I don't know if anyone still reads this, but I'd rather not leave things hanging, so here goes:
First off, I'd like to apologise to all my readers for the 18-month delay in getting this chapter up. (somehow 18 months sounds shorter than one and a half years... XD) But yes, real life caught up with me, which is why this story is only getting updated now. In any case, I plan to finish the story, although I can't say how much time I'll take between chapters - hopefully it'll be shorter! :P Also, please be kind and remember that the only writing I've done in the past year or so has been strictly scientific. T_T
With that said, read on!
It was well for Fuji that he was three streets away by the time Tezuka had the presence of mind to read the paper, on which the following words were printed in – the very word made Tezuka cringe, but there was no way around it – excessively cute font:
Flowers for your loved ones? Call 013-xxxxxxx! Our personal consultants will coach you in the language of these beautiful blossoms!
And in Fuji's neat handwriting:
P/S: Roses are cliched, try violets. Or cacti. Actually, cacti would probably be the best choice. You do kind of resemble a cactus yourself, you know.
The passers-by might be forgiven for giving the tall young man a very wide berth – especially since he was currently planning the horrific murder of a certain blue-eyed boy in ways too gruesome to imagine.
Boy, was he ever going to get it in tennis practice tomorrow.
Maika, on the other hand, had her own problems to deal with. Atobe's ego had somehow made a complete recovery and was now well on its way to surpassing its former greatness, the result being that he was currently listing every single one of his positive attributes to her.
"Look at me! I'm incomparably good-looking, rich beyond your wildest dreams, brilliantly talented, a wonderful person – " Maika snorted at that, earning herself a dirty look from said wonderful person, " – with an amazing personality – don't you like me?"
It was probably not the response he was looking for, but she simply couldn't help it.
She laughed in his face.
He absolutely refused to speak to her for the rest of the day.
Much to Maika's dismay, they were back at it again the very next day. Atobe had gone from persuading and wheedling to flat-out despair.
"But why don't you like me? I don't understand!" He was this close to wailing.
"I – um – it's that mad glint in your eye!"
And before he had time to even process the terribly foreign thought that something was actually wrong with his eye, she had bolted from the room.
"50 laps around the court!"
A moan came from the general direction of the regulars. "But we've already run so many..."
"Nya, Fuji, Tezuka's so evil..." Eiji whined, forgetting somewhat unfortunately that Tezuka had impossibly sharp hearing.
"Kikumaru, extra 10 laps!"
Fuji's knowing grin didn't falter the tiniest bit when Tezuka turned to him.
"Fuji, extra 50 laps. Now."
After all, 100 laps around the court was a small price to pay for the privilege of annoying Tezuka to the point of distraction. Besides, it was in the service of a friend, so no one could fault him for actually being good. And if helping that friend meant torturing him with the best of intentions (all in the name of snapping Tezuka out of his denial mode, of course) – then why, who was Fuji Syuusuke to say otherwise?
He grinned, and gave Tezuka a sideways glance that had the immediate effect of putting the captain in hyper-alert mode for any dastardly Fuji-plots that might be waiting for him around the corner. Or for that matter, any time in the foreseeable and not-so-foreseeable future. You never knew what was coming with Fuji.
Fuji waved at the taller boy, and Tezuka suddenly had a very, very bad feeling about that smile.
Atobe Keigo stepped out of the bathroom, and was greeted by the pleasant sight of himself in a full-length mirror, water droplets tracing the curve of his glistening muscles to where it disappeared under a towel. He flicked his wet hair experimentally to one side, sending a shower of water droplets onto the carpet.
What mad glint was she talking about? He was a perfect specimen of male virility, thank you very much! Maybe he – horror of horrors! – squinted whenever he talked to her?
He inspected his reflection in the mirror critically, squinting to see if he could recreate that mad glint of hers. After ten minutes of distorting his eyes in every way humanly possible, he decided to chalk her statement down to temporary insanity caused by the overload of gorgeousness whenever he was within ten feet of her.
