It's six thirty in the evening and he has officially missed dinner. There's still hours until curfew and subsequent lights out, but he doubts he'll get anything done. He's been sitting here for hours sketching and painting and inevitably he would tear the sheet of paper off his easel and start over, his effort not up to snuff. Paint smears his hands from tearing off papers with still-wet paint on them.
The assignment was to express through traditional art the prompt "true beauty". It was due tomorrow, and he was going to have to either throw something together or swallow his pride and ask for an extension. Both options were equally awful.
He slumped to the ground, staring past his easel out the window at the golden sunlight spilling over the ground. The golden hour was truly beautiful, as well as timeless. But anyone could do something like that. Yusuke would sooner die than just be anyone. He was contemplating the pros and cons of throwing himself off a bridge when his phone buzzed.
Ryuji: hey you wanna go get a beef bowl
Ryuji: i asked you in mementos but you never gave me a straight answer
He never gave Ryuji a straight answer because he was too busy panicking over a handsome boy wanting to be his friend, and by the time he had worked up the nerve to say yes, absolutely, the moment had passed. But Ryuji didn't need to know that.
Me: I would love to. Should I meet you there?
Ryuji: take the train to ogikubo, I'll pick you up at the train station
Me: Sounds good.
Yusuke moaned softly in pleasure when he took a bite of his ramen. The broth was just salty enough, the noodles just chewy enough, the meat in a class of its own. Though Yusuke was hardly a connoisseur of such things, even he could tell this was quality ramen. "This is heavenly. Thank you for bringing me here, Ryuji." He beamed at Ryuji, who seemed to have gone mute.
"It's nothing, man." He mumbled, blushing. "So, uh, you looked kind of worried at the train station, what's up?" Ryuji said quickly.
Yusuke sighed, having successfully pushed it out of his mind. "I have an art assignment due tomorrow and I have nothing to turn in."
"So get an extension, dude." Ryuji said nonchalantly.
Yusuke looked at Ryuji like he had lost his mind. Ryuji continued eating until he noticed Yusuke's expression. "You're a good kid, right? I guarantee your teachers will have no problem with it. Personally, I'd rather have to wait to see your amazing art than not get to see it at all." Ryuji continued slurping down noodles, blissfully unaware of the emotional turmoil he was causing in Yusuke with one simple statement.
"That's very kind of you to say, Ryuji." Yusuke said softly.
"It's true." Ryuji said, nudging him playfully. "Eat your food, ya string bean. I know you don't eat enough. Doesn't Kosei offer meals?" Ryuji asked. Yusuke stopped eating and began to fidget under the table, unused to such intense scrutiny.
"They do, but the noise...gets to be too much for me sometimes." Yusuke said, suddenly shy. "I'm on the spectrum."
Yusuke's statement of what everyone else in the gang had inferred didn't seem to faze Ryuji. "So you just don't eat?" Ryuji asked, mouth agape.
"Not having a lot of money doesn't help any, either." Yusuke mumbled.
"We gotta start making this a regular thing." Ryuji declared. "Somebody needs to get at least one meal in you a day, and I'm taking on that responsibility as your friend."
Tears welled up in Yusuke's eyes, and he hid them by dutifully finishing his meal. It was savory and filling, and he sat back on his stool when he finished feeling completely content with the world and his place in it.
"You want more?" Ryuji asked, already pulling out his wallet. "Because I'll buy you more if you - "
"No, no." Yusuke insisted. "I'm fine. I'm full."
"Oh. Okay." Ryuji sat and fidgeted for a few minutes of comfortable silence that was rapidly becoming uncomfortable.
"So." Ryuji said just as the silence was teetering into unbearable territory. "Are we all still going to Pride together? The gang, and Makoto's mystery girlfriend?"
"To my knowledge. Why?" Yusuke asked, turning his full attention towards Ryuji. He was unaware of this, but his full attention was sometimes a bit disconcerting, and Ryuji's eyes widened.
Ryuji rubbed the back of his neck nervously. "I was thinking of. Dressing differently than usual. More...out there. It's Pride, y'know? And I've been wanting to do it kind of for a while."
"Do you want to tell me or not?" Yusuke said bluntly, and Ryuji shrank back.
"I was gonna dress like a sukeban." Ryuji said, scratching the back of his neck. Yusuke smiled fondly, which seemed to give Ryuji courage. "I was wondering if you wanted to do my makeup." His volume lowered so much so suddenly on the last three words that Yusuke was left blinking.
