Rin stopped by the mailbox as he made his way into the apartment building where he and Rei lived. It wasn’t much, kind of a ratty place if he were being honest, but it was all they could afford with Rei in school and his not-so-great starting salary on the police force. “It’s small, but it’s home,” he’d say to Rei whenever Rei made a fuss about it, and Rei would just give him a fond and exasperated smile.
In the mailbox were a few bills, a fancy looking letter that Rin was willing to bet was a wedding invitation, and a large envelope with a university insignia stamped on it.
Rin’s heart jumped. This was the university Rei had been most anxious to hear back from – his first choice for grad school. Rei being anxious had of course made Rin anxious in turn, and he almost debated ripping it open right there. But it was Rei’s, he should get to open it, and anyway he’d get an earful if he opened it. “Looking through someone else’s mail is a federal offense!” Rei would probably say, and Rin would ask if it really mattered since they’d been living together so long, and it would either be a teasing fight or a fight fight and Rin didn’t feel up to that today.
So he restrained his curiosity and hurried up the three flights of stairs to their apartment. He was already planning where to take Rei in celebration once he saw his acceptance – because of course he’d be accepted. There was a new French restaurant that had opened and Rei had dropped a few hints about it, and Rin wondered if he would have to get reservations or if it would be alright to just walk in.
He was still pondering all this when he opened the door, to find Rei sitting at their tiny kitchen table in their equally tiny kitchen, scribbling in a notebook and muttering to himself. Grinning, Rin shut the door and took three steps to get to his boyfriend’s side, smacking the letter down on his open book when Rei didn’t look up and leaning down to drape his arms around Rei’s shoulders.
“Not even a hello?” he asked, feigning hurt. He proved he wasn’t actually upset by pressing a kiss to Rei’s temple.
“Sorry, this problem is proving difficult and I really didn’t need my concentration broken, so I have to wonder why you felt the need to put this here and… oh.”
Rei trailed off when he picked up the letter and saw the insignia. Rin chuckled. “That’s the school you’ve been waiting to hear back from, right?”
Rei swallowed nervously and nodded. “I suppose this is the answer to my application, then.”
Rin waited for him to rip it open, but Rei continued to stare at it, his hands shaking just barely. Deciding he needed some encouragement, Rin pressed another kiss to his temple. “Come on, let’s see that acceptance!”
That seemed to shake Rei out of his trance. He started to carefully open the letter, smiling just barely. “You didn’t try to look at you, did you?”
“No.” Rin kissed him a third time. “I just know. Who could possibly not accept you?”
Rei didn’t say anything to that, just left out a breath that sounded like a mirthless laugh. He must be really nervous, thought Rin, and he tightened his hold on Rei’s shoulders just a little.
Rei finally got the envelope open, and pulled the letter out. He unfolded it, and Rin prepared himself for a happy Rei and a night of celebration. He tried to twist his head to read it too, but Rei held it angled away from him, almost like he didn’t want Rin to see.
And then, after a too long, silent moment, Rei said, almost blankly, “They rejected me.”
A beat of silence.
“Wh-what?” Rin stuttered out, actually letting go of Rei to stare at him incredulously. He waited desperately for Rei to laugh and say he was just kidding, don’t look so worked up, but it didn’t come.
“They rejected me,” Rei repeated instead. He held the letter over his shoulder, not looking at Rin, and Rin yanked it from him.
His eyes flew across the page, but it was as Rei said. Rejected. Too many talented applicants and too few places in the program. Condolences and thanks for your interest.
Rin was still gaping at the letter when the sound of the kitchen chair raking across the floor yanked his attention away, just in time to see Rei stand up, hands braced against the table. His shoulders were shaking, but his face didn’t show any reaction to the news.
That told Rin, more than anything, that Rei wasn’t taking it well.
“Rei, I’m so sorry,” he said, spreading his arms out in invitation. But Rei didn’t come to him, keeping his eyes fixed on some point in space.
“It’s fine,” he said, still not moving. “I knew this was a possibility. It’s a very prestigious university and a competitive program with few spots. I knew from the beginning that it wasn’t likely.”
That didn’t sound like the Rei Rin knew. Dropping his arms, he took a cautious step toward his boyfriend. “What do you mean? You thought you were going to get in, I thought it, we all-“
“I WAS WRONG!”
His shout reverberated around the kitchen, and Rin flinched. Rei let go of the table, his fists clenching instead, so hard his nails were digging into his palms.
“I was wrong, you were wrong, everyone was wrong.” Rei’s words came fast, scathing. “I thought that I was actually good at this, but it turns out it’s just another thing I’ll never get better at.” Rei took a step backward, ran into the chair. “Just like track, just like swimming, just like everything I ever try to do-“
He turned and kicked the chair away from himself. Neither of them moved to touch it as it clattered to the ground. Instead, Rin kept his eyes fixed on Rei, not sure what he could do. Rei was in pain, and Rin felt useless.
