If Tenma could give any advice, he’d say “don’t get feelings for someone, because they suck” and that would probably be plastered on his grave in a few days because he was definitely going to die soon.
“TENMA,” Taichi hollered as he entered the living room.
He flinched, heart stopping in his chest. “Uh huh?”
“There’s a new café opening next week and they have gummy bear flavored sundaes?! LET’S GO.”
Fuck. Okay. Sure. A café with Taichi. They’d done it before. It would be fine. He'd be fine.
“Okay,” Tenma said.
Taichi gave him a thumbs up. “SWEET, I’ll send you the address on LIME! Lemme know when you’re free.”
Tenma turned to Misumi and Kazunari who sat in the corner splitting half a pint of ice cream, staring at him like two goddamned meerkats.
“Oooooooooooooooooh,” Misumi ooh’ed.
“OOOOOOOOOOOOOOH,” Kazunari ooh’ed, much louder.
“OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH,” the two drawled in unison at the top of their lungs.
“Please don’t do a bit,” Tenma begged them.
Kazunari lifted the spoon to his mouth, holding it like a microphone. “LAAAAAADIIIIIES AND GENTLEMEEEEEN!”
Goddamnit, they were going to do a bit.
Kazunari put a hand by his ear as though he was checking an earpiece. “Welcome back to The Coliseum of Love Searching! I'm your loyal host, Marcus Big Dick McGee, reporting to you about our rising star player, Tenma Sumeragi, as he braves the field once more!”
Tenma put his face in his hands.
Kazunari turned to Misumi with eyes glinting. “I’m joined today in the studio by analytics expert Tim Sourdough, let’s shift over to hear what he’s gotta say about this."
Misumi grabbed the spoon next and struck an announcer voice without a moment’s hesitation. “Well, Marcus, it’s been a tough season for Tenma Sumeragi so far. With the foul called in February fifteenth of this year when he made a girl cry by telling her he gave the homemade chocolates she gifted him for Valentines’ day to Juza Hyodo, another player in The Coliseum of Love Searching we’ve been following thus far, he’ll really need to strap down and gain points to score with Taichi."
Kazunari hopped to his feet and stalked closer to Tenma, a teasing grin on his face. “How are his chances looking, would you say, Tim?”
Misumi pulled out a calculator from nowhere and began to press random numbers. “According to my four degrees from Harvard University on statistics, I’d say with the way Taichi’s been giving Tenma puppy dog eyes in the mornings while he brushes his teeth, he’s definitely got an opportunity but only if he doesn’t severely screw things up.”
“I mean, it begs the question to be asked, can Tenma Sumeragi really pull it off?” Kazunari wiggled his eyebrows as he fought back a laugh. “Let’s recall his poor performance in kindergarten when the co-star he had a crush on said she liked anchovy pizza and he thought it would be a good idea to give her a sardine hair clip.”
Tenma’s face felt like it was burning up. “SHUT UP, I TOLD YOU NOT TO TALK ABOUT THAT."
Misumi nodded with sagely wisdom. “Ohhhh, we’re all very aware, Marcus, Tenma Sumeragi’s had a few slip ups in the past but let’s hope for the best that he’ll finally be able to bring home the trophy."
“You guys suck.”
Kazunari finally dropped the act to laugh and swing an arm around Tenma’s shoulder. “We’re kiiidding, Tenten! Pop off, king, you’ve got this in the bag. Sumi and I are totes cheering you on!”
Misumi grinned wide, showing all of his teeth, and swung his arm around Tenma’s other shoulder as well. “I really hope it goes well for you, Tenmaaaaa!”
“SCREW BOTH OF YOU.”
“You have a movie release coming up, right?” Kazunari asked. “You should totes invite Taichi to go watch with you! He’d love it.”
Tenma paused. He pursed his lips and thought about it.
Feelings still sucked.
Taichi stared at the silver screen in wonder.
Tenma looked amazing.
He didn’t have a major role in the film because of the schedule conflict it’d had with a few of their shows, but still. Taichi didn’t know if he was biased or what, but every time Tenma made an appearance, it was like he was stealing the spotlight by existing.
“You’re so cool,” he whispered to Tenma in the dark theater.
Tenma shoved a handful of popcorn into his mouth. “….Fanks.”
“Seriously. You’re so cool, Tenny.” Taichi glanced at the actor sitting beside him and felt his heart swell up. Heck yeah, Tenten was cool. Super cool. And he was Taichi’s friend and they could hang out together. Some people watched the movie, probably, and thought Tenma was this super untouchable, far away figure but Taichi could be around him. He actually knew Tenma.
Something about that made his insides feel warm.
“Tenma,” Taichi said, reaching over to nudge his shoulder.
“You’re the best.”
Tenma’s face glowed red in the dim lighting.
Tenma was, potentially, down bad.
“I got you a hoodie,” Tenma said as he held the bag out.
Taichi stared at him and then accepted the offering. He dug a hand inside and removed a large hoodie. There was a sharply angled cartoon of a boy on a skateboard, with triangle sunglasses and a backwards cap. In raggedy font above and beneath the image was SK8R BOYZZ MAD!!!
“I love it,” Taichi said softly.
He jammed it on over his head and began jumping up and down. “TEEEEEEEEEEN, YOU GOT ME A PRESENT?! LOOK AT ME IN IT!"
Tenma winced and rubbed his elbow. “Don’t make such a big deal out of it. I saw it in a storefront and thought it reminded me of you.”
“TENMAAAAAAAAAAAA,” Taichi wailed.
