My wings have now forgotten how to fly
Because I always just pretended to flap
Is there a use for wings that cannot fly?
This was not how Atobe Keigo's life was meant to be.
He had one of those throbbing headaches, the type that couldn't be solved with aspirin, bottled water and a deep tissue massage.
The pencil snapped under the pressure of his scribbling, frustrated Atobe flicked the offending instrument to the floor. He was simply not cut out for the plebeian task of bookkeeping. It was not as if writing out his impending bankruptcy in neat little columns would make a whit of difference. The facts of his life seemed abundantly clear.
The pile of bills was larger and more extensive then his current annual income, and no amount of budgeting was going to make the books balance… at least not if he wanted to eat and have electricity.
With a frustrated cry he flung himself back onto his futon, which did not require him to move from his spot on the floor. One of the delightful quirks of his new tax bracket.
His life plan had been so simple. Be infamous throughout school, attend the best university, defeat all challengers to become the number one seed and spend his winters in Switzerland and his summers in the south of France. He'd even built in a contingency plan should he potentially not achieve top seed, involving his trust fund and several long term high interest accounts.
Of course, if he'd known at fifteen that the balance of his trust fund would have a negative symbol in front of the six-digit figure, he might have built a practical skill into his high school education. Something a little more useful than being fluent in English, French, and German.
Filing had recently become part of Atobe Keigo's life. He would even say an intimate part.
At school and social events, his general high opinion of himself had won him accolades and followers, now it only served to irritate his work superiors. He seemed unable to adopt the servile attitude of other employees, and quite frankly the thought of doing so turned his stomach. He'd been passed over for a raise… twice. Maybe it was time to start considering servility as a financial option.
Retrieving the pile of mail he reviewed his choices. Maybe he could put off the gas company for a little longer, just a fortnight, until he could get paid again. Surely they would take a few weeks before disconnecting him.
Shuffling through the pile a light blue envelope slipped out, and slid over his thigh and into his lap. Jirou's sloppy hand was partially covered by the redirection label the post office had slapped over the top. His fingertips brushed absently over his name on the front. Keigo, the boy had written as if he'd forgotten his family name. From anyone else he would've thought it a jibe, but from Jirou… he knew it was a kindness. An attempt at not reminding him of his family.
He flipped the envelope face down. It was in the wrong pile. Atobe flicked it into the corner of his room, where it skittered and slid atop a pile of mostly unopened personal mail. Several blue ones stacked below it.
The phone was ringing.
Atobe groaned and pulled his pillow over his head. In some way his financially downsized situation had simplified things. For instance, his phones… he now had only one. In the consideration that only two people had the number, and it was unlikely to be work at three fifty in the morning, it was undoubtedly his mother.
His stared at the offensive object jiggling and flashing across his sheets to a jaunty and yet insulting tune, until it stopped. His eyes were just beginning to slide shut, when it began all over again. Typical. With a sigh, he gave into the inevitable, the force that seemed to drive his life, or at least what was left of it.
'Mother,' he greeted her coolly.
'Well, goodness Keigo, if you knew it was me why didn't you answer it the first time?' she asked pointedly.
It didn't seem to matter how far removed his mother was from him physically, her disapproval came through as clearly as if she were frowning from the other side of the dinner table. 'Because I knew it was you…' he replied.
'Well you never call, so I'm forced to call you.'
'I can't afford to call you mother,' he replied stretching his back out and rolling onto his other side. If he were very lucky he would fall asleep halfway through the conversation.
'Yes well…' she paused on the other end. 'I don't think it's necessary for us to rehash that unpleasantness.'
'It might seem that way from Brazil I suppose, but the view is very different here in Tokyo, mother. You might even go so far to call it imperative.'
'You sound angry with me, Keigo, and I don't know why. I only called to see if you were okay, because I worry—'
'Send me money,' he cut in with an exasperated groan.
