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Stealing is Not a Form of Self Expression

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It was the beginning of June, the sun was shining bright enough to reflect brilliantly off of Akira’s glasses, and once again, Ryuji’s life proved he was wrong and it could, in fact, keep getting weirder. No, it wasn’t his life that was the messed up part. It was Kurusu Akira that was weird, and he just dragged Ryuji down with him as always.

“I think I’m gonna seduce him.” It wasn’t the statement itself that threw Ryuji as much as the causal delivery; Akira throwing his intentions into the air like he was scattering birdseed. Actually, no. The statement was kind of bad, too. Guys didn’t usually announce their intentions to seduce other dudes to their best friends out of nowhere.

Ryuji looked up from his cup ramen. Looked around the Yongen alley they were hanging out in to see if there was a ‘he’ around whom Akira could be referring to. And then gave up and took the bait to ask, “Seduce who now?”

“Yusuke,” Akira stated with conviction. “He’s beautiful, Ryuji. I like him and I’m keeping him and I’m going to have him.” A pause. “Sexually.” he clarified unnecessarily.

Well, that made sense, considering they’d just made friends with him, and also knew very few other dudes. Of course it also made no sense whatsoever at the same time, because maybe it was the fact that his brain still hadn’t managed to connect on this ‘seducing a guy’ idea to begin with, but Ryuji was having a little trouble comprehending the idea of wanting Kitagawa Yusuke sexually. “I guess his face is pretty?” he offered dubiously.

Akira smiled a wistful sort of smile that gave Ryuji a sense of deja vu and a cold shiver down his spine. “His face isn’t the only thing that’s pretty.”

Well Ryuji didn’t know what the hell COULD be, since the guy was like, seven feet tall in a straight line. Like, he didn’t know anything about finding guys hot so he guessed maybe his instinct that more curves were better didn’t apply, but even dudes were supposed have some sort of… actual shape, right? Like, a triangle or something, wasn’t triangle supposed to be hot? “Seriously?” Ryuji didn’t mean to ask. “What the heck’s so sexy about a beanpole?”

Akira frowned, clicking his tongue. “You don’t get it. It’s how he moves .”

How he moved…. In mementos, did he mean? Ryuji raised a confused eyebrow. “Like a deranged Kabuki actor?”

He didn’t get as much as a sigh in response. Instead, Akira just smiled like he had a secret and said, “You’re not looking at the right things. Try watching his tail some time.”

Must mean the foofy thing on his belt. Which must mean Akira spent an unnecessary amount of time staring at the vicinity of Yusuke's ass. Well, whatever, none of this was really Ryuji’s problem anyway. He went back to his ramen. “Okay, I’ll take your word on it. So what’s the plan, then?” A blank stare. Ryuji spun his chopsticks in a circle mid-air. “You know. Your… seduction plans.”

“Hm,” Akira hummed in consideration, eyes flicking up to the sky. “Hadn’t gotten that far yet. Just decided right now.”

Decided that he needed to seduce the weird art kid, right now, when said weird art kid was not even around. Was this because he had almost moved in yesterday? Why did that matter, he stayed one night and then went back to his dorms, didn’t he? “Oh right, we all took that bath last night,” Ryuji realized. Well that made since then, they’d all seen each other naked. Must have seen something he liked.

Apparently having seen through his train of thought, Akira didn’t look disturbed by the non-sequitur. “Yeah,” he agreed, something that managed to somehow be both smug and dreamy coloring his stolid expression. “That was a good idea.” It passed quickly, and he took another sip of his canned coffee with a small shrug. “I’m sure I’ll come up with something. I’m very resourceful.”

He tried not to be incredulous, because lord knows the dude had more game than Ryuji himself did, but... “Resources… that will actually help with dating?”

He was completely unfazed by Ryuji’s doubt. “I can be very charming,” Akira assured him magnanimously. “I’ll have you know I’m a man of many talents. I’m sure any number of my skills will help me win him over.”

Ryuji raised a sardonic eyebrow at him. “ ‘Talents ?’ What, you mean like breaking and entering, assault, and hostage negotiation?”

A blank, glasses-blocked stare. “You don’t think those will help?”

Quite against his own wishes, Ryuji instantly decided he might need to worry about this whole mess, after all. “I think you’d be better off learning about art.”

Akira blinked like the thought had never occurred to him. “Oh, that’s good, too. I should start there.”

On the plus side, Ryuji considered, Akira and Yusuke were both pretty weird. This might be a better idea than it seemed like. Hopefully. “Don’t feel any need to lemme know how that goes for ya.”

“I’ll take my time and think about it,” Akira said calmly, leaning his long body lazily against the wall. “Patience and planning are vital when you’re working towards something worthwhile.”

There. Right there, that was what was giving Ryuji bad vibes about this whole thing. Akira had said nearly the exact same thing about the last heist they pulled. Well… It would probably all be fine. Yusuke could take care of himself, right?

Akira finished his drink and crushed his empty can in his hand. “I have to get going. I told a disgraced politician I wanted to join the DIET and I’m meeting to have him train me in oration skills.” He tossed the can into a nearby waste bin. “You know, to help me negotiate with Shadows.”

“Of course,” Ryuji sighed. “What else would you be doing with your night?”

Right… None of this was Ryuji’s problem anyway.

He did end up looking though, next time they went to Mementos. Ryuji didn’t particularly mean to or want to, but Akira’s suggestion that keeping an eye on that fluffy bit on Yusuke’s belt would provide some sort of sexy insight came to mind almost unbidden the next time they were in battle, and Ryuji couldn’t help the urge to stare curiously.

Huh. It really did draw attention like, right to the ass, didn’t it? And since it was sort of hanging off the side instead of the middle it didn’t obstruct one’s view of said ass at all, just sort of... swished distractingly. Really…. that tail thing really brought attention to the legs, too, hanging down to the knee and all, and wow, were those ever long legs. And were a guy’s hips even supposed to move like that? That seemed… indecent.

Or maybe it was only indecent because he had just been staring for five minutes, jesus bugrucking christ what had happened to Ryuji’s life. Okay, we were done with THAT experiment. No more looking at Yusuke’s tail, ever.

Oh, but… Ann’s outfit had a tail too, didn’t it? Leading right up to her ass, which was so much rounder, and all covered in shiny red leather that drew the eye right to her plump, bodacious -

“GOD DAMN IT,” Ryuji ran up ahead of where they’d all been walking, determined that if he wasn’t standing behind anyone this wouldn't be a Thing anymore. “I can’t handle this friggin’ tail nonsense, man!”

In pace next to him, Akira was visibly smirking. What a dick.

--

@Akira 10:34 : What are good places to take a date to?

@Ann 10:37 : Movies are a classic. or you could take her shopping, girls love when guys do things like that. you don’t even have to buy her anything it just shows you’re willing to do stuff she likes

@Akira 10:39 : Hm

@Akira 10:39 : Any sexier ideas?

@Ann 10:40 : Shinjuku?

@Akira 10:40 : ...Too sexy

--

Yusuke was a creepy weirdo who understood nothing about human beings or interacting with them. But, Ann had determined, he was also completely harmless. At least, to anyone that didn’t offend his aesthetics, or whatever. Either way he was about as far from sexually threatening as you could get. In fact he was kind of the opposite. He kind of just came off gay after a while.

So eventually Ann decided that there was probably no harm in giving up and agreeing to model for him. In the end it wasn’t much different from her part-time job, except that she had to sit still for way longer, right? And would be slightly more naked, since she normally didn’t agree to swimsuit jobs, but hey. Once again, this was Yusuke. And Yusuke was weird and no she wasn’t gonna model naked for anyone under any circumstances, but sitting around in a swimsuit for a friend who made an entire school career out of studying pictures of naked bodies was, you know. Doable, or whatever. Actually, wasn’t he an abstract artist? Whatever, she’d seen his sketchbook, it was filled with naked body parts. God, that did not help with making him sound less creepy, did it? Whatever, Yusuke was fine. Ann would force him to go to lunch with her after and they might just make a day out of the whole thing.

“Have fun with that ,” Ryuji was sending her off with no small amount of sarcasm. “Sitting around staring at the wall while Yusuke draws may be Akira’s idea of a good time, but it sounds like torture to me.”

Ann paused halfway through pulling the jacket over her shoulders, eyebrows furrowed. “Akira thinks that’s a good time?”

Ryuji’s face twisted into an exasperated frown, rolling his eyes as he slipped his school shoes off for sneakers. “He must, because he keeps doing it. Says Yusuke is adorable and that he intends to ‘have’ him.”

It was Ann’s turn to frown at that. “‘Have him’?”

“You know,” Ryuji dropped his voice, somehow more discreet about this than he ever was about their actual illegal activities. “ Seduce him.”

Oh, okay, so he did mean it the way it sounded. And it sounded… Kinda bad, honestly. Ann wasn’t digging the sound of that at all. “Seduce him? Are you sure?”

“His exact wording, ‘I think I’ll seduce him.’”

Yeah that was even worse, okay. Hm. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as it sounded? Maybe he really just wanted to date Yusuke, but had phrased it a little poorly when he told Ryuji? Yeah… Like, Akira was her friend! She already knew everything she needed to about him, and the reason he always sort of seemed like he was hiding something was because of the phantom thief thing, right? She was just worrying too much, too sensitive about the subject and jumping to the worst conclusions. She flipped her pigtails over her jacket to settle on her shoulders and dismissed the thought. “Well that seems kinda weird, but Akira was weird to begin with.”

