A/N: Befor you read: this is not a sequel to Princess of Tennis, nor is it lighthearted comedy, though again, Sakuno will be a stronger person. This fic is gonna be pure sappy (crappy?) romance.
So if my warning hasn't deterred you, read on!
Ryuzaki Sakuno pulled her scarf tightly round her neck as she walked. Although it was springtime, the temperature has not risen much. Besides, she was rather vulnerable to coldness. A few students passing by wore only light jackets, while she was clad in a heavy coat, thick sweater, and a long, fluffy scarf.
While she headed towards the arts building, cherry blossom petals fluttered gently down in a shower of pink. Breathing in the lightly-scented air, Sakuno closed her eyes for a second.
She loved college. It was not always a bed of roses, but for most of the time, she enjoyed the intellectual atmosphere of books and lectures, the entertaining social life from clubs and societies, the semi-independent state in which she could make her own decisions with appropriate guidance.
But what she loved most of all was the opportunity to pursue what she loved.
Since she was four, Sakuno had started taking piano lessons. At first it was pure fun; she was fascinated by making noise through her fingertips on the row of black-and-white keys.
She made rapid progress; she had proceeded to a certain level in one year, while it would normally take two or three years for others. She had a strange thirst for the songs she liked. If she really liked a song, she would try to play it, even though her fingers might be too short.
Then her teacher suggested she enter the annual regional piano contest. Sakuno won first prize in the 812 age group.
"Sakuno is the best student I've ever taught." Sakuno heard her teacher tell Ryuzaki Sumire. "If she keeps this up, she could be a professional piano player."
A professional! Sakuno thrilled from top to toe. She imagined herself wearing a long, elegant gown, sitting before a glossy piano, and playing a song so lovely that it would bring tears to the audience. Or even better--playing in an orchestra.
Sakuno wanted to fulfill that dream. She loved playing the piano, and Ryuzaki Sumire encouraged her to continue, as long as it was what she really wanted.
But things didn't go as well as expected.
First, Sakuno's teacher moved abroad. Her new teacher was a crabby old man who was once a nationwide famous performer, but had extremely high expectations. No matter how hard she tried, he always found fault with her performance. He often lost his temper, and she was inclined to cry, though she managed to prevent the tears from overflowing.
Second, she met an arrogant boy called Echizen Ryoma. He was stunningly good-looking, with his glossy black hair and cat-like eyes, and by god, his attractiveness multiplied tenfold when he played tennis.
Sakuno was drawn to him, even though he seldom displayed interest towards her. Because tennis was his life, she also took up tennis, despite she had like, zero aptitude. Yet she persisted; she loved watching Ryoma play, so why shouldn't she follow his footsteps?
Because of these two reasons, the top of her piano started to gather dust.
Ryuzaki Sumire wasn't exactly pleased with Sakuno's change. She had nothing against tennis, being a tennis coach herself. It was just a pity to abandon the piano when you've made such a good head start.
However, when Ryoma left for America, and Sakuno was left to struggle with tennis without his presence, she gradually realized that she didn't really like tennis. She played it--only in hope to attract someone's attention--and now that someone was gone, her motivation was snuffed out as well.
She wasn't made for tennis. She never was.
When she swung the tennis racket, she felt clumsy, stupid, exposed. Like every little flaw in her was magnified tenfold. Every time she missed the ball, she tried to laugh. She trained harder, only to have Tomoka beat her 6-2. And Tomoka only practiced tennis occasionally.
Her former piano teacher paid a visit. Amazed that Sakuno had stopped playing the piano, her teacher requested Sakuno play one song for her. Just one, as a treat.
Sakuno could not refuse, so she mopped away the dust on the piano lid, and got out her old music sheets. When her fingers touched the territory that was once so familiar, the old feeling came rushing back to her.
She remembered the days when she practiced and practiced, the sun shining brightly, the wind wheezing, or rain pattering on the window. She remembered the times when she performed before an audience, and seeing her grandmother clap her hands and smile proudly. She remembered her former teacher telling Sumire, "Sakuno is the best student I've ever taught."
Sakuno resumed her lessons. It was still difficult, but now she no longer felt depressed. After taking a detour, she was re-affirmed where she belonged. It brought a new fervour that was stronger than before.
