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amore, amore

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“Um,” Yasusada says, “you left your scarf.”

Usually Yasusada leaves right after rehearsals, half because he doesn’t want to spend too much time with the irritable club president, and half because by the time he gets home there’s always too much homework to finish for tomorrow, although he tries his best. Usually Yasusada doesn’t talk to the people on set, because they all kind of look scary and he always asks his other actors to do the talking for him. And usually, he doesn’t run after others and give back things they left behind, because they always retrieve their stuff by the next day.

But he’d accidentally, accidentally listened in on a conversation he probably shouldn’t have, and the guilt had been so bad that when he saw the red scarf draped on the back of a chair, he couldn’t stop himself from grabbing it and almost barreling down the corridor just to keep up with the guy from tech. “Hey!” he’d called—and instantly regretted, because when Guy From Tech turned around and saw Yasusada’s face, his expression looked downright murderous.

Which, of course, Yasusada can’t blame him for, because—well, that conversation had been really bad and also about him, two things Yasusada does not like being together. And he really hadn’t meant to eavesdrop, it had just turned out that way—he had lost a page from his script and had been turning everything over looking for it when the president had called, “Kiyomitsu—can we talk?” and then they’d stood right in front of the doors, so it was sort of their fault Yasusada had no choice but to listen.

Yasusada hates having to talk to the club president, because Pres is scarier than his sixth-grade English teacher, who had terrorized him more or less every day of that year. He’d also never found out their gender, if they had one, so half the time he gets the they pronouns mixed up and he keeps thinking he’s referring to more than one person, but that’s beside the point. So it had been more than a bit surprising when Kiyomitsu, the Guy From Tech, as Yasusada barely knew him by, had swiveled around to face Pres with something akin to fire blazing in his dark red eyes. “So now you can explain things to me? It’s been almost a week since roles were announced!”

“Look, I’m sorry, there wasn’t time and—” Pres sighed. They’d pinched the bridge of their nose and looked tired, which Yasusada had never actually seen until then, considering Pres’ reputation is built on them never being tired. “You’re great at acting, Kiyomitsu.”

“Didn’t look like you thought that when you gave the lead role to Yasusada,” Kiyomitsu snapped, which is about the same time Yasusada had almost tripped over a wire on the floor but had miraculously not made a sound. “I mean, it’s whatever. I wasn’t good enough, fine—but you made me switch to set to paint backgrounds and make props? Like—why? Do you—” His voice cracked. “Do you hate me or—or something?”

“No! Don’t say that, God—there are barely any people on set and too many actors, alright? I needed to move some of you because otherwise all our plays would have a single chair for a prop. I’m moving up next year, so I can’t promise anything, but by then you’ll be a ninth-grader and you can get back into acting. Okay?”

Yasusada had turned around and done his best to not pay attention, but he can kind of imagine what happened when all he had heard was a cold silence, the slamming of a door, and Pres’ defeated groan. Then he’d seen the scarf—he dawdled a little longer before making a break for it as soon as Pres’ back was turned.

So, here he is, offering Kiyomitsu a red scarf that, looking back, could actually have belonged to just about anyone else in that room.

Kiyomitsu regards him with the look of disdain Yasusada is familiar with, but only from adults wondering who this theatre kid thinks he is. Not from—well, fellow theatre kids. It kind of hurts, even if he barely knows the guy. Then Kiyomitsu snatches the scarf out of his hands with as minimal skin contact as possible and grumbles, “Thanks.”

Well, at least the scarf is his. “No problem. Um…” Kiyomitsu is already turning to walk away, but Yasusada isn’t so easily deterred, and he scrambles to fall into step beside him. They’re walking to the same exit gates anyway, so it’s totally normal and natural, isn't it? “I see you around a lot during rehearsals, but we’ve never talked, right? I’m Yamato Yasusada!”

Kiyomitsu gives him another assessing look, this one more tired than anything. Yasusada hopes that’s an improvement. “Kashuu Kiyomitsu,” he mumbles, as if ashamed of his name.

“Like, uh, the temple?”

Mitsu, not mizu.”

“Ah, right, ‘course.” Duh, Yamato, you complete idiot! Say something smart for once in your life! “Then your name means, er, clear river, right? Or something like that.”

Kiyomitsu shrugs. “Something like that.”

The conversation is rapidly spiraling downwards, and they’re still at least five minutes away from the gates, so Yasusada latches onto the one other thing he knows about Kiyomitsu. “So… uh… So you’re in tech, right? But you were an actor last year, I remember.”

Yasusada practically feels the atmosphere grow heavy. The look on Kiyomitsu’s face tells Yasusada that he’s definitely not someone to meet alone in a dark alleyway at night. “Pres… moved me. There weren’t enough people on set.”

“Oh. Right, that sucks. Um…” Kiyomitsu didn’t say anything about the lead role, or Yasusada, just Pres. That has to be a good thing, right? “I’m… I’m sorry you’re not in the cast. I really like your acting.”

Yasusada actually thinks that’s not such a bad thing to say, which is obviously why that’s where it all goes wrong. Kiyomitsu just about flares up, eyes dark and fiery in a blink, fast as flicking a lighter open. “And whose fault do you think that is?” he snaps, stepping forward so hard that his heels (those cannot be within school rules, Yasusada thinks briefly) should have cracked the floor tiles. “You—You’re the one who got the lead role, not me, I get it, thanks for reminding me! This was—I should’ve been—I was so close,” he hisses, hatred dripping from each syllable. “I—I wanted to make Pres like me with my performance. So they wouldn’t just see me as just another club member. Now not only is that ruined, but I’ve been kicked to being a techie and I’m stuck painting backdrops. Thanks a lot.”

Kiyomitsu turns around sharply, the ends of his scarf smacking Yasusada in the face (which is one heck of a final blow), and stomps off towards the opposite direction, probably to take an alternate route to the exit gates later or something. Yasusada doesn’t really know nor care, because he’s numb all over—Kiyomitsu had barely even come close to him, much less touched him, but he still feels like he’d been slapped in the face. Multiple times.

“I didn’t mean to…” Yasusada starts, and stops when he realizes he’s talking to empty air. He sighs, shoves his hands in his pockets, and makes his way towards the gates. I just wanted to help, he thinks, the whole four and a half minutes walk.

Of course, it’s just Yasusada’s luck that it’s only on the next rehearsal when he realizes he’d forgotten to ask someone from set to be his costume designer early. Most actors go to Souza Samonji because he’s a sewing god or something, but Yasusada had been thinking to ask Kasen, Kanesada’s older brother and a family friend. As it turns out, he’d put it off until the last minute and now he’s paying for it.

Pres’ nose wrinkles when they get to the end of their list. “Right, we’ve definitely got some actors missing from here. Those without assigned costume designers yet, stand up!”

Yasusada tries to stand as inconspicuously and innocently as he can, which is hard when the two other actors who’d forgotten as well are tiny seventh-graders Imanotsurugi and Taikogane Sadamune. Pres surveys the three of them and evidently decides to spare the newbies for now, because they turn those eagle eyes onto Yasusada. “So our lead role either has short-term memory or was just too lazy to ask someone?”

“Short-term memory, Pres.”

“Nice of you to be honest. Not. Imanotsurugi, Sadamune, you two can get Kasen, he’s only got two others, I think. Yasusada…” Pres shakes their head and scribbles something down on their list. “Kiyomitsu.”

“What?” someone yelps—at first Yasusada thinks it’s himself, but his tongue has been glued to the roof of his mouth, so that can’t be. Then he realizes it had been Kiyomitsu, who’s standing and staring blankly at Pres. “P-Pres, I—I’ve already got—”

“Midare and Urashima. The other members would kill for only three actors, am I right?”

No one speaks, but it’s not like anyone is about to argue with the president. Kiyomitsu sits back down, shuffling nearer to Midare Toushirou and shooting Yasusada a look that clearly says, I don’t want anything to do with you.

“Me neither,” Yasusada almost says—he passes it off as a cough just in time.

 

 

Measurements and costume designs were meant to have been submitted by next week at the latest, owing to their tight schedule, but Yasusada thinks that avoiding each other as much as possible is the only thing he and Kiyomitsu might actually be working on together. Making up new excuses to get out of being measured is his full-time job now, and he spends more time thinking of his next one rather than studying—he suspects Kiyomitsu is doing the same, because extending the deadline all the way until next month definitely isn’t something Yasusada could have done by himself.

Of course, no one can run from Pres forever, and Yasusada and Kiyomitsu are far from exempt.

By the start of the rehearsal, Yasusada’s already got a bad feeling—Pres had assigned specific tasks to everyone by name, which they’ve never done before, mostly because the members know enough to do what needs to be done without being told off by Pres. Yasusada almost doesn’t realize he didn’t get a, “Yamanbagiri, don’t hide behind the backdrop and actually paint it this time, okay,” or an, “Urashima, quit messing around with that turtle and practice your lines,” until Pres gives him a very dangerous look.

“Yasusada, Kiyomitsu,” they say, very slowly, as if pretending to give them time to run away, “with me.”

Yasusada’s been in enough trouble with teachers, thanks to Kanesada, that it’s a reflex action to exchange nervous glances with the person beside him. The look Kiyomitsu gives him back is not just confused but also incredibly disgusted, as if he’d rather be with an angry Pres alone and possibly never come back alive than have Yasusada in his immediate vicinity for any extended period of time.

They follow Pres backstage and into a less-frequented dressing room most members hesitate to use, mostly because it’s cramped and the lights no longer work, making the place too dark to work in. Kiyomitsu keeps his distance from Yasusada at first, even when they’re walking side-by-side, but by the time they arrive, their arms are nearly touching—Yasusada supposes even Kiyomitsu gets scared when in a dark place with Pres.

“Alright. Listen up.” Pres turns around to face them, which Yasusada wishes they hadn’t gone through the trouble of doing. The death glare they’re giving the two of them makes Yasusada feel like he’s hit peak fear. “How much time did I give you for those measurements and costume proposals? One week. How long has it been for you two? One. Month.

“Pres—”

Pres holds a hand up, which silences Yasusada about as effectively as if he had been run over by a truck (which is to say: very well). “I don’t know how well—or how bad, actually, how bad you two planned your schedules so that you were always occupied whenever the other was free. And I don’t really want to know. What I want is for you two—” They jab Yasusada in the chest with their pointer finger, then Kiyomitsu, “—to stay here and get it done by today. If it’s too dark to work, use your phone flashlight, I don’t care. Just do it and stop giving me excuses that are actually painful to hear, got it?”

