Akechi was trash-talking them again. At least, Akira assumed so. Akira was seated between Ann and Ryuji at Leblanc, all of them facing the TV, and the increasingly high-pitched responses from his companions suggested Akechi was saying something unflattering about the Phantom Thieves. Akira wasn’t exactly listening.
He was watching Akechi’s mouth move.
“The Phantom Thieves…” he heard Akechi repeat, but the rest of the sentence was lost as Akechi’s mouth twisted into a smile that seemed sharp rather than warm. Akechi had a lot of different smiles, Akira thought. He wondered when they’d run into each other again and what Akechi would ask this time. He’d be polite. They’d both be polite, and Akechi would say something strange like that he felt comfortable talking to Akira, and then he would thank him for his time and leave.
A lot of people told Akira they felt comfortable around him, and he wasn’t totally sure why. He knew it was important to get to know people, could feel his own strength mount when someone laid their trust in him—but he assumed it was mostly because he listened and let them talk. Akechi had virtually no reason to talk to him, and yet he sought him out whenever their paths intersected. Akira wished they would intersect more despite the fact that Ryuji was currently shouting that Akechi was a jealous, spoiled detective prince who needed to learn how not to suck.
The segment ended. Akira excused himself for a moment, but when he got back Ann and Ryuji were still talking about Akechi. He slid into the seat opposite them, still imagining Akechi’s mouth. Akechi was smiling less on the news, he’d noticed; hosts weren’t as kind to him as they had been before Kaneshiro was taken down. It was a shame.
“He’s the worst!” Ann said. “He always makes it sound like we’re worse than the people we target.”
“Like we’re the real criminals,” Ryuji agreed. “God, I just can’t stand the guy. That phony laugh and that stupid hair…”
“Here we go with the hair again.” Ann settled her chin on her palm and blinked. “Hey, Akira.” Akira shifted his attention to her. He had been thinking about Ryuji’s previous comment.
Akechi’s hair would look good in a ponytail, probably.
“You’re a bit more quiet than usual. What do you think?”
Akira considered his options. “I think he’s just concerned.”
“ Concerned? ” Ryuji echoed. “He trashes us every time he opens his mouth!”
Mouth . Akira buried his hands in his pockets, sinking lower against the booth. “Morgana did say that we could kill someone while in their palace. So I mean—”
Ryuji was affronted. “But we DON’T! ”
Akira shrugged a single shoulder. “He doesn’t know that.”
There was a beat of heavy silence. “Really man,” Ryuji complained, voice dropping as he deflated, “you’re really taking that guy’s side?”
“I’m not taking sides,” Akira said. He reached up and fiddled with his fringe. “I just understand his concern.”
Somewhere the steady tick of a clock embellished their silence. “Whatever,” Ryuji said, kicking his leg under the table and sliding down in the booth. “I still think he’s a no-good know-it-all.”
“In comparison to your ‘no-good know-nothing’,” Ann chirped.
“Shut up!” Ryuji barked. “You’re an idiot too; you can’t fool me!”
“Anyone can fool you, Ryuji.”
“ Haah? ”
“Anyone want some coffee?” Akira offered, extricating his hands from his pockets to fold them on the table.
“I’d love some!” Ann answered, smile breaking wide over her face.
“I’ll get you some soda, Ryuji.”
“Aw, thanks man.”
“Anyway,” Ann continued as Akira rose from the booth, “I see where Akechi is coming from, but I still don’t like the way he talks about us without knowing anything.” She crossed her arms over her chest and wore an expression similar to a pout. “I wish he’d cut it out. Until then I can’t like him.”
“None of us have to like him!” Ryuji said. “You couldn’t get me in a room with him for…” he paused, considered. “Ten-thousand yen.”
“So you would for fifteen-thousand,” Ann said.
The din of grinding beans made their conversation hard to hear, and Akira wasn’t really listening. He was thinking about ponytails. It seemed like it would be hot, having all that hair down in the summer. Then again, Akechi was in a fairly dangerous line of work; maybe he’d feel uncomfortable with his neck exposed.
Necks were kind of nice, now Akira thought about it. Soft and sensitive.
He finished with the drinks and brought them over, interrupting a seemingly tense moment. Ryuji was looking at Ann in silence, his brows inching up and up; Morgana had woken up and was mumbling Ann’s name in increasingly agitated tones. It seemed they both expected something from her, and eventually her breath gusted out.
“No,” she said into the silence. “I guess I wouldn’t.”
Ryuji and Morgana let out sighs of relief, and Ryuji turned to Akira. So did Ann, after a moment, her lips twitching.
“Well, Akira-kun?” she asked. “Would you?”
Ryuji leaned in, his lips twitching too. “Would you give Akechi a blowjob for a million yen?”
Akira thought about it. A million was a lot. Their time in the metaverse had made them richer than high school students tended to be, but he didn’t have a million yet, and he told them so.
There was a beat of silence.
Ryuji’s face went utterly blank. “You… you’d be the one getting the money.”
“Oh,” Akira said. He realised, suddenly, that he ought to have paid attention. He should have noticed how the game worked. Ann and Ryuji had spent the past ten minutes talking about how much they disliked Akechi; Akira wasn’t supposed to want to give him a blowjob. That was where he’d gone wrong, and if he hadn’t been spacing out the whole time he might have realised.
Still, the picture they’d conjured in his mind with that question was irresistible—Akechi his usual polite self but in slight disarray, cheeks flushed and hair mussed. Akira desperately wanted to see it, even though Ryuji would die of an aneurysm if Akira admitted to the desire.
“Is asking money for that legal?” he asked instead, striving for a general tone. Better to deflect than answer honestly, and he didn’t want his voice to crack on a lie.
“Let’s stop talking about this,” Ryuji said wearily. “I think I’m getting a headache.”
“You’re the one who can’t shut up about him,” Ann said.
“Can too! Watch me not talk about the know-it-all prince. Akira, have you been to the fish pond since we went? Did you get any better at catching stuff?”
Ann snorted, and the conversation moved on. Akira tried to be present for it this time, but his mind drifted to his wallet, wondering how much money he could safely part with. In a complete reversal of their game, he tried to decide what amount was too much for the privilege of sucking Akechi off—and found it hard to name a price.
The coming of summer meant the end of red bean soup in the vending machines. Akira stared at his options. It was a logical choice, but one he resented nonetheless.
“Oh, Akira-kun.” Soft as the voice was, the notes still cut through the white noise of the platform.
“Morning,” Akira greeted with a voice still rough from disuse.
“Good morning,” Akechi returned pleasantly. “How have you been?”
Yesterday the Phantom Thieves had a lengthy discussion about sucking your dick . “Great,” Akira answered.
Akechi smiled. It was one of those coin-flip smiles; it had the same chance of being fake as being genuine. “That’s good to hear.”
“How about you?” Akira asked, ignoring the smile. With Akechi it was the whole package you had to consider. The pleasant smokiness of his syllables, the pinch at the corners of his eyes, the cant of his shoulders. Akira’s eyes caught at the collar of Akechi’s shirt.
“I’ve been all right,” Akechi answered, with more honesty than Akira expected. “Still looking into the Phantom Thieves case, still getting threatened by select groups for speaking out against them. I think our fan bases are more or less equal, but I have a face; it makes me a target.”
“I saw that,” Akira said. “I’m sorry.”
“Haha...” The notes of his chuckle were soft and dismissive. “Thank you for the condolences, but it’s not your fault.”
“I know you’ve supported the Phantom Thieves from the outset, but…”
Akira raised his eyebrows and waited for the rest of the question.
“Do you think… never mind. I don’t want to trouble you.”
Akira shifted his weight onto his other leg. “It’s no trouble.”
But Akechi was already shaking his head. “No, I have the answer for myself, even though I don’t like it. I chose to speak out against them, and I would do it again. If they hate me for that, so be it. Perhaps it’s justice.”
Absurd. Akira furrowed his brow. “It’s not justice. Many of the people attacking you now were supporting you back then. Public opinion is fickle; it doesn’t mean you were wrong.”
Akechi’s eyes were wide. “Oh… thank you, Akira-kun. That’s certainly not the response I was expecting.” He smiled again, and this time Akira thought the coin landed on the side of ‘genuine’. “Regardless, I’ll still pursue them with as much fervor as ever. Possibly more.”
Akira nodded, glad for Akechi’s resolve if not for what that resolve might accomplish.
“Well, I don’t wish to take up your time any longer.” Oh no, he was attempting to disengage again—“I hope you have a nice—”
“Doesn’t it get hot?”
Akechi paused. Akira pursed his lips together, uncertain why out of all the phrases that could have bubbled out of his mouth in that moment, his mind had chosen that one.
“What?” Akechi asked.
Akira swallowed. The words weren’t coming to him. They were dry and locked in his throat, and as heat flushed his face warm he reached forward. His fingers traced the tips of Akechi’s hair, twirling the strands in his fingers just above his shoulder. “Your hair,” he said, attempting to cover the strain in his voice.
Akechi’s eyes were wide again—wider—and crimson had flashed across his cheeks. “O-Oh, uhm, I—”
He’s so cute.
“No?” Akechi tried. “Or rather, maybe I’m just used to it?”
“Oh,” Akira responded dumbly, gently pulling his hand away from Akechi’s hair. “That’s good, then.”
“I uhm,” Akechi was stuttering. He was flustered and his face was pink and he was so —“Need to catch my train.”
“Of course.” Just short of reaching out and latching onto his wrist, Akira didn’t know how to stop his departure this time. But that didn’t change the fact that he wanted to, because for whatever reason, he always wanted Akechi to stay.
“I’ll see you later, Akira-kun.” Akechi walked off, feet moving just a bit more quickly than his standard. Akira tugged at his fringe.
“Ugh, was that that Akechi guy?”
Akira turned his attention toward Ann and Ryuji, who were striding up to meet him. “Gross,” Ryuji continued. “He really seems to like you for some reason, Leader.”
Ann’s eyes slid over to meet Akira’s. “You don’t seem to mind him much either.” She was watching him carefully.
Akira just shrugged. His words hadn’t been doing him any good lately, so he decided to keep them to himself. He certainly wouldn’t mention the familiar swell of connection he felt around Akechi—similar to what he felt with either of them, or Makoto, or Sojiro.
Similar, but in this one case, just slightly different. Perhaps because he knew Akechi opposed him and there should be no connection at all.
Perhaps because being around Akechi made him want to do things like touch his hair and neck and pay to see him flustered.
His tongue felt thick in his too-warm mouth.
“You’ve been awfully quiet,” Makoto said a few days later, up in his room at Leblanc’s. They’d all met up to discuss recent requests, but the heat sapped them of energy, and a Mementos trip seemed unlikely. Morgana was fast asleep. “Are you worried about Medjed?”
Akira blinked at her. He’d lost the thread of their conversation again. “I’m not worried,” he said.
“Calm as always,” Ryuji said. “I’m not. When’s Futaba gonna wake up?!”
As he’d asked this five times already, his question was ignored; Makoto kept her eyes on Akira.
“Then—are the preparations too much for you?” Her concern shone in her face. “We’ve made you responsible for so much. If you want us to help with supplies for the Metaverse, or—”
He smiled at her, and she stopped. “I can handle the shopping, but thank you.” He patted his diary. “I know when all the specials are.”
Ann laughed. “I can’t believe the school delinquent turned out to be a shopping fiend.”
“He’s doing it for our sake,” Makoto said.
“Indeed,” Yusuke said. “Akira is providing for all of us.”
Discomfort lodged in Akira’s stomach. He flapped a hand. “It’s my pleasure, really.”
“Yeah! Spending money feels good.” Ryuji slapped Akira’s back. “Want to do it some more at Ogikubo?”
“What are we celebrating?” Akira asked.
“Our rising popularity! Or maybe our victory over Medjed?”
“We haven’t won against Medjed yet,” Makoto said.
“I’m thinking positive.”
“A moment ago you were shouting about Futaba sleeping too long.”
“I would enjoy a high-priced meal,” Yusuke informed them. “The occasion… Shall I sell an art piece?”
“You’ve been in a slump,” Ann said. “What are you gonna sell?”
Yusuke stapled his hands. “The prospect of a treat might inspire me.”
“That means you don’t have anything.” Ann leaned back against the couch, closing her eyes. Sweat gleamed on her skin. “I want ice cream,” she said.
Akira stood. “I can get some from the store.”
Morgana woke on cue. “Ice cream? I’m coming too. You need an expert’s help.”
That was rich, coming from the cat that always advised him to buy everything, but Akira held open his bag for him dutifully, and Morgana jumped in.
