Authorly preamble or something: The characters of ROOKIES play mahjong intermittently throughout the first couple of volumes, and I wouldn't be me if I didn't make use of that. All cracks about Hiratsuka's play style are at my own expense, since it's based on how I play (including the closed-wait-furi-ten streak, ugh). I tried to make sure mahjong terms were either easy to understand or not necessary to understanding the action, but I don't have a lot of experience in that area so I am very open to suggestions. :)

Beginner's Luck

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Mikoshiba asks, tone hesitantly doubtful as he takes his place at the table. "We have a practice game tomorrow, don't forget."

"Don't worry!" Hiratsuka shoots back, punching him lightly on the shoulder. "No use in practicing too hard, right? We'll just tire ourselves out."

"Mahjong's good for your brain," Okada adds when Mikoshiba continues to look unconvinced. "Think of it as strategy practice. You have to see the potential in any situation." He smiles when Mikoshiba looks a little less uncertain.

"That is so much bullshit," Imaoka laughs dryly. "You just want someone new to rob blind."

"Now that is bullshit," Okada shoots back. "Okada Mahjong 101 — no betting money on teaching games. Nobody's forcing you to play, you know."

"You need a fourth and everybody else went home, so it's either me or Aniya," Imaoka points out, his chair scraping into place as he casts a dark glance toward the corner of the clubhouse.

"Don't even," Aniya shoots back from the couch, his back to them and his nose in a magazine. "I've got better things to do than shuffle tiles like some Chinese granny."

"Yeah, yeah, we know." Okada rolls his eyes, lowing his voice to inform Mikoshiba, "Aniya's not allowed to play mahjong anymore."

Mikoshiba's eyes widen. "Why not?"

"Let's put it this way — the only thing he's worse at than playing mahjong is losing at mahjong." Okada smiles, thumbing a tile. "He once suckerpunched Sekikawa for calling kan on his discard."

Imaoka nods seriously. "Called him a cheating prick and flipped the table," he adds.

"Nah, that was when Yufune ron'd on his discard," Hiratsuka corrects. "Some cheap-ass hand, I think."

"Not that Aniya's was shaping up for anything," Okada concludes, leaning to take a look at Mikoshiba's starting tiles. "Okay, not great, but not bad either. Couple of pairs, I'd say you're in good shape for chi-toi — you know what that is, right? 'Kay, break up any triples, try to complete some more pairs, go with your gut."

"Go with my gut," Mikoshiba repeats, rubbing his leftmost chun nervously. "Got it. I think."

"Sure he should be ditching triples? No guts, no glory," Imaoka says, and pons on Hiratsuka's next discard.

"Big words." Okada emphasizes his words with a clean clack as he snaps down a 2pin into his discards. "Say it when you break your losing streak. You can't even see his hand anyway."

Hiratsuka calls riichi on his next turn and takes three more turns to call on Mikoshiba's discard. "Yakuhai," he announces proudly. "Lucky!"

"Ain't nothing lucky about a petty hand like that," Okada shoots back sourly, then checks Mikoshiba's tiles again. "All right, not bad at all. Looks like you might have a knack for this."

"He lost to Hiratsuka and you think he has a knack for it?" Aniya yells, laughing. "Are you lying or just stupid?"

"Least he knows how to put a hand together," Imaoka says under his breath, frowning as he sorts his new tiles.

"I think we're all a little stupid," Okada muses, "don't think I've ever claimed otherwise."

"We should set up a game with Shinjo and Toko-chan," Hiratsuka suggests suddenly, grinning. "Have them play Aninya. Bet that would keep his bitchfits in check."

Okada chuckles. "That might actually work, you know!"

"The hell!" Aniya shouts. "Leave the schoolgirl out of it — mahjong's a man's game!" To emphasize his point he sends his magazine flying; it hits the table, sending several tiles from Imaoka's hand clattering over, and lands with its pages open to reveal a splay-legged woman in very little clothing. Hiratsuka reaches for it immediately but Okada snatches it up and tosses it on the floor before Mikoshiba can turn an even more alarming shade of red.

