Author: Ayane Selznick
Summary: She was never this shy, never this quiet, never this distant, then again, what does he know about her?
Pairings: Ryoma Echizen & Sakuno Ryuuzaki
Author's Note: This is the first PoT fanfic I've ever written.
Timeline: Three years after the series
STANDARD DISCLAIMERS APPLIED
I. The Fading and the Changing
Echizen Ryoma, fifteen years of age, had conquered the U.S. and Australian Open. He had never neglected his studies. To prove it he chose a school where he was certain that his old pals were in – Seishun High. Now entering as a freshman once more, in a different world where he would meet subtle changes and pay heed to small and delicate things. Nonetheless, he knew that this time, his life would not only revolve around Tennis. There's always more to life.
He arrived at Seishun High School on foot. There was not much of a change in location since Seishun high was right next to Seishun Middle School. The only difference he knew was that he was about to enter a different environment where students were taller, nastier and things were more serious. It was not like he did not already have a career ready for him, but he knew that he must focus on something else that would aid in his future. Many people told him to become pro in tennis, and it sometimes irked him that people only knew him because of tennis. In his opinion, he felt that he only knew about tennis.
I'll show them.
The ever cocky and competitive teenager thought while he walked towards the tennis courts. It was funny as how he promised that he'd show them that tennis was not only one thing he knew when he was certainly joining the Tennis Club. His fellow friends were there too, Ryoma reasoned.
That sounds so eerily familiar. He smirked as he strode his way towards the courts. The members were running laps around the courts. He searched for the student who had ordered the laps but before he could set his eyes on him, a heavy slap resounded in his ears and a stinging pain from his back was all he felt.
He was pushed by someone from behind, but he was able to avoid a fall face first to the ground due to his reflexes. He seethed angrily, "What the--!"
Ryoma's eyes widened for a second when he heard that oh-so extremely loud yet familiar voice. Before he knew it, he was caged into a headlock.
"It's really good to have you here, really good!"
"Ittaissuyo (that hurts), Momo-senpai." He grumbled but felt nostalgic at the same time. How he missed being the center of attention as the youngest from the circle of regulars.
Momoshiro Takeshi, Momo-senpai or Momo-chan for short, removed himself from head locking his kouhai (lowerclassmen) and noticed something.
"You're not wearing your cap, eh?"
Ryoma turned around to face his senpai (upperclassmen) and gave him a smirk.
"Hmm. Momo-senpai easily forgets that I rarely wear my cap off the courts."
Momo's right hand flew behind his neck. He started scratching it, embarrassed at how easily he forgot. He laughed whole-heartedly before he spoke again.
"Well, you've certainly gotten tall, aren't you?" He placed his palm on Ryoma's head and then pointed to his own chin with the same hand.
"Wow, look at that. You've gotten really tall!"
Instead of having a proud gleam in the eye, Ryoma frowned. It wasn't too long ago when he last saw Momoshiro right? He was sure that Momoshiro had seen him grow taller.
"When was the last time we met, Momo-senpai?" Feeling doubtful, he certainly was a straightforward person for inquiring.
Momoshiro looked back at his kouhai with raised brows before he rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
"Hmm… when was it huh? Hmm…"
Ryoma rolled his eyes. When you dealt with Momoshiro and his memory bank you had to be patient for an answer. Sighing, he looked over the courts to watch the Tennis members stop in front of a regular. By looking at the person's height and hairstyle, Ryoma had no doubt about the person.
So the Fukubuchou (Vice-captain) is now a Buchou (Captain)? Hmm…
Ryoma was brought back to his conversation when Momoshiro finally remembered their last encounter.
"It has been two years and a half, yeah two years and a half," He beamed at his buddy before continuing, "Remember? During the mid-year of your junior year you were called again for another tournament abroad. Then as far as I know you only came back when you're in senior year. My, why did you take so long in that tournament anyway?"
Ryoma pouted, unwilling to remember the reasons behind his extended absence. Besides, would it do any good if he shared how frustrated it became when he was mobbed by the media after he won the tournament? He was also offered with several endorsements, too. He was so irritated by them that he even told his parents that he wanted nothing from except competing in Tennis tournaments. He didn't need exposure or anything. Just Tennis—
—Oh great. Didn't he want to show his friends that Tennis was not the only thing in his life? Such contradiction.
