Summary: A binary star system consists of two stars both orbiting around their center of mass. For each star, the other is its companion star.
Word Count: ~4800
A/N: originally written for grasshopper. *misses*
When Yukimura takes two steps forward, and rests his palms on the mattress of his standard-issue hospital bed, Sanada thinks that he has never looked stronger. His eyes are hard and dark, unreadable, and his mouth curves only when he opens his mouth to speak, and when he turns around to face his team, to look Sanada in the eyes and say, "We still have the Nationals. It's not over yet."
When Yukimura picks up the canvas bag left by his parents in the chair next to the bed and slings it over his shoulder, casual as ever, Sanada feels like he might be in love with his captain, just a little bit. He realizes in actuality that he has probably been in love with Yukimura for quite some time, although he can't really say when it must've started. In his memory, there have always been only two things: honor – all of the diligence, hardwork, and perseverance that go with it, and Yukimura.
Sometimes Sanada wonders if the two things are even all that separate.
It begins in winter.
The team has moved their practices indoors because the weather has gotten cold fast. The sky outside is tinged a perpetual ugly grey, and the wind is sharp and fierce. Sanada bundles up in scarves and gloves but glares when his mother suggests he buy a wool hat to cover his ears.
The day is Thursday and Yukimura has been acting strange all week, moving slower, swinging wildly, but he doesn't explain; makes up excuses about exams and projects and too little sleep. In retrospect, Sanada will remember the week in October when Yukimura was home sick for a week and a half with some kind of stomach flu. He will realize that maybe it wasn't just flu, and will nearly slice up his dojo blaming himself for not noticing sooner.
Sanada will remember the Junior Senbatsu Training Camp, and the way Yukimura had politely requested to not be considered and Renji had said, "Hmm," and Yukimura had simply replied with, "I won't find stronger opponents there than I will at my own school," which, in retrospect, Sanada will realize is unlike Yukimura, but he accepted it at the time because with Yukimura, he will accept anything.
In time, Sanada will remember many things, little details and signs he should have noticed had he not been under the impression that Yukimura was invincible, that there was no such thing as wrong, with him. He will remember faltering smiles, laughter too sharp and empty, a near-limp in Yukimura's step one day after practice, the time his racket slid out of his hand like his fingers had given up their hold on it.
But today, Sanada merely thinks, tarundoru, but says nothing out loud because Yukimura is captain first and foremost, and even on his off days, he is still a challenge for all the other players, and maybe that's why none of them see it coming. Yukimura is strong even in the face of weakness, especially then.
He challenges Sanada to a practice match and when he serves, the speed is not what it should be, and neither is the accuracy, and Sanada manages a return that shouldn't be easy.
"Buchou, are you having an off day?" Kirihara calls, juggling three tennis balls in the air with his racket, an opportunistic gleam in his eyes.
"Shut up, Akaya," Yukimura replies curtly, returning to the base line to serve again. Kirihara looks stunned for a second. Yukimura almost never tells him to shut up. Stern glares, maybe, but words are different, and harsh words are generally reserved only for all-team criticism and lectures.
Sanada watches the arc of Yukimura's body as he leans up into the serve, the way his arm follows through as if it's straining to do so and thinks, Yukimura doesn't have off days.
On the Wednesday of the week prior, it was laps. Yukimura has always been fast, but that day he was slower than everyone else. The next day, he made up for it by sprinting the whole way through, but he looked exhausted by the end. Sanada has never seen Yukimura look exhausted before. Rikkai's captain has always played with a strange grace that doesn't seem to tire him, as though he's waiting at the net for a worthy opponent to emerge and up to now, all this is just practice to him.
On Tuesday of this week, it was missing a shot he would normally make. He was playing against Renji and the ball went at least two feet over the line. Renji's eyes had opened in surprise and he mumbled something Sanada couldn't hear. That night, Sanada wondered if Yukimura was worried about something, if he had done something wrong to disappoint him. He thought through all the options, but all the options, to him, were mental rather than physical. He couldn't imagine Yukimura being physically weakened. It was simply impossible.
Today, though, Sanada realizes that this has nothing to do with mental resolve or stamina. There is something wrong, and he is about to call the practice match off when it happens:
Yukimura is watching Sanada, waiting to receive his serve, and then, just as Sanada tosses the ball in the air, Yukimura's racket slips from his hand and clatters to the ground and then he slumps after it, eyes glassy and wide, their gaze sliding back and upwards. He falls backwards, spasming awkwardly and seeming to be choking, and collapses onto himself like a dropped toy.