Sakuno worked harder than ever, winning an advanced level certificate and several major competitions. She entered university by early decision; her resume was enough to get her a piano major.
Now her goal was to go to Julliard, to study under great masters, to work with great performers, to broaden her horizons. The university offered a couple of scholarships, and Sakuno was determined to win it. A music career is costly, and she would do her best to earn her way towards success.
Echizen Ryoma was very, very irritated. Not that it was anything new to him--he rarely got through one day without being annoyed at something, whether it may be fans trying to mob him or that he didn't have any change for a can of Ponta.
He hadn't wanted to go to college. His life was busy enough, what with the tournaments and interviews and companies begging him on bended knee: "Please sponsor our latest product!"
Like he needed more complication--go to some stuffy old classroom and fall asleep in some boring old lecture.
But Rinko had forced him to go. "No son of mine is going to have only a high school diploma," she said. "Your agent will see to everything."
And of course his father wasn't much help either. "Why would you turn down such a tempting opportunity to meet beautiful young college girls?"
Yeah, right. Screaming lunatics was more like it. Once he set foot on the campus, the next second he thought there was an earthquake. Every she-creature within a ten-mile radius came thundering to his side, yelling his name, begging for an autograph, a picture together, a lock of his hair, you name it.
Ryoma wondered what his mother would say, had she witnessed the torture her son was subjected to, and all because she insisted that he go to college.
When he finally extracted himself from the crowd, his hair dishevelled, his shirt rumpled, and his hand shaking from all the signing he had to do (autograph-signing was even more damaging to the wrist than tennis!), Ryoma seriously thought of hiring a bodyguard. Screaming fangirls sapped more energy than a long rallying match.
Just then, his cell phone started ringing.
"Yo, Echizen!" Momo's hearty voice greeted him. "Heard you're back in Japan."
"Momo-senpai." Now this was a pleasant surprise. "Long time no see."
After conversing for a while, Momo said, "Listen, wanna meet up this Friday? I've found a place that serves the biggest burgers you've ever seen!"
Having lived in America for six years, Ryoma doubted that Japan could produce a burger comparable to the monsters in the States, but he agreed. He wanted to see Momo, and all the old crowd from Seigaku.
"Great! I'll notify the others...the more the merrier! See you Friday."
When Ryoma hung up, he took a look at his watch. There was still plenty of time before his next class, but considering that he was accosted every five minutes, Ryoma decided he might as well start walking.
As he predicted, several girls came up to him in the relatively short walk from the school gates to the labs. If Inui were here, he might have his notebook ready: "Chances of Echizen being picked up on campus--200 percent."
Halfway to the labs, he felt a light touch on his arm.
Ryoma whirled around, thoroughly irritated. "I said no!" he snapped.
To his surprise, he met a pair of large cinnamon brown eyes that seemed strangely familiar to him. He knew those eyes. But when? Where?
"Sorry." The girl whispered. "I--your pen just--" she held out his fountain pen.
Wordlessly, Ryoma took back his pen. He continued to gaze at her--rather shamelessly--those soft brown eyes, the small, heart-shaped face, the tint of maple red in her nut-brown hair, which fell on her shoulders loosely in long, feathery curls. Now, a faint pinkness crept onto her cheeks, under Ryoma's unwavering stare.
He knew that voice. It has been six years since he last heard that voice, but sixty years later, he'd still recognize it.
A smile started to blossom. She was not drop-dead gorgeous, but there was a special magnetic charm around her. Something that he hadn't noticed before.
"Hai. I'm so glad you recognized me."
A few passing girls shot Sakuno death glares. She noticed, but parried them calmly. Having known the Seigaku regulars (a.k.a, regular hotties), she was used to dealing with petty jealousies and the like.
"When did you come back?" she inquired.
"Why? Sorry, I know it's none of my business, but I wondered..."
Ryoma shrugged. "My mother made me get a bachelor's degree."
"But why here? Why not America?"
Ryoma opened his mouth, but no words came out. Truth be told, he didn't know either. If he wanted to see his former friends, he could have just hopped on the plane and back. There was no need to dig out his Japanese passport, search for an appropriate university major that could fit his schedule, apply, pack a load of luggage, locate a suitable flat in a safe neighborhood, and of course, bring Karupin junior.
