He tunes his guitar for the nth time during their practice session, even though both Pi and Koyama have told him it sounds fine, twice. He can't put his finger on it, but something feels strangely off around him. The time isn't all wasted, though; Tegoshi answers a few text messages once he sets his trumpet down, Pi adjusts the height of one of his cymbals, Shige fiddles with the settings of Koyama's amp while the taller of the two double checks his bass's sound, just in case.
Ryo tweaks and is satisfied again and lets the others know. Pi and Koyama are going over a few measures of the sheet music Shige painstakingly wrote out and copied for all of them, and Massu ambles back in from using the restroom.
He yawns and stretches as he walks, loose shirt hanging nicely on his frame, shoulders toned, chest and stomach packed tightly with muscle that Ryo has only seen when Tegoshi showed him a picture he took in secret while he and Massu were at the beach over summer break. The other scratches at his head a little, then his fingers drift down to rub the back of his neck, and only when he picks up his trombone and catches Ryo's gaze with a smile of his own does Ryo realize he's been staring.
Ryo looks down and away, busying himself; he strums once on his guitar and, for whatever reason, it sounds drastically out of pitch again.
So Ryo learns that he may have a problem.
There's never been sign of this bullet train attraction to the band's trombonist but then again, Ryo has never considered a ska band to be a legitimate way to pass his time in college. And so he can try to play it off like he's just feeling the after effects of how the band is managing to stay together and creating some good, funky tunes full of sassy brass parts and deep basslines, especially in the wake of two members leaving, but that's old by now -- the band's been together for a year and the novelty of working with five other people from all over the musical spectrum made them come up with quirky material, quick. It would be so easy to to say that this is why he's having the sudden urge to throw Massu to the floor and kiss him all over, but it's not. It's sudden and somewhat unexpected, but putting the blame on their local successes just wouldn't make sense -- Ryo's life has never been so convenient, and there's certainly no reason for it to change now.
Then again, he thinks this may be a one time thing -- he hasn't really been all that lucky in the dating department, so it has to be just a...thing, like a love-life deprived or something, and he just needs to find somewhere to put it in and that should be that. And he finds a place to put it in and he enjoys it, of course he does, but he goes to band practice again the next day and it's futile, because he just can't stop thinking about Massu throughout. He's less obvious about it -- he angles him and his equipment so Massu isn't in his direct line of sight, and it seems to work, but when Massu wanders over and offers him a bit of leftover lasagna from his dinner the night before, Ryo catches himself staring at Massu's fingers, wondering if they were as nimble as they looked.
Pi is carefully gazing at him when Massu bounces away. People always made fun of how Pi's eyes always seemed so guarded, but Ryo could read that expression on his best friend's face like it was a children's book, big font and all.
"I can't believe you guys are all going home for the holidays. Who does that?!" Ryo complains.
Yamapi shrugs, not bothering to look up at Ryo as he's too busy inspecting the plate of pasta in front of him, pondering if he needs parmesan cheese on top. He decides to go for it -- he can work it off once the holiday season is over. "Well, we do. We like seeing our families. And getting stuff." Yamapi pauses, putting the cheese shaker back down. "Besides, not all of us are going home."
Ryo stops and doesn't say much else. He knows who else is going to be around, but he's not exactly...excited about the prospect. Well, it's not that he wouldn't be excited --
"Yhould juld ast," Yamapi says, mouth full of pasta. Ryo simply glares at him; he promptly swallows and fixes Ryo with another pointed look. "You should just ask," he repeats.
Ryo shakes his head. "Absolutely not. How lame would I look?"
"Hate to break it to you, but you already look pretty lame," Yamapi replies. At Ryo's incredulous I have no idea what the hell you're talking about look, Yamapi laughs as he bites into garlic bread.
"Don't even, Ryo. Everyone has eyes, you know, we all see how you spend most of rehearsal mooning over him. You're just lucky he hasn't caught on yet."
What? What? Ryo just keeps staring at Yamapi like he's grown eight heads and thinks he's absolutely nuts. Okay, he might -- maybe -- there's a very slight chance that Ryo has been finding himself more and more distracted by their trombonist but it's not like that could possibly be his fault. Maybe he's more prone to laugh a little at the guy's dumb jokes now, and he doesn't find himself minding when he ocasionally spends his free afternoons teaching the guy basic guitar chords. But that's hardly mooning. And what the hell kind of term was that, anyway? Mooning involved butts. That was -- well, a nice image, but -- no, no, Ryo isn't thinking about his butt.
