Story 4: No Need For Anything Else
Author’s Note: This is the revised version of the Christmas story that I had written for a booklet that was given out at one of my meet and greets—and a companion New Year’s story. I wanted a very indulgently cute cover with pink as the featured color. By the way, Mr. and Mrs. Kunieda were classmates in high school—which is a fairly mundane setup that I had thought up for them.
Illustrator’s Note: Since this story is based on an existing novel, I tried my best to make something very sweet and romantic. I had planned to draw something with pancakes, but I drew the whipped cream… and it was like, someone likes whipped cream a lot… (me) …and probably really wants Ushio to make sweets for him… and so it seemed to be enough.
First published in 2014 in the doujinshi No Need For Anything Else.
Translator Note: This story takes place after Volume 1 and the side story This Little Light of Mine. You can find a reference to this title in Volume 1 Chapter 9 when Ushio tells Kei that he did a good job on TV.
Part 1: All I Need
“Come down to Asahi TV this Christmas! For 9 special days from the 18th to the 26th, there will be all sorts of special events held at the Nine Garden in front of the Asahi TV building!1 Come see the beautiful Christmas tree illumination display, try the special limited sweets that you can only find at the event, and even take pictures at the studios of your favorite shows! Have a fun time with loved ones, families, and friends!”
Starting mid-November, this commercial ran constantly on the air (especially during the daytime), and Kei couldn’t help but wonder if their business department had their heads on straight. They couldn’t be making money airing commercials for their own event all the time. But then again, they were mobilizing their own employees for it—it only meant a little more overtime. If they had called in outside talent, they would have to pay appearance fees.
“Excuse me, did everyone get a handout?”
The director of the Production Department held up some papers stapled together. Kei pretended to look carefully through the handouts, but sitting next to him, Tatsuki was fiddling with the paper, folding up the corners into triangles for no reason. Unlike their meetings for The News, Asou wasn’t in attendance, and Tatsuki looked even more relaxed than usual. Anyway, if he was busy then he was busy.
“This year our network has decided to put on a special Christmas event. We will be collaborating with a number of famous restaurants and dessert shops—they will appear both at the event and in featured TV tie-in spots, further strengthening our TV business strategy. It will allow us to have more familiarity with our existing audience and at the same time invite new viewers who might normally prefer other stations to take another look at us. We will also have the actual sets used on the shows for display, and there will be booths where guests can get their pictures taken. In line with this, I would like to ask for the full cooperation from everyone in the announcer department. The ladies will be selling next year’s calendar featuring all our women announcers, and they will also hold a meet and greet. As for our renowned hottie gentlemen announcers at Asahi TV—”
Why the hell are you using slang here? No one’s gonna laugh, Kei thought, but then Tatsuki let out a “Haha—” in a voice that was neither fake nor jeering, and it helped cut through the awkward atmosphere.
“—they will be participating in our very special limited Announcer Cafe. Of course, all of the cooking will be done by other people, but you will be taking part as waiters and counter staff making latte art… essentially drawing pictures with foamed milk. We will set aside time for training sessions with a barista. I understand that everyone has their own shows and schedules to deal with, so please be assured that we arranged the shift schedules to be the least disruptive as possible. Our target audience will be mainly ladies between the ages of 20 to 50. Please express your daily on-screen brilliance to all of our guests off screen IRL in real time.”
Seriously, you’re not funny. And how much are you gonna put us to work?
Looking at the shift schedule, Kei had 2-hour shifts nearly every day either in the morning or afternoon. On the weekend, he was scheduled for full evening shifts. Even if it didn’t directly conflict with the nightly news broadcasts, Kei was going to have to smile at strangers for a good chunk of his time. It was going to be exhausting.
So basically they were using the network’s site, resources and staff to put on this event, they’d have tie-up programs where they can also air valuable, related commercials, and the food stalls and booths were all priced on the slightly exorbitant side—they’d probably make a nice profit in the end. And if they could get someone with a good image to project the message that everyone could come have fun at the event, they’d be rolling in sponsors too.
If I were the president, I’d give it the green light. I’d milk it for all its worth.
But of course he wasn’t happy as the one being milked.
“I think it’s better than a meet and greet at least,” Tatsuki said as they ate a late lunch/early dinner in the empty cafeteria a little past 5 pm. “There are always weird perverts and gropers who go to those things.”
“If they ever forced us to do something like that, I’ll jump ship over to NHK.”
Kei could say it aloud in a low voice. There was no one around and they were sitting at a table in the corner.
“But I don’t really hate these culture festival type of events. Anyway, Christmas doesn’t fall on a convenient day of the calendar this year, so I don’t really have any plans. I’m just gonna think of it like a part-time job.”2
“Heh. Well, I hate it. Committee members, opening staff, whatever, all wearing matching T-shirts and pretending to bond over a shared activity they don’t actually care about. And behind closed doors, they’re having flings and whatnot all over the place.”
“But it’s easy for love to bloom when people are working together in such close proximity, just like it did for us once upon a time.”
“The only part of that stupid sentence that wasn’t fake was the ‘working together’ bit. Die.”
“You’re such a tease, haha. Oh, by the way, is Tsuzuki-san still busy with his project?”
“Uh, well I heard that he’s making an animation for the tree display at our event.”
“Tell me,” Kei said as he maintained his very careful smile in case there were any witnesses around. “How the hell do you know what projects he’s working on right now?”
“Uh, we chat on LINE. ShitaraP gave me his ID.”
“Well I’m the type who values connections and relationships… Oh, don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m doing it to get close to you to become like brothers or something. Anyway, isn’t it something you’d normally talk about? What do you do when you see each other? Just have sex?”
Is there any way I can kill him before the year ends?
“So, about his project—”
Kei was about to pry more details out of Tatsuki, but then a squad of women announcers came up to their table.
“Hey, what are you two doing hiding in the corner eating?”
“Talking about something you can’t say in front of others?”
You all look ridiculous with your exaggerated puffy eye makeup,3 Kei thought to himself. He smiled at the women with a touch of shyness and responded, “I was just asking about highlights of the Bundesliga.”4
The man himself readily admitted it when Kei went to question him at his house.
“Oh, that’s the one they’ll be showing on the side of the Asahi TV building. It’s the first time that I’ve ever done 3D projection mapping, so I’m pretty excited to see how it looks at the event. There are also other filmmakers who contributed clips that I want to see.”
“When did you get the job?”
“I got the request around Golden Week,5 and I’ve been working on it since then. People really liked the opening that I did for The News, and so they asked for a Christmas version.”
“I didn’t see you filming at all.”
“I decided to do full CG this time. It was nice because I could go over to the production studios whenever I wanted to use some software that I didn’t have. It’s funny, when I want to add analog-type effects using CG, it’d take like a full day to do, and I’d wonder if it’s really worth it at that point. I kept thinking to myself that it’d be faster just to film it, but I’d say it was a good experience and I learned a lot from it.”
Ushio’s work was pretty much done on the project; all that was left was to do some test projection runs, and if there were no major issues, then wait for the event to arrive.
“Want to go see it together?”
“No way, it’ll be really crowded. Anyway…”
“How much did you get for it?”
“For my commission? Nowhere near the level of Announcer Kunieda’s December bonus.”
“Liar. They must have purchased all the rights to it. It can’t be that low.”
“It’s really not that much since we’re talking about a 30 to 60-second clip. You’d have to be a powerhouse in the industry to get anywhere near 10 million yen6 for a single job.”
Depending on the contract, once a job was accepted, there might not be any income until the job was complete. It wasn’t a great career choice in that respect. This time Shitara was attached to the project and so he had made things easier, but Ushio talked about the headaches he got each time he had contract negotiations with clients.
Kei responded offhandedly. “Hmnnn… By the way.”
“You don’t really talk about your work much.”
This was the first time he heard about Ushio traveling outside for a job. In comparison, Kei talked about his work almost everyday—mostly to complain and badmouth people.
