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Endurance

Chapter Text

"So you mean you can attend our gathering this Saturday??"

Momoi asked with a cheerful voice. It had been 2 months after the final match of Winter Cup, the holidays were coming, and the former Manager of the Generation of Miracles thought it was the perfect time for the group to meet up once again.

"Of course Momoi, I wouldn't miss it."

It had worried her the most when it comes to Akashi for their first get together after a long time, due to the great distance between Tokyo and Kyoto.

And even though the old Akashi was back, and had assured her with the most sincere smile after the Rakuzan - Seirin match that he'd be more than happy to gather with the rest of the gang for a reunion, something else happened during the match kept her unsettled about the matter. Something that none of them had brought up until now.

"This is great! Mukkun will be here tomorrow due to winter break in Akita, it's such a good opportunity! Thank you Akashi-kun!"

"I am pleased to hear. It would be very difficult to have Murasakibara travel the long distance to meet us." Akashi smiled, remembering their big baby of a friend.

"You don't know how much trouble that saves me from. Well then, see you this Saturday Akashi-kun!"

"Certainly. See you soon." And with that they ended the short conversation.
Akashi let himself breath out from content.

A meeting, huh? It surely have been quite a long time.

It was a mixture of feeling to finally face his former teammates after all the roller coaster of events. But he treasures them enough to put all of it behind, or so he tried. After all, Akashi himself is not completely free of guilt from how things turned out to be, if not the opposite.

And so a few days later, Akashi found himself wandering on the cold streets of Tokyo, looking for the Coffee shop Momoi had told him. His gloved hands holding the small piece of paper with the address of the place, rustling in the winter breeze.

His eyes caught sight of the pretty little shop at the corner of the street with the name 'Memory Stop'.

Typical Momoi.

He took his time walking towards the location, breifly thinking what his friends would be like after a year of speration.

Aomine would still look moody and bored to death, but starts to hype up whenever they talked about basketball (Akashi was glad that their ace had found joy in basketball again). Midorima would take his share in nagging them around. But Akashi did notice through the eyes of his other self, that said green head had soften up a tad bit under the care of a certain raven hair of Shuutoku.

Kuroko would still be invisible, throwing in little interesting regards with enormous impact everytime he opens his mouth. One thing definitely wouldn't change, and that is Kise's forever bright (and utterly anoying) smiles, which would soon turn into crocodile tears from being ignored (another thing that instantly lightens Aomine up).

And finally Murasakibara, who would still be eating most of the time (Akashi wouldn't admit it, since he's concerned of the other's health, but he feels rather fuzzy when he gets to spoil this friend with snacks from time to time).

Akashi let out a soft chuckle, for he couldn't imagine them being anything else than how he had always seen them. They could be in different high schools, but whenever he look at those colorful mops of hair together, his insticts still calls to look after, to lead, to care.

Akashi was not sure if the feeling is suitable anymore. At least, he hoped they wouldn't mind a little extra nagging than Midorima's.

With that, Akashi entered the shop. A warm aura and the calming scent of coffee embraced him as soon as he opened the door. He looked around, searching for the group. The shop was decorated lovely, very much like its name, a little girly for Akashi's liking, but still better than most coffee shops.

"Akashicchi!!! We're hereee!"

It was pretty much impossible not to make out the outstanding group full of guys in this kind of place. Akashi strode to their direction, it came to him as a surprise that he'd actually missed Kise's infamous smile in every damn situation. So he let it slide when the other was being unecessarily loud, again.

"Akashi-kun." was the first greeting from the teal head boy when he reached the table.

"Welcome Akashi-kun! Thanks for coming!" Momoi cheered in satisfaction, now that the group is complete.

"Aka-chin is here~"

"Yo. The last to arrive as always."

"Hello everyone. It's nice to see all of you here." Akashi smiled, as a certain green haired simply nodded towards him.

"Heh, this takes me back to our other reunion, that Bakagami of yours got a slit accross the face. Man that feels glorious to look at." Aomine grins at Kuroko.

"EHHH?? How come I didn't know about that??"

"Think before you speak, nanodayo. This topic is not that pleasant."

"Momocchi was not there when it happened. And Aomincchi, you're so thoughtless-ssu!"

"What? His face was priceless! Smooth move there Akashi."

"Dai-chan!"

