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Lunch

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Futaba sat, resting her chin on the counter of Leblanc, trying to resist the ever present allure of sleep. She had been trying for the past several months to stay to a morning routine, but every now and then, she’d have a lapse and stay up way too late. Last night had unfortunately been one of those nights. It was, frankly, a miracle that she managed to make it to Leblanc in time for breakfast. She lazily watched from the counter as Akira spooned some of the extra rice into a small carrying container.

She had hoped that working with the Phantom Thieves would have been sufficient motivation to adhere to her new schedule, but since they spent all morning at school, it was difficult to convince herself to sleep on time. What she needed was some sort of responsibility… having a task that she could only perform early in the morning would surely be her ticket to consistency.

She mumbled a farewell to Akira as he strode past her, off to begin his next week at school. Something tugged at her mind as the bell jingled at Akira’s exit. He filled a container with rice and then… left? Was that normal? She replayed previous visits in her mind. They’d eat breakfast together and talk, Sojiro would prepare the store equipment for the coming day, Akira would take their dishes and wash them, then he filled a container with rice and left. Barring minor details and differences, many of the visits she could remember followed this pattern. Was… that all he ate for lunch?

Maybe he was buying more food on the way? No, she decided, probably not. There weren’t any stores between Leblanc and Shujin besides a couple of snack stands, and the local grocer. Every time they left Leblanc together, though, he had always gone the opposite direction of the store. As far as she knew, the school only sold bread, as well…

She pinched her chin between her thumb and forefinger, nodding to herself. Her task was becoming clear to her. She had seen tons of anime where the cute girl character would make bento boxes for their boyfriends… well, she always imagined herself as the one receiving the bento, but…

She could just make Akira pay her back when she was a third year. Futaba briefly indulged thoughts of Akira wearing a frilly apron and handing her a bento box with food arranged into heart shapes. She stood from the counter, pushing the fantasy into the back of her mind for later appraisal. Such things could come later. Today, the frilly apron was hers to wear! Actually, she had some striped socks that would look really nice with a frilly apron… maybe she should go all-out? Ah, no, there’d be no way to do that without Sojiro noticing. Unfortunate. She’d just have to save that idea for a special occasion.

She said her goodbye to Sojiro and returned home. Once comfortably cross-legged in her computer chair, she set to work. What normally went into a bento? Rice, obviously. Egg dishes seemed common. Meats, fruits… she leaned back and crossed her arms. She should probably focus on things that would still taste good even after several hours. Oh, she realized, that must be why he doesn’t take curry--it would coagulate in that time. Not to mention, get cold… She tilted her head from one side to the other, as if sifting the thoughts in her mind. The food would have to be good at room temperature, as well… this was quickly becoming a more complicated task than she had originally anticipated.

Fruits and vegetables, she mused to herself, would probably be a good choice. Sojiro kept a bunch of organic food in the kitchen for Futaba to snack on during the day, so it’d be easy to get, too. Though, Akira did often prefer dishes with meat… so maybe that wouldn’t be enough. She’d have to look into meat recipes, too…  What kind would he like the most, she wondered. Best get the answer from the source, she thought to herself as she pulled her phone from her pocket.

“Hey,” she messaged. “What’s your favorite kind of meat?”

The typing notification hung around for a lot longer than usual. “I’m not sure,” came the reply. “I guess I like anything with a lot of flavor.”

Flavor… she tapped her chin. Should she use a sauce, or a marinade? She shook her head lightly, for a first timer, it might be better to use something naturally flavorful. Several searches and instructional videos later, she decided on an answer--sausages. All she had to do was heat them up and they’d be ready to go! On top of that, she could cut them into that cute little octopus shape… Alright, she clapped her fist into her cupped hand, objective one complete! Next up: sides.

She stood from her computer and stretched. Her legs were surprisingly stiff. Well, no matter. Futaba trot down the stairs with a bit of a spring in her step, whirling into the hallway and lightly bouncing into the kitchen. Flinging open the fridge, she considered her options. First, fruit. Of course, there were apples. Sojiro always had a bunch on hand for curry… which, she supposed, meant that Akira often ate apples. Maybe something else. There were also grapes and strawberries(great for computer snacking), kiwi, oranges… Her intuition told her to go with something more sweet than sour. Actually, she had a better idea. She grabbed the box of strawberries and a small knife from a drawer. Slowly, carefully, she cut the strawberry down the middle, from tip to stem, and then made rounded cuts on each half, shaping each piece into a small heart. They were a bit chunky and jagged, but they were good for a first attempt. She slid her handiwork into a small container and returned them to the fridge for later.

All that was left was to pick a vegetable and the contents Bento Box ver. 1.0 would be complete. Aside from curry ingredients, she had spinach, cherry tomatoes(also a great computer snack), shaved carrots… Rather than using just one, she realized, it would be better to make a nice salad. Well, that was easy enough.

