An Opaque Heart

Ch. 1 Delinquent in Reform

Kusanagi Akira sighed loudly, and readjusted her school bag on her shoulder. It had been another long day, and High school was wearing her out. She had never really been the most academically inclined person, that is to say, Akira was known for her street smarts and her killer right hook.

It was difficult to say the least to stay out of trouble, at least for her. All through middle school she had a pretty bad reputation, always getting in trouble. She was of course always able to talk her way out of it though; some people were just too easy to influence especially teachers.

She had decided though, that she would do her best to graduate high school without incident and get into a good university. It was the least she could do.

Akira walked through the schools front gates and towards her grandfather's house, other kids staying clear of her. She had cut off most of her bleached hair, and it was now quite short barely brushing her chin, a black headband holding her bangs back. She was taller than most girls, and always held and air of confidence about her that some called arrogance. Her eyes, a deep shade of blue, were sharp and clear but wide. Her mouth was perpetually set in a firm straight line, though she did smile a lot just not at school, while her cheek bones were set high. She generally had an apathetic look about her, but most kids at her school knew the devilish look that would creep onto her face. Knew the smirk that she could display, and the fear that would paralyze you if you were caught in her glare.

Honestly Akira hadn't used that glare in a long time. She had stopped fighting; smoking, stealing, gambling and she had stepped down as leader of the eastside gang. People still avoided her though, like she was the plague. She didn't blame them, and found the solitude that came with that helped her to see clearly the situations around her. If anything she almost relished it.

Why? Why would someone who had the whole town under her thumb simply decide that they didn't want that power anymore? A lot of people asked her that, but she had just smiled shrugged her shoulders and would say 'Who knows?'

Akira's grandfather, Ryuji, was the owner of a small restaurant in the middle of town. At least that was what most people knew, what they didn't know was that he was once a very powerful member of the Okinawa yakuza. He had however left on good terms, when he was in his thirties and started his own business. Now he is the sole guardian for Akira.

Akira walked towards home in a daze thinking over the math problems she would have to solve for homework, her face in a slight frown as she thought. Of all the subjects, she hated math the most.

"Ah, welcome back Akira-chan." Akira looked up to see the flower shop owner, and older woman, waving to her. Akira's frown turned into a smile and she waved back.

"Thanks." She said walking past the kind woman. The other shop owners on the street who knew her, liked her and usually waved to her as she walked to and from school. They had all had a prejudice against her when she had first moved in, but the respect they all held for Ryuji held their comments back and after a time they eventually learned that Akira was a pretty good kid.

"I'm home." Akira called when she opened the front door to the restaurant. She and her grandfather lived upstairs, while downstairs was the shop. The shop was designed with wood accents, and traditional low tables and cushions to sit on, to the right, while to the left was a sushi bar with stools and a large tv placed on the wall. A few heads turned as she closed the door, customers who waved to her, and her gramps who was behind the bar. He was dressed in a white shirt, and had a blue handkerchief on his head, he too waved to her.

"Welcome back." He said smiling at her. Akira walked past all the tables and into the large kitchen, were Yasuki Teruka, a hired chef and good family friend was working on some curry.

"Yo." He said simply as she walked past him and to the stairs, that she quickly climbed after replying with a 'Yo.' of her own. Teruka, who is in his late twenties, was like an uncle to Akira.

She quickly sat her bag down in her room and slipped out of her school uniform. She then got dressed in black pants, a dark blue t-shirt and non-slip shoes before checking her hair and heading downstairs. She grabbed a black apron and tied it around her waist, grabbed a tray and went to bus tables and take orders.

"How was school?" Her grandpa asked after she had finished her little chores.

"Boring." She replied taking a seat on a vacant stool, behind gramps a baseball game was on the tv.

"Do you have homework?" He asked molding rice in his hand and then adding a thin slice of tuna to the top. Akira gave a groan and nodded.

"I have math homework, I think my head might explode if I do it though." She said frowning and making a show of her displeasure. Gramps gave a laugh and shook his head before handing her a plate of assorted sushi.

"Table two." He said as she took it from him and walked to the assigned table and serving the young couple their order.

As seven o'clock rolled around and the rush died down Gramps told Akira she was done for the day.

She went upstairs and grabbed a light jacket before heading outside for a walk in the crisp night air. Usually she would have walked down the street and back, but today she wanted to prolong her time outside to avoid the thinking she was going to have to do when she got back. So, she went to opposite way towards the river.

Akira stuffed her hands into her the pockets of her jacket and snuggled closer to herself, the air unusually cold. Walking along the roadside she could see a yellow glow up a head and could hear shouts and cheers. Walking closer she could see a baseball field that a handful of people were using, but no one was in the outfield or on the bases. There was just a pitcher and a batter, and everyone else watched cheering the two on.

Curious Akira walked closer and joined the group, who only gave her a glance but otherwise ignoring the new addition. The batter was a rather bulky young man, in his late teens; he was practicing his swing before stepping up to the home plate. The pitcher was also rather tall, though not as tall as the batter, and rather lanky but had a confidence about him that Akira recognized.

