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To Love and Be Loved

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Handa rested his chin in his hand as he watched Kawafuji from across the table. He had definitely changed since getting married. He seemed happier, his laugh louder. Hell, he was downright glowing. How could someone change so much in the space of a day? The power of love, Handa thought and immediately snorted. The glow would wear off after the honeymoon, once the bride realised what a workaholic Kawafuji was. Or once Kawafuji realised that women weren’t what they were cracked up to be.

“And who else could I thank but my best man, Handa Seishuu.” Handa choked as Kawafuji’s words yanked him back to the present. Right, Kawafuji was making a speech, and now everyone was looking at him. “I have Handa to thank for my humility, my maturity, hell, even my career!” Everyone chuckled and Handa fought the urge to sink down low in his seat. He felt as if Kawafuji had just subtly insulted him. “Hopefully one day, I can hear Handa say the same thing at his own wedding, but I think that’s unlikely.” Again, he earned a laugh from the audience at Handa’s expense.

He was right, though, Handa thought. There was no way he could live with a woman, having to alter his habits to accommodate her. He wouldn’t be able to stand having a second mother in his ear, nagging at him constantly. Still, the thought of living alone for his entire life didn’t seem that appealing either. If only it was socially acceptable to live with another man, like a platonic life partner. Kawafuji had always been that person. Handa had never imagined a future that didn’t involve him, but now his best friend was owned by someone else and that dream was never to be. Handa slumped in his chair with a sigh, swirling the last mouthful of wine around the glass. His stomach felt like it was tied in a knot, and he was sure that if he tried to drink that last morsel, it would just come straight back up again.

“Would you like a refill?” A waiter asked from behind him.

Handa placed his hand over his glass. “No thanks.”

“Probably wise, we both know you can’t handle your alcohol.”

He frowned and whipped his head around to look at the waiter who dared to say such a thing. A tall man with a broad chest and long dyed blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail grinned back at him. “Hey, Sensei.”

Handa could recognise those drooping topaz eyes anywhere. “Hiroshi?” He blinked incredulously. “What are you doing here?”

“I work for the catering company.” He gestured to the tan apron wrapped around his waist. “Got a surprised when I found out who the client was. Who’d have thought someone would want to marry Kawafuji?”

“Right?” Handa muttered.

“How was the ceremony?”

“Boring.”

Hiroshi threw back his head and laughed. “You haven’t changed a bit.”

Handa looked him up and down. “You have.”

He crossed his arms. His biceps bulged. “I’d like to think so, seeing as it’s been five years. How’s the island?”

“Alright, it’s…” Handa was cut off as someone waved to Hiroshi from the next table and pointed at their empty wine glass.

“Sorry, I better get back to work. We should catch up sometime though, while you’re still in Tokyo.” He whipped a pen out of his apron pocket and wrote down a number on Handa’s paper napkin. He clicked the pen lid back on with a self-satisfied grin. “That’s my number, give me a call when you’re free.”

Handa blinked, “sure,” and watched as Hiroshi rushed to the wine-less guest. He looked down at the number and a smile crept onto his lips. His heart felt lighter. Pulling his phone out of his pocket, he tapped the number into his phone and sent Hiroshi a text right then and there. “I’m free tomorrow night.”

He didn’t get a reply until he was lying in his hotel bed that night. “Great. Wanna go out and have a drink?”

Handa was just tapping out a response when he received another text. “Or you could come over to my apartment and I could cook you dinner, like old times.” He smiled.

“Dinner sounds good.”

A few second passed before he received another text. “Good. You need fattening up.”

Handa smirked and put his phone down beside a bed before drawing the covers over his shoulders. Maybe this Tokyo trip wasn’t going to be all bad after all.

 


 

Handa peered at the address Hiroshi sent him as he climbed flight after flight of stairs, glancing at every door number until he finally reached the number detailed in the address. He leaned on the railing, trying to catch his breath while he looked at the city spread out before him, the fluorescent lights just beginning to appear like stars as the sun went down. The apartment block wasn’t anything fancy, but it was ridiculously tall and seated right in the middle of the bustling city. “He must be doing pretty well for himself,” Handa murmured before straightening up and smoothing his clothes. He pressed the doorbell and waited until Hiroshi threw open the door. He was wearing an apron and his hair looked as if it he had just run a wet hand through it. “Hey,” he said breathlessly. “Come in.” Handa followed him in. “Take a seat. I’ll be there in a sec.”

His apartment was surprisingly simple. Downright bare, Handa realised as he ventured further into the room. The living space was open, the kitchen linking onto the lounge room. Or what Handa supposed to be the lounge room, but all there was in it was a lonely couch, a coffee table and a television perched precariously on a stack of textbooks. Handa tilted his head to read the titles on the spines. “French Cuisine for Beginners”, “Advanced Japanese”, “The Art of Soba” and the bizarrely titled “Cooking with Toenail Clippings”. Deciding it wasn’t worth questioning, Handa sat down on the couch and soon had a glass of wine thrust into his hand. Hiroshi flopped down next to him and let out a long sigh as he sank into the upholstery. “Long day?” Handa ventured.

