The Littlest Birds Sing the Prettiest Songs by Halrloprillalar / prillalar
Fuji/Kaidoh, Prince of Tennis, PG13, 2000 words.
Syusuke always had to put the sky in first.
Timeline: Fuji is in grade 11, Kaidoh in grade 10.
Syusuke leans his racquets against the wall, three in a row, perfectly balanced. He updates the pinned-up schedule: club practices, personal training, tournaments. He stacks his books on his desk. There's one more he needs for the English assignment, a novel he read back in junior high.
He's looking for it in his closet when he finds the box of paints: water colours, a present from his aunt when he was six. The manganese blue is cracked in half.
One of the brushes is splayed and clumped. Syusuke always had to put the sky in first. He squats in a patch of sunlight, balancing the box on his palm. Outside on the street, a truck rumbles by. Syusuke's racquets tip and clatter -- one, two, three -- onto the floor.
Half an hour later, Syusuke is on a train, a note to his mother on his door, the paint box in his bag.
His ticket is all the way to Hiroshima but he gets off in a small town, smiles at a scruffy dog in the street, walks until the houses stop and the trees rise up to meet him.
He sits and watches the light moving through the leaves, the birds slipping in between. If he stays perfectly silent, perfectly still, they'll come to him.
Forty minutes later, the birds are as far away as ever. Syusuke takes out his paint box. He puts the sky in first.
An elderly couple rent him a room and give him copious and conflicting advice on maintaining good digestion. The room is large, compared to Tokyo at least, and Syusuke only takes a corner for his things. There's a calendar on the wall -- baseball, the Hiroshima Carp. Syusuke takes it down.
He lies on his futon at night, eyes open to the dark, timing his breath to the whine and stutter of the cicadas. In the morning, he buys food and two bottles of milk at a store down the lane.
Then back to the trees and the sunlight and his paint box. The birds still don't care to know him but he paints them closer, more trusting, a friendly gleam in their small black eyes.
On the fifth day, Syusuke turns his mobile on long enough to send an email. Bring more manganese blue.
When Kaidoh arrives at the station, he hands Syusuke a bag.
"Thank you," Syusuke says. He waits, but Kaidoh doesn't ask why Syusuke sent for him. Syusuke decides not to ask himself. They sit on a bench at the station and Kaidoh eats a sandwich.
Syusuke shows Kaidoh the clearing. "Sit perfectly still," Syusuke says. The birds don't come to Kaidoh either.
Syusuke takes out a pencil and draws the space around Kaidoh, thick and dark. He puts in the lines of Kaidoh's face, his arms, the folds of his shirt, the muscles in his calves. He draws a swirling mark on Kaidoh's cheek, curving down his neck, until it disappears beneath his collar. Syusuke doesn't know how far down it goes.
Kaidoh holds the pose, completely silent, completely still, and Syusuke wants to make drawing after drawing, just to watch him there.
Syusuke talks about the birds, the shopkeeper told him their name, but he's forgotten it. He talks about the book he's reading, about the weather. He waits for Kaidoh to give him the message from the captain, from Tezuka, from himself. But Kaidoh only answers Syusuke's questions, in a serious voice, as though they're important.
They go back to Syusuke's room. When Syusuke introduces Kaidoh to the old couple, he drops his head and mutters his greeting. He's only shy, Syusuke thinks of saying, but there's no need. They love Kaidoh, such a nice boy, he could be their grandson.
A flush rises on Kaidoh's cheeks. A wash of scarlet lake, Syusuke decides. Even so, Kaidoh seems used to this kind of reaction. Syusuke isn't surprised.
Kaidoh falls asleep almost at once. Syusuke listens to him breathing, out of rhythm with the cicadas, and looks up into the dark. Syusuke thinks he'll get up early and sit by Kaidoh's futon, watching him sleep until he blinks awake.
When Syusuke opens his eyes, the room is empty. Syusuke finds Kaidoh sweeping, drawing the broom slowly over the polished floor. Kaidoh has strong arms and a straight back. A blue bandana over his head. A smudge of dirt on his cheek.
"Such a nice boy," Syusuke says. Kaidoh huffs and stoops for the dustpan.
After breakfast, they buy onigiri and milk. They walk through town, along the stream bank, then pause on a footbridge. Kaidoh squats and puts his arms between the railings, trailing his fingers in the water. A fish slips through his hands, a flash of silver and blue, and Syusuke is surprised when Kaidoh doesn't even try to catch it.
When the sun is higher, Kaidoh does push-ups on the grass, strong arms, straight back. Syusuke watches for a minute, then goes to join him. He keeps up almost to the end and Kaidoh nods, like he approves.
"A painter needs a strong arm," Syusuke says. He puts his hand on Kaidoh's shoulder and feels the warmth of the sun there. Syusuke thinks about his drawing, he traces the design on Kaidoh's cheek, one light finger down his neck, inside his collar.
"Fuji-senpai," Kaidoh says, in a voice so low it hums through Syusuke like a long drawn note on a double bass. Kaidoh doesn't move, not closer, not further away. Syusuke is transfixed, caught in a moment so slow, it's liquid, like glass is liquid, he and Kaidoh warm and waiting as it passes over them.
The breeze ruffles Syusuke's hair. He exhales. He picks up his bag. "The birds will miss us," he says.
It's cool in the forest. The light shines through the trees but the heat is caught behind the leaves. The birds dip under, over the branches. Syusuke paints them flying, quick brown darts against the green and gold.
