Pairing: Shishido Ryou x Ohtori Choutarou (for 30k_words)

Summary: Five weeks, four matches, three nights, two boys, and one decision. Many shades of gray. All with and without meaning.



All Things Signified
by sublimeparadigm


Burden (Part 1)

Shishido Ryou's life changed, for better or for worse, the day his elder brother announced to the world he was no longer a virgin.

By "the world," meaning he actually just announced it to his family. It was during the summer break of Shishido's freshman year of high school, when his brother came home from the University dorms for a couple weeks. The family had been just sitting down to eat dinner, when Seiji had proudly announced to the table he had met a girl, they were in love, and they had both lost their virginity to each other last week.

Shishido felt appalled. Appalled at, not the fact that his brother was sexually active, but that he felt it necessary to share this occurrence with their parents. After the initial shockwave simmered down, Shishido was even further appalled at his parent's reactions.

"That's good to hear, son. I trust you are using protection?" His father said cheerily, clapping Seiji on the shoulder, while his brother nodded in response, looking like he was just as surprised by his father's reaction.

"You should have brought her home, Seiji! So, tell us all about her," his mother fussed, leaning down to plant a small kiss on the top of her son's head.

It was at this horrific point, when Shishido didn't think he could possibly feel any more horrified, that the three lunatics suddenly remembered he was there, each turning their heads to look at him at the same time. They all fell silent, and to say dinner was an awkward affair would be understating the issue. However, it was nothing compared to the sharp, painful awkwardness that was to come.

First, it was his father. Shishido had hoped beyond hope that since neither of his parents had had "The Talk" with him by now, they were just going to leave him to his own devices to figure things out for himself. No such luck. That night, after dinner was cleaned up and Shishido was sprawled on his bed, attempting to do some English homework, there came an ominous knocking on the door.

Shishido swallowed, fearing the worst. "Come in?"

What followed was an hour of "um"s and "er"s and "hmm"s that left both parties involved red with embarrassment. Looking back on that night, Shishido would realize he was actually somewhat grateful for having had "The Talk," but right then, he wasn't thankful in the least, and silently cursed his brother to the ninth layer of hell for instigating it.

Next, had been his brother himself - the very same night, no less. Seiji had come knocking on Shishido's door not an hour later, carrying a suspicious brown paper bag. "Hey, Ryou. Can I come in for a bit?" He sat himself down on Shishido's bed and placed the bag on the floor behind his legs, as if trying to hide a surprise. Shishido quirked an eyebrow at him and Seiji laughed.

"Come here, you," Seiji patted the bed beside him. Shishido complied and was pulled into a small wrestling match. After finally giving into his brother's strength, panting and giggling, Shishido was feeling much better about everything, and was glad his older brother was home.

He and Seiji had always been close. Except for a couple of small phases growing up when they decided they hated each other's guts (which would only last a couple months at most), Shishido had always considered Seiji-nii his best friend. So when Seiji-nii decided he wanted to go to Kyoto University (and then got in), Shishido had been devastated.

Shishido adapted in time, and although he may still sometimes feel a bit lonely, he kept a cheerful enough front for his parents. It was, ironically, times like these, when he was with his brother after not seeing him for maybe months at a time, that Shishido felt the most lonely. Thus, he began to distance himself from his brother, because however much it pained him, he knew it was for the best.

Seiji seemed to sense this implicitly, and although it pained him as well, he allowed his little brother the space.

So, sitting on Shishido's bed, after dropping that big of a bomb, Seiji was desperately searching for the right words. He looked over at his brother, now curled up on the mattress, watching him with a big grin, and Seiji recognized the adoring look those eyes that he'd gone too long without.

Seiji laid down on his back and sighed up at the ceiling. "Sorry for all that, Ryou."

"For what?" Shishido's face darkened slightly as he looked away.

"For announcing that in front of you." Silenced passed between the two for a few moments.

"Why?" Shishido looked at his brother suspiciously.

