Summary: Echizen Reika gives up on tennis after her mother's death and chooses to pursue music instead…in Hyotei Gakuen. A story of acceptance and understanding, forgiveness and love. Fem!Ryoma

NOTE: For story purposes, Echizen Reika will be a second-year. Also, please note that this is semi-AU as it is set in high school.

Disclaimer: I don't own Prince of Tennis.


Chapter 1: The Prodigy's Heartstrings

"I dance on a wire

I don't want to fail her

I walk against the stream

Far from what I believe in."

- 'Lost' by Within Temptation -

"Kaa-san…"

With a lowered head, tears spilled down porcelain cheeks – memories flashing into the mind like the flickering of a flaming candle, a cycle of 'now you see it, now you don't' starting to play.

So many precious moments, intertwined with the gossamer thin thread and woven throughout time – with the one person who had supported and encouraged her so much, helped her so much, sacrificed so much – but most of all, gave birth to her and loved her unconditionally, whole-heartedly…

How could she be gone?

Echizen Reika let out a sob as the priest finished speaking then. Feeling a hand on her shoulder, she looked up to see familiar hazel eyes.

"Nii-san," She choked out as she buried her face into her elder brother's chest. "Why…?"

Letting out a heavy sigh, Ryoga pulled her into a hug, stroking his sister's hair gently as she cried. As the sound of approaching footsteps was heard, he ignored it, knowing who it was.

Soon, all three Echizen's were in an embrace.

How long they were there, they did not know. As the morning sun dimmed, turning into a sunset of streaks of reds and orange, ribbons of pink and yellow, light illuminated the etchings of the intricate gravestone.

Echizen Rinko

Age 36

Loving mother and beautiful wife

==XXXXXX==

A couple of months ago in America…

"I'm running late…" Came a mutter.

Echizen Rinko, wife of the Samurai Nanjiroh and mother of two children by the name of Ryoga and Reika was on her way to a tennis tournament. One that her only daughter that was Reika was participating in. She was extremely proud of both of them, though she occasionally wished that her daughter would focus on her musical skills instead. Still, as long as they did what made them happy…

Remembering the times where she would play the violin made the attorney smile. Eventhough they didn't say it aloud, Rinko knew well that Ryoga and Nanjiroh loved Reika's music. Nanako often complimented her on her music when she came over.

So deep she was in her thoughts that she did not hear the warning.

"Look out!"

And there was darkness.

"I'm sorry," The doctor spoke wearily, exhaustion coating his tone.

Gone.

Rinko was gone.

The woman he loved was gone.

Forever.

Echizen Nanjiroh put his head in his hands, shaking. How would he do it? How could he live? She had always been his greatest strength, the light of his life. Each and every moment, every minute, hour and day – how could he have taken it, taken her for granted? There would be only memories now. Just memories.

"Jii-san."

He slowly looked up to see his niece, Nanako Meino in front of him. Her face was pale and tear-streaked, a hesitant expression on her face as she took a trembling breath and spoke.

"Ryoga and Reika…" She paused before continuing, "T-they need you too."

Ryoga. His son.

Reika. His daughter.

He had almost forgotten about them…

Taking a deep breath, the Samurai gathered his composure. Now was not the time.

He had children who needed him.

==XXXXXX==

Arrangements for Rinko to be buried in Japan had been made as she had loved that place more than America, not to mention that it was her true home in the first place. The Echizen family would be moving there permanently as well. America was too much for them at the moment, overwhelming – they needed a fresh start.

It was the youngest Echizen that worried them all, however. She had stopped playing tennis, and instead spent time playing the violin instead. Often practicing for several hours, replaying the Echizen matriarch's favourite pieces; the thing was, everyone knew that she loved tennis more than music.

And yet…

Both Nanjiroh and Ryoga were in a deep discussion when Reika came in.

Ryoga was the first one to notice her presence and broke off from the conversation. He made his way over and ruffled her hair much to her annoyance, "Yo, chibisuke."

"Stop it, baka aniki," She muttered exasperatedly, though a tiny smile appeared.

