The biggest problem with doing Shakespeare at a boys’ school is that someone always ends up in a dress.
Well, most people see it as a problem, but not Tooru. In his first year, he was Helena in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He loved the way his legs felt in the costume, and the way the fabric swished around when he walked. He loved spending hours in front of the mirror, choosing the shade of blush that best suited his complexion and giving himself perfect winged eyeliner. He loved putting on a high-pitched voice and flirting with the third year playing Demetrius. But more than anything else, Tooru loved the other boys in dresses.
In his second year, he starred as Lady Macbeth, and now, in his third year, the Drama Club’s major production is Much Ado About Nothing. Tooru is damned if he’s going to end up in a dress. This year, he won’t settle for anything less than the romantic lead.
The first audition is only for Benedick and Beatrice. They’re the cornerstones of the cast, and everyone needs to be able to work around them.
The Drama Club coordinator, Takeda-sensei, is at the front of the room, flanked by the student director. This year, the director is a second year called Chikara, who’s been in the club since last year, working backstage. He stares openly at Tooru when he walks in, and blinks for a few moments, before sighing.
"Thank god," he says, "I was beginning to think we wouldn’t have anyoneauditioning for Beatrice.”
Tooru laughs. “Actually, I’m here for Benedick.”
Chikara and Takeda-sensei’s faces fall.
"You’ve done so well in a female role every other year," Takeda-sensei says. He has a delicate tone, like he knows what would happen if he offended Tooru.
"And since it’s my last year in this club, I want to try something different," Tooru says sweetly. "Will that be a problem?"
"Not at all!" Takeda-sensei says quickly.
They both know there’s no-one better for the job, anyway. It’s going to be Tooru’s role. The only question now is finding a Beatrice to match him.
After a few minutes, some more boys arrive who’re willing to have a crack at her role—either that, or they’re just desperate to get on stage—so they start pairing up, reading a few lines together, and switching around.
Benedick and Beatrice’s relationship is built on snark and animosity, and the two people playing them need to have the sort of rapport that makes their lines seem to flow as though they were improvised, not memorised. There’s no-one in this room who can match Tooru. His skill in acting stems from an excellent memory and a flawless sense of timing, if he’s being modest. None of his Beatrices have the same confidence. Makki comes closest because of his dry sense of humour, but Tooru can’t see them flirting. It just wouldn’t work.
Then, twenty minutes into the audition, there’s a knock at the club room door.
Tooru recognises the newcomer as Sugawara Koushi from Class 4, who gives it his all in theatresports and has had a bit part in the major production every year, but has never shown himself to be anything other than a painfully ordinary actor.
"Am I too late?" Koushi asks.
"A little bit," Takeda-sensei says sheepishly. "Do you want to read for Benedick or Beatrice?"
Koushi flushes an interesting shade of pink. “I’d like to try Beatrice.”
"Okay," Chikara says. "Why don’t you try reading with Matsukawa?"
Everyone listens to the two of them together, but Koushi is too effusive and Mattsun’s delivery is far too flat for Benedick. It’s not a good combination.
They move onto another pair, and another, working through the possibilities. Tooru gets impatient, though.
"Sensei," he says, "can I try reading with Sugawara-chan?"
"I don’t see why not," Takeda-sensei says.
Tooru leaps to his feet, bringing his script up to the makeshift stage, and Koushi follows.
"Hi," Koushi says, his voice shaking a little.
"Nervous?" Tooru asks.
"Well, you do have a bit of a reputation," Koushi says.
Tooru isn’t quite sure how to respond to that. Of course he has a reputation. But most people would be flattered to be auditioning alongside the best actor in the Drama Club.
"Relax, Suga-chan!" he says, for want of anything better.
Koushi looks like he’s about to respond, but Chikara cuts in.
"Okay, you two, from the start of the page, if you would."
Tooru clears his throat. “If Signior Leonato be her father, she would not have his head on her shoulders for all Messina, as like him as she is.”
Koushi laughs, but it’s obviously disingenuous. With a start, Tooru realises that he’s acting.
"I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick; nobody marks you."
Tooru rounds on Koushi with his most menacing grin. “What, my dear lady Disdain! Are you yet living?”
He takes a step closer to Koushi, hands on his hips. There’s nothing like confidence to spook an amateur, but Koushi keeps his cool.
