It is late afternoon and the mall is buzzing with activity as shoppers scuttle to and from their various destinations. Yusuke hasn't been to this particular mall before, so he is soaking in all the new sights and sounds of the different shops and decorations. Sweet scents from up on the second-floor waft down to them, daring them to venture into the vast food court, but Akira keeps him on track. His hand is on Yusuke's back, steering him toward their destination: not food, but a spacious toy store.
Inside, a vast variety of animals line one wall, while the rest of the store is dedicated to the different clothes and accessories purchasable for the stuffed creatures. Akira leads him over to the animals first, pointing out a few that he thinks Yusuke might be interested in: the foxes, the red panda. They're cute, with their little noses and beady black eyes, but Yusuke is looking for something else, something that draws him in beyond the expression of words.
And there it is, with its huge eyes and comically large smile: the lobster. It's tucked away near the back, away from the popular selections of adorable cats, dogs, and bears, but Yusuke thinks this one is the best. The shop's clever attempt to lure him to the fuzzy, lovable rabbits and cats that promise to love him for all of eternity cannot keep him from true beauty.
"I should have guessed," Akira says as Yusuke plucks the lifeless lobster skin from the bin beneath the display. "I heard they were discontinuing these, though."
"Perhaps they are, but they were unable to do so before our arrival. What excellent fortune."
It had been Akira's idea to bring him to this toy workshop in which customers are able to build their very own stuffed animals. Yusuke hadn't been sure at first, but with his birthday coming up, Akira keeps promising him that he'll love his gift. And Yusuke trusts his boyfriend, so he is allowing him to take him on this journey to a land of toys.
There is a wide selection of different scents that can be put inside the stuffed animals: fresh roses, succulent honey, soft lavender. "Snow" is another option, and Yusuke ponders what exactly such a scent might smell like. The word alone makes him think of that fresh, cold sensation from newly fallen snow, and he isn't sure exactly how that can be expressed through such technology, but Akira's hand is on his arm before he can investigate further.
"No scent," Akira says, with that glimmer in his eye that Yusuke can't help but fall for. "Trust me."
They take the lobster to be stuffed, and the employee explains the process they use to fill the toy's heart with love. Yusuke is instructed to rub the tiny heart on various parts of his body, such as his back and his knee, and finally, he is told to kiss it.
At first, he is flummoxed by such a proposition, but Akira squeezes his shoulder comfortingly.
"Kiss it, Yusuke," he says. "Close your eyes and think of me."
"Thinking of you as I kiss a lobster is somewhat peculiar, but I will do as you ask."
And Yusuke does, pressing his lips to the soft fabric, but kissing Akira feels nothing like this. At least the deed is done, and the heart is tucked inside his new lobster companion, ready to be trussed up in whatever attire Yusuke deems exquisite enough. Akira gestures towards the racks of clothing as the lobster is finished being stuffed. While Yusuke browses, he looks back to see Akira running a hand through his hair, smile set upon his lips. It isn't a smirk, like he used to make back as Joker whenever he thwarted an enemy. No, what Yusuke sees now is one of the smiles Akira shares with him when he's happy, when Yusuke happens to say something that delights him, such as, "Ah, the sunrise cannot compare to the face you make as you awaken from slumber."
Yusuke is suspicious of what he is up to, but Akira promised that he would enjoy his gift, so he doesn't ask about it once he trots over with his lobster.
When Akira was first describing this store to him, Yusuke imagined it would be difficult for him to choose between all of the different clothes: the sparkling dresses, finely-cut shirts, and abundance of accessories. But now that he's here, he is actually pleased with the stuffed lobster all on its own, and he doesn't wish to mar its natural splendor. He does choose a pair of glasses to adorn the toy with, though; the frames are thick and black, not unlike Akira's in tiny, plastic form. They give his lobster a sophisticated but mysterious sort of appearance, much like Akira himself.
"The lobster will remain naked," he finally declares, triumphant in his conquering of the selection designed to make him purchase as much as possible.
"It's not quite naked, though," Akira says, pressing a hand to his mouth to suppress a yawn.
He's right, since it does have its pair of stylish glasses, but Yusuke's thoughts take a turn. It is due to a mix of Akira's voice and the idea of being otherwise naked despite wearing glasses, and he thinks of Akira lying in bed after they have made love, chest still rising and falling as his lungs beg for air. Sometimes he will reach out for his glasses, staring up at Yusuke through the lenses as he runs his hands up and down his back, drinking in the sight of him. And Yusuke can't blame him, since that's exactly what he does, too, but these thoughts aren't appropriate for him now, not when they're in the middle of the toy store. He wants to kiss him, to pull him in and mesh their lips together, to feel him smile against him, because there is nothing quite as exhilarating as Akira when he is pleased.
Yusuke has to wait until they're out of the mall and within the grasp of the chilly winter air before he's able to bring him into his arms. He kisses Akira, and his lips are more wondrous than any snow, fresh or otherwise.
It has been nearly a week since Yusuke and Akira ventured to the mall. They had undergone the process of building the lobster up from its eerie flat skin to its stuffed, plump form, but to this day, the lobster still is not in Yusuke's possession.
