Disclaimer: I do not own Tennis no Ohjisama and Card Captor Sakura, especially each anime's characters. Iwase Kumiko-san, Yasuhiro-kun, Maeda Hideki-san, Furuya Akiyoshi, Furusawa Maya and the Reverie Cafe are my own creations. Any similarities with real people and/or places are unintentional and coincidental.
This chapter is dedicated to Mistress Hydrangea (~sorry for breaking my promise! .), hikao-chan and Kit2000 who never fail to remind me to update. Cheers!
The Sadist of Seigaku
Chapter 22: Reintroduction
Ryuzaki Sakuno blinks at the sight of the massive gate before her.
She has been to the Tezuka residence many, many times considering that the senpai standing beside her is one of the protégés closest to her grandmother. Visits were made with a solemn purpose – how tennis could be solemn to those two is beyond her imagination. Now, though, is a different situation altogether.
This time, it is abrupt.
I didn't even bring anything...she bemoans.
"Let's go inside."
The auburn-haired girl nods numbly at the softly spoken instruction. Each step felt as if she were being transported to a different world instead of just going inside the Tezuka residence.
It is a wonder how nerves can affect someone's view of one and the same place.
"Is something wrong?"
She stiffens at her senpai's question, and her head shoots up immediately to pay due attention to him. To her utter surprise, there is something different with Tezuka Kunimitsu's eyes.
He chooses to pat his kohai's head when she did not give him a response; a gaping mouth is not a proper one, anyway. Then again, he understands her plight perfectly.
Finding one's self unable to get to her own house is rather...disrupting...to the young girl.
Yes, truth be told, the headline from days ago has created quite a commotion back in Seishun City. Once the whole Seigaku regulars team got back from the training camp, the members found themselves playing accomplices to a roaring mother bear, a.k.a. Ryuzaki Sumire, and bodyguards to Sakuno.
He could not blame his mentor, especially when she found out that media personnel camped a few feet from her house just to get the latest scoop that is her granddaughter.
Without looking at any of her students, she hops off the bus and orders Tezuka to "take care of Sakuno in the meantime".
He, on the other hand, dared not look at Fuji Syuusuke's face.
A smirk appears on his handsome face at the memory of what transpired merely hours ago, but his lips immediately thinned at the sight of his mother.
"Oh. Is this Sakuno-chan?"
Tezuka Ayana's countenance instantly brightened at the sight of her son's companion. "Oh, Kunimitsu-kun, you should have told me Sakuno-chan would be here. I don't think I prepared enough."
"A-ano, that's alright, Tezuka-san..."
"No, don't apologize, Sakuno-chan," the woman interjects before smiling at her son, who had the grace to blush at her teasing glance. "It's not everyday I see Kunimitsu-kun bring a female friend. Don't worry, preparing a meal won't take long," she adds as she pulls the younger girl towards the living room. "Sa...just wait here while I prepare tea. Lunch will be in half an hour or so."
In a flash, Ayana has gone to the kitchen to prepare the promised tea, leaving behind a flabbergasted Sakuno and an uncomfortable-looking Tezuka Kunimitsu.
The living room reeked with the heavy air of silence, with Sakuno fiddling with the hem of her sweater and the youngest Tezuka standing rather stiffly at her side. Before she could utter another apology, the Seigaku captain lightly taps her shoulder to excuse himself before making a beeline to the kitchen.
There, he finds his mother humming a rather happy tune to herself while preparing tea.
The bounce in her steps is a telltale sign to the Seigaku captain – his mother has thought of something that is pleasant to her. Now, he is not one to deny his mother's happiness; he adores her too much to do that. Then again, it seems that his intelligent mother is thinking way too ahead of herself, especially when she set eyes on his auburn-haired kohai.
He has a lot of explaining to do.
Tezuka Ayana set the pot and cups on a tray before turning to her handsome son.
"I apologize for not informing you in advance that Ryuzaki-chan will be here. It was an abrupt decision."
