Epilogue: My Miracle Shot

Little Falcon: Whoever thought that this story would take this long to conclude? I didn't! I pictured it would end at the same year I started writing it but plans almost are never followed. I'm really glad you saw through the ending of this story. In delivering you to my version of the anime, I really hope I was able to somehow incite your interest and fulfill your expectations. Really, domo arigato-gozaimasu! *bows lowly*

Standard Disclaimer: I only own the idea that's all. If I did own this series I'll be the happiest person on earth!

The first thing she saw was the utter lack of luster in his eyes- a despair so deep it makes you drown just by looking at it. She knows that feeling very well because not so long ago, she felt it too- the death of your dream. It was only until later did she see the bigger picture, not only was the young man in a wheel chair but was also in the middle of a barely solidified lake. Her pupils dilated as she heard the first crack of ice. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" Already racing against time and nature, she ran towards the edge of the lake.

It was far from stable. Beneath the thin sheet of ice, water was still visibly moving as the cracks multiplied and grew. "Can you make your way towards me?" Her eyes bounced from the stranger to the ice then back impatiently.

No answer. His spiky light brown head of hair remained unmoving as his downcast eyes lingered inanely at the transparent floor. Like a scene from the movies, the fissures rapidly branched out focusing on the only thing that occupied weight.

Without thinking anything through, her feet instinctively chose the safest route to get to him. Her light footsteps were clumsy in that slippery stage however she managed to move quickly avoiding staying at one place in a long time. Her hands reached out to him as she was a few feet away from him. One more step… GOAL!

The icy back handles of the wheel chair caught her fall before her face met the freezing floor literally. "Hang on!" With their combined weight centered in one place together with her forced effort to push, the unsound ice splintered beneath their feet and gave way.

She barely had time to scream or even hold her breath. It all happened too soon as if everything was on fast forward. The subzero temperature of the water attacked her first- sending sharp pricking pain throughout her body, paralyzing her logic and contracting her muscles. Sheer terror flooded her system as the bulk of her winter clothing dragged her down. With her limited air supply and senses in haywire, her mind was unable to give the proper commands as to how to remove the troublesome piece of clothing. By the time she was able to take it off, her vision was already blacking out but she managed to catch a glimpse of the empty wheelchair quietly sinking nearby then everything went dark. SOMEBODY SAVE HIM, PLEASE! Finally, the last vestiges of her control gave way in the form of immense bubbles escaping her mouth. RYOMA-KUN!

"SOMEBODY PLEASE, HELP!" A familiar voice broke through the team's grueling practice matches. Everyone stopped whatever they were doing almost instantly upon hearing the panic in her usually bubbly tone.

"Tomoko, what is it?" Their old coach caught sight of the frantic female and immediately asked.

"SAKUNO! Sakuno has…" in between her deep inhales, she struggled to verbalize everything she has seen at every detail but her words and body wasn't cooperating.

His amber eyes widened in shock as he dropped everything he was doing, dashed towards the breathless girl, grabbed her shoulders and shook her almost violently. "What happened?" There was an unexplainable feeling in his gut that just won't go away. He prayed that she was just overacting as usual. Unconsciously, his grip grew frighteningly tighter to the point that it made her wince.

"Let go of her, Echizen! Can't you see you're hurting her!" It was unusual for the vexing Horio to step-in but when it came to his girl, he dove in there like an angry tiger. Prying his hands away from his girlfriend, the newly regular player stood in front of him as if warning him of the hurt to come if he again crosses the line. Disregarding the protests of his lover to speak out, he silently demanded an apology.

For a brief moment, the young tennis protégé composed himself. "I'm sorry, Osakada," weaving his fingers agitatedly through his dark green hair, Ryoma took in a long audible breath and asked again nicely this time. "What happened to Sakuno? Please tell me,"

Taking against him, she quickly expounded. "We just bought something for dinner when I realized I forgot something so I told her to go on ahead. When I passed by that frozen lake on the way here, I saw her skidding through the breaking ice! She was… she's trying to get that guy in the wheelchair out of danger but… BUT THE ICE BROKE! I SAW THEM… BEING SWALLOWED BY THE DARK WATER! I tried to help but… I can't reach them… there was nothing I could do!" Tears were streaming down her chin but she refused to brush them away.

