BleachedLightning: Dude, where the f are you?
BleachedLightning: You said we were getting ramen after class
BleachedLightning: and its after class
Ryuji locks his phone and grumbles to himself, scanning the rapidly-thinning crowd of students in the hallway where they usually meet after class. Akira’s been busy lately, even besides their Thief stuff that keeps both of them busy, but he promised they’d hang out today, after he got blown off the day before for something, though Ryuji isn’t sure what took precedence over him. All the usual worries come to the front of Ryuji’s mind: money, some trouble with the Boss. Or, maybe, he’s getting bored of Ryuji. Or worse: he found a Girl.
The thought occurs to him in capital letters, in thick neon letters flashing in his skull. Ryuji’s not stupid, and he knows that...well, the odds are particularly long for him in this regard. The weird, loud bleached blonde kid with the bad rep doesn’t stand much chance in any competition compared to the fairer sex, especially with...well. Ryuji doesn’t wanna assume (his mom taught him what that makes him a long time ago), and Akira is tighter lipped than usual whenever Ryuji has tried to steer the conversation towards preferences, even in the most circumspect way. Asking what he thought about Ann got him ‘a great friend’ for an answer, not ‘i like blondes,’ or ‘too tall for me’, and he’s not dumb enough to try to pull the same stunt with anyone else. At least Ann knows Ryuji didn’t mean anything by it (after an apology crepe and some explanation on his part), and a lengthy discussion of Ryuji’s own bisexuality and how that might relate to his anxiety around Akira’s orientation.
“Just say you like him, you dope!” Was Ann’s advice, but...it’s not that easy, right? At least not for him. How do you tell somebody who is simultaneously so important to him and so closed off that you like, like him? Ryuji knows barely anything about him, except some of his sense of humor is seriously warped, and the look in his eyes when he focuses on someone makes Ryuji’s stomach clench like somebody just hit him, but in a good way. And then thinking about all the things that would come after that just makes it worse: talking, and touching, and feeling , and lips and tongues and hands and—
Fuck, fuck this. He needs air. Ryuji climbs the stairs two at a time up to the third year’s floor and past it to the roof, blood rushing in his ears. When he reaches the landing, the rushing noise is cut through by a laugh from the other side of the half-open roof access, his own practical sneaking training under Morgana forcing him to stop in his tracks and panting as quietly as he can. Silently promising to get Morgana some fatty tuna, Ryuji peeks around the door, trying to find the source of such a beautiful and unfamiliar sound.
A familiar mop of dark curls poking out of the top of a school uniform is talking to the new member of the Thieves, Haru Okumura, looking so strange and puffed-out in her gym tracksuit. A spike of jealousy hits him when he realizes she was laughing at something he said, and then she does it again to a sentence inaudible to him, covering her mouth to mask her smile. God damn it, he was right, it’s a girl, so there goes his shot. He hits the door with a fist, splitting a knuckle open on the metal, and immediately regrets it when Akira turns to the noise, Haru tilting her head quizzically up at Akira. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck—
“Hey.” Ryuji steps out from behind the door, waving so Akira doesn’t notice the blood dripping down the back of his hand. “Was lookin for you. Sorry if i’m interruptin’ or anything.”
“Oh, hello, Ryuji!” Haru smiles and returns his wave, and his stomach churns at how blatantly pretty she is, cute as a goddamn button. No wonder Akira would go for that, anyone would. “No, you weren’t interrupting at all. Did you two have plans?”
“Yeah, we did. I think he just forgot, is all.” Ryuji shrugs, stuffing his bleeding hand in his pocket. “No biggie.” He lies, grinning.
“I won’t keep him, then.” She touches Akira’s hand, and he turns back to her. “Try to think about what we talked about, okay?” Another smile and that spike of jealousy doubles in length, jamming itself deeper in his heart.
Akira nods, smiling that tight little smirk of his to her before he turns to Ryuji and nods towards the stairs. They walk downstairs in silence together. It’s not until they reach the train station before Ryuji calms himself enough to speak.
“Anything important? With Okumura, I mean.” Ryuji doesn’t look to Akira, counting tiles on the pillar in front of him to try to keep his cool.
