By now, Akira knows exactly which of the attic floorboards creak. So he’s silent when he slips out of bed, and silent when changes his pajamas for his jeans and hoodie. Of course, there’s the inevitable rustling of fabric and the groan of the worn stairs, so when he’s two steps down he looks behind himself; Morgana is still curled into a ball on his bed, the moonlight illuminating him as it floods through the windows.
Perhaps Morgana was still asleep, or perhaps he simply knew that there was no stopping Akira.
Either way, Akira is out the door before he can dwell on it.
The city is never quiet, even at midnight. Only the backstreets of Yongen-Jaya are anything close, the subway still carrying the murmur of a crowd. Despite the fact that he’s not crammed amongst the passengers at least, the ride seems to be moving slower than usual. Akira looks at his phone. 12:21AM.
The stop for his school arrives, and more people leave the train than get on. Perhaps the steady thinning of passengers is why, as they travel to the next stop, and then the next, the screeching of the railway seems to get louder and louder, and the blackness of the tunnel darker and darker.
Finally, finally, Akira gets off the train. Usually, the lights of the city can almost make it hard to tell if it’s night time or not, but tonight he feels as though they do little to mitigate the dark clouds overhead.
A heavy raindrop hits his head and he pulls over his hood, keeping his pace brisk.
By the time the Diet Building comes into view, the drizzle has turned into full-on rain, and Akira’s clothes are starting to cling uncomfortably to his body. It’s an easy reason to give himself as to why he barely checks to make sure no one’s around before he presses the red app on his phone.
The scenery dissolves and a new one takes shape, dry clothes replace his wet ones, and a deep breath finds its way into his lungs. Before the horizon even exists, his feet carry him into the ship’s interior.
As beneficial as companions are, Akira is faster like this. He’s fluid like water as he moves from one location to the next, not a sound made, not a step misplaced. Intuition alone carries him; not a single voice talking to him, not even his own mind’s. He sees, he hears, he feels, and he then he moves.
He’s only a third of the way to his destination when he catches himself thinking actual thoughts. Maneuvering like this is oddly nostalgic; it’s not so much fluid like water, he realizes as he jumps over a partition on the side deck, but more like flying like a bird. Like a crow.
Perhaps it’s strange to call a feeling from barely a month ago nostalgic, but he doesn’t dwell on that.
He does dwell, however, on how it’s not quite the same feeling. In the palace, in the shadows, he was always free. When the other reality would take shape, he could feel chains on his body loosening one by one, shattering every time he summoned his Persona. He knew that, to an extent, his comrades felt the same. But only one seemed to share Akira’s intense love -- need -- for freedom.
Anyone else probably wouldn’t still call Akechi a comrade -- Akechi himself had never told Akira that he felt that way, either. But he didn’t have to tell him -- Akira could see it, in the ease of Akechi’s movements throughout the casino. Akira could feel it in the way Akechi was the only one who could keep up with him at his fastest, at his most. It wasn’t just the expertise of one who had traversed the other world before; it was the natural intuition as someone who felt he belonged there as much as Akira did. He felt it every time Akechi’s hand brushed against his --
Akira slips on his landing and throws one of his hands in front of himself, catching himself on the guardrail of the ship before he fell further.
He realizes now that he’s close to where he needs -- wants -- to be, and that he was either moving faster than he thought or his mind had been wandering much too long.
Slipping back into the interior of the ship, his eyes take less than a second to adjust to the darkness.
The atmosphere of the engine room is oppressive: the dim lighting, the groans of the machinery, and the fact that it was so empty but so heavy gave it a nearly claustrophobic feeling. It’s hard for Akira, up in the rafters, to make out much on the floor level.
He skips walking the fifteen feet to the stairs and jumps off the edge, stepping on a beam halfway down, coming to his landing with ease. Before he’s even standing straight his eyes are looking up one end of the room and down to the other --
Had it been anyone else, perhaps they would not have noticed the figure sitting off to the side, as if blending into the darkness. But Akira’s eyes are used to the darkness, he supposes.
Goro Akechi sits with his knees to his chest. His head rests against them, turned to the side so that Akira can see his cracked, broken mask.
