This is a shoujo ai fic. If you don't like shoujo ai, don't read it, but don't bug me about it.

Also, this is my first shoujo ai fic, so be lenient with me. You my want to check out Artemis' Bow's Princess Nine fic, seeing as we both got the same idea when watching Princess Nine together. We have different styles, however, so it's worth your while to read both.

Thoughts are given like so '...' and speech like so "..."

This is dedicated to Artemis' Bow, I'm sure she can figure out why.

Please review this, even if it's to say it sucks. Though if you think it sucks, I'd like to know where exactly I screwed up.

Disclaimer: I don't own Princess Nine or any of its characters. Suing me is a waste of your time and money.

Her Answer, Unexpected

Chapter One: Change

The blue-haired girl sat on a bench in the dugout, feeling the cold spring air. She was half an hour early to the first practice of the baseball season, which left her with time to think, for all the equipment was still locked up. Yoko, at least, was likely to be tardy, though she couldn't say for the others. She had heard that two new girls would be joining the team for the new season, but knew little beyond that.

The captain of the team, a small, brown-haired girl with green eyes, walked onto the baseball field, and, noticing the other girl, called out to her.

"Hey, Izumi! I see you're here early!"

'Cheerful as always.' noted Izumi. Though she could recall a time when the captain, Ryo, hadn't been so happy.

The previous year, Ryo Hayakawa had come to the school with a baseball scholarship and had met Izumi's childhood friend, Hiroki Takasugi, the ace pitcher for the team at the boys' school. Ryo agonized over their relationship at every turn, with Hiroki apparently waffling between the two girls, and Izumi antagonizing her.

And yet, and yet... after her initial dislike of Ryo, Izumi had gone to great lengths both to help her and to hide her own emotions. Ryo had puzzled over the other girl's seeming dislike of her on many occasions. Izumi was, to her, a conundrum, and that made her interesting.

Pushing these thoughts aside, Ryo asked, "So, have you heard anything about the two new girls?"

"No," said Izumi. Izumi's mother, Chairman Himuro, was usually quite tight-lipped about school business, even that which might affect Izumi.

"Well, that's too bad," said Ryo, sitting next to Izumi. "I wish they'd tell us these things!"

Izumi was silent for a while.

"So, how's Takasugi?"

Izumi hadn't seen much of her childhood friend since he'd chosen Ryo, in her effort to move on. But sometimes she couldn't stop thinking about the couple. It seemed wrong somehow.

Ryo, it seemed, was beginning to share that sentiment.

"I don't know," she said, frowning. "I like him, I think. I mean, of course I do, but I get so mad when he calls me Ganmo-chan. And I told him to stop, but... and he doesn't take me seriously half the time."

"That's too bad," said Izumi vaguely. She was beginning to feel irritated at Hiroki herself. "I mean," she said somewhat awkwardly, "I know how he is..."

She was rescued from continuing further by the arrival of Hikaru Yoshimoto, the second batter.

"Hey, guys!" she said. "How's it going?"

After hearing Izumi and Ryo's formulaic replies, she leaned up against the fence to wait. The other members of the team joined them one by one: Seira Morimura, the first batter, Kanako Mita, the shortstop, Koharu Hotta, the third batter, famed for her Wave Motion Swing, Yoko Tokashiki, the ditsy outfielder, Yuki Azuma, the quiet left-fielder and fifth batter, Mai Daidoji, the catcher, and of course Nene Mori, the self-appointed manager. They were followed at length (great length) by their coach, a perennially drunken man named Kido. He looked lazily around at the assembled girls.

"I see Suzuki and Mido aren't here yet," he noted, yawning. He opened up the locker room and left, presumably to sleep somewhere.

Talk was mostly of the two new players as the team donned their uniforms.

"Suzuki and Mido?" wondered Kanako. "The names aren't familiar."

"I don't know Mido," commented Koharu, "But there was a good pitcher by the name of Chiyo Suzuki. Not as fast as Ryo, but still pretty reliable. I wonder if it's the same one?"

"That would be great!" said Hikaru. "She could help you, Ryo!"

"Yes," said Ryo. Her mind seemed to be elsewhere.

As the team filed out of the locker room, Izumi pulled Ryo aside.

"Listen," she said, "don't let Hiroki get to you."

Ryo nodded silently, attempting a smile, and Izumi walked out the door ahead of her.

They heard a loud crash, coming from the baseball field. The two girls hurried down to the field, wondering what had gone wrong. They found a girl and her bicycle, lying in a heap next to the fence, with the rest of the team watching, bemused.

"Ouch ouch ouch," moaned the girl, who was small, with short reddish-brown hair. With her cut-off jeans, dust-covered t-shirt, and backwards baseball cap, she appeared tomboyish. The expression on her face was rueful, and there was a small smudge of dirt under her nose. Noticing the girls watching her, she stood hurriedly and bowed twice, deeply but quickly.

"Sorry, sorry," she said, "I'm usually not so careless, but I was in a hurry. This is the right place?"