"Two thousand yen on Tokuchi." One man said, setting off the shouts of bets for the two players. Akira looked back to the pitcher's mound; the boy couldn't have been that much older than her. His hair was bleached, and messy, his face a completely calm mask. Akira could see the glint in his steel like eyes, he was completely confident that he would win whatever game they were playing. She looked to her left and found a boy a bit older than her.

"Excuse me, what's going on?" She asked him; gaining the guys attention he gave her a friendly smile.

"One outs, it's a game between the pitcher and the batter." He said pointing towards the players with his thumb. Akira nodded in understanding and focused on the game again.

"How does it work?" She asked him watching as the pitcher wound up and pitched the ball to the batter who swung and missed earning a few shouts and laughs.

"Well, if the batter can hit the ball past the infield, or is pitched four balls he wins. If the pitcher strikes him out, or the batter hits the ball into the infield then the pitcher wins. That's the jist of it, but the batter here, is going to lose." He said after explaining the rules. Akira watched as the batter again swung at the ball and missed.

"Why's that?" she asked looking up at the guy next to her, who smirked and looked at her sideways.

"Because you see that pitcher? That's Tokuchi Toua, and no one has ever beaten him." He said with a praising voice that a parent would use to brag about their child. Akira nodded and watched as Tokuchi pitched the third pitch and again almost magically the batter missed.

"See?" The guy next her collected his winnings from another guy before turning back to her.

"I haven't seen you around before, I'm Nurita Kai." He said holding out his hand to shake hers, and Akira took the offered hand and shook it firmly.
"Kusanagi Akira, I live down the road." She said with a small smile, it was nice meeting new people, people who didn't know anything about her. Kai grinned at her and nodded towards the field.

"Want to give it a go?" He asked her. Akira's eyes widened and she shook her head.

"Oh, I don't think so; I'm not that good at sports." She said before laughing good naturedly. Kai nodded in understanding and just then another batter stepped up to take on Tokuchi.

"Well then, how about a bet?" Kai asked her placing his own. Akira stuck a hand into her pants pocket and pulled out a five hundred yen coin and held it up to Kai with a small laugh.

"This is all I've got on me at the moment." She said with a sheepish look. Kai looked at her money for a moment before bursting out in laughter and patting her shoulder friendly as tears formed at the corner of his brown eyes. Most everyone had heard the commotion, even the batter and Tokuchi and now everyone's eyes were on Akira and Kai.

"Alright then, let's turn that five hundred into a thousand shall we?" He asked taking her coin and turning it into the same man he gave money to earlier. The man looked at him like he was crazy but took the money without saying a thing. Kai stood behind Akira and placed his hands on each of her shoulders and gently guided her forwards through the crowd till she and he stood at the fence behind the home plate.

"Oi, Tokuchi! Akira-chan is betting on you, better not lose!" Kai shouted to the blonde boy, who looked from Kai to Akira who was a bit red in the face. She sent Tokuchi a small smile and a wave, which he ignored.

"Don't worry, he'll win for sure." Kai said as he crossed his arms and winked at her.

It wasn't really a surprise that Tokuchi won, with just three pitches, to anyone there but Akira. She watched on amazed and when Kai handed her a thousand yen banknote she frowned.

"Hey what's with that face?" Kai asked as the crowd began to disperse as the field's lights went out. Kai who she noted was rather good looking with his shaggy black hair and friendly face, asked.

"It's just that I'm not really supposed to gamble, a rule of the family." She said staring at the money. Kai again tossed his head back and laughed loudly, he apparently didn't know that he drew a lot of attention that way.

"Oh that's funny! You know I like you Akira-chan, your funny girl." He said catching his breath as he tucked a wad of cash into his back pocket. He slung an arm around her shoulders and stirred her towards a small bunch of guys near the dugout.

"I want to introduce you to my friends." He said cheerfully as Akira's face turned a nice shade of pink. It wasn't that she wasn't used to boys, on the contrary back in middle school she had a whole class full at her beck and call, and plenty others wishing they were. Kai however was extremely friendly a flirt even and was treating her accordingly, so even though she was blushing at the attention she had a smile in place.

"Hey guys!" He said loudly gaining their attention. Akira's eyes instinctively counted how many boys there were, how strong they looked, how fast, and then settled on Tokuchi who had a lit cigarette in his mouth and a baseball in one hand. There were, excluding Tokuchi, four other boys in the dugout. A taller boy with rather dreamy look on his face, a shorter boy with strikingly sharp features, and then two other boys who looked very similar to one another, she guessed that they were brothers or at least related. They all looked up from a card game, and each gave her a once over.

"Eh? Who's the girl Kai?" the shorter boy asked throwing a card down onto a makeshift table. Kai pushed Akira forwards as if presenting her.

"This is Akira-chan, a new friend of mine, be nice to her." He said as Akira gave them a small bashful wave. One of the brothers shook his head with a sigh.

"Did he kidnap you?" He asked almost seriously.

"Oi, Hotaru!" Kai protested hotly with a frown. The boy Hotaru shrugged his shoulders but sent a smile towards Akira.

"Actually, he was explaining the game to me." She said explaining the situation to Hotaru.

"Did he take your money?" Asked the boy next to Hotaru, the one that looked like his brother. Akira laughed and shook her head.

