notes – man, have I missed writing this pairing! I love them together.


Girls didn't wander into Ryohei's mind much. They always blended with some part of the landscape, pasted in the backgrounds of the town and school, in all the places outside the boxing ring. He never really was quite intrigued by them as much as his classmates, who were much more extreme about the subject of females than any other people he'd ever know.

They didn't like weighing themselves and that they had excessive amounts of clothes stuffed into little closets, and Ryohei understood (vaguely) that their hour-long grooming sessions were as necessary to them as his training routines were to him. These were the stories his classmates told him, sitting with a slouch on their desks and balancing their feet on the top of their chairs.

Kyoko wasn't quite such so extreme, that he was proud to know. She enjoyed joining him for lighter jogging routes and hardly bothered about her weight; she bought clothes every now and again, but mostly because she'd given a boxful to the orphanage at the edge of Nanimori. He never timed how long she took to get ready in the morning (was there a point to all this that he didn't see?) – all he knew was that she would still be asleep when he started his morning workout, and scrubbing the breakfast dishes by the time he returned.

His sister was extremely adorable and charming and smart, and Ryohei would be contented if every girl could be like her. That would never come true though. Kyoko was sugary sweet in that peculiar one-of-a-kind way of hers, with a habit of smiling at anything with a pulse and tilting her head at that precise-plotted angle when she was delighted. And it was only this formula of girl that made Tsunayoshi Sawada daydream in class and scrawl lumpy hearts on the sides of his notebook. She was also terribly gullible and much too kind (it seemed to run in the Sasagawa family), which boded well for the bumbling boy and the constant distress that seemed to satellite around him.

Ryohei assumed that the presence of a baby sister authorized him as an extreme professional on the subject of women. He was irrevocably wrong, but he would only realise this later - after he saw a girl's face framed by a photo, ten years too early.

He knew her dark hair was curled at the ends and that she was Kyoko's good friend; that she didn't smile as much as Kyoko, but always had something on her mind to say. She was beautiful in her own sophistication, and in many ways strong but feminine. Though Ryohei wouldn't become aware these qualities until later on, when he started differentiating her from the typical equation of a girl.

The sixteen-year old became acutely aware from her after he returned from the future, started watching her as she studied with Kyoko at their home and stayed for dinner. She seemed normal, perfectly plain and nothing of interest.

Suddenly, though, she'd look up from whatever she was doing, straight into his eyes, and arch a questioning eyebrow. "Yes?" she would ask, and Ryohei would be struck dumb and dash to the fridge and proclaim that he was getting an extreme drink of orange juice.

Kyoko was out with Tsuna and his motely crew, and he was alone at home, attempting to do his homework, when the doorbell rang. He opened the door to see the girl standing there with her arms folded and an impatient foot tapping against the doormat.

"Kyoko isn't here," he told her automatically.

"I know," she replied, "I'm not here to talk to her. I'm here to talk to you."

"You want to join the boxing club in school?" The question was immediate, the voice hopeful.

The girl shook her head and raised her hand to his face for extra measure. "No," she clarified. "I want you to tell me what's been going on – Kyoko tells me about sumo-wrestling competitions," she recounted while making frustrated hand gestures that kind of scared him, " but I don't believe a word of it."

"W-what are you talking about?" he laughed mechanically.

As he stepped away from the door, the girl advanced, expression set with resolve. Ryohei had never felt so cornered in his life.

"Sasagawa, don't you dare think for a second that you could ever outsmart me," she told him.

"We can't tell you anything, it's an extreme rule!" he yelled, as if raising his voice would make her any less determined to pry the truth right out of him.

He lunged for the open window, cleared the jump and landed in his backyard. His first thought was that he was safe, but the girl was yelling at him and running out the front door and he had to move fast if he wanted to get away from her suspicion.

Ryohei began running, and when he turned to look over his shoulder, he saw that she was trying to keep up, but to no avail. He'd felt extremely guilty just then, but perhaps it was for the best – he was never good at talking to her. It made him wonder how she'd make a good girlfriend next time.

She came back the next day.

"Relax, I'm not here to interrogate you, I don't think it'd go very well," she reassured him as his eyes darted to the kitchen window. He relaxed the tension in his muscles and straightened his legs, turning to look at the girl proper. She seemed tired, more unhappy and intimidating than usual. He didn't really know why she looked so down, and tried to remember what made Kyoko's smile fade. Kyoko was a humble girl who was contented even when she didn't receive what she wanted, the only time when she'd honestly looked depressed, was when she'd found out that he was fighting alongside Tsuna, against people who weren't very prone to sportsmanship.

The girl standing before him, with the way her eyebrows creased and her lips were tugged in a frown, mirrored Kyoko's worried expressions. Maybe, somehow, she wasn't that different from the typical girl as he first thought. And Ryohei couldn't explain it, but he wasn't comfortable seeing her like that, it made him feel empty inside.

Once, when the only things that mattered to him were becoming strong and protecting the light in Kyoko's eyes, he had promised Tsuna that he wouldn't drag anymore casualties into the dangerous matches of the mafia.

"When I'm strong enough to protect you, I'll tell you everything, okay?" he told her, holding out a fist.

The girl was speechless for once, unable to piece a reply together because her cheeks were coloured up with embarrassed red and her heart, the traitorous thing, pummeled her ribcage.

Ryohei waved his fist at her, oddly quiet. The girl, still disoriented for the most part, lifted her own right hand and balled it up, and the young man punched their knuckles together lightly, in a way that seemed uncharacteristic of him and his roughish tendencies.

