Actions

Work Header

New Horizons

Chapter Text

                "Faster!" Miss Laura barked, causing Eijun to almost trip over his feet. They were doing an across the floor combination that was a high tempo, and Eijun always had trouble remembering what came next. It didn't help that ballet was not his specialty by any means. In fact, the only reason he was in this class was so that he could develop adequate technique and strength to supplement his modern dance.

                But this, unfortunately, resulted in him clumsily shuffling through footwork, nearly whacking his best friend Wakana, who was in his group, across the face.

                "Come on, Eijun, don't get flustered!" Miss Laura groaned, "You were doing so well, but you're a count behind!"

                Whether or not he was actually doing well up to this point was a matter of debate, but Eijun was determined not to let Miss Laura down.

                Miss Laura was the one who had gotten him into dance a year and a half ago. He was always active, playing a variety of sports in high school, and had been on the track team when he sprained his ankle. After several weeks of icing and little to no activity, the doctor recommended taking a ballet class to help strengthen his ankle again. So, Eijun signed up at the studio Wakana was enrolled in.

                When he first walked through the front doors, he noticed that the studio was small, but Wakana said the training was good. Unfortunately, Eijun was a late starter, but not enough individuals were enrolled to make two separate levels for his age range. So, much to Wakana's amusement, Eijun had to take class with the kids in the middle-school age range. Not only was he a foot taller than all of the other dancers, he was also the only male. It was humiliating, but Eijun was determined to get back in shape so he could go back to running.

                Ballet was hard, Eijun had quickly discovered. He reluctantly admitted that he did belong in a class with the younger kids. This turnout thing was confusing. What did the teacher mean turn out from the hips? These combinations were hard...how did these kids remember so much information in such a short amount of time? Fuck, he was certain he discovered a muscle that never existed before because it was spasming.

                He hated it.

                Wakana offered to help him practice outside of class so he could move up to the older kids’ class, but he wasn't really interested.

                "I'm just doing this to get back in shape, Wakana," he shook his head, "In a few weeks, I'll be out of class and back on the track."

                And that was the plan, too. Until one evening he chose to stay behind after ballet class to stretch his hip flexor (oh, the pain). He sat to the side as the older kids were going to have a different dance class, and he waved to Wakana as she walked in. She looked at him in surprise.

                "Are you staying for modern?"

                "Hah? No, I'm just stretching, Miss Laura and Miss Emily said I could sit to the side," he explained, watching the rest of the class trickle in as Miss Laura was plugging in her laptop to the sound system. He was intrigued. Modern? What the hell was that?

                "You should watch!" Wakana said excitedly.

                "Why don't you try class?" Miss Laura said from across the room, fixing him with a rather serious expression, "I think you will find this more pleasurable that ballet. Might be fun. I won't charge you for this one, just drop in."

                Eijun shrugged. He did have a lot of homework to do, but he wouldn't do it anyways, and what harm could it do to try something new? It was only an hour long class. Besides, Miss Laura was suggesting he take class with kids his age! Maybe he looked like he'd be good at it!

                "Okay," he said, "Let me call my mom real fast and tell her I'll be home later."

                When Eijun reentered the room, he was surprised to find everyone lying on the floor, their arms and legs outstretched so they looked like long X's. He froze in the doorway and looked at Miss Laura in confusion. She smiled.

                "Eijun, we are doing our big X series, please lie down. Don't be discouraged; we have been working on these exercises for several weeks now, but I think you'll pick up on it."

                It was amazing, this class. They started with exercises on the floor, then moved up to standing, then across the floor work, and then finished with a big combo at the end. And what Eijun loved about it was that it moved. Like, really moved. They did their tondues (brushing the feet against the floor to a point) and treads (to warm up their ankles), but they also did rolls and slides and things called inversions that were almost like handstands and Eijun found himself getting sucked in.

                He signed up for the class immediately.

                Every week he did his ballet, then eagerly threw himself into the modern class. He started noticing subtle things about his body he never did before; how he could be smooth and slow or fast and sharp...he became so obsessed he began pestering Miss Laura about professional companies so he could see how they did modern dance.

                After the spring recital, he was promoted to take ballet with Wakana and the rest of the girls his age. And, of course, he continued his modern class.

                Which led him to where he was now, in his senior year of high school, future unknown and struggling with this rather difficult and very brisk combination. His arms continued to flail and he almost knocked out Wakana...again.

                "Jesus," he heard her hiss. Well, at least he was helping her hone her reaction skills.

                When they made it across, he groaned as he realized that they were going to have to do it on the left side all the way back.

                "Don't psych yourself out," Wakana whispered as they watched the next group, "You knew it when we were practicing it!"

                Eijun opened his mouth to speak when a scream resounded through the studio, causing the group on the floor some confusion, but they continued.

                Miss Laura was standing at the front of the studio, as usual, with her back to the mirror and she was staring at someone who was standing in the studio doorway.

                "REI!" Miss Laura was clearly finding it hard to contain her glee, and as soon as the group made it across the floor she held up her hand to halt the next group to come in, and sprinted across the studio straight into the woman's outstretched arms.

                "How are you, Laura?" the woman named Rei said into Laura's messy bun.

                "I'm great, what are you doing here?!"

                "Just stopping by! I was in town and I wanted to see your business. You've done well," Rei smiled, adjusting her glasses.

                Eijun and the rest of his class exchanged looks. Did this mean they could have a water break?

                "I'm so glad you could come! I wish I would have known, I would have had you teach a master class!" Laura said, "How long are you in town for? I have a modern class with the older kids in a few hours!"

                "I could stay," Rei said, scanning the studio. Her eyes rested on Eijun, which was not surprising, as he was the only male. Her eyes were remarkably calculating. He shifted under the gaze uncomfortably.

                Rei stayed. Eijun felt her eyes on him, and it caused him to fumble more than once. But he brushed the sweat out of his eyes and continued, jaw set and eyes aflame. Eijun did eventually get their pe He noticed Rei had a shrewd look about her...it was like she was looking for something, but Eijun didn't know what. Either way, she observed the rest of the ballet class leaving Eijun embarrassed. He was by far the worst in the class.

                "Want to get dinner at the corner?" Wakana asked, putting her ballet shoes in her bag. They had an hour for dinner as the younger kids had their ballet class next.

                "Yeah," Eijun felt grumpy. For some reason he felt the need to impress this mystery woman Rei. He slung his backpack over his shoulder with a huff. Wakana raised her eyebrow but thankfully didn't comment.

                Eijun's grumpiness was short-lived (it was hard for him to stay grumpy when he knew he could look forward to dinner and to modern class) and as soon as they left the studio to walk down the block, his usual pep kicked in. It was autumn and chilly and soon it would be Halloween. Shit, he still didn't know what he was going to dress as...and it was his last year in high school, too...

                They ordered their usual, and after forty minutes of chatting Wakana's ear off, it was time to return to the studio.

                But to Eijun's surprise, Miss Laura was stretching with the students and the lady named Rei was the one plugging her phone into the sound system.

                "I'm confused," he said to no one in particular.

                "It's a master class," one of the girls replied, rolling her eyes, "Laura wants to take it with us. Rei is a university dance professor."

                Dance professor? They had those?

                "YOU CAN GO TO COLLEGE FOR DANCE?!" Eijun yelled in surprise.

                Everyone flinched.

                "Yes, idiot, you can," the girl frowned.

                Holy shit. How did Eijun not know this? How come no one talked about this?

                "Seriously, Eijun," Wakana sighed, "We've talked about this frequently in class."

                Oh.

                "Oh," he said.

                He needed to pay more attention.

                Rei was watching all of this through the mirror. Then she turned around.

                "Let's get started," she said, "My name is Rei and I am a professor at--"

                Eijun shot his hand into the air. Rei looked at him in surprise.

                "WHAT KIND OF DANCE DO YOU DO AT YOUR SCHOOL?!" Eijun shouted. Wakana made a big deal out of rubbing her ear as though injured.

                "Um, well," Rei said, adjusting her glasses, "We are a modern-based school with specialization in choreography, but we make sure our students get ballet twice a week to help with technique. Now, let's get started," she added quickly as Eijun opened his mouth to speak again.

                Rei's style was different, Eijun noticed. They started on the ground like in Miss Laura's class, but her X series was more…circular? Spiraling? Dynamic? It made Eijun think of a churning ocean current for some reason. As confusing as it was, Eijun had to admit that it was kind of cool. Once they made it to standing combos, Rei clapped her hands loudly.

                "Okay! I wanted to make sure you guys were fully warmed up for what we are doing next. I am going to spend the rest of class teaching you a dance composition class, which you may also know as a choreography class."

                Eijun cocked his head to the side. How did you teach choreography?
                "As modern dancers, we take special care to practice improvisation so that each individual can find their own voice and build their own movement vocabulary," Rei explained, "And using that as a tool, you can start to choreograph new and exciting things."

                Eijun looked at Wakana. He shrugged. Sounded fun, he supposed. He never improvised before, and that sounded scary.

                Rei put on strange music...it was what she called 'atmospheric' so that they could focus on 'what their body wanted to do'. She also made them close their eyes.

                At first, it was hard. They weren't allowed to move from their spot so they didn't run into each other, which forced him to try and be creative while being in a small confined space. He kept his eyes firmly closed. Huh. Funny. Dancing with your eyes closed made him so much more...aware. He could hear the dancers around him breathing or brushing their feet against the floor.

                He began by moving his arms. They were the easiest part of him to move. He waved them, entwined them, swung them, bounced them. He waved them over his head, hugged them close to his body, wrapping, feeling…he even began to move his torso, allowed it to respond. He eventually ran out of ideas, though. So he repeated himself to keep moving.

                But after awhile he grew tired of doing the same thing. What was he supposed to do? He was wiggling around like an idiot! He was tempted to open his eyes but decided against it. If he shifted his hip like this, what would it feel like? Maybe he should try moving from his ribcage, yeah, that was kind of different, right? Eijun was so immersed he became unaware of the stillness around him, and he kept going.  A soft voice spoke from the front of the studio.

                "Eijun," it was Rei, "Move through the space."

                Why was she singling him out? Oh, well. Eijun, without opening his eyes, began to navigate the space around him. Whoa, this was cool. Now that he could move, maybe he should change his level. Like, go into the floor or whatever. Yeah. That felt awesome. He began to pick up the pace; he had been moving slow this whole time, he wanted to change it up. As a result, he was forced to open his eyes, and somewhere in the back of his mind he was aware that no one else was dancing, everyone was watching him, but he shelved that away for later because he had never felt anything like this before and he felt like he was drowning in the sensation of it, in the sheer capabilities of his own body.

                "Find your end," Rei said again, softly. Eijun knew what she meant.

                He took his time, and eventually found a resting point, then stilled.

 

*

 

                Rei wanted him to audition as a dance major at her university. She cornered him as soon as class was over.

                "You have a very creative mind," she said, "I think you'll find our program satisfying."

                But he hadn't thought about what he wanted to do after high school yet; he had never considered the possibility of dance. He was quite certain his grandfather wouldn't like it. But Rei was determined, and somehow (probably through Miss Laura) called Eijun's household the next evening after dinner.

                As expected, Eijun's grandfather was having none of it...until he found out how much of a scholarship Rei was offering if Eijun was to make it in the program.

                "Do it!" he growled at Eijun, while Eijun's mother and father crowded around the phone.

                Eijun was hesitant. The university was far away, and he did not want to leave behind his hometown. But his mother told Rei that he’d be there for the audition anyways.

                “At least audition, honey, then you can make a choice,” Eijun’s mother said.

 

                                                                                                       *

 

                After a five-hour drive on a dark early Friday morning, Eijun found himself outside of the university dance building with his mother while his grandfather and father went to check into their hotel. It was ten fifteen in the morning and he was exhausted, but Rei told him to get here in time to observe a bit of the current Freshman modern class.

                “This is nice,” his mother said, looking at the stoic brick building.

                Eijun was too busy looking at the students walking around. This was a pretty campus, and all of these college kids looked so cool, knowing where they were going with their bags slung over their shoulders.

                Inside of the dance building, Eijun saw a different kind of college student. The door to the main studio was open, and half of the students were in there stretching and warming up, and the other half were hanging out in the hallway, chatting and stretching as well. One handsome boy was drinking coffee in a shiny metallic travel mug. Eijun wrinkled his nose. How could that kid drink coffee right before dancing? Didn’t it dehydrate him?

                “HYAHAHA!” cackled a boy talking to the coffee kid, “It was crazy! But they were seriously the coolest dance company I have ever seen, dude, if they ever come back this way, we gotta go!”

                Eijun was curious which company they were talking about and was about to walk over and ask when Rei emerged from the offices on his right.

                “Good morning, Eijun,” Rei said with a smile, “Hello,” she turned to his mother, “How was the drive in?”

                “Good,” his mother said with a laugh, “It was an early start, but I think it went well. We made good time, anyways.”

                “Well, I’ll give you the tour of the facility while the modern class gets underway so you can see it in full swing,” Rei beckoned them to follower her up the stairs, “We’ll start up here.”

                Rei led them to a well-lit hallway with large windows on one side, and opened doors on the other.

                “These are our upstairs studios. Rather large, sprung floors, a lot of windows. Each studio, including our downstairs main studio, is equipped with a piano for our dance classes as we have live accompaniment for most of them.”

                Eijun’s jaw dropped as they peeked into each studio. This was insane! Way bigger than the studio back at home!

                “Through that door is the clinic, which dancers can use during posted hours,” Rei went on, “And in this room we have our sit-down classroom for our dance history classes and the like.”

                Everything was impressive…everything.

                “Are you okay, Eijun?” his mom prodded. He realized he hadn’t spoken a word since the tour.

                “I’M FINE,” he yelled, “IT’S NOT LIKE I’M FALLING IN LOVE OR SOMETHING!”

                Rei smiled, then led them back downstairs. Eijun could hear music playing, and he followed her into the main studio, which was easily twice the size of one of the studios upstairs, maybe even more.

                “This studio doubles as our theater as well. It is a transformative space. We set up the cyc and hang the curtains. Shall we?” she gestured to the elevated theater seats, and Eijun eagerly went up a few stairs then plopped down, looking down at all of the dancers taking class before him.

                They were all drenched in sweat, and, to Eijun’s surprise, most of them were male.

                “As you can see,” Rei said, leaning in as though reading his mind, “We boast the largest male dancer enrollment in the country.”

                The professor teaching them looked scary. He stood before them, arms crossed, as they did their complex across the floor exercises in groups. Jesus, were all college modern classes this technically advanced? How did they hold their leg there? Eijun started to feel his hands sweat at the prospect of ever being in a class like this.

                He continued to watch, but one guy caught his attention in particular. It was the coffee-drinking boy. He was…amazing. Clear and concise yet so…exciting? Eijun was having a hard time taking his eyes off of him. When he walked to the side after finishing the combo, he heard one of the dancers pat him on the back and say, “Nice, Kazuya.”

                Kazuya. Huh. He was talented, that was for sure, Eijun thought.

                For the rest of class Eijun had trouble looking at anyone other than Kazuya. Even when another group was dancing, Eijun found himself staring at him while he stood at the side. Sometimes Kazuya would wipe sweat from his brow or tread in place to keep his ankles warm. Only once did Kazuya glance up at Eijun, most probably feeling the intensity of his gaze, but it was fleeting, and Eijun looked away quickly.

                “Kataoka is a great professor. He really knows how to work on the dancer’s stamina. Well, we needn’t stay the whole class,” Rei said, rising, “And I’m sure you’d like to eat and get ready for the show tonight.”

 

*

 

                The Sawamura family spent the rest of the day walking around the college town and exploring. When it got close to the show, they made their way back to the hotel and Eijun showered and let his mom dress him in a brand-new black sweater that she said made him look “mature and handsome”.

                When they arrived and bought their tickets, Eijun made sure to find a good spot right in the middle. Wow, it was amazing how unlike a studio the space looked. In just a few hours, it really was a theater. He ripped open his program and looked at what was going to be shown. It looked a decent length. He glanced at the pieces listed and froze when he saw a familiar name underneath one: Kazuya Miyuki. It appeared he was not only the solo performer, but he was also the choreographer. His was second to last.

                The house dimmed and a very intimidating-looking but incredibly short pink-haired individual walked into the spotlight.

                “Good evening,” he smiled benignly, “And welcome to our student organization show. We’d like to thank the School of Dance for letting us use their space. Everything you see is done completely by us students in the organization, including the casting and choreography.”

                Eijun sat up straighter in his seat. Wow, this was so professional! And they were students? After the pink-haired boy told them the normal stuff (no cell phones, here are the exits, blah blah blah), the house went dark.

                Eijun was astounded by what he was seeing. Piece after piece was so different from the last, and even though he could tell his grandpa had fallen asleep, Eijun was trembling with excitement. He recognized a few of the students from the class he had observed.

                Then came Kazuya’s solo. And Sawamura was drawn in immediately.

                How could someone move like that? It was soft, almost sensual with the dim lighting, managing to contour his musculature. And the control. It was beautiful. Eijun watched each gesture, each nuance with such intensity he felt he might burst, and, without realizing it, he was moving slightly in his seat, almost swaying, with Kazuya onstage. It was so intimate, so lonely almost that Eijun felt like he was watching something he wasn’t supposed to.

                It was over too soon.

                “Wow,” he heard someone mutter when the house lights came up and Kazuya took his bow, a cocky smile on his face.

                Eijun had not realized he had been crying until he looked at his program to see what the last piece was and found tear drops staining the paper. He hastily wiped them away, but the damage was done. All Eijun could think about the entire last piece was that he had to get into this school now.

*

 

                When the show was over, Eijun was pleased to see that many of the performers were in the lobby greeting friends and family. Eijun felt his heart hammer at his ribcage; maybe he could find Kazuya. Let him know what his piece did to him, just meet him. He struck out on his own, leaving his bewildered family behind, and pushed through the crowd.

                But no matter where he looked, he could not find Kazuya anywhere.

                “HYAHAHA! Of COURSE you bullshitted it!” Eijun heard through the crowd. Wasn’t that the voice of the kid talking to Kazuya earlier? Eijun followed the sound of the voice to its source.

                The cackling kid was standing with a group of other people, and they all appeared to be looking at a handsome, bespectacled man with a sideways baseball cap. Wait a minute…WAIT A MINUTE.

                Eijun walked closer, so close he was almost flush against the cackling kid. Yes, his eyes were correct; Kazuya was wearing glasses. That’s why he couldn’t find him at first.

                “Yeah,” Kazuya grinned, putting his hand on his hip, “I forgot the choreography halfway through, so I just made up the rest until the sound faded…ah,” Kazuya’s eyes met Eijun and Eijun felt his stomach drop, “Youichi, looks like you have a stalker.”

                Everyone in the group turned to look at Eijun, who felt his face go red. He wasn’t a stalker! He opened his mouth to tell them so when someone else cut in.

                “Oh, Kazuya, I see you have met Eijun,” Rei walked up to them, “This is the one I was telling you about the other day.”

                Kazuya and Youichi looked at Eijun incredulously.

                “Wait, you were talking about this guy?” Kazuya said with a grin and a glint in his eye that Eijun did not like.

                “Yeah!” Eijun cut in loudly, “I’m Eijun Sawamura! I’m going to audition for this school and become a great dancer!”

                Rei looked at him in surprise, and Youichi just rolled his eyes and walked away. Kazuya started to laugh.

                “Oh, wow, this guy is great, I don’t know where you find them, Rei,” he laughed, doubling over.

                “Hey!” Eijun said angrily, his face going red, “What’s your—”

                “Hey, don’t take it the wrong way,” Kazuya walked over to him and slung his arm around Eijun’s shoulders. Just who the hell did he think he was?!

                “Don’t touch me!” Eijun snapped, trying to wiggle out of Kazuya’s grasp. He smelled like sweat and coffee and something else Eijun couldn’t put his finger on, but it smelled nice.

                “Kazuya,” Rei said, a warning tone even Eijun could clearly hear.

                “Fine, fine,” Kazuya winked at her, then dropped his arm and took a step back from Eijun, “What makes you like this school so much, Saw-a-mur-a?” he asked, singsonging Eijun’s last name playfully. Eijun did not like being made fun of, but he decided to answer regardless.

                “I like modern dance and you have great facilities,” Eijun answered with a glower, “And…I’m impressed with the work you guys did on the show,” he added curtly.

                “Oh?” Miyuki’s grin widened and his eyes shone evilly, “You were impressed?”

                “Yeah, by the work you ALL did on the show!” Eijun said, his voice rising.

                “Eijun will be auditioning tomorrow,” Rei said wearily, cutting in, “Eijun, Kazuya will be on our panel. You see, we always have all of the professors and two student representatives present when we hold auditions.”

                Eijun’s mouth went dry. Kazuya was going to be there, judging him? He’d have a say on whether or not Eijun made it into the program?! Fuck.

                “That’s right, Saw-a-mur-a,” Kazuya winked, “I’ll have a say in the selection process. You better be on your best game!”

                Eijun quite literally had nothing to say, which was remarkably rare, so he turned on his heel and started to walk away.

                “You scared him away, Kazuya!” he heard Rei hiss as he walked away, “Do you have any idea how hard a time I had trying to get him down here?”

                Eijun wasn’t scared! Eijun feared nothing! He was fearless! He was a champion!

                “YOU BETTER BE READY, KAZUYA!” Eijun spun around and yelled, “I’M GOING TO DO MY BEST TOMORROW. YOU’LL SEE!” then he stomped off to his family, listening to Kazuya’s laughter ring in his ears.

*

 

                “That kid is weird as hell,” Kazuya wiped a tear from his eye. Oh, man. His abs were sore.

                “Maybe so, but he’s extremely interesting to watch,” Rei said, watching Eijun leave the lobby with his family, “I think he has potential.”

                “You said his technique wasn’t so great,” Kazuya said, watching Rei closely. It was rare she was so interested in one specific person.

                “Yes, he’s a little sloppy sometimes, but I think that’s just because he started so late. He’ll get there.”

                “Hmm,” Kazuya hummed, turning and looking at where Eijun had just left, “He is interesting, I’ll give him that. I like him. We’ll see if I like his dancing too.”

 

                                                                                                       *

 

                Wakana had come down for the audition as well, which was a great relief to Eijun, as he was incredibly nervous. He had spent all night tossing and turning nervously in his bed, and when his alarm went off at eight in the morning he was already wide awake and dressed. He had never been to an audition before, and he was hoping he wasn't going to mess it up.

                He choked down some free breakfast at the hotel with his parents, then made his way back to the dance building. Wakana was already there, looking clean and professional, a big number '47' pinned to her front. Eijun caught of glimpse of Rei, but she was busy speaking with Kataoka, the big scary professor Eijun had observed the other day.

                He filled out some paperwork, and a smiling upperclassmen handed him a number 100. He struggled pinning it to himself, so Wakana rolled her eyes and began helping him. Her hands were trembling.

                "You're the largest number," she observed.

                Eijun looked around at the crowd. It was true. He let out a breath, his nervousness getting replaced with excitement. He had never gotten a chance to dance in a place like this before. It was exciting.

                They were all ushered into the large space that Eijun had only watched people dance in before. The sprung floor underneath the Marley creaked beneath his feet and it was satisfying, and they sat down to stretch. A boy with pink hair was sitting near them, and he looked very nervous.

                "Hi!" Eijun said cheerfully. He didn't want the boy to be so scared-looking. After all, this audition could set their future, right?
                "Hi," the boy smiled shyly, "My name is Haruichi, what's yours?"

                "I'm Eijun Sawamura," Eijun puffed out his chest, "And this is Wakana!"

                "Nice to meet you," Wakana smiled, "How did you hear about this school?"

                "My brother goes here," Haruichi explained, "My older brother is a dance senior here."

                "Oh, cool," Wakana nodded, "Hoping to follow the family footsteps?"

                Haruichi smiled oddly.

                "Something like that. What about you two?"

                "One of the professors here knows our studio teacher back at home," Wakana said.

                "...you're very flexible," a voice cut in, deadpan. The three of them jumped and looked up at an incredibly tall and lanky boy with dark hair and grey eyes. He was looming over them, and looking at Eijun.

                "Uh...yeah. Thanks," Eijun said, squirming under the intensity of the boy's gaze.

                "You said your name was Sawamura?" he asked.

                "Uh...yeah, Eijun Sawamura."

                The boy blinked, than awkwardly sat down next to them. Before Eijun could say anything, a group of people walked into the studio, and a silence descended upon the room.

                Rei, Kataoka, and three other professors sat down behind a long table set up at the front of the room. With them were three students, one of which was Kazuya, who was scanning the group with a rather predatory amusement. When his eyes met Eijun's, he grinned.

                "Hello everyone," said one student, tall and handsome, "My name is Chris. I am a junior here and I am going to take you through a warm-up before we start the audition. Please don't be nervous, I promise you we will have fun," he smiled kindly, and Eijun found his growing anxiety settle a little.

                Kazuya and the other student sat down behind the table with the professors, and Chris began the warm up.

                Immediately Eijun focused all of his attention on what was before him. He was terrible at sequencing movement in a short amount of time. He needed to memorize it, digest it, but now was not the time. He'd have to try his damnedest to pick up what he could.

                The warm up was well thought out and comprehensive, and Eijun had shed all of his layers and was covered in perspiration by the end.

                "Thank you guys, that's all I have for you today," Chris said with a polite smile, "Merde to you all, and just have fun."

                Eijun felt his stomach drop. He was so nervous, he didn't even remember to ask Wakana what merde meant.

                Rei stood.

                "Hello everyone, we are going to start the audition now. My name is Rei. We'll start with our ballet portion of the audition."

                She came around to the other side of the table, and Eijun saw she was wearing ballet shoes. Oh, so she was going to head this section. For some reason he thought she would do the modern portion...

                The musician made his way to the piano and waited patiently as everyone dispersed to the long barres against the walls. Kazuya and the other student carried in a few extra barres, but it was still a tight fit.

                Then they began.

                If someone asked Eijun afterwards what happened next, he would not be able to tell them. It was like he blacked out. He got through it, evidently, but the next thing he remembered were the auditioners leaving the barre to do one center combination before the modern section. Rei demonstrated. Eijun for the life of him could not figure out how she could get her leg so high. His quad cramped every time he did a développé.

                They took a break for water, and Eijun was feeling pretty shitty about himself, though he puffed out his chest when Wakana asked him why he was so quiet.

                "I am concentrating, Wakana!" exclaimed loudly, "I must do my very best!"

                Haruichi, who was nearby, smiled.

                Kataoka was heading the modern portion. Eijun was ready. He could feel the excitement all the way through the tips of his hair. Please, please, please let me show them what I can do!

                Kataoka didn't introduce himself. He just began.

                Eijun, in fact, was not ready.

                Kataoka's style of modern was even more athletic than Miss Laura's. But there was a strength and precision to it that, though Eijun's legs were shaking, fit well with Eijun's personality, and he found himself lost to the movement. They didn't do any inversions, which was Eijun's favorite, but they did do a lot of technique-driven work that served to remind Eijun of how far he still had to go.

                As they were doing the center combo in groups, Eijun and Haruichi found themselves standing next to each other on the side. Eijun squatted to stretch his back, beads of sweat pouring from his brow and salting his eyes.

                "This is difficult," Haruichi chuckled.

                "Yeah, no kidding," Eijun smiled, exhaling in relief. It was comforting to know he wasn't the only one struggling. He and Haruichi were not in the same group; they divvied the groups up by numbers, and Haruichi was number four, so Eijun was able to watch him. He was very good, but he shined when it came to jumps and leaps, which, unfortunately, were not as present in this modern section as they were in the ballet section.

                Eijun's eyes drifted to Kazuya, who was sitting at the table, watching the current group with extreme scrutiny. His eyes were narrowed, and there was not a hint of the playful and teasing personality Eijun saw last night. He had his pen in his one hand, scribbling notes, and his head resting in his other.

                Eijun was in the last group, being the largest number, and he struggled to remember what the combination was, but he managed to muddle through it, which in itself was a milestone. Usually he got so flustered he wound up standing there confused, but not this time. He was so proud of himself that he nearly missed what Rei was announcing to come next.

                Improvisation.

                "You will each come up one by one," Rei explained, "And give us your best one-minute improv. Give us something that showcases who you are as a mover. We'll start with number one."

                The odd, tall boy that had commented on Eijun's flexibility rose and made his way to the open space. The rest of the auditioners sat on the side. Eijun was happy he wasn't first, but was certainly feeling miserable about being last.

                What came about the next hour and a half was a lot of muddling. Many of these dancers were straight from the studio, and had never been exposed to improvisation before. Many of them just regurgitated pre-existing moves; pirouettes, tilts, etc. Eijun stopped watching immediately. Instead, he kept trying to stretch to keep from getting cold. His mind was also racing as he attempted to plan what he was going to do for his one-minute improv. He was thinking so hard he didn't see Haruichi's or Wakana's improvisations; he was too busy in his own head. But he remembered what Rei had told them when she gave the master class, don't overthink it. Improvisation is just choreographing in the moment. So he stopped, and focused solely on staying warm.

                "One-hundred," Rei said, as ninety-nine finished.

                Eijun was so busy trying to stay calm he didn't hear her.

                "One-hundred!" she said again.

                Eijun continued to stretch.

                "ONE-HUNDRED! EIJUN SAWAMURA!" she yelled.

                "WHA--? OH, SORRY!" he yelled back, ignoring Kazuya, who was shaking with stifled laughter. Several of the auditioners also snickered.

                Eijun rose, feeling vaguely like he was going to wet himself. His joints crackled as he walked to the center of the room. Kataoka had the timer and nodded at Rei.

                "Begin," she said.

                Eijun was unprepared, he was hoping to have a brief second to breathe or something. So he just started moving. It felt mechanical at first. His limbs were doing something; he didn't know. But after a few seconds, he felt a calmness set over him. He remembered how interesting it felt when he tried to move into the floor, so he tried to focus on that. A minute is short, he told himself, focus on something small.

                "Time," Rei said.

                He staggered a little, surprised at the abruptness. He knew this was an audition, and they had a strict timetable to keep, but he would have liked to find a resolution. So, ignoring her, he did.

                It was silent as he continued to move. He only went on for about five more seconds, but it felt longer. People were whispering among themselves. When Eijun found his resolution and became aware of the room again he hastily bowed, then scurried off to where he had been seated prior.

                Rei was smiling at him when he glanced back at the table. She looked away than stood.

                "Thank you everyone. We'd like you all to line up in three big lines for our cameras. As you know, this audition has been filmed so we can deliberate. We'd like you to line up in numerical order so the camera can sweep a close up of each individual person. Thank you."

                There was a great deal of shuffling. Eijun was vaguely aware of a camera lens pointing at him from the top of the seats. Then Wakana grabbed his arm and pulled him back to earth.

                "Eijun, you can take your number off now. Let's go thank them," she said. Eijun nodded numbly and followed.

                The line was long, and Eijun watched as each dancer flashed their most dazzling smile and went down the line thanking the panel.

                Kazuya was first, and when it was Eijun's turn, Kazuya chuckled.

                "Well that was certainly an interesting audition."

                "Shut up," Eijun grumbled, feeling his face go red.

                "Now, now I said it was interesting not bad, you ungrateful kid," Kazuya leaned back in his chair and there was a pause before, "But it could have been better," then he erupted into laughter as Eijun growled.

                "YOU BASTARD!" Eijun yelled. Everyone turned to look at the two of them. Kazuya just laughed harder.

                "You...you should move on," Kazuya gasped, wiping tears from his eyes and trying to catch his breath, "But smile and thank me first, like a good little auditioner."

                Eijun opened his mouth to swear at him, but could feel the professors' eyes bore into his cranium. So he swallowed, took a deep breath, then smiled. No, beamed. Kazuya's eyes widened slightly and his smile faltered.

                "Thank you, Kazuya," Eijun said with a small bow, then moved on down the line without a second glance. When he reached Rei, she took his hand in hers in a firm handshake.

                "You'll be hearing from us soon," she said in a low voice, then he moved on to Kataoka, who was clearly sizing Eijun up through narrowed eyes.

                "Thank you," Eijun croaked.

                Kataoka shook Eijun's hand and nodded stiffly.

 

*

 

                It was almost dinnertime, and Kazuya was getting irate. They had gone through all of the dancers several times, and now it was down to a Mister Eijun Sawamura. There was some worry about the ballet portion of his audition.

                "His technique wasn't great," said Nori, the other student representative on the panel, "But his improvisation was the most professional of all of the auditionees."

                "I agree," Kazuya said, "I think more than anyone else he has the right to be in this program. We're a modern-based school after all, and I think he's the most interesting mover of the lot."

                "That is some very high praise coming from you, Kazuya," Rei said, lifting an eyebrow, "But I agree; that's why I asked him to come to this audition in the first place."

                "Very well," Kataoka said, "We'll add him to our accepted list. Now let's go back to some of the maybes..."

                Kazuya leaned back into his chair, triumphant, thinking back to that bright smile at the end of the audition. Eijun had surprised him. The kid was weird and explosive, but he handled the audition very well. The ballet left much to be desired, but his modern was pretty good and when he had improvised...well, sixty seconds was far too short. Kazuya had wanted it to go on much longer. Kazuya had wanted to watch so much longer. The intensity in Eijun's eyes was almost intoxicating, and Kazuya was intrigued. That kid would make a great asset to the school.

                His eyes fell onto the table, where Eijun's resume sat amongst dozens of others.

                Well, Eijun Sawamura, he thought smugly, welcome to our dance program.

               

Chapter Text

When he got the acceptance letter, his heart stopped.

                Despite Rei’s encouraging words, Eijun couldn’t help but think he wasn’t going to make it in. Up until a month ago, Eijun had not really thought he would ever end up in college. And here he was, accepted into one on such a large scholarship his grandfather wept and made him drink fifteen year old bourbon in celebration (it was, as gramps said, a miracle).

                The rest of his year passed by very much like a normal senior in high school. He attended sporting events, took his spirit week far too seriously, and delighted in his senior class’ prank. He attended prom with Wakana (who blushed when he asked for some reason) because she was his best friend ever, and finished up his last recital at the studio, where he even got to perform a senior solo Miss Laura choreographed for him (Wakana got to do one too).  Wakana had also got accepted into the dance program, so at least Eijun wouldn’t have to separate from her when they graduated.

                All in all, it was a bittersweet end to his high school career.

                The summer was lazy and green-gold, and Eijun spent his afternoons thinking not only about his future, but about Kazuya, that infuriatingly talented dance major. Eijun, throughout the year, occasionally checked up on the university’s website to see if there was any news in the dance department, and one day there was an article about Kazuya. Evidently, he had gotten a summer internship at the university, and was staying the summer to help with administrative work.

                So Eijun spent his summer alternating between thinking about his future, and wondering what kind of administrative work Kazuya was doing at the moment. This was, perhaps, a weird thing to think about. After all, Eijun and Kazuya were practically strangers, but there was something incredibly mysterious about him and Eijun couldn’t help himself. One afternoon, Eijun was lying outside on his hammock, holding his hands up to the sky, thinking about nothing until Kazuya wormed his way into his brain.

                Curious, Eijun reached into his pocket for his cell phone, which he rarely used except to look at cat videos, and pulled up Facebook. He hadn’t Facebook-creeped Kazuya yet, why hadn’t he thought of it before?

                Kazuya had an action shot of himself as his profile picture. He was in the midst of some cool floorwork, his weight distributed between one of his hands and the side of one of his knees, his hair flying. It was an awesome shot. Unfortunately, he had his profile set to private, so other than that, Eijun couldn’t really see anything, except that his birthday was in November and that he was from a town only an hour from the university.

                Eijun sighed and was about to close the app when he saw the cackling kid, Youichi Kuramochi, in Miyuki's friend’s list. Eijun opened up his Facebook; his wasn’t set to private.

                He was something of a daredevil, Eijun noticed, and had an explorative streak. Eijun swept through picture after picture; Youichi climbing a mountain in Wyoming, Youichi buying a motorcycle, Youichi eating a strange and exotic plate of questionable-looking food. And when Eijun read through a few of his statuses, one of them stated how much he wanted to go skydiving.

                Eijun was reading more statuses when his phone buzzed; he had a Facebook message from Haruichi, who had also made it into the program. They had become fast friends and messaged each other frequently.

                Hey, I’m moving in next week on Monday. You too?

                Eijun sighed as he realized how quickly summer was coming to an end.

                Yeah my parents are making me move in on the first available day, he typed back.

                Good, I don’t want to be alone. Furuya isn’t moving in until Wednesday, Haruichi responded.

                Eijun wrinkled his nose. Satoru Furuya was that tall, weird kid that had commented on Eijun’s flexibility. Eijun was fine with him and his weirdness until after the audition when Furuya had taken it upon himself to tell Eijun that he was unpolished. Eijun decided he didn't like him after that. However, in Furuya’s defense, Eijun supposed, it seemed as though he had not meant it as an insult. Regardless, it rubbed Eijun the wrong way, and he was determined to not like him.

                Eijun had serious trouble when he came to holding grudges; he simply did not know how to do it. Some people, like his mother, could stay mad at a person for years. Eijun never could. Once his anger blew over, he usually forgot. Oh well. He’d try.

 

*

 

                Eijun forgot to hold his grudge. He had been overwhelmed with unpacking everything into his dorm room, a tiny boxlike single. The building he was housed in was set up so that a common room was surrounded by hallways of single dorms. Since he moved in the first day, the rest of the rooms lay dormant, except for Wakana’s dorm, which was in the hallway across the common room from his own.

                Haruichi had a double in a dorm close to the dance building. His roommate was a second-year philosophy major.

                Haruichi, Eijun, and Wakana spent most of their time together these first several days. Furuya joined them once he moved in, and soon the four of them had formed something of an unspoken bond...no matter what happened when classes started, they had their base group of friends. It felt safer, somehow.

                After the first week (which consisted of them wandering the campus and surrounding town, finding restaurants and cafés), suddenly the campus was pulsing with life. Movers, trucks, cars...the upperclassmen were moving in.

                Eijun was excited. He and Wakana sat in the common room, watching the upperclassmen and their parents carry in luggage. He was eager to introduce himself to anyone who'd listen, but Wakana told him to wait until people had settled. So he sat, waiting, smiling at all of the individuals who entered while Wakana shook her head and continued to read her dance magazine.

                Things started to settle, but before Eijun could introduce himself, the dorms were empty again: all of the students had either ran off to grab food with their parents or meet up with their friends after a long summer home.

                "Damn," he huffed, plopping back against the squishy armchair.

                "Cheer up, you have all year to meet people. And we haven't even started classes yet," Wakana said, turning a page.

                The door to the common room burst open and Wakana dropped her magazine is surprise. Eijun looked up to find Youichi, the cackling daredevil, struggling with his bags. Eijun jumped up to help, noticing that he was alone.

                "Thanks, man," Youichi exhaled with relief. There was a moment where he squinted at Eijun as though he recognized him, but then the moment passed and Eijun followed Youichi to his dorm...right across from Eijun's.

                "Hey!" Eijun said excitedly as Youichi started throwing bags roughly into the room, "I'm right across from you!"

                "Yep...only two feet apart because this damn hallway is so narrow," Youichi muttered darkly, tossing more into the room, "Thanks for your help."

                "No problem," Eijun puffed out his chest. This was his chance, "My name is Eijun Sawamura, and I'm going to be--"

                Youichi dropped the bag he was holding.

                "That's where I recognize you from!" he gaped, pointing rather rudely at Eijun's chest, "You're Sawamura! That idiot Miyuki's been talking about."

                This piqued Eijun's interest...Kazuya had been talking about him? He was so intrigued he forgot to be mad at being called an idiot.

                "Hyahahaha! I can't believe it! You actually came," Youichi surveyed Eijun shrewdly, "Hopefully you make it through the first week."

                Eijun gave him a defiant look, but he went cold on the inside. Was it really that bad? Youichi sneered.

                "Hi," Wakana said, walking up at the perfect moment to change the subject. Youichi gaped at her for a moment before quickly closing his mouth and standing up straighter.

                "Hello," Youichi's voice was lower than before, "I'm Youichi. You live here too?"

                "Yeah, this is Wakana!" Eijun said, "She's my best friend and she lives down the hall and--"

                "--So what's your major?" Youichi said, giving no indication that he had even heard Eijun. He leaned against the doorframe and crossed his arms. Eijun snorted. Did he think he looked cool? Because he didn't.

                "I'm a dance major," she said, "I auditioned with Eijun."

                "Oh," Youichi looked at her in genuine surprise, "That's awesome! Hopefully we'll see a lot of each other, then."

                Wakana smiled politely.

                "Yeah."

 

*

 

                Later that evening, Youichi invited both of them to his room for video games. He had a few multiplayer games, but they all decided to instead take turns playing Saints Row IV. While Wakana was fighting off alien invaders, Eijun figured it was as good a time as any to pry.

                "So, Kuramochi," Eijun said (Kuramochi called him by his last name, why shouldn't he do the same?), "You mentioned that Kazuya had talked about me..."

                "Uh-huh," Kuramochi said absently, watching Wakana shoot an alien in the face.

                "Well," Eijun said after a moment, "What did he say?"

                Kuramochi turned his gaze to Eijun and took a sip of Mountain Dew.

                "Why do you wanna know?" he asked, continuing to gaze at Eijun over the pop can.

                Eijun shrugged, trying to look nonchalant.

                "I dunno...just curious."

                Kuramochi crumpled his can and tossed it into the recycle bin.

                "He said you were kind of an unpolished idiot, but pretty good with improvisation and movement quality," Kuramochi said, stretching his legs out in front of him. A few of his joints crackled.

                Eijun flushed. He wasn't sure whether to be flattered or insulted. He was stuck in a weird limbo of feeling both at the same time. He was relatively quiet for the rest of the evening, and when it was his turn to play, he tuned out Kuramochi trying to flirt with Wakana and instead wondered what his education here would bring him. It was Saturday, and classes started on Monday. He was eager. He was ready. He didn't know what to expect, but he was going to show everyone that he deserved to be here.

 

*

 

                All day Sunday, Eijun nervously went over his schedule over and over and triple-checked his backpack to make sure he had everything. Then he went out into the common room, which was empty as usual, to stretch a little and get in a few crunches and pushups. He was on his seventh pushup when he heard a small gasp, and he glanced up to see Wakana, Kuramochi, and a girl he didn't know standing in the doorway. She had covered her mouth in surprise.

                "Oh, uh, hi," he said, sitting back on his heels.

                "You could just go to the gym, ya know," Kuramochi said hotly, "It's part of your damn tuition."

                Eijun wanted to retort that he practically had a full-ride, but he felt that would be rude.

                "It's okay," said the girl with a little flush, "Is he a dance major, too?"
                "Yeah," Wakana said rigidly, "This is Eijun. He's an idiot."

                "I am not!" he snapped.

                "I'm Haruno," the girl said, "I think I may have auditioned with you."

                "Oh, really?" Eijun stood up and brushed off his pants, "I'm sorry, I don't remember you! I bet you were awesome, though!"

                "I remember you," she flushed again. Kuramochi rolled his eyes and Wakana scowled. What the fuck was wrong with everyone today?

                 As it turns out, she lived on the floor below them and she had met Kuramochi in the elevator. She wanted to meet other dance majors, so he invited her to lunch.

                "So let's go, moron," Kuramochi said, crossing his arms, "We're going uptown for food. I'm so hungry. And I think Miyuki might be coming and he gets all bitchy if he has to wait."

                At the mention of Kazuya, Eijun quickly perked up.

                "I'm ready, let me just grab my wallet!" he yelled, causing all of them to wince, and he bounded loudly to his dorm.

               

*

 

                They sat in the dingy diner. Eijun pretended to study his menu, but he was really just excited for Kazuya to get here. He wasn't sure why. Kazuya, after all, had been a jerk, but from what Eijun heard, it sounded like he had been impressed with Eijun. And if Eijun had impressed him, maybe he'd share some choreographic secrets, and Eijun could become as good a choreographer as him!

                The waitress came and brought them waters.

                "You guys know what you want?" she asked.

                "Yeah," Kuramochi said, "I'd like the--"

                "--Aren't we waiting for someone?" Eijun said a little too eagerly. Wakana lifted her eyebrow.

                "No," Kuramochi snapped, "Miyuki isn't coming."

                "Oh," Eijun deflated, letting the booth swallow him. He suddenly felt very uninterested in this lunch.

                "And what would you like, sweetie?" the waitress asked.

                "Oh, uh," he glanced at the menu, "I'd like the breakfast sandwich on a bagel, please."

                "Ah, a breakfast all-day kinda guy," the waitress laughed approvingly, writing down his order. He offered her a weak smile in return.

                "This is my favorite place to eat," Kuramochi said as soon as the waitress walked away, "They're open twenty-four hours a day, and they are super cheap. Food's good too."

                Eijun was still pouting.

 

*

 

                Eijun was vaguely aware of his alarm going off. He drowsily reached for his phone to hit snooze, when he noticed the time...10:30am.

                He yelled and fell out of bed. Just how long had his alarm been going off?! Class had just begun! He hadn't even brushed his teeth! Where were his pants?! The building was about a ten-minute walk! He wouldn't have time to warm up! Should he brush his teeth? Where the hell were his pants?!

                Eijun managed to put on clothes, mismatched though they were, brush his teeth, grab his backpack, and head out the door in five minutes.

                He sprinted, but there was heavy traffic, and he had to wait forever before he could cross the street. By the time he made it to the dance building, it was 10:45, and everyone was already in the studio. He threw his backpack on the floor and tripped out of his shoes, but Kataoka's voice from the studio made him freeze, out of sight, before reaching the door. He tiptoed closer to hear.

                "Now that we have talked briefly about the syllabus and did attendance, let's warm up," Kataoka sounded stern as ever, and Eijun found himself too embarrassed and scared to walk in. What should he do?!

                "Boo," hot air on Eijun's ear. He jumped in the air and yelped, but firm hands firmly planted his mouth shut.

                "Quiet," the person behind him hissed, "You don't want him to find us, do you?!"

                Eijun wiggled out of the firm grasp and turned to find Kazuya staring at him sternly.

                "Oh...sorry," Eijun said stupidly, not prepared to see Kazuya, of all people, "What are you doing here?"

                "I was supposed to take class with the freshmen today as a make-up because I'll be missing one of the sophomore classes next week...but I lost track of time," he grinned, "You look like you overslept. But you don't want this slip-up to ruin you, do you? I mean, this will be your first impression!"

                Dread washed over Eijun, painting him white. Images of him getting a bad reputation played in his mind. Oh no, what had he done?

                "It's okay," Kazuya said seriously, a strange glint in his eye as he leaned in conspiratorially, "I have a plan so we both can sneak in."

                Eijun leaned in, wide-eyed and desperate.

                "But he has already taken attendance..." Eijun said faintly.

                "Just pretend he missed you," Kazuya shrugged, "Either way, slip in undetected, and he can't give you flak."

                Eijun nodded.

                "Now listen. Wait until they are done with this exercise, then run in while he is busy demonstrating the next one. There will be lots of shuffling and moving around, it's perfect!" Kazuya said.

                "Okay, I can do that," Eijun said, trembling with anxiety.

                "Good. Sounds like they are wrapping up now. Go!"

                Eijun spun around and practically ran into the room, just as everyone finished the combo.

                "EIJUN SAWAMURA IS RUNNING A BIT LATE TODAY!"

                Eijun froze in horror as he heard Kazuya's biting yell behind him. Everyone, including Kataoka, looked at him. Eijun seriously thought he might die from the fireballs Kataoka was sending with his eyes. Even the musician at the piano gaped. Well, this is it, Eijun thought grimly, This is how I got kicked out of the dance program.

                Eijun quickly bowed.

                "I AM SO SORRY I AM LATE MY ALARM DID NOT WAKE ME I HUMBLY APOLOGIZE FOR MY STUPIDITY AND--" here he choked a bit because he forgot to breathe, "--AND I AM SO TRULY SORRY!"

                When Eijun looked back up, amongst the heads turned his way, he saw him. Kazuya. Standing in the room, looking at him amongst the crowd, right as rain. He had used Eijun as a distraction, and had come in through one of the side doors.

                This realization hit Eijun hard. He had the oddest sensation that the room was swirling around him when the anger finally set in. He turned red, not from embarrassment, but from the betrayal. That bastard!

                Kataoka's voice ripped Eijun from his hatred.

                "This will go as a tardy. I'd not make a habit of this if I were you," he said dangerously. Eijun swallowed, "You have missed some of our warm-up, therefore you are not allowed to dance. You may sit and take notes on the class for partial attendance credit."

                Eijun's jaw dropped. He wouldn't get to dance? This was the whole point of coming to this school! He looked around and saw Wakana's stunned face. This was bullshit!

                 "But sir--"

                "Get out a pen and paper. You will hand in the notes to me after class."

                "But--"

                "Now."

                Eijun swallowed, feeling tears in his eyes, and he trudged out into the hallway to get his backpack. He slung it over his shoulder, reentered the dead silent studio, eyes all on him, as he slowly made his way to the other side to sit in the raised seating. Watching again, Eijun thought bitterly, as he sat in the same seat he had a year ago to observe class.

                "As for you, Miyuki," Kataoka snapped, suddenly turning to where Kazuya was lurking behind a few freshmen in an attempt to hide, "This class will not count as a make-up. You simply will have an unexcused absence. You, too, will go and take notes. You will turn in the notes for no credit, but it will serve to let you into one of my classes again."

                "Yes sir," Kazuya said.

                "Go."

                Kazuya walked straight to the seats, and plopped down next to Eijun. Eijun clenched his jaw, but waited until class began again to whisper, "Sit somewhere else."

                "Why?" Kazuya asked, leaning back cockily in his chair.

                "Why not? There's plenty of room you two-faced bastard."

                "Aww, don't be like that," Kazuya grinned, "You're a freshman, and you were late. You were practically asking for it. My first day here, I was an hour early."

                "Fuck off," Eijun snapped viciously.

                "Tsk, tsk, that is no way to speak to your upperclassman. Now give me a piece of paper and something to write on."

                Eijun gaped at him incredulously.

                "Are you fucking serious?"

                Kazuya grinned, his eyes twinkling.

                "I forgot my schoolbag."

                Eijun ripped a piece of paper from his notebook, and shoved it at Kazuya's chest. Then he began taking notes.

                "Ah," Kazuya said after a moment, "I need something to write on."

                "Use your leg," Eijun snapped, forcibly not looking at the smile he knew Kazuya was wearing.

                "Fine, be that way."

                Silence descended upon them, and for the next few minutes, Eijun tried his damnedest to let go of all of the hatred he felt for the cocky asshole sitting next to him. He watched the class before him, heard the music playing, but didn't retain any information.

                "Sawamura."

                Eijun ignored him.

                "Oi, Sawamura."

                Eijun huffed, and continued to ignore him.

                "Yo, idiot," Kazuya elbowed him in the side, "Give me a pen."

                It took every ounce of self-restraint Eijun possessed to not get up and strangle Kazuya. Very carefully, and trying not to burst in an array of curses, Eijun reached into his backpack and pulled out a pencil.

                "Hey, I asked for a pen, not a pencil, I can clearly see you have--" Kazuya began.

                Eijun threw the pencil at his face.

 

*

 

                After class, while everyone was sweaty and cooling down, Eijun ran over to Kataoka and apologized again. He had a feeling he was going to be doing a lot of groveling to not be on Kataoka's bad side. He had another class, so he threw his bag over his shoulder, and tried to forget how awful his morning had been.

                "Eijun, I'm so sorry, I should have knocked on your door," Wakana said, looking genuinely upset, "I just thought you were sleeping in a little, and I left so early..."

                "It's okay," Eijun sighed, "It's my fault."

                They were standing out in the lobby. He was anxious to get to his next class, but he had plenty of time, and Wakana looked more upset then he ever expected.

                "Hey Sawamura!" Kazuya said obnoxiously, throwing his arm over his shoulders, "Thanks for the pencil. Here you go," he dropped the pencil into Eijun's hand.

                "Eww," Eijun wrinkled his nose, "You chewed on it!"

                "Only a little, sorry," Kazuya did look a little guilty, "It's a habit. I stopped myself. Sorry."

                "Ugh, just keep it," Eijun dropped it on the floor. The asshole could pick it up himself. Eijun shook off the arm around his shoulders, then spoke to Wakana.

                "I'll see you later. I have English," he said, then walked away.

                "Hey!" Kazuya called after him, "No goodbye for me?"

                "I hope you die!" Eijun said viciously, pushing the door to the exit so hard it almost broke.

                The rest of Eijun's day went well, which he was grateful for. He had English, then he went back to the dance building for Dance History with the rest of the dance freshmen. He was relieved to see that Kazuya wasn't lurking around the halls. He had a few more classes (history, which he really liked, and a plant biology class).

                He was done at around dinnertime, and he and Haruichi made their way to the dining hall.

                "Don't feel too bad, Eijun," Haruichi said gently as he grabbed a plate of pasta, "Kazuya is like that. He's terrible. My brother said he's awful to everyone."

                "I know, but why me?" Eijun groaned, "It seems like he has it out for me. Which I don't get."

                "I don't know, Eijun, but speak of the devil..." Haruichi nodded his head.

                Kuramochi and Kazuya had walked into the dining hall.

 

*

 

                Kazuya was getting a lot of backlash about the Sawamura thing. Word travelled fast, and the freshmen were now terrified of him. Kuramochi had, at first, thought the whole thing hilarious, until he heard that Sawamura was forced to sit out and take notes.

                "You're a dick, Miyuki," Kuramochi snapped, "It was his first day."

                "It's his fault for being late," Kazuya shrugged, "If he truly cared, he would have been on time."

                "You were late, too!"

                "I'm a sophomore. It's not my first impression."

                "Whatever."

                Chris Takigawa, a senior and arguably the best dancer that had gone through the school, had pulled Kazuya aside and personally scolded him.

                "Kazuya, you have not been without your mistakes," Chris frowned, "But don't go making enemies with the underclassmen. You're going to have to work with the ones that stay."

                "I know," Kazuya didn't like it when Chris called him out. He could handle everyone hating him, but not Chris. He admired him more than the older man would ever know. If only he had a fraction of his talent...

                Rei interrupted them to yell at Kazuya a bit herself. But he tuned her out and found himself staring at her rack. When she was done yelling, he hastily apologized because he knew she wanted him to, and promised to stop picking on Sawamura.

                Such a lie.

                The kid was just too much fun. Kazuya was already looking forward to the next time they met. Although, to be honest, he did feel like he took it too far. He honestly didn't know Kataoka would make Sawamura sit out. If he had known that, he would never have done what he did. He wanted to make it up to Sawamura in some way, but he had no idea how. And he certainly didn't know how to apologize.

                He and Kuramochi had entered the dining hall at dinnertime when he spotted Sawamura with Ryosuke's little brother. The younger Kominato (Haruichi, was it?) saw them first and nudged his friend. When Sawamura looked up and saw them, his eyes rested on Kazuya's for just a second, then he glowered and stomped off, Haruichi quickly following along. Kuramochi saw them, too, but chose not to comment.

                When Kazuya and Kuramochi had gotten their food, Kazuya immediately set to look for Sawamura.

                "Dude, there's an open table right here, where are we...?" Kuramochi trailed away as Kazuya grinned at him.

                "I should probably try to smooth things over, don't you think? Otherwise that little brat will hate me forever."

                "Ugh, he's hiding. Let him hide," Kuramochi groaned, "I just wanna eat, not wander around looking for him."

                "It's a dining hall, not a maze," Kazuya said, scanning the area, "He's probably behind one of the pillars."

                Sure enough, they found Sawamura and Haruichi eating at the end of a table behind one of the pillars. Kazuya, before Sawamura could even respond, plopped his tray down and sat next to Haruichi, across and diagonally from Sawamura. Kuramochi groaned, then sat down as well.

                Considering how loud the kid was, Kazuya really had to hand it to him; Sawamura was showing a great deal of self-restraint...to the point that he was shooting lasers at his food with his eyes and shaking with suppressed rage.

                An awkward silence ensued.

                "Um..." started Haruichi uncertainly, "Hello. How are...you guys?"

                "You're Ryosuke's little brother, right?" Kuramochi asked.

                "Yeah," Haruichi flushed, "We met a few times last year when I went to some shows."

                "I remember," Kuramochi nodded, brow furrowed, "He and I were in a few pieces together. He's really good."

                "Yeah, he is..." Haruichi smiled, "I hope to keep up the good name us Kominatos have here."

                "Let's swap seats so you two can talk more easily," Kazuya said, taking advantage of the situation. He ignored the meaningful glare Kuramochi shot at him, and noted the worried look Haruichi shot Sawamura, but Sawamura just rolled his eyes and nodded.

                "So..." Kazuya started, poking at his vegetables after swapping spots with Haruichi, "You planning on auditioning next week for the fall show? The seniors will be casting."

                Sawamura finally looked up from his food, a brilliant and fiery gaze of gold, and Kazuya felt a little taken off guard at their intensity.

                "Of course I am!" he said loudly, "Why wouldn't I? I have to be the best I can be!"

                Kazuya chuckled.

                "Well," he said, resting his cheek in one hand and continuing to poke at his vegetables with the other, "At least you have a good attitude about it. I highly recommend you audition. It's a good way for the seniors to see your face and start to know who you are."

                Sawamura's eyes narrowed suspiciously.

                "Why are you trying to help me and give me advice?" he asked.

                "Why wouldn't I?" Kazuya was genuinely surprised. Perhaps he had taken this morning even farther than he thought he did, if Sawamura thought he was trying to sabotage him, "Believe it or not, I like you. I think you're hilarious."

                This was, perhaps, not the reassurance Sawamura needed because he cussed darkly, then began shoveling food into his face.

