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Positively, if he kicked his legs, he’d be able to get up to the surface.  But the leg wouldn’t work.  It was the deep end.  The air in his lungs were metabolized and being squeezed out.  Arms flailed and eyes burned.  The blue overwhelmed him.  It wasn’t meant to happen this way.

Maybe, this way, he could forget.  Even those damned blue sheets or the strand of blue hair and everything so goddamned blue about him, he could erase.  Or he might not give a damn.  But at least, this didn’t hurt…  Not like that…

Sakurai closed his eyes, letting the current or the dead weight his body had turned into take him down to the floor of the pool.  Like the ball dropping in Times Square he’d seen on New Year’s Day the one vacation he’d spend abroad, when his feet touched the blue tiles at the bottom, it would all be over.

Five… Four… Three… Two…

He never heard a splash as sound doesn’t carry so well under water.  But he felt a hand grasp his, pulling him hard.  It didn’t hurt…  Not until his lungs gasped for air.  His body was fighting on its own, splashing and kicking the surface of water.  The arm held him tight, dragging his anchor-like body to the edge, pulling him up.

He threw up water, gagging at the chlorine smell and the neutral taste, then spit out some more.  His nose was all clogged up.

Sakurai never thought the stale air of the old indoor pool would feel this good.  It did.  He took in some more.

Then he came to his senses in between the heaving and gagging.  Really, of all things he could have thought about at his almost fatal moment was him.  It was disgusting.

A towel was tossed to his face.  He was glad for it and buried his face into the scratchy material.

“What the fuck are you thinking?!” The shout echoed off of the walls, absorbed into his ear canals, his skin.

“My… My foot…”  Sakurai wiggled his toes of the left foot, the culprit to this almost-crisis.

“You shouldn’t have been swimming without a lifeguard!”

Sakurai Sho looked up, the man who’d saved his life, sitting on the soaking wet floor.  He’d seen this man before.  The name escaped him, not that he was sure he’d been told it, but recalled only that he was the pool maintenance man.

The dark hair sat limp against his face.  And he was wet, all his clothes, though he was barefoot.  Well, duh, he’d come to clean the pool, Sho thought.

“I’m… I’m sorry,” he stammered out.

“If you’re thinking of killing yourself, do it when you’re absolutely sure no one is around to save you!”

 

 

What the hell, Sho thought.  Who had given that guy the right to speak to anyone in that condescending attitude?  He got angry only thinking about it.  He hadn’t been trying to kill himself.  The damned foot had gone numb on him.  Swimming was something he’d always been able to do easily and never expected something like that to happen.  Well, he’d just stay away from the deep-end for awhile.  Sho fished out his Zippo lighter from his pocket.

“Hey, Super Star~”  The high toned voice called him by a nickname, one which he didn’t favor at all.  Sho wanted to ignore it.

Super Star’.  He needed the money badly at his young age of eighteen.  There was a feeling like he should turn away from the man who’d flashed him the promised cash.  ‘No one you know will see it.  You know, it’s not most people’s material.  These get exported mostly.’  Sho had been stopped on the street by a man in a really nice custom made suit, who offered him his business card and a proposition to be in a movie.  Sho knew what kind of movie by the nuance and refused, but the offered cash was enough to pay his college’s first year tuition plus some left over.  He’d been told many times how his face resembled a certain TV personality, so the cash offer was higher than most new ‘actors’.

‘Gay Porn’ was not a new concept to Sho.  Maybe he was able to tell that he was…

And he’d been fine without anyone recognizing him until this kid.

"Nino.”  Sho greeted back.  A friend?  More of an acquaintance, someone who he went to school with, but the ‘Super Star’ Nino referred to was the one time top-selling DVD.  Though Sho would never call this kid his friend, they had a kind of understanding between them.  Besides, Nino was the one who found him his current part-time job at the small gym where he's worked for the past four years.  He could put up with ‘Super Star’ and Nino and the other obviously gay members of the gym who recognized him.  Graduation was only around the corner then he could go on to a new world with a new job around new people.

Ninomiya shook his pack of cigarettes in front of Sho’s face, knowing full well he’d given up over a year ago.  Still, the pull of nicotine was stronger than gravity.  He didn’t want addiction added to his repertoire of things he’d never tell his parents about.

“What are you doing tonight?’ Nino asked, then sucked in a lungful of delicious smoke.

“Sleeping.  Working on my thesis paper.”

“I know you’re not working tonight.  Come out to dinner with me.”

“I’m broke.”

“Oh, come on~~  My new boyfriend is loaded.  He’s bringing a friend so he thought it’d be a good idea for me to bring along a friend, too.  You know, to even out the numbers.”

“I’d rather not be set up.”  Sho wanted to suck out the smoke from Nino’s mouth.

“No set up.  His friend’s not even gay.  I mean, I don’t think he is.  I’ve only met him like once but he didn’t seem too interested anyway.”  Nino was now babbling on.  Sho wanted him to go away with that cigarette hanging off his short fingers.  “Hey, please?”

“Fine.”  Nino seemed genuinely glad by his answer.

“Oh…  What is that on your neck?”

Sho’s hand immediately went to his neck, still stiff and bruised though it was three nights ago.  “Just an accident a few nights ago.”

“At work?”

“Yeah…”  Sho explained what had happened at the pool and the rescue by the brutal pool cleaner man.

“Oh man.  You might want to cover that up tonight.  To me, it looks like an awesome hickey.  Don’t want to give that impression, right, Super Star?”

 

 

Sho was going to clean his apartment, if one can call this tiny rented room an apartment.  Still, it was warm in the winter, cool in the summer with just the windows open, and the view wasn’t half bad.  The commute was a little difficult but most importantly, it was affordable.  It was his precious night off, so he at least wanted to clean the dust off of the furniture and maybe wash his dirty clothes.  Since there was no such thing as a washing machine (no space for one either) he hand-washed his underwear and tee-shirts, work kit and hung them up to dry.  Everything else he would have to take to the laundromat on a later date.

The dinner wasn’t a date, at least, that was what Nino’d promised.  So he could just go casual.  The long-sleeve V-neck and straight legged jeans would do fine.  Except, they reminded of what he liked on him.  Besides, the V-neck wouldn’t help cover up the bruise the strong arm and hands made while trying to pull up and hoist him out the pool.  There was a thin turtle neck sweater he could wear with a scarf wrapped around just to make sure.

In front of the small mirror, Sho checked the bruise once more, spanning from ear to where his collar bones met.

That guy was quite strong; the pool cleaner.  And even though Sho was a bit dazed, he was quite handsome.  The dark hair was swept back away from the face by one coarse hand.  Straight nose, full pouty lips in a strong face all pointed back to those eyes.  They were so dark and deep, reflecting the twinkling light reflections off the water.  Yet they’d looked at him like he was scum to scrape off the sides of the pool.  Other than that, he was definitely Sho’s type, though his personality wasn’t.

To hell with that.  Sho didn’t want to think about it.   It was forgotten.  The bruise was going to fade and there would be no more traces of that night.  Next time, he’ll just swim before the pool man got in; he’d ask Ohno (the gym’s unwilling owner) about that.  Like any other bruises, it would fade away soon enough, and he could hide it until it did.

Sho tugged on his suede leather shoes he adored and left his lonely room.

 

This guy…  Sho gulped down another glass of wine.  Nino’s new boyfriend was not the problem.  Yamashita was his name and he looked sophisticated enough like a young attorney.  He expertly ordered the wine and took care of the menu.  Sho was half in love with him by the middle of dinner.  So it wasn’t Yamashita who made him uncomfortable.

It was…  The friend Nino said would come along.  His hair wasn’t soaking wet and he had on this olive green button down.

“How did you guys meet?”  It should have been geared towards the Nino and Yamashita couple, but was asked toward this Aiba Masaki, AKA his unwitting savior, AKA the asshole pool man.

“Childhood friends, all the way up to high school.”  Aiba answered in the lower version of the shouting he’d done the few nights ago.  The atmosphere was freezing.  Sho picked up his wine glass.  Aiba was looking at him with that glassy scummy way, as if thinking, what the hell are you doing here?

“Um…  Aiba san, what is it that you do?” Nino interjected, reading Sho’s chilly attitude.

“I do odd jobs.  Whatever I can get.”  For some reason, Sho got the feeling that ‘job’ was something Aiba didn’t want to talk about.  Of course.  While your best friend was a lawyer and a partner in one of those up and coming firms, you’re a night time pool man.  You wouldn’t want to talk about it either, Sho scoffed to himself and finished his glass.

