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words that linger like smoke on my tongue

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Chiaki knew he was ignorant of many things.

 

That never really mattered in the first place, no, not when he made up for his lack of knowledge with an unmatched gusto and enthusiasm. Still, that didn’t really change the fact that he was ignorant. A product of a sheltered upbringing, surely, but Chiaki was not so easily deterred by things out of his control. 

 

Of course, fresh in his second year of highschool, the most reasonable explanation to his ignorance was that he was still many years far from maturity. A fruit barely ripened. No matter, he could easily rectify that by living in the world. Even if that meant scraping his knees with every blunder and misstep. 

 

That doesn’t stop him from comparing himself to his peers, though.

 

The pursuit of justice often left you with many blind spots, after all. While he devoted himself to tirelessly rehearsing song after song, his fellow unitmates would gossip about topics he couldn’t fathom. Wasn’t it an act of perversion to discuss a lady’s three measurements so blatantly? Wasn’t it unbecoming of a student to nurse alcohol? That was illegal! You could get arrested for illicit possession. All these transgressions only worsened at the reminder that his “friends” were supposed to be part of a unit whose very image hinged on heroism and justice.

 

Chiaki was ignorant, in every sense of the word, but that didn’t mean he was stupid.

 

If he was the only one that wanted to uphold the values of RYUSEITAI, then so be it. If he had to reprimand his fellow members for showing up at the Underground Livehouse to engage in underage drinking, then so be it. Be the change you want to see in the world, right? 

 

Well, that was the agenda.

 

But, just like always, any time Kaoru Hakaze was involved, all his plans would easily be thwarted. Only one person could spin him so easily around his axis. 

 

That is to say, crossing paths with Kaoru was not a part of his carefully laid out plan of action. Really, he only meant to deliver a piece of his mind to the usual regulars before leaving since (a) he had a strict curfew; he didn’t want to worry his parents any more than they already are, (b) it was a school night, and (c) Kaoru had this uncanny ability of making him forget what words were. 

 

He knows that he should have ignored his curiosity. That the telltale sound of a voice shouldn’t have lured him, hook, line and sinker. That he should have left once he had reached the end of the alley. But, here Chiaki was, under the dim light of an old streetlamp, eyes following Kaoru’s every movement. He feels as if he’s intruding, an outsider looking in. An observer at best, voyeur at worst.

 

Who could blame him?

 

It wasn’t everyday that he got to see Kaoru, what with the way that his classmate barely showed himself in school. Even if Chiaki’s visits to the livehouse were becoming increasingly more frequent, it was still difficult to catch a glimpse of his silhouette. And, when he did see him, he was either gallivanting with girls or speaking in hushed tones to personnel.

 

Needless to say, Chiaki’s shocked.

 

Kaoru doesn’t notice him, far too fixated with his smartphone to look up. He’s in his usual work attire, nothing out of the ordinary at first glance. That is, until Chiaki notices that he was balancing a stick in his mouth. His first thought goes to, “Oh! A lollipop. I didn’t know Hakaze liked sweets.” to “…why is the stick on fire?” to the realization that it was not, in fact, a lollipop.

 

It was a cigarette.

 

Suddenly, the alleyway narrows and shrinks.

 

He moves without thinking, hands balling into fists as he steps under the bright fluorescent light. 

 

“Hakaze!”

 

Kaoru ignores him, because of course he does, who would want to listen to Chiaki, anyway? That wasn’t the point. Not when his peer could suffer a life-changing illness at the hands of a probable addiction. Heroes had to prevent doom! Heroes were supposed to be beacons of hope—what more could Chiaki do but prevent one criminal act from becoming two? 

 

To add insult to injury, it becomes even more apparent to Chiaki that he had no plans of stopping his session so easily. Instead of focusing on the fact that his classmate was breathing in even more carcinogenic gases, Chiaki watches long eyelashes flutter against high cheekbones. 