"Whisper it in my ear." Yusuke suggested, and Ryuji leaned in. Yusuke tried not to be too excited about Ryuji's lips so near his ear.
"I want you to do my makeup since you're an artist and stuff." Ryuji whispered. "I don't know anything about it, and I can't exactly go to a department store and get a makeover - "
"I would love to." Yusuke said immediately.
"That was fast." Ryuji said. He didn't look at all upset about it.
"Maybe a change of medium will be just what I need to get inspired." Yusuke beamed. Ryuji grinned in return, laughing softly with his giddiness. Yusuke felt his heart stir and his throat tighten, and it was the most delightful sensation.
The first thing Yusuke did before crashing once he got back to school was email his teacher and ask for an extension. He got back to him by the time he woke up saying of course he could have one, and the student gallery was getting pushed back anyway so he could still submit his finished piece to that as well, if he so chose. Yusuke grinned excitedly. Pride was next week, and his assignment would have to be turned in the day after. Everything was falling into place.
He spent the afternoon after classes watching runway videos and taking a few notes. Sure, it was mostly for Ryuji, but inspiration for his assignment could be found anywhere.
The Phantom Thieves all met outside the train station on Pride day at a quarter to two dressed in a variety of gay regalia, ranging from Akira's Nobody Knows I'm A Lesbian shirt to Ann's eye makeup in the colors of the bisexual flag to Makoto dressed normally, save for a double venus necklace. Yusuke sat next to Ryuji on the train, stretching out one leg to show off his galaxy-print leggings. Ryuji was in his regular clothes, his sukeban outfit in his backpack. He grinned and gave him a thumbs up, showing no signs of nerves, and Yusuke decided that everything would be fine. He was fairly excited too, his heart like an excitable bird in his chest. He was hyperaware of the plastic convenience store bag at his feet containing drugstore makeup and a few brushes.
Makoto's "mystery girlfriend" turned out to be a friend of Akira's - but who wasn't a friend of Akira's - with a shy smile and a lesbian flag painted on her cheek. Her name was Hifumi, and she was accepted into the fold with no fuss. She exchanged nods with Yusuke, who was thinking that he would probably have to actually get to know Hifumi soon since she was a friend of a friend and a girlfriend of another friend. Hifumi sat down in between Makoto and Haru, and reached out to hold her hand. Makoto took it. The subway car was full of other pride-goers. There was no fear.
When the train stopped at Shibuya, where the parade was starting, they all filed out and Akira, Yusuke and Ryuji headed to Crossroads. Akira headed for the bar to say hello to Lala, while Yusuke and Ryuji went to the bathroom so Ryuji could change. The curtains were always drawn in Crossroads, giving the look of perpetual evening even in the middle of the afternoon. The bathroom was bathed in the same red light as the main room, and Ryuji quickly ducked into a stall with his backpack to change.
Yusuke set out the contents of his plastic bag on the counter of the sink and stared in the mirror and tried to envision what Ryuji's outfit might look like. They had a few text conversations in the week leading up to today, and Ryuji had refused to show him any pictures or give him any hints as to the look of it. He had borrowed it from his mother, that much he knew. Mrs. Sakamoto was a kind woman, but she had a fierce expression and a penchant for turning the air blue with curses. It was remarkably easy to imagine her as a sukeban.
There was a shy click from behind him as the stall door opened, and Ryuji tentatively stepped out. Yusuke's breath caught in his throat as he took him in. The outfit was technically navy blue, only a whisper away from black, with a red tie to match Ryuji's red sneakers. When Ryuji tentatively spun around, Yusuke could see a rose was embroidered onto the back of the long-sleeved shirt. Ryuji was a few inches taller than his mother had been at his age, so the skirt that was meant to be ankle-length came up a bit higher than that, and a sliver of tan waist was visible when Ryuji stretched out his arms. "Elegant" was not the first word Yusuke would pick to describe his friend, but it was the only word that occured to him in that moment.
"Can you say something?" Ryuji muttered. "You're freakin' me out."
"You look stunning, Ryuji." Yusuke gushed, and Ryuji flushed a brilliant red.
Yusuke briefly worried he had overdone it before Ryuji grinned and said "Thanks, dude." Before coming over to Yusuke and standing expectantly, facing him. They stared at each other for a moment before Yusuke realized what he was in the bathroom with Ryuji to do and briefly fumbled to pick up a pot of cream blush. Ryuji snickered.
