Well, this is the third and final chapter. I finished it pretty quickly this time, especially considering how long the last chapter took me. I didn't get any feedback from the last one, which made me kind of sad. But I really needed to just get this done and post it, so I decided what the hell. I hope you like the ending, and well, I hope you liked the whole thing actually.

III

Yukari had certainly gotten her way. After Riichi had informed them all that there would be no trip to Tartarus that day, the two girls had disappeared to Yukari's room, and hadn't emerged until well into the night. With everyone asleep, no one had been privy to Riichi sneaking out and tiptoeing down the hallway to her own room, clutching a gaggle of items that she was expected to wear the next morning. In all honesty, the girl had been surprised she had been able to carry it all with as much ease as she had. To make sure her plans were put into motion, Yukari had arrived early the next morning and had assisted -read dictated- Riichi with her appearance.

The brunette had emerged with the front of her hair curled and her bangs held out of her eyes with a pin featuring a pale blue butterfly. (The same blue as his eyes, she had thought. And in her musings she had vaguely remembered another boy whose eyes were the same haunting blue.) Her neck donned one of Yukari's chokers, a thin pink ribbon with a small butterfly that matched the one now situated in her hair. She wore a collection of bangles on her wrist, and other then the smell of lavender replacing her usual strawberry shampoo, that had been the extent of what they had done. Despite the fact that they couldn't do anything more in thanks to the uniform, Yukari had forced her to try several different outfits with promises that on a holiday she would look super cute. Riichi had found herself dreading Sunday.

But even with all the dreading and unwillingness to go along with the makeover, Riichi found herself giddily anticipating meeting Ryouji on the train. She had to hand it to Yukari, the girl sure knew how to make someone look cute, even if that someone normally was very good at the practice herself. And now that she had actually accepted the fact that she liked -really liked- Ryouji, it was exciting to think about how the boy might respond. (Honestly, the thing that had probably been really hard to accept, was just how easy it had been to acknowledge her feelings. In all of her dreams as a little girl, she had never once thought that something like this could be as natural as breathing. Even as a child she hadn't been naïve enough to believe that.)

She had boarded the train that morning, and was sorely disappointed when the boy was nowhere in sight. Riichi found herself pouting. It was very unusual for Ryouji not to be on the same train as her, and the one day he missed was the day she had gone through all this trouble. Despite the fact that it really wasn't his fault, the girl couldn't help but blame him for being a moron. Apparently she hadn't been menacing enough, because one of the men who normally rode this train jokingly asked her, "So where's your boyfriend?" She had put an end to that real quickly, with a barked "No idea!". After that display her fellow occupants found themselves giving her an unusually wide berth.

Riichi had pretty much deflated by the time she arrived at the gates and walked into the school. She wasn't angry anymore, but she couldn't deny the stab of disappointment she still felt. Because of this she didn't notice that almost everyone she passed was staring at her. Nor did she notice how Yukari, who had waited right before the doors to see her handiwork, smirked in pride before disappearing back into the building.

The girl sighed as she made her way inside and approached her shoe locker. Well, she supposed it wasn't all bad. There would always be chances to see his reaction in class, and lunch would be the perfect time to weasel something out of him. Then again, he might not be in class today. If he wasn't on the train, he might be sick. Maybe he just wouldn't show up at all today. This drove the disappointment that much further home, and Riichi let another long sigh hiss through her teeth. Lord today was not her day.

She lifted her arm and grasped the handle of her shoe locker with a lazy hand. When she opened it and stared at the contents, the thought occurred to her that maybe it was a good thing Ryouji hadn't been on the train that morning.

The whole inside of the metal box had been splattered with multi-colored paints. Now colored purple, blue, magenta, and a sickly looking green, it reminded her of how a kaleidoscope might look like if someone had vomited it out. Her nose curled and she reluctantly reached inside to remove her shoes from the confines. She pulled them out and was further disgusted and disappointed to find that, while they had escaped the painting party, they hadn't escaped unscathed. Myriads of words, colored in the same way as her locker, were written across her slippers in marker. 'Slut, Bitch, Tramp' were only a few of the words splayed across the white expanse of slippers. (The rest of the words she wasn't sure she wanted to even think.)

