Disclaimer: Love Hina and its characters are the intellectual property of Ken Akamatsu, copyrighted to TV Tokyo and licensed to Central Park Media.

Author's Notes: This is a most unusual type of fanfic to write for the Love Hina section, since it focuses on two minor characters: Haitani and Kentaro.  And it's a songfic to boot!  And a most unusual choice of song to use as well.  The inspiration came from playing the parody Love Hina sim date game on www.newgrounds.com.  The music that inspired was used for the kissing scenes, and I found it to be very beautiful, so I downloaded the song that was used.  After listening to the entire song, it was the anti-romance song, and my thoughts wandered to how the lyrics related to the two said minor characters.

Second Hand Smoke

Looking all around the Hinata hot spring town, everything blossomed into bursting pinks and the haze of sweetness fogged over everyone's eyes.  It was as if the tender and romantic atmosphere of sakura blossom showers had spread itself over the entire town, and the source of this prevailing euphoric mood came from the magical inn that sat on the highest hill at the edge of town.

Breathing in the invisible perfume of the air, Haitani Masayuki could hear the sounds of romantic piano ballads ringing in his ears, and he didn't want to have any of it.  Hands were dug into his pockets and he stared at the sidewalk as he made his way to the inn.  He counted the cigarette butts that passed his feet; no doubt discarded once their usefulness was burned and inhaled away.

He felt just like those inanimate pieces of filter and tar.  Lonely and only there for the purpose of bringing happiness with the curse of double misery.  His misery would be immediate, while the other person would feel their share long after his pain had burnt out.

Where was the trail of trash leading him?  Right, right, straight to the magic.  Rather, close to it.

Haitani looked up to find the distant shape of Haruka's tea house.  It was located at the base of the hill of Hinatasou and he was currently a few blocks away from the bridge.  He did say that he'd meet Shirai there once they'd gotten off their shifts.  This was a first for them; separation.  They'd been separated when their job hunt resulted in no part-time positions at the same place.

Coming closer and feeling the sugar air become thicker, more syrupy, Haitani felt like he could choke on it.  He was coming closer to her proximity; at that thought, his gaze lowered to his feet again.  Another cigarette butt.

Maybe it would be a better idea if he just stopped at the bridge and waited for Shirai there.  At least he could avoid the possibility of running into her if he put off getting there sooner.  But he could also have increased his chances of running into her if he waited.  There was nothing to do but be forced to let things take their course, so he forged ahead and let his feet stomp all the cigarette butts underfoot.

Bitterly, he turned the piano chords in his ears to something a little more melancholy.

You fry me in a pan
You cook me in a can
You stretch me with your hands

Crossing the bridge, Haitani imagined her.  The shock of pale hair cut short, making her look like a tomboy; her eyes drawn up into half-lidded amusement, never giving anything away; her robustly feminine body, making up for the androgyny of her hair.  He prayed more than ever that he didn't run into her while she was on a sake run.

There was something about Kitsune out of all the girls at Hinatasou.  She was smart, she was funny, and she was out of the way.  Not many knew that he, as well as Shirai, had been socializing with her outside of the house.  The fact that no one kept tabs on all of them was what allowed them to have fun.  If the fox went out, then everyone believed that she was partying it up, but they wouldn't stop to think that the two bumbling fools would tag along with her.  As much as Haitani broadcasted his lecherous bravado and foolish skirt-chasing, it only covered up the reason that he was there to keep her company and watch over her.  He didn't know about Shirai's motivations, but he was sure that they were similar as his in terms of innocent socialization.

All that the three of them had in common was the fact that they had fallen through the cracks of their friends' attentions.  Naru and Keitaro were busy paying attention to each other (while still going nowhere) than to their friends, and it had been that way for months (which was creeping its way toward a year of neglect).  And they all coped the only way that they could, by smiling and laughing on like there was no growing gap between them.  It was only out of boredom that the three of them had gone out together after hours, letting her drag them to her haunts while the two of them puffed themselves up about finding some girls to pick up.  Of course, she would counter with mock offense that she wasn't beautiful enough for them to hit on.