She blinked at his statement before smiling sweetly. "Oh, Mitsu-kun, I was just teasing you a while ago. You know I don't mind having Sakuno-chan here. I really like her a lot."
The implications in her last statement are all too clear for him.
Tezuka Kunimitsu sighed at the sound of his childhood nickname. His mother would always use that to coax him in saying things he'd rather keep to himself.
"I forgot to say that Ryuzaki-chan is here because Ryuzaki-sensei asked for a favor."
He nodded. "There was a mob circling their house and she needed Ryuzaki-chan away from it for a while so she can fix the situation. I'll take Ryuzaki-chan back once it is safe for her to do so."
A frown marred her mother's face.
And he knew that she is disappointed
Ayana fingered the teapot before facing her son. "So, you did not bring Sakuno-chan to introduce her as your girlfriend?"
The youngest Tezuka flushed at her very forward question.
She gives him an impish smile as a response to his exasperated tone. "Oh well...a mother can only hope so much, Mitsu-kun, but should you change your mind, always know I've always liked Sakuno-chan."
He could only shake his head to that.
Oishi Syuuichirou offered a glass of very cold water to Ryuzaki Sumire who promptly collapsed on a couch nearest to her.
"I can't believe they had the guts to storm my house," she whispers before taking a big gulp of water. "I'm just glad everything is over."
"I agree, Ryuzaki-sensei, but don't you think it's rather odd that the media personnel left the house after receiving just one phone call?"
"It's true," Oishi says as he sits at a couch adjacent to the one where his coach sat. "The crowd dispersed after that one call."
The elderly coach pauses in deep thought before closing her eyes. "They must have received a more interesting story from their editor. I just hope they'd leave my granddaughter alone. Sakuno does not deserve being mobbed at."
Oishi emphatically agrees. At one point in his life, he received much attention from the media, which intensified when his friendship with the National Treasure, a.k.a. Tezuka Kunimitsu, was brought to light. It is flattering and all, but he never understood the hype behind it.
At the end of the day, he and his friends are athletes passionate with their game.
Speaking of which, where did Fuji go?
Excusing himself, he fishes out his mobile phone from his pocket and dials the prodigy's number. He remembered seeing the prodigy help clear out the crowd but he quickly disappeared once it dispersed.
After a few rings, Oishi cancels the call.
"I'll just go out for a moment, Ryuzaki-sensei."
"Enjoying the view?"
"Eh? Oh, the koi are lovely, Tezuka-senpai," Sakuno tells him before refocusing her attention to the school of koi lounging in the pond.
Tezuka smiles at her comment before sitting beside her.
"Do you feel better now?"
Sakuno looks up at him before nodding slowly. His family's garden has always been a sanctuary for her. Contrary to popular belief, there is a lightness surrounding the Tezuka residence once a person gets past the heavy gates and the formality of the main house. It may be because the one maintaining the grounds is the rather laid back Tezuka Kuniharu, her senpai's father...or maybe because his mother is always so gracious with guests.
The auburn-haired girl quickly stops with her musings, quietly telling herself that she is thinking too much.
Then again, he has been doing that for quite sometime already, and it all started when Furusawa Maya-san introduced her to the idea of studying abroad.
A thought immediately strikes her.
She turns to her senpai, who expectantly returns her gaze.
"Senpai, may I ask a question?"
Tezuka breaks the gaze and turns to look at the koi. "Yes, you may."
"Why did you return from Germany?"
Words flew out of her mouth faster than she could control, but she had no time to be embarrassed when her senpai turned to her with an expression that is foreign to his usually impassive and stoic face.
"Because I found out I still have lots to do here in Japan. Germany can wait for a few months."
He stops right then and there, but for a moment, Sakuno felt as if he wished to continue and say something more. She stops herself from asking more, thinking it might be too personal.
"I see," she whispers, before resting her chin on her knees.
"Don't think too much about the news and comments you'll read. Focus on what you do best. It'll keep you grounded."