Nanjiroh watched the two, not bothering to hide the amusement on his face. The former tennis pro cleared his throat, "So what is it, chibi-chan?"

"About Japan…" Reika paused, clearly hesitating. "I…I want to go to Hyotei. For its music program…"

Silence. Clearly, it had taken them both off-guard.

Reika shifted her feet nervously, waiting. Her brother spoke first.

"And tennis?" Ryoga prompted gently as he exchanged glances with his father, clearly remembering her love of Reika's music. She wasn't the only one though, both he and his father loved Reika's music as well. It was just the fact that Reika loved tennis more than music, and thus had chosen to pursue tennis instead though she occasionally did play her instrument.

"I don't know…" Her voice trailed off, fading into a whisper.

Nanjiroh wanted desperately to stop her, to persuade her to not make this decision. It was selfish of him, he knew. But he had given up so much for her already – the Grand Slam title, his dream and everything else and now she wanted to stop

But she was still his daughter. To be honest, he had never seen her looking so lost, so uncertain of herself before. She had always been confident and strong-willed, never letting anything get in her way – until Rinko's death.

So as much as he hated it, as much as he wanted to shake her out of it, he would let her.

With a reluctant sigh, Echizen Nanjiroh stepped towards his daughter and pulled her into a rare hug. No jokes. No goofing around.

Reika stiffened slightly before relaxing in her father's arms. It had been a long time since she let him hug her (as usually he would glomp, not hug) and vice-versa. And it was nice.

Letting go after a couple of moments, Nanjiroh then mustered a mock-pout and started complaining.

"Well, then, Hyotei, eh? I hear they're full of rich - " The eldest Echizen never got to finish his sentence as a pillow hit him square in the face.

The atmosphere lightened, the tension dissolving and crumbling into nothing.

Sputtering, golden eyes scanned the room and found a smirking Ryoga.

"You – come back here!" Nanjiroh started chasing after his son.

As he fended off their enraged father, Ryoga winked at his younger sister, causing her to giggle.

The youngest Echizen shook her head in fond exasperation. Truly, she loved them dearly – not that she would tell them out loud.

"Age getting to you, old man?"

"I'm not old!"

Shaking her head to get rid of her thoughts, the sole female Echizen joined them in the fray.

After all, if you can't beat'em, join'em.

"Eat this, nii-san!"

"Aren't you supposed to be on my side?!"

==XXXXXX==

Back to the present…

Beep beep! Beep beep!

A hand darted out from between the bed-sheets, hitting the 'off' button of the alarm clock accurately.

With a small yawn, Echizen Reika stretched her arms and got out of bed. She had gotten into the habit of waking up early after her mother's death, often not being able to sleep. But the move to Japan had taken a lot out of her, hence her surprising (but refreshing and much-needed) sleep.

The slender girl took a quick shower and dressed herself in the Hyotei uniform. After pulling her green-tinted black hair into a messy ponytail with a ribbon hair-tie, she grabbed her bag and headed down the stairs.

Pausing at the scent of food in the air, a nostalgic smile made its way onto her face. It had always been her mother who cooked, but now…

'It's your fault. All your fault.' A voice whispered in her mind.

'No…it's not. It's not…!' Shoving it into the deepest corner of her mind, Reika looked down to see that she was trembling slightly. It wasn't the first time that it had happened. She knew it was irrational of her, but she couldn't help feeling guilty that she was responsible for her mother's death, in a way. With a shaky sigh, the female Echizen gathered her composure and took a deep breath.

"Good morning," Entering the kitchen, she greeted her father who was reading a (surprise, surprise) newspaper and Nanako who was cooking. As per routine, she dropped her bag onto an empty chair and tended to Karupin first before helping make breakfast.

"Morning," Ryoga entered with a sleepy yawn, bag slung over his shoulder.

"Morning!" Nanako greeted brightly. "Your bentos are over there," The tall girl nodded in the direction where two nicely-wrapped bentos sat on the counter, smiling when they gave her their thanks.

Nanjiroh's greeting was muffled behind the paper, causing both siblings to roll their eyes and Nanako to sigh in exasperation.

