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Every time he sits down for an interview—and he’s done his fair share of those over the years, because when at the tender age of twenty-three you were the first American in history to grace the stage at La Scala in Milan as a principal dancer, people tend to want to talk to you,—Buck braces for the inevitable question.

Why did you decide to go into ballet?

They always, always ask that, and sometimes Buck wishes he was enough of a dick to tell the journalist that it’s not like the answer has changed since the last time he gave it, they can just go look it up.

Sometimes, Buck wishes he was enough of a lionheart to scrap the day’s variation of the same cutesy line and tell the truth. And wouldn’t that be great?

He could tell the world about what it felt like, being the seven-year-old son of a world-class orchestra conductor who barely glanced at the sweet, colorful drawings Buck made for him in school, and instead spent whatever little time he could spare with his son trying to gauge what instrument he was destined to master.

Buck could speak for hours about all the ways he tried to catch his mother’s attention when she was too tired after practicing the violin for eight hours every day, because a National Symphony Orchestra first chair cannot afford to stay idle, not even on her son’s birthday or Christmas morning.

He could try and explain how conflicted and awful he felt about his big sister Maddie, the only one who made him feel loved and wanted, but also a piano virtuoso at thirteen.

He could tell in every detail how, while he was driving their father up the wall because he couldn’t fit his fingers around the neck of a cello, or because he couldn’t grasp even the easiest pattern to play on a flute, Maddie would sit at the Steinway in the hall, and entertain multitudes of sophisticated guests with her grace and impeccable skills.

“So. Routine question. Why ballet?” the interviewer asks—Taylor Kelly, Buck remembers, her editorials always a knife-edge despite the fact that she writes for Vogue, not the New Yorker.

Her lips are painted a bold red and curled into a smile mischievous enough that Buck knows she’s fishing for scandal, for something more than the usual cookie-cutter nonsense he could spew in his sleep.

Buck could give her what she’s looking for. He could look her in the eyes and say, I started dancing because I can’t play music, and I figured being a pretty accompaniment to it was the next best thing.

But that makes him sound so fucking bitter—and he’s not, honestly.

It’s not that Buck doesn’t like ballet. Christ, there’s no way he could’ve gotten to where he is if he didn’t love it with everything he has. No way he would’ve survived the massacre of years of training and brutal conditioning that have shaped his body into something his maîtres could work with.

Ballet is not what Buck does, it’s who he is—he can’t bring himself to be anything else.

Buck never learned to play an instrument other than his body, and that’s unfortunate, for someone who was born into a family of exceptionally gifted musicians.

No matter how good he gets—and he’s fucking great, alright, he has nearly killed himself more times than he can count on his quest to greatness, and he got it, he did, he does, he’s one of the best in the country, in the world,—if he still can’t figure out his way around a keyboard or a bow, Buck will never be good enough.

His parents love him, he thinks, in that dutiful, responsible way of theirs: they made a son and therefore, they love him. They just don’t know how to love Buck, someone who’s not what they expect him to be.

He could say all that. Shit, he probably should—he’s been carrying the unspoken weight of his parents’ lack of understanding for twenty-eight years and it’s fucking crushing him.

The reporter would eat it up like it’s ice cream on a smoldering summer day, he can tell.

She would write a wonderful, shocking profile about the secret woes of America’s sweetheart and the news would spread like wildfire to the general public. It would be good, great, fantastic publicity for the upcoming season; nothing like a little bit of gossip to sell an inordinate amount of tickets, maybe even force an extra show or two or five.

All it takes is an ounce of the tender meat of Buck’s heart, a piece of his soul laid bare in the sun, a bite of truth.

He wants to do it.

And he could.

He doesn’t.

He slaps on his best PR smile, dazzling and charming, and says, “Oh, well, music is kind of in my blood. My sister is a great pianist, as I’m sure you know, and when I was a kid I loved listening to her play and dancing along. I guess I just never stopped.”

It paints a heart-warming picture, really. A lie so good that Buck wants to be buried in it. Sometimes, when he’s tired and stressed and lonely enough, he even believes it.

*

Buck has been in Los Angeles for a grand total of three weeks and he’s already pretty much over it. He tries to hide it, because this is Hen’s home and Hen is the best choreographer he’s worked with in years, and she’s his friend, so he doesn’t want to insult her, but really.

The city is a fucking nightmare. The traffic is so bad that Buck is seriously thinking about ditching the flat they got him, he should just move into his dressing room and get it over with. There’s a nice taquería two blocks over; he’s pretty sure he can survive for three months on pico de gallo and guac, and then the tour starts, and thankfully he doesn’t have to drive—or, you know, eat—when they’re knee-deep in shows.

He’s so focused mapping out all the different possible ways he’ll be stuck in traffic on his way home that he almost misses his cue. Almost.

One thing about Buck: his body has been painstakingly hard-wired to always be ready to take on the burden of his wandering brain.

The show they’re preparing is a bold choice—la Bayadère, a classic tale of love and tragedy, a favorite of the upper class siphoning money into the company’s pockets, but in a stripped-down, raw variation, with heavy postmodern influences and even some radical rewriting of the score.

Bobby, the artistic director, is a fucking visionary with a background in figure skating which, honestly, made Buck all too excited to work with him. And Hen is Hen, and whatever she cooks up, is a guaranteed masterpiece.

Buck is happy about the future. He just hates the place he’s in right now.

But—he executes the steps to perfection, he and Ali flitting around the brightly lit stage like feathers on the wind. He ends his piece with a languid fondu, kneeling to the side of a pirouetting Ali and glancing up to her with the appropriate amount of awe and devotion. She comes to a halt in a demi-plié in fifth, and they’ve earned a round of applause.

“Whew, god, how have you not even broken a sweat?” Ali says, poking him in the shoulder and grinning.

Buck smiles, a little bashful. When he steals a glance to Bobby, he knows immediately that he could tell Buck’s heart wasn’t in it. Bobby can always tell.

“Alright,” Bobby says, ever so peaceful and pleasant, exchanging a satisfied look with Hen. “I really love where this is going. Ali, Buck, thank you, you’re done for today. I want to go over scene two with the corps one more time?”

Buck rolls his shoulders and cracks his neck with a little smirk. He catches Hen’s eye and raises his thumb to his lips, pinky stretched out and up, in what his stint in Italy taught him is the sign for let’s get a drink after this.

Hen rolls her eyes, but she smiles in agreement before turning to the corps de ballet coming into formation.

As their steps thump lightly on the parquet, Buck shuffles to the side of the stage to do some light stretching, letting his wound-up muscles know that it’s okay, they can relax now, they’re done with the heavy duty—until the morning, that is. Ugh, tomorrow is leg day at the gym. Buck hates leg day.

He’ll have to drink three beers tonight just to survive the thought of leg day.

He notices that Ali is trying to catch the last drops of water out of her clearly empty metal bottle—it’s stylishly navy blue and dons the NY Academy of Ballet logo in silver—so Buck, being a gentleman, walks up to her and offers his own—bright, firetruck red and glittery.

Sure, she could easily refill hers at the water fountain they installed backstage for this very specific purpose, or she could get an overpriced glass bottle from the vending machines, but Buck is right here.

Ali takes the bottle he offers with a big, grateful smile, and Buck thinks, I could take her home and fuck her. Then he turns pink and ashamed at the thought.

