I'm baaaack! I can just hear the screams of 'where have you been?' and 'we've missed you!' Anyway, what can I say but just say that life has a first priority to everything, and my other stories have been giving me more inspiration than this one.

Pairings: Aomine/Tamaki

Warnings: AU Universe. OOC. Gender swap. Nice Akashi. Overprotective Generation of Miracles

Disclaimer: I do not own Kuroko no Basuke and any of the characters, but the OC characters belongs to me

Chapter Thirty Nine: Zone Showdown

"The ace carries the hopes and wishes of his team." - Kuroko Tamaki


'This is getting ridiculous! What kind of game is this?' Wakamatsu thought to himself, even as the stunned players on the court watched as their two aces battled each other for supremacy on the court, literally flying over the polished floor.

The remaining players on the court might as well be ghosts for all the attention that the two aces paid to them—now with them both being in the Zone.





Even the spectators could only watch, bewildered and almost afraid of the high tension between both the aces down on the court as the ball changed hands several times. One time, the ball actually landed in a startled Sakurai's grasp, but the usually timid teen had the common sense to throw the ball behind him before the two almost feral teens bowled him over in an attempt to get the ball.

In the states that they both are now, they literally couldn't see anything but just each other and the ball. It is one of the side effects of the Zone.

'No one's scored for almost a minute.' Tamaki mused to herself, blue eyes scanning the court, taking in the gobsmacked faces of every single player currently staring at Aomine and Kagami like open-mouthed fishes. 'With them both being in the Zone, their focus and reaction speed and even the capabilities of their bodies have been pushed to the maximum. But… It also puts extreme stress on their bodies.'

Tamaki glanced at her partner and her boyfriend. There is a reason after all why neither Tamaki nor Seijurou have used the Zone before—as unlike their more physically inclined teammates, their bodies are weaker and not as durable.

'Four minutes. It all comes down to it.'


"Neither one is making any progress." Kashitori Kenta commented, eyes narrowing. Honestly, is this really a high school basketball game? This is almost at professional level!

"But why are both the teams completely relying on their aces?" Takao asked with a frown. "If they passed the ball to their teammates, couldn't they score?"

"It's not that simple." Midorima said grimly next to Takao, and the Hawk Eye user looked at him with surprise. The green haired shooter didn't take his eyes from the match, not wanting to miss even a single moment of it. He'd heard Tamaki talk about it once just after their second year—before Aomine had started losing his path. Back then, there is just that one time when Aomine actually had to go all out against an opponent. It wasn't the Zone, but it had been a state close to it—hence, Tamaki had to switch strategies mid-way, and rather than Aomine backing the team up, it had been the other way around—the team had to back him up, as the tanned teen wouldn't be capable of rational thought. "Most likely, it wouldn't change the outcome." Midorima concluded slowly, much to his teammates' surprise, but Kashitori and Nakatani nodded with agreement.

"The Zone is a double-edged sword in essence." Kashitori commented. "It is true—it is capable of allowing the user to access 100% of their strength. But it comes at a price." He told the Shutoku players grimly. "It is stated that a human brain is only capable of accessing ten percent of the thought process as it contains too much information. It is proven scientifically that those rare few that we've seen in the past with abilities like telepathy and such are one amongst the rare number that could access more than ten percent of the thought process of the human brain. Even then, it is not by much. But those in the Zone…" Kashitori turned his attention back to the court. "For just a limited time, they could access all one hundred percent of the thought process, thus functioning on just instincts alone. Rather like how an animal could sense danger." He explained. "Thus, all unnecessary information is cut. But as they're moving and using skills way beyond their bodies' capability, it creates tremendous stress on both their bodies and minds. Hence why the Zone has a time limit before it runs out."

"In other words, the ability to handle necessary information regarding not only the player in front of them, but also the positions and movements of the other players increases." Midorima added.

"Normal players wouldn't stand a chance against them normally." Akashi stated. "But against two of the strongest high school players when they're in the Zone? They wouldn't be able to so much as touch them, let alone assist them."

"Against those two right now, a half-hearted attack would actually be dangerous." Kasamatsu Yukio commented. Most people wouldn't even be able to handle going against a Generation of Miracles' member to begin with. "That's why the game has been left up to the two aces."

"Generation of Miracles…" Moriyama murmured from next to him, watching the match with a passive eye. "They're truly a terrifying team."

