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“Shit. Shit shit shit shit—” Goro hissed, darting through the rain as fast as he could while still retaining a modicum of his dignity. It only seemed to pick up in speed with his curses, and he resisted the urge to groan aloud while ducking under as many awnings as possible as he made his way down the city sidewalk. Of all days to forget an umbrella... It seemed like the few times Goro wasn’t 100% prepared for anything were the only times anything actually happened. 

As if to rub it in his face even further, the downpour picked up impossibly more. The wind howled, blowing the rain sideways and directly into Goro’s face. This time he really did let out his frustrated groan. He was already soaked, and there were no signs of the rain letting up anytime soon. Of course— just his luck. Sighing, he shifted his focus to desperately searching for an open store to duck into before he was swept away altogether. 

Spotting a small neon “Open” sign flickering quietly in the window of a store just a little further down the sidewalk, he breathed a quick sigh of relief and jogged the rest of the way to the door. Swinging it open frantically, Goro propelled his body through the door as fast as he could before shutting it against the howling wind and rain once more.  

Taking a second to catch his breath, he slowly turned around to take in his surroundings before his eyes locked onto another pair. A guy around his age was manning the register at the front of the store and watching him with raised eyebrows and a tiny smile. A beat passed as Goro stared back, still catching his breath. 

“…Welcome,” the guy said. 

“Uh,” Goro started intelligently, dripping wet in the doorway. “Hi. Thanks.” 

The boy had a wild mane of inky black curls with bangs that skimmed his eyes. He had several small ear piercings and wore unnecessarily large glasses and a baggy flannel shirt that… really suited him, actually. It certainly wasn’t Goro’s personal style, but the other boy just… pulled it off like he was made to wear it. The grunge-y, punk look had never appealed to Goro so much before… 

“So…” the guy started, breaking the silence and startling Goro. He looked him up and down with a neutral expression. “…I guess it’s raining, huh?” 

Goro blinked. He came back to himself for a minute and looked down at his thoroughly soaked clothing, the ends of his hair dripping onto his shoulders. His eyes snapped back up. The boy’s lips were twitching. Goro narrowed his eyes. “I guess it is,” he deadpanned back. 

The boy’s lips finally broke into a wide smile. “Seems pretty brutal.” Goro rolled his eyes a little. “Well, can I help you find anything today?” he continued cheerfully.  

Goro sighed and dropped his eyes to his sweater to try to wring out some of the water from it. “No, thanks. To be honest, I just ducked in for a moment to escape the downpour…” He paused. “Um, sorry for dripping all over your floor, by the way…” 

The boy’s eyes crinkled at the corners as he shot Goro a warm smile. “No problem. Can’t blame you… Forget an umbrella today?” he teased. 

Goro scowled a little at the other boy, but it didn’t hold much heat. “Ha.” His hands moved up to his hair to squeeze out the strands. The other’s eyes tracked the movement subtly. “Yes, of course the one day I forget to bring either an umbrella or a proper jacket, we get a surprise tsunami…” he muttered bitterly. 

The boy chuckled lightly in response and leaned forward a little against the counter. “Well, feel free to stay a while and wait it out. Um… though that could be a while…” he furrowed his brows and looked out the wide glass windows at the front of the store. “You in the market for some new music?” he asked, turning back to Goro with a bright smile.  

Goro sighed again. “Thanks, but… I think I’m fine. I don’t really listen to a whole lot of music…”  

The boy widened his eyes exaggeratedly. “Then that’s the perfect reason to get you into some!” he exclaimed. “Come on, please? Let me show you some stuff.” 

Goro stared for a moment. Awfully eager employee…, he thought. But he didn’t want to be rude… He seemed so enthusiastic. Sigh… “I mean. Okay. If you want…?” he answered, deciding to humor him for a few minutes or so as he waited out the storm. 

He perked up and clapped his hands together. “Sweet! Okay, well, I assume you’ve never been here before?” He waited until Goro shook his head, and continued. “Cool, well, we’re the Velvet Room and we’re a used music store, but we kinda specialize in vinyl. Oh! I’m Kurusu Akira, by the way… You can just call me Akira though, I don’t care.” He gave Goro a soft smile and clasped his hands behind his back. Now that he really looked at him, Goro found himself intrigued, watching the boy—Akira?—openly. Only when Akira tilted his head and furrowed his brow at him did he realize he’d been staring a touch too long.  

Goro cleared his throat, feeling himself flush and looking elsewhere in a desperate effort to hide it. How embarrassing… He quickly tried to collect himself and looked back up to find Akira laughing a little and rubbing the back of his neck. Goro’s heart lurched in his chest. “Um,” he coughed. “Yeah, thanks. That’s, uh… great.” He cursed his awkwardness with an internal wince. Smooth

Akira laughed easily. “Hell yeah. So do you listen to any kind of music at all?” 

Goro scoffed a little and rolled his eyes. “I mean, of course I listen to stuff sometimes, but I’m no… music expert, by any means. I suppose my taste isn’t very broad… as far as I’m aware, at least. I don’t really go searching...” 

Akira touched his chin thoughtfully and looked at Goro with a wry smile. “Huh… Well then, I’ll make it my mission to broaden your horizons… In our short time together this fine rainy afternoon, at least,” he grinned. 

Goro found himself flushing again and felt a sweat come over him. Gghhh, what is wrong with me… Operate like a normal human being! He forced a small laugh. “Well. If you insist…” 

Akira smiled triumphantly. “Haha! Excellent,” he punctuated with a wink. Goro’s stomach flipped. Get it together, Goro… “So what type of stuff do you like? If I had to guess, I’d hazard that you’re into… heavy metal? Or, perhaps… Gregorian chant? ...Thrash jazz?—” 

Goro, in his own surprise, let out a loud, incredulous laugh. “Oh my God, no—Wait. Did you say… thrash jazz?” Goro probed curiously. 

Akira’s eyes twinkled brightly, betraying the neutral expression he was trying to maintain. “It’s real! I swear!” he insisted with a grin. “I can play some for you!” 

Goro gawked at Akira. “You… You guys don’t carry thrash jazz records…” 

Akira snorted loudly. “...Okay, no. But I have a computer with YouTube capabilities. Check this shit out,” he said, eyes darting down to the register computer and hands flying across the keyboard. Somehow, he managed to find whatever he was looking for before Goro could even say “thrash jazz,” and looked back up at Goro with a mischievous grin as noise started to float through the speakers.  

And that was all Goro could describe it as—noise. Was it music? He genuinely didn’t know. A sad, screeching saxophone droned along to a bizarre drumbeat as a separate sax produced a noise reminiscent of a dying elephant, screaming in pain… Goro realized he had an absolutely dumbstruck look of horror on his face when Akira let out a loud laugh upon looking up to see Goro’s reaction. “What—” Goro started weakly. “What is this… madness…” 

“This? This particular song…” Akira trailed off as he searched the video description. “…is called ‘Sore Titties,’” he announced nonchalantly.  

Goro stared.  

Akira blinked up at him innocuously, attempting and failing to maintain the straight line of his lips.  

Goro let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding and ran a hand through his hair slowly. “Okay. Right. Yeah, of course it is.” 

Akira finally dissolved into giggles, and Goro felt his heart leap almost painfully. “Thrash jazz was pretty big in Germany in the late ‘80s. It’s an entirely valid genre of music,” he hummed. 

“Uh huh...” 

After that, the minutes flew by as Akira played him more music, growing increasingly absurd with each new video he clicked on. Goro realized it’d been almost an hour when he checked his phone and then looked out the window, where the rain had long ago quieted to a drizzle. He blinked, coming back to reality from the delirious state he and Akira had reached descending down their YouTube hole. He realized he was leaning far over the counter to see the screen, shoulders only inches away from Akira’s, and straightened up hastily. 

“Would you believe it’s been about an hour already?” Goro laughed lightly. “I really ought to be going, considering the rain lightened up a while ago… I guess I lost track of time,” he mused. 

Akira blinked, straightening up as well. “Oh shit, same. Well, you’re welcome to stay as long as you want… not like the customers are really rolling in today, anyway.” 

Goro smiled and ducked his head in deference. “That’s alright, I really should get home and eat some dinner. I left work over an hour ago already…” 

Akira smiled playfully. “Aww… Well, alright. Hey—” he paused. Goro tilted his head at him. “Come back another time. Soon,” he insisted. Goro blinked as Akira drummed his fingers against the counter with a tiny quirk of the lips. “Next time, I promise I’ll show you some real music. I mean—music that you might like. Thrash jazz is, after all, a valid musical genre that deserves the utmost respect,” he nodded matter-of-factly.  

Goro laughed and glanced up at the other boy coyly. “Sure. Maybe I will.” 

“Oh, and, um—” Akira added. “I don’t think I got your name. By the way.” 

Goro paused. “Oh! Right. How rude of me, haha…” he said, and Akira waved him off. “Um. Akechi Goro,” he said with an awkward little bow, suddenly feeling shy.  

