Ch. 9- A New Wish
Hayami stood in front of Akashi, strained with the acute high-level awareness spread over every fiber of her being. She felt the weight of her body pushing her feet into the soles of her shoes and the friction their rubber had on the court floor. She could feel the rough hollow ball as she pushed it back and forth between her palm and the ground. While visualizing the techniques she felt exercised into her muscles, she steadied her breathing to a pace that empowered both her focus and adrenaline. With strenuous concentration, she linked each of these elements together and synchronized them all into a state of pure reactive alertness. Even then, it was all just to create an uncertain chance to respond appropriately to her opponent. One who could see her future.
Again, by immediately gathering her strength in certain muscles, she attempted to blow by Akashi and sprint her way to the basket. Unfortunately, she understood how truly formidable the Emperor Eye was when she felt the ball pull out from under her hand as her momentum was irreversibly set. A few seconds to stop running, a few more seconds to regain her balance and an extra second or two to spin around could possibly give Akashi all the time he needed. Her fear was well founded, but once she had done all of these things….she faced the mocking reality that he wasn't actually trying.
Instead, he was taking his sweet time nonchalantly walking towards the basket, barely expending any energy. She made a bolt towards him and tried to swipe the ball mid-dribble, but her hand unexpectedly swung through the stillness of empty air. Seeing it in his other hand she ran in front of him to his left side, only for him to effortlessly cross the ball back right as soon as she got there. She ran out in front of him again as he walked, trying to get in his way, but he yet again crossed the ball back left and simply walked past her. He timed it with her running in front of him so it was as if she was darting out of his way each time. She felt like a small dog, running and jumping around its owner, being teased with a treat kept out of its reach.
She spun around just in time to see him score his first goal. He breathed out a light sigh and left the ball on the floor, returning to the center. This implied that if she wanted him to continue this game, she had to take the initiative and do the grunt work. As rude as it was, Hayami was in no position to argue or complain.
"Here, I'm going to stop you from passing me instead!" She tossed the ball to him and challenged.
She assumed a stance and watched him dribble exactly four times before the ball bounced between her legs and he passed her. He then jogged to the basket, remaining one step ahead as she chased him up until he scored his second goal and walked away again. Not even five minutes had passed since they started, and yet the pressure of facing the Captain of the Generation of Miracles had caught up. She was panting, visibly tired and could no longer maintain her pin-point focus. Adding insult to injury, Akashi was in no way enjoying their little game either. She knew that if she didn't do something soon, he was going to end it and cut her out of his life permanently.
"Akashi-kun, please!" She called out. "Basketball is your world, does my struggle in it strike nothing? Let my efforts reach you! Let my determination touch you! Remember your mothers wish! Look at me!"
Without hesitation, Akashi shot his 3rd goal.
"Something! Please, answer me!" She cried out.
"I had clearly told you this match would be a waste of our time. Now you're desperate and have resorted to pleading. I am unimpressed, Hayami…this is below my expectations. Stop trying to invoke the memories of my mother. You're foolish to think that I would allow an incidental lapse of consciousness to repeat itself. You aren't capitalizing on a weakness, you're holding onto a mistake you witnessed me make, once, out of unpreparedness. It will not happen again."
She tightened her lips and squinted her eyes in frustration. She snatched up the ball from floor with an angry stomp and swore to herself that there will be no holds barred this time.
"Because you forgive no one who acts against you."
"Even my parents" He said as he blew right past her again, stealing the ball from her, and jogged towards the basket.
"Y'know what that sounds like to me, Akashi-kun? An unconscious form of rebellion…against your father."
Akashi never stopped before making his 4th score, but her words did capture his attention.
"Interesting. What is your theory?" He said with a tone of displeased curiosity.
"Your father was extremely strict, cold, and held high expectations of you, did he not? It's obvious your outlook and behavior are inherited, or learned, and he is most likely the model you've emulated. So when you say that no one, even your parents, will be forgiven for acting against you…deep in your heart, you are really just channeling the merciless nature that was forced into you onto your oppressor."