Ryuji shrugged. “I mean like, Yusuke’s soaking up the attention like a dry sponge anyway, so it’s probably healthier than it, you know. Looks when he says creepy shit like ‘he has forteen miles of leg and I want it all wrapped around me.’”

Ann squeezed her eyes closed to try to fight off the sudden headache threatening to split her brain. “You don’t… think he’s secretly the ‘date seven girls at once with a dude on the side’ playboy type, do you?”

“I thought about it, but,” Ryuji had the look of a man who’d encountered an injured moose and was currently trying to decide if he should try to help it or sneak quietly away and hope he wasn’t noticed. “I think he’s too obsessive for something like that.”

Obsessive? An image flashed unbidden through her mind of looking over her shoulder in class to see Akira was ignoring the lessons in favor of making lock picks out of hairpins. Yeah, obsessive might be a good word for him. “I’m… sure it’ll all work out fine,” she decided warily. “And I’ll be late and miss my train if I stand here all day worrying about weird shit like that.”

“Tru dat,” Ryuji agreed, slamming his shoe locker shut. “I’ve got enough on my mind with just my own life, man.”

By the time she got off her train to meet Yusuke at his studio, she’d even actually forgotten about it. She was not enough of a fujoshi to care about her friend’s creepy gay romance, and her agent was texting again trying to convince her to answer the phone so he could talk her into a photoshoot today, and she was already stuck posing for whatever weirdo project Yusuke had in mind, so... Yeah. Whatever.

So Ann drifted off absently, sitting in a makeshift throne made out of a lawnchair and a large number of well-placed towels in a two-piece, zoning out and thinking about nothing because Yusuke said the music she’d tried to play from her phone was distracting him. Good lord was this ever boring.

Like, seriously, how was Akira putting up with this? Did he really like Yusuke that much that he actually enjoyed sitting around in silence while he painted? Or was he just that determined to…

Look, it wasn’t about trusting or not trusting Akira, okay? It was more the fact that the one thing she knew about Kitagawa Yusuke’s life until now was that he only had one person he was close to, and that person turned out to be using him for his talent instead of actually caring about him. So, you know, the last thing he needed in the world was for some don juan to sweep him off his feet and then dump him on the side of the road. Emotionally stable enough to fight with a Persona and emotionally stable enough to handle your first douchebag boyfriend were two completely different things, and if there was even the slightest chance Akira was after what her mother had always called ‘the one thing boys really want,’ it would be kind of the worst possible thing.

She was just being a worrywort, going overboard with her mother-hen-ing again. She wouldn't be this worried if she were the one going out on dates with Akira, but anytime it was one of her friends she got all overprotective.

And Yusuke seemed pretty content, quite generally. Who said this wasn’t actually good for him? Yusuke needed someone to open up to, no matter what his intentions may be about it she was sure Akira could be that person.

Yusuke, who had looked up from his panting with a frown. “You should slide your straps down your shoulders,” he directed. “Your top is lifting your breasts up too much and I can’t gauge their weight correctly.”

“Nope,” she denied automatically.

He scoffed like this was personally offensive to him. “How am I supposed to paint these breasts correctly if I can’t see how they actually fall? Trying to draw them as is would make them look fake and perverted.”

She narrowed her eyes. “You shouldn’t be painting my tits anyway, I said no nudes!”

A dramatic roll of his eyes that used his entire body to execute. “Well I can hardly paint my goddess of judgement in a floral print bikini!” He looked back at his canvas like arguing with her wasn’t worth this much of his attention. “I know what I am doing, and I’d never be so crude as to guess at the appearance of your nipples. There’s no real way to imagine for one thing, the sheer variation in just areola size -”

“Stop! No more talking about nipples!” She groaned, falling back hard against her chair. “I don’t even care what your plan is, just don’t make it graphic and make sure no one can tell I was the model. I don’t want a permanent depiction of my naked ass hanging in an art museum.”

Looking moderately perplexed, Yusuke responded, “I’m really not drawing your rear end, your crossed legs are covering pretty much all of it.”

You know what, Ann was just going to go ahead and give up on this one. Leveling a warning glare, she slowly said, “I’m trusting you. Just don’t do anything weird, okay?”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” he assured. “Your... slightly altered depiction will be nothing but tasteful. Anything else would sexualize the image and ruin the entire impression I’m trying to convey to the viewer.”

Well that was a good sign, she guessed. Okay, she could be a… semi-nude goddess of judgment, that was cool. She’d already had to dress in weird costumes like angels and catgirls for jobs anyway, this was darn near an honor.

Yusuke was sighing, using his whole body again because there was just too much of him not to. “Your face - the expression you have is too relaxed. That bored and slightly disdainful look from before - that’s why I need my model to be you in the first place.”

Bored and disdainful goddess of judgement. How flattering. “Is that the kind of girl you see me as?”

He blinked, attention caught enough to actually look up at her. “Not at all. But your face is perfect for it.” He looked back down at his canvas, a spark of fire lighting his eyes. “The moment I saw you, the image flooded my mind. A confident look of casual superiority, so powerful that it derails any vulnerabilities her nudity might have exposed. Instead of making her look weakened or whorish the lack of clothing only makes her look all the more untouchable and unmovable, looking down from her throne on those who come to bow at her feet begging for her mercy.” Yusuke stopped his impassioned rant to stare down at his progress so far, as if comparing it to the real Ann in front of him. “She’s probably not as nice as you are, honestly.”

Unable to help herself, Ann laughed. “See now that sounds awesome, you should have just said that to begin with.” Letting the smile fall to embrace her boredom for him, she settled with her head resting on her knuckle to lean on the arm of the chair again. “Make me radiant, peasant.”

Yusuke smiled, dipping a new brush in red and agreeing, “By your command, my Goddess.”

Only another fifteen minutes passed before she fell victim to her consuming boredom again. “So,” she threw out absently, not entirely certain Yusuke would even hear the question through his focus. “You’ve been hanging out with Akira lately, right? Do you just spend the whole time painting him, too?”

To her surprise, something like bashfulness bloomed on Yusuke’s face, even if he didn’t look up from his painting. “Oh, ah. No, actually. I’m not confident enough in my abilities to attempt such an enigmatic subject at this time.”

Huh, that wasn’t what she had expected. Then in that case… “Well, what do you to do when you hang out, then?”

He still looked bashful, but also definitely pleased. “Oh, nothing interesting. He’s been coming with me on research excursions, actually. Museums and churches, and last week we rowed a boat out onto the lake. Usually afterwards we get something to eat.”

So basically, they had been… going on dates. Okay, fair enough. “That sounds nice,” she decided. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a guy offer to take me out to a lake before, I think I’m jealous.”

“Then the men who have been approaching you are obviously too low in caliber to suit you,” Yusuke stated with confidence

Ann couldn’t help but laugh. “You got me there. I’ll just have to keep hanging out with you guys instead.”

--

@Akira 20:04 : Ryuji

@Akira 20:04 : Ryuji he’s so cute

@Akira 20:05 : I’m going to die, Ryuji, I can’t handle it

@Akira 20:05 : I told him if he was too hot in my room then he should just take off his clothes and he almost did it

@Akira 20:05 : He’s so beautiful and so dumb I want to protect him forever

--

Okay, in retrospect, Ryuji was thinking that ‘seduce’ had not been the word Akira wanted. Granted he wasn’t exactly a direct party in this mess, but it seemed more to him like what Akira was actually doing was more along the line of... courting, or even wooing Yusuke.

“Hey, check the timer on the baked tonkatsu,” Akira directed idly, stirring something Ryuji couldn’t see on the stove in Le Blanc’s kitchen.

He looked at Akira’s phone on the counter in front of him, reciting, “You got two minutes,” before returning his attention to Bubble Popper on his own phone.

Because what Akira was doing right now? Was using Ryuji to test recipes on while he taught himself to cook. And why you ask, why was he teaching himself to cook out of nowhere?

Because Yusuke never ate enough.

Yeah. Seriously. That guy took Yusuke to art museums, invited him to spend entire nights in his room, and of course, was teaching himself to cook for the sole purpose of keeping Yusuke well fed. It was actually kind of embarrassing to watch.

“So,” Ryuji said conversationally when Akira was setting a mismatched platter of random dishes in front of him, with a dutiful plate of fish for Morgana on the counter next to him. “Has he gotten anywhere near figuring out that you’re trying to date him yet?”

“Oh, I doubt it,” Akira said simply, attentions turned to the coffee maker the moment he wasn’t cooking anymore. “It’s not a problem. Rushing just leads to carelessness.”

Yeah, that sounded like something he’d say. Ryuji shrugged. “Whatever you say. But if what you’re doing isn’t working, maybe you’re being too, y’know, inside the box, or whatever.” He dug his chopsticks into the tonkatsu to find it dry, flaky, and ultimately, pretty mediocre. Edible, though. “Like, you guys are kind of weird to begin with, right? Do something more direct like, I dunno.” He took a drink of miso soup that was actually pretty good. “Paint something for him. Make him An Art. I bet he’d understand that.”