Tamaki's eyes looked from left to right and back again before letting her eyes fall on the two aces of both teams—both with a look of intense concentration on both their faces.

'He's always been like that.' Tamaki mused, running through several scenarios and strategies in her head, watching the two aces battle it out. 'Satsuki's mentioned it once too. The stronger his opponent, the more excitement and focus that he played with.' She eyed the grin on Aomine's face before her lips quirked. 'He looks as if he's having fun.' She shook her head, catching the eye of her team captain who nodded.

"The Zone is a double-edged sword." Tamaki told Seirin seriously, especially Kagami who is listening intently. "Honestly, there is still a lot about this 'tunnel state' that we don't know about. And it is also known by several names. State of Self-Actualization. Tunnel Eye. But one thing in common with the few users that could access this state is that they literally lose all sense of reason and rational thought. Once you're in the Zone, leave the rest to us." She told Kagami.

Aomine froze even as he saw a flash of teal blue in the corner of his eye. And some part of his mind that is still capable of rational thought told him that the last thing he should do is hurting her or going against her.

"…We'll handle the rest."

Kagami broke past a stunned Imayoshi and Wakamatsu easily who couldn't even keep up with his speed with their eyes, and thus, the redhead scored a basket easily.

It seemed to be the one move that managed to break the spell over the spectators of the court, as the once silent court soon broke into cheers and applause once more, screaming the names of the two teams.


'Forty one seconds to go, huh?' Tamaki mused to herself, her breathing coming in erratic and heavy, and she is already starting to see black spots in her vision. She shook her head to clear her vision. 'Come on, you can pass out later! Last until the end!' She scolded herself.

"We're only three points behind now!" Koganei cheered from the bench excitedly, waving both his arms like flags, with a frantic Mitobe waving his hands, trying to calm his best friend down.

Up in the bleachers, the Generation of Miracles spotted the familiar glint in Tamaki's eyes, and the look that she gave Kagami and the Touou players, and they smiled to themselves as one.

Ogiwara Shigehiro recognized that calculating look in Tamaki's eyes as well. There is a reason why Tamaki is the only one able to force Akashi into a draw constantly whenever they played shogi ever since they were young, and the redhead is a master at the game.

"What are you going to do, Tamaki?" Shigehiro murmured.

'That's impossible.' Imayoshi is apparently still in denial as he watched the match turning a way that he had not anticipated when he had woke up that morning for the match against Seirin. 'Is Kagami…faster than Aomine? What's going on?'

'How many times does this make now?' Hyuuga wondered even as the two aces went head-to-toe against each other for the umpteenth time that match. 'They're even equal with each other? No…' Hyuuga narrowed his eyes. 'Kagami's faster?'

Considering the fact that the first time Kagami ever went against Aomine just a few months ago, he was utterly destroyed by the tanned teen, it is almost amazing just how fast his growth had been. Though Hyuuga knew that Seirin, Riko and even Tamaki had a hand in just how much Kagami had improved.

"Make the Zone run out?" Kagami echoed, with Tamaki holding her partner back in the changing room as the rest of their teammates returned to the court, with his partner explaining something to him.

Tamaki nodded. "Daiki actually entered a similar state back in middle school that actually almost destroyed his muscles due to how young that we had been back then," she explained to the shocked Kagami. "He was hospitalized for nearly a week due to his tendons and muscles almost tearing. Our coach was concerned, and together with myself and Satsuki, we did some research on this 'tunnel state'. The Zone has a time limit. And you know as well as I do that Aomine is stronger than you." She reminded Kagami who looked disgruntled, but otherwise didn't say anything to rebuke this statement as it is after all true. "But what if he enters the Zone too? You'll be hard pressed to stop him, if not impossible. The only way for you to even match him is if you enter the Zone too, and that is a big if."

"But that is what this whole strategy is about, isn't it?" Kagami asked, perplexed. He didn't understand the entire concept, but he had faith in Tamaki's abilities. If she said that she had a way to make him enter the Zone, then he'll trust in it.

"I can't spin miracles, you know." Tamaki reprimanded. "Whether you can enter the Zone or not is up to you as well. The way I see it, the only way for Seirin to comes on top in this match is to make Daiki's Zone run out."

Another flash of teal entered his vision, and Aomine found his mind clearing up a little more as more time passes.

"…Then, with just you in the Zone, you might just possess capabilities to defeat Daiki."

