Blanket Disclaimer: Sadly, I do not own Prince of Tennis :( I just enjoy torturing it's characters from time to time…
This story is written in a radio-head POV, basically Ryoma's thoughts during a big match after Sakuno confronts Ryoma about his feelings for her. Will follow with Sakuno's POV after her confession. The conclusion is now up!
Love Her Not
All his life he had heard this phrase. And never once in all those years had he attributed any meaning to the later half of the expression as anything other than zero, zilch, nothing, nadda, game over, you lose. Even now, with what could be his immediate and distant future hanging in the balance, did he ascribe any certain relevance to that suddenly ambiguous four letter word. What was so simple yesterday, suddenly seemed a world away.
Do you love me?
For the life of him, he could not get that phrase out of his head. What was that supposed to mean? The real question should have been, what is love? Did he care for her? Sure, he wouldn't have wasted his time critiquing her shoddy tennis skills if he didn't care. Wouldn't have bothered eating the lunches she always prepared for him if he didn't hold some measure of compassion for the clumsy pig-tailed girl.
Do I love her?
He certainly felt a measure of attachment for her. He'd just grown used to her he supposed, she was always around; her and her obnoxious friend whose name he'd never cared to remember. Hiding in the background and blushing whenever he looked her way. He remembered, while straining to hear between the stuttered mumblings that seemed to become her speech whenever she spoke to him, that he preferred her soft dulcet tones to that of her loud and abrasive friend's.
Do I love her?
He had to admit, though a bit grudgingly on his behalf, that he really did appreciate the support she garnered him at every tennis match she would attend; which seemed to be quite a few. He'd come to recognize the influence her presence had on his game, though it had only seemed to take a real effect in the last couple of years.
There were certain superstitions pro tennis players subscribed to in the event of a big match. Using a certain grip tape, or wearing a certain pair of socks, something that always seemed to remain constant for winning matches. It had taken him about a year to admit, if even to himself, that she was his. Her presence calmed him, he could see that glowing smile in the stands that shown only for him, regardless if he won or lost, and be able to push that much further for the win. If only to receive that radiant smile face to face, accompanied by an even brighter flush and a stuttering congrats.
Do I love her?
He'd never thought twice about the emotions she stirred within him, never bothered giving them a name. With time he had come to expect certain reactions his body would have to certain actions she would make. Her smile was the simplest but also the most effective way to make his stomach turn, and not in an entirely unpleasant way. The way she would puff up and scrunch her face at him whenever he made comments about her hair being to long, though she refused to cut it. He'd never tell her, but he liked it better long anyway.
He supposed he could give this emotion the name of affection. He looked out for her, and she supported him. Imagine that? Suppose pillars of support need their own supports sometimes. She never complained about his tennis, never told him she'd rather he'd stay when he left to prepare for a match. She viewed their limited time spent together as precious, not to be interrupted by petty wants and useless grievances.
Do I love her?
He held a grudging respect for her complete and total devotion to him and his dreams. He could tell, she didn't hold much care for tennis herself, hadn't even seen a match before she met him. He was the one who had inspired her to start playing, he doubted it would really matter to her if he suddenly quit. As long as it was something he wanted to do, she would support him.
Unlike the other fan girls that flocked for his attention, she liked him for him, not his tennis. Perhaps that was the reason she was the one he would always look to for comfort and advice. Not necessarily about tennis, she couldn't tell him one way or another in that department anyway, it was the other parts of his life that he concerned her with. And she would shoulder the burden with the utmost consideration, leaving him at a loss to remember what it was he had come to her for in the first place.
Do I love her?
He certainly desired for her. He could not count the scandalous rendezvous, and heated embraces they had found themselves privy to since they hit high school. It had started out so innocent, neither quite as sure as the other of what was supposed to happen, yet enjoying the learning experience immensely. He'd come to find out that all of the things he had criticized her for in middle school, were the things that he liked about her the most.
The way her tremulous but curvy hips fit perfectly in his hands, the milky soft skin of her shapely legs as he brushed his fingertips across her thigh in the barest caress that always left her blushing. The long silky locks of chestnut brown that fanned out down her back in long waves when let out of their tight braids. His favorite attribute though had to be her lips, soft and full and utterly kissable in their slightly pink bow shaped splendor. He could kiss her for hours and never get enough, which he tested wherever and whenever he got the chance.
Do I love her?
Honestly, he didn't know. Of all of his feelings for her, his experiences, his familiarity with her, he never stopped to question what that was. Why he felt what he did when he was with her, why all of his thoughts seemed to accumulate on her whenever he was feeling down or depressed to lift him out of his stupor. He'd always assumed it was friendship, a deep seated trust and understanding that existed between them. He had never given much thought to love. It was an inanimate word, as unimportant a word as water, or breeze. Love meant absolutely nothing to him, never had, never would.
So did he love her? The answer was no. He didn't love her, it was so much more than that. He needed her, adored her, respected her, trusted her, desired her, cared for her, and all of the above. Though nothing so important as she was his. His support, his confidant, his friend. Love was just a word in the midst of his sentiment for her.
If he had to distinguish the feeling amidst everything he had ever experienced in his life, he would almost liken it to winning. The feeling of gratification and accomplishment you get after you've achieved a goal. The rush of adrenaline and pride accompanied by a sense of longing for that feeling never to end. If he likened love to winning, it was a sure shot yes, but love had never been a winning statement to Echizen Ryoma, who'd had tennis drilled into his skull since he was big enough to swing a racquet. He had no answer to her question; not one easily put into words at least. Only the awareness of his feelings for her and the hope that he would someday be able to show her just exactly what she meant to him.
Game set and match to Echizen Ryoma, six games to love!
For now though, he would keep winning. He would prolong this feeling for as long as he could. Then perhaps when the rush of success and victory wore off he would finally be able to voice his feelings for her. Until then, he would continue to show her the only way he knew how, hoping she would understand. Love is not what is important, it's the point that counts.