Chapter One: A Promise Kept
Disclaimer: I don't own Prince of Tennis. ... which makes me sad.
Author's Note: Well, here it is. This fic is dedicated to my indestructible love for all the Seigaku regulars in Prince of Tennis. It's mainly about them, all nine of them, though plenty of other characters will be making guest appearances. It's also dedicated to the anime, which ended at episode 178. It may contain some spoilers because it takes place after the anime ends. But I'll try to keep this fic as spoiler-free as possible.
As for what this fic is, I can say it's something I've never tried before. It's a combination of several genres, and I don't know exactly how it will end just yet. But I will say it's a love story. Not a conventional one, but a love story nonetheless. I hope you enjoy it.
I should warn you… this fic contains both some shonen-ai type fluff and some hetero-style fluff. I don't describe any of the relationships in explicit terms, but both elements will be present, and I will be insinuating things left and right, lol. So if you hate one or the other with a passion, keep that in mind before reading. There are tons of different pairings in this fic, so you'll just have to read on to find out which ones they are.
By the way, I do want the characters to be a little bit different from their junior high days (you'll see why soon enough) but not out of character, if that's possible. So constructive criticism is appreciated, and as always, I love all reviews. But I will send Fuji to seek revenge on needlessly cruel flamers. Lol. Well, enough of that! Enjoy!
I knew in that moment, in that moment when we said goodbye…
I knew that, someday…
We would meet again.
Mike Davis couldn't believe what he was hearing. He'd been in the sports business for years, and he'd come to know his eccentric young charge like the back of his own hand. Nevertheless, he was overcome by disbelief at the words that had just come from the self-assured teenager's mouth.
"Cancel them. I'm not going."
It was a sweltering hot day in mid July, and Davis wondered for a split second if the heat was getting to him. The air conditioning system in the building had been down for a few hours, and one lone desktop fan was working frantically to cool down his office. In spite of that, Davis grimly noted, his client had not even broken a sweat.
How like him.
The boy certainly had guts. Davis liked his attitude and was all but certain that it had been the key to his unbeatable success… But in a situation like this, it was unlikely to work to his own favor, as he knew well.
"You can't just cancel meetings with the sponsors. You know how important they are to your future career."
A positively sarcastic smirk slid across the young man's mouth.
"Of course. Because it's all about the money, isn't it, Mr. Davis?"
A frustrated sigh escaped from the older man's lips, and his clasped hands tightened almost imperceptibly. He could see where this was going.
"You know that's not what I'm saying. But someone's got to pay for the airfare, and the equipment, and the clothes, and the…"
"Mr. Davis, I understand your logic," the younger one interrupted. "But the fact remains. At this point, I could pay for all that myself. And then some."
Davis rubbed his forehead, trying to smooth out the creases on his damp brow.
"As true as that may be, you're not just your own person anymore. Not if you're going to remain allied with the people who've helped you become what you are. No, in your current position, you have responsibilities. And meeting with the sponsors next week in California is one of them."
The boy no longer seemed to be in the mood to interrupt him, and let him finish his stern reply, even the lone remark that Davis adroitly used to fill the pause that followed.
"Don't let me down, Ryoma."
Davis watched somewhat blankly as the young man rose from his seat and started pacing around the cramped room. He distinctly recognized the stubborn expression on the seventeen-year-old's face. It was the expression he often wore when he had decided that he was going to win a match, and that there was no way anyone was going to stop him.
This doesn't look good. At all.
For a moment, the young man stood still. He was staring at a photograph that had been placed on one of the cluttered bookshelves. A small boy with glaring gold eyes stared straight back at the teenager. Ryoma decidedly frowned.
"Mr. Davis, I will not be meeting with the sponsors in a week."
His hands gripped the wooden picture frame and brought the picture closer to his own bright eyes.
"I will be taking a vacation for the rest of the month, to recover from the stress of competing in Wimbledon. You can tell that to the sponsors, and give them my apologies. But I will be unable to attend their meetings."