“Come back soon!” Ann said, looking revitalised by the prospect of ice cream.
“Will do.” Akira walked down the stairs, bag under his arm. It was cooler here, but they had to stay in the attic if they didn’t want to be overheard. He waved at Sojiro as he passed, and then he was out in the air. Hot, muggy air, but air nonetheless.
“Melon… coconut… pineapple…” Morgana muttered softly from the bag.
Akira smiled. He was glad no one else had offered to come with him. As much as he liked his teammates, the moments where they acknowledged how different he was made him uncomfortable—like he was separate from them somehow. Being adaptable in battle was nice, but he’d been wondering since April why that qualified him to make all the decisions. Ryuji’s answer when Akira asked had been unsatisfying. Because you know stuff, dude, Ryuji had said. You’re connected to something. He hadn’t known what to make of Akira’s response that all he was connected to was a hook-nosed man and two sadistic children.
And yet, though Akira questioned it, he didn’t argue. It was convenient to lead, but perhaps he wasn’t the best option any longer, and it worried him. He kept spacing out, reliving the moment on the platform when he’d caught Akechi unaware. He was spending more nights helping Sojiro at Leblanc’s, wondering if Akechi might stop by, and he travelled by subway more often than strictly necessary hoping random chance might favor him.
Akira had never had a crush before, but he was fairly sure this was what one felt like. For his part, Akechi was a detective sworn to catch the Phantom Thieves. It was definitely not going to work out, but that didn’t stop Akira from daydreaming.
He entered the convenience store, cool air lifting the sweat from his skin. Morgana dipped briefly into the bag so the cashiers wouldn’t see him, then reappeared at the ice cream section to pick out boxes of popsicles. They bought more than strictly necessary, and soon Akira was stepping back out into the heat.
A little longer, and then he could sit still at Leblanc’s and rub a still-wrapped popsicle against his forehead and neck. He just had to be strong until then.
“Yo, Akira,” Morgana warned, and Akira looked up from the road surface. His mind was playing tricks on him; the guy with his back to him and moving agitatedly up ahead looked like Akechi. He was on the phone.
“Walk past slowly,” Morgana said in a low voice. “Maybe we can eavesdrop.”
So it was Akechi. Akira slowed.
“Ask him again,” Akechi was saying, sounding unusually frustrated. “It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t want to see me, it’s part of an ongoing—”
Akechi turned and caught sight of Akira. His words stopped, and Akira inclined his head.
“Excuse me,” Akechi said to the person on the phone. “We can talk more about this later.”
He ended the call and smiled his coin-flip smile. “Akira-kun. We’re always running into each other, aren’t we?”
“Who doesn’t want to see you?” Akira asked.
Akechi’s posture stiffened—and relaxed as if by force of will. “Ah, you heard that? No one. Well, a witness.”
Makoto would kill Akira if he didn’t make use of this opportunity. “You finally have a lead on the Phantom Thieves?”
“That would be something. No, I’m afraid this is unrelated. You can breathe easy.”
Akira moved the shopping bag to his other hand. “You assume I don’t want them caught.” Of course, he didn’t want them caught. But if he was a fan like Akechi thought, wouldn’t he want to know who they were?
“Well, do you?” Akechi asked.
Akira laughed softly. “No.” The fantasy of Akechi catching him was bound to be better than the reality.
Akechi’s smile was different now—more genuine. He waved in the direction Akira was headed. “I was on my way to Leblanc’s.”
“So was I.”
They fell into step. It was the first time Akira had walked side by side with Akechi, and something about it made him nervous. It was easier to face Akechi head-on. They were opponents of a sort, and walking side by side rendered them… not opponents.
“I was thinking about what you asked me last time.”
Akira glanced at Akechi, trying to remember what he’d asked besides that stupid question about his hair.
“Your hair is much thicker than mine, even if it’s shorter,” Akechi said. “The tips of your ears must get warm.”
Akira lifted his free hand to the tip of his ear. It was warm. He ran his fingers under his thick fringe next, and they came away sweaty. Akechi watched closely, as if it was part of some important case.
“It’s warm,” Akira informed him. The drone of his voice and the inanity of the statement embarrassed him. For a million yen, would Akechi pretend he’d said something clever instead?
Their arrival at Leblanc’s saved Akechi from having to form a reply to the non-statement; Akira held the door open for him and waited. Akechi stepped through with a smile and a soft thank you , his manners impeccable as always, and Akira’s mind went back to the one million yen blowjob idea. Would Akechi thank him politely after? The thought made him want to throw all the money in his wallet at Akechi, even if Akechi wouldn’t understand what it was for.
“Are you alone?” Akechi asked, seating himself on the usual stool. Akira remained standing.
“No. My friends…” He glanced towards the stairs. There was only one other customer, plus Sojiro; Sojiro was already moving to get Akechi his usual order. If the thieves hadn’t been gathered upstairs, Akira could have sat here with Akechi. As it was, the popsicles in the bag he held were melting and his time was running out.
Could he invite Akechi up? No, probably not. Ryuji and Ann would consider it rank betrayal, and Makoto would think it an unnecessary risk.
Could he stay down here?
You don’t seem to mind him much , he heard Ann say in his mind, with that look that had seemed to suggest she saw more than he wanted her to.
“Ah,” Akechi said, with a glance at the stairs too. Akira didn’t move away. “I remember.”
He remembered Ryuji being ready to fight him, probably. “Ryuji is very passionate,” Akira said.
“You don’t consider yourself a passionate person, then?”
Akira’s pulse drummed in his wrists. He liked being a phantom thief, and shopping for specials, and talking to odd people he met that he connected with. He liked picking out flowers for customers at the flower shop. But passion?
“Not really,” he said. He looked at Akechi’s face. Akechi was a passionate person, sworn to justice, but he hid it under smiles and mild manners. Akira liked that about him.
“I shouldn’t keep you any longer,” Akechi said, smiling. Akira wished the attic was empty, that he could invite Akechi up.
Given his uninspired conversational skills, it was probably better that he couldn’t.
Akira searched for words. It was awkward, walking away from Akechi to spend time upstairs. It made it seem like Akira was choosing to walk away, which he wasn’t. The popsicles were melting. I’m sorry my friends hate you , he imagined himself saying. I’d invite you up if they didn’t .
He nodded instead. “Enjoy your coffee,” he said.
The stairs creaked as he ascended, and the heat collected below his fringe grew hotter. He could feel imagined pressure against his shoulders—the force of Akechi’s eyes on him, or maybe the purposeful aversion of Akechi’s eyes from him. In reality it was probably just Akira’s wish; he wanted Akechi to be drawn to his shoulders the way he was drawn to Akechi’s neck, eyes, mouth…
But he probably wasn’t.
“Ice cream!” Ann rejoiced as Akira reached the top of the stairs.
Akira’s wit had drained from his body the longer he spoke to Akechi, so he said nothing. He set the bag down on the table, blinking slowly.
“We bought all kinds of flavors, Ann-dono,” Morgana told her as he lept from Akira’s bag. His tail swished over the table, “I think you’ll be pleased.”
“Ah, they’re a bit melted,” Yusuke mentioned as he withdrew one from the bag. “A testament to how insufferable the sun must be.” He lifted his gaze to Akira. “Thank you for venturing into the heat for us.”
Yusuke’s unflinching gratitude always made Akira’s heart clench. “It was no problem,” he assured him.
“You’re a lifesaver!” Ryuji chirped, shoving a red popsicle in his mouth before unceremoniously chomping off the tip.
Akira pulled a matching cherry one from the bag and sat down, keeping his eyes mostly downcast. Was Akechi hot downstairs? Would he also want a popsicle?
Akira shook his head. Sojiro would berate him for suggesting cheap ice cream could complement his blend of coffee.
“So, about celebration food,” Ryuji began again.
“What kind of food do you think Futaba-chan enjoys?” Makoto asked. “I’d like to treat her.”
When Akira lifted his gaze, his eyes immediately landed on Yusuke, who was slowly dragging his lips up and down his popsicle. A drop of melted blue trickled from his mouth and over the pinch of his fingers on the stick. The way his mouth was wrapped around… and when his eyes closed…
I wonder if Akechi—
Akira swallowed and dropped his gaze heavily to the floor. Akira’s life had gone from navigating palaces to navigating awkward public boners and thoughts of Akechi’s mouth.
He was much better at one than the other.
“Some of these shadows…” Ryuji’s voice was troublingly coy when he spoke. It had been a while since anyone had said anything—the return journey through Mementos was always more subdued—but he was clearly ready to talk now.
“Oh God,” Ann said, already exhausted by his words as she hung her whip on her hip.
“They’re like… uncomfortably attractive, aren’t they?”
Ann groaned, head tipping back on her shoulders.
Akira had his hands in his pockets as he shuffled toward the entrance of Mementos; he stayed quiet.
“There are many aesthetically pleasing forms,” Yusuke agreed. “They present themselves with such artistry.”
“Yeah,” Ryuji said, with a noise that could be a cough or a laugh, “aesthetically pleasing.”
“You boys are gross,” Ann declared.
“I—” Yusuke cut himself off to send a concerned glance in Ann’s direction. “I am simply in awe of some of their shapes and forms, Panther.”
“Yeah.” Ryuji smirked, nudging Akira with his elbow. “Me too.”
“They’re interesting,” Akira finally said, mostly for the sake of appearing involved.
“In any case…” Makoto interrupted, “We’ve reached another dead end in the depths of Mementos. We’ll have to wait and see what happens once our victory over Medjed is made public.”
“Until then we party!” Ryuji cheered. As the group shot him a collective side-eye, his shoulders lowered. “And uh, wait for Futaba to wake up and stuff.”
“Shall we call it quits for today, Joker?” Makoto looked to him pleasantly.
“Yeah,” Akira answered. He threw a glance at the sadistic half of the twin pair that was waiting next to the door to the velvet room. She made a face at him. “Let’s call it for tonight.”
He’d deal with the twins in Shibuya tomorrow morning.
The ride back to Café Leblanc was quiet. Morgana was snoozing in Akira’s bag, and the steady clank of the train lulled him into a daze. He’d messed up today in Mementos, physically attacking an enemy that Makoto had already uncovered was invulnerable to such things. The group seemed collectively intrigued by his mistake, but not angry. The battle ended shortly after and it was forgotten. By everyone but him, that was.
He had been distracted again. Distracted wondering where Akechi had been that morning, distracted wondering why he’d seemed so sad during his most recent interview, distracted wondering if Akechi was ever distracted by him.
Akira grew more weary of himself as time went on. He questioned his ability to lead when his head was in two places. Or rather, one very specific place that had nothing to do with the space his body currently occupied.
When he was finally back in Leblanc, Akira leaned against the counter. “Maybe I should make some coffee…” he mumbled. He wanted to have some peace and quiet by himself. Think things over.
“Aren’t you tired?” Morgana asked, leaping from his bag and onto the counter. He sat down with perfect cat-like posture. “You should get some rest.”
Akira’s eyes fell to the floor.
“Akira, are you…” Akira tilted his head to regard Morgana, but Morgana just shook his head. “Never mind,” he said before standing once more. “Let’s head upstairs.”
Akira scooped Morgana up in his arms and stared at his face. Akira really liked cats. Sometimes he wanted to tousle Morgana’s fur and kiss all over his face and scratch his head. But given Morgana was a sentient being with a decidedly masculine personality, he contained himself. Morgana would certainly find it offensive.
This was already edging toward that line, but Morgana just peered at Akira intently as he climbed the stairs with him in his arms.
“Movie?” Akira suggested when he deposited Morgana in his spot, knowing what the answer would be.
“You need to rest.”
“Worth a try.”
They settled in for the night. Morgana was asleep by the time Akira was done bathing, and Akira stood for a moment looking down at him. Morgana was a treasured teammate, as were all the others. Akira was sure of them, had seen their powers awake; he’d seen their resolve time and again. They were a team, and they were treading a dangerous line.
And Akira was daydreaming about one of their known enemies. Not a good use of his time.
He got into bed without disturbing Morgana, the move practiced. His earlier haze tugged at him. It felt a bit like being brainwashed by Shadows, this feeling that suffused him whenever Akechi was near, or even when he was simply on his mind. If Akira conjured Akechi in his thoughts he began to feel warm and dull. In Akechi’s presence he did stupid things like reach out to touch Akechi’s hair and talk in monosyllables, and in Akechi’s absence he stumbled and zoned out, not fully present.
