Look to the Beat

by templemarker

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/181990.html)

week one: contemporary

There wasn’t a barre in this studio, which wasn’t unusual, exactly, but it wasn’t something David was used to. He’d been inside a lot of studios over the last fourteen years he’d been dancing, though, and sometimes you had to make do. He dropped his stuff in a corner, amid a dozen other bags and packs, and skimmed out of his sweatshirt too. The sneakers stayed on, a pair of vintage Air Jordans he’d found in the Goodwill by his mom’s house, and that was probably the weirdest of all.

He shook it off, though; it wasn’t like he was the first ballet dancer to ever tackle a new dance style, or even the first one trying out for If You Know You Can Move. David found a spot in the back, near the open windows overlooking the mall’s courtyard, and planted his feet on the floor. He dipped into a series of grand plies, moving from First to Fifth with the kind of mindlessness only derived from repetition. Other students were stretching out too, in various stages of dress; David didn’t look out of place in his black shirt and grey sweats, but he was definitely the only one warming up in the classical style.

It wasn’t like it didn’t work, though, or there would be no point in doing it.

Right at 3:01, Javier Rapinoe walked in, a big grin on his face. He was young, only a couple of years older than David. Even though he never made it past the Top Eight on IYKYCM he’d been a fan favorite, always smiling and working his ass off. Being a hip hop dancer and getting ballroom routines four weeks in a row had to be grueling, but he’d taken it with excitement, netting him and his partner, a contemporary dancer, a slot in the Top Ten and making it two weeks longer than she had.

It hadn’t taken much, through the gossipy dancer’s grapevine, to learn that Javier–Javi, he liked to be called–had taken on teaching a couple of classes at a studio out in Silver Lake. Lyrical hip hop on Tuesdays, the class David was in now, and B-Boy Basics on Saturday mornings. David was willing to do a lot of things for his first year trying out for If You Know You Can Move, but there was no way he was going to try to hold his entire body up by one lean arm. He was worried enough about lifts–all dance girls were not alike, and contemporary female dancers had totally different body composition from female ballet dancers.

David needed to learn some hip hop moves, just to make sure he could hack it through Vegas, but more than that, he really wanted to know what it was actually like, on the show. He wanted to know if it really was as awesome as it seemed to be, as the dancers all came out of it saying, or if it was just another fucking propaganda machine like America’s Superstar. And to do that, he needed to talk to someone who’d done it–and Javi was conveniently teaching right in his neighborhood. The dance community was small and incestuous enough that David had run into a bunch of people who had tried out and not made the cut, even some who’d gotten to Vegas and ended up filmed for the pre-performance rounds on the show. But he didn’t know anyone who’d actually gotten into the top twenty.

“Hi guys,” Javi said, clapping his hands together. He wore flat-bottomed sneakers with baggy sweats, the pockets hanging out, and a thin blue A-shirt with graffiti on it. He had a hat on backwards, but he pulled it off and laid it on the chair that sat at the front of the room, in front of the mirrors. “So, we’ve got a big class today–I guess people heard a celebrity was in town.” He faked the motion of popping a collar, and that sent a titter through the room. It was a large studio, but thirty-plus people made it pretty close quarters. Javi laughed too, and waved his hand. “Naw, we’re not going to worry about that shit. How many of you guys are here prepping for Season Five auditions?”

About half the room raised their hands, and David suppressed a sigh as he raised his as well. Javi’s eyes scanned over the room taking in the number. “Okay. Well, I’ma tell you right now, maybe five of you are going to make it to choreography, and like three of you are going to make it to Vegas. If you’re very, very lucky and very, very good, one of you might make the top twenty, and then everything you learn in this class is going to help keep you from dancing for your life.”

The room got silent, and David was actually kind of impressed. It would have been easy to inflate the egos of the dancers in the room; some teachers did that kind of thing just to get more people in their classes. It was definitely better to try and burst a few bubbles early; dancers, especially professional dancers, lived a life of constant heartbreak, and that was something better learned earlier than later.

Not that he’d been scrounging for parts since he was twelve or anything.

