Notes: Written in response to tenipuri500 challenge-- "family" and "faith"

The Cross We Bear
by Andrea Readwolf

Chotaroh stood under the scalding heat of the showerhead, allowing the water to cascade down around him. He was alone in the regular's locker room except for Akutagawa Jirou, who was asleep. Everyone else had left hours ago.

Including Shishido and Hiyoshi.

Chotaroh sighed, leaning his forehead against the cool, steamy tiles of the shower room and unconsciously fiddling with his cross.

Lately his tennis partner and his best friend were getting annoying. Chotaroh personally thought their behavior was ridiculous and childish. After all, one boy was his doubles' partner, his senpai, and his mentor. The other was his year mate, his roommate, and his best friend. He didn't understand why the two insisted on fighting over him like he was some piece of prized meat.

"Why do you do that?" a sleepy voice interrupted Chotaroh's thoughts, and the second year started, managing to crack his head against the tiles and yank abusively at his golden chain at the same time.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Akutagawa-senpai. I didn't mean to disturb your nap--"

"Your cross," Jirou cut his apologies off as he leaned against the shower doorframe. "You always touch it or tug at it whenever you're really thinking about something. You must be pretty religious, huh?"

"Eh?" Chotaroh looked down at the plain golden charm dangling against his chest. "Not really. Actually, it was a gift, from my grandmother, before she died."

"Oh. I'm sorry," the senior muttered, another yawn swallowed suddenly by morbid thoughts.

Chotaroh just smiled reassuringly. "It was a long time ago," he replied, turning off the shower and making to get dressed.

But he could hear the older woman's voice as if she was right there in the room with him... feel the withered calloused touch of her palm as she patted his cheek...

~There's a good boy, Chotaroh. Come. Come here. Let me give you a gift, hmm? ~

Even months after the woman had moved on the room had smelled like decay; the smell of death permeated the walls and floor, churning his stomach.

~There's a boy. See, Chotaroh? A gift, for you.~

~But, grandmom, that's your cross,~ he'd protested as only a tactful nine-year old boy being presented with a delicate, feminine necklace can.

~Your cross, now, Chotaroh. Yes. Come here, now. This is your cross to bear now. My gift to you. And one day, you will give it to your child, yes? Just like my mother gave this to me when I was nine years old, now I give this to you.~

The elderly woman had seemed to sigh a breath of relief when he reached out and took it, as if a heavy burden had been lifted from her.

~Did you know, Chotaroh, that the cross is a symbol?~

~Yes. It represents Christianity,~ he'd replied but his grandmother chuckled.

~It's much older than that, child. It is a symbol of change--of choice... and of faith, yes. To initiate change one must make a choice, and have faith that it is the right choice. This chain, it's a little long for you now, but you'll grow into it soon enough. Yes. Allow this cross to lie across your breast, your heart, and remember it whenever you make a decision, Chotaroh. Look into your heart and follow what it says to you, and then you can have faith that you made the right choice, yes...?~

"Oiya, Chotaroh."

The second year's head snapped up.


The older boy looked decidedly embarrassed about something. "Listen, about this afternoon," he started to say.

Chotaroh finished adjusting his school uniform and shouldered his bags.

"I'm sorry."

He paused, turning back to look at Shishido. "Excuse me?"

"I said I'm sorry, all right?" the senior growled, refusing to look him in the face, but rather staring at something off to Chotaroh's left.

~What if I don't want to make a choice, Grandmom?~

~Inaction is a choice in and of itself, Chotaroh. You must be careful of what you chose *not* to do as well as any thing you *chose* to do. It is always about choice,~ the woman added, closing his hand around the cross. ~All of life is a result of the choices we make. That is the cross we bear.~

Chotaroh touched his chest, and the cross that was lying beneath his school shirt. He had a choice to make.

The End

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