XLVI. Halcyon Days
I will never regret what I believed on that day.
The day of parting is just another promise of our destiny.
A lonely kiss as our hearts go separate ways,
I wish I had met you in the past.
Someday, I'll miss the painful memories.
- "It's Too Late" by Weiss Kreuz
It was a sunny Saturday afternoon in Tokyo. Businessmen, students, civilians, and children loitered around the busy streets of the commercial district.
Despite of the normal fast-paced action going on outside, it was extremely peaceful inside the particular café where a group of teenagers were lounging. It was their free day, after all.
"I never thought I'd see the day when you would sulk around your favorite cake."
Jackal was staring at Marui Bunta as if he'd grown another head. The site was just so out of this world for him, considering the fact that he had never seen a cake last for more than five minutes once Bunta lands his eyes on it.
Yagyuu and Niou, who accompanied the doubles partners to the café, were also giving their red-haired teammate amused stares.
The volley specialist shrugged uncaringly in response to Jackal's comment. "It's just not the same…" he commented with a heavy tone.
"Well excuse me for not being able to bake a cake that's good enough for you."
They all turned their heads towards the girl who just approached their table, carrying a tray of drinks for each of them. She had a light scowl on her face as she was placing the drinks on their table.
"Aw, come on, Tachibana-chan," Bunta whined to placate the girl, "you know I didn't mean it in that way."
"I know." An sighed and a melancholy look suddenly came over her face. "I was just kidding anyway."
There was a pause as they all remembered the horrible nightmare they went through and the lasting consequences it left in their lives.
"It's been a month, huh?" Niou spoke, breaking the silence.
An just nodded, feeling somewhat depressed.
"I miss her," she whispered sincerely.
Yagyuu smiled at the Fudomine manager in an understanding way. "We all do. But you know that she wouldn't want us to act this way."
An returned the gentleman player's smile. "You're right. She's that kind of girl." Then, she suddenly remembered something she's been meaning to ask ever since the boys came into the café.
"How is that idiot doing by the way?"
While An finds his presence annoying most of the times, she must admit that she was starting to miss his visits to the café.
"I asked him to come but that brat refused just like last time. He said he had homework to do." Bunta snorted. "Yeah right, as if he ever cared about homework before."
"It's like he knows…" Yagyuu mumbled with a slight frown.
"That can't be," Niou curtly rebutted and then raised his empty plate to An. "Can you get me some more of that chocolate cake you just baked from the kitchen? Unlike this guy," he inclined his head towards Bunta's direction, "I actually like it."
An sent the trickster a skeptical look though the flushed appearance of her cheeks indicated that she was pleased. "Really?"
Niou nodded. "Yap, it's pretty high class."
The younger Tachibana then smiled slightly at the trickster, noting that he has been a lot nicer to her ever since she got out of the hospital. He hasn't even pulled a single prank since then. Maybe the Rikkai player has also been changed for the better.
"I'll be right back," she soon said as she excitedly went behind the counter and into the kitchen to get the trickster's cake.
Niou leaned back on his seat and started counting in his head.
The other Rikkai players simultaneously sat up straight when they suddenly heard a splash and then the sound of a metallic thing hitting the floor.
There was a 3-second gap of complete silence, and then came the outraged scream and An's frustrated mutterings about a "silver-haired monster who has no soul and thus would never ever change."
Yagyuu, Jackal, and Bunta automatically looked at Niou and sent him accusing stares.
"What?" Niou uttered, trying to put on an innocent face. When his teammates didn't buy his act, he finally let out the amused chuckle he had been trying to hold.
"She makes it way too easy."
Though they had a rocky start, the players were finally able to look forward to their lives returning back to normal again. Of course, they wouldn't forget certain memories that they have all shared—happy times that they may never experience together again.
On the corner display table of the café, a gilded picture frame was standing. Inside is a photo that An and the Rikkai regulars particularly treasure.
In the picture, which was taken inside the same café about three months ago before everything happened, the Rikkai Dai boys—Niou, Yagyuu, Bunta, and Jackal—stood posed with Kirihara, Sakuno, and An in front of them. Kirihara had one of his arms around a blushing Sakuno while his other hand was making a peace sign. Bright smiles were all on their faces.
Below the picture was a one-line dedication that An had written:
No matter how much time will pass, our memories together will never fade from our hearts.
It was quiet and peaceful in the area of "their" secret lake—just the way he wanted it.
At the moment, Ryoma was sitting under the cover of a huge tree, his back leaning against its trunk as he rested idly.
