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The Delinquent and His Lover

Chapter Text

Makoto was almost certain that someone was stalking her. Central Street was brimming with people, yet she could feel eyes boring into her back. She wrapped her arms around herself and hurried to the station. This was not the first time she had felt like this. In fact, she was pretty sure someone had been stalking her for over two weeks now.

Normally this wouldn’t have frightened her because she was well skilled in aikido and could defend herself if need be. But so far she hadn’t been able to catch whoever it was in the act. She hadn’t even seen anyone. The only proof that Makoto had was the faint sound of camera clicks when she walked home at night. Naturally this left her a little on edge. So when someone walked up behind her and grabbed her arm, she did the first thing that came to her mind: she hauled off and punched him in the face.

“Stop following me, you bastard!”

“Ah!” A loud grunt and her attacker fell to the ground, screaming in agony. The identity of her stalker turned out to be the infamous new transfer student, Akira Kurusu. Well, apparently he wasn’t just a delinquent but a pervert, too.

She pinned him to the ground with her foot. “You have five seconds to tell me why you’re following me.” She dug her foot into his chest. “Or else.”

“What the hell are you talking about? I only wanted to ask you for directions.” His words were barely coherent due to the blood gushing from his nose.

“Don’t lie to me. You’ve been following me for weeks now. Admit it.” She ground her heel in and relished in the sound of his agony.

“I’m not even allowed to leave my house at night! My guardian has been threatening to kick me out ever since I moved here. Do you honestly think I would risk violating my probation to stalk someone I don’t even know?”

People were starting to gather. Makoto looked down at Akira’s pitiful appearance and doubt started to creep in. From a logistic standpoint, his explanation made sense. Surely no one would be stupid enough to risk going to jail for such a pointless reason. But then again, the rumors swirling around made him out to be a dangerous punk who easily resorted to violence. Supposedly his friend group consisted of other people of the same caliber.

But looking down at him, he didn’t seem to be threatening. More like he really needed to go to the ER.

She took her foot off his chest. “Suppose what you say is true. Why did you come to me to ask for directions? There are plenty of maps around if you were lost.”

The look he gave her was downright murderous. “The tokyo subway system is the literal embodiment of all things evil in the world. What good is a map going to do me if I have to transfer trains two times and don’t know where I need to go in the first place? I saw your uniform in the crowd and thought you could help. Apparently a map would have been the safer choice.”

“Oh,” was all she could say. He had just moved here. From a small town no less. Of course he would need help navigating the subway system. She slapped a hand over her mouth, suddenly realising the grievous error she had just made. “I’m so sorry.” Grabbing some tissues out of her bag, she bent down and tried to dab at his nose.

He swatted her hand away. “Get away from me.”

“Please, I just want to help.”

“I don’t like your definition of help.”

“I need to see if it’s broken or not. Hold still.”

“It’s not in the same place it used to be so, yes, I think we can conclude it’s broken.”

Makoto wrestled his arms out of the way and caught the blood with the tissue. The area around it was already starting to swell and turn purple. She nibbled at her bottom lip. “Please let me take you to the hospital. You need immediate assistance.” He looked like he had been shot. There was blood all over his clothes. What was she going to do if he passed out?

“No.” He moved to get up, but she yanked him back down to the ground.

“Either you let me take you myself or I call for an ambulance. Those are your only options at the moment.”

For a moment, she thought he was going to refuse, but then he cast her another look of pure hatred and muttered, “Fine.”

~~

They had sat in awkward silence in the waiting room until the doctor called them back. She had purchased a 1UP from a nearby vending machine and tried to give it to him, but he had refused it. Makoto sat with her hands balled tightly into fists as the xrays showed that, yes indeed, his nose was broken. The doctor had to physically set it back into place and Akira’s loud cry of pain just further pierced her guilty conscious.

“I don’t suppose it would make a difference if I apologized again would it?”

Akira fiddled with the bottle of painkillers in his hand. “Maybe if you explain why you thought I was stalking you.” His eyes clouded over. “It was because of the rumors, wasn’t it?”

She winced. “Well, maybe. But I only suspected you because someone’s been following me for weeks now. As you’ve plainly witnessed, I’ve been a little on edge.”

He raised an eyebrow and waited for an explanation. When she had given it, he said, “That’s really creepy. Any idea who it is?”

She sighed. “Well, I do have one person in mind but I have no proof to back up my thesis.”

“So confront him.”

“It’s not so simple. The suspect in question is actually a popular host in Shinjuku.”

Akira snorted. “You don’t look like the type of girl who normally visits host clubs.” He eyed her up and down. “In fact, you don’t look like the type of girl who goes anywhere but the library.”

His teasing ignited a tiny ball of rage inside her. “Well, I also don’t look like the type of girl who could cave a man’s face in with just one punch, but here you sit as living proof.”

He smirked. “Touche.”

“But you are right. I only went because of my friend. However, I caught the attention of one of the hosts and now he texts me nonstop. I can’t even understand them half the time.”

Suddenly her phone buzzed and sure enough Tsukasa’s name popped up on the screen. With a groan she slid her finger across and read his message. Well, tried. There were so many abbreviations and emojis she couldn’t even begin to guess their meaning. “Why does he keep sending me emojis of vegetables?”

Akira’s body stiffened. “What vegetable, specifically?”

“Why? Does it matter?”

“Just tell me. In fact, read me the entire thing.”

She squinted at the screen. “Hey there qt pie emoji want 2 go on a daytrip? Then a purple emoji with horns, followed by a fire, and then an eggplant.”

Akira held out hand. “Give me the phone.”

Makoto handed the phone to Akira, suddenly nervous. “Is something wrong?”

Without answering, Akira’s thumbs began to fly furiously across the screen. When he handed it back to her, her heart stopped.

Hey, hate to break it to you, but Makoto can’t go on any daytrips because she’s with me. Her boyfriend. Since you probably didn’t know, I’ll let you off with a warning. Back off.

“W-why would you say that?” Her face was so flushed, she could feel it burning.

A blank stare. “You know he just asked you for sex right?”

She almost dropped her phone. “Surely you’re joking. There was no indication whatsoever that suggested sex.”

Akira slapped a hand to his face, then cried out when it connected with his nose. “For an honor student, you’re pretty damn naive.”

She bit back a retort. However, the truth stung and she couldn’t deny the fact of it. Eiko had said the same thing to her recently.

“You know, you get straight As on all your tests, but you’d get an F in a test of love. What good is studying and getting good grades if you don’t experience anything else?”

“Well, he should leave you alone now.” He hopped off the bed. “I’m gonna go home and pop some of these painkillers. If I’m any later, Sojiro will kill me.”

“Wait,” she grabbed his arm. “I really am sorry about today. You had no reason to help me, but you did. I really would have been in trouble if you hadn’t. Um, may I ask why though?”

Akira propped his elbow in the doorway. He was several inches taller than her and his presence engulfed her. It was impossible to tell what he was thinking with those dark eyes of his. A faint scent of coffee tickled her nose. She hadn’t noticed before, but he wasn’t bad looking. At all. Even if his nose had swelled into the size of a baseball.

“You know that girl who tried to kill herself last week?”

Makoto bit her lip. “Yes, I remember.”

“Well I’m friends with a girl who was close to her and apparently she and several other girls were being sexually harassed by some teacher named Kamoshida. It’s pretty fucking sickening. I didn’t want to see it happen again.”

Makoto gaped at him. That had not been the answer she was expecting. Was this guy really even a delinquent?

“Well, good luck.” He winked at her and then left.

She stared after him for several moments before her thoughts were interrupted by another buzz from her phone.

“Whoa so scry! Makoto let me meet ur bf i want to c if hes real. It would b a shame to let such a prtty gurl go 2 sum asshole. Lets meet 4 dinner at the diner tomorrow kk :) c u then.”

Makoto’s stomach curdled. Regardless of his intentions, Akira’s text now had her in even more trouble than before. What was she supposed to do? If she showed up alone, then he would know she was lying. And if he caught her in a lie, then he would never leave her alone. She needed a fake boyfriend by tomorrow or she was screwed. There were no other boys she was acquainted with that she could ask to do this. Or should she say no one was available that would be believable.

Except for Akira. He was quick on his feet and clearly knew how to handle situations like these. He knew far more about this than she did and was handsome enough to send Tsukasa a clear message. He was the perfect candidate; with only one small problem.

She sat down heavily on the bed. “God, why did I have to break his nose?”

She hadn’t even given him directions.

Chapter Text

When Akira walked into Leblanc, the first thing Sojiro noticed was his nose. He slammed the cup of coffee he was drinking down on the counter. “Oh, for fuck’s sake. You’ve been here barely a week and you’ve already gotten into a fight?”

Akira dropped his bag on the floor and sat down in front of the bar. “It’s not like that. Some girl thought I was stalking her.”

Sojiro stared at him blankly. “You’re saying a girl did that to you?”

“Yes.”

“A highschool girl.”

“She was stronger than she looked. Has a mean right hook.”

He snorted. “Don’t feed me that bullshit. I may be old but I’m not stupid.”

“I’m not lying, I swear.”

Another snort. “If what you say is true, then maybe you should. That’s embarrassing.”

It should have been. It wasn’t. He was more intrigued than anything. Any anger he had harbored towards her had dissipated the moment he had seen that text. How could she not have known what a fucking eggplant emoji meant?

“Was she cute?” Sojiro placed a cup of coffee and some curry in front of him. He dug into it ravenously.

Akira nodded around a mouthful of curry. “Damn sexy.” Her foot digging into his chest shouldn’t have aroused him as much as it did. What did that even say about him? Maybe she had given him residual brain damage.

Sojiro grinned. “You should bring her around the cafe sometime. Although if she’s smart, she won’t waste her time on a punk like you.”

“She’s the student council president. Of course she won’t.” Well, not that it mattered anyway. He wasn’t that eager to see her anytime soon.

Sojiro tossed him the key. “Lock up. You can keep it since I’m tired of waiting on you to get home every night.”

Akira took it. A warm feeling was spreading through his chest. “Not worried to leave a dangerous criminal here in a shop all by himself?”

“If I thought you’d steal anything, I wouldn't have taken you in in the first place. But if you want to go to jail over some beans then be my guest.” Sojiro paused when he got to the door. “Oh, and put some ice on that nose of yours. How are we supposed to attract customers if you go around looking like that?”

“We would have to have customers in the first place before worrying about scaring them off.”

“Heh. Smart ass.” Sojiro slammed the door shut.

Akira smiled despite himself. He may be living in a dusty attic, but it was more than his own parents had done. Unfortunately the next day his nose’s swelling hadn’t gone down at all which further amplified the rumors. He tried to keep his head down and focus on the lessons but that was proving to be monumentally difficult due to all the whispers. It was even worse after classes had ended.

“Oh my God, he’s already gotten into a fight? Told you he was dangerous.”

“Looks pretty beat up, though. Can’t be that tough if he got the shit kicked out of him.”

“Whoever it was, I wish I knew their name. I wanna buy them some ramen.”

Akira swiveled his head around and the two students froze. “If you think I look bad, you should see the other guy.” He reached for his bag and started to open it.

“Holy shit, he’s got a knife in there!” They practically tripped over themselves to get away.

Ryuji, who was beside him, doubled over laughing. “Dude, you really shouldn’t provoke ‘em like that. It’ll only make things worse.”

“You are literally the last person I want lecturing me about rationality.”

“You don't actually have a knife. Right?”

“No. I have a cat.” A tiny ball of black stuck its head out and gave a tiny whimper. Ryuji quickly pulled him into an empty hallway.

“Why the fuck did you bring a cat to school?”

“I was afraid Sojiro would toss him out if I left him at home. Besides all he does is sleep. No one will see him.” Ryuji looked like he was about to say something else but Akira cut him off. “Look, can we just go to the roof? This day has been shit, my face hurts, and for just one moment I would like to not be stared at like I’m about to jump somebody.”

“I know that feeling. Hate to tell you it won’t go away. But yeah, we should definitely hurry or Ann will pitch a fit.”

He smiled for the first time all day, eager to finally get away from the judgement of his peers and spend some time with his friends. However, Ann wasn’t the only one waiting for them on the roof.

“What the hell is she doing up here?” Ryuji's loud voice threatened to shatter his eardrums.

Akira’s mood soured when he saw Makoto. Ann was either uncomfortable or pissed off. Her arms were crossed and she was tapping her foot on the ground and had made every possible effort to stand as far away from her as possible.

“She claims she has business up here.”

Ryuji put his best scowl in place and stalked towards her. “Oh yeah? Sure you didn’t get lost on your way to the library?”

Makoto shook her head. “Your aggressive attitude isn’t necessary. I’m not up here to lecture any of you. I simply wish to have a conversation with my boyfriend.” She held out her hand and gestured to him.

Akira’s heart seemed to stop. Had she really just said what he think she just did? He opened his mouth to say something--anything--then closed it again when nothing would come out. For a moment, everything was silent. Then two shrill voices cut through it.

“WHAT?” Ann and Ryuji both said in unison. Akira, too shocked to understand what the hell was going on, was suddenly bombarded with questions.

“Since when have you been dating Miss President?”

“I’m not--”

“What the hell man? Why didn’t you tell me you had a girlfriend?”

“She isn’t--”

“I’ve never even seen you two talking! I didn’t even know you were her type. Um, no offense.”

“That’s not--”

“Wait, isn’t she the one who punched you in the face? Dude, are you into some weird shit that I don’t know about?”

Akira stared at Makoto, who had an indiscernible grin on her face. Ignoring his friends, he grabbed her by the arm and pulled her inside. He slammed the door shut and rounded on her. “What the hell was that all about?”

“I understand your anger but this was the only approach I could think of that was guaranteed to get you to listen.”

“An approach to what exactly? What the hell is even going on? Are you trying to make my life difficult or is that just a special gift of yours?”

She actually had the nerve to look guilty. “I promise I will explain. But may I suggest we go somewhere more private? We sort of have an audience.” She pointed behind her to the tiny window on the door where two blonde heads were fighting for the best view.

Akira grit his teeth. “Follow me to the courtyard.”

~~

“So let me get this straight. You need me to pretend to be your boyfriend and go on a fake date with you tonight.”

“Yes,” Makoto said.

“And you lied in front of my friends so I couldn’t back out without looking like an asshole.”

“That is correct.”

Akira clicked his tongue. “You’re pretty manipulative, you know that? Although, I don’t know why I’m surprised. This school is full of people who only look out for themselves.”

She winced. “You were the one who sent him that text in the first place. I wouldn’t have had to deal with this if you’d just left it alone.”

“So I was just supposed to ignore him soliciting sex from you?”

“You don’t know for sure that’s what he meant.”

“Oh, trust me. That’s what he meant.”

Makoto sighed. “I don’t even know if it’s a good thing you know that. However, you were the one to imply I had a boyfriend so I think you should take some responsibility for your actions.”

“Oh, so it’s my fault now.” He let out a startled laugh of disbelief. He didn’t think it had been possible for her to piss him off even more. “You could’ve just--oh, I don’t know--asked me nicely. Right now I’m more likely to tell you to fuck off than help.”

Makoto fiddled with a stray leaf that had landed on her. “You’re right. If I wasn’t so pressed for time, I would have. But I was desperate and you are the only one I can ask. I couldn’t risk you refusing. Besides, I’m not asking you to do this for free.”

“So I’m a paid escort now.”

Makoto slammed her hands down on the table. “No! That’s not what I meant. Of course I could pay you if you preferred, but I was thinking along the lines of something that would be more useful to you.”

“You don’t have anything to offer me.”

Makoto laughed. “Oh, I can assure you, I do. I’m the principal’s favorite. And you--well everyone is just waiting for you to slip up so they can kick you out of here. It would be a huge boost in your favor if people thought we were dating. Teachers would be less likely to call you out, the whispers in the halls would calm down, and there are countless other perks that you would receive. You have no reason to refuse.”

His temper had reached its peak. Akira pointed to his nose. “I got stopped by three different teachers today asking me if I had gotten into a fight. From where I’m standing, you’ve only caused me more trouble. Do you hear yourself? Are you actually that arrogant? I’m just another checkmark on your resume aren’t I? I’m sure it will look real good if you can claim you rehabilitated an infamous delinquent. I have nothing to lose, huh? I still have my pride and I’m not throwing it away to make myself more likable. Go find somebody else.”

He got up to leave but a strong grip on his arm stopped him. “That’s not what I meant, I swear. You keep twisting my words! And this has nothing to do with any accolades for my future. I simply want him to leave me alone. It’s only one night. I promise you.”

The pleading look in her eyes almost got him. Almost. Akira pried her hand off his blazer. “The answer is still no.” Her face fell and he tried not to feel guilty when tears started to gather in the corner of her eyes.

He was halfway to the practice building when he heard her call out. “We’re the same, you and me.”

He turned around. “Oh yeah? How so?”

“We’ve both had labels thrust upon us that neither of us wanted.”

