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[12:48] <Hideki> It was a beautiful day. Clear, blue skies. Birds singing their feathery little hearts out. A gentle spring wind, still slightly cool. -
[12:50] <Hideki> CLANK. WHUMP!
[12:51] <Hideki> The sound of metal bats hitting round objects at high speed. -
[12:57] <Hideki> "Hah! See that?!" And gloating too. Struck up fast and then abandoned without any follow through as the owner of the voice settled in again and waited for the next automated pitch. He didn't even glance over to see the reaction of the person in the next batting cage over.
[01:09] <Minaplo> Asari wasn't even glancing back. A rock steady swing knocked the next ball away with ease. "I could turn and watch your play, but why settle for viewing second best?"
[01:13] <Hideki> "Sounds to me like you're scared." Another swing. Another satisfying crack.
[01:18] <Minaplo> Echoed a second later with Asari's thundercrack of a swing.
[01:18] <Minaplo> "You aren't choking yet? Hmm… better than usual. Have my lessons taken root?"
[01:22] <Hideki> "Maybe the student's surpassed the teacher!" Crack!
[01:44] <Minaplo> "Aha. So you are my student." Carmack!
[01:54] <Hideki> "Don't mean a thing," Hideki pointed out brightly. "Half the people on this campus are students." Crack! -
[01:55] <Hideki> "Maybe more than half."
[01:58] <Minaplo> Crack!-
[01:58] <Minaplo> "True. And yet class is ended but here you are, being schooled."
[01:58] <Minaplo> A voice cut through the hubbub from the crowd. One familiar to Hideki yet entirely unexpected. "Come on, Hideki! Do your best!"
[02:17] <Hideki> "Ji-?!" The ball bounced off his bat at an awkward angle, smacking against the side of the cage. "Shit."
[02:26] <Minaplo> "Twas beauty that slew the beast." Asari finished a final stroke, then slung the bat over his shoulder. "Didn't think you'd choke on a girl. Then again, I shouldn't be surprised…"
[02:26] <Minaplo> "Oops." Muttered Ji-hu, then louder: "Sorry!"
[02:28] <Hideki> Hideki raised a hand in Ji-hu's direction and grinned. "Yeah, yeah. Don't think this over, Asari. Next time…"
[02:33] <Minaplo> "You say that every time." Asari left the cage and walked to Hideki's side. "That's your girlfriend?"
[02:35] <Hideki> "That's right! Ji-hu. Uh. I guess you guys have never met, huh?"
[02:36] <Minaplo> "She looks delicate."
[11:45] <Hideki> "Looks can be deceiving. She's pretty badass."
[11:55] <Minaplo> "Oh I don't doubt it. It wasn't an insult. Not at all." Asari waved a hand through a lock of silky hair. "I was merely commenting on your taste in girls. Who would've guessed that you preferred traditional, feminine beauty?"-
[11:56] <Minaplo> "Actually, that's not surprising whatsoever."
[12:05] <Hideki> "You've got a lot to say about my relationship with women today, huh?" Hideki stretched his arms.
[12:06] <Minaplo> "Your relationship with women took my victory from an 'almost certain' to a 'certain', I feel like paying homage." Said Asari as the two walked toward the stands. "Doesn't she run your culture club?"
[12:11] <Hideki> Hideki raised his eyebrows. "How'd you know that?"
[12:20] <Minaplo> "You are the Scholar-Kings' baseball ace. You're known to our school, people gossip." Said Asari. "Besides, the only thing more on brand than you dating the culture club leader is Sophia Academy's culture club being run by an international."
[12:37] <Hideki> "It -is- a special kind of culture club," said Hideki smugly. "Something tells me you two are going to get along well."
[12:40] <Minaplo> Asari chuckled.-
[12:41] <Minaplo> Ji-Hu left the stands, tiptoeing between other people and idle bottles of soft drink to reach the fence. She slipped through the gate and joined them, smiling sheepishly. "Whoops. I didn't mean to distract you, Hideki."
[12:45] <Hideki> "No worries!" Hideki grinned. "I'm actually happy you came. I wasn't expecting that."
[12:53] <Minaplo> "Hee." She tapped him fondly on the forehead.
[12:53] <Minaplo> "Pardon." She turned to Asari. "I don't believe we've met."
