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Aesthetics

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Despite the fact that Nozaki constantly insists that he’ll follow Ken-san to any department, they hadn’t quite figured that he meant it. That was mistake number one.

Letting Nozaki-kun have free rein when it came to positioning them for his artwork, that was mistake number two.



It turns out that Ken-san has to take a temporary transfer to the magazine’s hentai department for a few months, just long enough to cover another editor’s maternity leave.

“I will follow you anywhere,” Nozaki says, hand tightening on the phone, eyes gleaming with resolution.

Ken-san’s sigh comes through loud and clear, and Nozaki is touched that Ken-san is so relieved by his support. “Have you ever drawn a hentai manga before?” Ken-san’s tinny voice asks.

“Have no fear,” Nozaki reassures him. “Suzuki and Mamiko have been dating for quite a while. It would fit the progression of the story.”

“Hn,” Ken-san says, deadpan, then hangs up.


 

Eh?!” Sakura says, when she and Mikorin show up that evening. “Hentai?

Nozaki nods. “Ken-san has transferred to the hentai department. So now Suzuki and Mamiko will express their beautiful love.”

Sakura and Mikorin share a horrified look, and then, realising that they’re looking at each other while thinking about hentai, jerk their heads away and flush, horribly embarrassed.

“The basics seem simple to me from the research I’ve done.” Nozaki points to a thick set of manga books on the table, and Sakura has to force her eyes away from the top cover's image of a large breasted woman wearing bunny-ears. “I just need your help with a few easy poses.”

“Poses?” Mikorin asks. Then, before they can really process anything, Nozaki's got Mikorin laid out on the bed, and Sakura standing between his legs.

What is this?!” Mikorin howls, once he processes their positions, face red as a lobster. Sakura looks down in horror at the cardboard tube Nozaki has pasted on to the front of her skirt, nestled between Mikorin's thighs. “Shouldn’t Sakura be the girl? Why am I always the girl?!

Sakura closes her eyes because well, sometimes there's things on TV at night, and maybe you see something you didn't intend, and now she can't stop thinking about what the cardboard tube could really be and where it’s supposed to go...

Now there’s steam coming from her ears.

Mikorin happens to look up and meet her eyes, and then they're frozen in this awful moment where they both can't help but think about it.

“It's not quite right,” Nozaki says meditatively, as he eyes the scene.

You think?!” both of them scream at him.

He snaps his finger. “I got it.”

Suddenly Sakura’s lifted up. “Eh?” And now she's standing on a box.

Sakura wants to die. Wait, first she wants to kill Nozaki-kun and then die. No one has suffered as I have suffered for my love, she thinks.

“Better!” Nozaki announces, and takes a quick picture with his camera.

That was not the problem!” Mikorin screams.



Hori stares at the pages laid out in front of him, face blank. “What. Is. This?” he asks. Sakura and Mikorin look anywhere but at him, faces hot enough to fry eggs on.

“Hentai,” Nozaki offers dispassionately.

Hori's eyebrows twitch. “No, I understood that part.” He sucks in a deep breath, gathering himself, “BUT WHY IS SUZUKI SO SHORT AND WHY IS HE STANDING ON A BOX?!

Nozaki just blinks at him. “Aesthetic,” he offers.

Hori groans and thumps his head against the desk.



Two months later Ken-san returns to the shoujo manga department.

“Yes,” Nozaki says, sitting straight up and all but one step away from saluting, phone clasped to his ear. “I’ll go back to shoujo manga then.”

Sakura, Mikorin and Hori, all shamelessly eavesdropping, breathe a sigh of relief.

“We will never speak of this again,” Hori whispers.

Sakura and Mikorin nod, faces drawn.

Nozaki stares into the distance. “I wonder if I could branch out and release a side collection of erotica?” he ponders out loud.

NO!” they all scream.