“Maybe so. But your honor student label will only help your future, whereas mine has already been decided for me.”

Chapter Text

Makoto was currently cursing herself for her stupidity. That could not have gone any worse. She honestly hadn’t meant to insult him, however, thinking back on her word choice it was obvious why he took it that way.

“God, I feel like such an asshole.”

Her ‘date’ was now an hour away and she had no idea what she was going to do. Maybe a more threatening approach would be the best bet. He would certainly be less inclined to text her if she inflicted bodily harm.

And what would that do to your sister, huh? She’s already overwhelmed enough as it is. She doesn’t need you adding to it.

It were times like these that made her wish she knew more about the world. But then again, she had never pictured she would be in a predicament quite like this before. Her phone buzzed for the fifth consecutive time in a row. She snatched it off the table and almost hurled it across the room when she saw that it wasn’t Tsukasa texting her, but Eiko.

“Ugh, I’m sick of studying 2night. I wanna go do something fun.”

An idea suddenly popped into her head. “Then come with me on a date tonight.”

“WHAAAT?! YOU ACTUALLY HAVE A DATE?”

A flood of emojis started popping up again and she could only make out half their meanings. “It’s not a real one. I’m just trying to get him to leave me alone. He’s actually really creepy. I could use your help. I’m a little in over my head.”

“Lol that’s not surprising ;p who is this guy anyway?”

“Tsukasa. You know, from the host club.”

“OMG HOW COULD I FORGET HIM HE WAS SOOO HOT.”

Makoto shook her head, not understanding the appeal. His hair was odd and he looked more like a cartoon character instead of a real person. But maybe that was the appeal nowadays? “Even if he was questionably attractive, you shouldn’t get too involved with him. I think he’s dangerous.”

“You just think that because you’ve never had a guy pay attention to you before. I swear you’re like an old woman sumtimes.”

Ok, ouch. That had stung a little. “Well, regardless of my inexperience, hopefully tonight is the last time we see him.”

She had a bad feeling that wasn’t going to be the case.

~~

The diner was atypically crowded for a saturday; something she was grateful for since it offered considerable more protection. She didn’t really think he would try anything in a room full of people, but if he truly was the person taking pictures outside of her window at night she wasn’t about to put anything past him. Eiko had given her a look of frustration when she had showed up in her uniform.

“You wore that to the host club, too. It’s like you want boys to ignore you.”

“My goal in life is to get into a good school, not a boyfriend. Do you even remember the point of this dinner?”

She rolled her eyes. “Duh. Just because I’m not an honor student doesn’t mean I’m dumb.” She gave Makoto another look over. “I guess it’s fine what you’re wearing. A lot of grown men love the whole uniform getup. Maybe I should’ve worn mine?”

“That’s a thing?” Why would a school uniform be considered sexy? Her rumination was interrupted by the sound of the door opening. Eiko gave a little squeal beside her.

“He’s just as handsome as I remember!”

Makoto felt like throwing up in her mouth. Tsukasa was in his regular hosting outfit: a well fitted suit and so much cologne that it could choke a small animal to death. He grinned, showing off his perfectly white teeth, and slid into their booth.

“How are you lovely ladies doing this evening?”

Eiko giggled. “Better now that you’re here.” Tsukasa took her hand and kissed the top of it. He held out his hand in front of her expectantly. She threw a salt packet into it.

Clearly puzzled, he tossed it on the table. “Makoto, you didn’t tell me you were going to bring your friend. It’s like a reunion.”

“That’s such a good way of putting it,” Eiko said.

“Erm, it hasn’t been that long since we’ve seen each other so I don’t think we can classify it like that.”

Eiko glared at her. However, Tsukasa laughed it off. It was so well rehearsed and dripping with duplicitousness. He was definitely used to using it on his clients. “You’re such a weird girl. But honestly, it’s so refreshing to find someone so innocent.” He winked at them. “I can’t tell you how many people I deal with at work who just use people for their own gain. It makes me sick.”

“You’re such a good person Tsukasa-kun,” Eiko crooned.

“Yes, is that why you’re sitting here with two high school girls?”

He laughed. “I forget you girls are minors. You’re both so mature for your age. But isn’t age just a number? We’re just talking here. It’s not like anything weird is going on.”

Tsukasa wasn’t wrong, but nonetheless every word that came out of his mouth made her skin crawl. Eiko had fallen under his spell in a matter of seconds. Maybe she had made a mistake in asking her to come. And she still didn’t know how she was going to approach the whole texting thing. Or the stalking thing. She still didn’t even have any proof he was the stalker. At least he hadn’t brought up her ‘boyfriend’ yet.

“Oh, by the way,” Tsukasa said, “isn’t there someone else who was supposed to be here?” He looked at Makoto and grinned. “I thought your boyfriend was supposed to come today. I was dying to meet him.”

The smug bastard. He had caught her in a lie and he knew it.

“I didn’t know you had a boyfriend.” Eiko grabbed her arm. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“W-well, um he couldn’t make it today. That’s why I asked her to come.”

“Makoto, are you--,” he leaned in close enough that she could smell the mint on his breath, “playing hard to get?”

She almost knocked her tea over. “What?”

“You never text me back and that hurts my feelings, you know? And now you’ve lied to me, as well? I’m starting to feel like a real bastard here.”

“T-that’s not what I--”

“Tsukasa-kun, you’re really sweet! You’re not a bad guy at all. Makoto just isn’t used to this type of thing. Do you know she thinks you’re stalking her?”

“Eiko!”

Tsukasa turned to her. “You really think that? Oh God, I would never do something so awful to such a sweet girl. I worry about you so much. There are so many guys out there that would take advantage of a sweet, innocent girl like you. I feel that, as your senpai, I need to be on the lookout for bastards like that.” He tore off the edge of his napkin and dabbed at the corner of his eyes. “Man, I must’ve given you the worst impression.”

“Tsukasa kun!” Eiko jumped up and slid in next to him, snuggling up to his arm. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re a total sweetheart.” She glared at Makoto. “Shouldn’t you apologize to him? He said he didn’t do it.”

“Why are you all suddenly twisting this around on me?” Was this really happening? This guy was way slicker than she had given him credit for.

“You didn’t have to lie to me, Mako-chan.”

“Why are you suddenly being so informal to me? And about that, I didn’t mean to--”

“Are you seriously calling my girlfriend a liar right now?”

Makoto’s heart lept at the sound of a familiar voice above her. Akira stood in front of them, hands shoved deep into his pockets, and gave Tsukasa a saccharine smile. He wasn’t in his uniform, instead sporting a simple dark jacket over a white button down shirt. He was such a comforting sight that Makoto forgot herself, jumped up, and wrapped him in a crushing hug. She heard the slight hitch in his breath, then realizing what she'd just done, pushed away.

“Kurusu? What are you doing here? I thought you weren’t coming.”

Akira smiled and rubbed her shoulder. “Haven’t I told you a million times not to me so formal with me? You can call me by my given name, darling.”

“Darling?” She almost choked.

“Oh, did you not like that one? Well, we’ll find one to stick soon enough.” He looked at Tsukasa with a pointed expression. “She’s quite picky. Guess that’s what happens when one’s taste is refined.”

Her relief immediately melted into rage. Oh, she was going to kill him later. Tsukasa stood, sizing him up.

“You're the boyfriend? So you are real.” He moved his eyes up and down, clearly not impressed. “Gotta say, I was expecting a bit more. You’re a little...underwhelming.”

Akira clicked his tongue. “Well, she seems to like me well enough. Maybe she isn’t attracted to people who look like they walked out of an anime.”

She slapped a hand to her mouth. Makoto didn’t know if she should be laughing or worrying. But her instincts had been right on the money. Akira, was indeed, the perfect person for this job.

“Sit down. I’ll order you something to drink.”

Akira slid in next to her--closer than he needed to be--and picked up her drink. “No need for that. We can just share this one.” He sucked on the straw dramatically and grinned at her. “What was this called again. An indirect kiss?” He puckered his mouth.

She punched him in the side under the table, causing him to spurt the tea back into the cup. He glared her.

‘What?’ She mouthed innocently.

Tsukasa and Eiko were both staring at them. “You look familiar,” she said. “Oh! You’re that new guy. The one who’s been to jail.”

“Jail?” Tsukasa scoffed. “Is that why your face is so beat up?”

“Well, technically it wasn’t jail, but juvie. Although, they both suck so I guess it doesn’t matter much. Food’s awful. I wouldn’t recommend it.”

“Wow, so you’re like a real criminal. Makoto, that’s so cool! I didn’t know you were into bad boys.” Eiko was now looking at her with newfound respect. Tsukasa was leaning back against the booth looking like he really wanted to hit something.

“Well he isn’t that bad--”

“So what did you do?” Eiko asked, “Drugs? A gang?” She gasped. “The mafia?”

“Assault.” Akira’s answer stunned everyone, including Makoto. So the rumors were true…She knew he had been arrested for accosting someone, but hearing him admit it was different than hearing it in passing.

“Oh,” Eiko was brimming with excitement. “Did you stab a guy? That’s what I heard.”

Akira shrugged his shoulders. She could tell he was trying to hide his discomfort. “No, I didn’t stab anyone.”

Eiko’s face fell. “Well that’s disappointing.”

Tsukasa leaned forward and propped himself up on his elbows. “Seems to me, you’re a little unhinged. Makoto,” he turned to her, “I don’t think this guy is right for you.”

“Well--”

“And you are?” Akira cut in. “I’m only one year younger than her. What are you, like 40?”

Tsukasa bared his teeth. “28 actually.”

Akira put a hand to his mouth. “Ah, my apologies. Still it’s a little creepy that an adult is hanging around teenagers. What, can you not satisfy older women or something? Do you have, a um,” he pointed to Tsukasa’s waist, “a disorder?”

Tsukasa slammed his hands on the table causing everyone in the vicinity to turn around and stare. “I can get it up just fine!”

The restaurant had suddenly gone quiet.

“Careful,” Akira whispered. “You don’t want to be thrown out for indecency.”

Tsukasa, now noticing everyone looking at him, cleared his throat and smoothed down his jacket. He sat and wrestled his charming smile back into place. “Sorry for my little outburst ladies. How rude of me. And you, glasses-kun, I just want what’s best for our princess here. Can’t have her dating some punk.”

“Princess?” Makoto choked on her own saliva.

Akira leaned back and put an arm around her. “I think she’s more of a queen, to be honest.”

Queen. She hated to admit that she liked it. She liked it a whole hell of a lot. Apparently her mirth was noticeable.

“Oh, have we found one that will stick?” Akira said.

“It’s better than princess,” she said.

“I agree.” Akira’s stare was so sharp that she almost expected a hole to burn itself into Tsukasa’s forehead. “Do you get what I’m trying to say?”

No matter how much he tried to play it cool, Tsukasa was trembling with rage. His hand visibly shook as he gulped down the rest of his drink and slammed it back on the table. Eiko was still clinging to his arm and was petting him soothingly. “We should just go Tsukasa-kun. They’ve done nothing but insult you this entire night.”

“Eiko!” Makoto wanted to reach across the table and slap her. “I brought you here to help me, not throw me under the bus.”

She sniffed. “Well, I don’t think he’s a bad guy. You’re the one actually dating a real criminal.”

“Which you praised me for a moment ago.”

“Hey,” Tsukasa cut in. “Don’t fight girls. I wouldn’t want to get in between you two. I’ll go. Hell, I’ll even pay for everything.”

“That’s so nice of you!”

Tsukasa pinched her cheek. He turned to Makoto. “I’m really not a bad guy. I hope I can prove that to you eventually.”

“I think maybe you should just leave for tonight.”

Tsukasa hung his head. “Very well. It was lovely to see you girls again.” He cut his eyes to Akira. “You too, I guess.”

Akira smirked. “The feeling isn’t mutual. Oh, and one more thing before you go. Any daytrips you want to invite my girlfriend on can be addressed to me from now on. I do love a nice, juicy eggplant. Goes great with garlic.”

Makoto had to physically restrain herself from laughing as Tsukasa shot him a pure look of disgust and stomped out the door. When they were both gone, she sagged against Akira in relief.

“It feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”

Akira still hadn’t removed his arm from her. “You have really shitty friends.”

“It seems so. I can’t believe she would turn on me so quickly. I thought girls were supposed to stick together.”

“If Ann had been here, she would have kneed that guy in the crotch.”

“I was considering doing that myself.”

He laughed. “You both seem to share a love for violence.”

The conversation lapsed and she suddenly began to feel very awkward. She scooted away from him and took a sip of her drink that Akira had drank from earlier. She tried not to think of his indirect kissing comment. “Why did you come? Not that I don’t appreciate it,” she added hastily.

Akira shrugged. “I just happened to be walking by.”

“I highly doubt that. Yongen jaya is a train ride away. You don’t just ‘happen’ to walk here.”

He narrowed his eyes. “How do you know where I live?”

“I might have looked it up when I was strategizing the other day. Had to cover all my bases.”

“You are something else.” He shook his head. “Fine, you caught me. I came here to see just how badly this was gonna go and was looking forward to see you crash and burn. Which you did. A lot. But then that guy opened his mouth and pissed me off. You were clearly no match for him.”

She sighed. “You’re right. I underestimated him a great deal. You on the other hand put on quite the show. I was thoroughly entertained watching him squirm. So um, thank you. ” She looked away, not wanting to meet his eyes. “And I truly am sorry for everything. I never meant to insult you. Or break your nose.”

Akira twiddled with his bangs. “I guess we can call it even if you reimburse me for my pain and suffering.”

“Really?” She deadpanned. “Pain and suffering?”

“Well I’m in pain and whenever I’m around you I tend to suffer.” He weighed his hands up and down.

She blew a steady stream of air out through her nose. “What did you have in mind?”

“Tutor me.”

“Huh?”

“Help me ace my next exams and we’ll call it even. It’s been impossible to pay attention because of all the stares and whenever I try to go study in the library, people act as if I’ve never touched a book before. I want to prove them wrong.”

“So this is about revenge?”

He grinned, his smile absolutely devilish. “Is there a better motivator?”

A laugh rippled out of her. “I suppose not.” She held out her hand. “We have a deal.”

“Good.” They shook on it.

Chapter Text

“No wonder you can’t study in here.” Akira sat at Makoto’s usual study spot and tried to ignore the people around him. Try as they might to be discreet, everyone was wondering what the hell the class president was doing sitting with the delinquent.

“Told you they were dating.”

“Ugh, I don’t know what she sees in him. He’s not that good looking.”

“Are you serious? He’s so hot! Just look at that dangerous glint in his eyes.”

“Shut up! He’s staring at us.”

Akira didn’t know whether to be flattered or not. “Seems word travels fast around here.”

Makoto tapped her pencil on the table. “It seems Eiko has been busy. I’m sorry, I should've told her not to say anything.”

“I don’t think that would have stopped her. Can we go over this problem again?”

Makoto turned out to be an excellent tutor. Her explanations were precise and easy to understand. As an added bonus, she didn’t make him feel like an idiot for not immediately grasping something. It also wasn’t entirely unpleasant to be next to her. And if he was being honest with himself, that was distracting him more than the gossip.

They were sitting so close, their shoulders touched. He could see the outline of her bra through her shirt--not that he had meant to notice it--and she smelled really nice. Like some sort of floral scented shampoo. Every so often she would tuck a piece of hair behind her ear, only for it to immediately fall back to where it was.

Oh shit, he hadn’t been listening again.

Makoto sighed and stretched her arms out. “Should we go somewhere else? I’m afraid this isn’t a suitable environment to study in.”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

They ended up going back to the diner where they made significantly more progress. After an hour or so had passed, his eyes felt like they were about to fall out. “Let’s call it for today.”

“Yes, I agree. You’re getting a lot better. I’m confident that you’ll do well next week.”

“If I don’t ace my test, will you hunt me down and beat me up?”

“Of course.”

He had to chuckle at that. “How’s your stalker situation?”

She grinned. “I’m happy to report that I’ve had no more incidents. Thanks to you, I’ve finally been able to get a full night’s rest.”

A feeling of relief washed over him. “Good. You know, feel free to call me if you have any more problems.”

“Um, thank you, but I feel I’ve burdened you enough with this.” She started gathering her books together. “Well, I guess I should head home.”

“Wait.” He didn’t want her to leave just yet. “Just straight home? That sounds boring as hell. We should go somewhere.”

Her eyebrows knitted together. “Like where?”

“Where do you usually go for fun?”

Her cheeks grew pink and she fiddled with the strap of her bag. “I sort of, um, don’t. My sister is very strict so I don’t get a lot of chances to go out.” She looked away. “Told you I was boring.”

He shouldn’t have been so surprised. “So you’ve never been to the arcade? Karaoke?”

She shook her head.

“Well, that’s just sad. Let’s go now.”

“Huh?” The shocked expression on her face was downright priceless. “But wouldn’t that be considered a date?”