'She made it run out?' Imayoshi thought in horror, feeling fear for the first time run through him as he laid eyes on Kuroko Tamaki who is staring at the two aces with an impassive look on her face, blue eyes flickering towards the Touou captain, a knowing look in her eyes. ''Mirage' Kuroko Tamaki… Just what else is she capable of?'

"It's not really that complicated if you know how the Zone works." Akashi said calmly. "Truthfully, until today, there's not much known about the tunnel state known as the Zone to which only a select few sportsmen could access. But what little that Tama knew from the research that we'd done back in middle school is enough to allow her to figure out how the Zone works. It is true that the Zone cuts out all unnecessary thought processes and information, thus functioning on a purely instinctually level. But to begin with, Daiki and Taiga's basketball both functions on instinct alone. For Daiki, this actually allows him to comprehend Tama's presence on the court, even within the Zone, thus causing the Zone to run out faster."

It might be playing dirty, but hey, no one really cares.

'Damn you, Tamaki. That is playing dirty!' Aomine scowled half-heartedly at his girlfriend who only gave a small quirk of her lips at him. This only proves that Tamaki knew exactly what she is doing when she had caused his Zone to run out. 'But this isn't enough!'

Aomine leapt up into the air once more, now in possession of the ball, and Kagami followed suit. The two aces then let out a loud roar even as they fought for possession of the ball once more.

'Aomine, you're strong. If this had been a one-on-one battle, I would have lost. I've already exceeded my time limit. But the reason why I keep on fighting is I have support. I'm fighting with more than one man's strength!"

"Why do you play basketball?" Tamaki asked Kagami blandly who only raised a confused eyebrow at his partner. "What do you think basketball is?"

"…No one in Seirin plays alone."

'For all the guys… I will win!'

With a loud roar, Kagami jerked the ball from Aomine's grasp, with the action causing the tanned teen to lose his balance and fall to the ground on his behind. Kagami didn't lose his chance—he tossed the ball towards Izuki who is already running towards the goal, with the Point Guard passing the ball towards Hyuuga.

The Touou players have jerked out of their shock and have gone chasing after Hyuuga who unfortunately is just a little faster than they are, and thus, performed a floater shot into the basket, thus bringing the score to 97-98, with Touou in the lead.


"We're now one point behind!" Koganei cheered.

"From the looks of it, they might just make it." Akashi murmured.

"Yes, but there are only thirty seconds left." Shigehiro commented, glancing at the scoreboard nervously, as the seconds seemed to be ticking away even quicker. "And…" He glanced at the table where the officials are, with Touou's coach approaching them. "It seems like Touou is requesting for a timeout."

Akashi 'hmmed' in his throat as he glanced over at Aomine, seeing the feral and excited look in his eyes. He smiled to himself. Beside him, Shigehiro didn't even notice the golden eye bleeding back into red.

"Looks like you're back to your old self once again, Aomine." Sei-chan whispered. "Tama… Are you all right? You seem to be reverting back to how you had been in third year." Sei-chan closed his eyes as he felt a stab in his left eye. "Fine, Emperor. I'm giving control back."

Shigehiro blinked as he swore he heard something, and turned back towards Akashi even as red bled back into golden. "Seijuro, you said something?" The orange haired teen asked, sadness bleeding into him as he saw the golden orb beneath red bangs. 'How long are you going to hide, Sei-chan?'

"No." Akashi shook his head. "Nothing at all. Though looks like you've spoken too soon."

"Harasawa's not calling for a timeout." Nakatani commented with a frown, with both Kashitori and Kagetora sitting on either side of him, both with identical frowns on their faces. "But even if he calls one now…" He trailed off, weighing the pros and cons of Touou calling for a timeout. What would he do in Harasawa's place? "No, he should be calling one now."

"It's hard to say. There are some things you have to experience to understand." Kagetora commented. "For better or for worse, if he calls for a timeout now, it'll disrupt the flow of the game. Sometimes, you make that call after seeing the look in your players' eyes." He commented absently.

