Author's Note: Don't expect another update for a while - I mean it this time. (:


Kick Drum Hearts

(You're the one that I love

And I'm saying goodbye

Say something, I'm giving up on you)

"Should be a good match," said Oshitari very early on Sunday morning as he and Atobe completed their ritual run around the latter's estate. "Not ours, of course—Rokkaku won't just roll over and play dead, but I hardly think we'll lose more than a game to them, much less a match. But the girls' will definitely be worth watching."

Breathing easily, Atobe replied, "And even if it weren't, you'd watch anyway on the off-chance that Nomura gave you the time of day."

"I cannot help," said Oshitari, "being a fool for love." His tone was breezy, but held a note of pain that Atobe elected not to remark on. Who would have thought that the girl Oshitari would actually develop feelings for would be undeniably homely Nomura Sana?

"Now that Sohma-chan's beaten Ishii, it will be interesting to see how she fares in Singles Two," Atobe commented as they dropped to a slow, steady jog. His estate grounds had been modeled to resemble those he'd left behind in England, and in the cool blue-gray of morning, they made him rather nostalgic. "I wouldn't be surprised if she beats even Nomura before the season ends."

"She's progressed at an alarming pace," Oshitari agreed, sighing in a way that made his fine-boned nose wrinkle slightly. "In many areas."

"One of those areas being her affections for you?" When Oshitari's nose only wrinkled further, Atobe slowed to a walk. "Break that girl's heart and even I won't be able to save you from the girls' wrath." This year all the regulars were third-years save for first-year Sohma, and they were all terribly fond of her.

"That you're even concerned about me at all…" Oshitari laid a hand on his chest. "Be still, my beating heart."

Atobe sneered at him as the sun came up.

~x~

"Ikeda Ai," said the girl who'd accompanied Sayoko into the tournament grounds. Her hair and eyes were brown, her smile natural. "It's nice to meet you."

"Yukimura Seiichi." He shook her hand. "The pleasure is mine. I recognize you, actually. Aren't you Atobe's girlfriend?" For the past two years he'd occasionally spotted her sitting with the Hyotei team at tournaments, a book open on her lap.

"I was," she replied, unperturbed.

"Ikeda-senpai is the vice-president of student council, and she lives in the dorms with me," volunteered Sayoko. She wore a lacy white peplum top with a black satin ribbon around the middle, and he noticed that above the diamond earrings given to her by their grandmother, she sported a pair of little gold bows, the skin around them still red. He raised his eyebrows, and she fingered the jewelry self-consciously.

"I mentioned to Ikeda-senpai how much I like her earrings," and sure enough, Ikeda wore seven of them, "and she offered to take me to get my ears pierced again. We just went last night."

"She won't be able to take them out for school or else the holes will close," Ikeda informed him, "but so long as she keeps her hair down around her face like she normally does, it's unlikely anyone will notice."

"I see," said Yukimura slowly. For Sayoko to already be so attached to this girl… "Well, thank you for taking care of my sister."

"No thanks needed." She smiled. "I'll leave you two to talk."

Once she'd walked away, Yukimura considered his little sister. Her eyes were shadowed by sleeplessness—apparently even two weeks hadn't been enough for her to adjust to sleeping away from home. She asked with some anxiety, "You like Ikeda-senpai, don't you, Oniisan?"

"Hmm? Yes." Lips pressed thinly together, he placed a hand on her arm, guiding her toward a more secluded area. His team had already registered and gone to wait for the girls' match to begin, but he'd waited by the entrance for Sayoko to arrive. "Sayoko…" He considered her closely. "Niou spoke to me yesterday."

"Did he?" asked Sayoko coolly. "How quaint."

At his expression she ducked her head, hair tumbling forward, but he tipped her chin up as he had An's the night before, said, "No, Sayoko, look at me. He told me about Kirigaoka. About Takada Shouta." And just like that, her body went rigid, her face white, and Yukimura could not bear to see her that frightened. He drew her to him, wrapped her up in his arms.