Seiji sighed again. "Because it was thoughtless of me. As if you'd want to hear that in front of mom and dad!" He slapped himself on the forehead. "What the hell was I thinking?"

Shishido just shrugged. "No big deal," he mumbled, sitting up. Another couple moments of awkward silence passed.

"So . . ." Seiji searched for the right words.

"So, what?"

"So . . . has mom or dad had . . . you know, 'The Talk' with you, yet?" Seiji used finger quotes when saying "The Talk," rolling his eyes.

Shishido grinned and laughed. "Just now. Dad."

"Just now? Like, before I came in? Oh Christ, so that's where dad was. Oh jeez, Ryou, I'm so sorry."

Shishido laughed again and shrugged, blushing slightly. "Well, at least it's over with."

"Oh god. I don't think I ever got over that. At least you just got dad. I got 'em both."

"No way! Seriously? Mom and dad?"

Seiji nodded gravely, then burst out laughing. Shishido soon followed, and it was a couple minutes later that both boys finally caught their breath.

"Do you . . . really like her?" Shishido whispered so softly, he wondered if Seiji had even heard.

"Yeah. I do. A lot."

"Oh." Another few moments of silence, this time not quite as awkward as before.

"Listen, Ryou . . . I don't know . . . and, I mean, you don't have to tell me, you know, your experience-"

"I don't have anything like that!" Shishido's face turned beet red.

"Okay! It's fine, Ryou. In fact," Seiji laughed, "I'm somewhat relieved. But, I'm sure dad gave you some crap about 'waiting until you're older,' right?"

Shishido pulled his hair over his face to hide his blush, and nodded.

"Well, it's just, you don't have to, you know?"

Shishido didn't know. "What do you mean?"

"I'm just saying that if you, like, meet some girl, or somebody, and the two of you hit it off . . . well, you don't have to wait until you're older. And you don't have to tell mom or dad about it. Or me. It's . . . it's your own business, right?"

Shishido nodded in understanding, although there were a couple things in his brother's diatribe that didn't sit well for some reason. "Nii-san?"

Seiji sat up and leaned on his knees with his elbows next to his brother. "Yeah?"

"Why did you tell mom and dad?"

"I guess . . . because it was something I wanted to share. I'm really happy, Ryou. Like, really really happy right now. I'm in love and I want the world to know. I just figured I should let you guys know first." Seiji winked at him.

"But . . . you didn't have to tell them about, you know . . ."

"Yeah, I didn't plan to actually. That last part kind of slipped out."

Shishido looked at his brother to see if he was joking. Despite the smirk on his face, he realized Seiji was completely serious.

"Idiot," Shishido smiled and slapped him on the leg.

"Oh, how you wound me!" Seiji collapsed onto the floor in dramatics. As he did, he remembered the surprise he had brought with him, and turned a little red.

Shishido leaned over him, his long hair falling into Seiji's face. "Why are you blushing?" Shishido teased.

"I, er . . . well, I, um, brought you something I thought you might, um, be interested in . . . um, right, so . . ."

"Nii-san!" Shishido looked horrified. "You sound like dad! Stop that!"

Seiji sat up, laughing. "Ah. Sorry about that. Well," he grabbed the bag and shoved it in his brother's arms, "here."

Shishido looked in the bag and promptly went red again.

"Ah, right. So . . . I'll just leave you to that. It's okay if you don't want them, I'll just get them back tomorrow if you don't, okay? But, it's great if you do want to keep them. I mean, it's perfectly fine, er, I mean, normal-"

"Nii-san!" Shishido picked up a loose sock on the floor and threw it at his brother.

"Okay, okay! Sorry, I'll be going now!" and with that, he rushed out of the room, softly clicking the door shut behind him.

