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And let me crawl inside your veins

Chapter Text

Being a small and weak male in high school was a one way ticket to being a loner with either very few friends, or none at all.

Mishima had to deal with the latter, and with the attention of Kamoshida, it was even worse.

When he wasn't being beaten over every little mistake, he was being ignored entirely, and he wasn't sure which was worse. His classmates were hesitant to even speak to him, as if the abuse he dealt with would rub off on them or something, and it made him angry, so, so angry, that they'd turn a blind eye to his suffering. To Shiho's suffering. To EVERYONE'S suffering. And for what? Some stupid respect? A trophy? It wasn't worth it, but what could he do?

Nothing. He never really could.

But Akira Kurusu could.

The transfer student was...intimidating, especially at first.

Tall, sharp features, messy black hair and glasses that always covered his eyes. You never knew what he was thinking unless he wanted you to know, so it seemed. He was intriguing, a mystery, and it was kind of surprising his peers didn't jump on him for it. You always hear about how girls want a mysterious guy but when they have one in reach, all they do is gossip about him when he can still hear them. Was it really shocking though, at a school where abuse and sexual harassment is blatantly ignored? He supposed not.

They never really spoke to each other, not at first. Once or twice maybe, be it simply passing each other in the halls and saying hello or softly exchanging a stilted greeting when coming in and bumping into each other. Even when that "punk" Sakamoto became his friend, he still seemed to hang around school more than he probably should after classes, alone, allowing them the chance to speak.

Once, they'd caught each others eyes, and the sweet, almost...calming smile he'd been greeted with had simultaneously set his nerves alight and soothed the constant thrum of anxiety on the edges of his mind.

It had only taken one smile for him to want more, but he'd pushed the pathetic yearning down so far he could nearly pretend it had never existed in the first place.

It never really went away, though.

~°~

"C'mon man, just tell us what we want to know! Why you gotta be so difficult about this huh?!" Sakamoto half muttered and half yelled. More of that and surely a teacher would rescue him right?

"I-I...please, just let me go..." He whispered, his body curled in on itself, arms pressed tightly against his torso. What good would it do to talk about Kamoshida anyway? No one cared, and they'd just get hurt if they meddled. Maybe Sakamoto's invasive attitude and mannerisms deserved some sort of consequence, but Mishima didn't wish to see Kurusu get hurt all because his loudmouth friend couldn't stay out of everyone's business.

"Hey, Ryuji, back off of him. You don't have to be so harsh." Kurusu cut in sharply, tone and gaze holding no room for argument. It was a side to the usually gentle teen that Mishima had never glimpsed, though he wasn't around him enough to see it anyway, he supposed. The thought ached in a weird way, but he dismissed it. He really was getting lonely and desperate...

"Hey, Mishima, you don't need to be so afraid. Whatever it is he's said to you, or done to you to keep you quiet, doesn't matter. He won't even know you've said anything, I promise. You can trust me." The teen urged, leaning forward into his personal space and smiling that award winning grin that melted his resistance like ice in the hot summer sun, both choosing to ignore the shocked and incredulous look Sakamoto wore.

"I...what's he done to me is...isn't important. But that girl, Shiho, Takamaki-san's friend, he's been keeping her back a lot. He touches her too, a lot. Her back, or her waist, and her thighs sometimes, if no ones watching. She always looks so uncomfortable...he won't give us water after rigorous training and one girl even got sick because of it. There's more but I...listen, please, please don't mention me if you confront him! I can't imagine what he'll do to me if he finds out I told you guys anything." He had pleaded, and Kurusu had been quick to sooth his spike of panic with kind words and an anchoring touch on his shoulder. It had been the nicest touch he'd received in such a long time, but his pleading hadn't even mattered in the end.

They'd been told they'd be expelled and his nasty crime of exposing Kurusu had come into the light, leaving him sick and strangely hollow, even when Kurusu had come right up to him after class and insisted he wasn't angry. No amount of reassurance would make him forgive himself.

The closer the meeting day came, the more he just wanted to curl up under a rock and die. His future was ruined wasn't it? And he'd ruined Kurusu's future too, hell, even Sakamoto's. He was pathetic, a failure. Unworthy of the odd, fond smile he received from the transfer student, no matter how good it made him feel.

But then, something strange happened.

A calling card by the "Phantom Thieves of Hearts", claiming to right the wrongs Kamoshida had committed and expose what a nasty piece of work he was. Putting his hope into such a silly thing was foolish, he knew that, but still, it made him feel better, and the happy laugh that left Kurusu's lips when he was given a smile that day instead of a bowed head served only to brighten his mood even more. If his smile could really make Kurusu that happy, well, maybe he wasn't so useless after all. Maybe these Phantom Thieves really would fix what was going to happen, and expose what had already happened.

It didn't escape Mishima's notice when, only a day after the calling card had appeared, the two (three now, with Takamaki-san joining them) friends arrived at school, practically jumping with nervous energy and a smug, victorious air about them. He had to wonder what exactly they'd won, or accomplished.

His answer would arrive in the form of a public confession in the gym only three short days later, all three filled with Kurusu insisting on spending time with him, even at the obvious hesitance of his friends. That certainly hadn't won them any points, but it was nice, how Kurusu cared about him. Wanted him around, even, LISTENED to him.

It was even more nice when Mishima put the pieces together.

Phantom Thieves popping up out of nowhere and knowing everything, Kurusu insisting he'd fix the expulsion, said expulsion conveniently being forgotten the day it was supposed to happen, Kurusu's excitement and smug smirks traded with his other friends...

He was a Phantom Thief, he HAD to be! And maybe his friends were in on it too, definitely!

The realization had him in a tizzy, a broad smile lighting up his face out of nowhere while packing up his things to go home. Kurusu's breathless sigh alerted him to the boys presence, and in his excitement, he didn't even notice the glassy look he was being given.

He'd have to do something for his...his...well, his hero, technically! Because that's what the Phantom Thieves WERE. That's what Kurusu was...and still, he wanted to hang out with Mishima, sad, pathetic, lonely little Mishima. He couldn't understand why, but the attention made something in him change...click into place, really. It amplified the feeling that first smile gave him, made his breath catch and his hands shake just a bit. It was so good, so wonderful, and he knew he'd do just about anything to feel that wanted again.

Chapter Text

It hadn't taken him very long to think of a way to repay just a bit of the generosity Kurusu had extended to him, truthfully. He'd thought about it on his way home, all throughout the constantly quiet dinner where his parents pointedly didn't speak to him or each other, even when he was half focused on his homework, his mind was whirling.

No one in his life had ever cared about him in such a way, as pathetic as it was.

His parents wanted a strong, athletic, smart boy to be proud of, to show off like a dog, as if to say "look at us, look what this thing WE raised did! Love us! Adore us!", as if his shining accomplishments would singlehandedly save their doomed marriage, and when they had instead gotten a feminine, shy boy who could barely lift a bowling ball...well, he wasn't shown much parental love in his life.

There'd been no friends, no he was much too quiet and small to ever approach anyone, and by the time his average looks could pull any amount of attention onto himself, he'd been so tired of being shunned that he hadn't reciprocated the shallow attention.

Was it too much to ask for a bit of love? He could still remember the pure pride his parents showed when he announced he'd gotten accepted by Kamoshida to train under him. They'd talked to him for once. They'd talked to each other! So if he came home with a few (a lot) of bruises, once, a sprained ankle, well, it was all worth it in the end, wasn't it?

(You hate them, when have they ever really wanted you for you? When have they ever seen you as more than a trophy?)

But they were his parents, and he loved them all the same. It was what a good son would do, and Kamoshida getting arrested wasn't HIS fault, so he couldn't very well be blamed for that, could he? Oh, but Kurusu really didn't understand just how MUCH he'd given Mishima, did he?

It was as he tugged on a shirt to sleep in that it hit him, just what he COULD do for his new found...friend. That's what Kurusu said they were, and if KURUSU said they were friends, no one else could really argue. He was the only one that Mishima cared to hear out anyway.

He was good with computers--another useless skill according to his parents--so maybe...maybe a website? Entirely based around the Phantom Thieves, of course! A fan site!

Excitement pulsed through his veins, and he found himself grinning, spinning on his heel towards his desk and computer. It would take, gosh, forever to do, but if he really worked at it, if he really did his very best, he might be done before school! Sleeping could wait, Kurusu needed his support now more than ever! And then...

And then perhaps.

Kurusu-kun might just smile at him like that first one, one more time.

But of course, he wouldn't want to get ahead of himself! A website was hardly a fair trade for just how kind Kurusu had been to him, even after the vile thing he'd done. He'd do more, he would...he'd be useful. He'd make Kurusu proud.

He'd make Kurusu like him.

It was all he asked for. It was all he...needed.

Maybe the boys friends would come around too? He didn't know why they didn't like him. What had he done wrong? Was it because of the rumor? He'd been forced, but he supposed not everyone was as sweet and forgiving as Kurusu. Well, maybe it wouldn't matter! So long as he kept a positive outlook on them, he was sure everything would be...just fine.

~°~

He'd done it.

He'd really done it.

He had finally managed to finish the website, and it even saw activity within 30 minutes of being up!

Oh, he just couldn't wait to see the look on Kurusu's face!

His grin faltered, just a bit.

He was getting ahead of himself. Nothing and no one said Kurusu HAD to like it, right? Maybe he wouldn't. Maybe it was a waste.

Gripping his schoolbag with tension lining his shoulders, he sluggishly pulled it over his arm, lips pressed tightly together. No, it wouldn't do to think like that. Kurusu was so gentle with him, after all, he'd like it just because Mishima had put time and effort into it.

It was the right thing to think, for once, and he let out a small, shaky breath. The phansite was his tribute to the Phantom Thieves (to Kurusu, you know you don't care about the others, who are you trying to fool?) so maybe it would even let the others ease up on their suspicions. It was simply a gesture of goodwill and support, who would dislike that?

