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if you never shoot, you'll never know.

Chapter Text

02/15 – 02/16

It was the day after Valentines', the dumbest capitalist celebration of the year, when Akira stepped out to flip the door sign at the end of the day.

Instead he saw Akechi Goro across the small street, and Akechi looked up at him with eyes of pure… nothing. He was as unreadable as ever, but that was enough to spur Akira into action, walking forward and pulling Akechi to his feet.

"I… won't ask," Akira started, and Akechi nodded as some way of showing his gratitude. Akira let go of his hand and led him into the cafe, flipping the sign before he could forget or at least before someone would accidentally walk in and see someone who should have been a ghost, someone who was assumed dead or missing for the past 2 months.

I won't ask, Akira reminded himself. He'll come to it eventually, he tried to convince himself.

Akechi settled into a booth, the one closest to the door facing away from it, to give himself the best cover should anyone decide to walk in anyway. Akira went to the coffee siphon, glad to have left enough for a cup and a half in the pot. He prepared the cup in silence, but he was hyperaware of the other presence in the small cafe.

Akechi shifted in his seat. He coughed once and used the sleeve of the ratty jacket he was wearing to cover his mouth. He repeated that pattern again and again until Akira turned around to walk back to him. Akechi then corrected his posture and stared straight into the space in front of him, eyes settling on nothing in particular. It was a mockery of the silent confidence he once held, the famous detective that he once was, and Akira was having none of it.

The man—no, just a boy—he saw before him was Akechi Goro, someone who was endlessly fucked over by society even as he tried to gain acceptance and affection from someone who had no heart. He was also a ruthless murderer who took the lives of people dear to Akira's friends, and it was difficult to swallow that information even if he knew that he was incapable of committing such crimes now. It was difficult because the boy dressed in the deepest black that he feared in the belly of that long-gone ship couldn't possibly be the same person who was drowning in his mismatched clothes and was warming his hands by a cup of coffee right in front of him.

"So?" Akechi asked. His voice had the same edge as it did when he tried riling Akira up before, trying to get anything other than a cool stare and silent acceptance, understanding even. Akira accepted the truth about Akechi, accepted the fact that he pointed a gun at Akira's forehead and pulled the damn trigger, and even tried reaching out to him again. What kind of idiot would even do that?

Akira wouldn't budge. Akechi was halfway through his cup of coffee when Akira reached out to him and pressed the back of his hand against his forehead. He frowned. "You're burning up. Come with me."

"Wait, what—"

"Why did you come here?" Akira stood up, turning off the light switches for the bar and some of the booths. The spotlight on Akechi made him feel like he was being interrogated. "Why here? Why now? Is it because you have nowhere else to go?"

Akechi winced. If the ugly clothes and dark circles under his eyes weren't enough, not knowing that he was getting sick from malnutrition and the cold weather just confirmed it: he was helpless. He needed help.

Akira, as always, was the first person he could reach out to. Akechi found it ironic, funny even, but that wasn't enough to put down the lingering feeling of shame as he allowed himself to be carefully handled out of the booth and up into Akira's room.

Akechi realized he had never really been into the other boy's territory. It was as bland and dusty as he expected, but it was warm and so was Akira's hand on the small of his back. He hadn't realized that he crashed on Akira's bed until he felt his spine melting into the thin mattress, bones weary. He wasn't in the mood to recall how he made it out alive or how he kept himself alive, so Akira would just have to wonder until Akechi found the energy to tell his story.

Akechi pitied himself as Akira hovered around him. It was embarrassing to be cared for so meticulously, so selflessly. He closed his eyes when he felt a damp towel on his forehead and opened his eyes to the sight of Akira sleeping on his couch, sitting upright. His useless glasses were on his desk, and his hair hung over his eyes while his chest rose and fell with his steady breathing.

In another world, Akechi would have been comforted at the thought that he had a friend he could count on, someone who would take him in and take care of him as he was sick. In this world, his self-pity turned to self-hatred, and the comfort he felt only fueled his hate for the boy who he couldn't crack, someone who wouldn't break. Akechi didn't deserve any form of kindness from him or from anyone else after what he did. He barely even deserved to live.

