Oscar Mike and Far Away (valmontheights) wrote in battle_fics,
Oscar Mike and Far Away
valmontheights
battle_fics

Fic: "Last Dance 2/3" (NC-17, Naoki/Shugo)

Title : Last Dance (2/3)
Author : Arlyn Jayde
E-mail : atomichatred82@lycos.com
Rating : R
Pairing : Naoki Jo/Shugo Urabe
Archive : Battle School, anyone else ask first
Spoilers : Not really, takes place before the events in Battle Royale 2
Disclaimer : Don’t know them, don’t own them, don’t sue me.
Summary : It’s the little things that mean a lot.

x-posted on valmontheights, br_slash and battle_fics


I know that it’s been hard and it’s been a long time coming
Don’t give up on me I’m about to come alive


---------------

At Kurosawa’s place that night they sat around the living room, all five of them, not a single joint in sight since Nanami hadn’t
had the time to go buy them, but what the tall, lanky boy did do was reach into his jacket pocket and pull out three various-sized
envelopes, two of them bright pink and the other light blue with a floral pattern around them.

“What the fuck—” Kurosawa started.

“I stole this from the Professor’s desk at lunchtime.” Nanami explained quickly.

Naoki rolled his eyes. “You took those from my desk?”

“Yeah, I didn’t want you to get to them first and have a chance to throw them away or something…save yourself from the shame.”
Nanami grinned deviously. “Sorry, my friend…can’t pass up the chance to see you embarrassed.”

Naoki crinkled his nose. “Are those…for me?”

“Told you, didn’t I?” Tetsu poked him in the ribs.

Nanami took one of the envelopes and passed it under his nose, closing his eyes as he took a whiff. “Hmm…peaches.”

Naoki wanted to roll under the table and disappear. “Oh, fucking hell…”

“Who is this from—ah, Kana Yuki.” Nanami read the name on the envelope. “Isn’t she friends with Yoshiyama?”

“Yeah, maybe Yoshiyama convinced Yuki to go for it since she succeeded in getting herself involved with one of us…” Tetsu
suggested.

Every other occupant in the room turned towards Maezono, who lifted his hands in a don’t-look-at-me gesture.

Naoki shook his head. “I can’t fucking believe this…”

“And what’s this one?” Nanami picked up the blue envelope and examined the floral patterns around it. “Sakura blossoms, Jo…you’re
getting the whole flower shop now.”

“Fuck you…” Naoki muttered, staring down at the mottled brown carpet.

“This…is not from our class, I think. Anybody know a girl named Nataguchi?”

“Maiyuki Nataguchi.” Tetsu said. “3-A.”

“Well, Jo…” Kurosawa patted Naoki’s shoulder. “You really are a hit with the girls, aren’t you?”

“Shut the fuck up.” Naoki gritted his teeth.

Nanami picked up the final envelope. “This one’s pretty straightforward…it’s got a red glittery heart sticker on it.”

Naoki let his head slump between his shoulders. “Oh, give me a break…”

“This one’s from…shit, it’s from a 2nd grader, Jo…it’s addressed to ‘Jo-senpai’.”

Tetsu was in stitches on the floor, laughing uncontrollably. From the other side of the room, Maezono clasped a hand over his mouth
and tried to disguise his smile. Kurosawa picked up his beer can and tried to drink without choking himself.

“Fine, fine!” Naoki exclaimed. “Laugh if you want, pile it on!”

“Oh, don’t be so upset, Professor…” Nanami said. “Tetsu got one, too.”

Tetsu flicked his head in Nanami’s direction so fast it looked like his neck was about to snap. “I most certainly did not! I didn’t
see any!”

“That’s because I took care of it.” Nanami triumphantly pulled out another envelope, pale yellow with a large flower stickered on.

“Give me that!” Tetsu snatched the envelope from his hand and checked it, reading the name on the envelope as if desperately wanting
to see someone else’s name there instead of his. Then he turned it around and saw the name of the sender. “Totsuka?”

“Honami Totsuka? From our class?” Kurosawa asked.

It was Naoki’s turn to laugh. “Great, just great! I can’t wait for your refusal speech, Tetsu…that crybaby is really gonna be
expecting something nice.”

Tetsu looked horrified by the idea.

“Oh, and don’t be too harsh on her, Tetsu…” Naoki continued. “You don’t want her to burst into tears or something, do you?”

“Fuck…”

“Must be the hair that got her.” Kurosawa said. “Sitting just two seats behind you everyday, looking at those skinned patterns…”

“Yeah, I hear some girls really dig mohicans…” Maezono quipped.

“Shut up!” Tetsu stared annoyedly at all of them.

“So it’s three for Jo, one for Tetsu.” Nanami said. “We’ll wait for the final score. Oh, and I saw about five or six envelopes on
Hasegawa’s desk, by the way.”

“Yeah, he’s that ‘tall, handsome jock’ type, isn’t he?” Kurosawa snorted derisively. “Doesn’t surprise me.”

“Speaking of the jocks…” Naoki said casually. “Saw anything on the rugby gang’s desks?”

