It’s that odd time of day where “afternoon” and “evening” blend together. You couldn’t say the sun is setting, really, but it’s certainly not high in the sky either. This time of day used to mean weird things for me. If I saw it alone when I was younger, that usually meant Hiromi wasn’t going to be home until late - if she came home at all.
It’s not so bad now, though. Now, the sun’s descent means snack time. A little over half the time, I end up enjoying some fresh coconut or some nuts alone; recently, I’ve been trying to figure out dog-friendly snacks so I can rope Jirou and Saburou into the mix.
But today, Richard’s here.
Richard has six entirely separate stomachs for all manner of sweets, so it’s surprisingly difficult to keep myself from cooking a mountain of cakes and puddings every time he’s here. But I at least want him to properly enjoy the dinner I make, so simple it is.
“Alright, can you get the tea? I’ll grab the fruit salad.”
“Of course. Have you given Jirou and Saburou their share?”
“Ah, crap. I tried making them some dog-friendly bread… Can you get it from the pantry?”
Richard nods, unset hair briefly sweeping in front of his eyes. Not only is he here, but today was also a rare day off for both of us. It’s taken a bit of time even after we made our promise to each other, but he’s slowly growing more comfortable just being himself when we’re alone. I feel like I’m gazing at some impeccably sculpted Greek statue, even though the man himself has just been lazing about in slacks and a shirt all day. He’s obviously beautiful when he’s ready to present himself to the world, but there’s something unspeakably divine about the way he looks now.
“I cannot help it.” There’s no use denying it, so I choose to lean into it instead. “You’re like a work of art.”
His sigh is clearly exaggerated, but there’s something… something sad, almost, in his eyes.
Huh? Did I do something weird? I thought this was well within the realm of acceptability.
As if reading my mind, he slowly shakes his head, a grin playing across his perfect lips.
“I’m simply amused. Words of admiration no longer seem to be enough for me. I certainly hope you don’t intend to observe this ‘work of art’ forever.”
I search his face, more than a little confused. Please just say what you want. I will give you almost anything if you just ask for it, Richard.
I don’t realize my lips are pursed in a very real show of confusion until Richard’s finger lightly lands on them.
“Your mouth could do much more than compliment, I’m sure.”
Hmm. Hmm? Hmm.
I’m confused… I think. Maybe. Something inside me seems so close to actually understanding, but something else keeps pressing it down into the pit of my stomach. Either way, I don’t get the chance to say anything else as Richard gracefully takes the tray of tea outside. I hear the dogs barking, begging for the snack they know is coming.
The single spot where his finger touched my lips is almost unbearably hot, and the unevenness of it all makes it that much worse.
We sit side by side out in the garden. The dogs are running around, though they look back at us in turn every once in a while as if to make sure we’re still there. Richard takes the last sip of his tea and, putting the empty cup next to mine, turns to me.
“Yeah. Come here. I was actually kind of hoping you’d ask today.”
He doesn’t ask every single time, but by this point I know what it means when he does.
I put an arm up behind the chair we share, and he comes just a little closer. The golden strands of his hair almost tickles my ear as he puts his head on my shoulder.
“There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you, Seigi.”
That’s about two steps away from accusatory. What did I do?
“Do you dislike when we touch like this?”
What? Do I— What? Why would I? The question comes so spectacularly out of nowhere that I can barely form a coherent sentence.
“I— Huh? Why would— Did I give you that impression?”
He lifts his head just enough to give a surprisingly pointed stare to my arm.
“You always seem very careful to keep your arm behind the seat - even to your discomfort.”
“I’d rather spend a couple hours with shoulder pain than make you feel uncomfortable.”
“...And why would I be uncomfortable?”
The question hits me harder than I expected it to. I mean, wouldn’t sudden contact like that be weird? If I put my arm down naturally, it’d either rest on his shoulder or on his waist. I don’t know all the details about what he’s been through, but those are the two places any scumbag would immediately go for if they were trying to feel him up. I don’t want to make him remember any of that.
It’s not that I don’t want to… to touch him.
I do. More than I’m comfortable admitting, sometimes.
But I just don’t want to suddenly throw that at him.
Why that voice. After that stunt in the kitchen, do you know close to my limit I am? You can’t just speak like - like fingers tracing satin, or the way the sun looks from under the water. With so much gentle understanding, even though I’ve said nothing at all.
“I don’t mean to sound combative when I ask this, Seigi, but have you been attempting to keep yourself in check?”
