Disclaimer: I don't own Sekaiichi Hatsukoi because fangirls' hearts would doki-doki too much.
This is basically courting. Prepare for cuteness and mountains of fluff.
Masamune took a sip from his coffee as he watched Ritsu struggle through some corrections on Mutou-sensei's latest storyboards. It really was fascinating seeing so many different facial expressions on Ritsu's face in the span of just thirty seconds. His chest grew warm when Ritsu's face lit up in triumph at figuring out why that certain correction was made. Masamune set down his cup and leaned over Ritsu's shoulder to check over what he was doing.
"See how that panel would be better over there?" Masamune pointed at the storyboard, deliberately angling his head in a way that would let his breath ghost over Ritsu's ear.
Predictably, Ritsu's cheeks flushed that adorable pink, and he set the storyboard on the table in between them. "Takano-san, if you wanted to look over my corrections, you could have just said so."
Masamune twined his arms around Ritsu's shoulders, pulling that lithe body closer to him and leaning forward more at the same time. "Mm…maybe, but it's so much more comfortable like this, don't you think?" He leaned his head towards Ritsu's red face. "So much more…productive."
"Ahaha!" Ritsu laughed nervously. "M-maybe, but we would get a lot more done if you weren't so—"
"So close?" Masamune interrupted. "Really? It seems to me that we'd do a lot more if we were closer together." With that, Masamune used two fingers to tilt Ritsu's chin up into a hard kiss, forcing his tongue into the other's hot mouth.
"Mmpf!" Ritsu struggled, but he couldn't get out of Masamune's iron embrace.
Masamune relaxed his weight and let both of them fall to the ground, all the while flipping Ritsu over for more access to those sinful lips. He trapped Ritsu's arms above his head with one hand, sliding the other under Ritsu's sweater. More more more…how is it this person can undo me so well like this…
With one last attempt, Ritsu was able to loosen his arms enough to push against Masamune's chest and force him to stop. Shoving against him, Ritsu sat up, panting and eyes dilated. Masamune, dazed with lust, could do nothing more than stare confusedly at Ritsu's sudden actions.
"T-takano-san," Ritsu started, standing up decisively. "This is the last time you will do something like this to me." Masamune blinked and noticed that he looked angry—angry and determined. "I won't let you defile me any longer!" He left the apartment in stony silence.
Defile defile defile… That word was the only thing that Masamune registered from Ritsu's statement. Defile? He…he never did that to Ritsu, did he? To his love? But he wouldn't have said that if it wasn't true, right? He didn't even know anymore. Masamune brought a hand up to his chest, feeling his heart ache against his ribs. He didn't really know Ritsu all that well, did he? He just…assumed that Ritsu returned his feelings and that was that. Clearly, he was wrong. No wonder Ritsu always rejected him.
The sudden realization came with a hardening of his resolve. If Ritsu didn't like how Masamune expressed his love for him, then…then he would just have to find another way! He wouldn't give up on Ritsu so quickly. Yes, and then Ritsu would love him and confess and they would be happy together. Masamune perked up slightly with the thought, idealistic as it was. It would work…though not without a little help.
Firm in his conviction, Masamune picked up the phone to make a call.
It must have been at least the thirtieth time that Ritsu found himself glancing over at Takano's desk, where the man in question had his nose stuck in one of the mangas they had published a few months ago. He couldn't help but wonder what the other man was doing; re-reading mangas wasn't an activity that Takano engaged in most of the time—and even then, it was only from his own pile of successes. Ritsu also couldn't help but feel a bit disgruntled—n-not because Takano hadn't paid him any attention all day, no! It was only because he wasn't doing his work and was wasting time doing something else. Or so Ritsu told himself.
He looked at the clock again; 20.15. Ritsu sighed. It was growing late, and if he lingered any longer he would most probably freeze to death on the subway. It was still winter, after all. Gathering some papers from his desk, Ritsu called out a "See you tomorrow" before stepping into the elevator and exiting the building.
If only he saw how Takano had jerked up and followed him out the door.
Ritsu rubbed at his arms outside, shivering. Even with the jacket he was wearing, he still felt like he was a block of ice. His breath fogged as a mist in front of him. Cold…I should get going. He started walking down the sidewalk towards the subway, his body shaking all the while. He was so focused on not-freezing that he didn't even notice his name being called until whoever had done so was right in front of him.