“Well, I mainly work alone by myself. Even if I showed you the motions that I was thinking about or the filters that I wanted to use, I don’t think you’d be too interested.”
“I don’t mean technical talk about your work. Maybe things like ideas of you want to make next or what you’re trying to do for the project you’re working on.”
It was a very unenthusiastic response.
“I’m pretty bad at that kind of thing. I don’t really know how to describe the ideas I have in my head. It’s probably faster for me to work on the thing and show it to people. Anyway, if I talk about my ideas, I’ll probably lose the motivation to work on it.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well if I explain everything, it somehow feels like it’s fully formed at that point. Kinda like reading a guide book for a vacation spot and then losing interest in going there.”
I don’t really get it.
But Kei thought that maybe there was a part of Ushio that was wired in a more complicated way than even Kei was inside and that was where he created his art.
“Anyway, I didn’t know that you wanted to know everything about me so badly. Are you always thinking about me, wondering what I’m doing when we’re apart?”
“That’s not why I’m asking, stupid!!”
It was just that he felt it was a little unfair that he had to hear about the job from Minagawa, and he was unhappy that— Well maybe he wasn’t wrong. Ugh, nevermind.
“Don’t worry, you’re the one who knows everything best.”
“Whatever, it’s probably something stupid…”
“Like all of my favorite kinks.”
“Ugh, of course, it’s something really stupid!”
Whoops, I don’t have time to bicker with him.
“I’m using the kitchen!” Kei declared and pulled out the contents of a bag that he was carrying. There was a small stainless pitcher and a—
“What’s that? A premium cleaning wand?”
“What a sad existence it is to work from home all the time.”
It’s the first time I’ve seen one too though. I can’t believe they sell them at the 100 yen shops. I love you, 100 yen shops!7
“This is a milk frother.”
Let me tell it to you like an English instructor.
“Oh, really? So what are you gonna do with it?”
“Latte art practice.”
Kei started to make a concentrated instant coffee and poured some milk in a mug to heat in the microwave.
“Is this what you’re doing for the Christmas event? Won’t you get training classes for it?”
Kei sighed at Ushio.
Of course he doesn’t understand, he thought as he shook his head.
“That sigh sounded really patronizing just now.”
“I have to practice now in order to stand out in the training class, of course. Having people tell me, ‘Wow, you’re so good, I would have never guessed this was your first time doing this~,’ is the lowest hurdle that I have to clear.”
“Wow, you’re such a hard-working idiot~”
Kei poured the heated milk into the pitcher, turned on the frother, and the small round coil at the end of the thin rod started to vibrate. Submerging it into the milk created little waves on the white liquid surface.
“I want to make the Phoenix Hall at the Byodoin Temple by the end of this.”8
“Who are you trying to impress anyway? People are gonna look at you funny, just give it up. Making a heart or a leaf will be more than enough.”
Once the pitcher was filled with a delicate foam, Kei tapped the bottom on the counter to level it off.
Now here comes the hard part.
Kei tilted the cup that was shallowly filled with coffee and started to pour the milk from a fairly high point above it. He brought the pitcher down in a swift motion to pour the foam towards the center of the cup, forming a—
“…The foam’s not floating.”
“Let me try.”
Ushio checked a few how-to videos on his smartphone, nodding his head as he made another cup of coffee and poured in the remaining steamed milk from the pitcher. From what Kei could tell, there wasn’t much difference between Kei’s movements and Ushio’s, but sitting in the middle of the cup was a crisp, round circle like an Othello game piece.
“…And then I think you do this.”
Ushio lifted the pitcher, moving the spout like he was tracing the design in the air, cutting across the circle, and amazingly formed a heart shape in the cup.
“So that’s how it works, this is pretty interesting. I think I can probably make a leaf after a couple of tries.”
“…It’s not a damn bit interesting to me!”
It was frankly irritating.
“Maybe I should help out at the Asahi TV cafe. They’re not gonna staff it up with only announcers, right? If they pay about 1,000 yen9 an hour, I’ll do it. I have free time anyway.”
Kei tried imagining Ushio dressed in a garçon uniform.
“No, not a chance!!”
“You’ll steal my spotlight, dammit!”
“You have that little confidence in yourself?”
“Dumbass,” Kei emphatically put the stress on the word. “There’s no comparison between you, someone decidedly average, and me. Anyway, my expectations are on a different level than yours. When I’m being asked to give 60 points on top of the 70 points that I’m currently giving, compared to the people who are at 30, 40, or even 65 points, they’re gonna be at an overwhelming advantage, of course!”
“I’m not quite convinced that it’s much harder when there’s a 5 point difference, but if you’re really that worried about people seeing me at the cafe, I suppose I’ll let you off this time.”
“I’m not worried—”
“Hey, aren’t you going to practice? Let’s clean this up first.”
They stood drinking each other’s lattes. It was instant coffee, but it didn’t taste too bad after mixing it with the milk that they had spent time foaming. But still, Kei couldn’t drink too much of it.
“I think my limit is maybe 3 or 4 cups a day. Anyway, the training class should be right before the event. If I practice every day, I should be good…”
Ushio laughed a little while listening to Kei work out the details of his plan.
“I was just thinking that it didn’t cross your mind to throw away the practice cups without drinking them.”
“Of course not. Huh, what? Would you throw them out?”
“Well I’m decidedly average, after all.”
“I don’t think you quite get what the term means.”
“I do, I’m just a little relieved to see that you actually have some middle-class common sense.”
“What!? Do you think I don’t have any common sense!?”
“Try to remember the night of our second meeting.”
“I forgot it.”
Kei believed he should ignore anything that wasn’t in his best interest, and so he downed the rest of his latte and began making another cup of coffee. He also microwaved another cup of milk.
When Kei grabbed the frother, for some reason Ushio pressed up from behind him.
“Let me give you some tips.”
“I want to do it myself. …And you’re making it hard to move.”
“Don’t get so tense.”
Why does he have this supernatural ability to guess what I’m thinking while he’s up in my personal space like this?
“I’m not tense.”
Hmmm, I might have overheated this milk a little.
As Kei frothed the hot, steaming milk, Ushio wrapped his arms around him and clasped his hands over Kei’s stomach. His fingers were large and blunt like they were chiseled out of stone, but whenever they moved, they were hatefully skilled in whatever they did, and Kei knew it very well—very, very well.
“By the way…” Kei said.
Ushio only ever used a gentle voice whenever Kei was feeling flustered.
“When did I ever tell you the details about the Christmas event?”
“Your cute, little junior colleague was the one who gave me the details.”
“…What’s that about?”
“There’s no ulterior motive. I’m sure he doesn’t have any either. He’s kinda like more than an acquaintance, but less than a friend?”
Fine, if that’s all it is, I don’t care, however…
“Don’t you dare breathe a word to him.”
“About what? Oh, about your special training? I won’t say a word, but I think he’ll guess it anyway.”
“I don’t care.”
“If it’s Minagawa…” Ushio spoke with his chin placed on Kei’s shoulder, his hair rustling against Kei’s ear. “I don’t think he’ll care if you’re terrible at this. I think it’d actually be better to mess up during the event so you have a funny story you can tell people later.”
“Whatever, I know I’m a pain in the ass.”
“Yeah, but I love you more when you’re a little willful and petty, so it’s okay.”
Ushio didn’t deny that he was a pain in the ass and then described him in even worse terms, but Kei was happy to let it all go because of a single little phrase. Just what kind of scam was he running? As long as it ended well, everything was okay? No, that wasn’t it.
“Hey, you’re over-foaming it.”
With the two of them pressed against each other, it felt like Ushio could feel the racing of Kei’s heart, but when it came to Ushio, just barely a second after saying those words, he seemed like he was back to normal.
“I know, dammit.”
Kei rushed to pull out the milk frother and went to grab the cup of coffee, when all of a sudden Ushio reached out to cover Kei’s hand with his own.
“What are you doing!?”
“I said I’d show you how to do it. Here, the cup should be at this angle. Got it?”