He took a running leap and landed right on Tenma’s midsection, legs wrapping around the other a la spider monkey.
“TENMAAAAAA,” Taichi sobbed again. “I’LL TREASURE IT FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. I’LL GIVE IT TO MY GRANDKIDS IN A FEW DECADES, EVEN, AS A FAMILY HEIRLOOM.”
“Wh—!” Tenma’s face heated up as he stumbled. “It’s just a hoodie, relax.”
“YOU’RE MY BEST FRIEND EVER, DUDE. THANK YOU, SERIOUSLY.”
Taichi really liked memorabilia, Tenma realized very quickly.
It wasn’t just the presents either, although not a day had gone by without Taichi wearing the sweatshirt that Yuki swore “violated the laws of the Geneva Convention.” It was everything. Tenma popped into room 105 to invite Taichi to go grab ice cream with him and the Summer Troupe, and realized that Taichi had put the pictures from their outings on the wall by his desk.
That made his stomach hurt in a good way.
Taichi was really… great at making you feel like you were cared for, huh?
He was going to die like this.
“Ten!” Taichi exclaimed in surprise as he came into the room. “What’re you doing here? Or… Should I say…” He held up his water bottle. “Water you doing here? HA.”
Tenma said nothing.
Taichi clicked his tongue. “Screw you, dude, I’m not the one supposed to be in a comedy troupe, don’t come for me."
“Fair.” Tenma cleared his throat. “You wanna do something with me this weekend? I don’t have anything."
“FOR REAL? YEAH, YEAH, I DO!” Taichi rocked on the balls of his feet. “I love hanging out with you! Do you have any place you wanna go to?”
He shook his head. Taichi was usually the one who planned these things out. It wasn’t like Tenma had access to Kazunari’s coveted Coolest Places In Veludo Way To Take Someone list that he’d spent a full two years building up. But—
Fuck you, it was his own internal monologue, he was allowed to admit things to himself.
Tenma was getting kind of lonely. They hadn’t had a chance to hang out last week because Taichi was off on a small Autumn Troupe trip. SUE HIM, he wanted to ask the guy he liked to hang out.
Taichi suddenly jumped at him.
Tenma choked as the weight barreled into his torso, barely catching Taichi before the two of them went toppling over.
“Surprise attack!” Taichi announced, sitting up on the floor.
“WHAT THE HELL.”
“You looked like you were getting caught up in your thoughts again, Ten! We’re supposed to be the cool head empty duo, you can’t start brainstorming and ruin the brand image.” Taichi grinned after he said his piece.
Tenma didn’t get up. He just looked at Taichi, and his smile, and the messy hair, and the blue eyes that were almost too bright and icy to feel real. He reached a hand out to nudge the bits of black hair at the base of the other’s neck, un-dyed and still soft to the touch.
“Ten?” Taichi asked after a second.
Tenma jerked his hand away like it’d been burnt.
“Cool, cool, let me know if you have any good ideas to go to on LIME,” he said, scrambling to his feet and heading towards the door. “See you.”
Tenma rushed to his own dorm and sank to the floor the moment he was sure he could.
“What’s up with you?” Yuki asked, looking up from his embroidery practice.
Tenma simply put his face in his hands and let out a miniature scream.
Yuki pulled a face. “Is this about the dumb dog again, you idiot?”
“UUUUUUUUUUGH.” Maybe letting his troupe know about his feelings hadn’t been the best idea. They were, after all, only 20% supportive compared to 80% teasing. Shitheads.
“Oh my god, you can’t be serious,” Yuki said with a twist in his lips. “Ask him out already, we’re so sick of watching a slowburn.”
Yuki clicked his tongue. “I’m about to have had enough, hack.”
“LEAVE ME ALONE."
“No, but he’s cute, right?” Tenma asked ten minutes later as he lay in his loft bed, hands clasped over his chest.
Yuki rubbed his forehead. “Stop talking to me.”
“He’s, like, funny. And fun. And, I dunno, he’s always asking me to hang out, especially in the earlier times when I didn’t really know how to ask people so I’m really… grateful about that. You know. The reaching out he did. And I like him. I think Taichi’s cool. I like him.”
Yuki clenched his jaw until a tendon stuck out in his neck. “Stop. Pining.”
“Did you know he can juggle? Only clementines though, he said he’s tried with other stuff but only clementines can stay in the air for him.”
“Oh my GOD."
Yuki had had enough.
“I need you to help me with a kidnapping,” he announced as he entered Banri’s room.
Banri scratched his head. Eh. Why not. He was bored.
“Sure,” he said.
“I’m sorry I used up your hair gel!” Taichi bawled as Banri made sure the rope was securely tied. "But this feels like a bit of an overreaction?!"
“Not about the hair gel, dude, but you still have to Venmo me for that.”
Yuki took a seat opposite of the hostage and crossed his legs.
“So,” he began. “You and the hack have been getting awfully close these past few days.”
Taichi’s eyes widened and he grinned, panicked mood completely swept away. “Yeah! It’s awesome, right? We’ve always been friends but it feels like we’ve gotten closer and stuff, I’m really glad about it. Tenten’s totally the coolest guy.”
Oof. That was so honest, Yuki didn’t know what to do about it. Sharing a room with Sumeragi was bad enough, they hardly got through four waking hours without a fight, but now he had to share a room with a lovestruck Sumeragi who kept smiling when he glanced at the framed photo on his desk? UGH. Yuki preferred the fighting, at least then he didn’t feel bad when he made a scathing comment!
“Are you sure this is the road you wanna go down?” he asked.
