Summary: After a long illness, Ichijou awakens to a familiar presence. Some spoiler from the drama CD.

Disclaimer: All the characters you recognise are not mine.


What he had thought was the beginning of a cold rapidly escalated into a myriad of symptoms alarming enough to alert the Academy physician; at first Ichijou Takuma breezily brushed off the good doctor's advice to take to his bed and conveniently ignored the worsening headache, the peculiar stiffness in his neck and vague aches in his joints, the intermittent abdominal cramps-

Of course, when he suddenly crumpled to the ground in a dead faint while patiently listening to another one of Aidou's diatribes (undoubtedly on the subject of Kiryuu Zero-kun's ever-sunny disposition, again) his autonomy was quick to be invalided out by none other than Kaname himself; to come to in someone's arms was unceremonious enough, though Ichijou appreciated his concern and duly thanked his pureblooded friend for breaking his fall.

"You know what this means, don't you, Fukuryouchou?" Kain Akatsuki towered over him, glowering. Behind him, Shiki was already packing away Ichijou's books and stationery, his movements slightly jerky and hurried; he was clearly anxious.

"Thankfully Kaname-sama had fast reflexes." Souen Ruka nervously fiddled with her hair. "We told you to take it easy…"

"Are you alright, Ichijou?" Kaname did not immediately let him go.

But when he was helped to his feet, his vision blurred again with a sickening dizziness. There was not even time to catch his breath before his knees buckled beneath his weight once more, but this time it was Shiki's arms that held him up.

"Shiki…"

"I'll help you to your room. Lean on me, Ichijou-san."

"I'm alright…I just-need a second…" Ichijou swallowed hard. His head was spinning.

Akatsuki heaved a sigh of exasperation presumably at the vice-president's stubbornness before stepping forward to take Ichijou's other arm, looping it around his shoulder. He watched as Hanabusa picked up Ichijou's slim-lined, leather-trimmed book bag Shiki had hastily dropped to the floor, no doubt applauding himself for the initiative. "Ready?"

"Kain…you don't have to-" Ichijou's protest died on his lips as an onslaught of coughs seized his chest.

"Yeah, I don't." Akatsuki waited for the spasm to die out. When it finally did a short eternity later, Ichijou was too breathless to argue any more. "Come on. Kuran-ryouchou, we'll be taking Ichijou-fukuryouchou to his chambers to rest."

"Ah." Kaname nodded his consent, his eyes unreadable. "Be careful with him. I shall inform Chairman Cross and make certain he prepares in all haste to seek a doctor."

When the weariness in his bones and pounding ache in his head finally lulled him to sleep that day, the falling light of dusk outside his window was only beginning to paint the evening sky a sanguine, eerie colour.

When he awoke, the colour of the sky had not changed. And yet, despite the familiarity of it all, he could not shake the feeling that this heavy sense of foreboding in the air, this uncomfortable stillness surrounding his vast bedchamber was definitely out of the ordinary. What had happened? He barely had the strength to lift his hand to his face as he struggled to regain his bearing-

He had a fleeting memory of several sunsets just like this one interspersed with split seconds of lucidity, but it was impossible to tell just how many days had passed. He never thought of it possible but his head felt awfully heavy, yet strangely light at the same time, and every muscle in his body ached and throbbed as if just awakened from a deep lassitude.

"You are awake."

"Is that you, Shiki?"

A figure appeared from the darkness, his silhouette casting great black shadows that reached beyond the tester of his magnificent Victorian bed and over the high-rise ceiling. Ichijou could not see very clearly. "Come closer?"

From behind the front right column of the bed Shiki Senri emerged, sweeping aside the heavy bed curtain with the back of his hand.

Ichijou smiled. "There you are."

"Are you hungry? Would you like something to eat?"

The thought of food left a vague distaste in his mouth. "Not just now, thank you."

Shiki was momentarily silent. "Something to drink perhaps?"

Ichijou's smile wavered slightly at the offer. "Thank you kindly, but no. I am so weary..." He inhaled deeply.

Shiki nodded. He solemnly sat in the chair by the bed. "I have been waiting for Ichijou-san to wake up."

"Have you?" The blond vampire had not missed the dark rings around Shiki's eyes.

"Uhm." Shiki showed him a few bound volumes of something in his hand. "I brought these from your library."

Ichijou squinted hard, only recognising them after a long look. His mind felt foggy; he was obviously still very much disoriented. "That's-very kind of you, Shiki."

"Would you like me to read them to you?" Shiki was good at hiding his feelings, and his eyes were the only clue to how desperately he wanted Ichijou to say yes.

Ichijou gave a resigned sigh, yet his beaming smile remained unfaltering. His head sank deeper into his pillow. "Only if it isn't too much trouble."

