Author's Note: This story now has a sequel called Kick Drum Hearts. dsfs


250 Dark Stars

(Give your heart and soul

Heart and soul

Fighting to remind you)

Tachibana An was fascinated by great people.

Her brother was a great person—a great athlete, and a great leader. A few months ago, he had convinced their parents to let him graduate high school early and enter the professional tennis circuit; he was already making a name for himself as a rookie with potential.

She missed him. Of course she missed him. And yet… this was her chance to be someone other than "Tachibana's little sister." They both had been accepted to Seigaku upon finishing junior high, and Kippei had left for the pro leagues at the end of his second year.

And so An had decided to transfer to Rikkai at the beginning of hers.

~x~

"Classroom 2-B is this way," Hiyono told An, leading her through the crowded halls. It was the first day of the school year: First-years stumbled around, clutching maps of the school; second-years gathered in groups, talking animatedly; and third-years sauntered past them all.

Though she was a second-year, An felt more like the younger students that scurried past her. She couldn't decide whether Rikkai was hugely overwhelming or just overwhelming huge, but was glad either way that she was classmates with Hiyono, who lived in her apartment building. An's aunt had introduced them, and they'd hung out some over the break.

As they were entering their classroom, someone said, "Coming through." The voice was male, arrogant, and faintly impatient. They stepped aside for someone they thought to be an upperclassman—but when the boy brushed past them, An recognized the loping stride and wildly curly black hair of Kirihara Akaya. He was in 2-B as well.

An mulled this over, and decided: Eff my life.

Hiyono's large brown eyes met An's blue-gray ones. "That was Kirihara Akaya," she explained, misinterpreting the other girl's lingering look at Kirihara as one of interest and not resignation. "He's the ace of the tennis team."

I know, An might have said, but didn't. Instead, she just nodded. "Pretty rude."

"Yeah," Hiyono shrugged, and they followed him into the classroom. "He can be kind of a jerk. But he's not a total dick." Her eyes traveled to a good-looking boy messing around with a couple other guys, and the words Unlike some people hung unspoken.

An followed Hiyono to a small cluster of girls and got introduced. As the others brought each other up-to-date on the goings-on of the school, she pretended to listen, but her mind was elsewhere.

Being in Kirihara's class was just bad luck. Over the years, her anger towards him had cooled, leaving her with only a conscientious dislike. He'd hurt her brother, yes, but he wasn't worth holding a grudge against. What did a bully like Kirihara matter in the larger scheme of things?

Still, that didn't mean she wanted to be within ten feet of the guy, much less spend every day with him. It was actually a strange notion: Kirihara Akaya in a classroom setting. She could only picture him on a tennis court, harming people, though she knew he didn't still play like that; he'd progressed to the self-actualized states.

Absently, she pulled at the cuffs of her maroon blazer. The Rikkai uniform was formal, sophisticated. She wasn't against that, but… it would take some getting used to. Though she was glad to be rid of her Seigaku uniform—the large pink bow hadn't been her style—she missed the sailor uniform she'd had at Fudomine.

Lost in these thoughts, she picked up on the other girls saying something about Yukimura, and began listening automatically. It was a long-ingrained habit, gathering information on her brother's competition. Not that he was playing the high school circuit anymore.

"—and so she's back," one girl finished, toying with a piece of short-cropped black hair. "Surprised she's not in the classroom already."

"She probably wants to make a dramatic entrance," another girl muttered, before glancing around quickly to gauge the others' reaction. Upon seeing that they were covering sly smiles that meant they'd been thinking similarly but hadn't wanted to speak up, she grew bolder. "It's not that I don't like her, really, but I hope she's gotten less… you know."

An blinked. Perhaps she'd just thought she'd heard someone mention Yukimura. Maybe this girl they were talking about simply had a similar name.

"Guess we'll find out," Hiyono said, nodding toward the door. A girl had walked in, and she was the absolute loveliest non-celebrity An had ever seen. She paused upon entering the room, clearly aware of the many eyes on her, and smiled confidently. With a toss of her long, mahogany-colored hair, she strolled over to where a group of boys and girls lounged, Kirihara included.

Hiyono laughed a little. "Seems the same to me." To An she explained, "That's Yukimura Sayoko. She just got back from studying in the United States for a year."

"Yukimura Seiichi, the captain of the boys' tennis team, is her older brother," added the girl with short black hair. "And she's very aware of it."

Which probably meant Sayoko used it to her advantage. So they had been talking about Yukimura, earlier. Just not the Yukimura she'd been expecting. "Does she play tennis too?" An was planning to join the girls' team. The thought of wearing one of Rikkai's yellow jerseys still discomfitted her, but… she couldn't not play.

The other girls traded glances. "She did for a couple years," said the girl who'd hoped Sayoko had "gotten less… you know." Pushing honey-colored bangs out of her eyes, she went on, "But I forget how many years ago she quit."

Just then their homeroom teacher walked in, and had them stand so that he could assign their seats. An ended up in the second row, fourth desk over from the window, behind a boy that needed to wash his hair and to the left of the black-haired girl (Ishiko?).

