Hello readers, I'm back with another chapter! We're getting closer and closer to the Seirin/Yosen match and the others that follow! This may be the last filler chapter for a while (don't quote me) but yaaaaaah. Enjoy :)

Disclaimer: All canon characters and canon events belong to Fujimaki Tadatoshi.

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SPARK

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Susa flipped the pencil between his fingers idly, his head resting on a palm and was deep in thought.

"What's up, Susa? You haven't been making any progress," Imayoshi commented when he noticed the man's far-off look. They were in Touou's library, with books and worksheets sprawled around them, studying for the upcoming college exams since retiring from the team.

"I was just thinking it's almost time..."

"Oh, right," the bespectacled senior looked thoughtful as well. "Seirin's probably playing their second game around now... Though, it has nothing to do with us anymore."

Susa let out a small sigh. "They beat us. It'd be a shame if they lost their second game."

"Yeah, but the stronger team doesn't always win. You might even say they'll lose."

"What do you mean?"

"The first is Seirin is far from hitting their stride today. Against us, all five Seirin players gave 100%, no, 120%. But that hardly ever happens," the male's glasses glossed over as he started sketching in his notebook. "You couldn't keep that up every game. The second is that they beat us. They say you shouldn't let your guard down after a victory... After you win, everyone lets their guard down."

The brunette watched as the former captain doodle with a small frown. He wasn't sure what it was, but it was ugly. "Imayoshi, you're terrible at drawing," he remarked and leaned back in his chair. He knew there was more to what the senior was thinking, and he was listening.

"There's no such thing as a perfect human. Besides, confidence and arrogance are two sides of the same coin," Imayoshi ignored the comment and continued. "I also overheard from Momoi that Seirin's manager got hurt and won't be coming to their game today. It's quite obvious to see that their aura is different when she's with them. Alternatively, it affects them when she's not." Satisfied with the way his sketch of a samurai holding a lantern turned out, he went back to his workbook.

"In other words, in today's game, Seirin's greatest enemy is themselves."

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thirty-seven

it's not a weakness

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Tomoko sulked as she watched the time tick on her oven stove. There was a tray of blueberry muffins baking in the oven and the sweet aroma wafted through the entire kitchen, but she couldn't get excited about it like she normally would.

Why? She wanted to be at her team's second game of Winter Cup to cheer them on, but she was stuck at home to watch for Alex's text updates. While she was still unconscious, the doctor had told Riko that it while it wasn't likely she had a concussion, it was better safe than sorry to have her not be in an arena with loud noises and bright lights for a few days. So, the coach ordered her to stay home for two days—that meant two games.

Ding!

That was her cue that the muffins were ready. She got up and went to retrieve the baked goods, and just as she set them down to cool, her phone rang.

"Hello," she answered without looking at the caller ID. Her childhood friend's energetic voice connected through the line.

"Hime! Where are you?"

"I'm at home," she pouted at the fact that she was, but grow confused at Hayama's anxious tone. "What's wrong?"

"Oh, nothing! We just finished our game and I saw your team go in when we left, but I didn't see you anywhere. Why're you home? Are you sick?"

Tomoko scrunched her nose sheepishly. "Something like that, but not really..." she didn't want her friend to worry because she knew he would blow it out to be more serious than it was. "Are you done for the day?" she asked. There was no doubt that Rakuzan would win their second match anyway, but even the top teams had to be busy with training during the game season.

"Coach's got us on a tight schedule... But hey, why don't you come visit me?! We're gonna be practicing at the gym in our hotel and you can come watch!"

At her childhood friend's offer, Tomoko gave it a thought. She was going to be cooped up in the house all day otherwise. Plus, she was curious about what kind of people were on Rakuzan, Hayama and Akashi aside. This would be a great opportunity to gage what they were like and make her feel better about not being able to watch her team play.

With that in mind, she smiled brightly. "I'll be there soon!"


"Welcome! Are you checking in?"

Tomoko was in awe. She thought the outside of the hotel looked grand enough, but the inside was even more pristine. It was to be expected, she supposed, since Rakuzan was a prestigious school and had a lot of funds in their basketball club to afford such a nice hotel. Focusing her attention back to the lady behind the front desk, she politely told her she was only visiting. Hayama had told her to wait in the lobby for him.