Akira takes two steps forward before Akechi speaks.
“What are you doing here?”
Akira says nothing, and simply walks next to Akechi and sits beside him.
“You idiot,” Akechi says. “Are you actually here alone?”
“If I wasn’t alone, you would’ve ran off somewhere.”
Akechi stands, and Akira follows suit. “So what? Did you come here to get the last laugh? Because you haven’t destroyed my pride enough already?”
“I just want to talk.”
Akechi gives a short laugh. “I tried to kill you -- twice -- and you want to talk to me?”
“Stop being like this,” Akira says, shaking his head. “Even if that’s true, you regret it. You admit that much.”
“Shut your mouth,” Akechi snaps, hands curling into tight fists. “You have no idea --”
Before he can continue, Akira takes a step forward and says, “Drop the act. In the end, you didn’t kill me -- or any of us. And you made it so we could escape. So what? You could die here alone? Why?”
“Why?” Akechi repeats, the sheer disbelief in his voice as forceful as the way his fist slams into the wall. “Are you seriously asking me that?”
Akira says nothing.
“I don’t have to tell you anything. Leave. Before I change my mind about letting you go.”
Only a brief moment passes before Akira takes another step forward. “Let’s make a deal.” He reaches into his pocket, and he steadily pulls out his gun, hand on the barrel, so that the grip faces Akechi as he holds it out to him.
“What are you playing at?”
“I said I wanted to talk. In return, if you change your mind, shoot me,” Akira says simply. He presses the gun firmly into Akechi’s hand, and then guides it up until it’s pointed squarely at his forehead.
“You’re toying with me.” Akechi’s voice comes out like vicious murder itself, fist shaking against the wall. “You think because I failed twice now, I’ll fail again.”
“That’s not it. It’s just fair.”
“I don’t need things to be fair!”
The last word is nearly inaudible to Akira as the gun collides with the side of his head, making the room spin around him as he drops to his knees. He barely has time to look back up before the cold end of the barrel meets his forehead again.
“Things have never been fair for me. The odds have never been in my favor. Yet here I am: detective prince, adored by the masses, hero of justice, and the one who will tear apart Masayoshi Shidou’s life.” He presses the gun harder against Akira, metal digging into his skin. “Even when you showed up, so calm and composed, all the damn time, and with all of your… all of you. I came out on top. Everyone thinks you’re dead. I thought you were dead. I --”
The gun just barely shakes against his head.
“I thought you were dead.”
“Because I killed you.”
“Why did you come here? Really.”
“Why haven’t you shot me?” Akira asks. “Really.”
Akechi laughs, short and hollow. “A question with a question. You’re treating this like when we first met.”
“Back then, you couldn’t have known I was a Phantom Thief.”
“Don’t change the subject.”
“You came and talked to me, though. And then you kept coming to talk to me, even after you knew. There are plenty of back alley cafés. Plenty of places for you to go to get away from people. But you kept coming to Leblanc, and sitting there with the same cup for hours --”
“Shut up! I’m warning you, Joker,” Akechi says, shoving the gun into Akira with enough force to make his head throb. “Get to the point.”
“I said I came here to talk, and that’s true. But I just want to talk like we talked at Leblanc. Just give me some of your time.”
Again Akechi laughs, and it echoes off the empty walls. “How do you expect to just talk?”
“We already are, for the most part,” Akira says, and for the first time glances away from Akechi, nodding to the space next to him. “Sit down. But if you’d rather spend your last hours sitting here alone, fine.”
Akechi says nothing.
“You mentioned what could have been if we had met a few years earlier. There’s no one else here, so let’s make up for a bit of that time.”
The gun shakes against Akira’s head again.
Then it hits the ground with a clamor as Akechi tosses it a foot away from them. He sits back where he was, back against the wall and knees up. Akira shifts so he’s next to him.
“Can you tell me about when you first got your powers?” Akira asks after waiting a moment.
