Bloom Into You
She's always preferred standard over latin. Without even realizing it, she had bloomed into a flower— a radiant flower whose true beauty can only be captured by his frame.
First waltz. It was her first waltz with someone other than her brother— first dance with anyone aside from her brother in fact, but she remembers it as her first waltz.
It was hardly a waltz though, barely even a dance as they placed awkward step after awkward step, not quite matching each other. But even so, she remembers it with fondness. It was a truly pitiful practice dance. Rather than falling into sync, they simply fell. Despite their earlier mismatch of steps, in the heat of the moment, he had caught her as if he could read her from the start. It was in that fall that she knew, she knew that he was a great leader.
Looking back, she wonders if she fell in love too.
"Could you… take my hands?"
And so their first waltz turned into a second, and a third, and at some point they lost count. It wasn't just waltz either. There was tango, foxtrot, and quickstep, and she enjoyed dancing those too. They danced so much together that they could have been mistaken for being paired from the start. Despite the clumsiness of their first dance, they slowly found their rhythm with every subsequent dance. Maybe not slowly. Their learning pace was highly steeped and she wondered if all leaders were like this or if it was just him. It was just so easy to follow his lead as if she had known no other partner before him.
It was natural for her to fall into rhythm.
To fall into dance.
To fall into Tatara.
"Please make me bloom!"
She had only wanted to prove herself to her brother. That was the whole purpose of their partnership. She needed to become a better dancer than Shizuku so that her brother would look her way. She didn't want to be overlooked and cast aside. That's why she had to win. That's why she decided to dance. That's why she was dancing here in this moment.
How strange it is that now, in the heat of the moment, she feels like dancing for herself.
She's dancing with a smile she doesn't remember wearing. She's dancing with lightness in her feet she doesn't feel possible before. She's dancing with grace she doesn't know she had. She's dancing with her heart on her sleeves and dancing to her heart's content.
And he is leading this dance.
He is leading her in a thoughtful manner, constantly pleasing the crowd and yet putting her first and foremost in his mind. He is leading her with a frame that has her breathless, knowing exactly the reason why. He is leading her in a way as if she knew no other person to follow.
He leads and she follows, and together they complete this dance.
This dance that sweeps her off her feet and keeps her on her toes. This dance that turns her on her heels and spins her head with excitement. This dance that pushes her body beyond its limits and keeps pushing for more.
This dance that makes her feel like a flower in full bloom.
"Congratulations. You are the queen of the ballroom."
She was so happy just to have won that night, she never stopped to think that it would be their last until came the next morning.
Seeing Tatara dance with Chinatsu was a strange sight for Mako.
Pairing with him back then was a coincidence, one that she had the greatest joy of to have ever experienced it. She was aware that it was just a once only affair since she was to promptly return as her brother's partner after. She had accepted it and moved on.
And so did he.
He had found a new partner. It wasn't just someone for a special occasion partnership either. She was actually his long-term partner. And she was beautiful. She was tall, slender, and sharp features chiseled to perfection. Chinatsu had this powerful aura around her, an untamed mare, wild but carries an innate beauty that can only be seen in the wilderness. The kind of beauty that demands full attention. She didn't just follow, she led head on with a passion so fierce it was scorching. She wasn't just some trophy beauty either, for every drop of her allure was earned. She was bold, dynamic, and assertive in a way that Mako couldn't be. She was stunning.
She was everything that Mako wasn't.
Unlike Mako, Chinatsu brought out the leader in Tatara.
Whereas Tatara had carefully led Mako, leading her with only the most thoughtful dances, Chinatsu on the other hand was taunting Tatara to keep up with her. She still remembers how he held her, how considerate he had been despite exhausted. She remembers how he had led her, disappearing into a shadow of a frame as she flourished. She remembers in vivid detail just how much that dance was nothing compared to this. This dance wherein Tatara dances with a flame, daring to get scorched. Only now does she catch a glimpse of his true potential. And only now does she realize just how much of his partner she couldn't be.
Mako had only given him the chance to compete. Chinatsu gave him the chance to improve.
