Lighters, 6

the furthest thing from perfect, like everyone I know

Furthest Thing, Drake

(A few months after Hindley's return, Heathcliff—the dark, handsome gypsy boy—and Catherine went exploring. Catherine, upon getting injured, was sent away to live with the Linton family to recuperate, while Heathcliff was sent home. The Linton family was well-bred, with their fine appearances and genteel manners. Catherine, in their care, was steadily becoming more ladylike and well-mannered, less of the childish, energetic girl she had been with Heathcliff.

This fact was, of course, unbeknownst to Heathcliff, who meanwhile eagerly awaited her return to the Earnshaw manor.)

Lincoln Center was the arts center of New York City, and possibly of North America. At least, that was what it felt like to Haruki, as a (temporary) New Yorker. Anything relevant to the performing arts occurred in the Lincoln Center area. The famed music college, Juilliard, for example, was located only a street away from Lincoln Center. LaGuardia High School, a prestigious arts school known for producing famous performers, was located in the vicinity as well. The Metropolitan Opera House, the New York City Ballet, the School of American Ballet—all of these organizations had headquarters located in the Lincoln Center area.

Haruki was something of an arts buff, and had suggested that she and An explore the neighborhood on one of the rare days they both had free time.

With the full knowledge, of course, that her cousin Keigo would be visiting a family friend that day, who was staying in the esteemed Charles Hotel, located conveniently a block away from Lincoln Center itself.

So when An and Haruki, strolling down Broadway along Lincoln Center, found themselves staring into the dark eyes of one Atobe Keigo, who was just stepping out of the hotel lobby, Haruki was not terribly surprised.

From what she had gathered, An and Keigo had a certain dynamic, a je ne sais quoi that Haruki found interesting. Maybe it was that An didn't seem to be intimidated or impressed by Keigo's accomplishments and looks the way so many others did; maybe it was that Keigo took her at face value, regarded her with a sort of—not quite respect, but acknowledgement—that he didn't feel most people deserved. What was it about An, her sweet, silly roommate An-chan?

Keigo walked over to them languidly, looking for all the world like the meeting was planned and that he had meant to do so all along. Clack, clack went his leather shoes against the hard pavement, audible even amidst all the noise of traffic. His hands were in the pockets of his chino pants, a little standoffish but decidedly Keigo in his mannerisms—he tossed his head back a little as he regarded them. "What a pleasant surprise," he said grandly. "Haruki, An-chan. Lincoln Center is quite a distance from your university, as I recall."

Haruki smiled and rocked a bit on her heels. "You could say we're exploring."

"It is quite befitting of the both of you to have a penchant for meandering," Keigo agreed, sounding amused, "though that does not disincline me to find such a penchant rather strange." His gaze lingered on An, intent. His hair fell into his eyes just enough such that Haruki had to peer to discern their color—dark, she decided, like violet indigo. But today they glittered with something lavender.

Haruki glanced at her roommate, who was grinning. The brunette retorted, "The strange one here is you, Atobe-san. Who wears red pants in public?" She gestured to Keigo's attire. He wore a navy blue sweater, loafers, and red chino pants—though, in Keigo's defense, they were really a shade of maroon. Haruki stifled a smile. She supposed it was unusual attire for someone like An, who had grown up in Japan… but in her and Keigo's circles, preppy Western attire was perfectly average, even expected. "You kind of look like Santa," An continued. "Festive." She gestured a little, as if trying to paint a picture of Christmas with her hands in the air.

The corners of Keigo's lips quirked upwards in a smirk. It was a familiar movement, and Haruki sorted through the memories of all her past interactions with Keigo to decipher its meaning. It took her a moment to hit on it, but when she did…

He's laughing.

"While I have been informed by others that the honor of being in my presence is—and I quote—'like Christmas come early,' I must confess that Santa Clauswas not quite the image I was aiming for." He shook his head, a little fondly. "Really, An-chan, making such a comparison is quite like you." That last sentence caught Haruki's attention too. How well did they know each other? Then again, Keigo had always had a knack for reading people.