Though it is nice. And round. And perky, probably from all the exercise the other does --
Ryo panics. Yamapi laughs and chokes on a bit of penne. Ryo thinks he deserves it.
-- the problem, really, is that there's the possibility of being too excited, and in Ryo's case, being too excited means making a complete idiot of himself.
And that's just risky where crushes are concerned.
"It's okay," Yamapi says, cutting into Ryo's thoughts. "Massu's easy to fall for."
Ryo doesn't ask, but he gets a feeling that Yamapi speaks from experience.
Ryo spends the night wallowing in his own self-pity because not only does he have to spend Christmas and New Year's by himself in what's going to be a deserted college town, but the object of his affections is going to be there, too.
Most people would capitalize and use this opportunity to spend more time with them.
He goes to bed at four thirty in the morning. There's pen all over his hands and paper all over his desk, but there's material for three new songs and as Ryo falls into bed, he thinks being lovesick is okay if it means he can churn out songs like there's no tomorrow.
By morning, the rest of the band is gone and Ryo pointedly ignores all messages and phone calls from Massu and hangs up on Tegoshi when he starts to mention Massu being alone for the holidays.
"You're acting like Massu's some kind of incubus or something. He's not going to suck your soul out," Shige says over the phone. Ryo is wallowing in self-pity for the second day in a row, having successfully eaten all the instant ramen he had in his apartment, forgetting momentarily that he has no car to go and buy food with. In his panic at having absolutely nothing to eat for dinner, Shige's phone call comes and he sort of regrets picking up, but it does help that it's keeping him from thinking about the message in the inbox of his phone from Massu inviting him out to dinner.
Ryo barely stops himself from making a not-so-innocent remark about Massu sucking things, and that's when he literally facepalms.
Yeah. He definitely has a problem.
"You just thought of something dirty, didn't you," Shige sounds as exasperated as Ryo feels. "Look, you should talk to him. He -- "
Ryo hangs up. He doesn't feel like listening to a lecture about Massu's virtue, anyway.
"So," says an IM from Koyama. "I hear you have a crush on Massu."
Ryo is going to curse everyone. Everyone. Curse them for the next ten generations, even, and won't feel bad when he looks at Koyama's babies and know that they're destined to lead awful, luckless lives.
"Lies," Ryo types back. "Someone's trying to slander my good name."
"Assuming you had a good name to begin with." The line of text is followed by a laughing emoji to denote that it's a joke, but it's not like Ryo wouldn't have figured that out anyway. Of course Ryo has a good name. It's a pretty awesome name, actually.
"Anyway," Koyama continues. "Why don't you talk to him about it?"
"Yeah. That conversation'll be fun. 'Oh hey, Massu, by the way, I have a fucking head-over-heels crush on you.' Gimme a break." Ryo types, venting his frustration on his keyboard, fingers nearly pounding into each key.
"...well, you won't get a positive reaction with something like that," Koyama says after a brief pause.
"You won't have a bass if you keep this up," Ryo hastily types back.
Koyama pauses, starts and stops typing a few times. Ryo waits impatiently for a few moments for any sign of intelligent thought from the guy, then gets up and decides he has better things to do. He doesn't bother signing off, merely prints off the music arrangements he's been working on, and ambles off to work in peace.
When he comes back, the IM box with Koyama is blinking.
"You won't get any reaction at all if you don't say something."
He doesn't hear anything from anyone in a day or two, and he takes this as a good thing. At least for now -- he's glad to have a bit of a break from all the pestering, but knowing the band as well as he does, Ryo figures this won't be for long. So he's going to enjoy it, damnit. The lovesick thing looks good, especially when new material is concerned.
A few days later, however, Ryo admits that he has a problem, and he's not being mature by avoiding Massu and not wanting to talk about it.
Of course, he doesn't do this of his own volition. Quite the opposite, actually.
Tegoshi showed up.
"I drove three hours to get here," Tegoshi starts the moment Ryo pulls the door to his apartment open. "So I hope you don't mind if I stay over."
Ryo wordlessly shuts the door and says nothing because judging by Tegoshi's voice, there's no arguing with him. "What the hell are you doing here?" Ryo says instead.
Tegoshi rolls his eyes, placing his overnight bag down next to the sofa. His fingers start to unbutton his coat and untie the scarf wrapped tightly around his neck. "Intervention," he says simply.
