♥Rikkai, Rikkaidai, Rikkai Dai, Rikkai Daigaku Fuzoku, 私立立海大附属中学校! Call them what ever you want, but this is a story about them and for them.


Sorry it took so long this time. Or at least, longer than usual. Our bad on that one. It's back to the normal viewpoints, Sanada, Yukimura, and Sakuno. Sigh, the long awaited petal. Everything will start falling into place now. The funeral, return of Seishun, (We started calling them Seishun XD) Well, actually, Sanada, we think, being 'Sanada' will call them 'Seishun', Sakuno would use the abbreviation, 'Seigaku' and Yukimura will use… uh, 'Seishun' as well because he's not familiar with the school. Hopefully.

Sakura: As we write this I have a tissue held to my nose, constantly blowing. My eyes are watery, and I have a blanket covering me. Yes, I have an immune system worse than poor Yukimura's. I don't get sick often, but when I do… well, then its hell. …Moan… and I have archery club tomorrow morning. Oh and by the way, Hanabi is currently at camp. (She took her laptop and is constantly sending me muses of the layout) so I'm sorry if this petal came out screwed! … Bows… Hopefully no one's out of character, an author's wost nightmare. Please review and enjoy!

Rating: T

Gene: Romance, Drama

Starring: The Rikkaidai Regulars, and Ryuuzaki Sakuno

Pairings: Kirihara x Yukimura x Sanada x Sakuno, with Platinum Pair on the side

Summary: Sakuno's grandma has died and she is living with the Sanada's. Coming to Rikkai was her first mistake, getting involved with the regulars was her second.

Warning (s): None.


Life Beneath the Sakura Tree

Petal Six

Begin.

I walked slowly across the snow that was nearly up to my knees, I was too short to see anything beyond the abandoned playground I liked to go to. The weather here was cold almost all year round, and because of that I couldn't practice my tennis. I was only seven, but I was still very serious about it. I didn't have much say in our move here to Hokkaido, but I couldn't say it was too bad. I wasn't used to such frigid weathers; my skin shivered even thinking about the cold.

Making my way to the small tennis court near our house, I stood in front of the large green gates, pondering. Why would they bother building one if no one used it? My small fingers were unmoving; I was too cold to get any motion in me. I missed Tokyo, I never told my parents that though. It was a disgrace to 'miss' anything. I wasn't Tokyo that I really missed, just its warm weather, and I held back a sneeze as I opened the entry.

I whimpered as I walked against the arctic-like snow. "Kuso." I hadn't even brought my tennis racket; I just wanted an excuse to leave my house. As I was growing up, as a child, I was often neglected. I didn't care, though, because I was used to it. I liked my nice quiet life with nobody other than myself to fill it. The peace was nice, it soothed me. But I wasn't a loner, exactly. I had friends, well, only one, really.

His name was Yukimura Seiichi, but he was back in Tokyo. The two of us met on the street courts near my old house, and after loosing a close game to the strange fragile-looking boy, we became friends. The act was simple really; it was only one game, after all. "I underestimated him." Shivering, I stood at the baseline of the court, wondering why I had agreed to just throw my old life away.

It was a pleasant existence, in actuality. No one bothered me, not my parents, not my grandfather, not even my older brother. They basically lived their own lives, while I lived mine. We weren't what you'd honestly call a 'family'. When we ate together, it was usually in silence, my mother trying to start up the occasional conversation. I pitied her, having to live in a house with such an impassive group. I never told her that. I hardly ever told anyone anything. I was quiet. I was uncared for.

I didn't mind.

Sighing, I stumbled across the court, gently falling back. I placed my hands behind my head. My fingers were absolutely frozen; I didn't bother to bring my gloves. Hesitantly, I fiddled with the black cap on my head. God, how I loved that cap. My mother bought if for me a little while ago. Most children would have to beg their parents for things. Our family was never like that. If you asked for something, you got it almost immediately. Maybe it was because our parents scarcely saw us; much less spent time with us, that they were trying to right their wrongs by giving us whatever we wanted.

All I had ever wanted was a normal family. A family that wouldn't hit you when you did something incorrectly or out of line. A familythat is just… My thoughts drifted off along with the cool breeze as I heard sniffles in the near distance. Curiously, I sat up, rubbing my hands together to gather warmth. Why is there someone here? I thought to myself, slowly stumbling towards the source of the sound. Surely there was no one here. It was called 'abandoned' for a reason. This was my quiet spot. This was my place to think to myself. Why was someone else here?

Little did I know that, that day, was going to change my outlook on life forever.

She was a small girl, in lack of a bigger vocabulary. She was covered in pink from head to toe; the only thing missing was a tiny pink matching hat. Tears ran down her cheeks, faster now as I began to walk away. I was not going to get implicated with some stranger. Someone else could do that. But that didn't stop her though. She continued to pursue me, her baby-like legs barley in harmony with my longer ones.

I walked out of the tennis court and turned around quickly to see her chasing me, her eyes streamed with hot tears, carelessly dripping on to her jacket. My pace accelerated, hoping to loose her as I turned the corner. I panted heavily, my heart beating against my chest. "W-What the hell?" I breathed, slightly ticked. The girl was still following me, sniffling words that were too scrambled to understand. I gritted my teeth, what did she want from me? And, for the first time, I wanted to go home. I mean, really go home.

She ran towards me, a desperate look on her face, and all I did was run. I ran as fast as my feet would allow my small body to go. When I looked behind me, she was trailing too far behind to be able to catch up to me now. I didn't stop until I came back to the lowly populated areas of town, a big scene was unfolding.

A crowd was gathered around a police officer and a woman I've never seen before. The district I lived in was small, everyone knew each other. But why was it that this woman was a complete stranger, just like that girl? I felt the unpleasant shivers down my spine. On no account had I felt like this before. I felt like I had just abandoned the girl, a feeling that wasn't nice. I knew that for a fact, I felt like that a lot. She was lost, she obviously needed help, and I carelessly ran away, not wanting her problems to be added on to my own.

"You have to find her!" The elder woman yelled, causing more of a commotion. I could now see my older brother in the crowd, standing there along side my grandfather. "She'll get lost! Who am I kidding?! She's already lost! You're a policeman, find her!" Her voice raised twice as much, angrily shaking the officer. "Find my granddaughter! My only granddaughter…" She bit back the tears and turned her rage towards the cop again. "She's wearing pink! Pink! Find her now!"

This woman, whoever she was, obviously loved her granddaughter. I only wished my parents were like that. Going to any length to find their kids… That wasn't possible though, they never knew where we were in the first place anyway. I spent most of my spare time in the dojo, my brother and I studied kendo. It wasn't by choice, really. Because it was in our blood, we had to. I really just wanted to center all my attention towards tennis.

Guilty feelings erupted in my stomach. I turned on my heels quickly, it was well past my curfew, but I wouldn't be able to sleep tonight if I didn't go back now. That dumb girl that was following me was probably the one the lady was talking about. She was dripping in pink, after all. I ignored the rants and raves my grandfather sent my way, there was no telling where I had left her.

There was no telling what the hell she was doing now, I had to find her. I never felt so strongly about something before. I didn't even know this girl but it felt like I had to help her. She looked too inept to be aware of her own surroundings. But what right did I have to say that, I didn't know her. It was as simple as that. But what I did know was that when I came home, I'd get a hard slap across my face. In my family, you followed the rules. If you followed the rules, everything would turn out perfectly. And right now, I wasn't following the rules.

It took me nearly 23 minutes to find her. I wasn't counting… I was… I just knew. It wasn't like I was checking my watch every couple seconds, anxiously searching. When I saw her, she was beneath a frozen tree, curled up into a tiny ball, crying. Once she saw my figure coming up the small hill, she looked at me with these outsized hazel orbs, stretching her hand out, abruptly standing up. She whimpered and chased me again, her yelling wasn't distinct anymore, it was clear. "Onegai!" She cried.

I sighed, a sigh of relief, glad to have found her. I turned on my black boots, this time jogging slowly. She was only a meter behind me and I didn't pick up anymore speed. I turned back, seeing her tear-streamed face trying franticly to maintain. I felt a wave of new emotion. I felt like I was needed. As I turned away, I smiled. It was very faint that I hadn't even noticed it myself, but it was there. I smiled, I was happy.

I was needed.

Because I was the youngest in my family, I often wasn't paid any attention to. But, that day, so long ago, I was wanted. I ran back to where that elder woman was, I had a memory if gold, the little girl following in suite. As we neared the sniffling child looked up at me, mumbling an incoherent 'thank you'. I took off my cap. Removing the comfortable material from my head was a weird experience; I was often seen wearing it so I was accustomed to it. I placed it on the girl's head, patting her gently and giving her a warming smile before running off in the opposite direction.

She tried to run after me, but a pair of arms stopped her from doing so. "My baby!" I heard in the near distance, the voice clearly belonged to that woman from earlier. My heart was three times lighter; I had done a good deed today. She pressed the girl against her chest, blubbering into her coat. The woman hugged her tightly, and the girl just cried. I think they were tears of joy. "You're safe! You're safe! Thank goodness you found me… I don't know what I'd do otherwise!"

I hid behind the nearest corner, the nastily strong wind playing with my hair, sending my bangs flying in almost every direction. The feeling of being 'cap-less' was bizarre. I ran a hand smoothly through my dark navy hair, as if feeling it for the first time. I brushed my bangs out of my eyes, trying to catch a better glimpse of the girl's face, which now seemed impossible.

As the girl continued to whimper, she blushed, "Obaa… chan… I-I was so scared!" Her grandmother, at least I think, seeing as she called her 'Obaa-chan', lifted her up off the floor and onto her shoulders. "But this kind boy found me. I-I'm going to thank him one day, Obaa-chan…" Her eyes drifted off sleepily; seemingly she was going to fall asleep on her grandmother. "One… day… Obaa-chan…"

I flushed. The girl wanted to thank me? What was wrong with her, I had just done it because I felt like I had to. I wasn't anything personal… but this girl, her heart seemed too delicate. She seemed too delicate, as if one wrong word may shatter her completely. I shook my head clear of any other thoughts regarding her. It was nearly 9:00pm and I was due home more than an hour ago.

I made my way home, hesitantly; I wanted to delay the furious screams as long as possible. But the thought of what I did today made me feel like I was ready to take on anything. I didn't care what my grandfather did to me, scars would heal after all. Scars were just deep marks, soon enough I'd forget about them entirely. They just passed within time. Time moved forward, scars healed. It was just the way it was.

My house neared now, I could see it in the distance. I meekly made my way inside, although my face remained emotionless. "Tadaima." I muttered into my jacket as I threw it to the floor. Kids came home and their parents greeted them, but I had no idea why I bothered to even announce my arrival anymore. No one ever welcomed me back, anyway. It was a waste of breath. But still, there was always a small spark of hope, that one day someone would greet me as I came home. No one ever knew, because it was stupid. It was stupid to want something so… so impossible.

I staggered into the dojo; my feet dragged me there automatically. I missed my daily session today. "Genichirou." My grandfather's rough voice bounced across the walls, making its way through my ears. I trembled uncontrollably, my feet nearly caving beneath me. Suddenly, all the courage I had gained today faded away into nothingness. And I had remembered; scars healed, within time, but they never went away completely. There would always be some sort of trace left behind. There would always be something to remind you. You would never be able to forget.

At least, not completely.

. . . I woke up, startled. Why had I… just dreamed that? I had never dreamed of such previous, useless events. There was no need to. I shivered to myself, drenched in a cold sweat, and shook away any of my thoughts. I groaned slowly, it was barley 5:00am and I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep now. I sat up, slouching slightly, I didn't get enough sleep. I buried myself under the covers again, trying as hard as I could to go back to sleep. It seemed impossible, I figured as I stretched and made my way down the long corridor into the bathroom. I showered, and then changed into a simple t-shirt and a pair of shorts.

