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Never a Moment Alone

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Chapter 1

“Shit!”

Sadayo looked up from the map on her phone and frowned. Everywhere she looked, she saw building after building; everything was the same. It was only her second visit to this city, but she felt that with the map she could have at least found her way; she was wrong. Her brow furrowed, Sadayo felt a dull pain fill her temple. Rubbing the throb, Sadayo looked around for something that looked like a convenience store or any place where she could get directions.

They’d spent weeks planning this visit, his parents were off visiting an aunt and his sister had left on a training trip with her swim team and both of them had been anxious. It was the second to last week of both their summer vacations and Sadayo had finished her work a few days prior in preparation. Akira had mentioned having to work at his new part-time job for the remainder of the week but said he’d be home before she arrived.

Checking her watch, Sadayo sighed seeing that it was nearly three and darted off toward the nearest street merchant. It was difficult with her suitcase rolling behind her. The bag wasn’t overly large, but it was filled to the brim with her clothes, toiletries, and a few snacks that some of her friends had asked her to bring back with her. Coming to a stop, she took a moment to catch her breath. The cart was run by an older man, in his late forties, and was surrounded by several breeds of flowers. He looked to be content, prepping bouquets and other items.

“Hello.” The man set down the latest bouquet, a rather large one filled with tulips and other flowers Sadayo didn’t recognize.

“Hi.” She stood up, a slight stitch in her side as she caught her breath. “Would you mind if I bothered you for a moment? I’m a bit lost.”

“Of course my dear.” The man adjusted the small pair of wire glasses on his nose and gave her a patient smile. “Where are you looking to go?”

“I’m looking for this address; or at least the street.” She opened her phone and showed him the address.

“Oh,” the man chuckled after a moment and handed her back the phone. “You’re not that far off dear. It’s about five blocks down that way and then a left at the bakery.”

“Bakery?” Sadayo’s stomach growled loudly at the possibility of food. “What kind of bakery?”

He gave her a wink and pulled a few small purple flowers from his stall and held them out to her. “A rather lovely bakery that also serves a bit of coffee. Ask for Akane and she can help you if you get lost again.”

“What are these for?” Sadayo took the flowers and smelled them. They were rather fragrant, not overly powering, but lovely in their own right.

“You just look like you could use a pick me up.” The man gave her a wink and waved toward the streets. “No charge, but should you need anything else, please come back. I’m here most days.”

Sadayo bowed and turned to head in the direction he’d mentioned. Stopping, Sadayo turned back around and looked at the man. He had brown graying hair and dark sun tanned face. His eyes were a deep green and his hands were stained with dirt.

“Would you mind if I ask for your name, sir?”

He looked up from his latest bouquet and checked something off a piece of paper and gave her another smile. “It’s Gin, my dear. Might I ask yours?”

“Kawakami Sadayo.” She bowed and returned the smile. “It’s very nice to meet you, Gin-san. Thank you for the flowers.”

“Just Gin, my dear.” He chuckled and waved a hand at her. “And it’s just Akane with the lady who owns the bakery, or Akane-chan. She’s a stickler for people treating her like she’s their sister.”

“Thank you for the advice.” Sadayo took a deep breath and clutched the flowers. “I’ll be sure to stop by and buy a few more on my way out of town.”

“I’ll have something special ready to make when you return.”

She bid him farewell and then turned down the street with a slight bounce in her step that wasn’t there earlier. The sun was shining and she was beginning to at least enjoy herself. The trip on the train had been nearly unbearable thanks to it being over an hour late and the air conditioning was barely functioning. Luckily, she’d worn a pair of low-cut shorts and a tee-shirt rather than her customary skirt and found the trip at least tolerable compared to the people in work clothes; but she had noticed a few people eyeing her. It was both flattering and a bit creepy given the fact that some of the men looked to be older than her father.

Now out amongst other people, Sadayo felt less conspicuous since there were several people dressed like her and felt her headache slowly dissipate now that she knew where she was going. She’d chosen this outfit especially since Akira had rarely seen her outside her work outfit in person. Since he’d been gone they’d taken to video chatting and long phone calls when she could pull herself away from work and him from his studies and family. This was mostly on Friday and Saturday nights after his parents had gone to bed. Luckily for them, Akira’s parents were usually in bed by ten and after putting the cat out, they were able to both entertain and pleasure themselves without interruption.

Still, there was something to be said of him seeing her dressed like this in person rather than naked over a video chat or describing it over the phone. Despite how intimate they’d gotten over their long chats and short dates together, seeing one another naked was still new to them. The body of a naked man was nothing new to Sadayo. While she hadn’t been pushed to that with her maid job, she'd had dates and even a few boyfriends in her time to get her used to the sight, but Akira was different.

While the age gap wasn’t that great, Sadayo always saw quiet anxiety in his eyes. She had grown used to his cockiness, how he always handled everything with this casual ease. He could make her calm with a touch, ease her tension with a simple smile, and dissolve her barriers with a mere question. Yet he always grew bashful when she began showing the slightest hint of skin, even after all the times he’d seen her in her maid outfit.

When she approached the cafe, Sadayo took a moment to appreciate her reflection in the mirror. She’d been growing her hair out and had pulled it back into a ponytail. A small hint of doubt crept into her mind at what he’d think about it, but she thought she looked good and so did many other people based on all the stares she was getting. Adjusting her shirt, to make sure it left at least a little to the imagination and contemplated entering the bakery.

It smelt divine and made her stomach growl and from the window, she perused some of the food she could see. She saw several sandwiches, cupcakes, danishes, and other favorites that tempted her grumbling tummy. When she finally made up her mind to buy a sandwich, her phone rang and her chest tightened at the picture he’d taken of them the last time they saw a movie.

“Hello?”

“Hey!” He sounded breathless as if he’d just come back from running, which wasn’t unusual given that she knew he and Ryuji were keeping up with their training regimen.

“Hi.” She felt her ears grow warm at the sound of his voice. “What have you been doing? You sound out of breath?”

“I just got back from a run.”

I knew it. She thought in victory at hearing this.

“What are you up to? I thought you would have been here by now?” He sounded more concerned rather than annoyed and it made her feel warm inside. “Are you lost? Do you need me to come and get you?”

“I’m at that bakery a couple of blocks away.” She turned away from the bakery and began heading down the street. “My train was a bit late and I did get lost until a nice man running a flower stand gave me directions.”

“You mean Gin?” He sounded like he’d just taken a huge gulp of something.

“I take it he’s a local favorite?” Sadayo clutched at the flowers Gin had given her.

“He’s been working that corner for years.” Akira laughed and she heard a drawer close. “He knows this town better than most people so if he gave you directions I’m not worried. I’m going to get in the shower, but if you need me I’ll have my phone.”

“I will.” Sadayo’s lips parted in a smile so big that she felt her cheeks hurt slightly. “I love you.”

“I love you too.” She could hear the smile on his face and the ache in his voice. Hanging up, Sadayo decided to take a minute and step into the bakery. Everything looked as good as it smelt and she wasted no time in ordering two of their larger sandwiches and a couple of treats. Thanking the young girl behind the counter, she left the bakery and loaded the GPS to see she had only another ten minutes of walking before she was there. As she began to wander she noticed a gathering of clouds beginning to form and cursed beneath her breath and picked up her pace, but her caution was soon met with disaster.

As she hurried, the rain began to fall and Sadayo began running down the streets, hoping not to lose her way. A few of the citizens asked her if she was all right and she told them she didn’t have too far to go. While she appreciated their concern, Sadayo had decided to heed Akira’s advice from her last visit and keep her contact with most of his neighbors to a minimum.

In their conversations, she’d listened to Akira describe how everyone had been treating him. Few people, save for a couple of former friends that believed in him, spoke to him at school. The teachers barely called on him in class and treated him with indifference; much like she had when she’d first met him.

The mention of that stung her quite deeply. It was her greatest regret and she hoped that she could make it up to him.

Finally, there were his parents. He never mentioned them much, the first time being how they’d welcomed him home with a small party and spoke little of the events that they’d learned about during his trial. Sadayo had listened to him go on about how they barely ever talked to him about his time in Tokyo and only wanted him to focus on his school and picking up where he left off. Sadayo had stayed up many nights talking to him about what he was feeling and wished that she had the time to visit him and talk to them, but whenever she mentioned it he’d denied her.

“You need to stay there,” he’d told her once after a particularly emotional conversation. “I know we don’t really have to hide anymore, but I don’t want to risk it.”

Reluctantly, she’d agreed and since then they’d survived on letters sent to LeBlanc, on top of the phone calls and video messages. Her only other visit had been a two-day visit over a long weekend where they’d spent most of it in her hotel room, lying in bed and ordering room service; they’d even risked a couple of meals out when it got late enough. But now she had a week alone with him and no one to worry about interrupting their time alone.

The rain was beginning to pour now and Sadayo felt her body begin to chill. Swearing quietly she began running through the street, arms clutching a bundle of flowers and a bag of sandwiches, while her suitcase trailed behind her. She began scanning every house she could see until she finally saw it through her rain splattered vision. Only a few meters ahead was a quaint modern looking home with a small yard in front of it and tall concrete wall. The front door had a large awning over it, covering the front step from any inclement weather. Most of the blinds were closed, save for a couple up on the second floor where Sadayo saw a familiar pair of blue eyes flash from the window facing the left side of the street.

Gulping loudly, she gripped her suitcase tighter and approached the door. The rain splashed around her shoes as she jogged up to the gate. It took her a moment to open it since she was now using her flowers and lunch as an umbrella, but she managed and soon found respite beneath the awning. Shivering, she raised her hand to the door and began knocking loudly as the cold began to sink in. Looking around, she saw nobody staring at her, but began regretting wearing such low cut shorts but was glad for the thick tee-shirt and her bra. After a few minutes with no answer, Sadayo hit the doorbell several times and waited until she heard the thundering of footsteps and a loud yowl from inside the house.

“Then don’t sleep in the middle of the steps!” She heard him yell as she began to hastily undue her ponytail and fluffing her hair.

There was some more yowling and Sadayo rolled her eyes. She’d never understood why Akira always talked to his cat so much. Granted she wasn’t much better with her tendency to care for some of the strays in her neighborhood, but the level he took it to was unusual even for a pet owner.

The locks scraped and then there was the rattle of a latch on the door and Sadayo felt herself grow weak when she saw him.

His untidy hair was still soaked and plastered to his head. His arms and legs were bare thanks to the shorts and tank top he was wearing and Sadayo couldn’t help but admire the scars and sinewy muscles and how badly she wanted them to warm her up. His lanky form still towered over hers, but she liked having to look up into his gray eyes as he slowly realized what he was looking at.

Rubbing his eyes, Akira slowly drank in the sight before him.

It was one of the few times, Akira was at loss for words in her presence. Since the last time he’d seen her hair had gone from just below her ears and was now down to her shoulders. She was wearing a baggy gray, faded, and soaked tee-shirt that clung to her torso and was wearing a pair of shorts that left almost little to the imagination. Her brown eyes were staring off to the side, but there was a deep blush to her face and a smile on her lips. Stepping out, Akira reached out with a hand and gently touched her cheek and let out a smile when he felt her hair.

It was as soft as he remembered, if a bit longer than he was used to. Running his hand through it he didn’t find any knots and continued running his fingers through it lovingly. He could feel her shivering but deduced that it was more because she was cold rather than his touch.

“Do you like it,” she asked through slightly chattering teeth.

“Yeah,” he whispered and stepped forward. His other hand rested on her cheek, his thumb absent-mindedly caressing it. His head leaned forward and he couldn’t help but rest his forehead on hers. His eyes closed and he heard her exhale, her thin arms pushing them between him and her. Knowing what she wanted, Akira moved his arms from her head and down around her body, enveloping her with his warmth. It didn’t help her much, but Akira could feel her relax slightly and he couldn’t help but smile.

“You’re really here,” he whispered as she gently kissed the bare skin of his chest.

“I am,” she replied, her voice still chattering but her body made no attempt to enter the house. She wanted to stay in that spot, her chin finding its way to his shoulder while her arms wrapped around him. He was so warm and Sadayo clung to him in desperation. She hadn’t realized how much she had missed him until she felt his arms pull her in. They remained there for several moments, the rain pounding around them, but safe beneath the awning save for a couple of small droplets hitting their ankles. Despite the warm security of his arms, Sadayo shivered and tried to burrow deeper into his body.

“Come on,” he said as he rubbed his hand up and down her back.

“One second,” Sadayo whispered as he stepped away from her. Though the air around them was warm, Sadayo’s hands were still shaking from the sudden downpour. Reaching up she took his face into her hands and pulled him close. His lips wasted no time in finding hers and her body seemed to warm from the contact. Her shivering was now more from the sensation of finally being able to kiss him and she moaned deeply when his tongue pressed gently against hers.

“Feel better?” He asked after they broke apart. The familiar cocky grin had returned to his face, along with a deep tinge of red to his mildly tanned face.

“I’m still undecided.” She gave him a soft kiss on the lips and proceeded to grab her belongings.

“I’ll get those,” he said stepping out onto the small porch and lifted them effortlessly.

“Show off,” she snickered as they walked into the entry way. Taking off her shoes she wandered over to the steps and began petting the black cat that had joined them so many times at LeBlanc. “Hi, Morgana.”

“Hello, Sadayo.” The cat said though it sounded like mere meows to the teacher.

“You’re such talkative cat.” Sadayo scratched behind his ears and under his chin making the cat purr. “Such a good boy.”

“Hear that, Joker?” The cat broke away from the woman’s scratches and rubbed his head against her hands. “I’m a good boy.”

“You’re going to spoil him,” grunted Akira, though there was a twitch of amusement from his lip.

“Animals deserve to be spoiled on occasion, just like humans.”

“Yeah, Akira.” Morgana made a quick movement and jumped onto Sadayo’s shoulder. “I deserve to be spoiled.”

“If you say so.” Akira gave Morgana a small flick on the nose and wandered off toward the kitchen while Sadayo carefully stood up, hoping the cat wouldn’t scratch her.

This was the first time, Sadayo had actually stepped into his house and was a bit amazed at how much life it seemed to have. While not messy, there was a slight disorganization to it. Books on various topics were laying around. She read a few titles and after reading the back saw that a lot of them dealt with psychotherapy, others were cookbooks and managerial books. There were also books most people would use for casual and scholastic reading as well. Picking up one of the books on psychotherapy, Sadayo looked around the walls and saw pictures and paintings of all kinds.

Most of them were of Akira and his family. Vacations and holidays were plastered everywhere as well as graduations from elementary and middle schools. She saw a long lanky man and a smaller squat woman with a round face and glasses smiling at her while wearing traditional wedding kimonos. Further down she saw a young girl, no older than five or six, and a young Akira, both looking frustrated about something while their mother was trying to console them. Chuckling at the sight frumpy look on her boyfriend’s face, Sadayo wandered into the kitchen and watched Akira nibble on one of the cookies she’d bought.

“Dessert first?” Sadayo set the book down and removed Morgana from her shoulder and scratched the top of the cat’s head.


“I ate while I was at work.” Akira pointed at the sandwiches and said, “Though next time I’d recommend the club over the roast beef. It’s less of a hassle for carry-out.”

“Eat there often?” Sadayo wandered over and found that he’d placed what was once a pile of lovely meat on crisp bread was now a soaked pile of bread and meat. Not one to waste a good meal, Sadayo asked for a knife and fork, to which Akira obliged and dug into the food. The bread actually tasted clean and a bit salty thanks to the broth. The meat itself was sweet and tender and the ch

“Considering that’s where I'm working now, yeah I’d say I eat there often.” Akira handed her a glass of water and sat down next to her, smiling as he watched her.

Sadayo took a moment to ponder what he’d said before finally chuckling, “Of course you’d get a job at a nearby coffee shop.”

“I’m a creature of habit.” Akira picked up a stray bit of meat off her plate and popped it into his mouth. "And it's a bakery not a coffee shop."

“There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of familiarity.” Sadayo leaned over and gave him a quick kiss. “Besides, I know you made a lot of money during your time as a Phantom and I find it kind of sexy you’re still willing to work so hard after making enough to put yourself through college.”

“I still don’t know what I’m going to study.” Akira gave her shoulder a quick nuzzle and kissed it. “Everything seems so mundane after last year.”

“I know.” Sadayo set her knife and fork down and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. “But you can still waste a year in general studies while you figure it out. A lot of people do and if you can’t figure it out this year, maybe take a year off and work a few jobs; see if you find something that interests you.”

“And what if I don’t go to college and find a good job doing something weird?” He rested his chin on her shoulder and stared at her.

“As long as it’s not illegal or shady, you’ll have my support.” She gave him a kiss on the nose and returned to her food.

“You’re going to spoil me,” he laughed and gave her shoulder another kiss. She smelt like rain and coconut and he found it intoxicating.

“You’re already spoiled.” She sighed at having finally completed her lunch and burped quietly. “Excuse me.”

Akira laughed and gathered her dishes and headed toward the sink. As he began washing them, Sadayo wrapped her arms around him and rested her head on his back. He stopped momentarily, allowing himself to become accustomed to her embrace before continuing his work. When he finished, he turned around and she noticed a deep blush to his face.

“What’s the matter?” The dampness of her shirt was beginning to cling to her shirt and she noticed that Akira was looking away.

“No..nothing.” Akira coughed loudly and then looked down to her. “Are you sure you aren’t cold? Your shirt isn’t exactly dry.”

Sadayo stepped back and looked down at her shirt. She had to admit it was still pretty damp and clung to her skin, but it was by no means uncomfortable. Raising her arms she jumped up and down in front of him saying, “I’m fine with it.”

Akira averted his gaze, his face turning a deeper shade of red at the gentle jiggling the jumping caused.

Feeling frustrated at his lack of appreciation for her efforts, Sadayo crossed her arms and asked, “What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” Akira whispered as he scratched his head.

“That’s bullshit and you know it.” Sadayo tapped him on the head and snorted. “Why do you always get like this whenever you see me in clothes like this; or in none at all?” She approached and took his face in her hands and asked, “I don’t mind you seeing me like this. I love you and I want to share myself with you. You never get this way when we’re kissing or it’s on the phone so why should this be any different?”

“I know.” Akira nuzzled her hands and kissed her wrists. “I like looking at you. I like touching you and,” his ears turned a bright red as he added, “I really like how you feel when we have sex. But….sometimes….well a lot of the time, I just feel like I’m no better than some of those people who...”

He stopped but it was enough to tell Sadayo what he meant. She’d always wondered if this would come up and she kicked herself for never explaining herself fully. It was no secret about what most people expected of phone maids. Some girls went further than others, and Sadayo knew she was close to that breaking point before he’d helped her, but she couldn’t deny that she had been sorely tempted in order to pay the Takase’s their blood-money. The guilt, mixed with the need to fulfill her promise was becoming too great, but she was grateful that Akira and his friends had saved her from giving up the remainder of her dignity and help her become the teacher she’d always wanted to be. But even though she’d been freed from that prison, she never thought about how something like that would weigh on a mind as young as his after they’d both admitted their feelings.

“Akira,” Sadayo ran her fingers through his hair and did her best to sound consoling, “I know you aren't that kind of person. I’ll admit that I had been tempted to do some of those services because of what was happening to me. I’ll admit I’ve given massages and shown off a bit more than I’d have liked in that job, but...” she turned his face back to hers and said, “even if I had done those things I would never compare you to them. While I know you, Mishima-kun, and Ryuji-kun were being a couple of idiots trying to see how far you could push your luck.”

Akira’s face turned a bright red and he gave her a nervous smile and shrug as if to say, “You got me there.”

“And yes, I am very disappointed in you for even thinking of doing something like that.” She gave him a small glower but her eyes still held a small glint of a smile. “That doesn’t mean you are a bad person. It makes you a bit of an idiot and an inconsiderate ass. However, based on what I know of you three, I figured you all would have chickened out or been a bunch of idiots around whatever girl was sent to you."

“Good to know,” he said with a small chuckle. “But, it’s still a bit weird. I mean,” he kicked himself when he saw her eyes widen, “I mean I’m still surprised you want to be with me. I’m not a Phantom anymore. I don’t have my powers, I don’t have any reason to really go around and be smug and cocky. I’m just a criminal now, even though I’ve been proven innocent, I’m just….” he raised his hands up and down in front of him and just let them drop in defeat. “I’m just a normal person now.”

“Do you think I fell in love with you just because you were a Phantom?”

“I think it played a part.” Akira shrugged and rubbed at his eye beneath his glasses. “You can’t deny it did help in the long run.”

“It did,” Sadayo couldn’t deny that it was because he was a Phantom that she’d been pulled from her own personal hell, “but that doesn’t mean you’ve lost who you are and that you didn’t make an impact on lives.” She took his hand in hers and squeezed them, “You’ve helped people get through a lot of their own problems, with and without your powers. What you did when you were a Phantom will probably have a long lasting effect for many of those you helped, and in turn, they’ll help others. It might not be as fun as running around beating up bad guys, but,” Sadayo kissed his fingers one by one before speaking, “I didn’t fall in love with the thief; I fell in love with the man. I want him to know that he doesn’t need to worry about my seeing him like that. I want him to see me like I see him; as the person I love.”

Both of them were now blushing so much that, Morgana who’d been watching in the corner meowed loudly, “She’s got you there, Joker! God, you need to learn how to be more considerate to the women in your life. I’m so glad you didn’t fall for Lady Ann, she’d probably be climbing up the walls right now.”

“What’s got him so worked up?”

“Don’t worry about it.” Akira glared at the cat who gave him a small chortle. “He’s being an asshole right now.”

“Tell that to your mother when she wonders why there’s something brown and squishy in her shoe when she gets back,” mumbled the cat as he sauntered off toward his cat tower in the corner of the living room.

Akira fought off the urge to tell the cat off but didn’t want to scare Sadayo. Turning his attention back to his girlfriend, Akira and finally let the words she’d spoke sink in. “I do see you like you see me.” Akira rested his forehead against hers and nuzzled it. “I do like looking at you, but you’re the first person I’ve ever really been intimate with so this is still kind of new to me. Add that with how this all got started and my brain goes into overload and I get lost at how to handle myself.”

“I figured that was part of it too.” Sadayo nuzzled back and caressed his cheek. “It’s okay for you to tell me if you’re uncomfortable or unsure of what to do.”

“I know.” He smirked at the reassurance in her voice. He was so used to being the one she leaned on for help that it was kind of strange to listen to her consoling him. “I’m not stupid enough to think I’m the only guy you’ve ever been with. If I was maybe I’d be more confident, but,” he took a deep breath, “I don’t want to disappoint you.”

“You won’t.” She kissed him and let his hand cup one of her buttocks. She smiled when his cheeks flushed at the feeling of her skin. “I’m yours and if you do something I don’t like, I’ll tell you and I trust you’d do the same for me. Promise?”

“I promise?” Akira’s voice was hoarse and he couldn’t help but squeeze the flesh in his hand. Sadayo let out a small moan and gave him a coy smile. He smiled back and took her hand, a sort of renewed, but fragile confidence. “Come on,” he said pulling her toward the stairs. “It’s time I showed you where we’ll be sleeping.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

The trek to Akira’s room took longer than Sadayo had expected, but that was by her own design. As much as she enjoyed the feeling of his hand on hers, she had this strange feeling that the mood wouldn’t last. Sadayo could still see the frustration in Akira’s eyes. Despite his cheery demeanor, Akira was never good at hiding when something was weighing on his mind. She knew their conversation wasn’t over, and at some point, they’d need to continue it, but for now, she wanted to see him happy.

As they approached the stairs, Sadayo took notice of the pictures again and found it difficult to imagine him ever being as short and round as he had been. She giggled when she saw the one of him and his sister giving their mother disapproving looks and felt him stop. He turned and looked in the direction of the picture and rolled his eyes.

“That was not a fun day.” He let go of her hand and pointed at his small face in the frame. “That was when Eiko and I got our first pair of glasses. Mom and dad kept trying to tell us we’d be okay, but we had our own ideas on what to do with the glasses. I lost them a couple of times on purpose, but I remember Eiko hating them so much she tried to smash them with a rock in the garden a couple of days later.”

“I bet your parents weren’t happy.” Sadayo gave him a smile and watched a small smirk appear on his face.

“She was five so they cut her some slack” He looked a little annoyed at this preferential treatment. “As a compromise, she had to keep them on at school but could take them off at home if she wasn’t doing school work.”

“That seems a bit….tame.” Sadayo raised an eyebrow at this lack of discipline.

“Like I said, she was five.” Akira shrugged and pointed at his face. “She’s far-sighted so they didn’t have to worry about her taking them off all the time and she got used to them after about a month. “

“Talk about lucky.” Sadayo felt a bit jealous that his parents were so lenient. “If it’d been me my mother would have found a way to permanently glue them to my face.”

“I think you’d look cute with glasses.” Akira turned and smiled at her making her blush.

Reaching out she plucked the glasses off his face and put them on; she immediately regretted it. She’d never put his glasses on before but when she did everything in the distance became nauseatingly focused making her head spin. She powered through it though and blinked continuously, hoping it’d keep the dizziness at bay.

“So how do I look,” she asked hoping that she didn’t look like some bug eyed mutant while trying to avoid a migraine.

Akira took out his phone and let her pose for a second. She popped out a hip and tilted the glasses down a bit trying to look sexy. When she heard the sound of the camera app and saw Akira nod, she took the glasses off and rubbed her eyes.

“Welcome to my life.” Taking them back he set them on a table that had a bowl filled with several sets of keys.

“How’d the picture turn out?” Sadayo asked, blinking her eyes rapidly to try and regain some semblance of her normal vision.

“See for yourself.” Akira pulled up the app and stared down at the picture. He had to admit, she did look cute in her short shorts, shirt and a pair of glasses.

Sadayo wandered over from the picture and took a look at his phone and began laughing.

“I look like one of those girls Ann works with.”

“I think you look better than them.”

“That’s not what I meant.” Sadayo pushed him gently but the red in her ears told him that she appreciated the compliment.

“Doesn’t make it less true.” Akira took her hand and slowly began pulling her away from the hall and back toward the stairs. When they approached she noticed a door at the bottom of the stairs to the right of the front door and pointed at it.

“What’s in here?” She let go of his hand and tested the knob to find it locked.

“Yeah,” Akira scratched his head and gave the door one heavy knock, “we’re not going to be able to see this room; it’s my dad's office.”

“What’s so special that he’s got to keep it locked all the time?” From what little she knew about his parents, Sadayo had figured they were very open and honest people, willing to share just about anything, but this struck her as odd.

“Patient records and police files.” Akira sat down on the steps and smiled up at her. “He’s a psychiatrist so he tends to bring a lot of work home with him. He’s even got a couch and everything in there for his everyday patients.”

“Wow,” Sadayo finally understood why there were so many psychology books lying around, “anyone interesting ever come through?”

“Well,” Akira shifted uncomfortably on the stairs and pointed at where she was standing, “when I was ten one of his patients tackled him through the door and punched out two of his teeth.”

“What?” Sadayo stumbled back and looked down at the floor only to hear Akira laughing loudly at her reaction.

“You dick.” Sadayo walked forward and slapped him on the arm

“I couldn’t resist,” he said through fits of laughter.

“You’re such a brat.” She sat down next to him and elbowed him gently in the side.

“I’m sorry.” Akira gave her a kiss on the cheek and put a hand on her knee. “But to be honest he doesn’t get a lot of interesting patients. Most are just your usual fare of people with depression or other things like that. The office is right there so the patients can come and go quickly.”

“What about the police work?” A couple of thoughts ran through her head, especially how his dad would have reacted if he worked on having to help the prosecution during Akira’s case.

Akira smiled at her question and shook his head, “I couldn’t tell you. Hell, even what I told you about the depression is speculation. Dad keeps everything locked up tight and doesn’t discuss his work. But,” he gave her knee a gentle squeeze and gave her a knowing look, “if he’d been assigned to my case he would have recused himself.”

“Seems like a pretty upstanding guy.” Sadayo placed her hand on his and smiled. “Like father, like son.”

Akira’s ears turned a light shade of pink at these words and stood up. He stretched and extended his hand to her. She took it cautiously and allowed him to continue leading her up the stairs. The upstairs wasn’t nearly as decorated as the ground floor but wasn’t devoid of the nurturing feeling the downstairs emanated. More books littered the long table that held several more framed pictures and a few decorated the walls. Most of these were current and Sadayo didn’t find much reason to look at them, but she still liked seeing how his family had changed over time. The doors upstairs were all open and Sadayo saw a rather clean looking room with a bookcase and several posters of athletics teams on the wall along with several certificates and trophies and guessed it was Eiko’s. At the end of the hall was a room with a large bed and had what looked like stacks of books in it and exuded a parental feeling. As they proceeded down the hall, she made note of the location of the bathroom only to walk right into Akira’s stiff body.

“Ow.” She rubbed her nose and gave him a reproachful look only to see him banging his head gently against the door. It didn't’ take much to tell her what was going on. His slumped shoulders and the gentle rhythm of his head against wood told her everything. Taking his hand off the door frame, she whispered, “Come on, we can go back downstairs. We don’t have to do this right now.”

“I want you to come in,” he said, his voice muffled by the door.

“Are you sure?” Sadayo could tell that it was more of a plea than a request. She was willing to do what was needed to help him, but she didn’t want to force it out of him.

“Yeah.” He turned his head and gave her a weak smile, a bright red spot had formed on his forehead but she ignored it.

“Okay.” Sadayo stepped forward and gave him an encouraging smile as she snaked her arms around the one on the door knob.

When he felt her arms squeeze he began turning the knob once more. It rattled slightly in his hand and he kicked himself for being so afraid. It wasn’t the first time he’d been alone with her in a room, but for some reason, he’d been feeling antsy over the past few weeks. No matter what he did he just couldn’t shake this nagging feeling in the back of his head about them; about her. He couldn’t place it and he hated himself for even feeling it.

“Akira.” He felt her hand on his and the steadiness of her voice calmed his hand. “I’m right here.”

He nodded and let her hand guide his, slowly the knob turned until finally the latched click and he pushed it. The door gave way and his room came into view. He felt himself relax slightly at his sanctuary and squeezed her hand, turning his head he gave her a nervous smile and pulled her in.

The first thing she noticed was that it was quite a great deal smaller than his room at LeBlanc, but it was still bigger than the bedroom at her apartment. Like the room she saw earlier, there was a bookcase, a desk with a laptop, and an LCD television resting on top of the dresser. She could see several gifts his friends had given him in Tokyo scattered around the room. There was giant Shogi piece next to the television and what looked like a swan on top of his dresser that was conveniently located next to the bed. The bookshelf had a mug, what looked like a commemorative ramen bowl and the wall had a picture of an idol Sadayo couldn’t quite place. The only things missing were the giant Phantom Thief banner he’d left behind at LeBlanc, Yusuke’s statue, and…

Her heart dropped when she didn’t see it hanging up on the wall next to his bed.

“What do you think?” She heard the door click shut and the sound of his footsteps on the floor. “I know it’s not as spacious as LeBlanc but,” the bed squeaked under his weight, but he seemed to have relaxed a bit, “for the next week it’s ours.”

“That does sound nice.” She sat down next to him and looked around the room some more. It wasn’t nearly as clean as the room they’d passed but it was by no means messy. She had to admit he’d been managing just fine on his own without her coming to visit him. She was about to compliment him about this but that all faded when she saw a large pile in the corner. “I’m not cleaning that.”

“Cleaning what?” Akira followed her gaze but didn’t see the problem.

“This.” She stomped over and picked up a dirty pair of jeans off the floor. “I did enough of those weird shirts and things for you back when you were a Phantom, I’m not doing this,” she pointed at the large mass of clothing, “again.”

“No one said anything about you doing my laundry.” Akira couldn’t hide his laughter as he spoke. “I’ve been busy...”

“With what?” Sadayo stomped over to the bed and pushed him down and climbed on top of him. “You don’t have any cram school and I know you’re only working half days; you told me.”

“Umm…,” Akira had no answer. The truth was he’d just been lazy when he got home, but his parents had made him help clean up the house and do yard work which did eat into his time.

“I knew it.” Sadayo, growled when he didn’t come up with an appropriate a satisfactory answer. “I...am...not...spending...my...vacation...doing...your...chores.” Sadayo’s words were punctuated by a light slap to each of Akira’s shoulders.

“You won’t! I’ll make sure to do it!” Both Akira and she were giggling by this point and when she stopped to take a breather, he grabbed her arms and flipped her onto her back.

“Hey,” Sadayo screamed in surprise at the change in gravity. Her hands were still free, but he was now on top of her, a bright smile on his face. Sticking her tongue out at him she poked him in the ribs.

“OW!” Akira snatched her hand and pinned it to the bed.

“Oh don’t give me that.” Sadayo snorted loudly and stared up at the ceiling to avoid his gaze. “You know how strong I am; I’ve worked on your back enough. If I wanted to hurt you, I’d have punched you not poked you.”

“That’s true.” Akira leaned down and gave her a kiss on the forehead. “So thank you for limiting your blows to light slaps and a gentle poke.”

“You’re welcome.” Sadayo blushed when she fully realized the position they were in and asked, “Do you think you can let my wrist go? My arm is kinda starting to fall asleep.”

“Sorry.” Akira gave her another kiss and rolled to the left, his hand releasing her wrist. When he landed on the mattress, he rolled onto his back, found her hand, and stared up at the ceiling with her.

When her vision became unobstructed, Sadayo let out a loud sigh and wiggled into the mattress. It was definitely more comfortable than the lumpy mattress Sojiro had given him, it was even more comfortable than her bed and that was barely a year old. She felt like she was laying on a marshmallow and smiled when she noticed a familiar flag on the ceiling.

“I was wondering where that went.”

“Where what went?” Akira lifted his head off the mattress looked around the room.

“The ceiling, dummy.” She raised a hand and pointed up at the pennant she’d given him back in November. “I thought you’d left it back in Tokyo.”

“I couldn’t leave that behind.” He gave her hand a squeeze and smiled. “Ever since you gave it to me I make sure it’s the last thing I see before I fall asleep.”

“How long were you working on that line?” Sadayo turned her head, a smile on her face at the cheese her boyfriend was spouting.

“I just came up with it.” His voice was distant and his eyes were darting around so quickly that Sadayo thought he was tracking some sort of insect.

“Smooth.”

“I do what I can.” He gave a shrug and continued to stare up at the ceiling for a moment before sitting up and wandering over to the desk. “I also still have this.” He picked up the pen case from next to his computer and handed it to her.

“I’m glad it’s been of use.” She sat up and took the pen and smiled at the scuff marks.

“It goes where I go.” He sat down in the computer chair spun momentarily in it.

“I take that mug you gave me to work every day.” She sighed and wished she’d remembered to pack it. It hadn’t been her favorite gift, but she’d grown to appreciate it since he’d been thinking of her when he’d picked it out. “But, I still haven’t had a reason to really use any of the perfume you got me.”

“I’m sorry.” He leaned forward and began rubbing his thumbs together.

“It’s not your fault.” Sadayo looked up and patted his knee. “It is what it is and we’ll figure out some way for me to get dressed up.”

“Sure,” his tone dropped and he stood up rather abruptly and headed toward the door. “I’m gonna go grab your suitcase. Did you need anything else?”

“Maybe a drink,” she felt a rock in her throat as she spoke. “Something cold would be nice.”

“I think I can do that.” He gave her a smile and left the room.

When he was gone, Sadayo let out a loud sigh and laid back in the bed. Despite how much time she had spent in his room at LeBlanc, it never really felt like a personal space. Instead, it felt more like some sort of war room that just happened to have a bed and couch in it. Even though it was spacious, the large amount of free space meant that you either had to sit very close to the person, or you had to shout at them from across the room if there wasn’t any way to sit next to them. It wasn’t what one would call an intimate setting by any means, not that it was a bad place to hang out, but the disadvantages definitely outweighed the positive.