“Ridiculous. I’ve been up since five, and at work since seven. Had a delivery today,” Hiroshi added as way of explanation.

“Aren’t you a waiter?”

Hiroshi laughed. “No way, I didn’t go to culinary school just to hand food out. I’m a chef, really, I was only waiting at Kawafuji’s because one of the waitresses called in sick at the last minute.” He glanced sidelong at Handa. “I knew whose wedding it was, so I volunteered to take her place. Though, I wasn’t sure you were going to come.”

“Kawafuji made me his best man, I didn’t have much of a choice.”

“So you wouldn’t have come otherwise? Isn’t he, like, your only friend?”

Handa poked him in the side. “I have other friends. I just didn’t fancy watching him get shackled to some woman.”

Hiroshi snorted. “What? Did you get your heart broken recently or something?”

Handa huffed. “No. I just don’t understand why anyone would want to get married.”  

“Hmm, you’re as cynical as ever.” Hiroshi smirked and took a sip of wine. “So how is everybody back home?”

Handa shifted. “Things aren’t so good,” he admitted. “Nobody farms the land anymore after the last tax hike and the drought. It’s just a fishing village nowadays. The high school closed down and the primary school is looking at going the same way. The corner store closed as well, Aki tried to run it as best he could after the shopkeeper died, but then they moved. Pretty much everyone with kids has moved to the city. It’s only me and Naru left now.” He took a long gulp of wine. He surfaced with a troubled look on his face, as if he had a frog inside his mouth, jumping around and trying to escape. Finally, the frog leapt out. “Naru’s father wrote to me a few weeks ago. He’s thinking of settling down on the mainland, finally.” Handa bit his lip. “And he’s going to take Naru with him. Which is for the best, really.” He tried to keep his voice light, but it sounded hollow even to him. Hiroshi shifted closer.

“Sounds rough. But hey, life wouldn’t be life if it stood still. And rural life especially ain’t easy, I’m not surprised the village is struggling, to be honest.” He took a deep drink. “As for Naru, I think it’s for the best. I can’t say I can see her as a city girl, but then again, I don’t think Yuuichirou is much of a city slicker either. She’ll be right.”

Handa looked away. “Of course she’ll be alright. I’m talking about me.”

“Ah.” Hiroshi bit his lip and awkwardly patted Handa on the back. “Maybe it’s time you left the island too?”

Handa’s heart slumped in his rib cage. The niggling thought had always been in the back of his mind, but it was still disheartening to hear it said aloud. Especially from Hiroshi, whom Handa had always thought of as an island boy through and through. “You don’t miss the island?” An accusing note crept into his voice.

Hiroshi put his empty glass down and leaned back with his arms folded behind his head. “Of course I do. But Tokyo ain’t so bad. I hated it at first, once the novelty wore off. But then I just,” he shrugged. “Got used to it.”

They sat in silence for a while before Hiroshi heaved himself off the couch. “I’ll go check on dinner.” He refilled both of their glasses before sauntering off to the kitchen. Handa twiddled his thumbs for a moment before following him to the kitchen, wine in hand. He watched Hiroshi from the doorway as he stirred a bubbling pot while simultaneously scrolling through his phone with one hand. The sight sent a strange sensation through him, a heart-wrenching mixture of nostalgia and anxiety. He felt like he was back in his cottage, five years ago, watching Hiroshi cook for him. Yet the Hiroshi in front of him was now a grown man, who had shed his accent and his innocence in the big city that he had found so daunting before.

Hiroshi tasted the soup and, satisfied, scooped noodles into two bowls before ladling in the soup. Handa recognised it as champon, and again the same feeling shot through him. It was a painful twinge, as if his Hiroshi had grabbed his heart and twisted it. Hiroshi turned, and his eyes widened as he saw Handa. “Were you there the whole time? You should have said something.”

“I wanted to watch.”

Hiroshi blushed, but said nothing. They sat opposite each other as they ate dinner, kneeling at Hiroshi’s coffee table. “This is nostalgic huh?” Hiroshi grinned.

“Yeah, it’s been a while.”

Their position, the smell of champon, and Hiroshi’s face in front of his brought back a memory he usually kept locked up tight, the memory of the last, and final, time they ate together on the island. Hiroshi had come over and cooked for him as usual, and they had eaten together as usual. But then Hiroshi hadn’t left. Usually, he cleaned up and took off, but this time after the dishes were cleaned and Handa had sat down to write, Hiroshi had sat back down.

“Mind if I hang around for a bit? Things are a little hectic at home right now, so I don’t really feel like going back. Not just yet, anyway.”

