Rikkai did end up winning the Nationals that year in a dominant 3-0 fashion. It was an emotional moment for all the members of the Rikkai Boys’ Tennis Team. All of their hard work and determination to win for Yukimura’s sake had finally come to fruition. The boys stood proudly with their tear-stained faces as they accepted the trophy with the crowd roaring in celebration. It was a memorable moment for everyone watching and for the entire high school tennis scene. True to their words, the team disbanded the day after the finals. As much as they all wanted to continue playing, they all knew that playing together on the same team would be more painful and unproductive.
In Sayumi’s case, she continued to head the Beautifications Committee as all of this was happening around her. She started seeing the ex-regulars less and less, now that they had all gone their separate ways. Her relationship with Mouri developed slowly since the day she agreed to go out with him. They went out on a few dates here and there, but they were not very frequent. Mouri himself couldn’t spend much time with her due to attending cram school for the university entrance exams after regular school had ended. She didn’t mind it and actually preferred to be left alone, seeing as she still hadn’t made up her mind about how she felt towards him. Once the examination season was over, there was quite a bit of downtime until the results were announced. Mouri did not miss the opportunity to take her out on a proper date, now that he had nothing else left to do but wait.
The two were enjoying a light lunch at a quiet cafe after watching an anime film in the nearby theatre. It was an abnormally sunny, late-January day. The conversation between the two of them flowed very naturally, as they took the time to catch up on stuff that they missed due to the entrance exams. Sayumi was rambling about something that happened with Kirihara the other day during class while Mouri listened and studied her expressions.
“... and that’s the story of how Kirihara almost blew up the entire chemistry lab last Wednesday. What an idiot, right?” she laughed.
“I don’t understand how your teacher didn’t just kick him out before it even got that far. What a guy,” he commented.
“I know! I’m so glad I wasn’t his partner. Poor Yamauchi-kun. Guy was thoroughly traumatized after that.”
Mouri didn’t respond as he continued to stare and admire the girl sitting in front of him. He found himself entranced by the way the sunlight filtering through the window of the cafe casted a soft glow on her face and hair. There was something hypnotizing about the way she handled a knife and fork as she ate her food. Though these gestures were quite mundane and plain to a passerby, Mouri couldn’t help but appreciate the beauty in its simplicity.
Sayumi noticed he was staring at her intently and felt her cheeks flush. “M-mouri-senpai?”
“You’re adorable when you’re flustered, Sayumi-chan,” he teased. “And I told you to just call me by my first name. Calling me your senpai sounds so impersonal, you know.”
“Jusaburou is too long of a name to say,” she pouted.
“But you just said it.”
“Cold as ever, Sayumi-chan.” He leaned forward and placed his arms on the table to support his head. “It is nice to finally see you again. It was just so lonely studying for the dreaded entrance exams and not being able to see your face.”
“I do hope you actually did well on them. It would be a waste if you put in all this effort and then did bad.” She set her cutlery down and leaned back into her chair. “When do those results even come out?”
“In a few days, I would wager. Some of them have already come out, but it’s not like those schools are worth mentioning or going to.”
“Have you decided where you wanted to go? You did apply to a bunch of places for very different things.”
“Somewhere far away from Kanagawa. It’s time for a change in scenery.”
Sayumi couldn’t help but be a little sad. “How far do you plan on going?”
“Sendai, most likely. Staying in the Rikkai education system isn’t going to allow me to grow as a person, you know?” He studied her expression before reaching over and holding her hand. “Aw, don’t give me that face. You’re making this a lot harder than it needs to be.”
“I can’t help it. Life sure catches up to you quickly.”
“You are right.” Mouri sighed as he stood up from his seat. “Come on, princess.” He held out his hand for her to accept. “There’s some place I want to visit. I hope you don’t mind accompanying me.”
She grabbed her hand as he helped her stand up. “Where are we going?”
“You’ll find out when we get there.”
Mouri led her around the area aimlessly with no further explanation as to where they were going. On the way to their destination, he picked up a small bouquet of pansies, a box of incense and a lighter. Sayumi followed him quietly as she wondered whose grave he wanted to visit. As soon as they arrived at the cemetery, they made their way to a familiar tombstone. Mouri cleared off the snow that had collected before performing the ritual washing. Sayumi placed the flowers down gently in front of the stone. The both of them lit some incense and stuck it in the holder before praying in silence. Once they were done, Mouri knelt down and pulled out the medal he had won during the Nationals from his coat pocket. He gently set the item down beside a picture frame that contained a photograph of the former Rikkai Boys’ Tennis Team holding the larger trophy they had won earlier. He smiled fondly before getting back up.
“Mouri-senpai! You’re not seriously going to leave that here,” Sayumi asked in shock.
“It was never my medal to begin with. I took his place and played for him. I’m just returning it to its rightful owner.” He looked up to the sky and began to talk to it, as if Yukimura was listening. “Sorry it took so long, my lovely kouhai. Entrance exams are a lot of work, you know.”
