Author's Note: Summary quotation - "Everyone thinks of fairy tales in terms of poisoned apples and glass coffins, and forgets that they represent girls who walked into dark forests and remade them into their own reflections" - by Seanan McGuire, in "Indexing."


Kick Drum Hearts

(I'd rather run the other way

Than stay and see the smoke

And who's still standing when it clears)

...

"So I gather," said Oshitari languidly, "that it must be true after all."

Atobe, having arrived for only the second half of morning practice, as was his custom, spared him only a perfunctory glance as he unlocked the door to the coach's office of the clubhouse. "Much as this may shock you, I'm one of the few not enchanted by your penchant for ambiguity, even when drawled in that oh-so-charming accent of yours. You'll have to elaborate."

"I stopped by the admissions office this morning to put in my work schedule for the week, and guess whose paperwork was waiting to be filed?"

Atobe stepped inside and set down his coffee on the enormous mahogany desk. "Were I possessed of a crude sense of humor, I'd say something along the lines of 'your mother.'"

"Yukimura Sayoko," Oshitari folded his arms, "whose transfer was expedited upon recommendation of student council president Atobe Keigo. So the rumors are true? About the two of you?"

"I didn't take you for one to listen to rumors."

"Hard not to hear them. What's going on here, Atobe? Because when that girl gets here today and people start to recognize her, the school will be in an uproar. What are you trying to pull, bringing her here?"

"She made the choice to come here, and merely requested my assistance," replied Atobe calmly, sipping his organic French roast. "I am, as you know, a benevolent soul. The consequences of her decision are her own concern, not mine."

Oshitari looked unconvinced, but Atobe paid him no mind. He hadn't expected to receive Sayoko's email, but neither had he been terribly surprised. Being in the same environment as her august brother had clearly been unhealthy for her, and Atobe had been happy to provide his support.

Yukimura Sayoko would be an interesting addition to Hyotei.

~x~

"Hi." The girl smiled. It should have been in a toothpaste commercial. "My name is Fujita Ishiko. And you're Yukimura Sayoko, aren't you? I recognize you from that exhibition match. You're really cute." She said it like a challenge.

Sayoko did not immediately reply. She'd heard vaguely that Hyotei's environment was highly politicized, entirely hierarchical, and had anticipated having to deal with a lot of new-girl-on-the-scene shit as the other students decided how to fit her into the pecking order.

She hadn't expected to be sized up and confronted before even stepping foot in the building.

Hyotei Academy was impressive by most people's standards: an enormous stone monument of a building, soaring and stretching like the Great Wall of China. It wasn't really to her taste, though: she preferred more grace in her architecture, more sensuality, secrets and shadows and stories. Budapest, she thought, with a moment's wistfulness. I could have gone to school in Budapest.

She realized that Fujita had spoken again while she'd been lost in thought. "I'm sorry, what?"

The other girl's face made it clear she thought it a deliberate slight, and Sayoko didn't bother to dispel that notion. "I asked," she inspected her immaculate nails, "why you transferred here."

"For the warm welcome."

Fujita's fixed smile wavered before she began speaking again, but Sayoko neither heard nor cared what she said. She was clearly, judging by the way she held herself and her audacity in approaching Sayoko, high up in the social order. But Sayoko knew she could out-smile, out-barb, and out-charm the other girl. Could easily establish herself as being the more leonine of the two, could either crush Fujita as an enemy or turn her into a loyal follower.

If this is the best Hyotei has to offer... I could run this school.

It was an instinctual thing, what she'd done her whole life: utilized what tools she had—good looks, intelligence, charisma—to not just protect herself but wage an offensive campaign, making people either too intimidated or too enamored to bother her. She'd done it at Rikkai. She'd done it in America.

Sometimes it felt like all she knew how to do.

She knew this back-and-forth, this game like the back of her hand, knew she could win it. She'd learned from her brother that winning was paramount: if you can win, you must win. Even if you can't win, you must win.

Losing was not permitted.

But— "It's been nice to meet you, Fujita-san." Having cut off the other girl mid-sentence, she turned and walked past her into the school building, fighting the urge to toss her hair over her shoulder. Students milling about outside had been discreetly watching the encounter, and now were outright staring at her.

And Sayoko realized… that she didn't really care. She hadn't come to Hyotei to become the most popular girl in school. Hadn't come to concern or exhaust herself with drama, with gossip, with anything that had plagued her before. Being socially elite hadn't made her happy in the past, so why would it now?