Akira blinked at him, eyebrows slightly raised in the closest thing to surprise his face ever bothered to register. “An Art? I really can’t draw, though. And having him teach me doesn’t sound very sexy.”

Ryuji’s instinct was to offer to help himself, but he couldn’t really draw so much as just spray paint. Well. he could draw letters, but he had a feeling teaching Akira English calligraphy wouldn’t help much.

“That’s not thinking outside the box much, is it?” Morgana observed dryly. “Art comes in many forms, fools, it’s sole purpose is about self-expression. Just think of a way to express your feelings that only you can do. Yusuke will get it.” He paused. “Probably. He is kind of oblivious, but when it comes to art you should be fine.”

Akira turned the coffee siphon’s heat lower, adding in the grounds. “An art that only I can do, huh?”

Yeah, Akira didn’t really seem the… expressive type at all, much less through art. All of his hobbies seemed to revolve around phantom thievery, from the people he hung out with to the books he read on the train… “Well, you make those weird tools, like smoke bombs and shit, right? Craftsmanship is an art, maybe you can like. Do something with that.”

Humming lightly as he removed the hopper to pour a glass of freshly brewed specialty coffee into a mug, Akira shrugged. “It’s an idea, but I still can’t think of anything I’d make. My feelings for him are just a bit too… complex to be able to express through tin scraps and corkboard.”

Ryuji eyed the mug suspiciously as Akira did in fact push it towards him on the counter. “Your weird crush is too complex?”

There was a sparkle of something familiar and covetous gleaming behind his glasses, the kind of look he generally only wore in Palaces the second before he smashed a vase to steal the inlaid jewels from its shards. “I wanna spoil him, Ryuji. I wanna give him presents and feed him and stroke his hair while he falls asleep.”

“Dude, That’s gay,” Ryuji said reflexively.

“Yes,” Akira agreed. “Very gay.” Which, yeah, he had Ryuji there. He had been very blatantly gay about this from the start.

Still, though, there was something about that look on his face that made this whole thing feel kind of… off. Ryuji tried to figure out what it was, because everything Akira had said sounded all fine and romantic or whatever, but at the same time… It felt like his eyes were trained on like… a trophy?

Ryuji blinked. Trophy? Oh shit, he got it now.

Not sure if he was relieved or disappointed, Ryuji’s eyebrows drew together. “You’re the type of man who’d want his wife to wear the pearl necklace he bought her all the time, even around the house, right?” Or in his case more likely stole for her.

“Pearls?” Akira blinked, looking up from the coffee he was pouring for himself to stare off into space. “He’s so pale and white, the pearls against his bare skin would make him look so soft,” he trailed off, lascivious gleam in his eye.

Yeahhhhh, that pretty much answered that as far as Ryuji was concerned. Well still, no one ever said a man couldn’t be madly in love with his trophy wife, so…

Akira nodded towards the ignored mug on the counter. “Try it before it gets cold.”

Just polite enough not to groan audibly, Ryuji rolled his eyes instead. “Yeah, yeah,” he relented, trying a sip of caramel-y espresso kind of shit. “It doesn’t suck,” he decided, pushing the mug out a few inches away from him to indicate that he still wasn’t actually planning on drinking it.

Akira frowned, snatching the cup back from him. “I’ll get you yet.”

“You really won’t. I don’t understand why you can't just accept the fact that I don't like coffee, bro.”

“Then I just have to make it taste like not coffee, then,” he insisted sharply, like making a cup of coffee Ryuji would actually finish had become a point of pride or something.

“Anyway,” Ryuji turned his attention back to the grilled fish and tonkatsu. “Just give it some thought. Pursue what’s he’s interested in and communicate that way.”

“Yeah…” Akira took a sip of his own mug. “What I consider to be art…”

Actually, not a bad idea all around, Ryuji decided. He’d needed something for he and Yusuke to do to hang out, and he just might have thought of what…

--

@Akira to Group Chat : We’re going into Mementos today, meet at the Hideout in an hour

@Ryuji to Group Chat : Again?!

@Ryuji to Group Chat : This is like the third day in a row dude!

@Makoto to Group Chat : Complaining now is a little hypocritical.

@Makoto to Group Chat: This is good training for all of us, the Shadows in Kaneshiro’s Palace were getting stronger floor by floor. We need to continue improving at a pace that can keep up with them.

@Akira to Group Chat : Yeah that too

@Ann to Group Chat : We’re going for treasure, aren’t we?

@Akria to Group Chat : Would you like to volunteer to pay for your own weapons in the future? Or are you generous enough to pay for everyone else’s, too?

@Ann to Group Chat : Ahahaha

@Ann to Group Chat : Well what are we waiting for, Mementos won’t come to us! Let’s get going!!!

--

Akira had tried to explain it all once. Tried to explain this power of the wild card to Morgana, talking about a blue jail cell with twin girl wardens and dreams of a long-nosed man who seem to be training him towards some unknown purpose. Even for someone as well-versed in the Metaverse as Morgana was, it was all a bit too much to really comprehend, but he couldn’t deny his own witnesses of Akira’s habit of staring off into space for minutes on end only to come back to reality with more personas. Something weird was going on around here, and Morgana was completely inclined to believe Akira was somehow the center of it.

Which meant as far as Morgana was concerned, running into this guy had been some kind of ungodly luck on his part. There’s no way he’d have been able to get this far on his own, after all. So what else made sense but to stick around by Akira’s side? Call it a mutual beneficial relationship. Symbiosis, and stuff.

Morgana actually enjoyed being around him, to be honest. He’d been alone for as far back as his memories went, and it was kind of comforting to have someone around to acknowledge your existence and give you fish.

He liked Yusuke, too. This weird mating dance Akira had initiated was pretty funny to watch, and it wasn’t interfering with their work in the Metaverse or school or anything, so as far as Morgana was concerned Akira could have all the fun he wanted.

In fact, it might even be benefitting everyone. Akira’s insistence on constantly buying dinner for Yusuke meant he had to work more part-time jobs to pay for it, and they’d been spending days on end in Mementos just for the sake of looting and holding up Shadows for spare cash. Not only was the money nice, but they were all getting stronger every time they went in there in the name of buying Yusuke jesso or sushi.

Ah, he was so jealous! Morgana wished he could be doing this stuff for Lady Ann too, that he could take her out on dates that carried over to the next day and buying her cakes and jewelery and gently brushing the hair from her lovely face… Being human sure was great, huh? Maybe, just maybe if they could get his memories back…

Well. For now he was fine with helping out Akira. Every little step on the way, right?

--

@Yusuke 19:48 : That’s awfully illegal, isn’t it?

@Ryuji 19:49 : Pfffft compared to the other shit we do this is kid stuff

@Ryuji 19:49 : c’mooon u know u want to

@Yusuke 19:51 : It is an art form I’ve never found opportunity to experiment with…

@Ryuji 19:52 : awww yeah i knew you’d want in on this!

@Ryuji 19:52 : meet me at shibuya station at around midnight. & bring clothes u dont mind getting dirty

@Yusuke 19:53 : Don’t underestimate me. I hardly own an article of clothing that doesn’t already have paint on it to begin with.

--

There was a train passing on the railway overhead, rattling against its tracks loudly enough to echo down to the bridge tunnel underneath. It was just about the perfect spot - nice empty concrete walls of the tunnel providing yards and yards of canvas, low risk of being stumbled on by anyone other other than a hobo or drunk teenager looking for a place to party without being hassled. Yusuke was the type to take the time to perfect his art whether or not he was inconveniencing someone like perhaps police officers, so a good secluded spot was better than somewhere flashy where someone was likely to actually see their work.

Ryuji tossed his canvas bag to the ground, paint cans clanking against each other on impact with the pavement. The first thing they’d need of course, was the flashlight, and as soon as Ryuji’s cheap plastic searchlight was pointed at the inside wall Yusuke made a noise that was probably like, awed or something.

“Such intricate color blends…” He marveled, craning his neck around to see the graffiti of taggers past already painting the concrete. “Such precisions with mere spraypaint cans requires extreme skill.”

“Yeah it does,” Ryuji agreed, eyeing the admittedly impressive portrayal of what appeared to be Buddha smoking a blunt and slamming a 40. “It’d be awesome to do fancy shit like that, huh? I can only do lettering and draw easy shit like skulls and little green alien dudes.” He bent down to rifle through his bag, grabbing up his set of paint markers, which - shit this black was like completely empty, when was the last time Ryuji had been out here? Well, that was Yusuke’s problem, Ryuji only needed the red and yellow right now anyway.

Yusuke hardly even noticed, still too entranced by the decorated walls around them. “But there’s hardly space for us to work,” he observed bemusedly. “Other artists have already claimed nearly every centimeter of this magnificent public piece.”

“Doesn’t really matter,” Ryuji shrugged. “Just paint around them, or over them, or add to someone else’s piece.” Shaking his marker and setting out a good space of wall in between Stoner Buddha and a promotion for the Rez Boa Dogs street gang, Ryuji set out the first strokes of his outline. “That’s the thing about street art, man, it’s like. Impermanent, or whatever. We know our shit could get painted over by the city as soon as the next day, and that’s part of what makes it so fun. It’s a bunch of unique pieces of art that disappear forever, and only whoever happens to stumble on them or have to paint over them get to ever appreciate them at all. That’s why it doesn’t matter if you paint over someone else’s work - this shit is like. Alive , it’s supposed to change.”