And Tatara, not knowing any better, he danced to his own beat.
Watching them dance heatedly like this, arguing even in their dance, it had her yearning to dance. But it wasn't the same yearning. Her fingertips twitch in reflex, her body moving ahead of her thoughts. Her feet stay planted on the ground even though in her eyes she can already see them in steps. Her eyes follow him out of habit, out of fondness, out of another feeling she can't seem to quite place. She sits much straighter, with a concentrated effort to refrain herself from starting position. Yearning— she is yearning for something she's been missing and as she watches them, she thinks she knows exactly what she wants.
She wants to dance. She wants to dance but not the latin that she and her brother does. She wants to dance standard but not just with any partner. She wants to dance but watching these two dance makes her feel like she wants the impossible.
She wants to dance with him again.
But she knows that she can't, at least not as a pair that she wants them to be. They're both in separate pairs already. Even if she suddenly chose to leave her brother (which she won't, not without good reason), there's still the 'if' he decides to leave his partner. Which he won't either. Those two are too good to break up nor does she want them to break up over her wishful thinking. And so she just watches, thinks, and wishes. She wishes as much as there are checks given on the dance floor, maybe more.
She wonders if they had lost back then, if maybe…
"If Mako could dance better than Shizuku then I'll pair up with her again."
The next time they meet, there's no dance floor.
There's only the uneven pavement and the awkwardness of crossing each other's paths from walking rather than dancing. It's weird, meeting like this. Out here without the dance floor, it feels almost as if they're strangers rather than friends. They're actually more than friends. What do you call those brief partnerships that ended in good terms? Something of the sort although she thinks that maybe only she picks out that small detail. But they were only partners once during their youth and then not after, not anymore. Now they're rivals on the dance floor but mere acquaintances without it.
She's so used to seeing him enamored in a dance that seeing him as he is now feels like she's seeing him for the first time.
Even outside the dance floor he still holds a dancer's body, perfectly poised and ready to start position. He could wear the most mundane of shirts and she'd still clearly see the outline of his frame jutting out of his clothes. His walk borders normalcy, his movements swift and precise, as if in tune to a song only he could hear and yet looking at him, she thinks she almost hears it too. Then again, it's easy for her to see him and his dance. Sometimes when she closes her eyes, she can see him dance in her mind, sometimes even with her.
But this time she doesn't close her eyes and this time he doesn't dance. He's just Tatara, a high school kid that just so happens to be a dancer. That just so happens to be someone she knows and has danced with. That just so happens to be not dancing right now and instead bumping into her out on the street. That just so happens to be just as cute with his hair as messy as a broom.
It's strange, isn't it? They're not dancing and yet she feels just as breathless.
"Huh? Mako, is that you?" He sees her before he even recognizes her. His eyes, sharp and observant. She remembers just how much those eyes could see, has seen, and she remembers how she forgot just how conscious they felt on her.
She feels her throat swallow in anticipation. Of what, she doesn't know.
"Ah, yes. It's been a while, Tatara." She politely bows her head. This too is born from reflex. In the back of her mind, she wonders if she is dressed appropriately. Which is silly because this is just him and just as much as it feels natural to stand beside him, she also feels just as uneasy. Suddenly, a slew of thoughts rushes in her head.
She thinks of Chinatsu, she thinks of Chinatsu together with Tatara.
And she thinks if this much is allowed.
"I haven't seen you since the last tournament! How are you?" He greets her eagerly, unaware of the sudden tension. How ironic it is that for someone who could read body language as if it was his first and only language, he couldn't read at all her nervousness. Or maybe he did but he never said. Instead he looks over her shoulder and she dismisses the small pang in her chest at the apparent action. He doesn't notice the damage and so obliviously, he asks, "Is Gaju here with you too?"
She shakes her head. "No, sorry to disappoint you but it's just me today." She thinks she's the one who sounds disappointed instead. She should be used to this, people asking for her brother first when they see her. And she is, she's used to it, she has been for most of her life. She doesn't let it get to her, she hasn't let it get to her ever since that day she stole the spotlight from her brother. She hardly lets those passing comments get to her anymore. And yet, for some reason she can't quite place, she feels unusually tired of it today.