Nanami shrugged. “I wasn’t really making the rounds to the whole class, mind you…but no, I don’t think so.”

“I wonder why…” Naoki pretended to look confused.

“Well, everyone in the school knows that Makimura and Motomura are an item, so I don’t think any girl’s gonna bother asking him, and
Aoi…fuck, who wants to listen to him bitch all night, anyway?”

The others laughed.

“Asakura, I think…” Naoki said. “For whatever reasons.”

“Maybe.” Nanami nodded. “As for Shibaki and Sakurai…well, don’t even get me started on them.”

Tetsu made a disgusted noise in the back of the throat.

“My point exactly.” Nanami said. “That leaves, who? Mukai and…”

“Sh…” Naoki began, but quickly stopped himself, disguising it with a cough. “Urabe.”

“No wonder he was putting on the moves earlier today in rugby practice…” Kurosawa muttered. “He was getting desperate for the girls’
attention.”

Naoki had to bite down on his lip to stop himself from laughing.

“Hey, Jun…it’s not like there isn’t any chance of you getting one, is it?” Kurosawa said.

Nanami shrugged. “If one does arrive, then you can all embarrass me for a change.”

“Thank God…” Tetsu muttered.

“So, Professor…any one of these you’re interested in?” Nanami threw the three envelopes addressed to Naoki onto the table.

Naoki took a quick look at them and lazily shook his head. “No.”

“Oh, come on...” Tetsu said. “If you’re going to go, even if only to keep loverboy over there company—” he threw a cigarette lighter
Maezono’s direction, who shot him a dirty look but kept silent. “—then you might as well go with someone.”

“Yeah, Jo…” Kurosawa nudged him with his knee. “Unless you got a secret girlfriend stashed somewhere that we don’t know about.”

Naoki hid his nerves with a boisterous laugh. “No way. If I had a girl, you’d know.”

If I had a boy, on the other hand…

“I’m hungry…” Maezono said.

“Me, too.” Tetsu said.

Kurosawa shook his head. “I don’t wanna go out this late. Isn’t there anything in the kitchen?”

“Nothing that we can eat right away.” Nanami said. “Any of you want to try your hand at cooking again?”

After a few moments in which there were apparently no takers, Naoki made a disgruntled noise and stood up. “You’re all so fucking
useless…”

“He’s cute, he’s smart, and he cooks, too!” Tetsu placed the back of his palm against his own forehead in an exaggerated fainting
gesture. “I think I’m going to swoon…”

“Fuck off, Shimura.”

“I’ll help you, Jo.” Maezono stood up and followed Naoki to the kitchen.

They left the other three in the living room and began trying to cobble together something that could suffice as dinner, Naoki
instructing Maezono to keep a watch on the rice as he tried to find something that could go with it.

“Hey, Jo…

“Yeah?”

“I…I want to ask you something.” Maezono said quietly, as if worried that someone would hear them.

Naoki glanced him over briefly. “Something about your girl?”

“Uh…I guess you can say that.” Maezono looked uneasy. “You know, I’ve never been to a school dance or whatever shit they call it
before…”

“I can tell.”

“I…I don’t know if you’re the right person to ask about this, but I sure as hell ain’t gonna ask one of them…” Maezono jerked his
thumb back towards the living room.

“What do you want to ask, Kenji?”

“Well…” Maezono looked down at his attire, leather jacket and wallet chains and the scruffy black trousers. “I…I can’t go to a dance
wearing these, can I?”

Naoki smiled knowingly. “Well, unless you want to fuck the dress code for rebellion’s sake, I’d say no.”

“I thought about that, believe me…” Maezono muttered. “But I don’t want to, you know, let Eri down.”

Two days she’s your girl, you’re on a first-name basis. Took me two months.

“Okay, let me think…” Naoki tapped fingers against the tabletop. “It’s not a formal, so you can forget about wearing a suit.”

Maezono rolled his eyes heavenwards. “Thank God.”

“Suppose you got a neat pair of trousers somewhere?”

“Well, when you live in an orphanage your wardrobe tends to get a little behind the times, but yeah…I think I do.” Maezono said.

“How about a shirt? Long-sleeved, preferably.” Naoki said. “Oh, but not white. Anything but white. Makes you look like a fucking
waiter.”

“Uh…I’ll see what I can dig up.”

“A dark colour would be nice, especially if your trousers are black.” Naoki added, then laughed despite himself. “Fuck it, I’m a
fashion advisor now.”

“Yeah, a cook and a fashion advisor.” Maezono said. “I swear, if you weren’t one of my best friends I’d bet that you’re gay
or something.”

Why don’t you bet anyway, Kenji? Might win yourself a small fortune.

“Shoes.” Naoki said. “Can’t wear those boots. Unless you wanna look like a clown.”

“I want to look…well, low-profile would be my word, you know.” Maezono leaned in close. “Unnoticeable, even. Average. Something that
won’t attract attention.”