“Um… Another bottle? Sakurai san?” Yamashita asked hesitantly, obviously trying to change the subject.  A new bottle came hastily.  Sho only picked at the food in front of him.  If it were any other situation, he would have eaten everything.  But with this guy sitting in front of him with his fingertips lightly swirling the base of the wine glass, he just lost his appetite.  The dark liquid swished in Aiba’s glass as well as in Sho’s stomach.

Perhaps, he should eat after all.

“Hey, Super Star… You alright?” Nino’s voice rang in his skull.  “Hey, Sakurai?”

The world blacked out in front of his eyes.  The last thing to blur in front of him was this guy…  Aiba Masaki

God damn it all

 

Hey, Sakurai…  You hear me, Super Star?

Ugh… Not that fucking nickname again…

Sho…  Sho?

“Nnn…”  He was able to groan.  But his eyes were either ripped out of his sockets or there was a wet, something, over them.  He thought someone had called his name, his first name, but it might have been a dream or something.  He pulled the soaking towel or a dishrag (for all he knew) from his face and heard it go a short plop onto the floor.

Okay.  It wasn’t his home.  Someone must have brought him into this strange room, and it definitely wasn’t Nino.

“Oh, great.  You’re awake.”

Oh gods… This guy…

“You trying to starve to death or drink yourself to an early grave?”  Aiba was thrusting a tray with a bowl of steaming porridge and a mug of heated milk.  Sho only let it sit on his lap, hoping his face was doing enough talking, because he didn’t want to open his mouth to reciprocate.

“You fell into a drunken slumber at the restaurant.  Embarrassing!   Ninomiya didn’t know where you lived, Tomohisa looked devastated, so I offered to take you home.  Though you have no proper identification or anyone you seemed to contact often…”

Sho mumbled a short fuck before hanging his head in shame.

“Now that you’re awake and not dying, eat, alright?”  Aiba looked into his face once more before getting up off the floor.

“I wasn’t trying to kill myself!” Sho yelled towards the heavy footsteps.  Bu the man only smirked and went out of the room.

 

Sho sipped the milk.  It had a hint of honey and simmered over, not micro waved.  He drank it down, not because he was thirsty but to settle his bubbling over stomach.  Alcohol and stomach acid and bile and whatever else in there swished around surely puncturing that poor stomach of his.

He took the alone time as an opportunity to look around.  It was an old fashioned room, the frames and woodwork all traditional.  The doors slid open, wood work all spectacularly neat and detailed.  Even the thick rice papers were meticulously glued and cut, fresh.  No fringe or yellowed bits could be found.  The futon he lay on was soft and warm.  And the tatami lined in the room was clean and new as well.  Only an old but stylish bureau and a vanity stood against the opposite wall from where Sho sat on the futon.

It seemed like a guest bedroom.

Sho finished the milk, the warm mug held in both hands.  He was going to try to eat, but he didn’t think he could hold it in.  His head was spinning less.  That was when he realized he was wearing a yukata instead of the turtle neck and jeans he could have sworn to wearing out of his little apartment.  The yukata was the soft cotton kind, for everyday indoor wear, but thin.  It was worn but smelled like breeze of having been line dried.  Sho liked the feel of it against his skin.

But if his underwear was gone…

Sho swore.

“Umm…  Aiba san?”

 

He hadn’t expected the sun to be rising.  Being drunk enough to keel over and all, he was sure he’d lost track of time and over slept.  Through the open windows, it was getting brighter and warming up the air inside the room.

Sho felt very self conscientious, walking down the unexpected wide and long hallway in only a filmy yukata.  But there seemed to be no one else living in this exquisite house.  He wasn’t sure if this was even Tokyo.  It looked more like a movie set or a well kept antique treasure than a house with someone actually living in it.  Sho felt like a ghost from the Edo period or something, haunting this old and beautiful home.

“Aiba san?”  His voice trembled.  It was cold, definitely, wearing only this fabric.  “Aiba san… umm… my clothes?”

“I’m in here—“  The baritone came from down the hallway.  At the end of it was a surprise; a staircase down.

Sho took careful steps not wanting to fall because he was visibly shivering.  As he was going down the vigilantly constructed steps, Sho thought about how he must have been carried up these and down the hall to that room.  And he must have been dead weight…

There was a lighted room beyond the large square living room.  Sho smiled at the irori (hearth) and the glowing ambers of a dying fire there.  This house was like a dream he just could not wake up from.  But Sho had an inkling he wanted to stay in this dream for awhile.  He’d always had an interest in the antique things, such as architecture and crafts, and this house was so beautiful he couldn’t believe he was walking in it.

The door opened and Aiba stood there watching him.  “In here, Super Star.”

Sho followed the voice to the kitchen.  Unexpectedly, it was completely modern.  Even the stoves used gas burners, the doors of appliances steel faced.  The refrigerator was commercial size.  Sho shuffled in towards the warmth.

“Please don’t call me that,” he said in a tiny voice, closing the distance toward the gas stoves.

Aiba only looked amused, going back to the task of dicing vegetables over a huge wooden cutting board.  He commented above the rhythmic knife hitting wood, “Are you trying to freeze yourself to death now?”

“What?  You’re the one who took my clothes away!” Sho accused, blushing, even pointing his finger towards the man.

“Yeah.  They were filthy.  I left that hanten (robe/coat) over the blanket?”

Sho made a defeated Oh sound and only continued to warm his hands by the fire.

Jesus, he heard Aiba swear.  Before he knew it, his shoulders were covered in a thick but soft wool sweater.  It smelled like kitchen smoke and country side and somehow, nostalgic.  It looked handmade.

Sho was going to give it back; the useless pride boiling up again.  But he was just too goddamn cold so he wrapped himself up good in the fuzzy sweater.

“Thank you will suffice,” Aiba suggested while dumping the cubed vegetable in the huge pot of boiling water.

“Oh, yeah… I mean… Thank you.”  Sho’s voice came out meek and he knew it, too.  But he’d never been treated like dumb invalid who was incapable of even keeping himself warm.  He might have needed it last night in his unconscious state, and perhaps a little this morning, but the culprit to his heavy drink was… Oh gods… Damn

“Did you eat the porridge?”

“Uh… No.  Just the milk…” Sho bit his thumbnail between his teeth.  Just another form of the oral fixation developed growing up, like the cigarettes…

“You want some of this curry instead?” Aiba asked him, as he broke and mixed in the cubes of instant curry into the oversized pot.

“No thanks…  Can I… have some more milk?” Sho asked in a tiny voice.  He felt like a baby or something asking for milk but it had warmed him up as well as calming the nasty liquid mixture sloshing around inside him.

Then this man smiled at him.  Before, up until this moment, he’d laughed at him or made lopsided smirks.  But Aiba smiled at him, the ends of his eyes crinkling a bit.  The whole effect made him look younger.  And it also turned Sho’s face bright red.

“Let me mix this up then I can heat it up for you.”

 

Sho felt better with his clothes back on, fresh from the dryer.  It’d been awhile since he’d worn something that smelled of fabric softener he’d forgotten what it felt like.  Sho pressed the sleeves against his face.  He’d almost forgotten… This scent always lingered on his skin after sleeping in those blue sheets…  Sho shook his head.

“Just leave the yukata in the basket there,” Aiba’s voice carried easily over, even though the laundry room was only one wall away from the kitchen.  Sho followed the instruction and reentered the kitchen.

Aiba was pouring one mug full of steaming milk and another sat on a tray smelling of dark, rich coffee.  Aiba carried the tray out, prompting Sho to come along.  They sat beside the warm irori, fire rebuilt with more dry wood.  Sho noticing Aiba’s coffee being black was only an observation.

“Whose house is this?” Sho asked, only because he couldn’t stand the silence in the oversized, sparkly clean front room.  Then he thought that he was being rude, so he cleared his throat once then apologized.  “I didn’t mean…”

“It’s alright.  It’s mine.”

“Wow.  It’s a really nice house…”  Sho meant it.  It was detailed but simple, focused on the clean straight woodwork and angles rather than being decorative, as in overbearing, like some houses boasted of.  Everything seemed hand built, lacquered, the wood chosen carefully and a lot of love put into it.

“I renovated some parts since I’ve had the time.  Like the kitchen and the baths to something more modern.  Of course, some of the rooms upstairs needed some touching up as well.”

