Tanba is half-way through his yearly self-motivational speech when he hears it.
"That's him," the girl in front of him murmurs--cutting through Tanba's silent chants of 'you can do this, you can do this,'--head ducked low, "That's Takigawa."
When her friend cranes his neck to look, Tanba follows suit, as discreetly as possible, and spots the person in question, four rows from the front, all the way on the other side of the lecture hall.
Her friend whistles. "He looks fine."
She smacks his arm. "Don't be rude."
"You pointed him out first!"
"Not so you could ogle him like some creep!"
As the two dissolve into good-natured bickering, Tanba steals another glance to his right.
Takigawa looks...quiet. Back ramrod straight, hair slicked back until only the smallest of fringes are left dangling against his temple; the son of the famous Animal looks leagues more reserved than his father, but he feels just as untouchable, a cool, solid presence in a sea of people. His expression hardly changes as the boy sitting next to him goes on and on about something he must feel very passionately about, given the way he's gesturing with his hands, his entire body following suit.
Tanba will admit it, he's a little disappointed. He'd been looking forward to--and not, in any way whatsoever, working himself into a nervous wreck over--being in the same class as someone as famous as Takigawa Chris Yuu.
Then again, who is he to judge someone else by their looks? He, of all people, should know better.
Tanba shakes his head, digs around in his bag for his brand new notebook and pen as the lecturer walks in. While the lecturer starts making introductions, he sneaks one last glance to his right, just in time to see the two boys leaning close to each say something.
Takigawa smiles, a small, quiet, thing.
Tanba's notebook slips out of his grasp, and one of its four sharp corners jabs him in the foot.
"I'm telling you," he insists, for what must be the tenth time in the hour, "it was the nicest smile I've ever seen."
Manaka does not look suitably impressed, only mildly amused, smiling against the plastic cup of his soda, which may be why Tanba finds himself repeating the words over and over.
"What?" Tanba finally demands, exasperated.
"Nothing," he says, shaking his head a little as he takes another sip of his drink, looking away.
Later, about twenty minutes into his last class of the day, he checks his phone and sees this:
He seems nice.
Tanba stares at his screen, then sends off a reply.
A few heartbeats later, Mr Nice Smile.
Tanba puts his phone away, and valiantly tries (but ultimately, fails) to pay attention for the rest of the class.
"How?" he demands, later--much, much later--when he finally reaches the old tree by the gates, where Manaka is slouched against the wall, fingers playing with his bag strap. "What?" Tanba tries again and doesn't know what he means to say.
"Physics," he finally says, tacked onto the tail end of a chuckle. "We'll be working together during the lab sessions."
Tanba flusters over several replies, to the background of Manaka's second round of quieter laughter. Finally, he settles on, "Lucky you."
"Not really," he says, starting in the direction of their dorm. "He was sitting by himself, so I went over and said hi. Then we started talking."
Tanba frowns at the ground.
"You should try it too. Saying hi," he adds, at Tanba's blank stare.
Tanba takes the time to consider it, and winces at the thousands of ways it could go wrong and shakes his head.
Next to him, Manaka sighs.
Nice Smile's' friend, Tanba soon learns, is very empathic about literature.
Not as empathic as Jun, of course, Ryousuke-san purrs, slit eyed and smirking, as they discuss their respective group members, but he comes pretty close.
Zaizen, Jun hisses over the steaming top of his battered and dented thermos of white coffee, is full of shit.
Tanba eyes Jun warily, and wonders if Ryousuke-san is exaggerating.
This is how Tanba finds out Kominato Ryousuke is never wrong:
On one side, Zaizen Naoyuki leans forward in his seat, fingers gripping the edge of his table, as he tells the class exactly what he thinks of their latest reading assignment. His gaze is unwavering, his shoulders rigid, and every word comes out more biting than the last.