Was it still losing if you simply chose not to play?

Her brother would have thought so, but Sayoko… Sayoko wasn't so sure.

~x~

"Transferred? To Hyotei?"

"I can't believe—"

"Yukimura-san must be furious—"

"—that Atobe Keigo, they have a thing—"

"But what about Niou-senpai—"

An tried very hard to disregard the things she overheard in the hallway and in the classsroom, but it was impossible, especially when her knowledge of the situation, as Yukimura Sayoko's Official Best Friend, was constantly solicited. Initially she made vague, breezy comments, but quickly grew so fed up with the relentless barrage of inquiries that she would just put a hand up, they way a celebrity would to the paparazzi.

"How do you think Yukimura-senpai's taking this?" she asked Kirihara during a break between classes.

He slid his narrow green gaze toward her. He was still keeping her at a distance after their falling-out, and she thought for a moment that he'd blow her off, but— "Death," Kirihara moaned, fisting his hands in his curls. "Imminent death is upon us."

"As well as conquest, war, and famine," added Marui, strolling over with Shimizu by his side. They had a knack for inviting themselves into conversations.

Shimizu nodded. "Little-known fact: Yukimura Seiichi is all Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. We were right to assign him a Biblical title… we just gave him the wrong one." She turned to An, and asked frankly, "And how are you holding up? Without your best buddy?"

"It's all good" was on the tip of An's tongue, but then she glanced at Kirihara, recalling their exchange from the day she'd been pulled from her match:

"Stop looking at me like you want to knock me down."

"Maybe that's what I want to do. At least if I knocked the wind out of you, you wouldn't have the breath to keep repeating your 'I'm great and everything's fine and I don't need anyone' mantra. How have you not gotten over that already?"

And she said slowly, haltingly, "It… it sucks. I don't know. I mean, yeah, it's really rough for me, but… she made the right decision. I'm happy for her because she did what was best for her." For once, she did something for herself, instead of for her brother, or Niou-senpai, or me…

"That she did," agreed Marui casually, running a hand through his hair. An suspected he used more conditioner than she did. "Should be interesting to see how she does at Hyotei—maybe she can even bring Atobe's ego down a notch or two. Sayoko-chan can be pretty sassy when she wants to be, and God knows she can give the Look of Doom just as well as Yukimura."

"Great, so we and Hyotei get to feel like shit about ourselves." Kirihara leaned back against a set of lockers, his long legs stretched before him and his hands in his pockets. "Yukimura-buchou is gonna be so pissy today…"

"Don't forget about Niou," said Shimizu cheerfully. "From what little I know, sounds like he'll be just as unpleasant."

"He's not a pleasant person to begin with," Marui shrugged, "and I actually… I don't know how Niou is going to take this. I mean, he must have known beforehand, right? I can understand Sayoko-chan being too scared to tell her brother until the last moment, but surely Niou knew." They all looked to An for confirmation.

She shifted her weight. "Um…" Sayoko had said An was the first person she'd told… had she just told Niou later that day?

Or not at all?

At last she said, "I'm not really sure. All I know is I wouldn't touch Niou-senpai with a twenty-foot pole on the best of days, and for the next few days, I'm gonna actively try to avoid him. So from whatever direction come sounds of misery and torment, I am heading the opposite way."

"That's a change of pace," Kirihara commented lazily as he pushed off the lockers, "given the over-involved goody-two-shoes you usually are." He said it without venom, though, and when he walked past to reenter the classroom, he didn't flick her forehead or bump her hip with his, but he didn't pointedly leave two feet of space between them, either.

So that was… something.

"Looks like you two are getting along swimmingly," observed Marui, just as Shimizu asked, "So it'll be an autumn wedding, won't it? I hate wearing formal dresses when it's hot out. My thighs stick together."

An stuck her tongue out at them. "If anybody's getting married, it's you two. You're more of a couple than any actual couple I've ever met. How long have you known each other, anyway?"

"We go back," said Marui vaguely. "We took piano lessons together when we were little. I had a prodigious talent likened to that of Mozart."

"His rendition of 'Mary Had a Little Lamb' moved people to tears," Shimizu deadpanned. "Rolling Stone magazine described it as 'enthralling… truly one of the greatest musical performances of our time.'"

"And that was before I even added a dance number."

They bantered back and forth a few moments longer, playing off each other's additions, and An couldn't help but be envious of that level of understanding and compatibility, that degree of friendship.

It hadn't even been a day, and already she missed Sayoko like hell.

