I don't own Prince of Tennis.

Guest Reviews:

Guest: Wow, that's passionate! You are so going to hate and love me for this chapter then. I'm totally continuing the theme of jerk and not-jerk! It's how it's meant to be! ;)

iris: Haha, glad you had your fun while reading. This should hopefully prove to be just as entertaining!

Fangirl: Now that's enthusiasm! When you counted down the names of all the OCs I was a little shocked at how many there are. Plus, I half-forgot about Matsuo's name even though I specifically looked up the meaning and all. I literally sat there for ten seconds thinking about it because it wouldn't come to me. XD But I'm really glad you like it! I always think people enjoy romances more simply because that's half the reason to write a fanfic. But I can't suppress the need for shenanigans...

And Chiaki would fit with a lot of people. This is not meant to be taken seriously (it's not like I really plan any more pairings!) but I totally think she'd go well with Sanada! She's supposed to be a fine role model but deep inside she's this motherly witch and you'll totally love her in this chapter. I do. SO EXCITED!

Guest Reviews – The End.

Thanks for all your reviews, follows and favorites! They mean the world to me. :) I'm really sorry I went MIA suddenly. The A/N at the end of this chapter explains my long absence.

Life as a boy was becoming second nature to Minori these days.

She had most of her actions and antics down pat—whether that was a good or bad thing was yet to be determined, though. Shredding your last ounce of feminity wasn't exactly something to be proud of. There were moments in which she didn't even feel like much of a girl, like when she and Akaya butt heads and horns together, or when Ryo flattened her to the ground. Toshio slipped up more often, calling her brother even at home. The strict training, the changing rooms, the fictional inability to swim—it all finally went hand in hand, with barely a hiccup in between any longer:

Sanada had his death-ray glare set on her the moment she's late.

Yanagi kept on being pain in the ass with his diet plan. He also vehemently denied having a hand at giving her a cold and solely blamed her previous malnutrition for it.

Somehow Akaya managed to get through a major English test without failing completely. He also bugged the hell out of her to teach him beforehand (on Sanada's demand). They took it so far as to shout random vocabulary at each other even during test matches (because that made Sanada happy). He did help her with Japanese kanji in turn.

Ryo was still suffering a severe case of wanting to be a detective once he grew up. Police officer came in second.

Jackal was her first go-to place when she wanted to hide from the deranged rest and eat in peace. She couldn't even trust her brother on that regard. Hell, he was the least trustworthy. Well, Marui was close, too. He more often than not stole her bentos for the sweet crêpes she carried inside, that sly raccoon.

Yagyuu was watching her with his stoic expression because Niou was constantly watching her—

Minori let out a deep breath and furrowed her brows in annoyance.

Right, there was this whole thing about having a boyfriend now. And that's why life as a boy only became second nature to her. Having a boyfriend was decidedly girly and that bastard trickster knew how to use it to his advantage.

"Minorin," Niou greeted, arm slithering around her shoulder as he popped up in her class once more. "Where are my cookies?"

With trembling hands she pulled out a tiny version of her own bento and shoved it into his chest. "Aren't you becoming too much like Marui these days?" she commented with a sickeningly sweet smile radiating, well, dangerous 'You slavedriver!'-radiation. Metaphorically speaking, of course. She had to play nice with him since he would only stop his pranks to reveal her secret as long as she dated him.

If you could even call what they were currently doing dating.

His smile was the proof of that: calculating and without warmth. He took the bento between his long fingers, brushing hers as if by chance. "I wouldn't dare try to take his king seat. I would probably wind up sick from all the candy."

The brief contact sent uneasy shivers racing up and down her spine. "Really? I would totally pay to see the trickster fall for once." She pointed at one of the cookies he was about to pluck out. "Some of them may have a little too much sugar inside. Try not to fall over from diabetes, wannabe king."

He changed direction mid-way and held the cookie out to her. "If I'm the king, then you shall become my food taster. I'd be so honored."

And as the two more-or-less declared tricksters played their petty, little games, the audience in the background exchanged uneasy looks at the icy atmosphere that slowly spread all over the classroom. Particularly a group of six youngsters grew extraordinarily anxious at the scene they were watching.

