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Once More, With Feeling

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Akechi always died in the late afternoon. There had been a few exceptions, but for the most part, they had a majority of the day before the inevitable happened. Akira wasn’t sure why, but he hadn’t really thought much of it before.

That is, until things changed.

The sole victim of the deadly gas station explosion in Shibuya this morning has been identified as high school student Goro Akechi, well-known for his role as a rookie detective for the Tokyo police—

Akira turned off the TV quickly, physically restraining himself from throwing the remote through it. Morgana jumped up on the counter and mewled in concern. “I… can’t believe it,” the cat said. “I don’t even know what to say.”

“Don’t say anything,” Akira said sharply. His phone buzzed with a message from Ann, and he glanced at it distractedly.

i saw the news… are you okay?

He turned his phone off. “Sojiro, can I take the rest of the day off?” he asked shakily. “Please.”

Sojiro glanced warily between Akira and the TV, before sighing and rubbing the back of his neck. “Sure, kid,” he said. “Don’t get into any trouble.”

He wandered around aimlessly for a while, unsure of what to do with himself. It was only mid-morning, and Akechi was dead. He had to live through a whole day in a world where Akechi was already gone. How long had it been since he’d gone that long without talking to the other boy? Even now, his hand itched to take out his phone and call him, just to hear his voice, even if they didn’t talk about anything at all. But he couldn’t. Akechi was dead.

And Akira was alone.

“Kurusu-kun?” a voice called, stopping him in his tracks. He’d somehow ended up in Shinjuku in his mindless wandering, but he could barely even remember getting on the subway. He glanced over to see Chihaya looking at him in concern. “Are you alright? You look rather distressed.”

Akira rubbed the back of his neck. “Hey, Chihaya. I’m… I’ll be fine,” he muttered. She hummed in reply, clearly unconvinced.

“Would you like a reading? It might help,” she suggested. Akira hesitated, before sighing and taking a seat across from her.

“Sure,” he complied. It wasn’t like he had anything better to do.

He watched as she flipped his cards, decidedly unsurprised when her expression turned grim. With the way things were going, it wasn’t like he was expecting any good news. “Oh my… this is concerning,” she said hesitantly. “It seems there’s death in your future, either your own or someone close to you… and, you’ve been forced into a situation you can’t control? Or rather, you’re being manipulated into that situation. You’re defying fate, it seems, and there’s a disbalance as a result.”

Akira frowned. Defying fate? He was pretty sure he was falling right into fate’s hands. “Well, do me a favor and ask whoever’s manipulating me what the hell they want,” he said, scrubbing his hands over his face tiredly. Chihaya smiled at him sadly.

“I am afraid that’s beyond my capabilities,” she said. “Please be careful, Kurusu-kun, this reading is… disturbing. I’m available if you ever need to talk, just as a friend.”

Akira forced a smile. There was only one person he could talk to about this, and he was… “Thank you, Chihaya. I appreciate it,” he said. “It was good to see you. It’s been a while.”

Chihaya tilted her head curiously. “Didn’t we just see each other yesterday?” she asked. Akira laughed dryly.

“Right,” he muttered. “I guess we did.”

From there he went to Crossroads, where he unsuccessfully tried to convince Lala to sell him alcohol, unsuccessfully tried to convince Ohaya to buy him alcohol, and then ended up working a shift just to take his mind off of things.

“Girl problems?” Lala asked gently as she mixed a drink, watching him carefully out of the corner of her eye. Akira didn’t know if the request for alcohol had tipped her off or, like Chihaya, she had just seen it on his face.

“Nah,” he said immediately, mindlessly wiping down the same spot on the counter until he could see his reflection in it. Lala hummed.

Boy problems?” she tried again. Akira paused, considering that one for longer.

“Not… really,” he decided. “Just problems in general.”

Lala nodded. “Don’t try to carry too much, kid,” she said. “Sometimes it seems like you’ve got the weight of the world on those skinny shoulders.”

Akira smiled bitterly and shook his head. “No, I… it isn’t that bad. I’m overreacting,” he said, going back to wiping down the bar. “There are people who have it worse.”

It was already dusk by the time Akira got off work. He turned on his phone to see that his notifications were flooded with messages from his friends, all about the same thing. He locked it and shoved it back into his pocket without looking at any of them.

At least it was late enough now that he could just go home and force himself to go to sleep. Tomorrow, everything would be better.