"Oh, this is careless of me. Kuroko, please send my appologies to your teammate, though I would personally appologize in person the next time I meet him."

"It's ok Akashi-kun, I will make sure to tell him. But there's no need for it in person, I'm sure it'll just make him feel awkward. You see, Kagami-kun doesn't like to think much."

"Very well then, anything of his preference." Akashi nodded.

"As expected. I'd say the idiot hardly thinks at all."

"Aomine-kun, I think that is one of the few commons between you two."

"HAHAHAHA!!!! You heard Kurokocchi!! Aominecchi is a brainless idiot!"

"Don't think you're any different, Kise." Midorima scoffed.

"Wa! You're mean Midorimacchi!"

The converstion flowed from there onwards without a hitch, ranging from their level of intelligence to the love-hate relationship between Kagami and Nigou, Kuroko's dog. This time, Akashi really enjoyed their noisy bickering. Ocasionally he would even participate in the mess.

Akashi thought it would be ok to act a little incomposed once in a while.

"Wow! That's a really beautiful pair of gloves Akashicchi!" Kise, out of no where, squeeled out.

Attentions shifted to Akashi's hands neatly placing on the wooden table.

"Woah, they really are! I saw them on the internet. If I'm not mistaken, they were hand-sewed by the designer himself, right Akashi-kun??" Momoi said in aw, touching the soft leather material.

"You're right Momocchi! Products from this brand are one of my favourites too!"

Akashi pondered "Is that so? I wasn't aware of those informations, but they are certainly of my taste, so I purchased them the moment I saw them on the counter."

"They look very simple and delicate, I wonder what the material feels like. May I try them on Akashi-kun??"

With that, Akashi's alarm quitely set on. This situation, it was tactless of him to think he could avoid it. What now?

-----

The silence had been going on for 5 seconds already, he should come up with a solution before it reaches 10 seconds. He couldn't possibly say 'No', that is downright rude. In the worst scenario, he could carefully lure Aomine's attention this way and have him distract the two, as the combo can easily get into a bicker. But the chances are too slim, Aomine is not one bit intersted in the subject-

"Aka-chin~ Can you come with me to order seconds?~"

Mursakibara's voice broke the short silence like a savior, and Akashi quickly took the help.

"Of course, Murasakibara. Would you excuse us, we'll be back in a short while."

He tried to hide his relief as he got up, Murasakibara waiting knowingly. With the speed of the conversation, the topic would soon be tossed to the back of their heads by the time Akashi got back. He turned to join the Purple head, not noticing a pair of sky blue eyes glancing his way suspiciously.

Akashi had just relaxed his tensed muscle, as they took a few steps from the table.

 

"OH MY!!!!"

 

"Watch out!!"

A baseball bat suddenly flew right towards Akashi's face, the 'woosh' sound that came from the spinning object tore through the air. Murasakibara, who stood a couple of steps ahead of him, with a tray of empty glasses on his hands, reacted fast as ever. He quickly turned his head, just in time to see his former captain, out of pure instinct, reached out his right hand to catch the object..

The solid hard material hit Akashi's palm accurately. As soon as the rough contact was made, Akashi visibly winced and retrieved his hand, dropping the object which was then caught by Murasakibara. The purple head turned to glare at the culprit in annoyance.

"I'm so sorry! It was my fault for not keeping an eye on my son! Itou Maruki! Come here and appologize this instant!"

The young woman rushed to them hastily, then turned to snap at a small boy who was fidgeting in a corner. The boy, probably around 9-10 years old, was wearing a baseball uniform. On hearing his name being called, the little guy timidly made his way towards Akashi, and bowed his head.

"S-sumimasen!"

Akashi nodded, and handed them the bat from Murasakibara.

"It was fortunate that we had caught the object before it hurts somebody or damage any property. But now that you know how dangerous it can be, I hope you've learned your lesson and be more careful with it."

The mother thanked them again and again while dragging her shivering child away until they were out of sight.

"Aka-chin, is your hand alright?" Murasakibara glanced at Akashi's hand, examining it with Amethyst eyes.

"I'm fine, let's go-"

"What's wrong with Akashi-kun's hand?"

Chapter Text

"What's wrong with Akashi-kun's hand?" Kuroko appeared behind them, eyes narrowing.

"Nothing, it was a bit of a strong hit, that's all."