Akira’s eyes lit up subtly behind his glasses. “Sick. I hope to see you again soon, Akechi Goro,” he said and grinned devilishly. 

Goro swallowed, his heart thudding annoyingly fast in his chest. “Yeah. Um, me too.” Preferably as soon as possible 

-- 

The scene played over and over in Goro’s head all night and through work the next day. More specifically… Akira ran through his head.  

Sitting slumped over on his desk, chin resting in his hand, Goro day-dreamed of messy black curls and oversized flannel. He didn’t know why the record store clerk wouldn’t leave his head or why he was kind of feeling like he might listen to thrash jazz again if it meant he could go back and see him.  

Slumping further over the desk, Goro held back his groan as he stared bitterly down at the stack of files spread across his workspace. Work… More like the slow, soul-sucking death of my wasted potential and mental aptitude. His job truly did drain him… it certainly wasn’t his “dream career” by any chance, but it… sort of paid the bills. He wasn’t starving, at least. And his shitty air conditioning unit usually worked. Either way—it was enough. For now. Sure, maybe by continuing to waste away in a dead-end job he was trapping himself down an unfulfilling path forever and decreasing his chances of ever breaking out of it, but—...Goro came back to the present, sighing. He needed to stop ruminating over it and falling into the same patterns of hopelessness and negativity… He just had to grin and bear it until he was in a better position to make a career change. 

He sighed, longing to be anywhere else. Well… one particular place. Goro furrowed his brows, wondering how soon he could reasonably go back to the music store without seeming overeager. He should probably wait at least a few days. Probably more like a week. Ugh… but a week was so long. He wouldn’t be able to go on like this for that long… Maybe he’d give it a few days and see how it went.  

Reluctantly, Goro sat up at his desk and tried to get back to work, daydreams floating through his head all the while… 

-- 

Goro finally found a reason to go back several days later. 

While brainstorming excuses he could use to stop by again without seeming like he was just coming back to see Akira (because… he wasn’t… Really), Goro suddenly remembered the turntable included for free by his landlady, sitting dusty and dormant in his closet. A bit outdated, sure, but she was ancient and meant well. Goro appreciated the gesture, but… it was an ancient record player. What use did he have for that? Besides, he wasn’t into music enough to listen to it that frequently, so why spend the energy getting into it?  

Until now. Now he had the perfect reason to, whether he particularly wanted to or not. Goro dragged the player out of the tiny supply closet in his apartment, taking a couple minutes to dust it off and coughing a bit. Gently removing the protective glass from the table-top player and placing it down next to it on the living room coffee table, he ran a tentative finger along the smooth base of the turntable where the record would go. It really was an old thing, with its grainy mahogany body and long, delicate needle. He wondered how it would sound… Now he really was getting excited to find some music for it. 

He couldn’t wait any longer. Mentally reviewing his schedule for the next day, he planned to stop by after work again if he didn’t have to stay too late. Hopefully, the clerk that had captivated him so completely a few days back would be on duty again…  

 

Making his way back to his favorite new store after another mind-numbing day at work, he felt his stomach flutter in anticipation as he approached the door. Pulling it open and stepping through, he let it close lightly behind him with a jingle of its bell and turned around. Eyes darting to the register, he spotted…  

No one. Goro paused and furrowed his brow. Taking a second to look around, he took in the store properly for the first time. It was cozy, not tiny but with packed shelves taking up most of the store and turning it into something of a maze. Interesting posters littered the walls, composed mostly of band memorabilia and some outright strange pieces of art. He noticed blue velvet accents around the store, from the armchair in the corner to the tablecloth hanging over the register counter. The lighting was warm and easy on the eyes, and soft music floated through the speakers, something hazy and dream-like… Goro couldn’t believe he hadn’t really taken notice of the place’s atmosphere until now. Then again, he was a little more preoccupied with his cold, soaking wet clothes and dripping hair last time… 

Goro snapped out of his reflective daze when he heard a noise coming from the back, nestled behind a few rows of shelves. Footsteps approached and Goro watched a pair of black hi-top sneakers come around a corner. Glancing up, his eyes landed on…  

Akira...!  Who paused for a second and blinked before breaking into a surprised smile. “Well hello again.” 

Goro suddenly felt exposed, vulnerable under the warm twinkle in Akira’s eyes… and he wasn’t even standing there looking like a drowned rat this time. He stuttered out a delayed, “H-Hi,” and blushed. Ohhh my god what was I thinking this was a mistake I’m so embarrassed I should just turn around and leave before I make a bigger fool out of myself— 

“Welcome back,” Akira said, grin widening. “Nice to see you back so soon.” 

And—Goro flushed darker. So embarrassing. But… he sounds so genuine Goro couldn’t resist giving into that charming smile. Dangerously charming, Goro was quickly learning. He felt a shy grin of his own spread across his face of its own accord. “I, um, thanks. I was… actually thinking of checking out some music after all. Like you said.” 

Akira's eyebrows shot up, and he perked up with a chirped “Great!” He darted behind the counter and squatted down to search for something on a shelf. Goro waited patiently, folding his hands together and looking around the store.  

After a minute Akira seemed to locate whatever he was looking for and stood back up fully. He placed a stack of a several records down on the counter between them.  

“So,” he started.  

Goro blinked down at them and then back up at Akira. 

“I was thinking about some of the music I’d show you. If you came back, I mean. And so I went through and found a few of my favorite albums... if you’re interested,” he shrugged nonchalantly—though he couldn’t quite maintain eye contact. 

Goro stared and tried to keep his blush under control. “Yes, yeah. Sure.” 

“Cool! Um, but first I wanna know… What kind of music do you like? How would you characterize the kind of things you like in a song?” Akira asked. 

Goro paused. Huh… What did he look for in music? “Um. I… I don’t know, I guess I like music to be relaxing. Sometimes I listen to classical when I’m getting work done at home... I guess it helps me focus, and also unwind after a long day. Just kind of generally… chill music.”  

“So like... the kind of smooth jazz and classical background music playing in my therapist’s waiting room. Or like the elevator in my apartment building. Or when you’re on the phone and they put you on hold—” 

I get it,” Goro hissed through gritted teeth.  

Kidding! I’m kidding, I promise,” Akira laughed at Goro’s sour pout. 

“Mm-hmm. Maybe your therapist just has good taste,” he said. Akira laughed again and Goro couldn’t hold back his smile. “Lord knows mine doesn’t. All she plays is this one obnoxious radio station of the same three pop songs that I swear to God plays more ads than music,” he scoffed and caught Akira’s eye with a coy smirk.  

Akira was grinning back, his smile like the sun, so full of warmth and genuine amusement… Ugh, shut up, brain— “Haha. Nice,” Akira laughed. The two held each other’s gazes with matching smiles, regarding each other silently. Goro felt warm and his heart was probably beating faster than it was supposed to. He took in Akira’s appearance, his wild hair—was it ever not a giant mess? Did he just sport bedhead 24/7? Why was it so goddamn attractive?—and baggy black sweatshirt with some kind of band logo on it. Is this what they call a hipster?... Or is he more of a punk… Wait, is he “goth”? Either way, why does he pull it off so well?? 

Goro coughed upon realizing he was staring too long again. “Anyway,” he started, only realizing afterward that he had nothing to follow it up with.  

Akira started. “Oh! Right, well. If you like chill music then I’ve got plenty of shit for you.” He rifled through the albums. Goro watched his hands in a trance. He had nice hands… Kinda bony and pale, and they looked soft… He was sporting a couple of silver rings and chipping black nail polish, too. It suited him perfectly… “Mmm, we’ve got some shoegaze, acid jazz, some lo-fi hip hop—” 

Goro came back to earth for a moment to scoff and comment, “God, what are these bizarre subcategories of music…? Are you making these up?”  

Akira ignored him with a smile. “Or perhaps a favorite album of mine from the Korean psychedelic rock phase of the 1970s. Are you familiar?” he asked cheerfully, picking up the album. 

“…I’m just not going to answer you anymore,” Goro deadpanned and Akira gave him a shit-eating grin in response. “So pretentious...” 

Akira gasped, acting scandalized, and drew back with a hand over his heart. “Me? How could you…” 

“Ugh. Whatever. As long as there’s no more thrash jazz.”  

Akira snorted. “Not for now, no. Unless you want more thrash jazz.” 

“I’m good.”  

Akira slid the record out of its covering and cradled it lovingly. He brought it over to a large record player by the counter that seemed to be hooked up to the speakers around the store. Gently depositing the record onto the turntable, he lifted the needle and leaned in close to ever so precisely place it at the edge of the ridged vinyl surface. After a moment, a gentle acoustic melody softly faded in through the speakers and filled the store, a soft voice filtering through along with the guitar after a minute. 