In the back of her mind, she thinks she knows the reason but she doesn't dare confirm it.
He easily picks up on her discomfort, just like always. "Ah, sorry! I didn't mean anything by it. Of course you two don't do everything together, ahaha…" He apologizes and laughs weakly to cover up his mistake. He may have improved his dance but he is still every bit awkward as he was back then. "So where were you going? Oh, if you don't mind me asking that is!" Since he had been scratching the back of his head out of nervous habit, some part of his hair now sticks out distractingly. Yes, still charmingly awkward.
She stifles a giggle at his expense. "Shopping. My practice shoes have gotten worn out so they need to be replaced." She pauses and looks up at him with batting eyelashes, teasing. "Too bad for you, my brother already bought his last week."
That joke stabbed harder than it should have and his guilt-ridden face oddly reminds her of a kicked puppy. A rather cute kicked puppy. "I said I was sorry..." His shoulders slump dejectedly. She doesn't hold back her laugh this time and it is infectious since she sees him smile along with her. His smile was just as brilliant even without the spotlights of the dance floor. "Oh, then perfect timing! I actually need new shoes too. Do you want to go together?"
She blinks. An invitation. "Really?" She sounds hopeful. An invitation she doesn't want to refuse and yet she's still hesitant. She looks away, playing with her fingers in a never outgrown shy habit. "But we're going to be shopping in different sections…"
"We can take turns waiting for each other. That way we can catch up while we're at it," He suggests all too enthusiastically. However her nervousness might have rubbed off some on him because he backpedals into bashful hesitation. "Unless you're in a hurry. I don't want to intrude on your schedule."
She knows it's his talent to read body language but she thinks that she knows enough to at least read his.
Or maybe all this time she's only been trying to read his and his alone.
"It's not! You're not intruding at all!" She suddenly finds the courage she'd been missing all along. Seeing him shrink away like that, she didn't want that. She's wanted a lot of things and she never made a move to actually try and realize some of those wishes. But this. This much she can do. Or so she thinks. "That is… I mean…" She flounders, her resolve not quite materializing as solid as she thought it should.
It's only then that she wishes so hard that this was a dance floor. Words were always difficult and complicated for her. Thinking of them was already a challenge in itself, actually getting them out was another feat. It was just so much easier to speak through dance, to just let the bodies flow. No convoluted words but all the perplexing feelings. It's only through dance that she can truthfully speak her earnest.
But this was no dance floor. And they were not partners.
She now realizes that as great as dance is in communicating, she can't always rely on it. Especially not right now. Not in the same way with him. And so she takes in a lungful of air as if she's about to take a plunge. In a way, she might have. She steels herself into a decision and turns her gaze upward to his scrutinizing gaze. She wonders if he can read her now. Maybe he can, maybe he does. He has always been good at reading and she was no better at hiding.
She wonders if he sees her thoughts before she could even see them herself.
"Sure…" She finally manages to push out the word. This one word that fell out of reach and so she had to dive deep into an abyss of emotions before pulling it out. She knows that she's danced far more challenging routines and yet she feels inexplicably proud of this one small feat. Proud, but mostly relieved.
She doesn't even realize that she's been holding her breath all this time until he reminds her to breath.
"Really? That's great!" He smiles at her again. She wonders if she's still high on this achievement or if his smile just naturally radiates light. His brilliant smile reassures her that the plunge was worth it. It truly was. "Alright, then let's go get yours first."
He nonchalantly offers his hand.
And suddenly it's as if they were back on the dance floor. Him leading her like this and her not knowing any better than to follow him.
Only this feels different. This feels like they're partners again, sort of, but not quite. Not in the same sense.
"Hm? What's the matter, Mako?" He asks, completely oblivious. That is until a few torturously slow seconds pass and he finally realizes his mistake. His embarrassment doesn't just end in a blush and stammering either. "Ah! S-Sorry! I just realized how inappropriate that was! Sorry! I guess I just developed that habit without really paying it much attention. Um… this isn't..."
