06.27.07
A/N: I started making this back at July 27 and ended up finishing at October 13. I'm so sorry for the very late update! I have been on hiatus for months since I wanted to fully concentrate on the first semester of my freshman year. But now that it's sembreak, I took the chance of finishing this chapter! So because of the many months I haven't been writing this chapter, I may have forgotten some details (this isn't proofread), which explains any discrepancies between the beginning and end parts of this chapter.

Oh yeah, thanks for reviewing the previous chapter, guys!

Another note… the fact that Sakuno is cute resulted to some bit of whacky OOCness here, so… (hides)

DISCLAIMER: Takeshi Konomi owns the manga and its characters.


Auburn Legend
© Doctor Meowzie


FOUR
Rikkai Dai: In Their Unforeseen OOCness They Declare War

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"Rikkai Dai?"

Sakuno glanced at her grandmother from her spot in front of the kitchen sink. While she took the job of cutting carrots to cook for dinner, her grandmother stood before the opened refrigerator, picking out some raw food they're going to cook. With the knife held in suspension above the carrots, the young girl watched her grandmother close the fridge and place the cold steak on a plate at their table. Sakuno looked at her grandmother when the old woman answered.

"Hai. Sakaki, Hanamura-sensai and I agreed to do some daily proctoring on different schools of the top tennis teams of the region while teams are practicing, to see how they are doing, and probably help us develop some strategic training program that might help aspiring tennis novices. And we're not spying, rest assured. We'll start with Rikkai Dai—we are going to pay them a visit tomorrow. I'm afraid you'll have to go home without me."

"It's okay, Obaa-san," Sakuno resumed cutting the carrots into flower-like shapes. "I can go home alone."

Sumire looked at her granddaughter and sighed. Because of the trouble that happened last week, the coach, with the full approval of the Seigaku regulars, swore never to let Sakuno go off on her own, without Sumire or the boys or Tomoka as company. Not until she reaches high school, anyway. Until then, whether she brings a full battery-powered cell phone or umbrella with her or not, Sakuno would not be allowed to go against their rule.

The girl had felt heavily depressed upon hearing this and said nothing, only nodding her head to say she obliged. It was her fault anyway, even if she didn't mean to. (Well, actually it had been partly the rain's fault. Puhleez, don't go about placing voluminous burdens on her small shoulders; okay, author?)

"You know I can't allow that, Sakuno," said Sumire in a firm voice, slightly chiding her for forgetting her 'punishment'. "I'll just have to ask at least one of the boys to go with you. Maybe Ryoma, since he takes almost the same route as you when going home…"

Sakuno blushed at this, hastily finishing the last of the carrots before placing them in a small bowl and opening the faucet to wash the chopping board. She tried to keep herself from thinking more about the tennis prince before speaking, "R-Ryoma-kun and senpai-tachi will be very busy, Obaa-san! The nationals are fast approaching a-and I don't want to be any more of a h-hindrance…"

A brief pause, before she heard her obaa-san sigh once again. "I guess so… but we can't leave you alone; and as much as our triumph in the upcoming Nationals is of high priority and significance, so is your safety, my child."

The twin-braided girl noted the way her elder's face wrinkled even more deeply, feeling guilty at having to be such a cute, clumsy and klutzy little girl who's a trouble magnet and a sucker at directions at the same time. Those, buddy, are two of the most vital things one who wished to die early should possess. The thing is, Sakuno still wanted to see herself in the future, and should therefore continue to breathe for as long as the time until her hair turns white, or even longer.

Her features perked up suddenly.

'Well, I hope this helps…'

Wishing for enlightenment to grace her grandmother's mood, she looked at Sumire and timidly suggested, "Anou… would it be okay if I go with obaa-san instead?"

Sumire stared at the little girl in a pink apron. (Yes, she's wearing an apron. A pink one. Sakuno, you cute girl XD)

"Well, Sakuno… would you mind coming with me to Rikkai Dai tomorrow?" she asked.

"No, I don't mind, obaa-san," answered Sakuno lightly, now starting to boil water at the stove. "If it's okay… uhm, I don't want obaa-san, Tomo-chan or senpai-tachi to worry about me, and I don't want to cause them trouble, so…"

A hand playfully ruffled her dark head, and Sakuno looked up to see her grandmother's bright grin.

"All right," said Sumire, "It's settled then. You can come. You could even help us—especially Hanamura-sensei—with some note taking, so it's okay."