Ali is beautiful and elegant, her lithe body trained within an inch of perfection just like Buck’s; she’s smart, and funny, and her jet black hair glistens under the stage lights like spun silk.

Yeah, Buck could fuck her. Would give her the time of day, too—other than dancing, sex is the only other thing he’s ever put the hours in for. A complicated choreography and a night writhing in the sheets are not that unrelated, for Buck; just different tunes for his body to play to.

He would have fucked Ali, two seasons or even just eighteen months ago, when falling to bed with your co-lead was still a perfectly good idea, just two people coming together out of proximity and opportunity.

He would have fucked her—well, he would have tried—without even thinking about it, as a natural progression of the good partnership they have on the stage. After all, Buck knows her body already; and she knows his. The line of Ali’s waist is imprinted in Buck’s palms and he knows how much strength he needs to lift her high above his head; it’s not hard to imagine turning his careful touch into a demand, pressing his mouth to the places his fingers have brushed against every day.

Buck would have definitely fucked her, before Abby.

He’s not going to, not now. Not when he’s still running around on a heart that’s stapled together and brittle.

Now, Buck knows that fucking your co-lead is a slippery slope into love into disappointment into despair. He’s not falling for it again.

So he smiles back to Ali and he is entirely friendly when he says, “It’s spring water. Straight from the tap.”

She snorts with laughter and kicks him in the shin and he smiles wider, leaving the bottle with her as he turns back to his winding-down stretches.

*

Buck is showered and floating in a flowery cloud because he stole TK’s body wash. If you asked, Buck would never admit it, but the goddamn concoction might actually be worth its stupid hefty pricetag just for the layered, wonderful scent it leaves lingering on his skin for fucking hours.

When later TK finds the bottle already wet and soapy in the showers, he will pretend to get mad and pout at Buck and threaten to stop bringing it to training. Buck will laugh and throw an arm around TK’s shoulders, batting his lashes in his best aren’t I the cutest former wunderkind and current étoile you’ve ever seen expression, and TK will laugh and forgive him easily.

It’s a whole thing they do.

Buck whistles a random tune under his breath—it’s probably some part of the music from the show, but they’re still far enough from the debut that he hasn’t dived into it full force yet, so he can’t quite place it—and crosses the hallway to his changing room.

On the clothes rail that’s usually dedicated to stage costumes, now hangs a very nice deep maroon suit with a dark grey shirt that Buck is entirely sure he didn’t put there.

It hits him, then, that it’s Wednesday night, and two days ago Hen had asked, “Are you free Wednesday night?”

Buck had said, “Yeah,” because duh, it’s not like he has the time—or will—to get a life outside the Ballet Center.

And Hen had said, “Great. I’m taking you to a thing. Wear something nice.”

Of course, Buck forgot. And of course, Hen knew he would forget.

Buck smiles to himself—shit, he really does not deserve her—and runs his hand over the smooth, rich fabric of the suit. No doubt it’ll be a perfect fit, too; Hen knows his measurements, has known them since last season’s Romeo and Juliet in New York.

Buck tries not to think about it too often, how his closest friend knows the length of his inseam and has probably entertained more than one conversation about the size of his dick—that’s what the costume fittings are for, mostly. Also, Buck performs in tights that couldn’t be more revealing if they were painted on, so, there’s that, too. Sure, he wears a cup, but honestly? Yeah, that’s not enough of a disguise. Like, at all.

Buck drops the towel he’s wearing around his waist, fishes clean underwear out of his bag and slips it on. He wears the suit—Jesus, Hen even got him shoes—finds a tie in the inner pocket but he forgoes it, instead leaving the top button on the shirt open, because hey, however nice the place they’re going to will be, he’s still a rebellious twenty-something.

Who diligently trains for ten hours a day, six days a week. Right. Anarchy is a state of mind, isn’t it?

Buck turns to face the mirror and tries to make sense of his hair, pushing the still damp curls off his forehead and smoothing the sides; he’s been neglecting his morning shave for a few days and a little ginger stubble dusts his jaw, which isn’t half bad, if he can say so himself.

He’s considering the idea of running into the girls’ section and ask Ali if she has a blow dryer when someone knocks on his door—a sharp, no-nonsense rap—and then the door opens and of course it’s Hen.

“Oh, good, you got the message,” she says, looking Buck up and down. He laughs and makes a pirouette for her, showing off.

“Thanks. Sorry, I forgot it was Wednesday.”

“I know, Buckaroo,” she says, going for stern and missing the mark entirely. “Ready to go?”

“Yup,” Buck says, popping the p on it and shouldering his bag. “Where are we going again?”

Hen’s eyes glitter but she doesn’t say.

*

So, given Hen’s secretive smile and the fact that she had him wear a suit, Buck lets his imagination run wild and dreams uo all sorts of élite Hollywood parties, maybe a run-in with a movie star or two. Yeah, he won’t fuck his co-workers and he’s trying to keep random hook ups to a minimum, but who in their right mind would turn down a night with, whatever, Luke Evans, if presented with the chance?

Instead, she takes him downtown and to a museum, of all places.

Buck is confused, but it’s opening night on a new collection of abstract art, so a nice smiling waiter hands him a champagne flute, and yeah, Buck can probably live with it.

They shuffle through the rooms, and in the crowd Buck recognizes a few faces here and there, rich tycoons that circle the Ballet Center too, the type of people who wouldn’t look amiss exchanging inane pleasantries in his parents’ dining room—and he tries to make himself small and invisible when he does.

He’s not in the mood to entertain mummified heiresses grabbing his biceps; Hen agrees with the plan, and so they linger around the back of every room, looking at the art from afar.

Buck has the distinct impression that Hen didn’t drag him over here for a couple of sculptures anyway. Next to his elbow, she is positively vibrating with badly-concealed anticipation, and no matter how many times Buck asks, she’s not telling him why.

“Just be patient, Buckaroo,” she says, pushing another flute into his hand, and Buck rolls his eyes, wishes it was a beer but drinks it anyway.

As he’s throwing the bubbly drink back, for a split second he makes eye contact with a sharply dressed old man across the room; Buck half-recognizes him from an opening show a couple of years back.

Buck is quick to avert his eyes but, afraid it won’t be enough to avoid him idle chitchat, he sharply turns back on his heel under the pretense of looking for somewhere to put his empty glass.

Not his most gracious moment, he’s gotta admit—and it only gets worse when his elbow knocks into some poor guy’s side.

“Sorry,” Buck says, and the guy turns around to scowl at him, and, well, poor guy is not a reasonable description.

He’s gotta be the most handsome man Buck has seen in a very long time, maybe ever.

Buck drinks in big, expressive brown eyes, a pretty jaw dusted with trim dark stubble, and golden skin like poured honey. A strong body, tall—but a couple of inches shorter than Buck—and packed with enough taut muscle that it shows even through the ill-fitted dark gray suit he’s wearing.

Buck’s throat turns dry as the desert, and he already has half a mind to try and turn the scowl into a smile, but the guy is x-raying him, glancing down at where Buck’s feet are in a very loose open fourth position—yes, Christ, he’s incorrigible—then all the way up to his birthmark, and Buck can see the exact moment everything clicks and the guy recognizes him.

Only, instead of turning starstruck or whatever, the guy closes off completely, his back stiffening, and he walks away.

Huh.

He must really hate ballet. Too bad.