'It's what I want, mother. It should sufficiently appease that pesky feeling of guilt your experiencing right now,' he spat bitterly.
There was a momentary silence on the other end. 'You say these things to hurt me,' she replied, voice quavering.
She was right. He wanted to hurt her; he wanted his every word to be a sharp stab that she would remember always, not in fits and starts. 'Don't worry, plan a dinner party the pain will disappear more quickly than it should.'
'You could've come with us,' she whispered tearfully.
'I'm sorry mother, but I don't choose my place of residence according to a country's extradition laws.' Atobe hit the end button before she could reply.
The universe had a horrible way of picking on him.
'What?' he repeated.
'Well,' the corporate peon nervously straightened his tie, 'it seems the company is downsizing, taking a firmer control of its f-finances… a restructuring of sorts. T-the first phase of the restructure is to ah… l-let go of redundant staff.'
Atobe stood up abruptly from his crowded workspace and stepped towards the offensive young man, somewhat satisfied to see that his stature still had some effect. 'Redundant,' he repeated. 'As in my job no longer needs to be performed?'
'Tell me,' he gestured absently for the man's name.
'Takahashi,' he supplied.
'Tell me, Takahashi, are you saying that this company will no longer require anyone to file?'
'That the act of making my position redundant is due to some miracle solution to the office paper problem? An automated filing machine? The abolition of the need for signed contracts?'
'Ah… probably not.'
Atobe nodded slowly. 'Well at least you're an honest man… Can I ask you one further question, Takahashi? How much did they pay you to deliver the news of my redundancy?'
The young man shifted on his feet. '3000 yen.'
He picked up his jacket from the back of his chair and took the envelope from Takahashi with a nod. 'You should've asked for five.' Ignoring the stares of the other workers he walked out letting the door slam behind him.
Atobe returned the ball with a little more force than necessary, driving the ball high and slightly off course, it was in severe danger of travelling out, but in tennis, unlike the rest of his life, what little luck he had held and the ball smacked down just inside the baseline. 'Game,' he called out triumphantly.
His opponent shook his head with a genial smile. 'That last shot was a bit off, almost went out.'
'But it didn't,' he replied shortly.
His opponent sat down on the bench and drank from his water bottle. 'Don't get touchy, I'm just saying it was a bit wobbly. The gut on your racquet is completely shot. You need a new one.'
'I'll get it re-strung,' he replied tersely.
'Suit yourself.' The man hitched his bag over his shoulder and tagged the next player on to the courts.
He'd been at the street courts for two and a half days, beating down as many opponents as he could find, and losing to a few more than he would like to admit too. He should be out, finding a job, worrying about his complete lack of money, his bills, or the rent that was due next week. He could be working on any one of the problems unravelling his life, but he wasn't.
He was playing tennis.
Feet pounding on the court, heart pounding in his chest… He was sweaty, he was exhausted and his mind was a blissful expanse of nothing. Only the game, only each opponent that stepped in across from him. Only these things, would occupy his mind. Were they tall, short, heavy, light on their feet? Were their strengths on the net or at the base line? Could he defeat them?
Atobe smirked. Could he? He had never asked himself that question. He'd never accepted the possibility. Maybe he'd been better at tennis then… no. He'd just been naïve, thinking that there would be nothing that could bring him down. He hadn't been so great.
But he did love tennis… and that was something he hadn't known before.
Atobe lovingly ran his fingers over the strings of his racquet. Head Flexpoint Instinct in light blue, a slight weight to the grip, with an open string pattern, great topspin. Perfect for good control… if the gut weren't almost ruined.
His fist tightened around the grip. He'd have to find away to get it fixed, even though that seemed more even unlikely than it had two days before, when he still had a job. But without his racquet he wouldn't be able to go on. Find another mindless underpaid job that couldn't pay the bills.
Atobe swung the racquet putting a little more snap into his wrist, happy to hear a nice swoop. Too many days of this style of play and he'd probably ruin his technique and his wrist, but what did it matter...