He watches Akechi as he waits for an answer. Akechi stares straight ahead, mask cracked just enough that Akira can barely see his eyes. It’s a striking contrast, this Akechi sitting quietly, versus him standing, yelling in anger or pain. Unlike when they fought just hours ago, the dark outfit now seems less intimidating and more like something heavy, as if threatening to swallow him whole.
“I found on the app on my phone one day, like I’m sure you did… over two years ago,” Akechi says eventually. “No matter how much I tried to get rid of it, it came back.” He stops, eyes shifting downwards a moment. “I had spent a lot of time researching Shidou. I had heard of the Metaverse before and his research, but I didn’t know what it entailed. But when the app activated one day… I knew.”
“And then you approached Shidou.”
“I knew the lengths he would go for his desires… I knew he would want my abilities. It was easier than I thought it would be. I learned exactly how cognitions took form, about distortions… and most importantly, about Palaces and Shadow selves. And… how someone named Wakaba Isshiki was also doing research on the Metaverse.”
“...And then Shidou told you to kill her?”
“He had wanted to for a while, and this was the perfect crime. No blood left, no connection to him.”
Akira gives a moment before continuing, “Unless you’re leaving out something… you didn’t know she would die, did you?”
“That doesn’t matter.”
“I just want to know.”
Akechi is quiet, head tilted down so that his bangs partially obscure his eyes. “Of course none of us knew exactly what would happen. We just knew that the death of the Shadow self would likely mean the death of someone’s mentality. Since then, of course, we’ve known that it results in complete mental shutdowns.”
“...And then you took care of whoever else Shidou needed out of the picture.”
Akechi nods once, slowly. “And of course… being able to use the psychotic breaks gave me cases to solve as the charismatic detective prince.”
“Just so Shidou would place more trust in you?”
“Not just that.” Akira sees Akechi’s grip tighten around his legs. “But it’s not something someone like you could understand.”
A silence comes between them again until eventually Akechi says, “You should know the rest. Now leave.”
“So what? You can sit here until you die?”
Akechi slams his fist into the metal floor. “I’m not going to sit here and talk in circles with you.”
“Fine. Then what would you say if I told you to come back with me?”
Again, Akechi’s fist crashes into the steel. “Don’t mock me!” His voice nearly cracks, finally, his shouts magnified by the emptiness. “There is no place for me to go!” He punches the floor again, arm shaking from the impact. “Who are you even talking to?! You don’t know me! I’m a murderer! All I want is revenge against Masayoshi Shidou! Stop talking to me like this!” His whole body quivers, and he buries his face into his knees, obscuring Akira’s view of him.
Silence comes between them again. The machines have faded into white noise by now, enough so that Akira notices his heart pounding in his ears. “You’ve lied to a lot of people,” he says, voice quieter than before, “including yourself. You want revenge, but telling yourself that it’s the only thing you want is what let Shidou have some control over you.”
“I didn’t --”
“You went along with what he wanted, and you were never told, or found, that there was another way to do it without killing. Because you were alo--”
Akechi’s hands meet Akira’s shoulders with full force and his vision blurs when his head slams into the floor behind him. “Stop it!”
As Akira’s vision clears he becomes more aware of Akechi still pushing his full weight onto his shoulders, his arms already feeling numb. Akechi hovers over him, his eyes barely visible even through the large cracks in his mask. “Stop,” he says again, voice quieter, body shaking, his breaths shallow and uneven.
“To answer your question from earlier…” Akira says, gaze unwavering, “I think things would be a lot different if we could have met earlier.”
Akechi goes still.
“I wish we had,” Akira says, quietly. “I really do.”
Akechi’s arms quiver.
“I was happy when I’d run into you in town. I was happy when you started coming to the café. And I hated that I was happy… because I knew something was off, ever since we met. I knew you could hear Morgana.”
Akira hears Akechi’s heart pounding now, too.
“Akechi. Let’s go. After Shidou is dealt with… you can do what you want. But I want you to stay with us until then.”
“I don’t belong with you,” Akechi says, nearly inaudible, as he sits straighter, bringing his hands up so he stares at his palms. “Look at me,” he continues as Akira sits up. “You’re all Phantom Thieves, and I’m just…”
“You’re Goro Akechi.” Akira brings a hand to one of Akechi’s, holding it loosely. “You’ve made mistakes and you haven’t been honest, but you’re not really different from us.”