"Oh, Sayoko," he murmured to the top of her head, "how could you not tell me?" Did you think I would turn it around on you, make this about me instead? Is that how you think of me? What you expect from me?

There were so many things he wanted to tell her, ask her. So many things he didn't know how to say.

"I don't know," she mumbled into his chest. "I don't know, Oniisan, I'm sorry. I… I just…" She began to shake.

"Sayoko, Sayoko," he said gently, letting go of her only so he could bend to meet her eyes, "it's all right, it's all right. I love you above anyone else in the world. All right? You don't have to be afraid. No one will hurt you. I promise you that."

He didn't understand why she looked so sad.

~x~

Takamiya wasn't much for glaring, but she had throw around some very hard looks as she'd walked with Fuyumi toward the court, moving slowly to allow for her crutches. Fuyumi had mastered them with the outstanding athleticism and sheer willpower she was known for, but it was still rough going over all the different terrains that comprised the tournament grounds.

Shimizu and Watanabe were very much for glaring, and did so at the slightest provocation, real or imagined. Fujimaru was quicker than usual to scowl, and even Katsuragi's expression was tight, guarded. Nakajima, vulnerable to the tension in the air, had her shoulders hunched and her brows furrowed over her pale gray eyes.

Only Tachibana seemed even remotely at ease. She sat by herself, stretching occasionally, her mouth straight. Takamiya had a feeling she was visualizing herself on the court, picturing herself winning. That's the way, thought Takamiya with some affection and a great deal of pride. Good girl.

The sub-regulars, normally chattering among themselves, were silent and watchful, as were the team's many supporters taking their seats in the stands. The cheering squad looked more ready to burn down a building than chant. Everyone knew how important this match was. Knew what was on the line. Knew what they had to prove, to defend.

Fuyumi had muttered as they'd walked to the tournament grounds, Rikkai has a pretty dismal track-record when it comes to captains, doesn't it.

"Takamiya-chan?"

She gave a start, whirled to find Yukimura behind her. The rest of the boys had shown up a little while ago, and she'd been slightly… put-out when he hadn't. Which was stupid. Now, looking at him, she offered a small, tentative smile. "Yukimura-kun. Hello."

"Hello," he smiled. Something told her he was troubled, but it wasn't her right to pry. "I just wanted to wish you luck."

As if you of all people take any stock in luck, Yukimura Seiichi, she thought, a little wary but mostly amused. "Thank you," she began, only to be cut off.

"Miaka," said a soft-as-snow voice. "There you are." Takamiya whirled again, this time to find her mother of all people.

For a moment she could only think numbly, We've entered an alternate dimension, one where people like my mother and Yukimura Seiichi are on the same plane of existence. Are in the same place, at the same time, within ten feet of each other. Why does this feel like the start of either a horror movie or a rom-com?

"… Mama," she said finally, eyes wide, "Mama, what are you doing here?" Very infrequently did her mother come to her matches: as a legal secretary, she worked herself to death six days a week. Providing for yourself and for a child was grueling when cost-of-living was as high as it was in Yokohama. Really, anywhere in Japan, perhaps the whole world. Being a single parent couldn't be easy no matter where you were.

Takamiya never wanted to be a parent.

Her mother smiled wanly. She looked far older than she was, with gray hair, a stooped back, and a face wrinkled like used tissue paper. No one would have guessed she'd only been twenty when she'd had her first and only child. "With poor Akari-chan hurt, I thought you could use my support."

But you should be resting, relaxing for once. You work so hard, and it's your one day off, Takamiya wanted desperately to say, but not in front of Yukimura, who was watching curiously. Everyone at Rikkai knew his family was well-off, that they lived in a house with two stories and a yard. She wasn't ashamed of her mother—she was proud of her—but she didn't want Yukimura to know that part of her life. Not when there was no way he could understand.