~x~

As spots opened up, Hyotei often got students who transferred in mid-semester, so they were set up to accommodate Sayoko. The homeroom teacher of class 2-B handed her an enormous three-ring binder of already-covered material. "You'll want to review this information as quickly as possible, as everything you learn from here on out will compound on it."

A cursory glance through the pages elucidated why spots opened up at Hyotei: because people couldn't keep up.

But Sayoko was already familiar with much of the social science aspects through Rikkai's similarly rigorous curriculum and through her own supplementary reading, and was excited about most of the subjects next on the syllabi. The most pressing item currently on her agenda was not academic but, unfortunately, social.

Social standing had been important at Rikkai, but it had been… different, based on who you knew, who you were related to, and a variety of other factors: looks, athleticism, academic prowess. It had been a mostly static thing, with people accepting their designated spheres of influence and working within them.

But at Hyotei Sayoko could already tell that nothing was static and nothing was taken for granted. Nearly every exchange she observed between people involved some sort of subtle power struggle, as if through just one conversation you could establish yourself as being "above" someone, then proceed to climbing up higher, and higher, and higher.

Then someone interrupted her musings. "So what do you think of Hyotei so far, Yukimura-chan?" A boy from her class stood before her desk, peering at her through bangs made trendy by a popular boy band. His voice was sly when he asked, "How does it compare to your Rikkai?"

Her teachers hadn't made her introduce herself to the class—thank God—but everyone already knew who she was, what school she'd come from, and why that mattered. No matter where you were, the name "Yukimura" carried weight.

Even if only one of the Yukimuras was actually carrying the weight, and the other was just being carried along in his wake.

Sayoko looked up at him through her eyelashes—not coyly, but idly. This boy whose name she didn't know was just another in an already long line of people testing her, trying to gauge where she stood, whether she was like her famous brother, and what her strategy would be for climbing the social ranks.

You bore me, she thought at the boy. She said, aware people around her were listening, "Tell you what, you transfer to Rikkai and see how you like things there, and then later we can reconvene and compare notes. Yeah?" She tilted her head, smiling at him. Her smile said, I'm not going to play this game. I'm not trying to win anything, but you can't make me lose, either.

Then she made her smile grow warmer. It was only an incremental increase, but she knew it made an impact. "But thanks for asking." Antagonizing people wouldn't make her life any easier down the road, and she understood that this give-and-take-take-take was simply the culture at Hyotei.

She just didn't want to participate in it.

Before he could reply, she stood and approached the classroom door, though she wasn't quite sure where to go. They had a considerable amount of break time left, and all she really wanted to do was find somewhere she could sit and be alone for a little while. At Rikkai she'd occasionally been able to relax and shed her public persona, but here she was under constant scrutiny.

It was exhausting, but soon enough it would die down, and at least she wasn't trying to force anything: not charm or grace, not confidence or poise. Wasn't trying to prove, as she'd felt she'd had to at Rikkai, that there really hadn't been a mix-up at birth, that she really was related to the Child of God. That he didn't have to be ashamed of calling her his sister.

Here, all she wanted was to be herself

And, apparently, also get in touch with her Disney princess, touchy-feely side.

Sayoko was picturing herself giving a really inspiring, heartwarming TED Talk about following your heart and being true to who you are, culminating in pink glitter and heart-shaped balloons dropping from the ceiling as the audience burst into thunderous applause, when someone grabbed her arm. She whirled, lips already parted to aim scathing words at whoever had had the nerve to touch her—only to blink instead.

The enormous hand wrapped around her forearm belonged to the massive, quiet boy who sat at the other end of the classroom. She recognized him as one of the tennis regulars, particularly one that perpetually flanked Atobe like a bodyguard. His grip was shockingly gentle—he could have held a butterfly without harming it—and his expression was vacant, save for a slight spark of determination in his gaze.

But he didn't say anything. "I," Sayoko began, only to falter. People were watching… "I… Let go of me." He did, his hand falling to his side. He towered over her, yet she didn't feel threatened at all. In fact, she almost felt protective of him, for God knew what reason. There was something… warm about him, simple and childlike. Incredibly innocent.

She regarded him uncertainly. "Well… what is it?"

He said, "Wait."

"… Wait? For what?" When he didn't reply, she tried to address him, only to realize— "I'm sorry, I don't know your name." How had she become the one to apologize in this situation? What was going on? "Mine is Sayoko," she offered. "Yukimura Sayoko."

"I know." He tilted his head. It was like a tectonic plate shifting. "I'm Kabaji."

