Disclaimer: Don't own.

For thesadisttensaifuji, one of my muses and true friends.

A/N: Hello readers. Let me start of by saying that this fic is not as strong as it could be. I just couldn't work on it anymore because it got too depressing, to the point where I couldn't look at it anymore. So I hope you can enjoy it as it is right now – a work in progress.

Warnings: Strong language. Minor disturbing themes and imagery.

-x-

"How do you think it makes me feel—"

"So it's my fault?! You're blaming ME?!"

"Akaya, I just want to—"

"Well, DON'T! JUST DROP IT!"

At this point, he doesn't know what they are arguing about, but he is fucking annoyed as hell, and he really does not need this right now.

"If you would just listen to me—"

"SHUT UP! LEAVE ME ALONE!"

"Akaya—"

Something within him erupts, and his vision suddenly goes red. He can feel his skin flushing, burning with heat, and he lashes out. "SHUT UP!"

He left hand throbs. It takes him about two seconds after her body hits the floor to realize what he did. When he does, he reels backwards in horror.

What has he done? What has he done?!

Her hand is cupped around her jaw, the skin red and beginning to swell. But that's nothing to what he sees in her eyes – betrayal, hurt, fear.

"An," he says desperately, moving towards her. "I didn't… I didn't mean…"

She is backing away, backing away with those gray eyes that are wide and terrified. Her vulnerable gaze hits him in the chest like a spear, the point twisting and turning like it is digging a path to his heart.

"No," he pleads, trying to tell her, "It wasn't…" 'It wasn't me.' He reaches a hand out and she flinches, flinches like that hand is going to strike her again.

"An," he repeats, dropping his hand. "I… I—" But in that pause, she bolts from the room, and a second later she is gone.

She looked at me like she didn't know me.

His eyes land on his hand, and he wonders if the ridges in his knuckles have remnants of her skin. All of a sudden, his hand feels so, so filthy. Sickening nausea follows, and it is worse than anything he has ever felt on the court. Not when Sanada slapped him or Yukimura used the yips on him has he ever felt so completely and utterly worthless.

That evening, he scrubs his hand until it is raw and bleeding.

-x-

"I'm worried."

"It's just tennis! If they aren't quick enough to get out of the way…"

"That's not it, Akaya. I'm worried about you."

-x-

When the doorbell rings two days later, Kirihara springs for it in hope. His hope dies the instant he looks out the door, replaced by crushing disappointment and cold dread.

Tachibana Kippei steps through the door. "I've come for An's things."

There is an odd assortment of things she'd left around his house. Some clothes. Hair clips. A spare tennis racket. A T-Rex stuffed animal that Kirihara doesn't want to let go of.

He watches numbly as Tachibana packs them up, like he is packing her out of his life in a neat, cardboard box.

"Tachi-" he swallows. "I… I tried calling her, but… Here," Kirihara breaks off and awkwardly holds out a letter. It's three pages long, slightly rumpled from crumpling, stained with tears, smudged with eraser marks. It is a mess. "Could you give that to her?"

Tachibana doesn't even spare him a glance as he takes the letter and shoves it in the box. As if Kirihara is beneath his notice. As if he doesn't exist.

"I… really am sorry," Kirihara tries again, at least to get Tachibana to look at him.

Nothing. Not even anger. Just cold, cold hostility.

No. He can't take this. This isn't enough.

The guilt is eating him away. All he wants right now is for Tachibana to hit him, hurt him, make him bleed for what he's done, make him pay for what he did to his baby sister.

"Tachibana," he says, his voice loud and firm. There is no way Tachibana can ignore it.

The older boy turns to face him.

"Hit me!" Kirihara begs him, "Please, hit me!"

Tachibana clenches his fist so hard that the knuckles run white, and suddenly he is shaking with suppressed rage. In an instant, Kirihara realizes just how murderous those dark eyes are, pinning him with all the loathing and hatred in the world. He knows how this man was capable of ruining the eye of a friend.

Kirihara is frozen. Tachibana could kill him – kill him.

He deserves it. He deserves to suffer. He needs to suffer.