Hence began what could have been an extraordinary rendition of an extraordinary story, written by one of Ichijou's favourite mangaka, but of course, this was Shiki they were talking about. No bedtime stories ever told by his mother or his governess when he was little could compare to this monotonous, terse delivery of what should have been a comedic masterpiece-

Shiki was no raconteur, that was for certain.

But Ichijou could not have enjoyed it more.

Shiki was now done with the first chapter. Ichijou was watching him, engrossed. Shiki should therefore continue.

" 'What. We are under attack?' " Shiki dropped his voice an octave lower.

"You missed a page, Shiki," Ichijou murmured in quiet amusement.

"Oh. Sorry." Flip.

" 'Ow ow ow'," Shiki read with less feeling than Ichijou thought least possible. " 'Hey. Answer me. Who are you?' "

He lifted the manga and helpfully showed Ichijou the page he was currently on. "It's intermission now, Ichijou-san." He then studiously sought for the next chapter.

Ichijou could not help but chuckle. "Shiki. It's a manga, not an obituary."

Shiki's eyes peered over the top of his very interesting reading material and stared on blankly.

"With feeling, Shiki." Ichijou's visibly thinner hand reached up to tap his own heart gently for emphasis. "With feeling."

Shiki nodded and repeated Ichijou's words to himself. "With feeling."

" 'Kapow!', 'Ka-ching!'-" A dramatic pause, a slight droop of the left eyebrow, Shiki continued. " 'Kaboom-boom!'" Flip-flip. "…..shiiiiiiiiiin…."

His body convulsing with laughter, Ichijou wondered why it was again that Shiki amused him so, no matter what he did- No, he corrected himself. It was not the things Shiki did, nor the things he said.

Rather, it was the delightful, inimitable way Shiki treated all things he deemed uninteresting and boring, like ballroom dancing, or chocolates from adoring fangirls he did not care to entertain, or reading the hundreds of fanmail he received on a regular basis, or reading in general-

Uninteresting and boring, but he would do it anyway, if it meant cheering Ichijou up. And if it meant reading Ichijou-san's favourite manga out loud, chapter after chapter, with feeling (how does one go about doing that anyway? Shiki had to wonder) he would read it, gladly.

" 'Eli-za-beth! Why are you here too??' " Shiki raised his pitch in the effort to better impersonate what he could only assume to be a female character, considering the name; he had long since lost the plot of the story somewhere along the second chapter- " 'It's a long story. I'm going to the gates of hell.'" A new page. " 'Polish a sword with patience.' "

He stared. "Huh?"

Ichijou was seriously laughing now.

"Ichijou-san, this story is not interesting at all-" He wondered what Ichijou could find so amusing.

Ichijou's laughter abruptly died in his throat as a sudden cramp seized his abdomen. He blanched and reflexively curled in on himself, bringing a hand to his midsection as his brow tightened with pain.

"Ichijou-san?" Shiki blinked, closing the manga with an alarmed thud.

Curled up on his side there was nothing Ichijou could do but lie there and place his fist to his mouth to stifle the groan threatening to escape his lips. Shiki shot to his feet, his eyes widening as a growing fear rose within him –

Chairman Cross once asked him if he had anyone he considered friends at the Academy. He thought it was a complicated question at first, and Shiki Senri disliked complicated things. But Chairman Cross seemed like harmless fun so it did not take Shiki long to answer, it wasn't like he had very many-

Rima of course had been his first answer. They were work colleagues after all.

"And then there's probably Ichijou-san." Shiki remembered fingering the exquisite matte finish of his teacup. It was a Wedgwood Jasper in royal blue. At least the chairman had taste.

"Ichijou…Takuma-kun?"

"I like him. He's kind." Shiki looked away. He was not that fond of tea.

And now his friend was once again fighting an invisible pain, alone, in a place where Shiki could not reach-

"Tell me what I should do, Ichijou-san."

"It'll-pass." Ichijou's sickly pallor was worrying and the shakings were not dying down.

Shiki rummaged through the medicine tray, frantic in his search for something, anything; he remembered the doctor using some sort of analgesic–

"Shiki," the ailing vampire called his name softly.

"Just hold on," Shiki muttered, raking a hand through his disheveled auburn hair, clearly agitated. Bloody hell, where was it?

"Shiki, I'm alright." Ichijou concentrated on breathing as he fought to ride the last tails of pain out. He should have known better than to have exerted himself. "I'm alright."

Shiki's hands were still buried in the various packets of tablets and capsules now scattered in disarray on the table, and as if registering Ichijou's words for the first time, he swiveled around, unmistakable stark fear on his face. Ichijou released his white-knuckled grip from around his middle and reached out his hand.

