"Thanks for the ride ol' Big Ben," Ryoka was handed a bag of hers from the trunk as she tried to pull her tennis bag off of the floor of the car. "Will, you shoved my bag under the seat with those gargantuan feet of yours."

"Yeah? Well, you refused to sit in the middle and I had to put my feet somewhere."

"But the window seat is the best seat—plus you could just look over me."

"True, you're short enough, pipsqueak."

Ryoka winced comically, "Damn it. I walked right into that one."

"Enough with the pointless banter you two." Benjamin rumbled a deep laugh and closed the driver's seat door, "Now, wake the brick up and let's get going. We gotta wait in a line for an hour and I don't want you to miss your flight."

"I'll do the honours Dad," Will's smile turned malicious as he laughed evilly. "Jake's in the perfect position." The victim had his head propped up on his shoulder and was leaning against the door with the window open.

"You should undo his seatbelt before opening the door."

"Ryo, that's genius!" Will made sure the door was unlocked, and that Jake's seatbelt was unbuckled. "This is payback for the syrup incident," he took his index and middle fingers, and shoved them into Jakes open mouth, and when he jolted awake, Will opened the door.

Jake tumbled magnificently down onto the concrete sidewalk and landed on his shoulders on the ground with a leg tangled in with the seatbelt. "What. The. FUCK!" His angry voice sounded muffled with how his cheek pressed against the ground.

Ryoka snorted—the face he made when woken up by the assaulting fingers really got to her—and hid behind the vehicle. An angry Jake was hilarious but not fun to deal with, he held grudges and remembered them for a long time.

"Aww, man!" Ryoka whined when she went into the trunk for her wheelie luggage bag. "My luggage was open, and my stuff's all over the trunk!"

After folding and stuffing her clothes back in the bag, they waited in line to get her bags in. Grabbing a quick bite, the group sat down on a bench by the windows. There was a random dude passed out on the floor beside it. There was no other spot. The man was a heavier sleeper than Jake according to how he wasn't budging, so they didn't have to worry much about being loud. Besides, the airport was quite noisy to begin with.

Looking up to the time on a LED screen, Ryoka frowned. She only had about five minutes left until she had to go through customs and head to where her flight's gate was.

"Looks like it's about time guys."

"Awe man, you have to come back to visit!"

"Yeah, we can't dance without you Ryota."

Ryoka chuckled, "Well, technically you can," and she received scandalized looks from the two of them. "You can try making up some duo dances, and I'll make a solo. Then, next time we meet, we can show each other."

"Fantastic idea, my young Padawan. Then we could alter them for more people if we want them to be a group performance.

Ryoka stood up and grabbed her two carry on bags, "I'll see when I can come and visit." The other two got up and followed her.

"You better. Or else I'll personally drag you back," Jake laughed.

"Yes, yes—and before you say anything, Will, I'll still practice." She thought of something, "Oh! Or—or, you guys can come visit me!" She offered, grinning.

"Okay then. You visit us, and we visit you, vice versa," Will smiled and ruffled her hair.

She made a face, "I keep telling you not to do that!" Ryoka kicked the back of his knees in to make Will stumble, "It'll make my wig fall off," she stage-whispered and straightened it out.

"Why not just cut your hair?"

"Cuz' my father would have an aneurysm if I did," she deadpanned and snorted, the other two laughed.

"Talk to him about it," Jake came in. "You've had many close calls here, and you won't have us to cover for you anymore."

"How about if something happens or if someone is on to me, then I'll cut it." She offered. She was quite attached to it despite the inconvenience it caused.

Jake sighed, "I think that's the best we'll get out of him."

"Yup, I think so too," Will slapped his back, they laughed again.

Then an announcement came on for the boarding of her flight. She smiled sadly and waved. Will and Jake both waved back. "We'll Skype you!" They sighed once they saw that she was gone. They were going to miss her for the time that they would be apart.

"I can't wait. We'll be going there soon."

"Yeah, he'll be so surprised."

"His face is gonna be priceless. Just don't leak it first, Jake."

Will felt a vibration in his back pocket, "Oh crap, that's my dad. We better hurry back to the car."

"Oh no, Big Ben gets scary when we make him wait. Let's hurry and at least try not to look suspicious."

• • • • • •

Boarding the plane, Ryoka found herself bored immediately after takeoff. Takeoffs and landings were the best parts of the flight, turbulence was fun too though. Ryoka looked out the window, and they were already above the ocean. It was going to be a long flight, a whopping twelve hours. She got on the plane at 9 AM and wouldn't be landing at about 2 PM Japan time. Time zones thoroughly confused her. The difference was five hours, but it took twelve to get there.

Okay, I'm going to bust my brain if I try to figure this out. I must stop. All I know is that it has something to do with the tilt of the earth and how it spins.

Luckily, she had some entertainment to distract her from her own mindfuckery, a handheld gaming system and her iPod. She also had her phone, but they weren't allowed on the plane, and the literal roaming charges would be insane. Going through her bag, she heard metallic jangling noises and found three boxes.

