyone getting all sappy again…
AbsoluteCinnamonRoll: As I said before, you were our greatest rival and friend. It is quite saddening that you will no longer be able to join us in future gatherings, but we all wish you the best of luck in America.
SuperstitiousCarrot: We’re going to miss you, Kagami-kun.
MajiBurgerKing: Oh man… I’ll miss you guys too.
Invisiboy: Kagami-kun, are you crying?
MajiBurgerKing: What? No!
MajiBurgerKing: …Someone’s just, uh, cutting onions.
Invisiboy: My bad. I’ll rinse the knife now.
MajiBurgerKing: Wait what?
MajiBurgerKing: WTF KUROKO IS LITERALLY IN MY KITCHEN CUTTING ONIONS
Invisiboy: I’ve been here the whole time.
MajiBurgerKing: LIKE HELL YOU HAVE
MajiBurgerKing: WHY ARE YOU TEXTING ME WHEN YOURE RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME
Invisiboy: So that the others know what’s happening.
MajiBurgerKing: OK BUT HOW DID YOU GET IN
Invisiboy: I teleported.
MajiBurgerKing: YOU CANT JUST DO THAT
SuperstitiousCarrot: Isn’t this like the fan discs though? I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually could.
MajiBurgerKing: OMG NO NOT YOU TOO
AbsoluteCinnamonRoll: Speaking of fan discs, this chat has gone on a lot longer than originally intended.
AbsoluteCinnamonRoll: Before I leave, let me just say that I truly enjoyed dancing with all of you tonight.
ThePrettyCopycat: I won’t ever forget tonight!!! ‧⁺◟( ᵒ̴̶̷̥́ ·̫ ᵒ̴̶̷̣̥̀ )
TeenTitan: I thought I wouldn’t like it, but I had fun too
SleepingBeauty: Ok I’ll admit… dancing with you all might be one of my favorite things now besides basketball
SuperstitiousCarrot: I hope we can all get together and have fun again!
Invisiboy: I hope so as well.
AbsoluteCinnamonRoll: Aki-chan, tell Midorima we said hello.
SuperstitiousCarrot: I will! I’ll even show him the chat when he wakes up.
AbsoluteCinnamonRoll: Splendid. :) Good night, everyone.
SuperstitiousCarrot: Good night!
Invisiboy: Good night.
ThePrettyCopycat: Sleep tight!! (︶｡︶✽)
TeenTitan: Don’t let the bed bugs bite into your snacks and eat them before you can
(AbsoluteCinnamonRoll signed out)
(SuperstitiousCarrot signed out)
(SleepingBeauty signed out)
(ThePrettyCopycat signed out)
(TeenTitan signed out)
MajiBurgerKing: Ok I’m back from chasing Kuroko around my apartment.
Invisiboy: They’re gone.
MajiBurgerKing: They didn’t even wait for me to say good night???
MajiBurgerKing: Kuroko how were you able to say it when I was chasing you?!
Invisiboy: Just forget about it. Good night, Kagami-kun.
MajiBurgerKing: Ugh fine. Good night, Kuroko.
(Invisiboy signed out)
(MajiBurgerKing signed out)
(AllSeeingEyeOfHawk signed in)
AllSeeingEyeOfHawk: Heyy what’s happenin’!! ヾ(｡･ω･｡)
Some of the kaomoji may or may not have shown up properly depending on whatever device you're reading from.. hopefully that didn't bother anyone too much ^^’
Going by word count, this is actually the halfway point! Thanks to those who've read up until now <3 And just a heads up, the next chapter will be the longest one.
(Lyrics used in omake from "LAST GAME Character Song: We are VORPAL SWORDS!!" [YouTube] sung by Kenshō Ono, Yūki Ono, Hiroshi Kamiya, Junichi Suwabe, Daisuke Ono, Ryōhei Kimura, and Kenichi Suzumura; lyrics by Saori Codama; arrangement by FUNK UCHINO and TAKAROT; composition by TAKAROT and Shinji Tanaka)
Chapter 13: Against The Wind
Nash glares at the newspaper in his hands—specifically, at an article describing how six Japanese high schools hosted a dance to celebrate their victory over an American streetball team.
The Generation of Miracles and I are outside the airport, pondering Kagami’s move. We all agree that we’ll meet him again as long as everyone continues to play basketball.
Instead of going straight home from the airport afterward, Midorima takes me to a streetball court. After all, I agreed to let him teach me how to play basketball.
We spend the afternoon going over fundamentals, and then later in the evening, we have a one-on-one. Of course, I lose miserably since I told him not to go easy on me, but we still have fun.
We soon realize that it’s gotten dark and that we’re quite far from home, so we decide to call it a day and start heading back. We walk hand in hand through the seemingly empty town under the stars, certain that it’s just us two outside at this time of night.
A stranger’s hand lunges from the left and covers my mouth, dragging me into a dark alleyway so suddenly that my hand slips from Midorima’s.
I try to scream, but my voice is muffled.
Midorima rushes after me, his arm outstretched in an attempt to reach me. “RI—!”
Then somebody else grabs him from behind.
I realize that the person who took me put a cloth over my mouth, and I end up inhaling some sort of substance that virtually paralyzes me. I’m still somewhat conscious, but I’m too helpless to do anything now.
As I’m propped against one of the walls, I make an effort to focus my gaze and figure out what’s going on. In the next moment, I recognize the faces of our attackers.
Silver has pinned Midorima against the other wall. There’s no hope of escape for the latter despite his struggling to break free.
“L-Let him go!” I try to move, but my muscles won’t cooperate.
Nash appears from the back of the alleyway and glances at me.
My eyes widen in disbelief. “Why the hell are you all here and not in America…?!”
“It took everything we had to accept defeat in a basketball game,” Nash snarls, “but to steal our culture? You monkeys crossed the line!”
“We didn’t steal anything!” Midorima protests with gritted teeth.
“Shut it!” Nash snaps, swinging a fist at Midorima’s face and eliciting a pained cry as well as knocking his glasses off.
“SHIN-KUN!” I scream in alarm, managing to lean forward but falling to the ground immediately afterward. I can barely lift my head to look up at the others.
Nash grabs Midorima’s shirt and pulls him back up. “You monkeys just had to rub your win in our faces by having that stupid dance, didn’t you?!”
Midorima’s eyes widen. “How is that stealing—”
Nash pins him to the wall. “We’ll show everyone on this island what happens when they take what isn’t theirs… by destroying Japan’s greatest.”
I realize in horror that the Jabberwocks are out for the Vorpal Swords.
“Where are the others?!” Nash inquires.
“As if I would betray my friends to you scum!” Midorima responds defiantly.
Nash scowls and nods to Silver, who then knees Midorima in the stomach.
“AGH!” Midorima doubles over, and drops of blood leave his mouth.
Silver’s fist then comes down on Midorima’s back, forcing the green-haired boy to the ground.
“STOP IT!” I wail, unable to do anything else.
Ignoring me, Nash kicks the fallen boy several times.
Midorima clenches his teeth, trying not to let out any tears or show any signs of weakness. Nevertheless, he yelps every time he’s struck.
Silver grabs the injured boy’s arms and hoists him up, forcing him back onto his feet. Then Nash punches Midorima’s ribs, knocking the wind out of him. “You’ll find there’s a lot more where that came from if you don’t start talking,” the Jabberwock captain threatens.
Despite his trembling and blurred vision, Midorima manages to glare at Nash. “I will not surrender to any amount of pain you inflict upon me…!”
Nash looks as if he’s about to strike again, but he hesitates and turns to face me. “If physical pain doesn’t work on you, then we can always resort to emotional pain,” he says to Midorima.
Then he walks over to me and picks me up from the ground, having me sit up with my back against the wall again.
Midorima feels a chill go down his spine. “DON’T TOUCH HER!” He desperately tries again to get away from Silver.
Nash laughs. “Stop me if you can,” he taunts as he holds me in place and reaches into one of his pockets.
“He still won’t betray his friends,” I hiss angrily at Nash. “Forget about finding them.”
“Shut your mouth,” he growls, turning to look at me. “Or… should I shut you up myself?”
When his hand comes out of his pocket, he’s holding a switchblade knife.
I jolt when the blade springs out. My stomach flips, and my heart starts pounding a mile a minute.
I scream in terror, physically unable to get away.
I don’t want to die.
“LEAVE HER ALONE!” Midorima cries.
Nash holds the knife up so that the tip is just touching my chest, directly over my heart.
I’m sobbing in fright at this point. “PLEASE, NO!” I beg, fearing for my life. “SHIN-KUN, HELP!”
“GET AWAY FROM HER!” Midorima roars, writhing frantically.
“Say another word and maybe I will kill her!” Nash threatens, glaring at my boyfriend and swiftly thrusting the knife forward just enough for the tip of the blade to prick my skin, causing me to yelp.
Midorima’s eyes widen in terror. “RIKA!”
The Jabberwock captain then drags the knife straight down my torso, turning the small cut into a long gash.
I let out a bloodcurdling scream as the pain quickly worsens, spreading from my chest down to my ribs. Tears stream faster from my eyes, some of them falling directly onto the wound and further stinging it.
The torture becomes so overwhelming that I have a hard time making any sense of what’s happening anymore. I can barely hear myself screaming Midorima’s name and Midorima screaming mine. I don’t notice my body convulsing, desperate for some kind of relief from the agonizing sensation.
When the tip of the knife reaches my side, Nash glances at Midorima and smirks. “This’ll teach you monkeys not to mess with us.”
Then he pushes the blade deeper into my body. My mouth is wide open, but my throat is too exhausted to even scream anymore.
“NO!” Midorima shrieks, watching helplessly as Nash pulls the bloody knife out and stands up.
I’m left slumped against the wall, struggling to stay awake as my eyelids get heavier. Breathing seems to be getting more difficult. My strength is disappearing with every drop of blood that leaves the wound, and everything is going dark…
Then I hear the familiar sound of my boyfriend sobbing. He thinks he’s going to lose me again.
I can’t put him through that—not again. I have to let him know.
I’m still alive.
With what little strength I still have, I open my mouth. “Sh… Shin—!” My soft voice cracks.
But it’s enough to get Midorima’s attention and stop him from falling into despair. His green gaze snaps up, tears further blurring his vision. “Rika?!”
Nash widens his eyes, surprised that I can still speak, before scowling and turning to face Midorima. “She won’t last the night.”
Midorima inhales sharply upon hearing this, and then he glares furiously at Nash. “You bastard!” He tries once more to wrench himself away from Silver.
Annoyed, Nash scoffs and punches Midorima’s face again. Then he nods to Silver, who slams the green-haired male against the ground.
All of the Jabberwocks proceed to beat Midorima while he’s down.
I can hear his anguished screams. I struggle to lift my head and open my eyes.
“S-Stop… please…!” I beg weakly once I see what’s happening.
Obviously, the attackers either ignore me or don’t hear me.
“Dammit…! Stop… hurting him…!” More tears well up in my eyes as I helplessly watch them torture Midorima. He’s doing what he can to shield himself, but the blows keep coming nonstop.
After what feels like an eternity, Nash finally says, “That’s enough. We’ll just lure the other Vorpal Swords to us.”
Huh…? What does he mean?! my mind asks as I worriedly keep my eyes on my boyfriend, who’s breathing heavily, wounded, and bleeding.
Silver grabs Midorima roughly, picking him up and effortlessly slinging him over his shoulder. Then everyone starts leaving the alleyway.
THEY’RE KIDNAPPING HIM! I shakily attempt to lift an arm. “NO! SHIN-KUN!” I finally yell as my remaining strength ebbs away.
Midorima’s eyes are closed, and he’s too weak to do anything.
With one last effort, I manage to outstretch my arm, but the movement sends a sharp pain through my torso where Nash knifed me.
I scream, and then my vision darkens.
Izuki breathes in the morning air as he steps outside to walk his dog. He believes that today will be just like any other day.
But sometime after he turns a corner, his dog perks up and bounds into an alleyway.
“Huh?” His gaze follows his pet. Then his black eyes turn gray in shock.
I hear a distant voice, or at least it seems distant. But then I realize that the voice is shouting and coming from right in front of me.
“AKIMOTO?! AKIMOTO, SAY SOMETHING!”
When I groan, I hear a light gasp. Slowly, I open my eyes and see Izuki’s worried face in front of mine. His eyes seem slightly teary. “Izuki-san…?”
One of his hands comes over his mouth. “You’re okay…!”
I realize that I’m sitting up. “What… happened…? Where…?” I start moving my arms to get up, but Izuki gently stops me.
“Be careful,” he tells me, biting his lip worriedly and glancing down. “You’re… you’re hurt.”
I look down at myself and see a black jacket from a boy’s school uniform covering my body. When I peer underneath it, I notice a large rip in my blouse—as well as a gash on my torso extending from my chest down to my left side.
I let out a startled gasp.
“Akimoto… did someone… do that to you…?!” Izuki asks, his brow creasing.
My eyes widen as I begin to remember what happened last night. “It… it was Nash…!”
I nod, shuddering as I recall the pain from the knife’s tip slicing through my skin.
“H-How could he…?!”
I look up at Seirin’s point guard. “The Jabberwocks are pissed because we ‘stole’ part of their culture when our high schools hosted the dance. Last night, they ambushed me and—!” My eyes widen again, and I begin to tremble and shake my head. “Oh, no…! No, no, no!”
“Th-They beat Shin-kun and kidnapped him!”
His eyes turn gray and widen in horror. “They did what?!”
I scramble to my feet, clenching my jaw and trying to endure the pain in my side.
“Hang on! Where are you going?!” Izuki quickly stands up as well and grabs my arm.
“I have to find him!”
He stares at me in disbelief. “You’re—do you even know where they went?!”
I hesitate. “I… I can’t just ignore this!”
“What about that wound?! You need to get that checked!”
“It stopped bleeding! I’m fine! Now let me go!” I try to pull away, tears forming in my eyes as my worry for Midorima grows.
He keeps his hold on me. “You might reopen it!”
“I said to let me go!” I raise my other hand, ready to slap him.
“Akimoto!” He grabs my raised wrist and suddenly pulls me back, embracing me tightly and holding me against his chest. “Please, calm down…!”
My tears start to fall. “B-But Shin—!”
“I know you’re worried about him, but you can’t help him if you don’t take care of yourself first…!”
I look up at him, shaking anxiously. I don’t want to admit it, but I realize that he’s right and start weeping into his shirt.
He rubs my back. “Look, we can call the police, okay?”
“N-No… if we do that, who knows what the Jabberwocks will do to Shin-kun…?” I tremble at my next thought. “They could… kill him…!”
He frowns. “How do you know they haven’t… done that yet?”
I inhale sharply, my stomach dropping at the thought.
He realizes what he said. “Crap, sorry… I didn’t mean…”
I shake my head. “They want to use him to… lure the other Vorpal Swords to them. They’ll… definitely keep him alive…”
He sighs quietly. “Then… we’ll figure something out.”
“But they can still hurt him…” I shiver. “W-Will he be… okay…?!”
“He’s… he’s strong. I’m sure he will be. He’ll… stay strong for you.”
There’s something comforting and reassuring about both his voice and his words, and my tears start to slow down after about a minute.
Izuki slowly lets me go. “For now… there’s a hospital nearby. Please, the wound looks pretty bad. Let me take you there.”
I straighten up and wipe my tears away, taking a deep breath. “…Okay.”
He picks up his jacket from the ground and hands it to me. “You can wear my uniform to cover it up while we walk there.”
I nod and put the top of his uniform on properly. “Thank you, Izuki-san…”
Izuki notices his dog sniffing something on the ground, and then he stoops to pick up a pair of cracked glasses, recognizing them as Midorima’s. Those sons of bitches…! He pockets the glasses before turning back to me. “Let’s go.”
“What about your dog…?”
“We’ll be passing by my house anyway.”
“Oh… okay.” I try to take a wobbly step forward and almost fall, but Izuki catches me.
“…Will walking put too much strain on your body?” he asks.
“I… I don’t know. Maybe. I do feel pretty exhausted right now…”
“If you want, I could… um…” His voice trails off, and he looks away.
I frown. “Tell me.”
He looks back at me, his face flushing slightly. “…I could… carry you there…?”
After a moment, I shrug, hardly noticing how awkward this would be under any other circumstances. “If it means getting me to the hospital… sure.”
His eyes widen in surprise, and he blushes harder. “O-Okay…” He gets in front of me with his back turned toward me and crouches down slightly. I grip his shoulders and jump onto his back, his hands supporting my legs.
As we leave the alleyway, he asks, “Do you have your phone with you?”
Holding on to him with one hand, I reach into my pocket and take out my phone. Thankfully, it didn’t fall out or get damaged during last night’s attack. “Yes.”
“I think you should tell Akashi about what happened. Maybe he’ll know the best course of action.”
I think about it for a moment, and then, peering over Izuki’s shoulder, I type a concise text for my cousin: “Jabberwock kidnapped Shin-kun.”
Just a few seconds after I send it, Akashi replies with a single word: “Wait.”
“You got really lucky,” the doctor tells me as she finishes bandaging my injury. “The knife didn’t hit any vital organs, and it seems that the bleeding stopped relatively quickly, before you could lose a fatal amount.”
I breathe out in relief before putting my torn blouse and Izuki’s jacket back on.
“On top of that,” she continues, “it’s already healing. Just take some pain medication as needed and you’ll recover on your own in no time. But you could also have it stitched up, if you prefer.”
