Chapter 9: Final Showdown
A/N: Here's a brief recap of what has happened so far:
+Tomoka likes Kaidoh Kaoru. People hear about it in different forms and thus, the rumors spread.
+These rumors manifest into a battle that takes place at the mall, in front of the flower shop, at 11 AM.
+Tennis teams keep arriving and join the battle. Everyone is confused.
+Battle spins out of control. Tachibana An goes down. Battle stops.
+Now everyone is trying to figure out what is going on, including the author.
If that recap was lame (because it is, sorry) then please take time to read the last chapter. Or just read the whole thing over again. (Haha...) And now, here is chapter nine. Enjoy!
When Kaidoh felt the tingling sensation again, he stopped jogging and wondered if his sixth sense was picking up on something. Not that he had a sixth sense, unless it came to tennis, Inui's drinks, and a freshman by the name of Osakada Tomoka.
Speaking of that girl. When did it start? When did his attention stray from the tennis court to the peripherals of his vision, a loud and vivacious girl cheering outside the fence? He didn't know when, exactly, but it didn't matter now. Not when he was in too deep.
He was tingling again and this time it felt stronger, almost like a vibration.
Maybe it was going to rain? The last time he got caught in the rain* it was because he believed what the weatherman said (partly sunny with no chance of precipitation). Ever since then, he believed in the weatherman no more. But this time he specifically disobeyed the reporter's command to stay indoors or carry an umbrella. Therefore, the tingling couldn't be the weather.
The tingling slash vibration was too insistent. He couldn't keep jogging until he found out the source. Besides, the sensation was coming from not his mind, but his body. It was peculiar, because if he concentrated hard enough, the epicenter of the tingles were near his abdomen…
Wait. Kaidoh reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the vibrating cell phone. Inui. "Hello?" he said, trying not to feel the embarrassed flush on his face. Maybe there was a reason why Momoshiro screamed at him across the school that practice was cancelled instead of calling or texting him.
Then he froze.
"…Osakada is in danger?"
Nanako was relieved to be reunited with her cousin. She was relieved that he wasn't joining the crowd of tennis players (and friends) gathered around the bench that Tachibana An was occupying. She was relieved that the orange-headed young man with a disturbing twinkle in his eye had stopped stalking her. She was relieved that Sarisa had found her younger sister. She was simply relieved.
Ryoma was not so relieved.
He didn't care about the stupid fight (it had been fun, but honestly, what the heck?), he didn't care who won or lost, he didn't even care that his shirt was ruined, or that Tachibana (the blond) was terrorizing Momo-senpai. None of those things mattered.
The captains were arguing over who got to keep Ryuzaki Sakuno. According to Inui, whoever won the battle would win the girl.
His cat-shaped eyes narrowed.
Yeah. Over his dead body.
He glanced at his older cousin, and his mood soured. He wasn't irritated with her, no, but there were too many guys trying to hit on her. Ryoma wasn't territorial like his father, but Nanako was Family, and no monkeys were going to touch her while he was still Seigaku's Pillar of Strength. Though technically, he was no longer the Pillar of Strength, but that wasn't the point.
"Let's go to the flower shop," he told Nanako.
She blinked. "Why?"
Ryoma tugged his cap lower. He'd overheard Inui and Yanagi say that Ryuzaki was sleeping in the flower shop, like some princess waiting to be saved from a curse. A curse of clumsiness. And he was going to save her (like a knight in shining armor) from those crazy captains (fire-breathing dragons) before they got to her, because Ryuzaki was almost-Family—and he did not mean that in a brotherly or family-like way.
Not that he was going to tell all of this to Nanako, because honestly, what the heck?
So he simply replied, "Kaa-san wants some flowers."
Well, technically, every women wanted flowers. She just hadn't ask for it yet.
Nanako nodded. "I'll help you."
Ryoma didn't really need her help, not unless she was going to help him carry a sleeping Ryuzaki out of the flower shop, which was altogether likely seeing as it was imperative that they left the mall without anyone (i.e. crazy captains) noticing. Luckily, Inui was busy talking on the phone. Now was the perfect opportunity to sneak out. It would be up to Ryoma's speed and luck to complete this mission.
"Guys usually don't know which flowers are the best," Nanako was saying. "They'll just buy a dozen roses and spout some sweet words that we really don't want to hear."
Ryoma blinked out of his thoughts. "Really?"