It was the connection, he thought. The connection and the way Akechi watched him, his expression flickering in a way that suggested there was a lot hidden beneath his mild-mannered exterior—a part of him Akira couldn’t reach. The bigger the gap between Akechi’s words and the things that might lie beneath, the shallower Akira felt. He was a teenage lump with base urges and a mouth too full of tongue to say anything clever. Akechi made his jokes dry up. Akira could sense them somewhere inside himself, but he could never quite reach for them in time.
He swallowed now, his thoughts on that inane hair conversation: his own stupid question, and Akechi’s response weeks later, a response that suggested he’d thought about Akira’s hair at least enough to imagine its texture. Would he want to touch it? Akira imagined Akechi’s fingers against his scalp, carding through his hair, and then he imagined them closing—tugging. He swallowed again.
What exactly are you into? he thought at himself. Authority figures? People who always smiled in a way that could be misinterpreted? Soft-voiced, mild-mannered boys with a whisper of an edge about them?
He squirmed, trying to pin the root of the feeling down. Was it hair-tugging? Or simply the thought of dropping to his knees in front of a guy he’d only barely talked to but felt like he knew anyway? He imagined it at one of Leblanc’s booths, pushing Akechi down and dropping and Akechi watching, the light of realisation in his eyes after a moment.
He couldn’t help imagining Akechi smiling and making light of the strange situation, and somehow that did it for him too. You’re terrible , he thought at himself, aware of the shivers of heat jetting through him. He was getting hard, wanting to touch himself. Morgana’s soft snores ensured a certain degree of privacy.
He slid his hand down.
It only took his fingers bumping against himself to flush him to full hardness. Akira’s back stiffened as it attempted to arch, and he closed his eyes. With a careful wrap of his fingers around himself, he revisited his fantasy: Akechi looking down at him, him on his knees, dragging the zipper of Akechi’s pants down slowly. The slow dawn of understanding setting over Akechi’s features.
Akira couldn’t decide what he wanted to see there. Did he want Akechi flustered, blushing and wide-eyed, perhaps with inexperience? Or did he want that sharp smile, the one with daggers pressing into the corners, the one that made Akira feel like his rightful place was on his knees?
Both. I want to see them both .
A rough breath scraped from Akira’s throat. It didn’t matter what Akechi showed him; it could never disappoint.
Akira imagined taking Akechi into his mouth, pushing his tightly wrapped lips slowly toward the base. What noises could that soft voice make? What kind of groans could Akira pull out of him with his mouth, his lips, his throat?
He wasn’t sure how to do it or how it would feel, but he could imagine it. He’d take Akechi all the way down—until the press of him burned against the back of his throat, until he couldn’t breathe past the swell of him. Akira bit down on his lip to stifle his groan. His hips jerked into his hands, length now semi-slick from his arousal. He pumped over himself just like he would in front of Akechi, desperate and shaky. He’d touch himself roughly through his clothes as Akechi rocked into his mouth, stealing away his senses and breathing.
Akira couldn’t even think about the reverse; the images would be far too overwhelming. And yet at the thought Akira couldn’t help but see what he’d avoided: Akechi on his knees, Akechi politely taking Akira into his mouth, Akechi fluttering his eyelashes as he looked up at Akira and sunk his mouth over his cock.
Akira came instantly, biting back the groan of pleasure that rocked his limbs. He made a frightening mess in his pants, wave after wave of it catching at the fabric and over his fist.
It took a while to wind down. Akira stroked over himself even as he softened, lifting the last aftershocks from his bones. He hazily thought about Akechi, about how he’d look after pleasure and how his chest would heave. He thought about his hair sticking to his neck, and Akira pushing it aside so he could replace it with a kiss.
Eventually he rolled from bed, shuffling to his dresser so he could retrieve a new pair of pajama pants. He cleaned up in the bathroom, returning with heavier steps and a mind more ready for sleep.
“Bad dreams?” Morgana asked him when he returned, the sparkle of his eyes barely visible in the darkness. He’d woken since Akira left, then.
“Aw, don’t worry,” Akira said with a smirk. “I’m here now.”
“Wh— no , I was asking if you had bad dreams!” Morgana huffed. “You’re infuriating.”
Akira smiled down at him as he slid back into bed. “Just a little restless,” he finally answered.
“Oh… that’s good.” Morgana padded up to Akira and laid down on his chest. “I… actually did have a bad dream, though.”
Akira tipped his head. “The same one?”
Akira ran a single soothing hand over Morgana’s fur. “We’ll figure it out, Morgana.”
Morgana nuzzled into his shirt, “Yeah. I trust you.”
Akira watched the slow close of Morgana’s eyes before closing his own. This time his body was heavy, and his mind followed it down into the fog.
The next morning Akira woke up free of the strange aimlessness he'd been feeling lately, and he knew exactly why. Sometime between imagining his mouth on Akechi and coming hard and mouse-quiet in his pants, he'd made up his mind on what to do.
What he had to do was act.
He was a phantom thief, and Akechi was a detective sworn to bring him to justice. That wasn't a match made in heaven, but it wasn't insurmountable odds either. Akira had faced worse by now. Every time the Phantom Thieves made it out of a palace alive he was half convinced it was a fluke; their preparation for each given circumstance left something to be desired. All Akira had to do where Akechi was concerned was not jeopardise the thieves while pursuing him. It wouldn't be too hard; Morgana would keep him honest.
Morgana would probably also judge him forever once he realised what Akira was up to, but for a time at least he could pretend his pursuit of Akechi was tactical. He'd run into him more often by design, and in the course of running into him he would eventually—somehow—get his mouth on him. It was the perfect plan.
Now all he had to do was execute it.
As it turned out over the next few days, it was surprisingly hard to stalk a celebrity detective. There were plenty of mentions of Akechi on social media, but there were rarely any sightings. People talked about whether Akechi was wrong about the Phantom Thieves, whether he was single, whether he'd appear on some likely show—but they didn't say "Akechi is in this one location, right now, so if you want to come and run into him 'by accident' you'll have to be fast".
Akira got lucky eventually. He was ten minutes from Inoshikara Park one day and searching Akechi’s name when someone uploaded a sneak picture of Akechi on a bench at the very same park. In the picture Akechi was alone, poring over a notebook. Akira headed in his direction immediately, knowing the park well enough to anticipate what section and bench it was.
“Why are you tracking him down?” Morgana asked as Akira speed-walked.
“Information,” Akira said. Then, because there was no information they needed from Akechi besides that he wasn’t coming to arrest them, he added: “Subterfuge.”
“Befriend the enemy,” Morgana said in his scheming voice. “Smart, Akira!”
Take it a step further , Akira thought. Suck the enemy’s dick. He didn’t share this joke; Morgana wouldn’t find it funny.
Akira slowed when he got within sight of the bench. Akechi was still there, still bent over a notebook, and Akira forced himself to relax. He let his breathing steady from the fast walk before heading over. Akechi ignored him utterly, which suited him fine. He sat down.
“Hello,” he said, placing his bag on his other side. He crossed his legs, setting his ankle over his knee, and clasped his hands loosely in his lap.
Casual , he thought. Very casual . There was genuine surprise in Akechi’s face when he saw who was sitting next to him—surprise and perhaps pleasure.
“Akira-kun,” Akechi said. “We keep running into each other.”
Yes. That was what this was: a run-in. As in Akira had run in time to catch Akechi. He smiled, triumph fizzing in his blood. “You look busy.”
“So of course, you joined me.” Akechi’s sardonic tone was a pleasant surprise. It was a tiny step away from his usual politeness, and it excited Akira to no end.
“I can be quiet,” Akira said. The thought of sitting here in the dappled sunlight while Akechi jotted notes in a journal suited him. His heart seemed to float around in his ribcage when Akechi was near, and it was a kind of torture he enjoyed. He’d happily endure it in silence if that was what Akechi wanted.
Akechi closed the notebook and sat back, sighing. His eyes rose to meet Akira’s, though they tracked up his body first. Not lasciviously—more like he was taking all of Akira in, measuring him up. After a long moment he smiled his trademark smile. “In truth, I’m between tasks. I’d welcome company.”
That seemed like a lie, but it was a lie Akira was happy to accept. “What tasks?”
“I have to be at a meeting nearby soon. Easier to stay out, and the weather isn’t too hot today.”
“I thought you’d be more excited.”
Akechi shifted, eyes curious. “To see you?”
God, Akira wished. He shook his head. “The Medjed cleanse. It’s meant to happen tomorrow. You didn’t remember?”
“Ah. You believe these hackers will win?”
“It’s possible,” Akira said. More than possible . Futaba still hadn’t woken up. If Medjed started to cause mayhem, would they turn themselves in? Maybe the day after tomorrow he’d be looking at Akechi across an interrogation room table; now there was a fantasy that could go in a lot of different directions.
“Hm. Surprising lack of confidence for a fan.”
“My friends are the Phantom Thieves fans.”
It was hard to maintain a casual air with Akechi’s full attention on him. Only a lifetime of calmly pretending not to care about most things allowed Akira to stay still and outwardly serene. He looked up at the sky. “I’m a fan of that pop group that always performs wearing cat ears.”
Next to him, Akechi choked. “What?”
“You asked me what I was a fan of.” He wasn’t really a fan of the Nya Nya Girls. More of a distant admirer who approved of their aesthetic choices—but he wanted to surprise Akechi, and he had. He smiled and met Akechi’s eyes, ignoring the way it made his body buzz. “What are you a fan of?”
Akechi looked stumped. “Detective work,” he said after a moment.
“Doesn’t count. That’s work.”
Akechi shifted, bringing a hand up to his mouth as he bent his head in thought. “There are authors I enjoy. Novelists, biographers...”
It would be pretentious if it wasn’t so fitting. Akira wondered if Akechi had any friends his age, and suspected he didn’t. “Maybe you should listen to the Nya Nya Girls sometime,” he suggested. “You could talk about them in an interview.”
Akira expected exasperation, maybe even amusement, but instead Akechi remained still, not responding. He was staring, studying Akira’s face as if his soul might be revealed in the lines of his cheekbones. Akira’s blithe nothing-talk was confusing him, obviously.
“You’re never what I expect, Akira-kun.” It could be a compliment or an insult; Akechi’s voice gave no indication which it was.
Akira leaned forward, looking up into Akechi’s face. “And what were you expecting, Akechi-kun?”
He liked saying that name. The last syllable was a whisper between teeth that made Akira want to bite.
Akechi’s eyelashes were fluttering in surprise. “Expect? Well…”
Akira drummed his fingers against his lap as he waited. His lips were curling into a wolfish smirk, excited just to watch him think.
“Something different every time, really,” he answered. “And every time I’m somehow wrong.” He was avoiding the question.
“Mm, I love proving people wrong,” Akira said, leaning back on the bench. “It’s a hobby of mine.”
“Is that so?”
Akechi looked away from him, and for half a moment something dark slid behind his eyes. “Me too.”
“ Ooh ,” Akira cooed. “And one of the secret reasons Akechi Goro became a detective is revealed here, at our very own Inoshikara Park.”
Akechi chuckled, but it was dry and filled with gravel. “It’s true. Do you think less of me?”
“What?” Akira narrowed his eyes at him. “Why would I think less of you?”
“Well,” Akechi tipped his head to the side, fringe falling over his eyes, “it’s not a very righteous thing to say.”
“Righteous…” Akira chewed on the word a bit. “Is righteousness for the sake of righteousness a good thing at all?”
Akechi’s eyes twitched larger. It was a strange look—too shocked for such a small statement. Akira ignored it.
“In any case, doesn’t everyone love rooting for the underdog? The twist ending? Overcoming all the odds?”
Akechi appeared to force himself away from Akira’s last statement. He tipped his head down, bringing his fingers to his chin as he thought. “I suppose…”
The moment was interrupted by the bleat of Akechi’s phone in his pocket. Akechi winced his apology and Akira shook his head, still smiling.
“Yes?” Akechi answered. The normally unshakeable pleasantness of his voice was… well, shaken. “No; I’m busy right now.”
Akira decided to peek down at his phone. It would make him seem less nosey, even if he would pay good money to hear what was being said on the other end.
There were a few messages from Ryuji, one from Makoto and—wait, was that his hair?
The twitter app had been sitting open and idle ever since Akira had chased Akechi down at the park. The most recent mentions of Akechi Goro lit up his screen and there, in the unmistakable summer sun, was his unmistakable mess of curls.
>> Look, a boy is sitting with Akechi-kun!
>> I wonder who it is. They look close!
The stalker becomes the stalkee. Sort of.
