A/N: As promised, here is the next chapter. Unfortunately, it does stray a bit far from my original intentions, but the story will come around eventually.
Disclaimer: I do not own Kurobasu
Chapter Eighteen: Ipomen Scarlet
With two seconds remaining on the clock, a final alley oop decided the match as the buzzer went off like a blaring siren to the losing team, Seirin. Drenched in sweat, the five players buckled over in exhaustion and defeat. Their crestfallen expressions conveyed exactly how they felt, especially to Kagami, in which their loss frustrated him to no end - did this mean that they were not capable of emerging victorious with the absence of both Kiyoshi and Kuroko?
However nevertheless, they had long overcome the frustration of defeat. Hyuuga gathered everyone around and slapped Kagami on the back with a large grin.
"Oi, that hurt!" Kagami growled, spinning around to whoever it was that slapped him on the back rather harshly. However, his anger simmered at the four grins, exact replicas of one another.
Hyuuga extended his hand out, offering it to Kagami to help him up. Everyone from Seirin could only smile and accept that they had worked their hardest. Perhaps, they were just much too tired to pull out another miraculous victory after the Winter cup. From a court on the other end of the stadium, Kuroko found himself smiling at Seirin's usual antics - undefeated in spirit.
"Seirin sure is a cheery bunch." Kise said, walking up next to Kuroko. "Even though they lost, they're undefeated in various meanings."
Kuroko looked up to Kise with a small smile, "Yes, you're right." Although, it went unnoticed by the blond haired model.
"Oi Tetsu, Kise, c'mon we're going." Aomine called out from the side of the court, looking over his shoulder as he walked lazily behind Midorima.
"So with these series of matches over, it's been decided that team Rakuzan and team Kiseki will be facing off against each other in the final match. The victors will be decided after that, and then this program will come to an end." The director announced, "Also, all teams who lost today are free to choose whether they return home or stay here until the end. All teams will receive a participation gift if they choose to leave, so please don't forget to collect it."
The brief meeting was dismissed and all of the defeated teams were directed to another cabin where they would have individual short interviews about their thoughts on their loss and the program.
"Do you plan to stay or go home?"
"Team Seirin is going to go home," Riko began, sitting on a stool in a small room filled with cameras, lighting equipment and few staff. "We're going to prepare for our final exams, and then train diligently so that next year, we can obtain another victory."
A female scriptwriter in her mid-thirties quietly asked another question, "With team Seirin losing two vital members, do you have any regrets about your loss today against team Rakuzan?"
"Of course, I - well, the team feels a bit upset, but that just means we have to become stronger so we won't brood over it. Even if our two players, Kiyoshi and Kuroko aren't on our side, we'll just fill up the gaps and be prepared for when they come back. Then, once they return, we can play together again."
"Thank you, you may go back now."
The next morning, all of the returning teams stood around the two buses, waiting for the large bags to be loaded first before they boarded. As Seirin stood around dazed and tired, Riko made a final check.
"Alright, everyone's here." she mumbled to herself, then to the team, "Make sure you haven't forgotten anything!"
Lazily, everyone rummaged through their bags, checking their belongings. Seemingly with nothing left behind, Riko walked off closer to the buses until Koganei's outburst, "I think I forgot my towel!"
With a annoyed sigh, Riko shooed him off, "Hurry and go get it then, or we'll leave-"
"Is this your towel?"
Needless to say, everyone jumped in their skin and let out a shriek, startled at the familiar voice that appeared out of nowhere.
Kuroko held out Koganei's towel with his usual deadpan expression, "Good morning. I found this lying on the grass just there." Koganei took it with a word of thanks and stuffed it inside his backpack.
"Geez, that hasn't happened in a while." Riko murmured, clearing her throat. "Anyway, why are you here?"
"I wanted to see everyone, since I won't be able to go with you."
Following that, Kuroko began to catch up with the team and converse with them happily until they were called to board the bus. As the team began to walk towards the bus, Kuroko stood and watched, only for Kagami to turn around and walk back.
"Kagami-kun? Is there anything you forgot?"