"Sometimes," Nanako said unapologetically. "Unless, of course, there's a ring."
Boy, he thought, his old man was wrong.
They walked quickly to the flower shop, and only two people noticed.
Risai, florist apprentice and matchmaker wannabe, was torn between crying over the grand piano or punching Shishido in the face. She wanted to cry because the sponsorship for the flower shop was probably ruined forever, and she would be fired, and then she couldn't pay for college, and then she would be stuck at a fast food restaurant flipping burgers. And she wanted to punch Shishido in the face because he was annoying.
On top of all this, there was a huge cluster of dangerous fangirls surrounding the piano, glaring at her.
"Why are you stalking me?" she demanded wearily. Not to the fan girls.
Choutarou was sitting on the piano stool, watching his doubles partner try to extract another pool match from the girl. It seemed Shishido's honor and pride was on the line.
"I'm not stalking you. You're running away," Shishido retorted, sounding just as tired of arguing as she was. "Listen, just play one match. One match, and we'll never have to speak to each other again."
"It's just a stupid game!"
"Then why were you playing it at the festival?" he accused.
Choutarou wondered if he should play mediator, but then she beat him to it.
"Fine?" Shishido and Choutarou's eyes widened.
"Fine," she repeated. "But under one condition. If I get fired from the flower shop, you have to take responsibility."
Shishido recoiled. "Why do I have to take responsibility?"
"Because I'm not going to play a stupid game with you unless you do. The only reason I played pool was to earn money. But since you're so rich you wouldn't know what it's like to need money." She glared at him. "If I get fired, you have to take—"
"Responsibility," he cut in. "Fine. It's a deal."
"Great," she replied dully. "Now let me find out whether I'm fired or not." She turned to go, ignoring the look on Choutarou's face that said she shouldn't have made a deal with Shishido, and then paused. Someone was running towards the mall entrance, and she squinted through the silent throng of fan girls to see who it could possibly be this time. Another crazy tennis player, that was for sure.
Then she blinked.
What was he doing here?
"Ore-sama was challenged by Tezuka to a battle."
"That does not make sense. Akaya overheard Osakada Tomoka talking about the alliance between you and Tezuka. I confirmed it myself."
Tezuka was beginning to see a force field surrounding the Rikkai Dai and Hyotei captains, one that grew silently as the two argued with deceiving calm. He also had a bad feeling that Inui was behind all of this. He didn't know who else could spin such a ridiculous rumor into an illegitimate battle at the mall.
The two turned to face Seigaku's captain expectantly. Tezuka paused dramatically just to be sure they were listening, and spoke.
"I never challenged anybody to a battle, Atobe. And I never said anything about an alliance with anybody, Yukimura."
When they didn't reply, he decided that they didn't hear him and repeated more slower, "I never challenged anybody to a battle, Atobe—"
"But that's not what Inui-san said," interrupted Gakuto, who decided sticking with the captains was a lot more interesting than the drama between the An-girl and her overprotective brother. "He said you were challenging Atobe in order to win Ryuzaki Sakuno's heart."
Yukimura looked at Tezuka, and then at Atobe. "Ryuzaki Sakuno?"
Atobe frowned, "Nonsense! Where did you hear that? Tezuka is battling on behalf of Echizen Ryoma."
"Where did you hear that?" This time Kirihara chimed in, ignoring Sanada's frown.
Tezuka suddenly remembered the afternoon Atobe visited Seigaku in order to warn him about Ryoma's broken heart or something absurd. He hadn't thought about that day because it was so random and had nothing to do with him whatsoever, but now he wished he'd paid more attention back then.
The Hyotei captain sniffed. "It was not Inui, though he claimed Tezuka had sent him. Obviously, that had been a lie. No, Ore-sama heard from a reliable source that Ryuzaki Sakuno gave her heart to someone other than Echizen." Never mind that the 'reliable source' was currently off in dreamland atop of Kabaji's shoulder. "In this case, Echizen would have been heart-broken and off his game, and this would affect Tezuka as the captain. Ore-sama believed it best to warn his rival about this impending disaster, because otherwise we could not play tennis equally." At the end of his short explanation, nobody said anything save for blinking at him, and Atobe added, "Ah, Kabaji?"
Still no response. Akaya tousled his already messy hair and burst out, "But that Osakada girl said something different on the bus! Right, Buchou?"
