Author's Note: Oh hello oh hi oh hello


Kick Drum Hearts

(And we lay, we lay together

Just not too close, too close

How close is close enough?)

Ayahana Arisa couldn't help but be amazed by Hyotei's culture fair. Red paper lanterns hung from all the trees, and row upon row upon row of stands were selling all sorts of wares, each bearing a tag declaring that its authenticity had been vetted by the Malaysian Cultural Society of Japan. She'd already bought a fan with a gorgeous graphic of the zodiac animals, and used it with quick flicks of her bracelet-adorned wrist.

"That food smells so good," Momoshiro moaned as they browsed the stalls. His arm was around Makiyama Chisuzu, his new girlfriend and Ayahana's best friend. Ayahana had been initially skeptical of their relationship, but only because she was skeptical of most everything. Momo treated Makiyama exceptionally well, though he treated hardly anyone badly.

Domoto Yuuki, another of Seigaku's female regulars, shook her head, her rainbow hair swishing. "Can you imagine if we had the money to put on a fair like this?"

Inui pushed his glasses up. "Hyotei's clearly spent billions of yen implementing this. Seigaku's funding is paltry in comparison."

"What's Rikkai's budget for these sorts of things like?" Tachibana asked his sister casually. His red T-shirt was short-sleeved, meaning his beautifully toned forearms were on display. Ayahana very carefully did not look.

"Dunno," An shrugged. "Probably somewhere in between." The faded blue streaks in her hair complemented her denim skirt and turquoise tank top. Ever since she and her brother had met the Seigaku crew that morning, she'd clearly been making a very conscious effort to get along with the Seigaku girls. Ayahana didn't anticipate that such forced goodwill would survive their match tomorrow.

She didn't doubt that An's team would come out on top, but the boys and girls of Rikkai were known to be sore winners.

She snuck a glance at Makiyama, who'd be facing An in Singles Three. Makiyama noticed, so Ayahana flicked her gaze toward An, crossing her eyes and sticking out her tongue. Makiyama giggled into her hand, inciting a curious look from Momo. Ayahana knew Makiyama was pretty insecure about Momo's past relationship with An.

Rikkai's Kirihara and Yanagi walked over to them just then, the former with eyes only for An, and Ayahana flashed Makiyama a mischievous smile, mouthed, Watch this.

"Rikkai Dai's Kirihara Akaya-kun!" Ayahana sang out. She bounded forward, threw her arms around him as if they were old friends. His body was wonderfully lean and muscled, if stiff with shock. He smelled good, like something warm and spicy. "I've always wanted to meet you! I'm a big fan, such a big fan."

He shoved her away. "Who the hell are you?"

"Akaya," chided Yanagi, his hands behind his back.

"I'm Ayahana Arisa," she beamed, looking at An from the corner of her eye. The other girl's mouth had fallen open. "Isn't it nice to meet me? I'm already great friends with your girlfriend, An-chan." She winced exaggeratedly. "Oh, I'm sorry, that was so insensitive of me. I forgot you two broke up. That's a shame, isn't it? You two must have been so cute together. Like, just absolutely adorable."

Tachibana stepped forward, one hand on his sister's shoulder, and broke in calmly, "Yanagi, Kirihara, it's good to see you both again."

"Likewise," Yanagi replied, his own hand on Kirihara's arm. "You were an asset to the high school circuit. I'm sure you're just as valuable to the professional tour."

Kirihara opened his mouth, frowned, and looked down. Said only, "Hey." He seemed to struggle for a moment, as if he wanted to say more, but just then his attention caught on the group of rough-looking teenagers passing by. They were talking loudly, and in the middle of the group was a small, soft-faced girl with hot pink hair. Rikkai's Nakajima Tsukiko.

Kirihara shook off Yanagi's hand, started after them.

~x~

"Everything okay?" Akaya asked Nakajima, cutting through the people surrounding her.

She blinked up at him. Though she was his upperclassman, she was so small and soft and innocent that he couldn't help but be protective of her, despite having hardly ever spoken to her. She was a Rikkai regular, and a Rikkai regular had to be defended for the sake of every regular's pride. She didn't seem very capable of defending herself, so Akaya would do it for her.

"Of course I am, Kirihara-kun. Why do you ask?" Her hair was in two braids, and he could smell the strawberry scent of her shiny pink lip gloss.