Without a word, he dashed out of the villa and ran like his life depended on it. Indeed, it is. Everyone was at his tail but he couldn't care less. Meters felt like miles, it was longest run he ever made. His lungs didn't inflate enough to deliver him his needed oxygen, his legs didn't stride long enough to cover enough distance while his other senses denied any stimulus than the ones he considered important. Right now, there wasn't anything else besides her.

The icy wind burned a painfully dry path down his throat as he stopped dead in his tracks upon reaching his destination. People were already congregating around the lake as the paramedics hauled in a wet maroon jacket and a broken wheelchair.

His heart stopped as he soon as he saw it. With the Ryuugan emblem embroidered on the back of it, there was absolutely no way it could've belonged to another. "Easy, Echizen. The medics said that they're safe," a light tap from his senior and a short statement made him remember to breathe again.

"Where is she then?" He heard Coach Ryuuzaki inquiring the by-stander quite aggressively.

"I don't know, old lady! The guy's butler went and said that they will take care of the matter then rode off in that gaudy limo," the terrified teen spilled as he held his hands up in natural surrender.

Stirring awake, the first thing she saw was a canopy hanging overhead. Her eyebrow rose questionably, she automatically let out a painful groan with her sudden movement as her body ached like she had training 24/7 for 7 days straight. With no grace whatsoever, she flopped around like a fish out of water just so she could sit up. The beating inside her head turned into merciless pounding as there was nothing around her remotely familiar. Flashes of recall made her dismiss the mystery of her location temporarily. She was still alive, that's what matters. While waiting for her body to recover, she tried to fill in the blanks in her memory. Let the flashback begin… Pressing her closed eyes, her mind replayed the last thing she remembered clearly -her running across the ice… That's right, we were about get out of there when the ice… I tried to swim up but I can't then… Her eyes snapped open ending her little self-session as she tore the blanket away from her body then threw her legs over the bed and willed them to cooperate. The loose, oversized shirt sliding from her shoulders helped her understand that she was obviously undressed and then dressed by a certain someone. This only worsened her headache, making her want to scream until she faint.

The crescent moon hanging in the night sky informed her of the time- so late. The distant music reverberated in the long corridor from the door that was left minimally ajar. Still in the process of regaining her muscle strength, the walls became her steady support while unconsciously entertaining her curiosity. It was a melody that was soothing and at the same time invigorating, no vocals just plain music. Sneaking a peek, there was the same young man she saw in the lake but this time his back was against her but he held his head high. Right in front of him was a 42 inch plasma television with complete surround system that made the dim room shake at every crescendo, it showed a high definition broadcast of a certain skating event. Being somewhat informed in the said field, she knew that it was probably a recording or a replay since there was no competition held this month. Turning away, she chose not to interrupt but when she heard the announcer introduce "Here comes our wild card contender from Japan, Takeshima Kaito," she just had to look back. Her chocolate brown eyes reflected the same man on the wheel chair skating stylishly hand-in-hand with a smiling blonde. Good thing she was able to cover her mouth before her sharp gasp. A light tap on her shoulder almost made her jump out of her skin.

An old man with white bushy eyebrows and wearing a swallow tailed suit bowed lowly. "Miss, if you would be so kind as to follow me. Someone wants to have a word with you,"

Ashamed of being caught snooping, she mechanically followed the butler away from the depressing room. Takeshima Kaito… she was led into a great room that even had a sparkly chandelier on the ceiling. Designer pieces of furniture filled the room and the floor was carpeted with intricate detail. Dressed in a loose shirt paired with her uncombed hair, she felt so out of place. This time someone who's in his mid-thirties with brushed up dark hair and a wrinkled smile hurriedly approached her and eagerly took her right hand and shook it. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" He reiterated countless times then he finally noticed the perplexed look on her face. His Japanese was fluent but there was that unmistakable western accent.

"Thank me? What… what did I do?" Taking her hand back.

"You saved him! When we arrived you were already out of the ice, YOU saved him!"

"Look, all I remember was passing out. And who are you anyway? I know now who that guy is, though," pertaining to the one in the dim room.

