Chapter 19: Center of the World (6)
His destination was an inn up in the hot springs of the mountains, a 1½-hour shuttle ride from the Shinkansen station—
Ugh, he couldn’t help it, okay? Anyway, the manager recommended that he go on a trip, and at his age, he couldn’t say that he spent all 10 days at his parents’ house. The manager would think he was clingy. …As to why his heart was beating so fast that it almost made him sick? It was because of two reasons: his nervousness for showing up at the hot springs unannounced and for traveling in private as Kunieda Kei. He had made his reservation on the site under his real name, and so he couldn’t risk the chance of things blowing up in his face by fabricating a story to hide things.
“We have been looking forward to your arrival, Kunieda-sama. I have you confirmed for a one-night stay, checking out tomorrow on Saturday, is this correct?”
“Yes, thank you very much.”
As Kei was checking in, there were people traveling in a tour group in the lobby. He wanted to lock himself in his room as quickly as possible as he smiled and filled out his information on the guest forms.
“Allow me to show you to your guestroom. You will be on the third floor in the executive suite.”
He wasn’t showing off or rewarding himself with the most expensive room in the inn; it was simply that there were no other rooms available. He had also bought out the seat next to his on the Shinkansen because he didn’t want anyone sitting next to him. He hadn’t expected to spend so much on a trip. Good thing he had just received his bonus.
The attendant showed Kei to a ridiculously spacious Japanese and Western-style guestroom and launched a long and detailed explanation about accompaniments for tea, extra amenities, emergency escape routes, and whatnot. They exchanged the customary ritual of “Please accept this as a token of my gratitude” and “Oh, that is extremely kind of you,” and after Kei had tipped the attendant, he thought that she would withdraw from the room with a “Please enjoy your stay,” but instead she said, “I’m very sorry,” and pressed her hands together in front of her face. “I understand that you are on a trip right now and that I really shouldn’t be asking you this, but… I watch you all the time on The News. Would it be possible to get your autograph?”
Normally Kei would sidestep the request with a smile, but he didn’t have home-field advantage today, and he wasn’t feeling his best, and so he accepted the request under a condition.
“As long as you promise to keep it a secret.”
“Will you really? Thank you very much! Um, I’ve been a huge fan of yours since you first started! Do you remember the time when you were on a late-night variety show and did the sexy periodic table of elements reading challenge at a love hotel? I loved it so much!”
“Oh, umm… I remember.”
Damn, she remembers an assignment I did the year when I first started?
Kei was already feeling flustered on the way here, but then she had to spring her fan-crazed rambling at him. Kei’s smile twitched a little.
Stop, I beg you, there’s no announcer in the industry who wants their shameful, old assignments dug up from when they first started.
“Won’t you do those challenges again? My favorite part is when you read the mnemonic device for the 5th row, ‘Rub Sir Yates to zero.’1 My heart was racing so fast that I’ll never forget it…”
I’ll give you your autograph, so forget it ever happened.
“Anyway, I’ll bring an autograph sheet with me when I bring up your dinner! Thank you so very much!”
Ahhh, I can’t relax at all.
It was a beautiful day that interrupted the usual downpour of the rainy season, but as he sat in a wicker chair, Kei couldn’t enjoy the scenic view of the trickling stream and mountains in front of him. It was in the middle of the afternoon, and Ushio was probably outside at an activity or something. According to the inn’s website, there was fishing and canoeing that people could do nearby. Not that it mattered; Kei didn’t have the courage to face Ushio here. It was just a little easier to hole up in this room, spend the night without seeing Ushio, and head directly home, wasting a ton of time and money in the process—it was better than spending the day in Tokyo, wallowing in his misery.
There’s nothing for me to do, Kei thought. He was a really boring person with all this free time. There was no way he would meet up with co-workers outside of work unless it was out of some sense of obligation. He could never be like Kizaki, who smiled freely when he said he was going to the hot springs with others.
