It was funny, how human relationships worked. Bane had never actually bothered to keep track of who was younger or older than him, not till he actually entered Rokkaku Junior High, then all of a sudden the line between younger and older seemed so much clearer. Like how the 'why' kid was his age, while that kid with the blond hair was a year younger.

The new captain was picked with much ceremony. In other words, the team went out to dig for clams, and Ojii chucked a handful at the team blindfolded, and the first guy it hit became the captain. And so they applauded, because it was polite, and ate the clams, because it was dinner, and pelted the empty shells at their new captain, because it was fun.

One day, while running around picking up balls, Bane noticed a new kid standing among the random other ones milling about outside the courts. He'd never seen this boy before, all short and skinny and serious-looking with a head of wavy red hair. "Hey!" Bane called out. "Are you new around here?"

The boy nodded. Bane blinked. This was the first time anyone had responded to him silently; the kids around here were too noisy for their own good, and would have volunteered not only the information Bane had asked for, but the date they arrived, the number of people in their family, and how old they were.

"Can you even talk?"

Another nod. The expression on the boy's face never changed, and Bane got slightly unnerved by that solemn green-eyed gaze. "You all right there?" he ventured.

"Not entirely," the boy responded. "Because if I was, then I wouldn't have a left." Then he grinned, and his front tooth was only half grown out.

Bane stared. "What the... what!"

The grin dropped off the boy's face as quickly as it had appeared. "Didn't you get that?"

The side of Bane's mouth twitched. "I got it. I got it all right." His eyebrow twitched, too. "What's your name?"

"Amane Hikaru."

Bane would remember the name, and the boy, and he would make sure Amane Hikaru joined the tennis team so that when the time came, Bane could use the kid's new Ojii-made racket to beat the shit out of him. "I'm Kurobane," he said instead, the easy smile on his face almost belying his murderous thoughts. Almost, because his eyebrow somehow wouldn't stop twitching.

The gap-toothed grin returned, albeit somewhat dimmer. "Hello, Kurobane-nii-chan," he chirped. "I think someone's looking for you."

As Bane turned to see just what the kid was looking at, a neon yellow ball whizzed into his face. "Stop fraternising with the chibis and come practice," Saeki called out from the next court, bouncing a second ball between the floor and his racket. Saeki was tall, taller than Bane, and had swarms of girls of all ages clustered around him whenever Bane saw him in school. Bane didn't care about the girls, but he wanted to be taller than Saeki someday.

As Bane walked over to play a few warm-up sets against Saeki, he cast a quick glance back at the kids running around outside the chain-link, but Amane was nowhere to be seen.