The two of them would fall into the joke: Haitani would try to apologize and stumble over his words while Shirai would go on about Haruka being the superior woman.  It was enough to keep Kitsune amused and entertained.  Though they all play acted the same joke, Haitani could never say why he couldn't seriously approach her.  But it was very simple; she came from Hinatasou, and there was something taboo about ever being involved with one of its ethereal female inhabitants.  All that he could do to keep close to her was to maintain this thinly guised friendship.

You love to watch me bake
You serve me up with cake
And thatís your big mistake

As much as Haitani wanted to delude himself by saying that he was friends with Kitsune, the relationship was only shallow.  She'd play with the two of them, and they gladly acted as the puppets.  Drinking together and getting bilked out of their money just to take their minds off their own isolation.  No one glanced at them anymore.  They were just regular fixtures out of the entire cast involved with Hinatasou.  They were pushed to the background; out of sight, out of mind.

Well, Haitani was usually bilked out of all of his money when he was with her while Shirai got off with the lion's share of his earnings intact.  It was smarter if he saved his friend from the humiliation of bankruptcy and he bore it alone.  Besides, he didn't want to detract the attention that he got as Kitsune's most "generous benefactor".  He couldn't say no to her; he wanted to please her, make her smile, even at his own expense.  Even if the happiness was superficial and temporary, he was glad to do it for her.

Though he'd say otherwise and proclaim that he preferred the traditional Japanese beauty of either Shinobu or Motoko to Kitsune, but in truth, he was only running back to traces of old fancies to cover up his growing attraction.  True, they were beautiful in their own rights, but everyone else was attracted to the potential blossoming that these girls had.  Kitsune had an audacity and overt sexuality that she used to her advantage; there was something fleeting in the novelty of being a knock-out, but Haitani could look past the novelty and see that she was plainly pretty.

She was someone who was down to earth and serious when she toned down her party girl behaviour.  Sometimes, the facade slipped off to show glimpses of the relaxed girl he thought she would be.  He didn't know whether to feel special since she was comfortable enough to remove the fox mask in front of him, or offended that he was given no more consideration than any other inanimate object when she did.

Your guest comes in dressed smart
You offer a la carte
You didn't have the heart

One time, just one time, he was so close to removing his own mask for her.  He would have shown weakness first if given the chance.  They were caught in the rain and a fog had rolled into the streets.  Both of them had caught up in the street outside the main grocery store.  Small talk had revealed that she was out shopping for her favourite brand of sake, and he was getting the week's meager groceries for Shirai and himself.  He had offered to double his load and help her carry her bags back to Hinatasou.

It was uncharacteristic that she didn't extend any invitations on going out that night.  All they could do was just talk idly, the subject of little things in their lives coming to the forefront.  Their tones and subjects were different than the usual filler chatter that was drowned out by the background karaoke when they went out to the clubs.  They held an actual conversation, looking at each other while they listened and talked; it was a change from glancing around while carelessly throwing stock replies over the bar chatter.

Haitani was the first to give way.  Wandering in the fog, his voice was heavy like the damp air, and his face no longer carried the pasted-on cheery smile, but a softly somber one.  Each of them intoned to the other about their little hobbies, likes and dislikes, even hints of their families.  To reach more depth, he was the first to say how tired he was of drifting from job to job, that he had yet to find some direction while he was young so that he wouldn't feel so hopeless about his future.  Naturally, she followed suit, her feelings echoing his.

Naturally, the conversation turned to finding someone to share that life with.  As they walked up the stone steps to Hinatasou's front, he talked so tenderly and looked at her with his eyes half-lidded in mild interest; he was quite close to saying how he felt to her.  He was to take the leap of faith, to honestly say that he had developed some sort of school boy crush on her and hoped that they could pursue whatever this was.

"Kitsune... I just want you to know that this is really nice.  We don't really do this when we go out, you know?  Talk like this, I mean."

"Yeah, we don't.  It was almost fun, huh?"

