Happiness Is

by Marin Karen (マリン カレン)

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/160544.html)

Nagasaki, Japan, 19XX.

The temperature that year was higher than usual and no one, whether weatherman or fortune-teller, could explain why. All year round, Nagasaki was generally one of the more comfortable cities in Japan to live in temperature-wise; it got a little bit chillier in the winter and a little bit hotter in the summer, but most days of the year, the inhabitants enjoyed more temperate weather that was likely regulated by the neighboring body of water around the port of Nagasaki. Natsume, first son of the Amamiya family, almost always felt like sleeping no matter what temperature it was, but the hot air made him even more drowsy and even more unable to focus on the work at hand, mindless and easy as it generally was.

Natsume worked at a bakery. The owner, too cheap to hire multiple employees, relied on Natsume for everything from baking to cleaning to sales. The problem was most people didn’t wander into a western confectionery when it was so hot out. Biting into a warm piece of fresh sponge cake was already unappetizing on such a hot day, but when even the parfaits were a little warm, it was no wonder that during his entire shift so far, Natsume hadn’t seen a hint of a single customer.

The owner had stepped out—just for a smoke, he’d said—but when he didn’t return after two hours, Natsume figured that the old man had probably run home to enjoy the air conditioning. Naturally, he’d been too frugal to install AC in the store, so Natsume was left defenseless against the onslaught of heat. He lazily waved a paper fan in front of his face for just a little bit of ventilation, but all it did was make his arm ache from the added effort, so Natsume eventually put the fan down. He learned over the counter and put his face up against the glass, which was just a fraction of a degree cooler than the air, or so he kept trying to convince himself.

Just when he felt as if he was about to doze off right there at the counter, a group of girls walked in like a gaggle of geese, noisily gossiping and laughing as if they had not a care in the world. Dressed rather flashily, they were probably on their way to the trendier part of town for a party or a group date.

Natsume, despite being part of the same age group, knew little about the goings-on of the socially adept of his age group—to be precise, he had no interest in such things. Though he’d been invited a few times to attend a group date, Natsume had never gone to one, always having ignored the people asking until they’d given up. Normally, he couldn’t even be bothered to stay awake around other people. They bored him immensely with their shallowness and attempts at small talk; Natsume decided rather early in life that he was completely uninterested in the lives of people he didn’t already know. If he wasn’t working, he was sleeping, which ended up being most of the time. Every now and then he thought to himself that he was resembling an old man more and more in his demeanor, but he often pushed this thought from his mind, not letting it worry him in the least.

“Ah, Amamiya-kun!” One of the girls brightened considerably when she saw him and ran up to the counter. Her eager, perky demeanor paired with her puffy, permed hair reminded him suddenly of a Pomeranian. Some guys, no doubt, would probably find such a girl cute, but Natsume could only associate her with a yapping, annoying little dog now. He often found such excuses to dislike just about everyone he ever met, though it was rarely a conscious effort.

“Welcome to Pierre Saint Ives,” Natsume said, returning her greeting with a curt nod and suppressing a yawn. The owner had berated him many times before for yawning or looking sleepy in front of the customers. Personally, he didn’t see why it mattered as long as they got what they paid for, but the owner had other ideas. “Can I help you with anything?”

“Oh, we’re not really here to buy anything…”

Natsume frowned. “The owner really doesn’t like people to loiter around here if they’re not paying customers, so I’d appreciate it if you went on your way if you’re not here to buy anything.” The girl who’d spoken up first shrunk back in the face of such stern words, her lower lip quivering, and stepped back to be surrounded by the rest of the group.

A taller, obviously more confident girl stepped forward and laid a 500-yen piece on the counter in front of Natsume. She pushed it toward him with one finger, the nail painted in a deco style with all sorts of glittery things stuck onto it. Natsume, who always saw the girls at school wearing such things on their nails, often wondered how it was they had the time, patience, and money to bother with such things. “We don’t want any cakes, so can we just buy a little bit of your time?”

He didn’t appreciate the tone in her voice, nor did he appreciate how these girls were cutting into his nap time, but the owner wouldn’t like it if he chased off potential paying customers, either, so it couldn’t be helped. Regardless, Natsume let out a reluctant sigh before picking up the coin and dropping it in the tip jar, though it was a tip jar only in name. Natsume was paid a measly salary by the hour and never saw a single yen from that jar. “What exactly do you girls want?”

The braver girl grinned. She returned to the group for a moment and whispered something in the first girl’s ear before pushing her back towards the counter. “Come on, Noriko, here’s your chance!”

“U-um. Amamiya-kun… That is…” The Pomeranian girl fidgeted and wrung her hands. She obviously hadn’t intended on speaking to him like this today, but the pressure from a group of friends was likely hard to ignore. Ah, the mind processes of a herd member. Natsume wondered where her earlier bravado had gone. At last, she spoke, so nervous that she spit out all her words at once: “I like you!! Would you please consider going out with me?”

It took him a few moments to process exactly what was going on and at the end of it, Natsume balked, completely at a loss for words. He always thought that he would get the hang of answering such confessions after the first few girls he’d had to let down earlier in his life, but it never had gotten any easier. He studied her face for a bit, trying to see if there was anything familiar about it, but failed to find anything he knew. And so, the first words out of his mouth after this brave, heartfelt confession were, inevitably: “I’m sorry, but… do I know you?” His face and tone were both cold.

The girl’s reaction was truly spectacular, Natsume would think much later, though certainly not at the time. She blanched and great big tears welled up in her eyes. “H-how… How cruel…” she sobbed before running off, so distraught that she almost ran into the automatic sliding doors on her way out.

“N-Noriko!” The other girls, worried for their friend and surprised at the turn of events, followed her out the door, though the more outgoing girl lingered around just long enough to say, “Noriko is in your homeroom class, you jerk!” All this left Natsume, too, in a bit of a shocked state. It had been a fair question, he thought. Girls had such strange ways of thinking.

When Natsume told the story to his childhood best friend, Sorata Chiaki, the next day at school, the other boy couldn’t help but laugh at him, his voice laced with scorn and pity. He looked over at the girl Natsume hadn’t even had the grace to turn down properly and shook his head. “Natsu, you’re so different around me and your brothers that I forget sometimes how much of an insensitive idiot you can be.” He paused thoughtfully for a moment before adding, “…wait, scratch that, you’re always insensitive.”

Natsume glared at his friend. He had his arms folded on top of the desk and now leaned forward to put his head on top of his arms, his flesh a soft cushion from the hard desktop. Almost as soon as he did this, he let out a yawn, unable and unwilling to suppress it, and his eyelids started to feel heavy.

“Natsu, don’t fall asleep,” Chiaki scolded. “Aren’t you just a few points away from failing history?”

“I hate reminiscing about the past,” Natsume replied soberly. “All that matters is where humanity is now, not where we’ve been.”

“What about where we’re going? Where you’re going?” Chiaki’s voice was soft, the last thing Natsume heard before finally giving into sleep just as the teacher came into the room and pulled the sliding door shut. There was a quiz, which he slept through despite repeated attempts by Chiaki to wake him, as well as a warning from the teacher that he would be calling his parents, which mattered just as little.

The rest of the day went by, with Natsume hardly conscious for most of it. Eventually he tired of sleeping and awoke to an orange sky choked with sunset. Most of the school had left for home long before, and Natsume stretched his limbs, joints cracking, the harsh sounds reverberating off the empty classroom walls, before doing the same. His home was a short distance from the school he attended— Meisei Gakuen—and he arrived before long.

Later, a single plume of dark smoke wafted out into the dusty evening sky from somewhere far in the distance. It seemed to look down on the dirty city with pity, rising up above it all with pride. When Natsume looked up from his book and gazed out the window, he could see the darkness on the horizon, but it was too far away for him to register it at all, let alone as something ominous. “Ani-ue, what are you looking at?” Shuuki, the youngest Amamiya brother, demanded rather impatiently. No doubt he’d been in the middle of telling his disinterested brother a personal and important story, the beginning, middle, and end of which Natsume had missed entirely.

Natsume turned away from the smoke with a bit of a wry smile on his lips where there rested an unspoken apology that would have been a lie if said aloud. “Nothing. Nothing at all.” He closed his novel and laid it in his lap; the last several pages he’d read hadn’t made any sort of impression—it was time to stop fighting the inevitable. Natsume smiled down at Shuuki, hopefully reassuringly, one more time for good measure.

He shot a quick glance towards the kitchen table where Masaharu, the middle Amamiya brother, was doing his homework, but Masa had no interest whatsoever in his brothers’ conversation and no intention of defending his older brother, as usual. “I wasn’t listening because I had a few things on my mind.” Natsume finally admitted to Shuuki. While he felt as if he towered over his cute youngest brother, in truth he had only a few inches on Shuuki; while many, especially those with a height complex, would have been annoyed at being looked down upon, Shuuki knew from years of experience that his brother rarely thought things through. Getting annoyed at Natsume would be pointless when he meant no harm.

Still, he sighed. “You know, you really ought to stop zoning out like that. One of these days you’re going to make a total fool out of yourself because you missed something important.”

Masaharu, never one to miss a chance to complain about Natsume, quipped, “You say that as if onii-sama doesn’t already make a fool out of himself every day. Remember? He does.

“Ah, you’re right,” Shuuki grinned, and the two laughed together. Though they rarely ever agreed on anything else, the one thing they shared opinions on was that their eldest brother was something of an airhead. How nice it would be if he only actedthat way, if deep, deep down he was a calculating, suave, cool sort of person, they both thought. “Well, ani-ue is ani-ue, I guess, even if he is stupid.”