 

Chiaki shakes his head, dispelling any distractions that cloud his vision like dense mist. No more pretty eyes. No more indulgence. No more tying himself into knots over the way deft fingers could hold him captive once and for—

 

Let: honey meet chocolate.

 

Kaoru raises a single eyebrow, pulling the cigarette out of his mouth. He narrows his eyes, visibly displeased, as if Chiaki had just interrupted his private time. Well, he might as well have, but the brunet was far too fixated on the lit stick in his classmate’s hand.

 

“And, you are?” Kaoru asks, voice bored in its monotone. 

 

Chiaki forgoes introducing himself under the pretense that Kaoru was just fooling him. 

 

“Hakaze, that’s against the law!” 

 

“Yes, clearly.” Kaoru scoffs, “I wouldn’t be smoking here if it wasn’t for law number go fuck yourself, now would I? Who are you, anyway?”

 

Chiaki’s stern facade cracks immediately. He knew he didn’t stand out in a crowd, but to be forgotten so easily? Anyone would have recoiled into themselves from such cold and detached treatment. Immediately turning timid would only leave him open to more scathing remarks. 

 

So, he introduces himself, even when he knows he sounds silly. “… It would do well to remember that, Hakaze. We’ve been classmates since last year after all! The least you can do is know the names of those you study with.”

 

Kaoru hums, a noncommittal sound as he plays with the cigarette between his fingers.

 

“As I was saying,” Chiaki huffs, hands cupping his hips. He taps his foot against the concrete, frowning deeply. “You shouldn’t be smoking! Even if this was a smoking area, I would not have allowed you to do such an act. No, seriously, do you know how detrimental to your health one stick can be? Well, as someone with—“

 

Then, a dark burst of nicotine clouds his vision.

 

Because he’s an idiot, Chiaki doesn’t close his mouth. For some God-awful reason, his first instinct is to take a deep breath and let the noxious gases even further into his system. No amount of reading could have ever prepared for the heady scent that fills his lungs—pungent and dizzying. 

 

The shock of inhaling a cloud of smoke is enough to send Chiaki into a coughing fit. Nothing could have ever allowed him any anticipation for that. No cue, whether visual or auditory, would have helped enough to be a saving grace. No, if anything, any warning would have flown over his head with how unpredictable Kaoru was.

 

Kaoru’s laugh rings in his ears.

 

“Pff,” Kaoru pulls the cigarette back to his mouth, a mean smirk tugging on the side of his lip. “You’re looking like a real idiot right now, Morihara.”

 

Chiaki coughs, flailing a little in place. Oh, it would be terrible to have an asthma attack now. Not only because the prospect of looking weak in front of others frightens him, but the fact that he was faced with Kaoru Hakaze of all people. There were many words on the tip of his tongue; a slew of phrases meant to reprimand his classmate ready to be unleashed. All of which dies when an already vicious smirk turns even sharper.

 

“What? Cat got your tongue?” He jeers, “Well, good for me! I wasn’t in the mood to hear you out. Really, maybe if you were a cute girl, I’d listen.” He sighs, shaking his head. What a very Kaoru thing for him to guilt someone for their gender of all things. How bewildering. Chiaki could never understand him, but that never stopped him from trying. 

 

“It’s Morisawa.” Chiaki wheezes, pushing his glasses up. “I expect you to remember that since I just reintroduced myself to you.”

 

Kaoru shrugs, taking another deep breath of poisonous nicotine. He exhales through his nose, smoke turning into wisps in the air. “Eh. There’s really no point in familiarizing the names of other guys.”

 

Chiaki frowns.

 

Kaoru arches his eyebrow.

 

“Oh, don’t tell me you’re going to continue that long winded lecture.” He sighs, pulling the cigarette out of his mouth and tapping it lightly. Chiaki watches the embers fizzle out and turn into dust on the pavement. “Do you really expect me to listen?” Kaoru pauses to give him a cursory glance, demeaning and.. mean. Just mean. 

 

“Actually—“

 

“Oh, don’t tell me I have to blow smoke into your face again.”