Hayami began to raise her voice until she was shouting.
"Because you are frustrated, you're upset with how your father has raised you! It's to convince yourself that the highest authority figure in your life no longer has power over you! That you are strong enough to defy him. Subconsciously, it's a declaration you've created to liberate yourself from the restraints the VERY THOUGHT OF YOUR FATHER HOLDS ON YOU!" She breathed heavily as she finished.
Akashi's eyes narrowed on her as he processed her words carefully. He remained unfazed as his mind worked its calculating magic.
"You have a brilliant mind, I will admit this, Hayami!" He complimented. "Unfortunately, your theory rests on two false presumptions. First, it is that I, as I am now, hold ill feelings towards my father for emphasizing the values of perfection, dominance and victory. Whether you, my other self, my deceased mother or anyone else likes it or not, it is these tenants that will give me exactly what I desire without aid or assistance. I lead others because my guidance brings out latent potential that would otherwise remain untapped…I do not lead out of necessity. Now, your second misunderstanding stems from projecting your own form of humanity onto me. Assuming that we share a similar nature at our core. So let me make this clear for you…"
Akashi walked up to Hayami and forced her to stare into the chilling emptiness of his bi-colored eyes, emanating a feeling like frosty daggers piercing slowly into her soul.
"When I say that no one will be forgiven, I do honestly mean….that if it came down to it, I will kill my father without moral qualms if he truly stood in my way."
Hayami's eyes stretched wide open and she reflexively stepped backward with a gasp. In this moment, she understood just how different, how cold and how ruthless, this "Akashi" actually was at his core.
"B-but th-th-that can't be true. It wouldn't make sense!"
"Exactly what doesn't make sense?" He demanded to know.
"That even though you're an entirely different person, the feelings the real Akashi-kun has for me are still felt through you! I think you're just saying all that stuff, without any real meaning!" She straightened her posture out with certainty once again. "You speak of being so unforgiving…yet, through our match, you have gone preeetty easy on me! I mean, despite using your Emperor Eye the whole time, you haven't once tried to ankle break me and knock me to the floor! You're signature move against anyone who stands in your way in basketball. Why is that? Unless the thought of knocking the girl who means so much to you over is unbearable! And why do I mean so much to you?...Because I remind you of the most important person that was once in your life!"
For a moment, Akashi stood still and baffled.
"Emperor Eye?" He repeated, then proceeded to chuckle. "I haven't used it ONCE this whole time!"
His words struck her like a bat to the back.
"Wait, WHAT?" She was completely thrown off. 'Were my efforts, all this time, seriously thisfutile against even the lowest of Akashi's skills?' She sulked silently.
Suddenly, a malefic smile split underneath his haunting eyes.
"Would you like to experience the Emperor Eye?"
Taking her look of surprise as consent, a set of subtle rings appeared deep in his eyes and the atmosphere immediately changed.
"Whoa…" She couldn't help but nervously squeak.
In that moment, this no longer was a game, no longer was it merely basketball. The way he watched her as he closed in was stronger than simple intimidation. An omnipresent stare fixated upon her with a pressure that paralyzed her senses with terror. She felt inescapably trapped, at his total mercy, and unable to do a single thing against it no matter how badly she wanted to. It genuinely frightened her.
"Move" He commanded her.
Despite the shakiness she could barely contain, she looked at him with defiance and stiffened her position to block any advance he makes. He charged towards the side and she instantly cut in his path. For a second, she thought it was strange because she knew he could move much faster. Unfortunately, before the epiphany could kick in, all thoughts were brought to an abrupt halt. Akashi crossed the ball back over to the other side, forcing Hayami to try and catch up with his change of direction. This sudden shift in her balance was timed too perfectly though, she could feel her body unable to keep up with the action she forced it into.
"AH!" With a quick feminine shriek, she fell backwards helplessly and landed with a loud thud.
Her humiliation was immediate, but when he forsakenly passed by her, without a sliver of care for her well-being, after intentionally knocking her down…hurt her more than anything else. It felt no different than if he had just pushed her over with his own hands. The worst of all, however, was the emptiness of her failure that it drilled into her. Having done everything that she could only for it to amount to absolutely nothing.