Riichi set the slippers on the top of the lockers, and resorted to staring at them. She ignored the confused stares that everyone else was now giving her and opted to bite her lip and think about what she was going to do now. She couldn't go to class with them like this, and she highly doubted there was enough time for her to go out to the fountains and wash them. Honestly she wasn't sure if any amount of washing would get the marker out of them. A thought came to her, and Riichi bolted to the trash can. She smiled giddily when she found what she was looking for, and after fishing them out she got to work.

oOo

Class hadn't been as bad today as the last few days. In fact, aside from the whole fiasco that now resided in her locker, things had pretty much gotten better. Well, if you consider being ignored 'better'. But Riichi far preferred her fellow female classmates disregard than their constant venomous glares. It had been pretty refreshing to go throughout the day without having that itchy and uncomfortable feeling of eyes boring heatedly into you.

Her day had proven to get even better when Ryouji had stumbled in just minutes after class began, and nervously -though still with that charm he never seemed to drop- apologized for being late. When his gaze had landed on her she waved happily, and her smile brightened even more when he had paused and stared wide-eyed. Riichi had decided that maybe having Yukari help her out once in a while wasn't such a bad idea.

So you really couldn't blame her for the giddy smile and excited fidgeting she gave as boy approached her at lunch.

"Pardon me, but may I inquire as to whether the princess would like an escort after school today?" Ryouji asked, after smiling sweetly and bowing to be at eye-level with her.

Riichi found herself having to bite her lip in order not to grin like a fool. "It's rather strange for you to ask this early," she said, deciding that she might as well tease him a little. He deserved it after making her worry earlier.

Ryouji merely shrugged as he straightened back up. "Well, I was worried that if I didn't you would be swept away by someone else before I got to you." He smiled again and cocked his head flirtatiously. "I have to watch my back today since you're looking so cute."

Her smile only brightened and Riichi felt her stomach flip. Unlike the last few days though this churning was pleasant. "I have Student Council today though, so you'll have to wait a while after school." He shrugged once more and assured her that it as quite fine with him.

"Oi, Reech it's your turn to get the food today," Junpei interrupted their exchange. The two looked up to see him standing in front of them, looking both awkward and irritated. He held out his closed hand, and waited until she gave hers to drop his money in her open palm. "Just get the usual 'kay. And I want my change back." His comment was accompanied by a rather pointed look at Ryouji who merely smiled and chuckled pleasantly.

The girl rolled her eyes and pushed against the desk to scoot her chair back. She was surprised by Ryouji's outstretched hand, and felt her cheeks flush lightly as she took it and allowed him to help her up. The boy chuckled at her obvious embarrassment. Junpei took this all with a rather queasy smile. "Are you two seriously…." whatever he was going to say was cut off as his gaze traveled lower. "What the hell happened to your shoes?"

Riichi cocked her head before lowering her gaze to follow his. Her slippers stared back up at her, now sporting a color scheme that greatly resembled what was painted in her locker. She wiggled her toes, taking in her handiwork with mild interest. "I got bored," she stated. "This was all I had to color." Riichi had been grateful that the girls had decided to throw away the markers they had ruined her slippers with. It made it much easier to cover up the writing with the splotches she had colored her whole slippers.

Ryouji's expression as he stared down at them looked contemplative. "Riichi, are you," he started, and then seemed to rethink it. "Nevermind," he told her, when she looked up at him quizzically. "Hey, I'll go with you get lunch today, mmkay?"

The girl paused before nodding lightly. Now this was a surprise. Ryouji normally didn't accompany her many places inside the school. She attributed it to his creed of not suffocating a girl by being around her all the time. But even though it was unusual, it wasn't unappreciated. "Let's go then, we'll be back Junpei." She hesitated and then took Ryouji's hand in her own. The boy looked mildly surprised that she had taken the initiative for once, but made no other indication of it.

She barely registered Junpei's rolling eyes and wave as Ryouji pulled her along with him. They reached the door and she slid it open, only to be greeted by Akihiko's surprised face and raised arm, no doubt in order to open the door she had just slid open for him.

"Oh hey," he said. "I was looking for you."

"Really?" she asked, common sense out the window thanks to her remaining shock. "Th-that's nice?"

Akihiko let out a chuckle. "You sound happy," he teased, and reached over to ruffle her hair. Riichi snorted, now having composed herself, and fought him off with her free hand. "I don't have club today, you wanna go out to eat after school?"

"Sorry, Rii-chan's already going out with me."

Riichi focused wide eyes on Ryouji's face. She felt his grip on her hand increase and though he was still wearing his ever-cheery smile, there was an obvious trace of, anger? Was Ryouji jealous? The girl felt a light flush settle over her cheeks before she hurried to try and get rid of it. Blushing like a schoolgirl -though honestly she was a schoolgirl- wasn't going to do much of anything for her right now.

The silver-haired boy cocked an eyebrow. "Is that so?" he asked, looking more amused then the irritation that a situation like this normally brought about. "That's too bad."