"Onodera." Takano was huffing quietly, like he'd been running.
Ritsu glared. "What do you want?" He pushed his way past Takano, but the other man had grabbed onto his wrist. Ritsu pulled at his arm. "What?"
Takano didn't answer, only that infuriatingly blank expression on his face. "Are you cold?"
"Tch. What do you care?"
Letting out a sigh that was much too loud and sounded too annoyed, Takano let go of Ritsu's wrist and slid his coat off, offering it to Ritsu to take. "Here."
"What're you doing?" Ritsu asked, a bit surprised.
"What does it look like I'm doing? I'm giving you my coat." Takano rolled his eyes.
Ritsu colored—and not because of the cold. "W-why?"
"You're cold," Takano replied, as if that were the answer to everything.
"W-well, I don't want it."
Takano sighed loudly again and, with no warning whatsoever, pounced onto him, wrangling Ritsu into his coat. Ritsu protested in alarm, flailing his arms around while Takano pushed Ritsu's arms into the sleeves. After a moment of useless struggling and petulant whines, Ritsu gave up and let the coat embrace him warmly.
"There. See? You're not cold anymore, are you? Idiot," Takano commented idly as they continued walking towards the subway.
Ritsu pouted, burying his face into the collar. "Yeah, sure."
Really, though, it wasn't that bad. Ritsu would never admit it—EVER—but the coat was warm and smelled like Takano, like something masculine and heady. It was altogether not an unpleasant scent. He would die before he admitted even that, though. And, strangely enough, when Takano took his hand on the way up to their apartments, Ritsu found he didn't mind as much as he should have.
Ritsu sighed, tired with the busy events of the day and general exhaustion of not getting enough sleep at night. He adjusted his bag closer to him and glanced at his fellow elevator buddy out of the corner of his eye. Takano looked as if he were about to fall asleep as well; deep bags were apparent under his closed eyes, and he was leaning back against the elevator wall like it was the only thing keeping him up. Well, at least Ritsu wasn't the only one who was literally about to die. It was nearing the end of The Cycle at Marukawa, and, like always, everyone in Emerald had the air of death and a thick cloud of stink. It was as terrible as the last, and every single one beforehand.
"Onodera," Takano suddenly spoke up, his voice low with fatigue.
Takano seemed to hesitate for a moment on what he was going to say, though his facial expression gave nothing away. Then, "You didn't fail today."
Not sure whether to feel flattered or insulted—since when did he actually fail at doing his job?—Ritsu tilted his head and yawned out an, "Okay…?" Ugh, his eyes were sore, more so than before.
"What, no appreciation? That took a lot out of me." His voice still held that small amount of arrogance, even when he was dead on his feet. Of course, Ritsu sighed to himself.
"Thank you for the compliment, Takano-san," Ritsu replied through gritted teeth.
"That's much better," Takano said as the elevator doors opened on their floor and Ritsu hurried out.
He didn't want to spend any more time with this man than he had to. Right as he was unlocking his door, however, Takano spoke up again.
"What, Takano-san?" Why weren't his keys moving any faster?
Ritsu froze, shocked as Takano pulled him into a hug, his face buried in Takano's firm chest. He suddenly couldn't feel anything, only a pleasant numbness in his face and a warmth lodged somewhere near his ribs.
"Good job today." It wasn't so much as the words that Takano had said, it was more like the tone in which he said them. Ritsu couldn't tell exactly what it was, but he guessed proud affection seemed to be the phrase for how Takano sounded.
And Ritsu's face promptly burst into flames. Why was Takano being so…sweet today? Was it something Ritsu had done? No, nothing he could think of. Then what would explain Takano's strange behavior towards him lately?
Takano, thankfully or not—Ritsu didn't want to think too deeply about it, really—pulled Ritsu away from him, an out-of-place expression on his normally blank face. He looks…different when he smiles. Different… With a firm pat on Ritsu's head, Takano leaned in to kiss him gently on the forehead and squeeze Ritsu to him one last time. "Good night…Ritsu."
Blinking, Ritsu could only stare in shock—again—as Takano unlocked his door and went into his own apartment, shutting the door behind him. What…just happened?
Not even wanting to understand what that was all about, Ritsu clumsily opened his apartment door, rushed inside, and locked it behind him before collapsing to the ground, face adorn with a secret smile and heart racing with sudden happiness.