This feels different and yet—
She surprises herself by taking his hand just before he could pull away.
"Shall we go?" Even her voice, although barely a whisper, sounds surprisingly smooth and calm, and just short of shy. She doesn't meet his eyes, doesn't think she can muster the courage for that. She knows he can see her traitorous blush but the warmth blooming in her cheeks is nothing compared to the soft and steady burn beneath her palm. How long has it been since they've held hands? Too long, her mind supplies. And oh, how she's missed this.
This is a dancer's hand hold and yet, they're not dancing at all.
"...Yeah," He squeaks out. He closes his hand around hers and she squeezes in return. They walk together in perfect harmony, as if they could hear each other's heartbeats. Their walk is hardly anything like quickstep but nevertheless, they feel light on their feet.
This is no dance floor and yet—
Why does this still excite them so?
They're dancing or at least it feels like they are.
They started meeting more often. Sometimes on the dance floor, sometimes outside of it. Mostly just the two of them— mostly outside. In a way, it is a dance in its own right. Tatara leading for the most part and Mako happily following suit. He truly was a wonderful leader in all his flaws. Not quite sure of his methods but never lacking in resolve. He was reliable when it counted and he was considerate all throughout. And all the while he'd been nothing but thoughtful of his partner. At least in this sense, she was his partner.
How strange it is, to be his partner in life but not in dance.
Even though to them, those two could have been, should have been, one and the same.
"What are you thinking?" He asks her when he notices the contemplating look on her face and how her body is loose in thought.
She leans herself back and further into his chest. She tilts her chin up and smiles when their gazes meet. She has always been fond of those eyes of his. Those sharp and calculating eyes now softened with affection. It brings out a giggle from her. "Hehe, shouldn't you already know?"
"What's that supposed to mean? I'm no psychic," He says even though they both know what she meant. It's ironic actually how he's good at reading people but when they started dating, it turns out that she was better at reading him. He on the other hand only knows what she's thinking in actions and movement. He's still completely clueless as to what actually goes on inside her head. "So are you ever going to tell me what's on your mind?"
"Nothing new," She hums happily. She thinks that his confused stare looks just as adorable as his usual gaze. "Oh, by the way, I watched a replay of your finals. You looked like you were having fun even though you were trying so hard not to collapse from exhaustion."
"Aw, geez, why did you have to bring that up now?" He groans as he blushes furiously. "And it wasn't my fault! Sengoku made me do some weird training on the day of the competition! How was my stamina supposed to last with that?"
"It's not like you to pass the blame, Tatara," She reprimands him but there is no authority in her voice, only pure mirth.
"And I'm telling you it's not like that." He insists and sighs when she simply giggles at his misfortune. "Hey, how about I prove it to you? I can definitely do better now that I'm fully rested."
"Are you sure?" She raises an eyebrow at him. "Wouldn't Chinatsu scold you for practicing with me more than with her?" She's teasing, they both know it.
"Not if she doesn't find out." And so he smoothly plays along.
He offers his hand just like how he would in any dance.
She doesn't hesitate this time. Not anymore. She's gone past that point a long time ago.
Their hands stay like that for a while, clasped in a firm hold, secure and intimate. His hand was calloused under her touch and her hand was no better but holding hands like this brought out a certain softness in them. It distracts her just how much she doesn't want to let go. And with his hand firmly wrapped around hers, she knows that the feeling is mutual. In truth, just holding hands like this was enough. And in real time, he hasn't moved his other hand yet to complete the hold.
"What's wrong?" She asks in concern at his lack of movement despite her noticing too late.
"No, nothing's wrong." And then he smiles as if all is right in the world. "I just wanted to hold your hand, that's all."
She actually wants to dance though. But just holding hands like this isn't so bad either.
Even when they're not dancing, she still follows him.
They're partners and yet they're not, not really.
They're partners as far as dating is concerned but they never got together again as a dance couple. One would think that the former would outweigh the latter but it isn't that simple. They've both taken the career path of professional dancers so naturally their dance would always be their top priority. That's why no matter the strain on their relationship, they both decided to respect dance first and foremost.