Ryo blinks. "Intervention?"
"Intervention." Tegoshi echoes. He drapes his coat and scarf over the arm of the sofa and finally turns to face Ryo head on. They stare at each other for a few seconds, Ryo fidgeting and wanting to shrink into his hoodie, Tegoshi's stance stiff, arms crossed. Then, Tegoshi sighs, posture deflating. "Massu asked to spend Christmas with me."
Ryo has no idea what this has to do with him and is about to say so when Tegoshi raises a hand and cuts him off. "Did you know that he chose to stay here, on campus, on purpose?"
"What? Why would I know that?" Ryo asks. "Why would he do that anyway? I thought his parents were going away -- "
"They are. But I offered to have him stay with me for winter break, and he thought about it and said no." Tegoshi says. "Do you know why?"
Ryo shakes his head no. How was he supposed to know these things, anyway? It's not like he has an all seeing eye that automatically zones in on what social decisions Massu is making. (Though...that would be kind of cool.)
In the meantime, Tegoshi drops his arms and puts them on his hips instead. "Well, you're going to figure that out for yourself." He reaches into his bag and pulls out another bag, plastic this time. "Shige told me you ran out of food, so I'm going to make lunch and then we can go grocery shopping after we eat. You...just sit on the couch and think about what you're going to do."
"What am I, five?" Ryo mutters, but he obediently sits when Tegoshi glares at him. Fine then. Ryo'll play Tegoshi's dumb game.
So, he has to sit on the couch and figure out why Massu chose to stay for winter break rather than go somewhere. And Ryo will try, because he's genuinely curious as to what kind of eigth dimension Massu was in when he decided such a thing, because why wouldn't you want to leave campus for a few weeks? And Ryo has seen how Massu is when he's with his family -- going to Tegoshi's would have been different, obviously, but it wouldn't have changed much. Massu is a family kind of guy -- mothers grin big and coddle him, fathers admire his dedication to exercise and fitness, siblings enjoy the quirky sense of humor lying underneath, and he's good with kids. It would take an entire family devoid of souls to not like the guy. And not to mention that he's already met Tegoshi's family a number of times and enjoys spending his time there. So no, Ryo reasons as he picks at a corner of the cushion underneath him -- this doesn't have to do with imposing or having no where to go.
Instead, Ryo deduces, this has to do with something that's keeping him here, on campus.
"Have you figured it out yet?" Tegoshi calls from the kitchen and Ryo snaps out of it. He looks up when Tegoshi reappears with sandwiches, placing them on the small dining table.
"If I say 'no' will you tell me?" Ryo deadpans, getting up and plopping down into one of the dining chairs. Tegoshi beams as he brings out a small pot of soup and two bowls.
Yeah, Ryo wasn't expecting him to.
If Tegoshi's goal really is an intervention, then he isn't doing a good job, Ryo thinks, because Tegoshi doesn't bring up Massu or Ryo's weird avoiding spell for the rest of the afternoon, and don't interventions involve a lot of talking about feelings and whatnot? But no, Tegoshi doesn't bother to bring it up at all and instead they chat about the new songs Ryo wrote and what to do about dinner, and Tegoshi occasionally makes a dig about Ryo's less than stellar apartment upkeep.
It's...kind of nice, having someone around.
When he tells Tegoshi this, though, Tegoshi rolls his eyes and glares at him. "Ryo-chan's an idiot."
"Oi!" Ryo barks. "I just said that it was nice having -- "
"Yeah, yeah, 'someone around'. You didn't have to be alone here from the start." Tegoshi cuts him off. He looks more amused than anything, though, which makes Ryo want to smack him, but before he does, Tegoshi speaks. "You still haven't figured it out, have you?"
"Does it seem like I have?!"
"The attitude is not necessary." Tegoshi quips, hands on his hips again, looking very much like Ryo's mother when she was lecturing him. Ryo can't tell the difference at present moment. "You are going to stay on the couch until you figure it out. Until then, I'm putting groceries away and playing Pokemon." Tegoshi nods, as if emphasizing the fact that if he had to, he could take Ryo on. His eyes soften after a brief staredown, however. "Look, I can't make anything happen until you figure this out for yourself. Otherwise, you'll get all grumpy and deny it and make things harder on yourself."
"What am I supposed to be figuring out?" Ryo snaps.