"Is it possible Disdain should die, while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick?" Koushi pauses, putting a finger on his lip in thought. "Courtesy itself must convert to disdain if you come in her presence."
"Then courtesy is a turncoat," Tooru says. He doesn’t need to look at the script for his next line, so he loosens his grip and lets it drop to the ground.
"But it is certain I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted: and I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart: for, truly, I love none."
To complete the picture, and give a sense of accidental flirting, Tooru balances on his toes and leans well into Koushi’s personal space.
Koushi does that fake laugh again, only more dismissive, and tilts himself away from Tooru. “A dear happiness to women,” he says, “they would else have been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I thank God, and my cold blood, I am of your humour for that; I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow, than a man swear he loves me.”
It’s such an impressive delivery that Tooru is silent for a moment, his next line slipping from his mind. In the pause, Koushi lifts a finger and gently taps Tooru on the nose.
Tooru overbalances and falls flat on his arse.
The rest of the boys in the room burst out laughing, and Tooru is pretty sure he hears Makki say, “Shit, I wish I’d been filming that.”
Takeda-sensei and Chikara are dead quiet, though. When the laughing dies down, Takeda-sensei surveys the room.
"I think we can call this audition to a close," he says. "We’ve seen enough to give us a lot to think about."
"Auditions for the other parts will continue tomorrow," Chikara adds, "so if you weren’t satisfied with how you performed today, please come along."
As the room empties, Tooru looks up to see Koushi bending down and extending his arm.
"Need a hand?"
Tooru takes a moment to consider what Koushi is really angling for here. He’d just humiliated Tooru in front of half the Drama Club, and now he seems to be aiming for reconciliation with a kind gesture. Tooru thinks Koushi probably expects him to refuse help, stuttering and blushing.
So, he takes Koushi’s hand and allows himself to be pulled to his feet. It works—Koushi’s eyes go wide in surprise, and his mouth hangs open a bit. Tooru makes sure to act unsteady, and grabs Koushi’s shoulder to steady himself.
"You alright there?" Koushi asks, with a laugh that Tooru recognises as genuine.
"Perfectly fine," Tooru says, grinning. He doesn’t move from his position, all but pressed up against Koushi.
"You’re, uh, very suited to the role," Koushi says. "Everyone was expecting you to be Beatrice, but I think at this rate…"
"The only problem is," Tooru says, "none of the Beatrices could antagonise me well enough."
"Until me, I suppose," Koushi says. He has a look of unerring positivity on his face, and Tooru is a bit transfixed by the way his beauty mark moves when he squeezes his eyes shut in a grin.
"Well," Tooru says, "I’m certain you’ll look good in a dress.”
Koushi’s smile flags a bit, but doesn’t fall. Tooru chooses that as the perfect moment to brush past him and head for the door, and Koushi follows. They pick up their bags, but Chikara stops them on the way out. Tooru hadn’t even realised he was still there.
"You two," Chikara says. "I want you to show up at the general auditions tomorrow, so it’s not too obvious that you’ll be playing the leads."
Koushi grabs Tooru’s hand, his smile turned back up to full power. “Really? Ennoshita-kun, you won’t regret this!”
"You two clearly work well together," Chikara says. Tooru does not miss his little glance down at their joined hands.
He’s impressed, actually, that after so short a formal acquaintance, they’re able to read each other so thoroughly. Their hands feel like they’re meant to be clasped together.
Tooru pulls Koushi out into the corridor. “Are you doing anything now?”
"I was just going to head home," Koushi says.
"Don’t," Tooru says, releasing Koushi’s hand and rummaging in his bag for his copy of the play. "Let’s run some more lines."
"Okay," Koushi says. "We should probably make sure that wasn’t just a fluke."
"And don’t go poking me again, Suga-chan! That wasn’t very nice at all!"
They find an empty classroom and stay at school until it starts getting dark, picking passages from the play and teasing each other in between. When they get to the romantic scenes, it works just as well.
After the general auditions, and once the cast list has gone out, Tooru and Koushi meet every day to run over their lines.
Iwa-chan is very dubious of this friendship. He’s been cast as Don Pedro, Benedick’s closest friend, and Tooru wouldn’t have it any other way—playing best friends alongside his best friend.
"You should be running lines with Tsukishima," is Iwa-chan’s concerted opinion. "This is his first Shakespeare."