"I concur." Kashitori nodded, and his former teammates glanced at him. The coach of Teiko had his mouth twisted in a grim line, and he is watching Aomine carefully. This isn't the boy who had only started turning up half the time in his third year, and even then, he is more than often late. This is the boy who turns up at practice early, often with that large grin on his face back during his first and second years when Momoi Satsuki and Kuroko Tamaki have approached Kashitori to ask him to be their coach. "I think that Harasawa made the right choice. There are times when you prioritize emotion over strategy." Ironically, that had actually been part of how Tamaki draws up her strategies as well. "Besides, I think that they're all on their last legs. Seirin and Touou won't be able to last much longer if this game goes on into overtime."

"The last thirty seconds…" Nakatani mused. "How would this game turn out?"


'We're all on our last legs.' Tamaki breathed heavily, trying to regulate her breathing so that she doesn't pass out. The score is now at 97-100, with Touou in the lead, and less than fifteen seconds to go. 'If this game goes into overtime, then our chances at winning goes down to zero. In that case…'

Kiyoshi currently had possession of the ball, and seeing Wakamatsu quickly cornering him, he immediately passed the ball towards Tamaki who is standing nearby.

Ten seconds.

"There's no time!" Fukuda wailed. Beside him, Furihata seemed to be praying to whatever deity that would listen for some sort of miracle.

"Please! Do something!" Koganei wailed.

They are so close!

Tamaki didn't panic even as Sakurai was on her as a guard, eyes scanning around the court for some sort of way out. No matter how tight the defense or how strong the team, there is always a weakness—some sort of way to win. That had been something that Kashitori had taught them. No team is unbeatable.

'She can't use Mirage anymore.' Hyuuga thought, glancing at Tamaki, seeing the teal head looking as if she is about to pass out. 'Tamaki's truly at her limit now. If that is so, then…'


Kagami's loud roar broke across the court, and as one, both teams on the court turned towards the redhead only to see him with his hands ready to catch Tamaki's pass. The Zone had already run out for both teams' aces.

"The ace carries the hopes and wishes of his team."

Tamaki didn't even stop to think about it—she immediately tossed the ball towards Kagami who caught it easily. Dodging Aomine, Kagami immediately made his way towards the goal, with Aomine close on his heels.

"Make the shot, Kagami!" Hyuuga roared.

Seven seconds.

"Do you know what makes an ace, Kagami-kun?" Tamaki asked Kagami after they're finally rid of Touou Academy at the hot springs—much to all of Seirin's relief. "The ace carries the hope and dreams of his team. When the going gets rough, and when it seems that all hope is lost…"

"…It is the ace that will shine the path for his team in the time of darkness…"

Kagami then remembered a conversation that he had with Midorima a long time ago.

"Don't tell me you believe you can fight him in the air."

"…That is only half the answer."

"You have the same talent that the rest of the Generation of Miracles had. An innate jumping ability."

"I'll become able to move at will in the air!"

"This is Seirin, Kagami. No one fights alone."

Kagami's eyes widened in realization as he recalled what Tamaki had said to him once—that he had the capability to stay in the air longer than most people. And that in essence can become a double-edged sword at times, as his opponents will land on the ground faster than he could, and thus, could be a good thing or even a bad thing.

Kagami then tossed the ball towards Kiyoshi who is covering him on the ground, much to Aomine's bewilderment.

On the bench, Riko's eyes widened. 'He finally conquered his assignment from the summer at the very last second!'


'They're stronger than us, so this is the only way!' Kiyoshi thought with determination even as he lulled short-tempered Wakamatsu just where he wants him, and jumping into the air. 'Tamaki, you aren't the only one good at playing dirty.' He grinned internally; he had a pretty good idea just who taught her that—the answer is sitting in the very bleachers with Shutoku, watching them intently. The whistle from the referee echoed out even as Wakamatsu jostled Kiyoshi by mistake to block him, much to Touou's horror even as Kiyoshi scored a basket.

"Defense! Pushing!" The referee called out. "Black No. 6! Basket counts! One throw!"

The bleachers and Seirin's bench roared with approval and cheers even as the referee announced the foul, with Touou paling with horror, as they understood just what this might mean for them.

Akashi smirked to himself. "Not bad," he commented, and judging by the expression on Aomine's face, he obviously agrees with his former captain. "If they keeps this up, Seirin might just clinch the victory."

Beside him, Shigehiro looked at him with a curious expression.

The score is now at 99-100, with Touou currently in the lead. And with five seconds to go before the end of the game.

"They're one point behind." Kise commented, seeing the score on the scoreboard. This game is definitely not good for his heart.

