Seiichi can remember being told, at one point or another, that his dreams will become more intense. It is something scientific like over-stimulation with physical inactivity; a whirring mind trapped between lifeless walls. To him, it feels more like an itch he can’t scratch. His mind plays out sleeping scenarios that his body cannot fulfil and it is an impotence he cannot bear. Annoyingly, it makes him think of a girlfriend he had a few months ago. The moment they finally ended up in bed, he was so aware of being aroused that he couldn’t get hard – and her expression then was how he felt now. Empty and guiltily disappointed. He feels that life is refusing to perform for him. He never did end up satisfying her that night. He wonders if he believes in karma.
Perhaps because he is frustrated, he explained this all to Kirihara on his last visit. The bond they share is unlike any other within Rikkaidai; Seiichi is aware that Akaya is younger, in many ways much younger, and yet he is the only member of the team with whom anything remotely boyish can be discussed. Rikkai is full of serious matters and Yukimura as the Captain is not supposed to talk about things like sex or girls, particularly now that he’s ill and should be behaving like a chaste patient. Ill people shouldn’t think about fucking, according to silent doctrine. It’s unnatural. Blasphemous. And yet Seiichi is thinking about sex, partly because he’s a teenage boy and partly because he’s trapped inside a form that doesn’t move as quickly as it used to, partly because his dreams are rich and vivid and dripping dark purple all over his sleeping body.
Sex and tennis are similar, Kirihara said. He means wanking, Seiichi knows, or at least – hopes. Both require twisting form and burning limbs and just a twitch left, just a bit further and ohGodit’sperfect and you’ve returned the ball and it’s over the opponent’s head and if you keep that up, it’s victory and it feels too good to believe as your back arches and you try to keep your other fist in your mouth.
It doesn’t help in the slightest. Seiichi tries not to smile and then thinks about smiling in a Captainly way, the way he supposes Seigaku’s Tezuka might in the same situation; all oh, you little scamp, don’t you know we don’t all think that way? It doesn’t work. Inside, he feels his stomach falling away. Seiichi knows that sex and tennis are similar. His dreams tell him so, all the time.
Later that week, he slumps against the pillows, thinking. People find it hard, him being a patient. Of course, they’re full of sympathy for the pain he’s in and the hopelessness of the situation; the fear he must have about the upcoming surgery, the long and uneasy road ahead. Nobody seems to think about anything inconsequential, as if it might insult him or trivialise what he’s going through. People don’t talk about desire around Yukimura. They don’t talk about the Spring dance or the new English teacher who towers over the rest in her sharp black heels. Nobody talks about anything but meaningful subjects, trying to do his life justice, trying to empathise with tentative words of profundity. Does he know what’s happening in world politics? What’s his view on Christianity in Japan – a threat, or a philosophical treasure trove? Sometimes, if people are feeling particularly brave, they talk about music. The latest bands. Marui likes to do that, if only because politics bore him and Sanada knows if he allows Marui to get bored, he’ll pop his gum loudly until they change the subject. Sanada hates discussing J-pop princesses but more than that, he hates the wet slapping sound of gum bubbles and Yukimura quite likes it, all in all, when Bunta comes to visit.
Kirihara, though, talks about anything he likes. His respect for Yukimura does not bow to his illness, but to the human being in the centre of all these machines and wires and whitewashed walls. Kirihara still thinks of Seiichi as he always did, just in a different place and a different circumstance. His perception is as fiercely precise as his tennis; he ignores tangles of feeling that invade his comfort zone. He prefers not to talk about what could happen, although Seiichi thinks it must be on his mind. Normality is important to Akaya and the contract between them is that Kirihara can, must, talk about ordinary teenage boy things and in return, Seiichi refuses to break down in front of him. It is a front, a lie, Yukimura knows that, but it is what keeps him sane in the middle of this destitute place and like any sick person he clings to the last dregs of coffee-cup ordinariness.
When Yukimura talks to Kirihara, he can’t help but wish he was Genichirou because that’d make everything so much easier; instead of that impish smile there’d be soft brown eyes and ‘I want…him, so much’ would actually be worth something. Kirihara doesn’t mind talking about Sanada. He seems compelled by it; fascinated by anything sexual, anything to fuel his blossoming imagination. There’s an intimacy he takes from their conversations that seems to tickle him inside. He doesn’t care so much for the details, - Yukimura never discusses the dominance he wants over Sanada -, but the simple matter of Seiichi revealing himself makes Akaya feel important. For the thirteen year old, Yukimura recognises the importance of this. Tezuka and he are both training up their tiny protégées to succeed them and Yukimura prefers it that his relationship with Kirihara is mutually warm and honest. Dangerous, he supposes, but he trusts in the youngest member of the team and besides, when everyone else behaves like he’s ninety years old, what choice does he have?