“You renovated?”

“Yes.  Since I have time…”

But the conversation ended there.  Aiba trailed off, like he didn’t want to talk much about it, so Sho wasn’t going to prod.

“And the curry?”  Really, Sho was not an inquisitive person as this.  He preferred to keep to himself, not wanting to get really close to anyone, because once you did, they hurt you no matter how nice they were to you before they found out the truth.  They used you.  But this man was really interesting, what with this mansion and his night time rescue…

“There’s a homeless shelter close by, and I volunteer to make lunch once or twice a week.”

Oh wow, Sho made a sound.  What does he think he is, a freaking saint?

“And the pool?”

“Oh chan lets me swim for free when I clean it.”

“No payment?”

“Nope.”

“Real job?”

“Don’t have one.  Actually, don’t need one is more accurate.”

“Well… Lucky you.”

Sho thought maybe Aiba would ask him some things too, but they didn’t talk much further after that.

“Do you have school today?”  Aiba then asked him, checking his watch.

“Uh, yeah.”

“Or would you rather continue to recuperate from your night?” Aiba seemed to chuckle.

“Actually,” Sho finished the milk in one gulp, the honey flavor lingering on his tongue.  “Can I go to that shelter with you?”

That seemed to surprise Aiba, but conceded.

 

Sho dried his hands when the last dish was done.  The shelter looked like a regular business building, but inside there were people who had nowhere else to go, no one to look after them.  They took care of one another it seemed.  When Aiba entered the facility, the people’s faces lit up, and it wasn’t just the curry, Sho’d guessed.

He enjoyed the day a lot, talking to people he never thought much about.  Each had their own story, and not all booze or layoffs.  They mostly seemed to have positive attitude despite their current situation and statuses.  And more than one person told Sho it was due much to Aiba san.

“Ready to go, Super Star?” Aiba popped his head in the little kitchen.  Sho nodded and helped Aiba carry the pot and a box of other stuff to the small pickup truck.  “Would you like a ride home?”

Sho thought once over, to home or…

“Or you can come back to my place.  I’ll make you some dinner.”

“Okay.” Sho smiled to himself in the passenger seat, hiding it from the driver.  Then he added, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

 

Dinner consisted of rice and broiled fish, some potato and radish side dishes.  Everything tasted simple, flavored lightly in salt or miso.  Sho thoroughly enjoyed dinner and didn’t mind the company either.  He was asked about school and his home town.  Sho talked easily, but avoided asking the other man since he didn’t seem to want to talk much.  Even so, there rose curiosity about this man and he’d become hooked by interest.

They washed the dishes together, much to Aiba’s displeasure, but Sho stuck beside him anyway.

Aiba made tea for the night and lead Sho out.  Sho followed him to what looked like a bedroom.  This one was larger than the one he’d woken up this morning in and on the first floor.  It was warm inside, too, and looked like a regular, normal room.  There was a kotatsu and a tiny television.  A laptop computer sat on the table and Aiba slid it away to make room for the tea.  Sho sat, stretching his legs under the warm table.  The rest of the house had been cool other than the kitchen and the center of the front room.  Sho wiggled his toes, feeling warmed up.  His foot met the other man’s legs, so he excused himself, receiving a warm smile in return.

Sho looked up into the clock on the wall.

“Shit,” he cursed.  Aiba threw him a questioning glance.  “Work.”

Sho got up, though it was hard to leave.

“Need a ride?”

Sho didn’t think it would hurt, but he’d been taken care of enough for one day and night.

“Nah.  I’ll be fine.”

“See you around then, Super Star.”

 

Sho had been in a good mood the entire week until he received a phone call.  He moved to a discrete area to take it.  In the end, he yelled out, “For the last time, I’m not going to do another movie.  You can take the cash and shove it!”  He hung up the phone.  He seriously was considering changing his number.  There was no reason not to, except probably his small, tiny bitter hope that he may call.  He might call…

Sho sighed and cut the rest of his classes.  He wanted a walk and found himself in a convenient store purchasing a pack of menthols.  He took the side streets, the quiet ones with hardly any other pedestrians, with little shops and hole in the wall dives.  There was a small park he knew of a little further up the street.  When he got there, he found an empty bench to sit on.  The park was mostly empty, the children still being in school.  A group of high school boys huddled in the basketball court, most likely skipping, but looked harmless.  Sho shook out a cigarette, lighting it, and let the menthol burn his throat and lungs.  He’d missed it so much.  No.

Sho missed him so much…

The blue polo shirt and this pack of blue menthols…  The blue of his uniform and the blue silk handkerchief…  The blue streak over the side of his fucking motorcycle…

“Now these things will definitely kill you.”  The cigarette between his lips was snatched away, snubbed out under heavy boots.  Sho watched numbly, the flattened butt picked up and into the nearby trash bin.

“Geez…  You crying?”

The voice annoyed him as well as surprised him.  Yet Sho found that he felt at ease with this voice.  He came back to himself and wiped his face with the back of his hands.

Aiba Masaki sat beside him on the bench, closer to the opposite end.  He smelled like mulch and dead leaves, but it wasn’t unpleasant.

“What are you crying for?”

Sho ignored it, not wanting to start talking about all the reasons why he could be crying in the middle of the day, in a desolate park, and quite obviously close to Aiba’s house.  Sho had wanted to meet him again.  That was it.  There was no destination for the walk.  But his feet had carried him here and Sho had been hoping that he would show up out of nowhere.  Sho had wanted to see that smile again.

“What are you doing here?” Sho asked Aiba, fingers idly playing with the Zippo lighter.

“Well, first of all, this park is in my neighborhood, and another reason, I volunteer to keep the gardens.”  Aiba smiled at him, perhaps squinting against the sunlight.  His face was sweaty, pouring down his neck to the towel draped around there.  “Now you tell me why you’re here.”

“Just…  Took a walk.”

“Oh, I see.”

Sho couldn’t meet those eyes.

“You’re a gardener, too?”

“Yeah, well, it keeps me busy.”

“And stinky, too.”  Sho moved away a couple inches, but only to make a point.  He didn’t mind the earthy smell, just like he didn’t mind the words he said, or the laughter… even that stupid nick name…

“I go to the bathhouse after this.”

“What, to clean it?”

“No,” Aiba took the heavy work gloves off to wipe his face with the damp towel.  “As a paying customer.  Do you want to go?  No one else will be there at this time.”

Oh gods… Does he know?  Sho didn’t like having his body seen, even if he had on swimming shorts.  It just made him paranoid.  That was the reason for the night swimming… but… Does Aiba san know?

Sho turned crimson at the thought that his man he sort of was beginning to like as a person knew about the video and his ass being thoroughly pummeled on tape…  He didn’t think he could…

“I won’t look at you.  But it just looked like you needed a good soak.  Listen…  I don’t know what it is but if you don’t want me to see, I won’t look.  We all have scars we don’t want others to see.  We don’t need others to pry them apart to see if it hurts or is healed.  I’m not asking for you to show me where it hurts.  I’m only offering… an empty bathhouse.”

Dammit.  Sho wiped his face again.  Dammit… How does he know?

He always had said that he didn’t mind the DVD and it was kind of hot.  But time and time again, he’d used it against Sho, like a well-sharpened knife and blackmailed him.  It wasn’t just the porn.  All the weaknesses Sho possessed, he’d found them and struck him with them to get his way.  It wasn’t love, the way he said it.  Sho was his personal fuck doll, it felt like, always on those blue sheets of his… and so damned cold…  Sho had only wanted… He had only wanted…

He’d forgotten what he’d wanted.  He didn’t want it anymore.  Now… Right now… If anyone asked him what it is he wanted, he might say…

“Yeah.  I could use a long soak.”

Aiba smiled at him.  They walked to the small pickup truck.  Sho climbed in and buckled in.  He sort of had a headache from the sunlight, from the crying.  Then it suddenly dawned on him.

“Oh, and Aiba san… I won’t look either.”

 

Sho stayed under the hot water, down to his mouth with a soaked towel over his head.  The bathhouse was empty just as Aiba said; even the elderly husband and wife owners had gone home for lunch.  Aiba let Sho go in ahead of him and Sho soaped up first quickly before entering the steamy bath.  He saw Aiba’s silhouette at the threshold and sunk in under the water.

