by Yoshida Kasumi (由堕 霞)
The first impression I ever had of him was softness. Wings composed of fluffy black feathers swept through the air behind him, and something deep down beneath the chilly blue of his eyes seemed to beg to be touched. It was thoughtlessness that made me reach out, all those years ago, surrounded by weeping adults. When my fingers lingered over the velvet warmth and felt it flex, alive and real, I laughed. Inappropriate, in that place of mourning, I was taken away; far too young to understand then why no one else seemed to notice him, and why it was wrong to find a moment of joy amidst such sorrow. His eyes followed me as I was carried from the room, and just before he was lost to my sight, he smiled in a way I was certain I’d never seen anyone smile before.
It would be years before I would see him again; though the morning after the first time, I woke to find a single black feather on my pillow, following the curve of my cheek. I kept it safe through all those years, and never forgot him. So, when I finally saw him once more, it was almost as if no time had passed at all. Again, my fingers sought the downy surface of one wing, and it stretched under my touch. This time, I did not laugh aloud, but let my eyes meet his, pleasure shining clear for him to see. The longer my skin slid gently over the soft surface, the more it felt like everything else fell away but for the two of us.
He looked like a foreigner, pale and exotic except for the deep, sooty fan of his lashes and the cap of slightly overlong black hair that hung loose around his face. The wing I touched stretched around his arm toward me, and I wanted to step into the embracing warmth of its fold. Yet I was still young, and the adults came to herd me away, thinking me vaguely mad for staring off and reaching for something they could not see. I was nearly an adult then, but not quite old enough to escape their urging and I twisted to look back over my shoulder as they encouraged me off to some other place.
“My name is Shouhei,” he said, quiet voice resonating deep inside of me. I opened my mouth, wanting to tell him my name, but we were getting farther away. Just before we went through the doorway, he smiled and spoke again, and though I was too distant to have heard the soft words, I somehow still did. “I know, Yuuta.”
Fewer years passed between that meeting with him and my next, yet by then I knew enough to understand what his presence meant, and to be wary of it. So when I noticed the flare of wings over the shoulders of the others gathered in the hushed, solemn halls, I thought at first to try and flee. The thread that bound us together would not allow my retreat and instead compelled my feet unwillingly across the floor in his direction.
“Shouhei,” the name came reluctant from my mouth, and though my hands twitched with the ache to, I did not lift them to trace the softness of feathers or discover the smoothness of his cheek.
His eyes were sad, but not surprised by the coldness of my greeting. His smile was colored with a knowing regret, and he bowed his head in acknowledgment of this changed distance between us; even as his voice strengthened my desire to touch him.
“Could I take back my reason for being here, and have come only to see you, I would,” he said, soft blue gaze directed through his lashes at me. “I wanted to come, for that.”
“Do I have time to say goodbye?” I asked him, throat thick with the various pains that conflicted within me, reflecting off each other and growing until I was uncertain if I would be able to keep the tears from my eyes. Though I knew the only reason I could ever see him would bring sadness, deep down inside I did not want to give him up. Guilt clawed at the ache, underscoring each breath that filled the tight silence that hung in the space between us.
He nodded, eyes closed, and I turned away, thanks caught up with my voice in the knot that was heavy in the back of my throat. The door seemed too far away, a haven from the weight of his gaze that I would never reach. Once on the other side, I leaned, shaking, against the surface and allowed myself to come undone as I could not let myself in front of him.
It did not seem long before he was in the room with me, though I did not hear the sound of the door opening. I lifted my eyes from the hand I held gently between both of my own, feeling him there as if he were an extension of my own body. My fingers brushed softly over paper-thin skin as I looked at him across the figure that lay beneath the sheets.
“Now?” The word was the only one I could force across the dryness of my tongue, and when he nodded I lifted the fingers I held and kissed them gently before laying the hand back on stark whiteness of the fabric, where it looked wasted and worn. Reaching up, I smoothed the mussed hair back from her forehead, and then rose from my chair, voice only a faint whisper, “Goodbye, Mother.”
Then, leaning over the bed, I reached out and brushed a swift, tender touch across the curve of his cheekbone. Our eyes spoke a thousand things that we did not have the words to say in less than an instant, and when I turned to walk away from them, I felt a vague fear that somehow the next time I saw him would be the last.
