Author's Note: GUYS GUYS I DON'T HAVE TIME TO UPDATE THIS QUICKLY I SHOULD BE WORKING ON REAL STUFF I AM IN COLLEGE IT MAY NOT SEEM LIKE IT BUT I AM GUYS WHAT AM I DOING GUYS WHY


Kick Drum Hearts

(Wait till you're announced

We've not yet lost all our graces

The hounds will stay in chains)

Watanabe Chouko doubted it was a good sign when a second-year from the boys' team showed up at weight-training the next morning to inform her that Yukimura requested her presence once she was free.

She very, very much doubted it.

And yet she couldn't help the pleasure that made her heart beat fast like she'd sprinted a mile. Yukimura Seiichi wanted to see her. Sure, ever since third year of middle school he'd included her in his privileged social circle, but this was different: this time he wanted to speak just to her.

(But who was she kidding? He wasn't interested in her. He was interested in a ghost girl, long gone, her breathless laughter still ringing in the air.

Watanabe just happened to be a conduit to that girl's spirit world.)

"Yukimura-senpai wants to see you?" Tachibana repeated curiously once the boy had left. She was spotting for Watanabe, who was lifting weights.

"Had you gotten used to being the only girl he pays attention to?" Watanabe hadn't necessarily intended that to come across snide, but it had.

Tachibana frowned and looked away—presumably before she could snap a retort. Her temper was nearly as hot as Watanabe's own. The younger girl, though in better spirits than she'd been lately, seemed rather bereft at Yukimura Sayoko's departure. It sucks, Watanabe might have said sympathetically. Your best friend up and leaving you. It'll always hurt, but soon enough it will hurt less.

But Tachibana would definitely not expect that from her, and above all else, Watanabe always kept up appearances.

So when she finished her last rep she spoke only to Fuyumi, letting the captain know where she was headed, before stopping in the bathroom to smooth her ponytail and splash some water on her face. Exertion had lent high color to her cheeks, which she actually rather appreciated, given how pale she normally was.

Porcelain, her mother said often and with pride. You have skin like a perfect porcelain doll, Chouko.

She turned the water off with a sharp twist of her wrist.

Once the boys' tennis compound was in sight, she glanced around for Yukimura, but couldn't find him—and he cut a striking figure. "Yanagi-kun," she called to her year-mate, who was instructing some first-years on slice serves, "where is Yukimura-kun?"

He and all the first-years turned. She raised a single brow. "Seiichi," said Yanagi slowly, "is in the clubhouse." Somehow he gave her a terribly measured look without showing even a glimpse of his irises.

"Thank you." She didn't voice her concerns: should she just wait outside for him? Was she allowed to go in the clubhouse? What if some of the guys were undressing? Unwilling to ask for Yanagi's guidance, she turned on her heel and strode right up to the clubhouse, though she opened the door hesitantly, craning her neck to see inside. All she saw were rows of lockers; it appeared to be deserted.

Stepping inside, she eased the door shut behind her so slowly it didn't make a sound. Then, she cursed herself: shouldn't she be making noise so she didn't startle anyone?

For Christ's sake, Chouko, get a grip, she scolded herself. You're not approaching a goddamned bear.

The locker room half of the boys' clubhouse was even cleaner than the girls'. She'd been expecting to find smelly boy-clothes everywhere, but realized that was stupid—neither Yukimura nor Sanada would ever allow anything less than spotlessness. The clubhouses had identical layouts, so she went further back, knowing she'd find a lounge as well as the coach's office, the door to which she knocked on with three sharp raps.

It opened. There stood Yukimura, the door-frame functioning to frame him as a picture, though photos did not do Yukimura justice. They stripped him of his aura, of his presence, of that intangible aspect of him that made her feel like he'd ripped her heart from her chest and replaced it with a tropical storm.

"Ah," he smiled. "Please come in."

Though it was technically the coach's office, Rikkai (the boys' and girls' teams both) had a coach only on paper. Fuyumi had made a case worthy of a lawyer in proving she didn't need one, and rumor had it Yukimura had actively run his off.

