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Exhilaration

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“Honey,” Raku drones out absent-mindedly, flipping through a magazine with quick fingers, eyes glazed over with disinterest. “What are we doing tomorrow for our date?”

Chitoge stops writing in her notebook and looks up at him from across the table. With a frown she stretches her legs out and kicks him in the knee purposefully, forcing him to meet her gaze. “I already have plans. I told you yesterday,” she says.

He stares for a moment, unable to process. Saturdays had always been reserved for their dates. Even if it was just a fake relationship they were in. Raku has recognized her as his best friend, but the disappointment cuts him much, much deeper than he thinks it should. “I don’t remember.”

“Kosaki-chan was there, too,” she reminds him, doodling a couple of hearts aimlessly on the top of her notebook page, her tone frustrated. “She’s the one who encouraged me, remember?”

No wonder he couldn’t remember. Onodera had a way of making him lose his head - especially yesterday when she’d worn her hair pinned back from her face, the little hairs falling out of the elastic at the nape of her neck. His distraction level had been over 900.

“Oh, yeah,” he says. And then a memory from last week surfaces. “I thought we were going to see that new action flick tomorrow?”

“Rain check,” Chitoge replies, and then sees the strange, wounded look on his face. “Honestly, Beansprout, you should be happy you get a free Saturday, right? You haven’t had a weekend without me since the week we met.”

“Where are you going?” he asks, and his voice is unexpectedly rough, like sandpaper. He’s annoyed? That doesn’t make any sense at all, he thinks - he should be overjoyed to have a weekend without playing the part of a lovey dovey boyfriend.

She rolls her eyes, probably because she told him yesterday and he couldn’t remember. “Yuuki-senpai invited me to go karaokeing with him and some of his friends,” she informs him again.

His hand stills against the magazine, and a rush of bitterness fills him with surprising force. He doesn’t understand, but his tongue is quicker than his brain. “Yuuki-senpai?”

Chitoge nods, almost entirely oblivious to the harshness of his voice. “Mm! From Class 3-B. Yuuki Kazuto-senpai.”

Since when has Chitoge been hanging out with third years? he wonders sourly.

::::

Raku doesn’t see or hear from Chitoge until Monday morning and he’s astounded when he spots her waiting for him by the swingset, and there is a pink bow in her hair. She’s worn different bows before, he knows - he remembers a time when she demanded that he notice it. Remembers that he did, even though he felt inclined to say nothing.

She beams him a radiant smile, far more gleeful than any high school student on a Monday morning has a right to be. “Good morning, Darling!”

Though he never commented on any of her appearance changes in the past, the first thing he finds himself saying to her is, “New ribbon?”

“Huh?” She seems taken aback by his sharp eyes. “Yeah, I guess! It compliments my hair, right?” Chitoge pulls some of her hair over her shoulder and strokes the golden locks, her whole face glowing. When’s the last time he’s ever seen her this happy without reason? He can’t remember - and it makes him feel a bit uneasy. Isn’t that strange? Shouldn’t her good mood be a good thing?

His hand tightens around the strap of his bag as they start walking down the sidewalk toward school. “Why the change?”

She won’t meet his gaze, and her cheeks turn rosy. “For something new.”

Its a little suspicous. He spent all weekend thinking about her, wondering what she was doing with Yuuki-senpai with increasing annoyance, only to find her on Monday brilliant and lovely and seemingly out of character. He says it only because its true, and only because not knowing what she’d been up to this weekend had fractured his peace of mind “It looks nice.”

Chitoge grins though her face does seem to grow a shade darker. “I know.”

::::

“Ichijou-kun?” Onodera says questioningly. “Ichijou-kun?”

Raku slides his eyes away from the door where Chitoge stands in the frame, her back pressed against it. “Huh?” he asks, looking at Onodera.

“It’s okay, Ichijou-kun,” she says with a precious smile. “No one suspects a thing - everyone thinks you and Chitoge-chan are too lovey dovey to split up.”

Raku tries to smile back at her, but it feels forced and it unnerves him that, despite how cute Onodera looks today, he hasn’t managed to take his eyes away from Chitoge once since lunch started. It might have something to do with Chitoge’s conversational partner. A boy who must be half a foot taller than Raku stands there outside of the classroom with his hands in his pockets, laughing at something that Chitoge said. It must be Yuuki, he thinks with no small amount of bitterness. He looks like a nice kid - bright, happy, cheerful. He’s got dark hair and dimples when he smiles, a handsome guy, a decent guy. The kind of guy he’d expect to go for someone like Chitoge.