"How strong can a swing from a 10 years old be? Doesn't sound very convincing, nanodayo."

"True, but it was a heavy wooden bat."

"But Akashicchi, you dropped it..-"

"Ok Akashi-kun, how about you remove your gloves for us just to make sure?"

Kuroko hit the jackpot, again, why was he not surprised. The Phantom sixth man is always to the point and makes all arguements pointless, which Akashi appreciates, most of the time.

"Akashi-kun, is there something you're hiding from us?..." Momoi started to look worried.

Akashi scoffed, this was all going too far for his convenience.

"No. But I do not think this little commotion is worth the time and energy to-"

"Aka-chin's hand is in bad condition because he's been receiving punishments from his father~"

And he was interrupted again. Akashi looked at Murasakibara in disbelief.

Great.

"What?!" Kise bawled.

"What the hell?! What punishment???" Aomine, who was bored all this time thinking they were being overexagerating, finally raised his voice.

"... I think you two should sit down. Murasakibara-kun, please tell us the details."

Akashi was pulled down to the table, still at a loss of words. He blinked at his companion.

"What? They're being noisy about it~ And Aka-chin can't keep it to himself forever." The purple head shrugged.

"Answer the right question Murasakibara." Midorima's sharp eyes pierced through his glasses.

"Hm?~ Like I said, Aka-chin lost at the Winter-cup right?~ So his father gave Aka-chin punishments according to his two mistakes~"

"Murasakibara."

"And that is?" Midorima ignored Akashi's warning tone.

"Aka-chin has to receive a squat on his right hand everyday, until it covers up the score he'd lost to Seirin, as a reminder of his failure."

Upon saying this, Murasakibara couldn't keep his sloppy composure. He looked as if he was tasting something bitter, something really bad in his mouth.

"Murasakibara!"

"...You mean 106 days?..." Kuroko's voice was silent, but everyone heard it well clear.

"But that's more that 3 months!" Kise cried out, while Momoi could only gasp and cover her mouth.

"You said two mistakes. What about the other??!" Aomine gritted, running short of patience.

"Ah, during that period, Aka-chin also has to listen to the last quarter of the match while having dinner, so he can look back and reconsider his choice of companions and partners. You know, when you guys started cheering for S-"

"Atsushi. Enough!"

Akashi's voice dripped in anger and demand. His breaths were slightly heavy and rushed. Everyone turned to look at the read head, who was now fixing his gaze on Murasakibara. His left eye glinting dangerously.

Silence fell on them, as Murasakibara took in the painfully familiar sight of their former captain in front of him, absolutely furious and threatening. But now that he'd faced it the second time, he noticed something else in those eyes. They looked lost, and scared.

Murasakibara clenched his hands.

.................

Akashi's head was spinning in chaos. But then he saw Murasakibara bent his head in silence, and he realised what had just slipped out of his mouth.

Akashi took a deep breath, lowering his eyes. His wine-red orb stopped flashing from colors and returned to its rich and warm hue.

Calm down. Calm down. Don't.

"I-I'm sorry. Please excuse me."

Akashi said, trying to hide the shake in his voice, and stood up. The group watched as Akashi swiftly headed to the restroom, in the most hurrily way they'd ever seen of him.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"How long have you known about all this shit?" Surprisingly, Aomine was the first to wake everyone from their guilty sessions.

"Hm~ About a month?~" Murasakibara was back to his tiring looks, only this time he seemed to be tired for real.

"And it has been two months since the Winter Cup..." Kise said droopily.

"Oh Akashi-kun!" Momoi whined, her eyes sparkling with tears. They tried not to think of Akashi's hand's condition after two months of repeated penalty.

"How did you know? I don't believe Akashi would ever tell anyone on his own, nanodayo."

"Judging by his reaction today, I would think so, too." Kuroko mumbled.

"Aka-chin didn't tell me, I found out myself~ Last month we went to Kyoto for the shrines, and I thought I'd drop by for dinner. I wanted to surprise Aka-chin since I thought he was staying alone, I even bought Aka-chin his favourite Tofu~"

"I'm surprised the guy let you into his home without a 'scheduled call'." Aomine snorted.

"That's because he's not us." Midorima quietly said. The bluenette only turned away.

"Wait, you mean Akashicchi wasn't staying alone??"

