A/N: I wasn't planning this, but two more Furuba characters insisted on showing up... :P
Two years later--
"Sixty-one, sixty-two, sixty-three..."
The tennis ball hit the wall, rebounded, and met the racket. Souma Kisa gripped the racket firmly and pok! sent the ball flying back to the wall.
"Ow!" The ball bounced back and struck her knee.
"Kisa-chan." A clear, birdlike voice called out to her. "Here, let me show you."
A lovely girl walked through the courts to Kisa. Two glossy brown braids trailed down her back. Her big brown eyes were kind and tender, her cheeks of a delicate pink hue, her figure slender and lithe. Kisa is usually painfully shy, but this girl's friendly, big-sisterly demeanour quelled her fears and put her to ease.
While Kisa listened attentively, a few freshman girls talked behind the netted walls of the tennis courts.
"Who is that?"
"Don't you know? That's Ryuzaki Sakuno, captain of the girls' tennis club!"
While Sakuno corrected Kisa's form and grip, a handsome boy came running up to her. His milky-white skin and golden curly hair made him look like a foreigner.
"Sakuno! Sakuno! Please help my tennis too!"
"Momiji?" Sakuno looked at him, surprised. "Er--but isn't there any senpai at the boys' club who can help you?"
"Aw...but I like Sakuno better!" Momiji pouted. "Echizen-buchou never smiles; he always is so stern and strict!"
"Momiji." a cold voice spoke. "Fifty laps, now. After that, Horio will help you."
A tall boy wearing a white cap strode up to Momiji and Sakuno. Glossy raven hair, large cat-like eyes, and a face to die for.
At sight of him, the freshmen started buzzing with excitement.
"WOW! Who's that?"
"He looks SUPER HOT! I didn't know that we have such a gorgeous senpai!"
"Me neither! Oh, it was so right to come to Seigaku!"
"Ogle as much as you want, but keep your amorous affections to yourself." A girl with two pigtails interrupted. "'Cause Ryoma-sama is already taken!"
"Eh? He has a girlfriend?"
"Yeah. He and Sakuno have been going out for two years, so don't even think of playing home-wrecker!"
The poor freshman girls were stunned. "Su--sure." "Of course." "Wouldn't dream about it."
Meanwhile, after watching Momiji scamper away like a rabbit, Ryoma turned to Sakuno, who was gently reprimanding him not to be so hard on the freshmen.
"Play a match with me." he said abruptly.
"Yes. Get your racket."
"I'm playing with my right hand. If you lose, then you'll have to go out with me this weekend."
"What?" Sakuno never heard such a ridiculous reason for a tennis match. "But playing with your right hand--what if I win?"
"Highly unlikely." Ryoma pulled down his cap. "You're not that level yet."
There are times when her boyfriend is such an insufferable prig.
However, Sakuno said nothing. Instead, she turned and picked up her racket and marched to the end of the court.
She would not back out of a challenge. She is now a senior, plus captain of the girls' team, and captains are never wimps. And what does it matter if she lost? It's not like she never went out with him before. Girls all over the school would barter heaven for a date with Echizen Ryoma, the famous (or notorious?) Prince of Tennis at Seigaku.
The match between the captains of the boys' and girls' teams began. By now, Sakuno has improved to such an extent that Tsunade would have been proud. Although most of her big brothers have graduated, she kept practicing like they were still there. Her potential, under her grandmother's guidance, had developed and flowered. Within two years, Sakuno became a top-notch player. She returned Ryoma's serves and smashes one by one, with a steadfastness and agility as behooved the captain of the girls' team.
But Ryoma was already a prodigy as a freshman, entered the Nationals thrice, and had considerable experience in international competitions. Even playing with his right hand, he still demonstrated many inhuman moves with ease.
"Game to Echizen, 5-2!"
Ryoma smirked. "Mada mada dane."
Sakuno was miffed. She wouldn't have minded so much if he were playing with his left hand, but this was an insult to her hard work. She told herself to calm down, as her grandma always taught her that frustration won't get you anywhere.
One more point, and Ryoma would win. Sakuno wiped the sweat from her forehead and pulled another ball from her pocket. She must try to keep her service game. One more point, and he would win.
Pok. Pok. Sakuno did not lose concentration, and though Ryoma was a little bothered (just one more point and the match will be over), he admired her resolve. It was one of the things he liked about Sakuno--like him, she doesn't give up easily.
Suddenly, Sakuno hit a ball far into the corner. Caught off by this unexpected move, Ryoma hurried to reach the ball, but it was too late. In the last second, he switched the racket to his left hand, and returned the ball. Surprised at this abrupt change, Sakuno missed the ball.
"Game set and match, Echizen. 6-2!"
"Better than I expected." Ryoma commented.
Sakuno smiled. You don't hear this from Ryoma every day.
"But a loss is a loss." he continued, not taking his eyes off her. "Where do you want to go for our date?"
