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It is a mutual decision. Music has always been his priority and going to Vienna has been a part of his future plans ever since middle school. Len has made his choice.

Kahoko claims she understands and agrees that a long-distance relationship might not even work.

So they decide to put an end on their relationship. At least the romantic part of it. If ever there had been one.

 

*

 

The break-up seems to be the trigger of a series of unnecessary reactions from their common friends and Len just doesn't get why everyone acts like the apocalypse is upon him.

It's barely been a year since he and Kahoko have started dating so settling back to just being friends isn't much of a big deal – at least not for him.

Despite his efforts of telling his friends that he has no need of any form of consolation, Ryotarou still shows up late at night with several cans of chuhai, explaining that "I asked Kanazawa-sensei to get it for me with a promise to be responsible," when Len arches an eyebrow in question. "Besides, it's only eight percent alcohol, so…."

So they do drink it – or at least, Ryotarou does, while Len takes only a sip for every can that the pianist consumes in moderation – and they talk about their lives and plans for the future and music and how Ryotarou thinks that perhaps Len and Kahoko aren't destined to be together.

Ironically, Len acquiesces.

 

*

 

"So my mother asked where I've been hanging around often lately and I told her at your place. Now she wants to meet you and she's inviting you over for dinner," Ryotarou says, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand, the other tucked inside his pant pocket with his fingers crossed.

Len stares at him with apathy and he takes this as a clear sign that he will be turning down the offer with either a snide remark or a pathetic excuse.

So when Len says, "Sure. When?" Ryotarou almost metaphorically trips on his own feet and he can't help but gape at the other, totally dumbstruck.

Unable to hold back incredulity, he practically squawks out, "Seriously?"

The folds on the skin between Len's eyebrows deepen when he utters, "I did say sure, didn't I?"

Ryotarou clears his throat while trying to collect his thoughts. "Yeah. Right. So, Friday? We can go straight to our house after school."

"That's fine with me," Len says with a shrug.

 

*

 

The week seems to crawl at a snail's pace, to Ryotarou's chagrin. But when Friday suddenly jumps right in front of him, he wishes time would've gone slower. Anxiety starts to spawn butterflies in his stomach – like literally.

Whatever psychological shit he's going through must have started showing on his face because Sasaki says, "You look like you're about to be beheaded. Is there something wrong?"

His poorly executed lie of "nothing, nothing's wrong," just drives Sasaki even more curious and doesn't stop pestering him even during soccer practice.

"Wait. Please don't tell me that you're taking advantage of Hino and Tsukimori-kun's break up and is seeing Hino now," Sasaki says after Ryotarou dissuades him for the umpteenth time.

"What? No. Of course not," he says, appalled. "That's low blow, man. You do know they're both my friends."

Sasaki says, "Yeah. Sure," with an immense amount of skepticism leaking through every word.

Near the end of practice, Ryotarou spies Len promenading along the side of the soccer field. But he's ripped away from the momentary distraction when something particularly hard hits him on the face. The impact causes him to fall and as soon as his butt meets the ground, he catches sight of the soccer ball bouncing away from him through his visual periphery.

A chorus of "Tsuchiura!" and "Ryo!" reverberates around him. He can see Len with one foot on the field, as if deliberating whether to approach him or stay where he is.

Ryotarou's teammates soon swarm around him. His coach bends over to examine him closely then says, "You okay?" to which he nods in response. "You should know better than to take your eyes off the ball."

It's Sasaki who pulls him up while laughing softly. "Gheez, Tsuchiura. I never would have thought that it's actually Tsukimori who got you all wound up."

"Huh?" is the immediate reaction that his perplexed brain can come up with.

Sasaki shakes his head and pushes him to the direction where Len's waiting, saying, "Just go already. Practice is almost over anyway and he's been waiting there for almost half an hour."

As soon as he reaches the violinist, Len says, "That blow looks painful. Aren't you going to see the school nurse?"

"Nah." Ryotarou throws an arm over Len's shoulder, expecting to be shoved away but Len doesn't do anything more than stiffen for a moment. "I've gone through worse. I'll just change then we can head home."