They listened to it in silence for a few moments and Akira came over and hopped up on the counter from behind it, twisting around to face Goro and sitting criss-cross. “Nice, right?” 

 “Yeah… It is relaxing…” he trailed off. Goro glanced down to Akira’s crossed legs. “And should you be sitting there like that? You’re going to knock something over.” He narrowed his eyes skeptically. 

“Nah, don’t worry. I do this all the time.” 

Goro sighed. “Of course you do. What if a customer walks in?” 

“So what? You’re a customer.” 

So, it looks unprofessional! ...And I don’t count. I already know you’re totally unprofessional.” 

Akira let out a long snort. “Oh, do tell me more about professionalism, Akechi-sensei. What do you do, anyway?” 

Goro’s gaze snapped up at his name. He huffed and crossed his arms, turning away to hide his blush from the other. “Shut up. And… nothing of consequence. Just another mind-numbing desk job in the accounting department of a company I hate…” he sighed, failing to cover his jaded resignation. 

Akira’s lips quirked up to one side in a kind of sympathetic smile. “Yikes. Sounds… soul-sucking.” 

“Exactly!” Goro exclaimed with feeling. “…But that’s a whole thing I won’t get into,” he laughed half-heartedly and then shot Akira a playful smirk. “I’ll save it for the therapist, right?” 

Akira gave him a grimace-smile and a short laugh. He kind of looked like he wanted to protest, but just ended up rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. “Yeah… Haha. I feel you there.” 

At the lull in conversation, Goro realized a few songs of the album had already played. He’d only been listening half-consciously, but realized now how calm and melodic it was… it made him feel… “Warm,” he said softly. 

Akira looked up at him. “Hm?” 

“Oh, um—no, I was just thinking about the music… It has such a warm quality to it. Like sunlight.” Like your smile

Akira was looking at him when he glanced up. The other boy blinked when their eyes met. “…Yeah. I agree,” he murmured. 

Goro paused a moment, then nodded decisively. “I think I’ll take it.” 

Akira raised an eyebrow and cocked his head to the side. “Hm? Oh— the album? You want to buy it?” he asked, surprised. 

Goro snorted. “Well, yeah. Wasn’t that the point of showing me music?” 

Akira stared back blankly for a moment. “Oh. Um, well. Not explicitly, no. I just… wanted to introduce you to some stuff you might want to check out. You don’t have to buy anything if you don’t want to.” 

Goro narrowed his eyes. Truly a passionate employee, going above and beyond just to spread ‘the joy of music’ or whatever… Goro was kind of impressed. He certainly wouldn’t go that far— at the end of the day, a business stays afloat by selling things, so sell things one must. He shrugged. These sentimental artsy types… “Well, I do want to. I actually came back looking for something to play on the old turntable my landlady included with the apartment, and… I like this.” 

Akira’s eyes danced. “Ha! Sweet. I’ll make a vinyl snob out of you yet,” he winked. 

Goro couldn’t take him. Those fucking winks… they went straight to his already pounding heart. “Ha. We’ll see,” he retorted weakly. 

“Well, I’d be happy to ring that up for you. I hope you like the rest of it,” Akira said as he moved to take the record off the player. 

“I’ll have to let you know… Maybe I’ll come back and share my thoughts,” Goro said in a momentary stroke of boldness. Akira turned back to face Goro with record in hand and paused a second. Goro’s heart gave a nervous kick.  

“Y-Yeah! Please feel free. I’d love to hear what you think,” Akira said with a playful smile and ducked his head to reassemble the album and find a shopping bag. And… was he trying to hide his face? Goro squinted. 

After the transaction, Akira handed Goro the paper bag with a dazzling smile. Goro realized he probably had no excuse to stay longer. Well, shit. “Thank you very much… Akira-san,” he said with a shy smile. 

Akira laughed it off, but seemed embarrassed. “Just call me Akira... And hey, no sweat. I’m happy to help.” Gone was the playful snark, in its place a quiet voice and crooked smile. Goro felt himself sweat. Oh no, he’s hot AND sweet. Fuck. Oh jeez. Goro wanted to whimper pitifully but forced a smile instead. 

“I… I’ll see you soon?” 

“Are you asking me or telling me?” Akira drawled with a wink. Ah, the snark was back. 

Goro gave him an icy stare. “Don’t make me change my mind.” 

Akira waved his hands rapidly and laughed. “Nooo, please! Babe, I need you!” 

Ugh. Goro’s face burned and he rolled his eyes. This boy was such a joker… Why did he appeal to him, again? “Yeah, okay, bye. See if I come back,” he declared haughtily in attempt to cover up his embarrassment. Turning towards the door, he threw Akira one last look over his shoulder before turning the knob. 

“Hey, um—but really. Come back soon. I can recommend you some more music, if you want,” Akira said at length, and Goro’s blush deepened.  

“Yes. Okay. Have a good evening,” he said in a rush and swung open the door, suddenly eager to escape. 

After shutting it behind him, he covered his burning face with his hands and let out a grand sigh. He was in too deep already. This wasn’t like him… In his experience, attachment only meant inevitable pain. So why wear your heart exposed and vulnerable on your sleeve?  

But, at the same time… He kind of wanted to see where this went. He didn’t know what he was starting, but he sure knew he’d never had these kinds of feelings about anyone before. Goro sighed and started his trudge home, lost in mental images of plaid flannel and glossy black curls… This boy was going to be the death of him.  

-- 

A few days later, Goro laid on top of his bed with his face in his pillow. He sighed, muscles feeling heavy, and thought distantly that he should probably go eat something because had he even had anything at all today? But instead, he had walked straight into his bedroom and collapsed onto his bed as soon as he got home from work. The days just got more and more draining as time went on… He wondered how long he could keep this up before he just couldn’t take it anymore. Settling into the bed more, Goro let his mind wander.  

…And it went straight to where it’d been going basically every idle second lately: Akira. Goro groaned under his breath. What was his problem? Why couldn’t he help but fixate on him? He had to admit though, the days had seemed a little brighter since meeting him a couple weeks ago…  

But he couldn’t just let himself fall into the arms of the first pretty boy who looked his way as some kind of escape from the shitty, meaningless life he led… getting caught up in infatuated puppy love would only end badly. But—something in him felt that wasn’t quite it. Akira was… fascinating. But on a deeper level than Goro had ever experienced. Something in him just connected with something in Goro, and in such a natural and immediate way that it took his breath away. To so quickly feel comfortable enough around someone to banter and joke—even, arguably, flirt (?)— like that… was something Goro didn’t think was possible. It’s like the two of them automatically got each other on some level… Or at least, that’s how it felt to Goro.  

He wondered what Akira thought about him… The other boy was hard to read. It frustrated Goro how enigmatic he was, seeming to don a carefully neutral mask by default… (Oh, wait, Goro realized. Takes one to know one.) Sure, Akira grinned and laughed and joked with Goro, and he didn’t doubt the sincerity of that—but what was Akira really thinking beneath all the layers? What was he really like? He couldn’t be that chill and unshakeable all the time… He wasn’t joking about the therapist, right? Goro wanted to know more about that. Was he as fucked up as him? (Well… okay, no one was as fucked up as Goro.) 

Fitfully, Goro found himself sitting down on his couch in front of the turntable and drawing the record he’d bought out of its protective pocket. He gently set it up just as he’d seen Akira do and released the needle at the outer edge of the vinyl. The same soft guitar riff that had captivated him the other day drifted in once again and Goro slowly relaxed back against the couch. Bringing his legs up to his chest, he rested his chin on top of his knees and let the gentle melody wash over him. Picking up the album cover once more, he studied the bright blue of the sky and the vibrant red of the small flowers featured in the picture. His eyes lingered on the woman sitting under the expanse of sky with a flower in her hand. As she sang and Goro’s gaze zoned out on the picture, he thought of Akira and swore he almost felt him in the song… Bright; drawing you in with its warm, calming effect. Like having the sun shine down on you… Goro’s heart squeezed in his chest and he felt almost sick as he laid down on his side on the couch and let the music play on. I just met him… I barely know him. This is ridiculous. And yet… 

 

…He just couldn’t stay away. After only a few days since his last visit, Goro found himself back on that familiar route to the record store. He didn’t really know what he was doing or what the hell this was leading up to, but. For once in his life he felt like maybe this one thing was worth just jumping into headfirst, consequences be damned. And honestly… he didn’t think he could stay away if he tried.  

Saying a quick prayer to any deities that might be out there that Akira was working today, Goro slipped into the shop unobtrusively, jingling the bell on the door. Catching sight of a figure at the register in his peripherals, he looked up eagerly to find… 

Not Akira. He froze, dumbfounded. Somehow it hadn’t seemed possible that someone else would be working there. Ugh, I’m such an idiot. Obviously the store is going to have more than one employee… He sighed. What now? Does he politely look around for a minute before slipping out again? Does he just say fuck it and turn right back around and through the door? After all, it’s not like there was any point in being there if Akira wasn’t… 

“Welcome,” came a perky voice, breaking Goro out of his sulky daze. He jumped a little and looked up to properly take in the person before him… and then looked back down a bit, because boy was she short. A girl looking a few years younger than him with a bright mane of red hair was looking at him with a curious smile. 

