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Affection's Sanctuary

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This moment, taking place on chill night at the corner diagonal from Nao’s apartment, has been coming for months. The last official connection between them and the Liar Game has literally driven off in a taxicab, leaving Akiyama and Nao to wrestle with the fall out, and somehow let their ordinary lives resume.

“Here we are.” Nao says, looking out into the street. Her place, the second nearest to their street on the top level, is the only one tonight without a light shining through the window. Her statement stretches back months. It’s not only her apartment that’s within sight, but the end of the natural association that’s bound them since that first moment Nao crashed into Akiyama.

“Here we are.” He echoes. She needs to go home, and the loose ends from the Liar Game need to be cut. The train to his beat-up run down place departs from the station the opposite way, and it’s late enough that if he lingers too long with this goodbye, he’ll miss the last one.

“Akiyama-san?”

“Hmm?”

They stand still in the silence for a while. That’s fine. The rain continues to fall around them, but under their umbrella is a self-contained world of two people and a moment that hasn't yet had its chance. If this time wants to last a little while longer, Akiyama can’t find the motivation to rush it.

“I guess…I just wanted to say thank you for staying beside me. It must have been a bother to have had to look out for me through all that.” She pauses. “Can I hug you?”

The waver in her voice hits his heart. “That’s fine.” Her arms go under Akiyama’s and her hands curl up over his shoulders. One of Akiyama’s hands keeps a hold on the umbrella—the container of this one last goodbye—while the other pulls her as close to him as physically possible. Her head fits perfectly beneath his chin, and when he tilts his head down his mouth touches the crown of her head.

Months’ worth of confessions pile up. He’s held off saying the words, for her safety, for his safety, for the snarl of ethical and logistical issues that would come from making his admission during the Liar Game. Those reasons are gone. Certainly more still stand in the way, but Akiyama can see a million probable futures, all branching off from now. The words that still need years for him to say aloud come out as a slight motion of his lips against her hair tonight.

“Akiyama-san?”

Nao steps back slightly.

“Nao.” Her not-uncommon name sounds so heavy on his lips, indelibly associated with this amazingly kind, determined young woman whose orbit he fell into. No other Nao could compare. She’s done so much for total strangers and even more for him. One day, he’ll let her know how much of him is wrapped up in her. All he can do this evening is correct the immediate misconceptions. “I always had to look out for you, but it was never a bother. I liked doing it.”

“Akiyama-san…” She hugs him again. No matter his address, those slight arms are the closest to home he’s had for a while. His free hand tilts her head up to look into the eyes of the person who’s so unraveled him.

“Would you mind if I looked out for you a little while longer?” In lieu of his true feelings, it’s as close to a confession as he can get.

Nao shakes her head. Her smile radiates familiar warmth and boundless comforting energy. “I wouldn't mind at all. I think…it could be good, actually.”

After that, the umbrella falls. If the moment ends, or if he misses the last train home and has to walk home through this soaking, dark city, then those outcomes are acceptable. It takes both arms to hold her as tight as he needs to.

Not even Akiyama can tell which of the countless possible outcomes will result from this night. Yet, he completely agrees with Nao. This could be very, very good.