"You must've just forgotten it because of the horrifying experience of almost drowning and freezing to death," Stepping back he stood straight "Oh so sorry for my rudeness, I am Harold Leighton I am a family friend of the Takeshima's and was Kaito's skating manager," dropping a note on the last part, he again extended his hand as a common western greeting.

"I'm Ryuu… err… Kirihara Sakuno. I'm part of the Seigaku tennis club that is having their winter training near the lake," not new to such gestures, she returned his handshake politely. "Can you tell me what he was doing in the middle of the lake?" Her answer was an awkward silence so she shrugged her shoulders indifferently. "Fine I can take a hint. Can I just use your phone before I leave? My cell sank with my jacket,"

"With leg muscles like yours, you must me a skater too," Harold sat on the nearest seat, refusing to meet her eyes. "I've been around the industry for so long, it's sort of a natural thing for me to identity who's been training and who was slaking. You've been training hard," a sad chuckle rumbled in his chest. "Phone's in the office, right next to his room," gesturing towards her would-be destination. "I'll let the butler bring your dry clothes back to the room you came from then I'll arrange a car to take you home," covering his head with his hands, he ended their conversation.

Everyone was still up and about at two in the morning. No one could or even dared to think of sleeping as they were still left in the dark about their team manager's location. They already contacted the local police but a person must be missing for 24 hours before they can do anything about it and the medics were no help either. With nothing to go on, they did the only thing they can do. Wait. Everyone's head almost snapped as they heard someone's phone ringing.

"Ryoma-kun," his heart soared upon hearing the voice on the other line.

Just like that he lost all his cool composure. "Where are you? Are you okay? Are you hurt?" It was like the hundred-ton weight on his chest disappeared all of a sudden however he did feel several years older. Clutching his phone so close to his ear so that he can listen to her voice solely, he kept nodding his head then soon after. "I'll be waiting then,"

"So? What did she say?" Everyone was surrounding him, anxious for any kind of information regarding their precious team manager.

She didn't call her grandmother or her step-brother first, it was him- he was the one she thought of contacting first and the thought made him feel ten feet tall. "She says she's fine and that she'll explain everything when she gets back," inwardly, he asked can time move any faster?

The sound of outright concern in his voice was one side of him she rarely sees and somehow it made her feel like beloved royalty. A smile slowly crept on her lips as she put the receiver down. She can't wait to see him. Although it had only been a few hours since they last met, her recent brush with death made it seem like it was decades. So her feet raced out of the room to get changed, the same music interrupted her train of thought. It was a repeat of what she heard the first time. Her smile gradually vanished as she was unconsciously drawn into that room.

Even with the lights closed, the illumination of the wide-screen TV was ample enough. This time she entered the room without hesitation. Slowly, Sakuno made her way towards the only person in the room and stood by him as her eyes were glued on the screen. The way the two skaters glide on the ice was absolutely remarkable- elegant yet powerful.

"Are you waiting for me to say Thank You for saving me?" She mentally jumped back hearing him talk. Although she has no proof of him being mute, she was so certain that he would never speak to her. Then his deep sarcastic inquiry sank in.

For someone who was on a wheelchair, he looked prouder than anyone else. "I don't accept gratitude for something I don't recall doing," quickly did she retorted while not even sparing him a glance.

"Then what are you still here for?"

Turning fully towards him, it was the first time she saw him up-close. Light brown tousled hair, emerald green eyes, long eyelashes, pointed nose, thin lips and a chiseled face. He was sitting down but she knew that if ever he stands, he'll be a good few inches taller than her exactly like Ryoma. Opening her moth for a witty retort, nothing came out but air. That's right, I was about to go home. I really didn't have to stop by here and chat with him or anything. Then why is it that I am here? Directing her gaze to his face that was facing the screen, in some unfathomable reason, she was able to see her former self. Battered and broken. There were numerous random questions popping in her head. Why were you in the middle of the lake? Are you planning to kill yourself? What happened to you? Can you ever skate again? How do you feel? Yet she held them at bay. Being in the same shoes once, Sakuno knew that hearing these kinds of questions would just light his fuse and any show of pity won't do either. No self-help book or any motivational speech can help him if he doesn't want to help himself. Crawling out of that cesspool of self-pity and frustration is not an easy task and not everyone comes out whole but when they do, they'll be different, stronger person than they were before.

"Miss Kirihara, the car is ready to take you home," the butler curtly informed with that unchanging bow.