"No, I won money because of him." She said holding up the thousand yen banknote. Kai came to stand next to her and nodded vehemently.

"Yeah! I didn't do anything shady!" He said defending himself. The boys shrugged their shoulders and rolled their similar eyes.

"In any case, I'm Hotori. If you haven't guessed, Hotaru is my younger brother." He said gesturing between himself and Hotaru. Akira gave a little bow and smiled.

"Kusanagi Akira, nice to meet you." She said and found that Kai's hand had found its way back to her shoulder before he pointed to the dreamy looking guy.

"That's Shinta, and the shorty next to him is Keisuke, and of course I've already told you about Toua." Each boy, except Toua gave a short nod, and Keisuke threw a small red die at Kai who caught it with a grin.

"If you call me short again, I swear…" Keisuke trailed off glaring at Kai.

"What are you doing hanging around here, miss Akira?" Shinta asked his voice very quiet and polite. Akira shrugged.

"I was just taking a walk and happen to see the game going on, it's very interesting." She said glancing at the still stoic looking Toua. Shinta nodded but frowned a bit.

"Isn't it sort of late for a girl to be walking by herself? There are some shady people around here you know?" He sounded genuinely concerned for her and she felt her heart constrict a bit. 'If only you knew that I am the one people watch out for.' She thought.

"Oh I think I'll be alright." She said catching a scoff from Toua, the boys also caught this and looked over at the blonde.

"Ah…what are you guys playing?" she asked ignoring him and fighting down the comment her younger self would have spat at him. She moved forwards to see the cards and the money on it; she didn't see Kai send Toua a questioning look or the smirk Tour sent back.

"Just normal poker, want to play?" Keisuke asked his eyes squinting as he smirked at her. Akira knew exactly the thought that crossed his mind and refused to play into his hand.

"I don't know how to play." She said politely, Keisuke's smirk turned to a frown but then he shrugged. Kai again casually slung an arm over her shoulders.

"It's really easy; I could teach you if you want?" He said grinning at her. Akira smiled back at him but shook her head.

"Like I said earlier, I normally am not supposed to gamble, do you always act this friendly with people you've just met?" She asked a bit of her innocent face slipping away. These guys seemed like the kind of people she had hung out with in middle school, she didn't want them to think that they could take advantage of her, but then again she also didn't want them to not like her either. Kai laughed and subtly took his arm back while the other boys looked at her oddly.

"You don't gamble?" Shinta asked as if this was very odd.

"Yeah, she said that she's not supposed to." Kai said shrugging his hands up and shaking his head.

"Well you see, I used to a while back but it got me into some trouble so I stopped." She explained. The boys again stared at her oddly.

"Trouble?" Hotaru asked curiously. Akira, not really wanting to explain simply smiled but said nothing.

"Then you do know how to play poker, and you lied?" Toua said suddenly, he asked as though he were inquiring about the weather. Akira along with everyone else looked over at him.

"No, I really have never played poker before. I used to bet on fights." She explained eyeing him wearily, as everyone suddenly looked to her. Toua blew out some smoke but nodded.

"Fights?" Kai asked a little wide eyed. Akira scratched the back of her head nervously and forced a laugh.

"Like I said; trouble." She said watching Toua from the corner of her eye. Kai gave a low whistle but smacked her back good naturedly.

"I knew I liked you! You're pretty interesting." He said happily, while Akira almost doubled over from the force of his hand which made everyone, save Toua, laugh.

Toua stood up and walked to the table and gathered the cards before he began shuffling them.

"If you don't gamble with money, then how about a simple bet?" He asked gazing at Akira, and she felt as if his eyes could place a spell of you if you stared at them for too long.

"Come on Tokuchi, she said she doesn't gamble." Kai defended with a small frown.

"What sort of bet?" Akira asked without wavering under his stare. The air suddenly got very still as the group got very silent.

"I'm guessing you work at that sushi place down the road seeing as how you share the same name, so how about if I win then you bring all of us lunch for the next week for free, and if you win I'll show you how to pitch a baseball." As he said the last part there was an audible gasp from his friends, and Akira guessed that his style of pitching was like something sacred. The ghost of the past Akira flared up at the moment the challenge was presented, and there was something about his cocky attitude that Akira couldn't ignore. Her face twisted into a familiar smirk and almost laughed when Kai's face paled.

"Alright, but since I've never played before and you are clearly a veteran I request a handicap." She said her voice cooler now and calm. Tokuchi nodded and took a seat.

"Sure, that's fair." He said sitting the cards on the table as Akira took the seat opposite of him.

"I want Kai to help me; he can explain the rules as we go." She declared and could hear Kai gulp.

"Uh, Akira I really don't think you should-"

"Just get over here." Akira snapped, before she caught herself and pulled a chair over next to her and patted it.

"Please." She said before sending him a small smile. Kai nodded and sat next to her, his body moving of its own accord a chill running down his spine. Shinta cut the deck and looked worriedly at Akira. She didn't see this though; she was staring ahead at Tokuchi her arms crossed, as Shinta began to deal the cards.

"Kai how's this work?" She asked looking towards him seriously. Kai gave a nervous laugh and motioned for her to pick up the five cards Shinta had set out for her.

