Title: The Prince of Romance
Story by: Freya
Pairings: Ryoma/Sakuno, with other (mild) ones implied near the end.
Word Count: Just shy of 5,000!
Warning: If this isn't the most tooth-rotting fic ever, I don't know what is.
Summary: Ryoma is romantically-challenged, we all know this, but he still ends up with the girl. How in the...
Echizen Ryoma was a real pain in the ass to deal with; Echizen Sakuno, more than anyone else, knew that. She knew all too well, and she still loved him...
Since the day they met, it was always a challenge to convey any kind of message to Ryoma, or expect anything in return, for that matter. She'd try to speak to him, and it was like talking to a wall. Sometimes he played dumb to be cute; most of the time, he really was dumb. If there were an award for the world's most unromantic man of the century, it would be given to Ryoma, without a single doubt.
But Sakuno liked him anyway.
When they first met, Sakuno saw him as the hero from the train; Ryoma didn't even recognize her. To this day, she had no clue whether he really badmouthed Sasabe to shut him up, or to save her. Over the years, she had compromised that it was a mixture of the two; Ryoma doesn't like to admit when he's done somebody a favor. It's an odd idiosyncrasy of his, and she let him have it.
What's more, she supported his passion for tennis to the best of her ability for three long years, up into high school, and it took him that long to really acknowledge her presence. Or, maybe it took her that long to realize she was being acknowledged. The shock of her life came to her in the form of a brief, awkward kiss, that filled her with the very last emotion she had ever associated with her first kiss fantasies: Despair. Utter despair.
High school girls were a lot louder and much more persistent than middle school ones. High school girls wanted Ryoma. He was declared prince of the school within a week of arrival. It wasn't just a freshman thing this time, it was the whole bloody school. Once he became as tall as Tezuka, he became ten, no, a hundred times more attractive, and the girls were batshit insane. He had to replace his hat at least once a week; it always just happened to grow feet and walk away from the locker room. That was annoying, but the day he found his spare pair of underwear missing was the day those girls crossed the line. At least, that's how Momo told the story. Ryoma just preferred never to speak of those crazy girls.
So once he could no longer take it, he just happened to pass by the girls' tennis court (where most of his biggest fans practiced) and just happened to bump into Sakuno at the entrance. Figuring she'd be cool for it, he planted a kiss on her lips, smirked at the now dead silent fangirls, and walked away. Just like that.
He not only stole her first kiss, but gave her a swarm of angry, and/or curious girls whom placed Sakuno on the pedestal of gossip and questions that were impossible to answer for over a week. She even found a note someone had dropped on the floor that read:
"Shy lil' Ryuzaki in the back of the room is dating THE Prince, can u believe it??"
"She's so lucky."
"What does he see in her?"
"He's probably just using her. I bet he'll have a new girlfriend every week. GASP I wonder if... "
'He's probably just using her... '
It was about then that Sakuno realized she needed to discuss this position Ryoma had put her in, and soon. Fangirls were just shy of lethal when provoked; Sakuno would know; she's been best friends with one since grammar school.
"Ryoma-kun," said Sakuno, once Ryoma answered the front door. It was late, and the dim light from his house cast a silhouette that rendered his expression more unreadable than normal. It was unsettling, but nevertheless, just arriving to this point was a feat in and of itself. There was no backing out now.
"Hmm?" He probably looked as indifferent as he sounded. The mood was a bit stifling on her bravery, but she absolutely would not back down. Not for a second.
"Good evening. I... " and she paused. The strength to keep from turning and walking away drained rapidly with each word she said.
"Well," said Ryoma at last. She could tell his patience was wearing thin. "Come in."
"Are you just going to stand there? It's cold out, you know."
The moment she stepped inside, the atmosphere changed completely. Sakuno was inside the Echizen household for the first time, and was surprised by the cozy simplicity of the place. Of course, she knew he wasn't a real prince, and didn't quite expect his home to be an extravagant palace, per se, but still. She felt right at home when Nanako pulled out a seat for her at the table and offered to make her some tea. Sakuno almost forgot what she had come there for, until Ryoma's expecting glare struck her's from the opposite side of the table. Was he... did he know why she was here? He must have.
"Why are you here?" he asked, choosing to play dumb about it, anyway. Fortunately, for him, he chose a patient girl to use as an object of fangirl repellent. Unfortunately, this patient girl just happened to have feelings. Once Nanako realized nothing between the two was going to be said with her around, she poured Sakuno her tea and left. That, however, didn't keep her from standing a few feet from the doorway and listening in. What Ryoma said or did to this girl determined what he was going get for breakfast tomorrow; maybe even IF he was going to get any. At least, she'd use that as her excuse to cleanse her conscience for eavesdropping.