Behind him, Yusuke’s voice sounded like he had opened a cabinet door to find Narnia on the other side. “That’s… so beautiful. I’ve never considered art to be something meant to die, and yet for an entire underground culture to embrace transience as its own art, battling against the impermanence of their own life’s work to paint the same battered walls again and again… Paintings meant to evolve. It’s magnificent.”

“Uhhhh yeah,” Ryuji said, glancing over his shoulder as he switched to his yellow marker to start the lettering. Yusuke was still not doing anything, now watching curiously as Ryuji started to sketch out giant lettering instead of grabbing his own paints. Which, okay, that wasn’t nerve-wracking or anything, just keep looking over his shoulder so Ryuji gets all frazzled because he’s never had anyone watching him do this before. “I thought you’d dig it. So like. Give it a shot, bro. Paint something… transient.”

Thankfully, Yusuke didn’t take long to take up his own paints, relieving Ryuji instantly once that gaze was off his back. He didn’t know how the hell Akira would want to be stared at in that creepy stalkerish way Yusuke managed, it still gave Ryuji the heebie jeebies.

The lettering only took a minute or less realistically, Ryuji’d just been slowed down by self-consciousness. So he was picking up his cans in no time, and kept half his attention on the area around them for potential passers-by instead of worrying about what Yusuke was doing. Start with the red he’s using as his splatter background, then move straight onto the black for the shadows. Then the yellow letters on top of their shadows, before he could finally shade the yellow with orange and white to make it look all bubbly and 3-D, and fuck yeah, look who hadn’t lost his touch after all, eh? Hardly any paint bleeding, Ryuji was a total badass.

When he was finished, he finally turned around to see what Yusuke had decided to grace the wall next to him with, and holy shit was it ever cool. He supposed it was really no surprise that Yusuke’d be able to get the hang of the spraypaint so quickly, but he hadn’t expected such a total embrace of the graffiti art style.

He’d used an old El Barto signature as a base, using the shape of the letters to guide the outline of the ship he had drawn around it, letting the words stay as they were to replace the wood grain on the side. And then in the space above it, sprawled between two illegible signatures and Donald Duck with a submachine gun (accurate - Donald Duck is a decorated Naval officer, and Ryuji knows this for reasons that may or may not involve a tiny sailor suit stuffed in an attic box that he had worn for three Halloweens in a row) rose a pirate-clad skeleton riding the ship like a surfboard.

“Y- you drew Captain Kidd!” Ryuji shouted, watching in awe as Yusuke filled in the Captain's jacket with a coat of blue-green paint. “Oh my god, he’s so COOL!”

Yusuke spared a glance over his shoulder at Ryuji before absently explaining, “I was trying to think thematically,” with a small gesture towards Ryuji’s own work tonight. Which, was only the word ‘Skull’ because he wanted to get the feel back for spraycans and because signing your own name was like, tagging basics 101.

“Dude, this is freakin’ awesome,” Ryuji praised as he watched Yusuke work. Man, this guy really was a genius, it had taken Ryuji months to get this fast with no paint bleeding, and here this freak was whipping out masterpieces in Krylon Colormaster. “Rad,” he expressed again, because he sucked too much to think of any actual words to say.

He was, as it turns out, a bit too impressed, because Ryuji had stopped paying attention to anything other than watching Yusuke paint for a while, up until the point where a distant voice was shouting “HEY! What are you kids doing!” at them.

Oh shit, he should have been watching that. Ryuji moved immediately, snatching up the canvas bag with only half his crap stuffed in it with one hand and grabbing Yusuke by the arm with the other as he bolted, and to absolutely no surprise whatsoever, a string of complaints that he was almost finished following them as they ran.

They ducked off into a corner alleyway to lose them, waiting the appropriate amount of time hiding before they started on the walk back home.

“I must say, that was exhilarating,” Yusuke sighed with a hand pressed daintily to his chest. “I’ve never had opportunity to experience the serenity of painting blended with the terrified rush of crime before. My heartrate still hasn’t slowed down to normal yet, this is simply incredible!”

“Hell yeah,” Ryuji punched him lightly on the arm and then only remembered to hope Yusuke knew it was a friendly gesture in retrospect. “That’s the rush man, that’s how you get addicted to this shit. Bet you never had this kinda fun with any of the nerds at your school, eh?”

Yusuke smiled, and even to a staunch hetero like Ryuji it was pretty adorable. “I’ve seldom had this much fun with anyone before,” he said easily. “I’m only still just getting used to having friends.”

Well, that was depressing. He was starting to understand why Akira would say shit like “I want to keep him forever and protect him from himself,” because this guy seemed a little bit… Too vulnerable for the real world. Not naive and not stupid, but oddly… vulnerable .

Oh hey, that reminded him. Now that he and Yusuke were alone, this was prime time to play wingman. Why? Because Ryuji was the greatest best friend ever, obviously . Also if it turned out Yusuke really was straight then this whole endeavor will have plummeted from kinda weird straight down to embarrassing for everyone.

They hadn’t been talking for the last ten minutes of trudging back to the train station anyway, so Ryuji figured it was just a normal icebreaker to throw out, “SO. If Ann isn’t the type of woman you’re interested in, what do you go for? Small, tall, cute, elegant, there are like, ten thousand different types of girls and all of them are good.”

Out of the corner of his eye he could see it as Yusuke’s face drew into tension, eyes drifting from the night sky down to the pavement. “Well,” he said in a tone that suggested he was giving the issue some serious thought. “In a model I prefer someone visually interesting. Ann is a good subject because her body, face, and hair are all made out of curved edges, where Futaba is so small for her age that with her hair her image can be rendered almost entirely in thin, straight lines. Compared to the average girl walking on the street the two make far more appealing models.”

...That… Huh. Was that an answer? That was not an answer, Ryuji decided. “Okay, yeah but I meant, you know.” He shrugged. “Sexually.”

“Oh,” Yusuke said simply. “I’ve… never found myself considering such matters.”

That could either mean they were all right and he was gay, or that he was one of those people that didn’t Anything. That was a thing, right? He was pretty sure Ichihara form middleschool was asexual. Deciding there was only one way to find out, Ryuji conceded with, “Okay then, what type of guy do you go for?”

There was another pause, their footsteps echoing dully against damp pavement for a couple of loaded seconds of consideration. And then Yusuke decided, “Maybe… tall?”

Almost to spite himself, Ryuji burst out laughing. When Yusuke looked at him questioningly, Ryuji could only shake his head and laugh, “It’s just funny how easy some things are, yanno?”

--

@Ryuji 00:50 : good news, i hung out with your boy tonight and being the best wingbro ever, confirmed he goes for ‘tall guys’. I think ur in bro

@Akira 3:10 : Why were you out at midnight with Yusuke and discussing sexuality?

@Ryuji 9:45 : relax dude im not stealin ur man

@Ryuji 9:49 : it was like the opposite of a date we were out doing illegal things

@Akira 9:50 : That’s what I want to be doing with him!

--

Makoto shifted uncomfortably, tugging at her sleeve awkwardly as though she could make the leather somehow more breathable by separating it those millimeters away from her skin.

Her Metaverse clothes generally didn’t bother her. It was hard to be self-conscious around Ann’s bright red latex catsuit after all, and the outfit was far more comfortable to fight in than it looked, so Makoto couldn’t find much to complain about. But right now they weren’t fighting, she was just sitting perched awkwardly on Johanna in the bizarre turnstiles just above Mementos’s underground labyrinth, posing for a painting that she could not begin imagine. For some reason that made her ten thousand times more aware of her rather… Dom Queen/Apocalyptic Biker Demon themed attire. Not that it wasn’t a cool outfit and all, but. You know. Posing for a painting , here.

Yusuke had claimed to have had phenomenal success in recent endeavors to paint Ann and Captain Kidd, and had practically begged her for a chance to sketch out Johanna. And embarrassing as it was… Well, cameras didn’t work in the Metaverse and Makoto really wouldn’t mind having a portrait of her lovely motorcycle to keep in her room, is all. You know, if Yusuke could spare a copy.

“Should I be posing or something?” she asked nervously after a few long empty minutes of silence. “Are you - am I even in this drawing?”

Without looking up, Yusuke hummed. “It would hardly make sense to have a riderless motorcycle, but you aren’t particularly the focus. I’ve done a basic sketch of your shape for now, but I would like you to sit and model for me properly for the finishing touches to your face and hands. It can wait til we’re not in Mementos, though.”

“I was about to say,” she laughed awkwardly. “My face is covered up my my mask anyway, so I don’t know what you’d need from it.”

“Just details,” he said absently. “I have to focus on getting Johanna right first, I won’t be able to make up her finer points from memory and have to get them in the first sketch now.”

Made sense, her Persona was pretty… visually complex. Actually, kind of made her wonder what he could be planning. The piece would have to be pretty intricate, right? She’d always wondered how artists got those teeny tiny details painted when she couldn’t even put on eyeliner without jabbing her eye out. “So, how are you gonna paint this? Or, the tone of the painting, maybe I’m trying to ask about?” She paused, brows furrowed. “Or... style?” Maybe she should expand her studies to include art history as well. Oh wait, she was supposed to be spending less time studying. Man, she was so lame. Maybe Ann could teach her how to relax more… Did that still count as learning?