Having settled that, he stepped back in satisfaction and gave himself an appreciative once-over.
"Why, hello there," He winked at the chiselled Greek god standing before him. "And how are you today?"
And of course, Murphy's Law dictated that his mother would walk in on him at that very moment.
"Keigo, what are you doing? For goodness' sake, stop making eyes at your reflection in the mirror! And put on some clothes!"
Why don't I like him?
That was a very good question... one for which she had no answer.
She tapped her pencil on the desk irritably. Every question had an answer, and she'd be damned if she couldn't answer one simple little question about herself.
Come on, I can do this...
Three hours and ten pages of doodles later, she had a splitting headache, two used scribbling pads, and nothing to show for it.
...either she was very, very stupid, or she was going about this the wrong way.
She thought for a moment, when she suddenly hit on the perfect solution. Why hadn't she thought of using the resources at her disposal before? After all, even directors did research before making decisions, and surely a question as mind-boggling as this merited a fair amount of research and groundwork before she could be expected to come up with a logical answer.
And that was why Atobe Keigo came back from tennis practice two hours later only to find a disgustingly soppy romantic-comedy playing on the television, a bowl of half-eaten popcorn lying amidst a few hastily scribbled notes on the table, and his lady love fast asleep on his sofa.
It could have been the start of something vaguely resembling peace, if he hadn't noticed a rough sketch labelled with his name among the haphazardly scattered notes. Curiously enough, it bore a remarkable resemblance to a member of the primate family.
"For the last time, I am NOT A MONKEY!"
Maika dropped into her seat with a resigned sigh. As much as she was tired of being cooped up in a confined space with Atobe (not for much longer, thankfully – her parents would be back soon), school was much, much worse. It was terribly boring, and she was sure there would be a terrifying mountain of homework to be done by the end of the day. At least the grey-haired boy provided her with an endless stream of entertainment, even if it wasn't always on purpose.
She snuck a look at Tezuka, who was reading a book with such complete absorption that he hadn't even noticed her. She debated briefly on the merits of disturbing him, decided that it was too early in the morning to have intellectual conversations about the importance of school, and graciously left him to his own devices.
All was quiet in their row.
In fact, come to think of it, it was a little too quiet. There was practically no sign of life from the seat next to hers, not even the rustling of pages.
Maika began to grin, looking for all the world like a cat that had just swallowed the cream.
The sudden voice jerked him from his reverie. He nearly fell off his chair, but somehow managed to keep his face perfectly straight.
"What?" His voice held just the right hint of annoyance at being disturbed from an engrossing book. For someone who'd had so little practice, he did an admirable job of pretending that he hadn't just been caught spacing out, even if he said so himself.
Turning into a narcissist, are you?
Oh, how he hated that snippy little voice inside his brain.
Well, if it isn't the girl demon who's currently plaguing your thoughts every waking moment – he sighed, and clamped down firmly on that stupid runaway part of his mind that persisted in keeping a running commentary on his life in a style that reminded him of one of those horrible, gooseflesh-inducing soap operas.
"What're you doing?"
Thinking about you, that stubborn little piece of white matter gleefully supplied.
Was not! He had been, if anything, thinking about Fuji and his evil schemes which Tezuka was sure were just about to come. Getting caught in another of the tensai's nefarious plots was not particularly high on his list of to-do things in life – and three years of knowing Fuji had taught him that the blue-eyed boy never let go of an idea once he caught hold of it, which, suffice to say, did not bode well for a certain Tezuka Kunimitsu.
He decided it was too much trouble trying to explain why he was inventing ways to circumvent plots which didn't even exist in the first place and sounding like a paranoid schizophrenic, so he went for the obvious instead.
Assuming his best are-you-blind-or-what face, Tezuka glanced at his book, then looked at her as if she had just proven herself a complete idiot.
"You've been on the same page for the past ten minutes," There was no mistaking the note of mischief in her voice.
She's been watching you for the last ten minutes! Maybe you're not such a hopeless case after all...