A few moments of silence ticked away, then Sakuno was the first to speak.
"Ryoma-kun... what you did... "
She cleared her throat, sipped her tea, blushed, and then took a deep breath. She had to convey this message just right, or else he wasn't going to GET it. That's just the way boys worked, Ryoma especially.
"... when you kissed me that day... "
He blinked once, intentionally, as an indicator that he was listening, and was possibly even startled by the word "kiss." This gave Sakuno a little more ground. She took another deep breath, and looked him directly in the eyes.
"... it was my first kiss, a-and you took it. Took it without asking. You..."
After that, her voice was no longer steady. Clumps of her skirt were fisted in her hands, and she could feel the tears stinging in her eyes. But Ryoma wouldn't understand with just tears. He'd made her cry plenty of times. She had to think... what would Tomoka, or any other girl in this situation do? What did boys respond to? What knocked sense into them more than anything?
She stood, as the first tear streamed down her face, walked toward him, and struck him across the cheek as hard as she could. Then, she fell to her knees and cried. "I'm sorry," she said, and only half-meant it. After all, he deserved it, but violence wasn't a necessary tactic, in her opinion. At least, it should never have to be, but it was in this case.
Ryoma just sat right where he was and stared down at her as his cheek blazed. He knew what he did was wrong for awhile now, if only because Momo and Kikumaru wanted to kill him for it, but he didn't get what was wrong with it. It was obvious that she liked him, so he kissed her. Yes, he did it to shut those other girls up, too, but figuring Sakuno'd like it the most... it was kind of like paying her for her services, in a way. But she slapped him, and was crying, because, apparently, he had done something wrong. He would never understand girls.
"You know, if I made you that mad, you shouldn't apologize for hitting me," said Ryoma. It was just like him to criticize how she channeled her anger toward him; it almost made her smile, in spite of herself. From that point on, she knew she loved this boy, and always would. For once, in his own way, Ryoma admitted that he was wrong, which was far more than she expected.
"Ryoma-kun," Sakuno said, still choked and wiping moisture from her face. He pointed her toward the washroom so she could freshen up, and Nanako followed soon after, seeing as her sympathy just couldn't be contained. Ryoma had wronged this girl somehow, and was having a hard time apologizing. But... he was apologizing, and she wanted Sakuno to know that before walking out the door forever. After all, guilt was not something Ryoma felt often, and definitely not something he showed when he felt it.
"Excuse me," Nanako whispered, and tapped on the washroom door just loud enough for the two of them to hear. Sakuno opened the door a crack, and Nanako took that as her cue to head in. The morose girl she walked in on was drying her face with a towel, and fighting to even her breath out.
"Curiosity often gets the better of me, so you'll have to forgive me if I overheard bits of the conversation."
"It's all right," said Sakuno. In truth, she was kind of relieved that Nanako had overheard; she had no clue what to do from this point. She no longer had a crush on Ryoma; she was head over heals in love with him, despite being more angry with him than ever. An awkward time to realize it, but nevertheless, she had two options: act upon it, or try to escape from it. One option seemed just as ridiculous as the other, but now that she was no longer alone, maybe it'd be easier to find the answers.
"I love him," Sakuno said. It wasn't happy, but blunt, and true. Too true. It was all she had to say, and Nanako, despite having just met this girl, embraced her with all her might.
"He doesn't bite," Nanako said, smiling into the other girl's soft, auburn hair. "Just go talk to him, and don't be fooled by his sarcasm. It's actually one of his cuter traits if you allow it to be."
Sakuno smiled and returned the embrace. At this point, her previous sadness had all but completely faded, and she was ready to speak to him again, even if he wasn't ready for her. After all, he was the one at fault; who was he to turn her down?
"Okay, I will."
"You're still here," Ryoma said, as Sakuno stood at the entrance of his bedroom. He was sitting on his unkempt bed, one dim light on as he stroked Karupin behind the ears. He wasn't looking at her, or the cat, or anything really. She couldn't read the emotion in his voice, but no matter what it was, she wouldn't go home until he understood the extent of his actions. The previous slap gave him a pretty good idea, but there was more, and he was obligated to hear it. After all, if he could use her as a fangirl filter, why couldn't she use him as one for her feelings?