No one would be up for another couple hours, I concluded, trotting towards the dojo. I wasn't used to waking up at such an ungodly hour, so the only thing I could decide to perform was kendo. I nice early morning lesson would calm the horrible anxiety I was feeling. My mind kept replaying the image of Ryuuzaki in Kirihara's t-shirt. The picture itself was enough to send my temper through the roof.

There were so many questions swiveling through my head that they were countless. But, mainly, what on Earth was Ryuuzaki doing at Kirihara's house? I took out my shinai, recklessly swinging it about at random practice dummies, the straw nearly turning to sheer dust. My frustrated grunts weren't heard, as I continued to thoughtlessly assault the straw mannequins. I never had a 'bad' dream before, today was a first. It wasn't entirely a bad dream; it was just that that girl I'd forgotten about reminded me a lot of Ryuuzaki.

I blushed uncharacteristically at the thought of Ryuuzaki. Why was it, that, with each passing day, I found myself thinking more and more about her? I sat down, cross-legged, closing my eyes and trying to shut out the outside world. I was supposed to be in a state of overall concentration. But that wasn't the case, what, with my mind wandering off without permission. That didn't happen frequently, actually, more like not at all. If I wanted to focus, I would be able to without much effort. Although now, it was like I needed every last bit of my efforts just to keep cool and unfazed in front of the others.

Closing my eyes again, I listened carefully to the scarcely perceptible sounds coming from nearby. There was nothing at first, only the thoughts of nothingness greeted me, but steadily the sound of weeping was clear. It was muffled, initially, but continued. I shuddered at the consideration of it being Ryuuzaki.

There was no one else it could have been, though. I stood up automatically, I didn't know what my intentions were, and made my way back into the house. My footsteps came in long strides, and in a few steps I was in front of Ryuuzaki's door. And just what the hell are you doing? I asked myself; bewildered at the fact my legs dragged me here without authorization.

It was out of pure instinct, really. Annoying instinct. Why did I care so much for Ryuuzaki? She was none of my concern. I had no reason to get myself involved with her, after all, we lived together. We were practically 'brother and sister' as my mother had told me yesterday. She brought the subject up so casually that it was as if she was reciting it in her head several times, over and over. The words came out so naturally that I was sure she had been thinking of the matter quite a bit. There was no reason to, though. I didn't think of Ryuuzaki as anything… important, did I? I don't like her as anything more than a friend.

But somehow, it seemed that I was just trying to convince myself.

What exactly… is Ryuuzaki? That was the one thing that couldn't get off my mind. Just what was she? She was unbelievable. It was as if she wasn't real, only a figment of my imagination. An illusion. Could people like her really exist? As I stood in front of Ryuuzaki's door, my hand on the edge of the doorknob, I thought of Yukimura. I didn't even know why. He was just as angelic as Ryuuzaki. Maybe people like Ryuuzaki… no, people like Ryuuzaki and Yukimura, really did exist, somewhere out there.

I took a deep breath, and just as I was about to open the door, it flung open without warning, hitting me square in the face. Too tired to react, I just stood there, an entire head taller than Ryuuzaki, whose eyes widened to the size of saucers. "S-S-S-Sanada… san?" It took her a minute to realize I was real, and that she wasn't dreaming. "W-What are you doing here?" To be frank, I had no idea why I was here either. Ryuuzaki, embarrassed, fingered her hair. "Eto… that was a stupid question, Sanada-san." She laughed mild-mannered. "This is your house, after all."

I sighed, looking down at Ryuuzaki. She was wearing bright yellow pajamas that would blind anyone. That, or look like she was the sun. Maybe that was what she was? The sun? She definitely appeared to shine. "I was…" What was I doing? I cursed myself for my stupidity. Why did my feet have to haul me over here? It wasn't like I wanted to be here. At least, I think I didn't. "Seeing if you were al—"

"Ne, ne! Sanada-san, look!" Ryuuzaki started to pull me into the depths of her room, dragging me to the window. Her face lit up brightly, her extended wavy hair let down, pointing childishly into the sky. I stood beside her for a minute, failing to see what was so great about her windowsill. There was a window in every room, so what exactly was so nice about this particular one? After seeing the clueless ness on my face, Ryuuzaki laughed.

I positioned myself safely beside her; also unable to see what was so funny. "What?" I asked bluntly and rather sharply. She softly smiled, placing her hand over mine, pointing her tiny arm into the sky. I shivered at the contact, unable to believe Ryuuzaki made such a bold movement. Maybe she was still half asleep. I exhaled noisily, peeking at the girl alongside me through my navy charcoal bangs with an amused uneven smile. "I just can't understand you Ryuuzaki."

I stared out the window, and I was welcomed by the sparkles of the sky, steadily making their way down before disappearing completely. I was more amused at the fact that Ryuuzaki saw this as such a big deal, it wasn't something ordinary, but it wasn't exactly rare either. "It's beautiful." She was breath taken at the scene, while I looked unfazed. I was morley enjoying the warm hand over mine rather than the glistening atmosphere.

"I want to meet it right this second but I can't fly through the sky, funny isn't it, Sanada-san? How humans wish for wings…?" I never thought much of that before, I never had much of an imagination, and so I had never envisioned flying. I was more of a realist. Ryuuzaki was the idealist. Ryuuzaki spoke softly, but also excitedly "It's a meteor shower! Look Sanada-san, mou, isn't it awesome?"

I said nothing at first, only thinking to myself of the impossible. It took while before simply admiring the sight before me. Funny, how I'd never of bothered to look at one of these if it wasn't for Ryuuzaki who pointed it out. She looked at me eagerly; awaiting my opinion like it really, actually, did matter. "Yes." I murmured, "It is beautiful." We each took an instant of stillness, quietly enjoying what company the other had to provide. I had never felt so at peace as I had now. All my attention was easily concentrated on the comets flying from the sky, and then incinerating. I basked in the stillness of everything, knowing that it would be rare to do something like this ever again. Well, at least without my mother's knowledge.

"If, perhaps, I got the chance to become a meteor now, I know I'd shoot across the sky… and fly away. " Ryuuzaki said sincerely, tracing her hand over the window, opening it gradually. I'll reach you, Ryuuzaki, for sure. On this momentary beam of light. I mused, glaring at the passing-by comets. Why the hell would you want to be a comet? But if Ryuuzaki ever became one, I'd reach her.

I know I would. Ryuuzaki yawned a little, taking her hand away from mine to rub her weary eyes. Her eyes were half closed, and now she was snuggling against my stiff, and still stiffening, chest. "Don't worry about me, Sanada-san." Her eyelids started to droop, my heart started to beat heavily against my chest,

"I will shine light on your presence."

My heart practically stopped beating. Had Ryuuzaki finally lost it? I wondered, trying to budge the small figure from my heating up chest. I hated feeling embarrassed, even though it didn't happen much, it was happening now. Well, of course it would, I was in Ryuuzaki's room, with her sleeping next to—more like on—me. Is shifted rather awkwardly, trying to extract her from me. I didn't think my mother would be pleased, to see a scene like this, I mean. She was very strict about Ryuuzaki, I noticed. I didn't know why, either.

What seemed like two hours passed, Ryuuzaki placed gently on my lap. I shook her lightly, hoping to wake her up. I had to be at morning practice in half an hour. She stirred, and rolled herself over, grabbing random strands of my hair in the process. I bristled, waiting for the uncomfortable moment between Ryuuzaki's still sleeping state, and when she realized what she was doing. Her hands ran through the ends of my hair, her eyes were still closed, probably wondering what it was she was touching. "Ryuuzaki." I muttered lowly, hoping she'd get up already. Although, I really didn't mind her running her hands through my hair. But, I'd die before admitting that.

"Ryuuzaki, get up." I said more curtly. The girl simply opened an eye, drowsy, before burying her face deeper into my body. I couldn't take it anymore; the urges to kiss her were unsustainable. Either she was going to get up, or I was. "Ryuuzaki. Get up now." I barked, only somewhat quietly. Luckily for me, Ryuuzaki heard, stretching herself and looking over her shoulder. She peeked around, taking a moment to collect her bearings. Finally, her gaze landed upon me, her hands still tangled in my hair. There was an awkward moment of silence before, "Ryuuzaki, if it's not too much trouble, can you let go?"

Noticing at last, the first-year's mouth sprung open, her jaw nearly hitting the floor in humiliation. She gawked at me for a minute, her eyes widening. I watched as her eyes darted to what she had knotted in her hands, her face turned the darkest shade of red I had ever seen. "I am so sorry Sanada-san!" Ryuuzaki wailed loudly, I quickly covered her mouth with my hand. Any more noise and who knew who'd walk into the room to find out that I'd unwillingly stayed in Ryuuzaki's room last night.

"Get dressed, we're leaving." I stated monotonously, knowing now that now I wouldn't have a guilty conscious for leaving Ryuuzaki on the cold floor last night. Ryuuzaki continued to blush and fuss over things I wasn't even able to understand, bowing in thanks for God know why, and at the same time, continuing to smile. She was really a strange one, Ryuuzaki. The girl who wanted to be able to fly, the girl who wanted to be a comet.

Yes, Ryuuzaki Sakuno really was an odd one.

We went to school, the trip was surprisingly talkative. It wasn't that Ryuuzaki and I didn't talk to one another; it was more like we both understood we enjoyed each other's presence more in the dusk quiet. At school, I spoke with Yukimura, both erasing the previous events from our minds, at least I think so. But that wasn't the thing that annoyed me today. Kirihara had given Ryuuzaki a rose. For some reason, that angered me, and the fact that Ryuuzaki had accepted it with that dopey expression on her face only boiled my blood even more. She was too naïve to fend for herself.

"Relax, fukubuchou. It's not like he's running off with her." Marui huffed to my embarrassment, shortly after. I didn't think anyone noticed. Unfortunately I was apparently wrong. But the thing was, I didn't know why I was pissed. I shouldn't have been. But every time a shy first-year boy came up to her, offering her his rose, I couldn't help but suddenly wish them dead.

Today I realized that not only was it the funeral of Ryuuzaki Sumire, but that I was jealous. I was jealous. Something I have never been. It wasn't a nice feeling, either. Any and everyone who came within a 20m radius of Ryuuzaki immediately annoyed me to no end. After school I noticed that Ryuuzaki had disappeared and when I asked one of her classmates—they offered me roses in the process—where she had gone, they had simply told me that she had left already. "What the hell was she thinking?" I moaned inwardly, not allowing my irritation to show.

By the time I had reached my house, I swung open the door rather violently, "Ryuuzaki!" The one thing I wanted more than anything was a family. Someone who would welcome me home, when I said 'Tadaima'. That wasn't something I could get, though. Maybe Ryuuzaki would be the closest thing to, if I hadn't felt that way about her. "Ryuuzaki!" I huffed, not taking my shoes off as I rushed into the kitchen, oddly in a panic. Ryuuzaki, wearing complete black attire, hovering over the stove, making green tea, acknowledged me.

Her smile broadened as she saw me, standing there, hoarsely gasping for breath. She placed the tea carefully on the table, looking back at me with that infamous dorky smile of hers that made you want to melt. "Welcome home, Sanada-san!" She beamed and I felt my insides turn, my impossible childhood wish coming true.

I nodded, heading for the table resisting the urge to smile.

"Yeah… tadaima."