                Sawamura and Kazuya remained quiet the rest of the dinner, the only conversation happening between Haruichi and Kuramochi, who both seemed to get along well. Sawamura finished his food quite quickly (having practically inhaled his plate) and excused himself. For awhile, Kazuya pretended to be interested in the conversation happening next to him, but finally excused himself as well.

                As he walked back to his dorm, hands in his sweatpants pockets, he started to think about the upcoming audition. He wasn't nervous like he was for the faculty auditions...he knew the upperclassmen and was fairly confident he was going to be cast. But he was excited to see Sawamura in action. It would be the first time he'd actually get to dance with him in the same space. The kid did have problems sequencing information because he was such a late starter, but hopefully he'd be able to pull it together enough to show off those random moments of brilliance Kazuya had seen. He was, after all, proving to be rather diverse in his movement quality, and that was valuable.

                Kazuya sighed and looked up at the trees. This was going to be an interesting year.

 

*

 

                Eijun finally was able to experience and enjoy his collegiate dance classes. The modern was incredibly exhausting and athletic, and Eijun had trouble walking or moving during the week from soreness. His technique was awful, that was for sure. He was behind everyone else. Eijun would have to take his modern technique and ballet more seriously if he was to get any better. So he spent a lot of time in the studio after classes, giving himself barre work, or practicing combinations from modern.

                On the Thursday of his second week of class, the day before the fall audition, that's just where he was; practicing tilts from his modern class at eight-thirty at night in one of the upstairs studios. It was frustrating...Eijun was exceedingly flexible but he didn't have the strength to get his leg high. His quads just kept cramping.

                "Oh!" someone exclaimed.

                Eijun almost faltered at the sound, but managed to lower his leg with at least a little grace. He turned his head to see Kazuya poking his head into the studio.

                "I didn't know you were in here," he said apologetically, "Are the other studios open?"

                "No," Eijun said, "Not when I came up here fifteen minutes ago, at least."

                "Shit. Not even the big one?"

                "Nope."

                "Who were they? Freshmen?"

                "Most of them appeared to be seniors, maybe? They weren't freshmen."

                "Damn," Kazuya frowned, taking a step into the studio, and leaning against the wall, "Chris and I were going to work on a little contact improv. He took that workshop over the summer, and we don't really get a lot of contact improvisation here..." he trailed away, lying his head back against the wall.

                Eijun knew what contact improvisation was...it was improvisation, but required other people. There was a great deal of weight sharing and lifts and cool things like that. It looked difficult, though, at least from the YouTube videos he pulled up during his Dance History class.

                "We might have to kick you out," Kazuya's eyes glinted sharply, "Chris is a senior, he can boot you out of a studio anytime he--"

                "I won't be booting anyone out, Miyuki," Chris said wearily, walking into the studio, and tossing his shoes to the side, "The seniors haven't started rehearsals yet, so the studios are fair game. That being said, I'd like to share the studio, if possible."

                Chris was one of those seniors who had an impressive aura about him. Tall, muscular, handsome, talented, and incredibly intelligent, he already had a job lined up for him after college. It was a dance position at a large company in Chicago, with whom he had done several internships with. Evidently, he had finally signed a contract for them for when he graduated...after waiting to see who would offer him a better wage and benefits; that company in Chicago or this other company who was battling for him in New York.

                All of this Eijun knew from hearsay. Chris' life was evidently a hot topic of interest among the students, and he was already something of a legend among the Freshmen. Most were either too intimidated to speak to him, or trying too hard to befriend him. Eijun fell somewhere in between. He once said "excuse me" to Chris after they had almost ran into each other in the hallway, but was too starstruck to say anything else.

                As it were, this was the first time Chris had ever spoken to him, except for those rare and beautiful moments Chris smiled and said hi if they passed in the hallway.

                "Yeah!" Eijun practically yelled. He saw Kazuya grin, but continued, "You can share the studio with me! I am only taking a small part of it! I'm working on my tilts!"

                Shit, did he sound too eager? He sounded too eager. He was an idiot. Eijun could punch himself. Chris just smiled kindly.

                "Thank you," he set his bag down, "Miyuki, lets stretch a bit and get started."

                Eijun was a little shy now that Chris was in here. He turned his back on both Kazuya and Chris, who had settled down on the floor and were stretching, and continued to try to get his leg higher.

                "Try imagining you are using your hamstrings instead of your quads," he heard Chris say. It took Eijun a moment to realize Chris was talking to him. Eijun dropped his leg and turned. Chris and Kazuya were both eyeing him with furrowed brows.

                "My...what?" Eijun said.

                "Here," Chris stood and walked to where Eijun was standing, "Go into your tilt...that's it...now, try to imagine you're lifting from the back of the legs instead of the front. This will hopefully cause you to release your quads and use this," Chris pointed at the crease in Eijun's hip, "Instead. This may sound a little silly, but try to imagine you are shooting energy from out of your extremities...it will naturally lengthen your body and reduce the chance of cramps."

                Eijun obeyed. He was still cramping a little in his quad, but it was much less.

                "Your leg is a little higher," Kazuya noted from his place on the floor.

                "Really?!" Eijun exclaimed, too afraid to move a muscle, even though his leg was starting to shake.

                "Yes," Chris answered, "Try one on the other side, but then stop for tonight. You might get cramps in your glutes because you aren't used to using the appropriate muscles, but if you practice they'll get stronger. But the audition is tomorrow, and I'm sure you don't want to wear yourself out. Do some stretching."

                "Yes, sir!" Eijun said with a salute. Chris smiled and Kazuya covered his mouth to stifle his laughter. Chris walked back to stretch with Kazuya, and Eijun immediately tried the other side of his tilt with Chris' advice. Then he sat down on the side and  began to stretch as Kazuya and Chris worked.

                Chris was showing Kazuya all kind of interesting exercises to warm up and get used to weight exchange and touch. Eijun found he was stretching less and watching more, but neither Chris nor Kazuya seemed to mind, so he remained where he was. He noticed that as talented as Kazuya was, he was a little stiff when it came to giving his weight or being lifted by Chris, which Eijun found odd considering he was more than happy to invade Eijun's space whenever he could.

                "You need to loosen up a bit," Chris said, coming to the same conclusion, "Relax. I know you don't take to surrendering or trust very much in your work, but if you want to learn some of this stuff, you need to try to overcome that."

                Kazuya sighed, then leaned over, his hands on his knees.

                "I know."

                Chris watched him a moment, then his eyes drifted over to Eijun.

                "It's not even touching or anything, I don't care about that," Kazuya grumbled, "I just don't like the feeling of having to rely on someone else's body to keep me from faceplanting."

                "Trust issues," Chris said, so bluntly that Eijun's jaw dropped, "It's okay. It's scary to surrender yourself to that. But remember you are never completely letting go...you don't want to be dead weight."

                Kazuya was quiet, and looked a little frustrated.

                "Sawamura," Chris said, turning to him, "Would you mind if I used you for a little bit?"

                Eijun jumped to his feet.

                "What do you need?!" he yelled.

                "Calm down," Chris said gently, "I'd like for you to partner Miyuki so I can see where the problem lies."

                Eijun wrinkled his nose in disdain. He really didn't want to have to be all up in Kazuya's personal space, but if it was to help Chris, who was he to argue?

                "I'll do it."

                Kazuya, glanced up at him, then looked at Chris.

                "Are you sure--" he began.

                "Quite sure," Chris cut in, "Sawamura, you've been watching our exercises. Let's do the easy back-to-back one."

                Eijun walked over to Kazuya and turned. He felt Kazuya back into him, so that they were flush against each other, back to back. It was a little uncomfortable for Eijun, as he realized he had never had to touch anybody in dance before, except when they used him for some basic partnering in ballet at his old studio. He could feel the heat radiating from Miyuki through their shirts, and he was surprised at how oddly intimate it was.

                "Get a little closer," Chris said with a sigh.

                Kazuya huffed, then press into him further still, and Eijun's face went red as he felt Kazuya's behind against his. They were about the same height, Kazuya perhaps a hair taller.

                "Alright, link arms, and get started," Chris said, "Alternate who is lifter."

                "I'll lift first," Kazuya said. He bent his knees and leaned forward. As Eijun seesawed backwards, he felt his feet leave the ground. I was a cool feeling, and he felt his back crack, which made Kazuya chuckle.

                "Glad to have helped work out your kinks," Eijun heard him say. Chris cleared his throat.

                Slowly, Kazuya straightened back up, and Eijun was the one tilting forward. He glanced sideways at the mirror, and saw Kazuya was off of the ground. It was effortless, really, and exceedingly cool. They continued the exercise for a little while longer, moving rather smoothly back and forth, before Chris stopped them.

                "Good. There's an exercise I'd like to try next," he said, "Each of you choose a body part."

                "For what?" Eijun asked curiously.

                "Just do it. But I'll make a rule: no hands."

                Eijun chose his head, Kazuya chose his chest. Chris grinned.

                "Okay, so now here's the tricky part...you have to improv, but while you move, the body part you chose must always be touching the other person."

                "WHAT?!" Eijun yelled.

                "Jesus," Kazuya rubbed at his ear, "Why do you have to be so loud, idiot?"

                "But that's going to be impossible," Eijun groaned.

                "Pfft, at least you chose an extremity," Kazuya frowned, "I chose my chest, I can hardly move at all!"

                "Quit bickering and just do it, please," Chris sighed, "And start with your two body parts touching, then move on from there."

                Reluctantly, Kazuya and Eijun faced each other. Eijun knew his face was red. Kazuya kept his gaze anywhere but at Eijun, which he was grateful for. Then he lowered his head, and pressed it against Kazuya's chest. Eijun exhaled. He could smell that Kazuya smell; coffee, sweat, and a little bit of something pleasant but he couldn't put his finger on it. Maybe spicy? Wait, why was he thinking this? It didn't matter what he smelled like!

                Eijun was about to say something--anything--to ease the awkwardness when he noticed how broad Kazuya's chest actually was. Eijun himself had broad shoulders that were muscular and strong, but Kazuya was a little bulkier, something Eijun also noticed when he glanced down at Kazuya's thighs, their tone visible even through his sweatpants. Okay, this was weird, Eijun needed to stop, but despite how cruel Kazuya had been to him, he seemed to be drawn to him. There was something enticing about him, and Eijun wasn't sure why.

                Eijun could hear Kazuya's heart beating, and once again he realized how intimate this was and he felt uncomfortable.

                "Okay, guys," Chris said, "You can begin."

                It was incredibly awkward at first, and Eijun began giggling which caused Kazuya to start to chuckle, and soon Chris was also laughing along.

                "Okay, okay," Chris said, calming himself down, "Let's try again. Reset."

                Eijun put his head back on Kazuya's chest and they began again. It was easier this time around. Because his head had to remain connected to Kazuya in some way, he found himself bending backwards and rolling in a different way than he normally would. Kazuya got really creative. He was limited to his chest, which put him in an awkward position, but he managed to do some very interesting things. Once, he even lifted Eijun a little from the ground by keeping his chest over Eijun's back and wrapping his arms around Eijun's middle. Eijun soon forgot anything else existed except for him and Kazuya, trying to move together with these restrictions, fitting together like pieces of a puzzle.

                "Keep moving, guys," Chris said from the side, "But without stopping, each choose another body part to change it up a bit."

                Eijun was relieved to not have to use his head anymore, and decided to choose his elbow. Kazuya chose his shin. They continued, and Eijun found himself getting a little dizzy, Kazuya's strong body supporting him, their breathing becoming in sync, everything melding into each other. At one point, Kazuya rolled over Eijun's back, but Eijun slipped slightly, and Kazuya lost his footing. Eijun's arms shot out, decelerating Kazuya's fall, allowing Kazuya to roll out of the error rather gracefully.

                "I got you," Eijun had said, "I won't let you fall."

               

*

 

                After their little jam session, Kazuya and Sawamura got some water. Chris looked deep in thought.

                "That was cool," Kazuya said, taking a sip and glancing over at Sawamura.

                "Yeah," Sawamura looked a little dazed, but Kazuya couldn't blame him. He felt a little dizzy himself, but also more...aware than he was before. It was hard to explain. Everything outside of the room felt distant and fuzzy, but Kazuya felt more present than he had in a long time. Everything inside of this studio felt...real.

                Or maybe he was just hungry.

                "It's a shame," Chris said after a moment. They both turned and looked at him in confusion.

                "A shame?" Sawamura cocked his head to the side.

                "Yes. A shame I already planned out my senior group piece. Otherwise I think I'd like to further explore this stuff. You two move very well together."

                Kazuya grinned at Sawamura, who refused to make eye contact and frowned.

                "Well, I tried to make him look good," Kazuya winked, throwing his arm over Sawamura's shoulders.

                "Ugh, get off," Sawamura muttered, trying to get loose.

                "Har har, Miyuki," Chris smiled, shaking his head, "But you really got much looser with Sawamura. It was great to see your personal improvement."

                Kazuya let his arm drop from Sawamura's shoulders, and felt an awkward shyness start to blister in his esophagus. So rarely did Chris give him compliments. He quickly shrugged.

                "Thanks, I guess I'm a fast learner."

                Sawamura huffed.

                "Well I guess that is all for tonight," Chris said, rising slowly, joints cracking, "I have to get home and work on some homework. I'll see you both at the audition tomorrow. Sawamura, thank you for humoring me. It was great to see you move."

                Sawamura paled and then, of course, proceeded to babble incoherently. Kazuya laughed at him.

                When Chris left, Kazuya stood still for a moment, watching Sawamura pack up.

                "You're down for anything, aren't you?" he said after a moment, grinning as Sawamura looked up in surprise.

                "Huh?"

                "What I mean is, you're really eager to learn as much as you can, aren't you?"

                "Well, that's why I'm here, isn't it? I have to be the best dancer!" Sawamura puffed his chest out and he looked so cute Kazuya couldn't help but chuckle fondly.

                Kazuya began packing up and was surprised to find Sawamura waiting for him. The two of them turned off the studio lights and walked down the stairs.

                "I've never done anything like that before," Sawamura said finally, their footsteps echoing throughout the empty building; they had apparently been at work longer than they thought, "It was pretty cool to try."

                "Yeah. I've done a little contact improv before," Kazuya pushed open the door and fresh nighttime air ruffled his hair, "But I think that's the first time I ever felt vaguely like I was getting the hang of the technique."

                "Yeah, you did seem to get a lot better," Sawamura's big gold eyes were on him now. Kazuya swallowed.

                "I guess."

                "Maybe you were more comfortable with me because you felt like you didn't need to impress me," Sawamura went on, turning his gaze skyward.

                "Tch. I just knew you were solid," Kazuya huffed. Sawamura looked back at him in confusion.

                "I mean," Kazuya went on, "I knew you had me. I was able to get more creative because I knew you wouldn't let me fall."

                Sawamura's face broke into a beaming smile, and Kazuya glanced sideways at him, feeling a strange satisfaction in making the kid feel so happy. It was the truth, though. Kazuya wasn't sure he had ever felt so comfortable partnering anyone before. And he could tell he and Sawamura meshed well together movement-wise. I got you, I won't let you fall. Kazuya felt an odd feeling in his stomach. He chose not to dwell on it.

                "You must know so much about the dance world, Kazuya!" Sawamura exclaimed.

                "I mean, I guess," Kazuya laughed, scratching the back of his head, "I interned here over the summer. I had to do a lot of administrative work and contact companies and stuff."

                "Tell me all about the dance world!" Sawamura stopped walking and pointed a finger in Kazuya's direction. A few passerby had to make a point of walking around him on the sidewalk.

                "Put your finger down," Kazuya smirked, "And maaaaybe I'll tell you Saw-a-mur-a."

                Sawamura dropped his arm, then jogged forward to catch back up.

                "I want to know about more dance companies," he said.

                "Well," Kazuya said after a long exhale, "It's hard to find a lot of fully-functioning companies. Most stuff is project-based now. But I can email you some you can check out if you want. In fact, there's some work I'd actually recommend to you based on your movement. You might get a kick out of them."

                "YES!" Sawamura yelled, punching a hand into the air, goofy grin on his face. This kid.

                It wasn't until later in his dorm, after Kazuya had made a list of things Sawamura should check out, when he was lying in his bed alone, that his mind wandered to the brightness in Sawamura's eyes. He remembered the pressure of his head against Kazuya's chest and the softness of his hair when it had brushed against Kazuya's skin while they were dancing. He remembered the electric feeling of losing his footing, feeling himself let go, falling through space until a strong arm wrapped around his middle, slowing everything down, breath in his ear, electric tingling on his skin.

                I got you, I won't let you fall.

 

*

 

                Eijun felt the nausea and discomfort all over again. It was another audition. He'd already done one, shouldn't his nerves be less intense?

                It was in the evening, and the entirety of the dance department, minus the professors, were present. Most of the seniors were sitting in the raked seats at the front of the room, while a few of them, including Ryosuke (Haruichi's big brother), passed out numbers.

                Eijun grabbed his (24), then scanned the group of underclassmen until  his eyes found Furuya and Haruichi. He plopped down next to them.

                "I'm gonna barf," he groaned before they could even greet him.

                "Just relax," Haruichi said gently, "It's just an audition to get into a piece...you made it through the audition to get into the school! You can do this one."

                "I know, but..." Eijun trailed off, looking away. He wanted to impress Chris. He wanted to get into Chris' piece. So badly.

                "Don't overthink it," Furuya offered. Eijun sighed.

                "Nervous, Sawamura?" Miyuki said loudly, causing Eijun to jump. He sat down next to him. How rude!

                "No!" Eijun yelled, "I am not! I am ready! I will be the best dancer I can be!"

                Kazuya grinned. Kuramochi, who had been with Kazuya, also sat down rolling his eyes rather pointedly.

                "I'm sure you are," Kazuya said stretching his arms lazily to the ceiling, "Just take it easy, you don't need to be so intense."

                 Eijun lifted his eyebrow in surprise. Was Kazuya trying to help him?

                "I just want to get this over with; I hate auditions," Kuramochi grumbled, leaning back to do a few warm-up crunches, "I'm going out tonight, too."

                "Where are you going?" Eijun asked curiously. Kuramochi usually went out on the weekend, but Eijun never knew where.

                "The bars," he said casually. Eijun furrowed his brow. He was underage, how did he get into the bars?

                "Okay everyone," Ryosuke said calmly, and immediately a hush fell across the room, "Let's get started. I'd like to take this opportunity to talk about which seniors are casting this semester. I will be, Chris will be, and Tanba will be. Tetsu and Jun will be doing group pieces next semester. What's going to happen is that each of us will teach you some choreography, and we'll take notes. Cast list should be up tomorrow morning. I'll go first."

                Everyone stood and Eijun felt a small touch on his back, easing his trembling somewhat.

                "Merde," breathed Kazuya, then he walked away.

                Eijun still had no fucking clue what merde meant.

 

*

 

                Kazuya was a little concerned. When he walked into the audition and spotted Sawamura, he noted how pale the guy looked. Nerves were to be expected, of course, but he was even trembling a little.

                "Hey, Mochi," he said, turning to Kuramochi, who was pinning his number to his shirt, "Let's go sit next to the idiot."

                "Whatever."

                Kazuya tried to ease Sawamura's nerves, but he wasn't sure if he was successful or not. Sawamura was awfully pale, but he responded to Kazuya's teasing like he normally did, so that was reassuring. But the audition began, and he had to think about himself. He genuinely hoped Sawamura would be able to pull it together.

                Sawamura did not pull it together.

                He and Sawamura were far apart in number, so they were in separate groups. Sawamura absolutely tanked Ryo's choreography, but at least he kept moving through it. Chris and Tanba's were even worse. Halfway through each of theirs, Sawamura appeared to forget what he was doing and stand there dumbly for a moment, trying to catch up. It was awful, and Kazuya felt himself cringe. Come on Sawamura, he thought, I've seen you. You can do better than this. Don't let it get to your head.

                All too soon, the audition was over, and Kazuya, despite having a good audition himself, felt in low spirits.

                "That wasn't so bad!" Kuramochi exclaimed, putting on his shoes, "I have time to shower before tonight, too!"

                Kazuya ignored him, and scanned the crowd for Sawamura, but he was nowhere to be seen.

 

*

 

                Eijun went straight home and moped. He shut his door, locked it, and laid down on his floor, staring at the ceiling. That was by far the worst dancing he had ever done in his life. He felt absolutely miserable.

                "What am I even doing here?" he asked out loud with a sigh. He forced himself not to think about it.

                He didn't sleep well, and woke up very late. It was a Saturday morning, so he had nowhere to be, but he felt a little off-kilter regardless.

                Quietly, he got dressed and washed up. He didn't want to run into Mochi, Haruichi, or Wakana. He hoped no one was in the dance building. He wanted no one around when he checked the cast list. After all, it was the afternoon, and the list went up in the morning; most had probably already checked it.

                The day was bright, and people were playing volleyball and blasting music and tanning, but Eijun didn't see any of it. His heavy footing carried him forward mindlessly to the dance building. When he reached the doors, his heart began to hammer and he broke out in a sweat. Where was this anxiety coming from? He didn't get cast, he knew he didn't get cast, why should it bother him so much? After all, he was just a Freshman right? Why did it matter?

                The list was up, Eijun could see it from down the hall. The building was empty, and his shoes created an echo.

                He saw Wakana's name, listed under Chris, and Haruichi's under Tanba. But Furuya, he was triple-cast...he was in all three of the senior group works.

                Eijun's name wasn't on the list.

                He felt the lump that had been lodged in his throat ever since last night break and tears began to stream down his face. Fuck. He knew he hadn't been cast, but there was still a part of him...small and deep, that had hoped...fuck this hurt. A lot.

                "I didn't get cast either," a small voice whispered behind him.

                He jumped, and quickly wiped his eyes and nose on his sleeve. Haruno was standing behind him, her arms crossed around herself and her gaze on the floor. She looked upset.

                "I guess I'm not as good as I thought I was," she went on sadly. Eijun sniffled, pulling his sleeve from his nose.

                "That's not true! You're good! You're great!" he said loudly, forcing a smile, "They just don't know what they're missing."

                "Yeah...I'm sure that's it," she said a little bitterly, "But it's our first audition at the school and we're just freshmen. We'll get cast someday, right?" she looked at him, her big brown eyes shiny and perhaps a little teary.

                "Yeah, definitely," he said, ignoring the pain in his chest. Because of course, it must be true, right? He had four whole years here. One audition doesn't mean shit.

                They stood in silence for a moment, and Eijun felt a little perverse comfort in knowing Haruno did not get cast, either.

                "Hey," he said gently, "Want to grab some lunch?"

                "Yes!" she said, flushing crimson.

 

*

 

                Kazuya didn't get up early to check the cast list. He knew he had got cast in at least one thing, so it wasn't all that imperative for him to go as soon as the list went up. In fact, the only reason he was going at all today instead of being lazy and waiting until Monday was because he wanted to check for someone else's name.

                God, he hoped that idiot had gotten cast.

                He wasn't really sure why he was so interested in Sawamura's dancing or why he had grown rather fond of the little idiot. There were many a talented dancer in this freshmen class, but something about Sawamura stuck with him. Those intense eyes of his...they were electric, that was for sure. Maybe that was it.

                He was worried, though, that if Sawamura didn't get cast, he'd lose faith or worse; try and change his style. It was normal for a person's aesthetic to change organically over time, but to forcibly change it to try to please people? Kazuya rubbed at his eyes underneath his glasses. Oh well. It was the afternoon, he wanted to go grab food anyways, so he might as well stop by the dance building and check.

                As he neared the building, he saw Sawamura and another freshman leave. They were talking and laughing easily, Sawamura's smile bright. Kazuya quickened his pace, but they had turned and were headed in the opposite direction, their backs to him. Huh. That freshman was cute, he supposed, but he was surprised Sawamura was even--did she just brush his arm? Kazuya stopped walking so suddenly he lurched. Sawamura and the freshman (Kazuya was curious what her name was now) continued to walk, getting farther, Sawamura's hands in his pockets, and the girl using every possible excuse to playfully bump into him or brush against him. Kazuya continued to watch them until they disappeared from view. Hmm. Sawamura actually had a pretty nice ass, didn't he? How had Kazuya not noticed this?

                Huh. Kazuya had literally never thought of Sawamura having any kind of romantic or sexual impulse at all. He had heard Sawamura gushing about his favorite shoujo manga in the halls, most of which contained romantic plotlines, but he had still failed to even fathom Sawamura having a desire to date or love or have sex. Weird. Or maybe it wasn't weird. He was an average male college student, right? It made sense that his whole life didn't simply involve running at the gym or working on tilts in the studio or making stupid comments while smiling so wide Kazuya found himself smiling too...

                Ah, and he was probably straight, too, judging by what Kazuya had just seen. In fact, Kazuya couldn't imagine Sawamura being not straight, now that he thought about it. Kazuya shoved his hands in his pockets and began walking again. He felt a twinge of irritation as the people in front of him were walking far too slow. Idiots.

                He walked around them, through the grass, then continued into the dance building. Empty. Good. God, why was he in such a bad mood? He woke up just fine.

                He was triple-cast, which was no surprise. It appeared that the rigid-looking, tall freshman kid did, too.

                Sawamura wasn't on the list. Kazuya felt his mood drop further. He sighed, then read the rest of the names, curious to see who got in what. Kuramochi was double-cast in Ryo's (no big surprise, Ryo had a soft spot for Mochi) and in Tanba's.

                Kazuya felt his stomach rumble. Pushing all thoughts away, he focused on food.

                He made his way into town, enjoying the warm day and watching passerby. He'd go to his favorite café. They had great sandwiches.

                Kazuya was glancing at his reflection in the big front windows as he passed until he saw two familiar figures inside. Sawamura and the freshman were there, eating together. Sawamura had rolled up his long sleeves to his elbows, his strong, tan forearms leaning against the table as he spoke excitedly. Kazuya didn't feel hungry anymore.

                He turned around and walked home.

 

*

 

                Eijun wasn't happy, per se, but he wasn't unhappy, either. He just...plugged along. He spent the next several weeks in class, doing homework, playing videogames with Kuramochi and sometimes Kazuya, hanging out with Haruichi, Wakana, and Haruno, and working on his technique. He ran a lot. It made him feel better. He was running outside on the sidewalk one day when Kazuya, who was walking by, stopped him.

                "Don't run on the pavement, idiot, that's what treadmills are for! Are you asking for shin splints?!" Kazuya had snapped.

                Eijun stopped running on concrete and began running on the treadmill at the gym. His knees did feel better, he had to admit.

                He was also keeping busy with his dance composition class; there was a lot of choreography he had to work on, and he felt that he was getting better with creating dances, which was a good feeling. His composition professor actually praised him daily on his work, and some of the freshmen were jealous of how easily choreographing came to him.

                It wasn't easy all the time.

                So his life went on. He tried to keep himself from feeling bitter every time Wakana or Haruichi would head off to rehearsal, or scowling every time he passed by the studio and saw Furuya partnering Kazuya in Chris' piece, or full on shouting when he saw Kuramochi packing snacks for a long night of dancing.

                Kazuya hadn't said anything about Eijun not getting cast, and Eijun was surprised. After all, it was his perfect chance to make fun of him. But he didn't. He never mentioned rehearsals around him at all, either. Not that they talked, much. But still.

                The show was on two evenings towards the end of the semester. It had gotten cold in the weeks they had been at school, and Eijun was curled up in a blanket on the evening of the second and last performance when he heard a knock on his dorm room door.

                "Come in," he said, looking up from his manga.

                "Hey," Haruno came in, her pink nose poking up from her scarf, "Are you going to the show tonight? You didn't go last night."

                Eijun shifted uncomfortably, guilt making his skin feel itchy.

                "I, uh, yeah, I didn't go last night. I am going tonight, though," he said looking at her seriously, "I want to support my friends. I just couldn't do it two nights in a row, ya know?"

                "I know," she smiled kindly, "Well I'm headed there, now. I know it's a little early, but I thought I'd stop and grab a cup of coffee on my way there. Want to come?"

                "Sure," Eijun untangled himself from his blankets and, without thinking, slid out of his shirt to change into a fresh one. Haruno's eyes widened, and she quickly looked away, blushing.

                "Oh, sorry," Eijun said quickly. He hoped she wasn't...insulted or something. He had just grown so used to her being around all of the time, he felt comfortable, "I should have said something."

                "No, it's fine," she swallowed, stealing a few glances while he grabbed his black sweater and wriggled it on.

                They were pretty quiet in each other's company, and when they finally went to the show, Eijun sitting down in the same seat he sat in when he first saw Kazuya dance, Haruno looked quite subdued. Eijun felt like he should try to cheer her up or something, but he was feeling rather gloomy himself. He looked at the program, but didn't actually read the words.

                The show actually was very good, he was hesitant to admit, but it was hard for him to enjoy what he was seeing when all he could feel was jealousy when he saw his friends onstage. They looked so polished and professional. Why couldn't he be like them?

                The pieces were a bit of a blur to him as he was battling with himself the entire time, but a few things stood out for him; Kazuya, of course, was phenomenal as always, doing rather cool partnering with Furuya in Chris' piece. Eijun was also pleasantly surprised to see Kuramochi's rather long solo in Haruichi's brother's piece. Ryosuke's work had been dark and disturbing, with twisted movements and jerky timing, but Kuramochi's solo, towards the end, was gentler, softer somehow. It was incredible to watch, especially because every time Eijun saw Kuramochi dance, it was always high-energy and erratic and athletic, just like him. But this was a whole new side to his movement vocabulary that Eijun had never seen before, and he respected him for it.

                Maybe he did still have a lot to learn. Maybe that was why he wasn't good enough.

 

*

 

                Kazuya was struggling in his rush to put on his jeans over his sweaty body. He threw on some deodorant and headed to the lobby for some after-show small talk with people who had come. His father never came, but occasionally acquaintances from other disciplines would, and he always enjoyed just standing in the lobby and seeing the blur of people hugging family and friends. He never stayed long, though. Just enough to get his fill of people and leave.

                He was surprised, though, to see Sawamura there.

                Sawamura was standing at the center of the lobby, and he was gesturing wildly to Haruichi, who was flushing and smiling. God, people did seem to gravitate to him, his wild grin, his loud voice, his bright eyes. Kazuya found himself walking forward, taken in too. As he got closer, though, he saw the tiniest bit of strain at the corner of Sawamura's mouth, but perhaps he was just imagining it.

                "--and, anyways, you were great!" Sawamura finished clapping his hands together enthusiastically.

                "Thanks, Eijun," Haruichi flushed.

                Kazuya slunk up behind Sawamura, slid his arm over his shoulder and hissed lowly in his ear,

                "What a pleasant surprise, Saw-a-mur-a."

                Kazuya saw the goosebumps rise on Sawamura's skin as he vehemently tried to wiggle out of Kazuya's grasp.

                "Get off! God, you are so annoying!"

                "Ha! I'm the annoying one?"

                "Shut up!"

                "Aren't you going to compliment me on a dance well done?"

                Sawamura unexpectedly stopped wiggling.

                "Yeah, actually," he said after a moment, in such a serious and low voice, Kazuya found his arm slipping from those strong shoulders out of surprise, "Seriously, you did really well."

                Well this is unusual, Kazuya thought. He hoped Sawamura wasn't giving up.

                "Yeah?" he asked, forcing a smirk, "Well, I always do."

                Sawamura immediately scowled.

                "But the one I'm really impressed with is Kuramochi. I think he really did well."

                Kazuya felt a tinge of annoyance, but nodded.

                "He's very good, yeah."

                There was a moment of awkward silence, and suddenly Kazuya remembered Haruichi was standing there, too.

                "Well Haruichi, we did a good show," Kazuya smiled, trying to ease the unexpected tension.

                "Yes," Haruichi said, smiling sympathetically, "It was fun."

                "Are you both going to the cast party tonight?" Kazuya asked.

                "I am," Haruichi nodded. Sawamura shook his head.

                "Why aren't you going?" Kazuya asked. Sawamura seemed like the type of person to love parties.

                "I'm not a cast member," Sawamura said with a shrug.

                "Yeah, but everyone from the dance school is invited!"

                "Yeah, but I don't want to."

                "Well, you should," Kazuya huffed, "Even I'm going, and parties aren't my usual scene."

                Sawamura looked at him blankly.

                "You know, Eijun," Haruichi said gently, "You'll be alone tonight, then. Everyone is going. Even Haruno."

                "Haruno too?" Sawamura asked. Kazuya frowned. Wasn't she that freshman? Why did it matter if she was going?
                "Yes, you should go," Haruichi said.

                Sawamura furrowed his brow and Kazuya could practically see the gears turning in his head.

                "Fine!" he exclaimed suddenly, "I will go!" he pointed a finger dramatically towards the ceiling.

                Kazuya rubbed at his ear.

                "So loud..." he groaned, but he was happy. If Sawamura was going, that was just one more thing he could look forward to at this party, "It's at Tanba's townhouse."

                "Where is that?" Sawamura cocked his head to the side. How cute.

                "Just go with Kuramochi and I," Kazuya shrugged, "I'll be meeting at your dorm to pregame, anyways."

                "Pregame? What's that mean?" Sawamura asked.

                "Eijun..." Haruichi shook his head wearily. Kazuya laughed.

                "Seriously, idiot?!" Kuramochi said, bursting into the conversation and throwing an arm around Sawamura, "It means to drink before the party."

                Sawamura flushed.

                "Oh," he said, "And I'm not an idiot! I've drunk before! I'm cool!"

                Oh my God, Kazuya thought between fits of laughter, what an absolutely adorable idiot. Haruichi covered his own face in second-hand embarrassment.

                "Although," Sawamura went on, quite seriously, "Drinking doesn't necessarily make you cool! You don't have to drink to be cool!"

                Kazuya and Kuramochi continued to cackle.

                "I mean--that's true--but you're such an idiot!" Kuramochi gasped through fits of laughter.

                Kazuya was looking forward to this evening.

               

*

 

                Eijun waited for Wakana and Kuramochi to grab their things from the dressing room, and the three of them headed back to the dorms together. Wakana went off to her room to get ready for tonight, which, according to Kuramochi, meant that he and Sawamura had plenty of time to pregame. Wakana didn't usually spend a lot of time on her makeup or whatever, but Eijun decided to trust Kuramochi regardless.

                Kuramochi hopped in the shower, blaring music, and Eijun opened his closet and looked at his very limited wardrobe. Honestly, the nicest thing he had was the black sweater he was currently wearing. So he decided to just throw on a little extra deodorant and call it a day. He sat down to check his email when his phone buzzed.

 

hey this is miyuki im outside your building let me in mochi isn't answering

 

                Eijun huffed. How had he gotten his number? And did he prefer being called by his last name like Kuramochi? Whatever. Eijun saved him as 'Bespectacled Bastard' on his contacts, then typed back.

 

hes in the shower. im coming down.

 

                Miyuki--Eijun supposed he preferred to be called--was waiting by the door. Eijun saw him through the window, hopping to keep warm from the cold, his hands in his pockets.

                "Thanks," Miyuki said, his face a little flushed from the briskness of the outdoors, "Kuramochi is still in the shower?"

                "Yeah," Eijun said, pressing the elevator button. They waited in silence for a moment.

                "You look nice," Miyuki said after a moment. Eijun flushed and continued to stare straight in front of him.

                "This is exactly what I was wearing before."

                "Oh."

                More awkward silence.

                Kuramochi was wrapped in nothing but a towel when they made their way back upstairs.

                "When will you be ready?" Miyuki asked skeptically.

                "Hey, it doesn't matter, we have to wait for Wakana anyways, she..." he trailed away as Wakana walked up to them, fully dressed and ready to go. She was wearing more makeup than Eijun usually saw her wear, and she was wearing a very tight-fitting but pretty black dress. Kuramochi gaped.

                "You look amazing!" Eijun smiled, glancing at her thighs a little. She had nice thighs. He looked back up at her face and saw that she had cool earrings on. Eijun reached out and poked one. Wakana rolled her eyes but smiled, blushing a little.

                "Yeah you look great," Kuramochi said, scratching the back of his head nervously and seemingly forgetting he was just in a towel.

                "Wish I could say the same for you," she teased, looking down at his towel. Kuramochi jumped, and stumbled back into his room, slamming the door.

                "One sec!" he yelled from inside.

                Once everyone was dressed, they congregated in Kuramochi's room and he passed out cans of beer. Eijun was no stranger to drinking. He occasionally drank bourbon with his grandfather on special occasions, and also drank a little at parties in high school. He had gotten a little drunk before, but he handled his alcohol well, and had never gotten ill or hungover or out of control.

                Pregaming, as it happens, was literally just sitting around with your friends drinking. They had to keep pretty quiet because they didn't want to get caught, but it was kind of fun listening to music and sitting on Kuramochi's fluffy rug. Eijun's eyes kept wandering to Miyuki, who was sitting at Kuramochi's desk chair, a little flushed from the alcohol, but otherwise looking quite normal. His angular jaw and sharp eyebrows seemed a little softer in this moment of being unguarded. Eijun looked away. No one asked where Kuramochi had gotten the drinks.

                At around ten-thirty, Miyuki deemed it was time to go.

                "Before we go, let's all do a shot!" Kuramochi hopped to his feet. He was the drunkest out of everyone, though Wakana was pretty giggly.

                Kuramochi reached under his bed and pulled out a bottle of vodka. This was new. Eijun had never had vodka before.

                Kuramochi had one shot glass, so they each took turns. When it was Eijun's turn, he was quite certain he almost died. Hand sanitizer, he thought wildly, holy shit it tastes like actual hand sanitizer! Somehow, he managed to swallow it. Pride forced him to not take a sip of his beer for a few minutes afterwards. He was a man, after all!

                They were all in good spirits and excited for the evening. Eijun was actually glad he decided to come out. This was his first time going out in college, as it were, and he was with his friends. As they walked in the chill night air that none of them seemed to really feel, Miyuki threw his arm around Eijun's shoulders. Eijun decided he didn't mind.

                "Glad you came out?" Miyuki asked with a sly smile.

                "Yeah," Eijun nodded, smiling back.

                Tanba's house was loud and crowded, people even congregating on his front steps for fresh air. Music blasted within. Cigarette smoke billowed around Tanba's roommates (who were theater majors), and when they saw Kuramochi they immediately ran to him.

                "Life of the party, huh?" Eijun said aloud, amused.

                "Oh, you have no idea," Miyuki rolled his eyes, "He's a goddamn menace. I had to literally carry his ass home one night. But," he sighed, crossing his arms, "You'll never have a boring night out with him, that's for sure."

                Eijun pushed past the crowd into the house. Chris was sitting on the couch sipping what looked like expensive craft beer, deep in conversation with Tetsu. Almost everyone else was dancing. It was crowded and loud and exciting and Eijun found himself swept up in the moment.

                "Eijun!" Haruichi yelled, louder than Eijun had ever heard him, from across the room. His cheeks were flushed.

                "Hey Haruichi!" Eijun pushed through onto the dance floor, where Haruichi and Furuya were. Miyuki followed while Wakana made her way to the kitchen.

                "Hello! Hello, Miyuki!" Haruichi was definitely drunk, Eijun could tell.

                "All he had was a shot," Furuya said blandly, "But he's very enthusiastic about it."

                "Hey guys!" Tanba came up, completely different from his usual shy demeanor, "Glad you could come! I have some stuff you guys can drink in the fridge. Just stay away from the good stuff, that's for the upperclassmen."

                "Thanks," Miyuki said with a grin, then grabbed Eijun's elbow and gently pulled him through the crowd to the kitchen.

               

*

 

                The evening was a lot of fun, Kazuya had to admit. He was really glad Sawamura had come. The idiot had held his own for awhile, but was becoming increasingly drunker throughout the evening, much to Miyuki's amusement.

                "You're really good, you know? Like a really good dancer," Sawamura said, his nose a little red and his eyes shiny.

                "So I've been told," Miyuki smirked.

                "Like, you're the reason why I wanted to come here, you know? I saw your solo last year and it was so cool..." Sawamura trailed away.

                Miyuki swallowed, feeling a little lightheaded all of the sudden. Sawamura came to this school...because of him?

                "Hey, Sawamura..." Miyuki started, his face flushing in spite of himself, but Sawamura was being pulled onto the dance floor by the freshmen, and Miyuki contented himself by standing next to Nori and watching, amused, as Sawamura began dancing energetically.

                "He certainly is a character," Nori laughed as Sawamura grabbed Chris' arm to try and get him to dance too. Chris laughed and humored him.

                "He really is," Miyuki said, affection leaking into his words. Maybe he had too much to drink himself. Sawamura spotted Miyuki smiling at him, then ran over and grabbed his forearm, dragging him onto the dance floor. Miyuki pretty much stuck with Sawamura and Haruichi the rest of the night.

                It wasn't until the party was winding down that the evening took a turn. Sawamura had too much tequila (Miyuki blamed Kuramochi, who had brought a bottle, and was pouring everyone shots) and was vomiting in the bathroom. Haruichi was worried, but Miyuki assured him his friend wasn't going to die.

                He heard Sawamura still going strong, but slunk into the bathroom regardless, and watched to make sure Sawamura wasn't going to pass out with his face in a toilet.

                "Ugh," Sawamura babbled, "This sucks."

                "Tomorrow will suck more," Miyuki laughed, crossing his arms, "But you're not too bad. Usually when Kuramochi is barfing, he's barely able to hold a conversation."

                "Ugh," Sawamura seemed to finish, and leaned back on his heels, "Fuck."

                "I'll take you home, if you want," Miyuki said, cocking his head to the side, "Kuramochi will probably stay until the party is over."

                "Yeah, I think I should go home. But it was a lot of fun, though!" Sawamura perked up, smiling at Miyuki, and somehow, even though Miyuki had literally just seen him wretch his guts out, look so...pretty.

                Fuck. Miyuki had too much to drink, too. He should get home.

                Walking home with Sawamura was actually pretty fun. Sawamura kept doing hilarious things like singing to drunken college passerby, some of whom joined in, and attempting to do cartwheels in the grass. He slipped and fell, not hard, on his ass, then laid back, laughing. Miyuki was in tears by this point, and walked over to where Sawamura was and offered a hand.

                "No," Sawamura waved his hand away, "I want to stay here a minute."

                "What? Why? Did you piss yourself?" Miyuki laughed again.

                "No, you bastard! I just want to enjoy the night!" Sawamura said hotly.

                "Okay, okay...fine," Miyuki shoved his hands in his pockets and looked up at the sky, "It's a pretty clear night."

                "Yeah, you can see all kinds of stars!" Sawamura said.

                A calm sort of silence descended upon them, and Miyuki felt an odd feeling in his stomach. A feeling that he couldn't remember ever feeling. He let out a long exhale, then finally spread out on the grass next to Sawamura. This was...nice. Peaceful. Their shoulders were touching, and even though the grass was wet and cold and winter was just around the corner, Miyuki felt the heat radiating from Sawamura, and he hoped his heat was keeping Sawamura warm, too. He didn't know how long they laid there, looking at the stars, but Miyuki realized he could stay like this forever, and once he realized this, a sort of panic set in. He ignored the heaviness in his heart and the crackle of his joints as he slowly stood, and offered his hand to Sawamura, who was looking at him oddly, almost catlike, curious and maybe a little dangerous.

                "We should go, we'll get sick out here," Miyuki said finally. Sawamura didn't speak, and placed his warm hand in Miyuki's cold one and he pulled him to his feet.

                Once they made it outside of Sawamura's dorm, which was out of the way for Miyuki and he was going to have to backtrack quite a bit, Sawamura finally spoke.

                "Thanks, Miyuki," he said, "You know, you're really not all that bad. You should let people know that."

                And then he went inside, leaving Miyuki a little bewildered and flustered outside in the late November cold.

 

*

 

                Eijun was going to die.

                He had never been hungover before this, but Christ he never wanted to be so again. After Miyuki had dropped him off, he stumbled up to his room and passed out in his bed for a solid three hours. After that, he was awake and miserable. It felt like someone was hammering a nail into his brain, and every time he closed his eyes, the room would spin...the nausea was overwhelming.

                So, he spent the next several hours tossing and turning, unable to sleep but unable to get up and be productive. He was sweating badly, so he ended up shedding until he was naked except for his boxer-briefs. He would occasionally down a bottle of water, creating a nice little mountain of empty bottles by his bed, and once he even dumped the bottle of water right on his face, relishing the freshness of it, even as it dribbled onto his pillow and bedding.

                At around eight in the morning, he finally fell into a light doze, but a loud neighbor's door-slam woke him up after about a half hour. He tried to go back to sleep, but it was hopeless. He did feel a little better, though. Less dizzy. He should wash up; maybe he'd feel better.

                He slipped on some pajama pants, feeling lightheaded, shuffled outside into the hallway, and proceeded to run smack into Kuramochi.

                "Ow!"

                "You ran into me, asshole!" Kuramochi snapped, a little more nasty than usual. He looked very pallid.

                "Hungover?" Eijun asked, rubbing his eyes miserably.

                "Yeah. You?"

                Eijun nodded glumly.

                "Well, Miyuki and I are going to get hangover breakfast. Wanna come?" Kuramochi tossed a thumb over his shoulder, and to Eijun's horror, he saw Miyuki standing there, hands in his pockets, and a look of pure amusement on his face. Even worse, he looked fresh as a daisy, and at least five times as attractive. How was that asshole not hungover?

                Eijun really wished he had the energy to yell, so he settled for pressing his palms into his eyelids, seeing the shapes that erupted within them.

                "That miserable, eh, Sawamura?" Miyuki said with a nasally laugh. So obnoxious. Eijun felt his blood boil and he threw fists into the air, ready to yell.

                "For chrissakes, don't yell!" Kuramochi hissed, rubbing his temple, "Just shut up, get dressed, and be ready in fifteen minutes."

                Eijun huffed grumpily, then turned back into his room, grabbed a towel, then stormed into the bathroom. Freaking sophomores.

                Eijun brushed his teeth and took a brisk cold shower, and afterwards he felt much better. By the time he yanked on a pair of jeans and a hoodie, he was feeling rather chipper. He walked into the common room where Miyuki and Kuramochi were waiting. Eijun ruffled his still-wet hair, hoping to fluff it up a bit.

                "Let's go to the diner," Kuramochi said, looking up from his phone, "It's my favorite."

               

*

 

                The day was cloudless but brisk, and Kazuya contented himself with harassing Sawamura for just wearing a hoodie with wet hair...mostly to drive out the image of Sawamura's messy but appealing bedhead when he ran into Kuramochi earlier, not to mention his toned upper torso.

                "You're lucky idiots don't catch colds," he snapped, irritated, "We have an audition coming up next week for the faculty concert before winter break. How do you expect to do well if you get sick?"

                "I'm fine! It's not that cold!" Sawamura whined, holding his hand out as one would do with falling rain.

                Sawamura had not mentioned last night, Kazuya was disappointed to discover. Not that anything of significance happened. After all, they had just laughed and stargazed a bit. It wasn't that big a deal, but Kazuya had never done that with anyone before, and he figured it would, for some strange reason, bring the two of them closer. But, Kazuya realized with a sigh, he didn't really have friends. He supposed that was stuff Eijun did with people all of the time.

                It was an odd feeling, wishing to get closer to someone. Kazuya had quite literally never felt it before. But, then again, who didn't want to be friends with this loveable idiot?
               

*

 

                Eijun didn't get cast for the faculty winter show.

                The odd thing was, he had felt like he had done a relatively good audition. Sure, he knew that the faculty show was the hardest to get into, but....still. He had  hoped...well, Rei wasn't choreographing for this show. Maybe she would have picked him if she were. Yeah, that's it.

                Eijun stuck his nose in the air and puffed out his chest after reading the cast list. The only freshman to get cast was Furuya. What's more, he got cast in Kataoka's piece, the most coveted piece to be in.

                Miyuki had been triple cast, including Kataoka's work. Chris also had been triple cast. Kuramochi was cast in Kataoka's piece, and Ryosuke was double cast.

                Eijun was irritated, but as Wakana, Haruichi, and Haruno hadn't been cast this time around, he didn't feel as upset as he had earlier in the fall.

                "Better luck next time, eh, Sawamura?" Miyuki slung an arm around Eijun, who did not like Miyuki's condescending tone one bit.
                "Get off, Miyuki," he snapped, giving Miyuki a rough shove. Miyuki's eyes widened and he staggered backwards, "Just because you're some sort of prodigy doesn't mean you can make fun of me!"

                He turned on his heel and stormed off, leaving Miyuki looking utterly bewildered, like he didn't realize what he had just done. The people who were around to check the cast listing must of sensed Eijun's fury, and cleared a path for him as he stormed off.

                Why was Miyuki like this? One minute he was funny and charming and kind of nice, like that night they walked home together, but then the next he was so cruel and cold. Eijun walked all the way back to his dorm, where he pouted. It didn't make sense. He had genuinely thought they had found some common ground on the evening of the cast party. Surely they could be friends, now. Eijun had thought that maybe Miyuki would even be willing to help him out with technique. But the next day Miyuki hadn't even mentioned the evening prior, and set to nagging him instead.

                There was a bang on his door.

                "What?!" he snapped fiercely.

                "It's me, Eijun," Haruichi gently poked his head in, "Can I come in? Wakana let me in the building."

                "Yeah, yeah of course," Eijun sat up.

                "I'm sorry Miyuki was so insulting," Haruichi said, sitting down at Eijun's desk, "But I don't think he meant to hurt your feelings."

                "He didn't hurt my feelings!" Eijun snapped hotly, "I'm not a child! He was just rude! And he embarrassed me in front of half of the dance school by saying that right next to the cast list! He's evil!"

                "I agree," Haruichi nodded, crossing his arms, "He can be very awful. Which is why I am so surprised you seem to hang around him so often."

                Eijun felt himself blush.

                "I do not. He's the one always hanging around me!" Eijun leapt to his feet, "Everywhere I turn, he's there!"

                Haruichi cocked his head to the side.

                "I suppose I can see that is true, but then again, you could always ask him to leave."

                Eijun didn't know why Haruichi's words were angering him as much as they were.

                "Because--I--why does it--why do you care?!" he pointed an accusatory finger at Haruichi.

                "Because you are one of my closest friends and I care. I don't want you to give up on dance, Eijun."

                "I will never give up!"

                "Good. To be honest, I really don't think Miyuki wants you to give up, either," Haruichi stood, "Anyways, I'm going to Wakana's room to watch movies, wanna come?"

 

*

 

                Kazuya could really kick himself in the ass. He had meant to just tease Sawamura, but had wound up really pissing him off. He didn't mean to embarrass Sawamura. Or insult him. It's just...sometimes he wanted to say things but he never knew what to say. Teasing was the only thing he knew how to do.

                "Dude, that was a dick move," Kuramochi said as they watched Sawamura storm away, "I mean, he literally didn't get cast again. I thought you two were finally getting along decently."

                Kazuya quickly masked his bewilderment and replaced it with a self-satisfied smirk.

                "Well, it's true. He should work on his technique more," Miyuki said coldly.

                Kuramochi grabbed him by the arm and dragged him away from the crowd.

                "Dude," he rounded on Kazuya the second they turned the corner, "I actually like that little idiot, he's a friend of mine, and I don't want you to discourage him."

                "I'm not," Kazuya shrugged, "I want him to get cast as much as you do, maybe even more."

                The second the words left his mouth, he realized he had made a mistake. Kuramochi's eyes widened, and suddenly a knowing smile, an understanding smile, spread over his face. Kazuya swallowed, and forced his face to remain passive.

                "Even more? You really want him to get cast? Like, dude, I knew you were fascinated with his movement quality ever since he came to audition, but...I didn't know you felt so strongly about the situation," there was a self-satisfied mock to Kuramochi's tone, and Kazuya figured he deserved it, at least a little.

                "Well, I get bored with everyone. He's amusing to me," Kazuya said defensively, manufacturing a smirk of his own.

                "Uh-huh. Amusing," Kuramochi lifted an eyebrow, "I know you swing both ways, are you sure you don't have any ulterior motives?"

                Leave it to Kuramochi to bulldoze through Miyuki's well-placed barriers. He was so blunt. The only person who had less tact was probably Sawamura himself.

                "I don't know what you're talking about," Kazuya felt his cheeks redden, but otherwise he kept his smirk in place, eyebrow raised in amusement. Inside, he was panicking. Because until this moment, he hadn't realized he had ulterior motives himself.

                "Yeah, sure," Kuramochi said cockily, "All I'm saying is, if you're trying to, I dunno, seduce him or something," Kuramochi wrinkled his nose at that, "You are doing a shit job."

                Kazuya's smirk slipped off of his face. He felt genuine anger now.

                "I am not trying to seduce anyone," he said icily, "And are you some sort of expert? You try so desperately to get Wakana to like you, but haven't you noticed she only looks at Sawamura? She doesn't care about you."

                Kuramochi's eyes widened, and for the briefest second hurt shot through his features, but it was quickly replaced with cool anger.

                "You're right," Kuramochi snapped, "You're absolutely right. But if we're playing this game now, whether you're gay for Sawamura or not, you'll never get him, either. The kid seems straight as an arrow, if he's even smart enough to fathom being with another person," Kuramochi's words shot through Miyuki harshly, but in a sadistic sort of way, Kazuya was glad to hear them. This was familiar. This was home.

                Kuramochi walked away, and Kazuya ignored his nausea. He walked upstairs and found an open studio. He tried to do a little improv, but it was half-hearted, and he ended up just lying on his back staring at the ceiling. So. He had feelings for Sawamura; that much was evident. Kazuya wasn't an idiot. He sure as hell wasn't going to act on them, especially now. Besides, what was bothering him the most at the moment was his fight with Kuramochi. Everyone would be leaving for winter break in the next few days, and Kazuya didn't really want Kuramochi (or Sawamura, for that matter) to leave still angry at him.

                Maybe he was a little afraid they'd forget about him while they were gone. Wouldn't be the first time.

                Kazuya rolled his eyes at his own sentimentality and got up, brushing off his pants. He'd go home, maybe take a nap, that's what he needed. He wasn't going to waste time worrying about this stuff. He had more important things to do.

 

*

 

                Eijun was packing up his belongings for winter break when his phone buzzed. It was Miyuki.

 

hey i'm outside i need to talk with mochi can you let me in?

 

                Eijun felt disgusted. He and Miyuki hadn't so much as spoken in three days, ever since the casting incident, and Eijun would rather pull out his own teeth than respond. So he tossed his phone on his bed and continued packing. His phone buzzed again. His arm shot out and snatched the phone awfully fast.

               

i would have just messaged mochi, but he hasn't answered. is he even home?

 

                Pause. Another message.

 

are you even home? did you leave yet? also hi

 

                Eijun smiled in spite of himself.

 

it is rather cold out here, so if you're home and don't want to let me in, i get it, but just let me know, because it's really damn miserable. freezing.

 

                Eijun looked out the window at the falling snow. He was mad at Miyuki, but he didn't want him to freeze to death...after all Miyuki was kind of a wimp with the cold. He quickly typed back:

 

fine. be down in a sec. and hi to you too.

 

                Poor Miyuki was covered in snow by the time Eijun made it downstairs.

                "Thanks," Miyuki sighed in relief, shaking himself off and wiping his boots on the rug. His glasses fogged because of the temperature shift and Eijun giggled because he looked like a goddamn nerd.

                "No problem. I'm not sure if he's home, but I didn't want you to get sick...but then again," Eijun added slyly, "Idiots never catch colds."

                Miyuki's eyes widened in surprise before his face broke into a rare, genuine smile, the dimple in his left cheek showing itself.

                "You cheeky little freshman. What are we going to do with you?"

                "Oh my god," Kuramochi said in disgust, coming out of the elevator, "Are you serious?"

                "Hello to you, too," Miyuki grinned, taking off his gloves and shoving them in his pockets.

                "The fuck you doing here?" Kuramochi scowled.

                "Coming to see you."

                "Why?"

                There was an awkward pause and suddenly Eijun realized there was something going on that he didn't know about. Had they fought?

                Miyuki shrugged a little shyly.

                "I dunno," he said, "I just thought maybe we could...like...play video games or whatever."

                Yep, something was going on. Eijun took a little step back and tried to blend into the wall. Kuramochi squinted at Miyuki as though he was miles away.

                "Hah? Well, I mean, I guess, but I need to pick up my pizza delivery first," Kuramochi pointed out the door, where they saw a pizza delivery car pull up. Eijun saw Miyuki exhale a little and his shoulders relaxed.

                "Yeah. Okay," Miyuki said. He caught Eijun staring at him and he grinned. Eijun frowned, but it was out of habit more than anything, "Sawamura, do you want to play, too?"

                Eijun realized what this was. It was a peace offering. Miyuki had evidently not only pissed off himself, but also Kuramochi. And he was sorry.

                "Yeah. I have to finish packing, first, though."

                Any remaining strain in Miyuki's face relaxed, and he suddenly looked rather cheerful.

                "Good," he said, throwing his arm around Eijun's shoulders.

                On the elevator ride up, the three of them stood in silence for a moment before, rather sheepishly, Miyuki spoke.

                "You guys know I'm an asshole, right?" he asked.

                Sawamura and Kuramochi looked at each other, eyebrows lifted.

                "We know," they said in unison.

                Good enough an apology as any, Eijun supposed.

 

*

 

                Kazuya didn't go home for winter break. It was really pointless. His dad was never home, and usually their Christmas dinner was strained. No, instead he remained in his dorm, in the college town he loved, by himself. It was incredibly quiet. Not many people stayed, but Kazuya didn't mind. He liked the silence. He had ordered his dad's gift and sent it on its way so it would be there in time for Christmas. His job was done.

                The dance building was locked tight, so he wasn't able to do any dance or choreography, but he went to the gym every day. He applied for a few jobs, but no one was really hiring, so he spent his days in his room on the internet reading articles or watching movies, as well as frequenting his favorite café. Whenever he felt lonely, which was a little more often than he'd care to admit, he'd text Kuramochi or Sawamura. One evening, on the way back to his dorm after taking himself out to dinner, the snow was falling , so lovely, against the Christmas lights and wreaths decorating the street. He had to take a Snapchat. He took out his phone and slid off his glove, holding the phone up to the quiet street. He sent the Snap to a bunch of people, including Kuramochi and Sawamura, then slid the phone back into his pocket and trudged home.