Finally looking up at her long enough to try to figure out what she was trying to ask, Yusuke’s eyebrow lifted considerately. “Watercolors, focusing on blacks and silvers to offset the red glow of your eyes.” He went back to his sketchbook, squinting at it with a moment of dissatisfaction before pulling out his eraser for something. “Akira just bought me the most exquisite set of paints as a gift, and I want to break them in on something magnificent. When I tried to think of a subject worthy of such an honor, only Johanna’s blazing form came to mind.”

That… was actually pretty flattering. Her Persona was pretty great, huh? It had gotten to the point where Makoto missed riding her so much back in the real world she had started picking up odd jobs to save up for a used Yamaha V-MAX.

“Oh, that’s so sweet,” she smiled instead of commenting on her actual train of thought. “No guy’s ever liked me enough to buy me a thoughtful present like that. Must have been expensive, too.”

Yusuke’s hand stilled, and his eyes lost focus from his sketchbook, but other than that didn’t look up Makoto. “Yes, actually,” he agreed softly, face slowly turning red from the ears in. “They would have been… quite expensive indeed. And he has so little free time to begin with, to throw away his flower shop earnings on something like...”

“A gift to make you happy?” She finished for him, biting her lip against a laugh. Yusuke looked vaguely distressed at the idea of anyone spending that much money or effort on him of all things, so she tried to assuage him a little bit with a reassuring, “Honestly, I think Akira’s just the type of guy who likes giving presents. He bought Ann a CD she wanted and got me a book cover.”

“A book cover?”

“A nice one,” she nodded. “Probably had to cost around ten thousand yen.”

He didn’t look comforted. “When I last looked at this paint set, it was sixty-thousand.”

Oh. So more like, the same amount he spent on all of his other friends combined levels of expensive. That was rather a larger amount than Makoto had anticipated. “Maybe he got it on sale?”

It was on sale when I looked at it .”

Well, there went that idea. “Then, he just got you something nice because he wants you to have nice things,” she rationalized with a shrug. “That or he’s trying to guilt you into spending more money on food and less on art supplies.”

Yusuke’s jaw was open and his face red, still staring at his sketchbook in a way that said he didn’t know what else to look at. “If he is, it’s working.”

At that, Makoto really did laugh. This ‘he’s so cute,’ thing was making a whole lot more sense now, actually. “You’re allowed to have nice things, Yusuke,” she said. “And there really are people who like you just because of who you are, and not because we have anything to gain from it, for that matter.” Well, summoning her Persona for this much time was probably good training and a painting of Johanna would be kind of cool, but other than that this seemed like a very low payout scenario for her. Her thighs were cramped up like a mother right now.

He finally looked up at her, eyes half-hidden behind long eyelashes while his head remained pointed towards his book, still flushed and embarrassed hot pink. “That’s… not a concept I’ve fully adjusted to, as of yet.” She could relate. Real friends and things you hadn’t had to work hard for were both pretty rare in this world.

“You will,” she assured him easily, “and so will I.” You know, hopefully anyway.

Embarrassed and probably a bit unsettled, Yusuke wound up returning to his painting without any further comment. Without anything else to do on her own end, Makoto wound up drifting off into her thoughts.

Sis wouldn’t be coming home tonight, so Mako would only need to make dinner for herself. Maybe since she had the apartment to herself she could hit the video store and rent that first Alien vs Yakuza movie, the sequel was coming out in theaters next week and she wanted to rewatch the first one before she went… Ah, shoot, but their DVD player had broken when Sae had been trying to get to the outlet behind the tv and knocked it to the floor. Could you rent a DVD player, too? Probably not…

“Hey Yusuke, do you have a DVD player?” She found herself asking.

He didn’t look up. “Of course not,” he answered easily. “I just go to Le Blanc and use the one in Akira’s room.”

Of course he did. “Do you think he’d let me borrow it?”

“I don’t see why not. What movie were you planning on watching?”

A little sheepish but unwilling to lie, Makoto tried to be casual. “Oh, um. Just Alien vs Yakuza. I was um, thinking of going to the upcoming sequel with a friend of mine,” which would not be a lie once she invited Ann or Eiko to go with her. “So it’d be good to watch the first one” again “before I go.”

“Oh,” Yusuke looked up at her, finally interested. “I saw that! The graphics and animation quality on the space monster were simply incredible, the animators and creature design department must have worked themselves to the bone!”

“I know!” She agreed too quickly, before she could think better of it. “It was so realistic you could like, see the slime coming off of its scales! And when it opened up its huge jaws -”

“-It looked like it was really going to eat you!” He finished for her, excitement nearly matching hers. There was an abashed pause from both ends, each of them realising they’d just revealed what huge nerds they are. And then, hesitantly, “And you - you said that there is a sequel impending?”

 

Morgana slinked his way up to the second floor window, having finally mastered the art of feline parkour enough to navigate himself up into the roof next door. Akira was finishing up an ‘errand’ for Iwai-san and those tended to be the sorts of places and events having a teenager with a cat in his bag randomly wandering around might be more suspicious than necessary. Much as he tried not to, Morgana could admit he kind of drew attention, so he didn’t mind wandering back home ahead of Akira. Besides, he was a cat who could pick locks. There was a ton of stuff he could do in Le Blanc by himself after hours. A ton of stuff involving trying to crack open the heavy door of that fridge with no arms…

Either way, the easiest way to get back in was the second story window, so in that way did Morgana enter. And found, to his utter discombobulation, Makoto and Yusuke sitting on the floor of Akira’s room and crying in front of the TV.

“UMIBOZU-SAN!” Makoto sobbed into her hands.

Wiping his tears with the arm of his sleeve, Yusuke sniffled “He just wanted… to spend time with his daughter…”

Morgana blinked, hesitating on the window sill. Looked at the TV screen, where a giant blobby kind of tentacle monster was absorbing a skyscraper. Looked back at the crying teenagers on the floor.

Man, Persona-wielders were all the weirdest friggin’ people.

--

@Ann to Group Chat 2 : So, whatever happened with that whole ‘Akira seducing Yusuke’ thing? I thought that was a real thing but then nothing’s happened for like, months

@Futaba to Group Chat 2 : who’s doing what now??

@Ryuji to Group Chat 2 : oh that's definitely still a thing,. U guys just don't know bc ur not the ones akira texts about his crush @ 3 in the morning

@Futaba to Group Chat 2: D:

@Futaba to Group Chat 2: gross

@Ryuji to Group Chat 2  it rly is

@Makoto to Group Chat 2: I think it’s sweet. Yusuke’s been using the paint set Akira bought him for nearly everything lately.

@Futaba to Group Chat 2:  yeah but

@Futaba to Group Chat 2: this means Akira has the bad taste to want to DATE YUSUKE

@Futaba to Group Chat 2: like, no offence to Inari, but…

@Futaba to Group Chat 2: ???

@Ryuji to Group Chat 2: yeah that's what i was thinking 2 but i think i get it now

@Ryuji to Group Chat 2: he’s like one of them sad puppies with three legs

@Ryuji to Group Chat 2: like yeah sure a dog can have three legs and be perfectly fine but Ur gonna WORRY.

@Futaba to Group Chat 2: and being worried… is a good thing?

@Makoto to Group Chat 2: Men like to feel needed, like they’re capable of protecting and providing for their mate. So it can be a good thing, to some guys.

@Ryuji to Group Chat 2: you kind of give off that same broken-wing vibe tbh

@Ryuji to Group Chat 2: more than yusuke even

@Futaba to Group Chat 2: !!!

@Futaba to Group Chat 2: GROSS!

--

It was raining again, and Futaba was in Le Blanc waiting for Akira to go see a movie with him. He’d said he had errands to run today and could only go out with her if he had time, but Futaba also knew that when it was raining there was a good chance he wouldn’t stay out as long. Yusuke had apparently decided to take the same gamble, sitting two booths away from her with a boring-looking book.

She had her own laptop out, but not a whole lot to do right now. Half-baked plans and clicking around online wasn’t much fun, but Inari was the only one around to talk to, and she’d already said that she was the one Akira had made plans with and couldn’t think of much to follow that up with. She could talk to Yusuke fine, but only if they had something to talk about .

The Discord server she was in pinged, and she looked down to see what one of her friends in Singapore had just shared. As soon as she saw it she snorted with laughter, attracting the attention of Inari two booths away. She looked back down at the lewd cartoon of an Iphone being molested by its cord, then back at Yusuke. Grinned to herself, and pulled out her phone.

“Oh, good lord,” Yusuke gasped when he opened the message, and Futaba immediately doubled over laughing. His face went flat when he saw her reaction, and with a determined look he returned to his own phone for a few moments.

@Yusuke 13:11 : I go to a school filled with other artists. Don’t underestimate a room full of bored teenagers with pens. (attached jpg)

To her utter delight, he’d sent her a hastily sketched depiction of a Pikachu humping a power outlet. Son of a bitch, he’d gotten her, she had totally been hoping to offend his maidenly sensibilities. It wouldn’t work if he was just as bored and desensitized as she was.

Or… this could be MORE fun. To 4chan!

