Disclaimer: I can't even play tennis
I know God will not give me anything I can't handle. I just wish that He didn't trust me so much.
-Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Chapter 1: In which a butterfly flaps its wings and Sumire contemplates granddaughters, ghosts, and the nature of change
Prince of Tennis
The smallest change can completely and irrevocably alter the path an individual will walk for the rest of their lives. Hesitating one second longer before crossing the street could mean the difference of getting hit by a car or watching it pass by harmlessly. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator means not meeting the person you one day might have married. Every choice ever made, no matter how small, directly affects the course of history. Because when a butterfly flaps its wings on one side of the world . . .
Prince of Tennis
Ryuuzaki Sumire sighed and looked down at her youngest grandchild. It had been nearly two months since the accident and while that was not nearly enough time to get over what had happened the healing process had started. The only problem was that she was afraid that Sakuno was healing wrong.
Before everything had fallen apart Sakuno had been the friendliest and most open of all of her grandchildren, to an almost worrying degree in fact. Her parents had always been terrified that their energetic, helpful five-year-old would one day go off to help someone and not come back. And despite their near constant orders not to Sakuno could often be found talking to a new "friend" that she had made at the park or outside of her school or in one of the many other places where all a manner of unsavory characters could be found. Sumire supposed that if the girl's biggest character flaw was a predilection to believe the best of everyone then she really couldn't find fault with any of the decisions that her son had made in raising the child. Some of his other decisions however. . .
She didn't think that she had ever been so disappointed in another human being, but what was done was done and dwelling on it was worse than useless. Sumire shook her head to clear that line of thought away and felt the weight of her granddaughter's large brown eyes on her, silently asking if she was alright. She smiled in what she hoped was a reassuring manner and turned away again. That was the problem, not even three months ago Sakuno would have asked what was wrong, probably quite loudly, and continued to ask until she received a truthful answer, some unique sixth sense telling her when she was being lied to. She didn't know this little ghost, who stuttered where Sakuno had shouted, blushed when she should have laughed, and preferred empty, false comfort to the cold hard truth that her granddaughter, at five, had already always demanded from everyone around her.
Sumire slowed down as she felt the subject of her thoughts stumble over an almost nonexistent crack in the sidewalk and clasped the little girl's hand more tightly within her own. She smiled wryly, that at least had not changed, the poor girl had never been able to walk more than a few feet at a time without tripping and falling. Her perpetually skinned knees were the subject of much fretting among her Aunties and older female cousins who worried good naturedly about scars and whether they would affect her chances of becoming a bride.
On that note Sakuno's Aunt Kotoko was never going let her hear the end of it if the two of them were late to Kyou's recital. They were behind schedule as it was, traffic had been awful and before that Sakuno had been an absolute nightmare to get ready and at one point Sumire had been prepared to beg off and just stay home. But the last few months had been hectic. Adjusting to life with any five-year-old, much less a grieving one, while holding down a full time job that required her to deal with prepubescent boys and all the issues that came with them for most of the day was no mean feat and she hadn't gotten to see much of her other family. Besides that it would do the child some good to get out of the house and spend time with other people.
Sakuno had always been small for her age and it was an easy thing for Sumire to swing her up onto a hip, eliciting a squeak of surprise from the little girl, and walk quickly up the steps of the building. Opening the door was a bit harder than walking but she managed eventually and the rush of warm air and light from inside was gratifying after walking through the dark chilly parking lot. Sumire turned in both of their coats at the desk and proceeded further into the hotel where the event was being held.
"Sumire, there you are, we were afraid that you wouldn't be able to make it!"
And there was Kotoko, looking harried and wearing a bit too much makeup, but both of those things were normal for her. She had been a beauty once, but time and three children, two of whom were twins who could not seem to listen I their lives depended on it, had sapped her of most of it.
"And little Sakuno too! Everyone will be so happy to see you sweetie." Her voice was shrill and slightly nasal but she sounded genuinely happy to see the two of them.
She threw out her arms to give Sakuno a hug but instead of responding the little girl only shrank back against her grandmother and buried her face in the old lady's neck. Kotoko shot Sumire a worried look and glanced meaningfully at Sakuno. Sumire shook her head and tried to convey just how trying things had been lately without speaking. Kotoko seemed to understand and her look of concern deepened and she laid one hand on her mother-in-law's arm in silent support. Touched by the gesture Sumire reminded herself to be kinder to her fourth son's wife the next time she said or did something undeniably silly. Kotoko had a good heart but lacked the common sense to use it effectively.