Here though she could see everything that about him spread out in front her. Old dog eared books, vintage games, the ever annoying pile of dirty laundry, and even some study guides he’d been using all showed signs that this room was actually his. His personality, well most of his personality, seemed to have soaked into the room. She felt at ease but, just as he left, she could see a look similar to what she’d seen at Christmas on his face. It was bothering her, but she didn’t have any kind of plan to help him at the moment.

Sliding off the bed, she began looking around the room to pass the time. She didn’t want it to seem like she was snooping, but she didn’t like sitting waiting for him to return. Walking over to the bookshelf she began reading the spines. A lot of them didn’t seem to be much more than reference books or casual reading, but there were a few that caught her eye and she pulled one from her shelf and sat down on the bed and thumbed through the pages.

The book wasn’t too bad, though a bit hokey. It dealt with some sort of plot to overthrow an intergalactic government, but the characters seemed interesting at least. Well, as interesting as they could get within five pages of reading. She didn’t realize she’d gotten so engrossed in the book until she felt something cold and metallic land on her thighs.

“Holy….,” the book fell from her hands and squirmed to grab the can Akira had unceremoniously dropped in her lap. When it was in her hands, she glared at him. “That wasn’t funny.”

“I thought it was.” He cracked a grin and opened the bottle of water he’d brought up with him and took a sip. “What were you reading?”

Setting her can on the desk, she sat up and crossed her legs before handing him the book. He took it and rolled his eyes, “I can’t believe I ever liked this series.”

“It’s not that bad,” Sadayo reached for the can of iced tea he’d brought and popped it open. While it wasn’t the best-written book she did find herself mildly intrigued and wanted to see how it ended. “I mean I’m not that far into it but I’m kind of liking it.”

He smiled and handed her the book saying, “Then you can take it with you. I’ll get it back the next time I visit.”

“Thanks.” Sadayo smiled and took a sip of the drink and asked, “What are we going to do the next time you visit?”

Akira stopped midway through his sip and said, “I don’t know.”

She watched as the dark mood from earlier crept back over him. Setting her can down, Sadayo shifted closer to him and rested her head on his shoulder. He didn’t move away, but neither did he move closer to her. He felt tense, and she wanted to help him, but she needed to ask him a few things; things that had been bothering her for a while.

As he took another sip, Sadayo picked her head up from his shoulder and asked guardedly, “Is my being here making you uncomfortable?”

Akira nearly dropped his bottle at the question.

Catching it, he capped it and wiped some of the stray water off his hands and asked, “Why would you make me uncomfortable?”

She gave him a doleful smile and said, “You’ve just been on edge since I got here and I don’t know if it’s because I’m here or if it’s because....,” she pointed at the room, “or if it’s because I’m here in your room; your actual bedroom.”

“You’ve been in my room a lot of times.” His eyebrow arched and he chuckled. “This isn’t the first time we’ve been alone in a room together.”

“That’s true,” she laughed cautiously and looked at him. “But the last time we were in a room together we didn’t really leave it and,” she bounced on his bed a bit, “we barely left the bed. And in LeBlanc I always had to sneak in after the shop was closed up and most of the time it was in my maid uniform.” She swung her feet restlessly as she spoke. “But ever since Valentine’s day most of the time when we’ve talked or seen each other it’s mostly been….sexual.” She watched his face turn red and felt hers turn red as well.

“Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it.” She reached for his hand and was thankful that he let her pick it up and massage it between her palms. “I enjoy how you make me feel and I like seeing you and hearing you, but I’ve been wondering how you feel about it. About sharing a bed with me and what it means to you.”

Akira took a drink of water and coughed. He hadn’t been expecting this question, or this conversation to happen. For the past few weeks, all he could think about was seeing her and holding her. It was the only thing on his mind and he wasn’t concerned about them being in bed, he knew it would happen at some point but it wasn’t something he expected.

“I like being in bed with you.” He said after several quiet minutes. He took her hand and squeezed it, massaging the back of it with his thumb. “I sleep better at night when I have you next to me and I,” his face turned a deep crimson, “enjoy how you look and sound as well.”

They sat in silence for a moment, the only noise being the sound of honking cars in the background until he finally asked, “How long have you been thinking about this?”

“A while,” she answered truthfully. “Ever since you left actually.”

“That’s a long time.” His arm wrapped around her waist and pulled her close.

“It is,” Sadayo gave him a smile and placed her head back on his shoulders. “It’s just that, that first night I feel like I didn’t give you a choice. I was so happy that you were finally home and I couldn’t wait to see you.” She felt a tear make its way down her cheek. “I’d been so lonely and I couldn’t talk to anyone. I cried myself to sleep so many times that I lost count. I kept up a brave face at school, but there were days I had to run to the bathroom because I was afraid you wouldn’t get let go.”

“I was afraid too.” Akira massaged her waist and kissed her forehead. “I wish you could have visited me.”

“That would have made it easier.” She asked for a tissue and was mildly surprised that he had to leave the room for it. When he returned she cleaned herself up and threw it away. “But you didn’t answer my question.”

Akira rubbed the lid of his water bottle and shrugged, “I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t surprised.” He gave her a weak but happy smile. “I know we talked about it a bit, but when you said that to me I got a bit scared.”

“You were scared?” Sadayo asked in mock surprise. “I didn’t even notice with how much you were shaking.”

“Like you were any better.” Akira got a frightful look on his face and began shaking his hands in fear, leading her to shove him gently. They both laughed a bit and after they calmed down he said, “But, the truth is I was scared about going that far. Most of our dates were just like this, sitting in a room and talking.” He looked over at her and gave her a placid grin. “I enjoy doing this with you, I like not having people looking us and looking over our shoulders every few minutes to see if someone will notice us. I like being in bed with you, making love, talking about our day. I even like it sometimes,” his ears tinged as he continued, “when you call me ‘master’.”

Sadayo smiled at his embarrassment and kissed his cheek. “I enjoy all those things too. But there is more to being in a relationship than sitting behind closed doors. Are you afraid that someone here will recognize us? I mean we used to go out and do more things in Tokyo and you were never this tense and there was a greater chance of us getting caught and far worse consequences than people gawking at us.”

“I know.” Akira rubbed his face and sighed. “Trust me I know. I want to go out with you, I do, I’m just…..”

“Just what?” She moved forward to squeeze his hand but he stood up and let out a low scream of frustration.

“I don’t know!” He ran his hand through his hair and pulled at it. “I don’t know why I’m so afraid now! I’m free of Shido! I’m acing my classes! I have friends that eat up all my time when I want to see my girlfriend! I have a beautiful girlfriend that wants to steal me from my friends! I have parents that spoiled me with a new bed and a television! A sister that is basically guaranteed scholarships to any school she wants to go to! I have a good life and I’m scared shitless that it’s all going just...” He fell against the wall and the bookshelf rattled at the force. He slid down it, his hands covering his face as he began to shake.

Getting up, she walked toward him and pulled her tight, she felt warm tears against her chest as he clutched at her shirt. She stroked his hair, whispering quiet words of reassurance as he let out strained cries.

“Akira,” she whispered as she lifted his head and kissed him, “is that what’s been bothering you?”

“I think so,” Akira sniffed, his eyes were red and puffy, but there seemed to be a weight lifted from his shoulders.

Sadayo sighed and kissed her lover softly, “I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t say that.” Akira sniffed again and rested his head against her chest. “This is all my fault.”

“No it’s not,” she kissed his head and rocked him back and forth. “It’s my fault for saying yes. If I’d walked away you wouldn’t be so afraid of being with me.”

“I’m not afraid of being with you.” He wiped at the tears on her face and pulled her close to him. “I’m afraid of what happened to you before happening again. I don’t want you desperate or alone. I want you safe and loved and I don’t know how to do that anymore. I don’t know how to protect us anymore.”

“My Akira,” she wiped away his tears and kissed him gently on the forehead. “You’ve protected us enough.” She tilted his head up and gave him a loving smile, “You’ve done enough.”

Slowly, Sadayo shifted into his lap, she placed her hands on his shoulders and slowly she pushed him away. She felt his hands grip feebly at her shirt, but eventually, they gave way and he was pressed against the wall but averted his gaze.

“Look at me, Akira.” Her voice was cracked and she was still shaken from his outburst, but she knew she had to do this. She always told him that she was the older one and he needed to rely on her, but it seemed that the lesson would take a bit longer to sink in. As much as it hurt, she pushed her own emotions aside to take control.

“Look at me,” she said in almost a growl and after several tense moments he submitted and looked at her. His eyes were red and his mouth was set in a small scowl. He said nothing and simply stared at her in defeat.

“You don’t need to protect us anymore. As you said, you’re free of Shido and you have so much going for you.” The words about her being his beautiful girlfriend were still ringing in her ears, and that gave her the strength to continue. “But if there’s one thing I know after everything we’ve been through and everything you’ve told me about your adventures is that I can’t live my life being afraid of others. That I can’t be afraid of enjoying the things that I have because I’m afraid of losing them. I told you I wouldn’t deny it if anyone asked what you were to me, so why are you afraid of admitting to the world that you love me? You admitted it to me, so why can’t you admit it to others?”

“Because it makes it real.” His voice was hoarse and little more than a whisper. “Every time I see your face or hear your voice it’s like a dream, an escape from everything. It’s something that I can enjoy and keep to myself and if I tell anyone it makes it that much easier to get taken.”

While it warmed her to hear him say this, she couldn’t help but realize just how much those words showed his age. She was so used to seeing him calm and cool that it was hard to remember he was only eighteen. He’d faced so much already, but loving another person and enjoying your life was a much different challenge from fighting monsters and psychopathic criminals. She couldn’t help him with much in the way of the monsters or the criminals, but learning to love his life was something she could do. She’d lived and lost enough that she was now able to appreciate everyone and everything she had in her life; him most of all. She wanted to help him with this and if that meant making him face reality with some hard truths, then she was willing to do it.

“Akira,” she stroked his hair and did her best to give him a reassuring smile, “I love you. I love you more than anything. I love that you want to protect us from what’s out there and from the people that would hurt us, but this isn’t the way to do it.” She heard him snort but ignored it, chalking it up to his emotions. “We protect each other. We rely on one another and part of that means we step out into the world and face those things we’re afraid of.”

“What if some of that fear comes from thinking one day you decide you don’t want to be with me and walk away without a word?” His voice was flat, but there was no derision or anger in it that Sadayo could find.

Sadayo wasn’t surprised by this question. She had wondered about it herself; if there would be one day when she’d hear from him that he was tired of waiting for graduation or he’d met some girl and wanted to go to a school closer to home. It was completely justifiable and she couldn’t blame him for wanting an answer. She’d tried to get an answer for something like that once; from a man she loved. But instead, she’d been met with scorn and ridicule and was told to never contact him again.

“I won’t do that to you.” Sadayo pressed her forehead against his and placed his hand on her heart. “I would never do that to you or anyone I care about.”

Akira nodded and closed his eyes, allowing the closeness to wash over him. She always had this effect on him and he couldn’t help but believe her. Even after all their sneaking around, the couple of lies she’d told him when she first started visiting him, and despite her thinking that she always relied on him, this is what he relied on her for. Somehow she always made everything make sense when his mind was nothing but chaos.

“Thank you,” he whispered after several minutes of quiet. “Thank you for everything you do for me.”

“What are you talking about,” she laughed, thinking he was caught up in the moment. “I don’t do that much for you.”

“Yes, you do.” Akira cupped her cheek with his free hand and kissed her. “Even if I don’t always tell you about everything, you help keep me centered.”

Sadayo rolled her eyes and laughed as she said, “You’ve got to stop watching those romance movies with me.”

“They aren’t that bad,” Akira laughed with her glad that some of the tension was finally broken. “I’m kinda starting to like them.”

“Wait until you see the really bad ones. You’ll be singing a different tune once I show you some of those.”

“I accept your challenge.”

They both laughed and after a few moments, they quieted down; unsure of what to do now.

“I’m sorry for ruining our vacation.” Akira shifted and grunted.

She moved off his lap and stood up, her legs quaked a bit after having sat on her knees for so long, but she managed to stay upright.

“You didn’t ruin it.” She helped him up and after a moment on his feet, Sadayo was forced to catch him. “Legs fall asleep?”

“Yeah,” Akira grunted as the pins and needles throbbed through his legs.

“One step at a time,” was what she counseled as she began leading him toward the bed.

Each step felt like a thousand bugs biting his legs but he managed to make it to the bed and dropped onto it with a loud thud. Sadayo followed suit and began gently massaging his calves making him howl a bit in pain.

“Settle down,” she grunted as she worked out the small knots she found. “It’ll be over in a minute.”

“It feels like a peeling my skin off with a dull knife.”

“Big baby,” Sadayo laughed after finishing work on his left calf she gave it a couple of pats to let him know she was finished.

He had to admit, his legs did feel better after the massage and most of the circulation had returned and the small stabbing had dulled to a gentle throb, Akira rolled over against the wall and patted the spot next to him. She obliged and laid down. His eyes were still red, but the puffiness had gone down and he had a bit more life in him.

“I’m glad you’re here,” he said as he twirled a strand of hair around his finger.

“Me too,” she patted his head and then tapped his nose with her finger. “Are you feeling better?”

“A lot,” he said exhaling loudly. “Not a hundred percent, but I’m getting there. What about you?”

“The same.” She moved closer and began stroking his earlobe. “This wasn’t exactly what I thought we’d be doing my first night here.”

“Me neither.” He gave her an apologetic smile and rubbed his eyes.

“What’d you think we’d be doing?” She had a vague idea and gave him the best seductive smile she could muster.

“Not that,” he chuckled and rubbed her shoulder gently.

“Really?” Sadayo gave him a dubious grin and rubbed her foot against his.

“Really,” Akira rubbed her foot back and took her hand, “I mean I want us to do that at some point but all I’ve been thinking about since we planned this is just being able to hold you.”

“What if I wanted to hold you?” Sadayo moved closer and wrapped a leg around his.

“I wouldn’t say no.”

Sadayo knew he was telling the truth. There’d been plenty of times when she’d woken up in the middle of the night to put her arms around him and he melted into her without any resistance.

“So,” Sadayo continued after a couple of moments, “outside of laying in bed with me, snuggling, and other such carnal delights, what else would you like to do with me? I’m here for a week and I want pretty much everything we do to be what you want to do.”

Akira fidgeted a bit, he was tired and exhausted from their conversation, but he wanted to spend time with her in a less stifling atmosphere. Looking at the clock, he groaned when he couldn’t make out the blurred letters and asked her to read them. She said it was only a quarter after eight and he scoffed.

“Jeez, we’ve been going off and on about this for almost five hours.” Akira rubbed his face and let out a small yawn.

“And we’ll probably go through it again.” Sadayo smiled at the yawn. “This isn’t something that’s going to fix itself in one talk or maybe even a hundred. It might never go away, but,” she took moved closer to him and gave him a gentle kiss on the lips, “I’m not going to let you go through it alone.”

“Thanks, Sadayo.” He kissed her back ran his hands through her hair.

“Do you want to hold me,” she asked quietly, ready to comfort him.

“I have a better idea.” He got up off the bed and wandered over to his dresser and began pulling out some clean clothes, “Let’s go out.”

“You want to go out?” Sadayo was surprised at his sudden change in attitude. “Are you sure? I’m perfectly okay with ordering in and sitting in here watching movies tonight.”

“Yes, I’m sure.” He pulled his head through the hole of a tee-shirt with some band name on it before grabbing some socks and began pulling them on. “I want to get out of here for a bit, burn off some energy, and get something to eat.”

“Burn off some energy?” inquired Sadayo as she began walking over to her suitcase and found fresh clothes and undergarments.

“Well yeah.” Akira took a swig of his water and shrugged, “There’s an arcade nearby and a few night markets, we can go out and check those out.”

“Are there any other reasons why you want to get out of here?” Sadayo was happy to oblige him, but she was concerned about his sudden shift.

As she was pulling off her shirt, she felt his arms slip around her bare midriff and squeezed her tightly as he whispered, “I want you to help me get over being afraid.”

~Meanwhile in Tokyo~

“Ryu-kun!”

Ryuji Sakamoto lifted his head up from his dresser and looked at his open bedroom door and shouted, “What is it, Mom?!”

“Yusuke-kun is here!”

Dumping another pair of boxers into his duffel bag, Ryuji left his bedroom and headed into the living room where Yusuke was standing with a large amount of sketch pads in one hand and pulling a rolling suitcase.

“Thank you for your hospitality, Sakamoto-san. I hope it’s not too much of a bother.”

“Not at all.” Ryuji’s mother shut the door behind the blue haired teen and motioned for him to take a seat on the couch. “I’m always happy to entertain Ryuji and his friends. You’re more than welcome to stay over whenever you like.”

“Don’t give him any ideas, Mom.” Ryuji smirked at his friend and pointed at his bedroom, “Come on, man. I got a sleeping bag and stuff in here for ya to use tonight.”

“Thank you once again, Sakamoto-san.”

“Stop thanking me,” smiled Ryuji’s mother as she waved him towards her son's room. “Dinner will be ready in about twenty minutes so you just relax until then.”

Yusuke wandered off into Ryuji’s room where he found the former blonde finishing up his packing.

“You still aren’t finished?” Yusuke set his bag off to the side and glanced around at the room. It was bigger than his dorm room and had a much more interesting decorative scheme. Ryuji had several posters of track stars, video games and movies, and even some models up on the walls while most of the books seemed to be manga volumes.

“I’m almost done.” Ryuji pulled a pair of swim trunks from his dresser and a couple more pairs of shorts. He threw them into the bag and zipped it up with a cheer of success and then tossed it out into the hallway.

“Ryuji!” Shouted his mother from the kitchen. “I told you to stop throwing things onto the floor!”

“Sorry!” Ryuji shrugged and then hopped onto his bed with his legs crossed. “I’m so excited man! It’s been forever since we’ve seen him.”

“I’m rather excited myself.” Yusuke took a seat at Ryuji’s desk and chuckled. “I hope he’ll appreciate the surprise we’ve set up for him.”

“Come on, man!” Ryuji gave Yusuke a slap on the shoulder and laughed. “We’re all gonna be in the same place at once with no parents to yell at us or people we know spying on us; it’s gonna be awesome.”

“I suppose you’re right.” Yusuke pulled out his phone and double checked his bank balance. If he played it right he’d have enough to last him until his next paycheck at the art gallery. “We’ll have four days there, so do you think we’ll have time for some souvenir shopping?”

“Maybe.” Ryuji shrugged and leaned back into his pillows. “It all depends on what he’s got going on. He said he was mostly working up until this weekend and then studying so I think we should be able to pull him away to hang out with us and show us whatever cool stuff we didn’t see last time. Besides,” Ryuji wandered over to his dresser and pulled out a big envelope, “We got these! I can’t wait to see the look on his face when he hears we were able to snag a few.”

“It will definitely give me time to work some more on my anatomy skills.”

“Seriously man?” Ryuji put the envelope into his bag and zipped it closed once more. “Do you ever not think about art?”
“I’m afraid not.” Yusuke chuckled and settled back into the chair. “It’s the curse of being an artist, we can’t shut it off.”

“We'll figure out some way to shut it off when we head out to that place. We got a room to ourselves so I wanna at least see if we can get a couple of girls to come back to the room with us.”

“I make no promises.”

Ryuji and Yusuke both laughed at this and spent the next few minutes talking. Despite their occasional antagonism toward each other, they’d grown close enough in Akira’s absence to where Ryuji and Yusuke would hang out with each other and not be at one another’s throats. When his mother called them for dinner, they’d been talking about their planned surprise for Akira so much that Ryuji’s mother said, “Just be sure you all don’t get into any trouble. I don’t want the police calling me to say that you all ended up getting arrested for something stupid.”

“It’s Akira, Mom,” snorted Ryuji after swallowing a bunch of rice. “What could possibly go wrong?”

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

As they stepped out into the evening, Sadayo gave a slight shiver. The temperature had dropped quite a bit since the shower from earlier and the ocean air wasn’t helping either. The sky was fairly clear though, and the scent of fallen rain still hung in the air. Hearing the door click behind her, Sadayo turned around but was immediately blinded by a hoodie being pulled over her head.

“You’re going to need this,” chuckled Akira as helped her into the hoodie.

“Thanks for the chivalry,” grumbled Sadayo as she tugged away from her boyfriend. Adjusting the sleeves over her tee-shirt she looked down at it and noticed that it hung past the knees on her jeans. “I look like a flying squirrel,” she pouted as she held out her arms and made the excess fabric flutter. “Why didn’t you grab the sweater out of my bag?”

“I didn’t know you brought one.” He shrugged as he pulled on a ratty old sweater. “So I just grabbed the first thing I saw out of the closet. I didn’t want you to get sick.”

“What are you fifty?” She took one of the umbrellas and rolled her eyes. “It’s not that bad out here.”

“I just saw you shaking.” Akira gave her a gentle tap on the forehead and began walking toward the gate.

“I was shaking from excitement.” Sadayo turned her head away from Akira as she followed him through the gate, but he could see a smile creep on her lips before her face disappeared.

“You’re such a bad liar,” he scoffed and reached out for her.

She gave him her best attempt at a contemptuous look, but the offer of walking down the street arm in arm with him was too tempting. When her hand touched his, she let out a small squeak as she was pulled to his side, his arms wrapping around her waist; her face flushed at the sudden intimacy. The street around them was fairly dark with a few street lamps flickering every ten feet. Many of the windows were darkened by blinds, but they could see the glow of televisions or other light sources hidden by the glass. Glancing around, Sadayo saw a few people wandering the streets along with them, a few of them stared at the couple but paid them little mind.

Sadayo let Akira lead the way, she was glad that he had at least some of his old confidence back, that is until they walked past a few teens who stared at them. It was two guys and a girl, all of them looked to be either first or second-years and too comfortable with where they were going to be from out of town. There wasn’t anything special about them, but when they saw Akira all three of their jaws dropped. She felt him squeeze her tighter and begin walking faster. She complied, gut shot the three teens a glare as they passed and heard them begin talking.

“Was that Kurusu?”

“No way?”

“Do you think they’re actually dating?”

“Knowing a punk like that…..”
Sadayo didn’t hear what they said, but she could guess a few avenues their conversation had begun to go.

“Ignore them,” he growled as they made a hard right.

“I am.” She felt him slow a few moments later and slipped a hand in his back pocket. “Are you okay with them seeing us?”

The lack of light made it difficult to see his face but based on the outline from anything slipping through curtains or other sources she could see he was flustered. His jaw was clenched and his grip relaxed a bit, but she stayed where she was. She could see a hint of anger in his eyes and wondered if he’d heard some of the things the kids they’d said.

“What’d you hear?” She asked, hoping to see if it had some sort of reaction.

They stopped suddenly, and Sadayo took an extra few steps. She was stopped by his hand holding hers and she walked back and used her free one to cup his cheek. His nostrils were flaring with each breath and only a fool could see that he was trying to keep his anger in check.

“Let them talk,” she said giving him a kiss on the cheek. “We both know that they’re just running off the rumor mill about you. Just focus on me and the fact that we’re out on a date and we don’t have to worry about getting in trouble.” She leaned in and gave him a kiss and sighed when she felt him return it. It wasn’t excited or hungry, but Sadayo felt a calm emanate from him and his hands slipped around her back and pulled her closer.

Akira’s hands were tight against her and he could feel her warmth through his sweater. Even though he was still strained from earlier, Akira felt a slight resurgence of energy and peace fill him. Despite his knowing better at thinking she would always be able to do this, the hope of her being able to always filled his mind.

“Young people,” they heard a disgusted voice grunt after an unknown amount of time.

Breaking the kiss, Akira saw that it was one of the neighbors from across the street sneering at them. Akira shot her a glare and the dog following her yipped as the woman pulled on its leash. She looked over her shoulder at him and shook her head before hanging a left a the intersection.

“Who was that,” Sadayo asked as he let her get back to her feet.

“A pain in the ass,” he growled, seeking her hand. When he found it he squeezed tightly and let her touch calm him. “She’s the neighbor across the street from us and she’s always got a snide comment up her sleeve for me.”

“Is she somebody to worry about?” The last thing Sadayo needed was someone placing more stress on his shoulders. She already knew he was wound tightly, and after their conversation earlier she didn’t want any of their hard work undone.

“I don’t think so,” he grumbled as he began leading her down the street. “My parents told her to leave me alone and they barely pay any attention to what she says ever since my sister and I were screaming loudly while having a water balloon fight when we were kids, so I doubt it’ll be an issue.”

“Are you going to be okay?” Sadayo gave his hand a quick squeeze and she felt a small tingle run up her arm when he squeezed back.

“Yeah,” he exhaled holding her tight. “I have you with me. As long as I have you with me right now, I’ll be fine.”

“Sweet talker.”

Akira turned his head and smiled at her before saying, “Come on, we’re almost there.”

They turned a corner and Sadayo could hear loud noises.

They weren’t the usual ones of passersby and cars, but rather sounds of music, loud clattering, sizzling, and what sounded like bells or hammers hitting metal. She could hear people laughing and shouting and the smells of food were like an assault on her senses. Sweet, sour, and spicy, everything coalesced into a giant burst of scents and flavors that made her mouth water and stomach grumble.

Akira chuckled when he saw her hand reach for her stomach and pulled her out of the small street they were on and out onto the thoroughfare. They were immediately swallowed by light and Sadayo had to blink for a moment before getting her bearings. When she was able to see, Sadayo’s eyes widened at the sight in front of her. Everywhere she looked there were hawkers shouting out deals, food vendors serving up piles of food, game stands, and other goods being sold. It had been a long time since she’d been to a street festival and when she saw him standing there, half hidden in shadow and a broad smile on his face she couldn’t help but grow more excited.

“This is great!” Sadayo’s hands flew to her face and covered her mouth, she turned to Akira, a large smile on her face and her feet dancing a bit as she let out small squeaks of excitement. “I thought we were just going to some sort of small market, but this….” she held out her arms, her smile growing even more, “this is incredible.”

“Around here this is our version of a ‘Night Market’.” Akira scratched the back of his head, feeling slightly embarrassed at the looks Sadayo was getting them, but he couldn’t help but feel happy. The sheer look of adoration and excitement on her face melted away some of his doubts about tonight. He’d never seen her so happy on one of their outings. While he could always tell she was happy when they went out in Tokyo, she’d remained reserved but with their new surroundings was now she was pointing at everything and trying to peek above the crowd at anything that caught her interest.

Walking up, Akira placed his hand on the small of her back and smiled, “I’m glad you like it.”

“I love it.” Around them, people paid them no mind. Parents were being dragged around by their kids to go to the different stalls, teens and older people moved from vendor to vendor in curiosity. Cooks and vendors were selling their wares or trying to get people to play games of chance. Looking up, Sadayo saw Akira’s eyes flitting from person to person, like some sort of security camera.

“It’ll be okay,” she whispered into his ear after giving him a kiss on the cheek. Grabbing his arm, she began to gently ease him into the crowd. It took a couple of tries, but slowly his feet began to move and she felt him begin to relax. They wandered the crowd for a few minutes, their hands and arms entwined and as they walked she felt his movements slowly begin to become more fluid. As they walked, she pointed at several stands and asked him about them, his answers were short at first, terse and stiff, but at least he was speaking. After about twenty minutes or so she figured he’d calmed down enough to ask, “So is there some sort of special local festival going on?”

Sadayo didn’t know anything about the local customs of Akira’s town, and she was curious as to why they’d have something like this. It seemed like it was a normal everyday occurrence given how people were reacting. A lot of people were dressed in either a yukata or kimonos, but several were dressed in standard everyday clothing as well.

“No, not exactly.” Akira’s voice was less stiff if a little choked. “During the summer we have these almost every weekend.”

“Why so many?” Most towns only had festivals during special times of the year, even after all her time in Tokyo Sadayo had never heard of that many festivals happening in such a short amount of time.

“It’s because of the weather.” Akira pointed up at the cloud cover and then in the direction of the cool salty breeze. “The town has a lot of storms during the year so the festivals are prone to getting rained out.”

“Meaning you hold so many because you don’t want anyone to miss out on the festivities.”

“Yeah. It’s a bit unusual, but it’s been going on for as long as anyone can remember.” Akira gave her a sheepish smile and squeezed her hand. “This is the first one I’ve been to since I’ve been back.”

“Really?” Sadayo gave him a coy smirk and saw his ears turn red. “And I’m the one you decided to bring with you?”

“Who else would I bring?” He gave her a quick kiss on the top of the head and gently nudged her with his shoulder.

“I dunno,” she nudged him back and began scanning the crowd. “Maybe a couple of cute girls from your school?”

“That’d never happen.” Akira rolled his eyes and tried to find something to do. “They’re too busy talking about me behind my back, or just ignoring me unless they don’t have a choice. Besides,” he ran a nail along the back of her neck making her squirm slightly, “I prefer the woman in front of me.”

“You’re so...” Sadayo rubbed where he’d touched and looked away, hiding an embarrassed smile.

Chuckling, Akira reached out and paused momentarily. He was waiting for her to look at him, as if waiting for her permission, before dropping his hand back to her side. Even though he’d kissed her earlier and accepted her affections, Akira couldn’t fight the urge to keep himself in check. Months of sneaking around and being cautious of when they could safely touch each other was so deeply ingrained into him that Akira felt it best to wait for her to let him know. He’d only been able to do it earlier because they weren’t surrounded, but now the reflex to wait for her permission for more than a simple touch was overwhelming his desire to be closer to her.

Akira sighed and stuffed his hand back into his pockets and watched her begin to approach several stalls. He had plenty of money on him, enough to buy her just about anything she’d want tonight. He’d been saving most of his wages so he didn’t have to dip into his savings, but he had splurged quite a bit on something else. Fondling the small item in the pocket of his jeans, Akira smiled as he saw Sadayo point at a small restaurant, her face lit up.

He strolled up, hands still in his pockets and looked up and down at the front of the tiny restaurant and asked, “You want to eat here?”

“Only for the main course.” Sadayo gave him a mischievous grin. Her hands were inside the front pockets of her hoodie and began moving it up and down in front of her.

Akira couldn’t help but notice how much younger she looked when she was like this. She seemed to have no cares and the size of his hoodie definitely helped help exude the youthfulness of her attitude.

He could see why when he saw the name of the restaurant. His parents had brought him and Eiko here a few times over the years and it’d been a while since he’d enjoyed it. Chuckling, Akira shook his head and reached for the door handle, bowed and waved her in.

She gave a slight curtsy and thanked him with a pat on the head and entered the restaurant. They were greeted by a host and led to their table where they found it ready with a charcoal grill already piping hot. She left them to browse the selection and when she was gone Sadayo was nearly bouncing in her seat.

“It’s been so long since I’ve had yakiniku.” She chewed absent mindedly on one of her fingers and asked, “What do you want to get?”

“Take your pick.” Her energy had begun to infect him a bit and he felt a little less paranoid as his drink arrived. “I’m not picky and I have the money.”

“You know I can pay, right?” Sadayo peered at him over the edge of her menu, a slight hint of agitation in her gaze. “I’m here for your birthday. Not only that but I told you I got a raise and the Ta...”

“It’s fine.” Akira’s voice was a little sharper than he liked and he felt a small pain when she winced. He took a deep breath and let himself calm down a bit before continuing. “I want to treat you for once. You’ve paid for a lot over the past couple of visits. Can you please, let me pay tonight?”

Sadayo frowned and let out a small grunt. She took a sip of her beer and proceeded to nod before returning to her menu but not before loudly whispering, “I’m ordering the most expensive things on the menu though.”

Akira chuckled and sipped his oolong tea and risked rubbing her calf with his shoe to let her know he wasn’t angry. She returned the gesture and began chatting about some of the work she’d had to complete before coming. Most of it dealt with some of her students being too smart for their own good so she’d been forced to create advanced tests for them, while others involved her leading staff meetings and helping some students with tutoring, one of which was Ryuji.

“Ryuji’s getting help?” Akira knew Ryuji was doing better in school, which Akira was proud of, but the fact he’d gone to the level of getting tutored was a bit of a surprise.

“He’s been doing it since the start of the year.” Sadayo nibbled on a piece of edamame as she spoke. “He wants to try and ease the burden on his mom for college. He won’t get any scholarships, but I think he could qualify for a bit of aid and work study if he keeps up this pace; he’s come a long way.”

“Good for him.” Akira genuinely was happy with his best friend’s improvement and hoped he continued working hard. As their server came by to refill their drinks, Akira said, “You know you’ve come a long way too.”

“Not much.” Sadayo sipped at her water and a bit more of her beer and picked up the pod.

“They’re giving you more responsibility and you’re helping out the person you told me to stay away from.” Akira set down his menu and laced his fingers together. He rested his chin on them and smiled saying, “You’re the teacher you’ve always wanted to be.”

“I’m only here because I had help.” Sadayo lifted up the hood to cover her beet red face and took a big gulp of beer. “I don’t want to think about what I’d be if it wasn’t for all of you.”

Akira felt his hand twitch in reflex to touch her. She wasn’t crying but Akira could tell she was hurting at the thought of what the Takase’s nearly put her through. Gulping nervously, Akira extended his hand cautiously; eyes focused solely on Sadayo. Slowly his fingers brushed against her wrist and then wrapped around it. She was shaking a bit, but she stabilized when she felt him; a smile slowly forming on her face as she wrapped her hand around his.

The server returned a few minutes later and after placing their order they returned to their conversation. This time it was Akira’s turn to talk about what was going on with him.

“Outside of the usual,” he said just as their food arrived, “not much. I sit alone in my room most nights, talking to you or doing school work, sometimes I work late and help Akane close. I’ve been living the boring student life. But, I got practice exams in the middle of September so that should be interesting.”

“Do you need me to do anything,” asked Sadayo as she began grilling bits of short rib, beef slices, vegetables, and beef tongue. “My math skills aren’t that great but I can help with your language arts or history.”

“Late night study sessions?” Akira picked up a piece of eggplant he’d been grilling and downed it in two bites.

“Maybe?” Sadayo gave him a wink and began chewing on a bit of beef tongue. “Depends on how badly you want me to help you.”

“I’ll let you now after classes start.” Akira’s foot began rubbing her calf again and she laughed. He was thankful for the privacy since it gave him some respite from having to worry about people watching them.

“You seem to be relaxing.” Sadayo piled two big bites of rib into her mouth and began chewing only to stop when Akira for some reason had to snap a photo. “Why did you do that? I look terrible.”

“No you don’t.” Akira spun the phone on his finger before turning it to face her. It showed Sadayo with the gray hood up and her cheeks bulging slightly, a look of mild surprise on her face. “You look like a squirrel.”

The rest of dinner involved Sadayo attempting to steal Akira’s phone to delete the picture, but failing constantly. He was too quick for her and the hoodie kept getting caught on the edge of the table. Their game of keep away caught the attention of a few patrons but the staff didn’t seem to mind as they didn’t make much noise or break anything. When they were finished, Akira paid the bill and set a security lock on his phone and grinned at a pouting Sadayo.

“You know I’m not going to show anyone so can you please stop that?” They were making their way toward what looked like a fishing game and Akira was beginning to feel a little guilty about his fun.

“I know you won’t.” Sadayo kicked at a rock as she followed him through the crowd of people eating an ice cream cone she’d ‘asked’ him to buy for her. “I just wish you’d ask before you took pictures like that.”

Sighing, Akira headed back toward her and gently placed a hand on her head and kissed her forehead, “Do you want me to delete it? All you have to do is ask and I will.”

“No,” Sadayo nuzzled his hand and took another bite of ice cream, “but from now on I want you to ask me if it’s something embarrassing like that and you have to promise not to show them to anyone.” She paused for a moment and glared up at him, “And nothing that can be considered adult. I swear if you lose that phone or get a virus on there….”

