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The High School Tennis Nationals that year saw Shitenhouji and Rikkai clash in the quarterfinals due to a series of strange regional tournament results placing many of the top contenders in lower ranking seeds. Rikkai themselves had placed lower in the Kanto Regionals that year due to being preoccupied with the death of their captain and barely scraped through the tournament to qualify. The crowd that had gathered at the venue to watch the exciting matchup was enormous. Many of the spectators were out to cheer for both schools, but there were several other competitors who were taking notes and observing the players, knowing fully well that the winner of the matchup would likely win the whole tournament.

Sayumi was forcibly dragged to the stadium by Yukimura’s younger sister, Hinoka, who had come to cheer on Kirihara. Hinoka was too scared to come by herself since the crowd was overwhelmingly composed of men and decided to ask Sayumi to accompany her. Though she was reluctant to watch the match, Sayumi felt the need to protect her from the disgusting creatures that could potentially be there. The both of them were able to watch the match from the team benches alongside the starting lineup due to Kirihara sneaking them through. Sanada was not very content with the fact that two other bodies were getting in the way, but he couldn’t find it in him to get angry at either of the girls at that moment.

“Akaya! If you don’t win your match, I will personally cut you down,” Sanada threatened. “Do not let yourself be distracted by something as ridiculous as love.”

“I know! Don’t worry about me, Sanada-fuku- err… Sanada-buchou! I will definitely win,” Kirihara reaffirmed with determination.

Sayumi couldn’t help but feel sad when she heard Kirihara address Sanada Genichirou as his captain. It felt strange to hear anyone else be addressed as the captain of Rikkai’s Boys’ Tennis Team.

“My apologies, Sayumi-san, Hinoka-san,” Yanagi began. “It seems you’ve been caught up in our team conflict unnecessarily.”

“It’s alright, Renji-senpai,” Sayumi responded with a strained smile. “Sanada-senpai is right with his concerns. I apologize for the intrusion when this is going to be the most important matchup of your entire tournament run.”

“Please do not concern yourself with us. We will win. The probability of our victory today is 100%,” Yanagi said confidently.

“Hey, hey, Hinoka-chan!” Kirihara ran over, picked the younger girl up and twirled her around in the air. “I hope you’re ready to watch me dye the opponents in red today.”

Hinoka laughed. “Put me down, Akaya-senpai! Everyone is staring at us!”

He gently set her down before ruffling her hair. “Watch and learn how it’s done,” he boasted.

A deep voice whispered into Sayumi’s right ear. “Seaweed Bastard really is hopeless, isn’t he?”

Sayumi jumped away from the voice before getting angry at seeing who it belonged to. “Mouri-senpai, don’t do that!”

“Oh? But your reaction is just so funny, Sayumi-chan,” he taunted.

“Please conduct yourself in a professional manner, Mouri-senpai,” Yagyuu commented. “It’s almost time to start the first game.”

As Yagyuu finished his sentence, the speakers in the stadium turned on and filled the place with a screechy reverb before the announcer called for the first match. “Now announcing the Singles 3 matchup! Rikkai’s Kirihara Akaya versus Shitenhouji’s Zaizen Hikaru!”

“Do your best, Akaya-senpai!” Hinoka cheered.

Mouri stuck his hands into his jacket pockets. He bent down to whisper into her ear again. “My offer is still available, should you change your mind, Sayumi-chan. Do take your time to think about it.” 

She cupped her hands over Mouri’s ear and replied back. “And my answer is still no, you creep.”

Mouri couldn’t help but burst into laughter. “Stubborn as ever, huh?”

Sanada turned around and glared at them. “Hey! Shut the hell up, you two! The game is going to start!”

The teams both watched Kirihara narrowly beat Zaizen in a close 7-6 game with a rather long tiebreaker to decide the winner. Kirihara was elated to win, seeing as he treated it as a grudge match against Zaizen for the events that happened during the Nationals in his final year of junior high. The rest of the Rikkai team was unamused that he let the game get that close, which caused Sanada to slap him across the face when he approached the bench.

“Ow! What the hell, Sanada-fukubuchou! I won!” Kirihara shouted.

“Akaya! Tarundoru ! Letting that match get so close was careless!”

“Genichirou,” Yanagi placed his hand on the angry teen’s shoulder, “yelling isn’t going to change anything. Akaya won the match. Let’s focus on the next game.”