He just didn’t like it. Except for Ushio, it was no fun for him to spend time with other people. He didn’t like anyone except Ushio. He could work and do his best without Ushio there for him, but even so, Kei’s world would no longer turn without him. Kei knew that it was smothering and too much; it made him recoil at himself even, but Ushio, he would probably tell Kei that he was fine with it.
The doorbell to the room rang. Did the attendant decide to come earlier with the autograph paper? She was so excited that she could have been impatient enough.
Whatever, let’s just get this over with.
Kei went over to the beautiful lattice sliding door, exquisite enough for an executive-level suite, and without looking through the door viewer or latching the chain, he slid open the door.
It was Ushio, leaning against the alcove leading to his room.
Kei froze. It didn’t even occur to him to close the door as Ushio brushed past him. Ushio called out, “Sorry to bother you~,” removed his slippers, and entered the main room.
“Whoa, this place is huge. Looks fancy. Oh, there’s an open-air bath too.”
After taking a look around the guestroom, he turned back to look at Kei, still frozen in place, and asked, “Do you want tea?”
“Huh? Um, okay.”
“Take a seat.”
Kei returned to his wicker chair, and Ushio went into the mini-kitchen, seemingly already familiarized with the place. He placed a tea bag into each of the teacups and poured hot water from the electric kettle.
“The tea’s even higher quality than the one in our room.”
Ushio placed a tray with the teacups on the table and sat down in a chair across from Kei. Ushio had acted so normal that Kei couldn’t decide whether to panic over the situation or behave calmly; he felt a little lightheaded.
“Let me say something in my defense,” Ushio began.
I’m the one who wants to say a lot of things in my defense. More like I’m hoping I can hand wave everything, but I probably can’t.
“During the filming for Persons, I got along with a couple of the staff, and they wanted to take a trip out to celebrate. It was only supposed to be 3 or 4 people when I agreed, but then somehow more and more people started joining. I honestly didn’t know what to do when I heard that Kizaki-san would probably be coming too. But by that time, all the arrangements had been set, and I couldn’t really cancel on them.”
Kei didn’t know what reaction to make and ended up giving a vague, halfhearted response.
“Are you really okay with it?”
“I am, but—I just want to know how you knew I was here.”
He couldn’t have gotten my message over the air waves, could he?
However, Ushio’s answer was very much rooted in reality.
“I heard it from someone you had asked to investigate, of course.” Ushio pulled out his cell phone and started reading what was probably Tatsuki’s message. “He wrote, ‘Kunieda-san said not to tell you, so I’m gonna take it to mean that he actually wants me to tell you.’”
“Dammit, I’m not doing an opposite day gag!!”
What the hell is with everyone trying to read non-existent intentions behind my words?
“So that happened, and I figured you would come. As soon as check-ins started, I staked out the lobby from the gift shop and waited for you to show up.”
“Are you a damn stalker!?”
“And you’re one to say that? Anyway, why did you go out of your way to ask Minagawa for his help? You could have just asked me.” There was a hint of unhappiness in his voice, but he saw that Kei was at a loss for words and backtracked. “No… I didn’t mean to say it like that. Ah, I screwed up again.”
Ushio took a sip of his tea and uttered a soft “Ah, hot.” Then he began again, “—So what I came here to talk about.”
Kei finally started to feel nervous as if he were slapped across the face. He was the one who had yelled that he wanted to be left alone, but then when Ushio disappeared, Kei chased him to this faraway place where he was taking a trip. Even if Ushio forgave him, Kei knew that what he did was exasperating beyond belief. He had that much awareness at least.
“When I was waiting for you at your apartment, I was reading the manga you had on your coffee table. I was totally confused and didn’t know how to read the panels at first.”
It was funny that they thought the exact same thing. But why was he talking about that manga?
“I was irritated at how things dragged on in the story, and then you came home… And that happened, and yeah, it made me angry, but after I had some time to myself, I felt terrible for trying to argue you into a corner. It wasn’t the first time that you’ve blown up at me from doing that, but I did it anyway and screwed things up.” Ushio’s face was gentle. “And I messed it up again just now, trying to maneuver you to the right place…”
“Oi, what do you mean by maneuvering me to the right place?”