"Because your snobby Rikkai schoolmate here thinks that we're kidnapping you or something, seeing as we're oh-so-scary-and-low-class," said a tall boy with a ring through his lower lip and a bar through his left eyebrow, which was raised mockingly. "Isn't that what you think, rich boy?"

Akaya smiled. It was not a very nice smile. Not at all. "Maybe you'd be rich if you didn't spend whatever money you have paying to get shit stapled into your skin." He raised his own eyebrows innocently. "Or were you born with a face full of metal?"

"Baby boy, you don't know who you're dealing with," smirked a girl with jet-black hair and a dragon tattoo peeking out of her sleeve. "Tsukasa here could tear you apart."

Akaya's smile widened, but before he could reply, Nakajima said quietly but firmly, "Tsukasa, Kirihara-kun, Aoki-chan, that's enough. This is upsetting me."

To Akaya's surprise, both the boy and the girl who'd spoken complied at once, and the other members of the group, who'd stiffened at Akaya's approach, subsided as well. "Sorry, Tsukiko," said the boy named Tsukasa, touching her shoulder. His soft expression seemed terribly out of of place. He was nearly a foot taller than she was.

"Nakajima-senpai, Akaya, what's going on?" An wanted to know, trotting over to the group, her gaze flitting around all those assembled before settling on Akaya.

He cuffed her ear as Nakajima said, "Kirihara-kun is just meeting my friends, Tachibana-chan. He—" All of a sudden she flushed and looked down at her feet, and Akaya turned to see that Yanagi had come over as well. "He, um," she tried again. "Um. I…"

Akaya exchanged a speaking look with An, before they both turned to Yanagi, who opened his mouth to say something, but wasn't given the chance.

"Tsukiko, let's go," said Tsukasa, his hand still on her shoulder. Gently he propelled her forward. "See you guys around," he said shortly to the Rikkai students, and directed a particularly narrow look at Yanagi. The girl Aoki just waggled her fingers mockingly at them. The rest of the group fell into step behind them.

"Well," said An, absently reaching up to thread her fingers through Akaya's curls. In return he bumped her with his hip. "That was… yeah. I didn't know you were friends with Nakajima-senpai, Akaya."

"'M not," he shrugged. "The friends she does have are weird."

"Nakajima-chan's companions may be attributed to her family's notorious connections to the yakuza," Yanagi noted.

"What?" demanded Akaya and An together.

"Perhaps not so notorious, if you're that shocked." Yanagi may have been very amused, but he was also, Akaya noticed, interested: he visibly opened his eyes to take stock of Nakajima's retreating figure and posse.

"I can't believe it." An looked like someone had hit her over the head with a shovel. "Nakajima-senpai has yakuza connections… she's such a badass. How come she doesn't talk about it all the time? If I were in her situation, I'd be like 'Yeah, hi, my name is Tachibana An and I'm with the yakuza, and thus one hundred percent cooler and scarier than you are. Eat it.'"

Akaya laughed. "Who could be scared of you? You're one part ditz, three parts rabid bunny."

They began squabbling animatedly, and with a rueful shake of his head, Yanagi wandered away.

~x~

Watanabe smiled as, out of the corner of her eye, she watched Sanada help Fujimaru put a baju kurung, a traditional Malay costume, over her street clothing. The knee-length blouse and skirt were the color of red wine, and looked lovely against Fujimaru's dark skin. With a look of shy wonder on her face and a scarf wrapped around her head, she smiled for the woman taking photos of everyone trying on the costumes.

Sanada noticed Watanabe's gaze, and shot her a narrow look, but she just kept smiling. She knew he was only pretending to be disgruntled at being the one to help Fujimaru with her clothes while Watanabe got her hands hennaed. He and Fujimaru spoke little to each other, but that was just in their nature. They had certain traits in common—just enough to mean they got along very well.

Sanada will make a good father one day, Watanabe thought distantly, before flushing. Because that was a weird thought, wasn't it? They weren't even eighteen yet.

For some reason she recalled her sister Naoko saying, You're going to encounter a lot of bad guys out there. But Sanada Genichirou definitely isn't one of them.