Breakfast ended soon enough and the two siblings set off.

==XXXXXX==

In Hyotei Gakuen

"Kami, how huge is this place?" Reika twitched as she scanned her surroundings for her classroom. Ryoga had dropped her off earlier before taking off on his own towards university.

While her sense of direction was decent, the place was just too huge.

Frowning, she glanced down at her schedule again.

"Class 2-A, class 2-A…" muttered Reika as she looked around again before spotting a sign near the stairs and resisted the urge to facepalm.

'I cannot believe I was on the wrong level this whole time… Nii-san and tou-san would never let me hear the end of this…' She made a mental note to never mention this at home. Ever.

Finally reaching the front of her classroom, the girl rapped on the door lightly before sliding it open and made her way towards the homeroom teacher.

"Excuse me. I'm the new transfer student…" Reika said with a small bow - ignoring the burst of whispers at the last sentence.

The homeroom teacher raised an eyebrow, "I see… Well, welcome to Hyotei Gakuen. I am your homeroom teacher and am to be addressed as Yamada-sensei or Sensei. Because you are new, I will let you off for being late this one time. Is that clear?"

"Hai."

"Good. Now, take a seat."

Homeroom proceeded smoothly then, with brief introductions and overview of the subjects covered by Hyotei. Subjects were divided into two categories – "specialized" and "general". Second years were allowed to choose electives consisting of music, calligraphy, art, computer science, foreign languages and more. The first sign of a student's performance dropping would involve a warning. If the student's performance was to continue dropping, the student's parents would then be brought in. And lastly, expulsion. As it was – three strikes, and you're out. Punishments, on the other hand, varied depending on the seriousness of offences.

Reika let out a sigh of relief as it was finally lunch break. She had been constantly stared at and talked about throughout class, and it was grating on her nerves.

"Sooo, you're Reika, right?"

She looked up to see a brunette male with light grey eyes armed with a friendly grin.

"Yes. Echizen Reika. And you are…?"

Bonk!

"Ow-ow-ow!"

"Haru! What did I tell you just now?" A girl with darker brown hair and same light grey eyes huffed, crossing her arms in annoyance.

"That hurt, Hikari!" The male whined.

"You deserved it," Muttering under her breath, Hikari turned and smiled at her.

"Sorry about that. This is my idiot twin brother, Haru. I'm Hikari. Our last name is Miyamoto."

Amused, Reika shook her head, "No problem. My name's Echizen Reika."

Haru by now had recovered from the pain inflicted by his beloved twin and spoke, "Anyway, Hikari was wondering – ow – alright, I was – damn it, woman!" He yelped. "Fine, we were wondering if you'd like to join us for lunch."

Stifling her laughter, the golden-eyed girl agreed.

==XXXXXX==

It had been a couple of days since she had started at Hyotei and became fast friends with the twins Haru and Hikari who were also her classmates. Both of them were equally outgoing and vivacious. Though, Haru tended to be more hyper and impulsive compared to Hikari who was more level-headed and rational.

Reika let out a sigh. Club selections were coming up soon, and she was troubled. While she had set her sights on the music club despite knowing that Hyotei had a tennis club…

"Ow…"

Rubbing her head, she looked around and realized that she had actually walked into a tree. Reika sighed – she really needed to stop thinking too much. Scanning her surroundings again, an exasperated groan escaped her.

She was lost. Again.

Where she stood was quite stunning though – an averagely small clearing surrounded by cherry blossom and peony trees, and bursts of star-white lilies decorated the evergreen grass.

Unconsciously relaxing, a soft smile made its way onto her face as she momentarily took in the peaceful silence. A light breeze rustled the leaves, and a familiar scent wafted through.

It was the scent of jasmine.

Her mother's favourite flower.

"I miss you," Reika whispered as the feeling in her chest tightened, tears welling up in her eyes.

As if she wasn't in control, her hands moved to take out her violin. Haru had badgered her into bringing it after finding out that she played the instrument.

"This is for you…kaa-san…"

Closing her eyes and feeling the familiar wood pressing against her neck, she let her fingers play.

