Playing By the Rules
By Kimmy

This is something I did for the LiveJournal community -- pontapairworks. Go check it out sometime -- there are a lot of wonderful works there.


"Ne, Ryoma-kun, what are you doing?" Ryuuzaki Sakuno blinked from her position in the doorway, looking hesitant. "We're supposed to be practicing." She watched her tutor in confusion as he opened up the wooden case he had been holding.

After doing so, the tennis player sitting on the floor glanced up at his coach's granddaughter from under the bill of his hat. "You look tired," Ryoma replied. "Sit down."

The tone was casual, but what Ryoma had actually said caused Sakuno to falter. You look tired -

Yes, she was tired; anyone would be after practicing for three straight hours with the star of the Seigaku tennis team -

Sit down.

- But her being tired had never stopped Ryoma from working her hard again immediately after their break. "Eh -- Ryoma-kun, there's only a few minutes until our break ends."

Ryoma rolled his eyes and waved the subject away. "Just sit down, Ryuuzaki."

Now Sakuno was more confused than ever. If Ryoma knew there were only a few more minutes until their break ended, then why was he acting like it didn't matter? Casting one last dubious look at the tennis prodigy, she tentatively walked into his living room and joined him on the floor.

It was only then that she noticed what exactly was contained in the wooden case. Her eyes widened.

"Do you know how to play chess, Ryuuzaki?"


It was apparent by the way she lost her first three chess games that she didn't.

It was apparent by the way she lost the next two games that she probably didn't even know what chess was, let alone how to play it.

At the end of the fifth game, Ryoma had lost interest. "You can go now, Ryuuzaki," he said, balancing his chin on his palm in boredom.

Sakuno gaped. "Eh? Are you sure, Ryoma-kun?" Taking a longer break than usual was strange enough - but now he was actually canceling her lesson?

Ryoma nodded. "Tell Ryuuzaki-sensei I'm sick," he said, jerking his head toward the door. He knew the excuse was an awfully flimsy one, and he didn't need Inui-senpai there to tell him that the chances of his sensei believing it were very, very low.

But he went with the excuse anyway; twenty laps around the tennis court was a small price to pay compared to spending two more hours with the clueless girl in front of him.

He watched her as she rose and exited the room with a small goodbye. When she was out of sight, the tennis star sighed. He had thought that playing chess with Sakuno would be a welcome break from their redundant rounds of her trying and failing to return a tennis ball. Maybe she'd supply an actual challenge for once, he had thought just that morning.

Of course, he had never thought that perhaps Sakuno didn't know how to play chess. Which had, ultimately, been the fatal flaw in his plan.

Ryoma looked to her future tennis lessons with him in displeasure. Could he really bear hour after hour teaching her tennis and hoping she learned something? Anything?

Goodness knows he had tried for the past four weeks, but it seemed that, when it came to tennis, the girl just simply could not soak anything in.

When it came to tennis, a sport that she had grown up with, she was so awful it wasn't even funny.

Ryoma chuckled. Well, alright. Perhaps just a little bit funny, then. He thought back to today's earlier lesson, and chuckled again, remembering the way that Sakuno had gone tumbling into the net as she dove for his drop shot, resulting in a rather painful-looking mess of limbs and braids. An amused snort escaped Ryoma, didn't he tell her that her hair was too long?

Why, when it came to tennis. . .

Ryoma paused in his recollection. When it came to tennis...

His grin grew wider. That was it! Sakuno obviously wasn't improving in tennis, why waste time trying? Instead, Ryoma would attempt to teach her chess! He, after all, deserved a break, didn't he? If his father could spend the day lazing around and reading his dirty magazines, then why couldn't Ryoma spend two hours teaching the tennis-clueless girl chess? It wasn't a big improvement, sure, and he wasn't quite certain just yet that she wouldn't just fail at chess as well, but he'd give it a try.

It was the lesser of the two evils, wasn't it?

The younger Echizen chuckled once more in satisfaction. Yes, this was great. After a shortened tennis lesson (for Ryoma was quite sure Ryuuzaki-sensei wouldn't allow him to skip out on it completely), he would break out the chess set and teach her.