When Ushio squeezed down on his fingers, Kei felt like it was his mouth feeling the pressure, and he couldn’t say a word as he simply nodded his head.
“Then you hold the pitcher like this.”
Ushio similarly directed Kei’s hand holding the pitcher and lifted it. The milk cleanly dropped into the coffee with a precision that Kei didn’t have, and the coffee whirled and turned a light caramel color.
“Then you swiftly bring it down.”
A round disk of foam materialized on the surface of the coffee.
Kei was about to say, I did it, but then Ushio suddenly moved the pitcher around in a zigzag.
The thin white film all at once turned into a soft marble pattern.
“What are you doing!?”
“Recreating the Ghost scene.”
“They were making pottery in that.”
“Yeah… Hey, your hands are a little dry.”
“There are a lot of people at work coming down with a cold or the flu. I’ve been disinfecting my hands every chance I get.”
He did think that they were all idiots falling sick one after the other and who couldn’t take care of themselves, but it was also a seasonal pattern that couldn’t be helped. Particularly with the end of the year, contractors were running between all of the stations working on the different TV specials, and the number of people coming in and out the building was crazier than usual.
“I’ll put hand cream on them for you later.”
“Do it now.”
He couldn’t ask why.
Ushio nudged the hood of Kei’s sweatshirt out of the way and touched the tip of his nose to the nape of Kei’s neck. It always felt cool to the touch, and Ushio reminded him of a dog in that respect. During sex when Kei saw a bead of sweat develop on that preciously chilled nose, there were times that he felt overcome by his emotions, that there was no going back, that this, that everything could never be undone. There were no regrets, no hesitation, just a hazy path that he strolled along, that as he looked back he realized that the high tide had come in and swept away all of his footprints, leaving him no way to return to where he came from.10
But he wasn’t afraid.
“I love your smell, here at your neck,” Ushio whispered. He had put his arms around Kei again, holding him without Kei realizing it. His voice sounded halting and innocent, like how a small child would say they loved dogs or they loved curry.
“So you don’t like anything else, huh?”
“I like this in particular.”
Kei started to get embarrassed, never aware that his neck had emitted a smell before now.
“…I do wash there.”
“That’s not what I meant. Though I like it when you come over without taking a bath first too.”
“Fine, you have no common sense…”
“I think it’s within permissible limits. Anyway, it makes two of us.”
Ushio rolled up the bottom of Kei’s sweatshirt, and his hands were hot against his bare skin. Maybe it was because of the coffee.
“Hey,” Kei admonished.
“I didn’t learn anything!”
The white foam bubbles were still gently swirling on the surface of the coffee. Kei started to get dizzy looking down at it.
“When I have caffeine, my eyes become wide awake,” Ushio whispered, playfully nibbling at the nape of Kei’s neck. “…So you better take responsibility for it.”
The stainless steel countertop was cold when Kei placed his hands down on it. But he knew that he would heat up so much that it would soon fog over.
A few days later, when he went over to Ushio’s house, he was surprised to find a large espresso machine gracing the kitchen. It was probably a smaller model compared to the larger machines that were available, but it looked especially majestic, all shiny and bright in the old, narrow space.
“I bought it,” Ushio answered casually.
“If you’re going to practice, then you should use an actual machine that makes what you need. Here, there’s a steam nozzle that you can use to make your steamed milk whenever you need it.”
“That’s true, but…”
Ushio could see Kei’s reservations for such a large purchase, especially for a few hours a day for a limited number of practice days. He added, “I’m gonna use it too. Don’t worry, it’s not that expensive. Just think of it as an early Christmas present.”
It’s not like I’m unhappy about it, but I haven’t even thought about what to you get you yet, and you just casually gift me a Christmas present out of thin air. An espresso machine’s not bad. I’ll give you marks for both sentimental value and utility, and the price is enough to show off without going overboard; I suppose I’ll give you a passing grade for it.
So now what am I supposed to do?
“Let me make you your first cup.”
Kei watched Ushio’s back as he smoothly operated the brand-new machine, seemingly already familiarized with it, and he wondered what Ushio would want for a Christmas present. The most important items in the house were probably his computer equipment. Kei had no clue about professional specs, and it was probably too expensive anyway. Closely related to it was probably software, but it seemed too dull and impersonal to give as a gift. Kei wanted to surprise Ushio a little—but maybe that was his competitiveness talking.
Ushio didn’t really care about clothes or shoes, and he didn’t wear watches because it would interfere with his work. Then what about some nice items he can have around the house? Towels and linens…were too mundane and practical. Dinnerware or glassware? Maybe a demitasse set…but it’d be too cute for their tastes. Whatever Kei tried to come up with, they all lacked an element of surprise. Knowing Ushio, he would probably be happy with whatever Kei picked out for him, but Kei didn’t want to give him something unless he was satisfied with his choice. That was why he was mulling over it so carefully.
“It’s almost ready.”
There wasn’t a proper dining set or anything at Ushio’s house, just a folding table and two round folding stools placed by the kitchen. And they were all made by different companies; even a set used for camping would be nicer than the ones he used. The indifference towards these particulars just somehow seemed to fit this space. It looked random, but it didn’t seem cheap—or maybe that was his bias showing.
Ugh, I need to settle down.
Sitting on the plywood tabletop were two mugs poured with a design more elaborate than he’d seen in previous days.
Ahhh, I lost to him again. He’s too goddamn cute.
“I used a muddler and a toothpick to fiddle with the foam to make it.”
“…Does it take a long time?”
“You want to learn how to make it?”
He loved it far more than the millions of hearts or the leaves that he’d seen.
“I can teach it to you, but it’ll be an additional fee.”
“How much more are you gonna squeeze from me!?”
They faced each other drinking their cappuccinos, and Ushio took out his cell phone.
“I got a message from Minagawa on LINE… ‘They’re making me host The Funniest News Awards on New Year’s Eve. I’m gonna die.’”
“Tell him he deserves it.”
“Why? Is it something they air every year?”
It was a TV special that collected all the funny news clips and on-air bloopers in the past year from Asahi TV and their nationwide-affiliated stations. It was essentially a recycled clip show that they showed for 3 hours in the afternoon on New Year’s Eve—something that was fun to watch while lazing around under a kotatsu.
“If you tell him he deserves it, won’t he dig up your bloopers and air them?”
“I haven’t made a single mistake this year that would make me a laughingstock.”
The final broadcast of the year for The News was Friday the 26th, which coincided with the start of Kei’s winter break. He wasn’t assigned any overnight duties during the last two weeks of the year, and he was going to enjoy his well-deserved, 9-day break.
“Hmmm, seems like there’s a big disparity between how announcers are treated.”
“Dummy, he’s still green behind the ears, so of course the network’s gonna work him like a dog.”
“He’s not that much younger than you.”
“I also had to do all sorts of things for New Years in the past. There was the time I did a live report from the ground on the radio covering the New Year’s sunrise, but it turned out to be cloudy that day, or the time that I climbed Mt. Fuji with the Self-Defense Forces to welcome the sunrise on live TV.”12
“Oh, Mt. Fuji sounds nice.”
“You gotta be kidding me. It was the middle of winter, and I thought I was gonna die. If I ever run into Mt. Fuji again on the street, I’m gonna smack ‘em one.”
“How are you supposed to run into it on the street?”
“Anyway, I’ve put in my dues, and I can finally laze around all New Year’s break!”
However, if he rose any higher in the ranks, he might be pulled by both sides to do things, so he had to tread carefully.
“On the off chance that something happens, I’m gonna head over to my parents’ house on the 28th so that they can’t call me into the studio—”
And then Kei realized something.
“What are you doing for New Year’s?” he asked.
“Nothing really.” Ushio slowly stirred his cappuccino with his muddler, the traces of the Asazou art long gone from the cup. “Just my normal schedule. I prefer to travel during the off-season. It’s not any different.”
“What about your family?”
“It’s too much of a pain to go there.”
