Hushed but excited whispers filled the air as the crowd quickly drew back to reveal none other than Kirihara Akaya himself.

The former tennis captain and Junior Ace – 'Freshman' Ace now, Akaya supposed, though that didn't sound even half as cool – immediately steered for his small group of close friends and teammates and reached them quickly and without much trouble, despite of the large number of people to obstruct his path.

Yanagi noted with considerable amusement how the assembled tennis team hopefuls parted to let him through, but whether that should be attributed to fear or respect—? Well, all things and reputations considered, the data specialist strongly suspected the former.

Sanada, on the other hand, was watching the newcomer like a hawk, eyes narrowed into two slits, and disapproving of just about everything about the boy – from his dramatic entrance and foul mouth to his messy hair and clearly mismatched socks. Mattaku, it had only been a few minutes at most, but he could already feel a headache coming on.

"Yo, Kobayashi!" Akaya flashed the boy with the sunglasses his special, patented smirk. "Guys," he added, almost as an afterthought, before taking a good look around. "So what's going on? Are there any matches happening or what?"

"Not yet, there's not," snapped the boy who was Kobayashi Daichi, sourly, looking annoyed. "But you sure took your sweet time getting here. We were almost going to send out a search party for you, buchou, just in case you'd gotten lost on the way. Or, you know, fallen asleep somewhere."

Eh… what?

Sanada could only watch with growing bewilderment the way that Akaya was just standing there and allowing that sarcastic – if supposedly very talented – brat talk back to him like it was nothing. Akaya and Kobayashi's possible bond as captain and vice-captain notwithstanding, Sanada would have expected their (his, whatever) kouhai to have howled with rage, and possibly even knocked his former second-in-command unconscious by now. But for some, at least for The Emperor, utterly unfathomable reason, Akaya hadn't. Something that seriously called into question just what (the hell!) had happened to Akaya during his short bout as buchou? The severe lack of quintessential, Akaya-like behaviour was suspicious and highly disturbing insofar that it didn't make any sense for the brat to suddenly act so sensibly. To borrow one of Yanagi's favourite expressions, albeit adapting it to better suit the situation at hand, the whole affair practically screamed of illogical. And speaking of Yanagi, their data specialist looked – just as Sanada had expected even before he cast an inquiring glance in his general direction – thoroughly perplexed. Yukimura, however, seemed completely unfazed with his feathers perfectly unruffled by the strange events, relaxed and smiling as usual. That too was illogical to a certain degree, but at least it was Yukimura's special brand of illogical that Sanada had grown used to. Besides, if The Child of God was fine with whatever was going on and accepted it for what it was, there was no reason why Sanada shouldn't follow suit and do the same. This was a me-too survival strategy that had worked fairly well in the past, even though there had been times when Yukimura's definition of what was acceptable differed ever so slightly from Sanada's...

The Emperor could only hope that this wouldn't turn out to be one of them.

"I'm touched by your concern, guys, I really am. I never knew how much you cared." Akaya's smirk grew wider, and Sanada was suddenly hit across the face with the realization that the insufferable brat in fact was enjoying himself. "But a no-show? Me? Nah, you shouldn't have worried. It would've looked bad if I got here too early, and then there was that thing with Nagayama-sensei that kept me after class." Akaya paused then added, "But what's with the formalities, Kobayashi? I don't think you called me 'buchou' even once during the actual season. It's too late for scoring brownie points now, you know."

"Don't flatter yourself," Kobayashi huffed indignantly before breaking out in a self-satisfied grin of his own. "As if you actually deserved it, Akaya-buchou."

"Whatever," grunted the green-eyed boy, in lack of a snappier reply. "But you never beat me once. And you were supposed to be our fukubuchou, Dai-chan."

Admittedly, Akaya felt a little annoyed at having been forced into using his ultimate trump card (his superior tennis) so early on, even after carefully weighing all of his other options against each other in his head. But what was he supposed to have done, just let it slide? Kobayashi had really been asking for it this time.

The Master exhaled what could have been mistaken as a sigh of relief. (It was not. He was just dispelling carbon dioxide from his body at a slower rate than usual.) Still, it was reassuring to see that although the raging wildfire also known as Kirihara Akaya had somehow managed to mature – or at least mellow – to a point where he no longer beat down on anyone and everyone who happened to look at him sideways, he was still very much in possession of his former brattiness. Yanagi did, however, make a mental note to talk to Niou. It would seem necessary to further Akaya's education in all things comebacks, and that as soon as possible; it was unacceptable how their kouhai had been baited into playing his trump card so quickly.

