After the initial rush of 'ohmygodohmygodohmygod!' when he got into season eight's top twenty and the fast heartbeat and the giddy excitement of it all and hugging the others, Jess realized that 'Huh. Broadway, it's just me.' That was going to be weird – being the only one. He was used to being surrounded by people who danced to the same beat as him.
Then Nick knocked shoulders with him and grinned. “Looks like it’s just you and me.”
Jess blinked at him and then got it. Nick was the odd one out too. There were no other tappers here. Jess could tap well. Maybe he and Nick would get to tap together. That’d be different to everything else on the show. Jess could feel his excitement pick up again as he nudged Nick back.
He and Nick and Iveta wondered if because she was the only ballroom dancer, she’d get put in with them too for the showcase episode. But no, she got Pasha all to herself and Nick and Jess got each other.
Rehearsals were fun right from the start. Nick was constantly full of enthusiasm, laughing loudly whenever he tripped over his own gangly limbs, which happened a lot. But he wasn’t screwing around. He threw himself into the choreography and even though he was a completely different build and size to Jess, he made the moves look just as good. And he always looked like he was enjoying himself, the one thing that Jess really had to learn. This could be a very beneficial partnership.
By the end of the week, they were almost seamless together, blending their tap sections and show dancing perfectly. Nick helped Jess get his taps sharper, Jess watched how Nick made everything look enjoyable and easy and started to feed that into his own movements.
They hung out together outside of the rehearsal studio too. Jess got close to the girls, but Nick was who he gravitated towards the most. He hadn’t expected that. Nick was sweet and endlessly dorky, but he didn't seem driven towards winning the show. He wasn't serious about it like Jess was. At least, that was Jess's impression, until he spied how Nick was doing in the boys group routine rehearsals. Nick shouldn't look that good doing hip-hop, not with his height and long limbs and the fact that he was completely outside of his genre. But he did. He looked really good.
Huh. So Nick had taken some classes. Jess looked him with new and assessing eyes. Nick was a secret weapon. What else had he crammed up on for the show?
Jess watched him closely; watched and learned. He looked forward to dancing with Nick even more now, looked forward to what each new rehearsal would reveal and to feeling the extra burn in his muscles as he kept up with Nick’s boundless energy. Their routine was snapping quickly into place. They were even finding the prop work kind of easy.
It felt good to be so in-sync with somebody. Nick hit the beats really hard and Jess found that he was pushing himself harder than he'd thought he'd have to to meet the challenge that Nick was clearly throwing down. Nick was laughing as he punched into the music, his feet incredibly sharp. And when Nick did a neat little unexpected wiggle on the next turn, Jess found himself laughing too. That was different.
Plenty of people on the show made Jess laugh. Everybody was friendly and in each other’s personal space and making jokes. Outside of dancing the routines, Jess often found himself laughing a lot. But nobody else surprised him into laughter the way that Nick did.
The tap dancer was full of surprises.
Nick was tactile too. He slapped Jess on the back, grabbed him into a bear hug, and was always ruffling his hair. He was tactile with everybody, but he ramped it up around Jess. Jess didn’t mind. Dancers were physical beings, communicating much more with touch than with words. It was what he'd always primarily responded to. Instinctively, he leaned into Nick's touch. It was what made their dancing together so good.
Then at one rehearsal, late on in the day, Jess, tired and unguarded, was pressing into Nick’s hand as it made its way through his hair. That was when he felt it. That familiar and inevitable tug. Suddenly the way he’d been looking forward to seeing Nick each day made a sharp different kind of sense. That was fine. He’d expected something like this to happen at some point during the show. It had happened to him before. Get a group of hot talented dancers together and it was inevitable. It didn’t have to be a big thing. If it was, it would only make future performances really awkward and that would definitely affect Jess’s chances of winning. And of course it would happen with Nick. Nick was so unaffectedly likable and the way he moved his body had fascinated Jess right from the start. Jess would just have to ride this crush out and focus on what he was here to do.
He’d done it so many times before. It was just part of the business.
Of course the way that Nick looked at him wasn’t helping. Or maybe Jess was just more aware of Nick’s gaze now, of how often he’d find Nick staring at him with a smile lighting up his expression. Jess would pull a face back and tug his hat lower and then without fail, he'd hear the joyful noise of Nick’s responding laughter. Even when Jess was stinking and sweaty after a particularly long rehearsal, Nick would still be looking at him. Strangely, those were the times that Nick actually slid himself closer. Jess got that urge too when Nick was the one sweating but he resisted its clutches. The show didn’t last that long and neither did the contestants and there could only be one winner. The entire idea was doomed from the start.
“What’s with the frown, little buddy?”
Nick slung an arm around him, drawing Jess suddenly close. Jess willed his body not to respond, but he could feel it uncurling, hungry for more of Nick's touch. Nick probably hadn’t even noticed.
Clarice, Jess's vivacious partner in dance, had. “That is so cute!”
Jess threatened to throw his disgusting coffee grounds at her.