Atobe stumbled over the piles on the floor in the dark. His breath huffed out as he impacted face first with his futon, tennis racquet clattering to the floor.
'Aren't you even going to say hi?'
Atobe leapt up, and flicked on the light. He was taller than the last time he'd seen him. Legs folded into his chest, sitting against the wall, opened letters scattered everywhere around.
'Jirou?' he choked.
'Were you ever going to write me back?' Jirou asked with a frown flicking several letters onto the futon.
'Jirou?' His skin was a little darker, his hair lighter, and he was sitting in the middle of his squalid one room apartment, his foot practically planted in Tuesday night's dinner. His hands were unsteady as he picked up the abandoned plates from the floor and threw some of his clothes into the wash basket. The place was a mess and Jirou was sitting down in the middle of it.
'Atobe? Atobe… stop.'
Jirou's hand came down on his shoulder and he put the plates in the sink of the kitchenette. Atobe turned and was forced to look up at his one time friend. 'When did you get so tall?' he mused allowed.
'Probably during the eighteen months you've been gone,' Jirou said lightly and without malice. 'How are things?'
'Perfect,' Atobe replied, ignoring the inquisitive rise of Jirou's eyebrow.
Jirou just nodded a couple of times. 'I want to take you out.'
'Out?' he repeated. 'I don't know Jirou…'
'I won't leave until you do, Atobe. I'll be with you night and day until you give in. Sleeping in your bed, eating your food.'
Atobe folded his arms and smiled at the feeling of their old rapport returning. 'Then I feel it my duty to inform you that next week our sleeping arrangements will be out of doors.'
Jirou only smiled wider. 'I'll dress for bad weather.'
'Fine,' he huffed. 'Let me change.'
'Okay, I'll just rest my eyes until you come back,' he replied.
The sake warmed him from the inside out. It sat full and languid in his belly, as he wrapped his fingers around the warm cup. 'Good sake,' he commented.
Jirou grinned and refilled his cup. 'Maybe we should've started with food.'
'Mm, yes, I'm starving… nothing with noodles. I've recently developed a strong dislike for noodles. So tired of eating them.' He took another sip and pushed his glass away, he was going to have to slow down on the sake. 'Jirou? How did you find me?' he asked.
His friend shrugged lightly. 'I committed a minor felony at the post office and then broke into your apartment… So, how are things really?'
'Shit,' Atobe admitted with a sigh. 'I'm broke, unemployed and about to be evicted from my apartment.'
'What have you decided to do?'
He frowned and was silent as the waiter slid the plates of food onto the table before them. 'Nothing.'
'Nothing?' Jirou queried, beef halfway to his mouth.
'Yes,' he replied. 'I've decided to do nothing. I give in… it's too hard. I'm just going to see what happens.' He was feeling much less stressed and started in on his okonomiyaki. 'I want to play tennis with you, Jirou,' he said mouth half full.
'You do?' Jirou's whole face brightened and Atobe had almost forgotten how good it was to see.
'Yes,' he replied, 'tomorrow, we'll go to the courts, enjoy ourselves before… well you know,' he gestured absently.
'Before you lose the apartment?'
'Mmm, more sake?'
'Don't you think you're ignoring a rather large problem?'
'No, I'm circumventing the problem and denying its existence, totally different feel to it.' He gestured with his chopsticks.
'Atobe,' Jirou shifted in his seat uncomfortably. 'I don't want to bring this up but—'
'But you're going to?'
'What you're doing, it isn't fair…'
The warmth of the sake drained out of him. 'Fair?' he choked quietly. 'Which event might you be referring to, Jirou? How my parents lied to me for six years… or the auction of my house and most of my possessions. No, not being able to go to university is definitely my favourite,' his throat tightened and strangled the words he was trying to say. Jirou's hand came down gently atop his own. 'I wanted to go…' he whispered.