There are plenty of things that he wants Sanada to talk about, that don’t involve the Prime Minister or this week’s history homework. Like dreams. Seiichi knows why his dreams are becoming more intense. When the nurses tell him that he should expect his brain to run into overdrive during his sleeping hours, he nods calmly, the way he does with everything they say whether he believes it or not. It’s just that their clinical explanations don’t account for the things he does dream and that his mornings are uncomfortable like he remembers them being when he had to wash his own bed sheets, out of the corner of his mother’s eye. It’s getting so bad that he’s scared that’ll happen again, sooner or later, because so far he’s managed to wake up with a raging hard-on and nothing more and it’s only a matter of time. That’s bad enough, he thinks, given that he hasn’t the energy to do anything about it when it happens and he can’t, anyway, can he, because there are always nurses and other patients and cleaners about and sometimes he’d do anything, he thinks, for a quick blowjob. Maybe he could talk to Sanada about that. That’d go down well.
Or he could tell him about the dreams he has; where the pair of them are all long limbs and soaking skin and kisses that don’t quite fit together properly. The one where Genichirou is face-first into the shower wall and the water is hot down Seiichi’s back as he’s inside him and through him and still, and trembling, his teeth heavy in the nape of Sanada’s neck. He can still taste the sweat and the soft black hair when he thinks about it; still imagine the press of his hipbones against the submissive curve of Sanada’s ass. It made him moan in his sleep, that one, and his eyes glaze over when he thinks of it and has to fight not to believe hopelessly that it’s possible. It isn’t that Genichirou is afraid or frigid, or robotic as some would have him believe. Frustratingly, it isn’t even that Sanada doesn’t want him because Seiichi suspects that he does. It’s that circumstances are in the way and if both cared less about honour and morality then maybe it’d be different. Sanada won’t fuck a sick man – not because he’s fearful of his fragility or of the God-knows-how-many drugs they’ve put into Seiichi since day one, but because he thinks of it as betrayal and Sanada has very strict principles about betrayal. No amount of pleading will change Genichirou’s principles, which suits Seiichi well, because he doesn’t beg. He dreams instead.
He’s dreamt about the Halloween dance more often than anything else. This may be because it was the moment that he knew sex and tennis could be the same thing, only in different colours; a moment of such smug victory that he now looks back on it with a feeling of wistful embarrassment. He wouldn’t talk about it at all, only Kirihara loves to bring it up as evidence that Rikkai has forever marred his innocence. Akaya had been watching Yukimura and Sanada all night, their battle for captaincy now infamous in the sub-regular team; a little pot of hellish spawns, desperate to get their claws into the regulars. Appropriately, he had been wearing devil horns, mostly disguised by his curls, but noticeable with a tilt of his head. He had been using this to great effect on a girl dressed as an angel when Yukimura approached him, and forced his eyes out of her cleavage.
“Kirihara-san,” He says lightly. “I’ve been keen to meet you properly.” He means it. Akaya’s tennis might be too erratic to safely secure him a place on the team Seiichi hopes to captain but there are worse things than a wild technique.
“Yukimura-sempai.” Akaya acknowledges, a quirk on his lips making Seiichi question whether he means it. “Here to promise me a place on your team, are you?”
“I wouldn’t want to tease you,” Seiichi offers steadily, leaning one hand against the wall. The valley creates a shadow over Kirihara’s head and emphasises their height difference. “Tell me. Has someone else done the same?”
“No,” Akaya chuckles, tucking a strand of black hair behind his ear. “The opposite. I was talking to Sanada-sempai earlier. You know he wants to be Captain this year, too. Let me tell you, I’d much rather have you. He thinks I don’t play with enough finesse.”
“You were boasting,” The angel pipes up, sullenly. “He had to say something.”
Ignoring both, Yukimura casts his eyes over the gymnasium; the large staircase giving way to an overhead balcony, where the locker room, showers and exit doors are. People there are greedily watching the dance floor below them and tilting bottles to hungry mouths. He drags his eyes away. “You don’t. But you can refine technique, with the right tools. It just depends whether you’re worth the effort, doesn’t it? We’ll see about that.”
“Do you think I am?” Kirihara’s eyes are honest, now; a curious green.
“Perhaps.” Yukimura answers, with a small shrug. “You have potential. If you’re dedicated to the team, then yes, you may well be. It’s not your ability I question; it’s your ability to listen and follow instructions.”
Akaya snorts and his friend giggles obediently. “What, like; ‘Pick the balls up after you’re done’? ‘Reach a bit higher for that volley’? I think I can handle that.”
“No,” Yukimura counters. “Like; ‘I don’t care if you’d rather have both legs amputated than take another step. You’ll stay and return another these shots until I’m satisfied that you’ve made progress.’”
Kirihara goes a little pale but says nothing. Green eyes are narrowed now and Seiichi wonders whether he is regretting his earlier preference for him as a Captain. Eventually, he raises his chin and nods, once. “I could do it.”