"I was with my Supervisor."

A quiet voice was heard as the red head approached them. His eyes were still glancing downward, few beads of water lingering on his damped frings. His hands, now finally exposed, also seemed slightly wet. But the right palm were still clutching on the pair of leather gloves, unready to reveal itself.

"How long has the person stayed with you Akashi-kun? Are you always appointed a supervisor?" Momoi shifted to make place for him.

"Thank you. And no, she will only be here for... the time being." It was understood. To be precise, the person was an executor.

"Hmph, more like a bloody warden, I'd say."

"Dai-chan!"

"It's true Sa-chin. She was really stiff and rude and she hits Aka-chin. I don't like her." Murasakibara recalled the two nights he'd stayed with Akashi and scowled distastefully.

Truth was the woman didn't show any particular behaviour, or even emotions for that matter, needless to say 'rude'. Then again, she carried out her duty of making sure Akashi receives his daily punishment like her whole existence was ment for the sole purpose, and that was enough to make it to Murasakibara's 'List of people I want to crush'.

"Mou! Isn't that too much-ssu! Sending someone just for that- that-!" Kise fumbled in disstress.

"What do you expect, Akashi to be left taking out the punishment on himself?" Midorima said this, but his own hands were clenched in fists as well.

Akashi didn't say anything, he didn't know what to say. As far as he'd come, no one ever talked about his problems, and now that the topic arised, he felt awfully awkward and uneasy.

"Akashi-kun, may I..?" Momoi touched the gloves in his hand, asking for him to let go.

Chapter Text

"Akashi-kun, may I..?" Momoi touched the gloves in his hand, asking for him to let go.

Funny enough, Akashi seized the piece of cloth even tighter. After what felt like forever, he hesitantly loosen his grip. Momoi slid the material off, then gently turned Akashi's palm upward. She hissed when the mark on his hand came into light, as if she was feeling the pain erupting by the look of it.

They were unable to weight the force that caused this mark, as it was done so many days already, all on the exact same line across Akashi's palm, a little bit to his fingers. It already looked like a pain just to grab things with the hand. And by the shape of the mark, it was clear that the object used to deliver those strikes was a belt.

The outlines of the wound had traces of tender skin and dried blood, indicating how it was re-opened again and again (the physical wound reminded the others of another wound, probably re-opened everyday as well). The skin of the affected area was not too swollen, but it was all red and seemed very sensitive to touch.

The scowls on the Miracles' faces deepened.

"This must be affecting your daily routines." Kuroko stated.

"Do you get to treat yourself Akashicchi?? What if it goes to your bones or something-suu!?" Kise exclaimed, receiving looks of judgement from his friends.

"Nothing of the sort, I can assure you. My dad wanted to punish me, not ruining my hand." Akashi gave a reasuring smile towards the blonde.

And to make sure I remember deep and clear my first failure, that is.. He mentally added.

"Some dad he is, your old man, squizing the life out of his own son. Now I understand why you always look so unhappy. No offense." Aomine grunted, looking at Akashi's trace mark like it itches him.

Momoi looked like she wanted to tell Aomine off, but she didn't, probably because she couldn't disagree with it that much.

"Watch your words. Can't you tell this kind of topic is not suitable to talk in these places?" Midorima pushed his glasses, earning a 'Tsk' from the dark blue.

"I agree. We still have tonight anyway, let us talk more into it when we have the sleepover." Kuroko suggested.

Akashi was ever so releaved to hear he'd be free from all the questions. But his little joy soon died away when the last section of the sectence came. Sure, how could he forget.

Ever since the group kinda made up after the Winter Cup, Momoi had made sure that whenever the rare chance comes (i.e they're all gathered in Tokyo), they should spend the night together, like how they used to in training camps of Teiko.

And with that the group decided to disband , since Kise had his modeling, and all firmly refused street basketball because of Akashi's injury. The red head accepted unwillingly, first time being the most annoyed one having to part the group for such a ridiculous reason. He knew the temporary release would only mean they'll get to prepare questions for him more thoroughly.

I'm not going to get a peaceful night...

You caused it. Deal with it.

A sudden snorty reply caught Akashi by surprise. Great, now even 'He' is blabering about it..

