Shuuji was just setting his water glass in the dishrack when a knock at the door disturbed the 1 a.m. silence. Something about the sound was instantly recognizable, and he hurried to answer the door before Akira could wake his father or Koji.
"What are you doing here this late?" he asked when he opened the door, not unfriendly as he might once have been but merely puzzled.
Akira made a face halfway between a smile and a grimace. "Burnt rice smells bad, Shuuji."
"It does. So?"
"So now my apartment smells bad, and I can't sleep there tonight. I had to throw away the ricecooker," he added meditatively, and Shuuji wondered a little at what cooking mishap could have that disastrous a result. "You don't mind, right?"
Shuuji opened his mouth to say No, of course I don't, and instead found himself saying, "You live by yourself?"
"Of course! There's no tofu man in Morioka."
Though Shuuji had been secretly intimidated by the thought of living by himself when his father had suggested it, the idea of Akira being solely responsible for feeding himself and cleaning up his own messes and generally acting like an adult was almost too terrifying to contemplate.
"Shuuji! My suitcase is getting heavy," Akira whined, intruding into Shuuji's thoughts, and it dawned on Shuuji that the hallway wasn't the best place to have this conversation. They'd been talking in whispers, but the light shining through the doorway might yet wake his father, sleeping only a few meters away.
He took Akira's suitcase from him--afraid that Akira might bash it into a wall or drop it noisily on the floor--and nearly buckled under the weight, but managed to get it into his room without help.
"Thanks, Shuuji," Akira said. He opened the suitcase to reveal a jumble of clothes and toys and dug around for his pajamas.
"You know where the bathroom is," Shuuji yawned, crawling back into bed.
"Mmm," Akira said, and tiptoed out of the room.
Shuuji was already half-asleep when Akira climbed into bed with him, smelling of soap and toothpaste. He'd somehow splashed water all down the front of his long-sleeved tee-shirt, and Shuuji made an incoherent sound of protest when Akira cuddled damply against him.
"Shh," Akira said comfortably. "Shuuji's soft and warm." The arm he'd draped across Shuuji's waist squeezed tighter for a moment, and then relaxed as Akira fell effortlessly asleep.
Shuuji blinked up at the ceiling, wide awake. Not that Akira didn't make a career out of saying ridiculous things, of course, but still. Girls were soft. Yoshida from their old school was soft. Even Akira, for all that he was quite thin, had enough flesh on him to be softer than Shuuji.
Shuuji wasn't soft.
His vague discomfort at Akira's words was thrown into sharper relief by the annoyance of sharing a bed with him. It was almost over-warm with Akira's sleepy weight curled around him, and something about the way he held onto him made Shuuji's stomach squirm. He already knew from past experience, though, that it was useless to try to shove him off; Akira clung like an octopus. Shuuji sighed in exasperation, and Akira hummed contentedly in response, apparently unable to be quiet even in his sleep.
"We should go visit Nobuta," Akira said during the last week of the school year, when everyone else was walking around hollow-eyed and pale from studying. Akira and Shuuji spent most of their afternoons flying kites at the beach. Akira was hopeless at it and kept dropping his kite into the ocean, but Shuuji had gotten rather good.
"Okay," Shuuji said. "I can't miss Koji's birthday on the seventeenth, but any other time during our break is fine."
Akira leaned heavily against him and said, "Shuuji should smile if he's happy," and Shuuji said, "Oh. Right," and made an effort to stop worrying about travel plans and Koji's birthday and leaving his father with all the household chores, and instead imagined the look on Nobuta's face when she saw the two of them. He grinned at Akira.
They didn't stay with the tofu man, contrary to Shuuji's expectations. Instead, he and Akira took the long train ride to Tokyo ("Helicopters are only for emergencies," Akira explained. "Emergencies like making sure you get to Morioka before I do?" Shuuji asked sarcastically, and Akira nodded his head without a trace of irony.), and then Akira took him to his family's apartment.
