"He is," said Midorima Shintarou, "an imbecile."

Shintarou's voice was animated and indignant and there was in his tone the audible sneer (there was no explanation for how Shintarou managed to sneer audibly, only it was undeniable that he achieved this) that he affected whenever he got himself into a fine rant. To anyone familiar with Shintarou's foibles, it was evident that he was about to launch into a lengthy diatribe.

Akashi stifled a sigh and switched his cellphone to loudspeaker. Perhaps he could multitask with a game of Minesweeper while Shintarou continued his stream of politically incorrect circumlocution.

"He has the mental capacity of a kindergartener, and the study habits of a baboon. Did you know," said Shintarou, "that he has used my lucky pencil so many times in the last twelve months that he has sharpened it down to nothing?

Akashi stared at his laptop screen and clicked on a tile. An angry red number 5 glared back at him. "Is this the rolling pencil you crafted in second-year in order to beat me in the final exams? The one that didn't work?"

There was a long pause on the other end of the phone.

"Yes," answered Shintarou finally. "Although I assure you that the Seirin team has more than vouched for its efficacy. Not," he emphasized, "that I am wasting more luck on that cretin. As far as I am concerned basic academic capacity is part of being a basketball player. Being banned from the Interhigh is the least he deserves."

Akashi right-clicked half a dozen times in rapid succession, staring at the resultant little circle of flags with satisfaction - until Shintarou's words registered in his mind.

"Shintarou," he said carefully, "is this Kagami Taiga you are complaining about?"

Again, it was some time before Shintarou responded. When he did, it was in a resigned tone: "Akashi, if you must play computer games while holding phone conversations, at least put on a better performance of pretending to listen."

"There's no need for pretense; I heard everything you said." He finished clearing the minefield and checked his time. 79.82 seconds, very disappointing. "If Kagami-kun has been forbidden from official matches due to gross academic incompetence then it goes without saying that we should attempt to solve the problem."

He meant, naturally, that Shintarou should solve the problem. Preferably without phoning from Tokyo every night to complain about how herculean the task was.

Shintarou didn't seem to be getting the hint. "He is stupider than Aomine."

"That's quite impossible. Nobody is categorically stupider than Daiki." Shougo and Ryouta had certainly made spirited attempts to compete in that respect – and Koutarou made Akashi wonder at times – but still. "Shintarou. Are you trying to tell me that you don't feel your abilities are up to the challenge of tutoring Kagami-kun?"

Akashi's words finally produced the desired effect. One could almost hear the hiss of injured pride as Shintarou retorted: "That was certainly not what I meant to imply."

"Is that so? Very well then. I look forward to hearing of your eventual success."

Shintarou hung up after a barely muttered farewell, much to Akashi's relief. Finally, he could entertain himself with something more intellectually challenging. Go, for instance. Or maybe chess. Or shogi.

Definitely shogi.

#

The gravity of the situation was only made clear when Tetsuya called.

Akashi admired Kuroko Tetsuya for many reasons, but chief among them was Tetsuya's efficient use of words. In all the years they had played basketball together, Tetsuya had never failed to be direct, concise, to the point. Tetsuya only spoke when it was necessary. Shintarou could stand to learn a great deal from Tetsuya.

Tetsuya's penchant for meaningful silences was, however, occasionally awkward during phone conversations.

This particular pregnant pause had stretched on for more than ten seconds. Akashi still had no idea what Tetsuya was trying to communicate wordlessly across the phone line.

Perhaps Tetsuya would give up and start speaking in plain Japanese soon. In the meantime-

He typed in the URL for and began entering his username and password.

"Akashi-kun," said Tetsuya, "are you trying to play shogi while talking to me?"

Akashi hastily closed the window on his browser. "Not anymore, I'm not. Have you acquired telepathic powers since we last spoke?"

(An improbable theory, but Akashi didn't put anything past Tetsuya.)

"No, but I can hear you typing on your laptop." Tetsuya sounded rather put out. Akashi felt mildly grateful that Rakuzan was a long way from Tokyo. "Anyway, please convince Midorima-kun to stop tutoring Kagami-kun. His hysterics are starting to frighten Nigou and yesterday he bought Kagami a plastic sarcophagus as a lucky item. It was very distressing for the first-years in the basketball club."

Typical Shintarou behaviour then, although Tetsuya's threshold for tolerating Shintarou had always been surprisingly low. "Have Kagami-kun's grades improved yet?"

"Not in the slightest bit."

