candygramme: (Jensen It's okay)
[personal profile] candygramme

“And a five, six, seven, eight.” The tall, gaunt-looking man calling incomprehensible instructions to the weary dancers had been introduced as Julian. “Step, slide, kick ball change, step, slide, kick ball change.”

Jensen was doubting his decision to ever come here. He had thought he could dance, but this wasn’t dancing. There wasn’t even any music. Just terms he’d never heard before and Julian counting to eight. Over and over again. Apparently, he was getting just as frustrated as Jensen was, because he called a break. “Take five. Or fifteen. Just don’t come back until you know your left from your right.”

Jensen heard Jared calling his name as he stalked out of the room. With Jared’s long legs, Jensen saw no way that he could outpace the other boy short of running, and Jensen had never run from anything in his life. He wasn’t about to start now. He didn’t slow down though; the brisk walk was helping him to work out some of his frustration.

“How did I even think I could do this?” he asked as Jared drew even with him. “I don’t know a kick ball change from a pirouette. Why did I think I could learn someone else’s moves? That’s not what I do. There’s not even any music to find the groove.”

“They’re just words,” Jared argued. “You can do this. I saw you do every one of these moves outside the mall back in Dallas.”

“So that was you!” Jensen surprised himself with the exclamation, thoroughly distracted from his current woes, which was probably Jared’s intention. “I had nearly convinced myself I had imagined you.”

“Yeah,” Jared responded, blushing furiously. “I didn’t know you had seen me. I was just there to buy my mom a birthday gift…” Jared trailed off, whether realizing he had accomplished his aim to get Jensen to think of something else, or maybe he'd just noticed that he was babbling and protesting a bit too strongly. Jensen certainly couldn’t say which.

“Keep telling yourself that,” Jensen couldn’t help but respond teasingly. “Whatever gets you through the day.”

Jared just rolled his eyes and ignored his jibe. “Don’t worry about what they call the moves, just watch what the demonstrators do. The terms aren’t important, and they’ll come in time anyway. And the counting, it’s just so everyone does things at the same time. Anybody can learn choreography, but you… You’re a special dancer, and there’s no way I’ll ever be able to do what you do. Besides, this is hip-hop. Once you figure out what the moves are, and they set it to music, you’ll be golden.”

Jensen couldn’t believe that Jared might be insecure about his own dancing. He’d never seen someone perform as elegantly and gracefully as Jared, each motion fluid while still crisp somehow. “It’s not that hard. Maybe I’ll show you a few tricks sometime.”

“I’d like that,” Jared was blushing again, a shy smile on his face. “I think we have a lot we could learn from each other. Just be prepared for some stiff competition when it comes to it.”

Again, Jared had managed to say the perfect thing to spark his competitive nature. “Wouldn’t expect anything less.”

“I wonder who pissed in Julian’s Cheerios this morning,” Jared mused. “He didn’t have to be so mean about it. He should’ve expected freestyle dancers that aren’t used to learning choreography.”

“Probably,” Jensen answered. “Who knows, maybe he was just trying to weed out the weak ones early. Get them to quit.”

“And you were going to let him get away with that?” Jared asked pointedly, and Jensen realized that Jared had his number again. He had no idea how this kid got to him so easily. “Let’s get back to the studio.”

Jensen soon learned that Jared was right. The moves were easy once he quit trying to make the terms make sense. And once the music started, the hard driving rhythms were easy to groove to. 45 minutes later, Jensen felt confident that he could do this. Unfortunately, not all of the others were getting on so well. Several other B-boys seemed like they could use the same advice that Jared had given Jensen during the break. And Jensen was sure at least two of them really didn’t know their right from their left.

Once rehearsal was done, the dancers grabbed their gear and rode the buses back to the hotel. By unspoken agreement, Jensen and Jared made sure they would be roommates, then made their way back down to the hotel common areas. The powers that be had arranged dinner in one of the conference rooms, and the boys looked around for Sandy, who they hadn’t seen since Jensen had stormed out of the rehearsal earlier.