Yet here he was, fever-dizzy as he sank deeper into Akira's bed.

He fell in and out of consciousness for a few hours, waking up mostly to the sensation of a fresh towel on his forehead and Akira's hands on his skin, still warm despite the high fever that Akechi was still sporting. Sometimes it was Morgana who settled down on his chest, taking advantage of the furnace-like surface that he could nap on.

He woke up once to the sound of voices, Akira's and Sojiro's. "What the hell is he doing here?" Sakura asked, agitated yet respectful enough to keep his voice down. "You have a habit of picking up strays—I should have known that ever since the cat—but there's you can't possibly let the boy who killed you stay in your room, my café."

"He… showed up out of nowhere. Messed up. Sick. I can't just let someone die in the cold when there's no way that he could hurt me now," Akira reasoned out. Morgana perched on the table beside them, meowing rapidly to Sojiro.

"What's he saying?" Sojiro asked, taking off his glasses and rubbing the back of his head in exasperation.

Akira tugged on Morgana's collar before the cat leaped off the table, walking towards the window. "He's going to Futaba for today. Hopefully," Morgana stopped and turned his head back slightly, "he won't say anything about this until I figure out what to do."

Morgana jumped on the bed, kneading on the blanket Akechi was under. "You better hope that he can't hurt you anymore." Then he made his way out of the window and into the streets of Yongen-Jaya.

"He can't." Akira looked back at Akechi's sleeping form on the bed. He looked peaceful, for once— nothing like the version of himself that was hanging off the edge of his sanity when the Phantom Thieves last saw him alive. Only at that moment did Akira realize the absurdity of his situation. A man who they almost certainly felt die was alive and sleeping like a baby on his bed. "He wouldn't."

Sojiro sighed. "Make sure no one sees him, and you should take care of yourself. Just got out of juvie three days ago, and now you're harboring a fugitive…"

"You did that for me too, unless you forgot," answered Akira, receiving an exasperated look in response.

"Don't give me that cheek, kid. You are innocent. That kid," Sojiro looked at Akechi once more before going down the stairs, "tried to kill you, unless you were the one who forgot."

"I could never forget that." Akira took a seat on his couch, bending his head back. He bumped it several times against the wall, frustrated at his own indecisiveness. He knew it was the rational decision to throw Akechi out, but Akechi was someone who clearly looked like the world ran him over several times, not giving him a second to breathe. Throwing him out, leaving him, and forgetting he ever existed was rational, but was it right?

Akira stood up and checked Akechi's temperature. The fever had gone down, thank goodness, but Akechi's breathing seemed to indicate that he was in a much deeper sleep than what Akira expected. At least he could get some thinking done before his unwelcomed guest woke up.

He took out some clothes from his box, nondescript and likely fitting Akechi's extremely slim form, and placed them on top of the couch. Before going down with his apron to help Sojiro with the café, he plugged the heater closer to the bed and placed a metal dish beside Akechi. Knowing him, he would probably overreact at the unfamiliar surroundings when he woke up and cause enough ruckus for Akira to know that his thinking time was up.

Akira was simply lucky to hear that undignified yell before any customers turned up. "Be careful," Sojiro said, but his phone was ready to call the cops at any given moment.

When Akira went up to the attic, he was greeted by the sight of Akechi scrambling to get his bearings, still disoriented after taking some medicine. Akira went up to him, placed a hand on his shoulder, and was promptly shoved away. Fine then, Akira thought to himself.

"Don't touch me," Akechi hissed. "I don't know what you think of me right now, but I don't need your—"

Akira got the pile of clothes and threw it at Akechi, promptly shutting him up. "The bathhouse is across the street; you know that. There are no customers yet, so I suggest you go there now." Akira looked around. "I don't have anything I can use to keep you here, but please don't run away."

He didn't really need to ask. Akechi was playing hard-to-get, but Akira knew that Akechi had nowhere to go; why else would he end up in front of Leblanc in a fever-induced cry for help?

