The entire basis for this fic is "a romance from a shoujo manga". Which is why it's so bittersweet.
Chapter 3: Together
"One! Two! Three! Switch!"
Ryoka made a small noise of discomfort as she stretched her legs out to their limit. It was just another day of practice at Seigaku. Captain Momoshiro was leading practice today, starting with some basic stretches; they had to slowly guide the little duckling freshmen behind them afterall… Ryoka just didn't appreciate being roped into it with everyone else.
Being the only female on the boy's team, she usually paired up with Coach Ryuuzaki, but the teacher had some business to take care of first, so Ryoka was settling with some small individual stretches by herself.
Or it was supposed to be individual stretches. Ryoka paused when a hand landed on her back and pushed her further down. "Ow!" she complained and pushed back, fighting off the hand. Glaring over her shoulder, she saw Tomoka grinning at her like a cat that just caught a canary and Sakuno who looked down at her hands instead of meeting Ryoka's eyes. "Ow," she repeated, more subdued and with more meaning.
Tomoka shrugged half-heartedly and drawled, "Sooorry."
Knowing that she didn't mean it at all, Ryoka clicked her tongue at her and turned back around to continue her stretches.
The other girls bent down to her level, pressing close so the boys couldn't overhear their conversation. "Found a boyfriend yet?" Tomoka asked.
Ryoka shook her head, reaching over for a toe.
"It's been two months! You should just ask a guy out. There's Tarou-kun from class A, he's cute."
"Hmph. Mada mada dane."
Sakuno calmed Tomoka down, shooting nervous looks at the boys behind them. Also noticing that the guys were starting to give them weird looks, the pig-tailed girl quieted down and huffed, "Whatever. Have you even talked to guys outside of Seigaku?"
"Yeah," Ryoka admitted nonchalantly. "I had lunch with him yesterday."
Obviously, this was not the answer either Tomoka or Sakuno were expecting as they seemed to be stunned into silence for a moment before Tomoka cautiously decides to further this line of conversation. "Really? Who?"
And Ryoka thought back to yesterday's events and her slip of the tongue. The other two girls exchanged wide-eyed glances as their friend turned bright red and ducked her head further down. Tomoka watched Ryoka's reddening ears with interest and, slowly, a sly grin spread over her lips. "Hmmm… sounds like something good happened."
"Nothing happened," Ryoka snapped back curtly.
"Alright, whatever you say," she conceded easily, and she paused for a bit before talking again. "Is he cute?"
Ryoka blushed to the roots of her hair and she pinned Tomoka with a scandalized glare. "Osakada!"
Cackling menacingly, Tomoka bounded off the tennis court, blowing kisses Ryoka's way all the while. Ryoka watched her with a thin frown until she was out of sight and even then she didn't fully relax; how could she when her heart was beating so fast?
The usually polite and soft-spoken Sakuno smiled at Ryoka's colored face and she leaned down next to her friend, laying a hand over the other's shoulder. "Although I don't know who you're thinking about," she whispered into Ryoka's ear, "I can tell that he makes you happy. Maybe that's all you need, Ryoka-chan."
"He… I don't…"
Sakuno giggled and gave Ryoka's a light squeeze of encouragement and left for her own tennis practice.
After a moment of just looking at the empty spot next to her, Ryoka shook herself out of her daze and resumed her stretches… although half-heartedly. She didn't want to think about Sakuno's words or her own messed up feelings about this situation.
She wanted a boyfriend so she could understand the hype, and now this Fuji Yuuta guy was making everything confusing and sticking his "I-will-overcome-my-brother" head into her business! There was no way she could get a boyfriend like this! Not when she couldn't stand going to that bookstore anymore…
Without even realizing it herself, Ryoka had stopped her stretches and had curled in on herself. She held her head in her hands and felt how hot her forehead was against her palms.
It's just a fever she told herself without really believing the words.
"Ah," Fuji Shuusuke (1st year of high school) paused in the middle of his conversation with his classmates and gave them an apologetic smile as he dug his cell phone out of his schoolbag. "Sorry, it's me. Let me get this."
"Sure. No worries."
