Actions

Work Header

Porcelain Mask

Work Text:

“So, have you done it yet...?”

“Hm? Done what?”

Slowly, as not to be noticed, Yusuke raised his chin and looked over his easel, his attention drawn by the two boys across from him who were trying to hold a secret conversation. It was none of his business, but he couldn't help but feel at least a little curious. It was hard enough keeping his attention on his canvas when he was struggling to find an idea, so it was too easy to give in to the distraction.

“Man, you know what I'm talking about...!”

Classes were over. The studio was meant to be used for painting, not gossiping. Nevertheless, Yusuke stayed his brush and listened, keeping his eyes averted, feeling equal parts irritated and intrigued.

There wasn't anyone in his class who he considered a friend – no one who would talk to him unless they had to. Occasionally, there were girls who tried flirting with him, but he wasn't interested in that. Their attention was flattering, but he already had someone. It gave him a legitimate excuse to reject them with, but even he understood the numerous reasons why it would be a bad idea to divulge that information.

People already avoided him enough as it was. It was stupid, but he knew that revealing his relationship with a boy from another school would result in harassment. Not to mention, things were difficult for Akira at Shujin, too. He didn't want to make things worse for him.

“Actually...”

“No way!”

They were getting loud.

“Yeah, for real! I took her on a date and then we went back to my place. She was all over me. I'm a real man now. Ugh, I would've killed myself if I had to graduate as a virgin.”

Huh?

Was being a virgin really that bad?

Moreover, wasn't it a bad sign if someone was willing to do things like that on a first date? That was what Yusuke had always heard, anyway. A girl who gave herself away that freely had to have little respect for herself. Same for that guy. That was something that was supposed to be waited for. Though... For how long, Yusuke wasn't sure.

Marriage?

He and Akira were still in high school. It sounded unreasonable to wait that long. Akira probably wouldn't have even been willing to wait that long, so that option wasn't an option at all. They were far past the point of their first date, though, and they still hadn't done it. Their meetings had slowly turned into unofficial dates which also slowly turned into official ones before either of them really noticed.

Months had passed.

When was the right time supposed to be? It didn't feel like something he could bring up out of the blue, and yet Yusuke knew that it was also on Akira's mind. Whenever they sat close to each other, whenever Akira touched his hand and kissed him and looked into his eyes, Yusuke got the feeling that he was trying to convey something. Akira didn't need to spell it out for him. It was pretty obvious. He was trying to tell him that he was ready. He could have him whenever he wanted, but he just...

It was a lot of pressure.

For some reason, that was how it felt.

Just thinking about it made Yusuke feel all kinds of anxious and nervous. Whenever they were in the moment, when Akira's mouth was over his, hands roaming as they pleased, Yusuke always find a reason to push him away. He just didn't know why. Akira never put his intentions into words, so he also never expressed frustration with his behavior, but Yusuke couldn't help but feel like he was walking on a thin rope, testing his patience. Sooner or later, he expected Akira to finally stop trying.

He didn't want Akira to give up on him entirely, but he kind of wished that he would stop trying. Akira wasn't doing anything to pressure him, but the pressure was there anyway, and Yusuke wished that it would go away.

Was it really that bad, being a virgin? He had to wonder.

He didn't have an excuse. After the way he'd been acting, he felt like he needed to explain himself to Akira, but even he didn't understand himself. In the beginning, everything was fine, but the more he thought about elevating their relationship to the intimate level, the more uncomfortable he became. Explaining those feelings to Akira wouldn't have just been difficult – he was afraid that it would hurt him.

It wasn't Akira's fault that his touch paralyzed him with fear.

It was his own problem, so Yusuke felt like he needed to solve it on his own. But...

“Hey, Kitagawa.”

Ah. One of those boys was talking to him. They should've been using that time to work, but they were staring at him instead. What a waste.

Tucking his hair behind his ear, Yusuke set his brush in the tray and looked up. “Yes?”

The one who was talking to him looked at his friend and they exchanged grins.

“You were listening, right? So what about you? Are you a virgin?”

Immediately, Yusuke stood, the bottom of his stool loudly scraping on the floor as it was pushed back. “This is foolish,” he said, turning away, quickly gathering his things.

“Whoa, he's leaving,” the other one laughed. “I guess that means we're right. I bet the reason he keeps rejecting the girls who ask him out is because he doesn't want them to find out what a weirdo he is. Good looks can't make up for a dysfunctional personality.”

There were a lot of things Yusuke could've said, but he knew it would've been pointless. Those two were irrelevant. He knew their names and nothing else about them. They didn't matter. He would've just been giving them what they wanted if he responded, so he let his retorts burn the back of his tongue. They didn't deserve anything from him.

With his bag under his arm, he put his easel in the corner and left. Their voices followed him down the hall. Even though he didn't want to pay attention, he still heard their words clearly.

When he was out of their sight, their voices a distant, irritating mutter, he stopped his feet.

There was no one else around at that time. It was just him in the hallway. It was like its own dimension, separate from the rest of the world; a place where he was completely by himself, alone. If only it could have also been as silent as the depths of space. The echoes of jeering voices trapped his heart in a suffocating bubble of anxiety.

There was no reason for him to feel bothered. They didn't know what they were talking about.

He had Akira.

So then...

“What's wrong with me?”

Such silence was only good for amplifying the things he didn't want to think about. He'd gone that long without questioning the distance between them, but once he noticed it, it was too hard to look away from it. With every day that passed and each awkward, strained interaction, that distance seemed to become even wider. Before too long, he was afraid that a fissure would open up in the space between them that would be too far to bridge.

He kept telling himself that he could handle it on his own, but that was just a lie.

He couldn't do it alone. The fissure already existed and he was letting his fears and anxieties widen it. Compared to facing the things that made him uncomfortable, the darkness within the depths looked much more inviting. Down there, he could close his eyes and his ears and stop breathing altogether...

It wasn't going to be that easy, though. No matter how tempted he was to continue repeating his past mistakes, Akira wouldn't let that happen. Things weren't the same anymore. Because he was there.

But...

But...

But that word kept going around in Yusuke's head without end. There always seemed to be a reason to second guess himself. Whenever he finally felt like he figured out how it would be alright, that word was always there to push him back to square one. It wasn't fair. That small word was responsible for all of his problems. It was even what had kept him trapped under Madarame even though he'd been suffering and had wanted to escape. Even though he knew it was pathetic and cowardly, quietly suffering seemed better than facing his problems, too afraid of what he'd find squirming underneath that rock if he kicked it away.

He owed Akira everything. That was why it was unfortunate that they became so entangled. Yusuke didn't want to ruin what they had. He didn't want to impose upon him even further, saddling Akira with his burdens.

Akira deserved someone better. Someone who was normal. Someone who didn't always worry so heavily over the things other people were capable of doing without a second thought.

Though, as if Akira could hear him thinking about him from far away...

Yusuke received a text.

 

Hey. Are you around the station?
Akira, 5:05 PM

 

He wasn't, unfortunately. If he'd been at the station instead, that situation in the studio wouldn't have happened. As a result, all he did was waste time on a blank canvas and put himself in a bad mood. He would've liked to hang out with Akira, but after what happened, he didn't even want to show his face around him.

 

I'm still at school.
Yusuke, 5:06 PM

Working late? That's cool.
Akira, 5:06 PM

I'm temping at the flower place in the mall right now. I was hoping we could meet up.
Akira, 5:07 PM


Akira, 5:07 PM

 

Yusuke squinted at his phone. He hadn't seen the others use an icon like that before. It resembled Morgana, so he wondered if it was something custom. Whatever it was, the amateurish art style made it seem kind of cute and charming, so it caught him off guard, making him temporarily forget about his unpleasant mood.