 

“See, if you hadn't done that, I would have been able to do it properly!” Chiaki huffs, crossing his arms on his chest. It’s unbecoming of him, but the harsh bark Kaoru gives as a response only serves to heighten his embarrassment. His classmate is insufferable; can’t even remember his name; blatantly dodges every attempt he makes to befriend him, and yet.

 

And, yet. Chiaki can’t help admiring the way the flickering light above them reflected like fireflies in dark, honeyed eyes. 

 

“Oh?” Kaoru leans in, a fox on the prowl playing with his prey. “Don’t tell me Mr. Goody Two Shoes wants to have another go? What a surprise!”

 

“That’s not what I meant!” Chiaki cries, drawing back. Not even a step backwards could create distance between them, what with the way Kaoru leered at him so intensely. “You’re aware that’s not what I meant. You’re putting words in my mouth, Hakaze!”

 

Kaoru clicks his tongue. 

 

“So?” 

 

Chiaki takes a step back. Kaoru takes a step forward.

 

“Hakaze?” Chiaki whispers, fully cornered and at the mercy of another.

 

“Hm? Didn’t you want another shot at it?” Kaoru’s eyes have never held the spark or light that most had. If he thought about it, there was never a time where he blazed with passion. Yet, somehow, hidden in the shadows of an alleyway, do his eyes glint with intention.

 

“That’s…” Chiaki trails off, far too focused on the way that sharp smoke burnt his sinuses. “… Well, yes, I did say that, but…” Clearly, the blond thrived on feelings of hesitance and apprehension, what with the way Chiaki felt as if every single part of him was fully scrutinized and pinned like a butterfly on display.

 

“A little never hurt anyone, right?” A snake had the ability to molt its skin for the purpose of shedding away dead cells; In this situation, the ever changing Hakaze left Chiaki on his toes. From unapproachable to agonizingly close—so close, in fact that Chiaki could see a faint smattering of freckles. Considerably terrified, the incessant thump of his heart in his throat leaves every part of him stricken with anxiety. 

 

It’s true, a little never hurt anyone. But, a little could ricochet and snowball into an avalanche. 

 

“It doesn’t.” Chiaki affirms, cursing himself. “It… doesn’t.”

 

“Right?” Kaoru’s eyes narrow into crescent moons. “It doesn’t”

 

Chiaki’s hesitance barely evaporates.

 

“Well?” 

 

Second-hand smoking was markedly worse than direct contact with a cigarette. But, from the looks of it, Kaoru was willing to hold an encore of the disrespect he had subjected Chiaki to. Chiaki knows that he should refuse; push him away, and get out of the alleyway. Except, he was held prisoner by a hypnotic gaze.

 

“… Just once.” Chiaki spits out, every second stretching into hours. “And only once.”

 

There’s a moment when Chiaki thinks he sees a semblance of surprise flitting across Kaoru’s features. Just as quickly as he sees a peek, the blond immediately schools his features into the usual unreadable visage. 

 

Kaoru huffs in amusement, a cloud of smoke hitting his face involuntarily. He should probably get used to it. “Hold still and open your mouth then. I doubt a dork like you would even know how to smoke a cigarette, anyway.”

 

Chiaki blinks, eyes widening. 

 

It’s only natural for him to jerk in place—who wouldn’t be able to keep calm under the scrutiny of Kaoru, anyway? A moral dilemma it shouldn’t be, since engaging in such illicit activities would go against every single lesson he knew as fact. Naturally, there would come a time for him to grow past his boundaries, but he didn’t think such a challenge would come now in the form of sharing a cigarette. 

 

“Wait, now?” Chiaki splutters, feeling his glasses slip from his nose. Kaoru scoffs, rolling his eyes. He doesn’t answer, only bouncing the cigarette with his bottom lip. From this close, Chiaki thinks he could see just how soft and plump Kaoru’s lips are.

