Ren receives a letter one winter day.
Though, actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
One winter day, in the evening in a house that doesn’t feel very much like his own anymore, Ren receives a phone call. The phone call is from Sojiro, whose voice is strange yet comforting at the same time, gruff and compassionate and everything in between.
Someone sent a letter to you here at Leblanc, he had explained. There’s no return address. Want me to forward it to you?
Ren had said yes, of course, namely because he was curious as to who would possibly be sending him a letter to his old address. It couldn’t be any of his friends; they know his home address. They know because they, too, send letters and packages of their own every now and then, so none of them have any reason to be sending something to Leblanc.
And so Ren assumed that it was either some stupid spam letter or a prank, but was still curious about it nonetheless.
It turns out, though, that it was not a stupid spam letter nor was it a prank, and he realizes this the moment he takes the letter out of his mailbox. The handwriting on the envelope is oddly familiar in a way that Ren cannot quite put his finger on. He is certain that he has seen this handwriting at least once before, and he is certain of this because the way this person writes their kana is particularly curly .
He leaves the letter on his bed before going to school, too anxious to read it, and tries to think about other things during the day to distract himself from that impending piece of paper sitting heavy like a brick on his blankets back at home. There isn’t much to think about, though; school feels like the color grey, and that letter is anything but.
Part of him is worried that his mom will walk into his room and read it. She used to do that—used to randomly enter his room, clean up a bit, rearrange things that seemed out of order. She hasn’t done that since Ren returned home more than half a year ago, and it makes him a little sad.
Things have been okay at home. His parents act like they do not know who Ren is, but that’s to be expected, he supposes. They are still friendly with him, just… distant. So very distant. He wishes that they weren’t, and cannot help but feel that it is entirely his own fault for their behavior even though he has made every effort to be amicable with them.
Some things just take time. Probably.
Ren returns home in the snow. He shakes off his hat and hangs it on the little hook beside the front door, removes his shoes, and stomps the rest of the way up to his room, shedding his jacket along the way. He is so focused on trying to get his arm out of the stupid thing that he only remembers the letter when he slides his bedroom door open and sees it laying there, plain as day.
In one movement, he tosses his things onto the floor and sits down to read the letter.
He rips it open with his finger.
He takes it out slowly.
He unfolds it.
And he reads.
Dear Amamiya Ren,
I hope this letter finds its way to you. I believe that you no longer live at the address I have written on the envelope, but it was the best I could do. I have no way of knowing whether or not you’re reading this, of course, so the most I can do is assume.
I have been debating whether or not I should send you something for a few months now—not that that is a particularly important piece of information, but I wanted to let you know nevertheless. I’ve written about three letters and thrown them all away. Perhaps this is the one that I will actually end up sending. I have a good feeling about it.
I’m not writing this to be a source of stress, I simply wanted to tell you a few things. I also wanted to let you know that I am alive by some incredible margin, that which I still cannot comprehend. But that’s something to tackle in another lifetime.
I left the city. I live in what I suppose could be called the countryside now; I have four neighbors and they’re all very kind. Nothing much happens around here and that’s completely fine with me, because I don’t want anything to happen to me in any context ever again. I want to live a quiet life.
And I do live a quiet life, I think. Relatively.
But there is a part of me that, as it always has, wishes for something better. For something more. Perhaps I am wishing for something new. This is a problem for me to solve on my own, though. To be honest, I’m sort of just trying to fill up space on this piece of paper at this point. I hope that isn’t an offensive thing to say.
I’ve done a lot of rambling, so I suppose I should get to the point.
An apology might be silly, but I want to give you one anyway. No combination of words could express what I would like to say—and I realize that sounds disgustingly cliche—but I want to let you know that I am sorry. I am deeply sorry for the stress I’ve put on you as well as your friends. There isn’t much I can do to take away that stress, and I recognize that.
And—maybe an apology is futile at this point. Maybe it means nothing to you. And if that’s the case, so be it. You and your friends—they have every right to not want to hear what I have to say.
I think that the more I go on about this the more complicated it all starts to feel, so I’m going to cut it here. I haven’t provided a return address for you, because I don’t want a reply. Maybe that’s a bit sadistic of me; I think it would be best for both of us, though.
I hope you have an enjoyable Christmas and New Year’s, and a very, very happy life.
— Akechi Goro
Ren holds the paper in his hands with his thumbs and index fingers and stares at it like it’s a prophecy. He stares at it for a good, long time, stares and stares and stares and re-reads it a few more times, just to make sure he’s understanding everything correctly.
Snow continues to fall outside, undisturbed.
Ren crumples the piece of paper in his hands, lets it fall to the ground, and curls himself into a ball on his bed. He wonders how small he can make himself in this big, big world.
“A letter?” Ann asks, voice clearly laden with concern, even through the phone.
“Yeah,” Ren says. He’s laying on his bed, staring at the ceiling with intent. “Do you want me to send you a picture of it?”
“You could just read it aloud to—”
“I don’t want to read it aloud,” Ren interrupts immediately. He’s trying not to sound irritated, he really is, but—
He isn’t mad at Akechi for sending the letter, not really. It’s nice to know that Akechi is alive. There are just so many frustrating things that have come along with it, including the fact that he provided no return address, which, admittedly, is quite the Akechi Goro thing to do. Regardless, the fact that Akechi has run away from everything and only now sent a signal of his existence to Ren is what is most annoying.
Ren is mad at the circumstances, not at Akechi himself.
“Oh, um, sorry,” Ann replies, a little mumbly. She sounds somewhat at a loss for words.
Ren sighs and rolls over onto his stomach. “No, I’m sorry too. I got kind of… pissy sounding, didn’t I? I didn’t mean to. I know you’re just trying to help.”
“It’s all right, Ren. I’m sorry that we’re so far away from you. It’ll be winter break soon, though, and Ryuji’s gonna visit you, right?”
“Yeah, he’s coming here for a few days.” Ren rubs his face with his hand, as if it will wipe away the gross feelings that are inside of his head.
“Sorry that I’m not able to make it,” Ann says, and she really does sound genuinely apologetic, which Ren hates, because it isn’t her fault that she lives so far away. It’s not her fault everything costs so much money, and it certainly isn’t her fault for not being able to visit.
“You don’t have to apologize,” he says, waving his hand as if she could see it through the other end of the phone. “But—anyway, I’m sick of talking about this. How’s Shiho?”