"You are a few months too early for Christmas," An agreed, "but if you can make Christmas come early, or are buds with the Powers That Be, I wouldn't mind an early holiday break. The college workload is killing me."

"I will inform the Powers That Be of your recommendation," Keigo assured her dryly, "as I would find your early death rather inconvenient."

"Aw, just admit that you'd miss me."

Haruki watched, a little fascinated. Her cousin had always had a sort of fondness for bantering, but there it was—the subtle way in which he regarded her. It wasn't just acknowledgment, was it? It couldn't be…

"It doesn't seem that you would even bequeath me the opportunity to miss you, considering how frequently we encounter one another."

"Like anyone would want an opportunity to miss me," An scoffed. "My company is the best company."

"I fear you'll have to compete with me for that title." His words were joking, but he was looking at An with those observant eyes, those dark violet-indigo-lavender eyes that seemed to grow sharper and sharper and darker and darker each time Haruki saw them. Like opaque glass, she thought, not for the first time.

An beamed. "Sure, I'll fight you for it. But I'm warning you, I've got a pretty sharp roundhouse kick in my arsenal. I feel like you're the type to bruise easily, so if I were you, I'd watch out…"

"How did you guess?" he asked in mock wonder. Haruki smiled a little, recalling that she had spoken the exact same words in the exact same tone to the exact same person just a week ago. I guess we really are family. An glanced at Haruki, clearly thinking the same thing, before turning back to Keigo.

"I had a feeling," she informed him. "I've been told I have a knack for these things."

"I'm sure," Keigo drawled.

They jested a bit more before the conversation veered back towards Haruki, but by then, her curiosity had been mostly satisfied. It became quickly apparent that Keigo was acting the way he did when he spotted a particularly difficult puzzle, or was presented with a particularly curious tidbit of information. It was something a little beyond curiosity and acknowledgment.


It was interest, she realized.

"And how long are you going to be in the city? Maybe stay for Halloween?" Haruki was asking.

Atobe replied, "You seem to forget that I do have classes to attend to, and Halloween is more than a month away…"

An watched the family interaction, humming a little. Different as they were in personality—Haruki was much less reserved, more personable, whereas Atobe seemed sometimes like an icy wind of regality—it was very apparent that they were family, albeit distant. Their hair color was rather different, but their eyes—Haruki's lavender eyes were only a shade away from Atobe's own dark violet-blue. They were both fine-boned, with glassy eyes framed in dark lashes, but where Haruki's eyes were clear and expressive in their glassiness, Atobe's were more concealed, coated with something smoky or grey.

Atobe looked like royalty wherever he went—it was something about the way he held himself. Haruki, meanwhile, seemed to want to paint herself into the wall. Her sandy brown hair was always let loose, sometimes in a careless ponytail. She never dressed flashily.

But standing together, An thought that each cousin seemed to bring out the most striking aspects of the other. Atobe Keigo and Haibara Haruki looked indeed like devastatingly beautiful members of a devastatingly beautiful family, as they reminisced together about childhood brunches and adventures.

It made An miss her own family.

Her own grandmother and great-grandmother, whom she had visited weekly when she lived in Japan.

Her parents, who called her as often as they could.

Her own brother for whom she'd gotten into an argument with Kirihara, but who knew nothing about her friendship with Kirihara. She cringed a little at the thought of what her brother would say if he knew how close she had grown with him. (Atobe glanced her way, catching her expression, and said nothing. An took no notice.)

Wasn't this… betrayal, in a way?

But would her brother still be holding a grudge five years long…?

The real question was—did she have the courage to ask?

(And the real answer was—at this point, probably not.)

"…around 2 PM tomorrow," Atobe murmured, and Haruki nodded back.

"Sucks you have to go," she said, but An thought it sounded a bit halfhearted.

"It's really nice to be away from family sometimes, y'know? Especially from someone who just outdoes you in everything."

Oh, An realized. Oh, I see.