The malice in his intent and the apathy on his face hadn't wavered even slightly since she had first walked in. She is just another victory of his to further confirm his superiority over the persona he had buried within himself. Once he wins, she will have lost her last and only chance to awaken Akashi. But she was helpless, left with nothing but to await the inevitable. She just sat there on the floor, with slight pain in her wrist, as the sound of Akashi dribbling further away broke her heart. In a matter of seconds, he was going to shoot his final goal, say something cruel, and she would never see him again.
'I failed' she affirmed in her mind, needlessly torturing herself.
Suddenly, the sound of dribbling stopped, prompting Hayami to turn and see the ball lifting over his head before the shot. She couldn't bear the sight of it and spun the other way. She squeezed her eyes shut, knowing that at any moment, she was going to hear the sound of defeat. That of the ball gently grazing the hoops fabric until it landed with a loud, deathly bang.
'At any moment now.'
It was as if time had stopped. The total lack of sound was unsettling.
'Is…This isn't another taunt, is it? Is he going to shoot as soon as I turn around?'
Hayami thought this, but could not resist looking either. She turned slowly and cautiously. She scolded her heart for foolishly sparking with new hope. Yet, with how quickly he played to get their game over with, she couldn't make sense of why he'd take so long to make this one last shot.
'It can't be…' This was her last thought before she finally turned to face what awaited her.
A small gasp escaped her lips at what she saw. Akashi was facing the hoop, frozen still like a statue, with his arms over his head…
…and the ball resting in his hand.
A few more seconds slowly passed, each one an eternity of its own, before the careful descent of the ball pulled it out of sight. Hayami could hear her breathing deepen as Akashi turned around with a puzzled, even somewhat worried, look on his face. More importantly, he had a completely different feel to his aura. All traces of his domineering hostility had vanished like magic. His eyes patiently shifted from the ball in his hands, the emptiness of the gymnasium, and finally Hayami down on the floor. The look on his face each time reflecting which part of the situation he was taking in, as if he had suddenly snapped out of a trance. His eyes softened with concern when they finally made contact with hers.
"…Nakayo-san?" He nearly choked while saying her name, remorse and guilt seething deep in his voice.
Hayami's heart skipped a beat and her eyes clouded with tears. The disbelief of her success left her questioning every following moment, before she had to remind herself that now wasn't the time for such. She wiped her eyes dry with her arm and stood up.
"It's good to finally see you again… Akashi-kun" She gave him a warm smile to welcome him back.
He returned with his own smile and began walking over to her. He stopped when they were just a few feet apart, and immediately bowed his head.
"I apologize sincerely for the way I… I… had acted, and for what I had done. It was inexcusably shameful of me, and hardly worthy of forgiveness." He confessed.
Hayami could feel the pain sewn deep in his words. They made her think of an innocent man framed for a crime, and his reluctant assumption of the responsibility and consequences. Yet again, she could not muster any lasting anger against him. It was just like the night of the gala, except this time, she knew the truth.
"Akashi-kun, as far as I'm concerned…you had nothing to do with it. Argue contrarily all you want, but there is a distinction between the two of you that I'm unable to unify. And you can't disprove a subjective point of view! So, hmph!"
His eyes shot open in surprise, then relaxed as he smiled to himself and lifted his head.
"I can't help but feel undeserving of your kindness."
As Akashi looked at Hayami, his confidence slowly revitalizing itself, she relished the feeling of gazing into his soft yet powerful eyes once again. Which reminded her…
"That Emperor Eye of yours though, it's quite the talent."
"Thanks" He blushed slightly with embarrassment, remembering what he had used it for just under a minute ago.
"However, it's not like you really can see the future, is it? If I had to put money on what it really is… I bet it's your superb observational skills and incredible speed, right?"
Akashi smiled with a playfully cocky grin and a chuckle in response.