"It doesn't matter." Ryoma changed the topic quickly. "Is Oishi-senpai the Buchou?"
Momoshiro looked at the courts before responding.
"Nope. Tezuka-buchou had to skip morning practice for a meeting." Momoshiro grinned widely. "Well this surely feels nostalgic. The super freshman arrives once again!" And then he laughed as loud as he could.
When Momoshiro walked him to the courts and loudly announced his arrival, all the members of the Tennis Club threw their ears and eyes on them. Apparently, everyone in the team knew Echizen Ryoma and his victories in Tennis competitions. Some members even entered the Tennis Club because they were inspired by Ryoma.
His friends from his middle school days welcomed him with bright faces and yells like "OCHIBI!" and "ECHIZEN!" Of course it wouldn't be completed if his hyperactive senpai didn't try to hug him to death. Even in high school, Eiji-senpai hadn't changed the way he treated his kouhai. Next to him was Oishi-senpai who was almost near to tears when he approached the freshman. He started asking him how he was and Ryoma just answered him nicely.
Inui-senpai never really changed either. He still held a green notebook that has loads of Tennis Data (or out of Tennis related stuff). He was dropping mathematical statements again and a new threat of his new concoction. Kaidoh-senpai was behind Inui-senpai as he gave a nod to Ryoma (a man of few words like Tezuka).
Lastly, Fuji smiled and nodded at him. Before Ryoma could ask about Kawamura, Fuji told him that Kawamura had started focusing on his father's sushi bar. Ryoma remembered that Kawamura-senpai mentioned to them that the Nationals would be his last game. Ryoma maintained his cool façade though he felt sad when he found out that they were missing a friend. Fuji-senpai added that Kawamura had entered Seishun High so they could still see him regularly.
They talked for a few minutes, allowing Oishi to let their members rest. They asked him about his competition, his life in general, and told him a few stories. Ryoma felt like he had missed a lot of things but he was also glad because he was finally reunited with his seniors.
During the years when he was abroad, Ryoma learned the art of observing society and was able to finally pinpoint few changes here and there. For example, Momo and Kaidoh finally stopped arguing like brats. Their arguments would likely start with a spark of sharp tongues and smirks and then glares…that's all. No more "wanna fight?" or direct insults. At least they've matured.
Then Ryoma looked at Eiji-senpai while the latter started talking about girls. Ryoma never actually thought that Eiji would be so casual when talking about girls, at least he wasn't telling stories about his favorite toothbrush or the fish at his favorite pet shop. His topics had reached the next level. Next to Eiji was Oishi-senpai. He was giving advices per usual, to Eiji. Gentle as he had always been but his super motherly concern finally vanished. That only proved that he's growing into a responsible and full-blooded man.
Ryoma had yet to find out if Inui-senpai, Fuji-senpai and Tezuka-buchou had changed because Oishi announced dismissal; the first bell would come near. Oishi told Ryoma that he could sign up during afternoon practice and that Tezuka would be glad to see him. Ryoma took his leave with a nod as he proceeded into the building.
Walking quietly, he observed every student when he felt a familiar aura walking behind him. He blinked once before he decided to look over his shoulder.
And there, the battle in his memory began.
She was walking gracefully towards him. Her hands were delicate, holding her bag. A heart shaped face, thanks to her hair which framed her cheeks. Her auburn hair, even now, was long and probably reaching her hips but it wasn't tied in a pair of pigtails or braids—it was loose. And then her eyes, the same color as her hair, used to have a cheerful yet shy sparkle. Now her eyes were blank and dead.
Ryoma thought he had mistaken her for someone else; he was looking for signature elements in her to help his memory. When she finally stopped walking he noticed that she was looking back at him. Ryoma thought that it only proved that they knew each other. He only forgot her name.
Before he opened his mouth for a direct inquiry, the girl spoke. "Ryoma-kun."
His eyes widened when she spoke his name. His brows furrowed together as if scrutinizing her more. His golden eyes remained fixed on her face as he tried to remember her name.
The girl noticed his silence. Fortunately, she decided to help him before he tormented his mind further.
"It's me, Ryuuzaki Sakuno."
Ryoma blinked twice. The girl with wobbly hips, sucked at Tennis, wore pigtails and had a noisy best friend. She was the one he often saved. She was Coach Ryuuzaki's granddaughter.