“Sure.” It wasn’t the first time Hiroshi had stuck around, usually he brought his homework and sat in silence for a while, but since graduating he hadn’t stuck around. Handa expected him to pull out a game or a magazine or something, but as he laid out his tools, he noticed that Hiroshi was just sitting and watching him. Handa swallowed, feeling oddly self-conscious. A drop fell from his brush and splashed onto the paper. He blinked and shook his head. He dipped his brush back in the inkwell and drew a long stroke before he realised he didn’t even know what he was writing. His head snapped up to glare at Hiroshi. “I can’t concentrate with you staring at me.”

Hiroshi ducked his head. “Sorry.”

Handa huffed as he crumpled the page into a ball and tossed it at the boy’s head.

“Oi,” Hiroshi growled, but Handa caught a glimpse of a smile in the corners of his mouth.

Handa stared down at a fresh piece of paper and wrote a single character. “Ball”. It looked like a small child had written it. It wasn’t even good enough for a parent to pin to the fridge. He sighed and crumpled the paper. He held the brush in one hand while resting his cheek in the other, staring down at the paper.

“Hey, have you ever wanted to be anything other than a calligrapher?”

“Huh?” Handa turned to Hiroshi.

“Like, when you were a kid.”

Handa hummed. “I mean, I’ve done nothing but calligraphy since I was a kid so I never really considered anything else. I knew my parents would have supported me if I did want to do something else, so it’s not like I was doing it to please them, it’s just that… I never had an interest in anything else.”

“Huh… Well, I can’t say that’s not what I expected.”

“What’d you want to be, when you were a kid?”

Hiroshi leaned back with his arms behind his head. “I wanted to be lots of things, a teacher, a firefighter, a policeman…”

“So ordinary,” Handa scoffed. Hiroshi grabbed the balled-up paper and lobbed it at him. Handa tossed it back and it quickly evolved into a game of catch, Handa’s calligraphy tools lying abandoned.

“Are you all packed up yet?” Handa asked, feeling obliged to make conversation as they tossed the ball back and forth.

“Mostly, I’ve been putting it off a little, though. It’s hard, every time I pack up a box it hits me that I’m really leaving the island. I just feel like once everything is packed up, I won’t be able to turn back.”

Handa hummed. “I thought kids your age were supposed to want to leave the nest.”

“Says the one who was kicked out of home at twenty-three,” Hiroshi sniggered. “You must have been anxious when you left home too.”

“I was going to move out once I started making more of a name for myself,” Handa snapped. “And of course I was anxious! I didn’t know what to expect when I first came here. I definitely didn’t expect to want to stay, that’s for sure.”  

“Geez, glad ya think so highly of the place.”

“That was a compliment! I didn’t expect to enjoy living here so much. I mean, it took a little getting used to, but I’m glad I moved. You’ll be fine once you get used to the city.”

“Easier said than done, I think,” Hiroshi grunted as he fell backwards, trying to grab the ball that sailed over his head. “Nice throw, idiot.” Hiroshi turned to look for it, but it had gone straight out the door and disappeared into the night. “Oh well,” Hiroshi shrugged and flopped down on the mat. Handa shuffled to lay down next to him and together they stared up at Handa’s ceiling. “It’s not just the big city I’m scared of,” Hiroshi broke the silence. “What if I’m not cut out to be chef? I don’t have any talent, I only know the basics of cooking, and I have no experience outside of Japanese food.”

“Isn’t that what culinary school is for though? I mean, you’re not jumping into being a chef straight away.”

Hiroshi bit his lip. “I guess…”

“Do you not want to be a chef anymore?”  

“Naw, naw. I mean…” Their shoulders touched. “I just wish I had someone to tell me I’m doin’ the right thing.”

“Well, for what it’s worth…I think you’re doing the right thing.”

Hiroshi turned to look at him. His face was so close their noses were almost touching and Handa could feel his breath on his face. His heart raced, sensing what was coming, yet his brain lagged behind, naïve and dumb. Hiroshi’s eyes slid shut as he tilted his head and kissed him. It was a strange sensation, having someone else’s lips against his, but not an unwelcome one. Handa didn’t pull away. But Hiroshi did.

“I’m sorry!” Handa opened his eyes to see Hiroshi’s wide ones reflecting his own surprise. “I didn’t mean to,” Hiroshi stammered as he scrambled to his feet and dashed for the door.

Handa rushed after him, clawing his way to his feet like a drunkard. He caught himself on the doorframe as Hiroshi jammed on his shoes and hurried out the door. “Wait!”

Hiroshi froze. When he turned, he had a sheepish grin on his face. “Let’s just pretend that never happened, okay?” And with that, he vanished into the night.

That was the last time Handa saw Hiroshi. Until now.

“I gotta say, I’ve missed our dinners together. It’s no fun cooking for one.” Hiroshi said, snapping Handa back to the present.