"Yuuki, you're going to be late if you don't hurry." His mothers tired voice reached him from downstairs, and he jolted out of his thoughts, forcing his exhausted body to move. So much work and time, and yet, he couldn't help but be happy that he'd finished it, even if it cost him valuable time. He'd probably pass out in class but...well, any positive reaction from Kurusu would make him feel better anyway.

It would be worth it. It had to be.

Kurusu...had to like him.

~°~

Each class period seemed to drag on for eternity, even when he managed to sleep. Perhaps being all but invisible was actually a useful skill, who'd have thought?

It'd taken him forever to get to class, and his plans of approaching Kurusu beforehand were dashed when the boy ended up late anyway, and once first period ended, and then second, and then third, he was immediately surrounded by his two...best friends.

Not that there was anything wrong with that, of course, but he had to wonder (what would it be like to be able to stand so close to him?) what it might be like to have such close friends. Maybe he'd find out.

Mishima finally, finally, got his chance at the end of the day, exhaustion somewhat lifted by his chaotic and erratic napping in class, though he wouldn't complain about the lingering tendrils coaxing him back under. He had an important duty!

Kurusu wasn't hard to spot in the sea of short, brown-haired students, and even though the two local blonds were with him, he knew he'd not get another chance.

Quickening his pace, he desperately pushed through the crowd of classmates and other students eager to get home, whispers of the Phansite reaching him as he moved, a bit of pride even daring to blossom in his chest.

He managed, with quite a lot of difficulty, to reach the stairwell the three had curled themselves up in, effectively blocking the other students from going down, not that they seemed to care or notice. Delinquents indeed.

"Man, it's kinda weird that we got a website dedicated to us, right? And so quick too, think we got some weird fan or something? That'd be sick!" Sakamoto's voice reached him, effectively stomping on the tiny bit of pride he'd collected.

Did Kurusu think he was a creepy fan too?

"Yeah, I hate to agree with Ryuji but it's kinda creepy, huh? But also kinda cool, you know? We have FANS, now." That was Takamaki, of course, her small giggle twisting in his head, sounding mean, cruel almost.

Was he just a joke to them?

Was helping people just a, just a GAME to them?

"No...I don't think it's creepy. They might be a victim of Kamoshida, and they really support us. Don't make such wild assumptions, guys." Kurusu admonished gently, the bite lessened by his small smile.

Of course Kurusu wouldn't agree, he was just so (too) nice.

Well, then the site just wouldn't be for them, then, if they couldn't appreciate it the way their leader could.

Still.

The words...hurt.

He didn't want to hear more (weak Mishima, useless Mishima, you can't do anything right, can't make friends, can't stand up for yourself, you've gotta get a bunch of kids who don't even like you to do it) of the private words, they obviously weren't meant for him. But Kurusu still needed to know.

Carefully, he approached, immediately catching the attention of the taller boy with his movement. The teen lit up upon seeing him, quickly moving forward to reach his side, though Mishima hardly missed the eye roll Sakamoto gave the boys back. Didn't want him there, probably. That wouldn't be much of a problem in that case, no matter how bitter a thought it may be.

"Can I talk to you, privately? The roof, m-maybe?" He asked before the boy had even opened his mouth. It was rude, and out of the ordinary, but the moment of hesitation it caused passed without comment.

"Sure. I'll catch up with you guys later." Kurusu said to his friends, hand tugging on the belt of Mishima's pants to get him to follow. Despite the odd, cold feeling suddenly encompassing his body, despite the dread that slithered through his veins, the casual touch still sent a shock of joy through his system.

Mishima didn't bother looking back as he moved behind Kurusu. He didn't need to see the disgust on their faces. He had already decided.

They didn't matter, so long as Kurusu wasn't affected by their opinion of him.

~°~

Their footsteps echoed unnaturally in the quiet, uncomfortable air surrounding them. As they walked upwards, the voices from below seemed to fade more and more, and it did nothing to dispel the feeling in his chest. He didn't understand it, didn't like it. Where was that warmth that Kurusu's presence always gave him? Where had it fled? He longed for it something fierce.

"Mishima-kun...are you okay? You seem..."

"I'm f-fine." He cut him off, hand sliding into his pocket to retrieve his phone, already thumbing through his bookmarks to load the site up.

He'd had a plan. He'd meant to do it after class, when he was excited and his courage hadn't left him, but those friends of Kurusu's...he couldn't put all the blame on them, but...

"I...I know you're the one who made Kamoshida confess." Mishima said, simply, inelegantly. It went against his carefully constructed vision, but there was no use crying over spilt milk.

Kurusu looked...startled, but not overly shocked. There was no point looking for more, he'd found. You saw only what Kurusu wanted you to see.

"Ah, well, I had thought if anyone would figure it out first, it'd be you. Smart as always, even when you do look dead on your feet, huh?" The teen laughed, eyes warm, as if nothing in the world could be wrong. It...helped, a bit. It chased away some of that suffocating emptiness.

"That's n-not all though. I'm...I'm the one who made that site, the Phantom Thieves one. Ha, see? Admin privileges and all. Took me all night and everything, it's why I was sleeping in class so much." Mishima smiled weakly, holding his phone up for the boy to see. It was hardly as if Kurusu had noticed he'd been asleep, stupid of him to have pointed it out...he expected the other to laugh the entire thing off, no big deal and all.

He didn't expect to see the look of...of guilt, on the teens face.

"Oh Yuuki...that's why you're so subdued. You heard what they said." He breathed, as if it mattered, as if the words had upset him or something! Stupid, right?!

Arms encircled him, then, his face pressed against Kurusu's firm chest, and every bit of rational thought disappeared.

Kurusu was...hugging him?

What had he possibly done to DESERVE such an action? He'd been nothing but pathetic, showing his weakness so obviously, his eyes filled with unshed tears. Maybe he'd been afraid that Kurusu thought him disgusting for his devotion, maybe it'd hurt, but it didn't give him the right to receive something so gentle...a hug, like he deserved a reward.

Despite himself, his arms moved on their own accord, wrapping tightly (possessively) around the other. The dread, the chasm in his chest seemed to close in on itself, replaced with warmth, comfort, a purring contentedness that couldn't be shaken off.

It was...frightening, how much he wanted more. How greedy he became with just a taste. But he could live with a hug and a smile. It was more than he'd ever gotten before.

"Yuuki, I'm sorry. This site, no ones ever been so supportive of me. I...thank you. Just ignore them, okay? They don't get it. They're just being ungrateful, and stupid." Kurusu mumbled into his hair, not budging an inch from the gesture of affection. He didn't mention that his need for them to accept him had become a cold, icy sort of disdain he'd not known himself capable of, didn't mention that Kurusu's encouragement only fed it. There were some things some people just didn't need to know.

In fact, his words seemed...disapproving. Like he didn't enjoy how their words had affected Mishima. Like he was almost...

Mad at them.

Mishima ducked his head further into the teens chest, and a small, unnoticeable smile stretched across his mouth.

Chapter Text

Mishima was lost in his own mind a lot, after that day.

It's hard to concentrate on schoolwork when the sweetest boy you've ever met is ten feet away (he'd counted) after all, so it wasn't entirely his own fault. And yeah, maybe his parents, in all their silent, disapproving glory had taken the time to notice, but what did that matter? They just wanted their trophy back. (You'd have killed for that sort of attention from them a month ago. What ever happened to weak, needy little Yuuki?)

He forgot where he was, most often, so caught up in fantasies he'd never live or hazy recollections of the all encompassing warmth that had tangled in his chest after the hug, refusing to be removed or ignored. It made it impossible to be near Kurusu for too long, or else he'd feel as if he'd simply burst from containing himself. He couldn't just...just TOUCH him, of course not, that was too much, too far, surely his hero wouldn't take to it kindly...looking was enough. Watching. Always, always watching...

The others had noticed, but they weren't in Kurusu's favour much anymore, were they?

For now, they didn't matter, so long as Kurusu never heeded their no doubt vicious words about him. If he did...

(You're too weak to hurt them. You really think you can retaliate?)

But it wasn't just Kurusu's friends that spoke nastily of others. Mishima wasn't the most observant person, especially not with his newfound idolization, but of course he'd keep an ear out for mentions of his friend! And what he found was...upsetting.

"I hear he killed someone, but got out of going to jail cause he's a minor."

"He's so creepy, isn't he? All stuck away in the corner, and he only hangs out with the weirdos of the school. I mean, Sakamoto? Really?"

"Don't get too close to him, Nagoya-chan! And don't let him hear you talk about his friends like that! He might hurt you, you never know. I'd watch my back if I were you."

Just thinking about it made his hands clench around his pencil. Oh how he'd like to give them a taste of their own medicine! How dare they speak of someone as gentle and loving as Kurusu like that! How dare they think themselves above him, they were all nothing but trash, dirt under Kurusu's boot, they didn't deserve to speak if they were only going to slander people (Kurusu, not people, don't lie to yourself)!

He wanted, desperately, to shut them up, for good, if he had to.

It was a dangerous thought, and the violent undertone to it made him pause, for just a moment.

'What's happening to me?', he wondered, an unnoticeable frown marring his boyish features.

He'd never been so...passionate about someone, or something, before. Life passed by in a haze, sluggish, as if he wasn't truly living, and yet the moment Kurusu entered his life, everything had come into focus. Where once life seemed bleak, he now found contentment, happiness. He loved it, truthfully, loved how Kurusu could take his breath away with a smile or chase away any negative thoughts with nothing but a hand upon his skin. It was so, so lovely, the longer he was exposed to it, the more he wanted. Mishima would bite and bite away until nothing was left, he figured, and it undoubtedly said something about him when the thought of taking everything Kurusu had to offer for himself, leaving none for anyone else, did nothing but make him feel a tiny bit better. He didn't want to share. He wanted Kurusu to look at him the way Mishima did right back, wanted to be loved so fiercely that it hurt, wantedwantedwantwanting-

"Yuuki?"