“Then I’ll see you at the ranking matches.” Yukimura says, with a smile. Akaya has gritty boyish pride, the type that is only half a bluff. The type that he can’t help but want on his team. His eyes are drawn once more to the beams above his head and he searches for Sanada with quick flickers of his gaze. Distracted, he leaves the scene with a pat to Akaya’s shoulder. The squeals of the angel behind him are barely registered as his eyes follow his steps, not knowing exactly what he is hoping to see in Genichirou’s face but something more than this; crepe paper and girls in white, feathery costumes. Kirihara yells his name and he turns, his eyes reluctantly following, to see that the angel has knocked the horns from his head as she fights his hands underneath the hem of her dress. Giggling, she tosses the band to Yukimura, a twinkle in her eye as she swats Akaya, her legs wriggling all the while. Without thinking about it, Seiichi puts it on, pulls his hair awkwardly over it, and walks out further onto the dance floor. Never one for shyness, he barely notices the looks he receives from fellow schoolmates. The girls are enchanted by his delicate good looks but male eyes crudely follow the way that fabric curls around muscular thighs, revealing a shiver of his back as Yukimura steps over shards of light.
Something rough is playing on the music system and Yukimura registers it only barely as he finds a throng; sways his way into a group, catches gazes with a couple of classmates. A diagonal smile and a few nods and all the while Sanada circles overhead. Seiichi reaches out to the girl next to him and they exchange greetings, hips bumping as they murmur in one another’s ears. Kirihara watches, angel-skirt abandoned, flickering his wide eyes from one sempai to another as if trying to locate the invisible thread that connects them. To his twelve year old brain this is what rivalry is, beyond the television screen and the American cowboy movies that he loves so much. This is violence and thumping music and scripted insults and the child in him can’t wait, has chosen sides, wants Yukimura to win out. It never occurs to him that Sanada is choosing another victory. To Kirihara, those sharp eyes mean business and in the humming beat of the gymnasium, he leans over to the angel next to him with a nod,
“800yen says that’s the new Captain of the tennis team.”
Almost as if he’s heard him, Yukimura casts a smile across to Akaya. It is then that he notices the younger man’s distraction and realises that he is being watched, his eyes lifting to Sanada’s form, shadowed and nervous. He is no longer watching. Seiichi keeps his gaze steady. He wants Sanada’s voyeurism. He wants Sanada’s greedy brown eyes. He wants to be devoured onto the other man’s tongue and to sense the taste in Genichirou’s mouth; the tang of bitter lemon and ginger so hot in burns the tongue, down his throat, through his blood. His body winds like a snake as his eyes blaze; every indecent thought he’s ever had about his teammate in the last year rippling through his spine in waves of wicked lust. Hands rise to hair and Yukimura wants Sanada to see curls of black hair, curls of white knuckle – wants him to think of curled hands around the bedpost and curled toes and curled body, screaming out pleasure in constricted shudders. His hips wind upward and his eyes close and he imagines that Sanada is looking and thinking everything Seiichi has ever thought and damned himself for.
Give in, his blood hisses. Give in, and give me what I want. What we both want. Touch me. Try to rein my hips in. Just try it. Try to pull me back. Just try me. Try to stop me from feeling all of this – try to make me as repressed as you are. I’ll drag you under and I’ll drown you. And you’ll fucking love it.
When he opens his eyes, Sanada is gone, but Seiichi is too euphoric to consider it a failure. With flushed blood he treks from the dance floor, easing his limbs back into restfulness, panting hard. The tennis team he figures he has in the bag. His vice captain is merely a matter of time. Yes, Yukimura thinks; tennis and sex could be sisters. Kirihara looks on, astonished, clammy-palmed. When Sanada had acknowledged Seiichi’s victory with an inscrutable expression as he walked away, all he could think was ‘this never happens to Clint Eastwood.’
Yukimura won the captaincy some weeks later, but that matters less than the realisation that Sanada had taken him on his word. The match that decides it is explosive; rackets splashing through streaks of red, serving testosterone. By the last game, they’re both grunting like pigs and Yukimura is just winning, gasping between each point, glaring at his opponent through the grid of the net. Sanada’s head is resting back, breath escaping in huge gulps, sweat collecting around his kneecaps. When he wins, Seiichi falls to his knees. Genichirou’s lips quirk upwards as he offers him a hand; pulls him up, then shakes it. His smile fades as Seiichi pulls him in by the elbow, pulls him close. “Good match,” he purrs. “But we’ll play better ones.”
Of everything about being a patient, Yukimura thinks that he hates the dreams the most. They are snakes, offering him impossibilities and false images with bright smiles on their slimy faces. He hates to think of what could have been but that’s all his cock is capable of thinking of, these days. Every night, he has visions of dance floors and the courts and Sanada’s eyes – all those seconds where he thought everything was in the bag, and why was he so stupid and what wouldn’t he give, to be that stupid again? Seiichi hates his dreams more than anything, because they are the ‘what ifs’ that the nurses don’t tell him to stop asking. You’ll get better, they tell him. Don’t you think for a second that you won’t.
Yes, he thinks. I will. But I won’t stop feeling like this.
When Genichirou walks through the door with something that smells distinctly like freshly cooked meat, Yukimura thinks he looks like a carer of the elderly. That’s when he realises that however bad his dreams are, they haven’t got anything on reality – the love in his life that’s as cold as the walls around him.