                By the time he sat down at his desk with his laptop, he saw he had received a Snap back...from Sawamura. Ignoring the fuzzy feeling in his chest, he opened it.

                It was a Snap of the Sawamura Christmas tree, and the caption under it read, "what r u doin at school?"

                Kazuya smiled, closing the app, deciding to switch to text.

 

i don't go home for breaks

 

WUT???? Y????

 

because i just don't. my dad is never home anyway. it's not a big deal.

 

NO ONE SHOULD BE ALONE ON XMAS

 

i'm fine, idiot, seriously

 

wat abour ur mom?

 

                Kazuya hesitated here. He looked up and out the window, listening to the heat run in the building, quiet and low.

               

she's dead

 

                Blunt, true, but there was really not much else to it. He really didn't want to talk about it, either. He waited. For several minutes he wondered if he should lighten the mood, change the subject. Perhaps he had made Sawamura uncomfortable...after all, Sawamura had been texting almost immediately up until this point. But finally his phone buzzed.

 

im sorry. i didnt kno. u wanna come to my house for winter break? we can pick u up tomorrow! i asked my mom!

 

                Kazuya felt a lump lodge in his throat, but he swallowed it down. So that was why Sawamura was taking so long...he had been asking his mom if a college friend could stay with them for a few weeks...that was too much, Kazuya was touched, really, but he couldn't expect them to take him in for so long a time. And besides, it was a five-hour drive for them. No, he'd be fine. The idea of spending several weeks with Sawamura was...intriguing, but no. He belonged here.

 

thanks, but i'll be okay. really, thank you for the offer, though. thank your mother for me.

 

r u sure? we'd have fun! we can play in the snow!

 

pfft, are you 5 yrs old??

snow is fun! and wakana lives here too!

 

i'm sure, idiot. thanks, though. i'll be fine.

 

but arent u lonely?

 

                Again, Kazuya had to pause. Yeah, he kind of was, but it wasn't bad exactly. Sure, being in college had made him used to people being around, but this wasn't the first time he's been alone. He'd be okay. He'd be fine.

 

don't worry about me. tell me about your family.

 

                Kazuya smiled and spent the next few hours going back and forth with Sawamura, who was incredibly eager to tell Kazuya EVERYTHING about the Sawamura clan. Kazuya fell asleep, clutching his phone, bundled in blankets, and feeling much less empty than before.

 

*

 

                Eijun felt bad about Miyuki being alone for the holidays. He couldn't get the image of the dark and lonely dorms out of his mind. So, he decided it would be a great idea to go down the weekend before Christmas to visit Miyuki and the sleepy university. As fate would have it, though, a nasty blizzard rushed through, making it impossible. If Miyuki was sad about it, he hid it well. His texts remained as teasing, lighthearted, but cool as always.

                When Eijun got back from break, the second he saw Miyuki he pulled out the lumpy package he had (unsuccessfully) tried to wrap in pretty paper.

                "THIS IS FOR YOU, MIYUKI!" he yelled, shoving it at Miyuki, who staggered a little.

                "What is this?" he asked, holding the package.

                "It is a Christmas present!"

                Miyuki's head shot up in surprise and he furrowed his brow, as though he couldn't understand Eijun's words.

                "Well...okay then," he said after a moment, then began unwrapping.

                It was a wooden figurine of a tree, hand chiseled by Eijun. It wasn't his best work, but it wasn't his worst. Eijun would have liked to have spent more time on it, but he had had a lot of presents to make. He hadn't been doing woodwork long, and felt a little nervous. What if Miyuki didn't like it?

                Miyuki ran his thumb over the wood, his brow still furrowed.

                "Thanks," he said.

                It sounded like he meant it.

 

*

 

                Spring auditions rolled around and Kazuya, who probably should have been paying more attention to himself, was impressed with Sawamura's improvement. He was much better at remembering combinations, but he was so lost in his head his dancing was a little mechanical. Kazuya knew that this was temporary, and Sawamura would eventually naturally start phrasing the movements, but apparently the audition wasn't good enough for Sawamura to be cast...again.

                Even Sawamura's little friend Haruno had gotten cast this time around. Kazuya was starting to get a little alarmed; he, Kuramochi, Sawamura, and Haruichi had all checked the cast list together, and while Sawamura was the only one of the group not cast, his was the face that remained utterly expressionless. He was awfully quiet, and Kuramochi and Kazuya exchanged nervous looks. Haruichi tried to talk about something else, but Sawamura gave limited responses.

                The next week, every time Kazuya saw Sawamura, he was either in the hallway reading or in the studio practicing and working on choreography. He was moody for a few days, but after awhile he perked back up again and focused on his schoolwork (he asked Kazuya to check over his algebra homework...Kazuya was awful at math). He went to the gym almost constantly. Kazuya understood the impulse to keep busy; it kept nasty thoughts at bay.

                In fact, Kazuya was doing a bit of that himself. It seemed as though he was searching for the loud freshman every chance he could get...which was stupid, really. After all, Sawamura was, as Kuramochi put it, probably 'straight as an arrow' and would never actually think of Kazuya as more than just an acquaintance, maybe even a friend, but never anything else. Sometimes Kazuya, when with the idiot, would remember this, and it would hit him hard; cold, sharp, almost-pain, but he'd grimace through it and it would fade, but as a result everything else dulled around him, too. Even the colors of the room around him, or the smiles of passerby. It was scary how familiar this dull place was. It was comfortable. Everything dulled...everything dulled except for two golden eyes and a stupidly enthusiastic smile.

                Kazuya's infatuation was getting out of hand; crushes had happened before, both boys and girls, but nothing ever came of them and they were eventually forgotten. But every time he was with Sawamura it was like it was never enough.

                True to his nature, Kazuya needed to manage this the only way he knew how; insulting the bajeezus out of Sawamura. Nothing too dastardly, nothing to discourage or harm him, but enough to tease him, keep him out of reach, make him distant. Only problem was, Sawamura kept coming back; pestering Kazuya to give him pointers, or help him with technique, or even to chat about dance with. How the hell was Kazuya supposed to deal with this?

                Kazuya was trudging out of a particularly long dance history class when he heard a "MIYUKI! GIVE ME FEEDBACK ON MY CHOREOGRAPHY!" from across the hallway. He groaned, by now used to this. Sawamura had somehow memorized Kazuya's schedule and sought him out any chance he could for feedback on his choreographic work.

                Kazuya usually put up a fuss, because as exhilarating as it was watching Sawamura move, between rehearsals, homework, classes, and socializing, Kazuya did not have much time to himself. But all Sawamura had to do was flash those pretty golden eyes at him, and he usually caved. Today was one such day. Kuramochi sniggered as Kazuya rolled his eyes and promised to give him feedback if he 'made it quick'. At least I can just stare at his ass the whole time, Kazuya sighed.

                Sawamura, as a choreographer, was actually quite brilliant...not that Kazuya would ever tell him so. And as stubborn as the idiot was, he was incredibly receptive to feedback and usually took what others said into consideration, which honestly took a level of maturity Kazuya didn't expect Sawamura to have.

                As the two of them walked to the studio, Chris, who had just stepped out of the clinic, jogged over to them.

                "Oh, great, I've got you two together! Listen, I have a question for the two of you," he said, putting his hands on his hips and looking between the two of them quite seriously.

                "Anything, yes, ask away!" Sawamura stood at attention and set his globular eyes on Chris like he was the second coming of Christ. Miyuki pursed his lips in irritation, pinched Sawamura's arm, then smirked at Chris.

                "What do you need?" he asked.

                "You remember several months back when you two were in the studio with me and we were working on contact improv? I'd like to revisit that...but this time, as a piece," Chris said, his eyes flashing in excitement, "I'd like to submit it to the student organization's concert. And I'd like you two to be in it, obviously. It'll be a duet."

                Kazuya opened his mouth to respond when--

                "OH, YES, THAT SOUNDS WONDERFUL, YES, LET'S DO IT!" Sawamura shouted, his voice echoing in the hallway, "I AM READY TO SHOW MY STUFF, I WON'T LET YOU DOWN, LET'S DO IT!"

                "Hey, excuse me, I'm here," Kazuya snapped, "Don't agree for me."

                "But Miyuuuuukiiiiiii..." Sawamura whined.

                Kazuya huffed, looking away. He couldn't look at those stupid eyes and get soft. The last thing he should do, given his current obsession with the kid, is dance in a duet with him. That would be...incredibly sadistic to do to himself. Chris could easily ask someone else to do the piece with Sawamura. Besides, Kazuya already had rehearsals for other pieces for the senior's show. Yes. He would have to turn Chris down. Unfortunate, but necessary.

                "Listen..." Kazuya started with a sigh.

                "MIYUKI WE MOVE WELL TOGETHER, CHRIS SAID SO, IT'LL BE GREAT, RIGHT CHRIS?"

                "Yes," Chris smiled, trying not to wince at Sawamura's volume, "Miyuki, it really wouldn't be the same without you. I understand you are a bit overwhelmed with workload at the moment, but I really think this would be a rewarding movement exploration. I think it could really turn out beautiful."

                Kazuya opened his mouth to respond--

                "YEAH, BEAUTIFUL MIYUKI, IT COULD BE BEAUTIFUL! AND STUFF!"

                "Miyuki, I think you and Sawamura could do it...we can be flexible with rehearsal times."

                "Yeah, but I--" he began.

                "It would certainly make your repertoire more well-rounded."

                "YEAH, MORE WELL ROUNDED, MIYUKI!"

                "Well, I--"

                "I won't accept no as an answer. And I know Sawamura won't."

                "YEAH, MIYUKI, YOU WON'T HEAR THE END OF IT!"

                "FINE!" Kazuya threw his hands into the air in defeat. Sawamura high-fived one of them, much to Kazuya's confusion.

                Guess he was a sadist after all.

 

*

 

                Eijun had triple-checked the rehearsal times Chris set for them. He even set alarms on his phone, tablet, watch, and alarm clock just in case he forgot or fell asleep in the afternoon lull (his alarm clock was wireless, okay? He just wanted to make sure he had a back up for his backup in case both of his electronics died and something happened to his watch!). Then he wandered to the building a half hour early in case he got the times wrong.

                He didn't get the times wrong.

                Chris walked in fifteen minutes before rehearsal and smiled.

                "Ah, hello Sawamura, how are you?"

                "Good! Excellent, even! How are you?!" Eijun jumped to his feet, his textbook sliding off his lap and narrowly missing his feet.

                "Good. We'll be upstairs in the small studio," Chris gestured for Eijun to follow him.

                The studio was a little stuffy, so they left the door open for it to air out, and Eijun began stretching.

                His first rehearsal.

                He couldn't mess this up. He wanted to be very professional.

                They stretched and waited and chatted. Eijun glanced at the clock. One minute until rehearsal started...where was Miyuki?

                "Hey," Miyuki popped his head in the door. He was carrying a travel mug of coffee in one hand and a bottled water in the other. He slid his shoes and backpack off, yawned hugely, then plopped down next to Eijun with his coffee in hand. He took a lazy sip, caught Eijun looking at him with disgust (he had almost been late for Chris' rehearsal!) and winked. Eijun flushed angrily and he could feel an array of curses rise in his throat, but he took a deep breath and bottled them down.

                He was going to be professional. Yes. Professional enough for the both of them, as it were.

                Chris opened his mouth to speak when suddenly all of Eijun's alarms on his phone, tablet, watch, and alarm clock went off, blaring loudly, sirens, beeps, and whistles, obnoxious enough to kill a man, and Eijun leapt to his feet, lunged at his backpack, tripped over Miyuki's legs--spilling some coffee on Miyuki's front--and almost landed face-first into the mirror. He frantically dug around his bag for the offending instruments, dropping his phone in his haste once, twice, three times before he could shut it off, yanked his tablet out of his bag so fast it sent his alarm clock flying across the room where it mercifully stopped beeping due to shattering into pieces, and managed to silence his watch by hitting the reset button because he forgot how to turn the alarm off.

                Silence.

                "Well...this got off to a good start," Miyuki finally said, brushing at the coffee on his shirt.

                Eijun, horrified, looked over at Chris, who was trembling, his hands covering his face. When he finally removed them, he wiped tears from his eyes and took a deep breath, fighting to keep his smile from erupting into another laughing fit.

                "Well," he said, the corners of his mouth twitching, "I suppose we should get started now."

                "Yeah, hold on, let me change my shirt, I have a spare in my backpack," Miyuki said. He stood and slid his shirt off and holy shit Eijun felt his embarrassment melt away as he stared at the toned muscle, the smooth skin, the strong chest, the two red marks on his sternum...oh, wait, those were burns from the spilled coffee--Eijun should really apologize for that--but why did he enjoy staring at him like this?

                Apparently Eijun was not being discreet in his fascination, because Miyuki started laughing, deep and real and not nasally like his nasty laugh.

                "If you wanted me shirtless, you should have just asked," he joked.

                Okay, yep, the embarrassment was back.

                "So," Chris said, clearing his throat, "I'd like to start the way we did last time. Some weight-sharing exercises and stuff. Then we'll do some impov. I'll film it, see if anything good pops up."

                "Sounds good," Miyuki said, wiggling into a clean red t-shirt, then walking out into the space, kicking bits of Eijun's alarm clock to the side.

                Eijun was still standing in the same spot.

                "Hey, idiot, come over here, let's get working," Miyuki reached his arms up to the ceiling in a stretch.

                "I..." Eijun was horrified. He messed everything up. His professionalism went flying out the window.

                "Tch," Miyuki crossed his arms and scrutinized Eijun, "You don't need to be so nervous. It's just me and Chris."

                This was true. Why was he so nervous?

                "It's just...it's my first time being cast..." Eijun trailed away, then flushed crimson.

                Miyuki's face softened, and he scratched the back of his head like he always did when he was uncomfortable.

                "Yeah, well...their loss, right?" he said.

               

*

 

                Best. Rehearsal. Ever.

                It was the funniest thing Kazuya had ever experienced in his life. All those alarms...what was Sawamura thinking? And an alarm clock? Who kept an alarm clock in their backpack? And the sheer panic on that poor boy's face...god Kazuya wished he could have taken a picture of it. Fucking hilarious.

                Oh, Sawamura was never gonna live this down. Not as long as he lived.

                Still, he wasn't pleased he got hot coffee spilled down his front--and probably a bruise on his shin--but it was worth it to see Sawamura's panic.

                What intrigued him most was catching Sawamura staring at him when he slid his shirt off. The kid was gaping at him, slack-jawed and all. Sawamura used to be an athlete, didn't he? This wasn't his fist time seeing someone change...so why was he looking at him like that?

                Unless....nah.

                Kazuya knew he was attractive, and he knew he was in good shape. But Sawamura liked girls, right? Sawamura didn't look away, though, and he appeared almost...dazed. The whole situation suddenly seemed hilarious to Kazuya, and he started to laugh.

                "If you wanted me shirtless," he smirked, feeling a little uncomfortable at the scrutiny, "You should have just asked."

                Sawamura went so red he was almost purple. Ah. So satisfying. Two of Kazuya's favorite things: flirting with Sawamura, and embarrassing Sawamura. Truly enjoyable. As for Sawamura's gaze, Kazuya would file that away to mull over later.

                Sawamura shuffled over from his spot and they began working. Kazuya would never admit how warm he felt when Sawamura leaned against him, how pleasantly solid Sawamura was when Kazuya lifted him, or how safe he felt giving his own weight away to be lifted, riding the curves and angles of Sawamura's back, elbows, knees, and neck like a surfer rode waves.

                There was a sensuality to it none of them anticipated.

                "I was originally going for something platonic," Chris admitted after they paused for a break, "But maybe it is your chemistry or the way you are choosing to move today, but I really think this piece is taking a more intimate route. I'm a little surprised;  because of society, men are usually easier to desexualize onstage than women, but I really don't think we'd be able to take the sensuality out of this if we tried. So I'm thinking we should run with it...make this piece visceral and sensuous."

                Kazuya felt his face heat up, and though he refused to make eye contact with Sawamura, he knew the idiot was tomato-red. Of-fucking-course this piece would turn sensual...leave it to Kazuya to make things more difficult for himself. He couldn't control his fucking emotions and now it was affecting the overall focus of the piece.

                Oh well.

                "So we'll disband for today and I'll go over the footage we have and come up with some solid choreography for us to play with," Chris went on, "So you guys are free for today. Thank you."

                Sawamura gathered his stuff lighting quick, including the pieces of his shattered alarm clock, and ran out before Kazuya could even make a quip.

 

*

 

                The duet was phenomenal, and Eijun wasn't even being biased. In the weeks that followed that first rehearsal, Chris had brought in people to watch it and give feedback, including Tetsu, Ryosuke, Tanba, and even Rei. Every single one of them loved it, and many of the seniors were impressed with Eijun...how had they never noticed him before?

                Rei said nothing, but after giving her feedback (mostly all positive), she squeezed Eijun's shoulder lightly, and he was feeling pretty proud of himself. He was making improvement, and, as much as he didn't want to admit it, dancing with a talented dancer like Miyuki was pretty easy; no matter what happened, Miyuki always made Eijun look good.

                If Eijun slipped, Miyuki swept in and made it part of the choreography. If Eijun forgot what happened next, Miyuki would find small quirks to cue him. But most importantly, Eijun copied Miyuki's performance quality. Every time Miyuki performed something, even if it was a small showing for feedback with their friends, he took it incredibly seriously, and performed it as though it was an actual show. Eijun was finally getting what he wanted; a chance to work closely with Miyuki and learn as much as he could from him.

                And Eijun was now a better dancer for it.

                By the time the performance for the duet rolled around, Eijun no longer required cues or copy-catting. He had found some confidence of his own. And being relied on was no small factor to this; Eijun knew he had to be present and reliable because Miyuki was trusting him with his full weight for much of the piece. The deep intricacies of the duet's choreography was hard to remember, but Eijun now had it to a T.

                Backstage, as they got into costume (pedestrian clothing; brown pants and button-down shirts...white for Miyuki and maroon for Eijun) and warmed up, Eijun felt nervous, but not terrified. Even if he did mess up, between the two of them, they'd be able to get out of it.

                Chris pulled them aside and gave them cast gifts: two small gift cards to the local bookstore and small bottles of whiskey, which had Miyuki chuckling.

                "Wow, Chris," he laughed, "I didn't know you were so edgy!"

                "WE HAVE SOMETHING FOR YOU TOO!" Eijun yelled excitedly.

                Both Miyuki and Chris rounded on him with a frantic shush!

                "The house is open, moron," Miyuki snapped.

                "Sorry!" Eijun whispered, "Here!"

                He handed Chris the card that he and Miyuki had picked out. Inside, they both wrote small personal messages of thanks. The note also contained a gift card to Chris' favorite chain restaurant.

                "Thanks guys," Chris smiled, "Now go out there and make me proud. Sawamura, don't forget: do not overthink it. Lose yourself to the movement. Same with you, Miyuki: let go."

                Chris left to go sit in the audience, and Miyuki and Eijun stretched, chatting lightly. Haruichi was being painted (he was in a piece that involved body paint), so for a little bit Eijun preoccupied himself in teasing Haruichi for looking like a work of Van Gogh.

                "I didn't even know you knew who Van Gogh was, Sawamura, color me impressed, no pun intended," Miyuki said, sidling up next to Eijun, who scowled.

                "I know who he is!" Eijun hissed, luckily remembering to keep his voice down as the show was on, "I'm not an idiot!"

                "I beg to differ."

                "Shut up, Miyuki!"

                "What kind of Van Gogh painting do I look like, Eijun?" Haruichi asked shyly, eyeing himself in the mirror with interest.

                "Like...like The Scream!" Eijun said pointing his finger to the ceiling. Haruichi looked oddly pleased with that answer.

                "Pfft...that's not even Van Gogh, idiot," Miyuki rolled his eyes.

                "Chris' piece, you guys are next!" Nabe, their backstage manager, said.

                Eijun felt his stomach drop. Okay, here came the jitters. He followed Miyuki out of the well-lit dressing room and into the pitch-black hallway behind the stage. He reached out, grabbing Miyuki's elbow.

                "I can't see," he whispered in apology, but held on regardless, trusting Miyuki to lead him where they needed to be.

                Miyuki stopped outside of the open door leading to the wings, but didn't step out; the piece before them was still on, and they didn't want to crowd the wings. Miyuki gently wiggled his elbow out of Eijun's grasp, and began jogging in place to stay warm.

                Eijun's eyes began to adjust, the only light the dull red of the Exit sign on the other side of the hall. His heart was hammering. What did I get myself into? he thought miserably. His whole family had bought tickets and come down for this. All the professors were here, too. Ugh.

                The music faded, and Eijun felt his hands start to sweat. Applause. He exhaled. The dancers from the previous piece came out the door, and Miyuki and Eijun walked through.

                "Merde," Miyuki breathed into his ear, warm breath, comforting, real, grounding him. Something erupted in Eijun's stomach, and suddenly he wasn't so scared. He felt the floor pushing up against his feet, supportive.

                The cue light went off, and Miyuki and Eijun walked out onto the blackness of the stage, knowing their starting place by a small 'x' on the floor made with glow spike-tape.

                The lights came up and they began.

                Eijun didn't have to tell himself to let go...that warm breath on his ear, Miyuki's low whisper...Eijun was already gone. And he could tell immediately that Miyuki was, too. The energy they were feeding off of each other was...intense.

                It was so real, everything about their bodies was so vivid, but everything else was far away, long forgotten. Miyuki's breath synched up with Eijun's and the heat radiating from the skin beneath the cotton shirts was intoxicating. Eijun had never felt like this before, this dizzying yet solidifying juxtaposition, marking them with their shared sweat. Eijun's last lift with Miyuki was the best it had ever been; Miyuki soared around Eijun's shoulders, suspended, sweeping the air, spiraling into the floor, spinning to his feet, so that he and Eijun were face-to-face, both of their eyes low, panting, sharing each-other's breath, noses almost touching. The lights faded.

                Just like that the spell was broken, and he and Miyuki rigidly turned in the dark to face the audience, and when the lights came back on, they bowed, listening to the applause and whistles (his family was the loudest) and then he and Miyuki walked offstage.

                "How'd it go? It really sounds like they liked it!" Haruichi said as soon as they reentered the dressing room. Haruichi was getting ready to head out...his piece was second to last.

                "It was..."Eijun trailed away, somehow still out of breath.

                "That was insane," Miyuki said, panting still too, "Like...holy shit, Sawamura, we killed it."

                "Yeah," Eijun's daze was starting to fade as his excitement grew, "Yeah, we did!"

                Miyuki and Eijun stood there, grinning at each other.

                Eijun didn't think he stopped grinning for the rest of the evening, even when he took his family out to dinner and his grandfather got into an argument with the waiter. Not even when he went to the cast party at Tetsu's house, armed with his whiskey Chris gave him. His smile certainly didn't fade when he, Miyuki, Kuramochi, and Wakana drunkenly played Cards Against Humanity in Tetsu's kitchen while everyone else danced in the living room. And he was pretty sure his grin got wider when Chris pulled Miyuki and him aside and told them that their performance was unforgettable. His grin faltered once, but didn't fade, when he realized how attractive Miyuki was, laughing at something Kuramochi said, eyes twinkling, that dimple in his left cheek, strong jaw not tense for once, his glasses slightly askew. Eijun didn't even stop smiling when he felt a little confused as to how Miyuki could be so attractive, so oddly sexy, when Eijun had never thought about a guy as attractive and sexy before. His smile turned mellow when he chalked his intrigue up to leftover adrenaline from the performance and he got his favorite drunk food at 2am with Haruichi and Wakana at the diner. He went to bed--crashed, really--at 3:30am, a sleepy smile still on his face.

Chapter Text

Summer came.

                Eijun was excited to come home and relax after the stress of school (he was able to finally get a full night's sleep), and on his first evening home, his family cooked a big meal in celebration of completion at his first year of college. Grandpa broke out the bourbon (as per usual) and toasted Eijun to being the first in the Sawamura clan to go to university, having good grades, and "being in that homosexual duet because artists seemed to like that stuff".

                After dinner, Eijun and his father went out on the porch, enjoying the chirping of the crickets and the dots of glow from the lighting bugs.

                "You know," his father said after awhile, his voice a low hum, adding to the orchestra of summer evening sounds, "You're nineteen, now. And you've done so much more than I ever did by this point in life."

                Eijun looked at his father in surprise, and waited for him to proceed.

                "When I was twenty, just a year older than you," he went on, "I moved to Cleveland with my band to try to save up to head off to Chicago or New York or LA. But I really didn't know what I was doing with my life. I thought I was going to be a star without putting all the work in."

                Eijun cocked his head in confusion; his father was a great singer and guitarist! What did he mean by that?

                "I didn't do the work," his father explained, "College would have helped me greatly. I, and my band members, had no contacts. We knew no one. We didn't even anticipate that the Cleveland music scene would be so difficult to break into. After a year of hardly any success, we all split up and went home.

                "I started working on the family farm again, married your mother--which I do not regret--and had you all within a span of five years. I never got to do anything great with my life...if I could go back, I'd go to college, learn more about music, make some contacts...or at least stay and fight for my passion in Cleveland. Then I'd like to think I would travel the world with your mother, have some adventures. Maybe you would have been born in some exotic place, rather than here, on this small farm, in the middle of nowhere.

                "What I'm trying to say is I'm very proud of you. We all are. You're fighting to be the artist I never was."

                Eijun felt tears well up in his eyes, but managed to swallow them down. His father squinted out at the dark land, then finally rose.

                "I'm goin' to hit the hay. Early start tomorrow," he said, reaching over and ruffling Eijun's hair like he did when Eijun was a kid, "See you tomorrow. Don't stay up too late."

                When the front door closed, and Eijun was alone, he felt his resolve harden. He was going to be a successful dancer, damn it. Even if it killed him.

 

*

 

                Kazuya subleased an apartment near the university for the summer. He wasn't really interested in going home. He found a job at a thrift store and spent his time working, eating, or sleeping. On his days off, which were rare as he wanted to make as much money as possible, he went on long walks outside of town, enjoying the lush green of summer. This was his life, this was his pattern. It wasn't until early July that anything different happened; his father wanted to visit him. The phone call in and of itself was incredibly rare...they usually communicated via text or email. When Kazuya panicked and asked if everything was all right, his father assured him that all was well and he just wanted to visit.

                The night before his father was to arrive, Kazuya's anxiety peaked at an all-time high. He cleaned his apartment three times. He bought a whole new outfit at the thrift store he worked. He even got his hands on a small picture of bright-colored flowers against a gold background to hang in his living room as his apartment was sparse and empty...it barely had any furniture. He cursed himself for not getting a couch, looking miserably at the coffee table that sat in front of his television that served as coffee table, dinner table, and everything-else table. He didn't even have a bed; he got a mattress for free from some college seniors who were graduating and didn't want it anymore. It lay on the floor of his room, covered in a mess of mismatched bedding. Kazuya did not want to buy anything for this place, as he was just going to move out at the end of summer and into the apartment he and Kuramochi signed for during the school year.

                He didn't sleep well, and when he did he dreamt of swimming in that gold flower painting, golden and bright, and the magenta and orange flowers disappeared, and the gold became darker, and he realized he was swimming, almost drowning, in an eye, an oddly familiar eye, bright and gold and--

                --His own eyes shot open. He glanced at his phone. Seven-thirty in the morning. Excellent. His father wasn't going to be here until ten. This gave Kazuya time to have his morning coffee, shower, and maybe straighten up again.

                As he shuffled to his coffee maker in the kitchen--pointedly not looking at that painting hanging on his living room wall--he received a text from Mochi.

                Pressing the 'on' button and watching the coffee brew, he picked up his phone and glanced at the message...then almost dropped his phone.

 

Did you hear? Idiot Mura fucking sprained his ankle!

 

                Kazuya frantically typed back.

               

no i didn't...is it bad? is he okay?

 

I think so? He has been kinda elusive. I'm surprised he even told me.

 

jesus...he better take good care of it if he wants to be able to dance come fall

 

It sounds like it should be good by that time...at least judging by his attitude.

 

how did he sprain it???

 

He was doing work on his family's farm...like putting hay in a loft or whatever the fuck it was. He slipped on the ladder and fell.

 

fuck

 

Yeah...his family is so worried about it they banned him from doing any physical labor on the farm again. They really want him to graduate college.

 

huh

 

Yep. Anyways, how's the town?

 

good. dad's coming to visit.

 

                Kazuya regretted telling Mochi the second he hit send. A part of him wanted to keep this secret, private. He didn't know why.

 

Really? That's cool. I never met your dad and you never talk about him. What's he do?

 

                Kazuya decided the conversation was over, so he ignored the text, and set the phone aside. Kuramochi didn't text him again. After a half hour or so of sipping coffee and reading the rest of yesterday's newspaper, Kazuya picked up his phone again.

 

idiot, you have to be more careful. so you sprained your ankle?

 

                He sighed and set his phone down, but the response was instantaneous.

 

MIYUKI I KNOW IT IS AWFUL I HAVE TO SIT HERE WITH MY ANKLE ELEVATED BECAUSE ITS HUGE AND IM SO BORED I CANT HANG OUT WITH MY FRIENDS OR DANCE RIGHT NOW

 

serves you right for getting injured

 

it wasnt my fault! i slipped!

 

whatever. so, whats the prognosis?

 

i dont know wut that means

 

idiot...how bad is it? how long until it heals?

 

the doctor said six weeks as long as i do wat im told! and i am, so dont worry! i have an air cast and everything!

 

good. i know it's lonely and boring, but please do what the doctor tells you.

 

aww, miyuki, u really do care!

 

of course. i'm all heart.

 

HA so how is your summer going? i havent talked to u in awhile

 

fine

 

....thats it?

 

that's it.

 

wat do u do there in the summer?

 

work

 

....ur incredibly hard to have a conversation with.

 

                Kazuya grinned. He typed back a witty reply then steered the conversation back to Sawamura, who proceeded to tell him everything about his summer.

                While they went back and forth, Kazuya cleaned up his coffee, ate a bagel, showered, and recleaned the apartment. By that time, he received a text from his father saying that he was almost there. Early, just as Kazuya had predicted. His father was always early to appointments. Always late in getting home, though.

                Kazuya paced the apartment for a solid twenty minutes, occasionally texting Sawamura, trying to keep his head clear.

                There was a knock on his door. He swallowed, took a deep breath, then set his phone on the counter and took a (forced) leisurely walk forward. Through the peephole, he could see his father, in a button-down shirt and jeans, checking his phone. Kazuya opened the door.

 

*

 

                Eijun, Haruichi, Furuya, Haruno, and Wakana had all made sure they chose dorms sharing the same common room for their sophomore year. They all moved in the weekend before classes, and ended up goofing off in the common room for the majority of their free time. It felt good to be back.

                Eijun couldn't help but be a little sad, though. Wakana had dropped from a dance major to a dance minor...which means she wouldn't be in very many dance classes anymore. Instead, she declared a major in sports medicine, a subject she was incredibly interested in. He was happy she found something she loved to do, but he missed her in their dance classes. She didn't even want to audition for the fall show.

                Otherwise the school year began very much like last year's did; syllabi, getting back in shape, and technique class kicking everyone's butts. This was the busy rhythm Eijun found he was addicted to. And every day after his classes, he'd stop by Mochi's and Miyuki's apartment, which was on his way home from class. Kuramochi was almost always there, as his schedule was compatible with Eijun's. Miyuki, of course, was around a lot too, and usually the four of them (Eijun almost always brought Haruichi along) would play video games or watch Netflix while doing homework together.

                One late evening, a few days before the fall audition, Eijun was walking back home from the library after doing research for his dance history class (Rei's history class did not play around; it was only the second week in and they already had three research projects), and decided to stop by the apartment. Maybe Mochi would play a few rounds of Mario Kart with him. He needed to unwind.

                When he knocked, Miyuki answered the door, spatula in hand. The smell of cooking wafted into the hallway, and Eijun's mouth watered. He hadn't even known he was hungry until now.

                "Oh, great," Miyuki teased with a smirk, "What do you want?"

                "Lemme in," Eijun said, rolling his eyes. Miyuki huffed, but moved aside regardless.

                The apartment was dark and quiet, which was odd. The only lights came from the kitchen and a single lamp on the side of the couch in the living room.

                "Quiet, huh?" Miyuki said, walking into the kitchen. Eijun followed.

                "Yeah, where's Mochi?"

                "At the bars. I don't know how he can go out on a Tuesday evening, but more power to him. I get some peace and quiet...he's always blaring those video games of his," Miyuki said, glancing up from the stove at the empty living room.

                "What are you making?" Eijun asked.

                "Just an omelet. I know it is a little late, but I forgot to eat earlier. Want one?" Miyuki asked.

                "Yes!" Eijun said excitedly, bouncing a little, "You cook?"

                "Yep. And I'm very good at it."

                Eijun scowled. He didn't know whether to believe him or not. Regardless, his stomach had spoken; he was ready to eat anything Miyuki served him.

                A calm sort of silence descended upon them, the hiss on the stove the only sound. Eijun leaned back against the counter, watching Miyuki work. Ever since Chris' duet, things had changed between them. Miyuki was much less biting in his insults, and even complimented Eijun from time to time. Eijun stopped using Mochi as the middleman, and started inviting Miyuki places on his own, and they hung out frequently, albeit never just the two of them.

                "Here you go," Miyuki said, finishing up and handing Eijun the plate, "Now I have to make mine."

                Eijun ate right there in the kitchen. By the time he had finished, Miyuki had plated his food, and was heading into the living room.

                "Let's watch a movie," Miyuki said, plopping down onto the couch, balancing his dish on the armrest.

                "Okay, what do you want to watch?" Eijun said, grabbing the remote and pulling up Netflix.

                "I dunno. Sci-fi? You choose the movie," Miyuki said, shoveling a large forkful of egg into his mouth.

                "Here is...2001: A Space Odyssey," Eijun read, "Hey, I've heard of that movie!"

                "It's good," Miyuki said, "Super odd. Enlightening, though. You're probably too dumb to watch it."

                "Hey!" Eijun yelled, jumping to his feet and rounding on Miyuki, who was only lit by the television screen and the bit of light from the lamp next to the couch. His features seemed to be highlighted in the resulting shadow, and Eijun immediately lost track what he was about to say.

                "Sit down, idiot," Miyuki chuckled, "Watch whatever you want."

                Eijun fumed, and very pointedly pressed 2001: A Space Odyssey. He wasn't dumb. This movie couldn't be too confusing, right?

                Wrong.

                He understood the evil-robot-ship guy and everything, but the majority of that movie was crazy. But Eijun couldn't stop watching. He was utterly immersed. Afterwards, for some reason, he kind of wanted to cry. He felt like he discovered something, but he didn't know what.

                "Well...there you have it," Miyuki said softly as the credits rolled.

                "That was...wow," Eijun cocked his head to the side, "I don't know what to say."

                They were quiet for a moment, when Eijun turned and noticed Miyuki was staring at him thoughtfully.

                "You really enjoyed it, didn't you?" Miyuki asked, surprise in his voice, not condescending for once, but genuine.

                "I did," Eijun didn't know what to do with himself. All he wanted to do was talk about it. Or lay down in bed and contemplate his existence.

                "I didn't know you were such a free-thinker," Miyuki went on, his teasing leaking back in. Eijun ignored it in favor of something else.

                "What do you think you'll be like when you're old?" he asked. Miyuki looked at him in surprise.

                "Uh...gray?"

                "No, seriously, though," Eijun pulled his legs up onto the couch and faced Miyuki, "In the movie, he sees himself--or a version of himself or something--when he's old. He sees himself die, right? Like, where do you think your future self would be if you had the same opportunity?"

                Miyuki gaped at him a little.

                "Jesus, Sawamura," he ran his fingers through his hair, "I don't know. Still involved in dance in some way, I know that. Maybe own a company? I don't know."

                 Eijun felt a little confused. Miyuki was such a planner. How did he not have at least an estimate as to what he'd be like in the future?

                "I just haven't thought that far ahead," Miyuki went on, reading the look on Eijun's face, "It's hard to plan too much in this industry. You just have to be ready for anything."

                They were silent again. Eijun's mind raced. There were so many questions he had, so many things he wanted to know.

                "You know how they talk about parallel universes and stuff?" Eijun asked.

                "Who's 'they'?"

                "Scientists and stuff! Like they talk about parallel universes!"

                "Scientists," Miyuki repeated, amused, "And 'stuff'."

                "Yeah! Like...you make different choices! For every choice you get, somewhere, sometime, you made a different choice!" Eijun was having difficulty explaining himself. He wasn't smart enough nor well-spoken enough to ask what he wanted to ask.

                "Yeah, I've heard of it, what about it?"

                "Do you ever think about your choices and imagine what would be different if you made another choice?"

                Miyuki paused, looking at Eijun with a level of seriousness he never would have anticipated.

                "I...suppose I have," he said finally.

                "Me too. If there are other universes out there, in one I didn't go to college..." Eijun trailed away, memories of his summertime talk with his father rebounding in his head, "And I wouldn't be dancing. Or have met you. I'd probably have ended up a farmer or something."

                Miyuki nodded slowly, looking down at the rug.

                "In one...or maybe several...my mom would still be around," he said so quietly Eijun almost didn't hear him at all. He didn't sound sad. Just...intrigued. Interested. Curious.

                The television's screensaver came on, shrouding them in even more darkness. It was only because of this darkness Eijun had courage to ask him a question that had been pestering him since last Christmas.

                "What happened to your mom?"

                "I told you," Miyuki said, "She died."

                "I know," Eijun said gently, "But how?"

                "In one universe it might be cancer, or in another it might be a plane accident," Miyuki sighed, evading the question.

                "What about in this one?" Eijun asked, not to be distracted.

                "Car accident," Miyuki answered, shifting his eyes, brown and shadowed behind his glasses, to meet Eijun's.

                "How old were you?"

                "Ten."

                Eijun nodded slowly. He felt like he should...touch Miyuki's hand or something, but he was worried of scaring him away.

                "My dad came to visit me over the summer," Miyuki said suddenly, "It surprised me. He had never been to visit before."

                "How did that go?" Eijun asked, realizing the significance in the fact that Miyuki was trusting him with this information.

                Miyuki thought a moment.

                "It went well. I think. I mean," he said, "It was kind of awkward because we don't really talk, but once I started giving him a tour of town and campus it was alright because we had stuff to talk about."

                "What brought him down? Did he miss you?"

                "I...don't know. I asked him; a few times. He just said he wanted to see me. We had lunch and dinner. He asked about my life. It was...nice, I guess."

                Eijun could see how lost Miyuki was, how utterly confused he looked, and he suddenly had the urge to put an arm around him...was that normal? He had never seen Miyuki look vulnerable in his life. And here he was, sarcasm and grit all stripped away. Eijun didn't know why, but he felt as though he had stumbled upon something precious, something secret. He wanted to know everything about Miyuki. Every time they spoke, Miyuki would usually direct the conversation to Eijun, and Eijun would fall for it every time because he loved talking about himself. But now Eijun wanted to know. He wanted to know and he wanted to keep these precious moments to himself. He didn't want to share...not with Kuramochi, not with Furuya, not with anyone.

                So he inched a little closer to Miyuki on the couch, trying hard to be discreet. Miyuki lifted an eyebrow but otherwise did nothing.

                They talked about science and theory and things they read on the internet; quantum mechanics, space, the human condition. Then they talked about dance and Chris' duet and how it had taken the entire dance school by storm, about its subtle nuances, how well they responded to each other. Then they talked about personal things, real things, everyday things. Eijun learned that Miyuki liked the color red and that he didn't like sweets but he'd occasionally indulge in dark chocolate. He learned that Miyuki loved cooking so much he used to want to be a chef and that his father owned a small factory that worked with steel. He learned that Miyuki started dancing at seven because his mom thought it might be fun and that his first dance class was a tap class, which he was dreadful at. Miyuki loved taking walks. He loved an empty dance studio. He loved the weird bright-colored flower painting hanging above his couch, though he didn't know why. It was the only painting he owned.

                For hours they sat on that couch, and Eijun inched closer, drawn in by intrigue and maybe something else, and by the time Kuramochi stumbled in the front door, drunk, their legs were flush against each other, and it made Eijun's entire body tingle.

                "What are you doing here?" Kuramochi said loudly, his eyes red and unfocused.

                "I came to visit," Eijun said, scooting away from Miyuki, ignoring the sinking in his abdomen, trying not to hate Mochi for walking in and interrupting them.

                "You're visiting at three in the morning on a Tuesday?" Kuramochi asked, grinning wickedly.

                "IT'S THREE IN THE MORNING?!" Eijun yelled, jumping to his feet.

                "Ugh, don't yell," Miyuki hissed, "And damn it, I lost track of time. I have class in five hours."

                Kuramochi cackled, filled himself a cup of water from the tap, then walked to his room.

                "I should go," Eijun said, throwing his backpack over his shoulder.

                Miyuki walked him to the door. Eijun hesitated and they both looked at each other expectantly.

                "So...um," Miyuki scratched the back of his head, "I'll...see you later."

                "Yeah," Eijun nodded, smiling brightly. Miyuki's eyes widened and drifted down to Eijun's lips. Eijun felt his face get hot and he looked down at Miyuki's mouth, pink pretty lips, and he swallowed, his smile faltering. Had they gotten closer? He swear he could feel Miyuki's breath, but no, they hadn't gotten closer, he was just remembering, remembering them breathing each other's air at the end of their duet, before the applause began, before the lights faded.

                "G-goodnight," Eijun stammered quickly, nearly stumbling out the door.

                What Eijun thought desperately as he practically ran home, what on earth was that?

 

*

 

                Kazuya was, at first, remarkably uncomfortable. He had simply shared too much about himself. He had never told anyone some of those things before, and here, in one night, he rattled them off to Sawamura as easy as pie. The weird thing was, Sawamura wasn't manipulating him or prying information from him. He just asked questions, and Kazuya answered. Kazuya normally never willingly gave too much information about himself. He didn't know why, either. There really wasn't much to hide. He was just a loner with a sadistic sense of humor and an odd obsession with Pinterest recipes. And yet, here he was, prattling on about his life.

                Maybe it was the semidarkness they were shrouded in. Maybe it was those golden-brown eyes that were so damn alluring. Sawamura had scooted closer, and Kazuya had thought--had hoped--it was because he wanted to be closer, to know more, to see more. And when Eijun's leg pressed against Kazuya's, it took every ounce of restraint for him to keep his mind from wandering, from fabricating images of entwined limbs and hot skin and a strength and resiliency Kazuya wished he had, of breath hot and sweet and incredibly and totally beyond his range because obviously Sawamura was not interested in men, yet here he was, pressing into Kazuya's leg in a dark room on a couch in the middle of the night.

                God, Kazuya wanted to fuck him.

                The whole time, Sawamura was talking. Kazuya wasn't listening. He, very gently, shifted a tad closer. He knew it was stupid, but then again, if Sawamura wasn't interested in guys, why did he shuffle across an entire length of couch to the point that they were touching? It was possible that Sawamura was an affectionate person, but Kazuya had never seen him really get into anyone's space before, not like this.

                Kuramochi, of course, ruined everything. Kazuya hoped Sawamura had missed it, but even as drunk as Mochi was, he wasn't an idiot. As he got his glass of water and walked to his room he exchanged a meaningful glance at Kazuya.

                But the door...the door was the game changer. They had paused there, a sudden awkwardness weighing heavy on their shoulders. Sawamura smiled, and that was it, Kazuya was gone again, pupils blown out and focused on those lips and freckles and Sawamura was looking at his mouth too...did that mean...? Did he want to kiss him? Should Kazuya do it? Wait, did Sawamura even know Kazuya was into guys as well as girls? Fuck, maybe he didn't know, they had never talked about sexuality before, it had never come up, but oh no Kazuya had once said how much he enjoyed Rei's rack so now Sawamura, if he liked guys, which he probably didn't, but if he did, he didn't know Kazuya liked guys and--

                --Sawamura practically fell out the door.

                "G-goodnight," he said quickly, then disappeared down the hall.

                Kazuya's heart fell.

                Maybe Sawamura wasn't interested after all.

 

*

 

                Eijun was pleased with his audition. He had done alright. He forgot some choreography here and there, but he was becoming better at faking it. He was calm, hopeful even, when he woke up early the next day to check the cast list. After all, everyone had seen him and Miyuki perform that duet in the spring...surely everyone could see he had performance quality. He was worth the investment.

                "I am worth the investment," Eijun whispered, and though he didn't know anyone in the current senior class, it would be great to work and perform.

                Which, actually, reminded Eijun that in choreography class the sophomores were given their first large group dance project, so he needed to recruit some dancers for his study...as he thought, he wandered to the main studio.

                The senior's and junior's modern class was blended, and they had it early in the morning. The sounds of their class seeped into the hallway, and Eijun paused at the doorway, peeking in, to get a glance of them working. Rei was teaching them.

                They were learning the main combo, a very smooth and lovely bit that swirled through the space. Eijun was pleasantly pleased to find that Nori was incredibly graceful and took to this movement quality pretty quickly. They made eye contact for a split second and Nori smiled.

                But Eijun wanted to find one person in particular.

                Miyuki was standing towards the back, deep in thought, gesturing through the movements to commit them to memory. Eijun knew he should probably move on, but he wanted to see them do the combo at least once.

                "Okay, let's do this," Rei said, "First group on the floor."

                Luckily, Miyuki was in this group. He noticed Eijun at the door, then smirked. What a smug bastard.

                But holy shit, he could move. Eijun stood--transfixed--as he watched. He, however, noticed something different about the way he watched. Eijun was noticing subtle nuances he hadn't before, appreciating the small technicalities as well as the virtuosity. His watching wasn't as simple as it had always been. He was analyzing as well as appreciating what he was seeing.

                He was, he realized, watching dance as an actual dancer now.

                Eijun turned and walked away, his destination a small bit of paper pinned to cork at the end of the hall. He scanned over the names. Haruichi, Miyuki, Mochi, Haruno, Furuya, Nori...

                His wasn't among them.

                He felt very heavy, and suddenly the air felt stifling. He started panting, gasping for air, like damn, did they ever air this shitty building out? There was a throbbing in his head that was getting stronger and he found his footsteps mimicking the rhythm of that pounding boom, boom, one, two, one, two and Eijun--for only a second--chuckled a little because it was almost like dancing.

                The warm air of the late summer day gave him some clarity of mind. He wound up walking and walking and walking and walking then running and running and running until he was so far from where he started he realized he was in an unfamiliar area, way off campus, and on the outskirts of town.

                When he collapsed, exhausted, in the grass underneath a tree not too far from the highway he finally allowed himself to think.

                After all of the improvement he had made, after all of the people he had befriended, he still wasn't good enough. After all of his impressive choreographic studies that he had shown, after that duet he performed, he still wasn't good enough.

                And just like that a rigid bitterness wrapped around his bones, a spiteful disgust that he had never felt before bubbled in his stomach. It both terrified and fascinated him. He felt tears and suddenly he started sobbing, cussing, punching the ground, yanking at the grass, and it was good he was alone in the middle of nowhere because otherwise he'd surely be admitted into a psych ward, dirt coating his clothes and knuckles and he kept going until he exhausted himself again, until he slumped against the tree in defeat.

                And as quickly as those toxic feelings came, they dissipated. Not disappeared, but sunk in, so low and deep Eijun no longer could feel them. His body felt very hollow and echo-ey. He didn't feel anything. Not anger, not pain, not irritation, not hatred.

                He sat there for a long time. Eventually he stood and glanced around him. Oh. He had left his backpack at the dance building. He'd have to go back and get that. His phone and wallet were in there. Oh, and he had class today. A couple classes, actually, one of which was a modern class. He had no concept of time, but he probably missed both of them. Distantly, he felt like cringing, because he didn't want people to think he skipped class because he didn't get cast, but that ship had sailed, so whatever. His feet began moving back from where he came, and he did not even bother to brush himself off or straighten himself up.

                He got a few weird looks from passerby when he got to campus, but most people ignored him. After all, it was college, many people walked around with dead looks in their eyes.

                When he finally made it back to the dance building, he glanced at the clock in the hallway. Oh. Not as late as he thought. He had only been gone four hours. He missed his kinesiology class, but his modern class didn't start for another half hour. Perfect. No one would know.

                He walked to the bathroom, eyeing his backpack which was still sitting on the bench in the hallway. His kinesiology class should be letting out now so the sophomores would probably be heading downstairs to get ready for modern at any minute.

                Eijun really did look a mess. There was dirt on his clothes and underneath his fingernails, but he tried to clean himself off as best as he could in the sink. When he was finished, he looked semi-presentable, but with large wet spots on his clothes from trying to get the dirt off of them.

                "Hey, Sawamura," Furuya said as Eijun exited the bathroom, "You missed kines."

                "Yes," Eijun said, "I did."

                "What happened to you?"

                "Nothing. Where's Haruichi?"

                "Across the street. Grabbing us a few snacks to choke down before modern."

                Eijun nodded, realizing he hadn't eaten today, then turned and walked into the empty studio. He had a half hour before class. He might as well get a good warm up in.

 

*

 

                Kazuya was worried about this, and now here it was; Sawamura had given up. At first, no one had noticed, really. They thought he was just tired or mopey, but as the days past, it became more evident that Sawamura wasn't being himself anymore. Haruichi approached Kuramochi and Miyuki, worried.

                "He's not been eating as much," Haruichi said nervously, "And last night when we were watching a movie and drinking, he drank a lot but wouldn't really talk to anyone. And when the movie was over he got up and went to bed."

                "Well we know why this is happening," Kuramochi said aggressively, "It's because the idiot hasn't been cast in a formal concert yet."

                "I don't understand why," Kazuya muttered darkly. God, was everyone blind? Eijun was a beautiful mover.

                "Neither do I," Kuramochi sighed, "He's gotten a lot better. I guess it's because he still isn't dancing with one-hundred percent confidence unless he's performing. Everyone's already forgotten his skill in that duet last semester."

                "This is true," Haruichi said sadly, "And he still hasn't found his phrasing yet unless it is something he's rehearsed for awhile. It's hard for him to pick up choreography quickly."

                "How has he been otherwise?" Kazuya asked after a moment, "He still comes over to hang out at the apartment, and he's usually pretty fine there. He just doesn't talk about anything dance-related."

                "He's been doing well in our choreography class," Haruichi said, "We have Rei this semester and we all know she plays favorites. She loves him. She is either praising him incessantly and using his work as an example we should follow, or she's giving him a hard time because she wants to challenge him. I think he really likes it, though. It's the only time I ever see that old fire back in his eyes," Haruichi crossed his arms and blew at his bangs anxiously, something Kazuya had never seen him do before, "And I must say, dancing in his choreographic study has been great. He's really good at leading all of us dancers to get what he wants."

                "Yeah, his work was good at the showing," Kuramochi nodded, "I hope others notice his talent."

                "How has he been in dance class?" Kazuya asked.

                "Fine. Reserved. He's quiet, focused, never smiles. It's unnerving."

                "Hm."

                They all stood there in silence for a moment.

                "Well...I should go," Haruichi said, flushing, "Thank you for speaking with me. I am very concerned."

                "We'll see what we can do," Kuramochi offered, but everyone knew there was nothing to be done.

               

*

 

                Eijun didn't attend either of the shows for the fall concert. He spent the first night in his room, and the second night out with some friends he made in his biology class. It was good, he realized, hanging out with people that weren't part of the dance department. He was able to forget about all of his demons when he was out with them, even if he did not have much in common with them. True to form, however, Eijun made sure to text everyone who was in the show to wish them luck both nights, but otherwise remained quite separate.

                On the night of the second performance, Eijun was at a house party with his friends. It was dark with flashing lights, dizzying people, and a local dj, all in the basement of a ramshackle house. It was fun, though, and Eijun preoccupied himself with being the life of the party. He was the best dancer there and after awhile, people started to surround him or tried to dance with him. He loved the attention. He soaked it up.

                Within the first hour he had been offered secret stashes of booze, received six phone numbers, and danced with at least a dozen people.

                No wonder Mochi enjoyed going out so much. If you could dance at least decently, people loved it.

                When he stepped outside with his friend (Eijun needed some cool air and his friend needed a cigarette) he heard his phone go off. It was Mochi.

 

Yo asshole, where are you? We are all at the cast party. Whole school is here. You weren't in the dorms when we stopped home beforehand.

 

out w friends

 

Well bring them here or something it's an awesome party here I'll send you the address

 

nah this party i'm at is really awesome. i'll go to the next cast party.

 

Dude, what is up with you? You've been avoiding all of us. I know you're upset because you weren't cast but damn we all wanna see you.

 

i promise i'll go to the next one.

 

Miyuki wants you to be here.

 

                For some reason, Eijun's heart fluttered. Miyuki wanted him to be there? Or was Mochi just trying to butter him up?

 

i promise i'll hang out next time

 

                With that, Eijun put his phone on silent and slid it into his pocket. His friend was finishing up his cigarette, and they went inside to rejoin the party.

                Eijun had begun dancing again, but after about twenty minutes he spotted a familiar face. But no, it couldn't be...

                Eijun turned, and walked to the opposite side of the room, pushing past people. Just in case, it's best if he remained hidden. He walked up the basement stairs and back outside, where two people were making out on top of the hood of a car.

                Eijun wrinkled his nose, then walked over to group of guys playing beer pong on the porch. But before he made it all the way there, he felt a sharp tug on the neck of his shirt, and he almost fell backwards.

                "Wha--?"

                "Hey, moron," Mochi grinned viciously, "Knew I'd find you here."

                "The fuck? Are you stalking me? Why aren't you at the cast party?" Eijun asked in disbelief. What the hell was he doing here?

                "I know the people who live here. They texted me an hour or so ago asking if I knew an Eijun because, and I quote, 'he's a really rad dancer and super funny and we think he's a dance major like you'."

                Eijun pouted.

                "Well....I aim to please," he said sullenly, his cover blown.

                "Come on, idiot, you had fun here, let's go to the cast party," Mochi continued to grin, but his eyes flashed threateningly.

                "But I do not want to," Eijun said, enunciating every word as carefully as he could, letting his inner smartass take over.

                "Why not?"

                "I don't want to."

                "Ugh," Mochi looked at him with disdain, "You know, if this was just a party, I wouldn't care. But this isn't about the party. This is about something else, and I really need you to come otherwise we are all worried that you--"

                "Don't worry about me," Eijun said shortly, "I'm doing fine. I just...want to branch out a little, you know?"

                Kuramochi's face paled.

                "You're not thinking of switching majors, are you?" he asked quickly.

                "What? No!" Eijun scowled, "I'm just trying to meet new people and stuff."

                "Dude," Kuramochi sighed, "Just come on. Please. You can even bring your friends. Dancer parties are the best parties."

                "Fine," Eijun snapped, "I'll go see if they want to come."

                They did want to come. But Eijun wished that he hadn't agreed to go to the cast party given how quickly the night continued to spiral out of his control.

 

*

 

                Mochi had been gone awhile, and Kazuya was starting to get anxious. Was Sawamura really that adamant about staying away? Kazuya wouldn't lose Sawamura to any other major. He was meant to be a dancer, that much was evident. He'd do anything to keep the moron in the program, even if Sawamura hated him for it.

                Luckily, Mochi felt the same way.

                The party was fun, everyone was dancing and drinking and having a good time. Even Wakana was there. Ryo had come back to visit and was enjoying himself. He was telling everyone about post-grad life and of his adventures dancing for a company in Seattle. All that was missing was the fun-loving idiot everyone adored...

                Mochi walked in the front door, accompanied by Sawamura and three people Kazuya didn't recognize. Sawamura, for his part, beamed at everyone who swarmed him when he walked in the front door. He was so very likeable, how could people not be drawn in?

                "Ah, look what the cat dragged in," Kazuya smirked.

                "Oh, I think you know," Sawamura responded, still smiling, but his eyes were angry, "I have a feeling Mochi wasn't the only one who was responsible for dragging me here."

                Ah. Surprisingly apt. Okay, if Sawamura wanted to get sassy about the whole thing, Kazuya would happily oblige.

                "Wow, well done," Kazuya slow-clapped, "Very proud you've finally reached higher cognition."

                Sawamura would have normally yelled. Insulted Kazuya. Defended himself. But, much to Kazuya's dismay, Sawamura's eyes dulled and he sighed and walked away.

                What just happened?

                "Sawamura!" Haruno yelled, waving from the corner, "You came!"

                Kazuya watched as Sawamura altered his route to meet Haruno. He watched carefully as they exchanged jokes and laughs and chatted.

                Wakana suddenly sidled up next to Sawamura, leaning against him slightly, so that their arms were touching. Haruno's smile faltered, but she continued to tell whatever story she was telling. Oh this should be interesting, Kazuya thought sadistically, making his way closer.

                "...and, well, anyways, it was pretty funny," Haruno giggled.

                "Sounds like it!" Sawamura exclaimed. Wakana smiled rigidly.

                "What I don't understand," Wakana said, "Is why you went to the movies with him in the first place."

                Haruno shifted uncomfortably.

                "Well," she said, "He is a pre-med student, he's hardworking, and reasonably attractive. I thought I would give it a shot. I think," she added slyly, "That I now know what I'm looking for," she glanced at Sawamura, who was nodding at her, completely oblivious to the power play that he was--quite literally--in the middle of.

                "Oh. I see," Wakana narrowed her eyes, "Well, I can understand that feeling completely. I know that I want someone who's sweet but gritty, hardworking, handsome, a great dancer--"

                "--I didn't know you wanted a dancer!" Sawamura exclaimed, interrupting her. Kazuya grinned, ignoring the throbbing pain in his chest. What an absolute idiot. Kazuya heard a huff, and when he turned, he saw Mochi standing not too far away, looking at them--Wakana, specifically--with a pursed lip and red face. He was angry. He was jealous. He was sad. Kazuya understood how it felt, and a part of him wanted to say something, but Mochi walked off to the kitchen.