 

“When else, Mochikawa?” comes in a clipped voice, smug in all the wrong ways. “Hold still.”

 

Stunned to silence, all Chiaki can do is allow himself to be spun in Kaoru’s spiderweb. 

 

“I told you, it’s Morisawa.” Chiaki offers weakly, even when he tries in vain to rearrange his flustered expression into a neutral one. His breath hitches, wincing when a hand presses him even farther into the wall. One should never play the hero unless you’re ready to suffer through the consequences, but even the earnest Chiaki is frozen in apprehensive excitement. 

 

Chiaki fidgets.

 

“And I told you to hold still, didn’t I?”

 

Whatever smart response he had on hand dies at the feeling of a rough thumb pressing against his bottom lip. It’s far too close for comfort. Every part of him tingles with fear. He knows he shouldn’t be doing this. Allowing Kaoru to use him for his own amusement crushed the self confidence he painstakingly built up over the years.

 

Against everything he has ever stood for, Chiaki unhinges his jaw. He parts his lips. 

 

For someone who has never been kissed, he thinks that this is probably the antithesis of what a kiss was supposed to be. Chiaki always envisioned that his first would be after a date with a girl (because you could only go on dates with girls… right?). Even if their lips weren’t touching in the slightest, the intimacy of the situation made him weak in the knees. Kaoru’s gaze didn’t make it any better. The close proximity was uncomfortable—forcing his mind to halt. 

 

Sharp enough was his gaze that Chiaki could only tense up around the hand that was supposed to ground him. A deer in headlights, always scrutinized under the gaze of someone deadly. Not to say that Kaoru was in any means a danger to him, but he couldn’t deny that a part of him wished to escape. At least, if only to gather his thoughts and quiet his heart. 

 

Weren’t you supposed to share intimate moments like these with your special someone? As far as Chiaki was concerned, he knew that Kaoru didn’t like him. Or, at least, he didn’t hold a very good opinion of him. 

 

He tastes bitter nicotine on his tongue before he can even think about the searing stare he was at the mercy of. Whatever semblance of a thought comes out jumbled, even when every part of him steers him to breathe in more smoke. 

 

Kaoru’s face is still so, so close to his. He thinks that just maybe… he knows what this development led to. Because he’s stupid, Chiaki flutters his eyes closed. It’s because he didn’t want smoke in his eyes, he reasons to himself; as if he wasn’t wearing glasses. 

 

There’s nothing for a few seconds. What torture it was to leave his mind into a forced overdrive in a timespan that felt like eons. Was it going to happen? Was it not? Why was he allowing himself to be led around so easily? Shouldn’t he have stopped Kaoru from pushing him into a corner when he had multiple chances to refuse him? What was he going to do now—

 

A single laugh draws him out of his thoughts. 

 

Chiaki opens his eyes, gawking.

 

“What, did you think I was going to kiss you?” Kaoru chuckles, pulling away from him and taking a drag out of his cigarette. Instead of being surprised, Chiaki is ready for the onslaught of smoke on his face. It’s inadvisable to keep breathing in smoke, but a phantom grip on his chin keeps him in place. Oh, how he feels chained by an invisible leash, as if he was a trained dog. It feels wrong, but he can’t bring himself to break out of imaginary restraints.

 

“No!” Chiaki yells, pushing Kaoru away. “No, of course not!” You were only supposed to kiss girls, anyway. It was already a mistake, on his part, for even assuming that he was even good enough to be kissed— wait, but he wasn’t even a girl, so why was he so fixated?

 

Kaoru shrugs, slipping out of Chiaki’s grasp with a fluid motion. He takes a step back, a heavy sigh filling the air as he keeps his gaze trained on the brunet. There’s something akin to a tense silence in the air, palpable with words unsaid. Not that either of them had the courage to breach it.

 

In the end, Chiaki’s cowardice forces Kaoru to move past the awkward stillness of their stalemate. Distantly, he realizes that the cigarette in between his fingers is close to reaching its end—a little longer and it would fizzle out and turn useless. The particularly self-deprecating part of him winces and jeers at the familiarity of it all—but, does he show it? Of course not. Why would he when Kaoru was the epitome of opportunism?