"Hime!"

She saw the male bound up to her after coming out from the emergency stairs. He had a slight glisten of sweat around his grinning face.

"Did you run all the way down from the stairs?"

Tomoko laughed when he nodded proudly. "The elevators were too slow!" he said, but then he leaned in close to her face, his own scrunched in concern at the square bandage behind her fringes.

"What happened to your forehead?!"

"I... Accidentally hit my head..."

"Really?" he looked like he didn't believe her, but she nodded and assured him that it didn't hurt that much anyway. "If I find out someone did this..." he mumbled lowly.

"What did you say, Ko-tan?" Tomoko asked when she didn't catch his last words. The blonde only shook his head and took her hand in his with a snaggle-toothed grin.

"Nothing! C'mon, let me show you the gym!"

Hayama led the bewildered girl up the hotel, this time using the elevator, until they reached the floor where the recreation area was located. When they stepped off the elevator, he showed her a giant court enclosed by half-length glass walls; Tomoko noticed that aside from the main gym, there was a closed-off personal training gym next to it as well. She saw many people in the court, practicing in rhythm.

"We booked the entire recreation area for the time being, so everyone you see here are from our team," Hayama explained as he opened the door, and the once muffled squeaks of shoes and patterned whistles came to life. "Pretty cool, huh?"

"You're late," a very tall and beautiful looking male walked up to the two childhood friends with his hands on his hips. His lips twisted down in a small frown at Hayama when the male didn't look too troubled by the tardiness. His bright teal eyes then fluttered towards Tomoko, "Who's this?"

"I'm Okuma Tomoko from Seirin High, nice to meet you!"

When Tomoko bowed slightly in greeting, Mibuchi chuckled and recognized who she was. "Ah, Kotarou-kun didn't mention you were such a darling!" he complimented her good manners and cheery exterior. When the blonde came back the day of the opening ceremony, he had rambled on about finding his childhood friend who was Seirin's manager without shutting up. Now he finally got to meet her. "I'm Mibuchi Reo," he winked at the girl. "Are you here to watch us practice? Scoping out competition?"

"If you don't mind me keeping you guys at your toes," she smiled with good humor. Mibuchi took an instant liking to this girl.

"I'm sure Coach wouldn't—"

Before he got to finish his sentence, he was interrupted by a burly male sporting a short goatee. The man peered down at Tomoko with a strange expression. "I smelled food!" he stated loudly, as if that was a good reason to barge between them so suddenly. "Oi girlie, what's in your bag? Is it meat?!"

Tomoko was confused at his strange inquisition, but she opened her bag to reveal a container of freshly baked blueberry muffins. At the sight of them, Nebuya looked visibly disappointed that it wasn't his beloved meat and turned to Hayama with a frown.

"Next time tell your girlfriend to bring us some meat! I got so excited for nothing."

"In your dreams, Nebuya!" Hayama hugged the container protectively. "Hime's food is only for me to eat!"

"Well, actually," Tomoko rolled her eyes playfully at the blonde's antics and offered both Nebuya and Mibuchi a muffin. "I made a lot, so I brought them here for you guys to share! Also, Ko-tan and I are just really good friends, Nebuya-san."

At her blatant reply, Nebuya laughed mockingly at the shorter male as he took a muffin and shoved it in his mouth. He was surprised at how delicious it was since he normally only ate meat dishes. When he reached over to grab another one, Mibuchi twisted his lip in disgust at his mannerism, or rather, lack thereof, before turning to her to compliment her talent. Of course, Hayama then had to cut in and boast about all the times he got to taste her baking.

Tomoko giggled and looked them with a thoughtful pout. Her childhood friend aside, the other two males were interesting to say the least. Though they contrasted each other greatly with personality and vital stats, she knew they were the powerful regulars on Rakuzan just by the way they carried themselves.

"Mibuchi. Nebuya. Hayama." An older man with a grey streak across the side of his head said when he drew near the group. His eyes briefly glanced at Tomoko before looking straight ahead again. "Get back to practice."

"Yes, coach," the three said in unison and the man walked off.