“I don’t have—”

Pres nearly throws Kiyomitsu a sewing kit; he probably only catches it through sheer luck. “Here. Now you do. Don’t even think about going out and joining rehearsals until you’ve gotten all those measurements down, alright?”

“Right, Pres,” Yasusada mumbles, Kiyomitsu following a second later.

As soon as Pres leaves, silence descends upon the both of them, made all the more awkward considering the room is bare and there’s nothing else to look at except each other and the dusty floor. Eventually, when Yasusada thinks he’s mustered up enough willpower to say something, Kiyomitsu sighs. “Fine.”

“Um?”

Fine, let’s get this over with.” Kiyomitsu flicks open the sewing kit and retrieves some measuring tape, looking like he could be doing a hundred other, more important things right now if it weren’t for this. “This is so stupid. This isn’t even my fault.”

“Um,” Yasusada repeats, “okay.” He wants to point out that it’s probably sort of Kiyomitsu’s fault, because it must have been a joint effort from the both of them to get a whole month added onto their deadline, but he decides giving Kiyomitsu any more reasons to glare at him like that is probably unwise.

Yasusada’s been measured a few times in the past, which is why he’s fairly sure it shouldn’t be nearly as violent as this. He does his best not to fidget so Kiyomitsu doesn’t have to keep snapping at him to stay still, but it’s not like he can help it when Kiyomitsu is jabbing at him with a razor-sharp needle. The fourth time Kiyomitsu scolds him to, “Quit moving, will you,” Yasusada can’t hold it in.

“I’m doing my best,” he says, maybe a bit too harshly, because Kiyomitsu abruptly stops moving and gives Yasusada an incredulous look, like he can’t believe Yasusada is talking to him. “I mean—you’re the one stabbing me with that needle! Why do you even need a needle? Aren’t you just measuring me?”

Kiyomitsu doesn’t reply, which is when Yasusada starts panicking—great, great, I screwed up and now he’s going to hate me even more—but then he sighs, sets the measuring tape (and needle) down, and flops onto the floor. “Yeah, okay, you’re right, I’m—being unfair to you. It’s dumb.”

Yasusada means to say something smart and coherent, but what he says is mostly along the lines of, “Um gah.”

Kiyomitsu laughs, a little scornfully, but he picks himself up and starts measuring Yasusada again, this time without the needle, thank goodness. His hands are so light and quick that Yasusada barely feels them. “I’m just in an awful mood, but it’s whatever. Let me redo all the measurements. I was a little more focused on stabbing you with the needle, so I’m pretty sure I got stuff wrong.”

“Wait, so you really had a needle,” Yasusada finally manages.

It’s too dark to actually see much of anything, but Yasusada thinks Kiyomitsu rolls his eyes. “Yes, moron.”

“Hey, I’m not a moron!”

“Mm, sure.” But there isn’t any bite in his voice, so Yasusada decides he doesn’t really mean it. He doesn’t, does he?

The measuring goes by a lot more smoothly after that, which Yasusada would be just fine with if he didn’t have to stay still for so long, even without the needle. He remembers, now, why he’s never particularly liked being measured—but the other way around is fine, he’d helped his aunt out with her wedding dress before with some help from Kasen, and it had been kind of fun.

He envies Kiyomitsu a little, mostly because Yasusada hates having to stay still, and his nose is seriously itchy, but Yasusada knows Kiyomitsu’s going to stab him with the needle if he twitches again. Honestly, if Kiyomitsu didn’t have his phone flashlight on, he probably already would have stabbed him with the needle… and…

“Are you wearing makeup?”

Kiyomitsu looks up, and—yes, he’s definitely wearing makeup. His phone doesn’t cast the best lighting ever, but it’s enough for Yasusada to see his lipstick. Why a fourteen-year-old guy in junior high school has lipstick on, Yasusada doesn’t know, but it’s just right there, on Kiyomitsu’s face. It even looks perfectly applied, although it’s not like Yasusada knows how to apply lipstick at all. “Got a problem?”

“Well… no,” Yasusada says, because it’s true. It’s a little odd, but he doesn’t particularly care whether Kiyomitsu has makeup on or not. He does care about Kiyomitsu’s eyes, though, because working in the dark cannot possibly be good for them. “It just looks nice on you.”

There’s a little pause. If Yasusada were a few years older, he might have thought twice before saying something like that, or he would have started panicking right away, but as it is, he can only stare blankly at Kiyomitsu’s rapidly reddening face. “Um,” Kiyomitsu finally manages, “thanks.”

“It’s true,” Yasusada insists. He still doesn’t trust me? Does he think I’m making fun of him? “I like the… Are you wearing earrings, too? They’re nice,” he adds, just in case Kiyomitsu gets any redder and lashes out at him and puts them back to square one.

Kiyomitsu looks back down at the notepad where Yasusada’s measurements are, so Yasusada can’t see his expression anymore. It’s worrying for about five seconds, which is as long as it takes for Kiyomitsu to start talking like the world might end if he stops. “The earrings look plain, but if you put them under the right light, they look like molten gold, I tested it myself. They were not easy to bargain for.” He starts measuring again, a little slower, like he’s more relaxed, not just doing it to get the job over with. It feels kind of nice. “And by the way, this lipstick was a-ma-zing-ly expensive, it took me forever to earn enough to buy it, and it was already in the summer sale…”

When they get back to where the rest of the club members are, Yasusada knows way too much about the proper way to apply six different kinds of cosmetics he’s never owned, but he figures Kiyomitsu isn’t so bad (or maybe just easy to flatter). He hopes Kiyomitsu thinks the same, because they stick by each other after that—and Yasusada’s outfit for their play is a perfect fit.

 

 

Okita Souji, assistant tech staff head, is a second-year in high school, a year older than Yasusada, and he might just be the best person Yasusada has ever known. They first meet in the darkness of the backstage area, which sounds risque, as Kiyomitsu would put it, but in reality, Yasusada had gotten so distracted by Okita that he had walked straight into a pole, which is a lot less risque when it’s put that way.

It’s actually thanks to Kiyomitsu that the two of them meet in the first place. Pres—not their perpetually irritable but efficient one from junior high, but a milder, more soft-spoken one—had asked Kiyomitsu to bring some props backstage, and Yasusada had gotten bored with practicing lines over and over again because one of the actors couldn’t get their part right, so he’d tagged along just to annoy Kiyomitsu for a nice few minutes.

“If you’re going to be a pain, then at least be helpful,” Kiyomitsu gripes, dumping plastic swords into Yasusada’s arms. Kiyomitsu isn’t weak by any means—Yasusada’s seen him in a fight—but Yasusada likes helping him carry things all the same, and he thinks Kiyomitsu likes it, too. Not that he’d ever admit it, and he doesn’t really have to, when his excuse for making Yasusada do heavy work for him is always something to do about his manicure. That’s a pretty effective deterrent for anyone who doesn’t care about makeup, which is nearly every other guy their age. The girls are a different (and, in Yasusada’s opinion, far scarier) story.

So of course it’s just perfect that when Okita sees Yasusada for the first time, it’s Yasusada being an idiot and pretending to sword-fight with Kiyomitsu, rather than Yasusada being cool, calm, and collected. When Kiyomitsu greets Okita as casually as he can with a plastic sword pointed at his face, Yasusada promptly drops the sword and nearly steps on it for good measure. “Don’t mind him,” Kiyomitsu says, as Yasusada struggles to pick up the sword while trying not to drop everything else in his arms, “he’s an idiot actor who hasn’t started practicing the sword-fighting scene yet.”

Okita laughs, which is when Yasusada stops making a fool of himself in front of the person who has a laugh as refreshing as a cold drink on a hot day. “It’s fine. Kiyomitsu, you can bring those over in the back. And… are you Yasusada? Yamato Yasusada, right?”

Yasusada is glad the backstage is dark, because otherwise everyone within a ten-mile radius would have seen his face glow. “Y-Yeah! Um… nice to meet you!”

“I know you,” Okita muses. “You were an actor in junior high, we just didn’t talk much. I liked your acting best out of the others.” Then he smiles and goes on his way after some more directions to Kiyomitsu that Yasusada doesn’t catch, too busy walking into a pole as it is.

Kiyomitsu pulls him back before he trips and falls over something else on the floor. “What’s with you? Not that you’re not usually clumsy and tripping over air, but now you look happy about being clumsy and tripping over air. I’ll be the first to tell you that that’s not really the sign of a healthy mental state.”

“Did you see him smile at me?” Yasusada—okay, he has to admit it, there is simply no other word for what he’d done—squeals. “That—That smile! Those eyes! What did you say his name was? Okita Souji? Then—that name! And his laugh!”

Kiyomitsu stares at him in horror. “Why do you sound like that?”

“He’s the assistant tech staff head? He’s your assistant head? I’m so jealous! I bet he can make props out of… out of nothing. I bet he conjures materials out of thin air. Like magic! I bet he’s magic incarnate.” Yasusada flushes. “Um, I think my inner poet is coming out.”

More horrified staring. “I think your inner poet needs to go back inside. Also, I didn’t know you knew what incarnate meant.”

“Ah, it’s one of our vocabulary words in Literature class right now.”

“Right. Figures.”

The walk back to where Pres and the other members are is peppered by more of Yasusada’s inner-poet lines, most of which he can’t stop making up now that he’s really getting into it. Besides, Okita Souji seemed to just have been made for Yasusada to wax poetic about him, so really, it’s Okita’s fault for existing at all—not, of course, that Yasusada minds.

He doesn’t notice Kiyomitsu growing steadily more sullen and silent until he slips away to the tech members in the sound booth without a word when they reach Pres. Yasusada thinks of calling him back and asking for some help in a math problem, but hesitates, and turns back to the other actors instead.

 

 

It takes a couple more rehearsals, the last one including the infamous sword-fighting scene Yasusada doesn’t need to practice for to perform perfectly, for Okita to talk to him again. Then it’s only a matter of helping him carry props, painting the backdrop when it doesn’t involve complicated color techniques, and listening to long-winded speeches about how basically everything works backstage (including how to use the sound system and operate the lights, which Yasusada doesn’t think he’s ever going to need to know in his life) for Okita to look at him a little more differently.

It probably starts sometime around when Yasusada uses, “Okita-senpai”—Okita pretends to shudder in distaste and says, “That just sounds weird! Call me something else. I don’t feel like much of a senpai, you know? And from you,” he adds, a little thoughtful and a little bashful, “I want something more personalized.”