[12:53] <Minaplo> "Not until today." Said Asari. Asari bowed, and said something to Ji-Hu in what sounded like flawless Korean to Hideki's ears. From what he understood, Asari was saying something like, "Good afternoon, my name is Asari Mochizuki. I'm honoured to meet you."
[12:53] <Minaplo> Ji-Hu's eyes widened a little in surprise. "Ooh, wow, your Korean is so refined!"
[12:53] <Minaplo> "I thank you for saying so. In truth I am unsatisfied with it. Like many things, it is a work in progress, one I strive to improve upon every day." Said Asari, straightening up. "You're already familiar with another work in progress of mine, of course."
[12:53] <Minaplo> … Asari gestured at Hideki. Ji-Hu giggled.
[01:23] <Hideki> Hideki grumbled. "Don't get too taken with him. He's a player for a rival team, you know."
[01:27] <Minaplo> "Rivals? So you two are both rivals and friends?"
[01:31] <Hideki> "No one said we couldn't be both. So, yeah, we are!"
[02:15] <Minaplo> "Indeed. After besting him in the batting cage, it's now his turn to show how inadequate I am." Said Asari seriously. "In fact, we were just talking about you."
[02:15] <Minaplo> "Me?"
[02:22] <Hideki> "Apparently you're famous. And so is our culture club."
[02:33] <Minaplo> "Oh really?" Said Ji-Hu, grinning.
[02:33] <Minaplo> "Mm. I've been interested in meeting the woman who caught Nakajima's eye. It seems I was mistaken in my impression of him- I thought him the kind of man who only pursues delicate flowers, but in this case he seems quite captivated by a wildflower indeed." Said Asari solemnly, running a hand through that glossy hair.
[02:33] <Minaplo> Ji-Hu covered her giggling mouth. "Oho. Well you're definitely better at sweet talking, huh?"
[02:43] <Hideki> "I can sweet talk too!" Hideki was indignant. "Ji-hu, you're super hot. Hotter than a sunflower!"
[02:45] <Minaplo> Ji-Hu's giggles turned into a snort. "Bwa!"
[02:45] <Minaplo> "Heh. Are you challenging me…? I hate to make such a crass display in front of a lady, but if you insist on being put in your place, then very well."
[02:46] <Minaplo> Hands folded behind the back, Asari turned to eye Hideki. "She can't be a sunflower. They turn to follow the brightest star in the sky, but here she is, following you."
[02:56] <Hideki> "Nah, she totally fits the description. It's just that her eyes are a little keener than yours, is all."
[03:01] <Minaplo> "Indeed? And what does she see?"
[03:07] <Hideki> "Rising brilliance! The King of Scholar-Kings! The next pro player to graduate out of this place! And someone who totally appreciates arts and culture. Am I right?" He snapped both fingers.
[03:08] <Minaplo> "Hmph. From the moment you described her as a sunflower you were making it all about you. The only important thing she should see is someone who brings her happiness!"
[03:18] <Hideki> "But that's like saying 'the sky is blue'," he said matter-of-factly. "If I didn't bring her happiness, she'd probably dump me. Right?"
[03:18] <Minaplo> "I would hope so. But that's much more important than baseball."
[03:35] <Hideki> "Well, yeah, but…" he glanced over at Ji-Hu, as if for assistance.
[03:38] <Minaplo> "But?" She folded her arms.
[03:53] <Hideki> Hideki looked at Ji-Hu, then Asari, then Ji-Hu again. He rubbed the back of his neck for a moment and then finally threw up his hands. "Okay! I give up. Ji-Hu, you are more important than baseball, and I really like you, and I might have just walked into an awkward spot, but you have to admit I'm at least kind of smooth and romantic. Right?"
[04:00] <Minaplo> "What kind of ace admits that baseball is less important than something else?" Muttered Asari. "I really question your commitment."-
[04:00] <Minaplo> Ji-Hu burst out laughing. "Hidekiiiii~" She tapped him on the forehead again. "Alright, how come you didn't introduce us earlier? Mochizuki-san knows you way too well to just be a nobody acquaintance."
[12:25] <Hideki> "Well. He does have a knack for researching people."
[12:29] <Minaplo> "Hardly true. For all my remarks, I simply find Hideki worth researching." Said Asari with a small smile.-
[12:30] <Minaplo> "I'll drink to that." Said Ji-Hu. "Are you guys hungry?"