He’d said he wouldn’t look.  Much to his surprise, Aiba looked a bit more relieved.  So Sho decided to avoid him in the bathhouse as much as he could.  Sho shut his eyes in the water.  It was harder to hold his breath in the heat.  The image of the long limbs and slim waist popped into his mind.  And that indelible smile…  His eyes snapped open and Sho sprang out of the water, spraying water from his mouth.  He was huffing for air and flailing for balance through the steam.

He saw Aiba then, closer than he’d imagined.  Of course, he was embarrassed, so he turned away from the man.  Aiba was almost right beside the pools at the shower heads, sitting on a low wooden stool.  The man seemed to be chuckling to himself, while scrubbing his skin with a coarse bath towel.

The first thing Sho could stammer out was, “I wasn’t trying to kill myself.”

Stupid, Sho chided himself.

“I can see that,” Aiba’s voice was playful.  “If you’re done soaking, come here.  I’ll scrub your back for you.”

Somehow… It felt normal.  Somehow… This man pulled him closer, not with words or actions or physical force… Somehow, Sho felt relaxed in the presence of this man.  He sauntered over, to that gentle smile.

That was it.  It was that smile that drew him in.

Sho sat on the wooden stool beside Aiba.  The dim figure, in this hardly lit bathhouse, took his breath away.  Even hunched over on the short stool, Sho found himself staring at the thin waist and the lean muscular legs.

He tried not to flinch when Aiba touched him, to turn him around, and put the soapy towel against his back.  It was a reaction not because it was Aiba, but by the touch he tried to keep away from anyone.  Sho tightly gripped the towel pulled down over his groin.  He was scared to be touched.

Until Aiba whispered from behind him, “Sorry.”

That began it.  His heart began thumping in his ribcages.  The coarseness of the scrub towel didn’t matter so much.  They could scratch his skin raw for all he cared.  It was the hand that grasped his upper arm which burned.  Sho bit his lip, trying to will his sex to stay down.

“Glad to see that bruise has faded,” Aiba spoke, his voice echoing off the tiles.

“Yeah…  Took a week.”  Sho turned his head away, so that the small trace left of the bruise wouldn’t be seen.

“Aiba san,” Sho called him.  Aiba grunted ‘what’ before pouring warm water down his back.  “Aren’t you going to ask?”

“Uh…  How does that feel?”

Sho laughed, sort of scoffed.

“No, I meant…  Why Ninomiya calls me Super Star?”  Sho always dodged the question from others.  But, perhaps he wanted to gauge this man’s reaction when he found out…

“Because… Your initials?  S. S.?  Sakurai Sho?  Super Star?”

“No,” Sho smiled, shaking his head.  That one he’d used often when he couldn’t avoid having to explain.  A part of him wanted to share all these feelings he held inside about everything but a larger part of him wanted Aiba to not know about it, to keep looking at him with those sympathetic eyes and that smile.  Even if Aiba thought he was suicidal, or one angst-y person, Sho suspected that Aiba saw him as Sakurai Sho, not anything else.

Aiba wasn’t pressing him farther.  Maybe he didn’t really care what the reason behind the nickname was.  A stream of cool water followed the warm, and Aiba said shortly, “It’s done.”

Sho was glad for the cool water since it helped calm him down.  Even so, he covered his privates with the wringed towel, just in case his slight erection showed.  He asked without turning to face him, “I can return the favor if you want?”

But Aiba only laughed in that easy way and headed for the hot pool.  Sho watched his lean muscular body strut forward languidly.  Then his eyes froze.

Sho saw what Aiba meant by scars.

 

“Ne, Oh chan?”

“Hmm?” The owner of the gym Sho worked part time for was a tiny man called Ohno Satoshi who always had sleepy eyes and dreamed of fishing in the clear waters of Okinawa.  Even when Sho addressed him in a too cute nickname for a thirty year old, he kept his sleepy eyes but gave him a smile.

“How do you know Aiba san?” Sho asked, flipping through some paper work and bills Ohno neglected to pay attention to most of the times.  Sho stared dejectedly at the OVERDUE notice for the electricity bill and the gas bill and retrieved Ohno’s check book.

“We’re good friends.  He helped me out with this place before I got you.  He’s really smart.” Ohno yawned widely and flipped open his cellular phone.  Sho watched for a minute and then began to read this week’s unopened letters.

“Oh, and… Aiba chan is…”

Sho looked up from the letter he was currently skimming over, one from a loaning company promising easy lending with low interest for private businesses.  He threw it in the trash bin, waiting for Ohno to continue.

“He inherited that house and everything from his father in law.  Have you been?”

“Father… in law?”

“Uh huh.”

“He’s… married?” Sho almost whispered it.  He just could not believe it.

“He was.” Ohno spoke while pressing buttons rapidly on his phone.

“Was?”

“She died.  So did his daughter.  It was a car accident, I believe.”

“And he just inherited that house?”

“Well, it’s complicated,” Ohno said, and his face scrunched in deep thought.  “She was the only daughter and when Aiba chan’s father in law passed away, he left everything to him.”

“…Everything?”

“Well, I think so.  I’m not quite sure.  In my understanding, everything.  They were some kind of old money… whatever that means.”

Sho kept staring at Ohno who stopped speaking after that.  He went back to the letters and bills but all he could think about was Aiba, his impressive antique house, the mysterious reasons behind all the volunteer works, and the image of his dead beautiful wife and child.

 

Sho was taking notes for the set of his last exams in the dark lecture hall with only the projector on.  Then it dawned on him, hitting him like a rock to the head.  His pen halted, digging into the notebook.

The month passed swiftly, after speaking to Ohno about Aiba.  Mostly due to the work at school, but time was spent avoiding Aiba.  Sho stopped swimming at nights until he found a little post it with Ohno’s kana ‘Aiba chan every Tuesday nights’.  He didn’t go near Aiba’s neighborhood, unsure when he would pop up.  Besides, he had to finish his thesis and go to classes and part time.

Sho had a new cellular phone and number.  Somewhere along the middle of the tiring month, Sho got to a cellular phone retailer.  He had a new number and a reasonably priced phone with a camera.  The first person he emailed was Ohno to let him know his new number.  Then he emailed Nino, and consecutively some friends from school.

Then… he was staring at the brightly lit screen thinking about Aiba.  He realized they’d never even exchanged numbers.

The lights went on over his head and his professor was bidding everyone luck on finals and graduation.  Sho wasn’t worried about finals or his thesis.  The thesis was done, gone over about a hundred times, his advisor smiling satisfactorily at him, and printed out by a professional to look like a book, five copies in case something happened to one.  Even as the other students were shuffling out, calling out to each other about the final week of school and how they should prepare for the exams, Sho sat there in the hard lecture hall seat, pen drilling a hole into the notebook.

Inside his brains, his concerns had shifted from him to Aiba, wondering every second of every day what he could be doing and how he could not meet him.  But he wanted to see him, just a little.  No matter though.  Aiba was a widower for gods’ sake and heterosexual.  One good thing was that Aiba most likely had no idea about the DVD.  But everything else hurt him deep inside because he had thought he found someone he could relate to and depend on, and he would never want him the way Sho wanted him.  Inside him, there were no more memories or pain relating to him; they were replaced by Aiba Masaki.

When everyone was gone, Sho came back to himself.  He shut his notebook and stuffed it in his bag.  It was the last class at college.  It was all over.  A sort of nostalgia, sadness and excitement all mixed together inside and he wanted to share it with someone.  There was an email blinking on his phone.

‘Wanna meet me for a late lunch? –Nino’

 

“Sho!” Nino called him (by his name, thank gods) and waved widely.  Sho could smile a little and stepped forward to sit in front of him.  They greeted and talked about their last classes until Sho noticed a suit jacket hung over a third chair.

“Is Yamashita san here, too?”

“Ano… That is…”  Nino dragged out his words.  Sho looked around, a chill running up his spine.

“Close, Super Star,” the baritone Sho heard first then the man sat on the empty seat.  “Sorry.  I asked Nino to get you here.”

Sho stared at Aiba, a hand now covering his gaping mouth.  He wanted to get up and leave, angry that he was baited in to face this guy he’d been churning up a headache to avoid.

Aiba Masaki had on this crisp clean white shirt tucked into a clean pair of black slacks.  His hair was combed and fresh looking.  He smelled of subtle aftershave that Sho loved.  The sleeves were folded up twice to handle the mug of black coffee.  The buttons on the top were undone as if he was uncomfortable in this nicely fitted shirt.  He looked good in it.  He looked so attractive and Sho had to look away to hide his blush.