Hayama took the coach's silence as approval and led Tomoko towards the bench near the area they were going to be doing some warm-ups, but before he went off, she pulled him aside with a questioning gaze. "Is it just going to be the three of you?" she asked with a tilt of her head. It looked like the regulars on Rakuzan practiced separate from the second and third strings... Her question made Hayama look around briefly and shrug.

"Mayuzumi's probably off somewhere reading his light novels... I donno, he doesn't do much anyway," he said while dribbling a ball. Nebuya came up to block him but he ducked with lightening speed and underhanded the ball. It landed perfectly into the net and he turned to the girl excitedly. "Did you see that?!"

He's so fast! Tomoko thought incredulously while clapping. She's seen many fast players during her time with Seirin, but perhaps Hayama was the fastest yet. "That was amazing, Ko-tan!"

"I know right!? Watch this!" he started dribbling again, but this time the ball was traveling between his fingers and the ground faster. He was good at dribbling. Really, really good. Not only could she barely follow it... But was the ball hitting the ground louder than usual? Each bounce was practically shaking the ground!

She frowned. Maybe she does have a concussion...

"Practice seriously or Sei-chan's going to punish you for goofing off again," Mibuchi chided as he passed by. The mention of the red haired captain was enough to reel Hayama's excitement back a notch. Likewise, Tomoko blinked and quickly shook away her lingering doubt.

"Where is Akashi-kun? And, if you don't mind me asking, why aren't you guys practicing together with the rest of the team?" she asked as Mibuchi did a layup and the other two followed suit. She was in awe at how perfectly they executed the move each time, and she also noticed that the graceful ravenette's form seemed somehow similar, yet way more refined.

"Sei-chan went to speak to Mayuzumi," the shooting guard informed her openly. "We only practice together sometimes if Sei-chan finds a need to. We're really just here to set the non-regulars an example to practice hard."

"That's the only way to gain more power!" Nebuya added with a shout as he made a dunk the second time around during their layup. The hoop clanked loudly as the ball slammed down with a deafening bounce, and it must've been a miracle that the hoop didn't break off. He pointed to a group of first-years doing drills with a prideful expression on his face, "Oi guys, you see that muscle dunk? Watch and learn!"


So this is Rakuzan... The caramel haired girl had excused herself to use the restroom a moment ago and was washing her hands. Ko-tan has some incredible teammates. Shutting off the faucet, she dried her hands and started walking back to the court. She paused to watched them continue their practice from the other side of the glass when Mibuchi made another spectacular shot.

Where has she seen this form before?

She wasn't sure what she had expected, but as far as she could tell, Rakuzan stressed the importance of practice and took the team's training very seriously, much like her own team. Speed, power, grace... Rakuzan had it all. But, if she didn't know better, she would think their team dynamic was set up in such a way that resembled an Empire. The coach seemed imposing enough, but it looked like the regulars more frequently took orders and carried out decisions made by their captain.

If the lower strings were the soldiers looking up to the regulars, who were the generals, then...There was a pause at the last possibility.

"If Rakuzan was in fact an Empire, does that make Akashi-kun the Emperor?" she mumbled quietly.

"I trust you are getting some good insight from our practice, Okuma-san."

Akashi voicing his sudden presence had caught Tomoko off-guard and she gasped softly in surprise. The male was looking at her with an amused expression. He, like the others, was wearing casual workout clothes. Yet, he still looked imposing as ever.

Did he hear me?

If he did, he made no point to address it as he stood next to her. Tomoko noticed that he was watching each player carefully, as if he was analyzing their moves and formulating new ways to improve them constantly.

"Rakuzan's strength is incredible," she then admitted truthfully. They were just having a normal practice, yet nothing about this team was exactly screaming normal. "It's not hard to see why Rakuzan was the reigning champs for five years... But that doesn't mean it'll be the case this year."

"How bold," Akashi regarded her with a straight face.

It seemed that she was still foolishly unwilling to submit to his absolute strength, but that made it all the more fun for him to defeat Seirin—that is, if they make it to the finals. It's become pretty tedious for him to sit out on matches, seeing that his desired opponents weren't facing him yet. The Generation of Miracles all split up to different high schools for that reason, after all. Together they were undefeatable and made basketball quite bland, so splitting up made the competition just a little entertaining.

