Disclaimer: Prince of Tennis was created by Konomi Takeshi. No profit is intended to be gained by this story.

AN: This was my entry for The RyoSaku Express fanart/fanfic exchange.

Written for Bunny, who wanted:
- A situation that causes RyoSaku to spend a lot of time together.
- A story of how they fall in love, nothing where they're already together.
- A happy ending.
- Bonus points if Ryoma is mischievous.
- At least one kiss scene.

My first posted fic in a long while. Comments and constructive criticism are always appreciated. Enjoy!

Different Strokes

By Cinpii

Ryuzaki Sakuno found him in the secluded area behind the boy's clubhouse, leaning against the shade of the building, drinking a Ponta. It was after hours, school already finished for the day, but she knew that she'd find him here. It was the location she had specified in her letter to him, after all. She had chosen this very spot due to the fact that it wouldn't inconvenience him, which increased the likelihood that he'd meet her to hear what she had to say.

The pigtailed girl took a moment to admire him. He was the perfect image of cool and relaxed, with no worries in the world, while she was all worked up inside. Sakuno paused, took a deep breath, and pasted a confident smile on her face. You can do this, she mentally chanted. She needed the bolstering. Ever since she slipped that request into his shoe locker earlier in the week, she'd been dreading this moment and avoiding him. Which was silly, because they were friends, weren't they? Had been friends for over two years now. He would at least listen to what she had to say without making her feel bad about it, wouldn't he?

His hazel eyes caught her gaze as she stepped into the clearing.

"Thank you for meeting me here, Ryoma-kun."

Echizen Ryoma heard her long before she spoke. He always had good senses, his eyes and ears more sensitive than most people he knew, and his ears had registered the unique sounds of the girl long before she came into view. The nearly unperceivable rustle of clothes and long plaits swishing with each step. The shuffle of her loafers against the concrete. The sound of her soft, slightly uneven breath, as if she was agitated but trying to contain it.

But even with his remarkable senses, he was attuned to her far more than he cared to admit. He blamed it on the letter he found in his shoe locker. A plain, normal piece of paper, rolled up and tucked loosely into his left sneaker so that there was no way that he'd miss it.

The tennis prince was no stranger to love letters, being as handsome and talented as he was. It was a common enough occurrence, being called out to secluded locations and confessed to. This, however, was certainly the first way someone had delivered a letter to him. Rolled up and tucked into his shoe?

Sighing, he had unrolled the missive, mentally giving the sender brownie points for originality. The plain white paper was loads better than the perfumed, cutesy stationary he was used to receiving. He didn't even have to fight with an envelope either. Extra brownie points for not wasting his time even more.

Idly wondering if he would even know the girl he'd be turning down, and partly hoping that the plain white paper didn't signify that it was from a boy, Ryoma read the letter and then blinked when he registered the name of the sender. Ryuzaki Sakuno.

This was a letter from Wobbly Hips?

It was succinct, polite and to the point. Completely different from any other love letter he had ever received, which then had the tennis prince doubting if it was even a love letter to begin with. Wobbly Hips was kind of dense though. Maybe she didn't know how it was done? That could be it, he mused. What else could this letter be about? He couldn't think of anything else she would want to say to him in privacy. If it was something she needed to tell him, she knew where his classroom was. They also saw each other every Sunday for their weekly training sessions. Her best friend, the loud mouthed one, would sometimes attend too. No, if Ryuzaki wanted to speak with him, there were plenty of opportunities, though not necessarily in private…

Ryoma's mind went through the possibilities, wondering what was so important that she needed to single him out with a letter. What was so critical that she didn't want anyone else to overhear? It had to be something important enough that she couldn't wait until Sunday.

Hazel eyes widened when the answer dawned on him. She was going to confess to him. He blinked when the usual feeling of irritation that came whenever he received a love letter did not wash over him. No, the feeling he had instead was… expectancy. The thought of Ryuzaki Sakuno actually confessing to him didn't seem so bad. Out of all the girls he knew, he knew her the best. She was the one girl that he routinely let into his world.

