"Yuma, what is "love"?"
The pink and blue-haired boy peered over the edge of his hammock with a curious expression across his young face. "Love?" he echoed. "Why're you asking about that?"
The glowing blue humanoid creature sitting on the ground pointed a long thin finger at the television screen in front of him. "The word keeps coming up again and again and yet still I cannot begin to work out what it means..."
Yuma scratched his head awkwardly and sat up. "You seriously don't know what love is?" he asked incredulously.
The blue figure shook his head and looked up at the boy, his white and yellow eyes expectant, awaiting some explanation. Yuma averted his stare and looked at the television. "You shouldn't be watching so much garbage, Astral. It'll fry your brain or something."
Promptly clicking a button on the remote control he turned the television off and lay back down with his back turned towards the figure on the floor. Astral continued to stare up at him patiently and Yuma could feel those waiting eyes upon him. Frustrated, he ran his fingers through his erratically spiked hair and sat up again, frowning furiously down at Astral, arms folded moodily. "I should just get you a dictionary or something," he muttered, his gaze breaking contact with the other's.
Astral's head tilted to the side and he got to his feet. He was remarkably thin. Too thin for any normal human being but that was just it. Astral wasn't human. He was...well...an Astral - whatever that was. Tall and slender with radiant powder-blue skin dappled with strange markings and with elf-like ears it was quite obvious really that he was extra-terrestrial. To be honest Yuma didn't know if Astral even was a "he". Being completely naked yet lacking in anything that could assign a fixed gender, Yuma had just come to assume that the alien was male from the sound of his voice and given it no other thought.
He'd been slow in warming up to his glowing companion's sudden constant presence. Ever since his duel against Shark Astral had been a constant pest. Arriving in this world through the golden key Yuma wore around his neck, Astral was left with no recollection of why he was there or of anything much at all. His memories were just gone. Things were slowly improving, though. With every new Number card that was won a tiny fragment of Astral's memories returned to him. Unfortunately for Yuma, it often wasn't enough to remind the alien of trivial things which he was often left to come up with an explanation for.
On all previous occasions he had been able to come up with a somewhat half-decent definition or answer for the questions Astral asked him but this was the toughest one yet. Describe love in simple terms? He was only 13. He didn't even really understand love himself so how he was going to explain it to a confused extra-terrestrial was beyond him. He sighed and prepared himself to begin, though he wasn't even sure how to start.
Astral continued to watch him curiously until eventually Yuma gave in and said the first thing that came into his head. "Love's like when you take a bite out of a rice-ball for the first time and you instantly want to take another," he paused, realising just how stupid he'd sounded, checked himself and started again. "Um...well actually it's more like a feeling you get when you're close to someone and really enjoy their company. You want to protect them. Like, the idea of them being in trouble scares you and you'd do anything to help them no matter what. I guess that's kind of what it is..."
Yuma scratched his head again, somewhat surprised as to how he'd been able to come up with something that actually made sense to himself. Glancing up at Astral and seeing that the alien now had a thoughtful expression on his face, it seemed as though that had been enough to satisfy his curiosity. "I see..." he said quietly, sitting back down opposite the blank television screen.
Yuma stared down at him for a moment before flopping backwards into his hammock again and closing his eyes. Hating the thought of being probed with more questions but equally detesting the awkward silence that seemed to settle whenever he was resting and Astral was awake, Yuma tossed the remote control down and promptly fell asleep.
When morning came, it wasn't to the sound of the alarm that Yuma awoke but to the sound of Astral's voice in his ear, making it buzz with that odd resonance that came with it. Frowning groggily and wiping sleep out of his eyes Yuma pulled himself up into a sitting position and groaned, "What is it now, Astral?"
Astral looked curious again. Yuma knew it had been a bad idea to let him watch television. Clearly he'd found something else that he didn't understand. He sighed. "What do you want me to tell you this time?"
Astral looked thoughtful for a moment before opening his mouth to speak. "This "love" thing. How do people show it for one another?"
Yuma's sleepiness vanished in an instant. "How's it shown? Boy, you really like things to have the stuffing explained out them don't you, Astral?" he put a hand to his forehead and sighed. "People show it loads of ways. They could hug or do something nice for the other person or kiss or-"
"What is "kiss"?"