“Technically, we are dating.”

~~

Akira had never seen someone get so excited over an arcade shooting game. He stood behind her and placed her hands in the correct position. “Now just aim and shoot.”

“Like this?” She pulled the trigger. A perfect head shot. “Oh!” Her head whipped around, a huge smile on her face. “That was more fun than I expected. Should I try one more?”

“Go for it.”

People started staring at them as Makoto frantically shot the people on the screen. She was really into it. Maybe a little too into it.

“Die you pathetic asshole!” A bell went off, signaling she had cleared the level. She jumped up and down and pointed to the screen. “Akira, did you see that? It’s so realistic! It’s just like those yakuza movies.”

Akira tried to hide his growing smile behind his hand.

An older woman sneered in her direction. “Youth these days. They have no respect.”

He rolled his eyes and put his hand on Makoto’s shoulder. “Yakuza?”

“Yes, I quite like watching action films centering around them. Their violent lifestyle and the way they handle disputes among the members has always fascinated me. Did you know that they’re required to chop off a pinkie when they’ve committed a serious offense? I saw a scene of that once. It was the coolest thing ever. Ah,” she caught herself. “Do you think it’s weird that I’m a girl and like this sort of thing?”

Holy shit, she was fucking adorable.

Suddenly her face soured. “What’s wrong?” She pointed behind him and he saw a familiar figure sporting a side ponytail. “Oh, it’s--huh, what was her name again?”

“Eiko. I haven’t talked to her since that date. Frankly, I haven’t cared to but I am worried that Tsukasa has turned his attention on to her.”

“So? She seemed to enjoy it just fine.”

“Yes, but she’s a vulnerable girl. Her family spoils her but they don’t pay very much attention to her. She’s exactly the type that Tsukasa targets. Regardless of what she did, I don’t want to see her get hurt.”

Akira had to smile at that. Eiko had thrown her to the wolves and yet she was still looking out for her. He didn’t know if he would’ve done the same. It made him look at her a little differently.

“Ah! She’s looking this way.” She dragged him into a nearby corner. “Do something, quick!”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. But I don’t want her to see me.”

Akira’s mind scrambled for an answer, then he did the first thing that popped into his head. He stepped forward until Makoto’s back was pressed against the wall then placed his hand just above her head, effectively pinning her in. Her eyes flew open, her expression similar to that of a startled bird. Their bodies were only centimeters apart and he could hear the sharp intake of her erratic breathing.

“W-what are you doing?”

“You told me to do the first thing that popped into my head. Do you know how many times I’ve seen this done on tv?”

“You’re really close.” Her voice had risen several octaves.

His mind supplied the image of him wrapping his arm around her waist and pulling her even closer. God, what was wrong with him lately? He was getting as bad as Ryuji. “Isn’t that the point? Are you uncomfortable? I’ll stop if you are.”

She shook her head. “N-no, it’s fine. Just stay like this until she’s gone.”

It felt sort of ridiculous to be this close to one another and still avoid looking at the other directly in the eye. Makoto had suddenly developed a fascination to a label on a claw machine.

“Is it really that hard to look at me?”

“It is when you’re so close to me. People are going to get the wrong idea.”

He snickered. Part of him wanted to point out that people had been staring since they got here, but decided that probably wouldn’t go too well. If she knew, then she would just censor her actions. It was fun watching her true personality rise to the surface.

“It’s not funny!” She swatted him on the arm. “Why are you so tall, anyway? Check to see if she’s gone.”

Akira felt a tap on his shoulder. She wasn’t. He heard a small, muffled groan then turned to see Eiko grinning at them.

“Hey, you two. Am I interrupting something?”

Makoto slid out from underneath his arm. “Of course not! We weren’t doing anything. How did you even notice us?”

Eiko scoffed. “I would’ve recognized his fluffy hair anywhere. Don’t tell me you were trying to hide from me.”

Akira smoothed his hair down.

“I figured you wouldn’t wish to talk to me after the whole debacle with Tsukasa.”

Eiko waved her hand. “I’m not the type to hold grudges.” She put a hand on Makoto’s arm. “You’re my friend. I’ll always want to talk to you. Let’s go to Big Bang Burger and sort this out over some fries.”

Makoto and Akira looked at each other with matching expressions of disbelief.

~~
Eiko sat in front of them chattering ninety miles a second. Akira didn’t know how Makoto put up with the girl. He could hardly keep up with what she was talking about since she switched topics at the drop of a hat. Instead he focused on shoving fries absentmindedly into his mouth and hoping she would leave soon.

“So he’s been texting me nonstop. He’s so sweet, like he always asks me how my day is going and sends me sweet little messages in the morning.” She squealed. “I’m so happy!”

Makoto forced a smile. “So he hasn’t sent you anything inappropriate?”

Eiko shook her head. “Nuh uh. He always worries about me and offers to help me with school stuff. He even helped me get a job!”

Akira reached for another fry and felt his finger brush against something. He looked down to see Makoto’s slender finger tangled in his own. She hadn’t noticed yet. He didn’t withdraw his hand.

“What sort of job?” Makoto’s voice had taken on a familiar edge that Akira now called her prying tone.

“Oh, just a small waitressing position at his club. It pays really well.”

Makoto pursed her lip. “That’s in the Red Light District, though. Isn’t it dangerous for you to be working there?”

“Um, all I gotta do is wear some silly costume and serve drinks to people. Occasionally some old pervert gawks at me, but most of my customers are super nice. They treat me like I’m the most special person in the world. Along with my Tsukasa-kun, of course.”

He and Makoto shared another look. “Please don’t tell me you’re dating him.”

She giggled. “We sorta hit it off after last time. He’s totally not a bad person.”

“Of course you’d think that,” Akira said. “He’s been spoon feeding you his bullshit.”

Makoto nodded in agreement. “Eiko, trust me. He’s not a good guy.”

“Ugh. Are you really starting this again? Why are you trying to tear us apart?”

“That’s not what I’m trying to do!” Makoto reached across the table and grabbed her hand. “I’m just worried about your safety. The Red Light District is no place for a girl to be at night. If he cared about you in the first place, he would never have asked you to work there.”

“It’s my life. You can’t boss people around like you do in school.”

Makoto’s fingers dug into the table. He took it in his own and gave her a reassuring squeeze. Thankfully she squeezed it back. “I’m not trying to boss you around. I’m just trying to be a good friend.”

Not that you deserve it.

Eiko grabbed her bag out of the seat and slung it over her shoulder. “A real friend wouldn’t try to take away the one good thing in my life. You have everything: good grades, a bright future, and a cool boyfriend. Everyone just thinks you’re so amazing. Even the principal bends over backwards for you.”

“Isn’t that just your jealousy talking?” He said.

“It’s not jealousy,” she smirked. “I honestly feel sad for her. She’s like a robot. A robot that’s been programmed to follow orders. If it hadn’t been for me, she never would have taken her nose out of a book long enough to do anything fun.” She shoved her chair underneath the table. “I don’t know why I even bothered. I’ll see you around, I guess.”

Akira turned to check on her. He expected to see anger burning in those intense red eyes of hers, but instead he saw a quiet vulnerability. Her face was chalky white and she had her hands folded in her lap, staring at them intently. He couldn’t see her face due to the way she had it angled but he recognized the signals of her posture.

Oh God, she was going to cry wasn’t she? What was he going to do if she cried? He didn’t know how to handle a crying girl.

He settled for rubbing her shoulder. “Are you okay?” That was a stupid question to ask, but he didn’t know what else to say. She turned her head away from him. Akira reached out and poked her in the cheek. “Beep boop.”

She turned around snarling and swatted his hand away. “Are you seriously making fun of me right now?”

“What? No!”

“It sounded like it. You agree with her, don’t you? Well, I don’t blame you. It is true.”

“Makoto, no it’s not. You’re inexperienced, not robotic. She only said that to hurt you anyways.”

She rubbed at her eyes. “But she’s right. I am just a machine that follows orders. That’s all I’m good for. Makoto do this. Makoto do that. Get good grades. Get into a top college. Be a good, proper honor student.” Her knuckles whitened. “I’m sick of it.”

“So change. You can do that.”

“It’s not that simple.”

“It could be.” He grabbed her hand. “I’ll help you.”

“I--.” She removed her hand and stood up. “I think I’m just going to head home.”

“Makoto--”

She gave him a curt bow. “Thank you for today. I had fun earlier. We’ll resume our next session on Monday.”

“Makoto, wait--” She was already out the door. He rubbed at his face. Why did that girl have to show her face? He had been so close to breaking Makoto out of her shell. Akira wanted her to feel like she could be herself around him. Apparently that goal was now far off into the future.

Chapter Text

“Will you stop staring at your phone for a damn minute and eat? And get the cat off the counter. He’s starting to think he’s human.”

Akira sighed and threw his phone on the bar. Morgana let out a pitiful meow and tried to steal a bite of his curry. “Shoo.”

Sojiro refilled his coffee cup. “Is it a girl?”

“How did you know?”

He scoffed. “You know how many times I’ve stared at my phone the same way? What’s the problem.”

“She won’t answer my texts.” He’d messaged her several times since yesterday but she had gone silent.

“How bad did you fuck things up?”

“That’s the thing, I don’t know!” He’d only been trying to cheer her up. Things had been going so well, too.

“Men never know. They make it impossible for us to know. We just have to apologize and try our best not to step on a landmine.”

“How am I supposed to apologize if she won’t answer me?”

He rubbed the back of his head. “Since you’re young and naive, I’ll give you a piece of advice. I won’t even charge you for it. Sometimes it’s best to keep your distance. Girls don’t like it when guys are too clingy.”

“So I should ignore her?”

“Yes, but don’t wait too long or she’ll think you’re growing distant.”

Akira fell back against the chair. “This is confusing.”

“Yeah? Well so are women. Welcome to manhood.” Akira’s phone began buzzing on the table and he leapt on it instantly. Sojiro tsked his tongue. “Sad,” he muttered.

“Yo man, what’s up? Let’s do some training today!”

“Oh, it’s just you, Ryuji.”

“Uhh, what’s that supposed to mean? You gettin’ sick of me or something?”

“No, no! Sorry. Was expecting someone else. Sure I’ll meet you at Protein Lovers.”

“Cool! Don’t forget to bring clean undies.”

Akira rolled his eyes and slid his phone into his pocket.

~~
When he walked into the gym, he spotted two blonde heads standing around a treadmill.

“Ann,” he said. “Didn’t expect to see you here.”

She giggled. “I’ve been wanting to work on tuning my body for my modeling thing.” Ann pumped her fist into the air. “I gotta work harder if I’m going to surpass my rival.”

“Too bad you’ve never worked out once in your life.” Ryuji grinned and elbowed Akira. “What do you wanna bet that she taps out halfway through?”

“I will not! I’m going to push myself until I physically can’t move anymore.”

“You can’t do it like that or you’ll hurt yourself,” Ryuji said. “What do you even want to work on?”

“Hm,” Ann thought about it. “I really want to tune my arms and legs. My butt’s getting big so I should probably do some squats.” She rubbed her stomach. “I also wouldn’t mind losing some weight around here, as well.”

“Ann, you look beautiful,” Akira said. He would never understand why girls always thought their bodies were horrible when, in reality, they looked fine.

Ann’s eyes brightened. “Aw, thank you. Ryuji, you could learn a thing or two from him.”

“Well, I don’t disagree but if you really wanna lose weight then you shouldn’t eat so much.” He started laughing. “You’re just gonna go stuff your face with crepes after we’re done here, anyway.”

He started to laugh but immediately halted when he felt an ominous chill go down his spine. Ann was glaring at both of them. “Do you boys really want to go there?” Then she smiled and swiped a thumb across her neck, then turned it down.

“L-let’s just go ahead and get started,” Ryuji stammered.

“Yeah, I think that’ll be best.”

Training his body had never been something Akira had prioritized until he met Ryuji. At first he was only doing it so he could hang out with his friend more, but as the days went by he had started to enjoy the feeling he got after a good workout. Ryuji and Ann were on an elliptical arguing about something or another so his mind started to wander.

Exams were two days away and with how hard he and Makoto had been working, he was almost guaranteed a decent grade. A week or two ago, this would have been a relief. But now studying was the only reason that Makoto was hanging out with him. Their deal would be over soon and there was a strong possibility they would go their separate ways. The phone in his pocket seemed to be heavier than normal. He sped up the treadmill a bit and let the burning of his lungs chase away the thoughts in his head.

The door opened beside him and his heart sped up at the sight of a familiar brown head. She had a bag under her arm and was wearing tight fitting black pants and a matching sports bra.

 

“Makoto,” he yelled out.

“Akira-kun?” She gave him a little wave. “What are you doing here?”

“I--Ah!” He felt his feet go out from underneath him and felt the sharp sting of the conveyer belt. To add insult to injury, his body was ejected into the floor several feet away. Stars danced in his vision as his head smashed into the hard tiles.

For a moment everything was dark. Too stunned to move, he lay there as sharp prickles of embarrassment overtook him.

“Holy shit, dude. Are you okay?”

“Please tell me that didn’t just happen.”

“Yup. You face planted.”

“Is everyone staring?”

“Yup.”

Shit. He could physically feel his charm level decreasing. Ryuji helped him sit up and he opened his eyes to see Makoto and Anns’ concerned faces.

Makoto reached out and felt around the back of his head. “I don’t feel any bumps. But you should stop for today, less you have a concussion.”

“Oh man, I didn’t even think of that!” Ryuji held up four fingers. “Quick, how many fingers am I holding up?”

Ann pushed his hand down. “That’s not how it works, moron.”

“Guys, it’s ok. I’m fine. Nothing’s bruised but my pride.” He stood up and tried to hide the shaking sensation in his legs.

Makoto handed him a water out of her bag. “Drink this. I think you’ve overheated.”

Ah. So that’s why his body felt so warm. Apparently he’d overdone it on the treadmill. He unscrewed the cap and drank greedily.

“Show’s over everybody. Quit your staring.” Ryuji started doing crowd control and flipped off anyone who didn’t listen.

“He’s going to get us thrown out of the gym,” Ann muttered.

“He certainly has an aptitude for this.”

“Ugh, let me go get him.” One of the coaches had grabbed Ryuji by the arm and judging by his body language, it wasn’t going over too well.

Makoto started laughing. “There’s never this much excitement when I visit the gym alone.” She put a hand on his arm. “Are you seriously okay, though?”

He rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. “Yeah. But more importantly, are you okay?”

“What do you mean?”

“You didn’t answer my texts. I didn’t mean to piss you off the other day. I’m sorry.”

“Oh, that.” She sat her bag down and laced her fingers together. “I was more angry at myself then I was at you. I felt--exposed. No one wants their insecurities aired out in front of another person.”

“I thought we were already past that.” He poked her in the arm. “I mean look at how we met each other. I think today proves that you cause bodily harm to me whenever you show up.”

“You are never going to let that go, are you?”

“Nope.”

She pressed the back of her hand to her mouth and smiled. Suddenly the pain in his head didn’t seem so bad and the anxiety that had been filling his body evaporated. “By the way, um, were you serious about that offer the other day? The one about helping me change?”

“Of course. I wouldn’t have said it otherwise. Why the sudden interest, though?”

“Well--”

“Ow! Ann quit yanking on my effing ear.” Ann hauled Ryuji over to them and flung him at Akira. “Jesus Ann, what the hell?”

“Keep your voice down. I had to use every acting move that I knew to convince that guy you would behave yourself.”

“I’m surprised it worked, then.” Akira narrowly avoided getting punched in the arm.

“Hush and help me keep an eye on him. I haven’t even gotten to finish my work out.” She turned to Makoto. “I didn’t know you went to the gym.”

“I haven’t been in a while, but lately I’ve been feeling the urge to go. My aikido’s getting rusty.”

“You know martial arts?” Ann was practically bubbling over in excitement. “I used to want to be an action star when I was younger! I would practice all the moves at home, then get yelled at when I broke something. Could you teach me a few moves?”

Makoto’s face brightened. “I would love to. Let’s go over there where we have more room.”

Akira turned to Ryuji as the two girls strode off together. “I think we just got ditched.”

A pervy grin appeared on his face. “No man, this is a perfect opportunity to sit back and enjoy the show.”

They grabbed two chairs and hurried after them. Makoto was more brutal as an aikido instructor than she was in academics. She flipped Ann onto the mats with such force that he was almost worried for the blonde’s safety. Ryuji was smiling ear to ear as Makoto showed Ann block maneuvers and the correct way to ensnare her opponent’s limbs. After only a couple of minutes, both of them were drenched in sweat.

“Man, this is hot,” Ryuji whispered.

Akira enthusiastically agreed. Makoto was a completely different person when she was fighting. Her body was glistening with sweat and he’d never noticed it in her school uniform, but she had a really nice figure. He watched, almost hypnotized, as her hips swung as she showed Ann how to correctly do a roundhouse kick. So this is why she had been so strong that day. He recalled the feeling of her foot digging into his chest.