Still, he had to try.
“It’s okay, Rei,” he said softly, taking another slow step forward. “You are good at it.” He reached a hand out, pulling it back when Rei flinched away. “This isn’t it, you applied to other schools. What about your second choice, they haven’t-“
“They already rejected me,” Rei cut him off with a snap, and Rin reared back, stunned. Rei hadn’t said a word about it.
Rin opened his mouth to ask why he hadn’t said anything, how that could be, but Rei turned away from him and swung his arm out. All his books and paper crashed to the floor with finality as Rei yelled out, “Everything I’ve worked for, useless!”
He was facing away from Rin completely now, and Rin took that as an opportunity to move towards him more quickly, listening with an aching heart as Rei’s rant continued. “What was the point!? I worked so hard, spent so much time on it, but I still wasn’t good enough. I’m not good enough for them, I’m not good enough for anyone-“
“Don’t say that!” Rin suddenly thundered, and he reached out, grabbed Rei’s shoulders, and yanked him around to face him, glaring in Rei’s face as though he were issuing a challenge. “Don’t you <i>dare</i> say that! Rei, you are so smart and so talented and you work harder than anyone I know! So those schools can’t see that? Piss on them!” He gripped Rei’s shoulders tight. “You’re better than good enough, Rei. You’re amazing.”
Rei stared back at him for a moment, and Rin watched as the anger slowly flowed out of him. Tears welled in his eyes, and he squeezed them shut, whispering, “But I wanted it so much,” before letting out a broken sob.
The anger drained out of Rin, too, and he slipped Rei’s glasses off before yanking his boyfriend securely against him, wrapping his arms around him. Rei didn’t reciprocate the hug, sagging against Rin instead like he had no energy left, but he did bury his face in Rin’s shoulder, sobbing harshly into the fabric of his police uniform.
“Shh, Rei, it’s alright,” he whispered, rubbing his back gently. “Just let it out, it’s okay.”
“I wanted it.”
“I know you did. I wanted it for you.” He pressed a kiss to the side of Rei’s head, as best he could. “But I mean it, Rei. It’s not over. There’s other schools you haven’t heard back from. I know it’s not what you were hoping for, but it’s still good.”
“And if they reject me, too?”
Rin sighed. “Even if they do… Rei, it doesn’t mean you’re bad at this. And it doesn’t mean you won’t get better. Please don’t ever think that again.”
“Not bad. Just… mediocre.” He sniffed.
Rin knew how that felt, to try your hardest and feel like you’re getting nowhere. He knew what it felt like, to never be anything more than mediocre.
But mediocre was not what Rei was.
“Please.” He chuckled softly. “You’re way better than mediocre.”
After a moment and several more sniffles, Rei finally wrapped his arms around Rin back. “Excuse me if I don’t feel like it right now.”
“That’s fine. You’ll see it in time.” He pulled back a bit, nudged Rei up in his arms so he could look into his face. “But you aren’t alone, okay? I’m here, I’ve got you. You don’t have to hide from me.”
Rei blushed, looking away. “I was… ashamed, when I got my rejection from the other school. I was hoping this one would accept me, and I could just pretend the other rejection didn’t happen.”
“You don’t have to be ashamed. I want to help you through this stuff.”
“You don’t understand,” Rei argued, and Rin prepared for Rei to fall back into hysterics. But Rei continued calmly, “School is the thing I’m supposed to excel at. But it’s been getting harder and harder. What if I just don’t excel at it? What if I don’t excel at anything?”
His voice cracked on the last word, and Rin squeezed him tightly again.
“You do, Rei. Maybe you haven’t found it yet, but you do.”
Rei sniffed again, sighed into Rin’s shoulder. “I hope so.”
“I know so.”
They stood in the kitchen for a long time, Rei getting the last of his tears out, Rin rocking him slowly, whispering soft reassurances into his ear. Finally, Rei quieted, and Rin pulled him back enough to look in his eyes.
“I was going to take you out to dinner, but I’m guessing you don’t feel up to that.”
“Not really.” Rei looked at him, and managed to muster up a small smile. “We can just order in and… watch a movie?”
“Watch a movie” was code for “cuddle on the couch,” and Rin knew that. He nodded. “Whatever you want.”
Rin ordered food while Rei went and washed his face in the bathroom. Then Rei changed into his pajamas (still purple, still with butterflies) and Rin pulled on some sweats and a t-shirt.
Their food delivered, they settled down on the couch, and Rei curled up against Rin almost immediately. He didn’t eat much, but Rin didn’t push him.
He’d grabbed a light romantic comedy to put in, and by halfway through, Rei was in his lap, face buried in the crook of his neck, asleep. Rin stroked his hair and whispered, “You’re so much more amazing than you give yourself credit for, Rei. I hope you can see that.”
Rei sighed into his neck, and Rin knew he’d been heard.