The Heroes of Sakakino

Chapter 9 If at first you don't succeed

The halls bustled with students after the between courses bell. Eiichi had to rush to meet with Yuuki in a space on the second floor because they only had a narrow window of time. He took a different route to make sure Kotonoha didn't run into him along the way.

Yuuki was waiting at a corner where the hall made a right turn, standing around and looking the exact opposite of relaxed. He turned and saw Eiichi as he rushed up beside him.

"So why did you say to meet here?" Yuuki asked.

"Because Koto and I sometimes meet up the hall from here by the vending machines," he leaned, peaking around the corner. "Sometimes she brings friends by, so there's also no guarantee she'll be alone. If that happens, we'll have to try during lunch,"

"Maybe we should just try during lunch anyways?" Yuuki didn't sound ready at all.

"Nah, we're here now, and you need to get this taken care of," Eiichi wanted to get Yuuki to confess as soon as possible so he could work on getting him focused on Roka. Just now he realized, if she saw them together, not only would there be enough static between the two to make him woozy, but he'd have to come up with a story fast as to what they were doing. It would have to be the second or third story he'd come up with recently, "Yeah hey, I had to cover for you hardcore yesterday. Because of your plan to get me to defame myself by beating on you, Kotonoha heard about the fight and had a few questions to ask. I don't know how much longer I can keep hiding stuff from her."

"Even though you didn't give me a beating, Chie certainly did," Yuuki rubbed the top of his head. "I didn't think she'd find out so fast."

"Word spreads like fire. That text she sent me was not at all what I expected. She's just cool with anything, isn't she?"

"Try being her little brother."

Chie's text had just been another reminder to Eiichi of how off track things were getting, but whenever one problem was solved, two others popped up in its place. She had made a joke that Eiichi was cutting things close by trying to steal her objective, and should stick with his own so he didn't steal her thunder as well. Eiichi merely reassured her that was not his intention and that things happened to set themselves up this way. He said he would get back to working with Roka.

'But not now. I gotta' help my crossdressing ex-rival propose to my girlfriend…'

"By the way, what'd you tell Katsura-san?"

"Not important," he left the corner and approached the edgy Yuuki. "Now I want you to take this seriously."

"How can I not!?" Yuuki looked up with wide eyes.

"Well, you did say it was stupid a few times. C'mon, you're bearing your soul to another, and trusting how they're going to handle it, that takes a different kind of bravery. Putting yourself out there like that is putting yourself in their care for just a few seconds. It can be very serious, on an emotional and physical level."

"You're not making this sound any easier."

"Just remember what I told you yesterday. You're confessing, and while you have to make it sound serious, it can't be a big deal in your head, even though it is—I mean, just stay calm, okay."

"Okay…" Yuuki looked around the hall nervously. "I wrote out what I'm going to say to her, but I keep having trouble remembering it."

"Probably because you're so damn nervous."

"Yeah-yeah," Yuuki flexed his fingers repeatedly, his head jerked toward Eiichi, "I need you to look over it," Yuuki thrust a paper in front of him.

"Whoa, whoa, I can't read that, that's for her eyes only, classified documentation, I could be court marshaled."

"Come on, I'm floundering here," Yuuki pleaded.

"That's part of the experience man, standing alone."

Yuuki strained, "Just please, I want to make sure I remember it."

"No, if I take that, it won't be special anymore."

Yuuki's eyes grew keen, "Technically it's not special to begin with. Whose idea was this again?"

"Hey, it's for your benefit," Eiichi pointed, "I think you're making too big of a deal out of it, which is making it worse on you."

"You said it would be understandable if I was nervous. Maybe this is just how I deal with it, did you ever think of that?"

"Okay, fine! We'll do it your way, gimme' the stupid paper," Eiichi snapped it out of Yuuki's hand.

He smoothed it out and Yuuki watched as his eyes scanned over the page from line to line, muttering the words to himself. Then his eyes turned up at Yuuki from the page.

"This? You're going to say this?"

Yuuki irked, "Yeah! Is there a problem?"

Eiichi shook the page while speaking, "In a sonnet, Shakespeare wrote one of the most heartfelt proposals in all of literary history and it was written at an eighth grade level, eighth grade Yuuki! What is this?" swatting the paper, "No wonder you can't remember it," he handed the parchment back.

"What, is it too difficult for the school delinquent?" Yuuki mushed his voice.

Eiichi's sharp eyes leered at him, "I'm pretty sure the 'acrimony of your disrobed fidelity' will 'ameliorate' itself. If you say it like this, it's not going to be believable. Though your 'la douleur exquise' is an understandable position for you to be in. I can't even pronounce that!"

Yuuki adjusted his tie, "Well, I am the librarian."

"I'm the older one."

"Are you as well read though?"

"Oh, just you wait, I'm going to drop some prose on your ass when this is all over," Eiichi peaked back around the corner.

Kotonoha was taking a little longer than usual and Eiichi wondered if there would even be time for Yuuki to make it with the 'how do you dos'.

"How can I be so nervous if she's already going to say no?" said Yuuki, who in his inescapable discomfort, had begun bouncing on his toes.

"That's just how it is, bearing your soul is daring work. Just remember to breathe and don't buckle your knees like that or you're gonna' go down before you get to 'smoothing her midnight fibers'—don't think that I missed that."

"Sorry, I can't help it…" Yuuki shook.

Eiichi turned back to him, "Okay, before we get the show going, tell me some of the things you like about her?"

"What?"

"Lay it on me, I promise I won't freak."

"Why would you want me to do that?"

"I'm getting you warmed up. You've known her longer, but I've been around her more, so it's probably nothing new to me."

"Ah jeez, uh…" Yuuki, still bouncing, looked to the ceiling, trying to arrange his thoughts in the open space. Then he looked at Eiichi, whose eyes were bouncing up and down with his rhythm, "Okay, well I've only noticed it a few times. I didn't hear her all that well, but I use to pass by her in the library while she was reading, and I think she would sometimes quote the female dialogs out of her favorite romance novels."

"Mhm…" Eiichi nodded while placing his hands on Yuuki's shoulders to get him to stop bouncing.

"And when she takes her glasses off, how she blinks her eyes."

Eiichi breathed a little laugh with a reminiscent nod to the floor, "Yeah…"

"And when she holds her pencil in her mouth when she's really focused."

"Yeah…"

"And when she stretches after reading for a very long time."

"Yeah~"

"And…are you okay?"

Eiichi looked up from his trance, "I'm sorry, you were saying…"

Yuuki turned his head, uncertain, "I wonder if I should be doing this now…"

"Nah, nah, come on," Eiichi collected himself. "Okay, all those things, forget about them now."

"Why did you tell me to remember them!?"

"To remind you why you're doing this, it eases the tension. Now wash your mind of them, she's just another person."

"Why do I need to do that? I felt better talking about those things!"

"So you don't get all googly eyed and start giggling like you're the school girl. There has to be a disconnect so you can think about what you're doing."

"Maybe you're the one making this more complicated."

"Maybe you just need to listen to what—oh, there she is!"

Eiichi had been looking around the corner when Kotonoha appeared by the vending machines. She looked around a little before operating a machine and then stood by it with a drink in her hand, likely waiting for him to show.