It was a shame that Kuroko had decided back then to abandon the Generation of Miracles, and abandon everything Akashi's taught him. It was a weakness. The shadow always did have too strong a sense of humility...

He doesn't see the absolute power only victors hold, and neither does she.

"Anyway, I realize I might be overstaying my welcome." The girl's content sigh brought his attention back to her. She gave him a small smile, "I'll like to say bye to them, then I'll leave!"

The captain found himself increasingly interested in figuring out how she worked. He couldn't deny that she was like the blue haired shadow in many ways, from her values to her sense of humility. Her loyalty and passion towards those she believes in was commendable but a waste to not be serving under him.

"There's no need," he said, leaving no room for refusal as his heterochromatic eyes burned into her salmon ones. "Stay and accompany me to dinner tonight."

Her eyes widened before her expression twisted in a bewildered pout. He noted that she was very expressive with her emotions; she practically wore it on her sleeve. Yet she had surprised him twice now, showing him that she was not afraid nor withered too easily under his gaze. Perhaps her boldness was also why his former teammates were so drawn to her, like moths to a flame.

It would surely benefit him to observe her more...

Because if she was the flame, then Akashi wanted to be the one who puts her out.


"Seirin High, time out!"

At Kuroko's suggestion, the team was called back. There was only a few minutes left of their second quarter, and Seirin was already lagging behind Nakamiya South in points and performance. Riko knew it was going to be rough, but they had decided to conserve Kagami's and Kuroko's energy until their fourth match, which they will be hopefully going against Yosen. They can't afford to slip up here.

The starting players, consisting of Hyuuga, Izuki, Teppei, Tsuchida, and Mitobe, came back to the bench where the brunette coach was frowning with thought.

"Listen guys, I know—"

"Hold up," Hyuuga cut in knowingly. He grabbed the booklet of the Winter Cup match-ups and other details from the bench and pointed to the center bracket on the page. "I'm sure everyone knows this is what we're aiming for. 50 schools fought tooth and nail through the preliminaries to represent their prefectures, and every one is carrying the wishes of the ones they defeated in the preliminaries. They practiced until they were puking up blood and survived desperate battles. Yet, only one school can beat them all," he gritted his teeth. "Of course being the best in Japan isn't easy! Everyone's desperate, but letting your guard down for a second is fatal. I know it makes sense in your heads, but I think we still have a weakness in our hearts."

At the captain's sincere speech, Riko softened. She was worried that her team was slipping up after gaining such a tremendous victory their first match but it looked like she had nothing to worry about after all. Seirin isn't just made up of their two first-year starters; the second-years were strong, too.

"Anyway, Coach, hit me with your best shot so I can get my head on straight," Hyuuga said.

"What?" Riko voiced with surprise at his voluntary request to get hit, though she was already stretching out her arm with a pleasant smile on her face. "But I'm so weak~"

You seem really excited... Kuroko and Kagami gulped as they watched her walk closer to the captain, who looked for a split second like he wanted to take back his request. They were lucky they weren't playing at the moment...

"H-Hurry up and get it over with."

Several wake-up hits and the sound of the buzzer later, the match continued. No one dared to question out loud why the Seirin second-years, along with their benched players, had a glaring red handprint on their left cheeks.

"I'm disappointed in myself," the brunette sighed as she sat back down next to Kuroko, giving him a small smile. "I should have noticed sooner, but you and Teppei were trying to say the same thing, right? Guys with national experience see things differently."

"No..." the shadow blinked and frowned pitifully. His cheek stung. "If you knew that, though, I wish you hadn't hit me."

"Sorry, I got caught in the moment," the older girl clapped her hands together in apology. "If Okuma-chan was here, she would've stopped me... Ahaha."

"More like you'd ask her to join in," Kagami scowled to himself. Though, even he felt refreshed and knew that it was what the team needed to get their acts together. It's nice having seniors you can count on.

"I should have left Number 2 with Tomoko-san," Kuroko realized as his bright eyes softened dejectedly. "She looked really upset she couldn't come." The redhead snorted and patted the boy's back.

"She'll find a way to entertain herself, trust me."