The aged coach set her hand down to spare her little girl's hair from any more ruffling attacks and walked to the kitchen sink with a happy chuckle, leaving a pouting Sakuno trying to smoothen the top of her head with her small hands. After all that, she smiled contentedly, turning her attention back to the water being boiled at the teapot.

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The middle of the weekday was just like any other day of the many days spent by the Seigaku junior high students in… well, Seigaku. And believe it or not, seeing a loud person with bright-colored pigtails dash all the way from the tennis courts at one end of the school to the building of the freshmen classrooms at the other end of the humongous, and I mean HUMONGOUS campus, was something they already got used to.

"SAKUNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO…!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

The previously unsuspecting but now alarmed Ryuzaki offspring, in the middle of wiping their classroom's glass windows, turned to see her supah-dupah hypah best friend stand before her, hands on hips, grin on face.

She looked at the hyperactive girl. "Uh… Tomo-chan?" It seems that after running all the way up the fourth floor of their building from the tennis courts (Sakuno knew that because EVERYONE knew that) and maybe back again and forth again, Tomoka wasn't panting. As in, WASN'T panting.

"Heeeheee…" Sakuno was even more alarmed. To hear 'hehe' from Tomo-chan was an everyday thing, but to hear 'heeeheee'… well, let's just say it always made Sakuno beg for peace and prosperity to reign over the whole world of TeniPuri.

"Sa-ku-no," Tomoka playfully began, "Guess what, girl?"

Sakuno continued wiping the windows clean. The teacher said they should be Blinding and Sparkling the next day. "What?"

"Ryoma-sama's playing against Tezuka-senpai today!"

"Oh…"

dot dot dot

period period period

dot dot dot

…ting!

"EH…???????!!!!!!!!!!!" came Sakuno's delayed reaction.

"Sou, sou!" Tomoka crossed her arms, rather proud of her declaration, what with her smug face and smug voice and all…

"Ah… o-okay…"

"Yeah, neh?" she still grinned at Sakuno, semi-shouting, "So come on hurry up get that cleaning done and let's GET OUR HEADS IN THE GAME!"

"Uhm… Tomo-chan…?"

"Hm… or rather, let's GET OUR HEADS IN THE MATCH! YEAH! ALL RIGHT! UH-HUUUH, I'M GUUUUUUUUUD…!!!"

Sakuno sighed. Had her attention span been short, Tomoka might have been diagnosed with ADHD. Good thing it wasn't…

The girl with braided hair quickly finished her cleaning assignment and immediately picked up her things, whilst Tomoka was rambling on while waiting for her best friend.

Sakuno came up to her and spoke, "Tomo-chan…"

"Ryoma-sama will win, I know! Ahie, Tezuka-senpai might be a tough one but I know deep inside my inner chambers that Ryoma-sama will win! I mean, come ON, looking back at all those official matches and chapters and episodes Ryoma-sama NEVER lost one SO he's so AMAZING so SUGOI and is therefore the PRINCE OF PWNAGE A.K.A. PWNAGE NO OUJISAMA! He'll be w00ting all over and—huh? What?"

Sakuno took a deep breath, inhaling, and exhaled, before letting out a string of words that she is only able to achieve once in a blue moon.

"I'msorryIcan'twatchtheirmatchTomo-chanIhavetogotoRikkaiDaiwithObaa-sanrightnowI'msorryI'msorryI'msorryTomo-chansoSEEYOUTOMORROW!"

Bowing in apology, she quickly dashed right past Tomoka who was left utterly dumbfounded and speechless.

Tomoka stilled for a few moments more. When she finally moved, she stared at where Sakuno had supposedly disappeared. Her eyes widened in shock.

"OMGZ! Sakuno spoke FAST! Damn, I KNEW I taught her well! I'm not a role model for nothing, hah! And I can even make out the part where she says she has to go to Rikka Dai—"

Freeze.

On the count of three!

One!

Two!

Three!

"RIKKAI DAIIIIIIIIIIII??????????????????????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

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"Visitors are coming over any minute now, so please do your best and play to your heart's content, even if it's only practice time, minna-san."

"Hai, buchou!"

All members of the whole Rikkai Dai Tennis boys' team chorused in eager respect to their newly returned buchou. The lines and columns made up of the several non-regular tennis members stood in front of their team captain, who smiled warmly at them, seemingly happy for spending time with everyone once again. After receiving further minor orders, the straight lines they formed immediately dispersed for them to start practice as usual.