“I promise to all three.” He leaned down and took a bite of her ice cream. “Also you don’t need to worry about my phone getting a virus. I got Futaba’s special software protecting this and my laptop. If anyone gets ahold of they won’t be able to access it.”

“All right,” Sadayo gave him a skeptical look, but after seeing how intelligent Futaba was on her first day in class the teacher had no choice but to believe him. She took a large bite of her cone and immediately began pinching the bridge of her nose. “OW!”

Several people looked in their direction and a few chuckled when they saw her whimpering and complaining about ice cream. When the rest of the onlookers lost interest, Sadayo had finally calmed down and handed the rest of her cone to Akira. He took it without hesitation and chewed on it happily as Sadayo began walking frantically toward something that caught her interest.

Akira rolled his eyes when he saw her hand a few hundred yen to the man running the fishing game she was playing. Crouching down next to her, Akira chewed quietly on the cone as he watched her scan the small pool, a bowl in one hand and a paper paddle in the other. He’d never seen her play this game before, but he knew how good she was at fishing and was intrigued. They’d spent a few dates fishing, and Akira wasn’t at all surprised that his girlfriend fished enough to own the best equipment the pond offered, and Sadayo didn’t fail to impress him now either.

Sadayo’s hands moved so quickly that even Akira got dizzy from watching her. Tiny fish after tiny fish was scooped into a bowl and after she filled her limit the man stared at her in shock that someone had captured so many. A sort of devilish grin, a grin Akira thought looked similar to the one his friends described him wearing when he was Joker, spread across her lips. As he stood up to finish the last bit of the cone, Akira was nearly knocked to the ground when something was slammed onto his head, nearly knocking his glasses off.

“What the hell!?”

“Say cheese!”

Akira turned in the direction of Sadayo’s voice and after a minute of struggling was able to pull off whatever it was that Sadayo had put on him. It was red, with hints of what looked like gold scales and was made out of fabric. Turning it in his hands, he stared blankly at the face of a giant goldfish shaped hat. Looking up, he saw Sadayo shaking her phone and stuffing it into her pocket.

“I’ve worn worse.” Akira shrugged and put the hat back on and wiggled his eyebrows.

“Dork.” She returned to his side and held out her hand, she watched his hand shake and retract, but finally, he took it and she leaned into him. “You’re getting more comfortable.”

“It’s gonna take a bit longer.” Akira nuzzled her hair as they walked. “Is it bothering you?”

“Nope.” She lifted his hand and kissed it. “This is new for you, it’s new for me in a way. I told you I’m not going to force it. Whatever you’re comfortable with is fine with me.”

Akira blushed and realized a few people were laughing and pointing at him. He had to admit they did look a little odd, him with his giant fish hat and Sadayo in her oversize hoodie. As they walked they made a bit of small talk until Sadayo heard the sound of explosions, beeps, and the sight of flashing lights.

“This looks fun!” Sadayo pulled him by the arm into the arcade and looked a bit stunned at everything around her while Akira just stared at the games, trying to find something interesting.

Thanks to Ryuji and Shinya, Akira had spent more time than he normally would in the arcade back in Tokyo. He didn’t really enjoy most of the games but he had a lot of fun with those two and on a few trips out before he’d returned home. He’d even spent a lot of time with Futaba playing games in his room before he left for home. But since he’d been back he hadn’t been out in a long time to this part of town. It was only a few blocks over where he’d first met Shido and Akira didn’t like traveling to this part of town that much.

“Wow!” Sadayo looked at some of the larger games that had connections to other players online. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been in an arcade. They have internet connections now?”

“Some of them do.” Akira wandered over to a change machine and slipped in some yen. It spat out coins and Akira returned to Sadayo with a large amount of change jangling in his pocket. “Most are just like you remember, but I don’t think they have games like the ones where you try and get a frog to cross the street anymore.”

“Oh, we’re doing age jokes now?” Sadayo took the change he offered and stared him down.

“You started it when you called me an old man.” Akira tapped her forehead and grinned.

“All right.” Sadayo tapped him back and pointed at a fighting game in the corner. “I propose a competition. We both pick some games and the one who wins the most has to do whatever the other wants for a day.”

“I thought since you were visiting for my birthday you’d do what I’d want?” Akira plastered on a fake pout and gave her his best puppy dog eyes.

“That isn’t gonna work.” She pulled him toward the fighting game. “Calling me old! I’m only eight years older than you and you’re calling me old.”

She slammed some coins into both slots and hit the buttons for them and pointed at the second joystick.

“Pick a fighter, Kurusu.”

The game didn’t exactly go as Akira thought. He had experience with games like this and considered himself somewhat skilled, but Sadayo had wiped the floor with him for the first two matches. She seemed almost like Futaba in her fervor and it began to scare Akira a bit. But at the end of the third match, Akira got lucky with a combo and Sadayo growled in frustration at her loss.

“You’re pretty good.” Akira wiped a bit of sweat from under his hat and looked around for a vending machine.

“I played in arcades sometimes when I didn’t have homework.” Sadayo sniffed and looked a bit flustered from her loss. “So, I do have some experience in getting frogs to cross the street.”

Akira laughed at her jape and gave her a kiss on the forehead before getting them some bottled waters As the victor he got to choose their next game and decided to pick a taiko drum game. It seemed easy enough but it was a lot more difficult than it first appeared. He had no real experience with them and found that Sadayo hadn’t either which made them evenly matched for a while. They’d tied on one the first few songs, but once they got to the medium levels, Akira’s arm began to deaden and slowly Sadayo took the lead quite easily and beat him by a massive margin.

“Okay,” Akira grimaced as he rubbed his shoulder, “you’ve definitely got a knack for this.”

“That’s one to one.” She flexed her arm but winced at a slight twinge of pain in her shoulder. “What’s next?”

“I need a break real quick.” Akira rolled his shoulder and looked around. He handed her some coins and patted her hand. “I’m gonna get some air. You going to be okay for a couple minutes?”

“Of course.” Sadayo found a couple of crane games and pointed. “I’m going to head over there first.”

He gave her a kiss on the cheek and headed out into the night. Checking his phone, he rubbed his eyes seeing it was almost eleven and sighed. He felt tired and drained, but strangely happy. Akira was actually beginning to feel happy for the first time that day. Not the happy from having Sadayo with him or from being together, but the happiness of freedom. Looking into the arcade, he watched as her hands tapped at a series of buttons and watched the giant claw slowly descend and appear with a giant stuffed animal. Akira scoffed and shook his head as he took his hat off for a minute and let the salty air blow through his hair.

As he took a sip of water, he heard a voice shout at him from the crowd and nearly choked on it as he saw a tall, long haired man approach.

“Chiba-kun.”

The taller man jogged forward and chuckled. He was fairly handsome and Akira had to admit he’d been a bit jealous when he was younger. They’d be at school together most of their lives and Akira had never been overly fond of him, but they were somewhat amicable toward each other. As Chiba approached, Akira noticed three other people join them, a couple of girls and another boy from their school and Akira snorted when he saw them. They were the kind of people that spoke quietly behind his back and sniggered when he walked by.

“How you been?” Chiba brushed some of his long brown hair from his face and clapped him on the shoulder. “I haven’t seen much of you since you got back.”

“Didn’t realize you noticed I was back.” Akira shot a glare at his cluster of friends. “Most people tend to avoid me or just run their mouths trying to piss me off.”

“Don’t let it bother you, man.” Chiba stuck his thumb over his shoulder and shrugged. “It’ll all blow over.”

“Maybe it will,” Akira snorted at this statement, He loathed it and hated people who used it; rarely did anyone who’d gone through the things he had would say something like that.

“I think it will.” Chiba shrugged again, his toothy grin glowing in the lights. “You’ve just gotta work harder at it. Show them you aren’t the guy they think you are.”

“And how would I do that?” Akira’s temper was beginning to bubble, but he found it bearable.

“Look, man,” Chiba settled in next to Akira, oblivious to Akira moving at least six inches away, “people are talking. They’ve seen what you look like in gym man. They think you’re working for the Yakuza or some shit.”

“What do you think?” Akira knew what Chiba was thinking, but wanted to see it play out.

“I don’t know what to think dude.” Chiba lit up a cigarette he had hidden in his pocket and lit it. He took a small drag and sighed. “I mean you weren’t always the most popular guy, but people liked you. You fit in and people wanted to be around you. Now they’re scared shitless of you and you don’t even speak up about it man.”

“What do you think I should tell them?” Akira’s heart was pounding in his ears by this point. “You think they’re gonna believe that the courts trumped up charges against me for helping a woman that decided to lie to the courts? Or what about the fact that while defending her I ended up knocking over that guy named Shido who coerced that woman and the police into falsifying the reports against me? How about the cops I occasionally find coming into my work, following me down the street, or spying on my house because his old supporters have it out for me?”

“Look, Kurusu,” Chiba was stamping out the butt of his cigarette and trying to act apologetic, “I wasn’t...”

“Shut up.” Akira’s voice was now a deep growl and Chiba’s eyes grew wide and his face went pale. From over Chiba’s shoulder, Akira could see his friends approaching and a few people watching, but he was tired of all this shit and wanted to at least let a few people know the truth in some way. “You want people to know so go ahead and tell them since you’re so concerned. None of you all gave a shit before so why are you starting to act like you do? You’ve all seemed to make up your collective hive-mind so throw in what I told you and see what happens. I don’t owe you or anyone in that school a fucking thing. I’m only back here because I wanted to be with my family for my last year.”

“Whatever man.” Chiba looked over at his friends and shook his head. They backed off and slithered back into the crowd and the onlookers had decided the show was over. “Do whatever the fuck you want. I just figured your dumb ass could use a wake-up call.”

“I’ve had my wake-up call.” Both Akira and Chiba were beginning to puff up slightly. “And if you want, I can give you a first-hand lesson in what I learned from it.”

“Akira,” asked a slightly scared voice from the cacophony of arcade noises.

Both Akira and Chiba turned to look at Sadayo who was staring at him with a concerned look on her face. Her arms were laden with several stuffed animals and her eyes were darting between the two of them. Akira felt himself calm a bit and gave her a small smile.

“Who the hell is that?” Chiba stared at Sadayo and snorted derisively, which only earned him the ire of the hoodie clad, stuffed animal carrying woman.

“I’m his girlfriend.” Sadayo stepped out of the arcade and up to Chiba. He stood nearly a foot taller than her but she looked at him like he was a piece of gum on her shoe. “Who the hell are you?”

Chiba’s mouth opened and closed as he tried to find the words to speak but nothing came. Sadayo gave him a smile, patted his cheek, and shooed him toward the crowd.

“I figured as much. Run along little boy, the grown-ups are having a night out.”

Chiba’s face screwed up in anger at Sadayo’s insult but the look in Akira’s eyes when he dared a glance made him shrink and wander back toward his friends. As the hunched form of Chiba disappeared into the crowd, Sadayo took Akira’s hand and let him lead her away from the crowds toward a small park a short way away from the arcade. There were a few other people in the park, some were hanging out o n blankets eating some of the street food and others were wandering the small paths and Sadayo noticed a few people running off to places she figured offered more privacy.

Settling down onto a nearby bench, Sadayo set the animals aside and asked, “I take it those were people from your school, as well?”

“Yeah.” Akira picked up a rock and tossed it into the pond and sighed. “They’re just a bunch of assholes that ran their mouths about me after I got back.”

“Who was that guy that I…,” Akira turned and watched as Sadayo tapped her cheek.

“That was Chiba.” Akira gave her a smile and winked. “He’s a guy I grew up with. We were kind of friends growing up, but he became a dick as we got older so I stopped talking to him for a long time.”

“He’s not going to do anything to you, is he? Because of what I did?”

“I don’t think so.” Akira returned to the bench and sat down next to her. “He’s all talk most of the time, I mean I’ve seen him get into a couple of fights but he’s usually harmless.”

“I hope so.” Sadayo rested her head on his shoulder and took his hand. “I don’t want you to have any more problems.”

“If I do, I’ll make sure to call you to come set them straight.” Akira kissed her hair and chuckled. “I’m pretty sure you could take him.”

“Really?” Sadayo sat up and gave him an embarrassed smile. “I think he was more afraid of you than he was of me.”

“I think you could take him.” Akira lifted his shirt and showed Sadayo where she’d poked him earlier. A bruise was beginning to form and Sadayo pulled his sweater down his shoulder sighed when she found no signs of bruising while Akira chuckled. “I’d have shown you those if they were any.”

“I just wanted to make sure.” Sadayo took a deep breath and nuzzled his shoulder. “I didn’t want that to happen.”

“It was an accident.” He rested his head on hers and smiled. “An actual accident and a tiny bruise from where you poked me is something I can live with. Let’s just make sure to keep poking me in the ribs to a minimum.”

“That’s a deal.” Sitting up, Sadayo patted her lap and Akira gave her a confused look. Laughing, Sadayo took him by the hand and pulled him down onto her lap. He gave little resistance and soon his head was resting gently in her lap and his long legs were draped over the side of the bench while she ran her hands through his hair. “Save for the appearance of a couple of brats, did you have a good night?”

“I had a great time.” Akira reached up and began stroking her cheek. “I’m sorry if I was a bit….frigid for most of it.”

“You don’t need to apologize.” Sadayo had a content smile on her face as he caressed her cheek. “We took some big steps tonight and I’m proud of you.”

“Would have been nice to finish our competition in the arcade.”

“We can still go back.” Sadayo picked up a stuffed crab and tapped her boyfriend's nose with one of the pincers. “There’s still a lot of stuffed animals for me to win.”

“Do you have some sort of fixation with these?” Akira poked the crab on its underside and rolled his eyes.

“Not really.” Sadayo tapped the cute face of the crab to his lips and began making kissing noises. “I just think these ones are cute.”

“If you want to go back we can.” Akira shifted his head in her lap and placed his hands on his stomach. “I’m quite comfortable.”

“Well, my lap and butt are starting to hurt so get moving.”

“Fine.” Akira sat up and twisted his back and rubbed the small of his back and twisted. There was a loud pop which earned a grunt of disgust from Sadayo.

“I’m working on your back tonight before we go to bed.”

“Works for me.” Akira stood up and stretched a bit more. “If you want, maybe I can work on your back. Don’t know if it’s going to be as good as yours, but I can try.”

“Why don’t we make that the prize for our competition?” Sadayo picked up all her stuffed animals and handed a few to Akira after he fastened his hat back onto his head. “If I win you give me a massage, but you have to do it naked, and the same goes for me.”

Stopped in his tracks and stared at her, unsure if she was serious, but the look in her eyes seemed to say that she was quite serious and surrendered and gave her a smirk and said, “Challenge accepted.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Takamaki Residence, Tokyo~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Seriously, Futaba?” Ann wandered back into the living room and gaped in amazement at the amount of instant yakisoba, random items, and extra clothes. “Why are you bringing so much stuff? It’s only a few days!”

 

Tying her hair back, Futaba stuck her tongue out at Ann and said, “It’s all got a purpose. Some are for Inari, and the rest is for me personally.”

Ann rolled her eyes and flopped down onto her bed. Futaba was still as much of a mystery as ever. She’d changed a bit over the past several months and everyone could tell. She’d managed to make a couple of friends at Shujin but was still mostly an outsider. She managed to still find ways to bother her and Ryuji during class, but for the most part behaved. She’d even cut her hair a bit, not much but enough to make it more manageable and was about as popular with the teachers as Makoto used to be.

“Just make sure it doesn’t weigh us down too much.” Makoto entered the bedroom in a robe and drying her hair with a towel. “The radiators been acting up and I don’t want to add too much extra stress on the car.”

“Relax.” Futaba finished her reorganizing and packed everything back into the bag. “I’ve made sure everything has a place to give us maximum weight efficiency.”

“Oh, okay.” Makoto settled into her sleeping bag and gave Anna look. They both shrugged and let Futaba continue with her work while Haru finished going through her check list.
“Other than Futaba and the boys we’re all set with our luggage and snacks right?’

“Yep!” Ann tugged at her shortened pigtails and smiled happily. “Makoto and I loaded our bags and the food will be packed in the morning. We have plenty of food so eating out will be when we want to and Ryuji said his mom prepped a bunch of food for us as well.”

“Great.” Haru sighed in relief and set aside her list and stretched. “It’s gonna be nice to get away for a bit. Boss has really been putting me through my paces with his coffee recipes and my business courses have been a nightmare.”

“Same here.” Replied the three other girls in unison making them laugh.

“So what do you think he’s been up to,” Makoto asked as they all began getting ready to sleep.

“Working and school,” groaned Futaba for the fifth time. “I told you his phone is pretty much in those two places almost exclusively.”

“I hope the kids at his school aren’t treating him badly.” Futaba nestled onto her blanket and foam travel mattress and faced her friends. “The last time I talked to him he sounded sad.”

“I got the same feeling.” Ann moved toward the edge of her bed and rested on top of her pillow. “Think our birthday gift will help out?”

“I think it will.” Makoto yawned as she rubbed her eyes. “Those tickets weren’t cheap and he needs to get away from that place.”

“Yeah, he does.” Futaba began playing on her phone absentmindedly. “Trust me on this, from what I’ve heard from him, his school is almost as bad as ours was.”

“It’ll work,” sighed Haru as they all resigned to the fatigue that was hitting them. “It’s got to.”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 4

"Joker."

Akira turned over in his bed and grunted, waving away at whoever was trying to wake him up.

"Seriously, Joker come on."

Growling, Akira rolled over and opened his eyes. He blinked back the sunlight and grunted loudly covering his eyes and began clutching for any kind of blanket he could find.

"Go away, Mona. I had a late night." Akira pulled the sheets over his head and then proceeded to bury his head beneath the pillows. He hadn't felt this beat since his first time transforming into his alter-ego and he intended to sleep as long as he possibly could.

Sadayo had kept them out until almost two in the morning and Akira was happy to oblige her. Even after the encounter with Chiba, they'd spent a few more hours in the arcade going through their competition. They'd tried nearly every type of game the place had to try. Shooting, crane games, fighting games, a couple of dancing games, there was even a punching game that he and Sadayo tried out and it was that game that clinched the tie. He'd been up on the competition thanks to the number of games involving shooting, but Sadayo had caught up thanks to the rhythm games and a few lucky wins at a couple of fighting games.

When they found the punching game it was past one in the morning and they were both getting tired. After a short talk, they agreed that the punching game would be their last game for the night. Setting their bags down next to the machine, they flipped a coin to see who would go first and Akira had won after calling tails. Reeling up, he focused on the target and pulled his fist back, he shot it forward and felt like he was going to score pretty well until he felt a twinge in his shoulder sending a jolt of pain through his arm. He powered through it, but it wasn't enough and he barely scored past three hundred points.

Sadayo had asked if he wanted to try again but he shook his head and pointed at the machine telling her to go. She gave him a concerned look, but he smiled and said, "It's only fair. Besides if I tried again it'd probably be even worse than last time."

She frowned but did as he asked and loaded the machine, stepped back and launched a punch at the machine scoring nearly double what he'd scored.

"You still win," she'd said as they picked up their bags and headed down the street. "If your shoulder wasn't bothering you, you would have won."

"You won fair and square." He gave her a kiss on the top of the head and nudged her with his good shoulder. "And besides you're always giving me massages, it's time I returned the favor."

As they turned down the street toward his house she sighed and nodded, "Okay, but on one condition."

"As long as it's within reason, I'll agree to your conditions."

That had been a big mistake.

When they'd arrived back at the house, Sadayo had him strip down to his boxers and lay down on the bed while searched through bathroom cabinets and came back in with a tube of muscle ointment. She applied a liberal amount to his back and worked in a massage as she went. He wanted to complain, but he began to relax under her practiced hands. He hadn't realized just how knotted up he was but as she worked his back, Akira didn't feel energized like he used to, but more like he could sleep for days. He actually felt like he was going to fall asleep until she reached his right shoulder and began working at the large knot that had formed. He let out a groan of relief and heard her laugh before pressing down gently. As the pressure was applied though, Akira and Sadayo both heard a loud pop and a pain shot through his shoulder for a moment before relaxing into the mattress.

"I'm so sorry," cried Sadayo as she kissed his cheek and his head. "First your bruise and now this."

"Hey," he rolled onto his back with some difficulty and pulled her to his him with his left arm, "it's okay. You were being nice and you didn't know that would happen; just like my bruise." He adjusted himself and began stroking her hair. "My shoulder's been bothering me for a couple days but it feels better now."

"You should still see a doctor," she whispered kissing his wrist. "Or at least a chiropractor."

"I will after our vacation." Akira kissed her and smiled. "I promise. But can we get some sleep, please? You wore me out."

"That's not the first time I've heard you say that." They both chuckled and Sadayo began stripping out of her shirt and pants. She unceremoniously tossed them over the bed and onto the floor and curled up next to him, patting the pillow closest to her shoulder. He obliged and moved in, resting just beneath her bicep as she stroked his hair, humming quietly. His forehead found her breast and Akira felt himself grow limp as sleep began to take hold. Before sleep took him, Akira wrapped an arm around her and pulled himself tighter against her and fell into a blissful oblivion.

That is until Morgana opened his mouth.

"It's almost ten," growled Mona through a mouthful of sheets. "Sadayo said that breakfast will be ready soon and that if I got you up she'd give me bacon and sausage as a reward."

Akira peeked his head out from under his pillow and gave his friend a vexing look and asked, "You're waking me up for bacon and sausage? She'd give it to you even if you didn't wake me up."

"I know that!" Mona pulled the blankets more and when it was down to Akira's waist he crawled up the human's flesh and sat down on it and began cleaning his face. "But this way I get to bug you and get tasty food. It smells awesome down there, I think she's been practicing." Morgana wiggled his eyebrows as much as a cat could and laughed at the human."

"Like you care about that. You're just a pig." Akira gave the cat a quick tap on the nose before gently scratching the cat's cheek. "You really like her don't you?"

"I do." Mona did his best to resist Akira's attention moving to his chin, but the cat couldn't resist nudging Akira's hand momentarily before regaining his composure. "That's not fair, you jerk! You know how I get when you start scratching my chin."

"You like it." Akira watched as Mona hopped off his bare chest and sat down next to him before rolling onto his side.

"You're still a jerk." Mona winked and let out a toothy yawn. "But to answer your question properly I do like her; I like her a lot."

"It's because she feeds you things my parents won't isn't it?" Akira tapped the cat's nose which earned him a swipe.

"That's part of it." Mona scratched his ear before continuing. "But, I really do like her. She's a good person and she's a lot more enjoyable to be around since we helped her. Even if you two weren't dating I'd still want her to come and help out if we'd stayed in Tokyo."

"Do you want her around more when we move back?" Akira wiped some sleep from his eyes and stifled a small yawn.

"Yeah." Mona rubbed the front of his face with his paw and gave Akira a concerned look. "Not just because I like her, but because I'm worried about you. You've been too wound up since we left Tokyo and she seems to balance you out."

"You've seen what it's like, Mona. Nobody gives a shit if I'm here and those that do are usually lying about it." Akira scratched the cat's chin again and sighed. "We've got six months and then we're out of here. We'll get our own place and we can have Sadayo over as much as we want. Or I can take you over there, she seems to like you enough."

"What's not to like; I'm smart and adorable," replied Mona haughtily making Akira chuckle. After they calmed down, Mona let out a sigh and placed a paw on Akira's hand. "Seriously though, I'm worried about you. You're not eating as much and you barely talk to your family. I thought you wanted to come back home to be with them?"

"They're too busy to deal with me." Akira sat up, stretched, and scratched his head. "They don't want to talk about it so why should I bother bringing it up if they're just going to say it can wait til later?"

Mona sat up and hopped onto Akira's shoulder and gave him a nuzzle. "You can talk to me. You always listened to my complaining so you can complain to me as much as you want."

"Thanks, Mona." Akira reached up and scratched at the side of the cats head. "I'm sorry I've been a jerk lately."

"You've been more than a jerk." Mona gave him a pat on the head with his paw. "But all things considered I can let it slide if you make me an awesome dinner from time to time."

"As long as it isn't sushi." Joked Akira as Mona climbed off his shoulder. "I have to pay for school and you have expensive tastes"

"You only have yourselves to blame." Mona hopped off the bed and wandered toward the door. "You guys gave me a taste of the good life and I am not willing to give it up. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a lovely breakfast of bacon and sausage made by a gorgeous woman waiting for me. Hop to it or I'm going to eat your share."

Akira grumbled at the cat's suggestion and swung his feet off the bed and looked around. His and Sadayo's clothes littered the floor and he wondered if he had any clean clothes left. Getting up, he wandered over to the dresser and found that he had only one pair of clean sweats left and was nearly out of shirts and socks. Sighing, Akira turned toward the laundry and nearly tripped over one of the three bags of prizes from the night before. Catching himself on bookshelf he shook his head at the mess of toys and stuffed animals. Gathering them all up, he put the bags in the closet, gathered his clothes, and headed toward the laundry room and started the load.

When he exited the laundry, he stretched again and heard the sound of music coming from the end of the hall leading to the kitchen. As he reached the entrance, Akira hid off to the side and watched the scene in the kitchen play out.

While Mona sat on the counter, happily eating a plate of bacon and sausage like he was promised, Sadayo was wandering around the kitchen, wearing his hoodie and a pair of his shorts. She had a bit of a hop in her step and seemed to be dancing along to the music in her own haphazard way as she whisked eggs and paid attention to bacon and sausage on the stove. Her hair was a bit of a mess, but she looked wide awake and was humming along with the music as she cooked. When she was back at the stove, Mona looked up from his dish at Akira and looked like he was about to speak, but Akira put a finger to his lips and the cat nodded.

It was child's play for him to hide thanks to the blinds in the living room all being closed. Despite his knowledge of the house, Akira was a bit rusty at his stealth, but he was able to blend in with the shadows of the hall easily enough to watch her. She definitely seemed to be comfortable in the kitchen and he was rather amused by the fluttering of her clothes as she danced across the kitchen to give Mona a couple of scrambled eggs.

"Don't tell your dad I fed you this." Cautioned Sadayo with a gentle tap on the cat's nose. What Sadayo heard as a loud purr, Akira heard a low chuckle. "I'm glad you enjoyed it," said Sadayo none the wiser.

"You have no idea." Mona hopped down from the counter after wolfing down the eggs and walked by Akira toward the cat door at the front of the house, "I'm gonna head out for a bit, Dad. Try not to burn the place down."

Akira gave the cat a thumbs up and continued to watch as Sadayo rummaged around his mother's usually pristine kitchen. It was a simple breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, and toast, but Akira couldn't help but admire her. He didn't know if it was her coming to visit, or a need to impress him, or maybe she just got tired of eating take-out and reconstituted meals, but there was a certain energy in how she moved around the kitchen and he adored watching it. He couldn't help but smile as she added in a lot of vegetables and other things into the eggs and began folding what seemed to be an omelette and after a few second set it onto a fresh plate with some breakfast meats.

His stomach growled and not wanting to wait anymore, Akira stepped out just as Sadayo turned in his direction to grab some eggs and made her jump.

"Holy…," Sadayo clutched at her chest and breathed heavily. "I told you not to do that."

"Sorry, I just wanted to watch you cook." Akira approached the counter where the omelette lay and picked it up. It looked quite delicious, fluffy, yellow, and filled to the brim with vegetables and cheese. "You looked like you were having fun."

"Yeah," Sadayo began preparing another bowl of eggs and hit the stop button on her phone, her cheeks flushed as she began whisking eggs. "I...well...I've been spending more time cooking at home. I figured it'd..." she wiped her nose on the sleeve of the hoodie and shrugged, "I just figured you'd like to eat at home instead of always trying to find a place to eat at when you move back to Tokyo."

Akira set the plate down and walked over to the stove as Sadayo added new eggs to the pan, carefully he wrapped his arms around her waist and moved her hair away from her neck and kissed it. Her neck warmed at the contact and he nuzzled her hair and squeezed her against him. She let out a small giggle and whispered something about him needing to let her go to which he replied, "I don't want to."

"Your food's gonna get cold." She added her own fillings to her omelette and finished it with a small handful of cheese. Lifting it, she felt him squeeze tighter as she tried to move and growled. "Okay, you're either going to have to let me go, let me waddle over to the plate, or you're going to have to get my plate."

"I'm pulling birthday privilege." An impish grin spread across his lips when he heard her groan. "And privilege demands waddling."

"You're such a brat," she growled as she ushered them toward the counter where plate lay; boyfriend and food weighing her down.

"You said I can do what I want." He pulled her hair back again and began kissing the spot just below her ear as he shuffled along behind her, doing his best to impede her progress. "I'm just testing the waters."

"This isn't what I meant," Sadayo grunted quietly as she approached the counter. When his lips made contact, she had to stop herself from moaning at his touch and powered through the pleasure until she reached her plate. After she unloaded her food, Sadayo decided to get a bit of revenge and pressed her ass back against him; not surprised to find something pressing against the small of her back.

"Really?" Sadayo reached down and removed his hands turned. She reached down and gave him a quick squeeze, turning his sheepish grin to a groan of discomfort and pleasure. "You've been awake for how long?"

"Chalk it up to youthful vigor." He leaned in and kissed her. She inhaled and pressed back against his lips her hand moving from his crotch to his back and pulling him close to her. He could taste a bit of salt and herbs on her lips and figured she'd been nibbling on sausage while she was cooking. When the kiss broke he nibbled her lip and added, "And the fact that I can't resist you."

"Well, you're going to have to resist for a bit." Sadayo picked up a plate and handed it to him before pointing at the table. "I had to go to the store to get all this so you better enjoy it."

"How long have you been up?" Akira took his plate begrudgingly and headed to the table.

"Since about seven." She stretched and gave a loud groan and rubbed her neck.

"You could have slept in." Akira began carving up his omelette and took a bite. It was a little saltier than he preferred but all-in-all it was very good. "Or you could have woken me up, I would have gone."

"I know you would have." Sadayo moved her chair closer to him and began nibbling on her omelette some more. "But you looked so peaceful I didn't want to wake you up."

"Thanks for being so considerate." Akira leaned in and kissed her on the cheek.

"You're welcome." Sadayo returned the kiss and watched him for a moment as he ate. "Do you like it?"

Akira looked up, his mouth full of egg and toast and saw that she was nervously poking at her food. Swallowing he took a quick drink of juice before saying, "It's really good. A little salty, but it's good."

Sadayo blushed and shrugged as she continued to eat, "I've been working on learning how to make other meals. If you want I can cook dinner tonight. I've even tried baking a few things."

"Trying to make up for that premium cup of noodles dinner?"

Sadayo's face broke into a big smile and some egg fell from her mouth as she gave him a gentle slap on the arm.

"Seriously?" she asked after swallowing her food. "You had to bring that up?"

"Well, it was pretty cute." Akira nudged her with his knee and finished his toast. "You seemed to think making it was difficult because of the hot water and sauce packets."

"Hey," she pointed a fork full of sausage at him, "they word those things very awkwardly okay. It's not my fault they make them almost impossible to decipher."

"I'll take your word for it, Becky." Akira reached out and bit the meat off her fork and swallowed loudly.

"Smart-ass." Sadayo took a large bite of her omelette and stared around the kitchen and asked, "Why do you guys have so many expensive appliances? It's almost like a professional kitchen."

"Yeah," Akira ate the last bit of his bacon and sighed. "My mom trained to be a chef when she was younger, but after she got pregnant with me she moved to kitchen management. She helps run a few restaurants in the area, which includes making the menu. Sometimes she has the employees over to test out new recipes and meals so having good equipment is kind of essential."

"Oh." Once again Sadayo was feeling a bit intimidated by Akira's parent's success.

"Does it make you uncomfortable?" Akira began tapping his fork against his plate as he stared at the last few bits of food. "Knowing this stuff about my parents?"

"It's a bit intimidating." Sadayo moved closer and rested her head on his shoulder. "I feel like they'll find me a bit lackluster."

"They'll love you." Akira kissed her on the head before returning to the rest of his meal.

"I hope so." Sadayo's hand rested on his thigh and she sighed. "They sound great but I'm still worried."

"Do you want me to have a talk with them before I introduce you?" Akira set his fork down and wrapped an arm around her. "Not right now, but when we finally feel ready to tell them about us I can call them a couple weeks beforehand, give them time to prepare?"

"I like the sound of that." She smiled and nuzzled his shoulder. "Can I talk to them as well?"

"Of course." Akira laughed and squeezed her against him. "Do you want me to talk to your parents before I meet them?"

"That'll go over well," scoffed Sadayo with a small chuckle. "They're going to go berserk when they find out we're dating."

"You haven't updated them about my life have you?" Akira wasn't mad, but he wasn't exactly thrilled with the knowledge that Sadayo had complained about him to her parents and had exposed his record to them back when he first arrived at Shujin.

"I've tried, but they're kind of like your parents right now." She drained her juice in a few gulps and let out a loud sigh. "Seems like any time I try to tell them about how you've been doing or the fact that I'm seeing someone they change the subject about someone else in the family or their work so I haven't been able to. I could do it in a letter or email but I'd rather have some control of how they perceive the information, given that it's my fault how they view you."

"If you need me to, I'll sit in on the conversation." Akira picked her hand up off his knee and kissed it. "Maybe that'll help them keep their cool."

"It might." Sadayo rubbed her neck and groaned at a knot she'd found.

"Are you okay?" Akira reached around and began checking her neck.

"For the most part." Sadayo lowered her hand and let Akira begin working out the knot. He was a bit rougher than she liked, but he was effective. A warm tingle spread throughout her body and she felt herself begin to grow limp. "I just slept funny last night. I think we need to take a couple of minutes to figure out how we should sleep."

Akira said nothing but instead focused on fixing her neck. He could only use one hand while they were at the table, but the knot was big enough that he felt he could focus on it with a single hand, and he began feeling a bit guilty as he tried to bring her relief. Deciding that it was time for him to make good on his promise, Akira slowly began to formulate a plan.

"Enjoying yourself?" Akira moved a bit lower and found another knot in roughly the same location. Her eyes had closed and she barely made any effort to move from her chair, but she did manage a nod and satisfied grunt.

"It's been a long time since someone did this for me." Her voice was little more than a groan and she felt like she could melt into the chair at any moment.

"Oh really," Akira leaned in and kissed her neck, making her whimper.

"Yeah," Sadayo moaned as he pressed down just a bit harder. "Your hands feel incredible."

Akira chuckled and gave her neck one final kiss before taking his hand away. She let out a disappointed whimper but let him do as he wanted. Telling her to give him a few minutes, Akira cleaned up after them and returned to the table. He took her hand and with a gentle pull, led her upstairs and into his room.

Shutting the door behind them, Akira pulled her into a kiss and moved his hand around the waistband of the oversize sweater and pulled it over her head, momentarily breaking the kiss, but they returned to it with a fervent hunger. Her lips still tasted like breakfast her breaths were getting more and more frantic. Cautious of the few things still littering the floor, Akira directed her toward the bed, her knees buckling when she felt the edge of the mattress.

"Akira," she whispered as she fell into the mattress, her hands pulling at the hem of his shirt.

She didn't need to say anything, the look was in her eyes and Akira was more than happy to oblige. Pulling his shirt over his head, he bent down and gave her a deep kiss making her squeak after tossing it aside. She fell into the mattress and he followed suit, crawling up her body like a large feral cat. With one long fingered hand, he moved his hand up her stomach, caressing the pristine skin. She shook at his touch, her legs pushing her away from him breaking the kiss.

"Do you want me to stop?" he asked looking up at her just in time to see her shake her head. She was flushed and her lips were swollen slightly from their kissing. Her eyes were shining with want and she shook her head as she chewed on her lower lip. Slinking up her body, his lips kissing her chest and neck, nibbling gently when he found her flesh he asked, "Can I take your shirt off?"