She gapped at him, nodding mutely in between. Her surprise, though, did not arise because Tezuka spoke more than five words in one day. It is because he saw right through her.
After seeing the headline on one of the newspapers, negative thoughts swarmed her head. Fear and pressure nearly got the best of her, but she kept it all to herself because her grandmother and her friends looked stressed out because of it as well. She does not know how she did it, but for some reason, that sort of reaction just came naturally to her, she became afraid.
To hear such comforting words from someone who went through the same experience opened the flood gates of emotions.
Sakuno buried her head in her knees and cried...
...but she never missed the feel of the comforting hand that smoothed her head.
Kabaji Munehiro has been around Atobe Keigo for far too long that he almost always knows what his best friend feels. Right now, he is standing a few feet from the Hyotei captain so as not to be at the receiving end of Atobe's "silent venting".
An hour has passed and Atobe has not stopped from doing tennis drills that might be too dangerous for some. It was hard to the core, but the captain never paid attention to the soreness of his muscles or the stress it could cause to his joints. And for a while, Kabaji thought this would go on for another hour, if it were not for the ringing sound of a phone.
"Atobe Keigo speaking."
Kabaji continued to stand where he is as if he were a sentinel, while Atobe stood stiffly at the middle of the tennis court.
"He did, didn't he?"
The silent giant kept quiet despite hearing the sound of children bickering at the far end of the court.
They are, after all, in a public tennis court.
"Tell him that I am thankful for what he did. I will not press the issue anymore just as long as he keeps his promise."
With that, Atobe ends the call and throws the mobile phone towards the bleachers.
The device landed on his duffel bag.
"So, it is you I should thank for clearing the crowd from Sakuno-chan's house."
Kabaji's eyes turn to the other side of the court only to see Seigaku's Fuji Syuusuke; then he turns to look back at his friend who, surprisingly, looks back at him.
"Ne, Kabaji, tell Furuya I'm extending my training period today."
Simply put, it is his queue to go away.
Atobe approaches the bleachers to grab his towel. Once the item is retrieved, he uses it to wipe the perspiration off his face. Venting is not a pleasant thing to do, and his lungs are screaming in agreement.
"What are you talking about?"
The prodigy eerily smiles. He knew that somebody influential is behind the disbanding of the eager group of journalists that surrounded Sakuno's house a while ago. A discreet phone call amidst the chaos was the dead give away, but it whoever made that call or ordered that call to be made isn't just somebody who is powerful.
He should care for the young one the journalists had wanted to see.
Fuji Syuusuke knows a number of powerful people, even at his young age
But he knows only one who would care
And that person is currently circumventing from the topic as if he didn't have a hand on it
"Saa...we both know that you used your connections to protect Sakuno-chan."
Atobe Keigo raises an elegant brow.
"And what if Ore-sama did?"
"Like I said, I want to thank you, then."
The Hyotei Captain's chest burned not because of exhaustion but because of jealousy.
Dark purple eyes stared down Fuji
"Ore-sama does not want to hear that from you."
A moment passed before Fuji spoke again. "I know."
Atobe huffs before turning away to resume his practice. It is just now that he realized how much he wants to tell the prodigy to scram, but then, a thought passed him.
Oshitari gave him a call just recently. It was about the latest news from other tennis clubs. Atobe, being him, would usually dismiss such gossips. If the news weren't about Tezuka, Sanada and the Echizen brat, he would never really give a damn.
That is, until he heard the name Fuji Syuusuke and the Muga no Kyochi in the same sentence.
He remembers himself getting interested by the second, and now is the perfect opportunity to satiate his curiosity.
Personal issues set aside
Turning to look at the prodigy again, Atobe regards him further. There is nothing really different with the Fuji he met during junior high, although the one before him is taller and more muscular. Then again, it isn't about the physical attributes. There is something different with the prodigy now – his gait is more purposeful and his play, as Atobe has observed, is more direct and defined.
Gone is the playful genius who would lounge around the courts.