Silent and restrained, Shiki grasped the slightly trembling fingers, intertwining them with his own. After a short eternity, he sat back down.

"I…" Shiki's throat was constricting against his will. "I thought…"

Ichijou gave his hand another squeeze and shook his head. "No. It was my fault. I overexerted myself."

"Sorry. I shouldn't read this anymore." Shiki replaced the now-forgotten book on the dresser next to the Ichijou's medicine tray.

Ichijou opened his mouth to protest, to urge Shiki to continue, but Shiki was quick to shake his head vehemently. "Manga reading is detrimental to Ichijou-san in his convalescence."

That last spell had stolen all but Ichijou's breath, and he could reserve none to counter-argue; he straightened out once more and sank onto his back, sighing in discomfort. He did not resist when Shiki fluffed another pillow and tucked it in along Ichijou's side, supporting his upper torso.

Looping his shin around the front leg of his chair, Shiki dragged it forward across the marble floor carefully so as to not make any undesirable sound, bringing it in closer until his knees came into contact with the valance silk. Shiki unabashedly hunched forward until his face was mere inches from Ichijou's, and tucked his arm under his chin. Feeling strangely dejected, he let out a deep sigh. Here he thought he was doing Ichijou-san a favour by reading to him.

Without thinking, he reached out and caught a stray lock of hair in between his middle and index fingers; it gleamed a burnished gold as it bathed in the fast-disappearing light of day.

Shiki sighed again, this time in appreciative satisfaction. He was glad Ichijou-san's sickness did not rob his hair of its lustre. It would have been a shame, Shiki thought, admiring Ichijou's side profile with such naked openness he began to wonder what Ichijou would think if he were to turn and look at him right now-

As if in response to Shiki's thoughts, or perhaps more accurately, the incessant playing with his hair, Ichijou tilted his head sideways to finally meet Shiki's eyes. Caught unaware, instead of turning away, Shiki reciprocated by inching his face closer, stopping short before their noses could touch –

A frown immediately formed between Shiki's eyes. He could feel still the heat radiating from Ichijou's burning forehead; his fever should have broken by now, so why-?

Ichijou simply had to smile. The younger vampire looked so gloomy; it was a rare sight, even for Shiki.

"Penny for your thoughts?"

"Are you still sick?"

He had to think for a while. "Hmm. I suspect so, yes."

The cloud over Shiki's smoky blue eyes darkened. Though upset with the answer, he once again lapsed into deep thought.

"Will you be able to laugh again?"

This time Ichijou was silent for longer, his green eyes dimming with emotion. How ironic, in just that one simple question, Shiki was asking so much.

"I will be able to do much more, Shiki."

Despite how he may appear to others, Shiki knew better than anybody that the young heir to the Ichijou dynasty was anything but weak. A powerful vampire in his own right, his swordsmanship was most impressive; despite having mastered the foil when he was yet a child, he had pursued classical fencing to the point where the épée and sabre were mere playthings to him. But no matter what weapon he used, with the Japanese katana now being his favourite, always in his blade underneath its exquisite, elegant beauty a burning fire, a fire which only his opponents were given the honour to see.

Ichijou's skills matched to those a seasoned killer. Shiki himself had been a witness to that numerous times.

"Much, much more." Ichijou was still gazing at him softly, his smile serene and familiar. Shiki could only stare into his eyes, entranced.

The memories of Ichijou-san thrashing and moaning in his throes of sickness, delirious with unrelenting fever…the endless hours spent by his bedside mopping brows slick with fierce perspiration...holding his hand, tremulous with yet another coughing spasm-

-not knowing if Ichijou-san was ever going to wake up…there was a time of unadulterated dread when they could get no food save for a few drops of blood past his lips for three days, and even the best physician the Ichijou family had could not be certain that he would live through the night…

Shiki had never known such overwhelming terror.

"You scared me."

"Come here."

Shiki did not need to be told twice. He lashed an arm across the front of Ichijou's chest, burying his face deeper into the warmth of the blond vampire's neck, the sheer exhaustion and pain and worry and despair from the past horrible week were finally taking a toll on him; even the strong scent of Ichijou's blood, tantalising as it was and had always been, eluded him. The soothing tenor of Ichijou's voice rumbled deep within his chest, husky and gentle.

"It will not happen again."

"Ichijou-san…"

Ichijou Takuma said it again, fiercely this time, his own grip around Shiki's wrist tighter. "It will not happen again, Shiki."

Ichijou-san had never once lied to him. And so Shiki would continue to believe in him.

"Uhm."

THE END

A/N: I love this pairing. Reviews are loved just as dearly, thank you.

P.s.: QOTD - Guess what Shiki was reading.