Renji doesn't use notebooks much these days because his memory is so good he finds he never needs them anyway. Leaving around notebooks becomes messy after awhile, and they turn themselves into liabilities if you don't write in code (and Renji doesn't).
He keeps two notebooks only, for, though he's loathe to admit it, sentimental reasons. Other than these, he just remembers.
1. look over here
One way he categorizes his memories is by interest. Here are all the things he remembers about the physical properties of a tennis ball in motion. Here, everything he remembers about the Heian era. Primarily, Renji finds he is interested in the following: literature, Japanese history, simple aesthetics, and logic.
Of the four, Yukimura Seiichi fails all, being first of all, a non-historical figure, and second of all, hideously complicated. His idea of literature, Renji also finds on the first day of seventh grade, is a home and gardening magazine, with which he tries unsuccessfully to buy Renji's friendship.
Renji tells him evenly that he'd have a much better chance (75% in fact, he estimates) if he'd shown up with a traditional bamboo umbrella, and to his surprise, the next day Yukimura opens up his school bag underneath Renji's nose and tells him to look, look.
On his second day in middle school, Renji lets Yukimura and his umbrella blip past his radar. He doesn't pay them any mind until much later, when it's already too late and they are inextricably bound to him: weaknesses he carries around like badges for everyone to see.
2. news; letter
There is a box of letters underneath Renji's bed. He wakes up every morning with the intention of burning them, for the same reason he keeps very few notebooks, and goes to bed every night with the intention of burning them tomorrow.
They sit there like a gigantic liability, but somehow he never has the time to get rid of them.
Tomorrow, he always tells himself, and goes to brew another cup of tea, or finish an essay for history.
Drinking tea is a calming process for Renji. On some afternoons, he can sit in his mother's kitchen and watch the trees outside the window for hours. Every few minutes he'll stand up to get hot water; every hour or so, he'll need new leaves.
His mother is in the habit of buying expensive tea. She says his tea-drinking is the secret black hole into which the family's money is constantly slipping away.
Today is no different from any other October Thursday, though the weather may be especially poor. The clouds cast a grey light on everything and desaturate all the colors. The tree outside the kitchen window is heavy and wet from the earlier rain. He should have seen the figure walking up to the door, but he doesn't notice until the doorbell rings. Once, twice -- it startles him into almost dropping his cup.
He pauses to pick up a rag and wipe up the spilled tea on the counter before answering the door.
"Hello, Renji." It's Seiichi with a basket of fruit. "Long time no see."
Renji is surprised, despite himself. It's admittedly his own fault, but he hasn't seen Seiichi on these steps in probably months. "Seiichi," he says, frowning.
"These are for your mother." A blinding smile. "May I come in?"
4. our distance and that person
There's a memory Renji has of October that he can't really forget. It's from three years ago, which he doesn't need to calculate to know was his second year in middle school.
What he remembers is this: a long practice, an on-and-off rainy day, afternoon sunlight turned a soggy grey by the clouds. Familiar things, all of them. When he'd entered the clubhouse he almost hadn't noticed, because his habit was to walk straight to his locker, pick up his necessities, and then walk directly to the shower. The door was open, though, and they were just inside, visible through the crack in the doorjamb. Seiichi, with his fingertips at the edge of Genichirou's lips, leaning in, on tiptoe, to press their mouths together. Renji had had the presence of mind to step back outside just in time to avoid being barrelled over when Genichirou sprinted out the door, both hands firmly clasped on the brim of his cap, and so preoccupied he hadn't noticed Renji standing to the side.
He remembers counting to two hundred seconds before walking in again, and he remembers the way Seiichi had looked up at him, and after (again, he'd counted) two long seconds, smiled blandly.
5. ano sa
Not all his memories are so awkward. Sometimes they're funny, sometimes serious. Memories of Seiichi and Genichirou are by and large pleasant, although third year is only questionably so. The entirety of third year, for Renji, is one sprawling memory of Seiichi.
On the fourth of May, after a tennis practice with a team suddenly and glaringly bereft of its new captain, Akaya follows him into the clubhouse and tugs on his sleeve insistently, wants him to sit down and answer the question: "Why?"