So effectively the office was Yukimura's. His desk, surprisingly, was somewhat cluttered; a watercolor painting of a lighthouse hung on the wall.

Gesturing for her to take the seat opposite his desk, Yukimura rested his chin on his hand. "How are you, Watanabe-chan?"

"I'm well, thank you. And you?"

"I'm also well," he echoed. Watanabe didn't believe him. His long slim fingers tugged absently at his crooked tie, and his gaze was distant, almost clouded. That disconcerted her terribly. Normally his eyes, blue like childhood, blue like fairy tales, were clear and sharp as mirror shards. The last and only other time she'd seen his eyes glazed over had been the weeks following his loss at Nationals.

She'd watched from the stands, she and—

Watanabe bit down on the inside of her cheek. She knew why she was here, though that didn't mean she wanted to address it. She gestured to his school uniform. "You didn't practice this morning?"

"No," his smile was rueful, "I've been doing paperwork. I lead an exciting life, don't I?" Before she could reply, he cut to the chase. "Watanabe-chan, you still keep in touch with Kaori, don't you?" His expression was unreadably pleasant, though she could have sworn the inflection in his voice changed ever so slightly over Kaori.

That made her both want to cry and throw a chair at him. Mostly, it made her hurt.

She kept her own face just as impassive. "Yes." Of course I do. She's my best friend.

"How is she doing at art school?"

"She's doing well." She's happy, thought Watanabe fiercely, she's happy, and she's free, and she's finally, mostly over you.

The same couldn't be said of Watanabe herself. Watanabe, who felt like she'd loved Yukimura since before she'd even met him. Watanabe, who'd been truly pleased for Kaori when she'd begun dating Yukimura, even though she'd cried herself to sleep for what felt like weeks on end.

Watanabe, who had wanted to cry even more when Kaori had said, upon breaking up with Yukimura: I have to get out of here, Chouko. I can't take it.

She had applied to and been accepted by an art school in Tokyo three weeks later.

"I sense," said Yukimura evenly, "that you're feeling somewhat antagonistic toward me, Watanabe-chan. I hope I haven't done anything to offend."

"Of course not." Her hands, folded in her lap, were white-knuckled.

He smiled serenely. "Then what's wrong?"

I love you, and you love her. At least—I think I do. Love you. And at least—I think you do. Love her.

All she really knew for certain was that she hurt.

"Yukimura-kun…" Her mouth was ash-dry. "For you to ask me about Kaori for the first time in three years…"

He tilted his head, his wonderland-blue eyes just a little clearer as they fixed on her face. "What of it?"

On his desk stood two framed photographs: one of his team with a Nationals trophy, and another of him and his sister, their knees grass-stained and their childhood-plump cheeks flushed from laughing.

"Nothing," said Watanabe finally. "It's nothing."

~x~

Yukimura Sayoko was so beautiful it hurt like a punch to the gut.

Hiyoshi's family ran a martial arts dojo. He knew about physical pain, and could tell she could inflict it without even lifting a finger. That much she had in common with her brother.

Idly, as their teacher went on about linear operators, he tried to picture the Yukimuras' home life. Presumably their parents were the same way as well, so did they all just walk around blinding one another with their smiles while competing to see who was closest to sainthood?

False sainthood, he reminded himself, recalling the one-set match Yukimura had treated him to while his sister had been hashing out exhibition match plans with Atobe. Yukimura's on-court presence was just as overwhelming as Atobe's, yet in a different way: Atobe was incredibly real, insistently, relentlessly there. Playing Yukimura was like playing again the wind, against the tides, against the slippery space between night and day.

His presence was a gift and a threat, all at once.

And he hadn't even used the yips.

Gekokujo, he thought, to steady himself. Gekokujo. One day I'll beat him, and Atobe too. All of them.

Though that thought did little to get him through calculus. Yet soon enough that period of their day ended, signaling the beginning of their electives. Hyotei gave its students a high degree of autonomy in designing their own curriculum: they were required to take "generalist" courses with their assigned classes but could take their pick of a few "specialist" classes as well, such as foreign languages and in-depth history courses.