Still reeling from the knowledge of Ryouji's potential jealousy (of which made a pleasant lump form in her throat, but this wasn't really the time to be thinking about stuff like that) Riichi felt herself fumbling to disarm any potential blowups that might ensue. "Um, sorry Senpai," she giggled nervously. "Maybe Monday?" She ignored the strangled sound of alarm that erupted from Ryouji's throat, but did give his hand a light squeeze to hopefully reassure him.

Akihiko nodded and turned to leave. "Well, I'll see you back at home then. Be careful alright." He gave her hair one more parting tousle before heading back towards the senior hallway.

Ryouji's grip tightened again before going slack. "Um, I'm sorry about that," he apologized. "It wasn't really my place." He looked like a kicked puppy right then. Downcast expression, refusal to meet her eyes, and shuffling of normally confident feet.

Riichi smiled despite herself. "It's okay," she assured him. "I already promised you right?" His expression lit back up and the girl had to smile wider. "Now let's go. Junpei looks like he's about ready to murder someone." She thrust her thumb over her shoulder, indicating the now thoroughly unappeased boy. Ryouji chuckled, and led her out on their way.

It was probably because of how happy he looked right then, that she was able to ignore the strange looks they were receiving. It was also why she was able to stamp down the feeling of dread that was now settling in her stomach. "Thank you Akihiko," she muttered under her breath, just low enough that Ryouji didn't catch it. She just hoped that this wasn't going to hurt her already damaged position.

oOo

"Riichi-kun, you're looking to be in unusually high spirits today. Did something good happen?"

She looked up from her work to catch Hidetoshi's worried glance. Her smile lessened a bit, and she felt herself looking slightly guilty. "Oh, no I just. Well, yeah?" She was fumbling over her words now. Unsure of whether or not to explain the jolts of excitement coursing through her, or keep it to herself and let them all think she was slowly degrading into lunacy. One really couldn't blame her if she was. What being a member of SEES entailed was enough to drive most people mad.

Both eyebrows raised in concern before he blinked it away and decided to let it go. "Well, carry on then," he told her. "Just don't let it mess up your work. Though I doubt you of all people would make a mistake such as that."

Despite his normal condescending tone, Riichi caught the trust behind his words. She smiled, nodded, and went back to organizing the list of winter break forms in alphabetical order. She noticed, with a note of detached amusement, that all of the members of their dorm had put 'staying at school' for their plans. Even with the loss of a reason to stay, it seemed old habits died particularly hard.

"Arisato-senpai." Her attention was now diverted to their treasurer, and she gave Chihiro a responding smile. "I don't mean to be rude or anything," the girl stuttered, "but do-do you know what's being said about you?"

Riichi's smile took a particularly strained note. No, she didn't know, but she was pretty sure she had a good idea of it. "What are they saying Chihiro-san?" she asked.

The fidgety girl bit her lip and looked particularly alarmed at how restrained Riichi's expression was. "Well, um, my classmates are saying that they think you're getting too cocky," she managed out. "That since Sanada-senpai, and Mochizuki-senpai are both fighting over you now, you're getting really…" she trailed off and became so worried of making the older girl angry that she hid behind her binder. "I'm sorry," the girl squeaked. "I just, wanted to warn you! I don't think like them or anything, I swear!"

The junior smiled softly and reached up to gently pat the top of the girl's head. "It's okay," she assured. "I believe you."

Chihiro sniffed, and peeked anxiously over the top of the blue binder. "I-well…Just be careful Aristao-senpai," she whispered tearfully. "They've been talking about scary things like getting the seniors to intervene and, I don't want you to get hurt or anything."

Hidetoshi looked particularly perturbed by this whole exchange. "Give me names," he ordered, making both girls jump. "If there have been any threats implied then it is the duty of the disciplinary committee to make sure this is taken care of." The boy set down his work and fished out a small notebook and a pencil in order to take notes.

Chihiro shook like a leaf. "But-but you can't do anything unless they really try something can you?" she asked, genuinely unsure of whether or not this was a good idea.

"Both of you settle down." The whole room was silenced by Misturu's soft -but still quite commanding- tone. "There can be nothing done if it's merely talk," she said, putting any thoughts of disciplinary action to sleep. "But Arisato," the girl snapped to attention with the utterance of her name. "I do second Fushimi's concerns. You've been a particularly hot topic among the girls recently. Though I don't have a say in who you hang out with-" Was that distaste in her voice? Did everyone think Ryouji was such a horrible influence? "-you might want to watch yourself for a while. We can't have this situation affecting club activities, you understand?"