--------------------

Akashi packed some of his privataries and get ready to head out. It was half past seven in the evening, and he was departing for Kise's place to meet the others. Of course, that is after he had received his early punishments. Akashi had to question his luck ranking on Midorima's infamous Oha Asa, given how everything is going Oh-so-well for him today.

As Akashi went out of the door, he immediately spotted a tall figure already standing there, leaning against the electric pole with a large packet of Maiubos in his hands.

"Murasakibara. I didn't know you would be waiting for me." Akashi didn't hide the pleasant surprise.

"Hm~ Aka-chin's place was on the way to Kise-chin's place~" Murasakibara said leisurely as he slowly stood from his slouching position to join Akashi.

"I'm flattered. Nevertheless, you shouldn't have stayed out in this cold weather. It's bad for your health and stiffens your muscles. At least, you should've informed me of the time if I were to make you wait."

"Gommen Aka-chin~ I'm just used to waiting for you at lunch break in middle school. Aka-chin is never too late, so there's nothing to it~"

Akashi only smiled at the reply. It was a very familiar sight of the other waiting for him when meal time came. Knowing Murasakibara, it must be noted very endearing of the later to patiently wait for him and not dash to his foods the minute the bell rings. Akashi didn't think much then, but now that he looked back on it, he was quite touched by the habbit.

"I'm sorry Aka-chin. I told the others his secret before asking permission."

Akashi gave a reluctant sign.

"It's okay. They were noticing it before, there's no point in hiding. I'm sorry I snapped at you."

"It feels like I'm the only one who troubled Aka-chin everytime." Murasakibara mumbled, and it took Akashi a few seconds to get what he was implying.

"Oh? No, no no no Murasakibara. Please do not conjecture such thoughts. We were all troubled in middle school, by a lot of things. You were just unlucky enough to end up being the one I pour my distress on."

Although he had to admit, having the least expected comrade to go against him really took up quite a lot if his remaining sanity. But Akashi never blamed him though. After all, Murasakibara had never did it again after that one incident, unlike the others...

"Yeah, I'm glad Aka-chin still let me in~ I know Aka-chin is still hurt because of what the others did. They're just idiots most of the time, don't let it get to you~"

Oh, he remembered. Akashi wouldn't let him stay when he was hit, but he couldn't stop Murasakibara from hearing what was clearly playing during dinner. He remembered the sickening sound echoing through every bits of silence in the house, and how Akashi swallowed every bite of his poor portion. Murasakibara can tell when someone's not enjoying their food.

"Hmph. I for once, am not hurt because of them, Muraskibara. I simply did not want to give them a reason to pity on me. It's best to leave everything behind and move on."

Ok, that came out convincing. And he could see its effectiveness on the shrug of the other's shoulder.

"Ok~ If Aka-chin says so~"

Akashi knew Murasakibara knew it was such a poor lie. Truthfully speaking, Akashi was not sure if it'd been another Miracle who suddenly appeared in front of his doorsteps that night, he'd be willing to show them what was happening during dinner inside.

However, both of them couldn't care less to argue about the obvious truth. One was too lazy to point it out, and the other was too stubborn to admit it. Akashi briefly thought this is exactly why they got along so well all these years.

Chapter Text

"Two.. Three! HAPPY BIRTHDAY AKA(CHIN)SHI-KUN/CCHI!!!"

was what greeted Akashi at the doorsteps of Kise's appartment, hands still cold and still bending to remove his shoes. That and the little paper crackers falling on his head, thanks to Murasakibara standing on his right. Oh, there was also Kuroko on his left.

In front of him were the colorful group in birthday hats, with Momoi holding an equally colorful cake. The candles on the cake emitted a warm light to the dark room, probably to increase the surprise (Akashi was wondering why the place seemed so dark from the outside).

And it worked. Akashi was speechless for a few seconds, then he felt something bubbled up, tingling his insides and escaped his mouth in little chuckles, almost like a laughter.

"Thank you all. To what do I owe this pleasant surprise?"

Because as much as Akashi appreciated the dedication, he was well aware that today was not his birthday.

"Anou, Akashi-kun. We know that your birthday was already last week, but since it's such a rare opportunity for all to be here, and well, we just wanted to do something special for you! I hope a belated birthday party still counts?"

