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It's nearing midnight, and Akihiko is brewing another pot of coffee -- and hating himself for it; at least if it were tea he could tell himself the antioxidants made up for the caffeine -- when his phone buzzes.

He pulls it off his belt. "Sanada."

"Thought you'd still be awake."

Akihiko blinks, and sits down hard in one of the rickety chairs at his kitchen table. "Shinji," he says. It's been what, six years? They fought about it when he wanted to go into the police academy, then fought worse when he agreed to join the Persona Special Investigation Team, and after that -- "How did you get this number?"

"Social engineering," Shinji says, which is no answer at all. From the sound of his voice he knows it, too. "How are you holding up?"

"You called me on my work phone at quarter to midnight to ask how I'm doing?"

There's a shifting sound that he imagines is Shinji shrugging. "You don't have your old number anymore. I tried it earlier. Got some high school girl who thought I was a pervert."

"Sorry," Akihiko says. "I wasn't really in touch with anybody by the time I got rid of it."

"I know," Shinji says. "You weren't easy to track down."

Akihiko watches the coffee drip slowly into the pot. "Honestly," he says, "things aren't going so well."

"Yeah," Shinji says. He takes an audible breath. "I saw the news about Kanzato this afternoon."

Just like that. They've never been able to go easy on each other. "You want me to say you were right, and I shouldn't have stayed with the Persona team?"

Shinji sighs. "Not really. I want you to tell me where you're staying, and say I can come see you."

"What, now?" Akihiko says. "Don't you have work in the morning?"

"Cut that out," Shinji says. "It's my turn to worry about you, for once."

Akihiko's first instinct is to say no, it's fine, he doesn't need anything. But if anybody will understand why Ryou's disappearance is so upsetting -- "Thanks," Akihiko says. He gives Shinji his address, says goodnight, hangs up. When he goes to check his recent calls, so he can add Shinji's number to his phone, he's not surprised to see it come up as Unknown. Shinji never could stand to make it easy for anyone to find him.

The coffee finishes brewing and Akihiko pours himself a cup, but he doesn't really drink any, just sits there watching the steam curl up from it. The smell's better than the taste, anyway. And no matter how much he'd like to think otherwise, he knows he's not going to solve this case tonight. It's an ugly situation, a woman dead, a Persona user missing, and all the evidence pointing to --

It wasn't Shinji's fault twelve years ago, and it's probably not Ryou's fault now. Akihiko gets up from the table and paces, from the kitchen to the living room and back again. He thinks he might like to go running, if he didn't have company on the way. It wouldn't shut off the looping worry in his brain, but it might wear him out, at least.

The knock at the door comes sooner than he expected, like either Shinji is in a hurry or he never was all that far away. Akihiko unbolts the door and pulls it open, and feels like the last seven or eight years haven't happened.

"You haven't changed at all," he says. Shinji's even wearing the same coat he remembers from that last winter they saw each other.

"Yeah, you look like shit, too," Shinji says, with just a little hint of a smile.

"Come on in," Akihiko says, and tries not to think too hard about the way it feels like he can already breathe a little easier.

Shinji nods, and steps inside. "Not a bad place you've got here," he says. "A little empty, but not bad."

"Thanks," Akihiko says. Shinji takes his coat off and Akihiko reaches for it. "Work keeps me busy, you know, so there's not a lot of point to decorating." Their fingers brush for a second when he takes Shinji's coat. He wishes he didn't have his gloves on, then wishes he hadn't thought that. For all he knows, Shinji's moved on, found somebody else -- somebody who doesn't constantly remind him of everything that happened ten years ago, somebody he's never had a fistfight with.

On the other hand, he's here in the middle of the night because of something he saw on the news. "It's not going so easy for you, is it?" he asks.

Akihiko wants to deny it, but he's never been good at lying to anyone who matters. "Not really," he says. He feels a little shaky, and he blames the last pot of coffee wearing off instead of anything else. "I was -- I talked to him just last night, you know? Before -- whatever happened."

He sits down on the couch, and Shinji sits at the other end of it, watching him. "You guys are still pretty close, huh."

"I guess so," Akihiko says. That makes Shinji look...weird, though. "Not -- like that, or anything." All right, maybe once or twice when they were training together, but it...didn't click, not really. Akihiko didn't feel right about explaining everything to Ryou, and he's pretty sure Ryou didn't want to tell him much, either. They've probably both gotten most of the other's story out of the team's personnel files, but none of the important stuff is in there.