He liked that place. It always reminds him of her. And though there were no fireflies fluttering around the area at that time, his mind can easily visualize her image dancing around the fireflies like on that night he took her to that place.
If only he was given a second chance…he'd take her there again.
And he would never hesitate unlike last time.
His eyes fluttered closed.
He was tired.
Tired of thinking about her.
He wanted a nap.
Maybe then he can temporarily escape reality and meet her in his dreams again.
He was about to succumb to one of his favorite hobbies when he felt a vibration inside his shorts' pocket. He tried to ignore it for about half a minute but when it didn't go away, he groaned and finally took out his phone.
Ryoma glanced at the caller ID and saw that it was Oishi calling. The fukubuchou better not be calling for another "out-of-the-blue" training they recently started to have a lot of.
"Uissu," he muttered sleepily over the phone.
His cat-like eyes were half-closed but soon snapped wide-open in alert when Oishi started to explain why he was calling him.
The fukubuchou wasn't even done explaining the situation when Ryoma suddenly hanged up, got up from his resting position, and grabbed his tennis bag that was lying next to him.
Within the next second, the prince was gone from the lake, leaving the place empty and quiet once again.
Ryoma was panting by the time he got to the hospital. He had sprinted the entire way to that location.
Once he turned a corner at the end of a hallway in the building, he was instantly greeted by the site of Tezuka and Oishi, who both appeared to be talking to a doctor and two nurses.
Their backs were facing him so they didn't sense the prince until he was only two feet away from them.
The tennis prodigy had no choice but to patiently wait for them to finish their "little talk." It'll be rude if he just barged in during their conversation. To his relief, not even a minute passed before the doctor finally finished what he was discussing and left with the nurses.
Still slightly out of breath, he approached Tezuka and Oishi, who both turned to finally acknowledge him.
"Echizen," Oishi greeted him with a teary smile. "She has woken up."
Ryoma felt like a huge burden had just been lifted off his chest. For a second, he forgot to breathe. It had been too close of a call.
By the time the helicopter arrived with the medical team, she had already lost her pulse. They had to use the portable electric defibrillator in order to restart her heart and he remembered watching in cold dread as her limp body refused to respond to the treatment even after the first two shocks. It was the third that finally did it, though the medical team was still worried about the massive loss of blood from her body.
They had transfused more blood into her but warned them that the damage might have already been done. The trauma her body experienced would most likely force her body to shut down and she would slip into a coma.
And she did…
One long month of unresponsiveness.
Thanks to Atobe's help, they were able to acquire a room for the brunette in a prestigious hospital and have the best medical team work on her condition. But even with them, her situation was hopeless.
They had honestly informed Ryoma and the other regulars that there's a high probability of her staying in a comatose state for the rest of her life.
They had prepared themselves for the worst, but also tried to remain positive. Tezuka, though still recuperating from his injuries during the first two weeks, almost never left her side. The same can be said about Ryoma as well as most of the Seigaku regulars. And even after a month had passed, they still visited her daily. They wanted to be there for her in case she wakes up one of these days.
And they hoped with all their hearts that she will.
From time to time, the regulars from other teams also paid her a visit—mostly because they were concerned, but also because they were grateful. She did save all of their lives without thinking of her own. And thus, they are forever in her debt.
Ryoma didn't hesitate a second longer, and finally asked Oishi, "Can I see her?"
He had been waiting so long for her to wake up and now that she finally has, he couldn't think he could wait a second longer.
Oishi turned to Tezuka with a consulting look in his eyes. "I think the doctor said we're allowed to see her. Right, Tezu—?"
To the fukubuchou's and Ryoma's surprise, Tezuka was already walking away from them and towards Sakuno's room. They quickly moved to follow him, but he had gotten there first.
Before he shut the door, he muttered one surprising sentence to them in his ever-so-serious voice: "I get first dibs on her."
And then he shut the door on their faces, locking it after him.
For a few seconds, Ryoma and Oishi were stunned as they were left wondering whether they had heard the stoic captain right.
Did he just really say that? More importantly, since when had he started using slang?
And then Ryoma got over the fact as he suddenly realized something else.
"That was under-handed, buchou!" he growled in annoyance at the closed door.
Tezuka approached the brunette slowly, not wanting to scare her. He did have his cousin's face, after all. Who knows what her reaction might be if she suddenly sees her attacker's image by her side? She might freak out.
He noticed that the girl was sitting up with her upper body leaning against the headboard. She was staring at a jar that is full of paper cranes on her bedside table. Most of them have been made by him, but some have been added by other regulars when they saw the jar by her bedside.