Sayumi stood in silence as she watched him continue to ‘talk’ to the sky.
“I lent you my strength to play tennis with them one last time. I do hope I didn’t disappoint you, captain.”
The two stood there in silence, as if they were waiting for a response from something that couldn’t speak.
Mouri shifted his attention to Sayumi. “Well, that’s all I wanted to do. Let’s get out of here. It’s freezing.”
She nodded as he held her hand and led her back out of the place.
At the same time, over in the quiet, daylit streets of Doyama-cho, Shiraishi moped around inside the dimly lit Cafe Dazzle bar. The owner of the bar, Kazu, was busy designing a new menu and needed a guinea pig to feed it to. Night had yet to set in, so the district was desolate, save for the odd foreign tourists roaming around. He sighed as he continued to drink whatever strange concoctions Kazu was mixing.
“Kurarin, has my cooking and mixing gotten that bad? I am truly hurt,” Kazu sighed as they wiped away some fake tears.
“Don’t be so full of yourself, Kazu-san,” Shiraishi responded. “Your old menu was fine. I don’t know why you’re asking me to help you test out new stuff when you could just ask Koharu instead.”
“Ko-chan isn’t nearly as fun as you are to tease, Kurarin!” they beamed.
“Can’t you just leave me alone?”
“I could, but you did accept the invitation and you did bring yourself here.” Kazu leaned over the bar and looked at Shiraishi with a mischievous glint in their eyes. “So, which girl or boy has gotten you all mopey?”
“Why do you ask questions that you know the answer to, Kazu-san?”
Kazu sighed. “Kurarin, how much longer are you going to keep this up? You know Sei-chan isn’t here anymore. Even if he was, you said it yourself that he was in love with someone else.”
“Of course I know!” he snapped. “I’ve suffered heartbreak before, but nothing like this.”
“Sleeping with other young men and women isn’t going to fill the void, Kurarin. Perhaps you should see a therapist.” Kazu stood back up and walked into the kitchen to continue cooking.
“Are you saying you’re not good enough anymore?”
“I never was. I’m just someone who runs a small business in the gay district of a major metropolitan area,” they called out from the kitchen.
Shiraishi sighed as he placed his head onto the bar counter. He knew Kazu was right. He had to find a way to get over Yukimura Seiichi if he wanted to stop feeling pain. He let his thoughts run wild as his tired body forced him to fall asleep in the warm, dark cafe.
Shiraishi woke up standing in a strange field of sunflowers. He held his hand up to try and block out the harsh sunlight from entering his eyes. As he looked out into the field, he saw a slender figure standing in the middle of it. He pushed his way through the field, as he tried to get closer and closer. The more he walked towards the figure, the further away it got. Soon enough, he was full out sprinting towards the figure until he tripped and fell face first into the ground below him. He struggled to get himself back up, but by the time he was up on his own two feet, the figure had disappeared from his sight. He couldn’t shake the feeling that something about this reality wasn’t right.
Someone tapped him from behind on the shoulder. Shiraishi turned around hesitantly.
“Sei-chan!” He reached out to try and hold the boy in his arms, but found himself passing through the boy’s body.
“Let go, Kurarin,” Yukimura stated.
Shiraishi turned back around to face him. “‘Let go’?”
“Let go, Kurarin.”
“Sei-chan, I can’t let go. I love you.”
Yukimura’s voice began to distort. “Let go, Kurarin.”
The blue sky around them began to turn a blood red colour as the sun disappeared. A strong wind started blowing around and tore up all of the flowers in the field and began swirling around the both of them like a vortex. The fragments started cutting Shiraishi’s skin but left Yukimura untouched. He held up his arms to try and shield himself from further harm. The fragments started to tear away at his bandages, exposing his heavily scarred arm underneath.
Yukimura reached out and ran his fingers across Shiraishi’s scarred forearm. As he touched each of the marks, the cuts reopened and started spilling blood. Shiraishi started panicking, but he couldn’t pull his arm away from the other boy. Yukimura began laughing in a maniacal way as blood continued to pour out of the reopened wounds.
“Let go! Let go! Let go!” he kept shouting with glee.
Shiraishi shut his eyes tightly and reopened them. Upon opening them, he was greeted by Kazu, who was shaking him in an effort to stir him awake.
“Kurarin! Are you alright?”
Shiraishi sat up in a panic and began to unwrap the bandages on his arm. He let out a sigh of relief upon seeing the glimmering golden gauntlet hidden beneath before rewrapping it back up to hide it.
“What an absolutely terrible dream…” he muttered to himself.
“Dream? Kurarin, what happened?” Kazu looked at the sweating, panicked boy with worry.
Shiraishi started rubbing his head to try and soothe the pain that was beginning to form. “I think I’m going to go home for the day. Sorry, Kazu-san.” He promptly stood up, walked over to grab his coat off of the hooks, put it on along with his shoes and left the cafe without saying another word.
Kazu could only sigh in defeat. “Nothing’s ever going to get through that boy’s thick skull...”