A/N: Well, I just seem to be great at siderailing myself from my main projects, huh? My excuse is that the first 2/3 of this fic has been sitting on my computer since July (that's when I was writing 'Chocolates' for God's sake. So long ago...) and I just decided to finish it this afternoon. I've been staring at this so long, I can no longer tell if this is funny or just disturbing. Well, enjoy. And review if you laughed.

Also, to everyone I have ever talked to about 'Akachan', sorry! I had full confidence that I would be able to finish the sixth chapter by the end of the month, but that's not going to happen. Why? Because, and some of you might be aware of this, my computer just recently decided to get bogged down with more viruses than it has legitimate programs, and I have difficulty accessing both my word processor and my email. And if, in a few weeks, I suddenly become all excited and tell you all that it's better now and the world is spinning merrily again--I'm fooling myself. Again. So expect erratic updates from here on out. Peace.

What was she going to do?

It's not like she could just call up anyone to talk about this. This was personal, something more esoteric than could be talked about with just any old office worker she met. One of the most important men in her life had just phoned her, saying he would be here soon and wanted to meet up with her sometime. She was ecstatic, of course, and couldn't wait to see him. The problem was he implied something at the end that made her chest knot up in panic. She didn't want to disappoint him, but that seemed inevitable now. It was only a matter if it would disappoint him more to not have her participate or to have him see her lack of skill.

It wasn't her fault though! She'd never been asked about this before! She had had never even held one of these things in her hand, and was bound to be more clumsy than anyone previously thought possible with it. It would be so embarrassing, and how could any man handle the awkwardness? Was this supposed to be common knowledge? Did she miss the public service announcement detailing the finer points of this…this…this…thing?!

And it was so oddly shaped as well! Honestly, whoever thought this crazy shape could actually do anything? It was so insanely made…and this was supposed to be fun?! And who was the one who decided to call it a cock? It looked nothing like a rooster! What was it with men and their funny whims? One minute, they're glad just to see you; the next day they want to do things with you.

This was already unendurable. She would be lucky if she didn't blunder and completely humiliate herself! And he was so much taller than her, not to mention much more experienced! How was this even fair? He would have the entire upper hand. Though he was gentle enough to probably smooth everything over, she knew, she knew, she just knew that he would never be able to look at her in the same light again.

God hated her. That was the only explanation. God hated her. First her mother, then the abandonment and isolation, and everyone telling her it would be alright when, by all rights, it shouldn't be. God hated her. It was as simple as that.

And with that, Takarada Maria left her grandfather's office with a scowl on her face and a need to break out the old curse dolls.

Badminton? Was that what normal parents and children did with their time together? Go to a park with racquets and shuttlecocks and hit it back and forth? Father had said that he had just wanted some time with his daughter, but honestly, what was he thinking? Had spending too much time in America put some weird ideas into his head? Stupid crazy old Americans…

America aside, what was she supposed to do? She was never one for outdoors or sports, and had so had never even picked up a racquet. And she was sure that Father knew this. She had only a few days before his plane was supposed to land in Japan, so what did he expect her to do? She couldn't play hooky from school--Grandfather would know if she did--and she had so little free-time to pick up the skill…unless she gave up stalking the halls of LME looking for Ren-sama. Which, sighing, she realized she might have to do, if she was going to stand up next to her father in the badminton match he promised her over the phone.

"Maria-chan?" a familiar voice asked, and Maria looked up in surprise at that wonderful voice she had just been thinking of.

"Ren-sama!" she sang. Upon seeing him, she ran to him and he scooped her up in his arms obligingly, holding her close. She beamed as he smiled back at her, and she giggled. Ren-sama can make any girl, no matter their depression, feel better with one of those handsome smiles he bestows so willingly.

"What was with that sigh earlier for, Maria-chan?" Ren-sama asked, a worried frown crossing over his to-die-for face.

Maria pouted, remembering her problem after the momentary distraction. Maybe Ren-sama could shed some light on what the solution was. He was good at finding solutions, after all.



"Can you teach me how to play badminton?" Maria asked expectedly. If there was ever a man who could teach her how to play around with a cock, it would be Tsuruga Ren.

"Badminton?" he asked curiously, frowning in that beautiful way, "I can't say as I've ever played. Why do you need to play badminton?"

"Father's coming back to Japan briefly to sign a deal or something," Maria said, pouting slightly, hoping to win Ren-sama's sympathy, "And he wanted to play badminton with me during his time off."

"That's great, Maria-chan!" Ren-sama's manager--was his name Yashiro-san?--said, and Maria noticed him for the first time. She smiled at him, and turned her attention back to her prince.

"And I'm really happy he wants to play with me," Maria said, trying to keep her pouting as natural as possible, "But I've never played before."

"And you want to impress your father," Ren-sama said with a knowing twinkle in his eye and a mischievous grin on his lips. Maria felt the glares of the many jealous girls wandering around LME, and she was glad they knew that Ren-sama was only this personable to her, Takarada Maria, not to any of them.