"Pick them up and we'll go from there." He said his voice a bit defeated. Akira picked up her cards and showed them to Kai. She held the three of diamonds, the four of diamonds, a two of spades, a queen of hearts, and an eight of diamonds. Kai's face fell and he looked up at Tokuchi, whose facial expression had never wavered.

"Uh…" Kai began before Akira took her cards back.

"This is a bad hand right?" She asked out loud. At this Tokuchi openly laughed.

"Uh, yeah it…it uh sucks. But you can get rid of four of them if you want, just toss them face down to Shinta and he'll give you four more." He said. Akira looked over her cards again and got rid of all the cards except for the three and four of diamonds. Shinta dealt her three more cards and she picked them up and didn't show them to Kai yet. Tokuchi got rid of two of his cards, and received two from Shinta.

"Right, now what?" She asked rearranging her cards.

"Show what you've got." Tokuchi said. Akira showed her hand firstly to Kai whose face went even paler then before, but then he smiled at her.

"That's actually pretty good Akira." He said clapping her shoulder. Akira laid her cards down, the three and four of diamonds the five of clubs, six of spades and seven of clubs, a straight.

"A straight! Lucky." Hotaru said leaning closer in anticipation. Akira smiled up at Tokuchi, her smirk gone and the hard edge in her eyes softer.

"Damn." She said resignedly, each boy looked at her in wonder. Akira could see that confidence from earlier in Tokuchi's eyes and she sighed.

"I guess you win then." She said before he even moved to lay his cards down. Tokuchi finally laid his cards down and indeed he had won, with three nines and two two's.

"A flush!" Hotori said looking between the two hands. Although he had won, his smirk was gone as he stared at Akira.

"Wow, you were pretty close to winning though Akira!" Kai said, the color coming back to the poor boys face. Akira shrugged, her demeanor completely changed back to the nice young lady Kai had brought introduced.

"Beginners luck I think." She said with a sigh. Tokuchi however wasn't satisfied.

"How did you know you'd lost?" He asked, and again everyone's eyes fell to her. At this Akira felt her face get warm again and her eyes went a bit wide at being caught.

"Oh, well you see earlier when you were pitching you had this really confident look, like you'd already won. It was subtle, and you'd have to look past that condescending smirk of yours, but it was there, and just now when you got you last cards I saw it again so I knew I lost." She said feeling self-conscious and looking anywhere but at the blonde boy. Everyone was quiet, even Tokuchi who was somewhat impressed though he would never admit that. Akira looked around at everyone and then stood up quickly looking at her watch.

"I really should get going, I have homework to do, ah don't worry I'll bring you guys lunch tomorrow like I promised, around three though, I have class, so uh…see you…" with that Akira walked out of the dugout feeling a bit flustered, but then stopped when she heard the boys shout their belated goodbyes.

"See you tomorrow!" Everyone but Tokuchi shouted waving at her. She turned and waved back at them with a smile and then ran home somewhat excited about seeing the boys again.

"Well, what do you guys think?" Kai asked as everyone watched Akira's retreating form.

"She seems very nice." Shinta said quietly.

"She's lucky." Keisuke said stuffing his hands into his jeans pockets.

"She's funny." Hotaru said.

"Whatever." Hotori said.

"She's got all of you fooled." Tokuchi said lighting another cigarette and puffing on it. The boys all turned around and stared at him questioningly. Kai noted the smile his friend wore, and then looked back at Akira.

"Well fooled or not, she's brining as lunch tomorrow." He said happily.

Tokuchi Toua, who has never lost a game in his life, watched the younger girl as she disappeared into the night. He thought about everything that had happened, and then about the fact that she wasn't afraid to walk around at night alone, about her defiant and somewhat vicious smirk that had slipped out, and of course that ability to see through his mask that she had.

The next day before leaving for school, Akira told her gramps about the bet she had lost and though he gave her a stern look he had agreed that she needed to keep the promise she had made.

"But you had better not gamble again, you hear me Akira?" He said with a frown. Akira nodded but kept her eyes to the ground.

"Yes, sir." She said quietly. Ryuji nodded and grunted.

"It'll be ready when you get home." He said with a sigh.

The walk to school was quiet and uneventful, the sky a threatening gray that promised snow later.

Her classes went by quickly enough, except math, and as she was putting on her sneakers about to leave for the day she felt a bit of happy nervousness creep into her stomach. She hadn't realized just how much she was looking forward to see the boys again. Akira practically ran home, saying a quick hello to any of her neighbors that waved. She didn't even change out of her black school uniform before snatching the gray tote bag that her gramps had packed full, and dashing out the door. Teruka shook his head with a smile; it had been a good two years since either he or gramps had seen her so excited.

When Akira arrived at the field she felt a flutter of disappointment, no one was there yet. She looked at her watch and sighed in her rush she had gotten there a good twenty minutes early. She trudged over to the dugout and sat her bag on the wooden bench and found that a bat and ball had been left hidden in the corner of the dusty room. Akira grabbed them and walked towards the home base.

She stood with her back to the field and gripped the bat in her right hand before tossing the ball high enough so that she had time to grip the bat correctly. She watched the ball as it dropped and the moment it was in the perfect position she swung and gave it a good smack. The ball flew into the chain-link fence and dropped to the ground.