Yukimura was thinking hard. What Atobe said was a little different from what Osakada Tomoka told him in the ice cream shop, but pieces were starting to fall into place. He decided. "Tezuka, I apologize on behalf of all of us. There seems to have been a major miscommunication, and you clearly have no idea about what is going on."
Tezuka refrained from pointing out that he was saying so for the past twenty minutes. There was no point in saying it now.
Atobe, not to be outdone, quickly agreed. "Ore-sama believes it wise to join the others and question Inui directly about all of this. Ah, Kabaji?"
"Right," Akaya jumped in before the giant could answer. "Let's go!"
Thus, the three captains made their way towards what was starting to look like the heart of darkness, and not necessarily in the literary sense.
First, she got hit by a tennis ball. Then, she agreed to go on an apology date with the popular tennis captain of her school. Then she and her date got caught up in a bizarre battle in the mall.
Akisa was fairly certain that this was not how a date ordinarily went. No matter how fake the date was.
"Irowa-san," said Kajimoto. "If you don't mind leaving your sister, could we go somewhere else? Lunch, perhaps?"
He was as poker-faced as he was at school, Akisa thought. But she didn't mind.
"Lunch sounds wonderful," she replied. "Onee-chan won't mind. What about your teammates?"
The captain had nearly forgotten about them. "They won't mind either," he assured her.
"Okay, let me grab my purse."
They walked back to the bench where Tachibana An was sitting, surrounded by concerned friends and her angry older brother. An looked completely okay, Akisa thought, though her two attackers (they were supposed to be rivals for her affection or something) looked quite exhausted and remorseful.
"We're so sorry, An-chan!"
"We didn't mean it!"
An rubbed her brow and held up a hand. "Wait. So, you started this whole war, just because you thought I was going on a date with Sengoku-san? I'm sorry, but are you out of your minds? There's no way I would ever think about going out with him—no offense, Sengoku-san—and even if I was, why did you start attacking everyone else?"
"We only attacked Hyotei and St. Rudolph," inputted Horio, cringing when the two teams glared at him. He blurted out the same things Momoshiro and Akira had been spouting an hour ago, "B-because we wanted to protect the innocent girls around the world! Atobe-san tried to ask out An-san, and Yanagisawa-san also tried to—eep!" The dark glares coming his way sharpened like a sword, and he (finally) realized the more he talked, the more his life was at risk.
Chitose raised an eyebrow from behind the safety of An's bench, away from Tachibana. However, he didn't notice the dark vibes emanating from his sister behind him. "You attacked us and Rikkai Dai," he pointed out. Horio quailed and hid behind Kachiro and Katsuo.
"That was Toyama Kintarou," corrected Inui from the edge of the group, jotting something else in his blasted notebook. "I believe he was only having 'fun' and was not aware of the situation."
"Speaking of Kintarou," spoke up Shiraishi, "where is he?"
"He's in the flower shop." Everyone turned to look at Yagyuu, who stood next to the Rikkai Dai members. "I believe Ryuzaki Sakuno and Osakada Tomoka are in there as well."
An blinked from her place on the bench and wondered just how many tennis players were gathered in one place. Seigaku, Fudomine, Yamabuki, Rikkai Dai, St. Rudolph, Hyotei, Shitenhouji, Jyosei Shonan… Was it a coincidence that they were in front of the flower shop? No, she thought not. She could see Tezuka, Atobe, Yukimura and Sanada joining the ever growing party, and felt that the balance of the tennis universe was precariously tipping over. Or maybe it was just the blow to the head that was imagining things.
"Could somebody explain what is going on?" Oishi asked desperately. "Inui said that there was going to be a battle, but Tezuka doesn't even know what's going on."
"And somebody should clean this place up," added Takashi, taking in the vandalized state of the once-clean mall. He was more worried about the mess than about the battle, and the trouble they'd be in when the authorities came. Speaking of which, where were the authorities?
Everybody, even Yukimura and Atobe, turned to look at Tezuka, who was staring at Inui.
Yanagi prudently took a step away from his childhood friend, as did Yuuta and Atsushi who were nearby. The data man himself took no notice to the answer-my-question-or-suffer-the-consequences eyebeams Tezuka was sending him. "Very well," he said solemnly. "It starts with the freshman, Horio…"
"Oh not again," squeaked the freshman, Horio.