"And they threw a defensive foul." Kasamatsu added. "They've got another free throw. It'll be a close one, but they got just a small window of opportunity to clinch this game."

"They're all on their last legs." Midorima commented. "Seirin more than Touou. If this game goes into overtime, their loss is almost ascertained. If I'm Seirin, there's only one thing that they would do here." He glanced at Seirin who had huddled together, having a small strategy meeting much like Touou.

"They would make this free throw miss." Kashitori added, and all of Shutoku along with Kagetora looked towards Kashitori who had a grim expression on his face, eyes on Tamaki who is explaining something to her team with a serious expression. "It's what I would order, and what I know Tamaki would order too. And of course, Touou knows this too."

"And then we'll steal the ball and score." Hyuuga added grimly, sweat running down his face as he looked at his equally exhausted teammates. "It's the only thing we have left. We've all given everything that we have and are at our limit. But unlike us, Touou got stamina and benched players to spare. If we go into overtime, our loss is almost guaranteed."

Tamaki nodded, agreeing with Hyuuga's analysis. "However, with Kiyoshi-sempai shooting, Kagami-kun and Captain will both be in charge of the rebound," she explained. "We only have a small window of opportunity, so we have to make it with everything that we have. And of course, Touou is bound to know this as well." She added, glancing at Imayoshi and Touou. "That captain of theirs is no fool. He has an analytic mind as well."

"In other words, if anyone has a chance, it's you, Kagami." Hyuuga added, and Kagami nodded with determination. "Let's go." He ordered. "It's our last play. A rebound battle!"

"The last five seconds." Shigehiro mused, resting his arms against the railings and watching the court even as the referee gave the order for the rebound to begin. Tension started to gather in the court and even the bleachers, even as all eyes rested on the players within the court. "Whether they win or lose, it'll be down to the last five seconds."



Imayoshi grinned, fingers stretching out for the ball even as it rolled across the court.

"I don't think so." Tamaki said coolly, much to Imayoshi's shock even as the teal head appeared in front of him, already waiting for the ball, falling into a vaguely familiar stance, her right hand cocked backwards. "My apologies, but we can't afford to lose here. There is someone very important waiting for me at the end—waiting for me to drag him back out. This game…is Seirin's victory!"

And the palm of her hand then impacted with the surface of the ball, thus propelling it forwards with speeds like a bullet being released from a gun.

Both Kagami and Aomine then jumped up into the air at the same moment even as the ball soared through the air towards them…and into Kagami's waiting hand, despite Aomine's best efforts to stop him.

"Go, Kagami!"

With a loud roar, Kagami jammed the ball into the basket with such force that it almost sounds as if the goal is about to give way.

For what seem like several moments, no one could move a muscle even as the two aces landed back onto the ground. Then, the referee blew sharply on his whistle, signaling the end of the game, with the score at 101-100.

"Time's up!" The referee announced.

Kagami raised a fist into the air before the court and bleachers then broke into loud roars and applause. Over at the bench for Seirin, the benched players were flinging themselves onto each other.

The end result is entirely different from the last time when Touou had faced off against Seirin. What is it that their captain had said the last time when Touou had ran into them at the hot springs? The result won't be the same as they have a reason that they can't lose.

"I…lost…?" Aomine murmured in a daze, still in shock, as his mind still can't comprehend that he had really lost—for the first time in his life since his skills have bloomed at Teiko.

"Momoi told me that you've accepted Touou's offer." Kashitori Kenta told Aomine even as he sat on the chair opposite the basketball coach in the coach's office—being dragged there by a determined Satsuki by his tie. "The others have also already made their choices. Why Touou though, Aomine?"

"It doesn't make any difference where I go, Coach." Aomine drawled. "The result is the same either way."

Kashitori looked at Aomine almost sadly. "…One day, I hope that you find what you've lost and what you're missing," he said at last. "It's what I've always told you lot: there is no such thing as an unbeatable team. Someday, you'll find someone that can match you and defeat you. A proper rival. Someone…"

"…who can show you the joys of playing basketball again…"

"You're right, Coach." Aomine murmured, looking up at the bleachers where Kashitori Kenta was seated with Shutoku. "You always had been. I only wished…that I had listened to you sooner. Then… I wouldn't have hurt Tamaki so much…" He rubbed at his eyes with the back of his hand. "I lost. I really lost."

The referee blew on his whistle once more. "Line up!"