Ritsu sighed heavily and heaved himself off his chair. What did the great Takano Masamune want with him now? He shuffled over to his boss's desk, his face in the most bored expression he could muster in front of such an intimidating person.
Takano made no comment on his reluctance. "I need you to fill this out." He gestured at his laptop screen, where a page outlined in pink had a few blank spaces to fill out. The page itself didn't have any title, but somehow Ritsu had a bad feeling about this.
Maybe it was from one of those girls from Sapphire, their rival manga department? Those girls were always overly-curious about what happened in Emerald. Ritsu remembered with a shudder how they had shown him a security camera video of him and Takano in what he thought was an empty room, kissing—or more like Takano forcing himself on Ritsu. What was he here for again?
Ritsu started as Takano snapped his fingers in front of him, irritated. "What?"
"You're not being paid to stand there and gawk. Though," here his voice dropped an octave, "if you're gawking at me, then I have no reservations of you doing so."
Flushing, Ritsu glared at Takano. "So what is it you wanted me to do?"
"Ah…that." What the hell? This is turning out to be a waste of time! "Right. Here. Fill this page out." Takano shifted his laptop to Ritsu, looking at him expectantly—maybe. Probably.
Clicking his tongue in impatience, Ritsu leaned over and started typing away.
Name: Ritsu Onodera
Birthdate: March 27, 1986
Favorite color: Green
Hope that's all of it. Satisfied, Ritsu turned the laptop back to Takano, who clicked away at a few things before stopping.
"Is that all, Takano-san?"
Takano held up a finger. "Wait just a moment, it's loading."
Ritsu groaned—inwardly of course—at his boss's random whims to mess with him like this. Didn't he have more important things to do like work instead of this?
A chime sounded on the laptop, and Takano perked up. "There it is." He looked oddly pleased with himself.
"What?" Slightly curious, Ritsu leaned forward to see what had made that weird smile pop up on Takano's usually-blank face. WHAT THE HELL?
Pinching himself didn't do anything. That cursed sentence on the screen was still there. In big bold letters with hearts and sparkles galore was Masamune Takano and Ritsu Onodera are compatible! Ritsu could hardly believe it. No scratch that. He couldn't believe it, at all. How could some stupid test tell whether or not they would work well together? And he didn't even fill out anything of importance! This was an outrage, this was a scam, this was…this was…
"Onodera, do you see that? Turns out we're compatible." Takano looked so pleased and actually…happy about this. A small smile had made its way onto his face, his eyes softening.
Ritsu couldn't bring himself to ruin that expression, when something so silly had put it there. "Y-yeah…I guess we are." What was he saying? He didn't want to be compatible with Takano!
Takano turned to look at Ritsu. His breath hitched. In the other's copper eyes was a look Ritsu had only ever seen maybe once or twice in his entire lifetime—and they weren't even from Takano himself. It was something that, somehow, he really wanted to see forever; full of so much love and adoration that Ritsu felt like he was drowning in it. He never knew Takano could even look like that. His chest tightened with an inexplicable emotion.
And then the moment was gone and Takano reverted back to his normal I've-got-a-stick-up-my-ass expression. "Get back to work, Onodera."
How could he change his personality so quickly? That's just not possible!
Ritsu's eye twitched as he went back to his workstation, Takano wearing that same damned smirk all the while and Kisa—did he hear the whole thing?!—wearing an oddly overjoyed expression on his soft face, his eyes lighting up.
"I knew you two were just destined for each other!"
I need some headache medicine…
Just as Masamune was about to lay back and close his eyes for a short respite, he felt the heavy weight of Ritsu's body fall onto his shoulder. Tch...you don't fall asleep on the subway, idiot. Well…he was about to, but that's not the point. He glanced over at Ritsu's sleeping face, small and soft and looking much younger than it did when he was awake. He held his breath as Ritsu shifted slightly, mumbling something in his sleep that sounded a lot like "…you jerk…" Masamune held back a snort. It seemed even in the dream world, he was doing something to poor Ritsu that annoyed him. Some things never changed at all.
