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They managed to find a bench to sit on before the fireworks began, but shortly into the celebration, Yamagishi and Aragaki slipped away. It took her a moment to spot them near the tree line and would have assumed there to be some sort of altercation if she didn't see Fuuka decidedly grabbing Shinjiro's ass. They're making out. The realization made her shiver until she thought about it more rationally; they lived together already and had been in a relationship for nearly four years. I thought such displays were for new couples without access to privacy. Perhaps the adrenaline of his test results lead to pent-up amorous feelings? But, Aragaki said he was healthy...

She turned back to the fireworks and watched the world explode in shades of pink and green and white, and her lips parted in awe. It's beautiful. Everything was beautiful - the weather, their surroundings, the entertainment, the locusts in the background, and her present company. She watched the colored lights reflect off of his serene smile, and she felt her heart would burst. She snaked a hand out and grabbed his. Surprised, he looked at their joined hands for a moment to confirm the truth of the matter, and then he interlaced her fingers with his.

His grasp was warm and soft, a gentleness about it could make a person forget that they were also weapons. To protect people. Always to protect. A thrill ran through her recalling that it was the hand that had grabbed her around the waist and pulled her into him when he feared for her life. The foolishness of the action only served as more reason it flustered her. Sometimes, one does something nonsensical because being sensible is unacceptable. Like overindulging in festival food when your body can't handle it to lift another's spirits.

She became very conscious of the fact that, as they held hands, her arm crossed over his. She was suddenly concerned she was putting too much of it's weight on him. Or would it be strange if it wasn't? She sighed internally as a rainbow of color spiraled in the sky. Human bodies weren't designed to coexist like this. Or is there some sort of strategy of orientation that I am unaware of?

"Naoto-kun?" he asked with concern in his voice. She realized she had been holding his hand tighter than she was before. But which amount of pressure was the correct one? "Sorry about them, I know it's uncomfortable, but -"

"Does it make you uncomfortable?" she asked, stricken by some sort of madness.

"Huh? Them...doing that?" He furrowed his brow, trying to find some sort of explanation for her question. Good luck, as I have no earthly idea myself. "I mean, at this point, no, but that's exposure therapy for ya."

Naoto thought for a moment. "I simply...the appeal of...a public setting. Is a bit curious I-I suppose," she admitted, squeezing his hand tighter. "I am so...uneducated on matters like that."

He snorted. "Fair enough. Some people just like the thrill. Other people can't find a private spot. And some people..." He squeezed her hand back. "Find themselves overwhelmed by the beauty around them and want to be a part of it."

Her heart started pounding in her ears. The final option resonated so deeply within her, and the concept of feeling your affections being on the same level as fireworks or as the trees on the horizon made sense. She herself wouldn't have ever thought such a thing before, but somehow, even with her awkward hand placement, she understood how beautiful Akihiko was to her. Something deep inside of her wanted to show him, and have that resonate deep inside of him, and out to the world.

But why hadn't he shown her first? doubt asked. His thumb lazily rubbed the back of hers and sent goosebumps up her arm. Because he's patient. Because he knows better than to rush. Because he wants to be nothing but respectful of my needs.

"Akihiko?" she whispered. When his grey eyes caught hers, a stillness finally overcame her, and somehow, she asked, "Would it be acceptable if I kissed you?"

He pulled her into him and pressed his lips to hers, and every nerve ending of hers came alive. The urgency of his kiss was underlined with gentleness, as if he'd been aching to show her a sweetness she'd never known existed. She had no idea how their hands became unwound, but soon his rested on her waist. The relief she felt was soon being overtaken by a desire to do something herself, to deepen the kiss or touch him or something, but there were several options and none of them seemed intuitive. What if my teeth hit his? What if he doesn't like his chest being touched? I should be doing something with my hands, right? My hands, what on earth are you supposed to do with your hands?! It didn't make sense! The smart thing to do would be to let him lead, to let his mouth guide her and mimic whatever he did with his hands, but that felt so wrong. She wanted to make him feel beautiful.

