“Good afternoon, Kurusu.”
“Welcome, Miss Sae.”
This was the second summer where Akira stayed at Leblanc.
The hanging bell gave a crisp ringing sound as Sae enters the cafe. Silently, she observes as Akira expertly brews a cup of coffee.
First, wait for the boiling water to settle, then slowly and deliberately pour the water into the powdered beans. The powder expands, and steam rises with a gentle hum. Akira narrows his eyes as the scent of coffee fills the air.
After waiting for a while, he carefully pours water once more, doing exactly as Sojiro had instructed. Akira waited patiently for the water to filter through, then poured again. Sojiro had also instructed not to let the water filter completely as that would disrupt the flavor. However, the person Akira was brewing for quite enjoys the complicated taste, so he waits until the final drop lands into the cup.
The finished Leblanc blend was Akechi’s favorite.
“Sorry to have kept you waiting, Akechi. I’ve improved a lot, I think this will suit your tastes.” Akira smiles as he places the cup onto the counter at the same spot where Akechi always used to sit.
As a matter of fact, Akira had improved greatly since those times. Just a year ago, Futaba used to tease him with “This is Russian roulette coffee isn’t it?” Haru would also stare with concern and ask “Um, is this dark matter?” But that no longer was the case. Even Sojiro had approved, saying he wouldn’t mind if Akira served this coffee to their regulars.
“What would you like, Miss Sae? Some food?”
“...Just iced coffee, please.”
“Sure. You want low caffeine right? I’ll get the cold brew. Oh by the way Akechi, we’re using another brand of brown sugar, give it a try.”
Akira places the sugar pot in front of him, then pours the ready prepared cold brew into a glass cup.
“Here you go.”
As if to urge the standing woman to make herself comfortable, he settles the glass cup onto a table surrounded by sofa seats. Sae’s expression was stern as she sat down. At that moment, the bell rang merrily as the door flies open and Futaba enters the cafe.
“Akira! I’m thirsty!”
“Want some iced coffee?”
“I want something more unhealthy, like coke.”
“OK, but it’s from our stock so make sure you tell Sojiro.”
“I’ll say you drank it while you were on duty.”
“Too bad, I’ve got Miss Sae and Akechi to vouch for me.”
Isn’t that right? Akira grinned towards the bar counter, as if asking someone for approval. Sae said nothing as Futaba pouted and retrieved a can from the fridge. The girl then plopped herself down in the seat directly across the woman.
“Did you come because Sojiro told you about it?”
“It’s shocking, isn’t it?”
“Yes, I didn’t believe it when I first heard. To think that Kurusu used to be so sharp and reliable…”
Silence befell the two sitting at the table. When Sae’s drink was half-gone, Futaba spoke again.
“...Akechi was a liar, wasn’t he?”
Sae looked up and seemed thoughtful before nodding.
“We also tricked him, so I guess we’re the same huh…” Futaba continues.
“Right. Akechi was one for lying to you all this time, but Kurusu also set him up. It’s one liar and another.”
“But I didn’t think Akira would start lying to himself...”
Futaba smiled sadly. Sae lowered her head as if to hide a pained expression.
“...He’s not accepting the reality....that he would never see Akechi again.”
Sae spoke with a strained voice as she looked over at Akira, seemingly engaged in conversation with the counter.
“...there’s nobody sitting there.”
Yongenjaya. It was here that Akira spent one year of his high school life.
While he and his friends encountered numerous extraordinary experiences, they also experienced grief that was not part of normal student life. It left a deep wound, yet Akira had no time to digest it properly as one thing popped up after another, and more problems built on top of each other. When finally he was able to sit down and think it through, everything was already over.
He was due to return to his small hometown and prepare to cram for entrance exams, but Akira begged for his parents to let him return to Yongen during spring break. He pleaded with Sojiro to let him stay in the cafe. Sojiro had sighed and seemed exasperated at the time, but quickly agreed to let Akira have the attic room once again.
In this room, Akira was left alone to his thoughts. He began to slowly pull at those knots that he never managed to untangle.
Akechi Goro. The young man whom, after leaving deep scars within him and his friends, departed from this world.
They tussled relentlessly, tried to kill each other in the most literal sense, and thought everything would end with nothing but hatred for one another. But ultimately, Akechi had sacrificed his own life in order to save Akira and his friends.
In the midst of circumstance, he was too occupied with what happened afterwards to think about Akechi. When Akira tried to think again, he found himself unable to coherently organize his thoughts. Feeling distressed, Akira decides to go back to Tokyo in hopes of making some sense of it all.
“Curiosity kills the cat, you know.” Morgana had laughed at him, but nevertheless followed along when the boy expressed his desire to learn more about Akechi.
Thus, Akira began to research about the detective, to retread all of his steps.
And Akira became depressed.
Everything about Akechi. His life after coming to Tokyo, the people at his school, and whatever that was left of his personal life. After putting all of that together, it became clear that the person known as Akechi Goro was built upon an empty shell. It resonated painfully with what Akira had heard from him in the past.
Akira had never thought of himself as particularly fortunate in life, but to compare with Akechi…
“Stop it.” Morgana had said to him. “You’ll never see the end when you start comparing misfortunes.”
Akira wondered. What if that evil god had a whim and decided to shift things around? It would be Akechi standing here in his place today, perhaps. He hypothesised to himself as Morgana looked on with worry in his large eyes.
Day after day, Akira contemplated this. His friends were concerned. They brought him outside and did what they can to keep him sane. But an idea that had taken hold is not so easily forgotten.
I want to see him again.
I want to see him, to yell my heart out at him, and apologize for not attempting to understand him.
Most of all. I have something to tell him, even if it might make him uncomfortable.
But, none of that is possible now.
On more than one occasion, Akira had asked Sae.
"Did you find Akechi’s remains? Even if you're not sure, if you find anything, please let me know."
Everytime he asked, Sae looked at him as if she was seeing something pitiful that could not be saved before averting her eyes.
“Forget about Akechi.”
“You’ll never see him again, just let it go.”
“He’s gone to a place where you’ll never see him again.”
It was the usual exchange, but nothing about it satisfied Akira. In order to put his feelings to rest, he needed something more concrete.
When Akira started having trouble sleeping, even Sojiro began to wear a concerned frown.
“You think too much about him if you stay here, it’s better for you to go back home.” Sojiro had suggested to him, but Akira refused; he didn’t want to forget about Akechi.
The days pass, and summer rolls around. Akira sleeps barely on the medication received from Takemi. One night just like any other, he slips into a shallow sleep with the windows open.
When morning came. Akira awoke and realized something.
He realized that Akechi wasn’t dead. Akechi was still alive.
He must have been missing something, or mistaken. Akechi was so strong-willed, he braved Mementos and Palaces alone for years, there was no way he would die in that kind of situation.
Morgana, who had been sleeping in the Sakura household, comes in the morning to check on him.
“......Mona, I must be mistaken this whole time.” Akira had smiled and told the cat-like creature. “Akechi is definitely not dead. Because look, he’s sitting right there.”
“Akira….? What...are you talking about?” Morgana stiffens, not comprehending what the boy had just said.
Akira reassures him that he’s fine, and that Morgana will come to understand someday.
If this was just like any other morning, he would wake up with puffy eyes from crying during the night. But this morning, his eyes felt light.
“Welcome home, Akechi. I won’t say the wrong thing this time.”
A breeze blows in through the open windows, carrying with it a fresh scent. Akira smiles as if invited by the wind, while Morgana looks on with a puzzled expression.