Mishima's hand relaxed, dropping the snapped pencil onto his desk, scattering the broken bits along the surface. His hand hurt, his head hurt. A look at the clock told him twenty minutes had came and went.

"Yuuki, come downstairs and eat, dinners ready." His mothers voice called up to him once more, just as dull as ever. The two of them were the only thing Kurusu's presence hadn't managed to change, to make brighter.

'Kurusu can't erase years of emotional neglect then, I suppose.' He thought bitterly, sweeping the mess he'd made unintentionally into the bin beside his desk.

He could make it hurt less, though.

Quickly, he arose from his chair and stumbled down the stairs, seating himself silently at the place his plate had been put down. His father and mother gave him significant glances, and he knew to brace himself for a scolding. What had he possibly done this time? Not gotten up quick enough? Not eaten in the 2.5 seconds that he'd been sitting down? Maybe they were upset that he simply dared to breathe the same air. He felt an odd sort of...stilted anger, rise in his chest, but it was hardly new. They wouldn't take him seriously anyway, no matter the complaint.

"Yuuki, you've been daydreaming quite a lot lately, your homeroom teacher, Kawakami-sensei? She says you got hurt again because of this. Tripped over your own feet and fell, clumsy boy." His father said, permanent frown etched across his brow seeming more defined. He was displeased then.

"A-Ah that's...I don't know why. I'm sorry. I'll try to do better." He murmured, fingers clutching a fork just as hard as he had clutched the broken pencil, it was a miracle the metal hadn't bended.

"Better? We're concerned, that's all." His mother said, setting down her glass of wine to speak, which was certainly...new. As was the concern.

"Concerned...I-I'm fine. Just a bit lost in thought is all." Why wouldn't they just leave him alone? He was so happy, and now, when he had someone to care for, someone who seemingly cared right back, they wanted to show him that they, too, cared? Maybe they could tell. Maybe they knew. Maybe, they wanted to take away the tiny bit of joy he'd obtained, and crush it beneath their heel.

"Yuuki, don't you lie to me, I know you. You aren't one to get lost in your silly fantasies. What is truly going on?" His mother replied sharply, hands clasped under her chin in thought, stare just as invasive as ever. It was laughable, that she thought she could know anything about him just by looking.

"Know me? You never talk to me! You don't know a thing about me!" He snapped, body tensed, legs braced to jump up and flee. He knew his temper was flaring dangerously, but the sick, twisted ball of hate in his stomach demanded he let it out.

They didn't know him. They didn't want him. They were...liars. Monsters. They were going to take his joy away from him, weren't they? He wouldn't let them. He wouldn't let them!

"Calm down, boy! Don't you speak to your mother that way, she's only-!"

"You're both LYING TO ME! You've never given a damn about me, or what I like, or what I want! You just see me as an object to be lorded around! I'm not doing it anymore! Give up your s-stupid facade, I see right through it!" He shouted, hands slamming down onto the table, spilling his mothers glass of wine and making the silverware and plates rattle.

His father was visibly angry, rage showing on his red, straining face. Mishima had never spoken to them in such a way, never stood up for himself, not really. But he was shaking with adrenaline and pent up, repressed hatred, barely able to form the words he'd been dying to say for years.

"Yuuki! How dare you-!" His mother tried to cut in, but again, he stopped her, a snarl upon his lips.

"You've never shown me a bit of care, or love, or 'concern'! Not until now, that is, and I wonder why?! I'm happy now! Where you turned a blind eye to your own son being ABUSED, a stranger took the time to ask me how I was, to befriend me! Now that I actually have someone, you suddenly want to see if I'm alright! Fuck yo-!"

His words were cut off by a sharp, resounding slap that seemed to reverberate around the deathly quiet room.

His cheek stung, but no more than his eyes, as he turned betrayed eyes to the pale, snow-white face of his horrified mother, who's hand was still raised.

"I...Y-Yuuki, I didn't mean to. I'm so sorry, I just-!" She began, for she had never hit him before, not in all the times he'd upset her.

But he wasn't listening.

They were just like Kamoshida in the end then, weren't they? Bullies, who used physical violence when they didn't get their way. It was...funny, that he'd never seen it before. The connection made his heart ache, but his body and mind go as still and cold as ice, as the bits of love he'd always had for his parents seemed to simply...wither away.

Mishima's concentration slid away from his inner feelings, and he just...walked away without a word, face terrifyingly blank. He did not think as he walked up the stairs, as he went into his room, locked the door behind him, and curled up under the covers of his bed.

Somehow, he knew it was supposed to hurt more, to lose the only other possible source of love in his life. The disconnect from seeing them as 'caretakers, guardians, parents' to 'nothing' was jarring, but not as much as it should have been. It was like all the warmth, all the red hot, burning rage, every bit of fire in him had withered right along side everything else.

And then a soft, melodious croon left the speaker of his phone, notifying him that he had received a message. He'd have ignored it, if it didn't quick start his heart, hope gathering in the back of his mind before he could squash it with harsh, insecure words. A quick grab of it, rapidly typing in his password, showed him it was from Kurusu.

'Hey! Ann told me what happened in Social Studies, I really hope you're okay! Sorry I couldn't be there to sweep you off your feet before you hit the ground ;) lol anyway just thought I'd check on you. Hmu when you can, tell me if you're fine. I worry about you, y'know?'

And just like that, everything was fine. Or, not fine, but...better.

He had Kurusu, didn't he? He'd always have Kurusu, if he had any say in it.

Kurusu wouldn't lie to him like his parents, because unlike them, he really did care about Mishima. When he needed help most, Kurusu was there. When he needed comfort, Kurusu offered his arms. When he was broken and bloody, Kurusu offered him a hand and stood in front of him. Tall, proud. Protective.

He didn't really need his parents, not anymore.

The only thing that mattered to him, the only thing he needed now...

Was Akira.

And perhaps, he thought with a smile as he typed out a reply as fast as his fingers would go, he could return that protection.

Where Akira stood as a shield, Mishima would be a mirror. Anyone who spoke ill of Akira was scum anyway. They just needed to be outed, all their dirty little secrets they so helpfully stored away on the internet shown to the world, to their friends, their classmates and their family, and they'd be shunned, hated, just like they so happily did to the transfer student they didn't bother to get to know.

They would regret how they hurt Akira. Mishima would make sure of that.

Chapter Text

Mishima's usual mad rush to school is significantly slowed down.

He had tried the night before to get some of his newfound work done, but Akira had sufficiently kept him occupied, not that he was complaining, of course! Still, he made it kind of hard to track down Akira’s more vocal naysayers.

Nonetheless, he used his time to walk to school instead, choosing to take the bus so he could concentrate better.

Already, he's got a list, in fact!

Sayu Arigama, age 16, in, surprise surprise, Akira’s homeroom. He'd actually heard her talking about the other boy before, but back then, he was...different. Not as confident. He can stop idiots like her now. He can do anything, with a little digging.

There's also Nago Mirigi, and by extension, his girlfriend Takono Suyuya, but they're more of a background target. A little bit of faked messages here, uploaded lewd images there, and he could keep them apart. That'd distract Nago enough to keep his attention off of Akira, anyway. After all, if he thought he could spout bullshit about whoever he wanted, he didn't deserve the kind of happiness love brought anyway, did he? Bye bye happy relationship! Poor Takono, of course, but there were better guys out there.

Mishima laughed quietly to himself as he hopped off the bus, throwing a soft thanks to the driver behind him as his bag smacked roughly against his back from the sudden movement. Already he could see Akira lounging on the steps to the school, Takamaki beside him, but with her in the way, he was hardly going to approach the boy. Didn't hurt to watch though, right? Akira probably wouldn't mind too much.

Delicately, he lowered himself onto a bench a little ways away and tucked his legs up to his chest, resting his chin on his knees and placing his phone close to his face. He could get more work done, AND watch Akira, how lucky!

Eyes excitedly flickering to his phone, he smiled as he monitored Takono confronting Nago over text when she received his anonymous photos of Nago apparently flirting with a foreign girl. Of course, he'd deny it, but Mishima had already planted the seeds of doubt into her mind. A little more nudges and their relationship would be sufficiently ruined. Then he could focus on his REAL target, Arigama. Two small fries were nothing compared to her, as she was popular, and expressly against Akira even being in her precious school. Stupid bitch...he would show her. Everyone had secrets. He'd find all of hers, every last one, and expose them for the world to see. She'd be ruined. Maybe she'd do something drastic! Truthfully, he'd like to see that! It'd be exciting, and Akira would get to see the fall of someone who had wronged him! Maybe he'd act like it was horrible, but he'd be grateful deep down, and when Mishima revealed it had been him that had drove her to it, he'd sweep him off his feet and--

“Yuuki? Yuuuukiiii? You asleep? You've been spaced out for awhile.”

Mishima yelped, quickly locking his phone as Akira popped into his view. Immediately it felt as if his heart was simply going to burst, so filled with warmth as it was, but he shoved it down and beamed at the other, quickly rising from his seat.

“Oh, sorry! I l-lost track of time! I'm still pretty sleepy, haha…” He laughed weakly, mouth dry as Akira ran his hand through his black hair, a look of soft amusement painting his features. He wondered what it'd be like to be able to do that. If he'd ever get the chance to. Maybe, when Akira saw how much Mishima had done for him, he’d let him.

Maybe.

“It's fine. Come on, we should go or we'll be late for class.” Akira replied, head tilted to the side and eyes tracking Mishima’s uneven, jerky movements. Worry painted over his features, but there was little he could do to help sleep deprivation, save for forcing the teen to sleep in the nurse's office, which was unlikely.

So he thought, anyway. Mishima would do anything for him, if he asked it of him. Too bad he didn't know that.