"Really? That's great!" Tomoko looked relieved and a smile made its way across her face. The feminine voice on the other line hummed. After the end of Seirin's match, she had received messages from all of her teammates telling her that they successfully won the match as well as encouragements for her to rest well for the two days and come back. It was only later when Alex called her with the full details.

"Honestly, I was scared they'd lose, but I'm glad they pulled through. I'm sure I don't have to say it, but the Generation of Miracles also advanced to their third games."

"I wouldn't doubt it," she replied with a knowing expression. Looking at the time, she realized that it was almost six in the evening. "Is the team back home now?"

"Yeah, Riko-chan didn't want to disturb you so we all went off our own ways to continue practice. She feels bad, you know, for not letting you come. How are you feeling, by the way? You didn't naughtily sneak off somewhere, did ya?"

Tomoko chuckled sheepishly at the tease; the woman didn't know just how accurate her guess was. Rakuzan had finish practice so she was waiting in the leisure floor as the team freshened up. She originally hadn't wanted to stay this long, but Hayama insisted and, as it was still fresh on her mind, she found herself almost obligated to stay because of Akashi's abrupt request.

"I wouldn't exactly say I sneaked off... But I went to see Rakuzan practice."

"Rakuzan?!"

"A-Alex, not so loud!" the girl widened her eyes. She was sure the busty woman was with Kagami and she was not ready to hear the redhead's angry lecture about doing what she wasn't suppose to do again. "Please don't tell Riko-san or the others about this or they'll chain me to my house tomorrow," she said and heard Alex sigh on the other line.

"Fine... But why were you there? Are you still there?"

"Yeah I am. My childhood friend Kotarou asked me to come and I wanted to see what kind of team Rakuzan was, and..."

"And you saw that they were complete monsters, right?"

She nodded even though the blonde couldn't see her. "They were just really... Spectacular."

"I know what you mean. I did a little research on my own, and from what I've seen, the Rakuzan starters this year are, if not just as good, as the Generations of Miracles. It's almost frightening to know that they all can be compared to some of the great NBA players I've seen during my time."

Hearing the former women's NBA player confirm her thoughts, Tomoko couldn't help but shiver a little. But oddly, she was excited. Seirin will face Rakuzan one day, and she couldn't wait to see just how the match between the top team of Japan and hers will go down.

"Anyway—ah, Taiga, you're out of the shower—ACK! For the last time, stop throwing clothes at me!"

"Put that on! How is it that I took a shower but you're the one with no clothes on!?"

Tomoko could hear complaints from the other line and she giggled lightly. The eccentric American woman's habit of walking around nude was still a wonder to her but was also quite hilarious. "Alex?"

"I have to go now, take care okay? Bye—oi Taiga!" The line went dead and Tomoko put her phone away with a small smile. They must be going to grab a quick bite and then go back to practice. All of them were working hard; she was glad to hear that Seirin did well, and even though she won't be at their third game on the fourth day, she knows they'll win.

Looking at the time again, she saw that it was now six and she was growing hungry. On cue, her stomach let out a low grumble. She decided that she was bored of sitting still and decided to walk around to forget her grumbling stomach.

The leisure floor, like the recreation area, was extensive and dedicated to keep the guests relaxed. On one side, there was an arcade for smaller kids and teenagers in a soundproof room and some unoccupied pool tables lined up next to it. On the other side, there was an enclosed area with a pool and many guests were having fun inside. Tomoko walked past the more quiet area of the floor where comfy lounge chairs was situated around for the guests and was headed towards the pool area when she hit a lean chest.

"Ow..." she hissed when the bruise on her forehead throbbed slightly from the contact. It was fortunate that she didn't hit it too hard, or she'd be in more pain than this. Looking up at the person she bumped into with hooded eyes, she was greeted with a blank gaze and unruly hairstyle that nearly made her thought it was Kuroko for a second.

The male closed the novel he was reading and let the arm fall to his side, unfazed at her pained expression. "Watch where you're going," he said.

Tomoko bowed before voicing out an apology, even though she couldn't help but think half of it was his fault for not paying attention to anything but his book. "But excuse me—" she looked up, wanting to point out his wrong, but she was surprised to see that the male was gone. What... Tomoko couldn't believe her eyes; just how did the guy leave without her even noticing?