On the other, Isashiki Jun has his arms folded across his chest, fingers wrapped around his arms like his life depends on it, as he watches and listens and grinds his teeth. There is fire in his eyes, growing with every word Zaizen says, and soon enough, he's tapping his foot, tap-tap-tap-tap-tap
"That makes no sense," Jun growls, standing up in one ferocious motion, his chair screeching against the floor.
And now the class of over 80 students have split their attention between the two. His friend has one foot on his chair, looking for all the world like he's ready to scramble across the table and launch himself across the room; Tanba slouches in his seat as far as his long legs will allow him, his whole face hot with a heat his mind knows is misplaced, but his body has decided otherwise.
In his attempts to avoid the faces staring in his general direction with varying expressions of amusement, annoyance, and sleep deprivation, Tanba keeps his own gaze trained on Zaizen's corner. By happy coincidence, this gives him the perfect opportunity to notice the way Chris is watching the whole thing with bright eyes, chin propped up on one palm, a small smile carved into his lips. When Zaizen knocks over his water bottle, Chris catches it one-handed, easy, like he's been waiting for it.
Next to Tanba, Jun slams his palm down onto the table, and Tanba's own empty can of energy drink hops off the edge, gleeful. Unlike Chris, Tanba is not waiting for it, and his last ditch attempt to catch it misses by no small amount, and the--thankfully empty--can clinks onto the floor. He ducks under the table to pick it up, sighing, his cheeks burning.
As he settles back into his seat, Tanba catches Chris looking his way.
When their eyes meet, Nice Smile tilts his head slightly in Zaizen's direction, and smiles.
(Forget 'nice', Tanba thinks, that's the most beautiful smile in the entire world)
A heartbeat later, just as Tanba's trying to remember how to close his mouth, Jun starts gesturing wildly, and one arm swings hard enough to clonk Tanba on the back of his head.
"Oh my god," Manaka says at the end of Tanba's rant.
He jerks his head up, sharp, because he knows that tone, he knows it, which means--yep, Manaka's laughing at him. His childhood friend, his closest friend of over 10 years is laughing so hard he's shaking.
Tanba gives up and tugs Manaka's old, banged up laptop close.
Approximately seven minutes into the movie--and Tanba knows, because he's been eyeing the tiny clock on the bottom corner of the screen and clinging to his rapidly-fading resentment--Manaka reaches over and taps the spacebar, pausing the movie just as the protagonist gets attacked by a duck. He lifts the laptop off of Tanba's lap so he can roll over in its place, elbows digging into Tanba's stomach as he looks Tanba straight in the eye.
"Kouichirou," he says, ignoring Tanba's long-suffering sigh with an ease that comes only with having grown up in each other's pockets, "you're my best friend, and I love you. So listen to me when I tell you that you really, really, really need to talk with Mr Nice Smile."
"I'll just embarrass myself," he mutters.
"No, you won't."
"I've been doing a good job of it so far, and we haven't even had a proper conversation yet. Imagine the disaster if I tried. Thanks, Kacchan," he says, patting his friend's shoulder, "but it looks like you're stuck with me and--and that," he says, gesturing weakly at the laptop.
And there it is, the heart of this age old problem; Tanba recognises the weight gathering in his chest, knows where this train of thought is heading and what's waiting at the end of the tunnel.
Luckily, Manaka recognises it too, and instead of letting them dwell on the subject, he says, "Buddy, if you think getting a boyfriend means you can dump me and our movie nights, you are dead wrong. Don't even try it."
Tanba laughs, but it sounds weak even to him.
Which is probably why Manaka's expression settles into his game face, and he wiggles his fingers in clear threat.
Tanba recoils. "Wait, don't--"
"Too late," Manaka crows, and applies his fingers to just under Tanba's ribs, right where he's most ticklish, the devil. Tanba squeals, which only spurs Manaka on, dropping his entire weight on him when Tanba tries to push him off, pinning him to the mattress. The new position means Tanba can 'accidentally' knee his friend in the groin, and only narrowly manages to restrain himself, instead choosing to roll them both off the bed, leaving them in lying in a tangled mess of limbs on the floor.
