Title: Gin no Shunkan

Author: samuraijun

Fandom: Prince of Tennis

Pairing: Shishido/Ootori

Rating: PG-13

Warnings: AU, possible OOC, shounen-ai

Disclaimer: Not mine

Chapter 10- Love Letter

"Oi Mukahi! Hurry up with the inventory!" called Shishido in the back room. "I want to get out of here soon!"

"Why don't you come over and help if you want this done!" Mukahi retorted back as he scribbled on a clipboard.

"I'm busy!"

"No you're not! You're reading again!"

Shishido couldn't come up with a retort, so he sighed and left the room. Both him and Mukahi worked in a bookstore near their college. They worked four hours a day shelving books and doing inventory on more shipping. The brunette already had the job ever since his freshman year, but Mukahi started only six months ago when Oshitari left to go to his rehab. Their quarrels were over trivial manners, but nothing serious.

After looking at countless apartments in the area and comparing the costs to his crummy income, Shishido finally found an apartment that he could afford in the same apartment building that Oshitari and Mukahi lived in. The apartment was small, had basic necessities, and was cozy. It was still lacking in furniture, decorations, and even a kitchen table, but Shishido managed eating on the floor.

Shishido checked the clock. "Another hour…" he growled. The brunette was eager to go see Choutarou, but time was thinking otherwise. The sound of the clock ticking away the seconds slowly was tantalizing Shishido as he found nothing to do. The store was empty, and Mukahi was done with doing the inventory, so that left him with nothing. Bored, the brunette pulled out his CD player from his bag and hit the 'Play' button.

Smiling at me with your gentle face

Never changing... you are here right next to me

Close your eyes, and can you feel it?

The precious days and memories we shared wrap us around... filling us with gentleness

What waits at the end of this longest journey we are about to walk, who knows?

But I will ensure you one thing for sure; you are safe with me

I can walk all the way,

Because we are together... now and forever

In my heart, there exists never-changing affection for you

It's all yours. The one-and-only

I love you

You were just like a tiny flower swaying in the breeze

It was so long ago when we first met, and you were a radiant young girl

We were both still immature and there were days of quarrels and tears

But now, we can laugh at it

Don't forget the marital vows of ours

You are the most precious person in the world

And now, let's work together to grant our wishes, one by one

I can walk all the way,

Because we are together... now and forever

In my heart, there exists never-changing affection for you

It's all yours. The one-and-only

I love you

I can walk all the way,

Because we are together... now and forever

In my heart, there exists never-changing affection for you

It's all yours. The one-and-only

I love you

I love you

-X-

"Shishido! Shishido! Oi, Shishido get up!"

The brunette felt himself being shaken by an insistent hand. He didn't know why he felt so uncomfortable. His bed felt hard. Then he noticed that what he was sleeping on wasn't his bed, but a chair. He must have dozed off because the book he was reading was laid forgotten in his lap and his CD player was replaying the third track. Shishido checked the clock. His shift was over.

"I'm out of here!" declared Shishido stuffing his CD player into his bag.

"Are you going to visit Choutarou again?" Mukahi asked.

"Yeah," Shishido replied shortly making his way to the door.

"You seem to enjoy going to see Choutarou. Before you only wanted to leave early because you were bored. Now, you want to leave early because Choutarou is in the hospital and has no one to talk to."

"Well, he's lonely. His roommate drops by sometimes and his parents come occasionally, but I'm the only one that visits him every day. Besides, he needs someone to be with him."

"Sounds like you love him, Shishido," the redhead remarked. "I wouldn't be surprised if that were true."

Shishido stopped. "What?"

"Well, you do. I mean Ootori's done so much for you. Yuushi noticed, too. Before, you were wallowing in self-pity because you thought there was no way you could leave Atobe as others have said. But then, Ootori stood up for you when others were telling you, "Get out of this yourself". I think that counts for something."

"Friends always stick up for each other-"

"And Ootori, Yuushi tells me, used to be like you too: not having an anchor for his life. The only thing he cared for is art because he thought that if he got too close, he would hurt others when he died. But thanks to you, he learned to open up again. He learned that he would truly die if the only memories he left behind would be those of how he was in junior high when he was carefree and energetic."

