The secondhand store gets an old instant camera and Akira barely considers before buying it.
“Film for those is pricey,” the shop owner says, narrowing his eyes suspiciously as Yusuke toys with the flashbar. “I’ve got that pack there and I can keep my eyes open for more. You’re the Leblanc boy, right? You bought that TV.”
Akira slips his wallet into his back pocket, watching the sunlight throw the creases on the old man’s face into sharp relief. The big city is supposed to be easy to get lost in, but here in Yongen-Jaya’s alleys, it’s not so different from back home. He’s becoming known. Part of the day-to-day.
The shop owner promises to let him know if he stumbles across more film and with that, Akira and Yusuke resume their path to the station. They’ll have missed the train but it’s alright; there’s always another. This gives them more time together.
According to the pack of film, it takes ten pictures. Akira tears it open and Yusuke hands him the camera.
“I never knew you have an interest in photography.”
“I don’t.” Akira presses a button on the side and the front falls open, the only place the film could fit; he slides it in and the camera whirs to life. “I just think these are cool. Always wanted one.”
Akira holds the camera to his eye, peering at Yusuke through its lens. The him on the other side tilts his head and makes some comment about how he’s used to being the artist, not the model, and Akira’s mouth curves into a smile, his finger moving instinctively to press the shutter release with a satisfying click. The camera whirs and a photo slides out.
Yusuke’s the one to take it, cautiously pinching it between his fingers. With their attention so focused on the picture, they barely make it to the main street before they’re leaning against a wall to better watch the progress.
“What a charming creation,” Yusuke murmurs.
The film lightens and an image of him against Yongen-Jaya’s alleys begins to form. Where the sun shines over his shoulder, his outline fades into rays of light, but the contentment on his face is still visible even through the film grain and muted colours.
It looks like it belongs in another time, like it’s a memory that doesn’t exist yet.
What a stupid thought.
“I don’t know much of photography,” Yusuke says, “but — ”
“ —but nothing.” Akira snatches the picture and slips it into his bag. “Sometimes a picture is just a picture. I’m keeping this one. And this—” A hand on Yusuke’s jaw reels him close until his noise of surprise tickles Akira’s lips. He presses the shutter release then pulls back with a smirk and satisfied sigh. He hands over the new picture. “This one’s for you.”
“Ah.” Yusuke lowers his eyes to the undeveloped film, a slight blush colouring his cheeks. “Then I’ll cherish it. It’ll be a nice keepsake when you leave.”
Akira's smile stops feeling like a smile. He nods once before turning away.
Akira doesn’t actually see the picture until a couple weeks later when he goes to visit Yusuke at his dorm. It’s there on a cluttered desk, leaning against a lamp. Yusuke’s eyes are open in surprise, not wide with shock, and there’s a fondness in his gaze that might’ve made Akira blush if he was anyone else. How unsurprising that he’s photogenic even when he’s caught off-guard. Akira looks at him now, sitting on the edge of his bed with his attention on his phone, brow furrowed in a way that says he’s talking to either Ryuji or Futaba. He puts it away when Akira sits next to him.
Quiet words are exchanged, small talk about how they’re tired, it was a long day, how lucky that Yusuke’s roommate is out of town, and eventually they find themselves lying down.
Someone barrels down the hall outside the door, followed by jeers from friends, and Yusuke moves his arm so that Akira can comfortably rest against his chest. According to him, the students in his dorm are often noisy but he’s learning to be around them after the solitude of Madarame’s place. Some of them are even rather pleasant.
“I can’t claim to understand them, but I suppose that I’m trying.”
Akira presses his ear to Yusuke’s chest, listening to his words from the inside and out. His gaze falls again to the picture on the desk.
It’s not like he forgot about it. Back in the attic, his picture of Yusuke is taped to the worktable, giving him something to look at when his attention wanders from lockpicks and smoke bombs. The camera itself sits on his windowsill. He didn’t forget, it’s just that other things have been on his mind.
But seeing the picture again brings the moment to life. Their teeth awkwardly clicking together, that hum of surprise, warm sun, warmer breath — and the comment afterward.
Akira drums his fingers against Yusuke’s chest. He wonders what Yusuke thinks when he looks at the picture. Does he touch his fingers to his lips and remember? Does he miss him when he’s not around?
Akira’s legs grow restless.