Ushio ignored Kei’s protest and continued. “There were a few things about the manga that irritated me. Like why wouldn’t she say what she means? And why would she run away without saying anything? But sometimes people can’t bring themselves to do things even though they know better. I finally realized it after seeing you. Everything I thought about, you already thought up long before I did. I already knew that with your personality, you can only freeze up when you stumble, and yet I still tried to push you to do things and I put you more on edge than before.”
Kei couldn’t look at Ushio’s face anymore and timidly wrung his hands in his lap.
If you say that to me, I’m going to feel more worthless and disappointed in myself. You haven’t done anything wrong.
“To begin with, I’m supposed to be a safe space for you. That whenever you need me, I’d be there for you for whatever you need—at least that’s what I thought. But I suppose that after a year, I still have things I need to work on. It’s just that watching the empty cans of Red Bull pile up in the kitchen, I get anxious, and I want to tell you that it’s hard for me to watch you and not say anything.”
Ushio moved the tray of teacups aside, leaned his body forward, and placed both hands, open and accepting, on the glass table. Kei slowly raised his head and finally looked Ushio in his eyes.
“I’m sorry, Kei.”
“Ushio.” Kei placed his hands in ones on the table. “Can you hear my voice?”
Kei thought that Ushio would wonder what he was saying so suddenly, but he answered, “I can hear it.” His voice was gentle. As Ushio squeezed his hands, then like a trigger, tears started to fall from Kei’s eyes.
“He can’t hear my voice.”
“He said that he can’t hear my voice. That’s what he told me…”
The thing he had been trying so hard to suppress inside his heart spilled over and streamed out of him. He didn’t have the courage to accept that the words had hurt him deeply, but now he could finally face it. Kei took deep and slow breaths, letting his shoulders rise and fall, so that he wouldn’t start sobbing. Ushio didn’t tell him to cry; he didn’t tell him not to cry. He just matched Kei’s breathing, squeezing and releasing his fingers to comfort him, and waited for Kei to calm down.
“Who told you that?”
“I see, I see. He’s a cruel old man. Even though you’ve been trying so hard.”
Kei didn’t know what else he could do to keep trying. He did whatever he was told, he went above and beyond what he was told, but it seemed like everyone was thinking, You don’t even like what you’re doing—that it was wrong to do what he did because he was capable of it. Kei confessed everything to Ushio, slowly and haltingly, his tears blending with the running of his nose as he bared his heart.
Droplets pooled from his tears on the transparent glass of the table. Dappled sunlight filtered into the room through the treetops from the mid-afternoon sun with the sounds of birdsong woven into the background humming of the air conditioning unit. The birds probably wouldn’t be found in Tokyo. For some reason, it reminded him of when he was a child, his days during summer vacation with all the free time in the world. The sun would eventually set; his father would come home from work, and they would eat dinner that his mother prepared, the three of them together around the table. They were the days when he had none of the grief of today, none of the anxiety for tomorrow—nothing to wear on his mind. Oh, so this was what it was to find a safe space. His tears had started to dry, and it felt itchy.
Ushio listened as Kei finished talking and asked, “How long is your vacation?”
“Through the end of next week.”
“I see. You don’t have to go back the week after if you don’t want to.”
“There’s no need to exhaust your heart over a job. You can do whatever it is you put your mind to; it won’t be hard for you to find a new job. You could even take a break from everything until you’re ready, and I’ll shield you from anyone who tries to kick up a fuss. I’d be happy if you left TV and stayed by my side forever.”
You did ask me once before, “If I asked you to quit TV, what would you do?” I rejected it on the spot, but what would I do now? …Is the fact that I’m even considering it, an answer in itself?
Kei had maintained his separate outside and inside personas this entire time, living his life with his face all over national TV. If he had known how exhausting it was, he would have declined the network president’s offer.
