♥ 08/06/06 ♥

( )-( )

Thank you to noomma for taking good care of the plot puppies. ♥
And thank you to Ate Yumi for putting up with my Giant Squid epiphanies. XD

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None of them could look at Sakuno in the eye. Nobody dared to mention the wardrobe malfunction to her. She wasn't even aware her wardrobe 'malfunctioned'; she was too embarrassed about her show of clumsiness that she didn't realize what just happened. She couldn't look them in the eye either. Not for the same reasons that they had, but because she was mortified by her 'dynamic entry'.

She wanted to cry, but she dared not to. Her lower lip trembled and her eyes misted but she didn't dare cry. After Tezuka picked her up, Oishi and Kikumaru dusted her off carefully. Kikumaru hovered over the fallen Sakuno like a worried papa and Oishi clucked his tongue like a chastising mama. Everyone else was rooted to their spots, still reeling at the incident.

"You should watch where you're going, nyah?" Kikumaru reminded her gently as he removed pebbles from her hair. "You scared daddy!" Sakuno smiled weakly at him. Her face felt like it was going to burst into flames. "Let me carry your bag for you, nyah? Can you walk? Nyah Tezuka, let me carry her, I'm her papa, not you!"

Tezuka blinked at Eiji's small outburst. He looked like an older brother who ignored his younger brother's demand for his turn on a toy they shared.

"Does anything hurt when you move? Did you bump your head? Atobe, can I borrow a first aid kid?" Oishi assessed her injuries. She was littered with minor scrapes and cuts on her hands, arms, legs and knees. She looked like someone tied her at the back of the bus and dragged her across the driveway. They weren't any major cuts (or at least none that he could see), but they still needed to be cleaned and sterilized.

"Mitsu-nii, I can walk by myself," Sakuno whispered.

"Your chin is bleeding," he frowned at her.

Oh great, Sakuno thought. First she tripped and of all the places to get injured, it just had to be on her chin. What idiot gets her chin injured?

Atobe blinked the tint on his cheeks away. Tezuka was always caring and sweet with his girlfriend. It unnerved him. He snapped his fingers and one of his servants scuttled away to procure the first aid kit. "Shall we go inside?" His face remained impassive even when he looked at Tezuka who was balancing his girlfriend and a large pink pig.

Sakuno handed Buta-chan over to Kikumaru. It served to distract him from worrying about her, and it kept her from bleeding on Buta-chan.

Tezuka's curt nod snapped everyone to attention and they went inside. Most of them avoided eye contact with Sakuno as much as possible and she interpreted it as their disappointment in her show of extreme klutziness. Tomoka wanted to tell her how her underwear was cute, but Kamio subtly whispered to her that what Sakuno didn't know wouldn't hurt her. Her pride was already injured on top of the minor cuts she got, so what was the point of embarrassing her further? Nobody wanted to mention it to her either, so they tried to keep the mental image of Sakuno's upturned skirt out of their minds. Most of them failed, but they just kept it to themselves anyway.

Momo couldn't help but notice how his buchou acted around Ryuzaki-chan. On one hand, he was loyal to Echizen whom he was closest to on the team. On the other hand, he only saw a side of his buchou that he never knew of whenever Ryuzaki-chan was around. Moments like this made him feel torn. He felt like he should choose a side but he couldn't.

Tomoka was also eyeing her senpai in a different perspective. He was so sweet to her friend that it was so endearing. Ah! But Ryoma-sama is still the one that Sakuno likes, right? She snuck a glance at Kamio-kun. Still... It was possible to admire someone for their talent and like someone else at the same time. Right?

"Youkoso!" An army of uniformed servants greeted warmly as the door to Atobe's 'small hot spring cottage' was opened. Kamio, Tomoka and Momo's jaws dropped at the elegance of the foyer. The marbled floor was polished and there were two winding banisters on either side of the room, leading to the second floor.

Everything looked so shiny and expensive. The entrance alone looked like it belonged in some kind of catalogue for construction companies to make ballrooms out of. Fancy paintings adorned the walls and there was even a lavish chandelier hanging overhead. The marble floor was polished to perfection; you could see your reflection when you looked down.

"I thought he said 'small private onsen retreat'?" Kamio whispered lowly to Tomoka beside him. "This doesn't look like anything 'small' to me."

Tomoka nodded when she whispered back. "I feel like we're in a fancy museum."

Momo overheard their conversation, since he was standing on the other side of Tomoka. "I'm almost afraid to touch anything. I'm worried I might break something," he added, also in a low voice.

"The entryway alone is as big as my house," Eiji stared at the tall ceiling in awe. There was some sort of painting on the dome that housed the chandelier overhead. His superior eyesight could make out cute little cherubs and fluffy clouds.

Yuushi rolled his eyes. They haven't even seen anything yet.

A servant came back with a first aid kit. Oishi thanked him before he took it. Tezuka refused to put Sakuno down so he treated her wounds while his buchou held her. The balancing act was one befitting of Eiji himself. Hyōtei gave Tezuka curious looks all the while, which he ignored. They all wondered why he was still carrying the girl even after Oishi placed a band-aid on her chin to cover her one and only major injury. Then they glanced at their own buchou to judge his reaction to it. He seemed unaware of their interest and a bit bothered by Tezuka's actions.