Yuma faltered and stared in disbelief at Astral. "You watch late night television and you don't know what a kiss is?"
Astral didn't respond. Yuma groaned in exasperation. "It's something people only do if they're really close. It's where two people kind of put there mouths together and - I dunno how it works!" Yuma scowled and looked away, a faint pink flush crossing his cheeks at having to have this conversation with an alien.
"Is it pleasant to do something like that?" Astral asked.
"I dunno!" Yuma cried, flailing his arms as a sign of agitation. "Quit asking me questions about it!"
Astral was silent for quite some time, during which Yuma had folded his arms and had taken to glaring moodily at the wall while the alien observed him. "You have not experienced it?"
Yuma threw his hands up into the air and rolled his eyes. "I knew you'd fit another one in there somewhere, Astral!" he cried sarcastically. "No, I haven't! Geez, do I look like I'm that close to someone?"
He held his scowl for several moments before closing his eyes, bowing his head and curling himself up into a sulk. Astral considered him for a moment, observing his defensive body language. Perhaps his questions had seemed a little too persistent in their search for solutions to his curiosity however the end result had given him answers to questions he had not yet even considered.
Reaching out a long thin arm towards the sulking boy, Astral placed his blue fingers beneath his chin and lightly tilted Yuma's head upwards to look at him. The expression on the boy's face was a mix of confusion, surprise and uncertainty. In all the short time that he had known the alien, he'd never once really come into contact with him. The sensation was bizarre to say the least. Yuma didn't know why he'd always assumed that the blue being would be cold and slippery to the touch but with the slightest brush of those glowing translucent fingertips against his skin he found them to be surprisingly warm. They also seemed to buzz faintly with some sort of low resonance that made the sensation hypnotically relaxing.
Astral's expression was as unreadable as ever, his eyes staring straight into Yuma's unwaveringly. "A-Astral? What're you do-"
A slender finger over his lips silenced him and Yuma froze at the touch, crimson eyes wide with incomprehension and a rising sense of panic. His whole body seemed frozen. It would be so simple to just push the alien away but somehow he couldn't instruct his body to do anything.
With a jolt of panic he realised that Astral was moving again and as he felt the soft warmth on either side of his face he realised what was happening. Alarmed, Yuma attempted to wriggle backwards in his hammock but it seemed that Astral's arms - though thin and fragile-looking - had a strength that belied their appearance. "A-Astral?" Yuma stammered. "W-what exactly are you doing?"
Astral didn't answer with words. His thin mouth simply curved upwards into a gentle smile - something Yuma had never seen it do nor ever expected it to do - and something in his eyes softened. It made him looked like a completely different person altogether. Yuma found himself entranced, bewitched by this strange new expression. It was in this moment of weakness that Astral made his move. Never breaking eye-contact for a moment, the blue alien leaned towards Yuma, his forehead and nose brushing against the boy's. Yuma felt his face burn but forced himself to believe that it was something to do with the energy the alien gave off rather than anything else.
Their faces were so close, their gazes connected. Yuma could see his own petrified stare reflected back at him in Astral's white and yellow eyes but that wasn't all he could see. He knew what was coming. He knew what was going to happen. It was inevitable. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Yuma was scolding himself for not being more specific about the differences between love and friendship but it was too late to make that distinction now...
Yuma swallowed hard and accepted it. He accepted that it was his fault this was happening. He wasn't happy about it - heck, he was scared out of his wits at the prospect - but didn't really have any other choice. Staring back into Astral's eyes he accepted his fate reluctantly. The alien's face slipped into a frown and to Yuma's relief and surprise he moved backwards and relinquished his hold on the boy's face. "You are frightened," Astral said.
It wasn't a question, it was a statement. Yuma gathered his wits and thanked his lucky stars before registering the alien's words and fixing him with a scowl. "Well, yeah!" he cried. "When I explained all that stuff to you I didn't think you were gonna try it all out on me!"
Astral blinked and looked perplexed. "And why wouldn't I?"