"Wrong!" He teased her, then raised his hand to his face and pointed to his off-colored eye. "When I use the Emperor Eye, though my vision in my other eye diminishes slightly, in this one…it becomes exceptionally sharp. With minimal effort, I can see infinitesimal details in vivid, high-definition clarity. In the case of the human body, when interconnected muscular groups flex and contract, this eye unconsciously traces the path of the movement about to be performed. Like a phantom image showing me exactly what they are about to do. Not once, ever in my life, has it been wrong or off. You can even say…that my accuracy is absolute."
Hayami stood stunned.
'Brains, brawn…He excels enormously in so many ways, and now this? Talk about an elite among prodigies'. She grinned to herself. 'I knew it'd be worth it. I'm so happy that I was able to help free you from your personal prison. Now to give you a push to heights in this world that only you will be able to reach!'
"Nakayo-san?" Akashi snapped her out of her train of thought with the tilt of his head.
"A-A-Ah!" She stuttered. "I was j-just wondering…thinking about, how anyone could ever beat you with such a talent!"
His mischievous smirk caught her off guard. A basketball tossed into her hands at the blink of an eye threw her off even more.
"Why don't we find out?"
"Umm—I don't think…" She nervously started, but the sound of Akashi's joyous laughter cut her mind off from everything else. To see someone as composed as him break out with such a hearty guffaw, she understood immediately, was a rare moment meant to be cherished.
"What I mean, Nakayo-san, is that why don't we start our match over."
"Huh?" She gasped in surprise, her eyes clouding over again with tears of happiness.
"I promise to go easy on you, as long as you promise to go all out on me." The squeak of his shoes echoed through the empty gymnasium as he took a defensive stance. "How about it?"
With the confident smirk of a challenger, she started dribbling the basketball and prepared to show Akashi the fruits of her crash-course training.
"You got it!" She yelled excitedly.
The game progressed in an unsurprising manner. Akashi was taking his time with Hayami, which hardly could be considered practice for him, and it was painstakingly obvious that every shot she made was allowed. However, they were not easy to make. As they played, Hayami slowly realized that Akashi was pushing the boundaries of her skills and making her earn each goal he let her score. Of course, he would follow up afterwards with a goal of his own to keep the score balanced between them, but it was all good fun.
She learned to use her peripheral vision to read his movements while watching the ball. He identified strong points both she and Kouta were unaware of. The closer to five points the two of them drew, the more Akashi would show off his skills for her. His dizzying dribbling and erratic changes in speed showed just how easy he had been going this whole time, even as his "other self". At long last, the two of them had tied at an even 4 against 4.
"And here we are, Nakayo-san. The deciding point of the match."
"The deciding point, eh?"
"From this, the true victor will be crowned."
"Oh my… Well then, no pressure on me huh." Hayami sarcastically retorted.
"Oi now, let's make this last round special."
"Uh—I don't I can handle… special."
"Hmm, are you sure? What if I'm so swayed by your determination that I have no choice but to let you score out of respect?"
"…And by that, you mean…?"
"You have to impress me" He smiled.
A memory suddenly flashed in her mind like a bolt of lightning, shining out through her eyes as sparkling excitement.
"I may have just the thing then! It's a move I invented, incorporating a bit of ballet." She tucked the ball under her arm and gave the same graceful bow she's done countless times before. "I call it…The Swans Stride."
"The Swans Stride…" He slowly enunciated. "What an eloquent name. I'd love to see it."
Hayami began dribbling to finally commence the last round. She used a few feints and false 'trick moves' to lead Akashi on, having finally earned a fraction of the cards to be stacked in her favor. Once she used up all the false leads she could think of, she found herself unable to suppress a quick giggle. The way Akashi was watching her, cautiously and intently, she could feel she had him just where she wanted.
She prepared her foot for a pivot as she bounced the ball into her opposite hand. Following through with the momentum of her self-pass, she lunged herself into a mesmerizing twirl. Akashi watched in awe, feeling a gentle push press down upon his shoulders. It was as if his mother had placed her hands there to speak through his heart.