"Oh man, oh man…" Yuuki's flustered eyes locked on to his shoes.

Eiichi coped with the throbbing in his head, "Stay calm. Remember, she's just another person."

"Okay…just another person…" Yuuki edged to the corner of the wall.

"Go to it kid, sink or swim," Eiichi gave him a light shove and Yuuki's feet kicked off down the all.

His legs felt lighter than they ever had, and he couldn't tell if this was a good or bad thing. He kept Kotonoha in his vision, looking to the side occasionally to remind himself of where he was. He couldn't remember much of his journey before making it to her, he must have glided right past all the moving student obstacles without even thinking about it, he had been afraid he'd bump into someone or trip on his way over.

Kotonoha's head turned and she recognized him immediately, "Hello Ashikaga-kun, it's nice to see you outside of the library for once. How've you been feeling, has anything been bothering you?"

That soothing, concerned voice caressed his ears, coming from a face of ceramic beauty. Such dark and mystifying eyes could never be so wholesomely welcoming on any other member of the female gender. He felt like just a boy now, in need of her guidance.

"Um-uh, h-hello Katsura-san. No, I don't believe so," his mouth felt so dry and cottony, he didn't know if he'd be able to speak well.

"That's odd, because I noticed you've seemed quite troubled lately…"

"Oh, I have? M-Maybe it's just things have been difficult. Um, I do have something I would like to talk about…"

"Of course," she blinked a few times and he thought his legs might give out right there.

'Bend the knees, bend the knees…'

He'd known her for so long and it was happening, it was finally happening. He had the words, he had this, "K-Katsura-san…"

"Yes Ashikaga-kun?"

He straightened up, mouth tense, "You…you are, my ever…my ever…"

He had the words, but he couldn't remember them.

"My promise—prominent…joy that is…sorrow of…ev-ever…lasting…" he swore he could hear his breathing in his head. Her eyes on him with that tiny smile, he couldn't look away to collect himself.

Back by the corner, Eiichi did his best to remain out of sight, but had to allow himself a little peak. When he did, he could see Yuuki's hand touching the lower pocket of his coat.

"Don't take the paper out, don't you fucking take the paper out…"

Yuuki fumbled, "M-My acrimony…"

"Ashikaga-kun, are you feeling alright?" her concern cut him off. Kotonoha leaned forward to look at Yuuki's forehead. "You seem a little discolored, are you getting a fever?"

She was so caring…

Yuuki leaned away, blatant nervousness painted his tense face as she got closer, "I-I don't know…I may've been feeling a little ill," he couldn't help being somewhat truthful with her, only out of pure enchantment. He did have a fever of sorts.

"You may want to go back to class and rest."

"Okay, I'll do that," willing to accept anything she said.

"But before you go, I just want to ask you, why did you want to hurt Eiichi?"

"Eiichi?" who's Eiichi~

"He told me you two talked it out and that you were very forgiving."

"I was~" more like a question than a statement.

"I don't want to sound offensive, and please forgive me if I do, but it must be so difficult living with such a severe Napoleon complex."

"Uh what?" Yuuki froze.

"He told me all about it."

"He did, did he…" one of Yuuki's eyes twitched.

"Oh no, I am bothering you," she set her drink down by the machine, "I want you to know that you can come talk to us any time you want. I know he can look scary, and that you two haven't been on the best of terms, but Eiichi is very good with people. He told me he was able to get you to acknowledge it."

"Yeah…" Yuuki's voice hissed through a plastered grin, "it's been so…hard. But that Eiichi…boy, he really is a good guy."

She took his hand and held it in both of hers and Yuuki was willing to forgive Eiichi, and the entire world for his 'disposition', "You don't have to feel self-conscious, we're here for you."

One more look at that face and the whole world lost its value, but he knew his chance was over. The best he could do was collect what was left of his dignity and leave.

"Uh-uh-um, thank you very much! I will definitely remember that! Well, I better get going so I can rest up good!"

He turned abruptly, not remembering where his surroundings were, and was greeted with an immediate close-up of a soft drink logo.

Wham!

Heads turned at the noise.

"Oh my! Are you alright?"

Yuuki soon found himself stepping back into Kotonoha's hand, instinctively touching his forehead.

"Yes, yes, I'm fine. No harm done," his knee throbbed from hitting the coin return slot. Repeating himself with a little less vigor, "Well, I better get going. Have to lay low so I can fight off whatever it is I have."

"O-Okay, be careful…" Kotonoha let him go.

"See ya later!" he waved, trying not to limp on his way back.

Eiichi's bland expression greeted him on the other side of the corner, "Nice going Alexander Dumbass, I heard that from all the way over here. I'm surprised you didn't get a free drink out of the deal."

"Napoleon complex?" Yuuki clutched his head, "I have a Napoleon complex!?"

"Ah hell…" Eiichi rubbed his own forehead because of a different pain. "I didn't think she'd actually mention it."

"Not helping Eiichi! Not helping!"

"Stop repeating yourself, it's giving me a headache. Anyways, what'd she say?"

"Um…" he looked away.

"I saw her hold your hand, so what'd she say?"

Yuuki changed his position of avoidance.

"Yuuki…"

He remained silent.

Eiichi tipped his head, "Yuuki…"

"I'm sorry! I couldn't stop thinking about all those good things you told me to say about her. That and this hallway is too crowded, I'm afraid someone will hear, it's really embarrassing."

"Oh yeah, I guess I should have told you to ask her someplace where you could say it in private."

"Yeah! That would've been nice!" Yuuki flared.

"Well, you wouldn't have had time anyways, and it might have made her a little nervous, but if it's you, I think she would have been fine. Whatever, there's always lunch."

They began walking on their way back to their classes, which were already starting to fill up.

"Lunch? This was a disaster!"

"Means next time it won't be a disaster, as much…kinda'…maybe..."

Yuuki took the note out of his pocket, "Can't I just touch it up and leave it in her shoe locker?"

Eiichi shook his head, "Oh no, you're going to do this upfront. You've got to face this confession head on. You're a man, so act like one."

"But I've heard that girls think it's mysterious."

"We're not going for mysterious. We're bringing out your expressions in full, it can be done with a love letter, but it's not the same. By the way, scratch your letter, it's not going to work."

"But what am I going to say? I worked hard on this…"

"That's why you adlib, you may not get to say everything, but it still comes from the heart."

"I have to admit though…" Yuuki pondered. "That was…kind of amazing."

Eiichi patted him on the shoulder, "You're on your way. Time for round two."


"Just give me the phone!"

"No! No! This is ridiculous!"

"It's not ridiculous, it's planning!"

"I'm not giving you my phone!"

"Yuu-ki!"

When lunch started, Eiichi had sent Yuuki a text with Kotonoha's number on it, surprised when he found out Yuuki had known her for as long as he did and never once received her number, even under friendly circumstance. He'd sent the message in hopes that Yuuki would agree to send her a message asking to meet him in the courtyard so he could speak with her privately. Yuuki had been completely opposed to the idea of Kotonoha receiving a text message from him in such an unexpected manner.

