All Work No Play

by beaple leone michaelmas

Summary:

Shishido Shiina, a summer intern at Headlines Japan, is tasked with the herculean assignment of getting an exclusive, biographical interview of the US Open champion Tezuka Kunimitsu – leading her to chase him to his personal training camp and to invade his privacy for one whole summer. As she learns more about the man behind the champion, however, Shiina realizes the mission she initially thought of as the pivotal point of her journalism career may also change her personal life forever.

Chapter One: What Becomes of the Easily Distracted

A/N:

Please enjoy this next chapter! It's REALLY long, but I had fun writing it. ::D

Disclaimer:

I do not own Prince of Tennis; the whole concept belongs to Konomi Takeshi – sensei.

Chapter One: What Becomes of the Easily Distracted

No. Not yet. Five more minutes…

Shishido Shiina rolled on her aching backside, her head pounding. All her joints ached, and she couldn't even stretch, making the act of waking up even more difficult than usual. She settled for opening her bleary eyes, groaning slightly as she felt the sting of forcing them open. What was the matter with her? Why did her body hurt so much?

As she slowly absorbed her immediate surroundings, she realized she had never seen this room before. It was old, traditional, Japanese – bordered by movable shoji walls, with a tatami floor. Shiina tried to sit up, but felt her back smart slightly from the effort. Rubbing her hurt spine, she found herself becoming more confused with each second that passed.

Exactly what was going on?

Determined to find out the rest of this strange story, Shishido got to her knees and slowly pushed herself up. With a hand on the fragile walls, her touch careful, hesitant at the feel of paper under her fingers, she inched forward, out of the room and into a hallway that was just as Japanese as the place she had just left. She could hear the distant sound of children laughing; brows furrowing, Shiina walked towards the laughter, still feeling lightheaded from having just woken up.

She came to a sizeable walled courtyard bordered by sakura trees in full bloom. Before her, a strange scene presented itself: several kids running around, chasing each other; the sun setting, creating a mesmerizing pool of red; smoke issuing from an old fashioned grill in the middle of the yard, a man rhythmically fanning the coals, his back to the confused woman.

"Mama!" a child's voice suddenly called out, taking her thoughts off the man. Shiina turned towards the voice, and saw an angelic young boy of about five years running towards her, a toothy smile on his chubby face, his tiny arms outstretched. Instinctively, Shiina spread her arms to welcome the child's embrace, and the little boy hugged her full-force, burying his head in her middle.

"Mama," he repeated. "Mama - MAMA!"

Utterly confused, Shiina looked up, searching for an explanation of the child's behavior from those present. Her eyes found themselves drawn to the steady gaze of the man who had been manning the grill, the fan forgotten on his side.

Tezuka… Kunimitsu?

There was no mistaking the glint of his eyeglasses, the aura of rigidity. Tezuka Kunimitsu straightened up further – if such was possible – and turned to face Shiina fully.

"How do you feel?" he asked, voice so deep it threw Shiina mentally off balance.

Feeling more confused than ever, she ventured the first word that came to her mind.

"Lost?"

XXX

"Miss, what are you doing?"

Shishido Shiina instantly took her eyes of the crystal blue sea, glinting in the early morning sunlight, and found a cross, stocky man practically glaring at her.

"I was just admiring the ocean," she replied, spirits high despite the man's mood. "I've never seen such a beautiful blue blanket of diamonds and-"

"You can do more sightseeing when you're on the island," the man replied, scratching his ear irritably. "Now, if you don't mind, would you please get off my ship so I can get some sleep?"

Frowning, Shiina grabbed the backpack on the ground beside her and, straightening her glasses for effect, walked past the ill-tempered sailor with a huff. Stepping on the gangway, she felt her mood lift as suddenly as it had dropped, her spirits soaring with the image of rural serenity before her.

The port at seven AM wasn't exactly quiet. There were numerous fishermen lugging loads of the day's catch onto the shore, haggling with noisy fish vendors animatedly. The other passengers of The Elena fanned out upon reaching the port. The tourists were snapping pictures of themselves with the sea and its people or with Shiratorijima's breathtaking, cloud-topped mountains; those returning to the island were warmly greeted by one or two from the small welcoming crowd gathered in one corner of the pier.