In any case, it had obviously hit home as Kobayashi was positively seething. "I... I just haven't gotten around to that yet," he ground out through gritted teeth. "So stop bringing it up all the time! And don't call me that!"

Akaya just sniggered condescendingly – albeit not in an entirely unfriendly way – and made full use of his recent growth spurt to look down on the only slightly shorter Kobayashi. Over the past season, the former captain had discovered that spending so much time with Niou-senpai hadn't been completely useless after all, since it had taught him a wide range of intimidation techniques. And naturally, his being Niou-senpai's loyal kouhai and all, Akaya had dutifully practised on his new teammates at every opportunity. Although, perhaps he had overdone it a little, because Kobayashi, Yamada, Matsumoto and Kimura had eventually developed a strange immunity to even his most fearsome glares... well, at least they had enough sense to know when he was really angry. Then even Kobayashi had enough smarts to shut up and cower like everyone else.

Sanada, for his part, was still undecided on what to think, other than that he was tempted to have them all removed from the courts for being disrespectful and disruptive: the five loudmouths were hardly poster-boy material for The Demon-endorsed ethos of 'poise and dignity'. Still, there was no denying that Akaya's little band had done well throughout the past season (undefeated, apparently, right up to the closing ceremony at the National Tournament), and the Emperor recognized camaraderie when he saw it. But even that didn't change the fact that the green-eyed mess of a boy had been allowed to run wild for far too long and was in dire need of being taken down a peg or two, and that as soon as possible.

"...che, so you really think you're hot stuff, Kirihara?"

"Your words, Kobayashi, not mine."

"You better watch out. My Twist's better than ever and I've been working on this new technique lately!"

"So? You're a hundred years too early if you think some flashy special move makes any difference. Besides, I bet I could still break your Twist in my sleep."

"Why you smug bas—"

"Oi, mind your manners, Kobayashi."

"Hah, like The Red Devil's one to lecture me about manners! I'll show you, though. Saturday at ten, the usual place."

"Don't you ever get tired of getting beaten by me all the time?"

"If you're too chicken, then I guess–"

"Who's chicken? You're on!"

Saa, despite the noise, this was rather interesting.

Yukimura had always wondered what kind of captain Akaya would grow up to be. After all, it was a well-known fact that the ability to herd a flock of high-spirited, headstrong teenage boys (often with their own, sometimes conflicting, personal agendas, and that was before adrenaline had a chance to kick in and amplify any differences a thousand-fold) towards a common goal was something entirely separate from excelling at the sport itself. Still, in Akaya's case the path to succession, and an eventual coronation as Rikkai Dai Fuzokuchuu's next tennis captain, had been clear from the very start. When the third-years graduated from the tennis club and junior high, Akaya would be the only one left to ever have played directly under the famous Three Demons. But even so, choosing such a notoriously volatile successor had been a gamble on Yukimura's part; but when it came down to a decision, there had been no-one else among the second-years with Akaya's credentials as a tennis player, or with his never-say-die attitude that would be crucial in inspiring new generations of Rikkai Dai pride. And there was no-one else that The Child of God had trusted more to take seriously the legacy that was entrusted to him.

So it had only been natural when he – a senpai of the club, an Old Boy, and its former captain to boot – had let his thoughts wander to the junior high section once or twice over the past season. His commitments to his own team and new school ensured that he never had the time to visit and see for himself (besides, even though Akaya was likely to have taken any of his suggestions to heart, Yukimura knew that meddling in his kouhai's business would be to undermine his leadership), but he had been curious as to how the new captain managed. The success during his brief captaincy made it clear that Akaya had kept his team in line, but from what Yukimura was seeing from the good-natured banter in front of him, it would seem that he hadn't done so through fear. And this was an idea that, admittedly, felt somewhat foreign to him. The Child of God wasn't naive enough to think that even now, after all their years together as a team, his own comrades weren't afraid of him; he saw it quite clearly in their eyes and read it in their stances when he occasionally picked up his tennis racquet and stepped on one of the tennis courts to play. Sanada and Yanagi were different, of course, in that they possessed extraordinary abilities themselves, but while they came close, even they didn't come close enough. Echizen Ryoma-kun, however, had been spot on, and Yukimura still thought back on the younger boy's refreshing lack of fearful respect with genuine fondness. It was such a shame, really, that the super rookie had to spend more time in America than he did in Japan. Yukimura was certain that many of Samurai Junior's former opponents felt the same way.

