A/N: I finally gave in to my fluffy plot bunny's coaxes and wrote my first POT fic. Feel free to point out my mistakes. Warning: first-timer OOC and shamelessly unmoderated RyoSaku fluff.
The Heart of His Fan
Dedicated with much thanks to QTV 11 for airing the series here in our country.
The sound of chirping birds outside her bedroom window woke Ryuzaki Sakuno up, informing her that the day didn't wait for her just so it could conduct its affairs.
Struggling with her still heavy lids, lethargic limbs, and a head that seemed to be pounding, she searched for her alarm clock. She sighed when she saw that the space her wake-upper used to occupy was vacant—her grandmother's doing, of course.
She knew it was for vain to hope, but she tried to check her bedroom walls anyway. Alas, even her peach wall clock was hidden by the elderly Ryuzaki.
Another sigh escaped her throat, only it turned out inaudible. Who else would think of hiding her timepieces just so she wouldn't know whether she was late for the Seigaku Tennis Club matches already?
Slowly, she lifted her wrist up and checked the time on her white and blue wristwatch. It read 11:18 AM—the game had already begun three hours and eighteen minutes ago.
I can still make it, she told herself with determination. Summoning Herculean might, she forced herself to rise from her inviting bed and walk towards the bathroom.
As she brushed her teeth, she recalled her grandmother's stern reminder last night as the old woman was giving her an hourly warm sponge bath. She was bedridden then, suffering from a high fever at its 40-degree-celsius peak. Yet amidst all her pain and dizziness, she had requested the old lady to not forget to wake her up early the next day. Incensed, Ryoma's coach told her that instead of thinking about the team's matches, she should worry about getting better instead.
"You'll live even if you missed one match. But if your fever worsens, you might not see any more matches for a long time."
Sakuno sighed. Really, sometimes she wished that it was all as simple as her obaasan's logic. Unfortunately, her own rationale was outweighed by the fan's spirit within her. She wanted to be there behind the gates, watching every ball movement—every bounce and slam on the green pavement—as players of both sides of the court strived to maintain its rhythm. She wanted to be present to see the members of the school's tennis team—most, if not all, close to her heart—fight valiantly for control over the ball's desire for freedom from gravity, and then triumph gloriously over the laws and limits of physics.
Most of all, she wanted to be there to personally root for her clandestine object of affection. She felt that she was happiest whenever she would see that he was enjoying his match thoroughly. She also loved the rush of adrenalin whenever she sees that Ryoma was getting his momentum already, and was steadily murdering his opponent with his vintage Echizen brilliance.
And whenever he gets cornered in a particularly tricky situation, she would share his tension silently, easing it with her little prayers asking her guardian angel to help him out with whatever game play he forms in his mind.
She gargled, and then focused her attention on washing her face. Usually she would insist on long baths, even if the weather was freezing hell. However, she would have to do with a simple quick wash today since she was aware that she was still feverish.
After drying her face and hands, she put on her favorite yellow dress and topped it with her knitted green sweater. As she tied her boots' shoelaces, her gaze settled on her wristwatch. She nearly regretted what she did—the time's wry reminder of her tardiness only added to her worries. But she pushed aside her reservations firmly.
In all the Seigaku team's matches, she had been present, cheering for them and Ryoma devotedly. Today's unfortunate circumstances should not break her record.
I can make it, she told herself silently before getting up, only pausing to dust her skirt before running out of the house.
Sakuno vaguely recalled that it was sunny when she arrived at the bus terminal. But when she reached her destination, she discovered that the skies overhead were dark and ominous.
She hesitated as she stepped up towards the sidewalk—she had not brought any umbrella along to protect her from sudden pours. Also, the brief trip had almost sapped her energy; add to that her throbbing temples that seemed to mock her fortitude.
Dakedo… Her hand touched her heart, and then clenched tightly. She nodded vigorously and ran towards the sidewalk. "I can make it."
To her dismay though, the rain that she feared came down moments later. She initially thought of seeking shelter in one of the various establishments she saw some blocks ago, but she reminded herself that Ryoma's match may be on already. She came all the way here only for him, and she could not afford to abandon her mission now that she was just a hop, skip, and jump away from him.
She tried her best to ignore the curious looks from some bystanders and passersby who seemed to find an idea of a young girl running in the rain as fleeting form of entertainment. The unsolicited attention was making her cheeks flushed in embarrassment, but she steeled her nerves anyway.
She turned right sharply at the next corner, just as a bicycle appeared, heading straight for her.