Unlike Hidetoshi's actions earlier, Misturu never once looked up from her work. Riichi found her expression falling into badly feigned gratitude. "Thanks," she said. "I'll be sure to do that." With a sigh and an attempt to ignore the several curious and concerned looks her fellow council members were now giving her, Riichi attempted to get back to her work.

She found herself heaving a large sigh when the door slid open and a rather disgruntled voice called out, "Arisato, Riichi. You're wanted."

"By who?" the girl snapped. After this action, and the now even more surprised looks she was receiving, the girl found herself flushing. "Um, what for?" she asked, adopting a softer, more polite tone in her embarrassment.

The boy at the door shrugged. "Dunno," he admitted, making her face fall further. "Just was told that you're urgently needed on the roof. Something about a teacher's worries, didn't really pay enough attention to get the whole thing." He shrugged again and was gone. Apparently that was all he felt he needed to consider his duty done.

She was floored by the boy's general indifference, but decided to go with it anyway. Riichi shot a glance towards Mitsuru, who sighed -without ever looking up from her papers- before waving an elegant hand. "You're excused for today," she granted. Riichi nodded and stood up to leave. "Just remember what I said." This time the redheaded woman did look up, only to give a pointed look at her. Just like Mitsuru to make sure one knew of their more pressing duties.

"Thanks again, I'm leaving first." With a bow, a prayer that her Senpai wouldn't send her warning looks all night when they were both home, and a sharp turn on her heel, Riichi exited the room and made her way up the stairs.

oOo

Well she should have seen this coming ten miles away.

The girl had done as she had been told and had made her way up the stairs and into, what she had presumed to be, the safety of the rooftop. As soon as she had taken two steps away from the door, she had been roughly grabbed by both arms, yanked foreword, and she had heard the door slam behind her. (For a moment she was under the impression that they had locked it as well, but then she remembered that one required a key to lock that particular door, and the only one who had said key was the night janitor who locked up everything in the wee hours of the night before returning home.) After being lead halfway across the roof and thrown foreword, it didn't take long for Riichi to come to the conclusion that she had been tricked. Instead of being angry with them for doing it, she had found herself exhausted and irritated with herself for letting it happen in the first place. Really, she needed to learn to keep her guard up outside of Tartarus as well. (Now that she thought about it, it was pretty suspicious for a teacher to want to see her on the roof of all places.)

"I suppose you know why you're here."

Riichi looked up into the bleached blonde hair and heavily made-up face of the girl who had addressed her. Ah, she was part of Akihiko's fan club wasn't she? Riichi recognized her as one of the ones who always hovered around the boy. So did that mean she was defecting to Ryouji now? But they were like, complete opposites of each other. How did one change preferences that drastically? Maybe this was simply the famed infatuation that she knew most girls went through. Riichi recalled she had once had her brush with it as well. Though she wasn't sure if comparing this kind of situation to an obsession with rocky road ice cream was really possible.

The brunette lapsed into her thoughts. Mind running circles in her self-imposed confusion. In her quiet state and refusal to answer, the surrounding group of girls all seemed to take this as repentance. "I'm glad you understand," the girl, who Riichi was now pinning as the leader, sniffed. "If you would have had enough foresight yesterday to read that last warning letter, we would have been disposed to possibly forgive you. But as it stands, your antics have left us no choice."

It was a surprisingly intelligent sounding speech for someone who looked like they spent a total of 14 out of their 17 hour day awake on their make-up alone. But unfortunately, Riichi had only caught the tail end of it, and what she had caught had made absolutely no sense. "Forgive?" she repeated dumbly. "Wait, I thought you guys brought me here so we could tell each other off. I wasn't planning on being forgiven."

It was all blondie could do to gape in amazement at her. Still failing to understand what had just conspired, Riichi stared back up at her in confusion and general skepticism. It was finally the black-haired girl standing next to blondie -who was by now quickly losing her position as leader in Riichi's eyes- who spoke up. "We're not forgiving you, you stupid loser!" and Riichi couldn't help but start a little in surprise at this, "She just said that you're outta luck, got it? Honestly do you listen when people talk to you? That's why you're in this mess in the first place you little tramp!"

Ah, now this had been what she was expecting. A shouting match with a bunch of normally giggly girls. It was kind of anti-climactic how they were doing this though. Honestly the amount of authority they were exhibiting resembled one of those chick-flicks about some weird unpopular girl who's bullied by the really popular chicks. Now all she needed was the most popular boy to bust through the doorway and declare his undying love for her and the whole cheesy story would be complete. Riichi took a moment to think that over and then decided that the whole plot of those movies were clichéd and unrealistic for a reason. Who was stupid enough to barge into one of these kinds of meetings? Not only would that be social suicide for yourself, but it never actually helped the other person in reality. Perhaps she had too much free time in recent days, she was beginning to take Yukari up on watching way too many movies.

