The door opened, bringing in a chilled wind with it.
Sojiro looked up from his cleaning to tell whoever had entered that they were closing up, to see Yusuke at the door.
“Oh, hey kiddo.”
“Good evening, Boss.” Yusuke nodded.
“Surprised to see you here on Valentine’s. I thought surely you of all people would have a date.” Before Yusuke could respond, Akira appeared from behind Sojiro, wiping the soapy water from his hands. He looked between the two of them and nodded sagely.
“Meeting of the lonely hearts club, huh?”
“Well… something like that.” Yusuke laughed. Sojiro chuckled, wiping coffee grounds from his hands.
“Well I won't lie, to see two kids alone on Valentine’s bums me out. I was just closing up, so I'll let you two commiserate in peace. Help yourselves to anything you need.” He hung up his apron and tossed to to Akira. “Just finish those dishes up, okay?”
“No.” He responded obstinately, catching the apron.
“Come on,” Sojiro laughed, putting on his coat. “Don’t make too much of a mess.” He opened the door to the cold once again. “And lock up when you’re done.” Once the door was closed, he turned the sign and disappeared into the alleyway.
The two were left alone.
“What would you like?”
“I’d love a coffee.”
“Good. That’s all I know how to make.”
“You made that spicy curry before.” Yusuke suggested apprehensively. Akira shrugged.
“Okay then, coffee is the only thing I know how to make well.”
“‘Well’ is… subjective.” He smiled, sitting at the bar. Akira admired his ability to be so coarse in such a pleasant way.
The two mindlessly chattered about their days as Akira focused on the pourover.
Grind medium fine, bloom, wait. Pour slowly. Wait for crema. Pour slowly.
He found himself focusing more than normal, hoping Yusuke wouldn’t have to lie about the quality this time. He poured the coffee from its glass catcher into two small cups and gave them to Yusuke. Black, no cream or sugar. He figured Yusuke just took his coffee that way to seem mature, but chose to not call him on it.
“Go ahead and sit at the booth.” Akira nodded, cleaning up his mess before rejoining him. He watched Yusuke carefully take each saucer to the table, setting one on each side carefully.
“You left your apron on.” Yusuke remarked as he flopped unceremoniously into the booth.
“It’s so I can be your housewife~ Happy Valentine’s day, darling~” Yusuke breathed a begrudging laugh, mostly at the idea that Akira could be anything but the most repellant housewife.
“A good housewife would never tease me so.”
“You look like an easy target.”
“You overestimate my strike zone."
Yusuke sipped the coffee, no longer wincing at the bitterness as he once had. Akira quietly wondered if he had gotten better at making coffee or if Yusuke had gotten better at hiding his distaste for bitter things. The two sat and chatted about school, friends, art, but said little of value. They were good at that. Yusuke often had too much to say and said it so seriously, and Akira had nothing to say but matched tone. They could volley in this way for hours. It always felt very easy talking to Yusuke because he was so different, and Akira found his demeanor very funny. But he must have let something in his facade slip. Yusuke’s eyes began to bore into him like a drill, and he felt himself becoming uncharacteristically nervous.
“Sorry if I’m prying but… you seem sort of nervous. Is anything on your mind?” Yusuke was not usually so prescient.
“Ah… I suppose so.”
“Would you like to talk about it or would you prefer a distraction?” Akira sat in silence for a second, weighing the options. He had hoped he wouldn’t need to deal with this quite so soon. Rather than answer his question, he decided to tear off the bandage.
“I’m moving soon.”
“...Oh.” He flinched a bit.
“Well… how soon is soon?”
“The end of the semester.”
“Your home is only a few hours away, right?”
“Yeah… It's not too far in the grand scheme of things.” The two of them smiled a sad, wry smile. One that said ‘oh well.’
“Nothing gold can stay… they say. But a few hours out isn’t far. If the group text is any indication, you’ll probably be unable to shake any of us, even if you wanted to.” Relief washed over Akira. He didn’t realize that he might have been more afraid of losing the Phantom Thieves than he let on. But before he could respond, Yusuke was rifling through his bag.
“I got you something, by the way.”
“Oh?” Akira hadn’t even considered a gift for Yusuke. Yusuke put his hand in front of his mouth as though he were about to cough and retrieved a small box from his bag.
“It is Valentines, after all.”
“Guess you're my date now.” Akira accepted the ornate box. Yusuke chuckled and waved his hand as though to sweep the joke out of the air.
“I hope they taste alright. I’ll be honest, it took all the money I had to get these.”
“You.... really shouldn’t have.”
“Probably so.” He responded with a pitiable smile. Inside the rectangular plastic box were very stylish looking chocolates - they were sharp, geometric black chocolates with streaks of glimmering gold and splatters of blue and red and lavender. “I spoke to the chocolatier - these were based on a painting by Klimt. They were so beautiful, I was drawn to them. And when I thought of the inside of that jail of yours - all grey walls…. I couldn’t help but to get something a little extravagant to make up for it."
Akira immediately recognized the motif.
“It’s The Kiss , right?”