(And there are so many variations on the question that Renji thinks it's oddly wise of him to truncate it to just the one word.)
With no answer readily at hand, Renji tells him patiently: "There are many things for which that question is unanswerable, Akaya." He pauses here, and then starts again: "Sometimes, it's because we don't have enough information yet."
"And other times?"
"And other times, it is because there is no answer." He stands up. "And to your next question," he adds, before Akaya can speak up again, " I think, probably, there is no answer to this one."
6. the space between dream and reality
Renji wakes sometimes to a disturbing dream of dark hair and blue eyes, a pair of hands with earth under their chipped fingernails, and a laugh that sounds like rain in the summer.
These things happen, Renji is aware, to everyone. It's just a matter of hormonal imbalances and extra laundry. An inconquerable and occassional embarrassment. Between him and his father, two things are implicitly understood: that these things happen, and that Renji doesn't remember.
The problem is, Renji does remember, in the same way he remembers the color of the shirt he wore on his seventh birthday, and the same way he remembers the pattern of cracks in the wall by his locker at school.
It's just another outlier and another liability. Renji is used to defending his weaknesses though, and so he defends this one with silence.
Two cups of tea now, steaming quietly on the countertop. Seiichi leaves the basket on the table, and they sit together on the counter looking out the window.
"You've always been top of the class, haven't you?" says Seiichi, suddenly, like he's resuming some long-interrupted conversation. "Every time I see the charts."
"You're very good, yourself."
"Well, it's not really the same. Maths can really kill me, you know." He kicks out childishly. His heels make a thumping sound when they hit back against the wood of the cabinets.
Renji sips his tea. "Did you want to go over the lecture?"
A heavy silence. There's a lone bird hopping between the branches. It was pouring rain earlier; now it's stopped, but the leaves are still soggy.
"It's probably a little early to ask," says Seiichi, sighing, "but, look, Renji. I'm just curious. You're not going to continue in Rikkaidai through university. Where are you going?"
8. our own world
Freshman year of middle school sees the three of them constantly wasting time during lunch break racing against each other. In subsequent years, lunch break is used as time for chatting, studying, and eventually running around school acting as damage control for some of their less than entirely civilized kouhai. They aren't creative, but they're always busy.
Third year starts the same as the previous two, but takes a sudden nosedive in May, when Seiichi mysteriously tumbles down the stairs after morning practice one day. It's only afterwards they learn he's been suffering lapses of numbness in his peripheral nerves for over a month: his toes, fingers, sometimes his ankles.
Genichirou is so angry he almost hits him, and it's only Renji pointing out that it'd defeat the purpose, and is there a name for this condition, that stops him.
First year, in any case, they spend conducting makeshift races, from the science building to the old willow tree, or, more often, the basketball pole to the willow tree. The latter is approximately a hundred meters -- good enough for Seiichi and Genichirou, but Renji likes to call it the 98.4-meter-dash.
The 100-meter-dash (or the 98.4-meter-dash) is one of the worst situations in which to initiate a conversation, but Seiichi doesn't really let things like that deter him from informing people of complete and utter lies involving himself and cheating scandals and something about detentions. It's a warm summer afternoon, humid and bright. Afterwards, while Seiichi giggles ("Joking, joking."), Genichirou accuses him, ironically enough, of cheating. Renji just announces evenly that Seiichi won with a one point two second lead.
Genichirou turns on him, glowering. "Not you too."
"One point two seconds," Renji repeats, and holds out his watch, which Genichirou snatches, though he doesn't seem to know what to do with it.
Seiichi laughs ("Renji's never wrong, Sanada."), and to this, Genichirou roars angrily and threatens to backhand them both.
"Oh, come on, don't swear at us," says Seiichi. "We're your friends, remember."
Seiichi has always had an uncanny ability to bring out the best in everyone. It's most obvious in his absence, times when Akaya scurries home with a black eye or sometimes two, and Yagyuu and Niou sport matching red lines scratched across their cheeks from the backs of Genichirou's fingernails. Sometimes Renji wonders if they'd all have been different people by now, if it weren't for Seiichi, but when he mentions this once to his mother, she tells him he must be overestimating his friend.
The clouds start to clear around six in the afternoon.