"Yes." Sadayo's voice was only a whisper and she raised her arms without any resistance.

Akira did as he was allowed and pulled the tee-shirt she was wearing over her head. It fell to the floor without any noise and he pulled back to look at her body and smiled. He could tell that she'd been going outside a lot more, her usually pale skin had a bit more color to it and he found it enticing. As he fiddled with the strap of her black sports bra to kiss her shoulder, Akira saw that a tan line had formed which made him laugh.

"What's so funny?"

Looking to his left, Akira saw a pouting Sadayo and gave her a smile and a kiss before saying, "You have tan-lines. It's my first time seeing them on you."

"It happens," she gave him her trademark glare but smiled all the same. "It's the summer. Besides you have some too." She pointed at the slight difference in coloring between his upper and lower arms.

"I guess I do," Akira remarked after looking at his arms in earnest for the first time in months. "Do you like them," he asked with a mild flex of his arms.

"Very much," was all Sadayo could muster as he showed off his body. Despite his lanky appearance, Akira did have some well-defined musculature and Sadayo found herself admiring it almost every time she looked at him. She felt a bit guilty for admiring his body; she loved him in spite of it, but the amount of hard work he and Ryuji put into their work out regimen was having an effect and she found it difficult not to look at him.

"I like yours," he said breaking her focus from his muscles and onto his face.

"Mine's nothing special." Sadayo's face turned red at his compliment. She had been working out a bit more since her new apartment building had a gym, but she was nowhere near the condition he was in, she didn't think she would ever be.

"It is to me." Akira placed a kiss on her stomach, his fingers pulling at the waistband of the shorts she'd stolen from him. "It's soft, strong, and it smells incredible," they both laughed at this and Akira began pulling her shorts down. She lifted her hips and Akira began pulling them down, revealing her slim legs beneath them. He kissed her thighs as he removed them, gently biting at the flesh, leaving tiny red marks on the pale skin. He felt her squirm and he could smell the beginnings of her arousal and as much as he wanted to taste her, he had to be patient.

When the shorts were on the ground, Akira continued placing kisses along her legs while he worked at taking off the rest of his clothes. The cool air of the house made him shiver a bit when it made contact with his slowly growing erection, but he maintained his composure. As he began kissing her knee, Akira lifted his hands and began carefully massaging her right leg. She let out a whimper and he stopped.

"Are you okay?" He looked up from the floor and saw her resting on her elbows looking down at him. Her face was a deep red and Akira could see a mild discomfort in her eyes, but no pain.

"Just a little more painful than I thought." Sadayo reached down and stroked his messy hair. "Kind of overdid it last night."

"Did you enjoy yourself?" Akira slowly began working up her leg again, careful of the pressure. She let out a small gasp, but this time it sounded more pleasurable than painful.

"I did." Her hand continued to stroke his hair as gentle waves of pleasure coursed through her body. "I want to do it again."

"Maybe tomorrow," Akira suggested, kissing her knee and moving to her left leg. "I think tonight I want a bit of quiet with you."

"I like the sound of that." Sadayo let out a groan as Akira began working a fairly big knot out of her leg. "Maybe a nice dinner," she let out a moan as he moved to her hamstring, "and a nice hot bath."

"Sounds good," Akira placed her leg on his shoulder and stood up stretching his legs as he massaged her. When he looked down he found a mischevious smile on Sadayo's face and her eyes focused on his crotch.

"Someone's excited," she lifted her free foot rubbed his inner thigh making his erection twitch.

"I'm following our deal," answered Akira with a low growl. It was a bit strange having her foot stimulate it, but he couldn't deny the effect

"And it's very much appreciated," giggled Sadayo as she prepared to allow her lover even more access.

Pulling her leg back, Sadayo pushed the blankets aside and rolled onto her stomach, resting her hands beneath her cheeks. Akira's weight soon followed and she couldn't help but squirm when she felt his erection brush against her thigh. She heard his low chuckle and felt his lips on her shoulders as he began removing her bra. She felt the cool air against her covered flesh and moaned as his hands began massaging her back. His rough palms scratched her skin a little but it wasn't uncomfortable, in fact, it sent tingles down her spine and she felt her hips press back against him he worked out a particularly big knot. She heard a loud grunt from Akira and smirked when she felt him grind against her leg, but made no attempt to help relieve his stress.

"A little lower," she requested, making sure to brush her leg against the damp head of his erection. His hands were shaking in anticipation, but he followed her request with little hesitation. She could hear his breathing grow a bit heavier and chuckled internally as he obeyed. They'd never truly tried to assert dominance over one another, it was usually just light teasing or cautious requests, but she found it strangely exhilarating to have a bit of control over what he could and couldn't do in the bedroom. As he began working out the knots in her lower back, Sadayo couldn't help but think about what it would be like to bend to his whims.

As a maid, she'd had to call him master and over the course of their relationship she'd slowly moved away from it, but the few times she'd said it since then she found it enjoyable and he hadn't shied away from it. His admittance to enjoying it last night stirred a hint of curiosity in her and she was willing to explore it, but that would have to wait. They were still new in a way, even after almost a year together, and she didn't want to push him.

"Are you okay?" Akira had stopped his ministrations and had turned to kissing her back and caressing her hips.

"I feel wonderful," she sighed as she felt the light scratch of his fingernails on her sides.

"Do you want me to continue?" He moved up her body, his chest resting on her back and his breath hot in her ear.

"That's enough for now." She pushed herself up and when he gave her enough room she rolled onto her back and wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed his throat, earning her a deep growl. "You're good with your hands."

"I was just following what I felt you do." He grunted as she continued kissing his throat. "I still got a lot to learn."

"With hands like yours, you'll be an expert in no time." Sadayo rubbed her thighs together when she felt his erection brush against her stomach. "He's so excited," she whispered when she felt him twitch at the contact. Akira said nothing and she watched as his face turned a bit red. She smiled and gave him a kiss whispering, "Still shy?'

"No," Akira said though it sounded more like a grunt.

She let his neck go and finished removing her bra, exposing the rest of her torso to him. Sadayo watched him turn his gaze, but she could see his eyes occasionally flitting back and forth between her and the wall. Reaching up, she turned his head and locked eyes with him and smiled at his blush.

"You're allowed to look." She kissed his cheek and moved up the pillows, bringing her chest more into his field of vision. "It's nothing you haven't seen before and besides," she kissed his forehead and pulled him close to her chest, "I'm yours and I like it when you look at me."

"I know," Akira wrapped his arms around her and sighed happily. "I was just thinking about what we talked about yesterday and didn't want you to feel like I was using the massage to take advantage."

"Well, I'd be lying if I said I didn't expect it." Akira cast a narrowed glare at her and she laughed. "Don't give me that look, I saw that little glint in your eye when I threw in the naked clause. You were thinking the same thing I was."

"I did." Akira rested his head on her chest and kissed one of her breasts, making her squirm. "Doesn't mean I can't change my mind at some point about it."

"You're more than welcome to change your mind." Sadayo brushed some hair out of his eyes and gave him a loving smile. "I don't want you to do things you're uncomfortable with."

"Same here." Akira began pushing himself up and he felt her grip loosen as he rose. Since he'd began the massage, Akira was finally feeling just how much strength went into it. He'd never understood how difficult doing something like that was on her body and he felt himself grow more appreciative of her and wanted to show her his gratitude.

"What?" Sadayo's face was beet red at the loving look in his eyes. "What's with that look all of a sudden?"

Smiling, Akira raised a hand to brush her cheek and as he said, "I was just thin..." but was cut off by his right hand slipping on the sheets. He tried to catch himself, but instead of a foothold, he was rewarded with a handful of sheets, a scream from Sadayo, and pain in both his head and tailbone as he fell off the bed and onto the floor.

"Ow," he groaned as his head hit one of the drawers on his desk.

"Are you okay," Sadayo asked from the bed. Looking up Akira could see she was trying to stifle a laugh and groaned as he tried to sit up.

"Yeah," his voice was low and Akira felt the beginnings of a lump form on the back of his head. "I'll live."

Sadayo slipped from the bed with a dull thud and began checking his head for any cuts.

"Are you feeling okay? No dizziness or anything?"

"Just some pain." Akira winced as she brushed against the forming lump.

"That's good." Sadayo tilted his head back and kissed him. "I can't take you anywhere can I?"

"I am a bit of a problem child," Akira teased which got her to giggle.

"Well, I could think of worse things for you to be." Sadayo gave him a deep kiss that earned her a groan of frustration from her boyfriend. Reaching down she found that he was still very much aroused despite their misadventure. Taking it in her hand, she gave him a few gentle pumps and felt him twitch in her hand.

"That's not fair," he groaned as she caressed a vein. "I'm injured."

"Then think of this as your treatment," whispered Sadayo as she lowered herself onto the floor. Her hand continued to move along his shaft, pumping small bits of liquid from the tip.

"Sadayo," he whimpered as he felt her hand on his cock. Her hands were so soft against his hard flesh and it'd been so long that Akira was finding it nearly impossible to control himself. "Can you," his legs stretched and his toes curled under her touch, "can you..

Sadayo leaned in and squeezed his cock and whispered, "Do you want me to use my mouth?"

"Yeah," Akira kissed her and she moaned as she felt some of him drip onto her hand. "I want your mouth."

Sadayo smiled and kissed him again and said, "Of course, Mas..."

Before she could finish, there was a loud bang from the door, causing both Akira and Sadayo to look in the direction of the noise and the shouts of three voices followed by a loud scream of shock, a deep voice saying, “Oh, my,” and someone sputtering at the sight in front of them stopped when they saw Sadayo and Akira on the floor. It took a moment to process but when they recovered, Sadayo and Akira froze in terror when they saw Makoto Niijima standing there, her face bright red in shock and her hands covering her eyes. Next, to her an intrigued but mildly confused Yusuke Kitagawa looking between his three friends for clarification at the scene in front of him and a slack-jawed Ryuji Sakamoto staring at them in shocked silence.

After realizing who it was in the room, Sadayo began pulling the sheets off the bed and onto her while Akira reached for the nearest pair of pants and pulled them on as he began telling them they needed to get out while Ryuji recovered enough to shout, “HOLY SHIT!”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 5

