tofsla_fic: (Default)
homsan toft ([personal profile] tofsla_fic) wrote2014-02-21 10:33 am

Other People's Games (Rikkai, Niou/Yagyuu)

Prince of Tennis, Rikkai - Yagyuu/Niou, Sanada/Yanagi(/Yukimura) - Guest-starring Hanamura, Sakaki, Kite and Yamato, M
Battle Royale AU. "We're on an island, and we've cleared it of people so you can play a little game. Won't that be fun?"
Warning for violence & character death(!)

"At the dawn of the millennium, the nation collapsed. At fifteen percent unemployment, ten million were out of work. 800,000 students boycotted school. The adults lost confidence and, fearing the youth, eventually passed the Millennium Educational Reform Act - AKA: The BR Act..."

-- Battle Royale

It was getting quiet in the forest, everything fading down towards night, the light turning orange; a flashback in a film, sepia-toned and muted. Kirihara was a few metres away, propped up against a tree, head tilted forwards so that you almost wouldn't notice the gash across his throat. Only sleeping, if you didn't know better. The blood could be someone else's. There'd been plenty of it about.

No breeze, no birdsong. The whole world at a standstill, as though they were all that was left alive.

Near enough.

A coin spun in the air over and over; one hundred yen, silver and fire in the sunset, sending sparks of light dancing. Niou caught it, flipped it, caught it, never once checked which way it landed.

Beside him Yagyuu stared straight ahead, towards the sun. Niou didn't look at him, but he could catch the reflection of light off Yagyuu's glasses from the corner of his eye, could feel the tension in Yagyuu just the same as the tension in himself. If they looked at each other they'd see the gun lying on the ground between them, and maybe that was why they didn't. Probably not, though.

"Heads or tails?" Yagyuu asked into the silence.

Niou watched the coin rise and fall, looked beyond it to the torii gate standing skewed and forgotten in the distance, marking the entrance to a shrine no-one could've prayed at in a fucking long time.

Yagyuu's silence was expectant, demanding an answer.

"Hey," Niou said, shrugged, "does it really matter?"

"Not particularly."

"Tails, then."

The coin spun one last time, higher than before, and this time it was Yagyuu who caught it, snatching it deftly from the air.

"Well," he murmured. "Let's see."

But we're getting ahead of ourselves; we need to backtrack a bit. This story actually began some three days earlier, with a crowd of teenage boys sitting and standing around at the school gates on a warm July morning, waiting for a bus. Tennis bags were scattered on the ground, slung over shoulders, propped against the fence; a quiet sort of atmosphere, most people not awake enough to be really noisy. Just another morning, a club trip -- nothing really unusual.

"Is Niou coming or not?" Yukimura asked, glancing around, taking in the cluster of regulars who held themselves apart and scanning the group of promising non-regulars who'd been invited to join them for the day, just in case. No sign.

"I couldn't say," Yagyuu murmured, and although that was probably a lie Yukimura let it slide for the moment. Yagyuu almost always knew what Niou was doing, and Niou almost always knew what Yagyuu was doing; if they thought he didn't know that then they had rather less intelligence than he was generally inclined to credit them with.

"He'd better." Kirihara, newly arrived, bleary-eyed and scowling, clutching his bag as though he wanted to smack someone with it. Their little would-be demon had never been much of a morning person, even after years of early practices. "Got stuff to give him and all."

"Gonna confess your love for your senpai?" Marui teased, arm slung easily over Kirihara's shoulder. "Made him a present or something? You wanna be careful, kid, the guy's no good."

"Asshole," Kirihara growled, smacked Marui's hand away. "I ain't that stupid."

"Really now? 'Cause I'd swear--"

"Shut up," Sanada growled, without even looking up. He'd been standing silently by the gate for ages, the first one there. "This sort of behaviour is undignified and unacceptable."

Kirihara's scowl deepened. "Whatever, Sanada-fukubuchou."

Sanada looked up, irritable, and they glared at each other for a long moment. Yukimura suppressed the urge to smack them both, and ruffled Kirihara's hair instead, aiming a benevolent smile at him for maximum charm. It was too early in the day for a major explosion. "Akaya, behave."

"You're too easy on him," Sanada snapped. Yukimura turned his smile in Sanada's direction, watching as Sanada softened the slightest, slightest fraction.

"I don't see why you mind," he said, innocent, and turned away from the pair of them to come face to face with Niou, smirking and unrepentant as ever, as though he'd never been away. When had he arrived?

"He's just jealous, buchou," Niou said, sharp, shooting a sidelong look at Sanada and twitching his lips into a slightly more predatory expression. "Wants you to ruffle his hair instead."

Yukimura could all but feel Sanada's glare intensify and refocus, and wasn't particularly inclined to look around for confirmation.

"Niou," Sanada said, as though from the centre of his own personal thundercloud. "You've missed practice for the last two weeks."

"Ain't any business of yours what I do with my time."

A beat, and another, and Yukimura stepped deliberately aside to allow Sanada through.

Sanada's backhand connected solidly with Niou's jaw, an audible crack, and Niou stumbled from the impact -- but he hadn't flinched away. At least he could take his punishment

He was still smirking when he straightened up, rubbing at his jawline, sauntering over to join Yagyuu in their own little clique of two that no-one dared try to break apart.

"Saw that coming," Marui muttered, and Kirihara was even wincing in sympathy. Well, by all accounts he knew pretty well what it felt like.

"Careful," Yukimura warned, tone light and casual with sharpness lurking underneath. "That was a little too hard. Don't break my team, please."


Roll-call, and the team piled onto the bus. Kirihara lurked at the back of the crowd, waited for other people to grab their seats and then threw himself into one right in front of Niou and Yagyuu, ignoring Marui rolling his eyes further down the aisle.

"Hi senpai," he said brightly as the bus jolted into motion, kneeling up on his seat and hanging over the back of it to get a better look at them, trying not to get creeped out when they looked up from whatever conversation they'd been having more or less in unison. "I, uh... got the stuff you left at my place, Niou-senpai."

Niou gave him a calculating look that lasted a few seconds too long for comfort, then nodded. "Cheers."

"Where you been, anyway? Haven't been at practice, haven't been in classes either. I checked."

"Around," Niou said carefully, pronouncing the word deliberately, making it sound like none of your fucking business. Great, so he didn't get anymore information than Sanada. So much for friendship.

"Aw, c'mon," he tried, peering down at Niou, "what, you been out robbing banks or something?"

"Great," Niou said, smirking, "now everyone knows. Tell the world, why don'tcha."

