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The late hour seemed to warrant silence, the sidewalk showing little life but for one flickering street lamp. But silence had never been their way, and footsteps of two accompanied a low litany of words and faint static from a set of earphones.

They had come from a tennis session at the street courts, once again playing as a doubles team. Had they each not shown more potential for singles matches, the doubles they played would be formalized in tournaments. As it was, their coordination was almost flawless, understanding of each other born from the closeness of friendship. To them, doubles was an extension of companionship, and not the other way around.

It had made up for relative lack of doubles practice, when they played in the street courts.

Most would not have thought the two to be as close as they were. They were by no means two sides of a coin, but were different coins altogether. As opposite as red and black...but at once similar in unseen fronts.

For friendships were strange things. When each had applied to join the tennis club, they had been introduced as fellow first-years. Finding out that they took the same route home had been chance occurrence.

Taking the same route, one waiting for the other, had been a conscious decision. First-years had little power over how their seniors treated them - and two could fight better than one. It had been weird, initially, traveling home from from school without shared conversation, one murmuring to himself, the other wondering the whole journey back if a earphone hooked onto one ear was still considered rude. Then one day Akira forgot fresh batteries for his MD player, and Shinji began to speak louder, as if to include his companion in the verbalized thought process.

And things just seemed to fall into place. Akira began to listen, paying attention to the seemingly pointless murmurings of the one fast becoming a friend. Shinji stopped muttering when Akira was in one of his raving moods, listening without much change in expression. An increased volume in his murmuring became a norm whenever Akira was around, as if to compensate for the stem in words when his friend took a turn in venting.

The journey had never been in total quiet, with music and mumbling; but the sounds began to carry understanding. To anyone besides the two, it would have been but white noise. Faint beats of music, and soft, self-directed speech.

One knew when to turn away from the window, to look at his partner and stop himself for a while. All it took was a change in the faint beats coming from earphones.

The other was aware of times when the earphones had to be put away, to check if his friend had anything he needed to convey. All it took was a shift in tone of the flow of words from the other's mouth.

The two never really spoke about what they shared. Their team mates had asked, once, and had gotten offhand shrugs. It had not been so much a slight, as a lack of words for explanation.

Like how smoothly they had slipped into the bonds of friendship, they fell into coordination for doubles matches on street tennis courts. Like such coordination, their closeness developed a step further. The process had been so matter-of-fact that neither had noticed it - until after a game on the street courts one day, Ann had pointed it out with a cheeky - and congratulatory - grin.

It had been one of the few times Akira saw an immediate, sudden change in Shinji's expression. And knew the same moment that he wore an identical one. Ann had then jogged away, still grinning, calling out something about meeting a friend.

On the surface, things did not seem to have changed much since then. They continued their routine, going to and leaving school together, chemistry on the doubles courts as strong as before, the same sounds following the pair.

But each knew the difference. A second set of earphones was plugged into the second jack on the MD player on their bus rides. Shoulders would touch when they traveled to and from school. One hand would reach for the other's when the need for communication arose.

Total silence had never accompanied the two. For each had gotten used to the sounds that was the other.

Owari.


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