A pain—it was surprising to hear such an apathetic tone of voice from Ushio, but Kei could tell that he didn’t want to talk about it. And so Kei responded with a simple “Hmmm.” Was the traffic bad? Did they not get along? Were the living conditions poor? It was easy to imagine any number of possible reasons. But Kei didn’t know a single thing about Ushio’s family.
I think I remember that he had a grandmother?
Kei loved his parents’ house. Maybe love wasn’t the right word to describe it, but as long as he could ignore his mother’s complaints, all his needs were taken care of for him, and it was all free. Most importantly, he could be himself there. It was everything he needed for a short breather away from his everyday life.
But it looked like it wasn’t the case for Ushio. It wasn’t rare for people to have difficult relationships with their families. Besides, Ushio was a full-grown adult. However, that night, glimmers of roughness lingered through Kei’s heart like coffee grounds that couldn’t be filtered.
The swing into December brought the annual flurry of holiday and end-of-year preparations. There were the year-end tax adjustment filings (this didn’t take too long), New Year’s greeting cards to write (this horrible custom could burn in hell), and all the special year-end plans for The News, whether it be meetings, on-location assignments, or narration recording sessions. There were also training sessions slotted into his schedule, but he had literally put his body on the line in one-on-one preparation sessions in his private time, and thankfully he was able to clear the training easily.
“I’d like to go to the cafe to see how well my apprentice does after giving him my guidance.”
“No way, no how, never.”
His shifts were scattered all over the timetable, but Tatsuki would probably tell Ushio whatever he wanted to know. In the meantime, Kei was wracking his brain for ideas that would persuade him not to come. That was when he received a text message from Ushio on the 18th, the day before the cafe’s grand opening.
“Got a fever. It’s the flu. You’re banned from coming over for a while.”
Kei almost exclaimed, What the hell, forgetting that he was at work.
I’m a little disappointed, but at the same time, I’m kind of a terrible person for feeling relieved. Even if his temperature goes back to normal, there are still a couple of days it can be contagious. It’s probably a good idea to stay away until the final broadcast of the year wraps up. No matter what, as a TV presenter, I can’t afford to get the flu at this time of year. I’m so busy anyway, maybe it’s good timing?
“I hear Tsuzuki-san has the flu,” Tatsuki said, coming up to Kei in between customers at the cafe.
Kei smiled and replied, “You’re well-informed.”
Translation: Why the hell do you know that?
“I messaged him on LINE inviting him out for end-of-the-year drinks if he didn’t have any plans, and he said he was sick in bed. That’s kinda worrisome. I wonder where he caught it from.”
“Hmmm, but I think he will be alright.”
Translation: Shut up, it’s none of your damn business.
“Okay then, I’m gonna reply back and say we should try again after the new year!”
“How very diligent of you.”
Translation: Ugh, can’t you take a hint? You’re annoying.
“By the way, Kunieda-san, aren’t your bangs in the way? I can lend you one of these that I’m using. A girl from the reception area was the one who lent them to me first though.” Tatsuki pointed to the three hair clips holding back his bangs.
How clever. How very clever. I bet he’s thinking how cute he looks for everyone.
“No, thank you. It wouldn’t look as good on me as it does on you.”
Translation: I don’t wanna be grouped together with your stupid-looking face.
“I bet you’ll look fine. Here, come on.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I have to go get an order.”
Kei evaded Tatsuki’s hand and turn up his charm, more worthy than 80+ points.
Late at night after his on-air broadcast, Kei knew full well that it wasn’t the best time to be calling a sick person, but he really needed to find out how Ushio was doing.
“…Were you sleeping?”
“Yeah, but I feel like I’ve been in bed all day that I can’t tell if I’ve been asleep or awake.”
Ushio’s voice sounded driftless, like it was lost in the middle of the ocean. He was probably still lightheaded from the fever.
“How was the first day of the cafe?”
“I’m so exhausted I don’t want to smile for another second this year.”
“But you only just started. …Ahhhh, I wish I could have gone to see you. Is this a curse you put on me?”
“I didn’t curse you!”
Kei couldn’t help his sudden outburst.
Ushio responded with a “What?” and a soft laugh that sounded weaker than usual. “It’s a joke; nothing you have get worked up about. You’re tired, right? Hurry up and go to bed.”
“Ok, I’ll go, but… I was wondering if you had enough water and food at your place.”
Kei knew that Ushio had a tendency to hole up at his house, never stocking up on supplies and only buying things as he needed.
“Yeah… But I can stop by the convenience store if I need to.”
“You’re sick, don’t go outside if you don’t need to. I can do whatever shopping you need.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’d feel terrible if you were to catch the flu from me. I don’t want to cause any trouble for Shitara-san.”
“I can leave the things by the front door and be out in 5 seconds.”
“It’s fine, you don’t have to.” Ushio’s voice hardened. “I’m not a little kid, and I’m not gonna topple over just going out to get stuff.”
“And I’m not gonna catch your flu just by delivering some groceries for you! Why are you being so stubborn?” Kei accused, despite his own perpetual stubbornness.
“‘Cause I hate it,” Ushio replied, not mincing any words. “I don’t like it when people are around when I’m sick. It bothers me and I can’t think straight— Anyway, don’t worry about me. Good luck with your work.”
Kei would have argued further if Ushio was merely being stubborn or putting on a front, but the reason he gave was blunt and direct, that this was who he was, and there was nothing Kei could say about it, especially when Ushio accepted Kei for his own peculiarities.
Kei ended the call and muttered, “What are you, a wild animal?” Scurrying away to hole up in his den and lick his wounds by himself.
So you don’t like having people around. I get it. But I’m not just any person to you, right? Just like how you are to me—
But Kei was too much of a coward to ask Ushio this question. With the temperatures of his body and his head approaching boiling, Kei feared he’d only get a scathing response.
Ushio was gentle and kind. But there was a secretive and complicated side to him that was difficult to deal with. Every time he confronted it, he could only get through to the surface, and he could only face the acute realization at how sorely lacking his people skills actually were. But of course, he knew that he was special in that he even knew about this side that Ushio had.
Tatsuki had wondered where he had caught the flu from. Ushio had asked if it was a curse. It wasn’t something Kei was seriously worried about, and there was no point in worrying about it anyway. However, there was the possibility that maybe Kei had brought the virus into Ushio’s house.
That was another reason why he had wanted to see him, even if it was only for 5 seconds or 3 seconds or whatever.
“Come down to Asahi TV this Christmas!”
The TV was playing in the background with its volume lowered, showing the commercial that he was fed up with seeing all the time.
“Ugh, shut up,” Kei muttered as he stabbed the remote control button to turn the TV off.
Christmas? What’s so great about Christmas?
If he ran across an old man with reindeer on the street, he was gonna punch him.
It was the 24th, and the Christmas Eve broadcast had just wrapped up. The ADs were hastily passing out paper cups and paper plates to everyone. A large cake had been brought into the studio along with a whole roasted chicken and sandwiches from catering, laid out on a table. Tatsuki looked happily at the spread, saying, “Ooh, what’s this?”
“Is everyone here? Did we get everyone from the control room?”
Shitara stepped out into the middle of the studio and bowed to the room. “Thank you everyone for your hard work this year. I thought we’d have a little Christmas party and an early final meeting of the year. Oh, if you have plans, you’re free to leave. After our final broadcast on the 26th, we can all go home; there’ll be no review meeting afterwards. Nothing to review, nope!”
A large applause broke out in the studio.
“Alright then, Merry Christmas everybody!”
There were the sounds of several champagne bottles popping open.
“Kunieda-san, want me to pour you some champagne?”
“Oh, no, thank you. I’m not feeling very well right now.” There was nothing fun about drinking alcohol at work, so he declined the AD’s offer and accepted some oolong tea instead. Kei wanted to go home, but with the festive mood, it was too difficult to excuse himself when everyone was enjoying the party. He nodded along to Tatsuki’s rambling, wondering when he could finally leave. It was after 11:30 when suddenly someone ran into the studio.