“Mmm,” Yusuke hummed through his sip of coffee. “I knew you would recognize it.” He gazed dreamily off into the distance, “The image of two lovers entwined in a passionate embrace, hands tense. An iconic palette that is at once gaudy and restrained. Unmistakable....” He was clearly in his own world.
Akira examined the chocolates, feeling the echo of Yusuke’s words heavier than they rolled off his tongue. Expensive lovers chocolates for a friend … just because he thought them beautiful. He wished he could do something more than just make coffee, suddenly. But his companion seemed entirely undeterred by the weight of his own action as he continued to ramble about composition. He didn’t quite get how Yusuke’s mind worked, but he didn’t dislike that, either. He eyed him over the edge of his mug as Yusuke finished his digression with a content sigh.
“I heard you got your fair share of chocolates.”
“Ah… I did get more than the average, I suppose,” he huffed with a feigned humility.
“Ryuji said six? That’s actually a lot.” Akira sighed like a schoolgirl. “You’re so popular. Must be nice.”
“Hmm… maybe. I didn't really need them though. A few were bought which was nice, and I got a couple of obligation chocolates. But I did get handmade ones as well…” his lips tightened.
“I never knew it was possible to burn chocolate, but…” Akira laughed, feeling the strange tension loosen. The funny thing about Yusuke was, he never seemed to notice these moments of Akira’s. He would feel awkward somehow around Yusuke, but he never minded or noticed. It was refreshing to be with someone who seemed truly unbothered by what others thought of their actions.
After a moment’s silence the two spoke at once.
“Please,” Yusuke urged, suddenly busying himself with his cup of coffee.
“Thank you for this. It makes me happy that you thought of me even on Valentine’s day.” Akira said, wanting to be truly sincere.
“It was nothing,” he smiled. “After all you’ve done for me, I was just happy to be able to do something this small for you. You saved my life. These are pennies before the gold you’ve given me.” Yusuke smiled. A chill ran up Akira’s back. That he could say such heavy things with the lightest voice.
“It was impossible without you. But what were you going to say, Yusuke?”
“Oh, nothing much.” He paused a moment as though he had to recall his intent. “To be honest, I had just been thinking how much I’d like to paint you, given the opportunity. Whenever I get the chance to visit, maybe. It’d be a good chance to try.”
“Me? Not Ann? She’d probably be easier on the eyes.”
“Well, I still long to paint her someday, too. But if time is kind, I can do more than one painting in my lifetime.”
“Do I need to strip?”
“I’m sure it wouldn't hurt.” He was smiling in a way that Akira couldn’t quite decipher. Yusuke was so straightforward it caught him off-guard. It was charming.
“Alright,” Akira laughed. “I’ll model for you when you come up.”
“In the meantime, a picture for posterity.” Akira said, scooting over and patting the seat next to him. Yusuke obediently stood, pulling his cellphone from his back pocket. As soon as he settled in, Akira deftly plucked the cellphone from his hands and leaned in.
“Say cheese,” he smiled stupidly, making Yusuke laugh. He snapped a couple pictures of them before passing his phone back to Yusuke to examine the photos. He swiped through, then seemingly unsatisfied, turned the phone towards Akira alone. As though he were a model in a men’s fashion magazine, he picked up his coffee and smiled coyly at the camera, unable to take the process seriously.
“Perfect,” Yusuke chuckled, showing Akira the goofy photo. “The lighting is nice in here… and you have a nice smile, you know?”
“Nah,” Akira elbowed him, having grown quite used to Yusuke’s overly-familiar compliments.
“I mean it,” he said, returning his phone to his pocket. “Maybe its because of who you are to me, but… It does make me feel hopeful, somehow. I think it could make other people feel the same way.” Akira dropped the goofball act and stared at him seriously, searching for the proper response to meet his feelings.
“Thank you.” was the best he had. It felt hollow. Yusuke didn’t seem to mind as he took a sip of the now-cool coffee, seeming suddenly and uncharacteristically shy.
“Could I ask you something in complete sincerity? And I’d like you to be honest.””
“During our time on the team together, I feel I’ve made friendships to last a lifetime, but I feel… closer to you than I’ve ever felt to anyone. I feel you understand my intention better than anyone I’ve ever spoken to. Maybe I’m naive. But I’m inexorably drawn to you. And your smile. I’d… like to be the reason for your smile. If you would have me.”
“Is this a confession?” Akira quickly quipped, praying his blasé response didn’t betray his sudden spike in blood pressure.
“Yes.” He responded seriously. The word hung in between them for a moment. “I’m sorry,” came Yusuke’s quick follow up, fearing Akira’s lack of immediate response was indicative. “I know I have the tendency say the things I’m thinking when they’re not needed. I don’t mean to put you in a strange position, but with you leaving soon, I can’t stay silent any longer. ...I like you.”
Akira felt his face redden. He’d confessed affection to a number of people before, but he had never been confessed to. It left him feeling more vulnerable than he could have anticipated.
“Don't be sorry.” Was all he could think to say. The two seemed to float in suspended animation.