Sanada watches as though through a pane of glass; stands there dumbstruck as everyone else rushes onto the court. Kirihara hollers, "Buchou!" over and over and Marui and Niou crowd around him, shaking Yukimura's shoulders, checking for a pulse.
"What happened?" Kirihara wails and that's what snaps Sanada back into the moment. When he finally regains his ability to move and walks purposefully, unthinkingly, over to Yukimura, everyone parts automatically to let him through, as if they know he belongs at Yukimura's side.
Sanada tells Renji to call for help, and asks Yagyuu to look for a blanket and some ice. He is surprised at how calm and commanding his voice sounds. He looks down at Yukimura and feels like he's shaking in the inside but his hands are not. When he lifts Yukimura up in his arms, his captain feels weightless. Sanada remembers carrying Yukimura once before, when they were in second year and Yukimura forgot his shoes in the clubroom and they got caught in the rain on the outdoor tennis courts. He'd offered to carry Yukimura on his back and Yukimura had felt like a boy then, sturdy, filled out and firm.
Now he feels like nothing at all and Sanada will wonder later how it was possible for someone who looks so strong standing to feel so light in his arms.
Sanada tells himself he's going to stop going to the hospital. The nurses and doctors all know him on a first-name basis, and they greet him with sad smiles when he comes to the main desk and asks if he's in the same room as the day before, if there have been any changes in his condition. He is and there aren't and everyone seems to be just waiting. He wonders if it does any good to visit if nothing is changing. Maybe Yukimura's eyes light like that for every visitor. Maybe Sanada is nothing special, and maybe Yukimura really is dying, as they say. Maybe Sanada should just focus on tennis. That's what Yukimura would say. He's so wise for his fourteen years. People think Sanada is wise, too. Mature. He holds his words in and keeps a cold expression, but he isn't wise. He doesn't say smart things like Yukimura does.
Sanada should stop going to the hospital. It isn't doing any good.
The other Rikkai players are starting to look at him suspiciously when he leaves practice early or comes in late. He's fukubuchou, after all, not some lackadaisical first year. He needs to start behaving like a leader, like the leader. He tries to think of how Yukimura would act, were their positions reversed. He pictures poise and gentleness and dignity and he straightens up before telling the team to gather around to discuss their practice menus.
Sometimes it's hard for Sanada, to stand tall in the face of shadow. Sanada is just Sanada. Yukimura is different: Half god, half demon, all fourteen-year-old boy.
But Yukimura is dying. No one says it outright, but Sanada can feel it every time he steps into the cold, sterile hospital room.
The team wouldn't understand even if Sanada tried to explain. He likes to see Yukimura alone, without the rest of the team crowding around and cracking jokes. He needs the silence and the comfort of Yukimura's soft voice murmuring platitudes. He's never not known his captain's presence, and having it drowned out by the other player's voices and smiles makes him nervous. Sometimes Yukimura speaks so softly he can scarcely be heard. But when he needs to be, people listen.
Not even the snap of Atobe's finger can command this sort of attention. And Yukimura isn't snapping, or speaking. He isn't even looking at anyone in particular and yet all eyes are on him like he's the sun. Yukimura has laughing eyes and a smile that feels like a light's been switched on and you're so close to the bulb that it'll burn you, but it’s so dazzlingly bright that you can't bear to look away. He doesn't smile much lately though, and laughs even less, saving his cheeriness for when the team is visiting together. He lets the mask fall when he's alone with Sanada, and it makes Sanada's chest sting, but he understands what it means for Yukimura to be himself with him, and he understands that he has to be strong.
It isn't Yukimura's silence now that gets to Sanada though, because Yukimura was never someone who could be silenced entirely. There are still the knowing looks, the tight line of his lips, the quietly barbed words, demands for more practices, more laps, "Push the team harder, Sanada."
Sanada isn't used to being the only one pushing and he pulls his cap down lower over his forehead at practice so the rest of the team can't see the look in his eyes.
One afternoon, Sanada brings Yukimura his racket in the hospital. He doesn't want to, but it is Yukimura's request and like a samurai to his master, Sanada can do nothing but comply.
It's amazing; horrifying and amazing, watching such a fragile body wielding that kind of power again. Yukimura's grip has changed. It's more delicate, not sharp and deadly like the Yukimura who Sanada had faced on to the courts week after week for the past three years. Maybe his play style has changed, too.
That is, assuming he will play again.
Yukimura seems to be reading Sanada's mind, because he says, "You'd all better be keeping up with the practice menu. I'll know when I come back if you haven't been training as hard as you should be. I won't go easy on you."
