England always felt different than Japan, and London was certainly not Tokyo, Ohtori Choutarou thought as he trailed behind his laughing roommate, his hands stuffed in the pockets of the blue jeans that were as new and as stiff as he was still feeling, even after two months in Europe. The two cities were barely alike at all, and the rush of London had a different feel than the rush of Tokyo had, but sometimes, Ohtori mused as he tipped his head back to stare at the bright neon lights of Piccadilly, sometimes there was a similarity that made his heart ache. Piccadilly Circus with its bright glow and exuberant rush, always felt a little bit like home to him, a maybe a little like those times he and Shishido had ignored their schoolbooks and tennis and gone out to play.
"Choutarou!" The voice calling his name was insistent and exasperated, and Ohtori thought he could hear a trace of laughter under the American accent. He let his gaze drift down from the sky to meet his roommate's amused dark green eyes and Ohtori's lips twisted in a sheepish smile.
"Sorry, Aidan," he murmured, his long legs eating up the pavement until he'd caught up to where the grinning flautist had paused, his arms crossed over his chest. "I was thinking."
"You're always thinking," Aidan complained as he reached up to wrap an arm around Ohtori's shoulders. "You should stop sometimes."
Ohtori shook his head slightly as his slighter roommate propelled him along the street, pushing them through the crowds of people towards some unknown destination. "Where are we going anyway?" he asked reasonably. He hadn't gone out often, preferring to spend his free time practicing his violin and re-reading the letters from home, but when he had…well, it almost seemed like London closed its doors at night.
Aidan shrugged a little. "I thought we'd play billiards," he said. "You know how to, don't you?" He glanced up as Ohtori went still for barely a moment before continuing on.
"Yeah," the Japanese violinist finally said, his voice slow and carefully even in the way that only people who know about the pain of memories can manage. "I know how."
Aidan was silent for a moment, and then he raked back his thick gold hair, his lips curving in a slight smile as he tipped his head back to look up at Ohtori. "Good," he said with a playful gleam in his green eyes. "Then I won't need to teach you. It's always such a pain in the ass teaching the game before I can fleece my opponents."
Ohtori laughed, a startled, sharp sound that surprised even him. He hadn't been laughing much lately, he thought. He'd been smiling – it was rare that his classmates saw him without his slow, sweet smile – but the last time he had laughed had been when he was still in Tokyo. Before Shishido had told him that they were over.
Sometimes, he mused, Aidan reminded him of Shishido. He wasn't as determined or as stubborn as his senpai had been, but there was something about his teasing laughter and the gleam Ohtori sometimes saw in the other boy's eyes that was almost exactly like the one he'd known before. And sometimes it hurt to see that.
Ohtori's laughter faded, and the curve of his mouth was almost forced as he finally replied to his roommate's laughing challenge. "You won't fleece me easily, Aidan," he said softly, with the slightest edge of steel in his voice. "Just warning you." He'd felt more than one thing slip away from him in the past year, Ohtori thought, an unusually tenacious glint in his dark eyes; he lost more than one thing important.
Ohtori Choutarou was tired of losing, even if it was something as trivial as a game of pool.
Billiard halls had always meant the heavy mixed scents of cigarette smoke and alcohol to Ohtori, because the halls Shishido had usually gone to had always been the darker ones with the older clientele. Shishido had told him once with a broad smirk and a flick of his hair, students didn't really challenge him, and if he was going to play seriously, then he wanted opponents that he could be serious about.
The place Aidan had taken him too, a dusty pub that was barely off the Circus but somehow seemed miles away from the bright laughter and sharp lights, wasn't any different than any of the halls he'd played in before. The language that the low words were spoken in was different, of course, he thought as he glanced around, and the music wasn't quite the same – low-pitched English rock instead of fast and furious Asian techno – but it was otherwise familiar.
"Eight ball?" inquired Aidan in a low voice as he handed his roommate a cue.
"Sure," replied Ohtori as he wrapped long musician's fingers around the polished wood, a faint smile curving on his face. "You can go first."
Aidan was good, he noted, watching as the other boy set up the smooth ivory balls and lined up his first shot. He had both grace and strength, as well as an almost scientific knowledge of how to hit the ball to his best advantage, and there was a single-minded intensity in his eyes as he sent the white ball rolling across the green velveteen and crashing into a flame orange one. The American boy's lips curved in a satisfied smile as the ball sank into the pocket before he brushed his blond hair out of his face.
"You might not get a chance to play this game, Choutarou," Aidan said, his voice almost teasing.
Ohtori's silver eyebrows rose in his head. "That would just be my bad luck then, wouldn't it?"
Heads turned at the sound of Aidan's low laughter, before the teenager leaned over the table again, letting his short shirt ride up as he took another shot.
This time the violet ball glanced off the corner of the pocket and Ohtori chuckled at the sound of Aidan's soft curses. "I guess this is my good luck, then?" he said as he stepped towards the table and eyed his seven balls consideringly. He wasn't going to lose this, no matter how good Aidan was, he thought as he bent over and carefully aimed. Aidan wasn't the only one who was good at billiards.
Bright color rolled across the green of the table as Ohtori Choutarou methodically sank his striped billiards balls into pockets, finally sending the eight ball in with a very slight smile.
He glanced up into his roommate's startled green eyes. "I told you I knew how to play," he murmured as he straightened.
"Yeah," Aidan returned, "but I don't usually lose. I've been playing a long time." He shivered slightly as they stepped out of the smoky pub and into the cool, crisp London air. "Did someone teach you?"
Ohtori stilled, for just a moment, before he forced a smile and stuffed his suddenly tightly fisted hands in his pocket. "A…friend of mine, back in Tokyo," he finally said. "He's really good, and he taught me how to play when we were in middle school."
"Oh," Aidan said. He scooped long strands of blond hair away from his face and his mouth curled in a self-deprecating half smile. His usually bright eyes were dark as they met Ohtori's. "Yeah, a friend taught me, too."
They were silent, their footsteps and their breaths were the only sounds they made as they walked slowly back to their dormitory.
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