Momo also stared, he couldn't help it. "They look like a newly married couple and buchou is carrying his bride over the threshold." He remarked to Kamio. It earned him a hard glare from Ryoma but he didn't notice. Tezuka chose to ignore Momo and his remark as well.

Atobe cleared his throat. He didn't like Momoshiro's comment. "On the first floor we have the kitchens, two bathrooms, a solarium that doubles as a tea room, an office, the den, the dining room, a game room, the theatre and the living room." Without any adieu, he started his tour.

The mansion looked more modest on the outside than it did on the inside; the outside was impressive in itself, but it looked good enough to rival a four-star hotel on the inside.

"I think I saw a house like this once," Momo's eyes were wide as he ogled the marble toilet seat with the golden flush button.

"Oh yeah?" Kamio admired the small chandelier overhead. Who puts a chandelier in their bathroom!

"Yeah," Momo nodded and followed behind Kaidoh who snorted. "What, you don't believe me? Have you seen that American show on television? On MTV..."

"Cribs?" Ryoma turned back to interject.

"Exactly!" Momo earned a pointed glare from Atobe. He was still giving them a tour and he hated to be interrupted. Momo swallowed audibly and kept his mouth shut. When Atobe finished his little explanation about the current room they were in, the crowd followed him out. Momo remained in the back with Kamio. "Dude, the dining room walls are lined with silk!" He whispered in a loud, unbelieving voice.

"I noticed." The decadence of the whole 'simple resort' was starting to make him feel queasy. He wasn't used to this level of richness. Kamio wondered once again why he was here when a small hand grabbed his shirt.

Tomoka wasn't even aware what she had done. She was just as busy ogling the sinfully chic house they were going to be staying in for the next week. She was starting to feel like a princess.

Atobe next showed them the back door leading to the pool and revealed how to get to the outdoor hot springs. It was considered outdoors because the ceiling was open, but it still looked very private. There were two entrances, one for men and one for women. They normally had mixed baths, but it was only according to the preference of the guests occupying the resort.

There was a pool house beside the pool and a tennis court to the side. Kikumaru grumbled about how he didn't remember to bring his tennis gear because "What onsen retreat would have a tennis court?" but then Momo replied with "His pool house is as big as my normal house."

The Hyōtei buchō chose to ignore their comments again. "The property extends to the forest two miles back and you are free to go hiking if you wish, but you should inform one of the staff first or bring someone who is familiar with the area."

They toured the house some more and Atobe showed them how things functioned. Inui took notes of his lecture all the time while the others, except for Tezuka and Fuji, gaped like fish. Oishi especially so when Atobe showed them a fish tank that contained lots of rare, tropical fish. Some of them couldn't forget the look of love that crossed Oishi's face as they expected him to hug the glass tank. Momo even got tempted to bet if Oishi was going to lick it.

"And this room," a servant opened the door to the room Atobe pointed at, "is one of the game rooms. Ore-sama thinks that Tezuka might find this interesting, ne Kabaji?"

Kabaji was suspiciously five feet away from Atobe. "Ossu."

Kikumaru saw Gakuto titter before he got a hold of himself and looked away. Curious, Seigaku and Kamio peeked at the room in unison. The room looked like a bona fide arcade. Their eyes widened as one as they took in the assorted games inside the spacious room, but all eyes were especially drawn to the DDR machines in the center.

Sakuno face-faulted and stifled the urge to squeak as Mitsu-nii's grip on her tightened. Tezuka did not enjoy what Atobe implied. Everyone from Seigaku (except Fuji) and Kamio took a cautionary step away from Tezuka.

"We— we should go take our bags to our room and um, unpack." Oishi hastily changed topics.

"The servants will take your bags to your rooms," Atobe informed them.

"How will we know which room is ours?" Momo was reluctant to hand his bag over. He wasn't used to servants waiting on him. "I thought we were going to one of those normal resorts and we all room in one big room while sleeping on futons."

Kikumaru nodded in agreement. "Like when we did our survival training."

Gakuto winced. "You mean that place where you have killer frogs?" Choutarou shuddered in remembrance. "That place was a dump!"

"Hey!" Kikumaru protested. "It wasn't that bad... the food was good and it was fun... but yeah, that place doesn't compare to this one." Gakuto smirked at his admittance.

"This way, tatsujin-sama," the servants bowed.

Oishi shook his head. "Uh... just Oishi would do or uh..." He was met with blank looks. No one had ever waited on him or called him 'master' before. It was a new and kind of eerie experience. He didn't like it.

"Normally," Atobe said one last time as he sent the servants away (Seigaku and Kamio really didn't want to hand over their luggage), "we have more than enough rooms even when the whole team is visiting, but since we have two, there is a need to share space." His tone was laced with a hint of apology.

"We're used to sharing rooms nyah, don't worry about it." Kikumaru assured him. "But I get dibs on Ochibi and chibi-musume!"

"Eiji, the girls should have a room of their own," Oishi gently reminded his friend.