"Well, Kabaji-kun… what do you want? Why am I supposed to wait?"

He seemed to struggle inwardly for a moment, before: "Atobe said," he spoke slowly, carefully, enunciating as if first learning the words, "that I should have you wait. Until he gets here."

"Atobe-san did?" asked Sayoko incredulously, just as a voice from behind her said, "Yes, and you've done a marvelous job, Kabaji. Thank you. You may sit down now."

As Kabaji lumbered back to his seat, Sayoko turned to find none other than Atobe Keigo himself standing behind her, one hand in his pocket and the other hanging loosely by his side. He was smirking slightly, but his voice was cordial when he said, "Nice to see you again, Yukimura-kun. Our uniform looks lovely on you."

She just looked at him. He smiled. "If you'd grant me a moment of your time." Phrased though it was as a request, it most certainly was not: his tone was the same as her brother's when implementing the same trick, though not as deceptively soft. Sayoko knew better than to disregard that tone, and truth be told, she was… curious. Wary, but curious.

"Of course, Atobe-san." She made the mistake of glancing over her shoulder to meet the eyes of all her classmates observing the exchange. She recovered by raising her eyebrows in a this-is-hardly-a-big-deal kind of way, offered a small wave to Kabaji, then turned and followed Atobe into the hallway, where other students were mingling.

The respect they treated him with was nothing new to her—she could count on one hand the number of times she'd witnessed someone behave rudely toward her brother—but she immediately noticed he was more approachable to the general student population than her brother was. People called out greetings to Atobe, while at Rikkai most people adopted a speak-only-when-he-deigns-to-speak-to-you policy in regards to her brother.

She also noticed that their walking together was garnering quite a bit of attention, which would generate more "So you transferred here because you and Atobe are dating, right?" questions and rumors she would have to deflect. Really, being seen with Atobe was hugely detrimental to her convince-everyone-to-let-her-be strategy.

Because in a school where power was taken and prestige was built and you could lose it all at a moment's notice, she'd surmised one thing: Atobe was exempt. Atobe was king. Other people had to fight to climb higher, but he was already permanently ensconced on top.

She looked at his back, and she thought, I will never be able to relate to you.

"Here we are." Atobe procured a key from his pocket to unlock a door marked "Student Council," and ushered an already on-guard Sayoko inside.

Once he'd shut the door behind them, she crossed her arms and, without even bothering to look around, demanded, "Are you going to try to convince me to join your student council?" She was so sick of people trying to run her life—that was why she'd come here in the goddamned first place.

Her outburst didn't faze him in the least. He asked wryly, "Would my doing so have the opposite effect?"

"Well." She went to inspect her nails, only to realize belatedly that she didn't really have any nails to inspect. "Yes."

"Well then." He smiled with easy self-assurance. "If that's the case, I'm glad that's not my motive, as I don't want to dissuade you from joining—wasted talent quite irritates me."

She considered him closely, before casting her gaze about the room. It was an elegant, well-furnished sitting room, with doors leading to two other rooms. The first was open and offered a view of an enormous boardroom type of set-up, where doubtlessly the council actually met. The second was closed, but was marked "Student Council President."

She turned back to him. "If you're not trying to convince me to join, why bring me here?"

"To offer you the space as somewhere you can come during breaks, or lunch, or before school. The council meets most days after school, and I'm in my office quite often," he gestured toward the closed door, "but otherwise, no one else is in here. It's yours to utilize, if you wish."

At her incredulous expression, he smiled again. Distantly, she noted something very odd: nearly every time she had seen him smile, the smile had reached his eyes. "I assumed someone as introverted as you are would appreciate somewhere you can be alone, especially given all the attention you'll continue to garner in the coming weeks." Amusement lit his eyes. "If you ever stop attracting attention, that is. I've already heard all about your stonewalling."

Sayoko leveled him a cool, flat look. "My brother. He asked you to look out for me, didn't he. That's why you're doing this."

That seemed to further amuse him. "He's asked me no such thing, though that's only because he assumes it's an implicit understanding. I'm not doing this for your brother."

"Right." She rolled her hip out to the side, placed a hand on it. "So I'm left to believe you're doing this for me? Because you know me so well, right? Because we've been through so much together and have formed such a deep, close bond?" Sarcasm was a sharp citrus tang on her tongue.

Still smiling slightly, he leveled her a look right back: still amused, but with the quietest hint of warning. She hadn't crossed the line, but she was approaching it. "I am doing this," he said calmly, "because believe it or not, I am already rather fond of you, Yukimura-kun, and I anticipate growing fonder of you as I do actually get to know you. That's all."