He squeezes Akechi’s hand once, and blue flame runs down it, replacing Akechi’s dark glove with something white, the fire quickly running across his whole body until he’s completely donned in his familiar, prince-like garments, sans the mask. Akechi’s gaze falls down to look down at himself, the pristine white nearly hurting his eyes. “What…”
“We’re both Wild Cards,” Akira muses, “maybe that has something to do with it.”
Akechi nods once, barely perceptible, just to go along with it.
Akira stands, and holds out his hand. “Come on.”
Akechi looks up at him. And then, slowly, reaches up and takes hold of Akira’s hand.
Pulling him up quickly, a small smile finally plays on Akira’s lips. This garb suits Akechi: against the white, his auburn hair is especially striking, framing his face and bringing out the hint of crimson in his eyes. Even in the dim lighting, they seemed to shine, and Akira takes a step forward as if drawn by them. “Keep up with me.”
Akechi’s swipes his hand across his face, red mask appearing in a burst of blue flame. “I don’t need to be told.”
The escape of the ship feels much shorter than his journey to the engine room. Not once does Akira look back to make sure Akechi is behind him, instead relying on the way his body feels light as a feather, the way his heart soars.
He only looks back when they come to the entrance, and only just after they’re past the threshold of the door does Akechi lag a few steps behind him.
“Are you alright?” Akira asks, taking out his phone.
“Of course I am,” Akechi says quickly, adjusting his gloves. “That was nothing.”
It’s easy to note the shallowness of his breathing but Akira doesn’t comment on it, the world around them already fading and the scenery of the Diet Building materializing in its place. And no sooner than the world is in focus does Akira move to his companion’s side, Akechi promptly collapsing forward into Akira’s arms.
“We just talked about being more honest,” Akira nearly grumbles.
Akechi, of course, offers no response, eyes closed and dead weight against him. With a sigh, Akira shifts him until he’s on his back, hoisting him up with only minor difficulty. He holds him steady, finding Akechi’s thighs fit nicely against his hands and around his body. Despite the cool night air, Akechi is warm against his back. His breathing tickles Akira’s neck, his lips brushing against the nape of it.
Akira’s heart beats faster than it has the entire night.
He turns his head back, barely able to glimpse Akechi’s face. This close, he’s able to see each of long eyelashes, every strand of fluffy hair, backdropped by the light of the city --
Akira looks up, noting that not a single raindrop had hit them -- and he sees that not only have the rainclouds nearly vanished, but he can even make out some stars shining in the sky.
It’s the only somewhat coherent thought Akechi has. Warmer.
When he wakes up, sometimes it’s atop the plain white sheets of his bed, the sun not even peeking through his curtains at 6AM. More often than that, however, he wakes up leaning over his desk, the darkness of his apartment seemingly bright in comparison whatever nightmare had woken him that night.
Today, though, he wakes with sunlight warm against his body, slowly lulling him out of sleep. In a state of better clarity, he would have been alarmed at the unfamiliar surroundings; perhaps it’s the warmth leaving his mind muddled, or perhaps he just doesn’t care, burying himself in the familiar, inviting scent of the pillow --
His eyes snap open, his surroundings flooding his vision in a blur: and what he immediately focused on, of course, was the figure lying on the couch.
Akira’s hair, somehow messier than usual, covers his eyes, but his chest gives such a steady rise and fall he can only be asleep. He's on his side, legs curled in so that he fits on the couch, with his hoodie draped over himself as a makeshift blanket.
Akechi looks down at himself -- he's under a blanket, tucked securely beneath him, and did he really just spend the night in --
The blanket suddenly feels very hot and perhaps that’s why he’s so quick to pull it off to the side and swing his legs off of the bed. As the floorboard creaks loudly, Akira’s eyes open.
“Up already?” he mumbles, two fingers rubbing one of his eyes.