As the students began to disperse, he noticed—as did the rest of the class—when Fujita Ishiko said to Sayoko in a carrying voice, "I love your hair, Yukimura-chan. Did you do it yourself?"

Sayoko's hair was pulled back in a French braid. Without missing a beat, she replied lightly, "Yes, though normally woodland creatures help me do my hair. This morning they only helped me get dressed."

Fujita laughed delicately. "Naturally. Maybe you can teach me how in English class, seeing as we're some of the only second-years at that level. I'm so glad you chose it as your elective—it's so much pressure to be one of the youngest people in the advanced class."

"I'm sure you cope with it beautifully." The faintest trace of boredom permeated Sayoko's voice, audible only to those listening closely—though that was pretty much everyone in the room. It was only her second day, and already the whole school knew she was resisting participating in Hyotei's hierarchy.

Everyone knew she couldn't hold out for long—you couldn't escape getting placed somewhere. The tennis team's ever-changing ranking of its three hundred-plus players was not arbitrary but instead reflected the school itself. As one of the regulars, Hiyoshi automatically occupied a place near the top. If Atobe was the king, then his teammates were effectively princes, and Hiyoshi didn't mind—

—Though that was because he didn't care. Social standing, though necessary, was meaningless: only moving up in the team ranks counted. Only that was gekokujo.

A factor making it further impossible for Sayoko to slip through the cracks unnoticed was her already close association with Atobe, who couldn't slip through the cracks even if he'd wanted to (which of course he never, ever would). That he'd personally come to their classroom to see her had added fuel to the rumors already circulating about the two.

One such rumor Shishido had brought up at afternoon practice the day before. "Hey, Atobe," he'd called across the courts so everyone could hear, "shouldn't you be packing right now? You're going on a big romantic trip to Vanuatu with that Yukimura Sayoko, right?"

Atobe, as he was wont to do, had declined to react in a way that would have gratified Shishido, instead saying dismissively, "Don't be ridiculous. Vanuatu is dreadful this time of year."

The team knew the rumors were unfounded—Atobe would have said something if there was actually some substance to them, right?—and given what he'd thus far observed of Sayoko, Hiyoshi wasn't surprised. She was so cool and distant, so self-contained, that he doubted she showed a flicker of warmth to anyone.

(The irony of him, Hiyoshi Wakashi, thinking that about someone else did not escape him, but neither did it trouble him.)

Though, peculiarly, she did already seem somewhat fond of Kabaji, who already addressed her by her given name. Had he been anyone else, that would have been obscene, but with Kabaji it was just… Kabaji. He called you what he called you.

Had Hiyoshi been inclined to actually speak to her, he probably would have just called her "Yukimura."

~x~

Sayoko was so tired of people.

Rikkai was a very large school, but Hyotei was absolutely massive. There were people everywhere all the time, talking and laughing and challenging one another and staring at her and Sayoko was so tired of it all, but there was no escape.

Except…

As lunch break began, she bit down on her lip. Very badly she wanted to chew her fingernails, but given how people watched her every move, she couldn't risk it. Unless… but could she really swallow her pride and take Atobe up on his suspiciously generous offer?

Oh, hell, she thought, pushing back her chair. It's not like I have that much pride to begin with. My cup of pride far from runneth over.

In fact, her cup of pride had probably sprung a leak—the kind that had sunk the Titanic.

As she walked toward the student council room, she employed a trick of her brother's. She met the eyes of everyone staring at her—didn't glare or smile or so much as raise her eyebrows. Just met their eyes, and soon enough they would look away. When her brother did this it usually took about a second; Sayoko was averaging around three.

That made the half-second look-aways all the more satisfying.

The student council suite was unlocked, as Atobe had said it would be, and empty, as he'd said it would be. A high-resolution TV was mounted on the wall, but she was more interested in her book, Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. Though the library had had Japanese copies, she was determined to muddle through it in English—she'd gotten rusty, as her language class here had quickly shown.

She'd only gotten through a page when the door opened. "This is a pleasant surprise," said Atobe in a not-at-all surprised manner. "What are you reading?"