"Heh, yeah.  Maybe we could do this more often, you know?  See less of each other in the nightclubs and more... out here.  It's too dark and noisy in those places; I can't really see you, or hear you.  I might miss something important that you said or did.  You don't always have to go out and party hard, there's always time to relax.  Maybe alone, maybe with someone, you know, special.  Someone you can unwind and be yourself with."


"... I-"

"You had me going there, Haitani!"  She jokingly slapped his shoulder.  "It sounded like you were hitting on me, but then to say that you don't like going out with me?!  Then to go so far as to judge my fun-loving ways!  Why, I've never been so insulted!  But if ya want to make it up to me, you can prove otherwise and take me out tonight.  There's a new karaoke bar that opened.  You can pay for my entire tab as a starting apology."

"Heh... Yeah... Gotcha for a moment.  I... I almost had you..." he muttered, rubbing his shoulder.

She had grabbed her sake from him and quickly stepped into Hinatasou, promptly shutting the door in his face and leaving him to walk the long, and wet, way back to the tiny apartment that he shared with Shirai.

She had quickly caught on and stopped him with that barrier she had put up with everyone else.  Haitani wondered why she did that.  Did she do it to save herself from feeling guilty about taking advantage of him?  Kami forbid, if she were to find out that the dolt was actually human, it would mean facing up to the little cons she pulled off on him; guilt was a feeling everyone did not want to experience.  Making herself vulnerable to real emotion was not something a smart fox did. 

He had barely lost his nerve, but to be rejected before he could open his mouth, that was pathetic.

And I want a TV embrace
And I, I'm getting off your boiling plate
They swore you'd steal my steam to feed your dream and then be gone
I wish I could say that everyone was wrong

Shaking his head, Haitani was aware that it was sunny today and not the rainy past that he was reminiscing over.  He would never get the girl cause the girl lived in Hinatasou.  Sure, countesses and peasants felt lonely at times, but just because they had the same range of emotions didn't mean that they should be together.

Maybe it was better this way.  The impassable distance was good for him, and for her.  It wasn't like they needed any of their barriers to be broken down; there was no need for commonality.  Every girl in the magical dorm had a mysterious air of the unattainable, like it was so wrong for them to step outside of the picturesque home and find someone who didn't belong there.  It was as if, in some small way, she was Keitaro's girl too.

Haitani was not Keitaro, and he was no responsible inn manager.  He didn't have the duty and responsibility to take care of Kitsune, nor did he have the success rate that his ronin friend did when it came to her and all the other tenants.  It was a shame he didn't apply that diligent attention to his own friends.

He was just... a nuisance.

He felt even more like one when he found himself standing before Haruka's tea house.  To his surprise, he saw Kitsune stepping out with a white plastic bag filled with sake bottles.  He stood there, just hoping she wouldn't notice him being the only one on the wide path.  And part of him wished that she'd just drop those bags and run up to him, genuinely smiling, with open arms; he wanted something of that fantasy romance that he always saw in anime.

Unfortunately, life would have to give him what he least desired.  The girl saw him and waved in his direction, only offering him her impish smile.  Then hefting the sake over her shoulder, she made her way up ahead of the path, disappearing behind the tea house to make her way home.

If only he could move and stop the nervous heat that was simmering under his collar.  Weakly, he managed a weak wave and a limp smile long after she was gone.

He couldn't help but feel a little more depressed.  She hadn't even waited to see if he'd wave back, and here he was, acting the fool that he had always been.  It was back to that facade of a friendship, except now he was even more vulnerable to her - with knowledge of his feelings, she could easily take what she wanted from him.

He thought he had a chance for honesty, with her and her with him, but instead, he was swindled out of that opportunity.  Cheated by the masks they firmly wore and the feeling of keeping themselves in canon.

Haitani wished that he was wrong and that it would change.  But there was a fixed idea in him, anchored in the knowledge that he was.

Shouldering that invisible burden, he limped his way towards Haruka's tea house.

