On a rainy April day in Tokyo, Haru Okumura sits on her haunches under the small overhang of the roof, watching the rain pour down on the hastily-hung tarp over her prized potatoes. Despite the damp, the air is thick with the smell of cloves, the fragrant smoke only partially hazing the features of Akira Kurusu, the new student a year below her and the other occupant of the roof.
Despite the administration's near-nonexistent efforts to the contrary, rumors of his crimes were rampant across the school; violent assault, indecent exposure, weapons possession, moral crimes too grave to name (but not to grave to imply). She'd heard them all, and seen him in the flesh only on occasion. It’s easy enough to imagine why he might want to go to the off-limits roof. As for Haru, well—
She had special dispensation from the student council president to use the roof for her own purposes, as payment for her work on the school's beautification, and a favor to a friend; more of a way to silo her off, save the administration a few headaches and give Haru safe harbor from the school’s prying eyes. They’d never known how to deal with someone like her elsewhere, so why would it be any different here? She’d grown used to it, over the years and the prep schools.
“The door says no entry, you know.” Haru shoots a look up at Akira where he slouches against the wall next to her, cigarette dangling in one hand and lighter flipping through an intricate series of movements across his knuckles in the other.
“Doors propped open with chairs are rarely actually ‘no entry’, just ‘some entry’, in my experience.”
“But it—” She huffs out a breath in the cold air, turning back to her potatoes. Stupid argument to make. The only reason she has to do it is that the administration doesn't want to print her a key, and she hates bothering Mako-chan when she needs to change soil or aerate. Or anything at all. She had been taught well the benefits of a presence that is seen but not heard from her father. “Do you need to smoke so close to my plants?” Not that she always acted on those trained impulses.
“Nowhere else to smoke here. Unless you want me to move closer to you, instead.” Haru wrinkles her nose, and Akira laughs under his breath. “I'm not hearing a no.”
“…If you must. The smoke is bad for the leaves. If I get in trouble for the smell, I'll not protect you.” Haru pulls herself just slightly closer together as Akira shuffles closer, sitting down on the cold concrete next to her, one long leg stretched out in front of him and his cigarette hand resting on the uplifted knee of the other.
“So, Okumura, right? Like the foods? Galaxy burger or—” He makes a dismissive gesture with his cigarette hand. “I'm not from Tokyo, I'm sure you'll forgive me being unfamiliar with the local brands.” Akira smirk when Haru's lips tighten, but she says nothing, so he continues. “Does Daddy have you practicing up here so you can run the business someday? Real farm bred wisdom to conquer the urban markets. If you want some tips, my dad grows rice out near Inaba, I could—”
“That won't be necessary, thank you.” Haru cuts in, tone acidic. “I'm doing this because I want to. Nothing more.”
Akira laughs, nodding and taking a drag of his cigarette, blowing the cloud leisurely away from them both, as well as the tarp-covered plants. “I see. I didn't know they still armed princesses with tongues that sharp. Maybe I should cut it out and save the whole school some pain.”
Haru's heart stops for a moment until a sharp glance sideways reveals the lie behind Akira's words. His voice is full of malice, but…there's no steel behind his threat, just air. She’d learned the difference long ago. This criminal student just looks tired beyond his years, dark circles under his eyes that the eyeshadow he's applied only covers up from a distance. The last few years have taught Haru that monsters rarely cloak themselves in weakness, especially in private. They delight too much in the fear of others to look so…beaten.
Something about Akira Kurusu is deeply intriguing to her. Haru decides in that moment that she likes him. She smiles back at him, a smile she has practiced in a mirror for years to not show an inch of the true emotion that hides underneath; the trepidation of putting your hand on a revolver someone else loaded and spinning the chamber. “I'd like to see you try.”
The next day, as she is tearing down the tarp and taking stock of the storm damage, mentally calculating how many new sacks of soil she will need and how many pills of pain medication to help with the fact that she’s not supposed to be lifting anything heavier than a cup still, the door opens behind her. She turns, bundling the tarp folded neatly against her chest, and finds Akira in the doorway, frowning at her from under a hoodie, and two blondes she doesn't recognize behind him bickering in the stairwell.
“I thought I already told you about the no entry sign.” Haru keeps her expression cold, all too aware how defensive her posture is. Akira sighs, turning back to the other two and whispering something to them. The blonde boy mutters something just barely inaudible to Haru’s ears, but the blonde girl grabs him by the arm and drags him downstairs before he can say anything else. Akira turns once they're gone, putting his hands in his pockets.