He hastily stuffed the memory back into its chest and locked it up tight. “Yeah, your mother’s cooking hasn’t tasted the same since you left either.” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Handa blushed. He hadn’t meant it to sound so cheesy. “I’ve been cooking for myself more often though. She doesn’t feed me every night,” he added.

Hiroshi grinned. “About time you stopped relying on us.”

“Hey, I never asked you to feed me, you’re the one who offered.”

“Out of pity.”

“Fine,” Handa pointed his chopsticks at Hiroshi. “Next time I’ll cook for you. How’s that?”

Hiroshi grinned. “I look forward to cup noodles and a plateful of bloody onions.”

“You punk.”

Conversation faded as they concentrated on slurping down the champon before it got cold. While he ate, Handa’s eyes wandered around the room. Hiroshi clearly had no interest in interior decorating. The couch, coffee table and television sat clustered in the centre of the room, like a tiny island in a vast ocean, and the walls were bare except for the large window behind them that displayed an impressive cityscape. A box full of paraphernalia sat in the corner as if he had only just moved in.  “How long have you lived here?”

“Pretty much since I left school, so three years.”

“Three years and this is all the furniture you’ve accumulated? That’s kind of sad.”

Hiroshi waved him away and swallowed. “Nah, I had more, but then my girlfriend moved out and took half the furniture we had bought together. Including the dining table,” Hiroshi grinned sheepishly. “I haven’t had any reason to replace it since.”

 “Oh, sorry to hear that,” Handa said, his condolences rendered somewhat insincere as he mumbled around a mouthful of food.

“It’s okay, I’m used to it. They usually leave once they realise that there’s nothing beneath my mysterious, country-boy exterior,” he chuckled. 

“Typical.”

“What about you? Any special someone?”

Handa snorted. “Seriously? There’s no one in the village except old men and Naru. My mother keeps trying to set me up with girls, though,” Handa sighed and Hiroshi laughed. “Last time I came to visit she arranged six marriage interviews in the space of three days! I learnt my lesson and booked a hotel this time.”

“Any cuties?”

“I don’t know. I don’t care. I’m not planning on getting married, ever.”

Hiroshi grinned as he leaned back on his hands, his bowl now empty and his stomach full. “Determined to die alone, huh?”

Handa shifted. “Ugh, I don’t know.” He got to his feet and collected his bowl, as well as Hiroshi’s. Hiroshi went to get up, but Handa fixed him in a glare. “You cooked, I’ll clean.”

The corner of Hiroshi’s lip pulled up to reveal a flash of white and he sat back on the couch. Handa returned shortly afterwards with two rather full glasses of wine. Hiroshi was beginning to feel woozy, but he accepted the glass nonetheless.

“I never imagined you as a wine drinker,” Handa commented.

Hiroshi looked away. “I only really bought it for the occasion,” he mumbled. “Yer doin’ pretty well, considerin’ how ya usually get after one drink.” Handa could hear notes of the Nasutake dialect creeping back into his speech.

“For your information, people drink wine all the time at calligwa-carrig-calligwafy… God dammit,” Handa swore as Hiroshi laughed.

“I knew ya were drunker than yer were lettin’ on.”

“It’s a hard word.”

“Calligraphy. Not that hard.”

“Oh shuddup.”

They drank in silence for a bit until Handa flopped back on the couch and let out a long sigh. “I just wish…” he paused. Hiroshi looked at him, waiting patiently. “I wish I could live with a man for the rest of my life. Like a platonic partner, or something…” he trailed off into a mumble. It was a thought that had lived in the back of his mind for some time now, and it felt strange to speak it aloud. Almost like it was forbidden. Two men living their lives together. Forever. Logically, it seemed like a good arrangement. Two men who understood each other, had similar habits, and worked as a team, rather than having to act as a servant for a wife who expected to be treated like a queen. Yet, in his gut, the concept felt wrong, but he couldn’t put his finger on why. Two men, in a platonic marriage. Roommates for life. Handa snorted at the phrase.

He looked up to measure Hiroshi’s reaction. He was smiling and his eyes were warm, yet condescending. Handa immediately felt as if he had felt as though he had said something stupid. “Don’t laugh,” Handa warned, and Hiroshi’s lips parted in a grin.

“Naw, Naw, I won’t.” But the grin didn’t leave his lips. “It’s just a little funny. Funny because ya don’t seem to realise what yer sayin’.”

“What do you mean?” Handa frowned, feeling defensive.

“Well, what yer sayin’ is, ya want to live with a man, right? Spend the rest of yer life with a man?”

“I mean, yeah.”

“Someone to share yer triumphs and someone to pick you up after yer falls?”

“Yeah, exactly.”

“Someone to share in the housework, someone to share yer bed at night?”

Handa blushed. He was embarrassed to say that yes, when he was lying alone in his bed at night the fantasy had often included intimacy. It was human nature, after all. But he would rather die than admit that he had thought about cuddling with Kawafuji.

