"Come on, Dan, you and me can do this," Ryou said to the younger boy, trying to reassure him. It was difficult to have been called out to help people who weren't even there, who had never been there in the first place, especially when your home was attacked while you were away. They needed to get back to Tokyo, fast– five Strangers could tip the balance in their favor, few though they might seem. Ryou and Dan had to teleport all five of them to Tokyo from Hokkaido.

"W-We can do this, desu," Dan said, eyes determined though fear shone through. "For Tokyo, desu."

Ryou smiled and ruffled Dan's hair. "Right, then, kid. Let's get to it."

"You guys ready?" Oishi asked, extending his hand to Ryou as Echizen did the same to Dan. Ryou and Dan completed the circle of Strangers, and immediately Ryou could feel energy pouring into him, rejuvenating him. He let his mind focus on the Courtyard, all the way in Tokyo, and waited for Dan to do the same before disappearing in a shower of silvery sparkles.

The first thing Ryou saw through a mist of sparkles was a green ray of disintegration heading straight for his Choutarou. He stumbled towards his boyfriend in a hazy panic –he really wasn't in any shape to fight, but Choutarou...!– before remembering his powers and teleporting to where the rest of Hyoutei House was.

Everything happened so fast; Ryou first registered the fatigue, then his vision started blurring, then he heard a shout and saw a silver beast coming towards him. Ryou wanted to smile because Choutarou was alive, but then his mind registered a green ray heading right for him– and then he lost consciousness.

When Ryou woke up, it was to Jirou's shocked face and Choutarou's tear-streaked, worried one.

"What happened?" he asked with a groan as he sat up.

"Y-You were d-dead," whispered Choutarou, a hand pressed to his mouth as he attempted to choke back a sob. "B-But you're alive!" Without warning, Choutarou flung his arms around Ryou's neck and hugged him close.

Ryou raised his eyebrows at Jirou over Choutarou's shoulder. "I was dead?" he repeated, incredulous.

Jirou looked relieved, but grim. "You were never dead, Ryou," he said seriously. Too seriously for Jirou. "You simply passed out due to fatigue. Overuse of power."

Ryou frowned. "But I got hit by the death ray thing, didn't I?" he asked, remembering the green ray.

"Y-You did. Clearly. There was no way it could have missed," Jirou replied. "That's what's baffling me."

Ryou looked around to see that Hyoutei House, male and female, had formed a ring around the three of them, protecting them from all harm. Just like musk oxen.

"I have a theory," Oshitari said slowly, glancing back at them, like he'd had an epiphany. "Maybe... Maybe the genetic makeup of Strangers is different enough from that of humans that we aren't affected by the ray."

"W-What?" Taki squeaked, eyes wide.

"Oshitari's right," said Hiyoshi. "It makes sense. The ray hones in on human DNA to destroy it utterly without harming anything else, right?"

"Usu," confirmed Kabaji.

"And we're obviously not human," supplied Gakuto, and Ryou knew that a small smile was growing on his face.

"Too risky a theory," Atobe argued. "No way to prove it without putting lives in danger."

"Aren't I enough proof?" Ryou argued back. "I got hit right in the chest with that death ray and I'm still alive."

"Could have been a fluke," Atobe snapped.

Oshitari sighed, his tail swishing. "Then I guess there's only one thing to do."

Oshitari stepped out of the ring of Hyouteians and stepped right into a bright green ray. "Yuushi, what are you doing?" Gakuto demanded, but Oshitari ignored him. His hands were slipped casually into his pockets and at least a dozen green rays hit him all over– yet he didn't vaporise or disintegrate. Oshitari simply turned back to his friends and grinned smugly. "What did I tell you?" he called to Atobe triumphantly. "They can't hurt us!"

Their weapons don't work on us, Ryou thought, shocked. Then a smile grew on his face. They can't hurt us!

Keigo's usual self-satisfied smirk found its way onto his face. "Shishido, run and tell the others about this. Ohtori, go with him," he added like an afterthought. Shishido saluted and vanished in a burst of sparkles, taking Ohtori (still clinging to him) with him.

"Oshitari, Jirou, create an illusion, distract them. It doesn't matter where they fire their death rays now. Taki, arm Hiyoshi and yourself with bows and pick them off from afar. Their rays don't work but they might have other weapons that will. Kabaji–"

Kabaji was already holding what seemed to be a large missile launcher.

Keigo smiled, and he could hear the female Hyoutei House leader giving her girls their own briefing. They were going to win. They were going to win!

"FOR HYOUTEI!" he shouted, and the resounding cries echoed in the tunnels.

Word spread to each House about the weapons' fatal flaw, and a new wave of courage swept over the Strangers.

"The death rays can't hurt the civilians, Tezuka!" Takeshi said, eyes wide with excitement. "So can we stop being goddamn bodyguards and fight?"

"They still have other weapons," Inui pointed out, adjusting his glasses. "This was supposed to be a test run. They'll still have backups in case the ray guns didn't work."

"Rightfully so, since the rays didn't work," Kawamura added.

"But they'd already tested their rays in Hokkaido," Oishi argued. "The extra weapons would only weigh them down."

