Oldness from LJ. I wrote this a few years ago while I was sick, so if it doesn't make sense, that's why. I'm too lazy to go back a proofread it. XD

Disclaimer: I do not own Prince of Tennis!


Sometimes he thought about when. This thinking was never really productive; in fact, he'd vouch that it was the complete opposite, a drag on his time and his mind. But he couldn't stop the feelings from coming, and with them sweet snatches of when.

The first to come was always when I was a child. He couldn't recall much from his very early days, but the simple scenes he did remember were vivid. One, an ice cream cone, packed well but to a forty-five degree angle. He couldn't remember whether he'd cried when it fell, but he didn't think so. Even then tears were below him.

Another, a summer day at the park. He had been playing with other – lesser, no that wasn't right – children with his hands in the sand, and one of them had fallen and cried and run to its mother. Mother. He'd asked his nurse whether he had a mother, and she'd slapped him and told him yes, of course, stop being stupid. He'd strived not to be stupid after that, but not for her.

The next to come, always close behind, was when we were children. The first day of school and he had realized that there were other people. Of course, he'd always known that he wasn't the only person on the earth, that was stupid. But these were other children who talked like him – not quite, but almost – and thought like him, and had feelings and ideas and things. These were the first people he had come to know and care about.

The first time he met you he had been hiding, afraid that someone would see his tears. It wasn't right for a boy to cry, and especially not a boy like him. No one had touched him, it wasn't a physical hurt; rather, it was a loneliness and a neglect. Do you want to come over, he'd heard, but not to him. Yes, I would like that, came the reply. A grade school boy could not understand why people liked him for his money, for his state-of-the-art television and his toys, but not him, never him. Never. You were sleeping in the tree he sat below, and you woke and saw and smiled. Do you want to come over?

Yes, I'd like that.

When we were together. And then, wreathed in a chaos of emotion that made him feel sick, when we loved. Tennis was just the catalyst. He knew you were on the team in sixth grade, but ore-sama does not pick up balls. You knew he was on the team in seventh grade, but soon he'd pulled away. You strived, he let you. And when a tentative equilibrium had formed, there had been kisses. Soft, and secret, and never more than kisses. You remembered when you held his hand, but he remembered when you let it go.

Then, unbidden, came when he hit you. When he beat you and you bled and I couldn't do anything, anything. His father was not a forgiving man.

He tried not to think about when. If he focused on now, when was far away. The papers on his desk were deep, but he had time, or he could make time. He was making time from the evening hours when a shrill ringing sent him back to the real world.

"Hello." This was not a request, this was command to stop wasting his precious time. There was only so much of it, after all, and the papers on his desk were deep.

"Atobe. Are you busy?" Kansai humor, apparently. "I want to take you to dinner."

"What about Mukahi?" This was the automatic response now. Oshitari was now Oshitari and Mukahi. He turned back to his work. Things were so much simpler in the labyrinth of business jargon. And that was the unfortunate, unshakeable truth.

"Gakkun is coming, too. So…?"

"I'm working.

"It's ten."

"I'm-"

"How long has it been since you've had a vacation, or even a break?" Oshitari sounded concerned, but was that really possible?

He was distracted by a particularly complex passage on the sheet before him, the most-likely-not-agreed-upon terms of the page covered masterfully with polite and frivolous language. "We went to Paris last year, do you remember?"

"That was three years ago, Atobe. Come on, I'll pick you up."

~.~

…Oshitari was in his office. He hoped the light was dark enough that-

"Dammit, Keigo, you look like you haven't slept in a week!"

-his appearance was cloaked. Damn.

"It's nothing, I'm busy. I'm working, you know, eking out an existence while you and Mukahi are gallivanting around Europe."

"Yes, I know, okay? The car's double parked; let's go." He followed Oshitari down, down the stairs and out into the bitter evening air and remembered when it was my birthday, and your head resting on his shoulder as he drove his first car even though it was pouring out, and when you were sick, fretting while you pretended to sleep, and you smiled. It had been cold, then, too.

The restaurant was almost deserted at ten o'clock, but Oshitari didn't seem to mind as he strode purposefully down the row of tables, heading unerringly to where Gakuto was waving happily in the corner booth. The warm Western-leather seats called up when we sang, and the powerful images of sweet karaoke and duets that were not quite in tune gave him pause. He did not immediately notice that the table was set for four places, but it became apparent when Mukahi moved in. For you.

"Jiro…?" This was a question, and a terrified hope and a longing that was almost physical. Of course, all you saw was his impassive mask, one that even you couldn't break.

"Keigo." And memories came rushing back. When we danced, when we laughed, when morning was beautiful again.

"How are you?" This conversation was on the verge of falling into when, but it was about two words away from the equally frightening prospect of flat talk about work and friends and people whom neither man cared anything about.

You did not want to talk about work. You didn't want to talk about friends, or news, or anything else. Your mouth was sweet on his and this left no room for talk.

When was not here. This was now and it was new and it was going to last a very long time.


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