“Oh,” he responded. Ugh, get it together… “Right, thank you,” he punctuated with a short nod.  

She studied him, looking amused, and Goro squirmed a little under her gaze. She too sported large, square glasses similar to Akira’s. Are unnecessarily large frames some kind of requirement here? Ugh, kids these days with their fashion trends… (When Goro realized that he’d actually, unironically thought the phrase “kids these days,” he mentally slapped himself and cut that train of thought off right there.) 

“Soooo… looking for anything in particular?” the girl chirped, rolling back on her feet. 

Goro hesitated. “Um—no, not really…” he started, trailing off when he heard a sound coming from the back. Glancing over, his eyes locked onto another pair just as they came into view. Dark… gray? Long, thick eyelashes… Blinking and widening in surprise when they landed on him. Akira’s.  

The other stopped in his tracks and Goro stared, tongue-tied. Akira broke into a smile. “Hey, you.”  

Goro ducked his head, suddenly shyer than ever. Seeing Akira not behind the counter with a jacket on and a bag slung casually over his shoulder was… weird. And that smile when he saw Goro… That dulcet “hey, you”… And all in front of some tiny, unidentified stranger currently watching raptly from behind the counter. Goro coughed in place of a reply, and a few seconds passed in unbearable awkwardness as he scrambled to reset his stalled brain. 

“Uhhhhhhh—” a droning voice cut in suddenly and made him jump. “…Mind if I ask what’s going down here? There is some weird energy in the room and it’s making me restless.” 

Akira snapped out of his own daze with a weak laugh, resuming time once again. “Uh, nothing, haha. This is just a friend of mine. Um, Akechi, this is Futaba; Futaba, Akechi,” he explained in a clumsy rush. Akira subtly turned and levelled Futaba with some kind of look that Goro could not for the life of him identify but knew must have been meaningful, because after a second Futaba’s eyes went wide and a smile spread across her lips as she looked back at Goro. He gulped. This tiny girl sure knew how to unnerve him with one look. 

“Ohhhh. Cool!” she exclaimed a little too loudly. “So nice to meet you, Akechi-san.” 

Goro felt himself sweat. “Th-thanks… You too…” 

Akira butt in quickly to save Goro from his misery. “Anyway, Futaba, I’m clocking out. Have a good shift, sis,” he said, ruffling her hair.  

She beamed and giggled, playfully pushing his shoulder. “Seeya, lizard brain.” 

“Futabaaa!” 

Cackling. Playful arguing. More hair-ruffling. Futaba sing-songing, “But what about Akechi-kuuun?” Goro blushing. 

“He’s coming with me.” He turned to Goro then. “C’mon, let’s go talk outside.” 

“Oh— O-okay!” 

Akira nodded towards the door and the two walked out, waving to a grinning Futaba. 

“Have fuuuun!” 

Byyyye—” Akira shut the door behind them heavily. The sun was setting around them and the rest of the street was fairly empty aside from the occasional passing car. Meandering under the awning and off to the side of the door, Akira leaned against the brick wall and shoved his hands in his pockets. He glanced up at Goro with a sheepish smile, “Um— sorry about that.” 

Goro smiled in amusement and waved him off. “No problem at all. I’ll admit she’s a bit… intimidating. Or unnerving, rather... But she’s funny. And endearing. You two seem very close.” 

Akira leaned back against the wall further and rifled around in his pockets for something. He laughed. “Intimidating? Futaba?” Pulling something out of his pocket and sticking it between his lips, he dug through his other pocket and pulled out what looked like a lighter. “…Haha, but I know what you mean. She can be scary when she wants to be. Definitely unnerving if you don’t know her,” he said and brought the lighter up towards his mouth. Pausing for a moment, he tried to talk through his teeth while holding the cigarette between them. “Oh, uh. Do you mind?” he asked, pointing at it with the lighter. 

Goro paused, and an amused smile spread across his face. He shook his head, and Akira mumbled out a quick thanks, lighting his cigarette with a hand cupped around the flame. Taking a long drag, he dug around in his pocket and proffered Goro one as well. 

He appraised it at length and looked back up to catch Akira’s eye. “Awfully nasty habit you’ve got there,” he smiled knowingly.  

Akira ducked his head and ran a hand through messy curls, laughing sheepishly. “Haha, uhh, yeah… That’s fair.” 

Goro hummed in amusement. “…Good thing it’s a nasty habit I also share.” With that, he plucked a cigarette out of the box in Akira’s hand and held it to his lips, extending his palm in request for the lighter. 

Instead, Akira stepped in closer and flicked the lighter himself, bringing it to the end of the cigarette and watching Goro with an inscrutable smile. As it lit and Goro inhaled, he met Akira’s eyes and they shared a smile. Goro’s heart pounded rapidly in his ribcage and he devoted every ounce of energy to keeping his composure. Oh my goddddd— 

Akira stepped back just a little bit and winked. “Our lungs to kill, right?” 

Goro let out a wincing laugh. “God. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve tried to quit. Or, well. Told myself I was going to quit and then just kind of… didn’t follow through as soon as something stressed me out or I felt like shit… So, pretty much immediately,” he said, taking another drag. 
Akira let out a loud, breathy laugh, genuinely amused. “Amen.” He regarded Goro with a twinkle in his eye, and Goro felt his face heat up, turning his head away to let the smoke out of his lungs.  

He cleared his throat. “So… why’d your shift end so early today?” 

Akira blinked. “Oh! Our hours are different on Sunday. I’m here most afternoons and evenings of the week except Monday and Thursday. But Sundays I just do the morning through afternoon.” 

“Ah,” Goro nodded, absorbing the information and trying to commit to memory.  

“I’m glad you caught me before I left, though,” Akira said with a warm grin and reached a hand up to mess with his bangs as he exhaled smoke. “I’m sorry I can’t play you anything today…” 

“Oh, no, that’s okay… I’m just glad to see you at all. I mean—” he cut himself off abruptly, cheeks flushing, and tried to ignore the look on Akira’s face before it broke into a grin that he tried to smother by taking a drag of the cigarette. Goro huffed and looked away, taking a short inhale himself. “I just, um, wanted to share my thoughts on the album you sold me the other day…” 

Akira perked up. “Really? That’s great! What did you think?” he asked, tapping some ash off the end of the cigarette.  

Goro let the air out of his lungs slowly. “It was…” he furrowed his brow and reached up to tug at his hair. “I don’t know, I don’t really have the vocabulary to describe it… Not like you artsy types probably do,” he rolled his eyes. 

“What is that supposed to mean??” 

“Don’t worry about it. Anyway— it… I don’t know… It really affected me, which is unusual… but. It could’ve just been the weird headspace I was in.” Thinking of you, he didn’t say. “I… really liked it though,” Goro smiled at Akira shyly from under his lashes. It reminded me of your warmth… that energy that calms me and makes my heart race at the same time, he wanted to say… (God, he was gay). He felt dizzy and sweaty despite the chilly fall weather around them. He sucked in an anxious lungful of smoke from the dwindling cigarette and glanced up at Akira.  

…Who was just staring at him blankly. Goro self-consciously tilted his head at him in question. “Oh,” Akira breathed then. “That’s wonderful, Akechi… I’m so glad you liked it,” he said with a widening grin.  

Goro paused. “…It’s kind of weird for you to call me Akechi when I call you Akira, huh?” he asked after a moment, almost too quiet for Akira to pick up. 

Akira blinked, caught off guard. “Oh. Um, well… I don’t mind. I mean, you haven’t given me permission to use your given name, so…” he trailed off, rubbing his neck. 

“…it’s okay,” he mumbled. Akira waited for clarification. “I mean, you can. If you want. Um, it’s—” 

“Goro,” Akira answered. Goro blinked in surprise. Akira let out a strained laugh, kicking the ground lightly. “I remember. From when I first asked your name. Haha…” 

Goro stared. “Y-yeah…” he swallowed and felt himself flush darkly. He suddenly panicked, heartbeat thumping rapidly, and turned away a little for air. 

“Hey, so,” Akira started as he ground his cigarette butt into the ashtray on top of a nearby trash can. “I was thinking. I know this is kinda sudden but… there’s this thing coming up Thursday night. A show. Well, it’s a few local bands, but either way I know some of the people in them and I’m a fan of their music...  I thought you might like to come.” 

Goro took a moment to process that. He was… asking him out?? Or was he just offering as a 'friend?' Shit. Was Goro not projecting enough gay vibes?... But upon looking at Akira, hand tugging at his curls nervously, maybe they were on the same page. “I… would.”  

Akira straightened up. “Hey, rad! That’s awesome.” A smile bloomed across his face.  

