"Nee-chan! Nee-chan!" the boy called out, running up to his sister. The girl laughed and gathered him up in her arms, spinning around and around until they collapsed on the hard wood floor of their living room, laughing breathlessly.

"We'll always be together, won't we, nee-chan?" he whispered, resting his head on her chest.

"Always," she promised, squeezing his hand.

Suddenly, the warm glow of their sunlit house disappeared, clouded by a swirl of purple His eyes began to glow a fiery red. "But you broke your promise, didn't you, nee-chan? I'm gone, and I always will be gone."

I jolted awake from the nightmare in a cold sweat, heart pounding, pulse racing. Glowering at my blaring alarm clock, I let out a groan, slamming a hand down to silence the damn thing.

Cocooning myself back into the covers, I squeezed my eyes shut, enjoying my last moments of peace and quiet, basking in the warm sunlight that pooled through my window. Another stupid summer come and gone, it seemed. And with that, another stupid school filled with yet more blockheads. Why couldn't my stepfather's job just stay in one place? It would make thing a hell of a lot easier for me.

"Hey, Sukochi! You have to wake up now," my thirteen year-old stepsister Kiyomi whined, flinging the door open. Her chestnut hair was damp, the scent of her sickly sweet watermelon shampoo filling the room. So much for privacy.

I scowled at her, running my fingers through my tangled bedhead. "Oh, fuck off."

"God, nee-chan, why do you always have to be so mean to me?"

Those two little words were always a kick to the gut.

Grow the fuck up, Sukochi.

"Don't call me that!" I snarled.

Because the only one that had been allowed to call me that was Daichi.

And now...no one could have that privilege ever again.

"Mom and Dad want you down for breakfast," Kiyomi said meekly. "Sorry for bothering you." Shuffling away, she closed the door behind her; I could hear her thundering footsteps all the way down the stairs.

"Oh, for fuck's sake," I grumbled, smacking a hand to my forehead.

I hated this. I hated this so much. Hated how everyone treated me like a bomb about to go off.

Why did I always have to feel so stupid? Like I was the one who did everything wrong?

Because when Daichi died, so did a part of me. I holed myself up in my room and banged on the shower walls and prayed to some God that would never listen. Soon enough, our family business went bankrupt, and I got to watch as my life shattered into a million pieces, my parents' marriage along with it.

They fought and fought, and somehow, Daichi's death always got dragged in. As if that was anyone's fault. As if we could have stopped that drunk driver from ramming into him and dad on that icy road.

I broke my promise to Daichi. I couldn't protect him. He was nothing but good and I was nothing but bad, but then he went ahead and died and I didn't. Why did I get to live, anyways? Why me, and not my perfect brother?

He would have gone on living. He would have made sure everything was okay. He would move on if I was gone.

I really was pathetic.

Everything in my life was just stupid. Candy-coated. Fake.

And today, I was going to yet another high school. The birthplace of all things stupid and fake.

Doesn't that sound absolutely thrilling, reader? Can you just imagine my excitement?

Stupid, stupid high school. Kaibara High School, to be specific.

I shoved my way past the tide of students, scowling at an undersized boy that had accidentally stumbled over my feet. Shouldering my way through the hallway, my eyes flickered helplessly between the room numbers hung up beside classroom doors and my schedule.

Fuck, I hated being the new kid. Good thing I'd had plenty of practice.

"Hey, you need help?"

A boy, of course, tall and lanky with dark hair and dark eyes and a dangerous smirk; this guy was trouble, and he fucking knew it. Cocky, too, from the way he was leaning against his locker like he owned the place, arms folded over his chest, shirt untucked, bangs flicked into his eyes.

God, I hated him already.

"Mind your own business," I snapped, absolutely loathing the sleazy grin on his face.

"Come on, don't be like that!" he laughed, beckoning me over. "Everything about you screams 'newbie.' Do you want to wander around this place like an idiot all day?"

I rolled my eyes and reluctantly shuffled over to him, scowling at the annoyingly triumphant smirk on his face. Handing him my schedule, I watched as he narrowed his eyes at the tiny print, pointing at a room just down the hall. "2-A. Oh, and what a coincidence," he exclaimed, cracking a goofy smile, "you're in the same class as me!"