Something warm dripped onto his hand.

“Dude, your nose.”

“Huh?” He looked down and saw a drop of blood. “What the hell?” He clapped a hand to his face.

Ryuji stared at him for a solid second, then doubled over laughing. “Dude, the blood’s supposed to go in the other direction. This is hysterical! I’ve only ever seen that happen in anime.”

Akira shoved him out of the chair. He was still laughing when he hit the ground.

~~

Makoto strolled arm in arm with Ann as they passed a crepe back and forth. They had decided to call it a day when Akira’s nose had started bleeding. She had tried to give him a tissue out of her bag but he’d refused it.

“Why is something always happening with your nose?” She had asked.

“Because you keep doing stuff to it,” had been his confusing reply.

The boys were now walking ahead of them, Ryuji teasing Akira for something she didn’t know. It only now just hit her how nice it felt to just hang out with them like this. Like a normal high school student. She and Ann had surprisingly hit it off right away and had even exchanged contact information. Makoto had just gotten through telling her why she had needed Akira in the first place and the girl had immediately jumped to her defense when she heard what Eiko had done.

“Ugh, what a bitchy move to pull,” Ann said. “Why are girls so nasty to each other? We’re supposed to be on the same team.”

Makoto shrugged. “I don’t really know. Eiko was the first female friend I’ve ever had.” The only friend really.

Ann gave her a sad look. “I know what you mean. No one wanted to talk to me when I moved here. People always judge me because I don’t look Japanese. Boys just want me for sex and girls just want to tear me down due to jealousy.” Her voice hitched. “Shiho was the first friend I made here. And now she’s moving away because of that bastard Kamoshida.”

Makoto squeezed her arm. “I’m sorry about what happened. I’d heard the rumors but I didn’t do anything about it. In a way, it feels like I had a hand in pushing her off that roof.”

Ann stopped abruptly and turned to face her. She put a hand on her shoulder and shook her slightly. “Don’t think like that. It’s Kamoshida’s fault because of what he put her through and the school’s fault for covering it up. I’ll admit I feel guilty as well, but--” She trailed off. “I can’t afford to be weak right now.”

“I don’t think you’re weak, Ann. Your prowess on the mat today proves that.”

She giggled. “I didn’t expect you to be a badass. Guess we both misjudged each other, huh? Ah!” Ann looked down, horrified. “Our crepe is gone already? Let’s go back and split another one.”

“Or we could get two different flavors and each get half of one.”

“Oh! That’s a better idea. No wonder you’re top of your class.”

~~
When Makoto got home, she was surprised to find her sister sitting at the table. “Sis, what are you doing here? I thought you were working late tonight.”

Sae let out an exhausted groan and gestured for her to sit down. “I’m only staying long enough to shower and eat. But I did want to talk to you about something before I go.”

“What is it?” That phrase always filled her with apprehension. Sis only ever said it when she felt that Makoto had slipped up somewhere.

“I heard a rumor that you’ve been hanging around the new transfer student. I hope you’re not doing anything that will affect your entrance exams. Even if you do have top marks, some administrators won’t accept students who seem to hang around people of shady influence.”

“I’m only tutoring him. Nothing else is going on.” Her stomach tightened with guilt. She felt sick even hearing herself say that. Akira had done nothing but help her and she refused to believe he was a bad person.

Sae nodded, appeased. “Good. I’m up for a promotion soon and can’t have anything getting in my way. Just keep your head down and focus on school, alright?”

“Yes, of course.” Her mouth seemed to form the words automatically since she had said it so many times. Eiko’s words echoed in her head once more. Robotic.

I don’t want to be like that anymore. I’m sick of following people’s orders.

When Sae had gone back to work, loneliness took her place. It was harder to ignore this time. Especially after the day she had spent with Akira and his friends. If getting into a good college meant constantly feeling like this, was it even worth it? What was she even working towards to begin with?

She lay on her bed after her shower and tried to study for a while. But the silence was deafening and concentrating proved to be impossible. Finally she gave up and texted Akira.

“Do you know I just realized I have no goal of my own?”

Why had he been the first person who popped into her head? Surely, he was sick of getting involved in her problems by now. She was just about to text him back to tell him to forget it when three dots appeared on her screen.

“I don’t think you’re the only one with that problem lol I mean, just look at Ryuji.”

“I guess that’s true. So far, though, I’ve let my sister decide what path I should take.”

“So make one of your own. It’s your life, not your sister’s.”

“You always make it sound so simple. Sometimes it’s a little annoying. I wish I could go through life being as confident as you.”

“I promise you I’m very good at hiding my emotions. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing half the time.”

“Do you have a goal?”

Those three grey dots bounced for a long time, but his reply was only one word.

“Revenge.”

Her mouth went dry. “That sounds ominous. What did they do?”

“...i’m forever labeled because of this bastard. Somehow, someway, I’m going to find a way to take him down. Might take me years but I will make him sink to his knees and beg me for forgiveness.”

She had never heard Akira talk like that before. It was almost frightening. He never mentioned anything about his criminal record, but of course it must bother him.

“Sorry,” he texted. “Didn’t mean to ruin the mood.”

“No, it’s fine. Will you tell me what happened? That is, of course, if you’re comfortable.”

“Can I call you? It’s too much to type over the phone.”

“Go ahead.”

Makoto’s heart lurched as he recounted the events of that night. She had to get up and pace back and forth in order to calm herself down. Her emotions were all over the place. Anger at the bastard who did this to him, at the cops for being bought off so easily, and the people at school who judged him wherever he went. All she wanted to do in that moment was set fire to anyone who had ever hurt him; then wrap him in her arms and shield him from the world.

“Makoto, are you still there?”

“Yes,” she whispered into the dark. “I’m still here.”

“You sound like you’re crying.”

She swiped at her eyes and realized he was right. “It’s just so messed up, Akira. You don’t deserve any of this. You did absolutely nothing wrong.”

His soft laughter reverberated through the speakers. “I don’t think anyone’s cried for me before. Feels kinda nice. Knowing someone gives a damn. But calm down, okay? I never want to be the reason you cry.”

She nodded even though he couldn’t see her and took a shaky breath. “What about your parents?”

Nothing but the sound of static could be heard for a while. “Let’s save that story for another time. Makoto?

“Yes?”

“Stay on the phone with me for a bit longer. You don’t even have to talk. It’s suddenly too quiet here. You ever feel that way?”

“All the time.”

They stayed that way for another hour, saying nothing but a spare word here and there. And even though he wasn’t physically beside her, the darkness surrounding her seemed less likely to swallow her up.

Chapter Text

“Dear God, Jesus, and Buddha--hell, I’ll even pray to Santa Claus. Please let me pass my exams tomorrow.” Ryuji clapped his hands three times and tossed a coin in.

“You know Santa Claus isn’t real, right?” Ann was in the middle of he and Ryuji doing some last minute praying of her own.

“Well, whoever happens to answer. At this point I’m desperate.”

“Shouldn’t you have just studied instead of relying on divine intervention?” Akira asked.

Ann slung an arm around his neck. “Divine intervention is the only way Ryuji will pass at this point.”

“Yeah, and I don’t want to hear that from someone who has Miss President on speed dial. Of course you’re going to do well.”

“I don’t have her on speed dial,” he muttered.

“Oh!” Ryuji jumped up. “I just remembered there’s a fortune teller in Shinjuku. Rumors say she hasn’t gotten a reading wrong yet. We should go see her and get our future read.”

“That stuff is just a scam. No one can predict what will happen in advance.”

“I’ve got to agree with Ann,” Akira said. “Besides, I’m good.”

“It don’t have to be about school. It could be about something else.” Ryuji gave him a wink.

“What exactly are you implying?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe if you’ll have any luck with a certain lady in your life?” Ryuji was grinning from ear to ear.

“If you’re talking about Makoto, then stop it. I don’t like her. She’s just a--friend.”

Ann patted him on the arm. “Keep telling yourself that.”

He pushed himself up and dusted his knees off. When he turned around, he found himself staring at a boy around his age with a very interesting fashion sense. When he saw Ann, he dropped to his knees.

“I haven’t even prayed yet and the gods have already answered. This must be what they call a miracle!”

“Uh, what?” Ryuji looked at Akira. “You know what he’s talking about?”

He shook his head. “Not a clue.”

The boy leapt to his feet and grabbed Ann’s hand. “Forgive me for my rudeness, but when I saw your face I was struck with the most ardent desire to paint you. You are just the type of muse I have been looking for.”

“W-what?” Ann was blushing furiously. “You want to paint me?”

“Woah, woah, woah,” Ryuji stepped in front of her. “We don’t even know you.”

“Ah, my apologies. My name is Yusuke Kitagawa. I attend a nearby art school--Kosei High.”

That name sounded familiar to him. Ah. He’d heard it on the news lately. “Weren’t you a former pupil of Madarame?”

“Oh, yeah. Ain’t that the guy who plagiarized his students’ work?”

Yusuke’s face fell. “Yes, that is correct. It’s been quite difficult lately. He was like a father to me. That’s why my inspiration has disappeared.” He grabbed Ann’s hand again. “That’s why I’d be in your debt if you modeled for one of my paintings.”

Ann nibbled on her lower lip. “What would I have to do? I’ve never modeled for an artist before.”

“Don’t tell me you’re actually considering this. What if he’s some sort of pervert?”

“I am nothing of the sort,” Yusuke interjected. “I admire nudity only for the sake of art. If you would--”

“I’m not posing nude!”

“That is unfortunate, but very well. I can work around that.” He pulled out a piece of paper and wrote his number down. “Call me and we can arrange a date.”

Ann stared after him long after he was gone. “Did that really just happen?”

Ryuji shook his head. “Art kids are weird.”

~~
“So where is this fortune teller again?” Ryuji had been leading him around the Red Light District for almost thirty minutes now. He was about ready to call it quits and go home.

“She should be around here somewhere.” Suddenly they spotted a blonde woman with a purple headband sitting at a table. “That must be her!”

“Good evening,” she said as they approached. “My name is Chihaya. Are you here to get your fortunes read?”

“Shouldn’t you already know that?” Akira stared at the tarot cards on the table. He couldn’t believe he had let Ryuji talk him into something like this.

She eyed him. “I sense a mysterious aura around you. There is someone in your life who you strongly wish to protect--a girlfriend perhaps?”

She suddenly had his interest. He sat down at the table. “What else do you see?”

Chihaya flipped a card over, nodding to herself. “This card represents the Priestess arcana. The girl I see has brought you much pain and suffering, but also has the potential to bring you the greatest joy. Is she a lover, perhaps?”

Ryuji snickered. “He wishes.”

Akira ignored him. “She’s not even my girlfriend. She’s my tutor.”

“Mhm.” Chihaya turned over another card. “The road to love with this girl will be long and arduous. You two will have many challenges together, however, overcome them and you will have an unbreakable bond.”

The hairs on his arms were suddenly prickling. A girl he strongly wanted to protect. An arduous love. He rubbed his palms on his pants. Did he even feel that way about Makoto?

“Eh, this all sounds like a bunch of bull,” Ryuji said. “How do we know you’re not just making this up?”

“Suddenly you’re a skeptic?” Akira said, “You were the one who wanted to come here.”

Chihaya glared at Ryuji and flipped up another card. “The future is absolute. I sense a black aura of misfortune woven into your academic career.”

“HUH? Damn it, praying didn’t do shit.” He hung his head. “I made my knees sore for nothing.”

“What else can you tell me?” Akira asked.

“This girl will bring a great deal of danger upon herself at some point. It’s up to you whether or not she will succumb to it or not.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean? When will she be in danger? How do I stop it?”

Chihaya shook her head. “I’m afraid I cannot give you the exact dates. All I can see are possibilities on the path.” She held out her and smiled. “That will be 2000 yen please!”

Ryuji dug around in his pocket. “Man, this is bullshit.” Akira put a hand on his arm and pulled out two 1000 yen bills from his wallet. He handed them to the lady. “Hey, thanks man. You didn’t have to do that.”

“Her advice was more useful to me anyways.”

“You really think it’s true?”

He didn’t have an answer to that. It probably wasn’t and just a strategy to hook people into thinking something was wrong so they would come here and keep spending money to try and avoid the outcome. “Hopefully the worst thing that happens is I find out I got scammed.”

Ryuji suddenly let out a massive bellow. “Agh! Can’t believe I paid that train fare for nothing. Look at this place. It’s brimming with stuff to do, but we can’t do anything because we ain’t old enough.”

The entertainment district certainly had an appealing allure to it. Brightly colored neon signs were drawing his eye in every direction they turned. Various men and women were out on the street handing out flyers or stopping random passersby to ensnare them with the services they offered.

“Hey, isn’t that a Shujin student?”

Akira looked to where he was pointing and saw Eiko. Her back was turned so he couldn’t see her face, but she was hunched over and had a defensive posture as an older man seemed to be chewing her out over something.

“What the hell’s a Shujin student doing here at night? We had to change out of our uniforms just so we wouldn’t be stopped by the police. What the eff?”

“She works here, I think.”

“Huh? What underage girl would want to work here?”

“I’m gonna go over there and check on her.” He could hear Ryuji calling out for him as he jogged across the street. But by the time he reached them, the man had already pulled Eiko back inside. What had that been about? Was she in some sort of trouble? Akira wasn’t fond of the girl, but he didn’t want anything to happen to her.

Makoto would want to know about this. He needed to tell her, but kept thinking about the fortune teller’s words from earlier.

“Oi,” Ryuji ran up to him. “The hell’s going on?”

Akira shook his head. “I don’t know.” The uneasy feeling in his gut persisted the entire train ride home.
~~

Makoto was in the student council room cleaning up after a meeting when her phone buzzed. A picture of the second years’ test scores popped up. She zoomed in and saw Akira’s name listed in the top ten. Before she could respond, another text bubble appeared.

“I owe you one, Miss President. Let’s go out to eat somewhere and celebrate.”

She grinned, despite herself. “Wasn’t this me owing you for pretending to be my boyfriend? And don’t call me that.”

“I’m in a giving mood today. Besides, I want to see you.” The phone almost slipped from her hand. “To thank you, I mean! Well?”

“Ok. Meet me in front of the school gate.”

Why did it suddenly seem so hard to breathe? Makoto gathered up her things and had to backtrack twice because she had forgotten something. She shook her head and tried to gather her thoughts. It was silly to get so worked up over a simple meal.

The sky was darkening with storm clouds when she stepped out of the school. Akira was leaning with one foot pressed against the brick podium when she arrived. One hand was shoved deep into his pocket while his other spun his phone around on a single finger. He looked like a stereotypical punk, but after their phone conversation, she could no longer see him that way.

“Aren’t you worried you’ll break your phone doing that?”

When he looked up and saw her, a grin split his face in two. “I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it.”

He grabbed her hand and led her to the station. Makoto’s first instinct was to pull away from him. People were staring and she was suddenly aware of every move they made. But his hand was warming her own and it felt nice so she decided to give in.

“Where are we going?”

“Where do you want to go?”

Makoto thought about it for a second. Due to her sister’s job, she had dined in quite a lot of five star restaurants. Though the food had been excellent, the atmosphere had a haughty vibe to it that she wasn’t fond of. Definitely not somewhere Akira would be comfortable at. “Take me somewhere I’ve never been before. I want to experience something new for a change.”

They ended up going to Leblanc. Despite knowing he lived here, Makoto had never been before. The cafe had a nice retro feeling to it, almost like she had stepped back in time.

“There aren’t any customers here. Why? It’s a cozy place.”

“Boss has terrible customer service skills. I’m surprised he hasn’t went out of business yet.” He led her over to the bar and pulled a stool out for her. “But it’s nice and quiet. Perfect for rainy days like this one. It’s officially closed today due to some business he had so I thought it would be a nice place to bring you.”

A thought suddenly occurred to her. This was where he lived. And he had brought her here. Alone.

“Calm down. I didn’t bring you here to do anything indecent.” He laughed and went into the kitchen and started pulling stuff out of the fridge. “I thought about making you some of Leblanc’s famous curry. On the house, of course.” He slung a towel over his shoulder and began fiddling with the stove.

It was such a lovely gesture, she couldn’t stop a stupid smile from growing on her face. “No one’s ever offered to cook for me before. I feel like quite the VIP. Um, won’t Sojiro-san get upset if you give out food for free?”

“I think he’d be proud, actually. But we only ever get one or two customers at a time, so it’s not a big deal.” A weird expression crossed his face. “You do like curry, right?”

“Of course.”

He fiddled with his bangs, rubbing a strand between his thumb and forefinger. “Good, because it’s the only thing I know how to make.”

While he brewed a pot of coffee, Makoto began to relax. The sound of the rain pelting on the windows and food cooking in the background was soothing her frazzled mind. Morgana jumped up on the stool next to her and she reached out and scratched his ear. “I see what you mean now. I’m actually glad you brought me here instead of somewhere crowded.”

