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homsan toft ([personal profile] tofsla_fic) wrote2014-02-21 10:58 am

Moments of Grace (Sanada/Yukimura, Yukimura/Niou)

Prince of Tennis, Sanada/Yukimura - Yukimura/Niou, E
14,000 words
A story about loss of direction and purpose, about dealing with your future not being what you expected it to be, and about making mistakes. Breaking things and putting them back together.
Warning for infidelity.



The streets are quiet at this time of morning, and Yukimura takes pleasure in the space he has all to himself, the freshness of the air, the first-light pause after the damp night and before the dry, hot day to come: slipping between worlds. It's one of the best times of day. On the corner, the supermarket is just opening its doors. He buys milk and eggs and a fresh sack of rice, and then, feeling whimsical, a packet of narcissus bulbs. It has been a long time since he tried to make anything grow.

By the time he gets home, regretting the size and consequent weight of the sack of rice he bought, Sanada has left for work. He's even done the washing up before leaving. Yukimura stares at the empty sink for a moment, and puts the food he's bought away, and then sits slumped over the spotlessly clean kitchen table until he needs to go and open the shop, weak-legged but hating himself for wasting time anyway.

Typical.


Niou stops by. He's the first visitor. The first customer may take rather longer.

"Recommend me a book," he says, sitting on the counter with his feet dangling half a foot above the floor, knees spread, hands right on the edge for balance.

"Ask Yagyuu," Yukimura tells him. "He should be able to get inside that thing you call a brain a little better and work out what you'll like."

"Yagyuu believes in that murder mystery shit," Niou says, frees up one hand to wave it dismissively. "And he don't like it when I guess the endings. Also, he ain't the one who works in a bookshop."

Yagyuu has a large collection of murder mystery books, it's true, but some of them looked incredibly dog-eared last time Yukimura saw them and that definitely wasn't Yagyuu's own doing. Niou is just being Niou. "I don't know why you need recommendations anyway," Yukimura tries. "Murakami Haruki has a new book. Go and buy that."

"Oi, I didn't say I was gonna buy a book. You've got it here, right?"

He drops onto his feet and slopes off towards the appropriate shelf. By next week, Yukimura suspects, one of his books will be in less than pristine condition and reshelved in completely the wrong place.

It would be easy enough to stop Niou, but he doesn't. Letting Niou do what he wants means that Niou will spend time sitting around in the shop reading, and that means he has company.


"Don't you have work?" he asks, a few hours later.

Niou, not looking up from his book, rolls his eyes. He's sprawled across the sofa that Yukimura has placed in the corner of the shop as much for his own benefit as for customers, shoes abandoned on the floor beside it showing miss-matched socks in garish patterns.

"Day off."

He has a lot of days off lately. Yukimura has thought about asking Yagyuu if something is wrong, but he and Yagyuu have never been especially close friends. Besides, dealing with the politics of Niou and Yagyuu is something he would not feel comfortable doing without full diplomatic training; he still hasn't even worked out if they're friends or partners or other.

It's a slow day, and he spends most of it talking to Niou, cleaning, and making sure the shelves are neat. People come and go, drift in as a mass around lunchtime when girls from the local school have their break and mill around chattering until Yukimura is all but ready to throw them out just so he has a chance to sit down before Niou can see the tremble beginning in his legs. He leans on the counter instead, letting the wood take his weight, and smiles when he answers questions, and doesn't allow himself to falter.

"So how long didya take to figure out that customers don't respond so well to insults as tennis players?" Niou asks from behind him as the shop grows quiet again, still not looking up.

Yukimura laughs, and tries not to show too much enthusiasm as he drops himself onto the sofa arm beside Niou's head. "I think you're mistaking me for Sanada."

"'Everyone,'" Niou mimics, "'your movements were terrible.' 'Akaya, was that meant to be a slice or were you waving your racket at a fly?' 'Genichirou, you are not practicing kendo. Correct your damn form before you take Renji's head off.'" He smirks up at Yukimura, finally dropping the book down to lie open on his chest. "How many people've you told off for buying shitty chick lit?"

"None, thank you," Yukimura shoots back, leaning over and flicking at Niou's forehead with one hand.

"Betcha think about it every time." Niou swats him away, still smirking.

"Entirely not the point."

Niou's hands prod him below the ribcage, surprisingly playful. He's known Niou for years but he still gets taken by surprise sometimes. Sarcasm is expected, and sharpness, but the only real rule is probably something about expecting the unexpected.

He almost doubles up, and has to fight to catch himself before he falls right on top of Niou; they're acting more like fourteen year old boys than they did when they really were fourteen, probably. Everything was so serious back then. Niou was more sulky and less talkative, and his sharpness had really aimed to wound most of the time – Yukimura had just been stressed, himself. And bored, half to death.

He thinks of the flat above the shop, with its spotless kitchen and tidy bedroom and absence of life, and then he wishes he hadn't.


Sanada is late home. It happens fairly often. Yukimura has finished cooking, and taken his own food to the bedroom, refusing to wait around like a – what, a housewife? Right.

He'd make a terrible housewife, anyway. Crap tits, to start with, as Niou once commented. He can think of better reasons, but still. ("Not that I mean you'd look bad in a dress, captain, but ya gotta accept it – you ain't gonna actually pass." And then Sanada had almost smacked Niou, hadn't he, until he'd realised Yukimura was choking with laughter and not indignation.)

He sits cross-legged on Sanada's half of the bed, eats quickly because the food isn't interesting enough to take time over, and stares accusingly at the rice that falls on the sheets as though, somehow, the momentary failure of his fingers to cooperate is entirely its fault.

The sound of keys in the lock, rough and scraping and sticking a third of the way around again where the copied key isn't quite perfect, only comes a while after he's finished. He's been lying on the bed, sort-of reading, sort-of staring into space, and he thinks about getting up but doesn't quite manage it; Sanada settles on the bed behind him, anyway, so that's alright. He rolls over to smile up at Sanada, marks his page and drops the book on his own pillow.

It would be nice if Sanada leaned over and kissed him right now.

"A long day for you too?" Sanada asks instead. Lines under his eyes, droopiness to his eyelids that he tries not to show. He doesn't like to admit in direct words when the company is keeping him busy; it's amazing that he even slipped it in sideways into a question like that. There's no real way to bring it up without bring up a whole horde of other things along with it that are just better left alone.

"Not really," Yukimura says. "I mean, I worked quite a lot of hours... Kaori is looking after her mother, I think. I told her to take time off. We're not busy."

He can see the look starting on Sanada's face.

"Don't even think it, Genichirou. I'm in no danger of dropping dead, thanks."

At least Sanada manages to look mildly guilty. "I didn't say--"

"No, you didn't," Yukimura murmurs, and mentally counts to ten because Sanada means well; he always means well. "There's food in the kitchen. I'll get you some."

Sanada shifts to let him sit up, his hand brushing across Yukimura's as they move past each other, and Yukimura's insides twist in a way he can't quite explain. Genichirou, I--


Weeks can go by without anything really happening.

He makes tiny rituals out of his routines, places more significance on them than he would have thought possible once. A cup of tea in the morning, the stiff turn of keys in the locks on the shop door, a chapter of a book read before bed. A part of him watches it all from a detached standpoint and thinks, this isn't me. It's an uncomfortable thought, and he doesn't know precisely where it comes from, but it worries at him: this is not my life, this is not the person I wanted to be.

"You ain't meant to be working today," Niou says, dropping himself forwards to lean on the counter, elbows sliding slightly on stray fliers, looking up to watch Yukimura. His hands frame his face, fingers curled in against his cheeks.

"And yet you're here anyway," Yukimura tells him, smiling.

"What, you think I come here just for you? Some of those girls this place hires are pretty cute." Although Niou is smiling right back, there's that wolfish element to it; make something of it, I dare you.

"Predatory bastard," Yukimura says, warmly. "I should warn them about you."

"Way too late." Niou murmurs, slides down into a crouch, forearms flat against the counter and chin resting on balled up hands, rests there for a minute and then gets up again, walks around to dump himself in his traditional spot on the sofa.

His restless movement doesn't improve as the morning goes on; he fidgets his way around the shop, leaves, comes back and leaves again, following his own internal patterns and reasoning and not sharing a bit of it.

He eventually comes back one final time with a bottle of iced tea from the vending machine around the corner, drops it on Yukimura's lap, and ambles off again without a goodbye or an explanation. But that's Niou; people are just meant to get it. If you have to explain, what's the point?


Upstairs in the flat only a couple of the bulbs seem to have taken, though he planted them properly and waters them enough, keeps them lined up on the windowsill where they'll get light. In two of the pots little green shoots are poking through the soil, tentatively, as though considering their options; all the others are lying low, more cautious. He peers at them, as though this'll make them grow faster.