“Come over to my house sometime.” Naoki patted his shoulder. “Maybe I got something you can use…”

“Thanks, Jo.” Maezono said. “Oh, and are you really…I mean, if you are going, are you really gonna go alone?”

Naoki shrugged nonchalantly. “I’m just there to keep you company, remember? And if all goes well with you, I don’t think I’ll hang
around there too long…”

“You don’t have to go if you don’t want to, you know. I’ll manage—” Maezono sounded unsure of his statement. “Well, at least I think
I will.”

“You’ll do just fine.” Jo assured him. “You’re just…well, not used to it.”

“I don’t want to get used to it.” Maezono muttered. “I mean, just this once. Once, and that’s it.”

“Did you tell her that?”

“Yeah.”

“How’d she react?”

“She just…smiled.”

Naoki arched his eyebrows. “That’s a good sign.”

“You think?”

“Hey, she’s your girl. Get to know her a little bit.” Naoki poked his friend in the ribs. “Other than fucking her, I mean.”

Maezono shook his head and gave out a bemused little sigh. “Just a month ago this would all seem…far-fetched, you know. Like, no
fucking way.”

“I know what you mean…” Naoki said lowly.

The spiky-haired boy regarded his companion wordlessly for a while, that silent intuition of his again, and for a split second Naoki
wondered if Maezono could really see through him and catch the real meaning behind his words.

“You confuse me sometimes, Professor…” Maezono said. “So much about you that I don’t get.”

“Good. That way I retain my mystery.” Naoki said jokingly. “Not fun having it all in the open, you know…not to some people, at
least.”

Maezono shrugged. “Whatever suits you.”

Several minutes later they carried the dinner they’d somehow managed to piece together back to the living room, where their three
hungry friends waited.

---------------

Another frame upon our wall
Lines of faces that had seen it all
Ups and downs and then more downs
We held each other off of the ground


---------------

The week before the end-of-year school dance Shugo stayed over at Naoki’s again for several days, telling his parents that he would
be at Shintaro’s and likewise telling the captain that he would be at home. His parents had stopped checking on him while he stayed
at friends’ houses a long time ago, and he thought the possibility of Shintaro actually trying to contact him at home, unless it
were some sort of emergency, were slim. They sat on Naoki’s bed together and, as they’d once said they would, compared the various
love notes, letters, and otherwise more blatant invitations to go to the dance as a date from the girls in their school. Most of
Shugo’s share came from 2nd graders, which surprised him slightly.

“I didn’t get any last year…” he muttered as he perused an oval-shaped note written on pale pink stationery with a glitter pen. The
notes ran the gamut from the ordinary to the cutesy and to the over-blown, but all of them served both of them with a dose of
amusement.

“You weren’t a senior last year…” Naoki reasoned. “Less prestige.”

“I didn’t even go to last year’s dance.”

“My old school didn’t have dances.”

“This your first?”

Naoki nodded, dark blonde bangs falling against his forehead. “Look at all this…do they actually think that all these frills,
glitter and flowers are going to actually attract a guy?”

“Girls…” Shugo sighed. “Strange creatures.”

“I’d give a girl a lot more respect if she actually came and asked me, straight-forward, if I want to go to the dance with her or
whatever.” Naoki said. “Not that I’d take up the offer, but I’d be nice in turning her down.”

“They’re probably shy…” Shugo collected the notes into a pile at the center of the mattress.

“Well, then they should at least figure out something that would actually get to their guys other than all this…” Naoki stared at
the strewn notes and cards as if they were contaminating his bed. “…crap.”

“Doesn’t take much to get to a guy, actually…” Shugo collected the pile and carefully placed them on Naoki’s desk. “…all it took you
to get to me was a can of beer and some weed.”

Naoki smiled and smacked Shugo’s rump playfully. “All it took you to get to me was to spread your legs.”

Shugo laughed, crawling over towards Naoki and stealing the cigarette from between his lips. He took a drag, and as he exhaled Naoki
pulled him down and kissed the tobacco breath off his lips.

“Maezono wants me to help him put together his wardrobe for the dance…”

“Did he?” Shugo rolled his eyes. “Well, I’d imagine he’ll need help…”

“Oh, don’t be a smartass…” Naoki chided him playfully.

“I thought he’d just wear his everyday clothes and say ‘screw the rules’ or something.”

Naoki smiled. “He’d be a lot more comfortable doing that, believe me…but he didn’t want to let his girlfriend down.”

Shugo chuckled lightly. The thought of one of the Shubultz Cuts actually having a steady girlfriend was still rather difficult to
grapple with, but not necessarily in a negative sort of way. Neither Yoshiyama nor Maezono seemed eager to flaunt their new
closeness, so those who had no idea something was up would probably not notice at all.

“You know…I don’t really know either of them that well, but I’d say Yoshiyama’s pretty good for him.” Shugo said. “It’s a good
match.”

“I thought so, too.” Naoki agreed and snatched the cigarette back from Shugo’s hand. “She’s quiet, doesn’t make a fuss, she’s not
noisy…”

“Just like him, huh?”

