Author's note: This is a rewrite of one of my earlier fics. If you've read the older TDoN, then the changes I've made are pretty much this: extra arcs and subplots, some changes in character names and relationships and general smoothing over of the writing. I'm leaving the old version up for now if you want to compare, but I don't recommend new readers look at it as you might be confused by some of the changes.
If this is your first time reading this fic, I hope you enjoy it! A word of warning before you begin, though: This is a story about tennis. If you're looking for resolved romance between the OCs and the canon characters, then I'm afraid you won't find what you're looking for. Friendship is the dominant theme here, just like in the original PoT. It might take a while before we reach the meat of the tennis action, so please have some patience.
I'll be updating every week and you already have my guarantee that this fic will eventually be completed.
Ch. 1 Tadano Kaeru
There were many strange, seemingly random events leading up to it.
That Tadano Kaeru got a recommendation by the principal of Seigaku was one of the events near the end of the chain. Kaeru, who spent most of her time either in hospital or with a video game in hand, had no inkling of Seigaku's unique reputation. She simply peered at the letter when she got it, passed it nonchalantly to her parents and then resumed playing her file on her game.
The days after that were a flurry of preparations mostly which she did not understand but went along with anyway. She was fitted with the school uniform, something which Kaeru's parents seemed to find particularly fascinating. They gasped in awe when they first saw Kaeru in it; they took photos of her and then promptly invited their friends and relatives over to come and take a look as well.
Then there was the meeting with the principal. The short, middle-aged bespectacled gentleman shook hands with Kaeru and asked her how she felt before proceeding to ignore her altogether as he immersed himself in conversation with her parents for the next half-hour. If Kaeru did not have her DS with her, she would have been forced to entertain herself by looking at the portraits of past principals hanging up the side walls. Fortunately, she did have her DS at the time.
About a month and a half later, the first day of term began.
Kawamura Takashi looked up from where he was sweeping when the door of his father's sushi shop slid open.
"Ah, Tadano!" he exclaimed, taking off one hand from the mop so he could wave at the girl.
Kaeru hobbled into the store. She had slightly messy black hair and fringe and a small, somewhat underdeveloped body for a girl of fourteen. Her solemn eyes flitted around the store before latching onto Kawamura. Usually, they were her most noticeable feature, although today something was different.
"Did something happen?" he asked. He was gazing anxiously at Kaeru's left leg, which had a cast around it.
Kaeru shifted her weight on her crutches before she slowly tilted her head up. She opened her mouth to answer.
At that moment, her mother entered the shop.
"It's Kaeru's first day of school tomorrow!" she announced proudly. "Her first day at a normal middle school!" She was a slim sort of woman and rather youthful for her age. Her face was slightly round and bubbly like her daughter's, although her eyes twinkled, indicating a life well spent in laughter and smiling. Kaeru seemed to have inherited her solemn eyes from her father.
"Oh," said Kawamura, smiling, "you transferred to Seigaku, didn't you? I can show you around."
Behind him, he heard his friend Eiji snicker. He probably got the wrong idea about all of this. Kawamura sighed.
"Kawamura-kun," Kaeru said. Her voice was a bit thick and when she spoke, her words were deliberate and slow, as if she was not really used to conversation. "I want sushi."
Tadano Kaeru was one of the regular customers.
After some deliberation, Kaeru finished making her purchase all by herself and her mother seemed immensely proud of her for that. "Now, Kaeru-chan," she said, "Mama will be busy in the afternoon so won't be able to pick you up from school tomorrow. You can take the train home yourself, yes, Kaeru-chan?" Kawamura assumed Kaeru nodded because her mother laughed and patted her hair affectionately. "That's a good girl."
He sighed when the door closed behind the two of them and they were soon gone from sight.
Seigaku was a much bigger place than what Kaeru was normally used to. Just the tennis courts were massive. Of course, she had seen this all before on her visit to the principal's so it wasn't really that new.
The different thing was that there were plenty of boys and girls milling around, all of them dressed in the same fascinating uniform Kaeru was wearing. As she hobbled past them, she noticed some of them turned to look at her while others were more focused on their chatting.
A man stood by the entrance of the main building, his hands shoved into the pockets of his trenchcoat. His jet black hair was a little unkempt, just like Kaeru's. When she saw him, she said, "Hello, uncle."
