Disclaimer: I do not and never will own Pokémon, or Pokémon Special.

- - x x x x x - -

Revision week passed in a blur; before any of us knew it, Agatha was emphasising the importance of revision and good time management every few lessons, with customary ill humour. Seeing as how she only ever allowed the best students to stay in her class, it was only understandable that she did not want to waste time on stragglers and slackers; as she spoke, I cast a meaningful glance towards Blue, who only winked cheekily at me, before continuing to take notes on our lecture.

This was one of the few times I actually saw her writing anything, or doing anything truly productive outside of our revision sessions. It went without saying that by this time, I was beginning to feel highly apprehensive; in retrospect, my 'promise' now seemed like a horrible blunder on my part, and I should never have been foolish enough to open my mouth and actually say it. Horror of horrors, this would actually mean I had to attend that…that damned dance. I couldn't break a promise, for that would be…I don't know. Probably on par with the most heinous things Agatha promised if she caught anyone cheating on the exam.

…which leads to the source of my moral dilemma. There was no possible way I could escape from this damned bargain now. After the last revision session we had before exam fortnight began tomorrow, and having checked through her steadily improving line-up of essays, I had to conclude that this time, it seemed as though I actually had start making preparations for that…that idiotic social event.

Unfortunately, the pesky girl seemed alarmingly fond of attempting to find me, and perhaps pigeonhole me again in some way or another; whilst I had to give her some credit, and also admit that she was shaping up to be quite good a student, I had the oddest feeling she had some other agenda on her mind. It was always hard to tell with women. This had reached the point where Red oftentimes kept me informed on the whereabouts of a certain girl, after I had implored him to at least help me find some peace and quiet.

He seemed to find it awfully amusing, though, when I told him Blue kept finding excuses to seek me out. Needless to say, I disagreed heartily with his views. Just because he was enjoying a…blissful relationship – which, I must add, he was largely reluctant to discuss, and only too keen on deflecting questions about – didn't mean the rest of us wanted to be in one.

Not that it was something I was that terribly adverse to, strictly speaking—

Dear lords. What was happening to me? Had that infuriating girl drugged me or something, to make me say such tastelessly lovelorn trash like this?

Such was the state of my whirling mind on the morning before our exams were set to begin; what with my assessment timetable and whatnot, I had been up for the vast majority of the night before going over my notes one last time before this. Obviously, having only had three hours of sleep – no thanks to a certain member of the fairer sex who insisted on texting me until the wee hours of the morning with increasingly hysterical messages about what would happen if she failed, and if our deal was off.

I had the strangest feeling that she was bluffing.

Now hunched rather antisocially against a wall, cradling my head and attempting to rest my eyes, I tried to ignore a worried, wide-eyed and wild-haired Red who was fittingly enough, red in the face, and reciting the dates of important historical discoveries and breakthroughs in science in an annoyingly fast monotone drone. "Keep it down, will you? What were you up to last night, anyways? And why do you look like you were chased here by a pack of Ursaring?"

…Blue had pointed out to me some time back that when I got cranky, I began to ask a lot of increasingly pointed questions; I vaguely realised that little fact, but by this point, didn't really care if I 'hurt Red's feelings'. Gulping down the last of my coffee and discarding the container, I lifted my head as high as I could – my neck still hurt like hell, after falling asleep on that stupid textbook – to glare at my friend, attempting to prise an answer from him through the power of my mind alone.

Hah.

Red paused in his increasingly frenetic recital to draw breath, before turning to me and wringing his hands, at the same time managing to scrunch up his revision sheet. "I overslept! I went to bed really early last night – like, I dunno…ten? And thought I'd be up nice and early at five this morning to do some last minute exam prep. But my alarm didn't ring and—" He stopped as soon as I raised my eyebrows at him, narrowing my eyes as his explanation petered out.

"Sure it didn't," I griped under my breath. "Five…that's about the time I dozed off. Tell you what, from now on I'm not going to bother with a phone. Tonight, I'll throw it out of my window."

He ignored the second part of my grumbling, and chuckled sheepishly. "Fine, I might have pressed the snooze button one too many times. The bottom line is, I woke up at eight this morning and realised, 'oh shit, I have an exam in exactly an hour'." Running a hand through his scalp, Red groaned loudly, tugging at clumps of his extremely unruly black hair. "I'm so doomed," he mumbled, leaning back against the wall and slowly sliding down it. "Oh god. I should have set every alarm in my room so that it'd be so noisy that I'd have to get up."

"Mmhmm," I replied, patting him on the shoulder as he slid slowly southwards, still muttering incoherently to himself. I watched as he finally came to a stop on the floor, burying his face in his hands. "Oh, cheer up. You're just over-thinking things. 'M sure you'll do fine. Now stop sulking." I was in no mood to watch Red feel sorry for himself, so I decided to gauge the general mood of the student body this fine morning.