“Personalized?” Yasusada repeats, sounding calm when really, his heart is making its best attempt to beat right out of his chest.

“You know… special.” Okita shrugs, turning away so Yasusada only sees his right ear, flushed red. “I’d call you Yasusada-kun while I call everyone else Hijikata-san or something.”

“You really like teasing Hijikata-senpai, don’t you, Okita-kun?”

The personalized name slips out by accident, but Yasusada likes how the words feel when he speaks them, and he thinks Okita likes hearing them, too, so it sticks. After a while, Okita drops the honorific, and calls him just Yasusada—and then, eventually, Yamato, in an unlit dressing room long after everyone else has gone home. The same dressing room Yasusada had become friends with Kiyomitsu in, in fact—but he’s not thinking about that now, when Okita is here, blushing badly, holding his hands so tight they hurt, and mumbling that he doesn’t know how to kiss.

“It’s okay,” Yasusada says, “me neither.” He has to tiptoe a bit, but he leans in first, and feels Okita’s grip around his hands relax, turn from nervous and vice-like to a gentle handling, like Yasusada will break if he tightens his hold too much. Yasusada wants to freeze time and etch every detail of this moment into his heart, but afterwards he can only remember the way Okita had held his hands—soft and careful and so caring it makes his chest ache for it again.

Pres catches on somehow, probably with those constantly-calculating eyes, and assigns them to each other for just about everything. They work well together, too—Yasusada never has to worry about misunderstandings and disagreements with his costume designer or makeup artist ever again, because Okita just knows what to do. His outfits have never been more flawless than this, made with Okita’s graceful hands and with care sewn into every thread. Yasusada even starts learning how to paint better and handle lights and sounds, more to see Okita’s smile than anything.

Kiyomitsu hasn’t had to measure Yasusada for a while now, or sew his costumes, or do his makeup, or make him carry props to make Yasusada helpful while he’s tagging along with Kiyomitsu backstage, mostly because Yasusada tags along with Okita instead. Yasusada mentions it, during lunch break—“I bet you’re happy you don’t have to do my outfits anymore,” he says, munching on a sandwich. “You were always complaining about how hard it was to make something that made me look less of a trash bag.”

“Which was why it was fun,” Kiyomitsu mutters. Yasusada doesn’t catch it, though, because Okita passes by their table and hands Yasusada a coupon to the sushi stand not too far away from the school, which excites him so much that he doesn’t notice Kiyomitsu stand up and leave mutely.

So, recap: Cute boyfriend. Good grades. Fun club. Cool friends (excluding Kanesada). Yasusada figures it’s too good to be true, which might be why everything goes downhill from there, starting with the annual school festival in his second year and Okita’s third in high school.

It hadn’t started out bad. It had actually been pretty okay, as far as most school festivals go—Okita had to take care of the theatre club’s booth, being the tech staff head now, which was a bit of a letdown because he and Yasusada couldn’t go around playing the kiddie games like they’d wanted. But it was fine; Kiyomitsu had pestered Yasusada to go with him to buy some water during their break, and they’d started going around afterwards, having nothing much else to do.

Kiyomitsu is more interested in some of the sponsored brands hanging around, but in return for getting him water, Yasusada drags him to all the class booths in quick succession and makes him watch as Yasusada completely fails in every single game. They mostly get food and candy as consolation prizes, which isn’t such a bad thing—one booth gives them a pair of cheap popsicles, which Yasusada accepts with gusto. Kiyomitsu complains about the flavor, because apparently he’s incapable of digesting anything that isn’t red bean-flavored.

“Well, if you don’t want it, then give it here,” Yasusada says, trying to lick at the trail of melted popsicle that had gone down his arm. Kiyomitsu doesn’t reply, and when Yasusada looks back at him, he’s staring at his tongue and going red. “What? Don’t call me a slob! If I just wiped it off, I’d be wasting food!”

Kiyomitsu turns away, his cheeks still flushed. On most people, a blush means getting embarrassed, but Yasusada’s never really envisioned Kiyomitsu as a person who gets embarrassed over anything. Over time, he’s decided that whenever Kiyomitsu is blushing, it means he’s flushed red with anger, but now it doesn’t really make sense. “You are de-fi-nite-ly a slob.”

“Are you mad ‘cause I never listen to you to be cleaner?”

So-o glad you figured that out.”

Hmmph.” Yasusada leans over and gives Kiyomitsu’s strawberry popsicle a good long lick. The little scream Kiyomitsu emits is endlessly amusing. “I don’t get why you’re complaining. Strawberry’s not that different from red bean.”

“You—You—” Kiyomitsu is a furious red now. It would be funnier if Yasusada isn’t well aware that Kiyomitsu’s about to gut him painfully, which is why Yasusada takes off at a run down the school garden, a livid Kiyomitsu at his heels.

When they’re properly tired out and Kiyomitsu has to grudgingly admit that the dirtied-with-Yasusada’s-saliva popsicle is refreshing in the heat, Yasusada drags him over to one of the easier shoot-the-ball games, mostly because one of the prizes is a white stuffed dog. Yasusada is a complete failure and has to settle for some candy as his tenth consolation prize of the day, but Kiyomitsu shakes his head, steps up, and lodges all six balls into the (badly-made) holes.

The stuffed dog gets its special place in Yasusada’s arms, even if it’s as big as Yasusada’s head and just as heavy. He buys Kiyomitsu hotdog on a stick as thanks, but Kiyomitsu just stares at him eat his own from the corner of his eye, blushing madly the whole time.

Yasusada points at him and his hotdog with his now-bare stick. “Are you going to eat yours? I bought it for you, you know.”

“Right,” Kiyomitsu mutters, biting down on the meat with unnecessary vehemence. His face lights up, and he eats the rest of it, though, which is good—Yasusada had thought he’d been getting angry again because he didn’t like hotdogs or something. Kiyomitsu’s awful hard to please (which might be why Yasusada gets just as awfully happy when he does do something Kiyomitsu likes, but that’s beside the point).

Yasusada gets to laugh himself silly when they enter the haunted house booth and Kiyomitsu is terrified of just about every cheap trick found in crappy horror movies. The moment they leave the booth and there’s light to see again, Kiyomitsu detaches himself from Yasusada’s arm, which must have taken real effort, considering he had been glued there the whole five minutes they were inside. “Never again,” Kiyomitsu says, shaking from head to toe.

“But—But that was—so fun,” Yasusada wheezes. “When else am I going to get to hear you scream like that? Yasusada! Yasusadaaa! Eeek, something’s touching me! Yasusadaaa, help! ” He doubles over in another fit of laughter when Kiyomitsu tries to smack him, which he does his best to avoid—for a delicate guy who paints his nails and wears makeup, his slaps can hurt, especially when he’s too busy being angry to worry about his manicure.

Then a tech staff member—fairly new and only a first-year—rushes over to them, panting, “Yasusada-senpai, Kiyomitsu-senpai—come back to the—the booth—”

“Is our break already over?” Yasusada frowns. Two hours couldn’t have gone by that fast.

“It’s Okita-senpai,” the first-year manages. “He’s collapsed.”

Looking back, Yasusada can never quite remember exactly how it had gone—he knows he had run, faster than he had ever had to run before, Kiyomitsu keeping up as best as he can a few ways behind him. The next thing he can accurately recall is leaning over Okita’s pale body in the school’s clinic, holding his hand when he’s sure the nurse isn’t looking and whispering, again and again, “Be okay. Be okay. Okita-kun, please.”

Okita is sent to the hospital the next day, and he stays there for the next seven months. Tuberculosis, the doctors say. We’re doing our best. Yasusada visits everyday after school and rehearsal, bringing stories of what had happened during the day and always, always wishes for him to get well soon before he goes home.

“‘Course I’ll be getting better,” Okita says, smiling like nothing in the world could go wrong for him, like his blood doesn’t stain the sheets whenever he has those great, big coughing fits that seem to last for hours at a time. “I can’t die before I go to college. Besides, I made your costume for the big play this year, didn’t I? I wouldn’t miss your acting for the world.”

The months blur. Yasusada barely notices the passage of time until it’s staring him right in the face, in the form of doctors saying, We did our best. It feels like a lie, at first—later, it feels more like an apology. Neither are what Yasusada wants.

Everything reminds him of Okita Souji—the stage lights, the sounds system, the backdrop, the costumes, the people, the words. Yasusada quietly pulls Pres to the side and asks if he can quit the club, and Pres can only manage a few weak protests before shaking his head and saying that it’ll be fine. Yasusada doesn’t go to classes for the next few days, which stretch out into a whole week—getting up from bed is too much effort as it is. The ache in his chest has become a big gaping hole, something Yasusada doesn’t think can ever be filled up by anything other than that smile and those careful, caring hands.

The day before the big annual play, Kiyomitsu drops by. Yasusada hadn’t wanted to open the door for him, but Kiyomitsu knows where they hide the spare key anyway, so there’s no point trying to keep him out.

“Come back,” Kiyomitsu says, voice soft, almost pleading. “We need you. I—I know it’s hard. It’s hard for all of us. We all miss him, alright? Everything feels wrong. But he wouldn’t have—have wanted us to stop because of him. He wouldn’t have wanted you to be like this because of him.”

“But what can I do?” Yasusada whispers. Anything louder than that and he thinks his throat might just break (—as easily as Okita’s life had). “I can’t do it without him. I can’t—can’t do anything without him. He’s gone, and—and he isn’t coming back—and I can’t even get out of bed some days, I need him back so bad—”

Kiyomitsu tugs at his hair in frustration. “I know, okay? I know. I understand.”

“You don’t,” Yasusada breathes. “You don’t understand.”

Silence. And then, “You don’t know that. You can’t say that.”

“But it hurts.” Yasusada buries his face in his hands. He’s cried enough that there aren’t any tears left in him to cry more, but one wrong move and he might start dry sobbing, which really isn’t something Kiyomitsu needs to see. “It hurts. It feels like a part of me is gone forever. Just—Just gone, never coming back, when I need that part to work properly. Like I was left behind. Like he should have taken me with him, wherever he went. I—How can you understand that? This—” This raw pain? This aching sensation? This feeling that nothing, nothing will ever be right with the world again? This knowledge that everything has changed and it can never be put back to the way it was before, when things were simpler and death came to people on the news, not to people we shared the same air with, shared touches and kisses and stupid personalized names with?