[12:31] <Hideki> "Sure am! Should we do pizza?"
[12:34] <Minaplo> "… Where?" Asked Ji-Hu.
[12:42] <Hideki> "There's this one Byzantine-themed place. It's interesting! The food is good. But it's interesting."
[12:44] <Minaplo> "That's one way to put it." Said Asari.
[12:44] <Minaplo> "Yeah, but pizza's greasy." Said Ji-Hu.
[12:57] <Hideki> "Hm, ok. How about cafe, then?"
[12:57] <Minaplo> "I made food, damnit."
[01:03] <Hideki> "For real?" Hideki laughed. "Why didn't you just say so?"
[01:04] <Minaplo> "I was going to, but you jumped ahead with suggestions…"
[01:14] <Hideki> "My bad! But, thanks. You're full of good surprises today."
[01:23] <Minaplo> "Which in itself is not a surprise." Said Asari.-
[01:32] <Minaplo> "But a springtime picnic? That sounds delightful. Lead the way."-
[01:33] <Minaplo> And so Ji-hu took them to the Sophia gardens- blossoming with flowers, saturating the air with rich perfumes, butterflies flitting between bloom and bloom. The wind was fresh and cool on an otherwise hot day- they took shelter beneath a large plum tree cresting a hill.-
[01:34] <Minaplo> Ji-hu had made enough rice for two and a half bowls, so they all had a little less than usual, but with it she brought miso soup, a small platter of karaage and some grilled fish with mayonnaise and fried noodles.
[01:52] <Hideki> "It's weird," Hideki commented, looking up from his soup. "It's really nice here. But you don't really see it until you stop and really look at it and feel it."
[01:59] <Minaplo> "It certainly beats the scenery back in Nagoya." Said Asari. "You're lucky to live on such a pretty campus."
[02:04] <Minaplo> "… Although even in Nagoya I've heard of Sophia's recent problems."
[02:05] <Hideki> "The media's been all over it." Hideki shook his head wryly. "It's no surprise. What do you think?"
[02:16] <Minaplo> "I think it's inconvenient." Said Asari. "My family's been quite amused by it all. They want Sophia humiliated."
[02:27] <Hideki> "Huh? Who would want to see that?"
[04:14] <Minaplo> "Sophia does a lot of things differently to other schools." Said Asari. "It espouses different ideas. So if Sophia fails, it's seen as a sign that those ideas are wrong, and people who want those ideas to be wrong thus want Sophia to fail."
[04:27] <Hideki> "Sounds boring." Hideki picked up his rice. "Humiliation is one thing, but failing… it's like they don't want any opposition. How's that the least bit interesting?"
[04:46] <Minaplo> "People who want to win, and don't care how." Said Ji-hu quietly.
[05:01] <Hideki> "Maybe." Hideki frowned thoughtfully, and then shook his head. "Anyway, 'inconvenient' is an interesting way to describe it all. Especially for someone who drops by just voluntarily."
[05:03] <Minaplo> "Mm… Well, personally it's inconvenient, but I know it's likely worrying you more."
[05:10] <Hideki> "Well, there are some things about it that are kind of upsetting."
[05:12] <Minaplo> "Yeah?"
[05:16] <Hideki> "You get worried about people you know getting swept up in these things."
[05:16] <Minaplo> "Like… Little brothers?"-
[05:16] <Minaplo> Ji-hu shot Asari a glance.
[05:22] <Hideki> Hideki also looked at him, frown deepening a little. "So you know about him too, huh?"
[05:23] <Minaplo> "Someone told me about it."
[05:27] <Hideki> "Someone from our school? Or…?"
[05:28] <Minaplo> "Someone from your school told someone from mine, who told me, I guess."
[11:02] <Hideki> "Guess there's no way it would stay under everyone's radar, huh? Damn…"
[11:06] <Minaplo> "How are you doing?" Asked Asari.
[11:17] <Hideki> "Worried, confused, pissed off…" He counted the emotions off on his fingers, and then shrugged. "But I'm dealing with it too. Taking a lot of long runs, and - oh. A roommate introduced me this arcade. I suck at a lot of the stuff there, but it's good for blowing off steam." -
[11:17] <Hideki> "I'd like to know how -he's- doing though. It's like I can't get within ten feet of him right now."
[11:27] <Minaplo> "Do you want me to try?" Asked Ji-hu.