Feeling buoyant despite her lack of sleep, Shiina skipped off the ship, excited to spend her summer on this island of marvels.

Then she remembered she was here for work.

Sheepishly grinning at her silliness, Shiina slung the backpack onto her shoulders and walked towards a red-faced man in a floral shirt and board shorts, who was carrying a clipboard and greeting people left and right.

"Excuse me, Sir. Do you think you could point me to Onishi Tenma-san's house?"

"Ah, young lady, you're not from this island are you?" the man replied evasively, his version of a greeting. "I can tell you're from Tokyo, the way you dress, the way you talk. It's nice to see tourism's doing well; yes, very well, indeed."

"Ah, yes, Sir, that's true, but could you please point me to-?"

"Now, I highly recommend you try our snorkeling and scuba diving services; we're known nationwide for our beautiful corals. But if you're apprehensive about going underwater, you can always opt for the glass boat that will take you around the island-"

"Thank you, Sir, but I really must-"

"And don't forget to stay until the island festival! It's one of our yearly highlights, the harvest festival, set right before the summer ends. I'm telling you, this upcoming festival is extra special because we've been particularly blessed this year-"

"Sir, I-

"Mayor, it's all right," interrupted a deep voice from behind Shiina. "I'll take her to Onishi-san's house."

The man's red face lit up.

"Ahhhh, thank you so much!" he said, ambling towards the speaker with a slight limp. "You're a lifesaver, you are! Now, young lady, I leave you in the capable hands of this man. He will take you to Tenma-sama's house."

Slightly irritated at not being given the chance to speak, Shiina whirled around rather violently, a sullen expression on her face.

"Hajimemashite, Shishido Shiina de…su…"

The words died in her throat as she found herself looking up at the face of the man whose photo she had been studying carefully overnight. The same artfully windblown, light-brown hair, piercing dark brown eyes, and old-fashioned glasses. Complexion far too fair for a seasoned tennis player. An intimidating albeit suave aura to complete the picture of a young man who looked far too mature for his real age.

"TEZUKA KUNIMITSU!"

"Shhh, Miss!" the mayor chided in a comically furious whisper. "You mustn't shout his name out loud. Do you realize how much risk he's taking just to meet you at this hour-?!"

Shiina stared openly. She couldn't believe he'd fallen right into her fingers. Like a gift. Divine intervention. Whatever.

"I-I'm terribly sorry," Shiina said, bowing deeply several times to show her remorse. "I was just taken by surprise, I mean, wouldn't you be shocked if a tennis superstar suddenly showed up in front of you?!"

"Your glasses."

"I'm sorry?"

"Your glasses," Tezuka repeated in a monotone. "They fell off."

Shiina put a hand up to her face; her thick-rimmed glasses weren't there. Looking down, she saw them perched serenely on a mound of fine, dirty white sand, the black plastic frame glinting in the sunlight.

"Uh, thank you…" she muttered distractedly, picking them up and dusting them. Slipping them back on, she faced Tezuka, who appeared to be observing her quietly. Reddening – it's your job to observe him, not the other way around! – she muttered, "Thank you very much."

Tezuka's expression didn't change, although Shiina couldn't tell for sure now that the sun was high and his glasses reflected the sunlight. Slowly, he stretched out his left hand.

Confused, Shiina stared at it. Then, laughing nervously, she shook it with her left hand, briefly but energetically. His hand was surprisingly warm…

"Ahhhhhh, Miss…" the mayor said, chuckling lightly, stealing a glance at Tezuka, who had his head bowed, apparently trying very hard to conceal a grin. "I think he meant to take your bag."

Reddening madly this time, Shiina answered, with her eyes glued to her sneakers in shame, "M-my luggage isn't heavy at all; I-I'll carry it myself, thanks."

Letting his hand fall, Tezuka Kunimitsu stood up straighter, his face once again a mask.

"I will take you to Onishi-san," was all he said, and, after exchanging nods with the enthusiastic mayor, he began walking away from the port, Shiina frowning at his rigid, retreating back.

A gentleman, eh?