Standing in front of him is a brilliantly unpredictable tennis player that could give the best athletes a run for their money
Smirking at the challenge, Atobe fishes something out of his pocket and throws it to Fuji.
"Saa...what is this key for, Atobe?" Fuji asks, and for a moment, the Hyotei Captain had to second guess whether or not Fuji asked a genuine question.
"It's the key to our indoor tennis court," Atobe says as he approaches Fuji. "Play with me tomorrow," he finishes before going back to the bleachers to grab his things.
"Eh? Tomorrow? The Nationals will start this weekend. Can you not wait to face me?"
Atobe did not miss Fuji's teasing grin, but he ignored it. "Scared?"
The prodigy chuckles at the question as he pockets the key. "No. I was about to suggest that we play now, but considering our setting, I guess I'd just have to show up tomorrow."
The Hyotei Captain was thoughtful for a minute, then, he looks at his wristwatch.
"Be at the court at six. This evening."
Fuji lets out a laugh before waving a hand goodbye.
"I'll see you then."
He looks up at the wall clock the moment he entered their house.
He has at least an hour and five minutes to prepare for a game with the Atobe Keigo. Playing matches with other tennis players has become normality for him, but he is quite surprised that the Hyotei Captain paid special attention on him – aside from the fact that he is rather close with Ryuzaki Sakuno.
It is strange because the light-haired captain of their rival school is known for challenging more well-known players that are of the same league with Tezuka and Echizen.
Come to think of it. This is the nth time he has been asked for an unofficial match since the start of the school year.
With that thought in mind, Fuji Syuusuke slumps on one of the couches in their living room and pays particular attention to the floor.
Everyone wants a piece of me nowadays.
And it was all because of other players hearing about his opening of one of the Muga no Kyochi's doors.
But what is so special about it?
Until now, the fact that he opened hyakuren jitoku no kiwami has not sunk yet. The experience was rather surreal, but instead of feeling elated, he feels short-changed.
There is something missing in the picture.
Fuji looks at his wristwatch.
Deciding to think about the matter while on his way, Fuji picks up his duffel bag and leaves his house.
He never saw the white envelope on the coffee table in their living room.
"I thought you have important matters to attend to?"
Oshitari stared at Atobe Keigo as if the latter grew another head. The Hyotei King purposefully missed club practice saying something about helping an important person – which Oshitari guessed the moment it passed Atobe's lips – and practically flew out of the school. Now, said captain is standing before him wearing the standard issue club uniform as if he were going to play a match.
"Ore-sama has an important guest that will arrive in a few minutes."
"A guest?" Oshitari raises an elegant brow at Atobe's dismissive tone. The blue-haired genius paused in thought, before he proceeds to order the maintenance crew of the school to close down all windows and doors of the gym. Security was informed not let anyone else in, unless he or Atobe gave permission.
A few minutes later, he joins the captain who is seated at one of the bleachers.
"Care to tell me who that guest is?"
Atobe takes a swig from his water bottle before motioning for the door.
"He's here already."
Oshitari follows Atobe's line of vision, and lo and behold, the gym door opens to reveal the lean frame of Fuji Syuusuke.
Atobe has gone mad, was Oshitari's final thought.
"Ore-sama wishes that you stop thinking of anything low, Oshitari. We're not here to fight for Sakuno's heart, no matter how pleasant that sounds."
If the blue-haired genius could sweat-drop, he would have.
"Ore-sama has important matters to discuss with the Seigaku genius, ne, Fuji-kun?"
Fuji just smiled at the teasing tone before tossing the key back to Atobe. "And I think I'm right to presume that the discussion would be through tennis."
"Thanks for the complement."
And with that, Oshitari finally decides that he should have gone home much earlier today.
Sakuno folds the whisked egg whites on to the orange custard mixture as gently as she could. Reverie staffs who passed by her in the kitchen regarded her with weird gazes, but she paid no attention to them. Baking pudding for no particular reason at all, especially when it is nearly evening, is a rather strange event for them, but not to Sakuno.