After waiting a few minutes in shocked silence, Shishido placed the bag down, got up, and went to open the door. He peeked his head out quickly, seeing that his parents had both gone to bed by the lights off in their room, and closed the door. Then, he walked slowly over the bag on his bed, looking at the object as if he was afraid it might jump up and attack him any second. He grabbed onto the bottom of the bag, and, holding his breath and squeezing his eyes shut, dumped the contents out onto his bed.

~~~~~~~~~~

Shishido really did not want to know where his brother had gotten some of these magazines. It appeared that his brother was either a closet pervert, or just extremely curious. Shishido figured both explanations could work in Seiji's case. Most of the magazines were normal. Well, they were normal porn, that is. They were embarrassing to look at, especially since a lot of them seemed to make him instantly hard, but they weren't anything Shishido hadn't been expecting from a porno mag.

Then, there were some things he definitely wasn't expecting.

The bondage ones were interesting at first. But then, as he flipped further into the book, the pictures began to get increasingly disturbing, and the moment Shishido had spotted blood in one of the pictures, he threw the magazine across the room, his stomach dropping most unpleasantly.

There were other ones that were just plain weird, and Shishido felt relieved to know that most of the weird stuff did not make him instantly hard. In fact, it usually had the opposite effect. There was a foot fetish mag that made him literally gag; a magazine featuring women with the most freakishly large breasts he had ever seen, and the stretched out skin and oversized nipples had caused his erection to shrivel up; there were even a couple magazines featuring older women - much older women, which made Shishido shiver in disgust, throwing them immediately back into the bag.

However, the worst was yet to come, and at the bottom of the pile, he discovered two very unique magazines. All the issues before these two had featured women - usually women with men, although some with women exclusively. These, however, featured only men. Shishido could only stare at the covers in shock, his brain going numb.

'Does Seiji . . .? Does he like guys too? He can't, though . . . can he?' Shishido's mind silently pondered the meaning of these unexpected additions. He took the cover of the first one in his hand, and made to open it. There was surely nothing wrong with being curious. After all, Seiji gave them to him. But . . . why?

Shishido continued to have a staring match with the cover. It pictured a young man (probably his brother's age!) decked in red swimming briefs, tight enough to outline the man's swollen erection. He was sleek and wet, as he seemed to be standing in a shower, beads of water rolling down his well-defined body. His face, reasonably handsome, held a small, mysterious smile and his dark eyes seemed to bore right through Shishido as he stared.

Shishido realized he was hard again and felt himself sweat with embarrassment, as if the man on the cover could see him, could tell he was turned on. His smile suddenly wasn't so mysterious - it was a condescending smirk, mocking him.

Shishido swore and unceremoniously shoved all the magazines back into the bag, beginning the with the last two. He then picked up the big brown bag, walked over to his messy closet, and pushed it way into the back, quickly throwing some never-used sweaters over it. His parents weren't the type to go through his room, much less his disaster-zone-closet, but he figured with things like this, one could never be too careful.

Seiji stayed for another couple of weeks before heading back to the University to study. The two brothers spent a lot of time together, doing summer homework, playing video games, and playing tennis (which Seiji was never any good at, but he loved playing with his brother anyway). Seiji never mentioned the bag after that night, even when the two of them were alone, and Shishido was not about to bring the topic up. Even after Seiji left, Shishido didn't bring the bag out from his closet, and after a while, he pretty much forgot about the stash of filth lying back there under some old sweaters. It was some months later, that Shishido finally took it out again.

~~~~~~~~~~

Months had passed. Seiji had completed his finals and made top grades, which came as no surprise to his family. Shishido completed his first year of high school soon after, and although he managed above-average grades himself, it came as a surprise that his rank wasn't as high as everyone had been expecting. After three years of making the top ten in junior high, and winning himself a scholarship because of it, Shishido and his family were expecting him to keep up with that trend.

Shishido didn't make the top ten. He didn't even make the top thirty, falling to the thirty-seventh place. His parents were disappointed, but placating, assuring their son that it was due to the awkwardness of adjusting to a more prestigious, and much more difficult school. Which was true of Hyoutei, Shishido knew. But that didn't mean he was happy about it. He spent the first week after receiving his grades locked in his room for most of the day, mentally beating himself up. Fortunately, his grades were not so bad that he would lose his scholarship, which was a great relief on the one hand. On the other hand, Shishido knew that he had still worked harder than he ever had before, and to know that he still couldn't meet his own personal standards despite this, was a harsh blow to his self esteem. Obviously, something needed changing.