 

What is that?
Yusuke, 5:08 PM

It's a sticker. You have them too. Look for the button that looks like a smiley face.
Akira, 5:09 PM


Akira, 5:09 PM


Yusuke, 5:10 PM

….....Does that mean you're hungry?
Akira, 5:11 PM

It just happened to be the one I liked most. However, now that you mention it, I am somewhat peckish. I didn't have lunch today.
Yusuke, 5:12 PM

I'll be off at 7. Meet me at Leblanc and I'll make you something good.
Akira, 5:12 PM

 

Akira was just being considerate like usual, and yet... His kindness made Yusuke's chest feel tight. There was nothing strange or suggestive about Akira's message, but Yusuke's mind was working at a speed he couldn't control, drawing conclusions that couldn't have been intended. Akira never expected repayment for anything he did, but Yusuke couldn't help but detect an unspoken expectation in his words.

If Akira gave him 'something good', wasn't he going to expect 'something good' in return?

His thinking was absurd. It had to be.

He just wanted to put those thoughts to rest. Although his fingers hesitated to spell it out, there was only one way...

 

I will meet you there. There is also something I need to speak with you about.
Yusuke, 5:14 PM

Sounds serious. Are you okay?
Akira, 5:14 PM

 

Whether it was serious or not, Yusuke couldn't tell, and he couldn't bring himself to say. So he didn't. He was in one of those moods where he wanted to be a little stubborn. If his silence made Akira worry about him... Well, he kind of wanted that.

Since painting hadn't gone as planned, he decided to head straight to Leblanc.

In the time between Kosei and the station, Akira hadn't sent any other messages. Yusuke kept compulsively taking his phone out to check just in case. He'd wanted to make Akira worry about him a little, but he ended up worrying himself instead. The more time passed, the more he wished that Akira would say something; show some worry or frustration or anything.

All he did was create more silence. Truly, the agitation inside of him wasn't going to get better unless he was honest and said everything he was thinking. But if he put his true feelings out there, he was afraid they would ruin everything. A silence filled with unbearable anxiety still somehow seemed preferable in comparison. Even if it tore him apart from the inside, it was better than embarrassing himself and then facing rejection from the person he cared about most.

 

It was interesting... Riding the train, watching people the way he normally would, he found himself wondering about what the strangers around him were thinking. There was a storm raging inside his heart, but he did well to keep his emotions controlled and contained. It was likely that no one would have guessed that anything was wrong if they only looked at him, so he wondered if it were the same for the people surrounding him.

The girl who was standing by the door with headphones over her ears... Did she also have something she couldn't tell anyone? What about the man in glasses who was staring at his watch? The woman with her arms held tightly at her sides?

The word 'normal' itself made differences look like imperfections.

Still, even knowing that... The whole world wouldn't change just to acknowledge one person's enlightenment. The same thing he figured out may have been realized by all the people standing around him, but that didn't change anything.

It was just like Madarame said.

People wanted things to be simple. They wanted things that were easy to consume.

He wasn't simple or easy at all.

 

With nowhere else to go and nothing to do, Yusuke idled around the backstreets of Yongen-jaya for a while, waiting for the time to pass. Despite how many times he'd been there, he'd never really explored the area. It was small. All of the buildings were packed in so close together. Yet, even though he realized that such an atmosphere would have normally given him a sense of claustrophobia, he felt more comfortable there.

The old man at the secondhand store was very nice and spoke with him for a while. Even the people outside the supermarket were talkative. Knowing that Akira had a favorable relationship with the local doctor made Yusuke want to visit her for himself, but even he realized that it would have seemed strange for a young person to stop in at a clinic for no reason beyond a conversation. Though, apparently, that was how Akira had gotten to know her.

Yongen-jaya was truly a place suitable for someone as kind as Akira.

Those thoughts... It was unfortunate that they had to keep getting in the way. Right when Yusuke finally felt like he was starting to relax and enjoy himself again, he remembered the discomfort he felt in the hallway and sunk back into that horrible feeling. That awful internal darkness was strong enough to blot out the sun and make the inviting surroundings disappear into shadow.

On the surface, his problems seemed like nothing compared to what he'd faced in the past. But he had more things to lose. Before, he only had himself, and, as horrible as it sounded, he hadn't cared about sacrificing himself. Madarame had already stolen his artwork, so there hadn't been anything left for him to care about. After having overcome that ordeal, though, he gained things; a place where he felt welcomed, a group of trustworthy friends, and one person who was very special. He was afraid that even a small problem would be enough to collapse the happiness he'd found.

Taking a glance at his phone and the messages he'd sent to Akira, he realized that he'd probably given him the impression that he'd be painting for that long. He hadn't mentioned how stumped he was. Until he could clear his polluted heart, his brush would spread nothing but mud across the canvas. He was worried about talking with Akira, but pretty much anything sounded better than wasting hours and hours on a piece he wouldn't have been satisfied with.

Worse yet, if his feelings seeped into his painting and revealed his insecurities...

He really didn't care about those fools in his painting class, but he wouldn't have been able to handle it if his own painting betrayed him by making him look immature.

If he couldn't understand himself, how was he supposed to paint from the heart? Surely, the only thing anyone would see in his painting would be his own confusion and inexperience; the naïve voice of a child. Even an inexperienced hand could draw something interesting, but if he wished to paint things that conveyed a deep meaning, he also needed to look deep within himself. Artists with a developed sense of self were always the ones who were remembered – for their paintings and the personality they imbued them with.

Instead of revealing his problems to the world, he wished to paint their solutions. Never did he want to make a painting that wallowed in sadness and self-pity. Such a painting would have offered nothing to its audience but further sadness.

From that fear inside of him, he imagined another light; warm, understanding, and confident.

 

As the time drew nearer to their agreed-upon meeting time, Yusuke went to Leblanc.

Upon entering and taking a seat near the door, Sakura-san offered him a coffee which Yusuke politely declined. Without having eaten anything yet, coffee sounded unwise. His stomach growled when he smelled the Boss's curry, but he forced himself to resist and wait for Akira's.

He hadn't drawn a single thing all day... That made him feel worse than not eating.

When the door chime rang and he looked up to see Akira step into the shop, Yusuke's hunger was forgotten. Seeing him made him want to hide his face, afraid that Akira would be able to tell what he was thinking just by looking at him. Before he greeted him – before he even made eye contact with him – Yusuke already felt exposed.

“Well, you aren't dead. That's good.”

Hearing Akira's voice, Yusuke hesitantly lifted his head and looked up at him.

“Did I worry you?” he asked.

Akira slid into the other side of the booth across from him and set down his things. “Of course, but it's not like I don't understand why you wouldn't want to talk about something important in a text. I figured you wanted to be quiet for a reason.”

“You're... very good at reading me, aren't you?” That was still surprising. Simply conveying his thoughts was a frequent problem. His expectations of being understood were often disappointed. It went to show that Akira wasn't the average person. That thought resonated inside of him and gave him the small hope that Akira would have the patience to keep listening.

Placing his elbows on the table, Akira leaned closer. “How about that food I promised you? That might help perk you up.”

“Actually... Could we talk first? I'm not sure I'd be able to stomach anything until I say what I have to.”

It took all of Yusuke's strength to say that much. He couldn't imagine how much harder it would be to actually tell him what was wrong.

Akira stared at him for a long minute, his face set tight into an expression that was hard for Yusuke to parse. Eventually, he sat back, hands at his sides, but he continued to stare unwaveringly as he asked, very seriously, “Are you breaking up with me?”

Just hearing those words, it felt like a heavy arrow had been shot through Yusuke's heart. At once, he stood, slamming his hands down on the table – alarming the couple customers behind him much to the Boss's chagrin. Realizing the inconvenience his outburst was creating, Yusuke quickly sat back down and whispered back hastily, “No! Why would-... I would never!”

The thought had never crossed his mind.

Of course, there were many times when he worried that Akira would get fed up with him and call it quits, but Yusuke absolutely never considered letting go of him. Even when it seemed like it would be better if he let him go... Even when he thought there had to be someone better for Akira out there... He selfishly kept holding on in his heart.

“Well, if you aren't in immediate physical danger and you aren't planning on breaking up with me, then I think that abates my biggest worries.”