Today, she decided to give Furusawa Maya her reply regarding the latter's offer for an education in Paris.
No matter how difficult things would be after her decision, she would stand her ground and do her best.
It is because she loves cooking, and she has passion for it.
After making sure that the batter is well-mixed, Sakuno pours it into several ramekins. Then, she prepares a water bath before placing the tray of pudding-filled ramekins into the oven.
After a few minutes, the whole kitchen smelled of the aroma of orange mixed with vanilla. Anyone who went inside sighed at the heavenly scent. Unconscious of the commotion she was making, Sakuno dressed three of the pudding-filled ramekins with dollops of whipped cream and orange zest before placing each on a plate.
Meanwhile, Tezuka Kunimitsu waited for his kohai to finish her "duty" so that he can walk her home. Now, he has finally understood why Fuji likes to hang out in the Reverie, after sitting for nearly an hour inside the cafe. Of course, the fact that the auburn-haired kohai works here is a dead giveaway, but there is something nostalgic, sweet and calming in the establishment that can intrigue even someone like him – who isn't particularly fond of sweets.
Before he could continue his line of thought, the kitchen door opens to reveal Sakuno carrying tray of something that smelt particularly delightful. She shyly approached the table where Furusawa Maya and Iwase Kumiko sat and gave one pudding to each. After that, she walked to his table, bashfully placing the ramekin on his table before whispering something akin to "it goes well with the tea, senpai".
She quickly left for her mentor's table.
As Tezuka eats the orange pudding, Sakuno sits by her mentor, quietly waiting for a comment on the pudding she made.
She received a sweet smile and a pat on the head after seeing Iwase take one bite.
But she was not the first one to speak.
"The pudding is perfect, Sakuno-chan," Furusawa sings her praise as she turns to the youngest female at the table. "It is light and not too sweet. I can smell and taste the orange flavor," she adds.
"Your talents will be enhanced if you go to Paris," was the finishing statement.
Iwase paused after hearing her friend's statement, and she immediately looks at Sakuno, quite worried for the girl's reaction. But instead of a frown, her auburn-haired apprentice meekly met the legend's gaze; her eyes aflame.
"Ano, Furusawa-san," Sakuno started, her eyes darting from Iwase to Furusawa. "I accept your offer to go to Paris."
Everything went quiet after that – at their table, anyway.
A few seconds passed before Furusawa gifted Sakuno with a gentle smile. "Are you sure of your decision?"
"Hai," Sakuno whispers. "I know it's just a short trip but I want to learn as much as I can while I am there. But," she pauses to look at her mentor, then to the legend. "Is it possible for me to get a university degree and culinary training at the same time?"
Furusawa Maya raises an eyebrow at the question; surprised evident in her face. She sighed before scooping another spoonful of the pudding. "It is possible but not quite practical. If you want to get a degree, there are a good number of grand universities in Paris. Then, you can go to culinary school afterwards."
She smiles at Sakuno before patting the girl's head. "But don't fret too much over it. You have two full years ahead of you. What is important is that you are open to further education. I want you to reach your potential as a person and as a chef."
"I think that is what Kumiko-chan wants, ne?"
Iwase gently smiles at the two, but before she could utter a word, the three hear a throat being cleared.
"Excuse me, but Ryuzaki and I have to be elsewhere. Please pardon us," Tezuka tersely states.
The two women looked at each other before prodding Sakuno to follow her senpai.
Once they were out of the cafe, Tezuka pauses to look Sakuno in the eye.
"Oshitari Yuushi called. We have to go to Hyotei. I already told Ryuzaki-sensei I'm taking you with me."
Sakuno blinked at the vast information she was given, as well as at the way Tezuka spoke, but before she could react, she found herself running alongside her senpai.
Atobe gave another gasp as he slumped on the bench near the court. He heard Oshitari approach him, but he ignored his friend.
"Not one word, Oshitari," was his warning.
With that, the blue-haired genius bit his lip before leaning on one of the bleachers.