“By the way, Yuuki-kun,” Akira started, throwing one arm over the boys shoulders as they walked through the doors opening into the building, “Do you wanna hang out after school? I'm free if you are.”

Mishima nearly fell over at that, though Akira’s arm wrapped around him stopped that particular bout of embarrassment in its tracks.

“You...want to hang out with me? And not Takamaki-san, or someone else?” He asked, as if he thought it was a prank or something.

Akira frowned at what that implied and gently pulled the teen closer, a friendly grin pulling at his mouth when he was glanced at.

“Hey, I wouldn't offer if I didn't mean it. You're my friend too, you know, is it so wrong to want to hang out with you?”

“W-Well...no. I'm just surprised, is all. Mostly people only want to hang out with me to make themselves feel like they're better people, cause I look sick and all. B-But I'm not saying you're like that! Just kinda hard to trust it immediately, is all...sorry…” He mumbled, entirely missing the twitch in Akira’s face, the way his smile turned into a very angry grimace for just a second.

“Hey, not your fault. Whoever did that to you is an asshole, and you deserve better. If I ever start acting like a bad friend, you should tell me, okay? I don't want to hurt you like that.” He said, fingers lightly playing with the ends of Mishima's hair while he was distracted. Mishima will most definitely not be doing that, but it's a nice sentiment. After all, if Akira wanted to be a little mean or rough, Mishima would be perfectly willing to take all of it.

“Uhm, okay. I'll do that!” He promised nonetheless, if just to satisfy the teen.

Akira smiled and moved away as they finally arrived at their classroom, his gaze lingering on Mishima's.

“I'll see you after school, Yuuki.”

~°~

“He's been watching you since he sat down, Akira! That's soooo creepy! Aren't you going to do something about it?”

“It's fine, Ann, don't worry. He's just happy to have a friend and doesn't know how to show it.”

“I agree with Lady Ann, Akira. Isn't letting him do this kind of...dangerous?”

Akira smiled that (fake, facade, not the real you) award winning smile to reassure them both, all while his eyes stayed firmly fixed on Yuuki, who was distracted momentarily by his phone.

“Yuuki isn't someone you should be so worried about, he's harmless. I've got it all under control, so calm down, okay?”

~°~

Mishima was, to put it frankly, going to absolutely die.

Akira had...Akira had HUGGED him the ENTIRE walk to class, had chosen him over his (far prettier, lovely, vile) friend, had even tried so sweetly to reassure him…

Akira really was just the best!

All day he buzzed with barely contained excitement, nearly unable to stop his brain long enough just to eat lunch.

Of course, his happiness didn't distract him from his goal.

By putting his ear to the ground, so to speak, and using his wallflower talent, he picked up on Nago and Takono apparently seen fighting all morning until it was broken up by a teacher. His pleasure over that development was palpable, and he had to leave before it got him caught. Still, he called it a success. And with luck, Takono would spread some nasty gossip about it around in retaliation, ruin any chance Nago may have of getting another girlfriend. It'd serve him right. Why did he deserve love and not Akira? Or Mishima, even? It wasn't fair...it wasn't fair it wasn't fair it wasn't fair it wasn't fair it wasn't fair!

Mishima pressed a hand to his chest and took in a few deep breaths to calm himself. It was fine. He didn't need to be loved back or anything. It was fine, everything was fine.

Once he was sure he was calm, he rose from his seat and grabbed his bag, once more rejoining Akira, who patiently waited by the classroom door as the occasional student filed out.

“Let's go to the rooftop. I made curry last night and I brought the leftovers, so we can share.” Akira said, tugging Mishima by the hand towards the stairwell. Hopefully he didn't notice the way Mishima marveled at the perfect fit. It's such a cliche, but by actually experiencing it, he could see why it's so popular…

Along the way, they pass Arigama, as luck would have it, her disdainful look tossed towards Akira not lost on either of them, though their reactions are far different from one another.

Akira smirks, bats his eyelashes, and moves on.

Mishima makes sure to stare at her real quiet like, simply observing until she clearly gets uncomfortable with his gaze. Good. She'll be going through far worse when he's done with her. By tomorrow…well, by tomorrow, he'll make sure she gets what she deserves.

“Don't worry about her, she's nothing. Let's not let her ruin our time together, yeah?” Akira said quietly into his ear, thankfully not mentioning the slight shiver that runs through Mishima's body. He's not worried, at least. Not anymore.

But if telling the teen that makes him move, he'll happily keep his mouth shut.

~°~

They finally make it to the roof just as the last bell rings, their bags falling to the ground as they sit together and make themselves comfortable, Mishima's legs pulled up under him while Akira takes to lounging beside him more than just sitting there, popping open the container holding the curry and passing a spoon to his companion.

Though they eat in silence, it's comfortable, warm. They can talk and be just as happy if they want, but they leave it alone for awhile, at least until the sun really starts to go down.

“Huh, we should probably go now.” Akira said, yawning quietly into his hand, empty curry container long since knocked to the ground and head resting in Mishima's lap.

The boy had managed to gather up the courage to scratch lightly at Akira's scalp, delicate fingers sending shivers up and down the teens spine. He leaned into the touch, and Mishima relished the easy familiarity. It was everything he'd wanted so far, his hair as soft as cat's fur and his body a solid source of contentment. He could stay there, just in that spot, for a million years and never get bored.

“Do we have to? Can we just...stay like th-this, for a little while longer? I know it's n-not my place to ask, b-but…”

“No, hey, it's fine. I'm comfortable too. You know, you've got talented fingers. You play piano or something?” Akira asked, popping his back and rolling over onto his stomach to give Mishima more access.

“Hah?! Uhm, no! I...I’m on my computer a lot though. That's why they're so bony and stuff probably, I don't know. Thank you, though…” Mishima whispered, cheeks flushed. He's really quite grateful Akira had turned over.

“Computer whizz, huh? You should show me your mad skills sometime. I'm surprised though. Why would a computer genius like you sign up for something like volleyball?”

“What m-makes you think I'm a genius? I'm r-really not that great...but, uhm, to answer your question...it was mostly my parents decision. They wanted me to bring them honor, or...so-something. They were like a lot of parents, and ignored the problems, before you a-a-ask…” Mishima hummed, only pausing in his movements when Akira abruptly flipped over and frowned intensely at him.

“They ignored the abuse? What the fuck? Are you okay? Do they do anything bad to you?” He asked nearly all in one breath, concern heavy on his brow.

“N-No, it's fine, really! I can avoid them and all, I was j-just sharing, I'm sorry…” Mishima apologized, waving off Akira’s protests. He hadn't meant to worry the teen.

“Look...if they...just, if you need to get away, come to Leblanc in Yongen-Jaya, okay? I live there, and we can hang out until you're ready to go back.”

Mishima smiled softly, and continued to run his fingers through Akira's soft, soft hair. How sweet of him to worry, to want to take care of him. So considerate...so nice. He always attended to Mishima like he was genuinely important. It was enough to make tears build up in his eyes. At least he could write that off as the subject of his parents.

“Yeah, o-okay. Thanks, Akira-kun.”

“Anytime, Yuuki.”

Chapter Text

Arigama-san has lots of secrets, Mishima finds.

She's arrogant, egotistical, overdramatic, rich, and thinks of herself as somewhat of a star at their school. She owns an Instagram page dedicated to building up a possible modeling career, a private Facebook page for friends and family that wasn't too hard to get into and has three different email accounts, one from her child years, one for private emails and another for business. She has two younger brothers and divorced parents, her father remarrying and moving away when she was eight. By combing through her messages to people he's about 60% sure she's got daddy issues. She enjoys yoga and horses. She's sleeping with two guys from the volleyball team and some other guy in college. She had her eyes set on Kamoshida too, and she hates Takamaki-san enough to have bad mouthed her to small time modeling agencies she worked for.

It takes Mishima eight days to find all of it out, meticulously finding evidence of her behavior through emails and messages. On day six, he even gets lucky enough to find her sexting a fourth guy, and he adds it to the list.

On day nine, or more specifically, night nine, he slips out of the house with his bag and sets off for the school, dressed head to toe in black and entirely covered up in case of cameras.

His parents won't notice he's gone for hours, and even if they do, they probably won't even care, so at least he's gotten them out of his way. The fight they'd had sure turned out for the better in the long run, huh? It wasn't like he needed them anyway. He had Akira now.

He's surprised to find the front doors unlocked upon arriving, which just means he'll need to be extra careful. Theoretically it could be anyone. A janitor, a teacher, the principal, the class president, etc. Due to his classmates views of him, he'll probably be able to pass off his trespassing as wanting to get a few almost due work assignments done, and so long as they're gullible enough, he'll be fine. It's a bit nerve wracking, but, it's for Akira! If he just focuses on that, most of his panic melts away.

His footsteps are near silent as he heads towards the front bulletin board, eyes taking in the useless information booklets quickly. Most everyone focuses on the board first thing for new information, so if he just replaces it all with what he's gathered...bingo. Gossip spreads like wildfire after all.

He's quick to start pulling papers down and stuffing them into the nearest trash bin, material crinkling uncomfortably loud in the silent entryway. Whoever is in the building, he just hopes they aren't on the same floor as him.

Once that's done, he opens up his book bag, and gets to work. He's sure no one will notice the papers are wrong until the morning, after all, who's going to check?

He isn't entirely sure as to how people will react. From what he's gathered, the boys involved with her don't know she's sleeping around, so the chances of them taking it well are slim, at least. With everyone sympathizing with Takamaki-san, her continued hatred won't be taken well, and that'll be furthered by her hots for Kamoshida. In the morning, once everyone's seen, he'll send the photos to her college boytoy too, just in case she tries to run to him. She'll be trapped, hated, ridiculed, just like Akira had been.

