SkyGem: Well, it's the last chapter for this fic. I don't usually put author's notes up here 'cause I know y'all don't read it anyways, but I have strangely become really attached to this fic…and…yeah…that's pretty much all I have to say. On to the chapter~


Ryou

"Excuse me, my name is Echizen Ryoma, and I want to join the tennis club," I said, standing in the door of the clubroom.

Immediately, the coach swivelled around in her chair and looked at me with piercing eyes. She looked to be really old, in her eighties or nineties, and I wondered why she hadn't retired yet. But even though she looked so old, there was a spark in her eyes that said she still had lots of energy left.

Coming up to me, she studied me carefully from every angle. Then, a smile came onto her face and she said, "Echizen Ryoma, eh? You have certainly inherited the green hair and golden eyes of the Echizens, but have you inherited the talent as well? You certainly don't seem like an athlete.

I felt a blush rise in my cheeks. With my pale skin and feminine features, many people had doubted before whether I was fit to be an athlete, I had always wiped away those doubts with my skills on the courts.

"You wanna try me?" I asked cheekily.

For a second, I thought she would be upset, but then a smile broke onto her face and she said, "Looks like you've got the boundless confidence of the Echizens too. But don't get too cheeky, brat. I've been coaching here since your grandfather was a student. Learn to show some respect." Then, to herself, she said, "Not that my saying anything will help."

I barely noticed this last comment, because her previous sentence had all but taken over my mind. "You coached grandpa Nanjiro?"

She smirked when she heard this. "Of course. And not only your grandfather, but your uncle, too."

"My uncle?" I asked, feeling excited. "You mean, Ryoma-ji-san went to Seigaku?"

She nodded. "He was the first ever freshman to get onto the varsity team."

I stared at her in awe. "Really?" I asked. This was the first thing I'd ever really learned about my uncle aside from the fact that he was a cocky, arrogant brat (grandpa's words) and that his skills in tennis were prodigal.

"Hai," she said, smiling sadly. "Because of that boy, Seigaku won the nationals, you know?" Then, she picked up a picture from her desk and handed it to me.

It was a picture of nine young men that I knew very well, all wearing the Seigaku regulars' jersey. Over the years that I had lived in Japan, I had come to know all the jii-sans that had been on the same team as my uncle, and they had all reacted in ways similar to Momoshiro-jii-san. At first, things had been awkward, but over time, I had come to think of them all as family.

As I stared at the picture, my eye was inevitably drawn to the youngest member, Ryoma. He was standing in the middle with his sempai-tachi scattered around him, and his Himalayan in his arms. There were hardly any pictures of him without his beloved Karupin. Even though it was only a picture, and even though it was so old, I could just feel the happiness emanating from the young men in the picture, the trust and respect they all held for each other. They were so different now than they had been.

Sure, all the ojii-sans still got together every once in a while, they smiled and laughed and I could tell they were happy, but every time I saw them together, I couldn't help but feel like something was missing…or someone.

"Ryoma-kun! Wake up!" a voice suddenly penetrated my dreams, followed by someone shaking me by the shoulder.

Groggily opening my eyes, I looked up into the face of my childhood friend Momoshiro Malaya-chan.

Grumbling, I said, "How many times have I told you not to call me that?"

"Hai, hai, gomen, Ryou-chan. But anyways, you shouldn't be sleeping in class! The sensei will be here soon!"

"Hai," I said lazily, sitting up and running a hand through my hair, putting yesterday's events out of my mind. Ever since we had moved here when I was five, scenes like yesterday were quite common. At one point, even Atobe Keigo-san, the president of Atobe co. whom I had accidentally bumped into had asked me about my relation to "the brat," as he called my uncle.

"Geez, why are you always so tired lately?" asked my friend Kaido Kyouichi.

Sighing, I said, "Grandfather has been training me like hell these past few days. They're expecting me to receive an invitation to the US open this year, and I'll be in huge trouble if I get disqualified too early.