Kaidoh sits on a stump, watching the birds, and Syusuke wonders what he's thinking, if he's bored. One tiny bird inches down a branch, close, closer. If Kaidoh raises his hand, the bird will come to him, Syusuke knows it.
Kaidoh turns his head and their eyes meet. Syusuke feels a flutter in his chest, like wings beating against his breastbone. The bird flies away.
Syusuke sucks in a breath of spearmint and puts away his toothbrush. The air is heavy and dull and Syusuke doesn't hear Kaidoh come into the room, just the click of the door behind him.
Kaidoh pulls off his shirt and folds it neatly. He pauses by the lamp and looks up. Syusuke nods and Kaidoh turns out the light. The curtains rustle faintly. Kaidoh draws them back, opens the window as wide as he can. Moonlight falls against him, the pale shadow of the sun. He looks out into the garden.
And Syusuke sits on his futon, perfectly silent, perfectly still.
He can see it now, as though it's luminescent, the design that swirls down Kaidoh's neck, then lower, across his chest, curving around his ribs, glowing faintly in the dark. If he were a tattoo artist, Syusuke would ink Kaidoh's skin himself, so that everyone else could see it too.
Kaidoh turns and Syusuke can't follow the shimmer down his back, can't see if it goes lower. Kaidoh moves out of the light, just a shape in the room, and walks a few steps towards Syusuke.
Syusuke doesn't move. He's relaxed, limbs loose, he's calm, completely at ease. Except for his heart. It leaps against his ribs, it fills his ears with such a roar he can't hear Kaidoh's feet on the mat.
And then the shape is closer, looming dark against the dim, just barely too far to touch. Kaidoh waits there, an uncertain silhouette. "Senpai," he breathes.
Syusuke holds out his hand.
Kaidoh lunges, tumbling Syusuke onto his back, half covering Syusuke's body with his own. His mouth finds Syusuke's mouth, his hands find Syusuke's wrists. He's hot and heavy and Syusuke arches up to meet him.
It's not what Syusuke thought it would be; it's awkward, it's absurd, sweaty skin and tangled clothing, Syusuke's arm pinned underneath him, Kaidoh pulling hair out of his mouth.
Syusuke decides he likes it.
They peel each other's clothes away like the shell from an egg. Syusuke feels Kaidoh's skin with his tongue, all the textures, all the smells that he can find on Kaidoh's shivering body. Kaidoh touches Syusuke and Syusuke bites his lip to trap the gasp inside of him, to keep it for later. Anyhow, the walls are thin.
He pushes his head against Kaidoh's shoulder. He's done too soon, his hips rocking up, his eyes forced shut. When he finds himself again, he reaches for Kaidoh. "Is this good?" he whispers and Kaidoh falls back, leaning on his elbows, curving his spine, showing his throat.
Syusuke does his best and there's enough light to see Kaidoh's face twist when he comes. Syusuke keeps that for later too.
They fall apart. Syusuke feels through his bag for his handkerchief. When he turns back, Kaidoh is asleep.
Syusuke drags the other futon over. He curls up on his side, watching Kaidoh, matching their breaths until he slips into a dream.
When Syusuke opens his eyes, Kaidoh looks away. "Good morning," Syusuke says.
"Good morning." Kaidoh unfolds himself and stands. He's dressed already, sleeveless shirt, blue bandana. Across the room, his bag is packed. "It's time to go," he says.
Syusuke stretches. He thinks about the birds darting through the branches, the slow current of the stream. He gets up and starts to pack. There are things to paint in Tokyo.
Syusuke leans on Kaidoh's shoulder. Kaidoh pushes his knee up against Syusuke's and the train rocks them together. The sun is warm and drowsy and Syusuke closes his eyes until he's looking through his lashes. "Do you like birds?" he says.
"I had a bird when I was five." Kaidoh splays one hand on his leg. He has interesting fingers, long and dark. Syusuke can still feel them against his skin. "A white canary. He sang a lot."
Syusuke turns and looks up into Kaidoh's face. "I'm going back," he says, "but I'm not going back."
"I know." Kaidoh's fingers tighten on his thigh, just a little. "I'll tell the captain."
"I'll do it." Syusuke touches the back of Kaidoh's hand, stroking up the middle tendon and over the knuckle. "I'll tell them you did your best."
"Do you want lunch?" Kaidoh moves his hands, turns away. He gives Syusuke an ekiben. Syusuke isn't hungry yet but he eats, slowly, starting with the pickles. Kaidoh works clockwise, head down.
"Would you like another?"
Kaidoh looks up. "I'm not finished this one yet."
"Another bird," Syusuke clarifies.
"Mine flew away," Kaidoh says. "I kept letting him out of the cage."
Syusuke smiles at Kaidoh, looks at him long enough that Kaidoh colours, just a little. "You're a good person," Syusuke says.
The racquets are still on the floor. Syusuke stacks them in the closet. He unpacks his bag. He takes out his mobile.
The captain yells, Syusuke apologizes, three times. That seems adequate. Then he calls Tezuka.
Syusuke can hear the sadness in Tezuka's voice. He can see Tezuka's face, the mouth a little grimmer, the shadows a little darker. He wants to draw it. Maybe on the weekend. If he's not busy.
Then Syusuke sets out his paint box. He puts up his easel. And he paints: Syusuke and Kaidoh, together on a doubles court. Kaidoh swinging his racquet, a small brown bird perched on his shoulder. And Syusuke holding his paintbrush, putting in the sky.
Comments of any kind are always welcome. :)