But Ushio was right. If Kei didn’t love what he was doing, he could quit anytime. He could ask to be transferred to an office job. Everyone would soon forget about him, and The News would move on with a new announcer. It wouldn’t matter in the long run.
Kei rubbed at his cheeks and eyes, then he launched himself up out of his chair.
“…You gotta be fucking kidding me!!” he yelled from the pit of his stomach, and it was like he had been loaded with a cartridge of himself down to his core. “If I quit now, I’d be a complete loser! The day I decide to quit will be the day when everyone, from the executives below the president to the parking attendants on the basement floor, gets on their knees and begs, ‘Please don’t quit, Asahi TV will be ruined!’ They’re gonna build a damn museum dedicated to me next to the office! I’ll let you work as the receptionist there, so you better wait like a good boy until it happens!!”
Ushio grasped the finger that Kei had thrust into his face and smiled. “I was right, this is who you are…”
His voice sounded like a complicated blend of happiness mixed with a touch of disappointment.
“And you proposed to me yet again.”
“I did not.”
“You plan to support me well into the future as ‘Kunieda-san,’ right? Anyway, from my eyes, you’ve always looked liked you loved your job.”
If that were true, wouldn’t it mean that half of his worries had been in vain? He couldn’t have that.
“You always say the opposite of what you’re thinking in your heart. You love it, right?”
“Not at all.”
“…Then how do you feel about me?”
“…That has nothing to do with it!!”
“Well, whatever. I said what I had to say.”
Ushio stood up as well and reached his arms up to stretch his back. He must have been fairly nervous in his own way.
“All right, let’s go.”
They had finished their talk and made up, but Ushio couldn’t be suggesting that they go back to Tokyo just after he had arrived, could he?
“Isn’t it obvious?” Ushio said, a little exasperated. “We’re at a hot spring, so let’s go use the bath.”
It was an executive suite that cost nearly 100,000 yen2 per night, and the private open-air bath that came with the room was large enough to fit several people. While it was technically open-air, it was designed to be half open—the beautiful outdoor scenery could be enjoyed if the blinds were raised and the glass doors were opened, but it could also offer the privacy of an indoor bath.
But it wasn’t intended for this type of privacy, most likely.
“…Weren’t we… going to use the bath…?”
“We need to wash up first. Here.”
Hands covered in body soap wrapped around Kei from behind, groping the front of his body until they found his nipples. Fingertips rubbed back and forth against them wet and frictionless, smearing lather across his chest as the soap started to foam.
The milky white lather slowly crept down his chest, and it was like an impatiently slow caress. Two little red buds peeked up through the bubbles, and no matter how much Ushio kneaded them with his fingers, they ached and swelled harder, with no sign of waning.
Kei’s moans filled the steamy closed shower room, and the sounds trailed and echoed louder than usual. Even if Ushio didn’t deliberately touch him anywhere, the sensation of Ushio’s skin pressed against his back and the beating of Ushio’s heart gradually veering out of control were enough to stir Kei from the inside. He loved the embrace inside of Ushio’s arms so much that it hurt. It mystified him how he could possess such beautifully pure feelings for Ushio and yet lust for him so powerfully at the same time without contradiction.
Ushio rubbed soap under Kei’s chin, down the sides of his body, and it was like Kei was melting into the palms of his hands. Ushio sucked repeatedly at the back of Kei’s ear, mouthing along Kei’s hair and drops of water with it. Kei squirmed as he sat on a small shower stool, and it could be either an objection or an invitation, as he leaned into Ushio’s arms with Ushio kneeled behind him.
Ushio stroked between Kei’s legs, taking his clear arousal into his hand. Coupled with the back and forth motions, the soft hand together with the rough tongue somehow felt different from all of the touches up until now, and Kei gasped at the caresses. Even when Ushio squeezed down tightly on his shaft, the soap allowed it to slip smoothly in his grip, and Kei threw his head back in frustration when the pressure retreated away. Pre-come oozed out and mingled with the lather that Ushio’s hand had created, and it was like his entire cock was covered in white ejaculate. Kei couldn’t help but squeeze his eyes shut.
