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With a Little Bit of Culture

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Okuyasu crouched in front of the old draft desk, twisting the knobs in opposing directions so he could adjust its slant. Once he was satisfied with the angle, he tightened them and started emptying his tote, carefully laying out his tools. Graphite- soft, medium, hard. Charcoal- pencil, vine, compressed. Erasers- kneaded, rubber, vinyl.

As he smoothed out a large sheet of paper and sat as his stool, he could almost feel the stress melting away. His life was overwhelming at times, and between the long hours at Tonio's and caring for Pa and Stray Cat, he had very little time to unwind.

When he started this, he hadn't realized it would soon become his chosen outlet.

......

 

"Rohan's been teaching me to draw," Hayato had said, mostly just speaking to fill the space.

"Yeah? How's that?" Okuyasu asked, tossing half of a green grape to the nearest duck.

Hayato shrugged, passing the knife through another and throwing both halves as far as he could. They landed near the edge of the lake and caught the attention of a few ducklings. "Alright, I guess. I mean, the guy's an ass."

Okuyasu laughed and popped a grape into his mouth.

"But you know. The drawing itself is pretty fun. I'm not any good at it yet but. I dunno, it doesn't really matter to me what it looks like in the end. Making it's the fun part. There's a lot of push and pull involved, but it's rewarding."

He turned to Okuyasu and smiled. "That's probably how you feel about cooking, huh?"

Okuyasu felt a sense of pride in his chest. It was hard to believe that this was the same Hayato who'd called on Josuke for help all those years ago. He was almost in highschool now, and it felt like it'd taken a handful of moments for him to become the smart, capable young man he was now. Okuyasu knew he hadn't raised Hayato or anything, but they'd been in close contact ever since the incident, and he'd always known the boy looked up to him.

It seemed he hadn't been too horrible of an influence after all.
.........

He smiled meekly at the artists as they filtered into the room. They ranged quite a bit in age, from recent highschool graduates to senior citizens, and Okuyasu could tell by the quality of their supplies that beginners and avid artists were here in equal measure.

He'd only been drawing seriously for a few months now, but his nervousness was overpowered by his eagerness to learn. The 'how to draw' guides at the local bookstore had been fun for a while, but when he heard about the figure drawing group just a few towns over, he'd jumped at the opportunity. Working from a live model, not to mention getting constructive feedback from his peers, was certain to be as fun as it was rewarding.

Their instructor strode into the room, warmly greeting what Okuyasu assumed were longstanding members of the group. She stood in the center of their semi-circle and clapped her hands together to garner everyone's attention.

"Alright! We're gonna start off with some gesture warmups. Since I know we've got a new member with us this week," She smiled at Okuyasu and he waved shyly to the group. "We're gonna take it a little easy with the long pose. If you feel like challenging yourself, try to really focus on realistic shading."

Okuyasu stretched his wrists, watching the other artists shift on their stools or rummage through their bags for an adequately soft piece of charcoal. A door opened in the back of the room and Okuyasu instinctively ducked his head down. The blooming artist within him knew that the human form needed to be closely observed, and that drawing from life models was a time honored tradition.

But he was still kind of freaked out over the whole 'drawing naked people' thing.

He took a deep breath, willing himself to look up. The model is just a person. The human body is natural. It's not weird. It's just a naked stranger-

In an instant, all the moisture left his mouth. Heat crept from his neck up to the tips of his ears.

That wasn't a stranger.

.......

Josuke and Okuyasu didn't really talk that much anymore. It was regrettable, but it wasn't tragic or anything. When they'd graduated, Josuke went off to college, and Okuyasu stayed in Morioh to study under Tonio. They still talked infrequently, just enough to catch up a little and say, 'we should hang out sometime!' before life distracted one or both of them for a few months and they circled back around. He missed Josuke, in a quiet sort of way. At times when the night felt too quiet, he would think back to their teen years, and the longing that usually manifested as background noise would find it's way to the forefront again.

And as those deep indigo eyes locked with his own for the first time in years, that same longing came back with a vengeance.

The surprise and mild embarrassment at meeting like this was mutual, if Josuke's wide eyes and blushing cheeks were any indicator. Okuyasu forced a nervous smile.

