The three glass bottles made a sharp sound as Futaba set them down on the front counter of Leblanc. Ann reached for hers with an excited ooh! and hopped up to sit cross legged on the table. Futaba raised a bottle up to Akira in cheers and he chuckled as he clinked his against hers.
“To being the only ones without stupid homework to do tonight!” Futaba smiled.
Ann grinned, “Trust me, Ryuji would much rather be hanging out here than caught in Makoto’s fist of studying justice.”
Akira nodded in agreement. The poor guy seemed heartbroken when he had to tell Futaba he couldn’t make it to steal-Sojiro’s-beer-and-watch-scary-movies-in-Akira’s-room night. Makoto had placed her hand firmly on his shoulder and shook her head at him when he started up with the but, but--
“Yusuke might stop by later though.” Ann added. “He talked about going to Shibuya for paint and maybe stopping in.”
Akira perked up at this. “Oh? Cool,” He answered and pretended to not see Futaba’s wink.
When Akira was warm and sated with a few empty bottles on the floor beside his beanbag upstairs, he closed his eyes. Yusuke hadn’t come by, the loss punctuated with a text message. But I would be happy to come by tomorrow when there’s less company , he’d said.
Ann was equally reclined across from him in another beanbag. She nudged his foot with hers. “What’cha thinking about?”
Akira sighed and said without thinking, “I think Yusuke’s pissed at me.”
“No, he’s not.” Futaba chirped, not looking up from the video game she was invested in. Her face was soaked in the blue light of his television, having deemed the movie Akira picked “sucked ass” and thus it was “gaming time”.
Ann furrowed her brow and took a sip of her drink. “Why?”
Akira debated the pros and cons of coming out to Ann. Pass.
“Fine, be that way.” She wrinkled her nose at him. Akira stuck his tongue back out at her. “You never tell me anything. Why do you hate me?”
Akira snorted. “Because you make it so easy .”
“Whatever.” Ann shot back intelligently, “Convict.”
“ Ha! Hermit.”
Akira cut her off with a mediocre sound of a game show buzzer. “Took too long.”
Ann groaned, “ Futaba , I hate your brother.”
Akira smiled triumphantly. He felt he could lay here forever, just gently nodding off into the warm sea of inebriation. His cheeks were flushed and bright, his body limp and heavy in his chair, the cool fall air whisking away the beads of sweat on the back of his neck. He preferred life like this. Lazing. It was here that he could pretend he wasn’t the extravagant ringleader of a racy group of criminals ( criminals… wasn’t the enemy of my enemy, my friend? ) and hot-headed teenage killers. Heart stealers. Whatever. He was happy here, with the girls, happy to entertain and make them laugh, seeing as they both very quickly became like sisters to him. He wasn’t going to admit that it felt like there was something missing. Someone missing.
When Akira opened his eyes again, Ann was collecting the empty bottles and putting them into the trashcan on long, unsteady legs. “Don’t go to bed yet, I’m not tired!” She insisted, frowning at him.
Akira sat up, “I’m awake, promise.” Awake, unlike Futaba, whose drowsy eyes- while focused dutifully on the television screen- were waning in their alertness. “Fu. You should go to bed.”
“I answer to no man.” She mumbled back.
Akira shrugged, “Alright.”
Without much grace, Ann pushed her beanbag closer to Akira’s by way of kicking it a few times and looking exhausted when each weak prod was unsuccessful on it’s own. Helpfully, Akira reached out pulled it beside him. Ann gratefully collapsed upon it. From this angle, they could both watch Futaba attack pixels with other pixels on-screen. Akira had abandoned his glasses awhile ago, so it was really anyone’s guess as to what she was doing.
Ann rested her cheek comfortably against Akira’s shoulder. “Can I tell you something?”
Akira kissed the top of her hair. “Of course you can.”
He felt her clench and unclench her jaw against his arm but remained quiet, giving her the precious moments of internal debate. “Are you like,” she paused, “Okay, like. Have you ever been in love?”