"Waha, practice hard, fellas! You're all gonna be under my command once the next semester starts! Make me proud!"

"Akaya, are you implying that you want us, your beloved senpai-tachi, to get our asses moving up to high school right away? Aren't you gonna miss us? Tsk, it makes me so sad…"

The youngest Rikkai regular pouted and shot his senior a 'you don't look sad at all, senpai' look. "Niou-senpai, I'm merely stating that I get to be captain next year." He wanted so much to add 'DUH' and 'I get to be captain and you don't! BLEH!' after that, but since a senpai is a senpai, and a kohai is a kohai, he merely kept his mouth shut.

"Wow, and I thought Akaya was going to say something like 'DUH' there. Hehe, good boy," a voice piped up somewhere behind them.

"Marui-senpai!" the second year semi-screamed in utter but not obvious surprise. GASP, how did senpai know THAT?!

"Eh? Akaya! You look shocked! Did I do something shocking?" Bunta grinned at him, taking out a stick of strawberry pocky and munching on it.

Yummy. Pocky. ♥

Masaharu rolled his eyes. "Apparently, yes."

Hearing that from the silver-haired trickster, Akaya went back to pouting and mentally whining about how authoritative his two senpai-tachi are. Poor him… poor, poor him… But just wait… wait 'til Kirihara Akaya becomes a world famous tennis pro! They're all gonna turn alien green with envy once he kicks all tennis players' tooshie holes and owns! Mwahahaha!!!

The three boys watched the practicing non-regulars in purely evident boredom. Some random dude was swinging his racquet in a wrong fashion, and another one even looked like he was deliberately trying to hit balls over the school's backyard. But the Three Bored Regulars, being soooooo altruistic, merely chose to let Yagyuu Hiroshi and Kuwahara Jackal help them instead.

Yawn yawn… BOH-RING.

"If you three just stop loafing around there, it obviously wouldn't be boring."

Three pairs of bored-looking eyes looked at the senior with perpetually closed eyes. What's with these Data Men anyway? He and that Inui from Seigaku had never shown their eyeballs as far as they can recall, and both have zero intention of doing so too. Are they allergic to sunlight or dust particles or something???

"And what's it all about, Yanagi?"

"I'm merely trying to uplift your current predicament, Marui. Like maybe helping us train our fellow team members to keep from getting bored."

"Pssh, nuff with that blatant reprimanding of yours, pal," Masaharu rolled his eyes for drama and continued, "by the way, you got any idea on who our guests are today?"

"As a matter of fact, yes."

"Oh?" Bunta, Masaharu and Akaya stared at him curiously.

They still didn't look at anywhere else as they waited for Renji to elaborate, but it seemed that he did not have any plans to enlighten them. Just their luck.

Just as Bunta was about to throw the empty box of pocky in his hands at the data man, he was almost shocked out of his jerseys when their fukubuchou barked at them from a few meters' distance.

"Yanagi! Niou! Marui! Kirihara!" Sanada Genichirou motioned the four to join him, their three other teammates and a pack of newly arrived people whose faces were very familiar to them. The four walked in all boredom and the like towards the tall gates of their courts, joining in the conversation that was currently taking place.

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Upon entering the campus of the famed Rikkai Dai Fuzoku, Sakuno can only gape in amazement. So THIS is what a university looks like!

Students here and there were doing about their usual deeds by self and by group; seeing them clad in white tops with neckties and dark shaded pants and skirts almost made Sakuno want to try attending the university as well. They looked so… how can she describe it? Mature? Proper? At least compared to her uniform—with a pink ribbon on her chest—she felt so out of place.

But then again, she was a Seigaku student by heart.

She followed Hanamura-sensei, Sakaki-sensei and her grandmother as the four made their way towards the school tennis courts, walking through the wide field located between the middle high building and the high school building.

When they arrived at the uber vast tennis courts, they were greeted by two of the Rikkai regulars.

"Welcome to our tennis club, sensei-tachi."

Standing timidly behind her tall grandmother, Sakuno looked up at the owner of the voice. She knit her brows; Sakuno didn't remember a Rikkai regular that smiled so warmly like that, as far as she can recall. Dark hair and lithe masculine build, the young man who greeted them wore the Rikkai tennis club jersey—but Sakuno, who thought she has seen the faces of all the tennis players of the schools her senpai-tachi had already played against, didn't recognize him one bit.