Hiroshi sat back and took a swig. “Sounds like yer gay, to me.”

Handa stared at him. “Huh?” The dumb sound fell from his slack lips before he could stop himself.

“Nothin’ wrong with that,” Hiroshi added. “I’ve had a boyfriend myself. It’s nice. Definitely different from being with a girl. Ya should try it.”

Handa still couldn’t collect his jaw from where it sat on the floor. “You’re gay?” The kiss flashed into his mind and he immediately felt foolish.

Hiroshi shrugged. “Bisexual, but I try not to think about it too much. I worried enough about my sexuality in high school, so now I’m all worried out. I just flow with whatever goes, really.”

His head spun and he put down his wine glass before he dropped it and staggered to his feet. He took a few steps, his back to Hiroshi. He didn’t want to do this, not now. He had been fleeing this confrontation since he was in university. Back then, he had begun to realise, as his peers all began dating, that he had no interest in the opposite sex. He had constantly reassured himself that he was straight, just not interested in romance. It wasn’t a women or men thing, it was a romance and relationship thing in general. And when he had laid in bed and thought about living the rest of his life with Kawafuji, he had convinced himself that it was purely platonic, and completely normal to want to be with your best friend forever. Even after he had jerked himself off to the thought of the man, he had still refused to consider himself gay, or even place himself anywhere on the spectrum that wasn’t at the extreme end of straight. Normal. He had just wanted to be normal.

And here Hiroshi was, the epitome of normal, saying that he was bisexual.

He heard Hiroshi set his wine glass down and get up from the couch. “Hey, Handa…” He was cut off as Handa whirled around, seized him by the shoulders and pressed his lips against his.

He released him and the two men stared at each other for a second. Hiroshi grinned. “So what do you reckon?”

“I reckon I’m confused.”

“Good.” Hiroshi hooked his fingers into Handa’s beltloops and pulled his hips against his before capturing his lips in another kiss. Handa closed his eyes and allowed himself to be pulled into his rhythm, like the ebb and flow of the tide. Hiroshi’s lips moved against his, growing increasingly rougher and hungrier. Handa stumbled backwards and landed on the couch, pulling the younger man down on top of him. Hiroshi cradled Handa’s head in one hand while supporting himself with the other, his knee between Handa’s legs. Handa wrapped his arms around his neck as if he was about to be swept away. Their tongues tangled together, their mouths open and hungry. Handa gasped for breath between kisses. He felt dizzy. The whole situation was surreal. Only minutes ago, they had been sitting on the couch together like civilised adults, and now they were rutting like animals.

Hiroshi sat up, moving to straddle the older man, and began to unbutton Handa’s shirt. He spread it open, revealing Handa’s smooth chest. “You’re so beautiful,” Hiroshi murmured against his skin as he leaned down to kiss his chest.

Handa moaned and fisted one hand in his hair as he took his nipple in his mouth and playfully bit and sucked. He was like putty in Hiroshi’s hands, being stretched and kneaded until he was soft and willing to bend to his every command.

Hiroshi sat back and pulled his shirt over his head, revealing his broad chest. Hiroshi had really grown, Handa realised as he looked up at him. Underneath his formidable figure, Handa felt like a dandelion seed, delicate and colourless and able to be blown away by the slightest breeze. “You’re too sexy,” Handa mumbled, his lips swollen and his tongue thick.

Hiroshi laughed and leaned down to nuzzle at Handa’s neck. “I’m sexy? You’re the one who made little, innocent, 17-year-old me question his sexuality.”

“Eh? I did?” Their first kiss flickered into his mind. “Is that why you kissed me that night?”

“Didn’t I tell you to forget that?” Hiroshi growled, yet when he pulled away, his eyes were glimmering with mirth. “I couldn’t help it. You were just so close, and then you had to go and say something like that.”

“I had no idea you felt that way about me.”

“Yeah, I could see it in your face. You looked like a goldfish.” Hiroshi chuckled against his lips as he leaned in for a kiss. Handa kissed back reflexively, but he couldn’t shake the wisps of the memory that clung to his mind. Hiroshi’s boyish face, the blush on his cheeks, the way he had wet his lips as he leaned in. He hadn’t let himself indulge in the memory since it happened, determined to force it out of his mind, yet it had always crept back in. There was no way he could forget his first kiss, with a boy for that matter, but he had always blushed and frantically locked it back up again. Now, he could look back on it without fear of what he might discover in himself. And it was incredibly freeing.

“Do you… still feel that way?” Handa asked when they parted, his eyes flitting to Hiroshi’s and darting away again.

Hiroshi smiled and leaned down till his lips grazed his ear. “Whenever I come home to an empty house, cook for one and eat at an empty table, I think of you. You have no idea how much I’ve missed you.”

“I-I missed you too, I missed you so much.” Handa buried his face in Hiroshi’s shoulder, grasping at his back.   