Buck goes to find Hen and, when he does, he notices something weird about the painting she’s looking at. Like, weirder than that installation of a big white rhino made out of forks, emerging from and/or drowning in a tub of liquefied water guns to criticize poaching or global warming or something.

He tugs at Hen’s sparkly yellow jacket and says, “Uhm, Hen? Why is there a person on the painting?”

Because, as strange as it sounds, there is a person, a real person, plastered against a Kandinskij-style painting. She’s pretty well camouflaged, Buck’s gotta giver her that, wearing a catsuit that matches the splotches of color down to the millimeter. But. She’s still a person, flesh and bone, sticking out of a painting, flat against the wall.

Why the fuck is nobody else noticing?

Hen grins up to him. “Wait and see.”

“What? No, c’mon, tell me—”

But before he can whine any more, the lights in the room turn softer and the music louder, less ambient-y and more pounding, tribal.

The woman in the Kandinskij suit starts moving to the beat. Someone gasps, a couple of champagne flutes are dropped.

Hen pulls Buck to the side a little and he quickly gets why: a pack of six ballerinas in futuristic headgear and light-up tutus comes running through the room, en pointe, twirling and jumping among the baffled, enchanted guests.

This is—well, it’s exciting. Buck is excited. Maybe Los Angeles has some tricks up her sleeve still.

They follow the ballerinas through a hall where dancers painted as statues are doing an impressive hip hop number, and into a dark room with beautiful holographic jellyfish. Buck stares as the ballerinas dance through the hologram, caressed by non-existent tentacles, graceful bodies engulfed in light folding and unfolding with the movement of the shiny, elegant creatures.

He wants to join in their beautiful dance, but he also wants to stay where he is and just watch.

Hen’s hand finds his, their fingers tangling, and she’s urging him to go to the next room. Buck doesn’t want to leave the haze he’s in, but he’s an optimist at heart, and even if it seems unimaginable, maybe there’s something better further down.

He’s not wrong.

If possible, the room they step into is even darker. The melody has turned mellower, but the beat underneath it is getting angrier, and it’s a perfect match to the video projected onto the back wall—bright white lines animated to mimic the movement of ocean water, waves rolling and breaking, building up a storm.

Five people are suddenly there, seemingly pushing out of the very floor. Buck knows they were just laying down flat, hidden by the darkness; he understands this, he knows that people can’t spring out of solid linoleum, but the trick is clever and well executed, and he lets himself believe it.

The dancers move in perfect sync with each other and the projection, the light beams breaking over their bodies, meshing flesh and the illusion of water.

The beat slows and the dancers take the change in stride, their shoulder rolls become languid, every pop and lock a touch smoother.

It takes Buck a moment or two, but he finally recognizes the guy he bumped into as the one at the top of the formation. He lost the shirt and jacket, and the projection traces intricate patterns on miles of his smooth skin, dipping and crawling over the carved lines of his muscles.

Another wave rises and he rises with it, pulling off a full body roll that’s so slow and graceful and controlled and magnetic it shouldn’t be possible.

Buck is fucking mesmerized. He is himself lost at sea, suspended in a dreamscape.

Suddenly the waters roughen and so does the beat, turning to a brutal pace that makes Buck’s heart rate skyrocket. The guy at the top is the best dancer in the group, and whoever choreographed this knew it: as the song becomes much too fast, the sync is broken and everyone else starts gravitating towards him, centering the attention on his performance—still perfect, on time, effortless, ridiculously sensual.

Engulfed in the raging waves, he is one with the sea.

The song’s climax finds the guy with his knees bent and his head down, raising in sharp little pulses of his shoulders and chest, his entire body turned into a beating heart—and Buck staring helplessly as he tips his head back and, for a gorgeous, perfect moment, holds the illusion that on the next pulse, he will really explode.

It’s touching.

Fuck.

Suddenly, the song is over and the room turns silent and pitch black.

Buck, breathing hard and shell shocked, trying to rein in his heartbeat, can hear the distant echo of police sirens. He feels a rustle of clothes close by, and the warmth of a body pushing past him.

When the lights come back up, the dancers are gone.

Buck wants to turn to Hen and just—stare at her, probably, see if she was as affected by this as he was, but he can’t bring himself to move a muscle, not yet.

*

On their way out, they get stopped by a couple of officers trying to get information about the dancers involved in the flash mob. Good luck with that, Buck thinks, and then proceeds to give them the vaguest, most useless descriptions he can think of. His statement also contradicts the one that Hen is giving not even five feet away.

Then, Buck follows her across the parking lot, and he’s still a little out of it.

“That was good, huh?” Hen teases as they reach the cars.

Buck barely has the energy to shrug before getting behind the wheel and following Hen’s car into the street.

The thing is, a part of him is stupidly jealous of what happened in there.

Buck knows what he looks like when he dances—he has watched recordings of his own performances and even the rehearsals a thousand times, scouring for mistakes and agonizing over every single detail—and he knows that, objectively speaking, he fucking sets the bar for other performers in terms of technical virtuosity and dramatic strength.

Buck is a perfectionist and he’s a drama queen, Bobby always says; it’s a deadly combination, for Buck because it means he’ll gladly grind his bones into dust if that’s what it takes, and for his audience, who are guaranteed awe-inducing, breathtaking performances every time the curtain raises over him.

But.

Doesn’t matter how many postmodern influences get injected into it, ballet is—well, it’s still a highbrow form of entertainment, prim and proper, and it requires patience and a palate and a lot of good will from the people who choose to sit through two-and-a-half-hours shows.

That flash mob, however? Instantly accessible. Fun to watch, for fucking anyone. It was real, dramatic, lifelike. Physical, sensual, warm and feral in a way Buck’s repertoire never will be.

It’s a completely different style of dancing, of course, another category of performing, and it makes no sense to agonize over it; but tonight Buck witnessed a fucking miracle so, yeah, he’s gonna be bitter about it.

He’s pouting so much he doesn’t realize that Hen isn’t taking them home until he finds himself parking his car outside a big building in a part of Los Angeles he’s never been to before.

“I thought we were going to yours for drinks?” Buck says as he climbs out of the truck, frowning. “Have you moved?”

Hen snorts in amusement, locking her own car and offering no explanation at all. She walks up to the building and Buck quickly catches up—like fucking hell he’s letting his friend get into a strange place alone at nine in the evening.

If Hen gets murdered under his watch, Karen will murder him in return. And then Bobby will stab his corpse just to make sure, probably.

Buck is confused—and also, a little overdressed—as they get into the stripped down skeleton of an office building that’s been taken over by graffiti and ivy.

Hen is either a witch or she’s been here before and knows what she’s doing, because she takes a sharp right turn through a half-collapsed wall and now they’re climbing stairs. None of this feels safe, but Buck keeps going after her.

On the second floor, a fire door is propped open by a loose brick and they can hear voices, laughter and music coming from the other side.

Hen pushes the door without hesitation, and warm, multi-colored light floods the stairwell.

Buck follows her inside, eyes going a little wide at the massive amount of artwork on the walls, and the people hanging around the open space.

Tattoos, undercuts, baggy jeans, multi-pocketed shorts, flat lid hats. Buck and his pressed suit, Hen and her nice dress pants and structured jacket and horn-rimmed glasses, are as out of place as humanly possible.

A couple of people nod towards Hen and, what the fuck, why does she know them? She nods back but doesn’t stop to chatter; Buck knows that look on her face. She’s out on a mission.