Someone had snapped a picture of Akira looking up into Akechi’s eyes. Akira’s profile was coy and taunting as Akechi thought, lips parted, eyes far away.
God, he’s beautiful .
The responses continued to roll in, some in a joined thread of woe.
>> WHY CAN’T THAT BE ME.
>> ikr. I’d pay the boy to read me the dictionary.
>> isn’t that other boy kind of cute?
Why thank you.
>> not as cute as Akechi though.
>> I’ve never seen Akechi with someone his age before!
Akira paused. He hovered over the tweet, considering it. Someone replied.
>> Same! We go to the same school and I never see him with classmates either (๑°o°๑)
Akira glanced at Akechi. What are you a fan of? Detective work.
Akechi irritably shook his head at the person on the other end of the line. “Yes. Yes. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
Akira quickly killed his app as Akechi hung up the phone.
“I apologize for the interruption, Akira-kun.”
“It’s no problem.”
Akechi chewed lightly on his bottom lip. “Unfortunately I have that meeting soon…”
“Hey, you ever do karaoke?”
The wide-eyed blink was back. Akechi looked so young when he wore that expression; his whole face was open, lineless and pure in a way that had nothing to do with age. “Kara… oke?”
“Yeah! I bet you have a pretty singing voice. Don’t worry; I won’t make you sing the Nya Nya Girls.”
“Or if you’re really worried about me upstaging you with pop idols, we could go fishing. But I can’t promise I won’t upstage you there too.”
“Akira-kun…” Akechi’s face was red, but his expression was guarded, like he didn’t trust the kindness.
Akira leaned heavily on his knees, and he smiled past the knot of nervousness in his stomach. “I just think it’d be nice to talk outside of random encounters.”
Akechi blinked like his eyelashes were heavy. “Oh… I see.”
Akira tried to pretend those syllables didn’t feel like a swift kick to the gut. He cleared his throat, “I mean of course we don’t ha —”
“I’d like that. Too.”
Something bright and almost painful zinged through Akira’s bloodstream. Hope? Desire? Triumph? He watched Akechi, trying to read him, but his expression was utterly neutral—no coin-flip smile. It made his words heavy. An unwilling confession? Or was he gearing up to trap Akira into revealing himself? It was impossible to know, and Akira tried not to be excited by the prospect that it could be both.
Akechi stood. “However, my meeting…”
“The great high school detective can’t be late,” Akira said. He wondered if he could make Akechi stay if he put his mind to it. Maybe one day . “I’ll see you later.”
“Yes,” Akechi said, and with a wave and a loaded glance—as if Akira really was the top suspect in a case—he left Akira sitting alone on the bench. Well, not quite alone. Akira looked down at Morgana, waiting for him to comment.
“Akira…” Morgana said, obviously contemplative. Those lamp-bright eyes took him in, and Akira only just managed to stay still. What would he do if Morgana accused him of having a crush? Or worse, if he forbade him from seeking Akechi out again?
But no. Morgana’s voice was tinged with admiration when he said: “You’re good at this.”
Akira disguised his sigh of relief with a huff of laughter. He stroked over Morgana’s head, earning a glare. “I’m just making this up as I go along,” he said. “But thank you.”
Akira was standing near Big Bang Burger on the high street, checking his phone. He turned to face the voice. “Akechi-kun,” he said, trying not to smile like the big crushing idiot he was. This time he was the one caught by surprise.
“Such agreeable weather we have today. Do you have any plans?”
Akira shifted the weight of his bag on his shoulder. “It’s almost evening. No plans. What about you?”
He wouldn’t share that he was waiting for it to be after six o’clock so he could take the Big Bang Challenge for cheap again; it didn’t seem like a particularly charming factoid.
“I’m strangely free,” Akechi said. “My one obligation was cancelled and opened up my afternoon.”
“That must be nice.” Keep up that calm facade. You’re doing great.
Akira bit the inside of his cheek. If you start grinning now you’ll look like a fool.
But I am a fool.
It took Akira so much effort to keep his face natural that he couldn’t spare any extra time for thought. The silence between them ticked forward, and after a moment awkward panic rose like bile in his throat. Did he just screw up? Did he really just dead-end a conversation that Akechi started with him ?
They both paused. There was a nervous chuckle between them, and Akira nodded. “Go on.”
“Oh, well—” Akechi adjusted his posture, leaning laxly on one hip “—since I have some sudden free time, and we ran into each other, I thought…”
Akira’s heart tripped into overdrive. His chest ached with all the anxious energy he forced down.
“We could go somewhere. Or, ha—do something. Together.” His face was sun-flushed and rosy despite the overcast sky. Akira took a moment to appreciate it.
Akechi Goro was standing in front of him on the high street, stuttering and responding to his invitation for a date.
“I would love to.” Akira grinned; Akechi’s blush gave him power. “Any place in mind?”
“Oh, um…” Akechi’s eyes fluttered downward. His eyelashes cast shadows over the red of his cheeks. It made his cheeks look soft in his fine-boned face; Akira wanted to brush his lips against them in something gentler than a kiss. “I don’t really…”
“Have him watch you do the challenge,” Morgana said softly from Akira’s bag, and Akira had to fight back a bark of laughter. Shut it , he thought at Morgana, unable to respond. Akechi’s eyes darted to the bag a moment and then away.
“Not karaoke,” Akechi said.
“Not karaoke,” Akira repeated. He was hungry, but he’d probably spill food down his front and make a fool of himself if he had to sit through a whole dinner with Akechi. He needed something besides karaoke that made not talking okay. “Fishing?”
The look Akechi gave him suggested it might have been a bad idea—but then Akechi laughed. “You really fish?”
“You’re the high school detective,” Akira mumbled. “So will you?”
“You’ll have to show me how,” Akechi said doubtfully, and Akira grinned. His face would start to ache with it soon.
“Good,” he said. “Wait here, I’ll get us something to eat on the way.” He started to charge into the burger joint, then stopped, a bit worried about leaving Akechi alone. They’d never spent more than a conversation together. “You will wait, right?”
Akechi had already pulled out his phone. He gestured at himself. “As you see.”
Akira’s heart bounced in his chest as he went in the sliding doors.
“I have one comfort,” Akechi said. “The fish dislike us equally.”
Akira smiled. He wasn’t all that focused on the fish. They sat on adjoining crates, and if he spread his legs wider his knee would bump Akechi’s thigh. He wouldn’t do it, of course, but the thought tantalized him. With Morgana gone wandering there was no one there to stop him.
So tempting .
“You only have to bear it from the fish, however,” Akechi continued.
“The Medjed shutdown—the thieves have become very popular. And our popularity levels seem to have an inverse relationship.”
Akira wondered if it had hurt Akechi, the news cycle lately. Was he offended? People had already been turning on him before the Medjed problem was solved, but things had become particularly negative recently. “We’ve talked about this before,” Akira said. “Public opinion…”
“I imagine you know something about it firsthand,” Akechi said before he could finish the thought. “Your probation was broadcast around your school on the occasion of your transfer.”
Akira sucked in a breath. He hadn’t known Akechi knew. “The people who matter don’t mind,” he said. And I’m innocent, but no one cares about that.
They lapsed into silence. Akechi was considering his words, maybe.
“You make friends easily,” Akechi said eventually.
Akira wondered why he’d say that. Akechi was charming, polite, good-looking. Surely aside from his speaking out against the Phantom Thieves he was popular as anything.
Wasn’t he? Even if he didn’t have close friends, people liked him.
He had a fanbase.
Akira couldn’t stop looking at him, wondering about this. He ought to stop—but the setting sun made Akechi’s skin glow, and his contemplative expression drew Akira in. Figure me out , it said. When Akechi glanced up at him Akira drew back.
“Uh,” he said.
“It’s a compliment, not a criticism,” Akechi assured him. “I’m drawn to you as well. I wonder why?”
There was no possible way to respond to that without choking. Not as much as I’m drawn to you , Akira thought.
A splash interrupted the tense moment, and they both jumped. Akira’s fishing rod was steady in his hands; it was Akechi’s lure that had bobbed.
“Is this…” Akechi said uncertainly, and Akira gestured easily.
“Do just what I told you, and you’ll be fine.”
Akechi stood, looking at the rod like it was a foreign instrument. He might lose the fish if he wasn’t careful. “Perhaps you should demonstrate.”
Akira shook his head. He wanted to watch this. Akechi’s eyes met his for a moment—and then Akechi seemed to brace himself.
Akira didn’t know where to look: the fish or Akechi. If he looked at the fish, he could make encouraging noises at the right times—but watching the way Akechi moved as he concentrated seemed more important. His expression flitted from one to the next, the lines of his face shifting so Akira couldn’t hold onto any one picture.
There was another splash. “Almost,” Akira said, glancing. There wasn’t much line left. “Pull.”
“I’m not sure—” Akechi started, and then he pulled, and there was a spray of water and a fish flapping in mid-air, nearly colliding with Akechi where he stood. He gasped, then laughed, and it made him seem years younger. “I caught it?”
It was a question. Akira laughed too. “You’re the detective, you tell me.”
“I caught it.” Akechi stared at the fish, then Akira. And then he laughed again, and a small sun burned in Akira’s chest. He wanted to catch Akechi’s laughing face and kiss it—but the man who oversaw the pond was coming up to them, and he didn’t want to be banned for making a scene. He turned to the old fisherman.
“My friend caught a fish,” he said, gesturing at Akechi—and realised he sounded like a proud dad. Well, that definitely wasn’t sexy.
“Your first?” the fisherman asked Akechi, smiling.
The man took the fish from him. “Thirty-nine centimetres. That’s fifty points—and it has a tag! That’s double, so a hundred. Very good, young man.”
Akechi looked utterly confused by the arcane ritual of fish points.
“You use the points for prizes,” Akira explained.
“Can I give the points to you?”
“Let him win his own points!” the fisherman crowed. “Come back here any time, young man.”
He took the fish and walked off with it. There was a hush of water lapping against the sides of the pond, and soft snoring from the pond’s only other customer. Akira’s heart hammered in his chest. Peripherally he watched the old man go back to his hut and open a newspaper. He felt too aware of his hands, like they’d gotten heavier in the silence.
He looked at Akechi. He looked different than Akira had ever seen him, and not just because the setting sun made his skin glow. Akira was getting a glimpse into some other Akechi, one who wore an unthinking smile, but he could already see the joy beginning to close itself off: a house preparing for long winter. Akira stepped closer without ever deciding to.
“Congratulations,” he said. He wanted to keep that shut-down at bay.
Akechi laughed again. “I got too excited, didn’t I? That’s embarrassing. Don’t tell any—”
Not embarrassing . It was the only coherent thought Akira had before he leaned in. Akechi was still speaking, but the flow of his words came to a halt when Akira raised his free hand to cradle the side of his face. There was a pause, a glance—and then Akira was pressing their mouths together, gentle but insistent. God, Akechi felt just as good as he’d imagined. His mouth was soft, his hair smooth, the flat planes of his body sweet and perfect where they brushed his. Akira wished he knew how to make the most of it. He was still holding his fishing rod, and if he dropped it he might make the other fishermen look up. Still, he wanted…
He managed to balance the rod in the crook of his arm to get his other hand free; this way he could hold Akechi’s face in both hands. It was so much better that way—twice as good, with two hands on Akechi instead of one. Akechi smelled clean and warm, and if he didn’t move in he didn’t move away either. Akira let himself lean forward, pressing them together, tilting Akechi’s face so he could keep their kiss going. A gentle press of his tongue got Akechi’s mouth to open, perhaps in shock, and the taste of the fast food they’d shared on the way was balanced with the natural taste of Akechi’s mouth, warm wetness that seemed impossible—that couldn’t possibly be real.
They’d fallen into the metaverse, maybe. That would explain how he’d managed to close the distance between them; he always felt more confident with an arsenal of monsters at his back.
For just one moment Akechi’s hand landed on his stomach, beneath his ribcage. It fisted in the fabric of his shirt, holding on tightly as if he was about to pull him close—and then Akechi stepped back sharply, forcing Akira’s hands to drop away. Akira felt dangerously unbalanced, his heart suspended by something fragile—fishing line, maybe. He was breathing heavily, his eyes seeking something in Akechi’s: mirrored desire, maybe, or perhaps forgiveness. He didn’t find it. Akechi’s eyes closed, and when they opened they stayed narrow with cruel mirth, his mouth a twist.
“ That was what you wanted?” Akechi asked. His voice put something cold and painful inside of Akira’s chest, like the sun from earlier had converted to an icy moon.