She tilted her head in wonder.

"Ah, Yukimura-kun! It's nice to see you're doing all right!" came Hanamura-sensei's delighted voice.

Sakuno blinked. 'Yukimura?'

Sakaki nodded at him. "How's the tennis club doing, Yukimura?"

"Doing good, Hanamura-sensei. Genichirou here did a good job playing captain while I was away, though." He gestured to the surly-looking man beside him. He wore a cap—Sakuno recognized him as Sanada Genichirou, the team fukubuchou who Ryoma-kun had played against.

'So if Sanada-san is the fukubuchou… then that means… Yukimura-san is the buchou, of Tezuka-senpai's level?'

Sanada respectfully nodded at the adults, and then suddenly his eyes sat on Sakuno.

Sakuno tensed at the stoic stare she received, even if that stoic stare of Sanada's was actually a questioning one.

Yukimura, much to Sakuno's nervousness, also noticed her presence and smiled. "Hello there."

"Ah—h-hello…"

"Oh yeah, this is my granddaughter, Sakuno," said Sumire, smiling down at Sakuno's small frame, "she'll be helping us with some note taking. Anyway, where are the rest of the regulars? A few comments from them might guide us when we go around; you two need not burden yourselves much because of us."

Sanada nodded again and signaled two regulars to come over.

Yagyuu Hiroshi and Kuwahara Jackal approached them a few seconds later, bowing in greeting at the visitors.

The fukubuchou then turned around and called out to four young men clad in yellow hanging around at the other side of the court, one looking very neutral and three looking quite bored.

"Yanagi! Niou! Marui! Kirihara!"

Noticing they were being called, the four young men looked at each other, shrugged simultaneously and made their way towards the spot at the entrance of the court, where Sakuno was standing with three team coaches and four regulars.

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Renji, Masaharu, Bunta and Akaya stood before the coaches of Seigaku, Hyotei and Jyosei Shonan. They inwardly wondered what they were supposed to do facing the adults, with the exception of Renji, who being a genius and all knew what he should do, but didn't want to do or say anything yet just for the mere heck of it.

Yukimura gave them a look that said, 'Now now, don't be rude boys.'

The red, silver, and black-haired regulars fought back the sarcastic urge to roll their eyes and bowed to the elders in greeting. Their voices obviously bored, as what their monotones obviously suggest, they chorused, "Welcome, sensei-tachi." Renji did the same, just trying to suppress a knowing grin and bowing respectfully unlike the other three.

Words were exchanged from the coaches to the regulars and vice versa, which the three thought of as highly formal for their taste, which was a big no-no for their part. Heck, isn't there anything fun going on? If regulars from the other schools didn't have a boring time as of the moment, they'll be falling behind their era of youthfulness. If it's about having fun, surely the Rikkai dudes Marui Bunta, Kirihara Akaya and Niou Masaharu won't lose!

"Sakuno dear, can you come with me and help me take notes on these clipboards while I interview some non-regulars?" said Hanamura-sensei.

"Hai!"

The bored trio's interests all perked up at the same time upon hearing a high-pitched feminine voice speak up. In perfect albeit unrehearsed synchronization, their heads turned to see two amazingly long brown braids bob up and down—they were hanging on the back of a small girl who probably was no older than twelve, walking with the Jyosei Shonan coach to the group of practicing non-regulars in the middle of the wide court C.

They stared, eyes like saucers permanently glued to their sockets.

"Well then, we'll be off to follow Hanamura-sensei," said Sakaki, bowing to them as well and walking in the two females' wake.

"Saa, don't be troubled at all, boys," Ryuzaki-sensei grinned in a normal Sumire fashion, waving a hand. "We'll be doing pure observations and try our best not to interfere. And I'll be watching over Sakuno in case something happens to her before trouble comes. Sore ja."

She walked away with a light chuckle.

Renji chose to watch his three teammates stare off at a distance with mouths slightly agape, and can't help but chuckle at the scene.

"Hey, Renji, what's up?" Jackal asked the Rikkai Data man, weird-ed out at hearing a laugh from the usually unreadable regular when there is nothing at all to laugh at… or so he thought.

Renji gave him a mysterious-looking smile that told Jackal he must freak out... in a way.

Jackal chose not to comment on this further.

"Haru," Hiroshi clamped a hand on his doubles partner's shoulder. "Something wrong?"

