A/N: Hello, everyone! Thank you for sticking around for another installment. I'm trying so hard to update more often, but midterms and research papers and barf. I really love you all. Please let me know what you think!
Though it was clear that the feelings were mutual, at least on some level, nothing became cute or romantic, and they did not start holding hands or getting to know each other. Whatever confidence Imako had dealing with the analytical boy was completely annihilated within the night, and everything was exponentially and unpleasantly awkward.
All of day eight the two spent apart, aside from meals and shower time. Even then they barely spoke, and Imako was so shy and flustered that she could hardly hold a conversation. Renji, himself, was unusually quiet, and sometimes Imako was worried that she had only imagined that he liked her, and that he had actually rejected her.
"Awfully quiet today, Imako-chan." Fuji grinned mischievously as he wrestled with his dinner.
"Hm?" Imako glanced up from her pile of meat, vegetables, and rice. She inwardly chastised herself when her gaze went directly to Renji before she focused on Fuji.
The blue-eyed devil propped his elbow on the table and rested his head on his hand. "Did something happen?"
"We were pranked last night."
"Oh?" The glint in Fuji's eyes was incredibly suspicious. "I heard about that. Did you all survive?"
"It was terrible…" Imako flushed at the recollection of wet skin, warm breath, and the cut on the inside of her lip. She squirmed.
Renji lowered his head and his bangs shadowed his expression. "We turned out okay."
"You have to give me more details than that," Fuji teased.
Imako shook her head furiously.
Sanada's grunts were particularly bitter that day. He offered an answer when neither of the victims spoke. "We got her back to the room without error."
"Good." Fuji grinned. "The fun isn't over yet."
The chatter of the cafeteria rang in Imako's ears.
As usual, Sanada was gone in the late evening, but his absence was especially distressing that night. In the dim overhead lights of the dorm room Imako attempted to sleep as Renji attempted to read.
The tension in the air was stifling.
Imako knew there was no use faking it since Renji could, no doubt, distinguish the differences in her breathing patterns. Her muscles were so heavy, though, so there was no way she could turn herself over to face him (at least that was what she told herself).
Despite her effort to maintain silence between them, Renji spoke a few moments later. "Did you know that apoptosis is actually a common regulatory occurrence?"
The threadbare blankets pricked Imako's skin as she shifted her head to regard the intelligent boy, incredulous. "Studying even during summer vacation?"
Renji was composed when he discussed his learning material. "I'm taking biology this coming term. I would prefer to be well-versed before it begins."
Imako arduously twisted over on her side, hugged her pillow, and looked at him with big green eyes. "Programmed cell death can wait until the camp is over, Renji."
Eyebrows raised, Renji tilted his head. "Have you already taken biology?"
Imako grinned. "What? Impressed that I know what 'apoptosis' is?"
"You do not strike me as the studious type."
Imako opened her mouth in surprise. "Really?"
"Among other things."
"'Among other things'?" Imako repeated. She sat up and threw her pillow at him.
Renji caught it with ease, but his textbook slipped out of his lap and fell to the floor. The loud thunk brought the girl to her senses, for she fell silent at the realization that they were having a normal conversation. Renji cleared his throat, said nothing more, and methodically got up from the bed and kneeled down for the book.
Imako did the same, and when both their hands touched the thick book, they looked up at each other in unison.
The girl blushed. She had to say something. "...We're finally in unison, aren't we?"
Renji shrugged. "Perhaps."
And then he kissed her.
His lips, warm and smooth, pushed gently against hers, and Imako was so surprised that she forgot to close her eyes. He smelled like soap and tasted like chapstick and felt like home.
After a few seconds he separated from her, opened his eyes, and examined her face. Something about it made him laugh a little, and Imako could only blink back.
"There was an 82% chance that you would not pull away if I kissed you," Renji explained. "So, I took the chance."
Imako felt the tears from the night before returning, and she fought against them with all her might. She swallowed the lump in her throat, and broke eye contact. She was numb and she was on fire and Renji's face, skin, heat were so close and were hers to touch if she wished.
"Was that your first kiss?"
