Kaleidoscope – Whispers II

Disclaimer: Still don't own a thing from this series.

A/N: What? An update? No way! -.- Anyway, this is SUPPOSED to be a collection of DIFFERENT one-shots, but somehow I ended up doing the same story back-to-back, so here you are. I may or may not make this its own separate fic.

Their exchange the night before flashes in his memory the moment he sets his eyes on her.

His mouth was hanging slightly agape, but no words passed through his lips. He wasn't sure what he was expecting to hear, but that had not been a possibility.

"What's the matter, Yukihira? Shouldn't you be happy? Now, you don't have to choose."

"Choose?" he asked stupidly, unnecessarily, habitually.

She merely smiled bitterly and rolled away from him. He wanted to reach out to her, to tell her to come back, but his hand remained frozen at his side. "Don't," she had said to him.

"I'm sure you know how to show yourself out."

They sit next to each other in all their shared classes, something that probably occurred more subconsciously than not. For a pair of people not on the greatest terms, they certainly had a tendency to drift towards one another. He never minded the proximity, but his routine is about to be disrupted and he doesn't know how to salvage it. He elects to mimic his usual casualness.

"Yo, Nakiri! Did you finish that essay?" he grins cheekily, pulling out his chair and situating himself next to her. For a second, he sees her seat flash empty, and his smile falters just a bit.

"Yukihira," Erina greets slowly, eyeing him cautiously. "What does my progress on my assignment have to do with you?"

He leans in closer, catching her scent, and nearly reels back. She had never been one to drench herself in perfumes, but her natural fragrance sends an aching familiarity through him that, he now notes, won't always be there anymore.

"Hmm, thought maybe you could let me copy it later," he jokes lightly, pulling away to put some distance between them.

His action doesn't go unnoticed, and she studies him briefly before responding in tedium, "As if, Yukihira. Do your own work."

When he finishes dinner that night, he considers visiting Erina. He pauses at the front door, hand grasping the knob, and ponders yet again how the strawberry-blonde with a tsundere streak managed to wiggle herself into his life. She is so ingrained in his everyday life that his body naturally seeks to be near her. But what is he to do when she's no longer around? When he can't reach her via a short bike ride anymore?

It's then that he hears the clamoring of dishes in the kitchen, and he sidles towards the noise for the needed distraction. There, he finds Tadokoro cleaning up the remnants of dinner. She doesn't see him right away, so he takes a minute to appreciate the hard work she puts into everything she does, including mundane tasks such as washing plates and bowls.

Tadokoro Megumi is beautiful in her own way. She's a shining ray of purity, an angel descended from the heavens to spread warmth and love to all she touches. While she isn't always confident about herself, she provides unwavering support for her friends. Her laughter and optimism is contagious. Surely, any guy would be beyond lucky to claim her as his. He knows this.

Leaning against the doorway, the rickety frame squeaks to alert her of his presence, and she makes a similar noise upon hearing it. "S-Soma-kun! What are you doing here?"

So kind, so gentle, so constant. He knows Tadokoro will always be there for him. "Do you need any help with the dishes?"

"A-Ah, you don't have to," she replies selflessly, as flustered as she always is when she's alone with him. She averts her gaze and stares at the soap-filled sink, and he suspects she's wringing her hands beneath the suds. "D-Don't you have somewhere to go?"

He stops himself before he can wonder how much of his routine she's aware of. "No, not today."

He doesn't sit next to Erina anymore. In fact, he places himself a few seats away so that it's difficult for him to even glimpse her. He hasn't been to her room since the night she told him of her departure either, and that was a week ago.

They also do not speak to each other unless it's to exchange simple pleasantries when it comes to Elite Ten matters. While it's nothing ostentatious, rumors about them being in a fight flourishes throughout the younger generations.

Because two days after changing seats, Erina approaches him about ditching meetings for the council. He answers as if she isn't actually asking about his behavior.

On the third day, he walks Tadokoro Megumi to class and is deliberately late to his own.

On the fourth, he eats lunch with Tadokoro, does council work with her, and gives her a ride home on his bike.

He had always gone to school with Tadokoro, but now he does everything with her, and everyone notices.