No matter how unbearably unfair it was, they were dancers first.
It wasn't the rivalry or the competitions that got to them. No, their trust for one another was too great to crumble under such trivial obstacles. Although she would be lying if she said she was never insecure whenever she watched Tatara dance particularly passionately with Chinatsu. But those feelings were fleeting and their relationship was immovable. They eventually worked out those issues and they came through stronger.
Only to have greater adversary come upon them.
A distance that cannot be shortened through dance.
A rift formed solely because of dance.
"You're moving abroad?"
"Yes, I'll be starting my college overseas at a dance university," She says while looking at the distance between them, a distance that will only grow far greater in due time. She looks just as disheartened at the news despite already knowing it for some time. If anything, it just gave her a headstart in misery.
"I see… Well I can't say I'm surprised," He doesn't say that he's heartbroken either. In truth, he was devastated. So much in fact that he's at a lost. What was he supposed to say? He doesn't know. He doesn't even realized that his mouth is moving ahead of him. "I had a feeling that you would since Gaju went ahead there first."
It stings when even after all this time, even after everything that they've been through, she's still buried in her brother's shadow.
"It's true that my brother decided to go there on his own but he never pushed me into following him abroad." She hangs her head in guilt, her hands clasped together, tense. Her voice was shaky, hesitant, "The truth is that I was given this year to think about it and decide for myself."
Without skipping a beat, only because he was working on autopilot, he asks in empty hope, "And you decided to follow him?"
She shakes her head. "No, I decided I wanted to improve." She finally looks up to meet his pained gaze. She can't look away. She won't look away. She needs him to understand.
Not everything she does has to be about her brother.
"Watching you dance and grow, Tatara, it made me realize a lot of things," She starts off in a voice she can hardly recognize as her own. The words that have felt so far away before were now so close that is was hard to keep them bottled. At first a spill, now pouring, words pouring as a few tears spilled. "It made me aware just how envious I was... And frustrated. I have never felt this much frustration in my life whenever I see you and Chinatsu dance." She feels her heart clench in admission. Everything is now spilling. Words, tears, regrets— secrets. "It's frustrating how easy it is… how easy my eyes follow you."
She was so enamored with following him that she forgot to check how much she was falling behind.
"And I… I started to wonder if you could see me just as clearly as I see you."
"I want you to look my way on the dance floor." She openly declares. It is as much of a challenge to him as it is to herself.
She doesn't want to become a boring dancer. She doesn't want to be the ballroom queen for one night only. She doesn't want to become a flower that only blooms on a frame that might as well be a blue moon.
She doesn't want to get left behind.
"That's why I need to do this. I need to go and broaden my horizons and improve. I don't think I can do that here which is why I decided to train elsewhere," She wraps up her decision. She hasn't looked away from him not even for a moment and neither has he. His eyes clouded with judgement, unreadable. This is painful, this is every bit painful as she imagined it to be and maybe even more. She's crying before she's even aware of it. "Even if you don't agree with me, even if… even if this is the end, I'm not backing down from my decision."
A beat. Two. She's lost count. She couldn't bear to count the long seconds of silence between them, not knowing what comes after.
When he starts gingerly wiping off her tears, she cries harder.
"So this is your true feelings… Thank you, Mako. For telling me what you truly feel." He smiles somberly, gently cupping her face and bringing her close enough to lightly kiss her on the forehead, reassuring. "If… If that's what you want then…" He patiently waits for her to open her eyes before finally saying, "Then go ahead and try."
With his encouragement, she feels like she can try harder.
"Thank you!" She cries as she wraps her arms around him, vaguely registering the feel of his arms reciprocating the embrace. She's relieved. She's crying out of relief and he's comforting her. He was always so understanding and so considerate. She nuzzles into the embrace. "I'm still going to miss you."
"Me too." He kisses the crown of her hair. She feels him inhale deeply and for a moment, she thinks that he's about to take a plunge. He murmurs into her hair in a voice that sounds so distant but he never feels so far away, "You know, this won't be the end for us."
