Title: cotton candy kisses

A/N: For the Bnha LBGTQ+ zine! Thank you for being an inclusive zine. 😊 I wanted to do some queer exploration for Nejire, grappling with confusion as she grows before accepting who she is.

Summary: Nejire's first kiss tasted like cotton candy. Her second tasted like peppermint. The girl from the corner store, the boy in her class; they all tasted equally sweet. Her third kiss was a slap, the sharp sting of her angry classmates.

"Kiss," Nejire read aloud, her chubby fingers tracing the word in the picture book. Seated in her mother's lap, she leaned closer to the book, eyes wide as she observed the image of a prince leaning down to kiss the princess.

"You read it right," her mother praised, beaming brightly. "The prince kisses the princess, breaking the curse."

Nejire glanced up at her mom, then at the book she was patiently holding open. "Kiss," she repeated. "Mommy, what's it taste like?"

"Taste?" Her mother laughed, surprised. She hummed lightly. "Now that's a question…what does it taste like? What's your most favourite thing in the whole world?"

Nejire snorted. That was easy. "Candy," she replied immediately.

"I should have guessed." Letting go of the book with a hand, her mother tousled Nejire's hair affectionately. "Then that's what a kiss tastes like."

-x-

Her first kiss tasted like cotton candy. In the shadows behind her school, Nejire clumsy kissed her classmate and tasted the chapstick on her lips. In retrospect, it was a clumsy kiss, filled with fumbling hands, bumping noses, and clacking teeth. At the moment, though, Nejire noticed none of that. Her heart beat fast as she gripped Tohru's shoulders. Her face, her hands, her everything was warm, almost hot, and she tried to remember how to breathe as their lips pressed one another.

Tohru had the prettiest long, brown hair, and Nejire had spent hours fantasizing running her hands through it. Doing it now, her fingers felt awkward and sticky, like she would tear out her hair before her hand managed to comb through it all. The tips of her other hand brushed against Tohru's neck, against the soft skin there. She was too nervous to raise them higher, to rest her palm on Tohru's cheek.

Breathless, they finally broke apart. Nejire panted as she tried to steady herself. A bright-red Tohru slumped onto her knees, chest heaving as she looked everywhere but at Nejire.

It was cute. Terribly cute. Nejire slowly crouched down till they were at same height again and smiled. "Want to do it again?"

Tohru squeaked.

-x-

Her second kiss was the sharp sting of a slap. Nejire reeled backwards, automatically clutching her cheek as she backed away from her classmate, Arisa. Unfortunately, in their eight-grade classroom, there was nowhere to go. Desks penned her in from her sides and behind her, Minako stood, her smile dark and malicious.

It was afterschool. Her teacher and other classmates were all long gone, the classroom empty save for her and five girls. One in front, one behind; Nejire looked at her right, glancing at the remaining three as she hoped for help. None of them said anything. Arms crossed, identical glares on their faces, they might as well have been mannequins for the support they offered.

Arisa shook her hand, wincing. "Damn, that hurt."

Nejire gritted her teeth. Fine, she could handle this herself. She growled, "What was that for?"

"It was to wake you up," Arisa replied, rolling her eyes. Not even paying attention to her anymore, she massaged her hand. "I should have just tossed water on you and been done with it."

"To wake me up?" Nejire frowned, perplexed. "The hell, I am awake."

"Clearly you're not," Minako snorted inelegantly. She stomped her foot on the ground. "You shouldn't have done that."

"Done what?" More and more, she wondered if something was wrong with her hearing, if she had swapped bodies or timelines and didn't know it.

"You're going to make me say it, aren't you?" Arisa grimaced, her nose scrunching and brow furrowing. "You kissed Tohru."

Nejire looked at Arisa, and then at Minako. "Yeah?" She rubbed her ears, maybe she really did need to get her hearing checked. "What's wrong with that?"