Just beyond the courtyard, at the side of a building, they were locked in a mortal combat of sorts, Yuuki pushing Eiichi's face away while holding the phone with his other hand as far out of reach as his smaller frame would allow, Eiichi making exhausted efforts to swipe it.

"You're only making it harder on yourself!"

"I don't wanna' do it!"

"And why not!"

"It's ridiculous and convoluted! I could come up with better!" Yuuki waved the phone as Eiichi's hand made for another swipe.

"No, you're plans would involve finding a bunch of people at your same height, making them all dress so they looked like you, and just confusing the hell out of her!" Eiichi grabbed Yuuki's wrist and pulled the hand away from his face.

"That's not what I would do!" Yuuki bolted away a safe distance.

"You're just angry because you didn't come up with it first!" Eiichi huffed, not bothering to chase after his equally stubborn cohort, "Jeez, getting you to do this is like pulling teeth. We did it your way, now we're doing it my way."

"Okay! But let me do it," Yuuki opened his phone and shook his head, "Man, this is stupid."

Eiichi wiped his face with the back of his hand, "Maybe I should keep record of how many times you've said that. It's only stupid because you're still nervous."

"What if she asks how I got her number?"

"We know each other now, tell her the truth, I gave it to you. After this, if she wants to ream me out, consider it taking one for the team."

"Yeah, 'cause you're such a swell guy," Yuuki tapped on his phone, "There, I sent it."

Eiichi stepped closer to pick up if he was lying, "So you really sent it?"

"Yeah! I know I pulled some stuff on you, but you could at least trust me a little."

"Good," Eiichi took his phone out.

"What the hell are you doing?"

"Wait until she answers back, then I'm going to send a text telling her I'm on the roof."

"Why're you doing that?"

"Because Yuuki, I've been avoiding her for long enough and frankly, it's making me a little anxious. You've got to pull through on this sometime or I'm out. No pressure."

"No worries," Yuuki grinned while making an impolite gesture involving a specific finger.

"Spoken like a true gentleman…" Eiichi, not looking up from his phone.

Yuuki's phone vibrated…

"It's her, she's on her way."

"Alright…" Eiichi pressed send.

A minute later his phone vibrated: 'Wow! Lunch on the roof? I've never been up there before, won't we get caught?' everybody was beating him up today.

Eiichi chuckled while writing his response: 'I understand, you're irritated. Just please show up, there's a reason why and I'll explain everything.'

Kotonoha: 'Well this time, you're going to have to wait. Yuuki wants to talk with me about something. Who knows, I might just lose track of time.'

As cruel as it sounded, she was only expressing her frustration. He had always been there for her in the mornings and evenings, she was aware that he had a life outside of their relationship, just as she did. He didn't know if she spent any of her lunches alone, but he knew she had friends. It was all the secrets. Honesty had been one of the virtues that brought them together, but life had found a way to tear him from that too, his good nature forcing him to keep the secrets of others from her.

Eiichi looked up from his phone, "Could you tell me, why Koto?"

"Where did that come from?" Yuuki asked.

"Well, what're your reasons? Besides the fact that she's just awesome, but why specifically her?"

Yuuki pondered, "Well…she's really kind…and we do have a lot in common."

"I suppose, but you can't go just based on similarities."

Yuuki raised a skeptical eyebrow, "You don't believe in that opposites attract junk?"

"I don't know. I guess I wouldn't say I believe in it one hundred percent. I think people just find the right one. Sometimes they think they've found the right one and commit to them too early. Sometimes they don't know which one is the right one. Whether they're the same or different shouldn't matter. There are good people out there, and good people should be with good people. The interesting parts are getting to know one another, whether you have the same interests or not. Aren't her and I a good example?"

"Now that you say it, I guess I wanted her because she was the only true person I knew…"

"There are more good people out there than you think. You may not even know that they're good because they hide it."

"You mean like you?"

"Sort of," he'd actually been thinking of Roka. "But aside from your reasoning, there shouldn't be any need for discernment. You like someone just because you do. It's like if someone were to ask you what your favorite color is, or your favorite thing to eat. How do you explain that? You can give reasons why, and what draws you to them, but how do you explain really liking someone?"

"You kinda' went the other direction on that one. Do you do this around her as well?"

Eiichi chuckled, "I use to, I guess I still do it sometimes. I mainly wanted to show you it doesn't all have to be elaborate descriptions and deep meanings."

Yuuki frowned, "By using elaborate descriptions and deep meanings."

"Do you ever stop being a smart ass?"

"Takes one to know one…" Yuuki looked out from the corner, "Crap—she's here."

The two bolted for the wall, just as Kotonoha came walking from the direction of the doorway around the corner, in view of the courtyard.

Eiichi and Yuuki's heads appeared, one above the other, peaking around the corner.

She approached a set of benches under a squared arrangement of sakura trees, nearly in full bloom, and began looking around. Eiichi and Yuuki ducked back behind the wall before her eyes could scan in their direction.

"First I'm avoiding her, now I'm stalking her. This is a new low…" Eiichi said from his space on the wall. "You better get out there before she gets impatient and leaves. When you say to meet someone some place, that means you have to be there when they get there," swatting Yuuki on the arm.

"That's not normally how I do things, how many times do I have to apologize?" Yuuki strained his whispering.

"Nothing you can do about it now, you're gonna' have to explain yourself somehow," he grabbed Yuuki and pushed him to the corner. "Remember, no twenty-five yen words, breathe, and you're just talking to her. Stop her when you get the chance so you can say it. Go-go-go…" giving him another shove.

After Yuuki took off, Eiichi, happy to not be dealing with Yuuki's nervousness walloping him over the head for a few minutes, had peeked around the corner when he thought it safe and for a moment, found himself marveling at the sakuras.

Eiichi knew that Yuuki had been envious of his romantic status with Kotonoha, but suddenly, he was feeling a little envious of Yuuki to have had such a well stage set. Eiichi's confession had been nowhere near as romantic, not what Kotonoha or any girl like her deserved, and it was his fear that his special way of doing things had only created the impression that life with him would only mean living life on the edge for her.

Yuuki stumbled out to the courtyard and attempted to keep his gait smooth as he approached the beauty standing beneath the sakura trees. The pedals were too fresh to be falling off their buds, to create a cliche that Yuuki was very familiar with, but the scene was beautiful none the less.

"Hello Katsura-san," he gave a little wave.

Kotonoha turned to greet him, "Ashikaga-kun, I didn't think I'd be seeing you again today. Are you feeling better?"

"Oh yes, your advice really helped. A few hours with my head down and I felt right as rain," rocking a fist and feeling his words couldn't sound anymore fake.

"I hope you didn't get into trouble for sleeping in class because of my advice," she was so thoughtful…

"Ahm…n-no. I made sure of that…"

"Oh, well that's good. So what did you want to talk to me about?"

Birds chirped with the light droning of afternoon traffic beyond the school.

Yuuki scratched a displaced finger over his cheek, "Um, what I wanted to talk to you about?"

"Yes…" Kotonoha gave a gentle smile and nod.

"Uh…I-I-uh…"

He should make eye contact, should he? Maybe he shouldn't, last time had been enough to ruin things.

Yuuki's eyes rolled up toward the trees, "My, the sakuras look really nice this year."