As Yamato-sensei went over classroom expectations, school rules, and announcements, she doodled in her notebook. She liked Hiyono well enough, and could learn to like her friends. It would be a nice change of pace—thus far in her life her friends had been mostly male.

She glanced at the boy sitting in front of Ishiko, the handsome one that Hiyono had regarded so warily when they'd entered the classroom. He caught her eye and smiled, a sly hey-I-noticed-you-noticing-me smile; she returned it casually, then looked back at her notebook.

Note to self: Avoiding eye-contact may be wise. Look into price of Aviators sunglasses. And/or a paper bag.

~x~

Over the course of the week, An put Operation: Make Friends into action. It wasn't like she wanted to be the most popular girl in school, or even like she wanted a large group of friends—when you had a lot, many turned out to be only semi-friends. But she did want to be on good terms with people.

For the most part, her plan worked. She wasn't charming, but she was friendly and outgoing.

Yukimura Sayoko, it turned out, was charming. She must have shared her brother's charisma. She charmed teachers into letting her slip by with half-assed homework, into forgiving her for being inattentive during class. She charmed other students into admiring her, into doing her small favors.

Yet her charm seemed to have an on/off switch. If she didn't care about what you were saying, she made no attempt to hide her disinterest. This happened more often than not; unless she was using her charm, it seemed she was only interested in looking down on anything and everything around her.

"Her brother's so much nicer than she is," remarked Hiyono's honey-haired friend, Kiko, one day during lunch. Kiko was also trying out for the tennis team; she and An had plans to play together that coming Sunday. "God, what I wouldn't do to get Yukimura-senpai to notice me."

An didn't think Yukimura Seiichi was nice at all. His tennis stripped people of their senses, left them with the yips; he allowed his team to do anything at all for the sake of winning. She herself was fiercely competitive, but tennis was still just a game. Intentionally harming opponents was not justified.

Well, okay. Sometimes when she was playing someone that came up to the net, and she didn't like the person, she would whip one towards their face. If they didn't get their racquet up in time to block it, it was their fault.

… Mostly.

Still, she smiled teasingly at Kiko. "To get Yukimura-senpai to notice you? You could dye your hair purple. You could wrestle a bear. You could streak through the halls."

Kiko laughed. "I like my hair the way it is, and as for that last suggestion, even Yukimura-senpai isn't that hot. The bear idea, though, that might be a keeper."

Hiyono nodded, straight-faced. "Oh, yes. I'm sure he thinks girls are at their most attractive when they've been mauled."

An liked these two. She was also becoming friends with a boy in their class, Kaji Rui. He wasn't as good-looking as Tsujiai Tetsushi, the boy who'd smiled at her that first day, but he had soft gray eyes and was very easygoing, very friendly.

So friendly, in fact, that he was close friends with Kirihara. It was unfathomable to her, but hey, the kid could pick his own friends.

While they were eating, Sayoko walked up to them—to Hiyono, really. Kiko and An she didn't so much as glance at. "Hi," she said, and smiled the smile An had mentally dubbed the dazzle-smile. "That group work we're doing today? I was wondering if you wanted to be in a group with me and some others." She tilted her head to indicate the people she'd been sitting with. Kaji was one, and Kirihara usually was, though he didn't spend his lunch periods in the classroom.

Hiyono smiled back carefully, running a hand through her dark brown hair. "Thanks, but I already said I'd be in a group with these two." She gestured to Kiko and An.

Sayoko smiled sweetly, not seeming put-out or offended in the least. "Okay. Maybe some other time."

"Maybe some other time."

Sayoko turned to walk away, but An spoke up, just because she could. She hated when people pointedly ignored others, as if they were nothing. "Hi, we never actually met. I'm Tachibana An."

Sayoko blinked once, slowly, and looked at An expressionlessly, her bright blue eyes unreadable. Then she smiled—not the dazzle-smile, and not even its less intense cousin, the glitter-smile. This was a cool smile, one that walked the line between friendly and unfriendly. She extended a hand to shake. Her nails were bitten to the quick. "Yukimura Sayoko. Nice to meet you."

An met her gaze warily, thinking, Nice, indeed.

~x~

When school ended that day, she stayed after class to discuss an essay with the teacher. She'd never been great when it came to language arts, and Rikkai's curriculum was particularly demanding; she would have her work cut out for her, once tennis started.

As she was leaving the building, someone ran past her, knocking her into the wall.

Somehow, it didn't surprise her that it was Kirihara Akaya.

He kept on going without a word, his tennis bag hanging off one shoulder, his backpack, half-zipped and spilling papers, slung over the other. He was headed toward the tennis courts.

An glared at his back. "That's okay! I was hoping someone would come along and slam me against the building!"

He glanced over his shoulder, green eyes surprised, before he grinned, gave a two-fingered salute, and kept on going, leaving a trail of papers in his wake.

He ran until he crested a hill and was out of her sight.

~x~

On Sunday, An woke around 8 a.m. and pulled on sweatpants (she slept in an overlarge T-shirt and underwear). Venturing out of her room, she found that her aunt Amu was already awake and dressed, her laptop set up on the coffee table.

At her approach, Amu glanced up and smiled, before directing her attention back to what she was working on. "Good morning."