I had thought it would be a long time before I would see Shouhei again, like each time before, so when it was less than six months later and I caught sight of him standing beneath the sakura, I was briefly struck motionless. He waited patiently, gently smiling lips looking as soft as the pink petals that swirled on the scrap of breeze winding between the trees. The fear that I had felt before gripped me hard now, and I shivered as I approached him, in spite of the warmth and the sun that dappled the shadows beneath the branches.
When I reached him, both hands stretched out; so different from that hand that had first touched him, fingers longer, trembling yet sure as one brushed across silky feathers and the other tangled in windblown strands of hair. My head tipped forward, my forehead coming to rest against his; his eyes the only thing that filled the narrowed field of my vision.
“You’ll leave me all alone,” I said thickly, the fingers laced amidst the softness of his hair tightening as though their grip would be enough to keep him here with me.
“No,” he said, and then repeated it again, the heat of his breath rushing across my lips and chin as though he were releasing far more than the single word. “No.”
He made no move to touch me, but let my hands roam where they would, my arms finally coming to rest around his shoulders, my head slipping to the side so that my face was hidden in the side of his neck, shielded by the curtain of his hair. I could feel the sting that rose to the backs of my eyes, the tightness in my throat that held me silent, and I hung on as though he were my shelter from everything I’d never wanted to acknowledge.
“Yuuta,” he murmured, and being only the second time I had ever heard my name from his lips, I trembled and clung tighter, pulling back to look at him as some of the tension broke from me in a noise that sounded suspiciously like a sob.
“You’ll take him from me,” I said, thinking of my father, who had become silent and hollow since the death of my mother. “You’ll take him, and there is no one else.”
“No,” he said again, hands coming up as though he’d wrap his arms around me, but hesitating, fingers curled into stubborn fists. “No, Yuuta, I am,” his voice hitched, and he drew a sharp breath, the expression in his eyes somehow hunted, “I am here for you.”
I recoiled with a sharp little cry, both of my hands wrapped tight around one of his wrists as though by holding on to him I could stay any truth that was in the words he had just said. I shook my head in speechless denial, and felt the muscles of his arm flex under my fingers as his fist clenched tighter.
“Listen,” he said, and something that seemed broken and desperate in his voice held me still, brought my focus back to his eyes and away from the pained thunder of my heart. “There is a way…”
“A way?” I seized on the thought eagerly, seeing the hesitation on his face and reaching out to cup each side of his jaw in one of my hands, thumbs stroking the soft skin of his cheeks as I continued quietly. “It isn’t death that I fear. I am afraid to lose you.”
Shouhei closed his eyes, and his hand slowly uncurled from its tight knot, his shoulders slumping. For a moment, I thought I had misunderstood everything and said the wrong thing. I could think of no way to ease him, but before it came to that, his eyes opened again and the smile he gave was blinding even through the deep sadness that still filled his eyes.
“There are things I must tell you,” he said, and I nodded, content to stand there and listen, my hands curving around the back of his neck as he turned us around, spreading his wings. “This may take some time, so with your permission; I will shield us from curious eyes.”
He barely waited for me to nod before speaking further, “It is the curse of the Shinigami to never touch a human. Even in the moments when they take their last breath, we are not permitted to reach out and offer them comfort from their pain and fear.
“They do not see us until that moment is passed, and they are freed from the constraint of their physical body, soul ready to move away from this world. Even then, it is our task only to guide, not to touch, though we are as physically solid to those souls as I am to you right now.
“It is a painful way to live.”
The grip of my hands tightened, and I was surprised that he offered resistance when I tried to draw him closer. I opened my mouth, though I do not know what I would have said, for he shook his head then, just once, and spoke in my stead.
“There is yet more I must say,” he continued, some distress darkening his serious blue gaze. “When you touched me, it was the first time I felt the hand of another, and it overwhelmed me. Though I had lived long years before then, it was the first time I felt as though I was alive. I returned later and found you asleep, and though I wished to, I did not touch you. Your innocence demanded that I leave without interrupting your life, and yet I could not stop myself from leaving a feather behind. I thought, once you were older, that you would be unable to see me, and I did not wish you to forget.
“That may have been what occurred, had I not committed such a rash action.”