“I guess you can say that.” Naoki nodded, but then a smile broke across his lips. “But I gotta say, watching him all flustered about
what to wear to go to a dance was quite amusing.”

Shugo frowned at him. “Amusing—what, in a funny sort of way?”

“No.” Naoki shook his head. “In a…well, ‘nice’ would be a word for it but not quite.”

“Mr. Professor can’t find the right word?” Shugo widened his eyes exaggeratedly. “I am shocked.”

“Shut up, asshole.”

“Cute would be my word.” Shugo suggested.

“Fuck, you know how I hate that word…” Naoki muttered. “And I wouldn’t use that on Maezono no matter what the circumstances.”

“Yeah, you got a point there.” Shugo said. “Adorable, then.”

Naoki winced, but seemed thoughtful of the latter suggestion. “Maybe…I mean, he was like a kid doing something for the first time,
you know—utterly clueless. But I can tell he’s happy underneath all that confusion. So yeah…I’d say it qualifies as adorable.”

Shugo shook his head and laughed. “Why do smart people always have to be so calculating, even if only to put a name on something?”

Naoki smiled, but his expression turned solemn. “Because we don’t want to get it wrong. Especially when we’re trying to put a name
on something so…” his hand reached for Shugo’s and grasped tightly. “…important.”

Shugo lowered himself down onto his companion’s body, taking their joined hands and putting them between their chests.

“I already told you it doesn’t need a name…” he said.

Naoki brushed a strand of fallaway hair from Shugo’s face with his free hand. “If you had to call it something, what would it be?”

Slowly, Shugo reached for Naoki’s right hand and brought it up to his face, turning the bracelet-wrapped wrist slightly around so he
could place a small, gentle kiss on the wooden bead bearing the inscription of ‘Hope’ that hung over the faint greenish trail of
Naoki’s vein. “This…”

“Shugo…” he heard the voice calling his name turn slightly raspy.

“Call me old-fashioned or whatever…” Shugo said. “But I believe in that old saying, that as long as there’s still hope, all is not
lost.”

Naoki pulled his face down and pressed their foreheads together. “So I guess that means I’ll have to keep you.”

“Do that…” Shugo said. “…and we’ll both be happy.”

--------------

About thirty minutes later Naoki placed a small kiss on the still-moist flesh of Shugo’s shoulder and rose off the other boy’s naked
body as he lay sleeping, the afternoon now entering its late hours as Naoki slowly sat up on the bed, careful not to wake up his
companion. He picked his clothes from the messy heap strewn about the floor and put them back on, before sitting down on his desk to
write a note telling Shugo that should he wake up and find Naoki gone, that meant that he was out buying groceries or their dinner
for the night and that he would be back soon, that Shugo shouldn’t worry. He placed the note at the center of his desk and stood up,
his gaze falling upon the body that lay asleep in his bed. He was thinking of it as his bed, now. That was how it felt like these
days. The bed, the room, everything that was in it. The bed felt more like his bed with Shugo sleeping in it. The room felt more
like his room in Shugo’s presence. Naoki carefully pulled the blankets up
over Shugo’s shoulders and quietly left the room, tip-toeing down the hall and down the stairs towards the foyer, where he put on
his jacket and shoes, grabbed his keys, and stepped out into the cold December afternoon.

Riding the downtown bus alone made him realized just how accustomed he’d grown to Shugo’s company, how a solitaire bus ride that
seemed the norm for him less than three months ago now seemed like such a lonely time, no matter how short the journey. He went into
a small convenience store, got what he needed, and soon he was strolling across the pedestrian bridge that led him towards the
abandoned construction site where he usually went whenever he wanted time to commune quietly with his thoughts—or with his mother.
Naoki climbed up the man-made hill, realizing that the last time he went here it was with Shugo, on that autumn afternoon where they
sat on the concrete slab overlooking the river and where Naoki confessed his true feelings about their first encounter.

Look how far we’ve come, Shugo…

Naoki’s destination, however, was not the same part of the site where he and Shugo had talked. There was another, more private place
where he would never consider taking anyone, much less Shugo at that time when they were no more than casual acquaintances,
theoretical enemies, even. He climbed down the other side of the hill and towards a small clearing where concrete pipes, each large
enough for a person to walk through, lay neglected, another part of the construction materials that were never taken out of the site
after the project went bust. Naoki walked towards the furthest pipe and went inside, ducking his head slightly as he made his way to
what was the approximate middle of the pipe’s length.

There, planted to the curving bottom, were nine half-burnt candles lined in a row, each secured by drips of hardened wax. Naoki sat
down and pulled out from his jacket a new candle, which he lit using his gas lighter. He then placed the candle at the end of the
row, and used his lighter to light the others. Soon, Naoki’s makeshift shrine was glowing with the light of the ten candles,
protected from the wind by the concrete. He put his lighter back in his pocket, crossed his legs in front of himself, and took a
deep breath before saying the words he’d uttered nine times before in this place, the last time seeming like an eternity ago.

“Hello, Mama…”

The echo of her responding voice was in his heart, not his head.