"He had apparently overheard Ryuzaki Sakuno in the bathroom that Tachibana An was going out with Sengoku Kiyosumi—"
"Oh not again," sighed Sengoku, and then blinked when Momoshiro, Akira and Tachibana (blond) simultaneously shot glares at him. "We went over this! I'm not going out with her! She rejected me herself." His turquoise eyes watered sadly at this thought and he turned to her, "Ne, won't you give me a chance to—just kidding. I'm sorry."
"Calm down," An told the three boys, and they immediately relaxed, although they still glared. "Horio-kun, how in the world did you hear that I was going out with Sengoku-san?"
Horio was only too eager to clear his name, and rattled off, "I heard Ryuzaki saying that you kissed an orange-haired tennis player, and that there was a date today at 11. So naturally, I thought it was Sengoku-san." He deflated at the hard stare she leveled at him, "Well, it made sense at the time."
Tezuka wondered why there was a niggling feeling disturbing him. Something about Horio's explanation was strange… Luckily, Yukimura answered for him.
"How did you overhear this in the restroom?"
Immediately, all heads turned to Horio, who stuttered like a bright tomato. "Th-the walls of the bathrooms are thin! I wasn't in the girl's restroom or anything like that! I swear!"
An rolled her eyes. Typical perverted high school boys. "Horio-kun, did it ever occur to you that we might have been talking about someone else? Maybe someone in a movie? A completely different person?"
Dan Taichi couldn't contain his curiosity any longer. "Who were you talking about, desu?" If Horio hadn't misheard anything, then he wouldn't have told Momoshiro and Akira, and then Dan wouldn't have overheard Inui talking about the ambush against Yamabuki…
"Wait," interrupted Yuushi, frowning slightly. "What does this have to do with the challenge between Seigaku and Hyotei?"
"It was a misunderstanding," Atobe informed shortly, brushing back his hair. "Ore-sama heard that Ryuzaki Sakuno was in love with someone other than Echizen, that is all."
Inui paused in his writing. "Really? Who?"
"Tezuka, I only know what I have heard," explained the data man. "And what I have heard is what Horio heard in the bathroom. From there, it was only a matter of spreading the word to St. Rudolph's Mizuki-kun and Hyotei's captain." He grinned slightly, making shivers run down people's spine. "I didn't know a few rumors would lead to such satisfying results."
Several people who had been used in his plans raised a cry, and it took a few minutes for the volume to settle. Finally, An stood on top of the bench and bellowed, "SHUT UP!"
Silence fell. "Yes, An-chan," Kamio meekly uttered.
"Thank you," said the girl. Chitose offered a hand, which she accepted gracefully, and hopped down. Miyuki glared suspiciously at her brother. "Now," An announced, "Inui-san's explanation covers almost everything I need to know. But I want to ask why Shitenhouji and Rokkaku are here."
Aoi Kentarou piped, "We've come to answer the challenge that our rivals have—" Saeki covered his captain's mouth and smiled gently.
She smiled back. "Hello, Saeki-kun. It's been a while." Her brother's eyes narrowed at this new guy who dared call An so affectionately.
Saeki did not have a superb eyesight for nothing, and he quickly said, "We're here because Ojii got lost again. Have you seen him by any chance?"
Akisa, who finally found her purse, looked up. "Oh, you mean the old man with the long beard?" The Rokkaku members immediately confirmed that she was correct, and she shrugged. "I only saw him because he wanted to give me some money. Kin-chan apparently recognized him. But I don't know where he is right now. I don't know where Kin-chan went either. Sorry."
"It's all right."
"Speaking of finding people," spoke up Yuuta, "where's Nee-san?"
Syusuke's blue eyes blinked. "She's here?" Tezuka was taken aback as well, though he didn't show it.
"Yumiko-san said that she had to go to the flower shop," started Saeki.
"Why is everyone going to Risai's flower shop?" muttered Akisa. Only Kajimoto heard her.
"Then let's go to the flower shop," commanded Atobe, tired of waiting for his turn in the spotlight. He snapped his fingers, and the rest of the Hyotei team (minus Shishido and Choutarou, who weren't present) followed him towards the shop. Everybody shared looks of there-goes-the-king-again, and followed him anyways.
Akisa and Kajimoto stayed behind, and after a moment she asked, "How are they all going to fit in the shop?"
He shrugged. "Aren't you going to join them?"
"No." She gave him a wry smile. "I think Risai can handle them. Besides, we were going to have lunch."