"I… I don't…" This has to be some sort of trick, she thought frantically. Why would he do anything for me? He doesn't even know me. Real people aren't like this. "Atobe-san, I'm already indebted to you, remember? For helping me transfer so quickly. To do this for me as well…" She was now not so much crossing her arms as hugging them to her chest. "What do you want from me?"

"You'll have trouble accepting this, I'm sure," he replied lightly, "but there's nothing I want from you in return." His smile turned into a smirk. "I want for very little, you see."

She bristled at the arrogance that had colored his words, but then— "Furthermore," he went on, "I've found how people treat Kabaji is a good test of their character, and given how you spoke to him, I'm even more inclined to think well of you. Many people tend to assume he's as dim as he first appears, and interact with him accordingly." Now warmth, real warmth, was in his voice: clearly he truly cared about Kabaji.

"At any rate," he spread his hands, "this space is yours to use—I'll leave the door unlocked for you. No one else will come in without my permission. And if you really would like to join the council, please speak to me about it. Until then, I won't monopolize any more of your time." He turned to leave.

"Atobe-san," she said quietly, and when he turned back: "… Thank you." For this, and for getting me here in the first place.

With a faint smirk, all he said was, "That's Atobe-senpai, now, Yukimura-kun."

And then he was gone.

~x~

Yukimura was waiting for An by the school gates when she left afternoon practice, which immediately made her cautious—normally when he wanted to speak with her, he sent for her. For him to wait for her himself…

"Yukimura-senpai," she called, flashing a sunny smile, as if she didn't suspect anything was wrong. "What's up? Need me to walk you home so you don't get jumped?"

"Kind of you to offer." Though her hair was dark and damp with sweat, he reached out and tucked a strand behind her ear, his fingertips lingering on her cheek. "How was practice?" His voice was light, but held an unidentifiable undercurrent.

"It was good. Fuyumi-buchou and Shimizu-fukubuchou are already looking ahead to Nationals, and devising our training schedules in preparation. It's gonna be intense."

"I see." He let his hand fall from her face. His own was unreadable when he asked, "And how are you doing without Sayoko?"

She looked at him for a moment. Said softly, "I could ask you the same thing."

Yukimura went very still, but his eyes, fixed though they were on her, conveyed movement, conveyed tumult, conveyed discord and agitation and a number of other things terribly uncharacteristic of him. Uncharacteristic of, but perhaps—perhaps not unfamiliar to him? She didn't know. The only thing she could say for sure was that Yukimura was unhappy.

Yukimura was unhappy, and that couldn't bode well for anyone.

"Yukimura-senpai…" She took his hand in hers, and when he didn't pull it free, gripped it more firmly, lacing her fingers though his. "You can tell me what you're thinking, Yukimura-senpai. If the thing is that you don't think I would understand… well, I can't promise I will, but—but I promise I'll listen." She held his gaze as best she could, even though every one of her instincts told her to look away.

No one was supposed to see the Child of God upset.

His soft, even voice belied whatever he was experiencing internally. All he said was, "I just miss her, that's all. I don't—" He cut himself off, and though he did it with grace and even added a small smile as a finishing move, it was telling. But who was she to call him on it?

And yet.

She took a deep breath, held his hand tighter as a steadying anchor. "Yukimura-senpai, this might be out of line, but—but I think it needs to be said. And I'm sure you know it already, but… but I just want you to know that it's something I'm really concerned about. And I'm really…" She swallowed once, lifted her chin. "It's something I hope we can agree on."

He tilted his head.

She said, "Sayoko's coming to watch you play this Sunday, right? Well I think… I know… that if she saw or heard or just, I don't know, got the feeling that her transferring had made you or even Niou-senpai or me really, really upset… she would feel terrible about herself. Just really, really awful and guilty. Maybe even enough to come back.

"So please… please, if you're upset, talk to me, all right? I'm right here. I'll listen. Just don't… I think this is really good for Sayoko, you know? Just really brave, and pretty smart, and I really want it to work out for her. I want her to be happy, and I know you do too. So I really think that even though we miss her, we should just—we should try to be happy for her. And let her know that."

She wanted to tell him, Don't let Sayoko see how much this is killing you.

Yukimura said quietly, "I'll do what I think is best for Sayoko. I promise."

But that's what you've done in the past, she thought miserably, and it hasn't really worked out well, has it?