"They didn't." She was amazed, she'd been collecting the series of cast iron puzzles for about two months now. Ryoka just recently got into the cast iron ones, before she focused on wooden and wire ones. "These things are expensive too, this must have cost fifty bucks." They were the last three she was looking for a week before, and she couldn't find the three she wanted whenever she went to a shop.

A letter comprised of rainbow sticky notes was stuck on the back of them, and Ryoka couldn't help but crack a smile.

Yo, what's up mah homie? How's the flight so far? Not that you can reply yet. Have these to enjoy during the trip. You know how much effort it took to hide these from you whenever you went into the store? Fucking A-LOT! Ya never knew we could be so sneaky, huh? It's the Asian blood, we're descendants of ninja and feudal lords I tell you.

A second part was hidden underneath, and from the messier handwriting, it was Jake's.

Okay, so I read Will's note, and I don't know what to write now, our thought processes are too alike. Uh, have fun with those puzzles. If you get stumped on them, I hid print out sheets in your bag with tutorial pictures. Twelve hours stuck in a confined space with hundreds of other people must be absolutely incredible. Please try not to get sick or go insane—wait, too late. That plane left long ago. Speaking of plane, how long is the flight from L.A to Japan anyways, I don't think we asked—or if we did, I forgot.

Ryoka laughed into her hand in an effort to not disturb the little kid beside her, they fell asleep right after screaming and wailing in fear. "I'm gonna keep these and stick them somewhere when I get home."

She started from easy to hard, the puzzles had ratings on the box, going from four to six. The two easier ones were rings, and the hardest one had two elks that had to be taken apart. When she got fed up with the two ring puzzles after spending an hour on each, she rested her mind and looked out the window.

Ryoka obviously didn't have enough to eat before the flight, because when the flight attendants came around with the complimentary snacks, her stomach was not satisfied and demanded more with loud, obnoxious growls.

She spent another hour on the last, and hardest puzzle, only to find that it was easier than the other two. "Hm, odd."

Ryoka yawned. She made an effort to pull an all-nighter with Will and Jake so that she would be able to sleep on the plane, and it was finally hitting her, but before sleep, there was food. She placed an order with the airline so she could get a bigger meal than the measly portions they usually gave out—and once Ryoka finished eating, she felt lethargic. Asking for a blanket, she bunched up a corner of it to use as a pillow.

Just her luck. A musical chime rang through the cabin and the pilot warned them of oncoming turbulence. Heaving a sigh, she turned up her calming smooth jazz playlist and hoped that it would be gentle enough to help rock her to sleep.

It was not gentle in the slightest.

She killed more time with her game console until the turbulence went away, and ended up staying awake for another two hours. Now she was getting grumpy because whenever she was about to fall asleep, the plane would jostle her with its bumps.

When she did fall asleep, finally, she was like Jake in Big Ben's car hours before. She slept like a brick.

Ryoka woke up with a start. It was odd waking up to a feeling of weightlessness only to be immediately pressed into the seat. She didn't even remember the flight attendants making sure the seatbelt was on because she dozed right back to dreamland.

The rough landing of the plane and her dream made for an odd awakening when in tandem. She felt disturbed and uncomfortable as she had a recurring dream about a kidnapping that happened to her a few years prior. She was eight at the time, and now she was fifteen, seven years passing by in a blink of an eye.

"It's been so long since then…" she muttered to herself, looking out of the window to see personnel directing the plane.

Shaking herself from her thoughts when the larger man in front of her finished getting his overhead luggage, she got her own and left the plane. It took ten minutes to get to the receiving area for the bags, and another twenty for the bags to get on the conveyor. Lugging her bags consisting of one suitcase and an instrument case—it was a bit of a hassle to organize how she would carry it—she made way to the go train.

She was glad to be back in Japan and went off to the tournament that her father signed her up for. A lady named Ryuzaki would be picking her up at the venue for the competition, so thankfully she remembered what trains she was supposed to get on.

"Ah! Wait for just a second!" Ryoka waddled down the stairs as fast as she could and once on flat ground, she sprinted into the train and barely made it.

Bumping into someone, she immediately apologized and found an empty spot.

"Excuse me, young man, you dropped your cap," a stern, but clean looking, old man held out a plain black hat to her with a .

"Huh?" Ryoka pat her head, and looked up to him with a smile. The elder man was quite tall, just bout six feet tall. "Oh! Thank you, Oji-san. That's very kind of ya!" She grinned and put it back on, "I wouldn't have noticed." She moved her bags to let him sit down.

"Looks like you have quite the handful."

Ryoka sighed and leaned into her tennis bag that was on her lap, "Yeah, I just got off a twelve-hour flight, and I'm heading to a competition."

"Oh, tennis I presume?" He chuckled when Ryoka looked surprised.

"How'd you know?"

"My grandson plays it, and I recognized the type of bag you were carrying. Your attire also hints to it."

Ryoka looked at herself. She wore a loose deep blue hooded sweater that was tied on her waist with a black t-shirt that had one asymmetrical vertical blue stripe, and her pants consisted of plain dark grey jogging pants—they were fantastic for the flight. Her shoes were also sporty sneakers, but people wore sneakers all the time regardless.