Kajimoto paused, and then decided to take a leaf out of Wakato's book. "Then let's have lunch," he said, offering her his hand.
She took it.
"How romantic," Niou muttered in the security room, watching the drama display on the screens. Behind him, Kaneda and Yanagisawa had woken from the sleep powder ("It was only a combination of herbs, nothing illegal," Niou assured off-handedly) and were watching the security cameras as well.
"Are they going to cram into that tiny shop, dane?" asked Yanagisawa curiously.
The Trickster was pulling out his cell phone. "Let's find out."
"This is crazy," Kaneda muttered. "Atobe's crazy to bribe the guards out of here. What if we get arrested for breaking and entering? What if we're on the national news? My mother will kill me."
"Calm down," both Niou and Yanagisawa told him. He glared.
"Why are we still here? We should escape before the police come!"
"They won't come, dane."
"Ah, it's me," said Niou into the phone. "The plan is already in motion. He should be arriving soon…" As if on cue, there was movement in the screen showing the mall's entrance. "He's here."
Yanagisawa peered at the screen. "Why's he running like something's chasing him, dane?"
"Hey, doesn't he look familiar?" Kaneda asked instead.
Niou smirked. "That's because you know him."
"…Isn't he that snake guy from Seigaku?"
And then Niou reached over and pressed the electricity control button.
Something touched her shoulder. It was warm and firm, almost like hand.
"Ryuzaki. Wake up."
Sakuno slowly opened her eyes and blinked. Honey golden eyes stared into her own, and she wondered what kind of dream included Echizen Ryoma hovering over her face when she woke up. It was a very pleasant dream.
The golden eyes were irritated now, and she blinked owlishly.
"That's me," he replied. "Can you get up?"
She could only nod. He sighed, placed a hand under her shoulder, and helped her sit up from the sofa. Sakuno suddenly remembered how she came to be lying down, and looked around for her friends. "Where's Fuji-senpai?"
Ryoma swallowed a pang of annoyance and replied shortly, "He's outside." Honestly, the first thing that came out of her mouth had to be the genius. "Sensei called me. She was worried that you weren't picking up your phone." Again.
Sakuno stopped mid-stretch and searched for her phone, murmuring, "Oh no, oh no, Obaa-chan is going to kill me! I promised I wouldn't worry her, at least until the festival…"
"I told her you were fine."
She blinked and looked at him, too surprised to blush or stutter. "Eh? Ryoma-kun, you—Wah! Kin-chan!"
The redhead had snuck up on the two of them silently, and popped out from behind the sofa. "Koshimae! Why are you in here? Are you hiding from your captain too?"
In a manner of speaking, yes, he was. But Ryoma would rather run a hundred laps before agreeing with the wild boy. "Quit calling me that."
"Koshimae is Koshimae!"
Sakuno saw Tomoka sleeping peacefully on the other sofa, and looked around for An. What she saw were two older girls at the counter, talking quietly over cups of tea. She thought she recognized the blue-haired girl and the beautiful goddess, but she couldn't quite remember. Sakuno wondered where Risai went, and whether the sponsor had come by yet. Really, Sakuno always fell asleep at the most crucial moments.
"Ne, Sakuno-chan!" Kintarou was claiming her attention again, "You were talking about a festival, right? Is there going to be food? Delicious food, like your onigiri?" He ignored Ryoma's glare.
Sakuno blushed. "Y-yes, there's going to be lots of food."
"Can I go! Can you take me with you, Sakuno-chan?"
He was begging her so earnestly that Sakuno didn't have the heart to refuse him. "Of course I can," she smiled warmly. She didn't see Ryoma grimace, because Kintarou grabbed her hands and whooped.
Tomoka snored lightly.
Ryoma was trying not to let his irritation show, but his fists clenched. Fine. He would have to up his game and beat Kintarou. "Ryuzaki."
Sakuno was startled when he leaned closer to her, gripping the sofa by her shoulder and shoving Kintarou rudely away in the process. He stared at her from underneath his hat brim.
"Will you go—"
The flower shop door opened which a jingle of chimes, and the merry group of tennis players trooped into the tiny store. An led the group, followed closely by Syusuke and Tezuka, as well as her brother. Sakuno stared as more and more people poured in, until the sofas and plants were completely surrounded by dozens of high school boys.
"Hey, keep moving!"
"Ow! Stop pushing me!"