They were only fake dating, but why the hell did it bother him so much when Yuuki reached out to touch the new pink ribbon in her hair?

Shuu breaks Raku’s train of thoughts with a sharp elbow to his ribcage. “Ehhh? What are you thinking about there, Raku? You had an awfully intense look on your face.” He leans over with a knowing look that pisses Raku off.

“Raku-sama!” Marika trills, shoving her bento box toward him from her spot next to Onodera. “Will you cut up this pork for me? It’s too hard for me to eat - a lady shouldn’t be stuffing her mouth with pieces that big!”

Shuu snickers as if he’s going to add a comment to that but as soon as he opens his mouth Miyamoto kicks him under the table and he grins painfully. “Right, Raku, how about cutting up that pork for Tachibana?”

Onodera pulls the bento box toward herself, eyeing Raku who seems to be oblivious anything else at the moment. She smiles a bit sadly, inwardly, as she settles Marika’s lunch in front of her. “I’ll take care of it for you, Marika-chan.”

Raku finds his gaze drawn back to the corner where Chitoge stands, and he clenches his jaw when she laughs at something Yuuki says, who is grinning brilliantly from ear to ear. His face is red, pleased. Raku understands with a moment of shocking clarity that Yuuki is satisfied with himself, for drawing laughter out of Chitoge.

He doesn’t really hear the conversation anymore. He’s staring at Yuuki and Chitoge making lively conversation together and he feels angry. Strangely, hotly, unexplainably angry. It’s not like Chitoge had ever done anything wrong - well, he is a little offended that she blew off their date on Saturday to hang out with an upperclassman - but he’s still… .angry.

::::

The anger is most surprising at all. Raku considers himself to be a fairly laid back guy. A go-with-the-flow kind of person. So when he walks into the restaurant with Shuu and his other friends after school the next day to see Yuuki and Chitoge chatting it up in a booth at the far end of the building, and his blood pressure skyrockets, he’s completely out of sorts with himself.

Does that guy ever leave Chitoge alone? he wonders irritably. She must be annoyed, right? He’s annoyed. God knows, he’s annoyed.

“Hey, guys, I’ll catch up with you later,” Raku says absentmindedly to his friends, throwing his bag over his shoulder as he tries to amp down the hot irritation that boils in his blood. Some of the guys starting whispering excitedly under their breath - it hasn’t gone unnoticed that for the last two weeks, Chitoge has been particularly chummy with a senior.

Raku wonders idly if they are expecting a scene.

“ - so then,” Chitoge is saying as he approaches, “ - my dad actually gave it up! Isn’t that hilarious?!” She laughs, and her laughter is usually like a balm to his frayed nerves but today, it only pisses him off more. When has she ever laughed like that with him? Has it ever happened? He racks his brain, trying to think, but nothing comes to mind.

Yuuki laughs along with her, causing the smile Raku stretches across his face to turn a bit insincere.

“Hey, Honey,” he says as he stops at their table. Chitoge turns toward him with surprise and he can feel Yuuki eyeing him up suspiciously.

She smiles at him, but it seems dismissive. “Oh, hey, Raku. This is Yuuki Kazuto-kun. Yuuki-kun, this is my friend, Ichijou Raku.”

His eyes nearly bug out of his head. “Friend?” he chokes out inelegantly.

Yuuki smiles and  bows his head briefly. “It’s nice to put a face to the name, Ichijou-kun. Kirisaki-san has told me a lot about you.”

“Mm,” Chitoge replies to Raku’s question. “It’s okay - Yuuki-kun knows about our fake dating. You don’t have to pretend over here.”

His mood plummets. “I see.”

“Wanna sit down and grab a bite to eat?” Yuuki offers kindly, and it pisses Raku off. “We haven’t eaten yet.”

“No thanks,” Raku says, stiffly, his voice cold like ice. He needs to leave. He doesn’t understand what’s going on at all, but his feet feel like they are cemented to the laminate floors.

“We should set up a date for Saturday,” Chitoge mentions a bit strangely as he begins to inch away. “I’ll call you tonight?”

“Sure,” he replies blandly. “Talk to you later.”