He gave her his signature devilish grin as he poured water into the filter. “I didn’t feel like sharing you today.”

The room felt warm all of a sudden and she giggled, nervously. “How can you say that with a straight face? It sounds like something a guy at a host club would say.”

Akira’s body stiffened and he set the water down. “That reminds me; there’s something I want to talk to you about.”

“What is it?”

“Right before exams, Ryuji and I were in Shinjuku and we saw your friend, Eiko. Some guy was yelling at her. I didn’t know if he was her boss or not.”

Makoto’s stomach tightened. “And you waited until just now to tell me?”

He winced. “I’m sorry. I got distracted due to exams.”

With a weary sigh, she fished her phone out of her purse and dialed Eiko’s number. She pressed the speaker button and put it down on the bar.

“Hello?” Eiko’s voice, usually full of energy, sounded low and gravelly.

“Hey, I know we haven’t talked in awhile, but is everything ok? You don’t sound too good.”

Eiko had a weary tone in her voice. “It’s just stress. You don’t have to pretend to care.”

Makoto drummed her fingers on the counter. “I’m not pretending. I really am concerned. Is it your job?”

The sound of air blowing into the speakers filled the room. “Nothing gets past you, does it? You’ll just pry anyway, so I guess I’ll go ahead and tell you. Two weeks ago, Tsukasa dropped an expensive bottle of champagne on the floor and got in huge trouble.

So to help out, I’ve been requesting him a lot. I’ve wracked up a little debt and have been pulling double shifts to try and pay it back. But it’s hard, you know? I didn’t realize how much money people spend on hosts. Even the tiniest of services they perform can cost up to 1000s of yen.”

Makoto and Akira exchanged a look. She mouthed, ‘Does that sound suspicious to you, too?’

He nodded in agreement.

“And Tsukasa’s ok with just letting you go into debt because of him?”

“God, not this again. Of course, he isn’t! He was super against me requesting him, but it’s my money and I can do what I want.”

“You should have been more frugal! How can you wrack up that much debt so fast?”

“My Tsukasa is a popular host,” she snapped.

“Still--”

“They would have fired him if I hadn’t done something.”

“Really?” Makoto’s face twisted. “If he’s so popular, surely the owner wouldn’t want to lose a regular source of income. And if he makes a lot of money, then why couldn’t he pay for the bottle himself?”

Eiko went silent and she prayed that, for once, she was getting through to her. “Most of his money goes to improving his appearance. He’s serious when it comes to keeping his clients happy. And he also likes to buy me things. Tsukasa says it’s because he loves me so much.”

“God, Eiko will you open your eyes for once?” Makoto’s temper flared and sent Morgana flying off his seat. Even Akira jumped back a bit. “That bastard is suspicious as hell. This sounds like a scheme meant to lure in young, naive girls and drain every last bit of their money from them. What if they try to force you to pay it back some other way?”

“Tsukasa would never let that happen to me!”

“You can’t keep doing this, Eiko. Call the police or tell your parents. If you don’t, then I will.”

“You’re such a bitch. I don’t know why I even started talking to you.”

Makoto reeled back like she’d been slapped. “I’m just concerned--”

“Until you have actual proof, then I don’t want to hear it.” Eiko’s next words were so full of malice, that she almost expected the phone to melt into the table. “If you do anything to hurt Tsukasa, I will make you regret it.”

The phone went dead. Makoto stared at it in complete shock.

Akira hesitantly set a plate of curry down in front of her. “You alright?” He reached out and covered her hand with his own. “Maybe you should just leave this alone.”

She brought her fist down so hard on the table that it sent everything rattling. “I will not. My dad told me to always trust my instincts. And now they’re screaming at me to do something. If Eiko won’t believe me without proof, then I’ll find some. I’ll beat the sense into her if I have to.”

“Calm down, alright? Don’t go rushing off on your own and doing anything rash. I’ll help you.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

Akira cupped her face and ran a thumb along her cheekbones. A cold shiver shot down her spine, every nerve ending suddenly tingling. “Yeah, I know I don’t. But I want to. You should’ve figured that out by now.”

He pulled away but she could still feel the lingering sensation of his fingers. She jammed a spoonful of hot curry into her mouth to calm herself and immediately regretted it. “Ah! Why is it so spicy?”

She hit the table with her hand until Akira shoved a glass of water into it. Nothing had ever felt so refreshing. She drained every last drop until there was nothing left. Tears were pouring from her eyes as she dabbed a napkin to her forehead. “How do people eat this without dying?”

Akira didn’t meet her eyes. “I may have, uh, taken some liberties with the recipe. Do you want me to make it again?”

Makoto stared the curry down. It hadn’t been all that bad. And he had went to all that trouble to make it for her after all… “Maybe just bring me a few more glasses of water.”

Chapter Text

“Alright, does everyone understand the plan?” Ryuji said

“Yep!” Ann raised her hand. “I give Makoto her ticket and Yusuke gives Akira his. The two meet at the festival and then maybe, by some miracle, realize that they actually freaking like each other.”

A puzzled Yusuke sat beside her. “I understand the objective, but why am I here exactly? Romantic love has never been something I’ve had an interest in. Furthermore, I do not think I know Akira well enough to be involving myself in his love life.”

“Because you owe me from the day I modeled for you.” Ann stared at him with a dangerous gleam in her eye.

Yusuke shook his head. “I was only wanting to try out different forms of dynamic poses. The composition of your body--”

Ann slammed her hand on the table. “We don’t need to talk about it! Besides, Ryuji would just mess everything up if he tried to do it.”

“Hey! I would not. It’s just giving him a ticket to the fireworks festival. How the hell could I mess that up?”

“Oh, trust me, you’d find a way. You’re about as subtle as a brick to the face.”

“How is he any better?” Ryuji aimed a finger at Yusuke. “Are you forgetting how we met him?”

Yusuke took the ticket in his hand and slid it into his pocket. He wore the sly grin of a fox. “You can count on me. I won’t mess this up. Redemption is key here if I ever wish to have Ann model for me again.”

“In your dreams, buddy.”

~~
“You want me to do what?” Akira stared at Yusuke. The boy had obviously lost his mind. When Yusuke had invited him to a church in Kanda, he assumed the boy wanted to do some inner reflection and praying. He hadn’t wanted to be rude by refusing.
Besides, after the thoughts he had been having lately and the amount of times he’d washed his sheets in the last week, surely he needed a good dose of religion. “Isn’t Ann your muse in this department? I thought I wasn’t your type.”

“I’ve been looking to try out various forms of the human body. My artist’s eye will go stale if I only focus on the female form. While not what I am used to, your broad shoulders and rugged charm capture masculinity in a desirable way.”

Akira blinked several times. “I--I don’t know what to say to that. Why are we in a church exactly?”

Yusuke beamed. “I want to depict the feeling of anguish and what better way to do so than the crucifixion of Christ?” He pointed to the podium. “If you would.”

He sighed and accepted the fact that this was going to be a weird day. “Make me beautiful, at least.”

Yusuke frowned. “I only paint with an objective viewpoint in mind. I will not taint the purity of my work by exaggerating features that aren’t there to begin with.”

Had he just been insulted? Akira was pretty sure he had just been insulted. He looked at Yusuke, then back to the podium, shrugged and shook his head at the absurdity of it all. “Should I get naked as well?” Seeing the look upon Yusuke’s face, he hastily added, “No. No, no, no, no. I was just joking. Yusuke, look at me. I’m not stripping in a church. This is a holy place.”

“Hm, you’re right. Nudity, even for the sake of art, would be the fastest way to get kicked out of the premises.”

Akira heaved a huge sigh of relief. He stepped onto the raised steps and began doing his best impersonation of Jesus. Yusuke snapped his camera in rapid succession, at times stopping in the middle to flail his arms wildly about to show Akira what he wanted him to do next.

“No, this isn’t right!” Yusuke mirrored the pose he was making. “Try feeling the pain Jesus felt in his last moments. I’m not sensing a feeling of agony from you.”

“Are you sure? Because I’m feeling a lot of it right now.”

“Stretch your limbs more. No, no. Not like that. What are you, a rag doll?”

“This better?” He threw his arms around randomly until Yusuke seemed satisfied.

“Adequate. Your lack of grace and poise does have a certain authenticity to it.”

He couldn’t help but laugh. “You don’t hold anything back do you?”

“I never cut corners when it comes to art.”

Embarrassment soon left him, amusement taking its place. Yusuke was certainly an odd bird but his eccentricity had a certain appeal to it. They only called it quits when a pastor came up to them and asked them politely to leave because they were disturbing the congregation.

“You were not as bad a model as I expected you to be. I’m glad I asked you to do this.”

He rubbed the back of his head. “Glad I could be of help. Did you get some good shots?”

Yusuke flipped through the photo album and nodded his head. “Yes, this has provided me with ample material to work from.”

“Good. Well, guess I’ll see you--” A loud growling sound interrupted him. He looked at Yusuke, who was clutching his stomach. “Was that you?”

“My apologies.” He looked embarrassed. “I’ve been low on funds lately so I’ve been surviving on mostly bean sprouts and lemon water.”

“You don’t have enough money for food?” Something in his heart softened.

“I do, but since I’m attending Kosei high on an art scholarship, I can’t afford to let my skills grow rusty. So I’ve mainly been using the money to buy some art books that I’ve been wanting.”

Unbelievable. “Aren’t your priorities a bit backwards?”

Yusuke shook his head. “You don’t understand the pressure I’m under. Being the former student of Madarame has alienated me. I’ve worked since I was three years old on my art. It’s all I have. If I lose that, then all the pain and suffering I went through because of him will have been for nothing.”

Akira buckled under his words and he suddenly felt a growing admiration for him. Suddenly all he wanted to do was feed him. “Do you want to go grab some sushi or something?”

“What did you say?” Yusuke’s entire face lit up.
~~
Akira had never seen someone eat so much. Through the entire meal, Yusuke’s cheeks resembled that of a squirrel. He leaned back after he was done and rubbed his stomach. “Thank you for the food. I haven’t had a meal that sustaining in a while.”

“You need to take better care of your health. I know art is important to you and all, but you can’t paint your best if your body is weak from hunger.”

“I hadn’t considered that.” He smiled. “Thank you Akira. Today has opened my eyes to many things that had previously been sealed off. It was unexpected, but I quite enjoyed your company. You’re a very soothing individual.”

“Er, thanks?”

“I have something for you to show my gratitude.” He reached into his bag and slid an envelope across the table.

Akira opened it and pulled out a single ticket to the upcoming fireworks festival. He found it odd that there was only one. Usually they were given in pairs. “Did you intend for me to go by myself?”

He looked confused. “I was only put in charge of one ticket.”

“Huh?”

“Ah, nevermind,” he said. “I’m positive someone will show up to accompany you that day.” Yusuke got up from the table and gave him a small bow. “I must excuse myself. I’ve been struck with the most ardent desire to paint after the events of today. Again, you have my thanks. We should do this again sometime. Hopefully, by then, I will have enough money to cover my share.”

“Uh, sure.” Akira stopped him before Yusuke went out the door. “Hey, come by Leblanc anytime you’re hungry, alright? I can’t keep letting you starve yourself.”

Yusuke’s eyes widened. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah. I’d feel bad if you passed out in the middle of the street.”

“Then I will certainly take you up on that offer.” He offered Akira a small smile. “Perhaps the gods granted me more than a muse that day.”

~~

Apparently finding information on popular hosts was not the easiest thing to do. Akira sighed as the twelfth person he talked to that day told him to fuck off. He walked back over to Makoto and shook his head.

“It’s been over a month and we still haven’t found anything,” she wrapped her arms around herself. “Maybe this whole thing was a mistake. And I even dragged you into it as well.”

Akira put a hand on her shoulder. “Do you really believe that?”

“No,” she murmured.

“Then that means we’ll just have to try harder.”

“You’re right,” she smiled for the first time that day. “Why don’t we split up for a bit so we can cover more areas. We can meet in front of the movie theater in thirty minutes.”

It was a solid idea, but it filled Akira with apprehension. “Just be careful. This isn’t the safest place for a girl to be.”

Makoto stepped forward and grabbed his arm, twisted it around and brought him to his knees. “Ah!” He cried out as she shoved his face to the ground.

“I appreciate the concern but I believe I can handle myself.”

“Okay, you’ve made your point! Let me go.” She released him, acting as if nothing had ever happened. He rubbed his arm and tried to bring some feeling back into it. “I pity the guy who thinks he can one up you.”

“You should know better than anyone that I have a lot of pent up aggression.”

The pleased expression on her face made him weak in the knees. He was highly starting to suspect that he had a hidden pleasure for pain.

Akira walked around the busy streets and still couldn’t find anyone who was willing to share any information. Finally someone threw him a lifeline and pointed him towards a bar named Crossroads. Stepping inside, his vision was assaulted with various hues of reds and pinks with the most gaudy decor he had ever laid eyes on.

“Oh?” A large woman with purple hair looked up when he approached the counter. “You know this is a bar, right honey? I’m afraid I can’t serve minors here.”

Wait. That voice was way too deep to belong to a woman. “Uh, are you a man?”

A woman sitting near him snorted into her drink. “Not here, she isn’t. This is a crossdressing bar. Her name is Lala, by the way.” Judging by the way she was slurring her words, the woman was ripped off her ass. “Lala-chan, if you won’t serve him one, get me another.”

Lala rolled her eyes and refilled her glass. She put her hands on her hips and turned her attention to Akira. “What brings you in here today? If it’s to gawk, then I’m going to have to politely ask you to leave. We aren’t a sideshow attraction.”

“I was actually wanting some information. Someone told me you were the person to go to if I wanted to know anything about Shinjuku.”

“Honey, nothing that goes on around here makes it past me. Why do you think this one’s here so often?” She jabbed her thumb at the drunk woman.

“Is she a reporter?”

“Technically, I am. Although I’m slumming it in the entertainment department right now.” She fished a business card out of her pocket and handed it to him. It read Ichiko Ohya on the front.

“Why are you giving him that?” Lala asked. “Don’t involve young kids in your ridiculous affairs.”

Ohya waved her hand. Some of her drink spilled onto the bar. “He came here cause he wanted info, right?” She turned to him. “What do you wanna know kid?”

“Can you tell me anything about a host named Tsukasa?”

They both looked at each other. He took that as a good sign.

“Let me guess,” Ohya said. “That sleazy prick’s been hanging around with your girlfriend right? Well, keep her away from him. He’s dangerous.”

Akira decided it would be too much trouble to correct them. “It’s actually her friend that I’m concerned about. She’s working at his club and has gotten into some trouble. Apparently she’s in debt.”

Lala nodded her head. “Ah, the old champagne trick. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard girls fall for it. It’s how he lures them in.”

“He’ll leech that girl dry and then try to force her into slave labor. I’ve seen it happen before but can’t gather enough evidence to expose him.” Ohya shook her head. “All the girls protect him, too. He’s a charming son of a bitch.”

“I’d like to yank the hair out of his scalp,” Lala spat.

Akira’s stomach was in knots. Knowing that wouldn’t do them any good if they couldn’t get evidence of it. He sighed and collapsed into a stool. Another dead end.

Ohya suddenly slammed her fist down on the table. “Ah! He’s having a birthday event at the end of this month on July 31. I’ve been wondering how I could get in without being noticed, but this works out perfectly.”

“No, no, no. Do not involve innocent children into this.” Lala poked her finger into Ohya’s chest with every word she spoke. “It’s too dangerous.”

“Please,” Akira said. “My friend--girlfriend--is desperate to help this person. And she won’t stop even if it gets her into trouble. I want to be there for her and help keep her safe.”

Lala wiped an invisible tear from her cheek. “I love hearing about young love. Such passion! But I still think it’s too dangerous.”

There was a strong voice in the back of his mind that told him to keep quiet about this and not tell Makoto at all. But it would be pointless in the end. She was resourceful and had proven that many times over. Also she would never forgive him if he lied to her. Especially when she was trying to help someone. He thought about what the fortune teller had told him that day.

It’s up to you whether she succumbs to danger or not.

“Once she gets a goal in her mind, she won’t stop until it’s completed. She’ll just find out about this anyway and go off and do something foolish. I want to prevent that from happening.”

“Oh, just let me tell him Lala. If he wants to go do something stupid, it’s his right.”

She pointed at Ohya. “You shut up.” She pointed another finger at Akira. “And you don’t know what you’re getting into.”

“Maybe so, but I’m willing to risk it if it’s for her.”

Lala drummed her long nails on the counter and pursed her lips. “She must be special to you.”

“Yes.” The word popped out of his mouth without a second thought. He didn’t know when he had started to feel that way, but it was becoming too strong for him to brush aside.

“Fine. I’m not your mother, so it’s none of my business. But let me tell you that event is a shark tank. It may seem innocent what with all the pretty boys, but it’s a clever ruse. It’s a scouting party. They look for girls to target and lure in the prettiest ones. If you go to this party, keep your eye on that girlfriend of yours at all times. Do not let her wander off alone.”