"...and I wonder how Marui-san is doing. I haven't seen his new move yet, but I hear that he really tore it up last season and figure that it has to be pretty good."

"Well, what do you expect? He's a tensai, so stuff like coming up with new cool techniques is probably a piece of cake for him."

"Tell me about it! You know, I've been working on that tightrope thing that he does, but... Marui-san makes it look so easy, but I guess you really have to be a genius to pull it off, huh."

"Saa, I bet he still hates your guts, though. I mean, that second match was vicious! I've never seen anything like it; he went all out from the start and just slaughtered you, man, and you weren't even playing all that badly. I really thought you would die right there and then, Kimura. Even Jackal-senpai looked kinda worried."

"Don't remind me, Yamada. And getting completely whitewashed wasn't the really bad part either. I seriously thought that he was going to glare a hole through my forehead. But, uh, Kirihara, you were a regular with Marui-san before, so you probably know him a lot better than I do."

"Marui-senpai? Yeah, I guess. What about it?"

"You don't think that he's actually, you know, still hung up on that, right? It's not like it was my fault that he hadn't been playing his best for a while or that those extra ranking matches came up like that. Besides, how was I supposed to know that—"

"Kimura. You almost cost the guy his spot on the regulars. How would he not still be mad about it? I mean, I'd be pretty pissed, too, if some scrawny freshman came out of nowhere and almost took my place. I would definitely remember it."

"Shut up, Matsumoto! I wasn't even talking to you, fool. And it's not like I just challenged him all randomly: senpai asked me to play that match against Marui-san and when I won, he told me to come back for the ranking matches. Besides, we were all scrawny freshmen back then, which was ages ago, anyway, so Marui-san probably doesn't even wanna murder me anymore. Right, Kirihara?"

"Yeah sure, don't worry about it. Marui-senpai's probably forgotten all about it already. In fact, I doubt he even remembers who you are. Isn't that good news, Kimura?"

"Yeah, that's—Hey! Whaddya mean he doesn't remember, huh? I beat him fair and squa—"

"Pipe down, Kimura. You're giving me a headache. But about that, uh... that..."

"Don't strain your brain from thinking too hard, Kobayashi."

"Whatever, Kirihara. But, uh, Kimura, that Marui-san person you're talking about, is that 'Marui' as in Marui Bunta the volley specialist with a freaky net play? Red hair and bubblegum?"

"Marui-san's volleys aren't freaky! They're amazing! And his gum–"

"There you go fanboying again, Kimura. Sheesh, get a grip, will ya? I suppose that it's only natural that you wouldn't know any of this, Kobayashi. You weren't here yet, so I'll fill you in on the full story about tensai Marui Bunta and our own Kimura's history together. It was during our first year with the tennis club when... oh, I don't even know if I should tell you. It's pretty scandalous."

"What the hell are you talking about, Matsumoto, you stupid perv! Why are you making it sound so dirty? Kobayashi, we played each other twice: first time, I barely beat him. The second time, he killed me: 6-0, 6-0, 6-0. And that's it! There's no 'history', no 'scandal', no nothing, alright! Got it?"

"Saa, I don't know about you, but the lady doth protest too much, methinks. It's suspicious. Ne, Kobayashi?"

"I... I really don't care."

"Sh-Shut up! And I'm not a girl!"

"Really, you're not? You sure? Because you're short like one."

"I'm gonna kill you, Matsumoto! How's that for a girl? Huh?!"

Yukimura bit back the sudden urge to laugh. Echizen-kun or not, he had a distinct feeling that tennis was about to become more interesting, at least as far as the Rikkai Dai home front was concerned. Even if Akaya's new teammates wouldn't make the cut as regulars this time around, a lot could happen over the next few years, and it would probably pay off to keep an eye on them. If for no other reason, they seemed to get along very well with Akaya and he wasn't known to tolerate people with much lesser skills than his own, much less befriend them. So who knew, things might get interesting indeed.

"Kimura, whoa, calm down! I bet he's just bugging you because he feels all abandoned and lonely now that Aiba isn't here anymore. Ne, Matsumoto?"

"Leave Aiba out of it, Yamada."

"Why? Because he was your doubles partner and you miss him? Matsu—man, I'm telling ya, you're taking this way too hard! I mean, you were a team for as long as Kimura and me, but even if Kimura transferred, like, tomorrow, you wouldn't catch me crying abou–"

"Yamada, that's enough. Lay off."