“Alright then. I won’t.” Yusuke raised his brows and nodded, with a smile that reflected the swift yet not unexpected end of his hope.
“I like you too.”
“You don’t have to be kind. It will only make it more difficult, honestly. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything.” Yusuke stood from the booth, setting down his coffee. He picked up the coat he had left sitting on the back of the barstool.
“Wait.” He froze in place, not meeting Akira’s eyes.
“I’Id like to answer your feelings seriously.”
“There's no need, truly. You have such little time left here and I'd hate for that to be ruined by pretense.”
“If that's what you want, I’ll drop it. But… I’m not joking.” ... I think . “Um,” Akira mumbled, looking to fill the moment’s thick silence.
Yusuke finally turned to meet him. He seemed to be chewing on Akira’s words, or perhaps, his own tongue to hold it still.
“I wouldn’t forgive you any insincerity.”
“I mean what I say.”
“I trust you wouldn’t invite me further without having the proper intentions, but…”
“I’m…” Yusuke raised his hand to protest, and Akira took the moment to grab it.
“Yusuke.” He fell silent. Akira’s voice calling his name washed over him, eroding his will to keep his dignity intact. “...Come upstairs with me.”
He looked around, as though he had anticipated the phantoms of other customers would begin to whisper conspiratorially. But they were alone, and Morgana lay sleeping in the window of the shop.
Yusuke and Akira slowly rise up the creaking stairs to the dusty room. It had so much more character now- a poster of Risette’s debut album, little plants and mementos from outings. His little room had blossomed over time, a small, secret flower growing from the coffee grounds below. Yusuke ran his hand across the desk, a light dust springing up in its wake. He focused his attention out the window.
Akira and Yusuke had spent a lot of time here the previous summer. In the hot rains, they found respite in books and each other. Remembering those times now seemed simple. They were content to soak in each others’ silence, yet never afraid to break it. Now, the once soft and comfortable silence grew hard. Yusuke had never been one to overthink the situation however, and to Akira's great relief, he wouldn’t start now.
“I’m sorry... I didn’t mean to upset our friendship.”
“No, you didn't. I was just… surprised, I think.”
“I… suppose I assumed you understood the meaning of me asking to visit you this evening.” Yusuke leaned on the desk, crossing his arms. His eyes remained fixed on the windows.
Akira had chosen him.
“I know you’re popular around town. I’m sure mine was not the only Valentine’s invitation you received?” At this, Yusuke finally turned to look at Akira.
He was right. He had multiple texts on his phone from potential suitors asking him to visit. A rising Shōgi star, a fellow teammate, a local doctor, even his teacher. He shrugged and nodded.
“I do get around.” He conceded. Yusuke huffed a derisive laugh.
“Well… I do understand that about you. You’re the sort of man who wants to feel loved.”
“I love to love.”
“Do you really?”
“I think so.”
“For someone who loves to love, you’ve chosen strange company for the most romantic night of the year.”
Silence fell over them once again.
Akira knew it was probably a bad time to be a flirt. He figured that Yusuke had his reasons for asking to see him tonight of all nights. That alone made his invitation far more alluring than any of the others. He liked those girls a lot as well, but somehow… he chose him. Knowing there was something there.
“Did you allow me to come over so I could simply be another in your list of people to love you?”
“No,” he replied, somehow unsure of the truth in his own response. “I just wanted to see you more.” ...That part was certainly true.
Yusuke gazed at Akira for a moment.
“Could you decide to love me more than them?”
Akira felt a prickle rise up the back of his neck, and he coughed as though the response lodged itself in his throat. Yusuke felt he was making Akira squirm unnecessarily, and turned back to the window.
“What if I told you I already might?"”
“I'm not sure I'd believe you.” Yusuke stood and grabbed his bag once more.
“I chose you.”
“You chose to have me over for coffee- let’s not pretend there’s any more there.”
Akira felt Yusuke’s frustrations hit their peak. He felt his body moving independently of his brain. Faster than he could process, his hands grabbed his friend’s lapel and yanked him in. He kissed Yusuke. When Akira managed to stop, he leaned back. He chewed on his own lips, unsure if there was anything more he could say. But he tried.
“Nobody knows I’m moving yet. You’re the first I’ve told.”
Yusuke blankly dropped his bag and stared into Akira’s eyes. His brows furrowed, seemingly tired. Despite this he pulled Akira’s face to his once more.
Akira wondered why he hadn’t seen this coming. How he hadn’t felt it. When he kissed Yusuke, it was somehow different. It was a man. It was rough, and Akira got the sense that Yusuke might not have done this very often before. Despite his lack of refined skill he still gave Akira that golden glow that nestled itself at the nape of his neck and grew to his chest just the same. He loved to love and he wasn't sure yet if he really loved Yusuke but in this moment he loved something about him. The Kiss. Kissing a friend, ending the relationship as you knew it and starting something new… It was sort of painful and exciting, in the way that a good heist was. It was bittersweet, like too-expensive chocolates.
I spent a romantic evening with Yusuke.