 

*

 

In retrospect, Len normally takes anything non-consequential to his growth as a person and as a musician in stride. But then Ryotarou comes like a calamity that disrupts his balance and he finds himself on edge half the time.

The dinner with Ryotarou's family is supposed to be casual, not as nerve-wracking as it turns out to be that keeping a calm façade is a Herculean task on its own. He's not even sure why he's accepted the invitation, just that the impulse to acquiesce has worked faster than his ability to think rationally.

Nonetheless, he finds the Tsuchiura couple warm and affable that he can't help but feel right at home, so much that he finds himself returning a week later until dinner at Tsuchiura's every Friday becomes somewhat a routine.

Len gets more comfortable around Ryotarou until the pianist-slash-soccer player's younger brother blurts out, "So are you two dating? It's just that Ryo-nii wouldn't stop talking about you, you know," on his third visit at their place. He's too baffled at the unexpected remark that he's rendered speechless, face burning as if on fire.

 

*

 

One month. Len gives it a month until Ryotarou gets tired of playing the friend game and everything will go back to how antagonistic they used to be.

Apparently, his instincts prove to be wrong when Ryotarou sticks to him like glue, even invites him to their soccer practice match against some school visiting from another prefecture.

"Please come. I need some inspiration," is what Ryotarou says that has Len conceding and four days later, he's sitting on the bleachers without knowing what to expect. He has zero knowledge in this sport.

Kahoko shows up with her two friends whose names escape him just before the game starts. "I didn't know you're a soccer fan," she says when she claims the seat next to his without asking if it's taken. The two other girls settle on Kahoko's other side without uttering a word.

"I'm not," Len says. "Tsuchiura insisted that I come."

"Oh?" She tilts her head to peer at him, her lips curved up teasingly. "I heard you two have grown close."

"Not really," is all he says before the sound of a whistle cuts through the air and the game starts.

Len detaches from Kahoko's presence and instead focuses on Ryotarou whilst not having a single clue on what's happening. He finds himself fist-pumping though every time Ryotarou sends the ball into the goal or whatever it's called. He doesn't miss the numerous times Ryotarou glances his way, and probably spots Kahoko beside him at that one time Ryotarou frowns.

Their school team wins and Len waits until most of the crowd – Kahoko and her friends included – has poured out of the stadium before getting on his feet. He's close to the entrance that players use when he spots Kahoko throwing her arm over Ryotarou. There's a momentary sharp twinge in his chest that Len dismisses as heartburn – probably because he missed breakfast that morning.

Ryotarou meets him halfway, says, "Told you you're my lucky charm," while nudging him playfully with his elbow. "Let me just hit the shower then we'll go out to celebrate, what do you say?"

"Aren't you celebrating with your teammates?" Len isn't sure why Ryotarou is asking him, not Kahoko or his friend from the team.

"Nah. It's just a practice match so it's to-each-his-own."

They had burgers, something Len rarely indulges in, and then migrates to his house like usual where they end up watching his parents' concerts filmed during their recent tour in Europe. Ryotarou looks so bone-tired that he spends the night at Len's place, slumped like a log on the couch.

Len calls Ryotarou's mother to let her know that her idiotic son is safe. Then he escapes to his room to seek solace on his violin, playing whatever tune that comes to mind and gradually weaves something original, something Len decides to call 'Aubade for Ryo.'

 

*

 

When Ryotarou hears that Len has gotten a letter from the school in Vienna, he feels something break inside him. So he confronts Len, who tells him, "Yes, it's true, my application for admission has been approved. I leave for Vienna at the end of August," and Ryotarou feels his heart sink down to his stomach.

This is something he should've expected. Besides, isn't this the reason why Len and Kahoko broke up in the first place? He's not exactly hoping Len will change his mind but.

Hihara hears about it and insists they have some sort of summer getaway and reunion since Yunoki will be back in Japan some time mid-August. Len offers to use their vacation home in Lake Kawaguchi.