“I’m so blessed to have two such nice younger brothers~” Natsume sighed contentedly, clearly not registering the barrage of insults. He got up from his seat on the living room couch and pulled both of his brothers into a big hug. His two “nice younger brothers”, for their parts, both yelled in disgust and frustration as they flailed and kicked to get him off of them.

“Gross, onii-sama!”

“Ani-ue, let go of me this instant!”

“I’m losing brain cells by the second!”

“Ugh, can’t … breathe … !!”

Despite all three of them being in high school, the affection that Natsume showed towards his brother made them feel as if he thought they were still elementary school kids. Few things annoyed them more. Natsume let go of them after several seconds, not even acknowledging their words, and returned to his sofa, reclining comfortably. After a little bit more sputtering from both Shuuki and Masaharu about how irritating their older brother was, they settled back into working on their homework. Natsume let out a yawn just as Masaharu said, “Really, onii-sama is such a hopeless idiot.”

In the midst of all this, the front door of the Amamiya house opened and all three boys looked up—their parents were home. They heard their mother’s tired “I’m home” from the front room and rose so that they could greet her when she walked into the living room.

“Hello, okaa-san.”

“Welcome home, okaa-san.”

“Good evening, okaa-san.”

She answered back to all of them except for Natsume, as usual, and made her way into the kitchen adjacent to the living room to start cooking dinner. “Your father will likely have more details when he gets home later tonight, but there was a fire at the port today.” The brothers exchanged glances and Natsume realized that the smoke he saw had to have been from the port. No wonder it had looked so far away.

“And the office…?” Natsume asked hesitantly.

“A large portion of it was burned. We will probably be transferred.” A terse, cold reply, Natsume thought, but it was more than he was accustomed to getting.

“Are we going to have to move?” Shuuki frowned. He’d just got settled in as a first year at Meisei and didn’t like the idea of having to relocate after working so hard to get into the prestigious school.

Their mother stopped what she was doing and walked back into the living room. She lay a reassuring hand on Shuuki’s shoulder and also gazed at Masaharu as she replied, “Don’t worry. The transfer isn’t permanent, so you boys will just have to move into the dorms for a little while.” Shuuki glanced at Natsume nervously, but it was just out of sheer habit. If his ani-ue felt any sadness towards the obvious difference in treatment from their parents, he had never let on at all and he wasn’t going to start now. Their mother got back to working busily in the kitchen and the brothers decided to stop bothering her for the time being.

Their father didn’t return home until much later that night, presumably because he had to deal with a lot of added work caused by the fire. Usually Natsume was already asleep by this time, but as this would decide how he and his brothers would live for at least several months, he tried his best to stay up. Surprisingly, their father had already talked to the school authorities and gotten them permission to stay in the dorms, but the process wouldn’t be finalized for another week. “Your mother and I will be going overseas to work for a while, so you will be staying in the dorms. You will go there tomorrow and spend a night there to get acquainted with how things are done there, but then you’ll return home.”

“Can’t we just stay here at the house until you and okaa-san have to go?” Masaharu asked, the idea of staying out in an unfamiliar place for a night seeming rather a nuisance to him.

“No, it’s important that you boys spend a night there so if you don’t like it, your mother and I can make the necessary arrangements to have you live elsewhere. But after tomorrow, you’ll be sleeping at home for the rest of the week while everything is finalized.” Why bother testing things out if everything was already in the process of being finalized?

“But—” Natsume was about to point out the contradiction, irrationally afraid of a sudden change in lifestyle, but bit his tongue. His father glanced at him for a mere moment before returning his gaze to his two other sons. Feeling as if he had no say whatsoever in what was transpiring, Natsume finally turned and made his way up the stairs to his room, shutting the door.

No one moved to stop him. As he heard his parents and brothers discuss the dire situation downstairs, Natsume knew then that no matter how much he hated the dorms, there was no way he would be able to live anywhere else.

The next evening, the three of them were on their way to the school dormitory, each with a suitcase in tow. “We’ll just have to make the best of the situation,” Natsume chuckled nervously as they made their way.

“Ani-ue, you sound like you’re trying to convince yourself more than anything else,” Shuuki said, rolling his eyes. “Like otou-san said, this is just procedure and it’d be good to find out now, rather than later, if we’ll like the dorms or not.” Natsume sniffled, but said no more.

Soon enough, the brothers found themselves at a rather old building and the grimey metal Meisei Gakuen Boys’ Dorm sign made it clear that they were in the right place. It was only about a mile from the main campus; indeed, walking to class from here would be much easier than it had been from their former home. However, the place looked like as if it hadn’t been repaired or touched up in some time, and it made creaking noises whenever the wind blew. Natsume decided immediately that he didn’t like it, though truthfully he’d made that decision before even setting eyes upon the place. He was someone who was generally resistant to change, in the first place, but something about the building bothered him, he told himself, as always deluding himself that he wasn’t biased.

“Excuse us …” The three of them removed their shoes and carried them in one hand as they walked inside the dormitory. The dorm mother was already waiting for them in the main room and welcomed the three of them warmly. When she handed them each a sheet of paper with their room assignments and information on their roommates, Natsume was alarmed—they’d each be in a different room.

“I had thought that we’d be rooming together?” Natsume asked gently, somewhat worried and nervous but not allowing it to show for a second. He wasn’t worried for himself, of course … his brothers needed him! Oh, he was good at this delusion business.

“Ooh, not at all,” the dorm mother, an older woman called Hiiragi-san who appeared to be in her 30’s, laughed congenially. “To be precise, you’re actually all in different rooms.” Was she going to say anything he didn’t already know, Natsume wondered. “We have to make what little amount of space we have work, after all, and I do believe that the three of you would be rather cramped in one room.”

“Oh, I’m rooming with Chi-chan!” Shuuki smiled, somewhat relieved to be seeing a familiar face soon, despite himself. Natsume knew that his friend lived in the dorms, but hadn’t thought that his room would be vacant. After all, Chiaki had been staying at the dorms since his first year—his family lived closer to the port and it would have been a hassle for him to get to school every day from there.

Natsume swallowed the rising complaint in his throat, knowing that it wouldn’t do much good, anyway. If his brothers were happy, then that would have to do. After he finally took the time to look down at the sheet of paper, he saw the name written there in neat kanji: Hosokawa Yukinari. A second year? Natsume never had the opportunity to meet any second years since Masaharu strongly frowned upon visits, and yet the name sounded familiar somehow. Perhaps this boy was a classmate of Masaharu’s.

“Is there a problem, Amamiya-kun?” When all three of the brothers looked up, the dorm mother colored and added, “Err, Natsume-san?”

Natsume clenched his fist a little, slightly wrinkling the paper. “No… No, there’s no problem. Thank you so much for the warm welcome.” He smiled his outside smile, one that was more like a barrier than anything else. The dorm mother, knowing nothing and now feeling pleased, excused herself and made her way to the kitchen to finish off her chores for the day. Natsume turned to his brothers. “Are you two going to be alright without your beloved onii-chan?”

“More than alright,” the two answered in unison and wandered off to find their rooms.

Remembering that Shuuki was rooming with Chiaki, Natsume called out, “Wait, Shuuki, I’ll go with you.” He trailed after his younger brother like a lost puppy.

Shuuki stopped dead in his tracks. “Why on earth would you want to do that?” he snapped at his older brother, mildly horrified.

“Well, I haven’t seen Chiaki in a long time…”

“…Ani-ue, what day is it today?”

“Eh? Um… It’s Sunday.”

“And you two are in the same class, aren’t you?”

“Well, uh. Yes.”

Shuuki whirled around. “So you just saw him yesterday, didn’t you?”

“Bu~t, I think Chiaki might miss m—”

“Ani-ue, go to your room.”

“…Yes.” Feeling a little deflated, Natsume hunched his shoulders and trotted off to his own room in defeat. “Second floor, second floor…” He made his way up the stairs to room 206 and fished inside his pockets to find the key to the door, only to realize that the dorm mother hadn’t given him one. That, or he’d dropped it. Natsume had to admit that that was a far more likely scenario. He’d simply have to knock to get in for tonight and pick up the key in the morning. “Excuse … eh?” He cut off the rest of his sentence when he realized that the door was actually slightly ajar. Not without a feeling of trepidation, Natsume pushed the door open the rest of the way and poked his head in.

It was a pretty standard dorm room, though all he knew about those were from the manga he’d read. The room was about half the size of the living room at his home, and in the dark he could make out a bunk bed on one side, two desks on the other, and what appeared to be a closet that the two of them would have to share. His luggage lay neatly in one corner of the room. Natsume gingerly walked over to it and silently assessed—everything was intact. He had absolutely nothing to complain about.

Just as he was about to gather his things to go shower and get ready for bed, Natsume saw movement from the bottom bunk and the sound of someone moaning lightly. He felt his heart skip a beat, which he mentally scolded himself for, though it had sounded rather lewd. “That was probably Hosokawa-kun,” Natsume thought. “I guess it’d be good if I didn’t wake him since he was nice enough to put my luggage in order for me.” No sooner had the thought entered his mind, however, did Natsume trip over his bag, which he’d forgotten that he’d put down when he entered the room. He flailed his arms wildly, hoping to keep his balance, but not only did Natsume fail to do so, he also hit his head on the corner of the nearest desk and produced a rather loud THUNK! sound.

