Author's Note: Prompt was a Sanada/OC fic from Yanagi's POV, wherein Yanagi is aware of Sanada's feelings before Sanada himself is.
we are forever the places we will look to
Renji's known Genichirou for exactly five years, three months, and eleven days.
Watanabe Chouko has known him for approximately thirteen years. When Renji asked him for a more precise length of time, Genichirou had just grunted and wanted to know why it mattered, why Renji cared.
Renji had just smiled.
Renji first meets Chouko on the second day of seventh grade. Practice has just ended, and she's come over to the boys' courts to speak with Sanada Genichirou, the proud, passionate boy Renji has already identified as being guaranteed a starting position on the team. Right now Chouko's just a slip of a girl, but Renji can tell she'll grow to become a classic Japanese beauty.
"Do you suppose that's Sanada-kun's girlfriend?" Seiichi asks lightly, bouncing a ball off the frame of his racquet. He's certain to become a regular as well. "Aren't we a bit young for that sort of thing, yet?"
"Judging by their body language and from what we already know of Sanada-kun's temperament and upbringing, I am ninety-eight percent sure they are just friends at the moment." Renji tilts his head to further consider the pair, but just then Chouko becomes aware of the attention she and Genichirou have garnered. She blinks, and Genichirou turns.
Seiichi just smiles and waves at them, and Chouko's lips part as her eyes go wide and her cheeks suddenly turn red as if she's gotten too much sun.
Already Renji knows that Seiichi is the type of person who can sunburn people. Though that may not be a type of person. That may just be Seiichi, and Seiichi alone.
Chouko says something quickly to Genichirou, tugs at his sleeve, and with an expression that's half disgruntled, half long-suffering, Genichirou leads her over to his teammates. "Yanagi, Yukimura," he says shortly. "This is my classmate and neighbor, Watanabe Chouko. She's joined the girls' tennis team."
"A pleasure to meet you both," she murmurs, but her enraptured gaze is for Seiichi alone.
"Nice to meet you as well," says Seiichi brightly. "Are you very good at tennis?" It's a direct question made appropriate and even paradisiac by his charisma.
"No, not very," she demurs, her slim pale hands clasped before her.
Genichirou pins her with a stern look. "There's no sense in false modesty."
"Sanada-kun, you're so very exacting, aren't you," Seiichi laughs. "Even with your friends. Don't tell me you plan to become captain and make us all live up to your terribly high standards, hmm? I'm sure I'd never make the cut." There's a challenge in that blue gaze, in those playful words, and they're all aware of it, cut by it.
Genichirou narrows his eyes, and Chouko says hastily, "Sanada and I should be making our way home now. I hope to see you both again." She bows her head, tugs once more at Genichirou's sleeve.
After a long, searing moment, he turns and follows her.
"It seems Sanada-kun and I are on our way to becoming the very best of friends," says Seiichi. The tone he uses is one best accompanied by a sneer, yet he's smiling. It's the sort of smile that on anyone else would be unbearably smug, maybe even sly, but on him it's delightful. "Wouldn't you say?"
Renji wouldn't, so he says instead, "Do you think you can beat him in a match?"
"I know I can."
Three weeks into their friendship, Genichirou invites Renji over to his house, and Renji's very pleased. He still misses Sadaharu terribly, but he already likes Genichirou very much, likes his appreciation for tradition, likes the intensity and direction with which he conducts himself, likes his dark, dry sense of humor.
So after practice they leave together, he and Genichirou and Chouko and Chouko's friend Okada Kaori, an odd if otherwise unremarkable girl. Chouko and Genichirou have an easy way with each other, an understanding that's fascinating and really quite lovely to behold. When she and Okada stop outside a gate with a plaque that reads Watanabe Residence, he follows Sanada farther down the road to what's really more an estate than just a house.
Renji shakes his head a little ruefully. The week before he'd visited Seiichi's home, which had been impressive as well, though not on this scale. It seemed his new friends were both of a higher class, and he doesn't have it in him to begrudge them that.