He finds her sitting cross legged on the desk of an empty lecture hall. She has one arm draped over her abdomen and the other is propped on top of it, holding a book within her hand. He recognizes it to be the latest shoujo manga series she's been obsessing over. Normally, he'd tease her for indulging in such commoner activities, but nothing about their current situation is typical.

"Nakiri," he greets in mock surprise. She flips the page of her comic. "Fancy meeting you here. What a strange coincidence."

But he knows it's not by chance that she was waiting for him in the classroom he frequented during his break. Afterall, she's been there a number of times herself, and those memories replay vividly in his head.

However, unlike their previous meetings here, he doesn't intend for it to end in a love affair.

She acknowledges his arrival only when he shuts the door behind him, lowering the manga to her lap. Her orchid eyes observe him with reticent disdain and he masks his with stringent apathy.

She speaks first.

"So?" Her tone is curt and crisp as she holds his gaze.

"So, what?" he says, feigning ignorance. He leans against the wall just left of the door, effectively staying hidden should any curious eyes peer through its small window.

Erina looks displeased, but continues, her finely manicured nails crinkling the cover of her book. "So...That's it? I tell you I'm leaving and you just...disappear?"

"I haven't gone anywhere."

Without hesitating, she chucks her book at him, impatience lacing through her words. "Drop the act, Yukihira. You know what I'm talking about."

He catches the manga effortlessly.

Images of her pressed beneath him on that very table, legs spread to accommodate his intrusion, swim across his vision and beg him to call a ceasefire on the separation he's imposing on the two of them. He craves to touch her, but his body won't move and she won't always be there. He can't justify the continuation of their rendezvous beyond his blatant desire to be next to her.

"Why does it matter?" he shrugs carelessly, albeit slightly vexed, tossing the book back to its owner. "Wasn't it always a temporary thing?"

She momentarily grows flustered, scrambling to catch the paperback, and had the scenario been different, he would've found it endearing. But since it is what it is, he capitalizes on her reaction.

"Nakiri," he starts, careful to drag out the pause to emphasize his fabricated epiphany, "You didn't think it was more than that, did you?"

Her face turns deathly pale in pure horror and trepidation. "A-Absolutely not!"

"Whew," he sighs in relief, exaggeratingly wiping the sweat from his brow, "Because it was a pretty convenient arrangement for me too."

She's unable to keep the waver out of her voice. "Convenient?"

He approaches her then, finally, and in one swift movement, spreads her thighs apart by her knees. She's too stunned to resist as he comes between her legs, hitching one on his hip, and anchors her back to the desk with his weight.

"So convenient," he whispers lowly into her ear, fingers imprinting themselves in her flesh. His lips skim down the length of her neck, and his free hand plays with the buttons on her blouse, threatening to undo them with the flick of a wrist. In a panic, she shoves him off her.

The contempt in her eyes hits him like a punch to his gut.

"What was I thinking?" he chuckles humorlessly, straightening and willing himself to go through with his ruse. "Of course you wouldn't fall for me. You're not like Tadokoro."

He can almost feel the way her blood runs cold as her pupils constrict and her expression morphs from disgust to disbelief to utter detachment. The assumptions she draws from his word are akin to locking her back in the cage he's been coaxing her out of, and while regret seeps through the pores of his skin, he doesn't attempt to reconcile her misunderstandings.

She tucks her comic book tightly within her arms and pushes herself off the desk and onto her feet.

"I see," she murmurs, regarding him impassively. He catches the wry smile on her face as she turns away. "Guess I was never good enough for you, was I?"

He forces himself not to follow as she brushes past him and exits the room.

"You don't need to walk me to every class, Soma-kun," Tadokoro giggles pleasantly. Her delight radiates from every part of her, from her gleaming, sundrop eyes to the bounce in her steps. It lifts his spirit, and he nearly convinces himself that this is where he's meant to be.

"It's not every class. Besides, I have a free period right now," he reasons lightheartedly. He glances at their hands dangling side-by-side, and wonders how different her dainty fingers would feel between his, compared to the ones that would tightly grasp onto him in need. The marks she left on his skin are probably gone now, he realizes.