It was chaotic, to be honest. The sixth-formers were surprisingly quiet, huddled near the lockers and all poring over cramped, scribbled annotations in the margins of their textbooks; Phoebe was surprisingly calm, and seemed to be humming under her breath, looking as though she was actually looking forwards to this. It was a different story with most of the other students, though: Erika was attempting to speed-sketch some diagram or another for biology, Whitney was in tears and hysterics, pretty much bawling about how she would end up flunking out and how she'd be the laughingstock of the entire school; an uncomfortable-looking Candice was attempting to calm the other girl down, though it didn't look like her efforts were paying off in the slightest. Roxanne, in contrast, seemed superbly self-confident, and was now absently fanning herself with a textbook which would probably have snapped most other peoples' wrists, and shooting rapid-fire short-answer questions at an increasingly frazzled Brawly. Karen and Sabrina were undoubtedly the calmest out of the whole lot, with the latter's expression bordering on the bored.

Can't say I didn't envy her. She probably had a pretty good idea of what we would be facing in those wretched papers in a few minutes.

Lost in my ruminations, I failed to notice a certain diminutive figure stealing behind me to jab me in the ribs; I turned, ready to snap at whoever it was, and found myself half-smothered as she clamped her hand over my nose and mouth, stopping me from saying anything whatsoever. For a moment, I was too flabbergasted to do anything, until I realised just who was in front of me.

Whilst under normal conditions, a stream of colourful profanities, as well as a few choice jibes, would have been unleashed by now, the only sound I could make was pretty much an incomprehensible mumble. Blue waggled her finger at my face, eyes sparkling with mischief, before releasing me. "Has anyone ever told you that you talk too much?"

"Yes, actually. Plenty of people. Mostly you, though. What do you want? Normal people say hello, but you just have to assault and half-throttle me, don't you? Creativity is very much admired and appreciated, but that's going a bit too far," I hissed in a single breath, until I caught sight of her proud smirk. I was right in suspecting something was afoot; whilst she had sounded positively panicky the night before, today, she looked almost as at ease and confident as Roxanne. Surely, had she truly been worried, she would be bobbing about now with hands clasped anxiously, like Whitney.

"Hmm, I was right. You talk far too much. We'll need to fix that for our evening." I can't say I cared for her wide grin, and only squinted suspiciously at her in response. She was saved from being bombarded by a barrage of pointed questions when Bertha threw the Grand Hall doors open, and instructed the students to enter as quietly as possible, or get failed on the spot. Her expression of profound grumpiness only further reinforced her warning, and the noise level in the background fell as though someone had pulled an imaginary plug.

Everyone filed silently into their seats, far too apprehensive to say anything; Blue, who had found a spot some place in front of me, turned around to wink playfully at me. 'Good luck!' she mouthed, still wearing that smile which, if anything, gave me even more misgivings. Now, I rather regretted being so stringent in my teaching…had I known that my very reputation was at stake – dances…seriously, dances? Good lord, why had I ever agreed to that? I was starting to feel this was a horrible judgmental error on my part. One that I would never, ever live down, for the rest of my existence. Or was this just teenage drama and angst talking? If so, then this was probably a sign that I had been around that girl for far too long, and far too often.

"Students taking History courses, your five minutes reading time commences now," Byron said, voice carrying easily over the silence. "Candidates are not to touch any writing implements until writing time begins."

I stared down at the question paper, thumbing through the pages and taking note of the weightings of each section. So, we had multiple choice, short and extended answers. The latter was sure to be the hardest part to undertake, so…

Flipping over to the last page, I stared at the selection of essay questions we could choose to answer. One of them, in particular, caught my attention, conjuring up a memory of me sitting under a tree and disgruntledly marking a certain girl's response: Discuss, with reference to relevant texts, the Creation Myth of Sinnoh, and the Fourth Golem, and present your own opinion and/or depiction of the myth, taking into account your context as a student. I recalled her confident grin, the impish glint in her bright blue eyes, and the pride in her voice as she vociferously presented her essay to me, as the mid-afternoon sunlight glinted off her chestnut hair…

…and, with a snort, began to write. The last thing I needed was unnecessary, annoying distractions from distractingly annoyingly persistent people.

- - x x x x x - -

No less than three hours later, we finally traipsed out of the Grand Hall, the complaints of my fellow class-mates increasing in volume the further out of earshot we got of the exam supervisors. No sooner had I collected my bag and made to leave, when Red appeared from the throng, looking ashen. Gold and Silver were in tow, bickering loudly and heatedly at a rate of eighty miles a minute, on whose answer was correct.

I raised my eyebrows at Red. "Think you did well?"

He goggled at me as though he could not believe his ears, and I had suddenly sprouted two extra heads. "Did well? Pfft, how about no?"