But her mother, with that same tired little smile, had already turned her attention to Yukimura. "And you are?"

"Yukimura Seiichi, ma'am." Hands at his sides, he performed the most graceful bow Takamiya had ever seen. "It's an honor to meet you."

"Thank you for taking care of my Miaka, Yukimura-kun."

His smile was enchanting while somehow modest. "It's quite the opposite, I assure you." Takamiya nearly choked on air at that. "May I escort you to your seat?"

"If you'd be so kind." And Takamiya, gaping like a fish out of water, watched as Yukimura Seiichi offered her mother his arm and helped her into the stands.

Her first instinct was to intervene, to knock his hand away and help her mother herself, but—

She hugged her arms to her chest. It's all right. It's all right. Mama's all right.

Maybe this really is the start of a horror movie, she thought dismally as she rejoined her team, who had watched the encounter with interest. And Yukimura kills his victims simply by making them feel too uncomfortable to live.

Unable to help it, she smiled a little. It seemed like something he would do.

~x~

"I can't believe it," Nomura said, shaking her head over the lineup sheet an official had just handed her. "You were right, Hayley. Takamiya's staying in Doubles One and Nakajima is taking Fuyumi's place. What are they thinking?" She sounded almost personally offended.

"Perhaps," Kato purred as she braided a long lock of pale hair, "they aren't." (If you hadn't gone and chopped it all off back in middle school, she'd needled Shishido earlier, I could have braided your hair, too. Wouldn't that have been special? That had earned her a very sour look.)

Ootori said, "To just throw together a doubles pair like that…" His disapproval was manifest in his delicate grimace. Sohma had noticed he could say a lot without talking much at all. Yamaguchi reached up and flicked his ear, earning a terribly affectionate, terribly exasperated look. "Yamaguchi-senpai."

She smiled like the cat that had swallowed the canary. "Chotarou." She spun on her heels, putting her back to him.

Sohma watched this with rapt attention and not just a little bit of wonder. Ootori had blown Yamaguchi's reputation as a maneater, giving as good as he got (though in a far quieter, more understated manner). That she was deeply devoted to and fond of Ootori was an anomaly, for Yamaguchi wrapped nearly all other boys around her little finger, drew them close and ate them whole.

Is there a class for that? Sohma thought wistfully, her gaze on Oshitari. Though truthfully she didn't want to be like Yamaguchi, just wanted Oshitari to notice her, smile at her, hold her hand. Be her first kiss.

She wanted that from him, and from one other, even more unlikely person.

Feeling sick to her stomach, she looked away as Oshitari approached to read the lineup sheet over Nomura's shoulder, his face beside hers.

~x~

"Oniisan suggested I come find you."

Sayoko let that hang for a moment as she and Niou considered each other. He'd been lying on a bench in a part of the grounds that, given how many teams hadn't progressed this far, wasn't being used, but had sat up at her approach. His expression was unreadable but his face spoke volumes: the shadows under his eyes, the hollows under his cheeks as if he'd lost just a little weight, just enough to make his face that much sharper.

Finally she went on, "He thought I should talk to you. He knew I wouldn't have otherwise." She tilted her head. "You must have said something that struck a chord with him. Something besides what you told him about Takada, maybe." Despite herself, her voice broke a bit over the dreaded name.

He heard that, of course, and rose smoothly to his feet but did not approach her. That was wise of him. "What? Are you going to tell me what my brother told me? That I shouldn't be afraid? That you won't let anyone hurt me?" She smiled thinly. "Aside from yourself, naturally."

"No." His voice was quiet. "You should be afraid. You'd be stupid not to be." Tilting his head just as she had, he added, too low for her to hear his tone, "It's all right to be afraid, Sayoko."

There it was. What she'd so desperately wanted to hear from her brother: It's all right to be afraid. Because she was afraid. Even a promise from her brother, which she'd always valued as the ultimate guarantee, an absolute certainty, had done nothing to abate that. Anxiously she yanked at the pocketwatch that hung from around her neck, its chain biting into her skin.