[11:34] <Hideki> "You're comfortable doing that?"
[11:35] <Minaplo> "Doing my part~" She threw out a peace sign.
[11:48] <Hideki> "Heh. Well, if you don't mind… I'll happily accept your espionage. Just don't let him know it has anything to do with me. He'd hit the roof."
[12:51] <Minaplo> "He doesn't like you…?" Asked Asari. "Sorry. I shouldn't pry."
[01:00] <Hideki> "That's the way he's been acting, yeah. It's… complicated."
[01:34] <Minaplo> "Is there anything I can do to help?" Asked Asari.
[01:06] <Hideki> "You already did." He gestured back in the direction of the batting cages and grinned. "Awesome distractions are always welcomed. Especially when it's something as important as baseball."
[01:13] <Minaplo> "Ha. I'm glad, but I still wish I could do more." Said Asari. "But, if this is enough for now, then so be it."-
[01:14] <Minaplo> "(Yo! Asari! We're heading back!") Shouted Asari's partner from Aichi High.-
[01:14] <Minaplo> "Seems I'm being called." Asari rose, and bowed to Ji-Hu. "It was lovely to meet you. I would relish the chance to meet again, with or without Nakajima…"-
[01:14] <Minaplo> Ji-Hu giggled. "Likewise~"
[01:17] <Hideki> "Hey, don't leave me out," Hideki complained.
[01:17] <Minaplo> "Don't be jealous. There'll be plenty of chances to be bested by me in the future." Said Asari.
[01:22] <Hideki> "Hmph. Getting cocky just because you have a lucky streak going… You'd better get going before they leave you behind."
[01:22] <Minaplo> "Is that a thing that happens to you? Being left behind by your teammates? And you call yourself the star…"
[01:25] <Hideki> "I don't call myself that. Everyone else does. Including present company~"
[01:26] <Minaplo> "Maybe a red dwarf…"
[01:31] <Hideki> "Long-lasting, highly experienced, still an awesome star… I can get behind that."
[01:32] <Minaplo> "Ha, good answer." Said Asari. "Until next time…"-
[01:32] <Minaplo> Asari left, giving them another bow first.-
[01:32] <Minaplo> "Interesting person." Said Ji-hu.
[01:33] <Hideki> "You're telling me…" He took another bite from his rice. "C'mon. Let's finish this."
[01:35] <Minaplo> Ji-hu tucked into it.-
[01:35] <Minaplo> "Asari trusts you, huh?"
[01:36] <Hideki> "Huh? You… think so?"
[01:38] <Minaplo> "What, with all the flirting that went on in front of you? Definitely."
[01:40] <Hideki> "W-whatever. It was pretty meaningless since all three of us know he can't really compare to me."
[01:40] <Minaplo> "You think so…?"
[01:44] <Hideki> "Don't you?" He beamed at her.
[01:51] <Minaplo> "Well, you could do with talking prettier. But it's not all about nice words~"
[02:00] <Hideki> "Hooray!" He edged closer and tried to happily slip an arm around her shoulders.
[02:11] <Minaplo> She laughed, and let herself be scooped up.-
[02:11] <Minaplo> "Maybe I should be jealous of Asari~"
[02:14] <Hideki> "What for? You don't even like playing baseball. Not that… his skills are worthy of jealousy. They're not, you know."
[02:15] <Minaplo> "But you keep losing!"
[02:15] <Hideki> "That's just temporary! I'm gonna win next time."
[02:20] <Minaplo> "Why do you keep losing? Perhaps you don't have the right motivation?"
[02:22] <Hideki> "What would be the right motivation, then?"
[02:55] <Minaplo> "If you win… We'll go somewhere nice for summer break? I actually hadn't thought this far."
[03:01] <Hideki> Hideki laughed. "Man I would've been happy with an extra kiss. You spoil me, Ji-Hu."
[03:02] <Minaplo> "Fine. I'll give you a maiden's favour if you beat Asari at baseball. Sound good?" She said, laughing.-
[03:03] <Minaplo> "Still, I'm glad you know him. He's very polished, but he genuinely worries about you. That makes me happy."
[03:07] <Hideki> "Good friends and all that, right? You guys got along pretty well too, and that makes me happy. So everyone's happy!"
[03:14] <Minaplo> "Hmmm~"
[03:22] <Minaplo> The Star and Death Arcanas strengthen…

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