"Hai, hai, buchou. But I was just trying to make Matsumoto lighten up a little so he'll stop attacking my doubles partner."

"I don't care who attacked who," informed them the former captain dismissively. "Besides, who are you calling 'buchou', fool? He's over there."

Akaya nodded towards were The Big Three were standing. He had intentionally put off greeting his demonic senpai-taichi until the Golden Opportune Moment presented itself. Now seemed like a cool enough time to do it.

"—ne, Yukimura-buchou?" the freshman called out, his green eyes alight with challenge, admiration, mockery and respect. Damn, he had missed all this.

"Akaya." Something suspiciously soft had crept into Yukimura's eyes and The Master thought that at this precise moment, accusations of partiality and favouritism were the last things on The Child of God's mind. "You've grown taller."

In spite of himself (because, really, this was just the same old buchou telling him something he already knew), Akaya was beaming and found that he couldn't care less if the whole world saw.

"Yeah, thanks, buch—" Akaya stopped midsentence to point a shaking finger towards the captain's left before exclaiming in a (over)dramatically shrill voice, "Who the hell are you? And what have you done with Sanada-fukubuchou?"

And that was how Sanada Genichirou suddenly found himself the focal point of the excessive amount of staring going on at the tennis courts, because what Akaya had so rudely referred to was, of course, Sanada's hatless existence.

Upon their first season as regulars with the high school tennis club – as captain and vice-captain respectively, which was how things should be – Yukimura had suddenly insisted that Sanada immediately stopped wearing his black baseball cap. The issue had been raised as they were locking up the clubhouse after a particularly gruelling afternoon practise; still, it was a good thing that Yukimura had been considerate enough to choose such a private setting for the confrontation, because at the end of it, Sanada had looked at him rather stupidly and apparently doing very well in "impersonating a starved goldfish". But the request had been so entirely unexpected that Sanada initially had been at a complete loss for words. What the hell did Yukimura have against his cap all of a sudden? It had never posed a problem before, so why on earth now? Naturally, once he regained the ability to form coherent sentences, Sanada had politely explained that he'd be damned if he were to get rid of anything. His hat was perfectly suited for all kinds of outdoor activities and did in no way imaginable pose a threat to neither his own tennis nor anyone else's. And not to speak of the fact that its trusty brim provided his poor eyes with invaluable defence against whatever stupidity, or sheer out-of-control chaos, was going on nearby; and if it wasn't already, it was guaranteed to be breaking loose eventually. Sanada was a firm believer in preparedness.

He had tried his best to explain as much to Yukimura in an attempt to make him see reason, but that had backfired magnificently when The Child of God sweetly and patiently informed him that this was his point exactly, and the main reason why Sanada shouldn't be allowed to keep his headwear any longer. Apparently (and this was according to Yukimura who normally exhibited sound judgement), the problem lay in Sanada's supposed use of his cap as a shield to "alienate himself from his peers and making them fear and loathe him". 'Mattaku, Yukimura was really taking this seriously,' thought Sanada, who had only been interested in the part of Yukimura's rather impressive speech that mentioned "fear". And as blunt as he was, Sanada had naturally said as much once it was over and Yukimura had asked him what he thought about it; something he could tell instantly disappointed Yukimura. But as much as Sanada resented disappointing Yukimura, he was unwilling (very much in an over-my-dead-dead-body sort of way) to give up whatever it was about his person that inspired this supposed fear: an old baseball cap, almost identical to the one given to him by his grandfather so long ago? So be it. After all, being feared usually meant being left alone, which suited Sanada just fine, since that probably spared him a lot of headache. But he should have known that arguing that his hat in its marvellous capacity of spreading fear was exactly why it was so useful in the first place (and why he liked it so much), and that it played a crucial part in his continued involvement in club matters as a fully-functioning member of the team, wouldn't go down very well with Yukimura. And the captain had lost no time to promptly issuing an ultimatum: Sanada would either get rid of his hat right there and then, or get kicked out of the tennis club with immediate effect. The Child of God had then added in a dangerously velvety tone (which had been accompanied by a rather steely smile and an indeterminable yet clearly foreboding glint in his eyes) that he had talked things over with Takahashi-sensei, who would be onboard with a replacement vice-captain of Yukimura's choice.

One, who could quite possibly end up being Niou.

Needless to say, Sanada had cowered, caved and handed Yukimura his dearly beloved baseball cap without further protests. The other boy had sombrely thanked him for his great sacrifice, before unceremoniously chucking it in the bin right before his very eyes.

