There was intense pressure on boys to become semes from the first day they showed up at St. Catherine’s. Some have likened it to hazing, and they would be correct.
The senpais, or upperclassmen, secured permission at the start of every school year to take a group of students to the Sports Complex at night under the guise of training. In actuality, the boys were threatened, physically assaulted, sexually harassed, and demeaned. The claim was that it was toughening them up in preparation for seme/uke. Any who didn’t finish the week of training would be considered an uke and should expect a seme to dominate them. Very, very few ever failed the training for fear of being an uke.
There were also tangible benefits being a seme as these boys generally excelled in sports, making them popular among the instructors and the student body. Thus, every year, a new group of semes were born to perpetuate the cycle.
It should be noted that not all semes were created this way since targets of the hazing focused on the bigger- and stronger-looking boys. The training trickled down to the rest of the class as the newly trained semes enforced seme/uke. Everything from personality, attitude, and ability to fight all played a major role in the selection of semes; basically, the strong were made semes and the weak were made ukes.
—Hazing and Perpetuating the Cycle of Abuse by Ryunosuke Koyasu, former seme.
As Kato entered his room, he noticed that Handa was sitting at the desk writing something. Kato didn’t bother to say a greeting. His intent was to sit in the chair and quietly read a little more of the most detestable book ever. Thankfully, soon the book would be finished and then the class would move on to the next book. He hoped it wouldn’t be a terrible one.
“Hey,” Handa said without looking up from his writing.
Kato thought Handa had a neutral tone, but not friendly either. “Hey,” he replied, matching Handa’s tone.
“The semes are planning to make another move on those two ukes,” Handa said.
All sorts of imagery flashed in Kato’s mind of Matsuoka and Ikeda with more bruises and cowering at the table as they barely ate. Instantly, he became angry. “Why the fuck can’t you guys leave them alone?” Kato asked.
Handa slammed down his pencil and turned and glared at Kato. “Listen, you ass. I have nothing to do with it.”
“Oh yeah? Then tell your friends to leave them alone! They don’t want semes. Don’t you get that?” Kato asked as he glared back. Part of him wondered at the wisdom of arguing again with Handa, but the other part of him was urging him to take a stand and try to help the two ukes.
Handa closed his eyes for a brief moment and took a breath, then turned back to his paper and picked up his pen and started writing. “I don’t have friends. Don’t need any, don’t want any,” he said as he wrote.
Kato grabbed his book from his shelf and sat in a chair. He mumbled, “With your attitude, no wonder.”
“Fuck off, Mr. Condescening,” Handa said, again without bothering to stop writing. “I didn’t have to say shit. I don’t actually give a fuck about those two weirdos, or you, for that matter. But I thought I’d, at least, be a nice guy and give you a warning.”
Kato looked at the cover of his book. It had a picture of a whaling boat caught in rough seas with a giant whale leaping out of the water. He wondered why his life always felt like that tiny boat being tossed about. “Do you know when?” Kato asked.
Handa shrugged. “Nope. And I don’t know where.”
Kato began to worry a bit. He didn’t know what he was going to tell Matsuoka and Ikeda when they ate dinner together tonight. He liked them and wanted to be friends, and he firmly believed that friends stick up for friends. Then he recalled what Handa had just said. “Isn’t Xan-san your friend?” he asked.
“Not that it’s any of your business, but no.”
Kato sat there watching Handa write. A hundred other questions where whirling about in his mind. “But you guys hang out and swap,” Kato said, sounding halfway between a question and a statement.
“So?” Handa asked.
“So?” Kato replied.
“Just because I hang out with the guy doesn’t mean we’re friends.”
“That makes no sense,” Kato said.
Handa stopped writing and took another deep breath. After a moment, he spoke again. “What does friendship mean to you?” Handa continued writing.
Kato ran his finger along the pages of his book as he thought for a moment. “Well, someone I share interests with, talk with, hang out with. I dunno. I just like them.”
Handa snorted. “And I’m the shallow one?”
“Hey! I’m not shallow!” Kato said in protest.
Handa didn’t reply but kept writing. After a minute, Kato flipped to the bookmarked page and began reading. And, after reading the same paragraph twice without comprehension, he asked the burning question, “Then what does friendship mean to you?”
After a moment, Handa put his pen down and stared at the paper before him. “A friend is someone who’s like a brother, thick and thin, sharing an unbreakable bond. It’s deep.”
Kato thought of it for a moment, and the first image that came to mind was his wolf, Takahashi. Their friendship was like that. He was amused at the perverse thought that if Takahashi’s like a brother, he’s having sex with his brother. How incestuous! he thought. A silly grin formed on his face.
Handa sighed as he was flipping through his papers. Kato wasn’t sure why he wanted to keep the conversation going, but he wanted to learn a little more about Handa. Maybe there was common ground somewhere. “Have you ever had any friends?” Kato asked.
“Yes. Before I came here,” Handa replied. He seemed to have found the paper he was looking for and put it on top and continued writing.
Kato remembered that Handa started at St. Catherine’s with Takahashi the year before. “So, you haven’t had a friend since last year?” he asked.
Handa looked over to Kato. “What are you, the police? What the fuck is up with all the questions?”
Kato looked down at his book. “Sorry, just talking.”
Handa was quiet for another few moments, and Kato could hear the scratching of the pen on paper. He was insanely curious now as to what Handa was writing. “No, I’ve had no friends since I’ve been here.”
“Why not?” Kato asked.
“We go to the same school, don’t we?”
Kato didn’t understand where this was going, but said, “Yeah.”
“You know how fucked up this place is.”
“Yeah,” Kato said again.
“Yeah, well imagine what it’s like for a guy like me here,” Handa said. Kato could sense some bitterness in those words.
“What do you mean?”
Handa put down his pen and stood up, glaring down at Kato. “Look at me!” He motioned to himself with his hands. “When you’re this tall, everyone expects you to be a seme, and dominate his uke, or otherwise something’s wrong with you. Every uke is afraid of me and half the semes too.”
“You have no fucking clue how hard it is to be a seme here,” Handa said as he sat back down.
Kato wondered about that for a minute as he watched Handa flip through some more papers and then continue writing. It’s true, Kato was not a seme. His general interactions over the past month with semes have only been with a select few, and most of what he knew about it was seen through Takahashi’s eyes. He did think that it had been hard for Takahashi to be a seme, and he had seen some of Tachibana’s troubles. What he hadn’t realized is that it might be much harder, in general, to be a seme that he thought.
“Yeah, but now you have an uke, right?” Kato asked.
“I told you before, he’s not my uke,” Handa said.
Kato still didn’t comprehend this. “I don’t get it. You can’t be the uke.”
Handa didn’t bother to look up or stop writing, but there was an irritation in his voice as he asked, “Why the fuck not?”
Kato froze. He wasn’t sure why, but he became a little afraid that he should even talking about this. He considered that maybe he went too far. “Sorry,” he said.
Handa put his pen down and stared at the page. “What is going on between Xan-san and I really is nobody else’s business. I wish people would just leave me the fuck alone about it.”
Kato looked down at his book again. “Sorry,” he repeated.
Handa got up and went out the door and closed it behind him, without so much as a word or a look. Kato felt that he really did go too far, prying into Handa’s business. But that didn’t stop him from getting up and looking down at the papers on the desk. They looked like song lyrics and poetry. One song seemed to be full of anger, with some strong and coarse language. Another was a poem about two lovers and Hanami.*
* 花見Hanami (han-nah-mee), literally “flower viewing,” a yearly traditional custom in Japan where people observe the blooms of the cherry blossoms (“sakura”) from the end of March to early May.