They were fourteen years old now, in their senior year of middle school. Her presence had been a constant in his life for over two years. The more he considered it, the more Ryoma realized how he wouldn't mind if his relationship with Sakuno evolved beyond friendship.

He enjoyed her company. It certainly helped that she was the most tolerable person he knew by far. She wasn't loud or obnoxious or annoying. Ryuzaki didn't chatter on ad nauseam for the sake of talking. And she was definitely not overbearing like some of the girls in his fan club.

Instead of pushy, she was sweet. Then again, she was sweet to everyone. It was the slightest bit irritating, if he was honest with himself. And now that they were older and the boys in school were getting more interested in the opposite sex, Ryoma could see how her popularity amongst his gender was growing. Boys were noticing her. He had to admit, she was easy to like. First of all, Ryuzaki was pretty. She wasn't gorgeous or pinup girl sexy, but her beauty was wholesome and natural, which honestly, Ryoma preferred anyways. She wasn't stupid either. Ryuzaki was a good student. She worked hard to keep her grades up, and she practiced hard in tennis too. Ryoma, of all people, could vouch for that.

She could be annoyingly timid around him, but she had gotten better over the years. She did have a really bad sense of direction, but that was cute in its own way. And she was clumsy too, which should have been a strike against her but wasn't. He could forgive a little clumsiness. Not everyone could be as athletically gifted as he was.

Nope. He liked her and that was that. It took a rolled up piece of plain white paper tucked into his shoe for Ryoma to realize it, but he finally did.

He wasn't sure what in particular they'd do if they started going out though. Echizen Ryoma wasn't exactly the romantic type. Aside from playing tennis together, he supposed that it would consist of stereotypical activities like walking home together, studying together and the like. That didn't seem so bad. They would spend even more time in each other's company. Besides, being her boyfriend meant that he'd get to kiss her. Maybe even more. Ryoma smiled. Now that was certainly appealing.

He was looking forward to Friday afternoon to hear her confession.

Of course she'd be late, the tennis prince sulked to himself. Wobbly Hips totally didn't know how this was done! Making the boy you wanted to confess to wait? Ridiculous.

He stood there, feeling like an idiot for about ten minutes before he remembered that being late was her specialty. Ohhh, he'd make her pay for this. After she confessed, he'd make her squirm before agreeing to go out with her. Fantasies of petty retaliations and other ways to tease his future girlfriend played themselves in his mind as he walked to a nearby vending machine.

Might as well get a Ponta. Who knew how long she'd take? The days had gotten abysmally hot, what with summer upon them. The nearest vending machine wasn't too far away. He'd get something to cool himself down and get his mind off the fact that Ryuzaki was late to everything.

Geez, it wouldn't surprise him if she was late to their wedding! Wait. Ryoma shook his head. Okay, that was just too weird and random. They weren't even dating yet. Although they would be soon. But still. Marriage was way off in the distance.

Although waking up next to Ryuzaki everyday and eating her cooking was a pleasant thought. He never asked for payment for their personal training sessions. Instead, Sakuno would thank him with a generous homemade bento that they'd share for lunch. She had a large double tiered bento container that she'd pack full of goodies. It didn't take her long to discover Ryoma's favorite foods and the ones that he didn't particularly care for.

Her cooking, mada mada dane at first, had truly become delicious. Thinking about the bento she would share with him on Sunday put him in a better mood. If they dated, she might even make him a bento everyday. Now that was something worth anticipating. If only Ryuzaki would get here already.

"Thank you for all your help," Sakuno bowed, "But Ryoma-kun doesn't need to teach me tennis anymore."

The fourteen year old boy froze. It was as if the chill from the aluminum can had suddenly seeped into his body. He heard the words, but they made no sense to him. That didn't sound like a love confession at all. No, instead of wanting to spend more time with him, she wanted to spend less.


Ryoma frowned, trying to decipher her real intent. If she didn't need to be coached anymore, it certainly wasn't because she was good enough to no longer require coaching. No, even world class professionals had coaches. At the rate Ryuzaki was going, she'd need a coach for life.