Goro tucked some hair behind his ear shyly. “Yeah…” 

A few seconds passed in silence, and Akira cleared his throat. 

“So, um, listen. I should get your number. Uh, so I can text you the details and everything.” 

Goro’s stomach flipped. “Right. S-sounds good…” He scrambled to pull his phone out and they traded devices to add themselves in. Taking his phone back from Akira and brushing hands with him, he flinched back a little as if burned and cleared his throat. "So," he threw out quietly, stubbing out his own cigarette. "I guess I should probably get going..." 

"Hm? Oh—" Akira stood up straight and stuffed his hands back in his pocket before glancing down at his feet. "Sure, or... I mean, I'm probably gonna swing by the café down the street to grab dinner... if you want to join." He sounded so indifferent, but... Goro watched him scuff one hi-top on the sidewalk and tug at his hair, still looking down.  

"I— sure. If you don't mind," he accepted graciously. 

"Haha... I definitely don't," Akira grinned crookedly. 

Goro turned his head away and tugged at the sleeves of his jacket. He didn't know what to do with his hands all of a sudden. "I mean, I suppose I'd probably just end up eating instant ramen or toast otherwise... Or maybe just coffee and cigarettes," he laughed hollowly. 

"Ha... then let's get you a proper meal," Akira said wryly. He scooched closer for a moment and then reached out and pinched Goro’s side lightly. “Get some meat on those bones, yeah?” 

Goro let out a dignified squawk and slapped Akira’s hand away, only making him laugh more. Goro felt his face burn and muttered out a, “Hush. You’re insufferable.” 

And with that, the two boys started making their way down the sidewalk, bumping shoulders with laughter and nervous smiles all the way.  

-- 

That Thursday, Goro arrived at the small, hole-in-the-wall venue of the show, looking down at the address Akira had texted him once more just to confirm. He could barely tell it was a venue with how small and non-descript the exterior was. Standing off to the side of the door near a lamp post, Goro shot Akira a text to confirm that he had arrived.  

 

Me (18:53): I'm here.  

Akira ;3c (18:54): sweeet 

Akira ;3c (18:54): coming 

Goro rolled his eyes at the contact name Akira had given himself. He couldn't believe he had to look at that ridiculous emoticon every time he went to text him. Stupid, absurd, adorable Akira and his goddamn winking cat face emoticon... Or whatever the hell it is. Goro tucked his cold hands under his underarms as he waited for Akira to come down the street.  

...Except he ended up popping out the stage exit a little ways down from the main entrance. A curly head of hair appeared in Goro's vision and waved. "Hey! Goro!" 

Goro's heart lurched at the sound of his given name coming from Akira's mouth and he whipped his head to look at him. "Oh!" he exclaimed, confused. "You're... already here? And backstage??" 

Akira laughed and rubbed the back of his head. "Haha, yeah, I've just been hanging out during soundcheck since I know most of the people playing." 

Goro let out an amused huff. "Well, then. Look at you, Mr. VIP." 

Akira snorted and waved him in. "Right," he said, leading Goro from the backstage area to the main part of the venue with a feather-light touch to his back.  

Setting up camp not far from the stage but off to the side, Akira and Goro stood close together as Goro examined the stage and venue around him. It was cozy and kitschy, with art and pictures of bands adorning the walls. "Interesting little place," Goro mused aloud. 

"Yeah, it's pretty sick. I come here a lot. It's got a great energy, and everyone who runs it is great," Akira said, and Goro nodded in response. They stood around and talked for a bit as more people joined the standing area in front of the stage and crowded them closer together. Goro felt his heart pound and he attempted to remain calm and take deep breaths. From this distance, their arms were brushing up against each other, and Goro could swear he smelled Akira's warm scent of... cigarette smoke and coffee? Along with some kind of cologne?... Or, no, maybe it was his body wash. Akira didn't seem like he'd wear cologne... But then again, what did Goro know? He glanced down at himself, taking in his own carefully labored-over outfit. He wasn't really as... cool or stylish as Akira, he supposed—he had a fairly small wardrobe and most of it was the kind of button-downs and dress pants he wore for work—but he had chosen one of his favorite items, a cozy oversized cardigan weaved in a chunky black cable-knit. It seemed like the kind of thing Akira would like, so... 

Goro was broken out of his reverie when Akira nudged his shoulder against Goro's and said, "Hey, the first band's coming on." 

Goro turned his attention to the stage. Sure enough, the lights were dimming and a few people were walking onstage. The crowd around him cheered and he watched as Akira smiled and shouted something Goro couldn't understand towards one of the musicians walking out, who spotted Akira and laughed in response. "Friend of yours?" Goro asked. 

"Yeah. All of them are, actually, but that's my roommate Ryuji," Akira said with a fond smile that told of countless inside jokes and memories together. Goro found himself trying not to pout jealously at the other guy as he settled at the drum set in the back. He wanted to be that close with Akira... Ugh, don't be a child. It's not a good look on you, Goro. 

After a minute, the band began playing and Goro blinked as he was assaulted (quite deafeningly) by a fast, aggressive drumbeat and energetic guitar riff. The crowd hooted and hollered as noise burst from the stage, and Goro winced at the physical feeling of the bass vibrating in his chest. He supposed he shouldn't be surprised, but it was louder than he'd been prepared for. He tried to release the tension from his body and settle in to listen with an open mind... or, well, as open as he could manage. 

Akira leaned in close to his ear and raised his voice over the frenetic din, "I know it's pretty loud—" 

"What?

"I SAID, I KNOW IT'S PRETTY LOUD." 

"Oh—" Goro cleared his throat. "OH. HAHA, YEAH." 

Akira smiled at him in amusement. "DON'T WORRY, IT WON'T ALL BE LIKE THIS.

Goro rolled his eyes, to Akira's laughter, and turned back to the stage. The band played on, and Goro tried to control his grimacing expression at the noise level. "WHAT, UM—WHAT KIND OF MUSIC IS THIS?" he tried to shout-ask innocuously. 

"UHHH... I GUESS THEY'RE KIND OF LIKE... POST- POST-GRUNGE?

Goro looked at him with a deadpan expression. Akira cackled.  

A couple songs later, the band finally finished with a shouted "Thank you so much! We're Dad Jeans, goodnight!" and exited the stage to the tune of the crowd's cheers.  

After the room finally died down a bit, Akira turned to Goro with a smirk. Goro narrowed his eyes. "Dad Jeans..."  

Akira let out a bright peal of laughter. "I wasn't expecting that one would quite be your cup of tea. Don't worry, you'll like the next one better," he reassured him with a grin. 

Luckily, the following act came on after only a few minutes. This time, a duo came out with acoustic guitars, and Goro sighed a bit in preemptive relief.  

Turning to Akira, he asked, "Do you know them too?" 

Akira nodded. "Yeah, that's my friend Ann on the left and her girlfriend Shiho on the right. Their stuff's more unplugged... I think you'll like it better," he grinned. 

And he did. Thank God. The two girls played bright two-part acoustic melodies and harmonized their voices together beautifully— it was much more Goro's speed, and he felt himself relaxing more by the minute. 

At the end of the set, Akira shouted their names and cheered with the rest of the crowd, and Goro's applause was actually genuine this time. Akira turned to him after a moment. "Hey, I'll be back, okay?" 

"Hm?" Goro tilted his head. "What, for the bathroom? Won't the next band be coming right on?" 

"Yeah, but it's cool if I miss some. Just enjoy it and don't worry." 

Goro touched his chin. "Well, if you're sure. See you soon, then." 

Akira grinned at Goro and eyed him with a look Goro couldn't identify. Tugging at his curls, he turned around with one last wink and a quick goodbye. (Goro hated himself for blushing at those stupid winks every time.) 

After a few minutes, cheering started as the first band member came on stage. Akira wasn't back yet, but Goro turned his attention to the stage.  

Only to see... Akira. Who was jogging on stage and settling himself at some kind of keyboard with a smile at the crowd. And an even wider smile at Goro once he spotted him. 

Goro's heart stopped. What

And then he straight up blew Goro a kiss and went at it on his keyboard. ...What, Goro thought, the fuck. He had no idea what kind of face he must have been making.  

An electronic-sounding melody filtered through the amps from Akira's keyboard as he twisted some knobs—oh, or was that a synthesizer? Goro didn't know a lot about musical instruments, but that seemed right. A hazy voice faded in from the short, fluffy-haired lead singer, and then a couple more in harmony from Akira and a dark-haired girl with an electric guitar. Lyrics that sounded like poetry drifted through Goro's ears as his eyes remained glued to his favorite member.  