“It makes me real happy to hear you say that. Really.” Hiroshi pulled away and captured Handa’s lips in a kiss.

Handa kissed back, desperately trying to express the feelings he couldn’t give shape to, or put in words. His hands fumbled with the button on Hiroshi’s pants. He wanted to be even closer to him, to feel his hot skin on his. He undid the fly and began to yank the pants down his hips.

Hiroshi chuckled. “I never thought the day would come when Handa Seishuu would rip my pants off.”

“Don’t talk,” Handa muttered, trying to ignore the growing anxiety in his stomach.

Once he got Hiroshi’s pants off, he froze, taken aback by the tent in his boxers. “Hang on,” Handa mumbled, gently pushing Hiroshi off him. The boy watched from the couch, forlorn in his underwear, as Handa got up and strode across the room.

“You okay? We can stop if you want…” Hiroshi trailed off as Handa flicked off the lights and crept back onto the couch, sliding his hands along Hiroshi’s forearms.

“I just… the light was too bright, I couldn’t do it,” Handa murmured. The soft, blue light filtering in from the window was much better than the spotlight from before. It cast shadows across their faces and turned their skin a glowing white, so Hiroshi couldn’t see Handa’s flushed face as he hooked a thumb in the waistband of his underwear and slid them down, freeing his erection. Hiroshi raised his hips, allowing Handa to slide them off fully, then pushed him down on the couch and began to do the same to him. He pulled off Handa’s pants and underwear in one smooth motion, and took a second drinking in his body in the city light. His moonbeam skin, his erect penis, his inky pubic hair.

“Stop looking at me,” Handa mumbled, his eyes lidded as he looked up at Hiroshi.

“How can I?” Hiroshi murmured, bending down to drag his lips against his skin. Handa’s breath hitched as Hiroshi took a nipple in his mouth and swirled his tongue around it, before kissing down his stomach while stroking the inside of his thigh. Handa threw his head back as Hiroshi took his length in his lips, slowly sliding his mouth down the shaft. His warm, slick mouth felt so good it made his toes curl. He squeezed his eyes shut, concentrating on the feeling of Hiroshi’s tongue swirling around the tip of his penis while he bobbed his head up and down rhythmically. He cracked open an eye and peeked down at Hiroshi. He immediately regretted it. His naked body lay sprawled between Handa’s legs, his eyes closed, his face flushed and his nose buried in his pubic hair. He had no idea the sight of another man with his penis in his mouth could be so erotic. So attractive. He slid a hand into Hiroshi’s hair, earning himself a glance and half-smile from the man. Handa’s breath hitched. Hiroshi moved lower, taking Handa’s balls into his mouth while stroking his erection in one hand. The wave of pleasure was so intense Handa’s back arched and he let out an involuntary moan.

“Does it feel good?” Hiroshi grinned, Handa’s penis against his face.

“D-don’t ask me something like that,” Handa panted.

“It looks like you’re enjoying it.”

“Of course I am,” Handa huffed, his grip tightening in Hiroshi’s hair as his rhythmic pumps grew faster. He moaned. “Hiro, Hiro stop, I’m gonna…”

“Don’t wanna come yet?”

Handa shook his head. “I want… I want you to…” He pulled Hiroshi up on top of him. He rolled his hips, grinding his hips against Hiroshi’s. Hiroshi raised his eyebrows.

“You wanna go all the way?” He bent down to kiss Handa. “I mean, that’s fine with me. I’m just a little surprised.”

The wine made Hiroshi’s face blur in and out of focus, his eyes almost black in the dim light, sparkling like wet river stones. He could feel his breath hot on his face, his musky scent enveloping his senses. There was a burning desire deep inside him, a primeval urge that he could only describe as wanting to be fucked. “I want to feel you inside me,” Handa breathed and Hiroshi’s eyes softened, his lips parted, and he melted onto Handa like warm chocolate.

“God, you are so…” he trailed off as he leaned down to kiss Handa, his lips moving roughly against his like ocean waves crashing against the rocks. Just as Handa was winding his arms around his neck, he pulled away. “Let’s move to the bedroom.”

With his hand in his, Hiroshi led Handa beyond the couch and into his bedroom, where Handa allowed himself to be pushed down onto the bed. From his position on top of him, Hiroshi reached over and opened the draw in his bedside table, drawing out a bottle of lube and a condom. Handa’s heart raced as Hiroshi poured the clear liquid into one hand and warmed it over his fingertips. He lowered himself onto the bed and resumed his ministrations on Handa’s erection, except this time he pressed a finger against his entrance and slipped a slick finger inside, stretching and scissoring. Handa squirmed, his fingers buried deep in Hiroshi’s thick hair. He reached around and tugged at the elastic that held his hair back, releasing the locks and letting the fall over his face. He glanced up as Handa ran his fingers through the long strands, gathering it up in a fistful on top of his head. Hiroshi smiled and jammed a third finger into him. Handa gasped and yanked on the hank of hair. Hiroshi moaned. The sound sent a shiver through Handa and he arched his back, thrusting deeper into his mouth, desperate to hear it again.