“So, let’s get started and we’ll see if we can make some hip hop dancers out of you,” Javi continued, motioning for his assistant to start the music. “The first thing we gotta cover is the flow…”

David squared his shoulders and prepared to be schooled.

week two: popping and locking

“And one two three BAM, five six seven POP, hit hit hit hit SLIDE,” boomed Javi’s voice through the microphone. David hit the final pose hard, one arm arced over his head and the other holding his partner Daci in place over his knee. They were both drenched in sweat, and Daci made a face as they pulled apart, tugging at her oversized tank top to feed some air through. David lifted his shirt to wipe some sweat from his forehead, and when he pulled it back down, Daci was unabashedly looking him over.

“Damn, David, look what you’re hiding,” she said admiringly and David struggled not to roll his eyes. Daci was a contemporary dancer, another If You Know You Can Move hopeful, and she’d never worked with a partner before–much less a male ballet dancer. David was on the slim side, if he was being honest, and he paid his dues with the bench press and resistance training to keep him from slipping behind other male partner dancers.

“Thanks,” he said shortly, moving back to the mid-mark where Javi was drilling them on a pretty tough partner locking motion.

Daci wasn’t dissuaded; she got back into position as well and the music was cued.

The class was challenging; David had to sit a lot lower in the pocket than he was comfortable with. A decade and more of “Light arms! You must float, Mr. Lu! Fingers like feathers!” was pretty hard to unlearn. He was getting there, though, and Daci was a decent partner, if inexperienced.

“Now hit it hard,” roared Javi. He didn’t even need the goddamn mike, David thought through the beat in his head.

The class ended with everyone limply braced against the floor, and David had to admit that it was pretty challenging. Not exactly twenty pirouettes in a row, but wrenching his body into position with a partner while simultaneously avoiding collision with fifteen other pairs wasn’t negligible either. He pounded his Nalgene, feeling the prickle of the air conditioning against the back of his neck. Everyone pretty much left after class, but there was a forty-minute window before set-up for the next class started and the staff didn’t mind it if he spent some time memorizing the routine a little closer to the mirror.

David didn’t know the names of the moves, and they didn’t spend much of the class on details; Javi and his assistants were more of the show-rather-than-tell school, and David had a feeling Javi had modeled the class after the competition and choreography rounds of Vegas week. That was smart. He knew his audience.

Slide, step, box slide pop, hands, hands, dip and spin and hit, hit, hit. David could see Daci move in the space between his arms, going down as his frame slid up.

“You want to be less rigid in your posture,” came a voice from the door. David looked up, and Javi was watching him, hands in the pockets of his sweatpants.

David tried to relax, but it felt so wrong. His entire musculature was built around Second Position, and he’d have to do more than try to slump to keep his frame from snapping back into place.

“I can try,” he said, forcing his body to relax towards the floor, “but I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to carry a book on my head either way.”

Javi snorted, and David pressed down a smile of his own. No one ever thought he was funny. Javi came closer, and David watched his frame: slouchy and relaxed, even though he was in complete control of his motion.

“Can I?” Javi asked, holding out his hands. David nodded.

Javi stepped behind him and pressed down on his shoulders. David complied, trying to sit low again. Javi’s hand pressed against the small of his back, pushing him forward so his dick was leading him rather than his center. That just felt fucking weird, and Javi laughed again. David met his eyes in the mirror, Javi’s face crinkled pleasantly in a grin.

“No swagger,” Javi explained, and David couldn’t help but roll his eyes. As soon as Javi removed his hands, David’s frame snapped right back into place.

“I think it depends on what you mean by swagger,” he said, and launched himself into a grand jeté that was easily four feet above the ground and landed him seven feet from where he’d stood.

Javi slow clapped ironically, and it was even harder for David to repress his smile this time. Javi hadn’t been this amusing when he was on the show.

“You’re going for it, aren’t you?” Javi asked suddenly.

David nodded. He figured it was obvious; there was only one other classically trained dancer in the class, Lia, and she was struggling much the same way he was.

“What’s your name? David?” Javi said, holding out his hand. David took it.

“David Lu,” he said, squeezing past the sweat of his palm.

“Javi Rapinoe,” which of course David knew, he was taking the stupid class. David smiled anyway. “Tell you what, I’ll give you fifteen minutes after the class if you want. Go over some pointers with you.”

“And why would you do that?” David asked, resisting the urge to wipe away the sweat on his face again. He might just fall asleep in the shower today. It had happened before.

Javi’s smile was broad, white teeth and full lips. “Maybe I want to see your swagger,” he suggested. “Or maybe it’s just ’cause you’re pretty. You gonna say no?”