"Whats…" Flabbergasted, Arisa stared at her for a long moment before massaging her forehead. "Are you serious?"

"It's unnatural!" Minako interrupted, obviously ready for this to be over. "You kissed a girl. You're not supposed to do that."

"Why?" Nejire stepped toward Arisa and tried not to feel hurt when she stepped away. "Why not?"

"I can't believe we have to start there—no wonder your grades suck. Just like your Quirk." Arisa laughed and as if on cue, the other girls chimed in. In the small room, their laughter surrounded Nejire, swirling around her as though it were alive. "Tohru's a girl, you're a girl. You're supposed to kiss boys."

"But—"

"No buts. You're not that stupid, are you?" Arisa flipped her hair over her shoulder and strolled away. "Don't worry, we talked to Tohru about this."

When Tohru stopped talking to her the next day, it felt worse than the slap.

-x-

Her third kiss tasted like peppermint, strong and sharp. Hidden in the trees by the playground, Nejire grabbed Hiro and kissed him. Just like with Tohru, she had to take the first step. Unlike with Tohru, there wasn't any chapstick to taste, just the overbearing taste of peppermint, of a breath spray used a few too many times.

It was strange. Really strange. Nejire opened her eyes, studying the boy in front of her. His hands rested nervously on her hips, his eyes squeezed shut. Part of her liked this overly worried boy, this boy who gave her the shyest of smiles. His voice had shook when he'd confessed to her.

Would she have liked him if Tohru hadn't stopped talking to her? It was a question without an answer. His lips were rougher than Tohru's but the kiss was just as clumsy, just as awkward. Their faces fit together, somehow, but Nejire hadn't figured out the placement just yet. Her skin burned, just like it had with Tohru's, and her hands buried into his soft, dark tufts of hair. This time, her fingers didn't get stuck in the short, curly locks.

She felt the same rise of excitement, the same heat running through her spine and curling her toes. The thrill was the same, whether it was Tohru or Hiro she kissed. The thrill was the same, the joy was the same, and why did one get her attacked and the other ignored?

It didn't make any sense.

-x-

Her fourth to twelfth kisses were done secretly. Ever since that afternoon in the classroom, Nejire didn't like getting caught with her crushes. In empty stairwells and locked classrooms, she tasted cherries and spearmint and the remnants of lunch on her peers' lips. With each kiss, the taste grew more and more diluted, until all she could perceive was water.

Each kiss grew easier, more graceful. She learned how to place her nose, how to press her lips. Her hands threaded through hair like it was silk and her tongue shyly peeked out of her lips as she mastered the art of French kissing.

And when she grew weary of it all, she'd disappear into the library and quietly look up books on romance. Men saving damsels, women smiling at one another in coffee shops, two guys taking a ride to nowhere; she devoured each tale as though it were fact.

Lesbian. Gay. Bisexual. Nejire repeated each label, but none of them sounded right. None of them fit quite right. She poured through books on gender identities and sexual identities—if girls tasted of lip gloss and boys of breath spray, what did non-binaries taste of? Did she hate her clothes or her gender?

Whatever the answer, Arisa had been wrong. Utterly wrong. There was nothing strange about kissing a girl.

-x-

Her thirteenth kiss was a surprise. The moment she entered the Hero Academy, Nejire stopped thinking about kisses, about labels, about romance. There were too many new things to do, people to meet, and despite what her mother said, her kisses no longer tasted like candy. Besides, she had made two good friends in high school, two people whose quirks were just as bad as hers. Two people who were just as motivated to improve. They met up everyday after class, training in the yard until they had to crawl home from exhausted.

So, she hadn't expected anything when she'd jogged behind Mirio, building up her stamina. Hadn't thought of what would happen when she'd tripped over a rock, yelping as she fell.

"Nejire!" Mirio whirled around, his reflexes sharp as he reached out to grab her.