Aiba wasn’t gay.  He had to remind himself again.  He had a wife and a child even if they were gone.  There was never a moment which felt like a come-on.  Aiba treated him like a guy, a normal guy, who was in some kind of trouble.  He must not mind gay friends, as he had come with Yamashita for Nino, so he was open minded at least.  Aiba was the kind of man who helped people every single day, even if it were just neighbors and friends, he was this indubitably good man.  And he was helping Sho like it was his duty.

That was it.

Sho looked at Aiba again who wasn’t smiling at him today, but staring.

“Um… I’m gonna go now,” Nino apologized to Sho for tricking him and promised him dinner after the finals.  Even though his boyfriend was probably going to pay for it…

After Nino had gone, Sho sat awkwardly wondering what the hell was going on here.

“I understand your classes are done?” Aiba broke the silence, speaking softly.

“Yeah.  My finals are in two weeks.”

“Do you have the rest of the day?”

“Yes.  Other than my part-time…”

“I already talked to Oh chan about it.  If I could, I want to ask for your day…”

What?  Sho continued to gape.  He wasn’t examining how handsome Aiba was or how the light from the large windows fell so perfectly across his face to create beautiful shadows.  When Aiba closed his eyes waiting for Sho’s answer, the too long eyelashes fluttered over his cheeks.  Sho wanted to kiss those lashes and the trembling lids.

Kiss…?

Sho’s hands shook violently.  He held them together tightly.  He couldn’t.  He couldn’t spend the day with this man.  He might crumble.  He might lose himself.  He might admit to himself… I’m falling in love with Aiba san

“I can’t.”  Sho answered after awhile when he thought his voice might come out steady.  His knuckles were white, fists tightly clenched, the nails digging into his palms.

Then Aiba’s hoarse whisper coursed down his spine.  “Hey… Please?”

Sho gulped and looked into those dark eyes.

A scar he doesn’t want anyone to see…

He suddenly remembered the scars.  Even in the dim, almost dark bathhouse, Sho had seen the scars.  They were almost unbelievable.

From the muscular left shoulder to just above the elbow and down the back to the tailbone, the entire left half of his straight back was covered with burn scars, still dark red mixed with web-like trails of melted skin.  The patterns were reptilian or like flames.  They were horrid and at the same time beautiful like a delicate blush painting.  Sho couldn’t take his eyes off of them.

Those were on the surface, but kept well hidden.  No one would see them and Aiba had made sure no one would, wearing long sleeves even in the heat of mid day, sweating into towels.  The empty bathhouse he used by himself was also an example.  But Aiba had invited Sho in.  He hadn’t hidden his scars from him.

And now, Sho saw even deeper scars in those eyes.  And they were open wide, inviting him in.

Why meWhy are you showing me?

“O..kay…”

 

Sho felt incredibly awkward.  When he said okay, he was glad for his decision because he got to see that smile, though smaller and only about a second long.  Aiba got up and Sho did, too.  Aiba folded down and buttoned his sleeve ends, putting on the suit jacket.  It looked tailored and quite expensive.  He even had a black brand name trench coat to go over it.  Aiba paid for the coffees with a bill from a nice wallet out of his pocket, unlike the crinkled notes Sho had seen previously.  Sho just followed him with his head down like a little brother in trouble.

The old pickup truck was nowhere in sight.  Sho thought that they were going to use public transportation, but then Aiba had stopped next to this parked black foreign convertible.  Because Sho was standing there stupefied, Aiba opened and held the passenger door for him.  It looked like an advertisement the way he stood there.  People were passing and glimpsing at this fabulously handsome man and probably looking for the beautiful woman to go with the package.  In that thought, Sho got in quickly, tucking his backpack under his legs.  He let Aiba shut the door gently.

“Buckle in,” Aiba cautioned and Sho moved his hands to strap in.  Then the car rolled away, following no specific route.  It was gorgeous in there.  The racing seats and top of the line interior options, even the LED was white, the way Sho dreamed these cars would be like.  It didn’t seem like a rental; the gear shift Aiba was expertly handling smooth.  The kilometer gauge was not high for the make year, but just enough to make it used.  It suited Aiba well, Sho thought, even though he was sued to the sweaty, messy Aiba in the beat up pickup.  Perhaps he preferred that guy instead.  Sho leaned back into the comfortable seat and stared at Aiba, concentrating on driving.  He had this grim face set and hands gripping the wheel and shift.

Sho’s heart drummed on in fast beats.

“Where are we going?” Sho asked.

“To say hello to someone.”

“And why am I going there?”

“I want to introduce you.”

The car parked in a small lot.  They’d entered a memorial cemetery.  Sho already figured but acted like he hadn’t a clue what they were doing there.  The climb was narrow and steep.  Sho carried the bundle of white lilies Aiba got out of the car’s trunk.  He followed Aiba up those steep steps watching the wooden water carrier and ladle in Aiba’s left hand.

On the high tier overlooking the city, two stones of the same design but different heights stood, white marble shiny in the sunlight.  Sho watched from two steps behind Aiba, holding his hands together at the same time, shutting his eyes in prayer.

Sho managed to place the flowers in front of the stones without blunders.  Then he said another silent prayer and stepped back.

That was when Aiba spoke, not directly to Sho, not to the graves, but more like to himself.

“Sakurai Sho.  My wife and my daughter.  I wanted you to meet because I don’t want to hide anything from the three of you.  So…”

Sho looked at Aiba to see if he were crying, but he wasn’t.  He was smiling.

“Let’s get going, Super Star.”

 

“We grew up together, my wife and I.  One day she tells me that she’s pregnant.  We were still in high school and much too young.  Plus, I was struggling with a problem that I didn’t know where to begin to deal with,” Aiba paused at the steep downhill where he had to concentrate on the shifting.  Sho kept at his silence, waiting.

“We married on paper; never had a proper wedding like she wanted.  We both dropped out of school, and I went to work for her father.  The baby was born and she was so beautiful.  But she wasn’t mine.”

“Um….”

“We were having problems.  I couldn’t sleep with her.  She couldn’t understand nor could I explain it to her.  So she went around with random guys and got pregnant.  We knew from the beginning but couldn’t let our parents know the truth.

“That was until when our daughter was about three, she had to go to the hospital.  Our parents were there too.  And the doctor tells us she needs some blood.  He said she’s O negative.  My wife is type B and I’m… type AB.  There is no way our offspring could be type O.

“Our parents fought constantly after that.  Even though it was my choice to raise her as my own.  For a year, it was hard.  Really hard.

“Then the car crashed.  Our car crashed.  I still don’t remember how I got out but I did.  I tried to get them out.  I didn’t know if they were dead or alive but I couldn’t let them burn.  All I remember is the smell of gasoline.  Everything exploded.  My back was burnt badly…  I tried to get them out…”

Nothing else was said beyond that.  Sho knew without the details.  It took energy to pry his hand of his lap to lay it over Aiba’s.  Just friends, Sho thought to himself.

There were a lot more things he wanted to do to Aiba but they were just friends.  He wanted to tell him nice things to make him less remorseful.  All he could think of to do now was lay his hand over Aiba’s.

The car drove on back into the city, through all the familiar streets and landmarks.  The sleek machine turned onto Aiba’s neighborhood.  Either Sho had never paid attention or didn’t think about it, but the grand old house had a garage round the back.  The outside looked like a barn where they would have kept horses.  It housed this car now, wood tools and boxes.

The engine was shut off.  And they stayed inside, in the shade as if were already night.  Suddenly, as if they’d been conversing all along, Aiba talked again.

“She was angry that day.  That day… we were driving back from picking up our daughter from daycare.  She was mad about something I don’t know but I chose that moment to tell her… why…”

Sho brought his hand up from Aiba’s.  He tried to.  Aiba’s hand grasped his firmly.

“Why did I do that?  I ask myself every day.  I could have waited a little.  Our daughter was in the back.  She was crying.  She was scared.  We kept screaming at each other.  I was tired.  Our parents arguing, us fighting, the company I didn’t want to inherit…  The girl I loved but couldn’t love…  She was still sleeping around.  We called each other awful names…  Then she said that I can’t get it up with her because I’m gay…  And I yelled back I was the one who’d lost my future for your child so what does it matter if I’m gay…”

Scar…  Your smile is your scar…

The hand trembled.  But Aiba wasn’t the one crying.  Sho was.  He was crying, shaking, sobbing into his sleeve.