Ushio mouthed roughly at Kei’s ear, like he was rebuking Kei for his actions, although he shouldn’t have been able to see it.
“Is it good?”
“I don’t like it…”
“Everything’s so slick and wet, i-it’s indecent…”
The moment it left his mouth, Kei knew he had chosen the wrong word to use. After a moment, Ushio started laughing.
“Indecent? What are you, a prim and proper rich girl raised in high society?”
“Shit, you’ve really turned me on.”
There was something hard pressing up against Kei’s back to let him know that it wasn’t a joke.
“You don’t understand what gets a man going, do you?”
“I’m a man too!”
“I know that very well,” Ushio said as he played with tip of Kei’s cock.
As pleasure overtook Kei, he dug his fingers into Ushio’s hand. Without Ushio in front of Kei to cling onto, for some reason his uneasiness mixed with his arousal, making his cock hypersensitive. And all the more so with the heated stiffness deliberately rubbing against his back.
Ushio teased a delicate nipple to pleasure as he stroked Kei’s cock with his other hand, and pre-come continued to leak and mix with the soap. The obscenely exposed head was a bewitching color, like it had been flushed from the steam itself, the leaking fluid gradually growing thicker. Just when Kei felt like he was going to come, Ushio graciously and relentlessly guided him to completion.
“Aaah, ahh, Ushio…nnh!”
It was a sudden and sharp pressure that sent him soaring to his climax. His load shot from the small, narrow slit of his cock, and it even reached the fogged up mirror on the wall.
It was a deep and satisfying release that he hadn’t had in a while, and his entire body was overcome with dearly missed languor. But then came a deep familiar ache for something that was missing. He should have been done with his physiological needs as a man, but a place where he would never touch himself was yearning for more.
“Hey, are you able to move? I can’t push the stool out of the way.”
Ushio urged Kei up onto his knees on the grated floor boards, placing Kei’s hands on the short ledge where the shampoo and other dispensers were kept under the mirror. In this position, he was still sitting up, but it made his ass stick out like it was on offer.
The lights were a brownish-orange color and not very bright, but everything could still be clearly seen in the shower room, and this animal-like position was far too much for Kei to bear. However, he didn’t have time to protest as a finger entered his body.
The finger seemed to be covered in something that allowed it to slip all the way inside Kei.
“Noo, what’s that?”
“It’s supposed to be a moisturizing olive oil,” Ushio said as he pushed his finger in and out with so little resistance that it was embarrassing. “I found it in the dressing area with all of the fancy amenities. Very impressive, this executive suite.”
This isn’t what it’s supposed to be used for.
As Ushio fingered Kei from the inside, he felt like he was going to lose all support of his limbs. It had been some time since they had last done this, and it should have taken more time to stretch out, but with the help of the oil, the finger was able to reach deep inside of him, finding the spot where his desire swelled almost like a hardness.
“No, aah, ahhh.”
Normally Ushio would slowly stretch him from the shallowest part inwards, but his hole was ready to go, clenching and gaping, as it sobbed around something inside of it. Kei was so sensitive that he could almost feel the difference between the pad of Ushio’s finger and his fingernail.
Ushio traced a hand down Kei’s back to his tailbone as Kei’s body strained under the weight of gravity. Ushio moved the finger buried in Kei’s hole in and out of him as he matched the movement with his other hand placed on Kei’s cock. The inside and outside of Kei’s body was at Ushio’s utter mercy, and he couldn’t feel any pain in his knees from kneeling on the grated floorboards. His arousal felt almost like a shuddering chill, but in the steamy shower room, he was burning like his skin could exceed its melting point.
“Ah… don’t go… so fast…nhh.”
The obscene sounds from his body were loud and incessant, and they seemed to melt into the steam and spread all around the room.
