The death of a person can bring complete strangers together in grief. For Yukimura Seiichi, his death set off a chain reaction that reunited the most unlikely of people. His death reconciled the crumbling relationship between his two best friends, Sanada Genichirou and Yanagi Renji. It moved the estranged Mouri Jusaburou to rejoin his old teammates to win the Nationals once again. It forced his oldest rivals, Atobe Keigo, Tezuka Kunimitsu and Echizen Ryoma, to reevaluate what was important to them. It caused Kirihara Akaya and Yukimura's younger sister, Hinoka, to stop running away from their feelings for each other.
For Shiraishi Kuranosuke and Hokama Sayumi, it reopened the same wound that they both thought had healed.
Hokama Sayumi was just another average teenage girl. She didn’t really stand out from any of her peers and spent a lot of her time tending the school’s many rooftop gardens. She didn’t have many standout features, other than her long, auburn hair that caught the eyes of everyone who saw it. It was a blessing, but also a curse. Though she was never bullied, she felt lonely nonetheless. She was also the first, and only, girlfriend of the former Rikkai Boys’ Tennis Team captain, Yukimura Seiichi.
Her relationship with him was rather plain. Though they had a bit of a rocky start due to Yukimura’s insanely jealous group of fangirls on campus, much of the relationship was uneventful. They shared small, cute moments with each other that any normal couple would share with each other. Even though they spent a little under a year together, most of the time they spent together was in a hospital. She couldn’t fault him for being sick and imprisoned in a sterile environment, but there were many times where she wished they could just be alone together without having to worry about the circumstances they were both in. Every night, she would selfishly pray that he would be normal so they could resume falling deeper in love with each other.
Sayumi had loved him deeply and thought they would be together for the rest of their mundane lives. It was a naive thought, but she was a bit of a dreamer and found nothing wrong with thinking like that. No matter how hard he struggled, he could never find it in him to be physically nor emotionally attracted to her. Yukimura’s hospitalization took a heavy emotional and psychological toll on Sayumi as she helplessly watched the disease consume what little was left of her boyfriend. It made Yukimura feel extremely guilty, but he was at the mercy of the healthcare system or God.
She eventually found out the truth as to why he was fairly distant with her during their entire time together. Deep down, she knew he felt differently than her the entire time. All of the signs were there, but she chose to ignore it in order to desperately cling onto a false reality. He had left a deep emotional scar within her heart when the relationship ended. Even though they made some amends prior to his death, she was never able to fully move on and has been broken ever since.
Shiraishi Kuranosuke, on the other hand, was an individual who stood out no matter where he went. He was the famous captain of the nationally-ranked Shitenhouji Boys’ Tennis team. He was a model student with great looks to match. Girls would swarm around him to try and win his affection and he would indulge in their fantasies, if only for a short while. Even if someone was oblivious of his achievements, his abnormally tall stature and out-of-place bandaged left arm easily made him stand out in a crowd. He was always being watched by those around him and looked up to by many who aspired to be like him.
Despite his model appearances, he lived a very complicated double life that only a few select people knew about. He was a closeted bisexual and would constantly switch between dating girls in his school in the daytime and boys he would meet in Doyama-cho at night. He would never stay with the same person for longer than a few weeks, since all of his relationships were superficial and emotionally unfulfilling. He had never experienced love beyond physical attraction and failed to make a deep, emotional bond with anyone he met. This depressed him deeply, as he felt that he would never be able to find someone with whom he could connect with. That all changed the day he met Yukimura Seiichi.
Shiraishi was not the kind to believe in ‘love at first sight’, but he couldn't deny the fact that his first chance meeting with the elusive Child of God made him feel strange. He was attracted to the androgynous boy in a way that he never realized he could feel. He knew what it was like to be physically attracted to a girl after some short, failed relationships prior to meeting Yukimura and understood what he was feeling. It was liberating. Despite his interest in the mysterious figure, he treaded carefully, knowing that society at large was still very discriminatory against people like him and he was also unsure if Yukimura was even capable of falling in love with him. Slowly, but surely, he found a way to befriend the boy and quickly realized that the seemingly gentle and reserved captain of Rikkai was oblivious to the fact that he was in love with another boy.
Shiraishi felt determined to win over his heart, which was something he had never felt compelled to do before. He was always the one being asked out by other girls and boys, but this was the first time he wanted to ask someone else out. He felt a need to chase after him and win over his affection. The more he ran after Yukimura, the more he realized that he would never be able to sway his feelings. He knew his attempts were in vain, but he couldn’t stop himself from trying. He had fallen head-over-heels for Yukimura Seiichi. One stupid, irrational action from him resulted in their budding friendship coming to a complete halt. Shiraishi would never forgive himself for throwing it all away for the non-existent chance to claim Yukimura as his own.
Neither of them had anything in common. They were almost complete strangers to each other. The only thing they shared in common was the heartbreak they had both suffered after falling in love with the exact same person. It was strange that both of them even started dating after the death of the same boy who had hurt them.