"Oh! Yes, yes they do," Kotonoha smoothed her gaze over the pink buds and fresh petals.

It was quiet enough for Eiichi to hear them now, and he was currently fighting the urge to bash his head against the brick wall behind him, 'Stupid, stupid, stupid…'

"A-And the weather's been nice too. It doesn't look like we'll be getting any rain before the graduation."

'That's great Yuuki, you'll make a fine weatherman someday…'

"Mhm," Kotonoha nodded, "Eiichi isn't very fond of it, so it'll be good for him as well."

Yuuki grew more reluctant, that one hurt, even if Eiichi was the one helping him out, "Um…he doesn't like rain?"

"No, it um…" putting a finger to her lips, "It gives him headaches. He's very susceptible to moist weather."

Eiichi touched the back of his head to the wall, looking up at the small white clouds. She covered for him so well. Though whenever he was around her during a downpour, things were that much better.

"Oh…" Yuuki cast his eyes down, feeling more defeated, "I guess some of those rumors about him faking weren't true…"

"No," Kotonoha shook her head, "they're not. I understand that's what everyone believed about him for a time, but he really does have a disposition. It was very hard for him. A little bit like what you're going through, Ashikaga-kun."

Yuuki flustered and nearly lost his footing.

"You shouldn't be so angry with him. I believe that you two have more in common than you think."

He blinked sadly, frowning at his shoes. From around the corner, Eiichi listened intently.

"Is that why you wanted to talk to me?" she asked.

Yuuki now had something more important to get off his chest.

"Um…yeah…" Yuuki muttered. "I've been worried that I brought back some of that. You two have just started something good, and I fear that I was so angry because of my…disposition, that I just brought back everything on you two. I just wanted to…apologize for that. I'm very ashamed about it," he kicked his heels together and bowed, his waist bending nearly at ninety degrees, his head of semi-lengthy, brown locks hung in front of her.

He felt a delicate hand flutter to his shoulder, and a dulcet, pleading voice met his ears, "Please stand."

When he did, Kotonoha's face was much closer than he'd remembered, her dark, yet forgiving orbs on his.

"I speak for Eiichi and myself when I tell you we forgive you. You have been such a kind friend to me this past year Ashikaga-kun, and I cannot see how you could do any wrong that is unforgivable. I would like, if you could, that you join us more regularly. Please talk to Eiichi when you get the chance, I believe you two could become very good friends."

"Would he be willing to do that? He seems like he has a short fuse."

'You little…' Eiichi cringed.

"I know he seems that way, but if he is, it's not for the reasons you think. He's really a kind person, and only wants the best for others."

"Okay…I'll tell him that when I see him next."

"Have a good rest of the day Ashikaga-kun, I hope to be seeing you soon," her hand brushed off his shoulder as she walked past and headed for the door.

When Eiichi heard it clank shut, he rushed to Yuuki, who stood at his place in the courtyard, looking at his shoes again. As he got closer, Yuuki's depression began causing him more pain than his fear and irritation.

"Did you get all that?" Yuuki asked the approaching footsteps.

Eiichi placed himself calmly right in front of him. He looked at Yuuki and then to the door where Koto had left.

"You had your window," he said through the thumping in his head.

"I don't know, it just felt wrong…" Yuuki shuffled a foot, not looking at Eiichi.

"But I gave you permission…"

"I can't…I can't do it…she's yours…"

When they had talked yesterday, Yuuki's remorse had been very present and Eiichi knew that he was regretting all of his actions, but now, it was overwhelming. Yuuki didn't feel worthy at all, for Eiichi's companionship or Kotonoha's kindness, and he was ready to give up just as well.

"And you just want to live with that? I can guarantee, it won't be easy to let go."

"Yeah…" Yuuki breathed.

"After everything, you're just going to give up, just like that."

"You were right, you were right all along, and I just wouldn't listen. Yes, I'm giving up…"

He had to get Yuuki back in, if not for him, then for Roka. No! For both of them. What he was trying to get Yuuki to do sounded so strange in his head, but he knew it was right.

Eiichi placed a hand on Yuuki's other shoulder, the one Kotonoha didn't touch, "Hey…"

Yuuki looked up at him.

"You heard her, I forgive you. I told you I'd help you out and that's exactly what I'm doing. Forget what I said earlier, I'm not going to stop until you finally say it to her. You think I'm doing this just to satisfy my own ego? To make myself feel all good inside because I helped someone open up their eyes?"

Yuuki looked away, "Well—"

"That's just a perk. You need this man. If you say I'm right about everything, then I must be right about this as well."

"Did you hear me? I said it doesn't feel right."

"Stop relying on just your feelings. I know about feelings, I also know if people live their lives based on feelings, they're going to be very miserable. Sometimes you wind of doing things that don't feel good at all, but they're good for your, so you do them anyways. I'm trying to tell you this will be good for you in the long run. It's uncomfortable, it's embarrassing, and you may not feel better about it when it's over, but you'll eventually grasp what it is you've accomplished."

"But it's over, I tried again and it still didn't work…"

"Don't say that, you do not want to see that side of me. Don't let me hear a person with your skills and determination say 'it can't be done'."

Yuuki sighed, "What am I supposed to do then?"

"You try it again, and again, and again, until you finally get it out. Relationships don't just happen as long as you obsess about it, they take effort. Sometimes, depending on the girl, even if she says no, you do it a few more times, just to make sure. It's embarrassing as hell, but worth it. Eventually you're going to smooth out, and it won't be such a big thing. You're going to confess to her. Even if I have to drag you there, and you know I will."

"I think it's because she's yours, that's why I'm having so much trouble. I think…I think I need…"

"Ah great…" Eiichi groaned, "you're gonna' tell me I have to hold your hand, aren't you…"

"Regardless, we're out of time, it'll have to wait until tomorrow."

Eiichi let go of his shoulder and took a deep breath, "No we're not."

"And why is that?"

"Because I sent her that text saying I'd meet her on the roof…" a bone chilling, nervous grin spread itself on Eiichi's pale face, "And she's gonna' kill me if I'm not there…"

"We gotta' go!" Yuuki panicked.

"Alright, smoke 'em if ya got 'em!" Eiichi was the first to bolt for the door.

He held it open as Yuuki ran through and then followed behind.

The halls had minimal clusterings of students, who observed as the two came charging through. They had to take the long way again, to avoid running in to her.

Thanks to a couple years of jump rope and working the pad, Eiichi was having no problems. He wasn't a fast runner, but his stamina could carry a couple miles. In moments, he found himself traveling past Yuuki and soon leaving him in the dust.

He slowed down and looked back, "Come on, run faster! I know you can do better than that!"

Yuuki heaved breaths in and out of his mouth, almost wheezing, his hands swinging up and down in front of his face, "I'm not my sister! She's the athletic one!"

"Pick up those feet! If we hadn't stood around talking, we could've been there by now!"

Yuuki spoke between exhausted breaths, "This is…too much work…for a confession…"

Eiichi rounded to the staircase and waited for Yuuki to make it to the first step and they were on their way up the flights. Eiichi was taking two steps at a time and waiting on Yuuki at the top of each flight. Yuuki tried feebly to do the same, stumbling here and there, Eiichi being thankful his self-defeating depression was no longer a problem, but worried Yuuki might actually hurt himself and having to fireman carry him the rest of the way.

