He notices him about halfway through his order at what must be the only café in the entire damn country, given the line he’d just wasted several valuable minutes of his life in.
“Sorry, I didn’t catch the other part of your order, could you say it one more time?” The barista smiles, doing her best not to call Akira out on the fact that he never said the other part at all. “Sir?”
“Excuse me,” Akira says, stepping away, thoughts of caffeine abandoned, the customer behind him shouldering him out of line in her rush to take his place.
But he’s there, he’s real, and Akira’s hands shake as he walks to the two-seat table in the back corner by a window with nothing but a view of a few dead trees and a few even more dead shops that sum up a lump of the shopping district in this miserable little town.
He pulls out the unoccupied chair, eyes locked onto the once familiar face, now older, more tired, but indisputably the same. He doesn’t miss the tic of irritation on a graceful brow when he sits. Doesn’t miss the way he smooths over his expression with a halfhearted smile, the smile of a customer service employee who would love to tell a customer nothing more than to fuck off if they wouldn’t get fired for it.
And he could not possibly miss the shock, the fear, the uncertainty when he recognizes who he’s now sharing a table with.
“I couldn’t help but notice the book you’re reading,” Akira says as if eleven years hadn’t passed. As if he hadn’t thought he witnessed Akechi Goro’s death and spent countless sleepless nights wondering if there was anything he could have done differently, better.
“Ah,” Akechi says after a moment, blinking away his surprise, snapping a worn paperback shut to reveal the cover. “The Death of Choice, a surprisingly entertaining read given the uninspired title.”
“Uninspired, huh?” Akira winces.
“For being the author’s first work, I suppose it can be forgiven.”
“I’m sure the author would appreciate that.”
Akechi traces over Akira’s pen name, small and easily ignored beneath the stark white of the title and against the vibrant red and black of the cover itself. “Amamiya Ren. I wonder if that’s the author’s real name?”
“Sometimes fake names are more convenient.”
Hands fold over the book as if to shield it. “Miyano Keiji.”
“Miyano Keiji,” Akechi repeats. “That’s what I go by.”
It takes a moment before it really clicks, the situation itself still sinking in. “And how long have you been going by it?”
“Around four months.”
“And how long do you plan to continue going by it?”
“Maybe a few more hours,” Akechi says, standing up, the legs of his chair screeching against the floor. “After all, I still need it to check out of my room,” He pulls on the winter coat that was draped over the back of his chair, roughly shoving the book inside, bending the already damaged cover.
“Akechi, wait -”
“Miyano Keiji ,” He emphasizes while pulling on his gloves. They’re black and threadbare and not leather at all.
“Miyano, Keiji, whatever - please. Wait. I need to talk to you.”
“The only thing you need to do is go.”
“Well, I won’t,” Akira says as he stands to follow.
“Then enjoy talking to yourself.”
Akira neither talks nor enjoys himself as he follows Akechi across town, nearly slipping in the sludge of muddy snow every time Akechi takes a shortcut off of the well trodden paths. They walk and trudge until they reach a dingy hotel, the kind that doesn’t care who you are so long as you can pay up front. He watches a young salary man with a lascivious smile hook an arm around a flirtatious woman’s waist, far too much skin showing for a temperature most would warn against showing any skin at all.
Akira nearly doesn’t make it into Akechi’s room before the door slam shuts with enough force to shake the dust off the walls, floating down to coat his hair.
Akechi slams him back into the door, lips curled into a snarl. “How the fuck did you find me?” He asks, pinning him with his forearm.
“I was getting coffee and I saw you.”
Akechi doesn’t believe him, only further incensed as he knocks him back again, increasing the pressure, leaning in close. “Bullshit.”
“I thought you were dead,” Akira gasps as his head hits the door, seeing white. “We all thought you died. I mourned you.”
“Bullshit,” Akechi says again, quieter, the hand fisted into Akira’s coat tightening, twisting.
“What are you going to do, kill me?” Akira asks when Akechi doesn’t let go, his glare boring holes into his head.
“Third time’s the charm,” He says in a low breath, shoving Akira back one more time without any force behind it. He lets go.
Akechi turns around, walking further into the small room. An unmade bed takes up the majority of the space, a small desk crammed in next to it, occupied by a slim laptop plugged into the wall. He unwraps the red scarf from around his neck, tossing it on the chair, plucks his gloves off one after the other.
And he looks - Akira’s not sure he can say good, but he doesn’t think it’s possible for Akechi to look bad. He’s handsome, moreso now than he was as a teenager, with an angular face and a piercing stare, any softness he once possessed sharpened with time. His hair is styled shorter, not venturing any further than the nape of his neck, revealing a sharp jawline above a slender neck.
But there’s a weight settled on his shoulders, bending his posture, a darkness bruised deep under his eyes, stark against the pallor of his skin; the picture of a man haunted.
“Akechi,” Akira tries again.
“Don’t call me that again,” Akechi warns tonelessly, hands pressed flat against the desk as he hangs his head, breathing deep.
“...Keiji,” Akira tries, but it feels wrong. And he’s made it this far, but he doesn’t know what to say. What is there to say? Hello, nice to see you again? How’s life been since everyone thought you died? Seen any good movies lately? Enjoying the countryside snow?
Another long breath and Akechi is talking again, never one to stew in the silence. “If you have nothing to say, then get lost. I don’t want you here.”