"Beautiful, isn't she?" His imagination brought her voice to life with eerie clarity.
He gasped softly when it happened, causing his heart to skip a beat. He lost sense of where he was and became hypnotically entranced. The smooth and flawless momentum of her spin, unwavering like a figurine inside an open music box, captivated him unlike anything he'd ever experienced.
'Nakayo Hayami…indeed, you are the most beautiful girl I have ever—'
With the sound of the basketball smashing into the ground, Hayami had vanished. Behind him, he could hear her giggling as she dribbled away.
"Gotcha!" She shouted like playful child, not once taking her eyes off the hoop. Her heart sung out with joy at having successfully pulled off her trump card.
"YOU BITCH!" A violent boom reverberated through the empty gymnasium, followed by the rapid machine gunning of Akashi's feet as he sprinted towards her.
The difference in his vigor was frightening, terrifying even, but yet somehow… she expected this. Thus, she didn't waver. She kept forward on her own sprint, unwilling to let her fear hold her back. After all, she knew now she was no longer alone in this fight. And that, too, was the reason that she didn't hesitate for even a split second when the vicious sound of sprinting slowly came to halt just behind her.
The Original Akashi's voice was audible only to his other self, who had forced his way back into control. His body slightly seized in a standing position as his fists clenched, teeth gritted and eyes strained.
His body let out a cough as it struggled between the two personalities fighting for dominance within its own psyche. His breathing became ragged before he snarled and gripped his arm violently, as if it was desperately trying to hold onto something tangible before slipping away into mental oblivion. That is, until the sound of his opponents footsteps had come to a stop. He looked up, only to catch the sight of Hayami making a pose that would undeniably lead to her winning shot. At that moment, Akashi's body relaxed. His panting had smoothed out and his hand let go of the brutal vice grip it held over its own body.
"You are no more"
He said aloud, drilling the final nail into the 2nd Akashi's coffin, to seal him away in the darkness of his own mind that he now could finally leave behind.
The ball soared up into the air and fell softly through the hoop. Hayami froze for a second after the ball dropped to the ground. Then, in as stark of a change as Akashi's personality switches, she pulled her arms into her chest, hunched over, and then exploded out in a burst of victorious excitement.
"I WON! I WON I WON I WON I WON!"
In spite of the great, life-altering experiences leading up to this moment, Akashi couldn't help but feel a little sting at the sight of his defeat. However, in response to it, the only thing he could do…
"Heh heh. Ha! AHAHAHAHAHA!" His chuckle grew into an exuberant roar, enough to break Hayami out of her own celebration.
"Akashi-kun?" She jogged over to him.
He breathed in deeply to settle himself down, faced her, and bowed with an unmistakable air of deep respect.
"Congratulation's, Nakayo-san." He raised his head and looked her straight in the eyes. Hayami felt her heart quiver and her breathing stop when she looked back into his own. "You have officially defeated the Captain of the Generation of Miracles."
Hayami couldn't even process his words at the moment. The sight of his eyes held an even greater significance within them.
'They…match in color now.' She thought with wonder.
Hayami and Akashi sat a person's width apart from each other as they shared the same bench. A cool night breeze provided a refreshing relief against their sweaty skin. The moonlight shined down like a nocturnal sun and cast everything in sight in a unique shade best described as a nightly glow. The bench was placed next to a drinking fountain, so once they both had their full of water, they perched themselves into the seat and relaxed. More accurately, Hayami was the one relaxing while Akashi simply accompanied.
"…Nakayo-san" Without looking her way, he broke the silence between them with a poorly hidden hesitance.
"Hmm?" She tilted her head with a smile and softened eyes.
Her non-verbal reply forced him to face her, and her expression conveyed that it was just silly for him to be awkward with her at this point. He returned the smile, and hoped she couldn't see his eyes well up with water at her gesture.
"That last move you did earlier, your 'Swans Stride'…where exactly did you learn it?"
Hayami blushed, then proceeded to contradict herself when she turned her face away from him.