Because Yuki knew the dumb dog. And he knew the hack. They were both the most empty-headed, tasteless, ditzy idiots he’d ever met in his life but he loved them both so dearly and it would only hurt him to see them sad.
“Tenma’s the best!” Taichi said without a moment’s hesitation. “He’s tall, and he’s cool, and he’s confident all the time. He never says no when I tell him I wanna go places. I like being around him, who wouldn’t?!”
“Oh my god, he’s totally going to inflate the hack’s ego,” Yuki muttered under his breath.
Taichi stared like he was hearing nonsense. “And? Tenten’s like one of the only people who totally deserves to have a massive ego, he’s literally the coolest guy I’ve ever met.”
“It’s worse than we thought,” Banri said as he crossed his arms. “He’s bordering simp.”
Yuki cast him a scornful gaze. “You called Homare a simp because he opened the door for a woman, your standards are low.”
“I’m a feminist, asshole, that means I expect women to open their own goddamned doors.”
“That’s not what feminism is.”
Banri narrowed his eyes and sneered. “Isn’t it?”
Yuki pinched the bridge of his nose and forced himself to calm down. This wasn’t the time to rip Settsu a new one even though he would have LOVED to.
“Are you serious about the hack?” he asked at last, directing the question to Taichi.
Taichi nodded furiously. “Duh. You even have to ask?”
“Out of all of the people you could have started pining for, why that one?” Yuki complained.
“What do trees have to do about it?”
Oh my god. He was an idiot. Maybe they were perfect for each other. “Having a crush on someone, you dumb dog.”
Taichi blinked once. He blinked twice. He scratched his temple.
“Crush?” he repeated, like the word tasted strange upon his tongue.
Yuki was struck silent. No. No. Surely not.
“Jeeeeeesus,” Banri dragged out under his breath. “Holy shit, dude.”
“You don’t know,” Yuki said softly. “You. You genuinely don’t know.”
None of the three spoke.
None of the three moved.
For a few seconds, none of the three even dared breathe as they witnessed the connecting of the dots within Taichi’s brain.
Taichi parted quivering lips.
“Crush?” he squeaked as his cheeks started to color.
Banri picked Yuki up under his arms like a cat.
“Let GO of me!” Yuki roared, immediately beginning to struggle.
Banri ignored the request and marched the both of them out of the living room. “Nope. Nope. You said we were going to have a conversation with him. I did not agree to watch Taichi have a meltdown over you revealing what we all knew but he evidently didn’t.”
Good luck, Nanao, he thought in the back of his head.
If Sumeragi decided to hurt Taichi… Eh. Banri was “reformed” now (note the heavy quotes) but he wouldn't mind relapsing into delinquency for a little bit to smear the summer troupe leader into the pavement. And that was, really, all he was obligated to do as Taichi’s friend.
Taichi paced rapidly around room 105, biting so hard on his fingernails that they would surely be nothing but rough nubs by morning.
HE had a CRUSH on TENMA?!
AND EVERYONE KNEW ABOUT IT EXCEPT HIM?
What the hell!
Oh god, oh god, did he actually, though? Did he really have a crush on Tenma? His COOL FRIEND? The guy he liked spending time with more than anyone else as of late?! HIM?
Taichi had a CRUSH? Okay, well, no, that wasn’t unusual, he got crushes all of the time, BUT ON TENMA?
He ran his fingers through his hair nervously. If he thought any harder, his brain would start melting and leaking out of his ears and that would suck. But no matter how hard he tried to stop thinking about it, the word “crush” would only echo louder and louder within his skull.
Was it a crush? Was it a romantic crush? Or was it just a guy crush? Like those Guy Crush Wednesdays Kazunari always talked about? Did he like like Tenma? Yeah, sure, he LIKED the guy, but did he… like the guy?
Liking someone meant wanting to date them, right? Like go on dates and stuff with them? Spend time with them?
Taichi ran that through his head. Yes. He definitely wanted to spend tons of time with Tenma. He’d proven that to himself and everybody else. Okay. That was a checked box.
What else came with dating? Exclusivity? Taichi would probably be upset if Tenma ditched him all the time to hang out with someone else. Okay. Okay. Another checked box. Oof. Things were not looking good for Taichi Nanao at the moment.
What else was included in dating?
Taichi screamed into his palms.
HE’D NEVER DATED BEFORE, HOW WAS HE SUPPOSED TO KNOW?
Right, right. Like in the movies. When you dated, there was physical intimacy.
…Yeah. Taichi wanted to hold hands with Tenma. That would be nice. If they started holding hands when they walked to places. Instead of walking side by side. Well, Taichi wouldn’t mind holding hands at all.
Taichi already knew he liked hugging Tenma. There was really nothing more fun than taking a running leap at someone knowing they’d catch you. And Tenma always caught him.
Nope, nope, not even going to THINK about that one or else he’d, you know, DIE.
Taichi crumpled to the floor, barely managing to prop himself up by his hands.
All of the boxes were checked.
HE HAD A CRUSH ON TENMA.
When the hysteria upon revelation drained away, Taichi was left feeling oddly miserable and hollow.
So he liked Tenma, huh?
Taichi didn’t understand why he was getting upset over it.
Maybe he needed a pick-me-up to get him through the promised night of agonized ruminating. Yeah. Ice cream would probably fix his problem.
Juza shuffled into the kitchen for some midnight pudding. Mmmm. Midnight pudding. Yum.
Pudding was good all of the time, mind you. But there was something about midnight pudding that tasted better, and he’d go to the grave with this opinion.
