Content warnings: None.
Notes: Belated birthday present for sogep! Special thanks to my beta, ZettoSan, who gave this a thorough comb through.
They had situated themselves at one of the cheapest, dumpiest hotels in the area. Mario was out like a light the moment his head hit the pillow--days of sleeping on worn out tatami flooring had more than taken their toll on him. Kaiji expected the same fate to befall him--instead, he found himself all too aware of the "new" presence that had entered what had been a routine between him and Mario.
It was still an irrational feeling, he thought. All that had changed was the setting and the fact that Chang was now sleeping with them. The first night sleeping with Chang kept blaring repeatedly in his head like an alarm, despite their separate sleeping arrangements. The rephrasing of it to the first night with Chang sleeping in my room did nothing to quell the intensity Kaiji inexplicably felt at the pit of his stomach.
Shaking his head, he stood up and walked outside to the balcony, resting his arms against the railing. His fingers twitched. He was dying for a smoke right now. He'd been so well off without any cigarettes for the last few days that he considered quitting altogether in lieu of his new life, but nothing sounded better to alleviate the uncertainty tightening around him than a good smoke.
"Can't sleep either, huh?"
Kaiji flinched, startled, and turned to see Chang standing in the doorway. He wasn't sure how he didn't notice him sooner; the balcony space was tight and cramped, and it was his awareness of Chang's presence that caused him to leave the room in the first place. Maybe he was just that deep in thought about smoking that it edged Chang out of his thoughts. It still seemed strange, and his reaction felt stranger. Was it really that surprising that one of his allies, days after a life-or-death-gamble in the midst of a life-or-death-escape plan, would also be unable to sleep?
"No…" Kaiji answered Chang, recomposing himself. "I must've gotten so used to our shitty old hideout...I'm having a hard time adjusting to a place where the wood isn't rotting."
Chang laughed and took a spot next to him. Dressed down to a T-shirt and boxer shorts, Chang winced as he rest his bare arms against the chilly steel railing. It suddenly occurred to Kaiji that this was the least amount of clothing he'd ever seen Chang in. His eyes fell to Chang's arms, well-toned with traces of muscle, and down to his legs, similarly toned and muscular with light dusts of dark hair climbing up from his ankles. Kaiji felt his body growing warmer the longer he stared at--
Oh shit, how long was I staring?!
Kaiji looked up with flushed cheeks to see Chang still looking out at the cityscape. Kaiji gulped in relief and glanced over to the inside of their room where his black down jacket sat folded up at the foot of his bed. He looked back at Chang, who was trying his best not to appear shivering uncontrollably.
"You uh…" The words were there, he just suddenly had difficulty summoning them from his mind to his tongue. He hoped it was dark enough out that Chang didn't notice the red coloring his cheeks. "You want to borrow my jacket? It's a little cold out."
"Th-that'd be great, if it's not any trouble," Chang said, warming up his arms.
Kaiji shook his head in a nonverbal "No trouble at all" and went inside to retrieve his jacket, creeping carefully so as not to wake up the peacefully sleeping Mario. He stepped back out and, instead of just handing it over to Chang, draped it over Chang's shoulders instead. He wasn't sure what had come over him; maybe he wanted to spare Chang the embarrassment in case the jacket didn't fit him through the sleeves.
"There," Kaiji said, trying to bring the atmosphere back down to earth. "That should do it."
Chang pulled the jacket around him like a shawl and smiled. "Thank you, Kaiji-san. You're too kind."
Kaiji cleared his throat and shifted his weight uncomfortably. "Yeah, well…sure…"
Silence fell between them for an indeterminate amount of time. Kaiji could sense Chang continuing to drink in the neon lights as he had been before, but comfortably now, thanks to the layer of warmth that had been provided to him. Thinking about it made Kaiji's skin tingle, and the blood that was dulling away from his cheeks threatened to rise up once again, so he tried shifting his concentration to the cityscape as well.
"What do you plan on doing, Kaiji-san?"
"After you leave Tokyo, what are your plans? Mario and I are returning to our families…do you have family, or anyone special you want to return to?"
Kaiji had to mull over this question. His family. He hadn't seen…geez, it felt like he hadn't thought about them in years. The day he firmly announced to his mother and sister that he found his own place and didn't need them anymore because he'd grown up was the last he'd ever seen of them. Had his last thought of his mother really been during that near-death experience in his gamble with Kazuya? Had he really been so obsessed with surviving and gambling over the years that he'd just up and forgotten about his family? There was his pride to consider as well; he knew, deep down, that he wanted to leave the image of an independent adult imprinted on their minds.
He'd become so lost in thought again that he, again, didn't notice that Chang was right there and he, again, jumped when Chang spoke.
"Ah, sorry, I'm sorry!" Chang sputtered, waving his hands out in front of him. "That was a personal question…you don't have to answer it."
"No, it's…it's a good question…" Kaiji said, trying not to get lost in thought once more. "I have family, but…well…I haven't seen them in years." He ran an index finger across the railing, the craving for a cigarette refusing to leave him. "I'm not sure…well, I guess I have some idea of why I haven't considered returning to them."
Chang nodded. "I haven't seen my family in years, either. Not since…I was a child, in fact. I'd give anything to see them again right now but…I suppose I'm also feeling a bit reluctant in that regard. So much time has passed, you know? I wonder if I'd even be the same person to them who left so many years ago."