Reluctantly, she showed him the cover. "An excellent book," he observed. "I've always meant to read it in its original language; my copy is in German." He noticed her bag lying open on the floor, a collection of Russian fairy tales, also selected from Hyotei's library, peeking out the top.

He smirked. She couldn't tell if there was unkindness in it. "You've a rather diverse range of interests, haven't you."

"Not really," she replied, unsure why she was being contrary. "They're both books." When he only raised his eyebrows, she insisted, "Well, they are."

"So they are, Yukimura-kun," he said appeasingly, "so they are."

Coolly, she asked, "Are you laughing at me?"

"What," he asked with laughter in his eyes and voice, "would ever give you that impression?" She just huffed and turned away, so that she only heard him enter his office, though when she didn't hear the door close, she looked up to see he'd left it open just a crack.

Her eyebrows drew together.

After a couple minutes of looking at her book, then at his door, then back again, she finally sighed and stood up from the sofa. Tapping softly on his door, she said, "Atobe-senpai?"

"Come in."

The far wall boasted a large arched window through which nearly all of Hyotei's grounds could be seen, including the tennis courts. Atobe's desk was a beautiful old mahogany thing, scarred and scratched, and she strongly suspected it belonged not to the school but to him, though she would have expected something newer and fancier.

Like the sleek silver laptop sitting open upon it. Atobe was typing with astonishing speed. "Gawking doesn't become you, Yukimura-kun."

She crossed her arms. "And does it become you?"

He smiled slightly without looking up. "Most things do."

"Except for humility, right? Otherwise you'd exercise some."

Finally he stopped typing. Casting his gaze toward her, he leaned back in his padded leather chair, his chin propped in his hand as two fingers steepled against his cheek. "You," he said with what seemed equal parts amusement and interest, "have quite the mouth on you. Do you talk to your brother like this?"

She bristled. "Of course not."

"Then why speak to me this way?"

"Why?" She lifted her chin. "Are you comparing yourself to my brother?"

"No," he said, his voice just a breath softer, and why the hell was that, "no, I am not." And then: "Tea?"

Sayoko stared at him, momentarily thrown. "I… what?" Then she noticed the shiny electric tea-kettle situated on a low bookshelf. Beside it was a box of loose leaf black tea. "Oh… no. Thank you."

He spread his hands. "So what is it you want, then? I'm a busy person."

She exhaled slowly. Here comes the point of no return. "I want to join student council."

He smirked. "Are you aiming to steal the presidency from me?"

"Well," she shrugged, "this is a nice office. I might think about it. If I run on a platform of being smarter and prettier, in addition to withdrawing the troops from all the needless wars you've embroiled us in over the years, I don't see how I could lose."

"And how exactly," he drawled, "did you get your hands on my administration's Pentagon papers?"

She ducked her head so he couldn't see her small smile.

~x~

There had, Katsuragi Mikuzu would admit, been a time when her world had revolved around Niou Masaharu.

He embodied the two things she valued most: outstanding tennis skills, and apathy. Niou didn't give a fuck about anything or anyone, and Katsuragi admired that, coveted that, wanted to peel him open and find the disconnect between his head and his heart so that she could figure out how to cut her own connection.

Eventually she'd concluded he simply didn't have a heart.

And that was why she was so disappointed in him now.

He sat in class with his chin on his fist and gaze cast downward. The people in the seats around him were, Katsuragi noticed, either consciously or unconsciously leaning away from him, even the girls who normally killed themselves to get in his line of vision. It was the aura that surrounded him: black as sun-scorched asphalt and just as hot, just as painful.

Niou Masaharu, thought Katsuragi despairingly. When did you become someone who cares so much? Someone who cares about a vanished blue-eyed girl.

He shifted his head slightly, his hair falling in his eyes. She recalled, suddenly, the one time she'd been allowed to run her fingers through that hair. It had been only a year ago, but it felt like a past lifetime. Some things she remembered clearly: the way her tennis skirt had bounced against her thighs as she'd walked, the way the air had seemed thin as it would on Mt. Fuji.