Tamaki breathed a sigh of relief even as she heard the whistle. The game is really over. It is really over. She managed to fulfill her promise to Satsuki. She did bring Aomine back—the boy whom she'd originally fallen in love with. She wouldn't change Aomine as he is now for anything. But she can at least remove the tortured expression in his eyes.

The teal head could barely feel anything in her legs, and the familiar fire feeling that she is currently getting in her left hand is only getting worse. She stumbled, already seeing black spots starting to appear in her vision, not able to continue standing any longer.

"Tamaki!" Hyuuga called out with concern, seeing Tamaki about to faint.

Kagami who is near the teal head reached out to stop her from taking a nosedive to the ground, but a tanned teen got there first.

"Sheesh." Aomine sighed with exasperation, but also with fondness even as he held Tamaki around the waist, supporting her weight with his own—already feeling two pairs of eyes glaring daggers at him from somewhere within the bleachers. "You never change. You're always pushing yourself so hard until you collapse. Look at you now: you can barely stand without support. Honestly…" Aomine shook his head. "Just who is the winner here?" He complained, but without bite in it, so Tamaki knew that he isn't completely serious. "But… Maybe that is for the best." He admitted. "You were right, Tamaki, in the end. So is Coach. I should have listened to you sooner."

Tamaki cracked opened one eye, smiling weakly at Aomine. "And… Since when did you even listen to me?" she asked. "Heavens knows that you've stopped listening to Satsuki even a long time ago. How many times did I have to drag you back to class from the rooftop so that you don't fail all your classes and your exams even? And how many times did Satsuki call me, crying for help, complaining that you're too stupid to listen even when someone tells you to rest thousands of times?"

Aomine winced from Tamaki's words, knowing it to be true—every single word of it. "I'm…sorry…" he mumbled. "I'll listen to you from now on. But…" He sighed. "I guess the reason that I lost was that difference."

"Why are you acting like it's all over?" Kagami complained, and Aomine looked at the redhead. "You're acting like it's the first time that you've lost." Before either Aomine or Tamaki could tell him that it is the first time that Aomine had lost, Kagami barreled on, "I'll punch you for real if you tell me that you're experiencing loss for the first time in your life!" he huffed, and Aomine found his lips starting to stretch itself into a grin. "Things are just getting started. Let's play again. I'll take you on."

Aomine was taken aback and bewildered for several moments before he looked down again, ashamed. He really had been acting like an idiot for the past year, hasn't he? Just how many people has he hurt in the process?

"Shut up, idiot." Aomine huffed. He paused for several moments before looking at Kagami again. "You defeated me. So you'd better make it to the championship finals. Become the champion, since you defeated the great Aomine Daiki— ow!"

Aomine winced as Tamaki pinched him in the arm as she is currently too drained of energy to even jab him in the side. "I see that you hadn't eaten a slice of humble pie as well." Tamaki deadpanned.

"It's fine, isn't it?" Aomine complained. "Coach used to say that we become better friends and rivals by clashing heads on the court." He ignored Tamaki's mutter of 'if only you'd listened to him more'. Aomine turned towards Kagami. "Oi, Kagami. Hold out your fist."

"Huh? Why?" Kagami is now looking at Aomine as if he had a few screws loose.

"Just do it." Aomine huffed, and Kagami frowned, but compiled by holding out his fist. The redhead was then taken aback as Aomine tapped his fist lightly against Kagami's like the way that Tamaki and Kagami always did. "I'll hold you to that—let's play again." Kagami grinned and nodded. "And keep your hands off Tamaki or I'll tear you apart."

Tamaki sighed at that, whilst Kagami was rendered speechless for several moments. He finally understood why Aomine is always glaring at him from day one now. "That's what you are so upset about?" he almost howled.


It is a pleasant night out, Aomine could admit to himself hours after the match even as he lay on his back somewhere at the back of the stadium, admiring the stars. When he'd woken up that morning for a match against Seirin, he didn't anticipate for it to turn out this way—a total opposite result of how it had been during the Inter High.