“Why the long face?” Jensen asked, once they found her sitting by herself, staring into her plate.

“I don’t know. Everything is so different here, and the other dancers are mean.” Jensen and Jared exchanged a look and took seats between Sandy and the rest of the room, subconsciously protecting her from all the mean dancers.

“What happened?” Jensen asked sharply, looking around as if he could identify the offenders by sight alone.

“When Julian called the break, the group near me were snickering and making fun of…” Sandy trailed off, her quick glance toward Jensen making it unnecessary for her to finish the statement.

“Of the freestylers?” Jared cut in smoothly. “The ones who’ve never done choreography before?”

Sandy nodded. “And when I pointed that out, they turned on me and said I’d better worry about my own dancing unless I wanted to follow the B-boys out of the competition.”

“You were doing fine,” Jensen reassured her. “Don’t let them get into your head.”

“And don’t you worry about Maverick here,” Jared added. “I have a feeling he’ll do just fine. Better than the jerks who were trash talking, I’d be willing to bet.”

“I guess,” Sandy sighed and turned her attention to her plate.

“Would you feel better if we went through the routine a few more times after we eat?” Jensen asked. “I wouldn’t mind some more practice myself.”

“That would be good,” Sandy smiled. “Thanks, guys.”

There were dancers all over the hotel, vying with one another for practice space. After a meal that Jared freely confessed he wouldn’t have been allowed back at the school where he lived, the threesome went to search for somewhere to rehearse. They soon concluded that there was nowhere inside the hotel that didn’t have a full complement of dancers, all desperately attempting to consolidate the choreography they’d learned. Finally, Jensen, street dancer that he was, suggested they try their luck outside, and eventually they found themselves on a patio beside the pool.

At that moment, Jensen felt the cares drop away. They may have been in a strange city, out on the grounds of a strange hotel, but before his audition, Jensen had never danced inside a theater, or even a building of any kind. Out here, under the orange of the lights, beneath the hazy L.A. night sky, he felt at home.

“Okay. Who’s going to count for us?”

They all looked at each other, and finally, Sandy gave a sigh. “Okay. I’ll do it.”

The three of them assumed their starting positions, and Sandy began to count. Jensen felt much better about the routine after going through it again a couple of times away from the other hopefuls who had been so derogatory in the theater.

“Can we do it one at a time so we can get a bit of a peer review?” Jared was somewhat worried. He could tell that there was something missing from his own performance and really wanted some pointers.

“Yeah. Good idea.” Sandy was out of breath and sweaty but seemed excited by the idea.

Jensen just nodded. He had the routine down now, but he had no idea how well he was doing as far as performance was concerned. “Who goes first?”

“Let me.” Sandy got ready, and both men began to count as she launched into the dance. Once she was done, she looked at Jared for comment, but in fact it was Jensen that began to speak.

“No swag,” he murmured. “You gotta pretend like you’re the queen of the street and fuck everyone who gets in your way. Do it again and pretend like you’re mad at someone and you’re gonna shank ‘em or something.”

Sandy frowned, but got ready again, and this time her performance made Jensen nod. Meanwhile, Jared didn’t wait to say he was going next, just got into position and started to go into the routine.

He wasn’t all the way through it when Jensen called out for him to stop. “Dude, that walking skeleton guy isn’t gonna go for that. You look like a ballet dancer doing a hip-hop routine. Quit pointing your toes and punch it. See.” He did the move he’d picked out so Jared could see what he meant. “Also, your arms are too graceful. You have to do the opposite of what you’re used to. It isn’t pretty; it’s strong. Do it as if you’re...” He frowned. “I dunno. Pretend you’re challenging someone to a dance-off. Like you’re the best there is, and you know it.”

Jared tried again... and again, and after a number of repetitions he began to get the feel for it. Sandy headed to bed to get some sleep before morning and the performance, while the two men carried on for a further hour. Eventually, exhausted and finding it impossible to keep awake much longer, they went back to their room to sleep for what was left of the night.