Oh God, thought Watanabe with an internal moan, suddenly so agitated that the henna artist had to tell her to sit still. No, no, no. I absolutely will not let myself develop feelings for Sanada. How fickle am I? I fancy myself in love with Yukimura-kun for years, and then the minute I decide to get over him, I start getting all weird about someone else? And it's Sanada, for God's sakes. No, no, no. I won't ruin what we have.

He's too important to me.

Because he really was. Ever since she'd been four, Sanada had been there. Been there for her. Sometimes when she didn't ask, and always when she did. He was steady and sure and solid, a source of absolute certainty in her life. She wouldn't let her relationship with him become uncertain in any way.

Marui and Shimizu were with them as well, sitting on the grass and reading some pamphlets they'd been given about Malay folklore. "So apparently there's this vampiric ghost called a pontianak," Shimizu was saying to him excitedly, "which is the ghost of a woman who died while pregnant, and then there's also this thing called a lang suir, which is the ghost of a woman who died while giving birth."

"I'd definitely come back as some sort of malevolent creature if I died while pregnant or giving birth," said Marui casually, blowing a bright blue bubble. Shimizu popped it, only to make a sound of dismay when it got all over her fingers. "Like, I lost my own life for the sake of someone else's? Nope. Not down with that."

"You're a benevolent soul, aren't you," said a playful voice, and Watanabe—to the exasperation of her henna artist—turned more fully around to see that Hyotei's Ishii and Kato had strolled up. The former had been the one to speak, and she went on, "I don't know that yours is the sort of soul I'd want returning to the earth in any sort of vengeful, ghostly capacity."

"I'll keep that in mind," said Marui flatly, which made Watanabe blink. He was rarely so hostile. Often his words and expressions held a hint of mockery, but almost always in good spirits.

"Touchy, aren't you," smirked Kato. Despite the warmth of the day, she wore slim black pants and a long-sleeved gray shirt that lent her a sickly pallor. Somehow, she made it bizarrely attractive.

"Kato-chan, don't needle him," Ishii scolded, but she was smiling as she rocked back and forth on her heels. "Marui-kun's a sweet boy." She cocked her head. "Aren't you?"

Marui just narrowed his eyes, and Shimizu was too busy using her teeth to scrape the gum off her fingers to say anything. It was Fujimaru who stepped forward, having taken off her baju kurung. "Don't you two have somewhere to be," she said shortly.

"Yes, right here," said Ishii, still smiling. Her pale yellow sundress set off the blue of her hair. "This is our culture fair, after all."

"Not very observant, are you?" Kato sneered.

Fujimaru scowled and made to reply, but Sanada laid a hand on her shoulder. To Ishii and Kato, he said only, simply, "Leave."

He didn't have the force of Yukimura's charisma, but he certainly had a force of his own.

Kato showed him her teeth, but Ishii just shook her head and, after throwing one last smile at Marui, towed her teammate away. Watching her go, Watanabe couldn't help but reflect on the similarities between her and Marui. Sure, they both had bright hair and lively eyes, but they also cocked their heads the same way, used the same sort of lilting voice.

And, beneath layers of cheer and charm, they shared the same hard, unfriendly cunning.

Shimizu, her fingers still in her mouth, asked, "Do you have a thing going on with Hyotei's blue-haired fairy girl?"

Marui reached over and scraped off the gum she'd gotten on her nose. He didn't seem to notice that Fujimaru was waiting for his answer with a tight, apprehensive expression, but Watanabe was certain he knew of her feelings for him. "Not even close."

Watanabe shared a glance with Sanada, who just sighed and put his hand on Fujimaru's head.

~x~

"Oshitari Yuushi is looking at you."

At Fuyumi's words, Katsuragi wanted to wince, but instead, her face smooth and untroubled, she made herself look up. Sure enough, Oshitari was standing with a group of glamorous-looking Hyotei students, but his gaze was on Katsuragi, who sat in the grass eating nasi lemak with Fuyumi and Takamiya. Oshitari wasn't as inscrutable as, say, Niou, but for the life of her she still couldn't read that gaze.

So she just met his eyes and tossed him a lazy smile before turning back to her food. "He should be," she said lightly. "I'm damn hot."

Fuyumi smiled, and Takamiya laughed a little, but it made Katsuragi frown. "You okay, Miaka? You seem a little off today."

"Me? I'm fine, thanks for asking," said Takamiya, but at a look from Fuyumi, she sighed. "Really, I'm okay. I justYukimura-kun just made me angry yesterday, that's all." She frowned. "Angry, andand disappointed in him, actually."

