I'm sorry about the delay on this chapter; my internet at home got turned off. I'm only able to post this because I'm using the internet at my boyfriend's house. Since I don't want to spend a lot of my time with him doing the normal formatting on my chapters, I'll post review responses on my next chapter. I'm going to copy my reviews into a document and write my own responses to post at the bottom of the next chapter. I don't know when it'll be posted, but I'll try my best to make it soon.


START

A loud buzz sounding from underneath the pillow Miki's head rested on roughly jolted her awake. She looked around in confusion before feeling underneath the pillow and finding her cellphone. The display glowed bright in the dark apartment; the sun had long since set and her mother was still not home yet. The vibration was telling her that her inbox was full and needed to be cleared. She noticed that amongst the missed calls in her inbox were a few text messages as well.

"Kuso!" she cursed, realizing that she'd forgotten to return some of the calls that she'd gotten over the past week.. They were playing a match earlier that day so she hoped to call them later in the afternoon once it was over. She checked the clock and saw that it was probably too late for her to call back. She didn't want to disturb anybody. "I guess I'll just try to call them another day. I hope I have the time."

Her phone began to vibrate in her hand as she was deleting some of her missed calls. It was a text from Kaidoh. Odd... He's the only one that hasn't contacted me at all since I've been gone. It's strange that he would text me now. She opened the text message.

We defeated Rokkaku Chuu in three straight sets today. We're in the Finals for the Kantou Tournament. ~ Kaidoh

Miki smiled widely, proud of their straight wins, and immediately texted him back.

I'd expect nothing less from Seigaku. I'm just sorry I wasn't there to take some good pictures. So you guys instantly win a position to play in the Nationals, right? ~ Miki

While waiting for a response she stood and went into the dark room. Her photos were dry and ready to be entered into her album. She smiled at them as she sorted between Seigaku and Josei Shonan. Each had their own album so they needed to be separated. A third pile of pictures of Wakato was set aside so Miki could write his respective impersonations on them. Just as she finished, her phone received another text.

Hai. And there will be more chances for pictures. We play next Sunday. Ja. ~ Kaidoh.

Just as Miki closed her phone she heard the front door unlock. Her mother walked in, just as prim and proper looking as always, with a bag of food hanging from her arm.

"I came back a few hours ago to take you to dinner but you were asleep," she explained, kicking off her shoes as she made her way into the kitchen. "You looked like you needed the rest."

Miki followed her mom and got a plate and some utensils. "Arigatou," she said quietly as her mother places the boxes of food down in front of her. Mmmm, beef stew and dumplings. "Itadakimasu."

She felt her mother's eyes on her as she ate but remained silent. Nothing to say came to mind. Once she finished eating, she and her mother went into the living room and sat down.

"You're not very happy here, are you?"

Miki tried to work her response carefully. "I'm glad to see you Kaa-san, but you're always busy with meetings and work. They make me uncomfortable and I never have any free time to relax and have some fun. Besides," she looked down at the picture stacks on the coffee table, "I miss my friends."

Her mother nodded solemnly and followed her gaze down to the pictures. The one on top of the Seigaku stack was of Kaidoh, crouched after performing the Boomerang Snake. She noticed Miki's eyes lingering on this picture.

"Is there perhaps a friend that you miss more than the others?" her mother asked with a wicked smile. She picked up the picture and held it out to Miki. "This boy, maybe?"

Miki's face flushed. "I-iie! I miss everybody the same!" She snatched the picture away and went to bury it deeper in the stack, but the next one on top was also of Kaidoh. And the next. Miki finally cut the stack in half and flipped the two parts so a picture of Echizen was on top. Her mother was roaring with laughter at her embarrassment.

"Well, I think it's nearly time for bed. We have an early start tomorrow," her mother said, stretching her arms above her head. Miki's mood dropped instantly, expecting another day full of uncomfortable meetings and lessons that she didn't need. "There's a nearby high school tennis tournament that I thought you would be interested in, but it starts early."

"Eh?"

Her mother smiled and winked. "I've accumulated quite a bit of vacation time so I decided to use a couple of days while I still have you with me. Is that okay?"

She smiled widely at her mother. "Arigatou, Kaa-san. I would love that." Her mother returned the smile and stood.

"Well, come on. I know you've been sleeping all day but some of us are exhausted."

Miki bid her mother good night and looked down at her pictures again. I think things will be a lot better now, but I still can't wait to be back. She grabbed the stacks and her albums and walked back into her room. Making sure her alarm was set for the next day, she laid down in bed and let herself drift off to sleep.