Fuji raised an eyebrow at the name blinking across the screen of his phone. Well… this was a pleasant surprise. With a bright smile already armed on his face, Fuji pressed the receive button and put the phone to his ear. "Hello, Yuuta. What's up?"
There was a strained silence on the other line of a second before a low, mumbling voice answered back in an almost reluctant manner, "Hey… Aniki… I'm doing fine. How are you?"
"Oh yes," Fuji answered, ignoring Yuuta's tone of voice as he always did nowadays, "I'm doing just fabulous! I got full marks on my English test today; you were never very good at English were you Yuuta? If you would like I could tutor you, in fact I'd be glad too."
The silence this time was longer before it was broken by a heavy, exasperated sigh. Fuji could almost picture his brother running a hand down his face, stretching out the frown that was probably already bent down to its limit. "No. No thanks, I don't need… English help."
The way he said that seemed almost like a sign. Fuji opened his eyes and peered at the nearby wall, a mischievous smirk beginning to slither across his lips like a snake. "Are you perhaps saying," he paused, lowering the pitch of his voice to dark degree, "... you're calling me for help of some kind? Girl problems… maybe?"
A loud and abrupt crashing sound came from the other line followed quickly by a frantic shuffling noise. Fuji smiled; Yuuta had dropped his phone. How cute.
Once the younger Fuji got himself under control, he cleared his throat and stammered in reply, "Ah. Ah, no. I mean—you're not wrong, but—"
"Oh, my! My little brother is now all grown up!"
"Aniki!" Yuuta almost shouted. His desperate tone effectively shut Fuji's teasing up who grew curious. "Please, Aniki. I… I need your help."
Fuji Shuusuke would never be an exemplary older brother, that was for sure, but he tried his damned hardest. And when his sibling came to him for help with that sort of voice, there was absolutely no way Fuji was denying him. "What is it?"
There was a bit of awkward and somewhat embarrassed, "uh"s and "um"s after this, but Yuuta managed to get his request out in a manageable sentence before long, "I just, uh, need…" he cleared his throat again, "I need Echizen's… phone number… or something."
Fuji was instantly interested and there were about a thousand questions on the tip of his tongue. This was not just a pleasure call Yuuta was giving Echizen. Had it been anything else, surely the boy wouldn't have been so nervous about asking for the girl's number.
Yuuta must have sensed his brother's growing excitement because he quickly interjected, "Don't say anything about it! If it all goes well you'll know about it in the end. Just… just give me her number!"
Slightly disappointed, Fuji gave a little shrug and gave Yuuta the desired information easily.
"Thanks, Aniki," Yuuta said breathlessly. "This is her cell phone, right? She picks up calls, right?"
"Yes, of course," Fuji answered serenely. This was a new and unexpected side to his brother. To think that Echizen of all people could get such a reaction out of him was… surprising to say the least.
"Anyway, I'll call you again. I need to… I need to do something else."
Hmm. Fuji chuckled lightly and refrained from commenting. "Of course. But Yuuta, before you hang up, let me just say that even though Echizen is my cute underclassmate… you are my cuter brother. So if there's anything I could do to help, just say the word. Echizen doesn't look it, but she does give heed to her older peers' words."
Fuji didn't even need to imagine how red Yuuta's face was right now to know that he was embarrassed. "Shut up!" And he hung up.
"Haha," Fuji chuckled as he put his phone down. His friend heard his light laughter and smiled, "What's so funny?"
After thinking for a moment for the right thing to say, Fuji asked a question back, "Is it pitiful if the younger sibling gets a girlfriend before the older one?"
"Why Fujiko-chan? Is your baby brother getting all cozy with a girl before you?"
"Haha. Well, we'll see."
It was Sunday before she realized it. She woke up at ten in the morning for her usual morning routine of getting her kicked around the courts by her father, cleaning up, and eating a Western-style breakfast (then complaining about it). Now it was one in the afternoon and she was lying around in her room reading the latest Sports Weekly magazine. Usually around this time she was up and about heading off to her usual bookstore, but…
She didn't know if she could go back anymore.
Instead she was holed up in her room with nothing to do but read about people she didn't care about and think about Yuuta and wonder what he was doing right now.