"Dude, you just touched my—"
Ryoma sat down with a sigh as Sakuno continued goggling at the sight of Japan's most reputed tennis players jostling and elbowing each other in the quaint flower shop. She spotted a few Shitenhouji boys climb on top of the counter, Sengoku fighting his way towards the women, and Eiji trying to climb a small palm tree. Somewhere in the midst of all the pushing and shoving, Sakuno swore she heard Atobe demanding a five foot radius of space around his royal person.
Horio managed to shove his way to the middle and stared at Ryoma and Sakuno. "Echizen? How did you get in here? And why are you with Ryuzaki?"
The Ponta lover raised an eyebrow.
"He doesn't look like he has a broken heart," observed Yuushi. Gakuto snorted.
"Sakuno-chan," An said gently, "do you have anyone you love?"
Ryoma, Syusuke and Tezuka snapped to attention.
Sakuno blushed hard. "U-um, An-chan…"
"Atobe," the Rikkai Dai captain said near the door, "where did you hear about Ryuzaki-san loving someone besides Echizen?"
In a slightly muffled voice, Atobe replied plaintively, "Ore-sama heard it from Jirou." He wasn't going to risk his reputation any more than he already did, not when this was Jirou's fault. So he was going to lay all the responsibility on the sleepyhead.
Sakuno found her voice. "I-I what?"
"She what?" Ryoma stared.
Yagyuu spoke up from his position beside Tomoka's sofa, "I think we should wake up Osakada-san and Akutagawa-san. They might be able to answer our questions." There were murmurs of assent, and the boys made way for Kabaji to come to the center of the shop. He placed Jirou on the empty chair and stepped back.
Everybody stared at the two oblivious dreamers, wondering how to wake them up.
Luckily, they didn't have to.
The door slammed open.
She had to admit, Kaidoh Kaoru was one amazing guy. Especially when he was in love.
When he'd come running into the mall as if his back was on fire, she immediately knew something was wrong. She called his name, but the guy kept on running. He was so engrossed in sprinting like some James Bond action hero that he didn't notice his bandana flutter off, or that she screeched after him.
He did turn back when his shoe flew off, and then he didn't bother tying his shoelaces.
So naturally, Risai ran after him, and of course Shishido and Choutarou followed. The rabid fan girls decided to charge after them as well, squealing something about Atobe and autographs.
When Kaidoh skidded in front of the flower shop, Risai pretty much had it all figured out. He thought his precious Tomoka was in danger, and so he ran all the way here. It was so sweet.
He slammed the doors open, causing Risai to wince as she jogged closer. Even if she was on the verge of being fired, she still liked to think the flower shop was her responsibility until the end. Those doors better not be damaged, even in the face of Kaidoh's beautiful love.
How romantic, she thought. Any girl would be flattered to be screamed at passionately by her love interest in the middle of a mall.
"He's so… damn… fast," gritted out Shishido, clutching his gangster cap so it would not fly away like Kaidoh's bandana and shoe had. "What's his problem?" Choutarou arrived as well, not out of breath at all.
Risai opened her mouth to make a snide remark as she reached the flower shop doors.
The lights went out.
Tomoka had actually been pretending to be asleep for the last several minutes or so. Ever since Ryoma and his cousin walked in, to be precise. She tried not to giggle as Ryoma and Kintarou competed for Sakuno, and covered her smile with a snore.
But then An had walked in, and what sounded like a lot of people entering the shop. Tomoka heard mostly male voices, and a few familiar ones belonging to the Seigaku team.
They were talking about Sakuno or something, but Tomoka was more worried about whether he was in the shop as well. She had no idea why there was a tennis meeting in the flower shop, but if Kaidoh was here then that changed everything.
A smooth voice near her head suggested waking her and Akutagawa Jirou. She waited nervously.
But not for long.
Well. Her hero had come after all. It was a perfect, wonderful way to pretend to wake up from her long and luxurious nap.
Until everything became pitch dark.
Tomoka didn't notice the lights went out at first, because her eyes were shut anyway. But when she opened them, she thought she was blind. When she realized everybody else was blind and panicked as well, she relaxed and hoped nobody tripped over her sofa.
Suddenly, a hand grabbed her arm. She was pulled up and onto her feet so fast that her head spun dizzily. Tomoka tried to jerk away, but the hand was too strong, and she felt herself being pulled swiftly and silently through the crowd of confused bodies.