The following morning, nervous as they could possibly be, they assembled in the theater in their assigned groups, ready to dance for Julian and the other judges. Group after group performed. Some of them were dismissed outright, and Jared felt a twisting in his belly. No way was he going to go home so early. Jeff would laugh at him. His parents would mock him. He’d have no choice but to run away and join the Foreign Legion — if there even was such a thing any more.

Sandy’s group was up on the stage, and to Jared’s eye she was doing pretty well. She’d certainly taken Jensen’s words to heart, and her performance looked authentic. He only prayed that his wouldn’t look like the pretty dancing Jensen had accused him of doing.

Sandy was saved, one of only two in her group, and Jensen was in the next five to take the stage, along with a couple of the contemporary dancers who had been pointing their fingers at him the previous day when he was second guessing himself about the choreography. Jared could see the determination on Jensen’s features, and when the music started, he saw with approval that Jensen was pulling out all the stops. Arrogant and hard hitting, he killed the routine, eliciting a few words of praise from Julian, who confessed that he had thought he’d be sending Jensen home after his showing the afternoon before. Sweat soaked and beaming, Jensen did a little somersault as he left the stage.

Then it was Jared’s turn.

Gritting his teeth, he tried to channel Jensen as he began to go through the routine. ‘Don’t point your toes. Don’t be a ballet dancer — you’re a mean mofo,’ he chanted to himself as he performed. The dance hardly seemed to have begun before it was over, and he was waiting for the verdict.

“Jared, step forward.” Julian’s quiet voice jolted him out of a trance. “You’re going to have to work on your swag, but it wasn’t bad. You’re through to the next round.”

“Thank you,” he whispered and crept down off the stage to join the other two, congratulate them and discuss the solos they would be performing that afternoon.

Their solos carried them through the afternoon, and as evening fell, they were introduced to the next choreographer, a very well connected Broadway promoter who was to take them through a Broadway routine. Mark Pellegrino was tall and well built with a bird’s nest of disheveled blond hair and a habit of calling them all ‘luv’ as he paced up and down in front of them.

“Okay, luvs,” he said to the assembled group. “The routine is going to be an especially tough one, because they didn’t have Corn Pops at breakfast, and I get mean if I can’t have my Corn Pops. It’s my only vice, and I put in a complaint to the concierge, so maybe I won’t be mean tomorrow, but you can’t bet on that, so make sure you get it right.”

He beckoned a young couple onto the stage and gestured limply to them to start the dance. “Watch this carefully. You’re all going to do this, or you’re going to go home, got it?”

There then followed an afternoon that Jared would never forget — Mark was everywhere, calling out encouragement, slapping limbs that weren’t correctly in position, and grinning manically as he counted out the tempo. He aimed a stinging slap on Jared’s ass as he sauntered past at one point and muttered ‘Prime real estate, luv!’ as he moved on to correct Sandy’s posture.

Jared kept an eye on Jensen. He could see the other man was concentrating hard, biting his lower lip and moving crisply in an effort to nail the choreography competently. He could see Mark move to stand behind him, nodding as he watched.

“You got it, luv. Don’t be afraid of camping it up a little. It’s Broadway after all.”

The moves weren’t those he was used to, but it was still dancing, and Jared lost himself in telling the story that Mark’s choreography was unfolding. For once, he felt confident that the morning would see them both through to the next round.

Later — much later, when he fell into bed and lay drowsily listening to Jensen’s soft snores, he knew that he could never just go back to the school. He would be a dancer with far more of a future than the Corps de Ballet at the Dallas Ballet Company. He would take the opportunities that ‘Born to Dance’ handed him and break out of his mold at last. If he couldn’t do that, then he wasn’t really a dancer, and he would deserve to give up and go home to his father’s company.

Jared had worked with many choreographers over his years of training, but none quite like the ones he was working with this week. First had been grouchy Julian, bouncing all over the place with a seemingly limitless pool of energy while he berated them for their inability to interpret his instructions and come up with the moves that he had envisioned. Then Mark Pellegrino prancing around on tiptoes calling them all ‘luv’.