Maybe, in a small, dark part of her heart, she felt the same way about her brother. And in some ways, that was why she had chosen to leave—to go to a new country for a semester, where no one would know her as Tachibana's little sister. In a country on the other side of the globe, with no one she recognized.

(And then she had run into Kirihara—)

But looking at Haruki and Atobe—however reluctant their relationship might have been, they were still family, and something about it produced a twang of discomfort and guilt in An herself, who had yet to contact her brother since moving abroad.

And that was how she found herself, six hours later, sitting in her dorm room, alone, staring at her cell phone pensively.

To call or not to call, that is the question.

It was six PM in New York, sometime early in the morning in Australia—An didn't bother trying to calculate the exact hour, because math—but her brother had always been an early riser, and as far as she knew, there wasn't anything important in his schedule for this week anyway.

But how exactly would she explain why she hadn't called for a month?

Ninjas attacked me. I was eaten by a sea turtle. A sea turtle ate my phone. My phone ate a sea turtle.

She dialed her brother's number without really thinking about it, repeating in her head over and over, My phone ate a sea turtle, my phone ate a sea turtle, my phone ate a sea turtle, my phone…


The familiar sound of Kippei's voice over the phone startled her. An shifted. "Hey… oniichan. It's An. How are you?"

"Oh, is this An? I'm doing well. The weather here is very nice. How is New York treating you?"

"Pretty well," she said, crossing her legs on her bed pretzel-style. "The weather here hasn't been too bad either. New York's pretty cool. It's really loud and city-ish—but I guess Tokyo was kind of the same way…"

"Mm, I guess so," he replied. "Well, I'm glad to know you like it there. Have you made any new friends?"

Kirihara. The thought of saying even his name to her brother sent her reeling.

"Yeah, m-my roommate's really nice," An stammered, "and—uh, and she's related to Atobe! How weird is that, huh? I—uh—I joined the tennis team here, and everyone's friendly and… uh…" And Kirihara is one of my best friends but I got into a huge fight with him over you and oniichan what do I do?

Her brother laughed a little. "Trust Atobe to have a relative abroad. And have you visited all the major sightseeing spots? Times Square and the Empire State Building? Statue of Liberty?"

"Not yet," An admitted, relaxing a little as the conversation veered into less dangerous territory. "I will though. They're just always so packed with tourists, and I have so much work." Then, guiltily, "But I guess you're even busier, huh? How's training going?" An swallowed. "I'm sorry for not…" For not telling you about Kirihara. For being friends with Kirihara. For making small talk with you instead of having a real conversation with you even though it's the first conversation we're having in a month. "…for not calling sooner." She laughed uneasily. "It's been busy, and I have so much work. But—but I guess I just said that, huh?" She laughed again.

The line was silent for a moment, and An began to suspect that he had hung up, when he said, "Are you okay, An?"

She almost jumped.

He continued, "You sound a little… I dunno, maybe you're tired, you did say you have a lot of work, but… Are you okay?" His voice softened a little. "I'm your big brother, An. You can tell me anything."

Freaky sibling telepathy, An thought, but couldn't deny the simultaneous feelings of warmth and guilt that his words wrought in her. "No, everything's great!" she said, with false alacrity. "You're right I'm just—tired. I… have a lot of work."

There was another long pause, and then Kippei said, "Okay. Well, you take care of yourself." He sounded a little distant, a little—well, An didn't know. A little cold, perhaps, or a little hurt. A little resigned.

"Yeah, you too," An murmured, unhappily.

"It's late there, isn't it? You should get some dinner and then sleep early. Good night, An."

"Good night."

She felt empty as she hung up the phone. Her first conversation with her brother in a month, and all she could do was make small talk, not even tell him that something was bothering her, let alone what was bothering her. And if his tone when he hung up had been any indication, he knew that something was wrong, and that An didn't want to tell him.

Because how could she?

No matter how much she genuinely enjoyed being friends with Kirihara, bantering and just basking in his energy and warmth (and dear god she had never thought that 'warmth' would be a word she'd associate with Kirihara)—no matter how much she had come to accept that they were friends—how could she tell her brother that and expect him to understand?