“I know I haven’t been here for a while. I’m sorry…but I know you’re watching me from up there, so I’m sure you know what’s been
happening in my life.”

He smiled and stared down at the flame shadows dancing across the palms of his upturned hands.

“It’s been good for me these past few months, Mama. I’ve been happy. I never thought I’d ever be happy again after you died…I never
thought I’d want to be.” he said. “But I was wrong.”

He closed his eyes and saw her face, an image shot through his eyelids from the depths of his memory. “Is this what you want for me?
For me to be happy in this way, with this person?” he asked. “With Shugo Urabe?”

It was the first time he’d ever mentioned Shugo’s name in her presence, in his conscious effort to establish contact with her
departed soul. He’d mentioned his friends’ names to her before, but they were more often than not in his heated tears of anger and
revenge, his promise to her that he and his friends would avenge her, that they would fight those who had caused them their loss,
fight them to the death, if need be. The fact that his prior messages to her had all been so grim made him feel gulity.

“Can I love him? Do you want me to?” he asked again. “If love is like what you gave me for fourteen years, then I know I can give
the same to him for whatever length of time we can still be together. I know I can try to make him happy the way…” he bit back his
tears. “…they way I never had the chance to make you.”

When he closed his eyes again, the face he saw was Shugo’s.

“If I am wrong in feeling this way for him, Mama…you must tell me. But if this is what you want for me…then give me a sign. Any
sign.”

Silence greeted him. Truth be told he wasn’t really expecting a spectral experience of his mother reaching to him from the
afterlife, she probably wasn’t in the capacity to do so, but as Naoki bent his head low and closed his eyes, for a brief moment his
nose caught the faintest trace of a scent, a mild floral, fleeting and evanescent, and it was gone before he realized that it smelt
very much like his mother’s perfume, her kiss goodnight, her warm hand on his cheek. Startled, he felt his heart racing pounding in
his chest as he looked around his surroundings.

“Mama?” his voice sounded like a little boy’s all over again. “Is that you?”

Please tell me I’m not imagining this. Please tell me this is true.

A breeze passed through the pipe, and Naoki quickly turned towards the candles, worried that they would go out. But they didn’t. If
anything, they seemed to glow even brighter than before, and their warmth seemed to seep past his physical being and straight into
the center of his heart. Naoki smiled into the stillness of the air, and the first tear he’d shed for many months fell from his face
and onto his hand, a tiny splatter on his palm. “Thank you, Mama…” he muttered quietly. “I love you.”

He bent down and blew out the candles one by one, in sequence, from the first one to the last and newest one. Slowly he stood up,
waiting for the blood to flow back onto his legs before walking out of the pipe, stepping into the cold night and wrapping his
jacket tighter around himself. Above him, the stars were twinkling, though not a match for the lights of the city beyond the river,
a foil gleam on the water surface. Naoki climbed back onto his regular vantage point, where he and Shugo had sat nearly two months
ago, where he had—for the first time since his mother’s passing—allowed someone to see past the guise of his Shubultz Cuts identity
and into the person that lurked within, that hungered for something other than war and revenge.

He made his way out of the construction site, his steps hastened with the knowledge that someone was waiting for him at home, that
he actually had someone to go home to. Downtown he stopped to buy their dinner as well as some household items, and the bus ride
back to his neighborhood seemed far too slow, and not because he was worried that the dinner he’d bought would grow cold. As he made
the short walk back towards his house, he stopped in front of the gate and looked up to see that the light in his bedroom was on,
meaning that Shugo was awake. Smiling, Naoki stepped inside the gate to the front yard and locked it behind him. The housekeeper had
taken an early holiday and would not be back until the new year, so his aunt had left even more notes and warnings for him before
she departed for her trip out of town. Even so, he’d decided that bringing Shugo to stay over was not really a violation of those
rules—she only warned him not to bring his Shubultz friends over, nor did sh
e want him to bring a girl in to fool around. Shugo hardly fit into either category.

“There you are…” a drowsy voice welcomed him as he stepped into the foyer.

“I wasn’t gone too long, was I?”

Shugo was standing just off the staircase, his hair still tussled from sleep. “Not really. I only woke up about fifteen minutes
ago…”

“You got my note?” Naoki asked as he took off his boots.

“Yeah.”

“Here, take this…” he handed the plastic containing their dinner over to Shugo. “Put it in the kitchen.”

After he’d taken off his jacket Naoki followed Shugo to the kitchen and they sat down to have their dinner, Shugo as usual eating
ravenously and almost without pause, answering Naoki’s questions only with a generic nod or shake of his head, or a short word or
two, which made Naoki wonder why the other boy never seemed to gain any weight. Then again, perhaps his daily activities used up all
that energy before the food could turn into bulk.

“You working tomorrow?”

Shugo nodded.

“I’ll pick you up, then.”

Another nod, the mouth chewing busily.

Naoki smiled. “You haven’t changed one bit.”

Two wide, beautiful eyes looked up at him momentarily from the plate, then looked back down again and continued eating.

“Yeah, wouldn’t want you any other way.”