"Yaii!" She stepped back, just as a hand suddenly pulled her to the right. She bumped straight on something that felt too warm and smelled too musky for a wall. A second later, the impact sent her legs wobbling back, but before she landed on the concrete pavement, the same hand swiftly pulled her wrist back, while another arm abruptly encircled around her waist and hoisted her back to her feet.
She felt a blow of breath on her forehead, and then heard a voice asking her if she could stand on her own now.
"G-Gomen nasai… I didn't m-mean to..." she stammered panickedly. "I-I have to go. I-I'm so sorry again." Without throwing the startled person a glance, she freed herself from his hold and ran away.
At last, she saw the sign board welcoming the participants of the interschool tennis exhibition matches. She dashed inside and headed straight for the courts.
Her heart fell. Aside from a few non-Seigaku players posing for photo ops with the press and the fans, the whole place was deserted. Her eyes then caught the brightly colored posters on the giant bulletin board.
She drew towards it and checked out the contents. Minutes later, her eyes shook when comprehension dawned on her. She moved her fingers and underlined the jotted final scores of the matches.
"Seigaku won by a very favorable margin." A delighted smile blossomed on her tired face. "And Ryoma-kun… he beat his opponent easily… just as I knew he would." Even when frustration and disappointment for not seeing the tennis games after exhausting her best efforts to come here nearly sent tears pooling in her eyes, she still found a reason to smile. Her team won. Her Ryoma-kun won.
She shut her eyes tight, mindless of the people and things around her. Her lips moved in a silent prayer of thanks for helping Seigaku to perform well today.
Just then, she sensed her strength slowly dissipating like a deflated balloon. She leaned against the bulletin board, wringing small ounces of energy for the walk home even though she knew that her resources were already depleted. Yet amidst her fatigue and feverish sensation, only one face registered in her mind.
The sound of a bicycle skidding to a stop startled her. When she opened her eyes, Ryoma Echizen's somber face met her sight.
Automatically, she straightened, her cheeks flushed as it dawned on her that he may have just caught her in such an awkward situation—her drenched to the bones and relying on a mere giant cork board to remain standing. "R-Ryoma-kun? W-What… w-what are you doing here?" When she realized how rude that may have sounded, her cheeks turned even hotter. "I-I mean… I-I saw the results. C-Congra…" Her gaze settled on the grassy pavement, not wanting to meet his gaze. "C-Congratulations, R-Ryoma-kun."
She clasped her hands together anxiously. "I-I didn't get to see the game. I just saw the results. D-Did I get it wrong? I-I assumed they were correct, s-since you always win your matches." She knew she was babbling away, but she desperately wanted to fill the gap of words between them. "I-I'm sorry if—"
"You must be overly fond of viruses, or else you wouldn't go through all these trouble just to make your fever worse," he remarked dryly. He plopped his white cap on her head.
She gasped, especially when he took off his tennis jacket and handed it to her.
When she didn't make any move to get it from his waiting hand, he spoke again, gentler this time. "Take it. You're shivering." Concern was subtly hinted in his usually even voice, making her eyes widen.
She nodded, and then carefully took the jacket from him. As she was finishing zipping her jacket, he went to fetch the bike. She was straightening its collar when he biked beside her. "Let's go."
She smiled gratefully.
Steady silence broken now and then by the raindrops settled between them as they navigated their way out of the compound and back into the public streets. All the while, she was staring down at the sidewalk, contemplating on whether she should still speak. She wanted to know what he was doing there in that place if the games had long ended. Her heart was whispering in foolish hope that he came there to look for her, but she knew that was impossible. Who was she to him, anyway, to warrant that kind of gesture reserved only between and among people with special intimate bonds?
In the end, she decided to keep mum. Instead, she gently laid her head on his back, enjoying the warmth that his body was radiating.
She lazily opened her eyes. "Hmm?" A second later, she realized that he may have felt the weight of her head on his spine already. Her face reddened profusely. "A-Anou… I-I'm sorry, Ryoma-kun! I-I was feeling sleepy—I… I didn't notice that I had fallen asleep on your back—"
"You shouldn't sleep while riding a bike even if you're not the one maneuvering it. You might lose your grip and fall," he reprimanded her quietly.
"Sorry…" she apologized again. She thought that it was the end of their conversation.
But Ryoma spoke again. "You are very careless. Venturing out on your own when you very well know the possibility of a recurrence of your fever…" His voice trailed off.
She bit her lower lip. "S-So sorry again."
He didn't reply anymore. Instead he turned to a familiar-looking corner, where an even more familiar-looking guy was standing, as if waiting for them.
"Momo-senpai!" she exclaimed. She then realized that this was where she got nearly ran over by a bike, if not for the arms that saved her…
The cheerful young man waved at her and grinned. "You were in such a hurry awhile ago that we didn't get to tell you that Coach has sent us out to look for you."