Tegoshi holds firm. "I can't tell you, obviously. But you have the facts." He counts on his fingers as he speaks. "One, you like Massu. Two, you've been avoiding Massu because you like him. Three, every one of us has told you to talk to him, and with good reason. And finally," Tegoshi sighs. "Massu chose to stay here, on an empty, deserted campus." Tegoshi let his hand drop back to his side. "This is what you have to work with. I know you're no genius, Ryo, but come on."
And with that, Tegoshi spins on his heel and walks straight into the kitchen, whistling some cheerful tune about love and blood types. Ryo stares after him, already planning the next seven years of revenge, but makes no move to actually get up and give Tegoshi a piece of his mind. He's comfortable where he is, and not because Tegoshi makes sense or anything.
...maybe he makes a little sense.
Ryo sighs and considers everything Tegoshi told him, dropping his head against the back of the couch. All right, fine.
He has a crush on Massu, and because of that, he doesn't really want to see him. It's not because he wants to talk himself out of it, if he's going to be honest (and considering Tegoshi's glare earlier, it's best that he is). No, he's had a long time to think about it and he really is okay with the crush -- it's just hard to think about Massu in that way and then spend time with him, pretending everything is okay when in reality, Ryo just wants to grab him and pull him close, wants to run his fingers through Massu's hair, trace his thumb across his cheek, whisper something suave against a plump lower lip and drink in the sight of Massu blushing before him.
It doesn't take a genius to realize how that could potentially be problematic.
Ryo sighs exasperatedly and flings himself across the length of the sofa, lazing out, scratching his head. What the hell did Tegoshi mean, anyway, by there being a good reason all of them wanted him to talk to Massu? Something inside tells him that they are all a bunch of lying whores because they have to know something that he doesn't, and where was the fairness in that? Where was the justice?
But then, Ryo considers, if it's something about Massu, then he supposes he can't fault them for keeping secrets. Wait, no, he can totally fault them for keeping secrets, but since they're Massu's secrets, he's less inclined to do so. But if it was something really important, then Ryo figures he'd probably want to hear it from Massu himself. So...back to square one, then -- in all likelihood, they all know something he doesn't, but Ryo should probably hear it for himself.
So, that just leaves the last so-called fact -- Massu chose to stay on campus, when he could have gone home with Tegoshi.
Ryo scratches at his stomach. His fingers pluck at a tiny hole in his hoodie, right by his belly button. He stares at the ceiling as his mind works through all the details...
All in all, the epiphany should have been much more exciting, but he was too busy half falling asleep to get up and bug Tegoshi to ask him if he's right.
He'll leave it for the morning.
He doesn't tell Tegoshi explicitly that he figured it out. Tegoshi asks whether or not he's getting Massu and taking him home with him, and Ryo expects Tegoshi to get it when he shakes his head no in response.
"It's...Thursday? Massu didn't request off work, so he's working in the morning, but he should be done by the afternoon. He usually goes straight to the garage -- you can probably catch him there." Tegoshi says, slinging his bag over his shoulder. He pauses as he's putting his shoes on. "Also, I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell him that I was here."
"Huh?" Ryo gives Tegoshi a weird look.
"I didn't tell him I was coming up. I thought I'd wait to see if you finally got it through your thick skull or not." Tegoshi replies, straightening. He turns, facing Ryo. "So you're good?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"Okay." Tegoshi takes a breath. "This is also where I tell you that if you continue to be an idiot after I leave, you are getting a trumpetful right in the ear. Loud and screechy. And I'll make Kei-chan hold you in place."
"Noted," Ryo says dryly. Tegoshi grins, all charm and sweet; he waves goodbye as he leaves, and Ryo shuts the door behind him.
"Aren't you cold?"
He doesn't know why he chooses to start their conversation with that sentence. He is fully aware that Massu is a grown man and just because he looks like he should be 15 doesn't mean that he is. Nevertheless, though, when Massu takes his jacket off and sets it on an empty chair in the garage, the first thing Ryo notices are his bare arms (which are very nice) and his first thought is how cold he must be. It's winter. The man has a short sleeve on.
Massu, though, moves purposefully around him and doesn't make eye contact, not really. "It's all right," is all he says.
Ryo tries again. "Yeah, but you're going to catch a cold."
"I get hot once I start practicing, so really -- I'm fine, Nishikido-kun." And now Ryo doesn't quite know what to do when he's suddenly facing off with a stubborn Massu. A stubborn Massu who seems to have reverted back to calling him 'Nishikido-kun' and not 'Ryo' like everyone else.
