Seiichi ran his eye over Rikkai Dai middle school’s tennis courts, judging them. The other first years clustered together, most chattering and excited. The knots of older members were more aloof, a few of them already rallying on the far courts. He noted the calm ones, the ones who knew enough to watch quietly, and his lips quirked at the few senpai who knew enough to watch him.
He moved over to the wall and let his bag drop beside another’s. "Sanada. It’s good to see you here."
"Yukimura." Sanada nodded a greeting, turning from his own contemplation of their new club to focus on Seiichi. "You chose Rikkai also, then."
"It’s the best." And that was all that really needed saying. Seiichi nodded toward the rest of the club. "What do you think?"
Sanada crossed his arms, gazing across the courts again. "I’m glad you’re here."
Seiichi threw back his head, laughing. "Yes. They’re good, but we’re better." He tipped his head, glancing sidelong at Sanada. "Shall we warm up?" And perhaps show the club who they were and save having to argue about it.
The gleam in Sanada’s eyes answered him. "Yes."
Seiichi ignored the muttering as they took a court. He knew it would stop soon enough. Right now, he had one of his two best opponents from the entire Elementary circuit across the net from him and nothing mattered but the brilliance of the game.
When it ended, and they came to the net to clasp hands in the middle of the silent courts, they held on for a moment longer than usual. Satisfaction melted into agreement where their hands and eyes met, and Seiichi showed his teeth for a moment before they turned to face the club captain.
He and Sanada together would make this team something that had never been seen before.
Seiichi liked watching Sanada play, especially in tournament matches. The way he drove his opponents was artistry.
"You can’t win with your strength!"
The next ball tore past the opponent’s racquet, inches beyond the other boy’s flustered reach.
Seiichi leaned on the rail next to Renji, smiling, eyes fixed on the proud straightness of Sanada’s back. "Sanada’s confidence makes such a strong weapon."
Renji’s mouth curled. "Intimidation is most frightening when it’s only the truth."
Seiichi laughed, stretching upright slowly, careless and relaxed. "It is, isn’t it?"
Renji’s eyes slid past his shoulder, measuring the reaction of the Shitenhouji players. "Not to mention it’s a weapon you and Genichirou both enjoy using."
"As if you have any room to talk." Seiichi met Renji’s eyes for a moment, dark and pleased.
"Well, perhaps," Renji allowed with a tiny smile.
Seiichi turned back to the court to see Sanada’s last play, taking in the way he set himself, the clarity of his voice as he called the shot, the fierce focus in his eyes as he hit it. A frisson danced down Seiichi’s spine at the beauty of that drive, pure and untouchable.
"Game and set!"
Seiichi drew in a slow breath, savoring the taste of their victory; he could already feel the weight of it in his chest, though there was still his match to go before the rest of the world knew it.
Sanada strode off the court and nodded to their captain before his eyes turned to Seiichi, questioning, challenging. Seiichi paused beside him, racquet in hand, and murmured, "You should be harder with them next time. Shall I show you?"
Sanada’s even expression didn’t flicker but the ferocity flared again in his eyes. "If you can."
Seiichi stepped out onto the court, head high, thrill singing in his blood, and prepared to do so.
Seiichi waved good night as Renji turned off onto his street. "So," he said, as he and Sanada continued on, "the club is ours now."
"Mm." Sanada glanced at him. "Are you going to bring in Kirihara?"
"Oh yes." Seiichi eyed his friend back, curiously, though. "You’re that sure it will be me?" He had expected Sanada to hold out to the last.
Sanada was silent for a moment. "You will make a good captain for Rikkai."
Seiichi breathed out, slowly, and rested a hand on Sanada’s arm. "Thank you." Sanada’s fighting spirit commanded his respect the way few things did. Sanada’s support would be priceless.
Sanada smiled a little and repeated, quieter. "You will be a good captain." His words said that only practicality made him accept it, but his tone said something more.
They were at Seiichi’s turning and he let his fingers slide down Genichirou’s arm as he stepped away. "I’ll see you tomorrow, then."
"And we’ll start making our third National win," Sanada agreed, nodding goodby.
When Seiichi looked back, halfway down his street, Genichirou was still standing at the turn, watching him.
Seiichi stood in the door of Sanada’s practice room, looking out into the summer dark, listening to the snick and rustle behind him as Sanada put away his sword and started gathering up the dismemberd straw bundles. "You know we won’t be able to play like that tomorrow," he said quietly.
There was silence behind him.
"Power is only a part of strength." Seiichi’s voice sharpened. "You will not lose sight of that, Sanada."
"Not with you to remind me, I suppose."
Seiichi’s mouth tightened with some exasperation as Sanada came to stand in the door beside him. "Stubborn."
Sanada chuckled, leaning against the frame. "Of course."
A corner of Seiichi’s mouth twitched up; of course Sanada would take it as a compliment. "We will win," he stated, soft and dangerous.
Sanada’s eyes glinted in the low lights as he turned to look at Seiichi. "Yes." The heavy, dark heat of the night curled around them. "We will."
Seiichi relaxed, letting go some of the fierce control that had kept him standing upright these weeks of retraining and planning. Sanada agreed with him; he didn’t have to force this part to happen.
Sanada’s mouth curled in answer. "Of course we’ll win," he said quietly, words floating on the darkness. "It’s what we are."
Seiichi felt the words catch fire inside him, the fire they shared to forge the team they had. The victories they had. It had always called to him. He tipped his head, considering the winter and the summer and the matches they would play tomorrow, and slowly reached out to close his fingers in Sanada’s kendo gi.
Sanada laughed and stepped forward to meet him. They kissed in the doorway, mouths open against each other. Seiichi ran his fingers into Sanada’s hair, eyes sliding half closed at the tightness of Sanada’s hands on his hips, and growled low in his throat. Tomorrow he would have to be controlled, remember their strategies, not be swept away in the heat of the match.
Tonight, though, he could forget all of that and drink the fire down straight.
He pushed Sanada back against the door frame and they laughed, hot and husky as the night air around them.
"So, what now?"
"Now?" Seiichi leaned back on his hands, watching the setting sun glimmer on the pool in his back yard and gild the long, slim leaves of the irises. He felt a bit like those plants, relaxing from the heat and busyness of summer into the cooler flowering of fall. "Now I suppose we take our exams and start over." He chuckled. "I wonder if our senpai will be pleased to see us again."
Sanada snorted, leaning against the porch rail, arms crossed. "They’d better. We’ve held up Rikkai’s name against harder competition then any they’ve faced." He waved a dismissive hand. "They won’t hold out this time any longer than the last."
"Quite likely. Will you be there for it?"
Sanada’s head turned, brows lifting. "Why wouldn’t I be?"
Seiichi’s mouth tilted and he kept his eyes on the water. "I know your grandfather would like you to pay more attention to your kendo. I’ve been wondering which you would choose to follow, during high school."
Sanada was silent beside him for a long moment before he finally said, quietly, "It isn’t a matter of which. It’s a matter of who."
It was Seiichi’s turn to look up. Sanada’s eyes, on him, were level and calm, and the curve of Seiichi’s lips softened into real amusement. "Would you really follow me that far?" he murmured. Warmth curled through his blood at the thought and flared into heat as Sanada smiled, showing his teeth.
"All the way."
Seiichi laughed out loud in the slanting sunlight, and reached out and pulled Genichirou down to a kiss. "Then that’s how far we’ll go," he whispered into Genichirou’s mouth.