China is exhilarating.

It's 75% the thrill of training on foreign shores, the thrill of honing his craft, because above all else, Yukimura truly sees tennis as another thing to shape into art. It's a simple craft, the art of returning a ball to the other side of the court, but it's something he's always been good at, and there's no better way to make himself better than to just play.

It's 25% the few chances and opportunities he has alone with Sanada before they collapse into bed at night, wherein Yukimura rolls over and onto Sanada's mattress instead, nestling up against his side and holding whispered conversations against his neck until they both get tired of it and doze off with Sanada's face half-buried into his hair.

The humidity is something else, though, and Yukimura thinks he won't miss it at all. It makes him dizzy and makes his legs weak, no matter how he considers himself extremely tolerant to it all. It's the foreign food, the heat, the weather in general, the long hours and the little downtime all taking their toll, and he thinks nothing of it.

Returning back to Japan should bring relief from that.

It does, sort of. The first few days, they're all jet lagged and shellshocked by the cold, and Sanada scolds him about not eating a proper breakfast when Yukimura gets woozy in the club room that morning. Fair enough. He should eat more. His mother nags him about his uniform's trousers being too loose lately, anyway.

There's nothing to think about, nothing to worry about, not until the train station the next morning.

The oddest thing is falling, and not being able to feel it.

They're all a dozen steps ahead of him, and Yukimura finds it odd that he can't move to walk after them. Odd, and frustrating, and then just shy of terrifying that his feet won't move, that his vision hazes at the edges, and suddenly, that dizziness is there and his lungs won't quite expand in his chest and the world shifts black.

He doesn't feel the ground when he hits it, and he only dimly hears Sanada's shouting.

"You should all head off to school; it might be a few hours before they have any answers."

His father sounds disturbingly calm over the slow beeping of machines, and Yukimura doesn't like that at all. He likes less the inability to open his eyes, and how it hurts to swallow, or the way the backs of his hands itch. Everything sort of itches and aches and tingles in odd ways, and maybe it's better that he can't see right now.

He doesn't want to see the look on Sanada's face.

"What can they do?"

At least now he's breathing on his own and not hooked up to enough tubing that he feels like an artificial life form. Yukimura scowls, and picks at the I.V. in his hand until Sanada frowns.

"They don't even know what it is yet."

"I see."

"I'm coming back to school next week," Yukimura sniffs. "Don't act so down about it, I'm fine."

He wants to be fine.

It's still terribly, bitterly cold in the middle of October, or perhaps it isn't. Perhaps he is just feeling it all the way down to his bones, which seem a bit more prominent than he remembers. Yukimura doesn't like that. He shivers even with an extra layer and wears his suit jacket even though he'd normally shrug it off at the first opportunity. His head aches constantly, his fingers shake around his pens when he tries to sketch, and he contemplates asking Sanada to do his calligraphy for him.

Except he's fine.


"Welcome back, Captain!" Marui cheerfully greets him, and Yukimura smiles when he steps foot onto the court. This part is good and normal and definitely fine. Tennis always is. There's nothing about tennis that doesn't make sense, and nothing that he can't do.

The racquet feels odd in his grasp, and Yukimura picks at his grip tape, contemplating switching to leather in these temperatures.

"Yanagi, rally with me?"

It should be easy and relaxing and good and instead there's something wrong here, too. There's tension where there shouldn't be and slackness where there shouldn't be and nothing quite spins the same, or flexes the same, and his fingers want to suddenly twitch or loosen and that's wrong, all wrong. His vision wants to flicker, and Yukimura shivers, falters, not even seeing the smash of the ball into the court when it goes right past him.

"Seiichi?" Yanagi presses, a frown on his lips, and Yukimura shakes his head.

"Just rusty."

Two days later, the ball doesn't even hit his racquet, but it clatters to the ground from his hand anyway, and he feels nothing but resounding numbness up and down his arm for a solid hour.

Five more days later, and his thirty minute nap on the roof turns to a three hour one. He wakes up, his toes and knees are numb, and Sanada doesn't even yell at him.

November rolls around, and Sanada does his calligraphy for him without Yukimura asking him to.

He feigns lightheadedness just this once, though, just to get out of failing his P.E. exam when his arms feel like jelly and the thought of sit-ups makes him nauseated. He can retake it later, they say.

(What sort of elite tennis team captain can't even do that? He punches a locker so hard later that he feels the ache of it for hours afterward, and that's the best thing he's felt in awhile.)

Nothing makes him angrier than not being able to return a ball.

"Rally with me," is his earnest request to Sanada, who seems less than thrilled with the idea. It's after regular practice hours, and every one of his limbs ache, his head hurts, and he downs enough caffeine to normally leave him hopping. It barely seems to touch him at all, but Yukimura doesn't care.

He only cares about chasing that damned ball down, but it doesn't matter.

One game, and Yukimura feels his legs start to wobble. Two games, and Sanada is giving him that look. Yukimura hates that look. He hates more the numbness that creeps down his spine, and three games in, Sanada stops when Yukimura does, doubled over with his hands on his knees.


"I'm fine!"

He doesn't even notice Sanada walking around the net, across the court and over to him before the back of Sanada's hand swiftly connects with the side of his face.

"Stop pushing yourself so hard, you idiot," is the low, potent snap to follow, and Yukimura stares at him wide-eyed, shaking, until his head drops forward again and he remembers how to breathe while the side of his face throbs.