Josuke stepped up onto the slightly elevated platform in the center of the room, turning away from the group. He discarded his slippers near the edge, looking to the instructor expectantly.

"You okay?" She asked. When Josuke nodded, she lifted the small stopwatch from where it rested around her neck. "Okay. Whenever you're ready."

The silk robe seemed to slip from his shoulders in slow motion, the world halting to a stop when it finally hit the floor.

"Go."

Okuyasu blinked, forcing himself to focus as he took charcoal to paper. He tried to do what his books said, to break Josuke down into lines of action, to focus on weight and tension and not on form-

Her stopwatch beeped. A minute had already passed.

"Next pose."

Josuke turned, twisting his head so that the muscles in his neck were pulled taut.

He had his hair down, tied back in a low ponytail. Okuyasu wondered if that was a matter of preference, or something that the instructor had asked him to do. Probably the latter, a pompadour would be kind of distracting.

"Next pose."

When he stood in contrapposto, his weight-bearing leg tensed with tantalizing volume. He clearly still worked out, and Okuyasu found himself wishing he still made time to hit the gym himself.

"Next."

The large, puckered scar on either side of his thigh was still there, hardly even faded. Maybe that shouldn't have surprised him, having your leg skewered by a banister rail tends to leave a mark.

Next.

The curve of his back made Okuyasu long to reach out and touch him. The way it dipped, welcoming a hand to wrap around it.

"Wow, you're already getting a hang of this! Good job!"

Okuyasu jumped when he heard his instructor's voice. He hadn't realized how focused he'd been. He looked down at his paper, and found himself pleasantly surprised.

She looked up to Josuke, clapping her hands together again. "Okay! Long pose!"

"How do you want me?" He asked, sounding a little apprehensive.

She gestured toward the ratty old chaise lounge on the platform, covered with a sheet and some random pillows. "Just reclining should be fine. Make yourself comfortable, you seem kinda stressed."

Josuke rolled his eyes. "I'm fine, Lin. Really."

He placed his robe on the chaise lounge, resting atop it and stretching languidly. Okuyasu's eyes swept up and down Josuke's body, beholding it in a way that he wasn't sure was entirely aesthetic. When his gaze reached Josuke's face, their eyes met again. Josuke immediately turned his head to the side, leaning it against an arm.

He took note of the heavy blush on Josuke's face. Art was about close observation of the subject, after all. Luckily he'd spent the better part of his teen years doing just that, so he was ahead of the curve.

He took a deep breath and started to sketch. Lightly, hard graphite barely caressed the surface. He made an effort to distance body from soul, as his books had suggested. He broke Josuke down to his basics. Loose raven locks spilling over the far shoulder. Jaw cutting through the gloom to demand a sharp highlight. Okuyasu bit his lip and abstracted further. Curves meet angles and core shadow meets light mass and suddenly a twist brings with it tension as absolutely as volume brings weight.

Nothing else existed. Josuke Higashikata was a dynamic, vibrant, complicated thing that contained an infinity within its contours. Given an eternity it could never be fully described, and yet Okuyasu enjoyed pursuing its description. The endless push and pull that Hayato had mentioned was in full effect, and Okuyasu swayed with its rhythm.

........

After a span of twenty minutes that felt very nearly like twenty years, the group took a short break. Josuke redonned the robe and stepped into his slippers before dismounting from the platform. It was strange. Even though the platform was only elevated by a few inches, there was something so humanizing about seeing Josuke back on the ground. Like an angel being pulled down to earth. The hypnotic expanse of curves and planes suddenly felt very much like a body again, and it made Josuke's previous nudity feel even more vulnerable in retrospect. Okuyasu felt himself once again blushing.

Josuke approached him slowly, an awkward grin forming on his face. "Hey," he said. "I wasn't expecting to see you here."

Okuyasu tried to find his words, but he still felt a little lost.

Josuke tucked an errant strand of hair behind his ear. "I mean, I didn't know you liked to draw."

"I didn't know you liked...uh, being naked," Okuyasu finally said.

To his relief, Josuke laughed. A clear, warm laugh that had hardly changed over the years. "I get fifteen hundred yen an hour, and they host two groups a week. So it's a pretty sweet gig."