He braces himself.

Tachibana is barely able to control his voice, but says with forced evenness, "I'm not going to hit you, Kirihara."

Hot tears are running down Kirihara's face. "But… I…"

"You know what you've done, and you live with that."

As he exits the door, he turns and says, "An loved you." He lets out a short bark of laughter. "God knows why, but she did."

It is all he can do to keep from sinking to his knees then and there.

She'd never said it. Not to him. It's his first time hearing those words, and they're not from her lips.

And this time, he does fall to pieces and slide to the floor, the hot tears of frustration and anger and a million other feelings upwelling inside making him shake like a leaf. "I—I don't know what to do," he whispers brokenly, wrapping his arms around himself. "I don't know what to do."

It is an eerily familiar scene. He looks so pitiful and pathetic. Like the echo of a memory. Tachibana exhales, unclenching his fist. Do what I did, Kirihara. "Change."

-x-

"Are you scared?"

"Of what?"

"Me."

"…no."

-x-

Hours after Tachibana leaves, Kirihara remains on the floor, shivering with his arms clutched around himself. It takes a while before he can pick himself up to clean off the streaks of guilt and sorrow on his face.

He catches sight of himself in the bathroom mirror. His eyes are bloodshot from the tears; his vision blurry. He blinks once, and suddenly the face of the Devil is staring back at him.

With a yell, he rams his fist into the mirror, shattering the monster's face. The stabbing agony feels good. So he does it again. And again. And again.

He wants to hurt. He needs to hurt.

If anything else, the pain is something he can hold onto. A constant feeling in his emotional turmoil. A reminder of why he is damned.

He needs the pain.

The demon likes pain too. It relished in that of others. The cries of its victims only increased its bloodlust.

Perhaps he is the demon. At this point, he can't tell.

(Only a demon could hurt someone they loved.)

He slowly lifts his eyes back up. The mirror is nothing but spider-web fractures of glass now. It distorts his image in a million facets of flesh tones and crimson-green eyes.

Kirihara pulls the shards of glass out of his skin slowly, savoring the blistering torment. After all, what was this pain to that of a broken heart?

The blood flowing down his hand feels as soothing as water.

-x-

The nightmares come almost every night, and they are always the same.

He always dreams of his victims and their demise, replayed in front of him in slow motion. He hears their cries of helps and yells as they are torn down, limb from agonizing limb. Every time, he prays for it to end, he begs for forgiveness, swears that it wasn't him, wasn't him.

But today, she is standing across the net from him.

Even before anything begins he is already screaming for it stop.

But the monster does at is always does. Prepares a bloody feast and devours it.

"Stop! Don't hurt her!" The maniacal cackling fills his head even though he is begging it all to stop, trying to reach her, trying to shield her with his own body.

Her body is mangled, bruised, twisted in grotesque ways. He is trapped, trying to stop it, trying to look away, forced to watch. He curls up into a ball, trying to shut the demon out, to end the nightmare, and, in the end, giving up, letting it swallow him.

Not her. Not An.

Not his An.

He can't tell where his screaming stops and the demon's laughter begins.

He wakes up in a sweat, choking and suffocating on the coppery scent of blood.

-x-

It was all for Rikkai. For Rikkai's victory.

Even as he repeats those words to himself, just as he repeated them when the whispers of the monster first began, Kirihara knows it is a ruse. A lie to help him justify his actions.

Every time the monster awakens within him, he feels a rush of adrenaline. It is disgusting how pleasurable a sensation it is.

Yet, he knows he likes it.

He likes the power.

He likes the feeling of being able to bring someone to their knees.

To run them around the court like a puppet-master. To torture them deliberately, grinding them into the court with excruciating slowness, like a bug trapped under the heel of his foot.

It makes him feel strong.

With the monster inside him, he is almighty, he is invincible. He can beat Sanada. He can beat Yanagi-senpai. Even the Child of God, one day, will not be able to stand against him.

The Devil.

This is what he wanted. He wants to harness the monster's energy, to use it to fuel his own ambition. He needs the demon to fight his battles for him. He needs the help, to reach his true potential. He needs to win.