Then perhaps she didn't want to be coached by him anymore. He knew that he teased her, and okay, was maybe a little mean about it every now and then, but he never truly meant it. He would have never coached her this long if he didn't genuinely like her. She had earned his grudging respect with how much effort she put into the sport. And honestly, she wasn't that bad at it. He had been coaching her every weekend since they were twelve. Of course she was better than average by now. She even won a few small competitions. Although she had yet to score a single point from him, she made for a good rallying partner.

Did that mean she found a replacement? Ryoma found it hard to believe for her to know someone who was better in tennis than he was. Although he wasn't world ranked yet, it was just a matter of time. No, if Ryuzaki didn't need a coach, it could only mean one thing. She didn't need a coach anymore because she didn't plan to play anymore.

Ryoma's breath caught, his mind finally registering why she called him out here.

Wobbly Hips was quitting tennis.

It all made sense. The plain paper tucked into his shoe. The short, polite request to meet her after school. Ryoma felt angry at himself for thinking that her letter had a deeper meaning. He had come here to accept her heart only to find out that she wasn't even offering it.

"You're quitting?" the cat-eyed boy accused, needing to confirm his suspicions.

Reddish brown irises unable to maintain eye contact, the pigtailed girl directed her focus at the ground instead, scuffing the toe of one shoe against the other. Ryoma-kun was making this hard. She knew that he would, which was why she put it off as long as she could. He was going to make her feel like a quitter, when that was the last thing she wanted to do! But it just couldn't be helped.

"Well, tennis season is already over. I need to concentrate on other things."

The crease in between his eyebrows deepened. Sure, the season was over. Sure, as seniors finishing their first term in school, it was expected that they'd retire from their extracurricular activities to focus on their studies, but playing tennis never really stopped. If she truly loved the sport, she wouldn't quit. Besides, if she didn't keep up her skills, what would happen when they were in high school?

Worse than that, if they didn't have tennis together, there would be nothing else to connect them. It wasn't like they shared any classes. Ryoma felt betrayed in the worst way.

He knew that he used to grump about training her; especially with the shady way his father had coerced him into it. Ryoma had loads of better things to do with his life than train the coach's granddaughter. Really, waking up early on his weekends just to hang out with a girl? He could have slept in with Karupin! He could have played more video games! That was loads better than hanging out with her and getting beamed by her errant tennis balls. It was also better than crashing into posts and trees while trying to train the clumsy girl. From bruises to bloody noses, hanging out with her had been perilous to his health!

But that had been years ago. Things were different now. After spending so much time in her company, after spending so much time being a constant in each other's lives, she was ending it just like that?

Well, fine then. See if he was ever nice to her again. Using him like that for two years and ending it so abruptly. He took it all back. He was crazy to even consider the idea that he might have liked her. Wobbly Hips as his girlfriend? What a joke!

Then the rational part of Ryoma's mind took over. Sakuno liked tennis though. She had practiced assiduously for two years. There had to be another reason. Before they walked out of each other's lives for good, he at least wanted to know why.

"So what are you going to do instead?" he asked coolly. "Study?" It was a logical conclusion. They were in their third year. They had high school entrance exams to prepare for. Ryoma didn't have to expend very much effort in that regard, but he knew that it wasn't the same for her.

Sakuno studied very, very diligently. Being related to one of Seigaku's widely regarded instructors came with higher expectations. Sakuno was held to a different standard. Merely passing wasn't good enough. No, she had to excel. For the most part, she did so admirably. She was a model student and well liked by her teachers and peers. She hit the wall when it came to Physical Education though. Her clumsiness was her kryptonite. Apparently, playing tennis better than the average person didn't equate to doing better in other sports. Not if you were Wobbly Hips.

Sakuno sighed, shaking her head. "No, swim."

At his raised eyebrow, the pigtailed girl clarified, cheeks ablaze. "I need to practice swimming. Sensei said that if I don't improve my lap time by the end of the term, I'll fail PE."