The captain watched as she turned her head towards him slowly. Her face was still very pale. To his surprise, there was no hint of fear or suspicion in her eyes when she saw him. It was as if she instantly recognized that it was him, and almost automatically, a warm smile appeared on her face.
"K-Kunimitsu-nii…" she called, her voice still weak from a period of temporary disuse.
Tezuka paused in his steps when he was about a foot away from her bed.
"I know that you also want to see the others, but within the next three minutes, Echizen would obtain the key to this room and barge in. The other Seigaku regulars will be arriving within an hour as well. I want to exchange a few private words with you before then," he explained to her in his ever-so-serious tone.
Sakuno maintained the smile on her face. She really didn't mind sharing a private moment with her nii-san. After all, it's been so long since they actually talked to each other. She definitely missed him. She missed spending time with him.
"I'm in trouble, am I not?" Sakuno asked with a pout.
Tezuka closed his eyes, his silence indicating that his answer was in the affirmative. He was never lenient with her and he's not gonna start now.
"I told you to stay away from this dangerous business."
"G-gomen. After I learned that you were involved, I just couldn't," the brunette confessed.
Tezuka was quiet for about a second or two, before he finally said:
Sakuno blinked and then gave him a confused look. "For what?"
"Believing in me the entire time."
He stared at her, his face remaining stoic, but she was able to sense the warmth in his words. This is Tezuka Kunimitsu she was talking to, after all. So even just a little bit of something coming from the ice captain already means a lot to her.
She was about to mouth a reply when Tezuka turned his head away from her and attacked her with his lecture again.
"But you were still careless. You should've never let your guard down," he said as he crossed his arms in front of him.
"Haiiiii," she just answered obediently, knowing she was being scolded mostly for worrying him too much. Besides, though she found it kind of hard to believe, she also missed his lectures.
"I missed you, Kunimitsu-nii," she finally said, wanting him to know about her feelings. "I am so glad to have you back with us."
Tezuka's shoulders stiffened a bit upon hearing her bold words of affection. However, his form gradually relaxed as seconds ticked by. He still wasn't used to participating in displays of affection, no matter how private the situation may be. But then again, he thought he can make an exception for her. He owed her that much after the extreme proof of faith and loyalty that she had given to him over the past weeks.
"Hn," he finally grunted as a reply.
Fortunately, he didn't need to say anything. She understood what he meant by that simple grunt.
He missed her too.
And that's what he liked most about her. He didn't need to say things to be understood. She knows him that well.
Before they can continue their conversation, they heard the clinking of a metal from the door. It was instantly followed by the sound of the door opening in a rush and in came Ryoma, with Oishi following unsurely after the boy.
As Tezuka had predicted, Ryoma asked for the key to Sakuno's room from a nurse and forced his way in.
There was no way he is going to let his Tezuka-buchou hog Sakuno all day.
Though once he was inside, he found himself not being able to do anything but just stare at her.
She just stared back at him too.
It was pretty awkward, actually. He thought the moment would go more smoothly.
But then again, they were also being closely watched by two of their senpais. Not to mention, Tezuka was giving him "the look." The very same look a protective father would give his daughter's suitors.
And coming from Tezuka, it was more than intimidating. It's almost creepy.
"A-ano…" Sakuno started, her cheeks flushing for no apparent reason.
Ryoma glanced at Tezuka and was frustrated to find that the stoic captain didn't appear to have any intention to leave the room at all. How unfair. He had his moment with her already.
"Your hair is still too long," Ryoma finally said, not really wanting to say anything else in front of his other senpai-tachi. He had already made a fool of himself in front of the stoic captain while they were in the basement of the temple. He didn't need a repeat of the incident.
Oishi almost face-palmed while Tezuka just raised his eyebrows slightly. On the other hand, Sakuno found herself smiling fondly upon hearing the familiar statement.
Some things will never change.
Sakuno's room soon became crowded as the other Seigaku regulars arrived to see her. They were among the first people Oishi called when he learned that Sakuno had woken up.
Naturally, Eiji had come rushing into the room, intending to engulf her in his bone-crushing hug.
Fuji had the right mind to grab Eiji's arm in time and effectively stop him from crushing the girl. The tensai had kindly explained that she was still recovering so it's better not to put too much stress on her body at the moment.
Within a few minutes, she found herself surrounded by familiar sights:
Eiji hugging a very frustrated Ryoma, with Momo joining in to tease the prince about how concerned he was when his "girl" was in a comatose state. The poor boy could do nothing but mutter under his breath and lower his white cap to cover his flaming red cheeks.
Fuji and Taka were talking in a corner, finding amusement in Ryoma's frustration. Oishi was watching them with a smile as well.