It's so great to be back! Miki thought to herself as she and Kumo walked together down the sidewalks of Tokyo. She'd returned just that morning and was excited to walk around the city and see everyone again. It had been two weeks since she left and, while she enjoyed spending the second half having fun and seeing sights with her mother, it was relieving to be home.

"Nya!" Kumo seemed to cry in agreement to her feelings as he weaved in and out of her legs.

"I know, Kumo-kun, Kazue probably didn't take you out to walk at all, did he?" she cooed as she picked him up into her arms. "Wow, you've gained a little weight. We'll have to start running regularly again tomorrow." She shifted his weight in her arms and stroked his fur happily while walking down the street.

"BURNING! Just how long do you guys plan to sleep?"

Kawamura-sempai! Does that mean the boys are nearby? Miki placed Kumo down on the ground and

ran towards the source of the yelling. She rounded the corner just as the Regulars were splitting up to head home after some sort of trip.

"Konnichi wa!" she called, walking up with a wide smile. To her surprise she was almost immediately surrounded. Everyone started talking at once and Miki backed away until her back hit the stone wall. "One at a time!"

"What are you doing back in Japan?" Momo blurted out immediately.

She gave him a blank stare. "You don't want me to be in Japan?" His face immediately flushed red and he stumbled to correct himself while Miki giggled at his reaction.

"What he meant was we thought you were moving to Hong Kong," Oishi explained calmly.

"You left without telling us," Kikumaru cried, wrapping his arms around her midsection and burying his face in her shoulder. "We thought you were gone forever!"

"D-demo," she started, trying to look over Kikumaru's hair, "Didn't anyone read my note?"

Kikumaru stopped crying and looked at her in confusion. "Note? What note?"

Don't tell me... "The note I wrote on the back of the group picture I pinned to the wall right next to Eiji-kun's cubby in the locker room."

All eyes turned to Kikumaru, who was staring off into space. He paused for a long time. "There's a picture next to my cubby?" he finally asked slowly.

Miki sighed. "I should've put it in Oishi's, apparently. I just went to my mom's home in Hong Kong for two weeks. She was worried that I was being bullied again since I had to go to the hospital. That's all."

"Ah! Gomen, Miki-chan, but I need to go help Ryuzaki-sensei decide the order of the Finals. I'll see you tomorrow!" Oishi called, running off into the school. As he ran he called over his shoulder, "I'm glad you're back!"

"I need to go over the data I've collected. It will be necessary to win. Ja," Inui muttered, walking off with his attention entirely focussed in his trademark notebook.

"I guess everyone needs to go and practice, ne?" Miki asked with a smile. "I guess I'll see you all tomorrow!"

"Fuji-san!" she heard as she started walking away. Ann had popped out of nowhere and was standing in front of Fuji. "I'm sorry for calling you out on such short notice."

Momo's reaction to Ann and Fuji was very entertaining. He looked so confused. Ah, Momoshiro is jealous! Kawaii... She giggled when he stuttered a reply to Ann and he glared at her. I guess I can linger a while and watch the entertaining show. My bags will be there to unpack whenever I get home. As Ann and Momo talked, Miki trotted back over to the group.

"Well, let's go," Fuji finally said.

"Hai!"

"Eh?" Momo exclaimed. "W-what on Earth is going on here?"

"In other words, they're dating," Echizen replied with an uninterested tone.

"EH?"

"Do you guys want to tag along?" Fuji asked Momo, Miki, and Echizen. Miki smiled and was about to decline, not wanting to intrude on whatever they were doing, but Momo spoke first.

"Eh? That's not very nice, right?"

Miki looked over at him, surprised by his decency. She expected him to accept and make sure there wasn't anything intimate going on with the two. I'm proud of you, Momoshiro, she thought while smiling at him. That was very mature.

"Really? That's too bad."

Momo watched them start to walk away and ran up to the two, dragging Miki and Echizen along by their wrists. Kumo ran on his leash to keep up with his master. "On second thought, since Fuji-sempai requested it, I guess we'll tag along."

"Momoshiro!" Miki whispered, "We shouldn't intrude on them!" But he wasn't paying attention. He was too busy trying to chat up Ann about where they were going. She sighed and fell into step with Echizen at the back of the group. So much for the spontaneous maturity.


The hospital? Miki wondered to herself as the group of 5 walked inside the building and into an stairwell. She picked Kumo up and carried him with her, half-shielding him from any staff that might make him leave. A group of boys were starting to gather in the lobby for something but Miki paid them no attention. They walked off a few floors up and entered a room with a very familiar person sitting in a hospital bed.

