With Tatsuya around, she never noticed how much she'd wanted him.

Ryoko looked at Shizuma, her face a blank as he stood resolutely before her, his coat flapping in the wind. It had been such a normal kind of event, running into him randomly while hanging out around town with Hitomi, then fighting him in a random sparring match. When Hitomi had left, it hadn't felt awkward- they'd discussed martial arts, with him making jokes and her losing her temper at him as usual. And yet, when they'd come back to the park to look for her lost key, he had dropped the bomb on her.

"I love you!"

How could Ryoko respond? She'd told him she loved him at the K-fight that had been the cause of his new haircut and the loss of his uni-brow, but that had been a general admittance of affection for him included amongst a group of others she loved, not a confession. Not like this. She stood up slowly, the lost key clenched in her now trembling fingers. "… Ha ha, you bump your head while we were sparring, monkey-boy?" It had to be a joke, there was no way he could be serious. She turned away from him as she shoved the key into a pocket of her jeans, hiding the blush across her cheeks. If he was joking, she didn't want him to see how happy the sudden words had made her, and how scared.

"…You really think I'd joke about somethin' like this?" She felt his hands on her arms, and her usual reflex to instantly cut him down with her bokken went unsatisfied, as she'd laid it down on the ground while searching for the key. His hands moved to enfold her in an embrace, and she could feel his chest rising and falling, his breath falling onto her neck in soft bursts of heat. "You told me then that you loved me… An' I said 'I love you too'." Her eyes widened- monkey-brain had actually remembered something like that? "I wondered why you never said anything about it, an' I figured I'd just have to tell you again."

His hands came back to her shoulders, and he turned her around to face him. "Do you still mean that? Do you love me, Ryoko?" His face was so close to hers, but it wasn't the first time they'd been each other's personal space. So why was her heart running marathons at how close those lips were?

"… I…" Ryoko didn't know how to respond. She'd never been much for expressing her more feminine emotions. And yet, the man who had somehow managed to be closer to her than even Tatsuya had seen the woman she was, in all aspects, and was now telling her that he admired, no, LOVED her. Her confidence seemed to slip away with every second she looked into his amber eyes. It didn't help that he looked even more handsome than ever, with his wild hair cut and under control. "You… that is…" She looked to the side, cursing the heat that told her that her face had lit up like a Christmas tree. "…Not like that makes me happy or anything…"

Shizuma wouldn't let her get away that easily, though. "Answer me." His grip tightened on her shoulders convulsively. "Tell me it. I want to hear it."

Ryoko looked back up at him, and bit her lip. "Shizuma…" She gritted her teeth, then opened her mouth to speak.

I hope you enjoyed this chapter, it was interesting to write! More should come soon :D Just to let you know, this is based off the manga, not the anime. This occurs, obviously, after the events in the last volume!