                "Yeah, I think a dancer would be nice," Wakana said, smiling at Sawamura gently. Haruno glared.

                It was odd, watching this. After all, Wakana and Haruno usually got along very well, and neither of them were in any way petty or unfair. But a little bit of alcohol and jealousy went a long way, especially when the object of the affection was so oblivious he couldn't give either one a sign. In fact, Kazuya's own jealousy was bubbling up inside of him, more unreasonable than theirs because at least they had a chance. They were both attractive, intelligent women. Kazuya had no chance. He never did, and he never would.

                "It's hard, isn't it?" said Ryosuke softly from behind Kazuya. He paused, then walked forward so they stood next to each other.

                "What is?" Kazuya swallowed, squeezing his beer can.

                "Knowing you never had a chance. Knowing you never stood a chance," Ryosuke said, "Knowing that the person you want will never want you in the same way," he smiled benignly, but his narrow gaze softly fell across the room, to where Kuramochi had exited the kitchen, another beer in hand, "It's hard."

                Understanding slowly drifted, like snow, over Kazuya. But it didn't make him feel any better. Not even remotely.

                "Yeah," he said finally, "It is."

                Ryosuke turned, and walked over to where his brother was giggling over his small glass of margarita. Kazuya turned back to the trio in front of him, but he must have missed something because Haruno stormed off, and Sawamura was looking at Wakana in confusion.

                "God, Eijun," Wakana said finally, looking tired, "You still have no idea, do you? Even after all this time?"

                "Uh....what?"

                Wakana smiled sadly.

                "Well, I guess not. And that means you don't have feelings for either of us, so..." she trailed away and by chance her eyes met Kazuya's and in that moment he saw a small shift in her gaze, as though she suddenly realized something, though he didn't know what. She finally smiled genuinely, honestly, "But I think I know now," and with that she gently pecked Sawamura on the cheek, who sputtered and went red, then walked away. But Kazuya saw the look on his face; Sawamura finally understood now, understood why Haruno and Wakana had cornered him, why they had been so touchy-feely with him and now he looked sad himself.

                Kazuya didn't feel like being at the party anymore, so he just sat on the couch next to Haruno, who also looked miserable, which was perfect because, really, it was just a couch for those people who were drawn to sunshine like an insect to lamplight, only to get zapped any time they tried to get too close. Sawamura remained where he had been, standing rigidly in the corner, not even drinking, just holding his beer in his hand and staring at the floor. Finally Kazuya couldn't take it anymore, take the tension, the loud music, the horrible throb rattling his ribcage, and he wanted to go home.

                Without saying a word, he got up and left.

                When he got back to the apartment, quiet and dark, Kazuya closed his bedroom door, feeling his lip start to tremble. Five minutes. He'd give himself five minutes, and that was it. Then he'd be done, he'd let it go.

                So he fell back in his bed and stared at the dark ceiling, his desk light the only thing on in the room. He hadn't cried in so long. Maybe he had never cried.

                The tears didn't flow so much as ooze out of his eyes; he didn't sob. That wasn't his way. He didn't even know how to sob. The tears slid down the hills of his cheekbones, dotting his pillowcase, shining his skin, slick and salty. The rest of his face remained composed, his breathing settled, but the throbbing in his chest remained constant.

                Six minutes later, if someone were to walk into his room, they'd see a darkened, hunched figure at his desk, jaw set, lips pursed, working on some homework despite the fact it was three in the morning, eyes dry and cold, calculating, detached.

 

*

 

                Eijun was an idiot. He had always known he wasn't very smart, but he had always thought he understood people pretty well.

                He didn't.

                The cast party had completely thrown him through a loop and he didn't know what to do. He spent much of his personal life having small, fleeting crushes that didn't really stick nor change how he behaved. His only girlfriend had been when he was sixteen and they had kissed and cuddled for weeks and everything was  fine until she slid her hand over his crotch and he panicked.

                Other than that isolated incident, he simply hadn't given much thought to romance or sex or love. It wasn't that he didn't desire it--he did--he just didn't really have the time or drive to do anything about it, which resulted in a lot of jerking off in odd places and reading a lot of shoujo manga (why couldn't they just be happy, damn it?!).

                The fact of the matter was, he had never thought of himself as particularly desirable. He didn't have low self-esteem or anything, it's just that he didn't think it was possible for someone to find him romantically or sexually appealing in any way because he didn't see himself as such. Maybe that's why he panicked so hard when his girlfriend all those years ago made her move. It was the first time he realized someone actually wanted him.

                And here he was three years later, and up until a few days ago, none the wiser. In one fell swoop he realized his ex girlfriend wasn't an isolated incident, that Haruno wanted him too, that she, somehow, found him endearing, attractive, maybe even sexy. What was even more surprising (especially given that she had seen Eijun during his awkward gangly phase) was that Wakana wanted him as well. And suddenly everything made sense; Haruno's blushing and constant touching, Wakana flushing, bubbly, after he asked her to prom, Haruno and Wakana's odd behavior towards each other...

                Well, luckily, at least that was over and done with. Eijun had been sheepish and worried when he saw them together the next day at the ice cream shop. But they smiled, waved him over, and they began talking about classes, the weather, their favorite shows and Eijun exhaled in relief because everything was back to normal.

                Well, almost everything.

                Despite not being involved in the situation in any way, Miyuki was acting weird. For the next week after the cast party, Miyuki continued to tease and hang out with Eijun, but he was distant. He no longer slung his arm around Eijun (in fact, he usually kept a distance between them now) nor would he hang out with Eijun if someone else wasn't around (Eijun wasn't completely stupid; he recognized this) and Eijun didn't know why. It was upsetting...more upsetting than Eijun ever thought it would be.

                Miyuki was his constant. In his ever-shifting world of school, dance, homework, and girls, Miyuki was always that rock, that solid object, never changing his snarky words or obnoxious laugh. But now there was a wall between them, and it affected Eijun deeply. He didn't even know it was possible for Miyuki to affect him so.

                Anyways, Miyuki's twenty-first birthday was coming up, and when Eijun asked him about it, Miyuki just shrugged.

                "I didn't do anything for my birthday the last few years, I don't see why I'd do anything now," he said.

                So Eijun went to Mochi and asked if he had plans for Miyuki's birthday.

                "Uh...no?" he said, "Miyuki doesn't celebrate his birthday. Why?"

                "I think we should throw a party for him!" Eijun said excitedly, "I think it would be fun!"

                "Pfft, he'd hate that, Sawamura," Kuramochi shook his head, "I mean, can you imagine the look on his face when we..." Mochi trailed away, a naughty glint in his eye, "On second thought, I think that is a fabulous idea. What do you need from me?"

                And so, Eijun planned. He rather enjoyed it. It kept him busy. He made a Facebook invite, careful to make sure Miyuki didn't get it, and invited the whole school of dance, then personally walked into the office of the professors and invited them as well. He was adamant that they keep it secret.

                So here he sat at his desk in his dorm, thinking about Wakana and Haruno and Miyuki, while wrapping Miyuki's birthday present. God, he wished he was good at wrapping.

                His mind wandered back to the cast party and wouldn't move on, so he finally stood up and walked to the bathroom. He stood in front of the mirror and scrutinized himself.

                He was tall and tan and freckled. Nothing new there. He had strong shoulders, he supposed, and narrow hips. He was in good shape. His golden eyes met their reflection. His mom loved his eyes. She said they were unusual in color. He had a nice jawline, and white straight teeth, and brown fluffy hair--that was in need of a trim, actually-- and thick eyelashes. He supposed he was attractive. Handsome even. But it was still odd to think other people thought so.

                Would Miyuki find him attractive?

                The second the thought entered his head, he quickly berated himself for even fathoming such a stupid question. Of course Miyuki wouldn't find him attractive. True, Miyuki had never talked about his sexuality before, but Eijun was pretty sure he was fantastically gay, or at least bisexual (it was obvious he had a massive crush on Rei). But was he even Miyuki's type? Probably not. Miyuki was intelligent and sarcastic and Jesus Christ he was hot as hell....

                Eijun swallowed.

                Do I like guys?

                Eijun wasn't sure. He had never been attracted to men before. But he had to admit, Miyuki was quite attractive. But that didn't necessarily mean anything, right? Eijun pouted, deep in thought. Could he imagine Miyuki naked and think it was--oh, yeah, there it was....just the upper half, though. Eijun briefly tried to imagine Miyuki's naked lower half but embarrassed himself so much he had to leave the bathroom and hide in his room.

                I can't think about this Eijun thought, smothering his own face with a pillow in silent humiliation.

 

*

 

                Everyone was acting really freaking weird. Kazuya got the distinct impression everyone knew something he didn't. His birthday had passed quietly, a few people wishing him the best on Facebook and in person, and the weekend was here at last. He kind of felt like going up to the bars for his first legal drink with a few of the seniors, but when he asked if they were free, they all said no. He felt a little disappointed. Kuramochi and Nori had several months before they were old enough, and during the day, many of the bartenders Mochi knew weren't working, so he wouldn't be able to drink.

                But maybe, at least, someone would want to grab dinner with him. He was about to text Nori when Kuramochi walked in the door.

                "Hey," Kazuya said looking up from his phone.

                "Hey," Kuramochi dropped his backpack on the floor and stretched, his joints crackling, "Wanna get some food?"

                Kazuya looked at him in surprise. Kuramochi never ate this early, and he almost always preferred delivery unless it was the diner.

                "Uh...sure. I really don't feel like the diner, though..."

                "Not the diner," Mochi grinned at him, "We should go somewhere where you can order an alcoholic beverage, my friend."

                Kazuya chuckled.

                "Fine."

                They ended up going to the Mexican restaurant next door to the thrift store where Kazuya worked. When it was time to order their drinks, Kazuya ordered a medium margarita.

                "No, man, no," Kuramochi shook his head, then he leaned, conspiratorially, to the waiter and said, "Get him the biggest margarita you got."

                Kazuya rolled his eyes. Well, it was his birthday weekend, after all. This was a nice way to spend it, right? 

                But when the waiter came back, he brought him the largest glass of margarita Kazuya had ever seen. Were those one of those decorative glasses that you filled with, like, pebbles and shit at craft stores? It was fucking huge, the bowl of it was the size of Kazuya's head.

                "Are...are you trying to get me to die of alcohol poisoning?" Kazuya asked quite seriously.

                "No," Kuramochi grinned, "Take your time. I'm in no rush. We still have food and stuff, and I don't mind chilling here awhile."

                Kazuya frowned.

                "But you hate waiting."

                "Not today. It's your birthday weekend," Mochi grinned, "Finish this margarita. You'll be able to brag to your grandchildren someday."

                Kazuya rolled his eyes, took out his phone, and snapped a picture of his margarita. He wanted photo proof that he did this.

                They chatted, and Kazuya drank, and their food arrived, and he drank some more.

                By the end of the meal, he hadn't even made it halfway.

                "For shame," Mochi shook his head, "And you call yourself a man."

                "Har har," Kazuya said, taking another large gulp, "There's just so much of it."

                "Well, we've got time," Mochi leaned back.

                "You keep saying that, what do you mean?"

                "We've got all weekend, bro. I'm gonna get you crunk."

                "Oh, Jesus."

                "The waitress likes you," Mochi grinned, "Maybe you can waggle your eyebrows a bit and get her to serve me a margarita too."

                Kazuya was feeling drunk enough that he smiled, waved the waitress over, smirked charmingly, and asked if she could bring another margarita over. She did.

                "I can't believe you actually did that," Mochi said in awe, "You must be drunk."

                Kazuya shrugged.

                "In all actuality, I don't think she's fond of me at all, she just doesn't give a shit," he laughed.

                The two of them drank but it took forever for them to finish their margaritas. After two hours, they stumbled out of the restaurant, laughing loudly. This is nice Kazuya thought through his drunk giddiness, I just wish Sawamura was here. He quickly filed that thought out of his brain before it would lower his mood.

                "Hold on, hold on," Kuramochi laughed, grabbing Kazuya's arm to keep him from continuing to walk, "Let me concentrate, I need to send this text...okay, onward."

                "Now that we're out and it's getting late, maybe we should just stay out," Kazuya said. He was in the mood for some fun.

                "Can we stop by the apartment first?"

                "Why?"

                "Because I need to, asshole, let's go."

                Kazuya laughed, and the two of them made their way back to the apartment. Kuramochi stopped outside the door.

                "What is it?"

                "I forgot my keys."

                "Oh, for chrissakes," Kazuya rolled his eyes, pulled out his keys, and unlocked the door--

                "SURPRISE!"

                Kazuya was pretty damn sure he pissed himself. Inside...was pretty much the entire school of dance. There were streamers and balloons and music and drinks and Kuramochi pushed him inside and immediately everyone swarmed him and he didn't understand why they were all here because nobody had ever cared about his birthday before and suddenly Rei came forward and gave him a hug and he felt himself flush and everyone was saying things to him and was that Kataoka in the corner but his eyes fell to one idiot standing by the kitchen watching everything with a goofy grin and his heart hammered.

                "Let me get you a drink!" Nori said excitedly, "What do you want?"

                "Uh...I dunno, do you have any wine?"

                "Yeah what kind?"

                "I'd ask if you had merlot, but no one ever has any merlot."

                "Actually, Eijun bought some because he knows you like it," Nori said, "I'll go get some!"

                Kazuya watched him go, taken aback. Sawamura? Did he do all of this? Of course he did, that idiot. Kazuya smiled, warmth spreading through his chest, and he felt that throbbing but this time it wasn't unpleasant. Fuck. Even when he tried to avoid the idiot he couldn't escape.

                Overcome with fondness, Kazuya walked over to Sawamura, who was making himself a screwdriver. He slid his arm over Sawamura's shoulders and whispered.

                "So you're the one behind all this," Kazuya was pleased to see the goosebumps rise on Sawamura's skin.

                "Yeah, well," Sawamura's face was flushing, so cute, "Happy birthday, you dick."

                Kazuya laughed, but didn't relinquish his hold, not even when Sawamura finished making his drink and turned his head to meet Kazuya's gaze. They were close. Sawamura grinned brilliantly.

                "Did you see the cake I made?"

                "No," Kazuya said, "You made a cake? Dear god, I hope it's edible."

                Sawamura elbowed Kazuya's side.

                "It's delicious! And Nori helped me. I put all kinds of rainbow sprinkles on it!" and he grabbed Kazuya's arm and dragged him back into the living room where the cake sat on a fold-out table in the corner, a safe distance away from all the dancing and flailing.

                The cake was still in the baking pan, but was frosted with white icing and it was, in fact, covered in an appalling amount of sprinkles. In painstaking, slightly crooked writing, read 'HAPPY BIRTHDAY KAZUYA'.

                "Thank you," Kazuya said suddenly, surprising himself with the gravity of his voice. Sawamura turned and looked at him.

                "You're welcome."

                "I just...no one ever..." Kazuya shifted uncomfortably. Before he could finish, Nori appeared with a glass of wine and Sawamura got pulled to the dance floor.

                Kazuya went around and chatted a bit and sipped at his wine, still drunk from his margarita. After a little while, someone proposed it was time to eat cake. Sawamura grabbed a box of candles and placed twenty-two candles on the cake.

                "Mura," Kazuya said, "I'm turning twenty-one, not twenty-two."

                "I know, but you always put on one extra for good luck!"

                "Oh."

                Sawamura lit all of the candles and someone hit the lights. What followed was probably the worst rendition of 'Happy Birthday' ever sung.

                "It is a good thing we are dancers and not singers," Furuya said seriously. Everyone laughed. Furuya didn't.

                "Make a wish and blow out the candles!" Kuramochi said, elbowing Kazuya.

                I wish to keep dancing for the rest of my life.

                The cake was, actually, pretty good, though Kazuya had a feeling that Nori was the reason behind this.

                When he finished, he felt a small tug on his arm, but he was a little drunk, so he fell a little against the offender.

                "Let's dance," they said, warm breath on his ear, and he glanced up at gold eyes pulling him to the dance floor.

                No one had turned the lights back on; it remained semi-dark, light from the kitchen bleeding into the room. Sawamura suddenly stopped walking, and Kazuya almost ran into him. Without thinking, he reached out and gently put his hands on Sawamura's hips to keep himself from smashing into him. Sawamura's left hand reached down and touched Kazuya's and Kazuya thought that he was going to pry his hands off, but he didn't. Instead, he linked his index finger with Kazuya's and gently tugged him a little farther into the crowd. Kazuya followed, his heart fluttering, but when Sawamura suddenly stopped again, this time turning to face him, Kazuya chickened out and lurched rather than put his hands on Sawamura's hips again. Sawamura gently let his finger slide from Kazuya's grasp.

                "Let's dance here," he said loudly over the music. Kazuya nodded dumbly, still staring at those eyes.

                They danced together, close, but not touching, and all Kazuya wanted to do was put his hands all over Sawamura. He was aware that he was staring, and he had a feeling Sawamura knew too, and why did Sawamura have such a nice ass?

                After awhile, Sawamura moved up against Kazuya and said in his ear, "I have a present for you. Would you like it?"

                Kazuya nodded, and Sawamura grabbed his hand and led him out of the living room and into the hallway, where there was a small line for the bathroom.

                "I put it in Mochi's room," Sawamura said, and the two of them went in and shut the door.

                Mochi's room was a wreck, of course, and they hopped over clothes and books and video game boxes. Sawamura bent down--Kazuya stared like the pervert he was--and picked up a package wrapped in red paper.

                "Happy birthday!" Sawamura beamed, shoving the present at Kazuya's chest.

                Kazuya unwrapped it and was met with bright pink cloth. He unfolded it and began to laugh.

                "Oh...oh my god!"

                "What?" Sawamura said defensively, "What? I thought it would be nice! Don't you like it?"

                Kazuya was laughing so hard he was crying.

                "I knew it, you don't like it," Sawamura said sadly, reaching to take the bright pink apron out of Kazuya's hands. Kazuya clutched the cloth to his chest.

                "No, really, I like it," he gasped, struggling to breathe, "I really do."

                "I thought you could wear it since you like to cook!" Sawamura said happily.

                "Hey!" there was pounding on the door, "You guys are in my room! You better be leaving room for Jesus in there!"

                "We're not doing anything!" Kazuya said, feeling the embarrassment ruin the moment.

                "HYAHAHA!"

               

*

 

                Eijun woke up in an incredibly good mood. The party had been a success. Everyone had a good time and Miyuki...Miyuki was back to normal. He even slung his arm over Eijun's shoulders again. And he liked his birthday present.

                He brushed his teeth, washed his face, and walked cheerfully to the apartment to clean up. He had promised Mochi he'd come by the next morning and clean up the mess. Besides, he was excited to see Miyuki again.

                Miyuki answered the door.

                "Oh, come in," he said weakly. He was very pale.

                "What's wrong with you?" Eijun asked.

                "Ha! He's hungover!" Kuramochi said from the couch, game controller in hand.

                "Ugh," Miyuki rubbed at his temple. He did kind of look like shit.

                "Well, I am here to clean up!" Eijun said brightly, looking around at the mess before him. Jesus. There was even some cake ground into the carpeting. Ugh.

                "Well get to it, champ," Miyuki said dully, "I'll be in bed."

                "Be sure to drink lots of water!" Eijun called after him. He turned to see Kuramochi smirking at him.

                "What?" he asked.

                "Nothing," Mochi looked away, smirk still in place, "Guess he might have a chance after all."

                Eijun didn't know what the hell he was talking about, so decided to set right to cleaning. He cleaned up all of the garbage, piling the garbage bags near the front door so he could take them to the dumpster, and began scrubbing down the kitchen. While he was vacuuming the living room, he felt his phone buzz in his pocket. Wakana had texted him.

 

Hey Eijun have you talked to Mochi? He was kind of odd yesterday at the party.

 

i'm at his apt right now. wut do u mean odd?

 

I don't know...he just wasn't being as talkative as usual

 

                Eijun rolled his eyes. You're asking why he's not flirting with you and it's because you admitted you had feelings for me at the cast party. Honestly, these people. He was hesitant to mention the cast party, though, because it was kind of awkward. But he really didn't have a choice.

 

maybe it has to do with the cast party

 

Yeah but he doesn't have to ignore me.

 

maybe he's just trying to get over u

 

Have you seen him with any other girls?

 

no, y?

 

Just curious.

 

                Eijun put his phone away, then grabbed as many of the garbage bags he could carry. He felt a little bad for Kuramochi, but he understood Wakana had a right to like who she liked.

                When he finished cleaning up, he walked home (clearly Miyuki was in no fit state to hang out), and worked on homework the rest of the day. The faculty audition was tomorrow, and Eijun was only going to take it as a class to get the extra practice in, so he didn't bother with going to bed early or nervously prepping.

                After his classes the next day, Eijun sat on the floor of the dance building's hallway and ate his dinner. The audition was in an hour, and he didn't really feel like going home.

                "Eating before an audition, Sawamura? And a hamburger, no less!"

                Eijun rolled his eyes, recognizing that nasally laugh anywhere.

                "I'm hungry. I haven't had dinner yet."

                "Still, Eijun," Haruichi said, coming up behind Miyuki, "You shouldn't eat so much before you audition."

                Eijun shrugged and continued eating.

                "I'm not nervous or anything. I'm just taking this as a class."

                "You're not trying to get in?"

                "Nope."

                "Seriously?" Miyuki said through gritted teeth, "You really don't care?"

                "Not particularly. I guess you could say I care about eating more."

                "You're still filling out availability and wearing a number, right?" Haruichi asked worriedly.

                "Eh."

                "Yes," Miyuki said angrily, "You are."

                "Yeah, yeah, sure," Eijun said, waving his hand dismissively.

                Miyuki glared at him a moment, then snatched the hamburger from Eijun's hands and threw it in the garbage.

                "HEY!" Eijun jumped to his feet, "What the hell, Miyuki?!"

                "I'll buy you food after this," he snapped, "And you ate half of it, so you'll have energy to dance. Get in the studio and warm up. Now."

                Eijun gaped at him. The audacity.            

                "You're not my mother!" he said fiercely.

                Miyuki turned on his heel, dropped his bag on the bench, then walked into the studio.

                "Can you believe that guy?!" Eijun rounded on Haruichi.

                "Just get in the studio, Eijun," he said wearily.

                "Why? It's not like I'm going to get cast anyway," Eijun snapped. Haruichi sighed, then made Eijun fill out his availability and take a number. The professors and the guest artist the university brought in introduced themselves and explained what they were looking for. Eijun tuned out all of it. He didn't want to listen and start to care.

                "Hello, my apologies," Rei said, coming in, "I had a flat tire. I'm glad I could make it. You all did introductions?"

                "Yes," Kataoka said stiffly.

                "Excellent, I'll go then. Okay, guys, I'm looking for a cast of about ten people. I'm not going to audition a phrase. I'm just going to watch the audition and choose that way."

                There were murmurs among the students. This was new.

                "Let's begin, then," Kataoka said as Rei sat up in the chairs.

                Despite everything, despite his nonchalance, Eijun felt his heart rate quicken. He still wanted to get cast, even though he knew he wouldn't. Maybe it was a good thing Miyuki tossed out the rest of his burger.

                The audition wasn't too bad. Eijun was still struggling with choreography but he was, like last time, continuing to get better at faking it. The guest artist's work, though, was incredibly difficult and Eijun stumbled through the whole thing.

                "The cast list will be up tomorrow," Kataoka said, turning and walking out the door.

                "I, however, already have my list," Rei said, holding up a notepad, "I'll read my cast now. The rehearsal times will be posted tomorrow on the cast list."

                Eijun turned and began walking away.

                "Where are you going?" Haruichi whispered, grabbing his arm with an alarming amount of strength.

                "Packing up. I'd like to shower before that asshole buys me dinner."

                "Wait a moment. Don't you want to see if your name gets called?"

                "It won't," Eijun said, and he started to walk again, but Haruichi glared, his bangs sweeping to the side, and a very intimidating eye met his. Eijun froze. Okay, maybe he could wait a few minutes.

                "Ahem," Rei held up her list, "Kazuya Miyuki, Norifumi Kawakami, Shinji Kanemaru, Sachiko Umemoto, Eijun Sawamura..."

                It felt as though a large wave crashed through Eijun's body. Suddenly his vision went a little blurry and he was quite certain he was having a heart attack. He took a deep breath, steadied himself, and focused his gaze on Rei's hand, too afraid to look up and meet anyone's gaze. Had he heard properly? Probably not. He had wanted it so badly, his brain had tricked him.

                "Okay," Rei said, looking up, "I'd ask that everyone but my cast please leave."

                Eijun hesitated. He had surely heard his name right? But what if he made it up and stayed? Everyone would make fun of him! A hand on his shoulder brought him back to earth.

                "Good job, Eijun," Haruichi said with a proud smile, then he, Furuya, Kuramochi, and a bunch of others left the studio.

                Eijun smelled coffee and spice and he felt Miyuki sidle up next to him.

                "We are definitely getting dinner after this," Miyuki said lowly, grinning.

                "Okay, everyone, like I said, rehearsal times will be posted tomorrow morning, and these rehearsals are mandatory. If you need to miss a rehearsal you better have a damned good reason to do so, otherwise I'll take you out of the piece, so be sure to rest up during winter break. Rehearsals start as soon as you get back. My idea is inspired by a trip to London I had and the beautiful busyness I had witnessed there. I'll give you more details at rehearsal. Thank you all!"

                Eijun realized his mouth had been ajar this whole time, and he hastily closed it.

                "You don't seem very happy for someone who was just cast in a faculty piece," Miyuki teased, throwing an arm over him.

                "I...I think I'm still trying to process it," Eijun said, looking up at Miyuki and breaking into the biggest grin he had ever felt himself have.

 

*

 

                Sawamura asked Kazuya if he wanted to come to his house for winter break. Kazuya declined. Sawamura had done so much for him already. Besides, Kazuya belonged here. He had an apartment, food, and he'd normally have a job (but the thrift shop closed with the university's winter break; not enough business). He was all set.

                However, after a week of quiet snow and sleepy town, Kazuya felt the oddest impulse; he wanted to go home. So after a day of Christmas shopping, he sat down to a steaming mug of coffee in his apartment and stared at his phone. He saw his Dad in his contacts. He hesitated.

                The snow was falling quite heavily now. Kazuya glanced out the window and appreciated its beauty. A small family who lived down the hall from him were trudging through the parking lot carrying bundles of what was most probably Christmas goodies. He sighed, then glanced at his small bag of Christmas gifts. He only ever had to buy something for his father, but this year he decided to buy something for Sawamura as well, since last year he had been surprised with a gift. Maybe Sawamura wouldn't get him a gift this year because Kazuya didn't have one for him last year, but Kazuya wanted to have something just in case. Besides, the mittens were cute and bright like the little idiot. And warm.

               

hey dad i think i want to come home for christmas, is there any time you can pick me up?

 

                Kazuya hit send before he could think twice. He waited. He waited five minutes. He waited thirty. Finally, he got up and poured himself another cup of coffee. He waited some more. He pulled out a book of dance essays. He read half of one, then checked his phone. Nothing. So he finished reading, went to the bathroom, poured himself another cup of coffee and pulled up Netflix. His phone buzzed.

               

I can pick you up tomorrow at 10 - Dad

 

                Kazuya rolled his eyes. His Dad always signed his text messages. He didn't seem to understand that the contact name was at the top of the message. Or maybe he did know that and liked doing it. Weird.

                Kazuya didn't really know his father very well. When his Dad had visited him in the summer, they had a good time, but his father always steered the conversation towards Kazuya; asking him about classes, friends, good places to eat, etc. He never talked about himself, and Kazuya had never thought to ask.

                Odd.

 

k thanks.

 

                He'd ask his dad how he was doing tomorrow.

 

*

 

                Eijun had all of his presents ready except for Wakana and Miyuki. They were hard to shop or craft for, he noticed. He had already made Wakana dozens of knick knacks over the years. He wanted to do something new. As for Miyuki, Eijun wasn't sure he could top the apron. But finally he settled on buying an oven mitt. That was kitchen-y, right? He wanted to find a pink one to match Miyuki's apron, but they didn't have the right shade, so he picked up a green one. Poor Miyuki was going to look like a watermelon. Oh well.

                He eventually decided on fingerless gloves for Wakana. They were cute, and he knew she didn't like wearing things on her hands, so hopefully the fingerlessness would work for her.

                Miyuki had, interestingly enough, decided on going home for the holidays, which relieved Eijun. The image of Miyuki alone on Christmas was very sad to him. He hoped he was having a good time. Miyuki did text him occasionally, but it was impossible to get any information out of him.

                When the holidays were done and over and everyone was back in school, Eijun hunted Miyuki down in the dance building's hall.

                "Oi, idiot, I thought you'd hunt me down sooner," he said cockily, "Have something for me?"

                "Hmph. Maybe not anymore, with that attitude!"

                "Ha! Yeah right, you wouldn't skip out on a gift for your beloved upperclassman, would you?"

                "Ugh, get off!"

                "No."

                "Here."

                Miyuki eyed the box with interest. Eijun had picked out Santa Clause wrapping paper. It was shiny.

                "An...oven mitt," he said, his mouth forming a small, almost private, smile.

                Eijun beamed. Good. He liked it.

                "I....actually....have something for you," Miyuki said shyly, his cheeks rosy.

                "Wait...really?"

                "Yeah, moron, here!" Miyuki frowned and handed him a small parcel wrapped in newspaper.

                "MITTENS!" Eijun yelled excitedly. Miyuki winced.

                "I'm glad you're so enthusiastic," he said.

                "YOU'RE THE BEST, MIYUKI!" Eijun slipped them on. They were striped and knit and super warm!

                "Jesus, they're just mittens," Miyuki was bright red now, and he was looking away.

                "THEY'RE THE BEST MITTENS!"

                "Pfft."

                "Let's go to rehearsal, now, Miyuki!" Eijun kept his mittens on and scooped up his backpack; they had Rei's rehearsal and Eijun was ridiculously excited. Miyuki grinned and followed him to the studio. Most of the cast was already there, and Rei was sitting in a chair writing in a notebook.

                Eijun and Miyuki sat next to Kanemaru to stretch.

                "HELLO, HOW ARE YOU ON THIS FINE DAY?" Eijun asked loudly.

                "Fine," Kanemaru narrowed his eyes, "Are you deaf? Why do you always yell?"

                Eijun ignored him; he was in a good mood.

                "Okay, everyone," Rei said, "Let's get started. Like I said before break, this piece is inspired by the busy streets of London. I'm imagining lots of intros and exits. Frantic, quick movement. Moments of interaction blended with solo moments or moving independently of one another. Let's play."

                She tossed her notebook on the chair and stood. Everyone walked out onto the space.

                "Let us all start with this simple base phrase I've made. Eijun take your mittens off please. Now let's go!"

 

*

 

                Being in another piece with Sawamura was the highlight of Kazuya's semester. And it warmed his heart every time he saw the bundle of energy wearing those striped mittens. Stupid, handsome moron.

                Sawamura was actually doing very well in Rei's piece. Kazuya could tell she liked Sawamura a lot. His performance quality was getting better every time, and Kazuya was proud. He knew who he wanted to cast for his Junior piece...

                The day of the faculty concert arrived, and everyone was excited. Mochi's high school friend even came down to see him, and he was nervous because of it.

                "Mochi, calm down," Kazuya said, steam-pressing one of his costumes.

                "I can't," Kuramochi was lying prone on the floor, arm over his eyes, "He's the only friend of mine who has ever come to see me from high school."

                "Is he one of your punk friends?" Kazuya smirked.

                Kuramochi lifted his arm off of his face high enough to give Kazuya a nasty look.

                "Hey guys! I'm in this dressing room with you!" Sawamura grinned, dropping his bag in the corner.

                "Hey," Kazuya and Mochi said in unison.

                "Warm up is in fifteen minutes," Kazuya said, "You might want to change out of those jeans."

                "Yeah, yeah, yeah..." Sawamura rolled his eyes, and pulled his pants off. Kazuya quickly turned his back to him and continued to press his costume.

                Zono came in carrying his bag and dumped it on the table.

                "Yo," he said, "When's warmup again?"

                Kazuya rolled his eyes. Honestly did no one read the tech schedule? They knew when to come, why were they so damn confused? Warmup was always the first thing they did. Idiots.

                "Fifteen minutes," Mochi said from the floor. Zono gave him a curious look, but didn't ask.

                "I can't find my pants!" Sawamura cried.

                Kazuya swiftly turned to berate the moron but froze when he got an eyeful of Sawamura's bare, perfect, pristine ass...he was wearing nothing but a dance belt and a tee, and was rummaging frantically through his bag. Please, Lord, let me dream of this later, Kazuya thought frantically, before turning back around. Mochi knew exactly what was going on in his mind and gave him an even more disgusted look than before.

                "Really?" he mouthed. Kazuya ignored him.

                Sawamura eventually found his pants, and they all made their way to the stage for company warmup. Kazuya taped up his second toe, which had split, then did a few jumping jacks while he waited for the rest of the cast to drop off their things and get in the space.

                The performance went well. It was a bit of a blur for Kazuya, as he was in three pieces, one of which was a quick-change. When they were finished, everyone gathered to strike the legs and cyc.

                "I just can't wait 'till the cast party," Mochi grinned, "My friend is gonna have the best time."

                Kazuya rolled his eyes, holding the scaffolding still while Haruno untied the curtains. Mochi's friend was, in fact, a bit of a punk, but a handsome one. He had short, bleached hair and a few piercings. He was a little skinny, but he had big hazel eyes, and attractive stubble.

                "Yeah, whatever, what's your friend's name?" Kazuya asked, glancing up to make sure Haruno was still doing okay.

                "Avery," Kuramochi lifted an eyebrow, "Why?"

                "Uh...because I was curious and he's going to be hanging out with us tonight?" Kazuya answered, confused by Mochi's attitude.

                "Oh. Okay. Good," Mochi exhaled in relief, "He was straight-up telling me how hot you were, so I'm relieved to hear the feeling's not mutual."

                This piqued Kazuya's interest.

                "Oh? He thinks I'm hot, huh?" Kazuya felt the nasty grin before it actually spread across his face.

                "Ugh, you smug bastard, I shouldn't have said anything," Mochi rolled his eyes, "Avery is just a bit of a douche, so I'm just saying I'm glad you--"

                "Youichi!" yelled their technical director yelled, "Get over here and help Eijun fold this leg!"

                "Yessir!"

                Hmm. It had been a long time since Kazuya had really thought about people finding him attractive. He got a lot of attention from guys and girls on a regular basis, but being explicitly told that Avery thought he was hot was very flattering. And it made Kazuya feel a little less shitty about the Sawamura situation. So he was still desirable; just not desirable to the person he wanted to be desirable for.

 

*

 

                "Idiot," Miyuki said to Eijun as they sat pregaming at the apartment. Mochi's friend Avery was there, whom Eijun didn't care for, and he and Miyuki, who was eating a pudding cup, were sitting on the couch, "Idiot, how would you like to be in my Junior piece?"

                Eijun almost dropped the sub sandwich he just had delivered. He gaped.

                "You want me?!"

                "Yeah, moron."

                "YEAH I'D LOVE TO THANK YOU I WILL NOT LET YOU DOWN!" Eijun yelled, spilling lettuce everywhere.

                "He's full of energy," Avery noted.

                "Oh, you have no idea," Miyuki rolled his eyes, eating a spoonful of pudding.

                Eijun didn't like how close Avery was sitting to Miyuki. There was a whole couch, damn it, why was he hoarding Miyuki's space like that?

                "I have a lot of energy too," Avery grinned, side-eyeing Miyuki rather boldly. Miyuki looked at him in surprise for a moment, then smirked.

                "Is that so?"

                "Yep. Lots of stamina."

                Ugh. Seriously? Did they think Eijun was stupid? He knew what was going on here. He had half a mind to rejoin Mochi and Haruichi in the kitchen (they were getting drinks for everyone), but he did not want to leave the two of them alone together. So he swallowed his discomfort along with the ham and cheese in his sandwich and shot a look at Avery. He tried not to think about the night when he and Miyuki were close on that couch..

                Mochi came out with a few cans of beer. Eijun noticed a glare he, too, shot at Avery, who discreetly scooted a few inches away from Miyuki.

                "Cheers, assholes," Kuramochi said, holding up his can of beer as Haruichi joined them with a mixed drink he made for himself, "To a show well done!"

                They played some music and for awhile Eijun forgot about Avery while he and Haruichi talked about the dynamics of the show; which pieces they thought were the most engaging, and the theories the professors had behind each of the works. He eventually glanced over to see Avery once again very close to Miyuki, eyeing him like a piece of meat, and leaning in as though he were sharing secrets. Miyuki was leaning slightly away, as though he wasn't completely comfortable, but he was smirking and--very obviously--flirting back.

                Didn't Miyuki see that Avery was an absolute trashbag? Mochi thought so himself!

                "Hey!" Eijun said loudly, disrupting the vibe of the room, "Let's head to the cast party! Down the hatch, let's go!"

                This had the intended effect; Avery stood up from the couch, and went to the bathroom before they left. Miyuki chugged the rest of his beer, saw Eijun glaring at him, then winked.

                What a goddamn handsome idiot.

                "Hey, Miyuki," Eijun quickly walked over to him and lowered his voice, "Watch out for Avery, okay? He's a major d--"

                "--delight?" Avery came up behind Eijun and propped an arm on his shoulder and leaned in casually, "Thanks, man."

                Miyuki's eyes narrowed, but he said nothing, and walked away.

                "Bruh," Avery said to Eijun, "Don't worry; I'm not gonna fuck with your friend, okay?"

                "Okay," Eijun said, not believing a word.

                As soon as they arrived at the cast party, Wakana ran up to them.

                "Hey, Wak--" Eijun began.

                "Hey, Mochi!" she said, "Perfect timing! I need a partner for flip cup."

                Kuramochi looked a little taken aback, but Eijun was proud to see he gathered himself pretty quickly.

                "Oh! Uh, yeah, sure! I'm a beast at flip cup!"

                Wakana grinned, then turned and gave Eijun a hug.

                "Hey, Eijun! You can join us if you want but you'll have to wait a few rounds for an opening!"

                "No, no...you two have fun," Eijun said, trying to keep his eye on Miyuki and Avery.

                He followed them around, trying to stay with them, but they were so drawn to one another that he kept getting pushed to the back, shadowing them and trying to take part in their conversation awkwardly. Finally, they got their drinks and stood in a corner, talking. Eijun had gotten separated by being swept up in a group of his fellow class cheering when they saw he had arrived. By the time he broke free, he knew it was too late to rejoin Miyuki and Avery without it being painfully awkward. So he went into the kitchen, poured an angry shot of cheap whiskey, downed it without even batting an eye, then did it again.

                "Damn, Sawamura," Kanemaru laughed, eating some vodka gummy bears, "You're going hard tonight!"

                Eijun gave him a fierce look that must have been uncharacteristically intimidating, because Kanemaru backed away so that he could leave the narrow kitchen.

                Stupid Miyuki not taking his own well-being into account. It was ruining Eijun's good time. Miyuki was murmuring into Avery's ear now. Eijun was determined to have a good damn time. He started dancing. He tried not to think of how nice Miyuki's breath felt on his own ear and now Avery got to feel it too. He smiled and laughed at Haruichi's joke, but Avery had his hands on Miyuki's hips and Miyuki saucily pushed the hands away, but with a smirk and a suggestive comment. Eijun was feeling nauseous. He looked over and saw Kuramochi was completely distracted with flip cup, Wakana playfully bumping against his arm.

                "Looks like Miyuki is getting lucky tonight," Eijun heard a senior say with a laugh.

                Was it normal to want to murder everyone? Was Eijun a sociopath?

                "I need to go to the bathroom," Eijun muttered to Haruichi, who was drunk and giggly and dancing with Furuya.

                The muffled sounds of the party sounded satisfyingly distant to him. He stood at the sink, feeling angry and also inexplicably sad. He looked up at himself in the mirror. He wished he was cooler-looking. He felt like crap, and he looked like crap. Why couldn't Miyuki like him instead?

                Then it all hit Eijun like a spiked gauntlet to the face. I want Miyuki. He staggered, a little drunk but enlightened, Holy shit I actually want Miyuki. Eijun looked down at his hands, then up at the mirror. He had feelings for Miyuki. That's why...woah. So many things made sense.

                But Miyuki didn't want him.

                If the first realization hit him like a spiked gauntlet, this one hit him like a semi...a spiked semi. And it was fucking miserable. Eijun felt tears in his eyes, but he hastily wiped them on the back of his sleeves. Wasn't Miyuki staring at him when they were dancing at his birthday party? Surely that means he's interested, right? Eijun thought, starting to pace the bathroom, ignoring the gross sticky sounds his shoes made against the filthy tile. Maybe it didn't necessarily mean Miyuki was interested. Eijun had planned the whole party and surprised him. Maybe he was just grateful, fond even, of the sophomore who cared enough to put so much effort into making his birthday special. The more Eijun thought about this, the more sense it made that Miyuki just thought Eijun was a funny, loudmouthed idiot who was fun to be around. And Miyuki did care about him; it just wasn't in the way Eijun wanted him to.

                "I want him to..." Eijun began saying out loud to himself, I want him to want me too.

                There was a loud banging on the bathroom door.

                "YO HURRY UP THERE'S A LINE OUT HERE!"

                "Sorry!" Eijun said, quickly reaching for the door and yanking it open to see Sachiko tapping her foot.

                "It's fine," she said, pushing him out of the way, "Just move, I gotta go!"

                Eijun rejoined the party, but when he glanced around for Avery and Miyuki, he didn't see them. Oh no.

                They were probably outside, like, making out or something.

                No. Eijun would not let that happen.

                He quickly wrenched open the front door. The only person outside was a senior smoking a cigarette. He closed it again, then headed to the back door. A few people, including Zono, were chilling next to the coolers outside.

                "Hey," Eijun said, "Have you seen Miyuki?"

                Zono shook his head.

                "Has anyone seen Miyuki?" Eijun asked desperately once he was back inside. People shook their heads.

                "He left with that leather-jacket guy," Furuya said, making Eijun jump. He hadn't known he had been standing so close.

                "Left?!" a dread greater than Eijun had ever known was crawling up his insides, "Left where?!"

                Furuya shrugged.

                "Probably back to Miyuki's."

                Fuck.

                Eijun yanked out his phone, calmed himself down, and with as much control as he could muster, sent a casual-sounding text.

               

hey miyuki where r u? did u leave the party?

 

yeah, dont wait up

 

                No. No, no, no. A thousand times no.

 

aww that sucks. wish u would have stayed! it's lots of fun!

 

                Eijun waited, staring at his phone, but he knew Miyuki was otherwise preoccupied and wouldn't answer him back. Pfft. Otherwise preoccupied. He knew exactly what they were doing, and the thought that Avery was probably touching him, undressing him, his hands running all of those parts of Miyuki Eijun wanted to feel was...really sad, actually.

                He didn't even feel angry anymore.

                He left. He didn't want to stay at the party anymore. He'd just go home and wallow.

                The freezing evening air was less awful with the mittens Miyuki got him. As he walked in the cold dark he glanced down at his mittened hands, and pain shot through his chest. Keep it together, Eijun, he thought desperately as he felt tears in his eyes, you don't want your face to get chapped. Cry when you get home.

                He passed by Miyuki's apartment building on his way home. He paused and looked at the windows. The lights weren't on. He continued walking, cursing himself over and over and over and over again for falling for someone who was clearly too good for him. Miyuki was gorgeous, incredibly so, and despite his harsh personality, he had soft edges if you got to know him. He was hardworking, diligent, took dance seriously, and was incredibly talented...Eijun had yet to find another dancer that captivated him so.

                And what was Eijun? A freckled, loud idiot who was mediocre at dance and terrible with organization. It was a miracle he was getting through the program at all. The only thing he had going for him was his skill in choreography. That was it.

                Eijun was crying now, the icy wind cutting into the streaks on his cheeks cleanly but brutally. He was always so confident...until he wasn't. That's how he always was. A man of extremes. Most of the time he was on top of the world, working hard, a stupid determination, never knowing when to quit. He was naturally cheerful and optimistic. This was his natural state. Even when he knew he needed to get better, he'd plug forward, his confidence radiating through every pore. But then something would happen once in awhile that would completely shatter everything. It was rare. But this year had proven to be a bitch.

                I'll be okay, he thought, looking up from his shoes. He was almost home, now. His eyes burned. I'll be okay. And I hope Miyuki will be, too. And if he's not, I swear I will beat the everloving piss out of that little fuckhead Avery.

 

*

 

                Kazuya didn't want to get out of bed. He was glad it was a Saturday. That meant he could stay in bed all day for two days in a row. He felt tired. He felt numb.

                Avery had left early in the morning. He had to make it back home in time for his niece's birthday party. He had crawled out of Kazuya's bed at around seven-thirty, stumbling around the dark naked, trying to find his clothes.

                He gave Kazuya a quick peck on the lips before he walked out the door. He left no contact information. Kazuya didn't want it.

                He was a little surprised by his own actions last night. Kazuya loved flirting and teasing, but it had never led to anything remotely intimate before. Until Avery. And he was a little alarmed at how readily he dove into the experience, especially because it was his first time having sex.

                But the sex wasn't what was bothering him.

                It was the fact that the entire time he and Avery were going at it, he wasn't in the moment. He wasn't enjoying it for what it was. He was trying to find something. Or feel something. He didn't know specifically. He didn't want to know. And this was new for him. He disliked abstraction outside of art. He pushed his feelings down, and kept things simple. But the sex with Avery had not been simple.

                Regardless, Kazuya was done thinking about it. It was done and over with, and the sex hadn't actually been bad, so he'd just pick up the pieces, build himself back up, and tell everyone to fuck off.

                He actually hadn't left his bedroom once. Not even to pee. He was worried he'd run into Mochi. And then what? He was a grown man. He could make his own decisions.  But he didn't want Kuramochi to look at him in that way he sometimes did; anger and disgust mixed with pity. It was the pity he hated the most. Kuramochi would know that it wasn't just fun casual sex. Kuramochi would know.

                And Sawamura. When Sawamura texted him, Kazuya had almost stopped then and there. After all, he said he wanted him back at the party. But what was happening with Avery felt good. It felt...satisfying. He was wanted. He was needed.

                Kazuya wasn't dumb enough to believe Sawamura didn't know that he slept with Avery. He just hoped he wouldn't judge him for it. He hoped he wouldn't look at him with that pity.

                "I'm done thinking about this," he muttered to himself, burying himself in his blankets.

 

*

 

                Eijun gave it a day, then stopped by the apartment on Sunday without warning. Kuramochi answered.

                "Hey," Eijun said.

                "Hey. Come in."

                The apartment was quiet, which was odd considering Mochi always blared his video games. Miyuki was nowhere to be seen.

                "He's in his room," Mochi said softly, reading Eijun's mind, "He has only come out to go to the bathroom and get water. He did make himself a bag of popcorn, so at least he's eaten something. Yesterday he did leave the apartment for a few hours, but came back and went straight to his room afterwards."

                "Why is he so upset? Did Avery do something to him or is it something else?" Eijun asked, keeping his voice low.

                "I don't know. I don't think Avery, like, forced him to do anything. Miyuki never does anything he doesn't want to do..." Mochi trailed away.

                "Then why is he so upset?"

                "I dunno," Mochi ran his hands through his hair, "I think because he brought Avery home for the wrong reasons."

                Eijun was confused, but he let Mochi continue.

                "It's like...Miyuki never does anything impulsively. Ever. He always plans. And when he does act on something, it's usually after he's given it a great deal of thought. I think part of it is that his own impulsiveness has scared him a little. He doesn't like feeling out of control, especially with his own actions."

                Eijun nodded. Kuramochi may be abrasive and rough around the edges, but no one was more thoughtful and perceptive. He knew Kuramochi spent more time then he'd like to admit on observing his friends.

                "But I think the reason he was so impulsive is because of winter break," Kuramochi sighed.

                "Wait, what happened winter break?" Eijun felt his heart shudder, "He said he was home and was having a good time!"

                Kuramochi's eyes widened.

                "He didn't tell you? I thought he would have told you. You two are pretty close."

                "Tell me what?" Eijun took a step towards Mochi, who crossed his arms.

                "Fuck I wouldn't have mentioned it if I had known."

                "Just tell me, please."

                "Ugh, it's just..." Mochi glanced in the direction of Miyuki's bedroom door, then grabbed Eijun's elbow and dragged him to the kitchen, which was a little farther away, "It's just," he whispered, "That Miyuki texted his dad to pick him up, but the next day, after he had packed and gotten all ready, his dad messaged him saying he couldn't pick Miyuki up after all because of a shipment of something for his dad's factory. He then said he'd probably not be home on Christmas anyway, but that if Miyuki still wanted to come home, he'd be glad to pick him up the next day. And as you can imagine, Miyuki just told him to forget the whole thing," Mochi rubbed his forehead, "The fact he even texted me afterwards showed how upset he was. He made it lighthearted and sardonic, but usually Miyuki never texts me personal things."

                A heavy, almost wetlike feeling sunk into Eijun's body, cold and unnerving. Miyuki had hidden the truth from him. He had texted Eijun throughout winter, keeping his life ambiguous, and Eijun had just assumed he was at his father's house like Miyuki had said.

                "I think that fucked him up pretty badly," Kuramochi put his hands in his sweatpants pocket, and leaned against the refrigerator.

                "Well, yeah. He finally opens up to his dad, and...." Eijun felt extremely protective of Miyuki. And the fact that Miyuki, who seemed indestructible, was so...broken...both worried and upset him.

                "So, yeah, I don't think it has much to do with Avery. But I was worried something weird might happen," Mochi grit his teeth, "I should have known better. I feel partially responsible. Miyuki has been acting a little off ever since winter, and I knew Avery was going to try something. That's why I was so adamant about keeping an eye on them..." he shifted, then continued, "But I got distracted with flip cup. And when I first invited him down, I told him to not fuck with any of my friends. And he still did it anyway. And I even warned Miyuki about Avery beforehand. He didn't listen."

                "It's not your fault," Eijun said honestly, "Miyuki is a twenty-one year old man. Vulnerable or no, he didn't care to take the advice. I tried to warn him, too."

                It was the harsh reality of the situation. And Eijun realized that oftentimes some of the worst things that happened to people are self-inflicted. Not always, of course, but far too often.

                "Yeah, well, it's done and over with now, but we have to deal with the aftermath and I'm worried," Mochi said.

                "Me too."

                Kuramochi watched Eijun for a moment with an odd look on his face.

                "You aren't...mad at him are you?" he asked finally.

                "What?" Eijun was surprised, "No! Well, I guess I'm angry that he didn't listen to our advice, but not at him in general. Why?"

                Mochi just shrugged, then walked back into the living room.

                Eijun suddenly had an idea. He walked into the living room, where Kuramochi had loaded a video game (the volume was so low it was hardly hearable). He stood there a moment, made eye contact with Mochi, and with a grin, he puffed his chest out and yelled, "HI MOCHI! HAPPY SUNDAY TO YOU! WHERE IS MIYUKI I WANNA PLAY MARIO KART!"

                Kuramochi paled, and jumped to his feet frantically to shush Eijun. Eijun brushed him off.

                "I WANNA KICK HIS ASS IN RAINBOW ROAD. AND YOUR ASS, TOO, FOR THAT MATTER," Eijun was inching closer to Miyuki's door, "I HAVE BEEN PRACTICING AND I THINK I HAVE THE CHOPS TO DEFEAT YOU STUPID UPPERCLASSMEN!"

                "Sawamura," Kuramochi whispered desperately, "I tried that already. He won't come out!"

                The door on Miyuki's door clicked, and Eijun gave a triumphant grin at Mochi, whose jaw dropped. Miyuki cracked the door opened and peered out. He didn't have his glasses on, and had bags under his eyes. His hair was all over the place. He looked like absolute shit.

                "AH! GOOD MORNING MIYUKI!" Eijun turned to Miyuki's door, "I HAVE COME TO KICK YOUR ASS AT MARIO KART! And, also," Eijun feigned sheepishness, "To ask about your junior piece."

                Miyuki squinted at him, obviously not wearing contacts.

                "Oh, so that's why you're here, you greedy little shit," Miyuki grumbled, and for a moment Eijun thought he might have made a mistake, then--oh!--there it was, a tiny smirk, "Fine, fine. I'll play with you guys, but I need to shower and stuff, okay? I smell like shit."

                "OF COURSE, SIR!" Eijun saluted him, and Miyuki shuffled out the door and into the bathroom. Eijun happily plopped onto the couch.

                "How...how did you...what the fuck just...I've tried everything to get him out of his room!" Kuramochi gaped, pointing at Eijun in disbelief, "And you're...you're such an idiot! How?!"

                Eijun shrugged, his grin almost fiery.

                He and Mochi turned up the volume and played a few rounds of Mario Kart. Miyuki finally walked into the room, ruffling his wet hair with a towel, his glasses tucked into one of his sweatpants pockets. He grinned when he saw how badly Eijun was losing.

                "Yeah, 'come to kick our asses'," he laughed, "You must be trying to lull us into a false sense of security, eh, Sawamura?"

                "SHUT UP YOU BASTARD YOU SHALL SEE I WILL WIN!" Eijun bristled, hiding how closely he was monitoring Miyuki's reactions. Eijun purposely sat in the middle of the couch, so that he'd get to sit next to Miyuki.

                "Want anything to drink?" Miyuki asked, walking into the kitchen.

                "Water, please!" Eijun called, wincing as he fell off a ledge in-game.

                Miyuki came back into the room with two glasses of water, and handed one to Eijun, who was pouting because he had lost. When Miyuki sat down, Eijun was overwhelmed by how good he smelled after that shower, his damp hair fresh and clean and--now was not the time to think about this. Eijun gulped his water down in an effort to regain composure. He was on a mission: to save Miyuki and cheer him up.

                They played several rounds of Mario Kart, and Eijun lost fantastically in every single round. Miyuki laughed obnoxiously at Eijun's frustrations, and Kuramochi high-fived him over Eijun's head.

                "WE SHOULD SWITCH TO SMASH INSTEAD. I'M GOOD AT THAT ONE!" Eijun yelled.

                "Nope! Too bad, you chose Mario Kart," Miyuki threw his arm over Eijun's shoulder, "If you give up now you can leave here with some dignity."

                "NEVER."

                "HYAHAHA!" Mochi cackled.

                It was almost dinnertime, and they chatted, insulted, and teased each other. Eijun wanted to scoot as close to Miyuki as possible, but Miyuki was in a vulnerable place right now, so he kept his butt firmly rooted to the middle of the couch. It seemed Miyuki was always magnetizing, even when he was hurting. When he went up to go to the bathroom, Eijun and Kuramochi exchanged small smiles. Miyuki actually seemed quite chipper, and it appeared to be from a genuine place.

                They heard the toilet flushed and Miyuki walked back into the room, clutching his stomach.

                "I'm hungry and we have nothing in the fridge," he said.

                "Let's order food, then," Kuramochi said, picking up his phone, "I have the number for almost every restaurant here."

                "Wait, seriously?" Eijun asked.

                "Yeah, he's a glutton," Miyuki rolled his eyes.

                "Pizza? Mediterranean? Chinese? What are we feeling, here?" Kuramochi scrolled through his contacts.

                "It all sounds good!" Eijun sunk from the couch to the floor dramatically.

                "Mediterranean," Miyuki said.

                "Yeah but we will have to go walk over to pick it up they don't deliver," Mochi groaned.

                 "Or," Miyuki grinned wickedly, "One of us can pick them up with a car."

                Kurmaochi frowned. He was the only one with methods of transport; he had his small, rusty car and his motorcycle.

                "That's not fair! Make Sawamura go; he can borrow my car."

                "I don't want to go!" Eijun whined from the floor.

                "And I refuse to go," Miyuki continued to grin, "After all, I'm letting you use my parking space for your motorcycle."

                "You wouldn't use it anyway, you don't have a car!" Kuramochi said angrily, "But fine, I'll go. Assholes..."

                When they ordered their food and Kuramochi left, Eijun took the opportunity to ask Miyuki about his junior piece. Miyuki chuckled, amused.

                "Excited, Saw-a-mur-a?"

                Eijun pouted.

                "Don't look so sour," Miyuki chuckled some more, "I don't really know what the overall goal of the piece is yet, but I have some movement phrases in my head, so I thought I'd start with that."

                "Oh," Eijun nodded, and accidentally scooted closer to Miyuki out of habit, but it was too late to move away without it being obvious, "Who else is in the piece?"

                "Despite working on his own junior piece, Mochi agreed to be in it. I also have Nori, Furuya, Sachiko, Haruichi, and you."

                Eijun nodded. It sounded like a solid cast.

                "There's going to be a lot of floorwork," Miyuki said after a moment.

                "Cool."

                "....no idea about sound, yet, though," he crossed his arms, "But maybe some violin or cello...nothing too overwhelming."

                Miyuki and Eijun continued to talk, and as they did so, it seemed like Miyuki was solidifying ideas. He asked Eijun his opinions or thoughts on certain things, and by the time Mochi came back with the food, Miyuki was thoughtful but cheery, feeling as though he had a better idea of what he wanted to do for his first rehearsal, and Eijun was relieved.

                The three of them stayed up late, eating and playing video games. Eijun didn't leave until around one, which was much later than he would have liked given he had class the next day, but if it meant keeping Miyuki happy, he didn't care.

 

*

 

                Kazuya was, oddly enough, doing quite well. He felt lighter than he had in a long time. The promise of being able to create a piece with full costume and lighting excited him, and even after his rather tumultuous weekend, Sunday with Sawamura and Mochi had been incredibly fun.

