AN: So, I'm attempting to write fanfiction again. All my other stories have been deleted for a while, as they were pretty damn awful. Actually, so awful that I couldn't even resurrect a good story line from them. And, you know, that's actually really bad.

AN2, March 24, 2008: I tried to fix all the minor spelling/grammatical errors. Please, if you notice anything – even minor – send me a message. I can't stand those little errors in the stories I read, so I don't want them in mine either.

Summary: Sena has his complexes, and a few bad habits. He's tougher than he knows, but it can't last for that long.

He reached up with a slender, slightly calloused finger and gently tugged at the skin around his eye. The mirror mimicked the action perfectly.

"This is disgusting." No one was there to hear it, but saying it out loud was the final confirmation. Sena looked like crap. The circles under his eyes seemed almost drawn on, and contrasted greatly with his pasty skin. His hair hung down in oily clumps, having not been brushed for at least two days. While he couldn't actually notice it himself, it would be reasonable that he didn't smell so fabulous.

"This is really, really disgusting." Muttering to himself shamefully, Sena walked back to his bedroom. A little nagging voice in the back of the mind, the one he really wished he could ignore at times, reminded him that school was tomorrow. He'd need to improve appearances soon or risk interrogation, which he knew he couldn't lie through. Whether it was Hiruma's threat of death by semi-automatic machine guns, or Mamori's pleading eyes, he wouldn't be able to get through it. And while death by Hiruma would be a quick end, Mamori would never let it go, and he'd sink to an even lower level than he was now.

With a sigh, Sena sat down on the edge of the bed, and cradled his head in his arms. The current headache he had was making him feel nauseous, and while succumbing to the bliss of unconscious sleep would be nice right now, he'd never fall asleep later tonight and end up worse for the wear tomorrow.

A mass of problems were weighing down on him, but he decided to tackle the easiest obstacle first.

"Nutrition. I can't smile if I can't stand up straight." With new determination, Sena, the ace running back, would walk downstairs and get something to eat, providing him with new energy to tackle the world!

Trying his best to put on a dignified gait, he got to the top of the stairs before he paused. The television was blaring, and he could hear a muffled giggle by his mother. His stance lost all the strength it had momentarily, and he slumped against the wall.

"She'll want to know why I'm like this. I…no. I can't." Dejectedly, he walked back to his room and fell in the bed. He wouldn't be able to lie through that one. Even the most clueless, unsympathetic mother would be able to tell that something was wrong, and his mother was far from the category of uncaring.

No, he'd just skip the idea of eating. Perhaps he could get something in the morning, when his mother would still be asleep. He closed his eyes, the space between his eyebrows and his hair creasing.

This same pattern had been less common over the last few years, though gaining in frequency in the last few weeks. Sena would wake up, and not get out of bed. Try to go downstairs, and find himself fearing that his mom could see through clothes, could read minds, and see all the signs.

All right, before it hadn't been so bad. He only had to worry about his mom and Mamori, and even then, his natural shyness lent itself towards hiding things and being quiet.

Now, however, there was the American Football team. And what came with that? Hiruma.

Sena's teammates weren't so bad. All of them were generally nice and tactful, so he had no problem with them. Hiruma, on the other hand, followed no rules. If social etiquette declared that he let a subject go, he didn't give a shit. He used every means at hand to get what he wanted. If Hiruma had a clue what was up with Sena, he'd send Cerberus on him until Sena had written a five-page essay with every bit of information on it, and explanatory diagrams. Sena felt a miniscule bubble of smugness well up in his mind. Hiruma didn't know yet. Hiruma didn't have that clue, and he wouldn't be getting it anytime soon, if Sena had his way.

"Alright, next step. Shower." He was pretty sure that a shower could do no harm, and it didn't require passing by his mother. He walked down the hallway to the shower, doing his best not to look in the bathroom mirror. The hot water blasted out, steam quickly filling the small, tiled room.

Sena hopped in, hissing at the pain of the too-hot water. He adjusted the tap, but the damage was done.

