"One, two, three, step! One, two, three, step! One, two—"
On an otherwise uneventful Spring evening, two boys stumbled over one another's feet on the roof of a three-story building.
"One, two, Oliver, count! One, two—"
"I am counting—"
Oliver was hopelessly clumsy. Not that the poor guy could help it. He'd never been trained in the art of entertaining crowds, meaning he didn't even know how to dance. So Len had brought his best friend and a CD player up to the rooftop of their home and vowed they wouldn't rest until Oliver at least knew how to dance with a partner. If he could get that much down, then learning to dance solo would come easily.
It took sixteen repetitions of the same song, but eventually he found his rhythm. Slowly, Len phased out his counting, leaving Oliver to mumble the counts under his breath as he matched Len's movements. Soon enough, even that stopped, and the two danced to only the sound of the music.
When they'd finally made it through the whole song without a single count being made aloud, without a single stumble, Len let go of his hold on Oliver and switched off the player.
"Are... Are you giving up?" Oliver's recently-discovered confidence wavered as he spoke, fading into something that sounded like I'm sad but I don't blame you.
He still had a long way to go.
"Giving up?" Len scoffed. "Ollie-kun, I'm graduating you! You nailed it!"
"I— I nailed…?" Oliver looked up, staring Len down, making absolute certain the words were genuine. And Len stared right back, smiling his biggest, most assured smile, keeping it there until Oliver's eye lit up once more. "I nailed it!"
"You nailed it!"
"I did!" He laughed and happily accepted Len's invitation for a high-five, pulling him into a hug once their palms made contact. "I can actually dance now! This is awesome!"
Len laughed along and hugged him right back. Seeing Oliver so confident, so happy, filled him with his own sense of joy. He had a long way to go still. But he'd come so far from the shuffling, nervous, constantly apologetic boy that had been dropped off at the Vocaloid residence in Kyokotta two months ago.
And to know that he'd played a part in drawing out that boy's inner sunshine… It also filled Len with pride.
He pulled back once the hug had gone on for long enough, beaming down at Oliver and patting his shoulder. "You know what we should do? We should go out dancing!"
Oliver gasped, a pink blush spreading over his cheeks, but his smile remained. "We'll make it a household affair!"
"You can show off your skills to everyone!"
"That sounds like fun!"
"Maybe you can dance with some people you meet there!"
"Uh, well, th-that might be a bit—"
"Ollie-kun, you could use your new skills to pick up a cute Japanese girl! Imagine how jealous you could make your old house!"
The thought of Oliver, full of confidence and with a girlfriend at his side, telling those jerks in England about how happy and fulfilled he'd become since he left them - the thought made Len laugh again, a genuine, throaty laugh.
A laugh that stopped abruptly when he realized that Oliver wasn't laughing along.
Oliver wasn't just not laughing. He was looking away now, his eye on the nearby treetops, his chin retreating towards his chest. His confidence was gone again. And this time, it was Len's fault.
Len grabbed Oliver's shoulders gently yet firmly, as he'd discovered was best to do when he was at risk of retreating into a harmful state of mind again. "Ollie. Oliver, I'm sorry." Taking a few breaths to make sure his own anxiety didn't get the best of him and make the situation worse, Len lowered his voice. "I shouldn't talk about them like that. Or at all. I overstepped that boundary and I'm so—"
"It's—" Oliver winced and wriggled free of Len's hold, and Len felt for all the world as if the other boy had sucker-punched him in the gut. Which, okay, he would have totally deserved, but—
"I agree," Oliver said at last, saving Len from his own descent into self-berating. "I— you can talk crap about them all you want, that's not what bothers me. It's just…"
Breathing a silent (or maybe not-so-silent) sigh of relief, Len decided to keep quiet and not risk saying something that would actually be harmful. He focused instead on Oliver, waiting patiently while he wrung his hands and hid beneath his hat.
"Len, there's something I— like, as cool as it would be to get a 'cute Japanese girl'—"
Len winced. "Yeah, I didn't mean to make a big deal out of nationality. I was just saying, y'know, Japanese, Chinese, British, American, German, whatever—"
"I know, but what I'm saying is—"
"—you could fly them a big middle finger and be like 'Hey, suck it, I've got a girlfriend!' and—"
"But I don't want a girlfriend! I only like b—!" Oliver slapped his hands over his mouth before he could shout the last word, his eye going wide, his face going bright red.
Len blinked. Blinked again. Then it set in.
"B-B-British people!" Oliver squeaked, waving his hands in front of him as though trying to physically scramble Len's mind. "I prefer British people! Because— oh God, no, that sounds so racist, it's just that I'm British, that's all I'm trying to— oh, no, that sounds even worse…" And then he fell silent, knees bent inwards, face to the ground, fingers digging into his hair.
Wow. Len tried to will himself to do something, say something, but his feet were glued in place. Oliver was mortified. He'd just revealed a huge secret to him. A secret that wasn't all that huge to Len - his family had always had a very relaxed view of sexuality - but he couldn't just act like it was no big deal. If it was such a big deal to Oliver, acting in such a manner would make him think he was brushing him off, and that would be…
Len argued with himself a moment longer before reaching a decision.
"I get what you're saying."
Oliver drew into himself even further. "I swear I'm not racist," he whimpered.
It took all of Len's self-control not to laugh. "I- I know you're not! You're just… British. And being British isn't something you can help, y'know."
Oliver didn't budge. Which probably meant he hadn't caught on. Which meant Len was going to have to dig a little deeper.
"Hey, Ollie-kun. I'm gonna tell you a secret, okay?"