"I s'pose it does."

"You want to become a pro?"

"Well…" Ryoka frowned thoughtfully, tilting her head side to side, "yeah, eventually. Right now, I just want to have fun with it. I train professionally to get ready for it but don't take matches as seriously as I should. I'm scared that if I start to care too much about winning, I'll lose the ability to have fun doing it."

The man nodded sagely, "That's a good outlook. I wish my grandson could learn something from you, he takes after his father and I a little too strongly."

Ryoka laughed, "My brother's the same. I apparently sucked all the fun outta my mother before he got the chance to get some because he came out with both the humour and social skills of a rock." Ryoka snorted when she pictured a rock with Ryoma's face.

The man chuckled, "My grandson doesn't talk much. If you don't mind me asking, what kind of training do you tennis players go through? He went through rehab recently, and I would just like to know some of the risks."

"Just like any sport, the risks come from improper training and natural accidents. Tennis is not very injury-inducing, but if you don't have adequate muscle training, you can injure ligaments in your arm. Tennis elbow is quite common," she grabbed her elbow and traced where the ligament would be. "There's also precautions for knee and foot issues since it's a heavy running sport. Every once in a while, I use ankle weights to build stamina and help with weight distribution while running." Ryoka laughed, "I actually wore them earlier today and would still have them if airport security didn't take them away. Though, jump rope is much better on the knees."

The man chuckled, "You know quite a lot about this."

Ryoka grinned, "Yeah, I want to study sports medicine as a backup career." There was a ding, and an announcement came on that they were approaching another stop. "Ah, that's my stop! It was nice talking to you, sir!" She fumbled around and got all her bags together, "Have a good day!" She nodded with a slight bow—a custom that America never entirely got rid of—and exited the train.

The man smiled, "Nice kid, that boy. A little all over the place, but nice." He hefted himself up and followed the path she went on. Apparently heading to the same destination.

• • • • • •

Hurrying over to another train stop, she got onto the train that would take her to her destination. She set her stuff down and sat down, waiting until it took off. After her, a group of older teenagers came in and sat right in front of her. They were loud and chatty, but she was used to that. She didn't notice a girl sit down beside her on the other side of her luggage and glance at her occasionally.

Ryoma?

Just before the doors closed, the old man from before sat down in a designated row for elders and the disabled. Ryoka saw him and waved to him with a smile. Then, when the train took off, she popped her earbuds in and listened to some electro swing for the shorter train ride. It would only take about fifteen to twenty minutes to get there. She closed her eyes and tapped her foot to the beat.

Later in the ride, the boys in front of her started to get more out of hand. Ryoka could tell because she could hear them through her music. She only opened her eyes when her luggage moved. Looking to her side, she saw a girl flinch, and looked over to see the cause.

One of the groupies had their racquet out and was swinging it. Ryoka hadn't felt this angry in awhile, and her eyes narrowed dangerously. The fucker was smirking. She knew that he knew, and the guy was playing ignorant of it.

"That's the eastern grip."

"Excuse me?" Ryoka didn't have the energy to try and be nice to them, but tried to be polite anyway, "but can you not?"

The guy scoffed, "I'm not hurting anybody twerp, mind your own business," and after that, he just continued where he left off. "Yeah, so this is how you use the western grip. You can tell because it's like shaking someone's hand, it's used mainly for slices." He started swinging again, and it was even closer to the poor girl's face. Ryoka growled through grit teeth.

"Oh, wow Sasabe that's expected of the son of a pro!"

"Yeah, you really gotta respect the skills that they work hard for."

"A Pro, huh?" Ryoka crossed her arms, looking up at him dismissively, "Hard to believe. You think a professional would teach their kid how to act professionally." Ryoka stood up and looked up at the guy with a dark expression, "Now stop."

The guy, who was established as Sasabe, tilted his head in mock confusion, "Stop what?"

Ryoka deadpanned, "Okay, now you're either playing the oblivious card, or you're just stupid." Ryoka shrugged and smirked, "Besides, you got the terms reversed. You were just doing the eastern grip, so I'm leaning more to the idiot side."

It took a second for Sasabe to fully process what was said. "Mind repeating that you fucking shrimp!?" he shouted and went to point his racquet at her but fumbled and dropped it. He scoffed and proceeded to pick the racquet off of the ground.

Ryoka couldn't help herself. The guy had such an attitude and it made her want to mess with him.

"Congratulations!" Ryoka started clapping lightly, "That's the correct western grip!" She smiled brightly and it was clearly mocking, the sarcasm was not unheard, "That handshake grip you were talking about was actually the eastern grip." She shrugged, "Well, I guess it's an easy mix-up—for a beginner."

"Wha—what did you say brat?!" Anger began to cloud his judgment, because he lashed out and grabbed the collar of her shirt, roughly yanking her up to his level.

Ryoka looked up and grinned, and putting her hands up in the universal mercy symbol, she blurted, "Well if you don't know that much about tennis, I could teach you! Hmm... though that's only if you actually want to get better," her grin was still there, and it made the taunt that much worse.

