I was supposed to be working on something else, then this came along instead. Title:
Kirihara has some issues.Notes:
Love to prillalar
Kirihara's arguing again, this time with Sato over some imagined slight. "Are you going to do something about this?" Yanagi asks Sanada, when the argument carries into the clubhouse. He sounds more curious than outraged.
"Akaya. Sato," Sanada says. When he turns around, Sato is red-faced by his locker, not daring to meet his eyes, and Kirihara's trying to pin him down with a resentful glare.
When the third club member that week goes off the court holding a bruised wrist, Sanada calls Yanagi over from where he's been hitting practice balls with Jackal. "Match up with Akaya for a game," he says. "Don't hold back."
"You know he only does this when you're around," Yanagi says, but he walks over to Kirihara's court, bounces the ball and serves. He takes the game in straight points, each shot just out of Kirihara's reach.
"Satisfied?" Yanagi says, coming over to where Sanada's leaning against the fence. On the other side of the net, Kirihara's eyes smolder. He throws his racquet down.
Sanada pushes off from the fence. "Akaya. Ten laps," he calls, and walks over to the next court.
Kirihara doesn't have any friends, as far as Sanada can tell. Sanada sees him with classmates sometimes, but only in large groups and even then he's on the outskirts. Kirihara's too off-center to be anything other than an oddball—his laugh is too loud, his eyes too desperate for attention. His classmates make fun of his hair. Sanada's heard them. He assumes Kirihara has, too, but so far Sanada hasn't heard any rumors of fighting. Kirihara knows it would knock him out of the club.
Kirihara eats lunch with the team, of course, and even has civil conversations with a few of them. He and Jackal seem to get along, if only because nothing ruffles Jackal. Everyone else tolerates him because his tennis is too good not to.
Today Kirihara is sitting at the other end of the table, as far from Sanada as possible. Sanada can feel his eyes on him, quick glances that Sanada doesn't return. He talks to Yanagi about the lineup for the upcoming regionals, about going to the hospital later.
"I want to go, too," Kirihara says, when Sanada and Yanagi head for the bus stop after practice. Yanagi glances at Sanada, but Sanada doesn't say no, and Kirihara ends up following a few steps behind. On the bus he hovers uncertainly until Yanagi moves over to free the seat next to him.
Yukimura looks the same as yesterday. The burn in his eyes is a quieter one than Kirihara's. Sanada stands by the window, opens the curtain for more light as Yanagi sits next to the bed and Kirihara slouches a few feet away.
"Sanada, stop fiddling with that," Yukimura says, and Sanada lets the curtain fall.
"Akaya," Yanagi says. He stands up and heads toward the door. Kirihara glances from him to Yukimura to Sanada, and Sanada can tell he wants to argue—he's being excluded. But he follows Yanagi out.
"How is he doing?" Yukimura says. His hands are carefully placed on the covers of the bed, fingers stretched out comfortably, though Sanada has an image of them gripping the blanket, white-knuckled.
"Fine," Sanada says. "His tennis is improving. I was planning to use him in singles three."
Yukimura looks out the window. He's a little paler today, though it's likely the accrued effects of being confined indoors. "Good," he says.
Outside the room, Renji is standing casually with his hands in his pockets, reading flyers pinned to a noticeboard. Kirihara's on one of the benches down the hall, staring at the wall.
"Akaya," Sanada calls. Kirihara looks up quickly, half-stands as if caught between eagerness and resentment, then tries to cover it up with a scowl. "We should go," Sanada says to Yanagi, turns and walks back down the hall.
Kirihara sends another shot to the foot of Fudomine's captain, and Sanada can see the strain on the captain's face and his limp when he walks back to the baseline to serve. Ten minutes in and he's already done. Kirihara's return whistles past his ear and leaves a red mark on his cheek. On the other side of the bleachers, Fudomine mutters.
"I wouldn't want to play him when he's like this," Jackal says. Sanada wonders if Jackal's look of fascinated horror is reflected in his own. It's bordering on obscene. Sanada almost calls Kirihara in, defaults the match, but he wants this win, badly.
The next day he watches Kirihara at practice, pounding in serve after serve, wielding his racquet like a fist.
"He wants you to notice him," Yanagi says, next to him. Sanada hadn't realized he was there.
"Don't be ridiculous," Sanada says. "It has nothing to do with me."
He wonders, though, as Kirihara seems to be avoiding him. Sanada thinks about waylaying him after lunch, but Kirihara's slippery; he's gone before Sanada can make the attempt. When he catches him after practice, Kirihara looks at him, waiting, and Sanada realizes that he has no idea what he wants to say. "Sanada-san?" Kirihara says.
"Get some sleep before the match tomorrow," Sanada says, and Kirihara's eyes shift away.