And simultaneously, this didn't seem fair to Kirihara, either. How was this any different from being ashamed of him?

And An wasn't ashamed of him, not really. In fact, she was quite proud of him…

Proud of his chilly energy, his intensity, his tennis, his electric eyes.

Proud that they were friends.

(And she'd gone and fucked that one up, hadn't she—)

An buried her head in a pillow.

She was frustrated, so frustrated.

So she went to play tennis.

(Truly, she was a Tachibana.)

Racquet in hand, she veered determinedly around a corner and marched toward the bright blue courts at 7PM, where most people were leaving to get dinner or sleep or both of the above. The fitness center was almost empty, except for a couple of regulars on the men's team, and, of course, of course, damn her luck

There was Kirihara, practicing with a ball machine, hitting the ball back with deadly accuracy to a corner of the service box, like the tennis ball had personally wronged him.

When he paused to wipe the sweat off his forehead, he looked up, and met An's eyes.

She stared.

His face was flushed, and the brightness of his eyes, framed against dark lashes, popped against the pale pink of his cheeks. He was breathing heavily, like he'd been at it for a while. His knuckles were white.

Their argument from the night prior hung between them like a wall, smothering them.

Surprise was the first sentiment to pass across Kirihara's face. His mouth hung a bit open (like a fish, An thought. Like… an anchovy?), like he wasn't sure if he was expected to greet her. But Kirihara was never the type to do as he was expected. The surprise was then replaced by bewilderment, and that was then replaced by a sort of petulance that made An want to laugh.

He looked a little like he wanted to talk to her, like he wanted to take a step forward and say something. But instead he stood there stubbornly, refusing to be the first to move, the first to apologize, and instead just stared back at her as she stared at him. Dare you dare me, his eyes said. I dare you to dare me.

She almost wavered under the intensity of his green eyes. She felt like an ant under a magnifying glass, waiting to be set aflame. If the burning of her cheeks was any indication, she already had been.

Then she smiled a little.

I will take a chance on you, a voice in her head said, because I think you'll be worth it. I think I want to be friends with you.

An squared her shoulders and strode over confidently, stood a few feet away from him. He watched her, tensing, and again An marveled at the electricity that almost certainly ran in his veins instead of blood. He was still, but he always seemed to be thrumming with energy, ready to leap away at the slightest indication.

She twirled her racquet, a little nervously. "I freaked out at the party. Sorry." We are friends went unspoken.

He looked surprised by her apology, a little taken aback, even. Really? he seemed to be asking. But then he shrugged and met her eyes. "Want a hitting partner?"

An beamed, genuine happiness radiating in her smile. "Only if you're ready to be pulverized," she told him, falling easily back into their friendly banter.

Kirihara snorted, but the tension had left his shoulders. He lightly tapped her on the head with his racquet. "I said hitting partner, not mortal enemy."

"What a wuss."

"You'll regret that," he threatened. "Take that back."

She giggled. "And you hit like a girl."

"It is on," he snarled, mock-angrily. "It is on like these courts are blue and tennis balls are fuzzy. It is on."

An hop-skipped to the other end of the first available court she saw and got into position. "Come at me," she taunted.

"You're asking for it," he jeered. "Be prepared to be crushed. Like crushed Oreo cookies." He served.

"Which are amazing," An finished, running for the ball, "so I guess I should be thanking you for the compliment, huh, Kirihara?" She hit it back, bouncing a little on her toes, a certain lightness in her step.

"They're also edible. Are you edible?"

"Your face is edible."

"Your mom is edible."

Pok pok pok went the ball, flying past the net with each traded insult.

"Why," An lamented, "do we always seem to go back to the 'your mom' card?"

Kirihara shook his head sorrowfully. "Youth these days," he sighed. "No creativity."

"Your face has no creativity," An deadpanned, and positively beamed when Kirihara threw his head back and cackled.

"So I heard about this cool place downtown," Kirihara said abruptly, when he had calmed back down. "Wanna go tonight?"