“Not really. Just...stuff.” Akira murmurs just above the rumble of the train passing.
BleachedLightning: hey so
BleachedLightning: If you ever need help with stuff
BleachedLightning: Akira’s super busy these days, doin stuff for the Thing
Okumura-Hime: Oh, is he? I didn’t realize how much work went into our work...haha.
BleachedLightning: so you should ask me for help
BleachedLightning: yeah it’s kind of intense
BleachedLightning: he spends all day after school running around town getting stuff or whatever
Okumura-Hime: Fascinating. Has he said anything regarding me to you, then? I do hope I haven’t been a bother to him.
BleachedLightning: I’m sure you’re fine, Akira’s chill
BleachedLightning: still. If i can keep him free then I’ll do anything, y’know
Okumura-Hime: Well, if you’re offering…
Ryuji drops the bags of fertilizer onto the roof with a groan, straightening his back and wincing at the rapid-fire pop of his spine. He’d bragged to Haru that he could definitely carry as much as her, and picked up a second bag of fertilizer to match her, only to regret it the moment he remembered he had to climb 4 flights of stairs.
“Are you quite alright, Ryuji?” Haru came up behind him with her own load, watching him struggle and encouraging him the whole way up. Every word of it felt like it burned his ears, and this only makes his stomach churn. She’s stronger than him, too. He knew, how could he not given that massive axe she sports in the Metaverse? But it hadn’t been real until this moment, the realization of how outclassed he really is. Not even Ann could beat her for charm points, Ryuji’s sure of it.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.” Ryuji puts on a brave face nevertheless, turning back and smiling for Haru then tugging his t-shirt up to mop his face. When he looks again, her face is tomato-red, a hand covering her mouth. “Oh, shit. Sorry, Haru, I didn’t— ”
“Your abs are gorgeous, Ryuji!” Haru blurts, eyes wide. “I’ve never seen anything like them before!”
Ryuji’s jaw drops, words lost to him. She...what? “Huh?”
“I— I mean what I said!” Haru stomps defiantly. “You must work very hard with Akira to keep in such top form, Ryuji!”
Okay, everything is happening way too much for Ryuji to follow this. “I, Okumura, hang on, slow down. You’re gonna give a guy ideas here.” Ryuji laughs nervously, holding up his hands. Haru takes a breath, then bursts into giggles.
“Oh dear, I’ve done it again, haven’t I? I did the same thing yesterday, with Akira!” She erupts in a fresh peal of giggles, sitting down on the fertilizer she put on top of Ryuji’s. Ryuji sits down hesitantly next to her, frowning. He’d come here expecting to have to try to convince her to stop going after Akira, but...what the hell is this? It sounds like she likes...both of them?
“What did you do yesterday?”
“Oh, nothing.” Haru smiles, wiping her eye. “Akira came by, and I found myself gushing about how well his uniform fit him, and his glasses framing his face, and his cheekbones…” She laughs, again, quietly. “I was simply overcome, I suppose. You and Akira are quite alike in some regards.”
Ryuji scoffs. “Yeah, no way. Me n’ him are like...cats and dogs or somethin’. Chocolate and vanilla.”
“Both very pleasing flavors, especially in relation to one another.” Haru says without skipping a beat, smiling up at Ryuji. “You should consider yourself a worthy addition to Akira’s life, Ryuji. I’m positive he considers you in the same light.”
“Wh— well, I uh, ha ha, uhh...” Ryuji stammers incoherently for a moment, flabbergasted. What the hell is with this girl getting him on the wrong foot so consistently? “I dunno about that.”
Ryuji’s heart skips more than one beat when Haru places her hand on his own, the warmth of her skin against his more pleasant than anything Ryuji’s ever felt. “I wouldn’t lie to you, you know. I asked Akira about you, yesterday, too.”
Ryuji tries to take a deep breath, but finds himself inhaling short, hasty breaths and digs his nails into his thigh to try to slow himself down. “What did he say?”
“He doesn’t know if he’d be alive without you around. Direct quote...more or less. Akira seems to be a man of few words.” Haru’s fingers slip into his palm, and she squeezes his hand gently. “Was that the answer you’d been hoping for?”