Almost a year had passed since that fateful day, and even though Yukimura had been almost instantly forgiven (if only because he was Yukimura), Sanada was still feeling sore about it. And when Akaya pointed at him, openly mocking his lack of becapment in front of everyone and swore all in a few frail sentences, Sanada was less than pleased. Then adding to that the fact that he had worried himself sick (fine, there, he admitted it, but that didn't make him feel any damn better) about the prospect of the brat missing out on the tryouts, and Sanada was ripe to explode with pent-up frustration.

Yukimura, who sensed the sudden, drastic change in his friend, knew that it was much too late to do anything about it. But since he harboured a peculiar feeling that he was somehow partly responsible for the terrible fate sure to befall their kouhai in the next five seconds or so, he made a half-hearted attempt anyway. "Sana—"

"TARUNDORU!" roared Sanada with finality. As if everything else wasn't enough to bring him much unwanted stress and misery, Yukimura siding with the brat... that was just unforgivable. "AKAYA! ONE HUNDRED laps around the school for being late, disrupting tryouts and disrespecting an upperclassman! GO! RUN! NOW!"

"Come on, fukubuchou. Cut me some slack, will ya?" Akaya whined, letting his racquet bag slide off his shoulder and onto the ground, where it landed with a soft thud. "I was only joking! 'Sides..." His face split into a triumphant grin. "Technically, you can't order me to do anything. I haven't even made the team yet, remember?"

"YOU...!" Sanada no longer cared about the strange looks he was receiving from the other side of the fence. "WHY YOU LITTLE—"

"Akaya," interjected Yanagi, acting on the decision to intervene before Sanada managed to scare off all of their prospective new members. "You better start running, or there's a 94% chance that Genichirou doubles the number of laps within the next thirty-two seconds."

"But a hundred laps?" Akaya pouted, letting caution, pride and his hard-earned reputation as Rikkai Dai's Red Devil fly to wherever in a last-ditch effort to make Yanagi-senpai and/or Yukimura-buchou take pity on him and save him from Sanada-fukubuchou, who clearly (was just plain crazy) still hadn't grown a sense of humour. "It's my first day and everything!"

The high school freshman looked up at his senpai-taichi (Yanagi-senpai had always been outrageously tall and even buchou had grown a bit over the last year) with hopeful eyes, only to confirm the hopelessness of his cause in Yukimura Seiichi's gentle but blindingly neutral smile.

I know what you're trying to pull but I'm not interfering, it seemed to say. This time, be a man and take responsibility for your actions. Now do what he says before it gets any worse.

Akaya sighed in defeat as he unzipped his jersey and stuffed it into one of the side pockets of his tennis bag. "What are my chances, Yanagi-senpai?"

The Master regarded the younger boy, whose noisy and vibrant personality had been sorely missed by everyone (though none of them were likely to ever admit that out loud), with genuine fondness. "100% against," he said. "So don't even think about it."

"100%?" Akaya's eyes were wide. This was the first time that he had heard his overly-cautious data-senpai admit to a certainty, like, ever. "Seriously?"

"Data doesn't lie, Akaya," Yanagi stated for the nth time of the day before letting his occasional doubles partner catch a glimpse of iris just to stress that he indeed was serious. "Now go, unless you want your laps to double."

"Hai, hai, Yanagi-senpai," Akaya muttered under his breath as he obediently set off at a comfortable jog. It was a pretty long way to fall from assigning punishment laps to being the one to actually run them.

Still, despite of his demotion from king to pup (again), the smile on Kirihara Akaya's face was 100% genuine. It had been a good day so far: the sun was out, it wasn't too hot or too cold outside and perfect for tennis, and his bento from home had been full of his favourite foods (probably because his mother knew what important day it was. After all, the tennis tryout was the only subject that Akaya had volunteered with for weeks). He didn't even mind Nagayama-sensei's insistence that Akaya stayed after class to explain how a pet goldfish possibly could have gobbled down his English assignment, not when Yamada, Kimura, Matsumoto and Kobayashi (who was a good guy when it came down to it, and a half-decent vice-captain. Akaya supposed that Kobayashi wasn't all that terrible at tennis either; though he'd be damned if the cocky brat ever managed to beat him, even at one of their weekly, unofficial showdowns) had all showed up for the tennis tryouts like he had hoped, being their same, obnoxious selves as usual; or when Yanagi-senpai had lectured him about some random numbers and percentages as usual; or when Sanada-fukubuchou had yelled at him and dished out an unholy number of laps as usual; or when Yukimura-buchou had looked every inch the captain Akaya remembered, welcoming him back if he had only been gone for a week and not an entire year.