"Then we can hardly stop at this point." Sitting out the Interhigh semifinals and finals last year had been frustrating. Akashi would rather not do that again.

"I don't think Midorima-kun is the best teacher for Kagami-kun. They both irritate each other too much."

Akashi considered everything he knew about Kagami Taiga, his single-mindedness and his ferocity, and conceded that Tetsuya was right. "Have other suitable tutors from your school been trialled already?"

"Including myself and most of the Seirin basketball team."

That was the trouble with delegation; it didn't work when all your subordinates were incompetent. How hard could it possibly be to train one high school student to pass his exams?

"I have a shogi tournament in Tokyo this weekend," said Akashi. "Tell Kagami-kun I'll be at his home on Saturday afternoon and that he should have his textbooks and school materials ready."

"Okay," said Tetsuya.

It was only after the phone call ended that it occurred to Akashi to be struck by the tone of Tetsuya's voice. It had been almost too neutral and expressionless, concealing a subtle underlying note of anticipatory glee, the way Tetsuya usually sounded when he was about to stick a melting popsicle down Daiki's shirt or punch Ryouta in the solar plexus.

Tetsuya must be about to inflict physical pain on Kagami-kun, Akashi decided finally, clicking his browser open again.

Yes, that was undoubtedly the most probable explanation.

#

He arrived at precisely 2'oclock on Saturday afternoon to an alarmingly full apartment.

Kagami answered when Akashi rang the doorbell. If possible, Kagami had grown even taller since the Winter Cup. He looked down at Akashi, his eyes expressionless, and said, "Come in."

Akashi entered the hallway and took in the gathering of bodies within. Tetsuya sat on the floor in front of the stereo, an open book in his lap; his presence had been expected, of course.

Shintarou was perched awkwardly on what appeared to be the apartment's sole couch: his attendance was welcome; as it gave Akashi the opportunity to demonstrate to Shintarou the correct way to tutor a mentally deficient basketball player.

That left the other two people in the room: Aomine Daiki, lying on his back on the floorboards, and Takao Kazunari, the Shuutoku point guard that Shintarou had developed an odd fondness for. Akashi could not think of a good reason for either of them to be here.

"Would you like something to drink?" Kagami blurted. He was still standing just inside the doorway, right next to Akashi. Too close. Too tall. Hadn't anyone ever taught him it was rude to just loom over people like that?

Slowly and deliberately, Akashi took three steps back and met Kagami's gaze. "Any blend of green tea you have will be fine."

"I only keep black tea." Kagami moved towards the kitchen area. "Milk or no milk?" he called out as he opened a cupboard door.

Unsurprising that Kagami's pantry was shamefully understocked. "No milk, two sugars," answered Akashi, before turning his attention towards the task of removing the excess people in the room.

"What brought you here, Daiki?" he asked, looking down his nose at the spot at where Daiki was lounging, head propped up by a stack of pillows.

"I'm here to laugh my ass off at Bakagami, of course." Daiki shrugged. "Couldn't pass up the chance. Also, he made us lunch. He cooks better than Ryou."

Akashi wasn't sure why he'd wasted time questioning Daiki's inane motives. "If that's the case, then go home."

"Yeah, yeah, I figured you'd say that," Daiki easily swung himself to his feet and ambled towards the exit, only pausing briefly as he passed by Akashi, saying in a low tone, "I shouldn't have to say anything, knowing you, but don't let that idiot get himself disqualified from official matches. The Tokyo playoffs will be meaningless without him, even if Tetsu's there."

Daiki had gained height since December too. Was it Akashi's fate to be surrounded constantly by genetic freaks? He gave Daiki a sidelong (and upwards) stare: "If you know that words are unnecessary, then don't bother with them."

But Daiki was already moving away. Without turning around he tossed them a casual wave as he exited. The door slammed shut behind him.

"Well that gets rid of one asshole, at least." Kagami had brought out a teapot and a saucer with a cup sitting upside-down on it and he stuck them on the coffee table. "Let me know if this isn't sweet enough."

'Thank you." Akashi had to concede that Kagami Taiga was a vast behavioural improvement on Daiki. "Before we begin, there's another unnecessary person present."

Everyone turned to look at where Takao was sitting on the couch next to Midorima.

To his credit, the sharp-eyed point guard appeared to have a perfect understanding of the situation. "I should be heading home anyway," he said, getting up. "Thanks for having me over, Kagami."

"I hope you're not under the misapprehension that I will be volunteering to take the cart back to school grounds," said Shintarou, adjusting his glasses with his bandaged hand.