"Wow! You get all that for just standing still doin' nothing? That's awesome!"

Josuke laughed again, lips curving into a fond smile. "It's good to see you again, Okuyasu." His smile fell a fraction. "I always meant to visit more often, you know. I didn't mean-"

Okuyasu held up a hand. "I get it, man. You don't hafta explain it to me."

Josuke nodded, folding his arms modestly. "H-hey, uh, this isn't like, weird for you or anything, right? I mean, since-"

"Weird?" Exhilarating might've been a better word. "Nah...I mean, maybe a little. But that's just because of like, culture, yeah?"

Another laugh, and Okuyasu's head was spinning.

........

Josuke was in and out of the back room in minutes, already fully dressed and heading for the exit. Okuyasu practically dropped his half-collected tools in his rush to catch him at the door.

"Hey!" Okuyasu said, barely beating him to the community center's main exit. "So, will I uh, see you next week? Or-"

"Next week's session is with Kate, actually."

He tried to mask his disappointment. "Oh, okay. Thanks for letting me know-"

"B-but I'll be here after that!" Josuke said in a rush. He cleared his throat. "They just usually alternate male and female models."

Okuyasu grinned, moving to hold the door open for Josuke. "Cool. See you then."

........

"We should go out sometime."

Okuyasu was so caught off guard that his hand slipped along his pencil. He fumbled the blade, slicing into the pad of his thumb. "Shit," he hissed. When he instinctively moved to jam the thumb into his mouth, Josuke snatched his wrist away and sighed.

"Here, let me."

Crazy Diamond had hardly shimmered into view by the time the cut was fully repaired, Josuke looking on with tender annoyance.

"I swear, I don't know how you've survived without me. Felt like everyday I was patching you up again." His eyes flicked up to meet Okuyasu's. "It's kinda nostalgic, eh?"

"I'd love to go out with you," Okuyasu said, brain still stuck on the proposition. "I-It'll be cool to catch up. What're you doing after this?"

Josuke smirked at him, amused by his eagerness. "I can't. I've got work right after. What about before class next time I'm coming in?"

Okuyasu thought about it for a moment. "Well, I guess I could. I mean, I usually have breakfast with Hayato on Sundays, but-"

"Hayato Kawajiri?" Josuke asked.

"Yeah, but I'm sure he'll understand if I have to miss one week."

"Y-you still talk to Hayato Kawajiri?"

"Oh, yeah! Every week, rain or shine, basically."

"How's he doing?"

"He's doin' great! He's getting good grades, has to beat the girls off with a stick, he-"

Okuyasu noticed the look of fear on Josuke's face then. He smiled reassuringly. After so many years of regular visits with the kid, he'd more or less gotten past the unfortunate circumstances surrounding his and Hayato's meeting. But for a moment, Josuke's expression brought him all the way back to 1999.

"He's happy, Josuke. He's doing just as good as any normal teenager. Better, even."

Josuke let out a sigh of relief, returning to his easy smile. "That's...that's good to hear, Oku. I'm glad you're keeping an eye on him."

A loud clap drew both of their attention.

"Alright! Josuke, back in place!"

Before returning to the platform, Josuke stepped closer. "Maybe...maybe we could hang out after I get off. I could come to your place if you want! I mean, it'd have to be pretty late, but-"

"Sounds good."

........

"Okuyasu, would it be alright if I gave you some constructive feedback?"

Okuyasu smiled up at Lin, still idly wiping charcoal off of his drafting desk. "Sure, I can take criticism!"

"Well, I can't help but notice the difference in quality between your male and female sketches."

"Oh?"

She nodded. "Your proportions and shadows are all pretty much accurate with the female model, but I get the sense that you have more interest in sketching the male form."

Okuyasu felt his face heat up. "Oh! Uh, I dunno, I guess I'm just more familiar-"

"Josuke's been working with me for a long time, Okuyasu," she interrupted, placing her hands on his desk. "I've seen a lot of students come and go in that time, but Josuke's always been here when I needed him to be, and he's always done great work. He's irreplaceable to me."

His embarrassment turned into nervousness. "Yeah, I uh, feel that way too! I mean, we were actually best friends back in high school. Josuke saved my life once! M-more than once, really! So, I know what you mean."