He chuckled to himself. What did he consider better, anyway? Akechi would still die horrifically, just a little later, so that was an improvement? And then the next day would be the same thing, and again and again and again, until… when? It could be forever.

It could be forever.

His thoughts were interrupted, suddenly, by a sharp sound breaking through the busy chatter of the Shinjuku streets. It was familiar, but he didn’t know why until he traced the noise into an alleyway off the main road.

It was a woman yelling for help, trying to resist a man that had her by the wrists.

The deja vu of the situation made Akira dizzy. The last time he’d been here, the decision he’d made had changed his life. If he hadn’t tried to stop Shido back then, he never would’ve come to Tokyo. He never would’ve awakened his Persona or become a Phantom Thief. He never would’ve met Akechi, or been stuck on this Sunday with no end in sight. He’d never regretted it before, but now… now he couldn’t help but think it might’ve been better for everyone if he’d just walked away.

Maybe he should walk away now.

“Get your hands off of her,” he snapped, stepping forward, because despite everything he still knew who he was. He was still Akira Kurusu, and Akira Kurusu helped people who needed him.

His intrusion was enough to distract the man, giving the woman the opportunity to pull herself free and run. The man made to chase her, but Akira grabbed his collar before he could. “Mind your own fuckin’ business, kid!” the man slurred, pushing him away harshly. Akira grit his teeth, shoving him back.

“Trust me, I wish pieces of shit like you didn’t exist so that I could,” he said.

He was expecting the punch. What he wasn’t expecting, though, was the rush of adrenaline that took his breath away as the pain spread through his face. He spit blood from where his teeth had cut his lip open, reaching up to wipe it away in a daze.

It had felt… good. The pain was grounding, and he felt a little bit of the weight on his shoulders lift as his face throbbed. He grinned.

He threw a punch back, reveling in the pain that blossomed across his knuckles as they connected with the man’s jaw. The fight escalated, and he was losing, badly, but he didn’t care. For the first time all day, maybe for the first time in a long time now, he felt… okay.

He felt alive.

 

“Is there a reason why you ambushed me this early in the morning?” Akechi asked dryly, collapsing onto his couch. He was wearing the t-shirt and sweatpants he’d presumably fallen asleep in, his hair thrown up into a messy ponytail as he nursed the to-go cup of coffee Akira had brought for him.

“What happened yesterday?” Akira asked, not bothering to beat around the bush. He sat on the coffee table directly across from Akechi. “It‘s never been like that before. It happened too early.”

Akechi almost looked impressed. “Oh, you noticed?” he asked cheerfully. “I guess I do tend to underestimate your intelligence on occasion. Yes, it was earlier than usual, because I did it on purpose.”

Akira felt several emotions surge through him at once, from confusion to alarm and finally settling at fury. “You… what?” he asked in disbelief. “Are you kidding me?” Akechi shrugged.

“I was testing a theory,” he explained.

“You blew up a gas station?

“I had to be in a situation where there would, under normal circumstances, be casualties other than myself,” Akechi continued, unphased. “But since I obviously couldn’t be around to collect the results, I was depending on you. You saw it on the news, right? Did anyone else die?”

Akira gaped at him. “Wait, wait. So you not only killed yourself, but also intentionally endangered the lives of other people?” he asked, his voice rising far above its usual decibel. Akechi rolled his eyes.

“There you go, getting emotional again. You’re preaching to someone who you already know has serially killed people in the past,” he said flatly. “And we’re both perfectly aware that nothing we do has any lasting effect, anyway. Now answer my question.”

Akira sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration. The sole victim of the deadly gas station explosion in Shibuya this morning has been identified as high school student Goro Akechi… “You… were the only one who died,” he confirmed tightly. Akechi looked delighted.

“I see. As I thought,” he said, tapping his chin thoughtfully. “And do you happen to remember any of the times in the past, such as the apartment fire or the train crash?”

“I…” Akira squeezed his eyes shut, trying to think back. Those seemed like lifetimes ago, and he’d only been concerned with Akechi at the time. “I don’t remember.”

“That’s alright. I think this is enough to confirm,” Akechi said with a satisfied nod.

“Confirm what?” Akira snapped. “What has this accomplished, exactly?”

Akechi paused, as if considering the question. “Well, mainly,” he said. “I was trying to determine how deep your involvement goes.”

Akira blinked, caught off guard. “What?” he asked blankly. “What does it have to do with me?”

