Post canon, Fudoumine-centric.

For the Love of the Game

Fudoumine does not have a girls' tennis club, and hasn't since the coach of the boys' team quit under unusual circumstances. Ann doesn't mind; the man, when he could be bothered to remember the existence of the girls' team, had been more of a pervert than a coach, and her teammates--well, they hadn't been playing tennis for the love of the game. Playing for love of the boys' team, maybe, but not for love of the game itself. As far as Ann is concerned, good riddance to the coach and her teammates both.

She plays tennis with the boys now, and sometimes wins a game, when they forget who she is and go easy on her because she's a girl. Kamio-kun is especially bad about forgetting, but Ann doesn't mind. It's the way he is; every time he loses to her it serves as motivation to work even harder next time. He improves, and she gets to play a better opponent, and they both win.

Being Tachibana's little sister is not always a bad thing. The team idolizes Kippei, and adopted her as one of their own on his account. It's like having an entire pack of brothers to fuss over and be fussed over by. If they are protective of her, she is every bit as protective of them. They glower and bluster at her would-be suitors; she growls and snaps at the players of rival schools. God help any of her potential boyfriends. God help anyone who injures a Fudoumine player.

There is a downside to being Tachibana's little sister as well. Everyone knows the name Tachibana at Fudoumine. Everyone knows what happened to the old tennis team, and to the coach. Having such a reputation is difficult. She does not have many would-be suitors from within her school, nor does she have many female friends. There is a spark--perhaps more than a spark--of wildness in her brother, and his team. Ann knows that she shares this spark. So do her yearmates. Most do not trouble her, which is good. Ann would hate for her boys to get into more trouble than they already have.

Fudoumine's team does not have cheerleaders--not like Hyoutei with its massive cheering section of a club, or even Seigaku, which has the non-Regulars and the cadre of Echizen-fans. Fudoumine has Ann, and one another. That's enough.

Still, it gives Ann a warm glow whenever Seigaku's members show up to watch Fudoumine play. There is something more than respect between their two teams, something bordering on friendship. She and her boys don't need outside support, and they like it that way, but it's nice to have friend-rivals who can understand their passion for the game.

When Kirihara tries to destroy her brother, and the team loses to Rikkai, it very nearly breaks them. At practice the next day, they stare at one another with hollow eyes, and cut it short to visit him in the hospital. This is their moment of crisis: who are they without Kippei to lead them?

This lasts until Kippei, exasperated with them and his injury both, but still gentle--he is a good captain--tells them to learn from Seigaku, whose captain being in Kyuushu does not deter them. Then he tells them to learn from Rikkai, which puts everyone's hackles up, until he explains the strain facing that team in the absence of their captain.

Later, Ann reflects that it is shaping up to be a bad year for captains.

Kippei's lecture puts the starch back into their spines, even if, as Ann privately suspects, they model themselves after Seigaku rather than giving Rikkai a second thought. Goodness knows she'd rather hold a dead rat in her teeth than follow Rikkai's lead in anything. Kamio-kun steps up and fills in for Kippei as a good vice captain ought, and if Ann helps him a lot, well, she is Tachibana's little sister, and some things just run in her blood.

Fudoumine doesn't have a girls' tennis team, and Ann wonders how far some rules can be bent. Her brother will be retiring soon to prepare for his high school entrance exams, and then what? Kamio-kun will become captain, and the boys will probably draw lots to see who will take over as vice captain. That's fine, but Kippei's resignation leaves them short a player. They need a seventh player--not so important for the quarter-final games and beyond that only require three winning matches, but vital in the early play-offs requiring the participating schools to play all five matches.

Ann spends her evenings studying the rule book, making careful notes in the margins. Kippei sees what she is doing, but says nothing, which is approval enough as far as she is concerned. Besides, no one else seems interested in joining the team, and it's doubtful that any incoming freshmen will have the guts to after hearing the stories of the Fudoumine Tennis Revolt.

Nothing in the rules says it can't be done, because who would have thought anyone would try? So Ann presents herself to the boys, who never have been much on rules anyway, and they like her solution better than anything else they've come up with. She's one of them already. This just makes it official.

They turn in the registration forms as a team, and the school officials quail before their united front.

Fudoumine does not have a girls' tennis team, but now it doesn't need one, because the only female student who wants to play tennis is, working twice as hard as any of her boys and loving every minute of it. There's no telling how long it's going to last--probably no longer than the first round of play-offs, but her boys are okay with that, being used to disqualification by now--so she burns every moment of it into her memory, to savor later.

When the time for district preliminaries comes, and Fudoumine arrives for the quarter-finals, the officials protest You can't do that, it's not allowed! but Ann produces her well-thumbed and annotated copy of the rulebook, and invites them to show her where it says she can't. You shouldn't, they tell her, to which she replies that she plays for Fudoumine, and that Fudoumine doesn't care about should and should not.

Fudoumine only cares about playing tennis.

In the end, they stay in the play-offs, because Ann has read the rules very carefully, and then she had Kippei read them to double check, and finally Ibu-kun because no one has a finer eye for detail, and there isn't anything that says she can't play. From the way the officials are scribbling notes and making phone calls, they know the rules are about to be rewritten, but that doesn't matter at the moment.

What matters is taking the courts. Their opponents Mizunofuchi, sneer, apparently forgetting that Fudoumine has gone from being unseeded to being one of the top four seeds in the space of a year, and has only changed one member.

Ishida-kun and Sakurai-kun play a flawless set of doubles, as do Uchimura-kun and Mori-kun. Kippei cheers from the sidelines as Ann takes the court for Singles Three, but she can tell that he's worrying, even from this distance. She smiles at him, and at her boys.

She tells herself that losing isn't an option, not for this game, and readies herself for her opponent's serve. Fudoumine doesn't have a girls' team, and this game will have to stand for all of the competitions the Fudoumine girls' team will never play.

Her first return sings across the net, and she forgets to worry--the boys can take care of that for her, and will, to the point of silliness--because Ann loves tennis and loves to play.

And she loves the stupefied expression on the boy's face when she takes the set (six games to four) and her boys cheer like lunatics. They sweep her off the court, triumphant, and none of them stop grinning, even for a moment.

If they never play another match after today, it won't matter. Ann sips the cool drink Kippei brings her, while Kamio-kun and Ibu-kun discuss the play order for the semi-final matches, and smiles, because she can't imagine anything better than this moment.