He face softened slightly with his words, but she let out a heavy sigh. "I have a responsibility, both to my students and my coworkers. A responsibility to keep this working environment safe and professional, okay?"

"I'm not sure I-"

"If you try anything with Josuke, I'm gonna have to ask you to leave."

Okuyasu froze up. Lin was usually pretty laid back, which made this protective side even scarier. He considered playing dumb and denying his affections, but he decided to cut the bullshit. "I'd never do anything with Josuke that he wasn't entirely comfortable with."

She nodded once, then turned to collect her papers, the tension breaking like a rubber band. "By the way," she said over her shoulder. "You should consider submitting something to our spring art contest. Your stuff is getting really good."

..........

Okuyasu stepped close to Josuke, willing himself to move forward. "Hey, I was wondering if maybe you'd wanna do somethin' for me."

Josuke busied himself with adjusting his ponytail as he spoke, hardly phased by Okuyasu's words. "Yeah? What's up?"

Okuyasu swallowed around the nervous lump in his throat. He really shouldn't be this freaked. Josuke and Okuyasu had been hanging out for a few months now, even meeting up for late dinners at Okuyasu's place from time to time. Their rapport was very much repaired by now. But this was still a nerve wracking request.

"I need you to model for me."

Josuke chuckled, gesturing at the room around them. "I think I can manage that."

Okuyasu felt his anxiety peaking, but he waged onward. "N-no. Like. For an independent project."

Josuke quirked an eyebrow at him. Damn, this was difficult. But he'd worked with a handful of models now. He'd felt the practiced focus of an artist capturing a model. And it was amazing, but it felt different with Josuke. His focus was effortless, his attention undivided.

Josuke was his muse.

"I wanna draw something for the art contest, and I just thought maybe, if you were up for it, I could draw you."

Josuke seemed to think about it for a while.

"I could pay you!" Okuyasu blurted out. He cleared his throat, sensing his own desperation coming through. "I-if you want."

Josuke looked him in the eyes, mischief twinkling within them. "Cook me dinner and we'll call it even, yeah?"

Okuyasu smiled, relief hitting him like a cool wave. "Awesome, sure."

..........

Josuke's shave-and-a-haircut knock set Okuyasu's heart into full gear. He knew this was professional, a model posing for an artist, but his prior experiences drawing Josuke seemed filled with this quiet adrenaline. He was certain that a one on one session would have him sweating by its conclusion.

"Hey!" Josuke said, setting down his bag by the door. "Sorry if I look kinda rough, I had to come straight here after my shift ended."

Okuyasu gave him a quick once-over. Perfect, as usual. "You look fine, dude. Promise."

He smiled that same fond smile, and Okuyasu felt the first flock of butterflies. The first of many, to be sure.

"So, do you just wanna go ahead and get started?"

As Okuyasu led Josuke to the bedroom, he felt his palms starting to sweat. This drawing was either going to be a masterpiece or a disaster, with no room in between.

He shut the door mostly out of habit. "Okay, I'm gonna go ahead and grab my tools and stuff, just make yourself at-"

Josuke pulled his T shirt over his head in one fluid motion, barely disturbing his pomp as it passed by. He tossed it onto a nearby dresser and started on his belt.

"-home..."

Josuke smirked at him. "Don't really see a point in changing in the other room since it's just the two of us, do you?"

Okuyasu tried to find his brain, but it was lost somewhere between his eyes and his hands. "Uh, guess not."

He paused, gesturing to his signature pompadour. "It's cool if I keep my hair up, yeah? I mean, I could take it down, but I'd probably need to use your shower for all the gel."

Okuyasu forced himself back into motion, carefully setting up his makeshift station. "No, I like it how it is."

Josuke left his jeans and underwear on the dresser with his shirt. Damn, Okuyasu needed that elevated platform right now because Josuke was starting to feel a lot like a hot naked guy in his bedroom, and he hadn't seen that in a while.

Josuke seemed to notice his gaze. Whether he could tell that it wasn't exactly artistic, Okuyasu wasn't sure. Their eyes locked, and Josuke's words seemed to come out softer.

"How do you want me?" He asked, and Okuyasu could feel the words echo in his head.