"Everyone is waiting in here until the performance starts." Kotoko continued gamely, forcing herself to sound cheerful while gesturing to a set of large double doors a few yards down the hall.
Sumire nodded, and the two of them made their way up the hall and into the room in silence. With Kotoko however, silence never lasted for any extended period of time and their presence was quickly announced to the room at large when she called her husband over to greet them and then went back outside to usher in other late comers. For the next twenty minutes the two were treated to a steady stream of visitors. Sakuno was the baby of the family and was very popular with everyone for her happy disposition and willingness to be cuddled, and everyone was eager to see how she was doing and then worried once they had.
Sumire's back was beginning to ache from holding Sakuno but she started to cry every time the old woman attempted to put her down and did not want to be held by anyone else. Sumire was about to go looking for Kotoko to see if it would be possible to enter the auditorium early so that she could sit down when she heard footsteps approaching her from behind and turned around to say hello.
"Ohayo obaachan," The voice was soft and polite and Sumire's back almost sang Hallelujah at hearing it.
Keiichi, if there was anyone in the world that Sakuno would allow to hold her besides her grandmother it would be Keiichi. He was her favorite cousin and they looked similar enough that when they were out together people often mistook them as siblings, a fact that had never failed to delight the little girl. He was in his last year of middle school and was nearly as tall Sumire and still had the lanky, almost disproportionate look of a boy who still had quite a bit of growing to do. Sumire was shocked for a moment by his appearance, she was sure he had not been this tall the last time she had seen him and he look startlingly grown up in his formal attire.
Sakuno had recognized her cousin's voice and tensed slightly in her grandmother's arms, a single eye peeking out shyly from the place in Sumire's neck where her entire face had been hidden not a moment before.
Keiichi took a step forward and his eyes widened comically in exaggerated shock "And Saku-hime is here too, and she looks so pretty! But why is she hiding?"
Saku-hime was Keiichi's special pet name for his little cousin, no one but him had ever been allowed to use it, though others had tried. He reached out and stroked one finger down her thin arm causing the little girl to squirm and sit up, looking at him with wide curious eyes.
"Much better." He stated, voice approving "Now I can see you." He reached out again tapping her gently on the nose and pushed a few strands of curly hair that escaped her barrettes behind her ear.
The action caused Sakuno to giggle quietly and Sumire's heart soared, her granddaughter's laughter had been in very short supply recently and she had almost forgotten what it sounded like.
"How are you Keiichi, it's getting close to exams isn't it?"
Keiichi visibly flinched at the mention of exams and Sakuno's giggles, which had died down, resumed once more.
"I'm doing well, if you don't count the chronic back problems I'm developing from carrying my homework to and from school."
"That bad?" Sumire was torn between being sympathetic and amused, Keiichi usually didn't exaggerate but this was a bit far fetched.
Keiichi nodded solemnly and turned his attention back to Sakuno.
"Actually I was wondering if Saku-hime wanted to come backstage and say hello to everyone"
That's right, if she recalled correctly Keiichi played the piano, quite well too. He was probably going to be Kyou's accompanist for the recital, and he usually took Sakuno backstage anywhere he was going to be performing to keep her from getting bored. Sumire's attention returned to her grandchildren once she realized that they had stopped talking and were staring at her expectantly, and she realized that they had probably asked her if Sakuno could leave to explore with her cousin. Sumire smiled fondly.
That was all it took. Sakuno smiled wide enough to make her dimples show and reached out her arms towards her cousin who grinned at his grandmother in way that almost made her rethink her decision to let them leave. But then her back reminded her none to kindly that she was rapidly approaching fifty-six and she allowed Keiichi to lift the little girl out her arms. There were only about ten minutes left until the performance started, any chaos they managed to cause in that time would be relatively minor and well worth the break that her back was getting. It was too late to stop them anyway; they had already managed to disappear into the crowd.
"They make quite a pair, don't they?" the voice came from her left and Sumire recognized it instantly as belonging to Keiichi's mother, Mamori.
Sumire turned slightly, and smiled at the newcomer. "Yes, they certainly do. That's the happiest I've seen Sakuno in months."
