Inner Taro: WAAAAHHHHHH! 'TIS THE LAST CHAPTER...
Inner Kin: The readers can read, you know. (hands tissue)
Inner Taro: Now I'm going to wallow in unrequited love for the rest of eternity... and what's even more heartless is that I'm not even in this chapter.
Inner Kin: -.-" All good things must come to an end.
Inner Taro: T.T
"Hey, I bought those carnations, so I should be the one giving them to her.." Suzuki grabbed the bouquet from Tashiro's hands.
"You bought them with my allowance. Get your hands off!" Tashiro retorted, holding them out of his teammate's reach. Suzuki jumped forward to seize the bouquet, and they had a moment of tug-o-war before the bouquet fell apart, the petals showering to the ground.
Fukushi sighed. "How could I have not seen this coming? Really, I amaze myself. How am I still sane after being around you guys for so long?" He pushed open the door to Kin's hospital room. Sunlight poured from behind the white translucent curtains, bathing them in an ethereal light. Tucked in white hospital sheets, Kin focused her concentration on a small book in her hands. Her left leg was lifted with a bandage, encased in a hard white cast. As her gaze lifted to see the incoming Ginka regulars, her eyes widened with a combination of surprise, alarm, guilt and regret. But soon, it was replaced by a wide grin that stretched from ear to ear.
"It's this idiot Tashiro's fault!" Suzuki pointed an accusing thumb at a furious Tashiro.
"Oh yeah? How about I make carnations out of you?" Tashiro began to emit a murderous aura. To their amazement, Kin was laughing. Her vision was hazy with tears.
"You guys haven't changed at all." She choked back a sob. "But don't worry, I have plenty of bouquets to replace that one." She gestured towards the walls, which were lined with an impressive display of perennials that dwarfed Tashiro's puny carnations. "Ah, Doumoto, you've been released?"
"For a while now. Sorry to disappoint you, but you can't keep me away for long," he grinned broadly.
"Oh, you guys, I don't know what I can say or do to make up for how I treated you." Her voice nearly broke.
"Don't worry about it. We've all forgiven you. Neh, Fukushi-buchou?" Hiroki nudged the pouting captain.
"This was their idea, not mine," Fukushi snorted. "I just hope you get out of that ridiculous gown soon so we can play a game of doubles again."
"I'm sorry to disappoint you, Fukushi-senpai, but I don't think that's going to happen." She lowered her eyes, downcast. "I'm not going to come back to the tennis team. Actually, I plan not to pick up another racket in my life." Everyone gaped in disbelief.
"That's—that's a lie!" Fukushi slammed his palms on her bed. The mattress creaked. "They might have forgiven you, but I haven't. The only way I would ever forgive you is if you beat me in a tennis match." His eyes glinted dangerously. "Of doubles."
Hiroki sighed and placed a hand on his outraged captain's shoulder. "What he means to say is that no matter what happens to you, you're still the Heart of Ginka. No matter what your decision is, we're here to support you all the way. Fukushi may never admit it, but he's had his share of guilt too. He's been practicing doubles ever since you guys fought, and for him, a doubles match would be his own redemption."
"Che." Fukushi crossed his arms, a slight blush rising in his cheeks.
"You all are really going to support me all the way?" Hope rose in her chest. "After everything that I've done to you?"
Kiyoshi poked her between her eyebrows. "Whether you like it or not, your decision's not just yours. All of our lives are intertwined, including your older brother's, your pathetic boyfriend's, even that arrogant brat Echizen's. You're a fool to think that your decisions only affect yourself."
Her eyes sparkled in realization at the truth. "You know what? You guys grew up when I was gone." She couldn't restrain her tears anymore. She gripped everyone's heads in a fierce bear hug with an iron grasp. "You guys are the best! I couldn't ask for more... I love you all."
"Of course, idiot. Don't flatter yourself."
"Who asked for your opinion?"
"Come on, do we have to go through this every minute of our lives?
'All right, so maybe not all of us grew up completely, but... I wouldn't have it any other way.'