I sighed as patiently as I could, feeling irritation prickling beneath my skin. "Red, we go through this every year, without fail. You don't spend that much time revising, preferring to goof around until the last minute. Then you cram. Invariably, you're always late for some reason or another. And then once you get here, you angst about how badly you're going to do, and how insanely hard the exam will be—"

"Shut up! I'm telling you, the answer to question 8 was not 1974! Are you really that stupid? And of course the answer to question 2 was C." Gold's voice was successfully drowning out most of the chatter around us, and in contrast, Silver was getting increasingly waspish.

"—and after you go into the exam room, you're fine for a while and after that, it's a different story because you come to me and angst even more. Red, for goodness sake, you'll do fine. That's exactly why you're still in school, and you have yet to fail any of your courses and are achieving a reasonably above average grade for most, if not all of your subjects, so—"

"Idiot," Silver hissed without looking at the other boy, who was positively seething by this point, "you have the memory span worse than that of a Goldeen's. No, that's not true. Your memory span is nonexistent, so how could you possibly be expected to remember the answer to such an obvious question?" Surely it was impossible for his voice to drip with more sarcasm than that.

"—so," I continued blandly, trying to make myself heard over the din, "stop complaining and being a worrywart; if you're really that worried, go and prepare for your next exam now."

"But this is our final year!" Red moaned, attempting to strangle the air. "The exams for this year are therefore meant to be the hardest of them all! My luck's going to run out this year, I swear it is…"

The prospect of knocking him out cold was never this tempting. I knew he'd eventually recover, and then get completely and utterly mortified at how whiny and pessimistic he was being…though I reckoned he would only snap out of it once he actually had more food that whatever he had gulped down this morning. "What did you eat before you came here?"

"Oh. Errr…um…"

"I'll take that as a 'nothing'. No wonder you're so unreasonable today. Come on," I said firmly, grabbing hold of his shoulders and steering him out of the way of a gaggle of chattering girls who were comparing notes for their afternoon exam; they paused to give Red odd looks, and I waved their stares away. "Don't mind him, a lot of the people in your year will be like that after your exam, I assure you. You can go give them weird looks then."

"Say," Gold interrupted loudly, breaking off his furious argument with Silver all of a sudden, and appreciatively eying the girls as we passed them, "where is Prissy-Boy, anyways? And Dia and Pearl."

"I presume you're referring to Ruby?" Silver asked snidely; without waiting for a reply, he held up three fingers, ticking off points as he spoke. "Ruby does not have any exams today, so therefore he isn't here. Neither does Diamond. As for Pearl, he has an afternoon exam."

"Aww, bummer," Gold muttered. "Any one of them would have made for better company than you."

"You'll be glad to know that the feeling is mutual," the red-haired boy shot back. Not for the first – or last – time, I wondered just what on earth I was thinking, voluntarily hanging out with the likes of people like these.

- - x x x x x - -

Finally having succeeded in frog-marching Red to the nearest diner, and forcibly stuffing him into the closest chair with Silver's help, both of us watched with bemusement as he shovelled down a third helping of curry and rice, looking decidedly chipper compared with his earlier, doom-and-gloom, angst-ridden state. "Glad to see you've recovered," I remarked acidly. Gold frowned at me; I ignored him. What with his hero-worship of Red, and being convinced he was the very best authority when it came to everything, I had long since learnt to take whatever Gold said about Red with a liberal pinch of salt.

No, make that enough salt to give the entire Kanto region hypertension.

Red shrugged in response, looking faintly embarrassed as he set his forkful of rice down. "Eh, well, like you said, it happens every year. Can't help it, y'now? Nerves, and all."

Nerves. It was almost funny, seeing him get so worked up over assessments. To be fair, it was somewhat justified, since he was not very fond of studying, or revision in general, and avoided cracking open his textbooks until the last possible moment. However, this was the same Red who had nerves of steel and didn't back down from any challenge, be it from a challenge in…hmm, what were those extracurricular classes he took again? Tae-kwon-do? I don't know. At any rate, he wasn't the kind to be fazed by anything, until you presented him with a surprise test or unscheduled pop quiz.

Gold munched thoughtfully on his obnoxiously oversize sub sandwich, ignoring the pointedly disgusted glares Silver shot him. Unfortunately, he wasn't known for being a very neat eater, and as a result, the area of table around his elbows was littered with wadded-up paper napkins, shreds of lettuce of splashes of sauce. Adding to his habit of sometimes talking with his mouth full, and it generally didn't add up to a very appealing image.

It seemed our red-headed friend had had enough of Gold being an untidy eater. Forcefully throwing a new stack of tissue paper at him, Silver took a deep breath, opened his mouth, and launched into full lecture mode.