“...Sorta.” He closes his eyes and breathes, feeling that spear of jealousy impaling him recede inch by inch. Haru wouldn’t be talking like this with him if she were trying to steal Akira, or anything like it. Right? “Weren’t we doing gardening shit or something?”
“Oh, you’re quite right.” Haru stands, her hand still holding his, and despite the difference in size she yanks him to his feet with a small grunt. “We have quite a few beds to re-fertilize for the next set of crops. I hope you’re ready to sweat, Ryuji.”
Ryuji grins and nods. “Hey, that’s what I’m here for, right?” He smiles wider when Haru gives his hand one last squeeze before releasing it, and finds himself missing its warmth almost immediately. “...Hey. Can we do this tomorrow, too?” Her smile and nod fills him with a feeling he’s only ever felt around Akira, before now.
Haru can’t believe her luck. Both of her targets coming directly to her, for whatever reason? It’s a dream come true for her, in so many ways.
Thoughtful Akira, visiting her when she hadn’t replied to his text. She hadn’t meant to worry him, but she also hadn’t expected him to come looking for her so quickly, either. Nor did she think that he would be so...cute, when he’s alone. Around everyone else, he’s much different, a cold mask of duty or obligation preventing him from being the quietly humorous, mordant boy she’s learned he is over the past few days. Nor did she think him so easily flustered, for the same reasons. She couldn’t help but compliment him! It simply...came out without her thinking about it. And then...well, a lot of things happened. Once she put a stop to that, she tried to change the subject back to Ryuji, but then Ryuji arrived, and everything spiraled away from her.
Ryuji probably got the wrong idea (not that it’s wrong , just...not 100% accurate). It would certainly explain his demanding, pushy message when he demanded she ask him for help, and then his demeanor for most of that time, until he seemed caught off guard by her in almost the exact same way. She’d commented on it, but Ryuji didn’t understand. Instead...well. Getting to know him has been an adventure in itself, both rewarding and a little worrying. She’s pretty sure he's falling for her. And Akira, while not the head-over-heels proclamation of love type, maybe falling the same way.
Which was not the plan.
The ‘plan’, such that it was, was more like a single objective: get Ryuji and Akira together, by any means necessary.
From the moment she joined the Thieves, and really got to know them, she could practically see the sexual tension hanging between them like fog, filled with words unsaid and actions not taken. Probably could have cut it with her axe, if she tried (not that she would ever want to separate them).
It infuriated her, to be honest. Why can't they be honest with themselves, with each other? If even the Phantom Thieves can't live as their true selves, but instead must hide behind masks even with one another, then what good is their revolution against society? They would replace the repression and fear of everyday life with another form of the same old anxieties with new names. No, this revolution must demonstrate radical praxis on the front lines, live and act in ways congruent with their philosophy.
So Akira and Ryuji have to kiss.
Obviously. It’s for justice.
Which is why Haru is so surprised when Ryuji kisses her a few days later.
It was a normal day, Ryuji showing up after class to help aerate soil for a new set of beds (he says he finds it really relaxing for some reason, holding the spiked hand aerator like a knife) and Haru following after him with new tomato seeds. They chatted quietly as they went, Haru's thigh pressed against Ryuji's leg. He was sweating freely in the late autumn sun, stripped to his t-shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his shoulders to show off his arms. There's something mesmerizing about him, in that moment, so intent on his work for her, that Haru can't help but pause and watch him work. She only realizes how long she's been staring at his hands and the outline of his muscles under his shirt when he speaks.
“Okumura? You okay?” He tilts his head as he looks at her face go beet-red, a thousand excuses colliding with one another and canceling each other out. “You got something on your face.” She freezes when his hand cups her cheek, dry and rough and so very warm that it makes her heart flutter like a hummingbird in her chest. She watches his face, the intent look that is both at her and not at the same time, so focused on the grime on her that he doesn't notice how he's making her feel.
“Call me Haru.” Is the only words than come to mind, a ridiculous response to this situation and the weirdly callous way he's continued to call her Okumura despite how close they've gotten in the last few days. It makes her a little mad, normally, but now she feels only warmth in her chest, and he doesn't move his hand at all, the dirt forgotten along with everything else around them.