As Goro watched, entranced, he absorbed lyrics about love, longing, the bright spots in a dark, corrupted world... Akira kept glancing up and catching his eye every few minutes and there was nothing Goro could do about his head-to-toe flush. Besides, he was too distracted with other things to care. This time, Akira's eyes lingered with a look that Goro couldn't decipher. Something... tender, but urgent. Searching... Lovesick?, he thought. Or am I just seeing what I want to see? Either way, his stomach was flipping wildly and he felt his head spin. Fuck, I've got to hold it together. I'll be damned if I keel over now..

Goro didn't realize a few songs had already passed, thoroughly in his own world. Something about the dreamy, romantic music was fucking with his head and making him... feel things. Through every word about radiant smiles and connecting with someone on a deeper level, Goro stared at Akira in his own lovesick drunken haze. Once again, the music just... felt like Akira. How did he do that? Was it just Goro's overactive mind? Why did it hit him so hard?  

Reality dawned on him again once the band finished their set. Still standing there in contemplation, he stared blankly at the now-empty stage in thought. People filtered out around him and he figured he should probably go look for Akira. Shuffling closer to the end of the stage where a staircase led backstage, he craned his neck and shifted nervously in place. Suddenly, Akira's head popped out from backstage and began scanning the area. Goro stood up straight and waved, and when Akira spotted him he waved him over with a grin.  

Goro reluctantly ascended the stairs backstage, feeling like he was breaking a rule, and Akira grabbed his wrist and pulled him in further. Goro swallowed as Akira led them over to a group of several people. Recognizing a couple as Akira's bandmates, he gave a nervous smile and a little wave. The girl with the fluffy hair gasped and gave a little clap before tugging on the hand of the brunette next to her to grab her attention.  

"Goro, these are my friends and bandmates," Akira gestured, and they waved one by one as Akira introduced them. "These are Haru and Makoto, who I play with—and I'm their third wheel." Akira laughed as the brunette—Makoto—pushed at his arm with an embarrassed scoff and Haru giggled and squeezed her hand. "Makoto actually splits her time with us and her experimental punk band. She's a true rager at heart," Akira grinned at Makoto's responding eye roll.  "Um, then here's Ann and my roommate Ryuji—" the blonde girl gave a friendly wave and the guy with the bleached, spiky hair and earrings gave a nod and a 'sup?'. "And there are Shiho and Yusuke and the others but I don't know where they got to," he finished.  

Goro nodded and smiled politely, still not really sure what was going on but not wanting to be rude. "Hello. It's lovely to meet you all." 

"And guys, this is Goro," Akira said. Just like with Futaba, he gave them that weird look, and a couple of them seemed to widen their eyes. Haru gasped and covered her mouth. Akira stared harder at her, and she winced apologetically. At this point, Goro's mind was just a bunch of question marks and confused yelling. 

Ann butt in then with a loud "So! How'd you like the show?" and Goro blinked, thinking for a moment. 

"Well," he began, rubbing his chin. "It was lovely—you're all incredibly talented," he smiled. "But I couldn't say I was expecting Akira to leave my side only to appear onstage a minute later," he said saccharinely and turned to Akira in an accusing manner. 

The girls gasped, whipping their heads over to look at a sheepish Akira. Ann smacked his arm (hard, judging by Akira's grimace) with a "No way! You didn't!" 

"Ha..ha... I did," Akira sing-songed with a shrug. 

"I thought you just said he was coming, like to see you play! You didn't tell us you were going to blindside him like that, you attention whore! Ugh, so extra..."  

"I didn't tell you?? And really... what did you expect from me, Ann?" Akira defended and turned to look at Goro. "I thought it'd be more fun if it were a surprise," he smirked. 

"Nah man, you only told me," Ryuji piped up. The girls turned to him this time, squawking indignantly in offense. "Hey, don't blame me! We live together, I know everything about him!"  

Goro squinted at Akira, trying to keep a stern face but unable to stop his lips from twitching. "Well, it certainly was a surprise. I'm not sure I like you keeping your little double life a secret from me like that," he said airily, nose turned up. 

Ryuji snorted and shoved Akira playfully. "Oooh, first lovers' quarrel?" 

"Ryuji!" Akira exclaimed with a punch to his shoulder and a death glare. He turned back to Goro with an apologetic smile. "Ha, um. I'm sorry about my friends. Why don't we get out of here?" Glancing back at them with one last warning look, he hurriedly said his goodbyes and grabbed Goro's wrist. A chorus of "Have fuuuuuun~", "Be good!", and "Text me if you ain't coming back tonight, dude" played them out as Akira ignored his friends and walked faster. 

Goro followed Akira's gentle tug and exchanged quick goodbyes and nice-to-meet-yous with the group over his shoulder. Weaving their way to the stage exit, they stepped out into the chilly autumn night and Akira released his wrist with a sigh of relief.  

"Christ. I don't know why I hang out with them sometimes..." He muttered with an eye roll. 

Goro smiled mischievously at Akira. "...I take it they've heard of me." 

Akira hid his face in his hands and let out a strained, "um." (And you better believe Goro was reveling in seeing the normally-unflappable Akira tripped up.) "I mean. Just to tell them I had a friend coming..." 

"Mm-hmmm," Goro hummed in amusement. 

Akira dragged his hands down his face and pouted at Goro. "Anyway, uh. Seriously, though... I hope you liked it," he said softly, suddenly very interested in his shoes. "Aside from Ryuji's band, maybe." 

Goro laughed. "I did. Actually... a lot more than I expected, especially after the first act." He grinned before pausing a moment. "I... truly didn't see that surprise coming though. I think I'm still processing it." 

Akira let out a breathy laugh and rubbed the back of his neck bashfully. “Haha… Yeeaahh… Sorry about that,” he grinned.  

“I can’t believe you. What did your friend call you? 'Extra'?” Goro smirked, arms crossed.  

“Hey! …I mean. She’s not wrong. But still!” 

The two shared a laugh and were quiet for a minute. Goro's smile softened as he looked at Akira. “I… must admit I was impressed, though. I assumed it would be something akin to your friends' more… experimental music. Or just, well... loud.” Akira snorted in response. “But it was different. It was soft and dreamy... Warm and comforting, like coming home after a long day... I don’t know, standing there watching you play, it just felt… special. Like it was exactly what I needed,” he finished softly, cursing himself for his embarrassing nervous-rambling. 

For someone prone to being a smug asshole with a flair for theatrics, Akira sure got shy in the face of a compliment. He stared blankly at Goro for a moment before softly going "oh" and turning away, face hidden in his arm. After a moment, he made some kind of muffled noise into his arm.  

“…What was that?” Goro asked, lips quirking up in amusement despite his nerves.  

Akira dropped his arm from his face with a whine. “…Just…. T-thanks…”  

Seeing the rare opportunity to make fun of Akira for once, Goro lilted, “Aw, Akira, is someone feeling shy?” He hoped he came across as cool and collected, because his heart was pounding out of control beneath the surface. 

Evidently unable to conjure up some kind of witty response, Akira settled for a petulant groan and a “shhhhhhh.” To Goro's delighted surprise, he spied a flush dark enough to see even in the dim light bloom over Akira’s face. Goro soaked in the sight, staring shamelessly. "Anyway, um. You ready to go? I can walk you home. Or... train.. you home, or whatever. I can even spring for a cab—" 

Goro cut him off with a laugh. "Akira, that's really not necessary..."  

"...Mmm, but what if I want to?" 

Goro sighed. "...Fine. But don't pay for a cab or anything, I'm just going to take the train."  

Akira perked up. "I'll take it," he nodded. 

 

Later on, Goro keyed into his apartment and flopped onto his bed, reflecting on the night. He sighed dreamily into his pillow. Akira... Ugh, he's even a talented musician. Of course he just has to become even more stupidly attractive than he already was. Goro couldn't get those hazy melodies out of his head or stop thinking about how Akira's face looked under the dim stage lights, bathed in pinks and blues... Or that one expression he looked at Goro with, the one that paralyzed him, unable to look away despite his racing heart. 

Goro pushed himself up from his bed and forced himself to break out of his reverie. He really needed to stop wasting so much time laying in bed being hopelessly gay.  

Going about his nightly routine, he was zoned out brushing his teeth when he remembered something. At the end of the night, Akira had asked him to come by the store the next day if he was able. Goro's heart rate picked up as he thought about it. Honestly, whether he had work to get done or not he'd gladly shirk it all to go see Akira. He had sounded weird when he asked... and then quickly bid Goro goodnight when he questioned him. Hmm... Goro spit out his mouthful of toothpaste. Whatever it was, he could hardly stand to wait for the following day. 

-- 

Goro entered the shop the next day after work, bells jingling on the door. Turning around, he and Akira locked eyes immediately, sending what felt like an electric jolt to his system... but was probably just his heart going immediately out of control as per usual. He was nervous and he didn't know why. He couldn't guess what Akira wanted him here for today, but he instinctively felt something coming on... he couldn't describe it. 