Before Sakuno could reply, they heard a shout.
"Well done, both of you!"
Sakuno whirled around. She hadn't heard that voice for a long time.
Fuji, Kawamura, Eiji, Momo, Kaidoh, and Oishi, were standing behind the wire fence. All of them were grinning from ear to ear.
Her eyes filled up with tears. Sakuno began running towards her big brothers; it has been at least half a year since she last saw them.
Kawamura caught her up and spun her around, laughing heartily. When he set her on the ground, Sakuno hugged every one of them.
"Where are Tezuka-senpai and Inui-senpai?" she asked, looking around.
"Tezuka has a huge exam tomorrow." Oishi said. "He's preparing to enter Tokyo University next year."
"Inui is going to enter a science competition." Fuji smiled. "He is trying to invent a new nutritional drink. I am currently his guinea pig."
There was a brief silence. Ryoma remembered Inui grinding insects (if his eyesight wasn't wrong) in the lab and shuddered.
"Well," Fuji said, smiling despite the horror in everyone's eyes (or maybe just because of the horror). "It's nice to see you again, Sakuno-chan. My, you have grown taller and prettier."
Sakuno blushed. She didn't get compliments often; if Ryoma liked her looks, he wouldn't take the trouble to express his opinons.
Without thinking, Ryoma reached out and took Sakuno's hand.
"Hey, let's go get something to eat!" Momo said. "Better sit at a table with food and talk than stand here with an empty stomach."
Kaidoh was also hungry, and for once, he did not scoff at Momo's gluttony.
As Sakuno was being escorted away by her big brothers, the chatter among the freshman girls grew louder.
"How come Ryuzaki buchou knows so many smoking hot men?"
"It's not like she is drop dead gorgeous! She's pretty, but I'm sure plenty of girls in our school can beat her looks."
"I know. When Ryuzaki-senpai was still a freshman, she wanted to tryout to be a regular, but her tennis sucked back then. All the guys we just saw, including Echizen-senpai, have trained her."
"No way! Hanabi, are you kidding?"
"Ask my sister Hinata. She tried out with Ryuzaki-senpai."
A few days later, Sakuno was amazed that a deluge of freshmen had joined the tennis club, and at least half of them had signed up to be in next month's tryout.
When they settled in at the burger's joint, Ryoma was careful to situate himself between Sakuno and Fuji. He didn't say anything, but he wasn't going to let Fuji flirt with his girlfriend anymore. Even if he knew Fuji didn't really have malicious intentions, his girlfriend still blushed whenever Fuji complimented her. Ryoma wasn't taking any chances.
After their orders were taken, Eiji leaned forward eagerly. "Are you planning to go to Nationals this year, Sakuno-chan?"
"I hope so." Sakuno responded with a smile. "Tsunade-buchou left the club in my hands, and I don't want to disappoint her."
"It's hard to believe you're already captain of the girls' club now." Oishi said, smiling. "It seems only yesterday that I was looking for new cans for you to practice on."
"Ah, the good o'days," Momo said, with the air of an old man reminiscing his youth.
"Baka, it's only been two years." Kaidoh grunted.
Momo acted like he hadn't heard him. "Remember when we started coaching Sakuno tennis?"
"Definitely." Fuji smiled. "Those bentos she used to make were simply scrumptious."
"Iie...they weren't that good..." Sakuno protested.
"And the party we threw for Ochibi when he came back!" Eiji said excitedly. "Remember that photo we took? The one Ochibi was hugging our Sakuno-chan?"
"It was an accident." Ryoma said between clenched teeth. "Sakuno would have fallen."
"And the time we went to Nationals." Oishi said, who apparently decided to join the sentimental nostalgia. "Didn't you get a giant Pink Panther for Sakuno-chan, Echizen?"
"Sure he did. Viper was carrying it around the park!" Momo said.
"Shut up." Kaidoh said.
"And when we won the championships at Nationals--now that was phenomenal."
"Our finest hour." Fuji said, smiling complacently. "Let the golden trophy in the club room stand as a lasting tribute to our memory."
"And the girls' club tryout afterwards." Oishi said. "You really exceeded our expectations, Sakuno!"
"Though there was that creepy senior who threatened Sakuno," Momo said, shivering.
"And has Ochibi been treating you well?" Eiji suddenly demanded.
"Hai." Sakuno knew that if she didn't say that, six tall, imposing high-school students would immediately wage war with her boyfriend. And Ryoma did treat her well--most of the time. He didn't seem to care much about birthdays or Valentine's Day or any special holiday, but then, most guys never do.
"Let us know if he doesn't." Fuji said, smiling.
Ryoma gave his most threatening glare (and trust me, it was intimidating, since Ryoma had numerous practice in glaring). What do they see in him anyway, a potentially violent boyfriend or something? Or did Fuji mean that Sakuno could go running to him if Ryoma didn't treat her well? Either implication, or both, certainly did not agree with him.