Sanada, Genichirou

真田弦一郎

The heating afternoon sun greeted me as I stepped out of my last period class, making my way slowly to the school gates. The nine of us agreed to meet at the vast marble gates right after school, we were all going to attend the funeral of Ryuuzaki Sumire. Although, that still made me wonder: where was Sakuno-kun staying now? I was sure the others silently pondered this too, but kept it to themselves. Many things, now, were kept to only ourselves. Why was it that we thought we couldn't trust each other anymore?

No one said anything, but it was noticeable.

Nothing changed. Everything was the way it always was. Shaking my head clear of any clouding thoughts, I saw the others making their way toward where I was, uncomplainingly standing. I could see Akaya, looking a little sad, he tried to mask it, but to me, it was obvious he was thinking of something important. Important enough to drop his smile for a second. Why was it that everyone was feeling exceptionally bad nowadays? It was clear, but still, no one commented on it. We knew it was happening, yet none of us tried to prevent it from actually happening.

Perhaps, I thought, we all share the same thought. It was inevitable. It was bound to happen, we all knew it. Someday, someone was bound to steal Genichirou's heart. He cared deeply for Sakuno-kun, no matter how much he denied it. Sakuno-kun was blindly in love with him as well. If they love each other, they should be happy. I chewed the tips of my nails, aggravated. We should be happy for them. The realization itself made it more unbearable than it already was. I knew it was coming, but still…

Hiroshi straightened his glasses, giving each of us a hard stare, "Where's Sanada-fukubuchou? And Ryuuzaki-san?" The others gave each other sharing glances. What was it that they knew? That, or, they were pathetically trying to spare whatever feelings I has left. Of course, they all knew how it was that I felt towards the fukubuchou, but once again it was one of those subjects no one dared to dwell too much on. Hiroshi seemed to understand, nodding off to Masuharu in the opposite direction, "I'm sure they've already set out. They're probably waiting for us."

Was that supposed to be a comforting thought? That Genichirou had already left with Sakuno-kun? Akaya's face fell, his fingertips looked pale, or at least more transparent than they usually were. My suspicions were had been confirmed at that moment. Akaya was hopelessly in love with Sakuno-kun.

He was much braver than I was. I was too much of a coward to tell Genichirou anything concerning love. The sun was shining brightly, the heat pouring down on us endlessly, but I shivered. I felt rotten. Akaya deserved some happiness in his life, why couldn't Sakuno-kun give it to him? I continued to walk, keeping all my thoughts to myself as the rest of the regular members chatted constantly.

Everyone agreed with Hiroshi, though, only our vivid footsteps remained in the mucky grass beneath us. It was like that was the only trace of our existence. I found it amusing how our footprints were the only thing right now proving we were on Rikkai Dai property. A lot of things appear to amuse me now. I thought, trailing a little behind the others.

Akaya walked along side me, his hands in his pockets, looking at the floor. His gaze never left the sakura-covered ground once as he continued his steady pace down the streets. His locks of coal-colored curls gently swayed with the breeze, creating harmony between the two. Akaya looked complete innocent to the point it hurt to look at him any longer. It was like he was a light, turned on, never dying.

I sighed, subconsciously fingering my odd-colored indigo hair. I never asked to be born with cerulean locks, it just happened. Nobody asked for things that stood out, and I could understand how Sakuno-kun felt, because she stood out. It wasn't a nice feeling. To have everyone stare at you, laugh at every word you said. It wasn't a very nice feeling. When I was younger, maybe in first grade, nobody listened to me.

I would often get bullied, and I was too scared to do anything about it. I didn't tell my parents because they would just be humiliated. Humiliated at their son who was picked on, who was teased. My classmates' would laugh at my hair color, my eye color. I told them that I could do nothing about that; it was how I was born. They ignored me. The only ones who spoke to me were Genichirou and Renji.

I didn't let it faze me though; I would keep smiling and acting nicely towards others, regardless of what they said. Genichirou used to get angry with them, and soon enough they were too afraid to approach either of us three. He was always kind to me. Maybe that was when I fell in love with him?

"Oi, buchou, daijoubu ka?" I snapped my eyes wide open at Akaya's buzzed voice. I turned to him, my lips curving into their usual smile. I wanted Akaya to be happy, despite the consequences. Akaya was gold. He always would be. We fell behind the others; I made sure that the others were a safe distance away, too absorbed in their own words to hear us. Akaya didn't seem to mind walking next to me, his overcast face turning slightly contented. "Buchou, you don't seem fine. Are you really alright?"

"I should be the one asking you, Akaya." I winced at my tone of voice. I didn't mean it to come out as cluttered as it did. I was supposed to be neat. I was supposed to be 'perfect'. Akaya didn't seem to distinguish my tendency, though. He probably didn't understand. His mind was too pure to comprehend the bad things going on around him. I exhaled noisily, grabbing our kouhai's attention. "Daijoubu?"

The question lingered in the thick air for a while. Akaya's expression was fixed between choosing to deny, with the exception that I'd know he was lying, and coming clean. He kept his hands in his pockets, fiddling with the insides. "Uh, I'm fine, buchou." His voice was kept leveled and carefree. I gave him a doubtful look. "Really, I'm fine." His subtle voice started to crack with irritation. "There's nothing to worry about. So… just leave me alone." Akaya's feet started to take longer strides, I could only watch his back getting further and further from me.

I didn't do anything, I simply watched Akaya smiling, laughing with Bunta about something or other. I couldn't believe how much he loved Sakuno-kun, yet he was acting as if it was nothing. How could he be so lighthearted? But the answer came quickly. It was because Akaya was gold. Akaya was real. He would bounce back, because in the end he was Kirihara Akaya.

"He's just hiding it." Renji trailed behind with me, the two of us observing Masuharu as he ruffled Akaya's messy hair, much to Akaya's irritation. I nodded at Renji's examination. So I wasn't the only one who noticed. But then again, here was Renji, who spent his life studying things like these. "It's all an act, a brave-front. He doesn't want to look weak, Akaya." The only thing I could do was give an unimportant nod, agreeing wholly with Renji.

I was convinced now, that, no one believed each other anymore. But if you did that, you'd be all alone, and I didn't know anyone who'd want to be alone. Secluded, taken away from others. Isolated. It was a scary thought, to be on your own. But here was Akaya, taking in all the pain by himself; he clearly didn't want any help. I guesshe's just stubborn that way. I thought to myself, chuckling a little. "Akaya really is a stubborn boy, ne Renji?"

Renji said nothing, I was certain he didn't know how to respond to that. Renji always knew what to say, and when to say it. Sometimes. He wasn't like me; I just told others' what they wanted to hear. I never spoke from my heart. My words were… rehearsed. Renji told the truth, be it blunt, but he told others' what was accurate. When Renji spoke, the petals from the floor blew away, getting picked up along with the breeze. "Akaya is simply Akaya. Although, is that Genichirou?" He asked, looking ahead doubtfully. My gaze followed his, and I saw a figure vaguely representing Genichirou.

My heart lurched in my stomach, my eyes squinting, although I didn't need to. I could see plainly that that was Genichirou. I nearly slapped myself for being such an idiot. Of course Genichirou would be around here, if anywhere, this was near his house. And out of his house he was heading, wearing a simple button-down black shirt, accompanied carefully with black pants. But that wasn't all he was accompanied with.

"Sakuno?" Masuharu's devious voice scarcely made its way into my ears, the thumping of my heart blocking out all other sounds. Sakuno-kun was… at Genichirou's house? The idea itself took a few seconds to understand. It wasn't possible. There was simply no logic behind that. Why…? I seemed to be asking myself the hopeless. Masuharu, and everyone else, with the looks on their faces, appeared to share the same thought I had.

Akaya frowned, wincing a little. "S-Sakuno-chan?" He asked in disbelief. Genichirou looked as emotionless as ever, not seemingly fazed by the unexpectedness. Sakuno-kun on the other hand looked as if she was about to burst into tears, from the funeral we were heading to or the fact that we had realized something we weren't meant to, I didn't know. Akaya stood frozen; his gaze never left Sakuno-kun's wavering face. "W-What are you doing at fukubuchou's house?"

The atmosphere dimmed, the unspoken words occupied by the sudden immensity. The question dangled in the air for a few seconds longer before, finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Genichirou spoke up. "Shouldn't we be heading to the church?" I stared at him, in awe. How could he say something so nonchalantly?

Not a soul said a word, too petrified. I felt small. Now, Genichirou was keeping secrets from me. I sighed; there really wasn't anything I could do about it to begin with. My will power amounted to nothing. It was clear now, and the puzzle seemed to fit. Sakuno-kun was staying—no, living—with Genichirou. It would explain why they were so close, why they came to and from school together, but even that didn't help me feel any better.

"So it appears that Sakuno-san is staying with Genichirou. This certainly isn't what I was expecting." Renji muttered to himself, scrawling unhurriedly into his notebook. His long fingers uniformly covering the entire page with his machine-like script. For this not to be in Renji's data already wasn't a surprise. But judging by the impassive looks on everyone's face, they didn't see it as much of a big deal. Well, asides Akaya.

I didn't see why he was allowing this to happen. Maybe I was just selfish? Maybe I just wanted Akaya to get with Sakuno-kun, so that left Genichirou free. When I thought of it like that, I really was nothing but a self-centered, greedy human being. Did I care for others at all? I always put others before myself, which was for sure. But… was there something I would gain from that? Did I have other motives that I only thought of subconsciously?

By the time we reached our destination at the over-sized church, with stain glass blemishing the walls, it was rather late and most of the other guests have already arrived. I could only distinguish some of them, faintly. There was Seishun; of course, I could recognize that first-year who was Sakuno-kun's friend. Echizen, I think it was. There was that same girl, the hyper-active one, her normally pig-tailed coffee-colored hair let down, which only just passed her shoulders.

"A-Ano…" Sakuno-kun addressed us slowly, just as we made our way into the cathedral. "Thank you all for coming. I know it would mean a lot to Obaa-chan." The saintly girl bowed efficiently, her cocoa hair making its way down her face. "Arigatou." To think that this girl was my rival, it seemed like I had no chance. She was simply flawless. Everything about this girl, who to me, was like a younger sister, was perfect. And standing beside Genichirou, who grabbed her tiny wrist, dragging her off to take a seat somewhere near the first row, they looked like an odd couple. An odd but delightful couple.

I sighed for the umpteenth time that day.

The funeral went on, and it was Sakuno-kun's turn to speak. Her voice came out high-pitched, scared. She was clearly hurting, and why wouldn't she be? I didn't see why she wanted to put on a façade and pretend she was happy. A lot of people did that, I, even, did that. It would reassure you. A frontage made you safe. Secure. Why wouldn't someone want to feel secure? And as quickly as my day had begun, it had ended. Before I could recognize anything, an hour had passed and a worried Sakuno-kun was leaning in front of me, asking if I was alright.

Why she was doing this, I had no idea. Her strawberry-smelling hair dangled in front of me, swaying slowly. "Yukimura-senpai? Daijoubu ka? You… ano, seemed to be spacing out." She meekly asked me. I nodded, in a friendly manner, assuring her there was nothing to worry about. Sakuno-kun complied hesitantly, but she didn't want to pry. Nodding in return, she started to gradually saunter away. Sakuno-kun… I thought, resting my head on my elbows, watching her heading toward the Seishun regulars, her hair flowing endlessly while the Rikkai regulars walked along with her, enjoying her company. Are you for real?

"And may Sakuno-chan do us the honor of introducing her to her new friends?" One of the Seishun boys asked kindly, a gracious smile plastered on his cherry lips. Sakuno-kun blushed, fumbling around for a bit before shyly introducing us. I walked slowly to where the others were, a little shy, actually. I may have acted like it, but I wasn't really a 'people person'.