Fuyumi considered her. Said finally, "I can see that. I don't know what he did, but I can see that. He'sthere's a lot to Yukimura. A hell of a lot. But I do think he means well most of the time. I guess that's all I can say." She put her arm around Takamiya, who rested her head on her shoulder for a moment.

Katsuragi looked on with a smile, yet she couldn't help but be envious of their close friendship. On the team, Katsuragi was closest to Shimizu, but of course Shimizu was best friends with Marui. And off the team

She got along well with her classmates, hung out with them occasionally. But conversation was always light, frivolous. She couldn't imagine telling any of them about the thoughts that plagued her, the memories that haunted her. The burn of the ice as she fell to her knees. The gasps of the spectators. The flash of the cameras.

The medals that should have been hers, would now never be hers, never never never, how could she have ever thought she'd been good enough?

"Oshitari's still looking at you, Katsuragi." Fuyumi shook her head. "Did you insult his mother or something?" She paused. "Shimizu would ask if you'd done worse and insulted his hair."

So Katsuragi looked up again, and this time, Oshitari detached himself from his hangers-on, strolled over to her, hands in his pockets. "Katsuragi Mikuzu," he said in that Kansai accent that turned everything into a rolling drawl. She studied his mouth. It had felt wonderful on her own, hot and sweet. "I don't know that I ever introduced myself."

Takamiya had tensed and hugged her arms to her chest at his approach, but Fuyumi shot Katsuragi a curious look. Katsuragi just shrugged. "I know who you are."

"Do you," he murmured, smirking slightly. "Well, that's a relief."

Katsuragi traced the outline of her phone in her pocket. Earlier she'd texted Yagyuu to see if he'd be at the culture festival, and when he'd said that he wouldn't be, she'd been oddly disappointed. Disappointed, and somewhat apprehensive. Was she obligated to tell him she'd made out with Oshitari? Would he care?

She couldn't imagine that he would. And, truth be told, she didn't either. Kissing was meaningless. Hell, sex was meaningless, at least to her. She knew these things were important and special to other people, precious. And that was fine. To each her own. But to her, physical things were just that: physical things. No feelings involved.

But she wasn't about to say any of that right then, so she was lucky that the Hyotei regular Mukahi called for Oshitari to rejoin the group, and with a low sweeping bow to the three girls, which Katsuragi found horribly grating and condescending, if amusing, he sauntered away.

"Anything you want to tell us, Mikuzu?" asked Takamiya, her arms still around herself.

"Not really," said Katsuragi honestly.

~x~

An shrieked with laughter as Kirihara sprayed her with orange water. Malaysia had a sizable Indian population, and she had made Sayoko promise that Hyotei's culture festival would feature a carnival of colors, though the Holi Festival had already passed.

Student council members had distributed white T-shirts to those who wanted to take part, and currently she and Kirihara were ignoring all the other participants in favor of chasing each other around. She was covered in orange from his squirt-gun and he in green from hers, and both had been hit by other people as well, making them looking like a toddler's finger-painted rendition of a rainbow.

"My footwork is better than yours now," she grinned as she dodged his attack and tackled him. A student council member frowned but didn't intervene. "Admit it."

He just lay there on the grass with her on top of him, yawned. "I've told you before that I'm perfect. Don't you understand the concept of perfection?" Absently he reached up and tucked some hair behind her ear. "It means nobody can be better than me at anything. And definitely not you."

An just smiled down at him. The water soaking his T-shirt, drying on his face, was bright green, but it still couldn't hold a candle to his eyes.

And then she jumped up, chirped, "Yukimura-senpai!" He'd just walked up, and she went to hug him, before— "Oh, you probably don't want me to get stuff all over your clothes. Sorry."

"That's all right," he laughed. "I must say orange is a good color on you." He and Kirihara were very pointedly not looking at each other, but before she could ask what was wrong, Yukimura continued, "I'm on my way home now, and just thought I'd stop and say goodbye to you."

"You're not going to wait to walk home with Sayoko?"

"Something tells me she won't be coming straight home." He ruffled her hair. His hand, when he drew it away, was orange. "I'll see you tomorrow, An." And then, evenly, "You as well, Akaya."