“Shitara-san, excuse me. Would it be possible to borrow one of your announcers?”
“Oh, did something happen?”
“We don’t have anyone for the late night news. We found our announcer passed out in the bathroom. I think he either has a cold or the flu.”
“There’s no one on overnight duty?”
“It looks like a lot of announcers have been out sick, and we only have the one person. He’s already been called to help out on the radio.”
“How about I go on?” Asou offered.
But Shitara smiled wryly and said, “I’m not so sure about that.”
He had far too much presence and name recognition to be reading news stories for a 5-minute short news segment.
“If it gets back to the big boss, I’ll probably be yelled at later. I suppose that leaves Kunieda or Minagawa…”
“…Hic!” Tatsuki hiccuped, having already emptied about half of a champagne bottle.
“Ahh, he can’t go on the air like this. Sorry, Kunieda, can you help out?”
“Yes, it’ll be no problem.”
While Kei had accepted the assignment graciously, he was of course very unhappy about it inside. How could every one of them fall down like dominos, didn’t they have any concept of what it was to be a professional? Ahhh, he knew he should have run away at the very beginning. Not that he had any plans. He didn’t know how far Ushio’s dislike for people around him extended, and so he hadn’t been able to bring himself to text him either.
He had to be on the air at 11:55, and they were cutting it close. Kei headed to the other studio and sat down to study the copy of the news script. It was five stories of straight news and then the weather. It would be a piece of cake, but he was annoyed that he had to clean up another person’s mess. However, he kept his irritation to himself as he marked in red pen the tricky pronunciation and pauses between words that he wanted to make note of.
“Kunieda, sorry for the sudden notice.”
A guy from the news desk clapped his hands in apology and came up to Kei.
“It’s no problem.”
“But it’s kinda nice to have Kunieda Kei read the news for this little segment, kinda like a special Christmas edition.”
And I want to string you up. From the Christmas tree outside.
“Please stand by!”
Kei put on a pin mic and sat at the table that was set up for a single shot on the set. When the 10-second countdown started, he blinked his eyes shut for a few seconds and put on his TV face for the camera. After a 5-second title transition, the camera opened on Kei. He lightly nodded his head and introduced the segment.
“We have a number of news stories at this time to report.”
The arrest of a murder suspect, a traffic accident, a fire, a jewelry store heist, then finally a special story from the network.
“Today is Christmas Eve, and crowds filled with families and couples gathered all day to watch the special 3D projection show and Christmas light display at the Christmas Garden held outside at the Asahi TV building.”
After reading the lead-in, the screen went to a clip. On the script, it said, “3D projection show, 40 seconds.”
The side of the familiar Asahi TV building appeared on screen. And on it was a familiar pair of characters—the aliens that Ushio had created. They were in their UFO, using a binocular telescope to search for something in deep space. It looked like they had found something and flew off into the distance. They ran into a giant anglerfish swimming through space, panicking a little as they ran away in their UFO. They landed on a planet covered with sunflowers, a planet made out of entirely gold, but the two aliens looked at each other and shook their heads.
Eventually they found what they were looking for. A tiny yellow planet shining in a corner of the darkness.
As the projection of the planet crowned the top of the live Christmas tree, the tree lit up brightly with lights. The crowd cheered and clapped at the perfectly linked composition between the computer-generated graphics and the real material world.
Kei had been too busy to see this 3D projection show.
“It was really pretty!”
“I was really amazed. It was wonderful.”
Kei wondered if these voices had reached Ushio. Did he still find them annoying when he wanted to be alone?
Kei wanted to see Ushio so badly that it overwhelmed him. He didn’t care if he annoyed him, he still wanted to see him.
Even if you don’t want to see me, I want to see you.
Kei received his cue and started to read the script again.
“As the sun set for the day, magicians and jugglers dressed as Satan came out to perform for—”
What did I just say?
“—I am very sorry. Magicians and jugglers dressed as Santa came out to perform for the crowd, capturing people’s attention and delight despite the cold. The festivities continue until the day after tomorrow, the evening of the 26th. That concludes the news. Next up is the weather.”
Kei had immediately corrected his mistake, and he compensated for the added time of the correction by increasing his reading speed. There were no issues with time. Following the weather CG that appeared on screen, Kei calmly read the general outlook, tomorrow’s forecast, and the weather for the week. Then the credits rolled.
After the broadcast ended, Kei stood up and said, “I am very sorry for the reading mistake that I made,” bowing his head down to the staff.
“Oh, it’s okay… We were the ones who sprang this on you the last minute. I’m sure you’re very tired. We’re only human, the best of us will sometimes make a mistake…”
For some reason the guy from the news desk was acting strangely, but Kei apologized again, saying, “I promise to be more careful from now on,” and left the studio. The party seemed to still be going; there was no one in the green room, and so Kei hurried to change, grabbed his bag from his desk, and hailed a taxi.
If Kei were to describe his current mental state, he’d probably say it was like all the animals at the zoo howling at once. Roaring, and trumpeting, and chattering, and grunting, and meowing…13
Wait, there are no cats at the zoo.
Kei desperately pushed the impulse to bang his head against the taxi window under his serious-looking expression.
I misspoke. Me of all people. And it had to be during a short news segment where I had time to review the script. Seriously, Satan? Messing up Santa for Satan? Your names are too damn close together, one of you needs to change it.
Ugh, this is all your fault.
I don’t care if you’re recovered or not. If I see even a hint of sourness on your face, I’m gonna fucking knock you down, and let’s see what you can do about it.
Kei made up his mind, and the taxi pulled up in front of Ushio’s house. He unlocked the front door, ran up to the second floor, and turned on every single damn light in the room without saying a word.
“…It’s really bright. Don’t turn on all the lights.”
The owner stirred from under the covers, and from the sound of his voice, he seemed like he was back to normal, to Kei’s immediate relief.
“Shut up.” Kei dropped his bag and his coat on the floor. “…How are you feeling?” he asked, plunking himself down roughly to sit on the bed.
“Much better,” Ushio replied, like nothing had happened.
You stupid idiot, do you have any idea how I’ve been feeling all this time?
“The Tamiflu helped a lot. …Are you angry?”
“I see. I’m sorry, Satan.”
Kei wondered if he should just dive onto the floor. He turned around and saw Ushio’s entire body still covered in his blankets shaking uncontrollably.
“You turned Santa into Satan…”
“Why the hell were you watching it!?”
“What’s wrong with a viewer watching TV?”
Ushio finally pushed aside the covers and burst out into laughter. “Oh my god, I already laughed so hard I thought I was gonna die, but seeing your face makes me want to laugh all over again.”
“How about I grant you your wish and finish you off?”
“Do you know that you’re trending #1 on social media? Satan! It’s Christmas but Satan is trending! I’m seriously impressed. A popular announcer can sure get people talking.”
Hey Satan, you can go ahead and invade the world right about now.
“How long are you gonna laugh?”
Ushio grabbed the hand that Kei had thrown up and pulled Kei over to him.
“Ahhh, I can finally see your face.”
“You’re the one who said you didn’t want to see me!”
“It was the Satan inside of me that said it.”
“You say that word one more time and I’ll murder you.”
Resting on the bed, he could feel the warmth of the mattress underneath him due to Ushio’s nesting. Kei felt like it was ages since he had a warm bed waiting for him this winter, but on deeper thought, it was normal that he had always warmed up his own bed. Kei had already forgotten what his life was like a year before this.
“…What are you doing?” Kei asked flatly.
Ushio had leaned in to undo Kei’s necktie, bringing his face so close that Kei thought he was going to kiss him, but he just gently pressed his forehead up against the tip of Kei’s nose.
“You don’t feel cold at all.”
“I rode a taxi here.”
“Oh, but I like it when your nose is a little cold.”
“That doesn’t make me happy.”
Whether it was the smell of his neck or the chilled feeling of his nose, Kei was a little mortified to find that they shared a few things in common.
Dammit, praise me in a way that satisfies my ego, will you? This doesn’t make me happy, not one bit.