"But why?" He didn't see anything wrong with sharing a room with his chibis. This was a chance to get to know his chibis' sleeping habits and maybe even push them more together. He wasn't going to pass it up! "I'll be on high alert and protect chibi-musume's virtue so that Ochibi doesn't do that thing under the thing again," he loudly whispered to Oishi.

"That thing under the thing?" Choutarou's brows furrowed.

Gakuto was also confused. "Who are Ochibi and chibi-musume?"

"They're my chibis," Kikumaru replied. "Coz see when chibi-musume was sick, Ochibi took advantage of her and—"

"I didn't take advantage of chibi-musume!" Ryoma fists were balled up, his stance was very defensive. It didn't help that Momo-senpai and Eiji-senpai were laughing at him. Even Inui-senpai looked amused at his use of Eiji-senpai's term. "I meant to say Ryuzaki. Ryuzaki, not chibi-musume," he amended.

"You were taking advantage of her?" Oshitari questioned. He didn't miss how his team captain stiffened.

"She was sick and Echizen attempted to take her to the clinic," Inui took pity on his kouhai. He also noted how Hyōtei looked at their captain as one, swiveled their gaze to Ryuzaki-chan in perfect synchrony, and then turned to look at Atobe again, like spectators in a tennis match.

They were a little disappointed when all their buchou said was "Hm."

"Young Master, the rooms are ready," the stone-faced, uniformed butler informed them.

"Please show our guests to their rooms," Atobe instructed.

Sakuno was about to ask Mitsu-nii to put her down when a large ball of fur bounded down the stairs and went for Tezuka...

"Woah! What is that?" Kikumaru jumped out of the way just in time.

... Or to be more precise, it went for Tezuka's cargo. He held up his hands to keep her from it. Sakuno squeaked ungracefully from above.

"Nyah, a puppy!"

"Beat!" Atobe scolded his dog. Beat ignored him and wagged his tail as he continued to reach for the girl in Tezuka's arms. In his doggy mind, all he saw were two long tails and he wanted to play with them. "Beat, stop it! Sit boy!" Atobe's commands were neatly ignored by the amused dog. He continued chasing after the two braids up above him.

He woke up to an empty room and he looked for his master a few minutes ago. He found his master, but he was more curious about the two tails that looked like a lot of fun right now.

Tezuka was trying hard not to kick it away as he brought Sakuno up higher to keep her way from the dog. It looked like it wanted to eat her. Its paws were balanced on his torso as it tried to climb over him to get to her.

"— Ack! Bad puppy! Bad! Don't try to eat my chibi-musume! Stop it nyah!"

"Beat is not a man-eater, he's just excited." Atobe defended his dog. Beat looked really delighted... was he reaching for the girl's hair...?

"He's not trying to eat Ryuzaki, Eiji-senpai. I think it's trying to reach for her braids." I told her she needed to cut her hair. Ryoma stepped closer to the playful dog but stopped short when the dog suddenly turned to him and growled menacingly. His eyes widened a fraction. Animals loved him. Karupin loved him. He slept with Karupin all the time.


The dog could probably smell his cat on him...

... Oh shi—

"Nyaaaaaaaaah! Bad dog! Don't eat my Ochibi nyaaaaaaaaaaaaah!"

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"So what do you think?"

"Ten bucks says that Atobe gets rejected. The girl didn't seem that interested in him. Wait, scratch that, she didn't look even remotely interested in him."

"That's not what I was asking, Shishido-san!" Choutarou was scandalized.

Shishido blinked at him. "It wasn't?"

"Twenty says he doesn't give up anyway," Gakuto stretched languidly on the chaise chair. Only Atobe and Kabaji were missing from the room. Jiroh was sleeping on one of the beds and the 'meeting' was established as soon as Seigaku and the lone Fudomine boy got acquainted with their rooms.

"Gakuto-senpai! We shouldn't be betting on Buchou like this," Choutarou frowned at his senpai disapprovingly. "Isn't that right, Hiyoshi?"

Hiyoshi Wakashi shrugged. "Twenty-five."

Frustrated, Choutarou smacked his palm against his forehead. What was this world coming to? His teammates had gone insane, betting on the poor Buchou like this... "Instead of betting on him, we should be helping him. Isn't that our job as his teammates? We should stick together and consider this like we would our tennis matches. The victory of our captain can be achieved if the team aids him."

"I wonder why Tezuka was carrying her for so long." Shishido wondered out loud, effectively ignoring his doubles partner's speech.

"Do you think she's Tezuka's girl?" Gakuto asked. "If so, does that mean that they're rivals not only in tennis now? Hmmmm... Do those braids look familiar to you?"

Hiyoshi hmmmed, "You know, I was thinking of the same thing, but I can't remember where I've seen them before."

A contemplative silence reigned in the room.

"We don't know anything for sure, and I don't think Atobe would like it if he found out that we're having this conversation at his expense." Choutarou felt like the only sane person in the area. He looked at his senpai's sleeping form on the bed and wondered if he should wake him up or not. What they were talking about was madness. "We're all jumping to conclusions. We should just ask Buchou..."

"We already went through that." Gakuto interrupted dryly. "If you want details, go ask him yourself. You can pass it on to us afterwards." None of them wanted to look like gossip mongrels, even if in truth, they really were.

