A/N: Thanks to Olivine for editing this chapter!
Three years later…
Osakada Tomoka and Tachibana Ann walked down the busy streets in Tokyo's Shinjuku area on their long-awaited shopping spree.
"I can't believe there are so many people on a Wednesday afternoon," Tomoka grumbled, after she managed to snag the last beaded purse in a store.
"You underestimate the consumer power from the younger generation." Ann smiled, indicating a group of giggling school girls in mini skirts.
"Oh god, that makes me feel so old." Tomoka shook her head. "Can you believe that we're nearing our mid-twenties?"
Ann grinned. "Or that you just dumped your eleventh boyfriend?"
Tomoka made a face. "Don't mention him, okay? I just want to move on and find someone better! Not that I have to look hard… he was such a jerk."
"There are many kinds of people in the world." Ann said thoughtfully. "Some people, like you, can fall in and out of love many times. But there are people who only need to fall in love once for it to work out."
As though illustrating her point, the giggling schoolgirls suddenly started shrieking and pointing at an enormous built-in screen in the center of a tall edifice. The screen often showed the latest movie trailers and commercials.
At that moment, a Tiffany&Co. commercial was being played.
A young woman, arrayed in an elegant strapless black gown, was seated before a handsome grand piano. Her reddish-brown hair was gathered in a chignon at one side of her head, showing off the slenderness of her neck. A single red rose was pinned in her hair, and a heavy silver necklace glittered on her front.
She was playing the piano, the tinkling of keys matched well with the background sway of cellos and violins.
Then a young man approached her, and laid a hand on her shoulder. Dressed in an Armani suit, he looked so incredibly handsome that one wondered why he wasn't hauled off and given the lead of some Hollywood blockbuster film.
The woman stopped playing and looked up. The background music continued.
The man's other hand was outstretched. An exquisite silver ring, carved with intricate patterns and encrusted with diamonds lay on his palm.
The woman looked surprised for a second. Then a smile blossomed on her heart-shaped face.
She slowly raised her arm, and the man slipped the ring on her finger. He didn't smile broadly, but he wore a satisfied, contented look that conveyed how happy he was that the woman accepted his ring. The woman, on the other hand, was positively glowing. Her sweet smile contrasted with her sophisticated outfit, but her radiant look was infectious. It made you want to smile appreciatively with her.
The last scene of the commercial showed a large, gleaming image of the beautiful Tiffany ring, while the couple stood in the background. The man had his hand on the woman's cheek, while her hand was placed on his waist. They were not locked in a passionate embrace, yet somehow their position and expressions implied that they were deeply in love.
"Omigod!" gushed a schoolgirl, in a tone remarkably like Tomoka's while she had been at Seigaku. "I'd give an arm and leg to film a commercial with Echizen Ryoma!"
Her friend slapped her arm and giggled, "Even if you were given the chance, you'd swoon when you saw him!"
"It doesn't even matter." Another girl sighed to them. "He's getting married. To the girl we just saw, in fact."
"What? So you mean--this commercial--it's REAL?"
Tomoka and Ann looked at each other and grinned. This wasn't the first time they'd heard someone breaking their heart over the loss of Ryoma.
As they walked away, Ann remarked, "That was a brilliant idea, though, the commercial thing. Or Sakuno would have to wait another year to go abroad."
"I never would have thought it was Shiba-san's idea." Tomoka said, shaking her head. "When Sakuno told me, I was like, what? That reporter who used to follow us in Seigaku's games and even had sushi with us?"
It had been indeed Shiba who had suggested that Sakuno do some modeling or commercial work. Shiba had been struck by Sakuno's sweet, fresh look when she met her at the orphanage, and she had been further determined to help Sakuno when she learned of Kyouhei bothering her. So Shiba persuaded Sakuno to take up different work, pointing out that her studies abroad would certainly be delayed if she relied solely on her part-time jobs.
It hadn't difficult. Once Ryoma called for a press conference and announced to the whole world that he was engaged (and shocking everyone, who had assumed that he was either asexual or gay), Sakuno became famous. Reporters swarmed around her for juicy details, willing to pay a fortune for an exclusive interview (though this was all for naught; Sakuno was just as anxious to preserve her privacy as Ryoma was). And companies that were begging Ryoma to sponsor their product were eager to include Sakuno. She had never made so much money in her life.
"Well, it's a good thing she did." Ann smiled, shifting her bag on her shoulder. "I remember Sakuno had been so stubborn in refusing to let Ryoma pay for her tuition and stuff. She didn't want him to think she was marrying him for his money."