Akechi looked down, both ashamed and honestly afraid. He wanted to bury himself deep underground and hide his face from the hard glint in Akira's eyes, one that still couldn't mask his pure concern for Akechi. It stung; why couldn't he hate him? It would have been easier if they felt the same way.

Akira walked out again. His calmness infuriated Akechi, as it always did. He could take the clothes, go out there, and run away. He could come back and Akira would take him in again. He could repeat this pattern endlessly, and the boy wouldn't even bat an eye. He was so, so—

Idiotic. Infuriatingly stupid and naïve and good. Akechi didn't deserve that treatment.

He laughed to himself, put up his hoodie, and walked out of the café without even turning his head.

Akira looked up from the dish he was drying and simply shook his head. He would come back when he was ready for it.

 

---

 

Akechi came back in twenty minutes with a towel drying his hair and an indeterminate look in his eyes while he walked straight up to Akira's room without even turning his head. Sojiro silently put together a plate of curry and poured a cup for Akira to bring up to his room. "Be careful," he said for the second time that day, and Akira could only nod in response.

When he made his way up the stairs, he was glad to see Akechi calmly standing by the window with a crack open to let a cold draft in. "Breakfast," Akira said quietly, cautiously. Akechi turned around, eyes blank but accepting. He took the food and sat by Akira's desk, eating slowly but clearly thankful for each bite.

Akira sat on the couch with his legs extending over it. He observed Akechi's appearance. It had only been two months since they felt Akechi die, but so much had happened between then and now. Honestly, he felt a huge weight off his conscience now that he knew Akechi made it out. For the longest time, Akira asked himself if he could have done anything, anything at all, to save Akechi from himself and his cognitive double. He was glad he didn't need to, but at what cost?

Seeing Akechi now, it only made Akira itch to ask. He said he wouldn't, but Akechi did owe him for taking care of him like this, right?

Akechi put his utensils down and held his mug as he turned his chair to face Akira. "So? What's it going to be?" His jaw twitched. "You're dying to ask, aren't you? How did scum like me manage to make it out of that ship? You know I deserved to die there—"

"Stop," Akira said. "That's not what this is going to be about."

"What then?" Akechi was close to throwing another tantrum, but he found that he was simply too tired to lash out and yell and throw things at Akira. He gripped the handle of his mug. "How are you so calm?" He sounded confused, distraught. It wasn't fair; it was like he was the only one who was enraged at his own situation.

"You're a criminal," the deep fury in Akira's voice made Akechi's eyes widen, "but you don't deserve to die."

That was enough for Akechi's mask to crack, falling piece by piece as the sincerity in Akira's eyes broke his cycle of self-pity and self-hatred. For the past two months—no, for years and years and years—he knew in himself that he was useless scum, abandoned by the world without a reason to still exist. He committed heinous crimes with minimal guilt because he knew that he didn't matter, but the power made him bigger than the small child crying out for affection within him. He got closer to his father and gained love from the public, but he still hadn't found the reason to live. Death was painful to accept, but he deserved it anyway.

Then came Kurusu Akira with his honesty and his goodness and his stupid, naïve hope that Akechi was a good person that had a purpose in this world. Akechi knew that he meant every word, and even if he wanted to be angry, he simply felt numb. His mask was so tightly melded into his face, and he didn't know what to do now that it was falling apart and he could breathe easily.

"You believe in justice, right?" Akira asked. "Don't you think you deserve to face it for all you've done?"

"Are you turning me in?" Akechi knew that Akira had no proof, not even with Niijima Sae on his side.

"No." Akira pulled his knees to his chest. "You could leave, go out there, and face your fate alone. I… can't stop you if that's what you really want."

"Or?" Akechi put his mug down. "You're giving me options, right?"

"I don't mind if you want to find your path by yourself. I wouldn't blame you for wanting to figure yourself out without others being there to scrutinize you, but it would kill me if you never did."

Akechi narrowed his eyes. "What are you talking about?"

"You could die. You could kill yourself or get yourself killed in a dumb fight or starve to death or completely vanish off the surface of the earth, and I don't want to be the person that could have been there but wasn't," Akira said. He was openly scared of the volatile vulnerability that often made Akechi put himself in danger just to test the limits of his luck. "I don't want you to be alone. I know that feeling."