"Damn it, Gold. If in normal company you're that unappealing to be around, then, for goodness sake, just keep dreaming on about going to the ball with her. She is undoubtedly a woman of taste – as are, I'm certain, most females are…with the possible exception of Sapphire, but even so, that's a different matter entirely—" He paused for breath, before continuing, impatiently waving at the other boy to shut up whilst he continued. "A woman of taste, and if anything, will be likely to flee from the sight of you stuffing your face like some uncivilised boor. And guess who'll be having the last laugh? That's right, me. Because we all know I could do everything so much better. You know why? Because even if I'm not Casanova Silver as you oh-so-aptly put it, I am on an entirely different level from you. Several better ones, I'd say."

Good grief. This was about to escalate into yet another full-scale verbal war. Before Gold could begin to voice his retort, a seemingly half-asleep newcomer came to join our table, unslinging his messenger bag to place it in an unoccupied seat.

'Afternoon, Dia," Red called, as he emptied his plate. "What's shaking?"

"Not much. Though I gotta say, I'm starving." We watched he trotted off to make his order at the counter. Judging by the increasingly frenetic speed of the waitsperson's scribbling, and her increasingly disbelieving look, Diamond seemed to be ordering enough to feed a small army. He returned to find the four of us staring at him in flabbergasted silence, eyebrows raised. "Uh…something I can…help you guys with?"

"Question," Gold drawled, seizing one of the napkins which had just been thrown at the general direction of his face, and swallowing his last bite of sandwich. "You're going to finish all that, I take it?"

"…Of course. Unless you four aren't finished and want extras…?" Diamond pulled a face, grinning sheepishly. "I was up until really late last night doing some revision, and then I got really hungry, because concentrating for a long time makes me hungry. But then I realised it was really late, and eating too much at those sort of hours would give you nightmares, so—"

"Wait, what? Hold on, hold on, rewind, rewind!" the other boy yelped, nearly sending a mouthful of soda across the table. "Oh, er, oops, sorry. My bad." He paused, mopping up the mess, before continuing in the same disbelieving tone. "Why'd you do that? I thought your first exam isn't until…Thursday."

"Well, yes. But Missy was always telling me about how important it was to revise as much as possible and stay on top of your workload, so that's exactly what I did."

I have to say, I admired his determination. If only some people had that sort of mindset. The world would be a less stressful place. Not to mention, I'd never have been conned into tutoring any obnoxious girls, ergo I would never have had to make this idiotic agreement.

"Speaking of Posh Girl. Who's she going to the ball with?" It was amazing how short Gold's attention span was—er, I mean, how quickly he could change topics.

Diamond reddened. "I don't know," he said evasively, averting his eyes. "She doesn't talk about it that much, and when Pearl bugs her, instead of getting annoyed, she just keeps this funny straight face on and tells us it's not important."

"Not important, huh?" I muttered. "Huh. I really wish Blue had the decency to say that and release me from that night of misery."

"Oh, don't be such a bad sport about it," Red said brightly, thumping me on the back as I snorted dismissively at my coffee. "I'm sure you'll regret saying that when it eventually rolls around. Besides, won't it be a nice reward, on both sides of the spectrum? Or rather, for both of you?"

"What the heck are you talking about?" I demanded. From all these conversations, I was getting the most peculiar sense of déjà vu. Odd, how often I seemed to be incredulously ordering people to explain themselves, and just what they thought they were doing. "I can't possibly see how this will be pleasant for me in any way. For her, yes. I can just about picture her scheming smile and little satisfied laugh when she drags me over to that dance floor two weeks or so from now. It's more than enough to give me indigestion."

"Oh, don't be like that," my wonderfully supportive friend laughed, just as Diamond's food arrived; without batting an eye, he continued as though he had not seen the sheer number of plates currently being piled on our table. "See, if she aces this exam, it'll pay off for you because you know you've done a good job of tutoring her!"

Even Gold was staring pop-eyed – and silent, for once! Wonders never cease – at all that food in front of him. "Geez, are you planning on going to the ball as…well, a beach ball?"

"What? Oh, er, no," Diamond replied vaguely as he upended a bottle of Tabasco sauce over one of his plates. "Advantages of having a high metabolism, y'see."

Silver, whose head was buried in a financial magazine – probably revising for Economics, knowing him – snorted under his breath. "Not that Gold could possibly know a word like that, much less what it means."

"Hey—" Gold was about to respond in typically loud, aggravated fashion, when Diamond shoved a plate in front of him in what was evidently a placating gesture.

"Help yourself." I could almost hear him praying to goodness that Gold would just shut up already. Needless to say, he wasn't the only one weary of witnessing the perpetual war of words between the two boys. Sometimes, one just had to wonder how friendly their rivalry was. Not that it was really a rivalry, seeing as how Silver clearly had the upper hand, academically speaking, though Gold had the sporting side covered. Not to mention the fact that Silver was a prefect of sorts, and Gold was the one constantly getting detention for doing amazingly stupid things, like almost succeeding in blowing up the chem labs with Flint last year (from what I heard, anyways) in what seemed like an attempt to impress a girl. Right, with an experiment gone badly, badly wrong, and with an older student well-known for his…fire-happy tendencies, who had probably been producing or playing around with highly combustible chemicals. Instant recipe for win…not. At any rate, hearing these two snipe at one another was enough to think they were born enemies.