"I suppose it's the wrong time of year," he says. "I thought it might be alright inside, though."

Sanada doesn't have an answer, but he didn't really expect one. He was mostly talking to himself, anyway; just wondering aloud.

"Maybe things don't grow well here," he continues to himself, as though it doesn't matter, closing the topic; smiles at Sanada. "I hear a rumour that you need to take some time off soon, by the way. Any truth?"

"I don't really have the time," Sanada mutters, but the tiredness...

"Make some," Yukimura suggests, and pushes all the excuses he uses to work more and more hours himself deep below the surface so that they cast only vague shadows over his conscious thoughts. "You can't do this forever, I think. Unless you're actually not human."

Sanada seems to consider this, lines deepening across his forehead. "I'll think about it."

"Yes, you will," Yukimura agrees pleasantly, and wanders his way back into the bedroom.

Sanada doesn't take long to join him, for once, and doesn't seem reluctant when Yukimura reaches out a hand to him and pulls him close enough to kiss. Lying with Sanada's familiar, welcome weight on top of him and hands combing carefully through his hair feels something like peace, and then - a tiny miracle - Sanada begins to press kisses to his jaw, to his neck, to the hollow of his throat.

He makes a tiny noise of encouragement, and closes his eyes against the world, and holds on a little tighter than he should.


The next morning he struggles to get out of bed, sore and clumsy, frustrated by the movements he can only barely manage as much as by the movements he can't.

It's coincidence; only that. This happens over and over again, and he does sometimes wonder if one day it'll get the better of him and he'll wake up trapped inside the curved confines of his own skull, unable to reach anything outside -- but the idea is old and faint, just a relic. There are other things he fears more.

He knocks a cup of tea over at breakfast, scalding his fingers and sending rivulets of hot liquid snaking across the table; they run up against the morning paper and soak into it, smudging the ink. Sanada casts him those concerned looks which make him feel like screaming, if only that was a slightly less childish option.

When Sanada leaves for work he only touches Yukimura gently.

"Hey," Yukimura says, "I'm not made of glass, you know." But he can feel a muscle twitching in his leg as he stands to slide his fingers through Sanada's hair, half expects weakness to follow, but ignores it anyway; presses a firm kiss to Sanada's lips just to make a point. I'm still standing, aren't I?


"What's it feel like?" Niou asks, later. Somehow, he's the one standing behind the counter while Yukimura sits. Yukimura isn't even sure how it happened.

They've had this conversation before, though, haven't they?

"Hopefully like nothing you'll ever feel," Yukimura tells him, very faint grumpiness creeping in which actually has more to do with Niou calling him on weakness than to do with the line of questioning. "Oh, damn. I feel as though I didn't even sleep last night." He covers his eyes with his hand for a moment, rubs fiercely at them to fight the tiredness in them and the way they seem determined to drift shut.

"I know that one," Niou says.

"Because you actually don't sleep?" Yukimura suggests, taking the mental equivalent of a deep breath and forcing his attention away from the trembling in various outlying parts of his body.

"Yup. Anyway, go the hell back to bed or whatever it is you do when this shit happens."

"Niou. Are you trying to be a concerned, caring person?"

Niou gives him a sidelong look. "You pass out here and I'll have to carry your sorry ass all the way upstairs."

"Ah. There we go. I feel better now I know your ulterior motive." Yukimura pulls himself to his feet and makes his way towards the back of the shop, finding work to do on shelves that are really in perfectly good order, straightening and rearranging in an out of the way space where Niou can't see if his movements falter. But he's just tired today; he's had a longer week than usual.


"It's still sort of pins and needles," Yukimura tells Niou later, unprovoked. They're sitting on a park bench, staring out across a tarmac path to trees beyond, picking at food from the supermarket. "And weakness, and twitching."

"Hurts?"

"Yes, I suppose so."

Niou stretches. "But it ain't getting worse. And you lived so far."

"Mm," Yukimura agrees, almost amused despite it all, his mood lifting slightly. "You're completely insensitive, you realise?"

"You'd rather have sympathy and care? Ain't my job. Sanada can do that. Wanna call him and tell him you're ill? Bet he'll rush home from work."

Yukimura falls silent. The look Niou shoots him carries a note of triumph, satisfaction at having called his bluff correctly.


He takes a week off work to appease the world at large, and finds himself practically climbing the walls of the flat; he forces people to visit him when they have time off of their own and looks after them almost aggressively, just to have something to do, and means to spend the rest of the time reading through some of the backlog that's built up around his bed, but finds himself far too fidgety when it comes right down to it.

Sanada barely touches him at all.

"Do you two talk about this?" Renji asks him, on one of his brief visits. "I'm sure it's none of my business, but you don't seem at ease with each other."

"I suppose living with someone isn't ever easy," Yukimura suggests, with less certainty than he usually deploys. "We haven't found a balance yet."

Renji is quiet for a moment, and his eventual response is only a nod. Yukimura gives him a sceptical look.

"You don't think that's it?"

"How can I know? I don't see either of you terribly often anymore."

"You're meant to know everything," Yukimura informs him, managing to fake a small pout before his dignity catches up with him. "I'm disappointed in you."

But a tiny, unrealistic part of him really had been hoping that Renji would have some sort of fantastic advice which would just fix things.

Renji smiles at him, and Yukimura wonders if he is imagining sadness there. "Possibly when I was younger I had all the answers. What do they say about teenagers knowing everything?"

"Oh well. It was worth a try."

There is a pause while they drink tea, and then Renji looks at him again. "What are you planning to do with yourself, Seiichi?"

It's the Dreaded Question -- the one his parents ask, or his sister when she visits with her boyfriend. The one that comes up at family gatherings. When Renji asks it there's no demand or pressure, just gentle concern, and somehow it feels even worse. "I'm doing things with myself," he says, feeling hollow. "I've got the bookshop to deal with. And..." a long pause as he tries to justify his life in his mind. Nothing presents itself as evidence. "I... don't know."

"Ah."

"I'll find something," he says. "I'm not going to be like this forever. I don't expect a miracle, but something will change. I'll change it." his hands are clutching too hard at his cup, he realises, and forces his fingers to loosen as the heat seeping through the porcelain begins to edge close to scalding.

"You wouldn't have said that when we were younger," Renji points out. "You would just have done it."

He takes his leave.

Teenagers don't just know everything, Yukimura thinks bitterly once he's gone. They can do anything, too. Can adults?

The three of them aren't the boys who thought they were taking on the world any more. We'll always play tennis? Only Sanada had even lasted through high school, though Yukimura had fought tooth and nail to keep up.

To a fourteen year old boy, the words you can't just force a recovery don't have much real meaning.


He actually phones Niou the next afternoon, scrolling his way through the names of half-forgotten people on his contact list to find the number.

It rings for a long time before Niou picks up.

"Yeah?"

"Are you busy?"

A pause; muffled voices exchange words he doesn't catch. "Talking I can do. Meeting, you're outta luck."

"How about tomorrow, then?"

"Afternoon and you're on. I got work otherwise."

Yukimura lets himself laugh a little. "I was beginning to suspect you didn't actually have a job."

"Maybe I just work nights most of the time. As a lapdancer."

A pause. Yukimura tries to imagine this, and then tries not to imagine it. "If it pays your bills I'm sure I won't judge you," he says, arch.

"Uhuh. You'll be wanting to come over to my place. Shall I clear the lapdancing outfits away or you into that sorta thing?"

"I'll leave that entirely to your discretion," Yukimura says, trusting to the fact that Niou doesn't really own anything resembling a lapdancing costume. This may, he considers, be a foolish belief. Niou owns a lot of things, even if not always for any immediately obvious reason, and has always been good at acquiring things he doesn't own.

"Brave man," Niou says. "Two, okay? See you."

He hangs up. So abrupt; we've got to the point, why bother with the formalities? Yukimura would almost certainly be shocked if it was anyone but Niou.


There's something skimpy and red draped over the back of Niou's sofa when Yukimura arrives, incongruous against the neatness of the flat at large. It has a look of well, you dared me about it; suspiciously new, pristine. Deliberately placed. A corner of Niou's mouth twitches when he catches Yukimura looking at it.

"Think it suits me?"

On closer inspection Yukimura is fairly confident that it's actually made for a woman. "Steal it from your girlfriend, Niou?"

"Mmm, something like that. Or maybe the fake tits are in the wardrobe. Want a drink?"

Yukimura has to think about this; eventually shakes his head. "Not alcohol. If you have some coffee, though..."

"Pushing your luck so soon?" Niou asks, but coffee is produced anyway, magicked from some recess of the tiny kitchen.

Taking it, cup cradled between his hands, Yukimura has the feeling that Niou is weighing him up again; updating his files, or whatever it is he does. Niou would laugh at the idea of data collection, and has in the past. And yet.