On Seiichi's tenth refill, Renji takes the warm teacup from his hands and dumps its soggy contents into the sink.
"Ah?" Seiichi says curiously. "But it still tastes ok."
"You don't have to be so polite," Renji replies. He rinses the cup out and then opens up a high cabinet, rustles around and pulls out the right container. "You should tell me these things."
"Should I?" Seiichi laughs, a low golden sound like the color of the countertops reflecting the re-emerging sun. "But you always know, anyway."
Renji remembers the plants in Seiichi's house by associating them with actions. The two orchids on the small table under the window in his living room Renji remembers because Seiichi had him pick one up and carry it to the kitchen for him once, dunk it into the sink and watch it bubble quietly for a minute. "Orchids," he'd explained to Renji while they waited, "are best watered by letting the bases soak thoroughly, in a sink, or a bucket," and then went on to expound on the plant's flowering habits. The African cactus Renji remembers because when they were first years, they'd plucked two of its brilliant pink flowers off and stuck them in Genichirou's hair while he'd slept, which had resulted in the three of them running wildly around the house, Genichirou bellowing at the offense to his manhood, until they were all out of breath.
As for the gardenia, it was an addition the September of their first year in high school. One day, a decorative piece of silk embroidery sat on the dark cabinet in Seiichi's living room; the next, the gardenia.
The first time Renji sees it, it's cradled in Seiichi's arms when he comes to answer the door, and when Renji asks what he's doing carrying a shrub around, Seiichi ends up giving him a long, long answer involving south-facing windows, direct sunlight, and porous soil.
Later, Renji writes all this down in one of the only two notebooks he ever has anymore. The notebook is titled Useless Information, and he prefaces the page with: On gardenias.
12. in a good mood
On good days, Seiichi smiles a lot. Endlessly, sometimes Renji thinks. Talks a lot too. They're a good match, mostly, because Renji is quiet and listens well, and Seiichi is talkative but never pushy.
Within the first month that Renji knows him, Seiichi pours out so many secrets that Renji is frankly stunned. "Aren't you afraid I'll tell someone? You don't know me very well."
To this, Seiichi laughs. (His laugh, Renji will always remember, has a translucent quality to it. It takes on, somehow, the color of its surroundings and manages always to complement. Renji, though, when he remembers it, always remembers it sounding like rain.) "I think of it this way," says Seiichi. "One of us has to start getting to know the other well first, and you're not going to take the initiative."
Seiichi, in fact, tells him pretty much everything. Even the business with Genichirou reaches Renji's ears eventually, one soggy night in the middle of December in the form of a sudden phone call. (If he counts, he can say very precisely that Seiichi told him fifty-seven days and four hours after Renji saw it in the lockerroom that October.)
When Renji tells him over the phone, "I know already," there's a surprised pause, and then Seiichi says, unexpectedly solemn: "Ah. I'm sorry."
"Never mind," says Seiichi, and then laughs, like he hasn't just confessed another weakness. "Anyway, you know, it's disturbing. You seem to know everything."
13. excessive chain
The underside of Renji's bed contains, besides the box of letters, two neatly stacked notebooks. Underneath the one entitled Useless Information lies another. It's very old, purchased many years ago at a hyaku-en shop in Tokyo, and in the upper right-hand corner of the cover, in neat, blocky kanji, is written: Sadaharu.
The notebooks are meant to be a private matter, but when one has best friends, private tends to take on a slightly different meaning. Renji finds over time that the minute he gives in and tells Seiichi one thing, he wants to know another, and so inevitably, Seiichi asks about the name.
"I wonder," he muses after the story, which is short and uninteresting, "if it was entirely wise of you."
When Renji doesn't respond, he looks at him curiously for a second, then puts his hand over the name and pushes the notebook back across the desk at him. "Here," he says. "Maybe you should put it away again."
14. radio-cassette player
"Well, Renji," says Seiichi, at the door. "I'll think about it."
"Think about?" With a last-minute spurt of creativity, Renji re-emerges at the entrance hall with a canister of green tea. "For your mother," he adds, tucking it into Seiichi's bookbag.
"TouDai?" Seiichi prompts.