"Hey watch your mouth! I'm older than you shrimp. Respect your seniors! I—"

She interrupted him before he could continue, eyes glinting with irritation. "You have to earn respect. Respect starts with integrity, and I don't see any of that in you," she almost snarled. "If that's too big a word for you, it can be defined as strong morals. It's ethics. To do what's good, not bad. Swinging a racquet on a train and intentionally making it that each time you almost hit this girl in the face, is not. Morally. Right!" This time she actually did snarl, and the hand holding onto her shirt gripped harder. "Now, if you let go, this never happened."

"You little piece of shit!" He wound up for a punch, and before his friends could stop him, Ryoka pushed the hand away by his wrist while loosening the grip on her shirt with her right. Just as she landed on the balls of her feet, the train's doors opened.

She swiftly gathered her bags and with one more overly kind smile to the group, she said, "And please, try not to repeat the same mistake twice. Sorry for the disturbance!" Once out of the way, she sighed shakily. Taking her necklace out from under her shirt, she held onto it and counted to ten to calm herself, feeling anxiety crawling through her. "It's okay. I'm okay."

Once she left, the other astonished people on the train started to file out.

"C-come on Sasabe, hurry up this is also our stop!" One of his friends said as the doors started to close.

By the time he got off, Ryoka was well out of their sight.

"Damn where are those tennis courts dad was telling me about..." Ryoka mumbled to herself as she looked at the various exit signs.

"U-um, ex… excuseu me? Ohayo, uh, watashi wa vi-vidio o motte imasu."

Ryoka tilted her head in confusion, is this guy having a stroke? She quirked a smile at her own humour. The guy was a foreigner and was fumbling over his Japanese, he had the meaning down pat and she understood what he said, so she had to give him props to that, though he was really nervous.

She decided to give him a bit of a break. "Hi!" She started talking in English, assuming that it was his language, "You speak English? If not, I know a wee' 'lil bit of French." After all, what if the guy was from Canada and lived in Quebec? "Je ne connais pas beaucoup le français, mais Je peux essayer."

"Oh, that's good to know. I can understand Japanese, like reading and writing, but have a hard time pronouncing words—and I'm an English speaker. Never paid attention in French class, so I don't know what you said," the guy chuckled.

"Oh, cool. So you said something like, I have a video, right?"

"Yes, I wanted to let you know that I recorded the incident on the train just in case it got out of hand. would it be alright it if I used the video in a school project? I'll have to upload it to YouTube for the assignment, but it shouldn't get a lot of attention."

"Ah, sure, sure, that's fine." Ryoka gave her approval, "What's the project for if you don't mind me askin'?"

"I'm in the Developmental Service Worker program and we have to do a group presentation on non-violent crisis intervention."

"Ah, College student, huh? You look younger than one."

The guy laughed, "I can say the same to you."

Ryoka grinned, "Well, thank you for asking for my consent, it's appreciated. Now, I gotta run!"

"See ya kiddo!"

"I ain't no kid!"

As she jogged off to the exit at the other side of the station, she ended up bumping into a girl. She had long brown hair past her waist in two long braids and she wore a school uniform that looked familiar to Ryoka.

"Oh my gosh, I'm sorry," she bowed in apology without even looking to see who she hit. When she straightened, she recognized Ryoka, "Oh, you're the boy that saved me on the train!"

"Why yes, hello it is I!" Ryoka bowed gentlemanly

The girl giggled into her hand, "Hi, I'm Sakuno. I-I would like to thank you for helping me out!"

"It was no problem, the guy needed to get put in his place anyways. Dude should have gotten his ego knocked down a few pegs from that—And I'm Ryota! Nice to meet 'cha."

"Are you headed to the tennis courts? You have a racquet bag," Sakuno gestured to Ryoka's luggage.

"Yup," Ryoka smiled, jumping to shift the bag on her back, "I'm in a tournament—one that I'll be late to if I can't find where the courts are."

"Ah, let me think…" Sakuno tilted her head, trying to remember, "the tennis courts are outside of the west exit."

"Thanks!" Ryoka waved and jogged off in a hurry.

Now Sakuno just had to wait for her grandmother. She sat down at a small fast food chain inside the station, and five minutes later, her grandmother met up with her. She put the waste in the garbage and approached the older lady, "Hello, Oba-san."

"Ah, Sakuno, there you are. We have to hurry, the courts are this way."

"Wait... weren't they the other way?" She faltered in her step and pointed to the other exit, face paling.

"No, it's over here, outside of the east exit."

"Come on Sakuno, we're going to miss Ryota-kun's matches!"

She was in so much of a panic that her grandma's words almost went in one ear, and out the other.

Wait… Ryota's?

"Oh no… I gave him the wrong directions!"

• • • • • •

Ryoka looked around frantically and asked another stranger for guidance. The girl earlier had given her the wrong directions, and she was starting to get frustrated. When she finally got to the place, Ryoka ran into the registry to see if she could still sign in, but alas, it was too late. She didn't know what to do so she looked for a vending machine for something to drink—maybe they had that Fanta her brother was obsessed about.

