Title: Pressed Flowers
Disclaimer: Konomi's, I'm just playing.
Warnings: BL, angst in buckets, a tiny bit of language
Author's Note: This is really a combination of a lot of things. It's a tie in to a remark I (well, Gakuto) made in A Day in the Life of Mukahi Gakuto, but it's also the product of a discussion of pigment versus dye, specifically in relation to flowers, that I had in printmaking today. Either way, please enjoy!
He remembers it in full, brilliant colour, as if it were yesterday. It was mid-May, a Sunday, their third year of middle school; everything was in full bloom. Hyoutei Gakuen was known for, among other things, its pretty campus, and all along the paths and in the gardens, flowers shone their greatest, all colours illuminated in the pleasant spring sunlight. The grass was a vibrant green, the various blossoms standing out against it like cheerful confetti, and with every soft gust of wind, cherry blossom petals rained down as if out of a romance movie. The aroma of flowers in the air was strong, yet somehow without being overpoweringly so; everything was soft, everything was pleasant, everything was brilliant and beautiful.
Gakuto fit in well amongst the rest of it, he remembers thinking, being brilliant and beautiful just like the flowers. His hair shone with an almost impossible luminescence in the sun, causing even the most striking roses to pale in comparison, and it swayed with all the weightlessness of the petals on the breeze as Gakuto skipped along the pathway, brushing lightly against his cheeks, which were pale and smooth enough to make even the lilies jealous. In those pretty blue eyes, there was a sparkle, a shimmer, which could only remind him of the gleam on the pond in the morning sun, and upon Gakuto's lips, there shone the most beautiful, vibrant smile as he laughed, his voice a pleasant as the scent of flowers on the breeze, "Come on, Yuushi!"
And it somehow it almost didn't feel right, touching the hand of such a wonderful, spritely creature (he was reminded, in some way, of A Midsummer Night's Dream), but Gakuto was clutching tightly to his hand, those sweet little fingers laced between each of his, tugging him into the main garden until they were surrounded by a scattered rainbow, of sorts, of everything in full bloom at once. Gakuto was still laughing as he ran down the rows, full of energy, full of life, and when they were just about in the centre, he collapsed, purposefully pulling him along.
They lay in the grass for a moment before Gakuto sat up, plucking a buttercup from the edge of one of the beds. "I like these ones," he commented, extending it forward with the joy of a child sharing some new discovery.
He couldn't help but laugh. "Those are weeds, you know," he replied, taking the flower from Gakuto's hands all the same.
Gakuto's pout was adorable, made him want to kiss him, but before he had the chance, Gakuto spoke again. "So? That just makes them cooler, because they're wild and don't have to listen to anyone." As if that made any sense in terms of flowers, and Gakuto knew it didn't; he laughed again, blushing a little, though pretending not to. It was entirely endearing, and he took this opportunity, pulling Gakuto into his arms and placing a kiss on the top of his head before winding the stem of the flower into his hair. It was silly, really, but somehow, on a day like this, it just seemed right.
He expected Gakuto to grumble or make fun of him or swat it away, but, to his surprise, he only looked up and smiled that bright, brilliant, beautiful smile and said, "I love you, Yuushi," as if it was the only thing that mattered to him in the world.
He didn't respond, but he was sure Gakuto must have known that he felt like the luckiest boy in the world, to be loved by someone so wonderful, so beautiful.
It was in second year of high school that he up and disappeared. No one knew what had become of him, not any of his classmates, not the teachers, not even Atobe. He was simply gone, vanished, and life fell back into place almost as quickly as he had gone; it was as if he had never existed.
Or at least that's the way it looked on the surface. Bereft of anything else to cling to, Gakuto held onto hope for days, waited for weeks. But days faded into weeks and weeks greyed into months, and soon, the reality of it became painfully apparent. In the end, he put on an air of indifference around everyone else and held out until the evenings when, alone in his room, he cried, clutching to his chest the book between the pages of which existed the last bit of his love, crushed flat and dry in order to preserve a little bit of that day when Gakuto's world had sunshine.