 

“Well, shit.” Kaoru says, amused with a joke that only he was aware of. That doesn’t make the sting any worse, a still-lit cigarette butt burning the last of his self respect. “Didn’t think you had it in you.” For the most part, he’s honest. Chiaki doesn’t know whether to take it as a compliment or insult.

 

“It would do you well not to underestimate me, Hakaze.” Chiaki retorts, wiping his palms against the front of his jeans. It does little to calm him. Not when Kaoru was unreadable and unforeseeable like a maelstrom. “You never know. I may just pull the rug from underneath you.”

 

Kaoru laughs at that, tossing the cigarette to the sound. Out of nowhere, he pulls out another stick. It doesn’t register to Chiaki that his classmate was not only a smoker, but a chainsmoker, at that. If only he could pull his eyes away from the way the flame of a lighter glinted against Kaoru’s skin. 

 

“Honestly, a little dork like you is sooo out of place on this side of town.” Kaoru says, waving a hand as if that could dispel the fog that replaces any rational thought. “And, I hooonestly don’t want to get in trouble—Well, that thing can’t do anything, anyway.”

 

Every breath exhaled leaves bitter nicotine under his tongue.

 

“You came with—uhh, what’s his name,” Kaoru’s hum is long and drawn out in a way that’s all for show. “Well, it’s not important, really. Just ask him to take you home, or whatever.” He arches his eyebrow, giving Chiaki a cursory once-over before narrowing his eyes. It was one thing to be used to being glanced over as a second thought, but it was entirely different to be appraised so closely. 

 

Before Chiaki can answer his question, he feels Kaoru hold a cigarette between them. It’s almost instinctual, the way he parts his lips ever so slightly to accommodate the thin stick. There’s a rush of satisfaction that runs through him when his classmate makes an approving sound.

 

“You can have it.” Kaoru’s smile barely reaches his eyes, but there is a sliver of a dimple pressed into his cheek. “But, don’t consider it as an offering of friendship. Frankly, I want nothing to do with you, especially with how you keep dragging away my regulars.” 

 

Chiaki narrows his eyes, and takes a deep breath from the cigarette. It’s a taste he could never get used to, but the hint of Kaoru’s saliva makes him crave it. He doesn’t have the heart to blow smoke into his face, not when he had just accepted the faux symbol of peace. If he had to be honest, it was difficult not to cough out the ash with every inhale. But, if he inhaled slowly, the burn of pungent nicotine on his tongue was made a little more bearable. 

 

“Well, would you look at the time?” Kaoru says, holding his wrist and tapping it as if he had a watch (he had none). “Cute girls are usually most active at this time, and I have to make sure that that Sakuma-san doesn’t have any funny ideas when he’s in my turf, you know?”

 

Chiaki doesn’t.

 

“I still want to befriend you.” Chiaki blurts, when Kaoru turns away and holds his hand up in goodbye. “Despite your terrible attitude, you’re still my classmate. Well. We’ve been together for two years, so we should get along by now, don’t you think?”

 

Kaoru pauses, hand hovering over the handle of the door. 

 

“… I don’t know who you think you are,” comes a cold voice. When Kaoru turns his head, he catches a glint of even colder eyes. “But, I truly hate people like you. I don’t want anything to do with you, Morisawa. Understand?” He doesn’t have a chance to respond, not when Kaoru slams the door on his face.

 

Needless to say, Chiaki is stunned.

 

Left alone with only his thoughts and cigarette, all he can do is wonder if the past encounter was a figment of his imagination. Against his better judgement, Chiaki takes a long and deep drag of the stick between his lips. Just like the way Kaoru had, a poor imitation of a mastered motion. 

 

It’s when the last few embers flutter from his cigarette does Chiaki realize that Kaoru remembered his name.