Ryoka also found a vending machine that served sandwiches. It was odd because there was one next to it that had tennis balls in them. She mumbled through the last bite of her sandwich, "Japan really is the place for convenience, isn't it?"

That's when she overheard a conversation.

"Hey Sasabe, you wanna' warm up with me?"

"Sure, my match is coming up soon."

Ryoka grinned, deciding to butt in, "Oi!" She shouted and flailed an arm since they were a bit further away, "You learn your grips yet?" Ryoka quickly ate the last bite of her sandwich and tossed her stuff in the trash before running up to them. "Hmm... Well, I guess it's only been an hour, so I guess that I'll cut you some slack."

"Oh, it's the kid. Are you here for a match? You can't be fifteen." One of Sasabe's friends stated, apparently not thinking that she was their age from her short stature and stunningly young looks.

"Well let's just say that I'm more than your average player..." She put her hands on her hips, giving the group an exaggerated grin, and bragged with good humour. She paused, blinking almost owlishly as she just processed the last line he said, "Well fuck you too! I am so fifteen!"

Eyebrows shot up in shock and eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets.

"There's no way you're fifteen, you look like a twelve-year-old!" they laughed.

Ryoka growled and narrowed her eyes, "You want to repeat that?" she asked heatedly. "Consider it a favour that I didn't let you commit a felony on the train—because I could have taken that punch."

"Get on the court. You'll be my warm-up match, shrimp, " Sasabe spat with venom, not wanting a brat to trash talk him.

"Alrighty." Ryoka happily got moving to the closest unused court. She hadn't played a match in a few days and really wanted to play.

She was having tennis withdrawals.

Ryoka barged the rusty gate open and hopped over the net with room to spare. She set her bags down on the bench and grabbed her racquet. She was tired and stiff, but still full of energy. Sitting on a plane for twelve hours would do that to people. Ryoka warmed up by stretching and doing sprints back and forth on the court.

"Ah, there you are Ryota! Sorry it took so long to find you, I ran into an old friend of mine."

"Are you…?" Ryoka had to pause and think, but she still couldn't remember the woman's name. They once had a skype call so she would know who to look for, but Ryoka was terrible putting names to faces. "Sorry, I can't recall your name. Dad's talked about you a lot though."

"Oh? And what did Nanjiro have to say?"

"That you were a crazy old bat, the monster haunting his youth," Ryoka blurted out honestly, "But to me, you sounded amazing. Anybody who heckles my ol' dad-o is good in my books."

The older woman burst out into laughter, "Oh, that's great Ryota. I'm Ryuzaki Sumire," she put out her hand.

"Ryuzaki?" Ryoka grinned, thinking of the perfect nickname for the lady, "Alrighty Dragon-lady, well I'm Ryota!" She also put her hand out and they shared a firm handshake.

"I know that—and Dragon-lady?" She raised a quizzical eyebrow, "Really?"

"Heehee," Ryoka grinned and rubbed the back of her head. "Ah, well I gotta finish teaching this guy his lesson."

"Lesson?"

"Oh! I can explain!" Sakuno started from the beginning on the train as Ryoka continued sprinting back and forth.

Meanwhile, Sasabe was just cracking his neck and talking to his buds. He didn't bother to warm up.

"But Sasabe, your match is in…" he looked at his phone for the time, "fifteen minutes."

"Don't worry, it'll be quick," Sasabe smirked at Ryoka.

"Yeah, you bet it will be," Ryoka said confidently, hopping in place to warm her legs up, "It'll be a quickie just the way your sock likes it." She had the satisfaction of seeing his face flush red in both anger and embarrassment. She also heard two loud snorts from behind her.

You know what, I like that taunt. I'll file that one away for future use.

"Ryota! Language!" Ryuzaki chastised. Thankfully her granddaughter didn't get it with how confused she looked. Hopefully, she'll never get it.

The older man from on the train wiped a tear from his eye from laughing, "Ah, that kid sure has a sense of humour." He hasn't laughed that hard in a long time. The man was on a bench just beside the court, waiting for his grandson.

"I apologize that I'm late, grandfather. The wait was longer than anticipated." He paused, noticing that his grandfather's face looked flushed. "Are you alright?"

"Ah, no worries Kuni, I just had a good laugh. I've been entertained by this young boy."

Glancing over to the courts, he saw that a match was just getting underway. He assumed that he was talking about the short kid on the court who seemed to be a junior high student. "Are you ready to have Lunch?"

"Yes, but I would like to observe this match first."

Odd. Grandfather isn't usually that interested in tennis.

He turned to watch and saw the younger boy return a ball that almost hit his face.

"Ey, that's a low blow!" Ryoka shouted indignantly.

Sasabe smirked sadistically, "All's fair in tennis!"

Ryoka returned again, setting up for the next shot. "Then I'll show you a low blow!"

There was a high-pitched yelp as Sasabe jumped and barely avoided a shot that bounced by his foot. If he didn't move he would have been out of the game, for his family jewels would have been badly bruised.

He heard his grandfather chuckle as the boy cackled.

"Now dance for me, maggot!"