Renji pauses with his hand still on the buckle of the bag. "Surely you're not going to try to go to the same school I'm trying to go to," he says, as it's the only conclusion he can draw from the expression on Seiichi's face.
Seiichi gives him a wickedly bright smile, says nothing, and picks his stuff up to leave. "Oh," he says suddenly. "I forgot. And it was my excuse for coming here too. I missed physics last period again yesterday. Did you tape the lecture, by any chance?"
Renji comes back a few minutes later with a small tape in his hand, and then tries again, reasonably. "Seiichi, you're not really."
For a moment, Seiichi's face closes, and he looks like he's going to start talking about the weather, or how the school's baseball team lost last Sunday. Then he says, slowly, "Well, if you don't want me to." He shrugs. "Sanada is staying, I think."
At this, Renji eyes him. "You make your own choices in life, Seiichi."
"I know," he says. "I know." He turns as if to go, but instead of leaving, just stands there, hovering in the doorway.
Renji coughs politely. "Seiichi?"
"It's just." Seiichi exhales audibly, and turns around again to face him, palms spread in a sort of helpless gesture. "I don't want to lose you, you know, Renji. Lately? I haven't seen you much, and now it feels as though you're leaving for good."
Renji shoos him out of the house. "Don't be overdramatic," he says firmly. "You won't lose me." And then, again, more forcefully: "You won't."
Seiichi tilts his head to the side and regards him thoughtfully for a moment with his solemn blue eyes before smiling, and saying, a touch happier, "Well, I'm glad to hear it from you."
15. perfect blue
Perfect, Renji tells Akaya late one afternoon at school, when he's jumping up and down on the courts whooping loudly at having hit a perfect serve, is an ideal, and as such, does not exist in the natural world.
In other words, Akaya tells him later, when he's calmed down, there's always something closer to perfect?
Well, something like that, says Renji.
Of the many imperfects that nature has to offer though, Renji finds he is hard put to find a blue closer to perfect than the startling reflection of sky in Seiichi's eyes.
16. invincible; unrivaled
The condition is called Guillain-Barre Syndrome. It's an inflammatory disorder of the peripheral nerves affecting approximately 2 people out of every 100,000. Although the disease can be fatal, the numbers range to about 5% or less. About 80% of all cases make a full to near-full recovery, though many patients endure a protracted recovery, and some suffer residual weakness and ongoing fatigue. A small percentage remain virtually paralyzed indefinitely.
"Don't worry about it," says Niou offhandedly. "Buchou is invincible."
Renji watches Genichirou struggle inwardly for a long, tense moment, before deciding to spare Niou the beating.
But that's only May. Later, Niou starts to worry too, and Genichirou begins to have trouble staying his hand when angered. They're all under great amounts of stress, and it's ironic that the most optimistic of them ends up being Seiichi himself. "Don't worry," he tells them again and again. "I'll join you when we win Nationals." He doesn't, actually, and they don't either, but it's close enough that nobody bothers to point it out.
After Seiichi leaves the house, Renji goes back inside and washes the cups, does his homework. When his mother comes home, he shows her the fruit, and she comments approvingly, "A very well-mannered boy. I haven't seen much of him lately. Has he been busy?"
As it's a Friday, he doesn't see Seiichi till Monday, and doesn't talk to him more than a few passing words either. Seiichi is distracted all day running around school with Marui and Akaya; Renji spies him carrying a roll of butcher paper and markers into a classroom at one point during lunch break, but doesn't question. He knows from experience Seiichi is easily influenced into taking on grand-scale creative projects.
He gets the phone call after practice, just before dinnertime. They've recently replaced their phones with a set running on a higher frequency, so as not to interfere with other signals, and Renji has to squint at the handset for minute before he presses the right button.
"Yanagi residence," he says.
Seiichi. "Hello, Renji." Every syllable enunciated: Seiichi, soft-spoken and stubborn, transparently manipulative.
He doesn't want anything in particular. Just to talk, because dear Bunta and Akaya have left him with see, a very large project, and it might take him awhile, and there's nobody in the house because his sister is at violin lessons, so it's very quiet, and hasn't it been awhile since they've had a chance to really talk?
Renji waits till he's done, and then asks: "Can I come over, then?" The moment he says it, he wonders what had inspired him to make such a request.
