The first day Yukimura returned from recovery to the Rikkai tennis club, and his team, was a day of great relief and rejoicing. It was also, at least for one vice-captain Sanada Genichirou, a rather uncomfortable day.
“You won’t be able to avoid telling him forever, you know,” Renji murmured in his ear. “In fact, I would say your chances of dodging his questions much beyond this evening only stand at twelve percent. By the end of practice, I expect them to drop to three.”
No one else, Genichirou reflected, understood just how evil Renji could be when the mood was on him. Except Yukimura, who found it amusing.
“Do you want me to explain to him?”
It was, of course, balanced by his kindness at other times, but that was no less depressing when Genichirou knew quite well that he didn’t deserve it. Not from Renji; not now.
“No,” Genichirou said, quietly. “I’ll tell him.”
At this remove he found it hard to believe that he had nearly struck one of his two best friends; would have, if Akaya hadn’t interfered. And while Renji was forgiving enough to accept a plea of temporary insanity, he doubted Yukimura would. His friend, Seiichi, was gentle, understanding, even sweet at times. His captain, Yukimura, was unyielding in his demands and his standards.
“You take too much on your own shoulders so often,” Renji sighed. “That was exactly what got you into this situation in the first place.”
Genichirou suppressed a wince. Did Yanagi have to be so damn… accurate?
It was, in fact, just as practice ended that Yukimura closed a hand on each of their arms.
“Why don’t you two join me this evening to discuss the team’s progress?” he suggested, only a hint of steel in his voice indicating that this was not a request.
“I stand corrected,” Renji observed. “Zero percent.”
“Thank you for that update,” Genichirou said, between his teeth. At Yukimura’s questioning look, he glanced aside and answered, “We’ll come.”
The way to either of the other two’s houses was as familiar as the way to his own, so the walk left plenty of Genichirou’s attention free to reflect on his own failures of control. After the first few conversational nudges, Renji left him to it and engaged Yukimura in a discussion of how much reconditioning he could fit in before Nationals. Genichirou was grateful for that.
Yukimura’s parents were out still, not unusual, so the three of them settled in the living room, Yukimura on the couch, Renji in the older and softer of the two chairs. Genichirou took one of the floor cushions, and folded his hands rather tightly on the table. Yukimura eyed his choice with a thoughtful expression.
“It’s been obvious that there were things you weren’t telling me about the club, this year,” he said, at last, quite calm. “I thought there was probably nothing I could do about whatever it was, so I didn’t ask. But I’m asking now, Sanada.”
Genichirou gazed down at his hands.
“In the spring,” he began, “my temper started to… fray. To the point of striking out sometimes. Mostly it was directed at the club, the pool of alternates, but eventually the team was included.” He breathed in and out, slowly, evenly, controlled. And wasn’t that irony for you? Say the rest of it, he ordered himself inflexibly. “Anger was easier than fear. And it kept the club under control.”
“Fear,” Yukimura repeated. “For me?”
Genichirou nodded, silent. Yukimura rose abruptly from the couch, came and knelt beside him, took his shoulders and pulled Genichirou around to face him. His eyes were blazing.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he demanded. Genichirou gauged Yukimura’s agitation by the tightness of his grip. He didn’t want to add to the upset, though he welcomed the bruising strength of Yukimura’s hands, proof of his wholeness once again. But Genichirou had always been honest with these two.
“When?” he asked, barely audible. “While you were already driving yourself to injury, trying to regain strength enough to return to us? While you were torn between risking a relapse and taking a long chance?”
Yukimura closed his eyes and took in a sharp breath. Genichirou felt a rake of pain at having reminded his friend of his own pain, so recently past. But that was the truth of why he hadn’t spoken, and much of the reason he had felt so much helpless fury in the first place. And he knew his captain heard that truth. When Yukimura opened his eyes again, he looked over at Renji.
“I take it you agreed with that?” he asked, evenly.
“I did not consider it likely that you would be able to recall Genichirou’s control while you were still recovering,” Renji specified. “Perhaps my judgment was also impaired by my concern for you. But, Seiichi,” he leaned forward, earnest, “our team is made up of violent and dangerous parts far more than serene ones. You collected them, because you love their brilliance and their edge. Does it truly surprise you that, without you to hold them steady, the danger ran over?”