"Just lay back, get comfortable. I'll work with whatever you give me."

A smile tugged at the corner of Josuke's mouth, and he laid back on Okuyasu's bed, propping himself up a little with his cushions. He looked straight at Okuyasu, eyes seeming to observe him with an intensity that would soon be mutual.

Okuyasu cleared his mind, took a deep breath, and put pencil to paper. He tried to abstract Josuke like he had before, but it felt much more difficult now. The quiet between them was deafening, Josuke's indigo eyes boring holes into his very being. He was unable to relax, to fall into that trance-like state that produced his best work. There had been something in the way of it for a while now, growing, building. It had finally become too much.

After fifteen frustrating minutes of trying and failing to enter his flow state, Okuyasu put down his pencil. Josuke was still looking at him, studying him.

"You can take a break now, Josuke. I need a minute."

He barely moved from his spot, aside from slightly readjusting his arm. "Are you okay, Oku?"

He pinched his brow. "Y-yeah. I'm fine. Just distracted tonight, I guess."

"Do you wanna stop?"

"No! No. It's fine, im just..." The curve where his neck met his shoulder called out to him. Not as an artist this time, but as a man.

"I think I just need..."

The perfect flesh there, draped in shadow and carved from light, it seemed to be begging for his lips to adorn it.

"I just need to get closer."

Josuke nodded. "Yeah? Maybe crop it differently. Get a little closer and see how you feel."

Okuyasu moved his seat, bringing his vantage point closer to his subject. He sighed as he beheld Josuke, his curves and edges all demanding to be experienced more intimately.

Okuyasu had barely touched his sketch when he hit the first roadblock. Light hit Josuke's collarbones with such irresistible magnetism that he felt himself ache for it. This was torturous, to be alone in the night with this beautiful, unattainable thing.

Josuke frowned. "You sure you're okay? You don't seem like yourself."

Okuyasu nodded, eyes still trained on Josuke's form.

"Maybe," he breathed. "You should come closer."

Okuyasu half laughed. "I dunno how much closer I could get without my desk blocking my view."

"Just to observe, I mean. To get a better look."

Okuyasu slowly approached his bed. He studied Josuke's expression as he knelt on the edge. He didn't flinch. He crawled closer, practically hovering over the other man. Josuke's breath caught in his throat.

Okuyasu leaned close, taking in each minute detail of Josuke's face, as if trying to burn it into his memory.

He'd been so absorbed in his study that he failed to notice the hand that snaked around the back of his neck, gently pulling him in.

Okuyasu sighed into the kiss, feeling his brain at last dissipate into a blissful fog. Josuke's lips were pillowy, his hands strong but gentle as they tangled into Okuyasu's hair.

He swept a longing hand along Josuke's side, finally feeling those dips and rises for himself. He no longer had to wonder how Josuke's hip turned so perfectly into his waist, it was now his to experience.

Josuke whimpered against the touch, kissing back with a fervour that implied Okuyasu's longing had been mutual all along, and his heart raced from the sound.

Okuyasu settled atop him, shielding Josuke's beauty from the gaze of the outside world. He could feel Josuke's body responding to his presence, and took that as an invitation to let his mind slip away.

He broke Josuke down to his basics. Deep, cool eyes slipping shut. A strong, defined chest, rising and falling in syncopated rhythms. He bit his lip and abstracted further. Mouth meets neck as a gasp meets his ear and he is in love as surely as his model's fist tightens around the bedsheets.

.........

Okuyasu looked at Josuke, no longer studying his face, but simply looking as he stared up that the ugly popcorn ceiling. Their fingers found each other, intertwining with ease.

"You know what sucks?" Josuke said after a while.

"What?"

"I don't know if I can model for you anymore." Josuke cracked a small smile. "I think if you try to draw me again, I'll end up getting a boner."

Okuyasu barked out a laugh, letting it melt into a sigh. "It's okay. I'm pretty sure Lin's gonna make me quit when she finds out about us anyway, so I'm probably gonna stop goin'."

Josuke frowned, turning to face him. "Oh shit, did I just ruin your like, weekly ritual?'

Okuyasu shrugged. "Nah." He shifted close, wrapping his arm around the small of Josuke's back. "You'll just have to come pose for me instead."