                His good mood was, in large part, due to seeing Sawamura even more than he usually did. The school of dance was small, and as he and Sawamura were cast in Rei's piece, they saw each other every day. But now Eijun was in his own piece, and Kazuya was able to study his body in detail, to see his quirks, his natural methods of movement up close, and help sculpt him and the rest of his dancers into something he wanted.

                Sawamura was working hard, harder than the rest of the dancers (Kazuya was irritated at Furuya, who often fell asleep in rehearsal when Kazuya was working on a part he wasn't in). He asked a lot of questions and kept the mood in rehearsal light, even when Kazuya was getting irate or when the dancers felt stressed.

                Kazuya was grateful he was there.

                "Thank you for being here," Kazuya had said at the first rehearsal, "I've been told it's hard to understand what I want, sometimes, so don't be afraid to ask questions and stuff."

                Sawamura took that advice and ran with it. Oddly enough, though, Sawamura had a tendency to know exactly what Kazuya wanted, even when the rest of the dancers didn't. Kazuya was starting to pick up on the fact that the questions Sawamura asked weren't so much for his own benefit as it was to everyone else's.

                The spring senior audition came and went, and though Sawamura didn't get cast, he didn't appear to be incredibly upset over it. Kazuya liked to think this was because he was in his piece, but it was selfish indulgence, and it was more likely that Sawamura had learned to mentally prepare himself for failure as well as success. He was growing, that was for sure.

                When the junior show came, Kazuya sat in the audience, and watched all of his hard work come together. It had, interestingly, turned into a piece exploring relationships. Not romantic ones, necessarily, but he played with groupings and duets and solos, togetherness and not; and the result was very satisfying for Kazuya, though, he was never completely satisfied with anything he made.

                And when Sawamura's solo came, Kazuya had felt such immense pride at how polished he looked. And the fire in those eyes...Kazuya was so gone. He was so lost. He knew, now, especially after the whole Avery thing that no one would give him satisfaction like Sawamura did.

                After the show, Kazuya went back to the apartment and did some last-minute tidying up before everyone arrived for the cast party. Sawamura was the first person to arrive, and helped Kazuya set everything up while Mochi was out getting booze. As they brushed their shoulders against each other in the narrow kitchen, casually talking while wiping down this or setting up that, Kazuya felt a glow inside his chest at how close he had let Sawamura get to him; how domestic and casual this was. Kazuya hardly even let Kuramochi mess with his kitchen, and he lived there. But this kid wasn't even paying rent, and he was opening the fridge, putting things in and taking things out like it was the most natural thing in the world, rearranging pots and pans and lying out cups while laughing and joking and bumping into the counter and Kazuya and it was absolutely perfect.

                Even if it's just this Kazuya thought, aching, wanting so badly to touch that freckled skin, kiss those eyelids, Even if it's always just this, I'll be okay. He doesn't have to love me. I don't want to share my kitchen with anyone else.

               

Chapter Text

                After the close of his sophomore year, Eijun went home for a few weeks, but he had, at the advice of Miyuki, applied for a summer intensive with a well-known dance company. Miyuki said it would help with his technique and performance quality; Eijun wasn't so sure about that, but any extra dancing was good dancing.

                The bad thing was, it was incredibly expensive. Eijun's parents paid him for his extensive farmwork ever since high school (the work he was doing exceeded simple chores), but he had blown through most of his money by the end of the school year, and his family had banned him from working on the farm after he sprained his ankle last year. This intensive was, when all was said and done, going to end up costing him a few thousand dollars. Eijun approached his parents about it, but it was his grandfather that came forward.

                "I have savings. If you need this to further your education, I'll give you the money. You don't have to pay me back. Just graduate, damn it, so I can die in peace!" he said loudly (his grandfather didn't seem to understand you didn't need to shout into a cell phone to be heard).

                So Eijun applied and subleased a room near the intensive in the basement of a house.

                This is the first time I've ever been out of state, Eijun thought nervously, as he read his confirmation email giving him the details of the intensive. It was...so official. When he researched the company, he felt a little sick. He was doing this. He was going to spend two weeks, six days a week, training from eight in the morning until four-thirty in the afternoon.

                So after being home just long enough to enjoy his father's cooking and his mother's pampering, he climbed into his dad's old Toyota, armed with his suitcase, and set his phone's GPS to the address of the house he was staying in. His family waved goodbye to him as he drove off.

                As he cruised the highway, blasting music, and enjoying the cloudless blue arch above him, he couldn't help but think of how he was paralleling his father, but in such a different way; at twenty years old, they had both packed up to travel to a new city. But for Eijun, it was temporary, and he was building a strong foundation for his career.

                Two hours later, and he pulled into the drive of a large, white house. He left his suitcase in the car, climbed out, and stretched, all of his joints crackling thankfully at their extension. The person who had rented their room out to him for the next two weeks had left their keys with their roommate, so he grabbed his water bottle, adjusted his sunglasses, then walked up the stairs to the front door.

                "Hi, you must be Eijun!" a short, stout girl smiled, opening the door.

                "Uh...hi, yeah, that's me!" he smiled.

                "Oh, come in! I'll show you around. The other roommates are out, but they'll be home in an hour or so."

                "Oh, okay," he hesitantly pulled off his sunglasses and almost tripped over a cat as he walked in.

                "Oh, that is Ra," she explained, gesturing to the gray ball of fluff, "You're not allergic, are you?"

                "No," Eijun hung his sunglasses on his t-shirt collar, "And your roommate Michelle warned me you guys had a cat."

                "Ah, good! Yes, she's a great cat. I'm Melanie, by the way," she reached out her hand. He took it.

                "Good to meet you," he gave a nod, and glanced at his surroundings.

                This house was nice. Big, new, and clearly rented by girls. He was surprised they had rented to a guy in the first place, but he wasn't going to worry about it. He had Facebook creeped Michelle, the girl renting her basement room, and found out she was from a wealthy family; her tan skin, blonde hair, and expensive-looking clothing stuck out to him. He was surprised she was even bothering subletting at all. But it looked safe, and he wasn't going to ask questions.

                She showed him around, and every part of the house was immaculate and white and shiny. She took him down to the basement, where he'd have his own bathroom (it was huge and brand-new). The bedroom itself was enormous, with a queen-size bed and dresser and large desk. Jesus. This was better than his digs back home.

                "I...wow. I mean," he scratched the back of his head--damn it he had been hanging around Miyuki too much--and cleared his throat, "I knew I was supposed to bring queen-size bedding and that I'd get a bathroom to myself, but damn."

                She grinned.

                "Yeah, we have a pretty nice place here."

                Awkward silence.

                "Well," he said finally, "I'll go grab my suitcase, then."

                "You don't look like a dancer," she said suddenly, cocking her head to the side.

                Eijun had no response to that remark. How did someone look or not look like a dancer?

                "Um...yeah," he said, laughing awkwardly.

                "Like...you seem really...straight."

                Wow. Eijun blinked at her, then turned and walked upstairs. This was going to be a phenomenal two weeks, wasn't it?

 

*

 

                Eijun got up bright and early. Registration was from seven to eight, and he wanted to get there right when it opened. He had driven the path yesterday to make sure he knew where he was going, and he set off, hands in his pockets in the chilly morning air, his sneakers bouncing against the concrete, his backpack's keychains clinking as he moved.

                It was only a ten-minute walk, but finding the correct entrance was difficult. The building was large, and he eventually found where he needed to go, but there was no one around. Had he messed up? Was this not where registration was?

                "Hello there," said a young woman with a clipboard, "Are you registering for the intensive?"

                "Yeah," he said in relief.

                "You're the first one here! Hmm...let me guess," she squinted at her clipboard, "Mei Narumiya?"

                He shook his head.

                "Hm...Eijun?"

                "Yep!"

                "Ah, second try is pretty good, right? Let me check you off. Here are a few release forms for you to sign. Then you can just sit in that room over there for orientation."

                Eijun signed them, then walked into the room, plopping on an empty couch. He took out his phone.

               

and u said i'd get lost!

 

                He grinned to himself, then hit send. Miyuki had teased him saying that 'a country bumpkin' like him wouldn't be able to 'navigate city streets'. Pfft.

 

i take it you found it. good for you. i was just worried because the city isnt the forest, country boy.

 

HA u were worried about me!

 

how is it?

 

i dunno. i just did registration.

               

Eijun hit send, but looked up as two guys walked into the room. One of them sauntered in rather confidently. The other smiled at Eijun.

                "Hey."

                Eijun slid his phone back into his bag.

                "Hey. I'm Eijun."

                "I'm Itsuki!" he shook Eijun's hand.

                The blonde kid who sauntered in sat down in a cushy chair, and sized Eijun up.

                "I'm Mei," he said finally.

                "Hi."

                "Do you dance at university?" Mei asked, continuing to scrutinize him. Itsuki rolled his eyes, and sat on the opposite end of the couch as Eijun.

                "Yeah. You?"

                "Yep."

                Mei continued to ask a lot of questions; about Eijun's dance history, his training, what university he went to, and the like. Eijun found out that Mei and Itsuki both went to the same university in Pennsylvania, and Eijun was impressed, as he had heard that university's dance program was incredibly well-structured and considered very good at churning out great dancers.

                More and more dancers continued to file in, about thirty in all, and Eijun chatted with many of them. Eventually, the two instructors, retired  members of the company, came in and introduced themselves. They gave a brief rundown of how the next two weeks were to go: yoga in the morning the first week, pilates in the morning the second week. Then they would go to their ballet class, lunch, modern class, then rehearsal/repertory work. Eijun was brimming with excitement. This was the kind of extreme training he needed to become better. He understood now why Miyuki pushed for him to go.

                Since they had orientation, they skipped yoga, and went straight to ballet. Now, if Eijun had thought ballet at his university was difficult, he was not even close to being ready to handle this. Halfway through barre, he noticed Mei was keeping an eye on him, and Eijun shifted to hypergear. He didn't want to lose out to a smarmy know-it-all and was that a Lululemon shirt he was wearing? Eijun didn't even know what Lululemon was until he saw Haruichi gazing fondly at the website a few months ago. The clothes were super expensive, and Eijun didn't understand why a t-shirt wouldn't do and how come Mei knew this combination so well? The instructor had taught it to them in, like, five seconds!

                Modern was actually pretty good, but it was a more balletic and technique-driven style of modern than Eijun was used to, and it kicked his butt. Mei was phenomenal. Eijun gaped at him. He hadn't even known someone could take the choreography they were given and phrase it so creatively. He wanted to do that. He wanted to do that better and in his own way.

                Repertory was long and boring to Eijun. This was their chance to learn pieces that the company had danced, and show them at an informal showing at the end of the intensive. Eijun wasn't interested in their choreography. He found it a little stifling. It was the opposite of how his body wanted to move. But he had grown wiser these past few years of dancing; it was important to challenge your body and learn new things...it shaped you into a more versatile, resilient, and well-rounded dancer.

                He was sore. Incredibly so. And tired. He had never danced all day before. After rehearsal, he grabbed a tennis ball from his backpack, and laid back on it, allowing it to press into his trapezius. God, he wasn't going to be able to walk tomorrow, let alone dance. He glanced over to Mei, who was hanging back as well, but it was to take a selfie. Eijun watched, amused, as Mei took several from different angles and poses, evidently unsatisfied with each, until he settled on a wink and a peace sign. What a diva.

                "Do you have an Instagram?" Mei said, walking over, not looking up from his phone.

                "Yeah," Eijun said, closing his eyes as he shifted, the tennis ball digging into a new area. God his body was sore.

                "Hmm...oh, here you are," Mei said. Eijun didn't ask how he found him.

                "You're really good," Eijun said, moving the tennis ball to his other shoulder, "Your technique is amazing!"

                Mei smirked confidently, reminding Eijun alarmingly of Miyuki.

                "Yeah, I am, aren't I?"

                Ah, humility. It's good to find people still had it in this world. But Eijun didn't want to admit that he thought Mei was kinda cool.

                "Uh...yeah. I'm here to be the best dancer I can be!" Eijun said, sitting up in his excitement, his tennis ball rolling away. He dove for it, and then began massaging his calves.

                "Well, then, you should care less what the teachers think," Mei said, putting his hands on his hips, "Because I noticed you do fine until an instructor comes near you. Then you freeze up. Don't worry about them. You won't be impressive until you let your fear go," he yawned, stretching, "I'm going home now. Follow me on Instagram. I followed you."

                Eijun thought about Mei's advice as he walked home. He had never thought about it before, but it was true; when people watched him in class, he panicked. It never happened during rehearsals, choreography class, or performance, but because Eijun was so self-conscious about his technique, he self-destructed during his modern and ballet classes.

                He was going to let his fear go.

 

*

 

                Though Eijun was sore, by the third or fourth day his body started to adjust to the intense training schedule. The second he took Mei's advice he felt less pressure to be 'good'. And he realized he no longer cared whether someone thought he was good or not; he belonged here, he was now a trained dancer, and he just wanted to learn as much as he could.

                He started getting compliments from his intensive instructors. When he went home he felt more in tune with his body than he ever did.

                And when he went back to school, as a junior, he now had class in the early morning with the seniors...including Miyuki.

                And on his first day back, he didn't have trouble remembering choreography. And he didn't have trouble phrasing it.

 

*

 

                Sawamura was amazing. Kazuya couldn't even believe it. The first few days back, and it was like night and day. Even other people were commenting about it.

                "He's...gotten really good," Kanemaru said in astonishment to Kuramochi and Kazuya after a few weeks back.

                "I know," Mochi nodded, as they watched Sawamura tear up Kataoka's choreography in an across the floor combination. Even Kataoka looked impressed in his own way.

                "I knew all he needed was a good kick in the ass," Kazuya said proudly.

                After class, Kazuya walked over to the sweaty Sawamura, who was rolling on some fresh deodorant.

                "Hey, Saw-a-mur-a," he said lowly, startling the object of his pride.

                "Ugh!" Sawamura threw his hands in the air, "Why are you so creepy?!"

                Kazuya grinned, soaking up Sawamura's blush.

                "Let's get lunch," he said.

                "Sorry," Sawamura said, "I have another class. But you wanna stop by my apartment for dinner? Haruichi is making some kind of crock-pot thing."

                "Okay," Kazuya smiled, watching as Sawamura threw his backpack over his shoulder. He wanted to compliment Sawamura, but was half-afraid he might jinx the whole thing...so for now, he kept his mouth shut.

                Sawamura and Haruichi had gotten an apartment this year, and it was actually very nice, with a balcony and everything. Kazuya was starting to spend most of his time there, which he figured was fair considering Sawamura and Haruichi had practically lived at his apartment last year. What was cool, though, was that he and Mochi had an apartment exactly two floors up from Sawamura. He would oftentimes roll out of bed for his morning coffee on Sunday mornings, put on house shoes, grab his steaming mug and take the elevator down to Sawamura's floor. It was still warm outside, so he and Sawamura would sit on the balcony, enjoying the morning calm, Kazuya with his coffee and Sawamura with his water. Sometimes Haruichi would make them pancakes.

                It was absolute bliss, but there was one minor irritation.

                Sawamura spent a lot of time gushing about a dancer he met at the intensive named Mei. He showed Kazuya Instagram videos and, sure enough, the kid was really, really good. But it was evident that he was an insufferable diva, always uploading videos of him doing tricks rather than actual dancing. Kazuya would often roll his eyes.

                It also bothered Kazuya that Mei was very good looking, and apparently took a liking to Kazuya's little idiot. He had, with some clever social finagling, discovered that Sawamura and Mei often texted each other.

                But Kazuya eventually let it roll off his back. After all, Sawamura was obviously straight. Besides, Mei lived in Pennsylvania and was planning on moving to Paris, where he was already adored by a dance company. Mei would never be able to have morning coffee with Sawamura, or eat Chinese carry-out with him while watching scary movies, or hit up the bars (Mochi and Kazuya introduced Sawamura to this...Mochi had become friends with most of the people working at the bars, so they didn't even bother to card Sawamura at all) and watch Sawamura giggle over lemon drops.

                This year was off to an amazing start, and Kazuya was on cloud nine...and he could tell all of his friends, including Sawamura, were too.

                Still, there remained the ever-looming fact that this was his last year. Kazuya would be graduating. He'd be moving on with his life. And it upset him. Ever since Sawamura came to this school, Kazuya had more fun than he ever had in his life. It was no secret he didn't have any friends in elementary or high school, but between Sawamura, Kuramochi, Haruichi, and Nori, it seemed like he always had someone to hang out with, someone to do homework with, someone to just be with, and it astonished him how much he actually enjoyed being with people, because he had never enjoyed it before.

               

*

 

                Eijun auditioned for the fall senior concert, and was cast in Miyuki's piece. Eijun was so happy he started crying, ran all the way home, banged on Miyuki's door, and when the door opened, Eijun launched himself inside, latching in a tearful hug.

                "Uh...dude, what are you doing?" Kuramochi asked in disgust, arms up as though he was afraid of contamination.

                "Eh?" Eijun looked up, realized his mistake, then pushed Kuramochi off, "Ugh, not you, where's Miyuki?"

                "Oh, yeah, well fuck you too," Kuramochi smirked, giving Eijun a hard kick in the ass.

                Eijun rubbed his sore behind, then looked up to see Miyuki sitting in a big cushy armchair, textbook on his lap, watching the whole thing. Eijun and Miyuki stared at each other a moment, then Miyuki burst out laughing. Eijun flushed scarlet.

                "You came all this way to give me a hug, Eijun? I'm so touched! Man, taking an elevator two full floors just to come here to see me..." he cackled.

                Eijun huffed.

                "I actually ran all the way from the dance building!"

                This was not the right thing to say. Miyuki and Kuramochi looked at each other, then both started to cackle, Miyuki harder than before. Eijun fumed, feeling embarrassed.

                "Stop laughing!" he yelled. They cackled more.

                "I-oh my god-why-why did you-ahahahahaha!" Miyuki dropped his textbook and clutched his abdomen.

                "Because you cast me in your piece and I want you to know I am grateful for the opportunity!" Eijun puffed out his chest.

                Kuramochi continued to laugh, but Miyuki sobered instantly, wiping tears from his eyes.

                "Oh?" he cocked his head to the side, looking incredibly curious, "Well, you earned that place."

                Eijun suddenly started crying again. Kuramochi stopped laughing and through Eijun's tears he could see Kuramochi and Miyuki exchange bewildered looks. He didn't care if they thought he was stupid; he was so grateful to them both, but especially Miyuki. He walked over to where Miyuki sat, leaned over, and in a haze of tears and the smell of coffee and Miyuki, he wrapped his arms awkwardly around Miyuki's neck. Miyuki stiffened, but Eijun didn't want to let go.

                "I won't let you down," Eijun said, realizing his face was accidentally in Miyuki's neck--god no wonder he could smell him so perfectly--and he could swear the hum of his own voice set goosebumps on Miyuki's skin.

                An awkward pat on his back reminded him of his situation, and he hastily retreated, standing back straight, face red. He stared at his shoes.

                "You won't let me down, I know you won't. You never do," he heard Miyuki say. He looked up. Miyuki's face was also flushed, but he was looking squarely at Eijun and was being as clear as he had ever been.

                Eijun felt a flood of emotion fill his chest and all he wanted to do was kiss Miyuki stupid, but he knew that was dumb. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Kuramochi quietly trying to exit the room.

                "Well...I'm eager to see what you come up with!" Eijun beamed, lightening the heavy situation, and making Miyuki's eyes widen, "I have class soon, so I must go, but Haruichi is making tomato soup and grilled cheese for dinner because he knows it's one of my favorites, so you both should bring some beer and come down!"

                Eijun turned quickly, then ran out, his heart pounding. Miyuki's scent was still in his nose, and he could barely function; he needed to get out before he drowned in it, ricocheting in his skull, fantasies of other ways he could give goosebumps to Miyuki sending chills up his spine and desire in his chest.

 

*

 

                "God, you two are infuriating," Kuramochi snapped as soon as Sawamura fled the apartment.

                "Hey, don't blame me, he's the one that burst in here and--"

                "Not that," he hissed, "Can't you even see what's going on here?"

                Kazuya looked at Kuramochi in confusion. What did he mean? What was he talking about?

                "You don't have to pine forever, you know!" he yelled. Kazuya was incredibly confused, "Oh, for chrissakes, I'm out of here," Mochi ran his fingers through his hair, "Wakana wants to get lunch anyways, and I can't stand to be around such stupidity," he shoved his wallet in his pocket, then slammed the door behind him, leaving Kazuya even more confused. What was going on today?
                Kazuya shook his head and picked up his textbook. It was just as well, anyway. Wakana had finally seemed to find out that Kuramochi wasn't just an obnoxious, loud-mouthed punk. They were hanging out more often, now, and Mochi seemed pretty sure that it was just a friend thing, but Kazuya was starting to suspect Wakana wanted something more. He hoped so, anyway. He wanted Mochi to have some happiness.

                He did go down to Sawamura's later that evening for dinner, armed with a case of beer. Kuramochi was still out with Wakana, so it was just the two of them plus Haruichi. After eating and drinking a little bit, Kazuya and Sawamura were getting stir crazy, and decided to go up to the bars for the evening.

                Kazuya couldn't help but feel an odd anxiety bubble in his stomach; he and Sawamura had never gone up to the bars without Mochi...would they recognize Sawamura and let him in?

                As they walked into town he gave Sawamura a playful nudge.

                "So," he said, "You ran all the way from the dance building to my apartment to give me a hug, huh?"

                "ARGH," Sawamura yanked at his own hair, "Will you ever let that go?!"

                "Nope!" Kazuya grinned cheerfully. Then, feeling daring, he added flirtatiously, "Did you like it?"

                "What?"

                "Did you like hugging me?" Kazuya smiled cockily, "You little suck-up."

                "I WASN'T SUCKING UP! UGH!"

                Kazuya laughed.

                He needn't have worried about the doorman; they recognized them both immediately and let them in. It was crowded, and Kazuya gently pushed Sawamura in front of him, mostly as an excuse to touch the small of his back. Sawamura let him.

                Sawamura bought them both drinks, and they stood in the loud bar. Sawamura bopped happily, his drink sloshing dangerously, but Kazuya just laughed. He loved it when Sawamura was so energized he couldn't be still.             

                "Kazuya!" he said loudly over the music, "Let's dance!"

                This was intriguing. Sawamura had stopped calling him by his first name two years ago, but Kazuya didn't mind.

                "Okay, then, Eijun," he grinned, watching Eijun flush. Oh, I'm going to always call him Eijun now.

                They danced, not touching, of course, but close to each other. Kazuya wanted to touch. Badly. He settled for leaning into Eijun's ear with teasing murmurs. Eijun giggled or flushed or swore at Kazuya, which gave Kazuya great personal satisfaction. God, he loved flirting with Eijun. The poor idiot didn't even know it.

                "Hey," Eijun tugged him close and it was his breath in Kazuya's ear, "Let's step outside; it's hot in here."

                Kazuya followed Eijun to the back patio, where it was much quieter without the music, but there were still a lot of people around. Eijun and Kazuya found a relatively empty corner to stand. The stood in silence for a moment, sipping their drinks, before Eijun finally spoke.

                "Can I ask you a personal question?"

                Kazuya lowered the drink from his lips at Eijun's serious tone.

                "Yeah."

                "You...ah," Eijun stared at his drink, then up at the sky, then to Kazuya's face, "Do you...you're gay, right?"

                Kazuya wasn't sure what he was expecting, but it wasn't that. He almost laughed.

                "Uh, not exactly, no," he said with a smirk, "I find I'm attracted to both men and women."

                Eijun nodded, brow furrowed. Kazuya lifted an eyebrow.

                "Why do you ask?"

                "N-no reason!"

                "Eijun..."

                "I was just curious. I knew you liked guys, I was just curious, is all," Eijun took a rather large swig of his drink. What a little oddball.

                "Okay..."

                "So you're...bisexual?"

                "I guess so."

                "Hmm....I think....I think I might be too."

                Kazuya choked on his drink and coughed and sputtered his beer all over his front. He hastily brushed the front of his flannel shirt off, then gaped at Eijun, who was looking a little sheepish.

                "You...you think you're...wait, what?" surely Kazuya had lost his hearing. Either that, or someone dropped a hallucinogen into his beer.

                "I think I like guys and girls," Eijun curled around himself slightly, and suddenly Kazuya realized that this was a very important moment, and he needed to get over his own shock.

                "Oh, um, cool," he nodded, not knowing what to say. It wasn't easy to come to terms, Kazuya knew that, but he quite literally couldn't come up with what to say. So he awkwardly reached out and gave Eijun a pat on the shoulder. It apparently worked, because Eijun expanded again, then smiled shyly at Kazuya.

                "I never liked guys before...I never knew I could be attracted to them before...I just...recently I just..." he trailed away, "I just kind of realized."

                Kazuya nodded, understanding. He had always been attracted to both, but he could understand that someone else may have a different experience. But there was a pounding in his chest, a very selfish pounding in his chest, and he didn't want to admit how happy this conversation was making him.

                Then an awful, awful realization came to him, almost causing him to spit out his beer again. Recently? Eijun just discovered this recently?

                Fucking Mei.

                Now that he knew Eijun liked men, Kazuya was sure as hell not going to lose him to some blonde-haired showoff in Pennsylvania. I'm not going to lose him now that I actually--maybe--have a chance.

                "So...when did you discover this?" Kazuya asked casually, but stared intently at Eijun.

                "Uh," Eijun flushed, "I dunno...I just...it was kind of gradual. Towards the end of last year."

                "Before the summer?"

                Eijun looked at him in surprise.

                "Uh...yeah, I guess?"

                Oh thank god.

                "But you know," Eijun said, furrowing his brow, "I think maybe, deep down, I always kinda knew I liked guys too, because I wasn't all that shocked when I finally found out."

                Kazuya nodded, but he was barely paying attention anymore. All that mattered was the Eijun liked men. He could work with this.

                Kazuya parted with Eijun in the elevator, and when he finally collapsed into bed and put his glasses on his nightstand he made a pact with himself. I'm going to woo the everloving shit out of Eijun, so help me...

 

*

 

                Eijun left Kazuya in the elevator. It felt refreshing to call him by his first name again. And it, for some reason, felt natural. Eijun brushed his teeth, then snuggled into his bed. It was funny. Just a few months ago he had been too embarrassed to imagine Kazuya any more than shirtless, and yet here he was imagining Kazuya in all kinds of...compromising situations.

                Realizing he was totally gay for Kazuya was very liberating.

                He closed his eyes and let the images come to him like they had more and more frequently lately. Kazuya's hard, naked body, his strong thighs, his lips warm and soft and his messy hair free from his beanie and caught in Eijun's fists. Hips grinding, teeth biting, sending Eijun to another plane entirely, lips and tongue trailing down, down, down...

                Eijun opened his eyes, turned off his nightstand light, then slid his hand down, down, down...

 

*

 

                Kazuya was incredibly stressed, and it was only about a month into the semester. He had started rehearsals for his piece (he had a large cast...ten people in total) and while he had so many options with so many people he found difficulty in handling it: he had never worked with such a large cast before. Luckily, he knew exactly what his concept was, and he was so far managing decently, even if he was sure his blood pressure was through the roof.

                The faculty wasn't helping; they pushed deadlines and required constant updates in the form of papers, showings, and peer-to-peer feedback. As an underclassman, Kazuya had seen how stressed the seniors were, but he had never given it much thought. Being stressed came with the territory of being a senior, he wasn't going to lose any sleep over it.

                Well, now he was.

                What's more, he was having trouble keeping the piece within the time limit they had. He was already pushing the ten-minute marker, and when he went to talk with Rei about going past that, she asked if it was feasible for him to keep it short.

                "We just like to keep our concerts no more than sixty minutes," she said, adjusting her glasses, "And we'd like to not have to split your class in half to make two separate concerts."

                Kazuya didn't know how to find his finish within the time frame they set. He didn't want to rush things. He rather liked where it was going. As it was, he already had more choreography to show than any other senior, and while some phrases were a little rough and would probably be revamped or scratched, it wasn't bad.

                So he decided to not worry about the time limit for the sake of his sanity. I'll just finish the damn piece, then worry about the details, he thought miserably, dressed in a nice button-down shirt and khakis. He held his choreography notebook and laptop in his hand. He was calm, but he knew that would change when it was his turn to go up.

                It was his first formal senior showing to the entire school of dance. The faculty would be there and give feedback, and he--as well as the other seniors--had to go up, present their work, sit on the floor in front of that raked seating, and take the critiques of anyone who cared to give feedback. Most of the time feedback wasn't bad, per se, and last year when Kazuya did his junior feedback in front of the school it had actually gone quite smoothly. But the senior feedback was more nerve-wracking; more was at stake, and the faculty tended to be much shrewder.

                Kazuya sat down next to the other seniors. Kuramochi was dressed in his tentative costume idea (this semester he was doing a solo). He had sweat stains underneath his armpits and looked a little nauseous.

                "This is awful," he groaned, "The whole senior class is hitting up the bar after this, you in?"

                "Jesus, yes," Kazuya exhaled, watching underclassmen trickle in. He was keeping a mental checklist of his cast to make sure everyone was here.

                "You finish your piece? I know you were close," Mochi said, his leg bouncing nervously.

                "No, didn't have time yet. Almost, though."

                "I only have like two minutes of this damn solo done," Kuramochi said, "But it's only the first showing, we still have time."

                When Eijun walked into the room with Haruichi, he stood on his toes and waved enthusiastically at Haruno and Furuya, who had saved them seats. Kazuya smiled, his nerves settling a little. Even when Eijun wasn't trying, he had a way of lightening the tension in a room.

                "That idiot makes me feel calmer, somehow," Kuramochi said, "I don't know why."

                "Same," Zono said behind Kazuya, "He's always just so...happy."

                "Alright," Rei stood, then faced everyone, "Let's get started. We all know the drill. First on my list is Kuramochi."

                "Merde, man," Kazuya muttered, giving him a firm pat on the back. Kuramochi looked like he was going to blow chunks all over the seating.

                "Hey, I'm Youichi Kuramochi," he said, standing front and center, his focus on the faculty in the front row, "And I am doing a solo this semester. I have not finished it yet. I don't have a title for the piece yet, either. What I'm wearing is a tentative costume," he gestured to his own body, clad in jeans and a striped t-shirt, "And let me tell you, it took me forever to find jeans I wouldn't split while dancing," he added, jokingly. Chuckling waved through the room, then he continued, "My sound is 'You Burnt Me' by Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials."

                As he walked over to the sound system to plug in his phone, Kazuya noticed the faculty murmuring. The fact that Kuramochi chose a blues song was a little ballsy considering the faculty spent the better part of three years of their education not allowing them to use pieces of music with lyrics, and Kazuya understood why; it was easy, when choreographing with popular or lyrically-driven music, to pantomime. But, as seniors, they should have the skill to not get trapped. Regardless, Kazuya himself would probably have not chosen such a well-known piece of music. He preferred minimalist music for dance, anyway. Most of the time he didn't choose the music until after he finished choreographing; Kazuya knew that if music could exist without dance, dance could exist without music. And in this way, when they came together, it was a collaboration more than anything.      

                Kuramochi's choreography was pleasantly dangerous, Kazuya noticed, taking notes like Mochi wanted him to. Leave it to Kuramochi to fall forward and catch himself with his hands to make everyone in the audience have a heart-attack. Kazuya chuckled.

                But now the faculty was to have their say.

                "I have to say, I was nervous about your choice in sound, but I think you utilized it wisely," Rei said, as Kuramochi smiled, relief clear on his face, "You really toyed with relating to the music without dancing to it, which I think worked well."

                "Movement-wise, I think you are on the right track," Kataoka said rigidly, "That fall in the middle was very captivating, you should play more with that idea..."

                Kazuya zoned out, opening his laptop, and double-checking to make sure that his sound was queued up. His hands were starting to sweat.

                "...but I do not think your shirt works at all," Rei's voice faded back into Kazuya's senses, "You should really think carefully about what you're trying to accomplish, here."

                "Okay. Thank you," Kuramochi slammed his notebook shut, and practically ran back to his seat.

                "Nice job," Kazuya grinnned.

                "Oh, fuck off," Mochi sighed, the strain in his face gone, "I'm surprised they liked it so much. Sure, they hate my shirt, but I wasn't crazy on it anyway."

                "Kazuya," Rei said.

                As Kazuya's cast was getting situated, he adjusted his glasses nervously, but went into a performance mode of his own.

                "I'm Kazuya Miyuki and this," he gestured behind him, "Is my cast of ten dancers. My tentative title is 'Well Rounded'. Um...I have no idea about costumes yet, so I just made them all wear black to look uniform and...my sound is an untitled piece by a music student friend of mine..." he continued explaining what he needed to explain. God his hands were soaking wet right now. Was that normal? Fuck, okay, he was done talking. He needed to go start the music, then the rest was up to his dancers. Don't fuck up guys, he thought grimly, but he knew they'd do fine. He chose his cast wisely.

                The actual performance was a blur. He stood on the side, watching his cast. It wasn't their best performance, but it wasn't their worst, and they were plugging away pretty well considering he threw some new choreography at them only the day before. He wiped his hands on his pants and exhaled. Seriously, this is more nerve-wracking than performing, he thought miserably.

                When they finished, his cast went back into the seats to sit, and he took out his notebook, and sat down on the floor in front of everyone. Jesus. Everyone was looming above him...he felt vaguely like a field mouse staring at a tree full of hawks.

                Then it began.

                Holy shit.

                "I don't really understand the direction you're taking..."

                "The sound was really underwhelming..."

                "I didn't understand that one trio section..."

                "Why did they get up from the floor so suddenly?"

                "I think you really need to coach your dancers more so they know what they need from you..."

                "What are you trying to accomplish, here?"

                "What costumes are you thinking?"

                "What does the title have to do with what is happening?"

                Kazuya felt like he was in a slow-motion car wreck.

                "Well, I was trying to really work with the floor..."

                "Really? You think the sound underwhelming? I kind of..."

                "That trio was last-minute...maybe it's a rehearsal issue?"

                "I don't know, I just felt like they needed to get off the floor."

                " I guess that might be true..."

                "I don't know."

                "I don't know."

                "I don't know, I thought..."

                "I don't know."

                When Kazuya finally trudged back to his seat, Kuramochi gave him a sympathetic look.

                "Don't. Say. Anything," Kazuya said through gritted teeth.

                The rest of the showing was miserable for Kazuya. He couldn't even pay attention to any of the other seniors. He just needed to get the hell out of here. He got a few pitying looks, but the gaze he felt the most acutely belonged to a golden-eyed idiot. He refused to make eye contact. He hated it when people felt sorry for him. Jesus, it was just a showing, everyone stop it.

                He walked home briskly afterwards, leaving Mochi behind. He wasn't going to do any mingling, he was just going to drop off his homework and head straight the bar and enjoy his goddamn weekend. I'm going to have to scrap the whole thing, he thought angrily, all the work I put in...I don't even know what to do!

                Kazuya always knew what to do. This was awful.

                He wasn't surprised when Mochi came into the apartment with Eijun on his heels. Eijun set his wide eyes to Kazuya and was about to speak--

                "--Let's go get a drink," Kazuya said hotly. He did not want to talk about this right now. Eijun closed his mouth, looked at Mochi, then nodded.

               

*

 

                As they walked to the bar, Eijun kept glancing at Kazuya, who looked incredibly hard to read. He was laughing his nasally laugh and teasing Mochi and Eijun as usual, but Eijun wasn't an idiot. That showing had been a train wreck. Kazuya had to be feeling something.

                Eijun tagged along as Mochi and Kazuya met the rest of the seniors for drinks. The seniors didn't seem to care Eijun was there, and as the drinks emptied and more were bought, a few other juniors came trickling in to join the dance congregation.

                They had a massive booth on the patio, and Eijun and Kazuya had been pushed into the corner. Some of the dancers bled into a few surrounding booths.

                "We're like a disease!" Mochi laughed, "Look at us take over the patio!"

                Eijun glanced once again at Kazuya, who was looking at Kuramochi and smiling along with everyone else. Eijun didn't know how to show his support without annoying him. He decided to just dive in.

                "Hey, I want you to know, I'm with you one-hundred percent," Eijun said lowly. Kazuya's eyes widened, but he didn't look at Eijun.

                "Okay."

                "Seriously. Whatever you want to do, however you make this piece, I know it is going to be great because you're the one choreographing it," Eijun said, looking down at his beer.

                "Tch, you say such embarrassing things," Kazuya grumbled, but he was smiling faintly, Eijun could tell, "I'll make sure to take the feedback I agree with and throw out the rest. You can kill yourself with doubt if you try to take everyone's advice. Besides, I got some conflicting feedback, too. I just have to make the best decisions with the information I have. And I like my piece," he added a little defensively, "I just don't want to get tunnel vision. So I'm going to at least try restructuring and changing some things. As much as I hate to say it, the faculty is usually right about most things."

                Eijun nodded. How was Kazuya so cool even though he was such a goddamn nerd? How was he able to be so calm and open-minded even after being so harshly critiqued?

                "I will say, though," Kazuya added with a little chuckle, looking at Eijun for the first time, "I did have a bit of a panic attack on my walk home. I was thinking I was going to have to scrap the whole thing and start over."

                Eijun's eyes widened.

                "Really? You thought about scrapping the whole thing?!"

                "Yep. For, like, five minutes," Kazuya's eyes narrowed, but his smile remained in place, "But that was just because I was feeling sorry for myself. Anyways, I know you just love your upperclassman," Kazuya threw an arm around Eijun, who scowled, "But maybe you should worry about your own work, neh, Ei-jun?"

                Eijun sputtered angrily and tried to push Kazuya off. Ugh. He was trying to comfort Kazuya and here he was teasing him for it!

                "You're a sarcastic bastard," Eijun pouted, giving up, and allowing Kazuya's arm to remain in place.

                "Ha! Thank you!"

                "THAT'S NOT A COMPLIMENT!"

 

*

 

 

                Kazuya lost a lot of sleep in the next coming weeks. Restructuring a piece was difficult, especially because there were many parts of it he still liked, but needed to re-fit together with new material. His cast was incredibly patient, even though much of their rehearsal time was experimenting, adding a part here, running it, seeing if it worked. It was grueling, and Kazuya was starting to get short with the people he was working with even though they were supportive.

                But Eijun remained cheerful and hardworking, and his good aura spread to the rest of the cast, shielding them, in a way, from taking Kazuya's shortness to heart.

                Eijun had no idea how much he was helping Kazuya. No idea at all.

                Even the few words he said at the bar after the showing were helpful. Eijun wasn't the type to lie like that...he truly believed in Kazuya's work, and that meant something.

                Eijun was keeping Kazuya sane.

                The second showing, only a few weeks before the show, garnered criticism still. But by this point Kazuya was confident; he had made some very good changes, and he was grateful to the faculty for their recommendations. However, he knew he couldn't please them perfectly. This just wasn't going to be a piece they cared for, and he was okay with that.

                On the evening of the performance, he gave his cast a pep talk.

                "Okay guys," he said awkwardly, "I guess...I just wanna say thank you for being in my group piece. This will be the last group piece I choreograph during my college career," he heard Eijun sniff--that idiot better not start crying, "And the fact that you all stuck with me despite the crap we've dealt with has been incredibly rewarding. So...thanks."

                Kazuya was bad at this stuff, but his cast looked pleased.

                "LET'S TAKE A PICTURE!" Eijun yelled, grabbing his phone. Everyone shushed him...they were backstage, after all.

                Kazuya posed with his cast as Kuramochi snapped a picture, and when he looked at it afterwards he felt proud of what he achieved. And he noticed, happily, that Eijun was ecstatic, his grin huge and eyes bright, arm thrown around Kazuya's shoulders and giving a thumbs up.

 

*

 

                The show was a success, and apparently Kazuya's piece looked better staged, because after the performance, most of the faculty came up to personally congratulate Kazuya on his work.

                "You know, I think it really just needed lighting to tie it all together."

                "It just really worked this time, you must have coached your dancers more carefully."

                "Excellent work, really."

                "You made a wise decision in keeping that trio section..."

                Eijun stood next to Kazuya, who was basking in the praise like the goddamn diva he was. Then he spotted his family standing to the side.

                "MOM, DAD, GRANDPA!" Eijun waved frantically, running over.

                "Eijun, where is that nice sweater I bought you? Honestly, you don't look very polished  after being in such an official show!" his mother scolded.

                "Good job, Eijun," his grandfather slapped his back roughly, "I had no idea what that dance was about, but good job."

                Eijun laughed awkwardly, surprised by his shyness around his own family, but his father leaned in and ruffled his hair.

                "Good job," he said gently, "Really well done. You look so professional, I...you just look so professional."

                Eijun started crying. He turned around quickly and began walking away from the lobby.

                "Wait, Eijun--!" his mom began.

                "I NEED TO CHANGE, I'LL BE OUT IN A BIT, THEN WE CAN GET DINNER TOGETHER!"

 

*

 

                Auditions for the faculty concert was next on Kazuya's before-graduation list. He was still riding on the high of the success of the piece he had been so uncertain about. And that confidence showed in his audition; he was cast in two pieces: a guest artists' work (they were from New York and incredibly influential in the dance community) and in Ochiai's--the weird professor who was always on sabbatical in Asia.

                And, not to the surprise of Kazuya (or anyone, really), Eijun was cast in Kataoka's work, along with Kuramochi. Eijun still seemed shocked the day after he checked the cast list, as though he still couldn't believe he had been cast in two shows in a row after two years of hardly being in anything. And what's more, he was cast in Kataoka's piece. Everyone wanted to be in Kataoka's piece. But no one deserved the spot more than Eijun.

                Kazuya was a little jealous that Mochi was going to see more of Eijun after winter break than he would; they'd have rehearsal together. But ultimately it didn't matter; Kazuya now stopped by Eijun's apartment every day. Half of the time, Eijun knew his schedule, and just left the door unlocked for him. Haruichi was getting used to it too; he always made a little extra food, and to pay him back, Kazuya would bring a side or some drinks.

                Most of the time they'd lie around and do homework or chat or play videogames. Often, they'd pregame and go out with Kuramochi for an evening of craziness, which sometimes resulted in Eijun, Kuramochi, or Kazuya showing up for dance class the next morning still half-drunk. Kazuya didn't mind. He would almost always sweat it out instantly, he wanted his senior year to be as fun as possible, and none of them let it conflict with their work ethic or technique.

                He was going to miss this so much.

                He was going to miss Eijun so much.

               

*

 

                Winter break was only a week away, and Eijun knew what he wanted more than anything. But he was going to have to pester for it.

                "Hey, Kazuya," he said, glancing up from his spot on the floor to Kazuya, who was sitting on Eijun's couch and staring at his phone.

                "Hmm?" Kazuya didn't look up.

                "It's almost winter break."

                "Yep," Kazuya said, "Can't come any sooner. I'm still stressed as hell. I have to start brainstorming for my senior solo next semester."

                "...yeah. Um, I want you to come to my house for break!" Eijun said. He had learned it was best not to beat around the bush; Kazuya was less likely to try to weasel his way out of things if you didn't give him an out.

                Kazuya froze and glanced up from his phone, then back down again.

                "No thanks."

                "Why not?" Eijun spun around and sat on his shins, facing Kazuya directly.

                "I belong here."

                That sounded cryptic and probably dramatic and Eijun didn't really give a shit.

                "That's cryptic and dramatic and I don't give a shit," Eijun said.

                Kazuya lowered his phone and looked at Eijun half-irritated, half-surprised.

                "Wow, I didn't know you were so passionate about my lifestyle habits," he said coldly.

                "But I want you to come!" Eijun deflected with whining. He was getting good at keeping Kazuya from getting all weird.

                "Why do you want me to come so badly?" Kazuya's frown shifted into an amused expression.

                "Because I just want you to be there!" Eijun scooted up to Kazuya's legs, "Besides, you aren't doing anything anyways!"

                "Hmmph," Kazuya looked back down at his phone, "I'd not ask that of your family. Me being with you for a month is a long time to house somebody."

                "I already told you, they don't care! My mom is actually excited! You don't understand! You're a college friend, they'd treat you like royalty! They love me being in college!"

                Kazuya got a weird look on his face.

                "I don't want to be treated like royalty," he said.

                "Well get over it, because the Sawamura clan is great at hospitality!" Eijun was losing him, he had to get more whiny and maybe pout. Pouting worked with Kazuya. Eijun didn't know why. Pouting usually resulted in him getting smacked upside the head by his grandfather back home.

                "Ugh, Eijun," Kazuya was getting swayed, he was doing that thing where he looked up at the ceiling.

                "Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease!" Eijun shuffled on his knees and threw his head dramatically onto Kazuya's lap. He felt Kazuya's legs tighten beneath him.

                "Okay, okay, fine, Jesus, get off of me you little gremlin," he heard Kazuya grumble.

                "YES! THANK YOU KAZUYA! NOW WE CAN HAVE FUN ALL WINTER AND I CAN SHOW YOU ALL THE GOOD SPOTS! AND WAIT 'TIL YOU TRY MY DAD'S COOKING, HE'S SO GOOD AT IT!"

                Kazuya rubbed his eyes wearily.

                "Oh, god..."

               

*

 

                Kazuya was dragged out of his apartment at eight in the morning on a crisp, icy, but sunny Saturday morning a few days later. Eijun had been so very loud with his knocking and chatting and Kazuya hadn't even had his morning coffee yet.

                "And then we can go to visit my favorite park and--"

                Ugh does he ever stop talking? Kazuya thought miserably. He had fit all of his junk into a backpack, but Eijun was juggling three bags, most of which looked like dirty laundry.

                Eijun's car was an old, blue Toyota, and when Kazuya plopped in the passenger side, miserable and cold, he noticed that the car wasn't an automatic.

                "Wait...you drive a stick?" he asked.

                Eijun turned the car on and blasted the heat.

                "Yeah," he said.

                Okay, I don't know why, but that's kinda hot, Kazuya thought.

                "I've only ever driven an automatic, like, four times," Eijun continued, adjusting the radio, then backing out of his space, "This Toyota is my dad's. He's gonna let me buy it off of him at the end of winter when he gets his new car. My mom's car is an automatic, but I hardly drive it."

                Kazuya wasn't really paying attention. Eijun had taken off his coat and thrown in the back, and all of Kazuya's attention was on his strong forearm as he used the shifter. Jesus. He had no idea this was a kink of his until now.

                Or maybe he was just horny. He didn't even know anymore.

                As they reached the highway, Eijun finally settled on a station that--much to Kazuya's misery--played Christmas music.

                "You don't like Christmas music?!" Eijun exclaimed, glancing at Kazuya's face. Huh. The kid also looked kind of hot in sunglasses and I really should stop thinking about this right now, Kazuya thought.

                "I don't hate it, but..." he trailed away. But what? He had stopped listening to Christmas music years ago. There just didn't seem to be any point if he really didn't celebrate it, anyways. For the first few years after his mom died, his dad tried to continue to make Christmas significant, but it eventually faded into what it was today; delivered presents, the usual cold emails, maybe a phone call.

                Eijun must have seen Kazuya was struggling to speak, because he changed the subject.

                After two hours of driving and talking, they stopped for gas and Kazuya ran in to grab a coffee. He spotted a bag of cheddar popcorn he knew Eijun liked, so he grabbed that and a few waters as well. With coffee in his system he perked up considerably, and rather enjoyed Eijun's enthusiasm and cheerful banter. He even joined--after a lot of nagging--in singing "Jingle Bells" at the top of his lungs when it came on the radio with Eijun.

                It felt...amazing. Being on the road like this with him. We could go anywhere, Kazuya thought wildly, If we wanted to, we could just keep driving and not stop. We could go out west, eat at shitty diners, do the whole eighties teen-dream thing. Kazuya knew it was stupid, of course, and he knew that neither he nor Eijun would run off and leave their responsibilities behind, but for the moment, in his imagination, it sounded fun. Dangerous. Liberating.

               

*

 

                As they entered Eijun's town, he noticed Kazuya getting visibly more nervous. He wasn't sure why he'd be nervous considering Kazuya spent most of his time not giving a shit about what other people thought. However, Eijun was mildly concerned that his family might overwhelm Kazuya a bit, but if he could make it through that brutal senior showing, he could certainly make it through a warm, loud, and hearty welcome.

                He pulled into the driveway, knowing he'd have to move his car back near the barn later, and killed the engine. Silence.

                "So...this is it," Eijun said, leaning forward and looking at his house through the windshield.

                "It's...nice," Kazuya offered, still looking oddly anxious.

                Eijun smiled at him, then unbuckled his seatbelt. The two of them clambered out of the car and stretched, muscles and joints grateful for the movement and their lungs happy for the air. Eijun grabbed all of his heavy bags of dirty clothes, then led Kazuya up to the front door. He reached out to open it but the knob turned, the door flew open, and his mother launched herself at him.

                "Eijun! Welcome home! And Kazuya, welcome!" she threw her arms around him as well, and Eijun almost laughed at the surprise mixed with utter terror on his face.

                "It's...good to see you again," Kazuya managed to gasp as Eijun's mother relinquished her grip, "I haven't seen you since the last concert."

                "That wasn't so long ago," she teased, giving him a little nudge, then beckoned them forward into the warm house.

                "Are they home?!" growled someone at the end of the hall.

                "Grandpa!" Eijun grinned, waving eagerly.

                "Ah, yes, here," his grandfather turned and spoke to someone around the corner. A few seconds later his dad emerged.

                "Nice to see you again," his dad came up and shook Kazuya's hand firmly.

                There was a great deal of flurrying and small talk and Kazuya awkwardly shifting his backpack on his shoulder before Eijun finally interrupted.

                "I think we should put away our stuff and get settled. We haven't had lunch yet, I thought I'd take him to The Corner," he said, throwing his thumb over his shoulder.

                "That sounds good. If you go, could you pick up some carry-out for us?" his grandpa's eyes gleamed. The Corner was grandpa's favorite.

                "Yep!" Eijun said, picking up his lightest bag.

                "Eijun Sawamura, what is all this...is this dirty laundry?!" his mother bent over his two remaining bags, "Goodness, Eijun, don't you ever do laundry at school?"

                "I try not to," Eijun said, feeling a little ashamed. But not that much.

                "Spoiled brat," grandpa said, shaking his head, but Eijun and Kazuya were already bounding up the stairs.

                "Here's my room!" Eijun threw his bag on the floor, then dove onto his bed. He turned his head to see Kazuya surveying the room with mild interest.

                "It's clean," he said.

                "Why is that so surprising?"

                "It's not," Kazuya shrugged, "I'm just saying. Where will I be sleeping?"

                "Here," Eijun sat up, "We have a cool cot-bed thing that we can set up in the corner there. It's comfortable, I've slept on it before."

                "Okay," Kazuya was being remarkably bland, and it was worrying Eijun a bit.

                "My family is a little overwhelming," he said apologetically, "But they'll calm down."

                "Huh? Oh, it's fine," Kazuya set his backpack down in the corner, then put his hands in his pockets. An awkward silence descended upon them.

                "So, you hungry? You want food or do you want to nap or something?"

                "Hungry. You said you wanted to go to 'The Corner' or something like that?"

                "Yeah, it's great! A small, local joint, but really good food. And a decent bar if you want to get drinks there later, too."

                "Okay," Kazuya yawned, reaching his arms to the ceiling, and Eijun caught a glimpse of his abdomen as his shirt hiked up.

                "Let's go, then!"

                Eijun led Kazuya back downstairs.

                "We're heading out now, ma!" he yelled, "Text me what you guys want!"

                "Okay, sweetie!" her voice echoed through the living room.

                As they walked to the car, Kazuya chuckled. Eijun looked at him.

                "I was expecting chickens running around or something...because I've never been on a farm before," Kazuya explained, smirking, "I just didn't know what it would be like. You have a really nice house."

                "I don't know whether I should be charmed by your urban take on things, or insulted that you thought I'd live in a shack where we have chickens running lose," Eijun said dryly.

                "I didn't mean it like that!" Kazuya said, though the asshole continued to chuckle, "I just didn't know what to expect, is all."

                "Hmph. Well, we don't have animals on our farm, anyways, except our dogs and cats."

                "What do you have on the farm?"

                "Plants. We do fruits and vegetables. Corn, apples, pumpkins. That stuff."

                "Oh," Kazuya's face flushed a little and he bottled up again.

                "What?" Eijun asked.

                "I just...so you have apples?"

                "Yeah...? Well, not currently, it's the dead of winter..."

                "Yeah, but you have an orchard?"

                "Yes, why?"

                "I just...I've kind of always wanted to see an orchard for some reason," Kazuya scratched at the back of his head and they paused outside of the Toyota, "I don't know why."

                Eijun grinned, excitement filling his belly.

                "I can take you there tomorrow! It's a little dead-looking now, as it is winter, but you should visit in the warmer months, it's very pretty!"

                Kazuya looked out at the empty corn field and smiled.

                "Yeah. I'd like that."

                Eijun smiled, happy that Kazuya was perking back up again, and they crawled into the still-warm car. As they drove, Eijun suddenly remembered something, and he frowned, trying to remember the name of that horse--

                "--Pfft, what's wrong with your face?" Kazuya laughed.

                "What? I was just thinking!"

                "Oh, god, please don't," Kazuya began to cackle harder.

                "Ugh, Kazuya, shut up or I will dump you here and you'll have to walk back!"

                "You wouldn't do that. You love me too much."

                The words were meant to be light, Eijun knew, but unfortunately his cheeks still colored. Kazuya himself looked a little surprised that the words left his mouth, but he took one look at Eijun's flustered face, and the smirk was back in place. He opened his mouth to tease, but Eijun beat him to it.

                "I was thinking about animals!" Eijun yelled, "Because actually, yes, we used to have one other animal other than dogs and cats. It was an old horse, but I can't remember her name. I was, like, really young."

                Kazuya didn't say anything, just looked at Eijun, his eyes a little wide in surprise at the sharp shift in conversation.

                "But she died when I was...ten, I think?" Eijun went on, "So much blood. All over the barn floor. We tried to bleach it, but the stains never really came out."

                Kazuya looked horrified.

                "Don't worry!" Eijun said quickly, realizing this probably wasn't the best conversation to be having right now, "She lived a long and happy life! She just got ill at the end and hemorrhaged to death!"

                Fuck, what is wrong with me, why am I telling him this awful story? Eijun wanted to drive his car into the nearest tree.

                "Um...did you...did you watch it die or something?" Kazuya asked, still looking disturbed.

                "Well, I had to help out," Eijun explained, trying to find a way to change the subject, "We tried to save her. It was a little scary for me, but I got over it. I cried a lot when she was gone, though. Oh! Look! We're here!"

                 Eijun turned a little too sharply into the tiny parking lot in his haste to end the conversation, hit a patch of ice, and they slid a little.

                "Fuck!" Kazuya yelped.

                "Sorry!" Eijun yelled, regaining control of the car, and pulling it into an open space.

                Maybe inviting Kazuya to stay with him over winter break wasn't such a good idea. Apparently, Eijun couldn't seem to not make things awkward as fuck.

                They walked into the small diner and sat down at a spot right next to a window facing out into a field with a single, large white wind turbine in the center of it.

                "It's just a snow ocean, isn't it?" Kazuya asked, looking out, fiddling with his menu.

                "Yeah. Just one large blanket of white."

                "So, farm boy," Kazuya grinned, "Any recommendations?"

                "I do, city boy," Eijun ripped open his menu hastily then pointed, "They have amazing grilled cheese here. And the french fries are to die for, but I personally love the vegetable soup and even the chocolate cake, and..." Eijun looked up to see Kazuya wasn't looking at the menu, but staring at his face with a small smile and a slightly glazed-over look in his eye. Eijun swallowed, feeling a little like a deer in headlights with such a gaze...transfixed but paralyzed.

                Kazuya was beautiful.

                "Well, um, what are you feeling?" Eijun finally manage to stammer out. Kazuya leaned forward a little, snapping out of whatever daze he was in, then plucked Eijun's menu from his hands.

                "Hmm..."

                "Hey, that's my menu! You have one right in front of you!"

                "You already know what you want, don't you? You don't need it."

                "UGH so RUDE," Eijun threw himself back against his chair and folded his arms, but for some reason he felt his face bursting into a smile. Stupid Kazuya.

                As Kazuya looked over the menu, Eijun brought his focus back out the window, where, in the distance, the wind turbine's spokes lazily spiraled. He tuned out the hustle and bustle of the diner, and imagined he could hear the swish of the spokes as they rotated, white against the gray sky, its own calm rhythm setting Eijun at ease, even though he knew they certainly didn't sound like that in real life.

                It's good to be home.

                "I think I'm going to get the vegetable soup because you said it was really good," Kazuya said finally, setting the menu down.

                "Good choice! Let's order some fries, too!"

                "Okay," Kazuya chuckled.

                The waitress came over and took their order (she must have been new, as Eijun didn't know her) and they waited, sipping on water. Kazuya gazed around the restaurant inquisitively.

                "You said there was a bar?" he asked after a moment.

                "Yep. It's on the other side, though. You have to enter through the other doors," Eijun explained, "Why, do you want a drink?"

                "No," Kazuya snorted, "I just was wondering."

                They talked a bit, and Kazuya began his usual teasing, and by the time their food arrived they were bickering like they always did. But Eijun didn't mind. It made him inexplicably content. He tuned out the noise of the diner and listened to Kazuya's snark, his nasally laugh.

                It's really good to be home.

 

*

 

                Kazuya actually enjoyed his soup very much, and he loved how enthusiastic Eijun was when it came to his small town. On the drive home, Kazuya listened as Eijun babbled on, the plastic bags filled with the food they got Eijun's parents and grandfather rustling in the back.

                They had spent more time chatting in the restaurant than Kazuya realized...by the time they reached the house, it was the late afternoon, and he was feeling pretty tired.