"Well…I didn't exactly learn it from somewhere. I made it up." She began to trace circles into the ground with her feet. "The past two weeks…after your match with Onii-san, I mean…I've been practicing with him daily just to get the basics of basketball down. While doing so, I couldn't help but think it'd be pretty neat if I could mix some ballet into it. It sure made practice a whole lot more fun, I gotta admit!" She smiled to herself.
Akashi sat there with wide eyes.
"Wh…Nakayo-san…why? Why would you go through all of this…just for me?" He asked her, his tone was that of begging for an answer, but not because she was reluctant to give it. Rather instead, he was desperately curious why she, who he had met not long ago, would go so far to reach out to his extended hand that had been crying for help.
She stopped prodding into the ground with her feet, sat herself up and looked at Akashi. The truth was, she hadn't been fully aware of what had been pushing her to go through this totally herself. Yet, with the very goal she had worked towards now sitting before her, perhaps the answer which had alluded itself for so long could finally reveal itself.
"Well, for one, I promised myself that I would do everything I could to see you again. But I realize now, that it was more than that. Somehow…I feel that…if your mother could see you now. No, more like, she's been watching you this whole time. She knows about everything that has happened, and is watching you even now, to this day. And because of that, she has a new wish. So I guess, since I'm her other wish, as you put it…I was the vessel…or the means, for her new wish to come true."
"A new wish huh?" Akashi asked, partially captivated by her theory. "So then, what do you think this new wish may be?" He asked this, but didn't expect much from her answer.
As sweet of a theory it may be, once it bridged into the supernatural, he couldn't help but take it with a grain of salt. 'Most likely, I'd figure this is the result of her kind but determined nature. She must have been unable to sit back once learning about my secret struggle.'
"So then, what do you think this new wish may be?" He asked, partly curious and partly humoring her.
Meanwhile, however, Hayami was enduring a providential epiphany. Her own words triggered all her memories from the night of the gala up until now to flash through her mind and connect, finally making sense. As if Akashi's mother was truly there in spirit right then, doing her best to speak through Hayami and break through her son's stubborn logic. Without a thought in mind, she acted purely on feeling and placed her hand on Akashi's, holding it tightly, while meeting his surprised look with a motherly smile. When she finally answered his question, she gazed deep into his eyes, as the words moved her mouth on their own like a message from the beyond.
"To help her bring her son back."
The reaction on his face was akin to having witnessed a resurrection.
"O-oh" He stuttered, eyes wide with disbelief, until his gaze had shifted away from hers and he was immediately lost in thought. "I…see"
His lips straightened out in a firm line for a second, before the corners of his mouth curved downwards. It wasn't exactly a frown, but from the way his eyes uncontrollably welled up with water as his eyebrows crumpled, it was an obvious attempt at holding back the urge to burst into tears. And understandably so, for Hayami's words were something that his mother truly would have wished.
Then, as if to answer his long-forgotten prayers from the years ago when she passed away, Hayami had wrapped her arms around him and pulled his head into her bosom. Not in a seductive or sexual way, because it was an undeniably maternal gesture. As she held him like this, she spoke into his ear, softly, and in a voice that not even she herself was sure, to this day, was truly her own.
That was it. Akashi's face contorted into an unfamiliar shape as he cried like he never has before. Away from the oppression of his father, within the embrace of a beautiful woman who rescued him from his darkness within, and with the spirit of his mother making her presence known. Akashi's tears carried the weight of all the emotions he had forgotten how to feel. The sadness, grief, longing…his cries only grew stronger and stronger as Hayami embraced him, accepting everything he had to reveal in this most vulnerable moment of his. She only hugged him tighter in response, as her eyes became wet with her own tears.
"Nakayo-san…thank you! Thank you so much! Oh my gosh, thank you!" He managed to squeeze out between sobs.
She could only nod in reply with a soft hum as the wetness in her eyes spilled down her face like his. The two teens sat on that lone bench under the nightly shine of the moonlight while the stars above twinkled happily. Like the spirits of the past shedding their own touching tears of joy at the scene unfolding on the Earth below them.