But this latest one took the cake. He’d been introduced as Christian Kane but had demanded that they “just call him Kane”. He had the foulest mouth of anyone Jared had ever worked with, by far. After two hours of being called fucking pussies and told to get their heads out of their asses, Jared was frustrated. It didn’t help that the moves were just enough like what he was accustomed to from his ballet training, but the technique Kane required was completely different. Toes flexed when he was used to pointing and weird arm angles and carriage just subtly altered, and Kane made sure to point out to Jared (and all the rest of the dancers) how lacking his technique was.

“Don’t do the dance, feel the dance. You’re too rigid, son. Loosen up.” Kane tapped him on the back, near his rib cage. Jared really didn’t know how to relax his posture there without allowing his diaphragm to collapse, and then he couldn’t even breathe, much less dance. He did his best and tried not to let it bother him that Kane was singling him out for all of the harshest criticism. He got it. It had been obvious to everyone from the beginning that he had the most formal training of any of the dancers, and he was sure that Kane was just using him to show all the dancers that none of them would be allowed to skate by on their training alone; all of them were going to have to stretch and grow. And that’s what Jared wanted, really. But that didn’t make it any easier to take.

Fortunately, Jensen seemed to be having an easier time of it. Jared could tell that he was carefully watching the dancers demonstrating the jazz routine, rather than focusing on the technical terms for the moves. But Jensen was doing at least as well as Jared was himself. He’d obviously picked up on the distinctions between the styles, focusing on the little things like weight distribution, lines and feet. Even Sandy had fewer of the distinctive style markers than Jared. Jared knew what to watch, but he had a hard time changing his technique that way. When doing ballet, he could rely on muscle memory and relax into the routine and focus on intangibles and emotion. Outside his style, he didn’t have that luxury.

Regardless, Jared was sure that all three of them would get through this round easily. Looking around the room and comparing their skills against the rest of the field, Jared felt good about their chances. He was also gratified to see that only one of the mean-spirited dancers from that first rehearsal, Brock Kelly, had made it this far.

As he’d expected, all three of them sailed through easily. But another dozen or so were cut. They were down to 49 dancers already, and by the end of the week, the top twenty would be selected. Jared tried not to think about it as they headed to dinner, chatting about how they should take advantage of the short day. But, to their dismay, it was not to be. Just as they were polishing off their plates, Mark Sheppard, the lead judge, came out to tell them that they were to be split into groups to choreograph a routine to be performed the next morning. Both Jared and Jensen breathed sighs of relief when he said that they could choose their own group. Music and style would be chosen out of a hat. As soon as they were dismissed, the three friends waited for their turn with the hat.

Turned out, there were two hats, one each for music and dance style. Jensen smiled broadly as Sandy pulled hip-hop from the first hat and then frowned when Jared pulled ‘Songbird’ by Kenny G from the other hat. Jared was completely drawn in by the clear emotions on his face. Jensen caught him staring and they both looked away, blushing.

“Aren’t you two just adorable,” gushed Sandy.

Jared just stared harder at the ground, but Jensen shoved her shoulder and responded with, “Shut up. We’ve got work to do.”

They made their way out to the poolside patio they had found their first day there and gathered around the music player, listening to the music Jared had picked out. Jared and Sandy were seated on the ground, listening intently. Jensen was standing, slowly working out what he could do with this impossible music. They didn’t even talk about it; there was no question but that Jensen would choreograph.

“The groove is very subtle in this music,” Jensen noted. “Even my crew back in Dallas would have a hard time staying in the pocket.”

Jensen had just started demonstrating what he was thinking when Samantha Smith, the ballroom judge, came out to their patio with Brock Kelly and a girl whose name Jared couldn’t remember. They had been getting accustomed to working with camera operators and other production crew around all the time, but a judge was a different story. Jared had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. This couldn’t be good.