“I'm a bad listener, I suppose.” He shrugs. “So, are you up here a lot, then? We were kind of making use of the facilities for awhile without seeing you.”
“I was…out of the country. Now I'm back.” She fights down the nausea that roils in her stomach at the thought, swallowing and tilting her chin upwards to meet Akira's eyes. “What exactly are you three doing up here? If you give me a good reason, perhaps I'll turn a blind eye. But it seems to me that I am well within my rights to be up here, and you are not.”
Akira's stony expression splits into a grin. “Wow. You've got the princess thing down, don't you? Okay…look. I really just wanted somewhere to smoke in peace without having to worry about the administration. They think only you're up here.”
Haru watches his expression, instantly suspicious. Surely the rumors can't be totally wrong. He must have done something. But…his demeanor is too strange for her to read. Interesting.
“Then smoke. Away from the plants, thank you.” Haru huffs and turns away, stuffing the tarp back under the AC unit behind her. When she turns back, he's already lit himself a cigarette, but is offering another to her. “No.”
“Oh, come on. For all I know, this is a sting to get me busted. Girl I’ve never seen shows up, and I hear she’s friends with the student council president…The only way I know you're not working for Them is if you smoke with me. Besides, it'll take me forever to clear this pack out on my own, and I'm getting my stuff searched at home Friday.” He holds it out a little closer, his smirk fading. “Help a guy out.”
She snatches the cigarette from him and looking skeptically from it to him, then puts it in her mouth. That grin that fits his features so well returns as his lighter appears in his other hand. “You might want to turn it around, Princess.” She flips it around endwise with a small scoff, locking eyes with him as he lights it in the fading afternoon sunlight. He stands closer to her, shielding her body and the lighter from the wind with his own, inches away from touching her but achingly close nonetheless. She can swear she can feel heat coming off of him like a fireplace, but puts it down to the chill of the roof air and the small lick of fire so close to her face.
A clatter at the door beside them reveals the two blondes returning with several plastic bags full of snacks. The blonde girl speaks first, dumping her load of bags on one of the spare desks. “Well, sorry it took so l— Hey, I thought you were getting rid of her.”
“Change of plans, we're off today. Just relax, and enjoy the company of our Princess. We’ve still got time to spare.”
Haru takes a small drag of the cigarette like she's seen her father do hundreds of times, like his business partners, and blows it down at the floor, away from her plants, dropping the hand holding it down to her side and ashing it into an empty pot. Haru blinks away tears as the acrid taste of cloves fills her throat and she locks eyes with the blonde girl. They stare at one another for a silent moment until the blonde girl raises an eyebrow, then shrugs.
“Does she like cola? Because Ryuji only got cola.”
“I did NOT!”
Haru is positive they're petty criminals. They (she does at least learn the names of the blondes, Ryuji and Ann; another misfit and probably Ryuji’s girlfriend, she figures) come up on the roof every few days together. They give her no more than a nod of greeting at best, and disappear off behind the AC unit where they can't be seen to talk about something or other in hushed whispers. Most days, they aren't even up here for more than an hour before they disappear back down the stairwell without a word. Regardless, Haru never leaves the roof while they’re there, and always checks out their spot after. It's spotless, except for the occasional cigarette butt left by their ringleader, stuffed in an old plastic bottle.
Akira comes alone on days that the other two do not. He doesn't seem to have anywhere he wants to be, so he's settled for a companionable silence with Haru. She doesn't mind it. Mostly, she watches him out of the corner of her eye while she works, the boy seemingly content to do the same. He shares another cigarette with her every so often, but never two days in a row, or in front of the others. “We're gonna run out if you go any faster, you know,” he quips. She runs extra dirt on her hands when she goes downstairs on those days, so she can blame her soil blend for the smell. No one asks.
They don't talk, but she learns more about Akira anyways, thanks to the incessant rumor mongering of the rest of the school. She does her best to filter out the truth (or what she thinks sounds right) from the noise. Assault, a country town, a family that shipped him to a relative or abandoned him entirely to clear their good name. If Haru were him, she'd just want to be left alone after that, too. Like she doesn't already want to be left alone as it is. Some very different circumstances can lead to the same feeling, it seems.
It's on another rainy day when he comes upstairs alone before school is over, as she puts the finishing touches on several extra tarps to angle the wind away from her garden before the storm gets stronger. She steps under the overhang of the building, wiping her thoroughly soaked hair out of her face and blinking to clear her vision.