Of course, Inui had his notebook open and was furiously writing down data about the "progress" in her and Ryoma's relationship based on the facts that Momo and Eiji allowed to slip out of their mouths as they continued to tease their "ochibi."
Sometime later, Momo randomly made a comment about Kaidoh's kill-joy attitude, which eventually turned to a full-blown bickering between them.
By then, Tezuka had picked up a book and started reading in a corner of the room to drown out the noise.
That was when Eiji suddenly came up to Sakuno, carrying a pretty big box. He turned over the box in the air and dumped an unbelievable amount of "get well soon" cards right on her lap.
"See, Sakuno-chan?" the acrobat said excitedly. "Tons of people looove you too. Though we were kinda selfish and didn't call them yet since we wanted to be with you first. Heheh." Eiji scratched his nose sheepishly, and soon pointed to a pile of flowers and gifts on another table in the corner of the room. "You have those as well."
The acrobat went back and forth the table and her bed as he tried to show her the gifts.
There was a bouquet of many beautiful and exotic flowers that came from Shiraishi. The Shitenjouji team had sent her a box full of rice cakes from Osaka as well.
There was a simple sunflower in a pot that came directly from Yukimura Seiichi's personal garden at his own house.
And of course, the Hyoutei team (courtesy of Atobe) had sent her bouquets of flowers of all sorts of colors and sizes. They were wrapped in expensive-looking papers.
There were more flowers and food sent by the Fudomine, St. Rudolph, and Yamabuki teams as well.
As there were tons of cards on her lap, Sakuno was eventually tempted to read them. She was curious to see who had sent them. To her surprise, she found that almost every tennis regular involved in the murderer business had written her a card.
Some were simple and sounded forced, as if somebody had threatened them to write the card.
"Get well soon already! —Shishido Ryou"
Some of them were funny like Zaizen's and Kenya's card.
"Dear damsel in distress,
You overdid it a bit.
Following Zaizen's dedication were Kenya's words.
"Wake up soon and end my kouhai's misery! He is madly (in-love) amused with you. —Oshitari Kenya"
The word "amused" was written on top of the scratched out "in-love" and appeared to be Zaizen's correction to Kenya's dedication. To prove it, there was another line from Zaizen right below Kenya's words.
"P.S. Excuse the correction on top. My senpai is an idiot. — Zaizen"
Others were just plain surprising like Kintarou's card, which had messy scribbles all over it—front and back! The red-haired first year started off wishing her to get well soon but then went off in a tangent about other random and weird things. Nevertheless, she got what the boy was basically trying to say.
As she continued to inspect other cards, she also found some that had flattery and flowery language like Oshitari's card.
May you awaken from your slumber soon and make a lot of princes happy. –Oshitari Yuushi"
Sakuno was amused to find that some of the cards were so personalized that she can tell who had sent them just by opening them—like Niou's and Sanada's cards for example.
Niou's had released an explosion of flour that covered her face right after she opened it. There was also a written "Yours truly—Masaharu Niou" next to a happy face inside the card.
On the other hand, Sanada's card contained an ancient haiku that was personally written in the fukubuchou's magnificent calligraphy. The brunette couldn't help but admire his sense of tradition.
Even Kabaji had sent her one! Though it was a typed up "get well soon" card that had "Ossu" in his own handwriting along with his name below it.
The most eye-catching one among them was an expensive-looking card that looked slightly bigger than the standard one. It had a silver seal bearing the Hyoutei Gakuen's symbol in front of it. When she opened it, she was startled to discover that it was an invitation to an island resort set sometime during the Christmas break. It had stated that select people along with the Seigaku, Rikkai, Hyoutei, Shitenhouji, Fudomine, St. Rudolph, and Yamabuki tennis regulars are invited and "persuaded" to come.
Sakuno's eyes suddenly widened. Could it be…?
It was Fuji who confirmed for her that it was indeed an invitation to the trip that she had mentioned to Ryoma, Hiyoshi, and Kirihara when they were at the temple. Even more surprising was to hear the fact that it was Hiyoshi who had mentioned her wish to Atobe. After all, the Gekokujou player didn't exactly act like she was the most pleasant person to have around during their brief time together. It was touching to know that the second year Hyoutei player had done such a nice thing for her. She has to personally thank him some time. And of course, the others who had been kind enough to send her cards and presents as well.
Indeed, she felt truly lucky, and at the same time, undeserving, to be surrounded by such good people.
She was teary-eyed by the time she got to the last cards.