He paused when he realized someone was already at the kitchen. Taichi sat in the corner, a gallon of double-fudge ice cream between his knees as he miserably shoved spoonfuls into his mouth.
“Hey,” Juza said.
Taichi waved his spoon in the air weakly as greeting.
Damn. Double fudge ice cream while sitting despondently in the corner of the kitchen? The guy was obviously going through it.
Juza opened the fridge and rifled past the cabbages (why did they have so many cabbages?) for the pudding that had his name on it. Literally, by the way, Juza wrote his name on all of the sweets he bought and intended to eat. Otherwise people took them before he could.
He peeled the plastic top off and smacked it upside down onto a plate, relishing in the way the flan jiggled as caramel pooled around it. Life was good. Life was always good with midnight pudding.
“Juza?” Taichi rasped.
Juza glanced over his shoulder. “Uh huh."
“Have you ever been jealous of someone before?”
Juza figured he would have snorted if he was the type of person to snort. Hoooooo. Where did that list even begin, really?
“Yeah,” he settled on saying instead.
Taichi wet his lips as he wrung his hands. “What… What do you think you’re supposed to feel when the person you were jealous of might like you back?”
Juza raised an eyebrow. Back?
“I dunno. ’S never happened to me,” he confessed.
“Oh. But, like, if you had to guess.”
Juza stayed silent.
Taichi sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Feelings are complicated.”
That much was true. “Yeah.”
“I don’t even know what I’m supposed to be feeling.”
“I don’t know. I think I might have a crush on someone and I’m feeling really stressed out about it for some reason.” Taichi’s lower lip quivered.
Juza hesitated. He’d never been great at comforting people. He never knew what to say. “Do you want some midnight pudding?”
Taichi sniffled as his eyes welled. “Yeah, man. Thanks. I’d really like some midnight pudding right now.”
Juza dumped a second cup of prepackaged flan onto a plate and joined Taichi on the floor at the corner. “Wanna talk about it?”
Because if Taichi talked about it, Juza didn’t have to and he could busy himself with his own sweet dessert for the night. He’d come to realize early on that sometimes, people didn’t need otherworldly, omnipotent advice. Sometimes, all they needed was an ear willing to hear them out.
“I think I have a crush on someone and I don’t know why it’s making me feel so…” Taichi’s chin wrinkled as he scowled at his own stupidity. “Usually, crushes make me feel all happy and smiley and stuff, you know?"
Juza rubbed the back of his neck.
“Maybe,” he said slowly. “Not sure.”
“But this time it’s making me guilty or something,” Taichi managed as he rubbed his stomach. “Or like… sick? It’s—hard to explain but it’s like… I feel so guilty. Even if they did wanna date me back, they’re so out of my league it feels like… I feel like I’ll be bogging them down if they date me. And so I shouldn’t want to.”
Juza stared at him.
Taichi winced. “I don’t know. It’s hard to explain. And it feels bad, man.”
“What if they like you back?” Juza asked, struggling to grasp the concept.
“But they could do so much better than me, I—”
Juza interrupted him with a click of his tongue. “They don’t want ‘better,' though. They want you. Isn’t that what matters?”
Taichi tried to process that. His eyes unfocused and the tiles beneath him blurred.
“And that’s where I found the two of them on the floor, stuffing their faces with sweets at one in the morning,” Sakyo muttered angrily.
Azuma chuckled to himself as he poured two more glasses for them. “And yet you eavesdropped.”
Did his cheeks feel hot because he was getting drunk? Or was it the light shame? Bah. Whatever. “They were having an important conversation. Might as well scold them after it’s finished."
“Tenma and Taichi, hm?” Azuma took a seat and crossed his legs. "I think they’d be very well suited for one another, actually."
Sakyo paused with a glass lifted halfway into the air. “You do?"
“Absolutely. Their love languages are perfectly aligned with one another.”
Sakyo raised an eyebrow at that.
“Love languages,” he repeated skeptically. He placed his glass back down.
Azuma smiled. “They’re very much real, you know. A book by an author named Gary Chapman was published a few decades ago, detailing the methods of expressing affection in human relationships. He describes them as ‘love languages’ and narrowed it down to five main ways.”
“This sounds borderline pseudoscience,” Sakyo said flatly.
“Pfft. Don’t be silly. They’re concept establishments."
Sakyo sighed but waved a hand, requesting specifics.
“Quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, and touch,” Azuma listed smoothly. “Let’s talk about it, junior. You know Taichi better than I do, after all.”
Sakyo sipped and pursed his lips. “Do I? Sometimes it feels like you know everyone better than they know themselves.”
At least that got another light laugh out of the other. “I suppose it’s a trick you pick up when you meet a lot of people. What would you say Taichi’s love language is out of those five?"
Nanao. Sakyo thought. He was the most approachable and soft-hearted one out of Autumn Troupe, that much went without saying.
Sakyo ruminated over all of the times Taichi had made plans to go to places with them. All of the times Sakyo had been forced to scold Taichi for sneaking off to Room 104 for slumber parties. The way he was the only one who never complained when forced onto impromptu trips, as long as they were all together.
The answer was clear, wasn’t it?
“Quality time,” Sakyo said.
Azuma bobbed his head. “I’d thought so. Tenma’s the type to… well, I wouldn’t say he’s careless with money but rather he doesn’t hesitate to purchase something if he thinks someone will like it. Tenma is very much a gift giver, in my opinion."
Sakyo stared at his cup.
Nanao’s little hoarding habit came to mind.
“CLEAN. YOUR. ROOM,” Sakyo roared.