"Well that's not so hard." She thought out loud moving forwards to grab the ball and do it all over again.

"It's a bit harder when someone throws it to you." Akira whipped around and almost fell, her wide surprised eyes caught sight of Tokuchi leaning his arms on the shorter part of the fence and watching her with an amused grin.

"Ah…hello." She said rather rattled. Tokuchi hopped the fence easily and walked towards her and picked up the dirty baseball.

"You have pretty good reflexes though, want to try?" He asked tossing the ball up and down. Akira looked from him to the pitchers mound.

"I'm not betting." She stated firmly before turning to stand correctly in the batter box as Tokuchi walked towards the mound. He took his place.

"I never mentioned gambling, did I?" He asked watching her get settled. She looked up at him a determined frown on her face.

"Am I standing right?" she asked innocently enough. Tokuchi looked her up and down and then nodded.

"Good enough, but bend your knees a bit, and hold your right elbow up a bit." He said. Akira followed this instruction and then licked her lip in anticipation.

"Ready?" Tokuchi said, and received a brief nod from her. He wound up and then threw the ball right down the middle. Akira watched the ball go right past her and hit the fence. She looked from it to Tokuchi and her shoulders slumped.

"How am I supposed to hit that? It's too fast." She said frowning, Tokuchi's grin widened and he shook with quiet laughter. Akira picked up the ball and threw it to him gently.

"Just keep your eye on it." Tokuchi said condescendingly, Akira sent him a glare but got ready again. Tokuchi wound up and threw the ball, softer this time, and Akira smiled as she could clearly see it, and swung her bat. However as if gravity had suddenly doubled the ball dipped just under her bat and again hit the fence. Akira blinked, unsure of what had just happened. She looked from the ball to Tokuchi and then back to the ball. She picked it up and looked it over before tossing it to Tokuchi.

"How did that happen? I saw it go straight down the middle, but then it just suddenly…dropped." She said confused, as Tokuchi tossed the ball up and down.

"If you want to know that then you have to beat me at cards." He said smirking at her. Akira looked at her bat and then to him.

"Or I could just beat it out of you." She said with a flat voice, Tokuchi's grin just got wider.

"Hey! Akira-chan you're early!" Akira and Tokuchi looked over at the dugout to see Shinta and Kai who were waving at them. Akira quickly smiled at them and waved with her free hand.

"Yeah, I didn't realize I was going to be early." She said as she and Tokuchi walked over to them.

"Hello Shinta." Akira greeted, smiling at the quiet boy who smiled back.

"The others will be here soon, what all did you bring?" Kai asked excitedly rubbing his hands together. Tokuchi was quiet the whole time but at hearing the question looked at Akira too. Akira smiled and motioned for them to follow her into the dugout.

"My gramps packed a lot, I had trouble carrying it." She said as she began to unpack the large gray tote bag. She pulled out several clear tubs of sushi, rice, noodles, a shrimp dish, a beef dish, and assorted vegetables. Everything was packed neatly and looked like it was part of a food commercial.

"Oh and I hope you guys like sakura tea, we just got it in." she said handing the boys each cups. Kai and Shinta gazed doe eyed at the food as Tokuchi looked mildly approving.

"Starting without us?" Hotaru, Hotori and Keisuke rounded the corner and everyone situated so that they could sit down around their table.

"Nice to see you again Akira." Hotaru said with a smile as she handed him a cup.

"You too." She replied before offering two more cups to Keisuke and Hotori who greeted her as well. Soon enough everyone had plastic chopsticks, their share of sakura tea, and where stuffing their faces unabashedly. Akira watched in silent amusement, as the boys ate their share and then some.

"Akira this is great." Kai said looking up and grinning at her, she bit her lip to stop from laughing at him but ended up snorting.

"You've got rice here." She said pointing to her cheek.

After everyone had finished and Akira had packed up the empty containers the boys all hit the field tossing the ball to and fro, except Tokuchi who was leaning against the fence and watching. Akira stood about an arm's length away and would laugh every now and then as the boys fell or taunted one another. She looked over at him, he was smoking again.

"So, are you guys going to play One outs today?" she asked him before turning to watch the others again. She watched as he threw the almost spent butt to the ground and crushed it with his heel.

"No, it'll probably snow today." He said pointing to the gray sky. Akira looked up and silently agreed that it might snow.

"I guess that would be a problem." She commented. Silence settled between them again, and the shout of Keisuke could be heard as Kai and Hotaru held him down while laughing. Hotori and Shinta shaking their heads but grinning.

"Do you go to school Tokuchi?" Akira asked with a small amused grin. Tokuchi was quiet for a moment.

"I tested out of high school." He said causally leaning his elbows on the railing of the fence.

"If you don't mind me asking, how old are you and the others?" She asked copying his stance and looking up at him, he was probably a good four inches taller than her. His hawk like eyes looked over at her and caught her curious ones before he turned his attention back to the guys.

"Kai is nineteen, Shinta is too, Hotori is eighteen, Hotaru is seventeen and so am I." He said.

"Wow, you seem a lot older than seventeen." She said without thinking.