 

~~~~~~~~~~~Earlier that morning~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Oh my god!” Ryuji checked his phone again and saw that it was well past seven. It took about three to four hours to drive to Akira’s and he was itching to get on the road. “Where the hell are they?!”

 

“Settle down,” cautioned Yusuke as he looked up from his sketchpad at the people who were making their morning commute. “You’ll draw a lot of attention and we don’t want that, not at this hour.”

 

“We should have been on the road already.” Ryuji downed his orange juice and glanced out at the street from their seats at the cafe. “They said to meet them here at seven and it’s already seven-thirty.”

 

“Maybe there’s a problem with the engine.” Yusuke flipped to a clean sheet of paper and returned to sketching a stray cat that was sitting on top of a nearby garbage can. “Remember what happened last time, those,” Yusuke tapped his pencil against his pad while he figured out the word, “spark plugs I think they were called, failed?”

 

“Maybe,” Ryuji waved down the server and asked for a refill and checked his phone to see that Ann had pinged him. Opening it he wasn’t surprised to see what she wrote.

 

On our way, we had issues with the car and needed to put oil in it double check the fluids. Should be there in about fifteen! Sorry!

 

“You see this?” Ryuji held up his phone and shook it, but Yusuke was too engrossed in his recent drawing to pay attention. Picking up a spare straw, Ryuji peeled off the wrapping, put some in his mouth and stuck it back into the straw, aimed and blew the spit ball at the artists head, making him jump.

 

“What was that?” Yusuke reached up and rubbed the spot on his cheek that the small spitball had hit.

 

“Check your phone,” chuckled Ryuji as the server returned. She was hiding a laugh as she refilled Yusuke’s coffee and handed Ryuji his juice along with an extra piece of paper. Picking it up, Ryuji read it, finding a number and slipped it into his pocket while Yusuke read his phone.

 

“It seems my deduction was correct.” Yusuke gave a shrug and turned his attention back to the street but found the cat gone. “Oh, well that’s a shame.”

 

“Sorry man.” Ryuji sipped at his juice and stared down the street. “So where do you think we should look for him at first?”

 

“I’m not sure.” Yusuke sipped his coffee and sighed at its quality and set it down on its saucer. “Honestly, I want to check into the hotel and at least wander for a bit before we bother him. If he’s been working I don’t think having all of us show up right after wold be a good idea.”

 

“Isn’t that the purpose of a surprise though?” Ryuji popped a bit of his donut into his mouth. “Kind of catch them off guard and make them have some fun?”

 

“I suppose,” Yusuke chewed on a piece of fruit and tapped his pencil against his chin. “Futaba confirmed he was at home right?”

 

“She said other than him going out for a few hours last night to an arcade he was at home and work the majority of the day,” said Ryuji through a mouthful of pastry. “It’s scary how easily she can track us.”

 

“Well, at least it’s just her.” Yusuke chuckled as he bit into a strawberry. “Imagine what would have happened if the police had her expertise at their disposal? We probably would have been in prison right alongside him.”

 

“Yeah,” crammed the rest of his donut into his mouth and swallowed. “He stuck his neck out for us that’s for sure. I hope he doesn’t hold it against us.”

 

“I don’t think he does.” Yusuke shifted his gaze and waved at something approaching. “If he did he wouldn’t visit us as often as he does. But he has been strangely quiet the past few days. I hope he’s okay.”

 

“Same here.” Ryuji heard a familiar rumbling beside them and told Yusuke to get into the van while he paid. Inside the waitress asked him if he got her note and he confirmed, saying he’d call her once he got back before heading out. When he arrived he found Futaba and Makoto helping Yusuke rearrange the bags.

 

“What the hell happened?”

 

“Inari’s bag is too damn heavy to go on top,” grunted Futaba as she pulled a couple of suitcases out.

 

“It wasn’t my intent to upset the delicate balance you made.” Yusuke’s face was a bit red from both embarrassment and the early morning heat. “I already apologized for my mistake.”

 

“Just tell us next time when you decide to add a few more kilos than originally planned,” exhaled Makoto as she handed Ryuji the cooler. “Can you set this over there and hand us your bag.”

 

“Sure.” Ryuji took the cooler with little effort and then handed over his bag. “Why aren’t Haru and Ann out here?”

 

“Ann ended up getting a phone call around three and had to spend a couple of hours explaining why she couldn’t take a job and finding a replacement.” Makoto took Ryuji’s bag and tossed into the bag and began rearranging them for easy access to the food.

 

“What about Haru?” Yusuke helped Futaba load in the last few bags and made sure that it met their standards.

 

“She ended up with an early morning phone call from some of the people at the company.” Futaba slammed the doors shut and stretched her arms and yawned. “Apparently there was an issue regarding some sort of contract and they needed Haru to sign off on their decision. She fell asleep on the way here.”

 

“Shit,” Ryuji let out a yawn and pointed at the car front seat, “do you want me to sit up front and take over since Haru is knocked out?”

 

“Sure,” Makoto shrugged and headed to the driver’s seat. She’d have preferred Haru to be her second driver, but she had faith in Ryuji’s skills since she had spent the time teaching both him and Haru how to drive.

 

“Cool!” Ryuji hopped into the front seat while Futaba and Yusuke took the middle seat. As Makoto revved up the engine, Ryuji turned around and chuckled at the sight of Haru and Ann both sitting in the back seat with pillows pressed against the windows, faces squished, and both of their jaws wide open. He took out his phone and set it to the camera mode and snapped a picture of his friends, making sure to keep Futaba and Yusuke as the focus, both of them making weird faces as he snapped the shot, but ensuring Haru and Ann were prominently featured.

 

“They’re going to kill you if they see that,” warned Makoto as she pulled onto the highway.

 

“I’ll just tell them it’s the first official picture of our trip.” Ryuji double checked to make sure the photo had saved before scrolling through the channels on the radio. “Besides, it’s not like I’m going to post it to any media sites. Long as I keep it between us they won’t have anything to complain about.”

 

“Whatever you say, Ryuji.” Makoto chuckled as she turned onto the highway and pointed at her thermos. “Can you pour me some coffee? Boss made us a strong batch before we left.”

 

“Uhh sure.” Ryuji picked up the thermos and poured out a small cup into the lid and sniffed it. It smelt pretty good, it had a mild pungency but it wasn’t unpleasant, it smelt almost like melted chocolate. Thinking it would taste like it smelt, Ryuji took a small sip and regretted it immediately. Despite the mild sweetness of the drink, the taste was far more bitter than he thought, but he had nowhere to spit it. He felt his throat close and he grimaced at the taste but choked it down regardless and handed the cup to Makoto. “That’s disgusting,” he exclaimed and reached for the bottle of water he kept in his backpack.

 

“No one told you to drink it.” Makoto shook her head and laughed as she took a sip. “That’s not bad,” Makoto took another sip and shook a bit. “Boss and Haru have been playing around with different coffee blends and this is one of their new ones. Boss wants our opinion so can you hand a cup to Yusuke and Futaba?”

 

“You have the cup.” Ryuji held out his hand, but Makoto drained it and set it in the cup holder and pointed at a bag between them. “There’s a few extra in there so we don’t have to share.”

 

Sighing at now being used as a flight attendant, Ryuji fished out a few small Styrofoam cups and began pouring just as Makoto hit a small pot hole.

 

“Sorry,” she hissed as Ryuji barely avoided splashing coffee on himself.

“We’re all good,” he said as a few stray drops burned his skin. He sucked it up and poured the coffee and handed them to his friends. “Enjoy.”

 

“Thanks, Ryuji,” mumbled Futaba without looking up from her phone. She sipped the coffee and made no comment, instead she focused on typing out a long text while Yusuke drained his cup quickly and raised his eyes in surprise.

 

“That’s an interesting flavor.” Yusuke held his cup out again and asked, “Ryuji can I get a refill?”

 

“You aren’t driving so pour it yourself.” Ryuji handed Yusuke the thermos and turned around into his seat. “I’m not your butler.”

 

“This is true,” Yusuke poured himself another cup and inhaled the fragrant scent of the coffee and smiled. “You prefer going after the girls who bring you your drinks.”

 

“Say what?” Makoto gave Yusuke a quick glance through the review mirror and then a peripheral glance to Ryuji. “Ryuji what did you do?”

 

“Why the hell does everyone think I’m always the one doing something wrong?” Ryuji slammed his foot down on the dash board and growled. “I’m not the big mouth asshole everyone always thinks I am.”

 

“We know that.” Makoto sounded sincere in her apology and gave him a cautious smile. “I just meant that…,” Makoto shook her head and sighed, “I just wanted to know what happened. I wasn’t trying to place blame on you for anything.”

 

“It’s fine.” Ryuji reached into his pocket and pulled out the slip of paper the waitress had given him and read out, “Here’s my number call me when you get a chance.” He turned to Makoto and gave her a cocky smirk, “I didn’t even have to work for this.”

 

“Very nice,” chuckled Makoto as she turned onto their exit. “I hope she’s nice.”

 

“I do too.” Ryuji was about to put the paper back into his wallet only to have it snatched away by Futaba. “Don’t you even think about it.”

 

Ryuji turned around to snatch the paper back but Futaba was already in the back seat seated between a now drooling Haru and snoring Ann.

 

“Futaba, I’m serious.” Ryuji wanted to climb over the seat but was worried about distracting Makoto. “Don’t do it.”

 

“Futaba!” Makoto glared through the rear-view but Futaba was too busy with her phone to look.

 

“Oh, come on!” Futaba pouted as she stopped typing the phone number into her search engine. “You don’t wanna see if she’s some gold digger or...”

 

“Futaba,” Yusuke looked up from his sketchpad and turned his focus on the hacker, “I think in this case we should just leave well enough alone.”

 

“Seriously, Inari?” Futaba’s grin turned into an annoyed sneer. “Since when have you been so concerned with other people’s privacy? You’re the one always butting your nose into people’s business, sketching their lives and everything.”

 

“True.” Yusuke had no argument against that. He had recently taken to focusing more on real life rather than fanciful ideas about the dichotomy of life and had several books filled with life drawings, but there was one key difference in what he did and what Futaba was thinking of doing. Holding up his sketch pad, Yusuke began flipping through it and asked, “But do you see a common theme in my pictures?”

 

Futaba looked at the book and then up at Yusuke, then back at the pad and shrugged. “They’re all really, really good?”

 

“I wouldn’t say that,” Yusuke chuckled as he pulled the book back to him. “I would say that the common theme is that the pictures are all drawn in public. I observe their actions but I don’t insert myself into what’s happening in their lives, I draw the results. I leave them be and while I may have my moments of being socially inept, I at least know when to keep my nose out of people’s romantic endeavors unless asked for my input.”

 

“Whoa,” Ryuji was shocked to hear Yusuke say this. Normally Yusuke was so caught up in his own head that he rarely considered what was going on around him, but this was a side of the artist none of them ever knew existed.

 

“What?” Yusuke turned his attention back to Ryuji, oblivious to the effect his words had on his friend.

 

“Since when did you become so cognizant of things like that,” Makoto laughed as she switched lanes.

 

“I’m not sure.” Yusuke chewed on the end of his pencil, lost in thought.

 

They waited quietly for an answer from him, but when he went back to his sketching they all rolled their eyes and Futaba relinquished the number back to Ryuji and said, “Just say the word and I can background check her.”

 

“That’ll never happen.” Futaba stuck her tongue out at Ryuji and he did the same, and laughed before turning his attention back to the road and flipped on a traffic app.

 

“What are you looking at,” asked Makoto trying to keep herself awake. She’d slept better than Ann and Haru, but she’d been burning the midnight oil so much that she was constantly tired.

 

“I’m checking traffic.” Ryuji flipped through a few filters to see if there were any concerns but found only a few slow downs. “Looks like we got some construction hitting us after our first rest stop. You wanna switch when we reach that?”

 

“Yeah.” Makoto yawned and shook her head, hoping that the coffee would kick in soon. “You don’t think that girl got the wrong idea about you when we pulled up, do you? I’d hate to ruin any chance you had with her.”

 

“I think I’ll be okay.” Ryuji was happy that Makoto was so concerned, but he was growing annoyed with how much they were blowing it out of proportion. “It’s a phone number, not a marriage meeting.”

 

“Well, who knows,” Makoto gave him a wink as she switched lanes. “So you think this place we’re taking him is worth what we paid? I know Haru pulled some strings to get us a deal for that and the hotel rooms, but this place is brand new, how do we know we’ll have fun?”

 

“I heard it’s pretty sick.” Ryuji began flipping through some pictures that his friends had posted from the previous week. “Everyone I know that’s been able to go had a kick-ass time, why can’t we?”

 

“I’m not worried about us,” Makoto yawned again and rubbed her eye, “I’m worried about him.”

 

“If Akira doesn’t like it,” Ryuji shut off his phone and began rummaging for a snack in his bag, “then I’ll kick his ass until he does enjoy it.”

 

“Smooth Ryuji,” Makoto laughed and asked for another drink of coffee, “real smooth.”

 

They drove for another couple of hours until they reached the planned gas station and after parking, Makoto left her seat with a slam of the door and ran into the gas station and into the bathroom.

 

“What’s happened?!” Haru sat up, her face covered in marks from the pillow and a small trail of drool dribbling down the side of her mouth.

 

“Makoto drank too much coffee.” Ryuji turned around and quickly took another picture of his friends before they all began to exit the car. He laughed at Haru, but nearly bust his gut when he saw the picture of Ann. Since she’d cut her hair, Ann’s hair didn’t frizz nearly as much after a heavy nap, but one-half of her hair was stuck up like some sort of half finished mohawk.

 

“Are we there yet?” Ann smacked her lips and stretched. “That was a good nap.”

 

“Yeah, it was.” Haru followed Yusuke out the side door while Futaba headed to the back and began looking for snacks.

 

“We’re at the halfway point.” Ryuji pointed at the gas station and smiled. “Get what you want to do done now cuz I’m taking over and I don’t plan on stopping.”

 

“I think I’m gonna follow Makoto.” Ann disappeared into the gas station, hair still sticking up. “Last thing I need is to have you hit a pothole….” as she wandered off, Ryuji could have figured he heard something about her bladder but not much else.

 

Figuring he’d be better off getting out of the car, Ryuji wandered into the gas station and began filtering through the magazines while Yusuke and Haru browsed through some soft drinks. The door bell tingled and in came Futaba with two things of instant yakisoba in her hands. She stopped by the counter and asked the clerk if she could get some hot water. The woman nodded and poured the water into Futaba’s bowls, Ryuji felt a small chill run down his spine when he saw the smile on Futaba’s face. Deciding it best to return to the car, he hit the bathroom and then returned to the car, passing Yusuke who was purchasing a few drinks with a now wide awake Haru.

 

Outside he found Futaba waiting in the car, her feet swinging from the side door while Haru returned with Yusuke, looking much happier with Ann and Makoto. Makoto had moved into the back while Ann decided to occupy the front seat. Haru and Yusuke were chatting quietly about some of Yusuke’s sketches while Futaba finished prepping her yakisoba.

 

“Hey, Inari!”

 

Yusuke looked up from his sketchbook, along with Haru and as Futaba approached with two identical looking bowls of instant noodles.

 

“Yes, Futaba?”

 

The hacker held out one of the bowls and said, “I made these for us. You said you wanted to try it with me once I got them so here you go.”

 

“I am feeling a bit famished.” Yusuke set his pad aside and took the noodles. “Thanks, Futaba.”

 

“Sure,” Futaba began looking around and groaned loudly. “Hey, Haru can you hold this for a minute? I forgot something in the back of the van.”

 

“Absolutely!” Haru took the bowl and gave it a deep sniff. “Oh, that smells actually quite nice.”

 

“It better after how much I paid for it!” Futaba then disappeared behind the van.

 

Once she was out of sight, Ryuji and the others watched as Yusuke pulled a small bottle filled with something and uncapped it while Haru casually lifted the lid to Futaba’s food. He poured a few drops of whatever was in the bottle into the bowl and returned it to his pocket while Haru continued to look around keeping an eye out for Futaba.

 

“Yusuke,” whispered Makoto patting him on the shoulder, “what was that?”

 

“Later,” he whispered before beginning to eat his food. He was rather impressed with the flavor. As far as instant noodles went it had a slight sweetness to it and almost the perfect amount of salt and a rather comfortable amount of spice.

 

As he ate, Ann, Makoto, and Ryuji all watched with bated breath as Futaba ate her food, humming happily and smiling broadly. While it may have seemed perverse to outsiders, the Phantom Thieves looked forward to the latest in the long string of pranks Yusuke and Futaba pulled on each other. It had started two days after Akira had returned from juvie. Futaba had seemed to think pulling a prank, a prank that involved Yusuke, durian, and a bucket set on top of a door would solve his gloom. It had, for the most part, even Boss got a good laugh out of it. But since then, every time the group got together Yusuke and Futaba alternated pranks and it seemed that the artist was getting his vengeance for a previous slight.

 

“‘fis ie eerie uud,” she laughed through a mouthful of noodles.

 

“Indeed,” chuckled Yusuke as he swallowed a large amount and handed his bowl to Haru. “Would you like to try?”

 

“Absolutely, it smells delicious.” Haru began digging into the noodles, keeping a peripheral eye on the younger girl.

 

Picking up his sketch pad, Yusuke began drawing rather hastily, while the others all watched as Futaba’s face slowly began to contort. It started at her neck, a simple redness that slowly began creeping up her neck. It then moved to around her lips. It started with a small tinge of pink and then slowly her lips grew a darker and darker shade of red, her ears brightened and sweat began to pool on her forehead and drip down her face. At first, Futaba seemed fine, even Haru mentioned a slight spiciness to it, but Futaba’s reaction was far from mild.

 

After what seemed like an eternity, Futaba swallowed a large bite and set the bowl down. She was panting, her eyes were watering and her head was drenched in sweat. Her tongue lolled out of her mouth and she began fanning herself. A devilish grin fell across Yusuke’s face that he didn’t even bother to hide.

 

“What the hell did you do, Inari?!” Futaba was wiping tears from her eyes by this point and she was searching for anything she could use for relief.

 

“Uhhh,” Yusuke reached into his pocket and pulled out the tiny bottle and said, “ah yes here it is.”

 

He stuck out the bottle and Futaba tried to read it but her eyes were so watery she had to ask, “What’s it say?”

 

“Capsaicin oil.”

 

“Oh, jeez.” Makoto began laughing while Futaba began chastising Yusuke.

 

“What’s that?” Asked Ryuji and Ann, glancing away from Yusuke who was now dodging a sweating and watery eyed Futaba.

 

“It’s basically pure heat from the chilies. It’s the oil that gives them the heat.”

 

“So it’s basically chili oil?” Ann asked looking at Yusuke who was now running around the back of the car away from Futaba.

 

“Pure chili heat.” Makoto chuckled as Yusuke caught a bottle Haru tossed him and held it out in front of him and pointed at Futaba. “No filter, no nothing, all spice.”

 

“Damn, man.” Ryuji laughed as Futaba stomped at Yusuke.

 

“That’s sick, Inari!” She took the bottle and read it. “I thought we called a truce on this trip!?”

 

“We said the truce would apply when we got there” Yusuke wandered over to the car and pulled a jug of milk out from the bag he’d brought out with him. “And from what I can see we’re still not at the hotel, so the truce doesn’t apply.”

 

“Oh screw you and your semantics.” Futaba downed some of the liquid antacids Yusuke had given her and took a paper towel Haru had offered her and dabbed gently at her face. “Did any of you know about this?

 

“It was all my idea,” interrupted Yusuke before Haru’s honest nature could kick in. It had been his idea so he felt it was only right that he took the blame for it. Haru just knew it was a prank, she didn’t know exactly what Yusuke had planned. “They are as they’ve always been, bystanders.” He extended the jug of milk out and exhaled in relief when Futaba drank from it.

She gazed at each one of them in succession, none of them turned away, nor fidgeted, but it didn’t curb Futaba’s suspicions. She knew all of them had helped either her or Yusuke at one time or another with a prank and they were all too practiced to give themselves up.

 

“All right,” Futaba answered without a hint of belief. Her eyes still burned from the oils escaping from her tear ducts and she wanted to get out of the sun, even though she’d worn shorts and a tee-shirt, the added heat from the peppers wasn’t helping. Taking one more swing of milk, Futaba looked at her friends, snorted, and headed into the back seat of the car.

 

“I’ll take that as the sign we need to get moving.” Ryuji whistled and slapped the side of the van before turning the ignition. “Come on guys, let’s lock and load.”

 

The remaining Phantoms moved to lock the car up and hopped into their respective seats, with Ann and being the only one to sit next to Futaba.

 

For the remainder of the trip, Futaba kept quiet, only answering in grunts and monosyllabic words. They were all used to it, the upset silence that followed when one of them was the victim of a prank. While it was meant in good fun, there was a certain amount of resentment following the pranks, but it was usually all forgotten about within a couple of hours. This time though it took a bit longer than usual and it wasn’t until after an hour delay in traffic and them pulling into the hotel parking lot that Futaba began to talk.

 

“Wow,” Futaba covered the top of her eyes and stared up at the building.

 

Despite Akira downplaying his hometown as being quiet, it wasn’t as quiet as it seemed. Thanks to it being rather far away from major cities but also close to the ocean, it did have a fairly steady tourist economy which meant that it had some fairly nice hotels. While it wasn’t as nice as the one the Phantoms had stayed at in Hawaii, the one Haru had gotten them into was still lavish compared to the smaller ones in the area.

 

While Haru and Makoto took care of check in, Futaba left their bags at the front while they went exploring. There was a guest store complete with snacks and some small souvenirs and off to the side was a very nice cafe that served breakfasts and lunch while behind closed doors was apparently a shirt and tie style dining restaurant. Paintings littered the walls and Yusuke couldn’t help but comment on the lack of efficacy the reproduction company had with their products. Futaba, on the other hand, began checking the internet connection and grumbled from one of the waiting couches, saying that she’d have to rely on her phone for a decent connection and security.

 

“All right guys,” Haru announced pointing at the luggage. “Get your bags, Futaba double check on Akira please, we’ve got a lot to do and a short window to do it.”

 

It took less than ten minutes for them to get their stuff situated in their rooms. They were lucky enough to get three rooms so they’d all have some amount of privacy at night. This was followed by a quick nap and after making sure everything was secured, they headed out into the afternoon sun and began the slow trek toward Akira’s home. As they wandered the streets, getting lost a few times due to the GPS app delaying on them, they made it to the Kurusu residence in just under an hour.

 

It was just after noon and the street were far from empty. While they’d visited Akira a few times during the past year, they avoided using van since it drew too much attention and by the time they arrived they were all sweating.

 

“I hope he has the AC on,” sighed Ann as she finished her bottled water.

 

“I bet he does.” Ryuji wiped some sweat from his forehead and took another swig of his own nearly depleted water. “I’m not one to turn down some exercise, but I thought it’d be cooler since we were so close to the water.”

 

“Just a few more steps,” chuckled Haru seemingly unfazed by the pounding sunlight.

 

“How are you and Yusuke not hot?” Futaba had resorted to using her portable battery powered hand fan that had almost no effect.

 

“I’m unsure.” Yusuke placed his hand on the gate and stared at his friends blankly. “I do get hot and sweat, but right now I’m just not feeling the heat.”

 

“Are you sure you haven’t summoned your persona and aren’t using a Bufu spell to keep yourself cool?” Ann stomped up to Yusuke and peered into his eyes so intently that the painter had to take a few steps away from the gate.

 

“I’m quite sure, Ann.” Yusuke gave her a nervous smile and shrugged. “If I still had Susanoo I’d use his power to help you all out.”

 

“Sure you would.” Ann narrowed her eyes, raised two fingers, and pointed at her eyes and then at Yusuke before pushing open the gate and waved everyone in. “Ryuji you going to knock?”

 

“Sure,” Ryuji knocked happily up to the door and knocked a bit loudly. They waited for a minute and after no answer Ryuji tried again, knocking a bit harder this time with the same results. “Futaba are you sure he’s here.”

 

“Well it’s showing his phone is here.” She held up her phone to show the pinging red dot that was Akira’s phone. “But he could have left it at home before going out.”

 

“It’s possible,” Ryuji reached down and placed his hand on the knob and turned it to find it open. “Weird, the door’s unlocked.”

 

“Isn’t his work close by?” Offered up Yusuke. “He could have gone to get some lunch, it’s about that time.”

 

“Maybe,” Makoto stared at the door and nodded to Ryuji, “I think we should head in. Just to be safe.”

 

“Are you sure you’ll be okay?” Futaba shot a malicious grin at Makoto. “You don’t have Akira’s leg to hold on to but I’m sure Ryuji wouldn’t mind holding you while you yell for Sae to….ow!”

 

Futaba’s jibe earned her an elbow from Makoto before the older girl asked, “Are you all okay with this?”

 

“I am.” Ann reached down and removed her belt, not surprising anyone that it was well over a foot long to wear comfortably. She wrapped part around her hand and snapped it tight.

 

“I don’t think it’ll come to that, Ann.” Haru gave the blonde a concerned look but Ryuji and Makoto could see that even she was stretching her hands as if preparing to wield her axe.

 

Smirking, Ryuji turned the knob and pushed the door open. They were greeted by a familiar entryway that was littered with books and pictures. The saw no signs that anyone else was there, only a small amount of shoes set on a shoe rack in front of a door next to the stairs. Waving a finger down the hall, Ryuji pointed at Makoto and Yusuke to begin checking the kitchen and living room while he and the others checked the surrounding rooms. The door next stairs was locked and the downstairs bathroom was cleared along with the laundry room and when Yusuke and Makoto returned they only had news that there were a few pans in the sink.

 

“So what do you guys think?” Ryuji asked after they’d all made their reports. “We thinking it’s just an honest...”

 

He was cut off by a loud banging noise, what sounded like a muffled shout of surprise, and then another thud a few seconds later.

 

While many would have tightened up and gotten nervous, all of them relaxed and began looking around for anything they could use. Luckily the umbrella stand next to the door had a few things they could use. Ryuji opted for a bat that was located in the stand, Makoto simply cracked her knuckles, and Haru grabbed an umbrella. Yusuke was the only one who looked reluctant, but after several pokes from Futaba, he growled in defeat and began following Makoto and Ryuji up the stairs.

 

Despite it being months since their last mission, they fell into old habits quite easily. Though the sunlight was lighting up the upstairs hallway it gave them enough shadows to hide easily. Ryuji took the lead, taking a spot behind the hallway table while Makoto and Yusuke hung back. When nobody came out of any of the rooms, he slipped into the bathroom across from where Akira’s was and waved the other two forward. They did so easily, making no noise and waited again. They didn’t hear any noises, but Ryuji made out what sounded like hushed whispers and waved Yusuke and Makoto to him. They once again resorted to hand signals and agreed that Ryuji would take the lead and open the door while the other two went in behind him.

 

With the plan set in motion, they exited the shadows and made their way to Akira’s door. Ryuji tried to listen, but the voices were too low and the door too thick for any of them to make out what was being said. Taking hold of the handle, Ryuji gave both Makoto and Yusuke confirming nods and they nodded back symbolizing they were ready. Taking a deep breath, Ryuji quietly turned the handle, leaned back and shoved his way through the door.

 

The door knob slipped from his hand as the three of them pushed through, voices raised in hopes of catching the intruders off guard. There was a loud bang as the door hit the back wall. Ryuji had both hands on the bat, while Yusuke and Makoto continued to shout distractions only to be cut off by Makoto screeching, “Oh my god!” before covering her hands with her face.

 

Yusuke was the next to drop his guard, brushing his blue hair out of his eyes as he drank in the sight of Akira on the floor, naked with an unfamiliar, topless, brown haired woman resting between his legs. “Oh my,” were the only words he could say and he began looking to Ryuji and Makoto for answers as to what was going on while Akira and the woman stared at them in horror.

 

Ryuji was the last one to recover. His heart was still pounding his ears thanks to the adrenaline, but after what seemed an eternity, his grip relaxed and the bat fell to the floor. His eyes bulged as he realized what was happening and he couldn’t believe it. He’d expected maybe to find Morgana snooping around or Akira slamming things out of anger. Hell, he would have taken actual burglars at this point, but instead, he was greeted by the momentary sight of his best friend, naked, on the floor with an erection, resting against his desk, with a mostly naked Kawakami holding his dick.

 

While he stared, Kawakami’s face turned to one of horror and she quickly began pulling any sheets she could off the bed to hide under while Akira grabbed a nearby pair of sweats and began saying, “You all need to get the hell out of here.”

 

Ryuji heard Makoto pull a still questioning Yusuke from the room that broke Ryuji’s daze enough to let the words, “Holy shit,” come from his lips.

 

“Ryuji,” Akira was up on his feet and his hands were on Ryuji’s shoulder violently pushing him from the room, “get the fuck out.”

 

“Dude, what the hell is this?”

 

“Seriously, Ryuji?!” Akira shut the door behind them and gave Ryuji a violent push, “Haven’t you guys heard of a fucking phone call?!”

 

“We did call you dick!” Ryuji was getting tired of being shoved and decided to shove back. “We’ve been calling you for weeks and you kept giving us the same damn answer! We figured we’d surprise you but you didn’t answer when we knocked!”

 

“There’s a fucking doorbell!” Akira barely dodged Ryuji’s hand hitting his face as his best friend shoved him. “Did you not think to use that?”

 

“The door was unlocked man and we heard noises! We thought someone was in the house.” Ryuji could see Akira’s hand begin to curl into a fist.

 

“And you didn’t think to ask me if I was in my own room!?”

 

“Well if I’d have known you were about to get blown by...” Ryuji’s words were stopped by the impact of Akira’s fist on his lip. He immediately tasted blood as his teeth cut into the back of his lip thanks to the impact. He heard the sound of footsteps running up the stairs and voices shouting for them to stop but Ryuji wasn’t having it. He reeled back and thanks to the distraction of Ann and Haru’s voices, he was able to plant his fist into Akira’s cheek.

 

The former leader of the Phantom Thieve staggered and nearly fell into the picture table, but caught himself on the wall, but knocked a few pictures off the table. Luckily nothing broke and thanks to the timely intervention of Ann pulling Ryuji back and Haru pushing Akira back.

 

“Ryuji, I swear to God if you tell anyone….”

 

“Everyone calm down!” Haru had to use most of her strength to keep Akira back while Ann was that Ryuji was simply standing there shaking in anger. “Just calm down before someone seriously gets hurt or we break something.”

 

“What the hell is going on with you two?” Ann still had her hand wrapped and was currently using it to keep Ryuji back. “You’re both way out of line right now! We’re going to be lucky if the cops haven’t been called.”

 

“Why don’t you ask him!” Ryuji pushed forward a bit but was held back by Ann. “He’s the asshole that threw the first punch. Not to mention that he’s been lying to us about...”

 

“Ryuji, I swear to god if you...”

 

“What are you going to do?” Ryuji pushed forward again, causing Ann to push him back with both hands. “Go and tell your girlfriend on me to put me in...”

 

“Wait, what?!” Ann dropped her hands and looked at Akira.

 

“You heard me.” Ryuji jabbed a finger in Akira’s direction and said, “He’s been lying to us about his plans! He’s...”

 

“Ryuji, I told you to...”

 

“Both of you, that’s enough!” Everyone stopped at the sound of Haru’s voice. It was almost unheard of her to scream but when she did all those present focused on her. Taking several breaths, Haru reached into her pocket and pulled out a business card. Her demeanor had mostly returned, but Akira could see she was still flustered. Twisting it carefully in her hands she placed it in Akira’s hand and said, “If you and your….lady friend wish to join us to sort this out, we’ll be here. We're gonna be here for four days and have rooms three-oh-four to three-oh-eight.”

 

“Trust me, his ‘lady friend,’ ain’t gonna want to face us.” Ryuji began heading down the stairs, but since he’d calmed down a bit he figured he at least owed Kawakami an apology. Turning around he headed back up the stairs and shouted, “I don’t have anything against you! It’s his lying ass that I’m pissed at!”

 

He heard Akira struggle to get past Haru but was kept back long enough for Ryuji to exit the house without further injury.

 

“Ryuji, what’s going on?” Futaba asked once he left the front yard. Makoto and Yusuke were standing off to the side talking quietly. “Ryuji, you're bleeding!”

 

Futaba reached into her pocket and pulled out a handkerchief and handed it to him. “What the hell happened in there? Those two are freaked out and I left once the shouting started.”

 

“I don’t wanna say.” The last thing Ryuji needed was more for Akira to have more ammunition to use against him. As he dabbed at his lips, Ryuji heard the door to the front door shut and finally noticed that a few of the neighbors were looking at them.

“We got him to calm down a bit,” said Ann as she closed the gate, “But you need to tell us what the hell started that!”

 

“Don’t worry about it right now.” Ryuji gave the house a glare and could see Akira’s silhouette head back toward his room through a second story window. “Let’s just get the hell out of here.”

Chapter Text

So you guys enjoyed the last one eh? Well then let’s keep this ball rolling!

 

Shortest chapter in the fic so far though...so...sorry about the length.

 

Chapter 6

 

Sadayo could hear just about everything that was happening outside the door. She didn’t need to be a genius to figure out that Ryuji had figured out it was her, nor Makoto. The instinct to go and help calm Akira was pounding in her head, but she couldn’t bring herself to move from beneath the sheets.

 

They saw us.

 

Those were the words that repeated in her head like machine gun fire. His friends had seen them together, which would have been bad enough, but the fact that they’d seen them in the middle of….

 

She gripped the sheet tighter, her breathing was heavy and ragged. She nearly jumped out of her skin when heard another slam and then the familiar voices of Ann and Haru trying to cut off Akira and Ryuji.

 

“What are you going to do?!” She heard Ryuji yell as Akira tried to keep him quiet. “Go and tell your girlfriend to put me in...”

 

Another series of shouts, questions from Ann and Haru, until finally, she heard the sound of retreating steps, followed by Ryuji shouting, “I don’t have anything against you! It’s his lying ass that I’m pissed at!”

 

“Son of…,” she heard Akira shout and popped her head out from the sheets and began looking for something to dress in but she was kept in place by Haru’s voice.

 

“Akira-kun, just let him go.” She sounded like she was barely holding on to her patience. “If you go out there right now, you’re just going to make it worse.”

 

“Fine.” Sadayo could hear the rage in Akira’s voice as he growled at the smaller woman. “You’re going to have to leave though.”

 

“Is he right,” Ann inquired. “Have you been lying to us?”

 

“Ann...” Sadayo could hear the strain in Akira’s voice now.

 

“I’m not taking sides,” said Ann rather calmly. “But something happened in there and we’re going to need an answer at some point. Not everything,” she interrupted as Akira began to protest, “but we’re going to try and get a little information since we’ve obviously intruded on something we weren’t supposed to see.”

 

“Ann...Haru…,” Akira’s voice was choked as he tried to find the words, “I didn’t...I don’t...”

 

“It’s fine Akira,” Haru’s voice was sad and Sadayo felt guilt slowly creep over her. “You’ve got other things to attend to. Take care of yourself now and either I or Ann will get back to you soon. If we don’t hear back, we won’t hold it against you.” Sadayo heard Akira’s voice try and talk them into staying, but all she could hear was the sound of retreating footsteps followed by silence.

 

Tears were now streaming down her cheeks and her knees tucked into her chest. Against her better judgment, she was beginning to regret her decision to come visit him. Thanks to her, she’d caused his friends to walk out on him, the only people she knew of that had given a damn about him the previous year. She tried wiping them away but they kept flowing. Her eyes and chest both hurt as she found herself lost and unsure of what to do. Everything they’d achieved over the past twenty-four hours seemed to be slipping away and she began to wonder if Akira would blame her.

 

Wiping away a fresh stream of tears, Sadayo heard the bedroom door open and froze. She could hear his footsteps on the wood floor and they were growing closer. She clutched the sheets tighter against her chest and whimpered quietly as she heard him sigh. There was a dull thud, followed by him groaning and then wincing. She wanted to look but she was still too shaken to do it.

 

“Hey,” his voice was surprised but gentle and she felt a bit calmer, but when she felt his hand suddenly touch her shoulder she jumped and whimpered.

 

“Okay,” his voice didn’t change, it was still soft and reassuring. “Do you want me to stop?”

 

Sadayo shook her head, hoping that he’d understood the message. As much as she was hurting, she didn’t want his hand to leave just yet. He didn’t say anything, he just rubbed her shoulder and slowly she began to relax.

 

Regardless of how relaxing his hand was, she didn’t emerge from the beneath the sheets. She knew how she looked and she could just imagine the look on his face. His eyes downcast and sullen, his mouth slightly curved in a frown as he blamed himself for everything that had happened. She wanted to comfort him, but she was too embarrassed and ashamed for what happened and she didn’t know what to say or do.

 

While she hid beneath the sheets, Akira’s hand remained on her shoulder which she was grateful for. His hand wasn’t as strong as it was earlier, she could feel a hesitance in his movement, but she was glad that he was trying and felt herself relax a little more. He was quiet and he didn’t pressure her and slowly, as her tears began to slowly dry, she lowered the sheets low enough to peek. The sunlight hurt her eyes and didn’t help the slowly forming headache and she had to cover her eyes for a minute. When her vision cleared the first things he saw was what she had imagined. His eyes were closed and his hand moved with practiced ease. His mouth was curved downward as she’d expected and his legs were crossed. She looked at him and saw several red marks over his body, some looked like scratches, and others looked like punches. Looking lower, her hand focused on his lap where he was cradling a bruised hand.

 

“Oh, no.” Sadayo sat up and watched as his head jerked up in surprise.

 

“What’s the matter?” He watched as she put on the shirt she’d been wearing earlier and headed toward the door.

 

“Your hand. We need to ice it.” She heard Akira call for her but she didn’t pay attention to him. She headed downstairs and began frantically searching for a plastic bag or a towel to wrap ice in.

 

“Sadayo.” Came his voice from the hallway just as she’d finished wrenching open the last drawer to find a clean plastic bag and wash cloth. “Sadayo will you...”

 

“Sit down,” she ordered while pouring ice into the bag. When she turned she found him standing at the island with a worried expression on his face.

 

“Can you calm down for a minute?”

 

“No,” she walked to him and picked up his hand and felt a small stab in her heart when she heard him wince. She could see one of his knuckles had a small cut in it and his thumb, forefinger, and middle finger were all bright red. She gave each a gentle poke and felt them checking for anything that seemed like a break and nodded in relief before putting the ice on them.

 

“What were you doing,” Akira asked after wincing at the cold of the ice on his swollen hand.

 

“I was checking to make sure you didn’t break anything.” Sadayo gave him a nervous glance before turning her eyes quickly back to his hand.

 

“Did you find anything?” Akira was curious as to how she knew how to check for a break but was more concerned about the condition of his hand.

 

“Nothing severe,” she began looking through the cabinets for aspirin and found it next to the fridge. Pulling out some pills and a jug of juice she handed them to him and said, “We’re going to need to keep icing your hand every now and then and you’ll need to take some aspirin. Do you have a first-aid kit?”

 

“In the bathroom under the sink.” Akira was growing more and more interested in her ability to know what was going on, but he couldn’t shake the unease at seeing her so frantic. “Where did you learn to do all this,” he asked after she returned with the white first aid box.

 

“My mother is a nurse,” Sadayo muttered as she began pulling out antiseptic, gauze, and other things. “She made me take first-aid classes as I grew up and I’ve been keeping up with my certification.” After cleaning the small cuts, she placed a couple of braces on his fingers and then bound them together, making him hiss loudly. “It’ll be over soon.” After those were in place, she wrapped it in bandages and gave it a gentle pat. “That should work but if it gets worse we’re going to the hospital.”

 

“Thanks,” Akira whispered as he leaned down and gave her a kiss on the top of her head.

 

“It’s my fault,” she sighed before cleaning up the mess. “It’s the least I could do.”

 

“Stop.” Akira placed his left hand on her forearm and said, “None of this is your fault. You didn’t tell them to come into the house or barge in on us; that’s on them.”

 

“If I had told you no this wouldn’t have happened.” She slammed the gauze into first aid kit. “If I had just been patient and waited they wouldn’t have walked in. You wouldn’t have to lie to them, they wouldn’t hate you.” The tears were beginning to return as she talked. “They wouldn’t see me as some sort of..”

 

“What?” Akira’s voice had risen slightly and there was a small smirk in the corner of his mouth. “What do you think they see you as?”

 

“A whore.” The word sounded like some sort of curse word but it was all she could think of.

 

“Don’t ever say that.” Akira’s mouth returned to a frown and he took her hand away from the first aid kit. “You aren’t a whore and they wouldn’t think that.”

 

“You’re not the one who has to stare them in the face next week and act like nothing happened.” Sadayo’s voice was dripping with venom as she spoke. “You’re not the one they saw in the middle of...”

 

“You really don’t think Makoto and Ryuji saw me?” Akira’s voice had a small hint of derisive laughter in it. “You don’t think that I’m not considered the more guilty party in this? In case you didn’t hear, Ryuji thinks I’m a lying pile of shit that isn’t worth a damn. He at least took the time to say he wasn’t mad at you.” Akira then pointed at his right cheek where Sadayo noticed a small amount of swelling for the first time. “My jaw and hand are both killing me right now because I couldn’t control my temper. I busted open his lip and now I got Ann and Haru mad at me while Makoto probably won’t even be able to look me in the eye for a while.” He ran a hand through his hair and chuckled at the thought of Yusuke trying to sketch out the scene. “I don’t even want to think about what’s going on in Yusuke’s head.”

 

“What about Futaba?” Sadayo was growing nervous at the volume of his voice, but he sounded more angry at himself than her.

 

“What about her?” Akira asked after calming down.

 

“You didn’t mention, Futaba. She’s going to get told now as well and if she tells Sojiro-san about it….” Sadayo rubbed her temple and let out a low whine. “I really don’t want to know what he’s going to think about us getting caught like that.”

 

“Boss probably won't think anything of it.” Akira sounded frustrated but slightly calmer. “Besides you know won’t turn us into the school just because Futaba and the others walked in on us, though I wouldn’t be surprised if she already knew.”

 

“What?” Sadayo looked up in horror at this musing. “What do you mean she already knows?”

 

“I don’t know if she does,” Akira said unsure of his deduction. “But shortly before you and I decided to be together, we found out she’d bugged Leblanc and I’m pretty sure...”

 

“She bugged the restaurant?” Sadayo’s hands began pulling at her hair as she stared at her boyfriend in utter revulsion. “You mean she heard you and me...on Valentines...or all those times we were talking and...and...and…,” she fell into the fridge and down to the floor shaking her head saying, “oh my god, oh my god.”

 

“Sadayo,” Akira was on the ground next to her, pulling one of her hands out of her hair. “Sadayo,” his voice was quiet but she could tell he was shaken, “I don’t think she heard anything. I asked her to make sure she at least shut them off once Sojiro left for the night.”

 

“She heard enough,” Sadayo tried to pull her hand away, but he was using his good hand and had a strong grip on her. “She knows everything about what I was doing for my part-time job. She knows about...she knows everything.” Her heart was racing so much that she thought it was about to burst from her chest.

 