. . .Or at least attempt to teach her.

"Oi, Ryoma."

The boy looked up and met the eyes of the elder Echizen. Ryoma was not quick enough in hiding the remnants of his fit of chuckles, and knew, at the sight of his father's own grin, that his father had formed some wrong (very wrong) conclusion in his head. "What?" Ryoma said irritably, his face morphing smoothly back into its default expression.

Nanjirou's grin was evident from a mile away. "Oh, nothing. I was just going to ask you for a match, but it seems you're too busy thinking of Sakuno-chan to do much else."

Ryoma tugged down the bill of his cap to hide the pink that stained his cheeks. It was true, Ryoma had been thinking of Sakuno, but certainly not in the way that his father was implying.

But. . .why, then, did Ryoma feel so embarrassed?

. . .And why on earth was he blushing? It wasn't as though Nanjirou had any clue what Ryoma felt for Sakuno (which was nothing, Ryoma would be quick to remind you.)

Ryoma struggled to regain his composure. "Get your racket," Ryoma bit out, rising from the floor and feeling irrationally angry for his embarrassment. He planned on making up for his moment of awkwardness by beating his father into the ground.


The next week, when she arrived, he led her to his living room again (careful to avoid his father, lest the old man jump to more conclusions), tossed her a grape Ponta, and told her to sit down again. After seeing the confused expression that he had gotten accustomed to seeing over the weeks, he rolled his eyes, and repeated, "Just sit down, Ryuuzaki - I won't bite." The girl blinked at his actions, but once he rose an eyebrow at her from under the bill of his cap (an action that sent many an opponent scurrying), she immediately sat down.

"What are we doing, Ryoma-kun?" she asked tentatively, once she had settled opposite him.

"I'm teaching you how to play chess, and you're going to learn."


The first few lessons went well enough - Sakuno seemed to grasp the basics fairly quickly, and other than a few issues with which pieces do what - "No, the bishop isn't the one that moves like that," and "The pawn only moves forward, Ryuuzaki, follow the rules!" - Ryoma was content. She was doing better than he had thought, and she also started improving, though slightly, in tennis as well. Better than anything, he was no longer bored. All in all, Ryoma felt proud of himself (and of Sakuno, though he would only grudgingly admit it if you had asked him.).


The weeks passed, and nothing much changed on the home front for Ryoma, not counting the increasing suggestive remarks from his father every time he passed by and saw Sakuno in his living room. Ryoma liked to pretend it didn't bother him (what scared him, however, was just how easy it was to "pretend".)

Meanwhile, things on the school front were changing drastically. Horio's two years of tennis experience were finally paying off, and Sakuno's friend, Tomoka, had suddenly started eyeing him in a strange, hungry way. Momoshiro had started dating Tachibana An, the Golden Pair was growing ever closer (so much so that Ryoma wondered just how close it was possible for two boys to get), and Inui was busy tempting strangers into his new grass vinegar juice.

What's more, a new teacher had filed into his science class and started a reign of terror on the students of his chemistry class. Most of the class started failing, and, unfortunately, "most of the class" included Ryoma.

Soon, Ryoma was far too busy trying to maintain his grades so he could remain on the team that he had no time at all to spend with Sakuno.

Of course, this didn't bother him.

Not at all.

It wasn't as though he tossed and turned at night, trying to figure out a way to tell her.

And after he did that, it wasn't as though he tossed and turned at night, trying to figure out exactly why he felt so empty.


The next few weeks were the weeks from hell. Ryoma's tennis schedule and chemistry work began to clash in a way that prevented him from getting very much practice time in. Tezuka wasn't happy, but then again, not so much as Ryoma himself, who spent his days wallowing in Ponta, Chemistry, and his own depression.

It was twenty-three days and 49 cans of Ponta later that Ryoma finally had time to speak to Sakuno (not that he had been counting down the days until he could speak to her again or anything).

He had been hurrying down the hallway to his Chemistry class when he heard a high-pitched squeak, laughter, and then the sound of shoes dashing away. Ryoma looked in the direction of the commotion, half expecting to see another unfortunate little boy being harassed by upperclassmen, but was instead greeted by the sight of Sakuno on the floor, surrounded by fallen books.