I shake my head and smile. “No, thank you. I’ll just take the pain meds.” I stand up and start walking to the door, having regained enough energy to move on my own since this morning. “Thank you very much.”
She smiles back. “Make sure your boyfriend takes better care of you.”
“W-Wait, what?” I never told her about Midorima. In fact, to ensure that she wouldn’t call the police, I lied and said that I tripped at my own house while holding a kitchen knife and passed out at the sight of my blood. “How did you know…?”
She chuckles. “That’s a boy’s uniform, isn’t it?”
“Oh… right. He’s, um, just a friend, actually.”
“I see.” She nods. “Well, have a speedy recovery!”
I bow. “Thank you again.” Then I return to the waiting room and find Izuki.
When he sees me, he stands up and asks, “How is it?”
“There’s nothing to worry about. It’ll heal on its own,” I explain.
He smiles. “That’s a relief.”
We then leave the hospital. “Did you figure out what Aka-kun’s text meant?” I ask as we start walking home.
“He’s probably doing something about the situation, but I can’t be sure.”
“Hopefully, he knows what he’s doing…” I pause for a moment and look up at him. “By the way, I… I want to thank you.”
“Huh?” He glances at me curiously.
“For bringing me here, and… for calming me down earlier.” I look away. “Sorry I kind of lashed out at you this morning.”
“H-Hey, don’t worry about it…” He furrows his brow. “You’re worried about Midorima. Honestly, I am, too. I can’t believe… the Jabberwocks would actually kidnap someone…!”
I return my gaze to him. “You were right, though. I have no idea where they could’ve taken him. And I can’t help him if I’m not thinking rationally.”
“Well, now that your head’s clear… what are you going to do…?”
“I’ll try to find out where they are. Then I’ll go and rescue Shin-kun myself.”
“Wait, you’re still saying that?!” He stops walking and stares at me. “Akimoto, they’re dangerous people…!”
I stop walking as well and turn around to face him. “I know that. But I also know how to use a bow.”
“Yes. I can hold my own.”
He frowns. “Still… are you sure about going alone?”
“It’s Team Vorpal Swords that they’re after, remember?” My brown gaze falls. “I don’t want to see any more of my friends get hurt.”
“What about Akashi’s text?”
“I’d trust Aka-kun with my life, but I decide what I do—not him. I’m sure Shin-kun needs me…”
After a moment, he sighs. “If you do go, then…” He’s quivering slightly when I glance at him. “…Please don’t die.”
I stare at him for a few moments, noticing the worry in his eyes. Then, almost without thinking, I step up to him and hug him. “I won’t.”
He tenses up for a moment, but then he slowly hugs me back. “I-I hope you find him…”
When I pull away, his face is red. “Izuki-san, are you okay?”
“Y-Yeah! I’m… I’m fine.” He turns away nervously and continues walking. “But, um, I’ve been thinking… if you want, you can stop using ‘san’ with me.”
He smiles. “You can just call me ‘Izuki’ or whatever. I don’t mind.”
“Oh, uh… what about ‘Izuki-kun’?”
“‘Izuki-kun’…?” He blushes again. “Th-That sounds cu—ah, good! I-It sounds good. Yeah… you’re welcome to call me that from now on.”
I raise an eyebrow, a small smile forming on my face. “What brought this on, Izuki-kun?”
“I just—I mean… well, I’m your friend, so… I want you to know you can count on me if you need anything.” He glances at me. “Are you sure you don’t need any help…? This is a serious crime we’re talking about.”
“Trust me. I’m taking this seriously. And like I said, I don’t want my friends getting hurt.”
He still has a concerned expression, but he eventually nods. “All right.”
As we approach my house, we see Takao in front of my door. “Kazu-kun!” I call out, running toward him.
He whirls around. “Rika-chan!” He hugs me in relief when I reach him. “Where’ve you—huh? What’s Izuki-san doing here…?”
“He came with me from the hospital,” I explain as I draw away.
“He… he took me there after finding me injured this morning.” I take off Izuki’s jacket and give it back to him, showing Takao the tear in my clothing and some visible bandages underneath.
Takao’s eyes widen. “What happened?!”
“It’s a long story,” I reply. “I’ll explain inside.”
Takao, Izuki, and I enter my house. The boys sit at the table while I go to get changed.
When I come back, I take a deep breath and explain to Takao that the Jabberwocks are back and angry because of the dance that our schools organized.
When I reveal that Nash stabbed me, Takao grits his teeth. “Dammit…! He’ll pay for this!”
“I’m not the one you should be worried about.” I frown. “They… they beat Shin-kun and kidnapped him…”
The hawk-eyed boy inhales sharply, his hands coming over his mouth. “No…! Tell me that’s a lie!”
I shake my head.
He trembles, clenching his fists and widening his eyes anxiously. “Those… those SHITS!”
“I’ll do something about this,” I assure him.
Takao glances at me. “What do you mean…?”
“I’ll find him and save him myself.”
He stares in disbelief. “R-Rika-chan, are you crazy?!”
“I’m serious. I don’t want to put any more friends in danger.”
“I-I get it, but how do you think I feel about this?” Takao knits his brow. “I don’t want to lose both of my best friends! Besides, you’re injured!”
I frown. “…I know,” I murmur, feeling somewhat conflicted. “But… somebody has to save him.”
Shūtoku’s point guard continues to stare worriedly for a moment before subtly elbowing Izuki beside him.
“She told me the same thing,” the older boy whispers. “I don’t think there’s any changing her mind…”
The doorbell rings.
All our gazes snap to the door.
I stand up and go to it, but I hesitate to open it. It can’t be… them… can it…?! Holding my breath, I crack the door open.
To my surprise, the first person I see is Akashi.
“Aka-kun?!” I open the door all the way and also find Kise, Aomine, Murasakibara, and Momoi standing outside. “…You told them, didn’t you…?” I guess.
The red-haired boy steps inside and wraps his arms around me, pulling me close. “We will get him back, Aki-chan,” he assures me. “You don’t have to do this alone.”
I hug him back. “How did you know I was planning to go alone?”
“Because I am always right,” he states. “Also, I am your cousin. I don’t even require Emperor Eye to be able to predict that about you.”
“Oh, shut up…”
“Let us help you.”
I draw away and notice a pleading look in his red eyes. After a few seconds, I sigh in defeat and lead everyone inside.
Takao and Izuki widen their eyes as the others enter the living room with me. “What’s everyone doing here?” Izuki asks.
“Apparently, these five want to help me rescue Shin-kun,” I explain.
“Uh, Rika-chan? There are seven people behind you…” Takao points out.
“Eh?” I turn around and realize that Kuroko and Mayuzumi are also here. “…Oh.”
“Are you two also going on this rescue mission?” Akashi asks the two boys already at my table.
“Rika-chan didn’t want us to,” Takao answers, “but… I guess you changed her mind?”
Akashi nods before looking at me. “May we all sit down?”
“Of course,” I reply.
Everyone takes a seat around the table. Akashi sits beside me where Midorima normally would. “Please enlighten everyone, Aki-chan.”
I explain the situation, detailing everything except for my injury. I don’t need Akashi worrying about me right now.
“So… th-they want to destroy us…?!” Kise asks.
“It seems we all understand,” my cousin says with a nod. “By kidnapping Midorima last night, they expect the rest of us to go to them. I wouldn’t be surprised if their goal is to force us to watch one another suffer at their hands.”
“They just don’t know when to quit, do they?” Aomine hisses.
“I have already discovered their whereabouts,” Akashi continues.
I perk up immediately. “Where?!”
Akashi holds up his phone. On the screen is a map and a pinned location. “Thanks to Midorima’s phone, we now know that he’s being kept in an abandoned warehouse. I propose that we strike after sunset.”
“How do you know Shin-kun has that much time?”
Akashi frowns. “I don’t, but this is no mere basketball game. This is undoubtedly going to turn into a fight. If we go unprepared, we will be no better off than Midorima. We need at least a little time to train for actual, real-life combat.”
I grit my teeth worriedly. “I’m telling you, I can go alone. I already know how to use a bow, so I don’t have to wait.”
“But you’ve never had to use it as a weapon against a living person,” Akashi points out. “Besides, if you show up alone, without us Vorpal Swords… the Jabberwocks might kill Midorima.”
My eyes widen. This was the same exact reasoning I had for refusing to call the police, but I never considered the fact that I myself am not actually on the team.
Akashi places a hand on mine. “Please trust me. I wouldn’t have come here with all these people otherwise.”
“Midorimacchi is our friend, too,” Kise points out.
“We’ll show those bastards what happens when they hurt our teammate,” Aomine adds.
“We’ve crushed them before. We’ll crush them again,” Murasakibara says.
“We will win for good this time,” Kuroko promises.
I look around, realizing that they’re serious. A small but grateful smile forms on my face. “Guys…”
Akashi takes a deep breath. “Again, forget about the rules of basketball that you all are so familiar with. Injuries and… even death… are possible. We are facing true criminals now. If anyone wishes to remain behind, feel free to do so. We will not think any less of you.”
“There’s no way I won’t risk my life for Shin-chan,” Takao says.
“I’ll help in any way I can, too,” Izuki adds.
Nobody that came with Akashi objects to going on the rescue mission.
My cousin looks around. “Let’s review everybody’s skills and ensure that they can be used outside of basketball. First of all, Murasakibara has strength, Aomine has agility, and Kise has Perfect Copy. There is no question about you three.”
Aomine grins slyly. “I’ve had my fair share of fights.”
Murasakibara adds, “I won’t hold back.”
Kise nods. “And I’ll use what I learned from the martial arts videos I was watching before coming here.”
“Remember that we are only to subdue them, though. We do not want to kill them and become criminals ourselves unless it becomes absolutely necessary to protect ourselves.” Akashi shifts his red gaze to me. “Naturally, Aki-chan will use a bow. I’ll give you some tranquilizer arrows to use.”
I blink. “You have such a thing…?”
“…Please don’t question it. Just know that they’re potent and should be able to immediately render someone unconscious.”
“O-Okay… but I’ll bring a few regular arrows as a last resort.”
My cousin nods. “You four, plus myself, will be the primary fighters.”
I raise an eyebrow. “Isn’t your ability Emperor Eye?”
“Yes, but I also have these.” Akashi lifts up a pair of scissors. “I learned a bit from… him.”
The Rakuzan captain proceeds to glance at Kuroko and Mayuzumi. “Can you two misdirect them?”
The boys nod. “They’ll never see us coming,” Mayuzumi says.
“We’ll distract and confuse them for as long as we can,” Kuroko adds.
“Um…” I raise my hand slowly. “Just out of curiosity, why both of them? I get that Kuroko-kun is Shin-kun’s friend, but Mayuzumi-san…?”
“If Kuroko’s misdirection fails him, he won’t stand much of a chance against them by himself,” Mayuzumi points out.
“Sadly, I have to agree.” Kuroko flexes. “Look at these guns.”
Kise sweatdrops. “Now isn’t really the time for that joke, Kurokocchi…”
“It’s true, though…” Kuroko retorts.
Akashi turns to Takao and Izuki. “You two can make use of your excellent fields of vision, I presume.”
“It isn’t called Hawk Eye for nothing,” Takao states confidently.
“Two bird’s-eye views are better than one,” Izuki says.
Finally, Akashi looks at Momoi. “Momoi will act as technical support and communicate with us from a distance. As a manager, I believe she has had appropriate experience assisting her team from the outside.”
Momoi lays a small stack of papers on the table. “I did some research on hostage situations and tried to combine my findings with what I know about the Jabberwocks.” She glances down. “I’m not sure if this will be of any help, though… since I’ve never had to analyze or predict data outside of a basketball game…”
Akashi skims through the papers. “You’ve done well,” he praises the manager. “This may help to quicken the mission and to reduce the number of injuries we sustain.”
Momoi looks back up and stares in surprise for a moment before smiling and nodding.
I look at each person in turn, impressed with the team that’s going to help me rescue Midorima. I stand up and go to retrieve a bow. “Let’s get started,” I tell everyone.
I take everyone to the archery range since it’s an open space with enough room for everyone to train and the only place where I can hone my archery skills. Fortunately, nobody else is using it right now.
“Kise, Aomine, and Murasakibara, spar one another for a little while since you three will be on the front line,” Akashi tells the other Miracles. “But be careful not to overwork yourselves.”
The three boys nod and get to work.
My cousin turns to Momoi. “Do you have all of the necessary equipment?”
“I have a laptop, but I’ll need to buy earpieces for everyone.”
“I will go with you to the store shortly so that you can purchase those.” Akashi glances at me. “How do you believe the remaining four should train?”
The boys in question glance at me, awaiting a response.
I consider their abilities for several moments. “…Perhaps misdirection can be combined with a bird’s-eye view for a sneak attack. Izuki-kun or Kazu-kun can determine when an enemy is vulnerable. Then a signal can be given to Kuroko-kun or Mayuzumi-san to strike—and since those two are good at observing people, the signal could probably be subtle so that no one else sees it. After they attack, it would probably be nearly impossible to counter either of them given their weak presences.” I look at the boys. “So, work on coordinating with one another.”
Akashi smiles. “That is quite a clever tactic. You’d make a fine point guard,” he praises me.
I smile back. “You’re still far superior when it comes to leading and giving orders, so I’ll leave that part to you,” I tell him. “As for me…” I nock an arrow.
But the second I start pulling it back, I feel a pain in my side and wince.
My cousin notices my expression. “Aki-chan…?”
“It’s nothing,” I hiss. Slowly, I continue to draw the bowstring, aiming at the target several yards away. Then I release the arrow, and it hits the middle of the target. When I look back, I see that Izuki, Kuroko, Mayuzumi, Momoi, and the sparring Miracles are frozen and staring in awe. Takao grins, being already familiar with my archery prowess.
“…Do you mind if I try?” my cousin asks.
“Huh? You want to try shooting an arrow?” I ask.
Akashi shakes his head, holding up his scissors.
I step aside, and then Akashi faces the target and aims the scissors. After a moment, he brings his hand back by his head. Then his hand shoots forward, and the scissors leave his fingers and pierce the target right next to the arrow I shot.
Everyone gapes in surprise. Akashi retrieves the scissors and walks back to me, placing a hand on my shoulder and guiding me several feet away from everyone else. “So… what are you hiding?” he asks in a whisper.
“Wh-What do you mean…?”
“Your arrow was slightly off-center. I know you’re better than that. Don’t lie to me.”
He “practiced” his aim just to check on that?! Dammit… I sigh, deciding I should tell him the truth now. “When the Jabberwocks ambushed us last night… Nash injured me.”
His eyes widen. “He beat you, too…?!”
“No, he… he cut me… with a knife.”
He stares in horror and clenches his teeth, clearly even more furious at the Jabberwocks now.
“It’s fine. Don’t worry about me.” I turn away to go back to training.
But Akashi grips my wrist. “You can’t tell me that and expect me not to worry…!”
“It isn’t that bad…!” I keep my voice low. “It doesn’t hurt that much, okay?”
“That doesn’t change the fact that you’re wounded…!” His brow creases. “If it’s affecting your archery skills… you should probably stay here.”
“I can’t bear the thought of seeing you get hurt…!”
I stare at him, my expression softening slightly.
“I promise… we’ll do what we can to rescue Midorima for you,” he continues.
I frown. “He’s my boyfriend. I’m not going to abandon him.”
“If I were in his position, you’d do the same for me, no matter what.” I place my other hand on his. “I’m going tonight. I’ll just take some painkillers before we leave.”
“…Just…” His gaze falls. “Promise me you’ll be careful.”
“I’ll be fine.”
He sighs and nods reluctantly, and then we return to the others.
Akashi motions for the pink-haired manager to follow him. “Momoi and I will be back in a few minutes,” he tells the rest of us before turning to Takao. “May I borrow your cart?”
“Huh?” Takao blinks. “Uh, y-yeah, sure.”
“Thank you. Keep up the good work, everyone.”
We all smile and nod while Akashi and Momoi head to a nearby store with Takao’s rickshaw.
We continue to train, and Akashi and Momoi return in a short while. In the cart are a training dummy, a punching bag, several white t-shirts, a bottle of red paint, Momoi’s laptop, a portable WiFi device, and a set of earpieces that are presumably for all of us.
“These will make it easier to gauge how well we are improving our fighting skills,” Akashi explains, pointing at the equipment that he brought before turning to me. “Will you spar with me for a few minutes?”
My brown eyes widen. “But I… I’ll just be using my bow, won’t I?”
He gives me a subtle, concerned look. “There is no guarantee that you will always be able to shoot from a distance. I would like to make sure that you are able to hold your own at close range.” He glances at the others. “Will the rest of you set up the dummy and the punching bag?”
As some of the boys start setting up the equipment, Akashi covers the blades on his scissors with a plastic case, and then dips the scissors in the bottle of paint. Afterward, he asks me for several arrows so that he can put plastic tips on them and dip them in the paint.
Akashi then returns the arrows to me and gives me a white t-shirt to wear over my normal clothes. After putting on an extra shirt himself, he stands several feet in front of me, tensing for our sparring match and eyeing me carefully.
I can feel everyone’s eyes on us.
My hand is ready to pull out an arrow from the quiver by my hip. Neither Akashi nor I move for a few seconds.
Then I whip out an arrow and lunge.
Before I know it, my cousin has sidestepped to dodge my attack.
The moment I turn to face him again, he jabs my chest with the scissors, leaving a spot of paint where the covered weapon hit. “…You’re dead,” Akashi says with a disappointed frown.