He squashed that traitorous thought and the sudden surge of irrational glee that accompanied it.
In case you hadn't realised, I've never been a hopeless case, the more sane part of his mind pointed out acidly. Might I remind you of the annual pile of Valentine Day gifts on my table? He cheered it, before realising to his consternation that he was actually supporting one part of his brain against the other.
...he sounded like a psychiatric case.
"You're thinking about her, aren't you?"
His neat, completely logical and also utterly useless debate skidded to a confused halt.
"Her?" He echoed blankly.
She grinned meaningfully at him. "You know, her..."
Oh. Back to this, are we?
He sighed in exasperation, and decided that the best course of action was to be as obtuse as possible.
"No, I don't know her. Now if you'll excuse me," he gestured to his book, "some people actually have something more useful to do other than talking about random unidentified females."
"You're right," She agreed brightly. "So let's talk about a specific identified female then! Come on, you can tell me who it is..."
...someone must have pressed the rewind and repeat button on his life just to spite him.
He resisted the terrible urge to bury his head under the nearest object, and settled instead for rolling strips of tissue paper into neat little buds to put into his ears.
They didn't make very effective earplugs, as he found out.
Why do I keep turning him down?
She had pondered that question for awhile now, but her research had given her nothing except accidental afternoon naps punctuated by Atobe's occasional fits of rage at being drawn in various primate forms. She chuckled fondly at that memory, and was wondering whether she should draw a gorilla or chimpanzee next, when her brain piped up.
Maybe you like someone else.
Well, that would make sense. In all those melodramas she had seen in the name of research, the only reason why the good guy didn't get the girl was because the girl loved that other guy, who loved another girl, who loved the first guy. Or at least, that was as much as she gathered before she fell asleep halfway through.
Honestly, she got a headache just thinking about it.
Looks like the hours clocked watching TV weren't as useless as you thought, no?
But that was just ridiculous. Weird love squares like that didn't happen in real life. Besides, that would mean she would have to like someone else, and that was impossible.
...fine, it wasn't impossible. It was just highly unlikely... why, the only candidates would be Atobe, Tezuka and –
! ! !
That would be impossible. Surely?
Why, he was intellectual, boring, a complete stick in the mud when it came to rules and schoolwork, in possession of a fanclub that she would rather die than be associated with...
Okay, so the first one wasn't exactly a negative trait. And the last wasn't really his fault either, but still... it would be just too weird. Not to mention hopeless and setting oneself up for heartbreak – she'd seen countless girls get rejected and had absolutely no intention of joining the throes of the broken-hearted that surrounded Tezuka Kunimitsu.
But then again, I guess it's not quite true. He might not reject everyone. After all, there is this certain unidentified female...
I can't tell him... he already likes someone else! She groaned. Why did she have to go and ask herself such stupid questions anyway? She was perfectly happy before her little bout of soul-searching.
Stupid Atobe and his stupid questions.
She reached for a piece of paper and a newly sharpened pencil.
The next time Atobe Keigo walked over to her working area, he nearly brought the house down.
"WHY AM I A SLUG?"
In a traditional-looking house some distance away, a certain young man was surreptitiously looking up 'schizophrenia' in his trusty encyclopaedia.
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by a disintegration of thought processes and of emotional responsiveness. Symptoms include third-person auditory hallucinations, delusions and poor or non-existent social functioning.
Tezuka was starting to feel just the tiniest bit worried.
Voices heard are usually rude, critical, abusive or just annoying. They may describe activities taking place or discuss the hearer's thoughts and behaviour.
Okay, so maybe he just happened to meet a few criteria. That didn't necessarily mean anything.
Onset of schizophrenia is most common in males in their teens to early twenties.
He stared at the page in consternation.
This was ridiculous. He was most certainly not schizophrenic.
Denial, denial... sang the resident troublemaker inside his head with inordinate glee.
Tezuka Kunimitsu had bad days, and then he had bad days.
So... how was it? :/