Ah, so that was the reason. Ryuzaki was too responsible by half. She would never allow herself to get a failing grade. So she wasn't quitting tennis because she wanted to. His anger at her receded.

Wait, what? Ryoma cocked his head in confusion. People actually failed PE? The very concept was foreign to him. Then again, glancing at Sakuno, he took it back. She still wobbled her hips when she played tennis, at least whenever he was teaching her a new technique. If she was that clumsy on land, who knew how awkward she'd be in water? Ok, he could see how someone could fail that class.

"I asked Obaa-chan to find an instructor for me."

Knowing his old coach, she'd probably set Sakuno up with someone from the swim team. Ryuzaki Sumire was the math instructor for third year students; she would know someone. If Sakuno was set up with a girl, that would be ok, but what if she was set up with a boy? The thought of Sakuno spending time with a boy in her bathing suit didn't sit well with the tennis prince. Heck, Ryoma thought, scowling, Sakuno spending time with another boy didn't sit well with him, period.

"I can teach you," he volunteered.

Sakuno's head jerked up. "Really?"

Ryoma shrugged. "Sure. I know how to swim." During his childhood in California, he had grown up with a pool in the backyard and with a father who loved escaping to the nearby beaches. Of course Ryoma knew how to swim. Besides, with the scorching weather lately, it would be a good way to escape the heat.

"Ok," she agreed happily, relieved that the one boy she considered as a dear friend was no longer upset with her. Heck, he even offered to coach her! She was so lucky. Why didn't she think of asking him sooner? Besides, Sakuno thought, she would be more comfortable around him than around a stranger. And since it was Ryoma-kun, she could be confident that he would teach her well. She'd improve her lap time enough to ace her class. Perfect.

"I'll let Obaa-chan know that she doesn't need to search for anyone."

They agreed to meet up both Saturday and Sunday at the school pool, since she needed so much help. With Sakuno being as responsible and dutiful as she was, Sumire had trusted her granddaughter with the keys to the pool gate. Being related to an instructor came in very handy, apparently. Then again, it wasn't too odd for a student to have keys to a building in the school, Ryoma thought to himself. Back when he was still captain of the tennis team, he had keys to the clubhouse, and was charged with opening and locking up.

With the logistics out of the way and the promise of a weekend hanging out with the girl he liked, in her bathing suit no less, Ryoma was in a better mood already.

It was 10 a.m. when he pushed open the gate to the school's pool. Sakuno looked up from her spot on the benches, under the shade of the expansive cover. She waved to him and bowed her head a bit. She had made sure to get to their first swim lesson early. Good girl.

"Thank you for agreeing to teach me, Ryoma-kun," she smiled gratefully. She was in the middle of applying sunscreen to her exposed skin. "Want some?"

"Aa," he murmured, taking in the sight of her, already decked out in her swimsuit. The navy blue school-issued one piece was cut modestly but it hugged her every curve. Her long pigtails framed her nicely, the gap between her waist and her braids emphasizing the slim lines of her torso. Her body showed the results of daily training and the teenaged boy in Ryoma certainly liked what he saw.

Ryuzaki looked damn good.

She bent over, rubbing the thick lotion onto her legs and Ryoma allowed himself to admire the sight of her like that for a few moments more before he proceeded to take off his own clothes. His hands grabbed the opposite ends of his shirt hem and tugged it up and off.

Sakuno just happened to look up at that particular moment, intending to pass him the sunscreen. The sight of Echizen Ryoma undressing in front of her took her breath away. The flex of his muscles as his body contorted to take off his shirt. Whoa.

It was a given that his arms would look good, what with him swinging a racket several hundred times a day. But… Sakuno had never really thought about the rest of him. Against her will, her eyes flickered over the tennis prince's exposed body. She bit her lip, eyes flitting over his direction and then away. Ryoma-kun had a nice chest. Nice abs too.