However, she also noticed that there was one person who had not sent her anything—not even a card. She told herself that she shouldn't be bothered. But since everyone, even Kabaji, had sent her one, she felt kind of hurt. After all, he was one of the people she held closest to her heart.
Her fear and insecurity escalated over the time that she spent recuperating in the hospital. A lot of familiar faces from the other teams had dropped by to see her at least once—even his own teammates. But there was no sign of him.
She had asked about his whereabouts more than once, but nobody wanted to answer her. They just told her he was doing fine. They swore to her that he was perfectly well, but didn't say anything else as to why he hasn't visited…or called…or texted…or even passed on a greeting.
It wasn't until she was released from the hospital weeks later on that she finally learned the truth…
And what a painful truth it was.
Three months later.
Sakuno was walking along an unfamiliar busy street in Tokyo. It was funny since she lived in Tokyo all her life and yet she could swear that she had never seen the place around her.
Nothing looked familiar to her.
At the moment, the girl was dressed-up nicely, thanks to Tomoka's make-over plan. She was wearing a pink hoodie, a black mini-skirt that wasn't too short to show anything important, and matching black boots that ended about an inch below her knees. Her long hair that had stylish, wavy ends was unbound and free to fall on her back like a graceful waterfall.
"Mou," she cried, worried. How the heck does she still manage to get herself lost in her birth place? It's pretty pathetic!
She continued along the street until she finally reached an area that she was able to recognize—she was standing right in front of the entrance of the newly opened amusement park.
Well, it has been opened for a few months already, but it was still new to her.
She suddenly remembered that Kirihara had planned to take her to that particular amusement park—a promise that was made a long time ago and hasn't been fulfilled yet. Before she can continue her thoughts, she heard loud male voices coming towards her way.
"Oi, we've been coming to that amusement park almost every week," Sakuno heard an unfamiliar voice say, most likely addressing one of his companions. "I thought you wanted to pick up girls, at first. But you don't even look at them when you go in there. You just have this lost look in your eyes as you stare at the rides in a daze. Are you going nuts, Kirihara?"
Sakuno instantly felt herself freeze upon the mention of the name. Slowly, and fearfully, she turned her head towards the boys' direction.
"Keh, of course not! I just wanted to check out the arcades in there," the junior ace bluffed. He was wearing his Rikkai Dai school uniform, with a few opened buttons on his polo top. The tie was also slightly loose around his neck in a ragged and bad boy fashion.
"The arcades suck. We have better ones in Kanagawa," his other friend said.
Kirihara was about to open his mouth again when he suddenly came face-to-face with a startled-looking Sakuno, who stood in front of him.
They stared at each other for a while—both of them just looking into each other's eyes.
One of Kirihara's companions looked from the junior ace to the girl, then back to Kirihara again.
"Do you know this chick?" he finally asked.
It took a moment before Kirihara answered, and when he did, he was back to his carefree mood as if nothing had happened.
"Not really. I think she's the manager of our rival team, but I can't be sure. Who cares?"
The junior ace then passed by her like he didn't even see her in the first place. His two companions followed him soon.
Sakuno slowly bowed her head, thoroughly crushed by his words. She knew she shouldn't be. It was perfectly understandable why he would act that way. But it was just…too painful.
"Too bad. She was kinda cute," she heard one of Kirihara's friends say as they were walking away.
"You pervert," Kirihara said with a boyish chuckle as he playfully punched his friend's arm.
That's right. Kirihara has…
"S-selective amnesia?" she asked numbly, not knowing how to take the words in.
"I'm afraid so," Yukimura had told her. It was the blue-haired buchou who finally revealed the reason as to why Kirihara hasn't visited nor contacted her while she was at the hospital.
"He's physically fine and had almost fully recovered from his injuries. However, as his body had been repeatedly put under tremendous stress, his brain finally decided to act on its own behalf. In order to protect him from further stress, it had blocked any memory that was related to the thing that caused him the most trauma."
"And that was me," Sakuno whispered, her glassy brown eyes looking ahead but not really focusing on anything.
Yukimura sent her a sympathetic look. "He had been too traumatized when he saw you get shot in Kyoto that his brain decided to block any memory that concerns you from his system. We wanted to help him remember you, but the doctor cautioned against it. If he is forced to remember all of that stress, it will be detrimental to his health. His system might just shut down forever and he will fall into a life-long coma. Forgive me, but we couldn't take that risk."
Sakuno bit her bottom lip, and then looked down. She couldn't let Yukimura see the pain in her eyes nor the tears that threatened to fall from them.
"I understand," she said softly before bowing in front of the buchou. "Thank you so much for telling me. I shall go now."