After performing a quick clean-up, she was ready to move onto the next step: buying sausages! Oh, and getting a cute box to put everything in. Excitement bubbled in her chest as she pulled on her boots and nearly skipped to the Yongen market. Once there, she quickly found a package of fancy sausages and, more importantly, the perfect box. It was an emerald green box with a single, white heart front and center on the lid. Everything was coming up aces for her. Or, she thought with a slight smirk, maybe it’d be better to say that it was coming up “Joker”s?

Once home, she packed away the sausage in the fridge and returned to her room. All that was left was to sleep and wait for tomorrow! Eagerly, she hopped into her bed and got cozy under her covers. It was only then that she realized that she hadn’t eaten since breakfast. And not only that… she thought as she pulled her phone out of her pocket. It was only five thirty… She sighed. It was gonna be a long evening.

After what seemed to be an eternity, it was finally time. Futaba held the completed box in her hands as she watched Akira wash their breakfast dishes. All throughout breakfast, her heart had been stampeding in her chest. Her eyes were transfixed on him as he filled his usual container with rice. Deep breaths, she told herself. Her heart felt as if it was going to hop out of her body and run a marathon around the country. Okay, Futaba, here he comes… just give him the box….

Eh? He walked by her. Nothing happened? Oh, she realized, she didn’t speak. She had to hurry, before he left! She forced herself to stand, her body moving in only tense, rigid movements. “Akira!” She called out.

The fluffy haired young man stopped and turned, his eyes meeting hers. A fire ignited on her cheeks and she struggled to speak as she held the box out in front of her. The heat on her cheeks spread to her brain, and only a jumbled mess fell out of her mouth. “Y-You, lunch, me make.”

Akira, without missing a beat, took the box with an appreciative smile. “Thank you.” He said simply, before exiting Leblanc. Futaba watched him leave. She tried to steady her heart and cool her head. She awkwardly stumbled back into her chair. Sojiro grumbled to himself behind the counter, but she was pretty sure he was grinning.

 

---

 

Lunch finally arrived. Akira stared at the box in front of him. Worry, curiosity, and excitement tangled in his chest. Every instance of the “cute girl who can’t cook” cliche played in his mind. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and opened the box. Before he could look, he felt a slap on the shoulder. Akira looked up to see Ryuji grinning above him.

“‘Sup, bro?” Ryuji plopped into the desk next to him. Apparently, he had worked out some deal with the person sitting next to Akira to swap places every lunch. Ryuji took notice of the food on Akira’s desk. “Whoa, man,” he lightly punched Akira’s shoulder. “Lookin’ good. Finally startin’ to take care of yourself, huh?”

Akira shifted his gaze from Ryuji to the opened box on his desk. It looked… normal. The octopus sausages didn’t look exactly right, but they seemed to be cooked all the way through… and the strawberry hearts, while slightly misshapen, were bright and cute. He breathed a sigh of relief that Futaba had the good sense to keep it basic. Seeing that the food was fine, Akira’s worries gave way to hunger. He plucked one of the sausages with his chopsticks and shoved it into his mouth. The flavor was pretty basic, but it wasn’t bad. His chest began to feel a little warm, though Ryuji’s voice prevented him from getting too indulged in the feeling.

“But man,” Ryuji continued as he opened his own lunch--a convenience store bento, “Octopus sausages? Really?” He chuckled to himself as he started pulling apart his chopsticks. “Ain’t that what--” The chopsticks snapped. Ryuji’s facial expression shifted from its normal joviality to shock, then confusion. “Dude…” Ryuji leaned in close. “You gotta girlfriend?”

A strawberry momentarily caught in Akira’s throat.

“Dude!” Ryuji practically yelled, taking a closer look at the contents of Akira’s lunch. “You got little hearts in there. No way you don’t gotta girlfriend.”

“Man,” Morgana chose to make his appearance, popping his head out of Akira’s desk. “Of all the times for Ryuji to actually have a brain, huh?”

“Can it, cat!” Ryuji shot back. He looked back to Akira, a goofy grin painted on his face. “So… who is it?”

Akira ate quietly. It wasn’t like they were hiding it… but at the same time, would it become weird if everyone found out? So far, only Morgana--and even that was mainly because it’s difficult to keep anything secret from a cat that lives in your bag--and Sojiro knew. Well, he mused to himself, there’s no way Ryuji would figure anything out if Akira just kept quiet. Judging from the reassuring look Morgana was giving him, he was probably having the same thought.

“Not gonna say, huh?” Ryuji’s grin showed no signs of fading. “Challenge accepted.”

Morgana laughed. “Like your deductive skills are gonna get you anywhere.”

Ryuji crossed his arms. “I’ll show you,” he growled before turning his eyes upward as if he was trying to see inside his own brain. “Well, it’s obviously not Ann.” He began. “She’s totally the type who’d wanna watch people eat her cooking.”