Hinoka hid behind Sayumi as she tried to hold back her tears. She felt guilty that she was likely the reason why he was getting hit despite winning. 

“Sanada-senpai, please stop,” Sayumi grimaced.

Sanada turned in her direction and noticed the younger one was cowering in fear behind her. He sighed as he began to rub his temples to try and soothe the growing headache that was forming.

“Now announcing the Doubles 2 matchup! Rikkai’s Mouri Jusaburou and Yanagi Renji versus Shitenhouji’s Hara Tetsuya and Koishikawa Kenjirou!”

Mouri could not miss an opportunity to poke fun at the strict captain. “You should smile more, my lovely kouhai. If you keep that face up, you’ll develop wrinkles like an old man!”

“Shut your mouth and get your ass onto the court, Mouri Jusaburou!” Sanada snapped.

Yanagi reluctantly grabbed onto the back of the collar of Mouri’s shirt and dragged him onto the court before he could further provoke their annoyed captain. A fuming Kirihara walked out of the court and headed towards the change room. Hinoka chased after him, leaving Sayumi alone with the rest of the team.

“Remind me to never get that involved with a girl, Yagyuu,” Niou muttered.

Marui and Jackal tried to stifle their laughter at Niou’s remarks.

Feeling uncomfortable, Sayumi excused herself and promptly left the boys alone to watch the next game. She wandered around the corridors of the stadium aimlessly, trying to find some way to fight off her boredom. She took out her phone and began walking while checking her messages. Unsurprisingly, she bumped into someone while not paying attention.

“Ah! I’m sorry.” She bowed her head at the person she had collided with.

“That’s alright, Hokama-san,” they responded. 

Sayumi raised her head and locked eyes with the person. “Shiraishi-san!”

“Yo!” He waved his hand. “How have you been, Hokama-san?”

“Shouldn’t you be out there with your team, Shiraishi-san?” she asked, ignoring his question.

“Hey, I asked first. Got something on your mind?”

She sighed. “I have a lot on my mind, but why should I tell a complete stranger about them?”

“‘Stranger’? You wound me deeply,” he laughed. 

“Well, we’re not complete strangers to each other, but that doesn’t change the fact that I barely know you, aside from the stories I’ve been told.”

“Why don’t we change that then?” He reached for her phone and entered his name and number into her list of contacts before giving it back. “If you need anyone to talk to, feel free to ring me up.”

She couldn’t help but smile. “How bold of you, Shiraishi-san. I shall consider it.”

“I will patiently await your response, Hokama-san.” He waved at her again before walking in the direction of the court.

Sayumi stared at her phone and studied the number. She contemplated deleting it, but decided against it. She put her phone back into her pocket and decided to continue wandering about. She hadn’t realized how much time had passed until a certain annoying boy approached her.

“Were you that bored that you decided to skip watching my game? You really know how to hurt a man, Sayumi-chan.”

“And you really don’t know how to respect boundaries, Mouri-senpai.”

A cheeky grin formed on his face. “What’s a beautiful girl like you doing all alone in a large building mostly filled with men? Don’t you know men have ulterior motives?”

“Not all of them. Just disgusting pigs, like you, senpai,” she smiled coldly. “How was your game, anyways?”

“Naturally, we lost,” he stated nonchalantly. “Seems like my lovely kouhai and I don’t work well together in doubles. Not yet, anyways.”

“I see. I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Now, now. It’s not like our loss was your fault. We just weren’t as good as we thought we were.” His cheerful demeanor quickly changed to a darker, more frustrated one. “Still, I can’t help but feel like I’m letting him down. After all, it was his stupid idea that I lend my strength to help the team win again.”

Sayumi gave him a confused look. “You didn’t rejoin this team on your own volition?”

“Hm?” Mouri shifted his focus back onto her. “At the end of the day, it was my decision to agree to the arrangement. I need to take responsibility for my actions. ‘Anything less than a win is worthless’ is the Law of the Kings, right? Or, at least, that’s how I think it goes.”

Sayumi couldn’t help but get nostalgic after hearing those words. “‘Law of the Kings’, huh? I’m fairly certain it went ‘losing will not be forgiven’, but what would I know? I’m only the ex-girlfriend of the person who said it.”

Mouri laughed. “I underestimated you, Hokama Sayumi. Here I was, thinking that you couldn’t defend yourself. How wrong of me to assume you were weak.”