Kagami said nothing, only staring at Kuroko for a moment or two. Confused, Kuroko said nothing more until Kagami spoke up.
"You'd better win, Kuroko. Then you can hurry up and come back to Seirin, then we'll play again." Kagami extended out his right fist, with a determined grin plastered on his face. Kuroko returned the gesture with his own right fist and bumped it against Kagami's, as a faint smile found its way onto his face.
"I will." With that, Kagami spun around and ran after the rest who were already boarding the bus.
"Kurokocchi, let's go." Kise said, as he walked up to Kuroko. "Did everything go well with Seirin?"
Kuroko nodded, "Yes, it did. How about you, Kise-kun?" Kuroko noted that the model looked a little more haggard and beaten up than he did only a few minutes ago.
Heaving a sigh, Kise deflated, "They beat me up for keeping this whole thing behind their backs," then he smiled, "Not to mention I have my training tripled as punishment!"
The two walked back up the path back to their lodge in comfortable silence, Kuroko yawning along the way. As they saw the cafeteria in view, Kise ran ahead.
"I need to go to the toilet first, so you go on ahead, Kurokocchi."
As the leaves and twigs crunched and snapped with every step, Kuroko found himself leisurely following the path back to the lodge. The director had informed them that there was nothing planned for the day, so they could rest their worn out bodies. If only he could put his mind to rest too though.
He recalled Akashi's words during their conversation. Akashi knew who these four new people were, or rather, if not exactly, he had a good idea what the director was planning. That's what became the most confusing element. If it was only their team and Rakuzan left for the finals, why or how would they introduce a new team? Supposedly, the only ones capable of standing against the Generation of Miralces on equal footing were the Crownless Generals, Kagami possibly, Himuro. However, Kagami being part of the new team was out of the picture, and three of the Crownless Generals were in Rakuzan, so there was no way they would be part of this new team. Himuro, Kuroko thought, was a possibility, but it didn't make sense who he would team up with. Perhaps this new team was someone Kuroko had never heard of before, and supposedly, the director believed them to be strong enough to go up against the Generation of Miracles, if they won as predicted.
With a heavy sigh, Kuroko dismissed all his thoughts and continued on as the lodge came into view. As he continued walking, he could hear the occasional rustling of bushes, skittering footsteps of small animals and much heavier footsteps of a larger animal. Curious, Kuroko glanced to the side and saw nothing but a small brown rabbit scurrying off into the woods. Just as he turned back, a much larger, moving figure caught his attention from the corner of his eye.
Kuroko stopped and walked towards the edge of the woods. "Was that a person?"
Curiosity and leisure getting the better of him, Kuroko walked into the woods in an attempt to reassure himself that he wasn't simply imaging seeing people. The sound of footsteps off the path ahead caught Kuroko's attention as he quickly followed the sound, hoping to see if someone really was walking around in the woods alone.
After what seemed like an eternity or so of aimless walking, Kuroko finally decided there was no-one inside the forest. However, deciding that he still had time to spare, Kuroko continued to walk forward, following the path to a shimmering, serene riverbank with a grassy slope.
"I guess it wouldn't hurt to take a break here." Kuroko mumbled to himself, making himself comfortable on the soft green grass as he lied down on his back. He closed his eyes and listened to the calming sounds around him - the sound of flowing water, rustling trees, birds chirping and calling out to each other with their distinct, beautiful voices.
"Ryouta, where did Tetsuya go?"
Kise glanced up from the laptop he borrowed from a female staff member (who was more than willing to let him use it) and greeted Akashi. "Kurokocchi? Isn't he in is room?"
Akashi walked over to the fridge and took out a jug of barley tea. "No. Nor was he outside in the court."
"That's strange," Kise hummed, "I told him to go ahead so I thought he was in his room the whole time. Maybe he's at a different court?"
Akashi poured the cooled tea into a glass and put the jug back into the fridge. "Perhaps."
When Kuroko woke up, having fallen asleep, the sky had become noticeably darker than before. Without a watch to tell the time, he could only assume it was heading into late afternoon. With a yawn, he sat up and stretched his arms, deciding he should head back to the lodge before night fell. He stood up and brushed off the pieces of grass that stuck to his clothes before carefully walking back up the slope back into the forest.