He looks ahead and his stomach uncomfortably churns. He sees her approaching from the other end of the hall, and he knows she spotted him as well when she lifts her chin up just a little higher. He wants to laugh; her ability to exude confidence despite feeling otherwise is enviable.

He supposes they aren't that different after all.

Hands in his pockets and attention purposely set on his dormmate, he strolls past her like she isn't there.

He pretends that he doesn't see the way Arato Hisako glowers at him, demanding acknowledgment. He pretends he doesn't hear the increase in whispers from the surrounding student body. He smiles at Tadokoro when she tugs worriedly at his sleeve, and innocently asks her what's wrong. She is too courteous and too timid to voice what everyone else is thinking, and for that, he is thankful.

He pretends he doesn't know what he is doing to the First Seat who's clutching her books just a bit closer to her chest.

He and Tadokoro are on their way back to the dorm when she questions him.

"Is…everything alright? Between you and…Nakiri-san?"

He puts on a placid front, slinging his case of knives over his shoulders. "Hmm? Of course. Why wouldn't it be?"

She twiddles her thumbs anxiously, toes shifting inward. "You guys don't…talk anymore, it seems."

There's a jolt inside his chest that he rushes to bury before he can identify what it is.

"We never had that kind of relationship to begin with."

Though spoken truthfully, he instantaneously recognizes the flaw in his choice of words when all he hears is a quiet lull. She's no longer next to him, and he turns around to find her appearing rather apprehensive.

And then he sees it: the autumn leaves falling gracefully around the girl whose blue hair is fluttering like wings in the wind. They encircle her, a medley of red, orange, and yellow augmenting the beauty that is typically hidden behind a demure temperament. It's exquisite, and the very antithesis of the storm that wontedly ensnares him.

"What kind of relationship do you have with her, Soma-kun?" she asks mutely, the blood draining from the knuckles on her hands as she grips her own bag. There's a hopeful tinge in her tone, and she waits with bated breath for his response. She loves him; he knows this, and so he pushes the image of the girl with the sassy tongue and fearless conviction aside in favor of the one standing before him now.

"Not like us."

Like a moth to a flame, he closes the distance between them with a few short strides. Her eyes, so bright and a near mirror of his, enlarge in astonishment. Weaving his fingers through her cobalt locks and tugging her flushed against him, he seals his lips over hers with empty promises.

The ache within his rib cage amplifies.

Erina finally calls for a meeting with all the Elite Ten members. For the first time in years, the whole council is made up of third years.

Being the Second Seat, Soma is situated to the right of Erina, much to her chagrin.

"Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for coming." The First Seat taps a small pile of paper onto the table, straightening it, before laying it down. "I know it's sudden, but I have an announcement to make."

Across from him, the Third Seat, Hayama Akira, raises an eyebrow. "We're not making changes to the Fall Elections, are we?"

"No, but it will affect it." Erina hands the stack of papers to Hayama, for him to take one and pass along. "After the elections are over and done with, I will be transferring out of Totsuki to pursue my culinary education abroad."

Nakiri Alice, Sixth Seat, bangs her fists on the table and stands, her chair screeching harshly on the wooden floor. "What? Why? This isn't another plan Uncle Azami has concocted for you, is it?"

Soma struggles to refrain from snorting. Correct.

"No, Alice, I assure you it's my own choice," Erina calmly states, and he almost chokes on his own spit. What? That's not right.

"Eh? You're leaving?" he says instead, feigning bewilderment. He leans back in his chair, hands laced behind his head to hide the rigidity in his fingers. "Does that mean I inherit the first seat?"

Soma has always prided himself on being observant, yet even he is surprised at how well he catches the tremble in her lips before she speaks. "Absolutely not. I will be accepting all shokugekis for my spot up until the week before my departure. If you look at the paper I gave you," she stares pointedly at him as Tadokoro passes the sheet to him, "it will include the slight change in responsibilities to accommodate the increase in challenges I'm anticipating."

"And what if no one beats you?" Aldini Takumi, Eighth Seat, inquires. Soma interrupts before she can reply.

"Don't worry, that won't happen," he smirks, cockily, grateful for the distraction from the strawberry-blonde as the ten seats rile up in a debate.

Alice catches him outside the meeting room, hand slamming into the wall as if to block his escape route. A fruitless effort; he doesn't intend to run, but she won't get the response she's searching for either.