The younger woman nodded. "Keiichi has been worried about her, it's been all Azuma and I could do to keep him from packing his bags and moving in with you so he could keep an eye on her." Her voice was dry and slightly bitter, she had been good friends with Sakuno's mother for years and the two of them had always been Sumire's favorite daughter-in-laws. Mamori now held that position alone and Sumire knew that she felt Kanami's absence more keenly than anyone else at the party, excluding Sakuno and Sumire herself.
Sumire sighed, "I doubt his worries would have been relieved if he came, they might have gotten worse actually. Things haven't been going well, Sakuno is like a ghost. She doesn't talk unless she's forced, it's the same with eating, she barely sleeps." the old woman's voice trailed off. This was neither the time nor the place to be having this discussion, she could feel the eyes of most of the room on the two of them, trying and failing to listen discreetly.
Mamori's shoulders seemed to slump for just a moment at the news of her niece's condition before they straightened once more. "Losing a parent is difficult, especially for a child as young as Sakuno who probably only understood that she was never going to see her mother again but not why. To lose both at the same time. . ." Here her face tightened and Sumire could tell that the younger woman was about as pleased with Sakuno's father's actions as she was.
It was Sumire's turn to nod, "I know that. I do, really, but I just worry that if something doesn't change soon I'm going to lose Sakuno as well. That I'll wake up one morning and find that she's just faded away in the middle of the night. It's silly really." And it was, but knowing that didn't stop Sumire from getting up to check on the girl at least three times every night.
"Things will get better."
Sumire wasn't sure who Mamori was trying to convince.
Prince of Tennis
Sumire shifted slightly in the darkness of the auditorium, the recital had been going on for nearly an hour and she was beginning to nod off. Kyou had performed in the first ten minutes and had been the epitome of mediocrity. Since then there had been a few good players but they were far and few between, and as a whole the accompanists had managed to outshine the lot of them. Her eyelids had begun to close ominously and she shook her head and pinched her arm in an attempt to keep herself awake. She was extremely grateful that she had, had the foresight to book a room at the hotel, there was no way she would have been able to drive home like this.
Sumire turned to look at the seat beside her own. Keiichi had managed to return Sakuno in the nick of time and had taken off running immediately afterwards in a futile effort not to be late. She hadn't heard a peep from the little girl since the first participants took the stage. She was willing to bet that Sakuno was out like a light and for a moment she wished for the immunity to social faux pas that being five-years-old awarded a person. Thankfully this was the last performance and it was winding to a close, the violinist was taking her bows and walking off the stage to loud applause that Sumire thought probably had more to do with the fact that the ordeal was over than with the girl's rather half-hearted rendition of Ave Maria.
The lights had begun to turn back on and all around her people were stretching and beginning to stand up. She sighed and did the same; hopefully she would be able to find one of her older grandchildren who would be willing to carry their sleeping cousin up to the hotel room.
"I want to do that."
Sumire started, and turned to stare at her granddaughter. She wasn't asleep, as the old woman had thought; in fact she looked very much awake. She was facing away from her grandmother but Sumire could see that her large brown eyes were focused intently on the stage.
Sakuno turned her head sharply and looked Sumire straight in the eye. "I want to do that." she repeated and then as if sensing her grandmother's confusion she continued, "Play the piano. I want to learn to play the piano." Her voice was as quiet as it had been for the past two months and nineteen days but for the first time since then there was no trace of hesitation, not even a hint of a stutter. For the first time in what felt like years Sakuno looked completely, utterly certain and for a moment Sumire forgot how to breathe.
There could only be one answer.
Things would get better.
Prince of Tennis
AN: First chapter done! This one was a bit slow but I needed a way to introduce the situation, the rest will go faster, scouts honor. Also to anyone who was worried about the veritable horde of OCs, have no fear, they were only necessary for this chapter and for the rest of the story will be mentioned only in passing or the occasional flashback.
Reviews and constructive criticism are appreciated but not required. I solemnly swear that I will not hold the story hostage as this drives me crazy when other authors do it. Guidance is appreciated however, because in this AU as in many others I have to walk the line between changing Sakuno's personality to fit the new situation without making her into a May Sue.
Next Chapter: Sakuno meets Tezuka at the his least favorite event of the year The Annual Christmas Party and the difference between tennis rackets and snowshoes is made apparent to everyone even though they do look the same.