It wasn't all that bad, really. At least this way, Masamune didn't have to hear Ritsu's biting comments or feel the heat of his glare. He was asleep and vulnerable and not saying anything harsh, which, after a while, gets really tiring. It wasn't fair, he supposed, but in this day and age—especially with someone like Ritsu—it was so hard to get him to say anything nice to Masamune, and even then it was a half-assed compliment that was muttered so quietly he could hardly hear it. Blame Ritsu for his overly-perceptive ears and waking up to every little noise at night.
He looked over at Ritsu again, and somehow, even when he was just looking at the other's sleeping face, his heart swelled with tenderness. Masamune couldn't explain it, that feeling of seeing Ritsu pay attention to him, even when he didn't mean to, that feeling of being the only one to see Ritsu this way… he never wanted it to change. I really need to stop thinking these sappy thoughts…
A light snore brought his wandering mind back to the situation at hand. He covered a low chuckle with his hand, not wanting to wake Ritsu up and deal with his stubborn yet adorable not-yet lover. It felt…good, actually, getting to see Ritsu like this, so exposed to whatever judgments that Masamune might have about him. Pride swelled in his chest, something that he hadn't felt in a very long time, not since he first brought Emerald back to life.
The subway system came on, announcing its next stop, which happened to be where he and Ritsu were heading. Masamune gently shook Ritsu's shoulder, making him jolt up and blink sleepily.
Another skip of his heart. "Wake up, Ritsu. We're here at our stop," Masamune said in an unusually-soft tone. He wasn't normally so caring, but Ritsu made him do things that he never imagined he could ever do.
Ritsu mumbled groggily in acknowledgement, sitting up and rubbing at his eyes. Masamune watched him closely, watched how Ritsu felt around for his bag and didn't even notice it was lying next to his side. He made his decision quickly; this could be the next part of his plan. He hadn't thought of anything to do for Ritsu today, so maybe this would be it.
"Ritsu," Masamune said, his voice quiet.
Those emerald gems widened in panic momentarily as Masamune lifted Ritsu onto his back and wrapped those long legs around his waist. "T-takano-san…" Ritsu yawned, already laying his head on Masamune's back. "What're y'doing?"
"Hush…just close your eyes."
Ritsu nodded sleepily, closing his eyes and falling asleep almost immediately as Masamune carried him up the subway stairs and out into the cold night. Small puffs of air stirred the back of his neck, warm in the evening chill. Masamune didn't think there would be a more perfect moment between him and Ritsu; this was so amazing, what he was feeling right now…like he couldn't possibly love this man any more than he already did, and the way that Ritsu just so blindly trusted him like this…
Masamune let out an unsteady breath and watched it fog in front of him. Carrying Ritsu wasn't the easiest task, of course, he was rather heavy; but he thought that there was nothing else he'd rather do at this moment, if Ritsu could just stay with him for a little while longer.
When they reached his apartment, Masamune set Ritsu down gently and brushed some of his hair out of his eyes, making those beautiful verdant eyes open slightly.
"Are…are we here?" Ritsu asked, peering around through tired eyes at the hallway.
Masamune nodded and cupped Ritsu's cheek in one warm hand. Ritsu didn't even notice. "Well…good night, Ritsu." He leaned in and kissed Ritsu quickly on the lips, not even caring that his breath was horrible from napping.
As soon as he pulled away, though, he felt a tug at his sleeve. Surprised, Masamune looked down to see Ritsu, still drowsy from his earlier nap but eyes wide and pleading. "S-sstay…don' leave…"
His face softened. With a tender smile, Masamune grabbed Ritsu's wrist and pulled him into his apartment, wondering what to do when Ritsu woke up in the morning.
Ritsu was just starting to wash the dishes in his sink—shocking, isn't it?—when he heard someone knock on the door. And by someone, he meant Takano. Because who else would visit him this often? His mother? Please. She visited every once in a blue moon—which was never, mostly. Wondering where his thoughts were taking him, Ritsu dried his hands on an old towel and opened the door, revealing Takano who was in surprisingly well-fitted black slacks and a dark blue button up shirt. Ritsu only had one thought about his neighbor's choice in appearance: Yes please.
Wringing his hands in the towel—not out of nervousness or anything!—Ritsu tried his hand at a casual smile. He failed. "Can I help you, Takano-san?"
For some reason, Takano looked nervous, too. Was he going on a date tonight? Is that why he's dressed so nicely? But then…urgh. Ritsu didn't want to go down that line of thought. "You're coming over to my apartment for dinner tonight."