“Why? Does it hurt?”
Of course Ushio had to ask even though he knew damn well that it didn’t.
“No… I don’t like the sound…”
“Oh, I see~”
Ushio pulled his finger out until the fingertip was barely just inside. He added another finger and pushed back in with a single stroke.
“I think the sounds are coming from you squeezing down on my fingers.”
“I don’t know… what you’re talking about…”
It wasn’t under Kei’s control that the place wanted something to fill and violate it so badly that it tried to draw in whatever it could. Or that the rim was so drenched in oil and desire that it twitched for more.
“Ahh, no, no…”
“You’re stretching out nicely… Can I go deeper?”
Kei nodded, wanting more, deeper inside of him, like the touch could reach the recesses of his heart, and as his inside walls sucked greedily at the fingers, a much harder thickness pressed inside him together. It should have been far too much, bordering on brutality, but sex with Ushio was always, always gentle. Ushio’s cock pulsed with the beat of his heart, filling Kei until there was no space left inside of him, rubbing against him like he was hollowing Kei out, and yet it was still gentle.
“Ahhh, ahh— Ah, aaaaahhhh…”
Kei unconsciously reached an arm out, and with nothing to hold onto, he made contact with the mirror in front of him with his forearm. For a moment, the coolness to the touch was pleasant.
Maybe Ushio wasn’t able to endure the last little bit needed to push himself all the way in, but the hard thrust made Kei’s arm slip down on the mirror, wiping the come and condensation from the surface.
There was still moisture left where he had slipped against the mirror, but it was clear enough that he met his own eyes in the reflection. His face looked almost twisted in pain, but he knew that it wasn’t exactly so—it was a face intoxicated by the throes of arousal.
“Oh, how very nice of you, thank you.”
Kei could see in the mirror that Ushio was watching him, and he hurried to hide his face. Blood rushed to his head and made him lightheaded.
“Stupid… I wasn’t… nhh.”
“Why not take a look while the opportunity’s here? I’m always looking at you though.”
Ushio rocked his hips as he teased Kei, and as Kei thought about how bare and exposed he was every time that they had sex—not that there was anything he could do about it—it made him so embarrassed that he wanted to disappear.
“Here, take a look.”
“I don’t wanna… I-It’ll…”
“It’ll ruin my upstanding moral virtue… nhh.”
Ushio laughed as he pressed against Kei’s back.
“What are you saying looking all eager and needy?”
If Ushio was always looking at him, then the same could be said for Kei. Ushio’s face covered in sweat and desire, hungering for Kei’s body—it was a very familiar sight for him. But watching their reflections in the mirror felt like they were being captured on camera, and Kei couldn’t bring himself to look.
His heart raced so much that he could die.
“Nhh, ahh, aaahh.”
Every time Ushio thrust up into him, there was the tricking of sweat. The trickling of water. The trickling of gasps. They failed to reach the depths of him, where pleasure was filling him up. But Ushio’s cock, it reached exactly where Kei wanted it—the place that itched and begged for something to grind up against a particular sensitive spot. It was as if his inner walls were steeped with arousal as it swallowed the heat that bored deep inside his body.
“Your body always baffles me,” Ushio said as he seized Kei’s hips with the savageness of a predator descending on its prey, setting up a wild rhythm. “It’s soft, and yet it can be so tight.”
If Kei were to say something, it was Ushio’s body that baffled him for making his body like this. It wasn’t like he could make it become like this on command. Overtaken with ecstasy and lust, his mind went blank.
“Ahh, aaahh, ahhh…!”
When Kei tightened up, Ushio grew larger, and when Ushio grew larger, Kei tightened up. Their intertwined exchanges drew a spiral that swept them somewhere far, far away. Every time that Kei thought, no, no more, he’ll never reach it, Ushio would flood him with his release and joined them together.
“Ahh, you’re amazing…”
With Ushio pulsing inside of him, Kei’s cock spilled its load once more. And this time he surrendered deep into the abyss of satisfaction.