David’s mouth opened, then shut. “I’m not saying no,” he said. “Thanks. I appreciate it.”

“I’ll see you here next week,” Javi said, stepping backwards towards the door. “Work on your frame. That shit might translate to the waltz, but you’re gonna be fucked on anything street.”

David watched him go, and then turned to the mirror again. He swept his arms into Fifth, pressing upward on the balls of his feet, and then dipped downward into a shadow of what Javi had been trying to show him. He sighed; why couldn’t this show be called If You Know You Can Classically Move?

week three: paso doble

“No, down. Down. Stop looking up at the clock, David, seriously, think dwarfish lands here. Down.

David looked at Javi incredulously from his crouch near the floor. “Dwarfish lands? What the fuck?”

To be honest, David thought he looked idiotic. He was sitting low, arms in a loose curve, feet pointed outward. He felt like he was in some Haka war dance more than anything.

Javi came up close behind him, threading his arms between the spaces of David’s own, and crouching down behind him so that David was nearly leaning backwards onto Javi. He felt as his weight subtly shifted backwards, so Javi was taking more of him. His center changed, pushing his hips out and his shoulders back, and his hands tightened in response. Javi’s head was by his ear, and David could feel the soft exhalation against his skin. If he popped a boner now, he was seriously going to go bang his head against a wall; the auditions were a month away, and this class was only three more weeks. He had to get this shit down, not imagine Javi shirtless like when he performed contemporary.

“Okay, see, see how it’s different? It’s like your entire bearing is different when you’re in this, like you gotta convince other people you have a right to be on the stage. You sit low ’cause you’re forcing them to look where you want them to look.” Javi met his eyes in the mirror, and pushed a little bit at David’s hips with his hands. “And yes, you want them to look at your dick. You aren’t pretending you don’t have one, you’re making them recognize.”

David tried, he really did, but he just felt stupid. He blew out a breath and stepped out of position, letting Javi grab his shoulder for balance. “This is ridiculous,” he said.

“Okay, David,” Javi said, running a hand through his mohawked hair, “seriously, why are you doing this? Because I promise you, if you think kicking it with me in a studio you’ve paid to use is hard, it doesn’t have shit on trying to learn a new routine, or three routines, every week in a style you’ve never even heard of with someone you’ve known for, like, a minute.”

“I know,” David ground out. “I just–I have to do this. I have to.”

“Why?” Javi pressed. “It’s not like there’s a gun to your head, dude. There’s other ways to dance.”

“Not like this,” David said. “Not like this stupid show. It’s the only–” he cut himself off. Why the fuck was he talking about this? He barely knew this guy.

Javi dropped to the floor, looking up at him expectantly. David took a moment to calm his thudding heart and said, “It’s all so fucking boring.”

Javi’s eyebrow raised. “What? Ballet?”

David waved his hand broadly in the air. “Ballet. Contemporary. Lyrical shit. Whatever, I could have had a spot in a couple of different companies, I could have gone on tour. New York wanted me. But it’s just so fucking boring. I wanted something–different. This, this show, this dance. It’s not like anything else out there. You’re not acting, you’re not backup to some bottle-blonde singer, you’re not waving a flower back and forth in the back of a chorus. Everything is on the line with this. You have to be at the absolute top of your game to compete, and people know who you are because you’re a dancer. Not because you were in Music Video Number Eighty-one.” He paused for a second. “It’s better. It makes you better.”

Javi’s eyebrow hadn’t dropped; if anything the other one joined up on the high plane of his forehead. “You are one arrogant son of a bitch,” Javi said finally, somewhat admiringly, hooking his arms around his knees.

David fell to a cross-legged sit and sighed. “I know.”

Javi laughed at him. “At least there’s that.” He hauled himself up and held out a hand for David. “Okay, let’s try it again. And for fuck’s sake, try to put some of that pride into this. Half the battle of hip hop is being an arrogant motherfucker, and if you can tap that for this dance it’ll come easier. So, down, sitting low, before going into the first bounce–“

week four: quickstep

“Good,” Javi said from his position hovering above David’s knee. “That was pretty good.”

