It was pouring rain, which formed a decent enough excuse to take shelter under the awning of a large open-air restaurant even though he didn’t plan on buying anything. Well, Saitou was here; Sano could just pretend he had business with him.
The cop said nothing as Sano came to stand beside him, and even his facial expression appeared fairly neutral. This was his typical greeting these days, and, though technically pleasanter than his previous manner, it disquieted Sano. The latter could easily tell they weren’t what they had been to each other, but he was proportionally uneasy in not knowing exactly what they’d become. Their harsher animosity had faded, but into what? What did this subdued, sometimes even restrained show of mutual disdain signify? It made him uncomfortable to think about it. So, with an attitude of avoidance that, being so different from his usual confrontational style of dealing with things, seemed a miniature of the entire affair, he had developed a tendency to focus deliberately on some other, minor aspect of their interaction.
Today it was Saitou’s smoking, and its interesting prolificacy, on which his mind fixed. He noticed now concretely, which before he had never been overtly conscious of but must have seen, that Saitou lingered over the withdrawing of each new cigarette, the setting it to his lips, the striking of the match… and that once these tasks were accomplished, the object’s purpose was evidently fulfilled… that he rarely finished them before tossing them away. This behavior puzzled Sano, especially given that each new cigarette followed the half-spent last with such unflagging consistency.
It didn’t take long for Saitou to notice Sano paying minute attention to the smoking process. Perhaps mistaking the purpose of this stare, Saitou silently offered him one.
Bastard probably thinks I’ve never smoked before, Sano reflected, though more wry than annoyed, and just wants to watch me choke. This theory was corroborated when Saitou, instead of offering to light it for him, merely handed him the matches.
Sano stared at the little white cylinder. It was not an unfamiliar object by any means; even if he hadn’t smoked plenty of them, he’d seen enough in Saitou’s hands to last a lifetime. And, knowing as he did just how expensive they were, that the taste was not exactly compelling, and that they made your hands and breath stink, he had to wonder…
For him, in the world he knew and his level in it, smoking formed more a social ritual than anything else. It was a symbol of camaraderie to offer or accept a cigarette in settings where the need for a clear head made an equivalent offer of sake inappropriate. It wasn’t something he did obsessively like Saitou did, and he didn’t feel the craving he knew developed if you had too many of them. Not addicted thus, he found the entire thing an enigma. What made this little thing in his hand so appealing?
“Something wrong?” Saitou wondered casually, obviously waiting for what he believed would be an entertaining show.
Sano shrugged and lit the cigarette, then handed the match-box back without allowing himself the grin toward which he was inclined. This was just as well, for if Saitou was disappointed he didn’t show it.
Bitter. Harsh, bitter, potentially dangerous… There was no logical reason for the attraction. It didn’t make sense and didn’t seem healthy. The buzz just didn’t last that long. Why, then…?
He sucked slowly on the filter and, between drags, studied the object’s shrinking length pensively. He could feel Saitou’s eyes on him perhaps as steadfastly as his own had been on the officer a minute ago. The question why in regard to the cigarette still engrossed his mind far beyond the pale of logical inquisitiveness. Everything rational spoke against these things, and the rewards were few… why did anyone — why did he like them?
Slowly he came to a conclusion he had to find rather unpleasant: that the allure actually lay in everything that was unpleasant about them. They were foreign, alien, but this merely made them exotic; they were dangerous and went against common sense, but that only made them a challenge; they were expensive, but didn’t that just mark their buyer as having selective and therefore presumably good taste?
The appeal of a harsh obstacle with questionable dividend might be contested by some, but Sano thought he understood — and it made it all the more unfortunate that just in time for them to lose that allure — as they became commonplace, as the anticipated danger went unvisited, as the challenge was met and forgotten — then the addiction was felt, and what were you left with? A costly habit of mediocre appeal that you would probably still be better without, but by then could not do without.
Somehow this entire concept bothered him a good deal more than it reasonably should have. Yes, he found for some reason, as he kept his eyes locked on the shortening cigarette, he almost couldn’t stand the idea of running the risk of an inescapable addiction for the sake of an attraction that didn’t even make sense and was quite possibly based on everything that condemned it. It was… frightening… disheartening… and he had the urge to toss the thing to the ground, grind it out, and walk away without a word into the rain. Why it should disturb him so very much he didn’t care to consider.
He looked over at Saitou, thinking to say something but unsure what. Saitou still watched him, appearing inquisitive and bemused, smoke drifting from his slightly upturned lips. That was such a familiar sight, it only struck Sano after several moments… of course Saitou had more experience in this area, more information on this disquieting subject than Sano did, and could perhaps answer his questions.
“So,” he asked at length, “how long have you been smoking these nasty things?”
“Several years,” answered Saitou in a tone that echoed the curiosity on his face.
“You still like ’em?”
The cop glanced skeptically down at the cigarette in his hand, then over at Sano. “Yes?” It was a very derisive and now demandingly curious answer.
Sano took a long drag of his own caustic but oddly satisfying cigarette, and found his own lips forming a smile as it left them. He wasn’t sure why, just as he hadn’t been sure why he’d originally been so distressed, but he found himself entirely comforted.
This story is for 30_kisses theme #13 “Excessive chain.” I’ve rated it . What do you think of it?
This story is included in the Saitou/Sano Collection 2 ebook.