He folds himself carefully down onto a seat, shifting in search of comfort, and ignores Niou coming closer. He ignores it when Niou bends down to peer into his face, too, acting as though nothing is going on at all; contemplating his drink. Chips on the edge of the cup, staining where coffee has soaked into the unglazed ceramic.

Niou's hand catching under his chin, tilting his head up.

"So," Niou says, eyes narrowed slightly, considering still. "Random social call. What gives?"

"Boredom, I think," Yukimura admits. "I had to take some time off work. I think I may go insane soon."

"Soon. Right. I reckon that happened..." Niou straightens up, pretends to count on his fingers, "Maybe a decade ago, yeah? Or maybe more like fifteen years. Youmighta been insane already when I met you. Can't quite decide."

Yukimura half-smiles. "I'm sure you're one to talk."

Niou's eyebrows go up, pointedly, and he keeps his silence for once.

Renji once described Niou as possibly the strangest sane person I've ever met, didn't he.

Right.

"Of course I am," Niou says. "And you're thinking about trying to hang around here for the evening to avoid Sanada, aintcha?"

Yukimura wonders if Renji's assessment was right or not. It probably doesn't even matter. A surprising number of things don't. Either way, Niou has his moments of scariness, although in this case he's only almost right. He wants to avoid the lifelessness of their flat, and the look in Sanada's eyes every time he admits to pain, and all of the things that they don't know how to deal with which lie unspoken between them, holding them apart. Sanada himself he wants, still, always. To have him right there and to be unable to reach him properly is one of the most frustrating things he's ever experienced -- and he's experienced a few.

He keeps smiling, glances down at his coffee for a point of focus other than Niou's expression, struggles his way through his own private thought-maze for long enough to be sure that it just isn't worth trying to explain. "Something like that."

"I ain't gonna be here," Niou points out.

"You said."

Another pause. In his peripheral vision Yukimura can see Niou walking around, glimpses of movement to match the sound of footsteps.

"Hang around anyway. I ain't kicking you out."

"Thank you," Yukimura murmurs, grateful for the lack of further questions about his motives, his problems, his life. Niou's questions are refreshingly insensitive when he actually asks them, though. He's dealt with enough careful, delicate edging around issues to last him a lifetime.

Chatting with Niou here feels even more relaxed than in the shop; there's extra distance from anything that reminds him of his situation, and it's remarkably freeing. Having the ability to breathe for himself instead of being told he needs to rely on a ventilator. He could just pretend that there's nothing tying him down, and that anything is possible. Illusions are temporary but pleasant and Niou has always been good at providing.

"Crash on the bed whenever you want if you ain't leaving, right?" Niou says over his shoulder before he leaves, digging through his wardrobe for a change of clothes. He emerges holding a black shirt and jeans, starts stripping and changing right there. "I find you asleep on the sofa--" a muffled moment as his t-shirt comes off "--and I'm gonna drag you over to the bed anyway."

Yukimura resists the temptation to roll his eyes. "If you say so."

"Damn right I do."

"I suppose I'll think about obeying, then. Have fun with the lapdancing."

Niou, on his way to the door even as he finishes adjusting his clothing, grins. "What lapdancing? I got a meeting with the mob."

Then Niou is gone, and Yukimura is left wondering if he will manage to have a replica gun lying around on his desk next time, just to be Niou.

He also wonders what work Niou is really doing. He could ask Yagyuu, but that would feel like breaking the rules, which probably means that Niou has already got him tangled up in some obscure game of his own devising without Yukimura even realising it.


He waits for a while, enjoying the texture of the silence, smooth and rounded, no sharp corners or jagged edges. Eventually he gets out his phone, and takes a slow breath, and dials.

Sanada's phone is switched off, so he tries again; dials their home number and listens to his own voice instructing him, no-one is home right now, sorry! You can call one of our mobiles or leave a message after the tone...

"Hi Genichirou, Niou made me come and be sociable earlier and I don't think it's a great idea to come back this evening. I'd rather just rest. There's food around, and I'll see you tomorrow... give me a call if you like."

He hangs up, letting the artificial brightness that answering machines seem to force upon him slip away, settling back into quiet peace. It's still early evening; Sanada probably won't even be home from work yet.

It's occurring to him that he really does have an evening to kill in which silence is not an enemy and intimacy is far enough away not to be missed, for the first time in ages. He finds Niou's keys and walks down the street to get take-away food, breathing deep, the warm damn breeze barely lifting his hair. The clatter of bells as cyclists speed down the pavement on their way from there to elsewhere, a few more neon shop lights beginning to flicker on although it's not even dusk yet. Passing a bar he thinks about going inside, talking to strangers, being anyone at all; drinking a little and talking a little, just existing. Normal.

Instead he keeps walking, moving on before his thoughts can spiral further; buys food from the next place he sees and turns back towards Niou's flat.


Yukimura is usually a heavy sleeper, but the Niou opening the door wakes him up, the sound of catch an unfamiliar one and the creaks of the hinges in the wrong pattern, something his subconscious mind can't just discard as Known.

"So I'm kinda disappointed," Niou says, peering through into the bedroom and then making his way in. "I was looking forward to dragging you around a bit."

"Too bad," Yukimura mumbles, voice croaking slightly with sleep. He's rather aware, now, of the fact that he's wearing one of Niou's t-shirts. At the time it seemed perfectly sensible to borrow it; he just took the first one he found that didn't look smart. Niou seems to have noticed, too. Well, he would.

"Stealing my shit already?" he asks, drops himself onto the edge of the bed so that the mattress shifts. "And here I was hoping you just slept naked."

"Not for you."

Niou laughs, already undressing himself, still completely unashamed. He has a very nice back, Yukimura thinks, watching him; he's actually looked after himself. Who would've thought.

He can't summon the energy to move at all, so he just lies in bed, half-conscious, while Niou pads around in his underwear getting ready to sleep. The clock beside the bed says it's two in the morning; a more sociable time than he'd anticipated, anyway.

He didn't quite anticipate Niou getting straight into bed beside him, still only wearing underwear, either, but that's what happens. Well, whatever works.

It's not as though he isn't used to sharing a bed.


On the other hand, he's never woken up with Sanada draped over him like a second duvet, chest pressed to his side and limbs all over the place. He has to shift carefully to escape from the arm draped over his shoulders, though if Niou actually wakes up he hides it well.

The whole thing gives him a bizarre feeling of guilt, as though he is doing something he shouldn't. Ridiculous, isn't it, he tries to tell himself.

Sure, his mind tells him, unless you count the things you were thinking about--

No.

It's a good enough time in the morning, so he gets himself dressed well enough to go out in search of a better breakfast than Niou is likely to actually have on offer in his kitchen. He enjoys getting out in the morning anyway. It's one of the easiest times of day to breathe.

He's able to go out, come back, eat and clear up before there's any sign of life from the bedroom at all, and it takes quite a while for Niou to bother getting up. Then there's coffee again, and Niou chucks him a towel, and mumbles something about spare clothes. "Since you seem to like mine so much."

He'd been thinking about leaving as soon as Niou was awake, when he first got up, but it just doesn't happen.


"So you heard from Yagyuu lately?" Niou asks over his shoulder from the kitchen. The question blind-sides Yukimura so thoroughly that he thinks hemust've misheard, briefly. Yagyuu?

"Should I have? We've never been particularly close friends, you know." He pauses. "Is something wrong?"

There's a flicker of emotion that could be worry or deceit or something else entirely in Niou's eyes, gone too fast to be identified; a response, anyway, which means his guess was probably right. "Hell if I know," Niou says. "Justmakin' conversation, right? I ain't heard from him in a while."

"Ah."

"Now you're reading shit into this." Niou smirks at him. "You're smarter than that. We ain't joined at the hip and you know it."

Yukimura smiles, sweet as anything. "You raised the subject. What was it, an argument?"

Niou puts down the bowl he's wiping dry and chucks the cloth towards the doorway, where Yukimura is standing. Even Yukimura can manage to dodge it, laughing at the failed attempt.

Then Niou walks over to him, coming face to face with him, too close, still smirking; meets his eyes for too long a moment before he bends down to pick the cloth up.

"Niou--" Yukimura warns. Niou's hand is resting on the door-frame, centimetres from Yukimura's hip.

"Maybe we argued," Niou says, and pulls away a bit. Yukimura tells himself to keep breathing just as normal; no sigh to show relief or anything else. "Maybe we're just busy. Friends drift, right?" He doesn't meet Yukimura's eyes, but he's Niou; it could be entirely deliberate.

"I think you like secrecy too much," Yukimura tells him. "I understand that it isn't my business, but I like to know if my friends are struggling."

Niou laughs, sharp and bitter. "Like you say. Not your business."

Yukimura shakes his head, not sure if he should be amused or despairing. Niou is watching him closely.