Once they've more or less caught their breath back, Manaka wraps his arms around Tanba and squeezes, brief and fierce.
Tanba hugs back.
Tanba looks up.
(In retrospect, he should have seen it coming. Seating positions during exams are always arranged alphabetically, after all)
"Would you happen to have a spare eraser I could borrow?"
And alright, he's running on three hours of sleep, plus a whole lot of caffeinated nerves. So he can't really be blamed when his train of thought gets jumbled between 'what was it called I read it five minutes ago why can't I remember it' and 'please please please don't ask about chapter five' and 'why do I even bother getting up in the morning,' all of which leads to him blurting out the first thing that comes to mind:
"Mr Nice Smile!" he says, and slaps both hands over his traitorous mouth.
Tanba stares back, mortification burning into every inch of his face, and if there were ever a good time for him to suddenly blink out of existence, it would be now.
"Um," he coughs, ducking his head slightly, cheeks colouring, "thank you."
Tanba pushes his eraser across the table.
"Thank you," he says again, and turns around.
Tanba wants to scream.
Because self-preservation is apparently not on his list of priorities today, the first thing Tanba does upon being released from the exam hall is to race to the cafeteria, rocket towards the empty chair opposite his friend, and spill his guts all over the table.
"You have to admit," Manaka comments, once Tanba finishes, "it's pretty funny."
"No," Tanba shoots back, because his face is still flaming hot. "It's humiliating. I'll never be able to look him in the eye again."
"Oh, come on. It's not that bad."
"It is. It really is."
"It's probably the highlight of his day. Someone complimented him, first thing in the morning! What a great way to start the day. In fact, it might have even helped him do better on the test."
"Kacchan, that doesn't even make sense."
"What was it your mom always said? You never know what the other person is thinking, so you might as well assume they're thinking good things. Especially when it's about you."
"Oh my god," Tanba groans. "Do not bring my mom into this."
"But it's good advice," he protests.
"She was talking about interviews. And college applications. Not...this."
"Looks like the same thing to me."
"No it's--" and stops, as he considers it. "Okay, maybe. But--look, please just eat your sandwich so we can leave."
Manaka frowns, but does return his attention to his lunch, peeling back the plastic wrapping. "Anyway, tonight's pizza is on me."
Tanba pauses. "We're having pizza tonight?"
"Yeah, to celebrate," Manaka says, grinning. "Congratulations! Today, you had your first conversation with Mr Nice Smile."
"Oh my god--"
"--really isn't as bad as you think, Kouichirou--" Manaka stops, his eyes fixing on something behind Tanba.
Before Tanba can turn around himself, a familiar voice shoots down his spine, rooting him in place.
Tanba swallows, and then swallows again. He puts his sandwich down, takes a deep breath, and looks up.
Mr Nice Smile is there, standing at their table, his expression framed around the friendly curl of his namesake. "Sorry to interrupt your lunch," he says, holding out one hand, "but you left the hall before I could catch you, and I wanted to give this back before I forget."
Tanba follows the line of his outstretched arm, down to the mixed angles of his fingers where, perched between the planes of his fingertips, is Tanba's spare eraser.
Feeling dazed, Tanba lifts his hand.
The eraser bumps gently against his skin.
"Thank you," Chris says for the third time that day. He nods to Manaka, turns around, and walks away.
Tanba watches him go, until he's lost amongst the milling lunch crowd.
When he turns back, Manaka is grinning at him, lips split so wide that Tanba's own cheeks twinge in sympathy.
"See?" he says, his expression shining. "Was that so hard?"
Tanba drops his face into his hands, and squeezes his eyes shut.
"Next time, maybe you can ask him to join us for lunch."
Tanba smiles helplessly into the flat of his palm. The rounded edges of his eraser digs into his cheek, and he laughs.