Akira swallowed. Yes, it was what he wanted—but he didn’t realise Akechi would see it as a betrayal. He’d take it back. He’d make it right, and they could go back to quiet conversation, occasional moments of feeling like they understood each other. He sucked in a breath. “No, I—”
“How flattering,” Akechi said. His tone said it was anything but. He set down the fishing rod he’d been holding, adjusted the collar of his shirt to get out phantom wrinkles—as if Akira’s filthy hands had mussed his clothes simply by being near them.
“Sorry,” Akira said. It seemed the only thing to say. He couldn’t say I like you because it wasn’t as simple as that. I can’t stop thinking about you or your body seemed guaranteed to fail too. “I read you wrong.”
There was a moment of something like confusion flitting across Akechi’s face—and then his mouth set. “Yes.”
Akira held up a hand. “I won’t do it again. Don’t run off?”
Akechi looked around—checking to see whether anyone had seen. They hadn’t. Akira had checked in the seconds before kissing him.
Akechi cleared his throat. “I…”
“Th—uh. I promise.” God, he’d nearly joked thief’s honor . They had to stop making that joke in the thieves; it would get them in trouble.
Akechi raised a hand to his head. He stayed like that a moment, then straightened. “I’m not running, but I am leaving. There are—things to do.”
Akira nodded dumbly. He’d messed up. He’d gotten overexcited and he’d messed up. He wanted to head to Mementos, go on a rampage—fling fire and lightning until he no longer felt like such an idiot. I shouldn’t have kissed him , he thought, then: I should have stopped when he didn’t kiss me back .
But he had kissed back, hadn’t he? Had Akira imagined it? The tiny bit of leaning in, mouth responding, hand clutching? For the duration of the kiss, Akechi had seemed shocked but acquiescent, like he was melting into it.
Too many movies, maybe. Movies lied about kissing.
Don’t make it sound so final. “Goodbye,” Akira said, and watched him go. He touched a hand to the spot on his shirt Akechi had clung to, finding the fabric just slightly wrinkled. Not imagined, then , he thought. Not imagined—but that didn’t make it welcome.
Akira sat back down on his crate, letting out a long sigh. He’d find out how badly he’d messed up in the days to come, he supposed. Perhaps Akechi would let it go, and it was all salvageable. He hoped so. When he saw him next, he’d act normally and hope Akechi forgot about the whole affair. That was better than being avoided.
He picked up his fishing rod by the grip and waited for Morgana to return.
“Akira-kun,” Ann said into the silence, forcing his eyes up to meet hers.
Akira looked up obediently. They sat opposite each other in the warm attic, a sympathetic note in Ann’s voice. They’d all hung out today, but Ann had lingered at Leblanc when the others departed, saying she needed to discuss something with Akira. Ryuji had seemed awfully interested, and Morgana had become interested when she looked at him and said decisively: alone .
They were alone now, though Akira suspected Morgana would try to wheedle the truth from him once she left.
“I know what unhappy looks like,” she said when nothing was forthcoming. “I ignored it with Shiho. I won’t ignore it again.”
Ah . “What do you mean?”
“Don’t play dumb with me. It’s about Akechi-kun, isn’t it?”
She punched his shoulder. “I’m not Ryuji, you know. I won’t judge you.”
Akira’s brows rose. “You won’t?”
“He’s not my favorite person,” she said, tugging at a ponytail, “but we can afford to be generous now, right? We’re winning in the popularity polls!”
Akira let out a breath of laughter. “Yeah, I suppose we are.”
“And you’re crushing hardcore. Dates in the park and everything.”
He blinked at her in surprise. “You saw that picture?”
“I’m pretty informed about idols. It was a good picture of you.” She glanced up. “You looked like the real Joker.”
The real Joker . The person he was when he was in the Metaverse, surrounded by unreal terrors and supported by unreal powers—but he’d been sitting next to Akechi, teasing him on a park bench.
“And then there was the other thing,” Ann said, leaning forward. Her brows rose significantly, waiting for him to catch onto what she meant.
“A million yen, Akira.”
Akira swallowed. “Ah. Yeah.” He was getting closer to that number through shadow extortion; he wished it would mean something when he reached it.
“Pretty big way to misinterpret it.”
“I realized that after.”
She grinned, letting it drop. “So: you were head over heels. There were park dates. What happened?”
Akira considered her. It was one thing to crush, and another to kiss. Would she really accept it? Could she possibly think him acting on his interest was anything but a security risk? He sighed and took the plunge, ready to be punished if punishment was due. “I kissed him.”
Ann sucked in a little breath. “And then?”
“He… seemed to be okay with it. But then he stepped away and acted like I’d murdered his family.”
Ann was silent for a while. “Did you stick your tongue in super hard?”
Now there was a thought: hands sliding under clothes in public. “I only touched his face.”
“Aw, that’s sweet. I knew you’d be a good kisser.”
Akira wasn’t sure what he was meant to say to that. She seemed to hear herself, and laughed self-consciously.
“Well, you try pretty hard right?” she said. “Whether it’s shopping or exams or investigating requests. You have a good basis, and then you don’t overthink things. That’s the perfect combination. So I’m sure you didn’t do it wrong.”
He laughed at her reassurance. “Thank you.”
She smiled. “So it has to be something else. Are you sure he likes guys?”
Akira sat back, folding his arms. That thought hadn’t even occurred to him. The current between him and Akechi was unmistakable—or he had thought it was, anyway. Even after Akechi left him at the fish pond he hadn’t thought maybe that guy is straight . It just didn’t fit. “When I said I misread him, he agreed. But I’m almost sure I didn’t.”
She inclined her head. “Maybe he doesn’t want to like you. Maybe he didn’t want to want it.”
She was fidgeting strangely, shoulders moving. He leaned to see under the table and saw she was twisting her hands together. “What’s that about?” he asked, gesturing.
She stopped fidgeting and clutched her hands to her face; there was a loud smack. “It’s just—you know!”
“You’re sorry for me?”
“Not at all! It’s just so—dramatic! The thief and the detective. It almost sounds like a roleplay, right?”
“Pretty sure Akechi ended the roleplay, then.”
“Nuh-uh. It’ll continue. Just wait.”
“You really think so?”
She gave him another speculative look. “Do you think so?”
He imagined it. Could he and Akechi really break off over something like a kiss when it wasn’t wanted? It seemed… unlikely. “I don’t think we’re done with each other,” he said finally.
She grinned. “Then neither do I. Feel better?”
He felt a lot better, actually. Not just because she hadn’t murdered him at I kissed Akechi . “Yeah.”
She tipped her head to the side. “I’ll be cheering you on. Oh, but one thing.”
“I get to be there when Ryuji finds out.”
Akira sucked down his amusement, keeping a straight face. “No way. Even I won’t be there when Ryuji finds out. I’ll fly back to Hawai’i and send an anonymous letter, then avoid him for the rest of my life.”
She laughed at that, hard, and stood. “Okay. Maybe you can let me know, and I’ll break the news. Instead of the letter, you know.”
“A personal touch. That would soften the blow.”
“No way. I’d draw it out nice and slow. Make him suffer as he slowly realized what I was telling him.”
Akira looked at her in awe, hands between his knees. He always got the feeling he ought to be covering essential organs with his hands when she got that scheming look in her eyes—and then she smiled.
He shivered at her bright voice. “Right. Right.”
“I’m heading out. I’ll send Morgana up, okay? Don’t worry so much.”
“I won’t,” he promised, unsure whether he told the truth, but she seemed to accept it. She waved as she left the attic—and he was grateful to have her as a friend. He was grateful to have them all as friends.
" Ack! So much for the refreshing bath!"
Akira ducked into Leblanc with Morgana bolting in front of him. Once inside Morgana shook himself in a flurry of fur and water.
"And you just got yourself nice and clean too!"
A drop of rainwater loosed itself from Akira's hair and splashed against his face. He shrugged. He still felt clean, although he wasn't about to inform his talking cat of this in front of Sojiro.
"Aah, it's really pourin' out there isn't it?" Sojiro cast a glance outside, lax posture unchanging. "I haven't had business all day."
"He says that like it's abnormal," Morgana chirped from the floor.
"Take off your jacket before you catch a cold," Sojiro said as he untied his apron. "Last thing I need is some sick kid causing problems for me."
Akira mechanically did what he was told, slipping off the hoodie made heavy with rainwater. "Sorry about the water on the floor," he said. "I'll be sure to clean it up."
Sojiro was entirely nonplussed. "Oh. Yeah, thanks." The lights flickered and Sojiro heaved a sigh. "I swear."
"I'm gonna go to bed," Morgana shivered from the floor. "This is misery." He sneezed. Akira sent him a pitying glance as he shook himself again before padding up the stairs.
"Sometimes I wonder what he's sayin'," Sojiro commented, watching the cat leave. "Given his constant meowing."
"It's not that interesting," Akira told him.
Sojiro sent a singular glance over his shoulder at Akira before moving on. "In any case, I'm gonna head home."
"Don't stay up too late and uh—" he looked around for a second, then continued "—there's a heated blanket I keep in the linen cabinet for emergencies. You can let the cat sleep on it so he doesn't get sick."
Akira bit the smile threatening to break across his face.
Sojiro shuffled toward the door. "See ya. Don't forget to turn the lights off."
Akira nodded and Sojiro turned to leave, opening the door and allowing the static noise of the rain to flood into the shop.
The door closed, and for a moment Akira stood in the center of Leblanc with his hands in his pockets, doing nothing. The light flickered again, and he decided it best to turn them off completely instead of waiting for them to fail.
The shop changed when Akira flicked off the lights. The signature golden glow cooled, like embers being sapped of their warmth and yielding to the dark. Outside the rain droned on, the thunder tangible in the way it made the air tremble. Every now and then it was almost like Akira could feel the sparks, dissipated and distant but somehow still reaching him with the faintest sensation.
Or maybe you’re just constantly on edge ever since…
Akira shook himself. He and Ann had discussed this. She’d made him feel better; there would be a resolution in time. And until then don’t think about it .
He decided coffee was a good idea. He went to work on the pourover dripper, trying out a rich flavor Sojiro had recommended. He really liked the ones with sweet notes to them; he hoped to make a cup good and mild enough that even Ryuji could enjoy it.
Lightning flashed outside, and for a moment the lacquer of the bar flared bright and white. Akira squinted against it, temporarily blind. In theory, vision and color returned, but Akira still couldn’t see. Steam from the water fogged his glasses.
He made an undignified face for no one to see.
When he finished he poured himself a neat cup. He dragged a stool behind the bar to sit down; he already spent a large portion of time staring at the wall of coffee on a daily basis. He’d like to appreciate the rest of the scenery tonight.
His fingers rested idly on the handle of his cup as he blinked at the booths of the shop. Shadows collected in their corners, making creaky and dimpled vinyl somehow sinister. The stained glass light fixtures weren’t as charming while dormant. They cast strange, stilted shadows over the booth tables and the walls. Akira shook himself. He raised his cup to his lips and took a drink.
It was hot, rich against his lips and tongue. The flavor swirled in the back of his throat even after swallowing. Akira felt he might be able to breathe the scent and steam from one sip. He laid his arms on either side of his cup. The past week had been awful in a lot of ways, but the lingering emotion and general dread in his gut made his limbs feel funny. They were either lead-filled and heavy, resistant to movement, or empty of all things, like his veins and muscles were absent and he was a strange husk-person, walking around doing strange husk-person things.
When he’d gone into the public baths he’d sat there empty-headed, doing nothing but listening to the drill of the rain against the concrete. It was unlike him to be this way. Luckily the thieves and their… thieving… had kept him mentally occupied so he wasn’t stewing in worry all the time.
Just most of the time.
Whatever he and Ann had discussed—whatever convoluted reasons they’d come up with in hindsight, guessing at Akechi’s thoughts—Akira knew for sure Akechi had been angry. He’d reached out—and then he’d been angry, almost like Akira had betrayed him. Was there some unspoken agreement between them? They could think about each other, comment on hair and hobbies and being drawn to each other, but they could never touch? It seemed odd, that sharp divide between Akechi melting into him and stepping away, like a switch had been flipped. Akira wasn’t sure what to make of it. Was there really cause for hope?
Yes , that thing inside him whispered—the same thing that had told him things between him and Akechi weren’t over when he spoke to Ann. But that didn’t make it any easier to wait for whatever resolution they’d come to. The same instincts that told him it wasn’t all over told him the next move had to come from Akechi, whatever it was. Akira couldn’t go chasing him down.