And there’s too much to say, too much to remember. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
A disbelieving huff of incredulous laughter as Akechi first looks up, then looks back around at Akira. “Yeah, I look fucking fantastic, don’t I?” He asks, hands thrown out, whatever scathing words he intended to follow up with caught in his throat when his eyes meet Akira’s.
He turns his head back down, arms falling limp at his sides.
Akira wipes a thumb across his cheekbone, severing the single tear trickling down, gathering at his chin. He’s back against the door again, knees going out as he slides, slides down to the stained carpet below. “I really, all this time, I really thought you were dead.”
“The person you thought you knew never existed. All that’s left is me, whoever I feel like being any particular day.”
Akira shakes his head, doesn’t stop, not even when the footsteps of heavy, winter boots come to a stop in front of him.
Akechi’s body shields him from the light peeking through the curtains on the other side of the room, shrouding him in darkness. “What are you doing here, Kurusu?”
“Attending a funeral,” Akira answers honestly, knowing Akechi was asking something else.
“A funeral in this two street shithole? Aren’t you still living it up in the city with your friends?” He asks with enough vitriol to wound.
Akira wipes his eyes again, the corner of his lips twisting up in a mockery of a smile. “There are more than two streets,” He corrects. “And yes, I still live in the city. But I’m not from the city.”
A few steps back, the gasp of a mattress as it adjusts under Akechi’s weight.
Thin walls expose the neighbor’s activities, the slow rock of a headboard knocking against the wall, exaggerated moans of pleasure breaking through, muffled, but impossible to mistake.
And Akira can’t help but laugh at the absurdity, laugh at Akechi’s expression - annoyed, but resigned.
Akechi picks up from where they were, intent on ignoring “So this place is...Then I suppose you’ll expect me to apologize for calling it a shithole.”
Akira waves him off, watching the frames imprisoning tacky modern art rattle on the walls. “It is what it is. I’ve been calling it worse for longer than you’ve known it existed.”
The knocking at the wall increases in speed, garbled bits of words discernible from broken sentences. Oh God and More spewed out between grunts of exertion.
Akechi doesn’t seem to have anything more to say about the town, combing his hair back with his fingers, revealing the faint dip of a scar at his temple. His eyes roll lightly as the woman’s cries pick up in volume.
“I told them not to give away the rooms next to mine if there were other vacancies, but I’m certain that’s only encouraged them to make sure it’s always occupied by a specific variety of guests.”
“There are better hotels…” Akira says.
“I’m aware. But I’ve cut a deal of sorts with the owner of this property, and I’m not in a position to choose better over free.”
And Akira wants to ask. Ask what he’s been doing, where he’s been, how he’s been getting by, what happened after he locked himself behind that door -
“There are worse things than having to listen to two people going at it to get a free room.”
A deliberately blank look crosses Akechi’s face, and Akira regrets saying anything at all, hates what it could mean.
The amorous sounds stop, and Akira has never seen such palpable relief as what crosses over Akechi’s face in the moment.
“He’s a two minute man. Thank fuck. God. Whatever.”
Akira chokes back a laugh. “A two minute man? Did you always talk like this or is my memory off?”
“I haven’t had to maintain a public image in eleven years, I can talk however the fuck I want.”
Akira can’t hold back the laugh this time, wiping his face dry with his glove. A balled up clump of tissues lands at his feet.
“That’s disgusting, use those,” He says, and Akira’s sight is a little distorted, but he thinks he sees a slip of a smile on Akechi’s face before it disintegrates back into a neutral sort of irritation. “So who died?”
And Akira’s thoughts are too jumbled, still trying to catch up with what’s happening as he blows his nose. “Apparently not you,” He says.
“You said you were here for a funeral,” Akechi redirects him, crossing his legs, tapping his knee with a rhythm lacking a sensible beat.
“I did say that,” Akira confirms, closing his eyes for a moment, throwing the used tissue to the side of the room in spite of Akechi’s baleful glare. He doesn’t elaborate, just stares as if the illusion of Akechi will shatter if he so much as blinks. “You read my book.”
Akechi’s hand reactively goes to hover over where it’s tucked away inside his coat. “I only figured out you wrote it after the fact. Don’t flatter yourself thinking I went out of my way to read it because of you.”
Akira smiles all the same. “I can sign it if you want?”
“What’d you think about it? Do I have a chance of writing for a living?”
“It’s romantic garbage.”
“Romantic? It’s a murder mystery. Did you really read it?”
“It had a happy ending. Real life doesn’t have happy endings.”
“As much as I disagree with that, it is fiction. Fiction doesn’t have to give in to the rules of real life. And at least five people died in the book, including the main character’s brother. How is it happy?”
“Romantic garbage,” Akechi repeats, not wanting to hear it. “Don’t quit your day job.”
Akira commits the conversation to memory as he laughs. “Thanks. I’ll remember that.”
The mood becomes quiet and easy as they study each other.
“Why are you here?” Akechi tries again, so very tired.
“Why did you leave?” Akira retorts.
“Don’t be an idiot. I couldn’t have stayed.”
“You could have,” Akira protests. “You were never charged with anything.”
A raised brow, an indulgent smile. “Do you really think it was the dickheads on the police force I was worried about?”
And Akira doesn’t know. He doesn’t know anything at all. How could he when Akechi disappeared before he could learn?