The summer right after they enter high school, Genichirou asks him: how does Renji have the confidence to always seem like he knows the answer?
"Always know the answer?" Renji sips a bottle of cold oolong, shifts his weight slightly to the left. "I wouldn't say that."
They're sitting on the steps of Genichirou's front door watching the passing traffic, although since he lives in a primarily residential area, there isn't actually much in the way of traffic.
Genichirou regards the street thoughtfully. "It seems like it," he says eventually.
"In your case as well, then," says Renji. "Sanada fukubuchou. Never a moment of weakness."
Genichirou laughs at that, a tight, throaty laugh. "Well, Renji," he says. "Supposing the invincible fukubuchou had a person he liked, how would you say he should go about it?"
"Ah?" says Renji. "In that case we're in uncharted waters. Tell me, Genichirou. Until now, have you ever liked a person?"
"Renji." Genichirou, Renji has learned over the years, has the power to make a person's name sound like both the worst of curses and the most dire of threats. Renji waves him off.
"I'm joking," he says. "Naturally, I don't know why you chose to ask me, who has, as you well know, no practical experience in the field, but for what it's worth, I think it's probably best in situations like these just to do what you think you'll regret least. For instance." He stands up now, balances his empty bottle on the railing, and stretches. "Let us say you confess to your person. In a worst-case scenario, you will be rejected. But if you never confront the issue, then you'll probably never know, will you?"
He stops here, but Genichirou says nothing, so he just shrugs. "I'm going inside, Genichirou. It's really up to you, which of the two you think you'll regret more."
The hospital is a dreary place, and the only thing that seems alive sometimes is the red of people's mouths when they talk, writes Seiichi in his first letter to Renji.
While he's in the hospital, he makes a habit of writing letters to everyone, although they visit him often and call even more often. The letters are short, usually uninformative, and sometimes plagued with painful handwriting, which is when Renji knows he's having a bad day controlling his fingers.
Under his bed, Renji has a box in which he stores a handful of holiday greeting cards, birthday cards, a postcard his father once sent home from a long business trip, and twenty-four letters from Seiichi, one for every week he stays in the hospital.
20. the road home
Eventually, Niou is proved correct. Seiichi is released from the hospital in early November, unable to walk without assistance, but finally recovering.
Of the entire team, possibly Niou is the most gleeful.
Marui is of the opinion he will never let them forget it. Even Yagyuu occassionally elbows Niou in an uncharacteristic display of irritation and tells him to please, be quiet.
Seiichi, though, thinks it's brilliant, and never stops thanking Niou for having had faith in him. "I'd never have made it otherwise," he announces happily, though everyone knows it's untrue.
Seiichi is inordinately delighted by Renji's request to stop by, although he responds accusingly: "It's been months since you've been at my house. I know you're busy, but." A pause here, then he amends: "Never mind, I apologize. I just wish I saw you more. Anyway, hurry up, I'll be waiting. We don't have much food though. A few leftovers, if you want, but it might be better if you ate first."
Before he leaves, Renji pauses to snatch some leftover food from the refrigerator, which he eats on the bus. On the way there, he wonders if there's a reason he invited himself over all of a sudden, and after so many months. Perhaps he too has been feeling lost lately.
Not all decisions he makes are the right ones, he knows. Sometimes, though, he thinks it must be subconscious, and sometimes he just can't tell till afterwards.
The first time Renji saw the gardenia, it was in September of their first year of high school, just over a year ago, cradled in Seiichi's arms when he answered the door. At the time, Seiichi had bombarded him with a lecture on the plant's preferred light quality and soil density, all of which Renji remembered, and then wrote down.
Later visits revealed other information -- preferred temperature and humidity, susceptibility to pests, methods of feeding. A myriad of other things.
On his own, Renji discovers the plant is native to tropical regions, can grow to the height of a man, and when in bloom, is heavy with fragrant, white blossoms. It's a lovely plant, and he can certainly see why in many places, people have elected it to represent love.
All these things he writes down on his page labeled On gardenias. Eventually, although he writes typewriter neat and small, the text overflows the first page and begins meandering down a second.