So far everything had a nice, familiar feel to it, something that he should probably savour for as long as he could. He stood on the brink of a new school year, a new tennis season with new rivals ready to spring at him at first chance – and who knew what could happen once everyone got into the swing of things for real?

Because Akaya wasn't so stupid or arrogant, contrary to popular belief, that he didn't know that his first few times on the high school tennis circuit would be rough, and that he might even end up getting his racquet handed to him by someone who wasn't buchou (or Sanada-fukubuchou, or Yanagi-senpai, or...) at some point; not if he could help it, of course, but sometimes the gods were just cruel. Still, even the thought of an occasional defeat wasn't all that bad. Not when it meant that they were all back together again, because this time around they really would be invincible.

That was, if he made the team as a regular first.

Akaya had researched the matter thoroughly (Yanagi-senpai would be proud, though Akaya sure as heck wasn't about to tell him about it) just to be sure, and concluded that there was no way that anyone, even Kobayashi, would be nearly strong enough to beat him for a place among his senpai-taichi. Unless, of course, someone like, say, Echizen suddenly decided to move back to Japan and forego both Tokyo and Seigaku in favour of permanently settling in Kanagawa-ken. But such a troublesome scenario was highly unlikely. 99% against, in fact, even when factoring in Echizen's long and annoying history with exactly the kind of weird and unstable unpredictability that was beyond random. Even so, he wouldn't quite put it past the former Seigaku star to barge in and ruin everything. After all, Echizen had a long and annoying history of that, too.

Kirihara Akaya increased his speed. Thinking about Echizen for too long always made him angry for some reason, but the brat had fled the country before they had a chance to settle any scores (for Akaya to crush him and get even), so he supposed that it was only natural.

Anyway, cocky, half-American tennis prodigies were welcome to do whatever the heck they pleased, as far as he was concerned, as long as they stayed the hell out of Japan (or at least out of Rikkai Dai Fuzokukou) for the next day and a half of tennis tryouts.

His tennis tryouts.

It was weird that he cared so damn much about a few stupid qualifying matches he was sure to win anyway. But even though Akaya's last year of tennis at junior high school level certainly had been both fun (being an all-powerful and much fawned-over buchou had some seriously cool advantages) and successful (going out with a Big-fucking-Bang by claiming both Kantou and the Nationals. Hah! Take that, Seigaku! Akaya wasn't bitter), seeing his mentors/arch nemeses/teammates/important people/whatever again made him realize that despite the horrors (Niou-senpai) and hardships (Sanada-fukubuchou) that were guaranteed to haunt him over the next few years of his tender life, there was no other place on Earth that he would rather be tormented at. And even though Akaya's last year of tennis at junior high school level certainly had been good (great even, not least in terms of the new silverware in the school's trophy case), stepping out on Yukimura-buchou's high school tennis courts felt a bit like coming home after a long journey.

The past season hadn't been lonely or anything, but it hadn't been the same (okay, fine, so maybe he had missed them a little) and he was looking forward to the season to come. And that was despite knowing that in only a few days time, he was likely to have grown sick and tired of his seven, self-appointed (because Akaya sure hadn't asked for it) brothers' totally selfish 'We-Do-It-Under-The-Flimsy-Pretext-That-We-Care-But-Really-We-Just-Want-To-Watch-The-Cute-Kouhai-Squirm' meddling into his private affairs; and more specifically: Yanagi-senpai's 'It's-95%-For-Your-Own-Good' bossiness, Sanada-fukubuchou's lectures/rants of the 'Improve-The-Fatally-Flawed-Akaya' variety, Niou-senpai's endless arsenal of tricks, Marui-senpai's condescending smirks and his senpai-taichi's other dubious displays of affection, whatever they were. (Actually, Akaya preferred to just leave it at that. He suspected very strongly that he was much better off not knowing anyway.)

But being the kind, patient and all-round benevolent character that he was, Akaya supposed that he would endure it with only small, occasional outbursts of righteous indignation (while secretly basking in all the fuss and attention. Not that they ever needed to know that, of course).

So all in all, Kirihara Akaya concluded with a smirk of satisfaction, things were looking pretty sweet.

Even with ninety-nine-and-a-quarter punishment laps left to go, he couldn't have planned a better first day back (even if he had accepted Niou-senpai's help).