==XXXXXX==

The tennis regulars of Hyotei had paused in their movements as the sound of violin could be heard. Now, as Hyotei was an elitist school, everyone was used to hearing music even after school periods. But this…this was different.

It was light and melodious, and yet each note, as it progressed, weaved and became a melody seemingly not from this world. Depicting a tale of bittersweet light and snow, the sharp staccatos, the rising and falling of the pitch and volume that were masterfully done – they were raw intensity in itself, filled with heart-breaking emotion.

There were no words to describe it but 'beautifully heart-wrenching'.

His curiosity peaked; Atobe Keigo gracefully rose from his seat and started to walk, snapping his fingers, "Kabaji."

"Usu," The giant nodded and obediently followed the tennis captain. Realizing the unbidden command, the others exchanged glances and fell into step behind the two. Well, except for the still sleeping Akutagawa Jirou, that is.

Eventually, the regulars came upon a clearing where the music was loudest.

Apparently, it was a petite girl with dark hair that was tinted with emerald green dressed in the female's version of the Hyotei uniform. Her fingers moved fluidly over the instrument, the other stroking the bow – playing it as if it was an extension of her body. As the song finally came to a stop, her eyes opened – revealing golden irises that seemed to shimmer under the light of the sun.

Her eyes widened in surprise at seeing the unexpected crowd. All of them were dressed in sports attire – obviously, they had been training, she deduced and opened her mouth to speak when she was cut off by the dark-haired male who had a mole standing in the front.

"You. What is your name?"

His tone was completely and utterly arrogant. A flare of…something – annoyance, she supposed burst out, and she fired back a retort instantly.

"Did you ever learn some manners? You're supposed to introduce yourself first or ask politely," Reika rolled her eyes as she packed her violin inside her case from the ground.

Atobe twitched at the girl's response. Behind him, he could hear Choutaro trying to calm Gakuto and Shishido who were both snickering – he made a mental note to double the two's training regimens for a week. He wouldn't be surprised if Oshitari was enjoying this (definitely laps around the court for him tomorrow). Wakato was, on the other hand, as stoic as ever.

"Well?" She asked, raising an eyebrow as she slung her bag over her shoulders and lifted up her violin case.

"Atobe Keigo," He finally muttered.

"What about the rest of you?" Reika inquired with interest. She wondered what sport they played…

"Mukahi Gakuto."

"Shishido Ryo."

"Ootori Choutarou."

"Hiyoshi Wakato."

"Oshitari Yuushi. The one beside Keigo is Kabaji. Last but not least, Jirou – who is…somewhat of a sleeper and not here at the moment," Oshitari – a bespectacled blue-haired male said.

"Nice to meet all of you… My name's -"

A cell-phone rang.

"It's feeling like the time's run out,
But the hour glass, just flipped itself over again,
The sun is slowly sinking down…"

"Sorry," She muttered as she answered her phone. "Hello?"

"Chibisuke, where are you? You were supposed to be home an hour ago!"

Reika cringed as her brother started to rant.

"Yes, I'm still in school."

"No, I'm not kidnapped or whatsoever."

"Yes, I'm alright!"

"Fine, fine, I'll be home soon."

Finally finishing the call, Reika sighed in relief, glanced around and froze. She'd completely forgotten that they were still there. And they had heard the entire phone call.

It was so not her day.

"Sorry about that. That was my brother," She explained sheepishly. "I got to go."

"I'll see you all around. By the way, the name's Echizen. Echizen Reika." With a wave, she dashed off, leaving behind an amused and slightly bewildered tennis team.

==XXXXXX==

Oshitari spoke up first.

"Well, that was interesting."

"She seems nice..." Choutarou offered.

"She didn't even know who we were," Shishido said, looking faintly amused.

The red-haired acrobat of the team grinned mischievously, "Not even Atobe-buchou."

At this, all of them stifled their chuckles and glanced at their captain who snapped, "What?"

"Really, Keigo," Oshitari chided, laughter in his eyes. "You shouldn't sulk. It's quite unbecoming."

"..."

"Shut up, Yuushi."