“That’s a question, not telling me something.”
Ann nudged him in the ribs in way of reply.
Akira cleared his throat. He considered his next words carefully, and spoke them evenly. “No one is going to have a problem with you two, you know that, right?”
Ann was quiet. Very quiet and still.
“I’m also not going to go behind your back and tell anyone either.”
She was still quiet, but she nodded.
He pushed his hand through his unruly hair and considered her question.
Being in love wasn’t something that Akira had ever considered was an option to him. He knew of it, maybe knew the shape of it, but not it’s favorite colors or foods or how it looked while sleeping. He knew it in the way you know the set of a favorite television show, the family room or even the conceived notion of a fictitious home’s floor plans, but without ever knowing what the fourth side of the room may look like. He knew what love seemed to be or ought to be or should be or won’t be or will be and considered these facts with discretion before privately reaching the conclusion that he was not reflected in any of these ideals and henceforth left the whole charade alone. Whatever.
Such a concession had left him alone behind a locked door and hey, maybe that is just how he liked it.
He watched Shiho and Ann hold hands and lean towards each other and he knew, of course he knew, but in a scientist’s way. He catalogued the facts presented, acknowledged he would protect this existence he had no right to discover for himself, and in that same scientist way did he find himself leaving it alone. He knew, clinically once more, of the tangle between himself and Yusuke.
When Akira was fifteen he knew a heart-pounding, muscle-mapping feeling that consumed like a wildfire and left not a whole lot left. Maybe the chimneys. When Akira was fifteen his teacher grabbed him by the front of his shirt in front of the class and told him he was never going to be anything if he couldn’t get his act together. When Akira was fifteen, his hands grabbed the underside of his desk and used it like a battering ram to crush his teachers spine against the front of his table. He didn’t get much farther than that before he was peeled off of him. He never paid to replace the computer he had broken, he grew his hair out long and didn’t pay attention to school uniforms or homework or much of anything really.
He knew he should be ashamed of what he had done, but it had felt good. The teacher hadn’t been wrong anyway, he had indeed grown up to be quite a lot, just not much of anything worth praise.
When Akira was fifteen he knew a heart-pounding, muscle mapping feeling that consumed like a wildfire and left not a whole lot left, and he knew that he should be ashamed, but that some things felt good anyway. And he knew without question that it was not his place to love, that raging boys cannot have both. Finally, he also knew that he could not add up the acceptance of troubled children and boys who liked other boys and find anything meaningful, so he left it alone and there it stayed. It had stayed rotting, with many other ugly parts of him.
So, for very long, he didn’t know of being in love. He didn’t know it’s handwriting or the way it breathed, though he very much would have liked to. He was a spectator, and wore a groove into the bench of the sidelines in which he occupied with malcontent.
“I’m going to come by the cafe later this evening, if that’s alright with you? It’s a quiet place to work on sketches, and my dorm’s walls are… paper-thin, at best.”
Up until now.
Akira remembered staring at him, bottom lip caught between his teeth. He had to make a decision here, and quick, because whatever he said next would effectively decide every ounce of communication with him that he would have for the rest of his life. He knew when the opportune time to put up walls was, and he was staring it in the face. Never offer others a refuge. Give them space to breathe your air and they’ll never stop begging for another inhale. It became clear then that Akira wasn’t choosing between shutting him out or letting him in, he was choosing between self control and the reckless, innate desire to be needed. Loved, maybe. He couldn’t get ahead of himself.
“Yeah, whatever.” He breathed out, let his tight shoulders drop. “Sure.”
Yusuke nodded and the barest suggestion of a smile turned the corner of his lips up adorably, though Akira hated to use that word. “Thank you.”
Have you ever been in love?