"Eeh, that must be hard, having all those expectations of you just because your dad and uncle and grandfather were so famous in the tennis world," said Kikumaru Mariko, coming up to us. Truth be told, I often got frustrated when people really only saw me as just another generation of the famous Echizen family, but it also gave me a sense of pride. My family was practically tennis royalty, and I was determined not to disappoint all the people who had placed their hopes in me.

My introduction to the tennis world had been an awesome thing. I'd never forget the feeling when I won my first national tournament at the age of 7, or the hilarious reactions of the reporters afterwards when they found out I was from the famous Echizen family. Ever since that time, I was always the center of attention at tournaments and even though I didn't always place first, at the end of the day, I was always grateful that I had been born into a family where I had discovered my passion so early in life.

At that moment, another friend of ours, Fuji Shuichi came up, saying, "Saa, did you guys see the special that was on last night on the sports channel?" Sometimes, it really scared me how much he looked like his father, with his silky brown hair, and that same content smile that was always on his face, even his way of speaking was the same!...Not that I was one to talk.

"Iie," said Mariko-chan. "What was it about?"

"The E-chi-zens," he said in a singsong voice, pronouncing each syllable separately.

Feeling a blush rise in my cheeks, I cast my eyes to the floor. I'd been on television many times before, and the same with interviews, and I guess you could say I'd kind of gotten used to it, but I still got embarrassed every time someone brought it up, and Shuichi most definitely knew about it, the damn sadist.

Putting my head back down, I said, "I'm going back to sleep!"

There was a chuckle from Kyouichi and an exasperated sigh from Malaya-chan, then they moved on to other topics…

When I next opened my eyes, I found myself on a tennis court I didn't recognise. It was a normal grass court with about a meter border and a chain link fence as the boundary.

Beyond the fence, there was nothingness. Before I could afford to think deeper into this anomaly, a tennis ball whizzed past me and a voice around my age said from the other side of the court, "Fifteen love."

As I turned to look at my opponent, I noticed that he was wearing a pair of black shorts and a white t-shirt with red sleeves. On his head was a white fila cap with an 'R' on it, and seeing as our light source seemed to be somewhere above us, the visor threw the upper half of his face into shadow. The only thing I could see of his face was his mouth pulled up into a self-confident smirk as he got ready to serve.

As I instinctively got into position to return, I noticed for the first time that I held a tennis racquet in my hand.

Even though I was prepared for the serve this time, the result was the same. The ball shot past me before I could react and my opponent said calmly, "Thirty love."

The rest of the game went same, and as I struggled to try and keep up with my opponent, I found myself falling deeper and deeper into despair.

Before long, there was a call of, "Game, set, and match. Six games to love."

More exhausted than I had ever been in my life, I collapsed to the ground, feeling all my energy suddenly leave my body. It wasn't the first time I had lost, but it was the first time I hadn't ever managed to get a single point. Even when I placed against my dad, I always got a few points here and there, and occasionally even a game. This person was a monster…

As I lay, sprawled on the floor, I heard the sound of footsteps headed my way, muted slightly by the grass on which he walked.

"Mada mada dane," came the cold voice, and I opened my now closed eyes to see feline shaped amber ones staring back at me. "You've been getting too arrogant lately, chibi. Remember, no matter how good you are, there's always someone better. Don't let your arrogance be your downfall at the US Open." It felt odd to be called chibi by someone (who looked) the same age the same age as me…

Without another word, he stalked off, heading toward a door on the other side of the court that led into the nothingness.

"W-wait!" I said, sitting up. "Where are you going? Please don't leave me!" I shouted.

Feeling something lick my hand, I looked down to see a pretty Himalayan cat there. She looked up at me with reassuring eyes, then turned and bounded up to her master.

Holding his arms out at just the right moment, he caught her, then looked back at me.

"It's time for me to move on. I've stayed here too long already. I've got to go ahead and wait for kaa-san and oyaji up above."