Choutarou turned to his last resort. "Oshitari-senpai, do something!"

Yuushi joined his hands together under his chin and leaned forward, glasses gleaming. "Boys, you should know better."

Choutarou felt a little relieved. At least more than one of them was thinking clearly. Their Hyōtei spirit of solidarity wasn't lost, after all. His tight grip on his hair loosened.

Yuushi grinned almost maniacally, "You forgot to establish time limits on your bets."

The Scud Serve specialist almost fell off his chair in disbelief. "Not you too, Oshitari-senpai!"

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No chibis were eaten by Atobe's dog that day. Beat was carried off by Kabaji at the orders of Atobe... preferably somewhere far, far away from Kikumaru's chibis.

In the end, Kikumaru didn't have his way. Sakuno and Tomoka shared a room; he wasn't allowed to gather his chibis with him in one room together. Tezuka was with Fuji and Inui. Their room was next to the girls' room and it shared a connecting bathroom in the middle. Ryoma, Momo, Horio and Kamio took one room together. Kawamura, Kaidoh, Oishi and Kikumaru bunked in another. Their rooms were directly across the hallway from their other friends' rooms and they too shared a bathroom with each other in the middle.

They chose these four rooms specifically. There were other rooms, but these four were the only vacant ones next to and close to each other. They were also the only ones with five beds each.

They separated to unpack and agreed to meet up downstairs afterwards.

Just as Sakuno finished her short 'talk' with Tomo-chan regarding Kamio-kun, her phone rang.

All the girls stepping out for a public affair... All night,let's rock,cause the party don't stop...

All the cameras, come out, for a public affair... Who cares,let's rock,cause the party don't stop...


"Sakunoooooooo!" Ann's voice clamored from the other end. "Where are you now? Are you having fun? Is Banshee with you? How's Kamio-kun? Is he fitting in? Is he getting along with the others? Niichan wants to know." Sakuno heard Kippei protest in the background. "How are you? Are you staying away from Atobe like I told you to? There's no telling if he's going to 'accidentally' do anything to you again. You should stick close to Banshee like I told you to. She's not as capable as I am, but she'll have to do since I can't be there. Did you pack enough clothes? Did you make sure that—"

"Ann-Ann-chan…" Sakuno interrupted her friend's tirade before it could get any longer. "We're at the resort now, yes. We're just unpacking our bags so we haven't really had a chance to do anything yet."

"Where's Kamio-kun?"

"He's staying with Momo-senpai."

"You're kidding me."



Sakuno nodded and continued to unpack her stuff. They were sharing a bathroom with the boys in the other room so she placed their girly stuff on one side of the left sink. The other sink and its side should be for the boys. "Seriously. You should've seen them together. I've never seen them get along so well before."

"They weren't just acting like they like each other coz Tezuka-san was with them, were they? They behave when they're around him."

"No," Sakuno assured her friend "not at all. They're getting along really well."

"Hmmm... what was Momoshiro-kun's body language like?"

"Ummm... tall?"

"No, no, I meant was he fidgety or stiff... what he was doing with his hands and stuff... do you need to check if they're still alive right now..."

Sakuno giggled a little. "I don't think they're going to kill each other. Momo-senpai wasn't fidgety or stiff at all. I think Hyōtei wondered why Kamio-kun is here but Tomo-chan is keeping him company. Momo-senpai is helping her. They're getting along well. If they're not, Tomo-chan will be there if I'm not."

"That's good to know," Ann's concerns for her friend were assuaged. They talked for a few minutes more while Sakuno finished unpacking.

Fuji came through the adjoining bathroom door a few minutes later. "Are you girls ready to go downstairs?"

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There was nothing like sitting naked in steaming hot mineral water with your fellow male friends to promote male camaraderie.

"What are you looking at?" Water splashed when Ryoma crossed his arms together. His glare was fierce. He considered it extremely rude for someone to stare at another person like that, even if they were both males. Especially since they were both males! If he wanted to stare at something, he could stare at his own... thing. They were only covered by a small piece of cloth, for crying out loud. There had to be an unwritten rule somewhere that no one is allowed to ogle fellow bathers like that.

Atobe raised an offended brow at the brat's tone of voice. "Why nothing, nothing at all," he said pointedly. Was the brat suggesting that he, the great Atobe, had been staring? The nerve!

Fuji watched the exchange behind his closed chinky eyes, amused. Tezuka soaked indifferently beside him. He didn't give a hoot what they were talking about; he could feel the tension ease away from his muscles as he sank lower into the water and that was all he was concerned about. The other boys also littered the spacious onsen. There was so much room that it was enough to fit all of them comfortably and there was still room for more.

Momo sat beside Kamio as they enjoyed soaking in silence. Inui sat beside Kaidoh and Kawamura, his green notebook notably absent. Kabaji had a white towel on top of his head as he soaked beside Atobe. All the Seigaku people and Kamio had been excited to soak in the hot springs. Some of the Hyōtei boys grumbled a little at how the other onsen was reserved for the girls now, but they guessed they couldn't help it; they figured sacrifices had to be made in favor of Atobe's girl. Still, it took some getting used to...

"Stop staring at me," Ryoma grit out between clenched teeth. The older boy's attention was really making him feel uncomfortable.