Momoi said shyly, holding the cake towards him. Now that Akashi had a good look, it was obviously hand-decorated, with wishes, drawings and signatures in multi-color frostings. Aside from the rainbow line '!Happy Birthday Akashi!', there was a pair of yellow winking eyes, pink hearts here and there, a light blue basketball, green shogi pieces, and probably more scribbles unseen.

And how did a birthday hat settle itself on his head already?

"What are you saying, I am touched by all your efforts. Thank you for putting this together." Akashi said, giving the most genuine smile he could offer.

"Yay!! Come on Akashicchi! Let's go in, party's only starting!" Kise chirpped, guiding everyone to the dim living room, lit by some string lights flickering on the walls. They had some trouble settling around the table though, because..

"There sure are a lot of baloons..." Akashi carefully walked through the pile of floating bubbles, wondering when he'd ever had such a cheesy-looking birthday party in his life.

"Ahaha. It was a sudden plan we came up just this afternoon so, we kinda run short of time. We almost didn't make it." The blonde scratched his head.

So that's why they sent Murasakibara to 'escort' him... and have them make for 30 minutes more to find his favourite snacks in 5 convenient stores. It was full-proof.

"It was Aomine-kun and Midorima-kun's doing. I couldn't stop them." Kuroko stated. Akashi raised an eyebrow at Midorima.

"What?? Don't look at me nanodayo! The baloons were supposed to be hanged on the walls if it weren't for this fool!"

"Hey hey, I threw my lungs out blowing those things. Be grateful."

"We were supposed to tie them together, nanodayo!"

"They're fine. Looks like you had fun with the decorations. Though I must say, shouldn't we turn the lights back on by now?"

"Ehhh, of course you have to make a wish and blow the candles first! Go on Akashicchi!"

"That's right Aka-chin~ Hurry and blow the candles so we can cut the cake~"

"If that's part of the plan. Hm... I've made my wish. Now all together, one, two, three."

And the candles were out.

"Hurrayyyy!!" Came Kise, Momoi and Mirasakibara's cheers, Akashi himself also clapping along with the others.

This is so childish. Akashi thought, lips unconsciously forming a smile.

They turned on the lights and Murasakibara was the first to digg in to the snacks. Then the purple head shoved a generous piece of cake on his plate.

"Here Aka-chin~ You are much paler and thinner than the last time I saw you. Eat lots~"

Must be for the lost of appetite during dinner..

----

"There's something I want to give you nanodayo." Midorima, who looked like he'd gathered all his might, suddenly spoke to Akashi.

"Oooooh~ Present time Midorin?~ I didn't expect it from you!"

"Not fair Midorima-kun, you should have told us you were preparing it. Now the rest of us just looks bad."

"That's right! We were in a hurry setting up the party and you secretly bought a gift on your own! Evil-suu!"

"It's not like I bought it, idiots! It was something from my home!" Midorima said in deffense, quickly looking in his bag.

"Here." He finally said, handing out 4 rolls of cloth.

"..These are bandages?" Akashi was inwardly relieved it didn't turn out to be something like his lucky item of the day.

"Awww! What a thoughtful gift!"

"Woahhh~ *clap clap* Mido-chin suddenly so sensitive~"

"Tsk, now we really do look bad." Aomine mumbled.

"How could I not, as someone whose father is a doctor, I highly disagree with how you treat your hand."

Kuroko blinked. "Midorima-kun, Akashi-kun is using the medical bandages, isn't that sufficient enough?"

"Scratches and open wounds are not supposed to be wrapped up like that, nanodayo. Even if you want to cover it, at least do so in a correct way. This type of badages are made to cool down your skin, antimicrobial and boosts healing speed as well*. I have specifically aksed my father, there should be no mistake nanodayo."

[A/u Note: While it's true bandages are capable of these different functions, and that I did do some research on the brands to chose a specific name, in the end there's just too many variations and types that it's so hard to get in depth info about them. So I just tossed everything Akashi needed into one anonymous brand :'))) Sorry for this and if anyone know a specific bandage like this, do tell me to add it.]

"Sugoi~ I didn't know bandages also varries so much. You should use these. Doctors words can't go wrong, and we need to treat your hand with best care-suu!"

"I suppose. Thank you Midorima. I shall use them well." Akashi smiled sincerely and received the bandages from his friend.

"Akashi-kun, I'd like to change the bandage for you now, is it fine?" Momoi peered at the rolls then looked up at Akashi with hope.