“SAKYO, HAVE SOME MERCY, PLEASE.”
“You’ve reduced Fushimi to living in an ocean of garbage!”
Omi winced and raised his hand. “I’m fine, actually. It was my own fault for stepping on the lego."
“Your room is a mess,” Sakyo continued, completely ignoring Omi.
“They’re not garbage!” Taichi wailed, hugging a plastic baggy of candy wrappers to his chest. “I’ll find a scrapbook or whatever to put them in eventually, I just keep forgetting to. Don’t make me throw stuff out!"
“Those are candy wrappers,” Sakyo snapped. “Why would you want to save them!"
“But they’re candy you bought for meeeeeeeeee!”
Sakyo paused. He furrowed his brow. “What?”
Taichi stared right back, evidently confused by the reaction. He jostled the plastic baggy again. “Yeah, Sakyo! These are all of the snacks I convinced you to buy for me in the past year, you know? So I like to keep them as memories because it’s really hard to get you to stop being stingy.”
Sakyo didn’t know what to say.
Taichi shoved his hand into the baggy and withdrew a crumpled Snickers wrapper. “Remember? This was from the time the car broke down during the troupe’s drive to Osaka, and Juza was hungry and upset so you brought chocolate for everyone to keep us quiet until the tow truck came by.” He took out a Jolly Rancher wrapper next. “And this was when I got that ankle fracture last January and you shoved a bag of hard candies at me so I’d stop complaining.”
Sakyo frowned. “You remember all of this?”
“‘Course I do!” Taichi dropped the trash back into the baggy and hugged it to his chest again. "That’s why I gotta keep the wrappers, Sakyo, please?”
He pursed his lips.
“At least tidy up properly,” he settled on, relenting.
“Taichi expresses affection by spending time with people,” Azuma mused, “and Tenma appreciates having someone around. Tenma expresses affection by giving trinkets and Taichi treasures whatever he’s given. It’s a little match made in heaven, wouldn’t you say? For love languages to align like that.”
Sakyo sighed and raised his glass, finally tipping it back. It was none of his business, really. But when put that way, yes, Sakyo would admit that the two were shockingly compatible.
“Do you remember what young love was like?” Azuma cooed, leaning his chin on his hand.
“Not particularly, no.”
Azuma smiled. “It’s confusing, that’s for sure. All I hope for is that they’re both happy, whatever that might entail. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Sakyo took another drink but did not refute it.
Taichi squared his shoulders.
He could do this.
He’d given himself a full, forty-five minute length pep talk.
He could DO THIS.
“Tenma,” he said. “I want to go on a date with you.”
Tenma shrugged. “Okay.”
They stared at each other.
“Cool!” Taichi said after a moment’s pause. “We can go to the food stalls and grab something and walk around the park together.”
“And we can—" Taichi was GOING to have a breakdown over this later, probably. He’d turn this moment over and over in his skull and feel humiliated over everything he did no matter what it was, right? So he might as well bite the bullet and do what he wanted. “We can hold hands and stuff. Got it?”
They stared at each other some more, very poker-faced.
“Okay,” Taichi said. “Saturday good for you?”
Tenma pulled out his phone and checked his calendar. “Yeah. Nothing’s going on.”
Taichi marched out of the living room and collapsed onto the floor of his dorm the second the door closed behind him.
HE’D DONE IT.
HE’D ASKED TENMA OUT ON A DATE.
Taichi rushed out of his room after three victory laps sprinted and then kicked down the door for room 104.
“LADS,” he bellowed to Juza and Banri. “WE’RE GOING OUT TO CELEBRATE.”
Banri closed his magazine. “You asked him out on a date?”
“I ASKED HIM OUT ON A DATE.”
Juza nodded. “Cool. Good for you.”
Taichi crossed his arms and pouted. “You know, I hype you guys up like crazy all the time, even when small things happen. This is really big for me so I’d appreciate some reciprocation for once!”
Juza and Banri exchanged looks.
Juza lifted a fist in the air slowly. “Woooo. Let’s goooo.”
Banri clapped politely. “Pog.”
Taichi sighed and closed the door, going upstairs to Room 206. Misumi, Kumon, and Kazunari looked up from their card game.
“Heyyyy, Taichi!” Misumi said. “What’s up?”
Taichi fiddled his thumbs. “I asked Tenten out on a date.”
Sakyo jolted when he heard the commotion.
Oh no. Summer troupe.
"GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Kumon bellowed at the top of his lungs.
“THAT’S MY BOY, LET’S GET IT, KING, WOOOOOOOOO!” Stomp, stomp, stomp.
“Here’s a triangle, Taichi! This is such a win for the Taichi community, I’m so happy for you, ahhhh!”
Stomp, stomp, stomp.
“THIS IS THE BEST THING THAT’S HAPPENED IN THE HISTORY OF EVER, YOU GUYS ARE TOTALLY PERFECT FOR EACH OTHER!”
“I’M BRINGING OUT THE CONFETTI GUN, FINALLY, I’VE BEEN WAITING TO USE THIS FOR DAYS.”
Sakyo seized the broom closest and began to jab at the ceiling angrily.
“SHUT UP!” he roared.
The commotion settled down.
“Sorry, Sakyo!” he heard Misumi yell down.
So he actually went ahead and asked, huh? Sakyo snorted to himself, but couldn’t help smiling a bit. He was happy for them.
“Muku, can I borrow—?”
Yuki paused as he stared at the scene before him.
Yuki rubbed his forehead.