Ryo nibbled on the end of his neck tie. "Minori is going to die because of his own poison! It's just like last lunch break!"

Chiaki cocked her head to the side. Her eyes were slanted, gauging the amount of danger her classmate was in this time. "Can somebody explain to me why they are behaving so friendly with each other all of a sudden?"

"Yeah," Kaoru said with her arms crossed. "I mean, it's not like I worry for Kobayashi, but that's seriously nauseating. Nobody messes with Niou Masaharu and gets out alive, so how did he manage it?"

"It's the same during tennis practice. Niou-senpai always makes Minori do something for him." Akaya scratched his head in confusion. "I don't think he minds."

Nana slurped her strawberry milk in peace and calm, looking completely unperturbed by the deeply disturbing sight. "Do you think he lost some bet to him and is now his slave?"

There was a squeak to her right. The whole group turned around to spot a tiny brunette holding her hands to her lips in embarassment. Hanajou Noriko looked as if she wanted the earth to swallow her whole for the sudden attention. She mumbled something before her face went cherry red and she dashed off to escape.

Akaya caught her by the collar just in time. "Oi, where do you think you're going?" Then he frowned and pointed at the other two girls. "Why the hell are you in our class again, anyway?!"

A notebook hit him over the head. "Show some respect to girls for once and let Noriko-chan's collar go. Immediately." Chiaki's smile was cold and mirthless.

The tiny girl was snatched from his grasp by a very tall Ice Queen. How did is it that all the people they meet somehow managed to turn you into an ice brick with just one glance? Akaya gulped. It's not like Sanada isn't enough already.

Kaoru hugged Noriko from behind, effectively shielding her from the boys. "Yeah, don't you dare touch my Noriko again."

"She's not yours. Drop her."

"No, he'll just hunt her down!"

Nana threw the empty milk package at the taller girl. "What the hell are you even blabbering about?"

"Nana! You're not helping me again!"

"STOP!" They halted, and this time their heads turned to Ryo and his manhandled neck tie. "They just left the classroom!" They looked back over their shoulders and true enough—the trickster duo was gone. As was (most of) the icy atmosphere. His eyes watered as all he could do was watch the fall of his friend helplessly. "He's really become Niou's slave! No, even worse!" He fell to the ground dramatically. "Minori wants to substitute us! He's become a real trickster!"

Kaoru harrumphed. "Good for him. Let him taste his own medicine."

Akaya's veins pulsed beneath his skin. "You're starting to annoy me, freaky tall girl."

"Start growing up to my size first before you start throwing around threats—aroof?!" The black-haired girl blinked as a pen landed neatly between her teeth.

Chiaki tapped her foot impatiently, twirling a second pen between her fingers. Nana clapped her hands in amazement. "I'm not going to let you provoke others into a fight. It happens often enough without any incentive." She stopped twirling the pen and pointed it at the kneeling, sobbing form of Ryo instead. Noriko gave it her best shot at patting his back. Her touch was as light as a feather's. "We have to do something about him. It's bothering class morale that Ryo-kun and Minori-kun aren't on good terms."

"Eh?" Akaya almost immediately retorted. "Ryo's always like that, why bother—woah, penpenpen!" He backed away into the closest table, Chiaki's pen hovering dangerously close over his eyes and reminding him too much of a dagger. "Are you trying to kill me?!"

"I'm merely trying to teach you all some manners. Two friends of yours are in trouble." She made sure to give them all a taste of her motherly glare and they looked down guilt-stricken. Ryo was still rolling on the ground in a frenzy. "You better fix this mess or there will be consequences."

They gulped.

How To Date A Trickster Manual:

1) It's unusual.

"This is not how a relationship is supposed to be like," Minori muttered under her breath.

"This is the more exciting version of it," Niou retorted almost cheerily as he descended the stairs, nibbling at Minori's cookies. A few first-years girls greeted him with hushed voices and Minori couldn't help the roll of her eyes. Now that she stuck to him like a third arm she had the chance to see his famed reputation in action.

It's either nauseating or awe-inspiring, depending on the situation and whether the person walking by had once been victim to one of his pranks or not.