“I want you to call me Haru.” She leans up closer to him, arching her back to meet his eyes properly. “And I think I want you to kiss me.” Is this a test, for either of them? To see if she's really committed, or if she is simply a selfish girl who wants these two all to herself? To see if Ryuji really deserves Akira? She decides immediately that she doesn't care. The plan can go to hell as far as Haru is concerned, after Akira and now this. They’re simply too tempting, devils in their own ways. She never stood a chance.
Ryuji's reaction is less surprised than she expected. He's so worried about approaching Akira in the ‘right’ way at the ‘right’ time, with the ‘right’ words and proper feelings. But this, this moment, none of that matters. And Haru knows he feels it too. To not do something now would mean letting something go forever, an opportunity passed beyond reach.
So he kisses her. His lips aren't as dry as she thought, freshly wet by his tongue, and she treasures every moment they remain together, gripping the arm that's touching her face for dear life. Right when Haru finds herself enjoying herself, he whimpers against her mouth, pulling away just far enough to speak. “Haru, ow, my arm, owww…” She gasps, releasing her vise grip on his forearm and realizes she probably left a bruise for him there. In response, she peppers his cheeks with kisses and murmured apologies, and she feels his lips twitch into that grin of his and return to kissing her, the hand on her cheek migrating downward to cup her neck, pulse stuttering against his palm. She holds herself to him with both hands, fists full of his damp shirt pulling him into her as hard as she can manage.
Haru’s imagined this in so many ways with so many people both real and fictional over the years. Shoujo manga smuggled to her by a housekeeper or bought on illicit trips out unsupervised never prepared her for the reality of teeth clicking, quiet giggles and the sound of heavy breathing in her ear. And of all the imagined ways it could happen, covered in dirt in a tracksuit with a sweaty, slightly damp and yet still gorgeous boy wasn’t even within a mile of the list. And yet...she wouldn’t change a moment of this, not a single second. To be with someone you’ve come to care about, in this shared moment, it means more than she ever believed it could. To have another experience like this so soon, it’s more than she ever thought she was worthy of, before the Thieves. She wants so badly to keep going, to feel Ryuji’s skin, every inch of it.
And yet...she knows she has to stop. For Ryuji’s good, and her own...and Akira’s.
“We-we should stop.” Hayu manages between kisses, regret in her voice. When Ryuji pulls away and frowns, Haru bites her lip. “Mh, okay, one more…” Haru murmurs, cupping the back of his neck with one hand and delighting in the prickly short hairs against her fingers as well as his lips for just a moment longer. What she wouldn’t give to extend it.
“So...uh…” Ryuji starts when they part. “I, uh, I like you?” He chuckles nervously. “Man. This is weird. I told you about Akira, n’ me, and all that, and then…”
“It’s okay.” Haru reaches out, fingertips rubbing the skin where she bruised him as gently as she can. “I think...you, or anyone, can hold love in your heart for many people. Whether you act on it or not.” She smiles for him, trying to cheer him up. “I never thought I’d be able to act on mine for you. Or for Akira.”
“Yeah. Wait…” Ryuji’s jaw goes slack with dawning realization.
“You need to talk to Akira, Ryuji. Just...tell him. Kiss him, do anything you want. What happened with us was just the right circumstance, and you can make any circumstance you want. You owe it to yourself, and to him to do it.” She sighs, more than a little wistfully. “We can talk after that. The three of us.”
“Yeah.” Ryuji smiles. “I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow, okay?”
Haru returns the smile and nods. “I’d love that.”
A quick text conversation later, Ryuji meets Akira at the gym in Shibuya they’ve been using, deep in the evening when they’re the only patrons left to bother. By the time Ryuji gets there, Akira’s already worked up a lather, sweating profusely on the treadmill when he gets inside. Watching him work out is something else, sometimes. It reminds him of what he used to be like, on the track team. Driven. Chasing a goal, or maybe a dream.