"Sort your own shit out before you try to sort out mine," he suggests. "Mine ain't so bad. You're avoiding the guy you're meant to be with. Wanna talk about that?"

"That's not your business either," Yukimura says, softly, warning.

"It is if the mighty hulk's gonna come kick my door down to drag you home or something."

Yukimura goes to speak, hesitates; it's tempting to say something like I think you overestimate just how much he cares, but that's not even true. It's just his own frustration speaking. There's never actually been doubt in his mind that Sanada cares; maybe he cares more than Yukimura merits, or just cares in the wrong way. But he cares. "You make it sound as though I'm cheating on him."

Niou gives him a long, slow look; eyes looking through his clothes, leaving him naked, taking away even that to get at his core, his heart. No; that's not what Niou is doing. That's only his own creeping, unfounded guilt. "Are you?" Niou asks.

No, no. No. But he can't shape the word; his mouth, dissatisfied, ignores the signals from his brain; an echo of something long ago.

And Niou is very close again, all cool curiosity, taking him apart with detachment. An experiment? A test? Not quite. Understanding is on the edge of his mind.

It is a shock when his mouth presses to Yukimura's; so much so that Yukimura forgets, for a moment, to push him away.

It's quite a long moment, actually, while his body reacts and his mind spins, blurring reality.

"Don't," he says in the end, a hand against Niou's shoulder, shoving. "I--"

"You what?" Niou's tongue swipes across his lips, as though he's tasting something of Yukimura there. His eyes are cool, but perhaps too much so; a suggestion of deliberate concealment. "Love him too much? Can't just fuck someone for fun? Don't think I'm hot enough?"

Yukimura turns away, hiding the battle taking place behind his eyes. He can feel the insincerity in Niou's words; imagines that Niou knows exactly why, exactly what. "Stop."

And the topic is dropped, just like magic. The conversation slides back towards normality, away from that moment. Niou doesn't seem to give it another thought. Because he achieved his goal, or because he failed definitively enough to abandon the idea?

What is he doing?

What am I doing?


He takes the subway home, drifting, and almost sleeps past his stop; he imagines that he can still feel the impression of Niou's lips on his own, even as he alights and walks through the streets towards the flat, and tells himself that the only thing the memory-feeling inspires in him is disgust.

It doesn't matter that he's showered already; he finds himself in the bathroom anyway, standing under the water until his legs begin to shake and the spray is cold and he can't smell Niou's soap or shampoo any more.

As guilty as if they'd had sex. It doesn't make sense.


When Sanada arrives home Yukimura presses him back against the door, kisses him, longing, trying to communicate without words; I want you, I need this, I need to feel like a real person. Sanada responds, parts his lips willingly, hands resting lightly on Yukimura's sides; the warm affection of it tears at Yukimura, strips him bare more thoroughly than Niou could ever manage. Don't stop.

Sanada strokes a hand through his hair, coaxes him away; Yukimura moves unwillingly and lets Sanada walk into the room, shrug off his jacket and shoes, go to the kitchen for a drink. He watches him go, faintly bereft.

"Are you alright?" Sanada asks carefully, returning but not closing the space between them again. What is he thinking? This isn't like you?

"Mm, quite alright. I was getting a bit bored at home so a change was good. Did you get up to anything good?"

"I'm afraid my life is just not terribly exciting," Sanada tells him, the corner of his mouth twitching up a little.

"As if mine is." Yukimura stifles a yawn. "I'm back at work soon. But I've been thinking about other things I might be able to do, you know? I think it'd be good for me."

"You know you don't need to," Sanada says. He sounds stubborn, as though he's going to argue if Yukimura pushes, and it misses the point as a statement, but that doesn't explain the spike of anger it prompts in Yukimura. Something ugly tries to make itself known, coming out of hiding from the depths of his mind.

"I need to," he says, more savagely than he means to. "I'm not your housewife. I'm not going to just sit here and rot because my body doesn't remember how to hold a tennis racket. I--" Sanada reaches out for him but instinct makes him smack Sanada's hand away. He can't be angry if Sanada touches him. Right now, he needs to be angry. He can't say this if he's calm. "I hate being the cripple. I'm not just an illness, or a list of symptoms. Stop treating me as though I'm just..." his hands are clenched, he realises, as he stumbles over his words; nails dig into his palms, fingers beginning to ache.

"Seiichi." Sanada's voice isn't soft this time, and his tone suggests he's not avoiding anything. It gives Yukimura a brief, sick thrill. "I'll stop treating you like a cripple when you show any sign that you understand your own limits. The world doesn't just change to make space for you. I refuse to let you destroy yourself any further just by not understanding that."

"How will you ever find out if I can care for myself if you keep me like this?" Yukimura manages. "I'm not a child, either. And it's not your job to save me from myself."

He can recognise his unreasonableness, understands that he's in danger of going far too far, understands why Sanada is saying these things. But that's all spinning further away, growing small and distant, something he knows but can't feel. This never happens; he never gets angry.

Except that seems to mean he just has a lot of anger stored up, waiting.

It takes his last threads of restraint, the last bits of thought that really feel as though they're his own, to remove himself, moving towards the bedroom, hiding himself away with a shut door between himself and Sanada to hold the anger at bay. He leans heavily against the wall, knees bending under his weight, sliding down in increments to sit with his knees pulled up against his chest, small and lost.

What am I doing?


Sanada brings him dinner, like an apology. It just makes Yukimura feel angry again, but in more of a dull way, and he's able to recognise that he's mistargeting: he should be angry at himself.

He holds onto that thought firmly enough to take the bowl of food, smile carefully and murmur thanks. He isn't sure if he's more afraid that Sanada will stay and try to talk or that Sanada will just leave again, but it's probably a good thing that he ends up leaving; his temper still needs more time to settle, Yukimura knows.

The food is nice enough, probably, but he eats it mechanically, barely tasting it; makes a point of taking his crockery back through, collecting Sanada's too, making everything tidy as a small apology of his own.

This silence isn't an easy one, though. Just the kind he tried to escape from.


"Sanada seems unsettled," Renji says. He doesn't say I know you argued, or can't you try to talk about things a little more? -- the words are just present, whispering themselves in Yukimura's mind.

"We've both been stressed lately," Yukimura tells him. "He works himself too hard."

"And you?"

"Not hard enough."

They're walking together. Yukimura has never asked for them, but it's noticeable that Renji has worked frequent breaks into their wandering -- a bench in a park, a cafe, a gallery where people are welcome to sit and take their time looking. It makes him feel uncomfortable, and he wonders if this is what Sanada meant about not knowing his limits. That's not quite the problem, though; he knows his limits, in a theoretical sort of way, but he doesn't want to show them to anyone else.

"I hear that's rather a matter of opinion," Renji says.

Yukimura makes an annoyed noise. "I'll go mad. I keep saying this, but I don't think anyone believes me. You know you hear about those housewives who seem so normal until they kill someone and put bits of the body in all their bin bags? I think I know how they feel."

"I don't think even I really needed to know that," Renji tells him, with something Yukimura hopes is humour, but his expression is never all that readable. "Please be careful, Seiichi."

"Somehow I don't think you're talking about making sure I hide the bodies well enough. Seriously, no-one believes me. Why?" he slouches himself a little lower in the seat they've found this time and sighs. "Really... I just need to know I'm doing something with my life. I don't know how much longer I can deal with this for."

Renji is silent. Yukimura thinks he might be frowning; he sort of wishes he hadn't spoken. Too much of a confession.

But he used to be able to confess almost everything to Renji, right? It shouldn't be an issue.

There are things going through his mind now, though, that he just can't say. Not to anyone. If he scratches the surface of what's worrying at him and allows people a glimpse then perhaps no-one will think there's anything deeper to it.


Being back at work is an improvement, but a small one. It's an enjoyable job. But it's not really a job that's taking him anywhere.

He watches for Niou, wondering how long it'll take him to show his face; considers asking the staff if he's been by in the last week and resists, not wanting to make them curious.

There's no sign on the first day or the second, but on the third he's there, ambling past the glass shopfront just as Kaori is leaving, almost running right into her at the door. Yukimura catches a hint of her laughter before the door swings shut, Niou saying something drawling, maybe teasing.

Apparently he has been visiting.

But he leaves with Kaori instead of coming inside. It does something strange to Yukimura's insides, plants a faint ache in his chest that he just shouldn't be feeling.


On the fifth day Niou actually comes in, slouches his way over, nonchalant; the cat who's been missing for days that you worried about, sauntering back as though he'd never been gone.

"I really should have warned the girls about you," Yukimura comments first, and then, "you've been busy?"

Niou smirks, that same not-entirely-amused twist of the lips. "Mm. Kinda. And I wanted to check 'em out. I mean, I don't care, I'm fucking queer, but you've done girls before. You're pretty frustrated. Had to make sure you didn't do anything stupid." He laughs, nominally taking the sting out of his words.