Akira nodded, not underestimating the gravity of her words. “I won’t.” Lala gave a nod of approval and he turned to the reporter. “So how do you plan to get us in.”

“Hold on a second. I’m not gonna do this for free.”

He rolled his eyes. “What do you want? Money?”

“Pfft. I don’t need your lunch money, kid. I want cold, hard information. Hand over whatever you find and let me publish it in Maiasa--the newspaper I work for. This is just too good to pass up and you’re my golden goose. If you agree to do that, then I’ll secure you tickets to the event. Won’t cost you a dime.”

“What if we don’t find anything?”

She grinned. “There’s something about you that I can’t put my finger on. Call it a journalist’s instincts, but I have a feeling that you won’t have that trouble.”

~~

Makoto was standing in front of the movie theater like she said she would when he came running up to her. The dejected look on her face told him all he needed to know.

“Please tell me you found something. I scoured these entire streets. Twice.” She winced and rubbed the back of her leg. “My feet are killing me.”

“Actually I did.”

When he told her about the birthday event, her eyes lit up. Makoto rushed over to him and flung her arms around his neck. “Oh, Akira, this is perfect! This is exactly the break we’ve been looking for. You’re so reliable, you know that?”

His face was suddenly scalding hot. “I just got lucky.” Her body was warm against his own and he wrapped his arms around her waist and pressed her to him. “What do you say you and me go get this bastard?”

“Yes. Especially after what you told me, we can’t let this go. Do you--” He felt the slight intake of her breath. “Do you think that’s why he was stalking me? You know what? Don’t tell me. I already know the answer.”

He tightened his hold on her. “I won’t let him hurt you, Makoto. And I’m pretty sure you’d break his jaw before I even got the opportunity.”

She laughed into his collar bone. “I don’t know what I would’ve done without you that night. In fact, I don’t know what I would do without you now. I’ve come to rely on you a great deal. I’ll work harder to strengthen my shortcomings. I want to be someone you can lean on as well.”

A million different ways to respond ran through Akira’s head, but none of them conveyed the exact depth of his feelings in that moment. No one had ever offered to be a pillar of strength for him before. Maybe that was why he was always going out of his way to help other people; because no one had ever bothered to do it for him.
“You always manage to surprise me,” he whispered into her ear. “I’m actually really glad you punched me in the nose.”

“Yes, although I do wish it had been less violent.” She pulled away from him and cleared her throat. “Tsukasa’s party is a almost two weeks away. We should prepare in the meantime.”

“We can, but we should also do something fun.”

“What did you have in mind?”

Akira pulled out the ticket Yusuke had given him the other day. “If my guess is correct, then you got one of these too.”

Makoto nodded. “Ann gave it to me yesterday. She was trying to be subtle, but her acting isn’t the best.”

“I think our friends are trying to tell us something.”

“Well we wouldn’t want to disappoint them, now would we? It would be rude to refuse their sentiment.”

“So it’s a date then. A real one this time, I hope.”

“If you wish for it to be.” Her lips curled into a coy grin.

He didn’t think he had ever wished for anything more.

Chapter Text

The day of the fireworks festival started out horrible. There was a high chance of rain for the evening which threatened to interfere with his first actual date with Makoto. But that wasn’t what got to him the most. It was the call from his parents that sent Akira spiraling into a dark hole. Not once, in the four months he had been here, had his parents called to see how he was doing. It would have been more disappointing if he wasn’t completely used to it by now.

“Akira,” his mother’s curt tone invaded his speakers. “You’re not getting into any trouble down there are you?”

“Nice to hear from you, too.” Was his deadpanned response.

“Don’t cop an attitude. Do you really think you’re in a position to be a smart mouth right now? Do you know how much face we lost when you were arrested that day? Oh, it’s still vivid in my mind. I never thought I would have to suffer through something like that.”

The concern in her voice had been void when the police visited their house that night. He could still see the furious glare in his parents’ eyes as he’d been shoved roughly into the back of the car. Akira had been more terrified than he had ever been in his entire life and neither of them lifted one finger to help him.

“It’s not like that was a traumatic night for me or anything,” he spat. “I was just being accused unjustly of assault and having my whole life ripped out from underneath me.”

“Don’t be so dramatic.” He could vividly see the curl of his mother’s lips. “You have no idea how hard it’s been to be the parents of a delinquent. How are you supposed to move up in the world now? What company will hire you? We’ve lost our security in our old age just because you went and lost your temper.”

His mother’s words had a harsh truth to them. The future now held an uncertainty to it that he’d never felt before. A crime that he hadn’t even committed would now follow him throughout his entire life. It was so goddamn frustrating.

“Of course your reputation matters more. That’s all that has ever mattered. But like I said before, I didn’t lay a hand on that man. He fell on his own.”

He heard a small sniff on the other end. “Or so you claim. Your only witness says otherwise.”

Akira could feel the familiar tremble of fury snaking its way up his body. “That’s because she was--no, nevermind. You didn’t believe me when I told you the first time so why would you believe me now?”

“Then this has been a complete waste of time. Answer my question and we can both get on with our lives.”

“I haven’t been kicked out yet, Mother. In fact, I placed in the top ten on my--”

There was a click on the end of the line as his mother hung up on him. Akira stared at his phone, hands shaking, and tried to calm the frantic beating of his heart. When that didn’t work he hurled his phone across the room. It shattered against the wall with a harsh clunk. If he couldn’t hurt his mother, then he could damn sure hurt something else.

“What the hell are you doing up there?” Sojiro’s gruff voice called up the stairs.

“Sorry,” he yelled back. “I just--dropped my phone.”

“You better not have broke it. I’m not gonna be the one buying you a new one.”

Akira sank to his knees and tried to wrestle back a small piece of his composure. With a weary sigh, he walked over to the scattered pieces of his phone to survey the damage. The screen was severely cracked and the battery had popped out.

Good job, Akira. Look what you did. Stupid…

He pieced it back together the best he could and went downstairs. Sojiro was looking at him strangely but wisely said nothing.

He slid a cup of coffee over to him. “Here. Sit your ass down and drink this. And wipe that scowl off your face. You’re gonna scare your date tonight.”

“How did you know about that?”

“You oughta know by now that you can’t get anything past me. I’ve been your age before. I know the signs of a guy who’s finally scored with a girl he likes.”

“Scored?” He smirked. “She’s not a prize at an arcade.”

“You know what I mean,” he gruffed. “Stop being so damn politically correct. It’s annoying.”

“Yes, sir.”

Akira drank his coffee and tried to push the phone call with his mother out of his mind. Instead, he tried to focus on his evening ahead with Makoto. Maybe she would wear a yukata. What the hell was he going to wear anyways? It’s not like he had any nice clothes laying around. The last thing he wanted to do was show up looking like a slob.

He sighed and pushed the hair back from his forehead. Why did there have to be so much of it? Makoto was a classy girl. How could he ever measure up to someone like her? She deserved so much better than what he could give her.

“Hey,” Sojiro said. “Stop overthinking things. That’s the quickest way to turn off a woman. Just brush your damn hair for once, put on some cologne, and go out and have a good time.”

“You always seem to be nagging me.”

“That’s because you’re so pitiful. I’m trying to help you, punk. You got an issue with that?”

“No,” Akira said. “I appreciate it actually. I think it means you might just care about me.”

Sojiro’s eyes widened and he rubbed the back of his head. “Why are you getting all sentimental on me all of a sudden? Someone’s gotta steer you in the right direction. Maybe I’ll at least be able to make a difference in one kid’s life.” A wistful tone slipped into his voice.

“What do you mean?”

“Ah, forget I said anything.” He started wiping down the counters and avoided Akira’s eyes. “Just wash up before you leave alright?”

Akira smiled and took his cup to the sink. The sting of his mother’s phone call retracted just a bit.

~~

The Tokyo streets were so jam packed full of people, that Makoto had no idea how she was going to find Akira. Despite it being dark already, the rolling storm clouds above her looked ready to fall out at any second. She ducked into the station and was about to call him when she spotted a familiar lanky figure.

Ah. There was her fluffy haired date. When he turned around and saw her, his entire face lit up. His joy was infectious and her heart felt like it was ballooning in her chest.

“Wow, I’m impressed. You clean up nicely.” His normal disheveled look added to his charm, but he looked so clean cut that she suddenly felt giddy that she was the one he had dressed up for. She took the arm he offered and melted into his side. The faint scent of coffee mixed with cologne drifted into her nose and she drank in the smell with greed.

He grinned and squeezed her arm. “Sojiro knows more than just coffee and curry, apparently.”

“Are you going to adopt a pink rimmed fedora?”

Makoto couldn’t help the laugh that slipped out when he scrunched up his nose in disgust. “If I did, I wouldn’t blame you if you never talked to me again.”

“That would never happen.” Maybe she was reading too much into it, but he seemed more distant today. There was a quiet despondency in his face that she had never seen before. “Is something wrong?”

“There was, but with you here it doesn’t even matter anymore. You look beautiful, by the way.”

Her pulse quickened. “How come you always say things that catch me completely off guard? I was never interested in any of this stuff until I met you.”

“So I’m the first person you’ve ever went on a date with?”

She tried to ignore his teasing smile. “I don’t see why you would find that surprising given my history. Would you prefer a girl with more experience?”

“No,” his steely black gaze seemed to strip away all the unnecessary parts of her and left only her true self laid bare. “Why would I need anyone else when I have you?”

She was going to suffocate in this cursed yukata tonight.

He led her through the station and out onto the bridge that led to Inokashira Park. Her anxiety deflated a bit now that the crowd had dissipated. There were only a handful of people on the bridge--mostly couples--so they were alone for the most part.

“It should be starting soon,” Akira said.

Suddenly a collective yell of surprise went up as the first firecracker shot into the air. It exploded into a thousand hues of different colors, reflecting in the water below them so vividly that it was like staring at two skies at once.

It was such a perfect setting that Makoto could hardly believe it was real. She felt like she was in a scene of one of those dramas that Ann had made her watch. A weight settled on her shoulders as Akira drew her closer. His eyes didn’t leave her even with the slew of popping going on above them.

“You’re missing the show, you know.”

He brushed a lock of hair out of her face and tucked it behind her ear. His thumb grazed across her cheek just like that day in the cafe. The feeling pulsing through her, however, was stronger.

“I don’t care,” he said. “I didn’t come here to see them.”

“You always say whatever’s on your mind. I feel like I can’t keep up.” Sweat rolled down her neck as Akira moved closer and closer to her.

His thumb brushed her lip sending a hot burst of liquid fire into her lower abdomen. Maybe it was a good thing she had never dated before. This feeling he evoked in her was intoxicating. It felt like a high that left her brain in a puddle. Is this what it felt like to have feelings for someone?

The logical part of her told her that was ridiculous. She couldn’t be falling for someone she had only known for a few months. But reasoning soon took over and she knew it couldn’t be anything else.

This boy was going to wreck her. And Makoto was absolutely powerless to stop him.

“You’re fine the way you are, Makoto. This is all new to me, too.”

The way he said her name was downright addicting. “Oh, come on. I don’t believe that for a second. You must’ve dated other girls before.”

He shook his head. “Nothing that was ever serious. I’ve never wanted anyone like I’ve wanted you.”

“You--” Words seemed to be impossible to form. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Maybe because I’m sick of dancing around it. Or maybe because I realized that I only have a few things in this life that make me absurdly happy and you’re one of them.”

“Akira, I--” She didn’t know what to say. This was uncharted territory; something she couldn’t learn from one of her textbooks. He was a drug; a damn drug that was coursing through her veins and making her stupid.

Akira closed the distance between them and her mind overheated. He was going to kiss her. Shit, he was actually going to kiss her. What did she do? She’d never kissed anyone before. Did she close her eyes? Open them? What was her mouth supposed to do?

The fireworks were still going off above them but she felt as if everyone was watching them instead. His nose was so close, it was touching her own. “Relax, Makoto,” he whispered. “This isn’t a math problem.”

“A math problem would be more simple.”

He grinned. “But it wouldn’t be as fun.”

The heat in her gut intensified. She closed her eyes and tried to shut out her thoughts. His lips were hovering barely an inch above her own. Suddenly something wet hit the tip of her nose. “Ah.”

“What the--?”

The sky fell out in a drizzling downpour that instantly soaked them. The people around them cried out and scattered off in all directions in the search for somewhere dry. Makoto tried in vain to cover her head with her sleeves but traditional wear wasn’t the easiest to maneuver in.

“Come on,” she took Akira’s hand. “We’ll get sick if we stay out here.”

He didn’t budge. She turned and saw him standing there as stiff as a statue. The rain pattered onto the lens of his glasses, obscuring his eyes. He stared straight up, his hands balled into tight fists at his side.

“What’s the matter?” She tugged on his coat sleeve. “Akira?”

A low growl slipped from his throat. “I guess it was too much to ask for this one thing.”

“Huh? What are you talking about?”

He lowered his head with a sigh. “Nevermind. God just loves screwing me over, I guess.” With his hair sopping wet, he reminded her of a wet dog. Pitiful and dejected. He took her hand. “Come on, I’ll walk you back to the station.”

“Wait.”

When he turned around, she reached up and pulled his glasses off. Makoto wiped them off the best she could and stuffed them in the top part of her yukata.

“What are you--?”

She took his face in her hands and pulled him down. His surprise only lasted for a brief second. Then his quicksilver charm took over and he kissed her. Whenever Makoto had seen someone kiss on tv, it was short and chaste. Even on those dramas of Ann’s, they were nothing more than lip presses. So Makoto expected her first kiss to be similar. It wasn’t. Not in the slightest. She didn’t know a simple kiss could have so much hunger in it. That it could leave her breathless and aching. Even though the rain was freezing cold, his mouth felt warm on her own. She forgot that she didn’t know what to do and succumbed to her desire to simply touch him.

She reached up and tangled her hands in his hair and brought him further towards her. Freezing rain water was dripping from his hair into her eyes and mouth but she hardly even felt it. All she could concentrate on was the fingers on the back of her neck and the way he held her gently in his hands as if she were the most precious thing in the world.

More. She craved it as he devoured her mouth like a starved animal. He slid his tongue across the seam of her mouth and she opened up to take him in. Her knees threatened to buckle as he kissed her again and again, each time with increasing intensity.

He pulled back from her and rested his forehead against her own. She hated that he stopped. She was glad that he did, less the pulsing between her thighs grow progressively worse. Never in her life had she had such impure thoughts. No wonder Sis had never wanted her to date.

“Do you know how long I’ve been wanting to do that?” He said. “Never thought you’d be the one to initiate it, though.”

“Me either. But--but I wanted to know what it felt like.”

“And? What was your conclusion?”

A nervous giggle escaped her. “You have many talents, you know that? I think you’re going to corrupt me.”

He wrapped his arms around her and kissed the top of her head. They would have stayed that way longer if the harsh sound of a whistle hadn’t ruined the moment. Both of them looked up, startled to see a cop shaking his head at them.

“Show’s canceled, you two. Go do some necking somewhere else. Preferably at home. The trains are all messed up due to the crowds.”

“What about the one to Yongen Jaya?” Akira asked.

“It’ll take a while. You’d be better off going somewhere else for the night.”

“Thank you officer.” Thankfully her embarrassment was hidden from view.

“Guess I’m walking home.” Akira said after he left. He looked dazed, his pupils blown wide and dilated. She imagined she was in a similar state.

“Um, I live close by. It would make more sense to go there and wait for the storm to let up.”

“What about your sister?”

“She’s stuck at work.” Her next words seemed to get stuck on her tongue. “Besides, I’ve always hated storms. I wouldn’t mind the company.”

“Alright,” he took her hand, amusement dancing on his face. “I didn’t want the evening to end here anyway.”

~~
They walked shoulder to shoulder all the way back. He had covered her head with his jacket and left his own self exposed. Akira’s silence was welcoming to her and gave her a reprieve to gather her thoughts. She still felt the sting of the kiss, replayed it over and over on repeat in her mind.

When they were in front of her door, Akira stopped her. Wordlessly, he gathered the ends of her yukata in his hands and wrung the water out. Somehow it seemed just as intimate as their kiss. Makoto led them both inside, slipped off her shoes, and went to grab some towels.

“Make yourself at home.” She handed it to him and watched with amusement as his hair increased in volume. “I should probably run us a bath. And we should probably get out of our wet clothes.”

He gave her an odd look. “I don’t have anything else with me, though.”

Oh. She hadn’t considered that. Her mind was still spinning in circles. But she couldn’t leave him like that, either. “Be right back.”

She slipped into their closet and found an old chest of drawers where they had put all their dad’s belongings. Dad had been a small man so his clothes would most likely fit him. Ignoring the onslaught of nostalgia, she grabbed some sleepwear and brought it to him.