“What’s going on?” he asked tiredly. “Why’s he hooked to the oxygen tank?"
Muku removed the cold compress from Tenma’s forehead, who lay on the floor of Room 202 with a tube in his mouth that led to the O2 cask Muku’s parents had gifted him. At least that explained why it sounded like Darth Vader had moved in.
“Taichi asked Tenma out on a date,” he said kindly.
“Oh, you’re kidding. That’s great. The hack passed out?”
“Not really. I found him trying to fit his head into the crack beneath the couch to hide and I figured he needed to calm down a little.” Muku patted the oxygen tank. “It always makes me feel better when I get worried."
Tenma slipped the tube out of his mouth, sat up, and looked wrecked as he raised his eyes to Yuki’s.
“I’m going on a date with Taichi,” he said hoarsely.
Yuki clicked his tongue. “Yeah, thanks, I can figure out the context clues myself.”
“We’re going to the food stalls this weekend.”
Tenma rubbed an eye. “I’m going to buy him a churro.”
“Okay? Why are you telling me?"
Yuki sighed deeply again. He sat beside Tenma and slapped him on his back once.
“There. There,” he bit out.
“Thanks,” Tenma mumbled weakly. “I’m having a lot of feelings right now.”
Muku joined Yuki in consoling their very confused leader.
“Sometimes, I cry when I’m really happy too,” Muku said. “It’s okay, Tenma, your feelings are valid.”
Tenma put his face in his hands. “A full year of pining. And now it’s happening. Hoo. Hooooooo. I’m really going through it.”
Yuki rolled his eyes. God, he was so stupid. And he knew for a fact that Taichi was currently out with “the boys” dancing around the courtyard’s bonfire laughing hysterically.
They really might be perfect for each other after all.
“I got you a churro,” Tenma said, extending the stick of fried dough to Taichi.
Taichi’s eyes widened as he vibrated. “SCORE.”
He lunged forward and took a bite, tugging it out of Tenma’s hand and holding it up with his mouth. Tenma blinked at the other end presented to him.
“What?” he asked.
Taichi grinned. “Mmff mmm mmm phhhhp mmm!”
Taichi relented and took his teeth off of his end of the churro. “It’s like the pocky game.”
“Wh—But with a churro?!”
“Why not! You don’t want to?”
Tenma clenched his fingers into fists. “I’m not ready yet.”
Taichi burst out laughing.
“When did you know you liked me?” Taichi asked hesitantly as they took a seat on the bench.
“I’ve liked you for a while.” Tenma rubbed his nose. "Probably.”
A while? “Really?”
Tenma stretched his legs out and cleared his throat. “Yeah.”
“Eh. Dunno. I think I realized it last year though.”
Tenma had liked him for a YEAR?
TAICHI HAD HAD SOMEONE LIKE HIM FOR AN ENTIRE YEAR? AND HE HADN’T KNOWN?
He fiddled his thumbs. “How?”
Because Taichi’d only realized his crush on Tenma after someone had laid it out for him in the bare.
“It was during one of the last exams in our senior year."
Tenma suddenly chuckled, lifting a finger to scratch his chin. “When you said we averaged out to the funny number.”
The memory came crashing onto Taichi’s brain like a tsunami. The funny number.
It was in the fall. Some time around then. He remembered being exhausted from all of the constant rehearsals, and school becoming a rancid issue around this time.
Taichi rememberered accepting the test paper and stared woefully at the 68 marked in red at the top. At least it would have been funny if he’d gotten 69. At least he could have joked about it then.
But it was 68 and there was nothing funny about that.
Nothing but mediocrity. Always mediocrity, no matter how hard he tried.
Taichi clenched his teeth and scrunched the exam up into a ball, before shoving it into the deep recesses of his already crammed, bulging bag.
School was the worst.
Taichi was getting really sick of feeling like he was a hopeless idiot with no future or chance of making it every time testing season rolled around. “School is good for you!” his ass. “School’s where you’re supposed to learn!” LEARN WHAT? DEPRESSION? Self loathing?! Ugh!
He roused himself from his thoughts as the lunch bell rang.
“You wanna eat together?”
He glanced up to see Tenma had come to his classroom, lunchbox in hand.
“Yeah,” he said flatly. “Did Omi pack you fruit snacks?”
Tenma shrugged. “He always does. You want it?”
They walked towards the gym. Most of the school grounds, as long as there wasn’t a class occupying it, was free for students to loiter in during lunch. Juza had shown them the nook that was usually deserted last year.
“How’d you do?” Taichi asked after a moment. “You got the test back too, right?"
Tenma held up the test wordlessly. There was a bright red 70 at the top.
“Not great,” Tenma said with another shrug. “Don’t tell Tsumugi because he helped me study for this, but I think it would have been funnier if I’d gotten a sixty-nine. Whatever."
Huh. Wait a second—
“SEVENTY!” he crowed, slapping Tenma’s back. “TENTEN, THAT’S GREAT!”
Tenma’s cheeks darkened. “It’s seventy.”
“So?! I got a sixty-eight! Do you know what that means?!” Taichi began jumping in circles around Tenma, wishing he hadn’t shoved his test into his bag so he could have shown the other his score.
“We’re both going to have to lie to the Director?”
“Yeah, but also, we average out to the funny number together!”
Tenma looked back at his score and finally cracked a smile at it. “There’s the silver lining, I guess.”
They sat in silence as they ate their lunch.
Taichi felt much better.
“THAT was what got you to like me?!” he burst out, cheeks reddening. “Dude, what the hell! That’s so embarrassing!”