Akechi’s back hits the bed. He drags his hands down his face, his chest heaving as he lets out a long sigh. “Let me try this one more time. Akira. What do you want from me?”
Akira doesn’t know that either. They were never close, even if Akira once felt a sort of connection with Akechi he never managed to recreate with anyone else. But this isn’t about reconnecting. It isn’t about assuaging guilt.
“I just - I just want to see you. Please,” He doesn’t even know what he means.
Akechi sighs again, freeing himself from his coat as he sits up. “You’ve seen me. You’re looking right now. Get your fill, get lost, and stay the fuck out of my life.”
Akechi mutters something that Akira doesn’t quite hear, briskly standing before striding over and pulling Akira up from his pathetic heap on the floor. “I can’t deal with you right now,” He says, shoving the book to Akira’s chest. “Come back tomorrow.”
And it’s something, the promise of another day, even if Akira’s not sure he can trust it.
Clutching the book like a holy script, Akira asks, “Will you be here?”
A beat of silence. “I’ll be here.”
“Do you have a phone number, something, anything I can use to contact you?”
Akechi’s face screams ‘are you serious?’ but he withdraws a phone from his pants pocket, something nice and sleek, clearly not a burner to be used and discarded. “Your number,” He prompts, blunt and to the point.
Something wriggles to life inside of him when a new message appears, a cordial ‘Don’t ever message or call me’ that Akira intends to ignore as he adds the number to his contacts using a gun emoji in place of a name.
“There’s something incredibly wrong with you,” Akechi remarks, watching every movement he makes with a sort of awed dread.
Akira shrugs, messaging him back with a cat emoji that has Akechi pinching the bridge of his nose.
And he can see him, eleven years younger, trying to pretend Akira wasn’t a complete dumbass in an attempt to curry his favor, but sometimes enough was enough. There’s no reason to pretend about that now.
They’re not teenagers anymore.
Akechi snaps out of it first, turning his entire body as if he can’t trust his eyes to stay away, the hint of a smile twisting down to hide that it ever existed at all.
“You need to go,” He says.
“You’ll be here tomorrow?”
“I’ll be here tomorrow.”
“Do you promise?”
“Is this necessary?”
“Just promise me.”
“I promise I’ll be here tomorrow.”
“I’ll message you before I visit. And, here, the book -” He tries passing it back over.
“I’m done with it. Give it to someone else or throw it away,” Akechi says.
And it’s not good enough, but Akira has no choice but to accept it as he’s unceremoniously shoved back out the door the same way he was shoved into it, book still in hand as he stumbles back, the door slamming shut, cutting Akechi from view in less time than it took to blink.
“Lover’s quarrel?” The woman from the other side of the wall asks, leaning against her hotel room door. She wears a hotel-brand thin waffle robe, her bare legs and feet likely burning with cold as they stand exposed to the elements, an icy wind whipping at them from beyond the sheltered walkway. She has one hand on her face, an oversized wedding band dangling from a dainty finger. “I wouldn’t mind playing mediator if you’re interested.”
“Ah, I’ll have to pass,” Akira says, trying to scrub that mental image out of his head.
“A shame,” She says, meaning it. “You look like the type who makes sure their lover has a good time. That’s getting harder to find these days. And your friend there, well,” She chuckles, drawing her robe tighter. “He’s intense, isn’t he?”
“That’s one word for him,” Akira shifts his weight to his left side, lifts the book up to his face, familiar and foreign. The edges of the cover are worn down and frayed, vibrant red reduced to tattered white, the spine bent and broke so severely Akira can hardly believe the pages haven’t fallen out.
His book was only published two months ago.
“He’ll come around,” The woman consoles, even though she’s the one who looks to be needing consoling. “Men always do. Crawling, begging, crying, promising to change their ways. Don’t know why I keep falling for it.”
Akira hesitates before saying, “Sometimes it’s as simple as accepting that being good to someone won’t make them good to you.”
She spares him a watery smile before drying her eyes on her sleeve. “Those are nice words. But talking’s easy, isn’t it? It’s hard to stop wanting.”
Akira nods, knowing there’s nothing he can say to help with that. “Do you need help getting home? I can call you a cab.”
“Oh. No. Thank you,” She says, shivering as if she only just noticed the cold. “Really, thank you. But I’ve already made my bed, as temporary and messy as it is,” She taps the ring against her room’s doorknob. “Your book,” She says, delaying her departure. “It must be good. All of my sister’s favorite books end up looking just like that because she’s read them so many times.”
She’s gone before he can formulate a reply. To deny that it’s his, to deny that it’s good for anything at all. Akechi probably bought it and threw it on the ground to stomp on, imagining Akira’s face.
He thumbs the frayed edges, flips through the dog-eared pages, noticing the occasional scribble in the margins. He casts a last lingering look at Akechi’s door, wondering if he’s standing behind it, looking through the peephole, waiting for him to leave.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” He says.
There’s no reply, but he wasn’t expecting one.
It’s half past five in the evening when he knocks on Akechi’s door the next day.
He’s tired. Feels like someone reached in, pulled him inside-out, replaced everything vital to life with an identical plastic counterpart. A mockery of life. A wind up toy made to walk and talk when people want to feel better about themselves.
“You look like shit,” Akechi says, leaning against the door frame, nonchalant and so painfully neutral. It doesn’t match the Akechi he knew - the detective prince version who’d carefully ask question after question, laying on the compliments to gain even one sliver of information he could use against him - the black mask version who’d hurl insult after insult, enraged at Akira, at himself, at the world.
