That Moment Between Autumn and Winter
By: Chaos and Raven
Masaharu forgot, sometimes, what it was like to be individual. What sorts of things would he think if his mind wasn’t peppered with Yagyuu’s influence? And he wondered if he were in love, or if he’d forgotten to take off the glasses again.
Ostensibly, they were working on a research paper; tucked in the back corner of the library where Masaharu’s occasional bursts of noise would be of the least annoyance to those around them. Yagyuu was working, of course. Masaharu had been systematically shredding a paper napkin and thinking about anything but historical literature.
“Hey, Hiro.” He wouldn’t have used the name except it was one of the few things that would make Yagyuu’s eyebrow twitch.
Early on, he’d said, “Call me Yagyuu.” Masaharu had teasingly asked, “May I call you Hiro?” And Yagyuu’s eyebrows pulled together, a small crease forming between them that was gone in the next second.
Back then, he hadn’t even noticed the tiny mark of displeasure. Now he took great delight in being the cause of it.
“Hiro,” Masaharu said again, “are you gay?”
Yagyuu’s pen paused for a fraction of a second; enough for Masaharu to see that it had disturbed his concentration.
“Oh good,” he said in relief, “it must be me then.” In Masaharu’s experience -- admittedly limited -- matters like this were never so easy to solve. “But you aren’t straight.” It wasn’t a question.
There was a long silence in which Yagyuu clicked his pen closed and then open again.
“Someone from the tennis team?” Masaharu persisted.
Yagyuu made a face -- one that was not of his repertoire but of Masaharu’s -- scrunching up his nose in distaste. It was rare that Yagyuu was the one to let their expressions blend. He was far too concerned with his self-image to ruin it with Masaharu’s.
“Oh,” he said, subdued. “I guess that’s me too.” He’d kind of been hoping that his was the crush on Yagami-kun; a boy from Yagyuu’s homeroom class.
Yagyuu merely nodded. It was likely -- Yanagi would be able to say with what percentage -- that Yagyuu had been waiting a while for Masaharu to figure that out. Or, and this was even more likely, to admit it to himself. He was in love.
“Fuck,” he said succinctly. “Motherfuck.” He didn’t bother asking if Yagyuu was sure. It was one thing to mindfuck other people; they didn’t do it to each other.
“Niou-kun, please concentrate on the assignment,” Yagyuu said, his voice crisp and professional.
Masaharu glared and tossed a piece of wadded up paper at Yagyuu. As if he would be able to focus with this new information jostling about in his head. Knowing sucked.
Yagyuu snatched the paper out of mid-air. “It’s your own fault for asking,” he remarked mildly.
Some days, Masaharu thought it would really be great to smack that certainty right off Yagyuu’s face. Just lay into him with a solid right hook. A broken nose would be just the thing to get Yagyuu off his high horse. He wasn’t entirely sure he would win in a fight, though, and so he had not yet attempted it.
“Finish the assignment and I will allow you to complain about this later.”
Masaharu flipped him off and turned back to his text book. Unfair that Yagyuu knew him so well; well enough to anticipate his desire to piss and moan for a while. What else could he do? It wasn’t the sort of thing that he could say ‘wait, I’ve changed my mind.’ His mind was hardly responsible for the mess.
In the end, Masaharu was able to hold back until they were on their way home. Leaves crunched underfoot as they walked down the street. Yagyuu inclined his head in a remarkably congenial gesture and Masaharu rightly took that as his opening.
“You know what?” he demanded. “This sucks. This sucks more than I ever even imagined something could possibly suck. It sucks so hard even my grandchildren will be getting off on it.”
Yagyuu coughed delicately and adjusted his bag across his shoulder. “I was not under the impression there would be grandchildren,” he said.
Masaharu would have laughed except, God, why did this have to suck so much? Being in love was, according to other people, a joyous event. Well, other people were clearly wrong.
“There are worse people to love,” Yagyuu offered after a moment of silence. “It could be Atobe-san. Or that thug Akutsu from Yamabuki.”
“Oh God,” Masaharu groaned. “Don’t try to make me feel better. I think even ‘Ore-sama’ would be an improvement in this case.”
Masaharu cut him off. “I’m fucking in love with Sanada, Yagyuu. There is no way to make that look better.”
Yagyuu knew his partner well enough not to dispute the matter further. They continued on in silence for a while, Masaharu’s shoulders slumped dejectedly. If he were prone to dramatics, Masaharu would have been tempted to skip practices and avoid Sanada like the plague. He would have drunk himself sick and hid away until his feelings passed.