Quietly, he laughs as he works, a joyful little grin stretching across his lips as he finishes everything up. He hopes his hard work hurts her, hopes it digs its claws into her skin and tears her open for everyone to see. She is a bully, and doesn’t deserve to be above all her classmates. If she isn't going to be taken down a peg by anyone else, then he'll just have to shove her down entirely and knock off her crown.

He's putting away his supplies when he hears voices speaking above him, fluctuating between angry and antagonistic to soft and pleading.

He knows he should just walk away, mission accomplished but...curiosity killed the cat.

Carefully, he zips up his bag and goes upstairs, edging around corners until he sees light spilling from the student council room. Even from the far end of the hallway he can hear them, the Principal and what he thinks is Niijima-san. They aren't exactly attempting to be quiet.

“Sir, I really don't think stalking this student is a good idea. What if I'm wrong about him? We could both be in legal trouble. We aren't the police, and this isn't under our jurisdiction. “

Mishima pauses, raising an eyebrow. Was there some sort of criminal in school or something? Maybe they'd caught onto some kids taking drugs?

“Now listen here, young lady. You've been keeping an eye on this...Kurusu boy since Kamoshida, and now that he's taken up with yet another unlikely child, that pupil of some famous artist, you said so yourself that he's even more suspicious. Do you really want to back down now when you're sure you're right? And I had such high hopes for you…”

Kurusu. Akira? Niijima has been watching Akira for so long? That alone makes him feel kind of...wrong. There's something burning in his chest, something like fire threatening to consume him. His hands clench and he grits his teeth. They must be investigating the Phantom Thieves, that's all, otherwise the Principal wouldn't be talking to her about it. He doubt's she's interested in Akira in the long run. Right?

“I...alright, sir. I'll follow him around for a bit. I'm not...I'm not doing anything more though. Even this feels like too much.”

“Good, good! I'm glad you've come around. You'll be a great woman one day with that drive, just like your sister! You should be on your way now, my dear, it's getting rather late. I'll walk you out.”

Mishima ducks into a classroom as they leave the room, shutting off the lights and making their way downstairs. When he doesn't hear them say anything, he knows he's right about the bulletin board. But…

Akira…

His heart hammers uncomfortably, breath coming fast and hard. He wants to...he wants to hurt her for this. For trying to stop Akira, for watching him like...like she has the right to! Only he can do that, right?! He's always had Akira’s best interests in mind! Only HE has tried to keep Akira safe, only HE has worked so hard to make Akira happy! And she thinks she can make him uncomfortable, can accuse him and follow him?! What if she tries to separate Akira from his friends, to get him to confess? She'll be pushing Akira away from Mishima too.

He bites his lip hard enough to make it bleed, a bitter coppery taste registering in his mouth, and throws a container across the room out of rage, the clatter not doing anything to satisfy his violent urge.

Well.

He'll just have to get rid of her before that then, won't he?

Chapter Text

As expected, the bulletin board causes an uproar immediately.

Students are shoving and whispering and yelling, a few laugh mockingly at printed snapshots of her texts, others look on in disgust, a few worryingly check for the boys she slept with, as if concerned for their wellbeing.

He's glad to see his assorted posts haven't gotten taken down yet. His work isn't shoddy, all things considered. He's kind of proud of himself. Just a little.

When Arigama steps into school just a few minutes after Mishima had arrived, with him immediately having sat back to enjoy the show, a bounce to her feet, the crowd goes quiet, all eyes on her. Even the teachers who have tried and tried to rush them off to class seem to pause.

“W-What? Well, what are you all looking at?!” She asks, cheeks slightly pink from embarrassment as her peers stare and stare, beady eyes judgmental, harsh and mocking and entirely unsympathetic. One boy steps forward and points to the board, which she reads with growing horror, face draining of color, before letting out a horrible shriek. It's overdramatic, but the crowd is clearly eating it up.

From where he stands beside Akira, tucked against the oddly amused boys side, Mishima hides a smile behind his phone and presses a little bit closer, watching as his messages to the college student finally send. He has to deal with Niijima now, sure, but he can enjoy this victory.

And if it's made Akira happy, well, that's certainly all he needs to know he's done well.

~°~

“God, and she started crying and begging her friends to talk to her, it was FANTASTIC! Honestly, I think she got what she deserved. Wonder who found all that stuff out on her though.” Akira hummed, a smile on his face as he stuck his spoon into his mouth, legs dangling over the edge of the roof.

Mishima giggled softly into his carton of milk, watching happily as the other boy dramatically narrated what he'd seen when Mishima wasn't around. Seeing how happy his work had made Akira momentarily let him forget his newfound hatred for the student council president.

“Ah, who knows? Probably some other boy she's wronged, I g-guess.” He replied, leaning further against Akira's side, all but melting when the other moved so he rested more comfortably. They'd gotten much closer over the time it took for Mishima to gather everything he needed for his little show.

He won't admit though, that he feels like he needs more. What else is there to give? He'd never push for Akira to enter a relationship with him!

Of course, he wouldn't stand for anyone else doing it either. Is anyone truly worthy of Akira, aside from himself? His little friends only try to keep them apart. Mishima knows Akira talks to older women, helps them with their problems, but he isn't too worried about them. After all, one misstep from them and it won't be too hard to expose their inappropriate feelings for a minor. His friends will be harder to deal with if it comes to that. Still, Akira seems happy to be single, and so long as it stays that way, everything's fine!

Mishima looks up at Akira, every bit of adoration plain to see on his face and swears they'll never part. He won't let anything keep him away from his hero, his best friend, no matter what it takes.

He'll eliminate anyone who tries.

~°~

Niijima begins to follow Akira after school, talking to people he interacts with, getting updates from teachers.

She's not subtle, and more than once Akira confronts her, but of course, it doesn't do anything.

“I don't know, it's not the following I've got a problem with, it's that she's so accusatory. Like, yeah, okay, it's kinda suspicious I'm friends with another victim of the Thieves targets, but she's got no evidence and she acts like a raging bitch about it! Then, when someone snaps at her, SUDDENLY she's all like, ‘Boohoo, why is everyone so mean to me?’! Hey, maybe, it's cause you're being a dick!”

And then, of course, there's how it's affecting Akira.

He's clearly tense, hands balled into fists, teeth clenched and eyes a little wild, like an animal backed into a corner. That's technically what he is.

And ‘Oh’, Mishima thinks, watching as Akira goes off on another tangent, ‘I want to kill her.’

It's another startingly thought. He's never wanted to do something so horrible to another person, but he can feel something nasty in his chest every time he sees her get close to Akira, her doe eyes pleading for him to understand. She's backed into a corner by the Principal, but that isn't enough to deter his jealous rage. It doesn't even matter. She's not being forced, she's just a spineless brat who has a perfect life but can't appreciate any of it, always has to have more. She probably wants Akira too, wants to join their group and cling to Akira's arm, giggle and twirl her hair and make him love her.

He'll wrap his hands around her throat and drag her down before he let's that happen.

Niijima will regret ever laying her filthy eyes on Akira, that much, he can guarantee.

Akira's frustration and anger towards her fuels that fire. Maybe he'd be grateful if he got rid of her.

Maybe.

~°~

“Ah, excuse me, Mishima-san, please wait a moment! I need to speak with you!”

Of course!

Mishima just barely holds in a groan of frustration. Of course she'd corner him.

He turns on his heel, and her steps pause for just a moment, as if she's seen something on his face she wasn't expecting to find. Distaste, probably. He's always been viewed as a docile thing. Usually, that'd be right.

He wonders if he's faster than her.

“Ahem, uhm, right…I just have a few questions to ask you, I hope you don't mind.” She says, her fingers flipping through her notepad, idly tapping her pen against her delicate, breakable wrist.

“Is this going to take long? I have somewhere to be.” He complains, voice firm, steady, the entire opposite of both himself, and what he's feeling. It's like there's a sandstorm raging in his ribs and it burns, flecks of dust getting into things it shouldn't every time he sees her.

“Bad day today, huh? Don't worry, I won't take up too much of your time. It's just...well, I've noticed you're rather close to Akira Kurusu, one of your classmates.” She states all matter-of-fact.

“Yes, and?”

She has a frown playing on her lips, as if his change of attitude is worrying more than shocking. God only knows what stupid theories she's come up with.

“And I'd like to know more about him.”

At this, he openly scowls, and her relaxed stance changes.

“You wanna know more about him, ask HIM, instead of following him and cornering his friends, Ms.Student Council President. You should know better.” He berates her, and there's a deep, satisfying rush of success in his chest at the look of pure shock on her face. He's won this round, but as she hardens and looks ready to chew his ear out, he knows it isn't the end. He'll get rid of her one way or another. He just has to figure out what that way is. What could perfect little Niijima have shoved into her closet?

“Excuse you? Do you have a problem with me? And what are these accusations you're throwing around?” Her voice is sharp, icey, and he wonders, briefly, if she thinks it'll intimidate him. Once, it would have. Now, though, he can't seem to find the will to care. Not even a flinch. He feels cold, empty, dead, hollow.

He feels threatened.

“Funny, you mentioning throwing around accusations. You're supposedly smart, right? I hope you see the irony.” He says, and her hands clench, her nails dig into her notepad. She's oddly more sensitive than he initially thought.

At least that works out for him, in the long run. How far can he push her? Can he run her off? Can he make her be just like Takamaki-san’s little friend?

She says, stiffly, “I can see I'll be getting nothing out of you. Thank you for your time.”

He notes, distantly, that she walks away, but he's lost in thought, doesn't see when she makes a detour towards Akira and doesn't care to notice either.

He wonders, ‘How much can I hurt her before she breaks?’

It'll be interesting to find out.

~°~

Following Akira has more than the face value perks, he finds.

There wasn't...necessarily a clear picture of when he began doing it. It wasn't hurting anyone, not like how Niijima did it, right? Akira either didn't notice, or didn't mind, so it was...fine. Sometimes, there's a part of him, in the very back of his mind that says it's bad, it's gross, he needs to stop, but that part is dead, dying, and doesn't matter.

