by Ruebert

The vinyl of the bus seat was hot from the summer sun, and stuck to the skin of his thigh when he shifted his leg to ease a beginning ache; a soft murmur reached his ears, and he looked away from the countryside beyond the window, caught his seatmate's eye.

Ohtori's eyes darted away, back down to the guide map that hung loosely from his fingertips; three times, four times now this had happened, and Hiyoshi did not remark upon it on this occasion either. He would bide his time. He knew that pushing Ohtori would gain him nothing, and the silence so far was not encouraging. It didn't matter too much to him -- a tour bus was far too public for the inquiry he wished to make.

It took several hours to effectively separate Ohtori from the main group, to lure him into walking with Hiyoshi along the small side street, to exclaim over storefronts and sidewalk stalls, to simply relax. It was worth all the effort: he had no wish to see a stranger in the stiff way Ohtori spoke, to the way dark eyes darted away from his own when a certain subject was approached in conversation, to the way a fist would clench unnoticed and brows would draw together.

"It wouldn't look good on you," he murmured when he caught Ohtori playing with a baseball cap in one of the souvenir shops. It was the wrong shade of blue, and it had a gaudy logo, and strong fingers bent the bill when Hiyoshi's words registered.

"You're right," Ohtori replied, and he smiled, then, the first such expression so far during the long day, and Hiyoshi knew that his words had been a mistake as the cap was replaced on the rack with nonchalant ease. "Let's go. I want to see the next store."

Hiyoshi followed him out into the open air again, blinking twice to ward off the harsh glare of sun on polished chrome and paint; he turned away from the line of parked cars. When Ohtori made for the fourth souvenir shop of the day, he reached out, touched a shoulder gently; the heat of skin beneath slightly damp fabric surprised him. "Let's get something to eat," he said when a warm gaze questioned him, and the nod he received relieved him.

The thin waxed paper of the cup chilled his fingers; it was strange after the metal warmth of the worn coins he used to pay for their snack, and he did not let Ohtori choose the bench they sat upon. The wooden slats felt comfortable; he was not concerned about splinters as he dug into the shaved ice drink with a provided plastic spoon, as he watched Ohtori attempt to neatly eat the fruit he had chosen. Settling the cool damp circle onto his knee, he watched as the other bit into pale flesh.

"Why didn't he come?" Hiyoshi asked, and the not-quite-silence that had hovered between them all afternoon was finally broken with that utterance; Ohtori paused in his next bite, melon juice running down his chin. A moment passed, two, and then white teeth finished their job with a gentle snap as mouth and lips closed, and the mechanical chewing process began.

Hiyoshi waited, and when the other boy swallowed, he found his eyes caught by the bob of his throat. He waited, dropping another spoonful of flavored ice onto his tongue and sucking the flavor away until all that was left was cool nothingness melting in his mouth.

Long fingers fumbled with greenish rind; Ohtori looked up from the sticky mess he was making of fingers and napkin, and there was resignation in his gaze. "He didn't want to come," he said, unnecessarily; Hiyoshi was aware that this had to be the case -- no emergency had arisen, no simple outside circumstances interfering, or he would have been notified; Ohtori would not leave him in the dark regarding the status of the third member of their weekend trip unless something had happened between Ohtori and said member that had upset him enough to refrain from speaking

"Why not?" he prodded, and he was gifted with a small, hurt look in response. When no answer came, he leaned in, his shoulder against Ohtori's, comforting pressure upon his side. "Tell me what happened, Choutarou," he said, and the use of Ohtori's given name was enough to trigger the words that had been held back since the morning when they had met at the bus stop; he'd known it would be so, though the reminder of one who was far more familiar using that name was a cruel move on his part.

It may have been true that it was better to lance a wound, drain it before infection grew too severe, but Ohtori would not have appreciated the analogy.

The taller boy opened his mouth, closed it again; he took another bite of the fruit and swallowed it, eyes far away as he chewed, swallowed, licked his lips. "Shishido-san called me, last night," Ohtori said, and Hiyoshi knew that was the first bad sign. His friend preferred to see people face to face when he spoke to them, did not like the distance conferred by technology.

"So?" Hiyoshi asked, and when uncomfortable eyes stared at him, he turned to the roadside, accommodating the unspoken request. "I won't interrupt again. Keep going."

"He called me last night," Ohtori said, and his words were barely audible over the cars which rushed by, the speaking from diners at the cafe just across the street. "He said that he couldn't make it." Bite, chew, swallow; Hiyoshi watched the motions of Ohtori's jaw out of the corner of his eye, and when that hand lowered again, he noted that the melon's flesh was the same color as the shirt the other teenager wore.