"Like Ryoma-sama would care." Tomoka shrugged. "I just knew he was gaga for Sakuno. When she fell ill and had to stay at his place…That look in his eyes--ouch! I'd be burned if anyone looked at me like that!"
Ann laughed. "When's the wedding?" she asked. "I hear they plan to marry once Sakuno graduates from Julliard."
"Oh, I suppose some time in July or August. It's still several months away." Tomoka suddenly got very excited. "Yoshi! Do you realize there'll be loads of rich and famous guys at their wedding?"
"And loads of rich and famous women." Ann reminded her, causing Tomoka's face to fall.
Fuji Syusuke strolled on the sidewalk, glad to have a break from his training in the hospital. He had finished the necessary coursework, and was already a practicing doctor. Once he obtained the license, he could officially embark on his career as a pediatrician.
When he passed a magazine stand, he noticed that the cover of Entertainment Monthly featured two people he knew quite well.
A picture of Echizen Ryoma, in the motion of smashing a tennis ball, occupied half of the cover, while Ryuzaki Sakuno, standing in front of a grand piano, took up the other half.
Tennis champion and budding pianist tie the knot, the caption read.
Fuji purchased a copy of the magazine and opened it. The featured article began as follows:
After two years of engagement, Echizen Ryoma (24), World No. 1 tennis player and the youngest person in history to achieve a Career Grand Slam, has announced his marriage to Ryuzaki Sakuno (24), a rising new star in the world of classical piano. Echizen, who is currently preparing for his 26th Grand Slam tournament (Wimbledon), plans to move to New York to live with his future wife, who is expected to graduate from Julliard School this summer. Ryuzaki is reported to have been offered a spot on the New York Philharmonic, one of the handful of Japanese musicians to have such a chance. It is rumored that Echizen has purchased a $60 million townhouse on Madison Avenue as their future home...
Fuji closed the magazine. It had been three years since he proposed to Sakuno. No one, not even his family, had known how much he had suffered when Sakuno rejected him as Fuji seldom let his feelings of pain surface. But he had devoted himself to his studies, had taken care of Yuzuyu when Yumiko had been busy, played tennis with Yuuta, and slowly, the pain had abated.
Now he could read about their upcoming wedding with a fairly neutral mind. There was still a faint ache in his heart, but if Sakuno was happy, then so be it. He would prefer that she smile with another man than repress herself with him.
The photos of Sakuno in the magazine were well taken, though he privately thought his own collection was better.
Which reminded him there was still something he had do.
Echizen Ryoma yawned and stretched on the king-sized bed, where he was reading the paper. He didn't feel like getting up, but there was a knock on the door.
A butler entered. Ryoma was staying at Lanesborough Hotel in London while competing in Wimbledon. The hotel provided a 24-hour private butler for every guest. Normally, Ryoma did not like having someone wait on him all the time, but there was so much fanmail coming in (some fans even stalked the hotel) that it was handy to let someone else deal with the trouble.
"Parcel for you, sir." The butler said respectfully.
"Leave it on the table."
"Very good, sir." The butler left after a short bow.
Ryoma took his own sweet time getting up. It was so annoying. Even though he made it clear to the world that he was engaged, his fans didn't seem perturbed. Matt, his agent, had suggested losing in a tournament to halt the fan income, but losing was a foreign word in Ryoma's vocabulary. At least for some time.
When he finally launched himself off the royal-blue bedspread, he scanned the parcel warily. There were things he had received previously that he really wanted to forget.
But when he found the sender's name, he blinked. It read Fuji Syusuke.
A parcel from Fuji. Sakuno's ex-boyfriend.
Otherwise known to be an evil sadist, no matter how kind and serene he appeared to be.
And considering how he had stolen Sakuno away from Fuji's arms, god knows what the tensai might do to him. Could this be part of some nefarious plot? Maybe the parcel contained a ticking bomb to do away with him, as part of a Getting-Sakuno-Back conspiracy?
Ryoma tensed. He wondered if he should ask the butler to come in and open the parcel for him.
No, that would be stupid. Maybe it was just the latest innovation in Inui's experiments. Then again, if it was Inui juice, it would still count as a lethal weapon; the fumes alone could kill.
It took him an entire fifteen minutes of standing and musing before realizing how stupid he was. As Courtney would say, he was an idiot when it came to Sakuno.
Ryoma pulled the parcel open. To his surprise, it contained a photo album and a box.
When Ryoma opened the album, he was stunned. Photos and photos of Sakuno, like glittering jewels, shone before his eyes. They were so well taken, every one of them, capturing her sweetness perfectly.