"Wouldn't have dreamed of it. I'll cycle it back - but sorry, Shin-chan, you'll have to take public transport home."

"Hmph." But despite the disdain in his tone Shintarou continued to watch Takao until the latter had wandered out and disappeared from sight. It was almost a pity. Takao would have been a much less annoying spectator to the afternoon's proceedings than Shintarou was going to be.

Speaking of which. Quite enough time had been wasted on trivialities already.

Fortunately Tetsuya was already quietly at work. While Akashi had been evicting Kagami's more gratuitous guests, Tetsuya had moved the coffee table to the centre of the living area, so that there was space for the four of them to sit around it. He'd also gathered a stack of Kagami's recent test papers and spread them out in a fan-shape on on the floor: 27%, 32%, 6%, 15%... it was just as well Akashi had been through this with Daiki and Shougo at Teikou, else he would have been suffering a moment of pure disbelief that grades these low were possible.

"When is our deadline?" asked Akashi.

Kagami opened his mouth to speak, but Tetsuya beat him to it. "Kagami-kun is resitting his midterms in two weeks. He won't be playing in official matches until then, and if he doesn't pass them, he won't be allowed to play in official matches until after summer."

"I feel this situation could have been prevented with some foresight," Akashi said mildly. "I understand Kagami-kun had similar trouble last year."

"Well," said Tetsuya, "he didn't tell me he continued using Midorima-kun's pencil every time he was in danger of failing a subject. Which appears to have been at least once a fortnight."

They all stared at Kagami, who had taken up position at one end of the coffee table and was sitting there with the resigned air of a helpless lamb to the slaughter.

Akashi picked up the first of the exam papers: mathematics, covered in a frenzy of red ink. "I'm sure Kagami thoroughly regrets his actions." And if Kagami didn't yet, he certainly would by the time this was over. Akashi could have spent his weekend doing far more productive things. Like horse-riding. Or shogi.

He sat down next to Kagami (the height difference was thankfully less pronounced when they weren't standing) and picked up a fountain-pen that was lying next to his untouched teacup. "Let's begin."

#

By 2:15PM Akashi had ascertained four things:

Kagami did not know the first thing about calculus.

Nor did he understand even the most basic concepts of trigonometry.

Nor algebra.

Nor geometry.

Akashi was about to broach the subjects of multiplication tables and and long division, with a hollow feeling in his chest that felt very much like trepidation (which was nonsense, of course; Akashi never experienced emotions like fear), when he was compelled, for the sake of efficiency, to ask Shintarou if he was sure he couldn't part with another lucky pencil.

The look of crazed triumph in Shintarou's eyes would have been annoying if it didn't simply make Akashi feel very concerned for Shintarou's mental health. "I told you," Shintarou said. "I told you, Akashi. Irredeemable imbecility."

"Do you have another pencil, or don't you?" Akashi said. Shintarou was so prone to getting distracted off the main point.

"I sold the other two , since they didn't prove as useful as I would have liked."

"You did very well in all your exams in junior high," replied Akashi, meaning not as well as I did.

Shintarou shot Akashi a withering look. Too bad Shintarou used his withering looks so often that the entire basketball club had grown immune to them at Teikou. "Anyway the rolling pencils were designed to help with multiple-choice questions, and all of Seirin's midterms are short-answer or essay this year."

Akashi picked up the next test paper - world history, and graffitied even more dramatically in bright red corrections than the previous one. "Perhaps this is for the best. Everyone has to learn proper study habits at some stage in their lives. I feel this is an excellent opportunity for you to accomplish this, Kagami Taiga."

Kagami just stared at Akashi uncomprehendingly. Well, well, this entire conversation was likely too much for his tiny brain to keep up with.

He looked at the first answer on the history paper, which informed him that Kagami apparently believed that Julius Caesar had been born in the Middle Ages.

Akashi reached for the teapot and poured himself a cup of sweetened black tea. It was going to be a long afternoon; one might as well take advantage of life's small comforts.

#

Tetsuya excused himself at quarter-past five, pleading irreversible exhaustion. Fair enough; between Daiki and Shintarou, to say nothing of Kagami Taiga, Tetsuya's day must have been entirely unpleasant.

They had spent the last three hours working on Kagami's basic Japanese literacy, since this appeared to be the major underlying factor for Kagami's dismal academic performance.

(The other major underlying factor was obviously Kagami's lack of innate intelligence, but that problem was entirely unmodifiable. Akashi had to work with whatever he had.)