And, once they step into a huge room with hardwood on the floor and a dozen mismatched mirrors propped against one of the walls, Buck begins to grasp the nature of their mission.

In the middle of the room, Flash Mob Guy is going over simple steps with a couple of other people that Buck recognizes as dancers from the museum. They’ve all ditched the cheap suits they wore in favor of comfortable clothes, thank God.

FMG himself—Buck needs to think of a better name for the man; no, wait, Buck shouldn’t be thinking of him at all, this fucker clearly knows who Buck is and hates his guts for some reason—is wearing a skin-tight black tank top, loose deep green sweatpants, and black basketball shoes with red accents.

Hen clears her throat and everyone stops dead in their tracks. FMG zeroes in on Buck, and he glares, but he relaxes once his eyes set over Hen.

“Hey,” he says, swaggering over with half a grin. “Didn’t think you’d show up.”

“After what I’ve seen tonight? Sweetheart, you need all the help you can get,” Hen says, her tone teasing.

A couple of people in the group tense up—Buck notices a blonde woman scowl and set her jaw like a dog getting ready to attack—but FMG laughs and embraces Hen easily, as if he’s been doing it for years.

Buck bristles. He can’t help it. Who the fuck those this guy think he is.

FMG looks over to Buck and again, it’s like his face is set in cold stone; his mouth an uninterested flat line, his eyes distant.

Hen slaps the back of her hand against Buck’s chest.

“This is Buck,” she says, and Buck wants to “Buck, this is Eddie Diaz.”

“Hey,” Buck says, and he should probably hold his hand out for a shake, but he’s feeling petty, so he doesn’t. Eddie Diaz doesn’t, either.

“Hey, man,” he says, his tone mild. His attention is back to Hen immediately. “So, any thoughts?”

He means about the museum performance, Buck gets that much. What he doesn’t comprehend is why Hen, who is a highly accomplished choreographer working twelve hours a day for the American Ballet Company on the most prestigious productions, feels the need to babysit a bunch of street dancers who wouldn’t know a pirouette from a fouetté even if the ballerina’s foot hit them in the fucking face.

“You need a focal point,” Hen says immediately. “Tonight’s performance was beautiful, but I know for sure I missed more than half of it because you were so scattered. If that’s what you like, great. But personally, I think it’s a shame and it’s a problem easily fixed with just a bit of planning.”

Buck sucks on his teeth, as silently as he can. He’s painfully aware of the fact that he and Hen are outnumbered and deep in enemy territory; and she just insulted what was probably months’ worth of work for these guys.

After a beat, however, Eddie Diaz grins, wide and lazy.

“Yeah, that’s why we need you,” he says, shrugging.

Hen nods and smiles a little. “I know. That’s why I’m here. I want to give you something beautiful, a stunning centerpiece, so that we can build the rest of the number around it.”

Buck is really looking forward to the end of this conversation, so they can leave and get drunk at Hen’s house. If he stays over, he can cook breakfast for everyone in the morning—Buck loves Hen’s family, and especially Denny, he’s such a happy, unstoppable kid—and that might be enough to make traffic and leg day at the gym bearable, probably.

But before Buck can open his mouth to speed things through and say his goodbyes, Hen turns to look at him, and she’s biting her lip a little and there’s this guilty little glint in her eyes that doesn’t really make sense.

Until it clicks.

Hen didn’t drag them all the way out here just to spew some commentary on tonight’s flash mob and promise she’ll be around again.

This is her full-on audition. And Buck is the main attraction in it.

“Oh, please,” Buck whines, because it’s late, and he paid his dues to the ballet gods for today, and he doesn’t want to dance, especially not in front of Eddie Diaz who, scowling and looking from him to Hen and back again, clearly doesn’t want to watch. “Really, Hen?”

“C’mon. You know you want to.”

“I really, really don’t.”

“Buckaroo,” Hen says, dragging out the last syllable a little, and Buck is already slipping off his jacket, alright, because he’s a total sucker, but that doesn’t mean he likes it.

“You didn’t even buy me a drink,” he grumbles, shuffling over to a bench to place the jacket on it, neatly folded. He toes off his shoes, then looks critically at the floor before deciding it looks clean enough, so he peels off his socks too.

“You drank, like, four glasses of champagne at the museum,” Hen points out.

“Yeah, but you didn’t buy it,” Buck says petulantly, and he sticks his tongue out to her.

Hen laughs, then waves him off affectionately. Buck walks up to a very much non-regulation barre that’s bolted to the wall, sighs, and starts going through his shortest stretching routine.

“Do you want a leg massage too?” the blonde woman who’s built like a tank tells him, sneering. Buck doesn’t even bother lifting his head from where it’s pressed into his shin.

“That would actually be great, thanks,” he says, dry as the desert.

This is real life, not some rose-tinged fantasy world where you can spontaneously burst into dance on cold muscles and not pull a tendon five seconds in. That’s, like, common sense. Buck’s annoyance at these people is only getting worse.

He groans a little as he pulls his foot over his head, the leg in a neat straight line, his hip rotating easily in the surprisingly forgiving fabric of his pants—fucking Hen, really, it’s so much like her, finding the only suit in the world that can accomodate Buck’s elaborate stretches and routines without ripping.

He very much does not look over his shoulder to see if Eddie Diaz is in any way impressed by his strength and flexibility. Why would he do that?

When Buck’s body is warm and slightly angry at him because it’d thought they were done with strenuous activities for the day, he shuffles back to Hen’s side, working out a kink in his neck with the heel of his hand.

“What do you want me to do?” he asks, with a clearly defeated note in his voice.

“Remember when we mixed up Romeo and Juliet with the Excelsior solo?” Hen says, her eyes shining in the way they only do when she’s thinking about work and her wife.

Buck groans, because fuck, that was one of the hardest pieces Hen has ever had him perform. It’s also gorgeous, so he can see why she picked that to impress these animals, and a small part of him is basking in the joy that, even a year later and with no warning, Hen still trusts him to do such a challenging number perfectly.

Sometimes it’s easy for Buck to forget he’s supposed to be one of the best dancers in the continent.

“You really don’t like me, do you?” he teases, and Hen smiles back, pulling her phone out and shaking it in his direction.

“You need music?”

“Yeah, thanks,” Buck says, half distracted already because he’s going through the steps in his mind. He’s got a good head for choreographies but nothing beats muscle memory, and the quickest way to tap into that is to let his body hear the notes.

He gains the center of the room, reveling in how Diaz’s crew steps away to give him space, backing into the walls. He nods along to a few seconds of the music, then he gives Hen a small smile, meaning I’m alright, I remember, let’s take it from the top, thanks.

She nods back and starts the song again.

The thing is—one of the reasons Buck likes dancing so fucking much, is that it pulls him away from the world completely. He bends his knees into a plie and suddenly he’s floating, lost to the thumping beat and the sweet, sweet strain in his muscles.

He doesn’t feel like the artist everyone else sees, when he dances; he’s a kid running away from the eggshell walls of his childhood bedroom where he wasn’t allowed to put up posters because it would’ve been uncouth.

With every step, Buck carves a space in the world that is his and his only, something that nobody can touch or take away from him.

Buck is free and he’s happy, and so what, if the price he pays is in skipped meals and incomprehensibly long days at the gym?