“Oh!” Ren can envision Ann’s blush perfectly. “Oh, she’s been doing really great lately. She told me that she likes her new school for sure now. She’s made a lot of new friends and the teachers are nice to her.”
Wish it was like that for me, Ren thinks. He obviously does not say that to Ann, because he is not a horrible person. “I’m really glad to hear. I’m happy for her. I’m happy for both of you guys.”
Ann giggles. “Thanks, Ren. She asks about you sometimes and says that when you come here during the summer she’d like to see you.”
“I’m sure we can find time for us to hang out,” Ren says, small smile on his lips. He thinks it’s sweet that Shiho wants to see him despite them never really speaking much to one another. “There’ll be plenty of time.”
“Right, right! I’m excited for it. You’re staying with Sakura-san, right?”
“Yeah, he says that he’s gonna make a place for me in his house. Apparently he had to take apart the bed in Leblanc’s attic because he found a bunch of bugs in the mattress one morning.”
“Ew.” Pause. “Bugs?”
“Yeah, he sent me a picture. It was pretty horrifying.”
“Don’t even think of sending it to me,” Ann says slowly. “Unless they were like, butterflies, or something.”
“They definitely weren’t butterflies,” Ren says with a laugh. “Though it would be pretty funny if they were.”
“Funny? Why’s that?”
Ren makes a face. He had forgotten that nobody else knew much in depth detail about the Velvet Room besides himself. “Err, nothing. It would just… be nicer, is all. I guess that’s what I meant to say.”
Ann is the one to laugh this time. “If you say so.”
“I do say so.” Ren sits up and sighs. “I think I should probably get going, by the way. Dinner will… probably be ready soon. And if it isn’t my mom’s going to ask me to help cook.”
“Oh, okay,” Ann says softly. It almost sounds sad. “Text me later, though.”
“Yeah, I will.” Ren thinks it’s sweet how much Ann tends to check in on him, but sometimes he wonders if she is doing it out of pity, or something. Maybe that’s a terrible type of thought to have. He doesn’t believe it to be true most of the time. “See you.”
“Bye-bye,” Ann replies, and then the call ends.
Ren stares at the wall.
It stares back.
Ren is lonely here in this house that does not feel like his own anymore.
Winter break comes fast, thankfully. Ren is exhausted from exams, exhausted from just about everything. He’s glad Ryuji is visiting.
Speaking of—his parents have yet to meet Ryuji, so when he steps into the house, there are actual signs of life from the two of them. They smile and introduce themselves and everything is very showy, very intentional, very rehearsed. From the look on Ryuji’s face, Ren can tell that he notices it too, and it’s humiliating to a degree.
Ryuji haphazardly drops his things (that which consist of an extremely beat up duffel bag and a drawstring one as well) in Ren’s room and takes a look around.
“You kept the stuff I gave you,” he says, looking at Ren’s shelf, which is decorated with the many gifts he’s accumulated from all of his friends.
“Why would I throw any of it away?” Ren asks with a slight eyebrow raise.
“I dunno. Just… it’s nice to see.” Ryuji picks up a dog-eared sudoku book and flips through it; most of the pages are filled out, there are only a few that haven’t been written on and they’re near the very end.
“You do sudoku?” Ryuji seems confused.
Ren does not answer. He waits.
Ryuji flips to the front of the book. At the very top left, on the inside cover, is a nearly illegible scribble that reads Akechi Goro.
He puts the book down slowly, gently.
Ren waits some more.
“Didn’t know you had this,” Ryuji says.
“It’s the only thing I have of his,” Ren explains, though this isn’t the full truth. Ann is the only one that knows about the letter; she is the only one he could bring himself to tell. Maybe later on he’ll tell Ryuji, but maybe not. There are a lot of mixed feelings on the matter. “I wanted to keep something, at least.”
“How’d you get it?”
“He kept it in the book collection at Leblanc.” Ren sits on the floor and holds his chin in his hand. “I didn’t notice until I was looking through them before I left, since I kept some of my books for school there.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot about those.” Ryuji scratches his cheek, seemingly almost at a loss for words. “I didn’t do much readin’. But hey, I’m focusing on studying more this year ‘round.”
Ren laughs. “Why’s that?”
“Makoto pesters me about it. And I kinda wanna do better, ‘specially for my mom. I’ll tell you more about it later. Can you show me around your town before all this serious catching-up stuff?”
“Not a lot to show,” Ren mumbles halfheartedly, but he goes to grab his coat nonetheless because he knows that Ryuji is going to keep asking him. “I can take you around if you really want.”
“Yeah, man. I wanna see. It’s so quiet here, it’s weird.”
“Sure. I’ll show you the spot where I apparently punched Shido in the face, too, just for the sweet memories of it.”
Ryuji laughs this time, and Ren smiles. He’s glad that he can at least joke about this without it being weird or tense. Ryuji is generally good with these types of things.
They set off into the snow.
Ren wakes up with a start after a needle shoots itself directly at him in his dream.
He sits up and rubs his face with his hand, searching around for his phone in the dark until his other hand bumps into it. Upon picking it up he discovers that it is just a few minutes after two in the morning.
When he turns his head, he finds Ryuji sleeping on the extra futon. He’s facing the other way, laying on top of about three pillows. Ren wonders if that hurts his neck.
It’s still snowing. Ren stares out his window at it, falling, ever so quietly, silencing the outside tenfold without even being aware that it is doing so.
He inhales, shakily, and before he knows it he is crying and doesn’t even know why. Or—maybe he does know why. Maybe it’s because of this stupid snow that will not stop falling, maybe it’s because of Akechi’s letter that he has kept tucked underneath the mattress, gently laying inside of its envelope. Maybe it’s because he wishes his parents would talk to him normally again, maybe it’s because—
“Hey,” a voice says, and Ren wishes time would stop, “are you okay, man?”
He doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t know what to say. The snow won’t stop falling.
Ryuji gets out of his futon ungracefully. “Did something happen?” he asks, moving to sit down on the end of the bed.
Ren still cannot say anything. There is a stone heavy in his tongue and in his throat and inside of his stomach.
“You don’t have to pretend,” Ryuji whispers, and it’s so different from how he usually speaks that Ren cannot hold it in anymore. Before he realizes what’s happening Ryuji has his arms around him.