Beside him, Yagyuu was focused on reading. Kirihara rolled his eyes at Niou and craned his neck a bit further to try and see what the book was. It wasn't in Japanese, though. "That one of your crappy murder mystery books again?"

"Do you know what curiosity did to the cat?" Yagyuu asked, without looking up.


"Threw it in the harbour," Niou offered, switching his attention to something outside the windows of the bus. "In a bag weighted with bricks. Oh, sorry, did I spoil the ending for you?"

Kirihara liked his senpai and all, but sometimes they were just fucking weird.

It was a pretty long journey they were going on today, south-west along the coast for hours to get to the sports centre where they had a friendly tournament scheduled. Niou drifted; he kind of liked journeys, the sense of in-between-ness, not really being anywhere and not really having to do anything. Kirihara chattered away in front of them, ignoring the bus driver's calls for him to sit down properly, and Niou half paid attention but mostly just stared out of the window.

Eventually Kirihara lapsed into silence, slipped back down into his own seat, leaving Niou with the motion-blurred scenery.

"I wasn't sure you would be here," Yagyuu murmured beside him, without looking up.



"Huh. Sometimes even your knowledge fails."

Yagyuu shook his head slightly. "If you don't know what you're going to do yourself, even I can't always guess."

"And that," Niou told him, "is the secret of my success."

"I was under the impression that the secret of your success was knowing how to hide the evidence, but if you say so."

Niou shrugged, drifted again. Trees and hillsides, towns, metal barriers between them and a long fall into forests; cars and trucks, checkpoints, military-looking vehicles standing by the roadside, on and on.

At some point he fell asleep, and dreamed about people wearing gasmasks, endless tunnels, and crossing the sea.

"Rise and shine," an unfamiliar female voice was saying. "Everyone, take a seat. Class is about to begin. Hurry up!"

He was cold, Sanada realised; all down one side. Why? What was he doing lying down? It seemed as though he was on a solid floor, which didn't make much sense. There was something looped around his neck, too, hard and metallic.

He shifted a bit, bumped against something – someone? – lying nearby. Around him, he could hear other people beginning to shift. He risked opening his eyes.

They were in a classroom, musty-smelling and too brightly lit. Tables and chairs were set out in rows, blackboard at the front of the room, a teacher's desk and behind it…

"Where are we?" Yukimura asked blearily, words coming out slurred. It was him Sanada had knocked, and he didn't seem to be doing that well. Sanada picked himself up, and reached out a hand to help his friend up. "What the-- oh, shit. My head…"

Everyone was here, it seemed: Niou and Yagyuu already standing by desks, a pale-faced Renji helping other people up, Kirihara leaning against the wall and looking distinctly unfocused. The rest of the club members they'd brought with them, too, all mostly conscious. A couple of less familiar faces, too.

"Hurry up," the woman repeated, voice bright and efficient. "We don't have all day."

Exchanging confused looks, they all shuffled towards seats.

"Don't I recognise her?" Yukimura hissed, and Sanada gave him a blank look. He might have encountered her before, but she wasn't leaping out at him. Although her breasts looked as though they might try to leap out of her smart white jacket at any moment. He tried to find something else to look at.

"Hanamura-sensei," Renji offered from just behind them. "She was meant to be our coach but, ah, reconsidered."

Yukimura's lips twitched into a bit of a smile at that, Sanada noticed -- just for an instant, even though the confusion they all seemed to be feeling. Oh.

"Ah, I think we're all ready!" Hanamura was saying. Her smile looked rather predatory. When Sanada thought about it very hard, he might have seen her before, at the courts. Before whatever Yukimura must have done to convince her that all the talent in Rikkai was just more trouble than it was worth. "Well then. You must be wondering why you're all here. You should think of it as like a training camp, yes? I'll tell you more in just a minute, but first, we've got a couple of students from other clubs! Kite Eishirou," she said, gesturing to a tanned, slick-looking boy standing at the back of the classroom, arms crossed in front of him, not at a desk at all, "from Higa Chuu, and Yamato Yuudai."

Yamato didn't look like a middle school student, Sanada decided. Middle school students didn't have that much stubble. Mind you, Kite looked like a professional hitman more than a middle school student, so who knew what was going on here.

"Anyway, now you're introduced!" Hanamura was saying. "So let's get on with the main business. We're on an island, and we've cleared it of people so you can play a little game. Won't that be fun? We'll get to see what you're all made of. I wonder, who has the potential to become a… masterpiece."

Her eyes darted around the room, settled for a moment on Sanada, making him shift uncomfortably in his seat. This must be what it was like to be a rabbit caught in the sights of a hawk.

"The game lasts three days, and this is how it works: you have to kill each other. Fight until only one of you is left alive. Battle Royale!"

"What the fuck," someone hissed from further back in the classroom. Niou. Everyone else seemed to be holding their breath, waiting for someone to laugh, ha ha, what a joke…

"Do you have a question?" Hanamura asked.

"Yeah," Niou said. "Yeah, I got a question. What the shit is wrong with your head?"

"That's really no way to address your coach, you know."

"You ain't our coach," Niou told her flatly. "We ain't got a damn coach."

"I'm quite aware. I understand there was a most unfortunate incident with your last one. But I am your coach now, and you will listen to what I say." The smile was only getting worse, aiming for friendly and hitting crocodile. "Let's get along."

A voice that was probably Yagyuu's hissed something to Niou that Sanada couldn't hear over the pounding of his heart, and Niou didn't say anything else.

Hanamura picked up her overly cheerful monologue again. He didn't take half of it in. Exploding collars, supplies, weapons. Places you shouldn't go. By the end of three days, there can only be one person alive or you all die. We're going to play a game, he heard, over and over in his head. You have to kill each other.

Then names were being called out -- "Yukimura Seiichi. Take one supply bag as you leave." -- and the classroom began to empty.

You have to kill each other.

"I'm not doing this," someone said, abrupt and loud across the scrape of chairs as people stood, most of them too numb or confused to argue. Sanada should know what the boy was called. Nakamura? Something like that. "I'm not bloody doing this, it's--"

"Fine," Hanamura said, as bright as ever. Sanada hadn't even noticed she had a gun on her desk until she was putting it back down, didn't fully register what had happened until people began to shout, scramble away from the… body. "If any of the rest of you don't want to play, that's okay too." Her fingers stroked the gun lightly.

"Fuck," Niou hissed again. Sanada wasn't sure if he sounded scared or impressed, and suspected he didn't want to know the answer.

Day 1: 0030

There was no spoken agreement, but Niou found Yagyuu crouched behind bushes just outside the old school.