The big top twenty group routine was contemporary, which meant a lot of shredded clothing and sensual movement. Nick got it immediately and despite his height, he didn’t stick out like a sore thumb. Jess was more than impressed. Then Nick did a series of flips that Tyce jumped on immediately. When some of the others surged forward to show their stuff off too, Jess was amongst them. But he kept one eye firmly on Nick. Nick caught his gaze and grinned, giving an elaborate bow. Jess pulled off a particularly good series of turns which ended in a jump that Tyce loved.
When Jess turned back, Nick was already practicing a complicated lift with Jordan.
Oh, the heat was on.
Jess nailed the routine. He definitely wasn't as lost as some of the hip-hoppers. He knew how to push emotions out into the shapes that Tyce wanted, all his classes coming back to him. Clarice grinned at him, kicking her leg high before he had to catch her. They'd already gotten into a great strong partnership, thanks to their essentially similar work ethics, and it was really visible during the group routine rehearsal. Tyce singled them out for praise a couple of times.
By the time the rehearsal was over, everyone was ready to hit the showers and chill out. As Jess gathered up his shirt and hat, he caught sight of Nick in the mirror. Nick was still dancing, tapping out a rhythm with his feet. He wasn't pushing himself too hard, but there was still energy and joy to his movements. If he noticed that Jess was still there, he didn’t give any sign.
Jess watched. He watched the sinewy lines of Nick's body, the way that Nick was able to make himself look effortlessly graceful, the way his face lit up as he danced, the clear joy that beamed out of him.
Jess's skin prickled and he licked his lips. He wasn't getting distracted. He was just appreciating the scenery. This crush was not going to last long enough to affect him. It was just going to keep on bubbling away in his bones, a background sensation to everything, but not a priority and pretty soon it would disappear.
He was happily rehearsing and living that way – polishing routines, enjoying Nick's company and the challenge he could feel aimed at him from the tap dancer. In fact, Jess found himself performing better when he was trying to outdo Nick. He honed in on that and tried to keep it in mind every time he rehearsed, whether Nick was watching him or not.
Sometimes he caught Nick looking at him. His face would be blatant in the door's window. Other times, Jess just had the feeling that somebody was there. Not like when the camera crew was around and he was completely aware of their presence. No, he just had the gut feeling that whoever was watching him ducked out of sight whenever he turned around. He didn't mind. It was his own kind of challenge to whoever was out there, to Nick – so you think you can keep up?
The costume fittings were crazy, different groups trying on different looks for different wardrobe assistants, then everything getting approved by the wardrobe's senior. Jess had been fitted into a fantastic old-school suit with a tail jacket that screamed 'Broadway.' It was going to contrast great with the 'street performer' clothes that Nick was going to wear for their routine. He'd looking surprising good in the neck scarf and fingerless gloves. It wasn't what Jess would have pictured him looking right in before, but after seeing Nick test out the clothes with a couple of their shoe-shuffling duet moves.......yeah, Jess had a very different opinion.
And Nick had clearly picked up on that, from the way he stayed in Jess's eyeline for the rest of the wardrobe session, talking to Mandi, one of the assistants, about if he needed the jacket or not, and standing next to a body-popping Wadi and quickly picking up the moves. Somehow, whenever one of the contestants started dancing, it rapidly turned into a flashmob.
Jess focused on the mirror and occasionally on the image of Nick, because he'd now perfected the art of looking without anybody noticing.
That all held together until the boys got fitted for their suits for their group hip-hop number. The suits were hot, identical with bold red ties to match the routine’s prop doors. It was a perfect vision and Jess just knew that if they were all sharp and on time, the routine would be a complete knockout. He’d worked hard on that tutting.
He'd had his fitting and was on his way to change when he saw Nick coming in the opposite direction. Nick was wearing the suit and his hair was greased back. He was walking with purpose, like he was fitting himself into the routine’s character, becoming the kind of person who would wear that look. It was a complete change from the usual smiling Nick, overflowing with joy. It was striking.
It was unfair, Jess thought as he drank Nick in. Nick slowed and looked at him like he was feeling the exact same way. Then a smile quirked his mouth. He looked like he was......waiting.
For Jess to make the next move.
Jess grinned suddenly. Nick grinned back. It wasn’t his usual ‘loving life’ smile, instead it was appealingly shark-like.
They stayed frozen in that moment – like something out of an Animal Planet documentary - circling each other before going in for the kill, about to devour. Nick looked completely relaxed.
That made Jess tilt his head, just for a second. Had Nick expected this? Had he planned this? Like, from the beginning, to get to this moment? To try and distract Jess and therefore try to get rid of the competition? The deviousness of that idea, from Nick, was fantastic.
Jess took a step forward, then another, his eyes still locked on Nick until they were about to pass each other. His arm brushed against Nick, lingering for just a second. Nick laughed, right in his ear. Jess shivered.
Then he smiled.
Oh, this was even better.
He and Nick were going to keep on pushing each other in rehearsal and on stage until they were both even better than before. And they were going to push each other off-stage too, to dizzying heights. This was going to be so much fun.
Jess reached an empty dressing room, checked his reflection in the mirror, and snapped a photo of himself. He texted it straight to Nick.