Again, I opened my mouth, and again he quelled the objections that rose with an urgent need to spill across my tongue. His hand hovered just over my mouth, a spare inch from my skin, and I sighed against his palm and watched the way he shivered, the way his lips parted in longing.
“Enough,” he said, after swallowing hard and turning his head slightly to the side. “Yuuta, enough. I must finish the tale.”
It was not only seeing his emotional upset that made me desist, though that was a part of it. What made me hold back was the fact that I could feel his desire to reach out to me, and how hard it was for him to maintain his resistance. I could not make myself remove my hands from his skin, but I no longer fought to pull him nearer.
“The feather I left,” he spoke on, lowering his hand to his side again with a soft exhalation. “It created a sort of bond between us. Each time you touched it, I could feel it, and when it was near you, I could feel your emotions.
“I fear that, rather than making sure you remembered me, I tied you to me with bonds you were unable to escape.”
“No,” nothing he could have done would have stopped my interruption then, and my hands shifted to close hard on his shoulders. “That isn’t the truth. Even without the feather, I never would have forgotten you. I couldn’t have.
“You can’t think so little of me,” that last came from my mouth as a mixture of a demand and a plea, my fingertips digging into the firm flesh beneath them. “You can’t.”
“So little?” His focus was fully fixed on me again, and his eyes were wide with anguish. His hands came up, hovering on each side of my face, fingers visibly shaking. “Yuuta. I could not think more highly of you. I have watched you, more than you will ever know, and I can do nothing but love you.
“I want nothing more than I want to touch you, but you must know that once I do, you can never go back to the way you were before. I could not let you make that choice without explaining. If I have…”
It was my hand in the air over his mouth that stopped the sound this time, while I spent a moment trying to find a way to force words through the hot rush of elation that filled my chest. Finally, after a deep shaking breath, an intensely spoken whisper slipped free of my lips.
There was a hush then, a frozen moment where our eyes locked and the entire world seemed to cease its movement. A breeze shivered through the leaves above our heads, a rain of pink petals swirled around us, and then our impasse was broken. His hands pressed against my cheeks and his lips met mine and everything I had ever been or ever would be burned away in the fire that was his touch.
His mouth possessed mine with a tender potency that sent a tremor through my limbs, and I clasped my arms around his neck lest my knees choose that moment to give way. His breathing was ragged, or mine was, it was hard to tell whose chest rose and fell faster when our bodies seemed about to melt together from the heat that swept back and forth between us.
His wings stretched, shivering, and images cascaded through my thoughts; a tumbling rush of memory that was not just mine, nor only his, but a chaotic blend of them both. His tongue escaped the confines of his mouth, and my lips parted on a soft noise that invited him home.
In the same moment, our knees folded, and he carefully eased me down onto my back in the cool grass. Achingly slow, he released my mouth, one of his hands tracing a gentle path down the lines of my chest as he knelt over me, breath soft against my cheek.
“No one can see us,” he whispered, urgent and low, brushing kisses across my brow, my jaw, my cheek. “Yuuta.”
I stared up in a daze, watching the way sunlight and shadow traced the contours of his wings as they flexed against the backdrop of leaves and falling sakura petals. I could no more resist the compulsion to touch him than I could forget the sound of my name when it came from his throat. My hands stretched up, falling flat and open against the feathered expanse.
He lowered himself, a prolonged, attentive shift of muscle and bone that placed him half-splayed across my body, one of his legs nestled between mine. His wings lay heavy and warm against my palms; under their weight I felt safer than any time I could remember, and as his gaze lingered on my face, I smiled.
“Shouhei,” I said, and my smile fell away and I swallowed against a suddenly dry throat as his eyes went dark with longing and his mouth came down against mine once more.
It was fire and ice and nothing in between. It seemed as if I was torn apart, and then knit back together more perfectly than I had been made to begin with. His hands slid beneath my shirt, and when they hit bare skin I felt as though together, if we could be seen, we would burn more incandescent than the sun. I twisted beneath his touch, my hands falling away from soft feathers to clench around the smooth, bare skin of his upper arms.
His lips skimmed across the faint stubble that decorated my jaw, and I couldn’t stop the softly protesting noise that escaped my mouth as he moved away. Then the heat was back, searing into the side of my neck in a way that made me gasp. I was helpless under his ministrations, my eyes closing as his wings pulsed upward and then came back down, stirring a brief, chill flutter of air across my skin. Meticulous fingers plucked open the buttons down the front of my shirt, each section of skin revealed as the fabric parted greeted by a warm caress of breath and lips.