They were almost there, they had two flights to go and were halfway up the second when Eiichi had been looking up. A head of black, long hair materialized from behind the walled arm rail, headed upwards, in their same direction.

On the last three steps, his foot kicked one and he toppled forward, laying out on the flight landing on his side.

"Eiichi!" Yuuki had been a few steps down from him when he made it and saw who'd been waiting, causing him to trip and fall on his face, arms splayed forward, next to Eiichi.

Kotonoha had turned and faced the two klutzes that laid themselves at her feet, "Eiichi, I thought you said you were on the roof…"

Yuuki lifted his head slowly with a groan, adjusting his thankfully unbroken glasses.

"Uh-juh-I-uh," Eiichi's hands fiddled around before he propped his head on one fist, "H-hey babe…"

The one word he hated to hear out of anyone's mouth, and in his panic, it just happened to be the one that came cavorting out of his. Suddenly he wanted to get his hands on a bottle of mouthwash as soon as possible. He could tell she didn't like it either.

"Babe?" tipping her head to the side, "What happened to Koto…and why is Ashikaga-kun with you?" she looked at Yuuki. "Ashikaga-kun, when I said 'see you soon', I didn't mean in five minutes."

They got up and began dusting themselves off, whispering.

"We're in trouble now Yuuki…"

"Just do your thing n' play it cool…"

Eiichi stepped forward, feeling her curiosity and confusion frisking the two of them, "I know that I said before that I would explain some things, and I will. But first we have something to get out of the way," he turned and looked at Yuuki and then back to Kotonoha. "We should probably step out for this."


Under a clouded sky, on the sunlit roof of Sakakino Academy, there was a subtle breeze to go along with the events about to take place. Kotonoha stood facing the two chums with her hands clasped together.

Yuuki, standing just in front of Eiichi, smoothed the sides of his slacks, not really sure what to do with himself. Eiichi, off to Yuuki's side, kept his hands in his pockets, eying the two.

"Uh, Koto…Yuuki here has something to say to you…" Eiichi motioning with a nod.

Standing in his place, Yuuki looked up to Kotonoha, when he felt Eiichi's hand give him a third shove forward, making him turn his head.

"Would ya quit that?" his voice strained.

Eiichi gave a momentary smile to the confused Kotonoha.

Yuuki positioned himself in front of her and checked his uniform before turning his wary head back on his guardian. What followed after was a barrage of minimally coherent hisses.

"Back up a little…"

"I'm gonna' hear it anyways!"

"You're cramping my style!"

"You needed me to be here!"

"I didn't mean so close!"

"Just shut up n' say it!"

Kotonoha watched the display, wide eyed and blinking.

The two collected themselves, Eiichi looking idly around the roof, Yuuki smoothing his uniform again.

When Yuuki stepped a little closer, Eiichi focused. Yuuki took one more look into Kotonoha's eyes before promptly bowing again. The wind brushed his locks slightly as they hung.

"Katsura-san…I have been in love with you ever since the day we first met…" during this period, Eiichi watched as Kotonoha's astonished eyes never left the top of the head on the boy in front of her, her mouth parted. "Every day I saw you, every brief amount of time we spent together, I only grew more fond of you…it was something that I had no control over…and I know what your answer is going to be. I just wanted you to know…and I am sorry if it troubles you…"

The wind blew and the silence began its long stretch.

Kotonoha had still been staring with broad confusion, when her mouth shut, she blinked, and looked to Eiichi. He managed a nervous shrug and a grin, before she cast her eyes on Yuuki again. Repeating herself, she looked at Eiichi again…then back to Yuuki.

She remained calm and steady, but her output made Eiichi feel invisible forces pushing him in many different directions. She had received many a love confession, especially since starting her days with Eiichi, but none of them as bizarre.

When Eiichi thought she might do another retake, she spoke, placing her hands over her chest, "That is very kind of you to be honest with me about your feelings, Ashikaga-kun. I know what it's like to have that trouble on your shoulders. But you are right, I cannot answer your feelings for me. I belong to another," awkwardly side glancing to 'another', being just a few feet away. "I am sorry, but you should know that this does not change what I said earlier. My offer still stands, and I hope it would not pain you to be around me."

Eiichi touched his head, feeling the pain in Yuuki's silence before he spoke.

"It may be well for me…" speaking to the concrete pad. "Maybe over time, I can learn to leave them behind…"

"And develop a lasting friendship."

"Yes…"

Eiichi saw Yuuki's fists clench against his hips. He knew Yuuki didn't expect it to hurt this much. He wanted to place another reassuring hand on Yuuki's back, but he stayed out of it, this was their time.

Kotonoha looked to Eiichi, not really sure what to do next.

'Should I…' she focused.

Eiichi nodded.

Kotonoha placed both her hands on Yuuki's shoulders, causing him to straighten out. She stepped closer and folded her arms around his neck. Yuuki's face grew flush, his mouth parted with astonishment in his eyes.

"I want you to know that you are my friend now, Yuuki…" her voice in his ear. "That's just as important…"

"Me too, little brother," Eiichi added.

"Ah—" Yuuki shuttered and his mouth curled, blinking back tears against the sky. His hands climbed to Kotonoha. He buried his face in her shoulder and let out a few strained breaths.

When his hands loosed, Kotonoha stepped back, palms still against his shoulders.

"I hope to see you tomorrow, you're going to join us for lunch, and that's not a request."

Yuuki breathed a laugh, wiping one of his eyes, "Okay…"

"And we will both be here waiting for you—won't we?" turning a glare on Eiichi.

"Um-uh-yup, mhm…" Eiichi nodded frantically.

"So please, don't avoid us…"

"I won't, I promise…" Yuuki's glassy eyes stared back. "I better go…you guys have a lot to talk about…"

"Please take care of yourself…"

Eiichi grumbled, 'I fight and stress with the kid for two weeks. She just gives him a hug and everything's A-okay…'

She let him go and watched as Yuuki began his slow walk back to the roof access door, his eyes likely gazing dejectedly to the pad. When he made it, and the door shut behind him, Kotonoha continued to watch.

"A whole year and I never imagined…" she said. "Maybe I missed all the signs, but you would know more about that, wouldn't you—'"

She had turned and the crown of Eiichi's head now greeted her sight, in a full bow.

"Katsura Kotonoha, I love you!"

As before, her wide eyed stare of astonishment locked on him.

She blinked, "I think I'm going to stop drinking the water here…"

"What?" Eiichi craned his head, still in his posture, "I confess and that's all you have to say?"

"Well, you're kinda' late, don't you think? You already confessed. Remember what my answer was?"

Eiichi stood, his eyes looking around, "Yeah, I know, but…"

"What has gotten into you two?" she stepped forward and took his hand. "First you show up with Yuuki, and now this? Are you about to have another seizure?"

"No, no I'm not, I just…" he sighed, "I just wanted a…normal confession…"

3"A normal what? Come on, sit down," she motioned him over to the benches.

