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a storm is coming in

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A single duffle bag and a carry-on sized rolling suitcase shouldn’t be enough space to carry a month and a half’s worth of belongings, but Ryuji is a light packer; he makes do.

It’s not like he needs anything heavy, anyway; one set of nice clothes (just in case), couple pairs of long pants in case the weather turns, but mostly shorts and tanks, clean socks and underwear, his 3ds, a couple manga he’s wanted Akira to check out, and a conspicuous lack of any sort of textbook.

After all, he doesn’t have anything to study for now.

Doesn’t matter—he pulls himself away from that thought almost viciously, bracing his rolling bag against the wall of the train with one knee when it tries to roll away from him. Doesn’t matter, because right here and right now he’s got better things to think about.

Things like the whole of the summer vacation spread out before him.

There’s already a difference in the air not an hour out from Tokyo. The buildings have all but vanished behind sheets of green; the train is fast enough that he can’t pick out an individual from the masses. It’s just blurry foliage and dappled sunlight, a beat-beat-beat of green-gold-green tattooing a rhythm against his face.

He is, against all reason, anxious.

It simmers in his gut and in the back of his skull, makes him a bit lightheaded, a bit nauseous. There’s no reason for it and it frustrates him, sets his thoughts and stomach churning. Akira had invited him; hell, he’d all but gone to Tokyo and dragged Ryuji back by the collar when he’d heard. There’s absolutely no way he’d let his bro go to those sort of lengths, not here and now.

Tickets to Inaba aren’t cheap, but they’re not that expensive either. His part-time jobs over the last four months have given him a modest amount of savings; he’s got nearly a hundred thousand yen after leaving rent money for his mom on the kitchen counter this morning. Not like Akira’s gonna charge him room and board, but he’s definitely gonna help out where he can; he’s not gonna make Akira carry his weight.

He checks his phone. Just after 10; he’s still got three hours on this train before he switches to the more rural line. No new notifications. He swipes up anyway, pages through his messages laconically. Some hideous emoticon from Futaba; last night’s reminder to get the rice cooking for dinner from his mom; the conversation he’d had right before bed with Ann, still simmering with unresolved tension, because how dare she think Naruto is a better protagonist than Goku?

--Oh, wait. Two unread messages from Akira. Must have missed them this morning.

>>from: tuxedo mask, 07/26, 7:38am

don’t forget an umbrella, we’ve got like 60% chance of rain

knowing inaba, that means it’ll be sunny until you’re 3 mins out and then it’ll pour

Great.

To be honest, he doesn’t mind the rain. It always feels cleaner in Inaba anyway, and it’s warm enough that he won’t catch a chill between the station and Akira’s house. It’s no more than a ten-minute jog; he might even pick up a beef skewer from that one place on the way.

<<to: tuxedo mask, 07/26, 10:13am

umbrellas are for the weak

what do u take me for

Might as well check the group chat while he’s at it; the last time he looked, Futaba and Yusuke had been going at it over something or other.

 

>>in: “everyone’s opinions are bad and they should feel bad”- sakura futaba, 07/25, 8:40pm

>>from: coffee gremlin jr

i don’t care what you say, inari, you’re not feather swan!

>>from: lobsterman

If we are going at this from an artistic angle,

>>from: coffee gremlin jr

you’re still not feather swan! if anyone is feather swan, it’s me

>>from: lobsterman

Impossible. I have never seen you wear the color blue in the year plus that I have known you.

>>from: japan’s next top model

dibs on feather hawk

>>from: coffee gremlin jr

no!!! makoto is feather hawk!!!

>>from: the feds

Do I have to be? I would rather be Feather Falcon; red is not my color.

>>from: coffee gremlin jr

doesn’t matter! feather hawk is the boss!

>>from: japan’s next top model

then why isn’t akira feather hawk?

>>from: lil miss juvie hall pageant winner 2kXX

ha

as if

also futaba what the fuck when did you change that put it back

>>from: the feds

Language, please.

>>from: lil miss juvie hall pageant winner 2kXX

sorry mom

dont ground me i bean good

>>from: japan’s next top model

are you bribing the law with coffee?