Trust Kirihara to come up with plans the minute before their execution.

An crossed her arms and shook her head dubiously. "I dunno, man. Tennis-playing thug shows up and tells you he's got a cool place to take you. Couldn't have seemed sketchier if he'd shown up with a windowless van and offered me candy." She shrugged and sighed exaggeratedly. "This kid. What a moron."

"Probably still smarter than the crazy chick who talks to people in third person," Kirihara drawled.

"What are you gonna do? Sell me on the black market? Underground slave trade?"

He scoffed. "Please, if I wanted to sell someone on the black market, I wouldn't sell you. Wouldn't get nearly enough bang for my buck. Not much of a looker, and probably can't do much manual labor either." He grinned. "Do you even lift?"

An snorted. "Does your face lift?"

"Oh, yeah," he deadpanned. "Twice daily."

"You might want to work on its regimen," An advised. "It's looking a bit flabby."

"If by flabby you mean sexy as fuck, then yeah, I guess so." And then, in an infomercial-telemarketer voice, he added, "And if you come to Kirihara's Cool Place tonight, your face can look the same!" He pointed his fingers at her in a here's looking at you way.

She rolled her eyes. "Well, if you're so desperate for my company," she sang, "I suppose it couldn't hurt."

"I'm just worried you'll cry yourself to sleep without me around, so I'm offering to spend a bit more time with you. Pure charity work."

"Kirihara the philanthropist. Who would've guessed?"

"Probably your mom," he said, then snickered.

"I think it really says something that two college kids can't come up with better insults than your-mom jokes."

"Yeah. It says that we're hella cool."

"I can't believe you just used hella in a sentence."

"You just did too!" he argued.

"That doesn't count!" she argued back. "I only did it to demonstrate what an unrestrained dork you are."

He smashed the ball in a sudden burst of energy. It flew past her so quickly that it was nothing but a neon blur. She gaped at it, then looked back at him. He grinned wickedly. "Sorry, you said something?"

She pointed at him angrily. "You cheated!"

"By being better than you?" he mocked. Before she had a chance to retort, he added, "Go shower and change and dress to match my awesome. I need to be able to be seen with you. You wouldn't want me to ditch you and leave you stranded on the Lower East Side without a guide because you were looking too loserish, would you?"

She sneered at him. "Must be hard for you, then—do you get ditched often, with a face like that?"

"I'm usually the ditcher, not the ditchee." He pretended to flip his hair. "People just can't keep up with this sexy face."

"So… you're gay?" An guessed, and snickered when he stumbled.

"I don't think you'd want me to be gay," he said smugly. "Do you really want me as competition? I'd get all the boys."

An began to laugh. "You are crazy."

"I'll text you the address," he told her. "Meet me there at eight."

They rallied for another half hour, jeered and argued with each other as they left the courts, like nothing had changed. But there was a new undeniable warmth somewhere inside An, and judging by the way Kirihara had lit up as they walked to the train together, she suspected that he was feeling a bit lighter too.

An climbed the stairs exiting the subway station. Her hair was still a bit wet from the shower, and she suspected that she smelled like shampoo. She wore a light summer dress and heels (to match his awesome, she reminded herself wryly), hoping that she wasn't overdressed—what the hell did a cool place mean, anyway?

It was 8:10 PM, but the Lower East Side of Manhattan was still bustling with people, and An whistled a little as she was bustled and shoved around. Kirihara had texted her the address of some notoriously trendy neighborhood, especially among college kids and graduates. Her heels click-clacked against the tiled stairs, and when she finally made it out of the subway station she was greeted by the sight of neon lights and bustling twenty-year-olds, the smell of smoke—of the legal and illegal variety—the sound of idle and excited chatter, cars honking and whirring past. It reminded her almost of Times Square, but without the tourists. The Lower East Side, as An recalled, tended to be more popular amongst New York natives.

She navigated as best as she could, the warm summer air tousling and drying her hair as she went. Turn right, then go straight for two blocks, then left, then…

And then she was standing outside of a club.