I stood beside Genichirou, whose facial expression was unreadable. I could feel my lungs tightening, gasping for air. Being around him did that to me, now. I didn't know how much more of that I could take, either. But glancing back at Sakuno-kun, who seemed to be a little under the weather from the funeral, any hope of getting together with Genichirou vanished. I didn't know why I didn't… why was I like this? Why couldn't I be born with just a little more courage, like Akaya?

I stood numbly, hardly taking in the exchange of words between Rikkai Dai and Seishun. Echizen bristled as Sakuno-kun stood next to him, unknowingly. At least he told her how he felt. That was much better than I could ever do. "…And this is Yukimura Seichii-senpai." Sakuno-kun gushed cheerfully; peeking her head out from behind me. I reddened and stiffened a little. I didn't like being put on the spot light, unless necessary.

Suddenly my cool and placid demeanor took over, forgetting about any embarrassment I felt a second ago. Genichirou and Renji both shot me concerned glances, but I did my best to pretend not to notice. "And it is a pleasure to meet you too. I'm glad that you've entrusted Sakuno-kun with us. It is a pleasure having her around." I smiled submissively, feeling a little lightheaded. No one noticed though, and I offhandedly wandered off, making my way to one of the chairs so I could rest a little bit, I felt a dizzy spell coming on.

Being around Genichirou… being around Sakuno-kun, it suffocated me. Luckily, no one noticed my disappearance, and if they did, they didn't say anything about it. From the corner of my eye I could see Akaya coming toward me, a little hesitant. I sat up a little straighter, wondering what all of this was about. The coal-haired first-year stopped in front of me, his eyes filled with regret. I raised an eyebrow, curious. "Akaya, is something the—"

There's nothing to worry about. So… just leave me alone

I immediately stopped talking, my eyes dulling. Akaya didn't want me to interfere with his personal affairs, so I wasn't about to. Instead, a laughed a little, hoping to make up for the things I nearly blurted out by accident."Gomenasai, Akaya. I forgot. You don't want me to… get in the way, right?" I asked softly, our kouhai looked like he was about to slap himself. Right then, I wanted to slap myself. I should have kept my dumb mouth shut. Why was it that my words only ever added to the flames?

"Buchou! That's not what I meant!" He whined, aggregately running a hand through his thick mane of noir. He looked like a lost puppy, his eyes torn between blood red and mild emerald. "I mean, that is what I meant but it's not what I mean now. I mean! Argh." He stared at the floor, blushing, defeat written all over his face. I felt truly moved. Akaya was trying to tell me he was sorry. He was trying to apologize… in his own way, but nonetheless. "Buchou, I mean to say I'm sorry. I was just… frustrated." His cherry-colored face rose to mine, a lopsided smile covered his discomfited features.

"Akaya, there's nothing for you to apologize for." I told him sincerely, inquisitively watching the interaction between the two rival schools and Sakuno-kun from the corner of my eye. Looking back at Akaya he looked more sad than frustrated. I couldn't blame him. Not for feeling sad, nor for loving Sakuno-kun. Sakuno-kun was entirely loveable. But to me, she was like a younger sister and I watched out for her.

When I was sure that the others were a safe distance away, too caught up in conversation to hear, I spoke up. It was so softly that I questioned myself whether I had said anything or not. When Akaya turned my way, raising his eyebrows, I was sure that I had forced some sort of sound out of my mouth, or at least enough to capture his attention. I racked my brain, mentally kicking myself. I knew what I wanted to ask, exactly word for word, but was it appropriate for this moment?

I was the type of person who cared for the feelings of those around me more than my own. I knew in the end that I'd end up regretting doing that, but now it seemed like the right thing to do. My feelings weren't of much value, anyway. "Akaya… if you like Sakuno-kun as much as you do, why not tell her?"

Akaya didn't look surprised, more like he expected me to ask at some point. I could feel my stomach churn. Akaya looked back at Sakuno-kun, a tender grin spread across his face. "I think she already knows buchou." I could see Echizen towing down his cap, embarrassed at something Masuharu said. "But I don't think that'll make a difference. Uh, I guess I mean to say I know she knows, but she can't do anything about it. If that makes any sense at all…" He trailed off, looking in my direction, his eyes clearly filled with the unbearable sadness he was trying to mask.

"That makes a lot of sense, Akaya." I whispered gently, running one of my pale fingers through my hair. He was brave, Akaya. Genichirou had already told me that he had given a rose to Sakuno-kun. "That makes… a lot of sense." He really is something, I couldn't help but think as everyone else started to say their good byes, Sakuno-kun jogging up to us, asking if it was alright that Akaya and I say good bye too. Of course, Akaya agreed and I saw no reason not to.

The Seishun regulars were certainly an assorted cluster. Their looks and personalities ranged greatly. "Take care of Ryuuzaki." Tezuka, I think it was, said solemnly. Evidently, Seishun cared a great deal for Sakuno-kun. Sakuno-kun bowed, thanking all of us for attending, once again. "And Ryuuzaki," Tezuka said before turning away. "Take care of yourself as well."

"Nyah! Until next time, Sakuno-chan!" The bouncy one with curly mahogany colored hair and crystal blue eyes waved happily before being led off by a boy with black hair. Of course, he bid his farewells to Sakuno-kun as well. "And don't forget us, Sakuno-chan!!" Sakuno-kun blushed nodding a little before turning away in our direction again. Her face looked flushed and there were a few visible tear tracks.

And in a matter of minutes, the air lingered with unwanted conversation about the dance, courtesy of Masuharu, who was oblivious to everything going on around him. "So, Yagyuu and I are definitely going. Humph, I still don't see the use of 'formal' wear though; it's a drag isn't it?" He moaned, stretching his hands over his head, in a tired motion. "It's dumb, but what can you do? Anyway, it'll be a nice time to take incriminating photos." He laughed abruptly, "I've always wanted to see fukubuchou in a suit."

Bunta laughed a little, and so did Akaya, but it sounded forced. I didn't do anything, walking a little ahead of everyone. I didn't want to hear anymore. First, I'd sort out my thoughts, and then maybe I'd add something to the conversation. Should I give Genichirou a rose? Sakuno-kun may give him one too… I stared on ahead, oblivious to my surroundings. Sakuno-kun isn't the type of person who'd hurt someone on purpose and Akaya has already given her his rose… Why must this be so complicated? My thoughts were jumbled and I wasn't doing a good job in organization them, either.

The fact that Genichirou and Sakuno-kun were living together didn't help matters either. If possible, they made it worse. But no one seemed to care much, unsure of what to think. No one even brought it up. Even Masuharu kept it to himself, that or he didn't mind. Was it only me who found it unsettling? Then again, this was Genichirou and Sakuno-kun. Genichirou only began discovering girls a couple weeks ago, and Sakuno-kun was a shy and awkward individual. The chances of them even hugging were slim to none.

"Sakuno-kun," I whispered smoothly, capturing the petite girl's attention. Everyone else was now starting to go their own ways home, it was mid afternoon, but it was a school day. She looked at me eagerly, a flicker of hope, for whatever reason, in those huge chocolate orbs of hers. "I know that tomorrow is the dance and we have to wear 'formal' attire, so how would you like to go shopping with me?" This way, I can ask her what she thinks of Akaya, for real.

She looked shocked, and I could only lift an eyebrow. Did she not want to come? Or did she have other plans? After taking the question in, Sakuno-kun smiled happily, her face lighting up like a child who was taken to a candy store for the first time. "Ah! I-If you don't mind, Yukimura-senpai, I'd be honored to accompany you today!" Her enthusiasm ran through her and even radiated off to me.

A thought struck her, probably wondering how she was going to leave her house, unnoticed by Genichirou. "I'll j-just tell him… I'm going to the library to study… eto, I feel bad for lying to Sanada-san, even though I didn't yet." She whimpered a last minute muse and I felt an awful feeling in my nerves. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.

I shook my head, "Sakuno-kun it's okay I just wanted—"

"Iie Yukimura-senpai!" The brunette objected with a little shriek, causing Genichirou, who was walking ahead of us, to turn around. After noticing the pair of eyes fixed on her, Sakuno-kun nearly fell backwards, tripping over her feet, but luckily I caught her in time. She flushed in my arms, unsure of what to do. "Gomenasai Yukimura-senpai! I'm such a ditz!" She pouted rather cutely, quickly straightening herself.

One minute we were walking along with Genichirou, and the next I realized, Sakuno-kun and I were going from store to store, with me trying to help her pick out a dress. The number of stores we went through, I lost count. Sakuno-kun was too shy to voice her opinion, she couldn't even think of a color that she favored. The more I got to know her, the more she reminded me of myself. She was more awkward than most, unable to decide for herself what she wanted, what she didn't desire.

My eyes caught sight of a one of the glass windowpanes, immediately the lavender beaded dress mesmerizing me. It would look perfect on Sakuno-kun. Was my first thought, looking beside me at the unmindful girl walking, laughing because she was happy, pointing excitedly at random objects and clothes as we walked by. Why is she so happy? I wondered, astonished. Surely, being with me was not this fun. In fact, I didn't think being with me was any fun at all. Of course she'd be excited, I scolded myself, she's not used to being in these parts of Japan.

I chuckled lightly at her abnormal behavior. "Sakuno-kun, how about that one?" I asked, pointing. Her gaze followed my thin, outstretched arm. "I think lavender… but, it's really up to you." I told her firmly, I didn't want her to pick something she didn't want out just because I asked her about her opinion. The dress itself was flawless looking, imagining it on Sakuno-kun; it would almost certainly stop just below her knees, the curls spreading out from the sides. "That's just my view, Sakuno-kun. It really is your choice."

I watched as her face lit up, absolutely delighted. "Wow…" She mumbled, breathlessly. "It… it's gorgeous." Without realization, she grabbed on to my elbow, steadily dragging me into the store. She didn't have to use much force; I was already heading the direction, anyway. We stopped in front of the dress, it was on display, and Sakuno-kun eyed it, overjoyed. "You don't mind if I try it… eto, on, do you Yukimura-senpai?"

"Huh—?" I snapped out of my trance, my mind was too occupied to understand what Sakuno-kun asked. "Oh…" I said at last, my lips curving up into an unbalanced smile. "Of course not. That's why I came here, after all." I waved off her doubt, and took a seat near the change room, waiting patiently. I had an unhealthy amount of patience, but I liked that about myself. I never got frustrated, or annoyed at anyone.

Sakuno-kun peeked her head out, glancing around and doing a twice-over, before making sure there was no one else here but myself. She truly was a timid girl, Sakuno-kun. "A-Ano… I don't know how it looks from your point of view, Yukimura-senpai, but I think I actually like it." I looked up from the floor to see Sakuno-kun in the dress. Her pig-tails were a little messy, as if ready to undo themselves any second, her knees wobbled under the unseen weight of her hesitation, but all in all, she looked wonderful.

The dress, as expected, ended just before her knees, the frills on the side added to her look of innocence. The shawl was wrapped around her neck, a little loose, as if Sakuno-kun wasn't sure what she was supposed to do with it. I smiled kindly, it was no wonder Akaya and Genichirou were so in love with Sakuno-kun. "You look absolutely lovely, Sakuno-kun." I said, truthfully, as it was the first thing that came to mind.

She flushed in embarrassment. "Arigatou…" Her voice came out hushed. "I think I'll buy this one." She skipped off back to change. I waited once again, allowing her to take as much time as she needed. I was a very tolerant person. When she came out, Sakuno-kun looked, if possible, ten times happier than she had once we entered.