Then Aiba kissed his salty lips, their hands still holding on.

 

“I was really in to motorcycles but too young to ride one.  There was this cycle shop near school and this really cool bike on display.  I was drawn to it.  That was where he worked at.  He was a senior at my high school.  He took me for rides and I liked him a lot.  Nothing happened though.  Not at the time.  He had this white bike, refurbished all by his hands that had this one blue strip on one side.  It was so cool.  He had one blue streak in his hair the same color and side as his bike.  His uniform had some of that blue on it; he got in trouble but never got a new jacket saying he was graduating soon.

“His sheets were blue.  His clothes, his shoes, the walls, his books, everything had some of that blue paint splattered on it, all accidental but so perfectly placed.

“It’s the same blue of the pool where you saved me from.

“He was one of the first people who bought the DVD of the pornography.  I told him, thinking he wouldn’t hate me but maybe it would be a joke between us.  But he hated it.  He began to hate me.  He wanted to sleep with me from then.  He didn’t love me, like I loved him.  He just treated me like a whore because that was the way he saw me from then.

“I let him treat me that way for years.  Even the bruises he left were that fucking blue.

“Then he told me he was getting married.  He told me never to see him, or call, or acknowledge him if I saw him on the street.  I saw him months after.  It’s hard to miss that blue in his hair.  His wife was pretty.  She was pregnant, five maybe six months in.  She was so very pretty; I could only hide my face.

“Maybe… I wanted to be consumed in that blue, body soaked and absorbing that blue… surrounded even in my last moment in that blue… maybe…

“Then you saved me…”

 

The house was cold.  It was silent but felt of howling and whispers of ghosts in the air.  How cruel it must have been, Sho thought as he followed Aiba in, to stay in this ghost of a house by himself all this time.  He had thought it only beautiful and antique.  In the dim sunset, it was haunting and empty, a shell of lost dreams, people gone, a mausoleum.  No one could sleep in a house like this.

No wonder Aiba exhausted himself with daily labors…

“Hungry?”

Sho was going to say, no, but it seemed like Aiba needed to do something.

Or else he would go crazy…

“Yes.”

Aiba told Sho to go into the kitchen and find ingredients or warm up.  He went to change out of the suit, came back in a pair of worn loose jeans and that ugly green handmade sweater.  Sho sighed inwardly of how good he looked in this attire.  Unconventional, a bit awkward maybe, not handsome like in that sleek suit, but comfortable.  Comforting.  Wonderful.

Sho thought maybe Aiba would start cooking an elaborate meal.  But the result was reheated frozen rice, instant miso, pickled daikons and other mixed veggies.  That was fine.  They ate in the kitchen over the large cutting board.  It tasted better than anything he’d ever had, and Sho imagined Aiba felt the same way.

It wasn’t late into the night but early spring sun set early.  The moon looked huge, round and yellow, its beams filtering in through the elegant windows.  Yet the effect made the house the more cold and eerie.

Aiba had asked Sho for his day.  There was time left.  Sho fidgeted a bit, watching Aiba soak the dishes in the sink.  He seemed tired and not his usual self.  There was no energy overflowing like the previous encounters, the energy Sho had wanted to borrow or recharge with.

“Come on,” Aiba waved him out the kitchen.  Sho just followed, ending up in Aiba’s bedroom.  Sho situated himself at the kotatsu, warming up while Aiba tidied up the things lying around.  Sho saw the suit hung on wire hangers over a hook against the wall.  He followed the empty wall around till his eyes hit the calendar.  The pictures of whatever they could be of the top half were folded back and only the month and dates were hanging there silently.  And today… A big red felt pen circle surrounded it.

It’s today, isn’t it?

There were no pictures in the room, in fact the entire house.  Sho couldn’t imagine what it could be like, living and breathing in this memory.

Aiba’s hair had fallen forward over his face.  Sho wanted to kiss him again.  Their kiss in the car was short, more like a peck, like Aiba wasn’t sure if Sho would like it.  Well, Sho did reiterate his failed love and it did sound like he was still waiting for him…

Oh… no

He was in the past.  Sho was sure.  This was now.  Right now.  No past.  No future.  This moment was what he wanted and had been waiting for.

Aiba Masaki was who he wanted to be with, to kiss, to fall asleep next to…

It wasn’t nearly close to bedtime for grown up men but Aiba looked like he needed it.  Yes.  That must have been it.  Aiba was taking care of people, his neighbors and Sho all the time; maybe what he needed and wanted was someone to take care of him…

Sho crawled over to the other side of the room and unfolded the futon over the tatami.  Aiba only watched, not saying anything to counter his actions.  The blanket he spread over and found two pillows.  He tossed them towards the center, unsure which way Aiba liked to face for sleep.

Sho yawned and stripped off his clothes, not in any sexy way but like during class overnight trips.  In his tee shirt and underwear, he got under the blanket.  He sat cross-legged and waited for Aiba.

It was his display to tell him he was going to sleep over.

Aiba started picking up his discarded clothes to fold them up.

Sho made a frustrated growl and yanked the clothes away.  Then he almost climbed on top of the man and pulled on the sweater.  Aiba was quiet, not fighting him, but never touched him.  Sho thought a second and rolled up the thin tee shirt covering this man.  His scars…  But Aiba helped Sho by pulling it off the rest of the way.

Sho slumped a bit, realizing in his haste he was straddling Aiba’s lap.  They were almost nude, and Sho was… kind of hard… kind of turned on…

“I don’t… I didn’t…”  Sho started.  His palms were sweaty.  His eyes couldn’t focus on anything so he just looked down and found Aiba’s flat muscular stomach and the trail of hair disappearing into the briefs.  Sho swallowed.  “I don’t want sex…  This isn’t what I… I mean… I just want to sleep.”

“You don’t want sex?”

“No.  I do.  I…  That’s not… I thought…”

Sho looked up at Aiba.  There was no smile but the eyes were looking at him.  Sho almost jumped from the hands touching his waist.  His hands were cool.  His lips were smoldering hot.  There was tenderness but haste in the kiss, but didn’t go on for long.

“I thought you needed sleep.”

The man’s embrace was warm.  Sho sighed into the neck, taking in his scent.

“You’re freezing.  Let’s get in bed, Super Star.”

 

Sho woke up surrounded in heat.  The sun was high and directly over them.  He rubbed at his eyes.  One arm lay over his waist, the other tucked under his neck.  It was bliss; waking up late in the morning now that all his classes were over.  Sho pushed down the blanket a little, letting the heat escape.  The futon they were sharing was for one, so it was small for two grown men.  But it was more than manageable; this closeness.

Sho looked at the sleeping face.  Aiba’s lips were a bit chapped, even still, made him want to kiss them more.

He made sure the other man was sound asleep before reaching up to the exposed arm and shoulder.  He touched the web of scars, more like gliding his fingertips over them like a precious piece of artwork, daring to fall apart on contact.  He snatched his hand back, folded in front of his chest, when Aiba let out a sigh.

Aiba didn’t open his eyes but the free hand took Sho’s back to his shoulder.  Sho left his hand there, letting the man embrace him tight.

“It’s okay.  I won’t bleed…”  Aiba’s voice cracked, which was comical and cute.

Sho ran his hand down, troubled by the feel of the permanency.  He burrowed his face into the neck.  Aiba’s heat and heartbeat radiating; he absorbed them.

The words just fell out of his mouth before he could stop.

“I think I’m falling in love with you…”

Sho looked into the dark eyes.  This was the moment Sho was afraid of.  In the past, the same words had been spoken.  In that past, he’d been hit so hard his eyes blacked out.  He’d been cursed at, then ravaged.  He couldn’t understand it.  What he hated most was himself, and how he couldn’t stop.  He was scared of those eyes.

Sho began to tremble uncontrollably.

But depthless warmth engulfed him.

“Shh…  don’t cry.”

Sho hadn’t been aware.  He sobbed at the sweet voice in his hair and the hand caressing his back.

“I was just… You have a way with words and timing, I swear.  Give me a minute before you cry on my shoulder.  I’m not rejecting you.”

Sho clung harder, the flood of bad memories and pain that hadn’t faded completely just yet mingling with those dreamy whispers.

“Super Star… I’m already in love with you.”