"I can't take this anymore," Kagami announced, within ten minutes of Tetsuya leaving. "I'm going to make dinner."

"We've only covered twenty-five kanji," Akashi objected. This was why he hated being called in to tutor people; it was always such a slow process.

"Can't study when I'm hungry." Kagami had already opened the fridge. "You allergic to anything?"

Akashi blinked. "Are you planning to cook for both of us as well?" He glanced at Shintarou, who was busy correcting Kagami's scrawled and unattractive kanji.

"I always cook extra anyway." Kagami pulled an assortment of vegetables out of the crisper.

"I don't like eating carrots," said Shintarou primly.

"I didn't ask if there was anything you didn't like eating, asshole." Kagami made a grimace at Shintarou and then, glancing at Akashi, seemed to catch himself. "Anyway dinner's stir-fry whatever I have left. Go out and get takeaway if you have any objections."

"...We'll stay," said Akashi after a moment's consideration. It would give him time to draw up a new study timetable for Kagami. Shintarou's original schedule had been completely unrealistic; it was plain that Kagami did not have the intellectual stamina for five-hour study sessions.

Perhaps regularly scheduled breaks for food and basketball, then-

He drew up the revised timetable with pencil and ruler in the back of Kagami's chemistry notebook. (Given that the current contents of said notebook mostly comprised doodles of basketball hoops and free throw lanes, plus numerous phrases to the effect of 'No #1 in Japan!' and 'Defeat the Generation of Miracles! Again!' scribbled in English, with only the rare - and wholly incorrect - attempt at balancing oxidation-reduction reactions written in its pages, Akashi felt that his additions didn't constitute unfair use of Kagami's school materials.)

Whatever Kagami was cooking certainly smelled amazing.

The flavours of ginger and garlic-flavoured oil wafted through the apartment. accompanied by the hiss of Kagami's wok as the gas ring flared to life. The extractor fan whirred above the stove.

It was fascinating to watch. Kagami seemed so feeble-minded when it came to academics that it was surprising to see him perform competently what Shintarou and Momoi had never succeeded at despite numerous attempts.

Dinner when served, tasted as good as it smelled. Even Shintarou ate the carrots that ended up in his rice bowl. Akashi asked for seconds.

Kagami had thirds. And fourths, and fifths, and somehow still managed to finish eating before either Akashi or Shintarou did, gathering up the pots and pans and beginning to wash up.

Akashi brought his empty bowl over to the sink when he had finished. "Let me help with that."

Kagami shrugged. "I'm nearly done anyway, and there's no need to dry, I can just put them on the dish rack. Shouldn't you be planning the next kanji for me to memorise?"

He looked down at Akashi (still too tall and too close, although the proximity was Akashi's fault this time) with an undecipherable expression. In many ways Akashi hadn't yet got the measure of Kagami Taiga. Comparing him to Daiki or Atsushi or Ryouta was less helpful than might have been expected. "The Miracle who is not a Miracle," Daiki had described him.

The one thing Akashi did know for sure was that however the remainder of their high school years transpired - the battles, the exchange of winning and losing that they'd all committed to, the endless learning and growing that was basketball - it would be meaningless if Kagami Taiga wasn't part of them.

Two hundred jōyō kanji to go, and that was before they started in on literature. History. Physics. Akashi would have to draw up a revised timetable for himself as well. He did not foresee a lot of shogi or horse-riding in his immediate future.

They resumed the task of revision. Even Shintarou had mellowed in the aftermath of the home-cooked meal, and his acerbic speculations on the state of Kagami's frontal lobes were fewer and far between, replaced only by the occasional quiet grumble about Kagami's penmanship.

They managed another twenty-five kanji by half past eight, which Akashi conceded was quite the feat - for ordinary human intellects, at least; Akashi could have done it in half the time.

"I should go home," said Shintarou. "Are you still staying at my place tonight, Akashi?"

That had indeed been the plan, although Akashi felt reluctant to terminate the study session at this point. Eight-thirty PM seemed early to be calling it a day, considering how much remained to be done.

"You could stay here tonight," Kagami offered. "There's a spare bedroom."

It was probably the best option; Akashi had considered the possibility when planning his trip to Tokyo, but had felt it would be presumptuous to ask Kagami for accommodation. He was surprised that Kagami had extended the invitation.

"I would be grateful for that," he answered, inclining his head.

"I'll get going, then." Shintarou looked relieved at not having to host Akashi. Akashi would have to interrogate him about that at some later point. "What time should I come in the morning?"