“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that, Mouri-senpai.” She relaxed her body a little, now that she no longer had to be defensive around him. “Why are you out here anyways? You can’t seriously be hitting on me again.”

“No, that’s exactly why I’m here.” He grabbed hold of her hands and held them close to his chest. “I really do like you, Sayumi-chan. I apologize for my prior flirtatious behaviour and for making you feel uncomfortable. I want to help heal your broken heart. I really do hope you can give me a chance.”

Sayumi was shocked at the sincerity of Mouri Jusaburou’s confession. She was lost for words.

He let go of her hands. “As his senpai, I have an obligation to correct the mistakes of my lovely kouhai,” he continued as his demeanor changed back to his normal self. “I don’t need an answer until you’re ready. Think it over and-”

“Fine,” she interrupted before he could continue. “I’ll give you a chance, Mouri-senpai.”

He gave her a confused look. Now, he was unable to find words to express how he was feeling.

“I’m still hesitant of you, but I’ll allow you to try and change my mind about you.” She poked his chest aggressively with her finger. “And that’s a tall order, considering I’ve heard nothing but awful things about you from Seiichi.”

Mouri sighed. He pulled the girl into an embrace. “Of course. That’s one of the many mistakes I have to correct.” He guided her head to look up at his and planted a soft kiss on her lips. “Let’s head back to the team. I’m sure they’re going to kill me if I’m gone for any longer.”

She felt her face get hotter and hotter. All she could do was nod in response.

Meanwhile on the court, the Singles 2 matchup between Sanada and Shiraishi was tied at four games each. Neither boy had dropped their service games and it was looking more and more likely that this match would drag out in a very long tiebreaker. 

Shiraishi couldn't shake the strange feeling in his heart ever since the match started. Something was nagging him about Sanada's demeanor, but he couldn't think of what it was. It was almost as if the Sanada standing in front of him was a completely different person. He could sense that everyone on the Rikkai team had changed since the death of their captain, but it was easy to tell that the rest of them were playing for Yukimura's sake. With Sanada, there was something else that he was hiding underneath the radiance of his determination to win. He wanted to get to the bottom of things, even if it meant dragging out the game longer than he had planned.

" You're so close to cracking him right open. Don't let up! " he thought to himself.

Shiraishi felt his knees give in, but he had to steel himself to finish the match. He took his position to begin his service game. The fatigue was setting in faster than he realized as he barely managed to serve the ball over the net without faulting. In contrast, Sanada looked like he wasn't even breaking a sweat, but he was just naturally better at hiding it.

" If I don't steal this next game from him, this match will never end, " Sanada realized.

Sanada allowed himself to be consumed by the Black Aura that he was trying desperately to hold back. Now that he was driven into a corner, he had no choice but to allow himself to fall victim to it. By combining the aura with his pre-existing Fuurinkazan, Sanada was able to steal away Shiraishi's last service game. This drained his stamina significantly, but he had just enough to play out the last game of the set.

The Black Aura allowed Shiraishi to finally see through the immovable Sanada Genichirou. He was able to gaze directly at his soul and see what was keeping him going. He felt himself being dragged into the dark grips of Sanada's psyche, unable to turn away. He dove further down into the darkness until he reached a small sliver of light. He reached out to touch it but the light only got brighter and brighter. He soon found himself reliving the moments that Sanada had shared with Yukimura Seiichi in a series of flashbacks. As he fell through the memories, he could see the clear power dynamic that defined their relationship. He saw Sanada swear fealty to Yukimura when they both promised to win no matter what happened. He watched as the boy he once knew fall hopelessly in love with his straight best friend.

Shiraishi finally understood everything. Sanada was playing because that's all he knew how to do. Yukimura had trained the man standing before him to be someone who would obediently follow his every command. Sanada wasn't driven by the loss of his friend and teammate like the rest of the team was because he had already swore to win prior to everything happening. He had unraveled the mystery behind Sanada's determination to win the match. Now that Sanada had broken his service and his own stamina had been completely drained from his body, Shiraishi had no choice but to concede. All he could do was smile as he accepted his fate. 

When the match ended, Shiraishi approached the net to shake hands with his opponent.

"You've bested me today, Sanada," he congratulated. "Good luck with the rest of the tournament."

"What are you saying, Shiraishi? I may have won, but we still need to win one more to advance to the next round," Sanada stated calmly.