She managed to part her lips in a way that continued their kissing and sent her body tingling. It was as if she were being wrapped in silk, and it thrilled her to realize the feeling was caused by only two points of contact. But does he feel the same?

When she was starting to feel light-headed, he leaned back slightly, breaking their kiss. However, she could feel his breath caress her face. It left her weak and wanting more.

"Was that okay?" he asked, watching her carefully. She studied him for a moment and realized he was catching his breath as well.

She wished she'd have had something more elegant to stay than, "More than okay," but that's what she managed. "Considering I don't know what I'm doing."

"I disagree," he said with a shy smile.

"But I've never...and I don't know if you enjoyed...and...and what do you do with your hands?!" she sputtered.

"Slow down," he coaxed, trying to contain a laugh. "What about hands?"

"Where do they go?  How are they supposed to fit together  when you're holding hands? And how do you know if it's comfortable for the other person, especially when you can't say it because you are otherwise..."

"Occupied? Can't speak?" he teased, ever so gently. "It doesn't matter," he said more earnestly and took her hand again. This time, his palm was upright, so her forearm rested along his. "As long as you're comfortable, it goes where you want them."

"But, but how do I know if you're comfortable?! The weight of my arm is entirely on yours!"

"Do you think that's too heavy for me?" he stroked her thumb with his again. "It's like...a blanket. Sometimes the weight of the thing is what's most comforting."

She nodded and committed that to memory. "And...when..." She could feel her cheeks burning.

"That's...a public versus private matter," he explained. "In public, generally the arm, the waist, or the face." He stroked her cheek with his free hand as if trying to smooth away the signs of her tension. His voice dropped to a whisper. "In private...where you want. Whenever the time is right."

Naoto felt a warmth coil inside of her for a moment that released just as quickly. She dearly wanted to chase the feeling, but a particularly loud crack! in the distance reminded her of where she was. She nodded and tried to distract herself. "But, even this!" She gestured to their joined hands. "It almost feels like they're in the way. As if it'd be better if we both only had one arm!"

Amused, he asked, "Can I show you something? A more comfortable configuration that is perfectly public-appropriate for this event?"

She nodded and let go of his hand. He scooted closer to her and guided the arm nearest him behind him, resting in the hollow towards the lower part of his back. His arm wrapped around her shoulders, fitting nicely behind her neck. She had options, as well, to sit that way or to lean further into him and rest on a particularly tempting spot on his chest. It made her heart pound. "This...certainly makes more sense," she managed, trying not to count the muscles that she could feel along his body. "However I - I still feel like something's not quite right." She held up her free arm, as it felt positively frigid being so far away from the warmth of him. A strange notion crossed her mind. That's something Rise would say. She'd claim that part of her was cold in order to increase contact. The thought that Naoto had been inadvertently so forward made her giddy.

"There are options for that too. On your own lap is perfectly fine, but that's generally the arm holding a beverage. If it's not then...it can rest on the other person. If you want. "

Before she knew it, her hand found rest on the field of red as if his shirt had been a target. His arm adjusted to keep her close, and his "blanket" comparison couldn't have felt more apt. Finally, her heartbeat slowed, as if trying to match time with his breath. They stayed that way for a while, the show mesmerizing her as much as the firmness of his chest under her fingertips did. Her captivation was only broken when she felt the slightest kiss on the top of her head. It was enough to let her realize that Yamagishi and Aragaki were returning, slightly disheveled. She sat up a bit, removing her hand from his chest, but somehow she felt that was the only concession needed for their return.

"Get a room," Aragaki grunted as he took a seat next to Akihiko.

"Hypocrite," Akihiko rejoined.

"Exactly. A tree isn't actually a door yet," Naoto added.

Yamagishi had to clamp a hand over her mouth from to keep from laughing too loudly.