With his letters, Seiichi sometimes sends other things. Candy, dried flowers, a drawing a little girl from the children's ward nearby gives to him. If I keep them, he once writes, I'll have to buy myself a house just to store them soon. Forgive me for unloading them on you; you're not the only one, if it makes you feel better.
Renji keeps these things separate, in his closet. They're memories that don't belong to him; he's safekeeping them only. He takes them out sometimes with the intention of asking Seiichi if he wants them back, but only ever puts them away again, feeling somehow that Seiichi would be offended, and that perhaps he's meant to keep them forever.
The thought inspires in him a feeling at once frustrated and touched.
24. good night
Renji hasn't seen much of him lately, and therefore, hasn't had the opportunity to witness this recently, but Seiichi falls asleep on the couch a lot. More often the armchair, his legs dangling over the wide armrests. Inevitably when this happens, either Renji or Genichirou will fetch a blanket, but he always wakes up the minute they drape it over him.
In December their first year of high school, Genichirou gets the flu just before a large chapter test, and has to miss a study session at Seiichi's house, leaving just the two of them with their books scattered in Seiichi's living room.
Halfway through reciting trigonometric functions, Renji realizes Seiichi's fallen asleep, and goes to get a blanket from his room for him. When he gets back, Seiichi's awake again, though, yawning and rubbing at his eyes. He sees Renji and announces groggily that he forgot to water his plants, and when questioned, insists it's more important than trigonometry.
It's hard to convince Seiichi once he's set his mind, so they take a break and go around the house watering plants. Renji picks up the orchids for him and brings them to the kitchen without being asked to. Seiichi is delighted, and tells him sooner or later he'll get around to making him mulch the garden too.
It's getting dark by the time Renji reaches Seiichi's house. It's a ten minute walk from the bus stop, and he counts fenceposts till he gets there.
Seiichi answers the door with a bundle of construction paper tucked under his arm and explains to him his dilemma: Jackal's birthday in less than a week, and he's supposed to be making the grandest of all birthday banners to hang in the clubhouse as a surprise. (Maximum embarrassment, Marui had instructed, and that's why Seiichi has an assortment of bright pink markers and glittery glue right now.)
"I see," says Renji. "And where did Marui go?"
Seiichi rolls his eyes patiently. "It seems he forgot to show up. Akaya too, the delinquent."
In the darkening afternoon, Seiichi's laugh sounds rich and red, like autumn, and like smoke. Renji is not surprised by it, but he does pause for a long moment before responding, "Well, in that case, let me help you out."
26. if only I could make you mine
Inside and outside, Renji counts fifty-eight plants in total, which is a less spectacular number than it might seem to be, because many of the plants outside are small and clustered together. It's a cold December, but strangely dry, so he stands outside with the hose for several minutes reciting log rules while Seiichi tries to get him to stop and identify all the flowers instead.
When they go back inside, while Renji watches Seiichi poke the soil of his potted gardenia, he tells him, suddenly, about his notebook, that he has an entire page and a quarter on gardenias now, and it's all thanks to Seiichi.
Oh, says Seiichi, amused. Probably you should thank Sanada too, then. He's the one who gave it to me, after all. Just September, actually. You've amassed a page and a quarter of information just listening to me for three months?
After a long silence, Seiichi turns around and says, Renji?
And then again: Renji, did I say something? What's the matter?
Renji hasn't been to Seiichi's house in months, but not much has changed. He follows him inside to where the monstrosity is being created on his living room floor and regards it thoughtfully. "Jackal is going to have a heart attack," he concludes.
"I think that's the point," Seiichi returns. "He shouldn't blame me, in any case. I'm only implementing it as a favor to Bunta and Akaya."
Renji spends the evening following instructions complacently, and construction of the banner goes uneventfully until Seiichi accidentally spills a glass of water over it. ("A soggy banner," says Renji. "Even better." And Seiichi replies, "We'll just say the wrinkles give it character. If anyone complains, they can run laps." To this, Renji returns: "You're not captain anymore, you know." And so on and so on, as if it were only yesterday they were sprinting the 98.4-meter-dash.)
They mop up the banner hastily and then start wiping the floor clean. Meanwhile, Seiichi sighs, "It'd be so much easier if more people were here. I called Sanada earlier, but he has a family dinner with his grandparents tonight. Anyway, I don't think they were very happy to be disturbed."