"Tamaki is right; you really do nothing but just laze around and watch the clouds or skies when you're not playing basketball," said a voice, and Aomine sat up, turning around only to see a vaguely familiar orange haired teen. Ogiwara Shigehiro eyed Aomine coolly. "This is the first time we've officially met, I do believe, but I think that you know who I am." Aomine nodded dumbly, recognizing this guy from photos and even the last championship game—much to his shame—as Akashi and Tamaki's childhood friend. "This makes things easier then." Shigehiro cracked his knuckles, and Aomine cringed. Is he here for revenge? "I heard from Seijuro about Tamaki and you. I took care of Tamaki since early childhood—rather like how Seijuro did. Tamaki's parents made me promise on their deathbeds to take care of her as well. You take care of her from now on. Hurt her, and you don't have to worry about Seijuro. He'll be the least of your worries if you make her cry again." Aomine swore for a moment that he almost saw a visage of Devil Akashi behind Shigehiro. "Is that clear?

"C-Crystal clear!"

And no, his voice did not just go three octaves higher.


Tamaki leaned against the wall not far from the restrooms, her face pale even as she prodded and examined her left wrist, feeling the familiar feeling like her hand is on fire getting even worse. 'It hurts. It's gotten even worse. Damn it. I was hoping that it could last until the end of the Winter Cup at least. Looks like another visit to Dr. Midorima is in order.' Tamaki almost cringed at the last thought—she might as well brace herself for another hour long lecture from the green haired doctor who wasn't happy to begin with that Tamaki had chosen to delay her treatment due to a basketball tournament.

Soft footsteps approached Tamaki just then, and she looked up only to see a certain redhead approaching her, a small smile tugging at the ends of his lips. "Quite a match that is." Akashi Seijuro commented.

Tamaki said nothing for several moments, eyeing her cousin from head to toe, eyes resting on the two red eyes that he now has. "…Sei-chan," she murmured, using the childhood nickname that she'd given to her cousin since they were old enough to speak. The name that she only uses for the real Akashi Seijuro. "It's been awhile." She commented. "Until when do you want to continue hiding?"

Red bled into golden before a genial smirk appeared on his face, though still with the same caring and concerned look. "Until we won our bet, Tama." Akashi Seijuro said. "Besides, he's too much of a coward to come out."

Tamaki stared at her cousin like he's a stranger, and someone had just told her that her cousin is dead. "Who…are you?" she asked the same question that she'd asked in the gym several hours ago when Atsushi had forced her cousin into a corner. "You're…not Sei-chan, are you?"

"I am still Akashi Seijuro. Though you're right by saying that I'm not 'Sei-chan'. The cousin that you knew called me the Emperor." The redhead stated. "I was already beside you years ago. You just didn't realize it. Sei-chan created me—to protect his family and himself from his abusive father. I am the other Sei-chan."

Tamaki sighed, saying nothing. "…Is he still afraid? Does he know what you know?"

"He sees and experiences everything that I do." Seijuro shrugged. "Our minds are connected."

"Give my cousin back." Tamaki stared at Seijuro with desperation. "Give Sei-chan back!"

"I am also your cousin, you know?" Seijuro said. "Besides, it is Sei-chan himself who didn't want to come out, especially when your friends started changing earlier this year. I know that you've noticed me earlier than this. There's no way that you wouldn't."

Tamaki almost flinched at those words. "…Give Sei-chan…back…" she whispered. "Let me talk to him."

Gold bled into red, and Tamaki stared at her cousin with teary eyes. Sei-chan smiled at her sadly. "So even I've put that look on your face, huh?" he said, placing a hand on Tamaki's head. "Sorry. I said that I'd protect you, especially after Uncle and Auntie died. But it seems like I've been failing that promise further with each day. I can't protect the others too. I can't defend their hearts anymore. But the Emperor and his might… He might be able to."

"Sei-chan, you're strong enough!" Tamaki pleaded. "I…" Red bled back into gold and Tamaki stared into the eyes of the Emperor once more. Despite his cold eyes, he still had the warm concerned expression that Sei-chan had for her—his goofy big brother expression. "What must I do for you to return Sei-chan to me?"

"Normally, I don't appear." Seijuro said. "I am created to protect him and you. If you defeat me, I'll give control back to him. But that is only if he wants to come out too."

Tamaki said nothing for several moments even as she stared at Seijuro. "…I hadn't forgotten my promise," she said. "I'll defeat you. I'll convince Sei-chan to come back as well."

Seijuro smirked. "I'll hold you to that."

A/N: One of my longer chapters, and after almost eight months of hiatus! Anyway, I hope that you like this chapter, and please read and review! Reviews give me inspiration to update!