Kirihara had dragged her to a club.

Teenagers and adults alike lined up outside the club, dressed in small, tight dresses and carelessly rolled up oxford shirts, each eagerly awaiting inspection by the scruffy looking bouncer waiting outside. An noticed that he didn't seem to be carding anyone—which, as she understood, was probably illegal, but also relatively normal on the Lower East Side of New York City. Oh, America, she thought, a little amazed—weren't bouncers supposed to check ID? Wasn't that his job?

And then, observing all the women being turned away at the door for wearing flats—Good thing I wore heels.

She twirled a little, looking for Kirihara, and it took a second for her to find him.

He blended right in.

The breeze brushed his wild, curly hair and ruffled his grey-striped button down shirt, which hung unbuttoned on his shoulders to reveal the white tank top he was wearing underneath. It clung to his body, and drew attention to his build. He paired it with dark jeans and a pair of Sperry's, and seemed completely oblivious to the fact that his monotonously colored attire only drew more attention to the brilliant greenness of his eyes. He likewise seemed oblivious to the stares of all the women in the vicinity ("Who's that?" "A model, maybe?" "He's super cute—"). Reluctant as she was to admit it—she swallowed—among all the men waiting for entrance to the club, Kirihara looked undeniably… better.

He was leaning against a phone booth outside the club, facing the line of hopeful clubbers and staring blankly at the wall above their heads, when An bounced up to him and poked his cheek.

"You're late," he scowled, without even turning around.

An scowled back. "By ten minutes. I think he'll—" An nodded towards the bouncer, "—survive."

"Ten minutes is a lot of minutes," he argued, even as he moved languidly toward the clubbers to get in line.

"Well, sorry that I don't control the subway schedules and arrival times in New York City," An retorted, following. Damn those shoes hurt.

"Some President of Catalonia you are," he muttered.

"Not even the President of Catalonia can make the subway train run on time!" An protested angrily.

"Not that you would know," he taunted, "considering you're not."

"Neither are you."

He waved it off. "That's different. I don't want to be the President of Catalonia."

"Oh, yeah? What do you want to be?"

"A tennis player," he told her, and in a mock-confused voice, continued, "Didn't you know? Why, Tachibana, I thought we had something. Don't you care?"

"I care about punching your face in."

Kirihara pretended to sigh happily. "I knew I was loved." The people behind him in line chuckled a little at their conversation, and An smiled.

Youth, she decided, is about passion. Passion and fire and electricity and mistakes—safety was suddenly so overrated, so boring. Standing next to Kirihara, she suddenly wanted those mistakes, wanted recklessness—wanted to feel it, just once, to experience it. She had never believed in avoiding risk, but for the first time, she actively desired it. College was her last change to be young, to get away with something insane, completely careless and irrational—before she had to settle back down to routine, to adulthood.

They had moved steadily up the line as they talked, and it wasn't long before they were faced with the bouncer who, true to An's observations, didn't bother carding them. Instead, he seemed to stare for several moments before giving any indication that he had even noticed them standing in front him.

He took one look at Kirihara's toned body and dare you dare me smile and let him in without bothering to check his ID. Then he fixed his eyes on An, who shifted a little underneath his stare. He nodded. "Go in."

Kirihara was waiting for her at the door—sudden warmth shot through An's veins—and upon seeing that she too had been admitted, pushed open the door and walked in. An followed as quickly as her shoes would allow.

It was dark, and the music was loud. The men there were older than her, and some looked at her leeringly. Wispy girls who had to have been underage walked around in slinky nothings, sidling up to men and shamelessly collecting free drinks. An lifted her chin, decidedly unafraid (Kirihara's right there and he's crazy but not an idiot and not a jerk… usually)and stepped past them. Kirihara glanced at her, then glanced away, veering straight to the bar.

"Two shots," he said immediately to the bartender, a pretty young thing no older than twenty-five. She smiled flirtatiously at him and set to work. Kirihara settled on a barstool, and gestured for An to do the same. When the pretty bartender returned and set the two glasses in front of Kirihara, he waved her away and looked at An expectantly, who arched an eyebrow in return.