"Sato-kun is already dead," Yagyuu said. He looked odd in the half-light from the buildings behind them, even more expressionless than usual. "Someone shot him."

Niou gave him a blank look. "Sato?"

"Second year. Poor control on his backhand."

A vague image of a horde of club members presented itself, but Niou hadn't really given a shit what most of them were called in the first place. Maybe he'd have recognised him if he saw him.

He shrugged.

"What the fuck, let's get out of here. Someone'll shoot us."

Yagyuu considered for a moment, got to his feet, resolute. "No," he said. "I don't think they will."

He picked a direction and set off, bag slung over one stiff shoulder. Niou wondered if Yagyuu'd found a gun in his bag, and if it was already down one bullet.

Odds on, he decided. Two down; twenty-eight still standing. Game on.

He followed Yagyuu into the woodland, hands shoved deep into his pockets, eyes fixed on his partner's retreating back, and tried not to think too hard.

Day 1: 0145

"This isn't real," Kirihara muttered, staring at the ground in front of him. It was dark, it was damp, his head still felt a bit fuzzy from whatever they'd used to knock everyone out, and he swore he could still smell blood from...

Nakamura had been in his class. Okay, they weren't really close, but he'd been okay. Sometimes he'd hung out with Kirihara and his friends at the arcade.

Kirihara licked his lips nervously. He'd seen the way people had looked at him before he'd left the classroom. Yeah, 'cause playing rough meant he was a natural born killer. It wasn't like he actually would... even if... well...

He wouldn't. Would he?

His bag turned out to have a hatchet in it. He stared at it nervously, and tried not to think that it was staring back.

Day 1: 0155

"Argh," Marui said, and then, "oh. Jackal. I couldn't see you down there."

"It’s alright," Jackal told him. "Just bruised a bit." Even Marui's hair wasn't really standing out in this light, everything desaturated by the darkness.

He flopped down next to Jackal, sighing.

"You okay?" Jackal asked.

A shrug.

"I'm a genius. A genius is always okay."

"We're gonna die, aren't we."

"Speak for yourself."


"Yeah. Probably."

Silence, for a long time.

"Get some sleep. I'll watch out for anyone coming."

Day 1: 0600

Grey early morning light, and the unmistakeable voice of Hanamura. "Good morning! It's a big day today. Let's have a progress report before we get on to announcing the new danger zones! Students who've died so far, in order of death... let's see... Nakamura Shinji. Sato Ryuhei. Takiguchi Ichirou. Kita Junpei. Only four! I'm a little disappointed. Ahh, but there's time yet. Work hard!"

Yukimura listened carefully, staring at the long knife laid across his lap. He felt that he'd gone through anger and clear out the other side into a sort of murderous, determined calm. He had very little wish to kill valuable members of his team, and perhaps they would find a way to cheat the system, but in a way he was prepared for the worst case. And prepared to take whatever measures were necessary.

He made a careful note of the danger zones on his map, took a drink of water, and packed everything neatly away.

Day 1: 0610

He didn't know where Marui was. When he first woke up he'd not even remembered that Marui should be there, huddled into the corner of the deserted house with him, but then it'd begun to nag at him as he became more thoroughly awake and where the hell was Marui?

Nothing inside the house looked any more disturbed than he remembered it being the night before, but it'd already been a wreck so that probably didn't mean much.


Jackal gave up on the idea of breakfast and headed out to try and figure out where the hell his genius of a friend had wandered off to, already coming up with ways to make him sorry for wandering off.

But you said you'd stay awake, didn't you.

Right. He had.

Well, maybe they were both idiots then.

Day 1: 0652

"It seems to be a tracking device," Renji said. They were sitting on an elderly-looking bench in what must've been someone's back garden once, picking at food, going over the contents of their bags. Flashlights, bottled water, Surprise Item.


"It should be useful," he pointed out. Sanada was still looking sceptical. "Advanced warning, if you like. It's better than a pot-lid, anyway." He stared at the contents of his own bag ruefully. It was quite a large pot-lid, and might make a sort of impromptu shield -- but as far as improving his long-term chances for survival went, it could have been better. "I never thought I would say this but I rather wish you made a habit of carrying your katana around with you. It's a little more useful for self-defence than a tennis racket."

Sanada didn't say anything. It wasn't that he was usually eloquent or overly wordy, but he really hadn't been speaking much at all since they woke up in the classroom.



"Talk to me."

"What is there to talk about?"

Nothing, really. Not now, not while he didn't understand fully what was going on. It was rather unlike him to wish for that sort of reassurance, just the sound of a voice, but this wasn't an ordinary situation. Perhaps he just wanted some noise to block out the voice in his head coming up with scenarios and probabilities, wondering how he would die and when, who would kill him.

"Your grandfather won't be happy about this," he said, uselessly, hunting for something to prompt words from Sanada.


But when was he ever happy about anything.

Renji shook his head a little, reached out to touch the metal collar looped around Sanada's neck. He'd been touching his own compulsively, on and off, never tugging hard enough at it to make it seem that he was trying to remove it but seeing what he could work out about it -- a little like poking at a sore tooth. It was easier to get a good look at Sanada's, though; a blank screen on the front, a bulk behind it which must be the explosive device, and… ah. A microphone?

He wasn't surprised, somehow.

Keeping his fingers curled around to press over the microphone on Sanada's collar, he brought his free hand up to his own neck.

"We're being monitored, by the way," he murmured, voice low just in case. "Something to bear in mind."

Sanada nodded slowly, and Renji went to pull his hand away.

It was caught before he'd pulled back more than a few inches. Sanada was still looking at him, intent and serious, his hand warm against Renji's wrist; more than welcome contact.

"We'll work something out," he said. "I won't let—"

He sounded so fierce, and Renji had to shake his head a little. "You're not responsible for my safety. But I appreciate the thought."

Sanada's fingers tightened around his wrist, and then let go. Renji was rather sorry to lose that little bit of warmth.

"Well," he said, packing things back into his bag and standing up, "shall we see who we can find?"

"Alright," Sanada agreed in a low rumble, and then, "Renji…"


He found himself caught again as he turned to see what was wrong, a strong hand closing around his arm, tugging him down until they were face to face.

"You're important."

No, he thought, not particularly. But Sanada was kissing him, and saying it would only have ruined the moment.

Day 1: 1020

Work hard, huh? Well, he could do that.

The game was easier than he'd thought, really. Not much of a challenge so far; he'd wondered if he would find himself struggling more than this. But it was enjoyable nonetheless, and there was still time; he hadn't found any of the famed group of regulars yet.