"Ryoma-kun... " she could already feel her face ignite, but that wasn't going to take away from her bravery. He owed her at least this much, and damned if she wasn't going to take advantage of it.
"Next time... next time... " she took a few steps in, hands tied behind her back this time, in case the urge to slap him was refueled. He patiently awaited her words, and Karupin 'nyyraow'-ed at her, which was probably cat for "just get on with it!"
"Next time you want to kiss me, mean it!" she said, and then ducked her beet-red face. She wasn't going to cry again. Die of embarrassment, maybe, but she definitely wasn't going to cry. Ryoma had already coaxed enough tears out of her for one lifetime.
"Che," said Ryoma, and patted a spot next to him on the bed. Sakuno took the spot reluctantly, but she took it, without knowing what to expect. Maybe he'd lean in to kiss her; maybe he'd just ignore her. Either way, there she was, late at night, sitting next to Ryoma, in his room, on his bed. She forgot what it meant to breathe normally by now, especially after Ryoma's next words.
"Why are girls so weird?" he asked. He didn't mean it to be insulting; he just didn't know an alternative way to ask how badly he'd hurt her, and what he could do to avoid doing it again. Or, maybe he did, and didn't think it'd sound as cool. If it were any other girl but Sakuno, he'd have a fresh new hand print on his face to cover the fading one. Just the thought made Sakuno feel like she may be the only girl in the world for him; of course, that was silly, juvenile, even. But that was what she felt, and she did her best to counter his question with one of her own.
"Why are boys so weird?" she asked. She could tell that it was the last thing he'd been expecting her to ask. Nevertheless, she asked, and it made Ryoma smile. Their understanding for one another had grown quite a bit from that point on.
"We're the ones who make sense, that's why."
If she thought finding a retort for that was hard, Ryoma's lips upon her's a split second later abolished all logic in her world. She couldn't find the strength to breathe, let alone kiss back, by the time he pulled away. All she knew was that this boy stole her heart tonight, and she wasn't going to get it back.
"Did I mean it that time?"
He kissed her again.
"How about now?"
"Ryoma... if you don't stop kissing me, I can't answer your question."
He smirked, "Mada mada dane."
Ryoma and Sakuno started seeing each other in their freshman year of high school. Word of their relationship died down after a couple of weeks, and then it was business as usual, only with a profound reduction of fangirl harassment on Ryoma's side. It was clear that, though he may not have loved her quite yet, he liked her enough, and there was nothing anyone could do about that anymore, so they gave up and moved on.
Occasionally, Sakuno was shot dirty looks from a girl or two, but she had Tomoka to fend the rotten ones off. After all, she was president of the Echizen Ryoma Fan Club once again, and made it painfully clear that fans of Ryoma could only stay in the fan club if they were nice to Sakuno. At least two were kicked out every month, which was unfortunate, but if that's what it boiled down to, it happened.
Ryoma was not the ideal boyfriend, either. The closest thing to a date they'd ever gone on was a trip to the shoe store, or sipping Ponta in the park. Somehow, she felt he was waiting for her to comment on it, but she didn't. It didn't matter that they didn't appear to be the most romantic thing on earth. The thing that mattered was Ryoma being there at all. That was enough.
Mostly, they'd head straight for his house and up to his room. She'd sit at the foot of his bed, and he'd curl up and fall asleep. At first, she thought it was because her company was too boring, until the day he motioned for her to lay down next to him. He placed his arm around her warm body and dozed off, just like that. Aside from tennis, napping was what he did for fun, according to Nanako, so if that was fun to him, Sakuno laid with him. She didn't often fall asleep with him, though; most of the time, she rested her head against his chest and listened to the steady beating of his heart, or listened to the pattern of his breath.
These were the moments she felt bravest around him. She'd plant the lightest kisses upon his eyebrows, and burrow deeper into his embrace. Then, she'd whisper to him:
"I love you, Ryoma."
She'd say it every time, so softly she could barely hear herself say it. It would always fall upon deaf ears, too, but at least it fell upon something. For the life of her, she couldn't begin to imagine how far his feelings went for her, if they went very far at all; she was scared to know. Scared he'd push her away, scared he'd reject her. This boy frightened her beyond belief. The power he had over her heart was astounding; she had never felt anything like it, and doubted she ever would.