There’s no upper hand to gain now, and the rage has long since died, that lonely fire smothered and drenched, the ashes lost to a cold, uncaring wind.
“I feel like shit,” Akira says, smiling his first real smile of the day. “You didn’t leave,” He watches the tic of something cross Akechi’s face before he steps back and gestures Akira inside.
“Why would I bother? You’re not a threat,” Akechi says, eyes red in the artificial light of his room, curtains drawn shut tightly enough to create a hermetic seal. “I originally planned to stay in town for a few months for work, it’d be annoying if I had to leave so soon.”
“A few months, huh?” Akira asks, undoing the knot of his scarf, kindly choosing not to mention that Akechi tried to run away yesterday immediately after meeting him. “What kind of work are you doing that you need to stay here for a few months?”
“The same work I’ve always done,” Akechi says ambiguously. On purpose if the smirk was anything to go by.
“I’m going to hope that means detective work.”
“You’d be correct. Of course, my current clientele are the more... discerning types, so the work I do is a far cry from what I used to be hired for.”
“By which you mean it’s toeing the line of legality?”
“Well, that’d be nothing new for me, would it?” Akechi asks, walking over to where he pulled the desk away from the wall, a chair on each side, laptop tucked away where Akira couldn’t see.
Akira concedes with a pinched smile, folding his coat and scarf over an arm.
Akechi points at the closet by the bathroom. “You can hang them up in there.”
“Thanks,” Akira says, wincing as the hinge releases a high pitched whine into the room. The closet is mostly empty, save for the coat Akechi wore yesterday and a few neatly pressed shirts, hanging above a travel bag. Akira doesn’t have to think too hard to guess that the dresser opposite the bed doesn’t look much different inside. “No noisy neighbors tonight?”
Akechi frowns so severely it’s almost comical. “There won’t be any neighbors tonight. I’ve made sure of it. There won’t be any crying will there?”
Akira shrugs, running a hand through his hair, fingers getting stuck from the product he used to style it back, keeping it out of his face. He runs a finger down his suit jacket, hesitating at the buttons before popping them out, throwing the whole thing in the closet, wrinkles be damned.
Akechi takes a seat, leaning back as he watches, eyes dark. It’s enough to make Akira self-conscious.
“It’s strange seeing you without glasses. You weren’t wearing them yesterday either.”
“I haven’t worn glasses in years,” Akira says. “I still have some, but I guess I don’t feel the need to wear them anymore.”
“It was ridiculous to wear them in the first place. Your vision is fine. Wearing those things was an insult to everyone who has no choice in the matter.”
Akira ducks his head to hide a grin. “They could get contacts. Or surgery. Besides, glasses were in style back then. I mean, I think they still are. I’m told I’m out of touch with fashion these days.”
Akechi hums noncommittally as Akira takes the seat opposite him. “I smell alcohol. Have you been drinking?” He asks.
“Earlier. Not enough to get drunk, unfortunately. Would have helped the day go by. You wouldn’t have something stashed around here we could break open, do you?”
“I don’t drink,” Akechi says, no nonsense. “It’s rather brave of you to even consider getting drunk around me.”
“Hey, if you’re still planning to kill me after all these years, I can give you a list of the places I’m most vulnerable. The shower, for starters. I’d never see you coming. If that’s too Hitchcockian for you, I go for late night walks a couple times a week when I have trouble sleeping. I always wear headphones, so I wouldn’t see or hear you coming. Or if you’re feeling a little daring, I’ve been trying to cry myself to sleep while watching bad late night TV recently. I might notice you coming, but you’d definitely take me off guard.”
“You’re insane,” Akechi marvels.
“Probably. But most people just think I’m funny.”
Shaking his head, Akechi blinks away his incredulity. “Going by how you’re dressed, I assume the funeral you’re in town for was today?”
Akira nods, picking lint off his slacks. He already ruined his dress shoes by trekking through the snow without changing into something more weather appropriate, shine lost and gone forever, socks uncomfortably wet and unlikely to dry anytime soon. He doesn’t care. Plans on throwing out his entire ensemble in the trash as soon as he can.
“Did you travel out here alone? None of your friends came with you?”
“I didn’t tell them. We’re not in high school anymore, everyone has busy lives, time even to get a cup of coffee is scarce. I don’t want them to upend all their plans to attend a funeral for people they’ve never met before. And I, really, I don’t know if I could handle all that attention right now.”
“When do you plan on going back?”
Akira opens his mouth, changes his mind and rubs his temples instead. After a moment, he says, “I don’t know,” He says, taking a breath, moving his hand to cover his face or perhaps the world itself from view. “After a while. I’ll have to sell the house and...Sorry, you don’t want to hear this.”
“It’s fine,” Akechi says, slouched in his chair, his face still not giving anything away. “Sometimes we need to say things aloud to put them in perspective.”
Akira closes his eyes, listens to the white noise of the mini fridge, the wind crashing against the window. “I’ve been orphaned at twenty-eight years old,” He says, taking his advice. “Weird. Does the term still apply to adults? I don’t really feel like an adult right now.”
“It still applies.”