Same class as this douchenugget? Oh, joy.

"So, tell me your name." He gave me a playful shove forward in the direction of our classroom, pulling me out of my thoughts.

"Sukochi Fujikawa," I said gruffly. "Not that it matters, anyways."

"I've known you for all of two minutes and you're still being rude." He waggled his eyebrows at me, laughing at the strangled expression on my face, and held out his hand. "The name's Shigure Sohma. You'll meet my adorable cousins in just a minute."

Cousins? There were more of these guys?

Shigure flung open the door to the nearest classroom. "Ayame! It's been such a long time!"

I sighed, following him as he rushed inside, embracing a boy with the same cocky aura, shockingly silver hair that fell to his wast and watery green-gold eyes and- wait, was that eyeliner?

"Oh, my dear Shigure!" eyeliner boy trilled, releasing Shigure with tears in his eyes. "Life has denied me all pleasures in not seeing you for the past two days!"

"I can't explain my despair, Aya!" Shigure blubbered between sniffles. "Anyways, look- I met this new girl in the hallway! She's rude and doesn't have a sense of humor, but don't let that get to you! I'm sure that she'll all sweet and girlish on the inside."

"Excuse me?" I seethed, painfully aware of the strange looks we were getting from the elderly woman at the front of the room and my bewildered classmates. Well, I honestly couldn't blame them. "Care to repeat that?"

Shigure tactfully chose to ignore me. "And she'll definitely get along with Ha'ri, I'm positive!"

"Ooh, and that bored, dull expression, too!" Ayame nodded approvingly, clapping him on the back. "You're a genius, 'Gure!"

"Forgive my friends." Another boy seemingly materialized before me, aggravatingly tall with floppy dark hair and olive green eyes and a slender nose and nail beds that were way too groomed to be real. Handsome, too; these guys were winners in the gene lottery and they totally knew it.

He smacked both of them on the head. "Sit down, you two. You're embarrassing us."

The elderly women coughed delicately into her fist, whacking a ruler menacingly against her calloused palm. She was beefy and intimidating, with beady brown eyes and an unruly white hurricane brewing around her head. "You're better off listening to your friend, you three. Rule number one of my classroom: we don't tolerate nonsense around here."

I braced my hands in surrender, sauntering over to an empty desk near the back of the room.

"Good morning, class." The teacher forced a toothy smile, standing up and tapping the blackboard with a chunk of chalk. "Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Hotaru Minami, and this is my twenty-fourth year of service to this wonderful school. Unfortunately, however, it will also be my last- I will be retiring at the conclusion of this school term."

"Thank God," I heard Shigure whisper, earning a giggle from the two girls sitting to my far left.

I cringed. Christ, did the term "inside voice" mean anything to this moron?

Minami-sensei zeroed in on him immediately, pausing her introductory monologue to bare her teeth in a sickly sweet smile. "What was that, young man? Care to share something with the class?"

"I-" Shigure stammered, before "Ha'ri" shot him a silencing look, standing up and acknowledging Minami-sensei with a polite nod.

"What my friend means to say is that it is wonderful that you are deciding to retire from your profession after years of service, and that he is thanking God for allowing you to enjoy a peaceful life after such diligent service," he finished in a mild, respectful tone, sitting down and ignoring all of the dumbfounded stares. I raised an eyebrow at him. This was that idiot Sohma's cousin?

The teacher engaged into an intense staredown with him while the class stayed frozen in place, before heaving a sigh, shooting Shigure a pointed look. "You're lucky that you have your friend over here to back you up, Shigure Sohma. I can assure you that you won't be so lucky next time.

"I will say this, and I will say this only once. I have zero tolerance of fooling around. My simple rules will be obeyed. No talking out of turn. Be respectful to me, yourself, and your peers. Turn in your homework on time. Come to class prepared. Enjoy yourselves as best as you can. I am here to thoroughly guide you through our fascinating second-year curriculum- what I guarantee to be a highly enjoyable and a wonderful learning experience," Minami-sensei said curtly. "And so, I'd like you all to each stand up and introduce yourselves. Your full name, age, and three things that you find interesting about yourselves."

I stifled a groan. High school teachers and their fucking ice breakers.