>>from: lil miss juvie hall pageant winner 2kXX

depends

is it working

fuTABA

>>from: coffee gremlin jr

:3c

>>from: lobsterman

Fascinating! Emoticons truly are their own form of art, are they not?

Able to convey such expression in such few characters…

>>from: coffee gremlin jr

>:3c

fine I’ll fix it

>>from: lil miss juvie hall pageant winner 2kXX

besides everyone knows im feather owl

>>from: japan’s next top model

of course

why didn’t i see it before

fatty fatty 2x4

>>from: a genuine chance at world domination

:(

its only 2 kilo im still pretty

thank you futaba

its nice to know someone is aware of my efforts

>>from: lobsterman

First university, then the Diet, then the world?

>>from: a genuine chance at world domination

aw yeah

>>from: the world’s deadliest creampuff

So sorry to interrupt, but I have an announcement!

I have another load of vegetables that need to go to Leblanc in the next day or so; would anyone be able to give me a hand?

>>from: coffee gremlin jr

YIS

i mean

no hand but yis veggies

sojiro’s gonna make me something TASTY

>>from: a genuine chance at world domination

problem child

you go help with the veg

>>from: coffee gremlin jr

you’re not my real dad

you can’t make me

>>from: japan’s next top model

how dare you speak to your father like that

>>from: a genuine chance at world domination

go to your room

>>from: coffee gremlin jr

sike dad i’m ALREADY THERE

>>from: a genuine chance at world domination

the disrespect

>>from: lobsterman

I will have some free time tomorrow afternoon.

I assume the usual place?

>>from: coffee gremlin jr

whatever i’ll go

>>from: the world’s deadliest creampuff

Thank you so much, Yusuke and Futaba!

>>from: coffee gremlin jr

don’t get me wrong

i’m only in it for the veggies

>>from: the world’s deadliest creampuff

Of course! Aren’t we all?

 

A message overlays the screen before he can go any further; an updated weather notification promises a 70% chance of rain. He sighs and tucks his phone away, resting his forehead on the window, watching green-gold-green dapple across the window.

Two hours to Inaba.

He naps; he fusses around with a game on his phone; he changes trains. The sky is still mostly clear. Akira texts him back a single word— “damp”— and he replies with a skull-and-crossbones emoji. They trade more and more elaborately crafted emoji replies on and off; Ryuji is composing a boat on a turbulent sea when the first raindrop hits the window.

At least the manga are tucked underneath all his clothes in the duffel bag. They’ll stay dry until he can unpack them, even if he does stop for a skewer.

He’s not expecting Akira to be at the station to greet him; he’s a big boy, he’s been to Inaba at least three times by now, he knows how to get around. Exit the terminal, turn right, pass the gas station and the house with all the cats hanging out above the carport, up the hill and to the left, two streets down. He’s jogged the route a handful of times with Akira before. And the rain isn’t that bad, even though by the time the train hits the station it’s enough to leave puddles on the ground and rivulets trickling into the storm drains.

Every time he gets off the train at Inaba, Ryuji’s first reflex is to take a massive breath. The air is always so much more fresh, and this time is no different, flavored with the spice of petrichor and the bland clean smell of country rain. There’s no grime in Inaba, no haze or skyscrapers, no traffic screeching, no flood of humanity. There’s only one other person that gets off the train with him, as a matter of fact, and they trot right out of the station like they have somewhere urgent to be.

Ryuji takes his time, settles his duffel bag more firmly on his shoulder, clicks the handle of his rolling bag up and down trying to find the perfect length to drag it along behind him. Maybe he should hold off on the skewer for now; juggling two bags and a snack might be a little much, and it’d be pointless if he drops it. He doesn’t have enough money that he can go around just throwing food on the ground, after all. He isn’t delaying because of the unease still wiggling its way around in his gut; that’d be stupid and cowardly. Ryuji may be stupid, but he’s not a coward.

It’s not that he’s worried about seeing Akira again; they talk every day, and it’s only been three months or so since they’ve seen each other. Nothing’s changed. They’re still friends; close friends, good friends, the best of friends. He’s still Ryuji’s closest confidant.

Nothing’s changed.

There is literally no evidence that Akira is anything less than thrilled to have his best friend here, despite the fact that his best friend is a failure not on the same page anymore.