Sanada nods and takes off his hat, setting it down on the foot of the bed before taking a seat next to Yukimura by the window. Yukimura sits up in the bed, the blankets rumpling, and runs his fingers over the grip of the racket, and up to the racket face where his skinny fingers test the string tension. Sanada worries vaguely that Yukimura's knuckles will snap before those strings will.
He looks back at his cap, wondering why he took it off in the first place. He feels suddenly exposed, to what, he isn't sure; Yukimura's illness, his calm acceptance of his fate, the sound his fingers make as they slide into the notches on the racket face.
Yukimura had told Sanada once, in their first year, that he thought Sanada hid too much under his hat, like he was trying to intimidate people. He'd laughed with a tinkling sound like bells, and pulled the cap from Sanada's head and tossed it across the tennis court. For some reason, Sanada hadn't gotten angry. He wants to tell Yukimura now that he was right, but isn't sure Yukimura even remembers.
"We should play," Yukimura says, his voice sounding soft and far away.
Sanada lets out a sharp, dry laugh. "We can't."
"There's a tennis court a block or two from here." Yukimura looks at Sanada, his eyes pale violet now and almost pleading. "No one would have to know."
"You can't play like this," Sanada says, his words even and measured. He doesn't dare defy his captain, but there are some things that are simply out of his control.
Yukimura says, "I was 'like this' for months before anyone stopped me, before they took me here."
"You'd lose," Sanada whispers, and somehow that's what gets the reaction.
The racket drops from Yukimura's hand and makes a hollow, skittering sound when it hits the tile. It doesn't drop because Yukimura is weak and cannot hold it; it drops because Yukimura lets his fingers open and allows it to fall.
Sanada understands the difference and can see that this is the closest Yukimura Seiichi will ever come to showing his raw anger.
"I'm sorry," Yukimura says quietly and Sanada turns away.
Sanada thinks, all through registering and the preliminary matches, that he'll get to play Yukimura again, maybe as early as next week, right here on this very court.
Yukimura will smirk at him, a soft curl of lips against pale skin, and serve across the net, hard. Sanada will volley it back, light enough that Yukimura will laugh at him, voice shallow like handbells. "You're going easy on me," he'll say. "Stop that." And Sanada will begin to protest but Yukimura will only return the ball harder and faster, catching Sanada off-guard so that it slams into the ground and bounces past him.
"Do you think I'm going to break?" Yukimura will say, after he's won. He will win again, because Sanada has never been able to beat Yukimura. Nothing can beat Yukimura.
He is jolted back to reality when he goes back to the locker room to change and sees Yukimura's regulars jacket folded carefully on the shelf. It hasn't been worn for weeks now.
Yukimura recurs in Sanada's thoughts like clockwork. His name rests on Sanada's tongue and is a dull thudding in his chest. Sanada can't help but visit him. It's the only thing that feels right anymore. He knows he's captain now, but practice feels wrong and empty without Yukimura there.
Yukimura was always the team's pillar of strength. Sanada doesn't know how to be the strong one, but he's trying, really trying.
"It's hard to laugh today," Yukimura says, matter-of-factly, making no plea for pity or sympathy, but Sanada feels his heart twinge with ache just the same.
"You shouldn't do anything to--" he starts.
"I know," Yukimura says with a smile. "Let's go outside." And even though Sanada thinks it's a bad idea -- Yukimura could catch cold. He should be resting. The nurses all said as much. – he is helpless to deny Yukimura any request. He rises from the chair to help Yukimura off the bed and into his wheelchair. He never thought so much time would pass here that the wheelchair would suddenly seem so familiar. He still doesn't look like he belongs in it.
"I can do it," Yukimura says calmly, when Sanada reaches for the handle bars behind the chair. He presses his palms to the wheels and pushes, steering himself with enough grace to almost clear the door, but the left side scrapes the hinge. The sound it makes is awful, and lasts much longer than it should.
"I--" Sanada starts, rushing forward.
"I can do it, Genichirou," Yukimura insists, and Sanada watches in horror as the Rikkai captain swerves backwards and forwards again twice before making it out into the cold white corridor.
They never sit close together. Sanada always takes the chair furthest from the bed, leaving an empty chair between them, full of things Sanada isn't sure how to say and promises he knows he must keep.
The nurses never disturb them when they're together, although neither one of them told them to.
Once Sanada had run into Yukimura's parents in the hospital. They were on their way out and Yukimura's mother had looked just as tired as Sanada felt, dark circles under her eyes as she wrung her hands and fidgeted with the tassles on her bag.