Yet in the end, he is filled with so much guilt and self-loathing that it nearly tears him apart. It is worth it, the demon whispers, as it always does. For Rikkai. For you. You wanted this. It is worth it.

He thinks of An.

No, it's not.

-x-

The Rikkai team is not stupid. They know that something is not right.

Though Kirihara's play is as ferocious as ever, it is sloppy. Desperate, like a rubber band stretched to its limit. Finally, a reckless shot sends the ball straight into a window, shattering it. Snap.

They exchange silent glances as Yagyuu goes to turn off the ball machine.

"Akaya…?" Yanagi murmurs, concerned.

Kirihara suddenly hurls his racket at the net and stalks off.

The regulars chalk it up to the unexplained bandages wrapped around his left hand. Injured, they say. Temporary.

But Yukimura knows better; that his poor performance has nothing to do with his injured hand. They all do.

Something in Kirihara is broken, perhaps broken beyond repair.

-x-

"Kirihara will be dropped from the regulars."

Yukimura's words chill all of them to the bone.

Confused murmurs start to surface around the court.

"B-buchou…" Marui stammers feebly.

Even Yanagi tries quietly, "Seiichi."

Give him another chance, they are silently saying. It's the breakup affecting him. He messed up once. He can still play like he used to. He can still be our junior ace.

But Yukimura does not budge. There is no empathy, or warmth, or anger, or disappointment in his eyes. It is cutthroat resolve, nothing more. He is making a decision for the betterment of the team. Kirihara messed up. He is the weak link.

Rikkai does not tolerate failure.

And Kirihara knows he's been falling apart, he's been playing terribly, and losing to that non-regular in straight sets today – well, that was unacceptable. Something Yukimura couldn't overlook. Couldn't forgive.

Kirihara drops his racket and shrugs off his regulars' jersey, allowing it to fall unceremoniously to their feet. He takes off in a sprint so they won't see the tears that are threatening to spill from his eyes. He may be the baby of the team, but he can't – won't - let them see him cry.

Not here. Not like this. Not when his pride is already in shreds on the ground.

After he is a good distance away from the courts, he lifts a hand to his face – only to find that his tears have already fallen.

-x-

Marui and Jackal find him on the ground, a couple blocks away from the arcade, hunched into a ball on the dirt.

"Oi," Marui starts, running towards him. "Akaya. Oi, what's going on?"

He shakes his head and says nothing, his lips so tight it is either a twisted smile or fragmented frown.

Jackal puts a hand on him comfortingly. "Come on, Akaya. It's only us. It's okay."

His breath becomes ragged as he cries, letting the dry sobs wrack him from the inside out. He chokes out, "Jackal-senpai… Marui-senpai… I can't…. I can't do this anymore…"

They sit down on either side of him, arms wrapped around his shoulder blades, supporting his weight, sharing the burden. "Shh.." they say gently, "It'll be okay, it'll be okay."

"I can't…" Kirihara is shaking, convulsing with remorse and nausea. "I can't…"

"Shh…" they say again. Marui reaches out to stroke his messy black hair. "It'll be okay."

He is their ace, The Devil, a monster, but in reality, he is just a boy.

Just a scared boy, and nothing more.

-x-

As the days pass, Kirihara is starting to hate tennis.

Every day, he plays an endless string of sub-regulars and non-regulars. Game after game. And every game, his limbs disobey him, his power fails, his aim is thrown off.

Struggling is not a feeling that he is well-acquainted with. At least, not in tennis.

And it is so hard, so hard not to aim for though obvious targets. The crook of his elbow. The joint of his knee. That delicate right wrist of his - surely that would just snap under a little pressure? A well-aimed Knuckle Serve would do it, wouldn't it?

It's awful, knowing how easy it would be to destroy them.

He locks his jaw, forcing himself to aim for the net, the fence, the sky, even the damn fucking sun. He won't aim for his opponent. He won't, no matter how many points he loses. He can't. Can't.