“I know all about being left behind,” Kiyomitsu hisses. The hostility in his tone makes Yasusada look up; he’s shaking so bad that it feels like an earthquake rumbling through his body. “You don’t remember? You forgot about me. You went and got yourself a boyfriend, and that would have been fine, I wouldn’t have minded or whatever, but you—you left me behind. Abandoned me. I thought you of all people would never—never forget me, even after everyone else did because I’m different, because I like makeup and jewelry, but you didn’t care about any of that, but then you just stopped talking to me and then I was back to being second-best again, back to being the second choice, someone to go to when that guy wasn’t around—” He breathes in, deep and slow but layered with anger. “I do understand. But I don’t care about any of that now, because I care about you and helping you—but I guess you don’t care, do you, you only ever looked at h-him.” Kiyomitsu’s voice cracks, painfully, like thin, spider web lines running across hardened steel. “Never me. You never… looked at me.”

“Kiyomitsu,” Yasusada starts, and never continues—he doesn’t know what to say. There had been so many emotions jam-packed in Kiyomitsu’s words that Yasusada’s left speechless.

As it turns out, he doesn’t have to say anything anyway, because Kiyomitsu turns away from him and walks out the door without another word. Yasusada thinks anyone else would want to say something after that, but then this is Kiyomitsu—Kiyomitsu who had been leaving Yasusada’s side whenever Okita showed up, leaving the lunch table whenever Okita sat down. Yasusada had never fully noticed the loudness of his silence until now, when the quiet is ringing in his ears and the only thing he can hear over his shaking, uneven sobs.

Yasusada’s understudy plays his role well, with a few mishaps here and there but nothing too terrible. It’s actually incredibly well done for something he’d had to master as best as he could within a week, but all Yasusada can think of is how the costume he’s wearing is a size too big because it had been tailored especially for Yasusada, and Okita hadn’t been thinking about anyone else when he’d been sewing it. Halfway through the play, Yasusada excuses himself to the restroom and locks himself in a cubicle before slumping against the door and crying again, hard and unrestrained for everyone to hear.

The worst part is the overwhelming loneliness of it all—before, tears meant Okita kissing away each one and holding his hands and telling him everything will be alright in time. Before that, it had meant Kiyomitsu by his side, saying nothing until Yasusada had calmed down enough for Kiyomitsu to hand him ice cream and talk about the latest trends in fashion to get his mind off things. But here and now, alone in a restroom cubicle, there is nothing but memories of before, of the faded reassurance that everyone he loves will always be here for him, when now the two people he loved the most are dead or backstage, moving props, hanging up backdrops, and not thinking of him, not looking at him, and it’s all, all Yasusada’s fault.

Chapter Text

In college, they meet again, which Yasusada figures is the cruelest trick of fate he’s ever been dealt, and that’s saying a lot. It feels just like that day in middle school, down to the intimidating president who glares at all the newbies from over the list in their hands and snaps, “Kiyomitsu, you’ll be with Yasusada.”

Yasusada almost expects Kiyomitsu to say, “What?” again, but nothing of the sort happens—Kiyomitsu doesn’t even look at him. If there was enough time to be bothered over that, Yasusada would have been, but then the president says, “Start now! I don’t need any of you slacking off and doing measurements ‘til the last second. Five minutes, then back here!”

Everyone scrambles to get a space for themselves, and in the momentary chaos Yasusada closes his eyes, inhales and exhales as deeply and calmly as possible, and then gets up to make his way over to Kiyomitsu, who hasn’t moved from his seat. “Hey,” Yasusada starts, which had seemed casual and cordial at the time but immediately sounds a lot worse the second the word leaves his mouth. “Uh… We should… do it.”

Oh my God, Yasusada thinks. Just let me die.

The corner of Kiyomitsu’s lips curls up, in some twisted form of amusement that Yasusada doesn’t think he likes. The expression doesn’t look good on Kiyomitsu, either, but Yasusada is smart enough not to say that. Kiyomitsu doesn’t say anything, just stands up and remains motionless while Yasusada does his best to measure him as fast as possible.

Realistically enough, measuring someone shouldn’t take more than a few minutes, based off Yasusada’s past experiences, but when the person he’s measuring is someone he had sort of ended things on a bad note with and hasn’t spoken to for two years, past experiences don’t really apply anymore. It’s also extremely uncomfortable when Kiyomitsu doesn’t do or say anything except look at him—and really, it’s not much looking rather than staring into Yasusada’s soul.

Those eyes, Yasusada keeps thinking. Those eyes. (They’re not the warm brown color that follows him in nightmares filled with the sounds of coughing and the sight of blood-stained sheets, but there’s still something about them.)

Fine. Fine, I’ll take the bait. “Um—”

“Why aren’t you an actor anymore?”

Great, Yasusada thinks. He won’t even let me talk first. The more logical side of him (which Yasusada had thought he’d lost way back in middle school, during a particularly brutal English exam) suggests that Kiyomitsu hadn’t heard him at all, but Yasusada decides to ignore that. “No reason.”

Kiyomitsu snorts. “Bullshit.”

“Look, it’s really not that important. I just wanted a change of pace.” Which is true, just not the whole truth—Yasusada doubts Kiyomitsu would care about everything that had factored into him signing up to be on set instead of an actor for their college’s (why did Kiyomitsu have to attend the same college as him, why do whatever divine beings exist hate Yasusada so much) theatre club.

(Said factors include, but are not limited to, the entire reason Kiyomitsu hadn’t been an actor during their high school days, and the guilt that had surfaced full-force when Yasusada had watched the theatre club’s big play as part of the audience during his third year.)

Kiyomitsu shrugs, which might be the one movement he’s made the whole time he’s been getting measured. “Would’ve thought doing this would remind you of… that guy,” he says, cautiously, as if he’s not allowed to say Okita’s name.

And Yasusada can almost understand that, because he feels the exact same way, on days and nights when everything reminds Yasusada of his smile and his hands—but instead of saying all that, Yasusada just mumbles, “It does.”

Kiyomitsu doesn’t offer anything—no sympathy, or pity, or even a sound of acknowledgment, which Yasusada kind of appreciates. Another few seconds pass in silence, until Yasusada asks, “Why didn’t you go back to acting in high school?”

“Hm?”

“I remember,” Yasusada says, which is weird and trippy because somehow he does remember, even if it’s been how many years since he’d first overheard that conversation. “In middle school, Pres moved you to tech because there were too many actors. But they said you could go back to acting in high school. So… why didn’t you?”

Kiyomitsu cocks his head to the side the slightest bit, a small gesture only Kiyomitsu could make infuriatingly provoking. “So-o, you won’t answer my question but you expect me to answer yours?”

“You’re as annoying as ever,” Yasusada notes, his tone more flat than irritated.

“I could say the same to you,” Kiyomitsu replies, in the exact same tone.

Yasusada sighs, heavily, and tries not to pull at his hair in frustration, mostly because he’s still measuring Kiyomitsu’s arms and he doesn’t need the measuring tape tangled up in his thick hair. “This does remind me of him,” Yasusada says, hoping he doesn’t sound as pained as he feels when he forces the words out of him, “but I’m doing this because… because I couldn’t help him when he most needed help, I guess. I couldn’t—fix things. So here—I can. Fix things, I mean. Make them better. I want to build something out of nothing. I guess everything I make will be sort of like a tribute to him. Um—” He tries not to flush, and he’s pretty sure he fails, but that’s not important right now. “That sounds stupid. But it makes sense to me. Happy now?”

Silence again; the tension is so thick, it feels like it takes on a physical form that weighs down on Yasusada’s shoulders, making him hunch over to avoid meeting Kiyomitsu’s eyes. And then, when Yasusada’s moved down to measure Kiyomitsu’s waist, he speaks. “Um,” Kiyomitsu starts, which is never a bad start to a sentence, in Yasusada’s opinion, “damn, okay. I didn’t ask for a sob story, but I’ll take it.”

It’s probably not something to laugh at, but Yasusada laughs anyway—a bit short but not very forced, which is new. “You did. You literally asked.”

“Oh, shut up,” Kiyomitsu grouses, which sounds so normal and familiar that Yasusada can’t quite shut himself up and prevent the next sentence from coming out of his mouth.

“Can you forgive me?”

“Uh, what?”

This is about the same time Yasusada realizes this was a huge mistake and he probably should have thought things through before blurting out the first thing that came to mind, but there’s no turning back now, and he might as well get this over with while he’s on some kind of roll. “I was an idiot,” he starts, which might not be as good a sentence-starter as good old “um.”

“No need to tell me that,” Kiyomitsu says, but there’s more confusion than meanness in his voice, like the barb had come out on reflex. Knowing Kiyomitsu, insulting others as a reflex action doesn’t sound at all improbable.

Yasusada scowls, but takes a deep breath and speaks again. “I could only… look at him. At Okita-kun.”

Kiyomitsu says nothing. Yasusada thinks they’re both hearing his words again, that day: Never me. You never looked at me.

“I—I felt so happy with him that I forgot I was just as happy with you. If that makes sense. I was dumb and I got caught up in what I had and—I forgot you were always there when I needed you most, and I know I don’t deserve it, but, um—forgive me? I was such an idiot, I wish I could go back and do things different—”

“Hey, hey, calm down,” Kiyomitsu interrupts, which Yasusada is amazingly thankful for because if he had gone on any longer, he might have just started crying again, which he really doesn’t need others to see. When Yasusada’s back to breathing normally again, Kiyomitsu huffs, and, sounding a little shaky, mumbles, “Okay, whatever, I forgive you. Sheesh.”

“What—” Yasusada blinks. “Just like that?”

“Well, you made things all dramatic and heartfelt already, I don’t think I need to make it any more theatrical than it already is,” Kiyomitsu says, all in one breath. He’s also probably the only person to use heartfelt and theatrical in normal conversation, which is how Yasusada knows he’s nervous. Or something to that sort—he can never quite think of Kiyomitsu as anything less than composed.

Kiyomitsu murmurs something else, but Yasusada doesn’t catch it, because Pres claps their hands and shouts, “All done?” in a tone that tells everyone this question is purely rhetorical.

Yasusada swears and fumbles with the measuring tape, which he hadn’t even realized he’d dropped. “What was that?” he asks, distractedly, trying to get the tape around Kiyomitsu’s thighs without flushing to the roots of his hair, which he’s probably completely failing at, if the heat in his face is any indication.

“Nothing,” Kiyomitsu grumbles, sounding about as uncomfortable as Yasusada feels. “Focus on those measurements, don’t rush, you’re probably getting everything wrong!”

“Quit nagging or you’re going to have the worst costume in the universe.”