They'd greeted each other with polite bows, and Yukimura's parents had said, "Our son is so lucky to have someone like you in his life."
"I'm the lucky one," Sanada had replied, and hoped he'd be able to hold onto that luck for a while longer.
On one team visit, they all go up to the roof to watch the sunset. Yukimura's eyes light up joyfully when they arrive, and stay light and full of life through the whole visit. He almost looks like himself again, like the medicine and therapy treatments haven't stolen him away.
He always seems happiest when everyone is there around him, listening with rapt attention to his every, carefully chosen word. They all love him, Sanada realizes. They all need him to get better.
Kirihara sticks magnets to the back of Yukimura's wheelchair, a strawberry and one that says "glam princess". Sanada is about to smack him when Yukimura catches the reflection in the mirror and smiles.
"Now I have bling," he says, eyes laughing. Sanada can't help but crack a smile, too.
"You'll catch cold," Sanada says, one afternoon when they're in the courtyard in front of the hospital. It's February and Yukimura shouldn't be outside, but insists on it every time Sanada comes to visit. "I don't like that stale room," he'd said. "The window doesn't open."
Sanada starts to take off his tennis jacket to give to Yukimura but Yukimura refuses with a wave of his hand. "I'm fine, Genichirou," he says, but Sanada can see him shivering.
He settles for draping the jacket over the back of Yukimura's wheelchair, his hand rests on Yukimura's shoulders unnecessarily, the only time he has an excuse to touch him like this, and his fingers curl in and hang on just briefly.
Yukimura smiles and raises his hand to cover Sanada's and Sanada notes that he's stopped shivering.
One day, Sanada comes in and finds Yukimura curled up in his wheelchair, fast asleep. The chair is pushed all the way to the door, as though he was waiting to go outside. When he opens his eyes, they're light and distant from lack of sleep.
"I'll come back tomorrow," Sanada says, apology in his voice.
"No," Yukimura protests, "tell me about today's practice." His face hardens and Sanada recounts the drills, warm-ups, and different matches that were played, and Yukimura is listening but his eyes don't have the same passion they once did. He's become vapor, instead of fire. He tires easily and falls asleep as Sanada is telling him about his thoughts for the city tournament line-up. Sanada doesn't stop talking.
Kirihara asks Yukimura if there will be scars from the operation.
Yukimura laughs and Sanada realizes that he hasn't considered that yet. He imagines going swimming with Yukimura and seeing a gaping hole in his chest, a jagged scar down his throat, a zipper of stiches over his back. He doesn't know what they're going to do, just that it's dangerous, but he wonders now if Yukimura will look different, will look empty, like the scalpel's stolen something.
He can't sleep that night or the night after it because he's suddenly terrified. What if something goes wrong? The doctors tiptoe around him like it's a miracle he's even alive.
Yukimura becomes simplified, reduced into spare parts and bits of punctuation, the brackets of his finger joints, the hollow comma-shadows under his eyes. He doesn't look like the captain Sanada once knew, but when he speaks, his voice is firm and solid. He can see Sanada doubting, worrying, because Yukimura was always perceptive.
He suggests silly things like playing shogi or Uno or having a wheelchair race down the hall just to make Sanada smile. And Sanada does; he can't help it. The games always take longer than usual due to Yukimura's medication, but Sanada is patient enough for both of them, even when he can see the tick in Yukimura's face as he struggles to keep up, or grows frustrated when he's losing. He demands that Sanada never go easy on him, and Sanada doesn't. Even when his fingers are too weak to hold the chess piece and it falls to the ground and shatters over the tile, and Sanada looks at him with wide, terrified eyes, Yukimura laughs.
"My coordination isn't spectacular right now," he says with a smile. And Sanada doesn't know what to do so he smiles too. He smiles until Yukimura's stamina drains and he falls asleep, and then he sits and watches his captain. Sometimes he slides his hand gently over Yukimura's, not holding, but touching, feeling the leap of his pulse with each heartbeat, feeling reassured each time it comes.
Once, Yukimura had suddenly woken up, but he didn't look angry, and although Sanada had tried to pull away, Yukimura had grabbed his hand firmly under his own, their palms pressed together over the hospital blanket. He'd squeezed so tightly Sanada was sure his circulation would get cut off. And they didn't say anything because it was what it was and nothing more.
There never have been words for what they have together.
When Sanada is alone with Yukimura, he feels like he's helplessly caught in orbit. The light in Yukimura's eyes is like gravity, drawing him in and holding him, and he can't imagine pulling away or wanting to be anywhere other than at his side.