"It's a waste," Yukimura says softly. He turns away from the game, his voice carrying the tiniest tremor. "He had such potential."

Sanada, however, has an approving glint in his eye.

He agrees, but for different reasons.

-x-

You look so pathetic right now. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Be quiet, he spits back, swinging his racket furiously, hitting the ball at his opponent.

He's a sub-regular, and you can't even beat him, can you?

He hears the vicious whispers of the demon in his ear – come on, let me out, I can beat him for you.

No. Kirihara forces him back, his hand tightening into a fist around his racket.

Come on, just for five minutes, I'll dye him red, you'll see – you'll be a regular again, and everyone will love you again.

Shut up. These two words cause an unpleasant churning in his stomach. Shut UP.

You think that if you change, she'll take you back? Don't be ridiculous, Akaya. She isn't coming back.

GO AWAY. GO AWAY.

The demon laughs, a harsh sound like breaking glass. Oh Akaya, if I left you, who would you have left?

-x-

"Are you scared of my tennis?"

"Yes."

"Of what it does to other people?"

"No. Of what it does to you."

-x-

It gets worse at night, when there are no distractions.

You miss it, don't you, the demon crows. You miss the feeling of winning, of being strong.

He tries to sleep. He tries to do homework. He tries to play video games. He tries singing a fucking One Direction song in his mind. Anything to drown out that voice.

Do you think they want you around now, now that you've lost? Yukimura-buchou, Sanada-fukubuchou…

He bites his lip, teeth cutting into the soft flesh. The metallic tang makes his throat constrict.

They only wanted you because you would win. No matter the cost.

The seniors aren't talking to him. He is alone. He has no one.

Don't you want to win again?

Don't you want to be their protégée again?

Just one shot, Akaya. That's all it takes. It doesn't have to bleed. A bruise will be enough.

The voice is so enticing and seductive. For a moment, he wavers.

Yes, the demon says coaxingly. Listen to me – you'll show all of them. You'll show her.

An.

Memories of her flash before his eyes. Her smile. Her laughter. Her gray-green eyes, that match so much better with green than with red. Of how peacefully he sleeps when she is sleeping in his arms.

Kirihara suddenly punches the wall. It makes everything stop, and he does it again. Again. And again. The old wounds on his hand are opening, scars splitting open, but he relentlessly pounds his fist into the concrete, smearing crimson streaks across the wall.

Don't do that, Akaya. How can you do a Knuckle Serve without any knuckles?

Kirihara laughs, and the demon is silent.

-x-

It's at times like these, he decides, that he really likes Niou and Yagyuu.

They don't baby him, like Marui and Jackal do. They don't mentor him, like Yukimura, Sanada, and Yanagi do.

But they don't ask questions.

Yagyuu finishes wrapping up his injured hand in deft motions. Niou looks at Kirihara with hard eyes, but doesn't demand an explanation.

"All right, kid." The silver haired senior gives him a little push towards courts I and J. "Go crush them."

Kirihara watches as they head back towards Court A and B. Regulars' courts.

"Yeah," he says, trying to summon up a note of enthusiasm as he turns away. "Yeah. I'll crush them."

-x-

It takes him many, many games, but he gradually learns.

That he can make the Knuckle Serve bounce away from an opponent. That aiming for a court corner is much like aiming for the angle of a knee joint. That running them around the court endlessly can bring them to their knees as well.

That, at the end of a game, it feels better to shake the hand of a standing man.

-x-

"Game, Kirihara! Five games to two!"

He breathes evenly, swiping his sleeve across his forehead. He is still not playing at his former level, but he is getting better. The fluidity is returning to his game. He is beginning to remember what it feels like to be challenged to a point to where you are pushed to new heights.

Sanada observes quietly from the sidelines.

The boy he is playing is good too, probably good enough to be a regular once the seniors retire. He moves well. It is another game in when Kirihara notices something.

His opponent is limping. His eyes suddenly focus on his right leg. A twisted ankle.

Blood in the water.

The monster within him immediately snarls and writhes, clawing at the invisible cage, trying to tear free. Kirihara feels the heat rising under his skin and behind his eyes.