“And she hasn’t told anyone.” Akira inched closer his bandaged hand throbbing as he used it to balance himself. “If she had I think this,” he held up his bandaged hand and felt a dull throb in it, “wouldn’t have happened.”

 

Sadayo let her hair go and pulled her knees tighter to her chest and rocked back and forth. “It doesn’t change the fact that they saw...” she pointed at his crotch and her chest.

 

“I know it doesn’t.” Akira scooted closer and was thankful to see that she’d remained in the same spot. “I’m not happy with it either. I punched my best friend and nearly broke my hand.” Akira rubbed his wrist and gave her a wry smile. “And if any of them begins to think of you like you think they do, they’ll have me to deal with.”

 

“So you’re just going to punch your way through anyone that badmouths us?” Sadayo snorted as she shook her head. “You really are still a kid.”

 

“I didn’t say I’d punch them.” Akira crossed his legs and twisted his tightening back. It popped loudly but he felt ten times better and rested against the island. “But I’ll think of something to change their minds.”

 

“We won’t be able to change everyone’s minds.” Sadayo took his injured hand in hers and looked down at the bandages and couldn’t help but feel a little bit happy. She’d seen his scars from other fights and some of them were so numerous that he couldn’t even tell her what came from where, but the ones on his knuckles, no matter how tiny they were, she’d know that they came from fighting for her. Caressing the wounded hand she said, “Those kids walking down the street, our parents, and a lot of others, if they find out the truth they’ll just think I’m what everyone thought I was back when Taiki died.”

 

“What do you think they’ll think of me?” He pointed at his battered cheek and the rest of his body. “Chiba was right when he said people’ve seen me when changing for gym class; it’s hard not to see how they’d all think the worst of me. I’m not going to be free of it but I think I’ve figured out a way to live with it, maybe.” He shrugged and gave her a weak grin. “I don’t think either of us will be free of what people think about us. I mean I’m a guy who was convicted of being a criminal, became one to clear my name, which earned me the hatred and contempt of two schools and I’m probably going to be called a pervert because I’m in love with my former teacher.”

 

“Sounds familiar.” Both of them chuckled sadly as she gently caressed his hand. “I’m not much better. I kind of became the one thing everyone thought I was too.”

 

“We make one hell of a pair.” Akira squeezed her hand with his ring and pinky finger.

 

“Yeah, we do.” Sadayo put his hand around her waist and curled up into him, nuzzling his shoulder. “I don’t want to lose you.”

 

Akira felt something warm and wet on his shoulder as her face buried into his flesh.

 

“You won’t.” He squeezed her close and kissed her head and wrapped his good arm around her. “I’m not going to let that happen.”

 

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep.” She sniffed, her arms wrapped tighter around him.

 

“I’ll make sure to keep this one.” He grunted as she squeezed but couldn’t find the courage to tell her to loosen her grip.

 

They stayed there for a while, holding and caressing each other. Akira’s mind going to the stupidity of his actions and how scared Sadayo was. She had every right to be scared and afraid of what his friends might think of her. He wouldn’t be there for them to divert their attention on when, well at least Ryuji. He didn’t know how much Ryuji and the others would tell Haru and Ann and he couldn’t be sure of how much Futaba knew. He did know he’d at least have to apologize but he wasn’t happy about it.

 

“Hey.” Akira’s thoughts were broken by the warmth of her breath on his ear. She sounded calm, but there was a heavy amount of worry in her voice.

 

“What’s bothering you?” He felt her shift against him and hold on tighter.

 

“Thank you, for defending me.” Her hair brushed against his cheek as she kissed his neck, making him blush.

 

“Thank you for defending me last night.” He felt her laugh against his chest and stroked her back. “I mean it. I was about to do something really stupid and you kept me from doing it.”

 

“Wish I had that courage today.” She stroked his bruised cheek and whimpered when he jerked away.

 

“We’ll figure it out.” Akira kissed her wrist in consoltation and grunted as he shifted a bit. “Maybe they’ll be able to calm Ryuji down enough so we can talk.” He let out a heavy sigh and shook his head, “He did make some sense though.”

 

“He did.” Sadayo kissed his jaw and chuckled when she saw his eyes narrow a bit. “Don’t look at me like that. You could have said I was coming and I’m sure they would have left you alone. But," she gave him a reassuring grin and stroked his hair, "I do agree with you as well. You had a right to be upset with them for barging in and not calling. There’s blame on both sides, but I don’t want to deal with it right now, I really don’t.”

 

Akira gave her a nuzzle with his nose and smirked when he saw her frowning.

 

“I don’t either,” he whispered before beginning to stand up. He let out a grunt of pain as a sharp stabbing sensation shot up his injured hand. He sighed and cursed his stupidity as Sadayo stood up to help him off the ground. It took a moment, but soon he was on his feet and her arms were around his waist and her face buried in his chest.

 

Stroking her with his good hand he rested his nose in her hair and exhaled loudly. “We’re going to have to deal with this soon, no matter how much we don’t want to.”

 

“I know,” Sadayo whined from the safety of his chest. “Jeez can’t we get one day without having to worry about other people.”

 

“We will soon.” Akira lifted her chin up from his chest and felt his heart drop when he saw her puffy, red eyes.

 

When she saw his frown she pulled her chin away and buried herself into his chest and held onto him as she felt the same pain in her heart.

 

What was supposed to be a vacation of them getting used to each other and enjoying the company of one another had ended up being marred by fights and drama. She wanted to make him feel better; she wanted to feel better. She wanted the confidence from last night, the confidence that they were going to make it and be okay back. She knew that it would happen, but right now the most important thing was helping mend the rift that had been created between Akira, herself, and his friends.

 

When her arms finally grew tired, Sadayo separated from him and found that he was still looking down at her. His eyes looked sunken and she knew that he was lost deep in thought.

 

“Akira,” she reached up and touched his uninjured cheek and caressed it. “What’s on your mind?”

 

He took a few deep breaths and shook his head before saying, “What you said earlier.” He took another deep breath and exhaled loudly. “I don’t ever want to hear you call yourself that again. I know I can’t stop other people from thinking that about you, but I know different and anyone who really knows you wouldn't think to call you that. So please stop thinking that about yourself.”

 

She gave him a smile and nodded. “I promise. But like I said, I can’t stop what others will think of me when they find out. You know there will be a small bit of backlash if the school finds out. There’s a possibility they’d look into your grades and try and dig something up to show that I helped you cheat or modified your grades.”

 

“All you did was help me study.” They both chuckled at the image of Akira either reading some book or studying his school work on those occasions she’d pulled a teacher away or had given them a, “review session”.

 

“I know that,” she smiled remembering how engrossed he would get in his books or school work, “but they’d probably still want to investigate and that can have far reaching ramifications on what happens to you if they find out before you graduate.”

 

“Yeah,” Akira gave her a soft kiss on the forehead and knew she was right. He felt himself shake internally at the thought of what would happen now that Ryuji knew on top of Futaba and soon Ann. Several people, staff and student alike knew how close all four of them were which meant if Sadayo got investigated, they could get questioned as well. It was one of the reasons he didn’t tell them, but with all of them upset at him, he didn’t know if he’d be able to explain his reasoning.

 

“Akira?”

 

He looked down and found her smiling cautiously up at him.

 

“What is it,” he asked as he brushed some of the hair out of her face.

 

“Do you want to go out and do something? I’m feeling a bit suffocated right now.”

 

He chuckled and nodded, “Sure. Where ever you want to go is fine with me.”

 

While Sadayo went upstairs to get dressed, Akira made quick pit stop to switch the laundry before following her up. As he headed toward the stairs, he could have sworn he saw the cat flap flutter, but when he looked out the window on the front door he thought nothing of it and continued onto his room.

 

Meanwhile, outside, Mona dropped on to the other side of the wall and sprinted off toward town muttering, “Damn it, this is definitely not good.”

 

 

Chapter Text

So here we go with Chapter 7. Hopefully, you still enjoy it and we’re gonna focus on the Phantoms again and the fallout in what happens with Ryuji and the others, as well as their feelings on Akira’s reaction.

Chapter 7

“Son of a bitch.” Ryuji pulled the handkerchief away and saw that it was a nearly half-covered in blood. “I didn’t think he’d punch me that hard.”

“Can you blame him?” Ryuji looked to his right and saw a distressed Makoto walking next to him. She was staring straight ahead, the shock from what they’d seen still evident on her face. “We walked in on him and...” she shuddered at the memory of her close friend and former teacher in such a position. She actually rather liked Kawakami despite her initial lackadaisical approach toward teaching.

“I don’t need a reminder,” groaned Ryuji as he felt a small throb in his left hand. His middle and ring finger were burning but he’d have to wait to treat them. Ann and Haru had escaped the chaos in order to go and get the things needed to help with Ryuji’s injuries in case the first-aid kit didn’t have what they needed. He was glad about that since it gave him and Makoto time to talk things through, but they still had to worry about Yusuke who was so lost in thought he didn’t even acknowledge Futaba’s attempts to talk to him.

After several minutes of silence, the hotel came into sight and Makoto couldn’t help but ask, “How long do you think they’ve been dating?”

Ryuji took a moment to check his lip and found the bleeding had stopped and sighed in relief. He turned around and helped up the handkerchief and asked, “Futaba! You want this back?!”

“Hell, no!” Her lip was curled and she shook her head in disgust. “Just toss it in a trash can.”

Ryuji threw it into one of the garbage cans in the lobby and looked back at Makoto who was waiting patiently for his response. He shrugged and gave her a heavy sigh as he hit the button for the third floor.

“I don’t know.” He said as he cradled his hand as Futaba and Yusuke approached. “But if they’re comfortable enough to do that with each other then it’s been a while, maybe.” The bell dinged and they entered, Makoto hit the button and they slipped into an uncomfortable silence. Turning around, Ryuji saw that Yusuke was fidgeting quietly, his hand subconsciously drawing some sort of picture.

Ryuji gave a loud cough and said, “Yusuke, don’t even think about it.”

“What?” Yusuke looked down at his hand and saw that it was moving of its own accord. “Oh,” Yusuke shook his hand and gave an innocent shrug. “I’m sorry, but the whole scene is still in my head. It definitely gave me some ideas for a few pictures.”

“Seriously, Yusuke?” Makoto turned, shocked at what he’d just said. “You’d draw that?!”

“Not that exact situation,” Yusuke answered defensively as he raised his hands. “I told Ryuji last night I’ve been studying anatomy in some of my classes and have been looking for a few ideas. I’m not going to draw Akira and...whoever that woman was with him, just the positions.”

“Wait, what?!” Futaba’s voice was a shriek as the doors opened to reveal an older couple who gave them a look of annoyance. The four of them exited with meek smiles on their faces and disappeared around the corner with Futaba hastily whispering, “Was it, Kawakami?”

Ryuji froze part-way through inserting his key and turned around glaring at her, “What the hell do you mean, ‘Was it, Kawakami’?”

Futaba’s eyes widened at realizing she’d just blown her cover. As she stammered trying to cover her tracks, Makoto took the key from Ryuji and unlocked the door and pointed at the couch inside the room and whispered, “Get in there now!”

Futaba made an attempt to escape but was stopped by the taller form of Yusuke standing behind her, smiling down at her rather creepily. Futaba gave him a nervous chuckle and moved into the room slowly, trying to draw out the oncoming interrogation, but was fast-tracked by Makoto’s hand on her back, pushing her toward the couch while Ryuji texted Ann and Haru which room they were in.

When the door clicked Yusuke immediately headed to his bed and pulled out a sketch pad while Ryuji sat down on one of chintz armchairs after taking a bottle of water from the cooler and placed it on his injured fingers. Futaba’s knees were pulled up to her chest and her eyes were darting back and forth between her friends. Ryuji noticed that she looked about as nervous as she did back when they first met her and said, “Futaba, how much do you know?”

“I know enough.” Futaba gave Ryuji and Makoto a nervous shrug and began drawing imaginary pictures on the fabric of the couch with her finger.

“That’s not an answer.” Makoto’s face was set exactly like her sister’s and her voice was so cold that even Yusuke stopped his drawing. “If you knew that much why didn’t you say she was inside?”

“I didn’t know she was inside!” Futaba looked at Makoto in shock at her thinking she was tracking the teacher. “I only track Akira until he tells me not to because he doesn’t want to get picked up randomly or having the cops make up bullshit charges saying he was somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be.’ She looked at Yusuke and Ryuji saying, “I don’t track you guys or bug your phones just because I feel like it. I only do it when you guys want me to and I haven’t since we stopped being Phantoms back in December. The only one who’s asked me to do it is Akira because of what happened when we brought him home.”

“So how do you know he was with Kawakami?” Makoto was in Futaba’s face, much like they figured Sae had been when she was interrogating her friend.

“Remember those bugs I told you about?” Futaba gave them all a nervous smile and shrugged. “I may have heard a lot of what they were talking about before we went into Mementos for her.”

“Please don’t tell me you heard them…,” Makoto’s face turned beet red which got Futaba to laugh loudly.

“Oh god no!” The hacker wiped away a tear as she watched Makoto begin pacing back and forth around the room, a look of terror on her face. “After I told you guys about those bugs he’d send me texts when she came over and I shut them off.” She shrugged and watched as Makoto continued her pacing. “Don’t tell me you guys actually saw them….”
Futaba’s voice was cut off by the sound of scratching at the door and a familiar voice shouting, “GUYS! OPEN UP!”

“MONA!” Yusuke hopped off his bed and ran over to the door and laughed when the cat ran into the room. “How did you find us?”

“I followed you to the hotel but I lost you after you entered. It took a while but I was able to sniff you guys out.” He looked around the room, his sides puffing and retracting as he breathed loudly, “Can I get some water?”

Needing a break from her thoughts, Makoto wandered over to the sink and filled a coffee mug with water and placed it in front of the cat. He drank deeply and looked up panting before saying, “What happened?!”

“What do you mean what happened?” Ryuji flexed his hand as much as he could but nearly screamed at the pain shooting through his middle and ring fingers.

“Don’t play dumb Ryuji.” Mona jumped onto the coffee table and looked at all four of them. “What did you guys say to make...” The cat stopped and gave a nervous look at all of them. He didn’t know if they all knew exactly who it was in Akira’s house and didn’t want to out them.

“We all know who was in there, Mona.” Makoto had sat down next to Futaba and rubbed her forehead. “Trust me when I say that us three,” she pointed at her, Ryuji, and Yusuke, “saw more than enough to know exactly what was going on.”

“I take it you know as well, Futaba?” Morgana turned to the hacker who nodded without hesitation.

“You’re one smart kitty!” Futaba reached out and pat the cat on the head and smiled. “But I’ve kept my mouth shut.”

“Both of you did.” Ryuji’s voice was cold as he glared at the two of them.

“Ryuji,” Mona sighed and shook his head, “if he wanted me to tell you about it I would have, but it’s not my place to say.”

“You didn’t think to tell us that he’s been sleeping with our...” Ryuji stopped himself and shook his head. No matter how much he played it over in his mind he couldn’t get it out of his head that the one person he thought he knew better than anyone couldn’t trust them with the fact that he’d gotten a girlfriend.

“You’d think that after everything we’ve been through the son of a bitch would trust us enough to tell us what was going on.”

“He had a good reason, Ryuji.” Makoto looked over at the former blonde and watched as his scowl reset.

“Of course, you’re going to defend him.”

“I’m not necessarily defending him.” Makoto wrapped her fingers around the arm of the couch and shook her head. “A relationship like he’s in is difficult. I don’t think he kept it a secret because he wanted to, he more or less had to.”

“Then he should have at least said something.” Ryuji shot a glare at Mona and Futaba, “You two could have said something so that we could at least know before we wasted all this time off from work and money. If I’d have known that my ass would have stayed at home working and studying like his lying ass said he was doing.”

“Ryuji,” Mona shook his head and slumped his shoulders. “I didn’t like lying about this but he’s got at least some right to privacy. He spent a whole year with people watching almost every move he made, I don’t think it’s that much to ask.”

“Then he should have asked.” Ryuji shot such an angry glare at the cat that Mona had to take a step back. “Or at least told us he’d like some privacy, it’s not too much to ask. He could have said….," Ryuji's voice trailed off as a thought suddenly struck him and he asked, "Was he dating her before or after he moved back here?”

Mona and Futaba both cringed at the question and gave nervous chuckles in response. Yusuke, who had long since stopped drawing, noticed this and asked, “It’s been longer hasn’t it?”

Both of them looked over at him and nodded. Futaba's cheeks were bright red with embarrassment and Mona's head seemed to be disappearing into his shoulders

“Yeah,” the cat seemed to shrink back and gave Ryuji an apologetic look. “They’ve been together since last September.”

“A FUCKING YEAR?!”

“Ryuji lower your voice,” hissed Makoto pointing at the walls. "We don't want security coming up here."

“You’ve all been lying to us for a damn year?” Asked Ryuji after shooting a contemptuous glance at Makoto “You two have known for a year?”

“Sojiro knows too,” whispered Futaba as she stared down at the carpet.

“What the hell?” Ryuji fell back into the chair and let out a small yelp of pain as his fingers just as Ann and Haru wandered in looking concerned at the whimpering Ryuji but happy at seeing Mona.

“Hi, Mona!” Haru set a bag on the coffee table next to the cat and began petting him while Ann walked by with just a scratch to the cat’s ears.

“Hi, Haru. Hi, Lady Ann.” Both girls smiled at him and Mona soon found himself purring at Haru scratching his cheek.

“Did Akira send you?” Haru moved her hand to just under his chin and scratched gently.

“I came all by myself.” Mona pulled away and nuzzled her hand quickly before turning to his friends. “I heard Akira and….her talking about what happened.” He paused for a moment and asked, “Come to think of it I don’t really know what happened. Can you guys fill in the gaps so I have a better idea of what's going on?"

As Ann bandaged up Ryuji’s hand, complete with him whining about how much it hurt, they all did their best to fill in the gaps as per Mona's request. They explained about how they entered the house and searched it after finding the door open. About how they’d tried calling and Akira not answering. When they got to the fight, that’s when the four who knew had to be really careful with what they said. Despite all their frustration and anger toward Akira, they couldn’t bring themselves to divulge that information, they at least owed him that much which only seemed to frustrate Ann and Haru.

“Why won’t you tell us?” Ann grunted as she tightened the wrappings around Ryuji’s fingers. “It’d make everything easier if you’d just tell us who she is.”

“Because it’s not our place to tell.” Makoto looked at Ryuji who was so lost in thought that even she couldn’t read his face. “As much as we’re upset with him we at least owe him this. If we start divulging his secrets we’re going to just make things worse.”

“Why the hell do we always do this for him?” Ryuji took the ice pack Ann offered him from the cooler and put it onto his hand. It stung but not as much as it had earlier. “I mean we went to bat for him, got all that evidence to get him out of prison, and he gets to lie to us?”

“To be honest this is the only lie he’s ever really told you.” Mona had finally broken free of Haru’s ministrations and hopped onto the small table next to Ryuji and said, “He was honest with you all about the people who figured out who he was but he never told them about you. He kept his mouth shut when Sae interrogated him and offered him a deal that would have resulted in one of you going to jail instead of him.”

Ryuji took a deep breath and then glared at the cat. “You just had to bring that up.”

“I bring it up because I think he’s earned the chance for all of you to listen to him.” Mona gave Ryuji a sad smile and stretched. “He could have betrayed us all at any time. He told you he could have taken the deal offered to him and allowed the world to be taken over but he didn’t. He led us against the Shadows and that fake god because you all trusted in him. And you’re willing to give that up, just because he wanted to keep one bit of happiness for himself for just a bit, not because he wanted to
but in a sense, because he had to.”

“Yeah,” Ryuji scoffed as he adjusted the ice pack, “I bet he had to. You all give me shit for being a hot head and occasionally letting my mouth slip, but he gets to bullshit us for the better part of the past six months and he gets a free pass.”

“Ryuji,” Ann was beginning to grow impatient with her friend’s stubbornness, “I don’t know exactly what you guys saw, but if it was that much to upset Akira, I think we should give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Ryuji looked up at Ann and snorted, “Figures you’d side with him.”

“I’m not siding with him,” Ann grumbled as she crossed her arms, “I’m upset that he didn’t trust us either, but Mona brings up a good point. He could have turned any of us in when Sae asked him to, but he didn’t and he could have let the world go to shit. But the truth is he stuck true to what we all decided was important enough to fight for in the end and I think it’s worth at least hearing him out.”

“Same,” said everyone in unison.

Ryuji took several deep breaths and wanted to agree but he couldn’t move past it. He felt something boiling inside of him and he continued flexing his good hand into a fist and then outward. He still felt angry and couldn’t let it go. They’d been glued at the hip ever since he’d arrived at Shujin, they were the first real friend either of them had made in a long time. They’d trusted each other, met Mona, helped Ann and Shiho, and so many others. Ryuji had been willing to sacrifice himself for the group and they’d spent all that time together working to get the track team back, fishing, and hanging out. He’d come to think of Akira as a brother, but his best friend found him so distrustful that he couldn’t let at least tell him he found someone to be happy with.

Why wasn’t I good enough to know? Ryuji thought to himself as he pulled the ice pack off his hand. He looked down at his hand and saw his fingers all bandaged and gripped his wrist, a wave of guilt washing over him.

“Ryuji.” Ryuji hurriedly wiped away the tears that were beginning to form and looked at Mona who was slowly walking toward him.

“You are good enough.” Mona hopped off the table and into Ryuji’s lap, careful to avoid his hand.

“Shut up.” Ryuji coughed as he wiped his nose with a tissue from the box on the table. He didn’t even realize that he’d said those words and tossed the tissue aside. “If we’re good enough to know then why didn’t he just say it before we blew thousands of yen to come and surprise him? If we’re good enough to know then why did you, Boss, and Futaba help keep this a secret? I mean we're on our phones a lot, but he just sat there most of the time when we were out, not talking to us and sending messages and probably lying to our faces about having fun and instead wanted to be somewhere else?”

“Maybe it was because he wanted us to know that we were still important to him.” It was Haru who spoke up this time despite not having all the information. “Akira’s not one of those people to just ignore the people he cares about so he was probably just trying to do his best to make sure she wasn’t ignored while he was with us.”

“Then why didn’t he just keep his mouth shut and visit her instead of hanging out with us all the time?” Ryuji spat back, earning a glare from Haru.

“I think it’s like Mona said, there’s a reason he couldn’t go to her. Maybe her parents don’t like him or she’s got a part-time job or something else that keeps them from being able to have time together.”

“You’re not too far off the mark in some of that, Haru.” Mona climbed out of Ryuji’s lap and scratched his neck. “He wants to see her, and he wants to see you guys too. But,” Mona exhaled loudly and shook his head, “they’re both afraid of what you’ll think of her. She’s scared to meet all of you because she thinks you’ll hate her.”

“I don’t hate her,” Makoto interjected for the first time in a while. “I’m just,” Makoto’s face turned a bright red again and it took her a moment to recompose herself and continue. “I’m just concerned for their safety and if they both know what they’re getting into."

“They know,” confirmed Mona with a chuckle at Makoto’s reaction. “She doesn’t know I can talk or fully understand you guys so I’ve been around for a lot of talks. She really does love him, I’ve heard her say it. I’ve seen them both get embarrassed when they say it to each other, trust me it gets a little nauseating with how sappy they get when they talk.”

Everyone but Ryuji laughed but he did feel at least a bit happy that Akira had found someone to make him feel that way.

“He knows he screwed up Ryuji.”

The runner stared up at the cat in surprise at Mona’s revelation.

“How do you know?” Ryuji was still unwilling to believe the cat but figured it couldn’t hurt to listen. “I mean instead of answering my questions he figured it was okay to punch me in the face.”

“In all fairness Ryuji, it did sound like you were about to say something he didn’t want you to say.” Ryuji cocked an eyebrow at Haru who gave him an embarrassed smile. “I do think the punch was overboard,” she hastily added when the others all looked at her in shock. “I’m just saying that in the heat of the moment it was probably all he could think of doing.”

“Yeah well, if you say it like that I guess it makes sense.” Ryuji held up his hurt hand and smirked, “Got him back though.”

“Men,” snorted Ann from her spot on the bed next to Yusuke. “At least you don’t think like these to Neanderthals.”

“I won’t deny that the two of them were acting a bit immaturely,” the painter mused with a small smirk. “But it’s not unheard of for close friends to come to blows over things like this. If they hadn’t I think Ryuji would be less consolable than he is right now.”

“Screw you, Inari.” Ryuji picked up the box of tissue and threw it at his friend, a strained smile on his face.

They all laughed a bit at the scene and they could feel some of the tension beginning to ease.

“So what do you want to do, Ryuji? I can text him if we can meet up with him,” Futaba held up her phone and shook it gently. “He’s close by and if she’s with him we can kill two birds with one stone.”

Looking down at his injured hand, Ryuji took a moment to think about it. If Mona was right, they could go talk to Akira and maybe sort all this out. On the other hand, he himself was still angry and he didn’t want to go in with that on his mind. As he looked up Ryuji found that all eyes were on him and he felt a pit in the stomach and wondered if this is what things had been like for Akira when they were on missions. To know that if he moved too quickly things could get worse, but if he moved too late, an opportunity that could be had would slip by you and you wouldn’t know when you’d have another shot.

“Can you guys leave me alone for a bit? I kinda need a bit of space right now.”

“Yeah,” Ann gave him an understanding look and nodded. Standing up, she looked at all of them and asked, “Do you guys wanna head down to the pool? It looks really nice and I think they have a few water slides.”

“I’m more than happy to head down and relax in the hot tub.” Yusuke headed over to his bag in uncharacteristic excitement and pulled out a pair of swim trunks and headed into the bathroom to change.

Following suit, Futaba and Makoto headed out to change, followed shortly by Ann leaving after giving Ryuji a cautious hug. When she was gone, Haru approached and asked him, “Do you want someone to stay with you?”

“I’m fine.” Ryuji gave her a small smirk and waved at the door. “You guys deserve it after the shit I pulled today.”

“Come down when you feel ready.” Haru ruffled his hair and laughed when he tried to push her away. “Mona, are you coming?”

“Yeah. I should probably head back before he gets worried about me.” As he said this, Yusuke reappeared and asked Ryuji if he wanted to order a pizza when he got back.

“Sounds, good man, just no weird shit this time. Last time you got all those weird peppers and it messed with my stomach.”

“I make no promises.” Yusuke winked at Ryuji who flipped him off with his good hand. “Haru shouldn’t you be getting ready?”

“I’m coming.” Haru gave Ryuji one more concerned look and picked up Mona who shouted a goodbye to his friend.

When they were gone, Ryuji grabbed the remote and plopped down onto his bed and turned on some random movie just to have something listen to as he went through his phone. He scanned through all the pictures they’d taken together as a group. From when they first became the Phantoms, to when they’d had their welcoming parties, their trip to Hawaii, and when he got to the one when they’d finally said goodbye back in March, Ryuji felt a small pang of guilt in his stomach when he saw Akira’s smile.

It had been a bittersweet day when they’d dropped him off.

Akira’s parents had treated them all to a dinner and Ryuji remembered feeling a bit jealous at seeing his best friends parents fawn over him. He didn’t know what had happened since then, but every time Ryuji had seen Akira his normally carefree friend transform into this melancholic shadow of his normal self. When they’d asked him what the problem was, Akira had given them the same answer every time. The fact that people were still treating him like garbage and how his seemingly loving parents had slowly grown more distant since he’d been home.

They’d all done their best to cheer him up, but it never seemed to work. They always tried to make him laugh with stories from when they’d had close calls on missions or some of the stupid antics they got into when they were out on the town. Even when he’d seemed to laugh, Ryuji noticed that Akira didn’t always seem that much into it and when asked their former leader just said he had a lot on his mind and left it at that, and to some degree it now made sense.

Sighing, Ryuji decided to swallow his pride and opened up a new message thread with Akira and typed out.

Hey, I just want you to know that I don’t hold what you did against you. I screwed up and if you want to talk, just message any of us if you don’t want to talk to me. I wouldn’t blame you if you told me to fuck off after this afternoon. We have some plans in a couple of days and we want you to come, but if you’d rather spend time with her no worries, you two deserve some alone time after everything. I want to talk, but like I said I won’t hold it against you if you don’t want to.

He wasn’t sure if his point would be made, but he at least admitted he was wrong. Setting his phone aside, Ryuji lay on the bed for several minutes before his anxiety got to him. Standing up he grabbed his swim trunks, grabbed his room key and headed down to the pool, hoping that a nice soak would help clear his mind in preparation for his best friends reply.

 

Chapter Text

 And,  I fell asleep at like 6 pm last night and then woke up at like midnight edited and finished writing, with a migraine starting, and then passed out again at 6 am. I was not in a good mental state and a bit off but it was a lot to keep straight and this is why I need an editor, so I apologize for any redundancies that happened in this chapter or superfluous discussion points. 

Chapter 8

“Akira.”

Sadayo was sitting on the bed next to him, her hand pressing gently into his shoulder to wake him from the deep sleep he’d fallen into the night before. She watched as he grunted and stretched, arms and legs spreading like a giant cat, but instead of waking up, he remained stationary and continued to snore lightly. Rolling her eyes she carefully lifted his hand into her lap and began undoing the bandages to check how his injury was faring.

When the bandages were off, she let out a sigh that was both miserable but also relieved. His hand wasn’t nearly as swollen as it could have been, but his fingers and hand the top of his hand were now a mixture of black and blue from the bruising. Carefully she began checking his fingers, flexing them and curling them a little and felt a small respite from her frustrations when she found nothing broken. Placing the injured hand in her lap she reached over and caressed his hair and gave a soft smile when his eyes opened lazily.

“What time is it,” he croaked before letting out a small cough.

“Just after nine.” She leaned over, careful not to disturb his injury and gave him a soft kiss. His lips were dry, but he returned the kiss happily and nuzzled her chin and yawned, just as his stomach let out a loud growl. “Sounds like you could use some breakfast.”

Akira scooted closer, lifting his hand cautiously and placing it on his side. He patted the mattress with his good hand and she chuckled, knowing what he wanted. Settling into the pillows, Sadayo allowed him to lay his head in her bare lap and began stroking his hair.

“Can we stay like this for a bit?” Akira kissed her thigh and nuzzled the soft skin.

“Will you stay awake?” her hand free hand began to reflexively caress his cheek and neck as she spoke. “You promised to stay awake last night during the movie but you fell asleep.”

“It was a long day.” Akira gave her a tired smile and kissed her hand.

After everything that had happened with Ryuji and his friends, the pair of them spent most of the day outside wandering the town. They’d hit a lot of shops and at Akira’s behest, Sadayo shipped out the majority of their winnings from the arcade back to Tokyo, but only after Akira picked a small stuffed panda and Tanuki to keep with him in his bed.

Once the post office was done with they’d hit a few of the street stalls and Sadayo spent a couple of hundred yen to buy him an embossed leather bracelet. He’d scoffed at it at first, but seeing the determination on her face as she snapped it onto his wrist, Akira found himself growing fond of it over large bowls of katsudon and made sure he told her that he appreciated it.

They didn’t stay out much longer after lunch. Akira’s hand was beginning to bother him, and after stopping by a store to pick up a few snacks they returned to the house and spent the remainder of the day cuddling on the couch and later on in bed while eating takeout, watching travel shows, and streaming movies. Even though they’d had a tough day and both were a bit nervous to start anything, they didn’t shy away from kissing and caressing one another.

When she’d gone into the bathroom that morning, Sadayo wasn’t the least bit surprised to find several small bruises in places Akira had kissed. She normally was fairly adamant about reminding him to not leave any marks, but after yesterday the two of them didn’t bother with taking any precautions and as she ran her fingers along his body, she saw that she’d left a good amount on his neck and shoulders.

Pulling up his left hand, she kissed just below the bracelet she’d bought him and asked, “What are you going to do about that text, Ryuji sent you?”

Coughing again, Akira sat up and let the blankets fall off him, revealing his naked body. He stretched and popped his neck and back before laying back down, placing his in her lap as he grumbled, “I’ll text him back in a bit.”

“I meant, what are you going to tell him?” Sadayo tapped him on the nose before brushing his bangs out of his eyes.

“That’s going to depend on you.” Akira reached up and caressed one of the small love bites he’d left on her bare breast. “I want to know what you’re comfortable with before I say anything.”

“I knew you were going to say that.” Sadayo leaned back against into the pillows and rested her head against the headboard.

“I’m not trying to put all this on you.” Akira sat up and rested on his good hand and stared into her eyes. “I need to talk to them, but I want to know if you’re willing to go with me or if you want to stay and if you want Ann and Haru to know about us.”

“Of course I want you to be honest with all of them.” Sadayo leaned forward and gave him another soft kiss on the lips. “And I want to be there but you have to admit this is going to be incredibly awkward. Three of your friends have seen a bit more than either of us wanted them to and I can’t get the look of shock on Makoto’s face out of my mind. And then there’s Ryuji,” she fell back into the pillows and covered her face, but Akira could see the red creep up her neck. “I’ve worked so hard to gain his trust over the past year and a half and now he….”

“He doesn’t hate you.” Akira moved closer and leaned over her, pushing her hands away with his good hand and kissing her cheeks. “He’s upset that I lied to him. That’s what this is about, our keeping things secret. Not the fact that you and I are together, but because I didn’t tell them the truth.”

“Then why did he have to mention me?” Sadayo nuzzled Akira’s forehead and brushed his bruised cheek.

“You know he’s a hothead.” Akira kissed her palm laid his cheek in it. “And now you know that I can have a bit of a temper too and people do stupid things when they’re angry.”

“That was a bit unsettling to hear.” Sadayo had seen the beginnings of Akira’s temper when they were at the arcade, which was one of the reasons she’d stepped in when Chiba had begun to bother him, but seeing it boil over to the point where he’d punch his best friend had scared her senseless.

“I’m sorry you had to hear all of that.” He rested his head next to hers and rested his injury on her thigh and caressed her knee with his little finger. “I’ll do my best to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

“You’re allowed to get angry,” Sadayo sighed she reached for the bandages and began wrapping his hand back up. “I don’t want you violently trying to subdue people, physically or otherwise.”

“I promise to do my best to express my frustrations in a less violent manner.” He winced as she tightened the bandage and secured it.

“I’ll accept that for now.” She kissed his hand and turned to look into his eyes and smiled at him. “You know I’m madly in love with you right?”

“I know.” He moved his face a bit closer and smiled back. “I’m madly in love with you as well. But you still haven’t told me what you want to do.”

“Jeez, you’re so pushy.” Sadayo pressed her hand against his shoulder, and he allowed her to roll him onto his back so she could straddle him. She felt his partial erection brush against her thighs and rolled her eyes. “Okay, you’ve got to learn to keep him under control in the morning.”

“How many times do I have to tell you? In the morning he has a mind of his own.” Akira placed both his hands on her hips and gave her a guilty smile. “But I promise you that I will keep myself under control until we both feel up to making him calm down.”

“Very well, I accept your terms” Sadayo laid down across her boyfriend's chest and began twirling some of his shaggy hair around her finger. She could still feel his lower half growing between her legs and as much as she knew they both wanted to relieve some stress, they had more important things to discuss. After several quiet moments, Sadayo finally came to her a decision and said, “I think I want to come with you.”

“In what context?” Akira laughed as she smacked him gently on the head.

“To talk to Ryuji and the others you pervert.” Sadayo gave him a playful tap on his forehead and gave him an amused smirk. “God, you really do have a one track mind in the morning.”

“You’re the one who’s lying naked on top of me.” Akira countered with a chuckle. “It’s not my fault he gets excited when you’re this close.”

“Last I checked you were the one who asked if we could sleep like this.” She wiggled her hips but frowned when he refused to give her even the slightest hint of discomfort.

“You raise a valid point.” Akira shrugged in defeat and tapped her gently on the top of the head. “I absolve you of all responsibility for my arousal.”

“You’re a very lenient judge.” Sadayo leaned in and gave him a deep kiss and pushed a bit back against his now full erection as she slid off his lap. He watched as she climbed off his bed and walked toward the door, noticing the obvious shake to her ass as she walked out of the room.

“I may repeal your sentencing if you keep doing that,” he shouted as she wandered into the bathroom.

“I look forward to it,” she retorted before turning on the shower. “You going to join me or what? I’m hungry and I want to get breakfast.”

Biting back a lewd comment, Akira hopped out of bed and began removing the bandage. When he entered the bathroom, he set the bandage on the counter and wasted no time in joining her beneath the steaming water, the sound of her laughing ringing throughout the house.

One hour, several gallons of hot water, and many long kisses later, Akira and Sadayo were heading toward the bakery.

Sadayo looked nervous as they approached the door. She’d dressed somewhat casually, choosing a shirt that covered the love bites, and a mid-length skirt. She figured there would be questions if any of his co-workers saw her with him, but if Akira’s boss was in the building she’d see his hand and ask even more questions than Sadayo was prepared to handle. When he opened the door for her, Sadayo watched as he waved her in like he had at the yakiniku restaurant, a big smile broke on her face and she felt her resolve return somewhat. Thanking him she stepped in and was once again greeted by the smell of freshly baked bread, strong coffee, tea, and what smelt like grilled meats.

It wasn’t terribly busy, but there were quite a few people in the bakery, many appeared to be people on their way to work or on an early break, while others looked like kids that just happened to wake up early for a vacation day and came in to get a late breakfast. Taking their spot at the end of the line, Sadayo began looking through the glass cases, filtering out donuts, croissants, muffins, and other delicious goodies to find something she’d enjoy. It all looked delicious but she wanted something light after eating so much heavy food the day before.

“See anything you want?” asked Akira dipping down next to her, his nose as dangerously close to glass case as hers was.

“Do you sell a breakfast sandwich or can I get some fruit with a croissant? The donuts and everything look good but I feel like something lighter.”

“I can ask.” Akira gave her a smirk and stood up and pointed at the small window showing a bustling kitchen. “What gets served all depends on who’s running the back. We got the bread, but the person who designates certain menu items is decided by Akane for the day. But a croissant and fruit are definitely doable.”

“Good to know.” Sadayo looked around and found that much of the line had begun to move out of the bakery, with only a few people taking the time to sit at the small tables to enjoy their food.

As they approached the front of the line, Sadayo noticed a rather tall, thin faced woman with black hair that was tied above her head in a loose bun manning the till. She had thick rimmed glasses and was wearing a flour covered apron, a long sleeved shirt with the sleeves rolled up and despite having looked like she’d been working for several hours seemed to be enjoying herself immensely. When Akira approached she gave him a broad smile, but her face fell when she noticed his bruised face and bandaged hand.

“What in the name of all that is holy happened to you? Did you get into a fight with one of those assholes from your school?”

Sadayo’s eyes grew at the woman’s audacity to use language like that in front of customers but nobody seemed to be paying her any attention. She turned her attention to Akira who had a huge smile on his face and waved his hand and said, “Nothing like that, Akane-chan.”

“Doesn’t look like nothing.” Akane turned her gaze to Sadayo who stiffened immediately at the woman’s gaze. “This her?”

Akira chuckled nervously and shrugged saying, “Yeah, this is her.”

Akane stepped away from the till now that the line was empty save for Akira and Sadayo and began looking the former of the two up and down. She had deep green eyes that Sadayo found peculiar and she noticed the gray hairs forming at her roots. There were also crows feet around her eyes and Sadayo allowed the baker to examine her for a moment, standing rigidly as the woman looked her over.

“Well you are as pretty as he made you out to be,” Akane smirked after finishing her examination. “What’ll you be having young lady?”

“Ummm,” Sadayo was at a loss for words and Akane chuckled at her reaction.

“Just relax, I’m not going to bite.” Akane looked to Akira and asked, “What’s she eating, love?”

“Two breakfast sandwiches, fruit, and two strong coffees. If we don’t have any sandwiches make it croissants and my usual donut.”

“You got, it.” Akane wrote it down and put an order in the window to the back and waved them away. “Go sit, employees, eat free.” Sadayo had the sneaking suspicion that this was meant more for her benefit than Akira’s.

“Thanks, Akane.” Akira gave Sadayo a wink causing the teacher to turn and bow slightly and mutter a word of thanks before following her boyfriend.

“You eat free here?” Sadayo whispered as she took a seat in the back corner with Akira.

“Within reason.” Akira placed his injured hand on the table and began fiddling with his bracelet. “I can’t just raid the pantries when I like, but if Akane says it’s okay for me not to pay then I don’t pay. If I brought in the others, then we’d have to pay.” Akira picked up Sadayo’s hand and gave it a soft kiss. “She’s also making an exception for you.”

“Wish I’d known to drop your name when I arrived, could have saved myself two-thousand yen.”

“That wouldn’t have worked, dear.” Akane appeared with a tray laden with food and sat down with them. “A lot of people in town know his name and know that he works here. If he ain’t with them, I don’t apply the discount.”

Akane picked up a donut and bit into it and stared at Sadayo. She chewed quietly for a moment before whispering, “He get hurt because of you?”

“Akane,” growled Akira after a sip of his coffee.

“Thanks for answering.” Akane gave Akira a wink and then turned back to Sadayo. “I’ve known his parents a long time and he’s as good as family and I protect my family.”

“It wasn’t her fault.” Akira took a large bite of his sandwich while Sadayo continued to nervously sip her coffee. “This is a result of my own stupidity.”

“Now that I believe.” Akane polished off another bite of her donut and sipped at some tea. “So what do you do for a living?”