Fed up with herself, Ryoka threw the magazine to the ground and climbed into bed, tossing her covers over her head. Why couldn't she stop this? It was like that guy buried himself deep within the folds of her already selective memory and now her brain decided that she should think of nothing but him. It was so irritating and useless.
But… Ryoka pressed her face into her pillow. Is he thinking about me… as much as I'm thinking about him?
If it was like that… maybe it wouldn't be as annoying.
Without even getting up, Ryoka grabbed her phone off her bed's headboard and peeked at its screen. It was an unknown number, probably a telemarketer. Even so, Ryoka took the call and answered with a dull, "Hullo?"
The voice that replied back struck the very core of her mind with shock and her entire being was filled up with something that was distinctly pink, sweet, and fluffy. Like cotton candy.
"Echizen? It's me, Fuji Yuuta."
Ryoka lifted herself up and removed her bedsheet from her head. Her golden eyes were round and her parted lips were dry. "Fuji-senpai's—"
"Yeah," he cut her off, voice light with good humor, "don't call me that."
Taking her time to sit up fully and make sure her tongue was still working and not ready to say something completely unneeded again, Ryoka continued talking, "How'd you get my number?"
"I… I asked my brother. I told him that I needed it, so he gave it to me."
"You needed it…?"
"Yeah. About last week."
And Ryoka turned bright red. She already saw this coming from the moment she realized who was on the other line, but to have her premonition come to life was something she didn't want to suffer.
Yuuta seemed to have sense her intention to end the call right there and then because he snapped quickly, "Don't hang up! Listen to me!"
"There's nothing to listen to," Ryoka muttered in response, but Yuuta ignored her and continued on, "Last week, when we had lunch together. You… you said that you liked—"
"I didn't," Ryoka desperately denied. Yuuta was having none of that, "You did. You said it. You said that you liked hanging out with me, but you don't see me as a friend. What does that make me then,
Echizen? Do you know?"
Ryoka's head fell forward. This was the closest to defeat she had suffered from someone other than her father lately. "Stop it," she whispered. "So what if I said it? It doesn't mean anything."
Yuuta fell silent; considering this. The time between them without words shared seemed so long and tense to Ryoka and she hoped that their conversation was now finished, but Yuuta spoke up in the end, "Are you… still looking for a boyfriend?"
She thought about denying. Maybe she should've lied and said that she already found one and she was happy and he should never call her again. "I… yeah. I am."
But she couldn't. Lying to him , this guy who's name she always forgot, was something she couldn't do. Because she knew that if she did tell him that she was no longer looking or that she already had one, that something that they shared between them would break and shatter into unfixable little needle like slivers. It would hurt her.
For a long while, the guy (Fuji Yuuta, she reminded herself) said nothing before slowly, as if tasting the words on his tongue, he said, "… come meet me at that restaurant. The one we went to last week."
"What?" Ryoka asked, wondering if she misheard him.
And only a dial tone responded to her unanswered question, leaving Ryoka wide-eyed, confused and slightly overwhelmed by the rush of emotions running through her. Even though she was just a mess of feelings, she realized that she had absolutely no intention of not going. She wanted to go. The very thought that Yuuta wanted to see her and was thinking about her made her heart clench painfully, but she was happy about this hurt.
It didn't make sense, but she was so happy.
And so she ran. She ran to catch the bus then when she realized that she missed it and the next one wouldn't be coming until thirty minute later, she ran some more. She just kept running, unable to stop and all the adrenaline and the rush of the wind through her hair left her feeling more free and alive than even winning the nationals did.
By the time Ryoka made it to the restaurant she was panting for breath and a mess. Her vision was slightly blurred due to exhaustion, but there was no doubt in her mind and heart that it was Yuuta who was leaning against the building. She approached him, awkwardly trying to pat her hair into a decent state while wishing she had dressed prettier and didn't run so hard, but Yuuta looked up at her and his eyes widened and a smile lit up his visage. Ryoka felt her face heat up at the sight.
"You came," he said in an awed tone.
"You… told me to."