Niou snapped out of his momentary trance and replied, "Ah, no, nothing's wrong."

Jackal nudged the motionless cake lover, making Bunta jump slightly. "Ah… ehe… right."

Yukimura and Sanada exchanged looks. If what they were thinking was correct, then trouble will surely ensue.

Not if they can help it!

"Renji," Genichirou called out to the third of the three Rikkai prodigies. "Make sure nothing troublesome happens, if running a hundred laps around the courts does not sound appealing to all of you." He cast a sharp glance on Niou, Marui and Akaya. The two seniors gulped nervously at their fukubuchou, while Akaya was still looking far, far away.

"Well then, why don't we all go about doing our normal business, neh?" The team captain smiled at them, and the regulars, feeling no need to go against their newly returned buchou, obliged and dispersed—with the exception of Renji, Masaharu, Bunta and Akaya. It seems that they wanted to do some bonding or something today.

"So," Renji crossed his arms like the interrogator he currently is and leaned against a post. "Care to tell me what's going on in your minds?"

Masaharu frowned at him. "Nothing."

"As if that frown of yours doesn't mean anything, Masaharu."

"Tch."

"Marui?" Renji turned to the boy who chewed on another stick of pocky at the moment.

"Yeah?"

"Spit it out."

"EH? NO! Why should I spit it out?! IT'S A DISGRACE!!!"

Renji slapped a palm on his own forehead. "No, not the pocky. I mean the words. Spill out what you wish to say."

"Eh? But I don't wish to say anything!"

"Right." Renji said skeptically, ignoring the smug look Niou was giving him. "Akaya?"

"Huh?"

"Well?" Renji's impatience was kicking in. 'Tell me there's nothing and you get to give the school janitor a vacation for one whole week.'

Akaya shrugged. "They're long."

"Oh?" Renji inwardly wanted to dance hula in his mind. If Akaya meant what he thought he meant, then his postulate really was accurate! Woohoo!

"They're long." Akaya stared at the direction of court C. Then an insane grin spread on his lips. "Kawaii."

Alarmed at his last words, Niou and Marui stared at him in horror. 'No!' they both thought to themselves.

"Oh? What's long… and cute?" asked Renji, now on the peak of his euphoria as he pulled out his handy-dandy notebook and started scribbling away.

Akaya's expression turned more insane. If he really lost it… then…

GASP!

"Braids."

DEVILISH MODE AKAYA CAME BACK!

Bunta jumped up and pointed an index finger on his kohai's face. "OH NO YOU DON'T!"

"Huh?"

Even Masaharu stood before Devilish Mode Akaya and threatened him. "DON'T. YOU. DARE."

"Hah?"

"AS LONG AS I AM HERE, AKAYA, I CANNOT LET YOU!" bellowed Bunta, almost hysterical at the thought of Akaya doing something he was supposed to do.

Niou whipped out his tennis racquet. "YOU BRAT, DON'T YOU DARE! I WILL DO IT!!!"

Renji stopped writing on his notebook and stared at the three furious-looking regulars trying to outdo each other with verbal sneers and threats. And by the way, what did Niou mean by 'IT'?

He continued his field work to satisfy his curiosity. In truth, as much as his genius doesn't want to claim it, Renji really didn't have any idea on what they were talking about.

He then heard Bunta gasp loudly and saw him point an accusing finger at the Tennis Team Trickster saying, "NIOU? YOU TOO—? DON'T TELL ME—OH DON'T YOU DARE—!!!"

Niou shot him a challenging look. "AHA! So you want to do it too, huh? Sorry pal, but the braids are mine to pull."

Renji slapped a palm on his own forehead for the second time. So this was it, huh? They're jumping down each others' throats due to extreme possessiveness over a little girl's braids? Oh joy.

But then again, this might turn out to be interesting.

He grinned to himself, scribbling crazily on his handy-dandy notebook.

"THEY'RE MINE."

"THEY'RE MINE!"

"THEY'RE MINE!"

Sparks flew, thunder roared, and Renji scribbled happily on his notebook.

"THIS MEANS WAR!" the three shouted, before striking a traditional animé pre-war pose worthy of becoming anyone's desktop wallpaper and darting off in a rat race towards different directions, leaving the third year data man to his one-man merry making.