It didn’t make him happy, but it did make his heart race.
Ushio loosened Kei’s necktie, and it brushed against the back of his neck before getting tossed to the floor. Kei closed his eyes, thinking this time would be it, but he didn’t feel a pair of lips—it wasn’t even human—just a cool, hard surface featherlight on his forehead.
“Huh?” Kei opened his eyes. There was a smartphone LCD screen shining in front of his face.
Ushio took the phone back and laughed. “When I was looking through all the hilarious Satan tweets in real time, I came upon a little something.”
Ushio pushed the phone back in front of Kei’s face, showing him a picture that someone had tweeted.
Tatsuki’s hands were stretched out towards Kei’s hair in the picture. It was probably taken about a week ago when Tatsuki had tried to put clips in his hair. Kei’s infallible business smile and the angle of the photo made it look like Tatsuki was patting his head, creating a cute and playful scene between close colleagues at the cafe. The accompanying text even read, “Oh my god, look how close they look,” further taking the picture out of context.
I don’t know who the hell took this picture without my consent, but I’ll forgive it just this once. Since it’s for work, and since it’s at an event where this kind of fan service is understood to be expected. But why the hell would they put it up on the net? Isn’t it about time for the anti-IT revolution?
“What are Announcer Kunieda’s thoughts on the photo?”
“Even on an amateur’s camera phone, my aura is seriously impressive…”
“Oh? Is that all?”
A tiny wrinkle twitched at the base of his nose, but Kei told himself, It’s fine. It’s fine. He could tell that Ushio wasn’t seriously angry. He only wanted to tease him a little. And at the very least Kei had learned how to read when it was okay to do so…probably.
“What do you mean, is that all? Nothing happened, and I got out of the way before he even reached me. You’re a grown man, what are you grumbling about?”
“Oh, I see.”
Kei watched Ushio nod, pretending to be unaffected, and he thought to himself, My win… Who’d be able to keep a straight face, knowing that someone was jealous over a little teasing?
“Oi, quit giving me that shit-eating grin,” Ushio said.
“Do you regret it?”
“It’s best when people are honest.”
“I don’t wanna hear that from you of all people…”
Kei wanted to tease Ushio some more, but all of his words and his breath were sucked out from between his lips. Ushio shut him up, taking everything he wanted, and just when Kei started to feel the lack of oxygen, the collar of his dress shirt constricting his neck miraculously opened up with a sense of timing that irked him. He didn’t even feel any constriction when the fingers undid the buttons. There was a casual deftness to his movements like peeling off a removable label, a learned mastery that couldn’t be explained by simple dexterity alone—and upon realizing this, Kei suddenly felt a constriction of different sort.
Anyway, the fact that he was able to voice it freely meant that he was in no way jealous.
“…Oi, that hurts.”
Kei had bitten Ushio’s lower lip a little too hard in a fit of anger.
“Are you hungry?”
“Oh, so you’re turned on.”
“Even more wrong.”
Ushio traced over Kei’s collarbones like he could build up pleasure there. In a one in a millionth chance, in a one in a billionth chance that someone other than Ushio touched him like this, an Ah? (with a rising question tone in disbelief) would probably be the only sound that could come out of his mouth.
Underneath the two symmetric curves jutting up under his skin, there was another mirrored symmetry, small and still soft, rising in a light flush. But from the moment that they were captured, little by little his desire gathered to form a deep and sturdy core.
Kei had heard that the Adam’s apple moved slightly differently depending on how much the person liked what was being swallowed. Then with all the deep breaths that he was swallowing right now, were his muscles reacting differently than they normally did?
Ushio’s tongue was hot, licking the little budding nipple to hardness. The sharp suction refused to let go, dragging his pleasure out from the pit of his belly. It kept going and going, trailing out of him like there was no end in sight, stringing up his entire body like spider silk.
“Nhh… Hey, wait…”
When Kei felt a pair of hands reach for his belt, Kei mobilized his remaining bit of reason to stop Ushio from going further.
“Don’t just say ‘yeah,’ go turn them off.”
“You’re the one who turned them on.”
“I didn’t turn them on for this!”
“You’re just saying that.”
“Anyway, go turn them off!”
“I only just recovered from the flu, I still can’t get up. I feel a little overexerted.”
“Don’t tell me such a bald-faced lie.”
“Are you really one to be saying that?”
“Shut up. …Fine, I’ll go turn them off myself.”
Ushio gave an innocent-sounding Okay, but he wouldn’t budge from his position on top of Kei. Instead, he let his hand crawl down between Kei’s legs over his pants.
He lost all strength in his arms attempting to push Ushio’s shoulders away.
“Aren’t you going to turn the lights off?”
“Stupid, stop that.”
The change in his shape was made more obvious with the hand pressing down on him. Kei panicked inside, I can’t let him keep going. He didn’t want to do it in such a glaringly bright setting, but there was a more pressing problem at hand.
“Stop it, I’m being serious…”
“This isn’t the reaction of someone wanting me to stop.”
“Come on! Stop! Okay, fine, I’ll take my clothes off myself.”
“Oh, but it’s no trouble.”
“But it is for me! Hey, come on!”
Kei desperately tried to defend his belt, but Ushio slapped away his hands like he was swatting flies (where was the gentleness, huh?). Once the hatefully clever hands opened up the front of his pants, there was nowhere he could hide under the 100% brightness of the room.
Ushio stared questioningly at Kei’s lower belly, but then he immediately understood, nodding his head with an “Ohh.”
“So you’re wearing two different pairs underneath. No wonder why I thought it felt a little different.”
How could it feel any different? They were really thin, and there was no way anyone could tell from the outside.
“…That’s why I told you to turn off the lights, stupid!”
“Huh? Why? It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing wool underwear.”
“Don’t say it out loud, dammit!”
“No, seriously. What’s there to be embarrassed about?”
“Shut up! Go tattoo the word delicacy on your damn forehead, stupid! Insensitive idiot! Die, bastard!”
He could suddenly have an assignment outside, he couldn’t get sick, and he hated the damn cold. He wasn’t wasn’t wasn’t wearing it because he liked it, okay? Dammit, he really didn’t want anyone finding out about this.
“I’m only wearing it to take care of my health!”
“Ah, yes, you’re such a hard little worker. But idiots don’t catch colds, you know.”
“Says the bedridden idiot who caught one!”
“But I caught the flu, not a cold.”
That just means you’re a bigger idiot.
“Haven’t you done even more embarrassing things in your life, especially with your job?”
“Not in my life!!!”
Ushio seemed to relent a little after seeing how red Kei had turned. He said, “Alright, fine,” sighing as he got up to turn off the lights, leaving just the lamp by the bed switched on. In the meantime, Kei peeled off his underwear in a rush, undressing himself before hiding under the covers.
“That was fast.” Ushio smiled wryly as he climbed onto the mattress, leaning over Kei who had turned the other way, placing a kiss on his temple. “Hmm, you always come over after changing and taking a bath. Does that mean you’ve been consciously taking them off before you come over?”
“You’re nearby, why would I take the time to put them on again?”
“Oh, no, but you could get cold after taking a bath.”
“If you keep saying silly stuff to make fun of me, I’m going home.”
“I’m not making fun of you, silly.”
“You’re making fun of me now!”
“I’m not.” Ushio blew into Kei’s ear, tickling him. “It makes me happy,” he whispered. “That you care about what I think, that you think about this too, keeping me in your mind.”
Kei was stunned. What the hell is this idiot talking about? Of course, I care. Of course, I have you on my mind. Can’t you tell that I almost always do?
“But it also makes me happy when you show me everything you’re thinking.”
“Yeah, I can be pretty difficult. I only realized it after we’ve been together.”
The corner of the covers that were wrapped around Kei’s body was slowly being pulled from under him. He was appalled that he hadn’t noticed it until now.
“Let me in— Let me do dirty things to you, Kei.”