I stabbed at the last of my lunch with my fork, before waving it warningly in front of me. "I already know I've done a good job of tutoring her, thank you very much. The rest is up to her, and how diligent she truly is. I only made this little deal for…"

"Ah-hah! I knew it. You want this to happen, don't you? Admit it."

"Go away," I growled from between my teeth as Red leaned back in his seat, looking proud of himself.

Bastard.

- - x x x x x - -

The next few days passed pretty much in the same way as the first. It always invariably began the day before, where I would prepare for whatever assessment was on the next day, make some notes, jot down a few points when rapid-fire-answering essay questions, and so on and so forth. Then, without fail, at some point during the late afternoon or early evening, Blue would message me through some medium or another, be it through my phone – which I had now taken to throwing into my desk drawer and surrounding it with paper to muffle the noise it made – or Pokégear, or, if both were unavailable, through web messenger. The solution to all these was simple – log out of instant messaging and focus on reading past essays and whatnot, just turn the damned computer off, turn the phone and Pokégear off, or ignore all of them.

However, if there was one thing I could say about her, it was that she was persistent, and obnoxiously so. Without fail, I had to respond to whatever she sent me, otherwise the next time I turned any of my electronic devices on, I would immediately be assaulted by a barrage of messages. Sometimes, they were actually meaningful, and involved her informing me of her progress on revision of one of her topics, and making me 'test' her – this was tricky, seeing as how it involved a lot of texting. However, more often than not, she would drop cryptic comments and teasing messages which, if anything, frustrated the living daylights out of me. Here was something I could not decode, even if it was in plain English. I could read it, and I knew what it said, but essentially, I had no idea what she meant in all those idiotic little messages.

I swear, that girl had something planned, and it felt like eminent doom for me.

Then, after she eventually tired herself out and went to bed, I would resume where I left off, cram for a while longer, and retire relatively early myself, unless I kept slogging on late into the night and ended up snoozing all over my books, which caused waking up to be a rather painful experience. Mostly involving stiff necks, a headache, and a bad temper to match. The next morning, it was wake up, get ready, chuck whatever last-minute revision material I needed into my bag, and then off to school it was. Since I usually ended up getting there early, I had more than enough time to run through my subjects one last time, and generally provide…support for whoever else was there, mostly by nodding at the appropriate intervals and making the odd, sympathetic but yet noncommittal grunt of agreement or whatever when a verbal response of some kind or another was necessary.

Then, when the exam corridor filled up with the huge number of students taking exams, it was time to tuck away the revision sheets and palm-cards, continue acting as the comforting shoulder to cry on (metaphorically, I suppose) to the aforementioned acquaintance or friend, rinse and repeat with the nodding and incomprehensible verbal responses, and wait.

Then, the exam doors opened, students rushed in, panicked in silence a little more, and the assessment began. There would be much fidgeting in chairs, low groans of exasperation, the scrape of chair legs across the floor, and much coughing and blowing-of-noses. Until now, I can never understand why exams were held during late winter, when a large proportion of the student body had colds. Instead of silence, one had to bear witness to a literal orchestra of sniffling, sneezing and occasional nose-blowing, though more often than not, it was the former. Not to mention, an undercurrent of foot-tapping and shuffling, pen-twirling and head-scratching.

I suppose they would justify this concept of late-winter exams by saying the ball was held during spring, and therefore at a more pleasant season. Hooray.

After the exams were over, it was time to rush out, try to squeeze out through the jammed doors and make a break for freedom. Usually, one ended up accompanied by the aforementioned friend or acquaintance, who, if female, obnoxious and suspiciously conniving, would latch onto your arm and proudly assure you she did most excellently, thank you so much for asking, I love you too, what about you? and, if male, had the tendency to be nervous about results, then would need to be forcibly removed from where they are obstructing the paths of other students, and dragged to the nearest eatery.

Then, following either one or, worst-case scenario, both of those procedures, you were left to repeat the day's events again for as many days as you had an exam.

Needless to say, by the end of this horrific ordeal, I was quite nearly at my wits' end, and was more than glad when I finished my last paper and was free for the rest of the week. Since Red and I were taking pretty much the same subjects, there was no big problem there, except for having to listen to him worry about the end result and what sort of overall grade and ranking he'd achieve. Blue, on the other hand, finished only at the very end of the week, so I was spared from having to listen to her ramble too much. However, the daily ritual of tutoring-by-text-message still continued, though that wasn't that big a price to pay for a few more days to compose myself before that idiotic, dreaded dance.