The interior of Haruka's tea house was a brief respite to the harsh brightness that filled the outside.  Only the lingering scents of food, sakura blossom perfume, and cigarette smoke remained inside its walls, making Kentaro dizzy as he whirled about and flitted from table to table in order to clean up after customers or prepare for the next ones.  The noon-time rush was beginning to taper out, and he could afford to sit down and catch his breath.

Looking around for some place to rest, he caught sight of the taller figure of one of those boys that Keitaro spent his time with.  The boy had lurched inside, his hunched up shoulders and closed stance making him look quite surly.  Kentaro tried to make his way to an empty table without bumping into the young man, but he was unable to do so.  Their shoulders collided, sending them both spinning momentarily.

"Hey!  Watch where you're going," he said in a surprisingly rough voice.  Uncharacteristically, he glared at Kentaro through his small circular spectacles and stomped off to a table in the opposite direction.

Kentaro blinked momentarily, trying to recover from the strange feeling he got out of having his expectations broken.  He had never really talked to that boy before, but he always had the impression that he was one of those simpleton, happy-go-lucky types; the likely kind that would hang around with that Keitaro.  But then again, he was one to talk; almost everyone involved with Hinatasou took him to be the arrogant, poor rich boy.

But that was over a year ago.  In everyone's minds, that single impression he made on them was a fixed idea, and no matter how much he learned, he was still the snotty playboy that no one could stand.

Digging into his work apron, he pulled out a dingy rag and wiped down the tabletop before sitting down.  Bored, he propped up his elbows and put his chin in his hands.

A flash of red hair passed his eyes, like tongues of fire, almost causing him to jerk away.

You left me burned and seared
You left me ripped and teared
And older than my years

The source of that shock of red?  Kentaro followed the tresses waving behind, a train to the firecracker of Hinatasou: Naru Narusegawa.  Kentaro shook his head.  Looking back on his foolish infatuation with her, the entire idea of trying to woo her was a pet project, a troublesome endeavour that got him no where and left him poor and humble.

At least he had that to thank her for.

It was silly to admit it, even to himself, but he was willing to stumble over love's obstacles just to have her reciprocate his feelings.  He had proclaimed his intentions for her many times before in that smug show-off way of his; he wasn't surprised that she either didn't believe him, or shrugged it off and ignored him.

He was willing to invest all of his time and money for her to help her succeed; in his eyes, she deserved the adoration of the world and the rewards of being Japan's sweetheart.  That was why he helped her launch her pop career.  Admittedly, in his duties as her manager, he was strict with her, even to the point of preventing her from relaxing and catching her breath from the sudden onslaught of fame.  But she was going to be a rising star, and he was only looking out for her best interests.  Where would Hikaru Utada be if she decided to duck her head because media buzz was starting to pick up the pace?  Would Ayumi Hamasaki have made such a big impression if she paused her whirlwind, head-catching TV tour?

It was in that stead that Kentaro felt more like Naru's guardian than her manager; trying to keep her impetuous and impulsive nature from jeopardizing her future.  He really didn't care about the money, so much as he acted like he did.  Something in him equated that if she could see the success they made together, it would keep her to him.  A... a beneficial partnership if more than a relationship.

How artificial he was, and in turn, everything he thought and constructed was.  No wonder it fell apart at the mere wind of her fancies.  It was very weak, a reflection on his character.

He couldn't help the sound that escaped from his lips.  He laughed bitterly, and no one bothered to look his way, except for that ronin's friend.

I should have know at first
That you would leave me hurt
You had to try dessert

He had watched her, and she was an ideal in his head.  The smartest girl, the prettiest girl.  There was something so enticing about the fact that she never even realized her own potential while he could see the endless possibilities for it.  He would be the one to help her realize it; together, they'd reach their dreams!  It was a one-shot in a million deal that he had in his head.  Such things as "fate" and "love at first sight" were possible, and they only served to bolster failing odds.  Through all the posturing and bravado, he truly was a hopeless romantic at heart.