"That's true. There wasn't a single Stranger in Hokkaido, there never has been," Echizen confirmed. "The Americans would have had no way of knowing that their rays don't work on Strangers."

"Too risky," Tezuka persisted. "No."

Takeshi let out a shout of frustration. "Fine! If you're going to just sit around and do nothing, you're welcome to do just that! I am going to fight, damn it!" Takeshi pushed the urge to say anything else, anything more scathing down, instead choosing to turn on his heel and storm away towards Fudomine's tunnel.

He'd barely taken three steps before someone stepped forward to join him.

"K-Kaidoh!" Takeshi exclaimed, blinking in surprise.

"This doesn't make us friends," Kaidoh growled, and Takeshi swore he could see a tinge of pink on his face.

"Of course not," Takeshi agreed because he didn't want to fight with his only ally.

Kunimitsu watched them walk away with the urge to huff in annoyance. "Kikumaru, Kawamura, go with them," he ordered, nodding at the two retreating figures. "Make sure they don' get killed."

Kawamura nodded bravely, like a man taking on a serious mission; but Kikumaru's eyes lit up, and Kunimitsu just knew he'd been dying to go after the two boys. "We'll be good and take care of them, nya!" he promised, grinning and pressing a kiss to Oishi's cheek before shifting into a furry pink leopard and bounding after Momoshiro and Kaidoh.

"A-Ah, how am I going to catch up to them now?"

Syuusuke tapped Kawamura's shoulder. "Here, Taka-san," he said, handing Kawamura a large club.

"Ah, thank you, Fu– MOERUZE, BURNING! I WILL NOT LOSE TO A MERE LEOPARD! KORA-KORA-KORA-KORAAA!" Kawamura dashed off, catching up to the others and overtaking them easily.

"Taka-san, be careful!" Oishi yelled after him, worried as always. "I hope they'll be alright... Maybe I should go with them...?"

"They'll be fine," Inui reassured him. "Tezuka left you here because we may need a Healer if the Americans get through."

"And you two are already tired enough," Syuusuke added. "No need for you and Echizen to wear yourselves out entirely."

Kunimitsu refrained from voicing his rather rude opinion of the two reading his thoughts, but it was a near thing.

"Ah, Mitsu's sulking again."

"Hush, Syuusuke."

Rikkai House had been doing well even before the news of their immunity to the rays came by. They were ruthless, showing no mercy whatsoever as was their way. 'Mura was unleashing a dozen different attacks every second, and Sanada was lethal with his sword.

Of course, Akaya was doing really well himself, eyes red and claws stained with blood. It seemed too good to be true, really.

Then there was an ear-piercing screech of pain and Akaya whirled about in panic.

Yagyuu had been pierced in the chest with a dagger.

"Yagyuu!" shouted 'Mura over the racket, fighting to get to his side. "YAGYUU!"

Niou was already at his side, silver rattail streaked with blood. He cradled his lover in his arms gently, holding him tight and whispering reassurances. Yagyuu's form flickered, then faded away to reveal Niou.

"N-Niou?" Jackal exclaimed, doing his best to keep the enemies at bay. Akaya's eyes slid over to who he now knew was Yagyuu dressed as Niou, and couldn't believe Yagyuu's shaking shoulders as he cried.

Yagyuu, perfect gentleman, always strong and aloof... crying.

"Hang on, Masaharu, hang on," he was whispering, but Niou couldn't seem to hear him. His eyes were glassy, unnervingly so, and even when Yukimura knelt next to him and held a glowing green hand over the wound, Niou didn't seem to respond.

"It's not working," Niou stated weakly, coughing up blood. "I know... I'm going to die."

"No, you're not," Yagyuu told him firmly, but it sounded like he was trying to convince himself more than Niou. "You'll live. You'll live and do stupid things and make us laugh and- and–" His words tapered off into sobs.

"Shh," Niou soothed his lover, smiling weakly. "We... We had a good run, didn't we, with Rikkai House?"

"Yeah, we did," Yukimura replied lowly, grimly.

"Thanks, Yukimura-buchou, for... for everything," Niou said, eyes slowly closing. "Hiroshi... I love you."

"I love you too," Yagyuu whispered.

"D-Don't forget... that I owe... Bunta..."

And then, just like that, with an incomplete sentence, Niou slipped away, never to speak again.

Akaya would never hear him laugh again. Would never again help him play pranks on Sanada, never again get to punch him for being an asshole.

Something inside him broke, and Akaya let out a roar of anguish as his body suddenly started changing, his skin turning black and his bones shifting into the form of a heavier, more dangerous being.

Akaya didn't –couldn't– register of any of that. All he could think of was Niou's smile, Niou's laugh, even Niou's stupid smug smirk that irritated everyone.

That used to irritate everyone. Niou was dead.

Akaya roared again, this time as a warning.

Those bastards will pay for what they have done!

DISCLAIMER: Don't own Prince of Tennis, blah blah blah blah blahhh...


I promise I will.

(And I'm sorry for killing Niou -hides-)

Stars of Gold