Somewhere in between his thoughts of “OUCH” and “I BELIEVE I’M IN TERRIBLE PAIN”, Natsume could hear the distinct sound of rustling sheets, and then a light came on. He tilted his head up a bit and saw a small lamp on a bedside table that he’d missed in his first assessment of the room. It now illuminated the boy on the bottom bunk of the bed, who was just now sitting up and gazing at Natsume with a look of amusement. “Amamiya Natsume, I take it?” Immediately, Natsume felt as if this person would probably never use honorifics after his name, though he couldn’t quite understand why he thought so.

“Uh, yes. ” Natsume finally answered after realizing that he’d been gaping at the other boy with a dumb look on his face. Grabbing onto the corner of the previously abusive desk. he pulled himself upright slowly and rubbed the sore spot on the top of his head afterward. It hurt, but it didn’t seem as if he had a concussion or anything. …then again, could someone with a concussion tell if they had one? Natsume focused his attention again on Hosokawa Yukinari to get his mind off of the pain.

In a word, Hosokawa was a beauty. A petite beauty, at that. His skin was a warm brown like light milk chocolate, though his chest and cheeks were flushed red a little. Was it too warm in the room? Natsume shoved the thought aside. The other boy’s hair was dyed a strange shade of off-white—it was short and fairly straight, but wispy and thin at the ends, no doubt rather fragile from the bleach.

“I appreciate the sentiment, but what brought this on?”

When Natsume was pulled back to reality, he realized that somehow, within the last several seconds, he’d apparently walked over to the bed and started petting the other boy’s hair. “It was just as soft as I though—wait, that’s not the issue here!” he thought to himself, somewhat panicked. Seeing Hosokawa’s curious stare, Natsume pulled his hand back quickly. “Um, I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking. Your hair just looked so soft that I couldn’t help it.”

“Are you this friendly with all the people you meet for the first time?” Hosokawa teased lightly, though there was a bit of an edge to his voice that suggested that he was more annoyed by Natsume’s previous action than he let on.

Natsume couldn’t keep the slight frown off his face, as much as he wanted not to offend. “Hardly.” He thought of how most people tended to keep their distance from him at school, how most of them labelled him as an idiot—so much of an idiot that they figured he’d never know what they thought about him. That was most definitely not the case. Luckily, he didn’t mind being alone, not if the alternative was such poor company. Hosokawa was staring at him again, so Natsume figured that he’d carried on this internal monologue for far too long already. “Sorry, Hosokawa-kun, I don’t know what came over me.”

“Just ‘Yukinari’ is fine.”

“Huh?”

“My name. ‘Yukinari’ is okay, you don’t have to use such formality with me. We’re going to be living together for a year, after all.” The other boy smiled brightly and Natsume felt his heart skip a beat again. He hadn’t really thought of another boy as cute before. With two cute younger brothers at home, Natsume felt like no others could really match up to them. In addition, he’d never been able to regard anyone quite as highly as he did his brothers, either. What did people usually call this … a brother complex?

“Um. Yukinari, huh?” Whatever. Natsume laughed a little, feeling stupid about being embarrassed. While names were a big deal in Japanese society, what should be embarrassing about calling someone by their name? “You can call me ‘Natsume’, then, to be fair.” Yukinari smiled at him as if no other thought had even crossed his mind, which confirmed Natsume’s earlier thoughts about Yukinari’s use of honorifics—or lack thereof. Natsume glanced at the clock—it was almost 10PM already? “Anyway, Yukinari, I need to go shower and stuff, so I’ll head out for now. Sorry for waking you up.”

“It’s fine,” Yukinari replied, waving him off. He laid back down, settled himself back underneath his sheets, and turned to face the wall, his small back to Natsume. As he walked out of the room, leaving the door slightly ajar so as to not lock himself out, Natsume just barely heard Yukinari mutter, “I was having a horrible dream, anyway.”

Chiaki had locked the door to his room. He had definitely locked the door. He had locked the door for sure, there was no mistaking it. After Shuuki had let himself in and gotten settled, that was the first thing they had both agreed to do, and they had locked it, unlocked it, and locked it again three times just to be safe.

And yet, here was Natsume, nestled comfortably next to Chiaki on the top bunk, his legs dangling a bit off the sides because of how ridiculously tall he was. First thing in the morning. When Chiaki screamed upon realizing this, it was loud enough for the entire floor to hear: “NATSUME, YOU IDIOT STALKER PERVERT … BROTHER COMPLEX…!!” Though what the last part had to do with the rest, he had no idea, he just wanted to fit in as many insults as possible.

“Nn? Ahh, Chiaki, good morning~”

“DON’T ‘GOOD MORNING’ ME, YOU DUMBASS, WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN HERE?”

“Eh? I thought you’d be lonely all by yourself. Besides, I have the top bunk in my room and it’s cold.”

“Heat rises, Natsu. Besides, I have the top bunk, too.”

“Eh? Does it really? Woooow, you really know a lot, don’t you, Chiaki?” He conveniently ignored the second part.

“…we just had a test on thermodynamics.”

“Oh yes, I guess we did.”

“…sorry for asking, but what did you get on that test?”

“A zero! I drew a giraffe at the bottom, hoping to at least get partial credit, but then I got called into the teacher’s office afterward.”

“Wow, just when I think that you can’t get any more stupid, you amaze me every time.” At least he should have drawn something related to thermodynamics…? Perhaps a cloud?

“Awww, that’s so nice of you to say that I’m amazing!”

A sigh. Chiaki had lost count of how many times this sort of exchange had passed between the two of them. They’d been childhood friends for as long as he could remember—a fatal connection, the phrase was. Though he’d thought to escape Natsume by getting into the prestigious Meisei, the big lug had surprised everyone by also getting into that school just because he’d heard that Masaharu wanted to go there. It was terrifying how much Natsume could accomplish once he set his mind to it—which was to say, not much. He didn’t care about a whole lot of things, as much as it tended to irritate those close to him.

“Get out of my room, Natsu.” Chiaki finally said curtly, completely deadpan, before kicking Natsume off the bed. Apparently the latter had predicted this would happen, because there was a pillow in the perfect position to break his fall. “Tch. You’re smart when it comes to useless things… How’d you even get in here, anyway?”

“The old ‘credit card in the door’ trick.”

“You don’t have a credit card, Natsu.”

“Well, I have this shiny, laminated business card from that guy last month who tried to hire me to work at that host club, which works just as well.”

“…I don’t even know what to say to that.” Chiaki sighed, though “Why on earth would you keep something like that?” certainly came to mind.

Natsume stretched his limbs after dusting himself off a bit. His hands almost reached the ceiling when he did so, which irritated Chiaki a bit. The whole situation did, but he remembered how much Natsume hated being alone, as much as he refused to admit it, and couldn’t help softening a bit. “How’s … your roommate? You think you two will get along okay?”

“Hmmm,” Natsume thought to himself for just a moment before smiling brightly. “Yeah, I think so. He seems nice and somehow I feel like he has the same … aura as me.”

Leave it to Natsu to speak of things in such weird terms,” thought Chiaki. Because he didn’t immediately reply, this prompted a blank stare from Natsume, so he hastily replied, “I guess that’s good, then, isn’t it? Don’t inconvenience him by sneaking over to me and Shuuki’s room too much.”

“But…”

“Natsu,” Faced with his friend being so serious, Natsume held back the rest of his complaint. “You know, there’s the rest of the world out there. You can’t cling to us forever.” Shuuki let out a low grumble from the bottom bunk; he was asleep, but seemed to agree with Chiaki’s words, even if unconsciously. “Come on, shoo. If you’re still here when Shuuki wakes up, he’s not going to be very happy.”

“Why wouldn’t my brother be happy to see m—”

Goodbye, Natsu. I’ll see you in class later.”

While it wasn’t economical to have a bathroom for every room, the designers of the dormitory hadn’t been quite cruel enough to have only one per floor—there were two on every floor. There was a messy-looking post-it note attached to the entrance of each bathroom that had various times that people would be in and out. It wasn’t an official schedule, exactly, but it served as enough of a guide that Natsume knew his only hope to get a spot would be to go very late at night or rather early in the morning. It was still just 7:30 AM when he got kicked out of Chiaki and Shuuki’s room, so there was an hour or so remaining before he had to worry about getting to class on time. Someone’s name was written in next to the time slot for this hour, but it was smudged and Natsume didn’t hear the sound of water running, so he decided—without much thought—that it was probably okay. He got various toiletries out of his and Yukinari’s room and pulled his uniform out. He hung it up on the closet door, planning to change into it after going to the bathroom, and noticed that his roommate was conspicuously absent. Had he perhaps gone to school early to study? Pushing such thoughts aside, Natsume headed for the secondary bathroom on their floor.

…and came face to face with a naked Yukinari, who was somewhat nonplussed at being seen this way, sitting on a bucket and about to turn the hot water knob on the shower faucet. Natsume, for his part, couldn’t think of anything to do but to stare, which he finally figured was not a great course of action after a few seconds. “I’m … sorry?” he tried, knowing full well how stupid he sounded.

“We seem to be making a habit of catching each other in compromising situations,” Yukinari drawled, crossing his legs in a vain attempt to be modest.

“Yeah, um. Sorry about that. You’re not really seeing me at my best these days.”

“Oh? What would your best be?”

“Um…”

If Yukinari was annoyed, he didn’t exactly show it. He tilted his head to one side as if appraising Natsume, then gave a light shrug. “There’s another shower faucet and bucket if you want to use the one next to me instead of waiting for me to finish. I just got in, so it might be a while.”