Renji wonders again what he's doing here.
28. wada calcium cd3
In his first year in middle school, Renji discovers Seiichi has a veritable pharmacy full of vitamins in his locker. "What's this for?" he asks him, holding out a bottle which claims an effective prevention of up to 87% for osteoporosis in older women.
"Calcium," Seiichi says firmly. "Calcium."
When Renji raises an eyebrow, Seiichi jabs him in the chest. "You're so tall, you don't even pay attention. Look, I barely come up to your collarbone."
"Oh." Renji peers at the label again. "Well, I recommend milk," he says conclusively, and puts the bottle back into the locker.
Seiichi looks at him curiously then, like he's sizing him up. "Drinking milk made you that tall?" he asks.
"Genetics, probably," says Renji honestly. "And milk. Of course. Your father's not short, Seiichi. It's only a matter of time."
It's not the first time Seiichi gives him that funny look, tilts his head to the side and crooks a smile at him, but it is the first time Renji associates it with a sudden tightness in his throat, and an inability to speak.
29. the sound of waves
They lay the banner down a few feet away and start work on the other end of it while the damaged end dries. Seiichi talks aimlessly while coloring in the huge L on "Jackal" with a marker the approximate hue and intensity of toxic waste. He stands up once and sprints off to his room, only to return with a print he bought recently of a painting of waves crashing onto a rocky beach. "Of course," he says, pointing and leaving a fingerprint on the glass, "it's different with a painting. It looks different for one, and you can't hear it, for another."
"Oh, you like listening to the ocean?"
Seiichi nods, and sets the print aside. "It's calming," he explains, still looking at it. "Patient."
"How like you," says Renji, and sets his marker down. "Listen, Seiichi."
"Mm." Seiichi looks up again, crooks a smile at him. "What is it?"
"I," Renji says, and then furrows his brow and says: "Let me apologize in advance." He leans forward and kisses him.
Seiichi tenses up immediately, startled; then Renji feels him relax into the awkward grip he has on his shoulders. He can tell by the feel of his rushed breathing and the hammering of his pulse that Seiichi is still surprised, and very nervous, but he doesn't move away until Renji does.
Somewhere in the back of his head, Renji is telling himself he feels dizzy and unbalanced because his heart is pumping too fast: there's a rush of blood to his brain, and with it, oxygen.
"I apologize," says Renji again.
He's not sure now whether he should just pick up his markers and keep coloring, or get up and leave (that seems rude), or apologize yet again. Seiichi doesn't say anything, which doesn't help. He just sits there on his knees, with his thumb pressed to his lip, while he looks very intently at the floor.
After a long minute, he finally looks up, sees Renji, and smiles, sort of sheepish. "Well," he says. "I think both of us have always wanted to do that at least once." Then he looks back down at the floor. "But you know, Renji."
Renji doesn't say anything, and Seiichi continues. "You know, I don't think..." He stops, as though he's searching for the words. "I don't think it would be entirely wise of me."
He looks up now and meets Renji's gaze, his blue eyes searching. "I think you know what I mean."
Renji exhales and leans back onto the palms of his hands, tilts his head to the side and tries to smile, which doesn't work very well, as smiling doesn't come naturally to him anyway. "I know," he says. "Of course." And he wonders, watching the refracted light bouncing off the walls from the cars passing outside, if he's made the right decision this time.
Slowly, the tension begins to drain from the room. Seiichi picks up his marker again where he dropped it ("Ah," he says. "Left a mark on the floor. Mother will kill me.") and goes back to coloring in the L, although Renji doesn't move for awhile. "You know," Seiichi starts again, scribbling determinedly, "I always sort of knew."
"I thought so." There's a crooked little smile at that. A pause, then he points out: "You've left another wrinkle on the banner, by the way."
"Listen, Seiichi," says Renji eventually.
"Again?" He looks up, amused. "What now?"
"I won't lose you, will I?"
"Not if you don't want to, Renji."
"I see," says Renji. And then, solemnly: "It's good to hear that from you."
He looks at the banner then, and lets himself roll his eyes at its absurdity. "Jackal is going to have a heart attack," he says again.