::::

Chitoge groans as she shuts the door behind her and leans back against it, pressing the heels of her hands to her eyelids. She’s exhausted. After treating her to an after school snack, Yuuki-kun had insisted on taking a walk through the shopping district, which she agreed to heartily, lured in by his easy and open personality.

But she is tired.

Yuuki-kun is a nice boy, she thinks. Exactly the kind of boy she thought she would fall in love with as she was growing up. He’s cute, he’s strong and elegant and endearing. His family is normal. Safe.  He bought her a trinket for her phone today, because he felt like it, not because there was an obligation to, or because it was a holiday. He treated her to ice cream before walking her home because she mentioned how much she likes chocolate flavored anything. He compliments her. He adores her.

He’s exactly the opposite of Raku.

“I’m home!” she calls out into the house.

Somewhere, one of the Beehive members answers her with a “Welcome home, oujo!”

Chitoge walks to her bedroom feeling frustrated and irritated with herself. Fake dating relationship aside, Yuuki-kun is hers for the taking. For the past few weeks she’s enjoyed his company a lot - he gave her a lot of attention, and she didn’t realize how nice it was to have someone notice you until she caught his eye.

But after tonight, he just seems so…bland. Too nice. Too good-looking. Too perfect.

She’s bored.

Her phone rings as she’s entering her bedroom, and she pulls it out of her purse, unable to keep her heart from jumping when she sees Raku’s name lit up on the screen. Her pulse thunders under her pale skin and she takes a deep breath before answering.

“Hey Beansprout,” she greets him as she walks to her bed and throws herself down across her pillows.

He comes across a little sour, his voice like acid. “Am I interrupting anything?”

“Nope,” she tells him, too glad to hear his voice to be miffed at his tone. “I just got home.”

“Oh.” He’s relieved? “You know, if you keep hanging out with that guy, people are going to get the wrong idea.”

Okay, now she’s pissed. She bolts upright on her bed, incredulous. “His name is Yuuki-kun,” she defends a little more passionately than she really feels about him, “and we’re just friends!”

He snorts. “As if! You guys have been flirting for weeks now, and people are starting to notice.”

“You’re an idiot,” she counters fiercely, staring hard at the wall. “I haven’t been flirting at all.”

“Tell that to Yuuki-kun,” Raku spits out bitterly.

She’s so mad her heart could explode and her fingers clench her phone so tightly that her knuckles are turning white. “Who are you to tell me who I can and can’t hang out with, anyway?” she snarls at him, standing up, her free hand in a tight fist by her side. Her head feels cloudy, her body tense. She hasn’t felt this mad in a long time.

“Do what you want, Chitoge,” he snaps at her, clearly pissed, “but if our gangs start fighting because you break up with me, that’s all going to be on you.”

“I can’t break up with you if we were never dating in the first place, dumbass!”

“What the fuck ever,” he grinds out. “Look, just make a decision, okay? I don’t care what you do anymore.”

Why is he so angry? God, it makes her want to punch him! “Why are you being such an asshole about this?”

He’s suddenly quiet for a minute and she grips the phone even closer to her ear. “That guy is annoying,” he mutters indignantly. “He never leaves you alone. Doesn’t that annoy you, too, Chitoge?”

Her heart stops as the epiphany descends upon her. Is he… ??? She takes a deep breath, and looks at the framed picture she keeps of them together next to her bed, for both staging purposes and for herself. He’s grinning, his arm around her shoulders. Its stupid because she’s obviously flustered by his close contact in the picture, but she’s happy too. Grossly happy. She tries to think about Yuuki-kun, and if he could give her the same kind of feeling.

“I like the attention he gives me,” she confesses spiritedly, obstinately.

There’s a moment of silence and then, “I see.”

She sighs. “Look, Raku, I’m tired. We’ll set up a date for Saturday tomorrow morning on the way to school, okay?”

He mutters a goodbye and then hangs up and she’s left standing there with her phone, her heart pounding. The adrenaline rushes through her, her blood pulsing quickly, her face flushed from the argument. He makes her angry - so fucking angry - and yet here she is and she regrets ending the phone call already. Even if all they were going to do tonight was argue. Even if he is all sorts of pissed off. Even if he’s going to say stupid things that crawl under her skin and make her crazy enough to scream.

She’s exhilarated.

::::

“If you are just jealous, why don’t you say it?”