However, unbeknownst to her, those proclamations of love didn't always fall upon deaf ears. The rare few times he was awake, or had awoke to those near-inaudible words, Ryoma didn't know how to respond to them, so he continued to feign sleep. He didn't know what love was to her. Momo had told him continuously that, as a whole, love means a lot more to girls than guys, so one had to be careful when tossing that word out. Sakuno was trying to be careful, but as usual, she was just being an airhead. Ryoma had to refrain from grinning; she was beyond mada mada dane at this point, and he wanted terribly to tease her about it, but couldn't. Making her cry would attract more unnecessary attention than ever before, not to mention it would make what they had going for them shaky. He didn't want that, not for either of them.
If love meant spending most of his spare time with the least annoying person he knew, then he loved Sakuno, and that's all there was to it. But he knew it wasn't that simple to her, so he kept his mouth shut, just content to be in her presence.
Their relationship was a lethargic, complacent one that went absolutely no where throughout high school. The most intimate time they'd spent with one another was spent napping together, yet they didn't even do that as much anymore. After all, they were swamped with school work, and by the time it was finished, Sakuno had to be home. There was the added fact that Ryoma was a shoe-in for a scholarship at any college around, given his tennis skills, so he was busy dealing with those whack job administrators, as well. If this relationship wasn't sealed for life, or if it didn't end soon, the two of them were in for a world of hurt; Sakuno especially.
This chewed on the back of Ryoma's mind one night, which was yet another night she didn't follow him home like he'd been expecting; hoping, actually, but he wasn't about to admit that, especially not to himself. And that was the real problem, admitting just how much he loved that girl. He really, truly did. He didn't know why, or how he came to that conclusion, but it was the only thing that made sense anymore.
Nanako informed him of Sakuno's choice college; her grades were good enough, so if she wanted in, she'd get in. He applied for the same place, and, lo and behold, they ended up in the same college together. At least she was considerate enough to pick one that had a decent tennis team.
One afternoon, he gave her a Ponta as a dorm warming gift and took a seat at the foot of her new bed.
"I still can't get over the fact that we wound up in college together," she said, as if it were a mere coincidence. Though her self-confidence still left much to be desired at times, her old habit of pausing and stuttering between words around Ryoma faded throughout the years. Sakuno had grown more comfortable around Ryoma, but, on the flip side, Ryoma became the one who had to walk on eggshells around her. They would be together in the same school for another few years, which bought him more time to get what needed to be said said, but the more he waited, the larger the rift between them was going to grow.
"Ryuzaki," he muttered, already thinking of what was wrong with this scenario. Why did he feel the need to be so formal around this girl? Not long ago was he still teasing her about the length of her hair, or the funny way her butt wobbled when she swung a tennis racket. Now, all he could say was her name. Her last name at that. She'd no longer be "Ryuzaki" if she became his wife, which was kind of the issue at hand.
"Please don't '-kun' me anymore. It sounds stupid."
And then came an awkward silence, and a hint of sadness in her eyes. Seeing her like that sucked. After all, he knew he had a hand in her recent discontent, as well as his own. The time to stop being lame and stupid was soon; now, actually.
"You know, girls are really lazy."
Sakuno blinked a curious blink and took a sip of her Ponta. Her grades and the cleanliness of her dorm would easily tell him otherwise, if she didn't know he wasn't just throwing that out there to be rotten. By now, she knew him much too well.
"Why do you say that?"
"Because," he said, and scratched his forehead. This wasn't supposed to be so damned difficult, was it? Or maybe it was. Momo would know. Then again, Momo was back in Tokyo with his own fiancée to worry about, so Ryoma scratched that. He had no idea where Tezuka was anymore; Fuji would somehow make things worse; Taka-san probably wouldn't know what to say; Kaidoh... no; Kikumaru wouldn't know, seeing as his life partner wasn't exactly a girl; ditto for Oishi, obviously; and Inui? Ryoma had to restrain himself from laughing at that one. Why he thought of them at a time like this was well beyond him. Perhaps because they were the only people he knew who read him well enough to tell him what direction he was heading in.
Then, there was that tedious voice in the back of his mind, telling him it was his problem and his alone to deal with. It was so true, too. Damn it all.
"Guys get all the difficult jobs, that's why."
Were he to say that with Tomoka, or An, around, they'd go into a long-winded rant about PMS and pregnancy, and that'd be the end of that argument. But Tomo was back in Tokyo with Horio, her boyfriend, and An with Momo, her fiancé. Sakuno used to feel like she and Ryoma were in entirely separate worlds. Now, she felt like they were the only two people in this world. Not that it was a good thing, to literally feel like Ryoma was all she had to hang onto anymore. But if he was all she had, then they needed to make the best of it.
Ryoma was baiting her with one of his word games, so it was time to play along, as always. She just hoped the results were desirable ones.