He follows him home, to work, to the red light district and beyond. Framing Akira in the pretty pink lights of the area quickly becomes his favorite hobby, and his gallery fills up with Akira, Akira, Akira.

Sometimes, though, Akira walks with friends.

Those days aren't as good, but he can handle them relatively well.

Today, however, much to his chagrin, is not an Akira day at all. Of course, he'd be far more content to situate himself somewhere and observe his dearest best friend, but Niijima takes some amount of priority.

He isn't foolish enough to believe he can drag her down physically. He's weak and thin and clumsy, with gangly limbs and cheeks still sporting baby fat he'll probably never burn off. She has the body and demeanor of a fighter, like Akira, but less refined, more wild. Just another thing the two have in common.

He really wishes she simply didn't exist, right about now.

Either way, he isn't fit for a fight.

Information gathering, however…

His eyes rise from his laptop in his lap just as the short haired teen exits some CD shop, her brow furrowed as she taps away at her phone. It'd be beneficial to retrieve the item, but perhaps, also a hassle that simply isn't worth the risk it poses.

He's already gently rising from his seat at a bench along the sidewalk, laptop carefully tucked away in his bag before she sets off towards a side alley, phone clutched tightly in balled fists. Intriguing. In all of the three days he's followed her, she's not changed up her routine much. Really, she's terribly, inconceivably boring. She doesn't even seem to have any friends TO meet, so why she keeps going to hang out spots is a mystery to him.

His pace is measured as he approaches the corner that leads into the alley, but he doesn't actually go past or peek. Instead, he settles against the wall beside the entrance, pulls out his phone, taps record, and waits.

His thin patience wins him something, for once.

“Hey, sis.” Niijima says, quiet, subdued in the damp darkness the space gives. He wonders if she uses that voice with Akira.

“Makoto. I'll be late for dinner tonight, I’m being swamped with overtime.” A voice, oddly loud even on speakerphone, drifts to him. Sis...Sae Niijima then. Impossible to target, but fun to entertain the idea of using her to get to the younger sister nonetheless.

“I...again, really? F-Fine.” Niijima agrees, and he imagines she's frowning right now, even if he can't outright see it, he can remember how it looks with a muted sense of glee. Neglect issues? Abandonment issues, maybe.

Elder Niijima sighs, exasperated, and he's immediately on alert, breath catching slightly in his throat. That's the sound of someone who's about to say something she doesn't want the wrong people to hear. That's the sound of his golden ticket.

“Look, I know it's hard having to take care of yourself, especially since dad died, but I need this job to provide for the both of us, so don't start acting ungrateful unless you don't want a roof over your head.” The woman snaps, almost childishly, really, tired and aching and so clearly fed up.

Niijima sucks in a sharp breath, voice strained with frustration and disappointment as she hisses, “Well I'm sorry for wanting to spend some time with you for once, then.”

From the way the older woman grows from annoyed to cold so easily, Mishima thinks it's safe to assume it's a common enough occurrence. Child negligence, or perhaps verbal and emotional abuse, naughty naughty, Ms.Niijima.

She says, “Perhaps if you used that energy to study more instead of using it to worry about such stupid things like me being around then you wouldn't need this extra help from the Principal! You don't want to be a disappointment, then work harder! I have to get back to work, try not to get into any trouble, please, it's the last thing I need.”

There's a click, and a choked gasp of sadness from beyond his eyeline. It hardly matters. He’s gotten what he needs.

Akira has enough to worry about at the moment, he thinks, so he'll just nip this problem in the bud for him.

Mishima absolutely beams, and sets off to get to work once more.

Chapter Text

Niijima isn't necessarily a tough nut to crack, but prior family history shows that he can't afford to underestimate her.

What he has now is hardly going to force her off course, really. It'll take more. Maybe a lot more.

It'd be easier, if he had time, but he can't afford to wait around, not when she can get her hands on Akira, on his hero, on his bestfriendherobeloved, his...his everything.

His fingers still atop his laptop, a frown playing at his lips.

Akira truly is all he has, now. What ever happened to his goals and aspirations? It's simply as if they've vanished, swept away by the all consuming tide.

He thinks of going to college, of meeting a nice girl, settling down and having a kid, but all that comes to mind is the way Akira gazes at him when he thinks no one's watching, the look that promises something more, or the way his hand sometimes rests idle against his hips for all to see.

He tries to think about going to college but all he finds is Akira, and the momentary feeling of something being horribly wrong passes like it wasn't even there to begin with.

~°~

Akira is a steady but tense presence at his side as they enter the building.

Already, Mishima notes, Niijima has taken up her job as a watchdog and idles by the now cleared up bulletin board, her eyes tracking the pair instead of absorbing any booklet information.

As their eyes meet, he scowls, and tugs Akira away, unaware of her dark and, perhaps, concerned expression.

He knows, from the way Akira huffs, that he has seen her too, and they press all the more closer together, her eyes staring holes into them. He wonders what she hopes to find.

The silence between them is suffocating like it never has been before, and it's all her fault, isn't it? If she'd just stayed away, everything would be fine.

Maybe distracting her or ruining her reputation isn't permanent enough.

Maybe he'll have to do something more.

Maybe.

~°~

He says to Akira, “Niijima has been getting extra help from the Principal because she's been lacking on her studies, apparently. M-Maybe if she would stop bothering you, that wouldn't happen.”

Akira scoffs, bitter amusement, his fingers tightening their grip on the back of his neck before relaxing and soothing the skin in apology.

“Oh, I'm sure Ann would love to hear that!” He replies, sardonic.

Mishima smiles, and leans into the hold.

~°~

Takamaki is delighted to hear of it, true enough, and is even more excited to spread it around, sparking more rumors than before, until, as history would have it, it's off like wildfire.

Niijima isn't well liked enough as it is, and the teens find joy in poking fun at her when they can. It works out for him, really. Takamaki is a bit of a threat with those long blonde locks and pretty eyes, but at least she has her uses. He hopes, at least, that it stays that way. And well, if it doesn't, he knows now just who to go for to hurt her, doesn't he?

What good luck!

~°~

Niijima cries in front of Akira after he hears her in an empty classroom, the stress and pressure from all sides getting to her.

She says, afterwards, when he's brought her to his chest awkwardly in a mockery of comfort, “Mishima doesn't look at you right. I thought you should be warned. Maybe it’s him I should be watching, and not you.”

Akira is thoughtful, and silent.

~°~

By the end of the day, Mishima fully expects Niijima to look rugged, down and unsettled, with an upset expression on that bland, boring face of hers.

Instead, he watches her lean against a slightly uncomfortable but tolerant Akira, her smile radiant despite her red eyes. She is happy and beaming and bright at his side, fits into him like a puzzle piece where MISHIMA should be, where he has ALWAYS been.

He hates her, he hates her, he hates her, he hates her he hates her he hates her he hates her he hates her he hates her he hates her he hates her he hates her he hates her

They part ways at the end of the concrete steps, Akira lighting up like a Christmas tree when he spots Mishima waiting. An arm over his shoulder, a casual, friendly smile and nudge to start walking.

He hates

He hates

He hates him.

Akira is a disease, he thinks, with dull (tired, dead, glazed) eyes. He has loved Akira so frightfully, so why does that girl get to take his spot, even for a moment? Why isn't he good enough?

Akira jokes and talks and watches and frowns and worries but Mishima is gone and silent and angry. The other parts reluctantly, concern tight on his face, but he doesn't have the right. How dare he touch her and expect Mishima to be okay after seeing it? He goes from hating her to being her best friend so quickly. Mishima wants to be his everything, just as Akira has become as such to him! Why should he share such space with her?!

He can't, he won't, he refuses. He'll get rid of her, and then maybe Akira will see he needs no one else.

Right?

Right?

Right?

Right?!

Right

Right

Right

~°~

“Sis, can you...can you look up someone for me?”

“Why? Is something wrong, Makoto?”

“It's just...there's this kid, at school. He's been acting...strange, with a boy I know. Following him. Maybe I'm looking too into it but I think he's got something wrong, he won't talk to me, anyway, I know. I think I should watch and gather more information before taking it to the authorities if need be, though. Please?”

“I...alright. Just be careful if you think he's dangerous. What's his name?”

“Yuuki Mishima.”

“And does the potential victim know?”

“I warned him today. I'll keep him updated, he seemed worried about it when I mentioned it.”

“Good. Be safe, Makoto.”

“I will, sis. Don't worry.”

~°~

Right.

Chapter Text

Makoto Niijima is a clever girl, especially for someone her age.

Even at the tender age of six she'd been smarter than most of her peers, able to learn her words and numbers far faster than average, a certified genius in the family. Her father had been so proud. So had her sister.

That had changed when he'd died, and her sister became closed off and cold. Still, she was family, and that was important to Makoto, so she would persevere.

Even in the face of mockery and hatred from her classmates.

She holds her head high as she walks the long halls to her homeroom, and though the barely concealed whispers bother her, Kurusu’s steady presence at her side is enough to stop her from drowning.

He is oddly attractive, and not in a romantic nor sexual way, though she is not blind, and she can see the appeal. He's like a magnet, she notes, distantly, as he leaves her at the door to the classroom and makes something foreign ache in her chest at their parting. It is strange, but not overall unwelcome. You don't want him to leave your side, once you've gotten attached, even if in such a short amount of time.

In a way, she can see why Mishima became so utterly infatuated. Not that it excuses his behavior, but still…

Speaking of whom, she had seen only once, looking rather out of it while walking into school.

It had been obvious Kurusu longed to go to him, but a firm hand on his arm had stopped him from doing so. The boy wasn't right, was sick maybe, and fueling the...obsession, perhaps, was a bad idea. Separation might do them well, after all. The boy hadn't even glanced at them while walking. Maybe she'd even been wrong, though the likelihood of that was very low.

