|the echoes of angels
Author: Neon Genesis PM
In which Yukimura Seiichi takes a chance on a girl. YukimuraOC. Set before 250 Dark Stars. Twoshot.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance - Yukimura S. - Words: 3,406 - Reviews: 14 - Favs: 22 - Follows: 13 - Published: 05-06-12 - id: 8091624
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's Note: Decided I might as well post this. Kaori has a very… whimsical mind, so be prepared for possibly annoying, probably confusing stream-of-consciousness prose. Also, warning: This is largely unedited. As will quickly become obvious.
the echoes of angels
Hope dangles on a string
Like slow-spinning redemption
He was thin when he returned, thin and frail, when before he'd been lean and strong, with the grace of—not a dancer, but more than that of a tennis player. A grace that was quiet and powerful, that seemed as natural as breathing, in and out, in and out, just keep breathing, darling, just keep breathing. The grace of an ocean tide, maybe, if that made sense. It probably didn't, but—
"Can I help you with something, Okada-san?"
Damn, he'd caught her staring at him; he probably thought she'd been gawking at his newly fragile appearance. "No," Kaori said, quickly. "No, I was just—welcome back, Yukimura-san. It's… good to see you again."
"Thank you," he replied, his voice soft, just like she remembered. "I'm glad to be back."
She believed him.
Yukimura Seiichi, Kaori thought, was like math. Something that everybody—at least at Rikkai Dai—studied. Except he was a someone, she reminded herself, someone, although he didn't feel like a someone, Seiichi didn't, he felt both more and less than that, and she didn't know why he was Seiichi to her, when they'd exchanged maybe a hundred words thus far in their junior high career.
(But she liked the sound of it, the taste, Seiichi, Seiichi, like something secret, something special, Seiichi, Seiichi, like the shh, shh of the waves rolling onto the beach, lulling, come here, come here, shh, shh, it's all right.)
But—but anyway. There were the facts and figures of Yukimura Seiichi that everyone knew, the credentials that added up, on paper, to someone perfect. And then there was the practical application of him, and it wasn't that that revealed him to be imperfect—
It was just that he was so terribly, wonderfully human, in all these strange, beautiful ways that nobody but Kaori ever seemed to notice. The way one corner of his mouth lifted higher when his smile was genuine, the way his nose wrinkled when he didn't understand their teacher's rapid-fire French.
The way he always needed to be in control, of his situation and especially of himself, and it was this need that was strong and so overwhelming, an oxygen-crave of a need, a person with dark waters pressing in on all sides, and he was trying so so hard to break through to the surface—
"Okada-san… Okada-san, really." He was facing her now, with that wrinkled-nose I-don't-understand-and-that-bothers-me look, except he was more subtle about it than that, but she could tell. "I have to ask. What's going on in your head?"
When she blinked, he smiled a little, a slow drag at his lips, like the sun rising. "You just have this look on your face," he continued, "and it's—" He shook his head, once. "What are you thinking about?"
Seiichi, Seiichi, shh, shh. "The ocean."
He'd always been treated differently than everyone else, Seiichi had, because he was different. Intelligent and charismatic, with a God-given gift for tennis, and beautiful in a way that placed him apart from others (higher, away from the grunge and grit of normal people, because whatever was ugly about him was locked away inside him, a message in a bottle, one no one had read yet, though sometimes Kaori could make out a word or two).
But when he returned after his hospitalization, he was treated even differently than before. Girls clasped their hands together and dreamed about being the ones who would nurse him back to his former health, would give him the strength to keep fighting. Teachers murmured about how he was an inspiration to them all, enduring his disease the way he had.
And Seiichi hated it. He smiled and he bore the compliments and the condolences and the well-wishes and he hated it, Kaori could tell, hated the pity, hated being that sick boy, being forced into the role of the poor brave soul that never gave up hope.
Had he ever given up hope? It seemed too personal a question to ask, so instead she asked him what he thought of rivers.