He returned three years later in early April amongst the just-blooming cherries, moderately famous and looking almost entirely the same as he had when he left, Oshitari Yuushi, the prodigal Regular-turned-pro. After winning his first title (the Australian open, in an amazing turn, a sweep from under), he had injured his ankle and was taking the year off, and finally, three years after dropping off the face of the Japanese tennis scene without so much as a word of goodbye, he was back, he was home.
His first priority, of course, was to find Gakuto, but that proved more difficult than expected. His name was not listed in any phone book he could find, and no one in the administration of Hyoutei Gakuen knew where he was currently, either. A trip to Gakuto's family earned him a very polite, tight-lipped, "No, we haven't seen him, have a nice day," which really only left him with one option.
Still, somehow, Atobe always got information about any given person before that person even knew himself, and when Oshitari arrived at the Atobe estate, he found all of the old Regulars waiting for him-- all but Gakuto. He did his best to smile and sit through a few minutes of pleasantries and questions before, abruptly, he cut to the chase and simply asked, "Where is he?"
The room grew very silent at that, and it made Oshitari's stomach clench in a way that was entirely unfamiliar to him. No one met his eyes, not even Atobe, and the air suddenly weighed on him, was too thick to breathe. "Did something... happen?"
Shishido stood suddenly, causing his chair to fall, but Ohtori put a hand on his shoulder and he bit his tongue, righting his chair and sitting again as Ohtori, gentle, polite as always, explained. "Nothing really happened, it's just that... after you left, he quit tennis and we didn't see him around much anymore, and..." he paused, before adding, softly, the most sickening of all, "and, well... he started sleeping around quite a bit, and..."
That heavy silence returned, and, after a moment, Oshitari couldn't take it. Rising, he left without another word, feeling a bit like a puzzle piece that had faded and warped such that it didn't fit in its place anymore. After all, he had to find Gakuto, and that wasn't going to happen if he just sat here.
But as much as he tried, he simply didn't find Gakuto. He didn't know what to do but to give up.
By late June, he had made his way through most of his familial obligations now that he was back in Japan, and, as all the flowers struggled against the beginnings of the summer heat, he found himself in Osaka, on the pretense of visiting Kenya, but mostly to get away from everything. Though he liked it here, there was something out-of-place about being back in Japan, like he had somehow slid into the wrong dimension, something a little uncomfortable. It was a little easier once he was out of Tokyo, out of what should be normal but somehow wasn't, but it was a feeling that hung with him even here.
He had a lot of time on his hands and not a lot that he could do; to keep in shape without worsening his injury and because it was better than nothing, he took walks. Though yellowing and bending tiredly with the onslaught of summer, the flora was still relatively interesting, if not nearly so pretty and lively as spring to look at, and some of the old, traditional houses nearby had nice architecture to offer. He had never seen who lived beyond the bamboo gates, but he couldn't help but wonder, romantic that he still was.
And then one day, amongst the flowers withering as if the heat were literally weighing on them, Oshitari saw a lone figure up against the fence. Curious, he moved towards the person; slight and delicate, it appeared to be a woman in a pale floral yukata, idly fingering the dying blooms. Still, there was something about her that captured Oshitari's attention, and he was drawn closer still, until a sick feeling began to grow in his stomach and travel up to his chest, because that red hair and those blue eyes and small figure could only belong to one person.
Gakuto didn't see him until it was too late to flee, though he looked as if he considered trying, anyway. But Oshitari would not allow that, not after all this time, and he caught Gakuto's eyes, gazing back into them without hesitation, and for a moment, Gakuto was frozen in place, and then Oshitari was at the fence and Gakuto was averting his eyes as if Oshitari might hit him, which Oshitari would have thought was strange if he wasn't still too caught up in the fact that this was Gakuto.
His throat felt tight and his heart was pounding out of his chest, and for a minute he had no words. Gakuto was still pointedly looking away, down at the ground, and Oshitari took the moment to look over him, now that he was closer. It was Gakuto, that was for certain, but it really was like he had somehow slipped into another universe, because this wasn't the Gakuto he knew. His hair was the same red it had always been, but now, grown long, it was as if some of the vibrance had dissipated, just as the airiness of it was now reigned back in a bun at the nape of his neck, decorated by a delicate lily secured in place by a pin. His skin, too, was still perfect, blemish free, but it was somehow paler now, without the flush of life that used to blossom in his cheeks. His eyes, too, staring so intently at the lawn beneath him, seemed a duller blue, greyer, almost, and the yukata, clearly feminine, with its pale pink flowers so delicately scattered about, which would have seemed entirely out of place on his Gakuto, somehow didn't seem wrong on the slender shoulders of this young man. He didn't know what had happened, he didn't know where to start, but, suddenly, he realized he should speak, and so he did.