"See? You understand!" Maria exclaimed, hopeful she could maybe be able to squeeze an hour or maybe even an afternoon of Ren-sama's time while he taught her the basics, "So can you help?"

"I'd love to, Maria-chan," he said, but his eyes were regretful, "I really would love to help you. But I have a meeting with producers for a new movie, and that will take up the rest of the day. Besides, I really don't know how to play any better than you do."

"It's okay," Maria said, as regretful as he was, "I know you're busy. Do you know if anyone else knows badminton?"

Ren-sama thought for a moment, and just as he was opening his mouth to speak, he was cut off by the sound of voices. Loud voices. And one was screaming something joyfully.

"Only those two…" Yashiro-san said as the three stared around the corner, where the voices streamed out unfiltered.

"MOOOOOKOOOO-SAAAAAN!" Kyouko was screaming, "I LOVE YOU!!"

"You little…" Kanae was saying, trying to shake off the hugging first member, "You don't need to be so enthusiastic! It's just a gift! Which means:" Now she was reaching for the gift she had just given her friend so she could use it to beat her away, "you can get off!"

"But you're my best friend!" protested Kyouko, happier than she had ever been in her life, "And you got me this wonderful gift! What could I possibly get you that's just as wonderful in return?"

"It's nothing!" Kanae said, trying to shake the idea out of the girl's head. A gift in return? Unneeded! Who knows what Kyouko would decide to get her in return! "You don't need to do that! Just accept it and never mention it again!"

"But--" Kyouko said, still clinging to her friend as if for dear life.

"No buts!" Kanae said, finally succeeding in pushing Kyouko away, "Just say you like it!"

"Of course I like it!" Kyouko said, eyes glittering, "How can I not? It's absolutely perfect and I can't believe I have such a good friend who knows so much about me and can get me such a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful gift! But it's not a gift-giving day! It's not Christmas, or my birthday, or White Day or anything! Why did you give me this?"

Must you ask questions? Kanae thought, exasperated and exhausted, Can't you just be happy?

"I…uh…" stalling, she tried to think of a good lie, "It's…uhm…the anniversary of when we met!" Perfect! Kyouko would accept something as emotional and nostalgic as that!

"No, it's not," Kyouko said, her head cocked thoughtfully, "That was a few months ago."

"I, uh, meant the anniversary of when we became friends?" Damn, really? It was that long ago that she met this girl?

"That's not it either," Kyouko said, eyes thankfully still lost to a distant horizon of memories.

"Uhm…maybe it was the Kyurara CM?" This was getting ridiculous. How many more times could she be wrong before Kanae came up with an acceptable answer?

Kyouko thought for a moment, and Kanae began to hope against hope that this wouldn't be shot down as well. After all, the Kyurara CM was more than one day, and Kanae hadn't said if it was auditions or the actual filming.

To her great relief and utter horror, Kyouko's eyes filled with tears as her lower lip trembled. Oh, God…she wasn't going to cry was she?

"Moko-san…" Kyouko said plaintively, "Forgive me! I'm such a horrible friend! Forgive me! I don't deserve this! I have to return it to you!"

What "this" was, was a racquet. White with pink strings and gold crowns on the grip. Absolutely awful in Kanae's book, a dream come true in Kyouko's. After seeing her play against Fuwa Sho in Bridge Rock in that first episode, Kanae knew Kyouko could play, and play well at that. Even if she had lost, she had been handicapped inside a chicken suit, and it was a miracle she had been able to return at all. Not to mention the crazy moves she had pulled off as well. And so when Kanae had been walking through a mall, doing innocuous birthday-present shopping for the twins, out of the corner of her eye she had seen this monstrosity, and from there she had decided to buy it for Kyouko. This decision had taken a lot longer than Kanae would have liked, and had disturbed a few passerby's when she had thrown her purse to the floor and screamed at it about friends and their strange habits. But in the end, desire to see Kyouko smile had won out, so she had bowed her head and buried her pride, walked into the store and bought it anyway.

And now she was seriously considering using it for a double-homicide-and-suicide.

"Why do you have to return it to me?" Kanae said, honestly curious but hiding it, hoping that if Kyouko was about to make another confession akin to the Fuwa Sho one, she wouldn't drag it out like last time, "Why do you think you don't deserve it?"

"Because…" Kyouko dropped her gaze, and Kanae wondered what sin the girl could commit that would demand she give back a gift, "I…" Oh, God, the first tear slid down her cheek, and Kanae knew its fellows would join it soon. "I didn't get you a present to celebrate the anniversary of our first job together! I'm sorry I forgot such an important milestone in our friendship! I am so sorry, Moko-san! I don't deserve to be your friend! Please, take it back until I can make it up to you!"

That was it?

She was upset because she didn't buy anything for Kanae, when Kanae had to make up an excuse to give the racquet to her? She was willing to return a gift she treasured dearly, because Kanae could plainly see she was thrilled to the marrow, just because she hadn't been aware of a stupid anniversary Kanae herself didn't know about until two seconds ago? Kanae was understanding this girl less and less all the time…

"Look, you don't have to get me anything," Kanae said, looking away, "Just say you'll play me sometime, okay?"