The air surrounding them is cold and awkward and somewhat terse, but Ryo can't tell if it's his own mind construing things to seem that way or if they actually are. In all honesty, it's probably the latter, but --
"You're...upset." It's more of a statement than a question, Ryo supposes, and somewhere inside he knows he needs to play his cards right. He's never been on the receiving end of one of Massu's cold spells before, but he has seen Shige get it once, when he accidentally ate an entire container of food Massu's mom had prepared for him. All he knows is that it's not pretty and Shige ended up begging for forgiveness. Secretly, Ryo is not above many things, but he is definitely above begging.
"I'm not upset," is what Massu says, but the way his body tenses a tiny bit betrays him, and while Ryo is slightly grateful for the small sign, it doesn't make his stomach churn any less. He also reminds himself that instant ramen is probably not the meal of choice right before confronting angry band members you happen to be...mooning over.
"I'm sorry," Ryo blurts out. That's also not as sophisticated as he had practiced, but things are always much different in practice versus theory.
Massu doesn't say anything for a little bit, choosing to concentrate on polishing the brass of his trombone instead, but halfway through, he puts everything down and whirls around, sitting down on one of Koyama's spare amps. "It's okay," Massu says. "I think I just read too much into some things, so it's -- I don't hate you or anything, it's my fault."
"What? No," Ryo shakes his head, shoving his hands in the pockets of his jeans. "It's not -- I don't know whose fault it is, but it's definitely not yours, and if anything, it's probably mine. I shouldn't have ignored your texts or anything, it's just -- I'm not used to this, and I didn't mean to upset you or anything and I've gone and made you start calling me 'Nishikido' again and that just...sucks." Ryo pauses, thinking full well in his rambly mind that he is making perfect sense right now and the puzzled look on Massu's face must just be from something he ate. Ryo stands firm and proudly declares, "I don't want to be 'Nishikido'."
"...but that's your name."
"I don't -- I mean -- not just 'Nishikido', I want -- and what things did you read into?"
Massu flushes a bit red, something Ryo's only dreamed about doing, but only in more intimate ways and where Ryo losing his mind is considered a good thing. "It's...I just thought you...with how you kept staring at me during practice and taking time to teach me guitar chords even though I'm slow at picking it up and -- I thought you liked me." Massu looks down a little bit, avoiding Ryo's stare. "I wanted you to like me."
And this is what Ryo figured out when he was confined to his couch whiile Tegoshi was there, right before he fell asleep. He knew it, it had to be some sort of true, but hearing the words...
Ryo could feel his pulse quicken. "Do you like me?"
It seems like an eternity before Massu replies. "Yeah."
"Thank god," Ryo murmurs; his legs carry him two long strides and he's in front of Massu now, right in front of him. He slowly lifts his hand up and slowly curls his fingers around Massu's cheek, careful not to advance too much, on account that Massu was already leaning away from him a little bit. Ryo brushes his thumb across the rosy flush on Massu's cheek and he feels the other lean towards his fingers a little bit; Massu's looking up at him and Ryo slowly tugs him forward, leaning down simultaneously. He can feel Massu's hand sliding over his neck, eventually curling his arm around Ryo's shoulder, effectively keeping him in place. Massu's lips are a hair's breadth away; Ryo can feel Massu's breath ghosting over his skin and sees his eyelashes fluttering as his eyes try to adjust to the close proximity. It would be the easiest thing to tilt Massu's head a little to the side and cover his lips with his own...
"Is this okay?" Ryo murmurs.
Massu blinks, shrugs, smiles a little bit. "If it wasn't, you wouldn't have gotten this far."
Ryo chuckles and flushes, fingers digging into his pocket. "I, uh, had a plan for that, too." He pulls out a tiny sprig of mistletoe, stolen from the sorority girls' doorway a couple blocks away. He aims to hold it above their heads, but it lands somewhere on top of Ryo's head instead and Massu laughs, pulling away a little to glance at the branch in Ryo's fingers.
"That is the oldest trick in the book," Massu says.
"Desperate times call for desperate measures." Ryo replies. He kisses the corner of Massu's lips. "Don't you dare tell anyone about it."
Massu grins, pressing their foreheads together. "I'll be your secret Santa."
It's the cheesiest, corniest, outright lamest thing anyone could ever say, but Ryo finds that he can't bring himself to mind all that much.
"Idiot," Ryo breathes. "I don't plan on keeping you a secret."