Yuuta chuckled and ran a hand through his short hair. "I did. I just… I just wanted to see you. I don't know why, but when I didn't see you today, I thought I would go insane. I was… worried. I even got off early! As… you can… see…"
The two looked down at the ground, their faces sporting similar bright red blushes. Ryoka dug her fingers into her shirt and her heart steadily picked up pace even though she wasn't running anymore.
"You… you said you were still looking for a b-boyfriend, right?" Yuuta asked, trying to take a peek at her face, but it was down casted and her fringe fell like a curtain. She didn't answer his question now, but Yuuta remembered her on the phone.
"I… yeah. I am."
Her voice was nervous and wavering, unlike the usual Echizen that he knew… but it endeared her to him all the more. "Then how about me?"
His question came out clearer and more confident than he felt. It also grasped Ryoka's attention as the girl's golden gaze turned to him, regarding him with nervous confusion. "What do you mean?" she asked.
Yuuta grit his teeth and flushed even darker. He was frustrated, understandably, but then again this was Echizen he was talking to and he had expected this… but it was still frustrating. "I mean—! I—will you—" He stopped himself and took a deep breath. "… will you take me as your boyfriend?"
He had meant to be cool when he said this, so he could appeal his manliness to Ryoka. He wanted to sound confident and self-assured, he wanted his brain to catch up to his mouth, he wanted his knees to stop shaking…
But in the end, Yuuta crumbled to the ground, burying his face in his arms. His face was so hot that he could swear it was beginning to steam. "Uwah. I must look so uncool right now…"
Ryoka looked down to see his crimson ears and she nodded. "Yeah. So uncool."
Yuuta's head snapped back up, he was frowning at the tactless girl ready to say something back, but he paused, the words fading away from his mind as the image of cool, unmoved Echizen Ryoka with a troubled expression and a bright red blush replaced it.
Swallowing hard, Ryoka tried to duck away from Yuuta's staring eyes. She placed a hand over her forehead as if checking for her temperature and grumbled, "Don't… don't look at me."
Echizen was tight-lipped, rude, a tennis-maniac, not feminine, and kind of uncute… but at this moment in Yuuta's eyes, she was too adorable for words.
So he picked himself up and stepped towards her, not too close, but just enough her him to reach out and take her hand from her forehead. He loosely held her rough, but still dainty fingers in his larger palm. "So… will you? Will you go out with me?"
"I…" she glanced at their hands but didn't pull away. Taking a moment to collect herself, Ryoka lifted her head up proudly, expression cool but cheeks still a shy pink. "You're my senpai's younger brother, I'm better than you at tennis, you're not obscenely rich, you don't look like a prince, you don't piss me off… you're nothing like the guys in manga."
Ryoka fell silent, taking a moment to just look at Yuuta's frowning face. He looked about ready to argue with her, and for some reason that made her heart skip. "But… I guess I don't really mind."
And Yuuta blinked, his dark expression clearing up as he took in Ryoka's embarrassed pout and tilted chin. "So, you're…"
"I'm willing to try with you." She looked up at him, golden eyes brighter than usual. "But, I don't really know much—"
"It's okay," Yuuta said, unable to keep the grin off his face. "We can take it slow." He gave her hand a gentle squeeze, and slowly, she squeezed back, a soft smile on her face.
Was this happiness what every girl experienced when they fell in love? Ryoka thought that maybe she was making the same stupid, love-struck face Tomoka made whenever she talked about her boyfriend. It irritated her, but… that was fine.
Her very own Happily Ever After.
They've been dating for three months now.
Although it had been three months, Ryoka still smiled whenever Yuuta called, and Yuuta still found his eyes drifting over to the manga corner on Sundays.
The Fuji family had learned of their relationship during the first month. They were so happy it unnerved Ryoka. The Fuji mother and daughter gushed about how cute Yuuta's little girlfriend was and "Look at you! So skinny! You must stay for dinner!" "Ah, you were on Syuu-chan's tennis team? So you're already family!" "Please forgive my baby boy. He's very shy, but I'm sure he'll be nice to you."
The situation seemed to be veering out of control; especially when Fuji Shuusuke placed both his hands on Ryoka's shoulders, squeezed, and leaned down to her height to breathe in her ear, "Echizen, if you two ever get into a little spat… you know I'm always here for you, right?"