"Shishido-san, right?" the mayor said, snapping her out of her musings. "I hope you enjoy your stay here. Although I was trying to distract you earlier, I was quite serious, too, you know? You're here for a vacation, I presume?"

"Uhhhhh, you could say that… Y-yes!"

"Then, I guarantee you'll find a lot of interesting things to do here in Shiratorijima," the mayor said kindly. "Perhaps you'll even find love, eh?"

"Mayor-san~"

"You two have obvious chemistry, you know-"

"Mayor-san-!"

"I'm joking, just joking," the man said, laughing heartily. "But you know," at this point, he became thoughtful, his gaze far away, "I'd like to see that boy fall in love. It would be an interesting romance, I should think…"

Following the mayor's gaze, Shiina saw that the mayor had been staring at Tezuka, who was standing quite a distance away, his face inscrutable. Snapping to her senses, Shiina muttered a quick, "Goodbye, and thank you, Mayor-san!" before running after Tezuka Kunimitsu, who had continued walking steadily, as though he had never paused to look back.

XXX

More than an hour later, Tezuka and Shiina set off on a half-hour drive towards Onishi-san's home, packages tied all over a tiny scooter. Shiina, red-faced, with her arms wrapped around Tezuka's waist and her cheek resting on his back, wished she could take in the beautiful scenery of rice fields and mountains. As of the moment, however, her thoughts were running headlong into each other, making her feel slightly lightheaded and oxygen-deprived.

She blamed it all on him.

Frowning, she reflected on the events of the morning, all of which were too stimulating for such an ungodly part of the day.

After leaving the port, they dropped by the market, because apparently Onishi-san, who was busy cleaning the house for 'the guest', had instructed Tezuka to buy some fresh seafood.

"No, no, not that one," Shiina had told him each time he bent closer to inspect a particular seafood. "That's not very fresh. But this one is. We'll have this one, please."

The first time she tried to interfere with his purchase, he protested by saying, "Shishido-san, please allow me to do this on my own-"

"I can see you want to, but I have to tell you I'm trained at handling groceries," Shiina quipped. "My mother says a good wife has to be well-acquainted with the marketplace, that's why I've been tagging along with her to the supermarket since I was a kid-"

She realized she had said far too much. Tezuka was blinking back at her, his mouth very slightly open, the shopping list limp in his hand.

"Forget I said that, would you?"

After buying tons of seafood – Onishi-san sure doesn't hold back on food expenses – they walked around with their packages, searching for a convenience store where Shiina could buy her needs for the next two months.

"I'm sorry to bother you," Shiina said sheepishly. "This trip was rather rushed; I had no time to prepare."

He merely kept his silence, his expression unreadable.

"There, I see it, a konbini!" Shiina exclaimed, forcibly happy, awkward because of her companion's silence. Running full steam ahead under the pretense of extreme excitement, she easily outpaced Tezuka, who was walking calmly, arms laden with groceries. As she entered the convenience store, she sighed heavily; being charming was much more difficult than she expected.

Wait. Why am I trying to be charming-?!

Shaking away her thoughts, Shiina squared her shoulders and determinedly stalked the grocery shelves, efficiently gathering her purchases. Minutes later, as she walked towards the counter with a contented smile – retail therapy is bliss! – she overheard the attractive salesclerk chatting Tezuka up as he paid for something Shiina couldn't see.

"Is she your girlfriend?" the attractive woman with raven hair was asking. "The woman you're with?"

Tezuka said nothing; he merely pocketed his change and his purchase.

"Well, I suppose she is rather pretty," the salesclerk was saying, oblivious to Shiina's presence. "Although she's dressed far too ruggedly, if you ask me. She'd have looked much more beautiful if she got rid of those atrocious glasses and her dirty sneakers-"

Shiina cleared her throat loudly, practically banging all her supplies on the counter just to irritate the salesclerk.

"Mariko-san, is it?" she said, noting the woman's nameplate. Glaring at the other woman, who was glaring back at her, Shiina felt sorely tempted to rant. But considering her close proximity to Tezuka…

"Please register my purchases," she said irritably, frustrated both for not being able to talk back and for being called 'rugged'. "We'll meet again someday and maybe then I'll have enough energy to lash back at you."