Akechi scoffed. "What do you know about being alone? You're surrounded by people who love and adore their leader, their classmate, their friend," he spat. "Don't talk to me about being alone when you've never been backed into a corner with your dead clone staring at you with a gun in their hand, not knowing if you're ever going to make it out alive."

That alone was enough to give Akira an idea of the horrors that Akechi must have gone through to get to this point, and yet he still didn't appreciate all the chances he was given in his life. Akechi probably acted that way because he never really understood what it felt like to have something good happen to him, and Akira knew that feeling too.

"I do know loneliness." Another eye roll. "When Shido did what he did to me, everyone I knew turned on me. I was the talk of the town for being the trouble kid with no mother, the silent delinquent who finally bared his fangs for the world to see." Akira bowed his head; it was never easy for him to remember the scorn and disgust on everyone's faces as they whispered and looked away from scum, as aptly worded by Akechi.

"Even if I weren't required to move away, I still wouldn't have a life back in Okina. When I come back, no one will really know or care if I was innocent; I'm still a criminal in their eyes, and that might never change." He looked into Akechi's blank eyes, looking for understanding in his careful gaze. Surprisingly, he saw a glimpse of recognition. They weren't placed in the same situations, but the sentiment was there: the pure, unadulterated rage at the cards they were dealt.

Akira stretched his legs out again. "Isn't it funny?"

Fine, I'll bite, Akechi thought to himself. "What is?"

"You and I were given the same power, had the same enemy, and evaded death, though barely," Akira said with the hint of a smile gracing his face.

"Let me guess: in another world, you and I would be great friends," Akechi said flatly. "You can't possibly believe that, can you?"

"I do." Akira smiled, just a bit, enough for Akechi's breath to get caught in his chest. "I believe it in this world too."

Akira stood up and took the plate and mug from the table. Akechi was still mulling over Akira's words. "Hey," Akira said softly, making the other boy look up. He was well-rested and well-fed for the first time in a while, probably, and as much as Akira wanted to stay neutral in this situation, he couldn't help but care about Akechi deeply.

"Hm?" Akechi replied absentmindedly.

"I'm going to ask Sojiro if he has a futon somewhere in his house." Akira stopped for a second. "You're okay with sleeping on the floor, right?"

Akechi stood and leaned against the wall. "You can stop now."

Not this again. "Stop what?"

Akechi shrugged. "The perfect act. Stop pretending like you're completely unfazed by the world, that my presence here doesn't bother you, that nothing can make you snap." Akechi cleared Akira's hands and grabbed him by the collar, smirking when he finally saw the flash of anger in the other's eyes.

Akira finally, finally, pushed back. "If I do," Akechi gasped as a hand on his chest kept him pinned to the wall, "will you stop trying to rile me up?" Akira wouldn't budge.

"You're right; I do put up an act to keep people around me. You want to know something no one else knows about me?" Akechi couldn't respond; the intensity in Akira's eyes kept him silent. "I mostly care about you because in another world, if we never knew that we could steal hearts, I would have killed all those people," here's the kicker, "and I wouldn't even think twice about it."

Akechi couldn't breathe. Somehow, between the moment he first met Akira and now, that blank gaze and amicable expression turned the slightest bit sinister, like a predator waiting for the moment to strike. There was darkness in everyone, but Akechi truly understood the depth of possibility in Akira as he calmly put the other boy's hand down and stepped aside.

"So you're treating me like a charity case because you're afraid of who you could have become?" Akechi chuckled, devoid of mirth. "That’s dark, especially from you."

"Well," Akira took the plate again and avoided Akechi's eyes, "I'm going to get you a futon. Let's drop this, okay?" The small smile on his face was ridiculous, but Akechi knew he needed his mask on when he was around anyone else but Akechi.

It was… comforting? Akira didn't trust him with his darkness, no, but he was privy to it. Since Akira was so obsessed with bringing out the light in him, Akechi could revel in the darkness that made Akira just a bit more real to him.