"Mukahi, I don't see where you're getting-"

"I don't know if my theory is right, but you two seem close, really close. If you do like Ootori, you should tell him. It'll make both of you happy. If you don't, well, at least he'll still have you as a friend."

Shishido quirked an eyebrow. "You sound a lot like Oshitari," he said.

Mukahi shrugged the corners of his mouth turning. "That's what you get for living with someone who can "see the heart" as he says," he said flatly.

-X-

Ootori was halfway through Tsuki to Hoshi when there was a knock on the door. "Come in!" he said. The door slid open and Hiyoshi peeked in. "Ah, Hiyoshi-san."

"Nice to see you, Ootori," said Hiyoshi pulling a chair close to the bed. "How are you feeling?"

"Better, but I'm not going to be discharged for a while," replied the silver-haired youth. "I think the doctors want to keep me here so they can check on my heart regularly. I've been given tests more frequently now."

"Oh."

Both of them didn't like touching on the subject. It was too painful to know that Ootori would die so soon. Murderers, rapists, and liars deserved to die. Adults who didn't give a damn about others deserved to die. Drunks who liked to drive under influence deserved to die. But not Ootori Choutarou, he was too sweet to die. Why did it have to be him? Ootori was too sweet and kind to die so young.

If this is the package you carry around with you all your life, it's bound to shape your personality.

Hiyoshi could only imagine what kind of emotional drama Ootori had to endure all these years. Adults began to pity him for having such a delicate heart. "Hey it's that boy. I heard from the neighbors that he was diagnosed with an incurable heart condition," they would whisper. "Really? He's so young. What a pity for him to have to die so soon." Some of his classmates began to bully him. "Come on, weakling! Get up and fight like a man!" they would taunt as they kicked him to the ground. "Oh wait! You can't! Your too weak!" He even had to give up tennis, his favorite sport.

"I'm sorry, coach," Ootori said as he shakily placed an envelope on the coach's desk. It was a letter of resignation.

The coach took out the short letter and read it over carefully. "What's the meaning of this, Ootori? We're so close to the nationals and you're quitting now? What's wrong with you!" the coach yelled banging his fists on the desk.

Ootori gripped onto his bag tightly. He had to keep himself from crying. The coach did not tolerate crying no matter what. "I'm sorry coach. It's not like I want to quit. I have to quit. I've been diagnosed with a heart problem."

The coach stopped. "What?"

The silver-haired boy took a deep breath. "Last week when I collapsed, the doctors discovered that I had a heart problem."

Even so, there was something different. Hiyoshi could sense a change in Ootori. Before, the silver-haired boy acted like he had no more attachments in this world except for his art, but now… now he was finding it hard to let go of his life. Ootori now wants to hang onto what few precious things he has in his life for as long as he can. Whether this change was for the better, Hiyoshi couldn't tell, but Ootori has changed.

"Anyway, Ootori, I actually came here to say good-bye," said Hiyoshi.

"Eh? What do you mean?" asked Ootori quirking an eyebrow.

"I got an offer to study overseas. I'm leaving first thing tomorrow morning."

Ootori was surprised, but not shocked. Hiyoshi was a hard-working student with a good future ahead as a forensics major. The first year had talked to Ootori many times about how he wanted to study forensics overseas. "I've never left Japan before and it would be a nice adventure," he often said. He had to be happy for him.

"Congratulations, Hiyoshi-san. I'm going to miss you," said Ootori with the best smile he could muster.

"Thank you, Ootori. You… you don't seem shocked like my parents," Hiyoshi remarked with a slight blush on his face.

"Why should I? You're hard working, and you have a keen eye. You deserve to go study overseas," Ootori stated simply.

"I see. Well, bye."

Hiyoshi was about to leave when Ootori said, "Hiyoshi-san!" The other first year turned around. Ootori tore a page out of his sketchbook and held it out. "I want you to have this. It's not much, but it's something for you to remember me by when… when I'm gone."