"I-In a hurry? B-But that means—"She looked at the two lads back and forth, slowly beginning to understand everything. "You were the one who nearly ran over me?"
Momoshiro Takashi grinned sheepishly. "The operative word there is nearly, just to remind you. Good thing Ryoma's reflexes were quick enough to react." He inched closer to her, hands set in a begging position. "You won't tell Coach that we nearly bulldozered her granddaughter, would you?"
She laughed shyly. "I-It was my fault too. I-I wasn't looking…"
"Understandable. A sick person is always disoriented," said Ryoma, speaking for the first time in the whole exchange.
"Good think Ryoma knew where to look for you." Momoshiro patted her head, ignoring the pointed glare that the prince of tennis gave him. "Why did you have to go here anyway? You should be in bed, resting."
She shook her head. "I-I couldn't rest… I keep on thinking of…" At the corner of her eyes she could sense Ryoma watching her intently. "…I-I want to see the game," she finished quietly.
"But still…" The spiky-haired guy scratched his head in utter resignation. "You worried us all, you know? Even this guy here," he gestured to Ryoma, "he was so—"
"Let's go. The rain is letting up," cut the boy abruptly, maneuvering the steel bars of the bike towards the road again.
"I'm taking the bus," said the dark-haired male quickly. "Don't forget to tell Coach that I helped locate Sakuno, alright?"
"Don't teach me how to lie, Momo-senpai," said Ryoma dryly.
"Ryoma-kun?" she called uncertainly. They were now nearing their town, as the familiar sights around them seemed to attest.
He grunted. She decided to take that as a yes.
"C-Can I ask you something?" she said softly. "J-Just one question."
She licked her lips nervously, and then spoke. "H-How did you know where to find me?"
He was silent for a moment, and just when she thought that the question had annoyed him, he spoke again.
"You are always there." There was no conceit on his voice—he was saying it the way one would state that the earth's 24-hour axis rotation is a fact. "When I didn't hear someone pray, I thought it was pretty unusual."
Her eyes widened in shock. How did he…? She opened her mouth to speak, but her larynx failed her.
Unlike her best friend, she couldn't bring herself to cheer loudly or wave banners and do things that fans normally would when watching their favorite team. Which was why the only thing she could really contribute to support the team was her silent entreaties with Divine Providence.
But she didn't think anyone else would notice her, since she knew that everyone else's attention were on the court. Especially not Ryoma, who was simply the last person she would ever assume to be aware of his surroundings.
Slowly, she turned her gaze back at him.
"When Coach sent us out to look for you, I sensed that you might be in that place, doing what you always do." His bike's speed slowed down as they neared her house.
She felt her cheeks turn warm. "I-I'm that predictable, huh?" She still couldn't get over her embarrassment of having Ryoma, of all people, to discover this.
"No, just constant," he replied, and shrugged. "But it's not really a bad thing."
"E-Eh?" She paused from sliding off the bicycle seat.
"It's reassuring to know…that no matter how good or bad the game turns out to be, for me for instance, I know that there are always more than two hands that are holding the racket."
Her heart skipped a beat.
"It makes the racket feel lighter. This makes it easier for me to move around and to hit the shots, until such time that my movements do not require conscious effort anymore," he finished.
"R-Ryoma-kun…" Her eyes quivered in grateful joy. His words of appreciation, though he only used it as an example, were enough to drive away the sick feeling she had since last night. "T-Thank you."
He frowned. "For what?"
"For saying those kind words," she replied, clasping her hands to her heart. "Thank you so much."
She thought she saw him smile, but in a flash, his face was even again.
"Don't make me sound like a philanthropist. I just said what I felt, and that's it." With that, he turned his back on her.
She could only gape at him silently, her heart still feeling like a moving wheel, as he led the bike into their yard and knocked on the door.
Philanthropist? She quietly noted to herself to locate that word in her English-Japanese dictionary tonight.
"Phi-lan-thro-pist." Her eyes, guided by her fingers, read the definition silently. A person who does charitable acts. Also, a good-hearted person.
Her hands cupped her chin as she deliberated on what that meant. In the end, she decided that he must have meant that he was not trying to be nice, or that he just told her that to make her feel better.
However, in denying that he was a philanthropist, she also had determined that the second lexicographical definition suited him well.
He was, after all, a good-hearted person too. She believed so, unconditionally.
Sighing in satisfaction, she laid her head on the pages of her dictionary dreamily and gave in to the coaxing of the night for Ryoma Echizen's biggest fan to rest and call it a day.