"Do you understand now?" Riichi was shaken out of her thoughts and brought once more to the event at hand. Oh she understood, she just wasn't sure how to go about saying it. "You're going to have to speak up," she continued to snarl.

"Yeah, you're not the 'new girl' anymore. You should know the rules by now!" Another one decided to join the fray. Riichi twisted to look at her, and was surprised to note how good her dictation was with that sucker lodged in the back of her throat.

The brunette sucked in a breath and readied herself. "May I ask something?" she inquired. The girls all glowered at her as if that was a stupid question all in itself. Deciding it didn't really matter, Riichi continued. "Was this something that needed to be said in a whole group? Or do all of you have something in particular that you need to address?" She was surprising herself with her confidence. Or in this situation it was probably considered stupidity. Riichi wasn't exactly sure where that dread from a few days ago had gone; maybe it had just built up enough that she was sick and tired of the whole thing. She was notorious for making stupid decisions after feeling cornered for so long.

Most, if not all, of the girls bristled viciously. "How dare you!" she heard one scream behind her.

"You've got a lot of nerve!" another one snarled.

This erupted a general screaming fest, and Riichi felt her head throb. Almost all of them were shouting now, and though she could only hear bits and pieces of anything, the bits she heard were pretty nasty. Girls were certainly ruthless nowadays.

"Girls silence!" As if on cue, every single one of them went quiet. Riichi peered around her before settling her gaze on the quad of girls directly in front of her. Oh, blondie had grown a spine now. "Arisato," and the way she spit her name made Riichi crinkle her nose in distaste, "we had collectively decided that we need to make sure you get your filthy claws out of both Akihiko-san, and Ryouji-kun."

Well now they were finally getting somewhere. Riichi nodded her head and found herself clasping her hands behind her back. "Well, no offense or anything," good lord she was going to get herself maimed, "but I'm going to need to correct you ladies. I really never had a hold of anyone, especially Akihiko-senpai." She chose to tactfully avoid saying anything about Ryouji, especially since she had already made her point painfully clear yesterday. Hopefully they would conveniently forget that fact. "And on a second note, my claws aren't filthy.

The girls reeled back to say something else, when there was a clattering of steps from the stairwell, and every one of them paused. A collective silence formed around the group, and for once they seemed to be on the same wavelength as Riichi. Every occupant on the roof wanted to figure out who was stupid enough to intrude upon their "meeting".

Though it was soft, there was an unmistakable pair of whisperers.

"Junpei-kun you go out there,"

"Why do I have to go! You're the reason she's in this jam in the first place. Just save her like in one of those chick-flicks they watch."

"…You don't really think it actually happens like that do you?"

"You mean it doesn't? Wai-never mind that! Just go get her!"

"I want to, but if I go out there things aren't going to get better. I don't want her to be troubled any more, especially because of me."

"Dude you're so totally whipped."

"Th-that's not true! Riichi is, she is… she's very precious to me."

"Woah, you're really serious about her aren't you…"

"Anyway just go help her. You're a man right?"

"They'll eat me alive if I go out there! I'm not suicidal!"

"Will you two idiots move,"

"Yukar-hey! What the hell was that for!"

The door swung open forcefully, seeming to fly on it's hinges. The handle smashed viciously on the concrete as the door swung too far and it ricocheted slightly off the wall, whining in protest of any further damage to itself. Yukari emerged from the stairwell. Her expression managed to look flat and seriously pissed off all at once.

"Riichi," she snapped, making both the girl in question and the group opposite her jump at once. "Ms. Toriumi wants to talk to you about that paper you turned in yesterday." It was an innocent enough attempt to get her out of this jam, but Yukari looked far too menacing to be obeyed that easily. In fact, Riichi felt almost more safe with the group that had probably intended to maul her.

"Th-thanks?" she stammered, unsure whether to really be thankful at all.

Yukari took no heed of her hesitance and jabbed a thumb forcefully behind her. "Now," she ordered snappishly. Riichi had no choice but to scurry after her, afraid that if she made the girl wait any longer she really would be in danger. She scooted past the girl and into the safety of the stairwell. Yukari followed and shut the door tightly behind them, and Riichi swore she head a muttered, "Wish I could lock those stupid girls up there."