Her own arms were windmilling, trying to keep her upright. It wasn't enough and she crashed into him, slamming them both onto the hard ground. Their lips connected, their teeth hitting each other like they had in her first few kisses, and she briefly tasted oranges and sunshine.

They lay there, groaning. Her forehead ached from hitting his and slowly she sat up, rubbing it. "Ouch."

"Y-yeah." Mirio's voice was an octave higher. Maybe it was because she was sitting on him, cutting off his air. "You o-okay."

"Yeah. You?" She glanced down at him, blinking in surprise when she noticed his cherry red skin. "Hey, hey, what's wrong? Can't breathe?"

"N-no." He laughed nervously, his eyes averted as he looked everywhere but at her. Somewhere, in the back of her mind, she was reminded of someone else having that same reaction, of someone else looking like a cute mess, but the memory was too distant and it slipped out of her fingers. "S-sorry."

"Why? I hit you." She cocked her head, bemused.

"B-because." He blushed, turning into a tomato now. "We…we…k-k-kissed."

Nejire stared at him, her eyes wide. So that was what she'd tasted before. She hit her fist on her hand, comprehending everything. "OH!"

"Y-yeah," Mirio nodded, still looking embarrassed.

"Oh." Nejire licked her lips, remembering the tart taste. Unlike her last kiss, this one hadn't been like water at all. Still sitting on his torso, she pressed her hands on his chest. Beneath her, Mirio's eyes were wide, his skin red, his flyaway hair a mess. It was cute. Beaming, she asked, "Want to do it again?"

In response, he turned an even darker shade of red and disappeared into the ground with a surprised squeak.

-x-

Her fifteenth kiss was on purpose. By the time she'd reached second year, she considered Mirio and Tamaki not just her favourite people, but her best friends. There was something about them that never failed to bring a smile on her face. Even when they were studying, which was her least favourite thing in the world. Sitting in the library, she resisted the urge to slump on the table as she stared at her math homework. They were at a school for heroics. She did not want to learn algebra. Chewing on her lip, she glared at the paper, willing the answers to come.

Tamaki glanced at her nervously, his hands fiddling with his pencil. Despite how long they'd known each other, he never looked entirely comfortable when they were alone. "Are you stuck?"

"Yeah." Nejire sighed, annoyed. "Hey, hey, do we really have to learn this?"

"Yeah. It's a requirement." He sunk into his chair slightly, looking depressed. "It's the only thing I'm good at. Why am I here?"

Nejire immediately wrapped an arm around him, knowing exactly what to say. "Because you're amazing and a hard worker." She beamed brightly at him. "Hey, hey, if you can beat these numbers, you can beat any villain."

Tamaki flushed at her praise and squirmed in his seat. He hunched over, trying to hide his face. "It's not that amazing."

"It is," she insisted. "Extremely amazing. Super amazing."

"You…" Flustered, he looked up at her, his expression shy. "I'm not..."

Cute, she thought. So very cute. And then, without thinking beyond that, she leaned forward and kissed him. He tasted of octopus and cinnamon, of the meals he'd consumed in his earnest attempt to improve his quirk.

Tamaki fell off his chair before she pulled away, and that was cute too.

-x-

Her fourteenth kiss was in gratitude. Nejire had three good friends in high school, and her third one was Yuyu. Now that they lived in dorms, they alternated every night over who's room they visited, carrying with them an assortment of creams and nail polishes. Tonight they were in Yuyu's room, surrounded by bright pastel colours and posters of fashion models.

Yuyu held up a bottle in the light. Inside, blue and yellow swirled around one another, touching but never mixing. "This is an interesting shade. I wonder how they do that."

"Magic," Nejire suggested, grinning as she carefully applied topcoat to her nails. The clear liquid gave her nails a glossy look. "Hey, hey, can I ask you something?"

"Hmm?" Looking away from the bottle, Yuyu nodded. "Sure, what's up?"