Something hot and wet splatters over his bare knees and onto the concrete, and that makes Yukimura angrier, because he doesn't even know what he's crying about.

December is colder still, and that cold is all he feels now, really.

The crutches piss him off on the best of days, and he refuses them even when one leg goes numb. He'd rather curl up in a ball and wait for Sanada to make his way to his classroom to escort him instead. On the days when he wakes up and neither leg cooperates, Yukimura just stays home, yanking the sheets and pillow alike over his head and glad that he locked the door the night before.

His mother threatens to go and get the key, eventually does, and his little sister climbs into bed next to him and pets his hair. Yukimura hopes that he'll stop breathing again like that first time, before they put him on enough medication to make him nauseous all the time, all to keep the swelling down, or so they say.

"I'm going to have to be admitted to the hospital, starting next week."

Admitting that, saying it out loud to Sanada is the worst part, but Yukimura smiles around the lump in his throat. "I'm sorry. You'll have to go and win without me."

Sanada is, as usual, a rock, though Yukimura can see the fine lines of worry around his eyes, around the tightness of his jaw. "Just focus on getting better again."

"With that body, he'll never play tennis again."

Without tennis, there's nothing.

Bring me a dagger is the request on the tip of Yukimura's tongue every time Sanada comes to visit, only to be bitten back when Sanada brings him news of another victory.

It's May when Yukimura is reminded of the softness of Sanada's lips again.

He feels good that day, and teases Sanada as easily as always, liking the way he can turn the tips of his ears red. He likes the way he actually coaxes Sanada to the edge of the bed rather than a chair next to it this time, and they're close enough that Yukimura can nestle against him, feeling the other boy's warmth and solidity and strength.

"You're so thin." Sanada frowns, and Yukimura huffs.

"I'll get fat later. Just wait."

He nestles closer still, and Sanada falters, hesitating before Yukimura feels a slow tug on the back of his nightshirt, easing it down the back of his neck. Sanada's lips press there, to the nape of his neck, and Yukimura exhales a long, shuddering breath, lifting his hair up and out of the way.

"Do that again." He can almost feel it down to his toes, which is more than he's felt there in a long, long time.

(The next day, he's on a ventilator, then off it again, and angrier than he's been in a long time, hissing at nurses rather than speaking in words.)

June, and the Atobe family sends enough flowers to make even him sneeze.

"If I die," Yukimura breezily says, "name a really dumb flower after me."

Sanada doesn't think the joke is very funny. Given, his jokes usually aren't.

The surgery is an experimental one, and Yukimura wants it more than anything in the world.

He tells his doctor as much, but his parents are the hesitant, protective ones. "Why does it matter what they want?" he snaps, close to tears in his frustration. "I'm the one that's like this!"

"There's only a 50% chance-"

"I don't care!"

Sanada would understand. He's the only one that does.

Sanada understands, just like Yukimura knew he would. Also, Marui's cake tastes good.

He's definitely not allowed to take Sanada's jacket into surgery with him, but it waits outside the door for him.

Good news must be waiting there, too.

It isn't.

Yukimura isn't sure if it's the fact we lost, Rikkaidai hasn't lost the Kantou for 15 years, this is my fault that makes him feel sick, or all of the medication and the constant, throbbing pain that seems to reverberate through his whole body, starting with the incision and radiating outward.

"But we'll definitely win at-"

"Get out."

Sanada's hard swallow is audible.

"Don't talk to me about tennis right now!"

He doesn't have visitors for a week after that except for his parents, and Yukimura has never missed Sanada more.

A week later and he's out of the hospital for the first time in 8 months and still sick as a dog and why isn't this over already.

"It's going to take time, Seiichi," his parents remind him, and Yukimura has never been a fan of time.

Sanada comes over the night before his welcome home party, and Yukimura lets him ramble on about homework and all the other school things he's missed for some time before he finally interrupts. "Genichirou," he quietly says, "I'm sorry."

Sanada blinks back at him. "For what?"

"For yelling at you before. If I had been there in the first place, we wouldn't have lost."

Sanada falls silent for another, long moment before saying, "I promised you we would win in your absence. I couldn't keep that promise. At least let me accept responsibility for that."

Yukimura lets him, if only for the sake of their combined pride.

Losing tastes bitter.

It doesn't matter to him that he's at the disadvantage, that he's been in the hospital and of course he isn't in shape, after only three weeks of rehabilitation. He should still win.

He still smiles at Echizen, thanks him for the game, and leaves with his head held high.

"You played an amazing game, Captain!"

But it's not amazing enough to win.

Yukimura doesn't stand to accept the second place trophy. He only half-lies about being sick and feeling dizzy and disappears to throw up what's rest of his lunch. Sanada finds him afterwards, draping a cold towel over his forehead, and Yukimura says nothing, does nothing but curl up into a tighter ball on the bathroom floor.

"The bus is going to leave soon," Sanada awkwardly attempts after several minutes pass. "We should-"

"Just go. I'll catch up."

Yukimura does, eventually, and no one speaks to him after he thwarts several of their attempts with noncommittal grunts. He curls up in the back underneath his jacket, pulls his headband over his eyes, and sleeps.

Maybe when he wakes up, he'll have a few new dreams about conquering the nationals in high school. For now, everything just needs to go away.