"Um," Riichi paused at the head of the stairs and turned to focus her gaze back on the other girl. "Really, thanks," she said, flushing lightly. "I really appreciate it."

Yukari paused herself, expression showing that she hadn't expected the girl to react this way. After a moment she gave a soft smile and nodded lightly. "Really, it's no problem. Us girls have to look out for each other right?" With that said she patted the shorter girl twice on the cheek and walked downstairs. "Let's go," she said, regaining her strict tone. "If we stay up here too long we'll run into those airheads again."

Riichi nodded and padded softly down the stairs after the girl. They didn't stop until they had reached the senior hallway. The girl looked up to see the worried figures of the two boys they had heard earlier. "Let's go," Yukari ordered, grabbing Junpei's upper arm and tugging him down the other staircase.

The boy protested quite loudly. "Waitaminute! Why do I have to go with you? Let me go already!" His struggles were silenced at once by Yukari's menacing glare.

"You know very well why you have to," she snarled, shooting a pointed look at the other two. Her grip on the boy's arm visibly increased and she mercilessly tugged him down the stairs and out of sight.

This left Ryouji and Riichi to exchange glances before lapsing into an awkward silence. The two fidgeted, looking anywhere possible except at each other. Finally Ryouji cleared his throat and spoke up. "I'm glad you're okay," he told the girl. "I'm sorry I wasn't able to do anything, I was, well…" He found himself unable to continue, and trailed off nervously.

Riichi gave a stiff nod. "It's okay," she assured the boy. "I understand, really. If you had gone out there it would have made things worse." He gave a soft grunt to show his understanding. They once more fell silent.

It was almost nauseating how completely awkward this was now. For someone she had been so comfortable, so radiant around, it was almost unbelievable to think that they would have no idea what to say now. Then again, maybe it was because being together was so easy that they were so afraid to do something wrong lest they mess up whatever it was that bound them together.

She swallowed the lump in her throat and decided that she needed to make this right. "Ryouji," the girl whispered.

"Yes?" He surprised her by how quick he answered. It was as if he had been waiting to see her reaction; to make sure she was still alright with him.

Riichi found herself biting her lip. "Um," she began, and then lost her nerve. "Maybe we should go somewhere else, they'll be down soon and I'm sure it won't make them any happier to see us right here."

Ryouji gave a light 'oh' before he nodded. The boy started for the stairs, stopped, and then glanced back at her nervously. Slowly, hesitantly, he reached back and gently took her hand in his. Riichi gave a start in surprise, to which he responded by hurriedly attempting to pull away. The girl halted all his efforts by squeezing his hand and even hastening to place her other on the back of his. He looked down, taking in her small hands enveloping his. Riichi watched the boy give a soft smile before gently leading her down the staircase.

They didn't stop until they were outside and well away from the gates.

Ryouji slowed to a stop in front of a rather rundown office building. Riichi stopped just behind him, and for a moment she thought he was going to lead her into it. In this moment she also found herself wondering since when had Ryouji found this kind of stuff romantic. Instead of whisking her off into the dark abyss of the abandoned interior, he turned around and focused a rather serious expression on her. She found herself shocked speechless by how determined he was.

"I want to apologize for having put you through all this." She found herself nodding her head in confusion. By the way he started this, she could already tell she wasn't going to like where it went. "I should have noticed sooner that what you were going through was because of me. I, I don't want to put you through any more pain," as he said this he bit his lip and it was almost obvious that he was trying hard to keep up a strong front. "So from now on, I'll refrain from being near you."

Riichi couldn't believe her ears. She found herself unable to speak, to even blink. After a moment she found herself able to open her mouth, but the girl was still unable to form anything coherent, which she supposed was alright because she didn't have the air to say it. Ryouji looked concerned, but it was probably simply because she looked as if she had something stuck in her windpipe.

When she was finally able to speak, her voice came out far more shrilly then she had intended. "The hell you are!" she hissed girlishly.

"Pardon?" was his squeaked reply.

Her grip on his hand increased, so much so that he winced in discomfort. She didn't really care at that moment. "You, after I've gone through all of that you think you're just going to leave me?" Riichi knew she was being selfish and irrational. She understood that he was only doing this because he didn't want her to get hurt anymore. But she didn't want him to leave. He had wormed his way into her life so easily, so effortlessly, and in the nostalgia he brought her he had made it so she didn't know what to do without him. He was the first thing she looked for in the morning; the first person she thought of when she woke up; the only one who made her feel so completely at ease. It was as if they had been together forever, and she didn't want to let that go.

