Torikago (Cage)
by Monnie

You would like to say that his hair sifts like silk through your fingers, but the truth is, it doesn't. It can't, of course, you're too practical to know otherwise. You always wake up earlier than he does—necessities dictated by your job and his late hours—and the times when he lets you close enough to toy with his hair are, well, so few and far between that you've resorted to doing it when he's asleep. He's moving too much—doing too much; his research, his job for the newspaper—during the daytime for you to catch him, and you don't want to get in his way.

Much as you've been accused of silly idealism on more than one occasion, there's really no way that hair much rumpled by sleep could possibly trail through your fingers as nicely as you imagine, in any case.

Still, you're always a little disappointed when you reach your fingers through that long, tangled black hair, trail your thumb across a high cheekbone whose line is softened by sleep, and find… a petulant twist of his lips and a clouded eye cracking open to demand, "What the Hell, Choutarou, can't you see I'm sleeping?"

And that long hair is always knotted between your fingertips, matted by sweat if the night is hot and there wasn't time or opportunity or forethought to turn on the cooler.

Well, really, now, what do you expect? You apologise, of course, shifting over to give him more room, because he complains about your heat—it's been years since you truly trained, but the athlete's metabolism has still stayed with you. And you're careful the next time you touch his hair, telling yourself that you won't forget again.

A week later. Two. A month, if you're lucky. You always forget.

There might have been a time when things were different—it hasn't been all that long, objectively speaking, since you walked out of Hyotei's rust-pitted gates with the heavy plastic roll of your diploma in hand, sakura petals in your hair and caught underneath your collar, but…

You didn't expect the hug, that day, arms draping over your shoulders as Shishido-san grinned up at you and demanded, "Oh, come on, you didn't think I was missing your graduation, did you?" And you buried your hands into his short, spiky hair and ruffled and cried until he laughed, his bony knee pressed into your thigh as he nudged you away.

Those interminable hours poring over books in law school, your years of practicing with a firm, tugged the years since that day like taffy, a thin and rubbery century of briefings and dates clinging to your fingers, and… and what, exactly? Partnership? This isn't partnership, but it's what you have, and you've always been good at making the best of things. Your middle school, your high school years… they're too solid in your mind to be real, hard and sharp as a shard of cinammon candy, or spicy mint gum.

Nothing could have been that sweet.

You're content, really. He does his job well—sometimes you're willing to admit that you do yours better—and as long as you don't ask him to step onto a tennis court, you don't fight.

Most of the time, anyway.

So when you play tennis—and you still do, three times a week; he liked this apartment because it was convenient, close to the office where he prefers to write his articles; you liked it because of the wide bay windows that shatter light like crystal over the living room and the club that's a short jog away—you play singles, with other young professionals in their thirties. After the incident last year, they're always very careful not to ask about your home life—well, it's Japan, and you understand if they prefer to discuss wives and newborn babies. Or their jobs—one of them is a history professor at a small university, and his stories always make you smile.

Sometimes you laugh, even, because your serve isn't what it once was, but he doesn't know that—he always pretends to duck out of the way when you pretend to hit a ball at him, and it stirs memories that move slow and deep under the thin, sticky skim of years. A certain senpai teasing you by standing at the service line on the other end of the net, perfectly still except for the wind teasing through his ponytail, as you served—knowing that there was no possible way that you could control a ball well enough to hit him.

Well, until you did; he wore that black eye so proudly for almost three weeks. Nineteen days, actually. You should know—you watched it fade through a rainbow of colours with somewhat macabre fascination.

You're fairly certain it was just luck—good or bad, it's hard to say, you were still a first-year in middle school then—but he always claimed that you'd finally gotten fed up at the teasing. It had been getting annoying, but why that was something he was so delighted about… he just thumped your shoulder when you asked.

It wasn't Monday, or Wednesday, or Friday—none of your normal opponents would be on the courts, but you didn't have to be at the office until after noon, and you did want the crisp autumny wind through your hair, the chain of your cross rasping against your skin when you run, and that familiar grip in your hands. You've always had strong hands.

Perhaps—and it's been quite awhile—you might even call up Atobe-san for a one-set match… he'll beat you, of course, but he'll bring along Jirou-san, and Jirou-san bouncing and cheering always makes a match a little less like a match and a little more like a game. Then the three of you might go out for coffee, and there'd be Jirou-san's ingenuous, wide-eyed questions and Atobe-san's knowing gaze, and…

Well… perhaps you'll call them up next week.

You nudge the goosedown pillow out from under your arm and toe down the comforter, carefully, but not carefully enough—he stirs beside you at the shift of your weight leaving the bed, and your fingers—still in his hair—catch in a knot in the black hair tangled across your pillow, spread out like a delicate web over his slim shoulders and the white sheets.

You always wake up earlier than he does, but there's no way that hair tangled by sleep can be silky—but how was it that hair tousled by wind and tennis could have been? Was?

"Go back to sleep, Kouji," you coax, softly. "I'll wake you when breakfast's ready."

You slip from the bed and he rolls over, a low mutter rumbling out from under the pillow—something about being inconsiderate. And as you pad barefoot into the kitchen, you wonder—just a little sadly—why you've always been attracted to men with long hair. Really, it took so much work to grow it out—you understand that a little better, now—but perhaps it also took a certain kind of person.

There's a time—or two, or ten, you discard them with the frequency of bits of legal pad with old and unnecessary notes scribbled on them—when you think what it might be like if Kouji cut his hair short. If things could be different—more like partnership, rather than… than what you had. What you have.

But it's silly to think that someone cutting their hair could change them, after all.

Note: 'Ootori' actually means 'phoenix,' and 'Torikago' isn't strictly a cage, but a birdcage. Sadly, 'birdcage' for me is always associated with Robin Williams and comedic gay men, so...

The End

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