"Rivers?" They were making noodles in home ec, and there was flour on his cheek. He passed his forearm over his face, but that only aggravated the situation. For a moment it seemed he would say something light and pleasant, something along the lines of "They're pretty, I suppose," but instead he appeared to think about it, gaze cast upward, and she wondered what he saw.
Did he ever see the treasure-maps that streaks of lightning traced in the sky, or the way water rippled when you skipped a stone just right, rippled in a secret code, spreading and spreading, fading, fading, waiting to be understood?
Did he ever see her?
At length he answered, contemplatively, "I think there's something very… well, remarkable about them. The way they follow their currents, keep going forward."
Kaori rocked back on her heels. "Isn't that a little frightening, though? To have to follow that same path?"
"All roads lead to Rome," he replied, in perfect English. "A river flows toward the ocean. It's meant to arrive there."
You didn't answer my question, she almost said. Grinning, she told him, "There's flour on your face."
Kaori painted with watercolors. She liked the way the paints bled, the way they created new colors, shades of blue and green and gray and nothing, liked the ambiguity of it all, the poetry in the haziness, like seeing bright lights through the mists.
"What does that say?"
A long slim finger entered her field of vision, pointing at—but not touching—the words scrawled in black, right in the middle of her sapphire sky. "Well," she said, and paused. The ink had blended with the paint, smearing in a sort of magnificent way. "It doesn't say anything anymore."
Seiichi raised his eyebrows. Art club had been dull without him. "Is that so," he said mildly.
She only smiled at him. "Hey, Yukimura-san."
"What is it?"
Kaori clasped her hands behind her back, for fear that they would betray her nervousness, would express the way her pulse had rocketed up in a singing, spiraling way, notes reaching reaching reaching for the crescendo. "Would you like to visit an art gallery with me on Friday afternoon?"
She'd seen girls confess their feelings to him. Be they pretty or plain, smart or dim, he turned them all down. Yet she couldn't help but wish—
Take a chance on me.
He tilted his head, a piece of hair falling across his face. He was looking at her with what was maybe a mix of thoughtfulness and wariness, blending like watercolors, creating some new strange—
He said, "I'd like that."
First he had to walk his younger sister home. Sayoko was a year younger, but had the same starbright-blue eyes as her brother, and the haughtiness that only someone truly lovely could pull off. "Hello," she said coolly, upon being introduced to the older girl. "It's nice to meet you."
Kaori echoed the sentiment, and beyond that, not much was said. Seiichi wasn't one for meaningless chatter, and his sister kept quiet, her expression smooth but brittle. The siblings' relationship was strained, a sharp aching sort of strain, like a too-taut violin string.
For some reason, Kaori was unsurprised.
Seiichi's home was a large pretty thing in a nice neighborhood, with a garden and blue shutters and yeah, okay, it made sense that he would come from money, but damn. She perched on the low stone wall as Seiichi got Sayoko settled inside, and listened to the far-off traffic. It sounded like people moving, going from here to there and then there and would they ever return here?
"Are you all right, Okada-san?"
"Hmm?" She jumped down and brushed off her skirt. "Yeah. Yes. I mean—what is it you want to do later on, Yukimura-san? A career in professional tennis?"
He placed his hands in the pockets of his blazer. There was a bitter-sharp edge to the wind, and it matched that of his smile. "Yes, that's the plan."
"Oh," she said, blinking. He'd put such a delicate emphasis on plan… "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring up—I really am sorry," she said earnestly. "It's just that I think that would really suit you."
"Well," she said, "well, yeah, but also—the moving around, the traveling. I can see you succeeding in Paris and Moscow as easily as I can see you in Tokyo. And I think that's—I think you're pretty amazing." His smile lost its edge, became sweet-in-a-sunlight-not-sugar way, and she blushed, stammered on, "Yeah. Yeah. It's just that I can picture it, you know?"
Seiichi nodded, still smiling, and touched her shoulder as he guided her out of his yard. "What does it look like?" he asked, partly indulgent, but also partly, genuinely curious.