Who was it? It couldn't be Kaidoh, he didn't even see her before the lights went out. Maybe the person didn't know it was her, and mistook her for somebody else.
She felt various bodies and arms bump into her, stumbling in the darkness to avoid getting injured.
"Ouch! Is that a cactus?"
"You stepped on my toe!"
"Will everyone stop moving like idiots—"
"Let go of me you pervert!"
"Gah! My eye! Piece of—"
It sounded like everybody was getting more injured instead.
"Sakuno?" she tried calling, but to no avail. "An-chan? Fuji-senpai?"
The grip on her arm suddenly vanished, and she was shoved from behind, propelling her forward into a solid torso. Strong arms instinctively wrapped around her shoulders, and Tomoka stopped struggling.
Underneath all the noise and confusion, Tomoka thought she heard, "Mission accomplished," before the lights abruptly turned on.
"Gah! My eyes!"
The flower shop was a chaotic mess. People were scattered everywhere, including in the backroom and beside the plants. There were various piles of tangled bodies and very uncomfortable human pancakes, including one that had Momoshiro on top of the stack and Dan Taichi wailing at the bottom.
"Whoa," Mizuki suddenly froze in the middle of brushing his hair. "Look at Tezuka."
Everybody looked (or tried to) at Tezuka, and realized why Mizuki was surprised.
The Seigaku captain had managed to get bowled over, and was dangerously close to falling backwards over the counter top. But that wasn't what surprised them.
"Sorry, I tripped," Fuji Yumiko apologized with a smile, completely unfazed by the fact that she was plastered on top of Tezuka, her face extremely close to his glasses. The image of his sister draped over the austere captain made Yuuta sickly pale, and even Syusuke swallowed. Tezuka stiffly helped her up, and straightened.
"Tezuka," said Inui into the silence. "Is Fuji-san the one you secretly—"
And that was final.
But Tomoka didn't pay attention to any of this. She didn't see Sakuno sandwiched between Yukimura and Kabaji, or An trying to push an apologetic Takashi and Mori off of her, or Ryoma glaring at the plants that had sprinkled pollen all over him.
It was cliché, but all Tomoka could see was Kaidoh Kaoru.
Risai seemed to be the first one to collect her senses, and she knew that something important was about to happen. She shoved past Shishido and Atsushi, stepped over a dazed Marui, and swiped a single sunflower stem from the vase. Making her way back to the center of the shop, she pushed the flower into Kaidoh's face. "Here. You know what to do," she told him. After all that training it would have been unacceptable if he didn't know how to react.
He nodded without hesitation.
"Osakada," he said.
By this time, most of the tennis players had righted themselves and grew quiet in time to see Kaidoh sink down on one knee and ask her a quiet question.
"Will you go to the festival with me?"
Sakuno and An gasped in unison. Momoshiro whistled; many guys cringed at such cheesiness, and a few others smiled in amusement. Inui and Risai were the only ones nodding proudly.
Tomoka smiled. "Yes." And she took the sunflower.
The flower shop burst with applause and cheers. Sakuno and An sighed in appreciation, Risai grinned with approval, and Yumiko remarked to Tezuka about young love. Kaidoh was the recipient of quite a few manly slaps on the back and "congratulations" and some heartfelt advice. It was ridiculous. He didn't even ask her to be his girlfriend, and yet it seemed like he and Tomoka were officially a couple.
Not that he minded.
More happy chaos erupted.
"Kintarou! There you are."
"Yaaah! No, Shi-chan, I don't want to go home!"
"Ojii! There you are!"
"He was drinking tea in the flower shop all this time."
"Nee-san! Why are you here?"
"Oh, Yuuta, I knew I saw you! I'm the sponsor for this flower shop."
"Chitose, I think your sister is upset."
Amidst all the hullabaloo, a certain sleeping beauty of Hyotei woke up. He yawned widely, wondering why he was stuffed in a chair. "What party is this?" he asked sleepily.
Atobe rounded on him. "Jirou! Ore-sama demands to know the truth!"
A bleary stare. "What?"
"What we want to know," Yuushi said calmly, "is why you said that Ryuzaki Sakuno loves Kaidoh Kaoru."
Sakuno's head turned so fast her braids nearly slapped Yukimura. "E-Eh?" Kaidoh hissed in surprise.
"But that wasn't a lie," Jirou yawned, stretching like a cat.
"Yes it is!"