And Niou said, "I'm sorry." His clear, lovely eyes held hers with unwavering intensity. There was something very vulnerable about the set of his mouth. "I'm sorry, Sayoko."

She clasped her shaking hands behind her back. Swallowed hard. "For?"

"For hurting you."

"You should be." She watched him from the distance dividing them. He'd made no move to come any nearer to her, and was in fact standing remarkably still, the way you would when you wanted not to alarm a wild animal. Perhaps even wanted that wild animal to feel safe enough to edge closer.

If he'd tried to approach her, she would have bolted. Tried to take her in his arms, stroke her hair, she would have bit him.

But he was just standing there. Just waiting for her, waiting for what she would do next.

Whatcha gonna do now, sweetheart?

"I would be justified," she said evenly, "in walking away right now." He dipped his head in acknowledgment. "And I would be justified," she went on, "in calling you every name I can think of." Another person might have felt justified in slapping him across the face, but Sayoko didn't believe in hitting people. Not one bit. Deeply she regretted having tried to slap Kirihara.

"You would be," he agreed. "You could hurt me, Sayoko." He said it casually, as if he didn't care one way or the other, as if it wouldn't be a big deal. But just that he'd admitted that… "If you wanted to."

She'd begun to suspect as much, but here he was confirming it: that there were words in her arsenal, accusations she could make, that could hurt him. Upset him. Make him feel a fraction of what she'd felt. The playing-field still wasn't level, but this meant she was at least finally on it, finally an actual player instead of merely a pawn. She could hurt him. It should have made her feel better, feel triumphant, feel vindicated.

However.

She laughed unhappily. "I don't want to hurt you, Niou-senpai. That's the difference between us, isn't it?"

Taking her time, she walked over to him, counting each step. Seventeen steps, she thought as she came to a stop before him. Seventeen steps you didn't deserve, but that I chose to give to you anyway. Who's making the calls now? He regarded her wordlessly, and she peered up at him, raised her eyebrows. Sat down on the bench.

After a moment he sat beside her. His body language expressed that he would have held her had she wanted him to, would have cradled her to his chest and tucked her head under his chin. But there was an implicit power in holding someone else, wasn't there? She wasn't inclined to give that power to him.

In fact, she'd rather like to take it away from him, just this once.

And he looked so very tired.

Putting one of her hands in his and placing her other one on his shoulder, she had him stretch out until he was lying down as he had been when she'd first found him, though now his head was on her lap. He complied quietly, his eyes closed and his throat bare to her, a long, artful column that she traced with her fingertips.

At length she said, "A few days ago Atobe-senpai asked me to tell him who I am. At first all I could think of was who I wasn't." She smiled ruefully. "Take a wild guess who that was. But I've been thinking about it ever since. About who I am. And… and too often I thought of a girl who loves a boy so much she'll let him break her heart whenever the mood strikes him."

She placed her hand on his cheek, ran the pad of her thumb under his eye. Tried to smudge away the shadow there as he'd done to her what felt like so, so long ago. Make a wish.

"Niou-senpai… I won't be that girl anymore. Do you know why? Because I don't want to be."

She let her hand move to his hair, ran her fingers through it. Said, "But I can't help loving you, and I don't want to stop loving you. So you know what? I forgive you." She paused. "I want to be someone who forgives, and I think I already am that sort of person, at least when it comes to the people I love. I don't ever want to lose that part of me.

"So if you ever push me to the point where I really can't even justify or bear forgiving you…" She shook her head. "Niou-senpai. Don't ever push me to that point. Because it does exist, you know. The point where I won't forgive even you. And you came very close to it."

To look at me like I'm nothing to you, nothing at all… She shivered.