Just before he tapped a blush-dipped finger on the apple of Ryuji's cheek, he asked, "Didn't sukebans traditionally not wear any makeup?"
"This one does." Ryuji said without a trace of irony.
Yusuke shrugged - fair enough - and resumed his task. Most of his makeup knowledge beyond how to apply mascara and tinted lip balm had been acquired through reading on the internet, and apparently coral tones accentuated skin's warm undertones and gave a healthy glow. Ryuji had amazingly clear skin considering their age, and Yusuke figured there was no harm in accentuating it.
He dabbed blush on both cheeks before moving on to Ryuji's eyes. Shimmering bronze shadow, topped off with mascara. Nothing too complicated - for all the articles he read, he didn't want to attempt anything too conceptual when eventually Akira would start to wonder why they were taking so long. The real statement would be in the lips. A rich, warm-toned poppy red, to compliment the rest of the look. A little balm, first, so the formula didn't dry out his lips too much. He has such nice lips, Yusuke thought. It would be such a shame if they got dry. Then, the lipstick - a bullet, swept over the bottom lip and carefully smoothed on the cupid's bow, staining Ryuji's lips with color that claimed Kiss-Proof Wear. How lovely would it be, Yusuke thought, to test that claim.
"Alright, look in the mirror." Yusuke said. "I can change it if you want, we still have time before people come looking - "
"It's great, Yusuke. Thank you." Watching Ryuji look at himself in the mirror, seeing himself for the thousandth time and the first time, sparked something familiar in Yusuke. Ryuji tilted his head, checking himself out. As Ryuji's lips curved up in a smile, Yusuke framed the scene with his hands.
Yusuke lowered his hands just as Ryuji turned to him, nodded. They turned and left the bathroom, and before Ryuji had even raised his hand to flag Akira down he had darted over to them, face lit up in a grin. Yusuke saw Ryuji's shoulders relax, having unconsciously tensed up upon having other people look at him.
"Ryuji, you look great! So great, holy - Lala, look at Ryuji!"
"I saw. You look just like your mother did, years ago." Lala winked.
Ryuji flushed in embarassment but smiled wide nevertheless. "Thanks guys. Really." His tone was no different than usual, but Yusuke could hear in his voice an undercurrent of desperate gratitude. Maybe it was because he knew the feeling of putting a facet of yourself you've denied for so long into the open. Or maybe he was just more sensitive than he gave himself credit for.
Akira grabbed Ryuji and Yusuke's hands. "The parade is starting soon, we need to get going. And everybody needs to see your outfit, Ryuji!"
Ryuji didn't say anything in response, merely chuckled happily to himself, as he allowed himself to be tugged out the door with Yusuke.
The parade was lovely. Akira met about ten acquaintances along the way and had to stop for a quick chat. Makoto and Hifumi were attached at the hip. Ann and Makoto had an unspoken contest going to see who could start more chants. Futaba had a good time, but such big crowds still frazzled her, and Yusuke quietly stuck beside her when Akira was otherwise occupied.
Ryuji got hundreds of compliments on his look, and Yusuke felt a surge of pride whenever Haru or Ann or some other pride-goer complimented Ryuji's makeup. Yusuke himself could barely take his eyes off Ryuji for more than a few minutes. Ryuji seemed looser, more excitable, more relaxed than Yusuke had ever seen him. Ryuji looked free, and his happiness was infectious.
As the sun went down and people began to stumble back home in groups or alone before the trains stopped running, Ryuji turned to Yusuke, grinning broadly, and twirled.
"Take my picture before we go!"
Yusuke obliged, snapping a picture of Ryuji mid-twirl framed by the purple and orange sunset light with his phone. He would need the reference later, anyway.
Back in his dorm, he stuffed down a protein bar before immediately beginning work on his assignment. True beauty, his teacher said. Well, he couldn't think of anything more beautiful than the picture he had taken. Besides, he had no other ideas worth pursuing, and he needed to finish the assignment by tomorrow if he wanted to submit it to the student gallery.
He worked through the night and into the morning, adding the finishing touches as his morning alarm went off. He yawned mightily and stretched, more tired than he had ever been but also incredibly satisfied. He trudged down to the Traditional Art room to turn in his painting, careful not to smudge the color. He had no trouble convincing his teacher that he was coming down with something, and he was gently urged out to get some rest after placing the painting on an unused easel to dry.