The red head glanced at the waiting looks on Midorima the others' faces.

"That would be very kind of you. Sorry for the trouble." Akashi slowly said and held out his hand for Momoi, who gleefully took it along with the bandages.

A peaceful silence (a bit suffocating to Akashi) fell as Momoi gently unravel the white rag around his hand under the eyes of the others. She graced the scroll around his palm, cherishing the injury with much care, like it was made of fragile glass.

"Akashi-kun, how do you perform your daily tasks with such a burden? It can't be convenient given it's your right hand."

Kuroko seem to sensed Akashi's tenseness, and tried to make it easier for the male.

"It is a bit more troublesome, but I wouldn't say it's a big hindrance. I do try to be careful to avoid any further damage."

"What about basketball?" Aomine is always most concerned about that field.

"The impact is small, since my position as a Point Guard makes me the one to pass the ball more regularly, instead of receiving it. So it's within my endurance."

Given that, he could tell his father wanted it to be as safely painful as possible. Nothing he couldn't handle, but it was annoying. Compared to the sharp pain each time he got hit, the lingering feeling throughout his working day is undoubtly more frustrating.

Everyone said it was heartless of his father to impose such punishments on him, but Akashi had yet to conclude. It came nothing short of a shock to him that his father, who'd clearly said he could only play basketball if he stays at the top, who had never gone back against his words, decided to drop the topic of Akashi's failure after giving out some reminders. Honestly, he'd expected to be forced out of basketball, and had even came up with ways to resist the implementation.

"Akashi-kun." Kuroko snapped him out of his thoughts. Akashi realized that his hand was neatly wrapped, and a pair of blue eyes was now looking straight at him.

"Yes, Kuroko?"

"I will say this. I do not regret having beat you at the Winter Cup. I believe it was necessary for that to happen."

Kuroko kept a determined look, but his hands clenching on the table betrayed his composure. And Akashi, the only one staring right into his eyes, could notice a flash of guilt in the clear blue orbs.

"Of course, Kuroko. I know you wouldn't." Akashi smiled softly. That, he never doubted.

"But, it was wrong of me as a friend to be unaware of your conditions and your struggles. I should've considered your feelings and your mental heath after all that you've gone through, yet I didn't. And I appologize deeply for that."

"The same goes for us, nanodayo." Midorima also spoke up, pushing his glasses.

"It's true I wanted you to experience defeat, Akashi. But not in a state of cheering along with the others for it. That was a betraying act of a teammate, and I was careless to have granted you such unpleasant experience."

Akashi was most surprised of Midorima's confession. Perhaps Shuutoku has soften him down. A lot.

"I'm sorry Akashicchi. I wasn't thinking at that moment. Now that I recall, it must have felt awful. But I really hope you don't take your dad's words and reconsider your choice of companions-suu!"

Kise looked like he was close to throwing himself onto Akashi, as he was leaning on the table towards the red head.

"It was... okay. I understand the reasons leading up to your actions. As a captain I fail to bound the team together and unite the group's spirit in the end. I suppose it can be count as a penalty for me-"

"Gah, I'd rather you sabotage the shit out of us than saying those rubbish. It was a dirty move and you know it. Stop behaving like all the blame is on you, when you're not even the first one to skip practice." Aomine scowled and cut him off.

"Dai-chan is right. Please don't make us feel worse with those words Akashi-kun! You've already received more penalties than you'd ever deserve!" Momoi cried while wiping the tears flowing from her eyes.

"...Then, I shall accept all your appologies. Momoi, I'm fine, please don't cry, it makes me feel guilty, you know." Akashi smiled and gently pat her shoulders. He wasn't used to making a girl cry.

"That's right Momoi-san, it's Akashi-kun's birthday party, lets make it a happy memory."

"Ah, I'm sorry, I just wish we could've done more to help you. But you're so far down Kyoto.." Momoi hastily dry her face with the tissues.

"It's ok, eventhough I'm far from here, my teammates in Kyoto are of great support to me, too." Akashi chuckled.

"Oooh, speaking of it! How did your teammates in Rakuzan react when they know about your issues Akashicchi?? Surely they would have noticed???"

"Yes, it was unavoidable so I told them of the problem before hand, since it may cause minor difficulties in our practices."