"Yuuki has been making me think a lot lately, about how everything turned out," he plopped down, her sliding up next to him, "It's like, because I can read people, I only manage to get myself in trouble, which winds up getting you in trouble. I just wanted something normal…"

She held his hand in both of hers, "Is this why you've been asking me all of those questions about your abilities?"

"I guess…" he shook his head, staring at the pad.

"Can't you see that I don't care about that? If I did, I wouldn't have given you my reply. I've thought about it too, and I think I've come to realize, there is nothing normal…Eiichi, look at me," she placed a hand on his face, "Tell me what is normal, and don't use yourself as a counter reference," she added with a note of humor.

Eiichi breathed a laugh, "I…I don't know…"

"See, not even the master lie detector can answer that one. Can there really be anything normal? Before I even met you, I couldn't make friends, it all had to be done for me, and the guy I was dating apparently could not control his sex drive to save his life, and I was too attached to pull away from all of it. I was so displaced, I didn't even know how to take care of myself. I nearly killed myself because of him. That's what you're worried about, isn't it? Tell me what is normal about any of that."

Eiichi's head moved with her hand still on it, looking, feeling rather ridiculous for his neurosis.

She curved her head to the side momentarily, "You dummy."

Kotonoha leaned forward and he could smell the tranquil, enrapturing scent of hydrangea before a rain. He felt her breath on his mouth before giving in to her pleasureful mercy.

He had not received a kiss like this from her in a while, and as the connection itself was prolonged, Eiichi could feel them both becoming a little hot and bothered.

She broke away and looked at him, "I love you too…and I'll say it as many times as I have to, to get it through that mixed up head of yours," poking him gently. She scooted up close, like on their first date, and took his hand in both of hers again, resting her head on his shoulder, "If the rest of the world is normal, then I'm happy with us being the only weirdos in it."

"Torio too."

He felt her amusement rise and her body tremored next to his, "Yes, Torio too…I love you. Nothing can take that away…"

Eiichi squeezed her hand and laid his head on hers, but then remembered there was something else he needed to do, and he took out his phone, letting Kotonoha see what he was doing: 'I know you need some time alone, but we're not done yet. I have something to tell you about, but only when you feel up to it. Let me know when you're ready.' And as an added measure to make sure he would show up. 'There is someone out there, waiting for you.'

"Maybe he'll find it annoying now, but it's good enough bait."

"So were you helping Yuuki out this whole time?" she asked.

"Yeah."

"And you didn't want to tell me because you didn't want to ruin it for him."

"Yes, but it's a little more complicated than that."

"It must have been important to you, for you to have brought him to me, just so he could do it. It looks like you two became friends sooner than I thought."

"Well, we—"

She looked up and touched his cheek again, staring at him with those mystifying eyes for a very long time, "Look at you, you're so ridiculous…" his cheek squished against her hand "…and sweet."

"Can I at leasht be bitter shweet?" he muffled.

She giggled, "You can be whatever you want, but I'm staying right here," pressing against him again, stroking his hand. "You can talk to me, I don't care what it is. Yes, I'll have my thoughts, and you'll know them, but whatever you keep as a secret will stay between us. You should expect me to do the same."

"That's good," he sat up and took her shoulder, "because there are some things that I need to tell you about. Promise you won't be mad."

Kotonoha laughed, "How am I supposed to do that when you'll know?"

"Humor me…"


"Do you even know how much time this will take!?"

"I am very much aware of that! Seeing as how we've all been doing our parts, I could only expect you to do the same!"

The Student Council meeting room, a separate place set aside for the lively discussions of this specific group. With its own space on the school map and its own label above the door, that it is such a place of important function for the student body is why it was so well ratified within the walls of Sakakino. When many other clubs had rented spaces and could be disbanded for one reason or another, this was one of the few that remained for the efforts of all the others.

It was designed much like a corporate board room with a long, polished wood table stretching out in the center of the room, chairs seated in rows along it, a podium overseeing the table from one end, in front of a white board, and extra singular school desks and chairs, placed randomly and in separate corners. Though put together somewhat haphazardly for high school students, it put off the same sensation of relevance necessary for the importance of its duties.

The familiar members of Otome' posse, also members of the council, routinely went about their duties in their own places. One was seated at the broad table, filling out forms. One had been transporting forms to a wire basket on a desk by the door, labeled 'Outbox', and occasionally accessing a set of filing cabinets against one of the walls. The third sat at a desk in the corner, logging more information. As the shouting commenced, all three labored about in anxious silence.

Locked in a bout of irate conflict by the podium, Kotonoha and Otome took turns slinging aggravated statement after aggravated statement at each other, Otome apparently on the losing end, yet again. As the working members continued, each contemplated in their own thoughts, the relationship between the haughty Otome and the newfound, aggressive Kotonoha, whose plans to improve the operations of the council had been bearing better fruit in the past few months, against Otome's judgment, only requiring the cooperation of all its members. As of late, their arguing had become even more incessant, and each seemed to be getting equally more agitated with the other.

"It's not as simple as you think!" Otome defended.

"I never said it would be simple! But had you not waited this long, it would have been a lot easier!" to actually hear Kotonoha's voice raised had taken some getting used to, for all of them. "It's Friday, these forms are due tomorrow! If you start working on them now and take them home, you should be able to finish them in time."

"I cannot be expected to fill these out in such a short amount of time!"

"You should have thought of that when it was assigned at the beginning of the week! We have received every club's end of the year evaluation form, and you've only done a few!"

"I have other plans outside of school!"

"Basketball season is over Katou-san. If I'm correct, you don't have practice anymore before your closing ceremonies. I don't want to assume anything, but there is no way you couldn't have found time to finish these forms before the end of the week."

Otome blushed with guilt, "Finals are coming up too, Katsura-san! That would be the issue why! If you had ever joined a sports team, maybe you would understand!"

Kotonoha jutted a hand out to the populated meeting room, "Look around Otome! Everyone has already finished what was assigned to them. They're getting assessment forms ready for the end of the year. If you had not fallen behind, we wouldn't be having this discussion."

Otome didn't have a reply to this and simply stewed at Kotonoha, feeling like a scolded child.

"Know that if this does not go through, we will all take the hit for it, but the guilt will rest on you. I shouldn't have to keep saying it, get the work done and enjoy the rest of your weekend, we are not having this conversation again," Kotonoha grabbed her tote bag off the floor, "I expect to see those forms in tomorrow."

The still fuming Otome stared at the door long after it had been closed. The rest of the girls cast timid, unnoticed glances at her while they milled about.

"Maybe you should listen to her Otome…" one of them spoke from the table. "Things have been picking up better ever since she took charge…"

Otome unclenched her fists and left her hunched posture.

The one who had been carrying forms to the outbox had approached the table, "It's not so bad, once you can get everything done in time, it sort of becomes a regular thing, and then it's not so hard."

Otome stepped over to the table. She slid a single hand along its surface before scooping up a stray pen and began tapping it on the polished wood between two fingers.

"Katsura-san has been getting rather bold lately, don't you think?" her eyes on the pen.

The girls continued what they were doing, but the two at the table cast side glances at her.

"What gave her the idea she could treat us this way?"

The girl in the corner desk pushed her chair back and hung an arm over the back rest, "I don't think she's so bad."

Otome's eyes leered up at her, the pen stopped tapping.