Mariko stared openly at her, mouth open in an O of surprise. Tezuka, too, was staring, although with considerably muted emotions.

Drat. I just couldn't keep my mouth shut!

"Here, keep the change," Shiina said, laying a bill on the table as gently as she could. "And don't mind wrapping the packages," she added, opening her backpack and shoving all the goods inside, "let's save the world together, shall we?"

As she walked out of the konbini, Tezuka right behind her, Mariko glaring at the pair of them, she screamed, "She's such a princess! For her to look down on people with a perpetually critical eye – she's the worst!"

"Mariko isn't as ill-mannered as you think, Shishido-san-"

"And now my head is spinning…"

"Have you eaten breakfast, Shishido-san?"

"Nope, not yet," she answered, smiling. "That's why we have to hurry home so we can finally eat-"

He stretched out his hand again. Shiina stared at it for a moment.

"I told you, my bag's light-"

"You've gotten pale," he observed. "And your purchases have probably added a considerable weight to your luggage."

Seeing that Shiina was simply staring at him, frozen, Tezuka's eyebrows contracted and he reached out to take her backpack. Feeling lightheaded, she didn't even try to stop him, even as he took everything she carried and gazed at her with his usual expression, glasses glinting.

"This time, Shishido-san, please try to conserve your energy. Stop trying so hard to look happy – you betray your true emotions by doing so."

With those words, he turned on his heel and walked away, Shiina staring after him, at a loss for words.

"Shishido-san, is something the matter?"

Shiina snapped out of her reminiscing and suspiciously turned her eyes to Tezuka.

"No," she answered, rather vehemently. "What makes you think so?"

"Your grip is becoming increasingly tighter," he noted, not taking his eyes off the deserted country road they were traversing. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you're planning to kill me."

Frowning inwardly, Shiina said nothing, merely loosening the arms wrapped around his waist, and burying her face sulkily on his striped blue shirt. She pretended to watch the cows grazing in the fields, but in reality, her head was screaming bloody murder.

Tezuka Kunimitsu. She didn't think he would be like this. Sure, she had expected him to be a taciturn, austere elitist snob, but she had recently seen him do pretty strange things that made her think otherwise. Trying to conceal his amusement at her behavior at the pier... Defending Mariko so assuredly, so decidedly that it stung Shiina somewhat… Telling her she was a fake and that she was showing happiness she didn't really feel… Shiina couldn't tell if he was a gentleman or a prick; he was a very difficult person to read.

To make matters worse, Tezuka seemed to be able to read her feelings simply. To Shiina, who prided herself at being a highly accomplished liar, pulling pranks on her friends and her family any time she could, to finally meet someone who could see through her every move was scary. Was it his tennis training? Or was he really just a busybody who couldn't mind his own business?

Nevertheless, she was determined to succeed in her mission; she would stay close to Tezuka Kunimitsu, even if it drove her nuts. It bothered her that everyone seemed to be pairing her with the man (her superiors, the mayor) but Shiina simply couldn't see herself falling for someone as quiet as him; she had no doubt he felt the same way about her mood swings. He was much too intimidating, too unflappable, too emotionless, too cold…

And yet so warm, Shiina thought, her cheek still pressed against his shirt. Far too warm for someone with a personality like his…

Had she not fallen asleep, she would have heard Tezuka Kunimitsu sigh softly.

XXX

"Shishido-san," a soft voice said, waking her. She felt warm fingers on her own, holding her clasped hands and separating them. "Shishido-san, we've arrived."

Dazedly, Shiina opened her eyes, and instantly saw a dark blue spot in her line of sight. It was wet.

"Oh, for the love of God," she said, more to herself than to anyone else. "I'm reaaaally sorry."

In his usual quiet way, Tezuka alighted from the motorcycle with disturbing grace, holding out a hand to help Shiina stand up.

"No, no, it's okay," Shiina said, waving his offer aside with a yawn. "I can stand up on my own, th-"

She stopped talking as she felt rather than saw his strong hand grip her frail one. Blinking at their joined hands for a few moments, her senses finally kicked in.

"Aaaah, I told you I could stand up on my own-!"