He smiled and patted her head, and a few girls standing nearby glanced curiously in their way.
"That's Tadano-sensei's niece?" The girl who spoke was slim and tall for her age, carrying herself more like a model from a fashion magazine than an everyday student. There was something exotic and foreign about the girl's appearance; she certainly could not have been pure Japanese. She had long, clean blonde hair done up in two low ponytails and her nose was shapely, although her face was slightly pinched.
The girl standing next to her gazed on shyly. "I hope we can be friends," she interjected bashfully. She was a girl with dimples and bright green, shining eyes.
A girl with long, flaming red hair and an evidently keen athletic body shape underneath her uniform laughed. "If anyone can do it, it's you, Saeko-chan! I've never met a nicer chick than you!"
Saeko rubbed her shoulders together, fiddled with the grip on her school briefcase and blushed at the compliment.
"Unlike," the red-haired girl went on with a sly grin, "a certain Frenchie. It's one thing she'll never be the best a-"
She was promptly hit over the head by the first girl's school briefcase.
"OUCH! Case in point, I say!"
"Hmph," came the scornful reply. "I don't know why I even bother with you."
Ignoring the violence going on in the background, Saeko looked at Kaeru and smiled. Kaeru did not smile back at her. Instead, she gazed solemnly back at her, as if in quiet acknowledgment of the the deed.
The bell rang for class, and everything jerked back into the present.
Several days passed.
"All right, I'm giving back the results of that pretest we did yesterday," Tadano-sensei told the students of class 3-6 later that day. "Some of you did very well; some of you will need to work a bit harder." He began to pass the papers around.
Each test paper had the mark of the test expressed in percentage form written in red ink. If that number was not enough of an indication already, Tadano-sensei had the habit of drawing what was his idea of a "rabbit" (the term was used very loose in this case as the rabbit in question more strongly resembled a blob with two asymmetrical lines attached to its head). This rabbit was either smiling or it had a maniacal grin on its face as if it strongly wanted to blow the Empire State Building up.
The rabbit on Kaeru's test had a maniacal grin on its face. Kaeru supposed that indicated the rabbit's disappointment with her test result, which was 21 per cent. The only questions that Kaeru had gotten right were the ones that Tadano-sensei, in his laziness, had taken from the latest Professor Layton game.
"Maths is not your forte, I see," Tadano-sensei said as he gave Kaeru her test paper. "Come to the front and see me later so I can help you with your problems."
As the girl hobbled up towards her uncle and teacher, two boys were whispering. Eiji turned to Fuji and said to him, "You noticed the same thing as I did, right?"
"And what was it?" Fuji asked him, smiling. Oh, he knew, all right.
"Come on, Fuji." (The fact that Kikumaru addressed his friend as 'Fuji' instead of 'Fujiko' meant that he was serious.) "Her leg. In Taka-san's restaurant, the cast was on her left leg."
"Well, you've got the sharpest eyes on the team," Fuji remarked.
Eiji smiled at the compliment but his mind quickly went back to what he saw. "That new girl, Tadano Kaeru – that was her name, right? – She's strange. She can use both of her legs perfectly fine. I wonder what she's hiding."
"I don't know about that," said Fuji, "but I do know you missed a step of working in that question." He pointed at Eiji's test paper. The rabbit on it had a maniacal grin on its face.
"You're so unfair, Fujiko-chan!" Eiji whined. "I thought I had that one in the bag, nya!"
Which showed how good Kikumaru was at concentrating on one thing.
After school was over and tennis practice was complete, Fuji and Eiji said goodbye at the school gate and each went their separate ways. Eiji hoisted his tennis bag up his shoulder and set off, whistling. Even though he had not done so well on that maths pretest, there was still a spring in his step.
The day was quite late now. Afternoon had almost progressed into evening – almost but not quite. There was still plenty enough light to guide him home, and Eiji liked the thought of his destination. Home was good. His sister was cooking tonight and her Indian dishes were nice.
His mind was filled with curry and rice, although suffice it to say his eyes weren't. As he was walking by the street tennis courts en-route to his house, he caught sight of the girl from the classroom earlier.
"Kaeru-chan!" he exclaimed. The girl turned her head around. She had been watching the street tennis, her crutches neatly folded by her bag. There was no leg cast in sight.
So Kikumaru had been right about her.