Maybe he simply missed having a proper Japanese breakfast.
"Just felt like it." he grunted. "Anyway, why are you asking so many questions? I don't remember you being so inquisitive, Ryuzaki."
"Sorry." she said instinctively. "I mean, it's been a long time. Anyway," she smiled. ", welcome back."
Her eyes were brimming with genuine pleasure, and somehow Ryoma found that refreshing. He disliked the fanatic/lunatic adoration showered on him as much as a cat hated rain, but Sakuno's simple friendliness was another thing. It was one thing he lacked and needed, especially since he turned pro.
Just then, the sound of the bell reached their ears.
"Oh no!" Sakuno's hand flew to her mouth. She was supposed to be in class in five minutes!
"Sorry. I have to go now!"
"Wait." The word slipped from his mouth.
Surprised, Sakuno stopped and stared at him.
"I'm meeting Momo-senpai on Friday night. Wanna join us?"
She smiled, but shook her head. "Thanks for the invitation, but I can't. I'm working on Friday."
"Work?" Ryoma raised his eyebrows.
"Yes. I'll see you around!"
Ryoma watched her hurry away, her long, red-brown hair flying behind her. It was a queer feeling; he couldn't remember one occasion when a female said no to him. Apart from his mother forbidding him to drink more than five cans of Ponta a day, but whatever.
Not that he cared. He just thought that since Momo said "the more the merrier", he might as well ask Ryuzaki.
Then he realized that it was five minutes past the bell. Crap.
Run, Ryoma, run!
Fuji Syusuke stood beside his car, waiting for Sakuno. When she came running down the street to him, the sash of her dress fluttering in the wind, he wished he had his camera with him.
In fact, he couldn't remember how many times he wanted to take Sakuno's picture.
It was strange, really. When he first knew Sakuno, he only thought of her as a shy little girl, trailing after Echizen like a lost kitten. After Echizen left for America, she seemed to have lost her interest in tennis. She did come to their games once in a while, but she looked tired.
A few months later, Fuji was helping the photography club prepare for the annual photo exhibition. It was Saturday, and the school seemed uncommonly quiet. While walking along the corridor, he suddenly halted.
Music was wafting through the air--beautiful, haunting, memorable. If music could be called food, what he heard now was a marvellous feast. First it sounded like a thunderstorm, and gradually turned into a light shower, like dewdrops slipping off a rose leaf, sparkling and clear.
He followed the source of the music, going up a flight of stairs, and arrived at one of the music rooms. Through the polished windows, he could see a slender girl bent over the piano, her fingers dancing up and down the keyboard, hitting the keys with remarkable precision. Not only was she able to get all the notes right; she poured her soul into the song. Through the melody, she seemed to convey a message that was bright, cheerful, and friendly.
Of the girl herself, he was unable to see her face, but her back profile was already a lovely picture. Her hair, like a silken waterfall, cascaded down her back, ending in curly ringlets. Her dress was the colour of lavender, the curves of her arms slipping out from the sides, and just in a fleeting second, he caught sight of long lashes and a small pert nose. She seemed familiar, but right now, he wasn't bothered about that. He happened to be carrying his camera, and the chance was too good to miss.
Fuji took out his camera, adjusted the lens to the right angle, and pressed the button, a second after the girl struck the last key.
The sound of the camera was audible in the air, and the girl turned. Brown eyes widened at the boy standing outside, camera poised.
"Ryuzaki." After the first shock, Fuji quickly fixed his most reassuring smile. "I apologize for interrupting you."
"No--I'm almost finished. What are you doing here on the weekend?"
Fuji told her about the photography club. "And then I heard the sound of music, so I came to see who was playing." His smile deepened. "I never knew you were so skilled at the piano, Ryuzaki."
Sakuno blushed. "Fuji-senpai is too kind."
After conversing for a while, Fuji encouraged her to play another song.
"Do you mind if I take a few pictures?" he raised his camera. "Just for practice; I need to improve my skills in snapping moving objects."
