Disclaimer: All applied materials belong to their respective owners.
Warning: Female Kuroko, spoilers.
Step VII : ランチ
– Lunch –
Incessant beeps of alarm from her cell phone stirred Kuroko awake at the crack of dawn. The blunette wasted no time to begin her morning routine before descending down the stairs to the kitchen in a loose mini dress. Even though she had made up her mind to cook for that person, there was nothing extravagant she could present the red-head. Bearing the realization in mind, her wish to earn an acknowledgement from one Akashi Seijuro augmented her nervousness.
To shake off her uneasiness, Kuroko started on the bento by microwaving two airtight containers of rice. She also defrosted frozen salted salmon slices. Putting on her polka-dotted blue apron, Kuroko immediately worked on needed ingredients for tamagoyaki before baking the salmon slices on foil-lined baking sheet in a toaster oven.
Moving on to the stove, she applied oil onto a heating up pan's surface using paper towel. When the heat reached medium-high, Kuroko spread the seasoned egg mixture thinly over the frying pan and poked forming air bubbles flat. Gently, she rolled the cooked egg from one side to the other far side then lifted it up to apply more oil and egg underneath before placing it back on top. The process repeated until the whole mixture took form of a thick roll. She wrapped the hot roll with bamboo mat and let it stand for five minutes.
While waiting, Kuroko decorated a two-tier lacquer box with thin slices of kamaboko, cherry tomatoes, leftover Japanese potato salad and furikake-sprinkled rice. The ready tamagoyaki was cut into pieces and arranged into the box together with the baked salmon.
Realizing it was almost time for school, Kuroko tidied up the kitchen before changing out of her dress into her uniform. On her way out, she slipped a letter she fetched from the mailbox into her bag.
Classes droned on as usual without a hitch for Kuroko. That was how outsiders would have perceived had they spared a glance her way. Sadly, her lack of presence still had the same old phantom-like influence on humans. Occasionally, a discontented tiny voice within her would rumble in protest when she failed to sweep the prickle of being forgotten under the rug.
…Am I being selfish?
Such a thought had not crossed her mind since she made her first childhood friend. She was very happy back then to have someone notice her, call out to her, and offer friendship despite her unique flaws. There was no regret in her even if she had reverted to the lonely child from her early ages the moment he left the neighborhood.
一期一会, a term a tea master had introduced her the first time she attended a tea ceremony. The term harbored 'Once-in-a-lifetime encounter' insight, a concept she had been apprehending ever since. She believed her meeting with him was unmistakably one of those precious threads that interlaced her life.
How're you faring in Teiko?
As for me, I got my uniform recently! Still on the bench though.
I heard that Teiko is very strong. I want to go against them at least once!
I'll have to work hard to be a starter first. Make sure you come when our schools fight it out!
- Ogiwara Shigehiro -
Her lips were festooned in a smile as she read the letter from her childhood friend. Subconsciously, her poker face melted into a rarely seen expressive countenance that radiated warmth and subtle glee.
The sight astonished one Akashi Seijuro.
Here he was, standing by the door to his object of interest's class, silently waiting for one of her classmates to alert her of his visit. Being an observant entity himself, he did not miss a piece of paper in her clutch, nor the subdued surprise on her features when a brunette relayed her of his presence.
"Kuro-chan, someone's looking for–" the brunette paused, her mocha-colored eyes turned saucer-like. "Is that a LOVE LETTER?!"
The obnoxious exclamation commanded a stampede of tramples onto his stagnant pool of tranquility. Unaccounted scenarios flitted in his mind, rather disturbing if he were to be honest with himself.
The brunette shook her head in dismissal when Kuroko was about to explain herself. The letter, which was already in the blue-eyed girl's bag, could wait. She doubted the young master outside their class would be pleased if they made him wait any longer. "Akashi Seijuro-sama is waiting for you."
Kuroko suddenly dreaded meeting the captain for a reason. Nevertheless, she grabbed her bento box and walked toward the door. She had a mixed feeling about the ring of girls surrounding the striking male. The curve of smile on his lips as the girls engaged him in small talks did nothing to neutralize her quandary.
She decided to announce her presence. "Akashi-kun."
The girls parted upon hearing her monotonous voice, shock written on their faces.
"Kuroko," the red-head acknowledged. "Shall we?" he asked, offering a helping hand to ease the girl's load.
Kuroko vocalized an agreement to hand over the bento box.
"Please excuse us," Akashi said to the other females, leaving them to their disbelief and bewilderment.
Kuroko fell in step with the red-haired captain, wondering where they would have their lunch. The pair stopped by a vending machine for two bottles of sugar-free green tea before Akashi led their way to rooftop, much to his companion's surprise.
"This is your favorite spot, is it not?" he asked, as if reading her mind.
"…How did Akashi-kun find out?" Anomalous ideas started bombarding her somewhat way-too-creative mindset.
His answer was simply the same gentle smile he flashed those girls. "I just do."
Kuroko let it slide, deeming it impossible to obtain an elaborate version. Instead, she followed the red-head out to the open space, took a seat in the shade beside him and removed two slim black lacquer boxes containing a pair of chopsticks in each from the furoshiki wrapped around their bento box.
Akashi stared at the golden bamboo prints on the shiny black surface of the bigger container. The design reminded him of virtues it represented in symbolism he had covered a long time ago. Similar to that of a forest of identical bamboos, the girl next to him appeared to be ordinary in others' eyes.
But his assessment of her was not as shallow as major ignorance.
…"Impressive not is its weak looks that bends but does not break,
For it is ready to spring back after harsh winter's peak.
Committed to emptiness that denies prejudice shall it grow,
Not with superfluous ventures but simplicity in life flow."