"I know." He lifted his head off her lap, sat up. Said, "Sayoko." Reaching out very slowly, so that she knew his intent and could shoot it down if she chose to, he took her face in his hands. Very slowly, as if at any moment he might just stop speaking entirely, he told her, "I'm letting you go. Sayoko?" His voice was soft, his face so stripped of emotion as to be raw like a wound. "I'm letting you go."

There was a world of meaning in that. I'm letting you go.

His mouth quirked. "And you've already let me go as well. Haven't you."

She hadn't thought of it like that, hadn't phrased it to herself in that way, but—tentatively, she nodded. Yes. Yes, I think I've finally let you go. Have I—is that what I've been trying to do all this time? How could it have happened without me even noticing? I've let you go.

For her own sake and perhaps even for his, she'd let him go. And goddamn did it hurt to realize, even if it also made her feel freer than she had in a long time.

He kissed her then. Kissed her forehead and her cheeks, her nose and her temples and her eyelids. Kissed her everywhere but her lips, for which she was thankful. She'd meant their first and only kiss to be a goodbye, to be closure, but it had only stoked her feelings for him. They couldn't have that anymore.

When his mouth accidentally brushed the still-sensitive flesh of her ear, she took in a breath, and with an aching tenderness he kissed each earlobe, but even then he wasn't finished. Taking her hands in his, he kissed the insides of her wrists, kissed her palms and her fingertips and her knuckles, and, his lips still lingering over them, said, "Just once." His voice was hoarse.

"I wanted to be able to do that," he said, "just once."

She knew immediately how much that simple admission had cost him.

Reclaiming her trembling hands, she placed them on his face, leaned forward and laid a single kiss to his forehead. Drew back, looked him in the eyes.

And she called him, "Sweetheart." And she meant, My darling, my dear, my love. My winter boy.

Winter boy, this is it for us.

Faintly, he smiled.

~x~

Yagyuu wasn't the only one who did a double-take when Niou and Sayoko walked over to the match holding each other's hands loosely, though he was more discreet about it than a lot of people. "Hi, Yagyuu-senpai," Sayoko said to him as they walked over to where he sat on the lowest level of the stands, reading a mystery novel as he waited for the match to begin. "What are you reading?"

She let go of Niou's hand when Yagyuu offered her the book, flipping it over to read the back, and the two boys looked at each other. At Yagyuu's raised eyebrows, Niou responded with a lethargic shrug, placing his hands in his pockets. Both he and Sayoko seemed drained, weary, but… complacent. Less strung-up, less strung-out. At ease with each other.

And Yagyuu thought with some amusement and a small amount of warmth, Niou Masaharu, you bastard. Keeping people on their toes by throwing in some positive behaviors and actions every once in a while.

Sayoko handed his book back to him. "Not to your taste?" he asked wryly.

"The butler did it," she told him. "I guarantee it."

"Groundbreaking," said Yagyuu and Niou together, the former with smooth cordiality and the former in a flat drawl. They were being equally sarcastic, but Niou didn't bother with pretense.

For some reason it made Sayoko beam at both of them. "I'm going to go say hi to An. I'll see you guys later." With another small smile just for Niou, she walked away.

The moment she was out of earshot, Yagyuu murmured, "But Niou-kun, to ruin your chaste reputation by being seen holding hands with a girl in public…" He shook his head regretfully. "The scandal. What will your mother think?"

"That she might finally have a shot at grandchildren," he deadpanned.

"You and Sayoko-chan would have very attractive offspring. Your mother would be thrilled."

Niou smirked. "Until the kid developed the Yukimura family's patented I-will-do-what-I-want-when-I-want-and-so-help-you-God-if-you-try-to-tell-me-otherwise look. By what age do you think they develop that? Two?"

"My question is when they learn to tailor it to fit specific social settings, whether that ability derives from nature or nurture. Really I'd like to see some multidisciplinary viewpoints on this phenomenon: Piaget's, Darwin's… Pavlov could run some interesting experiments."

"Though his subjects would be more inclined to behave like cats than dogs," Niou pointed out, his gaze on Sayoko's retreating back.