“These two need a group,” Samantha said as she and the other two dancers approached. “Theirs broke up when they couldn’t agree on who was to choreograph. Looks like your group has already worked that out.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Jensen answered. Jared was sure that Jensen had to be feeling the same dismay that he himself was feeling, but there was no sign of it. “We’ll make it work.”

“Hi, I’m Nicki.” The new girl held her hand out to Jensen. She was very petite, with short, platinum hair and a ready smile. “Thank you for adding us to your group.”

Jensen shook her hand and nodded, “I’m Jensen, and this is Jared and Sandy.” He indicated each of them in turn then looked expectantly at Brock.

When Brock didn’t immediately speak, Jensen just raised his eyebrow and waited. Finally Brock relented, broke eye contact, and muttered, “Brock Kelly. Thanks.”

Jensen nodded and acted as if that had been the appropriate greeting. Jared was glad Jensen was choreographing this, as he wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep his cool with the arrogant, condescending contemporary dancer. “Welcome. So, what do you do?”

“Contemporary,” Nicki answered.

“Show me something,” Jensen said, nodding.

Nicki nodded and launched into a quick four count move that ended with an attitude leap. Jared was impressed by the height of the jump and the lines were very pretty and accentuated her nice legs and feet.

“I can work with that,” Jensen said before turning to Brock. “Your turn.”

Brock did a sixteen count series of moves featuring a backflip and a split leap. To Jared’s eye, it was obvious he was trying to show Jensen up and intimidate him. But Jensen didn’t bat an eye.

“See if you can get that down to four beats and make sure you still feel comfortable with the tricks once you hear our music. It’s gonna be hard to get your momentum up. Speaking of music…” Jensen turned the music back on and the clear tones of the soprano saxophone poured out again. He snapped his fingers along with it, emphasizing the almost nonexistent rhythm in the song. “As we were saying before you came over, the groove is very subtle. Everyone’s going to have to pay attention and feel the music to stay in the pocket. And as slow as it is, it’s going to look really awful if we’re not in sync.”

Brock got a stubborn look on his face when Jensen didn’t react to his posturing. Jensen just kept going, showing them what he had in mind. Nothing he put in was hard, just somewhat complicated. The music was lyrical and sensuous, and Jensen was somehow able to reflect that. He put in stepping rhythms and what he called tutting along with some isolations, all serving to emphasize the subtle beat of the song. Brock got with the program before he fell too far behind, and Jared was awed by the masterful but understated way Jensen took control of what Jared had been sure was going to be an awkward situation. Once again, he was glad it had been Jensen and not himself. Jared caught himself watching Jensen and appreciating the fluid way his body moved with the song rather than trying to emulate those movements himself. He shook himself out of that mode and rededicated himself to learning the steps. It wouldn’t do to be cut because he was mooning over another dancer.

Once they had the moves down, Jensen stopped demonstrating and started watching. After once through the section, he stopped them. “Okay, you guys are getting the steps, but in order for it to feel like hip-hop, it has to have flavor. You guys are standing all straight and pretty, you need to get your center of gravity lower. Also, you’re right on top of the beat, and it needs to be almost after. Sandy, that’s a pretty good groove, but get down with it a little bit more.”

By eleven o’clock, they had a routine that Jared thought was surprisingly good for one evening’s work. It looked a lot harder than it was. It had complicated movements that were completely unfamiliar to Jared, but weren’t hard and all of them had been able to pick them up quickly. In the bridge portion of the song, Jensen had worked all of their individual signature moves into a cool looking section that spotlighted each of their strengths but didn’t feature anyone more than the others.

“You guys are looking at each other too much. This isn’t a battle where we’re reacting to each other. Just dance. Get into the character of it more, feel it. You know the moves, but you need to trust yourself. Let’s go one at a time so we can’t be following each other. The most important thing is to get the groove right and to be completely synchronized. We can’t do that if we’re so busy watching what everyone else is doing.”