Walking over to the counter, he shared a smile with Akira. Ah, sporting another flannel today... Goro loved those flannels on him. He wanted to know what it would be like to wear one, all baggy and soft and smelling like Akira... He felt himself blush as he pulled his gaze upward and caught Akira's eye. He had another one of those inexplicable looks in his eyes. That gaze had such a quiet intensity to it, both miles-away and intently trained on Goro at the same time. Goro drew in a breath, attempting to come back to earth. 

"Hi," he threw out neutrally. 

"Hi," Akira drawled back with a grin and leaned on the counter with his elbows. Goro felt himself smile back reflexively and noticed that both him and Akira had leaned in closer over the counter.  

Exchanging pleasantries about their day and how they were, Goro itched to address the reason for his visit. After a lull in conversation, he swallowed and started, "So—" 

—At the same time as Akira went "Um—" 

They both abruptly cut themselves off and then, after a second of silence, exchanged an awkward laugh. Goro nodded, gesturing at Akira to speak first.  

"So. I asked you here today to... give you something," he said cryptically, and rifled through the pocket of his jeans for a moment before extracting something small and black and holding it out in his palm. Goro tilted his head in question, and Akira nodded. He tentatively reached out and took the flash drive from Akira's hand, fingers brushing his palm, and Akira's hand twitched reflexively. Goro glanced up and Akira smiled crookedly before glancing away. "It's really not, like... a big deal or anything. I just... was kind of impatient to give it to you. Haha..." 

Goro examined the small, nondescript flash drive, turning it over in his palm. He couldn't guess what it was supposed to be, plain black and unmarked. 

"It's a mixtape. Um... Well, not like on an actual tape or anything. Obviously. I thought that might be going a little too far for the aesthetic," Akira smiled wryly. 

Goro blinked back at him, mouth a tiny 'o'. "A mixtape..." 

"Haha. Well... yeah," he ducked his head and laughed. "I just... was thinking about more music recommendations for you and wanted to put something together of stuff that I especially like," he shrugged, unable to maintain eye contact.  

Goro abruptly felt his cheeks heat up. He scrambled for a reply, but his brain was short-circuiting and provided him with nothing. 

"So... anyway. Forget about that for now," Akira smiled up at him suddenly. "Want me to put an album?" 

Goro blinked and pouted. "Wait! I'm so curious now... I want to look at it..." 

"Too bad. Gotta save it for later. Now, what kinda jams we feeling today?" 

Goro huffed. Fine, he'd humor him. But he was popping that thing in his computer the second he got home. 

-- 

An hour or so later, Goro finally arrived home and dropped his stuff on the table with a heavy sigh. Quickly changing into comfortable clothes, he sat on the bed and opened his laptop, plugging in the flash drive. After a second, the device popped up on the screen.  

It in was a single folder just marked "goro". Goro drew in a sharp breath. Clicking on it displayed a list of around 10 songs. His eyes immediately started scanning titles and he began to notice a pattern. The song titles were very... well.

Very clearly love songs. Titles like "Together," "Closer," "You and Me"… "Touch Me" (Goro's eyes widened)… the list went on. He realized after a delay that his face was burning and his heart was in his throat. Shit. Shit shit shit. It felt like his brain was overheating, unable to process anything.  

But God, was his heart pounding. Shakily, Goro clutched at the fabric of his sweatpants and took a deep breath. After a second, he looked back at the screen and double-clicked the first song, settling into listen.  

As the minutes passed, Goro found himself laying there on his bed staring into space as the music washed over him. The songs Akira picked for him always had such a mesmerizing effect on him… Was it just the fact that he associated them with Akira? He didn’t know, but it made his heart ache painfully. He couldn’t handle it. Ugh, I'm so weak for him… 

Biting his lip, he considered for a moment before whipping his phone out of his pocket and pulling up his text thread with Akira. He stared at that name with that stupid fucking ';3c’ next to it. He couldn't believe he had fallen for this fool.  

Me : Akira 

—he typed out, before quickly erasing it again. He whined pitifully at the screen and his waiting cursor. Sighing, he locked the screen and flopped back down on the bed as lyrics of love, lust, and longing floated through his ears.  

He couldn’t be wrong about this. Right? He didn’t want to make any assumptions and risk embarrassing himself, but… really. There’s no way it wasn’t entirely deliberate. Well... he was pretty confident, at least. 

If there was any self-doubt left in his mind, it vanished upon reaching the last track of the playlist. It caught Goro's attention when there was a span of silence followed by the sound of quiet shuffling. Softly, a guitar began to strum. Goro sat up in bed and rolled over towards his computer. There was no artist name, only a track name simply reading 'for you.' His breath hitched as a quiet but familiar voice joined the guitar, soft and slow.  

Goro sat there staring into space as he listened intently to every word, mind particularly sticking on phrases like "can't stop thinking about you" and "begging you to kiss me." He squeezed his eyes shut, hearing his heart pound in his head. The song drifted on, as dreamy and warm as Akira's music always was... and this time, it was pretty clearly directed at him. "So many times I've tried to say something and couldn't; got too caught up in your eyes and forgot I probably shouldn't," Akira sang, and Goro swore he could hear the smile in his voice. When the song came to a soft close, Akira's voice fading out ever-so-quietly, Goro forced himself to take in a slow, deep breath and let it out one second at a time. Of course he can also sing and play guitar and write songs and just so happens to be doing both in a song about me... 

Grabbing his phone again in a rush of impulsivity, he finally sent out a single "Akira" into cyberspace and waited for perhaps the longest three minutes of his life until his phone buzzed back. He grabbed it immediately. 

Akira ;3c (20:45): o hey 

Ugh. Never showing his hand right off the bat, as usual. There’s no way he didn’t know what this was about. Goro started typing and immediately erased it about 5 times before he huffed and just sent something snappy back. 

Me (20:48): Akira. You know why I’m texting you. 

Akira ;3c (20:50): …perhaps 

Akira ;3c (20:50): hey listen 

Akira ;3c (20:52): I want to talk to you in person. can you come by tomorrow at the end of my shift? 

Goro whined. He wanted to talk to him in person, too… but he was so impatient. He felt like he was going completely out of his mind… He deliberated over his response for a few minutes before another text came through on his phone. 

Akira ;3c (20:56): uhhhh okay I may just be wimping out 

Akira ;3c (20:57): bc im nervous haha 

Goro’s heart leapt in his chest. He tried to stop his fingers from shaking as they hovered over the keyboard for a moment. 

Me (20:58): Can you come over  

He squeezed his eyes shut as he sent it out before he could regret it. Heart beating steadily uptempo, he waited in agony for a response and tugged on his hair. 

Akira ;3c (20:59): ye 

Akira ;3c (20:59): *yes 

Goro breathed out a heavy sigh and closed his eyes as he felt his head swam. Oh God.  

Me (21:01): I’ll pin you my location w the address 

Akira ;3c (20:51): ok 

After the longest 15 or so minutes of his life (in which he studied his reflection and fixed his hair obsessively), Goro startled at the sound of the buzzer. Heart pounding, he buzzed Akira up and waited for his knock. At the playful rap on the door, Goro immediately swung it open, not even caring about looking like an overeager weirdo. 

"Hi," he said breathlessly. 

Akira stood there, hands in his coat pockets and sporting a warm knit hat. He smiled warmly. "Hey." 

They stood there looking at each other for a minute before Goro stuttered out an awkward, "U-um, you can come in, you know!" He stepped back a few feet, and Akira laughed as he shuffled in after him. Goro gestured at him to take off his coat and hat, wanting them to be seated and comfortable when they finally... well, addressed the elephant in the room. He hesitated a moment before lightly reaching out and grabbing Akira's wrist to lead him further inside to sit on the couch (He wished he could have seen Akira's expression at that, but was too busy avoiding eye contact himself).  

Once they were facing each other, feet tucked up on the couch, Akira looked around the apartment properly. "Sick crib." 

Goro snorted. "Uh huh. The lap of luxury." Akira laughed, and Goro felt some of the tension break.  

"Soo...." Akira turned to look at him.  

"Yeah." 

"Yeah..." 

They paused, and broke into low laughter again. 

"God. Sorry. Well... I suppose this is my doing, so I'm gonna try to get this over with because I'm... like, really nervous." Akira laughed and rubbed the back of his head, and Goro sat up in quiet anticipation. "Um... I mean. I'm... being clear about my intentions, right? It doesn't just seem like I'm, uh. Putting together an ol' mixtape for a bro, right?" 

Goro laughed and blushed deeply, ducking his head down before nodding. "Yeah, I... kind of figured. I think perhaps that last song especially tipped me off," he said with a knowing smile, and delighted in Akira's embarrassed groan. 

He hid his face. "Yeah... I meant it all, though," he said muffled behind his hands, before slowly dropping them and meeting Goro's eyes. "To be clear, I... really, really like you. Like, um," he ran a hand through his hair restlessly and smiled weakly. "I seriously can't get you out of my head and I think I'm losing it." 