The words were said in a steely tone that was about as warm as black ice.
"Ryoma…" Davis tried to soften his own voice, hoping to change the direction the conversation had taken. "I understand that you're tired. But I can't just cancel all your appointments this month for some pleasure trip overseas."
There was a moment of silence as Ryoma placed the photo frame back onto the bookshelf. For a split second, Davis thought he saw something like sadness in the boy's eyes, but the sudden smile on Ryoma's lips diverted the older man's attention.
"It's not a pleasure trip, Mr. Davis."
His voice had become somewhat softer. It was a tone almost completely unfamiliar to Davis, even though he'd worked as Ryoma's manager for over four years.
"It's a promise. One I have to keep. Good day, Mr. Davis."
Mike Davis watched as his young client pushed the office door open with one hand, striding down the hallway with his ever-confident posture. He watched until he could no longer see that dark head of hair through the blinds that covered the office window. And, when he was really gone, Davis let a smile creep onto his face.
"You're stubborn as always, Ryoma Echizen."
He leaned back in his leather chair and glanced in the general direction of the photograph of the young boy with glinting gold eyes.
"'The stress of competing in Wimbledon?' Don't make me laugh." In spite of his own words, Davis chuckled and let his eyes wander downward to the magazine that lay in the middle of his desk.
RYOMA ECHIZEN : WIMBLEDON CHAMPION ONCE AGAIN.
"It isn't as if anyone could beat you."
- - - - - -
Ryuzaki Sakuno had finally found some shade under a rather bare tree. It wasn't as much as she would have liked, but in such overwhelming heat, any kind of shelter from the sun was a welcome comfort. Summer had certainly come to Japan, and it didn't seem like it was going to be a gentle one.
The teenage girl shifted from one foot to the other as she waited, frowning a little. Her attention wandered toward the broad blue sky, that sky that stretched far beyond her line of vision, reaching its zenith just above her head. Her eyes wandered across it for several minutes, glancing past the thin clouds that floated slowly out of her sight.
She slid the back of one hand across her forehead, pushing the sweat away from her eyes. It sure was hot. It was the kind of heat where a person's mind could start playing tricks on their vision, Sakuno reflected. A perfect heat for impossible mirages.
Or, at least, that was what she couldn't help thinking when she saw him.
There, just across the street, she saw him walking along the steaming sidewalk with that same confident bearing she remembered from five years ago. She might have even overlooked him, had it not been for that familiar white tennis cap on his head, just like the one he wore in her memories. But there could be no mistake, no matter how long it had been since she'd seen him.
It was him.
It was Echizen Ryoma.
Suddenly, Sakuno found herself running straight across the street toward that familiar figure, heedless of the lone car that honked in reply. Her mind couldn't quite comprehend what was happening, but her feet carried her closer and closer to the young man, until…
"Ryoma-kun!" She felt her mouth form the word, but she hardly heard herself say it.
The second time, they both heard it. The young man turned around, and in an instant, Sakuno found herself face to face with him. Face to face with the youngest person to win all four Grand Slam Tournaments in tennis history. Face to face with Ryoma Echizen, who had become a Japanese icon in the time that he had faded into a mere memory in Sakuno's life.
Face to face… And all Ryoma could do was blink at her. She immediately realized why. It didn't surprise her in the least.
"You don't recognize me," she said, almost too quietly.
"I'm sorry, I…" She saw the confusion in those golden eyes, and she wondered for a moment if perhaps he was trying to place her.
"Ryuzaki Sakuno." She answered his unspoken question with a small smile. "You probably don't remember me… We went to the same junior high, and…"
Truthfully, she didn't expect him to remember at all. He'd forgotten her name enough times before, even when they used to see each other almost every day. To her surprise, however, he interrupted her somewhat hesitant explanation.
"Ryuzaki-san. I remember."