"You know how to play badminton?" asked Kyouko, and Kanae instantly regretting saying that. Now she'd have to play her, when all she wanted was this whole thing forgotten.

"Well…" Not to mention that Kanae didn't really play badminton all that well, only enough to entertain her siblings or their kids, "…only a bit. You'll destroy me."

Kyouko didn't hear her friend, but was happily absorbed in her fairy tale fantasies of her and her best friend hitting the birdie back and forth. This would be just like two normal girls' friendships. Smiling, she continued down this road of thought, and was shocked out of her blissful daydreams by one lone voice.

"Onee-chan!" called Maria-chan from somewhere nearby.

"Maria-chan!" Kyouko called back, seeing her little sister in Tsuruga-san's arms coming around the corner. She waved, and dragged Moko-san over so she could also say hello.

"You know badminton?" the younger girl called.

"Yeah!" Kyouko said, smiling and still not entirely disconnected from her fantasies of badminton on a green lawn somewhere with Moko-san, "Why?"

"That's great!" Maria-chan exclaimed, and Kyouko frowned in confusion as they closed the last bit of distance, "So can you teach me?"

"All right, Maria-chan," Kyouko said as she turned to face her younger sister. "Do you know the basic rules?"

"Uhm…" Maria was thrilled that she had onee-chan to teach her badminton, "Isn't it just that the cock isn't supposed to touch the ground?"

"Call it a birdie," Kyouko corrected before prompting: "And?"

"And…you only get one shot to clear it over the net?" Maria-chan added hopefully.

"Right," Kyouko said, unwillingly being reminded that Maria-chan was the same age as she and Shotaro had been when they played near-constantly. "Now, we won't be playing with a net, so the impromptu rules of this match will be that we must be at least five feet apart from each other for it to count, okay?"

"Okay!" Maria-chan nodded.

"Do you want to serve or me?" asked Kyouko as she took her position roughly six feet away from Maria-chan.

"Uhm…how do you serve?" Maria-chan said as she frowned cutely.

"How about I serve," Kyouko said, smiling, "and we leave that for later?"

"All right," Maria-chan agreed, planting her feet into the ground.

They were in a public park, one with lush green grass and ancient trees whose weight bent their branches back down to earth. It was high summer, but late enough in the day that the heat wasn't a problem. After hearing that the first member of his favorite section was going to teach his granddaughter the sport of badminton, Lory had insisted that they play at a nearby deluxe gym. The kind of gym that was filled with state-of-the-art equipment and personal trainers, and reserved only for those with more money than they needed. After hearing the name of it, Kyouko had shot the idea down dead. She was not going to teach her little sister how to play her favorite sport in some expensive gym, when she herself had learned in the great outdoors, where it should be enjoyed. After hearing her passionate arguments for spending time in outside and not being so cooped up indoors, and the rightness of playing in grass and not on artificial flooring, the President had stared in open-mouthed astonishment. After a few moments of confused silence, he had promptly snapped out of it and recommended the park, handed Kyouko an extra racquet, and bid them a good day. Kyouko had thanked him, bowed, and took Maria-chan's hand as they left the President's ostentatious office. She could have sworn she heard him laughing as soon as the door swung shut behind them, though. Sometimes she honestly had no idea what was going through that unpredictable head of his…

In any event, she put that out of her mind with a shake of her head, feeling her hair bounce with the movement. Centering herself, she had to remind herself to go easy on Maria-chan, and with that, she threw the birdie up into the air, swung her racquet up to meet it, making precise contact.

Now, how would her first opponent other than Shotaro respond?

Onee-chan certainly wasn't going easy on Maria.

The first serve was relatively simple to return, though she had to reach for it, and Maria felt a budding confidence that maybe she wouldn't make a fool of herself in front of her father. But then, having witnessed how easily Maria had returned the first one, onee-chan had increased the difficulty of the second serve, causing Maria to reach farther. After each consecutive swipe of the racquet, Maria had to execute more and more complex moves until the scene looked more and more like a martial arts lesson than a badminton match.

As twilight descended on the park, the girls kept playing, the light courtesy of the automatic streetlamps. It would be hours later, when Lory started to wonder how long one lone badminton match lasted, that he called Ren, who then went and fetched the two sweat-drenched sisters, who had to call it a night at his appearance.

But through the sweat, the dirt, the skinned knee, and the sweet muscle burn, Maria learned a thing or two of the sport of badminton. One, she had faith in her skills to play against her father come Sunday. Two, only those who were truly dedicated should challenge onee-chan to a match.

And so it was that the one who taught Maria to play around with a cock was not Tsuruga Ren, but the innocent-seeming Mogami Kyouko, who turned out to be a force of nature when it came down to the gritty reality of this game.

After all, Kyouko, in her own right, is a cock.

Or, at least, she plays one on TV.