Good thing that he was already wearing his red swim trunks. If he took off any more clothes in front of her, her cheeks would explode. The girl mentally shook her head, silently scolding herself. No, no more blushing over him. She had gotten over that phase years ago. Thinking of Ryoma-kun as anything more than a friend would only lead to heartbreak. They had a good thing going and Sakuno was not going to ruin it by liking him. She had made that promise to herself ever since the rumors of him receiving love letters and breaking hearts circulated around their school.

Ryoma neatly caught the bottle that she tossed to him and quickly applied the lotion onto himself before turning around, exposing his back to her. "Can you do this?" he asked over his shoulder.

"Sure," Sakuno readily agreed, getting off the bench. It wasn't until she was actually touching him when the enormity of the situation hit her. Her hands smoothed over his back and shoulders and Sakuno fought hard to suppress the small part of herself that reveled in being allowed to touch him like this. The texture of Ryoma's skin – smooth, warm, solid, imprinted itself into her palms. The hard ridge of bone that made up his shoulder blades, the bumps of his spine, the firmness of his muscles… She enjoyed it all.

Oh, she was shameless. He was here to teach her how to swim. They were friends, and friends helped each other out. They did not salivate over one another. Even if said friend had a really, really nice physique.

She stepped back when she was finished. "There, all done," she managed to get out in a normal voice.

"Your turn," he twirled his finger, indicating for her to turn around so that he could repay the favor.

She accepted his assistance and trustingly turned her back towards him. He proceeded to squirt some of the coconut scented cream into his palms, rub them together and then smooth it onto the exposed areas of her skin. Sakuno's eyes fluttered shut, enjoying the moment. Ryoma's hands felt solid and warm.

Standing this close to her, touching her like this, Ryoma noticed for the first time. Was Ryuzaki always this… tiny? Her shoulders were so narrow. Height-wise, she had only grown a few more inches since they were twelve. With all the milk Ryoma was forced to drink, he was a good half a head taller than her now. The differences between them caught him by surprise. The slenderness of her neck. The softness of her skin. He was more conscious that she was a girl than ever before.

The boy dropped his hands before he did something else with them.

"We'll start off with you swimming four laps," Ryoma said authoritatively, timer in hand. He couldn't point out which areas she needed improvement on if he didn't evaluate her first. He'd see how fast she could go and then see what he could do to shave off her time.

Sakuno did as she was told, and it didn't take long for Ryoma to come to the conclusion that she sucked at swimming. No wonder she was failing. There was so much wasted movement, so much splashing. It was an awkward, jerky, uncoordinated mess. It was hard to watch.

Ryoma stopped the timer when her hand touched the rim of the pool on the completion of her last lap. He frowned as he stared at her time. Sakuno lifted her goggles, panting. Looking up at him while treading water, she could tell on his face.

"That bad, huh?" Sakuno remarked.

At least she could swim this much, he conceded. She didn't sink like a stone midway. It wasn't her stamina that was the issue. Her technique, however, was a different story, but Ryuzaki had proved that she could be taught. They didn't have two years though. The end of the term was approaching quickly. Well, he'd teach her by example and go from there.

"Ok, watch me," he instructed before diving in. Sakuno marveled at how cleanly Ryoma sliced through the water. He made it look so easy, so fluid, his limbs so synchronized and graceful. He was amazing.

He swam back to her, completing the lap. "Can you see what you're doing wrong?"

If she knew that, she wouldn't need a coach. Mutely, Sakuno shook her head.

"I guess let's start with your strokes first, then we'll tackle your kicks."

Ryoma proceeded to show her the proper freestyle form and Sakuno made a conscious effort to perfect each stroke. She floated face down, body perpendicular to the pool's edge. With one hand on the concrete rim, she completed a stroke with her opposite arm and then alternated, completing a stroke with the other arm.

Ryoma stood close by, the surface of the water rippling from the movement of their bodies. "No, extend your hands out, away from your body. Keep your elbows high. And inhale deeper. Try to only breathe on every third stroke."

And on and on it went. They spent the entire morning that way, and when it was time for lunch, Sakuno's arms felt like they were going to fall off. And they hadn't even worked on her kicks!