"How about we get some tea, Sakuno-kun?" I asked once we exited the store. She started to panic, objecting. She went on about how I paid for the dress—after much opposition—and that I shouldn't treat her again, how 'once was enough'. I retaliated by telling her what kind of gentleman would I be if I hadn't paid. This tongue-tied argument went on for a little bit, when finally Sakuno-kun gave in.

Once we entered the café, we took seats near the window; it was easier to stare outside that way. Sakuno-kun didn't seem to mind, to much in a daze to contemplate what was going on. "Sakuno-kun," I started, as I set the cup of tea on the table, peering deeply into Sakuno-kun's eyes. They were bright hazel and in the corners there were specks of a strange blueberry-like green. She was abnormal, in a way that made me question if she was real or not. She would always smile; she would always help others, putting anyone and everyone before herself. Sakuno-kun was like an angel, coming to Rikkai Dai.

Although, the other girls didn't seem to think so.

Shyly, she glimpsed back at me, looking up from the durable table to meet my concentrated stare. Sakuno-kun gave me a puzzled look in reply, silently wondering what I was going to ask. For a moment, I wondered, too, if I should ask what I really wanted to, or if I should let it slide. But if I let it slide now, I wouldn't be able to live with myself. Sakuno-kun brushed her hair back, letting the ends rest on her lap. "H-Hai, Yukimura-senpai?"

Sakuno-kun was a very easy person to read. When she was happy, she would laugh, if she were sad, she'd cry. I felt a tinge of envy run through me, wishing I could express my emotions that easily. Sakuno-kun didn't have to be 'perfect' in front of anyone, I, on the other hand was never able to let my guard down. One, because I was the buchou, seemingly flawless. Two, it was because I was 'perfect', that everyone adored me.

It was amusing, though, that Sakuno-kun appeared to prove me wrong. I felt anything but perfect around her. Right now she was clearly nervous, fidgeting in her seat, under the pressure I was unnoticeably putting her under. I didn't mean to, but I had a certain tone of voice that made you feel like you did something wrong. Her hands shook a little, her face eager, awaiting my continuation. Innocence ran through her, she didn't even have to try to be blameless. To her, it came naturally, another one of her many qualities I could only desire to posses. I didn't have many traits that people would consider 'great'.

I smiled lightly, resting my head back against the chair. It wasn't comfortable, but nothing seemed to be anymore, so what was the use of worrying over a minor chair, just because it was painful? I lowered my eyes, fixing them upon the table, gently looking back at the angelic-like girl who was sitting across me. She was wearing a white blouse, and a long ruffled white skirt, looking like an angel that was sent personally to console me. Her eyes were a little crimson from the funeral, but asides that she looked as customary as ever.

"Sakuno-kun, there was something I've been meaning to ask you." My voice came out more velvety than usual. This didn't happen often, only when I was uneasy. "I'm going to ask you a question and I want you to be very, very honest in answering, okay?" She nodded, taking it with all seriousness.

"Do you love Genichirou?"

I watched Sakuno-kun's facial expression change from enthusiastic to doom. She shuffled her feet beneath the table, her finger twining and untwining themselves. Did she not know the answer? It was either a yes or no… it wasn't so hard to answer was it? She took a couple of deep breaths, completely forgetting her tea that was left abandoned on the table. "Do… I love Sanada-san?" She repeated to herself, as if questioning herself. "I… I'm sorry, Yukimura-senpai." Sakuno-kun sniveled. "I-I don't know. I can't say yes… but I can't say no…"

I said nothing, noting the hesitation in her voice. Maybe she just didn't realize it? She was pretty dense at times, I noticed. "Okay." I agreed sympathetically. "What about Akaya, then? I'm sure he likes you." Her large eyes looked back at me, in disbelief. Maybe she was dense? Anyone could see that Akaya loved her more than himself. Everyone but her…

"A-A-Akaya-san!?" She blurted, doubt covering her facial appearance."Why on Earth would Akaya-san like me, Yukimura-senpai!?" Sakuno-kun looked me in the eye, her fingers red as well as her ears. That was something that happened to me too. If I was under a lot of pressure, or embarrassed my ears would turn the color of tomatoes. "If Akaya-san likes anyone, it's you—" Sakuno-kun quickly covered her mouth, noticing she accidently revealed something she shouldn't have. Her eyes started to welt with tears.

"Akaya likes… me?" I blurted, unsure of what to say. The conversation turned from a little uncomfortable, to incredibly uncomfortable. There was no way Akaya liked me. Or maybe, I was just as dense as Sakuno-kun? I laughed hoarsely, "Sakuno-kun, are you sure you're not mistaken?"

Sakuno-kun shook her head, looking into her palms. "G-Gomen, Akaya-san told me not to tell anyone but… I'm just an idiot. I just said it so inconsiderately!" I shook my head, still having a hard time believing any of this. The only person Akaya loved was Sakuno-kun. "Iie, for real, Yukimura-senpai. He told me that you make him feel 'all tingly' inside." I didn't know what to say.

And, for the first time in my life, I was speechless.

Yukimura, Seiichi

幸村精市

I ran up to my room right after I had returned with Yukimura-senpai, hugging the bag tightly against my chest. Yukimura-senpai was just too kind. Sometimes, I honestly caught myself thinking, 'If only I was like him, everything could be so much easier. Everyone would love me effortlessly'. But today, I found out that it wasn't like that. Even people like him had their share of troubles. Although, he could communicate them easily, fluently. It took me forever just to figure out what I was trying to say.

It was still only late evening, but the house was empty anyway. I shivered at the thought of isolation, taking baby steps apprehensively into my room. I felt like I was being watched, without being watched. Sometimes I thought I was going paranoid, but I've noticed that I kept my guard up in school more constantly now. It was like I trusted no one. My faith in others' was decreasing, and I was doing nothing to stop it. Maybe being at Rikkai Dai taught me that this was the 'Real World' and if I wanted to survive in the 'Real World' I could trust no one other than myself.

The thought of that saddened me a little. I wanted to trust other people. I wanted to trust Sanada-san and Yukimura-senpai and Akaya-san. I wanted to trust everyone on the tennis team. They were my friends, in spite of everything. Shutting the door being me, I quickly climbed on to my bed. My heart pounded into my chest, my breaths coming out as exaggerated gasps. Akaya-san had given me a red rose? But… why? Was the only thing running through my head as I placed the scarlet flower neatly and smoothly on the counter.

My head remained jumbled, my eyes brimming up with tears. I didn't deserve Akaya-san. He shouldn't have bothered, I thought as my hung head made my way onto my bed. I hadn't talked to Sanada-san in a while, either. Maybe it seemed like I was avoiding him. But I wasn't really; I just couldn't bear to face him. If he saw me now, what would he think? I'm sure Yukimura-senpai has already told Sanada-san that I didn't feel 'that way' about Akaya-san. And yet, I was going to the dance with him.

Of course Sanada-san would be disgusted. Because I didn't want him to hate me, I kept my distance from him. I even started memorizing routes home so I could evade him after school. Obviously he noticed, and slowly he began shunning me out as well. At home, we barley talked, only a few incidents caused us to speak with each other.

I felt like a spoiled child, getting their way no matter what the circumstances. I was avoiding Sanada-san because I didn't want him to hate me; I was going as Akaya-san's date because I didn't want him to find me revolting. "I really am just a selfish person…" I whispered into my pillow, hugging it quietly. I wanted to sort out my thoughts, sort them out to the point where there was nothing left to sort. I wanted all my problems to go away. I wanted everything to return to normal.

I wanted to the point, where I was sure I'd do anything to get it.

No one ever loved me, with the exception of Ryoma-kun, so I never really had to actually choose between one person or another. It was difficult, too. I sighed, letting my head fall against the comfortable silk sheets. I never meant for any of this to happen, really. I just desired that Akaya-san would understand my feelings, even though I didn't understand them myself, without me having to say anything. I loved Akaya-san, I was sure of that… but did I see him as a brother?

Or as a man?

There was a muffled knock on the door. I peeked up from my position and quickly stashed the shopping bag in my closet. Sanada-san didn't know I went shopping with Yukimura-senpai, and if it was possible, I'd like to keep it that way. I hesitantly opened the door, Sanada-san standing there with his usual unapproachable façade. My heart started to beat hysterically, and I could only hope that he couldn't hear it as well. I, now, always felt like this around him. The feeling itself was unexplainable, but after talking to Yukimura-senpai, I think I was finally ready to answer his question. I was sure he was ready for the answer, but was I? "S-Sanada-san? E-Eto, daijoubu ka?" I squeaked, my voice soft.

Sanada-san sighed, letting his stone-like face drop to the ground in front of him. He struggled with his words for a minute, before finally deciding upon what he wanted to say. "Ryuuzaki," He began, my palms started to sweat and I quickly wiped them on my skirt. It took everything I had to look him in the eye, feeling too mortified at the thought of Sanada-san hating me. Please don't say it, Sanada-san! My breaths started to double, awaiting his words. I nodded modestly, pending. "I just wanted to see if you were all right… from yesterday, I mean."

I exhaled loudly, relieved with tears. "S-Sanada-san!" I sobbed, bringing my hands to my face, murmuring apologies. He must have been asking about the funeral. He wanted to know how I was doing. He was concerned.

"Sanada-san… you, Yukimura-senpai, Akaya-san… all of you, y-you're all too nice to me." I blabbed. Why was it that looking at Sanada-san was making me cry? Maybe it was because he was being kind to me, maybe because I was deceiving him. But most of all, maybe it was because I now knew the answer to Yukimura-senpai's question. "Why are you so kind to me? I-I don't deserve it…" I don't deserve you. I added as a quick afterthought.

I'm forceful, I'm an absolute idiot. I wasn't even able to control my own tears, I found out, as I let them waste away on the floor. I didn't mean to cry, I was overly-sensitive. Maybe everyone was right, treating me like porcelain. I didn't want them to, but they were right to. By doing something I thought annoyed me, they were protecting me because I was too fragile to protect myself. I started to tremble. One second I was shivering at the horrible thoughts revolving in my head, and the next I was shivering at the contact of Sanada-san's body on my own.

"Sanada-san!?" I yelped in a small voice, it came out too delicate that I thought it really wasn't my own. His body felt so nice against my own, and without any realizations, my hands swung across his neck, my face buried itself deep within his mint-fragranced chest. My shoulders bobbled up and down, my tears stained his neatly-worn shirt, but he didn't seem to mind too much. Sanada-san's body stiffened from the sudden contact, but soon enough relaxed.

We stayed like that for a good ten minutes; it wasn't like I was counting away the precious time, but I just knew. I didn't want to move a muscle, afraid to disturb the unspoken, over-flowing serenity. Now that I knew what heaven felt like, I could only wish that I never did in the first place because now, that was the only place I wanted to go. Sanada-san didn't make any effort to move, neither did I. He mumbled something, and then my heart stopped beating. Not completely, but nearly. It was enough to skip one heart beat, though.

My eyes edged with new tears, more or less forcing their way out. I could have sworn I heard Sanada-san say something similar to, 'I love you'. But of course, that must have only been my imagination, my heart playing cruel tricks on me. There was no way Sanada-san could love me, it was impossible. There's no such thing as love. I quivered. Love is but merely an illusion. "That's not true." I whispered to myself and Sanada-san seemed to hear as well, his face dropping. There was such a thing as love. Love was not an illusion. It was what I was feeling.

Love did exist out there somewhere. It had to. None of us pulled away, but I could feel Sanada-san's body sink a little. He suddenly felt colder than he had a second ago, his fingertips getting a little rigid. "Gomen." My mouth plunged. "I should have known. I'm sorry, forget I said anything." Why was Sanada-san apologizing?

