Akira breaks in with an exasperated, nervous laugh, and turns on the DDR soundtrack before Shinji can ask him why he should be nervous when Shinji has seen him dance before. In fact, if anyone should be nervous, it’s Shinji. Shinji isn’t a dancer. Akira is the one with the innate sense of balance and the energy working through his body, the kind of built-in rhythm that reminds Shinji of Echizen, and the way he never stopped moving the whole time he played Shinji, until the racket handle broke (Shinji still feels bad about that, but he supposes Echizen has probably forgotten all about it, about him, by now), and even then he still managed to keep—
Akira stops bouncing on the balls of his feet and turns. The glint of excitement that always shows up when he exercises has yet to appear in his eyes; at the moment he just looks annoyed. Shinji wonders why.
“Hey,” Akira says, sweeping his hair out of his face. “You think if I’d been the one to play Echizen, I would have wound up not being able to talk about anything else?”
Shinji blinks at him. He doesn’t think this is accurate, and it’s not like Akira to make misjudgments about people, especially not people he’s known as long as Shinji. Shinji doesn’t talk about Echizen more than anybody else, and he figures Akira would be able to see that better than anybody else because Akira is around him the most and if Shinji talks about anybody, it would really be Akira, because he sees Akira every day, and Echizen’s only run into him once at the sporting goods place when they—
Akira stops moving and touches Shinji’s elbow again like he did when he was dragging Shinji away from the street courts and home.
“It doesn’t matter where you start talking,” he says. “It’s always where you end up.” He looks down at the pad beneath his feet. “I wonder if that happens to everybody who plays against him.”
His voice is odd and Shinji can’t tell if he’s mad or something. He looks at Akira for a moment.
“Akira, do you want to play Echizen?” he asks.
Akira opens both his hands. He moves his palms down by his sides. Then he puts them both on Shinji’s shoulders. He kisses Shinji.
His mouth is dry. His eyes are wide and dark, pressed against Shinji’s face, and Shinji keeps waiting for him to pull back and act like everything is a joke. Instead Akira raises his fingers and touches Shinji’s hair. Shinji thinks that he hadn’t brushed his hair in a while. The thought embarrasses him, and he steps apart.
Akira flushes bright red and turns away. Shinji opens his mouth to speak but Akira says, “No.” Shinji wonders if he’s telling him not to speak or answering Shinji’s question. He stares at Akira, thinking that Akira has never kissed him before. He wonders if Akira will do it again. He thinks the second time might be better—that his kiss might be sharp like the cut of his chin and the tints of his hair. Shinji might even try to kiss back. But Akira doesn’t do anything, and Shinji stares at him, waiting, while Akira stares at the dance pad, then at the maple bonsai in the corner, before finally turning and making his way out of the room. Shinji hears his feet padding on the stairs. He wonders if he should leave. He wonders if Akira thinks he is a bad kisser.
The next day Akira doesn’t look at him during their first class, or any of the ones after. He steals Tachibana An’s pen set, and keeps it away from her for the rest of the day.