"Ore-sama was not staring at you," Atobe replied just as annoyed as him. "Ore-sama wasn't looking at anything in particular. Ore-sama was just lost in thought." He was thinking about how he could make their stay more enjoyable and if he should organize events to keep them entertained before the brat interrupted his thoughts. Tezuka looked like he didn't want to step one foot inside the arcade. Pity, that.

"I didn't know you were capable of thinking," Ryoma sunk further into the water and drew his knees up to his chest. It didn't hurt to be careful. Lost in thought? Shyeah right.

The door to the onsen suddenly opened. "I'm here!" An energetic Kikumaru clad only in a white towel happily announced. "Nyah Chibi-musume, are you there?" He called out towards the removable divider that separated the newly dubbed 'girls-only onsen'. The shoji screen had cherry blossom patterns on it and it looked more like a romantic background than a makeshift divider.

"Hai, Eiji-senpai!" Sakuno answered from the other end.

"Papa! Call me Eiji-papa!"

Oishi appeared behind him and walked towards an empty spot in the onsen. His bones sang in anticipation of the heavenly properties of the onsen. Kikumaru wasn't as disciplined. Inui saw the look on Eiji's eyes and he tried to shout out a warning.

"Eiji don't—"

The acrobatics specialist of Seigaku gathered speed and surpassed Oishi as he cannonballed into the hot water. "Wheeeeeeeeee!"


Water splattered everywhere and created a small tidal wave that washed over everybody. Not even Oishi, who wasn't inside the onsen, was spared. Water overlapped from the edges of the onsen and onto the floor from Kikumaru's jump. It also wet the walls, the divider and everything within the splash radius. Those of them who haven't gotten their hairs wet yet looked like drowned rats. Atobe's former perfect hair was matted against his perfect skull as he glared at the offender. Oshitari, Tezuka and Inui's eyeglasses were fogged up and drenched by the tidal wave that Kikumaru caused. Loud protests echoed throughout the onsen.

"Kikumaru!" Gakuto's normally flat hair was in disarray. Tufts of it stuck out in odd angles where the waves carried it and some blanketed his face. He wiped the hair away from his eyes and glared at his rival from Seigaku. "What'd you do that for!"

"This isn't a swimming pool," Shishido said through gritted teeth.

Yuushi's brow twitched in irritation, but he held his temper.

Tezuka sat in silence, but everyone could feel the irritation radiating from him in waves. It was worse than that time Kikumaru accidentally placed mentos in his coke. It hadn't been pretty then and it certainly didn't look pretty now. Kikumaru's only saving grace back then was that he thought it was Oishi's soda he was punking.

"That was fun nyah? I should do it one more time!"

Several pairs of hands dragged him back down.

A barely contained "Sit!" echoed in the onsen

Mirrored with an irritated "Stop it!"

And an almost-pleading "That's enough, Eiji-senpai."

Was followed by a wet "Fssssh..."

So he shrugged and relaxed his body into the hot spring. "Aaaaah... this is the life."

"Where's Jiroh?" Atobe ran his hands through his hair to tame it. It was better than wrapping it around Kikumaru's neck, like what his hand itched to do.

"I think he's still sleeping," Gakuto patted his hair flat. Damn Kikumaru. The guy was now loudly humming a tune.

"Do you guys want to sing an onsen song nyah?"

"No." Most of them answered as one.

Kikumaru pouted but he wasn't daunted. "Hoi chibi-musume, do you wanna sing a song? These guys are being mean to me and they don't wanna sing a song nyah." He loudly asked towards the divider.

There was a slight pause before the chibi replied. "Su-sure, Eiji-senpai. What song would you like to sing?"

Thankfully, after several minutes of Eiji and his chibi's rendition of 'this is the song that never ends', salvation came.

"Young Master," a uniformed butler called out from the doorway, "dinner is ready when you are."

Never have you seen or will ever see a bunch of half-naked bishounen covered only with white towels flee for their sanity so fast.

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During dinner, Tomoka sat next to Kamio. She made sure he had all he needed and made sure he didn't feel left out. Earlier today, Sakuno had given her this task and she wasn't able to refuse. She had been so nice when she asked and Tomoka didn't like seeing unshed tears in her friend's eyes. "You should try the beef, Kamio-kun." It was easy being nice to him, since he was nice to her in return.

Sakuno couldn't keep the grin off her face because of it, and Tezuka helped her get control of her giggles by stepping on her foot under the table. It wasn't too painful, but the ache was uncomfortable enough to get rid of her giggling fit. He did get carried away with it, however, so she retaliated by kicking him back.

It hurt her foot probably more than it hurt his shin and all she got back was an indifferent stare behind his glasses. It amused him when she returned his pretend indifference with narrowed eyes and puffed-up cheeks. She looked like a cute squirrel having a silent tantrum.

Fuji was curious about his friends' behavior, but kept his mouth shut. His smile never faltered and relished the taste of his savory steak that cut like it was a stick of butter. MMmmm… yum!

After dinner, Ryoma didn't miss the look that passed between Ryuzaki and Buchou before they excused themselves from the table. He expected her friend to go with her, but Osakada was too busy talking to Kamio to even notice her friend's departure. He felt ignored all throughout dinner and he was not in a good mood right now.