Yuma slapped a hand to his face and sighed. "I knew I should've explained it better," he muttered. "You're confusing love with friendship! They're similar but love's like way, way, WAY bigger! The thing you're thinking of's friendship! I mean come on!" - he laughed nervously - "You can't love me!"
Astral was silent for quite some time, his expression unreadable. Yuma watched him curiously, unsure of whether the new information had registered in the alien's mind. It seemed it had for Astral had turned away and seated himself opposite the blank television screen again, chin resting on knees and arms wrapped loosely around his legs. Yuma frowned down at him. "Hey," he said. "You okay? You're kind of looking all bummed out all of a sudden"
There was no response. "Astral?"
Astral made no attempt to look at him but after a few moments of silence he began to speak. "It is odd, Yuma," he said quietly. "A part of me knows and accepts that I must recover all of my missing memories in order to fulfil what I was sent here to do but...a greater part of me hopes I never recover them..."
Yuma's frown deepened and he scratched his head, unable to quite grasp what the alien was saying. "You mean you don't want to remember everything?" he said bemusedly. "Why the heck not?"
"Because..." Astral paused lengthily to think of what it was he was trying to say before lifting his head and looking up at Yuma. "Because I am enjoying rediscovering things. Whether I understood them before does not matter to me. However I was taught them before pales to insignificance in comparison to the way I am learning now."
"Because it is you who is teaching me."
There was something in Astral's face and the way his eyes had glimmered with meaning as he'd spoken those words that assured Yuma that he had been completely serious. Uncertainly he pointed to himself and stammered, "M-me? You're happy because of..."
"I enjoy the way you learn and grow. With every piece of progress you make I feel like I am progressing too," the alien averted his gaze. "I have come to enjoy being in your company..."
He fell silent again yet his sentence hadn't sounded finished. It sounded as though he still had more to add. A quiet sigh escaped Astral as he looked down. "...To the point of never wanting to part from it."
Yuma's eyes widened. "S-seriously?" he cried. "C-come on, Astral! Quit messing around!"
He laughed it off but fell silent as Astral fixed him with his serious stare again. "I am not the type to 'mess around' as you would say."
A peculiar expression had crossed the alien's pale blue features as he got to his feet again. Something that looked like determination seemed to burn out of his eyes as he levitated towards Yuma and cupped his small face in his translucent palms again and in the time it took for him to do this the boy had only barely managed to register the movement. He was given no time to respond to what followed...
The moment their lips touched Yuma went rigid, frozen in a mix of horror and shock as his brain tried to make sense of what was going on. The sensation was electrifying. It was horrible! It was disgusting! It was...
The warmth against his lips caused goosebumps to rise all over his body yet the low resonating buzz Astral gave off quelled his rising panic and made him drowsy and relaxed. Hypnotised by the unearthy sensation, Yuma's eyelids slid closed and his limbs loosened. Astral sensed the change and was momentarily surprised by the boy's failure to resist.
After holding the moment a little while longer Astral pulled away and looked at the boy curiously, his face creased into a mask of confusion. Yuma opened his eyes sleepily and frowned bemusedly at the alien's expression. "What?"
Astral cocked his head to the side and considered the boy before him before speaking. "Humans are odd," he said simply. "They go through dramatic changes of colour..."
Yuma's cheeks burned furiously as if to alert him of their redness and it was with this that the recollection entered his brain, causing his face to burn a brighter shade of red. Flopping backwards in his hammock and grabbing a pillow to hide his face Yuma silently screamed into the fabric. He shouldn't be blushing! He'd hated the experience, right? It had been horrible! It had been vile! It had been...wonderful... NO! Not wonderful! It had been...
Yuma cautiously peered over the top of his pillow to see what Astral was doing and found that the alien was nowhere to be found. Sitting up again in his hammock and looking around he let out a heavy sigh. He could still feel the ghosts of Astral's kiss upon his lips and try as he might to convince himself otherwise, Yuma had to admit that despite everything he might say later when the alien returned, deep inside him he'd enjoyed it.
Unconsciously he grabbed hold of the golden key around his neck and held it close to his heart, a small smile turning up the corners of his mouth as a red flush flooded across his cheeks again. Astral enjoyed his company. Secretly, Yuma enjoyed his too...