"Gakuto... look at me...?"
Almost immediately, Gakuto did as told, as if he were a dog following its master's command, and this unsettled Oshitari almost more than the rest of it, because his Gakuto was never one to follow orders. Still, he couldn't really voice that, and so, instead, he said the first thing that came to mind. "I missed you."
For a moment, it was almost like his Gakuto was back; something sparked in those dulled eyes, but it was acerbic, sharp. A single laugh emerged from the delicate, (painted, Oshitari suspected) pale pink lips, biting with cynicism. "I'm sure," Gakuto responded, looking away again, a look playing across his face that Oshitari could clearly read: anger and pain. He couldn't hold the question back any longer.
"Gakuto-- what happened?"
Almost a sneer, almost the old Gakuto, and Oshitari couldn't decide if it was better or worse, more or less heart-wrenching to see the one he had loved so dearly glaring daggers into his eyes. "What happened?" That sharp laugh again. "After you left me, I didn't know what to do with myself-- I know, laugh at me for being so stupid, but I was in love with you, godda--" he cut off put a hand delicately to his lips, the well-trained gesture out of place against his emotional voice. "I was in love with you, Yuushi." There were tears in his eyes now, and he was obviously trying to hold them back to little avail. "But you left, and then I had nothing, and I didn't know what to do with myself, and I quit tennis and I was so alone--" He cut off, like he knew when he ought to and did so with discipline-- nothing like the Gakuto Oshitari always knew. A single tear rolled down his pale cheek, and he closed his eyes, breathed, and started again. "But then I met Nakamura-san, and he takes care of me now."
Oshitari was less confused than he desperately, desperately wanted to be. "Takes care of you?"
Gakuto nodded, his eyes falling down again to gaze steadily at his hands clasped politely in front of him. "Yes, takes care of me. He's very kind to me, and gives me most anything I ask for, so long as I do as he says, and he--"
"You're his mistress." There was a cruel, biting sarcasm in Oshitari's voice that he didn't mean to put there, but jealousy mixed poorly with the sickness in his stomach and burned in his throat.
Gakuto looked like a deer in the headlights for a moment, then turned. "I should go--"
"No." Oshitari surprised himself with his forcefulness as he reached across the fence, grasping a slender wrist, effectively preventing Gakuto's flight. Gakuto winced obviously but didn't pull away, slowly turning back to face Oshitari; it was only once he was looking into Gakuto's wide, watery eyes again that he realized he was actually physically hurting him.
Gakuto gasped and squirmed a bit when Oshitari leaned further over the fence, pushing back the yukata sleeve to reveal a five-fingered bruise, purple and garish against Gakuto's pale wrist. There was hatred in his eyes when he met Gakuto's again. "He hurts you."
"No--" Gakuto defended automatically for a moment, then stopped himself, looking intently at the wilting peony to his left. "He... can be forceful at times. He doesn't mean to be."
"Who is he?" Oshitari wasn't exactly sure what he was looking for, but he had to ask.
"Nakamura-san?" Gakuto was looking at him again, his eyes wide, as if he was trying to read him. It was the sort of look Gakuto used to give him when they were younger on special occasions, when Oshitari would tease him with a surprise. It was wonderful and painful and sickening all at once, and Oshitari pushed the memories from his mind and tried to listen intently to Gakuto's description. "He's a businessman... his company works alongside my father's sometimes. It's... how I met him. He's really pretty average looking for a businessman; tall, serious, greying..." There was a little of the old Gakuto back as he shrugged. "He's got a wife and kids back in Tokyo, but he's only there when he had to be, and she's only for show. I stay here, and he's here as much as he can be, and I get the house to myself when he's in Tokyo..."