                "You can head up to my room, if you want. I'm going to give these to my parents and grandpa," Eijun lifted the plastic bags up a little, "You can rest and wash up or something. Then we can talk about what you want to do for the rest of the day."

                Kazuya nodded, then trudged up the stairs, pausing occasionally to look at the family photos on the wall. Baby Eijun was the cutest freaking baby Kazuya had ever seen, and he didn't even like children. The cheeks were so chubby! Kazuya chuckled to himself, then moved on, looking at pictures of Eijun before he grew into himself, his ears large and awkward, a tooth missing in his smile, pictures of Eijun with his grandfather and what appeared to be his late grandmother. He glanced at pictures of Eijun's soccer team, a picture of Eijun holding a long-distance running trophy, Eijun at prom with Wakana, Eijun at his high school graduation, tall and handsome and no longer awkward.

                Well...no longer awkward looking, Kazuya supposed.

                Upon reaching Eijun's room, he noticed that the cot had been set up and the bedding made. He stretched out, hands behind his head, and looked at the ceiling, listening to the sounds of the Sawamuras downstairs talking loudly. He heard Eijun's voice, and the laughter of the elders, and he thought he had never felt more at peace in his life. It was odd for him, hearing people in a house. But it made sense. Homes were for people. They shouldn't be empty and cold and lonely.

                He must have dozed off, because when he opened his eyes, it was pitch black outside and the only light in the room was from Eijun's tablet, the light making his face glow. He had his earbuds in and didn't realize Kazuya had woken up. Kazuya took this opportunity to stare. Eijun's head was resting on his hand, his arm propped up by his crossed legs. He was very invested in whatever he was looking at, and Kazuya felt a surge of fondness ripple through his chest.

                "What time is it?" Kazuya asked finally. Eijun continued to stare at his tablet. Kazuya repeated himself, louder this time. Eijun jumped a little, then ripped out his earbuds.

                "Oh! You are awake, Kazuya Miyuki!" he exclaimed stupidly, "It is...uh," he looked at his tablet, "Three past midnight!"

                "Ugh, sorry, how did I sleep for eight freaking hours?" Kazuya rubbed at his eyes. He had never napped like that before. That was...a full night's sleep!

                "You apparently needed it."

                "Yeah, but I feel bad. We could have done something."

                "We have all break! Rest! Go back to sleep!"

                "I probably will in a minute," Kazuya sighed, feeling incredibly cozy, all wrapped up in his blankets. He hadn't even changed out of his clothes.

                "I'm going to get ready for bed too," Eijun said. He set his tablet down, flipped on his desk lamp, then dug around his dresser.

                Kazuya watched--hungrily--as Eijun pulled his shirt off...all strong back muscles and defined arms...and slid on a baggy tee. Eijun pulled his pants off, tossed them on the floor, then hopped into his bed. Kazuya cocked his head to the side as Eijun fussed over his blankets to get bundled perfectly in his bed. So cute.

                "Shoot," Eijun muttered after getting settled. He had forgotten to turn the light off. Kazuya grinned, amused, and watched as Eijun cussed, threw his covers off, then padded to his desk lamp, his bright red boxer-briefs giving Kazuya the pleasure of seeing the nice curve of Eijun's rear before darkness covered the room.

                "Tomorrow we can go to the orchard, Kazuya!" he heard Eijun say in the darkness.

                "That's good. I'd like to see it, even if it is bare and snowy."

                "Good..." Eijun trailed away, clearly getting sleepy already. Kazuya grinned, imagining what he must look like now, all bundled, eyes heavy and content. Cute.

                Kazuya didn't fall asleep for several hours. The house was quiet and dark, and he was comfy and warm, buried in his blankets, listening to Eijun's steady breathing on the other side of the room. Eventually, he kicked off his jeans (they were not very comfortable), snuggled back under his covers, and drifted off.

                He woke up when he smelled coffee. It was remarkably early; it was still mostly dark outside. He glanced over to find Eijun still deep asleep. He heard the murmur of low voices; most definitely Eijun's parents. They probably always got up early, living on a farm. Kazuya reached over the end of the cot into his discarded jeans pocket to fish out his dying phone. Ah. Six thirty in the morning.

                Kazuya swung his legs over the side of the cot and dug around in his backpack for a pair of sweatpants to throw over his boxer-briefs. He really had to pee, so he decided to go hunting for an upstairs bathroom, and accidentally tripped over a small wastebasket in the dark; the metal hit the wood of the floor and Eijun bolted upright.

                "Ah! Sorry, Eijun, I tripped," Kazuya whispered, "I just need to pee."

                "Umpf," Eijun rubbed at his eyes, blinked, then reached over at his tablet and checked the time, "Oh, you don't need to whisper," he said, "My family is already awake by this time. I used to be, too, until living away from home fucked with my sleep schedule."

                Kazuya watched as Eijun stretched and yawned.

                "So...bathroom?" he prompted.

                "Oh. It's right across the hall. The door should be the only one ajar."

                Kazuya opened the bedroom door. The hallway was dark, but the smell of coffee, so seductive and inviting, tantalized Kazuya's nose, and for a moment he found himself not walking towards the bathroom, but to the stairs. He caught himself, turned, and flipped on the light switch to the rather large restroom. It was a little messy, clothes overflowing from the hamper, but the facilities were clean and shiny and the large vent made the bathroom very warm.

                When he made his way back to the bedroom, Eijun was already fast asleep again. Kazuya didn't know what to do with himself. He wasn't tired, so he busied himself with plugging in his phone and folding up his jeans. That coffee did smell good...

                Ignoring his nervousness about impressing Eijun's family, he shoved his hands into his sweatpants pockets and ventured downstairs. He found the kitchen and peeked his head in, the light bright in comparison to the rest of the house. Eijun's mother was leaning against the counter, a steaming mug in her hand, and Eijun's grandfather was sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper.

                Kazuya cleared his throat.

                "Oh, honey!" Eijun's mother jumped, "I hope we didn't wake you up!"

                "No, I actually woke up myself," Kazuya grinned, "Eijun's still out cold, so I just followed the smell of coffee."

                "Oh, that boy, he used to get up so early until he went to college. I'll go wake him up!" Eijun's mother set her mug down.

                "No! No, that's alright," Kazuya threw his hands up, "Let him sleep, I'm not normally up this early, either."

                "Offer the boy some coffee," Eijun's grandfather said, "I'm too old to get up from this chair," he gestured to the seat across from him at the table. Kazuya took it.

                "Milk or sugar, dear?" Eijun's mother asked.

                "Just a little milk. No sugar. Thank you," Kazuya added, trying to be polite. He really wanted to impress these people.

                She set the mug in front of him and he took a sip. Boy, was it strong. Kazuya closed his eyes happily. Strong and heady, just the way he liked it.

                "So, Kazuya," Eijun's grandfather folded up his newspaper and set it down on the table between them, "You're a senior, right?"

                "Yes, sir."

                "Any plans post-graduation?"

                "Um...I'm not sure. There are a few internships I've been looking into..."

                "Eh? You gonna perform or somethin'?"

                "I'd like to. There's an internship in Spain that is performance-based, but mostly administrative. I think it would be good experience for me to have."

                "Oh! Spain!" Eijun's mother covered her mouth excitedly, "You must be very smart, Kazuya!"

                "Uh..."

                "You wanna move to Spain?" Eijun's grandfather picked up his coffee mug.

                "I think it would be a great opportunity," Kazuya said, looking down at his coffee, "I mean, it's only a six-month internship, but it would be amazing to see another country. I've never been outside of the US."

                Eijun's mother beamed at him, almost like she was proud or something. Kazuya felt a little uncomfortable.

                "It sounds like you've got a good head on your shoulders, making good decisions for your career."

                "I try to. This is a hard career."

                "I hope Eijun is prepared," Eijun's mother sighed, picking up her coffee again and taking a sip.

                "He'll be fine," Kazuya said firmly, "He's very adaptable, and he's pretty fearless when it comes to trying things. That fearlessness and drive is really important."

                "That is good to hear," she exhaled, relieved, "We always assumed he'd just graduate high school and take over the family farm one day. But Eijun's father always had high hopes for him. He always hoped Eijun would find a passion that would get him out of this town."

                Kazuya was quiet. He watched the steam rise and curl from the lips of the mug like ribbons of air.

                "He thinks very highly of you, Kazuya," she said after a moment, looking at him carefully. Kazuya felt his ears go red.

                "Oh! Does he?" he scratched the back of his head anxiously.

                "Yes. And after seeing you perform, I can see why!" she broke into a beautiful smile and suddenly Kazuya forgot where he was, taken in by such a beautiful smile, so wide and genuine and he could see where Eijun got that smile from, a smile that could literally do anything, so bright and perfect.

                "Ma?"

                Everyone looked over at the doorframe to see Eijun, half-awake and rubbing his eyes.

                "Oh, good, you're up. I'm going to make breakfast. Your father is off doing some work, but he'll be home tonight," she set her mug down, then began reaching for a pan, "And Eijun put on some pants! You have a guest!"

                Eijun grumbled something incoherent, then plopped down at the kitchen table.

                "What did you say, young man?" Eijun's grandfather growled.

                "I said, 'it's not like he hasn't seen my underwear before'!" Eijun snapped loudly. As soon as the words left his lips, he realized his error. His very, very grave error.

                There was a moment of stunned silence.

                "Well," Eijun's grandfather mumbled, "That answers that question."

                "I-I just meant that we've changed backstage together! Like all dancers do!" Eijun said frantically, his face going scarlet, his voice almost squeaking from mortification.

                Kazuya closed his eyes as though he was in extreme physical pain. Great. Now the Sawamura clan thought he was fucking their son. Excellent Christmastime celebration, no?

                Kazuya's humiliation was so deep it transcended the space-time continuum, and now he was somehow actually able to function, so he looked over at Eijun's mother to try to change the subject, but she had her back to him, her head shaking to herself, as she lit the stove and began cracking eggs.

                God, Kazuya could murder Eijun right now.

                After a long and uncomfortable silence, during which Eijun slowly got up from his seat and poured himself some orange juice, grandpa Sawamura spoke again.

                "Eijun. So Kazuya here is thinkin' of takin' an internship to Spain. You should start thinkin' about these things!"

                Eijun's eyes widened, and he looked at Kazuya.

                "Spain?"

                "Yeah," Kazuya said, a small smile on his face, "It's an excellent opportunity."

                "Oh," Eijun looked down at his orange juice somberly. This was the first time they had spoken about Kazuya's life beyond university. Up until this point, they had been happily playing make-believe, going out to the bars, having fun and being carefree. Not once had they actually spoken about Kazuya's plans.

                Neither of them wanted to, Kazuya had discovered.

                There was another stretch of awkward silence before Eijun's father unexpectedly came in, covered in snow.

                "What are you doing back?" Eijun's mother asked in surprise.

                "Too much snow. Can't get a thing done. I'm taking the day off," he huffed, pulling off his layers.

                Kazuya was relieved at the distraction, and the rest of the morning was spent with pleasant conversation and good food courtesy of Eijun's mother.

                "This is delicious!" Kazuya said, shoveling food into his mouth.

                "Thank you," she smiled kindly, "I certainly try. My husband here is the real cook of the house," she gave her husband a playful wink, "He cooks the most wonderful things."

                After they finished eating, Eijun and Kazuya went upstairs to shower and dress. Eijun was going to take Kazuya out to the orchard, which would require the 'pickup truck with snow tires and really good boots'. Kazuya didn't have real snow boots, so he had to borrow Eijun's, and Eijun wore his father's. They bundled up and climbed into a large red pickup with a plow shovel attached to the front. They drove slowly on a small pathway recently plowed by Eijun's father until they reached the orchard; a wide, expansive space with lines and lines of brown barren trees, their branches like dark lace against the gray-white sky.

                Kazuya jumped out of the truck as soon as Eijun stopped. He took a deep breath of the crispest and freshest air he had ever breathed. Even if it was the dead of winter, this orchard was beautiful.

                "So there you go; our apple orchard," Eijun said, coming up next to him, breath fogging the air, his smile soft and knowing as he gazed at Kazuya. Kazuya didn't answer. The snow was falling amongst them, and Kazuya could almost imagine this landscape as though it were a painting, and when he turned to look at Eijun, rosy from the cold, smile still in place, his eyes crinkled at the corners from the sheer brilliance of his smile, Kazuya could imagine him as a painting too; a masterpiece, more perfect and bright than any other work of art.

                Kazuya turned back to look at the orchard, when suddenly Eijun started running, pell-mell, tripping in the deep snow and cackling like a hyena. It looked fun. So Kazuya joined in. He slid when he hit a slight slope, and began tumbling the rest of the way down. He laughed even though the snow was cold and wet and soaking his jeans. He laughed even harder when Eijun ran over to him, feigning concern, then pummeled him in the chest with a snowball. Kazuya leapt to his feet and immediately retaliated, throwing less of a snowball and more of a scoopful of powder at Eijun, and those fierce golden eyes intensified with competitiveness and glee, and they began showering each other in snow, diving behind trees, building small snow walls as shields, and giggling like children.

                Kazuya's first snowball fight.

 

*

 

                After their snowball fight they got back into the truck, blasted the heat, and slowly made their way back to the house to change into fresh clothes and get something to eat. Eijun's hair was sticking to his forehead and he kept feeling a surge of joy bubble in his stomach. He had to keep looking over at Kazuya to make sure he was real, that this was real, that they had just had a snowball fight in his family orchard and that he had Kazuya all to himself for a whole month.
                They dried off, changed clothes, and Eijun made them hot cocoa. Kazuya didn't like sweets, so Eijun made sure to make his less sweet. They hung around the house for the rest of the day and when dinnertime rolled around, his mom popped her head into the living room.

                "Hey, you two, after dinner, we are all going to pick out a Christmas tree, want to come?"

                Eijun looked over at Kazuya, about to ask him what he wanted, but his face said it all; there was an almost innocent gleam in his eyes, a slight smile tugging at his lips, and an almost curious fascination about his entire being that made Eijun both happy and sad.

                He was learning more about Kazuya every day without Kazuya having to say a thing.

                After dinner, they split up to help pick out the tree as they didn't have a car large enough to fit everyone. His parents rode in the truck, and he, Kazuya, and grandpa got into the Toyota to follow. Grandpa must like Kazuya, Eijun thought, he never willingly sits in the back.

                The smell of pine greeted them when they hopped out of their cars and made their way to the small Christmas tree stand at the center of a maze of trees in all shapes and sizes. It was cold, and Eijun shoved his hands into his pockets. The Sawamuras knew the people who ran this place; it was a father-son thing, and the son had gone to high school with Eijun. They always made sure to chat  bit whenever they saw each other. Eijun waved to him as they neared.

                "Hey!"

                "Hey, Eijun, what's up, how are you?" he grinned.

                "Good. This is my friend Kazuya," Eijun grabbed Kazuya's elbow and yanked him closer.

                "Hi," Kazuya said a little coldly.

                "Hi! So, how's college?"

                "Good!" Eijun grinned. It was good seeing him again.

                They chatted a bit, then Eijun and Kazuya rejoined the family, who were deliberating between two trees; a really plump one, and one that was tall and perfectly symmetrical.

                "I think they're both nice," his mom said, "You boys choose."

                "I like the fat one!" Eijun yelled, jumping a little, throwing his fist into the air.

                "I like the tall one," Kazuya said, cocking his head to the side.

                "Let's go with the tall one," Eijun said quickly. This was probably the first time in a long time--if ever--Kazuya had gotten a Christmas tree. He earned the right to pick it out.

                "No, no," Kazuya shook his head and grinned, "I think we should get the chubby one. It's cute, and almost as tall as the other one, anyway. If Eijun wants that one, we should definitely get that one," Kazuya looked over at Eijun and winked. Eijun flushed. Cheeky bastard.

                Grandpa made a point of rolling his eyes so magnificently, his head swiveled. It reminded Eijun so much of Kuramochi he almost fell over.

                Great, so even more reason for his family to think he was sleeping with Kazuya. Which wouldn't be so bad if he was, but he wasn't, so the embarrassment brought no secret pleasure.

                Unfortunately, this train of thought led to a few rather amorous images to pop into Eijun's head and he groaned and slapped his face, much to the surprise of everyone present, but they knew better than to ask. Just another one of Eijun's quirks.

                Excellent. So now Eijun was thinking of sleeping with Kazuya while picking out Christmas trees with his family. Stupid glasses-wearing bastard.

 

*

 

                Kazuya was incredibly excited. They picked out the fat tree, carried it into the house, and set it up so that tomorrow evening they could decorate it. He hadn't decorated a tree in ages.

                The next day, he and Eijun made a fire in the fireplace, bundled up, and watched tv together until the afternoon. Then they went to The Corner to meet up with Wakana for a few drinks and some dinner. But all Kazuya could think about was decorating the tree.

                When they got back, Eijun's mother had made chocolate-chip cookies, and the two older men had already put all of the lights up on the tree. Christmas music blared from their tv speakers. Kazuya could smell the pine, and started walking to the living room...

                ...but Eijun grabbed Kazuya's arm and began dragging him upstairs.

                "You can't decorate the tree and have cookies without the appropriate Christmas spirit!" he said loudly, tripping slightly, his socks slick on the stairs.

                Kazuya had no idea what this meant, so he stupidly stumbled up the stairs after Eijun. When they got to Eijun's room, Kazuya watched as he dug around his closet for a minute before pulling out the ugliest Christmas sweater Kazuya had ever seen in his entire life. Oh for chrissakes...

                "Wear it!" Eijun yelled, throwing it at Kazuya's face, "I have a Christmas t-shirt I can wear instead!"

                "Ugh, it's so ug--"

                "--Majestic? Seasonal? Perfect? I know!" Eijun grinned wildly, then tugged off his sweater. Kazuya could see the goosebumps rise on his skin at being exposed to the slightly chilly room. Kazuya looked down at the sweater. He looked back up at Eijun. Then back down at the sweater. When he looked up again, Eijun had slid his bright green Christmas tee on, complete with a rather stupid-looking cartoon reindeer emblazoned on the front, and was digging around for a cardigan he could wear over top to stay warm.

                Kazuya sighed. When in Rome...

                The air was indeed chilly. He accidentally dropped the stupid sweater in his haste to get warm again and had to pick it up. When he stood back up, he noticed Eijun gaping at him a little. Huh. This seemed to happen a lot.

                "What are you looking at?" Kazuya said with a smirk, "Checking me out, neh, Eijun? See something you like?" Kazuya opened his arms, sweater draped over one.

                "Y-YOU!" Eijun pointed viciously, "SHUT UP AND PUT ON THE DAMN SWEATER, YOU BASTARD! I AM NOT LOOKING AT ANYTHING!"

                "Really? I could swear you were looking--"

                "--SHUT UP! IT'S NOT MY FAULT YOU'RE ATTRACTIVE!" Eijun squeezed his eyes closed as soon as the words were shouted. Kazuya began to laugh.

                "Oh? So you think I'm attractive?" Kazuya was loving this. There was quite literally nothing he enjoyed more.

                "I DIDN'T MEAN TO SAY THAT. SHUT UP, YOU'RE UGLY," Eijun pouted, crossing his arms firmly. He threw himself into a small armchair and scowled severely, his face so twisted he looked like a little red raisin.

                Kazuya wanted to tease him some more, but he was worried he'd genuinely upset Eijun, so he settled for a chuckle and slid the sweater on.

                "Ta-da," Kazuya said unenthusiastically.

                "Hmph. Good. Let's go downstairs," Eijun was still pouting. What a baby.

                So he thinks I'm attractive. That's a step in the right direction, Kazuya thought smugly. He was feeling remarkably good about himself. He purposely brushed against Eijun when they both walked out in the hall and gave him a wink. Eijun sputtered adamantly, but Kazuya continued walking.

                It was amazing, really, how warm and happy Kazuya felt in the Sawamura household. Decorating the tree, stuffing himself full of cookies and eggnog and all of that stereotypical Christmas stuff he never did...it was overwhelming sometimes but also wonderful and exciting. Towards the end of the evening, Eijun's grandfather poured both them eggnog, but with bourbon this time. Eijun's mother and father went to bed (it had gotten very late), so the three of them sat in the living room by the beautiful tree, fire crackling, and occasionally spoke, but mostly sat in contented silence, sipping on their eggnog. After about an hour or so, the old man went to bed, giving both young men an affectionate pat on the shoulder on his way out.

                Eijun and Kazuya sat next to each other on the couch, the fire only embers, but the green and blue and red lights from the tree casting the room in an ethereal glow, making the shadows of Eijun's eyelashes flicker like the embers, soft but dark. It was here, as their arms pressed against each other on the couch--close but comfortable--here in this shimmery glow, snow falling outside, Kazuya realized that he loved Eijun. It wasn't a crush or an infatuation. He loved him with every single ounce, every atom, every single pore and breath and cell that made up his person.

                Kazuya loved Eijun.

                I love Eijun.

 

*

 

                The month that Kazuya was with him was the happiest Eijun had been. They drank hot cocoa and tea (and Kazuya drank a lot of coffee) and ran around in the snow and went sledding and took walks in the frigid and beautiful country winter. Eijun had thought they were close before, but now they had a bond that was indescribable; it was something unspoken but present and Eijun found himself trying to grasp it, categorize it, name it...but he couldn't. So he decided to not worry about it. He was happy, Kazuya was happy, they were both young and carefree and were now more inseparable than before.

                On Christmas day, Eijun gave Kazuya an intricate and hand-crafted cutting board to hang as a decoration in Kazuya's kitchen.

                "It was made by a high school friend!" Eijun said excitedly, "He's a very handy carpenter!"

                Kazuya grinned that perfect grin, and promised to hang it in the kitchen as soon as they got back to school. Then he gave Eijun his gift; a few books full of dance essays.

                "I know you like to read," Kazuya said, for once not looking shy or embarrassed, "So I thought you might as well read something that isn't crammed full of shoujo...things. Anyways, some of your favorite choreographers wrote some very good essays, I think you should--"

                "I LOVE IT!" Eijun screeched, holding the books to the ceiling as though presenting them to the heavens, "THIS IS PERFECT, THANK YOU KAZUYA!"

                "Geez," Kazuya rubbed his ears, "So. Loud. Always."

                Eijun laughed like a maniac and proceeded to run around the house showing his books to his family.

                It was a good break, a fantastic vacation. But school was soon upon them again, and they both had to get back to reality. But it was okay, Eijun realized. Kazuya was still all his for the next few months; he'd still see him every day.

                Eijun closed his eyes and tried not to think about when that time, too, would pass.

 

*

 

                Kuramochi cast Eijun in his senior piece, an unsurprising move, but it still resulted in Eijun weeping with joy.

                "I got into my two favorite seniors' works this year!" he sobbed, rubbing his eyes as Mochi and Kazuya tried to make fun of him. His genuine happiness shut them up. Not only had he been cast in the two senior works he wanted to be in, he had been cast in every single official show the school put on this year.

                Rehearsals and life went on. Kazuya noticed a shift in Eijun. He seemed wiser, somehow. Older. More mature. He spent a lot of time scribbling choreographic ideas in his notebook when he and Kazuya did homework together, and within a week he had read every single one of the essays in those books Kazuya had gotten him.

                Despite this change, Eijun also seemed to have more energy than ever, despite dancing and being on the go for as much as nine hours a day. And his energy was somehow infectious. Kazuya was exhausted; his schedule was equally as busy, but whenever he was around Eijun he'd follow him in a feverish daze, to parties, to the bars, to restaurants. Kazuya never did understand how people like Mochi and Eijun had such energy.

                The faculty concert came, and when Kataoka's piece was on, Kazuya watched from the wings. Kataoka's choreography was firey, passionate, violent, and Eijun shined like he had never shined before, his hair and sweat flying, his loose light green costume twisting and turning around his body. He held the last moment, after everyone else had fallen to the ground, suspended, slowly sinking after fifteen minutes of rigorous and brutal dancing, the audience captivated, leaning forward in their seats, until he finally melted into the ground and the lights went out.

 

*

 

                "How you danced tonight," Kataoka said to Eijun after the faculty show, "Is how you need to dance for the rest of your life. That passion, the drive...it was all there."

                By this point in his life, Eijun realized that this was the highest compliment he could ever receive from Kataoka. This was significant. So significant, in fact, he couldn't even yell or shout in joy, or punch the air in celebration. He felt his stomach drop and after a moment of gaping at Kataoka, he managed to gather himself enough to nod and thank his teacher.

                With the faculty concert out of the way, all he needed to focus on was Kuramochi's piece and his own junior piece. He decided on a trio, and asked Haruno, Mochi, and Kazuya to be in it. They all accepted, despite two of them being seniors and working on their own pieces.

                It was an exciting time to work; Eijun was so busy he was hardly home anymore. He and his friends were practically living out of the dance building. He only came home to shower and to sleep; he even ate at the dance building. All he thought about was dance, his friends, Kazuya, and what a good time they had on weekends when they actually had a bit of a break from their hectic schedules. But he didn't feel tired, he felt invigorated, feverish in his desire to create and explore with the people he had grown to care about so deeply in his three years at the school.

                His passion was bleeding into his rehearsals, which he had to schedule at odd hours to get studio time as seniors got priority (sometimes at around seven in the morning, when the building opened). He was obsessed, and he pressed for his dancers to bring a lot of intensity to his work even though he could tell they were getting burnt out, Kazuya included. So Eijun finished his piece, then shortened their rehearsal schedule to once a week...he wanted to avoid over-rehearsing anyway. It has to stay fresh, Eijun thought, frowning at his notebook, tapping his pen against the lined paper, It has to stay fresh and raw.

                Then came the junior showing, and Eijun and the rest of the juniors had to go in front of the school of dance and present their work just like the seniors did. And he was horrified. He saw how nasty showings could go, after all.

                But the faculty loved it. Loved it. They hardly had any critiques. The sound was perfect, the cast well-chosen, the coaching of the dancers spot-on. The costumes were a little rough, but he could fix that easily. He felt...happy. And satisfied. And suddenly all of the rough patches he hit his first two years didn't matter anymore. Because he had created something beautiful and immortal. Because he had been cast in everything he auditioned for this year. Because he finally felt like he was a dancer and a choreographer and not just a person taking class. He was no longer blindly drowning in a sea of a world he didn't belong in. He not only belonged but he contributed.

                The senior showings fluttered by like wind-blown pages, and Eijun enjoyed being in Kuramochi's piece, which was an easygoing, fun work that did require some crazy flexibility, but was otherwise comfortable to perform. Unfortunately, the faculty was unimpressed with the work as a whole, and even during the dress rehearsal, Mochi received no praise.

                "Don't worry about them, guys," he said gruffly to his cast, "I set out to make this piece fun and chill and I think I accomplished that. Don't let them get to you. Keep performing your best. You guys rock!"

                They all looked at Kuramochi with respect. He was handling the situation with a shocking amount of grace; he had completely reworked the piece after the first senior showing and it still wasn't enough, but he was at peace with what he created.

                During the dress rehearsal, Eijun and the others walked out to sit in the house to see the pieces they weren't in. This would be Eijun's last time to see Kazuya's senior solo, which was a beautiful piece, soft and slow and graceful.

                It looked different this time, underneath the lighting and with his costume and his sound coming from the theater's sound system. It was even more immersive, and Eijun could swear Kazuya was floating on top of the floor. It was so different than anything else he had ever choreographed; Kazuya loved using weight and gravity, but here he was defying it. The skill with which he could change his quality was astoundingly gorgeous, and Eijun noticed things no one else ever would; how vulnerable Kazuya was making himself, how soft his sharp edges appeared, how he looked peaceful and dreamlike...he was showing the world a side of himself no one knew about.

                And I love him for it, Eijun realized, swallowing hard, tears streaming down his face, I love him.

                It was a good thing Eijun was sitting in the back, otherwise Mochi would never let him live down the tears. After the dress rehearsal, Eijun felt his feet carry him straight to Kazuya, and he threw his arms around him in a tight hug.

                "Woah," Kazuya said in surprise, staggering, "You okay?"

                Eijun just nodded, pressing his face into Kazuya's shoulder. I love him so much.

                "O...kay," Kazuya said hesitantly, awkwardly patting Eijun's back, "You can get off me now, idiot."

                Of course the asshole would have to ruin the moment. Eijun huffed, pushing Kazuya away.

                "I WAS JUST MOVED BY YOUR PERFORMANCE! YOU DON'T NEED TO BE SUCH A DICK, YOU BASTARD!" he yelled, poking Kazuya hard in the chest. Kazuya cackled.

 

*

 

                Eijun's junior piece was a success. They performed it at the junior concert, and though Kazuya found the work to be mentally taxing, he was a little sad to see it end. If Eijun had the time and resources, he could develop that work into something much larger. The audience loved it. The faculty loved it. Everyone loved it.

                But the following week saw the end of classes and finals soon followed. The end was nearing. Kazuya packed his things. The only clothing he had left in his closet were his dress clothes and cap and gown. Tomorrow was graduation. Tomorrow was the start of a new reality.

                Eijun, Haruichi, Furuya, Haruno, Wakana, Kuramochi, and Kazuya all decided to go out for one last evening of drinks and food together. It wasn't going to be a wild one; they all wanted to remember and enjoy every detail.

                They ordered beer and sat outside on the patio of one of their favorite bars. Looking up at the night sky arching above them, they talked about the future. Kazuya had decided to take the internship in Spain, and Mochi was  applying for grad school down south, which surprised everyone.

                "What?!" he snapped defensively, "You don't think I'm smart enough for grad school?!"

                "No," Haruichi said softly, a small smile on his face, "You just never seemed to show interest in that before."

                "Hmph. I want to continue my education," he grumbled, "Besides, if I get my masters, I could teach at a university, which means I could just keep choreographing and stuff. And make decent money. But this summer, I'm climbing the Rockies again and I'm finally gonna go skydiving! Gotta celebrate my little bit of freedom while I can!"

                Wakana rubbed at her temples.

                "You make me so nervous," she shook her head, "You're going to get yourself killed."   

                Mochi grinned devilishly, and Wakana rolled her eyes but slid her hand in his, which surprised no one.

                "Maybe I should take you rock climbing," he joked.

                "Actually, that would be really cool," she said, "I've kind of always wanted to do it. Not the jumping out of the plane, stuff, though. Absolutely none of that."

                Kazuya rolled his eyes. Kuramochi saw it and kicked his leg from underneath the table.

                "Now you know how I feel on a daily basis," Mochi muttered. Eijun flushed, looking confused. Kazuya choked on his beer, shin throbbing.

                Eventually, people shifted or moved or met other friends. Wakana and Mochi went off together, and soon Eijun and Kazuya were the only ones at the table.

                "I'm a little surprised they got together," Kazuya said suddenly, "It always seemed like she wasn't interested. But I did start to suspect things earlier this year."

                Eijun shrugged.

                "I don't know how it happened, but I saw it coming a mile away," he sighed, "But I'm glad for it. They both complement each other, I guess."

                "They do," Kazuya nodded. The murmur of the people around them filled in the gaps, but Kazuya was comfortable.

                "You're going to be gone soon," Eijun said, words heavy.

                "Yeah. I'll be a big kid," Kazuya joked, "Spain should be awesome, though."

                "It does...sound awesome," Eijun stared at his beer. He looked dangerously close to crying.

                "In a year, you'll be out too," Kazuya said quickly, trying to lighten the mood, "And maybe you and I can dance together again."

                Eijun perked up.

                "Yeah?"

                "Yeah."

                "You'll forget about me," Eijun deflated, "You'll be off having adventures and doing awesome things and working with awesome people..."

                "Eijun, you may not realize this, but you are a remarkably hard person to forget."

                "Yeah, but still!"

                "What do you want to do when you graduate?" Kazuya asked suddenly.

                "I..." Eijun trailed away, eyes drifting to the other patrons on the patio, "I honestly don't know."

                "I want  to dance with you," Kazuya said firmly, throwing caution to the wind. Fuck it. Be honest.

                "You...what?" Eijun's golden eyes shifted, set on Kazuya intensely.

                "I want to work with you when you graduate college," he said, "Have you ever given thought to a company?"

                "Like...what kind of company I want to dance in, or...?"

                "Owning a company," Kazuya clarified. Eijun's jaw dropped.

                "Do...you want to start a dance company with me?!"

                "Yes," Kazuya was leaning close to those golden eyes now. He wasn't afraid. His desire was too strong.

                "Wow," Eijun blinked a few times, and Kazuya could see the gears turning in his head.

                "If you want to, that is," Kazuya sighed, sitting back in his chair, creating distance between them.

                "I'd have to think about it," Eijun put his head in his hand and pouted. So cute.

                "Of course."

                "I have a whole year to think it over. But I can tell you, I'd love working with you in any capacity...I just don't know what other opportunities are out there yet," Eijun said gently, "And I don't know anything about running a company."

                "Neither do I, but we can learn. But you have a year. So think it over," Kazuya said, taking a swig of beer.

                "I'm going to miss you."

                The words hit Kazuya like bricks. He didn't want to get sentimental. He wasn't sure he could handle that now.

                "Eijun..."

                "Seriously," Eijun was looking at him, those golden irises wet and desperate, "I'm going to miss you a lot! You don't even know...how much I'll miss you..." the tears were out now, falling quite rapidly, and Eijun's lower lip was trembling. Without thinking, Kazuya reached out and took Eijun's face in his hands.

                "Eijun, please stop crying," he said softly, his heart thrumming at the thrill of touching Eijun like this, his thumbs gently brushing the wetness from his cheeks away. Eijun nodded slowly, sniffling, and pulled away from Kazuya. He wiped his eyes and nose on a napkin.

                "I'm okay now," he said with a hiccup and a smile, and Kazuya couldn't stand how cute he was. He reached out and grasped Eijun's hand.

                They sat there, silent and hand-in-hand, until the bar closed. They walked home, shoulders brushing affectionately, and Kazuya knew something else was happening. He knew, deep down, something between them had changed.

                They hesitated in the elevator when they reached Eijun's floor.

                "I'll...see you tomorrow," Eijun said finally, as the elevator started to beep obnoxiously.

                "Yeah," Kazuya said. He watched Eijun walk away.

                The next day, Kazuya sat with his class, Kuramochi and Nori at his side. It was odd, seeing all of his classmates decked in their black robes and caps. He tried not to get sentimental when the guest speaker gave a very moving speech about valuable life lessons.

                "Congratulations! You may now move your tassels!"      

                Kazuya reached up and moved his tassel from one side to the other.

                After the ceremony, the walk, the handshake, he was ushered outside where his dad was waiting. His dad had taken at least a dozen photos with his phone, even though it was impossible to really tell, out of the thousands of people there, which cap was Kazuya's.

                "Well done," he said, giving Kazuya a curt nod, "When you get home, I'll make reservations for us at that new upscale restaurant I was telling you about."

                Kazuya nodded, a little taken aback.

                "Also, I got you a graduation gift, but I couldn't bring it here," he went on, "I got you luggage. If you'll be traveling to Europe, you're going to need appropriate travel equipment. Here," he handed Kazuya the picture of the type of luggage from the internet. It was a nice set, sturdy-looking and efficient. It was a set Kazuya would have picked out.

                "Thanks dad," Kazuya said, looking up from the paper.

                "Hey."

                Kazuya turned; Eijun was standing there in light blue button down and nice khakis. He had his hands in his pockets, and he was looking oddly shy.

                "Hey," Kazuya said.

                "I'm Eijun," he held out his hand to Kazuya's father.

                "Nice to meet you."

                A long and awkward silence descended upon them. Finally, Kazuya's father left (he had a meeting), and Eijun and Kazuya joined up with their friends. Eijun didn't say anything about Kazuya's dad, and he was grateful for it. The day was bright and blue and he had graduated college and everyone he cared about was here.

                And he noticed Eijun wasn't crying. Not this time.

                The next day, Eijun and Haruichi helped him pack all of his stuff into the car that Kazuya's father left behind (his father rented a car on the way back). He hugged them both, then climbed into the car. Eijun and Haruichi watched him drive away.

                As he drove past the buildings of his school, the place he had lived for so long, he couldn't help but think the whole thing had happened so quickly. It felt like there should have been some long, drawn out ceremony or pomp, a moment of recognition for the thousands of individuals who had graduated yesterday and were not coming back. But instead, students staying for the summer were laughing, playing Frisbee, talking about the classes they were going to take next year, soaking up the sun.

                Life went on. 

Chapter Text

                Eijun spent his summer helping out at Miss Laura's studio. She hired him to teach summer classes (which was good, seeing as he was no longer making money on the farm) and he discovered he actually enjoyed teaching, especially the little kids. When he wasn't teaching, he was with Wakana at The Corner or taking small road trips to visit Haruichi (who lived an hour and a half away). No matter what Eijun was doing, though, he was always messaging Kazuya.

                A few weeks after school ended, Kazuya packed up and went off to begin his internship in Spain. The time skip was a little funky, but they usually managed to both message each other consistently on Facebook...and they were always consistent. Not once did either of them fail to message the other daily.

                Eijun missed Kazuya so much.

                But he did not allow himself to dwell on it too much; he kept himself busy with teaching or being with friends or even brainstorming ideas for his senior pieces. He spent a lot of time on Facebook looking at pictures Kazuya uploaded of his adventures in Spain. Kazuya even took small trips to other countries via train; a weekend in London, a picture of him climbing the Eiffel Tower, a snapshot of him at Loch Ness. Eijun envied his adventures.

                 But there was also another kind of envy in his heart.

                In many of the pictures, Kazuya was not alone. As he was working with a dance company, many of his shots were with company members, and some of them were remarkably attractive. And European.

                Attractive and European.

                This was not calming to Eijun by any means.

                It reached a fever pitch when one morning Eijun checked Facebook and saw Kazuya uploaded a picture of him and a blonde dancer from Ireland leaping in the air together. It was a cool shot on a crowded Madrid street. Eijun noticed that this wasn't the only photo uploaded, and scrolled to the next one. Ah. A photo of Kazuya dipping the blonde in a dramatic way. It was done in jest, most likely, but Eijun did not appreciate how close their faces were.

                But he told himself to ignore it.

                Just ignore it.

                It didn't mean anything.

                It was probably a joke, they were friends. Most likely.

                What if they were friends with benefits?

                Fuck. Nah, they probably weren't.

                But still.

                Eijun messaged Kazuya.

 

good morning, asshole!

 

good evening, brat

 

how r u?

 

fine. tired. have a lot of work to do. still in bed. only 8am here.

 

the company's doing well?

 

as far as i know. they aren't firing me lol

 

i saw ur pics. super fun.

 

yeah it was a lot of fun. me and a few of the company members went into town yesterday. now im in bed drinking wine being lazy. yes, i am drinking leftover wine from last night at 8 in the morning. dont judge. i dont technically have to work today.

 

who was the blonde in that one pic? her leap was awesome

 

margret. she moved to spain a few years ago. shes from ireland. her husband just moved to join her.

 

                Eijun exhaled. Good. She was married.

 

cool.

 

why do you ask? you jealous?

 

WAT. NO. Y WOULD I BE JEALOUS

 

because you arent in spain meeting hot spaniards

 

IM DOING JUST FINE THANK U

 

aww you miss me, don't you?

 

GO DIE.

 

you totally miss me. what are you wearing?

 

                Eijun really wished he hadn't been drinking his grandfather's bourbon, because it shot out his nose painfully and he coughed, trying to regain composure. Of all the things in the world, he was certainly not ready for that. What the hell was Kazuya saying?

                Eijun stared at his phone, a right panic setting in. Was Kazuya being serious? Sexy? Was he joking? Eijun had no idea how to respond. He exhaled. He needed to think.

                But then another layer of panic settled in. If he took too long to respond and Kazuya was being serious, he might think Eijun wasn't interested. Fuck.

                But surely Kazuya was joking. He wasn't interested in Eijun...right?

                Eijun's fingers hovered over his touchscreen. Eijun decided to go the literal route...he'd gauge Kazuya's intentions from there.

 

sweatpants and a shirt

 

                Eijun hesitated before hitting send. He thought a moment, set his phone down, ripped his shirt off, then picked his phone back up and backspaced.

 

sweatpants

 

                He hit send before he could overthink things. His hands were sweating. He glanced up at his open bedroom door. It was two in the morning, but should he, like, close it? Or was Kazuya joking and nothing was going to happen? He jumped up from his bed and closed the door just in case. By the time he got back, Kazuya had messaged him again.

 

just sweatpants?

 

                Eijun exhaled.

 

yeah. just sweatpants.

 

no underwear?

 

                Eijun leapt of his bed, kicked off his sweatpants and yanked his boxer briefs down to his ankles. He kicked them aside, then pulled his sweatpants back on.

 

yep, just sweatpants. no underwear. y?

 

                Eijun decided it was best to play coy. That way if Kazuya was joking Eijun could just play innocent, but if he was being serious Eijun was being playful.

                This was very hard work. No wonder people sometimes complained about being single.

               

im just wearing underwear

 

                Eijun's breath caught in his throat. Kazuya was an ocean away, probably lying in bed, rosy from red wine, all muscle and smooth skin, in his underwear and messaging Eijun. Fuck. Eijun dropped his phone, hastily picked it up, set it on his lap, and wiped his sweaty hands on his bedding. What the hell should he say? He slowly typed.

 

o. that's cool.

 

                Eijun shook his head. "o. that's cool."? That's the dumbest response ever! He hit backspace. Fuck. Okay. He needed to say something sexy. How does one be sexy? How does sexiness transpire? Can someone summon sexiness? His heart was hammering. A lot was at stake here. He could potentially have odd message-sex with Kazuya, and though he wasn't sure how it would work, he was one thousand percent on board.

                Was it bad he was considering Googling 'how to sext?'

                Probably.

                Maybe he should just be honest.

 

i wish u were here

 

                Eijun typed it as fast as he could and hit send before he could second-guess himself. But, unfortunately, this had the rather nasty side-effect of him second-guessing himself after sending the message.

                Why was his life so difficult?

 

what would you do if i was there?

 

                If I messaged all of the things I'd do to you, I'm pretty sure my phone would set on fire from the sin, Eijun thought wryly. But he closed his eyes and thought. He'd want to touch Kazuya everywhere, smooth skin beneath his fingertips, twitching as his hands travelled to new locations, Kazuya's brown eyes intense with desire, muscle taut and quivering...

                Woah. Eijun was getting really turned on by this.

                Eijun's phone buzzed again. Sliding one hand down into his pants, he used the other to snatch the phone to read Kazuya's second message.

 

do you know what i would do if i were there?

 

                Eijun felt himself grin and he hastily typed back.

 

wat would u do

 

                Eijun waited, holding his phone so tightly it hurt, waiting, waiting, waiting...and Kazuya's response came as a string of messages:

 

id lay you down on the bed

 

                Eijun bit his lower lip, getting hotter.

 

id whisper in your ear

 

                Eijun's eyelids fluttered closed for a moment and could almost feel Kazuya's breath, hot and smooth, against his earlobe...

 

and then id tuck you in because its past your bedtime!

 

                Eijun's jaw dropped. Wait, what?! He frantically sat back up, let go of his erection, and held his phone with both hands and reread the words. That goddamn, no-good, asshole-bastard! He was trembling with fury when his phone went off again.

 

good night over there, brat! ;)

 

                Eijun threw his phone across the room.

 

*

 

                The seniors sat for the first of their weekly meetings with Rei. They had to be assigned their jobs for the rest of the year, and start planning their marketing, photo shoots, and other work.

                Eijun wanted the job with the least amount of responsibility, so he took the job of costume manager. His work would only happen during shows, and he didn't have to talk on the phone with people or schedule anything. Haruichi took the responsibility of being their concert coordinator (a very big job), Furuya took sound, and Haruno took the position of co-coordinator to help out Haruichi. This was going to be a busy year.

                "I can't believe you took the concert coordinator job!" Eijun exclaimed as he and Haruichi walked out of the meeting, "That's a lot of work!"

                "I could use the experience," Haruichi shrugged, "I think I'd like to go into dance festival planning when I graduate, anyways."

                Eijun didn't know this. How interesting.

                "By the way, I like your phone," Haruichi said, pointing at Eijun's brand-new sleek phone, "It's new, isn't it?"

                "Uh...yeah I broke...my other one," Eijun said darkly. Haruichi lifted his eyebrow, but didn't ask.

                Eijun was doing his solo this semester, but as a senior, he still had to attend the audition and take notes for the others. Haruichi and Haruno were doing group pieces, so he kept diligent notes for them and made suggestions on potential cast members. After the audition, the seniors and Rei all met at their conference table and the next three hours were spent casting people as they didn't want any of the underclassmen to be more than double-cast this year. It was tedious, and kind of boring. Eijun tuned out people bickering over who got who, and messaged Kazuya instead, even though he knew he was probably asleep.

               

jesus, this casting thing is super boring

 

you doing a solo this semester?

 

y r u awake? isn't it late over there?

 

pfft. why did you message me if you thought i was asleep?

 

i dunno

 

well, yes, it is late, but the company and i went out for drinks.

 

oh

 

                Stress. That was the best way to summarize the following weeks of the seniors' lives. Eijun and his friends still went out on weekends, but mostly any free time Eijun had, he spent sleeping or watching movies. He was tired. He'd rather crack open a beer at home and stay in his pajamas. Besides, going out without Mochi wasn't as fun, though he'd never tell Haruichi that.

                Messaging Kazuya was part of what was keeping Eijun sane. Not only did he have a pile of work for dance to complete (his solo needed to be choreographed and press release started, he had three dance history papers due soon, and he needed to make a spreadsheet of all of the costumes for the upcoming concert), but he also had tons of work from his other non-dance classes. It was torture.

                But Kazuya helped. He offered him advice, sent him examples of professional press releases, and helped Eijun figure out how to budget his time wisely. If I manage to survive this year, it's all due to Kazuya, Eijun thought, miserable and tired. It was five in the morning and he was working on a paper for a class he had later that day.

 

i have decided to quit school and become a male stripper, Eijun typed to Kazuya.

 

woah, what are you doing awake over there?

 

finishing a paper. but i'm gonna quit and be and be a stripper instead.

 

as good as that sounds, i think your family would kill you

 

they would.

 

you are truly a senior, now. every dance senior in the history of history has considered quitting and becoming a stripper

 

we'd be good at it, with all of our dance training

 

yeah, nothing says sexy like graham technique

 

oh, martha.

 

id definitely pay to see you do a graham combo at a strip club

 

u'd pay to see me at a strip club regardless, Eijun typed before he could stop himself. Fuck. He had gone too far.  He was about to type an apology when Kazuya answered.

 

thats true

 

                Eijun's heart hammered in his chest. He wasn't sure how to read that. Was Kazuya interested to see him because it would be funny? Or because he think it would be...attractive? This kept happening, Eijun noticed, all this ambiguity. But it was probably to be funny, considering the prank Kazuya played on him over the summer with the sexting thing, so Eijun shrugged it off:

 

i always thought it would be a bit drafty wearing nothing but speedos and bowties.

 

probably. hey, listen, i have to go now i have to pick up a guest artist from the airport, ill message you later. finish your paper!

 

                Eijun closed Facebook and went back to working on his paper, but his mind was no longer in work-mode. God, he was tired.

 

*

 

                Eijun was starting to think about what he wanted to do post-graduation. He definitely wanted to start a company with Kazuya, he knew that now, but not right away. He needed to go out and do something on his own. So he looked at postings in the dance building for any good internships. Nothing really caught his eye, but he saw a random flyer for hiking in Boulder, Colorado. He wasn't sure how it had gotten posted in the dance building, but the picture was lovely. Eijun had never seen mountains as big as the Rockies. And Kuramochi was living in Denver, currently, working on his master's. Maybe Eijun should message him about it. Tall mountains, fresh streams...it sounded so peaceful.

                But Eijun needed to keep his priorities straight; he needed to find a dance internship or job. That was important. He wanted experience if he was going to commit to starting a company with Kazuya. He didn't want to be dead weight. He didn't want to let Kazuya down.

                He still pocketed the flyer.

               

*

 

                He was struggling with his solo. He had no inspiration. He kept asking for feedback, but everything he heard wasn't helping. He was starting to obsess over it.

                "Eijun, it's really not that bad," Haruchi said gently after the faculty tore it to shreds at the senior showing, "They liked the floorwork."

                "Yeah, but the whole piece isn't floorwork!" Eijun said miserably. The whole latter half of the solo was fine; he was struggling with the beginning.

                "Maybe it should be," Haruichi shrugged, "Just a thought."

                Eijun was quiet for a moment. He hadn't considered this. If they loved the floorwork so much, maybe he should make the whole damn thing on the floor.

                So that's what he decided he would do.

                He wasn't happy with his sound or costume choice, either. Without inspiration, it was hard to choose something. Everything about this solo felt piecemeal and thrown together.

                He could tell Rei was disappointed in him.

                But fuck it.

                He'd give them six minutes of floorwork, throw together a goddamn costume and choose a sound and call it a day. He always had his group piece next semester. He preferred choreographing groupwork anyways.

                Tired and miserable, only a week before the senior show, he collapsed in his bed. Kazuya had messaged him throughout the day, but for the first time ever, Eijun was too tired to respond. He buried his face in his pillow and ignored the buzzing of his phone. He dozed off for a bit, but awoke to what sounded like Haruichi and Furuya in the kitchen. It sounded like Wakana was with them. He sighed, then rolled over onto his back. His eyes fell upon the flyer for Boulder, which he had, for some bizarre reason, posted on his corkboard above his desk. Looking at the green grass, the two people in the kayak on the river, the mountains big and grandiose behind them...he felt calm. I can get through this year, he told himself, squeezing his eyes shut, I can get through this year.

                He reached over and checked Kazuya's messages.

 

wow no obnoxious hello today

hey, you gonna answer me?

yo, eijun, you okay?

its odd to think ill be back in the states in a few months.

HEY

 

hi, kazuya, srry, i just had a bit of a meltdown

 

np how are you?

 

just...peachy. i miss u and mochi a lot. wakana and haruichi are the only reason i'm still sane. also my solo sucks, but i'm just gonna bullshit it and focus on my group piece next semester.

 

group pieces are the best, anyway

 

i agree. so u coming back to the states soon?

 

yeah, in a few months.

 

                Eijun took a deep breath.

 

what will u do?

 

im moving to nyc

 

                A throbbing pain shot through Eijun's chest, and he swallowed. He knew it was dumb...Kazuya certainly wouldn't move back here, there was nothing for him here.

 

u still wanna open a company w me?

 

duh, idiot

 

bc i think i wanna do that w u. but i'd like to try for an internship first, just to get more experience. i'd also like to get out of the states, too. see what's out there, u kno?

 

yep. thats fine, take your time. im just glad you want to do the company thing with me.

 

                Eijun looked up at the Boulder flyer again. He closed his eyes, and imagined he was there...somewhere beautiful, somewhere fresh.

                The senior show came and went, and though the faculty did not care for his choice in costume, they applauded his performance and the choice he made to do almost all floorwork. By the end of it all he was sore and exhausted, but all the wiser. He was starting to get smarter about his body; he knew his limits. He was young and spry, still, obviously, but gone were the days of him dancing for several hours then running at the gym for several more hours all in one day. He budgeted his dance and conditioning lives around each other. He'd burn out if he continued doing what he did as a sophomore or junior.

                Wakana was around a lot more this year, too, which helped. A part of Eijun wondered if they sought each other's company more now that the two people they cared about were gone, but he didn't want to think about it too much. It hurt when he thought about how far away Kazuya was.

               

*

 

                The faculty audition started as a disaster. Stressed and oddly confused, Eijun had trouble picking up choreography, much in the same way he used to a few years ago. He was sluggish. Disoriented. It was an absolute mess. Luckily, Eijun was much more experienced now; he got a grip on himself, and managed to not only salvage but actually perform very well during the latter part of the audition.

                But apparently that was not enough, as his name was not on the cast list the next day. The only senior's name not on the list, in fact.

                Eijun sighed. He'd been here before. He was surprised that the faculty didn't have more faith in him...they had seen and worked with him for four years...one bad audition did not mean he wouldn't be able to perform well in their works.

                Yui, an underclassmen whom Eijun was already scouting to be in his senior group piece, pulled Eijun aside a few days later.

                "Hey, I loved your audition for the last piece," he said, "I really don't understand why you weren't cast...you're really good. And I'd also like to ask," he stuck his hands in his pockets, "I know we aren't supposed to be thinking about this yet, but would you like to be in my junior piece? I know you'll be busy next semester with your group piece, but..." he trailed away, then fixed Eijun with a shrug and a smile.

                Eijun felt lighter.

                "Yeah, definitely! I've seen your stuff at showings, you're really good!" Eijun puffed out his chest, "I would be honored to be in your work!"

                "Really?! Awesome, thanks!" Yui grinned, "I wanted more experienced dancers, so I was looking to members in my own class and the senior class. This is great!"

                Eijun perked up as he watched Yui run off. This was acceptable. He'd still perform next semester after all. It wasn't as prestigious as being in the faculty concert, but he'd manage. His phone went off. It was a message from Mochi.

               

Yo I heard you are on the lookout for good dance internships. I heard of a good one while in class the other day. It's an internship with a company in Italy, and it's a performance/choreography one. I emailed you the info, and I also put in a good word for you with my professor, who knows them. So if you want it, you have a good chance of getting it!

 

                Eijun's heart was hammering wildly in his ribcage.

               

that sounds awesome, thanks!

               

                Eijun applied as soon as he got home, taking care to choose his most recent headshot and revamp his resumé. Though this internship didn't deal in administrative or production work, the experience he would gain from this opportunity would be perfect. He was so excited at the prospect of spending three months in Italy, as soon as he hit send on the email, he pulled up Facebook. It was about three in the morning there, he knew, but he had to message Kazuya anyways.

 

so i just applied for a three month internship in italy

 

                Eijun grinned. It's okay if he didn't make the faculty pieces; he had bigger and better goals now.

 

*

 

                Okay, actually, it really did bother him that he didn't get cast in the faculty show.

                After he applied for the internship in Italy, he fell into a slump. Even after a relaxing and enjoyable winter break, his fatigue was only getting worse and it was rough seeing all of his friends scurry off to rehearsal. It was mid-January and miserable, and Eijun was surrounding himself with thoughts of his group piece, as the audition was in a week. Luckily, he had a very good movement phrase he wanted to start with, and the ideas he had were...well, they had potential. He sat alone in an upstairs studio, taking a breather after coming up with the phrase, and watching the snow fall outside, the large, glass windows offering him a perfect view of the swirl-gray freeze icing the university rooftops.

                His solitude and peace were punctuated by an unexpected ring from his phone. The only people who ever called him were his parents, so he considered letting it just go to voicemail. After the fourth ring, however, he caved and reached into his bag. It was an unknown number. It was probably a sales call, but curiosity got the better of him.

                "Hello?"

                "Hello? Eijun? Is this you?"

                Eijun almost dropped his phone.

                "KAZUYA?! ARE YOU...YOU'RE CALLING ME!"

                "Oh, yep, that is you. Stating the obvious like an idiot."

                "HEY! HOW ARE YOU CALLING ME?"

                "Well, you see, there is this fabulous new invention called the telephone..."

                "MIYUKI!"

                "Ha! Sorry, sorry...I just got settled in my new apartment in New York. I figured I'd call."

                Eijun closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the cool mirror behind him. That voice...it was all he wanted to hear. God, he missed it so much.

                "I'm...so glad you called," Eijun managed to choke out. Fuck, was he gonna cry? Pull yourself together, Eijun.

                "Me too," Kazuya's voice went softer, mellow, low, all nasal annoyances gone from his speech, "How have you been?"

                Eijun felt the tears leak from his eyes despite his clenched jaw and stoic grimace. They trailed down his cheeks and plopped onto his shirt from the bottom of his chin.

                "I...I've been better," he admitted.

                "Yeah, Haruichi told me you didn't get cast in the faculty concert."

                Eijun facepalmed. Kazuya was never very good at being delicate or comforting.

                "Haruichi told you?" he asked, feeling embarrassment creep up his neck like ivy, "I didn't know you two were close."

                "We aren't, really," Kazuya said nonchalantly, "He was just worried about you, so he texted me a few days ago."

                "Oh," Eijun narrowed his eyes. He knew Haruichi was just trying to help, but he was not happy about it.

                "Don't be mad, moron," Kazuya said, as though he could read Eijun's mind, "He said you've been...let's see, what words did he use? Hold on let me look at my Facebook messages...ah, yes, 'depressed, bitter, and snappy'. And I don't think he meant 'snappy' as in 'dresser', considering your recent Facebook photos of your senior solo..."

                "HEY!" Eijun yelled, his voice shrill against the quiet calm of the studio, "IT'S NOT MY FAULT! IT'S HARD FOR ME TO THINK ABOUT COSTUMING! I bullshitted the whole thing, anyway..."

                "Ha! So touchy!" Kazuya cackled, "Anyways, I figured this would be a good time to announce that I'm visiting town in April."

                Eijun actually did drop his phone this time. He snatched it back up so quickly, he almost dropped it again.

                "WHAT?!"

                "Listen to when your elder speaks, Saw-a-mur-a," Kazuya purred into the phone--it set Eijun's hair on end, "I said, I will be visiting you in April. I am officially inviting myself to crash at your apartment, as I am not buying a hotel room."

                Eijun was trying hard not to hyperventilate.

                "YOU...YOU'RE COMING HERE?!

                "Yes."

                "I'M...I'M...I'M SO EXCITED!" Eijun screeched. He heard Kazuya cuss on the other end, no doubt nursing a sore ear, but Eijun didn't care. He hopped to his feet, phone in hand, and paced the room, energy refilled.

                "Pretty sure I'm now deaf in my right ear, thank you for that," Kazuya grumbled.

                "I AM SO EXCITED!" Eijun yelled again.

                "Yes, I can tell."

                "TELL ME ABOUT NEW YORK! AND SPAIN!" Eijun said, practically skipping around the studio.