What proceeded was about a half hour of each of them trying to one-up the other in a ‘who can find the most disturbing thing ever drawn’ contest. She’d break out the vore, he’d retaliate with tentacles. She brings down the inflation/oviposition nastiness, and this fucker finds a big spiky alien dick and terrifyingly improper uses thereof. She had to admit she was impressed - never would she have expected such a formidable opponent out of delicate Inari.

She was digging up an old pic she remembered of Doraemon doing unspeakable things to children when she got a text from Akira.

“Ah, crap,” she muttered. “He got caught doing a shift at the convenience store, Akira’s not even coming back until tonight.”

Yusuke just shrugged. “I’d suspected he wouldn’t be back. I simply desired a different atmosphere than my dorm room for a while.”

Made sense to her, she’d much rather be in Le Blanc than some god-awful building filled with bored teenage boys with nowhere else to go. No wonder he was always wandering around the train station like a hobo.

She finally found the picture she’d been looking for, sending it to him to the result of a satisfyingly disgusted noise. He was probably about to find something equally horrific to send back but that’s when Sojirou looked up, glancing between the two of them and asking. “Wait a minute, are you two just texting each other ?”

They both blinked at him, not sure what the problem was. His eyebrows furrowed, and with a bit of horrified bewilderment gestured to the space between them with the observation, “You’re sitting two yards away from each other! Why aren't you just talking?!”

They looked at each other. Looked back at their phones. And then, because Futaba was supposed to be trying NOT to be a hikikomori and spend time with real humans, offered, “Wanna hide up in the attic and watch anime on my laptop?”

He did, as it turned out.

When Akira came home from work to find the two of them taking up his couch and bed watching cartoons on a laptop sitting on a turned-off television, he didn’t even blink. Just went downstairs and brought back enough curry for all three of them.

--

@Futaba 18:08 : are you saying you guys went to see alien vs yakuza 2? AND DIDN’T INVITE ME?!?!!

@Ryuji 18:09 : WUT

@Ryuji : 18:09 : I’VE BEEN DYIN 2 SEE THAT SINCE THE 1ST ONE!!

@Makoto : We can all go together, if you want? Yusuke couldn’t pay attention and talked through the whole thing, anyway, so I could stand to see it again

@Yusuke 18:12: I admit to having no clue what the plot was and am not ashamed. The entire desert planet was rendered in CGI, and needed to be appreciate for every last painstaking grain of sand.

@Ryuji 18:13 : if we take u with u arent allowed to talk

--

Technically speaking, her plans had only been with Akira. But Haru was neither surprised nor bothered that Yusuke was coming along as well; it just meant that Mona-chan would stay with them instead of wandering off on his own, and though he’d never admit to it he seemed to enjoy letting Haru carry him. So off into Inoshikara park all four of them went, and the autumn air was clean and calm and just the perfect amount of warm before winter’s chill started to set in.

Actually, considering she had just wanted to look at the leaves changing color, she had really expected Akira to bring Yusuke with. She had spent enough time with them that she felt it wasn’t presumptuous to assume they were… close to each other, based just on how the two boys interacted. And she’d never been alone with Yusuke in a social capacity yet, (a voice buried deep inside her insisting that it was inappropriate for young ladies to spend time with gentlemen unescorted, even though she’d already been alone with Akira more than once) and based on her previous assumptions about their closeness thought a good way to bond might be by enjoying the last flowers of autumn with her. And Akira and Mona-chan, of course.

“Do you want for me to carry that for you?” Yusuke offered somewhere to her left. At first she wondered if he might mean her, but she only had a small purse and every man knew better than to offer to hold a lady's most personal possession like that. Purses had secrets in them.

When she looked over Akira looked equally confused at the offer having been directed at him, although it was true he was carrying a wrapped box that he’d explained contained their lunch. “You’re already carrying your paints,” he said with reasonable bemusement, nodded at the large canvas bag on Yusuke’s shoulder.

“Indeed,” Yusuke said loftily. “I also did not get cleaved through the collarbone by an imaginary manifestation of a demon last night, and feel that’s relevant.”

“It’s fine,” Akira dismissed. “I had Makoto fix it up before we even left, didn’t I?”

Looking supremely unimpressed, Yusuke discreetly fell back into an even step with him with a low hum, walking beside him for a few long paces.  And then before Akira could react to dodge snaked a long finger out to poke deliberately at his right collarbone, wherein the shock of pain jolted Akira so suddenly the lunchbox dropped out of his surprised hand and into Yusuke’s waiting arm.

Mildly abashed but not particularly apologetic, Akira shrugged with a light roll of his injured shoulder. “It’s not that heavy anyway.” Whether he meant that as an excuse that he should have carried it or that Yusuke might, Haru wasn’t sure.

She did smile to herself, though. See, now this is what a relationship was supposed to look like. Two people caring for each other and trying to help one another. No one using each other and no one trying to control or manipulate their partner; just an equal balance between two people with nothing to gain but one another’s company. Personal spending-time-together company, that is, not… Corporate company. Well that was obvious, wasn’t it? Now she was just being silly.

She couldn’t even find it in herself to be jealous of them. Instead Haru was grateful, honestly. Seeing what a real relationship was supposed to look like gave her hope that that sort of love really did exist in the world after all, a doubt she hadn’t even noticed she’d harbored. She had been told her whole life that she’d eventually learn to love whomever was chosen for her to marry, and only realized she’d become cynical about romance far after the dilemma with her… ‘ fiance .’

Finally having real friends she could be honest with was more than enough for now - she wouldn’t even know what to do with a boyfriend if she had one. Although, long walks through a beautiful park seemed like it was an obvious answer.

The cherry trees had turned white and the oak around them were shades of oranges and red, only the grass clinging to the leftover greens of summer. And when they got to where the crocuses were blooming the sun was at that most perfect level of late afternoon glow, making all the rich warm hues of the flowers seem all the brighter in the light.

“Oh wow, it’s even more beautiful than I’d thought!” She gasped, hefting Morgana up into a hug against her chest. “It’s so romantic... Really makes you feel like a third wheel, huh, Mona-chan?”

“You have no idea,” the kitty lamented. “My whole existence becomes a third wheel when it comes to these two, I might as well be invisible. I swear one day I’m going to get caught outside and he won’t even notice.”

“You do go off through the window a lot,” Akira agreed. “And the one day you do get caught out it would rain, of course.”

“So naturally I’d get pneumonia.”

“You’d be sick for days on end.”

“And then then I’d die, out on your windowsill.”

“Just sit there unnoticed for days.”

“And I’d start to rot, and attract flies.”

“And your shriveled blackened corpse would attract crows.”

“Which would then all break into your window and peck you to death like a corncob.”

“Sounds about right,” Akira hummed. “I’ll have to remember to leave the window open, then.” He paused, eyebrows drawing into a line behind his glasses. “That’s not actually the reason why you ran off, is it?”

“Don’t have such a big head,” Morgana dismissed loftily. “A man has his own reasons for setting out on his own.”

Yusuke blinked, looking between Akira and Morgana with a confused frown. “More things happened in the last thirty seconds than I quite know what to do with.”

Haru giggled. It was cute how easily Akira and Morgana got along, wasn’t it?

--

@Akira 8:28 : Haru, you must know some pretty high-class scumbags through your family, right?

@Haru 12:02 : I suppose the Okumura name still holds a few connections. Looking into a new target for the Phantom Thieves?

@Akira 12:04 : Not quite, but something along those lines

@Haru 12:04 : \*^o^*/

--

Yusuke was beginning to get the feeling everyone knew something he didn’t, and he was beginning to think that that something was that he and Akira were dating.

Obviously, his first instinct was that the very idea of anyone being interested in him romantically was absurd. But he was forced to admit that there was quite a bit of converging evidence suggesting otherwise.

Little sorts of comments he’d not thought much of at the time. Haru and Morgana feeling like a third wheel. The implication that any boyfriends or dates Ann and Makoto had ever had were less attentive than Akira was to Yusuke. And of course, the fact that his preference for tall men apparently made something easy, which was rather contrary to Yusuke’s experiences wherein liking men made absolutely nothing easier for anybody. He was not… particularly good at reading social cues, but he was at least aware enough to pick up that all of his friends seemed to be under the impression he and Akira were… well. Boyfriends.

Just thinking about the word was enough to light Yusuke up with embarrassment, a hot flush spreading from somewhere inside his chest all the way to his face. The very idea was - it wasn’t bad , it was just… more than Yusuke knew how to handle. Friends were one thing, but a romantic life was something Yusuke had never entertained the idea of pursuing. He had quite enough to think about even without the troubles involved with trying to form and maintain a relationship, and had assumed his social ineptitudes and sexual preference would make it nigh impossible.

And it certainly didn’t help that it was Akira of all people. Not because he was unattractive; rather just the opposite was the problem. Akira was… magnificent . He was everything to Yusuke, a friend and a confidant, an inspiration and a distraction. Akira was, with no exaggeration, Yusuke’s very muse , had stood by him and guided him through his hardest times and then made dinner for him and let Yusuke drag him to terrible art movies. Akira, who was kind and confident and handsome and called the weird things Yusuke mumbled to himself charming .

So obviously, if the idea of anyone at all wanting to date Yusuke was incomprehensible, the idea that someone he actually liked wanted him was largely terrifying.