He’s probably right about that, Akira thought to himself as he plucked a tomato from the salad. Ryuji was silent for a while as he aimlessly tossed thoughts around his head. Not Ann, Akira decided, was an acceptable loss. Ryuji would probably remain--

“Wait a second.” Ryuji suddenly spoke. Akira froze, suddenly having a very, very bad feeling. “If someone made that for you, they had to give it to you too, yeah?” A very smug, self-satisfied smile spread across his face. “And I met up with ya this morning at Shibuya.”

“He chooses now to grow a brain…?” Morgana groaned from the desk.

“Of course!” Ryuji brushed a finger under his nose with a look of arrogance. “Gotta know who my best bud’s gettin’ it on with!”

Akira crumpled a bit. He didn’t even want to begin to think of how to approach Ryuji’s choice of words. Akira shook the thoughts out of his head. Even if Ryuji was on the right track, it was still Ryuji--he could still totally screw this up.

“Anyway,” Ryuji continued, “no one met up with you from Shibuya to here, so they had to have given it to ya when I wasn’t around.” He nodded to himself. “And Ann’s not here, so she totally didn’t give it to you when you got to class.”

Akira remained silent, picking at some of his rice.

“So whoever gave that to you, had to do it before you got to Shibuya, right?” Ryuji smirked. “Now, who could that be…” Ryuji trailed off as if he was teasing that he had figured it out, but both Akira and Morgana both knew that he was making it up as he went along. If he really had figured it out, he’d--

“Oh.” A look of clarity dawned on Ryuji’s face. “No WAY.”

He’d start yelling.

“Dude!” Ryuji yelled, clapping his hand on Akira’s shoulder and shaking him. “Dude! No way!”

Akira picked up another sausage, trying to quickly formulate a damage control plan.

“It’s…” Ryuji lowered his voice to a whisper that was only slightly louder than his normal speaking voice. “It’s Futaba, ain’t it?”

“I-I can’t believe it…” Morgana’s deflated voice came crawling from the desk.

Mona, you dick! Akira shouted silently. You just confirmed it!

“Holy shit.” Ryuji ran a hand over his head and began laughing to himself, doing a small celebratory dance in his seat. “Oh, dude,” Ryuji covered his mouth with his hand for a moment and then slapped his knee. “So much stuff makes sense now!”

Akira tried to grab another strawberry, but he was suddenly having incredible difficulty getting his chopsticks to move properly.

“Man…” Ryuji’s self-satisfied smile showed no signs of dimming. He continued to laugh to himself, his own lunch totally forgotten. “So wait, why didn’tcha tell anyone?”

“I…” Akira started nudging one of the octopi around with his chopsticks. “Don’t know? We just kinda… never mentioned it…” Akira rubbed the back of his neck.

“You never even talked about it?” Ryuji crossed his arms, some of his mirth fading from seeing Akira’s serious face.

“Nah.” Akira straightened out and looked at Ryuji head on. “She didn’t act any different around you guys, so I just followed her lead.”

“Alright,” Ryuji shrugged, his smile fading into his own serious look. “Well, you don’t gotta worry. I don’t plan on tellin’ anyone.”

“I think half the school knows, by now.” Morgana quipped from the desk.

Ryuji shot a dirty look at the cat, before shrugging and returning to Akira. “Listen, it’s your business if you don’t want anyone to know. But I’d,” he jutted a finger at the strawberries, “probably tell her to not do that again. If I figured it out, Ann will get it in, like, a second.”

Akira agreed. That was probably true.

“But man,” Ryuji’s smirk returned as he gave Akira another light tap on the arm. “I’m happy for ya. Both of you.”

Akira nodded, hiding a small smile, and continued to eat his lunch.

 

---

 

It was mid-afternoon when Futaba’s phone buzzed. She had been impatiently waiting for Akira’s reaction to the lunch all day, and her phone nearly slid out of her hands as she excitedly unlocked it. The message wasn’t what she expected, or hoped for.

“Ryuji figured out we’re dating.”

Questions flooded her mind. She quickly arranged them into a priority list before responding. First, she needed to assess that she was awake, in the real world, and not in a Twilight Zone. “Ryuji figured something out?!”

“Somehow.” Akira replied. “He met up with me in Shibuya and figured it out since he didn’t see anyone give me a lunch.”

Futaba supposed that it was a pretty basic deduction, when put like that. She advanced to the next item on her list. “Was he not supposed to know?”

The typing notification appeared and disappeared a few times before a reply came. “I don’t mind if you don’t. I just wasn’t sure.”

“I guess it never really came up, huh…” She mused into the text box. “Well, I suppose it’s fine like that. We can just let everyone know if it comes up.” Before he could reply, she continued. “More importantly, how was the food?”

The reply was much faster than before. “I loved it.”

Futaba’s heart soared and her face nearly cracked in half with her smile. She could barely type properly. “I can keep doing it, if you’d like.”

“I look forward to it.”

Futaba hugged her phone to her chest and spun in her chair around over and over. As soon as she collected herself, she immediately snapped to her keyboard and began more research. What would be on the menu for tomorrow…?