"And even then, more like tigers than anything," Yagyuu agreed. What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?

He pushed his glasses further up the bridge of his nose, considered Niou askance. A very shallow interpretation of Niou, based on how he conducted himself in public, was that he did not care about anyone or anything. If one were to examine him further, one might speculate that he actually cared very much how people thought of him, and for that reason pretended not to care at all.

In actuality, the shallowest interpretation was partly true: Niou honestly did not give a damn what the general population thought of him. That was why he wasn't at all concerned that people's perception of him as entirely aloof and apathetic was compromised by this most recent public display of affection for Sayoko, or by the handful of other such displays he'd made in the past.

What mattered to Niou was what he thought of himself, what he'd built himself up to be in his mind. His conception and construction of self.

That, it seemed, he'd let go of. At least partly.

When did you begin to grow up, Niou Masaharu?

"Don't look now," said Niou lowly, "but you've got an admirer." Sure enough, Katsuragi, from where she stood with the rest of her team, was eyeing him with undisguised… well, he couldn't actually identify the look on her face, only knew that she wasn't bothering to hide it, which was uncharacteristic, especially since he hadn't even provoked her. There was some manner of a challenge in the tilt of her head, the position of her hips.

Niou sighed. "It kills me to see you kids mature so fast, it really does."

But Yagyuu wasn't listening to him. Instead he thought, smirking inwardly, Careful, lava girl. You'll burn yourself up.

~x~

"Have you done any spying on them for me?" asked An lightly as Sayoko approached, nodding toward the stands opposite their own. Hyotei students kept arriving in droves, as if they were flocking to their Holy Land. "Any weaknesses I should know about?"

"When you play, wear something shiny. All Hyotei students are distracted by shiny things. The cleaning staff don't polish the floors or windows because otherwise we'd all just go crazy."

It was strange, to hear Sayoko refer to herself as a part of Hyotei. What was stranger was how… peaceful she seemed just then, as if some great source of anxiety had dissipated. An had seen her holding hands with Niou, and had about a million questions and concerns about that, but none she would get into now, not right before the match. Instead she noted, "You got your ears pierced a second time? I like it."

"Thanks," Sayoko smiled, fingering the earrings. "My favorite senpai took me to get it done. I want you to meet her soon, maybe after you've won. She actually reminds me a little of you."

"I like to think I'm one of a kind," An said, but really she was thinking uneasily, I should tell her. Tell her that I think of her brother as my own, consider him my own. How would Sayoko react?

How would An react if someone told her that about her brother?

Even if she would have mustered the courage to say something, she lost her chance. "The quarterfinal match between first seed Rikkai Dai High School and second seed Hyotei Academy will now commence," said an official over the loudspeakers. "Both teams, please line up on the court."

Sayoko stepped back. Said simply, "Get 'em."

An would. With a quick salute, she got to her feet and took her place in the lineup, Katsuragi to her left and Shimizu to her right. Across from her, in the Singles Two slot, stood a tall, willowy girl with green eyes and long red hair. She offered An a small smile that went unreturned. After they'd bowed and shaken hands, the girl said, "I'm Sohma Tsukushi. Is Yukimura Sayoko a friend of yours? I saw her talking to you."

"Uh huh," said An dismissively. Sohma must have seen Sayoko around school.

The petite girl shaking hands with Katsuragi had the bluest hair An had ever seen, and the girl An recognized as Nomura Sana was facing off with Shimizu. "Give Fuyumi my condolences," said Nomura placidly. Somehow her acne scars made her look tough, as if she'd gotten them in a fight instead.

Shimizu grinned. It was a decidedly unfriendly expression. "I will. Please accept mine as well. After all, now you'll never know whether or not you could have beaten her." She shrugged, the grin disappearing. "Though I'll go ahead and spoil it for you: you wouldn't have."