I sigh, knowing that in a real fight, I would’ve just been stabbed through the heart.
“Try again,” my cousin says, stepping away and bracing himself for my next attack.
I grit my teeth and rush at him a second time. When he evades me, I step away, correctly anticipating his counterattack so that his scissors end up stabbing only the air. I attempt to hit his outstretched arm, but he pulls back immediately so that I miss.
“It isn’t exactly fair that you can see the future,” I mumble.
“I’m not having to.” Akashi gives me a worried look. “Do not be afraid of hurting me. I covered our weapons to prevent actual injuries.” Then he approaches and whispers into my ear, “If it means saving Midorima tonight, and if you are absolutely certain that your wound will not hinder you… then you should try your hardest and do whatever it takes to prepare for the rescue.”
I inhale sharply when I hear Midorima’s name, and I realize that Akashi is right. My boyfriend’s life could very well depend on mine.
As Akashi steps away, I close my eyes and take a deep breath, recalling the movements that Midorima taught me yesterday when we were playing streetball and thinking about how I can possibly incorporate them in combat.
Then I open my eyes again.
I leap toward Akashi’s left while holding my arrow in my right hand. I pull my arm back, appearing as if I’m going to thrust it forward. Akashi steps to his right.
So do I.
At the same time, my right hand brings the arrow to my left hand—almost as if I were performing a crossover with a basketball. Then I slash at my cousin with the arrow pointing outward, leaving a long splash of paint across his torso.
A satisfied smile forms on my face as well as on Akashi’s.
Midorima groggily opens his green eyes. Where… am I…?
He tries to move, only to find that he can’t. Confused, he looks down and discovers that he’s tied with rope to the chair he’s seated in. His wrists are bound together behind the chair, and his ankles are likewise tied to the chair’s legs. He also realizes that he’s extremely sore.
His eyes widen in horror as memories of the previous night rush back to him. “Shit…!” He tries unsuccessfully to slide his hands and feet out of the rope.
“Looks like the monkey’s awake…” a voice hisses.
Midorima jolts at the voice. He looks up, and although he can’t see the other person too clearly, he knows that it’s Nash.
“WHERE’S RIKA?!” he then snarls.
“Don’t you remember?” Nash holds up a knife.
Midorima’s heart skips a beat as he remembers his girlfriend’s ear-splitting screams and the sight of her blood spilling as Nash slowly and painfully cut her.
“That’s right,” the Jabberwock sneers, putting the knife away. “I killed her.”
“No…!” Midorima can’t bring himself to believe those words. “She… she tried to call my name…! She has to be alive!”
Nash scoffs. “You watched me stab her, dumbass.”
“She isn’t that weak!” Midorima clenches his teeth, his hope coming solely from the fact that his girlfriend was able to survive a gunshot wound last year. “She wouldn’t have died at the hands of scum like you!”
“Oh, but she did.” Nash smirks. “I made sure of it—after we beat the hell out of you.”
Midorima’s heart begins to race faster. “What are you talking about…?!”
“It’s too bad you didn’t get to hear her screaming your name as I finished her off.”
“WHAT DID YOU DO?!”
“I left her to drown in a pool of her own blood after I… sliced her up.”
Midorima’s expression twists into one of horror. “N-No…! NO!”
“Even you wouldn’t have been able to recognize her by the time I was done with her.”
“SH-SHUT UP!” Tears start streaming down Midorima’s face. “YOU’RE LYING!”
“You wish! She’s dead!”
“NO!” Midorima hangs his head and cries, his heart having shattered. All his thoughts become a blur, and the only thing he wants is to see his beloved again.
“Man, she’ll probably hate you when you catch up with her in the afterlife,” Nash taunts. “Her own lover boy couldn’t even save her…”
Then Midorima snaps.
“YOU SON OF A BITCH!” He attempts to lunge forward and break free from the rope again, his eyes burning with rage toward the Jabberwocks.
Nash suddenly kicks his upper body, causing him to fall backward.
Midorima cries out in pain as his hands become trapped under the chair and his own weight.
He tries desperately to roll to one side to free his hands, not realizing at first that Silver has appeared beside Nash.
As soon as Midorima does take notice of Silver, the massive Jabberwock player jumps and stomps down hard on the captive with both feet.
Midorima lets out a horribly long scream as his hands are crushed beneath him.
“Ooh, that might leave some permanent damage,” Nash murmurs with a tone of sarcastic pity.
Silver steps away so that Nash can stand the chair back up, Midorima still writhing in agony. “The other monkeys will come for you,” Nash hisses. “When they do, we’ll make sure they see you at your lowest!”
Midorima strains to open his eyes as tears sting them. The first thing he sees is a fist rapidly coming toward his face.
Chapter 14: RIMFIRE
We’ve spent the whole afternoon training for combat and studying Momoi’s projections.
The sun set some time ago. We walk silently under the stars, Akashi leading us to Midorima’s location and Takao bringing his rickshaw. My cousin has his scissors, and I have my bow and arrows. Everyone is wearing an earpiece so that we can communicate with one another.
Akashi stops us once the abandoned warehouse is in sight. “Momoi, you will remain here,” he orders in a whisper.
The manager nods. She begins to set up her laptop in the cart, and the rest of us wait to make sure that the equipment is working properly.
“I’m in,” Momoi soon says.
Akashi turns to Takao and Izuki. “You know what to do.”
The boys nod and begin to approach the building cautiously, remaining alert for any signs of Team Jabberwock. Kuroko and Mayuzumi follow them.
“I’m getting readings from the second floor,” Momoi informs us. “That’s probably where they’re holding Midorin captive…”
I shift my gaze to the building. Hang in there, Shin-kun…
Takao, Izuki, Kuroko, and Mayuzumi have made it to the door. The hawk-eyed male silently waves, signaling to the rest of us that it’s safe to approach.
“Good luck, everyone,” Momoi says. “I’ll help you as much as I can.”
The rest of us nod and stealthily run to the door.
Slowly, we enter the warehouse. I remain toward the back of the group, since I fight most effectively from a distance. Akashi, Takao, and Izuki, on the other hand, act as our eyes and lead the way.
“Have you encountered anyone on the first floor yet?” Momoi asks us through our earpieces.
“Negative,” Akashi whispers in reply.
“Good. That’s what I’m seeing as well. The whole first floor looks clear.”
“It’s no surprise,” I murmur. “They want us to go to them, so they aren’t going to have anyone stand guard to keep us away.”
We make our way to the only staircase in the building.
“I’ve pinpointed their exact locations on the second floor,” Momoi tells us. “Once you get up there, you’ll find them all gathered on the other side of the room.”
“Of course… they’re expecting our arrival,” Akashi sighs quietly. “They don’t plan to let us reach Midorima, so they are all guarding him.”
“Since they already know we’re coming, the only ones who really have a chance of sneaking up on them are Kuroko-kun and Mayuzumi-san,” I infer.
Kuroko and Mayuzumi nod, understanding what they will have to do.
“Once we go up these stairs, there will be no turning back,” Akashi reminds us.
I tighten my grip on my bow. “I’m more than ready to save him.”
The room is dark. Only a little moonlight streams into the building. Midorima didn’t realize until now that the Jabberwocks have held him captive and tormented him for an entire day.
He can’t bring himself to care. He’s too weak and brokenhearted to think about anything other than his wish for the pain to end…
Then he hears a door swing open and the footsteps of several people rushing into the room from the other side.
“JABBERWOCK!” a familiar male voice shouts.
With effort, Midorima lifts his head and opens his eyes. “A-Akashi…?” he calls out weakly. But he can’t tell for sure as the Jabberwocks are blocking his view.
Then one of them yelps and collapses.
Midorima’s green gaze flickers down to the fallen American in confusion, and he notices what looks like an arrow sticking out of the victim’s chest.
His eyes widen. Could it be…?!
He jolts up, my voice returning the life to his eyes. “Rika…?!”
“Come and get him, monkeys!” Silver taunts.
I fit another arrow against the bowstring, immediately aiming it at Silver and releasing. But my target is able to deflect the arrow with his bare hands before running toward us.
Gritting my teeth, I reach for another arrow, but Akashi moves his arm in front of me. “Leave him to those two,” he tells me, pointing out that Kise and Murasakibara are darting toward Silver to take him on. “You and I should focus on rescuing Midorima.”
I nod, my gaze flickering warily.
Another Jabberwock is rushing toward us. Aomine gets in his way while Akashi grabs my hand so that we can run toward the other side of the room.
The enemy smirks, ready to swing a fist at the dark-blue-haired boy. Unbeknownst to the Jabberwock, Izuki has given a signal. Kuroko suddenly appears, diving from behind and grabbing the Jabberwock player’s ankles to trip him. As the American falls forward, Aomine uppercuts him, knocking him out.
“Nice work, Tetsu!” the Tōō player says, giving Kuroko a fist bump before going to help Kise and Murasakibara keep Silver at bay.
Akashi and I make it about halfway across the room.
“Rika-chan, on your right!” Takao warns me through my earpiece as he keeps watch by the door.
My cousin and I turn our heads and see another Jabberwock coming toward us.
I leap backward to avoid the opponent’s attack before stepping forward and jabbing his chest with a tranquilizer arrow, knocking him out instantly. I then continue to run toward Midorima with Akashi.
“You damn monkeys!” Silver bellows when he sees Akashi and me getting closer to Midorima. The Jabberwock center moves to stop us, but Kise and Aomine block his way. Murasakibara then jumps and brings his fist down on Silver’s head from behind, knocking him out.
“A-Akimoto, stop!” Izuki suddenly calls out.
Akashi and I freeze, realizing that Nash has grabbed Midorima by his hair and is now holding a metallic blade to his throat.
Takao sees this from across the room, and his eyes widen in terror. “SHIN-CHAN!”
I feel my stomach flip. The knife…! Memories of the excruciating pain that I felt last night are flooding back. My body starts shaking, and I’m tempted to flee.
Akashi glances at me in alarm. “Aki-chan…?!”
“Midorimacchi!” Kise shouts as he and the others catch up with Akashi and me.
“Come any closer and he’s dead!” Nash threatens.
I realize that Midorima is still in trouble and try to shake off the nightmarish memories. “L-Let him go, you asshole!” I yell, my hand ready to get an arrow from my quiver.
“Be careful not to provoke him!” Akashi warns me, his gaze flickering back to Nash.
“I didn’t think you’d eliminate the others so quickly,” Nash mutters, “but it doesn’t matter. I have you all exactly where I want you to be!”
In an instant, he lowers the knife and slashes Midorima’s leg, right above his knee. The cut is shallow and not fatal, but long and painful enough to make the captive cry out.
I almost scream in terror, but Akashi covers my mouth with his hand. “What do you want from us?” my cousin asks assertively but as calmly as possible.
“Nothing you do will end his suffering,” Nash growls. “Just stay right where you are and watch as—”
Mayuzumi appears and punches Nash’s face.
“Now!” Takao and Izuki yell.
Kise and Aomine sprint forward to subdue Nash. Akashi and I finally reach Midorima, and I notice that my boyfriend’s face is tear-streaked as well as covered with cuts, bruises, and blood. In fact, any exposed skin looks just as wounded.
“R-Rika…!” Midorima chokes out.
I tremble in shock and feel tears forming in my own eyes. “Shin-kun… what’ve they done to you…?”
“We’re getting you out of here, Midorima,” Akashi assures him, opening his scissors and, using one of the blades, immediately starting to slice the rope around Midorima’s torso.
Aomine has punched Nash’s face, and the Jabberwock captain is now lying still on the floor. The Tōō student hands me Nash’s knife before he, Kise, and Mayuzumi rejoin the rest of the team a few feet away.
I move around Midorima to cut the rope binding his wrists. But when I see his crippled, bloody hands, I become petrified for a moment. Will he never be able to play basketball again…?!
I push this thought to the back of my head. Right now, my priority is freeing him.
I cut the bonds around Midorima’s wrists and then move on to the rope around his ankles.
Finally, Akashi and I free Midorima. Immediately afterward, my boyfriend wraps his arms around me, being careful not to use his hands, and pulls me down onto his lap to embrace me.
I drop the knife and stop holding my tears back, letting them stream down my face as I hug him back. “Shin-kun, I… I’m sorry we couldn’t… make it sooner…!” I sob.
“I’m just glad to see you… all of you… again…” he murmurs, also crying. “I… I thought you were dead, Rika…!”
“You thought what…?!”
“N-Nash said… he s-sliced you up…!”
“And you believed that lying son of a bitch?”
“I… I didn’t want to, but he—d-didn’t he stab you…?!”
“Idiot, I’m not that weak…!” I draw away to kiss his forehead. “Come on… let’s get out of here.”
Akashi hands me his white t-shirt. “Keep this pressed against the wound on his leg.”
I nod, doing as he says.
“Akimoto…” Izuki approaches, handing me the glasses that he was holding on to for safekeeping.
I nod to thank the eagle-eyed boy and take the glasses, carefully putting them on Midorima’s face.
He smiles now that he can finally see everyone clearly despite the cracks. “Thank you…”
Akashi and I then help Midorima stand up, letting him rest each arm on our shoulders. I keep my cousin’s spare shirt pressed against the cut, and Midorima avoids putting weight on his injured leg.
Everyone else smiles in relief and turns to head back to the door.
“Momoi, we have Midorima,” Akashi says into the earpiece with a smile. “Call the police now.”
“Roger! Just give me a second,” Momoi replies.
Takao glances backward, simply wanting to see his teammate again.
But something catches his Hawk Eye, and a look of terror appears on his face. “LOOK OUT!” he shrieks.
Everyone whirls around, including Midorima, Akashi, and myself. Then everyone’s eyes widen in horror when they see what Takao saw.
Nash has gotten back up and is lunging with the knife toward the nearest person: Akashi.
“AKA-KUN!” I instinctively reach for an arrow and step around Midorima to protect my cousin. But at the same time, Akashi dives to one side.
Now I’m in the knife’s path.
“AKI-CHAN, NO!” Akashi cries out.
“What’s happening?!” Momoi hears the commotion through our earpieces.
I can stop him. I begin to draw the bowstring.
But I do so too suddenly, and my injury starts acting up. I yelp and clench my teeth as my body tenses up, and last night’s horrible memories immediately come back again, hitting me like a train.
The arrow is still aimed at the floor. I can’t even lift up my bow.
I’m frozen in fear. I can’t stop him…!
He’s too close. I don’t have time to step away.
I brace for the pain…
Somebody shoves me away. I skid across the floor for a second before looking up somewhat dizzily.
Everyone has horrified expressions.
When my brown gaze shifts to Midorima, I feel my blood turn cold.
The whole blade is in his left side.
Nash stares for a moment, seemingly shocked that the green-haired male took the blow. Then he rapidly pulls the knife out, and blood spills from the wound.
Midorima crumples to the floor and screams.
“YOU FUCKER!” Aomine roars as he and Kise dash toward the Jabberwock captain again. At the same time, I whip out a regular arrow, my blood now boiling.
Nash prepares to swing the knife at the two boys, but Kuroko appears and swats the knife out of Nash’s hand. While Nash is distracted, I release the arrow, and it pierces his upper arm. He cries out in shock and pain, and Kise and Aomine each land a punch, causing Nash to stumble backward. Akashi then hurls his scissors, and they snag Nash’s shirt right above his shoulder, pinning him to the wall. Murasakibara delivers a blow with his fist to Nash’s head, finally knocking him out.
Breathing heavily, I realize that I’m clutching my bow so hard that my knuckles have turned white. My gaze returns to Midorima, who has managed to sit up with his back against the wall. His eyes are closed, and he’s gasping for breath.
I drop my bow and rush to his side, kneeling beside him. “Shin-kun…!”
Everyone else gathers around us anxiously.
Midorima opens his eyes and looks at me. “Rika…”
My gaze travels down to the stab wound in Midorima’s side. Into my earpiece, I frantically begin to say, “Momoi-chan, call an—”
“R-Rika—” Midorima interrupts me, coughing a few times. “…Don’t.”
“Wh-What do you mean?! J-Just… keep pressure on it until we can get an ambulance!”
“You need an ambulance?!” Momoi asks.
Akashi clenches his fists by his sides, wanting so desperately to support his cousin’s plea. But… he has already lost a lot of blood…!
“Rika…” With his forearm, Midorima gently pulls my head toward his until our foreheads touch. “I… I am glad to have fallen in love with a girl like you…”
“Huh…?!” My eyes widen, and I pull away in shock. “D-Don’t say that like this is goodbye…!”
“Shin-chan…?!” Takao kneels beside us.
Midorima shifts his green gaze to the hawk-eyed boy. “Takao… thank the team for me. Fight hard… and win…”
Takao quivers as tears form in his eyes. “But… I-I… I don’t want to win if… you aren’t there by my side…!”
Tears well up in my own eyes after I hear Takao’s words.
“M-Midorima…” Akashi murmurs, standing behind me. “Y-You… you promised you would look after Aki-chan for me…”
Midorima looks up at my cousin. “I… I tried, Akashi… I’m sorry… I can no longer…”
Akashi shuts his eyes, trembling as he tries to hold in his tears. “I’m not angry at you…! Just…” His red eyes fly open. “DON’T YOU DARE DIE ON US, MIDORIMA!”
Tears have started rolling down my face. “We came all this way for you…! You can’t give up now! We all… we all need you…!”
“And for that… I’m grateful.” Midorima smiles weakly. “Everyone… thank you… for everything…”
At this point, everyone is struggling to hold back tears.