Kaeru blinked and displayed no real shock at her secret being revealed. She actually had no idea who Eiji was, just that he seemed vaguely familiar. Maybe he was that red-headed person in her class who 'nya'-ed a lot. Peculiar person.
She said nothing as he approached her and touched her shoulder.
"You like tennis?" he smiled. "I like tennis too, nya!"
He made no comment about her legs. Maybe he had sheer forgotten about it.
Kaeru mumbled something. "What was that?" Eiji asked.
"Please go away," said Kaeru. She wasn't tearful or emotional or anything, just a simple request on her part.
"Not until you tell me what's up with your legs."
"Not supposed to push myself."
She didn't bother to elaborate and simply cocked her head and looked at him, expecting that simple, vague explanation to clarify all possible questions.
She said nothing more.
Eiji blinked. So Kaeru got to her feet and demonstrated walking. Only it didn't look like walking. It looked like hopping. She was so bow-legged that hopping was the only thing she could do. Eiji sat down and pondered the girl's condition. If he had legs like her, his diving volleys would be fantastic. The momentum of the hops would generate so much more power. The girl probably had stronger knees than most if she had to hop everywhere. Kikumaru could only manage a few dozen hops himself and then he was out of gas. So, if he thought about it that way…
"Waaahh! I'm so jealous, nya!"
If a person's face could become blanker, Kaeru managed it at that moment. Eiji looked up into her face and noticed something else.
Her eyes. In spite of being ashen-coloured, they did not seem very cold. They were very wide and seemingly out-of-focus, but actually they noticed everything.
In the silence that reigned, Eiji surreptitiously picked up a rock on the ground, walked behind Kaeru and then hurled the rock at her.
Kaeru instantly tilted her head so that the rock harmlessly passed by her. She frowned and turned to face Kikumaru. If she was even slightly more expressive, she probably would have screamed at him.
"What stunning reflexes," Eiji breathed. "With eyes like those, it must be like you've got eyes in the back of your head. A normal person wouldn't have seen that rock coming. With those legs and eyes you'd make a great net player, just like me! What do you think?"
Kaeru thought long and hard about her personal opinion.
"Good," she said finally.
Her perfectly articulate response was very pleasing to Eiji. "Nya!" he interposed after he had a moment to think. "Let's play tennis! I have two racquets in my bag."
Kaeru didn't actually get any say in the matter, although it wasn't as if she was going to dispute. The boy before her reminded her of her mother.
They stepped onto the courts. "Yahoo!" Eiji called out to the people who were playing. "Are these courts free to play on?"
The boys on court stopped their rally and turned to face Eiji. "Yeah," a boy with dirty blonde hair sneered. "But if you want to play you'll have to beat us at doubles."
"Fine by me," Eiji responded. He tugged on Kaeru's arm. "Let's do it, Kaeru-chan!"
The other boy, a fat-cheeked and squinty-eyed male, said, "Check out their uniforms! It looks like they're from Seigaku! Are you regulars?"
It was then the first boy seemed to take his first proper look at Eiji. "I've heard of you!" he said suddenly. "Kikumaru Eiji – one half of the Golden Pair who went all the way to the Nationals!"
Kaeru blinked in surprise. Nationals?
"Hey, it doesn't matter," the second boy sneered. "That girl ain't Oishi. Come on, we can beat 'em."
Kaeru remembered Eiji had never told her his name. Maybe he presumed because other random strangers knew him she would too? At least she knew the boy's name was Kikumaru now.
She watched as Eiji deftly twisted his racquet around and caught it. He was definitely in serious mode now. Anyone who knew him was aware that this was when he was most dangerous as a tennis player. He never could back down from a challenge.
"Who's serving first?" he asked.
They spun the racquet to decide. The boy team was serving first. It was to be a one-game knockout match.
As Eiji was walking to the baseline, Kaeru found herself remembering she ought to say something. She settled on his name. "Kikumaru-kun."
"Call me Eiji," was the reply. "Okay, Kaeru-chan, stand there by the net. I'll cover for you, nya."
And Kaeru did what he said.
The first boy served a rather slow lob serve. Without hesitation, Eiji returned the ball cross-court. Somehow the opposing baseline player managed to get his racquet to it, although the ball was sent over the net at drop shot pace – straight towards Kaeru's forehand.