-In an Alternate Universe Far, Far Away-
Her fingers caressed the package gently. Inside was a microcosm of accomplishment, pain, memory and love. It was past time Kin had returned Sato's diary. Her notes were still scribbled in there, but there was no helping that. Now two hearts were secured in this thin album of paper and ink. With the help of the librarian, she had tracked down the address of Sato's granddaughter, scribbled in the front.
There was no return address. She didn't want it back. It was high time she let go of her past. 'You're going to regret this.' Perhaps her conscience was right, but right now she didn't care.
"Hurry up, Kin, or else your brother's flight is going to leave without him," her mother called from the front seat.
"Coming!" Her fingers let go as it slid out of her grasp into the mailbox. Picking up her crutches, she wobbled hastily into the car seat. She slid to the seat next to her brother. "Let's go." She fastened her seat belt. As the car zoomed down the road, she felt the eerie sensation that her brother was staring at her.
"Kin, how tall are you now?"
She smirked and licked her lips. "174 centimeters."
"How tall are you?" Kin challenged.
"182 centimeters." Kin deadpanned. Her eyebrows furrowed in concentration 'That's all right... I still have two years. That would be, eighty-two minus seventy-four divided by four... Oh screw it, I was always hopeless at math.'
"Four centimeters each year for the next two years."
"H-h-how did you..."
Kunimitsu turned his head to face the window to hide a small victorious smirk. She was too easy to read. That was why he never took her too seriously.
"Kunimitsu, isn't there something you need to tell your sister?" From the mirror, Kin could make out the tug on their mother's lips. 'Is she smirking?'
"Hey, what are you guys keeping from me?" Her heart was pounding from curiosity.
"Your mother, your brother, your grandfather, Aoki's parents and I have all discussed this together, and we've decided that it's the best decision for you," her father explained from the steering wheel.
"Truth is that Atobe-san had filmed your entire match and shown it to me. During Atobe's match, many scouts had their eyes on me, but I refused their invitation," Kunimitsu began.
"Because there was one scout who also saw your match with Atobe, and believed in your potential. He's willing to take in both of us, after rehabilitation of course." His eyes were unreadable as usual, but what was that—smugness?
She blinked. A moment of silence descended upon the car, and everyone was tense, waiting for Kin's response. She pressed the rewind button in her mind.
"A SCOUT?! You mean a professional scout?" She was shouting at the top of her lungs into her brother's ear. "But I—I promised that I wouldn't pick up a racket again."
Kunimitsu frowned slightly. 'She may be saying that now, but it's in her blood. I knew it was going to end up like this since that first moment I saw her play with Echizen.'
"This... this is some kind of sick joke, isn't it? Me, a pro?" she sneered, and she felt a lump growing in her throat. "You guys are sick, you know that?"
It wasn't exactly the reaction her parents were hoping for. "Honey, this isn't a joke. Far from it."
"Okay then, maybe it's a dream." She pinched herself. "Ow."
She pinched her brother's arm. A vein popped in his head. "What are you doing?"
"Okay, so it's not a dream." Then she was struck by a realization. "Wait, you guys talked to Taro's parents? So he knew about this before I did?"
"I'm sorry, but we weren't sure how you would react," her father explained. "Both of you are going to receive private tutors. Don't get your hopes up, Kin. I'll make sure that math doesn't get skipped."
Everything was happening too fast. One moment she had dropped off the book that encased the heart of her tennis, and now she was going to become a pro?
"I—I'm not ready for this. I'm just a typical thirteen-year-old loser who wallows herself in self-pity," she protested, stupefied.
"Far from it, Kin. The furthest from typical one could become," her brother disagreed. She was flabbergasted. Nothing was registering in her mind yet. She wasn't strong enough to become a tennis pro. Who was she kidding? The thought of playing women's singles at the Wimbledon or US Open was simply too incredulous to comprehend. She opened her mouth, but what could she say?