"I hope that everyone is considerate towards it??" Kuroko asked.

"Ah, 'considerate' is an understatement. They all suggested to offer their previous year's notes to keep me from writing, which took quite sometime to decline. Reo-san was particularly hard to sooth down. It was difficult to get my hands on any work with him around. While I appreciate the concerns, I do not prefer special treatments." Akashi frowned, and the Miracles silently witnessed the rare childish look on their Captain's sulking face.

"Tehe~ It can't be helped. Akashi-kun is always so busy, it feels really nice to spoil you if we can~" Momoi nudged his arm, a little blush crept up her mischiveous face.

... Spoil me, huh?

Akashi smiled.

"In that case, please take good care of me."

-------------

The rest of the evening went by with lots of activities that the group had come up with. There are stuffs that Akashi had never agreed to do before, like karaoke (though he doubt it could be called singing), limbo (that's right, Limbo), and the group probably thought Akashi'd soften up enough for them to smear cake frostings on his face without getting scolded (Akashi won't deny it though).

Perhaps the activity Akashi found most at ease with was the Mafia Game where they snuggled up under the bedroom sheets together in a circle. Honestly, he didn't mean to scare them that much, but perhaps he was too comfortable to finally settle down and got a bit carried away. Still, Akashi argued that at least he wasn't as scary as Kuroko. The guy was merciless. Akashi had never seen Kuroko's talent bloom so strongly outside the basketball court.

All of them were eager to continue the night on. Akashi and Midorima had to wrap things up when they started to yawn in between their sentences, and force them to bed before it passes 2 a.m. Momoi got the little guest-room to herself, while the 6 guys clam up in Kise's bedroom.

As he lay sandwiched between Murasakibara and Aomine, Akashi finally got to go through the evening in his head. He still didn't know how to react to such... sentimental moments. The closest he had to deal with was Reo Mibuchi. But having his senpai doing that, and having his friends doing that is completely different, specially them, specially after everything he'd thought would distant him from them forever.

Perhaps it was just him, him being selfish, him not forgiving them. Him not letting them in. Though Akashi had a good reason to do so, he didn't have to either. Perhaps he was just afraid that they would do so to him, so he did it first. Perhaps listening to that match again and again every evening did get to his brain after all.

And as much as Akashi hated to admit it, he was hurt.

Took you long enough to accept the little wasteful emotion of yours.

'Him' again. Akashi sighed.

You are loud today.

Hmph. Look who's talking.

You wanted to take over then.

I am never really the one to decide. Your stability does. Do not blame me for your weakness.

Don't you suffer the headache each time we argue?

Perks of being in the back of the head. You're free to take the space.

Akashi covered his eyes with his arms, like closing them would shut out all the jumbles in his head. He took his phone from the side of his pillow and opened the awaiting notification. Akashi stared at the fresh image on the screen, a group picture with him in the center, butter cream on his cheeks and forehead, some even stuck on his red hair, the most stupid grin he'd ever seen from his own face plastered on his lips.

Underneath the picture was the caption from: Momoi Satsuki "More to come. Good night Akashi-kun, and Happy Birthday!~", sent half an hour ago.

Akashi knew he was mirroring that stupid grin from the screen again. Well, who said Akashi Seijuuro is always a perfect prince with all the poise and grace and coolness? Certainly not the man himself (quite a cheesy image of himself he'd say).

A hand suddenly appear and took the phone from his grip, switching it off. Then an almost inaudible but grumpy mumble came to his ears.

"Oi, go to sleep. If you're plotting to kill me for the mess on your face, I have video evidence that you allowed it."

"...You mean when you asked my permission after you'd smeared them on my face?". No wonder there was less snoring beside his ears than it should have, Akashi never expected Aomine to be the last one awake.

"Hey, it was already a mess by then. Geez, how could you even make out all the hands??"

"Not really, just yours."

"How come?"

"Your skin color is quite dazzling to be missed out."

"Kusso. I'm so done with you Akashi."

Akashi chuckled.

"Good night to you, too."

"Yeah yeah... Happy Bday."

"Thank you, Aomine." Akashi smiled before letting himself relax and drift off to sleep. So they did hold back from questions and tried to give him a peaceful night after all. Akashi admit, he never expected to receive this kind of peace though.

He still had an ice skating schedule with them tomorrow. Better get some rest.