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The Other Side of Clarity

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“What’s on your mind?” Chigusa asks.

Rakan sort of hates that he has to.

***

When his grandfather passed away, Rakan’s first impulse was to flood the empty house with warmth and noise from any source he could find.

Armloads of flowers were harvested from the garden. He bought incense regardless of quality, looking for whatever was strongest, and cooked with all the spices in his pantry at once to try and keep the air full life. Sunlight was less easy to capture, but he opened the windows every morning and turned on all the lights at night. His grandfather’s portable radio went everywhere with him, even though it was a distraction his homework always took twice as long.

The other results shouldn’t have been a shock.

His electric bills shot through the the roof. He didn’t want to leave candles burning while he slept in case his room went up in flames. He ran out of vases and worried that his poor plants would wither and fade from overpruning, though they never showed any sign of it.

Then he started to feel guilty about the kitchen. Maybe there weren’t actually pots and pans lying around unwashed, but he couldn’t shake the certainty that the smell of stale food would still get into the wooden fixtures, taint his dishtowels and lurk at the backs of his cabinets. Eventually, he fretted, the whole place would turn rancid and sticky as day-old grease.

It had taken two bottles of all-purpose cleanser and a solid afternoon of scrubbing to make himself feel better about that.

But the radio at least stayed charged, delivering constant background noise for a very long time. Pop hits and classical pieces, talk shows and dry news programs, they all washed over him while he kept his hands busy with gardening and housework and school, a soundtrack with no particular theme. Living in an empty house exacerbated his bad habit of arguing back at the announcers and advertisements. But after all, there was no one to hear him.

He talked to himself too, cataloguing the day; planning meals, checking off tasks he’d already finished. Surface thoughts, at best. Nothing that needed to be vocalized, not deep or life-changing. But enough to fill time and make him feel busy— almost accomplished.

Living with a sleepy drone of thoughts and sounds wasn’t such a terrible thing. It was pleasant.

Practically.

At least it was enough to drown out the certain knowledge that he was alone.

***

“Do you ever wish you could still hear what I’m thinking?” Rakan blurts, so abruptly he doesn’t have time to regret the impulse until the words are already out of his mouth.

He has to ask, because they can’t read each other’s minds anymore. There’s a muffling distance between them. He and Chigusa call the problem static or bad reception, as if it were nothing more remarkable than a dropped call, because there's no vocabulary for speaking mind to mind. But to Rakan it feels more like his lonely house. A lack. An empty space he knows could be filled. The same way that darkness is really just the absence of light.

He's been telling himself this is for the best. After all, it’s one thing to offer your whole mind to someone when you think you only have a few hours left to live. In that situation every moment is pure and purposeful and focused.

It’s something else to expect anyone to put up with a lifetime of idle thoughts, pointless irritations, and private jokes that aren’t really funny enough to share. Even Chigusa, endlessly patient with Rakan as he is, would surely get tired of that eventually.

He can't help but think of the distance between them as a loss. But he's careful to remind himself that codependence is unhealthy, and a little space can be a good thing. It's really very fortunate that their connection has been drowned out under Japan’s thoroughly mundane and modern electric hum.

It's never occurred to him to wonder if he’d get sick of Chigusa’s thoughts in return. Honestly he can’t even imagine that happening. His traitor mind has begun to whisper: isn’t he doing Chigusa a disservice, assuming that the other man would feel differently? Doesn’t he want to know for sure?

Rakan has never been very good at holding his tongue.

Chigusa doesn’t look surprised by the question; if anything it seems to please him. His head bobs, curving in a particular slow arc that looks almost like a regal bow. It's something he does when he's especially satisfied. He puts aside the book he's been reading and slips out of his chair and onto the mat, giving his housemate his full attention. It's not a dramatic action, but their faces are more or less level this way since Rakan’s been sitting on the floor, surrounded by growing piles of folded clothing.