"Anyway, I don't think there's any need to worry." Kawamura said. "Ryuzaki-sensei will roast him if Echizen misbehaves."
Everyone--except Ryoma and Sakuno--folded their arms and nodded simultaneously.
"Um--" Sakuno didn't understand why everyone else thought her grandmother was so scary. "--so, so how is business going at your restaurant, Kawamura-senpai?"
"Oh, not bad." Kawamura smiled, scratching his head.
Under the table, Momo slipped him an umbrella.
"THRIIIIIIIIVING! BUSINESS IS EXCELLENT!" Kawamura pushed back his chair, holding the umbrella high in the air. "Next time you're all coming to Kyoto, I'll treat you to all-you-can-eat sushi!"
While the others tried to pacify Kawamura, at the same time apologizing to the other customers, Momo gave Ryoma a wink and a thumbs-up.
"Now I know where we can go on my birthday!"
When the commotion finally subsided, Sakuno tried again to maintain a normal, peaceful conversation. This time she succeeded. Their orders have arrived, and it was easier to be calm while stuffing one's stomach.
Eventually, it was time to leave. Eiji proposed that they toast to a Seigaku victory in the Nationals, for both the girls' and boys' teams.
"You've got to keep up with the good work we did!" he said, raising his glass. "Here's to Nationals!"
Eight glasses clinked together noisily.
That was the last time the Seigaku ex-regulars converged.
Because one year later, most of them entered university--in fact, Inui won a scholarship abroad due to his innovative projects in nutrition. Kawamura worked at his father's restaurant full-time, hoping that one day he could open his own branch.
Tezuka, being the most academic one of them all, succeeded in entering Tokyo University. Fuji went to a liberal arts college and joined the photography club there. Eiji enrolled in tourism and leisure management, and Oishi took up oceanology. All of them were in different universities. Another year passed, which meant Momo and Kaidoh also became undergrads.
Ryoma turned pro at sixteen, and only took classes part-time. He was so busy, one moment at school and the next moment on the plane, that Sakuno rarely had time to see him. In fact, once she tentatively proposed that they stop seeing each other.
"Um--not that I really want to, but you're so busy, I thought that being in a relationship may be stressful to you--"
Sakuno didn't finish, because Ryoma reached out, tugged her arm, and she lost balance, tumbling against his chest.
"Don't ever say that again." he commanded. "Unless you are unhappy being with me?"
"Unhappy? No, of course not! How...how could I?"
"Then stop entertaining the notion that I'd be stressed. Honestly--" Ryoma ran his fingers through her hair. "--being with you takes my mind off a lot of things."
Sakuno blushed. "Thanks--I guess."
They stood in a comforting embrace, enjoying the company of each other. Neither knew how long they would be together, but for the time being, they would make the most of the time they have.
Sakuno never stopped playing tennis. Tennis has now grown on her; she just loved hitting balls back and forth, be it for fun or competition.
Her tryout in Seigaku's girls' club was the first real goal she ever had. When she attained it, she learned that this was not the end, but the beginning. She still had to improve her skills, reduce her mistakes, work with her team-mates, and when she became captain, lead the team towards success.
Moreover, she learned to set goals and work hard towards them in other disciplines--like studying for an exam, raising funds, and so on.
"Sakuno, hurry up! You're going to be late for your match!" Sumire called.
Sakuno checked that everything she needed was packed in her bag, and stood up. Before she left her room, she paused before a framed photo sitting on the head of her bed.
It was a photo they took at the summer festival--all her big brothers gathered around her and Ryoma, grinning broadly in front of the camera.
Always before a match, Sakuno would take a look at this photo. Others may laugh, but she felt that it gave her confidence, strength, and luck. Her big brothers and Ryoma have helped her become the person she was now--a tennis captain, a capable student, a strong, confident girl. One that her parents would have been proud of.
"Ja, itekimasu!" Sakuno bade the photograph goodbye.
Then she slung her tennis bag over her shoulder and ran downstairs, her braids streaming behind her.
Outside, the sun shone warm and bright on her.
Just the perfect day for tennis.
A/N: Sorry it took me such a long time to upload the epilogue! Was studying for the GRE, and my poor little brain can't handle two mentally-straining tasks at one time. Can't say this epilogue, written after a long abstinence, was most satisfying, but I tried. Anyway, this story is officially finished (sobs)!
I'm flattered that a sequel is requested, but no, I don't think I'd write one. This fic has already expressed everything I wanted and much more (In fact, I originally planned only five chapters). Besides, the "several bishounen training a shy young girl to grow stronger" thing kind of appeals to me, and I'm going to try incorporate this into an old story of mine.
Finally, thank you for the reviews and support! It has been a real pleasure to write this story, and double that when I read the reviews! Love you all