"Morning," An smiled, a little shyly. Amu was her mother's younger sister. An had never spent much time with her, but she was the only relative An had in the Kanagawa region. Once her brother had decided to go pro, An wasn't sure what had made her so dead-set on going to Rikkai. They had an excellent academic program, a fantastic athletic program…

But for the most part, she thought she did it to show that she could. To show that a girl who'd spent most of her life in public school could fit in with the elite, could even show them up. To prove that the people that had hurt her brother, the people that had crushed her team, couldn't intimidate her.

After initial reluctance, her aunt had agreed to let An live with her, clearing out what had used to be her office and turning it into a bedroom. Amu worked for an insurance company, and dedicated most of her life to the job.

An poured herself some orange juice and drank it at the counter. As she placed the glass in the dishwasher she said, "A friend and I are going to play tennis today. If that's okay," she added, still unsure of how much she needed to clear with this new authority figure.

"That's fine," was all her aunt said.

Their court-time was scheduled for eleven to one, but An, passing the door to Hiyono's apartment on her way out, left over an hour early, so that she could wander around the district, further familiarize herself with her new home.

It was a nice day, and she wore a black-trimmed white tennis skirt and a pale yellow hoodie. Even after her wandering, she arrived at the club early, and sat in the lobby, reading a magazines.

"Hey," someone said cheerfully, and An looked up to find Kiko, in a blue athletic jacket with a matching skirt. Halfway through an article on Rafael Nadal, An returned the magazine and smiled, following Kiko to the front desk. The other girl showed her membership card, and An handed over her half of the fee.

The outdoor courts were lined up in a row, with a chain-link fence enclosing them all together in a huge rectangle. An and Kiko took number three, which had just been vacated. They warmed up for about twenty minutes, then agreed to play a two-set match. An learned quickly that Kiko was good, with a lefty slice-serve and excellent ball control. But An was far better, more aggressive, and outran and outhit the other girl.

The match ended with a final score of 6 - 4, 6 - 2 when a forehand of Kiko's sailed just long of the baseline, and they met at the net to shake hands. The hazel-eyed girl was flushed, breathing through her mouth, while An took deep, even breaths, tired but not winded.

"You're really good," Kiko said warmly. "I think you might even have a shot at being a regular." She seemed sincere, and An was impressed by how well the other girl had taken the loss. She herself was sometimes known to be… a less than gracious loser.

Sometimes.

"Thanks. That serve of yours is really killer." It had never occurred to An that she wouldn't be a regular. She knew the Rikkai girls were as indomitable as the boys' team, but she also knew that, although she didn't have the special shots or elaborate style that were often found on the boys' circuit, she was a damn good player.

Still. Would she have the discipline to stay on the team if she didn't get to be a regular?

Turning to pick up the balls, she was startled to see Marui Bunta, Jackal Kuwahara, Yagyuu Hiroshi, and Yanagi Renji hanging around outside the club, clearly waiting for a court. As she knelt down, Sanada Genichirou appeared with Kirihara, Niou Masaharu trailing them. They all wore normal athletic wear, not their jerseys, and talked casually amongst themselves.

Marui yanked on a curl of Kirihara's, and the grappling that ensued was cut short by a reprimand from Sanada. "Check out who's here," she commented to Kiko, when the shorter girl drifted over. Kiko followed her gaze, and beamed.

"That probably means Yukimura-senpai is here, too!"

"I would assume so." And wondered how long they'd been there, whether they'd seen her and Kiko play. No matter how good she was, it still made her self-conscious, the thought that players as unbelievable as they were might have seen her play. No matter their shortcomings as human beings.

As they exited the court, An noticed that the people who'd been on the court beside them were finishing as well. The Rikkai regulars must have scheduled time on both courts—which made sense, considering how many of them there were.

An kept her eyes resolutely ahead of her as she and Kiko walked past the boys, but somehow she accidentally made eye-contact with Jackal. He smiled at her, his white teeth flashing against his dark skin. "You get good topspin on the ball."

So he, at least, had seen her play. "Um, thank you. You… your head is really shiny."

A pause.

"I felt like I should say something nice back," she explained, aware that now the whole team was looking at her with confusion and amusement. Beside her, Kiko stifled giggles.

"… Thank you," Jackal said slowly.

An nodded, and shifted her weight from foot to foot. "So… yeah." She couldn't help it: the boys did intimidate her, at least a little, at least when they were all in a group. She started walking again, Kiko following after a beat.

On their way into the club, she almost ran into Yukimura. His eyes widened fractionally, and he stepped aside, motioning for her to go ahead. "Thanks," she mumbled, and only as she was walking past him did she notice that Sayoko—in a skirt and heels, not tennis garb—was behind her brother.

The two girls locked eyes, each equally surprised to see the other. For some reason, An didn't want to look away first, but—she had to, else she'd walk into the wall.

Walls just really weren't her thing.


This will be like SFUtS in some ways-a few things will be recycled. I wanted this story to be more mature, though.

Disclaimer: I do not own Prince of Tennis, or Green River Ordinance's "Lost in the World" (lyrics at the top).