Tezuka and Sakuno caught up with Hyōtei's buchou just a few seconds after he left the dining room.

"Um, Atobe-san?"

Tezuka was standing next to Sakuno when Atobe turned around. They're always together, he thought with a hint of something unidentifiable. "Yes?"

Sakuno presented him with a gift-wrapped package. "This isn't much, but we would like to thank you for inviting us here. We really appreciate it."

"Thank you," he accepted with a slight bow. "Can ore-sama open it?"

"Hai!" Sakuno nodded repeatedly, her braids swinging in the process. She wanted to see his expression when he opened it. She bit her bottom lip in anticipation. It wasn't anything elegant, but it was from the bottom of their hearts.

The wrapper was simple and the bow was a tad bit feminine. It crinkled under his touch and he tore it open to reveal...

Tezuka blinked to judge his reaction. He better not say anything to offend Sakuno or else—

"We all contributed and helped, even a little. Mitsu-nii made the frame and Oishi-senpai helped me decorate it. Kikumaru-senpai and the others gave us a lot of material to use." The gift was a blown-up framed photograph of their best group snapshot from the Eyes Rutherford concert. "Syusuke-nii was the one who took and developed the picture." Sakuno continued. "We noticed you didn't take any pictures and we thought you'd want a souvenir... you..." Did he hate it? "I... I'm sorry that's all we could give you in return..." her voice wavered; her earlier excitement was now replaced by apprehension. His silence made her nervous.

Tezuka was about to clear his throat when Atobe finally spoke. "It's really nice. Ore-sama shall treasure it, thank you."

Sakuno gave him a beaming smile.

His heart swelled inside, if that was even possible, and he couldn't identify the feeling that accompanied it. It was the first handmade gift anybody had ever given him. No one ever bothered to give him such a simple gift before, so maybe that was it, he thought as he listened to the girl tell him more about Fuji's skills on photography. It was hard not to get lost in her enthusiasm.

He failed to notice the odd look that Tezuka gave him before the others joined them.

"Oh you gave it to him already nyah?" Kikumaru bounded towards his chibi-musume and peered at Atobe. "We made it ourselves!"

"Yes, ore-sama was told that." Atobe ignored the amused looks his teammates gave him. "Do you guys want to go to the arcade?"

Tezuka's glare was hard enough to slice through three inches of steel.

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Sakuno woke up with a start. Her dream of riding Buta-chan over fluffy clouds was interrupted by the parched feeling in her throat. She was thirsty. Her clouded mind didn't register the unfamiliar room or her bestfriend sleeping in the bed next to hers. She just wanted a glass of water.

She was never one to turn the lights on in the middle of the night, if she ever woke up to go to the bathroom or needed to go to the kitchen to get a drink. She felt her way towards the door, out of the room, through the hallways and past the elegant stairway. Her brain was slow to register the expensive marble floor beneath her bare feet, but the cold quickly seeped in by the time she half-realized she didn't know where the heck she was.

Before she could regain her bearings, something cold nudged her from behind, startling her. "Eek!" A large, hairy dog was wagging its tail at her. Sakuno massaged her poor heart. "You almost scared me to death!" She frowned at the dog. "Where did you come from?"

It whined and nudged her again. She reached out and scratched his ear. "Um... Beat, was it?"

Beat woofed softly, as if he understood that it was the middle of the night and the rest of the house was asleep so he had to remain quiet.

"You wouldn't happen to know where the kitchen is, would you." Sakuno asked more at herself than the purring dog. Do dogs even purr? This one surely liked being scratched behind his ear.

Beat woofed softly again before he padded over to one direction. When Sakuno didn't follow him, he woofed a little more forcefully as if he was telling her to come.

Sakuno shrugged, placed a hand on his back and then followed him. This was his territory so she could only guess that he was more familiar of the mansion's layout more than she was. Maybe he could help her go back to her room later, too. The dog clearly had a better sense of direction than her. She already felt lost and she was a little scared of the big dark corridors.

Soon, they reached their target. Beat nudged the swinging doors with his nose and Sakuno followed him inside. The room was dark but the light from the refrigerator's ice and water dispenser together with the moonlight streaming in from the broad windows were enough to provide fluorescence. Even if she wanted to turn the lights on, she didn't know where the light switches were anyway.

She also found another dilemma: she didn't know where they kept the glasses. She looked at Beat curiously, "I guess it would be too much to ask if you know where they keep the glasses, huh?" Everything looked so expensive. Marbled tops, stainless steel appliances, dark wood and complicated-looking faucets adorned the room. She could make out at least two dish washers and four sinks; two of the sinks faced a window and the other two were located on the center aisle.

She didn't want to open any cabinets to look for china; she was afraid she might accidentally break something. The sink suddenly didn't look so bad. Surely tap water from the really elaborate-looking faucet was drinkable.

Now if she could only reach it...

Beat sat down on the cold marble floor and watched as the human girl who smelled good leaned on her elbows to turn the sink on. He liked this girl. Her hair was longer than his and it entertained him when it swished behind her. She had two tails on her head earlier today, but they were gone now. His doggy brain briefly wondered about it but he didn't really mind since he could smell the scent from her liberated mane better this way.