Wait, what? Ritsu rolled his eyes, used to Takano's odd invitations to his apartment. "No thank you. Please leave." He went to close the door, but a foot got stuck in it. Takano's foot. Well…his shoe, which was actually different from the normal shoes he usually wore. What was Ritsu doing again? Oh yeah.
Takano pushed the door open again. "Ritsu. You're coming over to my apartment for dinner tonight." Would repeating the same sentence really make any difference? Yes, maybe, Ritsu thought, if it was said in that same tone that Takano used when he was at work. Wait, no. Ritsu wasn't going to submit to Takano's demands anymore.
"Takano-san, I already said no."
Five minutes later, Ritsu found himself sitting across from Takano. In Takano's apartment. Eating Takano's homemade food. When did he find the time to make this? This was so strange. Ritsu placed a piece of fish into his mouth and annoyingly, he found it delicious. Did Takano have to be such a good chef? Of course he did. Just another one of the many reasons that Ritsu found him irritatingly attractive. What? He wasn't thinking straight.
An awkward silence ensued.
"….do you like it?" Takano asked, clearly uncomfortable with the notion of small talk.
Ritsu picked at some rice, shrugging. "It's good."
And then silence again.
This was getting unbearable. Ritsu was all for silence—he loved libraries, after all—but when silences grew tense and awkward when neither had anything to really say but weren't close enough to enjoy a comfortable silence…that's when problems began. Or so parts of dramas Ritsu rarely watched told him. He wasn't exactly sure what he was supposed to be talking about, really. Takano had just invited him to eat dinner with him and didn't give any indication of starting a conversation.
Surprising that Takano didn't have to force him, isn't it?
Ritsu ate another piece of fish. Maybe if I feign an aching stomach, he'll let me leave…
Just as Ritsu was about to say something, Takano spoke up first. "Ritsu."
Darn it. "Hm?"
"I…I'm really glad that you agreed to eat dinner with me."
What an un-Takano-like thing to say. Ritsu peered up through his bangs and saw Takano watching him intensely. "Really…"
He nodded briskly, his eyes suddenly bright with…something. "I thought you would just refuse again, so to see you here in front of me is…a surprise."
What in the world is this man going on about now? He's never said anything like this before, in all the time I've known him. Is he…trying to open up? Ritsu couldn't help but feel a bit flattered that Takano would choose to open up his feelings to him—even though Yokozawa had gotten there first. Nope, don't think about that person right now. This is just about him and Takano…right?
Ritsu felt his cheeks turn pink. "Well…it's not like I was really doing anything and I just thought that…" He trailed off here, not wanting to reveal too much.
"Thought that…?" Takano tilted his head, and dammit, Ritsu shouldn't have found that cute. "You can tell me, Ritsu. There's nothing to hide."
Has Takano been replaced by an alien…? "Er…I just thought…it'd be sort of kind of…nice…? To have…dinner—with you." Wow, that was hard to get out. No wonder Ritsu hadn't said anything in terms of his true feelings before. How did people do this all the time?
"Oh." Oh my god, was he…blushing? Takano Masamune does not blush. Is the world coming to an end? "I'm…really happy to hear that." With that, Takano reached over and placed one of his hands on top of Ritsu's, which was conveniently just lying on the table at that moment. Great… "I like spending this time with you, Ritsu."
Oh. My. God. Ritsu didn't think his heart could beat any faster, but at Takano's last words, it just did. He really was going to have a heart attack before he turned thirty. "Uh…eh…" His hand clenched anxiously, but Takano only began rubbing his thumb comfortingly on Ritsu's knuckles. What was going on?
"Ritsu." Takano was leaning over the table. Closer…closer…. "I love you, Ritsu." Lips as light as butterfly wings, Takano brushed his lips over Ritsu's, and now…now Ritsu couldn't deny him. He couldn't. It was too hard.
Closing his eyes gently, Ritsu slowly kissed back, feeling his heart melt and soar and do all sorts of things that a heart shouldn't do, but it did. It always did in the presence of Takano Masamune. And in his heart of hearts, Ritsu knew that he had already fallen for him a long time ago.