Yusuke heard a faint rustling sound. They both followed the sound and Akira's face paled when he realized where it was comings from. Quickly, he unzipped his bag and allowed Morgana to jump out for air.

“Be a little more concerned about me, would you?!” he said accusingly, gasping for breath. He paced around the table unsteadily and hopped off before the Boss could yell at Akira for letting him on the table. “Jeez. Maybe I don't want to be human, after all. It's like you search for more and more things to be worried about. Maybe the world would be a happier place if we tried turning everyone else into cats. That's one way of fixing my predicament.”

Akira went back to leaning on the table as he looked down at Morgana. “The only truly carefree people in the world are the blissfully ignorant and the irredeemably corrupt. The more things you have that are precious to you, the more worries you'll have,” he said. “You have things like that too, don't you? Even if you aren't human, I know you have your own worrie-”

“Okay, okay! Stop!” Morgana yowled, bristling. Akira must have struck a chord. “I didn't come out of that bag to get called out. If you two have something you need to talk about, then talk. I'll be outside getting some fresh air.” As soon as another customer entered, Morgana slipped out the open door.

After Morgana left, Yusuke kept staring at the door for a while.

“I wonder what that was about,” he said, thinking out loud.

Akira gave a fond roll of his eyes. “He's fine. He's like a little kid.” He looked up, becoming more serious again. “More importantly... What is it you want to talk about?”

At first, Yusuke opened his mouth, but then he thought better of speaking in the shop where anyone could hear them. He visited Leblanc rather frequently, but he wasn't sure if the Boss was totally aware of what kind of relationship he had with Akira. He was always careful to avoid doing anything that would arouse suspicion in the wrong people. Sakura-san was a good person, but he was also very much a ladies' man, so Yusuke questioned how he'd react to their relationship if he found out. The thought of being judged even moderately by someone he respected wasn't pleasant.

So, instead, he stood and picked up his things. “May we go upstairs?

Looking much more relaxed after apparently having his own worries put to rest, Akira stretched his arms over his head and let out a tired grumble before rolling himself out of the booth. “Sure thing,” he said, pushing a hand through his hair. “Let's go.”

Yusuke started walking toward the stairs, keeping himself a step ahead of Akira to keep the doubtless redness in his face from being seen. He didn't know how it was possible for Akira to be so attractive without even trying. It made Yusuke feel jealous and... inadequate. He didn't know how to achieve that kind of mature appeal, especially without effort. That didn't bode well for his art, either.

When they reached the attic, Yusuke refused to take a seat, feeling more comfortable to stand near the stairs where he could bolt if he had to. He didn't plan on running away, but...

“Is there a reason why you're standing?” Akira asked. He was sitting in his usual place; the chair from his desk.

He could read him like a book... It was frightening.

“I'm...” Feeling lightheaded, actually.

“You can sit on the bed.”

On the bed...

“N-No thank you. I'm fine where I am.”

He expected Akira to add something else, but only silence followed. It was terrible. They were always so close and comfortable with each other... It didn't feel right for such a tense silence to even exist between them. Then again, Yusuke realized that it was probably just him and his own perception of the situation. Akira was looking at him curiously, but he didn't seem to be feeling as tense as he was.

Yusuke chanced a glance at him, then looked away. “Aren't you going to say anything?”

“How can I?” Akira asked, making a vague gesture in the air with one hand. “You haven't told me what's wrong yet. Is it related to your art? School? Something else? Whatever it is, you have to realize by now that I'm not going to make fun of you or anything. I have kind of gotten the feeling that you're being distant lately. That's what made me think you might be trying to break up with me...” He paused for a second. “Are... Are you sure you aren't trying to break up with me?”

“I'm not,” Yusuke insisted, tightening his hands into fists. “Please... Don't say that again. I would never. You're... too important to me.”

Once again, the attic became quiet, that time, leaving Yusuke feeling even more vulnerable than before.

Akira got up and moved himself to the bed and patted the spot next to him.

Though still feeling hesitant, Yusuke reluctantly set his bag down by the stairs. He joined him and made sure to keep some space between them.

The moment when he finally worked up the courage to look at Akira, he saw a hand nearing his shoulder and flinched away.

Akira took back his hand and held it to his chin in thought. “Don't feel bad. That's what I expected you to do.” He put his hand in his lap and stared at his palm. “But why? Is that related to the issue? I can't figure out if your aversion to being touched is the problem or just a symptom of something else. You always seemed to enjoy hugging and kissing...”

“I do...” Yusuke mumbled timidly, holding his hands together.

“But then...” He trailed off as he continued to think in silence, his eyes searching the rafters, scanning his memories for a hint of a clue. Then, as if struck by an epiphany, he jerked his chin up and looked at Yusuke with eyes wide with realization. “Are you afraid of having sex?”

Yusuke's heart may very well have stopped.

“Wh-... H-... How did you come up with that?!”

“I'm right?” Akira shot back incredulously.

“I...” Yusuke looked away, holding his arms around himself protectively. It felt like Akira was right, but it was more like he'd only struck close to the truth. Yusuke didn't fully understand it, but he knew it was something like that. “I don't know if I'm scared. I don't know... I can't even tell you what's wrong because I'm not sure. I know that my reactions are a problem, but I don't know why I react that way. Today, I heard some classmates talking about having sex and it sounded so easy for them in comparison... I'm weird, aren't I? There really is something wrong with me...”

“Yusuke, you aren't weird,” Akira said. His voice was calm and sincere. “I don't mean to sound like I'm psychoanalyzing you, but listen... When I first met you, I did think you were weird, but then I got to know you and I started to understand where it comes from. You aren't just eccentric because you like being different. I think Madarame was a lot worse to you than you understand. You were raised in isolation. He wanted you to be his obedient puppet. Based on the way you act, it seems to me like there must have been things he never taught you – a lot of basic things that would have been learned via osmosis if he'd just interacted with you in a more parental way.”

He always knew it was bad. But Akira was right. In his position, he was still blinded by his devotion to Madarame. It was too hard for him to see the true extent of his influence.

“All of this because of sex...?” he muttered quietly to himself, staring at the floor between his feet.

“It's more complex than people make it sound.”

Yusuke looked up. “Akira, could it be... Do you have experience?”

Instantly, Akira's face turned a shade of red and he nervously pushed up his glasses. “N-No, I don't. I've just watched a lot of porn and read a lot of magazines on the train.” Then, after another moment of thinking, he looked back at Yusuke suspiciously. “...Do you watch porn?”

“Of course not.”

“What do you mean 'of course not'?” Akira cried, jolting back in surprise. Noticing the way his reaction sounded, though, he quickly recovered his composure and tried to reassure him. “Sorry. That's okay. All things considered, I don't think I'm even that surprised. Still... You've drawn people naked, haven't you? How did you manage that? Ann said you seemed really flustered when she was undressing for you.”

There was a reasonable explanation for that. “At the time, I hadn't known that she was just pretending, so I was prepared to draw her. It was a strictly professional arrangement. I-I only became flustered because of her acting. She kept using a sexy tone of voice, and she made it sound like she wanted to g-go somewhere private and do something more than model for me...”

“Huh. So that's what happened.” While that fiasco was occurring, Akira had been inside Madarame's Palace. He must've been curious. “Hey, if Ann kept pressing you and actually tried to get you alone to have sex – I mean, she wouldn't have, but just imagine for a second – if she did that, would you have let her?”

“Absolutely not.”

Akira nodded thoughtfully to himself. “I see... I never thought I'd ask, but... Are you gay?”

Yusuke began stammering and couldn't stop.

Akira gave him an amused smile. “Hey, it's a fair question.”

Once Yusuke was able to calm himself, he took a deep breath and tried to answer. “I... don't know, honestly. I've never thought about that kind of thing. Art is my number one priority. I don't have the time to be thinking about that.”

“Well, you're dating me and I'm a guy, so I think I can draw some type of conclusion based on that, at least. But now lemme tell you where you're wrong,” he said, wagging a finger at him. “If you suppress your sexuality, it could have a negative impact on every aspect of your life. It'll probably affect your art, too. You can't just ignore it.”