“I had hoped that your strength would steady them as well,” Yukimura said, softly, glancing between Genichirou and Renji. Genichirou flinched under his hands. The failure had been his own; he knew that.
“If you had only taken a vacation to Australia, instead of the Intensive Care ward, maybe it would have,” Renji answered, with some asperity.
Yukimura blinked a few times before his mouth curled up, and his eyes began to sparkle. After a few moments’ struggle, he gave way and let his forehead thump down on Genichirou’s shoulder while he laughed. The bright sound released Genichirou’s tension, and he finally lifted his hands to Seiichi’s shoulders in return.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered against Seiichi’s hair.
“Aah,” Seiichi sighed, straightening. “It’s all right,” he said, laying a hand against Genichirou’s face. “I suppose we’ve all found out we’re only human.” His smile warmed Genichirou, smoothing away his hesitance, and he pulled his friend close, burying his face in the curve of Seiichi’s neck for a long moment as he held Seiichi, taking reassurance in the returning solidness of his body. When they drew back, Seiichi reached out to Renji, who came to join them, taking up the hand Seiichi held out and pressing it to his lips.
There were times when Genichirou envied Renji his less restrained manner.
“So that was what set Akaya off, too?” Yukimura asked, with a slightly rueful twist to his mouth. “If I had known, when I spoke to him, I might have been gentler.”
“That particular dynamic flowed in more than one direction,” Renji noted. “Genichirou’s violence gave Akaya permission, but the satisfaction of Akaya’s destruction was what kept Genichirou focused in that direction.”
That particular bit of accuracy cut like a knife, not least because that wild darkness still tempted, still tugged at his control.
“Stop that,” Seiichi said, firmly, to Genichirou, as he began to stiffen again. He cast a critical eye over the other two, and nodded. “I think,” he declared, “that a bath would be just the thing. What do you think?”
Genichirou saw Renji’s expression soften, and knew his own had as well. It might be a strange reaction, to anyone outside the three of them, he reflected, but that was all right. No one else really needed to understand this.
It was something close to ritual, for them, the silence as they undressed, the fact that Renji always adjusted the temperature of the spray, the fact that Seiichi always took the soap first. Genichirou had missed this, desperately. He and Renji had comforted and supported each other in other ways, while Seiichi had been ill and weakened, but it had never seemed right to have this time without him.
There had been times, when someone was in a playful mood, that “a bath” had turned into a water-and-sponge war. Today, though, it was a handful of quiet moments, Genichirou trading shampoo for a sponge with Renji, scrubbing it gently over Seiichi’s back; Renji leaning against him for balance as he washed a foot; Seiichi sweeping Genichirou’s wet hair back as he finished rinsing it. He felt peace settle over him, over all three of them, as if the drops of water carried it.
Genichirou sighed as they slid into the bath proper. Seiichi nudged him into a corner so that both Seiichi and Renji could lean on him. It was thoroughly nonsensical that it was Genichirou who should feel supported by that, but he did. He slipped a hand around Seiichi’s waist, and the other, more hesitantly, over Renji’s back, asking if it was all right. Renji turned and leaned into him more firmly, hazel eyes laughing at him, silently. He had already forgiven Genichirou his descent into obsession, that look said, so why was his friend being so foolish? Genichirou rested his head against Renji’s, and held him more surely.
If it had been anywhere else he would have offered a kiss, but that was the one thing this time had never been about. This was comfort and cleansing. Healing. It was something that made him understand the little rituals of water at shrines and temples. So they soaked in the heat, and each other’s presence, relaxing with the simple closeness as much as the hot water.
“Better?” Seiichi murmured, at last.
“Much,” Renji answered, and Genichirou made a quiet sound of agreement.
They were all quiet as they emerged and dried each other off, exchanging smiles with the towels. In unspoken accord, Genichirou drew Seiichi back against him and Renji came to wind his arms around them both, closing Seiichi between them. Seiichi leaned against Genichirou and clasped his hands behind Renji laughing softly.
“It’s all right,” he reassured them. “I’m right here.”
“You don’t mind if we hold you a little longer, anyway?” Renji asked, both teasing and serious as he so often was.
Seiichi’s eyes reflected brighter for a moment, before he blinked. “Of course not,” he said, voice catching.
They stood together for a long time.