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Bite of the Black Cherry

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Kaoru was often asked why he and Kojiro stayed friends when they were so different from each other. Kaoru liked that question, it implied that people saw a clear line between him and that muscle-brained idiot he was unfortunately tethered to. A divide, like black and white. Whatever Kojiro was, Kaoru was not. Where Kojiro was rustic, Kaoru was refined. Where Kojiro was affable, Kaoru was reserved. The only part of this that Kaoru had any problem with was everyone seeing Kojiro as a pick up artist, and therefore naturally viewing him as some sort of asexual being.

What people didn’t know was that Kaoru was just as much of a monster as Kojiro, if not more.

When he was 19, Kaoru became dangerously fascinated by sex. The interest hit him all of a sudden right when he’d made the decision to chop off all of his hair, looking for any type of change in his life, scissors centimetres away from closing down on pink. Then he froze, catching his reflection in the mirror.

Over the years, he’d gotten the impression that he was an unusual kind of attractive that made passersby in the street unaware of how long they’d been staring at him. People had described him as ‘androgynous’ before. ‘Beautiful,’ ‘effeminate,’ even ‘sexy.’ Most all of them had been unwarranted comments that left him squirming in discomfort, wanting to run off to the skatepark to scrape up his leg and chase his friends around with the blood on his hands. He’d always thought it was gross and off-putting that people were so open with their desire for him. But then, he’d also seen people before that he thought were interesting, or at least, good-looking. In that moment, he realised for the first time that maybe if he played along, if he showed an interest — he could make those sorts of people do whatever he wanted.

Perhaps he could make anyone do whatever he wanted.

That notion made Kaoru go extremely giddy for some reason, compelling him to place the scissors back on the sink and decide ultimately that he may actually have a reason to keep his hair long for the time being.

A new form of rebellion is what Kaoru needed. He’d outgrown the old kind, no longer able to slash the knees of his school uniform trousers and impulsively pierce different parts of his body. Things were different now. Kojiro was off on a year-long apprenticeship abroad to gain more experience in preparing Italian cuisine and Adam was no longer in the picture, having made it painfully clear how he felt about Kaoru. Lonely and bored, this was exactly what he’d been craving. A fresh war upon the world. A new middle finger that he was ready to raise all by himself this time.

He researched stories of goddesses, queens, and courtesans, elegant women who not only masterfully seduced men but left them spellbound, rendering them helpless victims of their own uncontrollable desire. That was what Kaoru was interested in. And he suspected he already knew what his specific charm would be. His blossom-coloured hair and almost serpentine features, his willowy, graceful silhouette — his ability to play with gender. For the first time in his life, he embraced all of it.

Refining his appearance was the initial step, doubling down on the eyeliner he used to wear to school. He sharpened and lengthened the wings around the edges of the eye, smudging red underneath and around the lower lid like a geisha, delighted to be incorporating his love of Japanese culture into his guise. Sometimes he even wore dark lipstick and added a touch of glitter to his cheeks that could only be seen when the lights were low enough. He played around with his hair too, arranging it into traditionally feminine hairstyles — wore it in a messy bun, high ponytail, or teased it and let it hang loose around his shoulders as if he’d just gotten out of bed, a style he was reluctant to try at first as he hated intentionally messing up his hair. To finish off the look, he still had the piercings from his younger years that shredded up his otherwise flawless skin, making him a little dangerous, like a shark with a battle-worn fin.

And he looked fucking incredible if the looks he received were anything to judge by.

In the beginning, the attention was a little overwhelming for someone who hadn’t even had their first kiss yet, but Kaoru quickly figured out what he liked and what he didn’t. He’d known for a long time before this that he was purely interested in men, but he still found he could surprise himself in alternate ways.

Gay bars were sometimes too easy, as Kaoru discovered he liked a challenge. He found the most satisfaction in taking people away from what they thought they wanted, in making them want him at the cost of all else. He had a penchant for repressed guys who found themselves willing to make an exception and cross the bounds of their sexuality for one night, loving the way he could make someone squirm under his vision until they were no longer trying to avoid it. On other nights he’d go for people who entered the bar or club in a large group, liking to embarrass them in front of their friends by refusing to lessen the intensity of his gaze even as the other members of their party caught on. Though, if he were being brutally honest, Kaoru’s ultimate favourites were men who had already come with someone else or had their sights set on another; he revelled in how he could slowly draw them away from their partner and right into his arms.