Thunder sounded again, but this time the lightning was less flamboyant. It carved light into the edges of the bar and tables, outlining the world in stark bright and black. Then it was gone, and thunder rumbled in its wake.
Akira took another sip of his coffee, and then something caught his attention at the edge of his vision. It was just a passerby, someone hustling toward the station with their arms held above their head in a failed attempt to block the rain. That was when Akira did a double-take. He turned to the side, squinting at the door. Did the sign say they were still open?
Akira rose from his seat and walked over to the front of the shop.
He would totally have my ass for this.
The moment Akira opened the door tiny droplets littered the floor of the shop. The rain was coming down so hard that each drop burst into many, jumping excitedly from the pavement. Akira shielded his eyes with one arm as he flipped the sign, and that was when he heard the voice.
“I understand but—can’t we have this conversation later? I’m—”
Akira turned his head. That soft-spoken voice that could somehow cut through white noise... it weaved through the static of the rain and rang in Akira’s ears, clear.
Akechi turned toward Akira, surprise coloring his features. He was standing in the pouring rain, briefcase over his head and phone to his ear. For a second lightning flashed, blanching the world white behind him while his face remained drenched in shadow.
Akira opened the door to Leblanc wider and motioned inside. Akechi’s eyes skittered away for a moment, and he mumbled something into the phone. It sounded like “I understand that”, but Akira wasn’t sure. Then he accepted Akira’s invitation, nodding a wordless thank you as he ducked under Akira’s arm and into the shop.
Akira swallowed. Not just his saliva, but also a tremor of panic, some genuine fright, and a bubbling wave of glee.
“Yes, I agree on those points,” Akechi spoke as rain squeaked beneath his moving feet. He stopped just inside the door.
“ It’s fine ,” Akira mouthed to him, motioning at the preexisting puddles left by Akira’s own feet.
Akechi looked hesitant, but he eventually stepped farther into the shop as Akira strode behind the counter. He moved to the aforementioned linen cabinet, grabbing a towel for Akechi. He also withdrew the electric blanket for Morgana. He was sure to stir when Akira climbed into bed.
“I spoke with the prosecutor today.”
Something within Akira uncoiled. If prosecutors and other team members were being mentioned, Akechi probably wasn’t discussing the Phantom Thieves.
“I can get the witness to testify. Just let me—No. No, sir…”
Akira emerged with the towel and offered it to Akechi. Akechi looked at it blankly before comprehension finally broke over his features. He nodded his thanks before taking it, pinching his phone between his cheek and shoulder.
Akira shouldn’t stare at him. Now was a specifically bad time to being staring at him. But water was clinging to his lips, and droplets had broken across his cheekbones like a spill of glittering freckles. When Akechi moved the towel to dab at his face, Akira found the strength to tear his eyes away. He rounded the counter again, immediately going to work on preparing Akechi his favorite cup of coffee.
“I understand that, but I can assure you results if we do things my way.”
Akira raised a single eyebrow as he began pouring steaming water over the grounds.
“Understood. Thank you for your time.”
A tap indicated the end of Akechi’s call, followed by a sigh.
“I apologize for the intrusion.” He slid his phone into his pocket and raised the towel to his face again. “And thank you for allowing me refuge.”
“It’s no problem,” Akira answered casually. “I was just stuck in the rain myself.”
“I see.” Akechi peeled his jacket from his shoulders and frowned at it.
Akira chuckled. “You can hang it on a chair. I have to tidy up the mess I made anyway.”
“Thank you…” Akechi carefully deposited it there. “You’re very kind.”
Akira felt like arguing with him would be pointless, although he wanted to. When he glanced up, Akechi was patting at his hair with the towel.
Standing there, in the dark of Leblanc with only a storm to offer backlighting, Akira realized this might have been the first time he’d seen Akechi disheveled.
The rainwater had breached his jacket, saturating the collared shirt underneath. It clung to every inch of Akechi’s skin, defined every movement, sunk into every dip and divot. His shoulders were slim, his hips slimmer. His waist was slender; a thing Akira wanted to wind his arm around, trail his fingers over, graze his lips…
“You didn’t have to do that for me.”
Akira shook himself out of his thoughts. “What?” he asked, gape mouthed and stupid.
Akechi blinked at him. “Make me coffee.”
Oh . “Oh.” Akira turned toward the counter. “It’s nothing. I just wanted to wa—” Akira cleared his throat “—help warm you up. With coffee.”
Akechi was lowering the towel, but Akira wouldn’t look at him. If he looked at him, it would be obvious by his expression how stupid he thought Akira sounded just then.
“That conversation…” Akechi moved on, stepping toward a barstool and placing the towel aside. “I didn’t know how explicit it’d be with details, so I didn’t want to have it at the train station.”
“Understandable,” Akira said, placing Akechi’s coffee on a saucer and sliding it toward him.
Akechi sat down, taking the coffee with a soft ‘thank you’ and a delicate reach of fingers. They trembled from the cold, but as he took hold of the cup it was steady, level. They were very pretty fingers. Long. He wondered…
“Do you play an instrument?” Akira asked.
Akechi paused, the cup just below his lips. He took a sip, then lowered it again. “No,” he answered. There was something troubling lurking beneath his expression, sliding under the skin and hiding in the dark of his eyes. “I didn’t have caretakers that could afford such a thing, or were interested in affording such a thing.”
“I see,” Akira answered, uncertain how to react to the unexpected information—the tone of Akechi’s voice as he gave it. The words were loaded; there was a story behind them.
“What about you?” Akechi asked. “You have nice fingers. Suited well for violin or piano, I would guess.”
Akira hoped the dark of the shop hid the crimson that flared across his face. Fingers? He complimented my fingers? What does that mean?
Akira pursed his lips. Wait, wasn’t I just complimenting his fingers? Here they were again: this weird not-flirting, the constant noticing that had led him to believe a kiss wouldn’t be unwelcome. You can look. You can notice. But you can’t touch.
Maybe. But Akechi was here, not running out on him. That meant something.
“No,” Akira answered before he could think himself into a circle. “I always thought it would be cool to play guitar.” He continued on; it seemed like a safer route for this conversation. “But I didn’t prioritize it, I guess.”
Akechi’s head tipped back as he laughed. “I can imagine it now: Kurusu Akira, with mop curls and thick-framed glasses bringing his acoustic guitar to all the parties.” He covered his grin with his fingers, then: “One leg slung over the other, a casual slope to his shoulders.”
“ Hey ,” Akira complained. “Why do I immediately get pegged as Annoying Guitar Guy in your vision?”
Akechi’s face was still full of laughter. It made Akira’s chest ache to look at it. There was no coin-flip, just inexorable happiness spreading over his cheeks. “Well, you don’t have to be Annoying Guitar Guy.” Akechi’s blithe smile melted, but it didn’t dissolve completely. Instead it evolved, pooling into something warm and playful that kept his eyes smoldering. “It would depend on your performance, I suppose.”
A tingle climbed Akira’s spine. It was like he felt Akechi’s eyes there, destroying him from the inside. Water dripped off Akechi’s hair, slow and steady drops that loosed themselves from golden strands and fell onto his shoulders.
It wasn’t fair. The blue and purple light of the shop caressed Akechi’s face, tipping an already stunning sight into something ethereal. His eyes were an impossible purple in this dark, and Akira imagined it was a color that only occurred naturally in some deep recess of space.
Akechi tipped his head. Was that coyness on his lips? If Akira tasted it, would he know?
“No witty retort this time?” Akechi asked. There was heat in his voice.
Akira blinked. “Making a joke about my being able to perform seems a bit too crude and easy, doesn’t it?”
Akechi’s lip quirked higher. “There it is.”
Akira could see Akechi’s skin through the wet white of his shirt. The creased lines just accentuated it, and Akira wanted to peel the cloth away, strip away the wrinkles and inconsistencies to see the flawless skin beneath.
Look but don’t touch. He’d made a mistake before—or he hadn’t. The way Akechi was looking at him called everything into question.
Should Akira bring up the kiss, or would it break the playful mood? He wanted to pretend everything was fine. He wanted to lose himself and his doubts in the press of Akechi’s body against his.
“Akechi,” he spoke before he could consider anything else. “About the other day—” Akira cleared his throat. “I need to apologize—”
Akira went quiet. The rain was still drilling into cement and siding, thunder still rumbling, a symphony in their silence. Akira wanted to stay still, but his hands were liable to tremble in all his nervousness. He picked up his coffee to hide it, to give his fingers something to do.
“You didn’t read me wrong,” Akechi said after a slow blink. The syllables rose soft and smoky from his mouth. Akira could imagine them curling away from his lips, diffusing into the night air.
“And,” Akechi continued, staring Akira hard in the eyes, “I don’t think you’re misreading me now, either.”
Heat sprung through Akira’s limbs in a sudden, overwhelming surge. He exhaled the small bit of air that had collected in his lungs and it left him weakly, like it had been knocked out of him.
Lightning struck then, close enough to tear the air apart in a sharp, shrieking clap of thunder. Akira jumped, making coffee leap from his cup and spill all over the counter.
“ Agh ,” he bit off to keep himself from cursing. The coffee slid over the counter’s edge and spilled onto the floor behind the bar. “I’m sorry.” He apologized to Akechi as much as Sojiro’s vengeful spirit, surely aware of his failure.
“Let me help you,” Akechi said, already tumbling off the barstool and around the counter.
“No, no.” Akira vainly attempted to stop him. “It’s my mess, I’ll—”
“Hush,” Akechi responded simply.
Akira mopped at the spill on the floor with a rag, and coffee from the counter dripped down and splattered onto his cheek.
He closed his eyes in bitter amusement for a second. It felt like his life was this spilled cup of coffee: neatly and carefully prepared only to become a splayed out mess that stuck to the underside of the world’s shoe. Delinquent .
“You should have started with the counter,” Akechi chided him gently, wiping at the mess above Akira’s head.
“Yeah,” Akira agreed, unseeingly swiping his rag over the floor. “I panicked.”
Akechi chuckled. It didn’t matter why, whether it was at Akira’s expense or not. It made Akira’s heart trip into a fluttering rhythm, too big for his chest.
Akechi bent down to his level, presumably finished wiping the counter for him. He swiped once over the floor. “It’s not so bad,” he said.
A dry laugh left Akira’s throat. It was supposed to sound more pleasant. It was supposed to sound breezy and unshaken. ‘ Haha, naturally, no big deal, I’m just a klutz! ’ But Akira was wound tight around Akechi’s words, and now he was close, right in front of Akira’s face.
Akira and Akechi rose in unison, discarding their rags onto the bar. “Sorry; you had to clean up my mess.”
“‘Had to’,” Akechi parroted tauntingly. He lifted his hand, swiping gently at Akira’s cheek. He came away with a drop of coffee on his thumb. He eyed it for a second before bringing it to his mouth and swiping the drop away with his tongue. “A shameful waste of coffee, though.”
Akira’s head was empty. He was singeing the memory of Akechi’s tongue gliding over the pad of his thumb into his memory.
“Ah, there’s more,” Akechi said, taking a step closer. Akechi’s shirt brushed against his own, scraping against him with that tight friction granted by damp clothing.
He brushed away another drop, his face now remarkably close to Akira’s neck. So close that this time when he licked the drop away, Akira could feel his breath tickle over his skin. He did it again, his touch dragging fire behind it, and leaned closer, licked his thumb again.
Akira closed his eyes and held his breath. He felt a shudder boiling under his skin but he needed to keep it, trap it.
That was when Akechi leaned that extra centimeter forward, chest almost pressing against him, and kissed a drop of coffee from his cheek. Akira’s eyes sprung open. He was dreaming. He is dreaming. Akechi’s nose grazed against him as he trailed his lips lower, kissing away another drop, and then another.
The flutter of breath that came from Akira was unstoppable. Akechi had pressed his lips so close to the corner of Akira’s mouth that he could taste the coffee on his breath, smell the cold damp rainwater on his skin.
Akechi slowly raised his eyes to Akira, keeping their faces close. Akira stared down at him. He could feel the thread of heat between their lips, the tingle of almost-touch so tangible and overwhelming they might have been breathing lightning.
Akechi’s eyelashes fluttered. He tipped his chin up.
To hell with second guessing.
Akira slid his hand behind Akechi’s neck, threading his fingers into his hair, and kissed him. It was harder this time. Urgent. Akechi and Akira both huffed breath through their noses as they stumbled backward, feet tripping over the floor until Akechi was pressed against the support of the bar. Akira brought both hands to his face again, inhaling the kiss like it was the sole thing that could return proper weight and purpose to his limbs.