"...Did I imagine him?" she blinked and touched her forehead. D-Did I lose too many braincells?!

"Why are you just standing here?" Hayama's voice brought her back to reality and she turned to the blonde with a confused expression. He grinned and pulled her along, "C'mon, us regulars are going out to eat!"

He lead her out towards the lobby where Mibuchi and Nebuya were waiting. Akashi was up ahead and again reminded Tomoko of what happened earlier.

"Accompany me to dinner tonight."

She looked at him with shock lacing her expression. Did she just hear what she thought she heard? She wouldn't think that much about it if the other Generation of Miracles asked her the same question, but this was Akashi Seijuuro. The last encounter with him was enough to warrant him as someone dangerous, and she'd dare call anyone a liar if they said otherwise. "Why?"

"You're the guest of Rakuzan," he said to her with a matter-of-fact smile. Tomoko frowned and raked her brain for a plausible meaning of that, only to grow more confused.

"Somehow it sounds suspicious coming from you, Akashi-kun."

It almost seemed like he wanted to keep her around so it would be easier to maim her.

"Then think of it as an exchange for letting you attend our practice today," his said just shy of it being threatening, as if he was hinting 'refuse if you dare'.

At the end, she still didn't figure out why the Rakuzan captain asked her, and he had already joined his teammates at practice before she had the chance to answer him. She didn't think his offer was going to extend to the rest of his team though, but she was never gladder to see her childhood friend and the other members present.

"Finally!" Nebuya complained as she and Hayama made their way over. He was patting his growling stomach. "I'm damn near starving!"

Next to him, Mibuchi brought his attention to the girl. "So you're joining us," he said amusingly. "I was wondering why Sei-chan suddenly suggested a team dinner~"

He sounded genuinely surprised, as if it wasn't typical for them to have a simple event like this without her. Are they not close? she thought, feeling sad that such a structured team on the court was so disconnected outside of basketball. Looking at them, she could see clearly that there was a barrier between Akashi and the other three.

"Mayuzumi won't be coming," Akashi said indifferently, although no one in particular cared to ask, and headed out first.

The rest merely shrugged and followed behind while Tomoko pursed her lips. The name was brought up more than once today, but she has yet to meet this 'Mayuzumi' person...


"Stop hogging all the meat, Nebuya!"

"Hphm?"

"Dammit, you took my rice too?!"

It turns out having dinner with Rakuzan wasn't as awkward as she thought it'd be.

Hayama was sitting next to her and was sharing half of everything from both of their plates (because his kept getting stolen), and it brought back memories of her childhood where they used to do the same whenever they ate together. They ended up going to a yakiniku restaurant upon Nebuya's insistence to eat lots of meat, and said male was currently neck-deep in all the bowls of rice and meat he grilled (and hogged), scarfing away with great appetite. Meanwhile, the ever-poised shooting guard of Rakuzan was conversing with the red headed captain about the team's previous game performances, though he would occasionally slip some displeased remarks towards the burly center for his lack of table manners. Tomoko was wholly surprised at how Akashi seemed completely at ease with the team despite her initial impression that there was a disconnect between them.

Was I wrong about that after all? she wondered.

"Cutie-chan? You're spacing out."

The remark made Tomoko snap out of her thoughts and trail her eyes towards Mibuchi. He had stop talking about basketball some time ago and seemed to be looking at the bandage on her forehead.

"Does it hurt?"

"Ah, it's not that! It doesn't hurt anymore, and I was just thinking about something unrelated," Tomoko waved it off casually. Still, Mibuchi's lips twisted to a fraction of a frown.

"You should be more careful," he said. "What are the guys on Seirin doing, letting their manager get hurt like this?"

"Eye told yuh, yuh shed've ransfurd to Rakushan!" Hayama attempted to say before swallowing a mouthful of rice. He turned to Mibuchi with hopes of relating to him. "We'd take better care of our managers, right Reo-nee?"

"Don't talk with your mouth full."

Tomoko laughed, amused at the pretty male's quirk of always correcting other people's bad habits. The title 'Reo-nee' was very much a proper nickname for him, and she was glad he was around to make sure Hayama didn't get carried away because her childhood friend was a ball of energy 24/7. It was probably no surprise that out of all of them, then, that Mibuchi seemed to be the closest to the composed red haired captain.