• • • • • •

As was almost unanimously expected, Ryoka obliterated Sasabe. She won 6-0 only giving up three points at the beginning, beating him almost entirely with her serves. The guy had been playing dirty with the self-judgment game and counted any shot on the line as an out.

Playing dirty can be really fun!

Ryoka jogged up to the net, "Aww, it's okay buddy—if you practice regularly maybe you can become a coach for grade-schoolers," she consoled him. He just shot her a dirty look and left the courts with a huff.

"Echizen!" Ryuzaki yelled "It's time to go! You need to get your school uniform. We would have watched the tournament, but as you're not in it now, we're leaving."

"Awww, but I haven't had any fun yet!" Ryoka pouted with a whine, "That was only child's play."

Ryoka noticed a familiar person behind the fence across the tennis court, it was the old man. She grinned and waved hello.

Then she noticed that beside him was another person. From what she could see, the guy had brown hair and glasses. He was tall too, but other than that he looked completely average. He wore a grey t-shirt and dark brown shorts. A grin found its way onto her face when she saw what he was holding. A tennis bag.

She found her victim.

"Hey! Yeah, you! The guy with the glasses beside Oji-san!" Ryoka called out to him, flailing her arm around excitedly to get his attention, "Wanna' play a short match?"

He looked confused that she was calling out to him, and glanced to his grandfather who was sitting on the bench behind him to see if he would approve. With the nod, he turned to face her again, "Alright, I have some time before I have to leave."

"Ok, great! Dragon-lady, can I play a match with him?" Ryoka asked with enthusiasm.

Ryuzaki sighed, the girl had the nerve to ask him of all people for a match. "Fine but only a three-set match. That's all. Then we have to go, you hear?"

"All-right!" Ryoka cheered, fist pumping into the air with a jump. Little did she know that she royally screwed herself over by picking him of all people.

Next thing they knew, the match was over. Ryoka had lost, the tall guy had her beat three games to one. The game was intense, and Ryoka was dead tired by the end of the match. She hadn't blown off all her steam with the match with Sasabe, so she ran and bounced around like a madman. She didn't think she'd play again for the rest of the day anyways—though she still had to do her workout... Maybe she would skip it for the day and do the basic swings that she was tweaking to her style.

"Now that," she huffed, "was a good game." She quickly regained her breath, "So, what's your name?" Ryoka asked as she put her hand out with a grin. "Oh!" she quickly brought her hand back and wiped the sweat off onto her sweater before putting it back out again, "sorry—sweaty hands."

"Tezuka Kunimitsu," he answered and shook her hand. She raised an eyebrow and frowned in thought, that name seems familiar, and now that she had a good look at him he looked really familiar. Have we met before? And damn he was tall, the top of her head just barely reached his shoulders.

Tezuka was a bit confused at the expression the boy was making, and during the handshake he noticed something. His hands are quite soft—what lotion does he use? He reminds me of Ryoma, though he looks more... feminine. Androgynous would be a better fitting term.

"Kunimitsu then?" When his eyes widened, she knew she said something wrong, "Oh—wait! Sorry, sorry, I retract that, it's Tezuka, right? I'm still getting used to the first-name, last-name intro reversal."

Tezuka calmed himself and now felt a little embarrassed, "Have you come from overseas?"

Now Ryoka felt there was another subtle question under that. Something roughly along the lines of, but aren't you Japanese?

"Is that a trick question?" Ryoka asked rhetorically and continued, "Well, the simpler answer would be yes, I guess? Sorry, I made your question more complicated than you intended."

Tezuka was a bit overwhelmed but was used to it from some of the rowdier club members.

"Hey, Ryota! It's time to go!" Ryuzaki shouted from behind the fence. They were on a bit of a time schedule.

"Oh yeah! Sorry, but I gotta go! Thanks for the match! If I see you again I'll ask for another one and avenge my loss!" She bolted after the retreating figures of the Ryuzaki.

Oh, he even has the same attitude as Ryoma, though not to the extent of his—though, their personalities are on opposite sides of the spectrum. He chuckled when he thought that. That woman with them, it was Ryuzaki-sensei. He wondered what he had to do with her. Next thing he knew, he was all alone standing on the court.

He is skilled. If he hadn't been as stubborn as he was, he could have taken more than one game off of me. He's at least at our regular's level. Tezuka was looking forward to when they would meet again.

"Kuni, you must be hungry after that match."

Tezuka left the court and met back up with his grandfather, a small smile on his face, "Yes. Quite."

• • • • • •

Ryoka looked around the school she was going to attend starting in a few days. It was enormous! Her high school was probably a third of the size of this school. But then again this was an academy, not some regular high school.

"Hey, um, Ryota, those were both great matches," Sakuno complimented Ryoka's playing. She hadn't seen such an all-over-the-place tennis style before. I can't believe the captain was there, and he played well against him! I… I should have greeted him!

"Thank you! Erm... Sakura was it?" Ryoka was horrible with names. She had put effort in trying to get better with them, even if it didn't help all that much. Playing all those memory games served no purpose other than to help her realize that he had a talent with memory games and recognizing patterns, but not names.

"Sakuno," she corrected with a small smile.

