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Haruki should've expected by now that this would happen. What? Did he think he would be exempt from the treatment? After all, every other sports club had already been complaining for a while now about the three "football firsties" (as dubbed by some lame kid) who were pushing everyone over like they were worth nothing. Judo club was the only untouched one left.

"What would they know about swimming anyway?" a younger blue-haired swimmer bemoaned, pushing his glasses up his nose and huffing. "It is an art of languid, chillingly beautiful, and deadly water, unlike their brutal smashing and grinding on a plain grass field no less." The boy later barely escaped a misfortunate encounter with them.

When a short guy with a catlike grin around Haruki's age from the basketball team was asked about what happened to him a couple weeks ago, he could only reply with a frightened look and whimper.

One of the volleyball team's second-years who was in Haruki's English Language class had started boasting about how he could take on anything those lame firsties gave him and wouldn't let them whip his team down. At the end of the day, according to rumors, the bald-headed kid had turned up to practice all bloodied up, worrying everyone there, but wouldn't speak of it.

Still, Haruki had thought they wouldn't dare come knocking around his team. Judo was a martial art form as much as it was a sport. He knew he wasn't nearly strong enough to take on the trio of strong football bullies younger than him by a year, however. They would make a hard match even for his judo specialist sister.

Regardless, he felt secure in the belief they would be scared of his team members and avoid him at all costs just in case. It was a dumb belief, as it turned out.

In spite of their brawn, the three first-years had at least one brain with them, apparently. They had known just when to strike Haruki when he was alone after school hours.

It had been a long practice and an even longer wait for the other boys on his team to finish up showering and changing. Like always, Haruki was the last one in and out of the locker rooms. The sixteen-year-old hated admitting it, but he was ashamed to change in front of others. He felt his body wasn't as... well-formed despite what Haruko said. She was his sister, after all, and biased. Normally, he waited for everyone else to have their turns before his.

At first, Haruko had tried convincing him otherwise, saying he had to socialize more with the others on their combined-genders team in order to make friends. "How can you still be so shy in high school?" she'd demanded but gotten no answer. It was like an involuntary reflex, he supposed, to seclude himself.

Their teammates didn't care all that much, only trying the first few days to form a bond with him. Once they'd realized his reservedness wasn't going away anytime soon, they'd caved and stopped bothering him. It wasn't like he'd added anything special to their mixed group, especially after his shoulder blade had been torn during a match.

The brown-haired teen was packing his clothes and equipment in his gym bag; his parents would expect him to practice at home tonight as well, though lightly, under doctor's orders.

All of a sudden, Haruki felt a sudden dread creep down his spine as his eyes flickered up, meeting his reflection in the floor-length mirror across the bench he bending over at. The area was dark, the lights off, and the Bandou gulped as he saw something stir in the farthest shadows from him in the empty room.

The sixteen-year-old straightened up, slung his bag over his shoulder, and strolled out of the changing room, through the large gym, and out the double doors on the other end.

Almost there, Haruki thought. Ko is close by. I'll be okay if I can make it in time...

His pace quickened. Now he could definitely hear people, more than one of them, following him. The sixteen-year-old was about to turn the left corner to reach the front of the building when a heavy hand on his shoulder froze him in place.

Haruki took in a deep breath and turned around, raising an eyebrow at the three boys standing before him, unfortunately recognizing them.

Arakawa Aoi: slicked back dark hair, crazy-insomniac eye bags, and an overwhelming height. The sixteen-year-old could easily duck and dodge from him if need be, since the younger boy's height advantage, helping him to block, would also be his disadvantage, slowing him down.

Fujimoto Jirou: spiky brown hair, lewd smirk, and short stature. The second footballer now had Haruki's advantage of being shorter and having more intelligence to employ his body to his own purposes.

Ishikawa Kentarou: shaved head, dramatic tattoos running down his arms, legs, and beneath his tank top, and not to mention bulky muscles. He might be the hardest opponent to deal with, being of average height but obviously more powerful than Haruki.

Arakawa chuckled, a not-so-nice grin growing on his face. His hand clenched tighter on the older teen's shoulder. "Where do you think you're going?" he said.

"Can I help you?" the sixteen-year-old asked instead, trying to hide the fact he was glancing around for some way of escape.

Fujimoto spoke up, giggling. "You know, I do think he's going to try running from us, Ara-kun."

"Aw, is the little twerp scared? Well, we can't have that," Ishikawa sneered, stepping closer. Haruki failed to hold back a startled gasp as his wider-than-average personal space bubble was breached without his consent.

The three broke out in fits of laughter just then, and the older teen's cheeks flushed furious red. "What's this about?" he demanded though already aware of the answer.