The problem with laundry is that there's definitely too much time for thinking, Rakan realizes in the instant before he's skewered by Chigusa's exceptionally perceptive gaze.

Chigusa keeps his conclusions to himself. He spreads his hands wide, palms open in a shrug. “Every day,” he acknowledges, unfazed by the admission.

He seems perfectly serious, speaking with the gravity he reserves for the things that matter to Rakan. It’s a little embarrassing to be so transparently invested, but then again, they’re talking about a connection that would make things a hundred times more open.

Something that he desperately wants.

He tries to ignore the way his cheeks are burning. “Do you want to try it now?” he manages, watching out of the corner of his eye to catch Chigusa’s next reaction.

Chigusa nods again, as if he’s been expecting this and it isn’t completely crazy to suggest that the two of them should try and be a little more psychic today.

Rakan turns to sit cross-legged, facing Chigusa. It probably doesn’t matter at all if they’re looking at each other, but it feels right to start with some kind of acknowledgement of the gap they’re trying to bridge. Like maybe his thoughts just need a little nudge in the right direction.

There's an awkward moment of silence while both of them stare at each other. The longer he looks at him, the broader Chigusa’s grin grows.

Chigusa has said that he likes communicating mouth to mouth. He means that he likes it when they’re smiling at each other, obviously. (Well, no. It wasn’t obvious at all, and Rakan had to ask him some very careful questions to confirm it.) Anyway, the point is that it’s true. More often than not, the look on Chigusa’s face tugs Rakan’s lips up in response.

Right now nerves are getting in the way of his regular reaction, and Rakan’s feeling more fidgety than friendly. He knows he’ll break first, looking awkwardly down and inspecting his hands where they cling, curled tight around his knees.

“What should I think about?” he asks, which is a pointless question since the words are irrelevant right now. The point is to get anything at all across the mental block between them. But at least he's smothering the silence.

Chigusa taps his chin thoughtfully. “Something unexpected. That way I won’t be able to trick myself into thinking I’ve heard you.“

Rakan’s mind goes immediately, stubbornly blank, but he nods because Chigusa’s right. If they want to know this is real the test can't be too easy.

Unfortunately now that he has a goal, “unexpected” is proving difficult. His whole brain is packed with utterly mundane thoughts.

Maybe I won’t fix anything for breakfast tomorrow, he thinks, trying to be contrary. There's still rice in the cooker, we could have ochazuke and fruit— well, I’d have to boil water for the tea— does heating up leftovers count— and he is literally babbling to himself about food, the most obvious thing in the world.

Chigusa is watching him patiently, his face a particularly serene mask. If he could actually hear Rakan, he might bore him to death.

He starts again, trying not to get caught up in minutiae this time. Begins with thinking about Chigusa because at least that's never dull. At first he focuses on the man's expression, the slight gleam of his glasses when he tips his head. Should I buy you another pair? Those lenses are so small, aren't the frames distracting? But that's another surface thought. His feelings run deeper than that, and he lets them loose, just a little— thinking how flattering it is that Chigusa is willing to give up his full, undivided attention because Rakan asked him to. That he never seems to realize Rakan's ideas are silly. How glad he is to have him here, in front of him.

Chigusa’s hand creeps into his and presses lightly, a reminder that they're in this together, waiting for some kind of spark to catch.

When Rakan was alone he built a nest of smells and sounds and the taste of home-cooked food. Only Chigusa was able to bring touch back into his life.

It's nice, and not a bad connection in and of itself. It's just not exactly what he's looking for, and for a moment he's frustrated with himself.

What do I want out of this?

There’s another thought itching at the edges of his mind, but he quashes it and focuses on happiness, which is more an emotion than a fully-formed idea, but he’s hoping to push through Chigusa’s walls with the sheer intensity of it.

Chigusa looks at him questioningly. Maybe he can see something forceful in Rakan’s expression, but he certainly can’t hear him, and Rakan closes his eyes tight against failure.