Ahhh, just once I want to tell him, “Get lost, idiot,” so I can laugh at him looking all desperate and needy. And then I’d tease him bit by excruciating bit—
But the one always being betrayed by his own desire was Kei.
He wanted dirty things done to him.
His tongue savored Ushio’s tongue, its touch hotter and heavier than before they had paused. It was like a vein of arousal there, and Kei greedily swallowed the saliva that steadily overflowed, a hunger taking over him.
Ushio started playing with his nipples again, already peaked from the earlier stimulation, using the crook of his finger like one would stroke a cat’s chin, rubbing against his thumbs until they throbbed, overripe and blushing, inviting more of the caresses.
“What a lewd color.”
Kei felt the smooth enamel of front teeth press against him, biting at the little, naked piece of flesh, but it was done carefully so not to cause pain. The breath against his skin was enough to make him tremble, lips and fingers fumbling and twisting, as a free hand went to stroke the desire straining at his lower body.
Pleasure surged up from between his legs to the back of his head, gradually flooding his senses. The sounds of Kei’s moans were mottled with patches of want and impatience. He needed more, so much more. Ushio answered the unspoken request by taking Kei’s cock into his mouth.
“Ah, ahhh, nnnhhh—”
Ushio didn’t hold back as he licked and mouthed him all over, the angle straining under the attack. Kei could feel the tongue pressed flat against him wet and rough, and completely raw, as if Ushio could measure the strength and speed of the pulses beating there. The pads of his fingers applied an incessant friction to the underside of his cock down near the root, and Kei lost all track of what was happening: was he marching towards his release, wanting to come, or was he being chased into a corner, not wanting to come yet?
Ushio then enveloped his length with his lips, bobbing up and down in a completely indecent manner, and Kei realized that the tip of his cock started to leak uncontrollably.
Droplets swelled up from the little slit to be immediately scooped away, dripping all over himself as his body delighted under the tip of the tongue urging him for more. Short trembling convulsions coursed through him almost like an orgasm, and Kei writhed at the sensation that felt like a shallower and more drawn out release.
“Ahhh, ah, aaaahhh…”
“You’re leaking a lot.”
This time Ushio used his fingers to form a circle, stroking the red and obscenely wet head of his cock, and Kei’s hips quaked and tossed, desperate for more.
“Lube… but you don’t seem to need any.”
A finger seeking access inside him pushed thick, leaking fluid against his closed, little entrance. Ushio folded Kei’s knees to position them up by his chest, putting his cock and more so his secret area on full display.
Ushio watched Kei, exposed under his gaze, swallowing the finger with a faint wisp of a flutter, and Kei grew embarrassed at the complete lack of pain that he had felt.
“You’re opening nicely.”
The long, thick finger that had slowly pushed into him up to the hilt, took its time and just as slowly pulled back out. It took only a few back-and-forth movements, and his body forgot its natural reflexes to reject but to accept.
“Here, a second finger.”
The fingers gently stroked him inside, searing him with arousal, and his cock swelled. But he still needed a little more for his release.
“You want another finger? But you’re still not stretched out enough.”
“No, I want more…”
“R-rub me more… make it dirtier…”
But Kei didn’t have the wherewithal to express what he wanted, and so he turned his head, rubbing his burning cheeks against the pillow, whining and begging.
The fingers were no longer probing; they thrust into him hard and deep, filling him to the brim, determined to bring everything to the light.
“Ahhh…nhh, ah, nhhh.”
Over and over again, from inside of him, Kei learned the whereabouts of his desire, and he mindlessly clutched the back of his knees as he drowned in the throes of pleasure.
“Ahh, I can’t, I can’t…if you keep doing that… I’m gonna come—”
“Don’t you want to come?”
“I do… I want to come, it’s so good, so good, Ushio…nhh.”
“Can I watch you come?”
You won’t listen even if I said no.
But Kei couldn’t call Ushio out on his terrible and evil teasing, he could only shake his head as he lay wanton and exposed on the bed.
“…I really shouldn’t have turned off the lights.”
“No, I don’t like it…”
“I know, next time, okay?”
“I said no— Ah, aaaaah…!”
Ushio twisted his hand as he ground his fingers into Kei’s sensitive spot, and his climax claimed him as he spurted over his chest and stomach, the traces of pleasure lingering in the aftermath.
Kei hadn’t finished coming yet, but then a tongue sneaked its way next to the fingers that he was swallowing.
It easily slipped past his stretched-out rim, soft and supple flesh against soft and supple flesh, melting as one, his hole twitching and gasping at the touch. To give it better access, the fingers spread the rim out even further.
“You’re completely red here. I can tell even in the dimness.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. You’re embarrassed, right? At times, I feel bad about it afterwards too.”
“Idiot… There’s no point…nhh…”
“You’re right… No feeling bad then.”
“That’s not what I meant, ah, aahh, aaahhh…!”
Ushio released Kei to take hold of his legs, and at nearly the same moment, Kei felt a familiar heat (but one he probably would never fully get used to) rubbing against his emptied hole. There was plenty of wetness from the preparation, and Ushio plunged into him mercilessly, the sweet pressure forcing Kei’s body to open for him—and it was like he wanted nothing more but to have this man inside of him.
“Ahh, ahh, noo… Nnnhh…nhh!”
Ushio filled him to the brim. Through his bowels, through his lungs, even through the ends of his hair and the tips of his fingers. He couldn’t keep it from overflowing out of him; his cock swelled once more and Kei found his release.
“Did you learn how to come from this?”
I don’t know, it scares me too much.
But he couldn’t make any excuses as his inner walls clenched down on the thickness filling him, needy and desperate, sucking it in deeper, as the heat and the hardness drove him wild with pleasure. Ushio repeatedly drilled himself deep inside of Kei, as if he needed to obliterate the irritation he felt if any amount of distance separated their bodies, and with each thrust of his hips, Kei’s arousal burst inside of him, spreading throughout his body with the beating of his heart.
His breathing, his voice, his curled-up toes—there was no part of him that he could control anymore, and yet the hole where they were connected faithfully matched Ushio’s every movement, releasing and clenching, taking everything greedily. He wondered if he could call this need an instinct, this insatiable lust that he had never felt before.
He wanted to be connected to Ushio. Even if it was no more than a momentary illusion, he wanted them to melt into each other, mingling and fusing until they became one. He loved him so damn much.
“Nnnh, aaahh… Ushio—”
Ushio sucked hard on Kei’s come-covered nipples, still hard and erect, and all at once Kei could distinctly discern the full shape of the cock rubbing inside of him. Ushio gasped, and his ragged breath tickled Kei’s skin.
“Don’t squeeze me so tightly.”
“Noo… I’m not doing anything…”
“You’re one to talk. You’ve been down right greedy for it— Hold back for me a little.”
Are you in any position to say that?
“That’s my line… ah, nhh…”
His limbs already felt like rubber, limp from his previous releases, but he couldn’t stop himself from urging on the thrusts, clutching down eagerly.
“Ahh, no, ahhh…”
Ushio gasped loudly. Kei could sense that the end was near, momentary, and yet an eternity, and he shuddered with chills of anticipation shivering up through his spine.
“Ahh, ah— Aaaaahh…”
It was like Ushio’s heart had become liquid, flowing inside of him and pouring into his innermost depths under the rhythm of his pulse. It sent Kei over the edge, like they were connected by the same pipeline, spilling everything that Ushio was spilling.
Ushio lay on Kei’s chest as Kei took his weight, the two of them panting through the remnants of their arousal, breaths resonating together. Ushio lifted his head to look at him, and normally Kei would be too embarrassed to look him in the eye at such a close distance, but this time he didn’t look away. He still felt shy about it all, even more so than usual, but Ushio’s eyes looked beautiful to him at this moment.
He was mortified at how shameless he got just now during sex.
“You’re terrible, you know.” Ushio crinkled his eyes and smiled.
“You were so needy and horny a few moments ago, but now you’re giving me this face like nothing had happened.”
“…I dunno what you’re talking about.”
That’s you, stupid.
“Anyway, I’m a little scared to pull out.”