Each soft sound I made in response to his touch was echoed, and the vibrations against my skin drove more pleading cries from my throat. Together, Shouhei’s hands and voice swept over sensitive nerves in a tingling rush that seemed to have no beginning or end. It was a sort of languorous haste that gripped our bodies as the sun slowly sank in the sky and the shadows stretched long across our tangled limbs.
Shouhei pushed my shirt carefully off my shoulders, kissed the sharp rise of my collarbones, licked a thin line at the juncture where my neck met the edge of my jaw. I twisted, turned my head, caught the curve of his ear between my lips and traced it delicately with the tip of my tongue. His breath slid between his teeth on a hiss, and I released the now damp flesh as he shifted to pull at the ties that were hidden under his hair. The fabric covering his chest fell forward when he pushed himself up to his knees, twisting his arms awkwardly behind him.
I followed him up, body unwilling to be separated from his for even a moment. My cheek rested against his breastbone as my arms slid around his waist, fingers twining with his to pull free the last of the lacing that kept his upper body clothed. As he tossed the cloth to one side, I pressed open-mouthed kisses on the crest of each of his ribs, and my hands explored the ridges of his spine between his wings.
He shivered when my fingers brushed the boundary where skin sprouted soft feathers, a soundless gasp parting his lips as his head went back. I could see the frantic tempo of his pulse in the side of his neck, feel it against my lips where they made slow investigation of the uneven surface of a nipple.
The heat of him was contagious, and I could feel the flush that painted reckless streaks across my cheeks. Shouhei leaned back and cupped the glowing skin in his palms, urging my eyes closed with a heavy sweep of his thumbs. He kissed each of my cheeks, let my lashes tickle his lips and smiled against one corner of my mouth. I trembled under his touch, and swayed toward him as though here were magnetic in a way only I could feel.
His hands moved, tracing the shape of my body from my shoulders to my hips, coaxing me back down to lie on the ground once more. This time, instead of covering me, he stretched beside me, upper body twisted to accommodate the wings that were now folded close to his back. Purposeful fingers dip beneath my waistband, a slide of his thumb opening the button as the backs of his fingers flex against the skin of my pelvis.
I arch upward as he slides the fabric down, settling again to feel his hand against my lower back, turning my hips as his mouth falls to meet mine. Our lips slide together slowly, and when I feel the length of him, bare against my body, I voice a gasp that he swallows greedily as his tongue delves between my lips. Our hips push, friction easing into a slick glide over sweat-damp skin, and he makes a low, desperate sound that is almost lost somewhere in the flickering strokes of our tongues.
The arm he leans on moves, and he pinches and rolls one of my nipples between his fingers. The sound I make is sharp and high, and his teeth clench around my lower lip in a hard bite that almost stings. I cannot keep myself still, one arm hooks around his shoulder to pull and I push myself toward him as though I believe our bodies could merge if I only tried hard enough.
He catches my free hand in his, guides it down while he pulls our lips apart long enough for us each to gasp breaths that shake and then dissolve into rough, keening cries as our joined hands curl around the heavy, hot lengths of our erections. Leaning over me, Shouhei rests his forehead against mine, and all that fills my field of vision is the black-fringed blue of his eyes. The thick scent of our sweat mingles with the sweetness of the sakura and the fresh, sharp tang of the grass crushed under our bodies. His stare sears everything about the moment deep into my memory; the prickle of drying skin at the backs of my knees, the last faint light that washes us in a warm, bronze glow, and most of all, the safe, secure feeling I get when his wings flare out and a cry escapes the knotted confines of his throat. A loose feather falls, brushing across the curve of my cheek before it flutters to the ground and I follow him up into the rising tide of ecstasy, not noticing the sticky splash of our release against our stomachs, too lost in his eyes and the reverence reflected there to think of anything else.
When it was over, and we were curled together in soft, satiated warmth, we were both changed. Though physically we were no different, we were not human nor Shinigami, but some strange blend of both that would never truly belong in either world. However, there was never a time where we thought to regret our choice, as the only place either of us would ever want to be was with each other. Forever after, I was protected under the weight of Shouhei’s wings, and he was warmed by the embrace of my arms.