The cuts all over his thighs were burning and swelling, instantly looking much worse than they had been moments before. Doing his best to be optimistic, he hoped that at the very least, the bacteria had been nuked and he wouldn't get an infection. But that didn't make this moment now any less painful. Grimacing, he reached over for some generic shampoo.

A flush rose to his cheeks as he looked down at his legs, adding to redness already present on his face from the hot water. A well of guilt grew, and he fought to look away, but it was almost hypnotizing. All those little wounds, he had done himself. A part of him felt pride because he had always been so afraid of papercuts and stubbed toes, but the majority of his conscious realized how grotesque it was. How could he do this? There was nothing wrong with his life. How could he dishonor everyone around him like this?

"Just finish showering." The command came out through clenched teeth. Squeezing an unnecessary amount of shampoo out, and scrubbing at his scalp until he couldn't stand it anymore, Sena was anxious to forget his cuts for the moment. He grappled around for the equally generic soap, and scrubbed all over his body until he was sure it could get no redder. Maybe if he were clean enough on the outside, it would spread inward.

The thought hit him quickly, and he was afraid. He usually was able to stop these thoughts faster. He just wanted this shower over and done with. The soap fell to the ground. The ball of anxiety and fear started to grow just beneath his stomach, and he knew he had to stop it before it paralyzed him, just like when Habashira Rui had glared at him those first games. Slowly, he concentrated on breathing and focusing. He wouldn't let himself down now.

"Sena? Are you all right? You've been in there for a while now…" His mom's voice reached him through the door and the racket of the shower. This was his moment. He could conquer this.

"Yeah, I'm all right! Just dropped the shampoo on my foot." Perfect explanation. Nine out of ten, Sena.

"Oh, ouch sweetie. Don't use up all the hot water." A few moments later, and she was gone. The situation was back under control.

Breathing out, he turned off the water, and grabbed a fluffy, navy towel. Carefully patting on his thighs, and wiping thoroughly everywhere else, he quickly dried off. What came next?

"Brush. Brush your teeth and your hair." Had anyone been standing nearby, they wouldn't have heard a word he said, but he knew, and he heard the quiet statement that was barely louder than mere breathing. He needed to say it out loud. Once he had said it, he couldn't let himself down.

He wasn't going to lie to himself – the ball of anxiety was still there – but he felt a bit better. Maybe that dirt had been weighing him down a little more along with everything else. With a small smile, he pulled a brush through his hair a few times, and scoured the grime off his teeth. The day was already becoming brighter. He was definitely going to do just fine tomorrow.

Wrapping himself in the towel, he made a dash back to his bedroom, and dressed himself just as quickly. Every precaution was made to prevent his mom from knowing about his habits. He loved her too much to put her through the grief of knowing her son was one of 'those kids', because if even he found it repulsive as the perpetrator of the self-abuse, he couldn't even imagine what it would do to his mother.

He had gotten all his sensitivity from her, and could barely predict the disastrous response. The only certain thing is it would not be good. Tightness spread across his chest. It was making it hard to breathe. His mom would hate him. She'd hate him too much to keep him with her.

"Sena, I'm going out for dinner and a movie with the women from work. You have school tomorrow, so go to bed at a reasonable time, and dinner is on the counter." His mom yelled from the level below, her voice penetrating the layers of wood between them. He couldn't bring himself to respond, as he felt an unexpected lump grow in his throat.

"Sena, sweetie, did you hear me?" A smidgen of concern tinged her voice.

"Yeah mom, I heard, you have a good time!" Sena yelled back in his most cheerful voice. His mom laughed, and he waited until she locked the door audibly to start crying. The guilt was overwhelming. It was almost a tangible substance, growing and mutating, wrapping around every bit of his being, sending toxins and evil all over to taint him.

His eyes widened as his arms started to shake. No. He wouldn't do this now. He had to try to hold off, anything. This crap couldn't start right now; he needed to be healthy and happy for tomorrow. The muscles in his stomach started pulling and twisting, turning every which way. It then hit his head like a hammer. The headache multiplied in strength, and he felt the urge to heave.