"Uh, what I mean is that you don't look that young, ah no wait that sounded rude." Akira stumbled on her words and frowned, her eyes zeroing in on the ground and missing the amused glance Tokuchi sent her.

"What I meant was that you seem very mature for someone your age…yeah." She said feeling a heat creep up to her cheeks as she shook her own head at her stupid remark. Tokuchi quietly laughed and Akira caught him smirking at her.

"How old are you then?" He asked simply.

"I'm sixteen, and in my second year at Tomoeda High." She said her shoulders slumping as she switched her gaze back out to the others. She felt something cold and wet land gently on her head and looked up to see a gentle flurry of snow begin to fall.

"Hey! It's snowing!" Kai shouted enthusiastically.

"We can all see that you moron." Hotori said flatly before Kai smacked him upside the head. Akira smiled at their antics but it was a bit sad. She held out a hand and watched as the snow fell onto her palm and melted.

"I guess I should get home." She muttered a bit sad to leave, and sad because of the memories that the snow brought with it. Tokuchi looked over at her and filed the unhappy look away in his mind. Akira quickly wiped off the look and replaced it with a gentle smile.

"Hey, guys! I'm going to get home, what time should I be here tomorrow?" she asked them loud enough to catch their attention. They all walked to Tokuchi and Akira to say goodbye to her.

"Well since tomorrow is Saturday how about noon?" Shinta asked her nicely with his very gentle smile. Akira quickly agreed and grabbed her bag.

"Okay I'll see you all at noon then! Be careful going home guys." With a final wave, and the guys thanking her for lunch again she began to walk home.

Kai sidled up next to Tokuchi and nudged him with an elbow.

"What were you two talking about over here all by yourselves?" He asked slyly catching all the boys' attention. Tokuchi's hand stealthily smacked Kai over the head earning a yelp from the older boy.

"She wanted to know our ages." He said pulling out another cigarette. Kai frowned and rubbed his sore head.

"That's not very fun." He said lamely watching the girl's retreating form. Shinta shook his head.

"She's not afraid of us." He said reflectively. Hotaru, who stood next to the big guy nodded.

"Yeah, maybe she's really naive." He said scratching his head in contemplation.

"Or maybe she's just dumb." Keisuke said crudely, it was Hotori who smacked him this time.

"Or maybe you idiot she's just not a judgmental person." He said shaking his head at the rude comment Keisuke had made. Kai looked to Tokuchi and then to the others.

"Maybe she knows people or are a bit more freighting then us." He said, his face which was usually smiling was serious. He was showing his smart side as Tokuchi called it, and in fact he was closer to the truth then any of the guys knew.

Akira stood just outside her home, eyes skyward. It was still snowing, and windless. It was a very gentle onslaught of the white fluff but Akira could bring herself to smile like the children across the street. She heard the distinct sliding of the back door to her left and looked over to see gramps in his work clothes watching her.

"How were your friends?" He asked without a smile, he was trying to get her mind off the snow, she knew. Akira let a small grateful smile drift onto her face as she walked towards the door.

"They liked the food, and told me to tell you thanks." She said, her voice sounding small. Gramps' big calloused hand moved to rest on her shoulder.

"Come inside." Was all he said, as he moved to let her in he didn't shower her with useless words of comfort or false happiness. She knew he was sad too, and like she did with him he found comfort in her presence. They both walked upstairs and turned on the tv to watch a few shows before one of them would take a bath, and then the other. They would have a quiet dinner, and then they would say goodnight and slip into their rooms Gramps to do some reading before bed, and Akira to study before they would both call it a day and turn out their lights.

Tokuchi was watching a baseball game on the tv from his stool, his elbows propped up against the bar and his hands supporting his head. The noises of the other people around him fuzzy as he watched the pitcher on the television. The tall and rather robust black woman behind the bar studied the boy silently but said nothing to him. She knew how old he was and all that nonsense, but the boy and his abilities brought in money so she didn't mind. But for knowing him as long as she had, she knew that something was on his young mind.

"Toua, did you lose or something?" she asked casually as she dried a highball glass. Tokuchi's eye switched from the tv to Big Mamma.

"No, I didn't lose." He said matter of factly. At this Big Mamma smirked a knowing smirk.

"It's a girl then." She concluded out loud before turning to take care of a customer who was waving to her. Tokuchi watched her walk away and smirked at her back, in a way she had been right.

The next day

Akira held her umbrella in one hand and over her head, and the big gray tote bag was balanced on her opposite shoulder as she walked towards the field. She was in rather foul mood and had been since the morning. She hadn't got much sleep, her mind just wouldn't shut off last night and she had so many thoughts rushing around in her head while she tried forgetting them all and counting sheep. In the end though she had gotten only an hour or two before she gave up and went to make breakfast and got dressed for the day. She had on black thermal stockings a dark brown skirt that was billowy and allowed her quite a bit of movement, a dark gray sweater, her winter jacket and ankle high thick boots.

Over the night the snow had blanketed the city and was still gently falling, thus she had her umbrella. Gramps had made the lunch she was carrying, and with a yawn she trudged down the road. Once she got to the field she went to the dugout to wait for her new found friends. She smiled instantly feeling better when she heard a crunching in the snow. She stood up to greet them with a smile, but found that the three boys who turned the corner into the dugout were not any she knew and her smile melted into a frown.