“I hate it here,” Ren gasps out, feeling absolutely pathetic. “I hate being here. I hate being here because it’s so lonely.”
This time, Ryuji is the one to not say anything.
“I hate it here because it’s so lonely, and I can’t talk to anybody about anything, and school is so awkward and I’m so miserable and my parents think I’m a fucking stranger or something, and—”
He stops there, because it’s hard to speak. He stops there because the stones are too heavy.
Ryuji offers no words, only the embrace, and Ren thinks that is more than enough.
Around Valentine’s Day, Sojiro forwards another letter to Ren’s house.
It has the same penmanship that it had on Akechi’s first letter, and Ren immediately knows that it must be from him. The stamp on the envelope is a bird wearing a hat, and something about it is both bothersome but kind of endearing at the same time.
As Ren had done before, he doesn’t open it for a while. In fact, he waits a couple of days this time around—for no particular reason other than it doesn’t feel like the right time yet. It sits patiently, tucked underneath his mattress with the first letter, which Ren has read many times over since he had gotten it. Ann is still the only one that knows of its existence.
He feels bad that he hadn’t told Ryuji about it when he visited, but after that incredibly embarrassing night he couldn’t bring himself to mention something else that could be something potentially worrying.
When Ren finally decides to open the letter one Saturday night, he notices that the envelope seems thicker than it had last time. Sure enough, upon opening it up, he discovers not one but two pieces of folded paper. It’s also on thicker cardstock this time; Ren has absolutely no idea why Akechi hasn’t written it on normal paper.
Hello Amamiya Ren,
It’s snowing as I’m writing this.
It’s been snowing an awful lot lately. I’m a bit surprised because it is already so late in the season. The heating in the place I live in is pretty mediocre, to be honest, so I’ve had to go out and buy one of those space-heater types of things. When I was little, one of the families I was with had one of those, and I was always afraid that it would catch on fire and burn the whole house down. Or maybe I wished that it would catch on fire and burn the whole house down.
Regardless, that’s no longer a fear of mine, so this tangent is somewhat meaningless, unless you have been curious about some of the more specific details of my childhood. I hope you haven’t. They’re rather abysmal.
When I sent the first letter to you, I told myself that I would not send any more. And for a while, I stuck with this proclamation. In fact, I ended up forgetting about the fact that I had sent you a letter in the first place. There isn’t a particular reason for that—it’s not like I was forgetting about your existence.
But a few days ago I was going for a walk and heard a neighbor mention someone named Ren. They weren’t speaking about you, obviously; it was their uncle that was planning on visiting them. But I heard your name, and then I thought of the letter I had sent, and couldn’t help but wonder whether or not you received it. I do have faith in Sojiro, so I am going to continue writing this with the expectation that you are in fact reading it.
Anyway—as I was saying. Your name. It got me thinking a bit about the first thing I had sent you and realized that it gave less closure than I wanted it to, so today I caved and am sending you this second letter.
In case you were wondering, I’m writing this at two in the morning. I’m not sure why I feel the need to provide you with this specific detail, but it’s something I’d like to include. I don’t get to tell people about what I do very often, which isn’t really a bad thing, considering I don’t particularly want anyone to know the deep details of my life. But every now and then I think it’s fine to share unnecessary harmless information.
I’m rambling again.
The first order of business: I’d like to apologize for any stress my first letter may have caused you, and I’d also like to apologize for any stress this letter may cause you. It’s not my intention to create added stress for you, so I wanted to get that out of the way. I hope that, at least, these letters are somewhat pacifying.
Ren turns to the second piece of cardstock. He thinks, somewhere in the back of his mind, that it is pacifying. It’s nice to know that Akechi is alive.
I have been thinking about you.
I hope things are okay. I remember you said you’d be returning back to your hometown to finish high school. I hope that it’s manageable, being there. I’m not sure if it’s any consolation, but I can understand the loneliness you might feel.
I’m not particularly good with comforting words so I must apologize. But I really do hope that things are all right for you, and if they aren’t, that they will improve quickly.
Nothing has changed since my last letter. I still live in the relative middle of nowhere. If I could describe it, it’s mostly farmland. I help the neighbors out every now and then with whatever they need, but otherwise I don’t do much else. There aren’t many places to work but I am miraculously earning money through a few other means.
I considered sending you my address for a while solely because it’s very beautiful here, and I think that you would like it. I think that you would like it, and I do want you to see it.
But I can’t send you my address. I can’t, because I think the best thing for me to do is to stay here by myself. Loneliness is nothing I need to get used to, after all.
I’m sorry if me saying this seems… terrible. But I wanted to let you know, because you deserve to know my intentions. Actually, the word “intentions” seems a bit too hard. Maybe the word I’m looking for is “feelings.”
Regardless—thank you for reading this, if you have. And if you haven’t, that’s okay too.
- Akechi Goro
PS) I’m sure you’re wondering why I wrote this on cardstock. I ran out of paper and there aren’t any stores nearby so I have to work with what I’ve got. When I need to buy things, I purchase everything in bulk. The nearest store is 30 minutes away. When I bought the space heater, I didn’t realize I was out of paper.
This explanation is too long.
Ren reads it all once, twice, three times, before he sighs and drops the letters to his lap.
What is the point in Akechi writing these things? What’s his goal—what’s he trying to get at? He’s stated himself that he doesn’t want a response, so what does he get out of doing this? Closure?
There is plenty of room for questions here, but certainly no way to get answers. If Akechi ends up sending any more letters, Ren knows that he will continue to read them, continue to keep them under his mattress.
Ren doesn’t know how to feel about Akechi. Ren has never known how to completely feel about Akechi, and he is sure that the feeling is mutual.
Actually, perhaps it’s a good thing that he hasn’t provided a return address. If he did, Ren would feel obligated to write a response letter—and he isn’t sure what he would say. He isn’t sure whether or not he’d be able to write anything at all.
Ren doesn’t hate Akechi. Ren has never hated Akechi. He wishes that he could understand him and wishes that he could have helped him. He wishes that things had gone down differently, but there is no way to go back in time and fix that. There is only looking towards the future and using that as a method of repair.
Unfortunately, without any sense of where Akechi lives, Ren will forever be at a standstill.