"Volley it, Kaeru-chan!" Eiji cheered.
Kaeru hopped towards the ball, swung at the volley – and completely missed it.
"Fifteen love," announced the boy at the side who was scoring.
"Um, Kaeru-chan," Eiji said suddenly. "Have you ever played tennis before?"
"Nya…" he exhaled heavily. "You don't swing at a volley. You just hold your wrist firm."
"It's all right. Just concentrate, nya."
Eiji stood by the net and Kaeru went back to the baseline. Meanwhile, the boys had switched sides of the court. The service return was now on Kaeru.
The boy at the other end served. Slowly, the ball bounced into the service box. Kaeru's eyes locked onto it. She swung the racquet hard. This time, she actually hit the ball. With the frame of the racquet.
It made a funny sound. Plop. It bounced gently off the net and onto the ground.
"Well, you are a beginner," Eiji sighed.
The players got into position once more. Eiji returned the serve with a down-the-line winner. The shot could easily have been returned by another Seigaku regular but to a complete beginner like Kaeru, Eiji's forehand was sheer captivating to watch.
"Thirty fifteen," was the score.
It was Kaeru's return again. She was starting to feel nervous whenever she hit the ball. Maybe it was because the opposition looked noticeably happier when serving to her.
Somehow she managed a return of the serve. Her shot only barely crept over the net. She had been so concerned with actually hitting it in that she had forgotten that she was not meant to aim at the net player.
The net player took aim and hit the ball clean past Kaeru. When Kaeru spun around to track the progress of the ball, it seemed to her that it was going to be in.
Before Kaeru could have more time to inwardly lament, Eiji darted to the side. With a dive, he intercepted the ball just before it bounced on the doubles line. The ball flew past the net player and landed just short of the baseline – a perfect passing shot.
He turned and winked at Kaeru. "Nice shot, Kaeru-chan, nya!"
Kaeru paused. Scrunched her brows in thought.
Wasn't Eiji the one who hit the "good shot"?
"Thirty all." The match continued.
Eiji returned the opponent's serve, and the baseline player hit the ball back into Kaeru's volleying range, just like in the first point. The only difference was that the first shot had been aimed directly at her; the second shot was well over a metre to the right.
It was in that moment Kaeru showed a glimmer of her potential as a tennis player. A beginner would have found the ball out of reach but Kaeru jumped – and she could jump a lot further than most people in one leap. She managed to get her racquet to the ball.
It was a pity she hit the ball into the net.
"Nice try, Kaeru-chan!" Eiji called out behind her. "That was a hard volley to get back in. I knew you had good reflexes, nya!"
If Kaeru had been given time to reflect, she would have found it nice how Eiji was constantly encouraging her as any good doubles partner would do.
But right now, all Kaeru was thinking about was the fact that, from what she could gather about how tennis was scored, this was the last point. She was getting surprisingly into the game. Maybe she should try returning the serve this time
This she did and Kaeru surprised herself and others by hitting a hard flat shot down the middle. When had she become so strong? No, it wasn't strength. She was finally starting to get some technique. At last, she had managed to hit the ball right in the centre of the racquet. That was needed more than any amount of muscle.
Her opponents were so surprised at Kaeru's sudden aggression that they fumbled for her ball and missed.
"WOOHOO!" Eiji cheered and lost no time glomping Kaeru. Yes, glomping Kaeru.
Kaeru herself was much too stunned to even care about being glomped.
"How did she hit that ball?" the first boy muttered. "I thought she was hopeless."
"Don't worry," the second boy whispered back. "It was probably just a fluke."
The score was deuce.
"What's deuce?" Kaeru asked Eiji as they took their positions on the court.
"Something you drink," Eiji answered.
"Okay." Kaeru nodded solemnly.
Eiji blanched, realising the potential misunderstanding that had occurred. "Deuce is when the score is forty all. You must win two points in a row to win the game. If you win one game and lose the next, the score goes back to deuce."
Kaeru said nothing to that. The game could go forever. If that was the case, she might not be able to play video games ever again.
Eiji grinned, apparently having read her thoughts. "This is where the real battle begins, nya."
And so it was. Whenever one side won a point, the other would take it back to deuce. The opponents seemed to have developed a fail-proof strategy called: "Just hit the ball to the girl." The sad part was that it actually worked.
