Something i thought of a while back but never really got to write until now. ;;

Title: Darkening Clouds

Summary: The prequel to Rain Falls. For every tear that fell from his eyes, two tears fell from the one who had to hurt him. (1)

Warnings: Angst ahead.


If there is a secret, to want to reveal it is human nature.

That's the way of things.

But there are secrets I can't disclose if I really want to protect you. (2)

-----------------------

Darkening Clouds

------------------------

A missed call?

As soon as Tezuka read the caller's name and the number below it, he hastily called back.

After three rings, a soft voice answered. "Echizen desu."

"What happened?" It had been four years since Ryoma came and decided to permanently settle in New York, and Tezuka couldn't recall a single time that he got a call while he was at work. There was a reason why the boy always asked for his schedule, and he would always call at least fifteen minutes after Tezuka got home.

But today, he had called.

Unfortunately, the day had been so hectic that Tezuka didn't have time to check his cellphone until well after office hours. "Are you alright?"

"Ah, Buchou. It's you."

There was a brief pause, and Tezuka was sure that Ryoma was contemplating whether he ought to lie or not. Tezuka smiled fondly. This happened all the time. But he had yet to hear a single lie from the younger boy.

"Are you busy on Saturday?"

He would never ask him out on a weekday either.

"No. I'm free all day. Actually, I have tomorrow off as well." Tezuka had long since stopped wondering how Ryoma could effortlessly make him offer extra information without having to ask.

"I see… I was planning to visit the doctor. Could you drive me?"

For a moment, Tezuka felt as though his heart skipped a beat. "I'll be right over."

---

Tezuka stopped in front of the door. He held on to the doorframe, panting hard. He knew that he should try to steady his breath before going in. He couldn't let Ryoma find out that he came in a hurry; Ryoma never liked other people to worry about him.

He knocked as soon as he was breathing evenly again.

Ryoma didn't answer.

He waited for a minute to pass before getting the spare key in his pocket.

When he entered the living room, only Ryoma's Himalayan spotted cat was there to greet him.

"Karupin." He bent down and scratched the back of its ears.

"Where's Echizen?"

The cat stretched gracefully before leading Tezuka to Ryoma's bedroom.

The door was ajar. Tezuka pushed it open and went in.

The sound seemed to have called Ryoma's attention, because the boy instantly turned to the door.

"Buchou? That was fast."

So. Ryoma had noticed he came in half the time it usually took him to get there. But whether or not he was upset over making his former captain worry, the blank face didn't give any indication.

Tezuka mused that was probably the case, because Echizen didn't even as much as meet his gaze when he arrived.

"Karupin, I know you're there. Come here." Ryoma patted the space beside him, but his gaze didn't waver.

Again, when Karupin jumped onto the bed and sat in his lap- purring contentedly- his gaze remained fixed on the same spot.

Tezuka frowned. 'There's something wrong in this picture…'

"Buchou? Why don't you come in?" Ryoma smirked. "Hey, this isn't the first time you came into my room. And it's not like we're doing something naughty, ne, Buchou?"

Tezuka bit back a smile. That playful voice. So he wasn't angry. But why would he still refuse to look at him?

"Karupin, don't!" Tezuka hadn't realized he had been spacing out until Ryoma practically yelled at the cat. Karupin was pawing at pictures that Tezuka had just noticed. Those pictures looked familiar. But why would Ryoma bring them out now? Not when it reminded him of painful things that he thought the boy wanted to forget.

"Karupin, please don't scratch them. They're very special to me."

This time, Tezuka couldn't help but smile. How could he when his heart felt so warm upon hearing those words? That must be what it's like to be loved. But as for him… he could only wonder how it would feel to be loved like that.

The person who took those pictures is truly lucky.

While Ryoma was picking up the pictures that Karupin scattered, Tezuka noticed that Ryoma's gaze was exactly where it was before. It seemed as if he was blindly fumbling around for something in the dark.

… Blindly?

The warmth in Tezuka's heart instantly vanished as a chill ran down his spine. And for the first time in his life, he understood the real meaning of fear.

But why? This wasn't unexpected. Tezuka knew from the moment he learned of Ryoma's illness that this was going to happen. He shouldn't have been this… affected.

No. It was just… He wasn't prepared.

And, he was certain, neither was Ryoma.

His whole body felt like lead as he dragged his feet and crossed the seemingly long distance between them. He sat- more like collapsed- right beside Ryoma and before his mind could protest, he hugged the boy for the very first time.

"Bu… Buchou? What's wrong?"

Tezuka wanted to laugh at how ironic that question was.

'How can you keep such a steady face? When the truth is-' "You're shaking." '- you're frightened.'