At night, as Ren lays in his bed, blanket snugly up to his chin, he imagines what Akechi’s life must be like now. He imagines him living in the countryside, in the rolling grass and tall trees and quiet mornings, quiet nights, and Ren is happy for him. Ren is happy that Akechi gets to have that—a peace he probably never had.
Ren is happy for him and hopes that one day he will be able to have something similar.
SOME TIME AGO...
During the summer, it was very humid in Leblanc.
In fact, it was almost a little bit painful. The air felt consistently suffocating, like a thick blanket tangled up around limbs. And everyone that spent time there knew it too; from the pompous male customer that Ren wishes he had kicked in the shin to the elderly couple to Sojiro himself—everyone could feel it, but hardly anybody ever spoke up about it. There wasn’t really a need to, not really, because it had always been like that. It wasn’t going to change.
One sunny day, though, Ren said something about it.
He got home pretty early that evening, all things considered. The entire day consisted of him running back and forth to Iwai’s shop where he delivered things in exchange for the purchase of a singular gun. Afterwards he studied with Makoto in the diner, had two large smoothies, and stopped by the DVD store to return a four day overdue movie. He’d done this tons of times before. They hardly gave him a disappointed look.
When he arrives at Leblanc, Akechi is sitting at his usual spot. He’s mindlessly fumbling through the little collection of books that are placed in front of him, fingers tapping each spine as if it were some game.
“Hey,” Ren says, voice a normal volume. Akechi jumps at the sound anyway—had he not heard the door jingle?—and sighs when he turns to see it is only Ren who had spoken.
“Hello,” he says, a little huffy. “You frightened me.”
“I could tell.” Ren sets his bag on the table and Morgana hops out of it, gives both of them a fussy face, and taptaptaps upstairs to the attic. The two boys watch in silence as it all happens.
“He seems a bit set off,” Akechi observes. “I certainly hope it isn’t because of me.”
“Oh, you know how cats are,” Ren says with a hand wave and nervous laugh. He isn’t sure what to say, because it was almost definitely Akechi’s presence that so immediately irritated Morgana.
“I’ve actually never had a cat,” Akechi replies, fanning himself uselessly with his hand.
(Ren cannot begin to come up with a reason as to why he is here in Leblanc in a long sleeved sweater, drinking hot coffee in this immense heat, and decides not to ask about it.)
“Would you want one?” Ren asks. He’s still awkwardly standing near the entrance.
Akechi smiles vaguely. “Perhaps… one day.” His voice is soft and distant, as if there’s something wrong about what he’s saying.
“Well, hopefully you…..”
Ren trails off without realizing it. He looks at Akechi’s face—he looks at his unwaveringly placid features yet immensely stressed eyes and wonders what he’s thinking about right now that seems to be making him so far away. The silence between them is like clay: obvious and heavy and unmoving. Relentless, almost, if that were possible.
Akechi, however, seems to be unaware of how tense he looks. He raises an eyebrow. “Hopefully I…?”
“Uh—hopefully you get to have a cat one day.”
“Oh, yes, haha. Hopefully.”
Something overcomes Ren, then, in the small second after he says this and makes eye contact with Akechi. “Want to go do something?” he blurts, only half aware of what he’s saying and even less aware of the potential implications.
Akechi nearly does a double take. He stops fanning himself, looks down at his empty cup of coffee, and then back at Ren. “Such as?”
“I dunno, anything. The arcade? They have air conditioning in there. There’s no air conditioning in here.”
From the kitchen, Sojiro gives Ren a Look.
Akechi’s face, though, gives off the impression that he has never been inside of an arcade before. Ren tells himself that he’s overanalyzing and coughs into his fist.
“The… arcade,” Akechi repeats, slow and strange. For a moment, it appears as though he’s going to deny Ren’s invite, which would be embarrassing. But he doesn’t—after another glance at his cup, he stands and smiles at Ren. “I’d love to,” he says, clear as ever.
“Great.” Ren smiles too. He isn’t sure what’s happening. “Let me just put my stuff upstairs.”
Before Akechi can give even a single word of reply, Ren is dashing up the stairs to the attic, three at the time, nearly tripping and falling over when he reaches the top. He sets his bag down on his bed gives Morgana a pat on the head. “Don’t be mad,” he starts.
Morgana frowns. “Why would I be mad?”
“I’m going out,” he explains. “With Akechi.”
The frown instantly disappears and is replaced with eyes wide with shock. “You’re—you’re doing what ?”
“Like—no! Not like that.” Ren sighs. “I’m going to the arcade with him. I’ll be back later.”
“What? That’s hardly any better. Do you want me to come with y—”
Ren interrupts him by giving him another pet on the head as he carefully backs down the stairs. “Nope! Won’t be necessary. It’s gonna be all good, clean fun, I promise.”
“Well, even if—”
But Ren is already halfway down the stairs. “Goodbye!” he shouts, turning around when he reaches the bottom step to Akechi, who is standing there, back to the door, staring at his phone as if hands were about to reach out of it and strangle him.
“Ready to go?” Ren asks, waving unnecessarily, to which Akechi nods and also waves back unnecessarily.
The two set off.
As it turns out, Akechi is great at arcade games.
He might be even better than Ren, which is saying something, because Ren likes to think that he has gotten pretty good at handling a gun in the Metaverse, but, well—apparently not as much as he had originally thought.
They’re in the diner now—their waitress raises an eyebrow at Ren, as she had been the one to serve him and Makoto when they were here earlier—sharing some meat dish that Akechi had ordered (and insisted on paying for, too. Ren didn’t argue).
“I read your food blog, y’know,” Ren admits as Akechi pokes at the food. It looks as though he’s inspecting it for poison or something. “You seem to mostly like sweet stuff. Is this an exception?”
“Oh, I’m truthfully not that picky. It’s just that desserts and sweet foods are much more photogenic than savory foods. Though I will admit that I do have a slight preference for sweets. I only figured that it would be inappropriate to have cake for dinner.”
“Nothing wrong with cake for dinner. You do actually strike me as the picky type, though.”
Akechi vaguely waves his hand around. His eyes have gotten a little distant. “I was pretty poor growing up,” he says, quieter than usual. “I’m all right having just about anything.”
“Oh.” Ren’s face falls. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have assumed…”
“No, no, you’re all right. Don’t worry about it.” Akechi laughs when he says this, and although it sounds genuine, Ren can’t tell if he might just be acting. “Well—what about you? Are you picky?”