However, all this hedged on our terms of agreement. Whilst it felt rather ungentlemanly, uncharitable and plain selfish for wishing Blue did not quite reach the criteria on which our little bet hung on, I consoled myself with the fact that this was for my peace of mind, and that she could easily go with someone else who was more enthusiastic about this thing.

One more week until results came out. A guy can hope, can't he? Even if his all-to-reproachful, traitorous conscience still tells him he's being a…what was it? Oh, yes. A 'jerk'.

To hell with all of this. I quite like being my usual insufferably 'distant' and 'uninterested' self, contrary to what Blue says. I don't care if the fairer sex likes men who can hold pleasant conversation, no matter how they look.

…besides, if she wanted pleasant conversation, the furthest she would have to go is to Red. He's far too damned nice for his own good. As for me, I think I'll stick with being a 'jerk' any day, thanks.

- - x x x x x - -

I can't believe the system in this school. I had already known as soon as I transferred here earlier this year that they trended to call assemblies for just about any reason, and this week, they decided to have one specially dedicated to announcing the exam results. Fabulous, just fabulous. If Blue succeeds, the whole school gets to see her jump in joy at winning this bet. If she doesn't, the whole school will also come to know that I apparently decided not to tutor her properly after being threatened with this agreement. Glorious. It was like being caught between a rock and a hard place, or being forced to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea, so to speak. Needless to say, neither prospect was very appealing, and once again, I cannot stress enough the fact that I did not care much for that little moment when the obnoxious woman in question, who had managed to find a place next to me to sit, turned to give me the widest, most cheerfully unsettling grin I had ever seen from her yet.

This was a sure sign of bad things to come. For me, of course. Though I couldn't help but notice she looked rather fetching when she wasn't pouting, trying to play mind-games with me, or…wait. She was playing mind games with me. This time, though, I would not give her the satisfaction of seeing me splutter and lose all coherency.

Let me reiterate the gravity of the situation. I cannot quite believe I used the word fetching to describe her – not for the first time, horror of horrors – and that my subconscious was sending me rather suspiciously calming messages, as though telling me to not blow this hideous turn of events out of proportion.

As if that was going to happen.

Once again, Red was looking decidedly uneasy, and had spent the last few minutes asking me if there was any way he could possibly not have to sit here and see the rankings. It felt rather cruel to tune him out, but the truth was, I had just realised the prospect of going to this dance didn't seem so bad after all.

…this was a sure sign that my conscience was a horrible traitor. And that it seemed to enjoy the sensation of having the very female who had plagued my thought processes through the past few months leaning against my shoulder, with that same, satisfied smile on her face.

Good gods, we were attracting a few stares. How was this in any way appropriate? No, damn it, I did not want to broadcast the message to the whole student body that we were, heavens forbid, involved. Why? Because the simple truth was that we weren't. And yet, here was a certain girl named Blue, playing it up for all it was worth and acting like she had already won the bet and was officially flaunting that 'couple' status she would temporarily be getting on that night for a few hours.

I leaned over to shoot Red an accusatory glare, only to have him shrug nonchalantly back at me. Please, just let this be over and done with, so that I would no longer have devious girls stubbornly pinioning one arm and insisting on using me as a human pillow of sorts.

All whispering in the auditorium petered out at the appearance of Giovanni. Headmaster or not, there was no denying the fact that he was an intimidating man, with this reputation further reinforced by the rumours of the enterprises he ran a few years ago. With the sudden descent of silence, I was left stewing with my thoughts, and trying to ignore the sensation of growing numbness spreading up my right arm just as the lights dimmed, and the projector overhead flickered on.

Somehow, I figured Blue would not be appreciative of me telling her that her head was surprisingly heavy, even if it apparently seemed as though she didn't have much in it. Firstly, she would make a scene, and put on her best 'injured pride' act, and secondly, we both knew it wasn't quite true – I acknowledged this with a sinking feeling, as the image on the projector screen sharpened. Not to mention, she would find even more reason to tell me I 'talk too much' and smugly inform me she had 'just the solution' to remedy that.

"As yet another year winds down," Giovanni began, ignoring the fidgeting from students in the front row, "and, as with all things, we have had our good as well as our bad." For a moment, it looked as though he was staring pointedly at the sixth-formers near the back of the auditorium, who exchanged glances. "After a few weeks of frazzled nerves, and much burning of midnight oil, the exams are over, and I am sure many of you would have gotten the results you deserve." His eyes narrowed, hawklike, and it didn't require much genius-level intellect to figure out just who and what he was referring to. More murmuring arose from some of the people surrounding us, and Blue chuckled a little under her breath.

I nudged her, hissing at her to shut up and stop attracting attention to herself.