The car zoomed by Taro's house. Taro had always been there for her. He would always be her pillar. Flashes of Ginka Chuu passed her vision. Hiroki gave her a thumbs-up. A beat-up tennis racket was proffered from Fukushi's hand. Even her math teacher, Kikyo-sensei, gave a slight nod of approval. Yumiko, Syusuke and Yuuta were eating out at local restaurant. From a distant corner, Mizuki had his binoculars ready. The bloodshot eyes of Kirihara, who was dressed in Rikkai's captain jacket, penetrated her gaze. Atobe smirked as he annihilated his opponent, and she didn't wait to hear the words that came out of his mouth. Echizen was walking casually along a sidewalk, his racket tucked snugly under his arm. As their eyes met, he lowered the visor of his cap. 'Mada mada dane.' As the images passed her eyes, she found herself staring at her own dim reflection in the window. Inner Kin's eyes were sharpened in concentration, her arms crossed across her chest, and her tongue licked her lips. Hell, she must be dreaming. She was hallucinating about her own conscience. Inner Kin's mouth opened, saying the last three words that were truer than truth.
'...Akebono no Owari...'
-The End of the Beginning-
Bleh. All right. Not exactly what I had in mind. That ending was supposed to be the ending of the sequel, but since I won't be writing one, it was a completely impulsive decision to end it here. Hopefully, I won't regret it. I doubt I will.
I think I'm going to reedit the entire series, but I don't know about re-writing. There are so many plot holes and things that I completely forgot about: Yuuta and Kin winning a doubles match against Syusuke and Shiraishi, the ENTIRE Akutsu arc (can you say memory loss?), the entire part about neglected Yori, the entire Tezuka family going hiking, her grandfather giving a verbal beating out of Kunimitsu for his treatment of his sister, etc. There are so many little plot twists that I forgot, some because I'm too lazy to write them, others because I planned poorly (hey, I originally did plan a sequel.) There's also the problem of the fact that freshmen in the tennis club don't do more than fetch balls and practice swings (thank you so much for the reviewer who pointed that out.)
But the most important thing is, thank you everyone. (Perhaps only one out of three readers will be reading this A/N anyway.) Every single one of you, my readers, has my deepest gratitude. It's amazing to think that I published this story only slightly a year ago. If I had known that the anniversary was coming up, I would've published this directly on the one-year anniversary, but oh well. Thank you for joining me through the roller coaster of the confusing plot holes, the epic character arcs, and the parody-spawning histrionics. Now that I look back, my writing has really improved. There's also the miracle that this story has never been flamed. Sugoi, neh?
I have made so many inimitable memories. There are so many names I want to mention, but the most important one is Lieyan, or JAMES. She was the one who introduced to Prince of Tennis—hell, even fan fiction itself, and the one who saw the first drafts of Monster. Forgive me, JAMES, for being an anti-social jerk, but I really will miss you because we're going to separate high schools next year. Hopefully that won't weaken our friendship. (Insert friendship speech from Yu-Gi-Oh!) When you become famous, hey, don't forget your fan fiction buddy, neh? Neh, JAMES, I did finish this fic after all.
The main reason I'm not writing a sequel is because my heart is set to write other projects, so look forward to that as well. I plan to finish a Sai/Sasuke short series, salvage something readable out of The Bonds That Bind (my Eragon/Murtagh fic), write an epic Yu-Gi-Oh! Fic (SetoxOC and NoahxOC with the same OC, and I swear it's not completely horrible), this ridiculously difficult sci-fi plot that involves a post-apocalyptic virtual reality, a horror story about an innocent little girl with the ability to force very nasty, very gory suicides upon her enemies, and a fantasy series about a beautiful sacrifice to the water goddess. Of course, the latter three will be published on Fiction Press, perhaps as joint projects. There's always the problem of an autobiographical short story I'm going to enter in a local writing competition. Thank you for reading my ramble, because I have no idea why I'm writing this.
Remember Kin's words? "You guys are the best! I couldn't ask for more... I love you all." Well, I turn them to you, because those words are truer than truth.