"My, my, is this Shiina-san?"

Turning around, Shiina saw a beautiful, elegant, old woman in a kimono, smiling serenely and gracefully walking forward from a grand Japanese-style house to greet her.

"You're quite a charming young woman, I must say," the woman said, laughing softly, the sound like wind chimes by the sea. "My name is Onishi Tenma; I am Nanjo Ippei's aunt. Welcome to our little hometown of Shiratorijima."

"You're Nanjo-san's… aunt?" Shiina repeated, unable to reconcile the two contrasting personalities.

"Yes, I am. Is it so hard to believe?"

"Forgive my honesty, but yes, it is-"

"Excuse me," Tezuka interrupted, earning him a scowl from Shiina. "Onishi-san, it seems Shishido-san has not yet eaten breakfast. If you could kindly prepare a meal for her…"

"It has been taken care of, Mitsu-kun," Onishi-san replied serenely. "Are these your purchases? My, you bought far too much than what I have asked for. Come then, Shiina-san, we must get you-"

The old woman paused.

"Shiina-san? Why are you laughing?"

"It's nothing, Onishi-san," Shiina said, grinning widely. "Now, then, I'll-"

As she hopped off the motorcycle, she fell slightly off balance, and tilted to the right. Luckily, Tezuka caught her right after she showed the first sign of falling, holding her upright with his hands gently but firmly holding her arm and back.

Curse his reflexes.

"My, my, are you feeling a bit lightheaded, Shiina-san?" Onishi-san commented lightly. "Come now, dear, don't be shy, come on."

Feeling more than just a bit lightheaded, Shiina silently followed the old woman into the house, not seeing the elegant architecture or the garden in full bloom. Sneaking a glance behind her, Shiina saw Tezuka untying the packages on the scooter, calm as usual as though nothing had happened.

She wondered what he made out of her flustered expression.

XXX

"I'm sorry to keep you waiting, Shiina-san."

Shiina took her eyes off the garden just as Onishi-san placed a full tray on the low table.

"Onishi-san, you didn't have to go through so much trouble-"

"Nonsense, child," the old woman said, sounding very much like a possessive grandmother. "You're pale and obviously exhausted; you deserve to eat to your heart's content."

Smiling despite herself, Shiina graciously accepted the food, and took the first bite of sushi.

"It's very good," she mumbled, transported. "It's really good, Onishi-san!"

"I'm glad you think so, my dear."

"Won't you join me, Onishi-san?"

"No, no, go on. I'm perfectly content watching you eat."

Silence.

"Onishi-san, may I ask something?"

"Anything, child."

"Why did you so readily accept me into your home? I mean," Shiina carefully weighed her words. "I'm a stranger, and yet you received me so hospitably. I don't know what I've done to deserve such gracious treatment… I…"

Despite her faint smile, the old woman looked as if she was about to cry.

"In my younger days," Onishi-san began to explain, eyes on her elegant fingers, "I fell in love with a man much older than I was. Being naïve, I ran away with him, and lived with him for close to three years, all the while believing his promise that he'd marry me someday… someday for sure."

"Onishi-san…"

"He never did, you know," the old woman said, valiantly trying to laugh. "But let us forget that for it has happened many, many years ago. What I'm trying to say, Shiina-san, is that I know exactly how it feels to be in an abusive relationship."

"Abusive… relationship?"

"Yes," Onishi-san said seriously. "I know it is one of the most painful, heartbreaking experiences any woman can ever go through, and I applaud you wholeheartedly for having the courage to break free from the chains that have bound your wings for so many years."

Shiina felt her jaw-drop.

"When Ippei informed me of your situation, I knew I must help you as much as I could," Onishi-san continued, looking pained. "That employer of yours… is the worst man I could think of for a beautiful child such as you. How you could have withstood his abuses for two years, I can't imagine! He must really be a very powerful man, with connections in high places, to hide his dirtiest secret – that he is having an affair with his subordinate, and abusing her, too!"

Shiina could feel a migraine brewing in the inner recesses of her head. She fell forward on her hands, eyes closed, her expression a mixture of anguish and anger.