An emotion that resembled something like fear gripped Ryoma, and he found himself suddenly pushing through the crowd with a hoarse, "Oi, Ryuuzaki!"

Ignoring the whispers that were starting to spread, Ryoma settled on his knees beside the fallen girl. He surveyed the damage; there wasn't much, if anything. "Stupid girl, what happened?"

"Ah, Tomoka-chan was chasing Horio-kun, and they ran into me," Sakuno replied, ducking her head.

Ryoma sighed, ignoring the feeling of relief that came flooding into him. He stood up and offered her a hand. "Get up; I'll take you to the nurse."


It was another two weeks before Ryoma's grade increased to the point where he could actually have a good night's sleep. Ryoma and Sakuno crossed paths many more times in those two weeks, but each encounter left Ryoma feeling slightly used. It seemed he was taking a lot of his time to do things for her, opening doors when she was perfectly capable of opening them herself; buying her a drink just because she said she was thirsty, and things of that nature. Of course, Ryoma didn't particularly mind; he had decided long ago that Sakuno was a decent girl, and wouldn't go chasing him around like her friend did with Horio.

But then again, Ryoma wasntt that bright of a boy when it came to these matters. The thought never occurred to him that perhaps he actually really liked Sakuno, and instead attributed his behavior to his opinion that anybody who wasn't Tomoka was a decent person and deserved free drinks every once in a while.

But of course, Ryoma couldn't lie to himself forever.

It was around February when it happened. Sakuno had asked Ryoma to meet her near the tennis courts, so she could give him back his team jacket. Why again did he give it to her? Oh, right. She said she was cold.

Frowning, Ryoma glanced around once more. In the distance, he could see Horio running away from Tomoka again. "Get away from me, you stupid bi - oh, Tezuka-buchou!"

Ryoma shook his head, and turned away - and bumped into something that smelled very good. "Ryuuzaki?"

"Ah, Ryoma-kun!" she inclined her head. Ryoma noticed the jacket she had pressed to her chest.

His jacket. Against her chest.

Why did his cheeks suddenly feel all hot? He shook his head to clear his thoughts. "Er, Ryuuzaki, I need to get to practice, so could I get my jacket back?"

Sakuno nodded, and graced Ryoma with a small smile. "Of course," she said, and offered his jacket back.

As he took it, Ryoma felt the distinct urge to take off running. So he did. For about two steps.

And then he fell on top of Sakuno.


The nurse's office was quiet. Ryoma adjusted his position in the metal chair next to Sakuno, and heaved another heavy sigh. "Okay now?"

She nodded. She was avoiding his eyes.

Ryoma opened his mouth to say something, but what came out was completely unexpected. "Sakuno."

The girl's eyes widened, and her mouth dropped open. Ryoma winced; he had not meant to say that.

After a few seconds of silence, Ryoma finally gave up. He took off his hat. "My brain doesn't work around you, Ryuuzaki," he explained. He pointed to the bruise that was now forming on his forehead; a result from his fall. "See?"

Sakuno was silent, though Ryoma could detect a faint blush blossoming over her cheeks as a sign of her awareness. He, meanwhile, could only frown at his confession and accept his fate; that Ryoma liked Sakuno, and nothing was going to change that anytime soon. He liked Sakuno, and Sakuno made him do things that he would never have done before the chess games, before the tennis lessons. He was a slave to what he felt for her, a pawn.

Something echoed in his head (perhaps it was another result of the fall, he mused), "Your move."

Ryoma decided that he was going to make the most of it. Might as well, he figured. Perhaps he'd finally get his father off of his back if he got a girlfriend.

"Hey, uh - Ryuuzaki."


"Are you free this Sunday?"

After all, as Ryoma told her weeks before, pawns can only move forward -


"Good, because I'm taking you out for ice cream."

- and Ryoma had to play by the rules.




So yes, I know that Ryoma's actually a good science student -- the reason why he's failing Chemistry in this fic is because it was what was happening to me at that time. So I incorporated it into the story.