The next night, Ritsu was…weirdly excited. Before they had gone to work that morning, Takano watching while Ritsu was pulling his pants back on, Takano had invited him over again the next night for…something, he didn't know yet. But Ritsu was excited and…really happy. It was the happiest he'd been in a long time, and all because of a man he swore he would never fall for again. Ritsu was happy. The thought made another smile come to his face as he stood in front of Takano's apartment. He wondered what the other man had planned for them; he'd only told Ritsu to come over at around 20.00 with a blanket.
For what exactly…? Ritsu knocked on Takano's door, and the delighted expression that he was subjected to quickly was hidden under a mask of poorly-hidden contentment. "Come in."
It wasn't like Ritsu hadn't been in Takano's apartment before, but now he looked at it with a new eye, with the knowledge that yes, he loved this man, and yes, he wasn't trying to run away this time. Or any time after, if he could help it. Takano led him to the outside balcony and set the blanket down, patting the spot next to him in invitation. Ritsu took it obligingly.
Tilting his head up, Ritsu looked at the night sky and wondered again what they were doing. "What're we out here for, Takano-san?"
"Call me Masamune."
Oh my god. Only Yokozawa-san calls him that! And he… Ritsu blushed and hid his face with a sleeve. "O-okay, Masamune. S-so…why are we out here?"
Takano took ahold of his hand again. "I just wanted to spend more time together, so why not spend that time admiring the stars? They're nice, aren't they?"
Ritsu snorted. "Have you ever, in your life, cared about admiring the stars, Ta-Masamune?"
"No." There wasn't any hesitation, and Ritsu wanted to laugh. "But I read somewhere that it's romantic so I decided to do it."
"What kind of book did you read that would tell you that?"
"I…read it in a manga," Takano said slowly.
Ritsu couldn't even answer for a moment; he was too busy laughing. Takano just stared at him, unimpressed. After his laughing fit, Ritsu wiped some tears away. "R-really? A manga? Do you know that mangas have the worst romance ideas in the history of anything?"
Takano just looked confused. "No, I didn't know that."
"Yeah, well, it's stupid. But I love you anyways," Ritsu said without thinking.
The hand on top of his tightened almost painfully, and Ritsu went over what he'd just said. But I love you anyways. Oh shit. He didn't even have time to prepare himself before he was pulled into a hard and desperate kiss as he was laid down to the blanket. Takano didn't loosen his grip on Ritsu, only frantically ran his hands through Ritsu's hair and kissed him so deeply that Ritsu felt lightheaded.
Takano pulled back just enough for Ritsu to see his absolutely elated expression. "I can't…I can't believe you said that. I was…waiting for so long…waiting..." His voice had dropped to a whisper by then, and he held Ritsu tightly to him, nuzzling his face into those silky brown locks.
Ritsu's heart literally trembled; he couldn't think of anything else to say, so he only patted Takano's head soothingly, hoping he seemed reassuring. Takano seemed like he was just about to explode with…happiness. He was…really happy, too. Really. "Sorry it took me so long…"
"I don't…I don't care. You said it. You finally said it." Takano sounded exhilarated, like he'd just run a mile. "I love you. I love you so much, Ritsu. I love you so much it hurts."
Am I…crying? I'm so happy…I never thought I could feel like this.
Takano only kissed away the tears forming on his cheeks, not even commenting on how foolish Ritsu was being right now. A thought occurred to him.
"Mm?" Takano seemed so content right now that Ritsu almost felt bad for talking.
"What…brought on all this?"
"What do you mean?"
Ritsu hesitated. "Well you just…acted differently lately."
And there was another sight Ritsu thought he'd never see coming from Takano: beaming. "So you noticed I was trying to court you."
Takano rolled his eyes. "Courting, Ritsu. It's what royalty used to do whenever they liked someone. They would give gifts and recite poetry and yadda yadda yadda. I don't have the money to buy anything that you deserve, and poetry is confusing, so I just…did this. For you."
Oh… More heart-trembling. "F-for me?"
"Of course," Takano said in that low voice of his, shrugging. "I love you."
How can he say that so easily?!
"Besides…I figured it wouldn't take too much for you to get all over this."
Ritsu smacked Takano in the back of the head.
A/N: So I planned to make this like 10 days of fluff, but eh…after this last one, there isn't much that can happen in regards to the progress that Ritsu's feelings have gone. Took like a whole week writing this. Too long I tell you! orz
I should have written this better. More gradual.