Hiyoshi took the sketch and examined it. It was a sketch of him in a police officer uniform and cocking a gun. The angles were sharp to make the portrait gritty, but the smooth lines gave a balance of a calm aura. The uniform was shaded in black and an assortment of grey like in a manga.

It was strange, but Hiyoshi felt touched by Ootori's simple sketch of himself. "Thank…thank you, Ootori," he said with his blush turning darker. "Ja." With that, Hiyoshi closed the door.

Outside, Hiyoshi allowed a smile to grace his sharp face as he looked at the sketch again.

I guess… I did make a friend…

-X-

Shishido shivered as he walked to the hospital. The day was breezy and his jacket wasn't doing anything to protect him from the draft. The sky was gray from the clouds and the pollution. It seemed like a day when a bad omen was showing. Around, life continued to go on. Students went to nearby fast food restaurants to buy lunch, employees hustled to the train station, children played in the nearby play areas, and the elderly hobbled across the streets. That's how city life was.

The brunette finally made it to the hospital and breathed a sigh of relief when he felt the hospital heater. The nurse nodded as he walked by the front desk. Shishido had become a frequent visitor at the hospital and the staff was starting to get to know him. He took the elevator and then continued walking down the hall until he stopped at the appropriate door. As always, he knocked first.

"Come in," said Choutarou from the other side. Shishido slid the door open and peeked in. "Ah, Shishido-san."

"Hey, Choutarou," Shishido greeted taking a seat. "Anyone else drop by?"

"Just Hiyoshi-san."

"Hiyoshi-san?"

"My roommate. He came to say good-bye. He's going to study in America."

"Wow, America…" Shishido said in awe. His mother would risk a limb for him to go to America to study.

"I'm going to miss Hiyoshi-san," Ootori said. "Despite his gruff exterior, he's really a nice guy and a hard worker. He's the one who got me back on my feet when I felt like giving up. Now that I think about it, you two are alike in a way."

"How so?"

"Well, both you and Hiyoshi-san are strong, determined, and sometimes a little hardheaded. Like Hiyoshi-san, when you want something, you go for it, but you know your limits, so you know when to toe the line. You don't care what others say about you. I guess I envy both of you. It's a trait I've always wanted."

Shishido thought that over. Choutarou would be more strong-minded if he had that trait, but then… "If you became like me, you wouldn't be the nice, but firm Choutarou that I like. The boy that likes to draw-"

Ootori's eyes perked as if he suddenly remembered something. "Oh yeah, someone else came by," he said.

Shishido's eyes narrowed. "Who was it?"

The silver-haired boy shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know. He looked like a college student. He dropped by saying that he had bought my painting at the exhibition and he was here to deliver the money in person. I told him that it wasn't necessary, but he insisted on paying me in person. And he gave me a lot of money." Ootori dug into his bag and pulled out a wad of bills. "One million yen in cash."

Shishido had a hunch who the mysterious visitor, but he had his doubts. There was no way it could have been him. "What happened after that?"

"He said, 'I love your painting. It expresses deep emotions that many people don't know about, and I felt that you know them, too.' And then he left."

The brunette knew that there was no way Atobe would say something like that, so that left him clueless. "What did he look like?" he asked.

"Anou… short, skinny, auburn hair, and had a look in his eyes that suggested he went through a lot in life. He looked familiar, but I couldn't remember who he was." Ootori cocked his head like a puppy. "Why? Is he someone you know?"

"Well, actually," said Shishido, "I think the person who dropped by was Akutagawa Jirou."

"Akutagawa Jirou? You mean Atobe's previous lover?" Ootori asked his brown eyes widening.

"Yeah. He looked exactly as how you described him. He had auburn hair that use to curl and a skinny build. He must have gone through a lot, especially after Atobe left him. I wonder why he was back in Japan, though. He left for America on a scholarship last semester."

"America…" Just like Hiyoshi-san.

"Yeah, to get away from Atobe, I guess. Japan must have left too many painful memories for him."

"Of course."

Of course…

TBC…

I'm so sorry for the long hiatus. I had the worst writer's block ever. Anyway, review kudasai!