Chitoge stares Raku down, her hands propped on her hips.

He gapes at her. Jealous? Him? Jealous?? “What the hell kind of greeting is that? Good morning to you, too.” He sounds nervous though, even to his own ears and he curses under his breath.

She rolls her eyes at him. “I thought about it all night. You’re jealous, right? Because I keep blowing you off to spend time with Yuuki-kun?”

He stares unblinkingly, speechless, his eyes widening.

It catches her off guard and her heart sputters to a stop before accelerating at the look on his face. She had decided that he was definitely jealous but she hadn’t expected him to give into the accusation so easily! Raku is jealous, she thought as she tried to remember to breathe, her face getting hot. She feels embarrassed now, for saying anything at all.

“I…” he trails off, caught in her gaze, still.

She drops her eyes, clutching her hands at her chest. “It’s okay! I’m going to tell him today that we can only be friends,” she says haltingly. “So don’t worry about our families getting into any fights!”

The atmosphere is so stifling that she turns from him and starts walking away. “I’m going on ahead! See you at school!”

::::

She takes a deep breath. “Yuuki-kun? We… .” It’s hard to find the right words. In another lifetime, she thinks she would have fallen in love with him.

He watches her closely, his green eyes so gentle that she thinks it makes this whole thing even worse. He cares about her, she knows. He’d… .he’d take good care of her, if she let him. If the complications of fake dating Raku weren’t an issue, then maybe she wouldn’t be having this conversation with him. Maybe they’d be talking about something else entirely. Maybe she’d be asking him out on a real date.

After another long stretch of silence he sighs and leans back against the wall of the school, laughing under his breath. She’s startled by how easy-going he is, despite the tense atmosphere she’s set around them.

“We can only be friends, right?” he says unexpectedly, meeting Chitoge’s conflicted gaze.

“Yeah,” she replies.

“I know,” he tells her.

She’s surprised. “You knew?”

Sheepishly, he scratches at the back of his neck and looks towards the clouds that puff across the sky slowly. “Well, I had an inkling. That guy was always watching you, you know? Even before we starting hanging out, I’d noticed it. He probably hates my guts, yeah?”

For a moment, Chitoge recalls some of the things Raku had said on the phone the night before, the ugly tone in his voice, the way he spat out his words. “Probably,” she admits. “He’s a big baby. A complete idiot. Don’t consider his opinion of you to have any real weight.”

He laughs again. His laugh is good - the kind that makes you want to laugh along with him. “I won’t.” Their eyes meet again and while he looks very warm, he also looks a bit sad. “If you weren’t supposed to be in a fake relationship with him, would you still turn me down?”

No one had ever confessed to her before - and while he wasn’t outright admitting his feelings, she still understood that what he was saying meant he liked her. A lot. For a moment, she wishes she liked him back.

“If I hadn’t been in a fake relationship with Raku, I don’t think his path and mine would have ever crossed,” she tells him. “We hated each other when we first met. If our parents hadn’t forced us together, we would have avoided each other entirely. So…no. I wouldn’t have turned you down, Yuuki-kun.”

He grins at her, like sunshine breaking through the clouds on a rainy day. “At least I know I have a chance in some sort of alternate reality,” he jokes.

Chitoge hugs her arms to herself. “Thank you for understanding.”

His smile is still sincere. “Good luck with that guy. I’m rooting for you, Kirisaki-san.”

::::

Raku is already blushing when she opens her door and finds him standing there with a flower. He shoves it at her face and refuses to look her in the eye. “Here, Honey.”

She smiles and plucks it out of his fingers, setting it inside the vase just inside the door of her home before stepping out and closing the door behind her. “Thanks, Darling.”

They walk downtown for the most part in silence. It had been decided yesterday that they would go see that movie they’d made plans to watch a couple weeks ago and maybe grab a bite to eat afterwards. Raku walked with his eyes focused far away from her, one hand in his pocket, the other clasped in her grip as she walked beside him.

He didn’t say anything until they were in line for buying the tickets. “I’m sorry for being such an asshole,” he murmurs. “I…was jealous.”

Her heart gets caught in her throat before she can reply. “You are my best friend, Raku,” she tells him softly after a moment. “Just you.”

His face seems to grow hotter, and he covers his mouth with the back of his wrist, embarrassed. “You’re my best friend, too.”

She smiles warmly, radiantly. “I know.”