He hadn't meant to fall asleep.
Normally, he wouldn't be so unguarded, but recent days dragged on and on, and his eyelids grew heavier with each passing hour. It wasn't just work and school keeping him up anymore, either.
Lately, the nightmares were worse.
He'd wake sweating in his room, shaking, breathing hard, remembering nothing yet feeling so keenly the Wrong. And then he'd stand, cross to the kitchen, pour himself a glass of water. Drink and drink and drink until the shaking stopped and the sweat trickling down his brow was but a cool sheen. No matter how hard he tried to piece together what shapes and shadows remained of his dreaming, nothing concrete would ever manifest. It was as though whatever visions plagued him were determined to stay deeply rooted in his brain—so deep, in fact, that there could be no hope of pulling them out.
Akechi liked going to the Shinjuku Park to study, especially on warm, sunny days. Today was not too hot, given the steady downpours the past week, but the air was heavy and humid in the way only air after rain could be. He sat in the grass amidst other families enjoying an outing, pulled out his class notebook to review his notes. He started off sitting, legs crossed; then reclining, propped up on one elbow; then lying back, book held over his face.
It was impossible to say when, exactly, sleep took him. It was a combination of many things—the sun's warmth prickling his skin, the soft breeze blowing through, the steady murmur of voices all around him. And his own exhaustion, of course. Thankfully, he only dozed, not quite reaching the point of full dreaming, yet getting lost in the benign, fanciful images flitting through his mind.
He woke with a start god knew how many hours later, his notebook steepled across his face. He floundered a moment, confused at the weight over his eyes, at the semi-darkness, and spread his hands out to gauge his surroundings. His right hand struck something solid, and his left hand went to the book over his face. When he pulled the notebook aside and turned his head to the right, there was Akira Kurusu, lying next to him propped up on one elbow, watching.
Akechi sat up and drew back, reasonably alarmed. How the hell did Akira find him here?
“You looked dead,” Akira remarked, voice bland despite a semi-smirk. “At least three people wanted to call the cops. I stayed to tell them you were just napping.”
Akira laughed. “You have grass in your hair.”
Still groggy, and still wildly unsure what was going on, Akechi ran his hands through his hair and ruffled it out. For some reason, this made Akira laugh harder. Akechi, dazed and confused, could only pout.
“Here,” said Akira. He reached out, plucked blades of grass one-by-one out of Akechi's hair. “You gave yourself a mane.”
“What are you doing here?” Akechi asked. Grabbed Akira's wrists and pulled them away from his head. Didn't think to let go.
Akira stared at him awhile, as if considering what to say, or as if trying to read Akechi's mood. That would have been impossible, because at that point, even Akechi wasn't sure what his mood was. Flustered. Disoriented. Foggy in the brain. Akira slipped his wrists out of Akechi's grasp, leaned back on his hands.
“Ann had a photo shoot here,” said Akira at last. “Wanted me to come along.”
“...I see. You usually accompany her on photo shoots, I take it?”
“If I wanna hang out with her, yeah. She's a busy girl.”
Akechi didn't mean to frown, but he did. He still wasn't fully in control of his faculties, including his ability to maintain an impeccable poker face.
“I spotted you,” Akira went on, “lying in the grass. Came over to see if you were alright.”
“Then why didn't you wake me?”
Akechi's voice was venom, words sharper at the edges than he meant them to be, and he pursed his lips into a tight line at once. He shook his head, put a hand to his face.
“Sorry. That was uncalled for. I've just been...tired, is all.”
Akira nodded, slowly. Eyes never leaving Akechi's face.
“I know,” said Akira. “We all know. You're pretty bad at hiding it.”
That's because I'm too busy hiding other things, Akechi thought, glancing snidely at Akira out of the corner of his eye. To his mild surprise, Akira was frowning a little, too.
“You're upset about Ann,” Akira said, near whispered.
Alarms went off in Akechi's head. He panicked, mind scrambling for purchase in its still disarmed state. He laughed lightly, shallowly, hating how nervous it sounded even to his own ears.
“About Ann? Not at all. Why would I be upset?”
Firmly, looking Akira dead in the eye, he said, “I have no reason to be.”
And he wanted that to be true. Needed it to be true. Because if he was upset, then what, exactly, was he upset about? That Akira was spending time with his friends? That was normal. It was expected of any high school student. Perhaps it was the normalcy that grated on him, because it was something Akechi had never had, something he couldn't ever have. Yes, that had to be it. It had to be.
Akira sighed, ran long, slender fingers through his mop of black hair.
“There's nothing between us, you know,” said Akira, and Akechi's heart caught in his throat.
“Between Ann and I. We're just friends.”
His heart started beating again. Slowly. Painfully. And then all too quickly. Akechi swallowed, hard. Didn't know what to make of what Akira was telling him. What did it matter if they were only friends, or if they were more than that? It made no difference to Akechi at all. He plastered on a smile.
“I don't see why,” said Akechi. “I think you'd make a lovely couple.”
Akira stared at him with such a look of open hurt that Akechi wanted to literally put his foot in his mouth. That was the wrong thing to say. Why was it the wrong thing to say? How could he possibly make it better when he didn't know what was bad about it in the first place?
Then again, why should he want to make it better? Wasn't Akira lying, about him and Ann? They'd shared that moment in Mementos, after all, and here he was accompanying her to a photo shoot. They were as close as a couple. They might as well be one.
Akechi said, quietly, “It makes no difference to me what you do in your personal life. I just want to take Sae's treasure, and then have the Phantom Thieves disband. What you do in between all that, and after all that, is none of my concern.”
Akira's whole expression, his whole demeanor, changed in a flash. He gripped Akechi's wrist so hard it drew a yelp out of him, one of surprise more than pain.
“How can you say that?” Akira asked, low, urgent. “How can you say that when I...?”
They stared at each other, eyes locked on eyes, Akechi's wide, Akira's narrow and searching. Akechi had no idea how Akira couldn't hear his heart pounding, because it sounded so loud to him. He was afraid to look down, lest he see it beating through his shirt. Finally, after an excruciating moment, Akira let go Akechi's hand and slowly, slowly shook his head.
“Forget it,” he said. “Forget it.”
And without another word, he stood. Cast one final glance at Akechi over his shoulder before walking quickly, quietly away.
Akechi let his breath out in a rush, not even realizing he'd been holding it until his lungs felt like they would burst. His breath sped in, out, in, out, faster than he could get control of it. He blindly groped around for his notebook, gritting his teeth in anger at the blurring in his eyes. He shoved his notebook unceremoniously into his briefcase and hurried in the direction opposite the one Akira headed in. He wouldn't look behind him. Wouldn't think about the pain in Akira's seeking eyes, or the hitch in his voice when he spoke.
He wouldn't think about Akira finding comfort in Ann Takamaki's arms, about him holding her, kissing her, touching her. He wouldn't think about how sick it made him feel.
He wouldn't. He wouldn't, he wouldn't, he wouldn't.