Clearly, the only way to handle this situation was not to handle it at all. Yusuke was just going to go ahead and assume he’d inferred wrong and drew conclusions based on his own desires and not reality. He’d mistaken the familial love of a brother and sister for the passion of lovers, after all - there was in inordinately large chance Yusuke was just seeing things he wanted to see again. And even if he was right, he wouldn’t know what to do about it anyway, so. He would just… try to forget about the whole thing.

“You seem nervous.” Unless of course, Akira sat just shy of pressed up against him on the couch, in which case the physical proximity ensured that Yusuke would not be able to keep his heartrate down. The words were casual and his smile was fond but there was something in Akira’s eyes, a cutting playful gleam that betrayed him to the fact that he was clearly teasing Yusuke.

“Of course not,” Yusuke denied, fidgeting with his pencil again instead of coming anywhere close to drawing anything. “I’ve just… only suddenly realized how close we were sitting.”

Akira’s smile grew, curling across his face like the tail of a black cat flopping in a sunbeam, his thigh slowly inching open to press against Yusuke’s. “Does it make you uncomfortable?”

Yusuke had to make a conscious effort not to look down at the point of contact. “Not at all,” he said honestly. “In fact I find myself more comfortable in your company than I ever have with anyone else, even among fellow art students.”

“Is that so?” That shine in his eyes grew sharper and more familiar, and Yusuke felt his breath go short when he realized where he knew it. It was that same look Akira would get in the metaverse, in the second right before he struck precisely at a Shadow’s weakness and knocked them off their teakettle.

“Ah… yes.” Yusuke swallowed something thick in his throat. Having that look he knew so well on him for once was… intimidating. But at the same time Yusuke found being the subject of that gaze to be intoxicating; something about the way all of Akira’s attention was focused solely and only on him. “You… You’ve never judged me or mocked any of my eccentricities, and I find I’m able…” Akira was leaning in towards Yusuke, faces illogically close. “...to just be… Myself.”

His smile only grew, the look in his eyes only looking impossibly more pleased. “I’m glad,” Akira’s words were simple, but something about the way he said them made such an innocent concept oddly weighted with meaning, and why had Yusuke only just noticed that Akira had at some point taken off his glasses? Maybe it was because it was only just now that his friend was so close, only a few short centimeters from Yusuke and staring directly into his eyes with that heart-pounding world-stopping look . “I want you to feel at ease when you’re with me.”

Which Yusuke might, if his heart weren’t about to burst out of his chest and fly across the room because Akira was very, very close indeed and fact so close Yusuke was starting to fear Akira really did intend to kiss him after all and goodness that couldn’t be a hand on his thigh now could it?!

“Yusuke…” Akira’s voice was low and quiet, spoken so close that Yusuke could almost feel the heat of his breath against his lips… “I got something for you.”

...Eh? They... weren't kissing? “W-what?” Yusuke blinked, startled to find Akira suddenly pulling away and even moving to stand up. What… had just happened? Nothing. Nothing had happened, and Yusuke’s entire body needed to stop feeling like it was on fire because that was inappropriate.

There was something Yusuke hadn’t noticed before leaning against the wall, and Yusuke used the time Akira took to fetch it to press a hand to his chest, as though trying to calm the force of his heartbeat by applying pressure like an unbandaged wound. And oh, goodness, it looked like Akira had bought him canvas this time, because -

Yusuke’s heart stopped dead in his chest and dropped like a malfunctioned helicopter, and his legs vaulted him to his feet without his permission. This was… This was Sayuri . Akira had turned the canvas around and there lie the image Yusuke knew better than he knew his own face, every last line of the painting screaming at Yusuke like a kitchen fire. “This is… one of Madarame’s?!”

Akira nodded, looking a little proud of himself yet still not completely certain whether he’d done something good or bad. “A counterfeit bought and owned by the ivory trader Oyamada Keisuke.” He paused, looking less certain that Yusuke had perhaps ever seen him. “I had thought that you’d prefer to have as few copies floating around as possible.”

Which… was absolutely true. “So… you stole one for me?” It was ridiculous, and far too dangerous in their circumstances. Akira had tracked down a criminal in real life and stolen a real painting from the real world and he’d done it for Yusuke . It was positively overwhelming to even think about. Really, he didn’t even know what to do with it knowing he’d never have the heart to truly destroy it, even if it was a counterfeit… Oh, no. Of course he did. He’d whitewash it and use the canvas anew, the same way artists had always recycled for centuries.

His legs were moving again, taking shaky steps forward to approach Akira slowly. “Just from a warehouse, I didn’t have to do anything insane like…” his words slowed when Yusuke met him, long fingers falling next to Akira’s to sit on the top of the canvas. “...break into anyone’s house.”

Yusuke could feel his heart having picked up again, but this time he wasn’t afraid. Met Akira’s eyes directly, faces nearly as close as they had been on the couch and asked in a voice softer and more naked than he’d meant to expose of himself, “Why did you do this?”

Akira’s eyes had lost their hesitance, and his voice was strong with conviction around the playful answer, “As part of my plan to seduce you, of course.”

That both was, and really was not the answer Yusuke had anticipated. “Well,” he said, a little helplessly, “it has certainly been working.”

“Oh, good.” A familiar intensity was returning to Akira’s eyes when he looked at Yusuke, smiling like the pleasure simply couldn’t be kept from being expressed as he leaned ever closer and closer to Yusuke’s face over the canvas. “Then can I kiss you now?”

“I should be rather cross if you didn’t,” Yusuke shuddered out in a long breath. Akira’s eyes and smile both flashed and he reached forward to slide gentle fingers over his jaw, sweeping past and leaving goosebumps in their wake as Akira thread his hand through the hair behind Yusuke’s ear. And even as he shivered at the touch and stopped breathing from anticipation Yusuke realized he knew that look, had just enough time as Akira held his face and leaned in to recognize it as nearly the same exact look that lit his expression in every Palace when he laid eyes on treasure, and he was looking as Yusuke like that, like he was valuable and beautiful and desired and -

Akira’s lips were softer than he’d expected, and the warmth that was slowly blooming in Yusuke’s chest spread out all the way from his shaking fingers to the slight curl of his toes.

Yusuke’s first kiss lasted a long, long time.

--

@Akira 21:45 : Has anyone seen Morgana? He doesn’t usually disappear for this long

@Ryuji 21:46 : bro did u kill ur cat

@Haru 21:47 : Don’t be mean, Ryuji

@Haru 21:47 : Mona-chan is at my house with me ヽ(*^_^*)ノ

@Akira 21:49 : Since when? What’s that little traitor doing over there?

@Haru 21:50 : Mona-chan says that it’s to escape the eye-bleeding horror of walking in on you doing lewd things to Yusuke all over the attic again

@Ryuji 21:50 : tmi

@Futaba 21:50 : tmi

@Makoto 21:50 : TMI

@Ann 21:50 : tmi

(...)

@Yusuke 21:52 : Tmi

--

Akira did not like being in such a disadvantageous position. Ever since Okumura fell he’d had the inescapable oppression of knowing someone somewhere was jerking him around, and Goro Akechi’s obvious interest in speaking to them all wasn’t making him feel any better about any of it. It was bad enough that that guy was the only person they might be able to get any information out of, and if Akira’s bad feeling was right and he turned out to have the drop on them, instead…

He felt like a rat trapped in the brig of a sinking ship, and he hadn’t a single fucking clue how to get them all out of this mess.

A few feet away on his bed, Yusuke made a soft interested noise that caught Akira’s attention. With the realization that he had no idea what he’d been planning on doing with the red phosphorous in his hands anyway, Akira indulged his curiosity and turned around.

White. Long and firm and milky-soft white, Akira’s eyes immediately landed on the naked skin of Yusuke’s calf and traveled up, all the way to smooth bare thighs where his vision finally landed on the dark violet bloom of the bite mark he’d sucked into Yusuke’s leg not two nights before(2). Kitagawa Yusuke was on his bed, in his sheets, and he had taken off his pants for what appeared to be no reason whatsoever.

This, Akira decided, was clearly a situation that warranted his total attention. Abandoning his project to his desk, he shoved the odd bits of supplies in a drawer next to a collection of stray pearls he’s been gathering from the Metaverse and had as of yet no ideas what to do with and stood up that he might join Yusuke on the bed.

There was no point in worrying about all this stuff now anyway, he reasoned. His night would much better be spent doing something relaxing, like watch a movie with Yusuke. Curl up on the bed with him to have one hand resting on his pretty leg, run his fingers on the soft skin of Yusuke’s ankle while they watched the tv… Oho. Maybe that’s what he could do with those pearls. A nice little anklet resting at the bottom of one long leg, discreet enough that he could indeed wear it all the time hidden just under the cuff of his pants… Wait, was that being romantic, or just possessive and creepy? Akira was never really good with that line. Good thing for him, neither was Yusuke.

The mattress dipped under his weight, shifting Yusuke’s body every so slightly towards him when Akira sat down next to him. “What are you looking at?”

Yusuke looked up from his phone to finally notice that he’d been joined on the bed, turning to Akira with slightly startled eyebrows. “Oh, just an art blog. Reading a fascinating article on Yoshihara Jirou, another japanese abstract artist like myself. I’ve always admired the thematic quality of his art.” He put his phone away to spite his interest, long legs folding underneath him. “You aren’t busy making something?”