He searched the bodies; grenades, a semi-automatic. Those went into his bag. A stun-baton and a pair of binoculars were ignored -- unnecessary weight.

There was a lot of island to explore, and it would take patience to get anywhere. But he had a reasonable amount of patience.

Day 1: 1044

It seemed he had luck on his side for the moment, too.

Day 1: 1135

Kirihara looked shaken, and mostly pretty oblivious to the world around him.

"Hey, Akaya," Jackal hissed, as quiet as possible, because you never knew who else might be about. Kirihara jumped, spun around. He had a hatchet in his hands, was clutching it so tight he was white-knuckled. Jackal threw his hands up, just in case. "It's me, just me."

"…Oh. I thought you might be…" He shrugged, lowered the weapon "…someone else."

Jackal let out a breath he hadn't quite realised he was holding.

"You seen Marui?"

"I… y-yeah."


"Just back there," Kirihara mumbled, "but you don't wanna look, senpai. You don't--"

Kirihara's face pretty much said it all. Jackal took off at a run. Hell. Oh, hell.

Day 1: 1200

"Well, it's time for another update! I hope you're all learning lots! Deaths in the last six hours… mm… Souma Yoji, Hayashi Daisuke, Marui Bunta, Kaneda Wakashi, Itou Ayumu. The new danger zones will be D10, F2 and H19. That's all for now!"

Hanamura flicked the intercom system off and settled back into her chair, reaching for a cup of tea.

"I suppose they're not doing badly," she granted. "Ah, so much potential there. It's almost a shame to let some of them go to waste."

"You are not, I hope, having second thoughts."

"Of course not."

"Hmm. There are some interesting individuals there, anyway. Who do you have your eye on?"

"Sanada Genichirou. Oh, I like him."

"I fancy Yukimura Seiichi has more of the necessary resolve."

"I hear he was ill recently. He may not hold out." She laughed, settled herself more comfortably. "No, my money would certainly be on Sanada. If we were betting."

Sakaki gave her a tight, less than friendly smile. "But of course we are not doing anything so crass."

"No. Of course not."

He turned away, addressed some orders to the soldiers controlling the computer systems across the island. Really. Such a cold man, and just that bit too aware of his own good looks to be really attractive. A shame. It made him just a bit of a trial to work with, but she could deal with a little arrogance for this kind of opportunity.

Day 1: 14:45

"Someone looks tired," a voice said in his ear.

Yukimura jolted awake, hand flying to his knife, instantly tense and alert.

"Hey, easy." Whoever it was, they were laughing, stepping away. He looked up, focused. Tall, dark glasses, headband. Stubble. Not one of his.


"That's me. You wanna be careful falling asleep like that, er…"

He sounded obnoxiously cheerful, all things considered. Perhaps made more annoying by the fact that he really had caught Yukimura completely off guard.


"Yukimura-kun. Anyone could find you. Not a good idea."

"Thank you for the advice," Yukimura muttered, more grumpy than Yamato probably deserved. "Did you want something?"

"Nah, nah, just doing the rounds. Seeing all you guys so confused, it makes me feel bad, yanno."

"Sure," Yukimura said, because a response seemed to be expected. Checking that Yamato didn't seem to be about to reach for a weapon, he got carefully to his feet; he'd lost circulation in his legs, and they tingled a bit as he stood. Careless. But his head hadn't been as clear as he would've liked for the whole time they'd been on the island. Maybe the gas they'd used had done something… no. He wasn't thinking about that.

When he went to walk off, Yamato followed him.

"If you don't want something, Yamato-san," he began, "then…"

"What? Company's good. Might be good for you too if you fall asleep again like that. You're the captain, right?"

Yukimura caught himself glaring at the path, and made himself stop. It wasn't doing any good.

"Yes," he said.

"And your vice-captain's the really un-cute guy with the stick up his backside?"

"Why do you care?"

"Like I said, makes me feel bad. Figured I should look out for you guys."

"I don't want looking after. I don't need it, either."

"Sure, sure, whatever you say. I'm not the guy who fell asleep in the open at half past two in the afternoon."

Yukimura was good at getting rid of people. It was just, he realised as the afternoon wore on, that Yamato was better at not being got rid of.

Day 1: 1824

They'd been keeping on the move, taking it in turns to rest. So far it had worked well; most people made too much noise, could be heard before they got in sight.

"Oughta find somewhere out the way to sleep tonight," Niou said, and Yagyuu, detached and distant, stayed silent; unspoken agreement.

They moved off again through the gathering twilight.

"There are caves by the beach," Yagyuu offered a while later. "We passed them this morning. They were not obvious."

Niou, ahead of him, had come up short, was holding up a hand in warning. Someone heading their way.

Yagyuu reached for his gun, calm and steady. He had wondered idly, sometimes, what it would feel like to be put in a situation where one had to kill; as it turned out, he didn't feel a great deal of anything at all, just a blank detachment from the person dying. If there was any response from within him it was survival instinct, better you than us.

Such an easy thing, to pull the trigger of a gun. It seemed all those people who worried so hard about Niou becoming dangerous had missed the mark just a little – but not by very far at all. The line between them was so fine as to be almost imperceptible on some days.

"Y'know," Niou said, as they shifted the body of a club member whose name Yagyuu chose not to try and remember out of the way, "I wondered if I'd help hide the bodies for ya, if push came to shove. Guess so."

"Of course you would," Yagyuu agreed, although it wasn't as though they truly needed to hide the bodies right now. "After all…"

No need to finish that sentence.

They both knew how it went anyway.

Day 1: 2203

Kirihara was right; he shouldn't have gone and looked. He'd spent a good part of the afternoon throwing up, acid crawling up his throat as the image of Marui sprawled on the ground forced its way back to the surface of his mind: blood across his face and drying dark in his hair, clotting it together into a red mess. The image was even harder to get rid of in the dark.

He almost missed the noise outside, the creak of the door and footsteps on the lower level of the house he'd found to sleep in. When it filtered through he was on his feet almost before he'd made the conscious decision to stand, heart pounding hard against his ribs, and he understood what people meant when they said their heartbeat felt so loud they worried other people might hear it. It could be anyone downstairs, they could know he was here and be following him to kill him, they could be just looking for a place to spend the night themselves…

Soft as he could, he crept towards the stairs, tried to peer down into the darkened room. Nothing he could see, but someone moving around in the part of the room out of view. He edged downwards, barely daring to breathe, one step, another, careful, careful, passing over the step he thought he remembered creaking on his way up, edging around and--

Someone screamed, swung for him, wild and desperate. Something sharp connected with the centre of his chest, hard, and then there was pain, pain, more pain.