Akira can’t say he’s happy about it. Wonders if Akechi still thinks of himself an orphan after all these years. They sit lost in thought for a while before Akira shakes himself back to attention, puts on a face, puts his shitshow of a life on hold until he’s forced to deal with it. “Anyways, I’m not here to talk about my problems. I have a million things I want to ask you.”
Akechi rolls his eyes, but Akira can see his posture shift into something less tense. Probably grateful he won’t have to deal with someone he tried to murder a decade ago crying in his arms all night. Akira thinks it’s best not to mention he hasn’t been able to cry once since he got the news. Not until he saw Akechi.
“What happened that day?” Akira asks.
“The other me couldn’t aim for shit,” Akechi says, getting right down to it, fingers brushing against his temple. “I lived, took the fucker out, took the other shitheads out, and got myself the fuck out.”
And if Akira was any less invested in hearing the story, he’d be choking on his own laughter hearing Akechi Goro unable to string more than a few words together without swearing.
“Is this really how you talk now or are you messing with me?”
“Do you want to hear the fucking story or not?” Akechi asks, but there’s humor in his voice. He’s messing with him.
Akira covers his grin with the back of his hand before gesturing for him to continue. “You say you got out, but we tried opening that door. You didn’t just close it from the inside, you broke the mechanism completely,” He ignores the warble of his voice, the sting that’s been building up at the back of his eyes all day.
“There was a hatch further back in the room. I climbed up, slaughtered my way out of the palace, got a few stitches at a clinic, passed out at my place for a while and went into hiding immediately after. If Shido knew I failed and was still alive... well, I wouldn’t have been alive much longer.”
“Even after we took his heart? He couldn’t have done anything to you after that. Why didn’t you come back?”
“You’re still this naive, even after all this time, aren’t you? Shido was just the mascot to a bigger disease.”
Akira’s thoughts go first to the Holy Grail before realizing he was talking about the people who supported Shido in reality.
Akechi continues, “I have a lot of information many influential people would not want leaked out. I don’t know how many people knew it was me doing Shido’s work in the metaverse, and maybe they’ve forgotten about me by now, but I’d rather not take the chance.”
Akira takes a moment to soak it all in. He wants to hear more, hear every little detail he knows Akechi is skipping over. Wants to know how he felt, how he fought his way through a palace after taking a beating from the Phantom Thieves and then again by a shadow with his own face. Wants to know if he ever thought about asking Akira for help even once.
“Is your curiosity satisfied yet?” Akechi asks.
“Are you kidding?”
Long-suffering, Akechi says, “Thought I’d try being optimistic for once.” Standing up, he asks, “Have you eaten? I thought you’d be over later so I haven’t gotten around to it myself.”
“No,” Akira says, trying to remember the last time he’s consumed anything other than caffeine or alcohol. He hasn’t had much of an appetite.
“I’ll go pick something up for us. I’d invite you along, but quite frankly, I don’t want to.”
Akira doesn’t want to be alone, but doesn’t want to argue, to ruin this already tenuous meeting. “In my coat - there’s some cash. Go ahead and use whatever’s there.”
“If you insist,” Akechi says easily.
And the click of the door as Akechi leaves is like a switch that opens the floodgates of exhaustion, and he has to remind himself that this is real, that Akechi’s alive - alive and buying takeout for them to eat while chatting about a traumatic shared past, and before that he’d spent the day with family and friends of family that he barely remembered the names of, all of them so very sorry for his loss, and if you need anything at all, you know we’re always here for you, come stay with us for a while, it must be so lonely in that old house, and oh, you live in the city now, don’t you? You know, your cousin’s been looking for a new place to live, it’d be good to keep the property in the family, and your parents and I were so close, you know I loaned them some money a while back -
Akira shuts those thoughts out. He’ll block their numbers, ignore any unknown callers, close all the accounts he needs to close, get rid of the house and go home. And convince Akechi to come with him.
He stands up, does a few squats to keep the exhaustion at bay, remembers the book he brought back with him, retrieving it from the closet, wondering what Akechi liked or disliked about it.
He flips through the pages.
He listens to the pitter patter of rain. Watches the shadows in the soft blue glow that lights the room. He’s warm, warmer than he can remember being in a long time and something smells nice, almost familiar.
The rain stops, the shadows shift.
“Go back to sleep,” A soothing voice commands, fingertips brushing over his face.
He sits up, the obnoxious number of blankets piled on top of him slipping down and pooling on his lap. He looks around, disoriented, taking in the water stained ceiling, the unidentifiable color of the carpet, the Akechi Goro sitting in a chair, feet propped up on the desk as he scrolls through something on his phone.
“About time you woke up,” He says, not even bothering to look over. He’s clad in a long sleeved black shirt and grey sweats.
Akira has to clear his throat a few times before he can speak, feeling like a child who overslept at their friend’s house during a sleepover. “What time is it?”
“I slept for three hours? Why didn’t you wake me up?”
“Nine in the morning,” Akechi corrects, finally looking his way.
“You’re shitting me,” Akira says.
Akechi points toward the window, the curtain pulled just a smidge back to reveal a single stripe of daylight. “Hope you didn’t have any plans this morning.”
Akira didn’t, so he lies back down and curls up on his side, pulling the blankets over his head.
A displeased foot kicks him a few times. “You already slept for fifteen hours. Don’t even dare try going back to sleep now.”
He sinks back into the warmth, wondering about the secrets of the alluring scratchy hotel sheets. He pulls the covers back from his head just in time to find Akechi’s hand hovering above him, prepared to do just that.