Pain is worth the liberation of being able to do something he loves and doing it right, perfectly, any time he wants to.

Buck trains more than anyone else in the company, he practices harder than anyone he’s ever met, because this is what he wants to be able to do: go out on a random Wednesday night and being perfectly capable to dig up a choreography he hasn’t thought about in a year, and execute it perfectly on the first try, barefoot and in a fucking nice shirt at ten o’clock for an audience of twenty strangers.

The Excelsior is a bold show of strength and endurance, the Romeo and Juliet routine a romantic, quiet little thing that’s more about the dramatic interpretation than show-off moves. The two dances shouldn’t work together, but Hen and Bobby are fucking geniuses and they found subtle, unexpected ways to mold them together into a powerful, emotional piece.

The first time Buck executed it, he was in tears by the end of it.

It’s the music, Buck used to tell himself. It’s always the music, the heaving drums and the relentless violins taking him back to childhood, listening to his mom play.

He doesn’t cry tonight, but it’s a close thing. He hasn’t heard the music in a while, that’s all, that’s why.

It wouldn’t be because of the fact that the last time he performed this, for a very demanding audience in Bogota, it was as a pas de deux.

It wouldn’t be because of the fading memory of Abby’s waist in his hands, and how she would be spinning in his arms and there was no acting in the love and adoration written all over his face as he tilted her this way and that—

It’s just the music.

Buck’s legs are burning—and it’s the best feeling in the world—as he executes four big jumps without pause, easily crossing the room from one corner to the other and then back again.

The last movement in the melody surges and cuts close to an end, he tacks on a triple pirouette just for fun, and then comes to a textbook stop just a beat or two after the music has finished.

The air is thick and time as slow as molasses while Buck drops back into his body.

He’s taking hard, deep, controlled breaths, he can feel sweat pooling at the small of his back; his thighs quiver when he stands upright again. His arms are screaming murder at him, his shoulders feel delightfully loose.

Hen starts clapping, and it’s subdued at first, almost reverent, but it soon turns enthusiastic, and most of the members of Diaz’s crew now are clapping as well, including the blonde woman, who is staring at Buck with wide eyes and a disconcerted expression on her face, like she’s about to pinch her arm to make sure she’s not dreaming.

Serves you well, Buck thinks with a vengeance.

He can’t help but preen a little as he strolls back to Hen, doing his best not to look too much like an eager puppy fishing for praise.

Diaz stands next to her, arms crossed and his brow pinched, but his face is otherwise inscrutable. Buck fights back the insane urge to stick his tongue out at him.

“Thank you, Buck,” Hen says, her eyes kind, and her hand lands warmly on Buck’s forearm. “That was beautiful as usual. I wish I’d recorded it.”

“I did,” someone yells from the little crowd at their back, and Buck turns with a big grin, throwing them a victory sign for good measure.

Then Buck looks at Diaz, and if he’s craning his neck and straightening his back as far as it’ll go to make the most of the couple of inches he has on the man, well, it’s not like he’s committing a crime, right?

“You think you can do that?” Buck says with a smirk, and he’s aware that he sounds like a conceited asshole, thanks, there’s no need for Hen to throw him that surprised, amused look.

Diaz doesn’t bat an eye. He shrugs, one perfect round shoulder raising and dropping in the span of a second.

“We do the same thing,” he says, and Buck almost scoffs and says yeah right, except Diaz is still speaking: “I just usually do it with the cops running after me, is all.”

Buck splutters for a second—is this idiot really implying he’s more competent than Buck, who was the youngest principal dancer in the history of the ABC, Buck who has been invited to do shows in every single relevant country in the world (except Russia but that’s because of stupid politics, not his fault), Buck who has not taken a day off since he was thirteen?

Hen’s thumb moves in a soothing circle over the sensitive skin of Buck’s inner arm, in a quiet plea to be nice and not bite the asshole’s head off.

Buck reins himself in and says, with a little bit of venom to it still because what the fuck, “Wanna take the stage?”

Diaz smirks, taking a step forward. He looks Buck up and down, bites his lip, his big brown eyes so full of badly-disguised arrogance it feels like a backhanded slap.

“Nah, that’s not really my style,” Diaz says easily, just a hint of a Southern accent in his vowels—Georgia? Texas? Whatever, it’s just Buck’s luck that he would stumble into your stereotypical macho man cowboy who thinks he’s too good for ballet.

Goddamn.

“Yeah, I can tell you don’t have what it takes,” Buck counters, and if he wasn’t trying to tower over Diaz before, shit, he is now.

Diaz has the nerve to laugh, turning his eyes away and then back up to look at Buck, and he only looks amused, not one bit intimidated.

“I don’t owe you a show, Buck,” he says, with a sweetly sarcastic grin.

Buck scoffs, loud and, well, definitely not graceful. But before he can pick the fight that Diaz is begging him to start, both Hen and Diaz’s blonde friend step in, literally shoving themselves in the way.

Buck shuffles back, standing there like the world’s most awkward bodyguard as Hen smoothly turns the conversation to practical shit, getting more details on the crew and making plans to come back in a couple of days so they can start practicing.

Buck zones out, honestly. It’s been a long fucking day and his body is heavy, every muscle and tendon begging to be spread like butter on a bed as soon as possible.

Hen wraps up her negotiations fairly quickly, and before he knows it, Buck is shaking hands with a couple of starstruck street dancers, and then they’re making their way out of the room, Buck throwing a sarcastic wave over his shoulder in the general direction of Eddie Diaz.

Buck didn’t fail to notice that Hen got a hug goodbye from the man.

Before he climbs into his car, Buck catches her eye and says, “You owe me big time.”

Hen laughs, but her smile is all kinds of soft when she says, “Drive safe, Buckaroo.”

*

The next morning, as he kills his legs one barbell squat at a time, Buck decides he must’ve imagined that entire thing with the flash mob and Eddie Diaz’s smirking assholery. It seems like the most sensible option—there’s no way Buck really drove out into the ghetto to perform a ridiculously complicated piece in a half-collapsed building.

That’s just not the kind of thing that actually happens.

Must’ve been just an elaborate, weirdly vivid dream. Those tend to stick with him pretty badly.

But then, before he walks into practice, his hair still damp from the shower, he catches Hen in a corner with Chim. They’re giggling like schoolgirls, hunched over Hen’s iPad.

Buck shuffles closer, and from the reflection on Hen’s big glasses it’s pretty obvious they’re looking at sketches for a choreography.

And it can’t be their show because Chim rubs his mouth and says, “Yeah, I could do something with streetlights, probably.”

Buck rolls his eyes. Chim is a wonderful light designer, but he’s pretty sure not even he can orchestrate anything remotely nice with streetlights.

Then, two things happen: Buck realizes that Hen is getting Chim involved with her pointless street dancing shenanigans, and Hen and Chim realize that Buck just busted them.

Helpless against the weird, knee-jerk reaction of jealousy that’s crawling up his throat, Buck says, “So, you’re really doing this.”

Hen looks at him with a calm, assessing expression.

“Yeah,” she says eventually. “I think it could be fun.”

Buck tries to keep the pained grin off his face, and he fails. “Getting bored of the good ol’ classics?”

“You know that’s not it,” Hen says, frowning and coming over, shoving her iPad in her bag. “You know I love working here.”

“It’s just not enough,” Buck says, and wants to kick himself in the gut for how transparent and fucking childish he’s being.