When he'd pointed out their home and said that they lived on the top floor, Shuuji hadn't quite realized that Akira meant that the entire floor belonged to Akira's family. Akira led him through a confusion of impossibly huge rooms and long hallways, pointing at various doors and saying, "Akira's parents' room. Akira's sister. Library. Toilet. Office. Bathroom. Washitsu. Guest room. Other bathroom. Other guest room." He tugged at Shuuji's wrist suddenly and pulled him through the last doorway. "Akira's room!"
The room was nearly as big as Shuuji's family's entire apartment, and he was so busy staring that he almost didn't notice Akira tugging Shuuji's bag off his shoulder and setting it beside a long sofa.
"You mean I'm not going to sleep in one of the guest rooms?" Shuuji asked.
"BOR-ING!" Akira pronounced, and pawed through Shuuji's bags until he found his toiletry kit, which he took into the en suite bathroom with an air of finality.
Shuuji had braced himself for any manner of strange, rich-people food at dinner, but the only difference between what Shuuji's and Akira's families ate appeared to be the plates they did it off of. It was odd to watch Akira--who had been known to to bump into or trip over half a dozen obstacles just trying to cross the room--lift his crystal water glass with a casual, steady hand, apparently unconcerned about snapping its delicate stem.
His parents quizzed Akira on his life in Morioka and asked Shuuji polite, friendly questions, while Akira's sister stared shyly at her plate for the entire meal.
"I think Saeko has a crush on you," Akira whispered loudly on their way back to his room.
Shuuji gave him a friendly shove. "She's eight. I don't think she has a crush on anyone."
"Shows what you know," Akira said with a superior smile.
They went to bed early that night; their plans for their first day visiting with Nobuta didn't include sleeping in. The arm that flopped across Shuuji to clasp his waist was less of a surprise than it ought to have been, and Shuuji rolled his eyes, but didn't bother trying to pull away.
Rather than relaxing into sleep, however, Akira's hand began to rub gentle circles over Shuuji's stomach. His fingers brushed against the waistband of Shuuji's pajama pants more than once, and only the thin layer of Shuuji's tucked-in shirt prevented the touch of skin against skin. Even more disturbing than that, however, was Shuuji's reaction. His face burned hot with embarrassment as he felt himself harden, and he shoved Akira's hand off his stomach.
"What are you doing?" he whispered furiously.
Akira leaned closer, until his nose was pressed against Shuuji's cheek, and his words drifted over Shuuji's face in a mint-scented breath: "Touching Shuuji."
"Well, stop," Shuuji said, and was astonished when Akira obeyed instantly, pulling away to his side of the bed.
"Okay," Akira said. "Night-night." His fingers nipped at Shuuji's nose, and then he folded his arms and laid his head on them.
Shuuji blinked at Akira, suddenly confused. "Wait a second. What just happened?"
Akira gazed back at him with eyes gone wide and dark in the dim light. "Touching Shuuji's only a good thing if Shuuji wants it, too."
"I don't... It's not... You really want to touch me? Like that?" Shuuji asked, hoping that he sounded less stupid and pathetic to Akira than he did to his own ears.
Akira didn't blush or avert his eyes during this bold-faced confession, though Shuuji felt the urge to do both. Akira's tongue flicked out of his mouth to lick his lips, and Shuuji tracked the motion helplessly with his eyes. Akira didn't move otherwise, though, just grinned at Shuuji, and Shuuji began to realize that the next move had to be his.
He reached a hesitant hand towards Akira's face. Akira wrinkled his forehead in a slight frown, but didn't pull away, and Shuuji touched the soft curve of his cheek with shaky fingers. "Okay?" he asked, and didn't wait for a response before he leaned forward to kiss Akira.
There was a brief moment when their mouths pressed soft and still against each other and Shuuji's stomach clenched with terror. And then Akira put his arm around Shuuji and drew him close. "Shuuji," he mumbled against Shuuji's lips.
"Shuuji," Akira said louder, and kissed his cheek and his nose and both his eyelids before returning once again to his mouth. He parted his lips and gave Shuuji a kiss that was rather wetter and hotter than the previous one. Shuuji hesitated only a moment before he opened his mouth, too, and their tongues brushed against each other.
Akira whimpered softly, and he rubbed himself against Shuuji, one hand cupping his face and the other clasping his hip. Shuuji's right arm was twisted uncomfortably underneath himself, and he had just started wondering how he could rearrange himself without stopping what they were doing, when Akira's hand tightened almost painfully on his hip and he shuddered against him with a low moan.