“Heyy, don’t start without me, jeez. Coulda come in here and found you knocked out on the floor or some shit.” Ryuji grumbles good-naturedly as he sets his bag down, yanking his school blazer off and flexing in his t-shirt. “Here, I’ll spot you. C’mon, you look like a stick. You try that protein I got you?”
“Just had some. Tastes better than the stuff I usually get at the Don Quixote.” Akira hops off the treadmill and turns, and Ryuji sees the shock in his eyes when he sees the hand-shaped bruise on his arm. “What happened?” He jogs over, taking Ryuji’s arm in his hands and lifting it up to look closer.
“Oh, it’s...nothing. I, tripped going up to the stairs with Haru, and she grabbed my arm so I didn’t fall. Girl’s got wild strength, y’know?” Ryuji laughs nervously and tries to hide his blush. Akira hums in response, jaw working behind closed lips, like he’s chewing on something heavy to say. Ryuji rushes to fill the gap, talking just to talk. “So, y’know, I was thinking, we should work out a training regimen for you, if you wanna be serious. One of the guys from Track showed me what worked for me, we can probably adapt it for you since you’re about my size—” He trails off as Akira raises Ryuji’s arm higher, pressing his lips to the bruise and kissing it gently. Akira doesn’t move, eyes swiveling to watch Ryuji’s reaction of dumbstruck silence. When he finally regains the use of his tongue, Ryuji sighs. “Haru and I kissed. And you deserve to know it before I say what I gotta say.”
Akira draws himself up, releasing Ryuji’s arm. “Okay. You told me, so…” He nods to Ryuji to continue, his arms hanging at his sides. Only now does Ryuji realize how close they’re standing, barely a foot between them. Even with his albeit minor height advantage, Ryuji can’t help but feel like he’s on the back foot here. He always feels like this around Akira. And yet…
He can’t think of someone want to be next to more.
“I know I’m a loudmouth, and I don’t think before I talk usually, and I put my foot in my mouth all the time, but I been thinkin’ about this a long time. Ever since I met you, Akira, I feel like a fuckin’ different person, and I like it. Being around you is like...it feels really good, in a way I don’t think I’ve ever felt about anyone before now. So...I like you. A lot. More than anybody, maybe.”
“More than Haru?” Akira steps even closer, taking Ryuji’s hand in his.
“Mmh…” Ryuji grimaces. “I got to know her the last couple days, and I really like her too. I’m not ranking you, I don’t want to. It’s not fair.” Ryuji casts his gaze at his shoes. “I get it if you don’t wanna do this. I can live with it, if you’re not interested. I just...I didn’t want to give up. I won’t give up on something or somebody I love ever again.” Ryuji’s head snaps back up to meet Akira’s eyes when he hears Akira chuckle.
“Okay. I didn’t have a big speech planned. But...I agree. Wholeheartedly.” Akira breaks into a smile seen so rarely that it surprises Ryuji, and he laughs to himself out of shock. “I’m very jealous of Haru, right now, though. She stole your first kiss…I’ve been thinking about how I’d get that one for awhile.”
“Hey, it wasn’t...like that.” Ryuji almost thought to deny it was his first, but remembers Ann calling him a cherry boy in front of Akira only last week, and apparently thinks better of it. “That was my first with her, this is my first with you. It’s different.”
“Oh, is she part of this deal, too, then?” Akira teases, lacing his fingers between Ryuji’s and leaning forward towards him.
“I mean...maybe. She, uh. She implied you two did something like our kiss, too. You got something to tell me too, then?”
“Well...It was a lot more than a kiss.” Akira’s voice stops Ryuji’s heart, low and breathy and so close to him. “We could start there, or...maybe just a kiss, and then worry about beating her later. I’d hate to scare you off.” That mischievous grin of his is there now, and he knows it’s a challenge.
“Hey, hey, now I’m the jealous one.” His face feels like a furnace even as he says it, every hint of self-preservation in his body telling him he’s gonna die if he lets Akira win. “We’ll just have to start slow, and go farther than that, right? Let’s go. I won’t lose to someone that cute.”
When they kiss, the both of them are smiling, each one doubting their own luck that brought them to this moment, and savoring every moment they spend together that night.