Chim steps closer too, and excitedly says, “Buck, c’mon, have you seen all the stuff that these guys do?” Buck has not. “Some of this is—how should I put it—lit.” Buck sincerely doubts that.

“Whatever,” he mumbles, and then he walks away because he needs to start warming up.

Hen can do what she wants in her free time, of course; and Chim can join her whenever he wants. It’s okay.

Buck pouts for the entirety of the afternoon, which earns him merciless teasing from TK and Ali—those two together are a fucking menace, Buck adores them.

Unexpectedly, his only corner of solace is Bobby. He’s always pretty perceptive of Buck’s moods, especially when Buck is broadcasting them like a neon-lit billboard on the side of a highway, but he doesn’t usually indulge him.

Except today, for some reason, Bobby leaves him alone.

It’s strange, and comforting too, in a way.

So Buck is moping, but he breezes in and out of every move with ease. He’s a professional, goddamn it. Last year he performed through a bleeding broken heart for the Crown Prince of Denmark, and nobody could tell.

Hen’s little side project makes him irrationally jealous and a little bit sad but it’s not the end of the world.

*

It’s a week later and Buck is not obsessing. Well, maybe a little bit. He might have watched every single video of Eddie Diaz’s crew he could find on the Internet, and then rewatched them all, an unhealthy amount of times.

He might be in a bar, supposedly out to have fun with TK and Carlos and Ali, and choosing to inflict on them yet another replay of a frankly over the top flash mob at a farmers’ market a couple of months ago.

“They call themselves The Mob,” Buck sneers, downing a fifth of his beer in one long pull. “How fucking stupid is that?”

“Jesus, Buck, do you think you’ll shut up about it at any point in the future?” TK asks, rolling his eyes and trying to take Buck’s phone from him.

“It’s a very stupid name,” Carlos says, nodding seriously and patting Buck’s arm, because he’s a doll and definitely Buck’s favorite person in the world.

“Right?” Buck whisper-shouts, and he rolls the video back a little to show Eddie Diaz doing a very stupid backflip over a stand heavy with strawberries and apricots.

Sure, he executes it perfectly, with great elevation and striking a perfect landing and slipping into the next step without missing a beat, but his tank top is ridiculous in the way it’s so loose it flaunts his flexing lats like it’s not even there—just be a dick all the way and do your shit shirtless, Buck thinks, what the fuck is this.

“I can’t believe Hen and Chim are leaving us for this,” Buck mumbles, then sets his phone down and rests his forehead on the back of his hands, defeated.

He can hear TK’s eyeroll in his voice when he says, “They’re not leaving, Buck.”

“You don’t know that.”

“No, I do.”

Buck peers up at him, all softness and worry. He’s on his fourth beer and he had two cups of quinoa with broccoli for lunch; sue him. “How?”

“For one, it’s not a job. And do I have to remind you, people need money to live?”

That’s actually a good point. Buck considers it carefully. Ali comes back with another pitcher of beer, three shots and a fresh can of Coke for TK. Buck is so proud of TK’s sobriety. He is. He would embrace it for himself, too, any day of the year—but, yeah, not tonight.

It’s okay, though. TK promised it’s okay.

“We still moping?” Ali asks, but it’s not unkind, especially because she’s pushing the first short into Buck’s personal space.

“Buck’s just drunk and ridiculous,” TK says with a grin. “A typical Thursday.”

“They might decide to start their own company,” Buck points out, slamming the shot back and then chasing away the tang of tequila with a generous gulp of beer. “Maybe a school. Teaching… breakdancing to poor kids, something like that.”

“Yeah, that sounds just like Hen,” Ali says, dry as the desert.

“They might,” Buck insists.

“Well, that would be nice, wouldn’t it? A little community outreach,” Carlos says, because he’s secretly a traitorous asshole, and immediately loses a bunch of points in Buck’s book.

Buck moans in despair. “She would do that. Hen would… she would totally do that.”

“Oh my God, babe, don’t indulge him—”

“I’m just saying.”

“You can’t just say stuff like that, Buck’ll run with it for the rest of his life—”

Carlos’ big, warm hand is back on Buck, wrapping around the nape of his neck and shaking a little.

“I’m sorry, Buck, I didn’t mean that. I was just teasing,” he says, with a tiny little smile, and alright, okay, Buck feels better.

Then his phone lights up with a notification—Hen just invited him to a secret event, Saturday at noon, Santa Monica Pier, bring your phone and be ready to record a once-in-a-lifetime experience of

TK’s and Ali’s phones buzz with the same text and Buck just steals the other shot straight from Carlos’ hand and downs it.

*

They don’t have practice on the weekends, not yet. Buck still gets up at the buttcrack of dawn, runs his compulsory three miles with relaxing nature sounds blasting out of his earbuds, drinks a cup of warm water with honey and lemon, takes a shower, then he heads off to his complex’s gym.

He’s not going to go to the Pier.

He’s not.

He grinds through his upper body strength routine, doing chin ups like he’s running for a gold metal, then he commandeers the small dance room to go over a few pieces of choreography, but the steps don’t come to him.

For the first time in his life, his fucking head is winning over his body.

Buck gives up on his own memory. He downs half his bottle of water and thinks about his options. It’s so fucking early—barely past 11AM. He could make a quick trip to his flat, grab his laptop and bring it back here, watch the videos of the past few days to brush up the steps.

Or.

Or.

Cursing himself, Buck stabs at his phone until Google Maps gleefully informs him he could very well make it to the Santa Monica Pier in time for Hen’s flash mob. Hen’s, not Eddie Diaz’s, not The Mob’s. Hen’s. He even has time to shower.

It figures—the first time he really needs LA’s traffic to be a nightmare, it lets him down.

Buck storms out of the gym and, back in his flat, he takes the angriest shower of his life. He squeezes the shampoo bottle like he heard it say that Maddie’s Claire de Lune is a snoozefest.

He turns the water scalding hot, too, because he really wants to go see that stupid thing and he needs to be punished for it.

Yeah, he’s taking it so well.

Rubbing a towel through his hair, he pulls the most inconspicuous clothes he owns out of his suitcase—yeah, yes, he’s been in Los Angeles for over a month and he hasn’t touched his closet yet, so what?

Soft, low-rise cargo pants, a threadbare gray shirt and, on a whim, the dark blue sleeveless zip up hoodie that TK gave him for his birthday a couple of years back. It was meant as a joke—TK had another, serious gift hidden away in the locker room for him—but then Buck had slipped it on and loved it unironically.

He’s a sucker. He really is.

He slips his sneakers on, wastes a couple of minutes to fix his hair in the bathroom mirror, then another couple when he sees his reflection from a different angle in the mirror next to the door.

He’s doing this to support his friends, he reminds himself, and drives for thirty-five minutes in miraculously fluid traffic.

He doesn’t really know what’s going to happen, Hen’s text didn’t have many details—which is fair, probably; why spoil the surprise?—so he parks in a lot a couple of blocks away, and walks the rest of the distance.

He leaves the hoodie unzipped but he pulls the hood up. He feels weirdly wild, and vaguely stupid.

When he checks his phone, he sees that he’s not the only one here. Ali dropped a pin in the groupchat, she’s deep on the Pier getting a coffee, she says; TK says he’s going to go to her. Bobby sends a picture of Athena and May strolling along Ocean Ave, somewhat close to where Buck is. A few other guys from the corps de ballet are scattered in the late-morning crowd.