I opened my mouth, to ask, when Auntie came walking by, her face informal until she saw us. There was nothing much to see in my opinion. I was slouched against the floor on Sanada-san, his back against the wall. My arms were draped around his neck, his hands held tightly against my waist. Auntie's façade fell, her eyes torn between disbelief and irritation. The image might have looked wrong in the eyes of a casual passer, as if I was forcing myself onto Sanada-san, but it wasn't so.

If there was such a thing as hell, that day, I was sure I felt it in its full wrath.

Auntie told me to go to my room, that she would 'discuss' things with me later. I obeyed, scared. I had, by no means, ever seen Auntie look the way she did today. I wasn't scared for myself; I was more terrified for Sanada-san. She told him that his grandfather wanted to have a word with him and that she'd talk to him afterwards. I shook, petrified, reaching for the black cap on the counter. I inhaled the familiar aroma, the odor itself calming my nerves. When I had gotten it, I could only think that it was years ago, seven years to be exact.

I forced a miniature smile, allowing my shoulders to slump against the headboard as I put the cap on. In a strange way, it made me feel braver. Courageous wasn't something I was, far from, actually. But that day, I remember being picked on by the neighborhood boys, frightened to the point I had actually run away. I had gotten lost, of course, what, with my since of direction. Or lack of. Then, nearly by nightfall, this boy had found me.

Actually, it was more like I had found him, and subsequently he had run away from me. I chased him with no avail, and then had given up after he had gotten too far. It was like I had lost all my audacity, not that I had very much to being with, and gave up whimpering into a ball under a frozen-stiff tree. "Mou… I really was a baby back then." I smiled sadly. Then he had come back, panting all the while. He ran ahead of me. Several times, I had thought I had lost him.

But each time, he would wait for me.

He was a mysterious boy… Then I had realized he had led me back to my Obaa-chan. I went to thank him later, but I couldn't find him anywhere. The only proof that he was ever there was the hat he had given me. "Yukimura-senpai is right. It really is… a wonderful memory." I mused to myself, grabbing the bridge of the cap and tugging it down a little bit. "I'll probably never see him again, anyway." I sighed; a little nervous, hearing Auntie's recognizable pace heading to my room. "But if I ever met him again, I would want to thank him. Of course by now, I'm sure he's forgotten all about it."

In a way, that boy was my first love.

My head started to spin, as I heard Auntie's voice. By the time I had realized what was going on, Auntie was already hovering above me, her face seemed calmer than the last time I had seen her. I breathed a sigh of relief, silently. Her face softened, when she looked at me. I didn't know why, I was just sitting on my bed, wearing a white skirt and matching shirt, the only thing that stuck out at all was the black hat sitting atop my head.

"Sakuno-chan." She started; her voice like broken glass. "…Ah, where to being…?" Auntie was smiling, but her eyes certainly weren't. They looked like they were not working. "Sakuno-chan, I love having you at our home, it truly is a pleasure…" At a loss of what to say, Auntie simply brought her hand towards me, and I shut my eyes tightly, awaiting her hand to collide with my cheek. It never came. Instead, she ruffled my hair, playfully. "Just don't let that happen again, okay?"

She didn't have to specify on that, I already knew what she meant. She meant that she didn't want to find me hugging Sanada-san anymore. As to why, there was no answer to that. I didn't dare to breathe the words either; it was bad enough that I was already on the 'deep end' with Auntie. I wasn't going to push my luck. I nodded slowly; not giving her any eye contact, I didn't know what would happen if I looked her directly right now. Hollowly, I responded, like a machine, given a simple order, "Hai, Auntie."

For the duration of the evening, I didn't leave my room. I was too afraid to step foot outside my own personal sanctuary. In here, I was safe. In here, I was blocked off from the mean words people told me, the mean things they did. I was secure. I was protected by the thick wall surrounding me from the outside world. For a minute, I had begun to understand why everyone was so intent into building a façade. Because you were guaranteed security, no one would be able to penetrate you. Because you were simply… safe. Because then, you would never be hurt.

"Sanada-san…?" I asked in a hush voice as I looked outside the large windows attached to the room. I could see Sanada-san's silhouette sitting on one of the rocks around the koi pond. His face was brightly illuminated by the diffuse moonlight easily reflecting off of his body. My stomach started to do an unhealthy number of back flips, gazing at him from my outlook was like one of my stupid, childish dreams come true.

"Ne, guess what Sanada-san?" I whispered to myself, not really addressing Sanada-san at all. I smiled a ridiculous smile, staring through my windowpane, opening it, allowing the fresh springtime sakura petals to flutter through. "Mou, I love you Sanada-san but you'll never love me. A-Ano and I'm also going to the dance with Akaya-san. Don't you have anything to say about that?" I whined, like a child who was refused something.

There was no reason for Sanada-san to care who I was going where with. Although, I wish there was. I felt so very special when Sanada-san would come find me and then take me away with him. That way, I knew, he was thinking about me long enough to consider my surroundings. My smile was faint as I sneezed sensitively, the sound travelling to Sanada-san's ears.

He turned around long enough that I could get a clear view of his face. I blushed; embarrassed that he knew I was watching him, quietly, from afar. Like I have always done, I would quietly watch him, when I wasn't allowed to be next to him, trying my best to protect him from danger. It was a stupid feeling, silly even. But it made me feel in safe hands. He made me feel in safe hands.

Perhaps, he was my 'safe hands'.

Standing up, he turned in my direction, barley raising an eyebrow. "Ryuuzaki?" There were so many questions that I wanted answered, right then. But every time I asked, I wouldn't get a direct answer, only more questions would arise and I would be back to where I started in the first place. That was how it was like with Sanada-san. I wanted to ask why he had apologized to me earlier, but I knew only fresh inquires would be brought up. He looked masculine staring back at me with his cold gray eyes that pierced through me with a single glance. It was the same look that melted me whenever I spoke with him.

"Kuso." I cursed lightly, so lightly that Sanada-san did not hear. I never cursed. But that night, I cursed myself. I fell in love with someone who was out of my reach. My hands would never make it to him, no matter how hard I tried to stretch. He was purely off-limits. Sanada-san and I were not compatible in any what way. He was better off with Yukimura-senpai. Yukimura-senpai was perfect, therefore he was worthy of Sanada-san. And I… I wasn't.

I leaned over the windowsill, my body halfheartedly out into the open atmosphere. I wanted to reach Sanada-san. I desperately wanted to reach him, to tell him I loved him more than words could describe. But as I stretched my hand out the glass, Sanada-san stood where he was, looking back at me with a soft look in his eyes.

It was like he knew I would never be able to make it to where he was. I drew out my pastel arm as far as it would enable me to. Sanada-san just stood there, and as I let my hand drop I nearly fell backwards. I would never attain to where Sanada-san was. He was too far. But suddenly, I didn't care anymore. Whether he was off-limits, whether he was too far to comprehend. I didn't care. I wanted him, and that was more than enough of a reason to reach out.

Because, I was going to reach until my hand could reach no more.

Dawn broke quickly, and before I knew it, it was a new day. The sky streaked in that beautiful orange-silver color that was only possible to see at just the right time. A small splash of red smudged the sky, giving it not only an orange-silver sense, but also the impression that there was going to be a big red streak in my day today. "A new day…" I thought aloud, today was the day of the dance and I knew that Obaa-chan would want me to enjoy myself. But I couldn't. Not with all the mixed communications between all of us. Everything was so complicated now, that it was hard to tell your friends from foes, or separate the lies from the truth.

But I wasn't going to let any of that get me down today. Today I was going to be happy, I was going to be cheerful enough for everyone on the tennis team. It's the only thing I can do for them. I brushed my hair after the shower I had just taken. The ends always curled after I wet it, I smiled dimly looking back at the reflection staring at me through the mirror. I looked as I've always done. Nothing changed, but I could feel my outlook on everything change.

My eyes were still big, my hair still long, I was still inept, awkward, but still, I could feel something change inside me. I look at things differently now. Ryoma-kun even told me so. I beamed a little at the thought of the other first-year. I wonder what he's thinking right now… what he's doing… I really hope he's okay.

My concern towards him was only friendly concern, not the same kind I held a few weeks ago. Ryoma-kun, to me, was only a friend. A really kind friend, just like the others' I've met a Rikkai Dai. I descended down the stairs, feeling lighter than I had in ages. "Ohayou Sanada-san!"

I waved idiotically at Sanada-san who was coming in from outside, a towel around his neck. "E-Eto, you've been practicing this early?" I asked in incredulity. He nodded, racking the fridge for a bottle of cold water. "A-Ano… today's the dance." I said in lack of anything better to start up a conversation as I cracked an egg into the frying pan. I was used to making breakfast in the early mornings.

"Hn." Was Sanada-san's reply, gruffly taking a seat at the table. I could tell that he wanted the subject dropped, so I said nothing more about it, simply chatting about the nice morning we were having. Around him, I felt natural; I didn't have to be someone else to have him like me, being just plain Sakuno was good enough for him. He tilted back on his chair, letting his dark hair fall along with him. "You're going with Kirihara, aren't you." It wasn't a question, more a fact known to everyone. Nevertheless that didn't help the bad feeling welling up inside me.

I nodded, joyful. I promised myself that today, of all days, I would be cheerful. Today I would smile enough for everyone. I turned on the heat, allowing the pan to heat up a little before cracking another egg atop it. "Hai!" Just ask him. I urged, feeling the indistinguishable pressure getting to me. I wasn't hard; all I had to say was a few words. Deep breath, "Ano, Sanada-san, are you going?" That wasn't so hard, was it?

He said nothing for a minute, swallowing down the water. I watched him from the corner of my eyes, trying not to be obvious about it. I loved observing his movements, watching his facial expressions, not that he showed them frequently. Being around him was enough for me, or so it was. What I wanted now was not only impossible, but prohibited. I was forbidden to love Sanada-san. Finally, he looked up from his drink long enough to acknowledge my question. "I don't know. I don't see any reason to… although if Yukimura's going…"

I felt my hand twitch as I placed the plates efficiently on the table. If Yukimura-senpai was going? My hands started to shake under the heaviness I put myself under. But before I knew it, Sanada-san's warm hands were covering my own, and he took the plates from me and placed them on the table himself. I flushed due to the humiliation. Sanada-san doubtlessly thought that I was a loser. Even I thought that, though.

We ate the rest of our meal in peace, until I noticed Sanada-san's left cheek was red, a dab of blood trickling down. I went into a frenzy of alarm, suddenly shouting words that I was didn't have any meaning. Sanada-san seemed to understand, but by that time I had run and returned with a tissue, shoving it in his face without realization.

He accepted it with a muffled 'thank you' and wiped the trickles away. I was too scared to ask, so instead I sat across him unresponsively eating. There were just too many unanswered questions, there were too many cuts, I just wanted it to all end. That was why I decided that today I was going to stitch everything collectively. I was going to tie all the unfastened ends. Because today, I was going to buy one of those crimson flowers.

And I was going to give it to Sanada-san.

I didn't care who liked it, or who didn't. I was going to give it to him, and that was my final decision. As long as my legs didn't cave on me, or my nerves didn't get the better of me. Sanada-san was my fantasy. My dream when I wasn't sleeping. And, if achievable, I wanted to keep it that way.

But tying together loose ends, sewing feelings back together, were not as easily done as said, as I found was going to find out today. Today was the Day of Judgment. Today everything was going to fall into place. That or just fall altogether. I moaned quietly, as Sanada-san and I walked to school. The trip there was a quiet one, understanding the contracted silence between us as a good one.