"Sorry, sorry, I'm bad with names." Ryoka smiled, a bit embarrassed, "I'll probably remember it properly after a week or two—though I can't guarantee it."

"No, it's alright Ryota-san," Sakuno fiddled with a braid of her hair nervously. "I am not that great with names myself."

"Okay Ryota, come here. Sakuno, wait outside of the room please." Ryuzaki fished out her keys and opened the door, beckoning Ryoka in as she entered.

Sakuno nodded and blushed. She correctly assumed that Ryoka was going to change.

Ryuzaki then started rummaging through boxed with the uniforms in them, looking for the right sizes. Ryoka looked around in curiosity. There were stage lights and props all over the place, it looked like this was just a general storage room.

"E-chi-zen."

"Hmm?" Ryoka looked up from her object of focus—a fluffy polar bear mascot costume—to Ryuzaki and saw her smiling creepily. Then she saw what was held in her hands, "Nuh-uh! Hell, to the no!" Ryoka immediately clipped, refusing the unspoken offer without a beat.

"Oh, but you would look so cute!" Ryuzaki did a hugging motion and squealed intentionally, obviously teasing her.

"No, and I'm locking that answer in! I'm wearing the men's uniform and that's that. Final answer I say‼" Ryoka said stubbornly, crossing her arms with a petulant huff.

"Ok, ok I get it. Just hurry up and get changed, I want to see if this size would fit you." Ryuzaki tossed her the uniform, "It's the smallest size we have, so if it's too big go complain to someone else."

Ryoka frowned, grumbling out "Rude," jokingly and changed into the pants first. They were the perfect width but the bottoms would have to be hemmed as they were still too long. In order to wear it the bottoms had to be cuffed and it just made the pants look stupid. The most dire problem would be the shirt. Ryoka needed a thick material that wouldn't show her compressing tank-tops. She was naturally flat as a board and not curvy at all, but they reassured her. She used to use ace bandages until she put them on too tight one time and fainted from lack of air. It was really hard to breathe with the non-flexible bandages. It was really the stupid and lazy way to go about it.

That was really dumb of old me, I shouldn't have ignored the warnings.

She frowned when she couldn't find any other kind of material for the shirts. It was all the same white dress shirt fabric, and it was a problem because it showed through. She went a size larger and nodded in satisfaction when she moved around to test it out. The sleeves were too long and it was a bit loose around her shoulders, but it didn't catch or feel tight when she moved.

Who cares, no one will notice, she thought. She would just have to roll up the sleeves or shorten them if it looked too stupid. Ryoka would also have to get some skin coloured compression tanks. Even if she went out in one of the compression tanks and pants nobody said anything about them looking weird in the states, so she figured that she was passable enough as a guy.

She even had one that was made for swimming!

Glancing at another box of clothes, she saw that it was the winter uniform. There were some options, and she would definitely be going for the thicker cotton sweater vest, while the pants stayed the same.

After Ryuzaki gave Ryoka her approval, she changed back into her original clothes.

"Ey, are there any bags around here? I sorta left mine in your car." Ryuzaki tossed Ryoka a cloth bag that was on the ground. "Thanks! It's a little dirty, but I'll be washing them anyway so, eh." She folded and put a few pairs of uniforms in the bag. "How much will this be costing?"

Ryuzaki waved a hand, "It's covered in the tuition, though if you need to get replacements or extras then it's out of pocket."

"Good to know."

Since they were in the school, Ryuzaki thought it would be a good idea to give her a brief tour of the grounds.

"Awesome," Ryoka looked up in awe at the size of the music rooms.

"Seigaku has pride in their arts and academic departments," Ryuzaki explained.

"And your tennis club," Ryoka added.

"And our tennis clubs," Ryuzaki parroted blandly.

Now at the end of the impromptu tour, Ryuzaki led Ryoka to the tennis courts. When they arrived, they saw a student who was hitting the ball against a wall with his racquet. He wore a yellow t-shirt with dark blue shorts with a sweatband. His black hair was short and really spiky, complemented with eyes that were just as black.

"Momo! What are you doing here? It's Sunday, there's no practice." Ryuzaki shouted at the teenager.

"Ah!" he was startled enough to drop the ball. After picking it up, he jogged over to them, "Ryuzaki-sensei, gomen I just felt like practising and all the public courts are full." Momo, as Ryuzaki called him, apologized and regained his breath. "And who's this?" He looked down to see the person, but their hat and hood covered most of their face from his vantage point above them. At first glance, he thought it was Ryoma. No, it can't be. If Ryoma was twelve again maybe.

"Hello, it's nice to meet ya," Ryoka nodded her head in greeting and took a step behind Ryuzaki, slightly uncomfortable with the guy being so close. She was getting tired from all the excitement and felt burnt out, not really in the best state to deal with her phobia.

"I was just showing him around the neighbourhood when I forgot I left something here," Ryuzaki lied through her teeth. Well, sort of. It was a half-truth.

"I'm about to leave anyways, Echizen and I were going to meet up," Momoshiro waved and left.