It was her.
But her eyes were different from that time. Her eyes were once unable to look him in the eyes, but she was able to today. Other than that, those sparkles… those bright sparks on her eyes. They were gone.
He wondered what happened to them.
They both entered their classroom, finding out that they were going to be classmates for a year. Ryoma was searching for cheerful reactions from her which she usually had in middle school, but none of it came even when she smiled back at him. Her smile did not even reach her eyes. It was dull. Plain. A fake.
Ryoma never really cared for those people around him. Perhaps he had given them some thoughts but he had never showed them. But what he was seeing today, in front of him, set off a strange curiosity.
What happened to Ryuuzaki Sakuno?
He watched her find her seat amongst the circle of students. Some faces were old, most were new and yet Sakuno did not speak to anyone other than Ryoma. Ryoma remembered that they had once become classmates; it was in their senior year and from that short span of time, he had known her habits inside the classroom.
Normally, she'd start talking with girls or Tomoka, her noisy best friend, which by the way was no where inside the room. Her voice was meek and quiet while her best friend was her ultimate opposite – scandalous and loud. Sometimes Kachiro, Katsuo and Horio would interrupt and Sakuno would never hesitate to speak to them. But whenever Ryoma came in their conversation she would start blushing and stuttering. She always did that when he was around and Ryoma always thought that it was strange.
It was rare of her to talk fluently with him. On occasions like when he was leaving for his first tournament in U.S. Open, or when he was late and Horio became his substitute figure to save the team, she always seemed so nervous and shy. Today, when he saw her and her new image, he doubted if she was really Ryuuzaki Sakuno. She spoke fluently and was able to look at his eyes. It was really some change.
When he found his chair by the window, he put down his things and sat down quietly. But even before he could sit down to rest he was mobbed by girls and boys alike. He forgot that everybody in Japan knew his face.
This is the time where I need that noisy girl, Horio, Kachiro and Katsuo to fend them off.
Sad to say, all the names he mentioned entered a different school.
During lunch break, Ryoma decided to pay a visit to the courts. He was on his way out when a passing thought crossed his mind. He looked back at the direction where Sakuno was sitting during class only to find the seat empty. He frowned. After pursing his lips, he quietly left.
He spotted Kaidoh and Momoshiro on their way to cafeteria but Ryoma didn't give his presence as he trudged his way silently to the courts. He arrived there and saw some members taking extra training. He remembered that he never trained during lunch; all he did was go up on the rooftop to either sleep or snag lunch treats from Sakuno or Tomoka.
"Reminiscing the old days?"
Ryoma's shoulders' tensed. His eyes narrowed.
"Fuji-senpai." Popping out of nowhere to surprise everyone. He never changed. Ryoma turned around to face him and gave his senpai and curt nod.
Fuji smiled at him as always, before standing beside him. "We all thought that you wouldn't come back after the Nationals. You seem to be enjoying Tennis everywhere."
Ryoma did not say anything. He had attended many invitational tournaments and official matches everywhere but he certainly did not enjoy the threatening crowd mobbing his way before and after matches. It was excruciating.
Fuji continued without a pause.
"Your batch mates must've started searching their own dreams as well. They helped you after we left Seigaku but they certainly have their eyes on something else. Don't you think so?"
Ryoma really didn't know what Horio, Kachiro and Katsuo were doing right now. He only thought that they liked Tennis. He remembered Horio being proud of his two years of Tennis experience during their freshman days. Because of his help and guidance when he became the captain, Horio learned discipline, respect and techniques. They were even used during tournaments.
But as always, Ryoma was oblivious of what his friends were aiming at from the beginning. He never cared anyway, even until now. "Whatever." Was all Ryoma could say.
Ryoma need not look back at his senpai to know his reaction. Fuji only smirked before he started walking away.
"We're glad you're back, Echizen."
Ryoma looked over his shoulder and watched his senpai's retreating back towards the building.
Yeah. Glad I'm home.
To be continued…
Author's Note: YATTA! Finally a start for a multi-chapter story for PoT! Mah, I really don't find any confidence with my grammar, so if you'd like to help, as a beta-reader of this story, I'd appreciate it :D Well, see you on next chapters!
Edited: 08/18/07 by fantasize.dream.
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