Despite the cutthroat system Hyoutei had, or maybe because of such a system, Shishido loved it there. It was fierce, it was competitive, it was a challenge, and it was a haven that Shishido had fit right into from the get-go. He wouldn't, he couldn't think of leaving; he had worked so hard to get there and he just plain felt right there . . . like he belonged. Shishido had feared that his somewhat lower-class family would be a social weight on his shoulder. On the contrary, most people seemed not to care too much. Some did, and their presence was a bane to say the least, but most of his peers weren't at all fazed by Shishido's social status. They saw that he had what it takes to be there, and this was enough for them.

He knew one option for him was to quit the tennis club. Yet, although his brain rationalized that he would have an enormous amount of time freed up if he did, he couldn't bring himself to consider it seriously. He loved tennis. He loved it, and Hyoutei's tennis club was the very epitome of the kill-or-be-killed mind set embedded into the school's personality that Shishido had come to love so much. "Competitive" didn't even begin to cover it. The club had over 200 members, and even though he was only a freshman, he had proven to himself and everyone else - including his sempai - within the first month of practices that he had the skills to make it to a regular spot. And he did, come the very first round of tryouts, going undefeated in his block - one of the three freshmen to take one of the eight regular spots.

Needless to say, Shishido was not about to give that up, not after he had fought tooth and nail, practicing till he was blue in the face, to get that spot. Shishido knew that, deep down, he harbored no special skills, no amazing talent. But he had an extraordinary knack for working his ass off, and being able to improve himself so much on hard work alone was not something he could easily let go of, free time or no.

Which made Shishido think: free time. That was the brunt of the issue, wasn't it? Having to get up at four every morning just so he could make the commute, the long day at school followed by club activities, then getting caught in rush hour for the train ride home. Finally getting home, to eat, shower, study, and hopefully get at least a good five or six hours of sleep in before having to start all over again. Shishido considered this, and was struck with an idea. The idea excited him, but made him nervous when he thought about bringing it up with his parents. Given that his tuition was taken care of via his scholarship, surely they could afford it? And wouldn't it just make his life so much easier, not just in that it would allow him more free time, but that it would eliminate a key source of stress as well? Commuting was such a pain in the ass, really. Not to mention the very idea of moving out of his parent's house and into his own place, albeit with a roommate, was simply too much of an exciting prospect that he couldn't keep himself from smiling.

Shishido resolved himself and proposed this very argument to his parents some nights later over dinner. His parents were . . . upset, but accommodating. They agreed with him, that it would probably be better for his studies, although they still didn't like it. It might have gone over a little more smoothly, Shishido realized in retrospect, if his brother hadn't announced not two weeks before that he would not be coming home for break, because he and his girlfriend had gotten their own apartment off-campus. It was probably the harsh reality of having both of your children move out within a few months of each other, that made it difficult for his parents to accept. Shishido sympathized and decided not to press the issue then and there. He'd give both of them time to think about it.

Of course, his parents saw the wisdom in the decision, and eventually gave in to their son's proposal. He whooped with joy when his parents told him he could move out, and the saddened moods of his parents brightened somewhat at Shishido's obvious excitement. Shishido quicky sent in an application for dorm space, and wreaked havoc throughout the house with excitement when he was allotted into one of the nicer, just-off-campus suites. The suites were in a huge, four-story apartment building right next to the school's library at the edge of campus, and were the top housing choice for most students. They were also the only dormitory that had mixed years - meaning students from all three years could live there, and placement was based on a first-come, first-serve basis. Apparently, a spot had magically opened up just as he sent in his application - one student had apparently decided he wouldn't be returning for his junior year, for whatever reason. Shishido didn't think his luck could get any sweeter.