"I can see why I lost to you in the end. Sei-chan had impeccable tastes."

Sanada gave him a confused, yet dirty look. “What is this? Some terribly written television drama? You lost because you zoned out the last two games!” He turned away from Shiraishi and walked back towards the benches, rubbing his temples once again.

Shiraishi winced. “You really do know where to hit to make it hurt, Sanada.”

As predicted by Yanagi’s data, Rikkai did manage to win the match against Shitenhouji by shutting out the Doubles 1 game 6-1. The ending to Rikkai versus Shitenhouji was as anticlimactic as it could get, which left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouths. Both teams promptly left the stadium as the next quarterfinal match got ready to play. Shiraishi sat quietly in the change room, listening to the sound of the running shower head. The only other person left in the room was Oshitari Kenya, who had some choice words for Shiraishi.

“You had the last two games in the bag, Shiraishi! How could you blow it so easily?” Shiraishi heard the squeaky sound of the taps as Kenya shut off the water. “What the hell was on your mind when you stopped playing?”

“Sorry, Kenya. I wasn’t expecting to be playing such a strong opponent so early on,” he lied.

Kenya walked over and smacked Shiraishi on the head. “You knew ahead of time that this would happen! You were the idiot who drew this bad seeding in the first place!”

Shiraishi held his hands up to shield himself. “Alright! Yes, it’s my fault that I threw the game. I’ll own up to it.”

Kenya sighed as he sat down beside his friend as he dried himself off. “What’s on your mind, Shiraishi? You know you can trust me.”

“I guess I’m still a little bothered by what happened. I noticed it when I was playing Sanada earlier. They all moved on.”

Kenya mumbled something incoherent under his breath as he began to put his clothes back on. “Do you really think everyone close to Yukimura-san is going to spend forever obsessing over his death? What happened to him was sad, but it’s not like anyone could have saved him. His death was an accident.” Kenya stood up as he zipped up and buttoned his pants. “Well, whatever the reason, just know I’ll listen. Hurry up and shower. We gotta get out of here.” 

Shiraishi sat in silence as he realized Kenya was right. Though his death was strange, it was an accident at the end of the day. He had no further evidence to suggest otherwise, even if he knew that there was more to it than what he was told.

Later that night, Shiraishi was laying on the bed in his hotel room in complete darkness. He was too tired to go out with the rest of the team and decided to try and sleep instead. Despite his exhaustion, he couldn't drift off into a deep slumber. He was very bored, but there was nothing he could really do with the little energy he had left. He took out his phone to browse the web in search of something interesting to read. Instead, he was greeted by a message from an unknown number.

' Sorry about your loss, but you can't let your guard down around Sanada-senpai. '

He was amused. ' Too bad I learned it the hard way. '

Another message appeared almost instantly afterwards. ' Are you still in Shizuoka? '

' Yes. Won't be leaving until after the finals. '

' Are you free now? '

' Yep! Just meet me here. ' He sent a link to the hotel he was staying in.

What a coincidence. Seems like I’m already here.

Shiraishi pulled himself out of bed, put on a shirt and his shoes and ran out of the room. After riding the elevator down to the lobby, he scanned the area before locating his unknown texting partner. Unfortunately, she seemed to be talking with a less-than-savoury character that Shiraishi was not too fond of.

“Hokama-san! Sorry to keep you waiting,” Shiraishi greeted as he walked over. “I do hope Hyoutei’s Atobe wasn’t bothering you.”

“Ahn? Watch what you say about me, Shitenhouji’s Shiraishi,” Atobe replied, unamused. “For your information, I was just making sure Hokama-san was alright. She was waiting alone here for a while and I thought something was wrong.”

“Thank you again for your concern, Atobe-san,” she smiled. “Unfortunately, I was just abandoned by the date I was initially third-wheeling. It’s nothing serious.”

“A beautiful girl like you shouldn’t have to stoop as low as being the third wheel. Do give me a call the next time it happens and I will personally escort you around as my date.” Atobe waved as he walked away from the two. “I’ll see you two later.”

“Good night, Atobe-san,” she said as she waved back.

“I didn’t know you were friends with that guy,” Shiraishi commented.

“Atobe-san isn’t really a friend, per se. I just met him through Seiichi, though Seiichi didn’t have great things to say about him.”

“I see.” He crossed his arms. “So, what’s up?”