"This painting is beautiful, it has an emotional quality that very much becomes it. But art isn't worth dying for, Yusuke." His teacher said gently as he pushed him out.
Yusuke stood fast in the doorway. "Can I submit it to the gallery?"
"I will give your application priority myself if you go get some rest." His teacher insisted.
Yusuke blinked slowly as the classroom door shut behind him. After all this time, he still wasn't used to people taking care of him. He felt like he had Abuse Victim stamped on his head. Not a new feeling, but no less unpleasant.
He filled out an application on the little table outside the room, but paused when asked for a title. A name for the finished product had never occurred to him. He had just painted the emotions that were fresh in his mind. The title should reflect the art, right? He had felt like he was laying eyes on something divine, a heaven-sent gift. Seeing Venus.
He wrote down the title, dropped the application in the box and went on his way.
The student gallery was one of the few occasions where large crowds of people talking all at once did not make Yusuke feel like his intestines were being slowly twisted. Having Ryuji next to him helped, dressed in a pressed white shirt and dress pants forced upon him by his mother. Yusuke had opted for all-black, turtleneck and leggings.
"My mom said that I have to look nice at an art gallery." Ryuji said, rubbing the back of his neck. "So I did my hair good, and I wore two colognes." Ryuji grinned. He appeared to have forgone his typical globs of hair gel, opting for the natural look.
Yusuke chuckled. "You do look nice." He said earnestly. He could smell the colognes; mingling amber and musk. He preferred fresher scents, himself, but on Ryuji, anything would smell good.
Ryuji snorted. "Not next to you. All chic with your all-black."
Yusuke blushed, fidgeting with the ends of his turtleneck's sleeves. "You flatter me. Let's go in."
The crowd wasn't large, but Kosei preferred quality over quantity, and Yusuke spotted several notable art writers and critics looking over the best of the Kosei student body's work, hands on their chins, talking to the faculty. Yusuke's stomach flipped whenever one of them glanced his way. This was his first time submitting work to the gallery, for obvious reasons. He couldn't decide if he wanted feedback from these people or he wanted to tear his painting off the wall once they got to it.
They weaved through the crowd to the back, where Yusuke was told his painting had been hung up. Neither of them had much interest in the other works, at least right now. Yusuke was a man on a mission, and Ryuji's mission was to support Yusuke in his. They abruptly stopped once they got to Yusuke's painting, Ryuji slack-jawed and Yusuke staring at the floor.
"Do you like it?" Yusuke whispered quietly.
The sky was mostly purple, the night pushing orange day below the horizon, except for where Ryuji stood in the middle of the road, bathed in the last of the sun's gold as he spun with a childish grace. He was smiling at someone out of frame, his expression like the sun lingering even after it was due to set. The shimmer on his eyes caught the light and made him look ethereal; he looked like a deity. A rare, beautiful occurence. So said the title; Seeing Venus.
"I...is that me?" Ryuji whispered.
"Yes." Yusuke said, still staring at the floor. "You've always inspired me, Ryuji, from the day we met. I've sketched you a few times, but I've always wanted to truly bring your light to life through painting. Then Pride came around, and it seemed like fate." Yusuke looked up at Ryuji, into his awed eyes. "You always seem to carry the sun around inside you, Ryuji. That day, your new confidence in those clothes...it inspired me. I hope you don't mind."
Ryuji didn't say anything, and Yusuke looked up worriedly to see Ryuji blinking hard. "Nobody's ever said anything like that about me." Ryuji whispered. "Why would I mind?"
Yusuke drew Ryuji into a warm hug as he took a few shuddering breaths to steady himself. "I...I brought you something." Ryuji reached into his back pocket and pulled out a little box. He wordlessly offered it to Yusuke.
Inside were two ordinary-looking grey earphones. "They're noise-cancelling ones." Ryuji explained. "So you can eat at school and not wanna die. Try 'em!" Ryuji smiled.
Yusuke popped them in his ears, and all the grating chatter from the guests around him disappeared. It was still there, a steady hum, but it didn't make him on-edge. He could still hear Ryuji, in front of him, explaining this, and holding out a little bag that he could keep them in, if he so desired.
"I love them." Yusuke took them out, the sound rushing back, and put them in the bag. "I could kiss you, Ryuji, I really could."
Ryuji grinned and stepped forward. "Would you mind if I did the honors?"
Chuckling, Yusuke shook his head, and Ryuji pulled Yusuke in. The gentle press of lips was like seeing Venus all over again.