It's harder to just laugh that jab off than most, though. It hits a sore point, where his conscience still feels bruised.

They're alone in the shop.

"I'm not cheating on him," Yukimura says, soft and almost wistful. "Don't talk about this here."

He feels tense and uncomfortable, theoretically aware that running will never solve his problems but desperate to feel he has some sort of freedom. Sanada still seems distant, and his fear of open conflict is great enough to make him hold back from pushing the point.

His hold on whatever it was that made them work in the first place is slipping further and further.

It's just as well Niou doesn't keep talking.


Niou follows him up to the flat when it's time for lunch, and Yukimura doesn't even consider stopping him, although he realises when he closes the door behind them that perhaps he should've.

He makes lunch for them both.

Niou doesn't try to talk about Sanada, and doesn't try to get in his personal space, and doesn't show any sign that he has any intention of pushing things further. He just sits himself on the nearest flat surface, instantly at home in his surroundings.

"So yanno," he says in the end, "I did fight with Yagyuu. Shit happens, right? We'll patch up in the end."

Yukimura, pouring hot water into a pan, almost scalds himself, surprised. "Honesty, Niou? What is this?"

"Mm. Who knows."

"Are you two..." Yukimura begins, and hesitates. A couple? More than friends? Fucking each other? "...doing alright? I mean, in general."

"Peachy." Niou laughs; that could mean anything. "He's out of town for a while anyway. I feel I need a break, Niou. Some shit like that. He'll be back."

Something about the way Niou says that sounds ever so slightly off to Yukimura, although he can't begin to work out why.

The meal passes quietly. Yukimura tries not to watch Niou, but somehow it's hard to avoid. He doesn't know what else to look at. Too-familiar prints on the walls, splashes of impressionistic colour that have been copied over and over and over. The window opening towards the wall of the next house a few metres away, a sad row of plant pots still occupying the windowsill. The tabletop, plastic veneer pretending to be wood. Nothing here is quite real or alive, except for Niou himself, for all his misdirection and deception.

"I think I could do with a break of some kind," Yukimura says, when they're done, both on their feet and tidying up. "Not from work, I mean." He's about to say I could do with a break from being myself, but he's talking to Niou. There are at least fifteen ways that statement could land him in terrible, terrible trouble.

"You wanna be the irresponsible one? Just walk away and let everything go hang?" Niou watches him closely, still, again.

"Something like that, I'm afraid."

"Huh. Why not do it?"

"Because there are other things that matter." But he can feel desperation taking hold of him, even this level of admission drawing emotion up to the surface in a barely-controlled rush.

Niou studies him. "More than stopping yourself going nuts."

"Maybe."

"That ain't like you."

"What is like me?" Yukimura says. "If you know and you'd like to remind me, please. Everyone else seems to have quite definite ideas on the subject."

"That's more like you," Niou tells him. "You've got strength in there. Gonna do something with it, or just let it rot?"

"That..." That sounds like something Sanada would've told me once. "It's not so simple." And now, he knows, he's just making excuses. Stupid.

"Whatever you say," Niou drawls. I know you're just scared.

"Niou--" Yukimura warns, turns to find Niou beside him, close enough to make his chest tighten for a moment.

"But if you're gonna do anything drastic," Niou tells him, low, a hand reaching out to press against Yukimura's chest, fingers splayed. "Lemme know first."

And he's pulling away, heading for the door probably, fickle as ever, damn him.

Yukimura catches his arm before he can get far, tugs him back so that he almost stumbles. "Don't joke so much about this," he murmurs. "And don't flirt so much."

"Who's joking?" Niou says.

It's Yukimura's fingers that trail down Niou's wrist as he lets go.

And he's the one who, after Niou is gone, realises he's got hard thinking about things that could've just happened.

He checks the time and, unable to shake the restlessness he feels, shuts himself in the bathroom; jerks off leaning heavily against the door, one hand wrapped around his cock and the other covering his mouth, hiding noises that no-one is around to hear. He tries hard not to think of anything, not to think of Niou, Niou--

Damn.


He phones Niou again, horrified at himself, horrified at the things he's thinking that he can't quite deny. Genichirou, I'm so sorry, I don't deserve...

"Is it alright for me to visit?" he asks. "Or maybe you're sick of me by now."

"Yeah, right," Niou says. "You can come over whenever you like, yanno."

That wasn't what you were meant to say. But he shouldn't try to push the responsibility off onto Niou. His actions are his own.

Not that he has a really clear idea of what he wants, or what he'd do. Horrifying as they are, the ideas are only vague, skittering away when he focuses on them.


He doesn't go straight away, anyway. He doesn't even go that week. Instead he tries to be normal, stumbles through routines that should be second nature, feels his little rituals to bring calm slipping away. Something has to change. Something has to change soon.

Sanada seems to know something is wrong. He treats Yukimura more and more carefully, maybe thinking that he's in greater pain than usual, maybe just not knowing what to think. He doesn't say anything. Yukimura wishes he would, then wonders how he'd even answer.

Mostly he just wishes to be given a reason to stop himself.


The morning Yukimura caves is the morning that Sanada, packing hurriedly, tells him that he's got an unexpected business trip which will last the rest of the week.

"That's fine," Yukimura says when he's told, and that's true in itself.

But then Sanada, frowning, tells him, "don't work too hard while I'm gone."

And that isn't fine. It would have been alright if he could only have made it a joke.

"I'll do my best," Yukimura says, because Sanada is in too much of a hurry for an argument, and then he's alone, feeling very small and somewhat lost.

So he waits until late morning and then calls Niou again, just to be sure he's home.

He is.


"I thought I should bring something, since I'm inviting myself over," Yukimura tells Niou, standing in the doorway, smiling carefully. In the thin convenience store plastic bag there are cans of beer, a few bits and pieces of actual food.

Niou steps aside to let him in and takes the bag, peering into it. "Alcohol." He grins.

"I still don't really drink," Yukimura tells him. "But I thought you might be able to find a use for it."

"We'll see," Niou says, drawling the words.

Yukimura steps inside. The flat is as tidy as it was last time; if he hadn't rooted through the cupboards for clothes before he might not have believed someone like Niou really lived here, or maybe that anyone really lived here. But all Niou's stuff is here; he's just a neat person. The world is full of unexpected turns, apparently.

It's strange the things you think about when there's something you're trying to avoid.

He can't avoid looking at Niou. Even if he's not trying, the way the top buttons on his shirt are left open draws Yukimura's attention inevitably to the hollow of his throat and the lines of his collar-bones.

"Do you have to work later?" he asks.

"For you, I can take a night off. Special service." Niou is reading him, pulling thoughts from his mind. Yukimura feels half sure of this, if only for a moment.

"I thought we could do something." He pauses, catches the momentary shift in Niou's expression. "I don't know. It's been a while since I've been to--"

"Hey," Niou cuts in. "Yukimura. Whatcha doing here?"

"Being sociable," Yukimura says; a last-ditch attempt. The words don't convince even him.

"Running."

Yukimura takes a deliberately steady breath, takes a step forward, takes a moment to meet Niou's eyes. "Don't."

Takes a chance, pressing his mouth against Niou's.

Niou seems to respond on blind instinct, mouth opening and hands coming to rest on Yukimura's sides and body shifting to settle them against each other. It's dizzying; the exciting rush of something new, not the comfortable familiarity of something you've had for years. Yukimura makes a pleased noise into the kiss.

And then Niou pulls away, swallowing, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth. "Fuck. At least let me have a damn drink first."

It takes Yukimura a moment to regain mental balance, by which time Niou is already making good on his demand. He accepts without thinking when Niou thrusts an open can of beer at him, and then it seems as though it'd be strange not to take a drink, so he does.

"I'm that unappealing?" he asks. Smile; it's a joke.

"Plausible deniability when Sanada comes to murder me," Niou mumbles. "I didn't have a clue what I was doing. Too drunk. Can't even remember what we did. Maybe we didn't do anything."

"You could just ask me to leave. You don't have to..."

"What? Don't have to fuck you out of pity? That ain't what this is."

"What, then?"

Niou takes a long drink, slouches himself down onto the sofa. "See if you can't figure it out, yeah? You're smart and all."

Yukimura puts his own can aside, barely touched, and moves to straddle Niou, kneeling over him, hands going to his shoulders for balance. "I don't want to think about it. I'll assume you're up to no good."

They kiss again. There's bitterness to it -- but perhaps that's just the taste of alcohol on Niou's tongue.


Once he starts to let things happen, it gets easier to just let them keep going, building up momentum, events rushing onwards all by themselves and dragging him along with them. He isn't sure he even knows how to stop.


"Fuck," Niou groans, licks his lips, dropping back to sit on the floor, staring up at Yukimura. His legs are parted, his erection obvious between them. "Fuck. Fuck, I'm hard. That was hot. You wanna...?"