“Remember earlier when you offered to listen to my troubles? I think I’d like to take you up on that, Shiraishi-san.”

He chuckled. “Sure, but as long as you listen to mine as well.”

“That wasn’t part of your original offer.”

“No, but we both have something similar on our mind.” He offered his hand to her. “Let’s go get some ice cream from the convenience store.”

“Sure, but I’m not going to hold your hand on our way there, Shiraishi-san.”

“Ah! You really do know how to hurt a man, Hokama-san,” he joked. “Lead the way.”

The two walked out of the hotel in silence and headed towards the nearest convenience store. Shiraishi couldn’t help but watch Sayumi as she quietly enjoyed the serenity of the night. The moonlight and dim street lights casted an ethereal glow around her figure. He couldn’t help but be captivated by the view. After buying their favourite frozen treats, they two stood outside the store to eat them and discuss what was on their minds.

“So, what’s got your pretty face all gloomy, Hokama-san?” Shiraishi bit into his ice pop, which sent a chill down Sayumi’s spine.

“Must every man comment on my physical appearance?”

“Sorry, sorry. I’ll stop if it’s making you uncomfortable.” 

Sayumi sighed. “I got asked out by my senpai. He was very persistent and extremely flirtatious, but,” she took a lick of her ice cream cone, “he was very sincere when he asked. I felt that he really did mean what he said.”

“And? What’s so wrong with that?”

“I don’t know. I said 'yes' to him, but I’m second guessing myself. I don’t know if getting into this relationship is going to be a good thing for me, you know?”

Shiraishi nodded as he listened to her troubles. “Is it because you didn’t want to hurt his feelings if you rejected him instead?”

“No, I don’t think so. I never really liked him much to begin with. Seiichi would tell me the most awful things about him. I don’t think he has many redeemable qualities.” She bit into the cone and munched on it.

Shiraishi remained silent as he continued to think about it. His ice pop started to melt all over his hands.


“Ah, sorry! I was just thinking.” He popped the rest of his ice pop into his mouth before wiping his hand with a napkin he took from the store earlier. “If he’s not a good guy, then just turn him down. You can take back what you say and if he won’t leave you alone, I’ll help make him understand what the meaning of ‘no’ is.”

She laughed. “Thank you for the kind gesture, Shiraishi-san. I will consider it if it gets that far. Still,” she ate the rest of her cone and licked her fingers clean before using a wet wipe to clean up, “I feel like I should give him a chance.”

“Then give him a chance. You can always back out whenever you want. It’s not like you’re marrying this person.”

“I guess you’re right.” She turned to look at him. “What’s on your mind? I’ve spent the last few minutes talking about my problem, but you also said you had something on your mind, Shiraishi-san.”

“W-well…” He felt flustered after being called out by her. “It’s a long story, I guess.”

“I got all night. The person I came with ran off with some seaweed-headed bastard and I don’t think I will see either of them for a while.” 

He looked concerned. “‘Seaweed-headed bastard’? Are you sure you should let your friend be alone with someone like that?”

“Oh, don’t worry about it. Kirihara might be a complete idiot, but the threat of Seiichi’s ghost coming to haunt him, should anything terrible happen to Hinoka, is enough to keep him in line.”

“Is that so?” Shiraishi sighed as his expression darkened. “Are you sure you want to listen to it?”

“Are you backing out now?” she teased. “If you don’t want to tell me because you changed your mind, then don’t. I won’t make you.”

“No, no. I’ll tell you. Just please don't judge me." 

"You didn't judge me. Why shouldn't I extend the same courtesy to you?"

He took a breath and collected his composure. "Someone broke my heart fairly recently. I thought I had gotten over it by now, but some recent events made me realize that I wasn't. It hurts a lot, but it's not like medicine can cure it, you know? I'm just lost as to what I can do about it."

Sayumi couldn't help but grab at her own chest. "I don't think I'm the best person to ask for help, Shiraishi-san. I'd be a hypocrite if I said anything."

"Why is that?"

She wiped away the tears that were forming on her eyes. "Because I still haven't gotten over my own heartbreak."

Shiraishi was speechless. Part of him wanted to pull Sayumi closer to him to console her, but all he could do was just watch in shame. The scars they bore were the same. Deep below her confident mask was the same broken person that resided in him. 

Just as she began to cry, another character decided to conveniently show up at the scene. Shiraishi uttered a silent prayer under his breath.