"She's actually pretty nice, and really forgiving," said the one across the desk from Otome.

She caught Otome's menacing glance and quickly looked back down at her business.

Otome fanned her sight over all of them, "I think she's forgotten her place."

Pens and pencils stopped scribbling, now she had their attention, but there was no answer to this.

"I think she's gotten a little too power hungry."

The more bold one seated in the corner responded, "I don't think so. She hasn't been overly demanding. She finishes all of her work and only expects the same from us."

"But all you ever do while we're here is work."

"Otome…" the shy one in front of her mustered the courage to speak again, "Honestly, we only keep working because you and her are always fighting. We don't really want to cause any trouble, but we have nothing else to do…"

"Yeah, for a while there, things were pretty smooth, and then you got this chip on your shoulder. So now I just put my headphones on and tune you both out," said corner girl.

"Yeah, I mean, we can hang out, but that's not the only reason we're here. Work has to get done," said outbox girl.

"I think she has you all fooled…"

"Something tells me you're only fooling yourself," said corner girl.

Otome planted both hands on the table, "Oh yeah! Well what if I told all of you I have information that Eiichi has been cheating on her?"

A hush fell over the room. Her posse stared at her with wide eyed disbelief.

Then, snickers and snorts burst out, as each fell into bouts of hilarity.

Otome snarled, "I'm-I'm not kidding!"

"Oh wow Otome! I think when this year is over, you need a good long break!" corner girl tried to speak through her cackling.

"Yeah! Yeah!" shy girl giggled.

"Do you realize just how crazy what you just said sounded!?" outbox girl hunched over the table, one arm around her stomach.

"I'm serious!"

"No you're not! Eiichi is such a serious guy, he'd probably kowtow on a bed of hot coals for her forgiveness if that ever happened!"

The reeling laughter increased, only to feed her frustrations.

"You don't know him that well!" Otome shouted.

Corner girl heaved out a few more laughs, "I think the question should be, how would you know him that well?"

The laughing casually died down.

Outbox girl spoke up, a little bubbly from all of it, "Yeah Otome, it's been so obvious that you've had such a mad crush on him since last year. You really do need a break, and cold showers…a lot of them."

"Can't blame you though," corner girl leaned into her hand, "Every time I've seen them, they've been together, like they're joined at the hip."

"Yeah! All they ever do is hang out, it's so adorable…" the shy one at the table swooned.

"Watch out Kumi, you're jealousy is showing," outbox girl picked.

"I'm not jealous! I'm just…okay, maybe I am a little," Kumi smiled.

"So jealous, she's forgotten all about her boyfriend now…" corner girl grinned.

"Shut up you two!" Kumi turned in her seat.

"If Eiichi cheated on Kotonoha, where's your proof?" corner girl turned back to Otome.

"I-I saw him, with a member of my basketball team."

"Oh no, look out girls, Otome is seeing things now," outbox girl mocked.

"Well duh, he's kind of been seen with a lot of girls lately. Don't know what that was all about, but I kind of wanted to join in," said corner girl.

"Have you forgotten about what he did to our plans last year?" grasping for anything that would get them to her side.

"Yeah, because of that, he won't talk to any of us now, thank you very much," corner girl gripped.

"You're the one who decided we should go through with it, even after all the hype when he saved Katsura. Who would've known he'd be the one to bust us, and wind up only giving us a slap on the wrist," said outbox girl.

"I wanted a little more than just a slap on the wrist. What a man…" corner girl gazed.

"I feel pretty bad about the whole thing now. God, that would've sucked if it wound up being me on that tape for all to see," said outbox girl.

Corner girl retorted, "Wouldn't have been much to see."

"Hey!"

"I've thought about apologizing to him for it…" Kumi muttered. "Maybe he'll forgive us and we can all be friends."

"Face it Kumi, you just want him in your pants like the rest of us," the laughter picked up again.

"Even after what happened to Makoto…" Otome stared.

Another deathly silence fell over the group, joined with a gasp from Kumi, who was the most ashamed. All four of them had been guilty for certain fraternizations, however, none knew if Otome had been aware.

"You didn't need to say that," corner girl grimaced.

"Yeah Otome…" Kumi was nearly in tears now.

"We all know Eiichi and Makoto didn't get along, but why are you bringing that up? I wonder if you forgot this Otome, but Eiichi nearly died. He was out of school until right before winter break. Thankfully Katsura-san told us as much of the story as she could."

"So that's how it is…" Otome scanned over them, "You're all siding with her."

Corner girl stood up from her seat and walked over to Otome, motioning her to follow. They didn't go far, only to a furthermost corner of the meeting room to speak semi-privately. She leaned close enough to Otome to whisper.

"I don't know why you don't like Katsura-san so much. Lately she's proved herself to not be as bad as you made her out to be. What is it that you want to do?"

"I want to expose her."

"Why? What is there to expose? If anyone would know something, it would be Natsumi and she only knows what everyone else does."

Otome leaned back and looked about, trying to figure her connotations.

"I know we gave her a pretty hard time before. I thought it was all in good fun, but after everything she went through, I realize where we went wrong. She tried to kill herself…and she…" she looked back to make sure the other two weren't listening, "…she killed Sekai, Otome…"

"How would you know that?"

"Eiichi gets stabbed, Sekai gets dead, Kotonoha comes out of it unscathed, but doesn't want to talk about it, and now they hang around together like they're always watching each other's backs, you do the math. I don't know exactly what happened that night, but she and Eiichi haven't been the same since, and I for one, am not having anything to do with whatever it is you're planning. You're on your own…" her serious face had grown to a wide eyed expression of overt caution.

The others in the room had already begun packing up to leave. Corner girl left to join them, with Otome following behind.

"So that's it! I'm so happy to see you've all become such good friends with her! You're just going to walk out on me!?" Otome started up. "What happened to what we had last year!?"

"Give it a rest Otome," said outbox girl, heading for the door.

"We'll see you tomorrow. Please get some rest, you look tired," said Kumi.

They had all sided with her. Thanks to Kotonoha's popularity and this new way about her, Otome was being cast out. Survival of the fittest, and Kotonoha had proved herself to be the superior.

Her fist smacked on the table top.

"Fine! Cowards!" her head whipped toward the door to find she was alone.

She would just have to prove them wrong as well.

Otome stepped out to the school courtyard, still fuming and needing some air after all the noise created in the meeting room. Everyone had deserted her with forms to fill out before tomorrow, but she was too preoccupied to deal with that right now.

Things had changed and she hadn't even realized it. All the people she thought were once her friends had turned on her, now siding with the one person she never thought they would. They were all in their happy little group, minus her. She had allowed herself to become too distracted with a lie that she lost touch with her own life. The thought of it made her so angry, she couldn't stand it.

Gritting her teeth, she stepped out into the empty courtyard and found a bench to sit on.

She tried to relax, but she couldn't stop clenching her fists when she remembered how they just got done laughing at her, tearing down her words like they meant nothing.

She released a harsh groan, shaking her head.

A door opened up further from where she had entered and someone stepped out. This meant she had to remain quiet now if she didn't want to attract any unwanted attention.

