“You gotta be careful with this stuff,” Ryuji warns, plucking the box from Ann’s hands. “Shit turned my hair orange the first time I tried it.”
Akira feels tension he doesn’t remember gathering drain from him. “Yeah, Futaba told me the same thing.”
“Is that how she gets that color?” Ann says around an unselfconscious laugh. Warmth swells in his chest at the thought that, nearly a year ago, hearing that sound regularly would be unthinkable. Now, it’s practically as essential to him as sunshine.
Ryuji hums skeptically. “Well hey, don’t take this the wrong way, but… Futaba can pull that off. Not sure about you, man.” He fiddles with Akira’s bangs as if to emphasize the point.
Still grinning, Ann swats Ryuji's hand away and hip bumps him to the side. Akira hops up onto the counter as Ryuji tugs her pigtail in playful retaliation.
“Don’t worry, it’ll end up fine! Look at this dream team!” Ann strikes a ridiculous pose that she just as likely got from Featherman as a Mika shoot and makes Ryuji snort and roll his eyes.
“I don’t care how it ends up,” Akira says, trying to force the dispassion from his voice. As long as it’s unusual, striking, rebellious, it’s good - great, even. If he can’t have this forever, then he can bring a bit of Tokyo home with him.
Ann’s smile fades to something altogether more melancholy, her eyes hooding. Her hand cards though the hair at the nape of his neck. "Okay."
“I-in that case, what about a haircut too?” Ryuji asks, his voice lurching into the somber space between their conversation. His eyes are wide and hopeful, trying to chase off the mood. “You’re goin’ for shocking, right? Go all out.”
“A haircut?” Akira blinks. The idea actually hadn’t occurred to him. He considers the other boy’s spiky-soft tousle. “Like yours?”
“Ehh… nah, man.” He shakes his head. “It’d look too weird on you.”
He snorts. “Thanks.”
Ryuji knocks their shoulders together with a crooked grin. “Maybe like… whadda they call it? An undercut?”
Ann tilts Akira’s head like she’s imagining the sides shaved. “You have a razor, right?”
“Are you gonna do it?” Ryuji says, and it’s not clear who he’s asking for a moment. He doesn’t know how to answer, if it’s a question for him - he just knows he wants to be impulsive and reckless without the excuse of saving the world. Beside him, Ann nods.
Saved from having to justify himself, he leans into Ann’s touch. “You’re the bleach expert, here,” Akira points out, fondness softening his otherwise dry remark.
Ryuji shoves his hand into his pockets and rocks back on his heels. “Damn, dude. You’re really doin’ this, huh?” He’s fully lit up, happy almost despite himself, and Akira knows him well enough to know he’s preening at being given the role. “Alright, well if you wanna cut it, you should do that first.” He lifts his chin, nodding to Ann.
“I’ll get it. Did you… um,” she trails off, unwilling to commit the question to words.
Akira shakes his head, looking at his feet as they swing from Leblanc’s counter. “Haven’t packed yet,” he says, so low he’s not sure if she even hears him. “It’s with my bath stuff.”
She turns without a word and runs up the stairs. Akira brings his attention to Ryuji, whose face is downturned, pinched with a determined set. He doesn’t want to think about… he just doesn’t want to think. “Hey,” he says, and Ryuji’s eyes snap to his guiltily.
Akira wants to have the right words. He always has the right words. He opens his mouth, expecting them to spring to his lips, but this time there’s nothing, and he just stares helplessly at Ryuji, agape, increasingly drowning in what he wants to say.
Ryuji’s expression crumbles and he sighs. “C’mere, man.” It’s an awkward hug, logistics-wise, but Ryuji is warm and squeezes him like he wouldn’t let go - especially for a stupid train. His fingers curl in the worn fabric of Ryuji’s sweatshirt. At this height, sitting on the bar, Akira’s face fits effortlessly into the crook of his neck. He mashes his nose into the hoodie collar and refuses to cry.
“Stop it, you idiots,” Ann interrupts. Her voice is shaky, her eyes wet, but she lifts her chin in some semblance of composure. “You’re not leaving yet, so…”
“It’s alright,” Akira says, his voice muffled. “Just a minute.”
“Plenty of room,” Ryuji murmurs. He feels a second warm body press against his side and frees a shaky breath.