They’d progressed far enough that Javi took over the female parts of the routine to match David’s part, and David could see the difference in his movement now. It wasn’t any less fluid, it was like the water hit the dam sometimes before flowing over. Whatever Javi said about sitting low, it wasn’t about that shit at all. David had figured some of it out, and it was all about the floor. He’d been trained all his life to see the floor as an obstacle, an articulation of gravity that he had to work around. Up, up, up, that was his challenge, and he met it with leaps and arabesques and one foot always hovering in the air.

But with hip hop, gravity was your friend. His feet always touched the floor as he slid from one position to the next, sneakers squeaking slightly at the abuse. Maybe he went up, but as soon as he came down again he had to plant his feet as if they were rooted to the ground. Feet, floor, gravity. That made more sense.

“This is significantly harder than the ballroom classes I’ve taken,” David grudgingly admitted as they hit the water.

“What did you take?” Javi asked, rubbing a towel against his face and down the bare expanse of his arms.

“I did a couple of two week intensives this spring and last spring,” David said, moving to slide down next to where Javi was resting against the mirror. “And I try to go to a lesson and dance night at least once a month, to keep it up. That footwork is not easy to remember.”

Javi grinned at him. “When we did the rumba, me and Annika, I seriously spent the whole night before the performance show watching my feet in the mirror in heeled shoes. It was the weirdest fucking thing to get used to, but the footwork was like ten times harder in different shoes.”

David gave him a sidelong look. “Do they let you use your own shoes?” he asked.

Javi shook his head. “The tappers, sometimes, because of what they do,” he said. “But most of the time the choreographers have the last word with the costumers, so you’re trying to get all that shit done in shoes you’ve never worn before. We had a running joke about the baby powder we kept backstage just to get through the performance shows.”

“Well, that blows,” David said, and Javi nodded his agreement. “Any other tips?”

Javi clearly thought about it for a minute, gulping down some more water before answering. “I guess, try to be honest about yourself,” he said. “The cameras tell a lot more truth than you realize at the time. And always smile, even when you’re being destroyed with the crit. I mean, with Kit standing up there like some kind of Amazon, holding you close even when you’re gross, it’s hard not to smile anyway. She’s seriously the nicest person ever. But it doesn’t matter if Nigella is telling you that she hated your costume so she hated your dance, or if Mark is screaming into the microphone with his bling everywhere–just pretend everything they’re saying is the best news in the world, because I’m pretty sure the fans of the show vote more on what your face looks like than what you actually did for two minutes on stage.”

They were silent for a long moment, but David couldn’t help it–he started laughing, and Javi joined him. He couldn’t stop, falling to the floor and curling into a ball. His stomach hurt with it. “Oh my–” he gasped, “oh my god, I can’t believe I’m doing all this work for a beauty pageant!”

Javi collapsed beside him, and the backs of their hands brushed together. “Not a beauty pageant,” he pushed out between laughs, “a popularity contest. It’s America’s Favorite Dancer, not America’s Best Dancer.”

Their laughter slowly faded away, and David began to feel the chill on his skin.

When he turned his head towards Javi, Javi was already looking at him, something on his face that David didn’t want to touch. He didn’t have time for–he didn’t have time.

“David,” Javi started to say, but David vaulted himself up and moved to the stereo, clicking the track back to the beginning. “Let’s run it again,” he said. “I was slipping on that second horizontal lift, but I think if I widen my stance I can push up into it better.”

Javi didn’t say anything, just got to his feet and ran his hand along the back of his neck. David stepped up next to him, and didn’t meet his eyes in the mirror.

week five: hot jazz

It was Friday, just before 9 PM, and David was waiting outside the studio trying not to look at his watch.

Part of him felt like he shouldn’t have taken Javi up on his offer of a private class, not only because Javi wouldn’t let him talk about money but also because he had already given a lot of his spare time drilling David on the ins and outs of hip hop. They’d even started reviewing the basics of breaking, which David was still unsure of but Javi assured him wasn’t as dangerous as it looked.

The other part of him had traitorously started counting the hours until he would see Javi again, and that was the part that totally won out.

Even at night the plaza was busy, the shops and bars near the studio all buzzing with people. David leaned against the building, scanning the crush of bodies for Javi’s familiar face. After a couple of minutes of nervous fidgeting, David spotted him in a white t-shirt and red baseball hat cutting through the crowd.

He willed himself not to smile too much. “Hey.”