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One, two—two hours has passed, and within the previous hours up until now the apprehension that Sakuno had felt ever since she walked inside the C court wouldn't go away. Her natural instincts told her that she was being hunted for; her more vigilant senses told her that she was being spied upon; but most possibly scariest, the voice at the back of her head told her she was being stalked.

Stalked…?

The girl's shoulders tensed just thinking about the possibility. She can't help but feel it was true.

Two hours ago she was just standing quietly at the C court, with her back against the steel mesh of the area and her hands each holding a pen and a clipboard, when she felt something tugging the ends of her long braids. It was only a slight force, a feather light downward pull on her hair, but nonetheless she felt it. No matter how dense and clumsy she can be at times, her perceptions are actually highly reliable and sensitive. It was only when she is with other people that hold more than half of her attention that she switches to her more known side—her clueless and clumsy side, and also the more secure side of her.

Another strange thing had happened when after the first experience, Hanamura-sensei had called her and asked her to tabulate her notes. Which ones Hanamura-sensei has labeled this, Sakuno should place on this; which was that, Sakuno should place on that. She actually enjoyed assisting the Jyosei coach that way, as she sat on the nearest bench while tallying the items, but a rustling sound had her pen suspended right above the paper as she turned her head to see where the noise came from.

It was a bush; she can't help but sweat-drop. And blink. And tremble.

How many times has she seen a scenario like this, both in real life and on TV? Often, a bush would suggest that there was an Eavesdropper and the other was Eavesdropped. Or one the Spy and the other the Spied. Or there was the Predator and the other was a Prey.

Or the Stalker and the Stalked…?

Or worse… the Ghost… and the Haunted?

She gulped.

'There are no ghosts in a school as prestigious as Rikkai Dai, Sakuno. Yes. There are NO ghosts,' she thought, even though her body began to shake in anxiety.

And after she finished the task Hanamura-sensei has asked of her with a shaking hand and a trembling bottom lip, when she plopped down on a bench that was located at the other end of the court, a shadow loomed above her, with its owner standing behind. Sakuno blinked and blinked, to make sure that she was not just imagining things, but the shadow would not disappear from her sight. She was about to scream—forget about the shame of people snapping their heads up to raise an eyebrow at you, just as long as the shaking and sweating stops—but thank kami-sama, her grandmother came to her just in time, a bemused expression on her face.

Sumire was quite surprised when Sakuno threw herself at her elder, all fear forgone—just sniffing, poor girl—but her obaa-san, chuckling, chose to ruffle her hair and comment on how her adorable granddaughter can't stay put on her own.

Back to the present, Sakuno was strolling towards the nearest vending machine, slowly and thoughtfully.

And then she heard it. A sound.

The rustling of leaves.

She cautiously turned to her right, where bushes were rooted to the ground innocently in front of her.

But there was more… not only were there rustling sounds caused by the shaking bushes, but there were voices as well.

"Aw-hey-senpa—!"

"Shh..!!"

Sakuno stared, frowning at the thought of actual stalkers who practically sucked in disguising their presence.

'Well, at least I KNOW some people actually ARE stalking me.' Sakuno thought with a sigh.

Now convinced that no ghost was tailing her, she approached the bushes with clenched fists and a determined face—

"YEEEEEEAAAAWWWCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

"A-Ah!"

—only to land on her bottom, startled, when a figure suddenly sprang to its feet with an unholy earth-shattering shriek.

"Akaya! You gave us away!" A figure stood up out of the bushes as well.

"Mou… baka! Baka Akaya!" Another followed suit.

"But senpai, it hurts—!"

The third who spoke up paused mid-sentence and his eyes sat on where the owners of two other pairs of eyes were staring at.

Still on the ground with her bottom sore, Sakuno looked up to see Niou Masaharu, Kirihara Akaya and Marui Bunta look back at her with wide eyes.

They stared.

"GSDFWIUDKJRIFOAJOFQFWBFSVPIHQABEIQGBPRIEUVNGPQBPIGBPIVBPQUBFIQBGBQNWKJBNF!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Sakuno can only stare questioningly at their incoherent bellowing.

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Her eyes were big and brown. Her face was childish and pale. Her build was small and fragile. She looked at them from below with wide innocent eyes that seemed to ask "Why are Rikkai-san there?" And her braids… they swayed with the wind that passed by, as if on cue, with the three of them frozen on their respective spots, eyes glued to the little girl who stared back at them.