Match is at 2 games to love in favor of Atobe, and by the looks of it, Fuji has a bleak chance of ever winning the match even if the Seigaku genius is leading the third match with 30-15. He can sense that the Hyotei captain is rather frustrated with the match, not because he is winning because he feels short-changed.
You must have expected much, ne, Atobe?
While Atobe is trying to control the rage within him, Fuji Syuusuke is all alone to deal with the unsettling feeling of his stomach.
He must have left his house too soon because now, he is distracted with the thought of missing something in the puzzle that is the Muga no Kyochi. Even then, he wants to hate himself for being distracted, and worse, his game is suffering because of it.
Taking a swig of water from his bottle, Fuji closes his eyes in an effort to gain focus.
And then, something in his mind clicked.
Visions of Echizen Nanjirou discussing the wonder that is the Ten'i Muho came back to him in full force that he found himself choking. He drops his bottle and coughs as loud as he could to regain air. Once he was relieved of the discomfort, he breathes as deep as he could before slumping back on the bench.
There is no such thing...
And then, Fuji found himself smirking and shaking his head at the same time.
How much time has he wasted thinking too much of the Muga no Kyochi doors when in fact, the whole state is just about reaching a point where one's love for tennis is reinforced; and the reinforced love is translated to one's whole body reacting fluidly with the game? It is not about a conscious effort to reach it, but about getting reintroduced to the joy that is tennis.
He shakes his head another time.
He will play tennis as long as he can because he loves the game. Period.
This time, I will give my all.
Standing abruptly, he squarely meets the deadly gaze of Atobe Keigo.
But before the Hyotei King could snap at Fuji for slacking in the first half of the match, the gym doors open to reveal Tezuka Kunimitsu and Ryuzaki Sakuno.
Fuji's blue eyes sparkled upon seeing his favorite kohai. Then, he turns to Atobe.
"I think we should resume the match."
It took three hours and 39 tie-break games before the Atobe-Fuji match ended.
Fuji Syuusuke won by a hair's breathe, but it was a sweet victory.
As he lay on the bench at the outdoor tennis court, Fuji reminisces the high and low points of the game. Then, he looks at his favorite kohai who is seated at the edge of the bench.
She beams at him. "Congratulations at your win, senpai," she says. "Congratulations for opening saiki kanpatsu no kiwami."
Fuji chuckles as he sits up. "No need to congratulate me, Sakuno."
He stops to stare at nothing in particular.
"I actually got the whole point of the Muga no Kyochi, and the hype is about loving tennis, which should have been there at the first place."
"Eh? So it's really rediscovering the game?"
Fuji cocks his head to the right – a habit he has copied from Sakuno – before nodding his head in agreement. "I think that's the right way to put it."
Silence ensues between the two, with Sakuno fiddling the hem of Fuji's jacket, which the prodigy wrapped around her to keep her warm.
"You've decided, haven't you?"
Sakuno gapes at him.
There is a sadness evident in his blue eyes, and she could feel her heart clench at the sight of the slight frown on his face. She quickly drops her gaze, not wanting to remember the sadness marring his handsome face.
She gasps the moment she feels his hands cup her face.
"It's just a short trip, isn't it?"
She nods, softly.
"It's not the end of the world, then," he whispers rather hotly.
She nods again; this time, she could feel her cheeks burning at his warm breath and smouldering gaze.
"Ano, Furusawa-san told me not to be in a hurry. I'll be sad to leave all of you here when I go to culinary school, but I'll try to make it quick so I-"
A finger stops her from her rambling, then, she feels his thumb caressing the curve of her cheek.
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves, Sakuno. We have all the time to pursue our dreams and grow up, but," he pauses to gently reinforce his hold on her face. "Know I will not let go of you."
The apples of her cheeks turned from pink to tomato-red, and Fuji was delighted at the lovely sight.
"Remember that always, Sakuno," he hoarsely whispers.
And without warning, Fuji Syuusuke crushes his lips against hers in a possessive and branding kiss.