"Ahh… It's winter after all. Maybe I should adjust the heater."

Tezuka felt Ryoma's unsteady hands clench his shirt.

He held the boy tighter and softly said "That's why I'm hugging you right now. I'm just trying to keep you warm."

---

Tezuka couldn't tell when Ryoma had fallen asleep, or when he had decided to sit on the floor. At the moment he was absently running his hand through the boy's soft hair.

Looking at the curled up figure, he was suddenly overcome with nostalgia and remembered the first time Ryoma had told him about his condition.

---

Answering business calls were but a routine to Tezuka Kunimitsu. On the other hand, calls from his friends were few and far between. They were precious, because they were rare.

But they were not quite as unexpected as getting a call from a former teammate who was never good at dealing with other people to begin with.

A smile appeared on Tezuka's face when he saw the number on the cellphone screen.

Really, this person had a talent for making people drop their guard. And that Tezuka privately found it somewhat cute- rather than annoying- is the very proof of that.

Two minutes passed by in silence. For some reason, the other person still refused to speak.

Tezuka sighed.

"Echizen?"

"How did you…? Che…"

He could almost picture the pouting face. Tezuka's smile, if possible, became just a little bit brighter.

"I may have left Japan two years ago, but it doesn't mean that I've forgotten about the friends I left behind. I still have all your contact details, you know."

"Ne, Buchou, I…" Ryoma paused.

'He's having second thoughts about whether he should tell me or not…'

Echizen Ryoma being hesitant meant a problem. And the problem is serious enough that he couldn't handle it on his own, because he would never ask for help otherwise.

"Echizen, what's wrong?"

Ryoma still remained quiet. Now Tezuka knew for sure that the matter was really serious. "I… Forget it. I'll just call you some other time."

"Don't hang up."

Tezuka almost felt guilty for using a reprimanding tone on Ryoma, when the younger boy seemed really troubled. He sighed, and then continued more gently. "You made a long distance call from Japan all the way to New York. It can't be just a simple matter that I can easily brush aside. Besides, now that I know there's something wrong, I won't stop thinking about it. You started it, so finish it. Tell me what's bothering you."

"Buchou…" Ryoma quietly began. "I haven't been feeling well for the past months."

'He's been keeping it a secret for months!'

"Inui-senpai seemed to have noticed too, and, yesterday, he confronted me about it. He said that he didn't like the symptoms he was seeing, so it would be best for me to go for a check-up."

'It's not like Inui to be vague… Did he do it on purpose?'

"So today I decided to go see a doctor, and he said that the illness is already at its critical stage… Buchou, I'm sorry. I've been careless."

Tezuka felt as though the world around him became nothing but a very insignificant blur of unrecognizable images.

At that moment, there was only him and the person on the other end of the line and nothing else.

Nothing else mattered.

---

By the time Ryoma woke up, Tezuka was done preparing dinner and had already brought it into Ryoma's bedroom. The silence that engulfed them as they ate was tense- because of what happened earlier – but at the same time comfortingly familiar because it was something the both of them had already gotten used to.

Tezuka stayed on long after dinner. In truth, he didn't intend to leave; not that night, nor anytime soon.

He stood up and was just about to bring the dishes back to the kitchen when something caught his eye. He bent down and picked it up and found that it was actually a picture that fell on the floor, sticking out from under the sagging hem of the bed sheet.

"There's one more picture down here."

It was a photo of Echizen and some guy whose arm was around the pouting boy. Tezuka had to take a closer look before he realised that it was actually Momo. Except that, his hair was long- not gelled- and tied in a slapdash ponytail.

"Is this how Momoshiro looks now?"

Tezuka was rendered speechless when- for the first time since Ryoma came- he finally heard the younger boy laugh.

"Yeah. See how hectic university was? Our schedules were crazy! Momo-senpai didn't even have time to get a haircut anymore."

Echizen fell silent for a moment. And from his peaceful, yet somewhat regretful expression, Tezuka could easily tell that he was lost in the memories of the very first friend he had come to love. (3)

---

"…chizen! Oi! Echizeeeeen!"

Ryoma started. "What?"

Momo blinked at him. "Man, I've waved my hand in front of your face for, what, fifty times?"

"Ah, sorry… What is it?"

"What do you mean, 'What is it?'? We're right in front of your house! Aren't you going to get off my bike?"

"Oh… All right. See you tomorrow."

Ryoma absently stepped down. He had just taken a couple of steps away from the bike when he felt Momo's hand on his shoulder.

"What…" When he looked at Momo and saw a dead serious expression instead of his usual goofy grin, he was taken aback, "… is it?"