"Today, it is my great pleasure to announce to you all the scores achieved by the top students in each subject, as well as overall." No doubt Giovanni meant every bit he said; he smirked a little to himself, before diverting our scrutiny towards the projector screen, towards where a spreadsheet of sorts had just appeared. There was no need for any further words, and he left the student body to gape at the names at the very top of the list, waiting for the eventual 'oh my goodness'-es and 'holy shit's to arise.

Unsurprisingly enough, Roxanne had emerged top of the year running again. That in itself was hardly a revelation, seeing as how Red had told me that without fail, hers was always the first name on the list, on account of how pretty much most of what she did every hour of the day was study, study, study. I glimpsed a few other names further down the list, such as Crystal, Sapphire Birch, Silver, Sabrina, Jasmine, Candice, Marge, and, surprisingly enough, Angie and Mack, before returning to the top of the rankings. I was determined to ignore mine, and as soon as I got to the third name down, I felt my heart nearly stop.

As clear as day, the very text – a sans-serif typeface, presumably size 14, magnified several times by the projection – seemed to mock me even as I stared at it.

Blue, it read, and, next to her name, was her percentage overall score. 95.5% subject-wide aggregate. Grade-point average, 3.8.

The girl in question nearly deafened me with her uncharacteristic shriek of shock, before rising from her seat to jump up and down in a most enthusiastic manner, and succeeding in dragging me upright as well.

It was with utter bemusement that I found myself yanked up and bounced around with her, and seeing stars before my eyes. It wasn't that pleasant a sensation, to feel as though one was on a particularly uncomfortable, gravity-defying amusement-park ride.

"I won! I won! I won!" There was no mistaking the triumph in her voice as she began to dance a little victory jig, pulling me this way and that as she did so.

"Yes." I found myself unable to respond, momentarily stunning into silence despite my earlier calm. Fair enough, I had more or less accepted the fact that I might lose, but I didn't think I would do so this spectacularly. I had expected her to do reasonably well, perhaps in the mid- to high eighties range, but that…was a pretty damn good score. "Yes," I repeated, a little less monotonously. "Congratulations are in order, I believe."

Finally calming down slightly and allowing herself to be ushered back into her seat, she turned to me, red-faced and breathless. "I couldn't have done it without you," she declared in a proud whisper, just as Giovanni called for silence. Though her next words were lost when the headmaster resumed addressing his markedly less attentive audience, I could vaguely hear something along the lines of, "this makes it all the sweeter," though I could have sworn that was just my imagination and sense of hearing playing tricks on me.

Or at least, I hoped so.

The last few moments of the assembly passed in a blur for me, on account of how a quasi-battle of sorts was raging within my mind. On one hand, this was my worst nightmare realised, for it meant actually having to go for the damned event, and seeing as how she won by our agreed terms, it meant that it would be completely and utterly ungracious for me to suddenly have cold feet. Not to mention, it would cast a massive shadow on my reputation. On the other hand, some part of my mind was still telling me it wasn't so bad, and for once, I was going with somebody I actually liked, wasn't I?

…wait. Where in the blazes had that one stray thought come from? No, subconscious, I believe the correct term is tolerated. I tolerated her, and actually knew her rather better than that other girl I had been press-ganged into going with that fateful last time. Or rather, that's what I hoped.

Let's make a list. I knew she was born on the first of June, in Pallet Town. She liked fruit smoothies, iced tea, gelato, pecan pies, petit fours, crème caramel and hazelnut praline, even if she complained about the fact that half of those were rather fattening. She liked having compliments lavished on her, as well as attention, but yet, amazingly enough, didn't let it get to her head too much. Or so she insisted. She had dreams of becoming either a journalist or researcher, though she was afraid to admit as much to anyone who asked, on account of how they didn't seem to fit her carefully-cultivated image of playful nonchalance. She had a distinctly devil-may-care attitude towards rules, and loved breaking them, though even she had lines which she didn't cross. She liked staying up late, watching the stars, telling people about what she saw in the sky, and long conversations. She hated birds for their unblinking stares and the way they swooped around, which was probably why she loved cats. And today, I had learnt something new. For all her shortcomings, she had an ironclad will and certain stubborn tenacity, as well as a less admirable fondness for making bets and gambling.

All in all, I concluded, this little formal event would probably wind up a lot better than the last one. For one, I was older, wiser, more patient – hopefully – and a better dancer. The fact that I knew her helped immensely, even if I had not known her for anywhere near as long as I knew Red, or, for that matter, as long as they had known one another.

What's the worst that could happen?

- - x x x x x - -

As we made our way home that afternoon, I was rather glad Red made no comment about whatever had happened during the assembly, though every now and then, he kept shooting me covert glances, as though worried I would suddenly implode or something.

"If there's something you want to say, spit it out," I said at last. "Or, if you want to laugh, or say 'I told you so', then please, go ahead and spare us both some misery."