The short spring break went by like lightning, and before he knew it, Shishido was packing his stuff into boxes to move into his new dorm and start his junior year. It was then, while he was going through which clothes he wanted to take with him in his closet, that he rediscovered the bag of dirty porno magazines lying secreted away. He smirked, looking down at them, and decided. What the hell, he thought, and grabbed a handful out of the bag, throwing them in the bottom of his suitcase.


Ohtori Choutarou's parents filed for divorce after eight long, tumultuous years of marriage. He was only five years old at the time, and his sister, Kazumi, was eight. He remembers a lot of it only too well: his mother's hysterics . . . his father's grave, uncaring face as he flinched his hand away from his son's grasp . . . his sister making him promise, by taking his favorite toy car hostage, not to tell their parents she was going to run away. Of course, he did anyways, and he can still remember the sound of the die-cast car being squashed as Kazumi lifted up the leg of the kitchen table, placed the car under it, and let the wooden post fall onto it.

Ohtori's grandmother claimed time and again that the marriage was doomed from the start. Or, in her own words, his father "tried to take over their lives with his convoluted western ideas and overbearing religious nonsense." The gist of it was, Ohtori's father was a converted Catholic. Ohtori's mother was not, and held to the Shinto-based beliefs she was raised with. They had, Ohtori assumed, been deeply in love once; but eight years of conflicting ideals, naturally intensified by the raising of two children, left them nothing but bitter at the end. Ohtori remembers little about the actual divorce itself. He remembers being dressed that morning in a tight suit tearfully by his father, and later his mother hopelessly trying to undo his tie with her trembling hands. He remembers telling her that father knew how to untie it correctly, which caused her to burst into tears. She ended up cutting the tie off with a pair of big scissors.

Custody was traditionally granted to the mother in divorces. However, Kazumi had, in her perpetually stubborn way, decided she couldn't live without her father. Kazumi, who had grasped onto her father's beliefs since before she could form sentences, naturally took her father's side in everything, and it was decided between the two parents that the children would be separated. People seemed saddened whenever Ohtori told them about this fact, but, truthfully, it didn't bother him. Perhaps it would have been nicer growing up with her, although Ohtori doesn't like to dwell on the possibility. The truth was, that Ohtori and Kazumi were two young siblings forever at each other's throats, and Ohtori remembers feeling distinctly pleased when he learned his sister would be moving out for good.

So, Ohtori had been raised for the past ten years by his mother and maternal grandmother. At first he used to visit his father once a week, back in the early days of the divorce. But, after a while, once a week became every other week, which become once a month, which became a couple times a year. By the time he was fifteen years old and entering high school for the first time, his relationship with his father was forced at best, and his relationship with his sister was all but nonexistent. On the flipside, however, Ohtori was very close to his mother and grandmother, which he told himself made up for the absence of the other half of his immediate family.

~~~~~~~~~~

Ohtori was standing in front of the mirror, scowling. Tomorrow, he would be moving into the dormitories at Hyoutei Gakuen High School, his new school and new home.

There were certain things Ohtori knew about himself. One: he was tall. Really tall. Too tall, if Ohtori himself had anything to say about it (not that it'd help). Which brings us to Two: he was really kind of homely-looking. Or, at least, he thought so. His height resulted in all awkward, gangly limbs, his hair was a strange color and untamable to match, and his face was . . . just too big and his nose just too small and roundish, his eyes looked too far apart. He was ugly. Wasn't he? Ohtori felt so everytime he looked in the mirror these days.

The third thing Ohtori knew about himself was that he was smart, but not book-smart. He called it being "people-smart." His grandmother called it "intuition." His mother called it his "good sense." He understood people; their thoughts, their actions, their behavior. He couldn't really explain it, but he just had a sense for the rhyme and reason going on in other people's minds.

The fourth thing Ohtori knew about himself was that while he lacked talent in a lot of things, such as cooking, speaking, math, and science (to name a few of many), he did have exceptional skills in a certain few areas. One was athletics, and particularly tennis. Surely, he wasn't the best of his age, but he knew he was good, and he was planning on joining the school's infamous tennis club - it had, in fact, been one of the deciding factors in his applying to Hyoutei. Another area he excelled in was music. He didn't have the best singing voice, but he had a talent for composition, and played both the piano and (his favorite) the violin, with exceptional competence. And lastly, he had a frightfully good memory about certain subjects. The main subject was history, and particularly ancient history. The topic fascinated him, and he had an uncanny knack for memorizing names, places, and dates.

The last important thing Ohtori knew about himself was something he, although resolved to the fact, was still trying to accept. Ohtori liked boys. It was a difficult reality to digest, but the more he considered it, the more sure he was. His suspicion had begun at the beginning of last year, his senior year of junior high. His school had hired a new English teacher - Ozu-sensei, a half-American, half-Japanese, 23-year old, soft-spoken, kindhearted, and devastatingly handsome young man. The girls in Ohtori's class were a downright nightmare, with their squealing and giggling and fawning. The boys in his class had scowled and sneered at them; Ohtori could only try his hardest not to blush in sympathy. It was when he had tried to compare how he felt about the prettiest girl in his class, to how he felt about Ozu-sensei, that Ohtori suspected where his preferences might lie. Some days, Ozu-sensei would tell the students to work quietly, while he walked around the room, talking to each student individually. Ohtori would make extra sure his work was always perfect on those days, and when Ozu-sensei would lean over his shoulder, smile warmly, and praise his work, Ohtori had no doubts he preferred the company of the same sex.