Grand, sweeping gestures of impression and admiration were his only arsenal for the heart of Naru, and he lost against the simple fumbling, clumsy efforts of Keitaro.  He should have given up after that strange video game challenge against the ronin.  Hell, he should have given up on graduation day!  The fact that she gave him that confused look on graduation day should've tipped him off to end any and every notion of pursuing her right then and there.  It should have told him that she could no more care if he didn't exist.

Lazily, his gaze moved from his reflection in the tabletop to Naru.  She was busy chatting with Haruka.  His eyes moved down to the floor.

He didn't even feel anything for her anymore.

Not that it mattered.

That boyish infatuation dissipated long after he started working at the tea house.  He was comfortable enough to joke about wanting an older, more mature woman.  A secret smile crept on his lips.  No, he didn't feel anything for Haruka either.  It was just a joke, a throw-away comment that was funny for the moment, and then forgotten.

But in the time that his feelings for her cooled down and waned, he did make a stab at friendship.  But he had to work grueling hours at the tea house, and she had to study nonstop to get into Toudai.  Inconvenience in time prevented him from even moving beyond being an acquaintance; he didn't think he even made it past "that guy I went to high school with" in her book.

There was one time that he thought he was more than that.  It was last Christmas.  Naru looked so frantic, and all over a silly coat.  Well, the coat meant a lot to her, and he could surely understand that she'd do anything to get it back.  So he offered her that ride.  He broke numerous traffic laws in trying to beat the train!  He didn't really protest much when she took his portable bike, just so she could make it to her... Well, what was Keitaro to her, anyways?

As a friend, he stretched himself beyond his means to make her happy.  And she used it to her full advantage.  She didn't say anything to him afterwards.  No "thank you," no smile of gratitude, no small gestures of acknowledgement after.

Kentaro couldn't help but feel cheated that he didn't get any recognition at all from her for everything that he did for her.  But he really wasn't angry with her; it was just her blindness to others.  If there was something all of his watching taught him, it was that unconscious insensitivity of hers.  He would've ended up discarded anyways, but at least he could save himself from a longer fall from grace.

He constructed a pop career for her, and she sabotaged it with just one punch; all for a day with Keitaro.  He tore through the highways and breakneck speeds just so she could get her coat - a present from Keitaro.

Everything that mattered to him and everything he did was thrown away because she used it to meet her own wants.  And she wasted it all when she came close to getting what she wanted.

Kentaro Sakata was a tool.

He was no more than a footnote in the book of Naru Narusegawa's life.

No way to let off steam
Don't bother milk or cream
No way to let off steam

Keitaro.  Keitaro.  Keitaro!

Kentaro was no longer mad that his rival had bested him.  In fact, it was out of his own mind that he proclaimed himself to be Keitaro's rival.  It was very silly of him to outright proclaim a love rivalry!  In fact, he was more embarrassed than mad that he got in the way of Fate.  He was never meant to have Naru, she was already promised to someone else, and that was that.

When Kentaro gave Keitaro the key to that boarded up wing, that little gesture marked a finality in Kentaro's life.  He had closed and boarded up anything to do with Naru, and he was letting Keitaro take away the key to all that.  There was no more need for him to get involved with her.

For him, everything that had to do with Naru just withered away to disappointment.

This went beyond his own selfish depression with himself.  It was tied to it as well.  The fact that everything she used him for was wasted.  If she loved that "perverted idiot" so much, why did she deny it so vehemently?  If she didn't care for him at all, why would she pursue him to the ends of the earth?  If the ronin cried out that he loved her, why did she call him an idiot and run away?  If there was a promise that he tried to keep, why did she work so hard to break it?

Kentaro shook his head at her blind hypocrisy.

Her stupid, stupid hypocrisy.

She was the saboteur.  She yearned for Keitaro's affections, and yet, she couldn't swallow her pride and admit the truth.  When Keitaro even dared to look at other girls, she beat him mercilessly out of offense and jealousy.  He was clumsy, he was endearing, he was stupid, he was sweet, he was a pervert.  Though they drew her closer to the boy, any and every one of his mistakes and imperfections were excuses for her to keep her distance from the ronin.  The mind games of an impatient child who didn't know what she wanted.  Games that dragged everyone into the drama and left them all frustrated at the lack of resolution.