"Yeah," Kirihara muttered. Once Yukimura had walked away, he said firmly to An, "I don't want to talk about it right now."

She paused a moment, before: "Okay," she shrugged, and squirted him right in the face.

"You are going to pay for that," he laughed.

~x~

"We've already received five hundred more visitors than we anticipated," Sayoko reported to Atobe, smoothing her collar. The student council members had all been required to wear their school uniforms so that they would be easily identifiable as sources of information and aid. "And we're on schedule to close down in about twenty minutes."

Atobe nodded once. When she remained standing before him, he looked up from his tablet, eyebrows raised. "Are you waiting for me to congratulate you on relaying information a toddler could have memorized?" he asked mildly. "A toddler, or perhaps a chimpanzee?" When still she just stood there, he frowned. "I realize it's tempting to bask in my glorious presence all day, but you really do have other things to attend to at the moment."

"I just." She tilted her head. "We're really friends now. Aren't we?"

"This is hardly the time, Sayoko."

"Atobe-senpai," she insisted, taking his hand in both of hers. He looked down at their hands, and then slowly up at her. She met his gaze readily, and he couldn't help but marvel at the faith she'd decided to have in him, the trust she'd decided to put in him. How earnestly and absolutely she now cared for him.

How vulnerable she was voluntarily making herself to him.

And yet by making herself vulnerable, she made herself invincible as well: there was no way he'd ever even consider hurting or taking advantage of her, not when she'd shown such strength and such courage in offering him the opportunity to do those things. The opportunity to take the affection and attention she so clearly craved from him and burn it to ash before her eyes.

At once vulnerable and invincible, he thought, more amused than anything. What a girl you are, Yukimura Sayoko.

"You're laughing at me again," she accused, but she was smiling as she said it, smiling like he'd gotten down on his knees and offered her the sea and the stars and all things that shine, and he was helpless but to smile back.

"What else are friends for," he murmured, and might have said something else, but just then Ikeda and Yamaguchi walked over.

"I think everything went really well," said Ikeda, her hands clasped behind her back. "Well, except for that kid who turned out to be allergic to the powdered colors we put in the squirt-guns, but that's why we pay for on-site medics."

Atobe nodded, and looked to Yamaguchi for her input, but she was staring at Sayoko rather intently, the way a predator might at some rustling stalks of long grass.

Sayoko noticed. "What is it? You're looking at me weird."

Direct as ever, Yamaguchi said, "I've been meaning to ask. How do you know that Takada Shouta?"

Sayoko flinched. She'd already released his hand, and Atobe placed it at the small of her back. He didn't blame her one bit for her distress. Even he felt uneasy just hearing that name. Their encounter had left a sour taste in the back of his throat, something rotten that lingered, that decayed, that could poison and choke you in your sleep.

Tightly Sayoko said, "I don't know him."

"Yeah? I kind of thought you two had this weird sort of chemistry."

Both Atobe and Ikeda made to interject, but Sayoko gave a small shake of her head. Asked quietly, "Why do you want to know?" Her voice was surprisingly steady. It made a smile curl at the corner of Atobe's mouth.

Yamaguchi smiled too, but slowly. It was a fierce smile, but Yamaguchi was a fierce person. What concerned Atobe was the way her gaze darkened. Surely she couldn't be interested in Takada? "Just in the market for some new friends," she said languidly. "My social circle's getting a little stale these days."

"Thanks for that, best friend," said Ikeda, and Yamaguchi bumped her with her hip, but Ikeda's concerned gaze was on Sayoko, who was taking deep breaths as if to calm herself. Then Ikeda looked to Atobe, who lifted one shoulder in a shrug as he rubbed small circles into Sayoko's back with his thumb.

He truly cared about her now, as he'd anticipated he would from the start, and no one in Atobe Keigo's esteemed affections should ever feel sad or scared. He'd see to it that Sayoko learned that.

"Hey, Monkey King," called an all-too-fucking-familiar voice, "I'm back. Did you miss me?"

Atobe cast his gaze toward the sky as Echizen, Ibu, Kikumaru, Momoshiro, and a girl who must have been Momoshiro's girlfriend walked up to them.

"Ah, the infamous American wonderboy," Yamaguchi observed. Making a show of sizing him up, she shrugged and tossed her long brown-black hair. "You definitely don't look all that special."