"Trust me," Akira had said as he tucked their creation into his bag, never to be seen again. And he does trust Akira, more than anyone, but it's the secrecy of it that is starting to frustrate him. He feels like there's a piece of the puzzle he isn't quite able to grasp, taunting him as it continues to slip through his fingers.
Akira is back in his hometown until Yusuke's birthday. The pain caused by the distance between them never ceases, and no matter how much he's able to see him in person or hear his voice over the phone, it's never enough. No amount of Akira could ever satisfy him; he always wants more, more, until his very soul weeps with gratitude. They'll only have that one day to spend together before Akira slips back home yet again, leaving Yusuke to reach for him in his sleep, tossing and turning in the half-empty bed. When Yusuke finishes high school, they'll be able to come together to live alongside one another until the end of time — or until Akira tires of him, which he hopes never happens. The idea gnaws at him when they're apart, digging into his bones and finding an insecurity he never knew festered within him.
When Akira isn't here with Yusuke, he worries that his partner, his love, will realize that he's better off without him. That his quirks will drive a wedge between them, despite being a large part of what drew them together in the first place. Even Ann tells him not to worry when he vents to her, and he knows that her heart is deep with knowledge pertaining to affection, but it doesn't keep him from fretting.
Then Yusuke's birthday finally rolls around, and when he sees Akira step into his dorm room after sneakily trying to unlock the door, all of his worries wash away as if they had never been there in the first place. Akira laughs when he embraces him, kissing all the spots on his neck that he has found to be ticklish, then they make love on the futon with the same amount of fire as their first time. Afterward, while Akira naps, Yusuke watches his face: the serenity of his expression, the softness of his nose, the way his lips part when he lets out a deep breath.
Later in the afternoon, they spend time with their friends. They gorge themselves on birthday cake, fluffy and covered with a layer of whipped cream. Akira politely declines everyone's attempt to persuade him into having a slice, preferring that the others have more to share, but he does accept one of the strawberries on top. Yusuke plucks it from its cream bedding, ignoring how messy it makes his fingers, and he watches Akira's eyes on him as he feeds him the fruit. Yet again he has to will the thoughts away — of his beauty, of the sensuality that seeps from his pores — and eventually he and Akira are back in his dorm room after the long evening comes to an end.
Yusuke tries to stay awake, brushing his hands through Akira's hair so carefully as he sleeps that his boyfriend doesn't even flinch. Appreciating Akira without waking him is a skill that he has honed for months now, and he loves being able to study him without disturbing what makes his resting face so magnificent. Akira is strength, forgiveness, perseverance; Akira is love in the rawest form, meeting every dip in Yusuke's waves with his own.
After their goodbyes the next morning, all that's left of Akira are the memory of him and a package he left next to the futon. Yusuke almost doesn't open it, the weariness of missing Akira already making his body sluggish, but it's wrapped in colorful paper printed with "happy birthday" and foxes in party hats. It is Akira's birthday present to him, so he pulls it to his chest and begins to peel off the wrapping paper.
Inside the package, nestled within a few sheets of blue tissue paper, is the stuffed lobster. After his initial irritation and Akira's insistence that all would be revealed in time, he had almost forgotten about it. The toy is just as he remembers it, red and soft with its large, staring eyes. Nothing about it seems different or off until he cradles it against his chest, closing his eyes and thinking of Akira on his commute back home. The lobster should still smell like plastic and new fabric, unwashed and unused, but it doesn't; it smells like the detergent Akira uses to wash his clothes, with the faintest hint of coffee and flowers.
It smells like Akira.
He squeezes the toy tighter at this revelation, and it's this that causes the lobster to reveal yet another secret, hidden deep inside.
"My love for you is as immortal as lobsters," a voice rumbles from within the toy. Despite the low, artificial quality of the tone, Yusuke can tell that something is off about it, as if the voice is trying to imitate another — his own. Then, after a few seconds, the message concludes with: "I love you, Yusuke."
His heart races, fingers itching to pull Akira into his arms, but his beloved has already left. It has been over an hour now that he has been gone, and maybe, just maybe he'll be home. Yusuke grabs his phone and calls Akira, pressing the screen to his ear as he waits.
Finally, a laugh greets him at the other end, and he feels his heartbeat relax as the familiar voice soothes him, a balm for his longing heart.
"I see you found my gift."
"Akira, I — truly, words cannot describe…"
"I know. It's okay." He can hear Akira shifting his phone around, as well as the quiet steps of him walking. "We'll have to share custody, though. I've been sleeping with it this whole past week, but the smell will wear off."
"Of course." Yusuke nods to the empty room.
"I'm glad you like it. I know you miss me when I'm gone." Akira stops walking, and Yusuke can hear him fitting his key into the doorknob of his apartment. "You graduate in March. That's not so long from now, is it?"
Yusuke's mind is already brimming with ideas on how their lives will change once they live together. He squeezes the plush lobster again, hearing its decree, smelling the savory spice of coffee and the sweetness of Akira's soap.
"No," Yusuke agrees. "Not much longer now."