Kogure almost doesn't notice. He's walking but he's really up inside his head, chewing over the economics project that's due next week and wondering, yet again, why this is so easy for Akagi but so difficult for him.
He turns before he realizes it, walking towards what so many others are turning away from. It's not his classmate's frightened face that catches his eye first, but the man he's frightened of.
It's the line of those hunched shoulders. It's the hands stuffed into those pockets, the long fingers that Kogure can't see. The hair falling forward so over the man's face.
It's the look of surprise in the eyes above the mask. But mostly it's the weight against Kogure's chest, like a plate of iron pressing out his breath. And the name in Kogure's mouth, heavy on his tongue, trying to be spoken.
Kogure takes his classmate's arm, stepping in between him and Mitsui.
"It's fine." His classmate yanks his arm away. "I don't need your help."
Kogure lets him go without looking because there's only one place he can look right now.
"I'll let you off this time," Mitsui says but he's still looking back at Kogure. "You owe me a pack of cigarettes."
"I'll buy them for you," Kogure says.
"Save your favours for someone who wants them." Mitsui turns and walks away, the same old slouch that Kogure hates, leaving the same old churn in Kogure's gut behind him.
Kogure is late to class.
Kogure buys a package of cigarettes from a vending machine. He doesn't have to think about that brand, of course he knows it, that bright red box in the corner of his eye every day in high school.
But he carries it in his school bag, still wrapped in plastic, for three days until he sees Mitsui again.
Mitsui is standing, lounging back against the wall outside the classroom building, mask down around his neck and eyes on Kogure.
That weight presses down on the Kogure again but his heart beats against it, double time to compensate. He takes the red box and hold it out.
Mitsui knocks it out of Kogure's hand. He steps on it, grinding it flat under his boot heel. "I don't want anything from you."
It's forming there again, Mitsui's name on Kogure's tongue, but he swallows it down. "I don't have anything else for you," he says.
Mitsui spits on the ground. He shoves his hands in his pockets and walks away.
When Mitsui is too far away to see anymore, Kogure picks up the crushed cigarettes and throws them in a garbage bin. Next time he sees a vending machine, he buys another pack.
Kogure is halfway home When the sky opens up and rain crashes down. He ducks into a doorway and reaches into his bag for his umbrella. His hand closes over the red box. He pulls it out and peels off the plastic wrapper, takes out a single cigarette and rolls it between his fingers.
He's not going to smoke it – he doesn't even have a lighter — but he brings it to his nose and inhales the scent of the tobacco, just a little stronger than the smell of the rain. He looks up and down the street. Whatever he was expecting to see isn't there.
He slides the cigarette back into the pack and raises his umbrella.
When Kogure gets to the classroom building, no one is lounging against the wall. But there are two half-smoked cigarettes, ground out on the sidewalk by a boot heel.
He follows the sidewalk around the corner of the building, then to the back, and leans up against the wall besides Mitsui.
Mitsui blows a cloud of smoke just in front of Kogure's face. "You should be afraid of me."
Kogure takes a can of milk tea from his bag. He doesn't speak, just keeps Mitsui's name behind his lips, and drinks the tea, breathing in the second-hand smoke and trying not to cough.
Mitsui plucks the can from Kogure's hand and drinks down the rest, head tipped back and throat working as the cigarette smoulders between his fingers.
When Kogure looks at Mitsui, he can still see, beneath the slouch, beneath the glare, the spring of Mitsui's feet along the court. The arc of his arms in a three-point shot, following through so cleanly as the ball whispers through the net. The flush of happiness on his cheeks.
Mitsui drops the empty can and it clatters on the pavement. He takes one more drag and hands the cigarette to Kogure. Pulls the mask up over his face. Walks away.
When Kogure's fingers start to burn, he drops the cigarette and grinds it out with his heel.
Sunday morning, Mitsui is waiting outside the classroom building. Akagi is waiting inside, books spread out and pencils sharpened, but Kogure goes up to Mitsui and hands him the opened pack of cigarettes.
Mitsui puts them in his pocket and unhitches himself from the wall. He walks and Kogure walks beside him, around the building, to the back. Around a corner to an alcove where they have no reason to be.
"Mitsui," Kogure says and the sound of it pulls him forward until his mouth is on Mitsui's mouth, tasting smoke and coffee and every single day of longing. Mitsui's arm comes up around him, hand splayed on Kogure's back, so much better then a three-point shot.
There's a storage room with a flimsy lock. Kogure watches while Mitsui breaks it and opens the door. Then follows him inside.
Akagi catches up to Kogure as he walks. "Did you finish the economics project? I stayed up all night."
"I didn't sleep much either," Kogure says. Half a headache is lurking behind his eyes from hours staring at the page of a textbook while all he could think about was his hands on Mitsui's body, pressing together in the narrow space between the shelves, the scent of ammonia in the air.
When they get to the classroom building, Mitsui is leaning against the wall. He looks at Kogure, just Kogure, as though Akagi wasn't there. Kogure feels the air change between him and Akagi, between Akagi and Mitsui. His stomach clenches but it's nearly with excitement, not with fear.
"It's time for class," Akagi says. He looks at Kogure, turning away from Mitsui, that wrinkle between his eyes pulling deeper, and doesn't say any more.
"I know," Kogure says. He watches Mitsui slowly take out a cigarette and light it, holding in the smoke for a long moment before he tips his head back and lets it plume away. Kogure feels that iron plate against his chest again, that pressure, that feeling of being crushed against another body.
"Kogure." Akagi puts his hand on Kogure's shoulder.
"Take notes for me," Kogure says, slipping out from under Akagi's hand, and walks away with Mitsui.