Natsume hesitated. “Is that really okay?” In the first place, he had only come to the bathroom to brush his teeth and wash his face, but turning down an invitation from his new roommate did seem a bit rude.

“Whatever, we’re both guys, right?”

A nod. Natsume peeled off his t-shirt and threw it into the laundry hamper in the corner of the bathroom; it was quickly followed by the rest of his clothes. Once he made up his mind, Natsume wasn’t the type to be shy, so he filed in next to Yukinari and sat down on the other bucket the boy had put out for him. Yukinari had the water on his side running already, letting it flow through his hands so he could feel for the right temperature. He was rather lean, Natsume—unable to stop himself from looking—thought, on top of being a little on the small side, so he wondered if the other boy had enough to eat.

It wasn’t until Yukinari let out a little moan that Natsume realized that he was touching his roommate’s hair again, right on the nape of his neck. Because he’d already gotten the impression that Yukinari didn’t appreciate being touched, Natsume drew back immediately. “S-sorry! I did it again…” He stood up, accidentally kicking over his bucket. “Maybe it’d be best if I just wait for you to finish, after all.”

“Nnn…” Yukinari had shuddered a little against Natsume’s touch, his face considerably reddened, and even when he’d recovered, there was a bit of a glower—more like a pout, really—on his face. It was terribly cute, Natsume thought, feeling somewhat uncomfortable at that. Yukinari bit his lip as he thought for a moment. “It’s fine, really, just try to control yourself.” he sniffed at last.

It’d be weird to leave after the other person insisted it was all right, so Natsume righted the bucket and sat down again. He swallowed, just a little uneasy, and decided that perhaps cold water would be best. He felt as if he, too, was reddening now, and hoped it wasn’t too obvious on his paler skin. When he looked over again, he couldn’t help but notice Yukinari gazing at him rather obviously. “Wha… What is it?”

“You… You’re pretty well-endowed, aren’t you?”

Huh?”

“…Never mind, just talking to myself, really.” Yukinari smirked. It took Natsume another few minutes to figure out what Yukinari was referring to, and he colored deeply once he did. Was it that noticeable? Was it strange?

“Not really.”

“…Huh?” Natsume found himself saying again, his mouth opening and closing needlessly like a fish’s.

“You said that last bit out loud.”

“…Umm. Well, if it’s not, then why did you notice?”

“You happen to be sitting next to me naked, you know. I can’t exactly help it.” The other boy sounded rather amused at this, thinking it funny that Natsume even had to ask. “It’s just an observation, don’t take it in a weird way, dummy.” There was a sneer in his voice now that Natsume didn’t quite care for, like he was being looked down upon in some way.

Natsume stood up. “And what would be ‘a weird way’, Yukinari?” The usual calm, carefree tone to his voice had dissipated entirely. He didn’t have to take any disrespect from a kouhai he barely knew. While he could take being called an idiot from his brothers or from Chiaki, something about the way Yukinari had said it rubbed Natsume the wrong way. To think that he’d thought Yukinari was nice! What a lie he’d told Chiaki.

“Wh-what?” Yukinari had registered the change in Natsume’s demeanor and gotten a little nervous. He seemed to be about to try to backtrack, but Natsume kept advancing. He took a decided step towards Yukinari, who now backed into the wall, sliding off of his bucket and landing on the tile floor with a light smack. The latter then suddenly became very interested in staring at his toes, as if Natsume would simply go away if he was ignored.

He had him cornered now—Natsume bent down ever-so-slightly, gently cupping Yukinari’s chin in one hand, his thumb and index finger squeezing Yukinari’s cheeks, and tilted his head up to face him. “I said, what would be ‘a weird way’? Should I say that I’m excited that you were staring at me naked? Flattered that you were taking notice of how large my dick is?”

All of a sudden, Yukinari’s expression changed. “You… you’re rather attractive when you’re angry, you know? Just like I thought you’d be.” he smiled, a faraway, distracted look in his eyes. Like he couldn’t care less what Natsume was annoyed about, just that he was annoyed at all, which was so very distracting.

Caught off guard, Natsume loosened his grip on Yukinari’s face and his random burst of angry feelings cooled a little. “Wha—”

“Besides,” Yukinari licked his lips a little, now the one to rise to his feet, “You do look convincingly excited… down there, that is.” He pointed straight at the area between Natsume’s legs, just in case he didn’t get the hint this time, and not without a strange look of joy—or was it sadistic amusement? Somehow, in the heat of the moment, Natsume had gotten hard. Was it the passionate anger coursing through him that he usually didn’t experience? Or the sight of Yukinari’s small, soft, admittedly delectable naked body? …or both? Natsume didn’t want to think about it a moment longer. He felt as if he was quickly turning into someone strange, had been ever since he’d set foot in this dormitory.

The last of Natsume’s anger fled and was replaced by embarrassment as he ran behind the side wall separating the bath facilities from the sinks and mirrors. He crouched in a tiled corner, sulking, hoping desperately that both the erection and Yukinari would just go away and leave him alone. Natsume wasn’t used to getting angry, to all of this happening.

Naturally, neither of those things would oblige him. Before long, Natsume heard the sound of feet shuffling across a tiled floor, felt something warm and somewhat hard right next to his face. When he whirled around, Natsume saw Yukinari standing right there behind him, his hands on his hips and his mouth in an obviously fake pout. “So are you going to do something about this?” Yukinari demanded playfully, gesturing to his lower half.

“Wh-what the hell? Why don’t you take care of it yourself? Why do I have to—”

“Well, it’s your fault, isn’t it?”

“What kind of reasoning… You don’t see me asking you to ‘do something’ about mine!”

“Oh my, are you saying I caused that?” Yukinari grinned.

Natsume swallowed somewhat nervously when he realized the hole he’d just dug for himself. “A-anyway, g-go stand over there or something! You’re making me feel weird…” He looked down and tried to focus on counting the number of tiles on the floor.

Oh?” Natsume’s kouhai sounded positively delighted at this.

“Ugh…” He couldn’t take it anymore “Is this how you chased out all your other roommates?”

“Hmm? Whatever do you mean?” He was putting on an innocent act again, which was getting more and more irritating. Natsume preferred it when he was cowering like before.

“You know what I mean! Did you … come on to them, too?” What was it about this boy that made Natsume unable to keep his cool? He hadn’t even known him for 24 hours and yet Natsume was torn by his sudden feelings. On the one hand, he wanted to run away and hide, but on the other hand… No, he had to keep his mind off of those things. Surely Yukinari was just toying with him?

“Actually, I’ve never done anything like this with another guy before, Natsume.” Natsume whirled around, incredulous. Oh, but his name sounded so nice on Yukinari’s lips… The conflicting feelings confused and horrified him, but before he could even ask, Yukinari added, “And don’t think that this is anything so trite as ‘Oh senpai, I saw you around school and just thought you were s~o beautiful’ or ‘I’ve loved you all along and was s~o excited when I found out you were my new roommate’.”

“Well, why me, then?” Natsume asked, fearing and yet anticipating the answer.

Yukinari knelt down in front of him and smiled as they were now face to face. “It’s your fault, you know, like I said. Because you’re so cute when you’re flustered and I can’t get enough of it…” Then, without warning, he took Natsume’s cock in his hands and started to stroke. “It really is big, even more so now.”

“Isn’t … ah … isn’t that obvious?” Natsume had completely lost the will to resist—what would be the point? He hissed in a breath of air when Yukinari moved along a particularly sensitive spot and bit his tongue trying not to cry out.

“Ah, is that where it is?” Yukinari exclaimed playfully before finally lowering his head to Natsume’s dick. He sucked and licked that place he’d found, eliciting sounds from Natsume that the older boy had never even thought himself capable of. Of course he’d masturbated before—what guy his age hadn’t?—but this felt like nothing he’d ever experienced or thought he’d experience. Natsume had never even once imagined that he’d ever be in this situation, in a bathroom with another guy sucking him off, and it wasn’t without a mild sense of horror that he decided it actually felt really good. Was it bad to feel this way? Didn’t some people say homosexuality was a sin? Thoughts of morality were pushed away when he noticed Yukinari’s momentarily self-satisfied face. Suddenly, it was one that Natsume felt like breaking.

“Stop.” He said, pushing Yukinari’s head away just as the boy was about to try to take the entire length in his mouth. Absently, Natsume wondered if that would have even been possible.

Eh?” Yukinari pouted again, seeming rather disappointed at being interrupted. “But you still haven’t-—”

“I have to take care of that, too, don’t I?” Natsume smirked, and he knew he didn’t have to gesture towards anything for Yukinari to figure it out. To his credit, the younger boy at least blushed a little, but Natsume didn’t give him a whole lot of time to think about it before he pushed him down onto the tiled floor.

“Wait, what are you—”

“Just taking responsibility for both of us,” Natsume muttered, his left hand grabbing both of Yukinari’s hands and pinning them down above his head while his right hand held both of their cocks together. He bent his head down and sucked at Yukinari’s nipples, his hot breath causing the other boy to shudder a little every time he exhaled. Natsume continued to kiss and tease around Yukinari’s chest, but that didn’t elicit much of a response, so he began slowly moving upward to suck decidedly at his kouhai’s throat, feeling it move as Yukinari swallowed and gasped for air.