The three boys were all about her age, one had his hair dyed an orange color and had cruel looking eyes, another had his hair buzzed and a scar from a busted lip, and the last one had his black hair slicked back and it was him who smiled at her callously.

"Well now I didn't expect a pretty girl like you to be here of all places." He said walking towards her with his hands in his pockets. He got close enough to her so that she could feel the heat his body was radiating. The other two snickered behind him and closed in as well. Akira sighed, annoyed by the three morons.

"Get lost dip shits I'm in no mood." She said dismissively watching their moves casually. For a moment the three seemed stunned and simply stared at her like she was some kind of wild creature. However at that moment the dark haired boy seemed to regain his senses. He reached out and grabbed a handful of her jacket and pulled her up till her nose was nearly touching his and she stood on her tip toes.

"Your quiet the mouthy little bitch aren't you?" He asked frowning at her. Akira's hand caught his offending one and brought her foot up till it was level with his stomach. She dug her nails into the soft spot between his thumb and wrist and ruthlessly twisted till she heard a snap. The boy howled in pain and with a swift thrust of her foot Akira kicked him backwards to the feet of his two friends.

"Bitch is not a nice word." She said straightening her jacket out. She looked up at his two friends, and they backed away carefully as she closed the distance between them.

"You three are just plain unlucky, not to mention stupid, I'm having a really bad day." She said as the three of them wound up on the field a few feet away from the dugout. The two boys, and Akira, didn't notice the two boys who had just stopped behind home plate. Both Kai and Tokuchi stood quietly watching the happenings going on.

Akira clenched her fist and charged the orange haired boy, and in his surprise caught him with her fist in his left eye, before she grabbed his hand and twisted it till his joint locked and his body angled away from her exposing his ribcage. Akira quickly took advantage of this and kicked sideways as hard as she could while releasing his arm. She ducked out of the way of the last boy's fist; he had tried to catch her from behind, but had been to slow.

While ducked under his arm Akira brought the heel of her hand up and into his nose, which instantly spurted out blood that fell onto her cheek. He yelped in pain and fell to his knees with his hands cradling his broken nose. Akira mercilessly brought her knee forwards and knocked his hands into his now sensitive nose and he fell backwards into the snow groaning.

Akira stepped on his exposed stomach and leaned forwards.

"If you value your life, get lost and take your damn friends with you." She seethed. The boy hopped up quickly and with wide eyes ran towards his recovering orange haired friend and pulled him up before they disappeared into the dugout and then fled with their third member. Akira sighed and closed her eyes not feeling any better, but slightly worse.

"Akira?" She swiveled around quickly with wide eyes to see Kai, and a curious looking Tokuchi. She stared at them with a gaping mouth trying to come up with some excuse, but coming up with nothing. She could have lied but it had always been a rule to never lie even before high school.

"I…I just, they…I brought lunch?" she managed. Kai still stared at her, too shocked to move. Tokuchi however wasn't as shell shocked and moved towards her till he was about and arm's length away. Akira looked up pleadingly at him and flinched when he brought his hand up and wiped the red stain off her cheek. Her eyes flew open and watched him carefully.

"That was a good punch." He said before turning around and walking back to the dugout. Akira quickly followed him and along the way grabbed hold of Kai's jacket and pulled him along. The older boy shook himself and as soon as Akira let him go he grabbed her gingerly but the forearms and began looking her over.

"They didn't hurt you did they?" He asked inspecting her face. Akira looked between him and Tokuchi who was watching the scene with a stoic face, his eyes fell to her hands. The hand she had used to punch with was red and as he caught sight of it she moved it behind her back to hide it.

"I'm alright; they got the worst of it." She said guiltily. Kai let her go and let out a low whistle before taking a seat next to Toua. Akira starred at the ground the familiar ache of her knuckles beginning to burn.

"Did you know those guys?" Kai asked exasperatedly. Akira shook her head no.

"I was waiting here for you guys when they showed up." She said plopping down on the bench a good five feet away from the boys. Kai looked at Toua who shrugged his shoulders. Akira had the sudden urge to go home and she sighed.

"I'm sorry." She said leaning her head forwards till it rested on her knees, her hands hanging limply beside her.

"If they come back and cause any trouble it'll be my entire fault. I guess you could just tell them that I go to Tomoeda and if they want another round that I'll be there." She said miserably before leaning back up and pushing off the bench. She sent Kai and Tokuchi a sorry smile and a wave.

"I brought your lunch. Can you not tell the others about this?" She said before walking toward the exit and then out into the snowy day. Both boys sat silently listening to the crunch of the snow beneath her boots.

Kai flopped backwards his eyes blinking as if someone had shone a bright light into them.

"Well, what do you think Toua?" He asked looking over at Tokuchi, but when he looked he found only a gray tote bag and a black umbrella leaned up against the wall. He let out a small sigh, but smiled.

"Jerk." He mumbled.

Akira could hear the crunch of snow behind her and stopped to see who it was, and was surprised to see Tokuchi. They simply stared at each other before Tokuchi gestured with his pointer finger for her to come to him. She hesitated for a second before obeying and walking toward him her eyes unsure and a frown on her face. She stopped an arm's length away and looked up at him, his expression was still stoic but he wore a small amused smile.