Onishi-san must have misinterpreted her face, for the old woman suddenly said, "I seem to have upset you, dear child. Come, you must forget all those bad memories and eat. Otherwise you won't have the courage to hide from your monstrous former lover!"

With trembling fingers, Shiina took her chopsticks, and slowly began to eat the food before her. It was difficult considering she had suddenly lost her appetite.

So this was how Nanjo and Rio-sama smuggled her to this place. Nanjo, with his lucky connections, got hold of the information, and concocted a bizarre story about Shiina being an abused young woman; she wondered vaguely if the "abusive, influential employer" was supposed to be Rio-sama, and whether he knew about this. Suddenly, she felt twice as hesitant about this assignment. Was the interview with Tezuka Kunimitsu really that big a deal for her superiors to take such drastic steps to achieve it?

Shiina paused, her hands frozen on mid-air, her chopsticks aimed for her mouth.

"Shiina-san, is something wrong?" Onishi-san asked, worried. "Are you not feeling well? Do you feel hurt anywhere?"

The younger woman placed her chopsticks on the table gently.

"Onishi-san, where is Tezuka-san?"

"Hmmmm? I suppose he's returning that motorbike he borrowed from Mariko-chan."

"That scooter wasn't his?"

"No, it wasn't," Onishi-san confirmed. "I believe he borrowed it from Mariko-chan. I didn't think he'd go through with it, actually, because it didn't come with a helmet. I see he settled for it in the end though."

"But why would he borrow it?"

Onishi-san smiled kindly at Shiina, as though she was rather acting rather dense.

"For you, of course," the old woman replied. "Mitsu-kun is actually very fond of walking; whenever he needs to go to town, he just walks-"

"He walks that far?!"

"Yes, and he appears to enjoy it, too," Onishi-san said. "But last night, when we received the call from Ippei about your arrival, he instantly thought of the distance between this house and the port, and thought to borrow Mariko-chan's motorbike. I do believe he's very sympathetic of your situation, and he wants you to rest while you're here."

Shishido-san, please try to conserve your energy…

"Then again, he's probably practicing right now; perhaps he'll return the motorbike later."

you betray your true emotions by doing so…

Shiina sat up suddenly, banging on the table in her haste.

"Child, what has gotten into you?" Onishi-san asked, panic now settling into her eyes.

"Onishi-san, where is the tennis court?"

Realizing her intentions, or at least a fraction of it, Onishi-san smiled and put her aged hands on top of the younger woman's.

"Shiina-san, I'm afraid that if you wish to speak with that boy, you'll need to hone your patience."

XXX

At half past noon, Shiina arrived at the tennis court, clutching a stitch at her side. She scanned the area, looking for a familiar face, and noticed that the court was extremely neat and austere, exactly like the man who had it built.

Strangely enough, the door to the tennis court was ajar, and Shiina easily stepped inside. As she stood in the middle of the green floor, the bento Onishi-san had prepared for Tezuka held safely in her hands, she found herself worrying. Where could he possibly be? He didn't seem like the type who missed lunch, or made people wait…

Suddenly, the sound of children's laughter reached Shiina's ears.

"Eh? Where's Mitsu-niichan?"

"He's late!"

"Baka, he's never late!"

"It's not one yet. I think we got here too early-"

"Hey! There's someone on the court!"

Three boys and two girls walked towards Shiina, tennis rackets in their hands. All of them looked up at her with wide, curious eyes.

"Are you, Mitsu-niichan's girlfriend?" a chubby little girl with pigtails asked.

"Issa-chan, it's wrong to assume," a boy with round glasses said.

"Mou, Shuichi, you're too polite," said a girl with long, raven hair.

"How are you related to Mitsu-niichan, Oneesan?" the oldest child, a boy with a red cap, asked.

Shiina felt slightly irritated that she had once again been (unwittingly) paired with Tezuka.

"I'm staying at Onishi-san's house," she explained. "Just like he is."

"What? You're living together?!"

"Rikku-chan!"

Shiina laughed nervously as she watched the little kids bicker. Suddenly, she felt someone tugging at the hem of her shirt. Looking down, she saw the third little boy, a child barely older than five, with chubby cheeks and curly hair, his expression that of childlike wonder.