"There's no need." Shintarou had been more hindrance than help anyway, even if he did have far more patience for correcting Kagami's copious errors of stroke order than Akashi did. "I'll need you to keep helping Tetsuya with Kagami-kun's study sessions when I'm back in Kyoto, however. Kagami-kun, take a fifteen-minute break."

Shintarou left. Kagami heaved a sigh of relief and collapsed back on the floor, putting on his headphones (attached to the nearby stereo) and shutting his eyes.

Akashi took this opportunity to to download revision mp3s onto Kagami's laptop. The scientific evidence for sleep-learning was admittedly scanty, but Kagami Taiga was going to need every advantage he could get.

Hopefully Shintarou kept up buying lucky items for Leos.

#

He awoke the next morning to the smell of breakfast, a riot of flavours drifting through the air to compete for his attention: honey, coffee, bacon, butter.

Inside the kitchen he found enough food to feed an entire basketball team. At least a dozen buttermilk pancakes, heaped in a tower on a plate, accompanied by a stack of assorted berries and a small jug of maple syrup. Scrambled eggs, an entire salad bowl crammed full of them, soft and yellow and perfectly creamy. Hash browns. Bacon strips. Mushrooms and tomatoes and sausages.

"There's miso soup, if you want it," Kagami said, when he noticed Akashi. He nodded at a stockpot on the stove. "Also natto, and there's still some rice from last night."

It took Akashi a couple of moments to process that Kagami apparently intended for the two of them to consume all the food spread out on the kitchen counter. Had even Atsushi been this horrifically gluttonous on his hungriest days?

Somehow they ended up spending the entire morning eating while they revised. Kagami managed to remember most of the kanji they'd covered yesterday, which was almost impressive considering his subpar intelligence. (Not as impressive as the speed at which toast and bacon disappeared into his stomach, but nevertheless.)

It was a shame that even with the encouraging progress Kagami was making under Akashi's tutelage, it was not nearly going to be enough.

Akashi had been aware of that possibility, had been planning for it, but he hadn't anticipated Kagami broaching the topic first - which Kagami did at noon, scoffing down the last of the pancakes and putting his ballpoint pen down on the coffee table before saying, "You don't think I'm going to make it, do you?"

It wasn't like Kagami to be perceptive. Akashi was surprised. "Why do you say that?"

"Last year, when you were playing against Midorima. You had this look in your eyes that was like, 'Nice try, but it's not going to get you anywhere.' It's the same look you've got on your face now."

Akashi considered how much to tell Kagami. In his experience top-tier basketball players always functioned best when you didn't explain too much to them. "You won't pass your resits if you continue at your current trajectory, that's true."

Instead of the belligerent and incoherent noise of protest that Akashi had expected, Kagami went, "Oh."

And looked down at the floor between them, and did not say anything further, and in short, appeared utterly lacking in the bullheaded confidence that Akashi thought of as signature Kagami Taiga.

Akashi was not used to asking questions so often. Perhaps, to be more accurate, he was not used to being this curious about a person. "What do you plan to do?"

Kagami frowned downwards, a little longer, before finally lifting his gaze to meet Akashi's eyes. "It's not basketball."

"Meaning it doesn't matter if you fail?"

"That's not what I said-"

"Or is the Generation of Miracles no longer worth playing against now that you've won against us?"

Kagami said, "You are all such dickheads."

Coarse language, the usual resort of the simple-minded and the verbally challenged. But okay, Akashi wasn't wholly undeserving of the epithet. He'd been deliberately provoking Kagami Taiga. He seemed to do that every occasion the two of them met. Each time the taller boy had remained surprisingly calm, with only a bare hint of the intensity and fury that had trapped Akashi's focus as they faced each other on the court.

He said: "You'll pass your exams."

Kagami frowned again, trying to make sense of their conversation. "You said-"

"I said, at your current trajectory. We have hundreds of opportunities to change that trajectory. School is a much easier game to win at than basketball." Akashi began gathering his things. "I'll call you when I get back to Kyoto. You should take another break now, then spend the evening learning more kanji."

"Right," said Kagami.

He saw Akashi to the door, which naturally afforded another opportunity for Akashi to feel vertically challenged as they stared at each other. If their acquaintance was going to continue Akashi would have to sit Kagami down sometime and give him the lecture about not looming.

"I suppose I should say thank you." Kagami was watching Akashi with a guarded (and not particularly grateful, although it wasn't exactly ungrateful either) look.

Akashi raised a brow. "Thank me by making it to the Interhigh."