Without so much as a goodbye, the tennis player walked out of the room without looking back. "Sakuno-san," Harold was by the car when she exited the premises. "Can we please keep this incident a secret?"

Somehow she saw this coming. "Just answer one question for me," seeing him agree with a reluctant nod, she approached him. "Is he even injured that badly?"

No need to answer. The unconscious dilation of his pupils was an easy tell. "Well, he was…"

"That's what I thought. Don't worry your secret's safe with me," getting in the car, she beamed then waved goodbye. Her eyes peculiarly drawn towards his dark window.

It was totally out of character and uncool would be an understatement but he didn't care. The moment she got out of the car, he ran up to her, wound his arms around her and kissed her passionately.

Returning his gestures at an equal fervor, neither of them cared that the whole Seigaku tennis team already had their jaw dropped wide open at their show of outright intimacy. Finally drawing back, Ryoma leaned his forehead against hers and got lost in her eyes. "Tadaima… (I'm home)," Sakuno smiled.

"Okairi (Welcome back)," another lengthy exchange before Kikumaru stepped-in.

"Alright, break it up, break it up. Seriously, you're making Captain Tezuka blush!" Their acrobatic friend intervened, Tezuka stuttered then blushed and everyone laughed.

It was around three in the morning but everyone stayed awake just to wait for her so the only thank she can give them was to tell them what really happened. She clung close to reality but when they asked about the identity of the person in question, she just awkwardly lied saying "He doesn't want to tell me his name," which is not entirely untrue. An hour after, the spacious villa was dead quiet. Everyone was asleep except for one.

The floorboards didn't make a sound as she stealthily made her way downstairs and sat by the fireplace. Sleep wasn't appealing to her at the moment. Although her body demanded rest, her mind just wouldn't concur. Reaching for the phone, she dialed a long distance number she was forced to memorize just in case. "Hello," a foreign greeting of a familiar voice answered.

"Sakaki-san, its Sakuno…"

"What's wrong? It's rare for you to call,"

"I was wondering if you can give me any information regarding a certain skating champion," wringing the cord around her finger, she braced herself for disappointment. "Takeshima Kaito…"

There was long pause before he spoke "Now, that's a name I haven't heard in a while,"

Her eyes widened in surprise as she pressed the receiver closer to her ear. "You know him?"

"Yeah, that kid was a born skater. Almost got into the Olympics if not for that bad fall. Word was, he was training so hard his body can no longer keep up. In an attempt to perform the perfect routine, he pushed his limits but he messed up at the last crucial jump. Broke a leg and tore several muscles in that landing. Months after rehab, the sports world was waiting for his return, but he never did. His manager said that Takeshima's priorities changed or what not so that was the last time he has been seen on ice."

"You seem to know a lot more than a little," There a flicking sound followed by an audible inhale and long exhale. "Smoking is bad for your health," in a force of habit, the would-be doctor in her added professionally.

"Actually, his manager, Harold Leighton, is a close friend of mine. He always talked so highly about his diamond-in-the-rough. He was positively sure that Takeshima had the perfect talent in skating. When the accident happened, he was more devastated than anyone else. He was there at every PT session his skater needed, giving him encouraging speeches and cheering him on. All the while he thought everything was gonna be the same afterwards. But as the doctors and therapists declared Takeshima free from injury and trauma, he refused to get out of that chair. Ever since then, he never used his legs for anything. It was as if he hated them, blamed them for stealing his dream. Harold made up an excuse to let his skater leave the industry with a reputation of someone great, not pathetic. I kinda commend the guy, you know. I bet that until now, he still has Kaito's skates in his bag just in case…"

Her lips formed a thin line as she recalled that spectacular show of skills she saw on that recorded competition video. "Last favor… you're gonna love this,"

After weeks of back-breaking training, the team was finally allowed to have a break away from the court or anything else resembling tennis. "Ja, let me treat you to something you'll see only once in your lifetime," a man who was looks a lot like Hyoutei University's tennis coach, only younger offered as soon as they got off the bus from camp.

"Aren't you Sakuno's skating manager?" Momoshiro blatantly inquired since their team manager asked to return earlier than the appointed date.

"What is this about, Sakaki-san?" Ryoma interjected, knowing that this has something to do with his girl.