That much was true. Yusuke had already realized that for himself once his worries began interfering with his work at school. He was just pathetically trying to find an excuse for the way he'd been pushing those thoughts away. As difficult as they were to confront, if he didn't finally acknowledge them, he wasn't going to be able to paint.

Akira leaned a little closer. Just when Yusuke was beginning to feel hopeful that he was getting over his troubles, his heart began to pound wildly in that distressing way again, making him instinctively back away from him. Akira narrowed his eyes slightly, but he seemed more curious than offended.

“Hey,” Akira began. “What do you think about me? Like, do you find me attractive? Do you fantasize about me when you get off?”

“I don't really... like... masturbating...”

Following his difficult confession, he expected Akira to react, but he just sat there with a blank stare, looking perhaps like he was at a loss for words. An awkward moment passed without Akira saying anything, and that was enough to make Yusuke realize that he must have said something very shocking.

“It's indecent and it hurts!” he tried to explain, flailing his hands wildly, face on fire. “I-I heard that it's supposed to hurt the first time. It hurt when I tried it, so I didn't want to do it again, but I tried again anyway and it still hurt...!”

“Sorry, Yusuke, but I think you're majorly confused.” Picking up his feet, Akira rearranged himself on the bed to face him, sitting on his knees. “First of all... How do you think you're supposed to do it?”

Thinking back to the way he did it, Yusuke made a similar motion with his hand in the air to illustrate for Akira. “Y... You put your hand around it... And... You pull... Like this?”

Akira stared with a dumbfounded expression; eyes narrowed in disbelief, mouth agape. “Holy shit...”

“Th-... That's how you're supposed to do it, though!”

“No it's not!” Akira cried, holding his head. “I'm shocked you didn't tear your dick off, doing it like that. It's no wonder you were so afraid of sex if that's what you thought it was supposed to be like... Of course that would hurt. You aren't supposed to pull on it. You're supposed to... You know... S-Stroke it...” He trailed off slowly, his voice becoming quieter with audible embarrassment.

“Stroke it...?” Yusuke tried to imagine it for himself. He raised his hand and made a new gesture. “Like this? Like petting Morgana.”

Akira looked like he couldn't handle much more. “No, not like that either. More like what you were doing the first time, but with less squeezing and pulling. Telling you how to do it might not be very effective if you were already misled by things you heard, though... The first time I tried it, it wasn't very good for me, either. Watching porn helped me figure it out. Maybe I should send you some links... Or we could watch some together.”

Although that suggestion was very kind of him, Yusuke was already thinking about what excuse he could use to keep that from happening. The thought of watching a stranger touching themselves was already bad enough. It would have been a thousand times more awkward if he had to endure such a video while sitting next to Akira. It would have been even worse if Akira expected him to try it for himself – especially in his presence.

“I could help you,” Akira said.

For a second, Yusuke thought he was hearing things. He blinked and looked at Akira skeptically, feeling sweat accumulating on the back of his neck. “You'll... help me what?”

“Do it.”

That sounded like the perfect time for him to make his exit. Except, unfortunately, his butt seemed to be stuck to the bed. He couldn't get up. Even though he was afraid of revealing how nervous he was, it seemed even worse for him to leave. Leaving would have made him look like a coward, and he wouldn't have accomplished anything. The whole reason he decided to tell Akira about his worries was because...

Because...

“Why?” Yusuke muttered, lowering his eyes to the floor. “Why are you being so nice? Hasn't it been frustrating for you? Wouldn't you rather be with someone who doesn't burden you with their problems? It's my problem, so I should be the one to solve it. So, why? Why would you want to help me?”

Akira sighed.

“Because I love you. I thought that was obvious.” He looked at him adamantly, his fingers gripping his knees, giving Yusuke the sense that he'd made him mad. “Besides, what makes you think you should handle it alone? You and I are together. That means that your problems are my problems, too. Sure, there are probably a ton of people out there who don't have the same problems, but they also aren't you. You might see this as some kind of big inconvenience to me, but every effort I put towards our relationship feels rewarding to me. No matter how nervous or embarrassed or awkward or scared you feel, I'm here for you, Yusuke. I suspect you would say the same for me.”

Ah...

He really went and did it...

“I apologize for the things I said. That was selfish of me...”

Even so, Akira smiled at him kindly. “You're feeling really vulnerable and scared. I understand.”

It felt irritating that he couldn't hold himself together and act stronger, but, in a way, it was nice to find out that Akira was able to sympathize with his feelings that deeply. His fear of being abandoned for being abnormal was starting to feel more distant, and all it took were a few words. At that moment, Yusuke felt more grateful to Akira than he'd ever been. Not only had Akira helped save him from Madarame, he was also willing to stick around and see that the effects Madarame had left on them were reversed.

He didn't know what he did to deserve such kindness.

Seeing Akira opening his arms, Yusuke didn't even think twice. He slid into his embrace and pressed his cheek against Akira's shoulder. It was the first hug he'd accepted in weeks, and, although his other worries continued rumbling irrationally at the back of his mind, he still managed to relax somewhat in spite of them. He'd missed how warm and comforting Akira's arms felt.

A part of him was afraid of letting that pure feeling get corrupted by sex...

Akira nuzzled his nose against Yusuke's ear. “Wanna see me naked?” he whispered, sending a shiver down Yusuke's spine.

Yusuke's first instinct was to refuse him, but then he recalled what Akira had said earlier. He'd attended numerous figure drawing classes where he sketched naked models. Ann wouldn't have been the first. It was just the thought of it being turned into something sexual that made him so nervous. If Akira stripped and simply allowed him to look at him and sort through his feelings, that might have actually been helpful.

“You'll really undress? Here?” Yusuke asked, lifting his head.

Gently, Akira extracted himself from their embrace and went over to his desk. “Sure. I've told you before that I'd be willing to strip for you, haven't I?” He took out a pen and a piece of paper and wrote something in large handwriting. Then he picked up the folding screen from the corner and began heading toward the stairs with it. “I do this when I don't want Sojiro to accidentally stumble upon me while I'm jerking off. I'm sure he wouldn't want that either, so he's never questioned it.”

He turned the sign he made toward Yusuke for him to read.

'PLEASE KNOCK FIRST!'

“A-ah... Tasteful.”

“Right? I thought it was a good idea,” Akira said, grinning. After he placed down the sign and set up the folding screen across the top of the stairs to obscure the attic, he returned with his hands already reaching for the buttons of his shirt. “What about you? Would you like to get naked at the same time? I think you could use some skinship.”

“Skinship...” As adverse as he was to the idea, it made a lot of sense why Akira would suggest it. Part of why he told Akira about his problem was so he could overcome it. The simplest solution was probably to face his fear head-on. The thought of bare, physical intimacy made him feel dizzy, though...

Akira stopped where he was, shirt unbuttoned, torso exposed. “We don't have to do anything sexual. It's just that you're acting like someone who's never been touched in their life... It might sound like a weird idea, but I get the feeling that you'll start to feel less nervous and embarrassed if we touch each other. Again – nothing sexual. I can hold you like I normally would and let you see that it's not scary. Then we can move on to doing other things when you're comfortable.”

“But...”

“But?”

“N-No... No buts. I think you're right, Akira. When I was with Madarame, I didn't experience any intimate contact. I only remember the times when I was really young... When he'd pat me on the head for making a good picture. When you hugged me for the first time, it reminded me of that feeling. It felt like a reward. That's why, when I started to think about how I might embarrass myself with my inexperience, I... I was afraid that I might taint that feeling or lose it altogether.”

Arms crossed, smiling still, Akira gave him an understanding nod of his head. “Hurry up and take your clothes off so I can hug you.”

Thinking of the warmth of Akira's arms as a reward made the idea a little easier to stomach, but Yusuke's hands still shook as he moved them toward the buttons on the front of his shirt. When Akira noticed his obvious discomfort, he turned his back, allowing him to continue without the additional fear of being watched.