He'd once set her up on a date with Noriko and played stalker during the whole length of it, telling her what to do and threatening her with the most ridiculous things should she not comply. Now that he was her boyfriend, he did the same. Only more officially. And more often.

Bring me some cookies tomorrow. Homemade, of course. I have a sudden craving for those, puri~

Toshio had had to physically hold her back from throwing the phone against the wall.

Minori sighed. She had to endure if she didn't want her disguise to be busted.

"Why the long face?" Niou asked, looking at her from over his shoulder. He licked some of the crumbs away from the corner of his lips. "Your secret has never been safer than this past week. After all, I finally stopped trying to expose you."

"Maybe. Instead people are thinking that I'm your slave now. Hell, even Yanagi noticed and tried to give me a rundown on how to handle you best." At his curious look she added, "The tips were mediocre at best and involved joining a Martial Arts Club. Because I'm physically inferior to you."

"Puri," he smirked triumphantly. "I like the sound of that." She bit down a retort because that usually only unleashed more hell. He found a liking in riling her up and because of the distribution of power in their current relationship, he could do so as much as he liked.

She had long since noticed that the two of them walked a very thin line between friendship (well, as much as he was capable of it, that mysterious trickster) and rivalry. It had always been because of the secret he found out about, and the fact that she wanted to keep it safe. When things had calmed down due to Yukimura's illness, a sort of truce had come over them and for a while she had thought things were smoothed out between them. That and the fact that she had more pressing matters to deal with, such as Haruma.

While she was still thinking of what to do with that guy, Niou had already struck a deal with him. And his lips were sealed on how he managed to shut the auburn-haired boy up for good, because he literally wasn't bothering her anymore. Hell, they barely spoke, and if so, then only with a glance from Haruma in Niou's direction as if asking for permission to speak. Haruma. Asking for permission. That guy almost beat her up, he doesn't ask for permission like that!

She was dying from curiosity. What did the trickster tell him?

To find out she was forced into a relationship. Which totally didn't work out the way she imagined because at school she was the very male Minori and he was just a very mean trickster.

When did she ever dare to think of him as a friend again? Because he's a very sharp, double-edged, whimsical sword and just a week of him bossing her around however he liked had rumors circulating like a forest fire. They ranged from slavery to world domination by double trickster-y.

Niou stopped in front of the door leading out to the yard. For a brief moment Minori thought he was going to make another stupid request of her, such as opening the door for him while chanting the Rikkaidai hymn (he'd done it once), but his next action surprised her.

He actually held out the door for her. "After you, sir."

Her eyes shifted left and right, checking for some form of hidden danger but there was none to be found. She blinked at him. "I really don't get you. One moment you're an asshole, the next you're playing nice."

He smirked, closing his lids in the process. It almost looked genuine, and she wondered how many people saw that kind of smile from him. "I can't just change my personality. It's all part of the package."

That's... surprisingly true. He was always the playful dick. The scale of playfulness simply measured a broader ranger than most, including both cruelty as well as soft brushes of skin on skin.

She still didn't know what to make of it, even as she stepped out first. His attitude was tiring at best, annoying at worst. Puzzling most of the time. It was difficult to tell how much of this he took seriously and how much of it was a game—


—and then she was on her butt and the content of her own bento splayed all over the ground.

When Niou and Minori's gazes met, it was as though the harsh winds of Siberia blew between them. "Why, thank you. This king would've lost his dignity if you hadn't stepped up like that."

"Since when did I become your personal bodyguard as well?"

"Since I spotted the banana peel outside the door," he answered bluntly. Minori was boiling on the inside. She cursed him up and down the alphabet. Asshole. Bastard. Cretin. D—

Wait a second. "You spotted it?" If there was one thing he had stopped on doing ever since they started fake-going out, it was his pranks. He ordered around and made her do the silliest things, but he hadn't yet laid a trap for her. That means the banana... suddenly there was some rather suspicious activity coming from the bushes nearby.

Niou followed her gaze before helping her up absent-mindedly. His tongue darted out to wet his lips as he watched the leaves. "You heard me. I never said I placed it there." Turquoise eyes sharpened, a hard edge entering his expression. "It looks like our attackers plan to flee, puri."