It feels just like that day in middle school—down to the warm, bubbly feeling spreading through Yasusada’s chest when all Kiyomitsu does is roll his eyes at him with his tiny, crooked half-smile. It’s only when the actors have started cold reading that Yasusada remembers Kiyomitsu hadn’t said why he hadn’t gone back to acting until now.

(“I’ve always forgiven you,” Yasusada doesn’t hear. “It’s never been that hard, when it’s you.”)

 

 

In their second year, Yasusada’s roommate brings his girlfriend over to their dorm. It probably shouldn’t be too surprising to say blatant heterosexuality makes Yasusada incredibly uncomfortable, so he stuffs his things in a bag and trudges over to Kiyomitsu’s dorm.

“Did you get me that face mask?” is what Kiyomitsu asks when Yasusada opens the door. Inside, Kiyomitsu’s lying on his stomach on his bed with his feet in the air, reading what can be nothing else but their play script. He’s wearing a ratty old hoodie he would never go out in public in—it’s a size too big on his slim frame and Yasusada can tell he’s not wearing anything under it, if the way it’s slipping off his shoulder and showing far too much skin is any hint… and… Yasusada should probably stop this incredibly irrelevant train of thought.

Kiyomitsu blinks; Yasusada’s head clears, mercifully enough. “Oh. You’re not Horikawa.”

“I’m a little taller than that, thanks.”

“I’m telling him you said that.”

“Don’t!” Yasusada says immediately, because he’s fairly sure Horikawa’s with Kanesada right now, and if Horikawa is even mildly insulted—well, Yasusada knows just how many qualms Kanesada would have with beating Yasusada to a pulp (that being: exactly zero, possibly less).

Kiyomitsu just laughs, flipping to the next page on his script. “O-kay, just this once. But you owe me for not getting you killed.”

“You paid back your own debt. I could very easily have told Hachisuka-san it was you who stole his makeup during the play last month.”

“You wouldn’t,” Kiyomitsu says, lightly as the wind, which is true—Yasusada wouldn’t. He hates how Kiyomitsu is right all the time, especially when it comes to him. “And be-sides, I didn’t steal his makeup. I just borrowed it.”

Yasusada sets his bag down on the floor beside Kiyomitsu’s bed, bringing out the half-finished costume he’d been hoping to work on very efficiently and productively before the heterosexuality broke out in his dorm. (His own dorm, sullied with straights. Oh, man, if he’s really talking like this, then Kasen is definitely rubbing off on him. This is why he hates family-friend get-togethers.) “You usually return things when you borrow them.”

“Not immediately. You know, like in a library.”

“Hachisuka-san is a library?”

“Well, who knows, he and Nagasone-senpai definitely spend enough time in there.” Kiyomitsu snickers, and then, abruptly, “Listen here, I sound great. What are you gonna do to me? Kill me? What do you even want from me? I never did anything to you!

Yasusada pauses in his sewing to look up at Kiyomitsu thoughtfully. With the way they’re both angled, the light coming in from Kiyomitsu’s window is forming some kind of halo around Kiyomitsu’s head, which is… really not something Yasusada needs to see right now, if he wants to stay Efficient and Productive. “It’s okay.”

“Wha—just that? Just okay? Come on,” Kiyomitsu huffs. “Okay, fine. Next line. Keep telling yourself that. They’re looking for me! I-I know they are. Yuuki… She’ll never give up on me!

Every time Yasusada hears that name, he has to resist the urge to wince—apparently, his mother had almost named him Yuuki Yasusada, which is something Kiyomitsu does not need to know right now, or ever, for that matter. “Keep going. Do you memorize that scene yet?”

“Of course.”

Yasusada waits.

“Fine, almost,” Kiyomitsu bitterly amends. “I just keep forgetting which line comes before which. They all start sounding the same when I say them enough times.” He clears his throat, and then says, “N-No… You don’t mean that! You’re not serious! I-I know they’re looking for me. They are… right?

This is unbearable. “No,” Yasusada says.

Kiyomitsu blinks. “Well, it’s a blackout after that, which I thought you’d know, but I’m sure if Rei had a line after that, he’d say no, too.”

“No, I didn’t mean no like—oh, whatever,” Yasusada sighs. Leave it to Kiyomitsu to get him tongue-tied—only in this case, of course. “I meant… Don’t get mad?”

“That depends,” Kiyomitsu says, but his tone is still light, so Yasusada takes that as a good thing.

“Your tone’s off.”

Kiyomitsu stares at him. “No way.”

“Yes way,” Yasusada says. It makes no sense, but that’s not important. “Not too off, okay, just a bit… flat. You need to sound more unsure. It’s probably ‘cause you already know your character’s—”

“His name’s Ryuji.”

“Right. I knew that. Uh… Because you already know Ryuji’s friends are going to save him, you don’t sound nervous or unsure like the scene’s calling for. The villain—”

“Rei.”

“I also knew that. Rei’s trying to make Ryuji scared and confused, and think that his friends won’t come for him. So you have to believe that, because Ryuji does, even if a little bit. Say it again,” Yasusada instructs, “and convince yourself that your friends left you and aren’t coming… um… back.”

Awkward silence.

Finally, Kiyomitsu sighs and repeats the lines. The hesitation is better this time—more prominent and a bit forced, but Yasusada’s sure it’ll come naturally to Kiyomitsu over time. He’s not a bad actor by any means—just still a little new. “There! Better, right?”

Kiyomitsu huffs. “Okay, fine, you have more experience than me, I get it. But I’m catching up, alright? So don’t think I’m terrible because of one mistake!”

“I didn’t say anything, but sure.”

“You are insufferable,” Kiyomitsu mutters, looking over at him from the script.

“Kiyomitsu… I don’t know what that means.”

“Why am I friends with you,” he grumbles. Kiyomitsu looks back down at the script, and then suddenly does a double-take at Yasusada. “Hey—You’re doing it wrong!”

Yasusada somehow manages not to jerk his arm from surprise and ruin the costume. “What? You almost made me rip this thing in half!”

“You… don’t do it like that, oh my God, is that really how you hold a needle? Give me that.” Before Yasusada can even respond, Kiyomitsu reaches over and grabs the costume—needle, thread and all—out of his hands in one swift motion. He doesn’t even stab himself with the needle, and Yasusada’s done that enough times, even when moving slowly. Kiyomitsu starts stitching right away, undoing some of Yasusada’s mistakes in that way Yasusada can never get right, chattering on about random tips and tricks he’d picked up during middle and high school.

Yasusada, for his part, doesn’t really register anything Kiyomitsu’s saying—mostly he’s focusing on the cadence of his voice, light and carefree and with that undertone of pride he always has when he gets to show off his hobbies without being looked at oddly for it. Briefly, Yasusada wonders if he ever did get to show off to anyone else aside from him, because he doesn’t really know a whole lot of people who wouldn’t raise their eyebrows at a guy who likes to sew, do makeup, go clothes shopping, and act. Walking, talking gay dude stereotype, Yasusada thinks, hoping his eyes hadn’t glazed over (and if they had, that Kiyomitsu didn’t notice). And yet…

Yasusada glances down at Kiyomitsu’s hands, working quick and nimble with the needle and thread—Kiyomitsu is still talking, and he looks like he’s barely even paying attention to the costume, opting to look at his script and comment on how the love interest’s—Yuuki, Yasusada unfortunately remembers—lines are far easier to memorize than his own, considering how utterly cliché and cringe-worthy they are. Yasusada cannot, for the life of him, recall a single line of Yuuki’s, which he decides is fine by him—and looking at Kiyomitsu’s painted, glossy nails isn’t making remembering any easier. The deep, bright red is a stark contrast to Kiyomitsu’s pale skin and slender fingers—for some reason, Yasusada can still feel those same fingers on him, skimming over his clothes while taking his measurements, so light that it had only been the barest hint of a touch.

The memory has his cheeks heating up, though he doesn’t know why, and frankly he doesn’t think he wants to know. “Hey,” Kiyomitsu says, pausing in his rapid-fire criticism of the play for a moment, “are you listening? That’s usually what people do when someone’s talking to them.”

Yasusada jolts. “What? Oh, I mean, ‘course I am. Something about… Rei?”

Kiyomitsu gives him a withering look over his script. “You’re hopeless. Here, I finished the costume for you. And for your information, I was actually talking about how little character development the writers gave Yuuki aside from being head over heels for me. Um, Ryuji, same thing.”

“You what?” Yasusada reaches out to grab the costume, thinks better of it, and takes the outfit carefully instead. He still pricks himself with the needle, although that may be more Kiyomitsu’s fault than anything, judging by the self-satisfied smirk on his annoying pointy face. “I hate you. Wait, you finished it? I thought I was gonna take another week on this, at least!”

Kiyomitsu rolls his eyes, but the smirk shifts into a prouder smile, which is how Yasusada knows he’s entirely too pleased with himself. “If you get to be the star actor, then I can impress you with this, too. And—seriously, another week? This thing is, like, child’s play!”

“You know I’m not that good with precise work…”

“Geez. Someone not good with precise work on set? Now that’s a recipe for trouble. You’re lucky you have me.”

Yasusada doesn’t reply right away—he takes his time craning his neck to look up at Kiyomitsu lying on his bed, wearing that old hoodie, an exaggerated frown, and that still-present halo of sunlight. Then Yasusada smiles—it comes out looking and feeling a little softer than he’d intended, but who cares, really. “I guess I am.”

Kiyomitsu blinks owlishly, obviously caught off-guard, before he flushes and snaps, “What’re you getting all moony-eyed for? Don’t you have more costumes? And—and help me with my script!”

This blush doesn’t seem to be completely out of anger, Yasusada reflects. Maybe embarrassment. It’s more probable than shyness.

 

 

It probably should have been a sign when Kiyomitsu tried out the Dress. And, yes, it was such a monumental, life-altering Dress that it required Important Capitalization.

It starts out innocently enough. Their club president—who everyone calls Aruji, after some joke that had gained a life of its own—had called in sick, which meant rehearsals consisted of one half of the club members taking it seriously and refusing to waste time, while the other half did the exact opposite. Yasusada helps the members on set for about fifteen minutes, after which Kiyomitsu drags him away under the pretense of help with a scene, but in reality he’d just wanted company while he redid his makeup in one of the dressing rooms.

“You know, they’re going to wonder why I didn’t go back,” Yasusada says, checking his phone for the time. Ten minutes before rehearsals usually end, which means everyone has probably taken advantage of Aruji’s absence and gone home early.