"Just as you couldn't beat her?" asked Nomura mildly. "Really, her injury must be something of a relief for you. You finally deserve your spot in Singles One now that you're finally the strongest player on the team." Her bland smile was incredibly off-putting. "I'm proud of you, Shimizu. I really am."

"Are you? Then you'll be over the fucking moon when I crush you to a pulp."

On which note Shimizu turned smartly on her heel and exited the court, An and all the other girls falling in line behind her. An didn't bother to conceal her broad grin, instead wore it like a badge. She followed Shimizu to the coach's bench where Fuyumi sat. "That went well, I take it," Fuyumi observed, her broken leg meticulously arranged before her. "Or else Tachibana's been affected by the heat."

"Probably both," Shimizu shrugged.

An let her mad grin fade as she asked seriously, "What sort of a person is Nomura Sana? She's so… I just don't even know."

Fuyumi and Shimizu shared a speaking look. "You'll notice," Fuyumi said, "that there are nearly two hundred girls on Hyotei's team, but Nomura didn't register a reserve player. At least one of those sub-regulars has to be good enough to merit the spot."

"Instead," Shimizu took over, "by not fielding a reserve, Nomura chooses to take a huge risk in order to make an even bigger statement. Wouldn't expect that sort of thing from her just by looking at her, huh?" She scratched at her nose. "If that tells you anything about Nomura Sana."

It did, although— "Now that Nakajima-senpai's playing doubles, we don't have a reserve either," An felt compelled to point out, though she wasn't sure who they would have made the new reserve. She thought of what that sub-regular from the boys' team had asked her the day before: Aside from you and that Fujimaru Imari, do you even know who else will be starting next year?

"Nakajima's so good we couldn't just let her remain a sub-regular," said Fuyumi calmly. She looked more awake than An had ever seen her before noon. "If we have someone that good, we make them the reserve, but otherwise…"

"We're Rikkai." Shimizu stretched her arms behind her back with a loud crack. "We don't need to count on a reserve."

~x~

"So, Tsukushi-chan?" Oshitari asked as the girls stepped off the court. "What do you think of your opponent?"

Ishii could tell Sohma was thrilled Oshitari had initiated a conversation with her, but disappointed she had nothing more to offer than, "She's sort of rude."

Atobe laughed quietly. "Rikkai's really had an impact on An-chan, hasn't it."

Sohma blinked. "An-chan? You know her, Atobe-senpai?"

"We have a rather illustrious history," he said with heavy irony.

Ishii wasn't terribly interested in Atobe's illustrious history. She said brightly, "I think I'm going to enjoy playing Katsuragi Mikuzu." The green-eyed girl had looked at her with such cool indifference… When Shishido opened his mouth, she held up a hand. "You're about to say 'Good for you' in a really snide voice. Don't even."

He threw his shoulders back and made to retort hotly, but before he could Ogawa Kohana, as she was tightening her shoelaces, said casually, "Maybe we should present a united front, you know?" She tipped her head toward Rikkai, her gelled, pixie-cut black hair not moving even slightly. "They certainly are."

Ogawa rarely made an idle remark, so most of the team was inclined to listen when she spoke. Furthermore, she was right: none of the Rikkai girls were bantering among themselves. Instead they stood near-silently as their Doubles Two players, Watanabe and Fujimaru, prepared to get on the court.

"They're…" Hayley struggled for a moment, chewing a piece of hair. "I don't know a word or phrase for it in Japanese," she admitted at last. "Wolves, maybe." Looking back at Rikkai, she said again, more softly, "Wolves. Yes.

"They're wolves."


Thank you for the reviews! Will reply shortly. Next chapter is actual tennis. I'm trying for a blend of real!tennis and magic!tennis... we'll see what happens.

Meta on Yukimura and Marui is posted to the tumblr for this story. Let me know if there's anything else specifically you guys would like to read about!

Disclaimer: I do not own Prince of Tennis, or A Great Big World's "Say Something" (lyrics at the top).