Sakuno turned the faucet on just as the room was flooded with light. Beat woofed at a sleepy boy who rubbed his eyes while he yawned. He stopped and stared at the small female perched on the center aisle. The water gushed from the faucet as Sakuno stared back at him like a doe trapped in the headlights.

"Um..." Sakuno couldn't remember his name. They continued to stare at each other for a minute more until Sakuno broke eye contact, turned the faucet off and jumped down from the counter.

"You're Atobe's new guest?" He ventured a guess. He heard enough even though he spent most of his days sleeping. Some girl from Seigaku. Flowers. Inviting them over. The others were curious... something with Atobe. He safely concluded that this was the girl his teammates were curious about.

"Ah... hai," Sakuno answered, as she racked her brain for his name "... Akutagawa-san. I'm Ryuzaki Sakuno." Her unbound hair floated over her shoulders like a chocolate waterfall when she bowed.

He paused in mid-yawn. "I know who you are."

She blinked at him, grabbed a handful of hair and twisted it nervously around her fingers. She felt underdressed. Her matching cotton pooh camisole and short shorts looked so unsophisticated compared to his slippers and silken bathrobe.

"Would you like some ice cream?" He asked as he searched the cabinets for a couple of bowls and then took spoons out of one of the drawers. One drawback to sleeping most of the time is waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to fall back to sleep as fast as he was able to do during the day.

"Wouldn't Atobe-san mind if we ate his ice cream?" Sakuno followed him with her eyes as he opened the freezer door and took out ice cream tubs.

"Nah," he replied. "He won't mind, I do this all the time. Strawberry or rocky road?" She pointed to the strawberry and he placed the rocky road back. "I don't think he's an ice cream person," he continued as he placed scoopfuls of the cold dessert in the bowls. "He's more of a cake person, if you ask me."

Sakuno silently agreed as she thanked him when he passed her a bowl and they enjoyed their ice cream together in silence for several minutes. She started to feel cold halfway through. Her hair and clothes offered little insulation.

"So do you play tennis?"

Sakuno shivered a little from the cold seeping into her bones but still continued to eat her ice cream. "I try, but I'm not very good at it."

That piqued his interest. So Atobe didn't care if the girl wasn't good in his beloved sport? She told him how she still couldn't hit the ball with the middle of her racket and had to restring her racket three times already. Ice cream was their common ground and she felt totally at ease with his company and him in hers, surprisingly.

She saw how excited he was when he played against Syusuke-nii. When she asked him about it he went into his fanboy mode and gushed about how awesome it was to experience the Hakugei in their match. She nodded her head and listened to his energetic recount; she didn't have the heart to tell him that she was there and witnessed the whole thing.

He was surprised to know that she took tennis lessons from a Fudomine student instead of someone from Seigaku. He suggested that she should ask her grandmother to tell them to teach her. She told him that she was contented with Shinji-kun teaching her because she could spend more time with her Fudomine friends that way. Syusuke-nii was already tutoring her and she mentioned in passing how she often bothered Mitsu-nii.

He finished his ice cream before her. "You could ask Atobe if you want." He noticed how she shivered once in a while but continued to eat her treat. "I'm sure he wouldn't mind." In fact, he was sure his buchou would be more than happy to do it, if he were to trust the speculations from his teammates.

She looked aghast over his suggestion. "I'm sure Atobe-san has more important things to do," she smiled at him.

"I doubt it," he honestly replied. It looked like his buchou was going to experience a lot of hurdles. Maybe he even needed help. "Are you cold?"

Sakuno shook her head in denial even as she shivered lightly. The ice cream was great but now she felt cold. Beat woofed quietly, as if he wanted to remind them that he was still there. She reached down to pet him and carried her bowl to the sink. The dog nudged the back of her knees to get her attention, which caused her to stumble lightly.

"He likes you."

Sakuno chuckled lightly. "I think he just wants to see me trip." The second the words were out of her mouth, she remembered her earlier accident. She couldn't remember seeing him there, though. She snuck a glance at him just to make sure. When he didn't look like he was going to laugh at her, she relaxed.

"You could just leave those there. The maids will take care of it in the morning." He stopped her when she started to wash the bowls and spoons.

"I don't want to be a bother," was all she said. There were only four things to wash; two bowls and two spoons. He helped her dry and place them back where he got them earlier. Then he surprised her when he took off his robe and offered it to her.

"Take it, you look cold," he offered to explain. He was built sturdier than she was and he was wearing pajamas that kept him warm.

"Thank you."

He got her a glass of cold water before they trotted out of the kitchen with Beat. "You wanna go watch some TV?"

Sakuno yawned behind a small hand. "Um..."

"That's alright," he smiled warmly at her. "Do you know how to get back to your room?" She tentatively shook her head.

He took her back to the second floor and it was easy to figure out which room was hers from then on. It was the only one with the open door. Beat let himself in without any prompting. Jiroh batted an eye at the dog's actions but didn't comment on it. He had the right idea, after all.

"Thank you, Akutagawa-san." She forgot that she was still wearing his robe.