Shit, shit, shit, he thought to himself, realised someone was saying the same thing out loud. "Jackal-senpai, shit, I didn't know, I thought it was, um, I didn't, hang on, I'll… I'll…"

He couldn't manage to speak himself, couldn't draw air into his lungs properly; the pain got sharper when he tried, almost too much to take.

He never did get to hear what Kirihara was going to do.

Day 2: 0000

"Hello everyone! How're you all doing? You'd better get some rest after this announcement; don't forget, you've still got two more days to go! Deaths in the last six hours… Kondou Minoru. Jackal Kuwahara. That means there's sixteen of you left, if you're keeping count! Remember, only one person can be standing in two days time, or else…"

Day 2: 0015

The rain had just started to fall, pattering against the roof in big, heavy drops.

"In the morning," Renji said, "we should split up to try and cover more ground. We need to find Yukimura."

Renji was right, Sanada decided reluctantly. He'd far rather keep Renji firmly in sight at all times, but they had no idea where Yukimura might be, and they needed him; his absence just felt peculiar, wrong.

He pulled his map out, looked over it.

"Here," he said. "The village we passed through this afternoon. We meet in the largest building at midday. Whether we've found him or not."

"It's a good place," Renji agreed. "It's central enough. We can cover a lot of the island and still make it back there."

They exchanged a long look; Renji's expression was unreadable at the best of times, and in this light Sanada had no idea what he was thinking.

"Be careful," he said at last, and Renji nodded.

They slept close together, uneasy, shifting constantly, and the rain kept going right through Sanada's dreams.

Day 2: 0640

Kirihara was huddled in a damp, miserable-looking ball down on the beach.

"Oh," Niou said, prodding him with a foot, "it's you. Thought it was a bunch of seaweed."

When Kirihara looked up at them, his eyes were red-rimmed.

"Jackal-senpai's dead."

"Yeah, we heard the announcement."

"But… he's dead. I mean, I didn't mean to, I never…"

"Woah, woah. Breathe."

Niou and Yagyuu exchange a look across the top of Kirihara's faintly trembling head.

"Have you eaten?" Yagyuu asked, maybe attempting distraction or something. Niou rolled his eyes. Yeah, you're mister sensitive.

"You don't get it. I killed him."


"D-didn't mean to…"

"Okay. Well, c'mon, don't just sit out here…"

Yagyuu shook his head a little, and Niou shrugged back at him.

How charitable.

Yeah, well, ain't I always the nice guy.

They got Kirihara back into the cave and gave him a towel from Yagyuu's bag. He stayed hunched like a frightened animal, but at least he ate when they offered him food.

Day 2: 0930

"I still don't understand what you're up to, Yamato-san," Yukimura told him, though he couldn't claim to be ungrateful for the fire Yamato had managed to start, or the tea he'd made. "And I can't say I trust you."

Yamato gave him a good-natured smile, entirely too disarming. "I'm so wounded."

"Hmm." Yukimura looked down into his chipped teacup. "What are you even doing here? You're clearly older than us. They told us it was one middle-school group who got selected each time."

"You don't think I'm a middle-schooler?"

"You look less like a middle-school student than Sanada. At least he doesn't have facial hair."

Yamato rubbed at his chin, a faintly sheepish air about him. "I can't help it. It grows too fast."

"So, who are you?"

"Doesn't matter. I'm just here. You can trust me about as much as anyone else, right?"

Maybe more than some. Yukimura had already been forced to deal with a couple of members of his team who obviously had it in their heads that they could get away with taking pot-shots at their captain now, in this weird situation they'd been shoved into. He wasn't going to tell Yamato that, though.

"Not really," he said aloud.

"Hmm. You're a tough one. Maybe I'll tell you this afternoon."

Day 2: 1020

It felt a bit better being sort of dry and not quite so hungry, but Kirihara couldn't get over the fact that he'd-- he'd--

Yeah, that.

The worst thing in his memory was the sound of breaking bone, and the noise as Jackal tried to breathe, and not knowing what to do. His dad always said he was a screw-up; maybe that was right after all.

Niou and Yagyuu didn't seem really bothered. That was almost as weird, that he'd killed someone and they just didn't really care. It made him feel uneasy, made him wonder if they'd killed people, how many, how, were they even a bit sorry?

He could imagine Yagyuu killing someone and his expression never changing. The thought almost made him throw up, though; he tried to push it out of his mind. And Niou… he liked Niou. He did. But still.

You wanna be careful, kid, he remembered Marui saying, lively and teasing, the guy's no good.

Marui died, though. Kirihara saw his body, too, and…

"Shit," Niou said somewhere nearby. "He's off again."

Day 2: 1054

Sanada was the one who managed to find Yukimura, through pure luck, not too far from the meeting point he'd arranged with Renji. He was with someone else, which would have been less surprising if had been someone Sanada knew, but this was… oh. The 'transfer student'. Yamato?

"Everyone's suspicious of me," possibly-Yamato said, taking in Sanada's expression. He sounded amused. "Can't think what I'm doing wrong."

Sanada took the tactical decision to ignore him. "Yukimura, we've been looking for you."


"Renji is searching other parts of the island. We've got a meeting set up in about an hour."

"Alright. How are you doing?"

"Hm. How do you think?"

"Sorry. But you…"

"I know what you mean. As well as possible."

Yukimura nodded. "This is Yamato, by the way. He doesn't seem to want to go away."


They walked back towards the village, Sanada leading the way.

Day 2: 1130

"And I think you should tell us a story while we wait," Yukimura murmured, in that particular tone Yamato was already coming to understand meant that a demand was being made, not a request.

"Oh? What kind of a story would you like?"

Sanada snorted. He really was a whole lot like a certain other person, in some key respects. It only made Yamato want to stick around more.

"You've played enough, I think. You know the island too well."

"Why not? I've been here before."

"To visit?"

"To play. Why else? My club got the draw a few years ago."

"Did you find a way out?"

Yamato shrugged. "Who knows, hmm?"

It would've been nice if he had. He'd got some ideas, though; about the collars, about the system and how to get around it. A few years too late for Tezuka and the rest. He'd never thought he might get a shot at using any of it. Maybe it would've been better if he hadn't; this wasn't the sort of thing anyone needed to experience once, let alone twice.

Yukimura shook his head. "You're crazy, I think."

You try being the survivor of this game, Yamato thought. See how sane it leaves you.