Haru watches as Akira strips out of his equally doused jacket, wringing it like a towel onto the concrete. Underneath, his similarly wet and very not-in-dress-code orange tee shirt with a vulgar slogan that had been hidden clings to his chest, revealing so many hard angles that make Haru's breath catch in her throat, until her sight drifts up to his shoulder. There's a lumpy bundle under his shirt on one side, blood soaking through the dressing underneath and turning the vivid fabric a deep red.
“Oh my god, wha—” Haru freezes, caught between every thought that screams ‘run’ in her head and every empathetic impulse in her heart to rush to his aid, to find the ones who hurt him and break them and — All of these thoughts come to a crashing halt when a…cat? A cat walks out of his bag at his feet, caterwauling and howling, turning its head between the both of them like it’s trying to hold a conversation.
“Shut up, Morgana, holy shit.” Akira nods his head in sympathy to Haru. “Cats. You should probably go. I’ll be awhile.” Akira turns, picking up his bag and placing it on one of the desks under the overhang, Morgana (the cat, apparently) jumping up next to it and continuing its stream of chatter.
“Wh, but, cat, and your shoulder, and—” Akira shoots her a look over his shoulder that is pure ice.
“It doesn’t concern you. Go.”
A tone she’s heard a thousand times in her life, always from people who think they know better than her. It’s infuriating. She clenches her fist, fighting to keep her expression neutral and failing, eyebrows kitting together into a scowl. “The hell it isn’t. You came up here, at this hour, because you knew I would be here! I told you as much, don’t feign ignorance, you…” Eyes fixed on his bloody shoulder, she can’t help but soften. Such a bloody wound…
She sighs angrily at herself, tearing her eyes away from it and towards his face as he turns back to her, crossing his arms over his chest. “Why are you here, and what happened to your shoulder?”
“It—” He laughs, grimacing. “This is stupid. I’m not telling you anything. Just leave. It’ll be better for you that way.”
Before she has time to even think of what she’s doing, Haru charges forward, grabbing him by the collar with both hands and yanking him downwards, mashing her lips against his as she steals her first kiss from a boy she can’t make heads or tails of. After a few moments, Akira's hand on her shoulder very gently parts them, and she stares him dead in the eye, blushing and furious at how even his expression is despite the effect she had intended.
“Princess, that isn't how this works. I don't kiss and tell.” His awful, snide grin pops up again and she slaps him, hard, wiping it from his face in an instant. She steps away, clenches her stinging hand around the hem of her track jacket for stability, anything at all just to hold onto that isn't him. Why did she do any of that? What was the point? Why is he still holding onto her shoulder?
“Tell me or damn you, I’ll—” Haru works her jaw, searching for the right words. “I already involved myself, so your oh-so valiant attempts to protect me are pointless and egotistical at best.”
Akira doesn't bother to hold the rapidly reddening spot on his cheek, watching Haru's fury with a stare equal parts distant and focused. “Huh, sugar and spice….Well, I’ll give it to you, cat, you were right. It was a bad idea. Morgana, go home.” The cat leaps down to his feet, a nonstop stream of chatter broken by a wordless glance. The cat looks between them and shakes its head before disappearing into a gap in the roof fence and out into the rain. Akira finally releases Haru's shoulder and sits down on the edge of the table behind him. “Ask me again. So I give you the right answer, since I figure you probably got a lotta’ questions in that fluffy head of yours.”
“Where did you get hurt? Why?” Haru slowly releases the hem of her jacket, crossing her arms across her chest.
“At school. Technically. On school grounds. I slipped, and—” He grimaces. “I made a mistake, and I'm making those two pay for it, too. Suzui.”
“The jumper?” Haru had been gone the day it happened, sick to her stomach from post-surgical pain and the meds.
“Their best friend. She's in critical care now, and Kamoshida got her there.”
“The gym teacher?” Haru grimaces, memories of a dozen close calls with him in physical education flickering by. She fights the urge to wonder why she wasn’t a juicy enough target; too much trouble with the family name, maybe. “…Awful. I'm sorry. But that much blood doesn't just happen from a fight. A fight that he isn't reporting?”
Akira pulls his bag into his lap, rifling through it and pulling fresh dressings and tape from within, stripping out of his shirt without warning. Haru squeaks in surprise, turning away from him and staring at the wall and leaving him in her periphery. She can see his expression change, and hates herself for just a moment for having such a childish reaction to someone she just kissed.