~~~~~~~~~~

The morning of Ohtori's moving day, he woke up to find his mother, grandmother, father, and sister all seated at the kitchen table, sipping tea quietly.

Ohtori, still wearing his flannel pajamas, stopped short at the bottom of the stairs, sensing the presence of the two unwanted family members before he even saw them, due to the thick tension hanging in the air. He plastered on his best fake smile and walked into the kitchen.

"Good morning, everyone. Father. Nee-san. How are you?"

"Ah, Choutarou. Fine, fine, just, er . . . coming to see you on your big day," his father smiled warmly and Ohtori couldn't help but smile back.

"Nah, it's not that big of a deal, is it?" Ohtori laughed, trying to lighten the heavy tension.

"Well, I told Kazumi you'd be far too busy today to entertain us," his father shot an accusatory look over at Ohtori's sister, "but she insisted on coming to see you before you left."

Ohtori didn't know what to say to that. Considering he and Kazumi barely spoke as it is, it was odd that she'd feel a need to be there for him. Ohtori quirked a brow at his sister, who pretended not to notice, sipping her tea calmly, her eyes glued to the table.

"Kazumi-chan? Isn't there something you wanted to give to your brother?" his mother said with a tinge of resigned sadness, sounding tired. Ohtori wanted to reach out to her - he knew dealing with father and Kazumi wore her out.

Kazumi raised her chin, looking aloof, and Ohtori inwardly rolled his eyes. Would it kill these people to be nice to his mother? Come to think of it, would it kill Kazumi to be nice to her mother? Ohtori noticed his grandmother had made the wise decision to stay out of this, her face buried in the morning newspaper.

"A present for me, neesan?" Ohtori forced a grin.

Kazumi set her teacup primly down on the table, pushed her chair back, and stood up, every inch the perfectly-mannered young lady. She picked up a small box that had been lying beside on the table, walked over to Ohtori, and, looking him sharply in the eye, handed the box to him.

Ohtori took the box and sat down at the table, as his mother poured him a cup of tea. Ohtori noticed her hands were shaking somewhat, probably from stress, and he gave her his warmest, most heartfelt smiles. "Thank you, mom." He was rewarded with his mother's sweet smile and a pat on the wrist.

His sister, who had sat back down, was eyeing them distastefully.

Ohtori picked up the box from his sister with a slightly grim feeling washing over him. Why would his sister give him a present? She didn't even get him birthday presents anymore, only sending him a cordial, obligatory card every year. He hoped that whatever was in the box, it was at least given to him with only good intentions. He undid the simple gold ribbon wrapped around the box and pulled the lid off the top.