His ploy was to act withdrawn, aloof, convincing you that his mind was somewhere else and yet his eyes couldn’t tear themselves from yours, as if he found you intriguing against his will. Kaoru’s eyes were perhaps the most striking thing about him. He practiced his gaze in the mirror solely for this moment — using the golden, predatory glint to masterfully lock in on someone as if they’d been personally summoned. Once Kaoru singled you out, you had to respond. It was as damning as the call of a siren. And as heavily as he’d played to the femininity of his physical appearance, he’d flaunt his masculinity entirely in the way he talked. He was never submissive, always getting in the first word, always biting back with the sort of temperamental behaviour he showed towards those closest to him, charming them in how he managed to exude familiarity while still keeping them at a distance. It was sometimes off-putting for guys, but the majority found they liked his dominance. Some would even let him top them later on in the night.

Indeed, Kaoru always used to leave home with a certain buzz in his veins, fantasising about how he’d have to seduce a new stranger that evening. And when that eventual someone found they were finally brave enough to ask the mysterious boy sitting alone at the bar making eyes at them what his name was, he’d always respond with the exact same phrase:

“Just call me Cherry.”

Like many things in Kaoru’s life however, he ultimately grew out of this phase. A large part of it was because of Kojiro.

When he returned from Italy, Kojiro was different. He was larger, somehow both physically and in the way he carried himself, more self-confident — definitely more bold and especially with women, which took Kaoru a while to get used to. He quickly made a habit of lightly disparaging Kojiro for his voracious womanising, but was careful to never go any further. It would’ve been hypocritical.

One thing stayed the same however, and that was Kojiro’s insistence on keeping Kaoru close at hand. Just like all the times in school when he’d float over to Kaoru’s desk during break purely to annoy him, Kojiro was always showing up uninvited at Kaoru’s place wanting to hang out. He definitely seemed to be taking advantage of the fact that Kaoru was still building an AI from scratch and therefore created his own work schedule, hoping that if he brought coffee and homemade pastries with him maybe Kaoru could be coaxed away from his task. It usually worked.

Still, after much of Kaoru’s complaining that you can’t just show up and expect me to drop everything for you — I am working, you know, Kojiro relented and attempted to get Kaoru to come to him instead. Soon, Kaoru had a nightly, open invitation for a chat and glass of wine at the restaurant Kojiro was in the process of setting up. And even though he resisted for the first few days, Kaoru finally found himself begrudgingly pushing open the glass doors of Sia La Luce to see a somewhat smug, but mostly happy Kojiro sitting there ready to greet him. As if he’d known that it was only a matter of time before he’d come.

It soon became routine, sacred almost. So much so that on the rare occasion where Kaoru was out at some club late at night trying to catch a thrill from old, habitual pleasures, the knowledge that he could otherwise be sitting in a warmly-lit restaurant drinking with his best friend gnawed at the back of his mind until he could no longer enjoy himself. And then, when Kojiro dragged him to S for the first time in over a year and challenged him to a beef, when Kaoru finally felt that familiar rush he didn’t realise how much he'd missed — that’s when he’d say his reliance on sex truly faded.

A few years later and Kaoru was nothing but embarrassed and scornful of his former habits. If any part of Kaoru’s seductive character was left over, its residue now lay in his skating persona. He kept his hair in a signature high ponytail, mostly for its convenience but also for its aesthetic effect, toning down the eyeliner but retaining its satisfying sharpness. With ‘Cherry,’ he managed to somewhat preserve his former unapproachable beauty, that enigmatic quality which seemed to have a profound effect on both men and women. Now however, it was all to secure his victory and not to get someone into bed. He had to learn how to charm an audience instead of an individual, to turn his efforts on a collective. He had to be cool, act as his own mascot, give off a fictional, almost-hyperreal quality that left spectators enraptured by his image. And because of his allure, people rooted for him in his beefs. People challenged him to more beefs. They couldn’t get enough of him. Kaoru found that all in all he very much appreciated the type of seduction that didn’t end in sex.

And despite their differences, he and Kojiro were very similar in this one single respect. They both had their own unique magnetism, and it helped both of them to gain support and victory in their races. Although, Kojiro was disgustingly indulgent in his character and had no problem using that star quality to score hundreds of notches in his bedpost whereas Kaoru would never dream of stooping so low. Skating and seduction blurred together for Kojiro. That’s why it irritated Kaoru like nothing else when he could turn around and skate like a teenage boy, like he did when they were 17 — wind in his hair, eyes not even aware of anything but the road before him. He could turn either side of himself off and on again so easily; his skating was multifaceted. An outlet for multiple pleasures, a way to both be seen by others and to gain something purely for his own soul. It really bugged Kaoru for some reason. All of Kojiro bugged Kaoru.