"I thought you said mahjong was for Chinese grannies," Imaoka remarks, unperturbed, and gathers his tipped tiles. He tosses one into his discards with an irritated little 'tch'.

"It's just as well," Okada muses. "I wouldn't be all that surprised if Shinjo turned out to be some kind of mahjong genius, like a Fukumoto manga lead or something."

"The delinquent who descended into darkness," Imaoka agrees, nodding.

"Team manager on the path to tenhou?" Hiratsuka suggests. "Toko-chan can call on my discards any day, if you know what I mean."

Okada rolls his eyes. "I totally forgot to check out your hand," he says to Mikoshiba, who's still looking a little pink. "How's it looking?"

Mikoshiba bites his lip uncertainly. "It started off not-so-good, but now it's kind of... not much better, actually."

"This is supposed to be a teaching game?" Imaoka remarks sceptically.

"Gimme a break." Okada draws a tile and adds, "Let's end this, get you some better tiles. Tsumo. Haitei yakuhai, 3 dora."

Hiratsuka frowns. "What was that about cheap hands?"

"Whatever, Yakuhai-kun. That's 5 han."

"I think I would kill for a cheap hand right about now," Imaoka grumbles.

"Bad attitudes lengthen losing streaks," Okada warns. "No manslaughter unless you can find a replacement who can play baseball and mahjong. If we have to bring Aniya back in, I will make you suffer."

"Fair enough. Hey, remember last month when Hiratsuka kept calling riichi on closed waits in furiten?" Imaoka asks, smiling slightly. "At least once a game for like two weeks?"

"What about it?" Hiratsuka grunts, frowning pointedly at his new tiles.

"Oh, nothing," Imaoka dismisses quickly, "just thought mentioning it might make me feel a bit better about my damn losing streak."

"Did it work?" Mikoshiba asks, taking his time in sorting his hand before neatly discarding his first tile.

"Like a charm," Imaoka nods and snatches Okada's discard almost before it's left his hand. "Pon. It's good to remember there's always someone worse than you."

Falling silent quickly, everyone turns in unison to glance in Aniya's direction. Back still to them, he snaps, "Real subtle, douchebags."

Resuming glaring at his tiles, Hiratsuka wonders aloud, "Think Kawato's any good at mahjong?"

"No way in hell," Okada replies decisively, prompting a chuckle from Imaoka. "But don't get any ideas — do you really think he'd go betting money?"

"Ugh, too true."

"Okay, what the hell ever, this hand is garbage," Okada announces suddenly, tossing a 3pin into his discards with a little frown of resignation. "You getting the hang of it?" he asks Mikoshiba. "What's your hand look like?"

"Not sure," Mikoshiba admits with a sheepish smile. "I got some triples, and they're all the same suit... Looks funny though, the tiles are all the same colour."

"All the same— wait a minute, sounds like you're shaping up for—" Leaning over, Okada peeks at Mikoshiba's tiles. He closes his eyes for a moment as if in disbelief and then checks them again. "No way."

"It ain't," Imaoka mutters, half disbelieving.

"Sure is," Okada confirms. "Good timing — one more turn and you'd end up breaking up this nice hand, huh? Now say 'tsumo'."

Mikoshiba obeys, tipping his tiles for all to see.

"Ryu-ii-sou," Hirotsuka observes, jaw dropping.

Mikoshiba stares at the others, then examines his tiles closely. "Ryu-ii-sou," he repeats. "That's good?"

"That is very good," Okada agrees, looking slightly embarrassed when his eyes flick back to his own tiles. "That's yakuman, kid."

"That means you just kicked their asses, stupid," Aniya shouts helpfully over his shoulder.

"Maybe Aniya should come take a look," Hiratsuka suggests, loud enough to ensure Aniya can hear him. "Not like he'll ever get to see it in his own hand."

"I don't have time to get good at mahjong, I'm too busy scoring with chicks and being awesome at baseball," Aniya calls back. "I guess you'd be zero for three, huh?"

Mikoshiba snatches the 1pin from Hiratsuka's hand before he can send it flying.

"Thanks, those things are a pain in the ass to find when they go missing, "Okada says, mixing his tiles in with his discards. "So, I think it's time to start you on lesson two: cheating your ass off."