"Hey," she'd said casually to Niou one day after they'd both finished practice, "I think you're pretty hot." She'd lifted a shoulder in a consciously careless way. Added lightly, "So you know."

Other things she remembered in a blur of heat and motion: his smirk, his drawling voice, the back of the bleachers, her hands in his hair, his on her hips, his lips his teeth his tongue—

She frowned. It wasn't something she was proud of, but neither was she ashamed. The boy was a damn good kisser, but whatever attraction she'd felt to him had since abated substantially. His good looks and athletic prowess had appealed to her, sure, and of course those still remained, but what had dissolved these past couple months, little by little, was her ideal of him.

Niou Masaharu: couldn't read him, couldn't trick him, couldn't predict what he would do. Couldn't upset or embarrass or hurt him because he didn't care. Niou Masaharu: untouchable. Niou Masaharu: everything Katsuragi wanted to be.

Niou Masaharu: visibly bent out of sorts over a girl.

Katsuragi felt a little bit disgusted, and a little bit pitying, but mostly, she was disheartened. If Niou of all people couldn't turn off the caring, couldn't make himself invulnerable to pain, then what chance did she have?

When their last class ended, she was the first out the door. Before practice she needed to stop by the home ec. room and—

"Oh," she said, startled. "I… oh."

"Katsuragi-chan, hello," said Yagyuu pleasantly. He had, apparently, just stepped out of the neighboring classroom, 3-A. "Niou-kun is still in there, correct?"

Having recovered her composure, she said idly, "Yeah, I guess so."

He smiled, said confidingly, "He's rather disgruntled today, isn't he."

Katsuragi eyed him, unsure what a safe reply would be. Truthfully she didn't know anything that was safe when it came to Yagyuu. A number of people were intimidated by Niou, but to her Yagyuu was far more frightening. That perfect persona with that killer instinct underneath…

Months ago, in the locker-room, Shimizu had said flippantly, "So I definitely feel like we should rank the boys' team on which one of them is most likely to go batshit insane."

"Kirihara," Fujimaru had said darkly and immediately.

Katsuragi disagreed. Kirihara was just a dumb kid. But… "Yagyuu," she'd said quietly, and when everyone had started to protest along the lines of "Are you serious? He's like the least likely, aside from poor Jackal," she'd simply walked out of the locker-room and into the sun, which had been beating down mercilessly.

It had been miserably hot that day, too, three years ago: the Kantou finals against Seigaku. She'd been sitting up close for the Doubles 1 match, had heard the ball crush into flesh and bone as Yagyuu (masquerading as Niou) had slammed it into that redhead's face.

Looking at him now, she shivered. Because when it all came down to it…

Weren't she and Yagyuu one and the same? Hiding a burning beating blistering drive for tennis, for victory at all costs, behind a facade?

No, she thought miserably, no, no, even if I can't be like Niou, I won't be like you, either. I can't be. Please, don't let that be me. Don't be me.

"Katsuragi-chan?" Yagyuu's voice was laced with concern. "Are you all right? You look rather ill."

"I'm fine," she said shortly, for once not even caring that her distress was evident in her tone. Pushing past him, she raced out of the building and into the sun.

~x~

"The hell did you do to her?"

"That's normally the sort of question I find myself asking you, Niou-kun," said Yagyuu as Niou exited the classroom to stand beside him. He'd done absolutely nothing that should have offended Katsuragi Mikuzu. If she had taken issue with him, it was through no fault of his own.

Neutrally, Niou began, "I suspect," but then seemed to reconsider what he was about to say, casting Yagyuu a sideways glance.

If Yanagi had been there, he would have provided a statistic on how often Niou's suspicions proved true. He'd offered it once before, and it had been damn close to a hundred percent.

Though he hadn't suspected Sayoko would leave.

"How was your day?" Yagyuu asked as they walked to practice.

"Absolutely enthralling," Niou deadpanned.

Though he didn't ask about Yagyuu's, Yagyuu told him anyway. "Mine was quite busy. I called an impromptu meeting of the student council during lunch."