She looked to her side and could see a rather tall, male student stepping out into the courtyard, his brown hair slicked back, exposing a broad forehead on top of a longish face. He had his hands in his pockets, but when he stepped further out, he removed one to rub the back of his neck while craning it at the sakura trees, letting out a tired sigh.

Otome set herself back into her conniving.

The boy walked over to a bench one space from hers and planted himself there.

Great, thanks to him she couldn't think in peace now. Nothing was going her way, and she started contemplating going back to the meeting room where no one could bother her.

Why was he so familiar to her? She'd seen him around campus. Really, how could someone that tall go unnoticed?

She turned her head to get a better look, but he noticed and turned his head as well. In her prompt reply, she looked forward.

Super, now he probably thought she was checking him out. Just one more problem to add to her list, but she had definitely seen him before.

"Hey, didn't you use to hang out with Makoto?" turning her head back to him.

"Um, me?" he sat up.

"Yeah you, we're kind of alone right now," he was big, but he wasn't exactly bright.

Her lashing out had impacted him and he drew back, "Yeah…"

"I always saw you two hanging out with Sekai."

"Yeah, we did…" he wasn't looking at her now, but at the bench.

She turned to the grass at her feet, "I knew him too. He was a friend of mine from Junior High…"

"So you've known him a while…I bet you really miss him…"

"Yeah…"

"I'm Sawanaga Taisuke," he stood up to walk over.

"Katou Otome," she scooted over, hoping he wouldn't sit too close.

Taisuke flopped down in the bench, hooking his arm over the back, "Man, I remember when we us to just hang out and talk about girls," is that all they ever did?

"You were close?"

Taisuke looked at her a moment, "I guess…we started hanging out less and less. After a while, I didn't even see him that much because he was always fooling around."

"Is that so…"

It could have been something tongue n' cheek, what Taisuke was saying. She had only wanted Makoto to become devoted to her, even though they had slept together while he was with Sekai. It didn't cross her mind then that he would be capable of such behavior. She thought everyone had simply been good friends with him. Before, she thought Sekai murdering him had been only the cause of obsessive lunacy, but hearing this now made her realize it should have been a tip off.

"Yeah, things got pretty wild for him there, I'm still jealous. He really had this mysterious way with the ladies."

"So what've you been doing?"

"I don't know…I just kind of walk around. I talk with friends. Kuroda misses him a lot and keeps calling me, wanting to talk. I guess I just don't know what to do anymore now that he's not around."

She didn't even know who this Kuroda was and he talked about her like she did. She already had him pegged as kind of a dolt, "That sucks…I feel the same way."

"How are you dealing?"

She sighed, "I just am, only things haven't been as smooth for me." She would tell him how she knew Makoto as a friend, but the rest was none of his business, "Makoto and I were close…"

"Did you like him too?"

"You really are a moron, aren't you…"

"Sorry, I just thought I'd ask. Everything just got so confusing after a while. First I can't tell if Makoto is going out with Saionji or Katsura, then everyone I run into can't stop talking about him and Saionji, and suddenly Makoto becomes chopped liver because everyone started going after…" his fists clenched as his head tipped down, menacing at the grass, "…that fuckin' Kuzoka…" he wouldn't say his first name.

"So you don't like Eiichi?"

"Yeah! I don't know why everyone started liking him so much. He threatened to kill me you know! He said he'd follow me home if I ever got close to Katsura again."

Otome, of course, had her fondness for Eiichi, even after what she had seen, and she knew of the fight between him and Makoto, but Eiichi threatening someone out of jealousy was never something she thought him capable of.

"Tough talk for him, I bet I could take him, but that guy's a fucking psycho. He jumped Makoto too. I was jealous of Makoto, but he deserved that fame more than Kuzoka. He probably threw Katsura out that window so he could get the glory for himself," did he even watch the videos? "If there's anyone who doesn't deserve her, it's him."

At his vehement reply, she decided to keep her affections to herself.

"So you like Katsura-san too, isn't that sweet. Well you're going to have to get in line, everyone seems to like her now…"

"She's so hard to get to now and the guys are even crazier about her."

"I don't really get it. Working with her has been so difficult. Are you sure you want someone like her? She can be really pushy."

"I-well, I guess…"

She scowled at him, "That's not very manly. If it were possible that you and her ever did get together, she'd walk all over you if you're going to be like that. Compared to how she was last year, it's like she's a different person."

"I can't do it again!" Taisuke nearly burst out into frantics.

"What are you blabbering about?"

"She's dating Kuzoka, and we sorta' had a run-in before that…I told her that I loved her," he chuckled, "and Kuzoka didn't know a thing. I had her in my arms," he hugged himself, "but she pushed me off and screamed at me."

"Yeah, nice goin' there, chump, maybe you hesitated. Maybe you should show her what a man can really do, but too late for you now, she's already taken."

"I want to," he slumped, "but she's dating Kuzoka now. If I try it and something goes wrong, no one will want to be seen with me."

"Yeah, you're in a pickle there," not really caring either way.

"If I could find a way to ruin him, I would do it so fast. Who knows what she's going through with him."

Otome stopped and side glanced at Taisuke. That had to be the only intriguing thing he'd said during their entire conversation. She had to think about this first. Aside from the girls, she didn't really know anyone who might be on board. After they rejected her plans, she was convinced she was pretty much alone. If she was going to get help, she'd have to sell it to someone else, whereas this guy was pretty fired up already. He was pretty stupid, but he was all she had.

"What if I told you I had a way?"

"What?" Taisuke turned from his brooding.

"A way for you to get back at Eiichi, something that would destroy him. I don't know that it would fix things between you and Katsura, but there's a chance it might land her in your arms again. You might have another opportunity there."

Taisuke looked like he was actually thinking for once, "No…no, what you're talking about doing is crazy."

"You said it yourself, you wanted to get back at him."

"I don't even know if I could do it again, she probably hates me now. Whenever I see them together, sometimes they stare at me. It gives me the creeps…"

Otome stood up, "Aren't you a man? It's not that hard! You looked up to Makoto, see what he was capable of? You just need to do it. Girls want that, even if they act like they don't. Sometimes when they tell you 'no', they really mean 'yes'."

"Well, why does it bother you so much that they're together?"

"I just…" she hadn't been expecting that one, "I just think they've gotten a little too comfortable with their notoriety. I work with Katsura in student council, and because she's with Eiichi, suddenly she thinks she can run things her way without anyone else's consent. It's really been pissing me off."

"What does their notoriety have to do with anything?"

He was picking an awfully bad time to start asking questions.

"Were you there for Sekai and Makoto's memorial service?"

"Yes, of course."

"Good, so was I. Guess who wasn't…"

Taisuke took a moment, "Them…"

"What does that say about them? What does that say about their integrity? Katsura was once friends with Sekai, she could have at least appeared at the service. They must have thought it was below them."

Taisuke lowered his gaze, doing what little pondering was possible for him, "What did you have in mind?"

"I just think we should bring them down a few notches, to remind them they're not untouchable. I have some ideas that you could maybe help me hash out. Maybe, if we can ruin their reputations, both of us might still have a chance at what we want. And even if it doesn't work out, it doesn't matter, I can't stand to see her walking around like she owns the place."

She sat back down, "Here's what I need you to do…"

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