Chim sends a selfie with Hen, they’re in matching dark blue outfits and sitting close together in what looks like the backseat of a very big car. They’re pulling faces, all serious and ready for war, and Buck laughs despite himself.

Okay, alright. He loves his friends. Even when they might be abandoning him for a silly street dancing crew.

(They won’t. Right?)

He’s just sent his own selfie—a frowny face, with just a hint of skinny collarbones and his biceps because he might not be actively trying to fuck Ali but what’s the harm in looking good, right?—when a song erupts from seemingly nowhere and everywhere at once.

It takes Buck a long second to realize the music is playing from no less than five different cars, the public speakers up on the street lamps, and an impressive set of club-grade speakers set up on the bed of a pick-up truck in the middle of the road.

That’s—impressive.

And then the dancers pour out of the crowd, out of cars that were moving a moment ago, out of buildings. They spread out through the road, jump on top of benches, climb on the roofs of their trucks.

The same giddiness from the museum pulls at Buck’s insides. This is so fucking exciting.

The choreography is more complicated and, at the same time, somewhat gentler this time. He recognizes Hen’s taste—a mix of strength and elegance and straight out fun. It’s amazing how she can be herself even in such a different style than what she usually does.

Bystanders are gathering closer, moving in from the pier and every secondary street. Buck’s feet are moving before he can make a rational decision to.

Chim didn’t hack the streetlights, at the end, but there’s something going on with a videowall behind the speakers, and Buck wants to see it.

He navigates through the audience, and he’s pretty taller than anyone around him, so he can still enjoy the show.

He sees the blonde woman—Bosko, she introduced herself the other night—break out from the group choreography and show off with an amazing set of breakdancing moves, smooth and effortless as she tosses her body around the asphalt like it’s nothing, like it’s okay, like the human neck is made to support the weight of her entire body as it spins like a pinwheel.

Buck can admit he’s pretty mesmerized by her unabashed show of strength and balance and control.

The crowd cheers Bosko on, almost drowning out the music.

Buck looks around, breathes in the excitement and the glee, and almost casually, his eyes fall on Diaz, who’s on top of a car, dancing alone with some filthy, filthy, filthy moves in his hips and shoulders. He’s looking at Bosko, grinning like a proud fool, but his body is loose and almost moving with a mind of its own.

Buck knows those steps, he recognizes some bits and pieces that Hen’s had him do over the years. It doesn’t make him angry, for some reason. The wave of Diaz’s body is distracting enough to take away the sting of it.

Buck doesn’t realize it, but he’s swaying with the music too, almost answering Diaz’s steps—until the fucker decides to corkscrew off the truck and land on the ground with a move that shouldn’t exist outside of a rhythmic gymnastics arena.

The flow of the music changes, it’s slower but louder, and the choreography beautifully morphs again. Now they’re not a uniform body of movement anymore, instead everyone has a little solo, combining together in a more complex performance, that Buck really wishes he could be able to watch from above.

If he looks hard enough, Buck could probably reverse-engineer the origin of every single of those routines.

But he doesn’t want to. He wants to watch, sure, but even more than last time—he wants to fucking join in, urged by the electricity in the air, by the press of the bodies all around him, people pushing in, enchanted and curious.

And then—then, there’s a kid. A young girl, she can’t be older than twelve, waving her arms and singing along with the song, tugging on her father’s shirt and pointing everywhere at the same time.

Diaz sees her and he—he makes eye-contact with the father, who looks stunned and surprised but gives a tiny, shy nod, and Diaz dances over to the girl. He holds his hand out, palm up.

She squeals and jumps forward and takes his hand and all but runs in, front and center of the dancing group. Diaz throws his head back and laughs, then he joins after her, slowing his steps enough to show the girl.

A dam breaks.

The crowd of people, who up to this point were either cheering or recording on their phones, seems to realize that hey, everyone’s allowed to dance. And they do.

There’s still an invisible line dividing the actual performance—the beautifully choreographed flash mob—from the rest of the crowd, but they’re all dancing together anyway.

Buck looks up to the sky for a moment, he gets elbowed in the ribs by an overexcited neighbor, and figures, fuck it.

He shuffles to the side of the show a little, and then steps out of the crowd and slips into the group, grabbing a spot behind two cars that’s been empty for a few minutes. He’s watched enough of the dance to seamlessly get into it—and besides, everyone is doing things a little differently by design now, so Buck can just, well, run free.

Completely free.

This isn’t ballet, this isn’t carefully measured angles and planes he needs to push and pull his body into. This dancing is visceral, his body locking and releasing, rolling and sliding, spinning and jumping without a second thought about the weight of perfection, of history, of whatever.

Buck lets go, melts into the hard tempo of the music, pushes into the energy growing from deep inside his chest.

The dancer next to him picks up on his enthusiasm and pulls him in, and just because of that she’s so incomparably different from any other partner Buck’s had in a while. She drags him up close and personal until they’re not so much dancing as grinding against one another, Buck leaning back and pulsing down as low as his knees’ll allow—and that’s pretty low, low enough that her eyes go wide and her lips curl into an impressed smile and she can’t really keep up with him.

Buck senses a presence behind him, and before he can think about it, he’s tipping himself back, pliant and off balance, which is stupid because he’s doomed to a graceless tumble onto the concrete, except the person behind him does what Buck was hoping they’d do, two strong, muscled arms hook under his and hoist him back up in time with the beat, and Buck goes, straightening up suddenly and pivoting en pointe on his left leg to look at his new partner.

For a split second, right before he turns his head all the way—and, yeah, he might not be pirouetting exactly, but some things have been drilled into his very DNA—Buck’s heartbeat hitches in anticipation that he’ll be staring into Diaz’s eyes.

It’s not him. Buck’s vendetta’s gonna have to wait.

He and his new partner circle around each other for a couple of lines, like fighters in a cage. Buck is distantly aware of the fact that the rest of the dancers are giving them space—to do what, he’s not sure yet, but he knows something will come up.

His partner lunges forward, that was almost a jeté, and Buck slides to the side at the last second, so they end up as close as he was with the girl, feet tucked against one another, locked in a box step that his partner complicates with a lot of rolls and locks on his upper body. Buck follows his lead, gleeful and charmed.

He doesn’t know what he’s doing exactly, but he likes it so much.

He finds himself swept away into the song, into another partner with a completely different style, much mellower and dirtier—and then he follows a girl up onto a car, and for a second he meets Bosko’s eyes, and she grins up to him something feral, and Buck doesn’t know what kind of smile he throws back, but it has to be a good one.

He’s on top of the fucking world after all.

The girl he was dancing with jumps off of the car with a nice spinny dive and it’s a simpler, safer version of the move that Diaz did before—shit, I wanna do that, Buck thinks—and suddenly he’s all alone up there.

Buck forgets about the very public place he’s in, and the crowd watching. The car’s roof is flat and shiny and smooth, there’s music playing in the background, and his body is moving.

He improvises a solo that’s more classical than anything he’s done so far, but his movements are sharp, quick, almost twitching—his parents would recoil in shock if they saw him, where’s the grace, where’s the obsessive formalism, what about the art; but Buck feels liberated, and he thinks Hen is watching and she might even like this, him, moving to a song she picked, mixing old steps they came up with together and whatever he feels like doing with his lungs full of the salt of the ocean and a smile he just cannot keep off his face.