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe a little. It's part of my charm, right?"

"If you say so. Why are you here now?"

"Sometimes you manage to make people unhappy, and sometimes those people have pretty weird ideas about punishment. I guess that's life these days, right? If you wanna know about the other guy who's not one of yours, Kite Eishirou or whoever… I reckon he joined for fun. I recognise the type."

"For fun."

"Mm. You wanna watch out for that one."

Day 2: 1159

"Why isn't he here yet?"

It's Renji. Renji wouldn't be late.

Day 2: 1200

"Dead in the last six hours, we have…Ookuma Yoshitoki. Noda Tsuyoshi. Yanagi Renji. We're half way through, everyone! Now, here are the new danger zones…"

Really, Kite thought, Rikkai were just not everything they'd been made out to be. He'd even taken out one of their so-called three demons; apparently their skill was only at tennis, not at life's more interesting games. Too bad for them.

Day 2: 1450

The caves were in a danger zone now, so they'd moved off, heading down the coast and then inland along the line of a valley. Kirihara trailed behind them as though he didn't know what else to do.

The rain had come and gone through the day, but it'd done nothing to clear the humidity out of the air; there was still the threat of a storm hanging, the damp heat even more oppressive than usual for this time of year, making their progress slow and sapping their energy a little faster than expected.

They picked directions together without really saying anything, comfortable in silence, sharing their determination: we are going to win this game.

"Senpai," Kirihara muttered, and Niou looked around at him, quizzical, at precisely the same moment as Yagyuu did. "It's really creepy the way you do that."

"Do what?"

"Make decisions without talking."

"You don't have to follow us," Yagyuu pointed out.

"Guess not."

But he stayed behind them anyway, all the way through the afternoon and into the evening.

Day 2: 1724

Yukimura had spent the day in a kind of shock, compulsively checking on Sanada to see how he was, uneasy, almost unable to sit still.

Sanada had gone sort of cold and distant; people thought he was always like that, but this was something different. Emotional outbursts when other people could see him weren't his style, of course, but there'd just been nothing, only the feeling that the rest of the world was getting closed out more and more as the day wore on. Something would have to give sooner or later.

When he touched a hand to Sanada's shoulder to tell him Yamato had prepared some food, Sanada flinched away. The biggest reaction he'd had to anything in some time, really.

"Genichirou," Yukimura tried, not reaching out for him this time. "You have to eat."

He felt a certain amount of relief when Sanada blinked and then nodded, made his way over to the table and sat. They ate in silence, even Yamato keeping quiet for once -- Yukimura hadn't exactly been convinced he knew how.

I'm not meant to look after you, he wanted to shout at Sanada, though he knew it was a deeply selfish thought, one he'd never give voice to. You're meant to look out for me. You and Renji together.

Day 2: 2130

A noise; something smashing. Yamato looked up sharply, but Yukimura didn't move a muscle. Asleep again…?

No, he just looked calm.

"I'll go and--"

"It's okay," Yukimura said. "He'll be done in a minute."

Yamato got up anyway and was heading for the door when Sanada came back in, apparently habitual scowl firmly back in place.

"Do you need bandages?" Yukimura asked, as though this was something natural, normal. Sanada grunted what was probably agreement, and Yukimura rummaged through his bag, tossed a packet over.

Yamato watched with mild bafflement. Not quite like Seigaku, really.

"We'll see who knows something tomorrow," Yukimura said as Sanada set about tying a bandage around one of his hands. The two of them seemed easier with each other now, as though Sanada had needed to… release his anger, or whatever he'd just done. "And take it from there."


"Try to get enough rest."

Day 3: 0445

There were ways and ways to play this game. With some people, the element of surprise could be highly valuable.

The grenades had been bound to prove useful sooner or later.

Day 3: 0446

"There's someone out the front," Yamato whispered. Yukimura blinked up at him, collected his wits as quickly as he could once the words sunk in. "Sanada-kun just picked the signal up. Head towards the back exit. I'll take a look."

Sanada was awake too, sitting up in the dark room. He had a gun in his hands. Yamato's?

"Go on."

They went, picking their way through the room as quietly as possible, their breath sounding loud and their footsteps seeming to echo. Yukimura glanced back over his shoulder just as something exploded behind them, all heat and light and…

Shrapnel slammed into his leg, and he stumbled, swore involuntarily, teeth clenched against the sudden flare of pain, fell awkwardly and painfully to the floor. He must've blacked out for a minute or two, because the next thing he knew he was lying outside, Sanada peering down into his face with an expression suspiciously close to panic.

The pain was definitely still there; everything below his knees, and some parts above.

"Where's Yamato?" he managed, hissed through his teeth.

Sanada shook his head. "Inside."

Behind them the house was burning, old wood taking well.

Inside. Oh.

Yamato had tried to help, in his way, as it turned out. Even if he might just have been insane. So much for Yukimura's suspicions about the guy.

He closed his eyes for a moment and focused on trying to breathe.

Day 3: 0450

Kirihara woke up to a quiet exchange, looked around to see Niou and Yagyuu standing a little way away staring off into the distance where there was… fire?

Niou looked around, caught sight of him sitting up. "Something's going on. We're gonna take a look. Stay or come with. Up to you."

And they were heading off into the night. Kirihara scrambled to his feet, tugging on his jacket, and chased after them.

Day 3: 0450

Yukimura's legs were hurt, he knew, but it was only when he tried to stand that Sanada realised how badly they must be damaged.

It wasn't that Yukimura screamed, or sobbed, but his face went even more pale and he folded, collapsing back down onto the ground, breathing fast and shallow. "I can't," he bit out.

Sanada believed him. The only light was from the flames, but he could see enough.

"I'll carry you."

"Don't be an idiot," Yukimura whispered. "Carry me where?"

Away, somewhere safe, somewhere with help… but there wasn't anywhere, was there.

"I can't just…"

"You can. I probably should've died long since."

Hospitals, operations, Yukimura's face half obscured behind breathing apparatus, Sanada and Renji standing together and watching him, waiting for each new breath.

We didn't support you this far to give you up now, Sanada thought, but there wasn't much of a 'we' anymore anyway. Renji had already gone.

"You want me to just leave you."

"If that's all you can manage," Yukimura murmured. "But otherwise… I'd rather you killed me than someone else, if you don't mind."

"Yukimura. Seiichi. I don't…"

"I mean it. He gave you a gun… right?"

Yukimura's voice was strained, maybe from the pain, maybe…

"Aren't you afraid of anything?"

"Not getting my way."