Imako placed her fingers on her lips, and nodded shyly.
Then suddenly, she was angry. "And you threw it away so easily!"
Renji smiled, picked up his textbook. "I wouldn't consider it a 'throw away' kiss."
Agitated, Imako insisted, "But you were shy all day! How come you get to be so composed right now?!"
Renji's laugh was perfect and it was all Imako ever wanted to hear for the rest of forever. He ruffled his hair a bit, leaned back against the bed. In the light Imako could see that his face was bright red. "I do not know."
Imako pouted. "I thought you knew everything."
"I did too." Renji lay his head back on the bed, covered his eyes with a hand, and stayed there. The heat of the moment must have caught up with him for he hid from her like that for the length of the silence that followed.
Imako sat there in a defenseless, flustered heap, the sleeves of her oversized nightshirt falling off her shoulders. Here she was, being led along by Renji's affection, when she was the one who liked him first! Well, she was not sure if she was first, but she was certainly the first one affected by it! And here he was, making the first move after the intimate eternity in the closet the night before. She was nearly upset that he did not give her more time to recover so she could make the first move.
Determined, Imako placed herself on all fours in front of him. "I want to do it again!"
Renji raised his head, surprised. "What?"
But, it was too late; her mind was made up. Imako placed her hands on his shoulders and planted her lips full on his and pushed hard. She saw kissing in movies but she had no idea how to do it herself, so she sort of just stayed there pressed against him.
They broke for breath and Imako properly confessed, cheeks flushed and feminine charm as sweet as peonies, "I like you, Renji."
His lips were parted but he was speechless, helplessly searching her face for reinforcement of her words; it was enough to make her kiss him again. She pushed against him clumsily, fervently, and Renji awkwardly pushed back. Something about their graceless, inexperienced mouths felt right, raw, primordial. Heat surged through Imako's entire body when he placed tentative hands on her hips.
Light headed, Imako whispered against his lips, "What next-?"
"I think we-"
Renji watched Imako stare at his lips as they collided again, mouths open. Gently he prodded his tongue against hers, and Imako gasped and slightly recoiled in surprise. He followed the motion and they were both upright, yearning, tongues mingling, Imako clinging desperately to his shoulders, his fingers digging into her hips. When they parted for the third time, panting, a honeyed sigh escaped Imako's lips that ignited sparks in Renji's nerves. She pressed her unbound chest against his, muttered his name, and for a long moment they continued to touch lips, tongue and breath.
All too soon was the sound of a key turning in the door lock. Imako pushed off of Renji, breathless, and pressed against the edge of her bed. Renji exhaled deeply, ran his hands through his hair, and calmly reached for the forgotten textbook.
A shower fresh Sanada entered and he was immediately confused by their positions on the floor.
Renji shrugged. "Studying."
The skeptical glare Sanada sent Imako made her worry about the level of intelligence she conveyed.
"B-biology..." was all Imako could muster as she brought her knees to her chest and hugged herself, her entire body steaming.
"Aren't you taking that this coming term?" Sanada asked his teammate, towel-drying his hair at the edge of his bed.
"Yes," Renji replied. "Imako took it last year. She was explaining some of the more difficult concepts."
Again, Sanada's skepticism was all too obvious on his face.
Imako placed her hands on her hips and gave him her own exaggerated and horrid face. "I'm smart too, you know."
The Rikkai Dai boy smirked, said nothing more and lay on his bed with a new book.
In the silence Renji's throat clearing brought Imako's attention back to him. Across from her he shifted awkwardly, pushing down on his lap as he placed the science textbook between his knees. Imako was curious until a memory floated to her from class. She had paid attention in sex-ed and she knew what would happen to boys when...when they were...aroused.
Imako squeaked, a little terrified. Renji glanced up at her as he tugged at his bangs. He was either an excellent bluff or Imako's imagination was too dirty for her liking.
"I'm tired!" Imako anxiously declared. She hopped to her feet, and she escaped under the bedsheets, eyes squeezed shut. She tossed and turned, her mind a battlefield, her body afflicted by sex-ed ailments.