It had been a little over a month since life had returned to relative normalcy. The cherry blossoms had all faded into seasonal obscurity and been replaced by vibrant green leaves. The days got longer and warmer. The thousands of flowers planted on the Rikkai campus rooftops have begun to bloom into many brilliant hues and shades. The Boys’ Tennis Team had gotten back into practicing and refining their skills for the upcoming Nationals. Nothing was able to stop their momentum now that their team was (almost) whole once again.
On a boring, sunny afternoon, Sayumi had opted to forgo her committee duties as she watched the tennis team practice play out from the rooftop of the Arts building. She couldn’t seem to keep her gaze off of the boys as the diligently trained. Was it the determination she felt radiating from them that had ensnared her attention? Was it the fact that they all looked like they were having fun? Was she hoping to look down and see him alongside them? She couldn’t say for sure. All she knew for a fact was that she couldn’t take her eyes off of them.
Mouri Jusaburou felt like he was being watched from somewhere. It was distracting him enough that it was affecting his return percentage during practice. Yanagi didn’t pick up on the anomaly since he barely had any data on the lazy third year, but his performance was beginning to irritate his training partner.
Kirihara Akaya was fuming on the opposite side of the net. “Oi, Mouri-senpai! Quit looking around like a crazed idiot and fucking rally the ball!”
“Sorry, Seaweed Bastard. Couldn’t help it,” he replied nonchalantly. “A cute girl is looking in our direction! I wonder if it’s the adorable Hinoka-chan. That would just make my day!”
Kirihara kicked into Bloodshot Mode. “Oi! Who the hell gave you the right to say that about her?!”
Sanada came over and smacked Mouri in the back of the head. “Stop spouting nonsense! This is tennis practice!”
Mouri rubbed the spot that he was hit. “Can none of you take a joke?”
Yanagi pulled Kirihara back before he could attack Mouri any further. “It would be in your best interest to not talk about Yukimura Hinoka in such an objectifying way, Mouri-senpai.”
“Alright, alright. I get it. Sorry for poking fun at your girl, Seaweed Bastard,” he apologized with a hint of insincerity in his tone. “Still,” he looked up at the sky, “I can’t help but feel someone is staring at us.”
“There’s no one left on campus except us. Don’t be ridiculous,” Sanada scoffed.
Yanagi also looked up in the general direction Mouri was looking in. “No, Genichirou, I think there’s someone else here.”
“Eh? A spy?!” Kirihara exclaimed.
“Oh?” Mouri dropped his racket on the ground and began walking towards the court exits. “Perhaps I will go investigate, then.”
Sanada was about to shout at him to get back to practice, but Yanagi looked at him with a ‘give it up’ expression.
Yanagi could only let out a frustrated sigh. “Come, Akaya. I need to collect data on this so-called ‘Angel Mode’ that you seemed to have developed.”
While practice continued for the rest of the team, Mouri was running up towards the top of the Arts building. The door to the outside was slightly ajar, so he slipped through it without making much of a sound. He glanced around the place and noticed a lone girl standing by the guardrails that overlooked the courts. He held his breath as he quietly approached her and grabbed her from behind.
She screamed. “Let me go, you pervert!”
“Not until you promise to stop staring at us practicing, Sayumi-chan.”
Sayumi shoved Mouri towards the ground and turned around to face her assailant. “Mouri-senpai! You’re so disgusting,” she spat. “Shouldn’t you be down there as well?”
“Don’t you have plants to care for as well?” he retorted back. “Don’t get on my case if you’re also slacking as well, Sayumi-chan.”
“Do not call me that.”
“So,” Mouri pulled himself off the ground, completely ignoring her request, “what’s gotten you so curious about our boring practice? You never paid attention to us this intently before.”
“Do I need to have a reason?” she responded sarcastically.
“If you were spying on us for another school, you should know that the main high school complex has a better view of the courts. The view from up here view is obstructed by the engineering building. You’d only be able to see the court closest to the club room,” Mouri explained optimistically. “Or, could it be that you were only interested in watching the one court your ex-boyfriend used to play on?”
Sayumi slapped Mouri across the face in anger.
He grabbed his cheek and rubbed it to soothe the pain. “What good will it do for you if you continue to cling onto unrealistic ideals, Sayumi-chan? You even said it yourself, didn’t you?”
Her entire body was trembling. “I’ll ask you this one more time, Mouri-senpai. Why are you here?”
“Is it not obvious?” He approached and pulled Sayumi into his arms, placing his left hand under her chin. He tilted her head towards his face and gazed at her deep brown eyes. “I’m here to save you from your hypocritical self, princess.”
Sayumi was embarrassed by the sudden, bold move. Her face flushed as she froze up in his arms.
“What do you say? I know it’s a bit soon, but maybe giving me a chance will take your mind off of him. Even if for a little while.”
She jerked her head away from his piercing gaze. “Do you not have any shame hitting on your kouhai?”
“Of course not,” he shamelessly admitted. “Besides, this wouldn’t be my first relationship either. I can show you the ropes and make you forget all about-”
Sayumi pushed Mouri off of her. “Shut the hell up! How dare you say that about Seiichi? He might not have liked me the same way I liked him, but at least he treated me with respect!” She ran and picked up her bag from one of the benches. “Rot in Hell,” she cursed as she promptly left the rooftop.