"Oh no, you don't," Minori said with a wicked smile and approached the bushes. The leaves trembled furiously. Apparently someone was stuck in a very bad position.

Then the bushes ceased all movement. And a second banana peel came flying at her face. This time she dodged it. She could make out the faint sound of voices now...

"I'm full of scratches. I don't want any more bananas!"

"Just keep on eating!"

"Why am I even stuck with you?!"

"Because we both drew the shortest sticks! Now eat!"

Minori knelt down next to the bush. Her brows rose to her hairline. "Akaya. Ice Queen. What the hell are you doing?"

The two mentioned students froze amidst the sea of leaves, Kaoru in the middle of shoving a banana down Akaya's throat while he tried to shove her off to the best of his abilities. Minori would've laughed about the scene unfolding before her and their comically horrified looks of being detected.

If Akaya didn't just reflexively throw a third banana peel at her face.

Third time's the charm, eh?

It hit its target.

Minori smiled her sickeningly sweet trademark smile of looming danger. She just found a great subject to vent out all her pent-up anger. "Niou," she said standing up, "give me those cookies. I'll make you new ones, promise."

The silver-haired trickster didn't complain. He simply handed her the bento and leaned back to enjoy the show. "I told you this is more exciting," he whispered with a pleased expression.

There were thirty more minutes of lunch break left when the first two guinea pigs returned. Ryo stopped rolling his head around on his desk at the sight of them.

Then he burst out laughing. "What happened to you?!"

It was only Chiaki's stern glare that kept Akaya and Kaoru from leaping at the laughing boy they were forced to cheer up in the first place. Instead they crossed their arms and looked anywhere but at the classmates watching them.

"He had cookies," Akaya said.

"And thorns," Kaoru added.

They left it at that. And thus the mystery of how two of the loudest people in second year were covered in scratches, holes, crumbs, chocolate chunks, and smears of green, red and brown, would never be solved.

Chiaki pursed her lips, looking out at the courtyard below. Ryo did the same and his laughter died immediately in his throat. "I guess Minori is still a slave." He placed a hand on the glass. "I really tried my best last time but it's just not enough against the master trickster..."

Nana threw him a lackadaisical look. "You watched, like, 56 episodes of—okay, Mom, I'll shut up."

Placing her threatening pen back down, Chiaki turned to look at the gathered group. "If we can't rile Minori-kun up for him to go against Niou-san, then I guess we need to think of something better."

How To Date A Trickster Manual:

2) Collateral damage is inevitable.

"Feeling better now?" Niou asked with a playful smirk, stretching out his legs below the table.

Minori cracked her fingers and leaned back as well. The sounds of the cafeteria drowned out most of her irritation. She never liked quiet places, they only made her nervous and fidgety. "Nothing like giving the Ice Queen a good roasting."

"She looks quite hot-tempered to me."

"First impressions are ever-lasting." She poked around her food, now that she'd lost her bento and had to buy some. Damn that Akaya. Why did he let the Ice Queen do with him as she liked? "So. What are we doing now, your majesty?"

He cocked his head to the side, watching her intently. "We're still on a date. Let's enjoy ourselves."

Thank god for the noise. "A school is not a proper dating spot." She paused. "And you're still treating me like a pile of shit."

"We're eating so behave yourself, milady."

"Like you're one to talk."

He raised his fork with a piece of meat perched on its tip. It headed in her direction. "Let's play food taster again, shall we?"

She really shouldn't have over-sugared those cookies. Her stomach was churning just from the word alone. But this is canteen food, there's no way it could be poisoned, right? It's not like she'd taken her eyes off of him.

He smiled, and it was too broad to be warm. "I definitely didn't put something inside it as payback for your sugar bombs."

Uh-oh. "You're not supposed to prank me."

"I'm not. You know exactly what's coming for you." The grin stretched out even further. "That's why it's called payback, puri."


"Whoa, what's this? The mysterious Niou's in the canteen? With chibi bro even!" Minori raised her arms in worship when Marui and Jackal popped up next to their table with their trays of food in hand. Niou clicked his tongue displeased.