“I’m proud of you,” he says, and it’s not a lie. It’s not a lie but when Yusuke tries to look at his face, he lowers his head, averts his gaze. “You’ve really grown.”
They haven’t talked about it. Not one word has been said about how, come spring, Akira’s going home, back to his parents and his friends and his other life. Yusuke hasn’t said much, presumably because that’s just him and he moves at his own pace, and Akira hasn’t said anything because really, things aren’t that deep. The relationship is still new. It’s a heavy thing to think about in the early stages.
Akira closes his eyes when Yusuke starts playing with his hair. To the sound of breathing and distant voices, he drifts off, only realizing it when he’s gently nudged awake.
“It’s getting late,” Yusuke says, and he slides a cool hand under the back of Akira’s shirt to rest against the small of his back. “You should go.”
“Yeah.” Akira tangles their legs together. “Probably.”
Under the Hawaiian sunlight, Yusuke glows more vibrant than any mere star could ever hope for.
“Oh? You’re surprisingly eloquent when you intend to flatter.”
“It’s a fancy way to say you’re so pale it’s blinding,” Akira teases, kicking sand his way. “Good thing you’re wearing that hoodie.”
Yusuke laughs quietly into his hand and Akira smirks down at the seashell he’s holding. There’s a piece missing and it’s not any kind of pretty colour, but he found it all by himself and that gives it some kind of authenticity compared to the flawless ones sold by vendors. He brushes the sand from it while they walk and Yusuke says something about — something.
“I said that you seem preoccupied lately.”
“I’m fine,” comes out reflexively and Akira slips the shell into his pocket. Yusuke narrows his eyes. “It’s cute you’re worrying about me, though.”
“Of course I worry.”
Akira forces a short laugh and glances around for a change of subject. The sun is too hot for this and the air is suffocating, but when he feels Yusuke’s hand on the small of his back, a shiver runs up his spine and the hair on his arms raises.
“Look at that,” Yusuke says, gesturing to the sunset. “Simply beautiful.”
A gentle breeze blows and Akira shifts his weight to one leg. “Wish I brought my camera.”
“Why didn’t you?” Yusuke watches, then gestures when he only gets a shrug in response. “You do have your phone.”
Akira shrugs again and stares resolutely at the sun glistening on the water, trying to ignore the weight of Yusuke’s gaze. He shoves his hands in his pockets and closes his fist around the shell.
“I understand,” Yusuke says, which is weird because Akira doesn’t. “The phone doesn’t convey the right feeling, does it? Medium matters.”
“There’s probably a film filter I can download.”
Yusuke doesn’t laugh this time. The ocean waves roll in and out as other beachgoers start packing up to head home, leaving them with only the sound of seagulls and the tide. The beach is theirs, so Akira takes his hand. Yusuke kisses his fingers and starts talking about landscapes, impressionism, why it matters that those pieces were painted and not just photographed, and he lists names Akira doesn’t know, it doesn’t matter, because he could listen to Yusuke’s soothing voice forever.
“It’s the same as with your camera,” he continues. “Art requires the right way to get what we need to say across. And it is a need. There’s a desire in art to create something tangible and be recognized, remembered. Creation is never solitary; simply through existing, art is shared, given, taken.”
Yusuke gazes down at Akira, who snorts and looks away.
“I’m no artist. And just taking a picture with a camera isn’t art.”
“Perhaps not.” The sun starts to dip beneath the horizon, so Yusuke lowers his hood. “But when you gave me that photo, why did you do it? So that I would think of you when I look at it, yes? Even if the artist is no longer around, the art — the proof they lived — remains. No one wants to be forgotten.”
Akira laughs. “I’m not dying, Yusuke.”
“But you are leaving.”
Akira’s smile slips. Yusuke turns towards the sunset. He’s not smiling either.
“A picture is rarely just a picture,” he says, giving Akira’s hand a squeeze. “Your talents are those of a complete amateur, you have no sense of even the most basic composition, and that photo you gave me is overexposed because you know nothing of lighting—”
“—but even so, it has become a treasure of mine.” Yusuke smiles at him, his eyes kind and his hair swaying gently in the breeze. “I hope you continue to create; I want to hear what you have to say.”
Things start to fall apart when they get back from their trip and whatever Akira has to say gets drowned out, yet somewhere in the lull of Okumura’s death, he finds himself with too much time on his hands. Morgana sleeps curled atop his bed and Akira sits cross-legged next to him, gazing over at the picture of Yusuke on the worktable.