"Have you lived here all your life?" he asks Genichirou over tea and a shogi match.
"Yes." Genichirou makes a move. "Watanabe's family moved into their house when we were four."
Renji finds it rather telling that Genichirou supplies this information without being prompted.
He, Genichirou, and Seiichi all become official regulars, and very quickly it becomes apparent to everyone how great a degree of influence Seiichi has over the team captain. Renji doesn't mind at all - Seiichi's current leadership capabilities are remarkable, and his future potential for it astounding.
But Genichirou's furious. "What right does he have," growls Genichirou, "to strut about telling everyone what to do? He has no respect for his elders, for propriety."
They're in Genichirou's living room, and Renji and Chouko share a glance, both thinking the same thing, though wisely choosing not to voice it: Genichirou's strict upbringing has dead-bolted tradition to the pedestal of his regard, yet his inborn passion, inability to tolerate mediocrity, and own considerable leadership ability drive him to exercise authority over his elders just as Seiichi does.
But Genichirou doesn't realize he does this, and Renji's not going to bring it up. Not right now.
"Yukimura-kun doesn't strut about," Chouko says. She's sitting against the wall, braiding her long dark hair. Idly Renji thinks that it must be wonderfully soft. "He glides. Like a beautiful, beautiful swan." At the sour look on Genichirou's face, she giggles. "I'm only teasing you, Sanada. Why not just try to get along with him? You'll probably be spending the next six years of your respective tennis careers together."
"Unless either Seiichi or Genichirou drives the other to commit suicide, or else jump ship to the curling team," Renji murmurs, and Chouko laughs, and laughs, and laughs.
Genichirou smiles a little, despite himself.
Eighth grade rolls around, rolls by. Soon enough they've got two National championships under their belt, and their next one is just as certain.
And then Seiichi gets sick, and suddenly nothing's certain anymore. Renji very, very much does not like uncertainties, almost as much as he does not like seeing Seiichi stuck full of tubes like somebody's sick lab experiment, this is sick, Seiichi's sick, he might never play tennis again, this is sick.
But it's Genichirou that holds everything together. Very intense and a little wild and most of all determined, he promises Seiichi that they'll await his return undefeated, and that's what helps Renji learn to breathe again. Not the prospect of victory, but the proof that finally, Genichirou and Seiichi are at peace with each other, truly at peace.
Pity it took circumstances such as these.
With the sheer, bloody single-mindedness he's known for on the court, Genichirou makes it his life's mission to take up Seiichi's mantle, fill the vacuum of his vanished authority, play every role of Seiichi's until their captain can take over again himself. He drives the team through ruthless practice sessions, ensures Seiichi receives all his study materials and assignments in ample time.
Tries to put Seiichi's sister through her paces. That turns out to be a wreck of an endeavor.
Sayoko's a complicated little girl, with too much of Seiichi and not-Seiichi in her, and though she's reasonably receptive to Renji, he's still not sure how to properly handle her. Genichirou's even less sure.
"Why not," he snarls when she refuses to let him drag her to visit her brother in the hospital.
"Because I don't want to," she hisses, "and you can't make me." She's a sad, angry creature, all spite and damnation-blue eyes, and Renji's afraid that if someone doesn't intervene either Genichirou will knock her to the ground or Sayoko will claw his face to shreds.
To everyone's surprise but Renji's and perhaps Yagyuu's, Niou steps in. "No one's trying to make you do anything, sweetie," he says, coming up behind her to use her head as an arm-rest. She scowls but doesn't shake him off. He raises his eyebrows at Genichirou. "Isn't that right?" Before Genichirou can reply, Niou tilts Sayoko's head so she's looking at him upside down. "Let's you and me go to the beach, yeah?"
"I didn't say we'd go swimming, stupid," he scoffs, but his gaze softens fractionally, and for some reason it seems a very private thing. Sayoko allows him to lead her away after throwing one last nasty look at Genichirou.