"You knew, didn't you?" she demands, pale face glowing red in fury. Kurokiba Ryo stands silently beside her, slouched over with his hands in his pockets. However, Soma can feel his inquisitive gaze beneath the usual aloofness. "That's why the two of you have been acting strange lately."

It's frightening how accurate the molecular gastronomist could be. "She mentioned it in passing the other day," he shrugs, and immediately Alice grabs a fistful of his shirt and jerks him down to her eye level.

"So what are you doing?" Her tone is low and threatening, crimson orbs brimming with tears. To say she's livid would've been an understatement. He considers playing dumb, but she's looking at him like she's staring straight into his soul. He's a bit too astounded to say anything, honestly, yet whatever she saw has her grinding her teeth. "You're not giving up on her, are you!?"

Before he can retort, a hand reaches between them and settles on top of Alice's. For a split second, he thinks it's Kurokiba intervening, but the fingers are too elegant and effeminate to be his. It makes him freeze up; he thought she had left with Hishoko already.

"Alice," Erina soothes, voice steady, gently loosening her cousin's grip on his clothes, "There's no need for you to waste your time on a lowly being like him. Why don't we grab dinner? I'm sure you have a lot to say to me."

Instantly, Alice's mood shifts, and she's back to her usual self, pouting to the blonde. "You're so mean, Erina! How could you not tell me that you're leaving?" She clings onto her cousin's arm and leads her away, the Fourth Seat trailing diligently behind.

Soma knows she's simply trying to not put more stress on Erina, and the evil eye she shoots at him as the three of them round the corner is a warning of his demise. He doesn't care though, because Alice is just being a loving cousin, and Kurokiba is just being supportive of his girlfriend.

But Erina did not spare him a glance during the entire exchange, and suddenly, he feels sick.

It's a bit harder being in the Polar Star dorm once the news of the Nakiri Erina's departure went public. Speculations about him and the First Seat spread like wildfire, and even the first years in his dorm, who used to have the utmost faith in him, shoot him doubtful looks during dinner. Consequently, he shows up a little later, and only Tadokoro stays with him until he finishes his meal.

"Soma-kun..." Tadokoro starts carefully, and the uncertainty in her eyes is clear. He knows what she wants to ask: how long he's known about Erina, and if it correlates with his actions recently. But he doesn't have an answer for her, doesn't want to answer her.

So he takes a mouthful of his meal, looking at her in acknowledgment as he chews just a little louder. He grins brightly through stuffed cheeks, hoping to hide his own indecision.

She looks startled, arms tucked to her chest. "A-Ah, how's the food?"

"It's delicious! You really are a great cook, Tadokoro!"

"Thank you, Soma-kun," she replies shyly, scrunching up her skirt within her palms. "Um, you know, you can always talk to me…about anything. I'll listen." Suddenly, her eyes widen, as if she caught herself overstepping boundaries, and her hands shoot up in defense. "O-Only if you want to, of course!"

He thinks how easy it would be to love her. Sweet Megumi, loving Megumi. Small town guy with the small town girl, right? So, so easy...

He hopes she doesn't catch the way his fingers tighten around his chopsticks even as he smiles kindly at her.

"Tadokoro…Thanks. You always seem to know how to make me feel better."

The smile she returns is wistful; her eyes somber.

"You know, you're driving a wedge between the Elite Ten," Takumi voices nonchalantly, effectively summarizing the past week, "And probably the whole school, too, now that I think about it."

It's lunchtime, mere days after Erina's announcement, and Soma figured eating with a guy lessens the likelihood of having to discuss his current predicament. Apparently, he was wrong, and so he tries to make light of his own frustrations. "I don't understand why. It's not that big of a deal." Nor their business, he finishes mentally, picking at the food in his bento box. Sausages, eggs, and an onigiri.

"You're right, it's not our business," the blond affirms, absentmindedly twirling his pasta around his fork and resting his chin on his propped up hand. While Soma is stunned—he's sure he hadn't spoken that last part out loud—Takumi looks bored. "But as friends, it does affect us." Taking a large bite of the noodles, he points his now spotless fork at the redhead. "Besides, the three of you are as obvious as a circus parade."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Soma deadpans, glaring indiscreetly at his friend from across the table. Takumi remains unfazed.