Yukimura is on the sofa, panting, his body limp and wrung out, his cock softening. He can barely even think, but Niou's meaning still penetrates. "Sure," he says. "Or you could wait, and..."

He doesn't quite manage to say it, but Niou's eyes widen for a moment anyway. "Shit, don't say stuff like that. You don't wanna."

"You sure?"

Niou considers him for a second, two, three, four, five. "You're messed up."

"I'm offering to let you fuck me," Yukimura says, breathing still ragged. "Would you rather I ordered?"

"Never know," Niou says. "I might get off on that shit. Put on military uniform too and I'll come on the spot." He actually sounds unsteady now, and fumbles a little picking up his beer can from the table behind him.

Yukimura accepts it when it gets passed on, and drinks deeply this time, pulling a face at the taste. Never mind; he doesn't have to like it. It's just to stop him thinking too much.

He keeps drinking while Niou gets to his feet, searching around the flat; feels the buzz starting that he'd almost forgotten, hasn't experienced since he was maybe twenty and nothing had settled into routine yet.

By the time Niou comes back his body is feeling less painfully sensitive, and Niou's hand snaking its way between his legs again actually feels good. He moves himself awkwardly, stretching the pins and needles out of his limbs as well as he can, and Niou shifts with him, helps him out of what few clothes he has left, runs hands over his skin, slides slick fingers inside him. Has sex with him, right there on the sofa, the two of them slipping awkwardly on the cushions but in too much of a hurry to care.

Yukimura feels that he's watching from a bizarre detached standpoint again. Someone else is doing these things, and feeling them: a stranger pushes his hips back against Niou's, hands clawing for purchase on smooth fabric. Someone he doesn't know makes pleas that sound like orders, more, yes, there, like that, ah... that's good. Don't stop.

It's when his body starts to tremble and tense and spill into release that he can't hold himself apart, crashes back to the reality of the situation, lips forming unvoiced words as he closes his eyes tight against the world.


He takes himself off to the bathroom afterwards and then to bed on shaking legs, holding onto the soreness in his body; a reminder. Niou hasn't bitten him or marked him, and Yukimura almost wishes he had done -- that he'd left some evidence which couldn't just be washed away. Niou doesn't follow him through to bed, either. But then, it's only late afternoon.

The next time he opens his eyes it's dark, and he almost forgets where he is. He's naked between the sheets, almost chilly where they've partly slipped off him. Marks or no marks, the reality of what he's done is fresh in his mind.

He buries his face against the pillow, but that only means that the next breath he takes smells of Niou.

It takes a while, but he manages to coax his body into cooperating and pulls himself out of bed, tugging on clean clothes -- Niou must've left them there for him. He's not sure he'll ever grasp how Niou's mind works as well as he'd like; but isn't that half the appeal?

Niou is unfathomable, and also unmistakably free, at least in the senses that matter.


"Yo," Niou says when Yukimura emerges. "Figured it out yet?"

"What?"

"Why I'm doing this."

He's fully dressed, looking as though nothing happened, flicking between windows on the screen of his computer; probably work, Yukimura realises, but right now he doesn't have the curiosity to look.

"I told you I didn't want to think about it," Yukimura tells him. "You're not in love with me and you can't be after my money."

"Stubborn," Niou says. "I dunno why the fuck I bother."

All Yukimura can think about is that they've just had sex. They've just had sex and at the end of the week Sanada will be back and what is he going to do?

And is he going to end up running to Niou over and over again?

He just can't tell.

"Why are you doing this, Niou?" he murmurs.

The screen of the computer goes black, and Niou turns in his chair, staring right at Yukimura. "'Cause you're an idiot. 'Cause you ain't got a clue what you want."

"I want freedom," Yukimura says, harshness creeping into his voice. "A future."

"And you say it like I'm gonna be the one to give you all that? Get real."

"That doesn't tell me why."

"'Cause I ain't in love with you. 'Cause I know exactly what you are and I bet I know what you need better than you do." Niou turns away again, gets to his feet, one hand shoved in a pocket, shoulders hunched. "You feeling better after all that? Like maybe you got what you really wanted?"

Yukimura is silent. He can't think of an answer; everything inside his head is in too much turmoil.

Well, that's probably his answer right there. Not that he can voice it.

"I'm gonna go and get food," Niou says. "Curry good?"

"Okay," Yukimura murmurs.

Niou leaves him alone in the flat to wrestle with his own thoughts.

After a while something begins to take shape. It's just a sort of creeping suspicion; no form, little substance.


Niou feeds him and makes him stay the night and shares the bed with him despite his wavering and indecision.

In darkness, things are often easier.

"He's important," he says softly. "I can't pretend that's not true."

"I can't believe someone like me's gotta be the one to say this to you, when we just fucked a few hours ago... but yanno, if he's that important, bloody talk to him." Niou sounds mock-grumpy. Yukimura's eyes haven't adjusted enough to make out anything of his expression.

"You know how he can be. If he doesn't want to hear, he won't hear."

"Oh, fuck," Niou says, starting to laugh. "Irresistible forces and immovable objects. Bloody good luck to the pair of you."

Yukimura groans into his pillow. "I mean it."

"Sometimes I reckon you deserve each other," Niou mumbles, that edge of laughter still making itself known.

I doubt he'll feel the same if I tell him about today, Yukimura thinks, and feels something tightening uncomfortably inside his chest. "That's debatable."

Silence.

"Hey."

"Yes?"

Niou doesn't answer for long enough that Yukimura wonders if he really had anything to say in the first place. "I can't believe I'm the one who's gotta say this, but what the hell. Fix it or get out. Quit stalling."

"You're trying to give me relationship advice."

"Yeah. But don't rub my fucking nose in it. It's drunk relationship advice, if that helps any."

"You're trying to give me relationship advice a few hours after you had sex with me."

"Looks that way."

Yukimura rolls over onto his back, rubs a hand against his forehead, despairing of understanding. "My life is bizarre."

"We do our best," Niou mumbles. He sounds as though he's drifting, and it doesn't take much longer for his breathing to even out into what's probably real sleep.

Yukimura lies awake for a lot longer, thinking about Sanada, about his feelings, and about whether feelings are always enough to carry you through.

He hasn't reached any real conclusion by the time the clock is reading 03:00. He remembers thinking at that stage that he'll never manage to sleep, and then he opens his eyes to daylight.


The rest of the week is a struggle. He sends Renji increasingly stressed e-mails until Renji shows up at his door, unannounced and drags him to Tokyo for a change of scene, walking him around art galleries that have new or temporary exhibits which might be of interest. It's a slow, relaxed day, and nothing dramatic happens, but Yukimura feels a tiny bit better in himself.

It does nothing whatsoever to lessen the guilt he's fighting with, though.

"Are you planning to tell me what's wrong?" Renji asks eventually. They're sitting in the cafe of the Tokyo National Museum -- one chosen more for Renji's interests than Yukimura's, although it's certainly an interesting place.

Yukimura glances away. "It would make things awkward for you if I did."

"That's quite possible. It's also not what I asked."

In honesty Yukimura isn't even certain he can form the words to explain. Thinking about it seems to close off his throat, leaving him struggling to voice anything at all. He feels heavy, anxious. "Do you want to know?"

"If it'll help you to tell me. I'm still worried."

They're in public, but they're in public far from home. No-one knows them here. "I don't know if I should be with Genichirou anymore."

Renji watches him. Yukimura can't meet his eyes. "Why?"

"I don't deserve him. And he doesn't deserve to have to deal with..." Yukimura gestures vaguely at his own body "...all this."

"That isn't how it works."

"I slept with someone else."

Silence.

"I told you I don't deserve him."

"This is something recent, isn't it?" Renji asks. There's no real discernible expression on his face. He could be thinking anything. Yukimura's mind fills in the blank space with all sorts of damning possibilities.

"Yes."

"Seiichi. Are you that dissatisfied?"

Yukimura stares into his tea, watching the reflected light shifting on its surface. "I don't know what I am. I'm fed up. I'm confused. I made a mistake."

"Well--"

"Don't say it. It doesn't matter if I know it was a mistake. He's under no obligation to forgive me. I wouldn't expect him to."

"Do you want him to? Or have you just decided that you're beyond forgiveness? Are you going to lock yourself in your room for a week this time, or did you have something more drastic in mind?"

Yukimura frowns. "Of course you remember that. I was fifteen. It's--"

"Everyone remembers. That was not my point. Stop deciding what other people think on their behalf." Renji smiles, though he looks a little tired. These days, everyone is tired. "You're not always right, you know."

"Of course I'm not always right," Yukimura says. "I think I've proved that quite well."

"You're still very good at avoiding taking meaning on board when it suits you. Some things don't change," Renji says, and gets up to pay. "I think I'd like to see the treasure house again before we leave, if you don't mind."