There's something wrong with Mishima, she thinks.

Like a disease, just being close to him had made her feel sick, uneasy, like a prey animal around a hungry wolf. Sometimes she got that same feeling with Kurusu, but with what she knows, she's pretty sure there's a different reason for that.

He looks sick too, all pale skin, thin limbs and blue veins that you can trace all along his exposed body. In a way, it's pretty, but mostly it just makes her stomach twist in revulsion. He doesn't seem to even take care of himself, to her anyway. She can remember him before Kurusu. Bright, beaming, bruised but healthy most of the time. A normal, growing teen. Now he's a husk of a person. It's scary, what obsession can do to someone. What Kurusu has done, if indirectly.

Now he sits idle and unmoving, quiet and lost. But she feels very, very uneasy over it.

She just isn't sure why.

~°~

Kurusu is…

Kind.

Compassionate.

Warm.

Loving.

He's like curling up in front of a heater in your pajamas during winter and watching the snowflakes out the window.

He's a freshly washed blanket or a cozy nap after a shower, the warmth of the sun during a chilly autumn day and the feeling of a hot bath sinking into your bones.

Inviting.

Enticing.

Unnaturally so, but even still, she doesn't object to the way he throws an arm around her shoulders and insists she use his lap to rest her head when they're in the park.

She's not had a friend that's cared so much about her and her comfort in awhile. He'd forgiven her for her actions, and though he doubts how founded her worries for Mishima are, he listens to her despite this, leaving her flustered and embarrassed at his depth of trust.

Still.

It's a little off putting, how quickly she's come to care about him, how deep her affection runs in such a short amount of time. Perhaps it's only a taste of what Mishima feels. It feels wrong, sometimes, in the quieter moments.

But.

 

It's probably nothing.

~°~

She watches Mishima, and waits.

It's a tedious task, all work and no play. Kurusu won't join her, says it makes him uncomfortable which, well, fair. She yearns for his company on the slower days. Which is nearly every day, now. Mishima just...doesn't do anything, anymore. School. Then home. School. Then home. She can't exactly enter his house, no matter what excuse she might find. He isn't fond of her, nor even neutral, so it'd hardly go over well.

She gets her break on a Monday while Kurusu runs off with some Kosei student claiming they're going on an ‘art study’.

Mishima, for once, follows.

He's good at it too, which speaks of experience, and makes her feel...uncomfortable. She worries, briefly, for Kurusu’s safety, but Mishima isn't physically violent, not yet.

Not yet.

She wonders if she'll be able to stop him before that no longer applies.

~°~

He gets the occasional photo while tailing them, but he seems almost...despondent. Less time from his obsession might have negative effects, anyway, Makoto supposes.

She gets photos of it of course, videos and records from people and anything he leaves behind as evidence that he'd been there. In a way, she feels like she's going overboard. Is a police confrontation really what he needs? He's sick, clearly, delusional. He deserves something better than this, or the boy from before does, before the stalking and the anger and the obsession. It feels almost like it won't help. She wavers, hesitates, then stamps down on her conviction.

To keep Kurusu safe, she'll do what she needs to.

~°~

She shows Kurusu her report, her clues, and his face goes through an almost alarming array of emotions.

Surprise. Concern. Fear. Realization. Then, finally, determination.

He looks at her and she sees the face of a teen who's aware, suddenly, of what exactly he needs to do.

Somehow, it doesn't quite reassure her.

~°~

It's decided (in her own mind) that she'll need a confession for anything concrete to stick. She has a strange, itching urge to act under her skin, like nails digging into her and burrowing under her veins and muscles. One evident case of stalking isn't enough to jump start the police force, it's common knowledge. But a confession? That's as good as signing a contract.

So, while her sister sleeps off a caffeine crash from overworking herself yet again from pulling an all-nighter, Makoto snatches up her phone and backpack, writes a bullshit excuse about an impromptu council meeting after school, and takes off.

She's fidgety all throughout the day, her thoughts heavy and panic flitting on the edge of her mind even as Kurusu rubs her back comfortingly. Her plan is shoddy at best and dangerous at worst. There's no guarantee Mishima isn't violent or entirely prepared to be.

But still, this needs to happen, and soon. Even if she gets injured in the process, it'll be worth it.

The route to Mishima's home is a familiar one now, as is every darker corner and alley along the way. She knows he's desperate, cold but on edge. All she has to do is push a little more, and he'll crack.

It's about halfway there that he seems to pick up on her presence following him, from the way his shoulders tense and he pauses, for just a second, like a predator catching something on the wind. It doesn't exactly reassure that her role as the prey in this scenario is obvious.

They keep walking, steps quiet and bodies warm under the afternoon sun, until he sidesteps into a darkened side street and disappears, kickstarting her heart abruptly when she reaches the area and is yanked sideways, stumbling into a dumpster when the hand on her arm suddenly releases her.

In the lowlight, as her eyes adjust, she sees him, seething, nearly spitting mad, hands clenched and teeth grinding.

With one hand still in her hoodie, she clicks record.

“Mishima-san...I assume there's a reason you pulled me in here?” She asks, prodding just a little.

“You're following me! You probably have been for aw-” He starts, but she's quick to cut him off with his accusations.

“Just like you've been following Akira Kurusu? Or should I say stalking? A far more accurate term in your case.”

His face scrunches up with confusion, though she isn't entirely sure why. “I'm keeping him safe, not stalking him!”

“Safe? That's a dangerous level of dependency, Mishima-san. And you've been taking pictures too. Maybe that's how you justify it, but stalking is stalking, and is still illegal no matter how you cut it.” She lays it out, calm and concise despite her rabbit heart. Thank you, hard ass sister.

His fingers slide through his hair, yanking at the strands a little, pushing her self preservation instincts just a bit. She's still not sure he'll get violent, but the fear is there nonetheless. Clearly, he isn't stable, and that state is rapidly deteriorating. Perhaps her rash plan is truly justified after all, then…

“No, no, no...you know. He...H-He knows?” The boy asks, shoulders hunching in, almost timid in his submission.

Abruptly, she finds that what she feels is pity for the teen.

“Yes, Mishima-san. Kurusu-kun knows.” Her voice is softer, but it does nothing to soothe him.

He takes a deep, desperate gasp of air, and keens, eyes watering, shocking her into stillness as his back hits the brick of the building beside them. It's simply as if he doesn't even know she's there anymore.

She was prepared for anger, for violence, for something cold or sinister, not...grief.

“The r-reason he left m-m-me...he must hate m-me! Disgusting! Pathetic, useless, I-I thought I'd done something w-wrong when protecting him! Why...I've d-done everything right…” He whispers to himself, and quietly, she slips away, feeling like a coward all the while. It's like he's an entirely different person. It felt like he didn’t deserve to be alone, but she knows she is not wanted.

It's just, strange, ironic in a morbid sort of way.

He was so afraid of losing his anchor, that he ended up doing exactly what it took for that to happen.

She bites her lip and thinks about family and love and reconciliation as she makes her way home.

~°~

She makes a detour for Akira, instead, out of some strange, content urge to see him, and out of obligation, a sense of duty.

He hears the audio and his face kind of...changes, for just a moment, just a small, tiny moment. A longing. A fear of loss. A desperation for Mishima to change his heart, but then she is locked out and the key is thrown away and she wonders, briefly, as he tells her they'll go to the police the very next Monday, just three days away, what it was he planned to do, what that determination earlier meant. They could go right now. They could get it all over with, give Mishima less time to do something. But he's stalling, and she has a feeling the side of Akira that's making these plans is the side she feels like she shouldn't be around, that lingering sharpness.

And then she thinks, ‘change his heart’, and goes still.

Surely not?

No, she thinks, gathering up everything.

No, she's just being ridiculous.

Chapter Text

Mementos is a fascinating concept if you think about it.

A beating, collective conscious created by every human being in the area, possibly in all of Japan, maybe even more, that's filled with a persons other self and can be affected by weather, seasons, what have you. Palaces are even more interesting, though Akira hardly has the time to do in depth analyses of them when his teammates only care about the finish line. He's always somewhat begrudged such thought. To think of all the secrets they could find in such places, so deep in a world representing the metaphysical mind of another person. But all they want is for it to be over. Sad, but he can deal with it.

At least he can get a chance to study mementos. With Morgana suitably far more fond of Ann and passed off to her, Akira finds his days and nights much more open for activities, so if he wants to spend three nights in a row combing through the dreary public palace, he can. Usually he spends his free time, now, anyway, speaking with Makoto but, well…

This is far more important.

Faint echoes of noise reach his ears, and even his captured persona buzz warily in his heart, no doubt able to sense the danger he's placed himself in by walking. Still, it suits his purpose. Morgana would want to bring everyone if he was approached with Akira’s plan, but this is a personal matter to him, too much for the others eyes.

His steps are quiet as he glides down long stretches of tracks, the faint scent of sulphur enough to stir his stomach, but not outright make him sick. It's an unpleasant journey through and through, but a necessary one.

Idly, his fingers trace his tucked away dagger, Faustine stirring deep in his chest, hidden and terrible like always. He has no desire to send her out, for all the power that her porcelain body holds. She is a thing of enticement and possession, far less preferable to Narcissus or Dominion, but in the deep reaches of the wicked palace, he knows he will have little choice. At least his companions are not there to shy away from him upon gazing at her unsettling form.

Then, faintly, he hears a soft noise, growing in strength until around a bend comes a shadow.

All at once his own awakened persona coos, and he can imagine what her empty and dead face might shift to in her excitement.

With a rather put upon sigh, he meets the inky creature in battle, and sends Faustine out without a sound, her joyful laugh ringing in his ears.

~°~

“Akira?”

“Hm?”

“What does your persona signify? I've never heard of any mythology with the name Faustine in it.”

“...well, I'm not quite sure. She is kind of creepy though, so maybe it's best we don't know.”

“But aren't you curious?”