"No one may know the exact details of your relationships, but one thing is for sure: you need to make a choice. Tadokoro doesn't deserve your asinine treatment and Nakiri will leave you behind if you don't say anything."

At the reminder of her departure, Soma tenses. She was one of the first people he met at the academy, and she was his initial motivation to thrive there. She still hasn't even praised one of his dishes! How will he catch up to her if she leaves? Would he truly be the same without her there to fuel his ambition?

"So what if she's leaving?" he grumbles, grabbing a sausage between his chopsticks and popping it into his mouth. "It doesn't affect me all that much."

Instead of answering the question, the older Aldini brother begins packing up his lunch. "While the First Seat is amazing on her own, I think you considerably helped push her to where she is now."

What in the world—

"Just as she did you."

Damn mind reader.

He sees it during their Regulations course. It's barely noticeable, but it's there: a purplish-blue discoloration wrapping around her wrist. It makes his heart constrict and dread pool at the bottom of his stomach, and immediately, he curses himself for not being more attentive.

It's difficult, near impossible really, to catch her without her aide, especially now that they're never-that-great relationship had taken a dive off the deep end (his fault, he knows), yet he manages to corner her on her way to the council room.

He had known she would be shocked, but he is completely unprepared for the terror that crosses her visage. Her face is white, lips quivering as she searches for words to speak. He can see the sweat forming on her forehead.

He pauses, but pushes through, slowly reaching out to cradle her forearm and lift the sleeve of her jacket. "Erina, what's this? Did your father do this to you?" His tone is borderline murderous, and even he is startled at how angry he is. He makes the mistake of tracing the mark, and she snatches her hand back.

He's unable to differentiate whether the pained look in her eyes is caused by him or Azami. Perhaps she can't tell the difference either.

The realization hits him like a wrecking ball and he steps forward, wanting to be the one to caress her, console her, hold her. But she flinches away, pressing further into the wall behind her, and the dull compression in his chest becomes a stabbing agony.

"Erina, I'm sorry." The words tumble out of him before he can stop them, but he can't stand her looking at him like that. "I didn't mean to—"

Then, as if something inside her snaps, the blood rushes to her face and her eyes narrow in slits at him. The expression she's giving him is chilling, cold and emotionless, and he's desperate for the warmth he's accustomed to from her.

"Get out of my way, Yukihira," she spat vehemently. The degree of hostility and resentfulness stops him in his tracks, and she takes the opportunity to slip past him.

"Have you ever hurt someone without meaning to?" Soma asks, tugging at the roots of his hair as his head rests on his palms. He doesn't know how long he's been sitting there, but it feels like hours, and he assumes it's approximately midnight by now.

Tadokoro has been sitting dutifully across the kitchen table ever since he dragged himself home. He was late to dinner, again, but she waited for his arrival to eat together with him. When he refused to go up to his room, she brought her homework down to busy herself with. He thinks she's too kind, close to a fault.

He hears her pencil stop moving mid-sentence as she gives him her undivided attention.

"Um, well, I'm not sure—"

He doesn't let her finish. "It wasn't that I was completely unaware. I just didn't mean to go that far."

There's a creak in the chair as she bolts upright. "You hurt this person...on purpose?"

"...Yeah. I did."


He stares past her and sees the reflection of himself in the window. His hair is disheveled, dark circles are forming beneath his eyes, and he looks down right miserable. He finds it a tad comical; how could he have gone through summer break effortlessly yet not withstand mere weeks away from her?

"We had a problem that I didn't want to face."

He technically has many problems that he's been unabashedly avoiding, and from the way Tadokoro chews on her bottom lip, he can tell she's unsure which situation - with her or Erina - he's talking about. He suppresses a cringe; he has to tread carefully to minimize any repercussions.

"I'm sure...if you talk to this person, they'll understand."

The suggestion elicits a bitter laugh from him, and he thinks back to his last encounter with Erina. "I don't think I can stand seeing her look at me like that again."

Eyes widening in realization before darkening in bereavement, Tadokoro swallows inaudibly, forcing herself to ask, "Her…Are you talking about Nakiri-san?"