“Hmmm.” He considers this, tapping his cheek for added effect. “No, I don’t think so. I prefer spicy stuff… but otherwise I don’t care.”
“Oh, really?” Akechi raises a brow. “Coincidentally, spicy food is just about the only food I’m weak against…”
The next words are out of Ren’s mouth before he realizes it. “Do you have any other weaknesses?”
He’s not sure about the implication of this statement. It could be just about anything, really.
Thankfully, Akechi seems to take it as just a plain question with nothing hidden underneath it. “I get hot fairly easily,” he says, casual.
Ren laughs. “Is that why you’re wearing a sweater in mid-June?”
“I—all right, admittedly I don’t have an excuse for this.” He sighs. “I’ve been a bit behind on chores, I suppose.”
“Something like that,” Akechi replies, looking back down at the food.
His eyes have gone distant again.
“Anything I can do to help?” Ren then asks, hoping to get Akechi’s attention back.
It seems to pique his interest. “I hope this doesn’t sound too blunt, but would you mind buying me ice cream?”
This is—certainly not what Ren thought he would say, but it isn’t that demanding of a request either. “Sure, I’ll buy you some. From the convenience store, or..?”
“Here’s fine,” he says quickly. “At this diner, I mean. Unless you’d prefer someplace else.”
“We could always—uh, go to an ice cream… place.” Ren is having trouble finding words, because he’s staring at Akechi now. He’s staring at his strange, rosy eyes and pink dusted cheeks and the way some of his hair curls around the side of his face like vignette.
Akechi continues the conversation for him. “Is there somewhere specific you have in mind?”
There isn’t, but he says yes anyway. As Akechi pays, Ren pulls out his phone, pretending to check his messages, and searches for places nearby that sell ice cream.
They take the train. They share a sundae. Akechi has lovely eyes.
They have their first kiss about a month later.
It was somewhat spontaneous. Ever since he discovered how good Akechi is at arcade games, Ren ended up taking him back to the arcade whenever he happened to be at Leblanc in the evening. Nearly every time afterwards they found themselves getting ice cream, or crepes, or whatever it was that Akechi seemed to want that day. Ren didn’t care where they went or even what they did. In fact, Akechi could take him shopping for postage stamps and Ren would probably have a perfectly good time.
He was hardly going along for the games and food at this point. He was going along because he could be with Akechi.
Akechi, Akechi, oblivious as ever—never picking up any of Ren’s flirting no matter how obvious he attempted to be with it. Even when he grasps Akechi’s hand while they’re doing something, even when he looks so far into his fascinating eyes—all he gets in return is a nervous laugh and conversation change.
Until one Saturday evening.
Since it was Saturday, they decide to stay out a little later than usual, roaming Akihabara and fooling around with the gacha machines and staring at all of the unaffordable electronics. They buy a large quantity of strange drinks from the vending machines and then take the train to the park, where they sit down on a bench and lay out all the drinks side by side.
“How do you want to do this?” Akechi asks, tapping one of the cans with his index finger. He has very nice hands, Ren notices. Or—has continued to notice.
“Just… try whichever one you want, and then give me one to taste.”
And so they do exactly that, taking turns trying the drinks and never finding any of them particularly pleasant. Some aren’t necessarily bad, but rather things that neither of them would drink out of their own volition.
By the time they’re almost finished, the sun has completely disappeared from the sky, and they’re the only two left in the park as far as Ren can see.
The moon is watching. The stars are watching. Fate is watching.
“Do you have a favorite?” Ren asks, gesturing at the drinks.
Akechi seems to deeply contemplate this, holding his hand on his chin. “Not… particularly, no,” he says. “I will say that the spicy coffee one was definitely the worst.”
“Really? Worse than the one with ‘blended placenta?’”
Akechi wrinkles his nose. “I’d rather not think about what’s inside all of these. By a flavor standpoint, though, the coffee one was my least favorite.”
Ren laughs, maybe a little bit too hard. “Okay, fair.” He pauses, sighs, and then stands up. He gathers a few of the drinks in his hands and tosses them into a nearby trash can; Akechi follows suit with the rest of them.
Ren can feel his heartbeat against his ribs.
He looks at the moon.
The moon looks back.
“So…” he starts, turning back to Akechi, and then stopping before he can say anything else.
Akechi is standing ever so close to Ren. So close, in fact, that it’s almost a bit funny—it’s as though this could be in a movie or something. Ren watches Akechi’s hand twitch by his side and then looks back up to make eye contact again.
“Uh,” Ren manages. The moon is still watching. The stars are still watching. Ren knows that they are. Fate is still watching, too, but he doesn’t know that part.
And then Akechi says: “Can I?”
And then Ren says: “Yeah,” and he knows what he’s saying yes to even without it being stated.
Akechi kisses him, then, in the park at night under the moon and the big, big sky. Ren notices that Akechi tastes like a mixture of the awful drinks they had, but he doesn’t even mind it.
(Ren wishes he knew how significant this night would be.)
But those weren’t thoughts that he had while Akechi was kissing him. When Akechi was kissing him, there at the park at night under the moon and big, big sky, Ren was not thinking about anything at all; he was only feeling. He was feeling—everything. He was feeling when Akechi pulled him closer, feeling when they sat back down on the bench, feeling every time they broke apart from one another only chase each other’s lips once again.
Ren was feeling.
And even when they finally stop, even when they awkwardly part at the train station, there is something in Ren—warm and comforting—that stays with him for the rest of the night and the following days to come.
For just a little while, the world is not as big as it usually is.
Despite all this, they never actually date one another.
Or, well—perhaps it’s more appropriate to say that they never officially establish that they’re dating. Ren supposes, at the time ( and when looking back ) that stating it aloud is unnecessary, or something.
They do, nevertheless, continue to spend time with one another. They continue to spend time with one another more than they had before, and the rest of the Thieves are all vaguely annoyed by it, but Ren can’t find it in himself to care, because he’s very happy. He’s very happy, going to the movies with Akechi and ignoring whatever is playing onscreen to kiss him instead. He’s very happy when Akechi gets excited over some sweet food or television program. He’s very happy when Akechi shows him his apartment, and very happy when he is invited to stay over.