"If you don't mind my asking, what exactly is a difficult job... Ryoma?"
He paused, then reached into his pocket. Damned if he was going to do this like they did on T.V.; he was already taking a bite out of his own pride just by baiting her like this. Once his fingers brushed a velvet case, he clamped it against his palm gingerly, slid it from his pocket, and placed it to his side.
Shocked, Sakuno dropped herself beside the box, and reached for it as carefully as she could. It was like she was living a dream; a wonderful, quixotic dream that simply refused to end. A dream she conjured six years ago, the moment she laid eyes on this boy; the first and only boy she had ever fallen in love with. Now, his mind and feelings were a whole 'nother story to her, that had yet to be read, until they reached this very point. Ryoma playfully rolled his eyes and slid the box toward her, fixing his gaze upon his feet. Perhaps she'd find this more realistic if he pretended like this was no big deal, but she knew him well enough. And if she were just a little closer, she knew she'd hear his heart pounding.
"What is this?"
"I think you know, but you want me to tell you anyway."
"Because I'm lazy, right?" It was hard to speak through a grin that wouldn't stop growing.
"Yup, you sure are," he said, and slid closer to her once the velvet box was finally in her hands. It took her a moment, and another eye roll of Ryoma's to finally gather the courage to open the box. The diamond-studded ring that greeted her line of vision was enough to bring tears to her eyes, but then Ryoma'd just tease her for them, so she held back.
"It only drained a quarter of my bank account," said Ryoma, with a cross between I playful smile and a relieved one on his face. "I suppose you're so lazy that I'm going to have to slide that on your finger myself, huh?"
"Well, if you don't mind... "
"Che, fine." And the playful façade ended there. For the first time in God only knew how long, Ryoma kissed Sakuno. Really kissed her, as he slid that ring upon her finger. He could feel a warm tear drip onto his cheek, but chose to let that one slip of hers slide, just because he wasn't feeling particularly snarky anymore. "Marry me, Sakuno."
Sakuno didn't speak; instead, she flung herself into his arms, and they held each other for a long time. He took that as a 'yes', and as they did in the old days, they eventually fell asleep like that, together. It's not that Sakuno couldn't say 'yes'; she'd been prepared to since the moment they met. She locking him into a fierce embrace was just her saving his pride. After all, he'd die if he knew she saw tears in his eyes that day.
After they were married, life was business as usual, after a month or two of congratulations given, and so forth. It was similar to when they'd started dating. Ryoma was still the most romantically-challenged man of the century. He left the seat up, he drank milk straight from the carton; basically, became the stereotypical husband in some ways. In others, he was still the one and only Echizen Ryoma. There was always a Himalayan cat or two in the house, and Ponta cans made the vast majority of their recycling bin. He never seemed to gain a pound, and barely sprouted a stubble of facial hair, or just shaved it well when she wasn't looking.
Most of all, he got away with saying things the average woman'd make him sleep on the couch for. But only a select few people, Sakuno, most of all, found the endearing side to every word that came out of his mouth.
All in all, he was a good husband, soon turned good father, who gave their son, Takeshi, tennis lessons whenever he was bored, which was pretty much every day. Ryoma sometimes regretted refusing to go pro, but the constant scrutiny it would garner sounded far more annoying than a bit of boredom. Besides, it was fun to pick on his son.
"Ryoma, could you help me with this laundry basket? I can't carry it anymore."
"What?" He turned to face her for a split second, and before he knew it, his six-year-old boy had gotten his very first ball past his old man.
"Mada mada dane, daddy."
"Che, that's what you think. One more, kiddo."
"Ryoma, PLEASE," Sakuno practically begged, but before she knew it, the two men of the house were too far engrossed with their game. She knew the power of her palm all too well, and would use that as a last resort at the end of this game. But for now, she couldn't help but smile at the scene, and rub the bump in her belly, knowing Takeshi'd be training the next addition soon, so she wouldn't have to run into this problem all the time.
It took four games instead of one, but eventually Ryoma took the laundry from her, and commented on her laziness, as he often did. It was hard not to slap him for that; even now, it was hard to accept all his playful insults as words of endearment, but the challenge was what kept the marriage going.
"I only did that because I love you," he murmured, smiling ever so slightly as he handed her back the empty basket. Then, he headed right back toward Takeshi, who had learned the joy of 'mada mada dane'-ing his father all too much.
The Prince of Romance may be a pain in the ass to deal with at times, but Sakuno sure did love him.
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