Midorima then looks into my eyes. “…I love you, Rika Akimoto…”
I inhale sharply. “Shin-kun…?!”
He pulls my head toward his again and gently presses his lips against mine.
…I love you too, Shintarō Midorima…! I shut my eyes as I melt into the kiss. I don’t want this moment to end…
But it does.
Midorima’s arm flops to the floor, and his lips relax. While I open my eyes, his remain closed.
“Shin-kun…?” My voice is barely audible.
Midorima doesn’t respond.
I grit my teeth. “Th-This isn’t funny, dammit…! Say something! Shin-kun…?! SHIN-KUN?!”
“N-No…!” Takao’s hands come over his mouth. “This isn’t real…! THIS CAN’T BE REAL!”
I realize that Midorima is completely still. He isn’t even breathing.
No part of me wants to accept what I’m seeing, but it’s the horrifying truth.
I collapse onto his chest and burst into tears, unable to restrain myself any longer. “SHIN-KUN!”
The laptop is displaying one less life form than there should be. Momoi stares at the screen in horror for a moment.
Then she, too, bursts into tears.
…Shin-kun… you had so much to live for…! Why…? Why did this have to happen…?! It should be me… sitting where you are now…!
My eyes fly open for a moment, tears continuing to stream from them.
YOU DIDN’T DESERVE TO DIE!
My vision seems to turn black as I resume crying into Midorima’s shirt.
First, my mother, and then my… “brother”… and now you…?! How could you do this to us…? To Aki-chan…?! To me?! Akashi hangs his head, his eyes tightly shut as he continues to weep. But I know… you aren’t at fault here. The only one to blame is…
He opens his eyes, a raging fury now in them, and snaps his gaze to Nash.
He approaches the unconscious killer, wrath flowing through his veins, and stoops to pick up the bloody knife from the floor. Clenching his teeth, he kneels beside Nash and slowly brings the weapon above his head, the tip of the blade pointed toward Nash’s chest.
…I said to only kill in self-defense…! He winces as he recalls this, his hand trembling with uncertainty. Why am I doing this…? Is… is HE returning…?! His eyes widen for a moment as he considers the possibility, but then he realizes, No… this is my own choice. This vile, disgusting murderer… His grip on the knife tightens as he steels himself. He doesn’t deserve to live…!
Akashi plunges the knife…
But he stops just as it gets below his eye level—he saw something glint off the blade.
Confused, he turns around.
A reddish light has begun to radiate faintly from his cousin’s fallen tears. Slowly, the light is spreading across Midorima’s body.
Akashi stands back up. What is this…?
Takao notices the light as well. He opens his eyes slightly, just as confused as Akashi. His blue gaze follows the light, and then his eyes widen.
Part of the light has stopped on the stab wound, enveloping it entirely. Gradually, this sliver of light shrinks, and after it vanishes completely, Takao’s jaw drops.
The wound has disappeared as well.
Everyone else has taken notice of this phenomenon and is staring in wonder, tears still glistening in each person’s eyes. The same thing is happening to Midorima’s other injuries, including his whole hands and the slash on his leg.
In the meantime, a ray of golden light from the rising sun streams inside.
In a matter of moments, the reddish glow fades away, and there isn’t a single scratch on Midorima’s body.
“G-Guys…” Momoi says through everyone’s earpieces. “My laptop is picking up… another living person…!”
Then Midorima’s hand twitches.
Akashi gasps when he notices the subtle movement. “M-Midorima…?!”
Takao raises his eyebrows, a dim sense of hope growing within him.
Then, slowly but surely, Midorima’s eyes open.
Everyone gapes in astonishment.
“Shin-chan…!” Takao breathes out.
“No way…!” Kise murmurs.
“It’s a miracle…!” Izuki says.
“I-Is Midorin…?!” Momoi begins to ask.
Midorima notices my crying form leaning against him. He gently places one of his healed hands on my back, startling me out of the darkness I felt surrounded in just a moment ago. I lift my head, and my eyes meet his.
For a second, I lose my breath. I can’t believe what I’m seeing. “Sh-Shin-kun…?! Y-You’re… you’re alive?!”
“I…” For a moment, a surprised expression appears on Midorima’s face. Then he smiles softly. “O-Of course I am… idiot.”
I grin in relief and delight, throwing my arms around Midorima. As I bury my face in his neck and cry tears of joy, I feel him hugging me back tightly.
“Shin-chan!” Takao cries out happily, leaning forward to embrace his friend. But Midorima jokingly pushes him away before he can do so.
“O-Only Rika is allowed to hug me, nanodayo!” my boyfriend says, making Takao and me laugh.
“How?!” Aomine asks in shock, wiping away his tears. “Y-You were—j-just a few seconds ago, you…!”
“Is it because of that light…?!” Murasakibara wonders aloud.
“Huh? What light…?” I ask, pulling away and turning to look at everyone.
Suddenly, everyone is gawking at me.
“Uh… what’s everyone looking at…?” I ask.
“Your eyes, Akimoto-san…” Kuroko says. “They’re red.”
I thrust my head back. “O-Oi, I’m not the only one who’s been crying here!”
“That isn’t what he means,” Mayuzumi explains. “They’re red… like Akashi’s.”
I blink. “Wh-What…?!”
“You actually look like his cousin now!” Aomine comments.
Akashi’s eyes widen as he seemingly realizes something. “Midorima… did you experience anything just now… before waking up?”
Midorima thinks for a moment. “…For a while, I was floating… in perpetual darkness,” he begins to explain. “Then… a reddish light began glowing above me. I reached out for it, and… a large bird appeared. Its feathers were on fire. It glided down to me and enveloped me in its wings, but… the flames didn’t burn me. They felt warm, and… then I could feel my life returning to me. I think…” He looks at me. “That bird… it was you, Rika.”
Akashi processes the story for a moment. “I believe I understand now,” he then says. “Just as I awakened Emperor Eye to protect my pride… Aki-chan awakened Phoenix Eye to protect her beloved.”
“Phoenix Eye?” Takao repeats.
“Even I have never seen anything like it,” Akashi continues. “But, just like the mythological bird, Aki-chan is now capable of shedding tears that can heal even the most life-threatening wounds. I can think of no better name for it.” He smiles. “Her eyes could very well be the most powerful ones in existence, surpassing Izuki-san’s, Takao’s, and even mine in terms of ability.”
For a few moments, I’m speechlessly amazed at myself.
“Rika…” Midorima says.
I turn to look at him, and I find that a genuine smile has crossed his face. “Thank you…” he murmurs, nuzzling his forehead against mine.
“I’m so happy you’re okay…!” I answer, snuggling against him.
Akashi smiles as he watches us. “Come. It’s time to return home,” he says.
Midorima and I look at him and nod before standing up together along with Takao.
Everyone else huddles around us, overjoyed that Midorima is alive.
“Don’t scare us like that again, Midorimacchi!” Kise says while grinning through his remaining tears.
“If you do, I’ll crush you myself~” Murasakibara teases, wiping his tears away.
“We haven’t even had our dance-off yet,” Aomine reminds Midorima as he sheds a few tears of happiness.
“It’s great to have you back, Midorima-kun,” Kuroko adds with a tearful smile.
Midorima nods and smiles back. “It is great to be back, nanodayo.”
The Jabberwocks were arrested and sent back to America—Momoi’s laptop, Midorima’s torn and bloody clothes, the traces of blood at the warehouse, and a begrudging demonstration of my healing tears on the Jabberwocks sufficed as proof of what went down last night.
The police also gave Midorima a warm blanket to wrap himself in before we left.
On the way back to my house, we stop by a restaurant so that everyone, especially Midorima, can get something to eat.
Afterward, all eleven of us make it back to my house to relax for a little while after a hard night’s work. Midorima removes his glasses and falls asleep instantly on one of the sofas. I smile at his sleeping form, unable to blame him.
I look around and see that everyone is tired. Some people are yawning, while others are rubbing their eyes. Takao nearly falls asleep standing up.
“You all are welcome to rest here,” I murmur so as not to wake Midorima. “I owe you guys for helping me rescue him.”
Everyone smiles and nods gratefully.
I leave the room to get some more blankets and pillows, which I lay on the floor and remaining sofas when I return. “Someone can sleep in my bed,” I add. “I’ll just share the sofa with Shin-kun.”
“Why don’t you decide the sleeping arrangements?” Akashi suggests.
“Huh? But… that would be unfairly biased, I think…” I answer with a nervous chuckle.
“It’s all right with us,” Kuroko assures me. “We are the guests here, after all.”
I smile. “In that case, Aka-kun gets the bed.”
Akashi smiles. “Thank you, Aki-chan,” he says, heading to my bedroom.
I turn to Takao. “You can pick one of the two sofas that are left.”
He smiles and nods. “Thanks, Rika-chan~” He walks over to one of the sofas and lies down.
I shift my gaze to the remaining people. “U-Um…” I murmur, realizing that I’m not exactly that close to anyone else compared to the three who already have places to sleep. I try to think for a moment about what each person contributed yesterday.
My mind lingers on one person. “Izuki-kun…”
He perks up when I call his name. “Y-Yes?”
“Since you helped me recover from the shock when I woke up… you can sleep on the last sofa,” I offer with a smile.
Izuki smiles back, his face flushing. “Thanks, Akimoto.”
Everyone else picks a spot on the floor to sleep on.
I then tuck myself in under Midorima’s blanket. My boyfriend opens his eyes and smiles at me.
“Sorry, did I wake you…?” I ask.
“You have nothing to apologize for, nanodayo.” He wraps an arm around me and pulls me close to cuddle me, closing his eyes again and tucking my head under his chin. Smiling, I nestle against his chest and close my own eyes, unaware that Izuki is enviously watching us.
The eagle-eyed boy sighs quietly before climbing onto the sofa and beginning to pull the blanket over himself.
Izuki jumps at Kuroko’s soft voice. Whirling his head around to look at the light-blue-haired boy, the third-year frantically puts a finger to his lips.
Kuroko stares blankly.
“I-I know…” Izuki then whispers in reply.
His teammate nods and leaves.
I should be happy for her, Izuki tells himself as he lies down and closes his eyes.
Soon, everybody is sleeping peacefully.
“Akicchi! We’re gonna head home now-ssu~” Kise says as he, Aomine, and Murasakibara head toward the door.
“Huh?” I glance at him. “‘Akicchi’…?”
Akashi comes up to me and smiles. “When he calls you that, that’s when you know you’ve truly gained his respect,” he explains.
“You said you owe us earlier,” Murasakibara says, “but you’re the one who saved our friend’s life.”
“We should be the ones thanking you,” Aomine adds.
Kise flashes a grin in agreement.
I give them a warm smile in return. “I’m glad to hear that.”
“We’re grateful to have you as a friend,” Momoi tells me cheerfully, following the three Miracles. “We’ll see you later!”
“Izuki-senpai and I should get going, too,” Kuroko adds.
Izuki looks at me and smiles. “See you later, Akimoto.”
“Mayuzumi-san and I will return home now as well,” Akashi informs me before taking my hands in his. “Take care, Aki-chan.”
“You too, Aka-kun,” I reply.
As he leaves, I glance at Mayuzumi, who smiles and nods silently before following the redhead out the door.
Only Midorima and Takao are left in my house. “Well, now that I know Shin-chan is safe…” the latter says.
I smile. “We’ll see you later, Kazu-kun.”
After Takao leaves, I look up at Midorima. “Is it okay if you stay a little longer…?” I ask.
“Of course.” He takes my hand and leads me back to the sofa we rested on. We sit down, and I lean my head against his chest while he drapes an arm around my shoulders.
“Shin-kun…” I murmur after a few seconds.
“Are you okay?”
He kisses the top of my head. “Of course… thanks to you.”
I look up at him, tears starting to form in my eyes. “I know I physically healed you, but… what they put you through… I can’t even begin to imagine how traumatizing it must’ve been…!”
He frowns and wraps his other arm around me to hug me. “I am fine now,” he assures me. “But, I will admit… it was terrifying. I feared that… I would never see you again…!” His own eyes well up with tears. “He convinced me that you were… dead, and I…!”
I hug him back as he chokes back a sob. “It’s okay… I’m here.”
He pulls away after a few seconds. “How’s… your injury…?”
“It’s fine. In fact… I think I can heal it right now.” I pull my shirt up a bit and lift the bandage just enough to reveal the edge of the wound, and then I blink to let my tears fall onto it.
It begins to fade away instantly.
I look back up at Midorima, smiling weakly. “I’m okay now.”
He looks away, still frowning. “Still… you shouldn’t have had to go through that…” He buries his face in his hands. “You kept crying out my name, and I wanted so badly to save you… but I was too powerless… to stop him…! I couldn’t do anything but watch…!”
I wrap my arms around him and draw him close again. “It wasn’t your fault. Besides, my wound wasn’t fatal. You’re the one who… who was almost lost forever. Even though I was scared to die two nights ago… last night, when I watched you almost die, I… in that moment, I would’ve given anything to trade places with you.” My red gaze falls, and I pull away slightly. “I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if… I had lost you…!”
He stares at me for a moment before tilting my chin up for a gentle kiss. “I will do everything I can to ensure that nothing ever comes between us again…!” he says afterward, his forehead touching mine.
My red eyes look into his green ones, and then my gaze slowly travels down to his lips. I lean forward to kiss him again and wrap my arms around him. Likewise, he embraces me, drawing me closer.
We stay like this for a while, neither of us wanting to let go.
Then I pull my head back to breathe. “…I love you, Shintarō Midorima.”
“I love you t—”
Before he can finish, my lips crash against his again, more passionately than before. While our lips are locked, my hands slowly travel down his body and start finding their way under his shirt.
He gasps slightly in surprise. “Rika…?!”
I pull away in embarrassment and glance down. “S-Sorry…”
“N-No, I…” He gazes at me for a second. “I don’t mind, but… is this what you want…?”
I look up at him. “We never know what will happen tomorrow. I want to make the most of this second chance with you.”
He raises his eyebrows and blushes hard. Then he pulls me into another passionate kiss.
We stand up from the sofa after a few moments, Midorima staying bent down to avoid breaking the kiss, and then we’re practically dragging each other and stumbling to my bedroom.
I spent a long time with Midorima.
Now, we’re sound asleep, wrapped in each other’s arms, my boyfriend having decided to stay the night.
…It’s pitch-black. I think I’m dreaming. But at the same time, this feels so real.
I see a small light begin to glow and gradually get bigger. Then it starts to assume a distinct shape.
Moments later, the light appears to be shaped like a bird of prey.
My red eyes fly open. I’m back in Midorima’s arms. He’s sleeping soundly, and the room is dark. It must still be the middle of the night.
Dismissing what I just saw as a weird dream influenced by what Midorima had described earlier, I close my eyes and snuggle against him for warmth.
Things have returned to normal, except I am now both the manager and the nurse for Shūtoku’s team. Midorima had his glasses repaired some time ago. The players are now training for this year’s Winter Cup.
After practice one day, I walk up to Midorima and Takao to offer them towels. “Shin-kun?”
“This may seem out of the blue, but… I think you should learn how to shoot with your right hand.”
“N-Nani?!” Both Midorima’s and Takao’s eyes widen.
“I-It’s just a suggestion!” I laugh nervously. “I mean, Aka-kun pointed out last year that you guys’ cooperative shot is predictable because of your left-handedness. I think that if you two want to really make the most of that technique, then you’ll need to be able to catch and shoot the ball from any angle and with either hand.”
The two boys stare at me for a moment before glancing at each other.
“She does have a point, Shin-chan…” Takao scratches his head.
Midorima glances down at his right hand. “But… i-it isn’t something that can be learned overnight, nanodayo…”
I smirk and roll my eyes playfully. “That’s why you practice every day, silly. Also, perhaps you could pick up a thing or two from the other teams’ shooting guards. Personally, I think Hyūga-san’s Barrier Jumper and Mibuchi-san’s three shooting styles would be the most useful moves to learn.”
Midorima sighs and pushes his glasses up. “…Okay. I will start practicing with my right hand as well as learning new techniques to shoot three-pointers, if it means increasing our chances of victory.”
“We won’t just have a chance at victory. We will have victory. And we’ll achieve it together.” I smile. “That’s a promise.”
Midorima and Takao smile back with determination.
“And Kazu-kun…” I turn to the hawk-eyed boy. “I think you should learn to make overhead passes.”
“EH?!” Takao exclaims.
“It would be even more difficult to stop your passes then.” I smirk again. “Don’t think that Shin-kun is the only one who’ll have to put in extra work.”
“…All right. I’ll do it!” Takao grins.
When the other players leave, Midorima, Takao, and I decide to stay late so that the shooting guard can begin training his right hand and learning new moves, and the point guard can further improve his passes. This will be our routine at least until the Winter Cup begins.
I’m awoken by my phone ringing. When I roll over to check the screen, I see that Midorima is calling me.
Yawning, I pick up my phone. “Hello, Shin-kun…?”
“Rika, where are you?!”
“Uh… I’m still in bed.”
Midorima doesn’t say anything for a moment.
“TAKAO, I TOLD YOU WE SHOULD’VE CHECKED!” he then yells, obviously holding the phone away from himself.
“S-Sorry! I thought—OW!” I hear Takao answer.
“Rika, hurry up and get ready!” Midorima then tells me.
“THE FIRST DAY OF THE WINTER CUP, NANODAYO!”
My red eyes fly open all the way, and I zoom out of bed to get dressed. “I’M SORRY, SHIN-KUN! I FORGOT! I’LL BE RIGHT THERE!”