Frankly, that strange incident with the collapse of the tower was hopefully an end to the tiring antics.  Kentaro was wrong about that.  The two protagonists had resumed that tired old routine.  It was an endless loop of pursuit, confession, denial.  A Punch and Judy show that bored and frustrated him to tears.  They were spinning on their wheels, going nowhere, and it was either going to blow up in everyone's faces or it would actually just continue on throughout their lives.  It was a redundant paradox that would continue to confound and amaze everyone to the point of anger and tears.

Naru and Keitaro loved each other very much.  Everyone could see that, and that was a fact that could not be denied.  But the frustrating head games that were played, the childish tantrums that were thrown, all initiated by Naru.  And still, Keitaro was patient enough to continue pursuing her, despite the hazards to his general health.  He was a braver man, a stronger man that Kentaro envied and pitied.

Why did common sense take flight when it came to love?

Why did stupid men have to hinge all of their hopes on shallow girls and lose it everything anyways?

If love worked in the way of common sense, then misunderstandings and confusion and hurt feelings would be gone, but love wouldn't be as exciting as it once was.  Life in general would make a lot more sense, but life would become predictable.

Kentaro sighed, an afterthought coming to mind: life sure would hurt a lot less.

And I want a TV embrace
And I, I'm getting off this boiling plate
They swore you'd steal my steam to feed your dream
And then be gone
I wish I could say that everyone was wrong

Time.  Money.  Effort.  Dignity.  Feelings.

Kentaro invested that much in her, and she gladly took it from him without considering its worth.  And to some extension, his own worth.  He may as well have given her a diamond bracelet, and she would've snatched it from his hands, then tossed it away as if it were a glass bauble.

He was eighteen years old, and he wasn't in any post-secondary institution!  He was poor and stuck in the middle of this one hot spring town, bussing tables for next to nothing (plus tips), and living out of his car.  And all because he wanted the ideal, the dream that was Naru Narusegawa.  That was the trouble with dreams - you chased nothing but air and unfulfilled promises.

He thought more in full about the things that were his that had were no longer in his possession.

His entertainment and management company - Keiode Productions - was on the list.  His share of the family fortune was also gone.  The fact that his family disowned him for his irresponsibility was another failure to add to the growing list.

Those were the biggest things on the list.

The smaller things were inconveniences that irked him to no end.

Since he lost his portable bike (due to the Christmas incident), Kentaro was more dependent on his own two feet to get across town.  It was hard to get to places on time when he had to walk or run to them.  The trolley service was out.  So was using his car, his home; gas was expensive, and it wasn't like he drove everywhere, no matter how much he lavished that vain affection for his car.  It was a well deserved vanity; that red convertible was the first thing he bought with his own money when he had signed Naru onto his production company.  It was the one thing he was still proud of, despite how materialistic that sounded.  That was the only thing he held onto dearly when everything else was repossessed, and it was the only shelter he had.

One possession, a car, that was the only thing there for him at this moment in his life.  Apparently, the magic of Hinatasou was fickle upon whom it favoured.  Fools in love were more important than struggling young men.

Kentaro had never felt more pathetic in his life.  To still believe in magic and promises when he wasn't meant to.  That was a privilege reserved for the blessed dreamers of Hinatasou.

He looked up and saw that Naru was gone.  He hadn't noticed her departure.  Judging by the way Haruka stared at him, he had to get to sweeping the porch anyways.

It must feel good to stand above me
While I make you so proud of me
It must feel good that I'm now gone
I wish I could say that everyone was wrong

Walking out onto the porch, Kentaro found Haitani leaning against the railing of the porch.  Picking up the straw broom, the busboy followed the watcher's line of sight as he absently swept the floorboards.  It went past the trees and extended up to Hinatasou inn itself.  Home to six goddesses and the fool they smiled down on.