“Wake up or I’ll go to the nearest bookstore and burn every copy of your shitty book.”
Akira offers a sleep laden grin.
“You liked my book,” He says. “I flipped through your copy, you wrote in the margins what you thought was going on the whole time. You figured out who the killer was halfway through. I’ll have to make the next one harder to figure out.”
“You’re welcome to try,” Akechi says. “I also highlighted all the grammatical errors. Perhaps you should study your craft a little better before starting the next one.”
“Shut up,” Akira says, throwing a pillow in his direction. “What grammatical errors? My editor should have caught all those.”
“Who was your editor? Morgana?”
Akira laughs, wishing the moment would last longer, already feeling it slip away.
“Maybe I should hire you to be my editor,” He says, “And sorry I took over your bed,” He wonders when he crawled in it, he must have been even more tired than he thought. “Did you sleep?”
“You don’t remember? I tried to slip in the other side for a while but then you rolled over and stuck to me like a leech. How could I have slept like that?”
“Yeah, I do that sometimes when I’m cold, sorry,” He yawns, belatedly noticing Akechi’s expression. “Oh, you were joking.”
“I tried,” Akechi says, voice dry.
“You should have woken me up.”
Akechi stands, stretching his arms over his head, his shirt riding up, revealing a sliver of skin. Akira averts his eyes.
“Yesterday must have been difficult for you. You needed your rest.”
Akira rolls over, facing the closet. “If you’re acting nice because you feel bad for me, I’ll hit you.”
“Why would I feel bad for you? You have a good life. So what if you’re going through a hard time right now? You’ll only have to live this once. Also, I ate your share of the takeout last night. And I went out and used one of your cards to buy my groceries for the week.”
“Asshole,” Akira says halfheartedly, repeating ‘ I’ll only have to live this once’ over and over in his head. “Go ahead. Take all my money, I only ever spend it on my cats. They have a million cat trees.”
“You have some real cats now? Did you bring them with you?”
Akira yawns again, closing his eyes. “Mhm. They’re at the house.”
“Hey, you’re not falling asleep again, are you?”
“No,” Akira murmurs, wrapping his arms around a pillow, breathing in the scent.
He wakes up again an hour later feeling something like shame. Or maybe it is shame, simple as that. He barges into Akechi’s life, demands his time, then falls asleep when he’s the one who asked to talk and then steals his bed. What a wonderful first impression after not seeing each other for so long.
Akechi ignores him, tapping away at his laptop as Akira sits up and throws his feet over the side of the mattress. “I should go.”
Akechi props his head up with a hand, raising a brow in explicit agreement.
Akira winces when he catches sight of himself in the mirror, his hair sticking up in clumps above his head, in desperate need of a wash. He tries to smooth it back into place as best he can. His shoes sit by the door, still destroyed from water damage, and his socks feel damp and cold as he pulls them back onto his feet.
He dallies, tries to think of something to say, something to make sure this isn’t the last time they’ll ever see each other, to keep Akechi right here in this hotel so he can visit again, talk for more than half an hour, talk about the things that matter.
“I don’t want to be your friend.”
Akira jumps, dropping his scarf on the floor, the words scraping at something inside his chest, hollowing it out. He turns around to find Akechi behind him, one hand on a canted hip, the other held to his chin as if in the middle of solving some impossible puzzle.
Akechi continues, “So, if you’re here for a distraction from your own shit or because you feel some misplaced guilt about what happened to me and want to make yourself feel better, fine. I don’t care. Get on with it and move on. But that’s it. I can’t be your friend, I won’t be meeting up to play billiards with you on the weekends or grabbing a cup of coffee after work - so if that’s what you’re after, don’t bother coming back.”
Akira chews his bottom lip, stares at an old cigarette burn smoldered into the carpet.
“There has to be something,” Akira tries to force his eyes to look at Akechi, gives up halfway. “Someway to stay in your life.”
“There’s only one way that’ll happen,” Akechi says, flicking his hand out.
“What is it? Akechi -”
Akechi grabs Akira’s jaw, jerking his face up. “Don’t call me that,” He commands before Akira can grasp what’s happening as he pulls Akira into him, a hand twining up the back of his neck as a mouth claims his own.
And Akira’s brain is shot. Not shot in the bullet exiting a gun kind of way he feels the need to clarify considering present company - but shot as in fried, done, out of order, someone dumped the whole damn pot of coffee inside of the copy machine kind of shot, because while he may have had a shameful dream or two in high school that went something like this, it was usually in opposite positions and with far less clothing and very, very not real.
He shivers when the hand slips off his neck, curves over his shoulder, fingers sinking into his skin as teeth bite his lip, suck on it, teasing and -
Akechi pulls back, eyes cruel and lips crueler, and on some level Akira knows this is a scare tactic meant to push him away, but the only coherent thought pressing against his skull is that he’s really glad he got stood up for that date two weeks ago.
He grabs Akechi’s shirt, reels him back in, grabbing a fistful of hair to lock him in place. Akira’s back hits the wall and a hand finds its way into his shirt, exploring the dips of muscle, savoring the expanse of skin, and Akira gasps when nails drag down his back, Akechi taking the opportunity to latch onto his neck, biting down and sucking while Akira arches his neck to encourage him, pulling him closer, wanting the skin to break, breath ragged, a hand toying with the band of Akechi’s sweats, waiting for permission -
It doesn’t come.