Tenma snorted but didn’t bother to force down the smile. “It was funny. I was feeling down about it and then you made it better.”
“…You made it better for me too.”
“High school was a total waste of time.”
“Dude, same, but Tsumugi looked like he was going to start crying when I told him that.”
God bless the Winter Troupe leader for somehow still having faith in the education system. Taichi hesitated for only a moment before he leaned his head on Tenma’s shoulder.
“I’m glad I met you though,” he confessed. “It was through the company but it was really nice having a friend around. I was worried that when Juza graduated, I’d go back to eating lunch on my own.”
Tenma scowled. “What, you thought I was going to drop you?”
But, kind of, yeah. It was… Complicated. Taichi knew he’d be told he was being ridiculous if he said it out loud, but some habits were awfully hard to shake. What did he really offer Tenma? Why would Tenma want to still keep on being his friend without the autumn troupe numbers?
What possible appeal did others see in him when he saw nothing in his mirror’s reflection?
“I think you’re fun to hang out with,” Tenma said, knocking a knuckle on Taichi’s forehead. “It’s easier to talk to you than other people. Dumbass.”
“You liiiiiiike me.”
Taichi snorted and hid his face. “Okay. Dunno how I’m supposed to respond to that. You were supposed to get all shy and go ’n-no I don’t, idiot!’”
“But I do like you."
“Well… This is my place,” Taichi said as he stopped at Room 105.
Tenma put his hands in his pockets. “Yeah. I know. We live in the same dorms.”
“We do, don’t we? G'night, Tenma!” Taichi cheered as he opened his door.
Taichi turned around again.
Tenma leaned forward and kissed Taichi in the hallway.
Tenma jerked back, absolutely refusing to meet Taichi’s wide-eyed gaze.
“Ah?” Taichi managed after a second.
“Goodnight kiss. Or whatever. I dunno. We’re dating. So, it’s—normal." With a face that looked like it was on fire, Tenma turned on his heel and marched up the stairs to the second floor.
Taichi watched him go.
Taichi scratched his head.
Taichi slapped both of his palms over his mouth as his entire upper body bloomed the same color as his hair.
“Welcome back, how was your—Taichi, are you okay?” Omi asked with concern as he entered the dorm room.
Taichi jerked his head up, still very red, teary-eyed and shaking like a leaf as he sat on the floor.
“OMI,” he bawled with his knuckles white from how hard he was gripping his knees. “HELP ME."
That was definitely not a good sign.
“What’s wrong? Are you hurt?” Omi asked as he stepped closer.
“WORSE. IT’S SO MUCH WORSE.”
Omi’s eyebrows drew together. “Worse?”
Taichi dragged the back of his hands over his cheeks. If they got any hotter, he’d die from overheating. Taichi didn’t know why he wanted to cry so badly.
“Taichi, are you okay?” Omi repeated, this time demanding a proper answer.
Taichi took in a shuddering breath as he tried to get his thoughts in order. What was wrong? Why did he feel like he was going to explode into a million glass hards?
“I t-think,” he began, lower lip quivering before he bit it. “I think I’m in love with someone and I don’t know what to do!”
And then, Taichi promptly burst into loud tears.
Banri and Yuki approached the Director.
“We’d like to lodge a formal complaint,” Yuki said bitterly, holding out a filled form.
Izumi raised an eyebrow. “Against?”
“Taichi and Tenma,” Banri snapped.
“They’re being TERRIBLE.”
Izumi stared at the two of them, and then back to the file.
“You wrote here that you’re mad at them… for being publicly affectionate with one another,” she said with no small amount of amusement.
“THEY ARE,” Yuki roared. “THEY’RE BEING DISGUSTING.”
Banri’s upper lip curled. “I saw them holding hands in the courtyard, you’re lucky I hate the judicial system or I would have gone right ahead and filed an indecency lawsuit."
Izumi shook her head.
“They’re a new couple and they’re being doting on one another,” she said. “Be nice to them.”
Yuki stomped his foot on the floor. “I’LL BE ‘NICE’ WHEN YOU TELL THE HACK TO GET THE POSTER OF TAICHI OFF OF OUR WALL.”
“No.” She slid the complaint back to them. “The both of you are just going to have to deal with it. I thought you would have been happy for them, honestly.”
Banri raised his hands in the air. “I am, I’m so happy for them, Director. I’m pretty sure Taichi popped out of the womb saying he wanted to date someone, so good on the guy for finally getting a boyfriend. BUT I DON’T WANT TO HAVE TO WITNESS THEIR SAPPY FONDNESS. PAY ME A MILLION DOLLARS."
“It’s gross!” Yuki agreed angrily. “Holding hands? UGH. The PET NAMES?”
“UGH!” Banri groaned with his head tilted back. “IT’S THE WORST.”
Taichi turned around.
“Haruto?” he asked, brow furrowing. “What are you doing at Starbucks?”
“Am I not allowed at a Starbucks?” the God Troupe actor asked snootily. “I’m here to get a dragon fruit refresher, thank you very much.”
“Oh. Okay! I’m here to get cake pops. You ever had a cake pop from here before? They’re pretty good but Juza says they’re not sweet enough. I like ‘em, though."
Taichi scratched his head. Damn. Things were getting awkward.
Haruto crossed his arms. “Let me buy you a cake pop.”
“Let’s have a chat, Nanao. It’s been a while.”
Dang, how was he supposed to politely say no and then run for the hills? Before he could figure it out, Haruto shooed him out of the line and pointed to the dinky tables the location offered as seating.