He fusses with the handle a little more until it makes a satisfying click, squares his shoulders, and takes one step into the rain. This gives him the perfect vantage point to see Akira come flying around the corner, head down and umbrella up, and narrowly avoid taking out the other guy leaving the station.

Even a year plus after giving up the Metaverse, his reflexes are still nothing to sneer at. He pivots on one heel and hops to the side in a move that looks pretty dumb (but still stupidly graceful), bowing in apology. The other dude waves him off, and Akira straightens up and shakes his head. He’s not wearing his fake glasses today, probably cause the rain would get all over them and ruin his aesthetic; he’s given into the muggy weather by wearing a t-shirt, but his pants are still stubbornly long.

Would it kill the guy to own a pair of shorts? No, but he still won’t wear them. Kurusu Akira is vain about many things, and top among those is his knobby knees.

(They’re really not, especially now that Akira’s put some definition into his calves and thighs, but Ryuji understands body image and perception. He’ll rag on the glasses all day, though.)

“Yo!” Ryuji calls, delighting in the way Akira’s head snaps up, focusing in on him like a laser sight. “What did that guy ever do to you?”

“Got in the way of my world domination, of course,” Akira says promptly, trotting the rest of the way to the station steps. His umbrella is big enough for both of them, just barely; Akira bumps his shoulder and angles the umbrella a little further over them with a grin. “Not smart enough to stay inside out of the rain?”

“Nope,” Ryuji says. “Not like I’ll melt or anythin’, the rain feels good after bein’ cooped up.” Akira gestures for the duffel; Ryuji hands him the rolling bag instead, relishing in the raised eyebrows and the uptick in the corner of his mouth. Kurusu Akira is full of sass and vinegar, and never does Ryuji appreciate it more than when he’s missed it for months.

Akira knocks their shoulders together again, and most of the unease drains away like a plug’s been opened. His shoulders feel lighter, even the one with the duffel bag on it.

They chat on the way home, light, no-stakes back-and-forths that serve more to re-adjust to each other’s physical presence than to pass on any sort of information. Akira insists on stopping for food when Ryuji’s stomach growls; he sheepishly admits to skipping breakfast, and gets bopped on the nose with a steak bit for his troubles. The rain stays light, a gentle pattering counterpoint to their conversation. Ryuji’s left shoulder gets a bit damp.

There’s no cars in the driveway, but there is a scooter kept safe and dry under a plastic tarp. It had been a “welcome back to Inaba” gift last year; Akira had sent them all selfies of him posing on it, with the requisite jeers.

(“I prefer walking,” he’d told Ryuji over a call one night, “it’s just no fun when I can’t drive headfirst into something.”

“With an attitude like that, it’s better for everyone if you’re off the road,” Ryuji had told him very seriously, and the resulting chuckle had carried him through the night.)

He can hear Morgana as soon as they get inside, thumping down the hallway and yodeling. “I smell steak! You stopped at Souzai Daigaku! Did you bring me anything?”

“You don’t sound like you need anything,” Ryuji says under his breath. “What’ve you been feeding him? He sounds like a bowling ball.”

“Don’t be mean,” Akira says severely, but he’s grinning when Morgana rounds the corner. “Yeah, I saved you the last piece.”

Morgana looks the same as he always does, little white feet and bright blue eyes and yellow collar and all. He doesn’t look noticeably heavier, either; maybe it’s just the acoustics in Akira’s house. “Not as good as tuna, but I’ll take it!” He hops from the ground to the low table nearby, giving the skewer a good sniff as Akira toes off his shoes. “And hi, I guess,” he adds begrudgingly, flicking Ryuji a single glance.

“Yeah, hi to you too.” Ryuji thunks a knuckle on Morgana’s forehead, laughing a bit when Morgana swats his hand away. “Isn’t steak bad for cats?”

The obligatory “I’m not a cat” comes out more like a “Mm nm n cccht” when said through a mouthful of steak. “And besides,” he says after he’s swallowed, licking his chops, “steak is good for my coat.”

“I thought that was eggs?” Ryuji says dubiously.

“Eggs, steak, fish,” Morgana agrees, a greedy glint in his eye that explains exactly what Akira’s been feeding him. He’s probably the best-kept cat in Japan at this point.