"It looks like—" She gestured emphatically. "Bright lights like stars or camera flashes. Like being surrounded by a stadium full of thousands of people, but being alone in a, well, a terribly alone way, like—" She noticed his expression, fumbled to a stop. "Sorry. Was that weird?"
"A little bit," he laughed.
"Does it scare you?"
She asked him that on their third date, at a table for two in the far-most corner of a coffeeshop. The edge of their table caught some of the light coming in through the window, and to their left was a plant, a big leafy thing the name of which Seiichi had told her, but which had slipped her mind.
He propped his chin up on his hand, but like he was listening, not bored. Seiichi was good at listening, except he didn't listen. "Does what scare me?"
"Being alone, potentially. You know, later on, after high school."
The corners of his mouth tightened. Tennis season had just begun, and he was in no condition to play. Was it smart of her to bring up his now-compromised future as a professional athlete? No. But she wanted to know, and—
"Not being alone," he said slowly, each word a careful measured thing, weighed and processed, given like a gift but not wrapped in shiny paper, so the honestly was bare. "That doesn't scare me. It's more—" He stopped himself, frowning so slightly. "It's more…"
Softly, Kaori suggested, "The idea of being lonely?"
He pinned her with a look that made her suck in a breath (breathe, breathe, just keep breathing, darling, just keep breathing), but at length, he nodded.
He kissed her on their fourth date, a light brush of lips and tangling eyelashes, and his fingertips were on her face, and he tasted like something sweet and bright, like—
It ended before she could find out.
Not pretty enough for him, people sniffed. Too strange, others sneered.
And—and Kaori knew that her hair was flat, and her complexion ruddy, and her waist far from petite. That her thoughts could be haphazard and hard to follow, that she struggled with the important nothingness of small-talk.
But she also knew that she'd never met anyone quite like Seiichi, and that there was a voice in her head that told her to hold on to him, hold on, don't let him go never let him go until it's time to go, go, one day he'd have to go, or maybe she would, but—hold on.
Seiichi always scheduled physical therapy sessions for Sunday mornings. If he couldn't play, wasn't even allowed to sit on the bench and coach because he wasn't an active player, then he couldn't bear to be there, not as a mere spectator. At least, that was what Kaori assumed.
He never asked her to accompany him to the sessions, which was fine, because she could tell he didn't want her to see him struggling through the exercises, didn't want her to see the effort or the pain or any of the other frightening things that made him human, because he didn't know she saw all the little things that did.
And—and part of her was glad for that, but part of her wanted to be there with him, to help him in any way she could but mostly just to let him know that it was all right that he wasn't perfect, all right that he didn't live up to his own standards, all right, it's all right, don't worry, everything will be all right.
So she was thrilled when he invited her to visit him in the hospital before his surgery, thrilled and also terrified, oh God, what if she messed it up, oh God, she couldn't mess it up but what if she did.
She forgot all of that, though, when she entered his room carrying a potted plant (I don't like cut flowers, he'd told her once, I like things that grow) and saw him sitting there in his flimsy hospital gown, saw him smile.
Because he damn sure wasn't smiling because he was happy to be there, wasn't smiling for himself. He wasn't even really smiling because he was glad to see her, he was just—he was smiling for her. Just for her.
She wound her arms around his neck, and hoped none of her tears fell on his bare skin.
Rikkai lost the Kantou finals. It was a stunning upset; Seiichi was upset.
"Damn it. Damn it—"
"Yukimura-kun," the nurse fretted, "Yukimura-kun, it's much too soon for you to be getting out of bed by yourself—" She nearly swallowed her tongue when he shot her a look that was tundra-cold and edging toward wilderness-savage, and Kaori was so afraid because that wasn't like Seiichi, he was falling apart, was losing his control and—
"Hey," she said gently, reaching his side, touching his cheek, "hey. Seiichi. Hey."
He turned away from her.
But he got better. No thanks to her (no thanks, no thanks, he didn't want her help, no thanks), but his condition improved on all fronts. His mood and his health, he willed them better, and in no time at all he resumed his duties as captain.
And he made his priorities pretty damn clear.