It was much darker in the density of the woods, however it was still bright enough to have nothing obscured from his vision. As he followed the dirt path back the way he came from, Kuroko had assumed there was only one path back to the lodge. When he was presented with three different paths, he paused to take a moment to think. One path lead to the far right, the other to the far left and the path in the middle straight ahead. However, Kuroko had trailed off the path before and randomly walked through the woods without considering how he was going to get back.
Perhaps he was lost.
Kuroko wasn't one to panic during such situations. He was always calm and able to come up with the most plausible solution he could think of, so naturally, he would take the path on the right, seeing as he emerged onto the path from the right side before.
"I should hurry before it gets any darker."
He was sure this was the right way, after all, there was no way he could get lost in a place he had been to numerous times before. Hastening his pace, Kuroko sighed in relief when he saw a familiar patch of mushrooms. Although it wasn't the way he had entered from, it would lead him out of the woods for sure. The path eventually trailed off into gravel, as it crunched loudly beneath his shoes with every step, and with the dark of night looming closer, a shiver ran down Kuroko's back as goosebumps appeared on his skin.
This is ridiculous - Kuroko silently told himself, it must already be early evening.
All of a sudden, Kuroko could hear it - the sound of an extra pair of footsteps walking along to the pace of his own. Abruptly, he stopped, and a beat too late, so did the other. Alarmed, Kuroko spun around but saw no-one; surely, there was someone following him, and somehow, he failed to notice.
"Who's there?" Kuroko asked, his voice calm as his expression.
For a few seconds, there was not a sound, not a reply, making Kuroko think that perhaps he was being too paranoid. However only a moment later, a twig snapped as a very tall figure emerged from the darkness, his face obscured by the shadow of the trees surrounding them. Subconsciously, Kuroko took a small step back as the figure slowly walked forward, eerily quiet as the sound of crunching gravel became obnoxiously loud. Once the person came considerably closer, however, Kuroko could finally make out their face.
His throat went dry and eyes widened in shock, "You're-!" he paused, perplexed, "... why are you here?"
"Before I answer that, what do you say we get out of here first?"
With a hesitant nod, Kuroko watched as the person went on ahead, following behind shortly as he fervently searched for answers inside his head.
Once they emerged out of the woods, it was indeed early evening, as the sky became a beautiful tanned orange hue. Wordlessly, Kuroko followed behind the taller man as he noticed they were heading back down the path to area with staff cabins.
"Kurokocchi, where are you?"
Kuroko stopped at the distant sound of Kise's voice calling out his name, feeling slightly guilty for pulling the disappearing act on him once again. However, he turned back, and as the other continued to walk forward, Kuroko was left with no time to falter.
As Kuroko followed the other up the steps to a cabin camouflaged amongst the other identical staff cabins, he could not hold back any longer. The other seemed to notice, as he too, stopped by the front door but did not turn around.
"You're not the only one here, right, Nijimura-senpai?"
The former Teikou captain replied with a curt, "No," As he opened the door, Nijimura turned around to glance at Kuroko. "There are others."
"But the final match has already been decided," Kuroko said quietly, "So why...?"
Inside, it was bright and warm, and it looked similar to their lodge, only much smaller. As Nijimura sat down on the sofa, Kuroko too, was gestured to take a seat.
"It's not as complicated as you think it is, really."
To be continued...
A/N: Ipomen Scarlet - 'Embrace'
Next chapter - [Rhododendron] - N/A
There will be mistakes and slip-ups here and there because I have yet to check this chapter thoroughly so please excuse me. Other than that, I hope you enjoyed this chapter, as I do not know when the next update will be.
Thank you to those who left a review, I apologise for being unable to reply to any reviews for the previous chapter. Any reviews for this chapter will receive a reply (only if you're logged in though)!
(P.S. I don't necessarily hate Mayuzumi~ He only kind of annoyed me because he was replacing our poor little Kuroko! But nevertheless, anyone else looking forward to the next chapter in the manga? The lion and Chihuahua thing was waaay too funny! XD)
See you soon!