Sneakily, she opened one eye to peek at the boy she had just French kissed. He flipped through the pages of his biology textbook slowly, scanning the pages, picking and choosing what interested him the most. In the soft light he was very handsome, his slightly ruffled hair falling over his eyes as he bent over the text, his strong hands and nimble fingers placed gently on the book cover, his lips abstractly shaping words as he read them.
Imako found herself staring at those soft and warm lips as they moved, and she held two fingers to her own as she recollected their connection like the sear of hot metal. After a moment Renji paused, looked up at her, now unsurprised and calm. The young woman held her blanket up to the bridge of her nose, blushing and writhing.
The data tennis player offered a small, knowing grin until Imako could no longer handle his attention and hid her whole face behind the blanket. Renji chuckled and returned to his studies.
Silently, Imako broiled under the bedsheets. It was impossible to sleep when Renji's presence was a deafening and all too tempting few feet away from her.
After a very restless, hot night, Imako groaned when she awoke. Her body was agonizingly sore and her brain was fried. The sun was not shining through the window as it usually did, and Imako sleepily acknowledged grey clouds on the horizon. The dim sunrise made it all the more difficult to sit up.
When everything from the night before flooded Imako's mind and body, she whipped herself back down under the covers, and hid with her embarrassment, exhilaration, and shame. To think she did those things!
Renji...Renji had kissed her. And then she kissed him again! For a long time! It was a tennis camp, not a place to find a boyfriend!
Boyfriend…? Thinking of Renji under such parameters made all the blood rush to Imako's head, and she became faint. Imako could not even imagine how pleasant the world would be if she could do that with Renji whenever she wanted. She was like all girls, after all. She giggled with other friends about crushes and what it felt like to hold hands and what it felt like to kiss, but now that it was Imako's reality she could hardly breathe.
The sound of Sanada's voice and the lack of Renji's beckoned a deep, relieved sigh from the brunette. After the way her and Renji touched each other Imako was unsure that she could face him so soon.
She weakly reciprocated Sanada's greeting as she emerged from her safety cocoon. Timidly she glanced around the small room, and there was indeed no sign of the boy that dared to touch her lips with his.
The vice-captain must have noticed her inquisitive stare. He said, almost irritably, "Shower."
Imako was embarrassed that the disciplined young man noticed her attachment. Still, she inquired. "A shower? So early in the morning?"
"A very cold one."
The heat drained from Imako's entire body. Something in the back of her mind tickled the notion of a male's need for cold showers. But, thankfully, the lack of accusation and the detachment of Sanada assured Imako of her innocence.
There was no way Renji would tell Sanada what had happened, right?
Of course not.
"Well, then, um…" Imako readjusted her sleeves on her shoulders. "I'm going to get ready." Aching and drained, Imako forced her legs over the edge of the bed, and begged her muscles to help her stand.
"Don't strain yourself."
Imako determined that Sanada's sarcasm was a sign that he was warming up to her.
Imako finished her breakfast so quickly that she was out of the cafeteria and on the tennis courts before Renji showed up. She was so unhinged and so overwhelmed that she thought the best thing to do was to avoid him. How could she hide her femininity from everyone when she was a fumbling high-pitched mess in front of the Professor? Despite how wonderful the feelings were, both mental and physical, how on earth could she focus on tennis when the only thing on her mind was Renji's smooth, warm lips?
Feebly, she wondered if he took the morning shower for the same reasons.
Fuji's presence was a welcome reprise from her stresses, both hormonal and professional. Being honest with one she trusted was the best way for her to calm down.
"Yanagi Renji kissed you?" Fuji repeated, aghast. He chuckled. "Well, I wasn't exactly expecting that."
"Right?" Imako held her head in her hands. "I'm so embarrassed!"
"You don't need to be, Imako-chan," Fuji's sage-like advice seemed to be void of manipulation. "He likes you. You should be happy."
"I am." A tiny smile graced Imako's lips. "I really am."
"You must like him a lot."
The double doors of the dormitory burst open, the souls exiting loud, happy, and ready for the ninth competitive day. Imako's heart raced. Renji would be coming through those doors any second.