The boy in the front row leapt to his feet, primly clearing his throat. "Hideki Akiyama. Age sixteen. I like to play basketball, go running with my friends, and my favorite subject is math."

"Quite the intellect, aren't you, Akiyama? Next." Minami-sensei flicked her ruler in the direction of a mousy-haired girl, who swallowed back a gulp and reluctantly rose to her feet.

"J-Jenny Grayson. S-seventeen in a...month. I used to live in America, but I'm just here for a foreign exchange program," she stuttered. "Um, well, my uncle's an actor in California and I like British literature."

"Be more sure of yourself, girl," the elderly woman said bluntly. "Keep going, class."

Introductions were always such a pain in the ass. I slouched in my chair, tuning out on the conversation and doodling mustaches on a clean sheet in one of my composition notebooks.

"Shigure Sohma. I'm seventeen as of two months ago!" he declared. "My favorite things to do in my spare time are writing amateur romantic comedies and reading shoujo manga! What I really want to do in the future is become a best-selling author!"

"Hatori Sohma. I'm sixteen. Shigure and Ayame-kun are my cousins. My father was a doctor and it is my ambition to follow in his footsteps, and my favorite subjects are math and science. It's nice to see you all again." He sat back down, seemingly oblivious to the approving up-and-downs all of the girls were giving him.

The third Sohma leapt out of his seat and flipped his long hair over his shoulder. "Ayame Sohma! I simply adore reading fashion magazines, sketching traditional Japanese kimonos, and spending time with my darling 'Gure and Ha'ri." He blew a kiss at his cousins.

There was an awkward moment of silence, until Minami-sensei cleared her throat and pointed her ruler at me. "And you?"

"Oh, me? Um...," I was at a loss of words for a moment, shooting a glare at the gaggle of giggling girls sitting just to my right. "Sukochi Fujikawa. Age sixteen. Well...I like dangos, sukiyaki-"

"I was expecting you to go deeper than your food preferences," Minami-sensei said curtly, raising penciled eyebrow in my direction, and I fought back a scowl. "So, tell us, Fujikawa- what is your essence?"

"My greatest wish of all is for there to be eternal peace in this world," I quickly said, desperately wanting to sit back down, away from the patronizing gazes of my classmates, but the old hag gestured for me to remain standing.

"I'd like you be more specific, Fujikawa. Eternal peace? What do you mean by that, dear?"

I suppressed the urge to scream with a little cough, smiling through gritted teeth. "Well, you know...no more bullying, animal cruelty, war, violence, crime, etc. The usual. I'm not trying to say anything bigger than that."

"Well, that's a lovely wish, Fujikawa," Minami-sensei said briskly, sounding as if she didn't think it was lovely at all. "Next, please."

Home ec- just why was this a class, again? I sighed, plopping down on one of the wobbly counter stools and throwing my bag to the ground. This year already wasn't promising, and it was only third period.

"Fujikawa, right? Mind if I sit here?" a calm voice asked, jolting me out of my reverie. Of course none other than the great Hatori Sohma himself had deigned to grace me with his awe-inspiring presence. But then again, maybe I was being too hard on him. He wasn't an awful person, right?

I shrugged, scooting over to make room for him.

"So, world peace, huh?" he said mildly. " That's very ambitious of you."

A flare of annoyance kicked in my gut. "What about you being a doctor? That's pretty ambitious, too," I countered.

"That's different, though," he said mildly, wiping his fingers on a moist towel. "It's what's expected of me."

I didn't even want to think about what that meant. Flicking my hairs out of my eyes, I slouched even further in my chair. "Whatever. You know I only said it to get her to shut up."

He cocked his head to the side. "So you don't want eternal peace for the world?"

"No, it's not like that...it's just impossible. The world's full of shit, anyways. It's not like anything I do is gonna change anything," I spat, accepting a bowl of hot rice from my neighbor and passing it to him. "Why are you asking me this, anyways?"

"No reason. You just seem like an interesting person." He gave a minimal shrug of his shoulders, grabbing a handful of rice and patting it into a ball.

I reached for a dried plum and plopped it into my mouth, savoring the tangy sweetness.

I knew what I wanted more than world peace.

But that didn't mean he had to know.