“You can take one first. I’ll make us something warm to drink.” A distraction. She needed to have her hands busy. Makoto pointed him to the bathroom and let out a sigh of relief when the door closed. Her hands braced against the counter. Akira was in her house. She’d invited him here. The action was so out of of character for her as she had never brought a boy home before. She could only imagine the fury of her sister if she found out.

Make the damn tea, Makoto. He’s already here. The weather’s awful so this was a practical decision. She hadn’t had practicality in her mind when she’d invited him, though.

Makoto changed out of her yukata and started heating the tea bags. She had just poured them both a cup when the bathroom door opened.

“Here--ah!” She didn’t know if he’d done it to tease her, but the only thing he was wearing was loose drawstring pants and a damp towel slung over his shoulders. Water dripped down his navel towards the v line of his hips. She could see the outline of his groin. The cup fell from her fingers.

“Shit!” The cup shattered and scalding hot tea splashed onto her legs. Akira, alarmed, rushed over and used the towel to mop it off her skin.

“Careful.” He looked up at her. “Are you ok?”

“Of course I’m not okay! Why aren’t you wearing a shirt?”

“Oh,” he smirked. “Sorry, I needed to cool off first.” Smug bastard. So did she. “Go on and get cleaned up. I’ll take care of this.”

She took his advice. The warm bath water calmed the racing in her body and when she finally came out, her thoughts were a lot more clear. Wearing a loose shirt and shorts, Makoto found Akira lounging on the sofa sipping his drink. One of his arms was slung across the back and he looked deep in thought about something. She came over and settled down beside him several inches away.

“I can tell something’s bothering you. It has been all night. Do you want to discuss it?”

He looked over at her. “I don’t want to ruin the evening by bringing up something unpleasant.”

“You won’t. I told you before that I wanted you to be able to lean on me. Let me help you for once.”

Hesitation only lingered on his face for a brief second. Makoto patted her thighs and he turned around and laid his head in her lap.

He peered up at her. “Is this alright?”

“Only if you behave yourself.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She gently stroked his head as he told her about the conversation with his mother. Both of them sounded like narcissistic scumbags and she hoped she never got the chance to meet them, less she say something she shouldn’t.

“Sounds like no one has ever been in your corner.” She pulled a strand of hair from his eyes and ran her finger along the bridge of his nose.

“Maybe back then. But it’s not like that way now. I have to keep reminding myself that, though. Sometimes this shit just bubbles to the surface and threatens to eat away at me.”

“It’s refreshing to hear you speak so candidly. Half the time I don’t know what you’re thinking.”

“I’m not used to this,” he said. “Relying on someone, I mean. It’s just easier to keep everything buried. Less complicated that way.” He peered up at her. “That’s getting harder to do here lately.”

Slowly but surely, Makoto felt like she was finally peeling off the mask of Akira’s stoicism. Knowing that he’d always carried the weight of his emotional baggage on his own made her heart rip in two. Most people who looked at him had already decided in their mind that he was a no good punk with no aspirations. And hardly no one ever bothered to get to know the real person underneath. It was so relatable that it physically hurt. How many times had people done her the same?

“Do you remember that day in the courtyard when you yelled out that we were the same?” Akira took her hand from his face and gripped it tight. “That’s why I really came that night. It struck a chord with me and I realized I had written you off as a picture perfect honor student like everyone else. It disgusted me so much that I decided that I wanted to get to know the real you. Not the one projected out into the world.”

“Akira--” Again he had rendered her speechless. “I’m--I’m happy that you did. I’ve discovered a lot about myself because of you. And you make me want to keep learning and pushing forward until I can look in the mirror and be completely happy with who I see.”

“I think you’re pretty great already.”

She shook her head. “I still have a long way to go. Maybe that’s why I’ve been working so hard to help Eiko. Because I want desperately just to feel useful.”

He raised up and put his arm around her. “Why in the world would you think you’re not useful?”

“I--.” That was a hard question to answer. She hadn’t always felt that way. It wasn’t until her dad’s accident that she began to flounder. “When my dad died in the line of duty, everything fell upon my sister’s shoulders. She became the breadwinner and the sole one putting me through school. Eventually the pressure got to her and I began desperately trying to do everything right so I could make it easier on her. I felt so horrible that I was such a burden to her so I tried to make up for it in my studies.”

“Makoto--”

She held up her hand. “Don’t tell me she doesn’t think of me that way because deep down I know she does. I can see the resentment in her eyes when she comes home from a long day at work. When she’s passed up for a promotion that is then handed to a man with less credentials than her. To her, I have it so easy. And in a way she’s right. All I have to focus on is school whereas she has to deal with everything else.”

“That isn’t your fault, though.”

“Then why does it feel that way?” A lump was forming in her throat. She quickly swallowed it down. Not wanting to start crying in front of him, she flipped on the tv and found a mind numbing program that she could hardly pay attention to.

"You can come closer, you know. I'm not going to bite." He opened his arm and she settled against him. It felt so natural being there even though she felt close to hyperventilating. He rubbed her shoulders absentmindedly and soon the feeling of his fingers and the sound of the rain on the windows made her eyes heavy. All she wanted to do was close her eyes, but the image of her sister walking in on her cuddling a strange boy jolted her awake.

She got up and peered out the curtains. “It’s still raining pretty hard. I don’t think you’ll be walking home tonight.”

“I guess I’ll just sleep on the couch then.”

She shook her head. “I can’t have my sister walking in and finding you on our sofa.”

“So where exactly are you planning to put me?”

That was a very good question. They didn’t have a futon and there were only two bedrooms in the house. That left only one available option. “I guess you’ll just have to sleep with me.”

Chapter Text

Makoto led Akira into her bedroom with more trepidation that she was currently showing. It felt weird seeing him in a space where she had laid awake many times thinking about him. She didn’t know why she thought this had been a good idea. Her bed wasn’t even big enough to hold two people.

“Um, it may be a tight fit. I’m sorry.”

“Oh, trust me. You don’t have to apologize for that.” Akira was currently making his way through her bedroom and examining every nook and cranny with pinpoint precision. Makoto was grateful that she’d never been a messy person and hadn’t left anything too embarrassing out in the open.

Akira wandered over to her desk and picked up a small Buchimaru figurine. He turned to her, a slow grin creeping across his face. “Makoto, I knew you had a hidden cute side to you, but this is downright adorable.”

She stomped over and snatched it out of his hands and threw it in one of the drawers. “It’s getting late, don’t you think?” Hauling him over to the bed, she shoved him down and started making a partition out of pillows.

He gave her a funny look. “Is that really necessary?”

“For my peace of mind, yes.” She cleared her throat and crawled under her side of the bed, settling herself as far away from him as she could possibly get without falling off the side. The entire time he watched her with one eyebrow cocked, his cheek resting on his fist.

“Makoto.” Just the simple sound of her name made her heart jump. “I’m not going to do anything to you. Unless you want to, of course. If so, feel free to take full advantage of me.”

She swatted him on the arm and he dissolved into raucous laughter. “Your teasing isn’t making this any better.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, not sounding sorry in the slightest. “I was just trying to break some of the tension. You’ve been on edge since we got here.”

“I know. I can’t help it. I’ve never done any of this before.”

“Would you feel better if I slept on the floor?”

Yes, but she wasn’t going to do that to him. Besides, it felt nice having him so close even if the proximity was almost too much for her to handle.

“Just stay on your side.” She turned her back to him and flipped off the lights, leaving them in total darkness. Akira’s arm brushed her own as he situated himself in a more comfortable position. Even with the makeshift divider, they were back to back against each other. Akira was having to dangle his long legs off the side of the bed in order to avoid them touching her own.

Part of her wanted him to gather her in his arms and hold her so she could focus on something else besides the worsening of the storm. The forecast had only called for rain, but with the way it sounded outside a massive thunderstorm was close to hitting. The panes of her windows rattled as strong gusts of wind hurled against it.

It reminded her of that night. Digging out her father’s clothes hadn’t helped. Her breath quickened just thinking about it. Everything was eerily similar and the feelings that had overwhelmed her then were threatening to overtake her now. Only Akira’s steadfast presence next to her kept her from sinking into a full blown panic attack.

And then the first clap of thunder exploded and her composure crumbled. She bolted upright and slapped her hands over her ears. The sounds of her whimpering were muted but she knew they were loud and pitiful. A hand came to rest itself on her back and when she looked up, the lights were back on.

“Makoto,” he rubbed her back and smoothed her hair down. “It’s just a storm. It will blow over soon.”

“It’s not just a storm.”

Any chances of explaining further were lost with the next wave of thunder. Hot, angry tears spilled onto her cheeks and she quickly reburied her head so Akira wouldn’t see. But he knew. He always seemed to know.

Strong arms pulled her into his chest and she could smell the familiar scent of coffee and cologne from earlier. But the aroma of mothballs were also present and served to remind her that what she truly craved was no longer possible anymore. She dug her fingers into his arm to keep from dissolving completely into tears.

“You’re shaking,” he murmured, and kissed the top of her head. “I didn’t know storms freaked you out this much.”

“There was a storm the night my father died.”

Ever since that night, Makoto had hated stormy weather. Red and blue lights had illuminated the darkness outside, punctuated with the wailing of sirens and the sound of rain plummeting on the concrete. Sae had rushed off with a stone faced policeman who had only mumbled the words ‘there’s been an accident.’ And then she had been at home completely alone, not fully comprehending what had happened to him. It was nights like these when her loneliness manifested itself into an uncontrollable beast. It was nights like these when she realized how much she really missed her father.

She told all this to Akira, who in turn just tightened his grip on her. “You’re a good soundboard,” she said. “I’ve never told anyone that before.” Makoto buried her nose into her dad’s old shirt and inhaled what was left of his scent. She didn’t mind the fact that Akira’s was now etched into it as well. “I’m really glad you’re here. I doubt I would make it through on my own.”

“Yes you would. You’re stronger than you give yourself credit for.”

“Then let me clarify. I don’t like facing these things by myself. Weakness isn’t something I like to let myself succumb to. Sometimes I wonder if my dad would be disappointed in the person I became. He was always the type who would stick to his guns no matter what and never let other people shake his resolve. You remind me of him a lot.” She disentangled herself from Akira’s arms and reached out to touch his face. “Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to you.”

“He sounded like an admirable man,” he said. He placed his hand over her own. “I’m honoured by the comparison. Although, I don’t know how much I have to offer you. I’m afraid I’ll just drag you down.”

His words reminded her of what Sis had told her not too long ago. That colleges not only looked at academics but what company a prospective student kept. A small flame of anger ignited in her gut. “You have plenty to offer me. And even if you didn’t, a person’s value shouldn’t be measured on such shallow terms. To hell with what others think.”

Akira made a sound somewhere between a laugh and a snort.

“What?” She asked, suddenly defensive.

He shook his head. “Nothing, nothing. I just realized how foolish I was for worrying about it in the first place.”

She was about to say more when another clap of thunder tore through the room, this time taking the lights with it. Suddenly in complete darkness, Makoto’s panic reached its peak. She threw her arms around Akira’s neck and buried her face in the crook of his shoulder.

“Why did it have to be a power surge?” Later she would be embarrassed about the way her voice squeaked and the uncontrollable whimpers she let out, but now was not that moment. “The power went out that night, as well.” It was what had started her phobia of darkness in the first place.

Akira made to get up so she tightened her grip on him. “Don’t leave me, please.”

“Relax, I’m not going to.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. Placing the backlight on the highest setting, a comforting yet blinding blue light surrounded them. He put it on the bedside table. “That should do until the power kicks back on.”

She felt stupid for not thinking of that herself.

He turned his attention back to her and tried to calm the trembling of her body. “You know, this wasn’t exactly how I imagined the night going. I pictured you holding me, but for an entirely different reason.”

She had to stop her teeth from knocking together before she could respond. “I’m sorry to put a damper on your sordid fantasies.”

He ran his fingers through her hair. “That’s alright. I’m certainly not going to complain. I never expected to be invited into your bed in the first place.”

“It was for practical purposes.”

“Uh huh.”

“I’m serious! My mind isn’t as filthy as yours.”

That was a bold faced lie and judging by his response, he knew it too. “The mess I had to clean up earlier says otherwise.”

“My hand slipped.”

“Yes, but the reason why was quite obvious.”

She let out a long sigh. “I knew you did that on purpose.”

“Perhaps, but you seemed to enjoy it.”

“You owe me a new one.”

“I’ll replace it only if you admit that I’m right.”

Her pride kept her from answering right away. “Fine, you’re right," she said after a moment of silence. "My body is still reacting to our kiss. I guess I’m just as much of a degenerate as you. Happy now?”

“So you did have an ulterior motive.”

Her mouth opened, but no words came out. Finally, she managed to string a coherent sentence together. “I had no such thing.”

“So you weren’t hoping for a repeat?”

‘Yes, yes, yes,’ her mind screamed. “Absolutely not.”

“I don’t believe you.”

A strong urge to wring his neck overcame her. “Next time, I’ll just let you walk home during a downpour.”

"You're already planning for a next time?"

She could practically hear the snark dripping from his tongue. "That's not what I meant."

“Is it that difficult to admit I’m right?”

“Oh shut--ah.”

The lights switched back on. The first thing she noticed was how close she and Akira truly were. She was practically in his lap. The second thing she noticed was that her panic had receded a great deal and she no longer felt like she was teetering on the edge of hyperventilating. The storm had also slackened off.

“Is it over?”

“Seems that way,” Akira said. “See? You made it through.”

Indeed she had. Their bickering had completely distracted her. She placed a hand over her heart. The tightness in her chest didn’t feel like it was suffocating her.

“It usually takes hours for me to calm down.”

He removed her arms from around his neck. “I’ll go get you a glass of water. Wouldn’t want you breaking any more of your cutlery.”

A retort made its way to her lips before she realized something. “You did that on purpose too, didn’t you?”

His trademark devil smile told her she was correct in her assumption. “Seems like my cocky repertoire is good for something.”

Her heart was now racing for an entirely different reason. When he came back, she gulped down the water he offered her to try and diminish her thirst. The spot of skin that was exposed when he stretched his arms obliterated any chance of that. The dirty part of her mind that she had denied herself of having was now going into overdrive. She let herself admit that she did really want to kiss him again. It was all she had thought about the entire time. And now the storm was gone. There were no more distractions. And they were alone. In her room. Her sister wasn’t home. A rare chance like this one wouldn’t come again so soon.

Akira reached to turn the light off.

“Wait,” she said.

“Would it help to leave it on?”

“N-no, it’s not that. Um--” Why did he have an easier time with this than she did? “You were right. I want a repeat.”

In one fluid motion, he slid over to her and cupped a hand behind her head. “See? That wasn’t so hard.”

“Shut up and kiss me. Please.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

He brought his other hand up to steady her. A quick snap and Makoto had him by the wrist, his fingers almost close enough to graze against her parted lips. His eyes formed an invisible question mark.

“I--,” she said.

Suddenly the room seemed too quiet. There was nothing here to stop them. Without being drenched in icy cold rain water, she was free to focus completely on the kiss itself. No crowds and no policemen to interrupt them. It unnerved her a bit now that the act itself was seconds away from happening. This was a dangerous situation to have initiated this late at night.

“Should I stop?” Akira made as if to move back but she held firm.

Yes. No. She was overthinking things again; making it more complicated than it needed to be. Taking a deep breath, Makoto willed her mind to be quiet. All the power at this moment belonged to her. Nothing would happen if she didn’t wish for it to. Her grip slackened enough to allow him to pull her closer. The pads of his fingers felt infused with static. His thumb traced the bottom of her lower lip and his mouth soon followed suit.

It was even better the second time. Makoto’s senses overloaded on the way his mouth felt; how he tasted like the mint toothpaste she had let him borrow. It exploded on her tongue as their lips parted against each other’s. It wasn’t as voracious as the first. Instead, Akira seemed to be content to explore her mouth with more patience. He was extremely thorough. He had the uncanny ability to tear her composure to shreds in such a short amount of time. She buckled under his weight and they fell backwards on the bed. Somewhere deep in her subconscious screamed at how inappropriate this was. Another part of her yelled at it to shut up. Logic would do her no good in this situation.

The hem of her shirt had risen up and he slid his hand down to trail his fingers over her exposed midsection. A sound that she didn’t even know she was capable of making escaped from her. No one had ever explained to her that it would feel this good to be touched; to be taken apart by someone else.

By the raggedness of his hitched breathing, he was enjoying it as well. It felt amazing to know that it thrilled him this much to just simply indulge in touching her. His hand traveled no farther than where it currently was yet it still felt as stimulating as if he’d had it completely up her shirt. That familiar burning in her gut was back this time in full force. She widened her legs and his body perfectly aligned with her own. His knee brushed her inner thigh giving her just the right amount of friction to have her fingers digging into his neck. Akira moved his attention away from her mouth and focused on the spot between her ear and her jaw.

“You seem to have an acute fascination with my neck,” she said.

