Oshitari Yuushi did not recall the first time he called Shiraishi Kuranosuke, or why; before he realized it, calling Shiraishi was simply something he did - sometimes once a week, sometimes less, sometimes more. Once, he had gone an entire heady month without calling the boy in Osaka, in the middle of their second year of junior high, but that was the longest time.
Sometimes he thought that Shiraishi might be his closest friend; he didn't know when that had happened either. When he'd lived in Osaka, back in elementary school, he'd known the other boy, but only in the same way he'd known some of his sister's friends. Kuranosuke had always been closer to Yuushi's cousin Kenya, and though they had messed around together, though they had played tennis together, they weren't really close. They'd been more like acquaintances than friends.
Yuushi had been surprised, the night before his family left Osaka and moved to Tokyo for his father's new position at the Hyoutei University Hospital, when the slighter boy with a mess of rich red hair had handed him a scrap of paper with a number printed on it in neat Arabic numerals. He'd never intended to use it. Oshitari Yuushi liked the idea of new beginnings, and he liked the idea of making all new friends and becoming a different person in Tokyo, and he wasn't really sure he'd keep in touch with the friends he'd had in Osaka.
He'd heard his mother whispering worriedly to that effect weeks ago - that it would be hard for both of their children, especially Yuushi's older sister Hoshiko. They wouldn't be able to stay close to their friends. Yuushi had considered himself prepared for that.
He probably hadn't been, he thought years later; he'd probably been homesick and lonely and he'd need someone to talk to, that had probably been why he'd called Shiraishi the first time.
That part made sense, he thought. He just wasn't as sure about why he'd kept calling, why it felt strange to go very long without hearing Shiraishi Kuranosuke's voice.
He hadn't called him after Atobe Keigo had tried to let him down, when Keigo had told him that he was seeing Sanada Genichirou. Keigo hadn't minced words in that conversation, and Yuushi had just inclined his head and smirked, saying that he should have expected that Atobe would be interested in someone else. He'd combed his fingers through his shaggy dark hair and told Keigo that he hoped he'd be happy.
When he walked out of the music room where Atobe had broken the news, out onto the Hyoutei grounds, Yuushi flipped open his cell phone and sent a text message.
"Are you in class?" he typed, his fingers flying assuredly over the keypad as he leaned against the rough stone of the wall.
"No," the reply came immediately. "Is something wrong? You never send me text messages."
That was true, Yuushi thought, blinking at the characters on the small LCD screen of his telephone. He'd had Shiraishi's cell phone number since their first year of junior high, when the other boy had first gotten one, but he never used the text messaging service. He always preferred to call.
He didn't this time, because he wasn't sure he could trust his voice.
"Nothing's wrong," he finally sent. "I can text you if I want."
The screen was blank for several long moments, and then a message flashed across it. "You suck at lying, Yuu-han."
Yuushi could almost see the rueful smile on Shiraishi's face, and his fingers rushed across the key as he typed his reply. It was only two words. "Atobe left."
"Call me tonight."
"I don't need to."
"I need you to," Shiraishi sent. "Call me, Yuu-han."
He did; Yuushi called Shiraishi three times that week, and they were the only times he let his voice sound rough and hurt; at all other times, he was cool and smirking, and not even Atobe could tell what Yuushi was thinking that first week. That was just the way Oshitari Yuushi liked it.
"You never call me," Yuushi purred over the phone lines, months after Keigo had left. His breath puffed white with every word, and a thick blue plaid scarf was wrapped around his throat. It was December, nearly Christmas and nearly time for winter break, and Ginza was swarming with exuberant students and envious salarymen.
Yuushi was shopping; every year, the Hyoutei regulars plus Taki did a Christmas gift exchange, borrowing the western tradition. Usually he managed to get something for everyone in one shopping trip, finishing the whole thing in one fell swoop, but this year was more difficult. He'd managed to find something for all but one of his friends, but he was having trouble with the last.
What did you get for an ex-boyfriend you were still in love with?
"Do you want me to call you?" Shiraishi said, and his voice was just as low and teasing as Yuushi's own. Flirtation had become a part of their relationship again in the months since September, when Atobe had told Yuushi goodbye.
"Of course," Yuushi murmured. His lips curved into a wicked smile. "You make me do all the work in this relationship."
There was a pause, and Yuushi could practically see Shiraishi lifting a single coppery eyebrow and leaning back in his desk chair. Then a peal of rich laughter floated across the airwaves and into Yuushi's ear. "That's a good one, Yuu-han," Shiraishi purred.
"So, what are you doing now?"
"Shopping," Yuushi said, his voice subdued after a long moment of silence. "For-"
"For Atobe," Shiraishi finished, his voice smooth and calm. "And the Hyoutei Gift Exchange. What are you getting him?"
"I haven't decided yet," Yuushi returned. "It's-hard to shop for him now. I know what he likes-" But not, he continued to himself, what he was allowed to get him now.
"A book," Shiraishi said, and his voice was so assured that Yuushi halted in the middle of the store he'd been strolling in. "You told me he was intellectual and that he liked literature, so get him a book." He smiled softly, and tipped his head back to stare at the ceiling of his bedroom. "It's a perfectly acceptable gift from a friend," he said. "And you and Atobe are still friends, aren't you?"
"Yes," Yuushi said. It was all he said, before he walked back into the cold. "Thanks, Shiraishi."
"Mmhmm," Shiraishi said, his green eyes closing briefly and then reopening as there was a knock at the door. "I've got to go, Yuushi," he said. "Talk to you later?"
"Sure," Yuushi said as he wove through the crowds towards a bookstore. His lips curved slightly. "You call me, next time."
He just heard Shiraishi's very soft laughter, and then silence as the phone call was ended.
Oshitari Yuushi came to two realizations in his fifteenth year: the hurt that had started in the music room of the junior high department of Hyoutei his last year of junior high was finally beginning to fade and he was talking Shiraishi more often than he had since he moved to Tokyo - at least two phone calls a week, and even more often on the internet over instant messenger. He knew that the second had a lot to do with the first; he knew that talking to the other boy had always made him feel lighter, more contented.
He didn't realize that he was falling in love with Shiraishi until he was nearly sixteen, and when he did, he waited three days to call him.
He called late on a Thursday night in September. The stars were high and bright over the thick trees as he cut through the park on his way home, his tennis bag slung over one shoulder as punched the Send key and lifted the phone to his ear.
"Shiraishi," he said as the other boy answered. "I'm coming down to Osaka this weekend. I need to ask you something."
"You could ask me over the phone," Shiraishi murmured teasingly. He'd just gotten out of the shower and was rubbing his red hair dry with a towel. "Don't we discuss everything over the phone, Yuu-han?"
"Yes," Yuushi returned, inclining his head slightly. "But not this time.
"I want to ask you this in person."
Shiraishi looked puzzled, and his hand stilled in the thick terry cloth of the towel. "Sure, Yuushi," he said slowly, his eyebrows drawing together. "What time will you be down here?"
"I'll take the Nozomi train," Yuushi said crisply. "Probably about 8:30."
"I'll meet you at the station," Shiraishi said softly. "'Bye."
Shiraishi stared at the slim silver phone in his palm for a long moment, letting the damp towel drop to the floor, and then finally his lips quirked in a very small smile. Yuushi had been calling him for five years, he thought. Maybe, Shiraishi mused as he sank down on the edge of his mattress, maybe the two of them were moving forward.
And maybe it was about time.