"Fuji-san, what do I do now?" she frantically asked.
"You say 'hello,' of course."
"No, I mean," Imako frowned. "The camp ends in less than a week. I probably won't make the final team, so I'll be going home far away from him-"
"Oh, Imako-chan," Fuji placed a hand on her shoulder. "You can't think like that."
"Fuuujiiii!" The two were abruptly interrupted by the acrobatic Kikumaru, who wrapped his long lean arms around his teammates neck. He blinked up at Imako with big innocent eyes. "Ehh? Usami, why are you so sad?"
Imako reluctantly turned into Keiichiro and released a low laugh. "Not enough food for breakfast, man."
Kikumaru nodded with deep understanding. "For real."
When he called her name from behind -well, her fake dude name- Imako's adrenaline returned and she was sure that her heart would burst from her chest.
The pressure of social acceptance and hidden identity gave her the strength to turn around. And there he was, a mere few feet away from her, clad in his uniform with a (small) smile large enough to be suspicious to anyone who knew him well. Imako could not resist staring at his lips, and then his face, and then his lips again.
"...Hey," was her nervous greeting.
Fuji's snicker made her blush.
Sanada nodded to her and the Seigaku members. Then all five of them stood there very silently and very awkwardly for a very long moment.
Kikumaru slowly released his teammate. "Weeelll, I should get go-"
Suddenly, out of absolutely nowhere, a war cry and pounding footsteps rang in their ears, and The God Momoshiro spoke. "Usami! Yanagi! Prepare yourselves!"
For Imako to think that her and Renji escaped the pranksters was foolish. Two rough hands clasped Imako's shorts on either side, and before she could protest, yanked downwards with incredible strength. At first, the tennis courts erupted with victorious shouts, but then immediately fell silent. Imako registered Sanada's wide, shocked eyes, Kikumaru's gaping mouth, and Fuji's deep frown before she turned to see Renji with his pants around his ankles, his grey athletic boxer shorts exposed to the world. Slowly, fearfully, she looked down at herself, and her shorts were pooled around her ankles as well, but she did not have boxer shorts underneath her uniform. Instead, she had a curvy girl behind clad in white underwear with a little red heart pattern.
No amount of dark rainy clouds could match the sadness that consumed the girl.
"Usami is a girl?!"
Imako gulped, stared at Sanada helplessly. His eyes went from wide with surprise to aflame with fury. Renji, on the other hand, was already picking up his shorts as he hobbled over to Imako.
Aching with fear, exposure, and humiliation, Imako forced herself to face the boys of the Junior Invitational Camp. Most, if not all of the talented players had reached the court before the commotion erupted, and all of them flinched in perfect unison when Imako faced them with shocked green eyes. Her face turned beet red, and she mumbled nonspecific apologies for nonspecific reasons as she bent down and fumbled with her shorts. She was so painfully aware of her heart-stamped behind that tears came forth and her hands shook.
"You were holding out on us, Sanada!"
The uproar was too much to handle, and Imako could not find her voice to beg for silence. If only she had been more cautious, if only she had bought boys' underwear, if only Renji had not-!
Her anxiety lowered from a deafening roar to the calm before a storm when she felt his hand on her shoulder. "Imako, please get up."
Imako was ashamed for being so weak and so foolish. She nodded, stood up as she brought her shorts back up to her waist. She would not dare become too reliant on the Rikkai Dai boys. She came to the camp to learn how to be stronger and to learn how to stand up for herself. So, she blinked back the tears, and smiled. "I guess you guys found me out, huh?"
The only thing to do was to kill them with kindness, right?
But, in the distance, with arms crossed and jaw clenched, was the replacement coach, Tezuka Kunimitsu, staring her down. Her heart broke into many pieces.
Quickly, shakily, Imako reacted. "None of you could figure me out, could you?!" she said louder than needed be, "Absolutely none of you knew I was a girl!"
"Imako-" Renji attempted to interject.
She forced distance between her and the boy, as much as it pained her. "Not even my roommates could figure it out!"
And Imako laughed, laughed long and hard, and pretended not to notice the impending storm that was Tezuka Kunimitsu.