But when Akechi starts distancing himself, starts making up excuses about how he cannot hang out for the fourth day in a row, Ren starts to wonder what has changed. He starts to wonder if he has done anything, and Akechi assures him that he hasn’t during a meeting one day, assures him as they grow more and more apart from one another, and he assures Ren before he shuts the door in the engine room.
Ren is not assured.
SOME TIME AGO, BUT LESS SO...
The day that Ren first returns home, he immediately wants to go back.
His parents have never been malicious people. They hardly yell, they have never intentionally hurt Ren, and they never will. They’ve always been just a bit isolated, though.
They’ve always been a little indifferent.
Which is strange , Ren thinks as he unpacks his things and organizes them all into his room, because they were so eager to send me to live with Sojiro . It didn’t seem like they were disappointed in him, or even mad, it just seemed like—— it was as though they wanted him off their hands for a little while.
Ren gets it, maybe. Ren wants to get away from himself sometimes too.
Anyway—the first day Ren gets home, his parents say hello, and that’s all. They leave dinner out for him and do not eat with him; truthfully, he isn’t even sure if they’re home. Maybe they went out somewhere together. He doesn’t know. They didn’t say anything to him.
Ren stares at the food. It feels foreign. It doesn’t seem right.
Before going to the city, Ren always felt relatively at home here in this town. He had a pretty nice group of friends and his grades were decent. The neighborhood dogs liked him and he liked them back. Every now and then, he worked at the convenience store and the manager seemed to favor him over everybody else.
But now it feels nothing like home, and he had only been gone for a year. It’s quite the problem.
Ren eats the dinner his parents left out for him, cleans up, and heads back into his room for the rest of the night. He calls Futaba, because he needs someone to be of comic relief, and sets his phone on the bed and puts it on speaker while he continues to put all his stuff away.
It’s strange, Ren thinks to himself as the phone rings, that I’ve brought more things home than what I brought to Leblanc.
“Hello?” comes a voice from the phone on his bed. “Ren?”
“Hey, yeah,” he says, scrambling to stand so that he can take his phone and place it on the ground. “Hi.”
“Hi.” Pause. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah, everything is… fine.” It’s hardly true, but he doesn’t want to talk about anything serious right this minute. “Um… how are you?”
Hopefully Futaba gets the sense that he’s really trying for normal conversation here.
“I’m pretty good. Me and Haru got ice cream earlier.”
“Oh, huh. What kind did you get?”
“Pistachio. It was pretty good. We went to the arcade afterwards, too.”
Ice cream and arcade. Ironic. “Anything fun happen there?”
“Nope, nothing noteworthy. Shinya was there, though, but he was doing something with his friends. He’s made a bunch of new ones.”
“I’m glad to hear that for him.”
“He looks happy. Did you know that Haru is really good at crane games? She—”
And it goes on. Futaba talks. Ren listens. Ren listens to words and words and words and sounds until they become silence and nothing and he thinks about Akechi, and his eyes, and he thinks about him when he skips class because his chest feels too tight to sit and he thinks about him when he he he he he he he he when he—
Ren is lonely.
Ren receives a third letter from Akechi about one month after he had gotten the second one, which is interesting, time-wise. It seems as though he’s more eager to send these letters, or perhaps more eager to continue feeling whatever comfort he is getting from sending them.
This time around, Ren wastes no time leaving the letter unopened for a while. The moment it is in his hands, he goes to his room, sits on the bed, opens the letter with his thumb, and reads it.
It’s on regular paper. Akechi must have gone shopping.
Hello Amamiya Ren,
I feel a little bit embarrassed sending this. It’s not because I’m embarrassed of what I’m writing, I suppose; I don’t care too much about that. I’m embarrassed because it’s barely been more than a month and I’m already sending you another letter.
Don’t think that I have no self restraint. If I wanted to, I could never send you another letter again, but that’s not what I want.
Ren laughs aloud for some reason.
I don’t know how else to say this without being incredibly, stupidly blunt, but I miss you a lot.
When I first sent you a letter, I thought to myself: This could be bad. This could be bad because I might want to keep sending letters, and I might want to meet up with you, and I might want to see you again and spend time with you like we had before. But I also thought to myself: I won’t do that. I won’t let it happen.
Well—clearly that second part didn’t hold up. I guess I can’t help it. I know that it’s likely better for both of us… if I don’t make any more moves or send any more letters. I’m not sure what to do moving forward. I miss you.
I like living in the countryside. It’s very quiet, and there are plenty of farms, and a small amount of people to get close to, which is very nice. I’m still not terribly close with anyone that lives here, but that’s fine with me, as I’m sure you can assume.
There’s a type of peace out here I’ve never experienced before! I’m glad I get to now. Did you know I’ve also got a cat now? I remember when we were talking about that together. I remember that day very clearly, actually. The things we did that day… meant a lot to me, and in the months afterward, though I’m not sure if you’ll believe me when I say that.
Ren believes him.
Sometimes I reminisce about them. I’ve got a good amount of free time now that I live in the middle of nowhere, which means I also have plenty of time to go over old memories. Writing that down sounds more… elderly than it did when I was thinking about it in my head. I’m hardly old at all.
Oh, also—I can’t begin to explain how frustrating it was finding this place to live. I won’t go into details, but it involved a lot of bike riding, and a lot of politeness to the old people that live here to convince them to let me stay. I went through a lot of rehearsing. It’s pretty lucky that I’ve got a place to stay at all, considering I was without money for ages.
It’s funny. The more I write, the more I want to keep saying things, but the worse I feel because I still can’t give you my address.
I suppose in that case I should cut this letter short.
Maybe one day we’ll meet again, Amamiya Ren.
Ren thinks it’s interesting that he signed only his given name this time.
As always, he re-reads it a few times, attempting to analyze any hidden messages or intentions behind the words but realizing that, as always, there are none. Akechi is straightforward in his writing—or perhaps it’s more appropriate to say that he’s become straightforward with Ren. Who knows what the truth is at this point.
He puts the letter back into the envelope and places it under his mattress with the other two. Before putting his mattress back down he stares at the three of them for a minute, frowning ever so slightly.
Does Akechi have an ulterior motive with this?
Ren’s guess is no. His guess is that Akechi truly has no hidden agenda with these letters and that he is simply guilty and likely lonely as well. These feelings are expected, but Ren hadn’t imagined he would ever see them both laid out so calmly in front of him in a physical form.