Javi had no such problem; he grinned and tossed an arm around David’s shoulders, tugging him close into his body. He smelled like Axe and clean sweat. “I’m glad you made it,” he said.

David shrugged, going for nonchalance. “I didn’t have anywhere else I wanted to be,” he said.

From the way Javi’s face lit up, it probably didn’t come off as chill as he was aiming for.

Javi let them inside, and they headed up the stairs to the studio. They went to the same room out of habit, but the curtains were closed over the window and Javi just turned on the floor lamps rather than the fluorescents. David tried to ignore his stupid feelings, and how intimate the studio looked like this.

While Javi was messing around with the stereo, David dropped into a couple of forward-fold stretches, trying to work out the tightness in his left hamstring that had been plaguing him the last week or so. He closed his eyes, working through the burn in his calves, rolling his shoulders to try and get that looseness he’d need for the flow.

When he looked up, Javi was staring at him, something dark in his eyes. David met his gaze and didn’t know what his own eyes said back.

Javi cleared his throat and said, “So, I was thinking we could try that combination we worked on in class a little bit on Tuesday, but add in some of the locking you and I have been going over to make it a little more complex and a little harder-hitting.”

David nodded, and got into position next to Javi; Javi hit a button on the remote, and off they went.

Watching them in the mirror, David had to admit they looked good together. Javi was bigger, broader in the shoulders and light brown skin turned darker by the California sunshine. David had always been a little pale, by Silver Lake standards, and he was leaner, with a torso that tapered into a sharp point. With their baggy sweats that went flying every time they moved, David could easily imagine them on stage, wowing the judges and the audience with their synchronization and slick moves.

The beat ended with David acting as a foundation for Javi’s aerial twist, both of them dropping into a mirrored crouch just as Ludacris growled out his last line. David was breathing hard, his chest heaving, and he could feel the heat from Javi’s body only an inch away. He met Javi’s eyes in the mirror, and then he turned towards David and David couldn’t help himself but meet Javi’s eyes again.

“David,” Javi said, and David had thought the only thing he wanted was to get to Vegas.

He was wrong.

David swayed forward, letting himself teeter off-balance, and Javi caught him, sliding his hand up to cup David’s face. David couldn’t remember Javi looking serious before. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and tilted his face up slightly.

With a muttered curse, Javi kissed him. It felt fucking good, amazing; David couldn’t remember the last time he’d wanted to be kissed so much. He’d thrown himself into dance, and there was always a willing boy and occasionally a girl wanting to blow off steam after class or a performance. He’d had a boyfriend when he was sixteen, but that had been years ago.

Javi made noises when he kissed David, breathy gasps and stuttered moans that made it all hotter. David let his arms wind around Javi’s neck, and he could hear Javi’s strangled laughter. David opened his eyes to look at him, and he looked wrecked–a flush to his face, his mouth swollen and wet. David licked at Javi’s lower lip, pleased with the groan he elicited.

“Jesus Christ,” Javi said. “You’re, fuck, you’re amazing.”

“I know,” David said, pushing him back to the floor as Javi laughed at him.

One thing to be said for the sweats aside from range of motion was that it was convenient for hand jobs. David pushed his hand past the elastic of Javi’s waistband, shoving at the material of his underwear to get to his cock, which was hard and hot in his hand. Javi arched beneath him at the first stroke, and started to let out a string of filthy curses and bitten off words as David jerked him off.

He busied himself with investigating Javi’s neck, biting at the skin and licking away the sweat just to feel the reaction. Javi, for his part, pushed his hands up David’s shirt and kneaded the flesh there. David set his teeth into the join of Javi’s neck and pressed down, and that was all it took for him to come over David’s hand in his own pants.

David kissed him through it, gentling his hand to get all the shocks out of him, bringing his other hand up to push away Javi’s hat and card fingers through his hair. He was breathing hard, his eyes still closed, and David let himself look, really look for once instead of sneaking glances in the studio mirror.

He was fucking gorgeous.

Javi opened his eyes and in a flash he’d pushed David back to the studio floor and tugged his pants down. Javi took David into his mouth, and it didn’t take much to get him there–David was already pretty worked up from getting Javi off, and it was one, two thrusts before he arched and came in wet heat. Javi crawled up David’s body, grinding them together a couple of times on the way, and kissed David again.