There was an awkward silence as Oshitari tried to process it all without picturing it, without picturing this middle-aged businessman with his-- no, not his, not anymore, he corrected himself ruefully-- Gakuto. After a moment, there was only one word he could possibly speak, and it came tumbling from his lips in a horse whisper. "Why?"
Gakuto was back to acerbic. "It's not like I can take care of myself, you know. Barely passed high school. I always assumed you'd--" he cut off sharply, looked miserable, recovered. "I always thought I'd... I need someone to take care of me. I'm pretty, you know, and that's it. You always knew that." Something in him softened and he laughed slightly, and Oshitari could see the memories in his eyes, all the times Oshitari teased him about his barely-passing grades, his lagging stamina on the courts... he wanted so desperately to go back, now, now that they were existing in this twisted future that he never foresaw when he made those jokes carelessly in middle school.
But perhaps they could go back, somehow. "Run away. Come with me now." He was entirely and wholly serious; his heart was racing again. Gakuto had to say yes, of course he'd say yes. What they had together, that had to be infinitely better than being the toy of some old man who kept him as a pet out of the city.
But Gakuto was shaking his head, slowly, a sad smile on his lips. Oshitari felt his hopes fall, and it must have shown on his face, because Gakuto leaned across the fence, placing those tiny, soft hands on either side of his face, touching him for the first time since this chance meeting had begun and carefully, softly placing a chaste kiss on his lips. It wasn't much, but Oshitari knew not to grab, not to try for more. This, he realized, though he didn't understand, didn't want to know, was Gakuto saying goodbye.
A pendant swung around Gakuto's neck from underneath the yukata as he returned to his side of the fence. Oshitari couldn't quite tell what it was-- it was something in glass, something yellow. Gakuto seemed to notice and follow his gaze, because he smiled nostalgically, fingering the pendant. "You probably don't remember. It's something you gave to me a long time ago."
Oshitari looked closer, and suddenly, in a whirlwind of colour, the memory plays back before his eyes. The buttercup. The one he had put in Gakuto's hair, the one he had pressed in a book. He said nothing, he could say nothing.
Gakuto's smile wavered but held as he looked fondly at the little crushed flower. "I liked to think you loved me, too. Even though it was stupid, because you left me... well, I kept it, because I wanted to keep thinking you loved me."
"I do," Oshitari stated stupidly, flatly. He wished he didn't understand. "I do love you, Gakuto. I want to take you away from here."
Gakuto looked around slowly, looked at the white flowers turning brown at the edges on yellowing, sagging stems. Looked at the spacious yard, the old house, down the road and back again. He seemed to loose focus for a moment before he smiled back at Oshitari. "I want to come with you, Yuushi. You know I do. I love you. But you... we both know I can't."
"You can't." It wasn't a question, but Gakuto seemed to take it as one.
"I'm not yours anymore, Yuushi. You gave me up when you left three years ago. And I know it was what you wanted... when I saw you on TV, I realized, and I... well, I'll never understand, but I've forgiven you." Oshitari wondered when his selfish, bitchy, whiny little Gakuto had grown up, but he didn't know what to do besides nod.
"I still love you."
Gakuto smiled and nodded, leaning forward again to kiss him on the cheek. "Go win the world. I'll be watching you."
Oshitari was trying to think of some sort of response when Gakuto started, stiffened suddenly, glancing back at the house frantically, as if he could hear some noise that Oshitari couldn't. When he turned back to Oshitari, he was obviously trying to hide the panic in his eyes. "He'll be wanting me. Go, he'll be angry if he sees you. I love you, Yuushi, okay?" He made the hand-mouth gesture again suddenly, as if he hadn't meant to say that, but then softened into a smile. "I do. Goodbye, and good luck." And with that, he turned, darted back into the house, and there was a terrible finality in the sound of the paper door sliding shut behind him.
He can remember it in full, brilliant colour, as if it were yesterday. It was mid-May, a Sunday, their third year of middle school; everything was in full bloom. Hand wound in his, Gakuto dragged him in amongst the flowers, the colours, the life. It was easy then, holding him close, kissing him, calling him his own.
He can remember it, yes, but he tries his hardest not to, because it makes the dull, faded hue of the flowers he's surrounded by now that much easier to bear.