“I’m a..,” she coughed loudly before whispering, “I’m a teacher.” Sadayo turned a deep red and took a large gulp of coffee. It wasn’t as good as Leblanc, but there was something familiar about its taste and she found it comforting.

Akane’s head turned slowly, almost like an owl’s in Akira’s direction, a look of amazement on her face as she said, “You really are a goddamn idiot.”

“Yeah, well last I heard from the people around here it runs in my family.” Akira gave Sadayo a smile which she returned with a small laugh.

“Yeah, it does.” Akane finished off her donut and picked up her tea and gave Sadayo another once over as the bell above the door jangled. There was the sound of a young woman’s voice greeting the customers and as she took their order Akane pointed at Akira and said, “He is an idiot, but like I said he’s as good as family, which makes you as good as family. Only reason I figured out who you were is because he rarely shuts up about you and his friends, but also because my husband told me a woman matching the description this dumbass gave him picked up the bouquet he ordered a couple days ago. So I’m gonna say this once to both of you,” she turned to Akira and then back to Sadayo, “you two be careful and you take care of each other. I don’t want to be one of those people who has to intercede if one of you ends up mistreating the other. Am I clear? You do that, and I’m gonna keep my mouth shut and leave you be.”

“Crystal,” muttered Akira while Sadayo nodded vigorously over through a mouth full of food.

“Good.” She drained her tea and gave them both a warm smile. “Enjoy the rest of your breakfast.”

When she was gone, Sadayo exhaled loudly after swallowing a mouthful of egg and said, “Please don’t tell me your mother is like that.”

“She can get worse,” laughed Akira as he chewed on a large freshly peeled grape. “Akane is typically more bark than bite, but when it comes down to it she’ll bite back hard. She’s one of the few people who’s given a shit about me since I got back into town.”

“Was she telling the truth about the flowers?” Sadayo had finished her sandwich and was working on a croissant.

“Yeah.” Akira picked at a croissant and gave her an embarrassed smile. “I may have shown Gin your picture and asked him to prep those flowers in case he saw you. If he didn’t I was gonna pick them up yesterday morning when he opened shop.”

“I thought it was a bit suspicious that he’d just give flowers out to a random stranger.” Sadayo reached out and took Akira carefully by the wrist and smiled.

“He does do that sometimes.” Akira placed his good hand on hers after swallowing a bit of peach. “He grows all his flowers so he can afford to give them away when he feels like it.” He took a moment to think it over and asked, “Did you like what I picked out?”

“I like them even more now.” Sadayo let go of his hands and they finished their breakfast in relative silence but found some humor in attempting to feed each other slices of fruit.

“You two are going to give me diabetes,” commented Akane-chan as they headed toward the entrance.

“I think that’s the donuts,” chuckled Akira earning him a laugh from his boss. “Stay out of trouble, Akane.”

“No promises,” she replied as they left, a huge smile on her face.

Once outside, Sadayo wrapped around his arm, resting her head on his shoulder, while Akira dug through his pockets for his phone.

Checking his phone, he saw that it was after eleven and let out a grumble when he saw that everyone save for Ryuji had messaged him asking if he was okay and how his, “lady-friend” was holding up.

“What’s the matter?” Sadayo turned away from a rather nice looking dress in a shop window and over at Akira.

“They keep messaging me.” Akira stuffed his phone back into his pocket and gave her a nervous shrug. “I don’t know what to tell them.”

“What do you want to do?” Sadayo, she began pulling him toward something else and squeezed his hand.

“I want to talk to Ryuji.” Akira looked down at his bandaged wrist and twitched his fingers. It hurt, a lot, but not as much as he thought it would.

“You think that’s a good idea right now?” She gave a casual nod toward his hand.

“Well, he got a couple of good hits too.” They both chuckled and Akira looked around and let out a deep sigh. “But, he’s my best friend and we can’t really hide from them either.”

“Yeah.” Sadayo cringed a little closer to him and squeezed his hand tighter.

“Are you sure you want to do this? I can drop you off at the house, go talk to them, and if things don’t escalate I can bring you to the hotel they’re staying at later? Have it be like a neutral ground?”

“I’ll be fine.” She nuzzled his shoulder and smiled at they passed a window that showed their reflection. “But, if you’re okay with it, can I stay out of sight or somewhere they can’t see me for a bit? I don’t want to cause any problems while you talk to them.”

“You’re not a problem.” He nuzzled her hair and kissed the top of her head. “Ryuji and me are the problem. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“That’s all a matter of opinion.” Sadayo gave him a downcast look and sighed.

“Opinions change all the time.” Akira huffed as they reached a cross walk. “Ryuji’s pissed off at me, Ann and Haru aren’t exactly happy with me, I have no clue what’s going on with Yusuke and Futaba, Makoto can’t even look me in the eye, and...” he paused and tried to figure out how to bring up Mona, but was at a loss for words.

“You’ve been through worse,” she said reassuringly as they crossed the street. “At least in some aspects.” She gave his hand a kiss and said, “I don’t want to pull the adult card, but I’m going to have to, is that okay?”

“Yeah.” She looked at him and saw a weak smile play across his lips at her having to play the adult.

As much as she didn’t want to say it, she knew she had to and with a deep breath said, “This kind of thing is part of growing up. I’ve had to deal with it a few times myself and it’s not a fun experience. I do think you guys will be okay, it’s just a much more complicated situation than any of us are equipped to handle right now.”

“But we still have to rip the band-aid off,” Akira grunted as he pulled his phone out again and opened up Ryuji’s information.

“Do you want me to do it?” Sadayo looked down at the phone and then back up at Akira’s nervous gaze.

“No,” he shook his head and hit the dial button, “it’s gotta be me.”

The phone rang several times and finally, after the eighth ring a familiar gruff voice asked, “Yeah?”

“Hey.” Akira felt a lump in his throat and swallowed loudly. “How’re you holding up?”

“My lip's fucked up and my hand feels like I punched a brick wall.” Akira heard Ryuji chuckle before saying, “You have a hard head.”

“So do you.” Both of them chuckled nervously and Akira coughed nervously before continuing. “What….what are you guys doing today?”

“We were probably going to wander around aimlessly, maybe see a movie or something. We don’t know the town so it’s mostly just looking at reviews and figuring out where to go.” Akira heard someone in the background and Ryuji say, “It’s Akira.”

“Who’s that?”

“That was Makoto. She was looking for something Yusuke’d borrowed.”

“Is she okay?” Akira remembered the look on her face and felt a pang of guilt.

“She’s kind of okay.” Ryuji sounded disgruntled and Akira heard the sound of a bed creaking. “Not to sound like a dick, but what do you want man?”

“You sent me a text and I figured it’d be a good idea to call and ask if you guys wanted to meet up so we can at least try to figure this out. I know it hasn’t been long, but I need to explain a few things….to everyone and you.”

“Gimme ten minutes.” This caught Akira by surprise but he was glad Ryuji was at least willing to talk. “I’ll see what’s going on with everyone else. I know Ann and Haru have been bugging everyone but me for info and you’re lucky we kept our mouths shut.”

“Oh.” Akira was actually caught off-guard by this but felt grateful to his friends for at least keeping things under wraps. “Thanks, man.”

“Yeah well, don’t say I don’t do shit for you.” Akira could tell Ryuji’s temper was beginning to flare again. “Everyone’s been giving me shit saying that this is my fault, like usual.”

“Yeah,” Akira ran a hand through his hair and let out a loud sigh. “I’ll help figure it out. This...a lot of this is my fault and they shouldn’t be holding this against you.”

“I’m used to it.” The bed creaked again and Akira heard the opening of a lock, followed by Ryuji saying, “Like I said man, ten minutes and I’ll have an answer for you. Just a quick question though, is….is she going to be with you?”

Akira looked over at Sadayo who was chewing on her nails nervously. He wanted to send her home but knew she’d kill him if he did and then nodded as he said, “Yeah, she’ll be with me. She said she’ll stay out of sight until...if...things go all right.”

“Fine by me.” Akira heard the sound of thumping on a door followed by Ryuji said, “I’ll talk to you in a minute.”

“What’s going on?” asked Sadayo as soon as he hung up.

“We’ll know in about ten minutes.” Akira stuffed his phone back in his pocket and sighed. “They’re probably having a meeting to see what everyone wants to do.”

“At least it’s not a ‘no’.” Sadayo began ruffling her hair and fidgeting her arms, trying to find a place where they could get some privacy. “Can we find somewhere to sit down?”

“Uhhh…,” Akira looked around and then found a free bench near a bus stop, “there’s a spot right there.”

They sat down and waited impatiently, talking about nonsense things until finally, Ryuji and Akira’s faces popped up along with Ryuji’s phone number.

“Cute picture,” teased Sadayo, earning an eye roll from her boyfriend as he answered his phone.

“What’s going on?”

Ryuji sounded like he was struggling to do something, but managed to say, “Where are you two?”

“We’re about,” Akira looked at the street sign for a moment and then said, “fifteen, maybe twenty minutes away. Did you guys come to a decision?”

“They said the cafe in the hotel should work for this group meeting. Hey, Yusuke? Can I get a little help?!” Akira heard Yusuke shout back and then a sharp bout of laughter. “Ah screw you!”

“What’s his problem?” Akira stood up and waved for Sadayo to follow him down the street.

“Don’t worry about it. We’ll see you in twenty.”

The line went dead and Akira stared down at the fading picture of him and Ryuji. Sadayo caught up to him by this point and she was looking just as nervous as he was.

“Are you sure you’re ready to do this?” Her hand found his again and for the briefest moment she felt it shaking, but it stopped once she took it.

“No. But I don’t have much of a choice now.” He looked down at her and gave her what seemed like his hundredth shrug. He stood up and held out his hand.

Standing up, Sadayo took his hand and followed him down the street. They didn’t say anything, but Sadayo was glad to see that he was at least comfortable enough to maintain contact with her as they made their way toward the hotel. When they arrived, Sadayo had to admit that her students had done well in picking out a place to stay. When she last visited, she’d stayed in a slightly smaller hotel, not that she could complain because she had excellent company and a nice cozy bed to enjoy said company in.

“Okay,” Akira stared at the glass door that acted as the entrance and took a deep breath.

She could feel his hand shaking and she squeezed it and stood in front of him as she had many times before. Holding his face in her hands she gave him a gentle kiss and nodded before saying, “It’ll be all right. Just remember everything you all have been through together and what they mean to you.”

Akira nodded and leaned down and gave her another kiss before pulling her tight against him. She could hear his heart pounding, but at least he wasn’t shaking. Despite her wanting to say she loved him, she knew there wasn’t any need to. She’d be close by, waiting either at one of the many benches that littered the town or in one of the nearby shops waiting for him to say if or when he’d need her.

Without saying anything, Akira gave her one more kiss for good measure and entered the hotel. He found the sign that pointed toward the cafe and wandered in, feeling a little out of place in his shorts and tee-shirt since several guests were dressed in business suits. A hostess approached, smiling and asking if he needed some help, but it was easy enough for him to find the large mass of color that was his friends.

Thanking the hostess, he wandered over to the table and for the first time saw the condition Ryuji was in. Like him, Ryuji was a bit battered, his lip lower lip was a bit puffy and slightly blackened and the middle and ring finger of his left hand was bandaged like the fingers on his right. Haru and Futaba were chuckling at something on Futaba’s phone while Yusuke was talking with Ryuji about something while Ann and Makoto quietly sipped at their coffee between topics.

It was Futaba who first saw him, a big smile spreading on her face as she pointed at a chair and waved at him frantically.

All eyes turned and while most of them were smiling, Makoto and Ryuji were actively trying to keep themselves from walking out the door.

Akira grinned back and waved, approaching the chair between Yusuke and Ryuji. He stopped and placed his hand on the back of it and looked at his best friend. The former blonde looked him over for a minute, stopping respectively at his hand and face, visibly surprised that Akira was as hurt as he was before nodding.

“Thanks,” Akira pulled the chair out and sat down between his two friends and looked around at his friends. His heart was in his throat and he didn’t exactly know what to say and felt himself getting rattled by the sudden amount of pressure pressing down on him.

“You look like shit,” snorted Ryuji before taking a sip of his juice.

“I feel like it.” Akira gave a small chuckle and waved at everyone again and quietly said, “Hi, guys.”

“Hey.” Replied some of them while Yusuke patted him on the back.

“How’s your hand,” asked Haru with a look at Ryuji’s lip.

Akira blushed in embarrassment and shrugged. “Bruised,” he said and held up his injured hand. “Not to mention my face hurts, my ribs hurt, my shoulder’s shot. I haven’t been this beat up in a long time.”

“Same here.” Ryuji showed off his own injuries and shook his head, “Don’t think I’m apologizing for that.” Ryuji pointed at Akira’s bruised face.

“I don’t expect you to.” Akira scratched the bruise and gave him a melancholic smile. “I threw the first punch so, you had every right to punch me back.”

Ryuji looked at everyone with an, “I told you look,” on his face.

Ann and Haru both gave him an apologetic look before Ann asked, “Is everything okay with your,” she took a deep breath as if trying to force out some disgusting curse word. “Is your girlfriend not coming? Ryuji said she’d be with you.”

“She’s nearby.” Akira gave Ryuji a half shrug and the blonde gave him an eyeroll. “Well, what do you expect,” asked the former leader at seeing his friends response. “After what happened yesterday she’s not exactly keen to just walk in like she’s an honored guest. She’s scared out of her mind right now and wants to make sure you guys aren’t going to freak out.”

“You mean like yesterday?” Ryuji turned to look at Akira and once again held up his hand. “Because if that’s the case we’ve already gone past the point of freaking out.”

“Ryuji,” Akira ran a hand over his face and sighed, “I’m sorry, okay? I….I overreacted, but given the situation what did you think would happen? You wouldn’t leave and...”

“So you think that gives you the right to just treat us like shit and punch me...”

“You wouldn’t shut up.” Akira’s voice rose a little, but he caught himself quick enough so that the management didn’t make a fuss. “I admit I was an asshole and I could have done a better job of controlling my temper but when I’m that pissed off and asking you to shut up that should have told you something was wrong.”

“No shit,” Ryuji’s nostrils flared as he spoke, his hand shaking as he spoke. “Look, man, I get wanting to keep something like that quiet, but I’m getting sick and tired of you always getting a free pass on shit like this. I mean how much does she know about,” Ryuji pointed at all of them in succession, “us? You admitted that she and all those other people you talked to figured it out about you, something you guys would have massacred me for, but does she know about us?”

“She,” Akira looked to all of them and rubbed the back of his neck, “she knows enough.”

“Figures.” Ryuji took a sip of his juice and shook his head. “You hear that guys, he’s got as big of a mouth as I do.”

“She figured some of it out, Ryuji.” Akira was getting annoyed at Ryuji’s snide comments but knew they were deserved. “You guys are the only people I really hang out with. Most people would have figured it out by process of elimination.”

“So that gives you the right to run your mouth while I get treated like shit if I let something slip on accident?"

“I’m not saying it’s right.” Akira felt his temper beginning to rise and took a few deep breaths before continuing. “I screwed up in letting people figure out who I was, but given the fact that I needed a name in order for us to help them I was going to get found out, okay? And to their credit, they kept their word and just like you guys, they worked their asses off to help get my sentence overturned. Her included considering the people she had to deal with.”

Ryuji looked at Makoto who shook her head and shrugged, not knowing to what he was referring. Leaning forward she took a deep breath and asked, “Akira, we’re not saying that we don’t appreciate what they did for us and for you, but we just want some specifics on what they know about our previous extracurricular activities?”

“Not as much as you think,” Akira sat back as the waitress arrived and said he’d be fine with a pitcher of water. “We just talked about anything and everything. My parents, school, how people treated me, her life and what was going on in it.” He took a sip of water and sighed. “Honestly I….prefer talking to her most of the time of the time over you guys.”

Akira saw Ryuji’s eyes narrow, Ann, Haru, and Yusuke’s faces drop, while Futaba and Makoto’s remained fairly neutral. He didn’t want to say it, but it was the truth and he needed to let them know.

“So what are your reasons for preferring talking to her over us?” Haru’s voice barely registered thanks to the ambient noise, but they were all able to hear her.

“As messed up as it sounds. I prefer talking to her because she isn’t you.” Akira took another sip of water and looked at all of them. “You guys are my best friends. If it wasn’t for you I’d still be stuck in my own bullshit of self-pity and hatred, keeping quiet and letting people walk all over me. If it wasn’t for Ryuji, I probably would have ignored what I learned in the Velvet Room.”

“What do you mean you would have ignored it?” Ryuji set his glass down mid-drink and glared at Akira. “When we went into Kamoshida’s place you looked as happy as a pig in shit.”

“I was that happy.” Akira chuckled at his friend's comment and gave him the first genuine smile he could muster since sitting down. “I felt a sense of freedom in having all that power and I honestly would have just done what I wanted with it. I might have turned into Akechi given how I was viewing my life.” He gave Ryuji a small smirk and gave a low chuckle. “But you, Ryuji, as well as Mona, had the idea to use our powers to help people. To make the Phantom Thieves and honestly if it wasn’t for you, we all probably wouldn’t be standing here right now.”

“Don’t bullshit me,” snorted Ryuji as he drained his glass. “If you thought that about me you guys wouldn’t have left me sitting on the street after dealing with Shido’s Palace.” Ryuji shot a quick glare at Ann whose face turned momentarily pink.

“Yeah,” Ann scratched the back of her head and looked down at her feet. “I’m sorry about that Ryuji.” She looked up ever so slightly as she apologized. “You didn’t deserve that, especially not after risking your life for us.”

The other Phantoms all gave their own apologies and Ryuji just shook his head in amazement.

“So you think that just because you’re here everyone is all suddenly going to change their minds and admit they’ve been wrong about shit?”

Akira sighed and shook his head, “No. I don’t think that, at all. I’m here to admit my mistakes and explain to you why I did what I did. If what I say helps them realize some of their own fuck ups then great, but I’m here to let you guys know that I’m sorry.” Akira turned to all of them, focusing on Yusuke who seemed rather unfazed by everything and a blushing Makoto. “I’m sorry for lying, I’m sorry for tossing you out like that and I’m sorry you had to see what you did. Honestly,” Akira coughed and took a small sip of water and cleared his throat, “we both admit that one’s on us, most of it on me.”

“We all agree on that part,” chuckled Yusuke as he asked for a refill on his coffee. “Although I must admit you did give me a few new ideas in some of my drawings.”

“You aren’t…,” Akira felt a small chill at the smile on Yusuke’s face. “You aren’t going to draw what you saw are you?”

“Heavens no,” Yusuke took a sip of his refilled coffee. “I’m just saying that some of what I saw seemed more passionate than the experiences I had and may help with some of the drawings I’m attempting for a few classmates.”

“What do you mean experiences?” All eyes were on Yusuke, enthralled by his commentary.

“What?” Yusuke looked at all of them, completely unsure of why they were so surprised. “Is it that unusual for me to have had a few romantic encounters?”

“No,” chuckled Makoto behind her hand, “but it wasn’t what we were expecting to hear right now.”

“Who was this with,” asked Haru, amazed and looking slightly humored at her friend’s lack of tact.

“My boss.” All eyes raised at this revelation and Yusuke simply shrugged. “I told her that I was doing some work for people and they felt that my drawings were lacking a certain amount of intimacy. She offered and I took the chance to do research. On a technical level, it helped, but I’m still missing that certain something they’ve been asking for.”

“That’s good to know, Yusuke.” Haru reached over and gave him a pat on the hand as she said, “But let’s just focus on the other issues right now. We can discuss yours later.”

“Of course.” Yusuke looked to Akira and said, “I apologize for my interruption. Please continue, Akira.”

Before Akira could say anything, Futaba asked, “I’m sorry if this sounds a little dumb of me, but can you explain a bit more to me about why you prefer talking to her over us? Do you not like talking to us?”

The mood at the table grew quiet again as Akira slowly began to speak.

“I want you to know that what I said, doesn’t mean I don’t like talking to you.” Akira’s gaze was on Futaba but he could feel everyone’s eyes burrowing into him. “There are so many things that I can talk to you about that I can’t even say to her. But some days, I just need someone who doesn’t know everything we’ve been through. Someone who can look at what I say objectively without having some sort of biased opinion on it.”

“Oh.” Futaba’s face furrowed momentarily and she looked to some of her older friends for guidance.

“It’s kind of like finding it easier to talk to a stranger over a loved one.” Answered Haru as she patted Futaba on the head. “Sometimes it’s just easier to open up to someone who doesn’t have information on the matter because they’ll ask more questions and it can help you reach an answer or it just allows you to vent without feeling like someone is judging you.”

“That kind of make sense,” hummed Futaba after a few moments of thought.

“Still doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk to your friends though, Futaba.” Ryuji shook his head and sighed. “But, I guess I can see why sometimes you’d keep things to yourself, or at least tell her about some of the shit we got up to.”

Ryuji shot a glare at his best friend and said, “But why’d do you gotta say all that other shit, man? You tryin’ ta soften me up or something?”

“Because it’s the truth, Ryuji.” Akira took a deep drink and sighed while his best friend glared at him in disbelief. “I do mean it, Ryuji about you being somewhat responsible for all of us being together. You and Mona were the driving force behind us creating the Phantoms and I never gave you that credit. I wouldn’t be who I am without you guys and you helped make it a reality.” Akira drained his glass and refilled it with the pitcher that was on the table. “You said back in March that ‘if you wanna change the world, all you have to do is just look at it differently’.” Akira looked up at his best friend and smiled, “Who the hell do you think got me to start looking at the world differently?”

Ryuji’s ears turned bright red again that made everyone else chuckle at his reaction.

“Come on, man.” Ryuji rubbed the back of his neck trying to hide his discomfort. “Will you stop saying weird shit like that? Sounds like you’re coming onto me or something.”

“I got my hands full already.” Chuckled Akira as the others all began to smirk. “But I am telling you the truth. I hated my life, I hated my parents, I hated my school. I’d barely been in Shujin a week and I was already beginning to hate it. There was nothing I could do without getting arrested or having everyone try and rat me out if I did something even a little out of place. So, I was just going to sit there and do what everyone wanted me to, and even if I did Kamoshida was doing his best to get us thrown out.” Ryuji gave Ann a knowing nod as she shifted uncomfortably in her chair at the memories. “But in the end, you and Mona helped me realize that I could do something else besides just sitting there and letting the world pass me by.”

“Yeah, well,” Ryuji leaned back in his chair and stretched, “when you put it like that, I guess I am pretty cool.”

“Great, now his head is gonna get even bigger.” Ann rolled her eyes and everyone joined in with laughter, Ryuji and Akira included.

After they calmed down, Akira gave Ryuji a thoughtful look and said, “Besides if it wasn’t for you helping push me along, I wouldn’t have her in my life so, I do owe you for that as well.”

Ryuji’s face grew stern for a moment, and Akira could see a small battle waging inside as if Ryuji was combating the urge to shout at Akira about his lie or allow the wounds to begin to heal. After several quiet moments, Ryuji asked, “Are you guys really that happy?”

“For the most part.” Akira let his shoulders slump slightly as he spoke. “We don’t get to see each other a lot outside of text, phone, or video chat. She can’t really get the free time and when I’m in Tokyo I typically spend my time with you guys.”

“That’s why you open your damn mouth.” Ryuji looked at all the others and then back to Akira. “Dude, like I told them yesterday all you had to do was tell us you had a girlfriend you wanted to spend time with and we would have left you alone. We don’t see you as much as we like, but even when you’re not around it’s not like we’re together all the time. We all got work, school, or other shit going on. I mean we do hang out a lot when we have the free time, but it’s not like we’re assholes that want you to be miserable. Only reason we bug you so much is because we know you’re feeling like shit most of the time and we’re trying to cheer you up.”

“I know,” Akira felt another pang of guilt go through his body at these words. “I just….what’s going on in my life right now has me on edge a lot.” He took a deep breath and rubbed the leather bracelet Sadayo had given him. “A couple of nights ago, all my anger and frustration nearly ended up boiling over and I was really close to knocking out this guy that’d been giving me a lot of grief since I got back." Akira sighed and said, "If I had I probably would have been expelled again and I probably couldn’t even get back into Shujin if that happened.”

He looked at all of them, their eyes were all raised in shock as he told his story. “If it wasn’t for her I don’t know where I’d be right now and yesterday…,” Akira sighed and his shoulders slumped, “yesterday was the first time outside faking my death I think I really scared her.”

“Jeez man,” Ryuji reached out and clapped him on the shoulder. “We knew shit sucked around here for you but you could have said something.”

“I hear you.” Akira sat up and leaned back, facing everyone at the table. “I knew coming back would be tough but I didn’t expect this. I figured with my record cleared everything would be at least somewhat back to what it was like before I left, but….”

“The world waits for no one.” Yusuke clasped Akira’s shoulder and nodded. “You aren’t the first person to think things would be the same after time away.”

“Tell me about it.” Akira gave Yusuke an appreciative nod and said, “Talking to you guys helps, but when I talk to her about stuff like this, I just seem to think straighter and a lot of things just make more sense.”

Ryuji felt the beast of jealousy in his chest begin to rise again, but he suppressed it with a few deep breaths and gave Akira another pat on the back. “It’s all right, I think we get it now man.” Ryuji looked to all the other Phantoms and they nodded in appreciation of what their old leader was going through.

Akira nodded and rubbed his eyes, feeling as drained as he had after their night at the arcade. Blinking he looked at all of his friends, grateful that they’d all been able to at least give him the chance to explain things to some extent. He knew it’d take time, but it was a step in the right direction and with Ryuji at least talking to him, Akira felt like maybe he and Sadayo could risk hanging out with them for a bit before they left.

“Are you okay?” asked Ann after several tense moments of quiet. “Do you need to go home and rest or did you want to talk a bit more?”

“I’m just tired,” Akira said with a small chuckle. “It’s been a long couple of days and we just,” Akira took another deep breath and continued, “we’ve been meaning to tell you guys, but things aren’t really that easy for us right now.”

“What do you mean?” Haru raised an eyebrow and looked to the other Phantoms for clarification. “According to Futaba and the others you two have been together a year so why are things difficult?”

“It’s like I said earlier, Haru, we don’t get a lot of time together.” Akira felt his face grow warm as they looked at him. “Whenever we do see each other it’s usually late at night or in private so we aren’t really used to being a couple in front of other people. It’s one of the reasons we planned this week together so we could get used to that. My parents are gone so we don’t have to worry about them spying on us and nobody here knows her. They know me, but we don’t have to worry about getting, well not worry as much, about people giving us strange looks if I touch her or hold her hand, or in the case of what you guys saw….”

“Don’t remind me,” muttered Makoto as she covered her face with her hands. “Why do you keep bringing that up? Can’t we just forget about it?”

Akira, Ryuji, Futaba, and Yusuke all began laughing quietly as Makoto frowned at them.

“What’s the matter Makoto? You ain’t never seen something like that before?” A lewd, teasing smile spread across Ryuji’s face as he asked this. “I mean we took health class and biology, so I figured it wouldn’t be that big of a deal for you.”

“It’s the same reason you got so upset.” Mumbled Makoto taking a sip of her coffee. “It’s the fact that someone we know is involved, not the act itself.”

“That doesn’t answer the question,” chuckled Futaba lecherously. “Have you or have you not seen a dirty movie or anything like that? I’d even take an anime for an answer.”

“Whether or not I’ve seen a film like that is of little to no consequence,” growled Makoto as she finished her coffee. “What matters is that it’s a little shocking to see one of your best friends and a former...well I mean...” Makoto was silenced by Haru and Ann’s excited faces.

“It is someone we know!” Haru’s hands clapped in a somewhat manic delight as she watched Makoto shrink into her seat. “That explains why everyone but Yusuke seemed so freaked out. Is it one of those people you helped out? Do we know who they are? Oh, this makes so much sense now! I figured it was something like that.”

“I noticed that too.” Ann gave them all a piercing glare and folded her arms. “But it must be a pretty big issue for Akira if he’s willing to punch Ryuji over him saying her name.”

Slowly the group, primarily Haru, began discussing some of their concerns, but in a much more relaxed atmosphere than what had previously hung over the table. Ann, on the other hand, continued to glare occasionally at Ryuji and Akira while Makoto tried her best to ignore Haru’s questions while Yusuke and Futaba indulged the pink-haired girl with answers that seemed designed to make her ask more questions.

With everyone finally distracted, Akira noticed that Ryuji finally seemed to have relaxed a bit and tried to say something but was cut-off by his friend asking, “You know I’m still pissed off at you, right?”

“I figured,” Akira nodded. He’d expected that but was still disappointed at how little progress they’d made. “I have a lot to make up for.”

“Yeah, you do.” Ryuji turned to Akira and said with a heavy sigh, “I ain’t mad at you and her being together. I ain’t gonna lie it’s gonna make things awkward as shit for a while, but I’ll get over it. I owe her that and you did do us a lot of solids by not selling us out, so I ain’t gonna squeal on you.”

“I appreciate it.” Akira looked at the others who had stopped their conversations and were waiting expectantly.

“But,” Ryuji turned around in his seat, his arm draped over the back of the chair and he held up his left hand and pointed at his lip, “next time this happens, I ain’t sticking around to hear you apologize.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to.” Akira gave Ryuji a grateful grin and nodded.

“Only reason I even decided to listen,” Ryuji nodded back and snorted, “is because you’re my best friend and these guys reminded me that I screw up enough and you all forgave me so...”

Ryuji gave him an embarrassed smirk and held up his bruised hand.

“So it’s only right I at least let you weasel your way out of something like this at least once.”

They both chuckled and Akira gave all of his friends a shrug.

“I am sorry you guys, about everything.” Akira gave Makoto an apologetic look and said, “If things are too weird for you, I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to go somewhere else for a while.”

“We’ve all seen weirder.” hummed Makoto with a small smile, although she still looked like she’d rather be somewhere else. Akira could definitely see that she would dive through the cafe window. “But, it’s like Ryuji said and like he told you, the two of you at least deserve the chance the explain yourselves.”

“Yeah.” Ann looked like she’d begun to relax along with the others, but she didn’t dare take her eyes off of Akira. “And, I’m still pissed about everyone keeping their mouths shut about all this.”

“I’m a bit confused as well,” added in Yusuke with a suspicious look. “Makoto explained a bit to me who she is but she didn’t say exactly who she is.”

“Well she’s nearby,” coughed Akira before taking a sip of water. “If you all want I can...”

“Are we going to meet your girlfriend,” asked Haru excitedly over her coffee cup. “Or would you rather take some time to relax and let things settle?”

“What do you think?” Akira deferred to Ryuji who was tapping his good finger on the table. “If you guys don’t want her around I can take her back to my house.

“Dude, I thought you said you two already figured this shit out.” Ryuji rolled his eyes and cast a sideways glance at Akira. “Why are you asking me what to do with your girlfriend?”

“Last time I made a decision without consulting you we punched each other, in case you forgot.” Akira pointed at his face and Ryuji’s lip. “I’m asking you guys for your input this time.”

“I’m fine with it. I mean it’s not like I ain’t seen you naked before because of that time we went to the bathhouse, but it’s not me you gotta worry about,” muttered Ryuji as he picked up his refilled juice. “Makoto you gonna be okay?”

“Do I have to?” Makoto covered her eyes and rubbed her temple. “I’m just….I don’t know if...”

“’What you are afraid to do is a clear indication of the next thing you need to do.’”

Everyone looked at Yusuke who took a deep swig of his coffee and wiped his mouth before opening his eyes to see everyone staring at him in shock.

“It’s a quote from a poet, or so I’m told.” Yusuke looked at Makoto who was still looking longingly toward the entrance to the cafe. “And I feel it is rather pertinent to this situation.”

“You would,” muttered Makoto before draining her coffee in two gulps. She let out loud sigh and ordered something else before turning back to the group, her arms crossed and face set with determination. “Fine, if you all are willing to go through with this, I will as well.”

“It isn’t that big of a deal to me,” hummed Futaba as she played with something on her phone. “Inari and I have read worse researching those doujin pictures his classmates wanted him to draw.”

“Of course that’s what you were researching,” groaned Ann with a shake of her head before realizing what the hacker had said. “Wait, how do you know what happened?! You weren’t even in the room!”

“Seriously?” Futaba rolled her eyes and pointed at the others. “I’d have to be dumber than Ryuji to not understand what those guys have been talking about.”

“Hey!” Ryuji set his glass down a little too hard which caught the attention of the staff. “My grades are ten times better than they were last year!”

“Why don’t we get back on track,” chuckled Haru nervously to Ryuji. “We’re kind of losing sight of why we’re here.”

“True,” mused Yusuke as he polished off a danish he’d ordered a few minutes prior. “I personally have no real issue with it. From what Makoto tells me she’s a fairly decent person and the only reason she and Ryuji have an issue is because of well...it’s as Haru and Ann figured out, you all have a pre-existing relationship with her. I, however, do not, nor do I understand the extent of that relationship, so I personally have no issue with talking to the woman that seems to have captured our former leader's heart.”

“You’re so freakin’ weird,” scoffed Ryuji with a small laugh. “Dude, what do you plan on doing? Asking her for some tips on your drawings?”

“If she and Akira are comfortable with it then I’d be more than willing to...”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Yusuke.” Akira was laughing quietly as he spoke. “We’ve barely gotten used to walking around in public together.”

“You could have fooled me,” Ryuji snorted over his water, a huge smile on his face.

“Anyway,” Akira couldn’t help but smile as he spoke, “are you guys sure you’re ready for this? I don’t want to cause any more problems.”

“Just go and get her man.” Ryuji waved at their friends with his glass and said, “I’m tired of dicking around and I’m sure these guys are too.”

All of them agreed with grunts or words of confirmation and Akira suddenly felt his stomach drop. He gave a quick nod and stood up and rubbed the back of his neck saying, “Okay then, I’ll go...and…,” he headed toward the door.

“Hey.”

Akira stopped and turned back to see Ryuji approaching him with a small smirk on his face.

“As much as I’m gonna enjoy watching you two crap your pants,” Ryuji whispered while the others began slipping back into their own conversations, “and as much as I’m still pissed at you, you’ve earned this. All of us have earned a little bit of happiness and if it’s with her then I ain’t gonna stop you.”

“Thanks for the support.” Akira was prepared to continue out the door but was stopped by Ryuji punching him in the chest. “What the hell was that for?”

“A reminder not to pull this shit again.” Ryuji gave him a wink and headed back to the table while Akira headed out into the sunlight.

Once outside, Akira took a deep breath and felt the tightness in his stomach slowly dissipate. It had gone better than he planned but he knew there was still a long way to go. Taking his phone out he dialed Sadayo, she picked up almost immediately and sounded rather relaxed.

“How’d everything go?” He could hear a small smile in her voice as she spoke which made him feel much less sick.

“Good.” He looked around trying to see if she was nearby. “They uh...they want to meet you, officially, I mean, as my girlfriend.”

“Are you sure you’re okay with this?” He heard the sound of passing cars and the sound of people behind her.

“Not really.” Akira laughed nervously as he continued looking for her. As a few people made their way across the street, he could see her standing at the crosswalk waiting for the sign to change and looking around for him. When she turned to face him, he raised his hand and waved at her. Her face immediately lit up and she pointed at her phone, he nodded and they both hung up just as the street signal changed and she began jogging across the street.

Her smile didn’t waver as she jogged across the street. When she reached him, her arms instinctively wrapped around his waist and Akira couldn’t fight the urge to hold her to his chest. His hands slowly stroked her hair and he rocked her in his arms as she whispered, “It’s going to be okay.”

“I hope you’re right.” Akira separated from her and took her hand in his, squeezing it gently as he pointed to the door. She nodded adamantly, her hand shaking slightly in his but she followed him nevertheless. They walked through the door, their fingers interlocked and when they reached the short hallway leading to the cafe entrance he felt her steps falter.

Turning, Akira was sure the look on her face was similar to the feeling he’d had in his stomach all morning.

“What happened to ‘It’s going to be okay’?”

“Shut up.” Sadayo took a deep breath and closed her eyes for a moment and Akira watched the nervous girlfriend melt and gulped when the stern teacher appeared. When she opened her eyes, she nodded at him and said, “Let’s do this.”

Somewhat unnerved by her sudden change in demeanor, Akira squeezed her hand and led her into the restaurant. When they arrived, everyone had returned to talking about random things. Haru and Ann were talking about where they’d like to go souvenir shopping, while Futaba griped at Yusuke about something he was drawing while Makoto and Ryuji laughed about something. When they reached the table, Akira let out a low cough.

The first to turn their heads were Ryuji, Futaba, and Yusuke, all three of them smiling for one reason or another. Makoto, on the other hand, was keeping her face hidden, her hand covering her eyes and her face flushed while Ann and Haru both stared at them. Haru’s face turned from shock to horror, and then suddenly a look of utter delight as the largest smile spread across her face and a small squeal of delight as she clapped her hand.

Meanwhile, Ann’s eyes widened, her jaw dropped, her hand raised shaking as she pointed and practically screamed, “What the fresh hell is this?!”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

 

“Thanks a lot, Ann!”

 

“Sorry, you guys.” Ann felt the heat rise in her cheeks as she apologized to her friends.

 

After her outburst, the manager of the cafe was forced to ask them to leave. They did with little resistance since none of them had much recourse as it was their first visit at the hotel and Haru wasn’t willing to use her name to get her way. So they’d submitted and poured out onto the street, seven former delinquents and a teacher.

 

As they hadn't planned a destination for the day, the group began lumbering down the street, ignoring their newest addition for the most part which worked just fine for Sadayo.

 

When she’d walked in, she had expected a series of shouts and exclamations but outside of Ann's shout that had them removed from the restaurant, she was caught off guard at how calm they were. All of them, save for Ann seemed somewhat intrigued by her appearance but in the end seemed rather inviting. She wasn’t sure if it was because of their time as Phantom Thieves or just a generational desensitization, but their lack of a reaction struck her as eerie, but welcome. Still, she wasn’t willing to look a gift horse in the mouth and remained as close to Akira as she could but the questions and looks made that difficult.

 

Since she hadn’t ever been around Yusuke, his demeanor was a bit unsettling to her. She found it difficult to follow his aloof comments or how he always seemed to be peering off at things that nobody else could see or find interesting. Akira had told her it was more than likely due to his natural talent and upbringing as a painter, but Sadayo was having a hard time getting used to it. He’d go off on these long tangents about some of his works that Sadayo couldn’t fully comprehend and when she looked for help, Akira merely smiled and shrugged while Haru….Haru continued to stare.

 

It wasn’t in anyway that made Haru seem crazy, although in truth the look on her face when Sadayo had finally made her entrance had been slightly unnerving.

 

“Okumura-chan,” she asked after Yusuke’s latest tirade had ended, “is there something, do I have something on my face? You keep staring at me.”

 

“Nothing like that, Kawakami-san.” The smile Haru had on in the cafe was still plastered on her face. “I’m just, excited, I think is the appropriate word at all of this.”

 

“Excited?” Akira shook his head as they continued heading down the street, giving directions as they went. He could see Ryuji snickering as he distracted Makoto with small talk, but let him have his fun. “That’s the last word I expected to hear from you Haru.”

 

“Well, how often does this happen? Forbidden love, sneaking around, late night rendezvous? It’s like some sort of movie or soap opera, or Shakespeare.” Haru’s hands rubbed together in a familiar Futaba like fashion as spoke and Sadayo found herself inching a bit closer to Akira.

 

Of all her students, Sadayo would never have pegged Haru as one to find things like this tantalizing. But then again Haru had never been all that social during her tenure at Shujin. She’d always remained quiet, never really going out of her way to make friends, even Sadayo was cautioned to keep clear of her due to her father. But now that she was out of Shujin, Sadayo found it somewhat refreshing to see this side of Haru, if a bit off-putting. Taking a deep, calming breath, Sadayo returned the smile and said, “Not often in my experience.”

 

Haru noticed a small break in the smile and asked, “Did I say something wrong?”

 

“No, Haru, you didn’t.” Akira placed a hand on the small of Sadayo’s back briefly before speaking. “It’s just a sensitive topic.”

 

“Oh,” Haru’s face flushed with embarrassment, “I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to...”

 

“It’s fine.” Sadayo gave Haru a gentle pat on the shoulder and sighed, noticing the eyes now focused on her. “I guess we should have figured out a list of appropriate topics of conversation before coming to meet you.”

 

“But that’s boring!” Futaba had removed herself from the group and jumped onto Akira’s back. He gave a loud grunt of pain, but he fought through it and adjusted himself appropriately to carry the smaller girl. “Appropriate sucks! I want all the details and Haru does too!”

 

“I could go without all the details,” voted Makoto finding the courage to look at her old teacher. “I have more than enough details in my brain right now that I am still trying to filter out.”

 

“Oh my god will you get over it!” Ryuji growled, earning him the attention of the entire group and a few other people.

 

Everyone including Yusuke, who was deep in a conversation with Ann stopped talking and stared.

 

“Ryuji…,” Makoto’s eyes raised in surprise while Akira and the others waited for him to talk.

 

Taking a few deep breaths, Ryuji shook his head and said, “Obsessing over what we saw isn’t gonna help us right now.” Ryuji took a few steps forward and said, “It ain’t gonna help them either, so just chill okay? Ya saw a dick in someone’s hand, it ain’t gonna be the first time it happens, and it probably ain’t gonna be the last, time to grow up.”

 

Everyone stopped walking at this point. Futaba’s was giggling quietly in Akira’s ear while Haru looked at Sadayo with a Cheshire grin. Ann and Yusuke were both blushing but laughing quietly to themselves at this sudden spout of maturity in Ryuji. Makoto meanwhile looked like she was about to ready to slap him. Her nostrils flared and she had a glare almost similar to the one she had with Kaneshiro but instead of lashing out at Ryuji she turned on her heel and stared at Sadayo.

 