“Did I hit it hard enough?” David asked quietly, feeling the smirk hidden in his smile come out.

Javi burst out laughing and shut him up in the best way.

week six: pas de deux

After the last week of class there was an optional performance component–nothing big, just performing as a group and in one of three sections of couples for the studio, and any friends or family that could make it. It was pretty fun. Everyone chipped in five or ten bucks and the studio got the vegan place next door to cater. David and Daci were at the front of the second group, doing the the other half of the choreography they’d learned in the six weeks they’d been attending.

Some of the more advanced students showed off their moves in solos or pairs, and there was a b-girl who dragged a large square of flooring out into the middle of the space and did some supafly stuff. Javi had been kept busy talking to his students and the other dance teachers, running around for the people that operated the studio and generally being made much of. The studio clearly knew they had lucked out with the advertising value of having an If You Know You Can Move dancer on staff.

David didn’t really get a chance to see him apart from a quick wave and a smile from across the room, but he didn’t let himself treat it like a big deal. They’d texted a lot, since last week, but couldn’t get their schedules to overlap before Tuesday’s class and now today’s performance. It had kind of sucked.

He made small talk with the other dancers, talking politely to a couple of the ones going out for the LA auditions next week. LA was always packed, and David had planned on getting there by six to handle the line. One girl said she was going to camp out at midnight until registration opened.

As the third group went on, David hung around towards the back, sipping his lemonade. He was trying not to get too worked up about the auditions; it was only the first time he was going out for it, and it took a lot of the contestants three or four times to get selected. And he’d covered all his bases–he had the ballet that translated to contemporary, he’d had the requisite jazz throughout his life that covered Broadway and pop jazz, he’d taken at least one class in every ballroom style they covered on the show. And now he had hip hop, with some extra popping and locking and a couple of breakdance basics that would probably come in handy.

The only thing that would get him is if he choked, or fucked up. Or if the judges didn’t like him. And there wasn’t anything he could do to cover that.

An arm came up and threaded around his waist, and David was startled out of his thoughts.

“Stop overheating your brain,” Javi said playfully, tugging David close to kiss him on the cheek.

David let his own hand come up to rest against Javi’s back, and Javi smiled at him in response.

“I’m not sure you’ve met me,” David said drying. “Hi, I’m David Lu, and a frequent complaint about me is that I’m too cerebral.”

“I just love your…brain,” Javi sang in falsetto, and David couldn’t help but laugh at him.

“Hey,” Javi said, “let’s go do that routine we worked on.”

David frowned. “What, up there?”

“No, at Grauman’s. Yes, up there. It’s a performance, let’s go perform.”

“But we haven’t done it since last week,” David protested. “And I don’t know it as well as I know the group number.”

Javi tugged him through the crowd towards the performance area. “I thought you just said you were brainy,” he said, his eyes alight. “I know you remember how to do it. Muscle memory.”

David made a face. “Muscle memory only works if you’ve had enough time to practice,” he said.

“Oh look, here’s the stage. Hey everybody!” Javi said loudly, over the talking and laughter of the group. “My name is Javi Rapinoe, and you all might know me as the guy that won Jeopardy last year!” He grinned as everyone laughed at him. “No, but seriously, thank you all for coming out to my first class here. I hope you learned something new, or at least got better at something old. I’m going to be teaching another class this fall, too, so keep your eye out for that schedule. But in the meantime, I’m here to give you a good show, and me and my boy David have been working on a little something-something in the off hours. Remember his face, boys and girls, ’cause you’re gonna see the man on the television. Hiro, can you hit it for me?” he asked the guy at the stereo.

David took his place next to Javi, shaking his head a little. Sometimes Javi was too much. As the beat dropped and T-Pain started spitting rhymes, the quiet voice at the back of David’s mind said, Maybe he’s just enough.

epilogue: Broadway

The camera panned out over the screaming crowd, and Kit’s musical laugh was caught on the microphone, ringing through the studio. “All right, all right, settle down!” she said, the faint traces of her accent as beautiful as she was. David had never felt particularly short before, but next to Kit in her stacked heels he thought he should at least get a stool. His eyes were at boob-level, for chrissakes.

“Mark, let’s go with you first,” Kit said, and the camera shot to Mark who was wearing a suit jacket made entirely of black sequins accompanied by a black sequined bow tie. It caught the light in a thousand different directions, and if David could have seen through the sweat in his eyes he would have winced, hard.