Unaware of his deep musing, the blunette lifted the lid, revealing assortment of dishes. For someone who claimed to comprise an imperfection in culinary, she sure could pack a convincing set of balanced meal.
Not bad at all.
Both of them whispered an "Itadakimasu" in unison after Kuroko offered the upper tier of her bento box to her red-haired companion. She observed him maneuver the chopsticks with rapt attention. His refined manner in bending his fingers displayed distinct gracefulness she rarely saw.
It was beautiful…
"Kuroko, why is yours of less portion than mine?" Akashi asked with a hint of disapproval.
The question diverted her focus from his fingers to bright ruby eyes of his. "It is my usual portion," she replied succinctly.
"You should increase your intake of food," Akashi chastised, about to give a slice of his tamagoyaki to the girl.
Kuroko halted his chopsticks with hers at once. "Please don't, Akashi-kun. I could not consume more than what my necessity demands."
Her swift reflex and precision in pinning down his utensil further confirmed his theory about her. "One slice of tamagoyaki could hardly be considered substantial," he retorted.
"But…" she tried to reason but soon faltered under the unflinching look the captain set on her.
Akashi's satisfaction materialized into a smile as he piled the egg onto hers before taking a bite off another slice.
Silence reigned over the pair. Kuroko's attempt to gather the supreme leader's opinion from his facial features failed miserably. Curious, she also took a small bite off her own tamagoyaki.
Akashi imprinted her dignified propriety in handling the utensil and her preference in small bites of food on his memory. "It's good," he soothed with an affable smile when a crease of confusion impaired her visage.
"It is… good?" Kuroko repeated, as if she had not heard him right.
Akashi, whose chopsticks were aiming for the baked salmon, paused to drop a genuine wish, "I could get used to this." He had avoided specifying whether it was her dishes that he could get used to or her presence that would always come along with it.
"Thank you, Akashi-kun."
Light blue strands cascaded over her small shoulders as she shifted her gaze to the bento on her lap. A smile visibly adorned her lips even though her face was veiled by the soft strands from his viewpoint.
"Thank you, indeed."
A gnawing question within him was left unanswered. This line he was standing on had yet to grant him the right to pry into the matter. When it began to blur, he would make sure victory would tip to his favor in the end.
It was her day-off from library duty. There was only a place she could think of going at the moment. A place where she could find a certain red-haired captain and hard-willed individuals practice until late evening. With light steps and microscopic tugs at the corners of her lips, Kuroko headed to the first gymnasium.
Upon entering the spacious area, she realized there was something unusual.
He is not here…
Slightly crestfallen, though not visible from her appearance, Kuroko approached a familiar green-haired teen who was conversing with the team's manager. "Good afternoon, Midorima-kun, Momoi-san."
Their reaction was a normal occurrence in Kuroko's life.
"Kuroko! Don't sneak up on us!" the bespectacled boy admonished after letting out an unbecoming shout of surprise.
"Good afternoon, Kuroko-san! Looking for Akashi-kun?" Momoi was quick to guess the blunette's intention after calming down from a jolt.
"Akashi, Haizaki, and the second-stringers are sent out to a practice game against Kamata West Junior High today," Midorima supplied without further ado.
The name Haizaki reminded Kuroko of the ashen-haired teen she had identified the other day. It brought up an unsettling premonition.
The pinkette unfolded, "It should've been Midorin as our backup but just now…" She did not understand why the head coach had substituted Midorima with their captain, seeing as the latter was rarely sent out for mere practice games.
"Momoi, since she's here already, shouldn't you both get going?" Midorima suggested, adjusting his glasses.
"…Both?" Kuroko questioned, confounded.
"Don't worry! Akashi-kun has got the coach's permission!" The pinkette smiled encouragingly, tugging the blunette along with her.
"But why would Akashi-kun…" the blunette trailed off uncertainly.
Momoi hummed, "…Moral support, perhaps? Like, recharging when exhausted?"
Moral support? Recharging? …Battery?
That made no sense whatsoever to Kuroko. If anything, it injected a whole new dose of confusion into her system. Watching a match to learn something new would be much more productive than mulling over incomprehensible theory beneath the manager's words.
Momoi continued to pull the unresisting blunette until they reached the gathered basketball club's members.
"Momoi and Kuroko, is it?" the second string's coach asked, hiding his puzzlement neatly. He had not heard about first string appointing a new manager recently. However, even if they did, it was not within his authority to be judgmental of their decision.
Kuroko bowed courteously. "Yoroshiku onegaishimasu."
The coach nodded before turning to the first string's captain. "Did you get a hold of him?"
"He'll be here shortly," was his reply. Putting away his phone, Akashi turned to face the blue-eyed maiden. "I should have informed you earlier," he sighed. The short notice near the end of lunch break had given him no time to invite her personally.
"It is fine, Akashi-kun," Kuroko assured. Better yet, she wondered if she should ask the captain about what the pink-haired manager had meant by recharging.
"There he is!" Momoi announced the ashen-haired member's long-awaited arrival.
"Yo~" the aforementioned teen yawned as he strutted toward the group.
"You're late," Akashi reproached, a crisp warning lacing his voice.
"I overslept," Haizaki replied nonchalantly, his stare sharp with challenge.
Kuroko observed the interaction from the side. Her breaths stopped momentarily when those ruby eyes she had come to fancy narrowed into dangerous slits at the issued challenge.
"Let's go!" The coach's instruction dispersed the heated glaring competition.
Kuroko sincerely hoped the rising tension would not affect their match.
Author's OTL Note: I changed some parts and added a four-line verse based on Garr's article about bamboo.