"Ohayou, Sakuno-chan!" Akaya-san beamed, grinning awkwardly in my direction as Sanada-san and I made our way into the school hallways. Everywhere was plastered with posters. Universally, it was noticeable that the entire school was into the flower exchange idea. When it wasn't Akaya-san or I who sold the roses, it would be one of the teachers, and we were always flooded with orders and purchases.

I smiled back at him, happily. I loved being around Akaya-san. He was a very fun person to be around. He was helpful, and Yukimura-senpai told me that he… I blushed unrestrainedly at the thought of Akaya-san loving me. I didn't see why he would want to. But looking at him now, his shadowy black hair tousled, his emerald green eyes luminous, made me feel ten times worse than I had yesterday. "Ohayou." I murmured, seeing Yukimura-senpai and Yanagi-san heading in what seemed to be our direction.

Yukimura-senpai pleasantly smiled, "Ohayou Sakuno-kun, Genichirou, Akaya." He kindheartedly looked at us, while Yanagi-senpai nodded in approval. Sanada-san simply grunted, recognizing their presence. "Today's finally the big day, ne Sakuno-kun?" Yukimura-senpai gave me a relaxing look that comforted my tension almost immediately.

There was just something about Yukimura-senpai's presence that reassured me. He was an incredibly soothing person to be with. And then, suddenly, the weight put on from Akaya-san's welcoming smile, was lifted by the restful atmosphere Yukimura-senpai provided. I breathed a sigh of relief, bobbing my head hesitantly. There was no use denying my feelings in front of the navy-haired buchou.

He already knew, anyway. We had secrets that only the two of us shared. He knew things about me that I didn't even know about myself, and he pointed out them out. Surprisingly, I couldn't disagree. Yukimura-senpai was right. But then again, I've noticed that he is always right.

He had a certain way, a certain air about him, that people, strangers even, could trust him instantly. Yukimura-senpai simply made me envy him. He ran a single finger smoothly through his wavy hair, and my eyes couldn't look away as his finger ran through his hair so fluently. He didn't have a single tangle, or knot. I self-consciously touched the brim of the brown muddle I called my curls. "Ah, are you going, Yukimura-senpai?"

Akaya-san grinned at the third-year. "I was wondering too, buchou. Are you going?" I squirmed in my spot, and Sanada-san threw me a look of suspicion. I hoped that Akaya-san didn't find out that I blabbed that about him. It was an accident, really. I wasn't like I was intentionally trying to gossip! I knew how much gossip could hurt. After all, I heard nasty new rumors start about me almost every day. That was why I liked to go to the library to wait for Sanada-san after school. Because in that abandoned quiet, I wouldn't hear those cruel words.

Yukimura-senpai nodded in Akaya-san's direction. "Mmhm. I think it would be a nice experience." His gaze turned distant, as if thinking something of high importance. Maybe he was planning on giving Sanada-san a rose too!? I panicked a little at the thought. W-What if Sanada-san rejects me? I was being a wimp, thinking pessimistically.

In spite of everything, Ryoma-kun still told me his true feelings, and yesterday he told me his heart was feeling lighter. He didn't regret telling me. He was able to move on by doing so, because then he would be able to say he had given it all he had. What scared me the most wasn't rejection. It was the thought of not being able to move on. I poured my entire heart out to Sanada-san that I was sure that there was nothing left at this point. If he told me that he loved Yukimura-senpai, I wouldn't know what to do.

"Although, I hear it has to be formal wear, right Sakuno-kun?" I left my state of obliviousness for a couple seconds, long enough to hear Yukimura-senpai's question. Caught off guard by the question, I looked down at the ground. What was I supposed to say? If I said yes, Akaya-san would ask what I was wearing, I'm sure. And I wanted to keep that little 'outing' I had with Yukimura-senpai secret. Yukimura-senpai, being the considerate person I could only wish I was born as, kindly cast aside the subject. "There's no time to think about that, after all," He smiled secretly, "I still have to buy my rose."

My heart leapt uneasily. The rose was evidently for Sanada-san. The only other person who seemed to notice my intense nervousness was Yanagi-san, who in turn asked if Akaya-san could walk me to class while he, Yukimura-senpai and Sanada-san left to their first period class. The bell was due to ring any minute now, anyway. "I-Iie!" I griped. "I-I mean! I-It's not that I don't want to walk with you Akaya-san, it's just that I know my way around now… and I would just be wasting your time because the bells' going to ring any minute now and—oh no! I'm rambling again." I lowered my head, in shame. "Gomen, I'm such an idiot."

I suddenly felt a hand on my inferior head. Sanada-san, who had remained quiet during the whole conversation, was finally noticing my existence. I looked up at him, my head still hung, from the slits of my bangs. "Stop putting yourself down all the time." It was a simple statement, and before I could respond, that piercing sound called the bell echoed throughout the hallways. I opened my mouth to speak, but I noticed that I was already being hauled along by Akaya-san.

Sitting in my desk, I heard snickers heading my direction. I didn't mind anymore. It was useless to even try to do anything about them. As long as I was seen with my friends, I would be picked on. I would get harassed. What did it matter, now? There was nothing that could possibly be said to get my classmates to stop.

The teacher walked in, and before I knew it, class was already over. Where the time went, I hadn't a clue, and I didn't think I wanted to. The most upsetting part of class was walking out. Girls would shove me, claiming it was an accident, and the boys would try sticking gum in my hair. I used to feel miserable at these feeble gestures, but now… Ever since this morning when Sanada-san told me to 'Stop putting myself down', I'd honestly taken his words to heart. I'd even stopped worrying about what others' thought of me. A little. But that was much more than usual.

Lunch came and went and the conversations around me were a complete blur. Marui-san and Yagyuu-san had asked repeatedly if I was feeling all right, with me just nodding. These friends I had at Rikkai Dai were, maybe, the best friends I have ever had. I truly loved them all. I could only hope they all considered me a friend as well. Of course, I was too embarrassed to ask. Sanada-san seemed deep in thought; I didn't even get a chance to speak to him once. That, and Yanagi-san appeared to want to speak with him privately as well.

"Sakuno." Niou-san smirked, bringing his hands under his chin, resting his head comfortably between his palms. I looked in his direction, showing him I was paying attention. His smirked stayed firm, traces of being sadistic remained in his features. "Did you buy your rose yet?" His shimmering hoary mane hurled behind his back. He really did have long hair for a boy. "Who's it for?"

I spat out my milk. The question had come so suddenly that I had every reason to be shocked a touch. I quickly wiped the milk off my mouth with the sleeve of my uniform. That was when I looked diagonally in front of me to see Sanada-san, completely drenched in milk, his face filled with irritation. Asides that, he looked ordinary.

Akaya-san, Marui-san, and Niou-san howled with laughter as Sanada-san stood up, as dignified as possible, and stalked off angrily to the washroom. Even Yukimura-senpai tried to hide his chuckle, as well as Yanagi-san. This was, hands down, the most embarrassing day of my life. I darted after Sanada-san, my intentions to properly apologize to him. "Sanada-san! Matte yo!" I shrieked, running after him as fast as my pale legs could carry me. "Onegai!" I cried, and suddenly remembered that mysterious boy… the one who kept running.

Several times, I had thought I had lost him.

But each time, he would wait for me.

I stopped, panting heavily. My breaths came out as exaggerated gasps, I hunched over myself, putting my hands on my knees. He was too fast. That was when I saw him, leaning over the corner of the elongated corridor's wall, his hands folded neatly against his chest. "Sanada-san!" My voice sounded overjoyed as I walked briskly in his direction. He was a full head taller than me and every time I wanted to look at his knife-like gray eyes, I would have to look up. But I didn't mind.

I bowed deeply, mortified at what I had done to him. Luckily though, he had washed it all away. But I would never be able to wash the humiliation away. "Ryuuzaki," He started, his deep voice making its way into my timid ears. "Stop apologizing so much. It's annoying." His blunt reply hung in the air for a few moments, before he turned away, mumbling something about how we shouldn't be seen together too much.

My knees wobbled and I didn't know what had suddenly caused me to shout out a Sanada-san, but something did. "B-But I don't care if we're seen together Sanada-san! I… I don't care about reputation or status anymore…" I whimpered, looking up to see Sanada-san's stature vanished.

For the rest of the day, I stayed in a gloomy mood, trying desperately to smile even when I wasn't happy. It wasn't working too well. My classmates' caught on, and in Phys-Ed, while we were running the 100m dash, one of the girls tripped me. I skidded across the hard track, one of my knees bleeding. "Oops, I'm so sorry." She brought her hand to her mouth, as if surprised by her own actions.

The teacher believed her. "Here, let me help you up." She stretched her hand to mine, but I didn't move. When she saw that she was getting no movement out of me, a crowd of my female classmates' circled me, their faces fuming. One grabbed me by my hair, lowering her face to mine, speaking slowly. "Look, here, you. We heard you're going to the dance with Kirihara-sama." Her grip tightened and I could only whimper. "I'm going to tell you this once, so listen up okay?" Tears spilled from my eyelids, falling on to my cut, only adding to the stinging soreness.

Slap.

"Don't get conceited."

I wasn't trying to be conceited! I didn't ask to go with Akaya-san. He asked me! I wanted to shout, but only snivels could be heard coming from my mouth. I didn't find it fair, that I was getting bullied. What right did these people have to tell me not to get conceited, not to think of myself as a human? "I-I'm human too…" The girl's eyes raged, her face getting scrunched up. She slapped me again, but I was too numb to feel anything the second time. I don't see why they do this. Slap. They love the regularsthey're just not showing it properly. Slap. By doing this, they'll just get everyone angrier.

Bringing my hand up cautiously up to my newly numbed cheek, the teacher asked everyone to go wait inside while she spoke with me. She came over and helped me off the floor, with me limping on her shoulder. I was pathetic. Why was it that I just couldn't stand up for myself? Obaa-chan would be ashamed. No, more than that. She'd be disgraced. Disgraced to have raised such a useless granddaughter. The teacher asked if I needed anything more, I shook my head. It was enough to have to face everyone later. I walk lamely inside the change room, relieved to see everyone gone.

"Why can't I just blend in?" I asked the humid atmosphere, receiving no answer, like always. There was no answer to that question, I realized as I changed into my school uniform. I would never be able to fit in. Not at school, not at Sanada-san's house. Nowhere. The only person who truly accepts me for who I am is Akaya-san. I didn't even believe that Sanada-san liked me. Or at least, he didn't act like it. I think…

I grabbed my bag and dragged my feet against the floor as I walked. I was pleased that school was over. That meant I would be able to buy my rose before practice ended and I had to go home. Room 158A wasn't too far, and thanks to Yagyuu-san it was a very easy place to get to for me. The line was still enormous, easily getting lost in the vast crowd of Rikkai Dai students.

The mob pushed and shoved, I was just getting heaved along. "Mou…" I sighed; picking up my fallen bag before becoming aware that someone had already beat me to it. "Eh?" I gasped at the insipid hand, even paler than my own, instantly recognizing it as Yukimura-senpai's. "Y-Yukimura-senpai!?" I wheezed, unsure if my eyes were deceiving me.

And they weren't as he straightened his beatific self, his presence reminding me of that of an angel. Yukimura-senpai really was angelic, as he brushed a strand of hair out of his eyes, greeting me with a friendly smile, handing me my bag in the process. I bristled, unsure of what to say or do. He was obviously here to buy a rose as well. Luckily for me, he took care of the talking and I only had to listen.

I loved that about Yukimura-senpai. He would listen selflessly to other people's problems as they blabbed on about themselves. He would never interrupt. He always gave them his full attention, having an attention capacity I thought was impossible. "Ah, so Sakuno-kun you're buying one for Akaya-san?" He raised an eyebrow cautiously, trying to say the accurate words. "Or is it for Genichirou?"