But before she could work up the courage to say something along those lines (much more respectfully, of course) he asked, "Has Sayoko… is this something she's talked about in the past? About wanting to do? To leave."

An shook her head slowly. "No, senpai. I was as surprised as you are." Trying to correctly interpret his line of questioning, she offered haltingly, "I think it's not so much to leave things behind as she just wanted something new. If that makes sense." What she was trying to say was, Don't think she left because of you.

Because she hadn't. Had she?

But his hand still in hers, Yukimura's only reply was, "I'll walk you home."

She knew better than to decline.

~x~

Yanagi was already waiting at the street courts when Yukimura showed up later that night. "Ah," said Yukimura lightly, adjusting the strap of his tennis bag, "I suppose I should have expected you to expect me to come here. Isn't that right?" Without waiting for an answer, he cast his eyes about the deserted courts. "You cleared everyone off, did you? Afraid I would have used the yips to temporarily paralyze half of Yokohama's tennis-playing population?"

Calmly, Yanagi said, "Yes."

"Well." Yukimura smiled. It was a bright, fierce thing. "You're probably right. Then again, you always are, Renji." With uncharacteristic carelessness, he tossed his bag to the ground, unzipped it. "Let's play."

That day during school, exactly thirty-two rumors had circulated, all of them variations on three themes: the first being that Sayoko had transferred to be with Atobe, the second being that she'd caught Niou with another girl and been heartbroken enough to leave, and the third being that Yukimura had found out about her and Niou and forced her to transfer.

Exactly two people had been foolish enough to ask Yukimura about it directly.

Yanagi knew with hundred percent certainty that those thirty-two rumors and those two people were fifty percent responsible for the anger and ill humor that had motivated Yukimura to work the team ragged at practice that afternoon, and motivated him to come looking for further people to devastate at the street courts.

The other fifty percent of Yukimura's anger, Yanagi knew, was directed inward.

And that anger did not abate even a little once he had won what hadn't even been an actual match but had just been Yukimura hitting and hitting and hitting and Yanagi running and running and running and never, ever running fast enough. Data tennis was useless: he didn't have data on Yukimura like this, not really, data on Yukimura playing like he was born to play, without relying on using the yips as a crutch.

If this Yukimura Seiichi had played Echizen Ryoma, he would have won. Yanagi knew that with hundred percent certainty.

That was no consolation, though, when he finally collapsed to the ground, shaking and sweating, unable to breathe. Yukimura's real tennis could be just as paralyzing as the yips. Yet it was also, without a doubt, something Yanagi rarely took into consideration: It was beautiful.

It was beautiful.

"I don't understand," said Yukimura, only slightly winded as he walked to the other side of the court and sat down by Yanagi, who was lying spread-eagle by the baseline. "I don't understand," he said again, darkly, tearing his fingers through his hair. "I don't understand, I don't understand."

I know, Yanagi would have said if he'd had breath to speak, I know you don't understand.

Accusingly, Yukimura asked, "Did you know she would leave? That she couldn't stand to even go to the same school as me? Am I that dreadful? Run some numbers by me, Renji. I want to know exactly what it is about me that's so abhorrent. I want statistics. I wants graphs."

Yanagi drew a deep, shuddering breath. Said weakly, "It's not me you're angry at, Seiichi."

A pause, before: "No," Yukimura admitted, lying down on his back and throwing an arm over his eyes. "No, of course not. It's me. The variable's always me, isn't it? First Kaori, now Sayoko." His voice was quiet. "I drive people away."

He said again, "I don't understand."

And Yanagi knew he wouldn't for a long, long time.


A few things: I would recommend going back to 250DS and trying to refamiliarize yourself with An's teammates, as they'll be of increasing importance from here on out. I'll try to post their bios to my profile or something soon to make this easier.

Another OC, mentioned by Yukimura just now, is Okada Kaori, from a related story, the echoes of angels. She will also be important, so I'll recommend reading that. YES I KNOW IT'S UNFINISHED. Let me live, bro.

And finally: I am really going to try to incorporate more characters' POVs. Sayoko and An are incredibly unreliable narrators, and other characters - like Yanagi, for example - have a lot that can really add to the story. So.

2/17/14 Edit: Girls' bios posted to my profile: just their names, appearance, and what they're most notable for. I feel like it's sort of cheating to say more than that - their personalities should be able to be judged by the story itself.

Disclaimer: I do not own Prince of Tennis, or The Fray's "Over My Head" (lyrics at the top).