“As far as either of us is aware, no one has been caught in the crossfire as a result of my death, with one exception. Isn’t that interesting? It makes me wonder…” he trailed off, eyeing Akira contemplatively. “Well, it doesn’t matter. I guess there’s no way to know for sure, anyway.”

Akira sighed, standing up and pacing distractedly. Akechi followed, moving to lean against the counter. “You should’ve talked to me about it first,” Akira said quietly. Akechi tilted his head curiously.

“Why are you so upset?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. “As of the moment we woke up this morning, none of it happened anyway.” Akira grimaced.

“It happened for me, okay? I remember it, so it happened,” he countered. “And it sucked.”

Akechi blinked in confusion. Akira groaned frustratedly and grabbed him by the arm, pulling him close and wrapping his arms around him before he had a chance to protest. Akechi made a strange gurgling sound, before spluttering violently in an attempt to put words together. “W-wh-what are you doing?!” Akechi stuttered, his voice high and distressed.

“It’s called a hug. Ever been hugged before?” Akira muttered, and then quickly continued, suddenly terrified of the answer to that question. “Relax. Just let it happen.”

Akechi was trembling, and Akira was becoming a little concerned by the extremity of his reaction. If it was possible to die of affection deprivation, Akira suspected Akechi would’ve been long gone before the time loop even began. “I know w-what a hug is, but why,” Akechi hissed.

Akira paused, closing his eyes and exhaling deeply. “I missed you,” he mumbled, muffling his voice into Akechi’s shoulder. Akechi, if possible, stiffened even more.

“It was just one day,” he said, his voice strained from embarrassment. “You’re being ridiculous.”

“Just tell me if you’re gonna do something like that again, okay?” he said seriously. Akechi sighed.

“I… okay. I didn’t realize, um. It would bother you,” he said awkwardly. “I’m sorry.”

Akira refused to release his hold, so Akechi eventually gave in and lifted his arms to hesitantly wrap around Akira’s waist. He let out a long, shaky breath. “Thanks,” Akira said, pulling Akechi tighter briefly before finally letting go. Akechi seemed reluctant to let him pull away, his face bright red and his expression more flustered than Akira had ever seen it. Akira grinned. “So, anything scheduled for today?”

Akechi took a moment to collect himself. “No, nothing in particular,” he said. “Unless you’re interested in keying Shido’s car.” Akira chuckled.

“How about we just stay in and watch a movie?” he suggested. Akechi shrugged.

“Alright. But I get to pick.”

About halfway through Star Wars, Akechi shifted in his seat and pressed himself against Akira’s side, almost laying his head against his shoulder. Akira nearly jumped in surprise. He glanced down at him, but the other boy was pointedly staring at the TV and avoiding his eyes.

It might have been an accident when Akira reached down at some point and let their fingers overlap, but regardless, neither of them bothered to pull away.

 

“You should go home,” Akechi said quietly as they stood outside, watching the smoke from Akechi’s cigarette curl in the cool December air. “It’s getting late. It’ll be… time, soon.”

Akira felt his stomach sink. “Right,” he said. He sighed, staring out at the bright sunset until his eyes burned. “Hey, can I have one of those?”

Akechi stared at him in confusion. “A… cigarette?” he asked. Akira nodded, and Akechi only hesitated briefly before shrugging and holding the pack out. Akira grabbed a stick and held his hand out for the lighter, watching the flame swallow the end of the paper and burn as orange as the sky. “Those are bad for you, you know.”

Akira chuckled. “I’ve heard,” he said, watching Akechi put his own out against the side of the building. “Well… I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

Akechi stared at him silently for several moments, before nodding and tucking a stray hair behind his ear. “You will,” he assured. “Goodnight, Akira.”

Akira waited until the door closed behind Akechi to bring the cigarette to his lips for the first time. The moment it hit the back of his throat, he began coughing violently, his eyes watering from the burn. He’d tried cigarettes once or twice in the past, and the results had always been pretty much the same. He didn’t see the appeal.

He pulled up his jacket sleeve, exposing his wrist to the chilly air. He took a deep breath, pausing with the lit end of the cigarette held centimeters above his skin, before gritting his teeth and pushing down.

He held it until he couldn’t anymore, cursing under his breath and letting the cigarette fall to the ground. He stared at the raw burn for several minutes, breathing heavily and letting the wind cool the fresh wound.

Once he felt his heart rate calm and the adrenaline fade, he pulled down his sleeve and shoved his hands in his pockets. He crushed the cigarette under his foot as he walked past, humming under his breath as he headed home.