I turned my face away; making sure my swelling cheek wasn't in view to Yukimura-senpai. He would ask, even though he already knew. He would get worried, and no one needed to worry over me, it was pointless. I spoke softly, timidly, "Eto… I don't know what to tell Akaya-san, Yukimura-senpai! I-I mean! I don't want to hurt him, but then if I say I love him, then I think I'll be lying and I don't want to lie to Akaya-san b-because that would just be terrible! I want…" I blushed, looking at Yukimura-senpai's feet.

He kneeled down without my noticing, and gently tilted my head down, facing his deep sapphire eyes. He was being careful, like I was glass, but I didn't care anymore. And when he spoke, his voice was delicate, like it was about to shatter, "What is it that you want, Sakuno-kun?" Tears welled up in my eyes. No one had ever asked me that. What was it that I wanted? I wasn't about to cry in front of Yukimura-senpai, though.

I turned my head away a little, convinced he couldn't see my distended cheek. "I-I want… I want to tell Sanada-san and Akaya-san how I… feel." He replied with a mannered smirk, mining his facial expression. He patted my head, sensitively.

"Then that's enough. To be able to… tell them both how you feel." Yukimura-senpai stood up, making himself leveled to my height. He could see the same fan girls I saw from the corner of my eye, and he smiled sadly, abstractedly.

"Telling them how you feel… that is enough. I'm sure it will be." My eyes widened, why was Yukimura-senpai so nice? I could feel the brimming tears surfacing. He loved Sanada-san, but he was telling me to tell him how I felt. Why? Maybe because, you're just a greedy person. My mind shot at me. You just want Sanada-san for yourself. Yukimura-senpai is far beyond you, just like Sanada-san.

I was at a loss for words for the umpteenth time that day, uncertain of what to say, exactly. There was no getting out of it, I was sure that Yukimura-senpai already knew. After all, this was many of the secrets we kept solitarily between us. I opened my mouth, about to tell him, when the group of fan girls spotted him, immediately coming is way. Yukimura-senpai wasn't like the other regulars; he was far too polite to brush them away. He tossed an apologetic look my way, and I gave him my best reassuring smile, telling him mentally that it was alright.

Soon enough, the girls left, giving me a dirty look in the process, and I just stood there. My mind went blank for a minute, before remembering Akaya-san.

Akaya-san…

"B-But what about Akaya-san!?" I blurted, I didn't mean to. I just wanted to know what Yukimura-senpai would say. I wanted his advice. I didn't want to go through all this confusion by myself, it was getting to me. I didn't want Akaya-san to be sad. But… I didn't want to lie, either. I didn't want to hurt anyone anymore. "I don't want to… hurt anyone anymore. I don't want to 'take' anything anymore! Wh-What do I want?"

I uttered without much consideration, "I want to be like you, Yukimura-senpai. I want to be able to tell people how I feel easily; I want them to understand that I can't control my heart, or my feelings. I want to be able to tell them as straightforwardly as you can." I sobbed a little, ready to wipe my stray tears away, but before I could, Yukimura-senpai's cool finger swept them all away.

He looked monotonous, dabbing away the drifted tear drops. "You don't want to be like me, Sakuno-kun." I noticed that we were at the front of the line, the teacher awaiting our order. "Two red roses, please." Yukimura-senpai's voice drifted vigorously. I was wearing him out, but I'm sure he was just trying to make me feel better. "And don't worry about Akaya." He wiped away the last of my pathetic tear tracks, handing me my rose. I gave him the money for it, but he refused to take it. "Akaya is real gold. And he'll keep on shining.

Unlike us cheap imitations."

Ryuuzaki, Sakuno

竜崎桜乃


I am so sorry. This petal was far too long wasn't it? …Crocodile tears… I'll tone it down I swear! Mooooaan. I'm so sorry. This petal was so slow in updating because, one, it was probably the longest petal. (Without Hana yelling at me to stop writing, as you can see, things can get out of hand). And two, because Hana kept sending me muses that didn't fit with the story line and then I'd try to make them fit… and yeah… Okay! So what did you think? Good? Bad? Horrible? Please, do leave comments and review!

(1) Sanada's View: 'Onegai' means 'Please' or 'I'm begging you'. 'Tadaima' means 'I'm home'.

(2) Yukimura's View: 'Oi' means 'Hey' and 'Daijoubu ka' means 'Are you alright?' 'Kouhai' means 'Underclassman'. 'Arigatou' means 'Thank you', but you probably already know that. 'Kouhai' means 'Underclassman'. 'Gomenasai' means 'I'm sorry'. 'Noir' means 'Black'… yes, it's French… 'Iie' is translated to 'No'.

(3) Sakuno's View: 'Daijoubu ka' means 'Are you all right?' 'Gomen' is translated to 'Sorry', or 'I'm sorry' 'Hai' is Japanese for 'Yes'. 'Kuso' means 'Damn it'. When Sakuno said, 'Ohayou' to Sanada, she meant 'Good morning'. Sakuno was referring to the word 'No' when she said 'Iie'. 'Matte yo' means 'Wait up' or 'Wait for me'.

Upcoming Petal: Close the curtains, open the up the dance floor, put on your best dresses and suits, because it's time to dance! Sanada buys a rose… Yukimura buys a rose… Sakuno buys a rose… but who will be the ones receiving them? Stolen kisses, given kisses, expected kisses, unexpected kisses… Rejecting, accepting… all in the next petal!

Our personal favorite part of writing, reading the reviews you guys sent us! Thank you: AtobeKeigo, love your name. Thank you for your review. The Magical Whatever, thank you we saw that too. XD, don't worry about it. Something will be done. And no problema, more Kirihara next petal! Tenisu, yeah, we've seen. Please don't waste your time worrying about it. Hope you enjoyed this petal, too. Cookiiex, yup, we've seen it too. But please don't worry about it; we'll do something about it after we have a little sadistic fun. Insomniac.kisses, yes Ryoma was able to move on, but we really don't like Ryoma at all! (Hides in corner from all Ryoma-fans.) Hope you liked this petal as well. GinGaara, really? It's not too long? Sometimes we think it's too long. XD, apparently you don't. Thank you! Although, this petal is simply too long. SaKuRAkISS014, Sakuno was being the poor little cute girl she is. We don't know who to side with now! S-Note, sorry this wasn't a quick update. This was sort of a one-person petal, plus we were busy with 'Falling Before Walking' for a week. Wow, we're slow. XD. Endless, ah then don't worry, we're sure you'll like the ending… in a creepy Oh-My-God way… Kirihara Aka-chan, wow you seem very energetic! Thank you for vigorously reviewing! Fliccolo, hhmm, this may actually be the last appearance of Seishun, but we'll try to squeeze them in a couple petals from now for you! And thank you; hope you liked this petal too.

Ahotep, don't worry if you want to start with family obligations, ours is horrible. XD Glad you found time for this story, though, as we know you're an avid SanaSaku shipper. (Same here) Yes, we hope that Sanada will continue to walk in on them! No alone time… wow, we're evil. Poor Kirihara! Miracleflame-alchemist147, yay for the Rikkai Dai plushies! And the cookie. :) Yes, we are such losers. We're glad ochibi is able to move on too! He can't grieve over Sakuno forever, ne!? Hropkey, we like to reply to reviewers in more than just a couple sentences but if we did that, who knows how much space it'd take!? We guess it is a good thing! Don't worry, we make no sense either! Hope you enjoyed this petal too. On.E.Gai-chan, yay for Ryoma-bashing! Don't worry, we ramble too! Hope you like this petal too. Ichii, SanaSaku? KiriSaku? You'll find out later! XD we are so evil. Sorry! But, don't worry because we agree, KiriSaku counts for something. Hope you liked this petal. aSyLLe-cLaiRe, thank you, thank you. Hope you enjoyed this petal just as much! Gwynhafra, and just like we heard a zillion times, poor Kirihara. Yes, he likes Sakuno, who likes Sanada. Who is a brick! Um… yeah… we'll just wander off now.

Sesshomaruobsessed, thank you so much!! We can't help but feel sorry for Kirihara now, too! Don't worry; we get on sugar high after reading reviews! Or smelling permanent marker… Uh! Anyways, thank you so much, we're glad you actually like this story and then take the time to review too! XD. Uranaishii, well we hope you enjoyed this petal as well, then! And yes, hearing 'Sakuno-chan' too much is horribly annoying. Makes us want to cry. XD. Hatakearan, yes, the million dollar question: how did Sanada find her? Cough… we have no idea. XD, hope you liked it. Sechskies, we never actually read 'Sakuno at Rikkai Dai', and then when we read your review, we tried… Gomenasai! It was weird with Yukimura's sister… God, now we're going to feel bad for weeks. Ryoma and Tomoko? That just sounds downright creepy… LoL. XD, yes! We love Imadoki Nowadays (we bought the series too); the flower exchange was very cool, so we wondered how it would go at Rikkai and what chaos we could stir up… thank you for the corrections and review! We usually never re-read… get too lazy. Arihdni, thank you so much for liking this story! More confessions, next chapter. Shadow miko, sorry we're just very skeptical about RyoSaku… odd because there's hints on RyoSaku in the manga, later chapters. Ah, we don't even know what's set or unset anymore. But, we know the final pairing, I'm sure the readers will be pleased, but sad at the outcome at the same time. Thank you for taking the time off to review. KiriharaAkaya, yes! RyoSaku sucks! Well, actually there are exceptions, but they'd have to be extremely well written and un-OOC. But, in general, let's shun the RyoSaku! Yes, who knows with Sanada? Hhmmm, maybe it is the tracking deceives? SanaHunny, thank you. Moan… you can see we're getting lazy, right? XD

And yes, I was listening to 'Abandoned Star' when I wrote about the meteor shower! XD.

0oO

Hanabi: Can you believe it!? Someone is trying to steal our story! …Current stage of complete rage… Hello! Kura, you could at least comment. Say something, do something! I think my head is going to explode. Please pick up my fallen parts and glue me back together after this madness is over.

Sakura: …Something'll be done eventually. They can't keep it up forever. Il est très ennuyant.

Hanabi: C'est mauvais! God damn it, Kura! I know you're a brick but why are you so suddenly laid back!? Panic a little! I swear I'm going to have a rock upside your head. Why are you so calm at a time like this!? Wait—don't answer. It was a rhetorical question. Now please be in horror. Is your head is too thick to figure out what is happening? Please read my lips. Someone.Is.Trying.To.Steal.This.Story.

Sakura: Yes, I'm aware of that.

Hanabi: Holy crap-head. You are the worst.

Sakura: No, I'm presently sadistic. :) Don't worry you're little head off Hana. If there's one thing Auntie has passed down to me, it's her computer knowledge. …Insert evil music here…

Hanabi: Do something before something happens to that Atobe plushie of yours!! I will not be held responsible for anything that happens to that doll of yours within the next twenty-four hours. I want this to be an original. No plagiarism! Go.Do.Something.

Sakura: Sigh. I've already told you, Hana. Stop worrying. Something will be done within the next twenty-four hours. And whatever that 'thing' is, you'll know it's me. Now, if you decide to breathe again, in the next twenty-four hours, I can guarantee you that that story will disappear completely.

Hanabi: You're creepy, but I trust you to rid of it.

Sakura: I didn't suffer through that six hour computer lesson a year ago for nothing. When in Rome, do as the Roman's do. When someone's trying to copyright a story, scare them senseless. Now please, settle down. You'll scare everyone off or something.

Hanabi: I'm pretty sure you can take care of that yourself.

Sakura: Possibly.

—S&H—

Signing out.

Prince of Tennis © Takeshi Konomi