Those were not options available to him and not choices he would make outside of a daydream. Tennis was more important than his puppy love and the unity of Rikkaidai was more important than any heartbreak suffered.
“It could have been Yukimura,” Yagyuu said, breaking the stillness.
That almost startled a laugh from Masaharu. Who wouldn’t want to be in love with Yukimura? Yukimura; whose warmth was equal in strength to the ice field that was Sanada. It was a simple thing to love Yukimura, and most did.
And that was precisely why Masaharu did not.
Pure selfishness. There were no rivals for Sanada’s affections. Who else would dare? Sanada wasn’t easy to like, much less love. Scarcely a day had passed and Masaharu already knew it too well. But Masaharu was rapacious enough that he didn’t mind.
Perhaps it was simple jealousy or the product of sharing his very thoughts with another person, but Masaharu had a stinging, joyful sensation at the thought of Sanada being only his.
They had come upon his house. Yagyuu drew up behind him as Masaharu fussed with the garden gate.
“I’ll punch you,” Masaharu warned, though they both knew he wouldn’t.
“I was only going to say that Sanada should be so lucky as to have you,” Yagyuu protested mildly.
He was lying but Masaharu didn’t mind. He nodded and stepped into the yard, leaving Yagyuu behind.
Masaharu went to bed almost immediately after dinner. He was in no condition to focus on homework. He thought of it as remarkably Victorian and only wished he had a divan to lounge upon so that he could have fits. Throwing a fit would have made him feel much better, he decided as he tugged the covers over his head. It wasn’t worth the expenditure of effort, said the Yagyuu in his head.
He was able to skate through most of the next day and Yagyuu, in a surprising show of sympathy, sat through Physics class, allowing Masaharu to take his study hall.
It made no difference for tennis, however. They were both expected to train to the fullest of their abilities and then beyond. And as Sanada reprimanded him for a double fault on his service practice, Masaharu had to wonder: why? What was it about him? He was beautiful in an austere and horrible way. His body pared down to finely toned muscle, perfect in a way that seemed effortless. And his eyes, Masaharu noted, were the color of dark chocolate.
Sanada had stopped speaking and was staring at him with the same frank appraisal though his thoughts were clearly not as flattering. “You are playing poor tennis today,” he said when he saw that he had Masaharu’s attention again.
Masaharu had no reply to that. It was true, even if Sanada would have no idea why. If there were any mercy in the world, Sanada would never know that reason.
“I will not accept this level of play from you, Niou.”
He said nothing about the team, or even the captain. It was merely Sanada’s displeasure. That stung most of all. But what was there to say? There were no words to defend his appalling mistakes. None that he would share, could he even find a voice for them.
Masaharu nodded, his knuckles clenched tightly around his racquet, and returned to his place on the line. Whatever the color, Sanada’s eyes were frigid and cold. A herald of coming winter.
The rest of practice was not much improved. Masaharu felt a sharp spike of shame under his teammate’s curious stares. They didn’t ask, though. They knew better than to ask.
Practice had ended nearly twenty minutes before but Masaharu was still sitting on the bench, a towel draped over his head. The exhaustion evident in his posture was not something that made him proud. It was the result of careless mistakes made and penalties paid; the result of disappointing his vice-captain. Masaharu gave no response; still short of breath and panting through his mouth.
“Do your cool down and then shower. I’ll wait,” Sanada said.
Masaharu looked up, protest on the tip of his tongue that died as quickly as it was born. Sanada’s expression did not invite argument.
He wearily stood and began stretching his abused muscles. He was exhausted but long experience taught he would regret it otherwise. Sanada gave a satisfied nod and made his way to the clubhouse. I’m such a sucker, Masaharu thought spitefully. What kind of masochistic idiot would put up with it otherwise?
He definitely hated being in love.
Suck it up and deal, said the Yagyuu in his head. As if Yagyuu would ever have this sort of problem. Yagami-kun may have been a bit creepy at times and he sort of seemed a little sociopathic, but he was polite, attractive, and one of the best students in the school. Yagyuu, at least, had the good taste to not fall in love with someone who would break his heart.
Masaharu made a slow lap around the court, feeling his breathing even out and his heart rate return to nearly normal. It gets better, he told himself. This was only the first day, so it had to get better.
Sanada was waiting just outside the locker room, as he said he would be. Masaharu followed him silently, not paying any heed to their direction so long as he could feel Sanada’s presence steady at his side. He didn’t understand how it could be comforting, it simply was. Sanada was here with him, not with anyone else. That was somehow enough.
When he noticed Masaharu favoring his left side, Sanada shouldered both their tennis bags and Masaharu wondered if that made him less in Sanada’s eyes. Was a little weakness like that okay? Or was he now doomed? Perhaps he had been doomed from the start. He was careful not to think on his poor display during practice.