Fujimoto seemed to read him then. "I think you know exactly what we're doing here, Bandou-kun," he taunted, eyes glinting dangerously.

Feeling bold (and stupid afterward), the sixteen-year-old said, "Oh, I almost forgot. You're scared to face on the judo team."

Arakawa snarled and pressed down harder on his bad shoulder. Haruki winced at that. "We're not scared of anyone!"

The brown-haired teen narrowed his eyes and quipped, "Really? Is that so? You wouldn't mind if I call over my sister then? Fair fight, and all."

What are you doing? he thought to himself. Are you insane?!

It was a near obvious bluff, but luckily, the dunderheads didn't notice. Arakawa and Ishikawa paled drastically, and Fujimoto shuffled anxiously. Just as the largest footballer opened his mouth to speak again, another voice interrupted the group.

"Hey, hey, hey," said a boy stepping out of the shadows cloaking the school's front steps and raising his hands to placate the angry young teens, "Let's all just calm down. No need to start a needless fight." Haruki's eyes widened as he recognized the mysterious teen.

Hashimoto Kazuma, a third-year and the captain of the school's male cheerleading club, stared at him and the younger teens. All four were taken aback by his appearance, the three first-years especially.

"What do you say?" Hashimoto-san continued.

Arakawa hesitated before releasing Haruki's shoulder, much to the older boy's immense relief. The others took a step back as well and hesitated. The sixteen-year-old rubbed his upper arm as he watched the events unfold.

While the judo members were the only team to be left untouched by the football first-years before this night, the male cheerleading club had also been avoided thanks to their captain's reputation. Rumors spoke of how, two years ago, when the captain himself was just a first-year starting a "faggoty" new club, a third-year from the soccer team had gone after one of the other very few members they had back then.

Hashimoto-san hadn't taken any of it, however. The older students still whispered about how they'd observed the fight between the first-year and third-year end quickly, the younger boy somehow dominating the older with a brutality unseen before. From then on, no one had dared to bother the group.

Despite being new to the school, it was obvious the three footballers already knew the story, going by the way their muscles tensed in a sort of flight-only way. There was no chance they were even considering the fight option.

"We—" Fujimoto began, thrusting out his chest, but Ishikawa interrupted by pushing the smaller boy back.

"Leave it," the tattooed footballer gulped. "Come on, let's get out of here. This pussy's not worth it." The other two followed his lead as they scurried away, passing the front of the school, the bike racks, and the abandoned road, disappearing in the alley across the street.

Haruki couldn't resist a glance at the older student lingering near him, taking in his tense form, crossed arms, messy black hair, yellow-and-black uniform, and pensive eyes still staring at the three boys' direction. As if he had some sort of third sense, the older teen turned to face him just then.

Haruki suppressed a blush (though not very well) and stammered out, "O-Oh! Um—"

"Hey, you're alright, right? I didn't come too late?" Hashimoto-san inquired, concerned eyes flickering up the second-year's form.

The brown-haired teen shook his head. "Thank you for helping me," he murmured, looking away.

A moment of awkward silence presented itself, but the third-year broke it with a gentle smile. "No problem. My name's Hashimoto Kazuma, by the way. You can call me Kazu if you want."

"I know," Haruki said. The black-haired teen raised an eyebrow, and the sixteen-year-old realized his own words. "I—I mean—"

"I get what you mean," Hashimoto—no, Kazu—chuckled.

Deciding to start over, the brunette cleared his throat. "It's nice to meet you, Kazu-kun. I'm Bandou Haruki. Just Haru is fine."

"I know," the older teen mocked lightly with a smile. Haruki laughed. "It's nice to meet you as well, Haru-kun. I just wish it was under different circumstances."

The mood grew serious at Kazu's words, and Haruki frowned as he focused his gaze on the pavement underneath him, thinking about what exactly had just happened, what else could have happened if not for the third-year's interference. It's shameful, he thought angrily. A boy born into a famous, judo specialist family should be able to at least defend himself from mere high school bullies younger than him.

Kazu, as if reading his thoughts, spoke up. "Don't blame yourself for it. Anyone would need help facing those three. They may not be very skilled or very smart, but their strength is unique in that it is the only thing of theirs used, and therefore the only thing they train at, in their sport." Haruki blinked in surprise at the older teen's words and nodded, seeing the point the raven-haired boy was trying to make.

"T-thank you again, Kazu-kun."

Kazu grinned, waving a hand dismissively. "Forget about it, Haru-kun."

"What can I do to express my gratitude?" the second-year insisted, stubbornness and almost-too-polite manners instilled in him after years spent with his mother.

Kazu looked like he was about to protest again but hesitated. "Let me escort you to the bus stop."