He just had to remember the reward...

It wasn't going to be any different from a figure drawing class... He was just going to take off his clothes and let Akira look at him. He'd wanted to draw Akira in the nude for the longest time, so there was no difference on a fundamental level. If they were both undressing, then it was all equal.

“...Will you let me sketch you?” Yusuke asked. He was tempted to look up and see how far Akira had gotten, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. As for himself, he'd barely made it past unbuttoning his shirt.

He heard Akira hum. “If it makes you feel more comfortable to have a pencil in your hand, then sure. That's fine.”

Yusuke didn't know why he was still so nervous. Akira had almost seen him naked, once. After he joined the Phantom Thieves, he went to the bathhouse with Akira and Ryuji, but... That time was different. Back then, he didn't have feelings for Akira yet. He went with them, thinking of it as hadaka no tsukiai; the essential Japanese experience of communing in the bath with companions. But even then, he was closed-off. He kept a distance from them and felt paranoid about letting them see him fully naked, unlike Ryuji who was so careless with his towel.

By the time they went on the trip to the beach, things had gotten worse. He couldn't even leave the changing room without a hoodie. He told Akira that he needed to protect his skin from the sun, but that was only half of the truth.

He felt too skinny and awkward...

He still felt that way.

Looking down at his thin waist, he felt nothing but shame. He already knew what a fantastic body Akira had. He was the perfect model. In comparison, Yusuke felt like he wouldn't have wanted to draw himself. The people who thought he was attractive were probably just looking at his face.

Yusuke's nervousness continued to grow, getting worse as he shrugged his shirt off his shoulders. To avoid thinking about his pants, he slowly took off his shoes and socks. By the time he finally reached his belt, he stared at it, vision blurring, palms sweating. He had to remind himself that it was alright. It was just like figure drawing. There was a reward at the end.

Steeling his nerves with those thoughts, Yusuke stood, back rigid, and hastily unfastened and removed his belt with his numb fingers. Not allowing a single moment of further hesitation, he quickly shed the rest of his clothing.

But, once everything was off, he was faced with an unexpected situation.

His body had betrayed him.

“I don't hear anything... Are you done? I'm turning around now,” Akira said.

Yusuke immediately sat back down on the bed and covered himself with his hands. “D-Don't look!”

Akira turned around in spite of his plea, probably concerned by the desperate sound in his voice. When he did, Yusuke couldn't bring himself to look at him, so he just stared awkwardly at Akira's bare feet.

“Why're you covering yourself up?” Akira asked.

“I said don't look!”

It took Akira a moment, but then he seemed to understand. “Ohhh... Nervous boner?” he said, a rather vulgar-sounding term Yusuke had never heard of. “It's when you get an erection out of sheer nervousness. It's a physiological reaction. I know why you'd feel embarrassed, but it's totally normal.”

Yusuke refused to take his hands away from himself. “Well, I don't like it. It's shameful.”

“Shameful...? Now that I think about it... Do you remember when we went to the church? Is that why you thought a nude model would be best for expressing the concept of anguish? Nudity can express a lot more than anguish, you know. Like you'd say – that idea is stale. It's also harmfully negative. In the right context, vulnerability can be a very good thing. Imagine how many people you could help by presenting the naked body as something positive and desirable instead.”

Somehow, Akira always knew exactly what to say.

“I didn't expect to receive a critique at a time like this, but... You're right,” Yusuke said. He still wasn't going to remove his hands, but he was starting to understand why his feelings of shame were foolish. “I was so shortsighted... I let my own fears and insecurities dilute my creativity. I was worried that something like that might happen, but to think I'm already guilty of it... That's what's truly shameful.”

In Yusuke's small area of vision, he noticed Akira's feet walking away, but he was too scared to look up to find out what he was doing. He heard the sound of a bag being unzipped and realized that Akira was probably retrieving his sketchbook for him.

When Akira returned, the sketchbook entered his field of vision, thrust before him.

“Here you go,” Akira said.

Yusuke wanted to take it, knowing that he'd feel more comfortable looking at Akira's body if he used sketching him as an excuse, but if he took it from him, that also meant that he would have to lift his hands...

“Aren't you going to take it?” Akira asked, waving it around enticingly.

He had to.

There wasn't a choice. He couldn't sacrifice his art to hold on to his insecurity. That wouldn't have made any sense. If he gave up and told Akira to put it away, Yusuke knew he would have regretted it and hated himself for it.

So, even though his heart was racing painfully, even though he felt so nervous he could cry, Yusuke removed his hands from himself and took the sketchbook.

And he immediately used it to cover himself.

“Yusuke...”

“Hm?” He turned his head away.

“Yusuke, move the sketchbook. Once you get over this, you're going to look back and realize how silly this is.”

Yusuke knew that he shouldn't have covered himself back up. He was just prolonging the inevitable and making things more difficult along the way.

Standing up, he reluctantly removed the sketchbook and placed it on the bed, then carefully brought his eyes up to meet Akira's. He still felt too nervous to look down, and he especially didn't want to look at himself. If he didn't look, he could even kind of pretend that he wasn't naked.

With a satisfied smirk, Akira put his hands on his hips and stood with his feet apart, looking confident in his appearance. “I wouldn't let anyone else see me like this, but you're special. Look at me however you want – for art reasons, for perverted reasons – it's all fine with me.”

“P-Perverted reasons?” People were always calling him a pervert, but he was pretty sure that was supposed to be a bad thing. “Why would you want me to look at you like that?”

“Because I want to do perverted things with you,” Akira said as plainly as could be, giving a shrug. “I mean, if we're both into it, it's not really 'perverted', but you know what I mean... Hopefully.”

Yeah. He knew what he was talking about.

“Perverted... things...”

Yusuke's head started swimming again, his thoughts getting all jumbled and tangled up until none of them were clear, leaving him to focus on the steadily rising feeling of panic that made him quiver with the pounding of his heart. His mouth was dry and his body felt hot and numb at the same time. His breaths became shorter and faster until it felt like he was going to...

“Whoa, don't pass out!” Akira caught him by the shoulders and helped slowly lower him to the bed. “Seeing you like this... I seriously have to apologize for the times I called you a pervert. I didn't know a lot about you then, so I didn't realize how insensitive that was...”

The panic was still very real, but Yusuke's heart was already beginning to calm itself. As his vision cleared, he looked at Akira's hands on his shoulders. He was just holding on to him. He wasn't doing anything inappropriate. The feeling of Akira's hands on his bare skin didn't feel like what Yusuke expected.

It was... It was okay.

Akira let go and sat down next to him. “You okay? Too soon for your reward?”

Finally, Yusuke took a glance toward his side and looked at Akira, then allowed himself a better look once he was sure that it was okay. Akira looked so comfortable about being naked in front of him. He was sitting with his arms propped behind him, one leg crossed over the other at the knee, shamelessly exposed...

Yusuke was tempted to grab his sketchbook to draw him, but he didn't want Akira to think he was stalling again. He was just so stunning. His calm attitude surprisingly made Yusuke feel calmer as well. He wished to capture and preserve that attitude to give himself confidence in the future.

Yusuke's eyes followed Akira as he moved back on the bed to sit up against the wall near his pillow. He opened his arms in invitation, and Yusuke didn't allow himself to hesitate, wanting to see for himself whether being naked would change the experience of being held in Akira's arms. Just earlier, the possibility of a change would have terrified him, but Akira's sincere confidence gave Yusuke the feeling that it could actually be alright.

However, before he reached him, Yusuke paused, hands and knees on the bed, and looked down at himself. “Akira, are you sure you want to hold me when I'm... in this condition? I could attempt to keep my hips away from you, I suppose...”

Akira waved out his hands, beckoning him closer. “Yusuke, I don't care if your boner touches me.”

He felt so scandalized, hearing Akira use such vulgar wording...

“But what if mine touches yours...?”

“Sounds pretty good,” Akira said. Then he loudly cleared his throat. “I mean... That's fine. Nothing's going to happen. It doesn't have to mean anything at all unless we both agree to make it something else. I'm just looking for a hug.”