That, and Claudio and Benedick have a lot of scenes together, but, like most other people in the Drama Club, Tooru can’t stand Tsukishima.
"He’ll be fine," Tooru says. "He practices with Hero-chan every day."
Iwa-chan rolls his eyes. “Yamaguchi doesn’t know his lines yet. He only got the part because his hair is long enough to be convincing in a skirt role.”
Despite their complaints about the first years, though, the cast is coming together fairly well. There’s a first year prodigy who doesn’t know how to smile cast as Don John, and two rambunctious second years heading the Night Watch. And Makki and Mattsun were cast as Hero’s attendants, which only made them scowl more, but Tooru thought they would look damn good in maid outfits.
"Whoops," Tooru says, stopping by a classroom door, "here’s where I’m meeting Kou-chan."
"Last week he was Suga-chan," Iwa-chan comments. Tooru pretends not to hear him.
Thankfully, Koushi is already waiting in the classroom, so Tooru beats a hasty retreat from Iwa-chan and his bullying.
Koushi is sitting on the edge of a desk, and Tooru sits down beside him.
This time, they get straight into the pointy end.
"And, I pray thee now, tell me," Tooru says, "for which of my bad parts didst thou first fall in love with me?"
Koushi breaks character, just a bit, and laughs. “For them all together,” he says, “which maintained so politic a state of evil, that they will not admit any good part to intermingle with them.”
He pauses, and shifts closer to Tooru on the desk they’re perched on. “But for which of my good parts did you first suffer love for me?”
Tooru could quite candidly tell Koushi that he has never met anyone who could catch him off guard like that, although that was arguably not a good thing. Instead, he leans his chin on Koushi’s shoulder to read from their copy of the play, which Koushi is holding because he doesn’t know it as well.
“‘Suffer love;’ a good epithet! I do suffer love, indeed, for I love thee against my will.”
"In spite of your heart, I think," Koushi says, not looking up from the book. "Alas! Poor heart! If you spite it for my sake, I will spite it for yours; for I will never love that which my friend hates."
"Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably," Tooru says.
"Do you think so?" Koushi asks, turning his head slightly to face Tooru. That’s not in the script.
"That depends," Tooru says, snaking an arm around Koushi and poking him in the side.
Most people are ticklish there, and Koushi is no exception. He lets out a squeal, toppling sideways and almost off the desk.
"Tooru-kun, that’s not fair!" he protests.
"I am far too wise to woo you peaceably,” Tooru says.
"Then we’ll be prevaricating for as long as Beatrice and Benedick," Koushi says.
Tooru lifts his chin off Koushi’s shoulder. “Not on learning our lines, though!”
And they don’t. They have their lines from memory long before the first of the dress rehearsals, which is better than can be said for most of the Night Watch—although, there’s something quite pleasing about knowing that Dogberry’s stupidity is not just an act.
In the first dress rehearsal, Koushi is wearing an actual dress, and the moment Tooru sees him, he has to leave the room for a bit. But they perform perfectly, except perhaps for their fake kiss after Tooru loudly and enthusiastically proclaims, “Peace, I will stop your mouth!”
Everyone comments that the kiss seems forced, but Koushi agrees with Tooru that there’s no way to make a pretend kiss look natural. They’re high-schoolers, not Hollywood stars.
Still, Chikara comes up to them afterwards to thank them for their hard work.
"I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Tooru helping me with my lines," Koushi says.
Tooru privately thinks that none of them would have gotten anywhere without Koushi, though.
Koushi’s friendly but sly Beatrice sits in perfect contrast to Iwa-chan’s stern Don Pedro and seems almost sisterly with Yamaguchi’s timid Hero. He always apologises to Tobio for Beatrice telling Benedick to kill Don John, although sometimes Tooru really feels like swinging a punch at the first year when the curtains close. Koushi even knows how to encourage Tsukishima to be a bit warmer in his romantic scenes. And his friend Daichi makes a perfect Leonato, even though he wasn’t really thinking of auditioning this year.
It’s all down to Koushi’s influence.
And if Koushi looks so good in his dress on opening night that, in their final scene, Tooru kisses him for real, then that’s probably Koushi’s fault too, although Tooru is the one who gets told off by Takeda-sensei not to do it again, and Koushi is the one who used tongue.
They do it the next night anyway, and the night after that, but not only on stage.