“I wonder if I haven’t melted into a puddle.”
“You’re an idiot…”
They twined their fingers together and lightly touched their foreheads to one another. Ushio was still buried inside of Kei and was gradually heating up again. Kei broke out into goosebumps, intoxicated once again by things to come.
“…Tell me what is melted into a puddle?”
“Well, we can’t really tell yet…” Ushio lightly moved his hips like he was testing to see if it was really useless. There was the obscene sound of semen squeezing between flesh.
“Ahhh— By the way, you better not tell me that you’re gonna repeat this all night.”
“Well, I can’t say anything until we do it.”
“No way, I still have two more days of work… nhh.”
“No worries, Kunieda-san is a hard little worker. Both your upper body and your lower body.”
The damn devil is you.
And just when he was about to say I love you.
Kei woke up to the smell of something sweet coming from the kitchen. He could also hear the sounds of sizzling from a frying pan. He sat up in bed, and the faint rustling of the covers shouldn’t have been loud enough to hear, but Ushio turned around from his portable gas burner and announced, “Fooding time.”
Was it just his imagination that it sounded like Feeding time? But next to the pillow was a set of Kei’s sweatshirt and sweatpants—ones that he always kept at the house—and so Kei got dressed, washed his face, and padded over to the table. Just when the smell of coffee wafted over to his nose, a white, round plate was placed in front of him. There was a pile of lightly griddled pancakes topped with a generous dollop of whipped cream. Frozen blueberries decorated the edge of the plate, drizzled with thin lines of honey and a spoonful of strawberry jam.
“It’s a Christmas cake made from what I could get my hands on at the convenience store,” Ushio said, carrying two cups over to the table. There was a Christmas tree drawn on the tops of each latte. There was not a single oversight, what was Kei supposed to say or do? It took him a while to react, but rather than wanting to hug him, he wanted to strangle him instead. Not that he would. In order to diffuse all of his impulses, Kei cut through a stack of three pancakes, covered the forkful in whipped cream, and held his mouth wide open to take a bite.
“If that face of yours ever aired on TV, you’d be apologizing for weeks.”
This is what you say after complimenting me for ridiculous things all the time? You’re supposed to tell me I look beautiful no matter what.
Kei viciously stirred his latte with his fork. “The whipped cream’s pretty flat.”
“I don’t have a mixer. This is the best I could do with the milk frother.”
It wasn’t the most delicious thing he had eaten; it tasted just like the pancakes made from pancake mix. But this was the flavor that spoke to him. It was also a flavor that reminded him of his childhood, even though he had no recollection of pancakes being made that frequently for him when he was little.
He had never been particularly excited for Christmas. No one had ever told him who Santa Claus really was, but he had figured it out from the beginning. The cake did make him happy though. He never had anything that he particularly wanted. When he became an adult and pretended to date women, it became a form of self-torture. He didn’t mind giving the gifts—it was like completing an assignment where he had to find the best answer that would satisfy both his budget and his research. But he hated receiving the gifts. It honestly made his skin crawl to have other people give him things such as clothing, shoes, or watches, expecting him to put them on his person. Kei knew himself best, and he would decide what suited him best, what was easiest to use, and what he liked most. He would put on a face of excitement and anticipation as he reluctantly peeled away the wrapping paper, revealing a face of delight. Then he would divert their attention as he covered the gift with a few throw blankets. Using the presents felt like being cursed, and it completely stifled him.
That was why Ushio had made the right choice when he picked out the espresso machine as Kei’s Christmas present. There was enough distance from Kei’s person, and it wasn’t kept at Kei’s apartment.
But even if Ushio had picked out clothing, shoes, or a watch for him, Kei thought that it would never be a nuisance to him. No, maybe it was better to say that he could never think it’d be a nuisance.
“When I was in second grade,” Kei said, as he dug into his pancakes, “I asked to take a penmanship course for my Christmas present.”
“I took a correspondence course in penmanship.”
“Why? Was your handwriting that bad?”
“Of course not. I would never let it look bad. But it never looked like what I imagined it could be. I would start calligraphy in third grade, and so I thought that I might as well learn the fundamentals. But I didn’t want to attend an actual class to learn it.”
Thanks to the courses, his handwriting was beautiful enough to use for a font even. But when he was at home making notes for himself, his handwriting resembled a mess of scribbles as indecipherable as cursive-style brush calligraphy.
Ushio stared at Kei while holding a fork in one hand. “You’re really…”
“Really self-conscious about everything, right?”
“You’re well beyond normal logic at this point. I’ve thought this before, but I’d really like to see what your parents are like.”
“…You said it. You can’t take it back now.”
“You said it. I heard you say it.”
Kei stood up to look through his bag leaning next to the bed. He pulled out a small ticket envelope that he then placed on the table and pushed towards Ushio. The Shinkansen14 was printed on it; he had got it directly from the green ticket window. It should be obvious what was inside.
“Huh?” Ushio repeated.
“If you want to see them so badly, I’ll let you meet my parents. You did wonder how the hell I was raised after all, that second time we met.”
“You remember it just fine.” Ushio removed the pair of round-trip tickets from the flimsy paper envelope and examined the travel dates. “Um, but this is right over New Year’s?”
“It’s not like you’re doing anything anyway. And you get free room and board. Are you happy? Are you grateful? Are you gonna cry?”
Bombarding Ushio with questions was a sign that Kei was actually really nervous about how he’d react, and Ushio would never tease or ridicule him at times like these.
“Yeah, I’ll go. Thank you.”
The moment Kei saw Ushio crack a smile, he felt the itch to run around and shout with joy. And Ushio, he seemed to be unable to suppress the grin breaking out onto his face, and he clapped his mouth with both of his hands.
“Oh, god,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to this. I really want to meet your parents.”
Kei’s Christmas mission ended in a huge success. He completely took Ushio by surprise, and it was perfect.
I’m a genius. J’aime myself très beaucoup, dammit.15
They were like over-excited children the day before they went to see the pandas at the zoo.
“Just to let you know, my parents are a normal, regular married couple.”
“I don’t know about that… What should we bring them as a gift?”
“You gotta be kidding me.”
“But they like it.”
“You’re the one who likes it.”
After Christmas Eve, the festivities would surely continue.
“By the way, you don’t talk about yourself much.”
“You think so?”
—Kei, dear, do you have anything you want?
He was asked that often when he was little. But the answer was the same then as it was now. Not really.
However, it was a little different now.
He had everything he wanted. He didn’t need anything else.
- If you’re wondering why the number 9 is so prominently featured, it’s because one of the radicals for Asahi (旭) is the character for 9 (九).
- Christmas isn’t a big family holiday in Japan, it’s mainly a time for couples and friends to get together. The big family holiday would be New Year’s.
- Puffy eye makeup is essentially the Korean aegyo-sal trend, accentuating the little rim of fat around the eyes to give a cuter, more youthful look.
- Bundesliga – The top professional soccer/football league in Germany.
- A collection of national holidays spanning a 7-day period starting from the end of April to the beginning of May. Most people get this week off in Japan.
- 10 million yen – Approx. $100,000 USD.
- 100 yen shops are similar to dollar stores but are wayyyy better.
- Phoenix Hall at the Byodoin Temple is a famous cultural site in Uji, Japan. It is a National Treasure and is also depicted on the 10 yen coin.
- 1,000 yen – Approx. $10 USD.
- FYI, Ushio’s name means tide.
- Asazou is the Asahi TV mascot mentioned in Volume 1 Chapter 2.
- The Self-Defense Forces is Japan’s military.
- Animals sounds are fairly distinct in Japanese. In order, Kei is making the sounds of a lion, elephant, monkey, gorilla, and a housecat.
- Shinkansen – The Japanese bullet train.
- Kei says here in a mix of English and Japanese: I love jibun (myself) very much da yo.
- Alfort is a brand of chocolate-covered digestive biscuits that can be bought at a drugstore, but they do have limited-edition boxes sold as souvenirs.