There was a tempting smirk on his face, daring them to come and see. They were led inside an empty stadium. "This better be good, Sakaki. I've used all my bargaining chips to beg him to see this," another older guy joined them together with a butler that was pushing a person their age on a wheelchair.

His amber eyes met emerald ones for a brief moment but it was enough for him to have an idea who this person was.

"Trust me, Harold. You won't regret it," with a snap of his fingers, the lights illuminated the heart of the stadium to reveal one person standing in the middle of the skating rink.

Upper half of her face was covered with a blue mask while there was a conservative smile on her painted lips. Her dark brown hair was in messy chignon and her body was dressed in a mini kimono with a skin-tone leotard underneath. Her head was held high and her posture elegantly heart-stopping. A priestess on ice.

"Echizen, isn't that…" Horio elbowed the guy but he was too busy looking at the breathtaking skater to even respond.

Music echoed from every corner of the stadium thus began the show. Like a swan she glided though the ice effortlessly as if she weighed no heavier than a feather. Everyone was so overwhelmed by the show that they were at a loss for words. Starting with a few usual moves becoming bolder as the melody climbed higher.

"This routine… it's the one Kaito…" almost perfected. Harold gripped the metal railings in excitement since every move was executed flawlessly but also in fear since this was the routine that can shatter a skater's dream. "Make her stop, Sakaki! It's impossible for her to finish it. Only Kaito can…"

"Do you know what people call her when they saw her skate? A goddess on ice because she can make miracles before your eyes," with his chest puffed up and his arms crossed across his chest, Ryoma arrogantly butted-in.

The tune reached its climax after a great backward dash, she launched herself from the ice and spun four times before solidly on her left foot continuing her routine like she didn't just execute the hardest trick on the book only a handful of professional skaters could have accomplished.

Inching closer sideways without taking his eyes off her, Manager Sakaki muttered "Well, Harold? Do you still think there's only one person capable of being great?" Yup, he was so sure that smug look on his face would be plastered on his face for the entire week. Sakuno was right, he did enjoy this.

With his jaw finally functioning. "H…how did she… I mean it's…" unable to comprehensible statements he shut his mouth and kept watching until the show was finally over.

The composition abruptly stopped just in time when she made a graceful bow. "So, did you see it? The miracle she just made?"

Harold couldn't even blink at what he just seen. Speechless, he nodded his head. "You're looking the wrong way," he heard someone say.

"Y…young master," the astonishment in the old butler's cracked voice made him turn away from the rink and throw a glance over his shoulder. His pupils dilated in surprise as he found the chair empty. Movement in his peripheral vision caught his attention. His jaw dropped open as his unblinking eyes reflected Kaito standing on his two feet, leaning against the metal railing with an excited gleam in his green eyes. Miracle- a contradiction of the impossible. His subconscious defined as robotically as he continued to deny what he was seeing was real.

"Mada mada dane," Echizen muttered as he made his way towards the rink.

"Skates…" maybe he was too overwhelmed by shock that he was having auditory hallucinations because it sounded as if his skater was asking for his "SKATES! Harold, you have mine with you right?"

It took a few seconds for the information to register. "Yes, yes I have it here," frantically, the manager spilled the contents of the gym bag he was always carrying on the floor and found the item demanded.

Slipping her thumb underneath her mask, she slowly pulled it off and smiled at the young man hurriedly putting on his blades. That last enigma in her memory was solved when she completed that quadruple lutz. Maybe you saved me… in that dark looming abyss she felt someone pulling her out of the water and into safety. Just so I can save you… a triumphant smirk lifted a part of her lips as she witnessed Takeshima Kaito's first glide on ice after two years of voluntary retirement. Somehow, she knew that this was also the first real smile he made after his life-changing ordeal.

"Otsukaresama (Good Job)," his deep, soothing tone took away her fatigue in a heartbeat. He was waiting for her at the edge of the rink.

"Arigato (thank you)," smiled, the figure skater as she stepped into his arms.

"Sakuno," she was alarmed when he drew back abruptly. Then he knelt on one and pulled out that velvet box. "Be mine… be only mine," he didn't care about the cheering and jeering of his teammates in the background nor the completely uncool scene he was making. His pride was of little consequence to the prize he wanted to claim. He almost lost her a few times and he'll be damned if that ever happens again.