I couldn't find anything to say to this and just cast my eyes to the floor, disappointed.

I could somehow feel him smile as he said, "Don't worry, kid. I've watched you since the day you were born. You'll stand at the top one day, and until that day comes, you've got to train like hell to make it possible. The next time we meet, you better put up a better fight or, I swear, I will disown you."

I chuckled at that. "How can you disown me?"

"Oh, I can," he said with a smirk. Having arrived at the edge of the filed, he stepped into the darkness, but not before throwing me one last smile, and saying, "Sayonara, oi-kun*. Make me proud."

As his voice faded away, there was no evidence left of the boy that had been here with me just moments ago, I was alone…then, the next thing I knew, I was snapped out of my dream by the shrill sound of the bell, signalling that class was over.

I didn't raise my head out of my arms for several moments after I had awoken, not wanting anyone to see the single tear that ran down my face.

Even though I had long outgrown the notion of having a guardian angel, I had always felt somehow close to my deceased uncle. Now, I felt a kind of dull loneliness, and I felt an unpleasant breeze at my back, as if something (or someone) whose presence I was used to had disappeared…


7 Years Later, 3rd Person POV

" Hi! My name is Mashiro Mayumi and I'm here with young Echizen Ryoma, who only just yesterday became the youngest person ever to win the Wimbledon Men's Singles title! Tell me, Echizen-san, how do you feel right now?"

The young man in question just smirked confidently and said, "Tired. Even though the matches finished yesterday, all the opponents were tough, and I gotta say, there were times when even I didn't believe I was going to win. I would never have gotten to where I am today without all my wonderful tennis coaches, my friends, and most importantly, my family."

There was a sparkle in the reporter's eye when he mentioned his family. "I see," she said, trying to remain professional. "From what I know, Echizen-kun, you've garnered quite a bit of media attention ever since you won your first tournament at the age of 7. Tell me, how did it feel to have so many people put their expectations on you?"

"Well, it wasn't easy, and at times, I felt frustrated, but mostly, it has helped motivate me to become the best tennis player I can be. I felt proud to shoulder the responsibility of being an Echizen, and I'm always determined to not disappoint all those who've placed their hopes in me."

The reporter just nodded in understanding, her mouth curved into a smile. "I see. So Echizen-kun, you've mentioned many a time that you have a role model, an idol, someone you want to one day surpass, and everyone, including myself, is curious as to who that role model is. Is it your father, the famous Echizen Ryoga? Or could it be your grandfather, the Samurai Nanjirou?"

Chuckling, the teen rolled his amber eyes heavenwards and said, "Actually, it's neither. I certainly do respect father, and grandfather has helped improve my tennis a lot, but the one that inspires me to do my best, the one that I one day want to surpass, is actually my namesake, Echizen Ryoma-san."

"Echizen Ryoma-san?" repeated the reporter quietly.

The boy nodded proudly. "I'm not sure how many people watching will have remembered him, but he was my father's younger brother who died of unknown causes at the age of twelve. But even though he was so young, he was already famous in the tennis world, and everyone called him the Prince of Tennis. Just about as long as I can remember, I've idolized him, and it's always been my goal to become a tennis player he can be proud of. I hope that with yesterday's win, I've come at least one step closer to realizing that goal…"

The End


SkyGem: So, what did you all think? Was the ending okay? I particularly liked it. Unlike with the first two chapters, I tried to make this chapter a little more up-beat, and not so angsty. Did I succeed? Or did it turn out horrible? I want all your opinions, so please do leave a review and tell me what you thought, ne?

And, even though this was a pretty short fic (according my standards), I'm deeply grateful to all of you who've stayed with this fic 'til the very end, and I hope to see you all again soon. Arigatou Goazaimasu.

*I'm not entirely sure if it makes sense to add an honorific at the end of oi (nephew). If it doesn't, do let me know, and I'll change it asap.