"That's because he isn't," Momo grinned, ruffling Echizen's hair with one hand while he kept his other arm around his pretty, round-faced girlfriend. Echizen scowled but didn't push him away. He was nearly as tall as Momo now. "Isn't that right, Echizen?"

"As usual, Momo-senpai doesn't know what he's talking about."

"You little—"

"Monkey King, play a match with me," said Echizen, hands stuffed in his pockets. "It's been a while since I beat you into the ground."

Atobe removed his hand from Sayoko's back so that he could run it through his hair. "Much as I'd like to put you in your place, I don't feel up to dealing with your particular brand of snark at the moment."

"What, are you scared?" Echizen smirked. "Or is it just that you've gotten too old to play tennis? You are getting pretty advanced in your years. My mom sees a pretty good arthritis doctor back in America if you're interested."

"O-chi-biiii," Kikumaru sighed, but it was Sayoko who stepped forward, stepped in front of Atobe.

"Atobe-senpai said he doesn't want to deal with you right now." She rolled one hip out to the side, placed her hand on it. "Or has your Japanese gotten rusty?"

Echizen's eyelids drooped low, but that gold gaze gleamed. He considered her from the few inches of height he had on her. "You must be that Yukimura's sister."

"Brilliant deduction. Have you every thought about starting your own private detective business? You could help old ladies find their cats."

Echizen was unfazed. "Tell your brother I'm looking forward to playing him as well, so long as he hasn't given up tennis to plant daisies with the horticulture club."

Sayoko's answering smile was so cold as to be numbing like frostbite. Before she could say something withering, Atobe took a handful of her hair, tugged her gently back to stand beside instead of in front of him. "It's all right, Sayoko," he assured her. She just frowned, so he added with a smirk, "Being a snide little brat is the only way Echizen here knows how to show affection. In truth he admires me a great deal, as well he should."

Echizen scoffed, but Ibu said thoughtfully, "You know, I think Atobe-san is right. This one time Echizen told me my hair looks like a girl's, and at first I was pretty annoyed, but then I started thinking about it, and I'm pretty sure Echizen is straight, so he must like girls' hair, so maybe he was just giving me a compliment. Ryuuzaki sure has long, girly hair, and he clearly likes her, so maybe"

He kept mumbling to himself, but no one was really listening—certainly not Sayoko. She'd spotted someone lounging against a lamp-post, and without a word to anyone, she immediately trotted over to him as if drawn by magnetism.

"That's Sayoko's Niou Masaharu, isn't it?" Ikeda murmured to Atobe.

"Yes," said Atobe. "Yes, it is."

~x~

"Niou-senpai," Sayoko beamed, coming up to stand before him. "We're closing really soon. I thought you'd just decided not to come."

He wore torn dark jeans and a deep purple T-shirt, a black leather cord hanging 'round his neck, half-hidden under his shirt. It matched the black leather cuff on his left wrist. He drawled, "And miss sweetie's big day? Baby's first culture festival, if you will. I'm making a scrapbook. On the first page are photos of your avant-garde phase. Tell you what, you can really rock a beret."

"Of course I can. I list it on my résumé as one of my most marketable skills." Then she frowned, stepped closer to him, reaching for his face before she stopped herself, her hand still outstretched. Holding his hand was one thing, but to presume to touch his face whenever she wished…

He scoffed quietly. "Jesus Christ, Sayoko, you don't need permission to touch me." He took her hand, brought it to his face. Holding it there, he leaned into it, closed his eyes.

Her breath caught. Swallowing, she ran her thumb under his eye. "You look exhausted, Niou-senpai." At least her own sleeplessness was situational; his was permanent.

"Just one of my tired days. Happens."

She bit her lip. "Then you should have stayed home… you shouldn't be here…"

He opened his eyes, took his hand away from hers so that he could rap her on the forehead with it. "Don't you dare go on one of your 'I'm such a burden to people' guilt trips. You didn't make me come here."

She smiled ruefully. "I can't make you do anything."

"Also true." He ran a hand through his hair. "But once I leave, yeah, I'll probably go back to bed."

"… Oh. Yeah, that's good. Yeah."

"What?" He sounded amused. "What's wrong now?"

She looked down. "Well, for a second I thought, since you're here anyway, I thought that maybe, afterwards—" She flushed dully. "I thought maybe we could, like. Hang out. Or something." Since we're friends now.