"Reo-san, you're like the mother of Rakuzan," she told him when he gave her a bemused look. She took a quick glance at Akashi, who had been silent during the conversation. "It feels like you and Akashi-kun have to constantly keep watch over the rest."

"Eh, is she saying that we're their kids?" Nebuya responded and slapped Hayama on the back when the shorter boy choked, the action nearly sending Hayama lurching into the table. He disregarded the glare sent his way and laughed. "I'm for sure the stronger older brother!"

"That hurt like hell, you brainless muscle bag!"

"Hah, thanks!"

"How interesting," Akashi commented without looking up from his food at first. He could tell she wasn't expecting him to say anything during that exchange from the look of bewilderment on her face, and he couldn't help the amused smirk that rose on his. "You seem to always make up roles for people."

"...Why'd you say that?" she asked curiously as his expression grew.

"This isn't the first time today. I should be flattered you think so highly of Rakuzan."

S-So he did hear me! Tomoko recoiled in embarrassment. She was sure this pleased him because it only made it seem like she was admitting that he was right about being 'absolute'. The other members paused amusingly at the captain's statement about her, though they didn't seem all that surprised.

"Fine... It was my honest observation anyway," she finally shrugged. It's not like she had to deny it; it was just the matter of not wanting to give them a negative ego boost. "I can't deny that you guys are strong, but please don't underestimate your opponents. Even the greatest empires can fall in a night."

It was silent between the four for a few seconds.

"Hime, I don't want you to feel bad because you're from Seirin," Hayama was the first to reply and offered the girl a proud grin. "But Rakuzan is the best! I don't see how that saying would apply to us."

"Besides, our opponents lose before we even find the time to underestimate them!" Nebuya agreed wholeheartedly.

"Victory is the very air Rakuzan breathes," Mibuchi simply said.

Tomoko stared at the three, her salmon eyes wide with a look of incredulity. Her words had hardly affected their mindsets; in fact, it only served as a laughingstock to them. The more time she spent with them, the more she realized that she didn't understand them.

She then brought her attention back to Akashi. He was watching her calmly; knowingly.

"Do you understand now?" Akashi cocked his brow when his eyes made contact with hers; his expression was cold. "Opposing me is futile. Just because you think of victory differently than others doesn't make it different at all. Victory is winning; there is no other way to put it. If you don't succeed, then there is no victory. Wars are not won with friendship."

"Don't give me that crap again!" she countered with a ticked off tone. She had stood up in the heat of the moment. "I don't give up that easily, and neither does Seirin. There's nothing to gain when you only live by that messed up motto. I don't care if you don't believe that you can be beat, because I believe that you can, and you will."

"Very well," Akashi said calmly as he stood from his seat as well. Something switched within his usual calculating eyes. If it was possible, they became more menacing than ever. When he rounded the table towards her, the air stilled around the whole team. Hayama tried to say something when he sensed the brewing trouble, but he didn't know what he could say at this point. Akashi was absolutely terrifying when he got pissed off.

"A-Akashi, you don't have to take her words to—"

"Silence, Kotarou."

The captain's order rang loudly as he paused behind them. He wasn't looking at them, but even Tomoko couldn't stop the chill that ran through her very bones when she whipped around to face him. Akashi never looked so malicious to her until this very moment and she knew this was the real threat. Had he really been toying with her previously to gage her fear? His gaze bore into hers and she felt an invisible pressure pushing her down.

I can't move...?

"I've made it clear that I don't give out second chances, but it seems that I've been far too gracious with you," Akashi's eyes sharpened intensely and Tomoko felt the pounding of her heart leave along with the air in her lungs as she dropped back into her seat involuntarily.

"So long as you're opposing me, lower your head."


"Well, I'm thinking Sei-chan actually likes a girl who can stand up for herself."

-Mibuchi Reo


Review?

P.S. I'm thinking of making an AU!Spark omake (in the near future maybe?) and play around with the school festival trope~ would that be something you guys would be interested in? comment opinions pls

P.P.S I LIVE for Bokushi and his threats. Sorry Tomoko-chan ;_;