He flopped onto his back afterwards. Shuuji took the opportunity to get into a more comfortable position and stared at Akira's faint smile and sweat-sheened face.
"That felt so good," Akira said, unembarrassed, when he'd caught his breath.
Shuuji opened his mouth to answer, but just then Akira stuck his hand down Shuuji's pants, and Shuuji gave a strangled moan instead. Akira's hand was damp with sweat and tight around his cock, stroking at an awkward angle that made the waistband of Shuuji's pants cut into his skin.
"So good, Shuuji," Akira said, though Shuuji suspected that Akira wasn't talking about his own orgasm any more.
"Mmm," Shuuji said, and then, "Oh, God," and came messily all over Akira's hand and the inside of his pajama pants.
Akira leaned down to kiss him softly on the mouth. "Let's take our pants off and do it again!" he said, and Shuuji felt his face heat, but hurried to follow his suggestion.
The next day, Shuuji and Akira went to Nobuta's house and knocked on her door. Nobuta's eyes widened when she saw them, and she stammered something that might have been "How--?" when Akira poked her gently in the cheek and said:
Shuuji smiled at her and tried not to blush, half-terrified that what he and Akira had done the previous night was somehow painted on their faces for Nobuta to see. And then Shuuji stopped worrying, because Nobuta smiled back, and suddenly he and Akira were too busy nudging each other and exclaiming over Nobuta--Akira's hand adding to the general noise and pandemonium with its own comments--for his stupid fears to matter.
"Put on your shoes and jacket," Akira said when it became obvious that Nobuta wasn't going to invite them in.
By unspoken consensus, they didn't go to visit the tofu man or Delphine or anyone else they knew in Tokyo. He and Akira would be staying for an entire week, and there would be time for their other friends later. First, they needed just one day for themselves.
They went to the zoo, where Akira bought Nobuta a headband with tiger ears on it and Shuuji one with a deer's antlers. He was about to buy one with fox ears for himself, but Nobuta tugged on his sleeve and pointed at an elephant ear headband, and Akira laughed and agreed with her.
"How is everyone at school?" Shuuji asked when they stopped to get hamburgers for lunch. Nobuta hadn't sounded unhappy in the two letters that she'd sent them, but he still worried.
Nobuta said, "Everyone's fine," though, in a voice that made him believe her in a way that letters on a page couldn't.
"Any new friends for Nobuta?" Akira asked with a complete absence of tact, and Shuuji almost elbowed him except that Nobuta nodded.
"Mariko and Nami and Misa."
"That's a lot!" Akira said.
"Mariko's teaching us to play basketball," Nobuta said, and Shuuji turned to find his open-mouthed surprise mirrored on Akira's face.
Akira recovered first and said, grinning, "Are you going to try out for the basketball team next?"
Nobuta shook her head. "Too short," she said very seriously, then watched with a faintly bemused expression as Shuuji and Akira dissolved into laughter in front of her.
After lunch, they went back to the monkey house so that Akira could commune with the chimpanzees a bit more. The chimpanzees hooted and made kissy faces and slapped their hands together, and Akira watched them with obvious delight. Shuuji and Nobuta exchanged a significant glance.
Suddenly, Akira leaned in and smacked his lips too close to Shuuji's cheek for comfort, and Shuuji jerked away. Rather than be offended, Akira just laughed at him, and when Shuuji glanced at Nobuta he saw that she was smiling, too--a small, almost private curl of her lips as she stared down at the ground.
"Shuuuuji," Akira said. "Nobuta and I want ice cream."
Nobuta looked startled for a moment, and then gave a short nod.
"So let's go get some," Shuuji said.
"Good answer," Akira said. "Kon-kon!" and gave Shuuji a peck on the cheek with his fingers. Shuuji started to brush the hand away, only to tangle his fingers with Akira's at the last moment, squeezing gently before letting go. Nobuta watched the two of them with curious eyes, and Shuuji smiled at her, only a little nervous. It was hard to be open with other people--to be soft, as Akira had said--but for these two, he could make the effort.