"You have your doubts too, huh?" Kaiji felt slightly reassured. "It's true…we won't be the same as the day we left…even though I really don't feel any different from that day."
"Isn't that the truth," Chang sighed. "The more I grow up the more I feel like I was when I left. Like time passes and everything around me but my soul changes."
Kaiji was struck by the profundity of Chang's words and fumbled for a response that could match it in weight. Nothing came to mind. He felt a heaviness in his chest, as though Chang had given him a gift and he had nothing to give in return. He tried telling himself Idiot, you just gave him your jacket! but it somehow wasn't enough.
His body tensed up and his smoke-craving fingers twitched again. Was it really a smoke he was still craving?
Before he knew it, he was bringing his trembling fingers up to touch Chang's cheek. Five o'clock shadow prickled at his fingertips and filled him with a sensation he couldn't categorize--all he knew was, like a smoke, it was something he craved terribly.
Chang was looking at him, wide-eyed at the sudden gesture.
Shit, what am I doing?
Kaiji jerked his hand away. "S-sorry, sorry!" he blurted out. "I don't know what came over me."
"I-it's fine," said Chang, bringing his own hand to his cheek. "It…felt kind of nice, actually." He swallowed. "Uh…you can do it again, if you want." It was Chang's turn to turn red. "I…I'd like that."
Chang's own apparent mutual nervousness did reassure Kaiji somewhat, but it somehow made it even harder for him to bring his shuddering, smoke-craving hand up again. As though he read his mind, Chang grabbed Kaiji's quivering hand and guided it up back to his cheek. Chang closed his eyes and leaned in against his touch. Even with the heat pulsating throughout his body, Kaiji felt a distinctive warmth against his hand--it belonged to someone who also craved something, someone who felt gratitude towards another but wanted it to change into something more. It was a warmth that could only be provided by Chang.
Kaiji's heart pounded away in his ribcage. He was thinking about doing something he never imagined he'd ever do. It might be something Chang wouldn't want--but he wouldn't know until he tried.
He closed his eyes and slowly leaned in to press his lips against Chang's. He prepared to pull away in case he was breaching Chang's comfort zone, but the arm that wrapped around his torso in response told him otherwise. It pulled him in closer and made him fall deeper into the kiss.
A feeling seized Kaiji that he hadn't experienced since crossing the steel beam all those years ago. It was a sense of terror, of overstepping his own boundaries, followed by inexplicable relief. It was a feeling of having his heart joined with another's, of a connection that existed but couldn't ever truly manifest. It overwhelmed him to the point of tears, and the next thing he knew he was wrapping his other arm around Chang, squeezing his body against his own and kissing him harder. He was unable to mind the tears that trickled down his cheeks and stained Chang's--they brought to mind the allies he'd lost, the connection he severed between himself and his family, the last he saw of Sakazaki, and he wanted nothing more than to share as much as he could with this man.
Chang gently pulled away from their kiss. "Are you alright, Kaiji-san?"
"Y-yeah," Kaiji answered, tears continuing to fall. "Sorry…it's…ahh, dammit, I can't put it into words!"
Kaiji stood stiffly, quivering all over before seizing Chang's face in his hands and kissing him again. Chang threaded his fingers through Kaiji's long hair and grabbed the back of his scalp and neck. Kaiji's hands slipped his jacket off Chang's shoulder's so he could grab hold of them. Indeed, they were as strong and sturdy as he imagined. Among the connection he felt with the first kiss came a sense of safeness and security with this one. He'd repeatedly told himself time and time again not to get giddy over victories, no matter how big or small, especially when they were in a situation as dangerous as this one, yet he was too swept up in the feeling of their lips and bodies pressed up against one another's that he couldn't bring himself to care. The more he wondered if it was selfish of him, if he was making a big mistake, the harder his grip tightened around Chang's shoulders.
Maybe… Kaiji thought, Maybe…I can open my heart to this man…
He hesitantly broke away from their kiss, barely inching his face away from Chang's. The time to say whatever was on his mind--his uncertainty about the future after their escape, his uncertainty about whether his own family would want him back, his uncertainty about their possible relationship moving forward--was now.
"Shit." Tears welled up in his eyes again. "I've got so many things I want to say…but all I can think of is how much I could go for a smoke right now." He wiped his eyes, laughing between sobs.
"It is ridiculous, isn't it?" Chang said, tears streaming down his cheeks, also laughing. "Everything that's happened…I might be seeing my family for the first time in over a decade…I'm with you, like this…and all I can manage is, 'Boy, I'd like nothing more than a pork bun or several right now.'"
"I guess when it comes down to it we just crave those old simple comforts…or something like that. I'm so out of sorts right now."
Chang nodded and picked up Kaiji's jacket, draping one side of it off his shoulder and the other off Kaiji's. "If we make it out…no, once we make it out, why don't I buy you a pack of cigarettes?"
A smile spread across Kaiji's face. "Only if you let me buy you as many pork buns as you want."
"D-deal!" said Chang, practically salivating at the thought. "Wait…pork buns in exchange for cigarettes you can get at any old convenience store? That doesn't sound like a fair trade for you, Kaiji-san."
"I've given up on the idea of 'fair trades'; I just want a damn smoke."
"Whatever you say. I'll find a way to pay you back."
Before Kaiji could protest, Chang's stubble was brushing up against his chin as Chang's warm lips enveloped his own.