"What? What makes you think I was going to do or say anything of the sort?" He stopped short, looking genuinely shocked. I shrugged, hoisting my bag up slightly.

"Dunno. I guess it's just what I'd do, if I were in your place."

"Ha ha ha, yeah, no." Red resumed walking, grinning faintly. "Heck, I think this is the best thing in a long time to happen to you."

"Why?" Now it was my turn to stop and stare at him.

"Hey, no need to get all smarmy on me." He rubbed his chin thoughtfully before continuing. "I just think going to this dance will do you a world of good, y'know? For once, you should focus on other things. For a nice change of pace, y'see."

"Focus on things other than what?"

He sighed, sounding exasperated. "Green, you may be a genius when it comes to things in books, but when it comes to social things…you aren't that great, man."

"I'm not socially retarde—"

"I wasn't saying you are. I mean, it's just something you don't seem to grasp that well."

This was very perceptive, even by Red's standards. And he picked up on a lot of things, even if he liked acting oblivious – though sometimes he actually was – and liked joking about them, which tended to make people uncomfortable. "I don't know what you're talking about," I told him bluntly, though I was beginning to see where he was going towards.

"Of course you do," he said, all seriousness. "You're always focused on improving yourself, whichever way you can. You overwork yourself, man, and it's not healthy. C'mon, don't tell me it's fun to be poring over revision books all the time or running a hundred laps around the playing field—"

"I do neither of those things, thank you very much—"

"It was just a hyperbole, but what I'm getting at is, you're too much of a workaholic. It certainly isn't healthy for someone like you. I mean, sure, if you work full-time in research and development or whatever, then by all means. But not when you're still young. Gotta make time for other things, you know? Since you started hanging out with Blue, you've relaxed a bit."

"Oh?" I found this mildly surprising, though in retrospect, his words rang true. I certainly wasn't getting that annoyed that easily anymore, no doubt due to the fact that Blue's fondness for physical proximity and idle chatter in general had succeeded in making me more tolerant to those things.

"Yeah. You don't snap nearly as much anymore, and you're more talkative, and less grumpy. Though by normal standards, you're still very much a grouch. And you don't push yourself quite as hard anymore. Well, uh. I mean, you still do, but you just spread it out over a larger span of time, you get me?"

"…yes. Yeah, I do."

"Well, all I can say is, keep it up. Enjoy yourself, and don't stress too much." His lips curved into a wide grin. "And start looking forwards to that dance and letting your hair down. Er, figuratively, that is. We've got quite a week of preparation ahead of us, and I'm sure you want to look your best for your lady friend." Red guffawed a little at parroting my own words back at me, dodging the half-hearted slap I directed towards the back of his head. "You'd want to get more sleep, too. Girls don't dig dark circles, or eyebags large enough to count as luggage. Go catch up on your beauty sleep this time around, I'm sure you didn't get much of that these past few weeks."

I snorted as I opened my gate. "Shut up, you. As if you'd know."

- - x x x x x - -

endnotes. Hello-hello! So sorry for the lack of updates, ffffffeh. What with exams, getting dastardly results (due to bad planning, lack of organisational skills and a profound distaste for revision in general, rofl), life has been pretty hectic at the moment. That, and the fact that I am playing Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days for like, the fourth time, and writing fics on that as well. Heh. Well, I've mostly been planning out a thousand and one fics in general, but bear with me; 'A Hundred Days' will be the first multichaptered fic I complete, so help me, a self-confessed oneshot writer! It's like a personal goal of sorts, haha.

also, does anyone seem to notice that the chapters are getting slightly exponentially longer. |: According to MS Word's wordcount, anyways. Let's just say uh. I'm trying to make up for delays. Yeahthat.

Sorry for the name change; I've probably confused a few of y'all, orz. But this is totally the last time, I swear. No, really. And, to answer one of the questions on several peoples' lips: yes, I am a Troper (of sorts), though I don't contribute to TVTropes itself. Oh no, I don't have enough witty tales to tell (sob!), and am pretty much too pop culture-illiterate to be able to add to the lovely pages already in existence, woe be me. TVTropes consumes much of my time in that I can just sit there for hours on end, clicking from one page to another and giggling at all the provided examples. That, and the fact that I go there to find fanfic recs (I found the KH fic 'A Sorrow of Magpies' from there; that was a wonderfully epic read~ *u* 15 chapters of pure amazingness pls); I also discovered my writing style is distinctly Purple Prose-ish, especially when I revert to a more formal, serious tone, though, shhh, it's not thaaaat bad )8 Is it?

Okaywell. I'll stop rambling. Once again, thanks for the reviews, lovelies, and I apologise for inconsistencies here: this chapter was pretty much written over a one month period, and because I lack proofreading and organisational skills, I often miss out on irregularities and whatnot. Bah. Also, another two or so chapters to go! Or maybe three. I can't decide. :/ Hang in there!

Love, R.