She looked around.

"It must be. I'm Chiyo Suzuki, your new backup pitcher. I'm sorry I'm late."

Another girl, one who had by and large gone unnoticed (but not by Izumi) stalked up behind her in an indignant manner.

"Really now," she said, wearing an expression of distaste that Izumi knew only too well, having worn it herself on numerous occasions, "some people have no class. I take it this is the Kisaragi Girls' Baseball Team?"

Several girls nodded.

"Not quite what I expected, but it'll do," said the girl in a sour tone clearly directed at the team. "My name is Arisu Mido."

Arisu had long, straight, nearly black hair and dark eyes with pale skin. She was dressed in fancy, frilly clothes, and had a pampered look about her. She was pretty by most people's standards, and clearly knew it.

'She's just like I was several month ago,' realized Izumi, 'but worse.'

"Why don't you two get changed into your uniforms," suggested Ryo, stepping up in her role as captain, "I'm Ryo Hayakawa, the team captain."

"I know who you are," said Arisu disdainfully, and the two new players followed Ryo uphill to the locker room.

Their practice went well, in terms of baseball, though everyone became sourer at each of Arisu's biting comments. She was a decent batter, with good control, but lacking in power, whereas Chiyo, though a fast and reliable pitcher, had less control that Ryo would have liked when hitting, swinging enthusiastically but without exceptional finesse at the ball.

Both of the new players left immediately after practice, and the original members of the team stayed behind discussing the new members. Izumi sat in a corner, reading.

"Chiyo's alright," said Hikaru, "but that other girl..."

"She thinks she's great," said Seira, "but what a bitch! I can't stand that attitude of hers! She's worse than..."

Seira stopped mid-sentence, not looking a Izumi.

"Hey!" said Ryo, "Don't say that!"

"I didn't." responded Seira, looking surprised.

Ryo wasn't sure why she was defending Izumi. Sure, the two girls had started to get along after Takasugi had chosen Ryo, but still, Ryo had borne the brunt of most of Izumi's attitude and been the target of her snide remarks. Still, she was a little mad at Seira for even mentioning it. She glanced at Izumi, who had put down her book and was looking directly at her. She quickly looked back at her book, pretending indifference, when she met Ryo's gaze.

"Still," commented Ryo, to break the silence, "At least she can play."

Everyone admitted that much, and the talk continued as they filed out of the locker room, leaving Izumi behind. Ryo gave one last concerned glance in her direction as she left. Izumi could be standoffish, and even after nearly a year, hadn't integrated herself fully into the team, but she still seemed affected by their opinions.

After Ryo was gone, Izumi sighed and stood up, closing her book. She walked to the window and looked out. Though she was grateful for the other girl's defense (and would never have admitted it), she was puzzled as well. Seira's comment, though biting, had been fully justifiable. To call Izumi's initial behavior towards Ryo rude would be charitable. In truth, she had been antagonistic, vindictive, and manipulative. She had seized upon weaknesses where she saw them and ground them into the dust. She fully realized this. And yet...

Looking out the window, Izumi froze. Across the baseball field, she could see a distinctly unwelcome sight: Arisu Mido talking to Ryo's boyfriend, Hiroki Takasugi. She was leaning in towards him, holding his arm, talking excitedly. What's more, he seemed to be enjoying it, responding, evening rewarding her with his best grin, the one which was a large part of the reason behind his popularity.

Izumi was puzzled. What was the situation between Takasugi and Ryo? Takasugi normally ignored or or spoke only fleetingly to the girls who liked him. To Izumi's knowledge, he had never had many female friends, and had none at all since she'd stopped hanging out with him. So it seemed likely this was more. She felt irritated at him. How dare he flirt with another girl, betraying Ryo! She had to remind herself that it might not be so.

Down by the baseball field, Ryo and Hikaru had noticed it too.

"Uh oh," said Hikaru, "looking like trouble."

"What?" asked Ryo, who had been musing about her relationship with Hiroki. "Oh," she said, noticing the two batters talking.

"Ryo, why don't you stop them?" asked Hikaru. "At least go over there. Arisu seems like trouble."

But Ryo was staring blankly at her boyfriend, wondering at her own lack of reaction. Rather than feeling angry or jealous, she felt a slight relief, as if leaving a problem behind. Sure, she was annoyed, but the relief was dominant. As she strode towards the two players, Takasugi noticed her.

"Hey, Ganmo-chan!" he exclaimed, joining her. "How's it going?"

"Don't call me Ganmo-chan!" said Ryo, not looking at him.

"What's the matter, Ganmo-chan?" asked Takasugi.

Ryo just stalked off.

Over the next few days, Takasugi spoke with Arisu every day after practice. Ryo ignored him, getting more and more annoyed at both of them. On the fifth day, she plucked up her courage to talk to him.

She stalked up, interrupting his daily talk with Arisu. Her expression was such that Arisu immediately found somewhere else to be.