Akechi’s mouth was moving, taking to him in such a needy and receptive way that Akira could have melted. Akechi dug his nails into Akira’s lower back and Akira gasped low and raspy against his lips. Akechi’s hand fisted in the damp fabric, tugging at it with irrepressible energy.
I know the feeling , Akira thought to himself, sliding his tongue along the line of Akechi’s lower lip. Akechi opened his mouth immediately, nipping at Akira when lips grazed teeth—a warning, or perhaps a promise. Akira purred, hips pressing maybe a little too hard against Akechi’s. Or maybe not, given that Akechi tipped his head back and shuddered full bodied in Akira’s arms.
He’s too much. “God,” Akira breathed, mouth falling low so he could kiss at Akechi’s jaw, under his ear. Akechi’s hands were rising, pushing up the fabric stuck to Akira’s skin so he could run his fingers along the lines of his back. Akira’s mouth was still travelling downward, and he tested the waters by tenderly sucking on Akechi’s neck.
“Aah—” Akechi’s hips jumped, his breath coming out shaky.
Akira wasn’t going to make it. He was going to die here, probably. And he was going to die happy, definitely.
Akira reached up and yanked down the knot of Akechi’s tie, freeing the top of his shirt so it could be unbuttoned. He needed that triangle of skin, that flawless stretch of collarbone. He wanted to kiss every centimeter. Akechi interrupted Akira with another kiss, wet and open mouthed. Akira hadn’t kissed like this before. He slid his tongue in the way he had before, and just like before the rush of slippery sensation made his blood pressure spike. Akechi licked into his mouth, touching at the roof of it, tentative. He was exploring, prodding at everything Akira was willing to bare. That was fine; Akira was willing to bare everything.
It was clear from his exploration—achingly clear—that this was Akechi’s first time kissing like this as well. The feel of a stranger’s mouth, the shock of someone else’s tongue against his own. They felt it together, and it drew them tighter into whatever was between them. It made Akira gasp with longing, with need.
Akechi taunted Akira’s tongue again before sliding long over the roof of it, growing more confident. Akira fidgeted and their teeth clicked together. He laughed slightly when they pulled apart.
“Sorry,” he said, pressing a quick kiss to the corner of Akechi’s mouth. “Ticklish.”
Akira didn’t even have to see Akechi’s mouth to see his smile. It was in his eyes, burning. Akira kissed him again, hard, rolling their hips together. Akechi gasped, hands flexing tighter where they were latched onto Akira.
Akira could feel Akechi’s length against him. Akechi was hard against him .
Akira barely swallowed the sound that tried to rise in his chest. He ran his lips over Akechi’s throat. “ Akechi ,” he breathed.
Akechi made a noise, something like a whimper.
“Can I…” Akira trailed off to kiss a beauty mark on Akechi’s shoulder, then farther down to press his lips against his collarbone. “Just…” He looked up at Akechi before lightly nipping at his chest. “Tell me if you don’t like something, okay?”
Akechi was looking down at him, face flushed dark and eyes just a little wide. He nodded.
Akira’s hands went back to work unbuttoning Akechi’s shirt. His mouth made it slower work, constantly distracted by beauty marks and soft skin and the urge to bite . He pushed Akechi’s shirt open, the wet fabric peeling away from him like it was an extra layer of skin. Goosebumps rippled across his chest, and Akira couldn’t help but lean forward as he watched Akechi’s nipple harden. He took it into his mouth, sucking gently.
Akechi cried out, actually slapping his hand over his mouth to stifle the noise.
“ Mmm ,” Akira hummed, pleased with that reaction. Akechi whimpered again, hips flexing.
Note , Akira thought, delirious with need : Humming = Good
He sank to his knees as he speckled more kisses southward, trying not to spend too much time in the gentle lines that defined Akechi’s stomach, or the supple softness of his skin. He had to nip around his bellybutton though; Akechi squirmed when Akira kissed there, his eyes squeezing shut.
Then Akira’s hand hovered for a moment, uncertain. He looked to Akechi as he let it flutter down, landing on the clasp of his belt. Akechi opened his eyes, mouth parted on nothing. He looked… surprised, maybe. Stunned? His cheeks were crimson and his eyes were large, but after a quiet blink of consideration, he nodded.
Akira pulled the belt open, unlatching it before undoing the button of Akechi’s slacks. Akechi turned his face away, but the flashes of lightning ensured that Akira could still see the rapid rise and fall of his chest.
Akira pulled his zipper down, slow. He watched as Akechi’s eyes dragged toward his movements. He was so determined not to look but too desperate to stop himself, and that simple fact made Akira’s length surge in his pants.
By the time Akechi was fully unzipped he was watching him, lips wet and parted. Akira pressed his palm to the bulge in Akechi’s boxers. Akechi’s eyes fluttered shut and his back tensed.
I’m doing this , some distant part of Akira marveled. I’m touching him . And not just his face. Did you grope him? he remembered Ann asking, and wanted to laugh hysterically. Not then , he imagined himself saying, but soon . He couldn’t believe his luck, couldn’t believe Akechi was letting him do this. God, he was perfect.
With a breath Akira tugged the boxers down—or tried to, anyway. The way he braced himself made the fabric catch on the ungiving length challenging the waistband. Embarrassment and inexperience made his hands shake, sure he was being watched as he stumbled, but he swallowed the need to apologize. Was Akechi judging him? And for what—his neediness? His certainty? Rookie mistakes? It didn’t matter; he was still letting Akira call the shots, and Akira didn’t make the same mistake twice, hooking his fingers under the elastic first and drawing it away.
This time he succeeded in dragging the fabric downward, and Akechi looked away, covering his lips with his fingers as his cock sprung free. It bobbed in front of Akira’s face, gently curved and wet at the head, and Akira almost honest to God moaned. Learning the physical dimensions of Akechi—the fact that he could want this too, could want it this badly—it was too much. Too good.
Akira scooted closer, the knees of his pants catching at the wooden floor. “Akechi,” he said, his voice coming out deep and hoarse—a stranger’s voice.
Akechi’s eyes fluttered to him and then away again. He was trembling.
Akira swallowed. “I can stop. At any point. Just tell me.”
It took Akechi a moment to speak. When he did the words came out strained. “If you stopped now, I think I would combust.”
“That would be hard to explain to Sojiro. The mess.”
Akechi coughed, his face lighting with amusement before twisting back into something almost dismissive. He tipped his chin up as he looked down on Akira. “Well then?”
Well then .
Akira shuddered. He couldn’t help it; if he had had a hand on himself when Akechi said that, he probably would have come.
Akira brought his hand up to Akechi’s cock, grazing over it gently. Akechi hissed breath into his lungs, hips shivering. That diluted the pomp on his face, opened it into vulnerability.
Both , Akira thought distantly to himself, remembering how he hadn’t been able to make up his mind on what kind of Akechi he wanted. The fates had aligned to deliver him the real Akechi instead of a fantasy, and the real Akechi was never just one thing. Akira slid his hands over the smooth flesh of Akechi’s cock before wrapping his palm around it. He looked at the head, shining faintly, and felt the slick inside his own boxers grow thicker. He was going to be an absolute mess by the end of this, but that was fine.
I would have paid one million yen for this .
Akira leaned forward, breathing over the head.
Akechi is so generous.
He reached forward with his tongue, experimental, and pressed the tip into a bead of precum. Akechi started to shudder the moment Akira touched him, and his tremors only increased as he swiped his tongue around the head.
Akechi whimpered and Akira had to do his best not to do the same. He’d wanted to taste Akechi for so long; he’d wanted the smell of him to fill his mouth and his head, to lick at the heat of him until he was undone. And now he was here , swirling his tongue around the head of Akechi’s cock and listening to him moan.
Precum tasted different than Akira had thought it would, salty but nothing like sweat, and knowing the taste of Akechi’s seemed like a new form of intimacy—a strange kind, a body kind. He pressed his lips to Akechi’s tip before pushing against it. He wanted the pink bulb to break past his lips, make it look like all he could do was open up to Akechi.
Akechi covered his mouth and groaned. He was still shivery and flushed, embarrassed but intent on the movement of Akira’s mouth. Akira sunk lower, looking up through his glasses at Akechi’s reactions. His shaft was thick and unyielding, and he smelled so good . He smelled so Akechi , so warm and musky but with a fresh cling of soap.
“ A-Aah, ” Akechi’s shoulders wound tight and his head tipped back. His free hand fluttered around, uncertain of itself. Akira took Akechi as far back as he could, right until he could feel the danger of his gag reflex, and then pulled his lips back over him, slow and wet.
Akechi’s hand fell into Akira’s hair, tensing there. When his nails scraped against Akira’s scalp Akira groaned, the whole of Akechi’s cock still seated against his tongue.
Akechi’s hips bucked and Akira almost gagged.
“I’m sorry!” Akechi whispered, eyes big.
Akira lurched forward, taking more of him, taking him in until his eyes watered.
He wanted Akechi to forget his reservations. He wanted him to thrust forward in that hopeless, broken way he just had over and over, banishing the mild-mannered, put-together character he played on TV with every unforgiving jerk of his hips. Akira was close to choking, but he was still in control, and he wanted it wrested from him. Sensations were bursting against his skin. Everything was a hot jolt, everything made him want to do more , do better .
“ Akira ,” Akechi breathed.
Akira moaned again, his hips writhing where he sat. His cock was trapped in his slacks, bulging awkwardly to one side. The cling of the wet fabric made it even more obvious, but Akira didn’t care. He wanted Akechi to realize how good this was for him, how hard he was just from tasting him.
When Akechi re-tightened his grip in Akira’s hair Akira mewled against his cock. He broke away from it for a moment to lick at the head, under the beautifully defined ridge and over the slit that kept spilling salt into his mouth.
Akechi’s eyes fell down to him. His chest was heaving, his hips gyrating in the slightest. “Akira…”
Akira took him back into his mouth, devouring as much of the shaft as he possibly could.
“Akira!” Akechi tried again, this time with force in his voice.
Akira froze. He looked up through his lashes at Akechi, mouth still wrapped around his cock.
Akechi blinked a few times, then cleared his throat. “Touch yourself.” Akira couldn’t seem to process this at first. Then Akechi’s eyes narrowed. “Touch yourself,” he repeated, voice firm.
Akira dropped a hand to his lap, fingers fluttering around his cock. When he finally touched it he groaned, eyes squeezing shut. His pants were a wet mess, and the uneven slide of cloth over his cock was taunting.
Akechi gasped. “Yes,” he breathed, “like that.”
Akira stroked over himself as he bobbed his head over Akechi. He kept making noises without intending to; small moans and little gasps and rough, deep sounds escaping from him.
“ Yes ,” Akechi whispered, head tipping back. His hips began to undulate against Akira’s mouth.
God. Akira followed the rhythm, coerced him with carefully timed movements to fuck into his lips. It was going to be too much; Akira was going to come in his pants before Akechi even got off. He was going to be a puddle of moaning pleasure around Akechi, still devoutly taking him in and still loving every second of it.
Akechi’s hips started snapping. It was getting harder to breathe around him; the space behind Akira’s eyes spun and went fuzzy. It was dizzyingly good, feeling Akechi buck into him.
“ God, yes, I— ”
Akira abandoned his own cock to hold onto Akechi’s hip. He wanted all of his attention on Akechi for this moment. He kept his tongue soft and malleable in his mouth, hoping to glide ultra-wet and hot on the underside of Akechi’s cock. Akechi was thrusting into him faster now, hips shaking.
“ Mmm ,” Akira hummed, remembering Akechi’s response earlier. He took him as deep as he could, made his vision go speckled and fuzzy for lack of breathing.
“ Akira ,” Akechi gasped. “ I— ”
“ I’m— ”
Akechi tugged at Akira’s hair and it was good , so good, and Akira couldn’t help but moan against him.
Akechi’s hips snapped, sharp and sudden, and he cried out just as he spurted into Akira’s throat.
Akira almost choked. It was unexpected, and it hit the back of his throat, but he squeezed his eyes shut and swallowed him down. Wave after wave he swallowed the thick and bitter that collected in his mouth. He coaxed tremors from Akechi’s body with every pull of his mouth, swirling his tongue around the head and shaft. Akechi began to crumble, legs shaking and breaths coming in uneven bursts.