"Thanks for going to the trouble of visiting me, guys," Tachibana greeted.

Momo sighed. "What? So this is where we were going...," he said in a funny voice.

"At least it wasn't a date, ne?" Miki whispered to him with a wide smile. He nudged her with his shoulder and she stifled a chuckle.

"When Fuji-sempai dropped by last time, my brother's condition seemed to improve, ne?"

"But still, we shouldn't always bother other people," he scolded Ann gently.

"Hai!"

Somehow I feel like I'm intruding. I don't know how Tachibana-buchou was injured. Maybe I should just leave...

"Oh yeah. Ann, could you go buy me a few things? If it's possible, could you get them from the nearby supermarket? They have my favorite ice cream there."

"Huh? I thought you didn't like sweets."

"And if you could, please try to walk slowly."

Ahh, I understand. Tachibana-buchou wants to talk to Fuji-sempai. I wonder what about... Oh well. She started to walk out when Ann suddenly charged through the doorway with Momo and Echizen by the wrists. It's a good thing I cleared the way or I might have been trampled! A tug on her bag kept Miki from parting the group in the lobby. Momo had grabbed her shoulder strap and was dragging her along with them. She pouted and walked behind him, stroking Kumo's fur in thought. Why do I have to go too?

"Ann-san?" Miki asked once they were in the store, looking for things on Tachibana's list, "How did your brother get injured?"

Hate filled Ann's eyes and she lowered her head. "In the match against Rikkai he played a new ace on the team. He hit my onii-chan with his shots, then forced him to move onto his weakened ankle."

Miki stiffened at the mention of Rikkai. Shinshiro... She swallowed hard and clasped her shaking hands. "What was the ace's name?"

"Kirihara Akaya. He's a second-year. I hate him," she spat out.

Miki relaxed a little. That's right, Shinshiro can't play tennis anymore. Not since that day... "His ankle will be okay, won't it? He'll be able to play in the future?"

"Ah. He's recovering quickly. Even moreso when Fuji-sempai visits." She smiled up at Miki, handing her a toothpaste tube to put into the basket. "And you can just call me Ann, no need for honorifics."

"Rikkai is our opponent for the Finals," Momo commented from behind them. All color drained from Miki's face and she dropped the shopping basket on the floor. "Daijoubu, Miki-chan?"

She shook her head and forced a weak smile. "Daijoubu. It's just jet lag. I should be going home now. Ja!" she called, scooping up Kumo and darting from the store. She ran as quickly as she could to her house and slammed the door, almost as if she was afraid something would try to follow her inside.

"Nya!" Kumo cried in protest. Miki didn't realize she had been squeezing him against her chest. She released him and he ran off into the house with his leash dragging behind him.

"Ah, Miki! I was wondering when you'd be home. Kaa-san said you would be back today. Such a shame, I was enjoying-... Are you okay, Miki?" Kazue bent down to get a better look at her face and nearly stumbled back at how pale she was. "What happened?"

"Shinshiro will be at Seigaku's match tomorrow," she managed to mutter. "They're playing Rikkai."

He reached down and grabbed her under her shoulders, lifting her to her feet and carrying her into the sitting room. He dropped her onto the couch. "What are you going to do?"

"I don't know," she whispered.

"Well, if these boys are as great as you keep telling me they are, they won't let anything happen." He gave her a look and walked into the kitchen.

That's right. Kikumaru and Oishi would watch out for me, at the very least. Maybe Momoshiro, too. Maybe Kaidoh... No, probably not Kaidoh. He's kind but he has no reason to protect me from anything. He didn't even have a reaction to finding out that I hadn't moved. She remembered something and pulled her phone out. Scrolling through the texts, she found the previous one from Kaidoh.

"'Hai. And there will be more chances for pictures. We play next Sunday,'" she read aloud. "It almost sounds like... he knew I was coming back."

"Who, that snake boy?" Kazue asked, coming back into the sitting room with tea. "He knew. He came here asking about it the morning after you left. Pretty suspicious for a boy you aren't dating," he said with a sly smile.

"Urusai yo!" Miki squeaked, covering her flushed cheeks with her hands. "I'm going to bed!"

"Hai!" he called through laughs as she stomped away. "If he comes by again tonight I'll let you know!"

She ignored him and slammed her door behind her. That baka, saying things like that. He doesn't know what he's talking about. To get her mind off of the embarrassment, Miki started unpacking her bags. She pulled out her two photo albums and was a difficult decision. Tomorrow...What should I do?

END


I hope the chapter was okay, and I can access reviews on my phone so they would still be much appreciated. I'll try to update soon. Ja!