Blood rushed upward in each of their bodies, and before they turn into a color that they certainly had not been born with, they started to yell incoherent words and wildly flap their arms like birds in panic. Yes, panic.

"GSDFWIUDKJRIFOAJOFQFWBFSVPIHQABEIQGBPRIEUVNGPQBPIGBPIVBPQUBFIQBGBQNWKJBNF!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

She stared at them in wonder, her head tilting to the side in a child-like manner—something that made the blood in them rush upward even quicker.

"A-Anou…"

"—Gyah! Ah, uhm, er, R-Ryuzaki-sensei's granddaughter, r-r-right? Ehehehe…!" One of them who Sakuno recognized as Kirihara Akaya exclaimed rather nervously. "Yo! We were j-just… uh… getting some lost tennis balls… yeah, we were! Ehehe…!"

The girl sweatdropped. She isn't that stupid to buy such a stupid excuse… but since the three boys are obviously not all right, she'll just have to be kind to them. "H-Hai… Anou… Kirihara-san…?"

Apparently, Sakuno saying his surname had Akaya yelling even more nervously (and wildly).

Sakuno didn't know how to calm them. What happened to these three, really? Kirihara-san said they were just picking up stray tennis balls, but was a little deed that much of a big thing to make them flap their arms around and blush as madly as that? "Uhm… Niou-san and… Marui-san, right?"

Thankfully, the three of them stopped panicking, but were now as still and stiff as statues with adorable red shades on their faces.

"Hai!" Marui Bunta bellowed like how one would respond to his commander. "Uhm…" he held out a hand. His head was bashfully turned away as Sakuno stared at the gesture questioningly. Did Marui-san want to shake hands? The thought surprised Sakuno, since they weren't familiar with each other at all…

It took a few more seconds for Sakuno to finally realize and remember that she was still sitting on the ground and that her butt was sore.

'Oh. So that's it.'

She took the cake lover's hand and stood up, dusting her skirt and mentally scolding her stupidity all the while.

"Thank you… and… eto… are Rikkai-san okay?" she can't help but worry at how red their faces currently were. Did they catch a fever together…? If so, then this is bad! They may not be able to participate in the Nationals and her senpai-tachi might be disappointed if Rikkai—

"Ehe, yeah, we're okay. Don't worry." The boy who Sakuno remembered as Niou Masaharu replied. He seemed to have gained his composure as well as the other two regulars now. Though relieved, Sakuno inwardly called herself stupid (again) for thinking about them missing the Nationals just because of some fever…

She smiled and solemnly bowed. "Eto… I'm Ryuzaki Sakuno. Nice to meet you…"

Upon looking back at them, she blinked at their expressions. Niou-san had a face that silently told her he discovered something sinfully cute, Marui-san seemed to look at her as if she was one of his precious cakes, and Kirihara-san looked like he was ready to glomp her with a bear hug any time. Though different, they still seem to be giving her the same look—the look of a father who is fond of his daughter, or an elder brother who is fond of his younger sister, complete with flowers and bubbles for the background (which is so un-shounen-like, mind you).

She paled, then blushed, as they began introducing themselves, despite her already knowing who they are.

And on her way back to the tennis courts, instead of the usual silence to accompany her, she found herself walking along three tall boys who all effortlessly pushed that silence away just to get to know the adorable girl named Sakuno better. The comfortable way they talked to her seemed as if they hadn't just met each other that day.

She can't help but smile a little; at first, Tomo-chan and senpai-tachi were the only ones who are able to let her escape from this lonely silence and cheer her up. But now there proved to be other people who can do so besides them, like An-chan of Fudomine, and even Yuuta-san and his friends—it only means something as simple as the beginning of progress in her social life.

"Whoa, Saku-chan is smiling! Kawaii!"

"Marui-san…"

"Oi, Marui, you're making our new friend blush here…"

"Which makes her look cuter! Waaaaaaah!"

"Marui-senpai! Mou, you're quite hyper today! Just excuse him, Saku-chan… anyway, what are your hobbies?"

"Anou… I'm good at a few things, like cooking and baking…"

"Do you know how to bake cakes, Saku-chan? Can you bake me one sometime?"

"Eto… sure…"

"Yay! You're really kind, Saku—"

"ANYWAY, Sakuno-chan, you said you have seen our match with Seigaku, right? What do you think about my move against—"

"Is that what you care about, Niou-senpai?! Saku-chan! What about your favorite—"

"SAKU-CHAN! I love strawberries on chocolate cake, will that be okay?"