"I…" Nejire chewed her lip. Now that she thought about it, she didn't know where to start. She thought of cotton candy, of peppermint, of water. Of the sharp sting of a slap. "I…" Yuyu looked at her expectantly, no judgement on her face. "I don't get it."

"Get what?" Yuyu raised a brow.

"Kisses. Love." Nejire waved her hands in front of her helplessly, not sure of what words to use. "I just don't get it."

"Ooh, romance." Yuyu sat down on her bed and patted beside her. "Tell me everything."

Nejire plopped down next to her, feeling immediately at ease. "I…I've kissed girls." She paused, glancing at Yuyu, but she didn't say anything, just impatiently gesturing for her to go on. Feeling emboldened, she continued. "And I've kissed boys." She stared down her hands, at the topcoat drying. Her tongue felt heavy.

"Hmmm." Yuyu opened the nail polish bottle and gently took one of Nejire's hands. Slowly, she started to apply a coat. Nejire felt a tingle run up her spine at the attention. "And what's the problem?"

"That's just it, I don't get what the problem is." Now that she'd started, the words just poured out in a rush. "What's wrong with kissing girls? It's not the same as kissing boys, but it's just as good."

Yuyu's tone was as kind as her touch. "There's nothing wrong with it."

"Really?" Nejire blinked. Whatever words she'd expected, those weren't it.

"Yeah, there's nothing wrong with it." Yuyu looked up mischievously, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. "If anything, I think there's something wrong with kissing boys."

That was something she hadn't heard before. Nejire knit her brow. "But it feels just as good."

"To you, yeah, but not to me." Yuyu shrugged. "I think girls are just better." Pulling back now, she let go of Nejire's hand. "What do you think? How does it look?"

She looked down at her nails to find they were coated in swirls of blue and yellow, each nail looking different from each other. Nejire held them up to the light, eyes bright as she admired the patterns. "Wow! Hey, hey, you're great at this."

"Of course I am." Yuyu puffed her chest with pride. "I know fashion."

"Thanks!" Nejire wrapped her arms around her friend tightly, making sure to keep her hands clear. After all that hard work, she couldn't smudge the finish. Kissing Yuyu on the cheek, she murmured. "Really, thanks."

"It's what friends are for." Yuyu leaned her head against Nejire's. "And don't ruin those nails."

"I won't," Nejire swore.

"Great. Now please tell me that wasn't the only love problem you have." Yuyu pulled away, frowning. "Come on, my love life is dead, tell me yours isn't."

"Well…" Nejire hummed contemplatively before grinning broadly. "I like Mirio and Tamaki."

"Huh?" Yuyu's jaw dropped and speechless, she gestured with her hands in lieu of words. None of those signals could be found in any sign language dictionary, which was a loss to the world. Recovering, she managed, "Both of them? Seriously?"

"I like their taste," Nejire replied, fanning her hand lightly to help it dry faster.

"That's…not really an answer." Yuyu sighed, shaking her head. "Well, at least you're getting enough love for the two of us."

-x-

Her next kiss was unknown. It could be far into the future. It could be today. Nejire stood in Mirio's room, twisting a strand of hair around her finger as she looked down at Mirio and Tamaki. They sat awkwardly on his bed, fidgeting slightly as they tried to figure out why they were here.

"Is something wrong?" Mirio asked, concern in his voice.

Nejire shook her head. "The opposite." Her heart was beating a million miles a second and her palms were sweaty, but she knew where she stood now. She knew what she wanted and so the words tumbled out of her easily. "Hey, hey, I like you. Both of you."

She smiled brightly. No matter what they're reaction was, she was ready for it. Her nails were still painted that blue-yellow and Yuyu had hot chocolate ready, so even if she was rejected, she could handle it. Nejire was resilient and she was strong, and even if this didn't pan out, there were other candy-like kisses out there. She just had to find them.

Still, as she watched Tamaki's and Mirio's skin flush a bright red, she hoped the answer was yes. Nejire had always had a greedy streak, after all.