The two of them didn't notice the other's stare, but they were identical.  A million miles and a thousand years away were in their eyes as they gazed at the distant behemoth in the picturesque hilltop.  It was much closer than they thought it was, but for all they cared, it could have been across the sea or right in front of them, and it would still be out of their reach.

There was something about that... that place.  Everyone said it was magical, but for the life of them, they couldn't feel its spell.  Only its curse.  The curse that only a chosen few could live in its hallowed halls while the rest were left to the biting sting of the real world.

For the residents, any shortcomings could be fixed by believing in themselves and promises.  For those that lived outside Hinatasou's protective bubble, that blind belief was a crock.

Its walls were closed to the likes of them.

I wish everyone was wrong
I wish everyone was wrong

Depressed, they lowered their heads to the floor, watching was the bits of dirt that people tracked in were forcibly removed from the worn in floorboards.

The shuffling of Haruka's slippers on wood caught their attention.  She had a cigarette in hand, and it was lit, to their surprise.

The older woman brought the thin white baton to her lips and took a drag from it.  The ember surrounding the tip flared a livid red, eating away at the pure white paper.  In an instant, it went grey, reduced to ash.

Haitani and Kentaro suppressed their morbid shudders as they related to the fire eating away at the tobacco filled stick.  Relating to the hot glow eating away at everything the cigarette held inside until it expended itself of its use.

She blew the smoke past her lips, and they were rapt as the white air dissipated till it was clear.

The promise of double misery.

The tea house owner flicked it to porch, and Kentaro deftly swept it away.  There was no place for dirt and cigarette butts on the grounds of Hinata.

Problematic little nuisances.

I wish everyone was wrong
I wish everyone was wrong

Both of their eyes locked on the smouldering butt left on the path.  Smoke still curled up from its lit end, meaning it wasn't entirely expended.  They each contemplated grabbing it and taking the last drag from the little stick, just to see if the coughing fit was worth it.

"Hey!  Watcha guys looking at?"

Their eyes looked up to see the familiar pudgy, bespectacled man, whose eyes followed theirs to the coffin nail and then back to them.  His eyebrow quirked up when he noticed Haruka leaning against the doorway.

The two contemplative young men looked at her, and she stared back at them in her deadpan way.

"Cigarettes will kill you," Haruka said plainly, while at the same time, meaning everything.  Crossing her arms, she blankly turned around and went back inside the tea house.

Watching her retreating back disappear into the kitchen, Haitani and Kentaro were left to notice each other.  They realized that they were mirroring each other just minutes ago.

Too exhausted for words or formalities, the three of them entered the empty tea house together.  The air about them was nothing special, just... mundane.

Too exhausted to fight the pessimism that came at the end of the day, they resigned themselves to their lot in life.

A small idea was on their minds, something that wasn't completely impossible.

Maybe, maybe, they could do without the magic of Hinatasou.

The End

Additional Author's Notes: Forgiveness for the bit of angst... if it really is angst.  Hm, I don't consider what I just wrote to be angst, but I'll just put it under the category to be safe.  As an added note, originally, the idea of Haitani and Kitsune being together was first introduced by Deadeye1's "Background Noise."

Now, why did I choose to write on two background characters?  I don't know why, but I've always found it interesting that those that linger in the background have a greater possibility than those in the foreground of a series.  Upon first listening to "Cigarettes Will Kill You", I felt it would be the anti-love song to Naru and Keitaro.  But that's something that's been done too many times.  I thought I'd try a different take on the frustration that I am quite sure is felt towards the lack of common sense and immaturity that is rife within Naru and Kei's relationship.  Killing two birds with one stone, I also thought I'd shed light on the great neglect that such background characters had.  Who is to say that they don't have any dimension?  Who is to say that once their role on the show is over, they feel nothing more?

I hope that you enjoyed my story, and please review!  I'd like to know what you thought, and if this helped give second thought to those background characters.  They've got the potential to be a lot more interesting if you think about it.