Beat was a wise dog. If she was to be Atobe's girlfriend, they might as well get used to each other right now. "Just Jiroh would do," he told her. "See you tomorrow. Oyasumi," he went back downstairs after the girl closed the door. He was wide awake now; maybe watching some television will help him fall back to sleep.

Back in the room that Sakuno shared with Tomoka, Beat made himself comfortable in her bed with Buta-chan. It was roomy enough for the three of them, but the dog stuck to her like glue. He insisted on getting under the covers with her, so she made room for him. Then he waited until she got settled nice and cozy until he plopped half his body over hers, effectively trapping her.

Thankfully, she didn't suffocate or feel uncomfortable, so she sighed and gave up. If the dog wanted to use her as a pillow, then she had no choice but to let him. She didn't mind. She wished she had a pet of her own as she hugged the fluffy dog closer and drifted back to sleep.

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"Oh my— what is that? Sakuno? SAKUNO ARE YOU THERE?" Tomoka's voice ripped through the silence in the house. She just woke up and was shocked to find the monster that attempted to eat her bestfriend yesterday in Sakuno's bed. Did it eat Sakuno? "Sakuno, speak to me!" There was a huge lump in the luxurious bed, but she wasn't sure if it was Sakuno, the monster dog or if it was just Buta-chan.

The lump moved and mumbled something intangible under the covers before a brown head popped up. "Tomo-chan?" Sakuno rubbed her eyes sleepily. "Where's the fire?"

A hasty knock was heard on their bathroom door before it opened and Fuji came in uninvited, eyes opened. He didn't have a shirt on, he was only wearing a pair of pants and his hair was wet. Droplets of water fell from his head to the towel on his shoulders. He looked alarmed. His eyes flashed as he scanned their room for any intruders, his stance defensive. "Are you girls alright? I heard Osakada-chan shout and thought there was trouble..."

Sakuno yawned and continued to rub her eyes as she gave a dainty shrug. She just woke up; she didn't know what the problem was... and if there was a problem, she wouldn't have caused it somehow, because she was sleeping until a second ago. "It wasn't me, I'm innocent!" Beat woofed beside her, as if he agreed and he too was proclaiming his innocence.

Tomoka blushed. "I... I woke up and saw... I thought the monster dog," she pointed to the fluff ball on Sakuno's bed, "ate Sakuno or something... it... surprised me. Gomen nasai, Fuji-senpai! I'm sorry if I disturbed you."

Fuji smiled at his kouhai who repeatedly bowed in apology. "That's alright, Osakada-chan. Don't worry about it." He relaxed and wiped his hair vigorously, shaking the excess water off. He had just finished taking a shower and hastily put his pants on when he heard the girl's shout. "I don't think English Sheepdogs eat people. He looks pretty friendly to me. Look how he's wagging his tail? I think he likes Sakuno-chan."

Sakuno rubbed his furry head affectionately. "You're just a big lovable doggy, aren't you Beat? Yes you are... yes you are." She rubbed a spot behind his ear. The dog enjoyed the girl's cooing and he answered it with excited yips and barks of his own.

That encouraged Tomoka to pet the dog as well. Soon, Beat was enjoying a very relaxing rub down from two cute females. He contentedly laid down on the bed like he owned it.

I'm bringing sexy back Them other boys don't know how to act... I think you're special what's behind your back
So turn around and I'll pick up the slack
Take 'em to the bridge... Dirty babe… You see these shackles Baby I'm your slave

Both girls blinked at each other curiously and then they looked at Fuji. Fuji blinked back at them, his hand stilled from wiping his hair dry.

I'll let you whip me if I misbehave… It's just that no one makes me feel this way… Take 'em to the chorus!

"Sakuno, I think your phone is ringing."

Come here girl… Go ahead, be gone with it… Come to the back… Go ahead, be gone with it…

Taking it from the nightstand, Sakuno held her phone up curiously before she realized that her friend was right. But she didn't have a ringtone like— "Moshi-moshi?" — oh... right... Syusuke-nii messed with it yesterday. "Yuuta-nii? Hai, hai ... What?" Her brows creased in confusion. "Meet you where?"

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( )-( )
Jessica Simpson
, A Public Affair. Justin Timberlake, Sexy Back (damn you, TRL!)
I asked Zan-san what Beat was and she told me he looks like an English Sheepdog so I'm going with that. XP
shadow-wind auror and I would like to see fanarts. XD
Thanks for all your reviews. ♥

Current favorite anime: Still Blood+ (43 and counting) I'm losing my sanity over this anime. Episode 43 had me squeeing, laughing, worrying, crying, feeling bad and crying while laughing all in the span of five minutes. ¬¬
Anime recommendation: Eureka 7 (mecha!)
Current favorite song: Raion by Jinn from Blood+
Current obsession: Solomon (Yes, I love him more than Kyouya can you believe it? O.O His seiyuu is the same as Miroku's.)
Random no jutsu: If I asked you the top three bishies that you would like to pair up with Sakuno, who would they be? You can tell me why and stuff I'm just curious, that's why I'm asking. /embarrassed sweatdrop/ If three aren't enough, you can make it five if you want. Heh.

Get your sexy on!
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