Hiroshi sat back, a trail of saliva like a spiderweb between his lips and the tip of Handa’s dick, and reached for the condom. Handa watched as he ripped open the foil packed and rolled the condom onto his length. The sight sent a tingle through him. It was a sight he had only witnessed in high school sex education class, and the weight of the situation suddenly sank in.

“You okay?” Hiroshi asked as he saw the look on Handa’s face.

Handa nodded and averted his eyes. Hiroshi crept closer and leaned in to kiss his neck. “Just… be gentle, okay?” He mumbled.

Hiroshi stared into his eyes and slowly took his lips in his, moving against him like the rolling waves on a windless day. Handa wrapped his arms around his neck and allowed him to raise his legs up over his shoulders. Hiroshi pressed his tip against Handa’s entrance, and Handa winced as he felt the ring of muscle give way and allow his to length slide inside.

Hiroshi stayed still for a moment, allowing Handa to adjust to his girth, before he slowly began to move. The friction, the feeling of being filled, the burning pain around his hole, and the jolt of pleasure when Hiroshi thrust deep inside him combined to override his senses. All he could do was gasp and cling to Hiroshi, his fingernails digging deep into his back. “Relax,” Hiroshi murmured in his ear, and Handa loosened his grip and sank back into the pillows. From where he lay with his head tilted, he could see a man in the mirror on Hiroshi’s wardrobe. His black hair was tousled and wild, silky strands sticking to his forehead in swirls, and his eyes were vacant, as if he was staring at something far away. He could see Hiroshi’s dick sliding in and out of the man. It was incredibly animalistic and lewd, and he felt a mixture of disgust and pleasure from the sight. His feelings were reflected on the face of the man in the mirror and a wave of lucidity washed over him. That was him. He was being fucked by Hiroshi right now. The boy who had always cooked for him, the boy who he’d exchange banter with, the boy who had shared his first kiss with him. And now they were having sex. Handa looked away from the mirror and up into the face of his lover.

His face was flushed, his eyes lidded and his mouth open. His eyebrows were knotted with pleasure. “Sensei,” he moaned and Handa felt a tingle rush through him. He craned his neck and smashed his lips against Hiroshi’s, cramming his tongue inside his mouth and entangling it with his.

Hiroshi moved faster, each thrust becoming wilder and rougher, like he was falling apart. Handa clung to his neck, unable to stop the cries that slipped out of his mouth each time Hiroshi’s hips slapped against him. “Hiro,” he gasped.

“Sensei.” Hiroshi grasped Handa’s penis and jerked him off in time with his thrusts. “Sensei.”

Handa’s toes curled and he could feel an orgasm gathering deep in his crotch, hot and sharp. “Ah, ah!” He could tell Hiroshi was holding back his own orgasm as his face screwed up tight, and his slick hand moved faster on his penis. “Hiro, I’m gonna…”

Thin ropes of semen splattered Handa’s chest, and he could feel Hiroshi shudder as he came inside him, his length buried to the hilt. He slumped, deflated, on Handa’s sticky chest, and his penis slid out with a rush of sweet relief. Handa wound his hands around Hiroshi’s sweaty shoulders and the boy buried his nose in his neck. They lay in each other’s arms until their heart beats slowed, Hiroshi’s eyes were closed, but Handa’s were open, watching the multi-coloured lights of the city outside the window and the blue light they cast on Hiroshi’s naked shoulder. He felt incredibly serene, as if he had transcended beyond feeling.

“I’ve always loved you,” Hiroshi mumbled, plummeting Handa back down to Earth.

Tears prickled in his eyes. The city lights blurred into blue, white and orange circles that wavered and swam before his eyes. He blinked and the tears dripped down his cheeks. He sniffed and immediately Hiroshi raised his head to look at him. “Are you crying?” His eyes were wide with worry and Handa hid his face behind his hands.

“No.”

“Yes you are.” He tried to pry his hands away. “What’s wrong? Does it hurt? I’m sorry, I…”

“No,” Handa cut him off and wiped his face. “I don’t know, I just… My heart hurts, but in a good way.” He had felt this feeling only a few times before. Once was at Naru’s school presentation, when the children had lined up on stage and announced their biggest achievement over the semester. When it had come to Naru’s turn, she had beamed and declared that she had learned how to write calligraphy. In that moment, he had felt his heart twist and his cheeks glow, and he couldn’t help the smile that crept to his face. Yet at the same time, he had been blinking back tears. 

He buried his face in Hiroshi shoulder. “I’ve always loved you too.”

Hiroshi held him tight, feeling his tears hot on his neck, his back wracking with sobs, his gasping breaths rasping in his ear, and took all of it. All of Handa’s insecurities, all his bottled-up feelings, all his fears, all his desires, and all his love.