“That’s their problem.” Kiyomitsu tucks his various… whatever-they-ares back in his makeup kit (or whatever-it-is) and straightens, surveying his face in the mirror. Yasusada has so far managed to avoid looking at him full-on, opting to glance at him from time to time and mostly just keep Kiyomitsu in his peripheral vision, but any second now… “What do you think, star actor?”

Yasusada pretends to roll his eyes, which isn’t that hard. “You look fine, Kiyomitsu, same as always.”

“You’re not even looking at me.” Thankfully, before Yasusada has to turn and fixate his gaze somewhere below Kiyomitsu’s right eye, like he did all the other times Kiyomitsu had asked for his opinion on his makeup, Kiyomitsu wanders away and lets out a curious little exclamation. “What are these?

Yasusada follows his gaze—and, oh. Of course. “Uh, Kiyo—”

“Dress-up!” squeals Kiyomitsu, slamming open the cabinet that holds every costume the theatre club has ever used. Yasusada had been praying Kiyomitsu would never find the thing, but in all honesty, he’s surprised he’s only discovered it now. “Oh, my God. Yasusada, look at this. When in the world would you ever need this for a play? The sleeve’s coming loose. Tell me the actor did not wear this with the sleeve coming loose.”

“I probably wasn’t alive back then, so I can’t say for sure,” Yasusada says. Despite himself, he moves closer to pick at the offending loose sleeve. The dust that’s gathered on the outfit could fill up his lungs if he breathes too deep. “Don’t tell me you’re going to sew the thing back together. Who the hell’s going to wear a dusty tux for a play now?

Kiyomitsu stares at it some more, before ultimately hanging it back up and sifting through the rest of the costumes. “Yeah, you’re right. It’d be a waste of thread. Still, aren’t you supposed to be the one who wants to fix everything? You’re the production person here now, not me.”

“Every star actor needs their quirks.”

“We need to quit it with the star actor joke. It’s getting old, and I’m getting jealous.”

“Don’t worry, you’re a superstar actor,” Yasusada reassures. He holds a clown’s outfit up, making sure he’s only touching it with the very tips of his fingers. “What the hell is this?

Kiyomitsu makes a disgusted sound. “Put that away! It’s probably cursed, and then we’re going to wind up in a B-list horror movie even if we’re not a stupid American family moving into a new house.”

“You like those movies, you always scream at the jump scares. And you cry at all the cheesy romance ones that premiered during the Stone Age. And the—”

Shut up!

“I remember Titanic, Kiyomitsu, you used up a whole box of tissues. A whole box.”

Kiyomitsu grabs the clown outfit (using a convenient scrap of cloth so he doesn’t have to touch it with his hands) and throws it at Yasusada’s face, pushing Yasusada onto his back and sending up a cloud of dust the size of a planet into the air. Yasusada feels vaguely like he’s choking, which is terrible, because if he really is choking, then the last sound he gets to hear before he dies is Kiyomitsu crowing, “Talk shit, get hit!”

Then again, it is Kiyomitsu’s voice, so maybe it’s not so bad…

That thought is absurd enough to give Yasusada the energy to sit back up and toss the clown outfit to the side, sneezing the whole while. “Great, you probably cursed me all the way to instant demonification instead of the long suspense build-up they have in the start of the movie first!”

“So? Be thankful, I spared you the wait of becoming your true self.”

You are the real demon here.”

“Don’t I know it. Hey,” Kiyomitsu chirps, holding up a frilly red dress, “look at this beauty! Isn’t she one of the costumes for this play?”

“Did—Did you just call that dress she?

Kiyomitsu blushes. “I-It. Whatever, not important! Answer the question!”

Yasusada stands up, dusting himself off and giving the dress an assessing look. “Yeah, it’s the one Horikawa made. It’s the love interest’s dress,” he realizes, which makes him feel incredibly stupid, “um… Yuuki’s. There’s supposed to be a fur scarf too, but it’s probably—”

Kiyomitsu grins. Yasusada has a feeling he hadn’t registered anything after Yuuki. “If it fits me, you have to buy me ice cream later.”

“I don’t get a choice in this, do I.”

“No. I’m gonna change, so turn around or die.”

Yasusada sighs and does so, hanging up the costumes scattered around them and putting them back in the cabinet again (taking note of a pretty decent-looking coat that looks like it can still be salvaged for future productions, because that’s theatre instinct for you). If the unforgiving tech head sees them lying around in a mess, he’s going to get the lecture of a lifetime. Just as he’s running through all the ice cream parlors Kiyomitsu likes and trying to remember which one is cheapest, Kiyomitsu laughs and calls, “I’m good!”

Turning around is the worst mistake Yasusada has ever made in his life. It’s worse than when he’d spelled ‘receive’ wrong in third grade and had gotten laughed at by half the class for it. Worse than when he’d accidentally spilled his lunch down Ookurikara-senpai’s back in fifth grade. Even worse than when he’d tried to skip rehearsals in eighth grade and thought Pres, of all people, wouldn’t notice.

The Dress fits Kiyomitsu, impossibly and perfectly so, hugging his lithe frame and complimenting his sparkling red eyes. The ruffles (they’re detachable, Yasusada vaguely remembers) flare out from the waist down, so when Kiyomitsu twirls in place, giggling like a maniac, they spin along with him and make it look, for an instant, as if he were surrounded by rose petals of the deepest red. “How do I look?” he asks, for once not quite noticing exactly how good he looks.

Beautiful, Yasusada’s mind immediately suggests. Stunning. Breathtaking. Impossible. Perfect. Everything you’ve ever wanted to be. And it’s not just because of the Dress, either—it’s his stupid smile, too, the way those eyes of his are practically shining while he waits for an answer, waits for Yasusada (—like all those times he had waited for Yasusada, and Yasusada had just not noticed, had just forgotten, what kind of an idiot)—

“Like a tiny red flamingo,” Yasusada finally says. When Kiyomitsu deflates, the Dress looks like it does the same—Yasusada swears the ruffles sink in height somehow. “Okay, whatever, it fits you, I’ll buy you your ice cream. Now take it off, you’re gonna wrinkle it and Horikawa probably spent five lifetimes on that thing—”

“But it’s so fun!” Kiyomitsu flounces around some more, like he really wants Yasusada to just keel over and die right this instant. “Look at all these frills and ruffles! I bet if I wore my heels, they’d go so well together. This dress is, like, made for Ryuji!” He turns to the side a little to play with the detachable ruffles, which of course just leads to the sleeve slipping and showing off far too much shoulder than if he had the fur scarf and worn the stupid outfit properly.

His shoulder is just as pale as the rest of him, Yasusada calmly notes, even if he’s also approximately less than a millisecond away from spontaneous combustion. He has no idea why he thought Kiyomitsu’s shoulder would be any different from his face or arms, but he sort of wants to see how that shoulder would look if it were more—flushed…

“Okay, fine, you win, I’ll buy you two ice creams! Just take it off already, please, if Horikawa walks in and sees this—”

“You are suuuch a killjoy,” Kiyomitsu complains. He surveys himself in the dressing room mirror, thankfully pulling the sleeve up so his shoulder isn’t quite as exposed anymore. (Yasusada tries not to feel too disappointed by this as he is.) “Oh! Wait, take a picture of me before I change? I wanna immortalize this moment before whoever the heck is playing Yuuki inevitably destroys this.” He tosses Yasusada his phone without a second thought—Yasusada catches the ancient thing by pure reflex.

Steadying his shaking hands isn’t a reflex, though, which is unfortunate, because that’s probably the next best thing the gods could have given him right now, apart from heterosexuality—and Yasusada is pretty sure this is the first and last time he’s ever entertaining that particular thought. “This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“Don’t be dramatic, that’s my job now.” When Kiyomitsu checks the (undoubtedly blurry) photos of himself, he cackles and taps away rapidly. “Thanks, you’re the best worst photographer ever. There, I sent it to you.”

What? “Um, please don’t. No, really, you don’t have to go through the—” Yasusada’s phone dings, cheerful as can be. “Ah.” Fuck’s sake, he thinks, and thinks it again when he has to follow up on his promise and buy Kiyomitsu two cups of red bean ice cream.

He thinks it again when he opens his phone at home and sees the photo—Kiyomitsu, in flawless makeup as always, in the Dress that does somehow look like it was made for him, with that pure, genuine smile and those shining eyes.

It really should have been a sign when Kiyomitsu had tried out the Dress—a huge, blaring, glow-in-the-dark neon sign. But there are far too many things to lose by acknowledging the stupid sign, and Yasusada understands loss and its probability all too well by now, has been acquainted with it one too many times than he’s ever wanted to—so he tells himself Kiyomitsu is a tiny red flamingo over and over until he thinks he can believe it again, and then deletes the photo.

(But only after staring at it all night, wondering if he can make Kiyomitsu smile that bright and wide again, and never look the same as that day in high school. Never me, he’d said, when Yasusada should have realized, should have known all along, that it would always be him.)

 

 

On show night, Yasusada slips away into the control booth when no one else is paying attention. He sits there for a while, staring out at the audience beginning to take seats and chatter among themselves before the play starts.

He probably should’ve known Kiyomitsu pays more attention than most people, especially when it comes to him.

“What are you moping around up here for?”

Yasusada turns. Kiyomitsu’s leaning against the door frame, arms crossed, expression crosser. He’s in his Ryuji costume that Yasusada knows he loves, mostly because it has a black coat and that’s Kiyomitsu’s two favorite things in one. He’s pretty sure Kiyomitsu had requested for a black coat, actually, but Yasusada can’t be sure. “I’m on sounds duty,” Yasusada answers, which is true. He’s not moping around in the control booth for no reason.

Kiyomitsu huffs. “You know that’s not what I meant. Come down and help me with my makeup.” He leaves without waiting for a response, which is how Yasusada knows he’s sure Yasusada will follow, and that he doesn’t mind if Yasusada takes a little longer to come down.

Yasusada leans back in the chair in front of the soundboard and closes his eyes for a moment, remembering hands guiding his own through the controls, remembering an eager voice listing technical terms and instructions Yasusada never thought he’d put to use until a few years ago. The information feels engraved in his mind now—tips and techniques on sewing are on his heart.

He gives himself another minute, then stands up and leaves the booth for the dressing room downstairs.