She turned away from him as quickly as she can and was hurrying to get away.
However, Yukimura's voice called her again.
The brunette had no choice but to stop in her tracks and turn back to face him again.
Yukimura saw the pain in her eyes then.
"If it is really meant to be," he started, softening his eyes at the girl, "then he will find his own way back to you."
Sakuno's chocolate brown eyes shook at his words.
"Someday, he will." Yukimura ended his words with a sanguine smile.
That's why, until that day…
Sakuno grabbed the pendant that was currently around her neck. It was a rectangular tag that had the initials K.A. on its bottom right corner. Its bottom half was slightly dented—a remembrance from a previous experience. It was Niou who had given it to her during one of their recent visits to the café. The trickster had simply told her that Kirihara would've wanted her to have it.
The brunette clutched the pendant close to her chest, as she tried not to think of the pain for now. She believes in what Yukimura had told her. Someday, Kirihara would come back to her. And then he will ruffle her hair again in the way that he always did when he wanted to show his affections to her. He will be right by her side to make her laugh and smile again.
But until then…
Sakuno wiped tears from her eyes.
She sucked up a deep breath and finally turned away, continuing on along the street with renewed confidence.
'Until then, I will keep our memories safely locked inside my heart.'
Unbeknownst to the brunette, Kirihara had actually stopped and turned his head to look back at her once he and his friends were a few feet away from the girl. His two companions had been too busy talking about something that they weren't able to notice that Kirihara wasn't following them anymore.
The junior ace frowned.
He really doesn't know her that well.
But what he doesn't understand was why…
At that moment, when they looked into each other's eyes, he felt an unbelievable longing feeling come from his chest.
"Oi, Kirihara! Stop daydreaming and let's head home!"
The junior ace was instantly snapped from his daze and soon moved to follow his classmates.
"I'm coming! Geez, hold your horses!"
For now, he is forced to walk a path that differed from hers.
Ryoma threw a Ponta can at the garbage.
That was the second Ponta he finished since he had arrived at the station.
He looked at the clock and saw that it was already 5:31 pm.
Where the heck is she? She's exactly 31 minutes late now.
Did she get lost again? Most likely.
This is exactly why he had offered to pick her up himself.
But nooo. She just had to refuse, saying that she and her "Kunimitsu-nii" had some important business to take care of.
Come to think of it, she had been spending quite a lot of time with his buchou lately.
Before long, and much to his relief, he finally heard footsteps coming towards him. He turned his head and was relieved to see Sakuno.
The girl had stopped when she was directly in front of him and bent down slightly to catch her breath.
"G-gomen nasai, Ryoma-kun! I was—"
"Lost again. I figured," he cut her off, not bothering to hide the annoyance on his aristocratic face.
Sakuno looked up at him and frowned. At age sixteen, he had grown out of his chibi state and was actually about a foot taller than her. He still remained smaller than the rest of his senpais, however, allowing them to still call him "ochibi."
She saw that he was wearing a casual black polo shirt and some jeans. The brunette was a little surprised as she rarely saw him in anything but tennis outfits. He actually looked more mature when he wears pants. If Sakuno had only met Ryoga before, she might've noted that Ryoma was looking more and more like his adopted brother as days go by.
Sakuno belatedly noticed that the prince was also holding a plain white paper bag in one of his hands. She was curious but resisted the urge to ask about it. Ryoma might think she's being nosy or something.
"Ikou," he finally said as he started walking to the restaurant. Sakuno moved and settled to walk right beside him.
There was a comfortable silence between them for a while, before Ryoma decided to break it.
"How's Tezuka-buchou?" he asked out of the blue, which was quite out of character for him. Ryoma never did like petty talks.
"He's doing…fine?" she answered unsurely, looking at him to see what was up.
She saw that there was a slight frown on his face as if her answer hadn't satisfied him.
Ryoma was silent again, before...
"You've been spending a lot of time with him lately," he commented nonchalantly.
Sakuno inclined her head in a cute way. "Er, yes. I was…helping him with something." She was still puzzled by Ryoma's uncharacteristic talkative mood.
"Well, I do consider him as my nii-san, after all. So it's only natural for me to help him. Besides, we had been talking about your guys' tennis schedule as well."
The prince didn't reply after that and when Sakuno tried to look into his eyes, he turned his head away.
But it was too late—Sakuno had already caught it.
"Ano, Ryoma-kun," she started timidly, but then gained more confidence. She knew Ryoma better than anyone else. "Are you…jealous of Kunimitsu-nii?" she asked, an amused but fond smile on her face.