Taichi sat at one and waited. He checked his phone and was halfway through putting a horrendous amount of Discord emote reacts to a photo of spaghetti noodles knit into a scarf when Haruto returned with their orders.
“Did you want to talk about something?” Taichi asked as he accepted the diet coke. Ew. Diet.
Haruto sipped his refresher.
“I might have given you more crap than you deserved during your God Troupe days,” Haruto said after a moment.
That was putting it a bit lightly. Taichi still remembered the “pep talk” Haruto had given him as a beginning actor. A full rant-y shpiel about how you had to be willing to die on that stage or you wouldn’t be able to survive in God Troupe’s competitive atmosphere filled with prodigies who knew acting as they did breathing. It was as close to indoctrination as you could get.
“I wanted to apologize.”
Taichi scooted away. “You’re… You’re not some kind of twin from Haruto’s dark past hellbent on ruining his reputation, right?”
Haruto scowled. “You make it so hard to do even basic polite things.”
“Can you blame me? You once yelled at an actor for flubbing up lines during dress rehearsals so harshly, he started crying.”
Haruto clenched his teeth. “I am trying to become a kinder person. Sorry for wanting character development, I’ll go fuck myself, damn."
“No, no! Self improvement king. Good for you.”
God, it was getting so awkward.
“I…” Haruto clicked his tongue. “I want to tell you sorry for some of the things I said. About how you should stop trying if there are people better than you. I think I was misdirecting a lot of my insecurities but that’s not an excuse. I should have been a better senior at God Troupe. There’s nothing shameful about putting in the effort to become good at something."
Taichi pursed his lips.
Then he raised his chin.
“Tenten thinks I’m good enough,” he said sharply.
Haruto raised an eyebrow. “Hah?”
“Tenma thinks I’m good enough. And so does everyone else.” Taichi dug into his pockets for a coin and smacked it onto the table. That would probably cover his half of the bill. “And, you know what, they’re all a lot smarter than me so they’re probably right. I don’t need to be upset about whether or not I’m ‘good enough’ anymore because I already am. And Mankai Company taught me that a lot better than God Troupe did.”
Haruto bobbed his head. “Good. I’m happy for you, Nanao. Tell... Tasuku I said hi.”
“I’ll probably forget to, if I’m being honest with you."
“That’s fine. We’ll cream you lot at the next act off.”
“Ha! As if."
Taichi burrowed himself into Tenma’s arms the moment he passed through the doors of Mankai. Tenma immediately patted his head.
“You good?” he asked.
“Saw Haruto at Starbucks.”
“Was he mean to you?”
Taichi shook his head, before pressing a cheek against Tenma’s chest as hard as he could to hear his heartbeat. “No. He was actually kind of nice. I think. But… I dunno. I don’t like remembering God Troupe days, you know?”
“Yeah.” Tenma played with the ends of one lock of hair as he got lost in his own thoughts. “But you’re here with us now and that’s what actually matters.”
“Do you like me?” Taichi asked out of the blue, wanting praise.
Tenma frowned at that.
“I really like you,” he said simply.
Taichi grinned. “Really?”
“Yeah. A lot, actually.”
“Tenten’s always so nice to me,” Taichi sang.
“I think you’re cool.” Tenma began counting on his fingers. “I think you work harder than anyone I’ve met in my life. I feel like you get upset just as much as I do about things but you still force yourself to smile and keep a good mood. That’s really cool of you. I really…” Tenma winced as his cheeks heated up again. Fuck, this was embarrassing. “I really like spending time with you. So. I really like you.”
Taichi stared at him.
Then he took a step away. Taichi put his face in one hand, using the other to make a Stop motion.
“H-Hold on, I think I’m gonna flip out again,” he muttered, trying to get his heart to stop feeling like it was imploding in his chest.
“It’s true, though.”
Taichi wished he knew what to say. There weren’t any words in his head, just incredible amounts of incoherent screaming and the desire to start throwing things. What was the word for an emotion where you were so happy you wanted to start slamming your forehead against the table to force yourself into unconsciousness? Was that normal?
He forced his palm away from his face and looked Tenma hard in his eyes.
“I love you,” Taichi said.
Tenma blinked. He cleared his throat and looked away, rubbing his thumb against his cheekbone at a poor attempt to hide the light flush. “Love you too.”
Taichi was going to set something on fire at this rate. Fuck. Hrrrgh. If the next doctor visit revealed that Taichi’s blood pressure had gone up, well, at least he knew why.
“Tenma,” he said with an urgency he’d never felt before. “Let’s get married.”
Maybe it was a good thing that Tenma laughed, Taichi realized twenty minutes later after they’d bid each other good night and retreated to their own rooms. Because Taichi had been so caught up in the moment, he hadn’t been making a joke.
Right then. In ten years. In twenty. It didn’t matter, Taichi realized.
If Tenma ever said “let’s go get married,” Taichi wouldn’t even bother packing bags. He would have simply shoved a toothbrush into his back pocket, seized the nearest bag of gummy worms, and hopped onto the first train available for matrimony.
Oof. He was down bad, huh?
…At least it was with the right guy, he consoled himself with.
Someone knocked on his door.
“Who’s it?” Taichi asked as he opened it.
Tenma jerked forward and kissed him again in the hallway. Chaster than last time, their front teeth clicked a little painfully.
He leaned back and cleared his throat awkwardly. “Sorry. Forgot the goodnight kiss. See you.”
Tenma sprinted back up the stairs.
Taichi watched him go, brain completely silent.
Taichi slapped a hand over his mouth to muffle the hysterical screech.