"Takasugi, we need to talk."

"What is it Ganmo-chan? Why the long face?" said Takasugi, infuriating cheerful.

"Takasugi," she said, "I don't think we should go out anymore."

"That's a good joke, Ganmo-chan!" said Takasugi

Ryo clenched her fists at her sides. 'He still doesn't take me seriously.'

"It's not a joke." she said, scowling. "And don't call me Ganmo-chan!"

"I know you love me, Ganmo-chan!" teased Takasugi, seeming to feel that it really was a joke.

"I don't."

Ryo had meant to say that she didn't like Takasugi calling her Ganmo-chan or talking to Arisu, but once she had said it, she knew it was true. She no longer loved him, or even liked him. Looking into his gaping face, she continued on.

"You're infuriating, Takasugi. You always have to have your way. Everything's on your terms, and you never listen to me! I can't stand your smug smile any longer."

Ryo turned to leave, not looking at Takasugi's face. She heard a clink as Takasugi's hands hit the fence on both sides of her, effectively trapping her.

"Let me go!" she said.

"No, you listen," he said, his face angrier than she'd ever seen it. "I don't know what's wrong with you, but I'm not going to let you make a mistake like walking away from me."

His face returned to his usual smile.

"Now let's go, Ganmo-chan!"

Filled with a sudden rage, Ryo drew back her hand and slapped him across the face.

Down on the baseball diamond, Izumi, who had been practicing her batting, looking up at the noise, to see Takasugi looming over Ryo, his face so angry he seemed to have become someone else. He drew back his fist...

And before he could hit Ryo, a baseball smacked him across the face, hard. He looked down at the baseball diamond, to see Izumi pointing a baseball bat at him, a challenging gesture. His nose was bleeding, a slow trickle, infuriating. He clenched his jaw and his fists, but instead of doing anything more, spun on his heel and ran, a slow lope meant to show he wasn't really afraid.

Izumi had acted without thinking. Seeing her friend endangered, she had immediately sprung to her defense in the only way she could, knowing that she couldn't reach Takasugi in time. Seeing Ryo look at her, surprised, she threw down her bat and ran to her. She embraced the smaller girl, letting her cry on her shoulder, whispering in her ear, "It's okay, it's okay." Then she did the unthinkable.

"Ryo," she said hesitantly, "would you like to come over to my house?"

When Ryo didn't answer, she added awkwardly, "Or I could walk you home..."

Ryo took a deep breath. "No, it's okay," she said, "I'm just surprised. I'm not sure I could handle all those people anyway."

Taking that as permission, Izumi slowly turned her friend and guided her towards her house. Izumi's mother hadn't come home yet.

"It's not what you're used to," joked Izumi, trying to cheer Ryo up, "but it'll have to do."

Ryo chuckled weakly, then looked around. All she could think to say was, "Wow."

Izumi's house, unlike Ryo's place at the oden bar, was spacious and fancy. It was very clean, with long hallways and old-fashioned chairs. Ryo didn't want to even think about the real estate costs, let alone the upkeep of the building. She settled tiredly into a chair, and Izumi, separating from her with apparent reluctance, sat in the one across from her.

"So," said Izumi, "what was that about? I mean, if talking would help."

She was obviously out of her depth in talking about emotions. Ryo, knowing this, was deeply grateful to the blue-haired batter.

"Well, you know Takasugi," she began.

'Do I ever!' thought Izumi.

"...well, you know, he was just being Takasugi. Inattentive, inconsiderate Takasugi."

She stopped.

"I'm sorry, Izumi," said Ryo. "I know you two are friends."

"We were friends," corrected Izumi. "Go on."

"So I broke up with him. Sorry, Izumi. I know you gave up on him because of me."

"That was my reason," said Izumi, moving to stand behind Ryo, putting her arms around the other girl's shoulders, "but I don't regret it." she smiled a half-smile down at the girl in her arms, moving to stroke her hair. It was softer than it looked.

Ryo smiled back, a smile of sadness and regret, gratitude and something else.

'It can't be,' thought Izumi, shaking her head.

Ryo looked up at her, a sudden, unguarded expression of doubt and fear, exhaustion evident in her drooping shoulders.

"Izumi, what?"

"It's nothing. Listen, if he tries that again, tell me, okay?"

Ryo nodded.

"I won't let him."

The fear returned.

"Izumi, don't leave..." murmured Ryo, sounding more than half asleep. She clutched at the taller girl's sleeve.

Izumi helped the other girl up, and walked her into her own bedroom. Ryo laid down on Izumi's bed, and Izumi sat on the floor nearby, holding her hand. Ryo gripped like she would never let go, and asked, "Izumi?"

"Yeah?"

"Why are you being so nice?"

Izumi stood in the half-darkness, smiled, and kissed Ryo on the forehead.

"Entirely selfish reasons."

Ryo touched her forehead, puzzled, and then she smiled. A few minutes later, she had fallen asleep, still smiling.