"Hello there," Shiina greeted. "What's your name?"

"He's Yuu-kun," the oldest boy answered. "He can't talk yet, so he can't answer you."

"Oh? And… who are you four?"

"I'm Taeki, and these are Shuichi, Issa and Rikku," he explained. "What's your name, Oneesan?"

"I'm Shishido Shiina."

"Wow! That's a pretty name, Oneesan!"

"Really? You think so, Issa-chan?"

"Ne, Shii-neechan, have you seen Mitsu-niichan anywhere?" Taeki asked.

"No, I haven't, I've also been looking for him…"

"He's almost late for tennis practice-"

"And he promised to teach us the Tezuka Zone today."

The Tezuka Zone?! No way.

"Say, why don't we wait for Mitsu-niichan?" Shiina suggested. "I'm sure he'll return in time for your lesson."

"But I wanna play now!"

"Rikku~"

"Shii-neechan, do you play tennis?" Taeki asked, a strange glint in his eyes.

"Very poorly."

"Wanna play?"

"Aaaahh, I'm really bad at tennis, Taeki-kun."

"Mitsu-niichan says you can't say for sure until you've tried-!"

"Believe me, Issa-chan, I've tried-"

"He says you have to try until you succeed-!"

"I don't have a racket-"

"Shuichi, go get a spare from the equipment room!"

Shiina sighed. Was it part of Tezuka's job description to motivate little kids? It was nice of him but… somewhat uncharacteristic.

"Hai, Shiina-san," said the bespectacled Shuichi, handing her a racket. "I'll hold that for you while you play," he added, taking the bento from her hands.

"Um, thanks-"

"I wanna play, too!" Rikku cried. "Let me play, let me play!"

"All right, come here, Rikku!"

"Wait a minute!" Shiina complained. "Two on one isn't fair!"

"Mitsu-niichan can defeat three of us alone," Rikku said as she and Taeki moved to the other side of the tennis court.

I am not on Tezuka Kunimitsu's level!

"Right, but go easy on me, okay?"

"OK, Shii-neechan!"

Pulling at her bangs, Shiina walked over to the service area, accepting the ball Issa-chan gave to her.

"Do your best, Shii-neechan!"

"Thanks, Issa-chan," Shiina said sincerely, strangely touched. "Now then," she said, turning to her opponents. "Here I come!"

And she served. The ball didn't make it past the net.

"Ahahaha, I told you my tennis was horrible-"

"Shii-neechan, you're form's all wrong-!"

"You're holding your racket at the wrong angle-!"

"I think she's just nervous. Maybe we should stop bothering her-"

"Shuichi is right," Shiina exclaimed dramatically, pointing at the boy with the bento. "I'm just nervous."

"Shuichi's always right," muttered Rikku sulkily.

"I'm sorry, I just can't remember how to play tennis," Shiina said sheepishly, scratching her head. "Maybe if you served first, I'd remember how?"

"OK! Rikku get me that ball-"

"How come you get to serve-?!"

"Because I'm older!"

As Rikku and Taeki began to argue, Shiina gazed at the heavy racket on her hand. Just the act of keeping it steady took so much of her energy; how could tennis players lug around such a heavy piece of equipment all around the court and make it look so elegant?

"Mama?"

Little Yuu was tugging at her shirt again.

"No, Yuu-kun, I'm not your mama," Shiina clarified. "I'm your oneechan, your Shii-neechan."

"We're set to play, Shii-neechan," Taeki called out at that moment, waving the neon green ball in his hand, Rikku glaring at him from his side.

"Yuu-kun, let's go," Issa said, taking Yuu's chubby little hands and dragging him away from the court. "It's dangerous to stay there, you know?"

As Shiina watched Issa and Yuu walk away, a sudden movement up ahead caught her eye. With a shocking realization, she saw Tezuka Kunimitsu standing by the wired fence, his arms crossed, face impassive.

Exactly as in TV, Shiina thought. I still can't believe I'm getting this chance to meet him-

"SHII-NEECHAN, LOOK OUT-!"