Shugo gave him a knowing smile, his mouth filled to the cheeks.

It was hours later, long after Shugo had fallen asleep in his arms, that Naoki stayed awake with eyes wide open, staring at the pile
of love notes that Shugo had placed on his desk earlier that evening. What were they, in reality? Were these girls consciously
trying to reach him, trying to get under his guise of toughness? Did they do so out of curiosity, out of physical attraction, or did
they really want to get to know the real him? What could they have expected from him if he’d taken up their offers, and what could
he give them? Would he consider accepting one of them, if Shugo hadn’t come along and changed everything? Not all girls were bitches
like Mifune, Naoki knew that well, but then again not all of them were of the quiet, understanding sort like Yoshiyama seemed to be.
It was nearly a year to the day his mother died, and he wondered whether his decision to finally open up to someone, Shugo, was
because he truly felt the other boy’s capacity to understand him, or becau
se he simply could not contain his loneliness anymore.

Maezono’s decision to begin a relationship with Yoshiyama, never mind the level of seriousness, made him think that perhaps his
friends weren’t all that different from him. Despite their unspoken rule to not share sentimental longings with each other, it
didn’t mean that those longings did not exist. They too, must have had their own needs and wishes, some perhaps outside their own
consciousness, like Naoki before Shugo came along, the need to have someone with whom they could share pain and grief and
moments of vulnerability, instead of simply sharing a thirst for revenge and a friendship, however bonding, that had its roots in
anger and vengeance. Naoki had found Shugo. Maezono, if all went well, would most probably find such company with his girlfriend.
Would the others, gradually, especially with their recent decision that they would be moving on to high school, begin seeking
theirs, too?

Somewhere, deep down, there was a part of him that wanted his friends to know about Shugo, wanted them to know that he was now a
much happier person than he used to be, but that it didn’t mean that he would betray them or abandon their cause. He wanted them to
know that he was capable of staying true to the group as well as being emotionally involved with someone outside the group. All the
jock-hating and bullying they did was never part of their core beliefs, nor did Kurosawa ever state such things. It was all part of
the act they’d pulled together to shut themselves off, to make themselves look fearsome and slightly dangerous, but it didn’t change
the fact that they were simply a group of kids who’d gotten together on the basis of a shared experience of loss, and their goal was
revenge for that loss. Nobody had ever said anything about having to stay alienated from the rest of society the whole time. Naoki
surely didn’t want that for himself. At least he didn’t anymore. Perha
ps he did, once, when he was so sure that it was impossible for him to ever be happy again, but the person he now held asleep in his
arms proved that wrong. It was possible. It was happening now. And if what he’d experienced earlier was any indication, it
was what his mother wanted for him.

“Shugo…” he whispered faintly into the thick, brown hair adorning the head that lay resting against his chest.

--------------

Noone knows what we’ve been through
Making it ain’t making it without you


--------------

The next Saturday, the day of the school dance, Kenji Maezono showed up at Naoki’s house at three in the afternoon and was allowed
inside by his aunt, who’d been informed previously that the spiky-haired boy’s intentions for coming was just to get some
last-minute advice before his first, and probably last school dance with his first ever girlfriend—and to get some help with his
attire. Naoki thought that maybe his aunt also found something quite adorable in the idea of a boy not unlike her own nephew going
to a school dance for the first time, a jittery mix of nerves and excitement, apprehension and enthusiasm, and the smile she gave
Naoki when he’d first told her about it was one of amusement and understanding. About two hours later, the two boys were inside
Naoki’s bedroom, where Maezono stood uncertainly in front of the mirror and twisted his lip this way and that.

“I’m having second thoughts…”

“Don’t, Kenji.”

“Are you sure this is such a good idea?”

“Come on, you’re not gonna chicken out now, are you?”

“Fuck you, Jo.”

“You look fine.”

“I look gay.”

Naoki snorted and stood up from the bed, walking over to his friend and placing a hand on his shoulder. “Kenji…you’re going to this
dance with a girl. And not just any girl, your girl. Believe me, that’s the furthest from gay you can possibly be.”

Maezono stared down on himself. The black trousers he wore were simply a neater version of the ones he usually wore to school, they
were of similar cut and styling, dug up from the depths of his closet somewhere, and Naoki was left with a lingering suspicion that
they had been Nanami’s before his growth spurt. As roommates in the orphanage, neither could hardly tell which clothes belonged to
whom, especially since their wardrobe was very similar. On top of the trousers was Maezono’s primary source of discomfort, a dark
blue, long-sleeved shirt that was actually quite mundane, other than the fact that Maezono had probably never worn such tailored
clothing before, preferring to stick to t-shirts and the like.

“Roll the sleeves…” Naoki suggested. “Up to here.”

Maezono did as he was told, rolling up his sleeves up to the halfway point of his forearm.

“Now put those back on…” Naoki pointed to the desk, where Maezono’s wrist cuffs and metal bracelets were. “Not all of them…just a
few.”

Maezono put on his cuffs and selected one bracelet for each hand, and walked back towards the mirror.