“You—how do you forget?!”
“I-I don’t know! But I’m on my way!” Then I hang up.
After putting some clothes on, I dash to the kitchen, but then I realize that I don’t have time to eat breakfast. Damn… I can’t believe I have to do this. I snatch a piece of bread and stuff one corner of it in my mouth before rushing out the door, sweatdropping as I realize, And I don’t even have time to toast it…
I sprint as fast as I can along the sidewalk, the bread hanging from my mouth.
I’m approaching an intersection. I don’t hear any cars, so I believe that it’s safe to run across.
But just as I’m about to do so, Izuki appears from around the corner.
“MMZK-KN!” I try to yell out, my bread muffling my voice as I attempt to skid to a halt.
When Izuki turns his head, his black eyes turn gray in fright. “A-AKIMOTO?!”
I crash into the eagle-eyed boy, and we both fall to the ground.
“Izuki!” Hyūga exclaims.
“Akimoto-san?!” Aida notices.
The rest of the Seirin members stare in shock.
I groan dizzily and open my red eyes, and I end up looking straight into Izuki’s gray ones. Then we both realize that I’m on top of him and that our lips are brushing against each other’s.
Izuki’s and my cheeks turn red in embarrassment.
“S-SORRY!” I squeal, scrambling to my feet and extending my hand to help Izuki up.
He takes my hand and stands up, still silently blushing.
“Akimoto-san,” Kuroko says.
I look at him, and he hands me my bread. It turns out that he caught it when it went flying during the collision.
“Th-Thanks, Kuroko-kun!” I take the bread and put it back in my mouth before darting away.
For a few seconds, Izuki continues to watch me with pink cheeks as I leave. Then he brings his fingers up to his lips.
Somebody jabs his side. “OW!” he yelps.
“Izuki-senpai… we know what you’re thinking,” the light-blue-haired boy states, his fingertips still stiffly pointed at the third-year. “And no, it did not count.”
Izuki sweatdrops as his teammates snicker teasingly.
“Crap, the bus is coming!” Takao says.
“I can see that, nanodayo!” Midorima pulls out his phone.
“Wait!” Takao stops his teammate from dialing anything and smiles. “She’s here.”
“Eh?” Midorima turns his head and sees me whizzing toward them as if I’ve been shot from a cannon. He smiles in relief for a second, but then a look of terror appears on his face as both he and I realize that I won’t be able to slow down on time. “R-RIKA?!”
As I attempt to stop, I end up tripping over my own feet and crashing into Midorima, causing us both to fall.
I groan dizzily. How the heck does this happen to me twice in one day…?
Midorima winces as he sits up, and then he looks at his hands. Both he and I notice that he scraped them when he fell.
“Sorry…” I murmur, looking away sheepishly.
“Don’t worry about it,” Midorima answers with a smile, holding out his hands with his palms facing upward. “You know what to do, nanodayo.”
I look back at him and blush, and then I shift my red gaze down to his hands and shed a few tears, allowing them to drop onto his scraped palms. The wounds heal almost instantly.
We both stand up afterward, Midorima picking up the sponge that he dropped.
Takao then gives me back my bread. “Sorry, Rika-chan. I assumed you left early~” He flings an arm around my shoulders.
“Eh, forget about it…” I smile. “At least I made it on time.”
The team boards the bus. I sit next to Midorima and begin eating, while Takao sits behind us.
“Hey, this’ll be your first time watching the whole Winter Cup, won’t it, Rika-chan?” Takao notices, smiling.
He’s right. Last year, I was in a coma almost the entire time.
Smiling back, I reply, “I’m excited to see the whole thing.” I turn to Midorima. “Don’t lose.”
Midorima smiles at me. “Of course we won’t,” he says, taking my hand.
Suddenly, my vision blurs.
I’m seeing something in my head: the glowing bird that I dreamed of a while ago. But I haven’t dreamed about it since that one night, so I wonder why I’m seeing it again now.
A tall person with a bow and arrow appears near the bird. I squint and realize that he looks a lot like…
The image disappears from my mind, and I snap back into reality with a gasp.
Midorima glances at me. “Rika? What’s wrong?”
“U-Uh… it’s nothing. Just a little headache… probably from falling or the shock of having to sprint all the way here.”
He raises an eyebrow. “I’ll let you eat, then. A meal might help to get rid of the headache.”
“Not that I can really consider this a full meal, but thanks,” I giggle, continuing to eat.
After we arrive at the Winter Cup building, we head inside and go to the court. Everywhere, I can see strong teams. Naturally, all the Miracles and Kuroko are here.
“I’m gonna say hi to Aka-kun,” I say.
Midorima smiles and nods.
I run over to the Rakuzan team, and Akashi smiles when he notices me approaching. “Aki-chan!” He embraces me when I reach him.
“It’s good to see you, Aka-kun,” I say while hugging him back. “How’ve you all been?”
“Well—thank you.” Akashi pulls away. “We’re ready to win this year.”
I give him a determined look. “We’ll see about that. My team’s been able to train more aggressively ever since I awakened Phoenix Eye. If anyone gets injured, I can simply heal them.” I glance back at Shūtoku’s team. “They’re definitely going to give it their all.”
The red-haired point guard smiles. “I look forward to facing Midorima again.”
I smirk confidently. “Shin-kun will be the one to win this time.”
My cousin chuckles. “Best of luck to your team.” He takes my hands in his.
Then my vision blurs again.
The same image from earlier appears in my mind. This time, though, a person wielding a sword and riding a horse appears.
And he looks like Akashi.
I snap back into reality and instinctively bring a hand up to my head.
Akashi’s eyes widen worriedly. “Aki-chan… what is it?”
I glance at his teammates for a moment before whispering, “C-Can we talk in private…?”
My cousin nods, and we exit the court.
We find a relatively empty area. I take a deep breath to begin my explanation. “I’m not sure what it is, but… I keep seeing a certain image in my head. It started the night after I awakened Phoenix Eye. I dreamed of a large bird… kind of like the one Shin-kun described when I revived him. I didn’t see this image again until today, though. When Shin-kun held my hand on the bus earlier, and just now, when you took my hands, I saw it. Both of you appeared, too… or at least they looked like you two.” I sigh. “I don’t know why I keep seeing this…”
Akashi furrows his brow. “I’m afraid I don’t have any answers, either…”
I frown. “I suppose there’s no point in worrying about it…” I turn away. “I think I’ll go wash my face. Cover for me if Shin-kun asks.”
He gives me a concerned look for a moment before nodding.
I walk away and find the restroom. Nobody is using the sinks, but some of the stalls are locked. I turn on a faucet and splash cold water onto my face, hoping that it will help to clear my head.
A stall unlocks behind me. I don’t pay too much attention to it.
But when I lift my head and look into the mirror, I see Izuki staring at me with widened eyes.
I whirl around in shock and meet his gray gaze. In my peripheral vision, I see urinals lining the wall. I WALKED INTO THE BOYS RESTROOM?! I realize, trembling and blushing in embarrassment.
Another stall unlocks. My heart skips a beat, and I feel my stomach flip. My head starts spinning even more than it already was.
Izuki suddenly grabs my wrist and drags me into the stall that he was just in, locking the door with his foot. He has one arm wrapped around me, keeping me close. His other hand is covering my mouth to prevent me from making any noise.
Holding our breaths, we listen silently as the random male washes his hands and leaves.
Afterward, the Seirin player lets me go and cracks the door open, making sure that no one else is coming in or going out. Then he takes my hand and quickly leads me out of the restroom.
I catch my breath once we make it out, still shivering somewhat.
“Are you okay?” the raven-haired boy asks.
“I-I… I need to get some air…” I murmur before fleeing.
“Huh? W-Wait!” Izuki runs after me.
I exit the building, and thankfully, no one else is outside. I take a deep breath and lean against the wall.
I turn my head to look at Izuki.
“S-Sorry if… I embarrassed you back there…”
“Oh… don’t worry about it.” I smile. “Actually, you saved me from further embarrassment. If it had been a stranger that caught me in there instead of a trusted friend like you, I might’ve passed out.”
Izuki chuckles and approaches. “That would’ve been the worst,” he says, leaning against the wall beside me. “Thanks for trusting me. I promise I won’t say a word about what happened in there, or earlier today.”
I widen my eyes as I remember crashing into him, and then I shoot a somewhat annoyed but playful glare at him. “Please don’t remind me about that.”
“Aw, no need to mourn this morn anymore—kitakore!”
I turn away to hide my smile.
“Seriously though, are you feeling okay now?” Izuki asks.
I shift my gaze to the point guard. “…Kind of, I guess.”
“Is something the matter?”
“Um… I just haven’t been feeling too well today…”
“Do you want to talk to me about it…?”
“Huh? N-No, it’s okay. I don’t want to take up your time…”
“Hey, it’s okay.” He smiles. “Seirin isn’t playing for a while. I have plenty of time, and I don’t mind listening.”
After a moment, I nod and explain the hallucinations that I’ve been having. Then I ask, “Um… would you happen to have any idea why this is happening…?”
Izuki frowns. “I’m sorry. I don’t.”
I sigh. “Sorry for asking. I thought maybe you’d know since… we both have bird’s eyes. But… our abilities are way too different.”
“Well… maybe Takao or Akashi might know something.”
“Aka-kun doesn’t. I haven’t told Kazu-kun or Shin-kun about it yet, but I doubt they’ll know anything, either…”
“I…” He looks away. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be of any help…”
“Don’t worry. Maybe this is just something I have to deal with on my own.”
He looks back at me and smiles weakly. “I hope you’re able to figure it out.”
I nod and smile back. “Thanks…”
“…So, that aside… how have you been? All right?”
“Yeah. I’m pretty excited to see the whole Winter Cup this year.”
Izuki smiles. “That’s great.”
I look at him. “You must be excited, too.”
“Heh, yeah. Although…” He pauses. “I’m… I’m also kind of scared.”
“I’m a third-year, so this is my last Winter Cup. Of course, I want to win again since it’s my last chance. But… we sacrificed everything and revealed all our cards just to win last year. We had two powerful players, too: Kagami and Kiyoshi. Now that they’re both not on the team anymore… I’m not sure if we’ll even get that far in this tournament…”
I gaze at him for a moment. Then I gently place my hand on his shoulder to comfort him. “Seirin is strong. Just do your best and don’t forget to have fun.”
Izuki blushes and smiles. “Th-Thanks.” He brings his hand up so that he can hold mine.
My vision blurs again.
At this point, I can guess what happens next. As expected, a person who looks like Izuki appears, and he has a spear in hand.
But then something happens that I didn’t expect.
The bird spreads its wings and ascends for a moment before perching on his shoulder.
The image disappears, and I stumble away in shock and confusion, almost falling. Luckily, Izuki is still holding my hand and is able to catch me.
“Akimoto…?!” He pulls me back onto my feet.
“I-It happened again…” I breathe out.
Izuki releases my hand. “I-I’m sorry…”
I look up at him. “You shouldn’t have to apologize… I know you didn’t mean to cause it.” I glance at the door. “I should probably get going, though…”
I take a few steps toward the door.
I freeze and turn back around.
“Um… if it’s okay with you… can you stay out here with me a little longer…?”
My eyes widen slightly. “Izuki-kun…?”
He gazes at me, and I see a sadness in his eyes.
I inhale and return to his side. “What is it…?” I murmur, sensing that something is bothering him.
“…It’s not just defeat that I’m scared of,” he murmurs. “This might be the last time… we’ll get to meet like this…”
“I mean, since we go to different schools, the only times I can really see you are at basketball games. If my team loses… that’ll be it for us third-years. We’ll carry on with the rest of the school year… and then we’ll be off to college…”
I frown and step toward him, embracing him. “But… if you want, we can maybe keep in touch, right?”
Izuki hugs me back. “Y-Yeah. But it… it just won’t be the same…” He pulls away, and his gaze falls. I see tears forming in his eyes. “I guess… what I’m trying to say is… I-I’ll miss you, Akimoto…!”
My brow creases as he turns away with tears rolling down his face.
“Wh-Who am I kidding…?” he then murmurs, returning his gaze to me and trying to smile through his tears. “I’ve been meaning to get this off my chest… but you probably already know…”
I gaze at him silently. I can guess where this is going.
“Can I try something…?” he then asks.
“Wh-What is it?”
“…Rika…” My first name slips off his tongue.
Wait, that’s—only Shin-kun calls me by my first name… My eyes widen. Unless… Izuki-kun’s about to—
“I… I’m in love with you, Rika… I have been ever since I first laid my Eagle Eye on you…”
—confess… I stare at him for a few moments. Then I sigh and let my red gaze fall. “…Yeah, I think I’ve known that this whole time… but hearing you say it out loud is still… sort of surprising…”
Izuki wipes some tears from his face with his sleeve, only for them to be replaced. “S-Sorry I’m a mess right now. I… I’ve never felt this way about anyone before… and I know you already have Midorima, but I want to think that… maybe in another life, I could’ve been the one in his shoes…” He looks up at the sky, attempting to smile again. “C-Can… can you imagine it…? An eagle and a phoenix… soaring away together…?”
I stare at him and think about it. It’s easy to envision, and it makes a lot of sense. I begin to wonder what would’ve happened if the stars had chosen to write Izuki into my story first instead of Midorima…
I suddenly feel Izuki’s hands on either side of my face, which his own face is directly in front of.
Before I can say anything, his lips gently connect with mine, completely taking me by surprise.
Again, my vision blurs.
I still see the person who looks like Izuki with the bird. But this time, a bright light starts radiating from the animal. The light then moves away as if it were the creature’s soul leaving its body. Afterward, the light reshapes itself so that it looks like… me.
Back in reality, I scream and instinctively shove Izuki away. I fall to my hands and knees, hyperventilating.
“I-I’m sorry!” Izuki stammers. “I-I didn’t—I mean, I—y-you can hate me now, or leave me here, if you want. That… that was a really jerk move for me to pull…!” He steps away, ashamed. “If you’re happy with Midorima, then… that’s all that matters…”
Regaining my composure but still breathing heavily, I stand up and shake my head. “I-It wasn’t you…” I tell him. “It happened again… but I… I understand now. They’re not hallucinations…! They’re memories…!”
Izuki blinks in confusion. “Memories…?”
“I… I think that you and I really are best friends in another life…!”
“I… I remember who I am… and what I am…!” My eyes widen as I recall my true identity. “I-I’m not from this world…!”
“I’m… not even originally human…!”
Izuki’s own eyes widen in shock. “What the hell…?! Y-You’re joking, right?!”
I shake my head.
The point guard trembles. “Rika… if you aren’t human, then what are you…?!”
“I’m… a bird…” I look up at him. “Who I really am… explains why I have Phoenix Eye… and also probably why we’re naturally drawn to each other in this world… because your other self… is my master…!”
Izuki can only stare at me, completely stunned.
Then I realize something that causes me to gasp and tears to well up in my eyes.
My relationship with Midorima will soon have to come to an inevitable end.
I can practically feel my heart breaking at this fact. I clutch my chest, feeling an excruciating pain in it.
“Rika?!” Izuki asks worriedly.
“…Shin-kun…!” I breathe out almost inaudibly.
The third-year frowns, understanding my predicament. Then he turns away. “You… you should probably go to him…” he says, shedding some more tears. “…I’m sorry…”
I look up at him. Taking a deep breath, I tiptoe to kiss his cheek, causing his eyes to turn gray. “I’m sorry that I can’t return your feelings right now… but, you’ll always be my friend… no matter which life we’re living…”
Izuki glances at me in surprise.
“Also… please don’t tell anyone about this…” I add.
He nods. “I won’t. You’re my friend, too.”
I turn away to go back inside and head toward the court in tears.
As I’m about to make it back, I see Midorima exit the court and look around. Trembling, I run toward him.
When he notices me, his eyes widen. “Rika?!”
I run into his arms and cry into his shirt.
“What happened?!” he asks.
“I… I won’t be able… to stay much longer…!” I whimper.
“What do you mean…?!”
I shake my head. “It’s hard to explain right now… just…” I look up at him. “Please, promise you’ll win this year… and then I can leave happily…!”
He thrusts his head back. “‘Leave’…? Are you… moving…?!”
I quiver. “I guess… that’s the best way to think about it…”
He inhales sharply in shock.
“I’m sorry…!” I sniffle. “I didn’t know… until now…!”
He gazes sadly at me for a moment, and then he pulls me close, kissing my forehead. “I know you wouldn’t hide such a thing from me intentionally…”
Although he’s trying to comfort me, I feel his tears drop onto my head.
“Oh, there you are, Ri—eh? What… what’s going on…?” Takao asks, appearing from the court.
“Rika has to move…” Midorima answers.
I hug my boyfriend more tightly. I want to tell him that it’s much more complicated than simply moving, but I’m afraid of distracting him from the Winter Cup. No… I need to tell him… and Aka-kun… eventually…
Takao looks at me somberly. “Rika-chan…”
Midorima glances at his teammate and opens an arm after a moment, inviting Takao to join us in a group hug. Although surprised at the gesture, the hawk-eyed boy approaches and embraces us, shedding tears of his own.
“…We will win for you, Rika…!” Midorima says. “That is a promise…!”
I’m lying in bed after the first day of the Winter Cup ends. It takes me longer than usual to fall asleep.
Once I do, I see in my mind the person who looks like Izuki. But this time, he’s staring back at me. I notice after a moment that the bird is missing.
“Izuki” steps forward. “Phoenix… do you remember me…?” he asks.