                "I will, I will. But first, I want to explain my phone situation."

                Eijun stopped skipping, confused.

                "What?"

                "Didn't you notice my name didn't come up when I called?"

                "Oh, yeah...why is that?"

                "My phone broke. I got a new one, but it's not here yet. This is my roommate's phone. Just so you know. I don't want you randomly calling him thinking it's me."

                "Oh."

                "So I want to tell you all about Ireland and New York, but I'll have to be brief. He probably wants his phone back."

                "Okay," Eijun deflated.

                "But I'll call you when I get my new phone and tell you more," Kazuya added with a chuckle.

                "OKAY!"

 

*

 

                Eijun's week shifted. He was cheerful. It was a long haul until April, but Eijun had been without Kazuya for over six months...what was just a few more?

                His new vigor showed in his work; he was churning out material--good material--faster than he ever had before. He had costume ideas. He had sound. He had a large and amazing cast (Yui was his favorite...he always played favorites. He knew it was a dick move, but Eijun didn't really care) who all knew the material like the back of their hands.

                The senior showings went well...everyone was invested in what he was doing. They loved his patterning, his movement. He took some suggestions on sound, and also altered his costume choice a little.

                Life was actually going relatively smoothly.

                And when it did get a little rough or stressful, Eijun would look up at that stupid flyer he had on his corkboard, and imagine he was there, on the river with Kazuya, the mountains shadowing them from above.

 

*

 

                Eijun couldn't sleep the night before Kazuya was going to be in town. He was so wound up, he ended up tossing and turning in excitement. He's actually going to be here. Sleep on my couch. Eat with me, talk with me...

                Eijun found himself smiling like a goddamn lunatic, so he grabbed his pillow and smothered face in it. How did Kazuya have such power over him? It wasn't fair.

                Eijun was a little concerned that the long time apart might change things, make them more distant with each other. But the second Eijun saw Kazuya's car pull into the apartment lot, the exact moment in time when he watched Kazuya clamber out of the car and stretch, all worry vaporized.

                And he ran. He ran right to him.

                Kazuya saw him a split second before Eijun made impact; a surprised smile, a mouth opening to make some kind of jibe, but it was all knocked away--literally--by Eijun's body crashing into his with more force than he intended. As Eijun threw his arms around Kazuya and buried his face into his shoulder, Kazuya was knocked backwards against the car.

                "Oof!"

                "S-sorry!" Eijun said quickly, retracting, "I'm just...it's really you!"

                "Yeah, moron, it is, what were you expecting? My twin brother?" Kazuya grumbled, rubbing at his tailbone, but snatching Eijun's wrist to keep him from backing too far away.

                Eijun soaked him up, took in every detail. He looked a little tanner and thinner than the last time Eijun had seen him. But he also looked way more mature...older, somehow. Perhaps being a 'real adult' did that to people. It was a look that suited Kazuya, and it was also incredibly sexy.

                Eijun realized a silence had fallen and that he was staring too much, but Kazuya seemed to be doing the same thing, so Eijun didn't mind. He hoped he didn't look like shit; there were bags under his eyes, but otherwise he was in good shape and he had remembered to shower this morning and wear clothes that weren't old and faded.

                "So, care to help your beloved ex-upperclassmen carry in his bag?" Kazuya grinned, breaking the silence.

                "Sure. Is it only one bag?"

                "Yep! But you can carry it in," Kazuya reached into the backseat and shoved a very heavy bag into Eijun's arms, "That is the gentlemanly thing to do; after all, I'm your guest!"

                Eijun glared at him, but let Kazuya have his way.              

                When they got to the apartment, Kazuya glanced around.

                "Huh. Not as nice as your apartment last year. It's a little less homey. But it's bigger."

                "That's because I live here with more people. Haruichi, Wakana, and Furuya also live here," Eijun dropped the heavy bag next to the couch.

                "Where are they?"
                "Furuya went home for the weekend, Wakana is working, and you just missed Haruichi, he's going to be at the library all day studying. But he'll see you tonight."

                "Cool," Kazuya put his hands in his pockets and an awkward silence ensued.

                "So...you want anything to drink?" Eijun asked after a moment.

                "Yeah, some water would be great," Kazuya said. Eijun could feel Kazuya's gaze on him as he went to the fridge and poured a glass of water. Why did Eijun feel nervous?

                "So I was thinking," Eijun said, watching Kazuya's Adam's apple as he swallowed gulpfulls of water, "We can go get dinner tonight at that one nicer restaurant, the fancy steakhouse. We went there towards the end of last year with Wakana and Haruichi, remember? I made reservations, but we can totally go somewhere else if you want. I just thought it might be fun to have a nice dinner!"

                 "Sounds good," Kazuya's eyes flashed mischievously, "You trying to wine and dine me, Eijun?"

                Eijun felt his face go bright red.

                "No!" he said hotly, "I just thought it would be nice! Gah! Can't I do anything nice for you?! Besides, I made reservations for five so Haruichi and Wakana could come, too!"

                Kazuya's smiled faltered for a moment--Eijun caught it--but he quickly laughed and threw an arm around Eijun's shoulders.

                "No need to be so touchy!" he chuckled obnoxiously--God, Eijun could smell that Kazuya smell and he forgot how much he missed it-- "I was just teasing!"

                Eijun furrowed his brow and wondered if he should have just made reservations for two. Oh well.

                "Besides," Kazuya went on, his grin absolutely wicked, "You, me, Haruichi, and Wakana would make four, not five. I thought, as a dancer, you could at least count to eight..."

                "I MEANT FOUR. I JUST MISSPOKE!" Eijun yelled, throwing Kazuya's arm off of him, "GOD, YOU ARE INFURIATING!"

                Kazuya laughed at him.

                The reservation was in an hour, so Eijun let Kazuya shower first. He sat on the couch, TV on in the background, as he messed around on his phone.

                "Yo, Eijun," he heard Kazuya say, "Sorry for taking so long, but I needed a long, hot shower. Bathroom's all yours."

                Eijun looked up and almost passed out. Kazuya was wearing nothing but a towel wrapped around his waist, body muscled and flushed and damp from the steaming shower and all Eijun wanted to do was rip that towel from his waist and drag him to bed. His hair all wet and clinging to his face...Eijun quickly looked at the television, where some anchorman was talking about politics, and tried not to look like he was horny.

                "Did you hear me?" Kazuya asked, sounding irritated, "I just said you can have the--"

                "--Yeah, I heard you," Eijun stood up, and walked past Kazuya--he smells so good--and into the bathroom.

                He slammed the door shut, feeling the steam of the bathroom engulf him. Christ. He wasn't going to make it. He was going to die. Literally die. Kazuya was naked in his apartment. This was something he had never considered.

                He yanked off his shirt and unbuttoned his jeans. He'd take the coldest fucking shower and he was going to visualize the Antarctic for good measure. And he was most certainly not going to imagine he and Kazuya, moving together to stay warm...

                ...see? This was why Eijun couldn't have nice things. He had no mental discipline.

                He angrily shoved his jeans down to his ankles and stepped out of them. There was a knock. Furiously, and forgetting he was in his boxer-briefs, he swung open the door.

                "What?!"

                Kazuya was wearing dark jeans and a dark green button-down, his hands ruffling his own wet hair to fluff it up. Why the fuck did he always look hot? Eijun wanted to punch him in the face. Was that a normal feeling?

                "Nice underwear," Kazuya grinned, staring at Eijun's crotch, "I was just going to ask if I could make myself a cocktail. I noticed you have gin in the kitchen."

                Eijun awkwardly folded his hands in front of his groin. Kazuya's eyes finally traveled up to meet his own.

                "Um," Eijun swallowed, "The gin is Wakana's. But I have some whiskey and vodka, you can make something with those!"

                Kazuya didn't appear to be really paying attention. His eyes had wandered from Eijun's and was back on his body, looking him up and down and somewhere in the dim recesses of Eijun's mind he realized Kazuya was totally checking him out. This gave him a little boost in confidence.

                "Make me one," Eijun said. When Kazuya didn't move Eijun added, suggestively, "I'm going to shower now. Are you going to watch?"

                That got his attention. Kazuya's eyes shot up to Eijun's--almost eagerly--but before either of them could say anything, they heard someone at the front door.

                "I'm home!" Wakana yelled.

                "Kazuya's here!" Eijun called, "Let him use some of your gin! I'll pay you back!"

                "No need," Wakana said, walking into view, and giving Kazuya a brief hug, "He can use as much as he wants. Eijun why are you in your under..." Wakana trailed away, going a little pale, then looking back and forth between the two of them.

                "I was just about to shower, but Kazuya needed something," Eijun said quickly.

                "Uh-huh," Wakana did not look convinced, but then she grinned, "I'll go make drinks, how does that sound? Kazuya, why don't you help me out while Eijun showers?"

               

*

 

                Kazuya was desperately trying to erase the image of Eijun's rather impressive-looking crotch from his brain. Not now, he told himself, later.

                Kazuya had missed Eijun dearly during his travels, but he was lucky in that he was so busy having adventures and working and dancing that he didn't have time to dwell on it too much. Still, everywhere he went, every old monument and castle he saw, every great work of European art he stopped to view, all he could think was Eijun would love this or Eijun would think this was funny or Eijun would take eight-hundred photos of us posing here. It was its own special brand of longing, different from lust. He wanted to experience these things with Eijun.

                But that certainly didn't mean he never thought of Eijun when he was alone at night, body supple and strong and sweaty. Distance made Kazuya wiser. He didn't want to play games, anymore. Or, rather, he only wanted to play games that would give him the information he needed.

                There was one lazy morning he was drinking a glass of leftover wine from the night before. He had woken up hard and hot but also incredibly sad. He was missing Eijun more than usual. So he decided to play a game.

                He asked what Eijun was wearing.

                As soon as he sent the message, he regretted it. There were surely more subtle ways of finding out if Eijun was interested...this was too bold, or perhaps too above Eijun's head (he wouldn't be surprised if the moron didn't understand it). And at first, that's what it seemed to be. Eijun responded literally, without flirtation or  playfulness.

                Fuck it. He started this, he was going to finish it.

                Oh. Eijun wasn't wearing underwear, either. Okay, maybe Eijun wasn't so stupid...normally, he'd have responded back in all caps telling him it was none of his business whether or not he had underwear on.

                But Eijun's one message was all he needed...Eijun was asking--Kazuya could practically hear the desperation--what he would do if they were together.

                Kazuya made the plan then and there to visit Eijun as soon as he possibly could.

                "Hmm...how about a screwdriver? I have nothing to mix the gin with," Wakana's voice yanked him from his thoughts. Here he was, months later in the little idiot's kitchen.

                "Oh...yeah, that's fine," he said quickly.

                He watched as she made two screwdrivers. She handed him one and they clinked glasses. He hadn't had liquor in awhile, he realized, as the drink slid down his throat. In Europe he had mostly drank wine and in New York he hardly drank, but when he did it was beer.

                "Try not to be too loud, okay?" Wakana said, peering at him over her  glass.

                "I...what?"

                "You know what I'm talking about."

                "No, actually, I don't," Kazuya said, confused.

                Wakana rolled her eyes.

                "I'm serious, I have no clue what you're talking about," Kazuya admitted.

                "Tonight. With Eijun."

                Oh. Kazuya flushed in spite of himself, but he fixed her with a grin.

                "I don't think you have to worry about that. I'm sleeping on the couch, you see," he gestured to the couch, where Eijun had set a folded blanket and pillow on the cushy arm.

                "Pfft. Yeah, I'm sure that's how tonight is going to pan out," Wakana said wryly, throwing back her drink, "Just remember that Haruichi and I are going to be here, too. So by all means, get it on, you guys have been holding it in for years, but just don't wake us up."

                Kazuya was surprised at how embarrassed he was by this conversation considering that one of the reasons he had come to visit was to fuck Eijun.

                He laughed awkwardly, and for once had no smartass reply. Wakana smirked, then asked him about Spain. He was glad for the change in topic, and the two of them sat at the kitchen table and talked.

                When Eijun emerged, dressed in that old black sweater he had been wearing since he was a freshman, ruffling a towel through his hair, Kazuya forgot what he was saying to Wakana and his heart swelled. Eijun had grown so much since the last time he had seen him. Not physically, really, but he could tell Eijun was ready to graduate. He had a shrewder way about him; a quality usually picked up from the extreme responsibility placed on the seniors' shoulders.

                Eijun was ready for the professional world.

                "I guess Haruichi can meet us at the restaurant," Eijun said, "Wakana, are you ready to go?"

                "Yeah, actually, I think I'm going to sit this one out," Wakana said, "I'm...uh, not feeling well. I think Haruichi is sick too," she said, "He just texted me saying he wasn't feeling good."

                Eijun paled.

                "OH NO! IS IT FOOD POISONING? DO YOU HAVE A FEVER? DO YOU NEED ME TO STAY?"

                Kazuya had to try really hard not to laugh at how gullible Eijun was.

                "No, Eijun," Wakana sighed, "Just go out and have fun."

                Eijun nodded, then ran to his room to grab his wallet. Wakana looked at Kazuya. He lifted his eyebrow.

                "What? Haruichi really isn't coming, anyways," she shrugged, "And we don't want to cockblock you."

                She held up her phone as proof. Kazuya read Haruichi's message,

 

Lets just let them go on their own. I swear if they dont get together after all this Im going to burn the apartment down.

 

                "I...didn't know he felt so strongly about it," Kazuya laughed.

                "Then you CLEARLY haven't seen you two prancing around each other for the past several years," Wakana frowned.

                Eijun returned with his wallet and they set out. The air was cool and the sun was setting, the sky one big splash of pastels. They walked in a comfortable silence, and Kazuya closed his eyes and breathed that university air, and for one weird second he felt like he was heading to the library to do some last-minute cramming, or running to the studio to quickly come up with some choreography for class.

                "Do you miss it?" Eijun asked softly.

                "Yeah. But not in the way you might think," Kazuya sighed, "I just miss how...carefree everything was. Like...we were super stressed all of the time, but we had breaks and deadlines and there was a sense of trajectory. Once you graduate...that's it. Your life is just one long line."

                Eijun looked a little confused.

                "What I mean is," Kazuya clarified, "All our lives we prep for something else. In elementary school we prep for middle school. For middle school we prep for high school. For high school we prep for college. In college we prep for our profession. And then once you're done, that's it. You have to find your own way. There are no deadlines, per se. There's not the same sense of trajectory. You have goals, sure, and hopefully a desire to be successful in what you do, but it's just...not the same."

                Eijun nodded thoughtfully. They were almost to the restaurant now, and the sunset was now casting orange everywhere, one last fire before nighttime.

                They got a cozy table in a corner of the dim dining room, surrounded in red tablecloths and black napkins and dark wood floors.

                "I'm buying," Eijun said as they looked at the menu, "So feel free to order anything."

                "You don't have to do that!" Kazuya said in surprise, "I'll pay! You're letting me stay with you for the weekend!"

                "Shut up, you live in New York now, you need every penny you got," Eijun grinned, then added saucily, "And how can I wine and dine you if you don't let me?"

                Kazuya looked at him in surprise. He had no idea Eijun could be so cheeky, but he loved it. The effect was ruined, perhaps, by Eijun's shy blush afterwards, but Kazuya was still deeply amused.

                Dinner was nice. Really nice. Kazuya had only been taken out like this once before with his dad after graduation. Eijun got them cocktails and wine and appetizers and dessert after dinner and it was all a little overwhelming and he felt dizzy-happy after eating such good food and being with Eijun and chuckling over the chocolate sauce that was on Eijun's chin.

                "You know," Kazuya said, not quite drunk, but certainly more ballsy after the wine, "If you're trying to seduce me, you don't have to do all of this."

                He was joking, but Eijun's smile faded and he looked at Kazuya very seriously.

                "You're worth everything. All of this. More."

                Jesus. Kazuya felt like the wind had been knocked out of him. He felt so embarrassed, he almost felt tears in his eyes from the intensity of the blush. He scratched the back of his head.

                "Geez, so embarrassing..."

                "It's true," Eijun said, a little pink but sure, his gaze steady.

                Kazuya decided it was a good time to go pee. He took his time washing his hands, trying to ignore how uncomfortable Eijun's words had made him. No one ever spoke so...highly of him before. When he returned, he saw Eijun sliding his card back into his wallet. He wouldn't let Kazuya look at the bill.

                They had spent more time there then they had expected, but Kazuya was content.

                "Do you want to go to the bars or something?" Eijun asked, "It's your weekend; what do you want to do?"

                "Maybe...we go back to the apartment and regroup? I'm not sure if I'm feeling bars, but it might be because I need to let all that food digest."

                "Okay!"

                Their hands brushed together as they walked. Kazuya took a deep breath. Just do it, he told himself, he's totally into you, just do it, don't be scared. He felt himself start to sweat. What happened to all of the confidence he had been feeling up until now? He squeezed his eyes shut, and grasped Eijun's hand, half-expecting a squawk of protest. What he felt instead was a warm hand grasping his hand back. Oh. Okay. This was nice.

                He opened his eyes again, but he was too scared to look at Eijun, so he kept his gaze forward. They walked, hand-in-hand, back to the apartment.

                It was not even remotely late, only about eight, but Haruichi and Wakana were in their rooms. Kazuya was both grateful and scared that they had given the entire evening to just him and Eijun.

                "I'm so full!" Eijun sprawled out onto the floor, "I can barely move!"

                Kazuya chuckled, then sat down on the couch.

                "Maybe tonight we stay in and go out tomorrow. I'm kind of tired, I'll be honest. I had a long day today," he said, feeling the fatigue of his travels getting the better of him.

                "Definitely! You must be tired," Eijun stood up and, much to Kazuya's disappointment, began to unfold the folded blanket on the couch, "You can sleep out here. I can leave the kitchen light on so you don't trip, and--" Eijun stopped suddenly, looking at the blanket.

                "What?" Kazuya asked, a little alarmed. Eijun had a very odd look on his face. Had he left his wallet at the restaurant or something?

                "You...you know, couches aren't good for your back," Eijun said, continuing to stare at the blanket, "I feel bad you have to sleep out here."

                "Oh," Kazuya said, relieved, "Nah, it's fine. I'll be okay."

                "You sure? You could...you know...like not in a weird way or anything...but you could...sleep with me," Eijun said shyly.

                The atmosphere shifted. Kazuya slowly stood.

                "Hmm...I could?" he purred, relishing the goosebumps on Eijun's skin, "And it wouldn't be--what did you call it--weird?"

                "N-no," Eijun said, letting the blanket fall through his fingertips, "Not weird at all. I mean, it's not weird for friends to share a bed, right?"

                "Hmm...not weird at all. And is that what we are? Friends?" Kazuya was slowly advancing on Eijun, who was backing away into the narrow hallway.

                "I-I don't know," Eijun breathed, his golden eyes meeting Kazuya's. He slowed down his retreat.

                "You don't know," Kazuya murmured, face-to-face with those golden eyes, he leaned forward and breathed into Eijun's ear, "What do you want, Eijun?"

                Eijun shuddered slightly. Kazuya could smell his shampoo.

                "I-I don't...I do know. I do know what I want," he whispered back, and Kazuya felt his own goosebumps rise.

                "What do you want, Eijun?" he asked again, lips trailing lightly against Eijun's cheek.

                The dam broke, and Kazuya felt himself shoved backwards, Eijun's hand the only thing preventing his head from smacking the wall, Eijun's kisses biting, hard, teeth, frantic and Kazuya met him with every single one, dizzy, his brain trying to catch up with what was happening, but all he knew was that there was a fire in his belly and stinging lips on his--Eijun's stinging lips on his--and he pressed back hard against him, savoring the taste of Eijun's tongue. He was lost, desperate, hands reaching down and firmly grabbing Eijun's rear, the resulting sound Eijun made in his throat exciting him more. This was all he wanted, everything he wanted and it was actually happening.

                Eijun pulled away. Kazuya blinked, confused and disappointed, until he realized Eijun was tugging him by his belt loops, leading him to his bedroom.

                Kazuya was very okay with this.

                I'm going to get laid tonight, and I'm going to get laid with Eijun, he thought frantically, stumbling after Eijun, who still had his finger latched to Kazuya's belt loop. Holy shit.

                Before he could even register anything else, Eijun had reached behind him, shut the door, the pressed him up against it.

                "You know what I want," he whispered in Kazuya's ear...Kazuya felt that voice go straight to his pants.

                They came together again, biting kisses, lips, neck, anywhere they could. Kazuya felt Eijun's trembling hands struggling to unbutton his shirt, so Kazuya helped him, then ripped off Eijun's sweater so forcefully, he was pretty sure he heard it rip, but Eijun didn't seem to mind, he was already letting his hands run over Kazuya's chest, fingers feeling, and Kazuya buried his face in Eijun's neck. Fuck.

                "You're so hot," Kazuya panted, knowing that even though it was true, he was totally talking with his dick, and he hoped Eijun wouldn't hate him for it, "I've wanted to do this for so long."

                Apparently, Eijun didn't mind one bit.

                "You know what I want?" Eijun unbuttoned Kazuya's jeans, hands dangerously close, so close, "I'll tell you exactly what I want," and he proceeded to whisper hot and filthy obscenities...everything he wanted to do to Kazuya all night long.

                Kazuya was absolutely certain he had never been so turned on in his life.

                Entwined, they began backing up to the bed, but Eijun tripped on his backpack and almost fell. Kazuya grasped him firmly and Eijun began laughing.

                "I've got you," he smiled, "I won't let you fall."

                Eijun continued to laugh, and he buried his head sweetly into Kazuya's neck, and his laughter was contagious because Kazuya began laughing too, and he coaxed Eijun out from his shoulder and cupped his face and kissed him, light and sweet, all over his smooth and pretty skin, over his fluttering eyelids and wrinkled nose as he laughed and when their lips met again they smiled into each other, gently falling back into the bed. They giggled as they tripped out of jeans and tugged at underwear, and pressed their bodies together, warm and perfect and a little clumsy but perfect, hands grasped, bedding soft, the moonlight from the window casting everything in a gray-glow.

 

*

 

 

                Eijun was in an extremely good mood. It was sunny and blue outside, making the bedroom bright. Kazuya was asleep next to him, head turned away, his breathing steady. Eijun couldn't stop grinning. Last night had been amazing; intense and hot but sweet. He let out a sigh. He wanted to wake Kazuya up, but they hadn't actually went to sleep until the first light of dawn began silhouetting the trees outside, so he decided he could wait. He yawned, jaw cracking, and stretched, then rolled onto his side and snuggled against Kazuya.

                I think this is what heaven is like, he thought happily, his arm around Kazuya's middle. He was tired, perhaps he should try to sleep a little more. After all, he had spent the better part of the previous evening pounding Kazuya into oblivion...and vice versa. He closed his eyes and listened to Kazuya's breathing. Just as he started drifting to sleep he felt a flick on his forehead.

                "OW! WHAT THE HELL?!" he yelled loudly, glaring at Kazuya, who was now awake and grinning evilly.

                "That's for making me so sore," Kazuya said with a grin, "And making me so tired, too."

                "Yeah, well," Eijun said angrily, "I didn't see you complaining at the time."

                Kazuya chuckled. Eijun huffed and turned away, his back to him.

                "Aww, don't be like that," Kazuya purred, coming up behind him winding his strong arms around Eijun, "Mmm...I'm really glad last night happened."

                "Hmph."

                "You...you are, too, right? I mean...I know it was your first time, I hope I didn't get too carried away..." Kazuya trailed off. Sensing the seriousness of his tone, Eijun turned his head to face him.

                "I'm extremely happy last night happened."

                "Good," Kazuya exhaled, relieved.

                "Gah! Your breath stinks!" Eijun laughed, covering his nose.

                "Oh? Yeah? You think yours smells good?" Kazuya pinned Eijun down then purposely began breathing in his face.

                "Ack!" Eijun giggled, half-disgusted, half-amused. But mostly amused. God, he loved this jerk.

                Kazuya began kissing him, and suddenly Eijun was drowning in sensation again, flutters and excitement in his stomach, and as he kissed back he brought his hands up to cup Kazuya's face. After a bit, he pulled away gently.

                "In fact, I enjoyed last night so much, you care to go again?" Eijun said hoarsely.

                Kazuya chuckled.

                "Can't get enough of me, huh? Well, I'm sore as hell, Eijun, I'd like to be able to walk at some point today."

                "I'll bottom! Pleeeease," Eijun reached his hands down below Kazuya's waist. Kazuya jumped a little.

                "Jesus!" he laughed, "Okay, okay, yeah, just give me a minute, I just woke up..." he buried his face in Eijun's neck.

                "We just have to be extra quiet," Eijun said, looking up at the ceiling and feeling Kazuya's breath on his skin.

                "Mmm? Why especially now?"

                "Because it's daylight and I have roommates!"

                "That didn't stop us last night. If I recall correctly, you were very loud."

                Eijun was horrified.

                "We weren't that loud!"

                "Eijun, you shouted my name several times. And I'm also pretty sure your headboard dented the wall...you're definitely not getting your security deposit back," Kazuya snorted.

                "Oh no..." Eijun covered his face in misery, "They heard us having sex..."

                "Pretty sure the whole building heard us. Every time, too," Kazuya's eyes glinted and he smirked.

                "So embarrassing...how will I face Wakana and Haruichi? And I have to pee, now! How can I run to the bathroom without seeing them?"

                "Eijun, you're going to have to see them at some point."

                "No I don't!"

                "Eijun, they live here."

                "....goddamnit."

                "So...go pee so we can go again. I'm kind of getting turned on right now," Kazuya murmured, kissing Eijun's neck.

                "But they'll hear us!"

                "Damage has been done, already. Might as well keep going."

                "Ugh, you're awful," Eijun groaned. But he did have to pee really badly, so he untangled himself from Kazuya, then stood and scanned the room for some pants or something.

                "Mmm," Kazuya hummed happily, rolling onto his back and grinning at Eijun.

                "Stop looking!" Eijun huffed, snatching a pair of dirty sweatpants and throwing them on. He walked to the door, cracked it open and peered out into the hallway. He heard the television and voices from the living room. Shit. They were home. Just to make a break for it.

                He ran across the hall, peed, washed his hands, and ran back to his room in record time. God, his room smelled like absolute sin. The smell of it hit him hard, but he was oddly proud. He smiled goofily at Kazuya, who was sprawled on the bed, waiting, his fingers fluttering over his own abdomen.

                "Good, you're back," he said, "Come here."

               

*

 

                Eventually, hunger overtook them, and they realized they'd have to leave bed eventually. Eijun waddled to the shower, but Kazuya realized, in horror, that his bag with all of his toiletries was still in the living room against the couch. Shit.

                He put his crumpled clothes on and tried to flatten his hair, but it was no use. He looked an absolute mess and he was sure he smelled worse.

                Oh well.

                He peeked outside of the bedroom door. He heard the television. Maybe they left? He exhaled, stood up straight, then walked calmly down the hall into the light of the living room.

                Haruichi and Wakana were sitting on the couch, Wakana on her laptop and Haruichi eating a bowl of cereal while watching a movie. The both looked up when he walked in.

                He could feel their eyes on him. He refused to look up. There was his bag, he could just walk forward, grab it, and--

                "Good morning, Kazuya," Haruichi said benignly, his smile small.

                Those fucking Kominatos, man.

                "Morning," Kazuya said, bright red, but he threw a smirk at them.

                "How was your evening?"

                Those. Fucking. Kominatos.

                "Good. Yours?"

                "Uneventful," Haruichi cocked his head to the side. Wakana tried to stifle a giggle.

                Kazuya let out a sigh.

                "Look, sorry we weren't quiet, okay? We kind of...got carried away."

                Both Wakana and Haruichi grinned so evilly, Kazuya had the oddest feeling that this is how other people felt when he made fun of them.

                "You look like you had a good time," Wakana said, giving him a once-over. Kazuya frowned, threw his bag over his shoulder, then walked into the bathroom. The steam from Eijun's shower was a little suffocating, but it was comforting being back in the same room as the little moron.

                "Yo," he said, glancing at Eijun's naked outline against the frosted glass shower door, "Your roommates are evil."

                Eijun jumped, then slid the shower door open just enough to poke his head out.

                "KAZUYA WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN HERE I AM INDECENT!"

                Kazuya blinked. Was he joking?

                "Uh..."

                "YOU DIDN'T EVEN KNOCK."      

                "I need to brush my teeth."

                "I AM INDECENT, I TELL YOU."   

                "Eijun, last night I had you bent over--"

                "--OKAY JUST BRUSH YOUR DAMN TEETH!"        

                The door slid shut. Kazuya chuckled, then began pulling out his toothbrush and toothpaste from his bag. A peaceful calm settled over the bathroom.

                "I didn't know you liked to hum," Eijun's voice echoed against the bathroom walls.

                Kazuya froze.

                "Oh, sorry, I didn't realize I was doing it."

                "No, it's cute, I like it. You sound happy. I like it when you sound happy."

                Jesus Christ.

                "God, Eijun, the things you say," Kazuya flushed, and he laughed awkwardly, squirting a glob of toothpaste onto his brush.

                The shower turned off, and Eijun stepped out, drying himself off with a towel. Kazuya tried not to stare too much but it was hard. Eijun was just so beautiful and the moron didn't even know it.

                Kazuya spat out the toothpaste and rinsed.

                "So...are you my boyfriend?" Eijun asked suddenly, towel wrapped firmly around his waist. Kazuya stood a little straighter and paused.

                "Well..."

                "Well what?"

                "I mean, if you want me to be," Kazuya said with difficulty. He wanted to be with Eijun so badly, but what did Eijun want?

                "Well I really, really like you, and I know you like me," Eijun said as Kazuya flushed, "So I want us to be boyfriends!"

                Eijun knew Kazuya wanted to be with him, all right. Last night, during a rather passionate lovemaking session, Kazuya found himself moaning and whispering, over and over again, things like "I care about you so much" and "You have no idea how long I've wanted this" and "You are so perfect". Kazuya groaned in embarrassment when he thought about it now. Oh well.

                "Well...then I guess we're boyfriends," he said. Eijun beamed, beautiful, beams hitting Kazuya hard, and he forgot to be embarrassed and he smiled too. They stood there for a moment, smiling at each other.

                "I should shower, too," Kazuya said finally, looking away from that dazzling grin.

                "Okay. Clean towels are here," Eijun pointed.

                "Thanks."

                Eijun paused, then pecked Kazuya on the cheek before hastily scurrying from the bathroom, blushing and grinning like an idiot.

 

*

 

                The two of them spent the day walking around town shopping and eating. Eijun kept stealing glances at Kazuya. My boyfriend is so handsome, he thought proudly. Kazuya often caught his eye and smirked as if to say, You can keep looking, I know I'm handsome. What an asshole.

                Eijun loved it.

                By the late afternoon, they wandered back to the apartment. This time, they were getting dinner with Haruichi and Wakana, so they washed up and the four of them trekked to the local sushi joint. As they walked, Eijun carefully slid his hand into Kazuya's. Kazuya didn't seem to mind.

                Wakana waggled her eyebrows at Eijun and he felt his face heat up. He did deserve it, to be honest...once he found out Wakana and Kuramochi were an item, he made fun of her incessantly. He would have made fun of Mochi, too, but he was too worried about being wrestled to the ground in an uncomfortable arm lock.         

                Dinner, however, was nice. They talked about Kazuya's adventures and their own plans when they graduated; Wakana was going to try for grad school in Colorado; the same school as Mochi. She wanted to be a physical therapist. Haruichi was originally planning on going to Seattle like his brother, but changed his mind, which surprised everyone.

                "I just think...it's time I do my own thing," he said finally, "I am planning on applying to some internships and seeing what happens."

                When the waiter took away their plates and asked about checks, Eijun opened his mouth but Kazuya cut in.

                "He and I are together," he said, gesturing between them. When Eijun began to protest Kazuya poked him hard on the forehead.

                "OW!"

                "Moron, you bought me a really expensive meal yesterday. Let me treat you."

                Eijun pouted and rubbed at his sore forehead.

                "So...I take it you two are together, then?" Haruichi asked, smiling. Wakana was pretending to wretch into her purse. Eijun kicked at her leg underneath the table. He missed and hit the leg of the table instead, making all of their drinks slosh dangerously.

                "Yep," Kazuya said simply, taking a long sip of water.

                "Thank God," Haruichi sighed, rubbing at his eyelids.

 

*

 

                They all went out for drinks after dinner, Furuya joining them. Kazuya was starting to get a little antsy. He had hardly touched Eijun all day as they had been in public, and now, under the bar lights, Eijun's eyes seemed to glow. It didn't help that the bar was crowded, and Eijun was pressed closely against him as they stood in their small circle and talked (or tried to over the loud music). Kazuya snuck an arm around Eijun's hips. It felt satisfying to be doing this, now, after all of those years of being able to look but not touch. Eijun leaned into him slightly in response, his hair fluffy against Kazuya's cheek, but continued to chatter excitedly to the group. Kazuya had stopped paying attention long ago. All he wanted was Eijun alone. He had to leave to go back to New York tomorrow, and he didn't want to waste any time.

                He felt a pang radiate through his body at the thought of leaving Eijun. Especially now, after everything they had sorted out. New York City was the loneliest city he had ever been in, and now it was going to feel even lonelier.

                "Eijun," he murmured hoarsely into his ear.

                "Hmm?" Eijun turned his head, his nose brushing against Kazuya's.         

                "I need you now," Kazuya knew he sounded desperate. Desperate and sad. Eijun's eyes widened slightly.

                "Yeah...yeah, okay, let's go back to the apartment," he said, cheeks dusted pink, excitement at the promise of sex in his eyes.

                They excused themselves and walked, hand-in-hand, briskly through the streets back to the apartment building. Kazuya was feeling his desire to be as close to Eijun as possible rise with every step. He was walking so quickly, he was practically dragging Eijun along.

                Eijun fumbled with his keys at the door as Kazuya buried his face into his neck.

                "A-are you okay?" Eijun asked stupidly as they stumbled into the living room and shut the front door.   

                "Yeah, I just need you," Kazuya said, wrapping his arms around Eijun's middle tightly. He leaned forward and kissed him, deep and slow. When he pulled away, Eijun swayed a little, looking dazed.

                "Bedroom."

                They shut Eijun's door firmly behind them, tearing at each other's clothes. Kazuya fell back on the bed, Eijun above him, kisses everywhere, hands clasped tightly, and suddenly Eijun started crying, his tears falling onto Kazuya's cheeks, hot and salty. Kazuya quickly sat up, Eijun on his lap.

                "What's wrong?" he asked, though he knew, "Why are you crying?"

                "I don't want you to go tomorrow," he was covering his face now, "I don't want to go without you even for a few months!"

                "I know," Kazuya pulled Eijun into his chest, "I...I'll come down for your graduation! That's only in a few weeks!"

                Kazuya wasn't sure how he was going to be able to afford another trip down here...he'd have to take a bus, that was for sure, and it was going to be a long trip. How was he going to be able to call off work again so soon after this trip?

                "I wish you could, but don't you have a job?" Eijun was sniffling, snuggling up into Kazuya's chest. His skin was smooth and warm; they both were half naked.

                "I have five jobs, actually," Kazuya chuckled. It had been hell trying to coordinate a time he could come down here; he wasn't sure he was going to be able to do it again anytime soon.

                 "See?" Eijun wailed, "You can't come down for my graduation!"

                "Eijun...please...stop crying..."

                "Maybe I can visit you!" he said, looking up so quickly, he almost headbutted Kazuya's chin, tears still streaming down his face but his eyes were clear.

                "I...you could, actually," Kazuya said, cocking his head to the side, "I have a small apartment, but we could obviously share a bed. I have a roommate, but we don't really talk or anything..."

                "I'm pretty broke, all the money I made last summer went to my rent. But I can scrounge up enough to make a trip to you," Eijun was planning now, his gears turning, "It would be nice to see you, especially because I'll be leaving for Italy in June...I got that internship, you see..." he trailed away and looked down at Kazuya. Then he leaned forward, and gently pushed him back against the bed. Kazuya grinned.

                "But for now," Eijun whispered, kissing Kazuya's neck...

 

*

 

                He had made love to Kazuya, gentle and sweet and full of kisses and smiles and moans. They held each other for hours, both exhausted but neither wanting to sleep and waste the time they had together. Finally, Eijun heard Kazuya's deep breathing; he had fallen asleep. Eijun gingerly wiggled out of his grasp so Kazuya would wake up with feeling in his arms.

                Only a few hours passed before Kazuya had to get up. He had to drive back to his father's house to drop off the car before his flight to NYC. Eijun got up with him and helped him pack up his clothes. They both walked out into the early morning chill to Kazuya's car. The sun was beginning to rise.

                "Well..." Kazuya sighed, turning to Eijun after tossing his bag in the backseat.

                Eijun was quiet. He had his hands in his pockets, and he was staring at the sunrise. He was too afraid he'd start crying again if he looked at Kazuya. They were silent a moment.

                "I'll miss you," Eijun said finally. His voice sounded hollow in the crisp early spring air. Suddenly Kazuya's warm body was against his.

                "We'll see each other soon," Kazuya said, kissing Eijun's forehead, "So don't cry like a big baby."

                "OW!" Eijun yelled as Kazuya flicked the place on his forehead he had just kissed, "I am NOT crying!"

                "Be quiet, people are still sleeping. And you looked like you were about to cry--OUCH!" Kazuya yelped as Eijun poked him hard in the stomach.

                They glared at each other.

                "Hmph. Fine. I'll just leave you, then," Kazuya turned towards the car. Eijun flung his arms around Kazuya's middle. Kazuya put his hands over Eijun's and they stood like that a moment.

                "Eijun," Kazuya said finally, "I have to go."

                "I know."

                Kazuya turned around and kissed him once, twice, three times.

                "I have to go," he said again, though it was clearly to remind himself this time. Eijun watched as Kazuya turned back to the car and opened the door. Eijun backed out of the way as Kazuya pulled forward and rolled the window down a little.

                "Oh, and Eijun," he said with a wicked grin, "You can tell your parents we now have seen each other's underwear in a non dance setting."

                Eijun's jaw dropped and Kazuya cackled as he rolled up his window and drove off.

 

*

 

                It was the final stretch; all that was between Eijun and his diploma was the senior tour and concert. A week after Kazuya left, Eijun found himself at the dance building at four thirty in the morning with his cast and a bunch of other seniors and dancers. They were driving to a city the next state over as the first stop of their tour. This was going to be a long one; last year, when Eijun was in Mochi's piece, they had only booked two cities, both of which were nearby. This tour was four cities, all out-of-state. They were hitting one city per day, and the trip was to be five days long.

                In charge of costumes, Eijun had gotten to the building even earlier to sort through the pre-packed costumes and make sure they were ready to load into the bus. The air was surprisingly muggy for it being so early in the morning, and as everyone loaded everything onto the belly of the bus, he felt himself starting to sweat.

                When they all got onto the bus and did roll call, Eijun leaned against the window and closed his eyes. He really wanted to text Kazuya, but it was an ungodly hour, and he didn't want to risk waking him up. After all, Kazuya really did overwork himself...he needed all the sleep he could get.

                "Bagel, Eijun?" Haruichi asked, a big bag of bagels in his hands. Haruichi had been in charge of making sure there was a breakfast for everyone; there would be no time to pull over, the performance was at noon.

                "Yeah, thanks," Eijun said, relieved he didn't have to perform. He glanced over at his cast; most were already asleep.

                Eijun dozed off an hour or so here and there, but once the sun was up, he was awake. He read some shojou manga and played a few games on his tablet, but the drive was still excruciating. After awhile his sciatic nerve began to ache, a dull pounding shooting down his leg.

                Once it was a little later in the morning, Eijun Snapchatted a picture of himself and sent it to Kazuya. He waited a half hour before he got a response. Kazuya also sent a selfie, his morning hair messy, and a cup of coffee at his lips. Eijun felt a pang of longing.

 

nice hair

 

thanks. you too. you on tour?

 

yeah

 

its a long one, right?

 

yeah it sucks i'm so tired i'm glad i'm not the one dancing

 

well, i have a full day of work plus they closed off a few stops on my commute, so i have to try and re-navigate my subway travel. so i feel your pain.

               

i can't wait until we are done with all this and can just open a company 2gether.

 

me too. i vote we do NOT base it in NYC, please, i dont wanna live here. so loud. so many people.

 

haha okay

 

*

 

                The tour was, honestly, a blur. Eijun and the rest of the seniors were so frantic and sleep-deprived it was a miracle they could get any work done at all. Eijun was a little nervous fitting his large cast onto the unexpectedly small stage, but they were all smart dancers and found ways to compromise the space.

                They looked good, considering it was their first formal performance of his work; on a shit stage, no less. He took notes as they performed and gave them feedback on the ride to the hotel.

                The hotel was clean and comfortable, and after a brief chat with Kazuya on the phone, Eijun collapsed in his bed and fell asleep instantly. It hardly felt like he had been asleep ten minutes before Haurichi was gently shaking him.

                "Eijun, get up, we have to go."

                The next day was very much a repeat of the previous one, except they actually got to eat the complimentary hotel breakfast and it was daytime when they piled onto the bus for their next destination.

                The second and third venues were much better than the first and things went smoothly minus a pipe bursting in one of the motel rooms they were staying in the night after the second performance. Luckily, it wasn't Eijun and Haruichi's room, and they slept soundly through the chaos.

                The fourth day was an absolute mess; Haruichi lost his wallet, Kanemaru's toenail ripped off during their quick tech rehearsal due to the shitty floor, Nabe (who was stage manager) got food poisoning, and Eijun had very nearly left some of the costumes behind when they packed up. To top it all off, they would not be sleeping in a hotel tonight...they had to make it back to the university, and it would take a full day of almost nonstop driving to do so.

                When the bus pulled into the dance building's lot in the afternoon the next day, Eijun was relieved. He had survived his senior tour. And despite the stress and lack of sleep there had been fun moments, too. The whole senior class, during their downtime, walked around one of the cities they were in and did some touristy stuff. Eijun got a lot of good pictures with Haruichi and Furuya. They also hit a few bars and had some drinks, and ended up getting chased out of one after Kanemaru angered a rather mean-looking patron who had claimed he was hitting on 'his girl' (it wasn't Kanemaru's week, apparently). But the best was going to the liquor store with the nonperforming seniors and spiking their fast food sodas and watching the entirety of the third performance while drunk. The strike afterwards hadn't been a picnic, however, as they knew if Kataoka found out they were intoxicated, he'd fail them all for sure.

                So Eijun walked home with Furuya and Haruichi, exhausted but pleased, satisfied he had made good memories of the last tour he was ever to take part in during his university career.

 

*

 

wait, so you all got chased out of a bar???

 

yeah, it was crazy, this dude said kanemaru was hitting on his gf

 

was he?

 

i dunno. i doubt it. she was missing teeth. i seriously thought the dude was gonna kill us.

 

sounds like you had one hell of a trip

 

oh, you don't know the half of it...

 

*

 

                Eijun cried after the senior concert. His cast had performed beautifully. He was so proud. Even after a long and exhausting tour, they had managed to perform the work like it was fresh. They cried too; they each wrote him a letter thanking him for casting them and giving them the honor of working with him.

                Eijun had never thought he influenced people that much.

                Time sped up even more; finals week came and went, and soon Eijun was packing everything he owned and pre-loading his car. His graduation was tomorrow, and even though he wasn't leaving for a few days, he wanted to get most of the packing finished.

                He met his family for dinner; they were eager to see him walk in the next morning and were treating him at the same fancy restaurant he had taken Kazuya. Eijun wanted to cry, but he didn't.

                He figured this was as good a time as any to tell them he and Kazuya were dating.

                Every time he tried, though, he chickened out. It was...scary. He knew his family wouldn't care (his grandfather wouldn't be a fan, but he wasn't exactly anti-gay, either), but he couldn't help but feel like saying it out loud to his family would somehow destroy their image of him.

                After downing several glasses of wine, he finally got the courage.

                "Kazuya and I are dating!" he blurted in the middle of their conversation, half-shouting. They all froze and looked at him.

                "Oh, okay, good, do you know his shirt size, then?" his mother blinked, "I'd like to get him a sweater like your black one, I saw a pretty one the other day in a color that would suit him."

                 Eijun gaped.

                "I think Eijun needs a new black one, too, it's looking pretty worn," his father said, eyeing the small hole at the collar, "So when did you two start dating?"

                "I...um," Eijun shook his head to get over his shock, "We started dating a few weeks ago."

                "Wait, really?" his father and mother exchanged surprised looks, "We thought you were already dating but keeping it private! Really, it's only been a few weeks?"

                Eijun's jaw dropped again. They were handling this remarkably well.

                "I don't care," his grandfather grumbled, "I just better get grandbabies either way."

                "I...none of you are surprised?! You're taking this very well!" Eijun squeaked, "I mean...I was expecting some drama! Or questions! Or...something!"

                "Honey," Eijun's mother set down her cocktail, "You've been hot for that boy since the day we dropped you off at that school."

                "Mother!"

               

*

 

i told my parents we were dating

 

WHAT

 

wut, didn't u tell ur dad?

 

no

 

oh

 

my dad and i dont really talk. but if you told your parents i should tell my dad. ill call him tomorrow. this is going to be an awkward convo

 

u don't have to tell him! i understand

 

eijun, id have to tell him eventually. its just that i never told him i was bi in the first place so this may be a bit of a shock. how did your parents react?

 

my mom wants to buy u a sweater, my dad is surprised we didn't start dating sooner, and my grandpa doesn't give a shit as long as he 'gets grandbabies'

 

omg haha

 

yep. that's the sawamura clan for u

 

thats amazing

 

*

 

                Eijun was the last one left at the apartment. Graduation had been the day before, and his family had packed his furniture onto their trailer and drove home. He was going to spend one last night in this apartment before he left in the morning.

                It was quiet.

                He walked from room to room, empty and echoey, furniture gone, people gone. Haruichi and Furuya left right after graduation. Wakana left this morning. Outside, in the warm sun, he could hear the summer students playing catch and skateboarding and playing music, not a care in the world, but here, here in this apartment, all was quiet.

                He walked around town for the rest of the day, stopping by his favorite places, memorizing each nook and cranny of his home, his town. He texted everyone he knew, but most had left already. Kanemaru hadn't, so the two of them went to the bar in the evening and talked underneath the stars.

                "It's weird, isn't it?" Kanemaru asked after awhile, "How empty this town gets when everyone you know and care about has moved on."

                "Yeah," Eijun said, "But we are moving on, too."

                Kanemaru smiled at his beer.

                "I suppose you're right."

                "I'm going to miss this place," Eijun sighed, fingers tapping at his empty glass.

                "Yeah. Me too."

               

*

 

it's quiet

 

with your loud mouth? that must be a blessed relief.

 

har har.

 

*

 

                Eijun drove away, the university a shrinking structure in his rearview mirror.

                It's weird, isn't it? How empty this town gets when everyone you know and care about has moved on.

                He turned a corner, and the university was gone from sight.

                It's weird, isn't it?

                Eijun adjusted his sunglasses.

                It's weird

                He cranked up the AC.

                weird

                He flipped his turn signal on and changed lanes.

                It wasn't weird, now that Eijun thought about it. The town, the summer students playing in the sun, Mochi in Colorado... this was just the trajectory of being.

                Life goes on, and Kazuya was waiting for him.

Chapter Text

                In the end, Eijun wasn't able to save up enough to see Kazuya in New York before leaving for Italy.

                It was hard, telling Kazuya that.

                The worst part was that Eijun didn't know how upset Kazuya really was because he always laughed things off over the phone. But at the very least, Kazuya did seem genuinely proud of him for getting the internship.

                Eijun was terrified. He had never been on a plane before, never mind travel extensively on his own. In the weeks leading up to his departure, he started losing sleep over it. What if he missed his flight? What if he couldn't understand the public transport? What if people met him and then made fun of him in Italian so he didn't understand? He tried reading up on some basic Italian, but it was hard...he kept getting it confused the with the (limited) Spanish he learned ages ago in high school.

                In his anxiety, he called Kazuya even more than he had before. Kazuya was mostly patient with him and answered his questions about being in a foreign country, but eventually started getting frustrated.

                "Idiot!" he hissed once, "You'll be fine! As long as you work hard and remain pleasant, you will do great. And don't be afraid to ask for help...I won't always be able to help you, so the people you meet there will be your lifelines."

                That wasn't a comforting thought. They would all be strangers.

                Eijun was scared.

               

*

 

                Planes were AWESOME, Eijun realized. He loved the feeling of being pushed back in his seat while the plane gathered speed for takeoff. He felt inexplicably badass, knowing that not so very long ago the concept of people traveling at such high speeds in the sky was a pipe dream.

                Being squished against a heavy businessman wasn't his cup of tea, but still.

                When the plane finally landed in Naples, anxiety befell Eijun; he had been fine going to the airport back home, finding his gate, and even getting the plane switch in New York right. But this was it.

                He was in Italy.

                After he got off, chaos ensued. He had no idea where his big suitcase was; all he had was his backpack, and he had been confused by the flight attendant's instructions. People were bustling around him. Announcements in Italian were  made, echoing through the airport. He stupidly wandered the immediate gate area where he had gotten off the plane before realizing he should just follow his fellow passengers. Eyeing the businessman he had been sitting next to for about ten hours, he cautiously began to follow, pretending to know what he was doing so as not to look stupid. Sure enough, the businessman lead him to the proper bag carousel.

                Excellent. So now he had his bag.

                Now what?

                He took a deep breath, overwhelmed by the crowd of people speaking languages he did not understand, so pulled over in a quiet corner to gather his bearings. Right. Okay. He had to get to Florence. Naples had not been the closest airport to his destination by any means, so he had to take the train.

                Cool. How does one take a train? Like...he needed a ticket. Where was the train station? How was he to get there? He knew he needed to take a bus or taxi, but, like, how did this work?

                He was embarrassed to ask for help...after all, didn't a lot of people in Europe take trains? Eijun lived in a tiny town in the Midwestern United States...he had never had to take public transport before.

                Kazuya's right, I am just a country bumpkin! Eijun thought miserably, slapping his face in misery. A tall Italian man with a bag slung over his shoulder looked at him in bemusement, then paused. Eijun flushed, embarrassed.

                "English?" he asked. Eijun nodded, though he was unsure of whether he was asking about language or nationality.

                The man set his bag down on the ground.

                "You need help?" the man's voice was accented, but he spoke clearly regardless.

                "Y-yes!" Eijun said, his voice cracking, "I need to get to the train station...I have to get to Florence...er, Firenze."

                The man nodded.

                "You can take the bus," he said, pointing to the signs overhead, "The Alibus can get you to the train station, unless you want a taxi. I can lead you to the bus area," he slung his bag over his shoulder again and smiled kindly at Eijun. Eijun exhaled in relief and smiled back.

                "Thanks."

                "Yes, yes," he waved his hand, "What brings you to Italy? Are you an American?"

                "Yeah, I'm from the U.S.," Eijun said, trotting alongside the man, "I'm actually here for an internship."

                "Ah, so business, then," the man chuckled, "Be sure to take some time to enjoy the city. Firenze is beautiful. What kind of internship?"

                "Uh...with a dance company."

                "Oh! You are a dancer, then? Very cool."

                They walked outside of the airport and Eijun was met with warm midday air. It was a little cloudy, but pleasant. Eijun felt a nice breeze invigorate him, blowing through his tee. He took a deep breath.

                "Yes, yes, breathe real air, not that plane air," the man joked, glancing at Eijun.

                They reached the entrance to the bus station, and Eijun followed as the man lead him to the ticket counter. He spoke in Italian to the person behind the counter. Eijun tried to follow their conversation, but it was pointless. The man pulled out his wallet.

                "Wait!" Eijun exclaimed, "What are you doing?"

                "Buying you your ticket," the man said.

                "You don't have to do that!"

                "It is a gift, to welcome you to our country," the man said firmly.

                "Well...thank you," Eijun exhaled, secretly relieved he didn't have to try to struggle trying to communicate with the ticket agent.

                The man handed Eijun his ticket, then Eijun followed him to where the bus would arrive.

                "I will leave you now," he said.

                "Thank you so much!" Eijun gushed, "Really...it means a lot!"

                "Yes, yes," the man laughed, wincing, and Eijun realized that he was talking awfully loud, "Good luck, American Dancer. Welcome to Italy!"

                And with that, he turned and walked away. It wasn't until later, long after Eijun had gotten to the train station and managed to get onto the correct train, not until two hours into his three-hour ride, watching the blur of Tuscany rush by, that he realized he had forgotten to ask the man's name.

 

*

 

the dance company picked me up from the train station so now i'm in my flat with my roommate and not dead

 

thats good to hear. i was worried about a country bumpkin like you trying to figure out public transport.

 

hey! i figured it out. a hot italian man helped me.

 

i see

 

ha! jealous?

 

only because i wasnt there to laugh at how flustered you probably were. did you do that thing where you slap your face?

 

shut up

 

omg you did haha

 

MOVING ON. my roommate is nice. he's from canada. he's an intern, too. but he's doing production stuff.

 

cool.

 

yep, he's nice.

 

....how nice?

 

jesus, kazuya, he's straight. and he's also not u <3

 

did you just send me a heart? im gagging

 

FUCXK U KAZUYA I JUST WANT U TO KNO I CARE

 

k

 

....ur an ass

 

you miss me, you know you do

 

i really do

 

i miss you too

 

send me a heart

 

no

 

*

 

                Eijun loved his internship. Every day, he'd go in for class and rehearsal, and while he struggled a bit with the language barrier (his Canadian roommate was in the same predicament, only with lighting work), they were able to get a lot out of working with the company. What's more, the company liked Eijun so much, they actually choreographed him into the piece.

                He'd get to perform with them.

                A real company.

                In Italy.

                And they were letting him choreograph a little of it.

                Holy shit.

                Kazuya was proud of him, he told Eijun so. It made Eijun miss him so much his eyes got wet.

                But Eijun was busy. He messaged Kazuya every day, but he was luckily distracted from pining too much by exploring. He, his Canadian roommate, and some company members went out every weekend to the club, and sometimes he and his roommate made small trips to Rome or Venice. He ate so much delicious pasta (there was a cool and tiny restaurant off the beaten path that made all of its pasta fresh and was affordable), he was sure if he wasn't so active he'd get fat. He saw beautiful works of art and architecture and did the touristy things like ride on a gondola in Venice and tour the Coliseum in Rome.

                It was Eijun, this time, that posted pictures on Facebook of his adventures.

                His mom commented on every picture. The Sawamura clan was very proud. None of them had ever left the country.

                On the last day of his internship, he was offered a position as a company member.

 

*

 

when are you back in the states?

 

last day of my internship was today

 

howd it go?

 

they offered me a position in the company

 

...oh.

 

i turned it down. i luv it here, but i don't wanna live here.

 

i know its dumb and mean or whatever, but im glad

 

i kno

 

im proud of you

 

i kno. i miss u. i'm excited to see u.

 

you flying into nyc?

 

yea

 

stay with me a few days

 

it'll take awhile for the money i made here to transfer and stuff, i'm broke

 

ill pay for you. seriously. i want you to. ill meet you at the airport.

 

alright! we can talk about our company!

 

oh shit, yeah, its time to actually start making it happen christ

 

when does ur lease end?

 

in a few weeks. im not renewing it. we should figure out where we wanna be based.

 

yeah. just come home w me. u can stay with my family while we figure out where to go.

 

sawamura, thats too much, your family already housed me for like a month that one winter break

 

then let's make it a goal to not stay longer than a month

 

damn, youve gotten bolder in italy, havent you

 

i want this. i want u. we're gonna make this happen!

 

jesus, so embarrassing.

 

*

 

                Eijun's last day in Italy was glorious. He was staying in a hotel on the Mediterranean; as his internship had ended a week ago, he had spent time bouncing around Italy, from hostel to hostel. He even spent a day in Pompeii touring the ruins of the lost city. But here, on his last day, he spoiled himself with a nice hotel in Fiumicino, right on the beach.

                He laid out a towel, and sprawled out in the sunshine, enjoying the people laughing around him. After awhile, he got up, and went to a small gelato place and ordered the largest and fanciest chocolate gelato they had. It was served in a shiny glass cup, a cup he had seen sundaes served in, and had a pretty paper pinwheel tucked into the chocolatey goodness. He held his dessert up against the blue of the sea and took a picture and immediately set to uploading it to Facebook.

                He sat in the shade of an umbrella on the patio of the gelato place, covered in Mediterranean sand, licking the chocolate from his lips and watching some of the gelato start to melt into a puddle at the bottom of the glass. It was so large he couldn't finish it.

                It was the perfect size to share.

                "I can't wait to see him," Eijun sighed aloud, leaning back in his chair, and letting his full belly expand in his cargo shorts.

                The day was cloudless, blue, the blue water of the sea flowing smoothly, waves on the soft sand. A breeze ruffled his hair. As beautiful and peaceful as it was, Eijun felt a little lonely.

                Kazuya would love this, Eijun thought, Kazuya would love this.

 

*

 

                Kazuya waited, impatient. He had called off work for this, and he stood, arms crossed, waiting for Eijun to arrive. The plane had just landed, or so Eijun had texted him. Kazuya sighed and took a sip of the coffee he had in his right hand. In his left hand was a sugary iced mocha with extra chocolate drizzle and whipped cream...just the way Eijun liked it. The cold of the beverage was making his hand numb.

                He spotted a black pleather couch by the large front windows of the airport, so he went and sat, relieving the numbness in his hand by setting Eijun's drink on the small coffee table. His leg bounced anxiously up and down up and down as he took another sip of coffee.

                He set his coffee down.

                His leg bounced.

                He just wanted to wrap his arms around Eijun so badly.

                He missed him so badly.

                He took another sip of coffee.

                "KAZUYA!"