"I…hate myself. I hate myself. I hate myself." The mantra came out on its own and the trembling in his arms was reaching the rest of his body. He wondered how long he had been sitting there.

He knew what he wanted, and he knew he shouldn't want it. His hands balled into fists, and a whimper emerged from his tightly constricted throat. He had only done it yesterday, why would he want it this soon? The other one hadn't even begun to heal.

As if from a distance, he felt his fingers digging into his arms. Tiny pricks of pain, barely anything. He needed more. A shiver went up his back as he thought of a knife, a razor, scissors, anything. Anything that could show him how bad he truly was. Something to bite into his skin, rip it open to reveal what he really was. To let his walls, his room, his bathroom witness what he really was. Not an ace, or a student. He was sick, destroying all his instincts of self-preservation to mutilate his skin. To let his blood, the thing that kept him alive, slowly leak out. He was sick.

He was a monster. If Mamori found out, she'd cry. Cry for days on end, and wouldn't be able to look at him. She'd want to find out who caused him to do this, want to know how he could ever do it.

Hiruma would sneer. Curl his lip in disgust at the weakling shrimp. Too pissed off to even shoot or throw Cerberus at him. Maybe even kick him off the American Football team. While Sena didn't want to go to the double practice tomorrow, he liked the game. He liked being part of the team, being needed.

They could never know.

The phone rang. Sena stood up quickly, and grasped the edge of his bed frame as his legs nearly gave out. Shambling, he managed to reach the clunky phone on the other side of his room. He forced his breathing into a slightly more relaxed rhythm, and tried to stop his hands from shaking. One last breath, and he pulled the phone up to his ear.

"Hello? Sena? Oh good, I thought you might be out." Mamori's cheery voice hit him like a wave. It was unexpected, but it was a relief to hear her.

"Oh, ahh, no, I still have some homework to finish up." He laughed, and hoped he didn't sound too nervous. That last thing he wanted to hear right now was Mamori needling him with worried questions.

"You're still not finished? Those guys aren't making you do their homework, are…" A hint of menace edged into Mamori's voice.

"No, no, I just kind of forgot about it. Why are you phoning?" He did have homework, so maybe this one lie wouldn't go down in the books, and on his legs.

"Right, right. Hiruma is having me phone all the team members. He wants a double practice tomorrow, both in the morning and after school. I thought it was absurd, and you don't have to go if you don't want to, but he wants you taking pictures of the practice or something. I keep telling him that…" Sena cut off Mamori's impending rant.

"That's alright, I don't mind. If you can do it, so can I." He allowed a smile to reach his voice. He didn't need to see Mamori to know she reciprocated the smile.

"That's good Sena. That's really good." She paused, as if she were about to say something else, but continued on. "I'll see you tomorrow then, at six a.m. Get some sleep!" The line clicked off, and Sena gently put the receiver back down.

He shuffled back to his bed, and planted his face back in the pillow. Tears started leaking out again, but not in the desperate way they had moments before. He allowed some sounds to come out, and before he knew it, he was sobbing once more. He clutched his arms to himself, shaking, and clamped his eyes shut.

In all truth, he didn't think he was ready to put on a cheery face tomorrow, especially with the double practice. He had almost told Mamori that he didn't feel that great, and would miss the early practice, but she probably would have fretted over him, and end up visiting, which could only be worse. He cared about her very much, but she was stubborn and insistent, and that couldn't bode well for his exhaustion as it was.

With a few blinks, he could see his digital clock on his night table: a quarter past eight. He had nine hours until he needed to leave the house tomorrow. The sobs were coming out dry now, and he felt some of the pressure on his chest ease away. He'd skip dinner for sleep. He hoped if he slept some, the bags under his eyes would recede, and he'd be able to keep some food down.

While wet and puffy, his eyes closed once again, and he fell into an uneasy sleep, but sleep nonetheless. Sena was determined to come out of tomorrow the winner, for the better of everyone he cared about.

A nearly invisible smile crept onto his face as he fell asleep.