"I hope you're drinking those on your own, 'cause…" An began.

He snorted. "What a wuss," he said, echoing her words from earlier.


"Drink like a man," he ordered, and slammed the shot glass down in front of her.

An glared.

"What, little princess Tachibana An can't hold her alcohol?" he taunted. "Can't handle a little vodka? Can't make it in the real world?"

Loud music pounded in her ears, made her brave, throw caution to the wind. "I'll think about it," she said carelessly, "if you do two shots first."

Kirihara was a wild, haphazard mess of black curls and vivid green eyes. He gave a slow, dangerous smile, then said mockingly, "Anything for my little princess."

An waited strategically until he had begun his first shot before she said, "What am I, your daughter?"

Kirihara choked on his drink, which presumably went burning down the wrong pipe, and as he coughed and coughed, An laughed and laughed.

There was something just right about Kirihara at a club—something right about him in such a loud, adrenaline-run setting, something right about him in a dark, dark room where his eyes glowed like lighters. She watched as he threw back his second shot with all the confidence of someone who knew he wasn't a lightweight. It seemed so natural that he would know where New York's nightlife resided, and it seemed just as natural that he would be a part of it. If she tried to describe his energy, his character aesthetically—the only word for it would be sublime. Greater than life, beyond calculation, wild and raw and relentless and uncontrolled. She forgot it sometimes. The five years they spent apart had clearly calmed him down, sublimated him. But there was always that hum of energy running just underneath his skin, and it was all the more visible now, in the dark, electric setting of the dance club. It was like the adrenaline all around him drew out his own electricity, steadily—if temporarily—undoing half a decade's worth of sublimation.


"Why now?" An wondered as he finished. Why take me with you now?

He shrugged. "Just because." He gestured to the dance floor. "It feels…" He seemed to struggle with his words. "It doesn't feel real sometimes. Or it feels surreal. Like you don't have to think about anything else." He stopped. "I needed that sometimes, in Japan. At Rikkai. And with all the shit that's been going on lately…

"It just makes you feel alive, y'know?" As if to prove his point, he left his drink on the counter and plunged into the crowd of dancers, just close enough to be within An's line of vision.

Then he was moving his legs, his body, running his hands through his hair to brush them away from his eyes, pulsating with the beat of the bass in a way that An hadn't imagined him capable of doing. The pretty bartender whistled, and a few clubbers stopped to stare.

Maybe it was the alcohol that gave him that flush—maybe it was dancing in the hot, hot club. But then he stopped mid-turn and looked at her with that flushed, glowing countenance and suddenly she was at a complete loss.

Two quick strides and he had crossed back over to meet her, standing barely a foot away.

He mock bowed and reached for her hand.

Without thinking, and without a word, she gave it to him.

Tonight, they were both looking for escape. What was Kirihara trying to escape from, she wondered?

She decided it didn't make a difference, and danced. He spun her, twirl her, did silly dance moves that made her laugh and elaborate ones that made her clap. She was caught up in him, his crazy hair and static-green eyes. They glowed in the dark, dark club, and told tales of wildness, craziness, and raw enthusiasm. They told her he was happy to be there, happy to be there dancing with her—not just happy but excited, and in one intense, passionate moment, An hoped fiercely that her eyes said the same.

This is fun, she realized. This is what I'm looking for.

It wasn't perfect, but it was something, and it was him, and for now that was enough, because—

For now, for the rest of her stay in America, Kirihara was not the boy who hurt her brother, who mocked her friends. He wasn't the junior ace of Rikkai. He wasn't her enemy.

(Just dance, lose herself in the moment, don't think, don't think, dance, dance, dance—)

For now, he was just a boy, just Kirihara Akaya, just someone with electric energy and a passionate smile. It thrilled her.

Because for the first time in a long time (and let Kirihara be testament to the fact), Tachibana An was finally dancing for herself.