“Feel better now?” Naoki asked him.

The lanky boy glanced at his reflection in the mirror and blew out a sigh. “Yeah…I guess it is better.”

“Good. Now this…” Naoki pulled a leather jacket off his chair. Not the Cuts’ leather jacket, but something that was made with more
style in mind, with sleek lines and no metal buckles or fastenings. It was more form-fitting than the gang’s jacket, but Maezono
wasn’t a bulky guy anyway so it fit snugly over him. He’d told Naoki how he’d gone out with Yoshiyama one day and saw it sitting in
the sale rack of a thrift store, and the girl had casually remarked that it would probably look good on him. On impulse Maezono had
bought it, but was in serious doubt whether he should use it or not. One look at the jacket, though, and Naoki knew that it would
work. It did.

“Man…looks like Eri was right about this thing.” Maezono said as he stared at his completed attire.

“She’s got good taste, I’ll admit.” Naoki said. “And she’s got no problems with shopping thrift, which means you don’t have to worry
about your expenses.”

“Guess not.” Maezono turned around slightly so he could look at himself from another angle. “You think she’ll like this?”

“Can’t speak for her, obviously…but I think she will.”

Maezono turned to Naoki and smiled. “Fuck, Jo…I’m actually going to a school dance.”

“Yeah, and with a girlfriend, too.” Naoki added.

“Strange world, huh?”

“Tell me about it.” Naoki said. “Try those on, now…” he pointed to the pair of shoes he’d prepared earlier. It was a pair of lace-up
black ankle boots, still shiny since Naoki had only worn them once or twice, a slim and simple version of the boots they usually
wore. After Maezono put them on and corrected his trousers over them, they looked perfectly in sync with the rest of his wardrobe.
“That’s it…you’re ready for the dance, Cinderella.”

Maezono squinted disdainfully at him. “What about you, Professor?”

“What about me?”

“Aren’t you gonna get ready?”

“Well, I gotta take a bath first. You wanna wait here or downstairs?”

“Downstairs, I think.” Kenji said. “Get used to the feel of this…thing.”

Naoki smiled. “My aunt will probably chat you up now that you’re dressed so nicely.”

“I’ll try to remember my manners…” Maezono muttered as he disappeared behind the door.

About ten minutes later Naoki emerged from the bathroom and began putting on his clothes. He hadn’t had a hard time choosing, since
his aunt regularly bought clothes for him though he rarely wore them, and not because she’d bought him things that he wouldn’t be
caught dead wearing. She seemed to understand his dislike of anything fussy and bright, so the clothes she bought him were mostly in
muted or dark colours, simple shirts or sweaters, and though he never wore them to school he’d sometimes wear them if he was
accompanying her to a place where his school attire would be unacceptable, or to the occasional family functions. He had a pair of
black trousers that fitted his body more closely than his normal baggy school trousers and over his two layers of undershirts Naoki
put on a dark gray, body-fitting sweater, the collar forming a V around his neck. He then put on a jacket, similar in cut to
Maezono’s, but made of corduroy instead of leather. Hoping that the clothes would be
sufficient against the cold, Naoki searched through his closet and found the shoes he was planning to wear. It was a pair of
leather dress shoes, last worn at his mother’s funeral, and originally he’d planned to give these to Maezono and keep the boots for
himself, but then decided he should let his friend be as comfortable as he could be, and he was surely more comfortable in the
boots.

To finish it off, he slipped onto his finger the ring he always wore on any occasion, even at home, one that had once belonged to
his mother, and the wooden bracelet that Shugo had given him. He felt no need to wear anything else. Giving himself one last look in
the mirror, Naoki turned off the lights in his bedroom and walked out the door. Downstairs, Maezono waited in the kitchen, while
Naoki’s aunt had graciously retreated to the living room. The spiky-haired boy did a double-take when Naoki walked in, his small
eyes regarding his friend with an evaluative look.

“Whoa, Jo…”

“What?”

“You look…”

“Gay?”

Maezono chuckled. “Not really. But…different.”

“Look who’s talking.”

“Riiight…”

“You ready to go?”

“Oh, one more thing…” Maezono lifted a hand.

“What is it?”

“This is a school dance, right?” Maezono said. “Does that mean I’ll have to…you know, dance?”

“Well, unless your girl wants to hang around the sidelines all the time, which I doubt.”

Maezono looked horrified. “Oh, fuck…”

“Calm down, man…” Naoki patted his back reassuringly. “Don’t bother with the fast songs if you don’t have rhythm. Hang around the
snack table, hold her hand, talk to her, whatever. Or excuse yourself to go have a smoke.”

“But…” Maezono looked “What about—you know, the slow songs?”

“Don’t worry. Slow dancing is nothing but holding each other close and moving from side to side. Left, right. That’s it.” Naoki
said. “No intricate steps, no patterns, no special moves. Fuck, you don’t even have to follow the rhythm if you don’t want to.”

“Are you sure?”