"Just let him take care of her," says Chouko softly. She'd been standing to the side with Renji. "Sanada, you're taking on too much to handle. You don't have to be Yukimura-kun. You'll only end up killing yourself if you try."
He rounds on her. "Are you saying he's more capable than I am?"
She doesn't flinch. "I'm saying I don't want you to die of a stroke at fourteen."
Genichirou's mouth tightens, but after a moment he relents, and the three of them make the walk to the hospital themselves.
Seiichi permits Chouko to visit him, but it's clear he doesn't want her there, and after maybe a minute she hastily excuses herself and flees the room, tears in her eyes. Genichirou follows a moment later, and Seiichi sighs. "I do feel a bit bad."
Renji knows he just wants as few people as possible to see him like this, weak and helpless, his arm shaking violently as he struggles to lift so much as a spoonful of soup to his lips. "Don't feel bad," says Renji automatically, because too many people are feeling bad about too many things these days. "Just get better and come back to us."
Seiichi smiles thinly. "That's the plan."
When Renji leaves, he finds Chouko and Genichirou sitting in the hallway. Chouko's in the fetal position, her hands fisted in Genichirou's coat and her face buried in his chest. Genichirou has a single hand on her shoulder. He looks up to meet Renji's eyes, and Renji offers a small smile before exiting the hospital by himself, leaving them to walk home together.
In time Seiichi recovers enough to attend class again, and everyone is floored when he begins dating Chouko's friend Okada Kaori. "She puts so much thought into her paintings, so much feeling," Seiichi tells Renji as they sit on his couch watching the Tennis Channel. Sayoko's asleep on his shoulder, drooling on his shirt. Before his illness they'd gotten along beautifully, but now she treats him with equal parts reproach and affection-starved desperation.
Seiichi's just as resentful, just as desperate. He strokes her hair absently as he goes on, "And she's just, I've never met anyone like her, Renji, I haven't. She doesn't treat me the way everyone else does, like I'm still just the sick boy and I need someone to heal me. She's…" He gestures expansively with his hands. Smiles a little.
"She's wonderful, Renji."
"How has Watanabe-chan taken the news?" Renji asks Genichirou the next day.
There's no need to clarify what news he means. "She's heartbroken," says Genichirou curtly, slamming his locker shut, "she's heartbroken and she's trying to hide it for Okada's sake, and that just makes it worse, and there's nothing I can do about it, Renji, nothing I can do for her."
Genichirou is all about action, about doing things, fixing problems, finding solutions. Renji knows this must be killing him.
And Renji can't do anything about that, either.
The Kantou final is a stunning upset. When Genichirou loses that last, final point, Renji fully closes his eyes. Tries to picture how they'll tell Seiichi about this. About how they've failed him, and failed themselves.
The scene he'd imagined is bad, but the one that actually takes place is worse. Seiichi's angry and upset, raging raging raging in a way that's so unlike him, and Genichirou just stands there and takes it, accepts the abuse and the accusations, his head bowed.
Renji's so miserable about this that he mentions it in passing to Chouko the next day, and she rounds on him. "You let Yukimura-kun yell at Sanada? He didn't do anything wrong! Yanagi-kun, why didn't you do something?"
Renji can only shake his head helplessly, touch her arm. Now he's failed her as well.
But Seiichi's surgery is a success, and after enduring the hell of physical therapy, he resumes his duties as captain, and everyone tries to pretend that nothing has changed.
Everything has changed.
The progress Akaya had made in his match against Seigaku's Fuji is wasted. Instead of transcending the violence he uses as a crutch, he relies on it more heavily than ever, and in this he has the full blessing of Seiichi, and thus of the entire team. It could literally kill him, but Rikkai must always win.
And then the National finals come around, and they don't.
No one knows how to treat them when summer break ends. They're still gods among the general student populace, but they're not invincible anymore. They're fallible. Maybe one day they'll even be mortal.
