Author's note: I thought it was about time I cranked out another romance. Regular readers will know what a rare occurrence this is. Based on the latest chapters of the manga. This will probably become AU when the manga author decides to actually make the Sawakaze relationship move.

of turpentine kisses and mistaken blows

01

"I think we should break up."

These are the words Sawako never expected Kazehaya to utter. These are the words that shatter her world and redefine it; that twist it around until it's at an angle she doesn't recognise anymore. Everything is spinning.

She is falling off her feet.

02

Sawako thinks that it's Kazehaya – always Kazehaya – who is capable of lifting her head above her shoulders and changing monochrome palettes to colour bursting at its seams. It's Kazehaya who is able to make her see things.

And it's always the new things about Kazehaya that hit her the hardest.

She's looking at him and his face is serious, a kind of serious she can barely recognise, all scrunched up and tightly contained within a coil of barely defined emotions. He is incapable of looking her in the eyes, but he is trying, oh, he is trying. It's his expression that is what causes Sawako's chest to tighten and for something in it to tightly squeeze. Something is very, very wrong here.

"I don't think this is working," he says. He stops, tries to search for more to say, but in the end, he can only sigh and look away.

"What are you saying, Kazehaya-kun?" she asks, and she sees a flicker of hesitation pass through his eyes. For a vain moment, she thinks what he just said was just a lie, everything will smooth over, they'll be back to normal.

(… but what was normal?)

03

"You… broke up? What? !" Chizu says furiously, because it is impossible to hide secrets from best friends.

"I'm sorry," Sawako says helplessly. She is shaking. Everything feels heavy; she has no idea where to begin. It's like all the lies and deprecations are caught squarely within her throat. "I was a burden to Kazehaya-kun," she tries to explain. "That's why I – that's why he-!"

"Sawako, Sawako," Ayane breaks in, and that is all she says. Sawako blinks, silenced immediately. Her lips part slightly and she feels herself emit a soundless plea for help. Like a withered petal falling off its stem, she is just so, so fragile.

Ayane takes Sawako into her arms and it's not long before Chizu's warmth follows and Sawako bursts into tears because it's over and it all just ended and she didn't know. She just didn't know.

04

"It's not your fault," her friends tell her. "It's Kazehaya's."

Sawako thinks she can understand that because Kazehaya has been acting strange lately. Their touches feel distant – more like abstractions from a painted mosaic than something real. It's like something brushes up against her and shies away, and before she can pause to evaluate the feeling, Kazehaya has turned himself away. They are so, so close, but they have never been so distant.

But in the end, Sawako knows that what is wrong with Kazehaya must be wrong with her too. It was her fault for making him this way. It must have been something she had done because he had never been like this with her before.

Through it all, Chizu and Ayane are kind and supportive, in Sawako's opinion heartbreakingly so. With Chizu and Ayane, she is far from Kazehaya; he is nothing but a recollection of yesterday. Even so, she is beginning to remember how it's the memories that cause the greatest pain in the end.

At first, her friends continue to insist that Kazehaya was purely at fault, but as the night goes on and the silences became longer and more contemplative, Ayane clears her throat.

"Maybe," she says gently, "you just weren't ready."

05

A beat.

"Does that mean my feelings for Kazehaya-kun weren't real?" The thought chokes and frightens Sawako. If there is one thing she has always believed in...

"No, they were definitely real!" Chizu insists. "The way you loved him always warmed our hearts!"

"R-Really?" Her eyes widen. She can perceive how genuine Chizu is - this is the girl who means everything she says, who at first threatened aloud to beat up Kazehaya just because.

Quickly, Sawako turns to Ayane. She does not have to wait long for a response.

"Yes," her friend agrees quietly. "Really."

Sawako sniffs. "I'm so glad… I thought… I thought it was a bother…"

This is when she musters her first feeble smile. The others smile along with her; they just can't help it.

"Don't worry about it," Chizu says, laughing. "We said it wasn't your fault!"

"But you said I wasn't ready…"

"It's because you're so innocent, Sawako," Ayane explains. Sawako peers at her, confused, so Ayane continues. "Kazehaya probably thinks he'll ruin your innocence by being so close to you. He just couldn't say it to you. That's why you grew distant."

This makes Sawako scratch her head. "Ruin me? Kazehaya-kun would never ruin me."

"I guess in the end," Chizu muses aloud, "you were just too considerate of each other's feelings."

Ayane nods. "That's why it didn't work," she says. "Because love is selfish."