A part of him wants to drop dead right now, as happy as he can be; a part of him always does want to, just, get the world to stop right when he’s lost in the perfect, impalpable balance of a third, fourth, fifth consecutive pirouette. There’s a moment, while he’s spinning, and it lasts only half a breath, when Buck always truly believes he’s flying, floating.

He dances because he’s chasing that one fleeting promise of absolute weightlessness.

Today, he’s been feeling pretty high from the first step he took.

The song is way past its climax, headed towards a more subdued, but still pounding ending. Buck is folded over at his waist, his nose brushing against his right leg, extended en dedans to the point that if his mother took her bow to his hamstring, she could easily and surely get a chord out of him.

Buck steals a look down, to the group of dancers still moving, a beautiful mass of uniform movement to his eyes.

He considers his options very carefully—which is to say, he doesn’t consider them at all. Doesn’t think about how easily he could break a few bones or even his neck; he doesn’t think about anything.

He watched Diaz perform this jump a hundred times in the stupid videos he’s put online; Buck’s body is a quick study, he knows what he’s doing.

Well, no, he doesn’t.

But he doesn’t care.

To the mellowing beat, he kicks his right leg up, up, as far as it’ll go, and then then sharply back, the upper half of his body going forwards as counterweight; it’s an impossible balance he keeps, for just a second, his back parallel to the floor and his leg extended in a long, long, long line behind him.

(Diaz didn’t do it like this, but Buck doesn’t feel like he can be blamed for trying to turn a street move into a sculpture.)

Then he’s rotating his shoulders, opens his chest, right arm extending skywards, right leg folding back in, and he kicks, out and away, with everything he has, and he didn’t think he had the strength to do this, and yet: it’s a pirouette, only with his center of mass dislocated, and gravity pulling at him the wrong way.

He corkscrews up and off the car and, yeah, god, Christ, yes, this is it, he thinks.

And then—and it’s only a handful of milliseconds after his foot has left the relative safety of the car roof—he realizes, with earth shattering clarity, that he is going to mess up his landing so bad.

He spares a thought for the phone in his back pocket, and braces for the impact that will likely end his career.

Except someone’s there to catch him.

A huge hand is suddenly up against his back, right between his shoulder blades, pressing forward to straighten Buck’s fall just enough that he can get his feet under him; another hand curls around his hip, steadying and all-encompassing, and then Buck is more or less upright and slamming back into a solid, strong wall of muscle.

He lands on the balls of his feet, softer than he’d expected; there’s a warm puff of breath against his ear, something like laughter, and Buck melts into relief into gratitude into unadulterated joy.

He’s dizzy with vertigo and he wants to do that again and the hand at his hip squeezes, just this side of painful.

Buck turns his head a fraction of an inch, and that’s enough to realize that the person plastered against his back is Eddie Diaz, his heart beating like a war drum against Buck’s spine.

Then there’s police sirens all over the place, deafening and breaking the spell. People are running, dispersing, and Diaz slips away—but his hands linger, just a moment, curled around Buck’s sides.

Buck stands there like an idiot for another half minute, long enough to see the first blue light appear around a street corner.

Then, his brain comes back online and he’s running, doesn’t really know where he’s going—he’s pretty sure his car is in the opposite way—but the adrenaline rush keeps him going, zigzagging through the scattering crowd.

He catches a glimpse of Bosko, tries to reach her, but after a second he’s lost her in the chaos.

Police cars are coming up from every alley now, trying to intercept anyone they can. Buck thinks about running to the beach, that seems like a safe place to hide or try and pretend he was just another bather minding his own business, but before he can head in that direction—very, very stupid, because he’s not in swimwear, he doesn’t even have a towel—a strong hand wraps around his wrist and pulls.

Buck whips his head around, and finds himself running with Diaz towards a block of buildings, then shimmying through a barely-open chain link fence to rush up a minuscule alley, through a courtyard into another residential block, and across yet another palm-lined street.

When they finally, finally stop, somewhere around Reed Park because they can hear the sharp thuds of tennis balls jumping around, Buck’s lungs are burning, his legs weigh five thousand tons, and he’s never been happier.

Diaz is out of breath and sweaty and smiling just as wide, his cheeks dimpled and pink. He leans against a wall and half-folds on himself, hands on his knees.

Buck laughs, which costs him precious oxygen he shouldn’t be wasting, but he can’t help it. He presses his fists into the small of his back and does his best to rein it in—it’s not the easiest thing to do, when he can still kind of feel the weight of Diaz’s fingers around his hip, when he can’t help but stare at his sweat-slick skin, golden under the sun.

Diaz looks up at him from under his lashes, staring at Buck like he’s something out of this world.

“Shit. You are a fucking badass,” Diaz tells him, standing up on weak knees and tilting his head against the wall, and he sounds like he can’t quite believe his own words.

Buck is still a little out of it, and also not dealing too well with the weight of Diaz’s soft, big eyes.

“Me?” he gasps, his smile turning a little dopey, a little flattered. “Well. Wouldn’t be much of anything if it wasn’t for you back there.”

“I’ll catch you any day,” Diaz says, his grin turning more serious, his eyes the warmest fucking thing Buck has ever seen in his life.

“Yeah,” he manages to get out, and he takes a step forward, pulled in by Diaz—shit, it’s Eddie now, isn’t it? He caught Buck after his jump, they’ve run from the police together, he owes the man his first name, probably—Eddie like a tide to the moon. “Or, you know. I could… I could catch you.”

Eddie—Eddie, Eddie, Eddie—looks taken aback for a fraction of a second. Then he’s grinning again, unabashed and perfect.

“Deal,” he says, and when he reaches out, Buck almost thinks he wants to shake on it but no, okay, Eddie’s fingers are tangling into the hem of Buck’s sleeveless hoodie, and he’s looking at it up and down with an amused curl to his lips. “Didn’t think you’d have one of these.”

Buck laughs, soft and tiny. He takes another step forward, or maybe it’s Eddie that pulls on him, he can’t be sure.

“Are you kidding me? This is a wardrobe staple for every self-respecting adult,” Buck says, very seriously, which is a dead give-away.

Somehow, Eddie knows that too, and he dips his head to laugh and there he is again, looking up at Buck like he’s trying to put together the pieces of some sort of puzzle.

Buck bites his bottom lip, and Eddie is still holding eye contact, steady and sure and so disrespectfully magnetic.

A car brakes loudly not even five feet from where they’re standing.

“Yo, Diaz!” Bosko yells from the driver’s seat. “I’ve been looking for you all over, shit, you almost gave me a heart attack.”

Eddie still looks at Buck for another moment, before turning slightly to nod at his friend. He looks at Buck, again, and gives him a tiny smile that’s all promise and tease.

“See you around,” he says, and then he tugs at Buck’s hoodie, just slightly, and then he goes to walk away, but—“Wait. Sorry, do you need a lift anywhere?”

“Not a car service,” Bosko says from the car, but Buck is pretty sure she wouldn’t refuse to drive him home if he asked. Well, kind of sure. Forty percent sure.

He shakes his head anyway. “I left my car back at the pier.”

“Alright,” Eddie says, and then his hand is off Buck’s hoodie, and he’s leaving for real.

Buck shoves his hands deep in his pockets and stares at the car like an idiot. He should’ve asked for Eddie’s number, right?