Well, this level of loquaciousness is nowhere at Tomo-chan's level, so Sakuno is quite sure she'll survive.

-
-
-

"This proctoring activity had been productive, Yukimura-kun. Thank you for your tennis club's cooperation. We greatly appreciate it."

"It was no problem, Hanamura-sensei. We also feel privileged to be the first among the many schools in your list." Yukimura smiled at the three coaches who stood in front of them. The gates of the university stood tall right behind them. After three whole hours of tennis practice, the boys' tennis club members have all gone home, with the exception of the regular players… three of whom looking currently optimistic as opposed to the bored faces they wore earlier that afternoon.

Yukimura and Sanada exchanged looks of wonder, before their eyes fell on the little girl who stood beside her grandmother.

Sakuno noticed this and timidly returned eye contact, only to earn a smile from the buchou and a cough from the fukubuchou.

"Thank you. Well then, a pleasant evening to all of you. I have business to attend to at Hyotei." With an upward swipe of his hand to indicate his leave, Sakaki-sensei got in his private limousine (Sakuno felt her hand twitch at the fancy antics that all constituents of Hyotei seem to posses) and took off.

Ryuzaki Sumire chuckled at the looks on everyone's faces. "Well, I think that's all. Thanks again boys. Sakuno, let's go."

"Hai! And… uhm… eto…"

Marui winked at her, and she blushed. Sakuno hurriedly bowed at the Rikkai regulars with all the respect she can muster and followed her grandmother and Hanamura-sensei out of the campus… but before she could, Kirihara called out to her.

"Wait, Saku-chan!"

"Eh?" Sakuno turned back to see Kirihara running towards her, with his hand extending, gripping the ends of one her braids and, to her misfortune…

"KYAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH…!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

…well, you get what I mean.

Sakuno, regaining her senses, stopped screaming to make sure her grandmother doesn't send anyone to the hospital again, and blinked absent-mindedly. Embarrassed at her own behavior, she hastily bowed again, blushing, and dashed away.

"AKAYA! Why'd you do that, you idiot!" Niou bonked his kohai on the head.

"I WAS SUPPOSED TO PULL THEM! She looked so unbelievably cute that I wanted to pull them like the ears of a bunny to make sure she's human, baka!" Marui wailed, more to himself than to Kirihara.

Niou hit him in the head as well. "How come you get to say it? That was my line!"

"Mou… but in the end, I, Kirihara Akaya, won in the tug-a-braid war against senpai-tachi! Nyahaha!!!"

"Akaya, shut up, will you?"

In the background, Yukimura sighed and turned to Yanagi. "So this is what it's all about?"

"Yes. It seems that the presence of a cute girl was enough to make them go craz—I mean, OOC."

Jackal chuckled. "Out of character? Seriously?"

"Seriously."

Yagyuu adjusted his classes. "Quite understandable, since they don't really know many girls in school."

"Can you relate, Sanada?" asked an amused Yanagi.

There was no answer.

Yukimura chuckled happily.

-
-
-

The next day, a small parcel was delivered to the Rikkai Dai boys' tennis club room at lunch break. Unfortunately, it was the trickster of the team Niou Masaharu who found it sitting innocently on one of the benches. As he picked it up carefully, he saw a small piece of paper with a handwritten message that said:

Marui-san, Kirihara-san, Niou-san—

I'm sorry for making a racket yesterday, screaming needlessly like that. Please accept this cake as an apology.

Ryuzaki Sakuno

PS. The next time Kirihara-san pulls my braids, I will be ready!

He chuckled quietly, amused at Sakuno's cute way of expressing her apology. 'The next time, it may not be Akaya who gets to do that, Sakuno-chan.'

Then at that precise moment, before he could open the box, the one and only Marui Bunta just so happened to walk in the room.

"Ara? What's that you got there, Niou?"

With an inconspicuous fleeting spark of evil in his eyes, the trickster looked at him coolly and shrugged.

"Nah, just a box full of fan letters."

TBC


A/N: And the rest is for your imagination to imagine! Ooookkkaaayyy. This was kind of hurriedly written. AND it's considerably shorter than the previous chapter(s). Anyway, I hope you liked it. Random ideas popped into my head which resulted to random writing… and randomness is what this fic may be all about XD So, next chapter: Hyotei has something planned! And what does Sakuno have to do with it?!

-Meowzie
10.13.07