Instead of freezing like she had at the hotel, Sadayo stood her ground, her chin raised and her back straight. Inside she was terrified and she had every right to be. She had trusted Makoto with many responsibilities when she had attended Shujin and as a teacher, Makoto had trusted her, but now she was no longer her student, thus changing their dynamic and she saw that confusion in Makoto’s eyes. While Sadayo could appreciate her dilemma, Makoto was at least free from having to deal with the duality of their situation.

 

“All right.” Makoto raised her hands in defeat and shook her head and wandered back and forth. “You’re actually right Ryuji, one of the few times you have been.”

 

“Holy shit.” Ryuji looked at all of them and pointed asking for phones. “Please tell me someone recorded her saying that?”

 

“Sorry,” Akira tilted his head back at the still dangling Futaba.

 

The others all apologized as well save for Futaba who waved her phone out and chuckled, “Already emailed!”

 

“Sweet!” Ryuji shot a thumbs up at Futaba and began doing a small happy dance. “I finally got one over on Makoto!”

 

“Yeah, yeah.” Makoto smacked him on the head and then proceeded to point at Sadayo. “You’re a genius but that doesn’t help with figuring out what to do about what to...call her.”

 

“That’s true.” Ann turned around chewing on her lower lip. “We can’t go around calling her ‘sensei’ because that’d just get weird and people’ll stare.”

 

“I’m used to the staring, believe me.” Sadayo gave a smirk at Akira who blushed.

 

“Oh, what does that mean?” Haru gave both Akira and Sadayo a probing grin.

 

“Not what you think, Haru.”

 

“Why are you looking at me?” Yusuke asked after seeing the accusatory look Akira was giving him.

 

“Because I’m pretty sure the stuff you and Futaba have been researching has rubbed off on her.” Akira turned his attention back to Haru and asked, “Have you been hanging around with them while they do research.”

 

“A few times.” Haru smiled embarrassedly at the memory of some of the things they’d watched. “But, that isn’t the only reason. I want details and I'm not getting them!”

 

“Well first let’s figure out what to call her first before we start interrogating her.” Makoto crossed her arms and said, “What are most comfortable with? Family name? First name? Honorifics?”

 

“I vote for first name!” Futaba dropped off Akira’s back and popped in front of Sadayo so fast that the teacher staggered back from shock. “I’ve always wanted to call a teacher by their first name.”

 

“Settle down.” Ann tugged gently on Futaba’s hair and pulled her back. “We can’t go around calling her that, what’s going to happen when we get back to school and you slip into using it? You think it’s gonna be tough keeping this a secret now, what do you think will happen when it gets back to the rest of the teachers? Or the PTA? Or the School board?”

 

“Fine,” Futaba stepped back and rubbed the patch where a few stray hairs had been pulled out. “What if we come up with some cute nickname for her? Like we had back when we were in our ‘after school club’.”

 

“How is that any better than her first name?” Yusuke rolled his eyes and sighed. "That'd probably be even more suspicious."

 

“Then what’re we going to call her?” Asked Makoto growing more and more frustrated. “We need to figure this out and….”

 

The conversation slowly derailed from there with Ryuji and Ann actually taking the lead to tell everyone to calm down, while Makoto argued with Futaba about so casual with the ramifications of her suggestions. Yusuke simply stood by and watched curiously while Sadayo looked at Akira with a, “Is this normal,” look on her face. Akira smiled nervously and nodded saying, “It happens on occasion.”

 

Looking around, Sadayo saw that they were beginning to attract attention. Having enough of being referred to as 'her' and the arguing, Sadayo placed two fingers in her mouth and let out a whistle so loud that Akira was forced to cover his ears and check his palms for blood.

 

All eyes shifted to Sadayo whose face had gone from her previously nervous giddiness to almost authoritarian. Every one of them, save for Yusuke and Akira ceased talking and stepped into some sort of haphazard line, like children waiting to go to recess. She pointed to a side street and all of them followed, resting their backs against a brick wall as Sadayo looked them over.

 

“Look,” she scratched her head and looked to Akira who gave her a reassuring nod. Taking a deep breath, she straightened herself and said, “I appreciate you all are willing to give me a chance and the fact that you are processing this so well is phenomenal, but you don’t get a say in what I want you to call me. It’s my name and I get to decide what to do with it and who gets to call me what.”

 

“Makoto-chan, Ann-chan,” Sadayo nodded appreciatively at her before asking, “first off is it okay if I use your first names?”

 

“I’m fine with it,” Ann looked at Makoto who nodded in agreement, the others all nodded as well at her using their first names which made both Akira and Sadayo relax significantly.

 

“Good. That’ll make this a lot easier.” Sadayo took a deep breath and then proceeded to say, “I just want to thank you all for being as patient as you can with all this. I know it’s been difficult to process all of this, especially for you three.” She gave an appreciative nod toward Makoto, Ryuji, and Yusuke. “What you saw, was nothing either of us wanted you to see. Most people don’t want to see something like that, but it is what it is and I’m here standing in front of you, willing to work past it.”

 

“We are too,” Ann said after several moments of silence and looked at her friends for encouragement. They all nodded at the teacher before Ann continued. “We just need a bit of time to get used to this.”

 

“That’s perfectly reasonable and are more than willing to give that to you.” Sadayo turned her attention to Futaba, Ryuji, Haru, and Yusuke and said, “But if this is going to work, I need you all to calm down a bit.” Her gaze focused on Yusuke, Haru, and Futaba. “I appreciate your support and tolerance but try to tone it down a little. Can you do that?” The three of them nodded and shrugged saying that it was no big deal and they could reel it in, though Sadayo was unsure of Futaba and Haru’s sincerity in this matter given their recent behavior.

 

She then turned to Makoto and began to say something, but the younger woman shook her head and said, “Let’s just let bygones be bygones.”

 

“Fair enough,” Sadayo gave her an embarrassed smile that Sadayo returned and then turned to Ryuji and Ann.

 

Like with Makoto, Sadayo tried to say something but Ann raised her hand and said, “I don't know what you want to tell me, but I have an idea, and I think we should shelf that for right now. We have enough to deal with.”

 

“Same here.” Ryuji nudged his head in Akira’s direction and said, "We've screwed shit up enough."

 

"Well not completely." Ryuji chuckled at Sadayo's jest and she smiled back. "And I understand your reaction but I don't ever want that to happen again or you'll end up with worse than detention."

 

Akira’s eyebrow raised in surprise but remained quiet and let her speak.

 

“I know this is strange given our past together, but if this is going to work we’re going to need to set a few ground rules.”

 

“Whatever, you say teach,” Ryuji muttered, tapping his foot against the wall.

 

“Rule one,” she said tapping Ryuji pointedly on the chest, “outside of school I am never to be called that.”

 

“No problem.” Ryuji winked and went back to staring at his shoes.

 

“Rule two,” Sadayo focused on Futaba who suddenly found a piece of paper stuck to her shoe interesting, “No nicknames. I have only one, it’s a secret, and he’s the only one who gets to call me that.”

 

All eyes turned to Akira, who took several nervous steps away from the group, eyes focused on the people walking down the street, but occasionally giving a nervous side glance to the group. Haru’s mouth opened in anticipation to find out what it was but was silenced by Sadayo suddenly getting in her face.

 

“Rule three, we both reserve the right to not answer any of your questions until we both feel ready to.”

 

Haru frowned but nodded in compliance.

 

“I think that covers the majority of all necessary rules right now," Sadayo said with a satisfied smile. "If we can follow those, I think we shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Don’t you?”

 

“But, what do you feel comfortable with us calling you,” Makoto asked after they all mumbled an agreement. “We’re going to have to call you something and as you said anything denoting your status to us is highly suspicious.”

 

“As long as it’s okay with you,” she turned her attention to Akira and rolled her eyes when she found he still wasn’t paying attention. She hissed his name, which got a snicker from the group when he jumped and looked nervously at all of them.

 

“What,” he asked obliviously before realizing that all eyes were on him.

 

Ryuji and Futaba both looked like they were about to keel over from their poor attempts to hide their laughter. Ann and Haru were both giggling quietly while Makoto and Yusuke both shook their heads in amazement. Sadayo, on the other hand, looked livid and with a gesture toward her boyfriend began walking out of the small alley and onto the main street. Akira followed suit while his friends jeered him like he was getting sent to detention. Before he turned the corner, Akira raised his middle finger in protest of his friends heckling.

 

Despite the Phantoms keeping quiet the most they could catch were fragmented pieces of conversation.

 

“Why the hell….”

 

“I was letting you...”

 

“A little support…”

 

“I am supporting...”

 

All of them, including Makoto, were laughing quietly to themselves as they heard Akira attempt to defend his lack of attention. When the couple finally reappeared, Sadayo was looking even more flustered, while Akira kept his eyes on the ground in embarrassment. They all did their best to regain their composure, but Futaba and Yusuke gave couldn’t hide the occasional chuckle earning them both a glare from the teacher. It took several seconds, but both of them were able to at least control themselves to some extent.

 

“So, as I was saying, as long as it is okay with all of you and of course, Akira.” Sadayo gave her boyfriend one last glare before turning her attention back to the group. “I am willing to allow you all, in private company, of course, to use my first name. So," she had to raise her voice in order to calm the excited teens, " as long as you can refrain from using it around anyone that is not a member of this immediate group until after the majority of you have graduated.....”

 

“Am I included in that,” asked Yusuke in an unusually serious tone.

 

“Dude," Ryuji snorted and stared over at Yusuke, "you’re standing here ain’t you? What the hell do you think?”

 

“But, why should I be held to the same rules as you?” Yusuke told Ryuji sternly. “This is the first time I’ve ever really had any contact with her so I don’t think I should be beholden to that aspect of the deal. I still don’t even really know your overall relationship with her. You called her ‘sensei’ so does that mean she’s your teacher or simply a teacher that you know?”

 

“I am,” Sadayo raised her voice again, cutting off an annoyed Ryuji, “I am the Japanese teacher at Shujin. Which makes me Akira, Makoto, and Haru’s former teacher and a current teacher for the others.”

 

“Oh.” Yusuke scratched his chin and looked between Sadayo and Akira before saying, “Everything makes a lot more sense now. Especially why Makoto was so vague with all of her explanations.”

 

“It seriously took you this long to catch on?” Ann shook her head before giving Yusuke a gentle smack on the top of the head. “How have you not dented a wall with that thick head of yours.”

 

“Because as I said in the car yesterday, I don’t make it my business to butt in on personal relationships unless I am asked.”

 

“Oh, but it makes it okay to sketch people without their consent or ask them to pose nude for you within days of meeting them?”

 

“How many times do I have to apologize to...”

 

“Hey!” Ann and Yusuke stopped their bickering at hearing Akira’s shouts and fell quiet. “You guys can fight about this later, but right now we have to figure this out.” Ann and Yusuke both shot each other a glare before muttering their agreement.

 

“Yusuke, you do bring up a good point,” grumbled Akira after composing himself. “But just to ask, how often do you go to Shujin, ballpark?”

 

Yusuke thought for a moment before saying, “Maybe two or three times a week when we have the time to meet up.”

 

“I think that’s more than often enough to hold you to that part of the deal,” retorted Sadayo with a small smirk. “Given how often I’m at school after hours and how often you’re coming by to see the rest of them.”

 

“When you put it like that, I have little choice to but to agree with you.” Yusuke bowed his head slightly and gave her an understanding smile. “I just wanted to make sure we were on the same page before we set anything in stone.”

 

“It’s fine.” Sadayo bowed her head in thanks and looked at the others. “I appreciate you asking before jumping to conclusions. Do any of you have any other questions you’d like to ask?”

 

“I think we get the gist of it.” Ryuji stepped away from the wall, hands stuffed into his pockets as he gave both of them a grin. “Anything else you two wanna tell us or can we get this show on the road? I’m getting bored just standing around talkin’.”

 

“Same here,” Futaba held out her phone to Akira and practically shouted, “I found a shop near by that has a super rare Neo Featherman Pink figure that I’ve been looking forever for and then there’s a takoyaki joint that’s got killer ratings and...and..”

 

“There’ll be time enough for that Futaba,” groaned Makoto as she pulled the younger girl away. “We still have three days left so let’s just do what they feel comfortable with for today and the day before we leave we can do all the sightseeing stuff.”

 

“But my...”

 

“What’s more important? A toy or them?”

 

Futaba looked back at Akira and Sadayo, then at Makoto before huffing and saying, “I guess I can call him and give him my card to use for a down payment.”

 

“Good idea.” Haru took Futaba’s hand and pulled her back into the group, her zealous smile returning to her face. “So, what do you two feel comfortable doing now that you have us all here?”

 

Remembering Ryuji’s comments from earlier, Akira opted that they all go to a movie after the excitement from the past couple days. A few of them groaned, but when Akira pointed out that the sun would still be out by the time the movie was over, and most of the shops would still be open they all quieted down and agreed.

 

When they returned to the main road, only a few people gave them odd looks and outside of that their trip to the theater was relatively uneventful. Though he was glad to not be the center of attention, Akira remained close to Sadayo, as Ann, Haru, and Yusuke asked questions about how everything came to be.

 

“It’s not really that interesting,” chuckled Sadayo with a deep blush to her cheeks, “we just spent a lot of time together getting to know one another after he found out about my blackmailers.”

 

“I see.” Haru tapped her chin and looked at Akira with a small smirk asking, “How did you find out about that?”

 

“Uhh….” Akira stammered for a moment as he came up with a suitable reply. He looked to Sadayo who gave him a wink and coughed loudly saying, “I was having issues with some of my Japanese homework. I figured since she didn’t like me that much it might help if I showed that I was serious about my studies. If I could do that, maybe she’d ask the rest of the staff to lay off of me.”

 

“It worked," grinned Haru with a look that seemed to say she saw through Akira's lie. "Considering the fact that most of the staff wrote to the courts in your defense, I’d say your plan worked like a charm.”

 

“Cute, Haru.” Ann rolled her eyes at the grin on the shorter girls face but smiled herself. “I’d have to admit though I thought something was funny considering how both of you seemed to have disappeared during the school festival and how often I saw you two talking privately.”

 

“You saw that?” Sadayo’s face turned a bright shade of pink and a small blush appeared on Akira’s cheeks.

 

“Saw which part? You two sneaking off into that room or how often I’d see him walking away from you leaving him and you grinning like idiots.”

 

“We didn’t do anything, Ann.” Akira could feel all eyes turning on him at Ann’s words. “We weren’t that stupid.”

 

“I believe you,” answered Ann in a sing-song voice. “I’m surprised you two were able to keep this quiet for so long.”

 

“Yeah, yeah.” Ryuji turned around, walking backward carefully as they approached the theater. “He ever get all moody and depressed on you Sadayo-san or is he one of those overly sensitive guys from those chick flicks my mom watches?"

 

“He’s actually very sweet.” Sadayo smiled up at Akira and winked causing him to shrink a bit and look down at his feet. “I mean he can be moody like you said." Sadayo stopped for a moment and decided to seize the opportunity to tease her boyfriend. "Actually he’s been really moody lately, and a bit clingy.”

 

“Hey!” Akira gave his girlfriend a reproachful look and stuck out his tongue. “I’d like to think I’ve been doing a lot better over the past couple of weeks.”

 

“You’re getting there.” Sadayo gave him a gentle nudge with her elbow and chuckled.

 

“Has he told you about our missions?” It was Yusuke who spoke up, his face calm, but his gaze oddly piercing.

 

“He hasn’t told me everything.” Sadayo gave Yusuke an apologetic smile. “But, I do know quite a bit about what you guys got up to.”

 

“Define, ‘quite a bit’.” Makoto’s face was set in a sort of inquisitorial expression but didn’t seem threatening.

 

Sadayo adjusted the bag on her shoulder as she said, “He explained to me about how you all stole hearts. The palaces, the shadows, even Mementos to some extent. It was all a little over my head but I got the basic idea. I found it all rather fascinating and if you had any information I would have liked to read a bit more about it, but Akira said that most of the research was destroyed or confiscated.”

 

“It is,” Futaba answered a little too quickly. She noticed Sadayo’s eyebrows raise before adding, “I mean that it was confiscated and not much of it exists anymore.”

 

“I see,” Sadayo replied, eyeing Futaba suspiciously but remaining quiet about it. “Well, maybe you all would be willing to fill me in on some of the things he doesn’t seem so keen on answering.”

 

“Akira is keeping secrets from you?” Ryuji’s eyes widened in mock surprise. “Say it isn’t so!”

 

“Really?” Akira rolled his eyes and shook his head.

 

“I don’t pressure him when he feels uncomfortable.” Sadayo began fishing through her bag for her wallet as she spoke. Pulling it out she began walking toward the ticket counter only to be stopped by the Phantoms.

 

“What?” Sadayo looked at all of them and back at Akira. “I was going to pay for us, it’s the least I can...”

 

“We have it covered,” said Makoto waving everyone over, as Sadayo tried to protest. “Think of it as a way for us to at least begin to apologize for our intrusion on your vacation.”

 

All of them, including a rather relaxed Ryuji, handed Makoto a series of bills while she removed a card from her own wallet.

 

“Why are you guys doing this?” Akira looked at all his friends in surprise. “We can p...”

 

“Dude come here,” Ryuji separated from the group and wandered over while Makoto and all save Haru and Yusuke wandered over to the counter. Aware of what the two of them were trying to do, Ryuji turned and said, “Can you two go find something else to do? Seriously, you’re almost as nosy as Futaba.”

 

“Fine,” Haru stepped back and patted Yusuke on the shoulder and pointed at the counter before looking to Sadayo. “Do you have any preference in movies?”

 

“As long as it’s not a horror film, I’ll be happy with whatever you guys pick.”

 

“Sounds easy enough,” Yusuke said with a small chuckle. “We’ll relay it to the others.”

 

When they were gone, Akira turned to Sadayo to see if Sadayo wanted to stay, but Ryuji interrupted him and said, “She needs to hear this too.” Ryuji took a deep breath, and crammed his hands into his pockets and looked nervously between them and said, “Don’t worry too much about paying for stuff right now. We kinda put together a group fund to pay for shit like this as part of the surprise and one extra person ain't a big deal."

 

“But,” Sadayo was silenced just as the word passed her lips.

 

“Just go with it, for now.” Ryuji gave her a smile and winked. “Besides, I’m pretty sure you guys’ll have a lot of time to pay us back.”

 

Ryuji clapped Akira on the shoulder and chuckled just as the others arrived with the tickets. All of them save for Futaba looked a little perturbed by the tickets, save for Yusuke who looked almost as happy as the redhead. Before he could look down at his ticket, Akira’s arm was nearly pulled from its socket as Futaba pulled him toward the entrance while Sadayo followed closely behind, laughing quietly as she read her ticket.

 

“Phoenix Featherman Ranger R: The Road to Victory.” Sadayo rolled her eyes and shrugged, turning to a giggling Haru and saying. “Well, it could be worse.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 10

“Are you sure we’re in a movie theater,” asked Sadayo as she stared up in awe at the ceiling as they had their tickets torn.

She had expected the usual glare of fluorescent bulbs and stainless steel and linoleum, but instead, the theater had chandeliers emitting soft lights and large hardwood counters with display cases of treats and other goodies. Turning around she saw the rest of the Phantoms gaping like she had; while Akira looked completely at home in the surroundings. Several people had to ask them to move and the large group stepped out of the way for a few families with children, some of them wearing the masks of the characters from the movie they were seeing.

“Are we sure there wasn’t any other movie?” Ann looked desperate to get out of the situation, but Futaba, Ryuji, Makoto, and Haru all looked quite happy at the idea of seeing the movie.

“I’m fairly certain this was the better of the four choices we were given.” Yusuke looked around at the four posters and shook his head at the one for the zombie film. “I highly doubt most of us feel like sitting through that gore-fest.”

“I already saw it anyway.” Ryuji shrugged and pointed at the poster with his thumb. “It’s pretty cool, but there’s a lot of blood, guts, creepy zombies, pretty sure Akira’d dig it.”

“Real cute Ryuji.” Akira snorted while Ryuji chuckled and winked.

“Aww come on man.” Ryuji walked up and gave Akira a gentle prod in the chest. “You don’t wanna take her to a scary movie and cuddle up nice and close?”

“Ryuji,” Akira’s voice was dropping but was keeping his cool, “you’re pushing the wrong buttons right now.”

“All right, all right.” Ryuji took notice of Akira’s change in tone and Sadayo’s averted gaze. “I was just trying to have some fun.”

“It’s fine.” Sadayo shot a quick glance at Ryuji and huffed loudly. “But just a forewarning, I don’t have a lot of patience for teasing like that at the moment.”

“Message received.” Ryuji gave them both a smirk and then waved for Futaba and Yusuke to come join him at the concession stand. He looked back at Akira and Sadayo, a nervous look on his face as he asked, “Do you two...want anything? It’s on us.”

“You hungry?” Akira gave Sadayo shrug toward the stand and she shook her head.

“Maybe in a bit. We have some time before the movie so I’ll see how I feel then.”

“Sounds good.” Ryuji gave them a nod and headed toward in a slightly more slouched version of his usual hunch.

“Think we were too hard on him?” Sadayo watched as Ryuji, along with Futaba and Yusuke, began ordering a large number of snacks.

“I think being hard on them is what we need right now.” Akira watched as several people began filing into two of the theaters. “They won’t let up on us so we can’t let up on them. Kind of like how you were in the side street.”

“Yeah, that was,” Sadayo adjusted her purse and smirked as she watched Ann, Makoto, and Haru tried to figure out an old pinball machine, “that was draining. Honestly, I’m so nervous right now that I just want to curl up and hide under the blankets again."

“You’re doing great.” Akira dared to give her a kiss on the cheek and saw Futaba turn just as he did and cover her mouth before turning back around.

“Could have done without that.” Sadayo shook her head but gave his free hand a quick squeeze in appreciation.

“If you want maybe I can join you under those blankets again when we get back to the house?” Akira wiggled his eyebrows which got him a playful shove.

“I’ll think about it.” Sadayo pointed at the small cluster of the older girls and Akira nodded saying he’d be with Ryuji and the others.

Her heart pounded in her chest as she walked toward them. It was her first real interaction with them without Akira. Her impulse to run into the bathroom was slowly taking control, but with a few deep breaths, she drove that fear away along with a large lump that had been forming in the back of her throat. However, that didn’t help remove her feet from being stuck to the floor and she couldn’t help but stare as Makoto and Ann argued over how best to play the game.

Haru was the only one who noticed what was going on and separated from her friends and headed over, her excited smile replaced with concern.

“Are you okay Kawa...Sadayo-san?”

“I don’t know.” Sadayo coughed and looked down at her slightly shaking knees. “I know what I want to do but I can’t do it.”

“Why don’t you tell me what you want to do?” Haru moved a bit closer and placed a gentle hand on Sadayo’s shoulder. “Just be honest and say what’s on your mind. “

Strangely enough, Sadayo felt herself relax and her knees stop shaking. Looking up, the manic glee from earlier was replaced by genuine concern and affection. Chuckling, Sadayo gave her legs a few test lifts and let out a sigh of relief before saying, “I don’t want to be afraid any more. But, I don’t think that’s going to happen for a long time.”

“Maybe.” Haru gave her an understanding nod and risked another touch on the shoulder. “We’re all a bit afraid right now.”

“You could have fooled me.” They both shared a small laugh before Sadayo added, “How are you all able to deal with this so easily?”

“We’ve dealt with a lot.” Haru’s face fell as she spoke. "And we've all seen things we wish we could forget."

“I’m sorry.” It was the first time Sadayo had been able to say this to Haru, or any of them for all the pain they’d gone through. “I saw it as well, I don't know...I'm sorry...I feel like such an idiot.”

"It's not your fault." Haru gave her a pained smile and sighed. "In some ways, it's our fault but mostly it was my father's and Shido's." She sniffed and Sadayo noticed tears welling in her eyes. "I just wish we'd been able to save him."

"I know." Sadayo sighed and gave her a sympathetic smile. "He's told me about some of it but I've never got the chance to ask any of you how you've been handling all that's happened.

“It’s hell,” Haru said plain and simple. "Well at least for me it feels like it some days." Her face was like stone as she spoke, but a small stream of tears flowed down her cheeks. “But, I have them,” she waved at her friends who were all busy doing their own thing, “I have a good therapist ,I have my schoolwork and Sojiro’s taking care of me by training me, my plans for my cafe, but it’s hard. I have moments where all I can do is see him and think about that bastard he almost made me marry and as much as I miss him there are times that I can't help but be angry with him.”

Haru wiped away a few stray tears and sniffed, “I’m sorry about this. I’m supposed to be comforting you and I’m having a small breakdown.”

“No apologies necessary.” Sadayo flexed her hands briefly and chewed on her lower lip before stepping forward and giving the girl a gentle hug. “I know this is strange to hear but I’m here for you just like him.”

Haru nodded and returned the hug briefly before separating from her old teacher, her lips parting in a soft smile. “That does help and the same goes for you. I know it’ll take some time, but the others will come around soon enough. It’ll just take some adjustment.”

“You mean as quickly as you and Yusuke?”

“We all have our quirks.” Haru chuckled and wiped away a stray tear. “I think it’s just easier for Yusuke. Like he said, he doesn’t have a history with you so he’s not as….unnerved by this predicament.”

“I’ll say.” Ann approached, leaving Makoto to the ringing bells of the pinball machine.

“I thought you said, you saw me and Akira at the school?”

“Well yeah, I did.” Ann gave Sadayo a nervous smirk and added, “But it was just after we helped you, so I didn’t think too much of it. I figured you were just thanking him for helping out.”

“Uh huh.” Sadayo crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow.

“Not like that!” Ann’s face turned a bright red when she realized how that must have sounded. “I just meant that you seemed to be a lot more relaxed and I heard people saying how much you were helping them so I figured you were just being nice.”

“I see.” Sadayo clicked her tongue as she spoke and coughed. “So, does that mean you didn’t think I was nice before?”

“NO!” Ann was getting more and more flustered, while Akira and the others appeared behind her. “I….” Ann’s face was a bright red and she began looking around for help and focused on Akira who was absentmindedly sipping a soda. “Akira you deal with her, this is getting too weird.”

“What happened?” Akira looked at his girlfriend and then at Ann who had returned to watching Makoto playing her game.

“I think I may have pushed a joke too far.”

“What kind of joke?” Futaba asked appearing with a bunch of snacks in her arms. “Was it a dirty joke?”

“More like the kind of joke you and Yusuke play on each other.” Sadayo took the soda Akira offered her and sipped.

“You pranked her?” Yusuke was handing Haru a couple of things, while Ryuji nibbled on a few bits of popcorn.

“In a manner of speaking.” Sadayo took another sip of her soda and looked over to where Makoto was now cussing at the pinball machine and earning the ire of the security officer on duty.

“Do….I need to talk to her?” Akira looked over at the two girls who were now approaching. Ann’s face was still as red as it had been and Makoto was looking concerned, but mostly upset that she’d lost at pinball.

“I’d let it go, for now, man.” Ryuji popped a few more kernels in his mouth and waved at the girls. “You know how she can get when she’s upset.”

“That’s true.” Akira shook his head and looked at Sadayo whose focus was on the theater door instead of them. “How much time do we have left?”

“About five minutes or so,” announced a freshly arrived Makoto. “We should probably get in there and grab our seats. We uhh,” she gave Akira and Sadayo a nervous smirk, “we tried to get you to a private seat but there wasn’t much choice so you’re going to have to sit with us. I hope that isn’t a problem.”

“That’s fine with us.” Sadayo gave Akira a nervous grin. “I think it’d just make things more strained than they are. Plus, I think all of your necks would get tired from turning back to look at us.”

Akira nearly choked on his soda as she said this, earning him several slaps on the back from Futaba who was giggling madly and began pulling on Akira’s arm.

“Come on you guys! The previews are about to start!”

“Quit pulling on me, Futaba!” Akira tried to fight the girl's strength but somehow found it more difficult than he used to. “They’re just previews!”

“No, they aren’t!’ Futaba and Akira, along with a few of their other friends disappeared into the theater, Futaba going on about the importance of previews as she led the march like some sort of manic drill sergeant.

“You all are definitely a lot more lively than I’d originally imagined,” hummed Sadayo as she and Makoto followed behind them.

“It’s best to let them get their excitement out now,” sighed Makoto as they approached the theater door. “Heaven knows what type of trouble they’ll get into if we don’t.”

When they entered, Sadayo was greeted by the loud screams of excited kids, the shouts of a rather large amount of teenagers, and the sight of her boyfriend still getting his ear chewed off by an orange haired hacker while Yusuke chatted with Ann, Ryuji, and Haru over the back of his seat. While being surrounded by this many people was enough to send a shiver down her spine, Sadayo knew she couldn’t run from this. Not only would it be rude, but it would go against what she and Akira had promised and wanted to accomplish.

Once again she steeled herself and headed up the stairs and made her way into through the sea of kids surrounding her feet. Several were wearing masks of the characters. Some smiled up at her, laughing and cheering while their parents laughed at their excitement. Seeing so many happy people actually helped her to relax and she settled in next to Akira who was finally free of Futaba’s incessant yammering and could now focus on talking to Makoto and Ryuji about what they thought would happen in the movie.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of the same.” Makoto stole some of Ryuji’s popcorn and wolfed down a handful. “You know, some awkward beginning where they’re all normal, then the bad guys show up, monster fight, then happy ending before a cliffhanger.”

“I heard it’s a lot different.” Futaba turned around and joined in on the conversation, bouncing gently in her seat. “The newest series has actually been going in a lot of new directions. Some of the new characters have brought in a huge change in allegiances, there’s some romance, like real romance, and they even had a few characters die and they didn’t get revived!”

“Really?” Haru leaned down and got eye level with Futaba. “They’ve actually had permanent deaths?”

“Probably.” Futaba rested her chin in her hands and huffed. “They usually end up finding some way to bring someone back. I hope they don’t though, I like how it adds to the story.”

“What do you think Kaw...Sadayo-san.” It was Yusuke this time who was in the middle of eating some fried item.

“I’m sorry?” Sadayo peeked over her shoulder and looked at the painter. Ann was busy talking with Makoto again, who had taken the far seat next to Futaba.

“What do you think will happen in the movie?” Yusuke extended his treat and she took some, chewing it slowly as he spoke. “I’ve not watched much of these shows, we occasionally do when there’s nothing to do but my knowledge is limited.”

“I haven’t watched these since I was in elementary school.” Sadayo felt a blush form in her cheeks when she realized how old it made her sound. “I used to go over to a friend’s house after school and we’d run around with masks, his toy weapons, and watch the show before homework.” Sadayo noticed a little girl staring up at her and waved happily. The girl waved back and smiled happily before turning back around happily in her seat and talking to her father excitedly. "But, it's been years since I paid attention to it."

“Well, at least I’m not the only one out of the loop.” Yusuke sat back just as the lights began to dim.

The theater fell mostly silent, the only sound from the audience now being excited whispers from the kids and their parents telling them to remain calm. Once the screen lit up, Sadayo looked around nervously and was surprised to see that Akira’s friends were all focused on their own side conversations and gave a nervous look at Akira who was focused on the screen. Her fingers flexed in her lap and she decided to busy herself with playing with her soda, painfully aware of how he'd been feeling on their date.

“Is the drink okay?” He whispered, giving her a glance. The reflection of some candy commercial reflected in his glasses.

“It’s fine.” She reached up and took his glasses off and handed them to him. She noticed Yusuke, Ryuji, and Makoto all staring at them. Her face flared up and she stuffed her hands into her lap and gave a sideways glance to Akira. “Sorry, it’s just hard to look at you with the reflection.”

“Don’t worry about it.” He gave her a smile and placed his hand on the arm rest between them. He noticed her hands clench together and he understood her feelings all too well. “Do you want to go and get something stronger? They sell alcohol if you feel it'll help?”

Sadayo shook her head and was beginning to wish that they’d been able to get a couples seat. The arm rest between them was helpful in keeping unnecessary attention off them, but she wanted some privacy so she could at least let her head rest on his shoulder or wrap her arm around his. When another preview started, this time one for a children’s movie, Sadayo turned her focus on the screen and rolled her eye sat it. She didn’t know what it was, but whenever she saw ads like this Sadayo wondered if children movies had always been that bad.

As that trailer bled into she felt something brush against her thigh and jumped slightly, nearly spilling her drink. The Phantoms all turned in her direction, all save Akira whose hands remained at his side; a small smirk played at the corners of his mouth. She waved them all away save for Ryuji who offered her a bit of candy and turned back to the screen, chewing on the sweet.

“What the hell was that about,” asked Ryuji to Ann as Sadayo began casting side ways glances at her boyfriend.

“I don’t care,” Ann was still upset about what had happened in the lobby. She didn’t know exactly what her teacher was getting at by acting that way, but Ann was beginning to wish she’d stayed at the hotel.

“You know she was just messing with you right?” Ryuji, whispered as if knowing what was on her mind before beginning to hum along with the movie’s theme song.

“She could have been a little more obvious about it,” Ann huffed as the movie began with an action scene. As they expected the acting was a bit over the top, but surprisingly subdued from the series she'd occasionally watched as a kid.

“I think it’s just her nerves,” whispered Haru over Ryuji. “This isn’t an easy situation, Ann.”

“No kidding.” Ann shifted in her seat and tried to focus on the movie, but something was bugging her. She watched as Akira leaned over to talk with Futaba who was enraptured with the movie. Taking a sip of her own drink, she then turned to Ryuji and asked, “You don’t think Akira was serious about that whole tutoring thing were you?”

“Hell no.” Ryuji looked at Haru who was almost as enthralled with the movie as Futaba and asked, “What do you think Haru?”

Haru stopped eating one of her snacks and looked at Ryuji, upset that her movie viewing had been interrupted, but more than willing to discuss Akira’s situation.

“I think it’s the best they could come up with. We kind of put them on the spot and I don’t think they had an answer.”

“They should have,” added Makoto as Akira turned his attention to Sadayo. She whispered something in his ear and pointed at the screen. They all watched as he covered his mouth to keep from laughing too loudly just as one of the characters fell off a cliff with an enemy during a fight. “But I think, Haru is right and we should just give them time to sort out how much they want to tell us."

“I guess.” Ann snagged some of Ryuji’s popcorn and chewed it slowly. “I bet it has something to do with that part-time job she had.”

“Well, no shit.” Ryuji turned to Ann and gave a shrug. “But you saw what happened the last time I tried to get an answer out of him about this. If you wanna try to go right ahead and see how that turns out.”

Ann snorted at Ryuji but knew he was right. As much as she was willing to give the teacher the chance, something kept bothering her. It wasn’t that she had anything against Kawakami personally, but like Ryuji, she was having an issue with all the secrets they were keeping. Growling to herself, Ann turned her attention to the screen just as a bad guy appeared and began laying waste to the heroes, making all of the kids in the audience, and Futaba, gasp loudly and decided to let the conversation die for now.

As the movie progressed, Sadayo found herself growing more relaxed with the situation. Maybe it was because of the crowd, or the movie pulling their focus away from them. She heard hushed whispers behind them, but couldn’t hear them thanks to the speakers. The movie itself was entertaining and she found herself getting somewhat invested in the characters, despite some of the shallower aspects of the writing. While she was engrossed with the plot, she felt a familiar touch on her thigh again but instead of jumping, noticed that it was Akira’s hand fidgeting with the arm rest between them. She gave him a look and was about to ask what the problem was, but smirked when she saw his hand finally managed to slip itself under it and into her lap with his palm up. Chuckling she gave a quick glance around before placing her hand in his and squeezing gently

“Are you having fun?” he whispered as one of the villains was struck down, making all of the kids and a few of the older patrons cheer.

“I am.” She gave his hand another gentle squeeze. “It’s kind of nice. The movie’s not great, but it's pretty fun. I'm glad we got to do this, we need to do this more when you...oh that looked like it hurt." Sadayo grimaced as one of the heroes took a rather nasty blow from an axe and keeled over.

“Could be worse,” Akira whispered as Futaba shouted with a few kids and even some of his friends let out gasps.

“How so,” Sadayo found herself silently rooting for the blue featherman to get on their feet.

“They could have ended up losing a limb or something,” Akira smirked at the nervousness in her eyes. “But they’ll probably get up and...there it is.” He pointed at the screen as the blue one got up and delivered a killing blow from behind.

“Spoilsport.” Sadayo stuck her tongue out at him and gave another quick glance over her shoulder. His friends were still focused on the movie and decided to risk it. Shifting in her seat, she inched closer and slowly moved her head to his shoulder. She felt him jerk slightly at the initial touch, but eventually, he relaxed and let her head rest on his shoulder for the remainder of the movie both of them painfully aware of the quiet laughter from their fellow movie-goers.

When it was over, her head immediately lifted and their hands separated, to allow other patrons to leave while getting odd looks from the Phantoms. They didn’t say anything, instead, they just smiled as they walked by the couple, even Ann seemed to have thawed a bit and as they exited the theater they broke into conversation about the movie. Most of them found it a bit boring, but they still reveled in its action and cliched plot and laughed at many of the sillier moments. Futaba seemed to be the only one taking it seriously and after a few quick teases from some of the others she huffed and stamped her foot at Haru and Ryuji who seemed to be teasing her the most.

“If that’s the way it’s gonna be I’m gonna go and do what I want without you jerks!”

“Futaba!” Ann ran after the younger girl and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “Just take a deep breath and calm down a bit. Ryuji! Haru!”

Both of them trotted on ahead and as the others hung back they all watched as Haru and Ryuji apologized for their teasing. They all watched as Futaba made a few rude comments and gestures, all of which had the older teens smiling which only seemed to enrage her more. Finally having enough, Futaba wandered off, with Haru hot on her heels and Makoto following after while Ann and Ryuji stayed behind; Ryuji looking distraught over Futaba’s reaction and Ann shaking her head.

“I don’t need to hear it, Ann.” Ryuji sighed as they caught up to them. “I know I crossed the line. I’ll make it up to her later.”

“You gotta make it up to her as well Haru.”

“Of course!” Haru gave a nervous chuckle at Ann’s glare and scratched the back of her head nervously. “Maybe we should find this shop she’s talking about. I think if Ryuji and I pitch in and buy her something she’ll calm down, that usually works.”

“Maybe.” Ryuji waved them over as he shouted, “Yo, Akira! You know where she’d be headin’?!”

Akira only knew of one place that sold things like that and sure enough, they found Futaba in the shop, browsing excitedly. She looked like she’d forgotten about everything, but when she saw Ryuji and Haru approaching, the girl took a few of the toys in front of her and headed to the counter. They couldn’t hear anything, but the embarrassed looks on the older teens faces and the appearance of their wallets told the whole story. When they exited, both Haru and Ryuji looked exhausted from their brief excursion while Futaba smiled as her rare action figure was now accompanied by a few smaller figurines.

Shaking his head and muttering about the money he'd just spent, Ryuji fidgeted around for something in his pocket and then looked at the others and asked, “Since it looks like we ain’t gonna have a lot of time left today you guys wanna do this now?”

“Do what?” Sadayo looked at all of them, concerned that they were about to pull something embarrassing.

“Relax,” Ryuji pulled a slightly crumpled envelope from his pocket and waved it at the couple, “it ain’t anything bad…well it might be, I dunno.”

“What do you mean not really?” Akira looked at all the others who were smirking to themselves. “What’d you guys do?’

“It’s your birthday present!” Futaba giggled as she watched Akira take the envelope from Ryuji. “We bought them thinking your sister would be here, but since she isn’t we were wondering how Sadayo would feel about coming with us so we kinda didn’t want to force it.”

“Those things were difficult to procure,” chimed in Yusuke as they pulled off to the side to allow others to pass them, “but we figured it’d be a nice change of pace.”

“Okay,” Akira opened up the envelope and pulled out several thin bits of paper and looked them. His eyes widened as he read them and handed them over to Sadayo asking, “You wanna go?”

Sadayo read the paper and found that they were tickets to a water park, sending her stomach into knots. Her ears were burning, and instead of confirming she handed the tickets back to Akira and gripped at her purse and chewed on her lower lip.

“Can you guys give us a minute?” asked Akira after seeing her face drop.

The group all agreed and after Akira asked them to meet them at the department store across the street. When they were gone he turned to her and asked, “What’s the matter?”

Looking up she saw the concern in his eyes and shook her head, “It’s nothing, I’m just being stupid.”

“If it was nothing, I don’t think you would have frozen like that.” He rested against the wall of the shop they were standing in front of and said, “You know you can say no, right? I’m not going to force you to go.”

“It’s not that I don’t want to go.” Sadayo shook her head and fidgeted. “I’m just worried about getting embarrassed again.”

“Embarrassed how?” One of Akira’s eyebrows arched as he chuckled. “It’s a water park...the worst they’ll see is oh...I see.”

“Yeah,” Sadayo watched the light dawn in his eyes as he spoke. “Like I said it’s a stupid thing to get nervous about.”

“It’s a bit silly, yeah.” Akira’s smile refused to leave his face. “Considering everything some of them have seen.”

“No kidding,” grumbled Sadayo at Akira’s smile. “I really don’t need another reminder about that.”

“I can wear a Speedo if that'll help you feel better about wearing a bathing suit.”

Sadayo immediately burst into laughter at Akira’s suggestion and gave him a gentle shove. “Oh my god! Why would you put that image in my head!?”

“I dunno.” Akira shrugged and laughed with her. When they finally calmed down he took her hand and rubbed the back of it with his thumb. “But if it helps I’ll just go in normal clothes to take the pressure off or I can go with my previous suggestion. They've seen more of me than you so I don't think it'll faze them that much.”

"How about you just regular old swim trunks." She walked up to him and stared into his eyes. "I kind of like being the only one who gets to see that side of you."

"Front or back?" Akira wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her close.

"I prefer the front, but the back definitely has its perks."

"Then we'll go into the department store and I'll see if I can find a more revealing bathing suit to help you get ready for tomorrow."

“Let’s make that our tertiary plan.” Sadayo gave him a long kiss and moaned when she felt him nibble her lower lip when they parted she whispered, “But, if you want to help me feel comfortable, maybe I can model the suit I brought later tonight?”

Akira’s eyes lit up at this prospect and said, “You didn’t even have to ask.”