With his fist he rubbed at his eyes. "Don't know that I'd be much fun to be with today, sweetie. I really am exhausted." She made to hastily assure him that of course he should just go back to bed and forget she'd ever said anything, but he unfolded his fist to hold up a hand. "But," he continued, and almost seemed to hesitate for a second, "if you want you can come back with me for a bit. Can't promise to be terribly entertaining, though."

"Wait, go home with you?"

Never had someone shrugged so carelessly. "If you want." At her frantic gesturing and gaping mouth, he laughed lowly. "Yeah, I thought so."

~x~

Niou's apartment was cold in every sense. The temperature was low, the colors gray and black and white, the rooms barren of photos or mementos or anything even remotely personal or welcoming. "Think we're the only ones here," he told Sayoko, letting the door close with a click. "Neesan's out with her girlfriend, probably."

"What about your parents?"

"Good question," he smirked. "Next question."

His bedroom was pretty much as she'd so often imagined it: messy but uncluttered, his bed unmade and his shelves bursting with books. Various articles of clothing were strewn over the chilly hardwood floor, and his walls were plastered with artfully crooked posters of bands she'd never heard of and foreign movies she'd never seen.

Unceremoniously Niou kicked off his shoes (apparently his family had no policy about donning slippers at the front door) and collapsed face-first onto his bed. Hesitantly she perched on the edge, running her hand over his dark blue comforter. When he groped blindly for his laptop, which was just out of reach, she smiled and nudged it closer to him.

Finally propping himself up onto his forearms, he opened his laptop. His screensaver was a bold geometric design in black and white. "Watch something?"

"Do you have the Hello Kitty series downloaded?"

"I will push you off this bed, just see if I don't." As he scrolled through his movie library, she couldn't help but wonder what all he'd done in this bed. Who he'd done it with. When. How many times. Had another girl been here with him just the night before? She wouldn't be surprised.

With a strangled sound of equal parts horror and humiliation, she lay down and buried her burning face in her hands. Absently Niou just patted her head, didn't ask what had so distressed her. He probably already knew. Once the opening credits of a movie were scrolling across the screen, he set his laptop on his bedstand, rested his head on one arm.

At her uncertain look, he smiled faintly. "I told you you don't have to ask. Come here." As she shuffled closer, he slung his other arm loosely over her waist. "But you have to promise me one thing."

Cuddling up against him happily, she asked, "What?"

"Just don't like, squirm, all right? For both our sakes." He dropped a kiss to her forehead. "I swear to God if you do, I really am dumping your ass on the floor. I mean it."

"Oh my God, Niou-senpai," she moaned, her face flaming all over again. Still, she went suddenly, deathly still, hyperaware of his arm across her torso, of his chest touching her own, of his legs nearly tangling with hers. "You're embarrassing me."

"That's what I'm here for."

Neither paid attention to the movie. Instead they spoke in low, murmuring voices. He told her of the bands and movies displayed on his posters, and she spoke of her own favorites. Their interests both intersected and diverged, and she found he really could become quite animated when describing some of the things he was truly invested in.

"My sister really likes that book too," he admitted when she mentioned a novel by Murakami Haruki she'd just read. And then: "I told you not to squirm."

"Then don't trace patterns on my back." Despite herself she'd been arching both into and away from his touch. Luckily she'd managed to stifle the embarrassing keening noises that wanted to escape her lips. "And I do get to see your sister again soon, don't I? You promised."

"I did no such thing. But yeah, you do. Soon enough." After a moment he added tonelessly, "Kaito's coming home for a visit, too."

She blinked. "Can I… can I meet him?"

He closed his eyes. "If you want." Drawing her closer, he pressed his face to her throat, as she had done to him so many times in the past.

Sayoko went hot all over, so hot she started to tremble, as if her body were a rippling heat wave made manifest. "N-Niou-senpai…?"

"Tired," he muttered into her throat, his lips moving against her skin like a butterfly's wings. She recalled those lips pressing kisses to the insides of her wrists. Raising a shaking hand to touch the back of his head, she stroked his hair. How he kept it so soft after years of bleaching, she didn't know. "I'm tired, Sayoko," he said again, almost… almost plaintively.