                He choked on his coffee and looked up. Eijun, tanned and beautiful and golden, backpack slung over his shoulder and suitcase trailing behind him...Eijun was running to him, clumsily and loudly, and Kazuya ran to him too, leaving the coffees on the table, forgotten for the moment, and wrapped his arms around Eijun so tightly he was certainly going to accidentally break his ribcage. Eijun squeezed back.  

                "God, Kazuya, I missed you so much," Eijun's muffled voice murmured from Kazuya's shoulder.

                "God, you smell like shit," Kazuya's muffled voice joked from Eijun's shoulder. Eijun dropped his backpack on Kazuya's foot.

                "Ouch!"

                "Sorry," Eijun said. He didn't sound sorry.

                "I got you coffee," Kazuya said, grabbing his hand and dragging him to the pleather couch. His heart was pounding with excitement. Eijun was all his again. Everything they did now would be together.

                "Thanks!" Eijun said eagerly, dropping his backpack on the couch and propping his suitcase against the coffee table. He snatched up the drink and began guzzling it with an alarming rapidity. Kazuya watched him greedily.

                Eijun seemed older. He had a more commanding presence than he had before, a confidence that came from working professionally and performing professionally. Kazuya's eyes trailed from his pretty lips, pouted around the straw, pink against his tan skin, down to his strong forearms--one of Kazuya's favorite features on his boyfriend--muscular and perfect. Kazuya's eyes traveled back up and his breath caught when his eyes met Eijun's, who was watching him carefully, almost catlike in that surprisingly shrewd way he had. Kazuya flushed, suspecting Eijun knew he was already looking forward to getting Eijun into bed after months of being away from each other. He looked away, reaching for his own coffee.

                "The next train will be going soon. We should get to the subway."

                Eijun said nothing, and continued to slurp his drink, but Kazuya could feel those eyes on him still. It made him a little nervous for some reason.

                "I'll take your backpack," he said, throwing Eijun's backpack over his shoulder and grinning at Eijun, "Undressing me with your eyes already?" he added with a wink. Eijun choked on his drink.

                "I am not! You were undressing me!"

                Kazuya chuckled, and began walking away, coffee in hand. He heard Eijun shuffle a bit, then catch up, his suitcase dragging along. One of the wheels was squeaky.

                Kazuya gently guided Eijun along through the throngs of people by his elbow. They were peacefully quiet, just glad to be near each other.

                The car was so crowded, they had to stand up against each other. Eijun looked exhausted, and he leaned against Kazuya and closed his eyes. Kazuya smiled, and kept an eye on Eijun's suitcase, which was smartly wedged between them.

                They finally got to Kazuya's neighborhood--he lived in Brooklyn--and walked. Luckily it was a good day, a little hot, but pretty, and many of the neighborhood kids were out playing. Eijun perked up and was looking around wide-eyed. Kazuya chuckled to himself and took Eijun's hand.

                It was a decent hike to Kazuya's building from the subway station, but Eijun cheerfully began chattering for the latter half of it, which Kazuya missed, commenting on how cool the neighborhood was and asking Kazuya all kinds of questions.

                As soon as he opened the door to his apartment, Eijun set to exploring. The apartment was tiny and a little dingy, but had two bedrooms and a small kitchen, bathroom, and living room. The view wasn't bad, it was of the street and green leaves of the few trees lining the sidewalk.

                "Where's your roommate?" Eijun said, as Kazuya watched him poke around; he was currently inspecting the contents of their fridge, the cheeky little bastard.

                "He's at work. He'll be home late tonight. You hungry?"

                Eijun nodded.

                "We can have an early dinner. I was going to make you a fancy dinner today, but I figured you'd be jetlagged and just want to eat and go to bed, so I'm saving the fancy dinner for tomorrow. Wanna order pizza?"

                "Yes!" Eijun punched his fist in the air. Kazuya laughed.

                "Okay, I'll order the pizza. I'm assuming you still like peppers and sausage and onion?"

                "Yep!"

                "Good. You can go freshen up in the bathroom. You can drop of your stuff in my room, it's the first door to the right."

                "Okay!"

 

*

 

                Eijun was here. He was in New York with his boyfriend. He let out a long exhale of relief and opened the door to Kazuya's room, dumping his stuff in the corner. Kazuya's room was pretty sparse, tersely neat, except, of course, for his bed, which Kazuya never made. Eijun wanted to dive in face-first and envelope himself in Kazuya's sheets, but he was pretty filthy from his travels. He walked up to the window and peered through the blinds at the sunny street. A car with loud, thumping music drove by.

                "Can I shower?" Eijun called, walking across the teeny hallway into the bathroom.

                "Yeah, of course, you can use my stuff, my shampoo is--"

                "I know which stuff is yours! You never change soaps or anything," Eijun chuckled fondly. A few years ago, when Eijun was practically living in Kazuya's apartment at school, Kazuya let him shower there a few times. He never changed brands of anything.

                So Eijun stripped down, hopped in, and lathered himself in Kazuya's soap, that Kazuya smell (minus the coffee) filling his nostrils and smooth on his skin. Eijun grinned happily to himself.

                "Hey Eijun," Kazuya poked his head in the bathroom door. Eijun peered around the shower curtain.

                "Yeah?"

                "Here's some fresh clothing. I figured you'd want something comfortable so you can just crash later," Kazuya set a pair of gray sweatpants and a green tee on the floor next to the sink.

                "Thanks!"

                Eijun finished up his shower, knowing he was using up all the hot water but he was feeling a little greedy today, and turned off the taps, feeling clean and fresh and so happy he was almost giddy. He pulled open the shower curtain, then remembered. Oops.

                "Hey, Kazuya!" he called, "Kazuya!"

                Kazuya opened the door.

                "I need a towel, sorry I forgot to ask, where are they?"

                Kazuya wasn't listening. Eijun had forgotten, so comfortable being back with Kazuya, that he was completely naked, shower curtain thrown aside, warm and clean and wet, and Kazuya was staring, looking at him up and down, looking surprised but also hungry. Eijun slowly exhaled, relaxing under Kazuya's gaze, and their eyes met. Kazuya slowly advanced, and Eijun stepped out of the tub, neither of them caring about the water dripping on the floor from his body, and their lips met softly at first, their small, sweet kisses becoming deeper, and just as Eijun found himself drowning in Kazuya, he pulled away.

                "Wait..." Eijun said faintly. But Kazuya slowly sunk to his knees, eyes glued to Eijun's, his hands gripping his buttocks. Oh.

                "I've waited so long to see you..." Kazuya murmured, blowing warm breath on Eijun's groin, "So long..."

               

*

 

                Kazuya, smirking, watched as Eijun cheerfully pulled on the sweatpants and shirt he had laid out for him. He had, eventually, gotten poor Eijun a towel, but it didn't seem to matter...Eijun was almost bouncing with happiness.

                The blowjob is probably one reason for his good mood, Kazuya thought smugly.

                "Are you sure you don't want me to take care of that?" Eijun asked, fully clothed and rosy and clean. He pointed at Kazuya's crotch.

                "As much as I'd love you to, I think our pizza is literally going to arrive any second...and there it is," he said, as the apartment buzzer went off, "I'm going to take care of this situation, just take my gray card out of my wallet on the counter and go downstairs and get the food, will you?"

                Eijun nodded, hesitating just a second as Kazuya unzipped his jeans, those gold eyes not hungry for pizza but for something else. Kazuya smirked, taking his time, trailing his fingers down his abdomen.

                "You should go get the pizza," he said, enjoying how torn Eijun was.

                "Oh! Right! I...don't...I'll be right back!" Eijun practically ran out of the bathroom.

                "Oi! Don't forget my card!" Kazuya yelled.

                By the time Eijun came back, panting and flustered, gray card still in hand and pizza presumably on the kitchen counter, Kazuya was well on his way to taking care of his problem, but Eijun slid his hand over his and finished him off.

                "Now let's go eat some pizza!" Eijun said happily, almost innocently, washing the mess off of his hands in the bathroom sink. Kazuya laughed, wrapped his arms around Eijun, and propped his chin on his shoulder.

                "Yeah, let's have some pizza. Thanks for the handy," he added, getting the expected response of a squawk and an elbow to the abdomen.

                "You don't have to be so...so crass!" Eijun huffed, face flushing.

                "You were the one with the hand in my pants."

                "Gah! Kazuya!"

                "What? If I recall correctly, you said plenty of dirty things in bed back in April..." Kazuya trailed away with a wink.

                "That's because...well...gah!" Eijun flushed a darker red but he was smiling now, no doubt thinking back to that blissful weekend.

                They sprawled out on the couch and devoured pizza while talking about New York and Florence. It was amazing how perfectly comfortable they were around each other, even after five months without seeing one another; Eijun's legs were tangled easily with Kazuya's, and Kazuya watched lovingly as Eijun rambled on and on about something or another, his fingers greasy from the pizza, smearing his cell phone as he showed Kazuya some pictures he had yet to upload to Facebook.

                After Eijun's fourth slice of pizza, Kazuya could see him slowing down as jetlag finally overcame his excitement of being together again. His eyes drooped, and when Kazuya said something and didn't get a response, he wasn't surprised when he glanced over to see Eijun's head slumped forward, mouth ajar. Kazuya snorted, snapped a picture for blackmail, then gently roused him.

                "Hey, come on, let's go to bed," Kazuya said. It was still light outside, it was only about six o'clock, but he wanted to snuggle.

                God, he'd never admit that out loud though, geez.

                "M'kay," Eijun smiled sleepily, letting Kazuya lead him to the bed. It was going to be a bit of a tight fit; it was a full, but Eijun had a tendency to sprawl. Oh well.

                Eijun snuggled into the covers as Kazuya pulled off his jeans and shirt. He looked so cute, wrapped up in the blankets like a little caterpillar in a cocoon, his fluffy brown hair poking out of the top. Kazuya's heart swelled.

                He climbed in, and was happy to find Eijun was opening the blanket to him, letting him into the little cocoon of warmth.

                "No fair," Eijun murmured sleepily, a small smile on his face, running a hand down Kazuya's bare torso. He snuggled right into Kazuya, warm and soft and humming with contentment, and Kazuya was glad he was already falling asleep, because the stupid grin on his own face was too embarrassing for anyone to see.  

 

*

 

                Eijun opened his eyes blearily. It was dark in the room, and Kazuya had shifted so that his back was to him. Eijun had drooled in his sleep, but was too exhausted to even lift his head from where it was. He had no idea the time. He heard the television on the living room, the crack of a beer can; Kazuya's roommate must have come home. Eijun listened to Kazuya's breathing, to the sounds of the city at night...sirens in the distance, a few voices from the street.

                He dozed off again.

                When he woke up it was still dark, the television was no longer making noise in the living room, and Kazuya was no longer in bed. Confused, Eijun sat up, feeling heavy but well-rested. He spotted Kazuya's phone on the nightstand and reached over to check the time.

                Two-thirty in the morning. Where was Kazuya?

                He yawned and his joints crackled as he stretched. He was sweaty. It had gotten quite warm and muggy. He kicked the blanket aside and left the sheet, then pulled off his shirt.

                Where was Kazuya?

                A toilet flushed, and in a few seconds Eijun saw Kazuya tiptoe into the room, gently turning to close the door quietly.

                "I'm awake, it's okay," Eijun said quietly, not wanting to wake Kazuya's roommate.

                Kazuya jumped a little, startled.

                "What happened to your shirt?" he asked. Even in the dark Eijun could see Kazuya's smirk.

                "It got hot."

                Kazuya slowly crawled into bed on top of Eijun, lips pressed hard against his, leaning Eijun back against the bedding. He was hungry, Eijun knew, and he wasted no time, deep, passionate kisses quickly turning into love bites, hard nibbles on the lips. His hand brushed down on Eijun's bare torso without warning, and Eijun giggled, ticklish.

                Kazuya smiled, but continued, pulling the sweatpants Eijun wore down and off. Then he snorted.

                "Wha-what?" Eijun asked in a daze.

                "Nice underwear."

                Eijun propped himself up and looked. Oh, shit. He was wearing the joke underwear his mother had gotten him for the trip; they had little bears piloting airplanes printed on them. God damn it...

                "They're from my mom!"

                "Oh, really? Your mom buys your underwear?"

                "Sometimes! It's a joke! It's because I was travelling!"

                "Ha! They really speak volumes. Shame they aren't briefs, that would have been better."

                "ARGH!"

                "Shh. My roommate is next door."

                "You're infuriating!"

                "Am I?" Kazuya chuckled.

                "Yes! You can't even fuck me without making fun of me!" Eijun huffed, wrapping his legs around Kazuya's hips. Kazuya just laughed and began kissing him again, sweetly this time, pecks all over Eijun's face, just like he did the first time they had made love, and Eijun felt himself melt like putty in Kazuya's hands, weak with how much he loved him.

                "I missed you so much," Kazuya murmured gently pulling Eijun's bear-clad boxers off, "You have no idea how much I missed you."

                It was rare for Kazuya to say such things over and over again. Eijun quickly wrapped his arms around Kazuya's neck and held him tightly.

                "I missed you too," he whispered, holding Kazuya close, then gently pulling back to take his face in his hands. Kazuya's wide brown eyes looked into his, "You were all I saw...every monument, every city...I wanted you to be there with me so badly."

                This was apparently what Kazuya had been hoping to hear, because he shot forward and kissed Eijun so hard and so relentlessly, Eijun felt like he was suffocating, but he kissed back, relishing the feeling of Kazuya's warm skin and hot tongue, addicted at how overwhelmed he was by the taste and hot breath of the person he had been longing for the most. When he felt Kazuya's fingers inside of him, cool and slick, Eijun gripped fistfuls of Kazuya's hair, not meaning to pull but doing so anyway. Kazuya bit Eijun's lower lip...hard.

                This did something to Eijun...lit something deep and dark and powerful in his belly, and he pulled away, only slightly, panting into Kazuya, their breath mingling as they paused, and he had never been so desperate for this in his life, desperate to feel everything, hard and real and biting.

                "Fuck me," he breathed into Kazuya's mouth, "Fuck me now."

                And he did. With every thrust, unrelenting and intense, Eijun's senses were sent to overdrive, his eyes rolling back, he gripped the sheets, Kazuya's hair, his arms, the pillow, the headboard, anything he could to ground himself but it was pointless--he knew he was crying out with pleasure but Kazuya was long past the point of chastising him, and now his fingernails were digging into Kazuya's back and fuck  he was coming hard, all over Kazuya's hand and  on his own stomach, he was quite certain he was rendered blind because for a very real second he was seeing stars and than nothing and when Kazuya came back into focus, close to finishing himself, all Eijun could think of was how he was never going to part with Kazuya again.

 

*

 

                Kazuya held Eijun for hours, and they didn't speak, just huddled close. Kazuya drifted off once or twice, but every time he woke, Eijun's golden eyes were open.

                "Can't sleep?" Kazuya asked finally, as the first round of traffic began outside...it was still mostly dark, but some people had to get up early for their commutes.

                "I don't want to sleep," Eijun smiled sweetly, looking up at Kazuya through thick lashes, "I'm too excited."

                "For what?"

                "To be here with you. To start a company with you. I'm excited!"

                Kazuya smiled.

                "Yeah, well, you should get some sleep, otherwise you won't have the energy to do those things."

                "I did sleep. Now I'm awake."

                Kazuya sighed.

                "Fine. Want some coffee? I have plenty of milk and sugar," he added, noting the wrinkle of Eijun's nose.

                "Okay."

                They pulled themselves out of bed and threw on some clothes. While Eijun went to the bathroom, Kazuya hummed to himself as he pulled the coffee beans from the cupboard.

                "Geez, it's hot," Eijun huffed, walking into the kitchen and leaning against the counter. He watched Kazuya grind the beans.

                "We don't want to pay for AC," Kazuya said apologetically, "It was oddly cool yesterday, but most of the time in the summer it's muggy like this. Sorry."

                "It's okay. I don't mind," Eijun grinned.

                So cute

                "I don't have to work today," Kazuya added, pouring the ground beans into the coffee maker, "I gave my employers my two weeks last week. All of them but my barista job want me to finish through this week. So I'll only have to work a short shift tomorrow then I'll be home free."

                "That's good. What about the work you've been doing with dance companies?"

                "I did a lot of project-based work earlier this year. But I toned it down this summer and focused on working more to save up because I knew you'd be done in Italy soon."

                "Hmm," Eijun nodded, then his stomach growled loudly. Kazuya snorted, then pointed to the fridge.

                "Take a look at what you want. I can make breakfast."

                Eijun's eyes widened and he threw the fridge open.

                "Eggs and toast!" he declared after a moment of scanning the fridge.

                "Okay," Kazuya grinned, "Hand me that pan. How do you want your eggs cooked?"

                Eijun thought. Kazuya felt his grin widen as he watched Eijun's little gears turning.

                "Hmm...scrambled!"

                "Easy," Kazuya nodded, taking the pan Eijun handed him.

                They sat down in the living room with their coffee and breakfast. Eijun's food was gone in a matter of minutes. Kazuya watched in disgusted amazement at how fast he could shovel it in.

                "Well," Kazuya said taking a sip of coffee while Eijun threw himself back against the couch, sated, "Any thoughts as to what we do from here?"

                Eijun looked at him in confusion.

                "Um...maybe sightsee? I've never been to New York."

                Kazuya laughed.

                "No, not that...although, yes, I'm going to take you out today, but I was wondering more...long-term. If you want to open a company with me we need to choose a place to live."

                "Ohhhh," Eijun nodded seriously.

                "I mean, I'll be moving out this weekend," Kazuya said, watching the steam from his coffee rise, "And though your family has been kind enough to invite me to stay for a month, I'd like to have a game plan."

                Eijun was quiet a moment, arms crossed.

                "Well...have you given any thought to where we might live?" he asked.

                "I mean, not really," Kazuya shrugged, "We could do a big city, but that would be significantly harder."

                What Kazuya didn't want to admit was that he really didn't care where they lived, as long as it was a place that had a good arts scene.

                And as long as he had Eijun with him.

                "Boulder," Eijun said suddenly. Kazuya looked at him in surprise.

                "Boulder? As in...isn't that in Colorado?"

                "Yeah. They have an active arts community. And it's smaller. And only a half hour from Denver."

                Kazuya was surprised. He never gave much thought to moving out west. And Eijun must have done at least some research on the city...how come he had never mentioned it to Kazuya before?

                "I've...never given Colorado much thought," he said after a moment.

                "I think it would be perfect," Eijun said eagerly, pulling out his phone, "Living is a little expensive, but we could always live in Denver and commute to Boulder or whatever."

                "How long have you been researching this?" Kazuya asked, trying not to sound irritated.

                "Just...well...a few months," Eijun said, looking up, "I didn't think anything would come of it, but I saw this flyer and it looked pretty, so...and also Mochi lives in Denver, he was able to tell me a lot about it."

                "I see."

                "Are you angry?" Eijun asked, worried.

                "No...just...why didn't you tell me you were researching it as a potential place to live?"

                "I don't know. I guess...I thought you would be doing the same thing, scoping out places."

                Kazuya felt a little guilty that he hadn't, but between juggling his jobs and trying to remain active in the dance community, it had fallen through the cracks.

                "Tell me more," Kazuya said finally. Eijun beamed.

 

*

 

                For the rest of the morning they searched the web, researching everything they could about Boulder, and it appeared Kazuya actually was quite excited by the idea. After two hours of excited planning they eventually got distracted by kissing. They heard a bedroom door open and Eijun tried to push Kazuya off of him. Kazuya pulled his tongue out of Eijun's mouth but refused to get off of his lap.

                "Good morning!" Kazuya said, brown eyes cocky and grin cockeyed, as his roommate walked in.

                His roommate was thin and almost unhealthy looking; pallid, dark circles under his eyes, and huge thick-rimmed glasses underneath dull brown-black hair. He blinked at them passively, gave a curt nod, then walked into the kitchen. Kazuya turned back to Eijun, winked, then wiggled his hips playfully against Eijun's.

                Eijun flushed.

                "This is my boyfriend, Eijun!" Kazuya called into the kitchen, grin toothy and eyes bright. Eijun's heart gave a thunk. It was the first time he had ever been introduced as Kazuya's boyfriend, which was funny considering they had technically been dating for six months or so, but with Kazuya in New York and Eijun in Florence...

                Regardless, Eijun immediately felt a burst of happy energy prickle at his nerve endings.

                The roommate gave a weird noise, apparently poured a cup of Kazuya's coffee, then shuffled back into his room and closed the door.

                "I love annoying him," Kazuya said sadistically, his grin turning rather twisted, "And that means something, coming from me. I don't have a problem living with someone and ignoring their existence, but he's such an ass. I hope we kept him awake last night, too."

                "We probably did," Eijun said, embarrassed.

                "Last night was amazing," Kazuya turned and looked at Eijun intently, studying him. Eijun felt a little shy.

                "It was."

                They looked at each other a moment, then Kazuya slowly leaned forward.

                "Sightseeing?" Eijun said loudly, relishing Kazuya's surprised cringe.

                "Okay, okay...get dressed," Kazuya sighed, "I need to shower."

                Eijun practically skipped to the bedroom. He dug around his packed clothes, most of which were kind of dirty, but managed to find one last clean pair of boxer briefs and mismatched socks. He'd just wear his dirty jeans, but his shirts all kind of smelled. He dug around Kazuya's drawer and pulled out a t-shirt and slid it on.

                "I see you've made yourself at home," Kazuya said, walking into the room a little later, wrapped in a towel. Eijun watched droplets of water slide down his muscular frame.

                Jesus Christ.

                "Ahem...yes...well," Eijun said, still staring, "I needed a clean shirt."

                "That's fine," Kazuya chuckled, paused, then added, "Would you like to continue to stare at me, or...?"

                "I am not staring!" Eijun huffed.

                "Yes you are."

                "It's not my fault you're hot," he mumbled darkly.

                "Oh ho ho! I wonder what was going on in your dirty little mind."

                "I wasn't...shut up and get dressed!"

                "So you can undress me later?"

                "Yes, actually," Eijun looked at him rather sharply. Kazuya's eyes widened, as did his grin. He slid off his towel with unnecessary allure and Eijun had to close his eyes to keep all of his energy from going right to his dick.

                "If you don't get dressed now," Eijun said, eyes still firmly shut, "We'll never leave this apartment."

                "Okay, okay, I'm getting dressed. Any idea where you wanna go? I'm assuming we're going to make a trip to Manhattan."

                "Yeah! I wanna see everything! Times Square! The Empire State Building! I wanna do all the touristy stuff!"

                "Alright...also, I uh..." Kazuya suddenly sounded a little embarrassed, so Eijun opened his eyes. Kazuya was sliding on a pair of jeans.

                "You what?"

                "I just...you ever thought of seeing a Broadway show?"

                "Yeah, that would be great, but..." Eijun trailed away and his eyes widened, "Did you get us tickets to see a show?!"

                Kazuya turned bright red and focused his attention on buttoning his pants.

                "I...yeah," he mumbled.

                "WHOO!" Eijun jumped to his feet.

                "I'm glad you're so enthusiastic."

                "I don't really know anything about musicals, but YES!"

                "I hate musicals. But I've never been to a Broadway show before, so I thought, with you here, it might be the perfect opportunity..." Kazuya trailed away again.

                "You're the best, Kazuya!" Eijun said genuinely. Kazuya snorted, and brushed it off, but Eijun meant it. Those tickets had to not have been cheap.

                "The show is our last evening in the city," Kazuya said, buttoning up his shirt and rolling up the sleeves, "But I think it'll be fun. And...I also bought us tickets to a summer dance festival happening the day after tomorrow."

                Eijun's jaw dropped. Kazuya really was spoiling him.

                "I feel like you're my sugar daddy, taking me all over town," Eijun joked.

                "Please don't say that," Kazuya shook his head and smiled.

                Eijun walked over to Kazuya and wrapped his arms around him. He smelled clean and fresh after his shower. Eijun was so lucky to have him. Kazuya wrapped his arms around Eijun too.

               

*

 

                It was sticky and hot, the heat rising from the concrete, brick, and steel of the city. Eijun had never been in such a densely populated place before.

                "It's like I can feel the grime in my lungs when I inhale," Eijun said to Kazuya as they rode the subway. Kazuya chuckled.

                Eijun was a country boy indeed.

                They hurried along. Kazuya figured he'd take Eijun to see Times Square first, then they could get lunch. Kazuya tried not to think about how much money he was going to spend; it wasn't cheap eating in Manhattan.

                When they stood at Times Square, trying not to get bumped too much by passerby, Eijun oooohed and ahhhed. Kazuya rolled his eyes, but he was amused.

                "Let's take a picture!" Eijun said, pulling out his phone, "Can you take a picture of us?" he asked what appeared to be another tourist.

                Kazuya felt Eijun's arm slung around his shoulder heavily, oh so this is how it feels, and they both smiled.

                "Awesome, thank you!" Eijun snatched the phone and grinned, "Good picture! I'm uploading this!"

                Kazuya smiled, but he was starting to get that vertigo feeling he got every time he was in Times Square (which was hardly ever). It was just so bright and loud and busy and he was feeling a little dizzy. The heat didn't help.

                "You okay?" he heard Eijun asked. He nodded. Maybe some food would help.

                "Let's not eat here," Eijun murmured, "I want to eat somewhere quieter."

                They did eventually find a place several blocks away...a small Italian restaurant packed full, but comfortable somehow. They ate ravenously and guzzled water like it was their job. Kazuya felt a little sleepy. All the water and pasta made him very full and content, he could happily sit there for hours, but Eijun was already babbling on about the Empire State Building.

                So Kazuya adjusted his beanie off they went. Kazuya kept sneaking peeks at Eijun's sunny smile, his freckles bright beneath his sunglasses, and Kazuya wished they weren't so dark so he could see his eyes. He was so cute, albeit a little annoying. But mostly cute.

                By the time they made it to the Empire State Building, Kazuya was actually in a pretty good mood. He was here, in New York City, with Eijun. This fact kept bouncing around in his head  and he found it impossible to be too tired.

                "You know," Kazuya said as they stepped into the air conditioned lobby, "It's a shame we didn't come at nighttime. I heard the observation deck is stunning at night."

                Eijun's eyes widened.

                "Should we wait?! Maybe we should go at night!"

                "We can always come back after our Broadway show."

                "But we'll have to pay twice."

                "Yeah, but its best we do it now, ya know? Now that we're here."

                They bought the tour and Kazuya zoned out, perking up even more now that they were in air conditioning, and spent his time staring at the other tourists; three large families and a couple, some sunburned and tired, some eager and attentive (Eijun). A pretty little girl with dark skin and braids kept looking at Kazuya back. She smiled. He was a little surprised, he had been shy of adults when he was about her age (ten, maybe?) but here she was, smiling cheerfully at him, not afraid to curiously study him the way he was studying everyone else. He smiled awkwardly and looked away. He didn't really like kids, and he sure as hell didn't know how to interact with them.

                Eijun kept asking the guide questions, and Kazuya would have been surprised if he hadn't already known what a history nerd Eijun was. It was literally the only non-dance class Eijun was enthusiastic about in college. Kazuya slid his hand into Eijun's as they walked to the observation deck. Eijun grinned, squeezed, then let go.

                "Another picture. Of you," he said.

                "Of me? Just me?" Kazuya asked.

                "Yes. Right there, so I can get the view in, too. Nice."

                "Don't you want one of you?"

                "Nah. But I'd like another one of us together."

                The little girl and her father walked up.

                "You guys want a picture?" her father asked, "I can take it."

                Eijun handed him the phone then jogged over to Kazuya and made a peace sign. Kazuya tried not to roll his eyes. He could feel the little girl's eyes on him again.

                Eijun was pleased with the picture, and immediately uploaded it to Facebook.

                "Geez, Sawamura," Kazuya teased, "You're leaving a pretty big digital footprint."

                "I've uploaded all of our pictures today already!" Eijun said excitedly. Then he slid the phone in his pocket and the two of them looked over at the gray city beneath them, the sky cloudless and blue overhead.

                "Nice view," Kazuya said after a moment.

                "It is."

                "That kid keeps looking at me. Is there something on my face?"

                "Huh? Which kid?"

                Kazuya pointed when her back was turned.

                "Oh. No, there's nothing on your face. Maybe she finds you handsome," Eijun teased.

                "Pfft."

                "You are! You're like a handsome prince!" Eijun exclaimed, a little too loudly. Kazuya covered his face in embarrassment.

                "Can you not? Did you literally just say that right now?"

                "Yeah, why?"

                "I'm never having sex with you again," Kazuya murmured, shaking his head.

                "WHAT?! WHY?!"

                "Keep it down, idiot."

                "Wait, okay, please have sex with me," Eijun whispered, looking frantic, and Kazuya laughed at how serious he was.

                "Nope. Never again. Too bad. Hope you enjoyed it while it lasted," Kazuya grinned, enjoying how flustered Eijun was now.

                "Nooo..." Eijun covered his face miserably. Kazuya cackled and threw his arm over his shoulders and led him back into the building.

                "Cheer up, Saw-a-mur-a," he managed between chortles, "At least you won't die a virgin."

                Eijun groaned, shaking his head. Kazuya continued to laugh. He couldn't believe Eijun actually believed him...like hell he'd never sleep with Eijun again.

                They wandered around aimlessly for awhile, people watching and talking. Eijun wasn't interested in seeing Central Park, but somehow they ended up there regardless, and so they got ice cream and settled down on a bench underneath a tree.

                "This is nice," Eijun said, mouth sticky with chocolate and strawberry.

                "It is," Kazuya said, closing his eyes, and feeling a nice breeze roll through his hair.

                They sat there for a long time, shoulders comfortably against one another. Eijun showed Kazuya the comments they got on their pictures. Eijun's mom commented on every one, little hearts and smileys trailing her words.

                Eventually, they got up and headed back to Brooklyn, Eijun snuggling up against Kazuya on the subway ride back. Kazuya watched him play games on his phone.

                When they got back to the apartment, Kazuya was unhappy to find his roommate home and watching television.

                "Ah...hello," he said.

                "Hi."

                "Let's go to my room," Kazuya said softly, taking Eijun by the elbow.

                Grimy from their adventures, they both collapsed in Kazuya's bed anyway, thoroughly exhausted.

                "I'll start dinner in a bit," Kazuya said, "I did ask my roommate if he'd leave tonight for a few hours so we can have a nice dinner. I'm assuming he'll keep his promise," he sighed, then nuzzled into Eijun, who smiled faintly, and began stroking Kazuya's hair, sweaty though it was after he took off his beanie.

               

*

 

                They ended up napping for an hour or so, Eijun waking Kazuya with small kisses, and eventually they began rolling around the sheets. Eijun was going to make good on his promise of undressing Kazuya, he had been excited about it all day, but was suddenly pushed off the bed, hands rough against his chest, and his own arms flailing through the air ungracefully.

                "Ouch!" he snapped, rubbing his backside.

                "Sorry," Kazuya snorted, "Didn't mean to push you that hard."

                "What the fuck?"

                "We should stop now before it gets too heavy. I actually do want to make you a nice dinner, you know. I planned it all out."

                Eijun sighed. He could wait, he supposed.

                "Fine," he grumbled, making no move to get off the floor.

                "Get up. You're helping," Kazuya smirked, standing up and offering a hand.

                "What? I hate cooking!" Eijun whined, taking Kazuya's hand anyways.

                "Don't be such a baby. We can drink wine while we do it. And listen to music. How does that sound?"

                "Good!" Eijun beamed. If there was wine and music it wouldn't be so bad, right?

                Kazuya was quite bossy in the kitchen, Eijun quickly discovered. But he was also remarkably patient while explaining things, like how to season the chicken and the quickest way to peel the carrots. He even refrained from making snide remarks about how much Eijun was struggling.

                "What are we making, anyway?" Eijun asked, feeling warm and fuzzy; the wine was already almost gone.

                "Curry soup and chicken breasts," Kazuya said, chopping potatoes faster than Eijun had ever seen.

                It smelled delicious. Eijun grinned.

                "I'm going to set the table," Kazuya said, "We have to let it cook for a few hours. I'll put the chicken in the fridge so we can pop it into the oven in a bit."

                Eijun was hungry; he didn't know it was going to take so long. It was early, though, he supposed.

                "Don't look so disheartened," Kazuya said, without even looking at Eijun, "I am prepared. With these," he pulled out a tray from the fridge, "I have hors d'oeuvres...and more wine."

                Eijun hovered excitedly over Kazuya's shoulder as he took the plastic wrap off of the tray.

                "What's that?! It looks good!"

                "Lettuce wraps," Kazuya said proudly, "And I made the sauces from scratch the day before you arrived. I made the wraps last night while you were sleeping; I got up for a bit because I was restless. Hopefully they're still fresh."

                They looked fresh. And perfect. Eijun's mouth was watering. He wanted to eat everything.

                Kazuya neatly placed the wraps on a large plate and handed it to Eijun.

                "Carry this into the coffee table. I'll grab the wine."

                Eijun had already eaten a wrap by the time Kazuya sat down. Eijun smiled sheepishly, but Kazuya didn't seem to mind.

                I didn't think it was possible but I think I love him even more, now, Eijun thought happily. The sun was setting outside, and Kazuya was getting handsy as their second bottle of wine got emptier. Eijun giggled.

                "Isn't it time to put the chicken in?" he asked, playfully poking Kazuya's side as he went in for a kiss.

                "You're right!" Kazuya said, jumping to his feet, "And I have to set the table."

                "I can--"

                "--No, you've helped enough, just sit there and eat that last wrap."

                Eijun didn't need to be told twice; the wrap was gone in a matter of seconds. Kazuya went to the tiny circular dining table right next to the kitchen and threw a white tablecloth over it. Wow, he's going all-out, Eijun thought. His attention drifted to the dull burnt red of the sky outside. The sun was very low, now, bright orange reflecting from the windows of the buildings outside. He heard the neighborhood settle down as dinnertime approached; the city was still alive, but everything seemed quieter and calmer. Eijun took a sip of wine, then stood up to go to the bathroom. When he looked at himself in the mirror he noticed the wine had stained his teeth and lips purple.

                "Damn it," he muttered, grabbing his toothbrush, "I'm glad Kazuya didn't tease me!"

                When he returned to the living room, mouth feeling minty fresh, he gasped. The table was set, white tablecloth and a candle lit in the middle, fresh and clean wine glasses filled with red wine, dim and sultry and elegant. True, the chairs on either side of the table were mismatched, but it somehow added to the whole thing, the darkening rust-red of the twilight sky casting everything in a low warm glow. Kazuya was walking to and from the table adding silverware on top of--were those cloth napkins?--and he had even filled extra wine glasses full of water in lieu of water goblets. Eijun swallowed. Nope, don't do it, he willed himself, don't you dare get started, his eyes were filling up. Damn it.

                Eijun had, unknowingly, walked up to the table, and when Kazuya came out to fill up their salad bowls he froze.

                "Eijun...are you...are you crying?"

                "I can't help it!" Eijun said loudly, wiping his eyes on the back of his arm, "It's so nice. It's like something I read out of my manga!"

                "Out of your...Jesus," Kazuya went bright red and scratched the back of his head, "It's not, like, a big deal, I just thought, you know, it might be nice..."

                "It's perfect!" Eijun exclaimed, running up to Kazuya and wrapping his arms around his middle, "You're perfect."

                "You are so embarrassing, you know that?" he heard Kazuya mumble.

                "And you are actually quite romantic, aren't you?" Eijun smiled, looking up at Kazuya's flushed face.

                "Oh, shut up," Kazuya snapped. He gently pushed Eijun off, then continued to fill the salad bowls. Eijun continued to grin at him. Kazuya ignored it.

                "You even have cloth napkins!" Eijun felt a fresh set of tears start to emerge as he pointed at the napkins.

                Kazuya continued to ignore him, his face miraculously managing to get redder, but Eijun could see the corner of his lips go up into the tiniest of smiles.

               

*

 

                Kazuya let Eijun make love to him after dinner. He was surprised at how gentle and attentive he could be despite how loud and boisterous and rough Eijun always was. He felt the pillow, soft beneath his head, as Eijun peppered kisses and moans against his neck and lips. It was the perfect end to a great day.

                Kazuya loved that moron.

                His alarm went off at seven-thirty, and he dragged himself out of bed, leaving a still-snoozing Eijun in the sweaty sheets of the bed.

                It was hotter than usual, Kazuya though miserably, wiping sweat from his brow, and walking into the shower. The cool water was a blessed relief, bringing wakefulness.

                When he returned to the bedroom to get dressed, Eijun was awake and on his phone. He looked up.

                "When will you be home?"

                "Later this afternoon. Be ready to go. We're going to miss some of the festival, anyways, but you know..."

                "I know. What should I do while you're gone?"

                "Whatever you want. Don't burn the place down. Here's my key to the apartment; please don't lose it, and be back here by like three to let me in."

                He placed the key into Eijun's outstretched hand.

                "And ignore the hell out of my roommate," Kazuya added spitefully.

                "Okay," Eijun let out a small, breathy laugh, "You still want me to pack some things for you?"

                "Only if you want to. I'll have to pack hardcore tomorrow during the day regardless."

                Kazuya buttoned up his jeans, then leaned forward to give Eijun a kiss...which turned to two kisses, then three. God damn it, I am turning into such a fucking sap, Kazuya thought dizzily. Somehow, he couldn't be too mad about it.

                He left the muggy heat of his apartment for the brighter, muggier heat of the outside. He really didn't want to work today; he'd have much rather stayed in bed with Eijun. After all, he was down to his last two days in New York, and despite how much he hadn't particularly cared for living here, he was feeling oddly nostalgic about the whole thing.

                But there also was an excitement. Kazuya was now going to build a life with Eijun, somewhere new and exciting for the both of them. He felt a burst of energy bubble through his system and he wondered if this was how Eijun felt all the time.

                Work was painfully slow. His coworkers were extra nice to him, knowing it was his last day, but as he had not made any particular attempt to befriend any of them these past several months, it wasn't a particularly bittersweet shift in any way. He had to force himself not to daydream about him and Eijun in Colorado, and twice he had almost written Eijun's name on a customer's cup. He kept glancing at the clock and wondering what the little idiot was doing.

                "Take care and best of luck," his boss said when Kazuya poked his head into the back office after clocking out, "Any plans of yet?"

                "Yeah," Kazuya said with a smile, "Out west."

                "Excellent. You'll do great."

                They shook hands, and Kazuya turned in his apron. He practically sprinted to the subway in his eagerness to get back to Eijun so they could go to the festival.

                He was not expecting to find several boxes and bags piled in the living room when he returned. Eijun was drenched in sweat and smiling.

                "What...how?" Kazuya gaped.

                "Willpower. I went out and got breakfast at that café on the corner, then I got back and set to work. You already had all those boxes, so it was easy to just...put stuff in them. Your room  is practically all packed up."

                "Eijun, you didn't have to work yourself to death! It's my crap!"

                "Yeah, but I had nothing better to do. I did take a break and walked around the block a few times. Bought a snow cone on the street," Eijun wiped sweat from his brow, and looked around the boxes proudly, "Sorry if things are out of order. I know how orderly you are, but once I got started I guess I couldn't stop. I'm so excited."

                Kazuya exhaled. He would have preferred organizing things his way, but Eijun had saved him a load of work...all he had to pack, now, were his toiletries and kitchen appliances (his coffee maker and pots and pans).

                "Sorry if you don't like the clothes I left unpacked, too," Eijun added sheepishly, "But I purposely left your clothing box out and about so you can rummage through it!"

                "I'm sure it's fine," Kazuya said, pulling off his baseball cap and tossing it on the counter, "You should shower before we leave."

                "Yeah, I will," Eijun said, joints crackling as he ran over to Kazuya and gave him a peck on the cheek, "I'll go shower right now and be done super fast!"

                Kazuya surveyed the boxes, listening to the background of Eijun singing in the shower. If I had just a fraction of the energy he does, Kazuya thought with a smile. The boxes were labeled, luckily, but there appeared to be no rhyme or reason to what was in what box. Typical Eijun, Kazuya sighed. Oh, well. It's not like Kazuya had very many belongings in the first place.

                Eijun emerged, fresh and cheerful, skin glowing, and lean muscle glistening with water. Kazuya had to resist the urge to rip the towel from his waist and touch him everywhere.

                "Can I borrow some clothes?" Eijun asked, "I don't care about wearing my dirty jeans, and I washed some of my underwear and shirts in the sink earlier today, but the shirts are still damp."

                "Go for it."

                "Thanks."

                Kazuya watched, his own green t-shirt, soft material sliding on tan skin, falling down over strong abdominals and freckled back. He hadn't realized it, but he was biting his own lower lip, surprised as to his own reaction at watching Eijun slide on his shirt, those perfect and strong forearms, intimate and bizarrely sexy. This wasn't the first time Eijun had borrowed a shirt, but this time it was doing something to Kazuya, and the fact that Eijun seemingly had no idea the effect it was having on him added to the allure. The second Kazuya felt some of his excitement travel south, however, he quickly looked away. They didn't have time for this, and was it normal for Kazuya to literally want to fuck Eijun all of the time? He had never had such a high sex drive in his life.

                They both hadn't eaten in awhile, but the heat turned both of their stomachs, so they opted to head straight to the festival. The late afternoon sun burnt the scores of festival-goers, art patrons, choreographers, and dancers alike. Kazuya said hi to everyone he knew, which was a fair amount, and introduced Eijun to all of them. Eijun, the little social butterfly, charmed everyone he met instantly. It's a good thing I have him, Kazuya thought, amused, From a business standpoint, especially. I don't think I'm the most personable individual in the world. If we're going to start a company, it's a good thing he's here.

                Kazuya had wanted to show Eijun some dance happening in the city, especially because the festival fell during his stay here, but it was also a business moment as well; they would need to network, and even though New York was far from Boulder, the dance world was a small one, and any person they knew was an asset they had. Eijun seemed to sense this, as he remained cheerful and friendly as usual, but also made sure to give out his email at every given opportunity. Kid was a natural.

                In fact, by the end of the festival, at around nine in the evening, Eijun had gotten him and Kazuya invited out to drinks by a small company owned by a woman Kazuya had been on friendly terms with, having worked with her before. The company had performed at the festival, and were going out to enjoy the rest of the evening. As they walked to get drinks, enjoying the coolness of the summer night, she and Eijun were walking together, talking quite seriously and conspiratorially, as though they had been friends for years. Kazuya was stuck walking behind them, next to a few company members.

                They wound up at a cool and edgy bar, small and brick, covered in neon signs. They sat at a table in the front, by big windows, showing them the nighttime street. While Eijun worked his charm with the company owner, Kazuya chatted with the company members, and as the drinks flew by, the camaraderie among the group grew. Eijun slid his hand in Kazuya's underneath the table as the conversation opened up to everyone, and Kazuya felt Eijun's hand ground him in the flurry of talk and laughter.

                He and Eijun stumbled to the subway together at three in the morning, drunk and happy, arms around each other's waists.

                "That was fun," Eijun said, "And that one piece with the metal hoops was pretty cool."

                "It was," Kazuya murmured, feeling horny again and burying his face in Eijun's neck, "You're amazing, you know that?"

                "I know," Eijun said cockily.

                "You should fuck me tonight," Kazuya whispered. He watched the goosebumps rise on Eijun's skin.

                "You--Kazuya!" Eijun said loudly, flustered, "We are in public!"

                Kazuya looked around the relatively empty subway car. There was an old Chinese man sitting and reading a book, and a homeless man talking into a cup in the corner. Neither of them spared the pair a passing glance.

                "I mean...not here."

                "You shouldn't say such things out loud!"

                "You're the one being loud. I whisper," Kazuya said quietly, grinning, "So, is that a no, or...?"

                He watched the blush creep up Eijun's neck to his cheeks.

                "It's definitely not a no," he said shyly.

                "Good."

                "You horny little bastard," Eijun muttered, trying not to smile, "You're going to kill me."

                Kazuya cackled.

 

*

 

                The next day was spent packing up the rest of Kazuya's things and hitting all of the neighborhood hotspots (Kazuya was very excited to take Eijun to the local ice-cream parlor, which was old-fashioned style, and served sodas). Eijun, eyes bigger than his stomach, ordered the largest sundae he could. Kazuya helped him finish it.

                The Broadway show turned out to be a success; Eijun followed Kazuya blindly all the way to the show, and he couldn't help but be lost in looking at the high ceiling of the theater...so lost, in fact, that he had unknowingly stopped walking. Kazuya had to turn back, grab him by the hand, and lead him to their seats.

                Eijun couldn't understand why Kazuya didn't like musicals...this was great! All those amazing singers on stage together...it was awesome.

                "That was so cool!" Eijun bounced around Kazuya; he was aware, vaguely, that he was acting like a child, but he couldn't help it. Watching professional performers do their craft made him all the more excited to hone his own skills.

                "It was good, I must say," Kazuya admitted with a nod, "I'm still not a fan of musicals, but seeing it live with such a good cast was phenomenal."

                Eijun continued to bounce all the way out the door. When they reached the crowded street, he felt Kazuya's arm slide around his waist.

                "What now?" Kazuya murmured sweetly into his hair.

                "Hmm, I dunno, we could do drinks?"

                "How about the Empire State Building again?"

                Eijun turned and looked at him, the bright lights of Broadway flashing and reflecting in Kazuya's glasses. Eijun wished his eyes could take a picture, because Kazuya looked beautiful, and no phone camera would be able to do this moment justice.

                He'd have to take a mental picture instead. So he did. And then he grabbed Kazuya's hand and dragged him to the direction of the Empire State Building.

                God, was it a different view. As they stood on the observation deck, the whole city splayed below them, twinkling, shining brightly, cool summer breeze through their hair, Eijun felt more at peace then he had in a very long time. There were other couples around, and one man proposed to his girlfriend not so far off, inciting some applause from others, but Eijun and Kazuya were in their own little world. They didn't speak, arms around each other, looking down at the glittering city below.

 

*

 

                Five in the morning had Kazuya and Eijun up and packing a few last minute things. Eijun's family would be here soon, their pickup truck the method of transport for Kazuya's belongings. Kazuya was embarrassed they were doing this for him; his father could have found time to help him, but the Sawamuras were insistent, and, according to Eijun, his parents were going to use this as an excuse to see New York City. They would drive two cars up; the pickup and Eijun's Toyota, and after Mr. and Mrs. Sawamura helped them load everything, they were going to check into their hotel and have a 'romantic few days in the Big Apple'. Grandpa Sawamura would drive the truck back, and Eijun and Kazuya would take the Toyota. After their trip, Eijun's parents would take a plane back home.

                Kazuya was just surprised Grandpa Sawamura was still allowed to drive.

                So they sat in the darkened living room, waiting. Kazuya was wide awake by this point, but Eijun's eyelids kept drooping, and when Kazuya assured him it was okay to doze off, he would hastily shake his head and sit up straight, determined for a few moments, before his eyes started drooping again.

                Cute.

                At around sixish, Eijun got a call; his family was close, only a few blocks away. Luckily, traffic wasn't too bad this early, but the morning rush was going to happen soon, and Kazuya wanted to get moving as soon as possible to avoid it.

                They trudged downstairs and waited in the chilly morning air. They saw Eijun's Toyota leading the pickup and waved them over...there was nowhere to park, really, but they managed to find spots where they could pull over and put on their flashers.

                "Eijun!"

                Eijun's mother ran to him and threw her arms around him in the biggest hug Kazuya had ever seen. He smiled and watched as she fawned over her son and asked him all about Italy and New York and Eijun was clearly excited, he was babbling so quickly he was getting tongue-tied. Kazuya continued to smile. He felt a slap on his back.

                "Hey, there, Kazuya, how ya doin'?" Grandpa Sawamura said gruffly.

                "Okay," Kazuya shrugged, "How about yourself?"

                "Okay. Think I might have a hernia."

                "I...oh...okay."

                "Hey, Kazuya," Eijun's father shook his hand warmly, "Good to see you."

                "You too."

                "KAZUYA!"

                Kazuya felt the wind get knocked out of him as Eijun's mother tackled him next. He awkwardly patted her shoulder.

                The next twenty minutes were spent out on the sidewalk, catching up with Eijun's family. Kazuya was starting to get anxious, though. He looked at Eijun, who nodded.

                "Okay, guys, we can catch up more later, but we really should get moving," he said loudly, clapping his hands together.

                "Lead the way!" his grandfather barked, giving Eijun a small slap upside the head.

                "ACK!"

 

*

 

                They ended up not getting underway until well after seven. Kazuya would have offered to drive since he was more familiar with the city, but he had no idea how to drive a stick shift.

                "Sorry," he smirked, as Eijun shook his fist and yelled at a cab who had cut him off, "You're going to have to drive all the way back."

                "It's fine," Eijun huffed, clearly grumpy, "It'll be fine once we get on the highway."

                They drove in silence for awhile, watching the morning sun stream through the smoggy city. Kazuya turned and looked out the back window, over some of his boxes, to see the last bit of the city before it was gone from view. He sighed.

                "Well. I guess we're really doing this, aren't we?"

                "Yes," Eijun's frown morphed into a wild grin, "Yes we are."

                Kazuya felt a fluttering in his stomach as he matched Eijun's grin.

                After a few hours, they remembered they hadn't actually eaten breakfast (Kazuya had even forgotten about coffee), so they pulled over and got McDonald's.

                "God, I can't stand this coffee," Kazuya said after they finished eating and were clambering back in the car.

                "Then don't finish it."

                "I...I know but for some reason I just keep drinking it and cringing. It's like I expect it to get better miraculously."

                "You are such brat," Eijun snorted.

                Kazuya dozed off at some point, and woke up when Eijun gave him a sharp poke.

                "Ouch! What's that for?"

                "I need you to talk to me. Keep me awake. Let's blare music or something."

                "Hm...so what kind of job do you think you're going to get when we go to Colorado?" Kazuya asked; it was the first thing he could think of.

                "I dunno. It would be nice to teach at a studio or something while we get the company underway."

                "I think we should spend our first year there just working and dancing and putting out independent work to try and get a sense of the dance scene. That way, when we actually really start working on the company, we know what we're dealing with."

                "That's a good idea!" Eijun exclaimed, "You're so smart! I'm glad I'm doing this with you!"

                "Pfft, of course," Kazuya smirked, "I'm a genius."

                "Don't get cocky."

                They spent the next several hours talking themselves hoarse about ideas they had for choreography, the company, and beyond. Kazuya found himself swept up in the whirl of it all, and he realized that this elated feeling was something he was going to have to get used to as long as he had Eijun around.

                Instead of getting a proper lunch, when they stopped for gas, Kazuya bought a bunch of snacks and a bottled iced coffee, and he couldn't help but think back to when he and Eijun first went on a long drive together, back when Eijun had invited him to stay for winter break.

                It felt so long ago.

                Maybe it was.

                When they finally pulled into Eijun's driveway, it was the late afternoon. The house was just as Kazuya remembered, but this time everything was lush and green.

                "Gramps isn't here yet, he drives slow," Eijun muttered, "You go on in, here is the house key, feel free to shower and stuff. I'm going to run to The Corner and pick up food for us and Gramps. I know what he always orders. What do you want?"

                "Um...whatever you're having."

                "Okay. I'll be back in a bit."

                "Okay."

                Kazuya took what bags he could carry, and trudged to the house as Eijun pulled back out of the driveway. He fumbled a bit with the key, feeling oddly anxious about being alone in a house that wasn't his, the cicadas in the trees chirping above him. The air smelled so fresh here.

                The house was quiet, and Kazuya slid his shoes off and hoisted the bags up the stairs, where he deposited them, in a lumpy pile, in Eijun's room. He figured he might as well shower...there wasn't much else for him to do. Unfortunately, he hadn't had the foresight to pack the box full of his clothes in the Toyota, so what he was wearing was what he had for the time being. Then again...

                Kazuya walked over to Eijun's dresser and pulled open the first drawer. It was full of socks and boxer briefs. He closed it and opened the next one. Ah, here. He grabbed a gray long-sleeved shirt--smelling of that detergent Eijun uses-- then proceeded to dig out a pair of black sweatpants.

                He walked across the hall, turned on the bathroom light, and took a brisk shower. Eijun still wasn't back by the time he walked downstairs, fresh and clean and wearing Eijun's clothes, but he saw the pickup pull in. He stepped out onto the porch.

                "I'm gonna park this in the barn, so if it rains, your boxes won't get wet," Gramps hollered from his rolled down window, "We can unpack tomorrow, but if there's stuff you need, feel free to dig around. I won't be using the truck for the rest of the day!"

                Kazuya waved in gratitude as Eijun pulled back in, dust from the dirt road billowing into the air.

                "I come bearing sustenance!" Eijun declared, bags of food hanging from his arms, as Gramps closed the barn door and hobbled towards them.

                "Did you get what I like?!" he barked.

                "Yes, sir!" Eijun stood up straight and saluted, "I even remembered to tell them to put the sauce on the side!"

                "You're a good boy, sometimes," Gramps said appreciatively, ruffling Eijun's hair. Kazuya shifted awkwardly. His stomach growled.

                "Time to eat," Eijun sniggered. Kazuya frowned.

                The three of them sat down and ate their early dinner in the kitchen, then Gramps went into his room to take a nap. The sun was still bright, but low in the sky. Kazuya felt sated and comfortable. Maybe he should retire to the country some day...

                "Kazuya," Eijun smiled, taking him by the hand, "Let's take a nap."

                They snuggled in bed for hours, searching for jobs and internships in Colorado on their phones. When it was finally dark outside, Eijun dragged himself into the bathroom to brush his teeth. Kazuya tucked his hands behind his head, and closed his eyes. The AC (thank the lord) was pumping throughout the house, and he could hear crickets and frogs chirping and croaking outside.

                "Hey," he heard Eijun say from the door.

                "Hmm?"

                "Wanna sit on the back porch and light a fire?"

                "Yeah, that sounds fun."

                They left the cool dry air of the house for the heavy warm air of the summer night, but it wasn't unpleasant. Eijun tried explaining how to properly make a fire to Kazuya, but he zoned out in favor of watching the fireflies dot the dark landscape around them.

                The wood smell entered his nose as the snapping fire crackled in his ears, and he turned back to see Eijun had made a very nice fire indeed.

                "I'll have to chop more wood soon," Eijun sighed, brushing his hands off.

                "Wait...you actually...chop wood? With, like, an axe?" Kazuya knew it was a stupid question the moment it left his lips, but he didn't care.

                "Pfft, yeah, how else do you think we got all this?" Eijun gestured to the woodpile next to the porch, covered in tarp.

                "Oooh, so manly," Kazuya teased, giving a toothy grin. Eijun rolled his eyes.

                "Here, city boy, spray this on yourself," Eijun tossed him a can of bug spray.

                "Ugh, I hate this stuff. I just showered!"

                "Put it on. Trust me, you don't want to get eaten alive out here."

                "Fine."

                Eijun sat down next to him and put an arm over his shoulders. Kazuya leaned into him, watching the fire eat up the logs. The frogs and crickets continued to chirp.

                "This is nice," Kazuya said softly.

                "Mmm."

                He could hear Eijun's heartbeat backing the evening sounds around him. When the fire was out, they made their way inside, and as soon as the bedroom door was closed behind them, Kazuya slid his hands up Eijun's shirt, then pulled him to the bed. Their breath became synchronized as they undressed each other, firm but gentle hands working, knowing each other so well, lips a little chapped but real and Kazuya suddenly felt and tasted and saw so vividly this man he chose, this man he loved, and everything outside of this bed, this moment, was far and forgotten. As Eijun's hips rolled into his, Kazuya saw lights, stage lights, in the back of his head, memories of their first duet together binding them together, white and maroon, their sweat slicking together then and now and Kazuya didn't know how anything could feel so good, how anyone could make him feel so good and he didn't realize his mouth was moving--he was speaking--murmuring the truest words to ever leave his lips.

                "I love you."

 

*

 

                The sun was setting, and Eijun knew exactly where he wanted to take Kazuya on their last day on the Sawamura farm.

                The past weeks had been surprisingly busy; The Corner's owner offered to let Eijun and Kazuya do extra work for some quick cash, and when they weren't working there, they were guest teaching at Eijun's old studio. The rest of their time was spent researching apartments and applying for jobs out west. Eijun had managed to secure a job at a local studio in Denver by sending video submissions of him teaching class. Kazuya's news, however, was even more exciting: he managed to snag a rather competitive job being in charge of outreach work for a dance company in Boulder.

                They had also secured an apartment with the aid of Mochi, who offered to do a bit of footwork for them. He sent them pictures of apartment listings they had found online, and the second one they found was the one.

                It was really happening, and tomorrow they were getting into the Toyota and making the two-day drive.

                So this sunset was significant, Eijun thought, and he knew where he wanted to go.

                The orchard was lush and green in the orange-yellow rays of the setting sun. The two of them sat on the hill overlooking the orchard and sunset, the evening crickets already starting their song. Eijun heard Kazuya's breath catch in his throat. He smiled.

                "This...is amazing," Kazuya gasped, the rows and rows of trees beneath them, the sunset the backdrop.

                "I thought you might like it," Eijun bumped against his shoulder, "And I did promise to take you here when things weren't barren."

                "This is...wow," Kazuya continued to take in the scene before him. Then he tore his gaze away and smiled.

                "I'm the best boyfriend, I know!" Eijun said cheerfully.

                They sat down on the grass, watching the sun sink lower and lower on the horizon.

                "I can't believe we're going to be in Colorado in a few days," Kazuya said after awhile.

                "Yeah."

                "I'm...really happy," Kazuya said with a small, embarrassed laugh.

                "Me too."

                A few fireflies were popping up here and there. They were quiet again for awhile.

                "Hey, Eijun," Kazuya said, "I just realized we never thought about a name for our company. What should we call it?"

                Eijun thought a moment, his eyes trained on the setting sun, his gaze chasing westward, over and above the orchard and corn and beyond.

                "New Horizons," he said, "Let's call it New Horizons."