When Yukinari squirmed and turned his head to the side while thrashing about, his eyes firmly shut tight, Natsume took the chance to move in and kiss at the back of his neck—the exact part of Yukinari’s neck he’d touched on earlier—causing the other boy to finally let out a high-pitched little moan that went straight to Natsume’s cock. Yes, this was the Yukinari he preferred… He’d have to remember that spot, he thought, shifting his body a little. “Wa-wait, you’re not … you’re not going to… Na … Natsume…” Yukinari cried out a little, fearing the worst. He was like a child who’d awoken a lion without meaning to, and now wasn’t sure he wanted to deal with the consequences.

“Just relax a little bit, honestly… Not so confident when you’re not the one in control, are you? Yukinari…”

No more words were necessary. He ground on top of Yukinari then, their cocks rubbing together and making their abdomens sticky with the pre-cum that mixed with their sweat and what little water remained from their failed baths. Natsume worked up a rhythm that slowly built and got faster and faster as simultaneously Yukinari stopped trying to hide his voice; the sounds of their harsh breaths and impassioned moans reverberated off the tile walls and produced a sweet and terrible cacophony. Natsume felt it then, that immense, indescribable pressure, and the inside of his mind exploded into a fog of white noise just as he bit down hard on Yukinari’s neck and they both came together.

Natsume lay on top of Yukinari for a while, their chests rising and falling together as they took long, deep breaths and tried to sort out just what had passed between them. It proved to be an ultimately unsuccessful endeavor, at least for Natsume. Several minutes went by before either of them said anything.

“Huh, for someone I thought was definitely a hopeless virgin, you figured things out pretty fast, didn’t you?” Though the words were biting, Yukinari was far from sounding displeased.

“Sorry for being a ‘hopeless virgin’… You didn’t seem to mind earlier.” Natsume quipped, letting go of Yukinari’s hands and gently moving off of him.

“Well…” Yukinari got up onto his feet and touched Natsume’s semen that covered his chest, felt it between his fingers like it was such a new and interesting substance that he was utterly fascinated. “It felt pretty good, didn’t it? Not bad for our first experience.”

“…Well, yes.” Natsume agreed begrudgingly. Then he registered the rest of what Yukinari had said. “Wait, ‘first’? ‘Our’? You mean we’ll be doing this again?” For some reason, although he was suspicious about Yukinari’s dubious reasons for doing these things, Natsume couldn’t deny that it had felt good—ridiculously good. Here was your typical “angel on one shoulder and devil on the other” moment, and at present, honestly, Natsume was rather inclined to want to follow the devil. When he realized this, he was horrified.

Yukinari smirked as he walked—no, sauntered—back over to the shower faucets. “Well, Natsume,” he said slowly, “Aren’t you going to help me wash my back?”

There were worse people to have such relations with, Natsume concluded quickly, rushed by Yukinari’s insistence. Seeing Yukinari’s gaze focused on him, he couldn’t get up fast enough.

Five days later, for the first time in what had probably been months, Natsume was actually awake for the duration of his morning classes. Chiaki noted this with both amusement and curiosity, as his childhood friend was been known to fall asleep even while eating. When he was asked about it, however, all Natsume would say was that he was “afraid of falling asleep” now, which confused everyone in his class who knew him as a chronic narcoleptic.

“What do you mean you’re ‘afraid of falling asleep’?” Chiaki asked just at the start of their lunch break, totally flabbergasted by this abnormal behavior. He’d known Natsume for years, but had never seen him like this.

“I mean just what I said. If I try to sleep, I’ll dream of weird things…” By “weird things” he really meant “weird people”, which really meant “Yukinari”. Or, more accurately, “the weird things he’d done with Yukinari”. Natsume held his head in his hands and groaned, looking very distressed. After he’d slept on it, the things he had done that morning with Yukinari seemed inexcusable to him. Sure, it had felt good, but they’d also both rushed into things without thinking at all.

Before Chiaki could press him further, the sliding door between the 3-A classroom and the hallway opened to reveal Masaharu, who had a rather displeased look on his face. “Onii-sama.”

“Oh… Masa? What is it?” The usual happy energy that he would have displayed at a “visit” from one of his younger brothers was gone, further fueling Chiaki’s suspicion. Natsume didn’t even look up from his desk.

“You left your bento on the counter, here.” Masaharu held out the cloth-wrapped box as far away from his body as he could, as if just touching his older brother’s things might give him some awful disease.

Natsume felt something foreboding in the back of his mind. “Masa, I thought you left before I did.”

It was a soft, smooth voice that answered. “I left after all of you and noticed it as I was heading out, so I gave it to Amamiya-kun when I saw him in class. …you did know he and I are in the same class, didn’t you?” Without even looking up, Natsume knew the owner of that voice. After all, he was the stuff of “weird dreams”.

“Ah … it’s Hosokawa-kun!”

“Even though he’s just a second year, he sure is accomplished!”

“Just look at how nice his skin is…”

The girls in his class couldn’t stop tittering about Yukinari. When Natsume finally lifted his head out of his hands, he saw Yukinari standing next to Masaharu in the doorway, a genial smile on his face. He looked so innocent like this, so harmless … Probably no one could have guessed what had passed between them that one morning. …oh no, he was thinking about it again. Natsume abruptly pushed himself up and out of his chair and rushed up to Masaharu, putting one hand on each of his younger brother’s shoulders and assuming a look of total seriousness.

“Masa!”

“…What is it?”

“Forgive me! Your onii-sama is becoming a weird person!”

Masaharu raised an eyebrow. “Uh, news flash? You’ve always been a weird person.”

Natsume chose to ignore this, as usual. “Onii-sama doesn’t deserve this lunch! Good bye!” he cried dramatically before rushing out of the classroom. He couldn’t avoid glancing at Yukinari on his way out, however, and noted with horror that the bite mark he’d left on the boy’s neck the other day was still there. This only strengthened his resolve and he ran faster even though no one was following him or even wanted to.

Afterwards, Masaharu couldn’t get any useful information from Chiaki about why Natsume was acting that way. Yukinari, for his part, was completely unperturbed by the way Natsume had utterly ignored him, which Masaharu figured was because his classmate was a nice guy – way more normal than either of his stupid brothers. This was a gross misunderstanding on his part, but one that Yukinari saw no need to correct. After saying goodbye to Chiaki, the two made their way towards the cafeteria.

“Why did he say all that when he’s the one who made this lunch in the first place?” Masaharu frowned, clearly as confused by his brother’s behavior as their mutual childhood friend had been. “Why wouldn’t he deserve to eat his own food?”

Yukinari laughed. “Your older brother’s just shy, that’s all.”

“…Shy? Onii-sama?” That was never a word Masaharu would have ever used to describe his older brother. Perhaps Natsume didn’t get on well with people, but that definitely wasn’t because he was shy. It was more like Masaharu’s older brother had a deep disdain for humanity, in general. Masa raised a suspicious eyebrow at Yukinari, who was increasingly looking like he knew more than he let on, but ultimately decided that worrying about Natsume was a waste of time. Why bother Yukinari about his stupid brother’s weird behavior? Natsume often acted on a whim and this was probably just one of those times.

“Oh, Amamiya-kun?”

“Eh? What is it?” Masaharu’s train of thought was immediately derailed.

“Say, what are you going to do with that bento?” He pointed at Natsume’s boxed lunch, which they’d failed to deliver. Yukinari had a passing thought where he wondered what his senpai would be eating today without that, but it was promptly forgotten.

“What, you want it?”

“Hmm, I’m just a little curious about your brother’s cooking, I guess,” Yukinari laughed, remembering something Natsume had said after their little … get-together. “He complained that I was too skinny.”

“Onii-sama … made a comment about your weight?” Since when did the eldest Amamiya brother care about such things? Masaharu wondered. It seemed to most everyone who knew him that all Natsume ever did was sleep, daydream, and dote on his brothers. The fact that he noticed something that wasn’t related to any of those was rather puzzling.

“In passing, I think. Why, is that weird?”

“Very. But onii-sama is generally kind of a strange person, you know.”

“I’m learning that, yes.”

Masaharu shrugged. “Well, you can have it.” He carelessly handed the box over, and Yukinari tucked it into his bag. “It’s not like I can eat two of those. Well, even if he’s generally useless when it comes to anything else, onii-sama is not a bad cook.”

“That’s high praise, coming from you.”

“Hmph. Are you sure you don’t want to eat lunch with me, Ryousuke, and the others? There’s definitely room at our table, so I don’t understand why you keep eating alone.”

“Thanks,” Yukinari replied simply, smiling nicely, but in such a way that it suggested it’d be best not to ask him any more questions about his dining preferences.

“By the way, you’re coming over after school today to work on that report with me, right?” Masaharu asked, tactfully changing the subject. “Er, at my house, of course. We’re still living there until tomorrow.” After Yukinari agreed and confirmed that he knew where the Amamiya house was, the two of them carried on just a bit more pleasant small talk, and then Yukinari excused himself and went to find his favorite dining spot: inside one of the vacant science rooms where the teacher kept a modest-sized tank of tropical fish. These days, this was the closest he could get to the ocean. He pulled up a chair and leaned his head against the glass, listening to the sound of the water flowing endlessly in and out of the tank, keeping the fish inside oxygenated and alive. Alive … but were they happy?

Sometimes, Yukinari felt like a fish in a tank, himself. A little clownfish, perhaps, who would have been perfectly content to stay in his guardian anemone, but was instead forced to swim ceaselessly against a current of someone else’s design, all the while being ogled by people who had no idea what it was like to be him. Seeing them tap the glass was so irritating, as if they really cared about him. All the audience wanted was to see an interesting reaction. The clownfish was a long way from the sea, and had long been tired of swimming so far and yet somehow, getting nowhere at all.

