Guh. This is the last chapter I was holding back. I had the prologue and chapters one and two done before I posted this story... but now I have nothing left. What with school and all, I really can't say when the next update will be anymore... ; Sorry this took so long, I wanted to hold this out till I typed chapter 3 at least, but I never found the time.
Well this chapter started out fine and dandy. But then I started going into a daze. By the last section or so, I had absolutely no idea what I was typing Dx Awin-chan helped me straighten that portion out a bit... but I can't help but think she wasn't criticizing me as much as she could've xD (Ahem, Casie.)
One last note before proceeding... Ironically enough, right after I typed that author's note in a last chapter about "bashing me in the back of my head", 10 minutes later, I went and smashed the back of my head into the headboard of my bed. Then, I doubled over and swore for another minute. I still have a slight bump there actually. At least I didn't have a splitting headache anymore the next day. First morning of school. Would've been bad. Anyway, awin-chan and EmbeRin, my lovely beta's, thought it was hilarious. Then, so did liyenthel and JUSTHGG. It was pretty funny. That is, when your head doesn't feel like it's been split open.
Disclaimer: If I owned Prince of Tennis, the series would never have gotten this far. It probably would've been dropped and forgotten after the first volume. Maybe half a volume. So I think it's pretty safe to say that no, I don't own PoT.
Pairing: Sweet Pair as main. There may be several other ones touched upon in future chapters.
KatYoukai (Chocolate Confection)
A gust of wind swept through the park. Jirou shivered and pulled his coat closer to his body. It was already late fall, and as autumn wore into winter, it was getting chillier. Jirou didn't like the cold. He couldn't sleep when he was cold. He almost did once but was promptly shaken awake by a distressed Gakuto.
Normally, he wouldn't have had to walk to the exam building. Normally, he would have been sitting in his nice, warm, heated car. His parents usually drove him wherever he needed to go, but they were busy that day, and Jirou didn't want to come off as being spoiled. So, he walked.
The closest route to the building where the exam results were being posted from his house was through the park. The park also had a pond not so far from the path and that made the temperature slightly cooler. This would've bothered Jirou but it was just around that time in fall when most of the leaves had fallen, crisp and fresh. Perfect for stepping on. They made such gratifying crunches.
Jirou was right in the process of bringing his foot down on a particularly crunchy-looking leaf when he sneezed. The blond rubbed his nose and waited a few seconds. No more sneezes came. Well, it looked like he hadn't caught a cold. Not yet, at least. Maybe someone was talking about him.
"I can't believe it." Bunta said, reading over the result board again, just to check that his mind wasn't playing tricks on him, "That Jirou kid beat me!"
Sure enough, both his and the drowsy blond's names were on the list of the examinees that had passed. Although the scores themselves weren't posted, the names were listed in order of the highest score at the top to the lowest at the bottom. Marui was somewhere around the middle, with Jirou five names above him. Damn.
As if on cue, a hand came to rest on his shoulder as a familiar voice asked, "Did you pass, Marui-kun?"
The redhead nodded, moving out of the way so the other could see.
"You did better than I did," he stated blandly.
"It was probably only by a few points," Jirou said, studying the list for a moment longer before turning to Bunta with a smile, "The important thing is you passed."
Marui gave him a look much like that of a child who'd just been told that Santa doesn't really exist.
Bunta sighed and took a long swig from his can of Fanta. It had been a while since he'd played such a good game of tennis. At least this was something he could still beat Jirou in. Even so, it had been a close one; he'd won 6-4. Both of them were pretty out of practice. Maybe they should practise more.
Jirou was sitting next to him on the bench, leaning back with a contented smile plastered on his face. A thin line of sweat trickled over his closed eyelids and Marui could've sworn he was asleep if he didn't know better. There was no way the blond could be sleeping with so much adrenaline running through his veins. Besides, he was breathing too fast to be sleeping.
It was Jirou who had insisted on visiting the local street courts after they'd checked their results. Having already agreed two days ago, Marui could hardly decline.
"You're still as great as ever, Marui-kun." Jirou's voice was softer than usual but held no less veneration.
"What can I say? That's a tensai for you." Bunta's arrogance was peaking again. It didn't hurt to have his ego stroked every once in a while though.
A moment of comfortable silence passed between them before Jirou spoke again.
"Say, you know that one question regarding double meanings in English? I don't think I answered it properly. There were a lot that confused me, actually. You wouldn't mind looking over those with me, would you? It might help both of us with the next exam!"
Marui gave the boy an incredulous look, "You did better than I did."
Marui-kun sure was one to hold grudges. Oh well, even a tensai like him had to have his faults.
"It was most likely only by a little, and you might've done better in some other areas. Besides, you promised, remember?"
Jirou flashed a grin that told Bunta that it didn't matter even if he said no. He had no say in the matter. The redhead grumbled and stood up, stretching. Chucking the now-empty Fanta can into a nearby trashcan, he turned back to Jirou.
"Alright, alright. We can walk to my place from here, it's not too far away. But before that, let's get something to eat first."