A message was attached on the back, written in Fuji's hand:
I have been photographing Sakuno-chan for years, and developed the best of them in this album. The rest I also give to you, as it would be more fitting that you possess them than I. Consider it as an early wedding gift.
Make Sakuno-chan happy.
Ryoma read the message twice. When he opened the box, it was filled with films.
Mixed feelings ran through him. He was slightly irritated that Fuji had spent so much time with Sakuno as to take so many pictures of her, and also slightly jealous that Fuji had the ability to observe the soul and essence of her. This album was more than enough evidence.
But then, what did it matter?
Sakuno didn't choose him.
Perhaps Fuji had a role in her past, but in her future, Ryoma would definitely take the lion's share.
Browsing through the photos, Ryoma was suddenly seized with a strong desire. Seeing her in the album wasn't enough; he wanted to see her in person.
Ryuzaki Sakuno propped her elbows on the handrail and gazed at the sunset. Her apartment was on the sixteenth floor, so she was blessed with a good view. Whenever she felt tired or down, she'd come to the balcony to clear her mind.
Life had never been better. New York City did not disappoint her; she had seen numerous concerts and shows, some even for free. And not just classical music either. She had also enjoyed live jazz, rock, and even rap. And Julliard was such a wonderful experience too. Studying under masters, perfecting her skills, practicing with friends...she loved every minute of her life.
It wasn't all smooth-sailing, of course. There were rough times: when the weather was extreme, when people bothered her on the street, when the subway went on a strike, and most of all, when she missed her friends.
Tomoka and Nodame had both visited her; the former for pure amusement, the latter for a musical performance. Nodame had joined an orchestra in Europe and was doing quite well, in spite of her eccentric ways.
Ryoma also visited whenever possible. Although they had been engaged for two years, they could rarely see each other, as they both had hectic schedules. His parents, who resided at a luxurious house in Long Island, often invited Sakuno over, and already treated her as their daughter-in-law. Sakuno liked Rinko, but she was a little uncomfortable with Nanjiroh, who kept teasing her about her and Ryoma.
"So the brat finally found himself a girl!"
"When am I going to see my grandchildren, eh?"
"Need any help with baby names?"
Suddenly, light footsteps sounded behind her. Before Sakuno could turn around, strong arms wrapped around her body--lovingly and protectively.
His breath tickled her cheek. "I told you to drop the honorific."
"I know. Sorry, old habits die hard." Sakuno mumbled. "But how come you're here? I thought you were in London! I just saw the news this morning that you won--"
"I wanted to see you." He said simply.
Sakuno turned rosy red.
"I'm glad," she said softly. "I missed you, Ryoma."
She turned in his arms and smiled at him--a smile that Ryoma was familiar with, yet could never resist. Bathed in the glow of the setting sun, she was irresistible.
He leaned down and kissed her, with all the longing, passion, and desire he held for her. Sakuno felt like she was melting from the warmth of the sun and the heat from his body.
When he finally released her, he whispered, "Play for me."
"Eh?" Sakuno's brain never functioned well when she was recovering from his kiss. Even though she had had plenty of experience in Ryoma's expertise, he still had the ability to take her breath away.
"The piano. Play a song for me."
Sakuno smiled. "Sure. What song would you like to hear?"
They went inside. Sakuno sat down before the piano, placed her fingers lightly over the keys, and thought for a second. Then, having made her choice, she began to play.
Ryoma stretched out on the couch, his eyes half-closed. The sound of music washed over him, and he felt relaxed and purified. Invigorated. Such was the powerful effect Sakuno had on him.
He could lay there and listen to her play for the rest of his life.
A/N: Finished!!! Finally I can write the two magic words--"the" and "end!" (Dances wildly round the room) There was a point when I thought I'd never finish the story, but I just loved the idea of the Tiffany commercial, which is also the part of the ending I envisioned even before starting the story! I'm so elated that I've reached it!
However...I must say I'm not 100 percent pleased with the story. Halfway through I got seriously blocked, probably because Ryoma's acting like a jerk, and I feel that I don't like Sakuno much as the story went--not that she isn't strong enough, she just became kind of boring, prudish, too modest, and too pretty for her own good. Hmm... then why the heck am I writing a RyoSaku story anyway? I don't know. Every time I set out to write something, the outcome isn't what I expect...
Still, it's such a relief to finish this story! A big thank you to everyone who has read this story and given me support! I'm so glad you stuck with me to the very end! Arigatou gozaimasu!
ps. I've already a couple ideas for a FujiSaku story, but since I'm SO behind schoolwork that I don't think I'll be posting anything until Christmas. Which would you'd like to see first--a simple school story that overdoses in fluff, or a steamy medieval romance in which Fuji is a real prince?