At a loss for the right words, she bit her lips as tears streamed down her cheeks. "I thought I already am,"

Sweeping her off her feet, they sealed their vow with their lips. Nothing ever felt so right. No amount of success can ever surpass this moment. Leaning their forehead against each other's, they shared a mutual smile before the team decided to cut-in.

"Ne, Sakaki… I was so sure that having Kaito skate again was the miracle you were talking about but right now…" sitting in the middle of the bleachers filled with vivacious fans, their corporate regalia felt out of place. His nervous glance darted towards the annoyed figure skater beside him that was currently under casual disguise. "To have him not just watch but actually go to a tennis match… must be the real miracle since he detested any kind of physical sport other than skating. You're talent must've given the best sales speech to make him come here,"

A collective aaah's and oohh's drowned their conversation to a minimum as the players changed court. Sweat trickled down his chin as he gritted his teeth and clenched his fists while another long volley ensued.

"You should watch tennis sometime. It's actually a great sport almost the same as skating,"

"I refuse to believe that that violent exchange of balls has something in common with skating,"

"Violent? Well, soccer, basketball and rugby may be violent but I think tennis is on a milder scale. Do you know that feeling when you make a dash, took off the ice, spun impeccably and landing squarely on your feet? That exhilaration that makes your heart burst in triumph and makes you feel like you've accomplished something incredible… it's the same feeling I get when I'm engaged in the long, difficult volley, seeing an opening and then seizing the opportunity to end it with a powerful smash,"

That glow in her eyes was unquestionably true, the enthusiastic aura she exuded as she talked about the sport is contagious. He has to confirm it for himself. Watching a show on the TV was very different when you're personally seeing the game especially when one of the players is someone you're acquainted with. He felt somewhat involved.

It was a tie-break match and Sakuno was already in the lead however, her opponent was formidable as well. Everyone's hearts were at their throats as their heads bounced from left to right, keeping their eye on that small yellow ball. His heart was beating in his ears as tension was brimming dangerously to the surface. His breath hitched as the other player made a slight mistake. The usual return became a soft lob. The ball sailed through the air in slow-mo crossing the net and by law of gravity free-falling to her court. "IKKKKKEEEEE! (GOOOOO!)" Kaito stood up and cheered alone, breaking the silence.

A conquering smile shaped her lips as she ran and jumped to meet it in mid-air then striking it with all the force she can muster. It was as if the earth shook with the impact of that smash, hitting the unreachable corner of the enemy court.

Her long wavy hair flowed down her waist as she descended on the court. Her white baseball cap landed silently nearby. The umpire's sharp whistle woke everyone from their trance and a nanosecond after the audience roared in celebration. "Game, Set, Match! Seigaku wins,"

"You see, Harold. That…" Sakaki chucked his head towards the figure skater that was yelling his lungs out and applauding his hands off. "…is your miracle, right there,"

The cigarette he was holding in between his fingers free-fell to the stadium floor as Harold stood frozen on the spot. "Ne… Sakaki… just who is this girl?"

"Until recently she was Ryuuzaki Sakuno- the granddaughter of the Seigaku coach. Now, she's Kirihara Sakuno- the step sister of that infamous Kirihara Akaya. I'm quite sure in the near future, she'll be Echizen Sakuno. An Olympic grade skater, a damn good tennis player, a talented entrepreneur and a top ranking medicine student and I have a feeling that she's far from done," it was a well-known international reporter who answered for him as he scribbled down notes and snapped pictures.

Below a picture of her that earth-rending smash, there was something quoted "If your fortune and the future, don't agree with you. You can deny them, twist them. Maybe you can, maybe you can't but if there's 1% chance of ever succeeding, never give up. Challenge your fate," if you look close enough, you'll see a piece of something catching the flash. Aside from that superb form and that powerful strike, around her neck was a silver necklace and attached to it was a platinum diamond ring but more radiant than that was her undefeatable smile. Right underneath the quote was "-Echizen Sakuno,"

Little Falcon: Can you believe it, can you actually believe it? It's done! I would like to thank everyone who gave their reviews and kept reading my story until the end! Domo arigato gozaimasu! For this last time, please read and review please…