A hug. That was all.

That sounded nice and innocent, even naked.

It did make Yusuke feel a bit warm and tingly to think about his touching Akira's, though. The thought of that wasn't as distressing to him as it used to be... But then as soon as he tried thinking about real sex, his brain still wanted to shut down.

Trying to put that out of mind, Yusuke crawled closer to Akira, arranging himself between his parted legs. Being that close, there was no way to keep his hips from touching Akira's, so all Yusuke could do was close his eyes and swallow down his embarrassment.

“You're so stiff,” Akira said.

“I-I know!”

He laughed, putting an arm around Yusuke's back. “I meant your shoulders. Try to relax.”

Relaxing was a challenge. Yusuke highly doubted that he would be able to relax to the point where his predicament would go away. He just had to take some calm breaths. To save himself from the embarrassment of walking back to the dorms that way, he'd probably stand in the shop's bathroom for a while, running cold water on his wrists. He hoped they had really cold water.

Akira moved his hand, placing it on Yusuke's lower back. “Well?” he asked. “How is it?”

He was stiff and getting stiffer. That hand on his lower back made him tremble, and a confusing feeling swirled around in his gut. Tensing up so much like that was actually painful. Until then, he hadn't realized it, but his brow had been contorted into a scowl that hadn't gone away. His face hurt, his back hurt, his arms and legs...

“I'm tired,” Yusuke said.

He was tired of feeling tense and anxious. His over-protectiveness of himself was finally presenting itself as an obvious problem. Not only was it getting in the way of his relationship with Akira, it was taking a toll on his body. If it continued, he imagined that it would only get worse.

It was probably a good sign that he was also suddenly able to imagine it getting better.

Since laying down in Akira's arms, Yusuke hadn't thought much about where he was and what he was doing. He got stuck in his head, fretting over his nervousness, leaving his body behind in reality. Meanwhile, Akira had stayed true to his word. He seemed to be content to just lay there and hold him. It made a thought appear in Yusuke's mind and he became curious.

“Akira...” Yusuke looked up and Akira looked down at him. “Earlier, you asked me what I think of you. May I ask you the same? Do... Do you find me attractive? Specifically, what do you think of my body?”

Akira turned a little red. He scratched his cheek and glanced away for a second before looking back down at him, looking into his eyes with a soft look on his face. “I find you really attractive. You have a beautiful face, but your body also has a fragile type of beauty. I hadn't thought about what my type was until we started going out, and then I realized that you're right in my strike zone; tall, slender, but also strong enough to German suplex me.”

“That is indeed strangely specific.”

Akira laughed, acknowledging how strange that sounded. He moved his hand over Yusuke's back and rubbed his shoulder with the other. “By the way, is it my imagination or have you started to relax?”

“P-Perhaps...” If it were any indication, he was able to rest his head against Akira's bare shoulder without feeling like his soul would imminently exit his body. That seemed like an improvement.

“So...” Slowly, Akira moved his hand down to Yusuke's hip, leaving a tingling sensation along its path. “Now that you know that it's no big deal to be naked with me... How about we...”

“I can't!” Yusuke cried, immediately wrapping his arms around himself, curling into a ball where he was. He feared that people in the shop may have been able to hear him, but he had much bigger fears. “We... We can't! It's too sudden! S-... Sex... G-G-Going that far would be... I-I...”

“Whoa, whoa. Don't go back into panic mode,” Akira said. His arms encircled him, and, even though they were touching, and even though Yusuke was slipping into overwhelming anxiety once again, the feeling of Akira's warm embrace surprisingly remained the same. His voice was so gentle. “That wasn't what I was going to suggest. I agree with you. It's way too soon for us to go all the way. I don't know how much you know about it, but you need to work your way up to that. I'd have to... You know... Prepare and stuff.” Face flushed, he pushed up his glasses and nervously toyed with the springy hair that hung in front of his face. “I'll send you some pages about it so you can get the gist of what's involved.”

“Wait.” Yusuke slipped out of Akira's arms and sat up. “You're nervous, too?”

Akira nodded. “Well. Yeah. Of course. Once you read up on it, you'll see what I mean – but don't worry, okay? I'll help you out. We'll do it together.” It was kind of incredible how he was able to make it sound like something ambitious that they would conquer together. “For now, since we're already naked, I thought I could give you a hand so to speak and show you how to masturbate the right way. I'm pretty sure you'll start to feel more confident if you develop the relationship you have with your own body. Part of why you were so afraid of doing it with me was because you thought it would hurt, right?”

That was true, Yusuke was willing to admit. He'd thought it would hurt, and he'd been afraid of looking stupid, but apparently he'd been misinformed. He hated feeling like he didn't even understand his own body.

He wanted to feel good with Akira.

“Okay.”

Looking happy to have his approval, Akira got up from the bed and went over to his desk. He pulled out one of the drawers and took something out and returned with it in hand. When he sat back down on the bed, reassuming his position behind Yusuke, he held up the item for him to see.

“This is lube. Very important,” he said. Contrary to Yusuke's fears, he sounded excited to help him learn about the things he wasn't familiar with. “You're about to get taken to heaven.”

Indeed, that sounded promising. Yusuke still felt apprehensive, but his curiosity was starting to win out over the feelings that had been holding him back. He was still hard, but he could tell that his nervousness wasn't solely to blame for it anymore. Because it hurt when he tried it, he tried to convince himself that it wasn't even worth it to try it again. That made it even harder for him to envision himself doing it with Akira, but if Akira said that he could guarantee that it would feel good, then he had no reason to disbelieve; Akira was always right.

Setting aside the bottle, Akira leaned back against the wall and Yusuke followed, snuggling up to him like before. With a little quirk of an eyebrow, Akira laughed and rearranged him, picking him up under the arms, pulling him over so that his back rested against his chest. In that position, Yusuke could distinctly feel Akira's thing pressing against his lower back. Even his chest, which Yusuke had already seen exposed a number of times in the past, somehow felt erotic when it was rubbing against his back.

Sex was like a whole world unfamiliar to him. It was different and strange and startling, but as long as he had Akira with him to explore its uncharted territory...

“How's this?”

Yusuke jumped when Akira put his hands on his stomach. Looking down, he realized how exposed he was, laying with his whole body on display.

“I feel especially naked right now and it's very unsettling,” he replied, sending an irritated stare over his shoulder.

Akira moved his hands across his stomach and rubbed them in slow circles. “Okay, but how do my hands feel? Ticklish?”

“No... Your hands are warm, so it doesn't feel particularly ticklish.” He put his hands over Akira's to still them. “But what are you doing? I thought you were going to show me-... I thought you were going to show me the proper way to masturbate!”

“Stop saying things like that so loudly! We'll seriously get in trouble!”

“This is just how my voice sounds!”

“It's obviously not!” Defeated, Akira sucked in a breath and immediately went quiet. He allowed for a few moments to pass to let the silence be filled with the sounds of the people down in the shop, making sure that they hadn't been found out. When he was sure that everything was still as it should be, he moved Yusuke's hands aside and explained. “L-Listen... There's more to it than you think. Touching other places will help you get in the mood.”

He was already hard, though. What kind of mood was Akira talking about?

Yusuke's curiosity got the better of him, so he let Akira continue.

There wasn't anything special about Akira's hands on his stomach. The skin-to-skin contact still had him drawing a panicked breath here and there, but he didn't sense anything else that he would have qualified as out of the ordinary. By the time Akira moved his hands to his hips, however, Yusuke started to feeling something. It wasn't an unfamiliar feeling, but experiencing it in that moment made a lightbulb go off in his head. That odd tingling he felt as Akira's hands went lower and lower was a feeling he'd felt before. That feeling was supposed to feel good, but, with all of his misunderstandings and mixed-up feelings, he'd thought it was supposed to be a sign that something was going wrong.

It was hard to separate that sensation from the feeling of fear. The moment it began to intensify, he started sweating. He clenched his jaw and tried to hold back the pathetic sounds that would have otherwise made it from his mouth. He didn't want to give up when he was so close to the solution, but...