"Oh my. Shiraishi, why are you making my lovely kouhai cry?" Mouri Jusaburou questioned. 

"It's not what you think it is!" he shouted in defense.

Mouri approached him with a murderous intent that radiated around him.

"Mouri-senpai, stop! Shiraishi-san did nothing. Leave him alone!" Sayumi pleaded. 

Mouri backed off and turned his attention to her. He wrapped his arms around her and gently stroked her head. "It's alright. I won't hurt him," he whispered into her ear.

Shiraishi felt uncomfortable watching the normally irresponsible and unmotivated Mouri Jusaburou comfort the strong-willed Sayumi. Though there were many thoughts racing through his head, he knew he had to find a way to get out of this situation.

"I'm sorry that I made you upset, Hokama-san. I'll take my leave now."

Sayumi pushed Mouri off of her and looked at Shiraishi. "I'm sorry as well for getting upset. It's not your fault, Shiraishi-san." She gave him a weak and tired smile. "Thank you for tonight."

He gave her an equally tired and weak smile. "You're welcome."

Sayumi grabbed onto Mouri's hand and interlaced their fingers together before walking back in the direction of the hotel. Shiraishi leaned back on the wall of the convenience store and watched as the two disappeared into the night. He was alone once again with nothing but the thoughts that plagued his head. He felt the skin underneath his bandaged arm begin to throb, as if it was tempting him to add another scar. He instinctively grabbed it, hoping to stop the sensation. 

“Not today,” he uttered to himself.

Mouri couldn’t help but probe for the reason why his new girlfriend was hanging out at night in front of a convenience store with another man. He was slightly irritated, jealous and sad all at the same time, but he knew not to draw conclusions, even if they looked obvious.

“So, princess, what were you doing out here at night with a strange Osaka boy? Can’t be cheating on me already. We’ve only been together for less than twelve hours!” he joked.

“Keep saying things like that and I might just end up doing it, Mouri-senpai,” Sayumi retorted.

“Still cold as ever. At least call me by my first name, Sayumi-chan.”

“It’s too long. I refuse,” she lied.

“Heh, you do have a point. How about Saburo?”

“That’s just dropping one kanji from your first name. No.”

“Are you embarrassed to be with me? Is that it?”

Sayumi fell silent. She turned her head away from him. Mouri stopped walking, which caused her to stop and turn back to look at him.

“You really don’t like me, do you, Sayumi-chan?”

She let go of his hand and wrapped her arms around herself. “I… I just don’t know. I’m scared of what others will think.”

“You mean the rest of the team? Obviously, none of them have very good opinions of me. I abandoned them. Even after my grand reveal as the Sports Drink Fairy, they’re still very hesitant to accept me back. Yanagi especially.”

“You’re not exactly making this any easier for me.”

“All I’m saying is you can never escape judgement from other people. Who you choose to associate with will always affect how others see you. You might not realize it, but not many people had good things to say about you when you were dating my lovely kouhai.”

A small smile crept onto her face. “Don’t remind me. I still have nightmares about it.”

Mouri pulled her close to him. “All the more reason for me to protect you. You worry too much about the others. Don’t you know the team is going to disband after the tournament? You won’t have to interact with them anymore-”

“Wait, what?” She took a step back. “What do you mean ‘disband’?”

“Well, I am graduating this year and going off to university. Seaweed Bastard is going to go back to his dumb video game thing. The other six need to start studying for those dreaded entrance exams. It makes sense that this would be the last time we all played together.” He looked up at the sky, as if he was waiting for someone else to stare right back. “I don’t think any of them have the heart to continue playing either. After all, we only agreed to stay together for him. Once we win the tournament, we don't have much of a reason to remain a team.”

“This is so sudden…” She felt her knees buckle as she began to fall to the ground.

Mouri caught her before she did. “It might be sudden for you, but we all knew it was coming. To be honest, I really didn’t have the time to invest in trying to win this tournament, but I felt compelled to play. Even before his passing, this was the conclusion all of them reached. Teams don’t stay together forever, you know. This isn’t like a generic shounen sports manga. Life goes on beyond what is told in those stories.”

Sayumi couldn’t help but cry. She didn’t want to accept the fact that the life she had known for the past four years was coming to an end. She buried her face into his chest. Mouri held her tightly as he tried to suppress his own emotions.