It's his moment of truth. He knows he can't stall the upcoming conversation any longer. "Yes."

"Is it because she's leaving?"


"Did you know?" Before you kissed me? "Before she announced it at the meeting?"

"...I did."

"Do you love her?"

"I…No? I don't know. I never thought about it. We didn't have that kind of relationship." He can almost feel Tadokoro wince at his familiar response.

Her hands wring together as she considers her next words. "You're different now, Soma-kun," she begins unsurely, as if speaking those thoughts made them all the more real. The look she bears is one of resignation. "Suddenly, you're always beside me, always keeping me company as I go to class or run errands. And at first, it made me really happy. But when you looked at me, you weren't really there; you were troubled with something. It wasn't until the announcement that I realized why."

She pauses, inhales, and releases a shuddering breath.

"But it's okay." Soma tilts his head in confusion, but she continues unfazed. "I can support you, if you'll let me."

The air is suddenly thick, hot, and muddy. He knows she's offering herself to him, had always known she would if he's being honest. But when he looks ahead, it isn't her he sees by his side, pushing and guiding him. It isn't her that he finds himself seeking and reaching out to. It isn't her that flashes in his mind when he pictures his future.

As if she saw what he saw, she turns away from him, her chair scraping lightly on the kitchen floor.

"Is it because…I'm too soft spoken?"

He jerks his head up, the whiplash nearly snapping his neck.

"Tadokoro…What are you…?"

"I'm not strong or brave. I'm not gifted with unprecedented talent. My cooking…satisfies Totsuki's requirements, but next to hers, they can't even be compared."

Bile rises in his throat as he listens, fists clenching by his side. Tadokoro Megumi had gone a long way, achieved milestones among milestones, since he first met her. To see her speak of herself in such a demeaning manner makes his stomach churn sickeningly.

He all but jumps out of his chair, taking two, big strides to her and pulling her into his arms. "You are strong! And your cooking has always been amazing! All you needed was confidence. Once you had that, everyone recognized your abilities as a chef!"

"It's because of you, Soma-kun," she exhales, weakly grabbing onto his shirt, her weight precariously balanced between her core and his hold, "that I gained that confidence. Without you, I would have failed out long ago."

"That's not true-"

"You were my anchor to Totsuki. You showed me what path to take and encouraged me to keep moving forward. I could have never thanked you enough for that, but I," her fingers pinch the fabric a little more roughly, "I always wanted to become someone that could stand next to you."

He takes her by the shoulder and shakes her lightly until she's looking at him. "You always were! You're not inferior to anyone, Tadokoro!"

She stares at him with disbelieving eyes. "Nakiri-san is so graceful and forward. She doesn't hesitate to go after what she wants."

Her eyes bore into his, and he sees what she won't ask.

Why her?

"If I…If I was assertive too, would you look at me the way you do her?"

"Tadokoro, stop-"

"If I became a challenge to you, would it make you want to chase after me?"

Why not me?

"I didn't-"

"If I wasn't so plain, if I could stand out of the crowd, would you have chosen me to love?"

He thought she had been content with how she was, with the kindness and values her hometown had instilled in her, but he never noticed how she scrutinized herself, how she mentally picked herself apart to fit him, to go as far as think that emulating another persona would draw him to her.

He feels like a jerk. An inconsiderate, selfish, lowly pile of dirt. He wants to tell her that she's beautiful and out of this world, that her laughter both calms and brightens everyone's mood. Yet, while it's true, he knows that's not what she wants to hear.

But he can't give her what she wants. He thought he could, but it's not her he aches to touch, not her that invades his thoughts night and day, not her that he strives to please when he's in front of the stove. And she deserves more than someone who would only love her half-heartedly.

"Tadokoro…I'm sorry."

Her lips are quivering, a sad smile tugging at the corner in which they meet. Her eyes shimmer in restrained despair and desperate hope.

"Won't you let me try?"

She's on her tiptoes, pressing her lips firmly to his, but the action is still meek, so Tadokoro-like, that when he kisses her back, it's out of commiseration, and not passion, not love.