The tickling idea is still there, waiting for Rakan to focus on it. He knows exactly what it is, even though his consciousness shies away from it, steamrolls over it on the way to safer thoughts about home and hands and the feel of his knee pressed too hard against the floor, or the faint sound of his own pulse pounding in the points below his ears. Paying no mind is not very difficult. He’s been repressing for what feels like ages. Weeks, or months. Probably since he met Chigusa.

He could let himself say it, just to see how that feels.

It is certainly unexpected.

Kiss me. Rakan thinks. Please. I’ve been waiting all year for you to actually kiss me.

He stays quiet and still for as long as he can, while his skin grows hot and his fingers grip Chigusa’s like a lifeline. His heart hammers in his chest until he feels dizzy as he waits to see if Chigusa will actually do it.

Chigusa doesn’t move. He can’t have caught that, or he’d say something. Even if it was only to apologize and let him down gently. Rakan is the one who taught him how to do that. It's basic decency not to lead someone on, but it's also a little bit self-defense against some of the repeat patrons in the cafe where Chigusa works. It would be funny if he used the same techniques here and now, but Rakan doesn’t feel like laughing. He's so nervous that he's queasy. He wants to push his clammy palms to the ground, lift himself to his feet and start running.

If Chigusa didn't hear him, if he can't pluck the thought directly out of Rakan's head, will he ever be brave enough to say the same thing out loud?

A familiar heat begins to bloom in his stomach. This is the way it's always been, when he knows the odds are stacked against him and what he wants most might be impossible. Worry and stress seem to peel away leaving him with a sense of resolution he hasn't had in months. He hasn't changed. Moments like this are when he wants to fight.

He still startles a little when he opens his eyes. Chigusa is much closer now, his face a bare handswidth away. He doesn’t know how he could have missed his slow creep forward into the tiny bubble of personal space that he still manages to keep mostly for himself these days. Too intent on trying to recapture a different kind of closeness, he guesses.

Chigusa’s eyes are closed too, not watching Rakan for signs of embarrassment after all. He might almost be asleep, lashes dark behind his glasses, breathing slow and calm. Waiting for a signal. For a connection. The static still hangs between them, heavy and thick, and Chigusa has no idea what Rakan's been thinking. But that's all right.

Rakan presses his lips to Chigusa's instead.

There's a breath, probably a second of doubt, but it seems to hang suspended for a very long time. And then Chigusa is kissing him back and it feels like a hundred things are happening at once. There's warmth, a generous mouth and a possessive hand at the back of his neck that makes Rakan's skin prickle in a strange, pleasant way. He has no idea what he's doing, and he has the vaguely uncomfortable sense that Chigusa definitely does, but the kiss is still his, something that he's giving, not receiving. He pushes forward a little, and Chigusa lets him.

Chigusa isn't drawing back, which is good because he doesn't want this to end, but bad because he has no idea what to do next. He's not sure if it's ok to breathe in the moments when their mouths catch and pull away a little, or if that would be rude or strange. Chigusa's lips still turn up at every opportunity, it's just that Rakan can feel them instead of seeing them. He can't help but feel a little pleased over how very Chigusa that is, not like kissing anybody else would feel.

He puts his hands to the other man's chest, something he's never done under good circumstances before. Feels the beat of his heart, harsh and reassuring. Proof of what he's always been able to see, that Chigusa is here, alive, with him. That Chigusa feels the same way he does.

"Rakan—" Chigusa says out loud, and the tone of his voice is perfect, vibrating through Rakan and traveling down the full length of his spine, much more than just words.

It's certainly not the same as being inside of Chigusa's head.

Maybe it's better.

***

On their first night back in Japan, Rakan didn't bother to open the house up. He didn't waste electricity with abandon, or rush from room to room to shake off the dust. It was enough to know that Chigusa was there, occupying one small corner of the world with him.

He'd forgotten that feeling, somewhere along the way. But he's remembered it now.