Ryoma had stiffened at her question and looked at her incredulously. She saw that his cheeks had reddened considerably, however.
"B-Baka, of course not." He turned away again and suddenly started to increase his walking pace.
Sakuno couldn't help but giggle softly at his cute actions.
She had realized a long time ago that Ryoma gets jealous very easily. It was most likely because he was naturally possessive.
The brunette also increased her pace, jogging to catch up with Ryoma. She hugged one of his arms and held onto it in order to placate the boy.
"Actually, Ryoma-kun…" she began, finally ready to confess the truth to Ryoma. After all, she didn't really want to hide anything from him. "I have been insisting to go with Kunimitsu-nii whenever he visits Kunihito-san in prison."
Upon hearing that, Ryoma looked at her in surprise.
Up until then, they had avoided any topic that related to their hellish experience. And his buchou never really mentioned to anyone that he had been visiting his cousin in prison. And why would he? After all he has done…
"Remember when I told you that Kunimitsu-nii adopted his paper crane hobby from a man he once called his 'brother'?" Sakuno explained. "Well, I couldn't help but finally ask him about who that person was, and—"
"It was Kunihito, wasn't it?"
This time, it was Sakuno's turn to look surprised.
"Aa. I suspected it for a long time mostly because of how he had talked to Kunihito when we confronted him at the temple."
"Oh." Sakuno blinked. He had impressed her once again. "Well, yes. It turned out that Kunimitsu-nii had actually admired Kunihito-san and thought of him like an older brother when they were kids. He was one of the reasons why Kunimitsu-nii started playing tennis." Her eyes shone with sadness as she thought of how broken the stoic captain must have been when he found out that that the person he admired and thought of as a sibling actually hated his guts.
"That's why I want to be with him whenever he visits Kunihito-san. I don't want him to be alone every time he confronts something that I know emotionally taxes him. After all, he is also only human. He gets hurt a lot too, even though he never shows it."
Ryoma found himself staring at her sad expression for a few moments before finally tearing his gaze away from her, focusing back on the road. He noticed that they were almost at the restaurant he had planned to take her to.
"That's okay then."
Sakuno blinked at his unclear statement again.
"You can spend more time with him," he clarified. "You're probably the only person who he will allow to get close to him in that way."
At his very understanding words, Sakuno couldn't help but flash him a grateful smile.
"So, what did you want to talk to me about, Ryoma-kun?" she asked as she finally remembered that the main reason why Ryoma had asked her out to dinner was because he said he had something important to tell her.
They sat in front of a small table in a pretty fancy restaurant. Sakuno could already guess that their meals wouldn't come cheap.
In response to her question, Ryoma merely placed the white paper bag that he had been carrying on top of their table. He pushed it towards her.
Sakuno stared at it curiously.
"Open it," he commanded.
The brunette did as she was told, expecting some sort of romantic present inside. Her treacherous heart already started to beat quickly with anticipation.
When she peeked into the paper bag, she saw that there was a rectangular box inside. She slowly opened the box with trembling fingers and saw…
"R-Ryoma-kun's school uniform?"
Sakuno couldn't help but frown as she stared at the black uniform in front of her. She noticed that only the top part of the outfit was in the box and not the pants.
"Aa," he confirmed, somewhat amused by the disappointed look on her face. She tried to hide it but she was too easy to read. She's always been honest with her feelings. That's one of the things he liked about her.
"One of the buttons had come out and I want you to sew it back for me."
Oh, so that was why he took her out to dinner.
She actually allowed herself to think that it was a date…
Well, it is Ryoma, after all. She shouldn't expect much.
"Of course, I can. It's not that hard anyway," she told him with a warm smile. She really doesn't mind doing the favor for him, but she couldn't help but wonder why he didn't ask his mom or his cousin to do the task instead. They were closer.
"Do you have the button?"
Ryoma took out a button from his jeans' pocket and opened his hand, offering the button to her. But at the moment, the girl was too busy checking which button had come out.
"Ah, I found it—" she trailed off as she suddenly realized that it was the second button which had come out. She froze in her place, wondering if it's just a coincidence or…?
In Japan, the second button from the top of a male's school uniform is often given away to the girl he loves. It is considered as a form of confession. The significance of this tradition derives from the fact that the second button is the one closest to the boy's heart when he wears the uniform. Thus, it is basically seen as a metaphor for the boy giving his own heart to the girl.*
"Doushita?" Ryoma asked, curious as to why she had suddenly become so still.
His voice brought Sakuno back to reality.
With cheeks flushing, she shook her head and bit her bottom lip. Ryoma found himself staring a little longer at her lips after her recent action.