"Why am I never good enough?" she whispers shakily against his lips before pulling away and lowering to her original height, eyes refusing to meet his gaze as they remained downcast. The tears come instantly, torrenting down her cheeks like a raging waterfall, and the words on the tip of his tongue, meant to console her, die like the sun's ray dipping under the horizon.

So he envelops her in his arms, holding her steady as sobs wracked her body. Her tiny hands clutch mercilessly at his sweater, grip tightening and loosening, only to tighten again. Against the moistness on his skin, soaking from his wrinkled shirt and negligence, he can feel her heart breaking.

He takes his old seat next to Erina in class today. She's beyond startled, repulsed even, and looks tempted to cause a scene if it weren't for the increase in onlookers. However, Nakiri Erina is nothing if not prideful, and she settles for seething at him through gritted teeth.

"What kind of game are you playing?"

He props his legs on the table and leans back in his chair. Giving her a deceptively carefree look, he answers quite seriously, "I'm not playing any games. Not anymore at least."

She's burning to protest, to let him have it, to give him an earful of how despicable of a person he is, and he knows he deserves every insult she would've hurled at him.

But the teacher walks in, and with great hesitance and regret, she turns forward in her seat and remains silent

"I really am sorry, Erina," he whispers to her, watching her from his peripheral. The only indication he receives that she hears him is the pause in her note-taking.

He's relieved she hasn't moved away from him.

He's outside her room, knuckles ready to rap on her door, when he decides to just trudge in instead. It's been three weeks of them acting like strangers, and he doesn't want to add this small detail to the list.

Nonetheless, his timing is either ridiculously spot on or atrociously off, because the door swings open to reveal the Totsuki Princess clad in nothing but her undergarments. Her scream is imminent, and he instinctively shuts the door behind him to muffle the noise from the rest of the household. Displeased, her cheeks flame crimson, and she grabs her discarded blazer in an attempt to cover herself up.

"Y-Yukihira! What have I told you about knocking before walking into a girl's room?" she scolds, and for a moment, there's a simulation of normalcy that appeases him.

"I only walk into yours, and again, nothing I haven't seen before," he teases, but his words are honest. The casualness he has with her is with her alone.

She still looks embarrassed, staring at him defiantly, but the silence quickly sobers her up. She drops her school uniform, brushing by him to hang it on the coatrack before going to her dresser to pull out a light blue slip. Tugging on her nightgown, she takes a seat on her bed, arms crossing over her bust as she regards him with caution. It's difficult for him to not picture the various times he shared the space with her.

"Well?" she demands, tapping her foot impatiently. "What are you here for?"

He blames his habits for his want to touch her, to skim his hand up her leg and trail his lips from her exposed shoulder to her ear. He knows how to make her head drop backwards and her chest arch forward, knows what makes her toes curl and fingers dig into the sheets. Her soft and supple skins molds into his body like water does to the earth, and her breathy moans are caused by him, and no one else. Never anyone else.

He suspects the feeling of possessiveness comes about when one is afraid to lose something, and he's certainly very terrified of losing her.

Steeling his resolve, he meets her gaze with unrivaled confidence.

"I want to challenge you to a shokugeki."

Word Count: 5756

Special Thanks: SUPER DUPER HUGE THANKS to applecherry for proofreading this a year ago, and again recently. Her feedback has been invaluable and she's just awesome in general! Also, another big thank you to | Hypocrisy | for reading through this awhile back and sharing his thoughts on it with me! I don't know what I would do without you guys! My fiancé (yeah, still not married yet, but we have a date! But it won't be until next year :X) refused to proofread this chapter because I told him Megu gets rejected. Did I mention that he's a SoMegu supporter? Whoops.

And of course, THANK YOU FOR ALL YOUR REVIEWS! You guys are amazing, and I apologize for taking so long to update! I really appreciate all your continued support. Hopefully you guys enjoyed this chapter too. The previous chapter was just meant to be a one-shot for me to work on writing smut, but your encouragements prompted me to write more. I'm still trying things out, hence the difference in the way this part was written. Should another chapter come along, I'm thinking it will be in Erina's POV. As for this one, I hope you all hated Soma. XD

As always, PLEASE REVIEW. You know I love getting feedback, and I love, love, love that you guys take the time to do so!

Thank you so much for reading!

-Intangibly Yours