Akechi pulls away, physically, emotionally - every sense of the word.
“Was that a good enough distraction for you?” He asks, voice like a barbed whip.
“Don’t try to pretend you want me for anything more than a quick pick me up,”
“You kissed me. ”
“You weren’t supposed to kiss back!” Akechi shouts, an arm lashing out to the side with enough force to dislocate. “Why the fuck would you do that? What’s wrong with you? How many times do I have to tell you to leave? Why would you want to stay after what I did? What I did to you ?”
“Is that what this is all about?” Akira asks. “You think I should hate you because some worthless scumbag coerced you into -”
“Into murder , Kurusu. Into murder. I killed people. I didn’t just kill people, I enjoyed it. So go on, tell me you forgive me, that it wasn’t my fault, that I didn’t know what I was getting into, that I was just a stupid, irrational kid without any control over my life. Because you’re wrong. I was the one with the trigger and I chose to pull it, every - single - time . There was always a choice and I always made the wrong one. So go on, please. Please. Convince me that I’m wrong. Convince me that walking into that interrogation room and shooting you - shooting that copy of you in the fucking head - tell me it wasn’t my fault.”
Akira stares, stunned as Akechi’s cold vehemence folds into itself until it’s unrecognizable, transforms into a broken plea.
He should have known it wouldn't be so easy as to walk right back into his life like nothing ever happened. Like the sight of Akira wouldn’t bring him right back to the fucked up days he lived at someone else’s beck and call, trying to convince himself he didn’t need anyone, that he had any idea at all about what he was doing.
“I forgive you,” Akira says and Akechi stills, expression collapsing. “It wasn’t your fault. And I don’t know how to convince you into believing that, but it’s what I believe. It’s what I’ve always believed. And I don’t believe for a second that you enjoyed any of it.”
“Am I? So when you thought I died, what, did you run home and pop open a bottle of champagne? Congratulate yourself on a job well done?”
“Maybe I did. Maybe I threw myself a party for finally getting rid of you. Or maybe I had a panic attack on the train and barely managed to drag myself back home. Maybe I laughed when I read the news report about your death. Or maybe I wept for you, maybe in my lowest moment I thought about shooting myself, too. What does it matter what I say? I could whisper every lie you want in your ear and from what I’m gathering - you’d eat it up.”
“Then why don’t you?” Akira asks, taking a step closer. “Lie to me, I‘m waiting.”
Recoiling, Akechi turns his back to Akira, covering his mouth. “Get out.”
“Make me,” Akira says, never to back down from a challenge.
Akechi has no qualms following this particular instruction and wrestles Akira out the door, slamming it in his face for the second time.
“Open the fucking door! Akechi!” He kicks the door a few times for good measure. “Asshole! I’m not done talking to you!” After a few seconds of no reply he kicks the door one more time for good measure before spinning around, letting his weight fall back as he tries to assemble some coherence of thought.
“Uh,” Some teenage kid with a delivery bag awkwardly stands a few paces away, one foot looking like it’s about to haul him right back where he came from. “Is this room 117?”
Akira’s pissed off and confused, but he looks at the door to confirm the number. “Yes,” He says, trying to keep his voice under control.
“Um,” The kid says, adjusting his grip on the bag.
“Was that ordered from this room?”
Akira walks over and grabs it. He debates dumping it on the floor before deciding that would be a terrible waste. “I’m eating your food!” He shouts at the door. “Who orders takeout this early anyways?” He grumbles as he stomps away, planning to go home and cool off, let Akechi cool off, then run back over after a shower and a fresh change of clothes.
He’s halfway to the house before noticing he left his scarf and gloves behind.
He’s halfway into Akechi’s takeout before realizing it’s two servings.
He’s halfway through his shower before remembering it’s his shower in his house, not the house he grew up in, but his house, under his name, now his property.
He’s plenty cooled off now, but he doesn’t think he’ll be running anywhere anytime soon.
A knock on the door sends one of his cats scampering through the house like it’s an obstacle course and she’s on track for the gold. The other kicks up her leg from where she’s sleeping on her back, belly exposed.
He ignores the knocking, curls up into an even tighter ball on the old couch in front of the TV, damp hair leaving dark spots on the fabric.
The knocking continues until it doesn’t - in which Akira is silently relieved.
At least until he hears his door opening and oh, he really should start remembering to lock those. He peeks over the arm of the couch to look, stealthily in case it’s a burglar, his caution justified when he discovers a hitman instead.
He slumps back down, not sure what to feel, how to react.
Akira listens to the thunk of shoes being placed on the ground, hears the rustle of a coat, a drawn out sigh.
“Hello,” Akechi says in a way he might have eleven years ago. Akira’s throat closes up, memories of Leblanc and evening coffees swimming to the surface. It hardly feels like any time has passed at all. “What’s your name? I really hope you can’t answer that. Meeting one talking cat was already strange enough. If you can talk, pretend you can’t for my sake.”
A meow answers him.
“Wonderful. Now where’s your master hiding?”
“Her name’s Shadow,” Akira says, not moving. “And she’s the master. I’m the slave here.”
A pause. “Ah. Yes, I do recall you being a bit of a pushover when it came to cats. I suppose whether they can talk or not doesn’t make a difference to you, does it?”