“I --” Akechi blinks, voice completely stuck in his throat. He looks out the window, barely able to see the sun, high in the sky. “It must be past ten --”
“It’s eleven, actually,” Akira says, looking at his phone. He then yawns, barely covering his mouth with the back of his hand. “Feel free to go back to sleep. I tend to go until about noon on days off.”
Despite his words, Akira sits up, fingers laced as he stretches his arms high. His shirt rises, exposing flat, lean stomach, and Akechi’s eyes fall to the ground as he wonders briefly how Akira survives every day in the heat of this room.
“How are you feeling?”
Akechi’s gaze finds Akira again at the question, but he quickly goes back to staring at his knees. “Ah… very rested.”
“Good. You passed out as soon as we left the Metaverse, and I assumed you were just exhausted, but…”
Akechi gives a slow nod. “…So…” His eyes flicker up to Akira, then back to the bed. “You…”
“Well, I carried you here,” Akira says. As Akechi tenses a bit and he adds, “don’t worry. There were barely any people out, but I put my hoodie over you to make sure no one saw or recognized you.”
“I… I see,” Akechi says, the looming heat in his body rising to his face. “…Thank you.”
Akechi catches the other nodding in his peripheral, and silence falls between them. Steadily, Akechi looks up, watching as Akira’s fingers swipe across his phone. “Um… do your friends know?” He asks slowly.
“Well,” Akira starts, taking a deep breath, “Morgana found out when I brought you back. He left a while ago to let Futaba know, and… she’s telling everyone else.”
Akechi’s hands tighten against his thighs, his gaze falling to them again. “Perhaps… this wasn’t a good idea.”
“Like I’ve said before, you’re not that different from us,” Akira says, placing his phone beside him. “And I think everyone else knows that, too.”
“Even if that’s true --”
“That’s it. Okay?” Akira stands up, and Akechi watches as he walks over to the bed. “Besides, don’t you think the best way to atone would be to help us?”
Akechi’s fingers curl tightly into his palms, his eyes drifting to a corner.
Akira sits down next to him, and finally Akechi meets his gaze fully. The sunlight gives a sharp contrast to his black hair, highlighting every strand and curl, creating sharp shadows and contours of light on every shape and curve of his body. Unobscured by his usual glasses, his eyes are somehow more piercing, and this close Akechi can make out each shade of gray, light and dark against each other --
Vibrating against the window sill, Akechi’s eyes fly to his phone, and he reaches out for it, only to have Akira’s hand gently pressed against his. “Let it be for now. Don’t worry about it.”
“That’s easier said than done,” Akechi says, a slight pout to his voice that nearly cracks as Akira lowers his hand, bringing Akechi’s with it.
“I know,” Akira says quietly. “But… just do what you want. At least for now.”
In the silence, Akechi becomes painfully aware of his heart slamming against his chest.
“Kurusu-kun…” Akechi starts, voice trailing off.
“You have to stop with that too if you’re really going to be on the team,” Akira says. “Just Akira.”
“Ah… right. Akira-kun,” Akechi says, finding breathing just a bit harder now. “You too, then.”
“Goro,” Akira muses, a small smile tugging at his lips.
Akechi’s face feels like it’s on fire.
“Why… are you being so nice to me?” He says, barely audible, eyes not leaving Akira’s.
At first, Akira gives no reply. He just stares back, expression indiscernible, but Akechi can swear he’s getting closer --
“I’m not good with words,” Akira murmurs, right before his lips meet Akechi’s.
He holds there, unmoving, eyes closed. Akechi freezes entirely, body numb, save for the fact that Akira’s lips are soft and warm and against his --
Akira pulls back what feels like only a second later. And still, he simply stares at Akechi.
“Wh -- what -- um,” Akechi stammers, his heart about to burst, Akira barely two centimeters away and the warmth of his lips still tangible against his own --
“You’re cute. You don’t have to hold on that tightly.”
Akira’s hand shifts and only then does Akechi realize he’s been digging his fingers into it.
With a start he pulls his hand away, and Akira catches him by the wrist.
“I said it’s cute.”
“Wh… why…” Akechi finally manages, heart like a drum in his chest, “are you doing this?”