The cat-eyed boy came back from a trip to the vending machine, two cans of ice cold Ponta in hand, to find her exactly where he had left her. She was lying down on one of the benches, her head pillowed on a folded up towel, one end of it draped over her eyes, panting quietly.

He extended the cherry flavored Ponta towards her. "Drink this; it'll make you feel better."

"I'm too tired to sit up," Sakuno whimpered, still not moving from her position. "You wouldn't happen to have a straw, would you?"

Ryoma chuckled at her sad plight. The poor thing. Water resistance was a lot stronger than air. A hundred strokes with a racket was no where near as difficult as a hundred strokes in water. She had worked hard, and she couldn't even get up to drink her Ponta. Enjoying the cool, refreshing beverage at the end of a workout was the best part.

He shrugged, and then popped the top off the can he had just offered and took a swallow. Taking another long drag from the can, the boy bent over the girl and pressed his lips to hers.

Sakuno opened her eyes under the towel, startled, but still too exhausted to move. What in the world–?

His lips were soft and warm upon her own. Gentle at first, he increased the pressure as he slanted his mouth over hers and parted her lips. The contrast of the cool liquid entering her mouth was striking. Sakuno automatically swallowed it in surprise.

Straightening up and grinning with self satisfaction, he asked, cool as a cucumber, "Want some more?"

Sakuno's mind was spinning. She could hear the smugness in his voice. He was teasing her! Ryoma-kun had just stolen her first kiss and played it off as if it wasn't a kiss at all. Why that cheeky brat! Why that conniving, mischievous prince! If she backed down and said no, he'd win. No way, she thought fiercely. Two could play at this game.

"Yes," she replied bravely, cheeks burning.

Smirking, he took another pull from the can and bent over her again. She did her best to swallow the mouthful that he passed onto her, but a tiny bit had dribbled down one corner of her lips.

Feeling him removing the towel that covered her face, Sakuno opened her eyes, only to meet his serious gaze. No longer was the mood about him playful. If she didn't stop this, there was no going back. Sakuno stared into his gaze for several heartbeats more before she shuttered her eyes and raised her chin. Ryoma took the hint. He licked up the errant drops. And then he kissed her for real.

Whisper soft fingertips stroked her cheek before slipping into her damp hair. He paused, lips just barely hovering over hers, sharing a breath, before he descended again. She was so sweet. Sweeter than the Ponta they shared. Ryoma couldn't get enough and kissed her deeper, his tongue slipping past her lips to taste her even more.

Sakuno startled at the sensation, but couldn't pull away. The bench beneath her and the boy above her trapped her in place. She made a small whimper as his tongue stroked hers in an intimate caress. Oh. Ryoma-kun really shouldn't be doing that. It was making her body feel weird. All fluttery inside. And hot. Inflamed, actually.

The kiss continued like that until Sakuno couldn't take it anymore. Breaking contact, she turned her head to the side, panting. Ryoma-kun was practically on top of her, and shirtless to boot. This wasn't good. Not good at all. And she was too weak to fight him off. Not that she really wanted to, because Sakuno did like Ryoma back, she had liked him for two years now, but he wasn't going to do more than this, was he? She wasn't mentally ready!

The movement of his lips didn't stop though. Undeterred, they caressed the side of her neck and Sakuno shivered. It felt thrilling and forbidden, his lips there. And yet her neck was such an innocuous part of her body. It wasn't something that had to be covered for modesty's sake. He sucked and nibbled at the tender skin and Sakuno trembled.

Okay, maybe just a little bit more, she thought to herself as Ryoma captured her lips again. She was a wicked, wicked girl. But just a little bit more was okay. He was only touching her above the shoulders. She wasn't that wicked. This felt amazing and she really didn't want to stop. Besides, Sakuno thought distantly, maybe all this kissing would improve her breathing. She was inhaling deeper already…

It wasn't long after that when their schoolmates realized that someone had finally captured the heart of their aloof prince. A certain sunny natured, easily teased pigtailed girl had become the object of his affections. A girl who had become remarkably good at swimming.