He quirks an eyebrow at me. Yeah, I know.
“...Okay, a lot. I’m just - I don’t want to accidentally push you away.”
“I very much doubt you could ‘accidentally’ push me out of your life at this point.”
His right hand reaches out to cup my cheek, his thumb gently rubbing at the space right under my eye. I lean into that touch…
...and it’s only when he laughs that I realize I’ve let out a sigh.
“That’s a little better,” he mumbles to himself. It takes me a minute to figure out what he’s referring to, and then I manage to connect a few dots of my own.
The line in the kitchen. Something something compliments and mouths.
He’s been feeling just as frustrated as I have.
“...We’re both pretty awful at this, huh?”
“That we are.” He says it with a laugh. Good. At least we’re on the same page here.
His thumb is still rubbing circles on my cheek when I take up his left hand. He simply lets me, watching my actions with mild interest. He goes to extend his fingers, probably thinking I’m going to make it a mirror of his other hand, but instead I bring my thumb around to curl his fingers inward.
It’s a wonder I’m not shaking as I bring his hand closer and kiss the base of his ring finger.
I feel the way he tenses, but soon he’s moving again. When I look up at him, he’s much closer than he was before.
“I’m not really attached to marriage itself, as long as I’m with you, but… I’d still like to get matching rings, I think.”
I finally move my arm from behind the couch. With the way Richard is now, it’s easy to slip it around and behind his waist. When my hand lands on the small of his back, the first thing I notice is that it’s surprisingly comfortable.
He chuckles. The sound is so light and almost airy, and the grin he has afterward is so enticing.
“You were very quick to take my advice, but I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. You always were a quick learner.”
“I don’t want to have to hold back with you. You’re important to me. ...I love you, Richard.”
He leans in closer, and his lips barely brush against mine. I’m absorbed in the celestite dancing his eyes as I feel his smile against mine.
“Thank you, Seigi. I love you too.”
He almost pulls back as he mumbles something about conferring with Saul, but I bring my other hand up and around his neck, stopping him and knocking our foreheads together.
“I hope you know that means you don’t have to hold back, either.”
“...I will give you one chance to take that back before you regret it.”
I gulp. How do you not, faced with eyes like burning sapphires? But that does nothing to calm the squirming heat I feel in the back of my throat, threatening to spill out.
Take it. Take this heat. You’re the only one I ever want to give it to.
“I want to feel what you feel. I could never regret that.”
The widening of his eyes is almost imperceptible, but at this distance anything that minute is easy to pick up.
—And that’s my final coherent thought before his lips are on mine again with a hundred times the force of before, but with just as much ardent affection as I’ve come to expect from the few times his lips have graced my skin. I close my eyes. I don’t want to just see him. I want everything else, too.
If I’m feeling this hot, how does he feel? Does he want this just as badly?
My hand, still resting at the back of his head, pulls him in as close as we physically can be. I easily open my mouth to let him in, and the smooth sweetness of milk and the punch of citrus overwhelms my sense of taste. His cologne wafts around me as he shifts to his knees to straddle me, and his hand weaves through my hair.
I lean up into him as he comes down from above, like he’s trying to impress the sheer weight of his feelings into my skin.
I don’t know how much time passes like this, but that doesn’t matter.
I’ve never felt anything so keenly as I do right now. Was I really always using all my other senses before? In the same way I sometimes feel like I didn’t know sight before I saw his smile, maybe I didn't truly realize how incredible it was to hear until I heard my name tumble from his mouth between sighs.
I had only ever meant to use weird metaphors of kisses as just that. He started that metaphor all those years ago, and I just continued it. But it really exists. The kind of kiss that breathes life back into you, showing you what it means to be alive.
And all I want is to know that he feels the same.
We pull apart, and I feel his ragged breathing on my skin before I finally manage to open my eyes and complete the picture. His mouth is slightly parted, red cheeks highlighting the fire still lurking in his eyes.
“I feel like… like I’ve finally been allowed to breathe…”
“...As do I. I almost feel as if you’ve brought me back to a life I hadn’t even realized I’d lost.”
Of course he does. He’s Richard. Of course he understands.
But hearing him say it, and really knowing we feel the same, gives me an unparalleled sense of joy.
I look up at his beautifully flushed face, backlit by the golden rays of the sun.
Richard looks down at me, amused. He smiles with an endearing warmth as he cradles my face.
“Of course. Come here, Seigi.”
We come together again and again out in our little garden, and each time I try to sense Richard in a brand new way.