"If you leave me," she finally ground out, "I'll never forgive you. I'll never talk to you again." Despite the fact that she was trying to be menacing, she felt angry tears well up in her eyes and the girl had to lower her head in order to hide them. Her efforts were in vain because Ryouji saw them at once.

She didn't see his pained expression, nor was she witness to how lost he looked. But she did feel his hand slip from hers, and his arms encircle her to pull her against his chest. Riichi gave no resistance as she buried her face into the front of his shirt. Shaky hands griped his suspenders in an effort to keep him here. As if she was afraid that he would slip through her fingers without a second thought.

"I'm sorry," he whispered into the crown of her head. "Don't cry, I'm sorry." His attempts at soothing her only made her want to cry harder. Ryouji seemed to sense this, because he lowered his head to whisper against her jawbone. "I'm here, I'll always be here," he assured her. "Only for you, my dearest."

She was so caught up in trying not to quiver that she missed the tail end of his declaration. (Had she heard it, she might have put the pieces together much sooner.) She did though, understand what he was promising her. Riichi pressed her face against his chest, and gave his suspenders a weak shake. "You better," she ordered, in a rather trembling voice. "You promised."

He couldn't help but smile. "I promised," he echoed.

oOo

Ryouji had walked her back to the dorm, and upon once more promising he would greet her tomorrow, he left.

Riichi had entered the dorm with mixed feelings of content and unease. She knew he wouldn't purposely betray his promise, but she couldn't be sure he wouldn't still try to keep his distance. The girl had noticed recently that everything he did for her was in order to either keep him by her side, or keep her from being hurt. She had no doubt that in order to keep true to the latter ideal, he would forsake the former.

"So can I take it you two are official now?"

Riichi was jolted from any and all thoughts by the proclamation. Her head whipped up to focus on the figure of Yukari. The girl leaned against the arm of the lobby chair, arms crossed arrogantly over her chest. "Does this mean I can stop worrying about you two tiptoeing around each other like we're in middle school?"

The smaller girl bristled. "Well sorry," she sniffed. "I didn't know our affairs were so troublesome to you."Yukari surprised her by responding with a grin. "There's the girl I know," she giggled. "I was getting worried about you." She picked herself up and walked over to place both hands on Riichi's shoulders. "I know I said I didn't really approve, but I'm glad this worked out for you. You look far happier when you're with him then I've ever seen you. I think I'd have to throttle you if you kept up this ignorance any longer than you did."

Riichi flushed lightly. "Was- was it that obvious?" she wondered aloud.

Yukari merely laughed again. "Honestly, I've seen it for weeks. It's probably because you're such an airhead with this stuff that you didn't notice it yourself." Riichi nodded lightly, unsure of what else she was supposed to do in this situation. Because of her confusion, she almost missed the catlike grin that spread across her friend's face.

"Now," Yukari purred. "We're going to go to my room, and have a nice, long girl-talk. And you're going to tell me everything." Riichi found herself once more nodding, though this time she was unsure if she did it out of friendship, or out of fear of what the other girl would do to her had she refused.

oOo

It was half a day. There was only so much someone could have happen to them in half a day. There just wasn't enough time allotted during half days to attempt and mutilate a person. But even though she kept telling herself this, Riichi couldn't help but continue to replay the previous afternoon's encounter over in her head, and thus replay how idiotic she had been, and this was enough to make her queasy. There was no telling what they would try and do after that, and while normally this wasn't a concern for her, she had seen firsthand how many of them there were yesterday. And this wasn't accounting those who probably were unable to come to their meeting.

No matter how proficient she was in killing shadows, they had strength in numbers and she couldn't very well handle this like she did fighting demons in a fantasy tower that wasn't supposed to exist. It just wasn't possible, or probable, for her to start chopping down teenage girls with her naginata. Several harsh consequences would be implemented had she tried.

Riichi bit her lip, sucked in a (not quite) reassuring breath, and tried to detach herself from the floor of the station. Alas, it was apparently becoming an almost impossible feat, as her feet refused to pick themselves up. The attendant gave her a rather strange look as people parted around her in order to bypass the straight standing little girl who didn't seem like she wanted any part in moving. The girl flashed a nervous smile at the older man, before forcing herself to shuffle foreword. It was quite a painstaking process and by the time she had finally managed to successfully maneuver herself onto the train, she was pretty worn out. This was all subject to change though when she was greeted by a smile that reminded her very much of the sun.

"Good morning Rii-chan," Ryouji chirped. He had always been a morning person, she reminded herself. "You're looking adorable today as well." She thanked him, managed out a half-cheery greeting, and went about marveling at how this was the happiest she had seen in him a while. His smile -if it was even possible- brightened and he leaned down to where their noses were almost brushing against each other. "If you would like, might it be possible for us to go look around the town some more after school? I still haven't been able to see everything yet. Just the two of us?"