Akira taps his elbow; when Ryuji looks, he nods down the hallway. “Leave him to his meal,” he says, “let’s get you settled in.”

It’s always a little weird coming back to Akira’s house; it’s large enough that he and Morgana rattle around in it like peas in an empty shell. When his parents are around they do a lot of entertaining; when they’re not, Akira and Morgana have the run of too many rooms. Who even needs three guest rooms? Who needs a den and a living room and an entertainment nook? What’s the difference between a dining room and a breakfast nook? Are you only allowed to eat breakfast in the breakfast nook, or is brunch okay?

It gives the place a feeling of discontent, somehow. There’s furniture and stuff everywhere, decorations, stuff like that, but it all feels impersonal, clinical. The warmest, most welcoming place in the house is Akira’s room, and that’s where they both head without discussion.

He’s offered Ryuji a guest room before; Ryuji’d taken one look inside and refused, on the grounds that he felt like if he set a single smudge anywhere Akira’s parents would arrest him.

Akira’s room is big enough for both of them anyway; large enough that they can both move around the spare futon, large enough that Ryuji’s two bags tucked into a corner take barely any space at all. The manga gets stacked on Akira’s desk, his clothes go into a spare drawer like they belong there.

Once he’s done unpacking, he hesitates, still crouched in front of his drawer. “You’re sure I’m cool to stay the whole break?” he asks, just because he has to, just to make sure.

“Mm?” Akira rolls over from where he’s sprawled on his bed, his head hanging off the end right next to Ryuji’s. “Course you are. Wouldn’t want you anywhere else.”

“Alright,” he mutters, mouth screwing up to the side. “But, listen, if you ever want me to not—“

“Ryuji.”

“I’m just sayin’—“

“Ryuji.”

“Just let me—“

Ryuji.” A pillow hits him on the side of the face before he can talk himself into any more knots. He sputters and turns just in time to catch it on the other side of his face as well. “Shut up.”

He manages to wrench the pillow away and toss it back onto Akira’s pants, wiping his suddenly sweaty palms on his shorts. When he looks up Akira is watching him, the way he used to when Ryuji would try to hide how much his leg was aching during their first few training sessions together, or his exhaustion during long Mementos runs. Akira’s always been able to see right through him to the things he never wants to say.

Usually, he’s kind enough to let them lie where they are.

Whatever he sees makes him nod. “The rain’s lightened up. Let’s go for a run.”

“Yeah,” Ryuji breathes, abruptly aware of just how much pent-up energy he has. “Yeah, let’s.”

They go for a run.

The rain has dropped down to nothing but a sprinkle, so they head for Akira’s favorite path by the floodplain. There’s no one else out—no one dumb or desperate enough to head this way when they could be doing any number of things inside. It makes it easier to jab an elbow into Akira’s ribs and take off sprinting, hissing laughter between his teeth as Akira yelps. The pinpricks of moisture on his bare arms, the slap of Akira’s sneakers against the wet pavement as he does his best to catch up, the fresh air all but clinging to the insides of his mouth as he gasps a breath in, ducks under Akira’s flailing arm, and takes off in the other direction, the sharp laugh when Akira tries to grab him again and misses; each of those things sooth his jangling nerves, make it a little easier for him to breathe again.

He ducks under Akira’s arm one last time and skids down the steep hill leading towards the Samegawa, the wet grass slick under his heels, eyes on the old wooden dock. He only makes it three steps on before Akira hits him in the back like a wrecking ball and sends them both belly-flopping into the water.

“What the eff, man!” Ryuji says, or tries to say, when they surface; he’s laughing in great gasping whoops, hard enough that he can barely get the words out. “What was that?!”

“Couldn’t stop,” Akira says, scrubbing a hand through his hair. He’s grinning too, shoulders shaking. “Didn’t wanna slide all the way down the dock.”

“Bullshit! You coulda taken a dive without me!”

“But where’s the fun in that?”

He doesn’t have a response. He just slaps a sheet of water into Akira’s face and starts wading his way towards the shore, Akira’s laughter trailing him like a warm scarf.

 

 

“Ready to talk about it?” Akira asks as they slosh their way home.

Ryuji thinks about it for a moment, but it’s still sharp and rough, like sandpaper on a fresh wound. He shakes his head, and Akira nods, and for now that’s that.