No. He couldn't second guess himself at such a crucial moment.

It was okay...

It was okay...

“It's okay, Yusuke.”

One of those sounds escaped, revealing how scared he was.

Akira brought his hands up, holding Yusuke's waist, and kissed his shoulder, telling him again that it was alright. Although Yusuke understood in his heart that there was nothing for him to worry about any longer, he didn't know how long it was going to be before his body accepted that as a fact.

As his breaths grew deeper and more shallow, he pressed his knees together, unable to hide his evident arousal. His hands remained at his sides, his fingers curling in the bed sheets. Akira's hands were having a profound effect on him. It started small and gradual, but then it quickly escalated. When Akira moved his hands up and touched his chest, Yusuke tried not to shout again. A part of him wanted Akira to put his hands back where they had been, to finally touch him there, but Yusuke was distracted by the way his fingers were drawing circles around his nipples.

It felt weird to be touched there, but it wasn't necessarily bad. He tried his best to relax, gnawing on his lower lip as Akira teased his nipples, pinching and squeezing them between his fingers in a way that made a strange feeling erupt in the pit of his stomach.

Eventually, just when Yusuke was starting to feel like he couldn't take it anymore, Akira relented. His hands traveled down his body, roaming over his sides, his hips, finding their way to his legs where his nails scraped lightly over his inner thighs. For some reason, Yusuke noticed that he felt really sensitive there, and Akira seemed to also take notice, his breath warm as he chuckled close to Yusuke's ear.

That sensation was becoming unbearable. Yusuke couldn't help the way his hips wanted to squirm around. It was no longer the same type of anxiousness he was used to. There was an uncontrollable part of him that was trying to break free, demanding more. All he could do was helplessly quiver in Akira's arms, at the mercy of his touch.

“So this is... This is sexual desire...”

Akira lifted his hands, leaving Yusuke's skin thrumming with heat. “Looks like there was a lot more for me to help you learn about desire,” he said.

“And the heart,” Yusuke said softly, placing a hand over his chest. “This has been such an emotional experience for me. I can't imagine how there are others who are able to do this so easily with someone they're mere acquaintances with. Is that considered normal?”

“I don't know,” Akira admitted, wrapping his arms around him. “I can't imagine that, either. The only reason I feel comfortable doing this with you is because I love you.”

Those words flew swiftly to Yusuke's heart. They filled him with such overwhelming happiness, it was almost painful. Having realized that Akira had also been nervous... Having found out that he wouldn't have wanted to share that experience with anyone else...

The feeling called nervousness disappeared from Yusuke's understanding.

He felt special.

Wordlessly, he turned around in Akira's arms and expressed his feelings in a way that carried their meaning more clearly than any words could have, placing their lips together in a kiss. Somewhere in his heart, he'd surely always known that sex was another way of expressing love, but he'd doubted himself and his worth. He'd doubted Akira and his feelings for him. Even though Akira had gone out of his way to reassure him again and again, his pitiful past self kept whispering words of doubt in his ear.

He wasn't that person anymore. Akira had changed him.

When he pulled away, he noticed that Akira looked surprised at first. Yusuke couldn't blame him. It was unlike him to suddenly kiss him like that. He didn't regret it, though. He just hoped that Akira understood what his kiss was trying to say; how grateful he was and how lucky he felt to have someone who loved him unconditionally.

He loved Akira. To thank him for giving him back his life, Yusuke wanted to spend the rest of that life together with him. It was just, after he'd been betrayed by someone he dearly trusted, it was hard to find that trust again, even for the person he loved. He was so afraid of being betrayed again, he wasn't able to believe in the truth of the things he knew to be true.

Putting his hands down on either side of Akira, Yusuke pushed himself up and looked down at him. “You were right again. I already want to laugh at myself for how silly I was.”

Instead of feeling stupid, he just felt glad that he was finally able to see things clearly.

Akira's love was the same as his own.

Grabbing Yusuke by the waist, he made him turn around to put his back against his chest again. “Well then, mission accomplished. You see? I knew what I was talking about.”

“Even though you have no experience?” Yusuke said.

“Y-You don't have to have experience to know a thing or two. Besides, what we're doing right now is experience. This is hands-on training.”

'Hands-on' was certainly one way of putting it. Yusuke felt like he was sufficiently in the mood, so it couldn't have been much longer before they reached the main lesson of their 'training'. If Akira made him wait any longer, he was going to start getting nervous again. To keep that from happening, Yusuke personally intervened; picking up Akira's hands, he relocated them to his hips – too embarrassed to move them any lower on his own.

“Now, please, as you promised, show me Heaven.”

Yusuke took a look over his shoulder and his heart leapt to his throat when he saw Akira looking at him with his eyelashes lowered, a hungry look in his eyes.

Akira picked up the bottle of lubricant he'd brought with him to the bed. “It's showtime,” he said, uncapping the top.

It was corny to hear Akira using that line at such a time, but Yusuke also couldn't deny how sexy his voice sounded. Corny or not, Akira was really committed.

Akira squeezed a bit of the clear gel into his palm, then rubbed it around with his fingers. “You have to warm it up first. Your dick won't appreciate it if you suddenly slather it with something cold.” Keeping his other hand on Yusuke's hip to keep him calm, he brought his hand down and slowly touched him, closing his fingers around him. His touch was gentle. He squeezed very softly to let him get an idea of the kind of grip he should use. “Now, you move your hand like this,” he said. He moved his hand up and brought it back down all the way, covering him with the slippery lubricant.

It was... Decent.

Seeing himself being held like that in Akira's hand was probably the most erotic part of it.

“No offense, Akira, but this doesn't feel very special yet. I'm not sure I understand the appeal.”

“That's because you have to keep moving your hand,” he said.

As Akira moved his other hand to his lower belly, Yusuke got the feeling that he was going to be in for a surprise. He was still skeptical, but his heart was beating faster and his body was heating up. When Akira began to move his hand, the first thing Yusuke realized was that it didn't hurt. The technique seemed easy to follow, making him feel more embarrassed about his past mistakes. It was just slow and easy, up and down, from bottom to top...

The rhythm itself was also erotic, but in a mesmerizing sort of way. Watching Akira's hand slide down his length, watching the head slip in and out of his palm, Yusuke bit the inside of his cheek and tried not to make a sound. That warm sensation returned, settling itself between his hips. His cheeks burned when his cock twitched, but Akira thankfully didn't say anything. Yusuke felt like he was losing control of his body, but it was irresistible.

“Getting better?” Akira asked. “I'll show you how to make it feel really good now.”

His hands momentarily left him as he added a bit more lubricant to his palm. When his hand returned, he made his grip a little tighter, his pace a little faster. Feeling Akira's fingers tighten around him, at first, Yusuke feared that it would hurt, but the additional slipperiness made Akira's hand glide easily over his skin.

“O-Oh...”

Once he really started to feel it, Yusuke couldn't even remember what he expected it to feel like. It was good. He could understand why people were crazy about it, but, for him, the reason it felt so good was definitely because of Akira. Had it not been Akira, someone who loved him, he was sure that he would have still been shaking with fear. With his body and heart exposed, he finally invited the feeling of desire inside of him because he knew that he could trust the one who was holding him.

“Now you're starting to understand, aren't you?” Akira said, kissing his cheek.

Yusuke rubbed his thighs together, feeling anxious and restless. It was like his body was instinctively searching for more. His hips wanted to move. It was embarrassing, but he let them, thrusting up to meet the movements of Akira's hand. He couldn't help watching, feeling the pleasure building to even greater heights at the sight of himself giving in to his desire.

He rested his head back against Akira's shoulder, breathing heavily. “This is...! I never knew that this could feel so... Nngh-...!”

“You can make some noise, but try to keep your voice down,” Akira said. “It'd be bad if the customers heard us doing this.”