 

“You wouldn’t remember me.  I wasn’t such a slob back then.  I guess it was three, maybe four years ago.  I used to go to Oh chan’s gym to work out, not to clean the pool.  It was the only place where I could take my mind off my family or job and maybe check out guys without too much guilt.  I used to watch you in the first few months when you started the part-time.  You were so adorable.  But had this sad face.”

“I don’t remember you… I didn’t even think about that…”

“That’s okay.  Like I said, I wasn’t like this back then.  I probably had more of an angry aura.  The people I used to work with secretly called me ‘Black Aiba’.  It wasn’t because of the suits…”

Aiba paused to touch Sho’s face under his eye.  He thumbed the skin carefully.

“Your…  That guy… He was left-handed, wasn’t he?”

“How did you…?”

“You had bruises, more than once.  A cut, shirt torn…  The one time I couldn’t stand it was you had this blue black bruise under this – beautiful – eye, here.

“Then I saw you in the parking lot.  That guy too.  He had a bike and blue streak in his hair.  The way he spoke to you and touched you… I knew he was the one hurting you.  I wanted to do something but you always had this look that said just leave me alone.  That night, though, you saw me, I think, I don’t know, I thought your eyes were different than usual, saying, help me.  My heart stopped.”

Sho vaguely remembered the terrible day after he said those words.  I love you.  He was beaten, physically abused, hurt, and heart hanging on by a thread.  Yet he went to his classes, went to work.  In the parking lot after dark, he’d been apologized to, and told these fake words of promise.  There might have been someone who passed them, but Sho had been too tired to take note of it.

“I wanted to help you.  Maybe just to talk to you.  I never wanted to get close to anyone until you came into my life.  Your presence brought out these things, these thoughts and a new spark into my life.

“That’s why you’re my Super Star.”

His thumb traced down over the straight nose.

“When I talked to Oh chan after almost a year, he said you still worked there.  I wanted to see you so badly.  You swam by yourself.  I watched you slice through the water, wondered what you were trying to get away from.  I always watched you…”

Sho guffawed at Aiba’s romantic notions.  Sho was almost overwhelmed by this man; extremely glad to be lying in his arms.

“You watched me?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, so you were my stalker…”

Aiba laughed at that, pecking the round tip of Sho’s nose.

“Mine.  You’re mine now.  Mine… My Super Star…”

“I want to be yours.  Your Super Star.”

 

The first person Sho wanted to call was Aiba, but he didn’t want to seem too eager.  He called Nino instead and told him the news; his thesis and all finals were A’s and he was going to graduate with honors.  Nino was happy, congratulated him and wanted to celebrate.

“Your graduation as well as things going well with Aiba san.”

“I’ll ask when’s good and you check with Yamashita san, too, alright?”

“Sure.  See you soon, okay?”

“Oh, Nino?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks for… being my friend.”

“Any time, Super Star.”

 

Sho stared at Aiba’s back.  The broad shoulders and straight back was covered by an olive green sweater.  A damp hand swept back the hair fallen over his eyes.  Sho watched for the boiling water on the stove since he was going to make tea.  Aiba did the day’s dishes; he’d gone and come back from the homeless shelter.  Sho couldn’t argue when he was shooed away from the mountain of dishes.  So he’d insisted that he would make tea.

The slightly sweet scent of sen-cha wafted up and calmed Sho’s heart, just a little.  But it wasn’t enough to stop any of these feelings.

Just like he couldn’t stop from putting his arms around Aiba’s waist…

Aiba turned to him and smiled knowingly.

“Are you coming to my graduation?”

“Am I being invited?”

“Yes.  I want you there.  No suit though.  Just like this…”

“Whatever you want.”

Sho kissed Aiba’s shoulder over the sweater.  If his kisses could heal him, he would kiss the skin forever.  He kept his mouth on the shoulder blade, giggling at the ticklish feeling every time Aiba’s muscles and bones moved.

“Thank you,” Sho murmured into the fuzzy material.  Aiba didn’t respond or turned to him.  Sho felt his body slow down though.

“I did want to drown that night.  I thought I was worthless.”

Aiba slammed whatever he had in his hands into the sink, turned and kissed Sho.  Sho opened his mouth to suck in his lover, to breath him in, because otherwise he’d doubt it all again.  They broke when neither could breathe any longer.

“I am in love with you, Sakurai Sho.  Don’t ever say you’re worthless.  You’re mine…  You are worth more than my life…”

 

Sho wasn’t even sure how they’d gotten there.  They almost knocked over the table and piled books, stepped on various objects on the way to the futon.  The small television lit up but neither bothered to switch it off.  Sho didn’t know who stepped on the remote, but couldn’t care much.  Aiba had his tongue down his throat and nothing else mattered but that.  The room was lit from the television and the light from the window, whether it was the moon or lamp post.  All sounds were muted; even the game (soccer, supposedly) they could barely hear.

Then Sho tore his mouth away, gasping for air, when Aiba’s hand pushed in under his pants.

“Ahh… Aiba san…”

Sho pulled Aiba in again, smashing his mouth against his lover’s.  The hand in his pants fumbled at his already hard sex.  Sho couldn’t recall the last time he’d been this turned on.  The hand squeezed his cock once, making him groan into the kiss and left it there.

They separated only to tear each other’s clothes off.  Sho positioned himself on his hands and knees, hugging one pillow to brace himself.  Aiba kissed his neck, fondling one round butt cheek.  Then he whispered to Sho.

“No.  Not like this.  I want to look at your face when we’re making love…”

Sho almost choked.  Making love…  No one ever said that to him before.  So he lay on his back, watching Aiba hover over him, looking at him up and down.  He was mesmerized by his lover’s tenderness.  Yet those kisses were so hungry, Sho wanted to turn himself inside out if that would be enough to show him how much he liked this man.

Sho trailed his hands down, pausing momentarily at the firm chest to lightly pinch the hard nipples, down to the jutting hipbones.  He felt the vibration of Aiba’s moans down his throat as his fingers traced the shape of the stiff erection.  Sho swallowed and savored the taste of this man’s voice, hands memorizing the texture and the heaviness of the member he wanted so much inside him.

“Aiba san… Be inside me…”

It took a little time to find the tube of lubrication.  Sho was delighted in that; it was like he wasn’t prepared for this at all.  They weren’t in any hurry; they had all the time they needed.  His own sex jumped at the coolness of the gel at his entrance.  Fingers disappeared beneath his balls, making his back arch.

“Aiba san!”

There was no roughness.  Even in sex, this man was gentle and caring.  Aiba paused every so often to ask if it hurt or felt good.  Sho was dizzy with the invasion and this voice against his ear.  When Aiba’s thumb grazed the tip of his cock, he almost came.  He watched in a daze Aiba’s tongue lick away the drops sliding down his length.

Sho couldn’t stand it.  He was being teased now and he wanted it so bad.  He tore away the condom’s foil.  He wet his drying lips, rolling the rubber down the thick shaft.  His throat itched; old habits, wanting to say all the dirty things he’d been taught to if he wanted it.  There was no need to here, he knew.  This progress was as natural as the creator had made it.  He bit down on his lip to not shout when the tip nudged its way inside.

“Does it hurt?”

I don’t have to act like I like it…  Be honest…

“A little…”

“Should I….?”

“No.  Just… Keep going.  Keep going.”

Aiba pushed in a little more, stretching him wider.  Sho spilled out, unable to contain his thoughts.

“Ahh…  Aiba san…  It hurts…  Aiba san is so big…  So hard…  So good…”

He wrapped his legs around his lover’s waist, guiding him in deeper at the hesitance.

“I don’t want to hurt you, Sho.”

“Say it again.”

“I don’t want to—“

“My name.  Keep saying my name.”

“Sho.”

Aiba pulled out a little, applying more lube to his cock, positioning his arms to find better leverage.  The thickness plunged inside Sho hard, making him scream.

“Scream all you want.  No one will hear you.  Sho.”

Aiba thrust in again, filling him up completely.

Sho let it all go.  All the memories associated with sex, with kisses, with body contact and with love…  This was what he’d been waiting for.  Aiba Masaki was who he wanted.

This would be healing.

His insides were all lit up as Aiba quickened the pace.  Sho made incomprehensible noises.  His hands fluttered up the arms over the shoulders and down the sides, again and again.  The marred skin felt magical.  Only he was privileged to it, no one else.  He would be the one to heal him.

“Only me…” Sho whimpered.  He pulled his lover’s face down with both hands.  Their kiss churned the flames to blazes.  This thirst was unquenchable.