Sometimes Yukimura tries to do tricks in his wheelchair, and Sanada is scared he's going to fall, but Yukimura hasn't fallen since The Fall, and Sanada trusts him.
Sometimes when they go outside together, Yukimura insists on standing, on walking. His steps are slow and deliberate like his body is betraying him with each movement, like he has to will it to move.
They both stand for a long while looking out through the grated fence of the roof. They don't look at each other, just forward, out over the city. They stare in the same direction for a long time in silence, before Yukimura speaks.
"When I'm better, I want to play everyone," he says.
Sanada looks at him. "The whole team?"
"Not just Rikkai. Everyone. It's been so long since I've played a game. I have so many opponents now. I can't wait." His voice is clean and resolute. "I'll start with you, Genichirou. I hope you'll be ready for me."
Sanada nods. He will try. He knows instinctively that he will never beat Yukimura Seiichi at tennis. He thinks no one will, really. It doesn't matter if he stopped or if he's sick. He'll come back stronger than ever.
Sanada doesn't think about the score of the game he'd play when ill.
On Sanada's birthday, the Rikkai tennis team plans a party. Sanada almost doesn't allow them to go through with it. The last thing the team needs is a party, with Kantou to prepare for, even if it is, at least nominally, in Sanada's honor. After hearing Niou and Bunta's plans, Sanada confides in Renji that he thinks the whole thing is a terrible idea. Wholly inappropriate. A party isn't a party without Yukimura there and his day would be better spent with a visit to the hospital and an extra team practice.
"The hospital visiting hours don't extend that late into the evening, Genichirou," Renji argues. "You're already spending all your money on bus fares to get over there as it is. Loosen up just this once. For your team. Seiichi wouldn't want to hear that you're putting his welfare above your own."
"But he's the captain."
Renji sighs. "You're the captain in his absence."
"Don't say that."
"Genichirou, we have to make do."
Sanada definitely isn't expecting to open the clubroom door that night and see Yukimura sitting there, surrounded by his teammates, all of them singing "Happy Birthday" to him with broad smiles and open arms.
"How—" Sanada starts, feeling suddenly dizzy. Yukimura is wearing his old headband and his jersey is draped over his lap. Sanada thinks he must be dreaming. This can't be real.
"They came up with an amazing plan," Yukimura starts, and then tells Sanada enthusiastically about how the team had broke him out of the hospital for the evening, everyone following Yanagi's carefully crafted plan, how Kirihara and Marui had distracted the nurses with tennis tricks and Niou and Jackal had rushed Yukimura towards the elevator, whizzing past the examination rooms, probably breaking all their previous wheelchair race records. He looks weary from travel, but is clapping his hands together with delight as he adds how Yagyuu had almost tripped a nurse by accident, how they'd nearly been caught, how they somehow made it to the hospital entrance, chanting "Always win, Rikkaidai!", and had rushed to the train station and made it all the way to Rikkai without anyone calling Yukimura's parents.
"Yu—yu—" Sanada attempts. He can't even get his name out. Niou and Kirihara are howling with laughter. He can't imagine what his face must look like. Finally he pulls himself together and says simply, "I can't believe it."
"Happy birthday, Genichirou," Yukimura says, and claps his hand around the back of Sanada's neck, pulling him close for a hug. Sanada can feel his shallow breaths of air against his earlobe and the tickle of his hair against the side of his face. Yukimura has never embraced him like this before, and Sanada almost wants to pull back. It feels wrong somehow, to be this close to Yukimura, this intimate. It feels almost sacrilegious.
The surgery is scheduled for the same day as the Regional Final. Sanada doesn't sleep well that entire week. He's slotted to play Singles 1, and despite all their confidence and preparation, he is terrified that it will come down to him, that he will lose it for the team. That he will lose it for Yukimura.
If I lose, Yukimura might--
Sanada can't bring himself to finish the thought. He knows in his head that it's completely irrational. The game and the operation cannot possibly be connected, and yet in his heart he's frightened that they might be. If he can win, then Yukimura will survive, recover, return to the team and to tennis and take the Nationals will them.
If he cannot win, then maybe Yukimura won't either.
So, this is it. Sanada looks over at Echizen who is testing the strings on the face of his racket. He looks into the stands at Kirihara and tips the brim of his hat again. He thinks of Yukimura's peaceful face under the anesthesia mask as they wheel him into surgery. It will be over soon and he'll awake and the Rikkai team will be there with the gold medal, the Kantou victory. Sanada pictures his captain's laughing eyes, open again and newly full with fierce strength.
Yukimura, Sanada thinks, and steps onto the court. I absolutely will not lose.