The third-years retire from the club, leaving it in Akaya's unprepared hands, and to pass the days until they graduate and join the high school team, they all fill their time in different ways. Renji reads books, and Genichirou practices kendo and tries to bully an exasperated Chouko into improving her abysmal calligraphy skills.
Seiichi tries to drown himself in Okada.
He spends nearly every waking moment with her, following her around in a way that would be reminiscent of a puppy were he not Yukimura Seiichi. He's demanding of her attention, demands it of her, strips it from her the way he strips his opponents of their senses. He's clutching at her like a lifeline, prying her open and looking for salvation.
Two months before they graduate junior high, Okada transfers to an arts school.
"All I got was a phone call." Seiichi's head is in his hands, and Renji's hand is on his shoulder. "She didn't even break up with me in person. Said she couldn't bear it. She couldn't bear to be around me, Renji, to be with me. She felt like she had to transfer schools to get away from me." His eyes are fever-bright. "Am I that terrible? Am I?"
Renji doesn't know what to say. Unbeknownst to Seiichi, Sayoko's sitting on the stairs listening to her brother break down, her arms wrapped tight around her knees and her eyes glossy with unshed tears. Renji meets her gaze, but he doesn't know how to make her feel better, either.
Isn't he supposed to be the one who knows everything?
But life goes on. Spring comes and they enter high school, and just as they had before, they make a sweep of the tennis club. This time they'll get it right, and it really will be three wins for Rikkai.
Renji shudders to think what will happen if that's not the case.
He spends a lot of time at Genichirou's house, and often Chouko is there with them, given that her best friend has transferred. She's grown lovelier every year, and every once in a while when Renji can make her laugh, he feels suddenly very warm and unsteady.
"After great consideration," he says to Genichirou one day as they eat their lunch in the courtyard, "I have come to the conclusion that I may be developing feelings for Watanabe-chan." He wants desperately to call her Chouko, but Genichirou still uses her surname, and there's something inherently wrong about Renji using her given name before Genichirou.
Genichirou blinks. Says, "Oh."
"Yes," Renji agrees. "Do you have any further thoughts on the subject?"
Genichirou frowns. "Honestly?"
"You're rarely one for dishonesty."
"The idea makes me uncomfortable." He pinches the bridge of his nose. "But that's not your fault. Is there anything…" He grimaces. "Is there anything I can do?"
"You mean talk to her on my behalf?" Renji laughs. "No, thank you. I don't believe I'll act on it. I hope to just let this pass, as these things are wont to do."
"Ah. Okay." Genichirou's visibly relieved, which makes Renji laugh again. "Well, why… why do you think you like her?"
"We get along well," says Renji placidly, placing his chopsticks neatly inside his bento box. "She's kind, and thoughtful, and we have some similar interests. And she has a wonderful laugh." It has a sort of silvery ring to it.
"Yeah," says Genichirou shortly, staring down at his own lunch. "Yeah, she does."
Time continues to pass. They win one out of their three National championships, and for just a moment, everything's golden again, until Sayoko decides to spend the next year studying in America. That darkens Seiichi's mood considerably.
When Seiichi isn't happy, no one is happy.
But Renji at least is relieved that as he'd predicted, his feelings for Chouko fade quickly to the warm regard of friendship. It really would have been terribly inconvenient if they hadn't, for Chouko is smitten as ever with Seiichi, and Genichirou is smitten as ever with Chouko.
He hasn't realized it yet, of course, but Renji figures they have time.
For Mercury Teardrops, who is a lovely, lovely, lovely person that leaves me lovely, lovely, lovely reviews. Which I then repay with what I know isn't really what she wanted, sorry sorry sorry, but I figured I should take the chance to flesh out another element of Kick Drum Hearts? /shot
The title is a line from and into the night we shall be drawn apart, a poem by a.m. (renaissnce) on tumblr.
Disclaimer: I do not own Prince of Tennis.