“Something like that. He's holding expulsion over two of us, and Ann…”
“The rumors.” Haru finishes, shaking her head. “I never thought…” She sighs, shaking her head. “My trying to put in a good word with the class president would be pointless with this much against you, wouldn't it.” Akira grunts a response, teeth gripping the tape as he tries to get the dressing to sit correctly. Huffing, Haru turns and snatches the roll from his mouth, wrapping around his shoulder once so it'll stay put. “You must learn to ask for help eventually, bad boy. I thought you learned that when you started coming around here.”
“Maybe you could teach me sometime.” Her affronted scoff gets a chuckle from Akira, and he pulls his shirt back on. “You're soaked, you know. Really gonna hang out here the rest of the day looking like that?”
“I have clothes I can change into. Besides…What else would I do? I have to wait for the chauffeur.”
“Ditch. Come with me. I need more stuff for…stuff. Could always use a spotter.”
Haru squints up at him, instantly suspicious. “What sort of stuff?”
“Ask me no questions and I shall tell you no lies, Princess.” He bows elegantly, extending a hand for her to take.
Blatantly foolish. Father has made clear his opinion on the students of the high school, and that the only reason he considers even letting her stay is her education holds some bargaining power. Just a pawn on the board, slowly advancing for him. She will be a Queen on his board very soon, but not soon enough to change her fate before it’s too late.
Unless a black rook strikes and steals her away.
It’s not like it’s the first time Haru has ever been to Shibuya Underground Mall, or even the most eventful, but the entire afternoon is…energizing. To blatantly defy her father’s wishes, with a boy she is willing to admit she feels something for, even if the form of that feeling still feels strange to her, is undeniably exciting.
As is the shoplifting.
They move slowly, so as to be seen simply as gawkers or lookey-loos. Akira explains as he goes. “Watch the attendants, but not closely. Find something to look at and use that as a screen so it looks like you’re looking at it, but you’re watching them. Magazines, a box of pain medication, whatever.” He passes her a bottle of weak pain medication, turning it over. “I need stuff with naproxen or ibuprofen. Just a few bottles. I’m gonna go talk him up while you grab it. Don’t look around or look scared while you put it in your bag. Can you do that?”
She turns over the box again, nodding to herself.
“We’ll make a criminal of you yet, Princess. When you’re clear, walk to the cosmetics, pick something cheap, buy it, and leave. They’re less likely to question someone who bought something. I’ll come out after you in a few minutes, meet me by the jewelry store in the middle. If they come for you and ask you to stop, run. Don’t look for me, just run, get out of sight, and go home. Tell Daddy you forgot to tell him you wanted to go shopping today or something.” He walks away without waiting for a response, waving to the attendant and engaging them in small talk facing the other way.
It’s surreal, but she does as she’s asked, thinking all the while of the small vial of tramadol in her bag, hidden in a battered pink vinyl bag she’s had since she was 7. When Haru finishes, she stretches, biting her tongue to keep from groaning at the pain in her stomach. She knows shouldn’t be moving around as much as she has, lifting the things she has, but she’s also too stubborn to stop. She knows punishing herself for finally getting the surgery she dreamed of since she was old enough to understand what it was is childish in the extreme, as well, and yet…
She picks out black nail polish (she typically never uses the stuff, and always ruins every manicure she’s ever gotten within a week with her garden work) , and after a moment’s consideration a tube of eyeliner named Noir. Cheap, terrible stuff, barely 400 yen combined. She’s convinced she’ll break out if she uses it. The attendant doesn’t give her a second look as he rings her up, handing her the bag and smiling to the next customer behind her.
The jewelry store is more kitsch than she expected, an open-air stall full of steel and silver and bronze, leather and woven cloth and hemp. She browses, lingering by a display of silvered rings with intricate twisted designs worked onto them.
“It’s our first date, and you’re stuck on a ring?” Akira appears as if from nowhere beside her, leaning over her shoulder to look at the display. “I always wondered why celebrities moved so fast, maybe it’s the money.” He picks one up, rolling it between thumb and forefinger.
“Not really your style, I thought.” Haru nods towards his hand.
“The ring, or marriage?” Haru grunts noncommittally, and he grins. “Well, you’re not wrong.” He puts it down. “Pick something out. We can commemorate your first successful operation.” She whirls on him, eyes going wide in shock before she realizes the intended meaning. “What, embarrassed?”
“N-no, I—Nevermind. Must I?” She looks back at the stall, frowning.
“I must insist. All the better to blackmail you with when you’re rich and powerful. A man like me has to build connections, y’know.” Haru can’t help but snort, thinking of where she’ll probably be in 5 years. Wife to a waste of skin who owns Tokyo’s biggest fast-food franchise. Glorious.