She thought she saw him panic, his arms uncrossing, his eyes widening in shock. As she turned to face forward, Shiina saw something flash before her eyes, and then she felt something hit her forehead – hard. As she fell backwards, she thought she saw the clear blue sky up ahead. Then everything sped up, and before she knew it, the world was swallowed by darkness.

XXX

Tezuka… Kunimitsu?

There was no mistaking the glint of his eyeglasses, the aura of rigidity. Tezuka Kunimitsu straightened up further – if such was possible – and turned to face Shiina fully.

"How do you feel?" he asked, voice so deep it threw Shiina mentally off balance.

Feeling more confused than ever, she ventured the first word that came to her mind.

"Lost?"

"MAMA!" Little Yuu shouted, still hugging her.

"Yuu-kun, she is not your mama," Onishi-san said suddenly in a singsong voice, appearing behind Shiina. "Your mama is in Tokyo, but she'll be back in time for the festival, you'll see."

"Mama!"

"Aww, Yuu-kun…"

"Onishi-san, what happened?" Shiina asked as the old woman cradled the now bawling Yuu in her arms.

"It seems you got hit by a tennis ball, Shiina-san. You collapsed right after you hit the court. Don't you remember?"

"Um…"

"It was my fault, Shii-neechan," said Taeki, stepping forward and looking like the world's greatest sinner. "I didn't call you attention properly so you were looking at something else when I served."

"No, no, Taeki-kun," Shiina said, shaking her head. "It was my fault for being so… easily distracted."

She stole a glance at Tezuka Kunimitsu; he had returned to fanning the grill. Sighing resignedly, she walked over to him and watched as he flipped skewered squid expertly.

"Wow, you're good at that. You're pretty skilled with your hands, aren't you?"

She mentally punched herself the instant she said that.

"I mean… aaaah…."

I'm sorry.

Thank you?

I was wrong about you.

I apologize for acting like a prick when everything you've done so far was thought out with my well-being in mind.

I think you're pretty cool; if only you'd talk a bit more.

I'll try to be nice to you from now on, so could you try to be a bit more sociable as well?

I'm not normally this crazy you know. It seems you just have a strange effect on me…

"What's the matter?" Tezuka asked as she slapped her forehead, looking at her with his personal interpretation of worry. "Does your head hurt?"

"Ah, no, it doesn't," Shiina said, laughing nervously. "I just…"

She was taken aback by the extremely focused gaze he fixed on her. Turning red, she turned her attention to the grill and said, "Aaaah, that one's going to burn-"

"Hey, hey, look at this!" Rikku said suddenly, mischief personified. "Shii-neechan's turning red!"

"I am NOT!"

"Yes, you are!"

"I am NOT!"

"Oh, YES you are!"

"It's the grill, for crying out loud-!"

"Shishido-san-"

"WHAT?!"

He held out a skewered squid. Although she couldn't see his eyes past his reflective glasses, she had a vague idea she would find a hint of amusement there.

Now he's laughing at me-?

"Thanks," she said irritably, snatching the squid without brushing against his fingers. Wordlessly, he directed his attention back to the grill, which he fanned with his steady rhythm.

"The children say you play tennis very poorly, Shiina-san."

"I've known that since junior high, Onishi-san."

"Have you ever had a proper teacher?"

"No one ever had the patience to teach me. All my PE teachers claimed I had bad hand-eye coordination. I guess that's a euphemism for hopeless-"

"Mitsu-kun is a very capable teacher."

Shiina almost bit her tongue, along with the squid.

"I'm sure he's got his hands full, Onishi-san," she said, carefully keeping her voice level and her eyes directed at the squid she was holding. "I wouldn't want to bother him."

"I don't mind."

Shiina stared at him, disbelief etched on her face. He had not ceased fanning the grill.

"You have very poor form, you know?"

It was probably the first time anybody smacked Tezuka Kunimitsu in the head.

A/N:

I'm sorry for the length. Gomenasai. ::X

Next:

One week into summer, Shiina puts Operation: Let's Crack Tezuka into motion, undertaking Step One: Befriend. And what better way to befriend a tennis player than to play tennis?

As she becomes closer to Tezuka, however, she becomes guiltier about lying to him. Will she last her entire vacation keeping her secret intact?