"What?" Haruki scowled, indignant. He hadn't joined the school's judo team for nothing, after all, even if he wasn't the best. "No way. I can take care of myself from now on, and you scared those guys good."

Kazu gnawed on his lower lip. "I know you can, Haru-kun. It's just that... I'd like to take this opportunity to get to know you better."

Confused, the sixteen-year-old pondered his words. What does that even mean? Just as Haruki was about to open his mouth to ask, he noticed the older teen's red face and froze, the points suddenly connecting in his mind with a distant sort of... realization. Oh.

Oh.

Does he—? Am I even interested in him like that? Or anyone for that matter? he wondered, watching Kazu shift in discomfort upon his continued silence. Shaking his head, Haruki decided to take a chance. Who knew? It could turn out for the better.

"I'd—" he began, but when a brief notice from the back of his mind popped to the surface, he finished, "—I can't."

Kazu looked startled and looked sheepish, rubbing the back of his head. "Ah, I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have presumed—"

Haruki quickly interrupted, waving his hands with a frantic urge to right his error. "No, no, it's not that. You were right. I'd really like that too, but my sister has been waiting for me at the bus stop for a really long time. She's probably worried by now." He took a deep breath and asked, feeling bold for the first time ever, "How about some other time? Preferably tomorrow. Night."

The male cheerleader's creased eyebrows relaxed, and his eyes brightened, though his blush didn't disappear. In fact, from what he could see in the dim lighting of the street lamps nearby, it increased. Haruki felt pride at that; he'd caused that reaction out of someone.

"Definitely," Kazu promised and took Haruki's hand for a moment. The younger teen grinned back, and the third-year released him, spinning around and waving amiably as he strolled away. "See you tomorrow, Haru-kun! I'll hold you to that date!"

The second-year finally allowed himself to blush as the raven-haired boy turned the street corner, and he twiddled his fingers together and stared at the moon in contemplation. Had he really just asked Hashimoto Kazuma, of all people, on a date tomorrow?

Somehow, the teen just couldn't find it in himself to regret it.

"See you tomorrow, Kazu-kun," Haruki whispered to himself before snapping out of his thoughts and hurrying to the bus stop only two blocks away. There he found his distraught older sister pacing up and down the place.

She'll need some new shoes after she's done with them tonight, he commented to himself as he approached. And probably a new brother that she hasn't killed, too.

"Haruko?" he hesitantly spoke up.

His sister spun around so fast, it was a wonder she didn't get whiplash. "Haru!" she cried out, racing towards him and clenching her fists in his shirt. "Don't scare me like that! You'll give me gray hairs." Haruko shook her head violently, scowling, and punched him in the chest.

Haruki released a winded breath and wrapped his arms around her shoulders. "Hey, hey, I'm okay. No need to worry so much," he chided.

His older sister huffed, pulling away. "Whatever. Just tell me what happened."

"On the bus," the sixteen-year-old replied just as the large vehicle pulled up to the stop. Haruko paid the feed, and the two sat down in the back.

"What happened?" the judo specialist demanded again.

A few minutes and a long conversation later, Haruki's sister stared at him, dumbfounded. "No way. You're kidding, right? Right? Hashimoto-san did not just save your ass!" The younger teen sighed and nodded. Haruko's face turned outraged, and she smacked him again. "This is why I keep telling you to make friends! So this doesn't happen! And now you're being forced to go on a date with some weirdo you don't even like 'cause of it!"

Haruki stuttered. "I—um—might..."

"Might what?" the older girl asked, a horrified expression growing on her face. "You don't like Hashimoto-san... do you?"

His answering blush said it all.

His sister slumped back in her seat. "Who the hell are you, and what did you do to my little bro?" she wondered.

"What?" Haruki frowned.

Fat tears dwelled in Haruko's eyes, and she cupped her hands together to her chest, looking to the heavens. "Oh, thank Kami. My shy baby has finally decided to shed his cocoon and fly!"

The sixteen-year-old blinked in surprise before scoffing and folding his arms as he glared out the window in embarrassment. If the red tint on his face increased ever so slightly, neither made a mention of it.

Of course, until Haruko blurted it out during dinner.

"Little bro's got a date," she casually commented after gulping down her soup. Haruki let out an indignant yelp, and their parents gaped.

"Haruki?" his father demanded.

"Oh, who is it?" his mother squealed, clapping her hands.

The sixteen-year-old glued his lips together all night long despite their incessant badgering, promising to himself when he glimpsed his sister's triumphant smirk that he would kill her tomorrow. Preferably painfully and slowly - and after his date with Kazu-kun so he didn't get himself dirty beforehand.


Title from "D-Technolife" by Uverworld.

Please leave some feedback :) and if you'd like, you can go read this over at Archive of Our Own.

Until next time, my lovelies!

- xoxo Jo