He was afraid, though. Sanada could see it in his expression, in the tightness around his mouth. He was also determined, and completely serious.

Sanada took a deep breath, then tensed, catching movement from the corner of his eye. "Wait."

"I'm not going anywhere," Yukimura said, weakly. "But please, Genichirou."

There was someone there, a dark shape beside the building they'd come from. Sanada raised the gun, aimed. "Who's there?"

A gunshot in response, flying wide of his head. He pulled the trigger on his own weapon instinctively, saw whoever it was duck out of the way -- a flash of light off rectangular glasses, a glimpse of a face as the figure turned.


But he was already gone, vanished into the night, and Yukimura was still here.

Sanada stood, hearing his heartbeat again, far too fast; drew breath after breath until he was steady and only then turned back to Yukimura, kneeling down beside him.

"Alright," he managed. It was one of the most difficult words he'd ever said.

Yukimura gave a sad, frightened little smile, boyish at the end, though his voice made him sound older. "Thank you. I'm sorry for my selfishness."

Sanada shook his head, placed the barrel of the gun carefully against Yukimura's forehead and closed his eyes.

And just like that…

Day 3: 0455

He ran and ran, tearing through the trees, stumbling down an unexpectedly steep incline, until the village was in sight, and with it the source of the fire. He hadn't seen Niou and Yagyuu; maybe he'd passed them in the dark, or maybe they'd been running too.

Curious and a bit afraid, he made his way down into the village, towards the building that was on fire; there was someone kneeling beside it, leaning in over something on the ground. Kirihara slowed down, cautious, trying to get a better look without being seen.

The gunshot made him jump involuntarily, and he huddled further back behind his little bit of cover, wide-eyed. The kneeling figure looked like Sanada, and when he stood there was the shape of a gun in his hand, quickly tucked away.

Kirihara watched with bated breath until Sanada had moved off, then ran down to the place he'd been, more and more afraid now but unable to leave without knowing who, what…


"Yukimura-buchou?" he whispered, taking a step, and another. "Y-Yukimura-buchou?"

Yukimura's eyes were closed, and there was blood coming from a hole in his head. Kirihara stared, and stared, feeling as though something long-buried inside him was shaking loose, breaking free.

After that things were indistinct for a while, but at some point it began to rain again.

Day 3: 0535

It was almost impossible to see anything through the half-darkness and the rain, but Sanada kept walking, putting one foot in front of the other slowly and deliberately. If he stopped he did not know if he would ever start again or if reality would catch up with him too quickly, leave him crippled with shock and completely useless.

That couldn't be allowed to happen yet.

On the screen of his tracking device there were three dots back in the direction he'd come from, two together and one alone; but he wasn't paying attention to those. The important one was ahead. It looked as though Kite had just come to a halt; no more movement, the coordinates staying the same.

Sanada kept going.

Day 3: 0550

"You think Akaya will be okay?"


"Figured. Oh well."

It wasn't as though he had long to live anyway.

They watched him in silence for a while, a lost-looking figure down on the ground.

"Follow him?"

"It would be for the best."

Best for who remained carefully unspecified.

Day 3: 0600

"Tanabe Moritaka. Yamato Yuudai. Yukimura Seiichi. Daimaru Hideki."

Somehow, hearing Yukimura's name in the announcement only made it more real.

Day 3: 0620

Kite was sat down to eat under the shelter of a tree, picking through what food he had left, when Sanada caught up with him.

"I was wondering," he said, "if you would ever get here. You are a little late."

He hadn't expected Sanada to find him so fast, in truth, but he disliked the idea of showing his surprise. He could reach a weapon from here if he just… good.

Having his fingers closed around the handle of a gun felt better; especially as Sanada didn't seem to have noticed. He got carefully to his feet, body turned just a little away from Sanada to keep the gun hidden.

"How many people have you killed?" Sanada growled. Kite treated him to a lazy smirk.

"How many have you killed? I didn't think I finished off your captain, but it seems he's dead…"

He'd thought to get the gun pointed at Sanada while the other guy was busy choking on his anger, but it seemed as though Sanada's rage was far more efficient and targeted than he'd imagined: the sharp noise of gunshot, a glimpse of muzzle-flash, and the world tilting as his left leg gave under him, throwing his balance for a brief instant.

Then the pain caught up.

He gritted his teeth, refusing to cry out; didn't dare even try to put weight on his wounded leg.

Sanada was smiling in the least pleasant way he had ever seen, and he had some experience; the gun in his hand was cocked a second time, slowly and deliberately.

You still have the gun, Kite told himself. Just shoot, he's only human.

His arm didn't move. He couldn't move, not under the full force of Sanada's stare.

A second gunshot.

This time he fell, breathing ragged, landing hard on his side on the damp ground. Everything from his knees down was solid pain, taking over all his senses, making it hard to focus.

"I think," Sanada said, "that should do." It was hard to see him clearly from down here, through the rain and in the shadows of the forest, but Kite could tell he was still smiling in that same grim way, as though his face had frozen like that. There might have been a glint of something less than sane in his eyes, but that might have been imagined. "Keep the gun. You might find it useful when you've had enough of the pain."

He turned away.

"Wait," Kite hissed. "Don't --"

"Don't worry. If you're too much of a coward you should bleed to death by the end of the day."

And he was going, going, walking away without hesitation.

Trembling, Kite fumbled for the gun, managed to raise it. He couldn't aim well, but he tried, fought for concentration and strength, managed to squeeze the trigger.

The shot flew wide of Sanada's retreating back. Sanada didn't pause.

"No," Kite managed. "No. Kill me, you bastard. Kill me."

But he was alone with the trees and the soft sound of the rain.

Day 3: 0840

He felt hollow now. There'd been purpose pushing him forwards but that was done with; he should try to focus on survival, getting through the rest of the day.

Mostly all he felt was tiredness.

Day 3: 1015

The anger was tearing at him, making him forget about things. He'd been feeling himself slip ever since the early morning when he'd looked down into Yukimura-buchou's still face, and he'd reached the point now where he didn't even care if he was losing control or not. Only one thought was staying firmly in his mind, not slipping from his grasp when he tried to hold onto it: Sanada-fukubuchou did this.

It focused the anger a little; gave it a target, a direction.

He didn't know where Sanada had gone, but he was going to find him.

Day 3: 1145

Kirihara looked all wrong, too sharp, twitchy and nervous in a way which implied he could go off at any moment, fly into a rage without warning.

He was staring at Sanada as though he was unable to look away.


Kirihara kept staring. "You killed Yukimura-buchou."