Len let himself get closer, close enough to reach out and make contact but far enough away to give Oliver his space. "Ollie, I'm kinda British too."
That was when it clicked. Len could almost see the connection occurring in Oliver's head.
"You…?" Slowly, he let go of his hair, lowered his hands. Looked up.
Tears had pooled in his eye at some point. Len was determined to keep them from falling.
"Yup." He relaxed his stance but never took his eyes away, hoping he could ease Oliver into the same sense of comfort. "Half-British, I guess they call it. Although I'm more like... eighty-twenty, predominantly British, but, y'know…"
Oliver swiped the back of his hand across his face, and the tears were gone. "You mean it? I never would have— okay, no, that's a lie, I can totally see it, but…" He blushed again when he realized what he'd said. This time, Len made no attempt to stop his laughter.
"I didn't mean it like that! I just meant—" he joined in, though his chuckling, Len could tell, was driven purely by nerves. "I mean, that means you know what it's like."
Len nodded. "Always wanting the ones you can't have?"
"The hopeless pining?"
"Oh God, the hopeless pining!"
"Having to change up names and pronouns so people don't catch on?"
"Seeing all those love stories that you can't relate to because they're either non-British or they're really, really fetishy?"
"That's the worst!" Oliver was smiling once more, his fear melting away as he carried on a conversation he'd probably never had before. Len took advantage of his lax stance and motioned for him to sit. "Although I'd imagine," he continued as he joined Len on the tile, crossing his legs, "it's a little easier to manage when one is… not completely British."
"What, that whole 'Double your chances' mindset?" Len blew a raspberry and rolled his eyes. "Don't I wish! Here's how it usually goes: if I like a girl, she's a lesbian. If I like a guy, he's straight. If I like someone who's compatible, they've already got someone or they're just not interested, and if — I wish I was making this up, Oliver, I really wish I was — if someone actually does like me, they want to murder my whole family and everyone I love so they'll be the only person I can devote myself time to!"
The most wonderful sight sat before Len now. Oliver, who moments earlier had been on the verge of tears, was bent over at the waist, so deep in stitches his shoulders shook and the only sounds he could muster were gasps and hiccups. Once he gained some control over himself, he sat back up, wiping his eye again as another round of chuckles took over.
"I guess it's fortunate that I'm only into guys then!" A few more chuckles came from him before he trailed off, staring down at his lap. His smile turned into something else; not a frown, per say, but a look of astonishment.
Len's stomach twinged. This was the first time Oliver had said it out loud.
Not just to him, but maybe ever.
"...While we're pouring our hearts out," he said at last, choosing his words deliberately, "can I share something a touch… personal?"
Len nodded. "I'm listening."
Oliver spent a while longer tracing the rough roofing tiles with his eye, lips pursed as he searched for the words he needed to tell his story.
"My family - my old family - they… knew," he began. "I figured it out I guess a year or so after my creation, when they still sheltered me, so I thought maybe they'd understand. Maybe they'd… even be happy for me."
Len waited. And waited some more. But Oliver never finished. He just stared at the tile and twiddled his thumbs and his breath hitched every so often.
Dammit, a guy can only take so much. So Len pulled himself onto his knees, leaned forward, and wrapped Oliver in a hug that might have been a little too tight. Hesitantly, Oliver returned the embrace.
"...They weren't happy," he finished. Len felt a tear hit the back of his neck.
"Oliver? Can I tell you something?"
"Fuck what they think."
Oliver sniffled. Then he nodded. Then Len felt another tear hit his neck. Then another.
"C'mere." Len readjusted his legs so that he could pull Oliver closer. "This shirt's super-absorbent. Let it out."
Oliver made a noise that was some cross between a laugh and a sob, then he tightened his grip around his best friend and shook and sniffed and thoroughly soaked Len's left shoulder. Lacking much else to do, Len rubbed his back and stared out at the skyline. It was bright out tonight. The stars were out and the moon was full. In the corner of his eye, Oliver's pale hair gave off a soft glow.
Eventually, Oliver's crying slowed to a stop, and he pulled back to assess the damage he'd done to Len's shirt. His face was red and puffy, streaked with tears and snot, but he looked… peaceful, almost. Like a burden had been lifted from him, like he felt really and truly at ease.
"You have no idea how much I needed this." Sniffling once more, he wiped his face with his own shirt. "...Thanks."
Though an overwhelming urge to pull him back into another hug tempted Len, he forced himself to ignore it, settling instead for resting a hand on Oliver's shoulder. "Anytime. I mean that."
A few more moments passed while Oliver finished composing himself. Once his breathing had returned to normal and his face was mostly dry, Len nudged him, a playful smile playing on his lips.
"You realize now we've gotta have a coming-out party for you, right?"
And once more, Oliver made a noise.
"It's standard!" Len assured him, climbing back to his feet and offering his hand. "We held one for Miku when she came out as bi, they held one for me and Rin, we had one for Gumi, one for Luka—"
Oliver, for a time, only stared at the hand he'd been offered. "Is anyone in this house straight?"
"Kaito, maybe? That's a hard 'maybe'."
"So…" Finally, Oliver took Len's hand, standing and dusting himself off. "The fact that I'm gay…?"
"Means we have a new reason to get a cake."
"You people will celebrate anything."
"Well, yeah," Len agreed, stooping down to pick up the long-forgotten CD player. "Especially when it's something worth celebrating."
Oliver shook his head and chuckled to himself. But now he stood straight and tall, and he beamed even brighter than the moon in the sky. As they made their way back inside, Len couldn't help but pull him into one last side-hug.
Oliver had come such a long way since he'd come here two months ago.
Len couldn't wait to see how much farther he went from here.