He took the taxi to the train station. Shortly after boarding the Shinkansen he started to notice the indigestion. Kagami was entirely to blame; no high school student ought to be able to cook that well. Akashi had drunk most of that pot of miso soup.

He spent the train ride planning and predicting, and using his cellphone to email Tetsuya and Momoi Satsuki.

He did not, even for one moment, think about shougi.

#

Tetsuya phoned shortly after Akashi arrived home.

"I have the information you need," he told Akashi.

"That was quick," commented Akashi.

"Well," said Tetsuya, "I've been collecting it for three weeks."

Tetsuya was always so reassuringly in-tune with Akashi's thoughts. "You wouldn't consider a transfer to Rakuzan, would you?" he said wistfully. Reo was tolerable enough company, but Eikichi and Koutarou were a different breed altogether, and when all was said and done, none of them were Kuroko Tetsuya.

"Not even if you paid me," said Tetsuya. "I sent Momoi-san the data as well. If she's as fast as she usually is, we should have the results by tomorrow."

Momoi surpassed their expectations. The graph and the predictions arrived in Akashi's Inbox a mere three hours later. (Akashi was asleep by then, after consuming a large cocktail of antacids for dinner, and only managed to peruse the attachments the next morning before school, while eating a simple, nutritionally balanced, and rather bland breakfast.)

He admired the excellence of her analysis. She'd appended a quick note: Dai-chan cranky about Kagamin not going to Interhigh. Don't expect me to always carry out your instructions this quickly, Akashi-kun!

Really, Momoi had grown mouthy since the Teikou days. All of them had, even Shintarou, with the exception of Daiki, who had been unruly and insubordinate right from the beginning.

He'd have to retrain them all if he were ever to captain them again.

Although being their opponent was a great deal more fun than being their captain.

#

"I just sent you the contents of your makeup exams, along with model answers written by myself." Akashi did not like Skype. The webcam video of his face remained fuzzy despite his best attempts to adjust it and he disliked how, in order to look at the camera, he had to look away from everything else on the laptop screen.

Kagami was used to Skype apparently, thanks to his parents still living in the United States. Akashi watched the furrow of concentration on the other boy's brow as he checked his email, opened the attached model papers, and then scowled at the camera. "What did you do, bribe my teachers?"

"Nothing as boring as that. I had Tetsuya collect information on the past midterms and makeup exam papers produced by your school, as well as detailed psychological profiles on each of your teachers. Then I had Momoi-san collate the data."

"So this is basically your best guess at what questions are going to be on the tests."

"This is what I know will be on your tests." Grown-ups were busy and grown-ups were predictable. Predicting exams (and acing them) was a game Akashi had been playing since he'd been in kindergarten. He added, "We don't have time to correct the deficiencies in your education in the next twelve days. That will have to be done afterwards."

"Afterwards?" Kagami looked at Akashi with an expression of slowly dawning realisation and horror. "You don't mean-"

"There is no point in going through this rigmarole every year. Shintarou and I will endeavour to get you to a standard where you are at least not constantly at risk of your school pulling you out of extracurricular activities."

He observed coolly as the emotions flickered across Kagami's face: alarm, dismay, protest, indignation, and finally, resignation. "Okay."

Kagami was learning.

"Your job is to spent the next twelve days memorising what I've just sent," said Akashi. It had taken Akashi quite some effort to come up with essay answers pedestrian enough that the teachers would believe they had sprung from Kagami's brain. Everything Akashi had to say on Akutagawa Ryunosuke's short stories had seemed far too insightful to be a thought originating in Kagami's sluggish neural synapses. "I'll expect daily updates."

"I can do that."

"Get started, then." Akashi terminated the call. Had it really been more than forty-eight hours since he'd last played shougi?

Really, Kagami Taiga was more work than Daiki had ever been, and that was saying something.

#

Due to the vagaries of the ex-Teikou regular grapevine, it was Ryouta who told Akashi the news first. Kagamicchi passed his resits! He'll be playing against Midorimacchi next week.

Naturally there was nothing surprising about this event. The result was precisely as Akashi had expected.

Still, Akashi was pleased to hear it.

#

Kagami's email arrived a few hours later. See you at the Interhigh, it said. Seirin's planning to wipe the floor with Rakuzan again.

Akashi regarded his cellphone screen with annoyance. Did he have to personally visit Tokyo again and make Kagami fall down a few dozen more times to make the point?

In the end he settled for a terse reply: You can try, Kagami Taiga.

After thinking about it for a minute, he sent another message. I'll be waiting.

End Part 1..