Sanada hesitated, cursed himself privately for hesitating. "Yes."

"You killed him."

"It was for the best." And it hurt. But it had been for the best; it had to have been. He couldn't allow himself to believe anything else.

"You shouldn't have done that. You…"

"Kirihara, calm down."

Kirihara smiled then, wide and wild and almost chilling -- the kind of look Sanada had only ever seen him direct at an opponent across the net but far, far worse. "Sure, Sanada-fukubuchou. I'm calm."

I'm going to crush you, Sanada thought, that's what he always said. A little flicker of memory of another time, tennis and competitions and Yukimura smiling, sharp; he'll grow out of it. Renji talking about ways to manage his anger.

It felt very long ago.

And then Kirihara was flying at him, savage and fast; Sanada didn't even have time to see where he got the hatchet from. It was just there in his hands, where it hadn't been before.

You always said you'd beat me at something.

Day 3: 1200

"And dead in the last six hours we have… Kite Eishirou. Sanada Genichirou. You're close now! Good luck!"

Hanamura let out a sigh, cutting off the loudspeakers. "I suppose it's just as well we weren't betting."


"A little. But this is so interesting."

She was a rather sick woman in some respects, Sakaki considered. Of course there was doing one's job, but this sort of outright fascination had simply never occurred to him.

Day 3: 1215

The rain was beginning to stop, flashes of sunlight breaking through the clouds, when they came across Kirihara again near an old shrine. He was covered in blood, spattered from head to toe, long trails of deep red staining his clothes and smudged across his skin.

He looked every bit the demon people had always called him, at least until you got close enough to see that he was shaking again.

"Sanada-fukubuchou killed Yukimura-buchou," he said, and under all the blood he looked lost. "I saw him."

Niou and Yagyuu exchanged looks: are you thinking what I'm thinking?

"Yeah," Niou said, "we saw too."

"Why did he do that?" Kirihara asked, more lost than ever.

Do we tell him?

It might be cruel.

That ain't an answer.

"Kirihara-kun," Yagyuu said, speaking as if to a young child, slow and clear, "Yukimura-buchou asked him to."

Day 3: 1240

It was becoming obvious that killing Kirihara would prove to be a kindness as much as a necessity.

"Go on ahead," Niou told Yagyuu when they reached a clearing. "I wanna have a word with the kid."


Yeah, now.

Kirihara gave him a confused, empty sort of look, but shrugged and stayed put as Yagyuu carried on through the open space and up into the trees beyond.

"You okay?" Niou asked, knowing the answer way too well. "I mean, yanno, if you…"

"I'm fine," Kirihara mumbled, and the fact that he didn't even complain about Niou being patronising or try to change the topic said plenty. He didn't even act weirded out that Niou was concerned.

"Sure, whatever," Niou told him, dry, and shoved lightly at his shoulder. "Hey, it's almost done, right? Only a few hours more."

Kirihara shrugged. Niou slipped his hands into his pockets, scowled down at Kirihara in the way he might've during an argument about who got the first turn on a new videogame, mock-angry.

"The enthusiasm. Hell, I try."

No reaction. Okay then.

His fingers closed around the flick-knife in his pocket.

"C'mon. Let's carry on. You first." One hand on Kirihara's shoulder to push him forward, one hand to pull the knife out and open it. A quick movement, simple and easy, and then Niou was taking Kirihara's weight as the younger boy began to choke, blood running from the cut across his throat.

"Sorry about that," he muttered, setting Kirihara down against a tree. "Figured we might as well get it over with."

Day 3: 1300

Yagyuu came back to find Niou sitting on a worn stone slab, part of some long-lost building or other, staring into the distance. Kirihara was gone, at least in the sense that mattered. Niou had a little blood on him. Well, these things happened.

"And then there was one," Niou told him, not looking around. "Guess we made it."

"It seems that way."

"Hours to spare, even."

Yagyuu settled himself beside Niou, close enough to feel the warmth of his body, smiling just a little.

I'm glad we managed this.

No-one gets to kill us but each other.

Day 3: 1915

A coin spun in the air over and over; one hundred yen, silver and fire in the sunset, sending sparks of light dancing. Niou caught it, flipped it, caught it, never once checked which way it landed.

Beside him Yagyuu stared straight ahead, towards the sun. Niou didn't look at him, but he could catch the reflection of light off Yagyuu's glasses from the corner of his eyes, could feel the tension in Yagyuu just the same as the tension in himself. If they looked at each other they'd see the gun lying on the ground between them, and maybe that was why they didn't. Probably not, though.

"Heads or tails?" Yagyuu asked into the silence.

Niou watched the coin rise and fall, looked beyond it to the torii gate standing skewed and forgotten in the distance, marking the entrance to a shrine no-one could've prayed at in a fucking long time.

Yagyuu's silence was expectant, demanding an answer.

"Hey," Niou said, shrugged, "does it really matter?"

"Not particularly."

"Tails, then."

The coin spun one last time, higher than before, and this time it was Yagyuu who caught it, snatching it deftly from the air.

"Well," he murmured. "Let's see."


"Okay. Gun or knife?"


Niou nodded, but he didn't reach for the gun.

They sat there together and watched what they could see of the horizon until the last of the light was gone.

Day 3: 2100

"Here," Yagyuu said, pulled his glasses from his face, folding them neatly and holding them out to Niou. The world was out of focus now, but he could still see the little quirk of Niou's lips, the way his shoulders tensed a little as he took the glasses. Their fingers brushed, lingered a little, it's an end but it's okay; we'll still be us.

"I always did you better than you did anyway," Niou told him, his face going still and schooled, polite. "Are you ready?"

"As you are," Yagyuu said, with one of Niou's trademark smirks.

A gunshot, the flare of pain.

Game over.

But you can live for both of us, right?

"And we can now confirm that the winner of this year's Battle Royale, which lasted two days and twenty-one hours, is Niou Masaharu! We should be able to get some footage up for you soon; he's just about to leave the island…"

It was Niou who walked back to the old school where the game began, and they took it in turns to deal with being 'de-briefed'. It was Niou who rode in the boat back to the shore and Yagyuu who stared out of the car window at the press crowding around, cool and serious as cameras flashed and flashed, people shouted things, armed guards cleared a path.

Let's run away together, Niou whispered to Yagyuu; I've fucking had it with playing other people's games.

Yes, Yagyuu agreed. Our own are a lot better.

Together they settled back into their seat, letting some of the tension of the last few days go, and watched the world pass. If they were both watching it with the same pair of eyes, well, that was only a minor detail.

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