"What?" she asked impatiently. Tokuchi's hand caught hers and without a word he started walking towards the train station. Confused Akira let him pull her along, taking a moment to stare at his hand that had enclosed hers. It was warm and even though his hand was pale and slender it was larger than hers and strong.

"To…Tokuchi, where are we going? Hey are you listening?" She asked rattled. They made a turn and ended up walking for another ten minutes till Tokuchi stopped in front of a familiar bar and opened the door.

Inside it was practically dead, with only an older man at the bar and a woman cleaning the wooden surface of it. Tokuchi didn't spare them a glance and instead walked towards the back of the building which was darker and secluded. He stopped at a table in the corner and nodded with his head.

"Go ahead take a seat." He said after she looked at him doubtfully. He himself sat down on the cushioned booth seat and slid to the middle, and slowly Akira followed suit opposite of him.

"…Where the hell are we?" Akira asked unaware of the curse that slipped out. Tokuchi grinned at her slip.

"So this is what you've been hiding. I have to admit it's not what I expected." He said leaning to observe her. Akira sighed and propped her elbow on the table and rested her head in her hand.

"Look if they come back just tell them-"

"Quit with the self-sacrificing crap. You really think that we're the types to sell you out?" He said leaning a bit closer copying her position and resting his chin on his hand. Akira stared at him wide eyed for a moment before glaring at him.

"You don't even know me." She said lowly her voice condemning. Tokuchi shrugged his shoulders just as Big Mamma brought over a glass of hot tea for the both of them. She left without a word but got a good look at Akira.

"Even so." He said leaning back with his calm expression. Akira didn't know what to say. The reason most people avoided her was either because they became targets by association, or because they were scared of her. She hated it when good people got hurt just because they spoke to her.

"It's selfish of me to even act like your friend." She said clutching her warm tea cup.

"You're pretty hard on yourself." He pointed out. Akira's eye caught his again and she almost pleaded with him to understand. She sighed, her mind made up.

"Tokuchi, awhile back I was kind of…okay well not kind of, I was the leader of a street gang.I was pretty different back then." She looked up at him, but his eyes and face were the same so she pressed on.

"You see, at the end of middle school I sort of grew out of the whole delinquent mindset and stepped down from the head position. A lot of people didn't like that, and a lot of people don't like me. Kids at school learned to avoid me, either because they're afraid of me or because the moment someone from an old rival gang sees them being friendly with me, they beat them up. So it's not exactly healthy to be my friend." She said watching his face for any reaction. Tokuchi shifted his hand in his pocket and pulled out his lighter and a cigarette and lit it before offering her one from the pack.

"No thanks." She said quietly. There was a stagnant moment of silence as Tokuchi took a short drag of smoke and then released it.

"That explains your reflexes, and your gambling rule." He said before laying his arms across the booth's chair casually.

"You think that Kai and the others will really care about that stuff? Their just happy you're not afraid of them. Most people see them as no good drop outs, they aren't part of a gang or anything like that but they get in fights and can hold their own. They aren't as innocent as you make them out to be." He said watching her shoulders slump together and her head droop a bit.

"I know that, I just don't want to cause good people trouble." She said miserably. Her head snapped up as Tokuchi let out a rather loud laugh. This even caught the attention of the bar tender, whose eyebrows shot up in surprise.

"Good people huh? Your world must be really twisted if you think we're good people." He said shaking his head.

"I'm still curious though why the snow made you so miserable." He said lower now so that only she could hear him. Akira's face fell again, and she glanced towards the bartender and then back to Tokuchi when she was sure the woman wasn't paying attention.

"My parents died while it was snowing two years ago." She said softly. Tokuchi nodded and let another puff of smoke out above Akira's head.

"Well we made a deal, and you've only brought lunch twice so you'll have to bring it at least five more days. Too bad for you." He said smirking at her surprised face.

"Even if I cause you guys nothing but trouble?" She asked shyly.

"You clearly don't know us, or me for that matter very well." He said amused. Akira sighed but when she looked up at him again she smiled, relived and happy.

"How's your hand?" He asked holding his own out across the table. She gingerly sat her sore hand in his and he brought it closer to inspect it. It was red, but Akira knew by tomorrow it would be on the mend and only slightly purple. But as Tokuchi examined it gently Akira felt a foreign feeling of nervousness and doubt creep up inside. A part of her liked Tokuchi holding her hand, and another part of her told her to snatch it back and be very wary of him. Yet at the moment she didn't do anything she just stared at him gratefully.

"Thank you, Tokuchi Toua." She said softly.

FYI: For every one hundred yen that equals about a dollar, so two thousand yen is about twenty bucks.

Also, this chapter is rather long for me, but I wanted to get Tokuchi's and Akira's past out of the way quickly, so there will only be one more rather long chapter of their younger years before I magically skip through time and grow them up a bit.

I hope Toua is in character, I wanted him to be a bit more innocent and smile more as a kid as well. Review are awesome, however if you feel the need to be a (really foul word insert here) then don't waste your time reviewing, I really could care less.