“Don’t get your hopes up, bad boy.” She drifts past him to the necklaces, trailing a hand through the hanging metal until she comes to a stop on a metal pendant worked into the shape of a half-split-open pomegranate, the fruit painted to distinguish it. The pricetag is nearly double the cost of everything she stole for—with—him today. She picks it, holding it out to him with a smile. His good mood doesn’t vanish at seeing the pricetag, and that tells her everything. So does the way his hands linger by her neck when she asks him to put it on for her, fingertips brushing against bare skin leaving a tingling that doesn’t go away, and a persistent flutter in her chest. This wasn’t about money, or desperation. There’s something else going on with Akira Kurusu, and she has no idea what his game is, but she’s delighted to keep dancing along.
Anything to distract her from the other game she’s an unwilling part of.
“You know, it did start raining more once you came back. Are you a witch, perhaps, Princess?” Akira nods to the window of the cafe they’re sitting inside, rain is coming down in sheets against the glass.
“Have you run out of conversation starters already, bad boy? We’ve been together maybe two hours.” They had made several more stops after the jewelry store; bandages and tape, soft drinks, even some straight-up supplements from a Don Quixote they almost got caught in. “Here, try this one, maybe. ‘How is your pancake?’” She nods towards her empty plate, having long ago finished eating. She rolls the tube of Noir between her fingers, trying to emulate the trick Akira had shown her days ago with his lighter and flubbing it onto the table between them only to pick it back up and try again. Akira snorts, rolling his eyes. “No? How about ‘thank you for your help, Okumura-senpai, I never would have gotten all my cheap toiletries for the month without you!’”
Akira leans forward onto the table, cutting off another chunk of his own waffle with his fork. “Hey, keep your voice down.”
“Oh please, nobody listens to other people in cafes. I could say I’m the queen of Japan, and our waitress would thank me for my service to the country. So, if you can’t come up with a good conversation to have, I have one good one: what exactly was the point of today?”
Akira shrugs, chewing on his mouthful. “I needed stuff to get me by, you needed to get the stick out of your ass. Mission accomplished?”
“Bad boys should really know how to lie better, you know.” She plucks the silver pomegranate dangling in the hollow of her throat, waggling it at Akira. “This cost more than everything we got today, and you know it, and I know it. So please, let me answer for you.” Akira puts down his fork, gesturing towards her to continue. “You have tried at every turn to scare me off.” She holds up a hand, marking off fingers as she continues. “The smoking, the cronies and their stony silence, the constant loitering, more smoking, the demeaning nickname, the bloody bandage, the shoplifting, the threat of blackmail. Did I forget anything?”
“I bought you dinner, too.”
“You bought me dinner in the worst cafe I’ve ever sat inside. Points for effort, by the way, we walked by 3 Starbucks on the way here. So. You’re trying so hard to push me out, scare me off, cow me into silence or fear. Here’s my theory: you’re a very poor criminal. I don’t think you did anything, in fact. You…I think you took the fall for someone you loved, and now you’re here.” She props her chin up in her hands, smiling at him. “Am I right?”
Akira returns the gesture, leaning on one elbow and smirking. “Not even a little close. Points for effort, by the way, you took me past 3 false assumptions on the way there.” He winces when she stomps on his foot under the table with her heel, but neither of them move above the table. Eventually, Akira sits up, stretching and scratching the side of his head revealing the bright red blush of his ears under his black hair for Haru for only a moment before it falls back into its normal dishevelment. “We should probably go. Daddy must be pissed.” Haru digs her phone out of her bag, checking her phone.
“His personal assistant’s last call was an hour ago, so not very. Probably just mad I made his driver waste gas.”
Akira chuckles. “Not a very good Princess, are you?”
“Makes sense to me, mister good-bad boy. We’re a perfect fit.”
“That is not going to be my stupid pet name with you.” He stands, scratching his neck again and dumping a handful of yen on the table for the server. She can see a pink earlobe peeking out from under a lock of hair.
“You’re right. How about…Joker. You’re a good card or a bad card depending on when you’re drawn. And I’m…” She looks at the tube of eyeliner in her hand as she stands. “Noir?”
Akira stops to hold the door open as they walk out of the cafe, raising an eyebrow at Haru as she exits. “What does that even mean?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea. Some other language’s word for black, maybe.”
“It’s not really your color.” Akira grunts when Haru’s fist thumps him on his non-wounded shoulder.
“Say that again and you won’t be staying dry for long.” Haru says sweetly, smiling as she unfurls her polka-dotted umbrella and holds it just high enough for Akira to get under it—if he stoops.