Akira pushes himself up, feeling like someone just took a sledgehammer to his head. “Surprised to see you. Thought you’d be packing up to leave town by now.”
Akechi rounds the couch to get a look at Akira.
“And I’m surprised you’re not chasing me down, trying to convince me to stay.”
“A good movie is on TV so I decided to wait a few hours to give you a head start. To, you know, extend the length of my distraction and all. Since that’s apparently what you are to me.”
Akechi looks at the powered off TV, looks at the empty takeout containers on the floor, the undisturbed coffee table with a pair of dusty reading glasses sitting atop a bookmarked romance novel next to a long-cold cup of half-drank tea.
“You forgot your wallet in my room. And your scarf. And your gloves. And your tie,” He says, throwing each item at him as they’re announced.
“Thanks,” Akira says. “I’d ask how you found out where my house is, but it’s you, so I guess that’d be a stupid question.”
“It would be,” He confirms, picking the trash up from the floor and bringing it to the bin, navigating Akira’s childhood home like he studied the blueprints extensively. He returns, reaching for the cup on the table.
“Wait,” Akira hold out his hand as a stop sign, “Wait, that’s not - it’s not empty yet. Don’t touch it.”
Akechi withdraws his hand without question, turns instead to the occupied loveseat. Akira relaxes, his heart thrumming painfully away in his chest like a string about to snap.
“Ah, I wondered where the other one was,” He says, reaching down to pet Akira’s second cat. The purring starts immediately, loud enough to start earthquakes.
“Her name’s Fluffy.”
Akechi sends him an incredulous look. “You named your cats Shadow and Fluffy? Are you five? Do you have a third one running around here named Whiskers?”
“No, but it’s a good contender for my next cat’s name.”
Akechi does some sort of half laugh through his nose that has him turning away. “Happy to be of assistance.”
He continues spoiling the cat, the other busy trying to climb the curtains.
“I’m sorry,” Akira says. “I never stopped to think about how you’d feel, seeing me again after all this time. I was just - happy. Happy that you’re alive.”
Akechi bows his head. He stands up from his squat by the cat, turning back to face Akira.
“Seeing you, not seeing you - no matter which it is, I’ll always feel the same. I hate it. I hate that after all these years, I still find myself thinking about whether something I did would impress you,” Akechi says, and just when Akira finds some hope, “So I’ve decided it’s for the best to leave after all. I came over to say goodbye since I know you’d never let me rest if I didn’t.”
Akira swallows, but his throat is dry. “Why?”
“Because I’d rather make the right decision and lose you than make the wrong decision and lose you.”
“I knew it,” Akira says after a moment, somber. “You did like my book. You must have if you’re stealing lines from it.”
“It wasn’t bad,” Akechi admits. “Would have been better if the killer died.”
“It’s just fiction,” Akira says. “Words on paper meant to kill some time. Sometimes the killer gets away to set up the sequel. Sometimes a character will say something impressive-sounding and meaningful, but if you look a little closer, you’ll see they’re just scared of trying to work things out and fail anyways. Of finding happiness and losing it. The reality is - there’s no losing me.”
“You’re right. It’s impossible to lose something I’ve never had.”
“All you ever had to do was ask.”
Akechi smiles, and he looks like a painting, too perfect to be real. He walks to the window, the soft white light reflecting off the snow and onto his face, making him glow. “I called Sakura Sojiro. Your friends should be trickling in over the next couple days.”
Akira stares at the ceiling.
Akechi continues, “He thought I was a concerned neighbor, and I’d appreciate it if it stayed that way. I’m aware that I wouldn’t have a chance to escape Sakura Futaba’s monitoring if she knew I was alive and I imagine Okumura and her very influential bank account wouldn’t be especially pleased about the news either. I just want to work in peace, save up some money, and get as far away as possible.”
“From me?” Akira asks.
“From you.” Akechi confirms, trailing a finger down a dusty curtain.
The words should hurt, Akira thinks, but he’s heard worse.
Akechi takes a seat, but it’s clear he doesn’t plan to be there for long.
“You’ll forget about me,” Akechi assures.
“Did you ever forget about me?”
Akechi smiles again. Akira can’t help but think he must be holding back.
“I will,” He says. They both know it’s a lie.
“You know,” Akira begins when Akechi stands to leave for the last time. “Everyone else - Ryuji, Ann, everyone - they’ve all found what makes them happy. They like to thank me for it, saying I inspired them to be who they were meant to be, and I’m happy and proud for them, I really am. But sometimes I get jealous. I’m still struggling to figure out who I am, what I’m meant to do, what will make me happy - sometimes I'll think back to high school, the Phantom Thieves, and think, was that it ? And then I’ll think of you and wonder if you were supposed to be for me like I was for them.”
“I wasn’t. I’m not.”
Akira takes a long breath, folding his legs underneath himself on the couch. “The next time we meet, I’ll change your mind.”
“There won’t be a next time.”
And Akechi’s at the door, boots and jacket on, hand at the knob, and Akira only has this one last chance.
“Goro,” Akira says, pulling him around for one last kiss. Akechi doesn’t react, which is fine. Akira knows he’s fighting his own battles. “Sorry we always seem to meet at the worst times. But next time will be different. Third time’s the charm and all.”
Akechi runs a gloved thumb over his lips, eyes cast down. “Goodbye, Kurusu Akira.”
“See you later, Akechi Goro.”
And the door opens and closes, but it doesn’t lock.