"You finally decided to add women's rights to the agenda? Or was this an emergency meeting about Rikkai's failing welfare system?"

"It was a meeting," said Yagyuu calmly, "about who's going to take over organizing the school dance now that Sayoko-chan is gone. She was almost exclusively in charge." And had been doing a great job—Yagyuu had spent the previous evening poring over her notes, which were faultless. Implementing her plans wouldn't be terribly difficult.

"Either try your best to provoke me," replied Niou, equally calm, "or don't try at all. You're the snarkiest bastard I've ever met, Yagyuu—don't start half-assing things now."

"Don't flatter yourself," Yagyuu snipped. "If I were inclined to provoke you, I'd simply point out that your roots are beginning to show." Niou smirked. There was a reason they got along so well. "I only wanted," he continued, "to lead up to Sayoko-chan being at the match this weekend."

"Groundbreaking information." Yagyuu had probably heard Niou speak more flatly than that, but not by much. "Next you'll tell me Sanada will be there."

A vein near Yagyuu's temple pulsed. One of Niou's least endearing qualities was his tendency to take his bad moods out on the world in general, and on the people he cared about most in particular. It was an unhealthy, destructive habit that meant that Yagyuu received more than his fair share of sneering sarcasm, though he did give as good (and sometimes better) than he got.

It also meant Sayoko was was likely to face the firing squad.

He kept it short. "For everyone's sake, Niou-kun, when you see Sayoko-chan on Sunday… don't do something you'll regret."

~x~

"My name is Ikeda Ai," the girl had said upon approaching Sayoko after school that day, "and I'm the student council vice president. Would you like to get coffee with me?"

And just like that, Sayoko ended up in an almost unbearably trendy cafe drinking overpriced green tea.

"Atobe texted me earlier today telling me you wanted to join the council, so our secretary already has your paperwork being processed." Ikeda took a sip of her latte, leaving a trace of foam on her lips. Sayoko sensed she was aware of this, and simply wasn't concerned about it. "We meet after school on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for about an hour."

Sayoko didn't know what to say, so she only inclined her head in acknowledgment, making Ikeda smile. "So regal," she commented, "like a princess."

Which was an odd thing to bring up. Because Sayoko had, in about two minutes of walking through Hyotei's halls with Ikeda, realized something: if Atobe was Hyotei's king, Ikeda was the queen. It was in the way people looked at her, and it was in the way she looked at them. It was there; it was tangible. Not a vague idea but a crown whose weight everyone could feel, though only one person wore it.

Well, Sayoko amended, Atobe-senpai doubtlessly has his own crown. Actually, probably a collection of them, many sporting peacock feathers.

"So." Ikeda clasped her hands in front of her. Her hair was brown and glossy, her figure short and plump. Her voice was white gold. "2-B already has a representative, of course, but we do include general council members, especially those recommended by Atobe Keigo himself. Though you're the entirety of that demographic."

"Indebted-to-Atobe-Senpai Town," Sayoko sighed, "population: one."

Ikeda laughed, but Sayoko winced internally. She probably shouldn't have said that. It was just that she felt almost comfortable around Ikeda already, which was absurd. What was it about her?

"What is going on between you and Atobe?" Ikeda asked conversationally. "I hear so much, but I have no idea what to believe."

"Nothing," said Sayoko a little crankily, wishing she could go back in time and slap hey-might-as-well-roll-with-the-dating-Atobe-rumors Sayoko right across her lying face.

Ikeda dipped a stubby finger in her latte, licked off the foam. "Well, what do you think of him?"

It occurred to Sayoko, then, that thus far she hadn't really stopped to figure out exactly what she did think of Atobe Keigo. Should she really be having this conversation with Ikeda, who worked with him as vice president and essentially ruled the school with him?

Ikeda noticed her hesitance to speak and probably realized the cause, but said nothing, just smiled a little. It wasn't a prompting smile; instead it said Trust me if you want, and if you don't, that's all right too.

Sayoko just lifted a shoulder and offered her own small smile, but it wasn't necessarily that she didn't want to say what she thought. Instead, it was really that she still had absolutely no idea what to make of the phenomenon that was Atobe Keigo.