"He means something to you, though," Shinji says. "Not just anybody puts that look on your face."

"I guess," Akihiko says. He thinks of Ryou's quiet, strained admission about the drugs, wonders why it took him so long to notice again. "Mostly I wish I could have done more for him."

Shinji shakes his head. "Still trying to save the world?"

"It goes with the badge," Akihiko says. He rests his chin on his hands, isn't really looking at anything, seeing the autopsy photos of the first Reverse case in his mind's eye. "This case -- I mean, I can't really talk about any of the details. But it's ugly."

"I believe it," Shinji says. He sighs. "I'm not going to say anything stupid like I know you'll find him for sure. Shit doesn't always work out that easy." There's a pause. "But I think you have a good shot. Probably better than anyone else."

Akihiko nods. "Thanks," he says.

"Aki," Shinji says, and then doesn't say anything else until Akihiko looks up at him. "I'm sorry, okay? I -- should have known better than to try to talk you out of it." He smiles a little, but it looks sad. "You stubborn bastard."

"Had to be, to keep up with you," Akihiko says, and tries to smile back. He wants to crawl over to the other side of the couch, to lean into Shinji's side, to hold on, because the shaking is getting worse and he didn't sleep last night after he lost touch with Ryou and --

"I'm not going to try to get you to stop playing hero anymore," Shinji says. "But take care of yourself, okay?" He leans in, like he wants to cross the empty cushion between them, too. "You're going to make somebody worry."

"Shinji," Akihiko says, and isn't sure how to go on -- I miss you or There's never been anyone else, not really, or -- "I know it wouldn't be the same, but --"

"I wouldn't want it to," Shinji says. "You have a mean left cross."

Akihiko ducks his head. "You're never going to let me live that down, are you?"

"No," Shinji says, and then he moves, cloth shifting and the couch cushions sinking with his weight, and his arms around Akihiko's shoulders are still wiry but strong and warm. Akihiko holds on tight, like -- like he's been drowning so slowly he didn't know he needed someone to pull him back to the surface. Shinji smells strange, too clean, but that's okay, isn't it? It means he's healthier, now, is all.

"Thanks," Akihiko says, into the collar of Shinji's turtleneck. "I think I sort of -- really needed this."

"Yeah, well," Shinji says. He rubs Akihiko's back slowly. "Can't save the world alone, can you?"

"Guess not," Akihiko says. He turns his head and Shinji does too, and maybe they haven't done this for six years but it feels like neither of them has forgotten. The kiss is slow and wet and deep, and Akihiko's cock twitches a little when Shinji's teeth scrape his lip, but the sleep deprivation is dragging at him now that he's let himself relax for more than half a second. "Shinji," he says, pulling back, "I'm not sure I'm up for, um."

"Yeah, you've been running yourself ragged, haven't you?" Shinji says. "You never did know when to quit." He smiles as he lets go, and gets up to go padding into the kitchen. There's a click -- the coffee pot shutting off -- and then Shinji puts the light out in there, leans in the doorway. "You should get some sleep."

Akihiko nods. "Right," he says. He gets up from the couch and for a second he sees spots, but it clears. "You -- you can stay, if you want." When was the last time he said that to Shinji, to anyone?

"You want me on the couch?" Shinji asks.

Honestly? "No," Akihiko says.

Shinji's lip quirks up a little at the corner, and he says, "Lead the way, then."

Akihiko pushes open the door to his bedroom, and Shinji follows him. They undress by the soft yellow light of Akihiko's bedside lamp. Shinji's still too skinny, long-boned and lean, and when he takes his shirt off the deep puckered scar on his chest hasn't faded at all. Akihiko winces.

"Don't give me that look," Shinji says. "It's nearly as bad as a lecture."

"Sorry," Akihiko says. He turns back the covers, slides into bed in his boxer shorts, waits for Shinji to crawl in beside him before he reaches up to turn out the light. Shinji slides closer once it's dark, molds himself against Akihiko's back.

"Get some sleep," he says, his breath against Akihiko's nape.

"I'll try," Akihiko says. "In the morning --" In the morning he'll have to explain that he's leaving for Ayanagi City as soon as the transfer paperwork goes through; maybe he'll feel well enough for breakfast, or to explain what he can about the case; he'll want to check the medicine cabinet, and see if he still has any condoms around. "In the morning I want you to tell me who gave you my number."

Shinji makes a soft noise that isn't quite a laugh. "We'll see about that," he says.

Good enough.