It takes a little while before they all mutually agree that cuddling time is over. Akira manages to actually let both of them go, and pretends not to hear the thickness in Ryuji’s voice or see the redness in Ann’s eyes.
Ryuji begs off to the bathroom for a little bit. It gives Ann some time to strategize, asking questions he can’t rightfully answer like, “How far down do you want it to go?” and “Do you wanna dye the sides too, or leave them black?”
They decide, with a tiebreaker from Ryuji once he returns, to fade to the tops of his ears and just dye the top. Ann pulls up a picture on her phone of some Korean boy band member with similar hair and props it up so she can use it for reference.
Akira wonders idly if that singer ever thought that a few kids in a cafe some thousand kilometers away might try to shoddily recreate his look. It makes him feel small in a way he hasn’t since his rage exploded into Arsene and they had their first taste of fame. It’s almost humbling.
He waits and tries to stay as still as possible as Ann's steady hand runs the razor through his hair, even though his palms are clammy and his stomach is flipping. It's not nerves, just... anticipation.
“Oh my god,” Ann says. She sounds a little awed, teasing his (remaining!) curls to the front of his face. “You look so hot.”
Akira chuckles, savoring her touch. “I wasn’t already?” He still feels shaky with fading adrenaline.
“Don’t start,” Ann retorts flatly. “You’re sure you wanna dye it? Last chance.”
“Fuck me up, fam,” he deadpans, eyes following Ryuji as he mixes the developer.
Ryuji shakes his head, looking pained. “You gotta stop hangin’ out with Futaba so much, man. She’s rubbin’ off on you.”
“I can’t just stop hanging out with her,” Akira scoffs, choosing not to point out that he’s not going to have much choice, is he? “She’s like my sister.”
His phone chimes from his pocket and Ann shivers. “I hate when she does that. It’s so creepy.” Her phone buzzes next, and she fishes it out and types something furiously. “She wants us to hurry up with Akira’s hair already so she can post ‘disaster gays attempt to bleach a poodle’ to her discord.”
Akira sniffs in mock-offense. “Tell her to stop eavesdropping and that I’ll take her and Boss out for sushi later.” His own phone goes off again, and he checks the message:
Futaba: we’d better be going to ginza
Akira: Only if you admit I’m a functional bi
Futaba: no comment
Futaba: also morgana says that if it smells like bleach there he’s staying with me tonight
Akira: You should know by now that h e’s just saying that to get your leftover sushi
“Here goes nothin’,” Ryuji says, and Akira looks up. “My ma usually helps me out. You gotta tell me if I miss a spot,” he adds.
“No problem!” Ann drapes a towel over his shoulders, and Akira can’t help soaking in their shared attention.
Ryuji hands Ann a pair of gloves and they both get to work parting his hair and painting cold bleach into the unruly black curls.
Ann bites her lip as she dries his hair. Akira doesn’t usually, letting the thick mop air dry into whatever shape it wants, but there’s less of it now. He might have to invest in a hairdryer. Maybe gel.
“It doesn’t look bad ,” she allows, but doesn’t give it much better praise than that.
“It’s ‘cause it’s so thick,” Ryuji says sheepishly, finger combing his now-brassy locks forward. “You could hit it with another round in a week or so, but… more than forty minutes ain’t good for it. Didn’t wanna make ya bald, dude.”
He tilts his head to look into Ann’s tiny compact mirror. It’s certainly… lighter. And a patchy orange-caramel. Objectively, it probably looks terrible.
“I love it,” he tells them quietly, overcome with affection for them as they try to lessen the blow. Akira doesn’t care. It’s different and stupid and the best thing he’s ever seen.
Ann hums, pulling back and twisting the curls into place. “It’s definitely a look.”
“Y'know, call me crazy, but I think I’m already gettin’ used to it.” Ryuji ruffles Ann’s masterpiece out of place and she squawks.
Akira doesn’t recall ever being so conflicted - or at least, he’s never been so full of two emotions threatening to rip him into halves of heartbreak and love. He shakes his head. They’re all idiots, him included. A sudden thought occurs to him and he chokes out a laugh.
The other two look on with bemusement. “What’s so funny?” Ryuji asks.
His laughter turns into wheezing. “Makoto’s going to kill me.”
It’s almost worth all of it just for the way Ryuji and Ann exchange panicked glances.