"You're interrupting something, shoo." He waved at them with a haughty look.

"No, you're totally saving my life here," Minori countered, clutching onto Jackal's arm. "Sit down, join us," and with a terrified expression only reserved for the Brazilia she mouthed a PLEASE.

Jackal immediately sat down, expression one of a man ready for war. Marui followed, sitting down next to Niou. His tray didn't even consist of something remotely healthy: it was a big pile of sweets. Minori swallowed hard. Just the sight of it, after the cookies. How had Niou found out which ones were over-sugared and why was it not considered torture for him to force her to eat them?

Minori pushed her tray away. "Suddenly I'm not hungry any more."

Marui rose a brow. "Is that an insult?"

"It's a safety measure."

"You. Me. Today on the courts. I'll wreck you for throwing away good meat, chibi bro."

"I'm not throwing it away! You eat it if you like it so much—ugh, please get that cake out of my face."

Niou just watched the scene unfold with barely veiled boredom. It was his turn to poke around his plate, mouth-sized pieces and rice slowly making their ways into his mouth. And here he'd had her all for himself to poison. An audience made his actions obsolete. He didn't like being traced back to.

"So, what are the two of you doing here together? Usually you're with that Satsunomi and Akaya," Jackal started up conversation with his usual friendly smile. Minori noticed his biceps was tensed up. He really was ready for anything. What did she get herself into this time again?

"I was forced," she retorted. "And Akaya is an ass, don't mention that name."

A cough sounding suspiciously like a snicker escaped Niou. Marui picked up on that, munching on some berry cake. "What happened?"

"An incident."

"Didn't look like it," Niou oh-so-graciously provided. She sent him a sharp look he effectively ignored.

"Eh? You're conspiring against us again."

"Do we look as if we're on the same side?" Minori deadpanned.

The Doubles duo regarded them and exchanged a glance before nodding. "Yeah."

And suddenly there was a hand around hers, and warm fingers sent shivers racing up and down her spine. Niou bat his lashes at her. "I told you we look good."

"I think Yagyuu would like to have a word in this." She tried to shake off his hand but he was persistent. Then came his fork back in view. "Oh no." Her face blanched.

"You wanted to poison the king. You should get a taste yourself."

She doubled her efforts to free her hand. The fork was closing in on her like a snake dancing to a snake charmer's flute. "I'm gonna get sick again...!"

"D-Do you need help, Minori-kun?" Jackal asked cautiously.

Marui swat at his partner's hand. "Shh! You don't often get the first rows in one of Niou's pranks!" What?! You traitor! A traitor clad in icing, that's what he was!

And then there was something very cold on her back and Minori jumped out of her chair with such ferocity that she almost flipped over both Jackal's and her own tray of food. "Merde! Who in the fucking—"

"Oh my. I'm so sorry," Nana said with a mechanical, totally uncaring and not at all sorry voice. "My hand slipped."

Minori felt the cool drink seep into her clothes and skin. The smell of strawberry slipped into her nostrils. "Your hand slipped with three milkshakes?!" She pointed at the empty cups on the ground.

Noriko popped up out of nowhere. She looked decidedly unhappy in her skin. "Oh no, silly Nana-chan! Your hand slipped!" she said and clasped her hands together. Minori and the regulars exchanged a stupified glance. Why did her sentence sound so rehearsed? "We have to get you to the infirmary immediately before you get sick again..." There was an awkward long pause. Noriko fumbled out a piece of paper. "Before you get sick again, M-Minori-kun," she read.

Then she tried her best to make eye contact with Minori and mouthed, "We're here to save you, Minori-kun. Please come with us."

And all Minori did was cock her head in question. What the hell is going on? Did she need saving? She wasn't aware.

Marui rapped his knuckles against the table. "9/10. The stutter messed it up." Noriko blushed. Marui cocked his head to the side and frowned. "Don't I know you?"

Noriko's eyes went wide. "N-No!"

"I'm detracting points for each new stutter," Niou called out lazily. Then he turned around and Minori found her wrist back inside his iron grip. Oh no. "Don't think I'll just forget about you."