Mouri sighed as a smile crept onto his face. "I guess Sleeping Beauty has yet to awaken to the harsh reality we're all living in."
Meanwhile, on the western side of the country, Shiraishi Kuranosuke was on another shallow coffee date with a girl from one of his classes. Or, at least that's who he thinks he's on a date with. He wasn't really sure which class he shared with this person. He wasn't really sure he shared a class with her at all. He doesn't even remember her name. He wasn't even sure what they were talking about since he zoned out of the conversation somewhere in the middle of her rambling.
"... and then I said that she was just jealous! Could you believe that Nemu-chan was accusing me of stealing the spotlight from her? She's crazy."
Shiraishi nodded as if he was listening the entire time. His eyes started wandering around the small shop as he checked out the other patrons in order to stave off his boredom.
The girl he was with tugged on his sleeve. "Hey, are you listening?"
He snapped his attention back to her. "Sorry! I just got distracted. You know how it is."
She giggled. "Shall we continue this date elsewhere then, Shiraishi-kun?" She gave him a seductive wink.
He gave her a disingenuous smile. "Of course." He stood up from his seat and offered her a hand. "After you, gorgeous."
The girl took his hand and dragged the both of them to a nearby love hotel and paid for the room. Once they had gotten into the room and locked the door, the girl immediately threw herself at him and began to unbutton Shiraishi's school uniform. He began to kiss her feverishly all over her face and neck before pinning her down on the bed. He slowly started to undo the buttons on her school uniform top as he left a trail of kisses down her body. The girl's breathing became more and more heavy the lower he got.
"Shall I keep going or do you want me to stop?" he asked.
She grabbed onto his shirt and pulled him in to kiss him. "Yes. I made it this far. I am not turning back."
"As you wish."
Shiraishi couldn't help but wonder what he was doing. He had lost track of how many girls he had slept with by that point and he wasn't sure if he wanted to know either. All of them would say the exact same things to him; like how he was drop-dead gorgeous or how toned his muscles were. Though they boosted his ego for a short moment, he knew they were all just empty words. The sex, if it even got that far, was nothing more than just an activity for him to satisfy his lustful desires. Most of the time, the girl would get scared and he would just end up cuddling her while shirtless until their time was up. As much as he desired to go further every time, he respected boundaries above all and would never do something without explicit consent. The girl would almost always leave the room after the deed was done or when they felt satisfied. When the time limit was almost up, he would quickly wash himself off in the hotel room shower and put his clothes back on before leaving. He would then break up with the girl a few days later. This vicious cycle would repeat with almost every girl he dated, but that didn't seem to stop more and more girls from asking him out.
When it comes to other boys, a similar pattern of behaviour can be observed. The only thing that really differs between both genders was that the boys tended to be more adventurous. He could count the number of boys that he had slept with on one hand. This wasn't surprising; the LGBTQ+ population in Osaka was very small to begin with. The population of individuals that were the same age as Shiraishi within the community was even smaller. Many of the boys he did date at some point turned out to not be gay. The ones that were gay would eventually get rejected by him anyways. The relationships were just as empty with boys as they were with girls.
Long after the girl he was with had left, Shiraishi couldn't help but stare at himself in the full body mirror in the corner of the room. The bandages on his arm came undone somewhere during the act, though he was too preoccupied with his inner monologue to notice. Sighing, he walked into the bathroom and rummaged through the provided toiletries for similar bandages to patch it up. He picked up the provided scissors and began to cut away at the old bandages. The golden gauntlet that adorned his arm fell to the ground, revealing his darkest secret underneath. He opened up the scissors and gripped the blade with his right hand. With a swift, fluid motion, he pressed the blade to his arm and dragged it across, adding another cut to his heavily scarred forearm. He watched the cut begin to clot as the crimson red blood flowed down his arm.
He couldn’t remember the first time he had cut himself there, but he had been doing it after every date. One cut per boy or girl he dated. He got lucky with the fact that Coach Watanabe made him wear that ridiculous thing because it hid the scars so well. For someone who would always talk about taking care of oneself both physically and mentally, he was rather hypocritical. He wasn’t sure why he did it either. Did he feel shame for what he was doing? Was it just a messed up way to remember each and every person he’d hurt by dating and ditching them? All he knew for sure was that he couldn’t stop doing it. He ran his fingers up and down his scars, smearing the dried blood in the process. He stared at his reflection in the mirror as he continued to caress his arm. What glared right back at him was the reflection of a broken man.
“Look at what you’ve done to me,” he sighed.
He turned on the sink tap and grabbed one of the hand towels on the counter. He ran it under the warm water and began to clean up the mess he had created. Afterwards, he jumped into the shower to wash himself and get rid of the scent of the girl he was with. Once he had finished and dried himself off, he bent down and picked up the two halves of the gauntlet and affixed it to his arm, covering all of the scars underneath. He meticulously wrapped up his arm with the cheap bandages, making sure that everything was hidden and secured. Once he was satisfied, he put his clothes back on, grabbed the room key and walked out.