Akira may have told him to be quiet, but it was like he was determined to make him yell, touching him in ways that guaranteed a reaction. His unoccupied hand traveled to Yusuke's chest and his fingers played with his nipples. It was similar to before and yet so, so different. The additional stimulation made Yusuke feel even more aroused, sending hot shock waves all throughout his body. His cock jerked against Akira's palm eagerly and precum gathered at the tip. Seeing the way it obscenely dripped onto his stomach made him want to scream in embarrassment, but Akira didn't tease him. He just kept dutifully moving his hand.

His pace was hypnotic. Between the feeling of Akira's hand around him and the things he was doing with his chest, Yusuke felt like he was going to melt. His brain felt fuzzy and hot.

“Akira's turning me into a pervert with his hands...”

“D-Don't say things like that...! You'll turn me into a pervert!”

Being an honest-to-goodness pervert didn't sound so bad compared to the way he used to be. Yusuke would've welcomed being called a pervert if it meant no longer being a virgin who was constantly afraid of something so incredible. He looked forward to laughing in his classmates' faces the next time they tried to tease him. Spite was a very strong motivator for self-improvement.

As if he were trying to keep him from saying anything else that would make him blush, Akira removed his hand from Yusuke's chest and grasped his chin. Tilting his chin up, he captured his lips, giving him a firm, closed-mouth kiss. A crazy part of Yusuke was tempted to stick out his tongue and see what Akira would do, but he wasn't sure he was ready for French kissing yet... Especially while they were already wrapped up in... other things.

Even a simple kiss managed to feel arousing to Yusuke while he was in that state. His fingers tightened in the sheets and he pressed up into Akira's kiss to keep himself from making noise. There was a moan that wanted to escape, but his ears didn't want to hear it. The rest of his body was on fire, burning on the edge. He may have been inexperienced, but he knew what it was like to orgasm, so he knew what was coming. It was just...

Akira broke away from the kiss and stroked his hand down Yusuke's arm. “Don't start tensing back up. You'll make it harder to come.”

Yusuke felt like he could pass out, just hearing him say that. His senses were overloaded, but panic was still trying to interfere. Logically, he knew that there was nothing to be afraid of. He firmly believed in Akira's feelings. It was just a problem he had with himself. Even if he were alone, he knew it would've been the same story.

He didn't think there could be anything beautiful about it. Picturing what he would look like at the moment of climax only made a sense of shame wash over him. And yet...

Yet, when he imagined Akira in the same position, it seemed totally different. It was possible that the shameful feelings he felt inside wouldn't have been there on the outside. He didn't have a mirror to check, so Yusuke closed his eyes and occupied his mind with Akira instead.

He could hear Akira whispering encouraging things in his ear... His voice helped make the images in Yusuke's imagination more vivid; Akira being touched in the same way, making needy faces in his desperation, trying cutely to hide his face, writhing around in inescapable pleasure, skin flushed a warm pink...

Clawing weakly at the sheets, Yusuke's hips lifted off the bed and he tossed back his head, mouth opening in a silent cry as he came. A few tears of exhaustion rolled down the sides of his face as he collapsed against Akira, body and mind spent.

After all of that, Yusuke wouldn't have minded getting up to redress himself, but he felt too weak to move. He tentatively opened his eyes and looked down at his body and watched as Akira removed his hand, sticky with his mess and leftover lubricant. Akira didn't seem like he wanted to move from his position either, so he stretched his arm as far as he could to reach the box of tissues he had sitting near the bed. He used a tissue to clean himself and he helped clean Yusuke up, too. With faint embers of anxiety left simmering inside, Yusuke remained still and simply allowed Akira to do as he pleased, finding it enjoyable to let himself be taken care of.

Eventually, Akira decided to get up and Yusuke stayed where he was, laying on his back, staring up at the ceiling with his hands folded over his stomach. He only turned his head when he noticed Akira stretching. He raised his arms high above his head and let out a tired sound. He had an incredibly sexy back. Fortunately, Yusuke's sketchbook was still within reach.

Turning around, Akira smiled when he found him sketching.

“Akira, I demand that you turn around and resume your previous position.”

“Oh, thank goodness. You haven't changed,” Akira said, his amusement showing in his cheeky grin.

“O-Of course,” Yusuke said. He tried to sound matter-of-fact, but his pencil stumbled across the page with his stuttering voice. “No matter what, nothing would have changed my feelings for you. Even if I ran away, I know I would have returned as many times as you allowed. I'm sure a part of me has changed, but it has been changed for the better.”

Shaking his head, Akira returned to the bed briefly to retrieve the bottle of lubricant, then did as Yusuke asked, turning around. He didn't stay in one place, though. Yusuke tried to quickly capture the curvature of Akira's back muscles as he walked across the room. He wasn't paying much attention to what Akira was doing until he saw him crouch down at his open bag by the stairs. He took the bottle of lubricant and put it inside.

“You need it more than I do right now,” Akira explained, getting back up. “Try practicing with it when you're alone. If you ever run out, let me know and I'll pick you up some more.”

“That's... very generous of you,” Yusuke mumbled.

It was very generous, though. That was a lot of lubricant. Akira had only used a little of it when they did it, so Yusuke could already tell that it would last him a long time – unless he went wild with it.

Akira snapped his fingers, apparently struck by an idea. He picked up his shirt from the floor and returned to Yusuke's bag and stuffed it instead.

Yusuke tilted his head, confused. “You're giving me your shirt?”

“Borrowing,” Akira said. “You can give it back when you want another.”

Yusuke tilted his head a bit farther. “Why would I want your shirt?”

“...Inspiration.” Seeing that Yusuke wasn't picking up what he was putting down, Akira elaborated. “Y-You know... You can sniff it and do other stuff with it while you're fantasizing.”

Yusuke gave him the eyes of a person looking at someone pitiable.

“D-Don't look at me like that! You could just say thank you!”

He could be so cute... It made Yusuke hope that he looked that endearing when he was flustered, too.

“Thank you, Akira,” Yusuke said, his expression softening, chest feeling light with warm feelings. He knew that Akira was just expecting him to play with him, but Yusuke hoped that he would hear the honesty of his feelings. “Truly... Thank you so much. I'm unspeakably grateful for everything you've done for me. You've changed my life, and you continue to make it better even though it isn't your responsibility. There's a part of me that still doesn't understand why you would go so far out of your way for someone like me, but... I know without a doubt that I would do the same for you.”

Akira picked up Yusuke's bag and their clothes on the way to the bed. Sitting next to Yusuke, he leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “That's an awfully long way of saying 'I love you,'” he said.

Sketchbook in his lap, smiling softly, Yusuke tucked his hair behind his ear and timidly looked at Akira from the corners of his eyes. “So... Am I no longer a virgin? Did that count as sex?”

“Did it feel like sex?” Akira asked. He waited, and, seeing Yusuke nod, he agreed. “It felt that way for me, too. Congratulations.”

“Congratulations.”

A silence followed, but it wasn't all stuffy like before. Akira may have given him back his clothes, but Yusuke was happy to lean against him for a little while, enjoying the feeling of Akira's skin against his own. It was much simpler than he imagined.

The sun was starting to set, filling the attic with orange and gold ambiance, lengthening the room's shadows.

Akira turned to him. “Now what?” he asked. “Would you like to stay here tonight?”

Staying would have been nice. The thought of staying there with Akira and possibly falling asleep in the same bed sounded like it would be helpful to him. But there was something of more immediate importance on his mind.

Putting aside his sketchbook, Yusuke picked up his bag and took out his phone. He opened their chat and sent a new message to Akira.


Yusuke, 8:35 PM

When he looked at the message he received, Akira let out a sound of dismay. He shot him back a look of guilt. “Sorry, I almost forgot. Maybe that's why you almost passed out earlier. You must be starving... Let's eat?”

He didn't have to make that sound like a question. Yusuke was dying for some of Akira's extra-special, made-with-love curry. At the rate he was going, he was going to end up indebted to Akira for life, having an endless curry tab among other things – but that wasn't bad at all.

That just made Yusuke hungrier to repay him.