Summer break rolls in and soon, they're piling into the Tsukimori cottage. Déjà vu hits Ryotarou when he and Len end up sharing a room. And a bed.

Ryotarou dives on top of the mattress then rolls on his side, propping up on his elbow while watching Len slide a pile of shirts in the drawer. "You sure you can tolerate me this time, Tsukimori?" he teases and Len throws him a deathly glare that lasts for barely five seconds before his eyes soften.

"Call me Len," he says, the corners of his mouth curling up and the sight makes Ryotarou's heart swell.

"Only if you call me Ryo," he throws back and damn, why does he have this sudden urge to kiss the violinist?

Once they have finished unpacking, Hihara coaxes everyone to participate in some sort of water polo match at the lake.

Something in Ryotarou's nether region stirs the moment he sees Len pull his shirt over his head. This is, come to think of it, the first time Ryotarou sees Len shirtless and it's distracting as hell, proven by the countless times Ryotarou's been hit by the ball on the head.

As always, Yunoki's the one to notice, but is considerate enough to say, "I'm not gonna ask."

Ryotarou collides against the brick wall of reality though when, while preparing dinner, Yunoki sidles next to him in the kitchen and says , "But he's leaving in two weeks, will probably be gone for a long time, or forever. What do you plan to do?"

He merely shrugs, despite the melancholy unfurling in his chest.

The weight of despair doesn't leave him even until late that night, when Len's lying on his side facing the wall while he's staring at the ceiling, one arm behind his head.

"Tsukimori?" he says and receives a muttered "hmm?" in response. "When you're already in Vienna… Promise you won't forget me, okay?"

 

*

 

Maybe he's trying to elude the inevitable, that's why he's up before the crack of dawn and goes off jogging before any of his friends rouse.

It's Len he first sees when he returns, standing precariously on a stool and trying to reach for the overhead kitchen cabinet.

Ryotarou makes the mistake of startling him when he asks, "What are you doing?" that Len loses his balance when he jerks around. Thankfully, Ryotarou has quick reflexes so he manages to catch the violinist before he hits the floor.

They stare at each other, frozen, faces too close and Ryotarou's head spins from the proximity – from being able to breathe in Len's scent.

Only when someone breezes into the kitchen – Kaji apparently – and asks, "What's for breakfast?" did Ryotarou stir and he helps Len get to his feet.

Ryotarou deduces there's no escaping Len, not only because they share a room, but the other's presence is undeniably constant in his life.

On their last night, the reality of Len's departure coming close revisits him and he can't shake away the feeling of dejection so Ryotarou decides to run, hoping to burn it out of his system.

A fluid transition of emotive notes spun from the violin's strings is what greets him when he sneaks back into their room. Len seems to be absorbed in the piece he's playing that he doesn't notice Ryotarou even as he tiptoes behind the violinist to take a peek at the sheet music resting on the stand.

Ryotarou blinks twice when he sees his name on the piece's title just as Len brings the sonata to a close. "You composed this for me?" he says, snatching the paper before Len's hand can stop him.

Len tucks his violin gingerly back in its case then tries to steal the sheet music back but Ryotarou keeps it out of his reach. So they begin to prance around the room until the back of Ryotarou's leg bumps against the bed and he falls over the mattress, bringing Len with him. This briefly reminds him of a similar scenario with Kahoko and Hihara in the past.

Their breaths mingle, gazes locked and Ryotarou can hear his heartbeat picking up pace. He doesn't know what possesses him to stroke Len's cheek with the back of his fingers, to curl his hand over the back of Len's neck and pull him close. But the urge to kiss Len is too strong to resist that Ryotarou throws caution to the wind and captures Len's mouth with his.

The kiss deepens when Len starts responding.

They don't talk about it afterwards and things become awkward between them the next morning.

Len seems to be keen in avoiding him for the next two weeks.

On the day Len is scheduled to leave for Vienna, Ryotarou braves to see him. But he's always been pretty bad in saying good-bye so he just stands across the street and watch Len slide into the car, watches the vehicle disappear into the distance.

 

*

tbc