Eiji shook his head sternly, his hair bouncing. "No, no! See, that's Sakuno-chan," he pointed at the shocked Sakuno, "and that is Kaoru-chan!" He gestured at Kaidoh, who was standing very close to Tomoka. "They don't love each other, nya!"
But Jirou's eyes fixed on Tomoka, and he said, "She's the one I saw in the forest."
At the same time, Tomoka gasped, "You're the one in the forest!"
An's eyes widened. "Wait, so the guy Tomoka was kissing in the forest was Akutagawa Jirou?"
The reaction was tremendous. Horio's mouth dropped. Momoshiro whistled again.
"What? No!" Tomoka waved her hands while Kaidoh's face grew dark.
Jirou blinked. "Nobody kissed me."
"An-chan, I think what you saw was different," Sakuno said quietly.
Yuushi smirked and said, "I think I see now. Atobe, you made a mistake." The Hyotei captain raised an elegant eyebrow, but did not reply. "When Jirou said he saw a pig-tailed girl from Seigaku, Atobe naturally thought it was Ryuzaki Sakuno. From that point on, the mystery girl became Ryuzaki-chan."
"I can't believe it came to this," muttered Minami. Everybody nodded in glum agreement, thinking about the battle and the confusion.
"But all's well that ends well," said Nanako quietly to Sarisa, who smiled.
Risai was taking in the state of the shop with a steely eye, making sure Yumiko was too distracted by her brothers to notice how a few pots got knocked over, or the disarray of flower petals strewn on the floor. The longer people stayed, the more damage the shop sustained. She needed everyone to get out. Now.
An ominous presence to her left made her turn, and she blinked when Inui pulled out a terrible vial full of black liquid. She wondered where it came from, but had no time to worry when he grinned.
"It seems like there was no absolute loser in this battle," he remarked in a low tone. Amazingly, everyone managed to hear him, and the shop grew silent. All eyes went to the gurgling vial of death in his hand. "Let's be fair, shall we? Everyone is a loser. Everyone gets to drink." If possible, the vial became more ominous and his grin showed sharp teeth. "Who'd like to try first?"
It was almost like the crowd of fan girls stampeding towards the piano in hopes of getting Atobe's secondhand signature. Only this time it was the opposite direction. And this group of people running away from Inui was certainly not screaming for joy.
The only people remaining in the shop were Risai, Inui and Yumiko. There was a deep silence.
Risai nodded at the data man. "Thank you."
"No problem," he responded, busily writing in his notebook. "It seems this experiment was quite a success."
"An experiment, huh?" Her eyes were distant and she thought she could see a certain girl and boy walking hand in hand down the littered mall. "Not an accident?"
"Nothing is accidental," he stated. "There may be mysteries, but those can be solved in due time." He frowned slightly, "But I wonder why Osakada Tomoka and Akutagawa Jirou were in the forest together? And why did Tezuka come with Tachibana-san and Miyuki-kun? And why did we use spitballs and plastic balls as weapons instead of tennis balls? And where was…" His questions trailed off into a murmur, and Risai and Yumiko traded looks. Inui continued mumbling in true Ibu Shinji fashion as he walked out of the flower shop.
A slight breeze made the chimes jingle faintly. Risai turned to the sponsor and took a deep breath, "Am I fired?"
Yumiko smiled pleasantly. "Even if you were, I'd hire you again."
"You're better at matchmaking than me."
Risai paused, and then let a real smile spread. "Hanata Risai. Call me Risai."
"Fuji Yumiko. Pleasure to meet you."
The chimes jingled cheerfully.
End Part 9
* Yes, caught in the rain really means my other story, "Caught in the Rain." Haha. Ha.
A/N: This chapter did not take me two years to write. It took two years to step away from the story, do some thinking, and then slowly become motivated to write the finale. I think my brain got fried from all the chaos and confusion that the grapevine created. I honestly don't know why I wrote such a complicated weave of rumors for the plot. Eh. But it was fun.
As you can see, there is no final 'END' or 'THE END' yet. I'm planning on having one last chapter or epilogue to officially wrap the story up. It won't be that neat, per se, but I like neat endings, and there are still a few (or several) loose ends that need to be tied. So if you still feel like hanging around until the very end, I promise I will do my very best to finish with a satisfying 'BANG!' …Yeah.
Thank you so much for reading. If you still feel like reviewing, please do so, and tell me what I've done right and wrong, or just tell me anything. :P Thanks!