"He made other plans." There was steel in the soft bite of Ohtori's voice, but it melted in the furnace of emotional upset. "He wanted to go out with someone tomorrow -- he said he was sorry." Sorry was not an acceptable apology for breaking plans made a month in advance, not to Ohtori, who'd so been looking forward to this trip; Hiyoshi knew this well -- he'd been the recipient of excited murmurs and passed notes interrupting their classes for several weeks.

"He said," Ohtori's words faltered, then continued on, but his voice had dropped to a shallow whisper, and Hiyoshi nearly lost the thread, close though he was, "he said that maybe we should just -- be friends. I'm too -- too clingy, he said." Stopping, he pressed his lips together, hard, before taking another bite of the fruit.

A bird was crying in the tree behind and above them, a rough, harsh noise that repeated again and again; Hiyoshi felt a brief urge to throw his cup at it. Did it not know that it was speaking out of turn?

"I thought it was working out. I -- I really did, Hiyoshi. He said it wouldn't make a difference when he went to senior high. We're still doubles partners, right? He still liked me. He never said anything about seeing other people. He wants me to see other people!" A very soft laugh followed that, a tone of disbelief coloring the exclamation. "Shishido-san ... doesn't like me anymore."

He had not realized he was moving until he was there; Hiyoshi was perched on the very edge of the bench, and he had to ease himself back, slowly, calm a heart and mind that inexplicably hummed with a sensation of words through telephone wire, electricity through cables. Cool fingers, damp from holding onto the cup of melted ice, fastened themselves onto Ohtori's elbow, encouraged him to continue. Drain the wound out; say everything.

"He said he would wait for me." Silence broken by a bird's incessant call. Ohtori swallowed, and closed his eyes, head dropping down to stare at his knees.

"So he lied." Hiyoshi's words were quiet, matter-of-fact; no emotion was betrayed in the expression he met Ohtori's startled, defensive gaze with. "He broke the promise he made to you, didn't he?"

Sticky fingers crushed a crumpled napkin, closed around melon rind. "That's not -- that's not right, Hiyoshi. It wasn't like that. He just--"

"Why are you defending him?" The attack was disguised in gentleness, in half-lidded eyes that hid true intentions.

"I'm not--" Ohtori started hotly, then began again, twisting on the seat to face him fully, the remnants of his snack falling to the concrete unnoticed. "I'm not defending him," he said, quieter, confusion creeping into his eyes.

"Aren't you?" Hiyoshi asked, the words pointed and cool.

"It's not like that. It's not like that at all. I just -- it's not his fault, Hiyoshi. Don't be angry with him," Ohtori said, and the words rushed a little; it was a familiar habit, heading off a temper which was too-easily raised when a certain subject came up. Ohtori had never understood why his doubles partner and his friend did not get along, and too many times had been mediator between them; it was second-nature to be the peacekeeper between them.

"How is it not his fault?" Hiyoshi asked, opening his eyes wide to accentuate his question; he closed them again to slits as he continued on, before Ohtori could musted a pitiful defense for the partner who had abandoned him. "He didn't want to wait for you. He couldn't keep his promise to you. He wants to see other people, he thinks you're too clingy." Ohtori could not protest his statements -- he was only repeating what the other boy had just told him; still he tried to pull away from Hiyoshi, look away, but a hand caught his chin, held it gently, made him look into his quiet friend's eyes as words continued without abate. "Whose fault is it that he doesn't like you anymore? Yours? Don't be stupid, Choutarou."

A flinch, and pain shuttered in velvet eyes at the use of that name; Hiyoshi's next words were gentler, but he retained that hold, juice-sticky chin adhering to his fingertips. "He's changed, and you haven't."

"I don't want to change, Hiyoshi -- I don't want him to change--" As Ohtori spoke, the fingers holding his chin firm loosened, became the lightest touch assuring he would not look away.

"You can't keep things from changing, Ohtori," Hiyoshi murmured, and he shifted on the bench, leaned in closer; he halted only a breath away from his friend, and bewilderment was clear in the way Ohtori reacted; he did not lean away, but he did not move forward, either.

"I don't want things to change," Ohtori said, and when the fingers that hovered beneath his chin shifted, when a callused thumb brushed lightly over his lower lip, his breath halted in his throat. The physical closeness suddenly became too much, and he shifted uneasily, the wooden slats of the bench creaking beneath his weight; heat rose in his cheeks, and his brows drew together. "Hiyoshi?" he asked, and his voice was weak, sucked away by humid air and a breeze that did little to cool them.

"He wants you to see other people, doesn't he?" Hiyoshi murmured, and he didn't care that his hold on the cup of sweetened, melted ice-water was lost, or that the liquid was cool on the parched skin of his knees and calves, soaked into his socks and shoes as his lips brushed over Ohtori's lightly, held the contact for longer than a fleeting daydream.

Ohtori's eyes were still open when Hiyoshi pulled away, sweet melon on his tongue; it was a bird's cry that broke the moment, air whistling through feathers, a harsh gasping breath carried on beating wings.

The End

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