Yasusada tries to help Kiyomitsu apply his makeup for about five minutes—after that, Kiyomitsu hisses in displeasure and grabs the brushes from him. “I’ll do it, dolt,” he says, and Yasusada shrugs and lets him have the makeup tools. If he’s being honest, he knows using help me with my makeup as an excuse to have each other for company is too obvious by this point, but damn if Yasusada is going to let that knowledge stop him from falling for it every single time.

Besides, it means he gets to watch Kiyomitsu apply makeup without feeling weird about staring for so long—the way his hands move almost on their own, brushing and dusting and patting and all the other motions Yasusada has never, and possibly will never, quite understand. If Kiyomitsu notices or cares, all he does is put on more of a show—his pout when he does his lipstick is entirely unnecessary, in Yasusada’s perfectly objective opinion, but Yasusada isn’t going to call him out for that.

Yasusada only jerks out of his Kiyomitsu-applying-makeup-induced daze when he sees the familiar glint of gold. “Are those part of your costume?”

“Nope.”

“So… should you be wearing them?”

Kiyomitsu turns to look him right in the eye, which does funny things to Yasusada’s stomach. He readjusts the sparkling golden earrings and says, without blinking, “Did I fucking stutter?”

Yasusada shrugs. “I thought so.”

“They’re just for good luck,” Kiyomitsu says, grinning now as he looks at his reflection in the mirror. The earrings reflect every little bit of light, which means they’re going to be blinding on stage. “I always wear them during shows. Every star actor needs their quirks, right?”

“Whatever.” A pause. “They look nice.”

The grin softens into a smile—it’s not mischievous or malicious, which means Kiyomitsu hadn’t meant for it to show. That just makes Yasusada love it all the more. “I know.”

The show is pretty cliche as far as musicals go, the main character Ryuji (Kiyomitsu in cast A, and Nagasone in cast B) getting kidnapped for ransom and his friends, including his love interest Yuuki, running off to save him, except the kidnapping turns out to be some twisted test of friendship in the end. Yasusada can’t say he’s a fan of the story, but then Aruji had written it (whether sober or not, no one can say for sure), so he’s prohibited from bad-mouthing it by law. Still, the audience seems to drink the cliches up one after the other, and they laugh and cheer at all the right places, so Yasusada figures it’s not so bad if you’re part of them. Maybe everyone needs a cliche once in a while.

Kiyomitsu is, of course, the obvious show-stealer of cast A, which Yasusada isn’t too surprised about—he glows the whole time he’s on stage, a fact Yasusada tries not to pay too much attention to. It’s not exactly easy, though, when half of his cues are Kiyomitsu’s lines, so he ends up paying entirely too much attention to the most useless things, like how Kiyomitsu’s neck glistens with sweat, and how his smiles are the brightest things Yasusada’s ever seen, brighter than the light reflecting off those molten-gold earrings he loves so much. Yasusada can feel his heart hammering with pride and happiness and another feeling he doesn’t want to put a name to just yet, one that’s with him the moment Kiyomitsu steps on stage, stubbornly making his chest ache in a way Yasusada’s never thought could feel good.

“You really think they’re going to come for you?” Kikkou-senpai, playing Rei, sneers.  “You really are a fool to keep hoping like this. Give up now while you can, and stop whining like a lost puppy. It’s annoying.”

Yasusada’s never been very close to the guy, but right now he honestly looks downright evil.

Kiyomitsu snarls. Yasusada figures it mustn’t have been hard. “Keep telling yourself that. They’re looking for me! I know they are. Yuuki… H—” His breath hitches, entirely believable and authentic in a way that means he did make an actual mistake here. “She’ll never give up on me!”

Yasusada’s hands stutter over the soundboard, too—all the times they’d practiced those lines together, Kiyomitsu had only ever gotten the emotion wrong, not the words themselves. He’s sure it doesn’t mean anything—just a mistake brought about by stage fright, probably—but had Kiyomitsu been about to say he?

“Sounds!” Aruji’s voice snaps from the headset. Yasusada winces and adjusts the sounds accordingly—he’d missed his cue, one of Kikkou’s lines, thanks to Kiyomitsu’s mistake. It had been a short, fast intake of breath, and yet that was what got Yasusada distracted. Just great. And meaningless. Utterly meaningless.

Aside from that, and a quick moment of panic when one of the actors nearly trips on one of the props, the first show goes without another hitch—Yasusada can’t help but appreciate just how put-together the set is, and the prop sword he’d made himself doesn’t fold and crumple like he’d been fearing it would. Everything works just as planned, and in the middle of a blackout Yasusada thinks back to the play he had dropped out of in his second year in high school, how his understudy must have slaved away for a week memorizing the lines and mastering the choreography in time for the show.

How Okita had made his costume in that production, and he hadn’t even gotten to see Yasusada act in it. How Okita had said, I wouldn’t miss your acting for the world, except maybe the world had heard him, then, and taken its revenge. Yasusada remembers, vividly, the ache in his chest, the burning pain of loss, the feeling that everything was wrong and unfair and that a part of himself had just been torn away from him, the same way Okita’s life had been, too fast and too much, all at once.

This is for you, Okita-kun, Yasusada thinks, hands hovering over the soundboard, just like how Okita’s used to. It took me a while, but I figured it out. How to move on, that is. So… I hope that you’re watching this. And that you’re proud of me. For all the things I fixed for you.

If his vision gets a little blurry and his eyes feel a little wet, then there’s no one around to comment on it. Yasusada’s pretty sure it’s just a memory, but he thinks he feels caring, careful hands wiping his tears away anyway.

There’s a quick break between shows—Yasusada runs down to smack Kiyomitsu’s shoulder and congratulate him with a voucher to their favorite ice cream parlor, which Kiyomitsu shrieks at, complaining about how Yasusada is totally trying to dismantle Kiyomitsu’s throne as star actor and his first step in doing that is getting him fat. Yasusada understands none of the rambles but all of the huge smiles he manages to catch Kiyomitsu wearing when he thinks no one’s looking.

The actors with roles in cast B are running around and getting ready, touching up their makeup and checking the set to make sure everything’s still in one piece. Kiyomitsu exchanges character studies and notes with Nagasone for a while before he heads over to lean against Yasusada and sigh. “It’s done. It’s fi-nal-ly done.”

“You did great,” says Yasusada, even if it’s all he’s been saying for the past few minutes.

Kiyomitsu rolls his eyes, but he looks pleased. “Of course I did. You missed your cue once, by the way.”

“I know. It was your fault.”

“What? No way! You should pay more attention, don’t think just ‘cause you’re sounds means you get to kick back and relax. I should know. I am, after all, both a star actor and a star techie.”

“Does that mean you’ll be helping out backstage now that it’s the second show? You’re not anyone in cast B.”

Kiyomitsu cringes. “Don’t remind me, I wanted to sneak into a dressing room and sleep for the next hour! But because I’m just that nice and I just care sooo much, then I probably will. Let me list that down for you: star actor, star techie, star… um… carer.”

“What are you, a Care Bear?”

Kiyomitsu looks like he’s got something particularly snappy to say, probably along the lines of, “Better than a Yasusada, aren’t you a demon by now, that clown outfit totally cursed you,” when someone screams, followed by a heavy thud. They exchange apprehensive glances, then rush off into the general direction.

The backstage is dark, but they’ve both got eyes attuned to what they deem most important—Kiyomitsu sees the actress on the ground, and places a name and a character to her face, but Yasusada finds the stray wire she must have tripped on first. “My ankle,” she manages, through gritted teeth, “it… it hurts. I-I can’t move.”

“This is not what I meant when I told you to break a leg,” Kiyomitsu says, dropping down to crouch beside her and inspect her ankle. His expression scrunches up. “Twisted. No way can you dance like this.”

“But—she’s Yuuki! Show starts in five minutes!” someone pipes up; everyone flinches like the reminder physically burns them.

Aruji scrambles out of a dressing room, seems to take in the situation within two seconds, and looks around frantically. “Anyone not in cast B?”

Four hands rise, Kiyomitsu’s among them—the other three are, frightfully enough, first-years who were ensemble in cast A. Yasusada had been thankful there had been so few actors early in the year, because it meant less costumes to make for him, but now he realizes that it meant zero understudies for the cast. Everyone breaks out into panicked chatter right away, and there are loud suggestions of playing a double role, but no one can ad-lib a major character with no time before the show starts.

And then the idea hits Yasusada, so sudden and sharp that at first, the fact that it’s an utterly terrible idea doesn’t occur to him at first, only the thought, That’s it. That’s it!

“Kiyomitsu!”

Kiyomitsu jerks in surprise, jolted out of a rapid conversation with Aruji. “What—?”

You, Kiyomitsu, you can do it!”

Silence. And then Kiyomitsu’s weak, “Eh?”

“You memorize her lines, don’t you?”

“Um—Well, I mean, I know them, but—”

“As long as we do your makeup really good, you can pass for a girl,” Yasusada barrels on, nearly stumbling when he rushes forward to grab Kiyomitsu’s wrist. He doesn’t even know why he does it, but Kiyomitsu doesn’t shake him off, either, only stares at him with widening eyes. “Most importantly—the dress fits you,” Yasusada finishes. A sign. It was a sign.

At first the murmurs from the other members are confused, but one by one they start nodding and agreeing—it’s a risky move, but the auditorium must already be dimming and quieting as the audience settles down for the show. The wrist in Yasusada’s hand jerks half-heartedly, an aborted attempt to move away, so Yasusada loosens his grip and looks Kiyomitsu in the frightened eye. “You can do it,” he whispers, only loud enough for Kiyomitsu to hear. “I know you can, Kiyomitsu. What would a star actor do?”

That seems to do it for Kiyomitsu, because he laughs, sounding terrified, and shakes his head. “Alright. Alright, fine, you’re lucky I’m so damn nice and willing to wear a damn dress in front of a million people for a stupid show. Alright. Alright.” He takes a deep breath but lets it out quickly, as if aware he’s using up time they don’t have, and rushes off into a dressing room. “Where’s that stupid dress? Get it here!”

The next minute feels like seven months of preparation packed into sixty merciless seconds; everyone helps Kiyomitsu review the script, train his voice to sound more feminine, and do several hasty costume alterations with an unholy amount of safety pins to fit the Dress a little better (though everyone is stunned when they see how well the Dress already fits Kiyomitsu). When Horikawa drapes the fur scarf around Kiyomitsu’s shoulders and Kiyomitsu grumbles something about how it itches, Yasusada almost pulls five different muscles running towards a dressing room and coming out with the red coat from before, the one he’d subconsciously tucked away in a corner of his mind reserved for “potential bad ideas.” Kiyomitsu’s nose wrinkles. “Is that one of the—?”

