"The surgery failed." Yukimura said simply.
"It means that I won't last much longer, Genichirou."
It was after their team had lost to Seigaku. The formidable Rikkaidai tennis team had been derailed, if only temporarily. It was all they could do to face their captain, who was lying in a hospital bed. The disappointment nearly swallowed them.
"Buchou-"Kirihara spoke first.
"It's all right, Akaya. You all tried your hardest, and I'm very proud of you."
"But we wanted to win for you!" Kirihara exclaimed angrily, infuriated at the calm reaction his captain had given. He had failed, and there was nothing to give to one who needed it most.
"But we have won. Maybe we won't go to the Nationals, but I have commanded a team that is like family, and that is a victory in itself. There is still a chance to succeed."
Kirihara's mouth opened and shut lifelessly before he turned to leave. He fled down the corridor and the flight of stairs. The rest of the tennis team exchanged looks, none certain of how to continue. Spotting the look on Sanada's face, the team decided to say their good-byes and give their captains some privacy. It was then that Yukimura told him, and Sanada's world fell apart.
The next few months were hard. Yukimura had been released from the hospital to live out his days at home, and his body soon began to waste away. The medications he was taking stole away his appetite, and he had to force himself to eat. The numbness in his limbs told him that he would soon be paralyzed as an effect of his syndrome. His bedroom became his hospital away from home. Aside from the various medical equipment and the nurse who came to check on him several times a day, his room was a quiet place to be. The walls were painted a soft green, and his dark wood furniture was spotless. The antique desk was immaculate, and it was his favorite piece. It was old, for one thing, with little quirks and markings that made it feel timeless. His bookshelves reached from floor to ceiling, and they were dotted with souvenirs, trophies, and pictures; the books and his journals disguised at random inside the bookcase documented a short life filled with many accomplishments. A white-feathered dreamcatcher hung in the corner above his bed. The room was his sanctuary, and he was upset at having 'intruders' violate his space. But, he supposed, it can't be helped.
He was unable to attend school after a month out of the hospital, and the Rikkaidai tennis team stayed with him whenever they could. As his condition worsened, his closest friends were allowed to miss school in cycles to watch over him. One day it was Niou, then Yanagi, then Kirihara, and so on. The visits were the hardest on Kirihara, whose eyes were now perpetually red, and Sanada, who rarely showed any sign of what he was feeling.
As Seiichi started to wither away, he could barely stay awake. Sleep became a way to block out the physical pain, and he was more than glad to let his consciousness be dragged into dreams. For one who had always lived with such tenacity, Yukimura had given up against the opponent he couldn't beat. And he hated himself for it. One day in early spring, as the days became longer and his time became shorter, he woke to find Sanada sitting next to him, studying his face.
"Sanada..."He said weakly, wincing. "Could you close the curtains a little? The sunlight hurts my eyes." Indeed, the air was still frigid, but the sun was shining intensely bright.
"Do you need any medicine?" Sanada asked in a deep, worried voice. He drew the curtains shut halfway, the room darkened slightly.
"I'm fine." Yukimura smiled softly. It was hardly the truth, but his pain was already dully numbed. "How long can you stay? I don't want to keep you long."
"As long as you need me to."
"Genichirou..."Yukimura said quietly.
"I want to talk."
"You know, Genichirou..."
"..." To have nothing and everything to say.
Yukimura gazed shifted to a small plaque of a tiny, delicate insect. It had been a gift from his mother, for she said the white wings matched his pale skin. It was cruel, he thought, to pin such a lovely creature for decoration. He had told Yanagi earlier that when he was gone, it was to be removed from his room and burned. He wanted it to be free, even though it had died long ago.
"A butterfly is a beautiful creature, however short-lived it may be. If you touch its wings, it will crumble and fall."
Sanada closed his eyes and sighed heavily. The weight of his captain's words could make him understand anything. Well, almost anything.
"And the fallen are never forgotten." He replied. Seiichi's eyes widened, and he smiled. Sanada looked at him with pain etched into his face for a split second, before pulling his stoic expression back.
"Call me by my first name, Genichirou. There's no one here." Seiichi said sharply, smile fading.
"Seiichi," He breathed and hesitated. This would be the hardest thing he'd ever have to say. "If you're tired and want to sleep, there's no one here to stop you. If you want to go, don't keep yourself here for me or anyone else." And with those words, Sanada let go of the one person he'd ever truly, deeply love. The person who'd never know.
"But I want to stay here!" Seiichi whispered forcefully, angrily, his body shaking in his grief. "Why do I have to leave?" He asked desperately with pleading eyes. He knew that he was asking a question there would never be an answer for, but that didn't make it any less hard to accept.
"I would go in your place."
"Don't say that, Genichirou...you have to live life for me when I can't." Seiichi softly reached his hands up to touch Sanada's face, running his long, delicate fingers over the features and closed eyelids. "Listen to me. I'll be all right. And I will see you again, one day. I'll wait forever. I want you to be happy. Be fearless, and never give up. Live for your dreams. Promise?"
"Yes." With one last lingering touch, Sanada stood to leave. "Seiichi, you'll always be with me."
Yukimura's lips curved into his gentle smile. "I just wish I could have been with you longer." He turned his head to gaze out at the blooms of flowers, one with a fluttering insect resting on a petal; Sanada saw a glimmer of tears running down his face.
"I love you." He whispered as the door shut and his own tears dotted the floorboards.
Seiichi closed his eyes against the blinding light. "I've always loved you."
The next morning, Sanada woke with a phone call. Yukimura Seiichi had passed away in the early hours, when the sky was both night and day. Alone, in the dark, inside a dream that carried him away from his illness and his pain. Sanada had already broken his promise, because Seiichi was his dream.
The funeral was short, carried out to Yukimura's instructions. Even in death, he hated to inconvenience anyone. It was a small ceremony on a gray, dreary morning. Afterwards, they played tennis until the rain poured onto the court.
Months went by, then years. People stopped visiting as often, becoming immersed in their everyday lives. The dead, after all, wouldn't mind. But Seiichi did have two visitors who came at least once a week: Sanada and Kirihara.
Sanada came on Tuesdays, for Seiichi had once said that it was the best day of the week. He never did find out his reason for it. He kneeled next to the headstone, said a small prayer, and talked about his life and how much he missed him. He usually brought flowers. And before Sanada left, he planted a small kiss on the small crack in the smooth stone. Seiichi had also loved the oddities in people. Must be why he had found so much enjoyment in that second-year idiot. The idiot who was to be the next captain of the Rikkaidai Tennis Team.
Kirihara would come on the weekends, usually a hurried visit inbetween the mad rush for tennis and schoolwork that he put off until Sunday night. He would be quiet for a moment and gaze at the name engraved in the tombstone, as if to draw inspiration and guidance from the simple characters.
Even through hectic schedules, everyone came by to see their beloved captain around New Year's. But they stayed away on his birthday and deathday, even Kirihara. It was given to Sanada to remember and mourn.
When Sanada found out he had cancer at the age of 54, he already knew that he would not make it. For something so devastating, it was joyous; he was ready to move on and live the life he really wanted, with the person he wanted to be with. And when it was his turn to die, only Kirihara would come to visit his grave as he had his captain's for so many years.
Sanada was buried next to Yukimura, together in death as they had not been in life. Flowers grew between their graves, little white blossoms of purity and hope. Sanada's tombstone was marked with his name and a small inscription.
When I was young and free
I fell in love with a butterfly.
I did not realize it until it was too late
The wings had already shattered.
I love you, and am forever by your side.