Which was fine. The team, their National title, came first. It made sense, and she couldn't begrudge him for it, even if… even if she wasn't sure she liked him as the Child of God. She liked him as Seiichi, Seiichi with his sunlit smile and thoughtful remarks, Seiichi, was he even in there?
Because it didn't seem like it, not when he was facing down opponents or berating his teammates, and it was them that Kaori wanted to blame for his change in manner, wanted to blame that harsh Sanada or that sly Niou, wanted to slate them as a bad influence on him, but—
But who was she kidding? Seiichi influenced them. He condoned taunting the other teams, encouraged the aggression and the mind games, the duplicity and the violence. She attended the Nagoya Seitoku match, couldn't fathom what she saw.
"You… you planned that?" she asked him afterwards. "Threw Doubles Two and Singles Three just so that Kirihara-kun would, would learn to hurt people more than he already does?"
Seiichi's hand had been outstretched to brush her hair away from her face, but he ran it through his own hair instead, watching her steadily. There was a warning in that auroral gaze. "Akaya learned to take his game to the next level."
She stared at him. "But didn't Yanagi-kun say that it's really bad for him?" Are you really endangering someone else's health, after having so narrowly recovered your own?
"It's for the sake of our title. Akaya understands." His tone made it clear that she didn't, and that he didn't appreciate her skepticism, didn't welcome her questioning. When she only bit her lip, he sighed. "The bus is waiting. Let's go, Kaori."
"Hey," she said quickly, snatching at his sleeve, like a child trying to catch a dragonfly, "Seiichi, wait, I just—I don't—"
For a moment, his expression was smooth, void of light or watercolors or ripples or anything that she could hold onto, connect with, and she was scrabbling at the surface, trying to get a grip, but there was nothing, nothing, she was fall—
And then, he smiled. He took her hand in his, and asked, "Hmm?"
She returned the smile, not knowing whether it was for his sake or hers, only that it was not quite out of happiness.
She saw Seiichi play for the first time in the National finals.
And—and she'd heard of how he played, of course, everyone had. People said it was terrifying, that he used something called the yips, but when she'd asked him what that was, he'd said something vague and insubstantial, a cobweb of an answer, something that wasn't—that wasn't this.
Because this was… this was… was this even tennis? It was worse than the bloody mess Kirihara had reduced his opponents to. That Echizen, he was just a little boy, what the hell did Seiichi think he was doing, stripping him of his senses like that, leaving his gasping and shaking and helpless and—and he was scaring her, she was scared of him, a blind breathless fear that—
That only multiplied when he lost.
It happened so fast. One moment, Seiichi was invincible, a divine being toying with a mortal's game; the next, he was staring as the final shot went past him. It was over, and Seigaku had won and Rikkai had lost and Seiichi had been so ruthless, so merciless, but it hadn't even mattered, except it did, it did, how could it not matter, what he'd done?
Kaori approached him cautiously. "Seiichi…"
He raised his head, yet didn't seem to look up, didn't seem to see her; doubtlessly, all he saw was his defeat, playing on an endless loop in his mind. He said, tonelessly, "I'd like to be alone right now."
What would make him feel better? Could she make him feel better? She didn't think she could, and that was most frightening of all, because she was his girlfriend and she thought she might be a little bit in love with him, which was crazy because they were fifteen and what the hell did she know about love, all she knew was that—
That she wanted to make him feel better, and she couldn't. Wanted to come up with words that would ease the pain of his loss, but couldn't think of any, and was that her fault for not knowing the words, or his fault for not letting there be any that would console him, for not letting himself be consoled?
She said, "All right." And so he sat there on the bench, and she stood by, not touching, not comforting, just breathing, in and out, in and out, just keep breathing, darling, just keep breathing.
Seiichi, Seiichi, shh, shh.
There used to be one more scene, but it sucked, so this is actually just part one. The next part will shed light on their relationship from this point until the end. Which sounds ominous, but whatever.
Disclaimer: I do not own Prince of Tennis, or Dashboard Confessional's "Vindicated" (lyrics at the top).