Goro's own face was hidden in his hands now. He laughed. "I... couldn't empathize more. I waste so much time, just... I don't know—"  

"Laying around being gay?" 

Goro blinked and barked out a surprised laugh. "Yes, laying around being gay." 

Akira huffed out a long breath. "God, am I gay though. Especially for you." 

Goro couldn't hold back the smile pulling at his lips. "Hmm... bet I'm gayer for you." 

Akira gasped. "Is that a challenge?" 

Goro smiled deviously as got an idea. Heart racing, he scooched a rather deliberate several inches closer to Akira and smiled, glancing down at Akira's lips conspicuously.  

Akira's face was one of quiet awe. He tilted his head at Goro in question, and he nodded back with a smile. Gently, he moved closer in to Goro and looked down at his lips for a moment before leaning in and watching Goro's eyes flutter shut. 

When he kissed him, Goro felt something in his heart explode a little. His stomach flipped and he let out a long sigh as he leaned into Akira's lips. Mouths exploring each other's tentatively, Akira reached out and snaked his arms around Goro's waist and Goro felt his body relax into the hold. He reached up and locked his own arms together behind Akira's neck. 

After a few minutes, Akira pulled back a little and looked at Goro's lips in a daze. "Shit." 

"Yeah," Goro said, out of breath.  

"This is even better than I've fantasized." 

Goro choked on his spit and coughed his way through a laugh. Akira cackled at his expense immediately, and Goro got himself under control before leaning back in and capturing Akira's lips again defiantly. Akira let out a pleased hum and responded immediately. In a moment of boldness and a desire to surprise him, Goro lightly sucked at Akira's bottom lip before releasing it with a bite. Akira gasped into his mouth a little and looked up at Goro, who winked in reply before dipping back in. 

They spent... who knows how long, really, just making out on the couch lazily like that, both reveling in the feel of each other's arms and their mouths moving together. Goro pulled back at one point, to Akira's adorable noise of protest, and looked into his eyes through his lashes (using any strategy he could think of to look sultry). It seems he succeeded, because he felt Akira's breath hitch as he stared back. "Akira..." he said in a dulcet tone. "It's late..." 

Akira slumped. "Oh... I guess you're right. I should probably get going..." He began to shift a little under Goro. 

"Wait," Goro commanded with a hand on Akira's chest. "If you'd let me finish..." he said playfully before glancing away. "I was going to say you should just stay," he said in a barely-there voice. 

Akira's face was blank for a solid few seconds before he unfroze with a blink. "...Oh. That would be good. Very good." 

Goro smiled at him coyly. "Lovely." 

-- 

The following months passed by in a dreamy montage worthy of a romantic comedy epilogue (not that Goro would admit to indulging in rom-coms on the regular). He had no idea how he'd gotten so lucky... But then again, he thought, maybe it was just making up for the first 20-odd years of his life spent completely alone. 

Goro stopped by the record store after work a few days of the week just to spend time with Akira, listen to music with him, and complain about his job. Akira had been urging him the past few months to consider changing fields, and while he still hadn't pursued doing so outside of doing some research about his options, it was becoming more of a tangible concept in his head with the more he considered it. Honestly, having Akira around to come back to after a long day did wonders for him and made his soul-sucking job more bearable. But Akira was also making him realize lately that maybe he wasn't doomed for a slow downward spiral—maybe he actually deserved better and pursue it (His therapist heartily agreed, telling him Akira was a good influence to keep around).  

He felt himself opening up to Akira more and more, and in turn he felt Akira do the same. Many a night they spent talking until long past when they meant to go to bed, and many late-night phone calls were made amidst bad days and tired, tearful meltdowns. They were both so prone to their mental dark holes, but somehow having the other there to help them through it—even just knowing they had the other at the end of the day—helped to negate that. Even if they were messes who couldn't take care of themselves, they could take care of each other, right? They were even trying to quit smoking together (Well, over time. Neither had a chance of successfully quitting cold turkey and they knew it). 

Goro found himself reflecting back on it all during a particularly slow day at work and let his feet lead him right to the record store as soon as he finished up for the evening. 

Entering the store with a smile already spreading on his face, he spied Akira bent over behind the counter. He called out a "Welcome to the Velv—" before spotting Goro and immediately breaking into a grin. "Well, hello there... Come here often, hot stuff?" 

Goro rolled his eyes and leaned over the counter. Akira met him halfway for a tender kiss, and they spent the next few seconds caught up in the other's lips.

"Hey, Aki—Oooh my god, grosssss," came a loud whine from across the store. Akira and Goro whipped their heads toward the source of the noise, where Futaba had emerged from the back. Both blushed and hid their smiles with apologetic laughter, and Futaba let out an extravagant groan. "Ugh, you two are terrible. You're really lucky we never get customers, you know. So unprofessional," she declared haughtily. 

Akira snorted and emerged from behind the counter to ruffle her hair. "Whoops, sorry about that, sis." 

"No, you're not." 

"You're totally right." 

Goro watched the display in amusement and smiled when Futaba strode over to him and shoved him lightly. "Control your boyfriend." 

"You know better than anyone that he can't be controlled." 

"That's true—" 

"Hey!" Akira interrupted. "I'm right here!" 

Goro and Futaba exchanged smiles and ignored him. "Anyway," Futaba resumed. "I'm not sure why either of us talk to him," she said, cackling at Akira's pout. "But please, don't let me interrupt your nasty face-sucking. You can go, Akira." 

"Hm? But my shift isn't due to end for almost an hour—" 

"By 'you can go,' I mean I'm begging you. I do not need to see your PDA or nauseating flirting. I'll just leave you clocked in 'til your shift's over," she said with a conspiratorial wink.  

Akira beamed and ruffled his sister's hair again. "You're a keeper, Futaba." 

"Yeah, yeah. Lucky for you, so is your precious lover. Try not to scare him away." 

Goro smiled wryly. "I think if he hasn't scared me away already then I'm probably sticking around for the long haul." 

With that, Akira beamed at him tenderly and squeezed his hand, interlacing their fingers. ("Ugh. You guys are so cheesy.") Saying their goodbyes, they left the little record store and began their slow stroll down the street.  

"Wanna come to mine for dinner?" Akira asked. "I'm making my famous curry at Ryuji's request," he grinned. 

"Mmm, sounds perfect." 

"You sound perfect." 

"…That doesn't even make sense," Goro huffed. "Anyway... I'm happy to see you," he said softly, squeezing Akira's hand tighter. "I couldn't stop thinking about you all day... Or, well, us. You know, everything that's happened in the last several months," he admitted. 

Akira squeezed back and leaned in to nuzzle at his neck and press a kiss to it. "Mmm... sounds nice." 

"Yeah, but I couldn't get any work done... And you weren't there, so where's the fun in that?" 

"Awww, babe, you can call me over to the office anytime. We can find a single-stall bathroom to hide out in and—" 

"Akira!" Goro exclaimed with a laugh and shoved his shoulder. "God, you're so embarrassing..." 

Akira shot him a wink and Goro groaned. "Hey, speaking of, do you still have that flash drive I gave you?" 

"Do I still have it? Um, it's only maybe my most treasured possession..." he looked away bashfully. "I... actually still listen to it pretty regularly," he mumbled. 

Akira's eyes widened and he stopped walking. And then he melted into a cooing, "Aaaahh, oh my god, baaaaaaabe"  

Goro scoffed a "Shut up," and kept walking, but Akira grabbed his wrist and pulled him into a crushing hug. Goro sighed in mock exasperation, but squeezed him tightly back and nestled his face in Akira's shoulder. His scent was so comforting... Akira gave the best hugs. And luckily, he gave them quite generously. (Goro hadn't realized how touch-starved he was until he started craving Akira's hugs every second they spent apart.) 

Akira hummed softly into the embrace as they stood still in the middle of the sidewalk, wrapped up in each other (Goro silently giving thanks that it was basically empty at this hour). "God, I love you," he sighed. Goro's heart still sang every time he heard it, and he didn't think it'd ever stop having that effect on him. 

"I love you too..." he mumbled into Akira's shoulder blissfully.  

After a moment, Akira spoke. "Do you ever think about how things would've been different if you had just brought an umbrella that one day?" 

Goro laughed incredulously. "Oh, God. I don't want to think about that... I'm just grateful for my own dumb mistake. I'd get caught in the rain a million times if it meant getting to be with you..." he said, and blushed immediately. Why did he always end up blurting things out in the cheesiest way possible? 

...It was fortunate that it so completely seemed to sweep Akira off his feet every time. The other boy pulled back to look at Goro and cupped his face with an adoring expression. "Fuck, you're so perfect. Everything you say kills me... And you're not even trying!" Goro turned his smiling face away at this, but Akira rotated it back with his hands still on his face. He leaned in and gave Goro a long, deep kiss, and Goro felt his heart melt. Standing there under the street lights, feeling like the luckiest person on Earth, he thought about what a perfect harmony they created together.