He returned her smile, and for a split second, Sakuno forgot her happiness at being recognized. All she could think of was how many times she'd seen that million-dollar smile on billboards and advertisements. She felt her heart skip a beat, and she understood more than ever why Echizen Ryoma's most devout fans worldwide were of the female variety.
She forgot to respond, and so it was Ryoma who filled in the following pause.
"I didn't recognize you at first. I think it's your…" Ryoma seemed not to know quite how to express his thoughts, but instead gestured toward his head. For a second, Sakuno didn't understand, but then her eyes fell on those dark strands of hair beneath Ryoma's cap.
"Oh, right! My hair…" Impulsively, her hand reached up to her own head and loosely grasped one of her brown locks. "Yes, I've cut it."
She couldn't resist a small chuckle at the faint memory of Ryoma telling her to trim her long braids, years ago.
"Yes. That's it." Ryoma nodded slightly, but his eyes were still thoughtful. When he started to speak again, it was in a more hesitant tone. "It's not just that, though. I don't know what… Well, never mind."
Sakuno raised her eyebrows at this unusual burst of eloquence from Ryoma. Abruptly over though it was, it wasn't quite like the Ryoma she remembered. And it was then that she began to notice that there were more than a few things about him that weren't quite like the Ryoma she had known. It wasn't so much his looks. He had grown taller, but his body still had something of the slim physique of the boy of twelve. It wasn't so much his voice, either, though it was not the same youthful voice he'd once had.
Well, Sakuno didn't know what it was. But it was something in those golden eyes. Something that she found vaguely unsettling, despite the fact that she couldn't describe it.
She interrupted her own thoughts, dismissing them as best she could. She didn't want her first new memory of him to be an unpleasant one, after all.
"I can't believe you're back in Japan," she remarked. "What brings you here after all this time? Isn't your family still in New York?"
"Ah, well… Yes, they are," Ryoma replied, almost awkwardly. "The truth is… Well, the truth is I don't have a reason. At least, not the kind of reason my manager appreciates."
He smiled knowingly for a moment, recalling how he'd walked out of Mr. Davis's office just the day before.
"I'm here to keep a promise, Ryuzaki-san," he said at last.
"A promise?" she repeated.
He didn't say anything more on the subject, instead glancing across the street that Sakuno had crossed in such a hurry. His eyes fell on the large building there, and on the placard bearing the words "Seishun Gakuen."
"So you did go to the high school," he observed suddenly.
"Huh?" Sakuno's eyes followed the tennis star's. "Oh, yes. Most of us did."
Ryoma didn't have to ask who she meant. He knew.
"Ryuzaki-san…" He turned to face her again. "It's a good thing I ran into you. Maybe you can help me with something…"
Sakuno noticed the look in his eyes grow distant. Somehow, she had a feeling she knew what that look meant. It surprised her. But then again, it didn't surprise her after all. It may have been five years since they'd last met, but…
"Ryoma-kun is Ryoma-kun," she said softly, smiling.
"What?" His attention snapped back to the present.
"I might not be able to help you, but I know someone who can," she cheerfully assured him. "I'm waiting for a friend right now, but if you don't mind waiting with me, I'll take you to him. We're meeting up at that restaurant in fifteen minutes."
Sakuno pointed down the street to a smaller, American-style diner.
"Wait… who is this someone?" Ryoma looked more than a little confused at her mysterious reply.
"Another friend of mine. You know him. Or, I guess I should say, you know them."
Sakuno didn't elaborate, but she gestured to Ryoma to follow her. And after looking both ways, she crossed the street properly, walking again toward that small piece of shade under a rather bare tree.
-end of chapter one-
A/N: Gaaah, this first chapter was VERY hard for me to write...I knowitmay have been boring, but it will get much better. I promise! Expect a lot of exposition in the next chapter, but it shouldbe interesting.You'll be finding out what happened to the regulars while Ryoma was gone. Oh, and if you're wondering who "someone" is, well... who does a LOT of exposition in PoT? Lol... well, you'll see. Please review and tell me what you thought!