Inside, was a very beautiful, sterling silver necklace. It was quite nice, except . . . it was a cross.

Ohtori took a deep breath. "Nee-san?" he looked up at his sister inquiringly.

"Do you like it?" she asked, the raised teacup hiding her mouth.

"Ah, well, it's . . . beautiful. Thank you."

"You're welcome," she smiled and Ohtori thought that maybe, just maybe she was doing this only to be nice. But . . .

"But, um . . . a cross, nee-san?" he didn't want to sound ungrateful. But what could he do? Kazumi knew he wasn't Christian like her.

"I think you'll need it where you're going, Choutarou," and with that, Kazumi placed her cup down and reached over to Ohtori, taking her brother's hands in her own. "Promise me you'll wear it, always?"

Ohtori found himself touched despite the peculiarity of the situation. His sister was trying to protect him; while the cross may not have been his amulet of choice, it obviously held a lot of meaning for her. She must have heard about what a tough school Hyoutei is, and wanted to give him some reassurance. "Of course, neesan," he answered, fighting down the urge to jump into Kazumi's arms and cry.

"Well, then," his father voice interrupted them as he stood up, "we should probably get going. Wouldn't want to be in the way."

"Oh no, you just got here! Please stay a while longer, for breakfast at least. It's so rare I get to see my lovely daughter," his mother rose and pleaded with them as a good hostess should. She looked to Kazumi, who pretended not to notice, politely ignoring her mother.

"Ah, sorry dear, I've got a meeting to go to," Ohtori bit his tongue at his father's obvious lie and looked away. Screw politeness, he really just wanted these people out of his house; so before his mother could protest, he stood up and went to show them out.

The farewells were brief and unemotional. Even when his father attempted to give his son some parting, fatherly advice (the usual "work hard" nonsense), his words fell painfully flat, and Ohtori felt relieved as half of his family got into their car and drove away, disappearing on the horizon.

~~~~~~~~~~

Although he still didn't trust his sister's intentions 100%, Ohtori decided to wear the cross anyways. He figured that, seeing as how she had forced their reluctant father to drive her out just so she could give it to him, her heart was at least in the right place. After his mother had put it on him (he just couldn't get the damn clasp himself), and went and stood in front of the bathroom mirror, examining himself.

Like always, he didn't like what he saw, but he thought that the bright silver cross looked nice regardless of the rest of him, and went, to his amusement, quite well with his silver hair. The small silver pendant flashed brightly from the mirror, reflecting a small chink of light on his cheek. He reached up and touched it, the light rolling over his fingers. He took his fingers away and ran them down the chain of his necklace, the cold links rippling under his fingertips, until he reached the bottom, running one finger over the cross itself, outlining the shape. A shape that had, in it's own way, created the deep valley that divided his family into two separate halves.

Ohtori wasn't so poetic that he would consider the shape a curse; it was after all, only a symbol, and the ideas which Ohtori associated with it weren't even the things it was supposed to signify. And that's all it was really, wasn't it? Just a shape. Ohtori didn't have to believe in Jesus to wear it. He didn't have to believe in, or love his sister, who gave it to him. He didn't have to think of it as protection, as a talisman, something to give him strength in times of need. To him, it could represent anything he wanted, because he had that power - to take the sign and establish the thing signified. And what should it signify to him? The day recommended he say "new beginnings" and "fresh starts," but Ohtori didn't buy that. The feeling behind this day, his "leaving the nest," as his grandmother called it, wasnt so easily captured, remembered, to be called upon whenever he looked in the mirror.

He smiled at the cool silver, warming against the curve in his chest, right above his heart. A shield for his heart? Ohtori smirked at that. No, he thought, nothing can shield my heart, can it? Nothing can stop me from being the oversensitive, feeling, hurting being that I am.

After all, he thought, isn't this cross I bear proof enough of that?




End of Part 1

On to Captivate (Part 2)

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