“Aiba san…”

Sho’s lower back was off the futon.  It was like being fucked mid air.  Each hard pound ground him in, yet the arms cradling his upper half and the locked mouth kept him floating.  Sho’s body tensed, the pressure at his prostates pushing him towards the edge.

“I’ll come…” he announced, fisting handfuls of dark hair.  He exploded.  The heart seemed to stop, time suspended.

“Sho!” Aiba’s husky shout filled his head as his hips thrust in hard and deep.  Heat filled his body.  It was almost comical and perfectly timed.  The almost quiet television shouted an elongated goal!!—as whatever team scored, crowds roared but all Sho wanted was his lover’s kiss.  Sho smiled, completely satisfied.  Aiba’s mouth found his, drawing out his tongue, lengthy soft pressure drowning him.  The spent sex glided in and out a few times as to savor the last minutes of his contracting muscles or the warmth, or just because he didn’t want to pull out yet.  But he did eventually, fingers pinching the ends of the condom.  Sho lay helplessly, only watching his lover clean up the after-sex mess.

Aiba tracked back to the kitchen without a single thread on his sweat beaded body to bring back bottled water and some clean towels.  After, they lay tangled under the blanket, soaking up each other through their pores.

“Super Star…” Aiba whispered.  “You’re amazing.”

“I know.  I even have my own porn.”

“No.  Not sex.  I mean.  You.  Sho.  You’re amazing.”

“Aiba san.”

“Hmm…?”

“You, too.”

“Masaki.”

“Huh?”

“Call me Masaki.  At least… when we’re making love…  I’m not that much older than you…”

“Masaki.”

Sho shut his eyes in the warmth of his man.  He wasn’t sure how many times, but kept on chanting ‘Masaki’ as he drifted into sleep.

 

“Super Star.  Wake up.”

Even without the sweet voice, Sho’s eyes opened and his head felt clear.  There was coffee close by.

“What’s this?” Sho sat up and asked, pointing to the tray being given to him.

“Breakfast in bed.”

“Oh gods.  I knew it.  You’re a hopeless romantic.”

“And you, Super Star, love every second of it.”

Aiba kissed Sho’s forehead.

Sho wasn’t used to breakfast, as a habit of never eating them.  He wanted coffee though; it was strong, dark, and roasty.  He sipped it, nibbling on a buttered toast.  He would have imagined a full Japanese style breakfast to go with the house.  But Aiba was more like this room.  He was like this warm cozy hidden space full of little tidbits to love, all unseen and perhaps neglected by this enormous time-frozen mansion.

Sho watched Aiba do his morning routine.

Then he realized he was still nude while Aiba had pulled on this loose pair of worn out sweatpants.  He shouldn’t have, but felt self conscious all of a sudden.  They’d made love. In the morning, all felt normal.  Sho crawled out to hug Aiba’s back.  Like a newly formed habit, he kissed the scarred shoulder, resting his cheek there afterwards.  Aiba went on typing on his laptop computer, so Sho just let him.  He wanted more attention but he was fine with having his arms around his lanky body.

“What are you doing?”

“Work.”

“Oh.”  Sho just let his lover type away.  Since it was ‘work’, he didn’t want to bother him much.  Of course, he was curious but let it go for now.  Even the short answer, he could let it go.  But it was easy to get hurt by a word or a look.

“Sorry.”  Aiba said to him awhile later, a hand grasping Sho’s naked thigh.  “I don’t like going into the offices but I’m still one of the major share holders for the companies I’ve inherited.  I get a lot of emails and stuff to read, stuff to sign.  I have to…”

“Are you… like a CEO or something?”

“No no.  I gave that up.  I just have to take care of the shares as part of the inheritance.  I just never go into the office…”

“I see.  Well, you do what you need to do.  Don’t worry about me.”

Aiba went on to typing and reading, touching Sho’s skin every now and then while concentrating on the bright computer screen.  By the time he was done, Sho was resting his entire upper body against his back.  He was feeling stiff.  Of course.  They’d done it almost on the floor, despite the futon, and it had been awhile since he’d done it.  And he was sitting on the firm floor with no cushioning…  His lower back felt extra stiff.  When Aiba turned to him, Sho smiled widely, but could not hide the wince when Aiba pushed him gently on to the floor.

“Your back?”

“Yes…”  Sho didn’t want to, but his face turned crimson anyway.

“Maybe… I shouldn’t have rushed it.”

“You?  Rushed?  Honey, it was the best sex I’ve ever had.  You could have rushed it more.  My back will get better.  I just need some healing… and more of it.  Hard.”

 

The water sloshed over the edge but neither Sho nor Aiba stopped their movement.

The extra large heated bath held both of them easily.  Sho had to hide his blush when Aiba carried him easily to the bath.  The water was half full and ready.  Aiba had this prepared before Sho’d even thought of it.  It made his stomach flutter.  They got in together, feeling relaxed in the heat.

Sho was the first to make a move and Aiba didn’t have to be told twice.  Sho climbed on top of his lover (the more he thought, he loved the sound of that; lover), letting the big hands massage his sore lower back.  He couldn’t help squirming as one hand trailed down the secret crevice prodding at his entrance.  The other palm circled the curve of his spine to the tailbone.  Aiba’s mouth taunted the sensitive skin at his neck and throat.  One long finger pushed in, making him gasp.

“Perv…” Sho teased, licking away the perspiration at his lover’s temple.

“Porn star.” Aiba reciprocated.  Another finger pushed in to stretch him more.  The other hand moved to his front, pinching and playing with his nipples, drawing out more delicious sounds from Sho.  Then it slid down to squeeze his hard cock.

“Ahh…  My Super Star…”

“Sit up on the ledge.  I want to suck your cock.”

Aiba did as he was told, gripping the edge and the other holding Sho’s nape.  He watched Sho weigh the heavy sex in his hands, pouty lips nipping the tip, tongue licking, tasting, getting used to it.

“You’re so ridiculously beautiful, you know that, Super Star?”

“You make me feel beautiful,” Sho looked up at Aiba, hands cradling the length and mouth poised to swallow him.  He breathed in deep and took the length.

“Slowly…  You don’t have to take it all…”

But Sho took the entire length, almost to the root.  He gagged but didn’t stop.  He loved it.  He loved the rippled texture against his tongue, the slightly salty taste, and the fact it was the man he was ridiculously in love with at the moment, perhaps for a long time.  He hoped, for a long long time.  He wouldn’t have to worry about that now.  Right now, he would concentrate on the delicious thickness in his mouth.

Sho loved making Aiba groan, the fingers in his hair tight, and that husky voice repeating his name.  He sucked and pulled, fingers wrapping around where his lips couldn’t reach, playing and repeating, until Aiba made that sound of oncoming orgasm.  He pulled away quickly, easing his lover to not come yet…  Not yet.  It wasn’t enough.  Even so, Aiba looked satisfied.

“Ah…  Sho… That was…  You are…”  Aiba thumbed the puffy lips, smiling slightly.  Sho looked up through his eyelashes into the handsome face, waiting.

Sho received a long deep kiss, understanding.  Their eyes were locked when they broke their kiss.  Sho could only sigh at this newfound intimacy.

“I love you, Aiba san.”

 

Sho was situated on top of his lover.  He worked the whole length inside him.  He let Aiba sit back against the tiles, their bodies still half immersed in the steamy water.  He rode the hard cock gracefully, smiling in that way to make any man fall to his knees.  But it was only for one person.

The water crashed against surfaces in little waves.

Sho’s face scrunched; the movement of his bottom quickening.  His body trembled, lit up, but didn’t want to stop.

“Ahh…  Don’t stop.  Aiba san…  Masaki…”

“Sho…”

The hard grips at his ass tightened and Sho struggled to keep steady as Aiba began to really pound up into him.

Sho shouted once, and orgasm spurted free from his body.  The world inside his shut eyes was starbursts and magical swirls of green.  There were some blues, all in different shades.  They didn’t sting any more, perhaps even calming, a bit distant, like the clear blue waters close to the horizon.  Other colors rose up in flames, then exploded like beautiful fireworks on a hot summer Matsuri night.  Molten eruption filled him and their bodies ceased rocking.  Then all was peaceful, summer green, and when he opened his eyes, the face of his lover replaced the stormy view.

Sho only leaned forward into the embrace.

“I love you, my Super Star.”

 

.End.