Yasusada drops down with a pair of scissors someone kindly hands him, cutting and stitching up the old outfit until the coat has a neat little capelet that will undoubtedly be adding even more flair to Kiyomitsu’s movements. “Try it. It should cover up your shoulders. Even with your womanly figure, they’re still a little broader than an actual girl’s.”

“Say womanly figure about me again and I will stab you in the eyes,” Kiyomitsu says, which is such a weak insult that Yasusada takes advantage of the time he takes to speak to help him into the coat, adjusting the Dress’s ruffles (he’s going to thank Horikawa for making them detachable as soon as this show is done) to better accommodate it, and steps back to assess the new look. “How is it?” Kiyomitsu asks, looking down and probably hoping he looks like he’s studying himself—Yasusada can tell the difference between that and avoiding eye contact, though.

“It matches,” Yasusada says, which might be the best thing he could have said, second only to beautiful.

Kiyomitsu brightens, and, after a split-second thought, wraps his arms around Yasusada in a hug—Yasusada makes an incredibly embarrassing sound he fervently hopes Kiyomitsu hadn’t heard. “Thanks,” Kiyomitsu says, mouth so near Yasusada’s ear that he can feel Kiyomitsu’s breath on his skin. Kiyomitsu draws away a bit and meets Yasusada’s eyes for a short moment that feels much longer than it probably is, and then says, slowly and cautiously, “Look at me this time, alright?”

It’s probably meant to be a very emotional line that reveals a lot more about their relationship than it strictly should, and Yasusada is probably meant to respond in kind, but all he can manage is, “Um uhh.”

“You,” says Kiyomitsu, with an uncharacteristically fond undertone, “are an idiot.” Then, without a second glance, he turns around and rushes off into the wings.

“You okay?” Yamanbagiri, helping with sounds this show, asks, when Yasusada arrives in the sound booth, possibly looking the exact same as when he had been downstairs backstage (that is to say, completely numb).

“Um,” Yasusada starts, and fumbles for a continuation.

Yamanbagiri shakes his head. “Never mind. Show’s starting.”

“Yeah, okay.” A pause, and then, “Say, I can handle the sounds alone for a little while—can you run out and do me a really quick favor? I’ll owe you.”

When the show starts, Yasusada sits down in front of the soundboard and tries to forget everything and focus only on his cues. Again, it’s incredibly difficult, considering the other half of his cues consist of Yuuki’s, now Kiyomitsu’s, lines.

Everyone in the club’s on the edge of their metaphorical seats, Yasusada knows, much more than the audience may be—he can almost feel the members holding their breaths in every scene with Kiyomitsu. But even with the star actor thing being a running joke, Kiyomitsu is just as good at acting and pretending everything is perfectly fine when it’s the complete opposite as Yasusada knows he is, playing the role near perfectly. The few lines he forgets, he ad-libs completely naturally, and whenever his voice cracks from its forced highness, it always thankfully manages to be in the middle of an emotional scene, where he then proceeds to break down into tears.

And of course, he wears the Dress to its full potential, but that’s really not something Yasusada should be focusing on right now.

In the final scene, Kiyomitsu gets swept off his feet (holy crap, Yasusada realizes, he had worn the heels he said would go great with the Dress, he had done an hour and a half’s worth of acting, singing, and dancing in heels) by Nagasone-as-Ryuji, and then there’s the big kiss scene. The audience awww’s and bursts into applause, but Yasusada’s fist accidentally slips and slams into one of the controls on the soundboard. Disco music plays for half a second before he switches it back, but he thinks he sees Kiyomitsu looking up at the control booth anyway, mouth curved into an amused, unscripted smile.

The show finally, finally ends, after what feels like forever of waiting in suspense for Kiyomitsu to inevitably slip up somehow, which he obviously and impossibly doesn’t. As soon as the curtains close and the audience begins to exit the auditorium, Yasusada runs down the metal stairs and stumbles backstage, where the whole theatre club, and then some, have already crowded around Kiyomitsu to congratulate him and shower him with deserved praise. Kiyomitsu is drenched in sweat and looking tired enough to collapse, but he’s beaming and Yasusada’s never seen him this freely happy before, in clothes he knows he looks good in, just finished doing what nobody thought was possible.

“Kiyomitsu,” Yasusada calls, when Aruji, a huge smile replacing their usually exhausted expression, has finished talking to him. Kiyomitsu turns, and the exhilaration on his face becomes something softer as he makes his way over to Yasusada unsteadily. “Hey, um… congrats.”

“Is that all you’ve got to say?” Kiyomitsu teases, tugging him into an unoccupied dressing room. When the door closes, Kiyomitsu leans against the wall and lets out a long, heavy sigh of relief. “Now that was suffocating. Not that I hate being appreciated and fawned over, because I love appreciation, but I can only handle so many compliments before my modesty runs out.”

“What modesty?” Yasusada asks, except it’s more of a stalling tactic than anything, to keep Kiyomitsu talking and to give himself more time to work up the nerve to do something very stupid and even more embarrassing.

Kiyomitsu rolls his eyes. “I’m a star actor, you know, if I don’t keep up modest appearances, then I might make everyone believe they’ll never be as good as me. Which they won’t, because I am just that good. But it’s nice to let them keep hoping. What are you hiding, Yasusada? I’m not completely blind, just so you kn—”

From behind his back, Yasusada whips out the single red rose Yamanbagiri had bought from the flower shop down the street—it was the only thing the money he had on hand could afford, and looking at it now, it’s a bit pathetic. Okay, seriously pathetic. But it was better than nothing. “Here,” he mumbles, looking down and hoping he doesn’t sound like a dying animal. “Sorry it’s lame. I didn’t have enough money for a whole bouquet. But…” He takes a deep breath, lets it out, and figures, now or never. “But I promise I only looked at you this time.”

For a second there’s only silence—Yasusada hesitantly looks up to see the stunned Kiyomitsu, staring at the rose, before Kiyomitsu finally reaches out to gingerly take the flower in his gloved hands. The blank look on his face doesn’t change. “I-I…” He lets out a choked little laugh, and manages, “You are so stupid,” before he starts crying, much to Yasusada’s distress.

“Oh, God, I’m so sorry, is it that bad? I’ll get you more ice cream vouchers tomorrow, I still have money back home, just tell me what I did wrong—”

Nothing, you big idiot, j-just help me out of this dumb dress, it’s hell to change out of,” Kiyomitsu stammers, scrubbing at his eyes and stolidly pretending to not have just been crying.

“Um, do you need a tissue, or—”

“Just get the coat off, it’s seriously hot!”

Yasusada reaches out and helps Kiyomitsu shimmy out of the coat he had worked a grand twenty seconds on. “Okay, but I’m pretty sure there’s tissue somewhere here,” he says, which is as far as he goes before his bare hands meet bared shoulders and what is definitely some kind of spark passes between them. He bites down a yelp; Kiyomitsu visibly jolts.

“Um,” Kiyomitsu says, when they don’t speak for a moment, just stare at each other with Yasusada’s hand refusing to obey its owner and staying on Kiyomitsu’s pale, pale shoulder.

Look at me this time, alright?

“You know, I, uhh. I-I lied,” Yasusada stutters.

Kiyomitsu blinks. “What?”

“You don’t look like a tiny red flamingo… well, mostly… I mean, you look really—really good—the dress suits you—I mean, not in a you-look-like-a-girl way, I just mean—”

“You never know when to shut up, do you,” Kiyomitsu notes, very calmly, in complete contrast to how hard and how fast Yasusada’s heart is beating.

“U-Um?”

“Look at me,” Kiyomitsu says, which is all the warning Yasusada gets before Kiyomitsu shucks off his gloves, cups Yasusada’s cheeks in his hands, and pulls him close. The kiss is fast, furious, everything Yasusada knows he’s ever wanted, their lips moving against each other’s messily, Kiyomitsu letting out a pleased little sound when Yasusada kisses back, grabbing onto his shoulders and pushing him against the wall. “I love you,” Kiyomitsu whispers, which is when Yasusada stills.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Kiyomitsu says right away, tensing almost immediately, fear evident in his face. “I-I’m—I didn’t—”

“Say that again,” Yasusada asks, pulling the fur scarf off and tossing it onto a nearby table. Kiyomitsu shakes his head, so Yasusada only undoes the black ribbon around his neck, slowly tugging the Dress down. He presses a kiss to Kiyomitsu’s exposed collarbone, trailing his fingers down bared skin, listening to Kiyomitsu’s shaky breaths. “Say it again, please, Kiyomitsu?”

He does, so low and so soft that it could very well have been a trick of the wind, but Yasusada knows Kiyomitsu’s voice when he hears it. “I… love you.” And then, before Yasusada can even think of what to say in reply, Kiyomitsu covers his face with his hands and babbles, “I’m sorry, ignore it, don’t—d-don’t say it back—”

“Why not?” Yasusada unties Kiyomitsu’s ponytail, letting the long, soft brown hair fall down his shoulders.

Kiyomitsu peers out at him from behind those slender fingers Yasusada likes so much. “I know you don’t… feel… the same. That’s—That’s fine, i-it’s not important, just—fuck, I screwed up, I didn’t mean to say it—”

“I love you,” Yasusada says, too fast for Kiyomitsu to properly have registered the words before Yasusada kisses him again, slower and deeper this time, until Kiyomitsu is gasping into his mouth. “I love you,” he repeats, surer about this than anything else. “I’m going to say this as much as I want to, okay?”

“You…” Kiyomitsu’s hands curl into fists until he’s gripping onto Yasusada’s arms so tight it hurts. “But… But Okita,” he murmurs—Yasusada briefly realizes this must be the first time he’s said that name in years. “Don’t you still…”

“I can never stop loving Okita-kun,” Yasusada says, kissing the underside of Kiyomitsu’s jaw. Kiyomitsu trembles, squeezing his eyes shut—Yasusada finds he immediately misses their bright red shine. “But you are the one I have always loved.”

A pause. “Always?”

“Always,” Yasusada assures.

Kiyomitsu wraps his arms around Yasusada again, kissing him one more time before he has to draw back for several deep, shaky breaths. “Don’t leave me,” he asks, begs, holding onto Yasusada like a lifesaver. “Don’t leave me ever again. I love you.”

“I won’t. You’re beautiful. I love you,” Yasusada repeats, over and over until he’s sure Kiyomitsu is never going to have to think of being left behind again, until he’s sure neither of them will ever have to feel loss ever, ever again.