“Ha, it’s not like me to be so depressing,” Yukinari chided himself for thinking like this, and turned away from the fish tank. He pulled out the bento and let it rest in his lap while he undid the knot on the cloth and removed the lid. Inside was a beautiful assortment of lunch food, variously sized and colored rice balls, some fruits, meat, and desserts all arranged in an eye-catching way. Yukinari hesitantly took a bite of some of the fried meat—most food tended to not taste as good as it looked, in his experience—and was sincerely impressed when he found that it was delicious.

For all his posturing, it was evident that Masaharu actually cared about his brother a lot, so over the time that Yukinari had known him, the middle brother had told him a lot of things about his “crazy onii-sama”. To many, it could be construed as complaining, but Yukinari only saw Masaharu’s words as boasting. Apparently, while he’d been brilliant as a young child, Natsume had become rather eccentric as he got older, disappointing his parents who’d expected so much better out of him. Yukinari envied Natsume a bit for this—irrationally, he knew—but he also knew that was definitely much easier to have no expectations resting upon your shoulders. No one to disappoint, no one to let down, no one to impress.

Well, the current turn of events had definitely been beyond Yukinari’s imagination. He’d only wanted to annoy Natsume a little, to push his buttons. He seemed so comfortable with his brothers, with such a carefree life that it made Yukinari sick the few times he’d seen Natsume before in the halls. But when push had come to shove, the seemingly idiotic senpai had actually manned up, and in a way that Yukinari had to admit was more than what he’d expected. He also had to admit that it had been a largely good experience, much as his logical brain tried to convince him otherwise.

Of course, as far as Yukinari knew, he wasn’t gay. He’d never seen a boy and thought that he was sexually attractive—not even Natsume, who was a pretty handsome guy in his own right when he kept his mouth shut. Natsume was much taller than Yukinari was, at least 180cm in height, with flawless skin—no doubt because he slept so much and ate so well—and possessed extremely curly shoulder-length hair that was dyed a golden blonde color. Natsume’s hair was incredibly soft and fluffy, and it had felt nice to grip it in his fingers and pull. “Did that hurt?” Yukinari wondered before realizing that he didn’t much care. What was this mutual obsession with each other’s hair? Unlike his senpai, Yukinari felt no shame in thinking of their shared moments again and again, analyzing them and remembering them at least for a little before being distracted by something else.

That morning, he’d been excited by the situation, not the other person involved. The idea of penetrative gay sex, which Yukinari had casually researched the afternoon after the incident had happened, was rather terrifying to him and he’d had absolutely no problem having sex with girls in the past. This kind of thinking merely ran him around in circles, however. He wasn’t gay, but sex with Natsume felt so good. He hadn’t thought Natsume was attractive before, but now he found himself drawn to him, simultaneously jealous, irritated, and impressed.

“Oh,” Yukinari said to himself aloud, a new thought instantaneously wiping all of his other thoughts from his mind. “I never got to see what color his eyes were.” Were they brown or blue? Or green? He remembered a little bit of green, perhaps. Yukinari realized that every time he’d looked at Natsume, he’d never really bothered to note the color of his eyes. He’d been focused on other body parts and other traits, all of which were parts of a whole that Yukinari was beginning to grow rather fond of.

He didn’t like having unanswered questions and Natsume’s obvious avoidance of him over the last few days would have to be dealt with. How nice that both problems could be solved at once.

Arriving at the Amamiya house, Yukinari peered up at its ivy-covered walls and thought it looked rather quaint. Of course, he was used to a more traditional-looking house. The Hosokawa house with its paper-thin walls and historic surroundings seemed altogether too lonely and quiet compared to this— here, the sounds of people talking within could be heard even from outside. Masaharu opened the front door with his key and took off his shoes, procuring for Yukinari a pair of house slippers once he’d done the same. Just as Masaharu was about to announce his classmate’s presence to his parents, who were apparently both home, he stopped, noticing that the two were busy talking rather agitatedly to Natsume, who was leaning back against the stovetop with his eyes closed. The very air was crackling with tension and so the two second-years decided to linger in the doorway.

“…In our current state, really, can we afford for all the boys to stay in the dormitory?” Their mother was saying, her exasperation totally palpable.

“It can’t be helped, can it? Our relatives have all long since moved out of Nagasaki so there’s nowhere else for them to stay. We certainly can’t afford to let them stay in this house alone. The rent is much too high.”

The two continued to argue in front of Natsume as if he wasn’t there, which struck Yukinari as a little odd considering that he was the eldest brother and they were discussing something as important as living arrangements.

When there was finally a pause in the conversation, Natsume opened his eyes slowly. There was a hint of a smile on his lips, as if he wanted to force himself to do it, but couldn’t quite manage. “Okaa-san, Otou-san, don’t worry about the money. I’ve been saving up my paychecks so I could move out anyway. It just so happened that the chance came a bit sooner than I expected.”

Both parents turned suddenly, as if startled by his presence. As if he hadn’t been there the entire time. His mother recovered a fraction of a second sooner and let out a bitter laugh. “That’s as it should be, isn’t it? We weren’t planning on covering your expenses in the first place, I hope you understand..”

When Natsume’s smile finally came, it was painfully sad. “Oh… I know that. I would never assume otherwise. I only meant that you didn’t have to worry about paying for Masa-chan and Shuu-chan, either. I’ve got more than enough to cover both of them as well, since living at the dormitories is much cheaper than renting the apartment that I’d been planning on. My job seems rather stable, too, so—”

“Ha! Of course your job would be stable. Your father and I have to constantly compete with others to keep our job in this trying economy. Other students your age are busily studying for college entrance exams, and you’re spending your time at a menial labor job that apparently no one else wants.” His mother snapped. It sounded as if she’d been holding all this in for quite some time.

Natsume froze. “Eh?”

“The rest of your life has been an utter failure. You think that you can brag about keeping some low-paying job just because your father and I have been transferred? Is that it? How could you possibly dream about taking care of Masaharu and Shuuki with such low wages?”

The eldest brother was completely taken aback, probably never imagining this turn of events. “That wasn’t what I meant at all… how could you say that I’m bragging? All I’m saying is that I have the means to support the family while you two are away. Even if you don’t think so, I do. I’ve been saving and I have a lot in reserve.” he insisted.

Their father sighed and waved Natsume away with a hand. “Enough, Natsume, this isn’t your concern. Go work on your schoolwork or something.”

“But I—-”

“We don’t need your help, Natsume,” His mother said soberly. “We can take care of Masaharu and Shuuki on our own. Of course, it helps that they are still alive, no thanks to you, I’m sure.”

A silence passed between the three of them now, with Natsume balling his hands into trembling fists. He looked down and bit his lip and it was then that Yukinari realized that Natsume had absolutely no intention of speaking up for himself, of defending himself at all.

Yukinari decided that he’d heard quite enough. “Excuse me.” His tone, slightly agitated, cut through the tension in the room like a knife. Everyone in the room, including a horrified Masaharu, turned and stared at this intruder, who had taken several choice steps towards the kitchen and had an annoyed expression on his face.

“Y-Yukinari?” Natsume stammered. He stepped out of the kitchen and walked right up to Yukinari as if to confirm that, yes, he really was here in this house. Their eyes locked and Yukinari noted with satisfaction that, in fact, Natsume’s eyes were mostly green.

He had no intention of arguing with Natsume’s parents. After all, he had no idea what the situation was, what could prompt such harsh words from one’s own flesh and blood, and he doubted that anything he could possibly say would make a difference, in any case. Apparently a death was involved, and as an outsider, Yukinari couldn’t speak for Natsume, anyway. There was only one thing he really could do for his senpai. Yukinari grabbed Natsume’s hand and smiled genially at the Amamiya parents as if he hadn’t heard a single word. “Pardon the interruption. I’m Amamiya-senpai’s new roommate at the dormitory. I’ll go ahead and take him back with me now, since it would seem that neither of you really want him.” After a pause, he added thoughtfully, “He won’t be back tonight.”

The look on the parents’ faces, their mouths agape and their eyes wide with disbelief, was priceless. The look on Natsume’s face, a mix of awe and confusion and mild horror, was even more so. Without another word, Yukinari pulled Natsume along towards the front door, put his shoes back on, and walked right out.

Masaharu stuck his head out the door and yelled “But what about the report?!” as the two were walking off.

Yukinari turned his head and smirked. “Can’t you manage on your own?”

The middle Amamiya brother looked at his older brother, then looked at Yukinari, then his brother again, then Yukinari again, and finally smiled a little, which was pretty rare for him. “I guess so.” he said, and shut the front door.

After they’d walked a bit farther, Natsume finally pulled his hand out of Yukinari’s grip. “What…exactly…do you think you’re doing?” he huffed.

Yukinari stared at the older boy, seemingly confused. “Walking out of your neighborhood, of course. What does it look like?”

“No, I mean… Ugh, you know what I mean. You didn’t even let me get my shoes!” Natsume gestured down to his bare feet.

“What, did you want to stay at your house?”

“…No.”

“Then it’s fine, isn’t it?” Yukinari smiled at Natsume, then turned his head toward the port. “Say, how do you feel about the ocean?”

“Isn’t that a rather abrupt change of subject?”

“Not at all.”

“…”

“It’s a simple yes or no question, Natsume.”

“…No it’s not.”

“What’s not?”