"You're not angry?"

Renji's eyes drift fully open for a moment. "I think you're being very foolish on several levels. I can try for angry if you would prefer." He smiles slightly again. "The entrance is over here, by the way."

Yukimura follows him around the treasure house silently, not trusting himself to be able to say the right thing.


The next day, mentally and physically exhausted, he just sleeps, then dozes; gets up to eat, and sleeps some more, until rest takes away the worst of the pain in his legs.

The day after that, Sanada is due home.


"I'll be later than expected," Sanada says over the phone. "Don't wait up for me. I'll see you in the morning."

Yukimura, already tightly-wound, wonders if he will survive the night.


He does hear Sanada come in, sometime in the small hours of the morning. Door opening; the scrape and thud of his case being pulled in over the step. Door closing. Keys dropped onto the table. Footsteps.

He can hear his own heartbeat, too.

Breathe slowly, he reminds himself. You don't want to deal with any of this in the middle of the night.

It's harder to pretend when he feels the mattress shift as Sanada lies down; he shifts a little, but keeps his eyes closed. The light flicks off.


When Sanada gets up Yukimura is already dressed and sitting around trying to read, eyes scanning the same line over and over again without seeing it.

He isn't certain what he's going to say, although he has to say something, or he won't be able to look anyone he knows in the eye. Not to mention being unable to live with himself, although he's doing fairly badly on that front anyway. How is he planning to take his life apart? Let's see.

"Did you have a good week?" Sanada asks. He's just come out of the bathroom; damp hair, towel around his neck.

"A confusing one, mostly," Yukimura tells him, and marks his page, putting the book aside. His hands do not shake. "I've had to think about a lot of things."

The look Sanada casts him is wary; I know something's wrong, Seiichi. "Really."

"Mm. I don't think I should keep depending on you for support." He's forcing even these words out, although as far as he can tell they sound perfectly calm. "This isn't the way I want to live."

"What on earth are you planning to do?" Sanada asks. There's a hint of a growl to the words, but not all-out anger. Not yet. Give it time. "You can't--"

"There are plenty of things I can do. I can't play at being a kept woman. I may not be healthy but that doesn't mean I'm useless."

"Who called you that? Any of that?"

"You implied it well enough," Yukimura manages, quietly. "I'm not trying to blame you, I know what you meant. But..."

The silence is full of sharpness, hidden traps. A wrong word here or there, and it will all be over.

Sanada is frowning.

It will all be over sooner or later anyway. Might as well find out how bad it can get now; there's no point in drawing this out. Yukimura looks up to meet Sanada's eyes, gets to his feet, bringing them almost level.

"I slept with someone else this week."

He expects to feel Sanada's anger, instant and savage. Instead he gets blank incomprehension.

"What?"

"You heard."

The room is too silent, but there's a feeling of shift; the sense of it prickles across Yukimura's skin, coils itself in his stomach, fascinating and horrifying. Is this how easy it is to take everything apart, break people, break himself? You only need words.

Tension. Sanada's hands curl into fists, maybe of their own accord. The line of his jaw is hard, muscles contracted. What will happen next -- will Sanada try to hit him, perhaps?

"Why are you telling me this? Do you want to make me angry?"

"You should be angry. I had sex with another man." Yukimura gives a shaky laugh, poised on the edge of a mental precipice. Just one more step. He knows the words that will push them both over that edge. "Unless you don't care, of course."

There.

A sense of freefall.

Sanada lunges for him, crowding him back against the wall. He can feel the plasterboard pressing hard against his shoulderblades, Sanada's arm across his chest putting the pressure on, trapping him.

"Yukimura," he growls, and that's when Yukimura knows he's pushed too far to go back. Yukimura. Not Seiichi. "Stop this--"

"Stop what?" Yukimura snarls back, because that force and that anger are his license to let go, to answer with the same. He can't be so angry at a Sanada who is always gentle. "If this is what I have to do to make you notice there's a problem then you're not discouraging me."

"You could have tried talking to me."

"And you'd have listened?"

Sanada is leaning against him with more and more force. Maybe he's not even aware he's doing it. Yukimura's shoulder aches where Sanada's elbow is digging into it.

"You didn't try to find out," Sanada tells him, savage, furious. Nothing cold about him now. His fingers curl hard into the fabric of Yukimura's shirt. "You just damn well assumed. Is that all you think of me? Someone who's stupid but useful, is that it?"

"I never asked for any of this," Yukimura hisses. "You're talking about assuming; who's fucking assuming? You just assumed it'd be alright for me to stay at home and work a few hours a week for the rest of my damn life, but I'm not allowed to assume you won't take me seriously if I try to say it's not." He drops his head back against the wall, closes his eyes, struggles to draw in a deep breath against all of Sanada's weight. Breathes out another laugh which has nothing at all to do with amusement, chokes on it, oh, shit.

There's a moment when he thinks he might not even be able to take another breath, and then Sanada's weight vanishes, lets him gasp air into his lungs as it rushes back into the space between them.

Sanada's hand slams against the wall beside Yukimura's head. Yukimura doesn't back down in the slightest; just pulls himself up a little straighter, stares at Sanada with defiance.

"You'd rather I pushed you harder and harder until you broke again? I tried that once before, if you remember. It was a mistake." Yukimura, we'll wait for you. Late nights doing exercises, trying to remember how to swing a racket, Sanada telling him he could do it. Pain, and lectures from doctors. Really admitting defeat for the first time. "I told myself I wouldn't do that again. Apparently I just can't fucking win."

"That's not the issue," Yukimura says. "Who asked you to push me like that again? I just don't want to feel like you're forcing me to hold back. Is that so hard?"

Another moment when he really thinks Sanada will hit him, and then Sanada turns away, hands falling to his sides. Perhaps he is shaking slightly with the effort of suppressing his anger, or perhaps Yukimura is just imagining things. He is hardly steady himself.

"I'm not talking about this now," Sanada says, voice rough. "Yukimura, there's no way you can solve any problem like this by cheating on me. Perhaps I've made mistakes but you haven't even given me a chance to understand them. Unless you're looking for an excuse to leave me, then..."

I know, Yukimura feels like screaming. I know it won't solve anything. Stop expecting everything to make sense.

Some things just aren't logical.

"I love you, you know," he says out loud, almost savage; feels a weird sense of disorientation trying to think when he must've last said that, and realising how different the words sounded back then. "But none of this is working."

"So you've given up." A pause. Sanada really is shaking, right on the edge of something worse, darker. "I think I need some space. Excuse me."

He goes to the bedroom, and comes back with his suitcase, still packed from the night before; pulls a shirt on as he goes, buttons it up standing by the door, refuses to look at Yukimura.

"I'll be with Renji."

The door slams.

Oh, hell.


Silence takes over again; blankets everything until it feels stifling.

He opens the windows to let in the world, and shivers in the warm air, sure that he should be feeling... something. Some extreme of emotion: anger or guilt or sadness. Maybe that will come later. For now it seems as though Sanada has taken everything with him, removing far more from the flat than a case full of work clothes.


After a while, his phone rings. He picks it up automatically, forgetting to check who is calling.

"Hi."

"Hello, Seiichi," Renji's voice says, a murmur into his ear. "I thought you might like to know that he's here. I don't recommend you visit. Are you doing anything much?"

Yukimura isn't even entirely sure what he has been doing. "Not much."

"Take care of yourself," Renji tells him. "And don't frown at me, you need telling."

Yukimura keeps frowning. There's another voice in the background, and Renji must cover the mouthpiece to respond because Yukimura can only hear faint noises.

"I'll talk to you later," Renji says when he's done.

"Mm. Alright."


Feelings do catch up with him in the middle of the night, tangled up together until he can't tell which is which any more. It's a sort of relief. Only sort of.


He wakes up in the morning feeling as though he's had no sleep at all, maybe for several days, and finds that his brain is still full of stray night-time thoughts. Late morning sunlight is flooding through the window.

On the windowsill plants that he'd forgotten are just beginning to open buds, showing petals that catch the light, bright and golden-yellow. The air is fresh. For a second, everything is alright.

Reality is always waiting, though: letters addressed to Sanada, a second toothbrush in the holder by the sink, a stack of work notes sitting abandoned on the table by the sofa.

It's eleven o'clock; no-one will be home at Renji's. Sanada will be sitting in an office he never really wanted to work at in the first place, showing his co-workers exactly the same face he shows them every day. Did he sleep last night?

Maybe there are darker circles under his eyes. No-one will dare ask why, anyway.

For a moment he considers calling Sanada at work and apologising, but he's done enough to make Sanada's life unpleasant -- he doesn't know what apology would be enough, anyway.

I'm sorry I'm an asshole who can't accept help and support?

Not even close.