“This ain’t a formal ball, Kenji. It’s a school dance.” Naoki corrected Maezono’s jacket over his shoulders. “A slow dance is a good
time to start smooching her.”

Maezono took a deep breath and nodded, hands on his hips. “Okay, then…it’s now or never.”

“Do we have to pick her up first?”

“No, she’s waiting for me at school.”

“Well, in that case let’s just go, shall we?” Naoki checked his watch. “Wouldn’t want to keep her waiting.”

“Wait, Jo…” Maezono tugged at his arm. “I…uh, I just wanna say thanks, you know—for all this.”

Naoki smiled at his friend. “No need to thank me.”

“I kinda feel bad about you having to go there just to keep my sorry ass company…”

“Oh, come on now…you just go and enjoy yourself.” Naoki assured him. “I’ll find something to keep myself entertained.”

“Promise you won’t give the others something to laugh about on Monday.”

“Kenji, I doubt they’ll even want to hear it.” Naoki reasoned. “Now come on, let’s go.”

They bid Naoki’s aunt farewell, the elderly woman looking quite pleased at the sight of the two boys, well-dressed in comparison to
their daily attire, and she wished them a good time. Naoki and Maezono walked in the fading dusk light, sharing a pack of cigarettes
as they made their way to their school. The roads were beginning to come alive with Christmas decorations and festive banners,
though either boy would be hard-pressed to find anything cheerful about that. Christmas was still too painful a reminder to them of
what had happened the year before, how their lives were so suddenly changed, or in some ways, ended. They remained silent throughout
the walk, until they got to the school, the front gates open and the lights on, several chaperoning teachers loitering about.

The dance was being held in the multi-purpose hall, which on some days also served as a sports hall and the place where graduation
ceremonies were held, if anyone cared to attend. It was situated to the west of the school building, and as they approached Naoki
could see students gathered here and there and music coming in from the building. Lanterns were hung from the large trees along the
short path leading from the school building to the hall, and the doors were swung wide open. It was a come-and-go thing, it seemed,
with no set time as to when they were supposed to arrive and when they were supposed to leave.

“Pretty nice touch…” Naoki gestured at the lanterns.

“Who did the décor?”

“Someone told me that the 2nd graders had been given the duty. They probably know us seniors can’t be bothered with it.”

“We just show up.” Maezono said.

“Yeah.”

As they approached the hall they saw more and more students, some of the girls decked in classy outfits though most of the boys
seemed to prefer to maintain a casual air. Just near the entrance was Eri Yoshiyama, standing with two of her friends, Kana Yuki and
Hibiki Yano. Naoki remembered that Yuki was one of the girls who’d sent a note to him, asking if he would be interested in going to
the dance together. He hadn’t bothered with a verbal refusal to any of those notes—he figured his silence would be enough to let a
girl know that he wasn’t interested. All three girls were nicely dressed, but Yoshiyama stood out clearly. Naoki couldn’t see the
details of her dress, only that it extended down to her knees and was made of some sort of shimmery, light blue material. Over it
she wore a dark gray coat that had blue fleece trimmings on the collar and cuffs, fastened with an obi-like sash around her waist.
He looked over to Maezono and saw that his friend’s jaw was hanging open.

“Lucky bastard…” Naoki patted his shoulder. “Go on, go to her…”

“…”

“Kenji, come on, man! Go to her…”

“She…”

“She looks great.” Naoki nodded. “I know. Just go, will you?”

He nearly had to push Maezono towards the three girls, and when Yoshiyama saw her boyfriend approaching her face lit up, modestly
made-up and decidedly very pretty, and she smiled warmly as Maezono walked over to her, albeit a little nervously. Naoki hung back a
little, allowing them ample space, and Yoshiyama’s two friends likewise took their leave. Kana Yuki had time to stare at Naoki for a
while, which made him uneasy, and he didn’t know whether she was wondering what he was doing there or if it was really him under the
uncharacteristic clothing. Naoki gave her a small bow of his head, and she in turn blushed rather fiercely and grabbed Yano’s hand,
yanking her towards the entrance to the hall.

“Jo-kun…” Yoshiyama’s voice spoke to him. “I didn’t think you would actually come.”

Naoki smiled. “Your boy here convinced me to go.”

“Did he?” Yoshiyama looked up at Maezono, who merely shrugged his shoulders. “Where’s your date?”

Naoki shook his head. “I’m alone…at least for now.”

Maezono eyed him curiously, but said nothing.

“Oh, well…okay, then.” Yoshiyama said. “Should we go in?”

“You two go ahead.” Naoki said.

“But, Jo…” Maezono began.

“Don’t worry about me, Kenji—you two just go in there and enjoy yourselves.”

Maezono looked unsure, but Yoshiyama tugged his arm gently and led him towards the entrance, which beckoned to them with music
coming from inside and sounds of laughter and conversation. As he watched the two of them walk away, Naoki shoved his hands into his
pockets and smiled, watching them disappear into the crowd near the door. Quickly, he turned around and walked towards the side of
the building, setting his plans in motion. If all went well, this could be a very memorable evening.

TBC
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