Akira could have stayed on his knees all night, lapping at his skin until well past him going soft. But Akechi pulled from him suddenly, denying him the opportunity. He clenched his hand in Akira’s hair as he looked down at him. They were both breathless, chests rising and falling like they’d run a marathon. Akechi dropped to his knees, forcing himself eye to eye with Akira, and kissed him hard on the mouth. Akira still tasted like him, still had Akechi coating the inside of his mouth, but it didn’t seem to matter. Akechi shoved at him, forcing him onto the floor of the shop, mouths still desperately licking at one another. Their arms and legs were a tangle.
“You felt so good,” Akechi whispered as he fit his body on top of Akira’s. He immediately went to sucking on Akira’s neck, his hips grinding into Akira’s body.
Akira’s back arched, a weak breath leaving his chest. “You tasted even better,” he responded. His voice was rougher and deeper than he thought possible.
Akechi took his mouth again, inhaling against him while sliding his still-hard length against Akira’s throbbing cock.
“Oh God,” Akira said, voice cracking.
“ Mmm ,” Akechi hummed next to his ear. He nipped at the lobe and did it again, thrusting his hips against Akira’s.
“Not fair,” Akira wheezed.
“What’s not fair?” Akechi asked in a perfectly pleasant voice. He began gyrating his hips in a very… distinctive pattern. He kissed Akira as Akira whined into his mouth. Akechi’s hands fluttered outward, grabbing at Akira’s wrists. They had been set on Akechi’s hips, but now Akechi was pulling them out and up. He forced Akira’s hands above his head, then pinned his wrists there with one hand. He dipped down as his hips picked up their pace. “Fair yet?”
Holy shit . Akira groaned. There was no calling fouls on this one. He was too devious.
Akechi rocked into him, kissing him and breathing over him in short bursts. Every now and then he shuddered, his length still hard and the aftershocks still sparking through him. Tension built in Akira with every rhythmic thrust. The heat between them made Akira aware of all the places he hadn’t been touched, the longing in his skin for more—for Akechi to claim every part of him instead of leaving him dressed and wanting, decent and indecent.
The feeling in his fingers and feet was starting to go. It was replaced with that rain-static, fizzling white noise with no proper sensation.
“ Akechi ,” he said, because he couldn’t say anything else.
Akechi pressed their foreheads together, gasping over his mouth. His hips kept time, slow-fucking against Akira with perfect perseverance. Akira felt everything going lopsided and hazy. The tangled red coil of energy in his gut was about to burst.
But I’m not done yet. Akira was moaning, hips jumping up against Akechi. I still want to kiss him more, touch him more, hear more of those noises …
“ Akechi ,” he said again. He wanted to cup his face in his hands, but they were still bound above his head. He opened his eyes, bleary and unfocused, so he could look at Akechi’s face. Akechi was watching him, and he leaned forward to kiss him.
“ Akechi— ”
“ Yes, ” Akechi whispered, holding their mouths close.
“ I— ”
“ Yes ,” he said again, kissing him.
Akira gasped and cried out against Akechi’s lips, hips bucking as he came against the perfect fit of his body.
Akira’s body spasmed hard as the waves of relief hit him. He convulsed against Akechi’s hold, hips hiccuping outside his control. Akechi was smattering his face with kisses. He pressed one to his neck, his jaw, under his glasses. He released Akira’s hands and Akira immediately wrapped his arms around Akechi’s waist, unthinking. Slowly his body started to go languid, heavy with a desire for sleep. He felt like he might melt into the hard floor, Akechi’s weight sinking into him.
He was only vaguely aware of Akechi propping himself up on one arm as quiet seconds lengthened to minutes. Akira’s eyes were closed, so he felt rather than saw Akechi’s fingers coming to rest against his jaw, tilting his head slowly this way and that. A finger traced his cheekbone, ran below the arm of his glasses on one side of his face. The strange caresses made him blink his eyes open just a little, just to see. Akechi was looking down at his face, studying it with scientific intensity. The pad of Akechi’s thumb ran over Akira’s bottom lip, then moved to pull at the corner of his mouth as if he was about to study his teeth. Akira couldn’t stop himself from smiling at that.
Was Akechi looking at his mouth and thinking of it on him? He hoped so. He hoped Akechi would never look at his mouth the same way again. For his part, he didn’t think he could look at Akechi’s hands again without feeling them on his wrists. He wouldn’t be able to see Akechi in any clothes without imagining unbuttoning them, shoving them aside to get to skin.
Then again, he’d barely been able to before. Now his fantasies would just have an extra edge.
A very, very sharp one.
“I’m going to come then and there next time I see you on TV,” Akira murmured sleepily. Then, after a moment of slow, muddled thought: “I need to avoid watching TV in public.”
Akechi’s thumb was playing with his lips again, moving up and down as if to push in, and Akira opened his mouth just slightly, obedient. Akechi slid his thumb inside.
“I’ll warn you if I do any interviews,” he said. Akira’s eyes had fallen shut again, and the sound of his voice above him made him shudder with pleasure. That quiet comment was the first thing Akechi had said since those hungry affirmatives leading up to Akira’s orgasm, and he sounded almost neutral again—as if they were discussing the weather. As if his thumb wasn’t in Akira’s mouth, pressing against his teeth, his tongue.
Akechi’s voice dropped lower, taking on a curious tone. “Or maybe I won’t.”
Arousal curled inside of Akira, lazy still, overpowered by sleepy satisfaction but beginning to shiver back into life. “You want me to be caught off guard?” He had to speak around Akechi’s thumb.
“I imagine it would be a sight.”
At last Akechi retracted his hand, but it was only to play with the hair at the side of Akira’s head, twisting it in his fingers. He found the shell of Akira’s ear, trailed a fingertip along the ridge. He moved Akira’s head to the side to see better in the darkness, brushing hair back behind his ear, touching the soft plastic end of Akira’s glasses.
“Are you giving me a physical?” Akira asked at last. He wouldn’t mind playing doctor with Akechi. He had a feeling Akechi would perform that dispassionate, clinical air like he was born to it.
“Is that what they’re calling it these days?”
Akechi’s soft voice still made Akira shiver. He really was never going to be able to face him again. No: facing him with the others around would be a form of torturous pleasure from now on. He and Akechi would know what they’d done, and no one else would guess. How could they?
The thought of standing opposite Akechi again, distance between them, made Akira flatten a hand on Akechi’s back possessively. He didn’t think this was the start of a relationship. Nothing in Akechi’s bearing had suggested it—but there was something between them, and now it had an outlet.
He looked forward to using that outlet more—as often as Akechi would allow him to. He’d be ready.
“I don’t understand,” Akechi said, soft voice calling Akira back. His fingers were sliding against Akira’s scalp, and it felt so good Akira could barely form words.
He wouldn’t try, actually. “Mm?”
There was a tickle of Akechi’s hair brushing against his collar; Akechi was shaking his head. “Nothing. I believe I’m meant to steal away now. That’s the traditional ending, isn’t it?”
“You don’t have to,” Akira mumbled. His arms tightened. Akechi was surprisingly heavy, but Akira liked his weight pressing in. He liked knowing Akechi’s physical dimensions—his shape, his weight, the strength of his grip. “You can stay.”
Akechi laughed softly. “In your attic bedroom, to walk past your guardian and any early morning customers tomorrow morning in rumpled clothes. Yes, that would be a picture. I almost hope some worthless journalist would catch it; it would make a refreshing change from the reruns of everything I’ve ever said about the Phantom Thieves.”
Akira stiffened, but not because Akechi mentioned the thieves. He’d forgotten about Morgana upstairs. If he brought Akechi up there, he’d have a thing or two to explain.
Three things, even. Maybe four.
“I’d enjoy it,” Akira said. “Being your dirty little secret.”
“There are a lot of things you enjoy, aren’t there?”
The pleasure that lanced through Akira at the insinuation in Akechi’s voice only proved his point. “Yes.”
“You always surprise me. Did you get what you wanted?”
“And then some.” Akira blinked open his eyes again, finding Akechi gazing down at him. It wasn’t a tender look, exactly—more calculating than tender. Akira couldn’t help thinking about the million yen Ryuji and Ann had discussed, couldn’t help wanting to part with it even though he’d gotten what he wanted for free. Offering money now would make everything weird, so he resisted the impulse to offer it. Instead he blew out a breath. “And you?”
Akechi’s smile was sharp. “We’ll see.”
The promise of more made the air in Akira’s lungs go thin. “Nice,” he managed.
His lungs expanded to their normal capacity as Akechi began to get up, pushing onto his knees. Akechi was in disarray, belt dragging, and Akira watched lazily as he put himself to rights. He almost offered to button up the shirt himself, but he preferred to watch for now, seeing the armor of Akechi Goro settle back over flushed skin. He’d think about it later, remember every slow second at his leisure when he had the chance. The show had to end, though; eventually Akechi looked almost like his usual self, minus dry clothes.
Akira breathed out a sigh, sitting up. He didn’t want to stand, but it would be wrong not to walk Akechi to the station now. Even if they weren’t dating. The pitter-patter of rain outside, greatly reduced, promised not to soak them through any worse than they already were.
He wanted to delay that inevitable walk. He leaned in, kissed Akechi softly. He did what he couldn’t before, holding Akechi’s face between his hands as he worked his mouth. Electricity tingled down his spine as Akechi gave in, letting Akira’s tongue sweep against his own, reacquainting them both to the taste and hush of mingled breath.
Eventually he let go, not wanting Akechi to be the one moving back. Once released, Akechi stood slowly; Akira joined him, though a lack of blood in his head and shaky legs made him stumble.
The look of smugness on Akechi’s face at Akira’s stumble only made Akira want to drop back to his knees and repeat the exercise—but he resisted. He assisted Akechi with his coat and briefcase and walked him to the door, ignoring the way walking made him aware of the viscous mess in his underwear. Not a great feeling; it was starting to dry. He held the door open.
“Goodbye, Akira-kun,” Akechi said, eyes narrowed in private amusement. Akira shook his head.
“I’ll walk you.”
Akechi’s eyes flickered to Akira’s crotch, though of course nothing was visible there. The knowing look said otherwise, however; it conjured luminol and blacklights. Akira swallowed spit.
“You don’t want me to?”
“Part of me does,” Akechi admitted. “But I’ll save that for another day.”
Again the promise of more made Akira feel weak, but he kept his response to a nod. “See you later, then.”
Akechi laughed, delighted. “Yes. Later.”
Akira watched him go, caught between awe and disbelief. Rain fell softly against the street, the earlier intensity of the storm gone as if it had never happened—but once Akechi was gone Akira cast his eyes up at the sky anyway, remembering the way it had threatened and flashed.
“Thanks,” he murmured to it, grinning. He hoped it knew he meant it.
Thursday . There was nothing special about Thursdays. The sun was shining, school had resumed, they had a new request in Mementos... Nothing had changed, really, but Akira felt lighter anyway—and he felt light enough to fall upwards when he opened the door to Leblanc that evening and saw Akechi there, casual as anything, bent over a cup of coffee and a newspaper as if nothing had happened.
It was perfect. Akira almost questioned whether he’d ever seen him lose his cool.
“Welcome back,” Sojiro called automatically, and it was only then that Akechi turned to look at the door.
Time seemed to still as their eyes met. It was their first time seeing each other since the night of the storm, and Akira knew he wasn’t imagining the tension that shivered between them when they made eye contact, ripe with the knowing he’d anticipated. His pulse drummed giddily in his veins. He tried, but he couldn’t keep a straight face.
“Honey,” he said in a rush of breath, “I’m home.”
Amusement crinkled Akechi’s eyes. Behind him, Sojiro levelled Akira with a stare.
“Don’t be weird to my customers, you hear? I don’t want you scaring them off.”
“He doesn’t have many to lose,” Morgana put in. Akira tried to swallow down his smile, executing a jerky nod at Sojiro.
“Akira-kun,” Akechi said, beautifully polite. His smile was a blank slate, a charming lie. Akira wanted that mouth against him.
Akechi glanced at Sojiro. “I don’t mind it. Akira-kun has a unique way of expressing himself, doesn’t he?”
Sojiro stared for a moment—then laughed. “That’s one way to put it.” He looked at Akira. “You two friends? Am I getting you a cup?”
Akira glanced at Akechi, waiting for permission, and Akechi gestured at the empty stool beside him with a relaxed wave, the international gesture for be my guest . As if it didn’t matter to him which way Akira chose.
“Yes please,” Akira told Sojiro. He slid onto the bar stool next to Akechi, then tugged at his fringe with forced casualness. The gesture steadied his nerves and had the added benefit of hiding his face from view.
He needed that just now, that extra bit of privacy.
He couldn’t stop smiling.