By the time they called it a night at 12:30, Jared was exhausted but proud of what they’d created. Brock had completely accepted Jensen’s leadership and was even contributing ideas that worked for all of them, rather than ones that would paint him in the best light. They agreed to meet up before breakfast to run through it once more and headed to their rooms. Jensen and Jared barely spoke to each other and were asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillows.

Their group was up first. Nerves fluttered in Jared’s stomach, but he breathed through it as he’d been taught, trusting in the choreography and the other members of his group. They nailed everything perfectly, and he could barely contain his excitement to listen to the judge’s reactions.

“Jensen, is that right?” Julian asked from his spot in the long row of judges that were all there to judge the group round. On Jensen’s nod, Julian continued, “You choreographed that?”

“Yes, sir.” Jensen answered easily, apparently as calm as Jared had ever seen him.

“Nice work,” Julian praised. “You took these stage clowns and showed them the essence of what a street dance would look like. You gave each of them a chance to showcase themselves, but still kept the groove like a hip-hop dance should. You did as well with that as anyone could have done with this group and that music in one evening, even me.”

“Go on,” Mark Sheppard said, waving them off the stage. “Get out of here. You’re all through.” They breathed a collective sigh of relief and scampered off the stage.

The day was off to good start but almost immediately headed downhill. By the end of the day, another thirteen dancers had been sent packing, leaving 38 to move on.

The stress and the frantic pace were exhausting them. Their little band had expanded to include Brock and Nicki, and none of them wanted to go home now that they’d come so far. They were all tired, though, and Sandy was panicking because she’d somehow strained her knee and needed to go for medical treatment. She was carried off by one of the PAs — of whom there were many — pale faced and crying. Fortunately, when she returned a while later, she’d had a shot of steroids into the offending knee and it was strapped up in a way that would permit movement while supporting it at the same time.

A tall, exotic looking woman named Traci proved to be their next choreographer, and she had them take a seat on the stage while she quizzed them about their dance styles and where they were from. Jensen, thoroughly drained of all energy, made the mistake of falling asleep and almost toppled over into Jared, who did his best to cover up for him, hoping that Traci wouldn’t notice.

It was to no avail. Once they had seen the dance and begun to learn the routine, she singled Jensen out for criticism every couple of minutes, complaining that he’d never be able to get through the program if he didn’t learn to point his toes. By the time the judging round arrived, it was late. Everyone was starving. Stomachs were rumbling audibly, and Jensen announced that he was so hungry and demoralized that he was ready to pack his case and leave before he was thrown out on his ear.

Jared could only watch as Jensen began to falter, and by the time the performance to be judged came around, he had a feeling in his gut that he’d never experienced before. He was terrified that he was going to lose Jensen before he’d really gotten to know him properly.

Fortunately, Jensen rallied somewhat during his performance, although it wasn’t perfect by any means, and when the six dancers from his group were lined up, it was obvious from the stoic expression on his face that he believed he was going home.

“Jensen, step forward.” Mark’s command made him jump visibly, and Jared, who had waited for him after completing his own round, watched as he took a deep breath and took that fatal pace to stand in front of the others.

“What in the world happened to you?” Mark sounded perplexed. “You were doing really well, and then all of a sudden, we get your impression of Godzilla on a bad day, feeling too knackered to destroy Tokyo.”

“Not... not sure what went wrong, sir.” Jensen had his game face firmly in place. “I just... ran out of steam, I think.”

“Well, you’d better go and get yourself steamed up again, my lad, because I want you back here at 9:30, and you’re going to do it again and bloody well impress us. You got that?” Mark turned to look at the other judges, who were all nodding agreement, even Traci. “Now go away and eat. I want you full of piss and vinegar, right?”

Jensen’s nose turned pink, and Jared was afraid that he was going to cry, but he just nodded and hurried off the stage.

“Don’t say a word,” he hissed as Jared fell in alongside of him. “I sucked, and I’m gonna go home.”