'I know.' Jirou squeezed his hand. 'I wanted you to come. I wouldn't have failed so many classes…'
'Don't they look out for you?'
'Of course, we stick together… but I'm a little tall for Gakuto-kun to lug around these days.'
'He didn't grow?' Atobe asked, suddenly curious about all his old friends.
'Not an inch. He couldn't be more irked… Yuushi's pleased though.'
'Jirou?' Atobe gazed over to his friend. 'Let's get plastered.'
He was walking backwards into his apartment, one arm wrapped around Jirou's waist in an attempt to keep them both upright.
'Then,' Jirou shouted excitedly, heedless of his shushing. 'His eyes just went cold and we knew it was over, Fuji Syusuke…' he gestured wildly with one hand. 'Eviscerated him.' Jirou stumbled and wrapped his arms around him. 'I wanted you to be there.'
'I would've—' Atobe tripped over a shoebox of CDs and tumbled backwards onto the bed bringing Jirou down on top of him. 'Ow,' he grunted painfully. 'Your elbow, Jirou… Jirou? No… no, you can't fall asleep now.'
'But I'm sleepy, Atobe, and here is very comfortable.' Jirou grinned widely.
'But I can't breathe.' Jirou shuffled off him and tucked in close to his side. 'You're getting too big for this,' Atobe complained, running a hand absently through Jirou's hair.
'Nope. Never too big for this.'
Jirou was pressed in close to his side, chest softly rising and falling, blond hair tickling the underside of his chin, with his feet hanging off the end of the futon. 'Jirou,' he whispered to the sleeping boy. 'I don't want you to leave me.'
His friend let out a sigh. 'I never did,' Jirou replied lifting his head. 'You left me… you left all of us.'
Atobe shook his head, 'I didn't want to…'
Jirou lent over him, one hand pressed against his chest. 'We could've helped—'
'I wouldn't have accepted.'
Jirou scowled at him. 'Why not? You helped us out all the time. School assignments, work problems, money problems… I know you bought me that racquet. Do you think there weren't people who wanted to repay their thanks. Help you out?'
Atobe pushed the other boy off of him. 'You don't understand Jirou, I failed.'
Jirou shook his head, 'you didn't fail.'
'I was the captain, I was meant to look after everyone on the tennis team, to be a leader. I thought that being the wealthiest team would make us the best team. Turns out I can't even take care—' Atobe was cut off by Jirou's hand against his mouth. Fingertips gently pressing against the indent of his lips.
'Atobe,' he shook his head sadly. 'We didn't follow you because you had money. You cared about us…'
Atobe snorted derisively.
'You did,' Jirou protested. 'I saw you. You stood up to Sakai-san. Made decisions that changed the team. Put together Gakuto and Yuushi, Shishido and Ohtori… not just because they made a good doubles set, but because they complimented each other.'
'Jirou stop,' he protested harshly. 'You're reading into it…'
'Fine, but you did take care of me. Helped me in school.'
Atobe shrugged offhandedly. 'You were special.'
Jirou gently grasped his hands and pulled him back down onto the bed beside him. 'You're not a failure, Atobe. When I had problems you helped me, now I want to help you.'
He let his head fall to Jirou's shoulder the sound of his heart beat loud in his ear. 'I don't know who I am anymore.'
'You're trying too hard to stay the same. People don't stay the same.'
'No,' he whispered. 'They grow tall and handsome and end up more clever than you.'
'Handsome?' Jirou queried.
Atobe shuddered at the feeling of Jirou's hands running along his neck and into his hair. 'Yes. Handsome,' he whispered as Jirou pressed him into the bed, bodies crushing sweetly together.
Jirou lent forward their noses sliding together, breath trembling lightly over lips. 'I've missed this.'
'Jirou, we've never—'
Jirou's lips pressed powerfully against his own, fingers tightening in his hair. Atobe opened his mouth with a moan, wrapping his arms around Jirou's, as his lips travelled the line of his neck. 'I meant that I've missed you.'