“Ph-Phoenix…?!” My eyes widen. “That’s… my name in the other world… isn’t it…?”
“Yes… it’s the name I gave you when you hatched,” he explains, closing his eyes for a moment as if to reminisce. “The sun was just rising, and you kind of looked as though you were on fire. It was quite a wondrous sight.”
“Then… I really am a bird…?” I ask, although I am certain that I already know the answer.
“An eagle to be exact.”
“…You’re a falconer, right? And… you raised me?”
“But I couldn’t remember this until… Izuki-kun kissed me…” I stare at him in realization. “It… it had to be him, didn’t it…?”
“Well, I don’t know if it had to be. But he and I are essentially the same person, just from separate universes. In the other world, I’m your best friend, which might be why the version of me in this world was able to help you remember who you are.”
I furrow my brow. “I don’t remember anything else about the other world, though, other than that… it’s a ‘fantasy’ world where magic exists…” I sigh. “This whole time, I thought I was from this world…”
“Why am I even in this world…?!” I ask.
“A spell was cast on you in the other world,” he explains. “Your consciousness left your body and drifted into this universe. With some help, though, I was able to send my own consciousness out to search for yours. But even after I finally found you, I couldn’t reach you until you awakened Phoenix Eye.”
“And… now you want me to return to my true body…?”
“Yes… that’s why I came to get you.”
Tears begin to form in my eyes. “But… what if I don’t want to return…?”
He inhales sharply, seeming both shocked and hurt by my words.
“I-I’m sorry, but I… I can’t just leave all my friends behind…!” I continue, my tears starting to roll down my face. “Especially not Shin-kun…!”
His gaze falls. “I understand. I’d let you stay if I could…” he murmurs. “I care about you, and I want you to be happy. But… your presence in this world was never meant to be. If you don’t return to the other world, you’ll die both here and there.”
My eyes widen in alarm. “I-I’ll die?! When?!”
“I don’t know…”
“But I’ve been living in this world for almost two years, and I’ve been fine!”
He furrows his brow. “That’s because your soul hadn’t split yet.”
“When you revived Midorima, part of your soul transferred to his body through your tears. You’re the only reason he’s alive now. And if you die… he’ll die, too.”
I momentarily lose my breath at the thought of my boyfriend dying again. “I… I can’t let that happen…!”
“You understand, then…?”
“But… Shin-kun and I promised each other… that we’d win the Winter Cup together…!”
“And your sheer willpower may be able to prevent your death until you can fulfill those promises. At least, that’s what I hope.” He walks closer to me and takes my hands in his. “Do what you have to do. Help your team win the Winter Cup. I’ll be waiting right here to bring you home.”
After a moment, I take a deep breath. “I… I understand…”
“Um… by the way, while getting my memories back earlier, I thought I saw… Shin-kun and Aka-kun.”
“Oh, yes. That was just you remembering two other people from the other world.” He releases my hands and turns away. “…Good luck, Phoenix.”
When Rika's vision blurs, I kind of imagine her eyes glowing like Akashi's when he used his Complete Emperor Eye in Last Game. (Like, it isn't visible to any of the characters, it's just sort of a visual representation of her getting her memories back.)
Chapter 16: Memories
"Miyaji" is mentioned in this chapter—this is referring to Yūya, not Kiyoshi.
Days pass, and the strongest teams continue to advance in the Winter Cup. Every day is one step closer to what I hope will be Shūtoku’s victory. But every day is also one step closer to having to return to the world where I belong. I think about this fact every night and find myself unable to get much sleep.
It quickly becomes obvious.
“Rika…” Midorima approaches me after a game. “I know something is bothering you, nanodayo.”
I look up at him with a frown.
“You clearly aren’t getting enough rest,” he continues, gently bringing his hands up to my face. “…What is it? Are you still concerned about moving…?”
I sigh. “…Kazu-kun and Aka-kun should hear what I have to say as well.”
Midorima furrows his brow for a moment before nodding. “Takao, come here,” he calls out to his teammate.
At the same time, I text Akashi: “We need to talk.”
In a matter of moments, Akashi rushes over to us.
I lead the three boys outside.
The air feels heavy. They know that what I’m about to tell them isn’t good.
“Aka-kun…” I begin. “Regarding that thing I talked to you about… they’re actually memories.”
My cousin’s eyes widen.
“What are you talking about, Rika-chan?” Takao asks.
“Ever since I awakened Phoenix Eye, I’ve been seeing these… supposed hallucinations,” I explain to Midorima and Takao. “The latest one that I saw… made me remember who and what I am.” My lips quiver. “…I’m not from this world.”
The boys stare at me in disbelief.
“That… that cannot be…!” Akashi says.
I frown. “Think about it. I’m supposed to be your cousin, but… you don’t even know who my parents are.”
Akashi’s jaw slowly drops in realization. Midorima and Takao have similar reactions.
“I don’t think I even have parents in this world… because I don’t belong here…” I explain.
My cousin trembles. “But… what about our childhood memories…?!”
“I… I’m not sure, but… it’s possible that those were… implanted somehow,” I murmur before shifting my gaze to the Shūtoku players. “When I said I’m moving… I meant I’ll have to leave this world soon.”
Midorima chokes back a sob. “R-Rika…!”
“If I don’t go back, I’ll die,” I continue.
“Rika-chan…!” Takao sniffles, his hands covering his mouth.
“And if I die… you’ll die as well, Shin-kun. Part of my soul has been living within you ever since I revived you. It’s the only reason you’re here now…”
Midorima falls to his hands and knees, tears streaming down his face. “D-Dammit…! WHY?!”
My gaze falls in shame, and tears start welling up in my own eyes. “I-I’m sorry…!”
Akashi glances at the two boys and blinks back his own tears, gritting his teeth. “Midorima! Takao! Now isn’t the time to despair!” he snaps.
We all look at him in shock.
Akashi wipes his face with his sleeve. “If Aki-chan has a limited amount of time left with us… then we need to make the most of it.”
My eyes widen as I remember telling him something similar. Aka-kun…!
“This revelation is all the more reason to play our hardest this winter!” Akashi glares at Midorima. “There is no way I’ll go easy on you when we face each other again, but if you don’t at least try to win for Aki-chan’s sake, I’ll kill you!”
Midorima and Takao flinch at the threat.
Akashi looks at me. “You didn’t mean for any of this to happen…”
I shake my head.
“Then we have no reason to be upset with you,” my cousin says.
Midorima stands up and approaches to embrace me. “I apologize for doubting you…”
I hug him back and look up, seeing that the look in his green eyes is now more determined than ever.
“I promised to win the Winter Cup this year, nanodayo,” he says. “I intend to keep that promise!”
I smile through my tears. “Shin-kun…”
Takao wipes his tears away, a motivated smile crossing his face. “Count me in on that promise!”
I pull away and smile at Shūtoku’s point guard.
Akashi then smiles warmly. “You’re still their friend and my cousin. We’ll fight for you until the end.” For the boys, he adds, “Let’s make it to the finals and battle each other again.”
Midorima and Takao nod confidently.
It’s the night before the final round, and Shūtoku and Rakuzan will be facing each other.
“Izuki” visits me tonight in a dream for the first time since the Winter Cup began. As usual, it’s completely dark except for us two. He sits down in the darkness and motions for me to sit beside him, which I do.
“How are you feeling?” he asks.
I shrug. “I’m still upset that I’ll have to leave soon, but… I’ve accepted it, I think. Though, I’m definitely going to cry when I do leave…”
He rubs my back gently. “Do you think your team will win tomorrow?”
I nod. “I’m confident they can do it.”
He smiles. “I hope they do.”
We then sit in silence for a few seconds.
“…What am I like in the other world?” I wonder.
“Intelligent, loyal, and an incredible huntress.”
“Huh… maybe that explains my archery skills in this world…”
“Probably. You’ll remember everything once you go back.” He smiles again for a moment, but then he frowns afterward. “But that reminds me… there’s something you need to know.”
I look at him questioningly.
“Once you return to the other world… your memories of this world will be wiped,” he explains.
I draw in a sharp breath. “What?!”
He glances away for a moment. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize this until now.”
“Th-Then… the bonds I’ve created here… never mattered in the first place…?!”
“Not quite. Only you will forget since you’re the one leaving this world. Everyone else will remember you.”
“Oh…” My gaze falls. “I… I’m not sure how to feel about that… I mean, I guess it makes my job easier, but… Shin-kun will be… heartbroken…!”
“I’m sure he and the others will cherish their memories of you.”
My chest tightens as a sob threatens to escape me. I blink back the tears forming in my eyes.
“Izuki” wraps an arm around me, and I let him pull me close. “You can let it all out here if you want,” he murmurs. “Then you won’t have to worry about your emotional state when it comes time to bid your friends farewell…”
I shut my eyes and tremble for a few moments as I lean against “Izuki”’s chest. My quiet sniffling soon becomes uncontrolled wailing and crying into his clothes.
This whole time, I’ve been trying to put up a tough facade and persuade even myself that I’m leaving to protect Midorima one last time. Now, I can only think about the pain that my disappearance is going to cause my friends… and how I don’t want to forget the memories I’ve made with them.
Midorima loses his balance and falls backward for the sixth time in the whole game.
Unlike last year, Akashi isn’t holding back at all. And with his Complete Emperor Eye, Rakuzan’s captain is more formidable than ever before.
Akashi makes a perfect pass to Mibuchi, who scores a three-pointer just before the third quarter ends.
With that, Akashi has brought all of his teammates into a Zone-like state.
Standing up, Midorima glances at the scoreboard. Shūtoku isn’t too far behind, but considering the Rakuzan team’s condition, Midorima knows that the score difference will only widen if his team doesn’t do something soon.
Takao notes this as well. “It’s time to bring out the big guns, don’t you think?” he asks.
Midorima nods. “We’ll take them by surprise while we still can.”
“We’re doing that gamble again, right?”
“But once Akashi catches up with the timing of my pass…”
“Then we will take the gamble one step further, nanodayo.”
Takao grins and nods.
When the fourth quarter begins, the two of them start off immediately with their Sky Direct Three-Point Shot.
They’re able to repeat the technique once before Akashi figures out the timing and steals the ball on their next try. “Didn’t I already warn you? This play is too predictable,” he tells them before dribbling toward the hoop and scoring.
Soon, the aces face off again. “We know,” Midorima says. “That is why…” He gets into his shooting position.
Akashi blinks. Takao is… on his right? Having not expected this, he doesn’t move in time stop the pass.
Midorima then shoots with his right hand. “We’ve modified it.”
“…You’ve been practicing ambidexterity?”
“I have Rika to thank for—”
The ball hits the backboard and rolls around the rim, but it luckily still goes in.
“—th-the suggestion…” Midorima lets out a quiet sigh of relief.
Later, Takao has the ball again.
“The timing remains the same, though.” Akashi gets ready to steal the ball.
“We have a way around that as well.” Midorima jumps.
Akashi then notices that Takao is moving differently. …He’s doing an overhead pass.
Right when Takao passes, Akashi moves in between the two Shūtoku players and leaps. Nevertheless, the ball passes over him and lands in Midorima’s hands, allowing Shūtoku to score another three points.
I suppose we will have to change our tactics as well, Akashi decides a few seconds later while dribbling the ball, using another ankle break to get past Midorima before letting one of his teammates score.
When Takao is in possession of the ball again, he finds Akashi guarding him while Midorima is now against Mibuchi.
“It will be much easier for me to stop your passes now,” Akashi says. “Even if you successfully deliver the ball to Midorima, Mibuchi is tall enough to stop him.”
Takao smiles determinedly. “We’re not done yet!” He then makes a behind-the-back pass out of Akashi’s reach just as Midorima takes a quick step back.
Akashi also smiles. “I knew that the two of you would try to combine your move with Barrier Jumper.”
Takao’s eyes widen. “You did…?!”
When Midorima catches the ball, he realizes that Mibuchi has stepped forward and hesitates just long enough for Rakuzan’s shooting guard to steal the ball.
“It was simply a hunch,” Akashi says. “But don’t forget that Aki-chan is my cousin. Naturally, I know everything about her, including what she most likely has taught you two in the last few months.” He looks at Midorima. “If she told you to practice Mibuchi’s shots, don’t bother with those. Everyone on my team is prepared to stop you if you try. That being said… you’re already out of new moves, aren’t you?”
Takao grits his teeth. They got us…!
Shūtoku falls further and further behind. With Akashi guarding him, Takao finds himself unable to successfully pass to anyone. Akashi’s own passes, on the other hand, are still allowing his teammates to play at nearly full strength.
Shūtoku takes a timeout when five minutes remain.
“So… this is what facing the real Akashi is like,” Takao pants, wiping some sweat from his brow. “Shin-chan… do we have any chance of catching up?”
Midorima looks at the scoreboard. “I hate to admit it… but we’re going to need a miracle.”
“Like Seirin’s Direct Drive Zone?”
“…Yes, that would be most helpful right now, but…”
“We’d need someone like Kuroko.” Takao frowns. “I’m sorry. I can’t bring our team together the way Kuroko does for Seirin.”
Midorima sighs. “Don’t apologize. Even if you could, the Direct Drive Zone is the Zone beyond the Zone. It is only achievable after the first door of the Zone is opened.”
Takao gapes slightly in realization and looks up at him. “…Maybe opening that first door will be enough for us. Of course, you’ll have to be the one to do it.”
Midorima thrusts his head back. “I’ve never entered the Zone before, nanodayo! I don’t know what my trigger is!”
“Oh, I think you do.” Takao smiles and shifts his pale blue gaze.
Midorima follows it and sees his girlfriend staring at the floor with a hopeless, dispirited expression.
He doesn’t get a response.
“Maybe you haven’t noticed, but she’s been like that ever since Rakuzan pulled ahead.” Takao places a hand on Midorima’s shoulder. “She’s counting on you to win, Shin-chan. We all are.”
Midorima looks back at him.
“Maybe it’s a good thing you didn’t notice in this case. It means you’ve been focused on the game. You should be able to enter any second now.”
After a moment, the shooting guard takes a deep breath. “…Let me receive the rest of the throw-ins. And leave Akashi to me.”
Takao chuckles. “It’s been forever since you’ve made demands like that during a game.”
“Trust me. I’m not doing this for myself this time.” Midorima smiles.
“I know.” Takao stands up, ready to resume playing. “Let’s do this!”
The players return to the court.
After Rakuzan scores again, Miyaji throws the ball in.
Akashi raises an eyebrow when he realizes that Midorima is the one taking the ball.
Once the ball is in his hands, Midorima immediately goes for a full-court shot.
Was that shot… more powerful than usual? Akashi wonders, almost certain that Midorima released the ball more quickly than he normally did.
The Rakuzan point guard then dribbles the ball, while Midorima moves to block his way.
Something about him has changed, Akashi notes, eyeing Midorima carefully. He performs the first half of a crossover, but when he tries to complete the move, he realizes that the ball is no longer in his hands.
Midorima stole the ball and dribbled past Akashi before the latter could do his ankle break.
Surprised, Akashi whirls around as Midorima shoots. “…You’re much faster now,” the point guard murmurs. “Could it be that you’re…?”
Midorima glances back, revealing the green currents of electricity crackling and shooting from his eyes.
The shorter male chuckles. “So you’ve figured it out?”
“I didn’t get this far only to break the promise I made,” Midorima answers. “We will be the ones to win this time, Akashi!”
“I couldn’t ask for more.”
Soon, Akashi has the ball again and sees Midorima rushing toward him. “You may be in the Zone, but I can still predict your moves. I just have to stay one step ahead of you.” He steps back before crossing over so that the ball is out of Midorima’s reach.
When Akashi sees that his ankle break was successful, he begins to dribble past Midorima.
But even as he’s falling, the green-haired male manages to outstretch his arm and tip the ball, allowing Takao to take it before the shocked Akashi can recover it.
Just as Akashi starts to pursue Takao, the ball is passed back to Midorima, who has already stood back up much to Akashi’s surprise.
“I don’t intend to let your team score anymore,” Midorima tells his rival after shooting.
A sly smile crosses Akashi’s face. “You can’t possibly keep this up against all five of us.”
“The fact that there are five of you won’t stop me from doing everything I can!”
“That is good to hear. Now, let me see how well you can handle Hayama.”
Midorima looks up to see Hayama dribbling the ball, and then he goes to challenge the small forward.
Hayama watches him with a smirk. “You’re in the Zone too, huh? Guess I’ll just skip straight to five!” He starts bouncing the ball hard, causing deafening echoes to resonate throughout the court.
Midorima winces but keeps focusing on his opponent’s movements.
For a moment, the ball stays in Hayama’s hand. Midorima tenses, knowing that the Uncrowned King is about to use his Lightning Dribble.
Hayama then swiftly dribbles around Midorima, but in a flash, Midorima is back to blocking his way.
The blond crosses over again to get around his opponent, but Midorima still keeps up with his speed.
Takao’s eyes widen in amazement as he attempts to watch the two. Whoa… it’s almost like Kagami versus Aomine all over again!
Once Hayama gets past the three-point line, he suddenly passes the ball back, toward Mibuchi.
But Midorima steals the ball as it’s passed.
As he faces the other end of the court, Mibuchi runs toward him to stop his shot.
Midorima decides to take a new risk and crouches low for the shot.
Mibuchi recognizes his shooting stance. Sorry, but that won’t work against me.
But when he tries to block, his feet don’t leave the ground, and Midorima’s shot stays untouched.