It wasn’t until they’d stopped in front of his house that he realized Sanada had walked him home. And he couldn’t remember at all if Sanada lived near him or if it was out of his way. Well, it wasn’t far from the school, so it wouldn’t be a lot out of his way.
“Tomorrow you will play at the level I expect of you or I will begin looking for your replacement,” Sanada said seriously. “I’ve seen you win straight sets with a sprained wrist; sick to the point you shouldn’t have been out of bed much less on the courts. Whatever it is, you’re better than this.”
Perhaps he shouldn’t have been surprised by that faith, but Masaharu couldn’t help feeling blindsided. Their vice-captain was a fiercely loyal person and such loyalty was never given lightly. That he could be the recipient of those intent feelings, Masaharu had never even considered. It made him feel... nice.
“Mm.” Masaharu’s reply was barely a noise; he felt as though his throat had closed. He nodded slightly, taking his bag back.
“I would rather not see you on the court at all than watch you play poorly,” Sanada said as he walked away, back towards the school.
Masaharu had no idea how to respond to that.
He remained listless for the rest of the evening. Finishing his homework, having dinner; he finished his chores but felt as though he was walking through curtains of silk. Everything flowed around him in silent waves, parting as he passed through, slipping through his fingers. And he couldn’t see, either in front or behind. It was a slow, dreamlike state that persisted while he was doing his night exercises and into sleep.
Sleep that brought visions of snowflakes melting on his eyelashes and warmth so perfect it could have only come from his mind. With the morning came the sense of having slept for days and salty tracks on his cheeks, though Masaharu could not recall having cried or even the sense of sadness that may have caused it.
The haze of the previous day had burnt away, leaving something crisp and new behind. It felt nothing like the resolution he would have liked but at the least, he was steady on his feet again. Yagyuu would be so proud.
Though -- of course -- he said nothing of it when they met before homeroom. Masaharu expected no less. Their communication was generally silent and based on the intrinsic knowledge of each other. Any skipped classes this day would be because they could, not because it was necessary.
He passed Sanada in the halls between classes and each time wondered if the disappointment still lingered. He had never been able to tell if Sanada held grudges. Then again, he had never failed him so spectacularly before either.
Sanada barely acknowledged Masaharu, which was unsurprising and not atypical. However, it stung particularly fiercely in light of his newly regognized feelings.
As a result, Masaharu played his best during practice. Not even Sanada could find fault with him. He knew -- though Sanada did not bestow any sort of praise -- that the vice-captain was pleased. It was in the severity of that glare when it jumped past him to settle on a poor unsuspecting pre-regular. Today, Masaharu was playing on a fresh slate.
It was peculiar that not even Kirihara had commented about his prior spectacular failing as a tennis player. If he’d been teased, at least he could have explained himself in some way. They would have been poor excuses, but he would have felt better to have something. Perhaps he wasn’t giving them enough credit, though. It was possible they could accept that’d he’d simply suffered through a bad day.
As the team cleaned the courts, winding down another day of practice, Sanada called Masaharu to the side. “Wait for me before you leave,” he instructed.
And Masaharu, less likely now than ever before to refuse, waited patiently near the clubhouse as Sanada finished his duties as vice-captain of the tennis team.
“You were much improved today,” Sanada told him as they walked together. Their gaits matched in nearly perfect synchronization.
Masaharu kept his eyes downcast, watching crisp leaves swirl and flutter in their path. If Sanada had been anyone else, that could have passed as an ironic statement. However, Masaharu was fairly certain Sanada was immune to humor.
“Thanks,” he muttered.
“Of course, I’ll be expecting this level of play from now on. You will be practicing twice as hard as the rest of the team.”
Masaharu smiled. If he knew anything about his teammates, they wouldn’t last two days before they pushed themselves to match him.
“I will speak to Yukimura about a new training menu,” Sanada said finally. “It would be best to keep everyone from injury.”
How stupid was it for him to be pleased they’d been thinking the same thing? Very stupid, but that would hardly stop Masaharu from feeling the flush of pleasure wash through him.
As he had the previous day, Sanada walked Masaharu to his gate and then left with barely a word. Strange. And it began to gnaw at him. Once, he understood; to reprimand carelessness and warn of consequences.
This... What had his purpose been? It was a question that would lurk in the back of Masaharu’s mind for days; through two more such walks and a lunch period together during which Sanada didn’t say a single word while he sat across the table.