“The question you asked! It’s not a yes or no question.”

“What was the question again?”

“Is your attention span seriously that bad?”

A smile. “I’m just teasing, senpai. So? Your answer?”

“I…suppose I’m neutral about it.”

“Then it’s settled!” Yukinari clapped his hands together with obvious merriment, then grabbed Natsume’s hand again and pulled him along. “Let’s go!”

He had to admit that he was rather pleased when Natsume then gave in to his whim without a single word of complaint.

“So?”

Yukinari turned to look in Natsume’s direction, barely suppressing a yawn. “What is it?”

Natsume sighed. “So… why are we sailing all of a sudden?” He asked, gesturing towards the open sea. While his tone was rather grating, he sounded a lot more exasperated than anything else, as if he’d realized at some point that going against his cute little kouhai was pointless. That Natsume realized this sooner rather than later was a source of great amusement and satisfaction for Yukinari.

After stopping to get Natsu a cheap pair of shoes, Yukinari had immediately taken him to the port and chartered one of the family yachts. It was a lot smaller than the others, not grand or incredibly luxurious, but it suited their purposes—wasting time for no apparent reason—quite nicely. The two of them had cast off with the help of a few of Hosokawa family servants, and were now floating aimlessly in the water after Yukinari had ordered the motor shut off. If he looked, Natsume could still see the port of Nagasaki, so he figured they weren’t too far out, but if he had thought for a moment that this would be the outcome, he might have considered his answer to Yukinari’s question a bit more.

“I thought you liked the ocean.” Yukinari said finally while a breeze rolled through and rocked the boat a little. It was barely even enough of a disturbance to be noticeable, but Natsume, no doubt unaccustomed to being on a yacht or, really, on any boat at all, looked nervous.

“I said I was ‘neutral’ about it.” he groused in reply.

“Well, ‘neutral’ means you don’t hate it, so it’s fine. Isn’t this fun?” Yukinari stretched his arms and fidgeted a little. The material of the lounge chair wasn’t all that comfortable, he noted with a frown. He’d have to remember to complain to one of the servants later. Momentarily distracted, Yukinari might have even forgotten that Natsume was there at all.

“Say, what were you doing at my house, anyway?” Natsume asked, intruding on Yukinari’s thoughts. “Were you … hanging out with Masa?”

Yukinari tilted his head a little. He had detected the hint of jealousy in Natsume’s tone, but chose to ignore it. Tormenting the other boy was becoming one of his favorite pastimes. “‘Hanging out’ isn’t quite right… We were supposed to be working on something for school, but there was, ah, a change of plans.”

Natsume was reminded of the debacle at his home and sighed, scratching the back of his head as he finally took a seat on the deck of the boat. “My parents are going to be pissed.”

“Sounds like they already were.”

“…”

Yukinari had absolutely no intention of prying. It wasn’t that he didn’t care about Natsume-—if he hadn’t cared, he wouldn’t have bothered taking things this far. It was simply that he had no interest in Natsume’s past, however much it might have shaped him and defined the person he was at this moment. The “now” was much more important, and he planned to take full advantage of it. “Well, not that I really care, but what do you plan on doing from now on?”

“Hmm… It looks like I’m moving into the school dorms.”

“Oh?” Yukinari feigned great surprise.

Natsume ignored his kouhai’s obvious sarcasm. “There’s this kouhai I have, see, who lives there.” he said slowly. “He just can’t seem to leave me well enough alone.”

“Perhaps he just resents being ignored, senpai.”

“I wasn’t ignoring you.”

“Oh, we’re talking about me now?”

“Yukinari.”

The dark-skinned boy heretofore had been staring out at the sea even while talking to Natsume, but at the serious tone of the latter’s voice, he finally focused his gaze on his senpai’s face. He looked Natsume straight in the eye and smiled as innocently as possible. “What is it?”

“You’re not going to ask about my past? Surely Masa’s told you about Fuyuka.”

“No, I’m not. I don’t really care about it. But if it’s bothering you, I suppose I’ll listen.”

Natsume considered these words for a few moments before taking a deep breath. “Fuyuka … She was my younger sister. Shuuki’s twin. One day we were out in the city together and she…” He seemed to choke on his words before they could leave his throat.

“Died?” Yukinari said gently, completing the sentence. Given everything, it seemed to make the most sense. He wasn’t trying to be careless or flippant about it, and chose his words carefully. “I’m sure it wasn’t your fault, no matter what your parents think.”

“It wasn’t. I mean, it was an accident. But how do you know? Even I think it’s my fault sometimes, as dumb as that sounds…”

The answer was quite simple, at least for Yukinari. “How could someone who’s as obsessed with his siblings as you possibly be at fault for their sister’s death?” These words apparently took Natsume by surprise. For a moment, it looked as if he had tears in his eyes, but he looked away before Yukinari could make fun of him for it. “Besides, are you trying to change the subject? Surely you weren’t avoiding me because your sister died?”

Natsume looked up and seemed to be in deep thought for a moment. When he recalled what they were talking about before, he bit his bottom lip. “Well, I… Over the last couple of days, I was trying really hard not to acknowledge something, but after getting to know you and thinking about things, I realized I can’t ignore it anymore.”

Despite his attempts to keep calm, Yukinari’s heart did, in fact, skip a beat, though he would never admit it aloud to anyone, let alone Natsume. “What?”

“I…” Yukinari leaned forward ever-so-slightly in his chair, as if straining to hear every last word. “I… when we had sex that day, it felt really good.”

A long silence passed between them just then. Yukinari was perfectly aware that Natsume was a little on the slow side, but this had been completely outside his estimates. That was the big idiot’s grand realization and confession? That sex felt good? Totally against Yukinari’s will, laughter bubbled up from within him and he couldn’t suppress it at all. The ridiculousness of the situation struck him all at once and Yukinari doubled over with uncontrollable laughter, clutching his sides as he did so.

Natsume, for his part, turned bright red. “A-are you laughing at me?” he stammered indignantly.

“Yes, Natsume…Yes I am.” Yukinari managed to force out between laughs. After several of minutes of this, he finally calmed down and took a few deep breaths.

“That was quite a laughing fit you had there.” Natsume said, a pout on his lips. He sounded offended, which was utterly adorable to Yukinari.

“Say, Natsume.”

“Hmm?”

“Do you love me, by any chance?” Yukinari asked, as casually as one might ask about the weather. Natsume’s response was a magnificent string of unintelligible words and sounds, accompanied by a deep blush that spread across his face and neck. Finally, he nodded meekly. “Even though I make fun of you all the time?” Another nod.

“Well, I wouldn’t want you to be deluding yourself or anything, so I feel I should tell you, then, that what we did the other day wasn’t really even the best kind of sex. I suppose it’s understandable since you were a hopeless virgin and all. I’m glad it felt good for you, but I was—-”

Startled, Natsume cried “What do you mean by that?” and interrupted Yukinari’s speech.

The younger boy shrugged then, feigning ignorance and innocence despite what he’d just said. “I don’t know, perhaps you should look it up on the internet when we get back to the dorms.”

“Ugh, that won’t do…” Before Yukinari even realized what was happening, Natsume had bent down, grabbed him by his shirt collar, and pulled him close for a rough, fumbling kiss on the lips. Natsume sucked at Yukinari’s bottom lip a little gingerly at first, but by the time his lips gravitated to Yukinari’s throat and neck, he was moving much more decidedly. Once enough red marks, faint and hard to see against the darker tone of Yukinari’s skin, had been left, Natsume stopped and rested his chin on top of Yukinari’s head. It was an awkward pose caused by their great difference in height, but for the moment, Natsume was pretty content in his defiance, though he obviously appeared relieved when he looked around and confirmed that none of Yukinari’s servants were there to see this. “And do you…too?” he whispered, though his mouth was close enough to Yukinari’s ear that the latter heard every word.

He would still act as if he hadn’t, though. “Hmm?”

“Do you… love me?”

Yukinari chuckled softly and raised his hands up to grip Natsume’s shoulders, pulling his senpai closer to him in a rare show of tenderness. “You’re going to have to earn it before you can get that answer from me, I’m afraid.”

Two days later, the rest of Natsume’s luggage arrived as scheduled, and his brothers moved into the dormitory, as well. Their parents had already left, without so much as a word to their oldest son, and so over the course of a few weeks, the three brothers settled comfortably into their new lives. When Chiaki helped Natsume move the rest of his things into his dorm room, he noted that his friend seemed a lot more at ease compared to before—though Chiaki never would have admitted to being worried about him.

Still, it was with a kind tone of voice that he said to Natsume, “I really am glad that you hit it off with your roommate and everything.”

At first, Natsume freaked out a little bit, thinking that their would-be relationship had been discovered. But then he realized that there was no way that could be the case, and figured Chiaki’s words had a much more innocent meaning. “Oh yeah, we’re getting to be pretty close friends.”

Chiaki nodded. “Usually you don’t get along so well with new acquaintances.”

Certainly, all of the people Natsume interacted with on a day-to-day basis were those that he’d known for some time. Chiaki was his only real friend and they’d been friends since their youth. Yet over the course of one whirlwind of a week, Yukinari had managed to embed himself in Natsume’s heart seemingly without any effort at all. It was doubtful that the boy had even intended for this to happen, and where they were now had been completely the result of random happenstance.

But they were here and it looked like a rather permanent state of things. It wasn’t a deep, earth-shaking sort of love that filled Natsume’s heart, but the gentle stirrings of a feeling—much deeper than fascination or admiration—that he had never before experienced were rather thrilling in their own way.