"Of course, fukubuchou," he says, and Sanada wonders if that burn of resentment is intended for him. "I'll get the win, too."
The day after Seigaku, they're twenty minutes into practice before Kirihara shows up. His racquet's slung casually over his shoulder as if daring Sanada to assign him fifty laps, a hundred.
Sanada glances at him. "Go back to the clubhouse," he says. "You're done for the day."
Kirihara turns red. The hand gripping his racquet is white. He stands there too long for it to be anything other than a challenge, but when Sanada starts to repeat the order, he turns and walks back to the clubhouse.
Sanada stays late, helping Yagyuu with his serve. They're the only two out there. He lets Yagyuu go when it's too dark to see, picks up the balls and loosens the net, locks the gate behind him.
Yagyuu's gone from the clubhouse by the time Sanada returns, but Kirihara's there, sitting on the bench with his elbows resting on his knees.
Sanada pauses when he sees him, a quick surprised moment, then heads over to his locker to put the equipment away.
"So am I off the team?" Kirihara says finally.
"Do you want to be off the team?"
"No," Kirihara says.
Sanada leans back against the lockers. "Then why?"
Kirihara turns red again. "I just wanted to—" He stops. For a horrible moment Sanada thinks he's going to cry. Kirihara's off the bench now, close enough that Sanada can see the redness around his eyes.
"You—" Kirihara says. His hands are fisted at his sides, and Sanada wonders if he's actually going to hit him. Then Kirihara's face is up in his, noses knocking and what feels like Kirihara's lips on his, and Sanada pulls his head back.
"Akaya," Sanada says, bewildered, and Kirihara pales. He grabs his bookbag from the bench and runs out of the clubhouse.
Kirihara doesn't show up for practice the next day. "He's ill," Himura says. "I'm taking his homework to him."
"Thank you for doing that," Sanada says, after a moment.
He plays a practice game against Yanagi, and Yanagi takes every point. "You're distracted," Yanagi says, and Sanada can already feel him in his head, trying to figure out why.
"It happens," Sanada says. At the end of practice he makes the team run laps for what feels like hours, reminding them of their loss whenever one of them complains.
Kirihara's ill the next day, and the next. On the fourth day, Sanada calls Himura over. "Are you still taking Akaya's work to him?" At Himura's nod, he says, "Give today's to me. I'll take it to him."
Himura doesn't seem to think it's an odd request. He hands over the assignments, and Sanada tucks them in his bag.
Sanada's not familiar with the area of town where Kirihara lives. He studies the bus map, takes the wrong route then finds the right one back. It's an hour before he gets to the house, a small one in a row of others like it. Someone's planted kinmokusei outside the gate.
Kirihara's mother looks tired when she opens the door. Sanada can sympathize; he only has to deal with Kirihara for a few hours a day.
"It's very kind of you," she says. "His room is upstairs if you want to take it to him."
Kirihara's bedroom door is partly open. Sanada presses his palm against it, thinks about just leaving the work with Kirihara's mother, but then the door swings open under his hand and Kirihara looks up from the textbook he's reading on his bed.
Kirihara turns pale. He puts the textbook down.
"I brought you your schoolwork," Sanada says. He doesn't enter the room, but he holds the papers out. After a moment, Kirihara gets up, takes them from him and places them carefully on the desk next to his bed. The line of his shoulders is stiff.
"The selection camp starts next week," Sanada says. "Will you be well enough to attend?"
Warring emotions pass over Kirihara's face. Sanada knows he very badly wants to go. Sanada waits it out, and finally Kirihara says, "Yes. I should be."
"Good," Sanada says. He glances around the room. In many ways it's what he expected: the usual teen posters, school books and magazines piled on an untidy desk, an old tennis racquet in the corner with frayed strings. There's a remarkable amount of clutter as well—what looks like old school projects, cards of the kind passed around classrooms in grade school, written in marker and dotted with hearts and exclamation points, pictures of people Sanada has never seen before. Some of the pictures are old and yellowed at the edges.
"Come to practice tomorrow," Sanada says, and Kirihara's eyes flick to his, uncertain and still untrusting. "Akaya," Sanada says, measures his words. He hopes Kirihara understands what he means and what he doesn't. "I won't abandon you."
Kirihara's mother sends him a quick smile from the kitchen when he lets himself out. Sanada calls home to tell them he's on his way, then waits for the bus on the corner. He's still waiting when a figure comes running out of the house and stops halfway to the corner.
"Fukubuchou," Kirihara calls out. His voice is too loud, his hair too wild and unkempt. Sanada's not sure what to expect, then abruptly, Kirihara grins. "I'll see you tomorrow," he says, and runs back into the house.