"Well let's get you home—but since you're here, I'll get you to help me out with some errands. You can help with some heavy lifting, can't you?"

Ryoka yawned and cracked her neck, "Sure."

• • • • • •

About an hour later, Ryuzaki dropped Ryoka off at her house. "Thanks for the ride, I a—aaaah… appreciate it," she covered an enormous yawn.

Ryuzaki chuckled, "No problem Ryota, you sound like you had a rough sleep."

"Yes, a very turbulent sleep."

This time Ryuzaki barked a laugh, "I'll see you later, kid," she put a hand on Ryoka's head and ruffled her hair. But to her surprise and fright, it went lopsided.

"Damn, I knew I should have put it on with more bobby pins." Ryoka frowned and shook her head, trying to get the rest of the pins out.

"What about a bald cap?"

Ryoka finished and combed her hands through her shoulder length hair, suddenly feeling a bit gloomy, "They're a hassle to put on."

"Well, you better figure something out or someone's going to end up knocking that thing off."

"Yeah," Ryoka looked at the wig in her hands. "Well, thanks for all the help," she bowed her head and smiled—and it didn't look like the normal bright smile that she wore just before. It was dull. Ryoka waved and turned to her door.

Ryuzaki didn't know what to think of it.

Her father was ecstatic when she opened the door, "Welcome back Ryoka~" Nanjiro ran up to hug her, "It's just not the same talking through a screen!"

Ryoka got irritated and punched him in the gut. She had gotten used to her father and brother touching her, but it still irritated her. Immensely. Her father especially. She knew he was a pervert. Ryoka was alright with people she knew—most of the time—and she was fine if she was the one who initiated the contact, but if it was unexpected and she didn't see it coming, it most certainly affected her.

The outcome was her feeling dizzy and nauseous or depending on the situation, an anxiety attack. It was really fifty-fifty.

It didn't help that she was already in a bad mood. She always felt down when her wig was off.

"Uh, well, I'm home?" Ryoka was sheepish when her father looked up to her from the floor with tears in his eyes. "Where's Mum?"

"Oh, don't be so cold Ryoka!" Nanjiro started weeping overdramatically on the floor. He dropped the act, and stood up, dusting off his clothes, "Rinko-chan had to go to Okinawa for a case."

"I thought she retired?"

"Sort of, she still takes them every so often." He sniffed and wiped a non-existent tear from his eye, "Rinko won't be back until Friday night."

"Is Nanako home?"

"No, she's still at College."

"What about Ryoma?"

"Out with a friend."

"Oh." Then she remembered that Momo guy saying that they were going to hang out. "Well, I'll throw some dinner on then. Just let me put my stuff in my room first."

"Oh, Ryoka-chyan~!" as her father said that, a vein popped on her forehead. She wanted to hit him so badly and settled for bopping him on the head.

She frowned and pointed at him—with two fingers, because one was rude—and narrowed her eyes, "No dinner if you keep this up dad-o."

After literally tossing her bags into her room, she didn't even get a good look at the space, she went back to the kitchen, though not without falling down the stairs. Fluffy socks on hardwood stairs did not mix well believe it or not.

Pounding chicken flat, she breaded it with flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs before frying it up in a pan. Throwing some frozen veggies into a bowl, Ryoka put them in the microwave while the Schnitzel fried.

"Ey, Dadd-o, foods on the table!"

Nanjiro got up from the veranda and scratched his scruffy chin. He looked at the food quizzically, "What's this?"

"Schnitzel."

"What's this… shh-knits-eel? I've never heard of it."

"It's a German thing. Pounded and breaded meat, this is chicken. I took some creative liberty with the breading and used some spicy paprika in it, so it'll be spicy."

"Oh, so it's basically tonkatsu."

"I guess?"

After eating, she got her father to do the dishes since she cooked, I mean, it's only fair, and yawned as she slowly walked up the stairs, a little sore from the heavy lifting she helped Ryuzaki with.

Ryoka did not want to fall again, she could feel two bruises forming already, one on the front of her shin, and the other right on her forearm.

When Ryoka arrived in her currently barren room, she changed into baggy pyjamas before looking around. She had a large desk, it took up a fifth of the room, and some cool hovering cubbies for trinkets that went from her window to the corner or the room, and continued over her desk. There was a small closet that the end of her bed was right up against. To get into it, she would have to get onto her bed.

After putting what little clothes she had away, she closed the blinds and got under the covers. Going over the events that occurred that day, she slowly drifted off to sleep, wondering what school would be like in a few days.

I hope my all my stuff comes in soon. Some of it's supposed to come in before the end of the week—hopefully. Damn, all of this hoping will get Murphy to get my stuff lost in transit. I should stop.

• • • • • •

An: Lol, okay, when I went to type Ototo (little brother in Japanese) it wanted to autocorrect it to potato. I should draw Ryoma as a smol potato. xD

Anyways, I've heavily redone this, and I hope that it's better—well I'd hope so after I brought it up to my standard after all these years.

Also, hopefully, I got that french part right. I used google translate on each individual work and tried to figure out the grammar myself. I never really retained any of my French from high school.

Feedback is very much appreciated!