Finally, the tears slowed, and Handa fell back onto the pillow, his mind purged and his body exhausted. Hiroshi bent down to kiss him. “Let’s go have a shower.” Handa didn’t resist as Hiroshi pulled him up and lead him towards the bathroom.

It was a poky little room, with a shower barely big enough for the two of them, but under the stream of water Handa slowly began to revive. Freshly soaped and scrubbed, he stepped out of the shower feeling rejuvenated, his muscles relaxed and his swollen eyes soothed. He fell into Hiroshi’s bed, diving under the covers without bothering to get dressed. Hiroshi followed him in, still towelling his hair dry, and laughed when he saw Handa in his bed, the blankets drawn up to his nose. He crawled in next to him. “How’re you feeling?”

“Better.”

There was a pause. “Did you enjoy it?” Hiroshi’s voice was barely a murmur.

Handa thought back on the experience. “I did. I think I’ll enjoy it more next time though.”

Hiroshi raised his eyebrows. “Oh, so there’s going to be a next time, huh?”

Handa blushed and went to hit him, but Hiroshi caught his hand, bringing it to his lips and kissing it. “Just kidding. I want to do it with you again too. There’s a lot of things I want to do with you. Not just sex,” he added hastily.

“Like what?”

“I dunno.” He paused and a bright blush crept into his cheeks. “I used to have this fantasy that I’d think about a lot when I was on the island,” his voice was a mumble, and Handa had to shift closer to hear him.  “I’d be grown up, with a job and a house, and I would come home from work to find you writing calligraphy in the living room. You’d greet me with a kiss and then I would cook dinner, and we’d wash the dishes side by side, like old times. Then we’d sit on the couch together and watch TV, and we’d argue about which show to watch. But it didn’t matter, because we’d never end up paying that much attention to the TV anyway,” he chuckled. “Then we would go to bed and kiss each other goodnight, and I would fall asleep to the sound of your breathing and then wake up to the sight of your face.”

Handa blushed yet he couldn’t help how the idea warmed his insides. It was as if a tiny sun had blossomed inside of him, turning his skin a rosy hue. That was what he had yearned for all this time, what had made him so bitter at the wedding, what had spurred him to come to Hiroshi’s – he wanted love, to love and be loved. By a man. It was surreal to look back on his previous fears and see so clearly how ridiculous they were. His desperate attempts to delude himself were laughable, his attitude towards women, particularly Kawafuji’s bride, despicable. He felt as if he had grown and matured within the span of only a few hours. And all it took was crossing the line that bordered his safe, ignorant comfort zone.

Emboldened, Handa pressed up against Hiroshi, resting his head on his shoulder. “That sounds good.”

Hiroshi’s head turned towards him. “For real? You’ll move in with me?”

“Huh?” Handa recoiled. “Where did that come from? You know I’d never leave the island.”

“But you said it yerself, the village is collapsing.”

“Yeah, but there are other villages on the island. Where do you think all the other villagers are going?”

Hiroshi deflated. “Guess it was pretty stupid o’ me to assume you’d want to live together after only one night.” He laughed hollowly.

“I never said I didn’t want to live with you.”

Hiroshi sat up, looking down at him. “Huh?”

Handa sat up. “I like the idea of living with you. I just don’t want to live in Tokyo. Besides,” his lips quirked up in a cheeky smile. “You haven’t even taken me out on a date yet. Isn’t that supposed to be step one?”

Hiroshi gave him a sheepish grin. “I’m pretty bad at this, huh?”

“Really bad. Soon you’ll be asking me to marry you.”

Hiroshi laughed. “For real though, how long are you in Tokyo for?”

“Two more days.”

“Well, prepare to be wooed.”

Handa shoved him, blushing. The thought of Hiroshi taking him out on a date, of flirting with him, winning him over, was simultaneously embarrassing and thrilling. Somehow, the mushy, romantic stuff made him squirm more than actual intimacy. When he thought of being with Hiroshi, he thought of peaceful afternoons spent doing their own thing but together, of food cooking on the stove just for them, of playful teasing and arguments, of dawn walks along the beach. That was the kind of love he wanted.

He leaned forwards and rested his forehead in the crook of Hiroshi’s neck. “You’ve already wooed me.”

With a grin and rosy cheeks, Hiroshi nuzzled him. “So, we can skip straight to marriage then?”

Handa shoved him but ended up dragged down with him as he fell, and the two began wrestling amongst the sheets. Wrestling soon turned to embracing and the two lay together in each other’s arms, listening to each other’s slowing heart beats. Handa’s eyes grew heavy with sleep and he nestled into Hiroshi’s chest.

“I hope, one day, we can live on the island together.”

“Yeah, one day,” Hiroshi echoed, holding him tightly until sleep loosened his arms and they both drifted off into peaceful dreams.