“By the way, thanks, Chiaki.”

“Eh? For what?”

“I heard from Hiiragi-san that originally I was supposed to be in your room.”

“Uh…” Even someone like Chiaki, who almost always had a snappy comeback, was at a loss for words. He was struggling to think of how to say “I didn’t want you stalking and hanging all over me” in a nice way when Natsume chuckled, interrupting his thoughts.

“I know it’s all because you wanted me to experience the world a bit more, and I feel like this is going to be a great year, so thanks. Thanks for being such a nice, considerate friend.”

A misunderstanding, to be sure, but one that Chiaki was in no hurry to correct.

After a few fast weeks in school and another round of tests that Natsume was wholly unprepared for, it was just about time for summer break. The heat hadn’t eased up at all, and Natsume had found it increasingly difficult to stay awake whether in school or out. It was only at the insistence of his brothers and under the watchful, scrutinizing eye of Chiaki, Makeshift Private Tutor, that he managed to make passing grades at all, though he made a perfect score on his Japanese literature test, as always.

“I never pegged you for a literary scholar, ani-ue.” Shuuki had exclaimed, genuinely surprised.

Chiaki’s response had been only a careless shrug. “That’s about all your ani-ue’s good at, other than cooking.”

“I’m not surprised,” Yukinari had said simply, a smirk on his lips. “After all, he has a whole bookcase filled with Japanese poetry and the like.”

On the last day of classes, after everyone else had gone home, Natsume found himself leaning against a wall in one of the school hallways waiting for his roommate so they could walk back to the dormitory together. The counselor had asked Yukinari to stay a little so they could discuss his Future Plans form. This rarely ever happened, and so it was rumored that either Yukinari had left it completely blank, or had applied to a school his family wouldn’t approve of.

After a while, Natsume heard the sound of a sliding door and looked up to see Yukinari step out into the hallway. The younger boy’s face lit up just a little bit at the sight of his lover, and he walked over. “Were you waiting for a long time?”

“Not really,” Natsume replied with a shake of his head. He leaned forward, pushing off from the wall, and began to walk towards the front doors of the building, with Yukinari following behind him at a brisk pace. Natsume always tried to walk a little slower to accommodate him, but keeping up with his senpai still required some effort from Yukinari. “Did you get into some sort of trouble?” Natsume asked once they had left the building. He also noted with marked unhappiness that it was still unbearably hot outside.

“I guess I was a little too honest on my form. Well, my parents surely wouldn’t be too pleased with what I wrote down, either, so I did change it. I’m going to try to get into Kyoto University.”

“With your grades, that’s definitely possible.” Natsume smiled knowingly.

“You could probably get in, too, if you tried harder. Are you really going to study technology at Choudai? It doesn’t seem to suit you at all.”

“Oh? And what do you think would be suitable for me?”

Yukinari grinned. “You should open up a bakery!”

“There’s already a perfectly good one here. I know you’re aware of it because it’s where I work and you’ve come to bother me there before.”

“No, stupid, in Kyoto!”

“We’ve already talked about why I can’t go to Kyoto.”

That was a conversation Yukinari remembered well, though not too fondly. No one ever liked it when things didn’t go their way, Yukinari was just a little more vocal about it than most. “Brother complex!”

“And what does that make you, the one who’s dating this guy with a brother complex?”

“The sane one who thought he could change you.” Yukinari answered with a smirk, not missing a beat. Soon enough, they reached the dormitory. After walking up the stairs to their room, Natsume hid himself behind the closet door to peel off his school uniform, sticky with sweat. “Aww, senpai. Is there really any need to be shy?”

Natsume looked up and wasn’t surprised to see Yukinari draping his body over the top of the door and looking down at him. He was probably standing on the desk. Still, Natsume couldn’t keep a smile off his lips. “Well, I guess you’re right.”

The dormitory was virtually empty on that day. Natsume vaguely remembered that a lot of the inhabitants had planned to go to the public pool together, but he felt as if he couldn’t really be bothered to join them. Instead, he and Yukinari went straight for the dorm baths. It was nice not having to wait for others to finish; they had the whole place to themselves.

Later, when they were back in their room, Natsume kicked his dirty uniform into a corner of the closet. After Natsume was scolded by Yukinari for uncleanliness, the uniform found itself in the laundry hamper instead. It was much too hot to wear even his casual clothes, so Natsume decided it would be best to lounge around in his boxers. That was what boys’ dorms were all about, after all. Walking over to the bedside table, he turned on the fan that they’d placed on it and positioned the fan so it was blowing cold air straight at Yukinari’s bottom bunk. Then, in one swift motion, Natsume threw himself down onto the bed and sighed contentedly, loving the feel of the cool air against his hot skin.

Yukinari raised an eyebrow. “Why my bunk?”

“Well, I was told that heat rises.”

“Hmm.” Natsume’s kouhai looked bored for just a moment before an idea apparently came to him and his eyes lit up with mirth. “Why don’t we make something else rise, while we’re at it?”

Before his mind could register what was going on, Natsume’s body had already moved to accommodate Yukinari’s as the younger boy crawled on top of him, having mysteriously stripped within a matter of seconds. After adjusting his position and making himself comfortable, Yukinari was soon sucking Natsume’s dick rather unceremoniously, teasing the tip of it with his tongue and lightly biting down for added pressure. Natsume hissed in an abrupt breath of air, feeling both pain and pleasure at the same time, though he should’ve been used to this sort of thing by now. “You know…” he managed between breaths, “Even though you look innocent, sometimes you say some pretty… perverted things.”

“Maybe, but you don’t actually mind that at all, do you?”

“…I guess not.” However, he quickly realized that the bottom bunk was much too cramped for what they were trying to do, so Natsume pushed Yukinari’s head away.

The younger boy frowned. “You want to stop?” He said in disbelief.

“No, umm. I just want to move. There’s no space in here.”

Yukinari grinned. “I know the perfect place.”

When he found himself in the shared bathroom, with Yukinari eagerly pulling his arm, somehow Natsume wasn’t surprised in the least. He sat down on the tile floor and Yukinari quickly resumed his earlier activities, but only after pushing Natsume down onto his back. The floor felt cold at first and Natsume winced as it came in contact with his skin, but was soon made to feel quite warm. With that, Natsume put his hands on Yukinari’s waist and pulled his kouhai’s lower half towards him. He closed his mouth around Yukinari’s cock and reciprocated, though he bit down a little harder. Over the last few weeks, he’d learned that Yukinari liked a little bit of pain. Though the kouhai said nothing, he’d also completely stopped moving, evidently rather distracted by what Natsume was doing, which spoke volumes.

After cleaning up, the two of them returned to the room and lay on the bottom bunk together. Yukinari’s head had found a comfortable resting place in the crook of Natsume’s arm, but Natsume had pulled his lover closer to him, clinging as if he was afraid Yukinari was a bird that would fly off at a moment’s notice. Despite what his kouhai had thought about him before, Natsume had known loss, had known disappointment. While he had been reluctant to open himself up after what he’d experienced, there was no changing the present state of things. He’d just have to work harder to not let the past repeat itself. “So,” he started, taking a deep breath. “Kyodai, huh?” Even though they were close, the two of them had actually never discussed their futures together before.

“I won’t actually be aiming for it until next year, you understand. Besides, you’ll be leaving me behind first since you’re graduating, so you can’t complain.”

Leaving Yukinari behind… Natsume had never considered it that way before. It definitely wasn’t his intention, but he supposed that it was true even if he wasn’t going very far. “No, I won’t stand in your way. If that’s what you decided, I’m sure you’ve thought about it carefully, no matter what you may say.”

“Your parents are okay with you going to Nagasaki University?”

Natsume smiled sadly, as he always did when his parents were mentioned. “I’m sure they don’t care as long as I pay for myself.”

A silence passed between them for a while before Yukinari broke it with a light laugh. “Ha! So, a long-distance relationship, huh? Sounds kind of thrilling.”

Suddenly, Natsume looked very excited. “It’ll be just like the movies! I’ll be racing off to the train station to meet you and when I have to go home, we’ll be hugging each other with teary eyes…”

“…That is not exactly what I meant. Even though you look serious, sometimes you say some really outrageous things.”

There was no way that Natsume could be completely okay with the state of things. He tended to be insecure, and the rift that had formed between his parents and himself did worry him. The idea that after another year, Yukinari would be far away scared him. There was also the matter of coming out to his younger brothers. What would they say about all this? Yet at the end of the day, when he was here with someone who cared about him, (Yukinari still hadn’t said his feelings outright, but he tolerated Natsume enough that the latter saw it as “caring”) Natsume felt like everything would turn out for the best, no matter what he did.

Natsume craned his neck ever-so-slightly and saw that Yukinari had fallen fast asleep, no doubt the victim of post-coital fatigue. With a smile, Natsume turned onto his side, leaning his head forward so that his face touched Yukinari’s, which was a little warm despite the fan.

It was some time later when Natsume asked “What did you put on your Future Plans form, anyway?” He’d suddenly remembered their previous conversation while they were out eating dinner together one night.

“Oh…’To be happy’, that’s all.” Yukinari replied absently, stirring the hot pot.

Natsume was incredulous at this. “For all three slots?”

“For all three slots.” His kouhai smirked, totally unapologetic.

Maybe he didn’t know much about history or care about his past, and perhaps the present was still a work-in-progress. Still, it was a content Natsume that replied, “I think that’s something we’ve already achieved.”

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