He drops the mattress and goes over to his shelf, picks up Akechi’s sudoku book, and sits back down to page through it to see if he missed anything written inside.
There is, of course, nothing notable. Akechi seems to take sudoku very seriously for some reason; most of margins involve nothing but math or an occasional scribble to see if his pen was working. There isn’t anything else—no notes, no drawings, nothing at all.
It’s strange to see a piece of Akechi in this way. It’s very no-nonsense—not that Akechi was ever nonsense-ful, but there is a complete absence of anything eccentric or deeply revealing.
He continues mindlessly flipping through the pages, even as the sun starts to set. Eventually his room goes dark and Ren has to put the book down because he can’t see anymore, and instead of standing up to put it back on the shelf, Ren simply slips it underneath his mattress with the rest of the things he has to prove that Akechi Goro was born.
The next morning he wakes up to the sound of his alarm, loud and beeping, and misses Morgana more than he ever has before.
His parents wouldn’t allow him to keep a cat in the house. It’s fair, Ren supposes, because it is a bit of a big deal for him to bring back a new living creature. He wishes he could tell them that Morgana is perfectly capable of sustaining himself on his own, but he can’t, because that would make absolutely no sense to them.
Ren sits up and rubs his face. He stares at the stupid fake glasses next to his bed and frowns.
He’s done so much useless bullshit to prove that he’s only interested in doing the right thing, but nothing feels like it’s lining up in his head anymore. Everything, everything—it’s all messed up. It’s all over the place.
He smacks his glasses with his hand and they go flying across the room and hit the wall. They lay there in a sad, pathetic little pile, like limbs upon limbs upon limbs upon limbs.
School, Ren thinks. I have to go.
And that’s just it. As much as he doesn’t want to go, he has to. It’s not like he’s going to feel this way forever, right? He just has to get through this year. He just has to get through this year, and has to get into college somewhere in the city, and then everything will be smooth sailing once again.
Or—as smooth as it possibly can be, anyway.
He gets up—slowly. He gets up, feeling like a stone at the bottom of the sea, and stumbles into the bathroom to brush his teeth and get ready, because it’s all he can do at this point.
Ren’s phone says that he has zero unread messages.
In the middle of history, Ren wishes that Akechi would send his address. He wants to see him. He wants to see him and he wants to talk to him. He wants to do this because he is sure that it will make him feel better, and he likes to think that perhaps it will make Akechi feel better as well. Despite the wordiness of all his letters, Ren can tell that he’s just about as miserable and lonely as he was before—the only difference is that now he gets to live in some secluded fucking farmland and avoid all his problems.
Ren is just a little bit angry about that. He’s angry that Akechi gets to run away and probably only face who he is during the night time. Granted, maybe he deserves to do that, but—but.
Ren just wishes that he was able to do that too.
The lecture drones on; Ren is hardly paying attention. His phone buzzes and he pulls it out of his pocket, staring at the message underneath his desk.
ryuji: Hey man
Something about it seems a bit too unprompted for comfort. Ren looks up at the teacher, who is deeply engrossed in pointing at a map, and then back to his phone.
The response is almost immediate.
ryuji: I was goin through a box in my room and found something from Akechi
ryuji: Want me to send it to you??
Ren bites his nail and frowns.
Me: sure, but what did you find?
Me: why would one of his things be in a box in your room..?
ryuji: Remember at that one PT meeting we had where he was tellin us about some old farty book he was readin?? He gave it to me lol
ryuji: Told me it was his own copy but I never read it bc wtf am I gonna gain from reading an old ass book like that?
ryuji: I know I know
ryuji: Anyway that’s a yes on the sending??
ryuji: Sry if you’re in class right now
Ren continues to bite his nail and continues to frown. He looks up and around the classroom again. Not much has changed.
Me: yeah you can send it
Me: thank you
ryuji: Np man
And with that, Ren slides his phone back into his pocket, puts his head on his desk and closes his eyes solemnly.
Everyone knew that… there was something up between Ren and Akechi. It was very clear that everyone knew, because the two of them made it so obvious .
Not only did they spend a ridiculous amount of time with one another, but as time went on—even towards the very end when they began to grow distant—they were both insistently touchy with one another.
Ren found out pretty easily that Akechi was… a very touch-starved person. It didn’t take a lot of observation to notice this. Akechi liked holding Ren’s hand, he liked being hugged by Ren, he liked when their knees would touch underneath tables, and he liked when Ren would put his hands around his hips when they kissed. Ren didn’t completely understand why he was like this until Akechi disappeared behind that godforsaken wall in the engine room in Shido’s pathetic little boat, but it hit him like a bullet after that.
Naturally, Akechi’s favor for these things carried on even when he and Ren were around the rest of the Thieves. Even during meetings.
It wasn’t like Ren was embarrassed by it or complained about it or anything. The only awkward part was that he never directly stated to everyone that yeah, I think I might be in love, because that would…
It would cause a lot of problems for it to be out in the open. Just about everyone knew that.
Though, in retrospect, maybe it would have made the end less painful. Maybe everyone would have given him less pitiful stares, because if they publicly proclaimed themselves as boyfriends, maybe they would all be more inclined to help him. More inclined to give Ren direct support instead of the awful distant mess they had given him.
Or maybe not. There’s no way of knowing now.
There’s no way of knowing now.
There’s no way of knowing now.
There’s no way of knowing now.
There’s no way of knowing…
Four o’clock in the morning finds Ren wide awake and sitting up in his bed.
Ren loves sleeping. Ren has always loved sleeping, and it was never hard for him to fall asleep, even during the days of incredibly horrific stress. Perhaps part of that was Morgana’s influence.
He pets his bedsheets, eyes blank, and it is four in the morning and Ren wonders if he is going crazy. It seems likely.
His phone is running out of battery and his charger is so far away in his bag across the room, but he picks it up and calls Akechi’s phone number anyway, just to see if anything has changed. The number rings and rings and rings until eventually a sweet, smooth and calm voice answers and says We’re sorry, but the number you have dialed does not exist just as it always does.
Ren stares at his phone, as he always does, and wishes that it would at least give him a place to leave a voicemail, but it never will.
It doesn’t feel good to call Akechi’s number and hear that stupid automated message. Ren should stop doing that.