“Not on my watch, you’re not.” Jared grabbed his shoulder and spun him around so they were face to face. “If you give up now, I’m never gonna forgive you for letting that... that bitch take it out on you. You’re better than that, and you owe it to yourself to get it right. She was ragging on you until you weren’t sure if you were coming or going, but you’re not gonna let her win.”

“She already did. You saw the mess I made of everything.”

“You can do better than that, and you will.” Jared shook his head. “Look, go grab food, because that’s half the problem, right there.” They reached the dining room, and Jared sat him down and went to order a light meal for him. He returned moments later with chicken salad and a Gatorade, which he plopped down in front of Jensen.

“Sit here, eat, drink and don’t go anywhere. I’ll be back in a minute.” With that, Jared turned and ran back to the theater.

Brock was just coming off the stage when Jared barreled down the aisle and grabbed his arm. “Just the man I need,” he said, towing him up towards the back of the stalls in the direction of the cafeteria.

“What’s going on?” Brock was frowning.

“Jensen needs some help, and it’s your discipline. I’d be really grateful if you could give him a little coaching before he has to go back and repeat the routine.” Jared mentally crossed his fingers that Brock would agree to help and held his breath as he waited for the other man to give his answer.

“You know I was kind of a dick to him when this thing started.” Brock shook his head. “But he got me through that godawful group routine, so I guess I owe him one. Where is he?”

“He’d better be in the dining room,” said Jared, making his way through the foyer to the elevator that would take them up to the restaurant on the mezzanine floor. “I told him to stay there, and if he hasn’t, I’ll be really mad.”

Entering the dining area, Jared was relieved to see that Jensen was still there, although his meal was only a memory. Jensen looked up as the two of them approached him and gave a wry smirk.

“Come to mock the afflicted?” he asked.

“Dinner all done?” Jared ignored his pointed comment. “Good, because Brock and I are gonna make you sweat. Come on.”

“What about you guys?” Jensen protested. “You have to eat too!”

“Fine,” Jared grudgingly agreed. “I’ll fix a couple of plates for later. But the priority is getting you ready to nail that routine by half past nine.”

Their space in the pool area was in use, due to the early hour, but Brock led them to a quiet room he’d discovered earlier in the week, and the three of them hung a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the doorknob and closed the door behind them.

“First thing about contemporary, Jensen, is that you do better barefoot, so lose the shoes and socks, okay?” Brock went through the short routine to demonstrate it, “That lets you slide into moves that otherwise would look jerky.”

He watched as Jensen did as he’d been told. “Let me see you do the routine. That way we’ll know what to work on. It’s eight now, and if you have to be back on stage at 9:30 we don’t have long. You should probably know that there are at least five other people that they want to see do it over, so you aren’t alone.”

That information seemed to help perk Jensen up, and he went through the routine for Brock, while Jared danced it alongside him to give him confidence.

“Okay. There are two main problems I can see. You start well enough. It begins to go wrong on the arabesque, so let’s take it from there.” Brock demonstrated the move a couple of times and then stood to face Jensen, “First problem is that your leg elevation in the arabesque isn’t looking good, because your knee isn’t straight. From there you go into the tuck and roll, and that’s perfect, but when you get to your feet and spin out of it, you’re not pulling in enough, so the spin isn’t fast enough, and you look to be off balance.”

Jensen nodded and without further prompting went into the arabesque and held it, waiting for commentary. Both the others studied it for a moment, and then Jared moved in to position his leg the way it needed to be.

Over and over again, they repeated the move until Jensen murmured snarkily that the offending leg would actually fall off if they weren’t careful, but finally Brock pronounced himself satisfied. “Okay, start from the beginning, and let’s look at that spin.”

It was a relief to Jared to see him slip easily into the routine. The bare feet seemed to help, and he slid gracefully through the routine, leaping and whirling, toes pointing and legs straight. When he finally went into the spin that Brock felt needed work, Brock called to him to pull his arms in further to his body. That was all it took, and the dance was complete.

He went through it several more times, but finally Jared called out that it was almost time. With a brief ‘thank you, catch you on the flip side,’ to the other two, he set off for the theater, his head held high.