"Tatara?" She says his name in all of the hopefulness she heard in his voice.
"I'm kind of happy to be a dancer. I mean, I am most of the time but this time I'm really ridiculously glad to be a dancer." He looks at her with so much faith that it has her believing. He wants to make this work. She wants this too. And as they hold each other like this, maybe what they want isn't something impossible.
"Because I know for sure we'll meet again on the floor."
And no matter how many times dance separates them, they'll just dance to their own rhythm and reunite.
They find each other again, just not on purpose.
Never with the purpose of finding each other.
They are in separate couples right now. They are rivals first in this moment. Here, in this reunion where the floor is their stage. And although they both knew that the other was going to compete here, they were more excited to see their dance rather than the person themselves. Because as much as they love each other, dance has always been their first love. This was not the place to focus on anything but dance.
And yet, their eyes still somehow meet across the dance floor.
"That was amazing, Mako!" Tatara breaks off from his partner as soon as he can and trots to Mako with barely ragged breaths. His stamina has immensely improved and it showed, his breathing was almost even now. Almost. In his excitement he feels out of breath, practically breathless when he finally embraces her. "I knew you've improved so much from the videos I've watched but watching you live brings out a different impact!"
"Thank you, Tatara. You've gotten better since the last time I saw you too." Mako pulls away just enough to flash him a small yet sincere smile. She won't admit it, at least not here not out loud, but she spent the first dance stealing glances at Tatara. In her defense, it was easier to get away with it since she was already a skilled partner at following. That doesn't mean she won't tease him for doing the same. "But shouldn't you be focusing on your dance instead of watching me?"
"Ah! That is—!" Those suddenly rosy cheeks of his were undeniable. He had been caught. And although she didn't mind, he certainly did. He was even quite conscious about it. Despite getting older, he has yet to outgrow his defining trait of getting easily flustered. Even the tips of his ears are red, adorably so. "It was just for a moment! That's all! Just glimpses!"
She hides her smile behind her hand. "I'm sure Chinatsu thinks otherwise." He almost pales at the mere mention of his partner, his eyes darting to the side, checking if she had been listening in. Mako's sure that Chinatsu has probably noticed his negligence too, and will most likely scold him as soon as he returns to her side. Silently, she thanks her for deciding to scold him after their exchange rather than before. Mako shakes her head with mirth and warns him, "I'd be more focused if I were you. I don't want this to be an easy win."
And just like that, the warm atmosphere had been tempered into a quiet burn.
His eyes are soldered back to their usual sharpness now and his voice comes out smooth, unwavering, "It's true that your dance is on a different level but…" He fixes her a hardened gaze. "We won't lose to you."
She should feel disappointed. They had such a good mood going on and now they were back in the competition again. She should feel upset. And yet, she feels anything but upset. She feels ridiculously happy instead. She feels her heart swell at being recognized as a rival. She feels that he is finally seeing her on the dance floor.
She feels like dancing.
She answers his declaration with her own. "My brother and I don't plan on losing to you either."
It's a challenge. A challenge between two rivals passionate about dance. A challenge between two lovers with a passion for dance. They love each other and they love to dance.
It was hard to tell whether the affair lied in the dance or in each other.
"Just watch. We'll steal the floor from you."
They dance to their hearts' content, and then some more. All the while, they'd steal glances at each other whenever the dance allowed. How strange it is to hold onto someone and to have someone else have a complete hold on your heart. Between the two of them, it isn't that strange at all. And as the competition closes, couples break off and dancers go their separate ways. Meanwhile, a different kind of couple end up going home together. Exhausted, they hold each other close, and walk in a beat that's similar to a waltz. They always end up dancing.
They dance, among other things.
Dance partners come and go but they have something more permanent.
"May I have this dance with you?"
He holds out his hand, old and wrinkled, and still every bit warm.
She takes it, her smile even more brilliant than the shimmer of their rings.
"Will you make me into a flower?"
And although they never did get to partner again as a dance couple—
"How can I when you're already blooming?"
She thinks that just being a couple is enough.
Now they dance more often than even dance couples do.