Meanwhile Nana had gone off to buy herself another strawberry milkshake—this time to actually drink it. Minori and Niou fought over dominance as quietly as they could without drawing much attention to them. Marui circled poor Noriko like a vulture. Jackal looked torn over which side he should actually help—the struggling Minori, or the squirming bundle of shyness his partner was scrutinizing.

"Oh, now I remember!" Marui exclaimed and stopped to grin in Noriko's face. "You're Haruma's little sister, aren't you? I knew I'd remember a cute face like yours." For a genius that guy was completely oblivious of his effect on the tiny girl. It was visible even from afar: something inside her short-circuited.

It seemed that the earth finally listened to Noriko's wishes: her knees gave in and she collapsed to the ground. Marui cursed. "Hey! Hey! Oh shit, chibi bro, what do I do?!"

"I have my own problems here!"


The foreign boy moved to stand. "Don't panic and—COLD!"

"Now my hand really slipped. You shouldn't have gotten up so quickly." Nana looked remotely sad about her fourth spilled milkshake.

Niou stopped his fencing bout when he took note of the chaos. "The canteen ladies are coming over."

Minori didn't have to be told twice. She had her share of detentions. "Escape!"

Chiaki and Ryo waited next to the door of the infirmary while Akaya and Kaoru cleaned themselves up in the nearby toilets. They spotted the two girls walking down the corridor. Ryo perked up when he noticed two other figures with them: one a tall guy, the other really, really small...

Wait. The tall guy was baldy. And since when did Minori have red hair?

Chiaki gasped in horror when Jackal carried the unconscious form of Noriko in his hands. "What happened?!"

For some reason Marui found talking to the ceiling to be more interesting than anyone else. He whistled innocently. "This genius may have been a little too handsome to handle."

There was a flash and a pen and suddenly Jackal had two downed people in his arms. One was red-headed.

How To Date A Trickster Manual:

3) There will be surprises.

"Ugh," Minori groaned as she picked up balls after practice. "I can't believe Sanada got wind of the whole canteen incident."

Marui threw a tennis ball at her. He barely got a flinch out of her as it bounced off her head. "Did you really think I'd pay for your food? Hit and run doesn't work on me, I have two brothers!"

"Yeah, that's why you manage to hospitalize the first girl you speak to." She rolled her eyes.

He drew in a breath in such a dramatic fashion that for a moment she thought it was Ryo. Come to think of it, she hadn't seen him all day. "That's not the first or only girl I speak to! I'm popular!"

"And you're still being punished the same way as me. Hurry up with the left side, I want to go home before the sun sets." Because fate or karma apparently conspired against them, Sanada had punished only the two of them. Minori was certain that Niou had his fingers in this pie, leaving out the important bits regarding himself. Jackal was excused simply because he was the only rational acting being that had actually helped the unconscious girl instead of running away.

"There's always trouble wherever you go. Damned tricksters," Marui muttered as he bent down to pick up another yellow ball. It went into the bucket with a satisfying plonk. "It's even worse when you're together instead of against each other." Yeah, well, at least he didn't have to endure the hardship that was her life. Only the consequences because of it. Disaster as a side dish, how very peculiar this relationship of theirs.

They gathered the rest of the balls in silence before heading to the changing rooms. She let Marui go first and locked up the equipment. By the time she was back he'd already showered.

"Want me to wait?" he asked, tips of his hair still wet. Some things she wasn't going to get used to. Boys just leaving the showers was one of such things.

She was just about to answer when her phone vibrated with a new message. She needn't even open it to know who it was from. "Nah, you can go home. I'm still gonna meet up with someone."

"Another confession?" Marui nudged her ribs.

"Meeting of the Tricksters," she answered sardonically. The red-head's joy quickly morphed to dread.

"I don't want anything to with that. See ya tomorrow, chibi bro." With a wave and a new bubble gum to chew he left her to herself. Sitting down on one of the vacated benches, Minori finally pulled out her phone to read the message.

Go to the eighth court.

Now that's unusually blunt.

Swiftly changing from her tennis uniform into her school uniform, Minori was out of the changing rooms in less than five minutes. Rubbing the back of her neck she rounded the far corner headed for the last courts only to hear the faint sound of a tennis ball clacking off a racket. She frowned. Was he still practicing?