Jared and Brock both took a seat to watch, and Jared felt those butterflies all over again. Jensen couldn’t go home. He just couldn’t.

When Jensen was called, he strode onto the stage barefoot, looking determined.

“Come on then, kiddo. Show us all what you’ve really got!” Sheppard’s lazy growl made Jensen grin, much to Jared’s amazement. Then as the music started he was off, executing each move crisply and cleanly, leg straight as he leant into the arabesque that had caused him so much trouble, then melting into the roll that would lead into the final spin.

For a moment, everything was quiet, and a flicker of fear shot over Jensen’s face as he waited for the judges to confer. Finally, Sheppard looked up.

“Better. Should have done that to start with and saved us all a bunch of time and misery. Go on and get some sleep. You’re through to the next round.”

Coming down off the stage, Jensen seemed to be in a dream. When both Jared and Brock jumped him, he seemed to be unsteady enough that Jared thought he might fall over.

“Time for bed, I think,” said Brock with a yawn. “You look like you’re bagged, and I’m practically falling asleep where I stand.” Raising his hand, he turned and headed off, presumably to go to his room.

Jensen still hadn’t said anything at all, and he looked dazed. Jared stared at him and then, on a sudden impulse, flung his arms around him and hugged him tightly. Jensen melted against him for a moment, but then pushed him away. “Need to go lie down, dude,” he said. “You coming?”

Exhaustion was setting in for Jensen, Jared could tell from the way he was stumbling. Normally surefooted, Jensen moved as if he couldn’t feel his legs, and Jared considered picking him up and carrying him. It was only the thought that Jensen would likely hate that idea that stopped him.

By the time they reached the elevator, Jared was pretty close to propping him up, and Jensen gave him a sleepy smile. “Thanks,” he mumbled. “You came to m’rescue. Didn’t have to.”

“Oh yes I did!” Jared gave a short laugh. “Won’t be much fun winning if I don’t have any decent competition, will it?”

Rolling his eyes, Jensen elbowed him in the gut. “Yeah, because you’re better than me? Hah! I dunno! Fuckin’ ballerina!”

The elevator stopped with a ping, and the two of them made their way along the corridor to their room, Jensen still warm against Jared’s side.

Once in the room, Jensen flopped down on his bed and sat gazing into somewhere that could have been a thousand light years away. Jared shook his head. “Oh, no you don’t. You didn’t even warm down. If you just crash now, you’re gonna be so stiff and sore in the morning that you’ll fall on your ass and get cut, and then where will my competition be? At least go get a hot shower and loosen up a bit. Then do a few stretches before you keel over.”

The pout on Jensen’s face was reminiscent of Jared’s three-year-old nephew when he was denied the candy that would spoil his dinner. He laughed as Jensen got to his feet with a sigh. “There’s a good boy. You’ll thank me in the morning.”

As he heard the shower turn on, he smiled to himself. He wasn’t sure just what it was about Jensen that made him feel so protective. There was something about his roommate that made him desperately want to take care of him. It wasn’t long before Jensen re-appeared, damp and glowing amid a cloud of steam. He rummaged through his belongings for a pair of sweats and pulled them on, letting the towel fall to the floor. Jared knew he was staring, but he couldn’t stop, and after a while, Jensen stood up and raised an eyebrow.

“What?” He said. “Has a third eyeball suddenly appeared on me or something?”

“No, it’s not that.” Jared frowned, not quite sure what he was feeling. “I just… I don’t… I kinda feel like I need to take care of you. He rose to his feet and reached to put his arms around Jensen and hugged him again. He was never quite sure afterwards who was the more surprised when suddenly, out of nowhere, their lips met and for a moment they clung to each other. Then Jensen broke away and yawned mightily, and the moment was lost.

“Guess tomorrow we find out who goes home and who goes forward.” Jared began to get ready for his own shower. “Get some sleep. Stressful day tomorrow.”

Chapter 1 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Masterpost | Amazing Art


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