06

Later, Sawako thinks about the time she spent with Kazehaya. She thinks about the things they say and the things they don't say, lying on the grass and staring up at the blue expanse of the sky together. There are many things she wishes she could have said to him but have always thought were inappropriate somehow. This is obvious to her now that she is alone. Not even Chizu and Ayane can hear these thoughts of hers.

She has always, always wanted to tell Kazehaya that she really, truly cares about him, that she wants to know more about him. Alone, in the night, she tries to carve his face and his voice into her mind, to memorise every little quirk and idiosyncrasy that made him him.

Maybe it was the same for him. And if that was true, Sawako realises, they were never communicating to begin with.

07

It's not until she sees him in class the next day that she remembers she has no idea how to act in front of Kazehaya anymore.

The sense of alarm rises in her throat and she stops herself making a noise only because she clamps her mouth shut. She feels a pang in her chest, like the front of her is slowly bleeding out and fading into the black. Tears she thought she had finished shedding yesterday rises unbidden in the rims of her eyes.

Are we still friends, she wonders. Oh please let us be friends.

It is then, when Kazehaya looks up from the conversation he is having with the other boys, their eyes meet and for a moment, the scene around her fizzles out and scatters to the winds. Tension release.

Kazehaya smiles.

Sawako's heart soars.

… until she realises that Kazehaya's smile is not the same smile it used to be. It's a brave smile, a sort of fragmented smile and ultimately it is so, so broken and worn around the edges. He doesn't know how he's meant to act around her either. It's all so raw for him too.

Sawako realises, and she turns and rushes out of the classroom, her footsteps forming a soft echo of palpable defeat behind her.

08

"I ruined it all," she whispers to herself, staring at her tear-stricken face in the mirror. "I can't reach Kazehaya-kun anymore."

"Yes, you've certainly ruined it all," a voice says behind her.

Sawako swings around with startled alacrity. Standing at the entrance of the girls toilets is a very familiar girl, leaning casually against the door with her arms folded across her chest.

"Kurumi-chan!"

Kurumi's beautiful face twists into a sneer that suits her like no other expression can. Still, the softness comes through.

"Look at yourself," she says scornfully. "Crying like that. I confessed to Kazehaya too. I had to go through the same thing."

Kurumi pauses. The memory to her is like a sharp slap across her face. She reacts as such.

"That's right," Sawako says softly and in awe. She takes a step towards Kurumi and brings her hands close to her chest. She thinks she can perceive a sense of resonance between them. "We're rivals...!"

Sawako's rival does not say anything to that. She simply turns her head to the side and then, with a pointed scowl, brings her gaze to the bathroom floor.

"And he rejected me," Kurumi goes on bitterly. Decidedly, her fists clench. "But he and I are still friends, aren't we? I still have a chance. Now you and I are just on an equal playing field."

"An equal playing field…" Sawako mutters to himself, and suddenly, something slides into place for her.

She smiles. Like this, she can discard the pain, one small increment at a time.

"We're the same, Kurumi-chan! We're the same!"

"H-Hey!" Kurumi splutters. "Get off me! Stop hugging me!"

09

Sawako thinks that she and Kazehaya really can still be friends. She knows because he is still friends with Kurumi. She knows because of his smile. She knows because he is just that type of person, the kind who can never let down someone who needs help.

Thinking of this, Sawako's heart is warmed from the inside. She loves Kazehaya. She does. She does.

When she returns to the classroom, Kazehaya peers at her anxiously. "Are you okay?" he asks. His face is torn asunder with guilt. Whatever he feels about being in a relationship with Kuronuma Sawako, it's the concern for her that overrides everything. He loves her. It's just how Kazehaya Shouta has always been. "I'm sorry, Kuronuma. I'm so sorry."

"No, it's okay," she says, and, tenderly as she can, she smiles brightly up at him. "We're still friends."

She can see, just from looking at him, that he is uncertain how to respond to that. He is physically struggling, even. He peers at her, blinks, cautiously opens his mouth; it is almost enough to make Sawako's heart drop. His mouth twitches.

And then his lips turn upwards and he smiles straight back at her, honest and carefree like the Kazehaya of old.

10

Maybe one day, they can reach each other.

Fin

(A/N: I felt like Kazehaya and Sawako needed this. They're cute, but they're painful. Sometimes, you need to take a step back before you can move forward. Here's hoping their issues in the manga get sorted out soon.)