The girl felt a flush rise to her cheeks. More so when she felt him grasp the overhead ring she was holding, an act that involved him enveloping her hand with his. Apparently -though they hadn't really had any to begin with- any and all personal space barriers were no longer in effect. This was enough to put her at some amount of ease. If he was acting like this then that meant he really was honoring his promise. She wouldn't have to worry about Ryouji flaking out on her anymore. Not that the boy was notorious for doing anything 'flaky'.

"I would like that," she finally responded, giving him a rather excited grin. Yes, she would like that very much. So would Yukari, she found herself thinking, when this was relayed to the girl, who had proven yesterday night to be very interested in the love life, or previous lack thereof, of her best friend.

Ryouji looked slightly startled, as if he hadn't been expecting this, before grinning like a little boy on Christmas. She had been right, he really was more adorable then everyone gave him credit for. His expression contorted to one of thought, and she watched as he briefly looked torn between something. Finally he seemed to have found his resolve and he gazed back at her. "Um, Rii-chan?" he asked.

Riichi lifted her gaze a bit higher and gave him a cheery smile to show she was listening. Ryouji didn't say anything, but he leaned foreword, and it wasn't until he was mere inches away from her, and still closing in, that she had been able to get any notion of what he was doing. She flushed, bit her lip, and then readied herself, all in a matter of seconds. And then the train jolted to a stop, and Ryouji was sent off-balance to reel backwards before flying foreword to painfully crack his teeth against her shoulder.

They had both exited the train worse-for-wear, and now the general cause of amusement for the business men who had grown to enjoy the apparent drama they had been unknowingly starring in.

The general awkwardness that the situation had prompted had dissolved by the time they had reached the school, and the both had them had begun joking about the absurdness of it. This lasted until Riichi felt the first stabs of eyes boring holes into her back. Her face fell, and for a moment all she could think of was how the hell she was going to deal with this for the rest of the year. Possibly the rest of her school career. She felt Ryouji squeeze her hand, and Riichi looked up into his smiling face. She couldn't help but smile back.

Yes, that was right. As long as he didn't leave her, she would be okay with anything. Stupid snotty girls couldn't get to her anyway if they tried. (She purposefully neglected to remember the fact that they almost had, and that it was a pretty done deal that if she was going to keep associating with Ryouji and Akihiko -even just as friends in the senior's case- they would certainly try again.) That's why she ignored them at the lockers, when he escorted her through the halls, and when they finally entered the classroom. They unlaced their fingers and sat down in their respected seats, and she still continued to ignore the stares. Even the one from Junpei, who looked lost between finding this completely amusing, and the most awkward thing he had ever seen.

(Yukari on the other hand, looked quite smug from her seat. Riichi also noted that while none of the girls were looking particularly nasty towards her, that every one of them were eyeing her warily. It occurred to the girl that her actions last night hadn't actually murdered Yukari's reputation like a stunt like that normally would, but had succeeded in making them all terrified of her. Riichi could understand their feelings. Yukari was a particularly frightening person to try and cross.)

And then it happened. She knew it would, just hadn't really thought it would be this quick. One of the girls in the rows behind her stood up, marched up the row (giving her quite a nasty look as she did so -one Riichi found completely unwarranted) and positioned herself next to Ryouji. "Ryouji-san," she called sweetly, and the boy smiled back up at her. "I was wondering if you would like to go out after school today?"

His smiled turned apologetic and her shook his head. "I'm sorry Mimi-chan," he chirped. "I already have plans for today." She looked crestfallen, and Riichi was surprised to note that Ryouji failed to do what he normally did by telling them he was free on another day. "Actually." Ah, here it was. "I'm going to have to decline all future invitations. You see, I belong completely to Rii-chan now, and it would be quite ungentlemanly of me to allow you ladies to get your hopes up."

The girl went pale; Riichi went pale; the class went silent.

He did not just do that!

As Ryouji turned and cheerfully waved back at her, her garbled mind came to the conclusion that he had, in fact, either signed her a death warrant, or had managed to protect her as long as he was still 'Prince Charming' to the other girls. (Because who would really want to destroy their prince's happiness? Movies really didn't give that feeling justice.) But whatever he had just done, it was enough to make her feel like she was losing whatever was left of her sanity.

Riichi placed her face in her palms and held back a moan of embarrassed dread. She loved this boy, she really, truly did. But oh lord Ryouji was going to be the death of her.