"Are you okay? You've been spacing out pretty often lately. You know your favorite senpai is always willing to hear you out, right?"

Ryoma snorted. "Favorite, eh? If Fuji-senpai heard that, you'd be dead by now."

Momo gulped. "I'm begging you, don't tell him!"

"Ponta for a week, then?" Ryoma smirked.

"Brat!" Momo playfully poked the tip of Ryoma's nose, making the latter scrunch his face.

"Hmmm... It might slip when he calls tonight."

"Fine! It's a deal then." He then promptly ruffled the olive hair. "Seriously, though, what is it? What's bothering my very best friend in the world?"

"Nothing. Just an essay for English."

Momo gaped at him.

"Essay? And... for English? Oi oi… Don't tell me you've also lost the ability to play tennis! That shouldn't be a problem for you. We're under the same professor, remember? He's always showing off your works to our class- even though we're your senpai and all. And he's always, always, bragging about your perfect grammar."

Ryoma just sighed. "Momo-senpai, Sensei is no different from that girl who's always with Ryuuzaki. I was born and grew up in America, is knowing English really that big of a deal?"

"That's not what I mean. We're in university now, Echizen. Not everyone's literary essays are recognized- and in your case, practically worshipped. So have a bit more confidence in your skills, okay?"

Momo nodded to himself.

"So what's this essay about anyway…?"

"It's… If you found out that you were seriously ill, would you tell the person you love? Even if it meant he would suffer as much, if not more, than you do?"

Momo blinked, completely taken by surprise. But he quickly recovered and smiled- a smile quite unlike his usual cheerful grin, but a new one that Ryoma was seeing for the first time. It was a gentle, warm smile.

"I would."

Ryoma smiled back.

"But you won't."

This time, it was Ryoma who was taken by surprise.

"You just won't." He started when Momo cupped his face in one hand- "Because that's just the kind of person you are."- and his thumb lightly brushed across his cheek.

Ryoma felt as though that single touch was all he needed to gather up the courage to make his decision.

"Ne, Momo-senpai, did you hear the rumor going around?"

Momo raised his eyebrows. "Rumor? What rumor?"

"That I've broken up with Fuji-senpai."

Momo just burst out laughing.

"Yeah right! Why? Because you love tennis more than him?"

Momo just cackled louder and held his stomach.

When Momo had calmed down, he just shook his head, smiling, and looked Echizen straight in the eye.

"That'll never happen, Echizen. I see it in your eyes whenever you look at him. You love him more than anything and anyone now. And yes, even tennis."

And then he burst into another fit of laughter.

What Momo didn't notice was the sad expression that was hidden by the shadow of Echizen's bangs.

' I'm so sorry… Momo-senpai…'

---

"Buchou."

Echizen fumbled around his bedside table until his hand touched the neatly piled up pictures.

"Could you please put that picture- and these- back into the topmost drawer? The first one right below the shelf."

Tezuka carefully took the pictures from Echizen.

"Honestly, I don't know what came over me… It's just… It felt weird when everything turned black in the middle of the day. I don't know why, but before that, when my vision started fading, the first thing I thought of was… that I wanted to see those pictures."

Ryoma laughed lightly.

"But now that I can't see them anymore, it's pretty useless."

'Just like that, he murdered those sorrowful words with a rueful smile.'

'He must've really wanted to be in your arms, so he did the next best thing... he desperately held on to these pictures while he slowly lost his sight.'

'Fuji… You're still the one he'd run to.'


err... yeah. another angst fic. for someone who thinks angst doesn's suit TeniPuri, mada just can't resist writing Ryoma-angst. e...hehehe. ;;

you guys ought to thank forochel-sensei for making this thing a lot... smoother and easier to read. the first draft mada did was a total mess. XD


(1) Summary inspired by Hanson's song, "Two Tears" I used to fangirl over their songs. XD

(2) Taken from Seimei's line in LOVELESS manga, but I edited it a little bit. ;; The original translation is: If there is a secret, to want to disclose it is human nature. That's the way of things. If it's a secret that's not suitable to reveal then you shouldn't reveal it. (Seimei takes Ritsuka's face and forces him to look at him.) Ritsuka, I can't disclose any secrets if I really want to protect you. If I have secrets I can't tell you. I can't be careless. If it's a secret that it's not suitable to reveal then I can't reveal it. ; credited to cienna and the LOVELESS lj comm

(3) Muwahaha! I snagged that from the title of Momo and Ryoma's most touching episode in AniPuri. I don't remember the episode number, but the title is "To the Friend I've Come to Love" or in others translated as "To the friend who has become dear to me"