"Aniki!" a frowning Yuuta hollered, already at his wit's end.
Fuji pulled away from Ryoka, laughing lightly when the girl rubbed at her ear with an annoyed scowl.
Yuuta's first visit with the Echizen family was much more subdued, for the most part. Rinko was all sunshine and rainbows when she first met the boy, being a good hostess and asking polite questions while serving tea and little treats. Yuuta seemed to warm up to her and that comforted Ryoka. Meanwhile Nanjiroh was… not so happy.
"Is this young man why you're missing out on some of our Sunday matches, Ryoka?" Nanjiroh asked, looking over the top of his newspaper (possibly using it to hide his porno).
"Hm? Yeah, I guess," Ryoka replied, rubbing the back of her neck. "But its fine isn't it? We play almost every day anyway."
Nanjiroh pouted however and basically threw an adult tantrum, kicking his feet and whining in a high-pitched voice, "It's nooooot fine. My baby is neglecting her daddy for another boy!"
"Who's your baby!" Ryoka snapped back, turning pink at the cheeks.
"You are!" Nanjiroh retorted sharply, and then he turned his piercing golden eyes to Ryoka's proclaimed "boyfriend" and told him in a deep, warning voice, "Listen here, young man. My daughter is still very young so all touching is limited to shoulder bumps. No holding hands, leaning against each other or, god forbid, kissing. Got it?"
Whatever response the wide-eyed flabbergasted Yuuta had went unheard as Ryoka rolled her eyes and snidely said, "We already held hands."
Nanjiroh's reaction afterwards was a memorable thing, and to make matters worse, Ryoka chose that moment to lay her head against his shoulder and curl her fingers around his palm. How the older man didn't jump up from the couch and swat at him with the curled up newspaper in his hands Yuuta didn't know. But it didn't keep the sheepish grin from spreading across his face. "I'll, uh… I'll do my best," Yuuta said. What he meant by that, he didn't even know.
But it made Ryoka chuckle.
However, even before the Fuji family and the Echizen family, the first people to know about her changed relationship with Yuuta had been Tomoka and Sakuno.
The two girls shared bright smiles and Tomoka gushed about how they could have triple-dates now, and how they should all go to that newly opened amusement park for the Golden Week break. After a moment of stoic contemplation, Ryoka smiled back and told her that she was looking forward to it.
It was things like that, that made Ryoka think that out of all the girls with their own individual happy relationships, she couldn't help but feel that maybe her's was the happiest. She told Yuuta this during a date in the park making the boy blush up to his ears and choke on his breath.
"W-what are you saying!"
Ryoka ignored him, not wanting to explain herself. Instead, her eyes caught a piece of chalk on the sideway, possibly left behind there by one of the many children running around the area.
She dropped down to her knees, picked it up and began to draw something she remembered seeing in a lot of the shoujo manga she read.
It was a simple little umbrella with her name and Yuuta's on either side of the pole.
Having regained himself, Yuuta bent down next to her and looked at the drawing with a curious frown. "What is it?" he asked her.
"It's our umbrella. You walk here, and I walk here. Next to each other, under the same umbrella." She looked up at Yuuta who was staring back at her intently. The gaze made her skin prickle and an undeniable desire rose up within her at that moment. She wasn't in the habit of liking someone like this, but she realized a long time ago… that she really, really liked Yuuta.
So she leaned forward, her eyelids dropping shut, and she quickly pecked Yuuta on the mouth with her own lips. The boy didn't pull away, but his eyes grew round and he seemed to have stopped breathing.
Ryoka pulled back quickly and looked back down at the umbrella, fiddling with the strap of her tennis bag casually but her embarrassment was painfully obvious. Yuuta grinned, unable to keep the glee off his face. He watched Ryoka's flushed cheeks and pouted lips for a moment before he called her name, "Ryoka."
She turned to face him, unsuspecting, and Yuuta leaned in.
We're always under one umbrella. Together.
That's it folks. Thanks for reading. :)
I actually really love this pairing so it was nice to write this. This is what I imagine pure-hearted middle school love to be like, really.
Next up will probably either be a Dan/Fem!Ryo or a Kintarou/Fem!Ryo. Rookies love!