Marui's apartment was a one-room unit consisting of a corner that served as a kitchen, a bed, and what looked to be a portion of a living room. In the far left corner, there was a refrigerator and a stove with a built-in oven. The area was surrounded partially by a counter and several cupboards against the wall. To the right of the kitchenette was what looked like a portion from a living room cut and pasted into the apartment, furnished with a single armchair and a broken television – Jirou noted that it looked like something large and heavy had been thrown through the screen. Between them was a large window overlooking the city. It had a nice view. Besides the aforementioned items and a small circular table in the centre of the room, the only other pieces of furniture in the apartment were Bunta's bed, a neat little bookshelf, and a dresser, which took up the last available corner – the entrance was in the fourth. There was also another door not far from the entrance, which Jirou assumed was the washroom.
"Oi, do you want help with these questions or not?" Marui demanded as he dropped a pile of textbooks onto the table, and Jirou turned his attention back to the task at hand.
"Sorry." Jirou shifted into a more comfortable position, folding his legs beneath him. The table was low and designed for use from the floor. That way, there was no need to waste money on chairs, or so Bunta had explained. Jirou, however, was accustomed to the nice comfy chairs he had at home.
"Okay, let's start with this problem…"
Jirou was very good at getting distracted. They had only been studying for twenty minutes and he was already finding excuses not to work.
"Marui-kun, you don't have any food at all!"
He was also very good at making himself at home, Bunta decided as he watched the blond rummage through his cupboards.
"I was going to go buy some groceries yesterday, but I didn't have time."
"Then, what did you eat this morning?"
Jirou looked at Marui as though he were insane.
"You can't eat junk like that for breakfast!"
Bunta figured that, to someone like Jirou, most of his usual meals were considered junk.
"You do realize that most normal people eat that junk all the time, right?"
All he got in response was a disbelieving, incredulous look.
Giving up on finding anything edible in Marui's kitchen, the blond huffed and made his way back to the table, plopping down across from the redhead.
"So, why couldn't you go shopping yesterday?"
He just couldn't focus, could he?
"I had work. And then later, it was raining and my umbrella is broken."
"Yes. How else do you suppose I come up with the rent every month?" Marui asked dryly.
He hesitated a moment – a moment too long – before hurriedly replying, "None of your business." He tapped the open book in front of the other boy, "Instead of asking all these questions, try focusing on studying instead."
The blond did not seem satisfied by obliged nonetheless. A moment of silence passed and Marui allowed himself to think that the other was actually finally reading.
"Uhm… Marui-kun… er… why is your television broken?"
Bunta groaned. It was going to be a long afternoon.
"So, you passed the first exam, huh? I'm astounded."
"Oh shut up, would you?"
"Hmph." Marui could just see the smirk on Niou's face right about then. "…Is that snoring I hear?"
"Yeah. It's that sleepy Hyoutei guy, remember him?"
"What's he doing over there?"
"Well we were supposed to be studying. That lasted for a grand total of about half an hour."
"Oh? …Well then, I wouldn't want to bother you then, would I?"
And before he could respond, the silver-haired trickster had hung up. Bunta scowled, deciding that he didn't like the tone in which Niou had said that last sentence, not at all.
Setting the phone back in place, he glanced over at the table where the boy in question had fallen asleep in the middle of reading through Japan's historical timeline. A tiny smile crept onto his lips. Shaking his head, Marui collected those of the abandoned textbooks that Jirou wasn't using as a pillow.
Really, with study habits like this, he had to wonder how Jirou had managed to score higher than him in the exam.
Marui pushed open the gilded door before him, a sense of foreboding flooding through his body. An all too familiar face greeted him behind it.
"You're late. Again."
Marui had once tried simply answering 'Yes, yes I am.' That had been a mistake. Suzuki-san had made him beg at her feet on the hazard of unemployment to the point where the phrase 'Kiss my ass' came to mind. That was after she blew his eardrums out, of course.
Bunta sometimes entertained the idea of doing it one more time, just to spite the temperamental manager. The idea usually surfaced when he was grumpy, low on sugar, or downright crazy. It was always quickly stomped out before he had the chance to act on it.
Instead, he replied, "I'm sorry, Suzuki-san. I'll come in early, next time."
"I'm sure you will," was the skeptical response.
Suzuki-san always made it a point to never take the word of her employees. It was with good reason too. Most of said workers were completely unreliable. Their only real merits were their looks. Marui had once asked about that. Apparently, Suzuki-san believed the key to running a successful café was the service – which in this case meant striking young men adorned in waiter outfits. He supposed that explained their large number of female patrons.
Suzuki heaved a sigh, "Well, I'll let it go this time. Now get your ass in that kitchen this instant."
She was always rather lenient, it seemed, despite her threats. Bunta only wished he'd known that before the begging incident.
He entered the kitchen to find one of his coworkers fussing over another's top. According to the painfully visible large, brown stain, he inferred that there had been some trouble with the coffee pot. Another man decked in the same attire as the others – sans the mess – came in and rolled his eyes at the drama unfolding before him. He lifted the long forgotten tray, which one of the others must have been intending to take outside, and held it out to Bunta.
"Here, kid, take this to table four."
Marui obliged, accepting the platter from his senpai and carrying it across the room. Upon reaching his destination, he placed his load on the table as elegantly as he could. The usual routine; he had it memorized.
"Sorry for the wait, here's your—"
"Well it took you long enough."
Marui was about to snap back that he wasn't even the one who took the order in the first place but stopped as something in the back of his mind clicked. But what…
"Aren't you going t— " A startled pause, "Hey, aren't you…"
Wait a second. He knew that voice; that voice laced with arrogant overtones.
Bunta stared at the man sitting before him in equal disbelief matching that on the other's face.
And suddenly, it didn't seem so much like routine after all.