And what bugged Kaoru to no end was his pathetically transparent flirting techniques.

Currently, he was standing at the sidelines of S, staring at Kojiro off in the distance chatting up yet another woman. As much as Kaoru liked to deride him for thinking with his body over his brain, he had to admit that Kojiro was annoyingly intelligent. Or perhaps ‘self-aware’ was the correct term. He’d mentioned once offhandedly that pure aggression was his philosophy in both skating and seduction, but he was clearly lying. There was a definite craft to how Kojiro played his cards.

He’d start by locating a newcomer. ‘I haven’t seen you here before,’ he’d say after walking over to her. Perfect. She’s immediately singled out as different. Given the impression that she’s an outlier, that Kojiro’s never had his head turned simply because she was never there to turn it. He’d continue to talk, but then at some point he’d pick out one part of the girl’s face, expressing with both his words and body language how simply taken he was by that specific feature. On this occasion it seemed to be the girl’s blue eyes, judging from the way he was pretending to get lost in them.

Overacting, if you ask me, Kaoru thought.

But he’d consistently be reassured that it was working when the women started unconsciously accentuating that part of their body — pursing their lips, playing with their hair, touching their freckles.

And then the real kicker came when Kojiro brought out the pen from his jacket.

‘Here, write your name on my hand and keep your eyes on the screen. I’ll tell you when I know I’m going to win,’ he’d instruct them.

Kaoru would admit, he was intrigued the first time he saw Kojiro doing this, but then felt extremely disappointed with himself when halfway through the race, an image appeared on the projector of Kojiro kissing the name written on his hand and winking rakishly at the camera. He’d rolled his eyes out of instinct, but then when he glanced beside him at the face that name belonged to, he’d understood.

Still, Kaoru despised this specific tactic with every fibre of his being, especially when Kojiro kissed his stupid hand in a beef against him. That drove him up the fucking wall. And he always made sure that Kaoru was seeing what he was doing too, probably knowing how much it pissed him off.

Kaoru would probably say that what Kojiro’s method really boiled down to was being able to convince someone that they held the power, that he couldn’t help but desire them, that they had the heart of this large, radiant man in their hands to do whatever they wanted with. It may be painfully easy to see through from an outsider’s perspective, but it was unbelievably effective if you were the one being shown the attention. His success operated entirely on weakness being an attractive trait in someone who should be the one in control; experiencing someone so powerful possess such a pure desire for you really makes it seem like no ulterior motive lies beneath their exterior. Or perhaps it would render you unable to even care about an ulterior motive. To be wanted so strongly, and by someone like Kojiro, was something many women found they would risk everything for.

Kaoru’s eyes were still glued on the girl. ‘Poor thing,’ he thought to himself when he noticed her start batting her lashes, making her blue eyes wider. ‘Now he knows he’s won.’

That was the thing though. Kojiro was obviously stupidly attractive. He could’ve easily gotten away with being vulgar and tactless, cheap lines and terrible jokes and all — but he didn’t. That’s what stumped Kaoru. He treated seduction like a game when he didn’t have to, obviously gaining something from the chase as well as its rewards. The same way that Kaoru once did. Suddenly, for the first time in years, he was reminded of a kid dressed in all black, eye makeup, and face glitter, sitting alone in the corner of a bar.

I could make things so much more entertaining for him.

Kaoru mentally kicked himself. Did he seriously just think that? This was Kojiro he was talking about for heaven’s sake. And did Kojiro even want to be entertained? Did he want a challenge or was he only after something he knew he could get? Did he still feel something for Kaoru? Wasn’t the way he was looking at that girl the way he used to look at —

Stop it.

But why just one woman this time? Kaoru thought that’d he’d outgrown the challenge of only one. These days Kojiro was usually taking on two or three simultaneously, managing to leave all of them thinking that they were the one he truly desired when they were all being courted at the same exact time and right next to each other. It was disgusting really. But still, why the sudden change?

The girl abruptly caught Kaoru’s scouring eyes and Kojiro’s soon followed naturally, fixating on Kaoru before he had the chance to look somewhere else.

Shit.

Kojiro seemed confused for a second but then grinned when he realised he was being watched, sending over a smug wave which made a vein in Kaoru’s forehead twitch. Kaoru shot back a middle finger, causing Kojiro to bark out a laugh that he could imagine the irritating noise of all the way from where he was standing. Their eyes lingered on each other’s for a moment even as the girl resumed what she was saying.

Yes, Kojiro may have been assured that he would never fall for anyone’s soft words. But at that moment, and not entirely knowing why himself, Kaoru decided he was up for the challenge.