For the shortest of moments, he debates calling Ann or Ryuji and talking to them, but remembers that unlike him, they have been sleeping like normal human beings lately and have no reason to be staying up so early in the morning, especially with school tomorrow.
Sometimes Ren fantasizes about skipping school, or running away from here and going back to Leblanc, or— something . He fantasizes about being able to get away from here, his home-that-is-just-a-house, and going somewhere that feels less awkward and confusing.
He isn’t that far from the city, not really. But it’s far enough to make travelling an expensive inconvenience, and he doesn’t make any money like he did when he was working at the cafe, so planning is difficult. Not to mention it feels like his soul has been sucked out of his body and doing things is hard when one feels like that.
Ren doesn’t hate his parents, and he knows that his parents don’t hate him. He doesn’t blame them for the strain in their relationship. He supposes it’s just something that has come as a side effect from… all the things that happened. There’s nothing he can do to change that.
He is about to say fuck the morning and call Ryuji, but his phone suddenly dies and so he sighs instead and lays back down.
Two days after Akechi's book arrives, Ren recieves a fourth letter.
He thinks the book must be sign.
There is something strange about this letter. It has barely been two weeks since Ren got the third one. It seems a bit more hasty than what Akechi would like, and because of this, Ren immediately charges into his room and tears open the envelope before he even has the chance to sit down. He reads it standing up.
I’m sorry. It isn’t up to me to decide whether or not you see me. It’s up to you. I cannot keep burdening you with these stupid letters that are nothing but excuses and ways for me to waste time.
Everything you’ll need to know is on the back of this paper.
With trembling hands, Ren turns over the piece of paper, and there, in the center of the page, is an address, written very neatly, and a poorly drawn map right underneath it.
Ren falls to his knees, like a prayer, and cries.
One of the best parts of all of this—besides the fact that he gets to see Akechi—is that Ren gets to live out his previously mentioned fantasy of skipping school.
He’s skipped school before, clearly, but that’s because he was supposed to be dead and it was circumstantial. This time around, he’s skipping school because he’s been presented an opportunity and is not going to miss it.
It took quite a bit of convincing to let his parents agree to this, and not all of the convincing was truthful. Ren had sat them down and essentially told them that he wanted to go to the countryside for a bit and do some research for an environmental science project on his own. He knows that they wouldn’t have let him go if he told them the truth, but if he said this was a school sponsored event, they would have checked with his guidance counsellor, which—would clearly not work.
Quite honestly, it was a very poor excuse, and he is positive that they could see right through him. But there’s no time to worry about things like that, because they agreed to let him go, being the now hands-off parents that they are, and so everything has worked out.
It’s not as though he’s missing an entire week of school, either. Ren is leaving early Friday morning and returning late Monday evening. That’s only three days missed. It could be a lot worse; it could be like last time.
“So, what do you have packed?” Ann asks, voice loud and echoey through the speakerphone.
“Uhh… clothes. Toothbrush, toothpaste, the book Ryuji sent me, shampoo, soap… uhh…” Ren trails off as he digs through the lump of clothes in his bag, “...money. That’s pretty much everything.”
“You’re not gonna bring like, a gift?”
“Should I?” Ren sits back on his heels and sighs. “I feel like that would be weird. I get the sense that he thinks I’m just not gonna show up at all.”
“Of course he thinks that! Giving him a gift would really prove otherwise.”
“But I’ll already be there, so it’s not like I’ll have anything to prove anyway.”
“Ren.” Pause. “Listen.” Pause. “He probably thinks you hate him. It’s one thing for you to show up, but it’s another thing for you to stay for… what was it, four days?”
“Right. And then it’s another thing for you to also bring a gift. Do you see what I mean?”
Ren can practically hear Ann shaking her head through the phone. “Just trust me on this.”
“Okay, well—I’m leaving tomorrow morning, and it’s already pretty late. What am I supposed to do?”
“Oh, Ren, you’re a smart boy, you—”
“I’m a ‘smart boy?’”
“Sorry, didn’t mean to sound like a mom. But you’re smart. Just, uh… think of something from your heart!”
“Are you suggesting I bake him something?”
“That’s definitely not what I’m suggesting. If you do that, it’s going to get gross during the train ride.”
“ What , then?”
“I can’t tell you! I don’t know Akechi as well as you do. It has to come from you, Ren. Maybe I’m making a bigger deal out of this than is warranted. Don’t take it too seriously, okay?”
Ren sighs, says, “all right,” and continues on with his packing. Ann changes the subject to Shiho, as she usually tends to, and for once, Ren is barely listening, because all he can think about is this ridiculous gift thing.
At the train station the next morning, Ren buys ten red carnations.
Getting to Akechi’s house is a ridiculous amount of work.
After the extremely long train ride, Ren had to wait ages for the car ride he ordered off of his phone to pick him up. It took him a certain distance and then, because it did not have the proper wheels to continue driving, left Ren to walk the rest of the distance.
It’s a little bit cold outside.
Ren faces a long, long hill overlooking tons and tons of flowers and rolling grass and farm patches. The sky above him is blue, blue, blue, without a single cloud in sight, and a slowly setting sun accompanies it. It’s so very quiet here; all Ren can hear is the soft sound of birds and the rustle of leaves and branches and every now and then some insect. He’s jealous that Akechi gets to live here.
He looks at the letter with the poorly drawn map, then at the few scattered houses in the distance, and makes his way down the hill.
Ren stands at the doorstep.
He thinks he might have a heart attack.
He knocks once, twice. Three times.
His hands are shaking.
If Akechi doesn’t open up any time soon, he’s going to pass out right here. Right on the ground.
He stares at the wooden door some more, wondering vaguely if this could all be some trick, but stops thinking about that the moment the door opens, squeaky and sudden.
Before him stands Akechi Goro, with slightly shorter hair and a slightly more colored complexion (Ren thinks this is ironic, because they’re opposites—his own hair has gotten longer, and he’s certainly become paler since he moved out from Leblanc). He’s wearing a plain green t-shirt and blue jeans that are just slightly too big on him, which likely means that he has lost weight. Ren doesn’t find that surprising.
He looks Akechi up and down, mouth open, feeling stupid, until they make eye contact with one another and Ren discovers that Akechi is in tears.
For the second time this week, Ren falls to his knees, like a prayer, holding Akechi in his arms, and they stay there for a while, just like that.