“I said I’m not good with words.” Akira leans in again, nose brushing against Akechi’s. “But I’m doing what I want, and I’m hoping you do, too.”
“I… this is just… sudden,” Akechi says, pulling away just a bit.
“Is it? I think things have been like this for a while… and I think this is something else you’ve lied to yourself about.”
Akechi is quiet.
Only a second passes before Akechi brings his other hand to rest on Akira’s thigh as he leans in and kisses him, lips pressed against the other’s with force. Not wasting a second, Akira pushes back, if a bit softer. Their lips slide against each other, and Akechi feels Akira’s free hand gently hold his untaken wrist.
After too short a time Akira pulls back, and Akechi barely stops himself from leaning forward into nothing. Akira swipes his tongue across his lips. Akechi’s heart stops.
Somehow he’s still alive as Akira lifts his arms by the wrists and then pushes, pressing Akechi flat on his back into the bed. Before he can say a word Akira’s mouth is against his again, sucking at his bottom lip.
Akechi shifts his arms against Akira’s grip, needing them somewhere, anywhere they can pull Akira closer, and Akira slides his hands up Akechi’s wrists so that they slip up and under his gloves. Akechi gasps into their kiss as Akira’s fingertips glide against his palms, pushing his gloves off his hands.
In less than a second Akechi’s arms wrap around Akira’s back, his hands tangling themselves into the other’s unruly hair. It’s soft and nearly ticklish against his bare hands, but what makes him jump is Akira’s fingers running along his thigh, eventually settling on his hip.
Akechi pulls him down further, and his mouth is barely open before Akira slides his tongue against Akechi’s, giving a small moan into his mouth that sends a jolt like electricity down Akechi’s body.
A moment after, Akira pulls back, just enough to breathe. Akechi’s breaths come in heavy pants, his eyes opening and unable to choose whether to focus on Akira’s swollen lips, his flushed face, his dilated pupils, or his even further tangled hair --
“You’re wrong,” Akechi finds himself saying, realizing after the fact that he’s referring to what Akira said before. “I couldn’t lie to myself about… this,” he finishes. “It’s why I…” His voice trails off, breaths still uneven. As they start to steady, Akira brings a hand to the side of Akechi’s face, brushing away a few loose strands of hair.
For a few moments, they’re quiet. Akira runs his fingers through Akechi’s hair, and Akechi trails a hand from Akira’s head down his neck, his fingertips skimming along his shoulder.
“I really wish we could have met earlier,” Akechi nearly whispers.
“Me too,” Akira replies quietly. “So let’s not separate. I want you to stay with us after we deal with Shidou.”
Akechi looks him straight in the eyes.
“I want that, too.”
“It’s a deal, then,” Akira says, and he leans down and seals it with a quick kiss. He then falls to one side, laying next to Akechi.
Akechi turns so that he’s facing Akira. Being on the window side and with the sun flooding against the side of his head,t the bruise on Akira’s temple is striking.
Akechi’s chest is painfully tight as he brings a hand up to the injury, brushing aside the hair there. “I’m sorry,” he murmurs.
Akira brings a hand to hold Akechi’s free one. “You’re forgiven.”
There’s a short pause before Akechi shifts closer, pressing his lips to the bruise. “…I know actions speak louder than words,” he says as he pulls back, his eyes not meeting Akira’s. But they glance over to barely catch Akira’s small smile.
In the silence, Akechi feels Akira’s fingers interlacing with his own. They fit together too well.
“I need you, you know. That’s why I came back for you,” Akira says.
Akechi’s gaze finally returns to him. And then, he scoots a bit closer, watching as Akira’s eyes flutter shut.
“We didn’t get back until past three last night,” Akira says. “You should rest more.”
Akechi feels his lips curl into a small smile. “Is this just so you can sleep until noon?”
“That might be part of it,” Akira says, eyes still closed as he pulls the blanket over them, and then rests his arm over Akechi. “But you can wake me up whenever.”
Akechi watches until Akira’s breathing turns into the steady rhythm of sleep. And then, after pressing his lips softly against Akira’s, he closes his own heavy eyelids. Akira's hold is warmer than even the sunlight.