Again, Akira was supremely unfamiliar with such a thing, so he hypothesized along what outlines he knew. And he knew a little. He knew the window beside his bed cast them both in soft light like two oddly shaped stars when they laid side by side and he knew he liked that. He knew he liked to reach across the counter and touch Yusuke’s hand when he gave him coffee and he liked that Yusuke seemed to like that too. He knew Yusuke had nice collarbones, seeing as he never knew how to shop for himself and always bought shirts a little too big, which often left that skin bare. He knew his heart froze when he saw him spasming on the ground, an electrically-charged attack meeting from a shadow with efficiency. He knew he could have killed Ryuji for bitching at him for recklessly leaving he and Haru to finish the beast off while he focused his persona on healing. “You survived, didn’t you?” He had bit back. “I’d be happy to end the streak.”
Have you ever been in love?
“You didn’t have to do that,” Yusuke murmured, shaking out his fingers, the lingering presence of the shock deteriorating under his skin.
Have you ever been in love?
“Well, I wasn’t going to just let you just walk it off.” Akira took his hands and examined them, knowing full-well there was nothing to see on the surface.
Have you ever been in love?
“Akira?” Ann’s head perked up and she gave him a look. Akira’s unseeing eyes were still trained on Futaba’s game.
“Yeah, sorry. I was just-- I was just thinking.” He coughed thinly into his arm. “Well, uh. Yeah, yeah I have been.”
Ann nodded, resting her cheek against him again. “I won’t tell if you don’t.”
Not telling was the opposite of the problem. Akira wanted to grab the world by the scruff of its neck and tell it all about Yusuke Kitagawa. Akira wanted to take the world, tie it up to a chair and wax poetic. Akira wanted to howl of the feeling as loud as he could until he spat blood.
Akira was eighteen and he was a slave to a heart-pounding, muscle-mapping feeling that consumed like a wildfire and burned, and burned, and burned. And Yusuke reached into it and pulled out his ash-sodden, wrath-wrecked body and told him it’s alright, I’ve got you.
When his schoolmates said he was a monster, Yusuke mentioned that his hair looked nice. When Ryuji complimented him on his sharp skills in hunting beasts in the Metaverse, unknowing that the brute force was borne of a particularly awful day, Yusuke let Akira rest his head on his lap and sleep. And when the world wanted the Phantom Thieves’ blood, Yusuke was quick to change the subject to something lighter, reading the stress in Akira’s eyes.
Akira thought he had known what love was like and would be the first one to tell you he was wrong. Yusuke liked the color blue, and liked the candies Akira would swipe from the convenience store he worked at ( “Oh, don’t preach about morals, I was under the impression you found thieves kind of sexy. ”) and he sometimes smiled a little in his sleep and wrote notes with his penmanship carefully addressed so as not to tarnish ‘Akira Kurusu’ any further. Yes, he was in love, and yes, he tried very hard not to find shame in things that felt good.
Ann fell asleep shortly after her confession, which was fine. Akira didn’t seek to share anything further about the delicate and evolving truths about himself that he was coming to terms with. As sobriety wore in, sleepiness did as well, and without meaning to, Akira slipped under.
Though, not for long. Futaba poked him in the arm, “Your phone is buzzing.”
Akira yawned and reached for it off the floor.
Yusuke: If you wouldn’t mind, maybe I could come by? If it’s just Ann and Futaba, perhaps they wouldn’t mind the truth about us. I understand your wariness to be honest about it around the others, but I’ve done some thinking and I want to try being more open.
Yusuke: Only if you agree, of course. It’s a decision we should make together. I know this is sudden.
Yusuke: And if the crowd isn’t sober, it might be easier to explain to them.
Yusuke: And I miss you.
He couldn’t help but chuckle.
Akira: i’ll leave the door unlocked for you. ann isn’t gonna give us any issues, trust me.
Yusuke : You sound rather confident.
Akira: i’ll explain when you’re here.
Yusuke: Right. See you soon.
Akira: see you.
“Who was it?” Futaba looked over her shoulder at him, glowing in the light of the pause screen on his television.
“Yusuke’s gonna come by. He wants to chat with you two.”
“Oh, you guys finally coming out?”
Akira closed his eyes and drew in a deep sigh. “Just play your stupid game until he gets here, would you?”