"I was just thinking about how coincidental it is," she told the boy, about to reach for the button that was still innocently sitting on his palm. She figured that since Ryoma had grown up in America, he most likely didn't recognize the significance of the second button, at least not in the context she was thinking about.
"What if it's not a coincidence?"
Brown eyes suddenly looked up to meet intense yellow ones.
"Of course, I know. I'm not stupid."
Sakuno pouted at his last words, she didn't mean to say that.
"So, knowing it's not a coincidence, would you still take it?" he asked again.
The girl found herself unable to speak for a while. When she still didn't do anything for the next minute or so, Ryoma got impatient and suddenly closed his fist and took back the button. He stuffed it back into his jeans.
"M-matte, I haven't told you my reply yet!"
She felt a little infuriated when she saw the cocky smirk on his face. Is he playing with her? Because if he is, it's not funny…
"It doesn't matter," Ryoma said.
"Of course, it does. Ryoma-kun, if you're only playing—"
"I wouldn't have taken 'no' for an answer anyway."
Well, that kept her quiet. He certainly knows how to shut her up.
Ryoma found himself looking at her lips again. He diverted his attention down to the tableware in front of him and silenced the screaming urge inside of him.
"And what if I actually said no, Ryoma-kun?" she suddenly asked, daring him, though she was already blushing furiously by then.
"Hnn?" he asked as if he wasn't paying attention to her.
"I said what if I said no?"
Well, darn him for knowing. Of course she wouldn't say no. She had already confessed her feelings to him so many times.
"And you couldn't."
She sent him a questioning look at that one.
"You already owe me."
Another cute frown was displayed on her face.
"I don't think I remember owing you—"
"You didn't bring any money, did you?"
"But you told me not to—"
She paled as she finally realized it. Not to mention, the arrogant smirk on his face as his yellow eyes twinkled at her says it all. They had already ordered as well, so she couldn't back out and just leave now.
And so, she did the only thing she can do at moments like that—when he's completely bullying her.
She pouted adorably, looking at him with slightly narrowed eyes. Ryoma started to become annoyed. Is she tempting him?
"Stop that or I'll kiss you."
Within a second, she had turned as red as a tomato. She could only stare at him as she stuttered her disbelief. He can be so unfair sometimes!
"M-mou..." she whined helplessly.
At the sight of her blushing and frustrated face, he actually wanted to chuckle. She was so cute.
"I—" Ryoma looked at her seriously, before turning his head off to the side. Gone was the confident smirk on his face. No matter how many times he tried, he really couldn't say it. It's just not him.
The brunette watched his face for a few seconds before a warm smile slowly appeared on her lips.
"I know," she whispered. "Dakara, Ryoma-kun doesn't have to worry about not saying it. Because I know now."
The prince looked at her in surprise. And all this time, he thought she needed to hear it from him in order to truly believe it.
But he was wrong, Sakuno did believe it. It took a while for her to realize—with her being insecure all the time and all—but Ryoma has been telling her his feelings the entire time.
Not through words, but rather, through his actions.
So she'll be okay even if she didn't hear it literally from his lips. Words are unnecessary between people who have a deeper understanding of each other.
"After all, even now, Ryoma-kun is still…"
Sakuno bit her lower lip again, trying not to laugh as she said her next words:
"Mada mada da ne."
The look on Ryoma's face right after she said his catchphrase was so priceless that she was sure that it's worth whatever payback she'll get from him later.
If only she knew what Ryoma really had in mind for payback, she would've instantly taken it back.
Oh, how she loves them.
* From Wikipedia
I AM finally done! LOL! This took the longest to write.
I hope the ending is satisfactory to all of you. And you got me, I was planning to just kill off Sakuno. But then, I didn't want to make you guys sad. So tada!
As for the KiriSaku lovers, I also hope that it's a bit satisfactory for you. Technically, it is kinda still open-ended on Kirihara's and Sakuno's end. That's the best I can do since I have already decided from the start that this will be a RyoSaku fic. Though I love KiriSaku just as much, trust me.
For now, I have no plans to start writing a new story. If anything, I'll probably write a sequel to this one. Not a long sequel (here I go again), but it most probably will be set during the trip that Sakuno and the others were planning to go to. Of course, you already know that nothing ordinary ever happens when they are all together. Hahah. But yeah, still no definite plans for now.
Thank you, thank you, thank you SO MUCH to everyone who has supported me until the very last chapter. Please leave me one last review.
That's my last request from you guys. I did make it a happy ending? LOL.
But yeah, for now, bye-bye and see you next time!
Matte - Wait
Dakara – That's why