Rakuzan’s shooting guard watches the ball in shock, wondering if Midorima did anything differently to disable even him, the original user of the Void shot.
After the basket is made, he looks at Midorima again. “I thought Sei-chan told you not to use my moves, pretty boy~”
Midorima’s glasses crack.
Takao has to stifle a laugh when he sees his teammate’s disturbed reaction.
Midorima shakes off the chills when he sees Akashi dribbling the ball. “He hasn’t been my captain since Teikō,” he tells Mibuchi. “I have no need to listen to his orders as a player. I will do whatever I must in order to win!”
Seeing that Mibuchi is being guarded, Akashi passes toward Hayama, only for Midorima to suddenly dash forward and steal the ball again.
Is he getting even faster…?! Akashi wonders as he and Mibuchi hurry to stop Shūtoku’s ace.
“Also…” Midorima says to the other shooting guard as he makes a Heaven shot that neither Rakuzan player can reach. “I don’t swing that way, you fool!”
Shūtoku’s morale is boosted, and the team is quickly catching up thanks to its ace.
Eventually, Shūtoku scores enough points that they are only one point behind Rakuzan, and only a few seconds remain.
Akashi dribbles the ball, and once again, Midorima moves to stop him.
“It’s over, Midorima!” Akashi snarls, performing a rapid crossover while there is still some space between himself and his opponent.
The shooting guard begins to stumble backward as Akashi passes by. No, don’t let it end here…! Midorima tells himself. STAY ON YOUR FEET!
Mustering all of his strength, Midorima brings a foot back to steady himself and pushes off the floor, leaping backward as if performing a Barrier Jumper to catch up with Akashi and swatting the ball out of his hand, shocking the redhead.
Takao takes the ball and dribbles it toward the other end of the court. Midorima follows, with Akashi desperately chasing after them.
“LET’S GO!” the other Shūtoku players shout.
Mibuchi and Nebuya move to block Takao before he can get past the three-point line. Akashi stays near Midorima so that Takao can’t pass to the green-haired shooting guard.
Takao eyes the scoreboard for a split second. Then, instead of trying to get past his opponents, he jumps and attempts a fade-away shot, shocking the Rakuzan team.
“He can shoot a three-pointer?!” Mibuchi exclaims as he and his teammates watch the ball travel in an arc toward the hoop.
“No… it won’t make it…” Akashi observes. “Why would he try to—!”
His red eyes widen as he realizes that Midorima broke away from him and is now leaping toward the hoop.
“AN ALLEY-OOP?!” the Rakuzan players realize.
Midorima dunks the ball, and the buzzer goes off.
Shūtoku is announced the winner of the Winter Cup.
As cheers erupt from the audience, Midorima’s teammates run to their ace to congratulate him and form a group hug. For a moment, the shooting guard can’t believe that his team has just won. Then he grins and looks at each of his teammates.
When he looks at Takao, though, he stops smiling and smacks the point guard’s head.
“OW! What the hell, Shin-chan?! Aren’t you happy we just won?! You should be congratulating me instead of hitting me!” Takao whines.
“You could’ve gotten past them and scored two points, and we still would’ve won, nanodayo! Why did you attempt a three-pointer?”
“I wouldn’t have reached the hoop in time,” the hawk-eyed boy pouts, rolling his eyes. “Besides, I knew you’d get the ball for me when—er, if I missed~”
Midorima narrows his eyes. “…You just wanted me to dunk, didn’t you…?”
Takao snickers and folds his hands behind his head. “So what if I did~?”
“I would’ve preferred not to, nanodayo!”
“Oh? Not even once for your girlfriend?”
“Shut up, Takao!”
“All right, enough bickering, you two,” Miyaji sighs, albeit with a smile. “We won. That’s what matters. Also…” He turns to look at the bench.
Midorima follows the blond’s gaze, and he finds that I’ve buried my face in my hands.
Widening his eyes, the shooting guard approaches. “Rika…?”
I look up at him. Tears are streaming down my face, but at the same time, I’m grinning.
Smiling in relief, Midorima kneels so that he’s at my eye level and pulls me into a kiss.
I hug him tightly. “You did it…!” I say after a few seconds, continuing to cry tears of joy and nuzzling my forehead against his. “Thank you…!”
“Rika-chan!” Takao shows up beside Midorima.
I stand up to embrace the point guard. Midorima gets back onto his feet as well.
“Aki-chan…” Akashi approaches us.
I turn my head to look at my cousin.
“Congratulations to your team,” he says with a smile, blinking back tears. Then he looks up at Midorima and extends his hand. “Thank you, Midorima. This is the happiest I’ve ever seen her.”
Midorima is somewhat surprised that Akashi is finally returning the handshake from last year. After a moment, the taller boy smiles and nods, shaking Akashi’s hand.
The top four teams of the Winter Cup soon line up, and the Shūtoku players proudly accept their prize.
Afterward, people start exiting the building, ready to go home after an intense match.
Out of nowhere, my vision blurs.
In my mind, I see “Izuki” smiling at me.
“Congratulations,” he says. “You both got to keep your promises.”
“I-It was all Shin-kun’s doing, really…” I answer while blushing.
“I’m glad he’s treated you well in the last two years.”
“A little less than two years.” I smile as I correct him, but it quickly fades. “I guess… it’s time for me to go…?”
“Yes… but I can let you say proper goodbyes to your friends first.”
I return to reality and stare into space for a moment, still in disbelief that my life here is about to end.
Taking a deep breath, I walk up to Midorima and Takao. “Can we stay behind after everyone leaves…?”
The court is empty, except for Midorima, Takao, and me.
I sigh, already feeling tears forming in my eyes. “Well… this is it…” I murmur.
The boys frown silently, understanding what I mean.
“We… we won the Winter Cup together… just like we promised…” I attempt to smile as tears roll down my face. “It’s… the greatest parting gift I could ask for…”
“Parting gift?!” exclaims a familiar voice belonging to a yellow-haired boy.
The three of us turn our heads. My red eyes widen when I see that Akashi has apparently brought all my friends here: Kuroko, Izuki, Kise, Aomine, Momoi, Murasakibara, Mayuzumi, and the former and current Shūtoku players. Even Kagami is watching us through a video chat on Kuroko’s phone.
“You didn’t honestly think that you could leave without bidding all of your friends farewell, did you?” my cousin asks me while smiling. But then he frowns, and his tone turns serious. “So, the time really has come…?”
I frown and nod. “Does everyone know… about my situation…?”
“Yes. Akashi-kun explained everything to us…” Kuroko replies.
Aomine scratches his head. “It was hard to believe at first, but…”
“Since Akachin’s the one who told us, we agreed that it has to be true…” Murasakibara finishes.
“Do you really have to go…?” Momoi asks sadly.
I nod. “Also… when I go back, I’ll…” I sniffle and try to wipe my tears away. “I’m sorry… I just found this out… but when I go back… I’ll lose all my memories of this world.”
Everyone’s eyes widen in shock, with Midorima, Takao, Akashi, and Izuki being the most impacted.
“But I… I want you all to know that… even though I’ll forget… you all have been the greatest friends!” I attempt to smile. “Even though I’ll forget… I’ll still miss you guys…!”
Akashi approaches and embraces me tightly. “We’ll miss you too, Aki-chan…!” he chokes out while shedding tears.
I shift my gaze to the others and see that everyone is on the verge of tears. After I draw away from Akashi, the others step forward one at a time to shake my hand or hug me goodbye.
Izuki is the last one to come to me. He trembles for a moment before wrapping his arms around me. “Y-You were telling the truth that day after all…?” he whispers. “Not that I didn’t believe you, but… I was kind of hoping it would all turn out to be a silly prank, or something…”
“But… you kind of got what you wanted, didn’t you?” I whisper back with a smile. “You and me being best friends in another life? Just… not in a romantic way…”
He pulls away and smiles back. “It amazes me that you can be so optimistic even now…”
Finally, I turn back to Midorima and Takao.
“R-Rika-chan…” the hawk-eyed boy murmurs, tears streaming down his face.
I hug him tightly. “Thank you for being the brother I never had,” I tell him tearfully as he hugs me back. “…Promise you’ll look after Shin-kun for me.”
“I… I promise…!” Takao replies, drawing away to wipe his tears away after a few moments.
I shift my gaze to the green-haired love of my life, and he gazes back brokenheartedly for a few seconds.
“Shin-kun…” I then say. “I’m glad to have fallen in love with a boy like you.”
Midorima’s eyes widen as he remembers practically saying the same thing to me before he nearly died.
Tears roll down his face as he then embraces me tightly, pulling me close. “I… I love you, Rika Akimoto…!” he chokes out.
“I love you too, Shintarō Midorima…!” I respond.
He then lowers his head to press his lips against mine. We stay like this for a little while, both of us hesitant to end this moment.
Finally, Midorima pulls away from the kiss. I look up at him and see that he’s trembling, struggling to contain his emotions.
“Part of me will always stay with you…” I assure him, placing my hand over his heart.
Midorima nods after a moment, placing his hand over mine.
I then take several steps backward so that I can see all of my friends. “I… I wish I could keep my memories of you all,” I sniffle, trying to smile. “Since I can’t… I’ll just say this. Right now, in this moment… I have no regrets. I’m cherishing all the times we’ve spent together…!” I look at my cousin. “Aka-kun… whether our childhood memories are real or fake… I’m glad that we could share them at all…”
Akashi wipes away his tears and manages to smile weakly. “Even if you forget about us… we will still remember. The memories you’ve shared with us… we will keep them safe for you.”
Midorima smiles through his own tears. “We will never forget you, Rika…”
The others nod in agreement.
I smile back. “Everyone… thank you for everything…!”
A wall of light then materializes slowly behind me. My friends stare at it in wonder, their eyes still glistening.
I turn around to face the light and take a deep breath. “This is the doorway to the other world…” I tell my friends.
“Don’t worry, everyone,” a familiar voice echoes from inside the doorway. “I promise I’ll take good care of her.”
Akashi widens his eyes. “Wh-Whose voice is…?” he begins to ask.
I glance back at everyone and smile, keeping my gaze primarily on Izuki. “That’s my best friend from the other world,” I explain.
Izuki raises his eyebrows and smiles back, understanding that I’m referring to his other self.
A hand gently reaches out from within the light. “Come, Phoenix. It’s time to return home,” the voice tells me.
I take the hand and walk toward the light. Before I enter, I turn to look at everyone one last time, a final tear rolling down my face. “Goodbye…”
The light brightens until it’s blinding and filling the whole court, forcing everyone to shut their eyes for a few moments.
…When they open their eyes again, the doorway is gone, along with their friend.
Midorima can only stare in disbelief at the spot where his beloved was just standing.
A weeping Akashi gently places his hand on Midorima’s shoulder. “I-It’s okay to mourn… Midorima…” the Rakuzan player sniffles. “We will all miss her…!”
Midorima quakes as he tries to restrain himself for a few more seconds, but then he falls to his knees in tears.
Chapter 17: Ambivalence
Some optional background music for this chapter (might be kind of spoiler-y if you aren't familiar with what they're from, sooo listen at your own risk):
"Memories of the School" (Persona 3), starting from the beginning of the chapter
"Kirameki" (Your Lie In April), starting from the paragraph with a music note (♫) (the paragraph's first few words are "As Akashi thinks back")
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Rain patters outside. In the distance, thunder rolls.
Akashi stares at the plate in front of him.
“You’ve hardly touched your food, Seijūrō,” his father says from across the table.
The red-haired boy looks up, knitting his brow. “…I’m sorry. I… lost a good friend recently…”
Seirin’s third-years are helping the first- and second-years train for the next tournament.
Izuki attempts to pass the ball to Hyūga, but Furihata manages to steal the ball.
“Izuki, is your Eagle Eye out of order, or something?” Hyūga sighs.
Izuki frowns. “…I’m sorry.”
Realizing that something is bothering the point guard, Hyūga places a hand on Izuki’s shoulder. “What is it…?”
“It’s… her…” Kuroko murmurs, a look of sadness creeping into his usual deadpan expression.
The two third-years glance at him. “I see…” Hyūga frowns and looks back at Izuki. “If you need a break, that’s fine. We’re… graduating anyway…”
Izuki nods after a moment. “Thanks…” he says, shuffling away.
He’s about to step outside, but then he realizes that it’s raining. Sighing, he stands by the door, watching as the rain falls.
Kuroko then hears his phone go off. “May I take a break as well?” he asks.
Hyūga glances toward Kuroko’s bag. “Sure.”
The shorter boy goes to pick up his phone, finding that Kagami is video calling him. When he answers, he sees his former teammate lying in bed in a dark room.
“Kagami-kun, what time is it over there? Shouldn’t you be asleep?” Kuroko asks.
“Nan—THAT’S the first thing you’re gonna say to me when I call?!” Kagami narrows his eyes in annoyance, but then he sighs, his expression softening. “I… I can’t sleep. It’s raining cats and dogs outside… and…”
Kuroko frowns. “…You miss her, too?”
Kagami sighs again. “Yeah…”
Team Strky is eating out together. But one of the players appears somewhat dejected, and another looks even more so.
“Kasamatsu? Miyaji? You two seem down…” Okamura says.
Kasamatsu looks up. “…Sorry.”
Imayoshi sighs. “Is it that girl…?”
The former Kaijō player nods. “Miyaji and the others from Shūtoku are taking it especially hard…”
“Akashi is as well,” Higuchi murmurs.
Miyaji doesn’t pay too much attention to his teammates as he stares out the window at the falling rain.
The Yōsen team takes a break from practicing.
“Murochin… can we go to the bakery real quick…?” Murasakibara asks.
“Huh?” Himuro looks up.
“I… I’m craving cheesecake…”
The shooting guard frowns. “…Of course we can,” he murmurs, gently patting his teammate’s back. “…I may not have known her as well as you and the other Miracles did… but I miss her, too.”
The two head to the door, only to find that it’s raining.
Aomine sullenly enters the gym, followed by Momoi.
“You’re showing up for practice without us having to bribe you…?” Wakamatsu asks, rather surprised.
“It’s raining, so it’s not like I can sleep on the roof…” The power forward frowns and glances outside. “And practicing will help take my mind off of… other things.”
“Huh? Wh-What other things?” Sakurai asks.
“Our friend, remember…?” Momoi reminds him, turning away as tears begin forming in her eyes.
“Oh, right…!” The shooting guard starts bowing. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry I asked! I’m sorry—”
“Don’t apologize… just… hurry up and pass me a ball,” Aomine sighs.
Kise’s Perfect Copy stops working after only three minutes.
“What the he(ll)?! Kise, it’s on(l)y been th(r)ee minutes!” Hayakawa exclaims.
Kise’s gaze falls as he catches his breath. “Sorry, Hayakawa-senpai… I’m just not feeling it today…”
“Girlfriend problems…?” Nakamura asks.
“N-No!” the small forward quickly retorts. “I mean… not my girlfriend, but Midorimacchi’s…”
His teammates glance at one another, understanding whom he’s talking about.
“I think I’ll step outside for a bit…” Kise murmurs, walking to the door.
When he opens it, he sees that it’s raining. Heaving a sigh, he stays inside and leans his back against the wall, sliding down until he’s sitting.
Mayuzumi stands at the train station, the rain making him more invisible than he already is.
As the downpour soaks him, he looks up to the sky, wondering what ever became of a certain friend.
A depressed Midorima stares at the empty desk beside his own, unaware of the passing time until somebody taps his shoulder.
“It’s time for practice… Shin-chan…” Takao murmurs.
Midorima glances at him and nods without a word. Then he stands up and follows his teammate out of the classroom, hanging his head.
The two realize that it’s raining as they’re about to leave the main building. Takao scratches his head, unsure of what to do now, while Midorima looks away with a frown, a sob threatening to escape him.
“…We will have relatives visiting soon,” Akashi’s father says. “They just moved to Japan from America.”
“…I understand. I’ll pull myself together before they arrive.”
“One of them is your cousin, and I believe she’s around your age. Perhaps she will be able to console you.”
Akashi’s red eyes widen for a moment. “…I-I see,” he murmurs. A female cousin around my age? That will only make it more difficult to cope…! he thinks to himself as he fights back tears.
When his father leaves the room, his phone vibrates.
Akashi sees that Natsumi is calling.
Picking up, he answers, “Sora-chan…?”
“Hey, Sei-kun… I just thought I’d check on you.”
“I…” Akashi hesitates. “I truly appreciate your concern, but… this is a burden that I have to bear alone. I don’t want you to feel… the pain that I’m feeling—!” His voice cracks.
“I-I’ll call you back… I promise.”
Akashi hangs up before quietly letting his tears out.
“…Aki-chan…” he whispers longingly as nostalgic memories of his childhood play in his mind…
…Then he recalls the words he said to his childhood friend after last year’s Winter Cup: “Your spirit is just as strong as it was back when we were younger. You really are a fighter.”
♫As Akashi thinks back on those words, a ray of golden light hits his face. Squinting, he glances out the window, and then he slowly stands up to walk toward it.
He sees that the gray clouds are breaking apart, revealing the shining sun above.
Please, don’t fret, a familiar voice suddenly seems to say in his head.
Akashi’s eyes widen.
Izuki’s black eyes turn gray as a ray of light suddenly shines down on him.
Kuroko glances at the point guard, noticing the sunlight as well.
A gentle breeze blows, and there seems to be a familiar voice on the wind.
I told you… you’ll always be my friends, even if I have to forget you.