Sakuno complied, and played one of Chopin's most exquisite pieces. Fuji snapped away, and when he was done, he sat on a chair and leaned back, allowing the music wash over his ears.
That was the first of several meetings. There was no formal agreement; Fuji simply showed up when Sakuno was practicing, armed with his camera, and Sakuno, though embarrassed, allowed him take any number of photos to his heart's content.
Besides, it was better than being alone. Tomoka usually had to mind her brothers on the weekends, and even if she were free, she was easily bored. Fuji, on the other hand, was a good listener, and after she got used to his presence, his camera did not distract her. And if it was late, he always accompanied her home.
It was a weird sort of friendship, but not unwelcome.
When she entered university, Sakuno was surprised to receive a phone call from Fuji. His little niece, five years old, wanted to learn the piano. Could she spare some time for a few lessons?
Surprised, yet appreciating the chance to earn her own keep, Sakuno accepted.
Since then, the suspended friendship between them resumed. Sakuno went to Yumiko's house once a week to give the music lessons, and almost every time, Fuji drove her. It was no trouble, he insisted, and he could pick up Yumiko's daughter, Yuzuyu, on the way.
Knowing that Fuji was usually busy (he attended medical school), Sakuno sometimes made bentos for him. At first it was a challenge to adjust to Fuji's peculiar taste, but Sakuno had some natural aptitude for cooking, and soon had Fuji praising her culinary skills in no time. They would find an empty music room, and Fuji would finish his bento while Sakuno played the piano. Tomoka, along with many others, saw this as a romantic date, but Sakuno did not think so. Fuji treated her like a little sister (she sometimes suspected she was a subsitute for Yuuta), and she was only doing what she could to repay his kindness.
Sakuno leaned back on her seat, and glanced at Fuji. She had seldom observed him closely. Now she admired his neatly-combed hair, the colour of hazelnuts, his sapphire-blue eyes, his delicate mouth that was curved slightly upwards, as it usually was.
Fuji-senpai is really good-looking, she thought. It was strange that he didn't have a girlfriend. With his charming manners, handsome features, and that permanent smile, it shouldn't be hard. But as far as she could see, he treated every girl with the same reserved politeness. But then, she couldn't read his true feelings behind that cordial mask. Maybe it was unrequited love. Or...could it be love that dared not speak its name?
No! Sakuno shook her head quickly. How could she let her thoughts run wild?
"Ne, Sakuno-chan," Fuji's voice interrupted her thoughts. "Did you hear that Echizen is back?"
"Yes, I did." Sakuno sat up straight. "In fact, I met him today."
"Did you?" Fuji's tone carried a hint of surprise and amusement. "How fortunate, since our campus is enormous."
"Iie." Sakuno blushed. "I just happened to see someone's pen fall on the ground, and then I realised it was him."
"Well," Fuji turned round a corner. "Momoshiro texted me earlier. He's meeting Echizen on Friday, and wants to get the 'old crowd' together."
"Oh." Sakuno remembered Ryoma's invitation.
"I think I can make it, so if you're going as well, I can drive you."
"That's very nice of you, but I can't." Sakuno looked apologetic. "I've work on Friday."
"You can't ask for a day off?"
"I thought about it, but one of our waitresses caught a fever. We're already short of staff help, so if I ask leave as well, the restaurant will be a disaster."
"I see." Fuji said. "Sakuno-chan is a very responsible and considerate person. Your boss is lucky to have you."
"Iie!" Sakuno shook her head. "It's my job."
"Just make sure you don't work too hard, okay?" Fuji patted her head. "If Sakuno-chan falls sick, many people will be worried."
If someone else patted her on the head, Sakuno might be offended. She was twenty years old, no longer a child. But Fuji had always treated her like a little sister, it had become so natural that she barely noticed.
A/N: Hey guys! Hope that this fic hasn't bored you so far. Blame it on Fuji, I just love writing him, but NOT as a yaoi character. Don't get me wrong, slash is fine but just not my thing.
Personally, I think this fic is kind of a compensation for the paucity of romance in Princess of Tennis, though on the other hand, this fic won't be funny--I've used up my supply of humour! Also, as I'm also working on another story, this fanfic won't be updated very often--probably once a week.
Reviews will be much appreciated.