Yanagi had said something about the mating dance of tanchou-tsuru but Masaharu didn’t listen. Yanagi liked metaphors but Masaharu had too much difficulty trying to figure out what was representing what in them. He liked things straightforward.
Sanada spoke of nothing consequential, when he spoke at all. It was making Masaharu paranoid. He was close to no one. Even Yanagi, who could claim greater kinship to Sanada than anyone, wasn’t close. Not the way Masaharu and Yagyuu were close -- they had an admittedly inexplicable relationship to all but themselves -- yet here Sanada was, seeking out Masaharu’s attentions.
From any of his other friends, Masaharu would have assumed it to be an elaborate joke at his expense. Sanada did not have it in him to be that thoughtless. He was, above all else, steadfast in his honorable way.
“Sanada,” Masaharu said as he flipped open the latch to the gate. A split second decision and the routine was changed. “Would you like to come in?”
Masaharu expected to be turned down. He almost expected Sanada might laugh but Sanada wouldn’t do that. He was fairly certain he’d never heard Sanada laugh at all. The most cheerful expression Masaharu had ever seen on him was a fierce grin when he was doing particularly well in a challenging match. That was hardly the same.
“Fine,” Sanada said agreeably. “Though I do need to go home soon.”
Masaharu kicked off his shoes once inside and dropped his bag. He’d pick it up later. “I’m home,” he yelled.
His mother’s voice filtered in from the yard. Probably fussing around in her garden, he thought. He didn’t bother to check because there was a pattern to his days and she knew it. There was a snack on the table. Large for one, small for two, but Masaharu didn’t mind sharing. He took the plate and led Sanada to the living room where they both sat on the floor and the television remained off.
Masaharu played with his rice more than ate it; mushing it around in the bowl. If he were Yagyuu he would have already asked, but Yagyuu was much less of a coward than he was. Could be. Whichever. He took another bite of rice and chewed slowly. “Hey Sanada?” Only he didn’t know what to say after that and blurted out, “Are you stalking me?”
Sanada might have choked but he recovered well, placing a hand discreetly to his mouth and clearing his throat. “I beg your pardon?” He set his chopsticks down and looked at Masaharu with horrified confusion. “Have I been... What? Do you mean walking you home?” He asked, apparently flummoxed. “I... Yagyuu...” There was a horrifying sort of amusement in watching Sanada flounder with his words. Like watching a beetle attempting to right itself after it had been tipped over. “He said you would not be... that it would be okay.”
For one brief horrified moment, Masaharu thought that Yagyuu had betrayed him. Then he took the time to consider Sanada’s choice of words and his mouth dropped open in surprise. “You like me!” He accused, his voice breaking embarrassingly. “In a kiss-kiss kind of... You like me!!”
And so what if it was rude and Masaharu was pointing at Sanada and staring as though he’d never seen him before? This had not been in his plan. Had not even been a blip in his conscious mind as something that could happen. He was perfectly prepared to spend the rest of his life, or at least school, being a love sick idiot over Sanada.
Sanada’s face shuttered and there was tightness to his jaw that hadn’t been there before. He set his chopsticks down and bowed his head slightly. “I apologize,” he said seriously. “Clearly I interpreted Yagyuu’s comment to my own benefit.”
Beautiful, stupid boy, Masaharu thought. Just in case Sanada was going to try to do something moronic, like leave, Masaharu slipped his fingers over one tightly clenched fist. “Yagyuu likes to tell me that the two things I’m most lacking in are tact and common sense,” he said, while prying Sanada’s fist open. Yagyuu was going to get a big wet kiss the next day. Preferable some place public where it would embarrass him. Stupid ass. “I suppose that’s mostly true.” He stared at their entwined fingers and hoped Sanada could catch a clue.
“You like me,” Sanada said, though he sounded rather unsure.
They were both red. Masaharu could feel the tips of his ears burning. Sanada seemed to be glaring at the abandoned bowl of rice as though it had insulted his mother.
“You weren’t wrong,” Masaharu told Sanada. “I just...”
There was an audible release of breath as Sanada said, “Oh,” and all the tension fell from his shoulders. He clasped their fingers tighter, rubbing his thumb along Masaharu’s knuckles. It was a natural progression, then, to push the tray of food away and slide himself closer. Sanada, amazingly, aided the process until they were knee to knee.
It was the most horrifyingly wonderful thing in the world. Because Sanada was sitting there and touching him -- touching him -- and they were both okay. Masaharu kept his head down and his mouth shut because he knew the second he said something it would be embarrassing. Something about how they were boyfriends and holy shit, they were boyfriends now.
Masaharu was prepared to get really hysterical because it was freaking him out, but then Sanada kissed him, so he focused on that instead.