“With the sounds you make everytime I kiss you there, it would be impossible for me not to develop one.”

The deep rumbling of his voice near her eardrum was like liquid fire. Was she even getting turned on from his voice now? Was that even possible? His knee brushed her thigh again and she bit her lip to keep from crying out. It didn’t work. A strangled cry of what sounded like a dying cat escaped from her. That seemed to spur him on even more because he was suddenly kissing her with increasing intensity and rocking his hips ever so slightly. She physically felt him hardening.

Makoto would like to have said she gently stopped him before this became more heated than she’d intended. She would like to have said she remained calm at his growing arousal. But she couldn’t. Because instead of acting with grace and poise, she panicked and flipped him off the bed.

“Ow!” She heard the sharp thud of his head hitting the corner of the bedside table.

“Are you alright?” Her hands didn’t know whether to help him up or continue to wring themselves in a frenzy. “I swear that wasn’t on purpose.”

Wincing, he sat up and nursed the back of his scalp. When he found no immediate injuries he said, “I think that’s our cue to stop for the night.”

“Yes, I think that would be for the best.”

It was impossible to calm herself enough to go to sleep right away. She laid there for hours taking apart each and every touch piece by piece. Her body was still somersaulting with pent up frustration and there was nothing she could do about it. And then another troublesome question popped into her mind. What were they now exactly? They had gone on a date. They had kissed. They had almost done more than kissed. And yet she still didn’t know if Akira classified as a friend or more than that.

She turned over to ask him but he was already asleep.

Chapter Text

Makoto woke up to the smell of coffee and an empty space beside her.

Akira must have went home.

The thought filled her with a certain emptiness but she supposed it was for the best. He definitely did not need to be here when her sister got home. Pulling herself out of bed was the last thing she wanted to do after her fitful sleep last night. She’d barely gotten an hour or two of rest because of a certain fluffy haired boy. Usually not one for coffee, today was clearly going to be an exception. It was weird for Sae to make some in the first place. However, it wasn’t her sister in the kitchen.

“Akira? What are you doing here?”

Glancing up, he flashed her a sleepy smile. He still hadn’t changed out of her dad’s clothes. Pointing to the coffeemaker he said, “Figured you’d need some after last night. I promise I’ll get out of your hair soon.”

She snorted and shook her head. “Nonsense. It’s actually quite nice getting to wake up and see your face.”

The pleased look on his face confused her until she realized what she’d said. She slapped a hand over her mouth. “Please ignore that embarrassing comment. My brain must still be delirious from lack of a proper rest.”

He smiled and to her surprise, refrained from saying anything.

“What? No witty retort?”

“Sorry to disappoint, but my wit doesn’t awaken until at least noon. Come here and tell me how you take your coffee.”

She did as she was told and was about to tell him she took it with sugar when he pulled her in for an impromptu kiss. Her mind short circuited but the rest of her awakened in response to his touch. It was over before she could process it.

“W-what was that for?” She touched her lips as if she could physically feel the residue of the kiss.

“Do I need a reason?”

“Yes,” she stammered.

Somehow he calmly went back to preparing her beverage. “Because I like to. Is that good enough?”

“Aren’t you worried about morning breath? I haven’t even gotten a chance to brush my teeth yet.”

He laughed. “That’s such a Makoto thing to say. Leave it to you to worry about something as silly as that.” She was about to protest that she wasn’t being silly and it was something that any girl would worry about when he placed a warm cup of coffee in her heads. “Here, drink this and stop fretting. There’s nothing about you that’s disgusting to me.”

“I--,” she chuckled. “And that’s such an Akira thing to say. Leave it to you to say something so corny this early in the day.”

He filled his own cup and poured an exorbitant amount of whip cream on top. “Give it time. I’m sure I can come up with more.” Swiping a dollop of cream off the top, Akira pressed it to her nose, grinning from ear to ear.

Makoto couldn’t have tamed the smile growing on her face even if she tried. It all seemed so disgustingly domestic. And if the joy blossoming in her chest was any indication, she wouldn’t mind waking up like this every morning for the rest of her life.

Woah, slow down Makoto. He just made you coffee.

Clearing her throat, she sat down and gulped her drink. Maybe the bitterness would bring her back down to reality. “Will Sojiro be upset that you stayed out all night?”

“I texted him a message explaining where I was but he only sent back a terse reply to not do anything he would’ve done at my age.”

She sighed. “Boss has an overactive imagination. I don’t know how I’m going to face him next time I come to Leblanc.”

“Trust me, he would never believe that you’re the one who’s actually the degenerate.”

“Oh, hush. You were just as into it as I was.” She tried not to think about what had caused her to panic and flip him out of the bed in the first place. He smirked into his coffee, smearing whip cream all over his nose. She decided not to say anything as payback for earlier.

“We should discuss our plans for Tsukasa’s party. It’s only twelve days away now.”

“I was wondering when you were gonna bring that up,” he said. “I’m assuming you have some sort of plan in place to gather the evidence we need.”

She did, but it wasn’t as sound as she would have liked for it to be. “I’ve been doing some research and apparently these birthday events are quite elaborate. The guest list is extensive as well, especially for someone as popular as he is. His clients, the club managers, and all sorts of promoters will be there. If I can formulate my questions in such a way, maybe one of them will slip up and reveal something.”

“You really think we’ll get that lucky?” There was a hint of skepticism in his voice.

“It’s a gamble but it’s all we’ve got at the moment. Tsukasa will definitely be on his guard around us as I’m sure Eiko has been feeding him information that I’m still suspicious about him. If I act like I’m there to make amends, it may afford us a bit of leeway.”

Akira leaned forward in his chair and steepled his fingers together. A pensive look was on his face. “He won’t swallow that so easily.”

“I know and that’s why I plan to play the part of exactly the sort of girl he’s interested in. If I let it slip that you and I have been having problems in our relationship then he will see it as a prime opportunity to reel me in.”

“Makoto,” a sharp, warning tone. “I don’t like this. Remember, he is a conman. He won’t be so easily mislead.”

“My acting is a lot better than Ann’s, Akira.”

“That’s not the point! We’re there to help your friend, not paint a giant target on your back.”

“I appreciate the concern, but I don’t intend on becoming a victim. This is just a safety net anyway. Hopefully, we can avoid him in the crowd.”

He shook his head. “That’s wishful thinking and you know it. We’re walking straight into a lion’s den.”

“I’m not underestimating the danger, but I do plan to do whatever it takes to protect Eiko and any other girl who’s had their life ruined by this bastard.” She gave him a tiny smile that he didn’t return. “Besides, with you by my side then I know we can succeed.”

“I’m not a fail-safe option, Makoto. He’s not gonna be happy to see me.”

She reached out and grabbed his hand. “I know, but I trust you. And with the way you verbally slayed him last time, I would be a fool to not put my money on you.”

A corner of his mouth lifted ever so slightly. Makoto was about to say more when the door opened.

“What the hell is this?”

Almost upending her coffee, Makoto jumped up so fast her knees banged against the table. She ripped her hand away from Akira’s as if she’d been scalded. Sae was standing in front of them with her arms locked and a look of absolute calm that, due to past experiences, meant that an impending storm was indeed coming.

“Sis, you’re back early.”

Sae glared at Akira, who had gone completely rigid. There was no hint whatsoever of his cool under fire demeanor. “Am I interrupting something? You and your friend here seemed quite cozy.”

“He isn’t--well I mean he is but--.” She closed her mouth, took a breath, and tried again. “This isn’t what it looks like.”

“Oh?” She raised a razor thin eyebrow. “Then I shouldn’t be concerned about the strange boy in my house who’s helped himself to my kitchen and apparently Dad’s clothing?”

Makoto launched into the events of the other day, leaving out all the parts that would surely incriminate them even further. “He was just about to leave anyway.” She looked at Akira. “Weren’t you?”

He nodded with vigor, then did a full 90 degree bow. “I’m sorry for barging in. I’ll be leaving now.”

Sae held out her hand. “No, please stay.”

That response shocked the both of them. “Sis?”

“I’d like to meet the boy whom my little sister has been ‘tutoring’ lately. Sit back down. I’ll make you all some breakfast.”

Akira and Makoto could only stare at each other. This situation seemed far more deadly.

~~

Akira had never felt more nervous in his entire life. He had gotten a lot of death glares aimed at him when he walked into school that first day, but Sae’s put them all to shame. Sweat was beading down his back and he kept silently praying for the ground to swallow him up. Or a sudden stroke. That worked, too.

He knew the minute that Sae laid eyes on him that she didn’t buy for one second that he was just Makoto’s student. And this wasn’t at all how he’d pictured meeting her for the first time, either. Well he’d known she wouldn’t have approved of him, but sitting in the kitchen wearing her deceased Dad’s clothes and making moony eyes at her sister wasn’t doing him any favors.

What was he supposed to say when she started questioning him about their relationship? Oh hey I took your little sister on a date yesterday, kissed her, then slept in the bed next to her, kissed her some more and got a raging hard on. But don’t worry, I definitely don’t have bad intentions and actually might be falling in love with her.

Nevermind the stroke, she would kill him right there on the spot.

He risked a glance at Makoto, who looked just as nervous as he did. She stared at her lap where she was wringing her hands out like a dishrag. He wanted to reach out and offer her some sort of comfort but he knew that wouldn’t do them any favors.

Sae placed two bowls of natto and fried egg on rice down in front of them. Akira stared at it and contemplated eating it. On one hand it would be rude not to. On the other, well it was probably poisoned.

“Relax.” Her voice did the exact opposite. “There’s nothing wrong with it.”

“Thank you for the meal.” He took a small bite. It was surprisingly good.

Sae touched her nose. “You have a bit of cream right here.”

His face reddened and he thought he heard a small snort beside him. Well, the grave he was digging was getting deeper every second.

“So you’re the infamous transfer student. I must say you don’t look very threatening. More asinine at best.”

“Huh?”

“Sis!”

Sae leaned forward. The rice in his mouth soured. “Is that why you asked my sister to tutor you? So you could get a free ride from the smartest student at Shujin?”

“I--what?”

Before he could even respond, she cut in again. “Or perhaps it was to make yourself look better. You hardly have a chance of getting ahead otherwise. Why not cozy up to the best and brightest to make it easier on yourself?”

“That’s not--”

“Or maybe you just thought an inexperienced honor student would make for easy prey. My sister is beautiful after all.”

Akira opened his mouth to say something--anything--but nothing came out. Everything she was insinuating was completely false but he was too tongue tied to set her straight.

“Sis!” Makoto said it louder this time. “I approached him first. He isn’t trying to take advantage of me.”

Sae scoffed. “Oh, he isn’t? That’s what men do, Makoto. They’re all nice and charming in the beginning and then when they get what they want, you’re tossed aside like last week’s garbage.” She turned to Akira. “What exactly is your intention with my sister?”

“I--what do you mean?”

She slammed her hand onto the table so hard his bowl rattled. “Don’t sit there and play dumb. You either want want to sleep with her or use her to raise your grade point average. Or it could be both, actually.”

Makoto winced. “You’ve got it all wrong.”

Sae didn’t take her eyes off him. “If I’m wrong then surely he can tell me otherwise. Explain it to me.”

Akira didn’t even know where to start. No wonder she was a successful prosecutor. The intense glare of her cherry red eyes and the rapid fire questions with no room to breath had him sweating bullets. How in the world was he supposed to explain just how much Makoto meant to him when he had just recently started to wrap his mind around it himself?

“I like how she makes me feel.”

Makoto whipped her head around. Sae’s facial muscles tightened
.
Yeah, that didn’t sound creepy and sexual at all.

“You like how she makes you feel.” Sae repeated each word slowly. Her knuckles whitened. “You have exactly ten seconds to explain to me what you meant by that.”

He scrambled to string a coherent sentence together. “I mean that she makes me feel good about myself. She’s never seen me as a violent criminal. Whenever I talk to her, when I see her or spend time with her, I feel a sense of peace. Of joy. I don’t worry about whether she judges me or not and I know I can be my true self in front of her. No one else has ever made me feel that way and I would do anything for her. I don’t--I would never hurt her or use her. She’s too important to me.”

That was the first time he’d said any of that out loud. Makoto was looking at him in shock and he wished he had been able to say this to her in private, without being under interrogation.

Sae tapped her finger on the counter. The tip of her nail sounded like a gavel every time she brought it down. “So you like her.”

“Yes.”

“As what?”

No matter what way he answered that, it felt like a landmine waiting to be triggered. If he said as a friend that would be a lie and if he said as a girlfriend then he might not even walk out of here.

Makoto covered her face. “Sis, please stop.”

Sae said, “I’m just asking a simple question. Even though I’ve only had a cup of coffee for breakfast, I’m surprisingly full after all this crap he’s been feeding me.”

“I’m not lying to you.”

“Bullshit. All men lie. Especially ones with assault records.”

He reared back as if he’d been struck. “I see you’ve done your research on me.”

“I looked at your file the moment Makoto mentioned she was tutoring you. She assured me nothing was going on but that was apparently a bold faced lie. So what sort of lies have you been spoon feeding her to make her want to play house with you in my home?”

Any fear that Akira had harbored melted away in that moment. She was just like every other adult. Only interested in seeing what was in front of them, whether it be right or wrong. He felt the familiar rush of anger roiling in his gut and he couldn’t stop the vicious slew of words that poured from his mouth.

“Maybe you should turn that introspective mirror towards yourself, Prosecutor.”

The air in the room dropped several degrees. “Excuse me?”

“You keep accusing me of using her to further benefit myself, but isn’t that what you do? I’m not the one treating her like a robot whose only goal in life is to get into a top college.”

“That is for her own good.”

He scoffed. “You say that, but I’m sure that the added bonus of not having to provide for her anymore is what truly catches your eye.”

Sae stiffened and he knew he was teetering a precarious line. Makoto was shaking her head, pleading silently at him to stop. He couldn’t. Not with the white hot rage coursing through him.

“You have no idea what you’re talking about. I love my sister and would do anything for her. Hell, I have been doing everything for her since she was in middle school. If it weren’t for me, we wouldn’t have a roof over our head or money to keep us fed. She certainly couldn't do it, so someone had to step up and take some of the responsibility.”

He heard Makoto's soft intake of breath and it only stoked his anger.

“And I’m sure you resent that a great deal. You’re stuck with providing for her while you slave away in a competitive field where no one takes notice of your worth. In the meantime all Makoto has to do is go to school and get top scores. Surely the pressure to succeed and stay at the top is nothing compared to what you endure.”

"A career is a lot different than high school."

"With the pressure you put on her, it might as well be the same."

“Akira--” Makoto’s voice was nothing more than a faint whisper. He needed to stop. He really needed to stop.

He didn’t.

“If she gets good scores then that means she’ll earn a scholarship and then you won’t have to worry about her anymore. Then there will be one less thing to worry about. One less person you have to take care of. Less money you have to spend. Less food you have to buy. More time to focus on yourself.”

“Akira.”

“If she fails, then you’re stuck with her longer and to keep from having to endure that possibility you force her into your impossible standards and tell her to succeed no matter what. You keep telling yourself that it’s all for her sake but it’s a lie. It’s a damn lie and you can’t see it because you’ve told it to yourself so many times you’ve started to believe it. And you’re so blinded by this desire that you can’t even see what you’re doing to your own sister. How worthless and useless you make her feel.”

His voice had risen with every word until he was practically shouting. Sae’s expression could have melted steel in half. Whatever chances Akira had had at getting her to approve of him had been stomped into dust.

“What would a futureless criminal know of such things?” She flung her arm out, almost knocking her coffee off the table. “Are you psychic? Can you see into my head? How dare you come into my house and fling blatant lies in my face when you know nothing. What makes you so certain that you are correct in your assumptions?”

“Because I pay attention.” From the look on her face, Akira could tell he had struck a chord deep within her. “I know I’m right because I can see it in your face. And because my parents treated me the same. They never saw the love I had for them or what I did for them. They only saw the gain.”

For a few moments, everything was silent. Sae was trembling and trying to regain some semblance of her composure. Akira looked over at Makoto. He had probably only made things worse for her. That thought alone made him want to shove all the words back into his mouth. But he couldn’t. They were hanging in the air, suspended.

“I suppose you think I’m a terrible person. That you’ve got me all figured out.”

“Didn’t you have me all figured out as well?”

Sae’s eyes widened. For a moment he thought he saw a tiny sliver of guilt. Then they narrowed into serpentine slits. “Get the hell out of my house.”

He nodded. Makoto caught his eye and he mouthed a silent apology. Her lips lifted into a tiny smile and a small bud of hope bloomed in his chest. So he hadn’t wrecked everything.

Before he left, he turned to Sae and said one last thing. “For the record, I don’t think you’re a bad person or even a bad sister. I just think you’ve let your desires fester and become a distorted mass of rage and resentment. It's up to you whether you want to change that or not.”

Sae’s fury followed him all the way out the door.