“No, not really. Why?”

“Because she's so...well, you know! Our personas are a representation of our true selves!”

“And?”

“Don't you wonder why yours is so disturbing?”

~°~

The lower depths of mementos, or as low as they've reached anyway, is perhaps even more gross than Kamoshida’s sweaty palace.

The unnatural wind that blows through nonsensical tunnels carries the stench of rot and death, as if he'd found a half decayed rat in an enclosed space and now the smell has been let free. It clogs his throat and chokes his lungs, but even so he keeps moving, barely pausing to dispatch the occasional mass of goo.

He has a target, after all.

The telltale signs of a more strengthened shadow hums in his ears, but the tunnels are long and complicated, and far more harder to navigate on foot. Perhaps one of Morgana’s only uses, then.

More than once he backtracks, only to get even further lost. Despite this, no rippling fear of rattling chains makes itself known. He is calm and still and silent.

Faustine is not.

~°~

He can remember when Faustine had called to him by sheer horror alone.

He had been overcome with hatred, anger at the unfairness of it all, blind to anything but his rage. Ryuji was in danger, desperate and terrified to get away, and Akira was entirely useless. He had no way of helping him.

And then he had started to choke.

At first it was a strange, rising sensation in his stomach. An odd feeling of being jabbed near his more vital organs. A tickle at the back of his throat. Then, something began to crawl.

Up and up it went in his throat until he could feel it pressing his tongue down.

A hand.

It was a hand.

A thin, child-like hand of a marionette took hold of his chin and pushed, allowing a second one to surface, and with the combined efforts, the creature forced itself out of his body.

His throat ached, his stomach turned, and yet as its neck cracked and swiveled on its axis to look upon him with those soulless, empty sockets, he found himself rooted to the ground in fear, for he gazed not upon a monster born of the mad world they'd stumbled onto.

No, he gazed upon a part of himself he'd locked away for so very long.

“I am thou, thou art I. I think it's about time you let your true self breathe a little.” It spoke, though it had no tongue.

His eyes, changed yet the same in all the ways that mattered, landed on the knights of the world, and he signed his contract.

“Eviscerate them, Faustine.”

And so she did.

~°~

The others don't like seeing her.

Faustine creaks and twitches like her body isn't meant to hold her, a puppet pulled by an unknown source. Sometimes she stands stock still beside him when he summons her and rains hellfire upon his enemies.

Other times her limbs crack and twist until she's a crawling, mangled monster ripped straight from some poor sods nightmares.

Those are the times when he feels particularly vindictive.

Still, he doesn't use her as often as they'd both no doubt like. Though it takes a toll on his body to wield her strange powers, she ends battles quicker than even Narcissus, for all the strength the beauty possesses.

He thinks that the sight of her reminds his teammates that he is dangerous in a way that means something, the reason he's the leader without a vote or consensus. He can make the hard decisions others can not, and stick to them in the face of scrutiny.

Perhaps, he thinks, feet quick as he bounds down another tunnel towards a swirling rift in the monotony, that is why he has to do this.

~°~

Can Yuu-chan feel what he's about to do somehow? Has he predicted it?

Akira knows he's hurt the other in a way he never meant to, but it's necessary, he tells himself so as often as he can.

Has Makoto figured it out? She's a smart one, almost dangerously so, maybe. She'd be an asset to the Phantom Thieves, even, were she less self-absorbed.

It's a thing he can't take back, a milestone maybe, an overwritten save. He can't reload, or restart. If he does this, everything will change.

He only hopes Yuu-chan can forgive him.

~°~

Shadows aren't people.

Not really.

They act like it. They manifest into personas, which are far more human in his eyes than their...counterparts. They look human, too, until attacked. But they aren't people. They lurk in the dark recesses of mementos, a personification of the darker sides of someone, and they pretend. If Akira has only smidgens of empathy for people, then for shadows, he has only disdain.

They watch him as he goes, silent and unnatural, and he ponders on why they even bother pretending to be something that they aren't.

Though it isn't as if he does not see the irony in that.

~°~

The vortex he jumps into makes him queasy, even when sheltered inside of Morgana’s transformed state.

It's even worse unprotected.

He stumbles, unable to catch himself, and falls once the rip in the tunnel spits him out, leaving him to awkwardly get up on his own.

Ahead of him, the shadow, the target, stands up right, and he reminds himself that it isn't a person. It isn't the real thing.

Even now, as he walks closer and sees it smile warmly at him, he hates it. Too pale skin, sunken yellow eyes, a mouth that never properly moves with it's words, a chest that doesn't rise and fall with breath. There's so many signs that tell you it's not right. You just have to look.

The creature pushes into him, as if he doesn't spell danger, as if he doesn't look at it like he only desires to have it gone. It shows him trust, and isn't that the worst of it all. It's human counterpart must like him.

The thought makes him feel sick, briefly.

“Akira.” It says, all soft and warm, deceiving.

His mouth tightens, and he doesn't answer, even as it steps closer, and closer.

With his hand on his dagger and Faustine thrashing in his chest, he thinks about the consequences of today.

The other Thieves, they'll figure it out. Yuu-chan might just hate him. The case building against Yuu-chan might not be dropped, and then what will he do? (Trick question. He already knows the answer to that one.)

It's not a normal Thieves mission, for lots of reasons. He has no backup, no quick plan to get out, no way to escape if it goes bottoms up.

The fake presses into his chest, finally, arms wrapping around his middle, and he thinks about the way Yuu-chan laughs, the way he squirms and blushes when Akira wraps his arms around him, just like this.

He smiles, privately, just to himself. Conviction firm.

As his dagger slides into the shadows spine, it looks at him, and Makoto Niijima’s face stares back.

Chapter Text

It isn't the first time he's killed someone, but it is the first time he's been in a pinch because of it.

Akira can remember the gush of blood over his hands the very first time he'd taken a knife to someone. He'd thrown up twice and had to bury it under piles of dirt. Then he'd stripped, burned his clothes, cut up the body, and thrown it into a lake, deep in the woods near the shrine of his hometown. It'd been curiosity, mostly, at the time. He was homeless, faceless, nameless. He wouldn't be missed. He'd felt satisfied by the end of it.

Now, as he stares, blank faced at the news report of Makoto’s death, he feels...nothing.

It was just another mission, another chore, another mess to clean up. He should have been more careful, guiding Yuu-chan. If the boy had been caught, he isn't sure he wouldn't have had a meltdown. But now she's dead, and for the most part, Yuu-chan is safe. He'll have to find where she's stashed the evidence, and in case she's told her sister, he might have to dip into the metaverse once more. For now, though, there is no evidence of foul play. How could there be, anyway? The only thing there to have seen his actions is Faustine, and she'd only crooned in delight at his side.

Witnesses say they saw her throw herself from the school rooftop, amusingly similar to Ann’s little friend. Unlike Shiho, however, Makoto didn't survive. Her neck hit something on the way down. Snapped. Dead. Tragic suicide of yet another overwhelmed high schooler. The more likely case is she'd simply been up there by chance when the strange effects of losing her shadow had occurred and she'd just...fallen.

He sips his coffee and contemplates how thick of an act he'll need to put on for his peers.

~°~

It's a little strange, how people come up to him and give him their condolences like he knew them, like he cares. They don't know that not even seventy two hours ago he plunged his dagger into the metaphorical back of Makoto. Now she's dead and he's to be the grieving friend, probably rumored boyfriend.

It has its own irony to it, he supposes, and reminds himself, tiredly, that red eyes will go a long way.

Just another chore.

~°~

Yuu-chan twitches uncomfortably when Akira slides into his once usual seat, like he's a stranger.

Akira hopes Makoto suffered before she died.

“You okay?” He asks, that look of grief still etched onto his face. It's an annoyance. It's not hard to fake pity or empathy or affection. Grief is more raw, he's found. He doesn't even like having to act with Yuu-chan, anyway. Not that he'll need to do it as often, soon.

Makoto just can't seem to stop disrupting his life, even as she rots.

“She told me you knew about...e-e-everything. Are you going to make fun of m-me?” Yuuki asks instead of replying. Voice flat. Closed off.

Akira smiles tightly and grips the soft skin of the younger teens wrist just in case he thinks of getting up and, god forbid, LEAVING him.

As if he'd ever let that happen.

“It's strange that she jumped. She was happy when I last saw her.” He says, simply, tugging Yuuki up, out of their seats and along, away from the others, away from prying ears. All to himself. (The way it should be.)

The atmosphere is muted and quiet and even the teachers seem to mourn. But just a few days ago they laughed behind her back. Sometimes he wonders if he's really the actor when he's among his classmates. They do it so beautifully, like it’s a profession, after all.

Even now, Yuuki doesn't struggle, despite the far-away anger settling in his eyes. It stings, knowing that it's directed at him, for once, but Yuu-chan can rage and scream all he wants, so long as Akira always has a grasp on him. It's even kind of cute, really…

Though happiness suits the other far more, in any case.

“That doesn’t answer m-my question.” He murmurs, shoulders rising as they get further away from the clustered groups of teenagers. Class is out and their homeroom is empty. It probably feels like a trap to the other. But that's just kind of funny, because Yuuki has already fallen into one, hasn't he?

Akira pauses, then, turns to face his...well. His. What is Yuu-chan to him? Beloved. Best friend. Soulmate? Pet? Doll? There's a sense of ownership hanging over their relationship, at least. Yuuki is his. He's trapped in a room with a starving beast and he doesn't even know it, how could he? Yuuki is naive and small and new, so very new to this tide of love, it pulls him in and drowns him and he can never see the bigger picture, so Akira has to do that for him.

He says, “It's like she was a different person. Like she had a change of heart.”

Yuuki goes still, and even the soft noises from the hall seem to fade away.

“It wasn't a suicide, or an accident, was it?” He asks, and Akira smiles.

His Yuu-chan always was a smart one.