"I know, Niou-senpai," she murmured, putting her arm around him, breathing him in. "I know." She swallowed. "I know, sweetheart."

She felt him smile against her skin.

~x~

When she woke it was with a jolt. "Shit shit shit."

Immediately awake, Niou shot straight up, took her in his arms. "What? What is it? Are you all right?"

"Fine," she said, snatching her phone from the bedside table. 5:49 PM. "It's just—it got late, and I should get home before Oniisan worries. I'm surprised he hasn't called me, actually."

"Mm. Yeah." He rubbed his face. "Yeah, I'll get you home. Just gimme a sec." His words were sort of slurred, his voice scratchy and throaty and delightfully husky from sleep, and—she couldn't help herself. Before he could rise from the bed, she tugged at his arm.

"Niou-senpai," she said, grinning. "Niou-senpai, you're really cute when you've just woken up, do you know that?" At his narrowed eyes, she giggled. "What, you don't like being called cute? How about adorable?"

A moment later she found herself pinned to the bed, Niou's weight a gentle pressure keeping her down. Lifting a single eyebrow, he raised his fist to her face. "Is this cute?"

"Yeah," she giggled again, because the idea of him physically hurting her was funny, it really was. To prove it she took his fist in her hands, pressed a kiss to his knuckles.

This close, she saw the dent made as he bit down on the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling. "You disgust me," he said plainly, pushing himself off the bed and straightening his clothes. His hair he left mussed. She couldn't help but think it looked as if he'd just had sex. She did her best to smooth her own hair.

They caught a train outside his apartment building, and she spent the ride nestled against his side, his arm loosely slung around her shoulders. He rested his head against hers, and with her fingertip she traced his jawline and the shell of his ear, over and over. She figured that since she was now officially at liberty to invade his personal space, she might as well make the most of it.

When she'd let him go, she'd given up on trying to make him want her, to somehow make him love her as much as she loved him. And that had left her able to just be with him without most of that desperation, that despair. Now, for the most part, he just made her happy, made her feel safe and special and, in a rather unfortunately ironic way, loved. So loved.

That she'd been able to immediately fall asleep in his room, despite having never been there before, spoke volumes. She'd felt so at peace there, wrapped up in his warmth, his spearmint scent everywhere, lulling her. It had felt right.

"Niou-senpai," she said after they'd gotten off the train and walked the short way to her house. "Niou-senpai, I love you so much." Before he could reply, she shook her head, smiled. "I know you know that. I just like saying it."

I love you, I love you, I love you, winter boy, my winter boy, I love you, I love you, I have loved you since the sky became blue, since the grass first grew, since the universe sang the world alive. I will love you until the world stops turning.

My love will make the world stop turning.

"Oh, Sayoko," he murmured, pressing an open-mouthed kiss to her temple. She made a quiet noise. "Sayoko. You will be the death of me. You are so precious to me. Do you understand that?"

"Yes," she said softly, but he shook his head.

"No. No, you don't." Wearily he said, "So much of me, of who I am, belongs to you." His tone was laced with what almost sounded like self-loathing, self-disgust. "Do you know that?

"The best and the worst of me, it's all yours."

"I…" She couldn't breathe. Couldn't breathe. Couldn't breathe. "Niou-senpai, I…"

He barely seemed to hear. "But I haven't given any of myself to you. Do you realize?" He was speaking as if in a trance. As if hypnotized. "You take and take and take from me, tear things out of me, and every time I think there's nothing else, nothing left of me, but still you find something to pry from me, to make your own."

His voice was reverent. His voice was resentful. "You demand so much of me, every moment you're with me. And I hate it, Sayoko. I hate it."

She had no idea what her expression looked like just then, but something about it snapped him out of it. "Sorry," he muttered, rubbing his face. "Forget it. Forget about it, Sayoko. Yeah? I'm tired." He rapped her on the forehead. "I'll see you tomorrow, sweetheart."

He walked away before she could draw breath to call him back.

And still the world kept turning, turning, turning.


Guys guys I got my first tattoo it's on my left wrist and in this cursive script it says "old gods lean in close" it's a line from a poem guys isn't that cool guys I'm such a hipster

Review replies sooooon, first I shall take a nap. Okay bye love you all bye

Disclaimer: I do not own Prince of Tennis, or Taking Back Sunday's "MakeDamnSure" (lyrics at the top).