She found the culprit not on the courts but next to the gym, hitting one ball after another against the back wall repeatedly. "Ryo?" she called out tentatively.

He turned his head in surprise.

And immediately earned the returning ball to his face.

Minor couldn't help it; the laughter just bubbled up. The day's tension easing off her shoulders she literally fell to the ground in a hysteric laughing fit. Her stomach already started to hurt, muscles exhausted from the harsh training.

Ryo pouted like a puppy and rubbed his sore cheek. "It's not that funny."

"Your expression," she wheezed out before she succumbed to another laughing fit. "Oh god, it was hilarious!" She tried standing up but her arms only gave in under her. "Dammit. Stop making me laugh."

Ryo grinned and held out a hand to help her up. Even so they almost toppled over again. Minori wiped some stray tears away that had escaped their home. "What're you doing here?" she eventually asked once she had her chuckles under control.

He cocked his head to the side, then looked at the white racket in his hand. "Dunno. Extra practice?"

Sensing that something was out of the ordinary she quickly sobered up. "Are you alright? I didn't see you all day."

"Eh, well, you were off with Niou-senpai all the time, so..." he rubbed the back of his head and laughed. Then he froze. And suddenly he dropped the racket and grasped her shoulders as spontanously and dramatically as he always did. "Is it true that you're his slave?! No, wait, you get along now so you must be friends. World Domination after all?!"

Apparently Ryo had gotten wind of the whole disturbing range of rumors. That idiot. "We have a ceasefire," she answered after a moment's contemplation. "A more or less permanent one, I guess?" I mean, they were technically in a relationship and all that. However little romance there was between them. She was still prepared for the next date from hell.

"Really?" Puppy eyes. Must. Resist.

She pat his head. Couldn't resist. "Really." Remembering Marui's words, she added, "I'll be less troublesome from now on. No more detention for us!" They high-fived.

He bent down to pick up the racket he dropped and dusted it off. "It's just that both you and Akaya are regulars, so it's kinda hard for me to keep up. And then came Niou..." There was almost a sense of danger underlying his words and Minori couldn't help the chuckle. There are times when even Ryo is just another boy and not a squirrel on drugs. "So, uh, Chiaki-chan and the rest kind of tried to cheer me up and save you."

Minori blinked. "Wha? The rest?"

"Akaya and Kaoru-chan, Nana-chan and Noriko-chan. Jackal was very nice, too!" Ryo shuddered and his face blanched. "Do you think Chiaki-chan is a ninja? She can throw pencils like shuriken."

Pencils—"So that's why Marui's bruise has an odd shape!"

"Yeah, that's Chiaki-chan for you! Oh, and Akaya even had cookie crumbs up his nose. What did you do? He won't tell!"

They shouldered their bags and set off for the bus, grinning. "Well, he kind of caught me at a bad time..."

When Minori came home, she showered and ate dinner with her family. Toshio and she played a racing game until late into the night. Only when she was too tired to keep her eyes open did she reach for her phone and opened the message from before. The small screen was too bright against the dark of her room, eyes squinting in protest, but she still typed an answer.

Thanks, your majesty. Hope you didn't stalk us all the way home.

Although it was late the response arrived almost immediately. A king does not stalk. And a magician doesn't reveal his secrets.

She grinned. Feeling guilty for all the things you forced me to do?

I don't possess a sense of guilt. And I want a homemade bento for next Thursday. No poison.

You greedy pig!


They wrote with each other like that for another hour. Minori got detention the next day for sleeping in math class again. And for some reason she couldn't wipe the smile off her face the entire day.


We're getting there. Slowly, harhar.

Sorry for my long absence. I'd hate to leave this story hanging for too long since it's been through that phase once and we don't need a repeat of that. I managed to squeeze in a message on my profile saying that I won't be able to update but that's basically all I could do. At first I was simply swamped with college, then a minor writer's block (because oh shit, romance plot?!) and then we moved into a new apartment and I didn't even have internet access for roughly a month. And I'm still surrounded by boxes full of my stuff. Moving can be real slow work...

Let's hope I better myself! See you around! :)