Sunlight streams into the restaurant, slightly startling Miyaji and Kasamatsu. They gaze outside at the sky, watching as the clouds disperse, and then their eyes widen when they hear a familiar voice in their heads.
Even if I’m gone…
Murasakibara and Himuro glance up curiously as the rain lifts and the sun comes out.
…You still have your memories of me…
Aomine is about to take a normal shot when sunlight starts streaming into the gym.
He freezes and turns his head to look outside a window, along with a wide-eyed Momoi.
…And you still have one another.
Kise lifts his head in surprise when a beam of sunlight enters the gym. He gets back onto his feet and steps outside, raising his eyebrows when he realizes that the rain is stopping.
I chose to keep living for you all, so please…
Mayuzumi blinks as the clouds split apart and a ray of light shines down on him before spreading over the whole train station.
A soft breeze blows through the area.
…Don’t let my choice go to waste.
As the rain stops, a ray of light shines down on Midorima and Takao, warming them both up and causing their eyes to widen in wonder.
The green-haired male looks up to the clear sky as the wind whispers gently.
Keep living your lives to the fullest for my sake.
Midorima lets out a light gasp.
Takao looks up at him. “Shin-chan… did you…?”
Midorima slowly brings a hand up to his chest. “I think… I sensed her…”
Takao’s jaw lowers slightly. “Y-You heard her, too…?”
The shooting guard looks down at his teammate in surprise.
Takao smiles and looks skyward. “She… she really will always be with us…!” he murmurs, tears forming in his eyes.
Midorima likewise returns his gaze to the sky, his own eyes welling up with tears. “Yes… she will,” he replies, managing to smile. “And… we must keep living for her.”
Mayuzumi smiles to himself and decides to board the next train back to his town. He now realizes that he has nothing to worry about. Wherever she is now, she’s surely doing fine.
Kise returns to the gym with a determined grin. “All right, I’m ready to continue practicing!”
The team stares at him, surprised at the quick turnaround.
“A(r)e you su(r)e you’(r)e (r)eady to go?!” Hayakawa asks with a louder voice than necessary.
Kise closes his eyes. She was selfless and put others before herself… so I’ll do the same thing for this team! His yellow eyes fly open as he reactivates Perfect Copy. “Let’s practice so we can win!”
Aomine grins and springs to the hoop, dunking the ball with enthusiasm.
His teammates stare in surprise at his sudden burst of energy.
Dai-chan…! Momoi smiles.
She never gave up on her friends. I can’t say I always get along with these guys, but they’re still my teammates. I’ll never give up on them, either. The dark-blue-haired male looks at everyone with a smirk. “What’re you standing around for? We have some games to win, don’t we?! Let’s practice!”
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry I was standing still! I’m—”
“Stop apologizing already!”
Murasakibara inhales and turns around, staying in the gym. “On second thought… maybe the cheesecake can wait until after we practice.” I don’t think she would want me to be too greedy. After all, she showed that there’s more to life than sweets and other material things. She lived… for friendship and love.
Himuro smiles and follows his teammate, glancing outside once more. She sure has a way with people.
For the first time today, Miyaji smiles. “She didn’t take life for granted…” he murmurs, looking back at his teammates.
“We shouldn’t, either,” Kasamatsu replies, also smiling.
Miyaji nods. “Let’s play some streetball after we eat.”
Izuki tears up and smiles.
When he turns around, he sees Kuroko smiling at him. “Are you feeling better, Izuki-senpai?”
The point guard nods and walks back to his teammates. “What I—”
“Hey, check this out! The rain just stopped!” Kagami interrupts, pointing his phone’s camera out his window.
The Seirin players come to look at Kuroko’s phone, seeing a captivatingly starry sky and a bright, full moon.
“This is the clearest night sky I’ve ever seen…!” the power forward breathes out in awe, returning his face to the screen. “It… it’s giving me the feeling that… everything will be okay, or something.”
“It seems we all feel the same way… about her,” Kuroko realizes with a smile.
“Heh, yeah,” Kagami chuckles before his eyes widen as he remembers something. “Oh, hey! Speaking of…”
“What about her, Kagami-kun?”
“Well, uh… when you texted me about what happened with the Jabberwocks, and how she was willing to risk her life to save Midorima… and when I heard all that stuff she said before she left, it got me thinking… I mean, I started to really understand then… what it means to stick with your friends until the end. So, I…” He takes a deep breath and grins. “I might return to Seirin for my third year.”
“NANI?!” all the Seirin players exclaim, their eyes wide.
“A-Are you sure?” Hyūga asks. “I thought you went to America so that you could pursue your dreams…”
“It’s okay. I can always come back to America after graduating,” Kagami continues. “So… I guess I’ll see you guys soon!”
“We’ll see you soon.” Kuroko smiles. “Now, go to sleep.”
“Oi, what are you, my mother?” Kagami rolls his eyes jokingly before waving. “See you.”
The call ends, and then all the Seirin players glance at one another excitedly.
“To think that Kagami-kun will be playing with us for one more year after all…” Kuroko murmurs.
Hyūga smiles. “And it’s all thanks to… her, isn’t it?”
“She was definitely an inspiration,” Izuki comments with a smile of his own.
Kuroko then looks at the eagle-eyed third-year. “Oh, Izuki-senpai, were you going to say something earlier?”
“Oh, yeah! I’ve realized that… what I should be doing right now is doing what I love, and that’s playing basketball with you guys while I still can.”
Hyūga turns toward the point guard, a rather relieved smile crossing his face. “You can keep going today, then?”
“Yeah, I’m not worried anymore. After all… she’s in good hands.” Izuki glances down at one of his hands and mentally compares it to the one that appeared from the doorway to the other world. “Kitakore…!” he whispers with a grin, curling his fingers in for a subtle fist pump.
“Hm? What was that, Izuki?”
Akashi chuckles and wipes his tears away. “That’s right… she wouldn’t want us to mourn for too long,” he whispers to himself. “She’d want us to move on… and stay strong for her.”
His phone vibrates.
Natsumi sent a text: “I’m sorry if I called at a bad time. Take as much time as you need. But please know that you don’t have to be alone. I’m here if you want to talk.”
Smiling, Akashi dials her number.
She picks up shortly. “Sei-kun?”
“Hello, Sora-chan. I apologize for hanging up so suddenly earlier.”
“Huh?! Y-You don’t have to apologize for that! I completely understand if you need some time alone.”
“Thank you, but I’m fine now.”
“Yes. I understand now… she isn’t entirely gone. The times I spent with her resulted in memories that I can forever cherish.” He glances outside, recalling many of the memories he has of his best friend: playing with her as a child, reuniting with her at the hospital and again after his first defeat, celebrating three parties together, dancing with all their friends, and seeing her with the brightest smile ever after her team won the last Winter Cup. “What a fool I was to forget this fact even after telling her that the others and I would keep our memories safe for her.”
“I’m glad you’re feeling better,” Natsumi says, evidently smiling.
Akashi also smiles silently for a few seconds. “Well, I suppose you have your studies to return to…?”
Natsumi chuckles. “Yes, actually… but remember you can call me anytime.”
“Thank you for this talk, Sora-chan.”
“My pleasure, Sei-kun. I’ll talk to you later, then?”
Akashi sits on a sofa in the living room. He can hear his father greeting some people at the door. “It is a pleasure to have you over. Ah, and you must be Seijūrō’s cousin. My son is in the living room. Why don’t you introduce yourself? Your parents and I will speak outside.”
“Yes, sir,” a girl’s voice says.
Akashi listens as soft footsteps approach. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, getting ready to greet his relative.
Somebody enters the room. “Oh… h-hello,” she says. “You must be Seijūrō Akashi.”
The boy smiles warmly. “Yes, I am.” He opens his eyes and lifts his head to look up at the visitor. “And you are—!”
He suddenly finds himself scrambling to his feet in shock, staring with widened eyes at the girl standing before him.
A new school year begins.
Midorima and Takao walk through Shūtoku’s halls for the first time as third-years, the former holding a teacup.
“One more year of high school, huh?” Takao comments as they look for their classroom. “And that means one more year of playing basketball with the team…”
“We’ll make the most of it, nanodayo,” Midorima answers, pushing his glasses up. “To do less than our best…”
Takao looks up at the taller boy.
“…She wouldn’t want that,” the shooting guard continues.
His teammate smiles. “Still fighting for her?”
“Of course. She’s the one who gave me my life back, after all.”
“Yeah…” Takao nods and places a hand on Midorima’s shoulder. “I’ll keep fighting for her, too.”
They find their classroom and choose a couple of empty desks to sit at, Takao sitting in front of Midorima.
A few seconds later, Midorima’s phone vibrates. When he checks it, he sees a text from Akashi: “I have a surprise for you.”
“Hm? Who’s texting you right before class starts?” Takao wonders.
“Akashi…” Midorima answers.
“Akashi?! He’s the last person I’d expect to be texting in class…” Takao remarks.
Midorima types a reply: “What is it?”
Akashi answers: “You’ll see. Just try not to freak her out.”
What the hell is he talking about?! Midorima narrows his eyes in utter confusion.
Akashi sends another text: “And pass that last message on to Takao.”
Though still having no idea what’s going on, Midorima shows his phone to Takao.
The hawk-eyed male tilts his head to one side and raises an eyebrow after reading the texts. “Eh? What’s Akashi—”
“We have a new student joining us today,” the teacher announces. “She recently transferred from America.”
“My name is Tsubasa Hinotori. It’s a pleasure to meet you all.”
Midorima and Takao perk up, both of them almost able to swear that they recognize the voice.
When they look to the front of the classroom, their jaws drop.
The new girl has black hair with fiery red highlights, tied into a braid with a red ribbon.
And her red eyes look extremely familiar.
She glances around the room, her gaze lingering for a moment on Midorima.
The two boys continue to gawk for a moment, and then Takao whirls around in his seat. “Shin-chan, are you thinking what I’m thinking?!” he whispers.
“Shut up, Takao…!” Midorima hisses. But, yes… she looks a lot like… her! His green eyes widen. Wait… is SHE the surprise Akashi was referring to?!
Midorima watches from the corner of his eye as Hinotori chooses to sit at the desk on his left. He turns his face away slightly, knowing that there’s a pink tinge on his cheeks.
He makes eye contact with Takao for a moment, and they both subtly nod.
When the bell rings for lunch, Midorima takes a deep breath and prepares to introduce himself to his new classmate.
To his shock, she’s already turned toward him when he looks at her.
“Um, you’re Shintarō Midorima, right…?” she asks with a small smile.
Midorima loses his breath for a moment. “I—y-yes, I am. How did… you know…?”
Takao stares, just as surprised that Hinotori already knows who Midorima is.
“My parents and I visited some relatives in Kyoto shortly after moving to Japan,” the transfer student explains. “When I asked about which high school I could possibly attend for my third year, my cousin recommended Shūtoku and told me about you.”
“Is your cousin… Seijūrō Akashi?” Midorima asks.
The girl nods.
“W-Wouldn’t you have been… more comfortable attending Rakuzan with him…?”
What the hell, Shin-chan?! You KNOW you’re excited that she chose to come here instead. Takao internally facepalms. Forever a tsundere, I guess.
Hinotori smiles. “Maybe, but I think I’ll be fine here. He said you’re a good friend of his and that you could show me the ropes.” She turns to Takao. “He mentioned you as well, I think. You’re Kazunari Takao?”
“Y-Yeah, that’s me,” Takao replies with a smile.
“Plus, my family lives here in Tokyo,” she says. “Attending Rakuzan would’ve been a hassle.”
“Oh… I see,” the green-haired boy murmurs.
“Also, he said… um…” She blushes. “Well, he said the basketball team here is really strong, and that you guys even won the last Winter Cup, and… for some reason, that kind of… struck a chord with me.”
Midorima’s eyes widen. “I-Is that so…?”
“Yeah…” She glances down for a moment. “Um, by the way, do you guys need a manager?”
“Huh? Did Akashi tell you about that?” Takao asks.
“N-No… actually, I just sort of… blurted that out without thinking…” She chuckles nervously. “It’s strange. Ever since moving to Japan, I’ve been making a lot of correct assumptions and getting all these feelings of déjà vu. Like… even though I grew up in America, I could’ve almost sworn that it wasn’t my first time seeing my cousin when I recently visited him. And…” She looks at the two boys. “…I’m kind of getting that same feeling with you two, to be honest…”
Midorima and Takao gape in surprise.
Hinotori blushes again. “S-Sorry, that must’ve sounded really weird! I mean, this is our first time meeting, right…?”
“Actually… it doesn’t sound weird at all, nanodayo,” Midorima says with a smile.
“If anything, we could say the same thing about you!” Takao adds.
“W-Wait, really?!” the girl exclaims.
The boys nod.
“Wow… he joked that maybe I had a past life here, but… I wouldn’t be surprised if that were actually the case…” She giggles. “Life can be so weird…”
Midorima raises his eyebrows. I don’t think Akashi was joking.
His phone then vibrates. When he checks it, he sees another text from Akashi: “Behold, the rebirth of a phoenix.”
Midorima glances at Akashi’s cousin, smiling again and holding back tears of joy. You might not remember us entirely… but I am so glad that you have found a way back to us… Rika!
It was just “Izuki” and me standing in the darkness.
“Is there absolutely no way for me to keep my memories…?” I asked.
“I’m afraid not,” he replied. “Or at least… the you that I’m speaking to right now won’t remember anything back in the other world.”
I narrowed my eyes. “What are you getting at…?”
“This is just a feeling, but… since part of you will still be in this world, within Midorima… because that part is incomplete, something might happen so that the part does become complete.”
“Uh… I don’t think I follow.”
He chuckled. “It’ll be something like… reincarnation.”
My eyes slowly widened in realization.
“If I can have an alternate self in this world, then I’m sure you can, too,” he continued with a smile. “After all… phoenixes are immortal, and you’re essentially a phoenix in this world, aren’t you?”
I smiled back. “I guess I am.”
“Again, the you standing here won’t remember anything,” he reminded me, “but if my hunch is right… I’m sure Midorima will be happy to see you again… in a way. Or rather… he’ll meet your true form in this world.” He took my hands, and a light began glowing from them. “Things will work themselves out here.”
I nodded, trusting his words as the light grew bigger and brighter. “Yes… they will,” I murmured as everything faded to white.
Fun fact: "tsubasa"/"翼" means "wings" and "hi no tori"/"火の鳥" means "fire bird" :D (and yes, I used Tsubasa's initials for the second part of my username, lol)
Chapter 18: Epilogue
Tsubasa closes her eyes, basking in the warm sun while sitting on a bench on the porch, a gentle breeze blowing through her black and red hair.
Someone sits beside her and holds her hand. “Good morning, my love,” a husky voice whispers into her ear.
Her red eyes open and meet Midorima’s soft green gaze. With a smile, she leans in to kiss him.
“Hey, Shin-chan~! Tsubasa-chan~!” another voice chimes before their lips can touch.
Midorima sighs and turns his head. “Couldn’t you have waited a bit longer…?” he asks as Takao approaches.
“Sorry, I’m just so excited!” the dark-haired male answers. “I mean, you’re finding out today, right?!”
“That’s right!” Tsubasa rests her head on Midorima’s shoulder.
“Th-That’s beside the point, nanodayo…” Midorima pushes his glasses up and looks away, trying not to show his own excitement. “Tsubasa and I would appreciate some privacy, now that we’re mar—”
“Oh, come on, Shin-chan!” Takao grins. “Last time I checked, you’re the one who wanted us to remain neighbors even after we graduated college. And it was your idea to make me your child’s godfather~”
Midorima stares blankly at him for a moment. “…Die.”
Takao stifles a laugh before shifting his gaze to Tsubasa. “So, have you decided on any possible names yet?”
She shrugs. “Not quite.”
“If it’s a boy, you should name him after me~!” Takao says.
“That would make things confusing, nanodayo!” Midorima points out, glancing at Tsubasa. “We could instead name him… after Akashi, perhaps…? I-If you want. I know that you two have always been close.”
She thinks for a moment. “Why not both? Like… ‘Akinari’?”
The other two widen their eyes.
“Half-‘Akashi,’ half—oh, wait… it’s ‘Aki,’ not ‘Aka,’ isn’t it…?” She chuckles nervously. “But it’s close enough, right?”
“It is!” Takao replies, making eye contact with Midorima. Both of them are certain that there was another, subconscious reason for the first half of the name.
“Do you have a name in mind if it’s a girl?” Midorima then asks.
Tsubasa thinks again. “Nothing specific yet, but I think… I’d like it to start with an R, maybe…”
Midorima raises his eyebrows while Takao pretends to cough into his sleeve to stop himself from squealing.
“…What about… ‘Rika’?” the green-haired man suggests.
“‘Rika’…?” Tsubasa blinks, and then she smiles after a moment. “Huh… that sounds perfect. Where’d you get that name?”
“It… it simply crossed my mind…” Midorima smiles back and stands up, helping Tsubasa onto her feet and leading her to his car.
Takao follows them and gets into the backseat. “Wait… what about your lucky item?” he asks when he notices that Midorima, now behind the wheel, doesn’t seem to be holding anything.
Midorima holds up his left hand, showing Takao the golden band around his ring finger.
“Oh, I see~” Takao murmurs as Midorima starts the vehicle and begins driving toward the hospital. “You know, even though we won’t find out for another few months, I can’t help but wonder what you guys’ baby will look like! What will the hair color be? Green? Red? Black? A combination of the three? What about the eyes? Will each one be a different color, like Akashi back when—”
“Shut up, Takao.”