"Aim higher, Kaeru-chan," Eiji told her, when it became obvious to him and to everyone else around him that his partner's most popular target seemed to be the net. "Look at the ball when you hit it."
Another deadly flaw in Kaeru's game was her backhand. She was starting to get the hang of the forehand but when she swung the racquet, she held on it with one hand as she had seen Eiji do. She had much less power and control than she would have liked.
What if, she thought suddenly, she used two hands?
When the next shot to her backhand came to her, Kaeru placed her left hand above her right hand. Without really thinking about it, she turned the grip around until the racquet face was perfectly in line with the ball. Then she stepped forward and hit the ball as hard as she could.
It was exactly the same type of flat shot from before and it was a winner.
"Amazing," Eiji muttered. "It's her first game and she managed to teach herself the double-handed backhand."
The double-handed had slightly more power and control than the one-handed, although Eiji didn't use it because the one-handed had better reach and he was a serve-volleyer.
It was the first time in the game Eiji and Kaeru had the advantage. The opponents were starting to look worried.
"Lob her!" the first boy exclaimed. "Hit it to her forehand!"
They tried to lob her but the ball came a bit short. Eiji took the shot.
He jumped at the ball and hit it while in midair. He seemed so acrobatic up in the air, like he was perfectly at home up there. And Kaeru saw it again – Eiji's wonderful forehand.
And the ball was a winner.
"Game and match to the Tadano-Kikumaru team," the scoring boy declared. He looked very confused.
And so did the boys who had lost.
"What kind of shot was that Kikumaru Beam?"
"Looks like Kikumaru's too good for us."
"WE WON, NYA! Kaeru-chan, let me give you a hug," said Eiji.
Kaeru stopped him with the racquet in her hand. She thought it would be nice to give it back to him. With that, she picked up her bag, got back on her crutches and hobbled away. Eiji couldn't see her face but she was smiling inwardly. And he knew it.
"Bye bye, Kaeru chan!" He waved. Then he stopped and considered something.
"NYA! Sis's curry must be stone cold by now!"
That night as Kaeru was taking a bath, she thought back to the tennis match. The casual observer might not have seen the subtle upward turn of the corners of her lips.
She had never felt as alive as she had on the tennis courts. Adrenaline pumping through her veins, the satisfaction of hitting a clean winner… Not even video games offered any of these. The only thing that saddened her was that she hadn't discovered tennis sooner. She was fourteen and in ninth grade but there was plenty more living to do.
She blinked and scrubbed herself and her thoughts began to take a different direction. Eiji had gone to Nationals. Nationals…
"You want to join the tennis club?"
Faced with the sight of her uncle's bemused face, Kaeru could only nod.
"I see," said Tadano-sensei. "I see."
Kaeru waited expectantly for him to say more. Maybe, she thought, it wasn't a good idea to push herself physically. Maybe that was what Tadano-sensei would say.
"Go ahead," he said, surprising her.
"You've only got one chance, right?" he said to her. "Your mother wants you to live your life to the fullest while you can. That's why you're here at Seigaku."
Kaeru thought about the events that led up to her enrolling in Seigaku, about what the doctor said, about how she was meant to live her life a year from now. She thought about how it felt to play tennis.
She agreed with what her uncle said next.
"Have as much fun as you want. You'll never be able to do it again." His smile seemed somewhat sad to her. "To dream of Nationals."
That same afternoon, Eiji and Fuji were walking past the girls' tennis courts on the way to practice. Eiji noticed something out of the corner of his eye and turned to look.
Tadano Kaeru had joined the girls' tennis team and was on the courts being taught how to serve. Eiji's face broke into a wide smile.
"Doesn't it feel great when you help someone out?" he remarked to Fuji.
"Yes," Fuji smiled. "It's the best feeling on earth."
Eiji will never know whether Fuji was serious or not. But he was feeling too gratified to care.
Tennis seminar of the week: You actually can swing at a volley. That's called a 'Drive Volley' or 'Drive B' as it's referred to in PoT. The Williams sisters in particular used the Drive Volley when they played Doubles together. It's a difficult shot to perfect especially when the ball's coming fast. But remember Ryoma's match against Yuuta? (In my opinion, his pants ought to have worn out during that match, but… moving on…) Most people hit the Drive Volley only to finish off a point.