Let me rip him apart let me dye him red come on—

He takes aim and smashes the ball with pinpoint accuracy, into the empty corner behind him.

To his surprise, his opponent is able to counter it with a sharp volley to his feet.

We both know you can't do it. You always come to me to bail you out. You can't win a real match without me.

No, Kirihara grips the racket so tightly his fist is trembling. No.

COWARD. COWARD. YOU'LL NEVER BE STRONG WITHOUT ME.

"You," he growls through gritted teeth, racing after the ball. "Can't. Control. Me. ANY. MORE!"

Sanada's eyes narrow.

The ball suddenly becomes a blazing yellow streak, one that explodes from his end of the court like a cannon. It slams into the ground, leaving a scorch mark.

It's as powerful as Ka, Sanada realizes, stunned. No. It's more powerful.

He didn't realize Kirihara was capable of such a shot. Not without the Devil Mode.

And in this moment, Sanada suspects that Kirihara has achieved something that Yukimura, or even he, will never be able to attain.

-x-

"Why do you like me?"

"What kind of stupid question is that?"

He rubs the back of his neck awkwardly. "Just answer it already."

She laughs and finally consents. "Fine. You want the truth?"

"Yeah."

"I think you're kind. And warm. And I like how I feel when I'm with you."

He smiles lazily, running his fingers through the ends of her hair. "You didn't mention my good looks or awesome personality."

She grins mischievously. "You wanted the truth, didn't you?"

He flicks her across the forehead with a tenderness he didn't know he had.

-x-

Change is in the air; Sanada can feel it.

It is obvious in the whispers around the courts I and J. It is obvious in how Marui and Jackal always seem to disappear and reappear in that area. It is obvious in how all of Kirihara's opponents littered across the courts, sprawled on the ground in exhaustion, but none of them are hurt.

It's even more obvious when Yukimura ponders aloud, oh, perhaps the regular lineup needed some restructuring, Seito really isn't quite pulling his weight…

Sanada suppresses a smile and goes to give their newest regular the boot.

Kirihara may fall, yes, but he will get up. Stronger. Rise from the ashes, reborn.

He is Kirihara. He won't give in. Not to anyone. Not even to himself.

Sanada smiles. Well, of course he won't.

He is from Rikkai, after all.

And Rikkai never loses.

-x-

"I like how I feel when I'm with you too."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. It's a good feeling."

-x-

"Game and Match, Rikkaidai's Kirihara! Six games to three!"

Momoshiro clasps his hand, panting. "I lost, Kirihara. It was a good match."

"Yeah," Kirihara admits grudgingly with a shrug. "Yeah, it was fun."

His response causes Momoshiro to look at him strangely, but before he can say anything, Kirihara turns to back to his team. He doesn't feel like doling out any explanations.

He slumps on the bench, exhausted. Damn that Momoshiro and his power. Marui gives him a cheeky thumbs-up and Sanada tosses him a wet towel, which he puts over his eyes.

As he allows the cooling liquid to drip over his forehead, he feels something prod his foot. He takes the towel off his eyes, and finds that he is staring into a pair of gray ones that he only sees in his dreams.

Slowly, he lifts the towel off his head and sits up, bringing his face closer to hers. Her hair is longer, he notices, as it flows in the breeze. It shines like gold in the sunlight. He wants to thread his fingers through it, if only to make sure that this is not a dream.

Now he's been staring at her for too long. She tilts her head and frowns, kicking him lightly again. "Hey," she prompts. She is smiling.

After a brief moment, he smiles back. "Hey."

-x-

Owari.

A/N: I made the oddest playlist for writing this. It had lots of Linkin Park, and "Hurt" by Christina Aguilera.

There are some unrealistic things, like Kirihara's family being non-existent, but please overlook it? Haha.

Review please!

If you have time, please read and review my fic, 'and all is well'! It'll be updated frequently, and it's a little project that I'm very excited about. :)

Thesadisttensaifuji, I hope you liked it. It's not the fic you wanted, but it's only fitting that this is dedicated to you. You inspire me.