It was sudden and unexpected, came in out of nowhere like a first round loss.

And it was the first time he touched the pretty girl, who had soft skin but firm hands, and he got an inkling of why he'd fall in love with her ten years down the road.

She began visiting their house with greater frequency, substantiating her presence with her worry and concern for Kyoko, who seemed more and more attached to Tsuna and his hazardous friends.

Ryohei didn't mind, especially when he was doing homework and she'd peer over and snort because she knew how to do the questions he'd left blank – five-sixths of the page, which was quite impressive. She swiped an idle pencil and drew out the steps to take, and Kyoko clapped her hands because she was happy to see her best friend trying to teach her brother.

It became a routine of sorts, twice a week at the Sasagawa dinner table, after his boxing practice and before the nightly broadcast of her favourite soap. And though Ryohei was not the most sensible person in town, even he knew that it was best that he distance himself from her despite her knack for tutoring.

As much as she was intelligent and as much as she struggled to be patient with him, it was not easy sitting next to her. She used a nice shampoo, a different kind of nice from the smell of clean boxing gloves, and her handwriting was so straight and neat that she seemed to type with her pen. Her sitting just there beside him on the table sent his heart pounding faster than it did on his longest workouts.

Ryohei honestly intended to thank her extremely and tell her that he would do fine without her help, but she was decisive and she rewrote the dizzying equations countless of times until he finally got the answer right. His resilience had been knocked out when a smile spread across her face in thankful relief.

That was the second round, and he lost.

When they were older but (Ryohei) none the wiser, he flicked beads of yellow paint on her hair while they were helping Kyoko re-paint the walls of her bedroom. It was, of course, pure blundering accident, but she was furious, filling the drying room with a murderous intent. No matter how much he apologized (and used the word 'extremely' in his sorrys liberally) she refused to speak to him.

She ordered the hairdresser to cut her hair mercilessly.

She only forgave him when he found her sitting in the park, hiding her new cropped haircut underneath a humongous sunhat. He yanked off the ridiculous thing and scrutinized the way her hair framed her face, before thrusting a thumbs-up against her resentment.

"I like it, it looks extremely good on you," he told her, and it was easy to see that he was telling the truth because Ryohei had been born a terrible liar.

She chewed her lip and snatched the hat back. She couldn't say 'thank you', but the young man didn't mind. He smiled in encouragement, almost as if he knew she would never grow her hair out ever again.

He was twenty and she was nineteen when she learned about the mafia; about Sawada's league of pseudo-gallant fighters and how Kyoko's head now fetched a hefty price in the back corners of smoky streets. Ryohei wished he could have been the one to tell her, like he'd said four years ago, but the way she found out was from overhearing a careless conversation between Haru and Kyoko when they'd been over for tea.

It was the first time Kyoko had a fight with any of her friends, it wasn't even full-blown like the ones he'd seen on television, with plates smashing and voices shrieking. They just stopped talking, and Kyoko looked all haggard with guilt and distraction.

Perhaps it may not have been the fact that her best friend had kept such a secret hidden for so long, perhaps it was the simple (but complex) fact that Haru had known all along, but she hadn't.

Ryohei acted instinctively, like the big brother he was. He scaled the aged tree that reached for the second-storey window of her house and tumbling onto the boarded floors, before realizing he was in the wrong room. Her parents weren't very pleased about being intruded upon.

Suddenly he was in her room, standing awkwardly in the alien environment, until she pushed him back with one nonchalant hand. He sat on the edge of her bed as she leaned against the door, arms crossed.

"What?" she stabbed when she caught him staring at her.

"Um, ah," Ryohei floundered about. He couldn't think properly, not when her usually sharp eyes were now a cranky red, defeated in the way they fell to the floor at her feet.

"Let's just be clear, I'm not mad at anyone," she cleared her throat, desperately sturdy. Ryohei thought that she looked fragile just then, in all her effort to be strong, and it was humbling to know a girl who was as tough as any other fighter in the ring. He could have shouted out a supportive statement just then, but something that squeezed in his chest made him refrain.

"I understand why you didn't tell me," she choked, "but it doesn't mean I have to be happy about it."

And he couldn't touch her because she was a girl and she wasn't Kyoko and she probably didn't want anyone to go near her at all right then, and she was so brittle she might break if he really did –

but Ryohei, against the tiniest strand of judgement he boasted, stood up and walked over and enclosed her in his arms.

She was most probably the only person who made everything that sounded easy become inherently difficult. He'd braved through matches with the top boxers of the schools in the district, with mafia men that had deadly weapons welded into their skin, with stronger opponents that forced him into an underdog.

This - this was the only match he could never win.

He accepted it modestly, the fact that a girl with zero mastery of combat and a temper as short as her glossy hair, with a nice (but rare) smile and a kind heart, could overpower him. It didn't mean that he'd stop trying to win against her, though. When he was twenty-two and a little drunk on happiness from returning to Japan after half a year tussling in Italy, and because she was wearing a nice dress when she met him at the arrival gates, Ryohei asked (rather, yelled) the pretty girl if she had extreme feelings for him too –

and I said yes.


final notes
- a 'barnburner' in boxing refers to is a very good fight, one that is very intense and exciting, so close it's hard to predict who will come out the winner until seconds before it ends
- in boxing, boxers bump fists in the ring before the start of a match as a sort of greeting, and I think in the fic it kind of signals the start of their battle and their friendship as well