~x~

The phone rang six times before he answered it—but then, he was in practice. Ikeda knew she was one of very few people for whom he would pick up. Before he could speak, she said by way of greeting, "So I just talked to Yukimura Sayoko for about an hour."

"Oh?" Atobe's voice was neutral. "What did you think?"

"I think," Ikeda smiled, "that she might speak the language of queens."

~x~

"Yukimura-senpai…" An went to say something, then appeared to reconsider, saying instead: "You must really like to stand there, huh?"

She was referring, of course, to where he was leaning against the school gate. "I feel it brings out my eyes," he said lightly, standing up straighter and readjusting the strap of his bag. "Ready to go?"

"… You're walking me home again? That's really nice, senpai, but it's sort of out of the way for you."

"I don't mind," he replied, and began walking in the direction of her aunt's apartment, knowing she would follow.

Once she'd caught up with him, she began, "Yukimura-senpai… today at practice Watanabe-senpai seemed sort of—tense. Well, she always seems tense," An amended, "and actually, Katsuragi-senpai was acting sort of weird too. But that's not the point. Senpai—is everything okay between you and Watanabe-senpai? I know you're friends."

That gave him pause. "Friends?" he echoed.

"Well, yeah." She regarded him curiously. "Aren't you? You talked to her this morning, right? And whenever we're at a tournament or whatever, you usually sit with her. I mean, of all the people you could sit with, you almost always choose her. Her and some other people."

"I do," he acknowledged. Did that make them friends? He'd never really considered it before, but figured it didn't make a difference anyway. Answering her original question, he replied, "Everything is fine between Watanabe-chan and myself."

"Okay," said An easily. Then: "What did you talk to her about this morning?"

Yukimura recalled Watanabe's watchful dark eyes, her perfect posture, the way everything she'd said had been taut with feelings unacknowledged and words unspoken. Nothing, she'd said. It's nothing. "We have," he said finally, "a mutual acquaintance."

(He thought of Kaori then, Kaori with her watercolor-soft voice and starlight-secret smile, Kaori saying Seiichi, Seiichi, Seiichi.)

An said, "Okada Kaori. Your ex-girlfriend. Right?"

Yukimura stopped walking. Raised his eyebrows at her.

She winced. "I may or may not," she admitted, "have done some snooping today. I'm sorry if that was wrong of me."

"… It's fine," he said at length. "It's not a secret." Beginning to walk again, he asked, "But why would you do that?"

"Because," she said quietly, in a tone of voice that made him stop and turn once more, "I'm worried about you, Yukimura Seiichi."

~x~

That night, An dreamed of blue eyes and gray skies and wings spread wide over a world gone red, while Sayoko, in fitful, fragmented bouts, dreamed of ringing laughter, silver and sinister as a switchblade.


Anyone know the poem Ikeda's quoting with "the language of queens"? It's real hot on tumblr right now.

Also, going through the manga, I have reconfirmed my observation that Atobe Keigo does not actually talk that much. I really detest how he's so often portrayed in fandom as some footloose and fancy-free showboat crowing about how fabulous he is.

Yes, Atobe is arrogant. Yes, he is dramatic. Yes, he calls for attention. But that last one is important - does he do that all the time? No. In fact, he's really not one of the most talkative Hyotei regulars. (Though, naturally, he can't be compared to the likes of Kabaji or Hiyoshi. Also, Hiyoshi's type of girl is "delicate." The fuck, bro.)

We see Atobe's thought-bubbles just as often as we see his speech-bubbles. I do think he's extroverted, but he definitely spends a lot of time in his own head, just thinking and watching. Not to the extent of some other characters in the series, but if you'll recall, one thing he's renowned for is his insight. He studies people. He reads them.

So yeah. My take on Atobe may be rather different than other people's. Sorrynotsorry.

Special thanks to livinglifeasitis for being awesome. Also, anonymous reviewers - I really wish you'd get accounts so that I could talk to you. :(

Disclaimer: I do not own Prince of Tennis, or Lorde's "Team" (lyrics at the top).