When he first saw it, he thought it recalled memories that didn’t exist; he realizes now that it came with the promise of those that would.
He picks up the camera from the windowsill.
In his head, he can hear Yusuke. Not any specific words, nothing that makes sense, but he can hear the exact tone that Yusuke uses to talk about art. All Akira knows are buzzwords. There’s a whole other world Yusuke has on him, along with the passion and drive to explore it. Compared to that, this camera feels half-hearted.
Still, it’s his. And Yusuke makes him want to push himself.
He brings the camera to his eye. With Morgana in focus — happy and safe and finally returned home — Akira presses the shutter release. There’s a flash of light.
“I wonder if it’ll work,” Ann says.
Akechi puts a hand to his chin, surveying Mementos around them. “It should. Unlike our phones, the camera is analog; there are no microchips to worry about, simply chemical reactions. Those laws should still apply, but in here — who knows?”
Akira peers through the camera lens. The sprawling Mementos corridor looks the same as ever. It’s vile, dark, and twisted, but it’s important all the same.
“Guess we’ll see,” he says, and he presses the shutter release.
A flash illuminates the dark.
“I don’t like my picture being taken, kid,” Iwai mutters. Ohya pours him another drink and clucks her tongue, then reaches around behind him to pull Takemi in closer. With Lala standing behind them at the bar, Akira frames them against Crossroads’ interior and presses the shutter release.
Yusuke holds his hand atop Tokyo Tower as they gaze out over the city. Akira presses the shutter release. Sojiro stands proudly with one hand on Leblanc’s counter and a smirk on his face and Akira presses the shutter release. On November 19th, he gazes at everyone gathered in his attic and takes a picture to commemorate the Phantom Thieves’ last heist. On the 21st, he lays beside Yusuke with Morgana curled up at their feet and rests a bruised hand against his cheek. Through the lens, he watches Yusuke close his eyes and kiss his palm.
He presses the shutter release.
“One left,” he says, taking the emerging photo between two fingers. Yusuke brushes the hair out of Akira’s face, cautious of his wounds. “The film only takes ten pictures. What should my grand finale be?”
“What makes you say there needs to be one?”
“Been thinking it’d be fitting if I ran out. Like some kinda countdown until I leave.”
“What an oddly defeatist sentiment from someone who just cheated death.”
A breath of laughter slips out and sharp pain jolts through Akira’s bruised ribs. The way Yusuke’s eyes flick down, he definitely caught the hitch in his breath.
“You’re right. It’s stupid.”
Yusuke’s fingers are pleasantly cool against the warmth of pain, and they move with the delicate precision of an artist, tracing his lips, his jaw, down his neck, and back again. Akira’s eyes remain glued to the developing photograph, on the violence of the bruise on his wrist and the serenity of the love on Yusuke’s face.
“I haven’t learned anything,” Akira mumbles, sliding his thumb along the white border. “Still dunno about composition or anything, but… I want to. I’m going to.”
“There’s the Akira I know,” Yusuke smiles, then he calls for Morgana. “Do you mind fetching that thing from my bag?”
“I’m not some trained pet,” Morgana snaps, but he uncurls himself and hops off the bed, trotting over to where Yusuke’s bag sits beside Akira’s. He comes back dragging a small plastic bag from his neck and Akira sits up to unhook it the moment he’s within reach.
Inside is a bunch of instant film.
“I could only afford one,” Yusuke says, answering the unasked question, “but everyone contributed when I told them of my intentions.”
Akira takes a deep breath, cradling a pack like it’s something precious and fragile. Morgana comes to sit beside him, close enough that soft fur tickles his arm.
“I want to see your hometown,” Yusuke continues. “Your family, your friends, the path you take to school, that ramen shop you always speak of — convey the atmosphere as only someone who grew up there could. There are things that only you can say. Will you show me?”
Akira’s answer is a kiss and maybe Morgana mutters something and stalks off downstairs, he doesn’t know, because Yusuke’s smiling against his mouth and tangling fingers in his hair and Akira has never been so in love. His ribs protest when he leans forward to lay Yusuke back against the bed but it’s fine, fine, fine, that’s what it’s been like ever since he moved here, all pain and love and it’s hard but he’s surviving and he will endure.
They will endure.