“I just have one thing to say,” Mark said, taking a deep breath, and David forced himself to grin widely when Mark let out his trademark whooping scream. The crowd went wild.

“You, young man, have a bearing and poise beyond your years,” he continued when the noise in the studio died down enough for the microphone to be heard again. “I don’t know how you do it, but week after week you somehow manage to bring the same class, the same savoir faire to everything you do, whether it’s disco or hip hop or that gorgeous solo you just did. I am so excited to see you advance. We’ll see you in the Top Six, right America?” Mark turned and shouted that into the audience, and they responded with another wave of screams.

David’s face hurt from smiling so hard. “Thank you,” he managed to say into the microphone tilted in front of his face. This was his least favorite part, the scrutiny after leaving it all out there on the stage, but he sucked it up and kept his fingers from twitching at his side.

“Justin?” Kit asked, turning to the guest judge. Justin fucking Timberlake had just watched him dance live. There was terrible video of him as a child doing the dance to “My Love” that he’d tried unsuccessfully to steal from his mother.

After a pause, to let the studio die down, Justin’s face broke into a grin. “Man, I love you,” he said, and the crowd started screaming again. Justin ducked closer to the microphone to be heard. “From that moment in the krump routine–props to Lil’ D, what up my man–when you just came out and there was this storm across your face like you were gonna conquer the world–you hit it hard, you hit it so hard. I commend you for that. And then you turn around with Meliah and just do this beautiful foxtrot–” He laughed as the crowd went nuts again. “Yeah, and you know that’s crazy hard, I’ve taken some classes. But seriously, David, you’re just a powerhouse in this competition. Maybe the only thing I would say is that sometimes you look like you’re thinking about it too hard, like you’re head-first in the dance, and you gotta take it a little more feeling, a little less thinking. But that’s true of every dancer, right? Great job. You’re just amazing.”

Kit grinned down at him and brought the microphone up to his lips. “I don’t think the cameras can tell, but you’re actually shaking right now,” she said, laughing a little.

“Uh, my childhood hero just called me amazing,” he confessed when the microphone came back to his mouth. He held up his hand to show the audience that it was trembling. “I’m not even sure I want to get into the Top Six now–just kidding!” he said at the roar that responded to his words.

Kit laughed, tugged him close, and said, “And last, but certainly not least–Nigella?”

“Well,” Nigella started, and David braced himself. Nigella was harsh, but honest. The audience might boo her, but they listened too. “I have to say you acquitted yourself rather better than I thought you might. You are not the first person I’d put into a krump routine, David, and it could’ve been the death of you. But you–in the parlance of the routine–you ‘legit killed it, for real.'”

David let out the shaky breath he’d been holding and let the screams of the crowd roll over him. Holy fuck, he thought for sure he was going to get savaged. He somehow mustered up a smile while Kit bantered with Nigella.

“And the foxtrot, Ms. Ballroom Champion ’89?” Kit asked.

Nigella laughed, the light picking up the shiny threads of her silver suit. “That was wonderful too,” she said. “Honestly, David, you’re the one to watch in this competition.”

“Thank you,” David said, feeling like he was repeating himself. But seriously, what else was he supposed to say? He’d made it through another week without the judges ripping him to shreds.

“And I’ll just note,” Nigella continued, “that we have Javi in the audience tonight–”

Her words were cut off against the screams, and the camera flipped to Javi’s grinning face. Javi waved, and David felt his heart stutter in his chest. He’d known Javi was coming tonight, but he was in rehearsals until the dress and then the whole social media engine did their thing as they were gearing up for the show. There hadn’t been time for more than a quick text message.

“Javi will be joining us next week for the All-Stars,” Nigella announced, her levels rising to be heard. “But of course, we won’t be pairing him with David, as I understand he’s your young man–isn’t that right, David?”

For the first time that night, David’s smile was real. Nigella knew perfectly well who Javi was to him; they’d talked about it before the show, and David had shaken off any residual claims to privacy after Javi’s simple do it showed up on his phone before they’d taken their places for the into segment.

“Yeah,” he said, barely able to hear his own words or Kit’s delighted gasp next to him, just keeping his eyes locked across the packed studio. “I’m really lucky my boyfriend is here tonight to support me. I couldn’t have done this without him.”

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