“Decided I’ve got better things to do with my time,” Akira smiled, leaning in to brush a lock of Yusuke’s hair away from his neck and replace it with his lips. “Glad you came over tonight.” And he really meant it. Akira wasn’t good at holding still, would have wound up fidgeting himself to death on crossword puzzles or making more coffee no one needed just to keep himself preoccupied.

“Oh,” Yusuke’s voice sounded distracted but he still shuddered pleasantly under the kiss. “If you have a moment, I did actually come with purpose tonight.”

Not sure why his usually tactless boyfriend would suddenly sound shy about, Akira obediently removed himself from Yusuke’s neck to see him bending over to grab his bag from where it was sitting next to his bed.

“As you know, I was at the courthouse today finishing a few details involved with Madarame’s estate,” the estate in question being split between Yusuke and the mistress everyone was vaguely aware Madarame had, and which needed to be dealt with in his incarceration. Out of his bag slipped a large, silver laptop, which was definitely not the sort of thing Yusuke had possessed before this point considering how expensive it looked. Had it been his old master’s? “And, well. On my way out I got distracted by the architecture and found myself a little lost...”

When he flipped open the lid facing Akira, the logon screen was even more unexpected. ‘Oohtani Toushirou’ was the name the computer blinked curiously at him. Which was… wait, he knew that name. Judge Oohtani Toushirou, from that famous case last year where he’d sentenced an eleven year old two years in prison, this guy was well-known for taking kickbacks from private prisons and oversentencing teenagers to fill them. Oh sweet sweaty christ had he - “Did you steal a corrupt judge’s laptop?!”

“It was right there, ” Yusuke defended hotly. “And you weren’t there; that man was despicable. Anyone who treats the people who fetch his coffee with such horrendous disrespect deserves to have his things taken from him, it’s a basic indication of poor character.” A slightly distant but equally disgusted look in his eye as he finished, “And his office decor was unforgivable. A giant stuffed fish in the middle of everything, and the hideous thing wasn’t even trying to work with the rest of the room.”

The whole world seemed to have stopped around Akira. Of course. Of course that had been Yusuke’s reasoning. It wasn’t any noble gesture of justice, or even of affection like Akira’s gift to Yusuke had been. Yusuke had simply seen the man be mean, remembered his reputation to be even meaner, and retaliated with the simple kindergarten teacher logic that if you misbehaved you got your things taken away. “ Jesus christ, Yusuke .”

Misreading his reaction as horror, Yusuke snapped the laptop closed. “I took note of all the cameras in the building as I was walking, and there were none in view. The door wasn’t even closed, he was practically inviting himself to be robbed like that.”

And he’d even looked for cameras when he entered the courthouse, without knowing he’d wind up stealing anything. Jesus. Akira could hardly breathe, could hardly hear over the pounding of blood in his ears. He was… Yusuke was… “You’re perfect.”

Yusuke’s shock rocked his whole body backwards, face instantly flushing as he blinked, “P-pardon?”

Akira was leaning forward, hand landing on top of Yusuke’s on the bed. Unbelievable. It was unbelievable, how truly, utterly, and magnificently perfect Yusuke was. Beautiful and strong and innocent and sexy and vulnerable and confident and self-assured and insecure, and how could he even be this way, everything he did was full of passion and every weird thing he said or did Akira just found adorable and fuck, Akira hadn’t ever even known that he could like, feel this much with his body .

Akira had stolen him a painting, and Yusuke had responded by stealing something back for him. This, Akira decided, was probably what falling in love felt like.

Yusuke was still wide-eyed with surprise, and Akira leaned in to cup the side of Yusuke face in his hand. “You’re perfect ,” he repeated, to make sure Yusuke knew he meant it. “You’re amazing,” he continued, thrilled by the way Yusuke automatically shivered and closed his eyes at the touch. “And you’re beautiful,” pretty pink cheeks flushed even redder, and Akira dropped his voice as their lips came inches apart, “and awe-inspiring,” he whispered, “and you make me feel completely hopeless over you.” And he really was. He really, really was, because now Akira knew that he had Yusuke . Everyone in his life Akira had to lie to at least a little bit, small white lies racking up until there was just a part of himself he instinctively hid all the time. But Yusuke - Yusuke he didn’t have to lie to anymore; didn’t have to hide anything from, because Yusuke was just as fucking crazy as he was .

It was Yusuke who bridged the gap to seal their kiss. The laptop bumped off the bed to clatter to the floor, thoroughly ignored in favor of grabbing Akira’s shoulder to pull their bodies closer together.

Still, though. As much of a shame as it was, Akira would have to put a stop to this whole stealing presents for each other thing. It wasn’t very good for maintaining a low profile.

--

@Ann 18:58 : Help

@Ann 18:58 : Akira you have to help me I don’t know what to do

@Ann 18:59 : she’s so cute, Akira. she‘s so cute and i’m so gay, i saw a movie with Haru and she’s soft and her voice is like a windchime and i wanna hold her hand and pet her hair AND YOu HAVE TO HELP ME

@Akira 19:01 : Steal something for her.

--

Soujiro was running a bit late this morning, but fortunately even though he ran a coffee shop none of his customers were ever there early enough to notice or care. That was the luxury of a regular customer base - even if most of the people who came in were the same broke-ass losers who lived in this neighborhood, they could at least be relied on not to be awake before eight am.

It was just before seven when he got inside, and the first pot of coffee he set out to make for the day was his own. There were a set of small tins lined up behind the counter that weren’t Soujiro’s, new coffee blends that had been slowly accumulating since spring. Today he picked the one labeled ‘Makoto.’

He was busy getting things ready when he heard footsteps creaking down the stairs, and Soujiro tossed out an easy “Good morning,” without looking over his shoulder, worrying more about setting up the register for the day than the teenager sliding into the seat in front of the counter.

Until he turned to the coffee siphon and noticed that the teenager in front of him was not in fact the one who lived in this building, but instead the weird art kid who had given Soujiro the painting he was becoming uncomfortably certain was somehow the original Sayuri. Okay, that… was not quite what he’d expected. “Good morning, Boss,” the kid sleepily greeted back.

There had been a question about him staying here a few months back, but he’d told Soujiro himself that he was moving into school dorms, after all. So if he wasn’t living here, then the reason he had apparently stayed the night was… Not something Soujiro wanted or needed to think about. He was just going to offer… crap he knew this kid’s name and did not need to cheat… Soujiro spared a glance down at the line of tins Akira had been collecting, catching sight of the letter ‘Y’ before flicking his eyes away with the name ‘Yusuke’ popping up to fill the blanks in his mind and pretended that counted as remembering on his own. Right, anyway, he was just going to offer Yusuke a cup of coffee and mind his own business.

‘Makoto’ was a strong and bitter blend, with just just the barest tangs of cinnamon infused. He wasn’t sure if the flavor was supposed to please the girl or embody her but Soujiro figured it would probably work either way - weird and criminal as the kid may be, Akira wound up to have some real talent with coffee, at least. He poured a cup for himself and passed one to Yusuke on the counter, perfectly content to ignore the kid and go about the business of opening the store.

Yusuke was quiet and the next few minutes were spent comfortably forgetting about him, until the kid had finished his coffee and gently excused himself to wander back upstairs.

Soujiro spared a passing glance at him as he stood up, and then another even shorter surprised look, and then buried his face in one hand to rub at his temples.

“Yusuke,” Soujiro requested tiredly just as the boy was wandering up wooden stairs. “Do me a favor here and try to wear pants in my cafe from now on?”

“Oh,” Yusuke’s voice was light with the surprise of someone who had not realized they were running around half-naked in what was technically a privately owned store. “Goodness, my apologies. I’ll have to keep an eye on that.”

“I’d appreciate it,” Soujiro sighed, still not removing his forehead from his hands until long after the sound of footsteps had disappeared upstairs.

Seriously. All the cute girls his age Akira was friends with, and he apparently decides the weird art kid is the one he needs to have naked in his room. Weird fuckin’ kid.

Oh wait a minute - one of the girls his age was Futaba . Which meant that the only teenage boy Futaba was friends with who wasn’t… doing whatever was that blond kid, and Lord knows she was a smart enough girl not to go running around alone with him.

Well shit. If he looked at it from that perspective, then this all worked out just fine, didn’t it? And to think he’d been worried that he might wind up with Akira as his son-in-law with how close he and Futaba had been getting. He’d rather have a weird gay love nest above his coffee shop any day.

But he was definitely gonna need to bleach off that barstool before anything else. God damned naked teenagers running around his cafe.

--

@Akira 19:25 : How the HELL am I the only person in this entire town that didn’t see that Alien vs Yakuza movie!?

--

(The End)

--

(1) There were, as of now, only two group chatrooms. One of course was the Phantom Thieves line they used for almost all matters, and which everyone was in. The second chat room contained everyone except Akira, who was kept out of their longer conversations for the reason that if he got too many message alerts he was more likely to throw his phone into a river than read them. Yusuke simply forgot the second chat room existed.

(2) Akira had then moved exactly two inches higher on Yusuke’s leg, which had apparently tickled so outrageously that he had promptly donkey-kicked Akira in the stomach and off of the bed, effectively ruining the mood.

 

Art thanks to kurapixel on tumblr, feel free to shout at me at either my main garbage blog yoyo-dodo or my writing blog thesmutwitch