Time drags. Yukimura spends more and more time turned in on himself, thinking. The girls comment on it in the shop; customers snap him out of a daze to make purchases.

The flat felt wrong before but it feels worse now, and he works longer hours to make up for it, making himself tired so he can sleep and dealing with the pain in his body by ignoring it.

Niou stops by the shop once, leaves food and a bottle of water; looks Yukimura up and down critically and rolls his eyes.

"Given up, then?"

Yukimura has been thinking about this, though. The question doesn't throw him or send him into a guilty panic. It might've, at one stage. "No. But I think he needs enough space to process things first."

"Still might decide you're no good."

"We'll see."

It's so easy to say it and sound sure of himself. But he's at least getting more sure, for all he's been struggling: things are piecing themselves together in his mind. He's become sick of self-pity. The person he used to be is trying to make himself known again; little hints of life in a dead garden. The determination to succeed that's been missing for so long, making the sickness and guilt and the whole mess of his life something to be overcome. So much of this he did to himself. If he can't fix it himself, then--

Niou laughs. "That's more like it."

There is no-one standing nearby; one girl, but she's walking away towards the back of the shop.

"Hey, Niou," Yukimura says, "Why'd you do it?"

He still can't quite understand that.

Niou runs a hand through his hair, rubbing at the back of his head. "You did a pretty fucking stupid thing, but it coulda been a stupider one. What if some chick didn't get it and thought she stood a chance? Or some guy. Whatever. Plus you're hot, and sorry -- my moral standing's always been pretty wonky."

"You think I've been so frustrated I might have slept with anyone who showed me the right sort of kindness?"

Niou hums, taps a finger to his lips. "Let's see... yeah? Pretty much."

It should be deeply, deeply insulting. Yukimura does bristle for a moment, until he catches the glint in Niou's expression.

Oh.

"One day you'll say something true," he tells Niou, "and no-one will believe you."

"Yup," Niou says, smirks. "Counting on it."

Yukimura shakes his head, trying not to think about whether he's just heard one of those true things or not. "Go on, get lost. Some of us have legitimate jobs."

"Gravedigging is a perfectly legitimate job," Niou says smoothly. "Disposing of bodies is just a side business."

There's nothing suitable on hand to throw at him, unfortunately. He's already half way out the door anyway.


It takes a long time to make himself dial Renji's phone number, and even longer to hit call. It's stupid; he's only talking to Renji, not Sanada, and Renji already knows exactly how foolish he's been.

"How's Genichirou doing?" he asks, when Renji has answered. He feels subdued, now he's actually dealing with the whole situation in a more direct way.

A pause. Renji sighs slightly, and then there's the sound of a door closing. "Are you asking because you really care, or because you feel obliged?"

Yukimura closes his eyes. "I care. You know I do."

"I just wanted to be sure. And to know you were sure."

"You haven't answered my question, anyway. That bad?"

"I think-- actually, wait a moment. If you hang up I may find a way to hurt you. Don't think it's beyond me."

He can hear the door opening again. Renji says something directed away from the phone; someone else answers. Sanada.

"It's for you," he can more or less make out Renji saying.

"Who?" Sanada asks, getting clearer, maybe taking the phone as he speaks.

Renji doesn't say anything.

"Hello?" Sanada says, talking into the phone now. "Who is it?"

Yukimura saw it coming, but he freezes for a moment anyway, briefly overwhelmed; I miss you. "Oh," he manages, grasps for words. "Hello. It's--"

"Ah."

Awkward silence.

Yukimura steadies himself, a hand pressed to the cool plaster of the wall in front of him.

"How are you?" he asks.

For a moment he wonders if Sanada is actually there, but then he realises he can hear him breathing. It crackles down the phoneline, white noise.

"I have to confess to having been better," Sanada says carefully. "But I will live."

"Have you--" he starts, and then thinks better of it. "No, no, never mind."

"What?"

"I miss you." The words come out slightly rushed, and just saying them stirs up more confusion inside him.

Sanada is silent again.

"I'm sorry," Yukimura adds. "I have no right-- but it's true. I hope you're alright."

"You too, Seiichi," Sanada says, a low rumble. Yukimura can't read much from it without seeing his expression.

Everything he can imagine is probably only a projection of his own feelings.

"I should go," Yukimura says, reluctant despite the awkwardness. "Thank you for talking to me."

"Mm."

Voices talking to each other on the other end of the phoneline.

Yukimura hangs up before Renji can take the phone back.


How long, he wonders, would he have to wait until he could realistically call again?

He refuses to be the tearful, needy one demanding to be taken back. But there are things he needs. Sanada really does seem to be one of them. It's not a need like I can't live without you, which he's always found to be more than a little concerning as an approach to relationships; blind obsession would do them both even more of a disservice than he's already managed. All the same, it's there, and he should have recognised it far sooner. It's a little pathetic to have to come to the point of losing something before...

No, he's not going down that line of thought.

Fully possessed of understanding of the way he feels, it's hard not to rush things, or to push too hard and cause more damage. He would like to avoid getting a reputation for that sort of thing on more levels than he already has.

He waits, carefully, driving himself to distraction. A day, two days.


He'd thought Day Three would probably be a good time to call, if only to chat to Renji, but as it turns out it doesn't come to that.

Sanada turns up at the flat, knocking on the door rather than just letting himself in, standing awkwardly on the mat.

Yukimura, expecting to open the door to an unexpected delivery or perhaps a friend who happened to be in the area, is temporarily shocked into silence. He can only stare.

"Can I come in?" Sanada asks, and Yukimura, working on automatic, steps aside for him. At least being spoken to prompts some part of his brain into waking up again.

"Are you here to--"

"I thought--"

They both stumble to a halt, watching each other expectantly.

Yukimura manages a very small smile. "You first."

"I'd like to talk to you a little more," Sanada says.

The rush of hope Yukimura feels is more than enough to tell him he's been right not to just accept that their relationship isn't going to work. "Shall I make tea?" he asks, and then feels faintly foolish; that's what he'd do for guests. This place is more Sanada's than his.

"No, please," Sanada mutters. "I think Renji has fed me enough tea to last me for at least the next year. I... look, Seiichi. I can't pretend I'm happy about anything you said before."

"I'd be worried if you were," Yukimura manages. "I'm not really asking you to forgive me."

"Oh?"

"I don't think it's that simple. Please, tell me if I'm wrong, and then we can run off into the sunset together and live happily ever after. I've been wrong about so many things lately that... well."

"You're not wrong."

"Mm. Thought not. But... you're here."

"Yes." Sanada's expression is hard to read, deliberately sealed off, but there's some hint of stubborn pride about it -- or so Yukimura thinks. "What you were saying over the phone... I... me too. I've missed you. Maybe that makes me a fool, but it's how I feel."

The space between them is so carefully maintained that it hurts; never less than a metre and a half at any moment.

There are a lot of questions he could ask.

"Do you think this is something we can work on?" he settles for, because on an instinctive level it just doesn't feel as though Sanada is saying goodbye, and he needs to know he isn't wrong on that point.

He can see how tired Sanada is, and he can feel the same sort of tiredness in himself. Always tiredness.

"If that's what you want," Sanada says.

"Yes."

"It might not work in the end."

A lot of things don't.

"I want to try. It might."

I'd rather have made the effort. Let's not leave it like this.

The space between them closes. He isn't aware of having moved, so Sanada must've. Warm lips press to his, cautious, and he slides his arms around Sanada's body, holds on tightly, dropping his head to rest against the crook of Sanada's neck as everything slides away, all at once, tension vanishing; you're staying.

Thank you.



Yukimura stretches, shifts against the sheets, feeling something suspiciously close to contentment. The bedroom is dark, and Sanada's breath is damp against his neck. He can't even bring himself to care that it's really too warm a night to be sleeping so close to someone.

Everything isn't alright, but it might be. One day.

He doesn't even realise Sanada is still awake until the hand resting on his stomach shifts, dragging across damp skin. He gives a quiet hum of pleasure.

"If we don't change things, this won't work," Sanada says. It's the first they've really said about the problems they're going to face since Sanada arrived that morning.

"I know."

"If you--"

"I've been thinking about university. Maybe I can actually graduate this time."

"No sports societies."

Yukimura groans. "Don't remind me. 'Oh, stop worrying, I'm sure I can just play casually.' I don't know what I was thinking."

"That you were secretly indestructible, I suspect."

"Probably."

They settle into silence, dozing, half there.

It's so easy, on a moment-by-moment level, to feel that they're normal again already; from the outside, would anyone be able to tell what's happened to them?

Thinking about tomorrow is harder.

But if they can keep the little moments when everything feels okay, maybe it'll work in the end.






Notes
The title of this poem comes from a poem; Moments of Grace by Carol Ann Duffy. I mention this here because in my mind at least the fic and the poem are quite linked! Just something extra if you're curious.

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